Teh “Remarkable” Russian Restraint

War is ugly. War is messy. In a war, there always are and will be innocent lives destroyed, civilians killed, civilian infrastructure damaged. Hitting an occasional hospital or a school is inevitable even if the soldiers are trying their best to not do so. Hitting several hospitals and schools already indicates either callous disregard with regard to what you are shooting at or gross incompetence and really poor aim/intel.

The Russians have so far managed to hit nearly two dozen health care buildings and several hundred schools. And these are only those that were confirmed with pictorial evidence, the real number undoubtedly will be higher.

The tankies very much like to argue that the Russian military is doing their best to not hit civilian targets, that they are indeed showing “remarkable restraint” in this regard and not “carpet bombing Ukraine like NATO would”.

Well, if this is really is the best that the Russian military can do, if they really, really, really hard trying to not hit any civilian targets, then there is only one conclusion possible – that the Russian military is incompetent, half the time does not know what they are shooting at and the other half keep missing.

I personally do not think that the Russian military is that grossly incompetent. I think that the Russian top brass and the tankies are just lying about that “remarkable” restraint.

No, “Tankie” Is Not Orwellian

When a tankie complained on Pharyngula -click- it was instantly funny – in a sad, sad way – but it was made even funnier – in an even more sad way – later on when this particular tankie openly condoned the current Russian invasion of Ukraine.

“Tankie”, just like “TERF” is not a meaningless slur whose only purpose is to offend and insult. It is a descriptive term whose negative connotations stem entirely from context, i.e. from the repulsive, disgusting, and, frankly, downright evil attitudes of the person being described as such. If you are being offended by being called either of those two terms, the remedy is easy – stop displaying attitudes that fit the definition of the term.

True, “Tankie” originally meant leftists who supported the use of military force by the USSR government to quell popular reforms in Hungary and Czechoslovakia in the 50s and 60s of the last century. The reforms were simply deemed not in alignment with what USSR wanted so a military intervention was called in. Even though the Czechoslovakian Prague Spring was being entirely peaceful and democratic and above all socialist right until the tanks rolled in. Dubček was simply not the right kind of socialist for the authoritarian regime that had all the answers and did not need to reconsider anything, ever.

Applying the term to people who support current Russia’s use of tanks to subjugate a country when the will of its people strays from what Russia’s government thinks is in alignment with its interests is just logical evolution of its use.

And when a cheerleader for a brutal totalitarian regime invokes Orwell to criticize the spontaneous use of a term that aptly describes people cheering for a brutal totalitarian regime, it is just beyond ironic.

An Ukrainian Civilian Perspective

I have checked on one Ukrainian YouTuber whose videos I have occasionally enjoyed, although I was not a subscriber. Here is his extensive take on the conflict, accompanied with some first-hand information about the “not targeting civilian targets” lie, the “NATO expansion is the problem” canard, “denazification” misinformation, the victim-blaming, whataboutism, and others. For example – Russian tanks are shown to fire into apartment buildings. That is not an imprecise airstrike, that is a deliberate war crime.

I did not enjoy this video at all, but I watched it all all the same.

Content warning: war, violence, explosions. Video cannot be embedded thus -click-.

Video has hard-coded English subtitles. I do understand enough Ukrainian to confirm that they are correct.

Evolution of the “No Concripts in Ukraine” Narrative

These are the stages so far:

  1. There are no conscripts in Ukraine and saying there are and some of them were KIA and some captured is just western propaganda.
  2. OK, there were some conscripts in Ukraine, but they were pulled back and none died. Some were sadly captured. Saying otherwise is just western propaganda.

And just for not very funny fun, here is what I expect the next stages to be:

  1. OK, some conscripts may have died, but not many and not in engagements with Ukrainian Army, only in ambushes by neonazi paramilitary terrorists. Because this is not a war, this is a special military action. Saying otherwise is just western propaganda.
  2. OK, many conscripts have died. Russian mothers, here are your letters and tin medals for your brave sons who died in a war defending mother Russia.

There are other narratives in the brewing, mind you:

  1. There are no plans to call in reserves to fight in Ukraine. Saying otherwise is just western propaganda.
  2. Ok, we are calling in reserves and more conscripts…
  3. …to be continued…
  1. We are not bombing any residential areas. Saying otherwise is just western propaganda.
  2. OK, we are bombing residential areas, but not many and not deliberately. Saying otherwise is just western propaganda.
  3. OK, we are bombing residential areas, but we did not hit any hospitals.  Saying otherwise is just western propaganda.
  4. OK, we have hit a maternity ward in a residential area, but it was empty and used as a base by the neonazi Azov Batallion. Thus we hit it on purpose. And that injured woman? Crisis actor. Saying otherwise is just western propaganda.
  5. …to be continued…

I really do wonder where these will evolve, but I think I can make a guess – more troops, including conscripts and reservists, will be sent to the “not war”. And if Putin wins, some of the fallen and the survivors will be posthumously rewarded with “war hero” medals for their participation in this “not war”.

