It was chilly March evening as a Russian teacher of English and I stepped out into the night on the University Embankment of Vasilevsky Island in Saint Petersburg in 2004. We were colleagues in the same private language school which worked in conjunction with the Philological Faculty of the State University in that city. The pavement thronged and massed with students, other teachers and administrative staff as these courses were very popular and chucked out at 9 PM. We were going in different directions so we paused for a brief conversation.
He looked at me, sighed and said "The world is becoming a dangerous place!”
I looked at him askance. "What do you mean?” I said.
"NATO jets will soon be in Riga just five hundred kilometers away," he responded.
All three Baltic States were in the final processes of joining up to NATO.
I was living at the time, by choice, without any media at home. No TV, radio or internet.
I was aware of this development and didn't see any problem with it. In fact I thought that Russia itself would probably if not become a fully fledged member then at least make some kind of affiliation agreement in the relatively near future.
I knew that many Russians including many in the government remained highly suspicious of this organization but I blithely assumed that these were just old Soviet psychological cobwebs that would soon be gently dusted away into the half forgotten annals of history. I was genuinely surprised by his trepidation, especially as this person had taken the trouble to study to become an English teacher, had traveled in the USA and in general knew a lot about the Anglo-Saxon world.
I launched into an improvised monologue that I would often find myself repeating over the following years. I told my friend that this was nothing to worry about. That these jets weren't going to do anything bad to him or to his mother or to his Motherland. I enthusiastically explained that NATO was a force for peace and stability in the world because that is what I actually believed back then.
After all hadn't NATO succeeded in ending Soviet communism without a shot being fired? Where would be now if the USSR and Warsaw Pact had "won” the cold war. Isn't it true I continued that we are having this free and easy conversation on the street thanks to NATO! This wasn't possible when I had visited the Soviet Union except in the presumed privacy of one's own home. His daughter was living nonchalantly in America now with no problems on either side thanks to NATO! He had visited her there without complications thanks to NATO. He had been on holiday to Greece thanks to NATO. He had free, uncensored internet and could study anything he wanted to thanks to NATO. He could buy or read any book he so desired thanks to NATO. He could now buy and try any food from around the world, build his country house with top quality German tools and Finnish products and all sorts of other advantages and improvements in lifestyle all of which were thanks to NATO!
While my interlocutor didn't come up with any concrete facts to refute my observations I could feel that he remained distinctly unimpressed and somewhat despondent. We were both children of the cold war but from different sides and I put it down to mental habit, while not questioning my own of course, and to piqued pride at a lost empire (The Baltic States had been "incorporated”into the USSR in 1940 and were a popular holiday destination during Soviet times.)
This was, obviously, in itself an "imperialist” way of thinking as many foreigners, especially Americans often accused we Brits of having the same problem: something I had personally never felt. We chatted about some other stuff for a few minutes and said our goodbyes. As I walked home, across the Lieutenant Schmidt Bridge, along the English Embankment to the English Prospect were this Englishman was at the time living, I mulled over my colleague's worries but my conviction that my rosy view of NATO and Russia's future cooperation with it was based on solid foundations soon lead my thoughts to more important matters: such as dinner.
As time went by the subject would come up with increasing regularity among friends, students and from the Russian television which I had begun to imbibe. As I watched the ever increasing amount of amazingly surreal spats between the British and Russian governments over the next ten years I put it all down to bad advisers in the Foreign Office and MI5 or 6.
Strange, I thought, though as in Margaret Thatcher's time she seemed to have been very well advised on the USSR. It must just be less important now, I supposed.
When it came to the increasingly suspicious attitude taken towards NGOs working in Russia by the Russian government and media, I put it down to the residues of Soviet paranoia. After all, weren't countries like Britain and France full of NGOs, many of them foreign funded, without it seeming to be such a big problem? Even the "missile defense systems” the US was planning to install in Poland and Romania and that Obama initially promised to scrap on coming to office still seemed innocent enough to my believing mind. In spite of the fact that I had seen very clearly that the western media had, on mass, as if to order, started to report Russia in a very negative and false light as soon as the Soviet Union collapsed, and that their coverage of the country had nothing in common with the reality of my life there since 2003, nothing prepared me for the total "breakdown” of the main stream press in August 2008, when it universally painted Georgia's gun-ho invasion of South Ossetia as an unprovoked Russian invasion of Georgia. I was on holiday at the time and didn't really get the whole picture until my arrival in Britain a few weeks later which is probably why I was still able to convince myself that it was simply a mistake on the part of a press who's main attention since the end of the cold war had been elsewhere.
