Patrick Armstrong is a former political counselor at Canadian Embassy in Moscow
PUTIN INTERVIEW. Long interview with the German paper Bild. (Part 1, Part 2) As always, you should read it yourself rather than what interested parties want you to think he said. "We strongly objected to developments taking place, say, in Iraq, Libya or some other countries. We said: 'Don’t do this, don’t go there, and don’t make mistakes.' Nobody listened to us! On the contrary, they thought we took an anti-Western position, a hostile stance towards the West. And now, when you have hundreds of thousands, already one million of refugees, do you think our position was anti-Western or pro-Western?" Good question eh? What would the world look like today if Europe had taken Russia's advice? Or, if realists in Washington had been running things? But they didn't and they won't; they weren't and they won't be. And so, here we are today. But, cheer up: tomorrow we'll look back on today with yearning for a lost Golden Time.
THE RUSSIAN ISLAND. I'm always amused when I see people solemnly assuring us that Russia is "in decline" (Eurasia Group). Doesn't look it to me: pick any indicator you want and, starting in 2000, it will have improved. On the other hand, do the same for the EU or the USA and you would find decline pretty much everywhere, wouldn't you? This year's European troubles (Greece, Ukraine, sanctions, refugees/migrants) are the foretaste of worse to come. The USA with police killings, racial tension, disappearing middle class, armed militias, endless losing wars (about two-thirds of Americans see their country as on the wrong track) doesn't look much better. I do not, therefore, consider it absurd, or even improbable, to suggest that, in another half decade or so, Russia will be seen as an island of stability in a troubled world.
IS THE US LIVING IN A FANTASY? Couldn't resist giving you this exchange with the otiose US State Dept spokesman.
RUSSIAN WEAPON PHILOSOPHY. The Russian activities in Syria are certainly making people in the war business sit up and take notice and even reconsider their assumptions. Thanks to the Saker, we have an example of an important difference between the Russian and American approaches. It hasn't always been the case, witness the B-52 or the Sidewinder missile, but these days the USA tends to start from scratch. The end result are things like the F-35 or the littoral combat ship: fabulously expensive systems that may not work very well. The Russian (and Soviet) approach is to start simple and then improve with experience. The S-400 is an example of a system that started out in the 1970s and has been steadily developed since. The Russians have engineered a system based on their GLONASS network to make "dumb bombs" into "smart bombs". It is being used in Syria and gives the lie to scornful Americans. And, best of all, it's a modification to the aircraft so it's not destroyed when the bomb hits. So, it appears that the Russians often get "more bang for their buck". Incidently, read to the end: corruption is a big problem in the Russian procurement system and the Saker discusses it in this example.
FOOD. Once upon a time Russia imported a lot of pork from Canada. Then came sanctions and counter-sanctions and that market is gone. Forever. Bloomberg tells us that Russian pork production is booming. It's even exporting a bit. As many say, the anti-Russia sanctions are tough but, in the end, will be beneficial. We have never seen what Russian agriculture is capable of – serfdom, the village mir and communism were pretty deadly to production – and now we have an opportunity to. Certainly, Putin has a large ambition here. Not an impossible one and pork production is one improvement. Another is that Russia is a substantial grain exporter; something pretty unimaginable to those who remember Canadian wheat shipments to the USSR. Not exactly a country "in decline", is it? Yesterday is shown here; tomorrow in a few years.
THE LATEST BOGUS ATROCITY. Starvation in Madaya, Syria. I am continually amused that the propaganda makers still haven't learned that digital photos can be dated and geolocated.
UKRAINE. According to the responsible Russian agency 1.3 million displaced Ukrainians have contacted it and 419,000 have filed asylum claims in Russia. Another dismal Western poll. Yanukovich cancelled the EU association agreement when his experts told him it would cost Ukraine $160 billion. Karlin shows some of the statistics of the Ukrainian economic collapse since Maidan. Of course, the simple-minded blame Putin. Or as he said in the interview in reference to demands that Russia fulfil Minsk "You cannot demand that Moscow do something that needs to be done by Kiev." But Ukraine was never really about Ukraine, was it?