Why can I make such predictions? Because there is a narrative that has evolved to its final form in the past to be seen, and that is the annexation of Crimea:

  1. We do not plan to annex Crimea, we respect the treaties we signed.
  2. There are no unmarked Russian troops in Crimea taking over strategic points. Saying otherwise is just western propaganda.
  3. ..crickets…
  4. Some soldiers received medals for the military takeover that did not exist.

The Russian top brass might be right about some of their counterpoints to the western narrative o the events, but they have lied so often and so blatantly that at this point even reading only their  “side of the story” should anyone make deeply suspicious of trusting them. Alas, many people who are heavily emotionally invested in believing lies will continue to believe said lies even after the liar themselves admits they were lying (viz. Trumpists and similar).

1170 Dead and Counting

If this is the “best to not kill civilians” that the Russian army is doing, then they are grossly incompetent. Over 1170 civilians dead in Mariupol, a maternity ward bombed to rubble. People are being put in mass graves because mortuaries are full. Those humanitarian corridors that were agreed? Don’t work, Russians keep shelling them with mortars.

Please note that I am not linking to anglophone media, nor is this particular medium controlled by Murdoch at all.

Further, what I did not know they only allow people to flee to Russia. Yeah, that’s right, a violent occupier allows the occupied people to escape only to the occupier’s territory.

I feel sick.

Not Even Botherign With Bothsiderism Anymore?

Wow. Just. Wow.

I know that the internet discussions are years being infested by pro-Russian trolls who are doing their best to disrupt any discourse, but I did not expect this. I have probably missed something, but I was taken completely by surprise when a long-time commenter on FtB went full fascist apologia. And these comments were the straw that broke the camel’s back for me and I have to respond:

…According to the Russian General staff and Putin personally (assuming the subtitling was correct) there are no conscripts in Ukraine…

…They are doing their damnedest to keep civilian casualties and infrastructure damage to a minimum…

…Ukraine has lost but a lot of innocent Ukrainian citizens and soldiers and Russian soldiers will die because Kiev/Zelenski will not or can not surrender…

So first (paragraph) thing first – why should anyone believe anything that Russia’s top brass are saying at this point? One does not need to go too far back to demonstrate that they are absolutely unashamedly lying about anything with a straight face. These are their statements as they recently evolved:

  1. There are no significant troops gathering on the Ukrainian border with Russia for an invasion, saying otherwise is just western propaganda.
  2. Ok, there are troops, but they are there only for exercises, they are not combat-ready, saying otherwise is just western propaganda.
  3. We are pulling the troops back inland, we are not preparing for a full-scale invasion, saying otherwise is just western propaganda.
  4. OK, we did not pull the troops back inland, but it is not a war or invasion, it is just a peacekeeping mission.
  5. OK, our non-invading troops have met some resistance, but there are no casualties whatsoever.
  6. OK, there are some casualties, but only a few hundred, nothing serious.

And I could go on much further with the blatant lies. There are even videos where Russian diplomats lie even when confronted with actual evidence of their lies.

These things are not a matter of opinion, these are facts on public record over just a few recent weeks. I mean, how fucking broken must your moral compass and your reasoning capabilities be to believe anything that Putin and his stooges say at this point? Sure, they might say the truth occasionally, just like a broken clock shows the right time twice a day.

I am sure that the Ukrainian side also lies for propaganda and after the war ends, if there still are historians, it will take them a lot of work to untangle where the actual truth lies. But right now any Russian in a position of power in the current regime is so trustworthy that when they wish you a “Good Morning” you should assume it’s night until proven otherwise with independent evidence.

The second paragraph flies in the face of actual pictorial and video evidence of residential areas being deliberately shelled and bombed. Further, I have a friend who worked with unguided earth-to-earth rocket launchers similar to the BM-30 Смерч that Russians are using in Kyiv. No matter what the current Russian propaganda says, those are not precision weapons for a precision striking of military targets, especially not in urban warfare. Those are scorched-earth weapons designed to stomp an area into nothing but craters and rubble. Using them on a military airport or convoy or some barracks in the countryside could be legitimate military use (as far as the word legitimate can be applied). Using them in a crowded city is a deliberate war crime intended to kill and terrorize civilians.

