Mistakes in some arguments given for Russia’s action [re: Ukraine]

Maidan Square file photo

Subject:  Mistakes in some arguments given for Russia’s action Date:     Fri, 14 Mar 2014 From:   Ira Straus IRASTRAUS@aol.com Mistakes in some arguments given for Russia’s action By Ira Straus U.S. Coordinator Committee on Eastern Europe and Russia in NATO A. The imagined NATO threat It is argued that the EU association agreement was a step to NATO membership, and Russia had to head it off, to avoid this threat. This is roundl y mistaken, on several counts: 1. The EU association agreement is very far from EU membership. It is more a substitute for membership than preparation for it.  So many Europeans are against Ukrainian membership, and Europe is so tied down by a prior promise of Turkish membership that it cannot keep because of overwhelming popular opposition, that Ukrainian membership is not a prospect in any relevant timeframe. 2. EU membership does not lead straight to NATO membership.  Eastern Ukraine does not necessarily oppose joining the EU, but it has strongly opposed joining NATO.  This makes the two almost opposite in their probability (except for the fact that the EU doesn’t really want Ukraine either). NATO has specifically refused to agree to Ukrainian membership unless the criterion of solid public support is satisfied, i.e. unless Eastern Ukraine is not opposed. The prospect for that is non-existent — unless Russia literally drives Ukraine into it, w hether by driving Eastern Ukraine in a more pro-Western direction, or by driving NATO into seeing Ukrainian membership an urgent security issue rather than an issue of meeting general democratic standards and membership criteria. And in fact, I have seen no discussion in the West about Ukraine joining NATO; nor from Ukrainian leaders and revolutionaries (except to say it should not be even talked about; it appears they have learned from the experience of the Yuschenko years that it only further alienates the Eastern Ukrainians). The only people I have heard it from are people who are trying to explain Russia’s fears as having a reasonable foundation. 2a. Parenthetically.  Joining NATO without and against Russia — utterly unrealistic an issue as it was, at least prior to the Russian takeover of Crimea — does not by any logic or necessity mean loss of Russia’s naval base in Crimea.  This is one of those false beliefs that are spread widely in the media but are wi thout foundation. Cuba had an important American naval base throughout the nearly three decades of the Cold War when it was a close ally of the Soviet Union.  Even if Russia were to continue to be perceived as an enemy of NATO, a Ukraine-in-NATO could and almost inevitably would continue to host the Russian naval base in Sevastopol.  Bargains would be reached on this, most likely with the West playing a moderating role compared to Ukrainian political figures. Just as the Western pressure has already played an important moderating role already in getting Ukrainian politicians to draw back from the dangerous ethno-nationalist steps they took, e.g. on Russian language law and on appointments in Eastern Ukraine, in the first days of the new regime. In such an eventuality (and all this is a very remote eventuality), Sevastopol might well eventually turn into a venue where, ironically, NATO-Russia basing and naval cooperation would develop more concretely and profoundly than it h as thus far anywhere. 3. The Association Agreement with the EU, therefore, was not a geopolitical threat to Russia in any way. What motivated Russia’s opposition to the Association Agreement was, rather, either what Russia itself said motivated it (the threat to Russia’s economic interests in it), or else what Western Ukrainians saw as the motivation for Russia’s reaction, namely the threat in the EU agreement to Russia’s hopes for domination of Ukraine. 4.  It’s another of those myths about NATO, that “NATO rules do not allow a country to join the alliance if it has sovereignty or self-determination dispute”, and — therefore, it is argued, Putin, by occupying a part of Ukraine, can stop Ukraine from joining NATO. (Ditto is sometimes said about the EU.) It is really dangerous, if Russia believes this myth, too, and uses it as a motivation for seizing territories! NATO does have membership criteria, and one of these is that countries should resol ve their territorial and ethnic disputes. However, the criteria are discretionary, not legal rules, invented in the 1990s for practical purposes. NATO has already interpreted them flexibly, to let in other countries as long as they make, by NATO’s evaluation, enough good faith effort at resolving these issues, and not be at fault for keeping them alive. In a condition in which Russia is clearly at fault for creating a sovereignty issue in Ukraine, the effect is more likely to be the exact opposite of what it is expecting: It is more likely to be used as an argument in NATO for Ukrainian membership.  