More and more Russian friends from all walks of life (and I know people here from pretty much all walks of life) were telling me that the US and NATO were encircling Russia, preparing to bring about regime change or even to attack her and dismember her in order to rape her natural resources and ensure that she could never challenge US hegemony. It all still sounded "a bit extreme” to me and there was also a not so small minority of Russians, some of whom I knew, who believed the West remained the "good guys” and this was all Putin's fault.
My main reason, dear reader, for not understanding what was coming was that I couldn't see how any of the suspicions expressed by my Russian friends and acquaintances, if true, were in the real interest of western nations such as the UK and the USA et al! In other words I still believed that our governments were working, albeit sometimes falteringly or misguidedly, for our best interests. Some of you may well laugh but many Western friends and acquaintances to this day still cite that as the main reason for refusing to believe me now when I tell them that if we are on the verge of a third world war, it is almost entirely the fault of the west!
After all, I told myself and all these worried Russians that the fundamental interests of Russia and other western nations were basically the same as we shared the same life styles, same historic, cultural and religious ties and obviously could find huge mutual advantages in cooperating with each other. The Cold War had been an aberration caused by Bolshevik terrorism and now we could reunite Europe without any more strife. Couldn't we? After all, we were no longer in the Nineteenth Century when every European country and Empire was in direct and sometimes aggressive competition with every other. Were we? It would be absolutely insane to pick a war with modern Russia when in our age, there is palpably nothing to pick a war about; wouldn't it? Our leaders simply wouldn't do that now erm, would they?
The blinkers finally came off my eyes during the months of February and March 2014. The anti Russian propaganda of the MSM reached unparallelled peaks of rabidly racist hysteria timed to coincide with the Winter Olympics in Sochi. At the same moment in Kiev Ukraine, after mass killings of protesters and police by anonymous snipers the mob took over on Maidan Square vapourising an agreement that had been hammered out the day before and president Yanukovich fled for his life. Some say that this was also timed to coincide with the Winter Olympics in Sochi.
If I have been around Russian people for thirty years and lived in Russia for ten, I have also been around Ukrainian people for twenty years and am no stranger to the internal tensions and divisions that have been inherent in that country in their current form way back into Soviet times.
I am also no stranger to the particularities of Ukrainian nationalism.
However. At first I had some sympathy with this Maidan protest for the reasons stated above and as Ukrainian friends had left me in no doubt as to the incredible levels that corruption has reached there but I found their tendency to blame Russia for all their problems ridiculous as I knew this simply couldn't hold water as a serious argument.
The Soviet Union, maybe, and then, but modern Russia was not the Soviet Union and it alarmed me to see that some Ukrainian friends made absolutely no distinction between the Russian Empire, the USSR and the Russian Federation.
According to them it was all just Russia and was-had been bad for Ukraine.
I also became increasingly nervous about the level of support this Maidan protest seemed to be garnering from Western politicians and unelected EU leaders who had always been very unimpressed with mass public disorder in their own countries.
I couldn't understand why the EU was forcing Ukraine to chose between one side or the other. It seemed to me not to be rocket science to let those who wanted to look towards Europe and trade with it to do so and those who gravitated towards Russia to do so likewise.
I knew it to be utterly insane to try to cut Ukraine off from Russia with such huge and deep rooted familial, cultural, historical and economic ties.
Ukraine and Russia are much more intimately entwined that England and Scotland; even if some western Ukrainian nationalists refuse to accept that fact because it's not their history. Also, the perceived and actual differences between many Ukrainians and Russians are considerably less than those between Essex man and Yorkshire man for example.
"If that kind of pressure continues it could lead to a civil war!” I told myself and others at the time. Surely our leaders must know that. They have advisers and experts, don't they?