Sure, Russians say otherwise, but if anyone is inclined to believe them, I refer back to the first point.

Now for the last paragraph which actually got my blood boiling.

I do not like using rape in analogies because I have seen it used by dudebros to trivialize issues they deem unimportant and to trivialize rape at the same time, but in this particular case, I think the analogy is apt – saying this is analogous to blaming a rape victim for injuries because they did not submit to the rapist without a fight.

So let me stress this point – Ukrainian soldiers and civilians are not dying because Zelenskyy will not or cannot surrender, they are dying because Putin invaded Ukraine and is too power-hungry, too arrogant, and too proud to stop. In any conflict, it is the assailant who bears all the moral responsibility for damages incurred on the assaulted, never the other way around.

Further, this stinks of “ifonlysm“. The current conflict shows a striking resemblance to what has happened just before WW2, so we can actually look at what might have happened ifonly Ukraine gave Luhansk and Donetsk to Russia willingly and ifonly Zelensky went into exile and left Putin to install back his puppet Yanukovich. So let us do it.

The Sudeten Germans did face some discrimination in Czechoslovakia, there is absolutely no doubt about it. It could be argued that it was less than the discrimination Czechs and Slovaks faced in the former Austria-Hungary, but it was still discrimination and the Sudeten Germans did not like it. Solving such societal issues takes time and patience, with the occasional strike or civil disobedience thrown into the mix to wake politicians from their stupor and complacency, but they can be solved peacefully as long as you do not believe in quick fixes, which do not exist.

Hitler’s Germany did however offer a quick fix. With his guidance, instead of working to reach mutual agreements on a way to equality, the SdP fomented animosity between Germans and Czechs and always escalated demands to a level they knew cannot be reasonably met. At first, SdP lied about their connection with the Nazis. Then they lied about their intent to secede Sudeten from Czechoslovakia. Then they lied about receiving military support from Germany and forming paramilitary Sudetendeutsches Freikorps. Then they lied about said paramilitary performing terrorist actions within Czechoslovakia, intentionally provoking a forceful response from the Czechoslovakian government.

And then international powers that be decided to give them what they said they wanted and without consulting the Czechoslovakian government, they gave Sudeten to Germany. Not many people actually know that this was immediately followed by the Sudetendeutsches Freikorps actually escalating, not stopping, the violence. Most people probably do know that this did not stop Hitler from eventually annexing all of Czechoslovakia, directly governing Bohemia, and installing a puppet fascist regime in Slovakia, killing and enslaving scores of thousands of innocent civilians even when they did not even try and put up a fight.

This is because when a tyrant says they want this or that or they will have to resort to violence, they are always lying. Their stated goals are only seeking plausible deniability, a fig-leaf casus belli in order to expand their power. Violence is the goal because being able to inflict it without consequences demonstrates the tyrants’ power. And once they think they can get away with it, they stop bothering even with that pretense.

So no, ifonly Zelenskyy or Ukraine did or did not do this or that would probably have very little impact on what Putin would do. Ukrainian people were not given a choice between forceful invasion and peaceful lives, they were given a choice between forceful invasion and submitting to being second-class citizens licking Putin’s boot while it is crushing their necks nevertheless. Blaming them for putting up a fight is blaming the victim, pure and simple.

Київ

In case you are wondering why Putin is so hell-bent on capturing Kyiv, here is a very, very short summary for you.

Kyiv is not only the capital of the current Ukraine. That in itself would still make it a very important military target, but still not worth the fervor with which it is being attacked.

I grew up as a child with Slavic fairytales and Slavic mythology. And many of those fairytales and myths are centered around Kievan Rus’. A lot of literature that young Slavic people, especially East Slavic, read during their formational years are thus centered around this city. It is, in a very real sense, the cradle of East Slavic culture.

None of that of course excuses current atrocities being perpetrated by Путiн хуйло, but it does explain why he is throwing so many other people’s lives away in order to capture the city asap. If he succeeds – and I fear that is only a matter of time, alas – his propaganda could – and would – play it up way beyond and above its strategic importance.

Brown vs. White Refugees and Poland

This article might be misunderstood as an apologia for racism or a misdirection, so I must start it with a statement:

Please do not mistake an explanation for an excuse.

There is a lot of racism towards non-white people in all of Europe. It is strong in the Slavic nations and it is indeed very strong in Poland, which is currently ruled by a racist covert clerical-fascist party (which luckily does not have overwhelming majority support yet I might add). This does no doubt play a significant role in Poland’s willingness to accept Ukrainian refugees readily, whilst it was refusing Syrians staunchly for the last few years. A policy that I find abhorrent and which should never be in place. Czechia is guilty of the same thing and I oppose that too. I criticize my own government for this and I shall continue to do so.

