Living standards rising despite sanctions so let's just lie about it
NATO once had such plans for Crimea. It was all going to come together so beautifully. Once Ukraine had been wrenched from Russia’s orbit into that of Europe, Sevastopol would make a dandy NATO naval base on the Black Sea, while Russia was left scrambling for an alternative port. However, after polling public opinion in Crimea and finding a very healthy majority of Crimeans supported a return to Russian control and membership in the Russian Federation, a lightning referendum was held and Russia took back its gift to Ukraine. Disaster; Crimea had been the biggest prize the west was after in Ukraine. Just like that, it was snatched away, out of its reach and gone.
So the west – led, as usual, by Washington, which is a damning indictment of the spoiled dilettantism which currently passes for leadership in Europe – announced that it did not recognize the results of the referendum: it was like it never happened, as so frequently occurs when people make a choice Washington does not care for. The whole business was just completely, entirely illegal under international law, although no specific violation was ever cited. And the west prepared a slate of punishing economic sanctions, which was supposed to inspire massive demonstrations of public anger at Vladimir Putin, resulting in the return of Crimea to Ukrainian control and perhaps even a death-blow to Putin’s rule.
It is important to note here that this was completely deliberate – Washington intended to impose economic hardship upon the Russian people so as to force the only solution it knows to resistance: regime change. I mention it here because a malady of forgetfulness appears to have seized Washington. President Obama, especially, seems to have forgotten his initial restrained jubilation – expressed as regretful determination – that the United States was tanking the Russian economy, triggered by the wild runaway of the ruble. For a couple of days, long enough for Washington to scent panic, it looked like it was working. But then attempts to prop up the currency were abandoned, and it was allowed to float, and Russia recovered its balance. And Washington forgot it had ever been excited about wrecking the Russian economy, and pretended that had never been a goal at all. Washington is pretty good at pretending – it has had a hell of a lot of practice.
So sanctions failed to force Russia to hand back Crimea. And the west looked the other way and occupied itself with something distracting (reading international law, perhaps; ha, ha; I was just kidding) so that it did not have to see Ukraine cutting Crimea off from water, food and electricity in an attempt to force its surrender. Ukraine gated off the canal which supplied water. Ukraine imposed a blockade which prevented trucks from entering via the land route – which Ukraine exclusively controls – and food spoiled in the tractor-trailers as they idled at the roadside. Members of Ukraine’s ‘patriotic’ militia units, often thin cover for Nazi sympathies, blew up the pylons which carried the power cables to Crimea, and the west smirked behind its hand as Kiev called them ‘persons unknown’ although they had posed for pictures, and had used an anti-tank weapon – surely not all that common in private hands – to destroy the metal pylons.
And that didn’t work, either. Polls in Crimea revealed that the people were willing to accept severe hardship rather than return to Ukrainian rule. Russia moved quickly to provide alternate water and electricity supplies, and accelerated work on a massive bridge – 19 km long – across the Kerch Strait which will join Crimea and the Russian homeland and remove the last lingering dependence on Ukraine. Kiev’s attempts to bully Crimea into capitulation served only to harden hearts against its temporary and entirely unsatisfactory former master.
Which brings us to now. Having been batted aside in every one of its attempts to recover momentum, what is left to the west? Well, if it cannot string Crimea on its rosary, at least it can tell a wild tale of the misery, degradation and squalor the Russian return has brought to Crimea. The folks back home would probably be satisfied to know the Crimeans deeply regret their choice, and would get right down on their scabby bare knees and beg Kiev to take them back – if only that vile imp of Satan, Vladimir Putin, would quit standing on their necks.
Cue Newsweek‘s terrible, awful, disgraceful tapestry of lies and fabrications, “The Misery and Terror of Life Under Putin in Crimea”.
It’s not entirely fair that Newsweek should absorb the whole of the blame; it was originally published on The Atlantic Council’s site, and the co-author – Melinda Haring – is the Editor of UkraineAlert at The Atlantic Council. The other author – Alina Polyakova – is Deputy Director at The Atlantic Council’s Eurasia Center. The Atlantic Council, for those not familiar with it, is another neoconservative Washington think tank, actually a hub of think tanks, you can hardly swing a dead cat by the tail in Washington without hitting one of them. Suffice it to say that it includes Anders Aslund, Evelyn Farkas and the balloon-faced CEO of Bellingcat, Eliot Higgins as ‘experts‘, among its membership. A word to the wise is sufficient. It was, however, a low-water mark in journalistic integrity to publish such a collection of fabrications and selective metrics without checking to see if any of them were accurate.