I then remembered watching flabbergasted as in 2008, at the time of the Georgian war, as British Foreign Secretary Milliband flew off to Kiev in order, as the BBC put it "to create an anti Russian front” in spite of the fact that half of Ukraine was very pro Russian and that Russia had not done anything to merit such a response.
In retrospect this was just a rehearsal for the events now unfolding.
Furthermore, all over western and then central Ukraine, government buildings, police stations and arms depots were being taken over by well armed and well trained nationalist mobs as I could see online; but none of this ever seemed to appear in western media outlets.
On social sites I noticed Russian and Ukrainian friends beginning to divide into camps, pro or anti Maidan (but not along national lines).
After the change of regime in Kiev, came the reunification of Crimea with Russia and the explosion of alarmist fear mongering from the new Kiev rulers, Washington, London and Brussels. "Putin must be stopped,” " He is the new Hitler,” "He'll be at the channel ports in weeks if we don't do something”.
Yes, the media coverage of the Maidan protests had been biased but not totally. There had been "some” mention of the fact that the half of the country who had voted for Yanukovich did not want the EU or NATO and preferred to remain close or get even closer to Russia.
There had been "some” mention of ultra right wing forces involved in the protests and even of US interference. Not much but some. The minute it became clear however that Russia and Crimea were not going to let the Ukrainian nationalist paramilitaries onto the peninsular and above all that they were going to organize a snap referendum on whether or not Crimea should return to Russia, the Western press (British, American and French media that I was personally watching) and by account all other western media too, switched en mass and on cue to a total demonology of Putin and his country and an equally total adulation of the new Kiev government in true totalitarian style.
How is that possible, on mass, in supposedly free and independent countries with supposedly free media? The brutal answer to that question seems to be that it is not possible and therefore it follows that we are no longer living in free or independent countries and that we no longer have a free and independent media.
The twenty first century actually began on one of those forty eight hours in Kiev from February 20th to the 22nd 2014 at the moment of the sniper shooting on Maidan leading to the successful overthrow of the Ukrainian government.
Exactly one hundred years after the nineteenth century disappeared into the conflagration of the First World War and revolution ushering in the real Twentieth Century, in 2014 we have seen our world stood on its head and seemingly at lightening speed. Even though, as a hundred years ago, the underlying problems and causes have existed and have been festering and fermenting for a long time. Their sudden eruption over our old world seems to to have caught so many of us by surprise.
I don't know about you but when it comes to this 21st century, so far, I'm distinctly not a fan!
In Ukraine we are witnessing the greatest level of mass psychosis in the very heart of Europe since the death of Stalin and the Nuremberg rallies. Far from trying to help extinguish what is a hugely dangerous and destructive phenomenon, the USA, EU and NATO have relentlessly poured petrol onto the fire and fanned the flames cynically using the resulting inferno to serve a totally deluded conception of what the West's interests actually are.
This is quite literally the radicalization of hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians, especially the young, just as with Islamic fundamentalists, only this time into into extreme Russophobe nationalism.
The cause may have a different name but the mental, psychological process is identical. The result too! Western governments backing Kiev know this perfectly well. How to spot a Ukrainian who has succumbed to mass psychosis? This is the litmus test. If they start saying that "Ukraine is utterly united as one country. All people who oppose the new Maidan government are not Ukrainians but Putin's spies, spetsnats operatives and Russian fighters who have sneaked across the border with the ultimate purpose of killing all Ukrainians.”
Then they use the phrase "the aggressor” categorizing the above but basically meaning Russia in its entirety. They are in the grip of mass psychosis.
You don't have to be an expert on Ukraine to understand the insanity of this.
Is your own country utterly united? Is your own town or city utterly united? Your family? You with yourself? Ukraine, even before independence from the USSR has been one of the least united countries on Earth!
I was dumbfounded when the first Ukrainian friend said this to me. Then I began to hear it with increasing regularity from friends, acquaintances and from media interviews. The same identical phrases always hurriedly spat out and repeated over and over.
If we transmute this into US politics, it is as if the Republican Party suddenly started to say that there are no Democrats in America. "America is utterly united behind us.” All these " so called” Democrats are all in fact Cuban spies and soldiers who have been sent across the border to kill all Americans. They then proceed with an "anti terrorist operation” bombing and shelling Democrat areas of the States in order to subdue them or wipe them out!