However, that is most definitively not the sole reason and it might not even be the main reason in this particular case. In my opinion, the main reason here is not that Ukrainian refugees are white, but that the aggressor they are fleeing is Russia and the refugees are Slavs.

There is a lot of panslavic sentiment still floating around (I have written about it before). Slavic people do have a shared identity and they do feel some connection with each other. One of the reasons for that apart from some intelligibility of our languages is that most Slavic nations were oppressed minorities pretty much everywhere for several hundred years, many gaining independence from an oppressive regime only very recently.

But wait, you might say, aren’t Russians Slavs? Yes, they are.

And they are probably the single exception to the rule since they were mostly the oppressors, certainly for the last few hundred years. Poles do not like Russians specifically that much. Russia played for example no insignificant role in destabilizing and partitioning the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth in a way that eerily resembles current events in Ukraine. And they did not rule their part of Poland exactly kindly afterward either.

Poles and Ukrainians thus share not only a generic common Slavic identity but also a relatively recent common history. They were both compatriots and allies as well as enemies and rivals in that history, but not very recently and those differences pale with one thing they have common very recently indeed –  a ruthless oppressor, Russia. Ukrainians did not forget the Holodomor, Poles did not forget the Katyn massacre and both definitively remember the forty-something years of being dictated what to even think from Moscow afterward.

It is all of course much more complicated than I can ever hope to describe in a short blog post even if I knew everything there is to know about it. And motivations on an individual level always vary wildly. It definitively is not as simple as “Poles think brown people bad, white people good”, although a lot of (not only) Poles are no doubt like that.

Russian Empire

I got very confused and indeed even angry with a comment written on Pharyngula. Not with the commenter, who I do not think has any malicious intent, but with the contents of the comment which make no sense to me and sound downright typically American ignorant.

For what I gather from Nina Khruscheva’s explanation, Biden’s idea that Putin wants to resurrect the USSR is incorrect. He also doesn’t want to resurrect the the Russian Empire. Putin doesn’t like revolutions apparently.

What he wants, it seems, is similar to the united Arab state Baathists like Hussein and Assad want in the Middle East. In Putin’s case, he wants a pan-Slavic state that he rules with an iron fist.

I know that most readers and commenters on FtB are Americans and thus are writing mostly from an American perspective and reading sources that were either written from an American perspective or were filtered through it on the way. I try occasionally to insert some different perspective, with questionable results.

But even when I try to read this comment through my American glasses, it does not make any sense whatsoever. Maybe my American glasses are not strong enough or maybe I interpret it wrongly but…

I mean, what the fuck is the difference between Russian Empire, USSR, and a pan-Slavic state that Putin rules with an iron fist?

The Russian Empire was a multi-national country in which Russians with Tzar at the throne wielded nearly absolute power and ruled over all of East-Slavs and some non-Slavic nations with an iron fist. Some West and Southern Slavs had the “fortune” of being ruled over by Austrians and Ottomans.

The USSR was a multi-national country in which Russians with the Communist Party wielded nearly absolute power and ruled over all of East and West-Slavs and some non-Slavic nations with an iron fist. Some Southern Slavs had the “fortune” of being ruled over by a separate Communist totalitarian regime of their own.

So saying that Putin does not want to revive USSR or the Russian Empire is true in about the same sense as saying that Nazis don’t exist no more, ya know, since the term refers to members of a political party that only existed in Germany in the 1930-40s. Technically the comment is accurate, practically it is meaningless. And such quibbling over distinctions without a difference at a time like this pisses me off.

Putin most emphatically DOES want a Russian Empire with him as the ruler. It does not matter what anyone says, his actions speak louder than anyone’s words. Minutiae of differences between the former Russian Empire, the former USSR, and Putin’s recent goals are irrelevant and pale when the similarities are considered.

The Rise of Whataboutism

Whenever I look at the comment section under an article or video about the Russian invasion of Ukraine, whether in CZ or EN, there is a visible presence of people who either outright say that Russia is right to this or who say that it is not wrong to do it because… Whatabout Iraq? Whatabout Afghanistan? Whatabout Grenada? Whatabout Whatever?

This is a classic Soviet-era propaganda tool, trying to divert the attention from an injustice being done by the USSR to similar injustices being done by the USA. The old adage that two wrongs do not make a right applies. There is no moral difference between the USA invading another country and/or sending in mercenaries trying to overthrow a democratically elected government because it threatens US financial interests and/or egos of its leaders and Russia invading another country and/or sending in mercenaries to overthrow a democratically elected government because it threatens its financial interests and/or egos of its leaders. They are both bad.