The model would be Germany and East Germany during the Cold War. Germany was given NATO membership, and NATO took up Germany’s claim to East Germany, on terms of agreeing that it must be pursued as voluntary reunification, not made by military force. Had there been no East Germany and no Cold War, NATO might have stuck with basically the same limited membership as the alliance had ha d in the first two world wars. B. The imagined putsch against Yanukovych The final collapse of every regime is a confusing and mysterious matter. Even in as open a society as the U.S. and as minor a collapse as the one of Watergate, it was a long time before Woodward and Bernstein were able to piece together an account of “The Final Days”. In the present case, the mysteries of regime collapse have been seized on to create a story of a putsch, and thence to delegitimize the new regime.  No putsch, however, in fact appears to have occurred. The regime simply melted away. 1. The claim by Russia that there was a putsch depends on getting the chronology wrong. Various contradictory claims are made, which put together enable a narrative making it sound like something somewhat akin to a putsch; e.g., that Yanukovych sent the security forces out of Kiev by completely voluntary order, in compliance with the compromise agreement; and at the same time, that the security forces were forced out by Maidan attacks. The one accurate point in the “putsch” narrative is that Maidan did reject the Feb. 21 agreement and did threaten to use further force and take over more buildings and capture Yanukovych if he did not resign. But none of this actually happened. All the reports and evidence I’ve seen indicate that the security forces were not forced out by attack, rather they left of their own free will, at a moment when conditions were relatively peaceful, after going on something like an “Italian strike”; and the Maidan role was not one of forcing them out but of assuring them of safe passage. Amazingly, they were allowed to go without violence all the way to Crimea. The most reasonable explanation I have heard for the behavior of the security forces is that they didn’t believe in the agreement to renounce violence any more than Maidan did, and once they saw the Yanukovych government was renouncing their own violence, they figured the game was up and jumped a sinking ship.  The departures not only began prior to what was envisaged in the Feb. 21 agreement; some of them went beyond the agreement. There is some evidence that the regime had been preparing an even more violent crackdown, for which the sniper attacks, killing government forces as well as protesters, were meant to provide a pretext; the argument that would have been used for that purposes would be the very one — blaming the snipers on the opposition — that Russian sources and media are still using, but now for another purpose of denying the legitimacy of the new regime. If this was indeed the intent, then it made absolute good sense for the security forces to jump ship, when they realized the plan for massive violence had been aborted; it must have seemed only practical common sense that it was all over. It is as a rather normal phenomenon during a revolution, for the regime forces to see the tide turning agains t them at some point, feel isolated from much hope or justification for their role, and jump ship.  That is not a putsch. It is not a perfectly clean democratically or consensually agreed transfer of power either, but as close to the latter as could reasonably be expected under the circumstances. In the face of the flight of Yanukovych himself, the parliament assumed authority. It was the most legitimate authority still extant — the representative body elected across the entire country, albeit under rules that Yanukovych had shifted in his party’s favor; and it included those of Yanjukovych’s own party who chose to side with legitimacy. It was also the authority that had in any case been intended to assume the acting power within another 24 hours, in the compromise agreement that had just been reached a day earlier but short-circuited by the collapse of the regime. It maintained a continuity of lawful authority and prevented a power vacuum. Russia would be complainin g a lot more had it not done done so, and so would everyone else: there would have been no coherent government authority at all, power in Kiev would have devolved to Maidan and power elsewhere to the strongest local forces on the street. In its first days the parliament was itself too close to the Maidan, but since then it has returned to functioning as a fairly normal, fairly intelligent, fairly representative government for all of Ukraine, east as well as west (with Maidan complaining about its sensible conciliatory appointments in the east). The entire Russian complaint boils down to the fact that the parliament’s authority began one day early, after Yanukovych had disappeared and there was a need for someone to assume authority. Oh, and one more thing — that it proceeded to impeach Yanukovych, again after he had fled; and the vote, while overwhelming even in this parliament, which had been elected with some advantages to Yanukovych’s party, was still 3% short of the s upermajority needed for impeachment. (It needed to proceed anyway, so it could name a new president and have the government function more or less normally.) It is silly. The parliament did right. It assured continuity of authority.  