It is really very frightening to see people, and intelligent, well educated and formerly lucid people, some of whom are close friends of mine and with whom it was possible to have rational conversations about the future of Ukraine as little as a year ago, seemingly willfully switching off their own inner light one after another and leaping into the black writhing pit of mass stupor.
One of the most obvious results of this is that the US backed Kiev regime's politicians and spokespeople are pathologically deluded liars; yet everything they say is reported by the Western press as if it were Gospel truth with zero cross questioning.
This is also the main reason why the Ukrainian army has proved so ineffective in action.
Their entire raison d'etre is based on totally false foundations, false beliefs and empty slogans where as the Donbass self-defense fighters, even if some cling to old childhood illusions (admiration for Lenin and sometimes Stalin etc.) remain lucid about the current situation and know exactly what they are fighting for and why.
To bring radicalized individuals back to consciousness is a costly, delicate and time consuming business and recent history shows that not everybody makes it back.
In this situation I can't see anything good coming for Ukraine for a very long time, regardless of what happens in the ground.
Extreme nationalism is simply a recipe for lack, disintegration, poverty and ultimately destruction and death anywhere in the world at any time in history! Always has been and always will be.
Furthermore, in US-controlled Ukraine, Western agro-business multinationals are moving into Europe's greatest expanses of fertile soil with genetically modified food and fracking plans. This, by the way, is one of the main reasons why the Donbass people have to be subjugated or got rid of . Royal Dutch Shell signed an agreement with the Yanukovitch government to start fracking in Donbass. The population there don't want or need this as their brothers across the border are swimming in cheap natural gas. Kiev, Washington and Brussels do want this as not only can they make a fortune out of it, but shale gas from Donbass would help to reduce dependency on Russia for supplies and further undermine the Russian economy. Fracking is extremely unpopular in Europe and North America but US backed Ukrainian leaders have repeatedly described the people of Eastern Ukraine as insects, beetles, terrorists and subhumans so they will just have to put up with it, move away or die.
The most frightening fact of all is that every word and accusation that comes from this radicalized government in Kiev is designed to bring NATO and anybody else who will "help” into the armed conflict in the east on their "side” and that they think it is completely normal for the whole world to sacrifice itself, even to the point of a nuclear holocaust, to support their insane delusion of not only a Ukraine "utterly” united around Lenin, Stalin and Khrushchev's artificial borders but for many, a Ukrainian empire stretching all the way to Vladivostok.
NATO, that force for peace and stability that I used to believe in, has become a very aggressive force for instability in Europe and the world.
It is headed by jerky puppet like "hollow men, headpieces full of straw” who spout fallacies and double speak at every opportunity. It has become the private army of the Western military industrial complex and it is the largest and best equipped fighting force the world has ever seen with only the most tenuous connection to any form of democratic decision on its use.
In fact, NATO seems to be an exact mirror image of what it used to be at the time of the Cold War.
As stated, twelve years ago I thought I perfectly understood why many states in Eastern Europe wanted to join NATO but it has turned into a deeply poisoned chalice, a mirror image of its former self, fermenting nationalism and bringing them much closer to exactly what it was, in their minds, supposed to protect them from: a major war with Russia and the resulting devastation of their lands and people.
The mirror is in many ways a perfect metaphor for this whole crisis and for the "brave new world” in which we find ourselves. It really seems to be the exact opposite of the Cold War world into which I grew up. Western "democratic” politicians have publicly heaped praise on those who launch petrol bombs at unarmed policemen and forcibly take over police stations and other state buildings without ever seeming to consider that this would inevitably return to haunt them one way or another.
When the people of eastern Ukraine did exactly the same thing, in order to protect themselves against the ultra nationalists who had been installed in their capital and whom they had long known hate them with a radical vengeance, that was considered by those same politicians and their press as criminal and terrorist.
Ukraine has in fact been invaded by the USA albeit without "many” American boots on the ground for the time being.
This is never mentioned.
Crimea's return to Russia however is portrayed as a violent occupation even though not a shot was fired and there was no invasion because Russian forces were already legally there including with the right of rotation.
This event of deep spiritual significance for Crimeans and Russians (while for Crimeans it was also a matter of survival). It is, however, being painted as a breach of international law while the US-instigated coup d'eatat in Kiev is not.