Let me tell you something for nothing, just as an aside – there will be a price to be paid, down the road, for lying to people the way these neoconservative circle-jerk clubs for preservation of American global dominance are doing. All I and others can do is tell you the truth as best we can determine it to be, and it will have to be up to you what you believe. But just like when you get pulled over for talking on your cellphone while driving, and pretend like this is the first you ever knew that was against the law; ignorance is not an excuse.
A commenter on this blog, UCG (I can reveal that this stands for “University of California Graduate” – because I guessed it on my own – and that he is an ethnic Russian living in the Golden State, but that’s all I know) whipped this article like a redheaded stepchild, dribbling it up and down the court until it was just a wrinkly skin with all the bullshit squeezed out; listen.
“On March 16, 2014, Crimeans voted in a sham referendum for Russia to annex Crimea. Has life improved for the approximately 2 million people who live there?”
Yes, yes it has according to the people living there. But I’m sure Eurasia Center will blatantly lie about it.
“Not at all. On every measure, from the economy to its treatment of minorities, the beautiful peninsula has become a shell of what it once was. The economic situation in Crimea is desperate. Tourism, one of the peninsula’s main economic engines, took a serious nosedive in 2014, when Crimea received fewer than 3 million visitors—half the number who vacationed there in 2013. That is because Ukrainians made up the largest portion of tourists in Crimea prior to annexation. But for political and economic reasons, many now choose not to go. The Russian tourists who were supposed to flood into Crimea never came.”
First, the treatment of minorities actually improved, as is documented by the UNHCR. Second, because of the coup in Ukraine, fewer Ukrainians would’ve been going to Crimea. Third, the majority of tourists were Russians, not Ukrainians.
“Crimeans have experienced a sharp decline in their standard of living. Western sanctions prevent European and American companies from operating on the peninsula, cutting into potential revenue and jobs from foreign investment. The Ukrainian government has imposed restrictions on trade with Crimea as well. Since switching to the Russian ruble, Crimeans have been subject to that currency’s massive depreciation, from an exchange rate of about 35 rubles per dollar in 2014 to 70 rubles per dollar today. While Crimeans’ pensions under Russian occupation may be nominally higher, their rubles have lost more than half of their purchasing power.”
Would it have been better with Ukraine’s currency? In 2014, it was at 8.23. In 2016, it’s at roughly 26.23. Hmm; that’s substantially worse than the Ruble’s performance, and yet the article implies that Crimeans wouldn’t have been subject to such a depreciation. The lies continue.
“The situation for the peninsula’s minorities is even worse. Russian authorities have forced Crimean Tatars to become Russian citizens and curtailed their freedoms of speech, language, education and residence—as well as their right to a fair trial. The new authorities have shut down Tatar language media, and Tatar leaders face harassment, detention and threats to their lives. Now, Russia appears ready to outlaw the Crimean Tatar Mejlis, the representative body of the largest indigenous people of the peninsula. “They’re stepping up repressive measures against Crimean Tatars,” Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group analyst Halya Coynash said in a March 15 interview.”
Odd, because according to the UNHCR, the linguistic freedoms have actually increased, and according to Ukraine’s very own electoral data, the support for Mejlis was decreasing. But please, don’t let facts get in the way of bullshitting.
“There’s “huge pressure on religious communities,” Taras Berezovets, founder of Free Crimea, said in a May 2015 interview. After Crimea’s annexation, the FSB raided homes, mosques, schools and churches, forcing religious leaders to flee. Russia extended its stricter laws regulating religious activity to the peninsula. The new authorities have issued a legal order putting all mosques under the control of the Mufti Office of Crimea, while establishing the Mufti Office of Tavriya, reportedly a political organization with close ties to Russia. Crimean Tatars aren’t the only ones facing persecution. After annexation, the first wave of repression targeted mainly pro-Ukrainian activists and Crimean Tatars, while Ukrainians and Russians were the Kremlin’s victims in 2015.”
And the Mejlis aren’t a political organization? Is that why they ran for office? Also, they’re saying that Russia’s oppressing religious minorities, but that Russia’s also oppressing religious majorities? Perhaps atheists too? Much like Russia weaponizing everything, Russia’s oppressing everyone. What’s next?
“Between the 2001 and the 2014 census, the number of people identifying as ethnic Ukrainian in Crimea declined from 24 to 15 percent. Many moved to the mainland, while others feared identifying themselves as ethnic Ukrainian in occupied Crimea. In March 2015, Russia’s FSB charged Crimean journalist Andrii Klymenko with challenging the annexation’s legitimacy and threatening Russian sovereignty by writing a report that was published by the Atlantic Council and Freedom House. The report showed how Russia’s occupation and annexation of Crimea has unleashed an ongoing chain of human rights violations across the peninsula.”