Then there is also a not insignificant number of people who engage in what I would call ifonlysm. Ifonly Ukraine did not try to join the EU. Ifonly Ukraine did not have right-wing extremists. Ifonly Ukraine did not have a “coup” against Yanukovich. Ifonly Russia got an iron-clad guarantee that NATO won’t expand no more even if a country’s people wish to do so.

As someone living in Central Europe in a country that was very often right at the center of any big conflict in Europe from  The Thirty Years’ War through Napoleonic wars, WWI, and WWII right up to The Cold War, I very much do not appreciate this rhetoric. Because if history teaches us anything, it teaches us that this is not how any of this works. Appeasing Putin would not stop this invasion, it would only change the timescale and the pretext under which it is done.

Autocrats do not try to gain power for rational reasons and the reasons they say are not the real reasons. The truth is that autocrats want power for power’s sake. Some go the way of amassing useless billions in wealth, some go the way of hijacking the state apparatus to become dictators, some do both. But just as there is no billionaire who cannot be corrupt because “he has amassed enough wealth”, there is no dictator who does not want to expand their area of influence because the “empire is big enough”. The billionaires hoard wealth until the economy collapses and goes into recession, the autocrats hoard power until the state apparatus collapses and a revolution happens. The only limits on what an autocrat can achieve are those imposed on them from the outside.

Putin has now made it clear that he wants to restore the former USSR sphere of influence. And although he did not use such words, it essentially means he wants to build a Russian Empire with him being its Tzar for life. He does not need it. His country does not need it. There is no rational reason to try to pursue such a goal except an insatiable lust for power. And the keyword here is insatiable.

Ukraine – Central European Perspective

Adam Something is maybe not as far left as to satisfy purists, but he is reasonably far left to seem to be a decent person and not be an extremist. I find most of his videos informative, and I think his last one – a length-ish take on Ukraine’s conflict with Russia, is very good.

Adam Something is a Hungarian Youtuber currently residing in CZ (these are public pieces of information that he himself has disclosed on his YouTube channel). That might explain why he, whilst being a leftist, is very critical of both current Russia and the former USSR empire. He does not have the personal experience with the failed socialist experiment of the last century that I have, but the cultural memory is still fresh. Thus he shares my deep dislike of tankies.

The cold war was not a conflict between good guys and bad guys, just between two different types of bad guys. And that has not changed, at least as far as the current proxy conflict between USA and Russia goes. For some baffling reason, there appears to be a sizable amount of people who think that because the USA was the bad guy in every conflict for the last 75 years that it makes their opponents into good guys.

Behind the Iron Curtain part 38- Vietnam War

These are my recollections of a life behind the iron curtain. I do not aim to give a perfect and objective evaluation of anything but to share my personal experiences and memories. It will explain why I just cannot get misty-eyed over some ideas on the political left and why I loathe many ideas on the right.


This one will be very short because the regime ended shortly before the Vietnam war was covered in the school curriculum, so we were not told a lot. History lessons in that last year were a bit scattershot, as is expected during a year in which revolution happens. And what little we were told I mostly forgot, except very few things.

Those few things could be summarized thus: The USA tactics and behavior in Vietnam were shown as essentially the same as German tactics and behavior in eastern Europe (edit: in WW2). Scorched earth, civilians massacred, war crimes committed left and right. We were shown short films about how the US forces were the baddies and how their defeat was a victory of good over evil.

It got embedded in my subconscious, but I was also aware that the USA has helped to defeat the Nazis in Europe, including in my hometown. I was unable to shake off this comparison with Nazis and I felt like it should not hold water on closer scrutiny. But it did not get better when I sought information about the conflict on my own, which was still difficult in the following decade with nonexistent internet and the history books being only slowly updated.

It would be a shock if it came quickly, but it was not because the realization came slowly over the years – whether you call it education or indoctrination, what communists said was accurate. The tactics the USA used in Vietnam were those of Nazis, no matter how you try to slice it. The USA probably could not present itself in worse light if they tried and they gave communists an excellent propaganda tool – the best propaganda might not always be one that is solidly backed by facts, it must address emotions first, but it does help if the facts are on your side too.

When I was visiting the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington D.C. in 2000, it felt quite strange. There were people there, looking up their long-dead relatives and acquaintances. As with all war memorials, It felt quite somber and I have remained quiet and respectful as one should. But I could not shake the feeling that this is a memorial to victims of an unjust war and whilst most of the fallen soldiers being remembered were innocent draftees, there were very likely quite a few nasty war criminals with the blood of innocents on their hands among them too. To this day I did not quite figure out what to think about it.