There is nothing wrong with you

Therapy shares the same pedagogical model as modern factory education and, for that matter, the model of pharmaceutical “treatment” of psychiatric “disorders”.

In all 3 cases the welfare (income) of one party (the provider of the treatment) depends on a consensus model that the other (the recipient of the treatment) is inadequate. The recipient needs the intervention to move them from this state of inadequacy to one of passable adequacy.

Naturally, with every contact between provider and recipient the provider does everything possible to create the inadequacy on which his business model, (as well as his power and prestige), depend.

Schools teach inadequacy. This is implicit in the doctrine that it is only possible to “progress” by following the set path of progression and obediently following the teacher’s instructions. On your own you can “achieve” nothing. In reality this is not true at all. Most people if motivated can teach themselves a great deal. It may help to have someone who can point out useful resources. But it is not in reality necessary to submit to the absolute authority of another in all areas of life in order to learn. The imbalance of power inherent in standard education enforces incapacity in the recipients. They are allowed to achieve but only on the terms and on the paths set down for them by the providers; who take the “credit” for the “learning” of their objectified “pupils”.

Pharmaceutical drugs used to “treat” psychiatric disorders often mess up the recipient so much that the recipient has to take more drugs to balance out the effects of the first ones. An almost dream business model. But hardly medicine.

Therapy also depends on manufacturing inadequacy. It depends on people believing that there is something wrong with them. This is why they need treatment. But, in reality, in the vast majority of cases there is just nothing wrong with people who are “in therapy” at all. (Other than they’ve made a mistake and are wasting their money). Therapists are generally very careful to avoid “seeing” people who have serious mental problems, e.g. of the kind that attract a schizophrenia label. The people they do “see” are in reality normal, functioning, souls.

From the moment the client first steps into the “consulting room” the therapist will do everything she can to give the client a sense of inadequacy.  The very fact of being “treated” implies that there is something wrong with the client. This is why therapists are so eager to present their activity as a form of “treatment”, using language such as “clinical”,  claiming that therapy is a “science”, claiming equivalence with people who do have a real training of some kind in a field governed by social science, such as clinical psychologists, and, of course, emphasising their “professional” status. The “professional” status which creates the “right to treat” implies one who needs to be treated. As the therapist “takes up” the position of therapist (the phrase comes from a leaflet about therapy training) so the person entering the “consulting” room goes down to the position of patient. From the therapist’s point of view it is a virtuous circle. Every time the client turns up for a “session” this very fact further confirms their need of treatment, their inadequacy. The effect deepens with exposure.

One of the core tricks of therapy is to explain that the client is likely to be suffering from a hidden trauma from their childhood. The “hidden” part explains why it can’t be seen by the client. The “from childhood” part creates the excuse for months or years of poking about in the client’s memories for the “hidden” source of their current problems.

In therapy ordinary life ups and downs are interpreted as a reflection of something inherently wrong internal to the client. The real world and the present drift further and further away from the client. The therapist’s bank balance swells.

But what is “wrong” with people who are “in therapy”? Nothing. They may have lost a partner to bereavement and be feeling confused and low. Maybe a relationship has ended. Maybe they are parents and are having trouble managing their rebellious son. Maybe they are 22 years old and “don’t know what to do with their life”. Maybe they have moved house and feel a bit at sea in a new location. Maybe they are wondering about their “life direction”. Maybe they feel anxious and stressed. And so on. All normal. Life is not a packaged product that flows off a shelf in a supermarket all ready to “enjoy” with the least possible inconvenience. Dealing with these problems is just a normal part of life. Taking the above list in order here are some suggestions: suffered bereavement;  join a group run by a voluntary association for people in a similar position. Relationship ended? Try dating; or, accept that you will be alone for a while. It’s perfectly normal and may give you a chance to try out some new hobbies. Parents – talk to other parents you know; if you don’t know any then this is a great opportunity to get to know some over a common problem. 22 years and don’t know what to do with your life? Go and get some careers guidance. Your local authority may even offer a free service. Then do what everyone in that position has always done; try out a few different jobs. Moved house and feeling lonely? A not uncommon problem. Most areas will have some kind of voluntary group to help people meet. Talk to your local council. Or simply go and join something. “Life direction” problem? Some people seem to sail through life without ever having any doubts as to what to do. But some don’t. So; you are one of the latter. That’s part of your life. It doesn’t mean there is something wrong with you. Life can have a bit of grit in it. That’s part of the challenge. Going “into therapy” when you encounter some difficulties is like deciding to climb a hill but at the first challenge (a scree, a stream to be forded, some slippery grass) giving up and demanding that someone carry you to the top in a litter, preferably one with an enclosed cabin so you don’t even have to look at life as you are carried to the top. Or, like taking up football but demanding that no one ever tackle you. Yes; you can pay someone to carry you through life in a litter with the curtains drawn, and no doubt you could find people to play non-tackling football but in terms of hill-walking or football it wouldn’t be any fun.