Putin, the conservative who fears chaos, ought to be praising it. So why is he not praising it? There must be a second Putin, our Dr. Hyde Putin.  Putin the resentful nationalist. Putin the man determined to strike back against the West that has been treating him unfairly. Putin the man bent on stirring up whatever trouble he can against the Ukraine that has turned against him. This Putin could indeed dream of criticizing this sensible conservative action of the parliament. And what is one to say of the Westerners who have repeated after this second Putin, the Putin of the chip on the shoulder?  I am at a loss. Resentful Westerners? People who need to strike a blow at the Big Daddy of the world, the West and anything that seems pro-West? Or just crazy conspiracy theorists? But why all the silly argumentation from Russia in the first place? Why the grasping at straws for the sake of argument?  There are two good explanations. On one level, it is something any foreign ministry will do on any issue, drafting something that will serve somehow as an excuse for what its government wants to do — in the present instance, destabilize Ukraine and seize territory from it. It is only surprising how weak the argument is, in this case, when there really was a kind of revolution, something that usually creates far more serious legal ambiguities. On another level, it is in the Soviet tradition of war. The use of propaganda as an instrument of war is not new, but was carried to a qualitatively new level in the Soviet tradition, replete with a department of disinformation in the KGB. Also raised to a new level was the concept of total war, war on all levels of socie tal functioning, war as the underlying relation to other societies and to its own society. That is presumably not the main current Russian mentality; it was not for the most part the actual mentality of the later Soviet period, but it has remained a tradition embedded in institutions and habits. 2. Who sent the snipers? The Feb. 21 agreement was to end the kind of violence the snipers had just committed and abort what some of the Western mediators believed was the imminent much harsher crackdown. Medvedev, as head of the Russian government, had been publicly advocating and demanding a harsher and more consistent crackdown, as a condition for further releases of the massive Russian bailout. Everyone who comments on this subject should listen to the Paet tape, which has been used to provide a glimmer of mysterious “maybe” to the Russian narrative. And people need to listen carefully. The transcript is not enough; indeed, it is misleading, because it cannot c atch the flow of the conversation, with its interruptions and continuations of thoughts. When listening, it becomes fairly clear that Paet is not stating on his own behalf, what the Moscow narrative has him saying on his behalf — that he thinks, or thinks people in Ukraine are increasingly coming to believe, that the opposition sent the snipers. He is rather simply reporting — as a diplomat is supposed to report — what he has heard from his interlocutor, specifically, repeating a remark from the Maidan medic Olga. The context is that Paet is discussing with Ashton the problems of forming an effective government, and is characterizing — and this is what his report is in fact about — . He portrays Olga, probably accurately, as a self-righteous civil society-type person, who regards no one as any good but the Maidan people and her friends. Making Olga part of the problem that he and Ashton are talking about. They are saying, in effect, “Here is this huge probl em that it is hard to put together a government that can proceed effectively. And here is this self-righteous civil society medic, refusing to participate in the government except on special terms of her own, trying to discredit from the start the reasonable politicians she wants to stay clear of and follow her heart instead. It is really disturbing!” Once I notices that this is the context in which he makes the specific mention of her accusation against the opposition politicians over the snipers, the meaning of that mention changes completely from the narrative that has been built around it. This conspiracy isn’t merely