Between 1989 and 2001 the number of people identifying themselves as Russians in Ukraine fell by three million. Where’s the outrage, Newsweek? Where’s the outrage? Oh, and the number of Crimean Tatars rose from 11 percent to 12 percent, whereas the number of Mejlis supporters declined. Why don’t you mention that, Newsweek?
“Under Article 280 of Russia’s criminal code, Klymenko faces up to five years in jail. As a result, Klymenko cannot visit Crimea, where his parents are buried. Nor can he enter Russia or any territory the Russian Federation controls without risking immediate arrest. Klymenko’s case is emblematic of a broader pattern of human rights abuses and freedom of speech violations that take place in Crimea on a daily basis. The Russian authorities have clamped down on all independent media. In 2015, numerous journalists and activists were arrested and harassed. All voices of dissent—journalists, academics and artists—face harassment, trumped up criminal allegations and accusations of being “undesirables” under Russia’s foreign-agent law, which stipulates that all media (including Internet sites) register as foreign agents if they receive any non-Russian support. This effectively opens all independent media up to expulsion.”
No, it doesn’t. It prevents a whopping zero percent of organically grown protests from being banned. A whopping zero percent.
“Any actions “violating Russia’s territorial integrity,” such as peaceful protests or social media posts challenging the annexation, are subject to criminal prosecution. Consequently, Crimea has become an information vacuum. Human rights and freedom of expression in Crimea today are more tightly restricted than in Russia, where the Kremlin cannot exert the same level of control. For Russian President Vladimir Putin, Crimea is nothing more than a domestic propaganda tool, a military asset for exerting influence in the Black Sea, and a potential bargaining chip for his geopolitical chess game with the West. The Crimean people are the main victims of this game. Melinda Haring is the editor of UkraineAlert at the Atlantic Council, and Alina Polyakova is the deputy director of the Atlantic Council’s Eurasia Center.”
Crimea is such an information vacuum, that over half of the Crimeans can access that article. And there goes my respect for Newsweek for running that crap. No one can obliterate its own soft power like the US Department of Hopeless Causes.
You can’t see me, of course, but I’m clapping from the sidelines. Bravo, UCG; well done. I just have a couple of things to add. First, the contention of the Atlanticists that the referendum in Crimea was a ‘sham referendum for Russia to annex Crimea’. It was nothing of the kind, and ample precedent exists for using a Facultative Referendum to measure the electorate’s will on major questions, including secession from or accession to a union. The west did not even blink when Ukraine announced it would decide by national referendum whether or not to join NATO, and the west knows full well that it is not a question to be decided by referendum – there’s no ‘opt in’ for NATO, you have to be invited, and satisfy a lengthy list of criteria, although it’s true the west mostly just waves a magic wand when gaining turf is to its strategic and tactical advantage. After all, it agreed with a straight face that acceptance of Lithuanian membership would materially contribute to the security of the alliance, and the Lithuanian Air force has one ‘fighter’. Actually, it is a jet trainer optimistically classified as a ‘light attack aircraft’, although the preferred method of attack must be to crash onto the target, since it…uhhh…does not appear to carry any weapons.
There was also considerable guff about the referendum question being confusing. Here’s what it asked:
- Do you support reunifying Crimea with Russia as a subject of the Russian Federation? or;
- Do you support the restoration of the 1992 Crimean constitution and the status of Crimea as a part of Ukraine?
The Beeb says the latter option is confusing because “The wording “restoring the 1992 constitution” does not make it clear whether this refers to the original version of the constitution, declaring Crimea an independent state, or the later amended version, in which Crimea was an autonomous republic within Ukraine”. The question clearly spells out that success of the option would result in Crimea remaining a part of Ukraine, and anyone who did not understand that had no business voting – presumably even members of an autonomous republic within Ukraine know their own constitution.
The ballots were printed in Russian, Ukrainian and Crimean Tatar. That reminds me – a referendum is fast approaching for the British electorate to decide if the country wishes to remain within the European Union. Will the ballots be in English, Punjabi and Polish? Why not? The British electorate contains more than 600,000 ethnic Poles, and Indians are more numerous than that in the UK. What if they’re confused? Physician, heal thyself.
Moving on, the contention that tourism has collapsed in Crimea is comically hypocritical. Ukraine controls all the land access to Crimea, and NATO has sanctioned the piss out of it to make sure westerners are forbidden by law from investing any money in it, while no tourist groups are allowed to sell excursions to it as a destination. There is more than a thread of self-fulfilling prophesy there, as the west hopes devoutly to be able to strangle Crimea’s tourist trade, because it has no other way of punishing it: despite all the squalling that its secession was illegal under international law, nobody wants to cite a specific piece of legislation, lest the Kosovo precedent rear its ugly head.