And, here, again, we see how therapy is like the pharmaceutical industry. It offers palliatives to smooth over the rough bits of life. But those rough bits are part of the stuff of life. If you eliminate them you live a soapy, watered down, version of life.

All these people want you to believe that there is something wrong with you because their business depends on this. Because they are making money (or getting power and prestige) out of it.

 

 

 

 

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Imperialists

The following are comments from someone called Mike Pennings who is apparently a minister of state in the UK government concerning a movement of Russian ships through international waters in the English channel:

Most of us thought the cold war was over. We thought we could look at the threats from other parts of the world and apply our defence accordingly. In the past couple of months we have had to look back to the old foe. We saw their fleet sailing through the English Channel, probably as a sign of what they could do.

We saw black smoke coming out of the top of the aircraft carrier—she could not have gone a knot faster if she had tried because she is so old and decrepit—but she represents a threat. Could they have gone round the north, as they have done before?

In fact, the weather was very bad off the west coast at the time, but probably they were sending a message. Our boys and girls in our armed forces shadowed her man for man as she came through. I know that because I was on a frigate in the channel while the aircraft carrier was coming through.

[On defence spending] Could we spend more? I am sure we could, but 2 per cent is a Nato guideline. Would it not be great…if the other Nato countries also stepped up to the plate and spent 2 per cent of their GDP on defence?”

What great news it was today that our GDP has increased, even though scaremongers, including the BBC and others, said that the economy was in a dive after Brexit. It has gone in the opposite direction, which will mean there is more money to be spent.

No Defence Minister would stand up and say, “No, we wouldn’t like to have more money,” and anybody who did would not be telling the truth. However, we have to live within our means and make sure that what we get is spent correctly. [1]

So. Mr Penning doesn’t forget to tell us about his big moment on a frigate in the channel. But he can’t his story straight. Is the Russian fleet a rusting joke or a real threat to the UK? It doesn’t matter. It will be used to call for more tax-payers’ money for British Aerospace and US arms corporations anyway. In passing we can note that these people think it acceptable to use the most undiplomatic of language. Even if you believe that Russia is a “foe” a decent person still shows some respect rather than abusing their flag-ship in the crude, vulgar, language of a street urchin. When these people do this they just show how little class they have…

Logically his remarks don’t stand up. While Russia sailing a fleet near the UK’s borders is an act of aggression by a “foe” the UK can do as it please. Only in February his boss, the equally foolish man, Michael Fallon was promising to send 5 warships to the Baltic Sea. [2] And the UK’s master, the US, is continually rotating destroyers into the Black Sea. [3] In June 2015 NATO staged a mock landing just 100 miles from Russia’s borders! [4]

It is imbecilic to think that your warships are like doves and Russian warships like dragons breathing fire. That “our” actions are peaceful and cannot be construed as a “threat” by the other side, whereas their actions are always deliberately threatening.

(We could add. At least the Russian warships are on their way somewhere. The NATO ships in the Baltic Sea and the Black Sea are all pointing directly at Russia).