the proverbial; “shirt sewn onto a button”; it is a shirt sewn onto a button that isn’t even there. Listen carefully to Paet’s broken sentences (some of them completed as new sentences across the interruptions from the other person on the tape, Ashton), and it becomes clear that, no, he is not saying — what most people have mistakenly written that he is saying — that he believes what Olga said (about the snipers being from the opposition). All the constructs that have been placed on this tape to this effect — first by Russian media, later by Western media who picked it up after the spin had been made, and repeated it uncritically — are wrong. They are reporting a highly improbable speculation — that Paet was speaking for himself — as if it were a fact. Even without this evidence that the interpretation is false, the fact remains that it was just a speculative interpretation to treat it as his own view, not a fact. It has been a pretty bad violation of journalistic ethics, for people to write about this as if it were a fact, not merely a remote possibility, that he was saying this in his own name. There are several factors that add further to the improbability of the Paet-meant-it-himself speculation: a. Paet himself has stated that he was simply repeating and reporting what he heard.< br /> b. The language used is not one of a diplomat reporting to another diplomat some facts about the soundings he’s made on the ground after a short time there. Rather it is the language of the Soviet and post-Soviet intelligentsia: “more and more people are coming to understand…” (that the working class must take power, that the bourgeois politicians cannot be trusted, that the real truth behind all the deceptions is….). This tells us already, with near certainty, that these are close to Olga’s own words, not Paet’s personal formulation. If Paet were really expressing his own thought, he would have used language such as “the opposition might well have done it”, or “a lot of the people I talked to in this short time suspected that the opposition had done it”. And if he had spent a long time there, long enough to gauge trends in thinking, he might have said “more and more people are saying”. But still would never have said “coming to understand”, unless he had su bstantial evidence for understanding it that way himself. In fact he presented no such evidence; and in fact neither did Olga (see c below). Instead he used Olga-type language, “more and more people are coming to understand…”, for the obvious purpose of conveying Olga’s comment and tone. Experts on Russia ought to have caught onto this telltale clue. So ought anyone familiar with the differences between intelligentsia speak and diplomat speak. Really regrettable, this failure of professional expertise. c. There was a huge leap in logic and fact, made by Olga and all the spinners. Olga gave no evidence whatsoever of her accusation against the opposition politicians; her blaming of them was purely speculative. The only thing about which she gave evidence (and she now denies saying even this) was that the same people killed police and demonstrators. This gave no basis for the accusation itself. And thus the whole tape gave no evidence for treating it a s a credible accusation, only as an arbitrary one. Why would Paet embrace it without evidence? The answer is simple: he wouldn’t, unless he were lacking in logical capacity, or so pressed in the rush of things that he didn’t notice. And why would Western reporters embrace it without evidence, and with ample time to reflect? Many journalists and analysts have in fact embraced it without mentioning the gap in the logic, simply repeating the slurring over from one suspicion to a completely different one, and served as conduits for it. It is a very disturbing matter, far more serious than the one mentioned in b above; it is a far more dangerous fall-down on professional standards. At no point did she or Paet in fact give a statement of credence to Olga’s charges — and the belief that they did is the whole basis for the speculative frenzy about the tapes. Ashton instead refuted the one thing she was in a position to refute — what Olga said about the new coalition not wanting an investigation to determine the sources of the snipers. (And Olga has again denied having ever said this.) The thing they both regarded as “disturbing”, as one can see by listening to the full segment, is that someone of Olga’s standing in Maidan would make such a reckless charge to discredit the politicians who were the only hope in that situation. They did not seem surprised, just disappointed. We too should not surprised Olga would do it and smear her betters on the political side. One can simply look at how self-righteous and sectarian our own “civil society” tends to be; not to mention the Russia and Ukraine ones. She should be ashamed of herself. In her wish to feel superior