Deliberately sanctioning the tourist trade can be effective – although the west does not rush to trumpet it, Russia’s sanctions against Turkey have cut its tourist trade in half. Some of the terrific losses are due to an unstable security environment, but if NATO really cares about helping its ally, it will encourage its citizens to visit anyway, won’t it?
Is that what happened in Crimea? Well, no, actually; it’s not. As Jon Hellevig highlights,the outlook is actually fairly bright, and Jon’s economic chops make Anders Aslund look like he is in a deep vegetative state. Oh..wait. Well, never mind that now. Although inflation shot up in Crimea as the economy transitioned away from the truly horrid Ukrainian model, salaries shot up still further, resulting in a net gain of about 40%. Unemployment in Sevastopol was cut in half.
Industrial production grew by 12% in 2015, with a 25% gain year-on-year in December, and was up still further going into the first quarter of 2016. But we were talking about tourism, and for that particular bullet, I want to quote Jon verbatim:
“The tourism industry is coming along very nicely, indeed, with a 21% growth of visitors in 2015 bringing the total to 4.6 million. This is often contrasted with the 6 million tourists, of which 4 million Ukrainians, that used to come before the liberation. The comparison is however quite misleading as the purchasing power and habits of that segment of Ukrainian visitors was quite different. They did not require a high standard of service in accommodation and catering and so did not bring in a profitable business and thus did not stimulate investments. Already in the difficult transition year of 2014, the proceeds from the tourist industry doubled to a value of about $1.5 billion from the level of the Ukrainian years of $700 million.
This year promises to be even better with an expected 20% growth of both amount of visitors and prices (net increase about 10% considering inflation). What is interesting is that Russians have taken to visit Crimea all-year round and not only in the hot summer months.”
Got that, Melinda? Did that rattle your Atlanticist cage any, Alina? Revenue from tourism in Crimea doubled in 2014, and 2015 saw a gain in visitors of 21%. When the bridge is complete, and alternate access to Crimea is restored for cars, you are going to see it do even better, and I would venture to guess Crimea will reap a lot of the Russian tourist trade that used to go to Turkey.
But Melinda and Alina prefer to listen to their sources, which include Halya Coynash, Ukrainian activist and frequent columnist for The Kyiv Post. Here’s Halya, referring to the rise of Naziism in Ukraine as “honest historical debate”, while yelling, “Look!! Over there!! Russia has neo-Nazis in eastern Ukraine to do its dirty work!!”. She also describes a conversation which was ‘intercepted’ (Ukraine is getting nearly as expert as Israel at coming up with these miraculously incriminating telephone intercepts), and very conveniently features ‘local militant’ Dmitry Boitsov saying that he won’t be able to hold the [Lugansk] referendum without Russian support – including troops – and that he might have to cancel it, only to be told by the head of the neo-Nazi Russian National unity Movement that the referendum cannot be cancelled: he is then provided with instructions on how to rig the referendum question. Two things need hardly be said; one, the ‘intercept’ came from the SBU, Ukraine’s legendary Security Service, and two, this recorded conversation was never broadcast as evidence by any serious news outlet. Coynash is at pains to point out that it ‘might be a fake’, but is happy to use her platform as a launch vehicle to get it out there in circulation nonetheless.
The report that Russia is forcing the poor Tatars to accept Russian citizenship is likewise nonsense, and another lie in a seemingly-unending parade of lies; Russia ruled that Crimeans could not hold dual citizenship. You must make a choice. Russia does not order that the choice be Russian.
Once upon a time, a great while ago and for a brief window, the United States really was exceptional, and had only to wave its stick to make much of the rest of the world flinch. As we have often discussed, much of the world at that time was ravaged by war, weak and sick, and the United States was young, strong and mostly untouched; additionally, it had just negotiated a currency agreement that would make its dollar dominant for the foreseeable future. This was a tremendous opportunity.
And slowly at first, piecemeal, but steadily gathering speed, this opportunity was wasted, cast aside, spurned. Foreign policy in Washington is now completely in the hands of civilian ideologues like the authors of the subject piece, who consider America’s massive military as simply a blunt instrument; used to force compliance with its directives, which are only spoken politely once and couched as suggestions. The country’s ideals have become suborned to a neoconservative entity which pulls the levers and emits blasts of steam from behind a curtain, like Oz The Great And Terrible. Its press releases do not reflect reality so much as they do satire; Washington has become The Onion. Never a truer word was spoken than that offered by the anonymous White House staffer to whom is attributed, “You see, when we act, we create our own reality”. Through a series of weak, self-centered and egotistical leaders, America slowly came around to a new course, where the compass needle points to crazy.
It could have been different, but now the die is cast. Let the record so reflect.