The explanation for this irrationality, by which one sees ones own military actions as always “peaceful” and those of the “foe” as always “aggressive”, is the same as it has always been. Roman senators also saw their Empire as imposing peace. Barbarians (even ones living quite happily on the periphery) were always aggressive. The conviction of innate superiority. A belief in a divine right to rule. An inability to think rationally and objectively. An inability to acknowledge that the other could even have valid interests of their own. The thinking is all lop-sided. And still, after 150 years of compulsory schooling, and even with people who’ve been to University in a modern ahem ‘democracy’ in the 20th century it still happens. It presents a spectacle which is bizarre and alarming at the same time. It’s also potentially a little dangerous.

If Mr Penning is startled to find himself looking again at an old “foe” as if it were the Cold War all over again he could do well to ask himself what his actions, and those of his department, may have contributed to this sense of déjà vu.

Update – faking threats and winning contracts

The Western political ‘elite’ seem to think they can bash Russia in every possible way – economic sanctions designed to strangle its economy, military pressure (building up forces all around its borders), an active campaign of denigration of Russia in the press, constant accusations about “war crimes”  and so on, and then when Russia adapts its policy and the tone of its dialog (for example withdrawing from a certain treaty, seeking new economic alliances of its own, criticising Western policy) it is seen as “aggressive”.

This is the head of Britain’s MI5:

Russia increasingly seems to define itself by opposition to the West and seems to act accordingly. You can see that on the ground with Russia’s activities in Ukraine and Syria [5]

This is the same bizarre mental disease as the imperialists. They bash someone (the economic sanctions for example are openly and explicitly designed to smash the Russian economy) and then when there is any kind of protest that is seen as ‘aggression’ and disobedience. The other is allowed only to be submissive or not exist at all. This is the psychopathology of the wife-beater.  There is no room for a partnership of equals.

In Syria and in Crimea and in Eastern Ukraine Russia has rational national interests. They’ve acted to defend those interests. They haven’t done that like a spoilt child in “oppositional defiant” mode for the sake of picking a fight. They’ve done that because they have interests and have taken a decision that they will pursue them even knowing it will cause problems with the West – which has its own ambitions. Russia is engaged in a programme of modernising and for that matter ‘Westernising’ both its economy [6] and its social institutions. (For example adopting up to date standards in child care). On the international stage Russia has joined the WTO. It continually seeks negotiation on matters of international tension. Of course; Parker is free to believe that all the Russian attempts to negotiate with its international partners are a front carefully coordinated at every level of the Russian government for years on end. But, the overwhelming evidence is that Russia is forging ahead as its own nation which wants to integrate into the ‘world order’ albeit without sacrificing its national interests and history.

If this is the level of ‘analysis’ offered by Britain’s leading intelligence officer matters have come to an alarming pass. Not to mention questions about how the tax-payers’ money is being spent in paying Andrew Parker’s salary… On the other hand, and there is no point being naive, Mr Parker is not paid to provide the British political ‘elite’ with objective analysis. The role of the intelligence services is to support British imperialist policy by fair means or foul. “Sexing up” (faking) the “threat” posed by weapons of mass destruction in Iraq was a case in point. Manipulating public opinion by planting stories in the press is par for the course. (In the run up to the Iraq war MI6 was planting stories in the media in non-aligned countries in an attempt to manipulate the UN vote). [9] So – Parker is simply doing his job. He may even be very good at it. It just doesn’t include providing neutral, objective, analysis.

It is unlikely to be a coincidence that on the same day that Parker gives an exclusive interview to the Guardian about the “Russian threat” [7] the Foreign Secretary, Philip Hammond, has announced massive increase in spending on “cyber-defence”. [8] Great news for the US/UK corporate IT industries but bad news for ordinary people.