to her own side’s more mature figures, she made of herself a liar, and made herself useful to the lies of her enemies. The evidence regarding the source of the tape is that it probably came from the FSB’s eavesdropping of Western communication, no other source being plausible or havi ng the capability. No doubt the FSB has a bundle of eavesdropping tapes. It would make sense, given the grain of uncertainty created by the interruptions within the conversation, that they would select this one from their collection, and seen it as one they might be able to misconstrue with a grain of plausibility, and so create a scandal via Russia’s journalistic network and subsequently Western journalists. In this, they had to count on Western journalists not to be careful enough to listen without being prejudiced by the way the tape was spun to them in the first place. They may also have counted on some Western journalists having a political or professional motive for embracing that spin; that is, as seeing the creation of scandals against Western governments, and by extension against pro-Western governments and forces, as being what they’re there for, the kind of scoop or expose that their job is about. Perhaps their experience, going back to Soviet times, told them that they co uld count on there being plenty of Olgas among Western writers and talkers. Whatever the reason, Western media have in fact turned out to be deplorably careless in repeating this spin; repeating it as if it were fact not as the pure speculation that it is; and “listening wrong”, merely hearing what they were first told they’d hear rather than what actually is there. 3. Who in actual probability were the snipers? There are only two theories for which there is testimony that seems worth consideration (with one footnote): a. A former Ukrainian SBU security forces person has said he specifically knows that they were SBU and acting by plan. Here is wikipedia’s summary: “Hennadiy Moskal, a former deputy head of Ukraine’s main security agency, the SBU, and of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, suggested in an interview published in the Ukrainian newspaper Dzerkalo Tizhnya that snipers from the MIA and SBU were responsible for the shootings, not for eign agents, acting on contingency plans dating back to Soviet times, stating:[221][222] “In addition to this, snipers received orders to shoot not only protesters, but also police forces. This was all done in order to escalate the conflict, in order to justify the police operation to clear Maidan.”” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2014_Ukrainian_revolution#Russian_involvement) b. The Interior Minister Avakov says it was a “third party”, the Russians, that did the sniper attacks. (Moskal says that Avakov is personally innocent but is trying to protect his MIA and SBU men.) A knowledgeable person has informed me that NATO facial recognition technology identified some of the snipers as Russian FSB. Here is Wikipedia’s summary of Russian involvement: “Russian authorities had been pressuring the Ukrainian administration to take decisive action to crush protests; and it has been noted that the assault on Euromaidan protesters by police was ordered hours afte r the $2 billion from Russia was transferred.[4][59] Several ministers from across Europe blamed Russia for exacerbating the violence.[60] During a 20 February interview, the retired[61] Colonel of the Main Intelligence Directorate of Russia (GRU) Aleksandr Musienko stated that the conflict could only be solved by means of force, and that Ukraine had proven it could not exist as an independent sovereign state.[61][62] According to classified documents released by former deputy interior minister Hennadiy Moskal, Russian officials served as advisers in how to carry out the operations against protesters. Codenamed “Wave” and “Boomerang,” the operations aimed to disperse crowds with the use of snipers and capture the protesters’ headquarters in the House of Trade Unions; prior to police defections, the plans included the deployment of 22,000 combined security troops in the city.[63] According to the documents, the former first deputy of the Russian GRU stayed at the Kyiv Hotel and played a major role in the preparations, and was paid by the Security Services of Ukraine.[64] Interior Minister Arseniy Avakov has stated that the conflict was provoked by a ‘non-Ukrainian’ third party, and that an investigation was ongoing.[65]  Following concessions on 21 February after a failed crackdown which left up to 100 killed, Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev suggested Mr. Yanukovych needed to stop behaving like a “doormat,” and that further loan tranches would be withheld.” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2014_Ukrainian_revolution#Russian_involvement) The two theories are not incompatible, in light of Russian involvement with the SBU. c. The footnote. The former head of the SBU, Aleksandr Yakimenko, now like Yanukovych in Russia, has, on the Russian main TV channel, Russia-1, blamed the extreme wing of the Maidan for running the snipers. In this case, Olga would have been trying to deflect the blame from her not always decent friends and dump it on to the decent politicians. This is at least worthy of investigation, as it is not impossible. However, it is on the whole a lesser possibility. It was documented by Prof. Dominique Arel that the Maidan, even the extremist wings of it, used force, in the months prior to the end of February, only in response to aggressive regime moves, as part of their self-defense ideology. Had anti-Yanukovych forces in fact done it, it would have been an extraordinary  gamble against the odds. For it would more likely have led to a much harsher crackdown than to the results that actually ensued. People should remember what a miracle it seemed, and with what joy it was greeted in Kiev, when the Yanukovych government disintegrated peacefully. And of course, one must ask how much credence can we give to Yanukovych and Yakimenko, with blood on their hands and under indictment at home, with no prospect for their future except through service to Russia. People who have unleashed already a lot of violence, embraced the country that was pushing them to kill harder, and are now serving it via its media as it strives to justify and secure its severance of Crimea from Ukraine and for it possible further military moves in Ukraine. They are indeed knowledgeable. But their credibility is low. So, what are the probabilities of the four potential culprits named thus far, based on the evidence and the intrinsic plausibility? This is my estimate: Ukrainian SBU – 60% Russian FSB – 60% Maidan extremists – 20% Anti-Yanukovych politicians – 10% Note that the totals add up to over 100%. This is because there could have been more than one group behind the snipers. Both sides may have had snipers, and the protesters’ snipers may have shot back as a defensive act once government snipers started shooting. This seems unlikely, if the story is accurate about the same bullet signatures appearing in both groups of victims, but is nothing intrinsically absurd. A greater probability is that there it was done by a pair of groupings on the government side: FSB plus SBU. I would place the odds of this at around 40% (leaving 20% for SBU separately and 20% for FSB separately). Why are FSB and SBU the most likely culprits? Because of the relative quality of the evidence, and because of the relative intrinsic plausibility. They were the most likely to shoot their own side, for the sake of creating enough confusion and sympathy as to provide a pretext for a more drastic crackdown. For three reasons: i. Because they are ruthless enough. ii. Because it is in their historical tradition. iii. Because it is the very thing they are always accusing “the other side” of doing. The thought is always in their mind: one can shoot one’s own side, in order to create an advantage. iv. More broadly, they are always talking about “provocations”. And have been doing so for the better part of a entire century, not just in post-Soviet times. The Soviet regime talked in paranoid terms about actions being convoluted “provocations” by its enemies, real and imagined, and in fact committed convoluted provocations itself on a massive scale. Also, more people were shot on the protester side, and apparently more selectively. It suggests they were targeted, while the government side was shot to help with spreading the “chaos” theory and justifying the crackdown. If it boils down to, probably the FSB or SBU, then which one, or both? The “both” theory is the most probable.  It is supported by the fact that there is some evidence for both. And by the Soviet roots of the two agencies. And by their recent interactions. And the quite public Russian pressures on Ukraine to itself do the crackdown. There have been earlier reports of Russian figures playing directive roles within Ukrainian institutions under Yanukovych. There h as been plenty of talk in recent years on Russian security forces as having acted in Ukraine. The furtive methods of Russian forces in Crimea in the last week have followed a similar pattern. This supports the joint-effort theory, with Russian security forces acting as prods and allies to Ukrainian security forces, and perhaps as enforcers. 