The principle of self determination is never mentioned either although this was one of the foremost justifications for Britain liberating the Falkland Islands from Argentina and for refusing IRA terrorist pressure in Ulster because a violent minority was trying to force its will onto the majority.
If Crimeans and Russia had not acted as they did in what was a brilliantly executed operation there would be genocide and ethnic cleansing in Crimea too now just as in Eastern Ukraine, plus the possibility of the Russian and Ukrainian troops stationed there having started to engage one another. Not to mention the US navy sailing out of Sevastopol and setting up as the kings of the Black Sea, which of course was another of the main reasons for the whole regime change operation in the first place.
The West now seems to have a totalitarian press resembling that of the pre Gorbachev USSR and Nazi Germany, a situation absolutely without precedent as far as I can see, and true to style it constantly accuses the Russian press of being exactly what it itself has become.
Apart from some occasional moments of self sabotaging insanity, the Russian press has become, in truth, considerably more objective than that of the West today. The difference is that, for the most part, it is the government speaking to you; openly without any cover up. Everybody knows this and assesses what they see, hear and read as they see fit.
At least up until last December when I was last there, Russia's internet remains freer than that of the UK to name but one example.
The Anglo Saxon world, with a possible question mark over New Zealand, has been the victim of a silent putsch.
Although many "ordinary” people's lives do not seem to have changed much for the time being, our mainstream political parties have all merged into one and do the bidding of the CIA and military industrial complex and their financiers while still maintaining the appearance of having alternative agendas. Result? There is no real opposition anymore to question and censor. But we are supposed to go out and vote anyway. Massively controversial policies such as waging war with Russia meet with almost total acquiescence from politicians and media alike with only an ever dwindling number of elder states-persons, former ambassadors and aged experienced commentators to raise their voices of wisdom in the wilderness of this "moronic inferno”.
We have massive government surveillance of our own citizens and everybody else. Freedom of speech is being drastically curtailed under the guise of such dubious ideologies as political correctness and career prospects take a turn for the worst if people publicly express nonconformist views! Twelve years ago at the time of the US, the UK led invasion of Iraq some major European countries were clearly still independent of US control. Chillingly and insidiously, this situation has changed and it now seems that all the major countries of Europe are in the clutches of the new American reality and out of those who have attempted to escape the encircling coils even for a moment, not one has so far succeeded.
Having lived in France and Russia for many years I always resisted the anti-Americanism that is so often expressed in these countries.
It always seemed to be largely the result of petty jealousy and spleen about America's position in the world and of course, a "left wing” ideology in which I could never find any satisfactory answers.
I was not blind to many of the USA's downsides and as a child I was always for the Indians and not the "vulgar” cowboys but America's positive contribution to the Twentieth Century seems to me to have been literally staggering.
As I observed however, last spring and summer, the way Obama and his administration were relentlessly pushing for confrontation, upping the ante, making absolutely untrue, propagandistic pronouncements about the people of Donbass and Russia's actions and intentions, whipping up the initially very reluctant Ukrainians (apart from the ultra nationalists) to start shooting each other and actually goading Putin into invading eastern Ukraine, I could literally feel, as a distinct physical sensation in my brain, my hardly used, painfully narrow, "anti-American” neural pathways opening up.
I realized that US government policy was trying to destroy everything I believed in and had hoped was already somewhere in sight. A genuinely united Europe with free trade and liberty of thought, expression (but not to blindly insult others) and freedom of movement throughout the continent and further. A multi polar abundant world without loser countries and without anymore massive wars. This is really not so difficult to achieve. How could it be that we had not learned the lessons of the twentieth century and that above all it was now the "democratic victors” of the Cold War who were becoming the undemocratic enemy faster than it was possible to keep up with.
I repeat: I've been around Russians for thirty years, Ukrainians for twenty and have lived in Russia for ten years.
Obama and Kerry's mendacious declarations and the mass media distortions were not going to pull the wool over my eyes.
It struck me immediately that I only had general knowledge about north Africa, Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan. I have never been to those places, I don't know anybody there and don't speak their languages.
What would I have thought about US, NATO policy in there if I had?