Notes

1. Daily Telegraph. 29 October 2016.

2. Guardian. February 2016. UK to send 5 warships to the Baltic

3. RT. July 2016. US Destroyer enters Black Sea

4. Guardian. June 2015. Report on NATO landing exercise near Kalingrad

5. RT. November 2016. Report on MI5 head, Andrew Parker’s comments to the media

6. New Obs. Review of OECD report on Russia

7. Guardian. Nov 2016. MI5 head Andrew Parker gives exclusive interview to the Guardian 

8. Guardian. Nov 2016. Philip Hammond announces increase in spending on cyber-security.

9. Scott Ritter. War on Iraq. Profile Books 2002

Exaggerated claims about autism study

This will be the first of a series of articles on ‘fake science’. The current academic/scientific community works with the media to promote claims about ‘reducing symptoms’ in various specified conditions/diseases. Here the categories of psychiatry come into play. Using categories the overall fact – behaviour (in anyone) can be improved by behavioural interventions can be presented as “scientific findings” about “symptoms” of a given condition such as ‘ADHD’, ‘learning difficulties’ or, as here, autism. Where would they be without all these categories? The claims produced are very typically based on intensive studies which have been set up to force a result. A small statistical result is then misreported to represent a major finding. The misreporting often starts with the researchers who tip the reporting in a certain way. It is often not a case of the press simply misreporting the data.

This is an example of a report on a recent paper on autism. The report is in the Guardian though the Daily Telegraph also gives it the same treatment.

The study used a sample of 152 young people. There was a control group (no intervention) and the test group who received the intervention. The intervention was an intensive parental-training programme.

The Guardian reports: at the start of the study 50% of participants in the control group were assessed as ‘severely autistic’ and 55% in the test group as ‘severely autistic’. At a 6 year follow-up study 63% in the control group were assessed as ‘severely autistic’ and 46% in the test group.

Often these studies rely on parents for the ratings. This introduces a special situation of relativity. Are we measuring something objective in the young people or a change in their parents’ perceptions and feelings? Even when this is not the case often the raters aren’t blind. They know which group received the intervention and thus may be subconsciously influenced. In this case we haven’t had a chance yet to review the source paper so we don’t know whether either of these were the case in this study. Another problem that can occur is that the control group is not representative of what really happens and this can tilt the statistics towards the much desired dramatic result. Often the intervention is of a “pure” form which is unlikely to be replicated in the real world. Another problem is that the focus of measurement is on “symptoms”, which means behaviour. Do modifications in behaviour represent a real benefit to the person being treated? In this study for example, while “symptoms of autism” were improved, according to the Guardian report, there was no improvement in anxiety or “depression” in the young people. Perhaps they had merely been got to behave a bit better. Their “autism” (a physical defect?) was not effected at all.

At any event. Taking the results as they stand it would appear that some young people in the test group have been moved down at least one category in the level of their autism assessment. A small but significant percentage of the test group showed this improvement. In the control group (no intervention) this figure went up. So. The study shows (other potential problems aside) that this intensive intervention can have an impact at improving the worst behavioural excesses of autism in a small but significant number of young people.

That’s great.

But any possible real-world benefit from this (which is in reality no more than a confirmation of what is already known – intensive behavioural interventions can modify behaviour in autistic children – is lost in the exaggerated reporting. The title of the piece in the Guardian is already a piece of drama:

“Study offers potential breakthrough in care of children with autism”

And this, the first sentence, is phantasy:

A new form of therapy has for the first time been shown to improve the symptoms and behaviour of autistic children, offering a potential breakthrough in care for millions of families

Perhaps the author should be writing adverts for ‘new’ chocolate bars. She manages to get the words “new” and “first time” and “breakthrough” and “millions of families” into the one sentence. Of course none of this is strictly speaking not true. The idea of training parents in behavioural interventions for ‘behavioural disorders’ is not new. But you could argue that the programme put together for this study was a “new form of therapy” – by definition. And yes given that the study showed a small percentage benefit you can, if you imagine a large enough population, extrapolate from the study to claim that if applied in the real world “millions” would benefit. “Breakthrough” would be more contestable but then ‘breakthough’ is a vague word capable of wide interpretation. Nonetheless there is nothing really new here. The improvements were in a lab study. The problematics of translating this to the real world are not addressed (costs of running the programmes, resistance of parents to take part, and so on).

To be fair the authors of this study are reported as acknowledging limits of their study. E.g.