4. Two theories have also been given about why Russia would have used snipers: a. as a preparation to excuse a much harsher crackdown, or b. as a way to destabilize Yanukovych further so he could be replaced by a regime more hardline  and more compliant with Russia. (In this case, it would have been a further reason for Yanukovych’s  calling off the harsher crackdown and signing the Feb. 21 deal. His talk with Putin would have made him realize what his stark two choices were, either give power to Parliament or to Putin.) So, which one? Was the sniper action supported by Yanukovych, or the oppos ite — feared by him, as part of an FSB-SBU coup against him? My guess is the first: that Yanukovych supported the snipers, and it was not a Moscow plot to overturn him. But at the same time he was probably not happy at the thought of going all the way with a further crackdown, and realized that his security forces also might not hold up psychologically in doing that, as government morale for killing people was already too frayed. Which was the “weakness” that the Russian government condemned in him. And he must have gotten some of the hints that were coming from Moscow that he had outlived his usefulness. 5. What does all this have to do with the alleged putsch? If the snipers were a Russian move to topple Yanukovych and/or abort the prospects of compromise in Kiev, then they were indeed a part of an intended coup. The coup was, however, aborted by the Feb. 21 agreement — and by the collapse of the security forces, the flight of Yanukovych once he r ealized he was without his props of support, and the installation by the parliament of a legitimate transitional government. In this case, Russia’s talk of a “putsch” is both an Aesopian expression of regret that it’s coup attempt had failed, and a projection of the guilt for it. If there had been no such Russian plot to topple Yanukovych and install a more complete puppet regime– and that is the greater probability — then there simply is no relation to putsch idea. Even in the least likely prospects, that anti-government forces had been behind the snipers, aiming to create chaos, still, there is the fact that the Feb. 21 agreement was reached and the security forces withdrew and the government disintegrated and was replaced by the parliament that was designated to replace it de facto anyway; so there was no coup. 6. The Putin regime’s blame-the-victim narrative What should we make of the idea of always accusing the opposition of staging the violen ce against itself? Russia has come to give this explanation whenever, just about anywhere around the world. an opposition to a pro-Russian regime suffers killings or violence. And has come to propagate this massively as the presumed truth until proven false, or even after proven false (and not just raise it as one of the objects of speculation that always has to be considered by an investigation, since it is indeed a logical possibility despite being the least plausible scenario in almost every case). This is one of the more significant developments in government ideology in Russia under Putin.  And a dangerous one. It gives a carte blanche to potentially unlimited state violence, as long as the propaganda organs are secured to make this the loudest story around. It is not, however, really a new invention. It resurrects old Soviet practices. Blaming the victim, or the victim’s side and party, was an important Soviet conspiracy theory, used to justify state murders on a vast scale in Stalin’s time. Stalin assassinated Kirov, blamed it on the accusation, staged trials of oppositions who were made to confess and killed for it, and meanwhile killed millions of others as accomplices in the opposition-enemy network. I wrote about this theory earlier already some years ago, calling it “The Syrian Defense”, after the Syrian government’s attempt to blame the assassinations of its opponents in Lebanon on the opposition itself, which supposedly was killing its own in order to gain international support.  (Johnson’s Russia List, 2007-#160, 24 July 2007, #16.) My article had an interesting after-history itself. It appeared under another title, “Echoes of the Kirov Assassination”, in The Moscow Times. RT honored it with an attack on it — even attacking the Moscow Times where it appeared. Perhaps it touched a nerve. The defense used by the Syrian tyranny for its crimes was, after all, one of the most important and frequent conspiracy theories used by the Russian regime — and by RT — to deflect attention from Russian regime crimes. It suggests how important the regime must have found it to protect its blame-the-victim harrative. It was a matter of securing the mental space needed for its narrative deflecting the blame for its crimes. The FSB appears to have spent a good effort on creating the current story and setting the propaganda machine in motion. Its effort has been well-rewarded. It is probably the first time I have seen an old-KGB-style disinformation operation in motion at such close hand. I have been able to watch some of the mechanisms of it unfold in front of my eyes. And have seen some of my good friends, to my enormous personal distress, serving as bit players for it. Commonwealth of Independent States , European States, adapted from CIA image accessible through Library of Congress