Only now that this had touched a part of the world I know intimately did I begin to truly see through all the massive lies and deceptions and I could hardly believe just how massive and how deceitful they actually were.
The next realization was of course that most people at home who did not have any detailed, on the ground knowledge, of Russia and Ukraine or any of the other countries where the US, NATO and the IMF have sown death and destruction would almost certainly continue to believe their televisions and newspapers.
This seems to have been born out by my own experience talking to people in Britain and France. The media's reporting on other matters, domestic and international seems, as far as I can tell, to those of us who have only general knowledge of the matters being discussed, to be more or less normal. Certainly less blatantly slanted.
Many organizations such as the BBC or the New York Times have well seasoned, established reputations and pedigrees so most people find it hard to believe that what they are being told about Russia and Ukraine is so totally untrue. Now tell me that is not a conspiracy! Well! Yes! There you have it! I've used the "C” word but that is a worthy subject for a whole separate article.
It seems that one of the things we all find hardest to accept is change and this the main reason why this propaganda is working and the world is heading for a new, all out war.
The USA looks like the new USSR with Britain functioning as the new Soviet Bulgaria (the local hit man).
Most citizens of these countries seem blissfully unaware of their new " Brezhnevian” situation.
Germany looks like the new Soviet Romania posing as independently minded sometimes but always conforming to the will of the master state when the chips are down. Merkel, while having made a show of being a negotiator for domestic voter consumption, has in fact relentlessly pushed for war and sanctions in unison with the US in this crisis until now.
At the time of finishing this personal account of my own experience of massive change I am receiving some good news and some bad news. The bad news is that I have seen some reports from New Zealand that seem to indicate that they are also well down the road to police statehood. Yet to be confirmed however. The good news is that over the last two weeks, since Minsk II was signed, there seems to be a genuine rift emerging between Europe and the US.
In fact, to be more accurate, between the Anglo Saxon world and the non-English speaking European nations and, just possibly "really and truly” including Germany this time, on how to proceed with the crisis and above all concerning the question of whether to arm the Kiev government, something that would make a major war in Europe and maybe a third world war infinitely more likely.
It is too soon to make any predictions but it could be just the first hint of sanity returning to the "old European world.”
Insanity reigns supreme among the leaders of the English speaking peoples which, as I am proud to be one of them, leaves me desperately sad and very frightened.
It is nothing less than cognitive, intellectual collapse. Will they forge ahead with their regime change plans in Russia anyway, which is the big reason behind all the other reasons for the entire Ukrainian crisis, or will enough heads stand up for just accepting what is and allowing the emerging economies to take their place in the new world and just simply benefit from that rather than fighting it? It's really not rocket science after all.
All we can do is to speak out, every voice makes a difference. And pray.
I want to pray for and thank the people of Donbass who have borne the brunt of the fighting and destruction that they absolutely did not ask for or incite. Many, fighters and civilians alike, have perished, been maimed and wounded. They are not separatists! How can they be when they are at home protecting their own lands and homes from external attack? They are most certainly not terrorists either. They are fighting against terrorism.
They are quite literally at the very cutting edge of a struggle of world wide importance and historical significance between the total take over of the New World Order- IMF financial slavery- and the possibility of a multipolar positive economy and an abundant world.
If they fail, the lights will go out not only all over Europe but over the entire globe.
I am far from being the first to point out that we all underestimated the people of Donbass. I certainly did, largely because of my frustration with nostalgia for Soviet communism. Their stoicism, tenacity and organizational ability and sheer grit has become a historic example to all of us and to future generations.
Of course they are being helped! They must be. I guess. Although I am certainly not alone in having no proof of that. Not to help them would be a crime against humanity in itself but they have clearly understood why that help has to be, for the time being, surreptitious and so much less that they must so desperately have hoped for. They accepted the world situation, looked it in the face and fought on for their survival, regardless.
I dedicate this article to the people of Donbass, fallen and alive and kicking. Also to those killed or maimed on the so called "Ukrainian side” be they conscripted by the force of others, or conscripted by the force of their own loss of lucidity. In what is yet another utterly pointless and futile waste of human life and potential at the behest of the machinations of unconscious manipulators thousands of miles away on what they, over there, seem to believe is another planet.