This is not a cure, in the sense that the children who demonstrated improvements will still show remaining symptoms to a variable extent, but it does suggest that working with parents to interact with their children in this way can lead to improvements in symptoms over the long term

Nonetheless there is a problem here. Precisely because of the marketing style hype the actual real findings, the real applicability, are lost. In some cases of ‘behavioural disorders’ training parents in behavioural interventions can be helpful. Perhaps this particular study puts a new spin on it but there is nothing here of the order of a “breakthough”. The hard work would be implementing this already existing knowledge. In the current context that might mean policies and programmes set at the highest level by the Department of Health and the NHS. It would mean a big budget allocation. There is a kind of a split here. On the one hand researchers produce these papers – after all they want to get published and attract funding – and the press reports them in sensational terms – after all they want to sell more papers – and on the other hand there is the real world of limited resources in the NHS. (As well as particular problems with parent resistance which can often be a problematic in getting take-up of parent training programmes).

A more concerned approach would focus on how the already existing knowledge could be meaningfully applied in the real world. Indeed (with Illich in mind) rather than look to an implementation of costly parent-training programmes by the NHS we could envisage the NHS playing a role disseminating information which was then taken up by local ‘champions’ and voluntary associations of parents who implemented the ideas – without the requirement for a ‘professional’ paid ‘expert’ to tell them what to do. I.e. the dream of a scientifically literate and empowered democratic population.

Exaggerated, and therefore misleading reporting aside, such studies do have value. But simply shouting about them (at the top of your voice) from the rooftops is not going to get anywhere. We need to overcome this institutional paralysis and cultivated dependence on hierarchy and realise that if good ideas are to be taken advantage of the people themselves are going to have to self-organise and do that.

Routine propaganda + lazy journalism

This is just a routine example. It would probably be possible to collect hundreds of these each month in the Western media:

Western leaders are seeking maximum diplomatic pressure on the Kremlin to halt the intense bombardment of the rebel-held eastern part of Aleppo that has killed hundreds of civilians including children since a ceasefire broke down on October 3.

Daily Telegraph. 25-10-16

It is part of an article about the possibility of Russian warships on their way to the Mediterranean  refuelling in Spain. The piece, which is a typical example of the type of propaganda we find in the Western media, is based on ‘assessments’ provided by the US military alliance. One by the NATO Secretary General and another by the US Ambassador to NATO. No other voice is heard. The Russian point of view is certainly not represented. It is not even mentioned second-hand ‘for balance’.

We see here how the press behaves in a one-sided partisan way. They cite statements from their side, as if they embody objective fact. They do not consider for one moment that the statements by NATO and US officials might be part of an effort to get a certain point of view across, a point of view which, naturally, justifies their actions, which might, conceivably, not be disinterested attempts to build democracy all over the world. In other words the press acts just like the national press in war time.

They also print sheer made-up narrative lines. (Probably the press in war time does that too). Here we have the claim that, in Aleppo:

Russia has “killed hundreds of civilians including children since a ceasefire broke down on October 3”. Is that really true? “Hundreds” in the last 3 weeks. A period when even if the US wants to claim, as their spokesman does in the article, it hasn’t been consistent there have nonetheless been pauses in the bombing? Of course, no source, reliable or otherwise is given for the claim about Russia having killed “hundreds” of civilians in 3 weeks. In practice it is unlikely. Russia has been bombing. Very likely civilians have been killed. But the number seems too large. This kind of claim is floated out, unsourced, and is quickly taken as an absolute fact. It becomes a matter of ideological commitment (to liberal, Western, capitalism), to believe it is true. But if it were true – or at least reliable – why not provide the sources? It’s lazy not to. And it also facilitates the creation of fictional narratives.

There is a certain dovetailing of lazy (bad) journalism and propaganda in the Western press.

 

The goal of therapy

Therapy is about helping people feel more comfortable. It aims to help them feel less “distress”.

Let’s leave aside the question of whether therapy achieves that and/or the question of what price might be exacted in terms of self-respect and authenticity for achieving that. Let’s allow that therapy can help people achieve that.

Is it a worthwhile goal? The fact is that anyone who sets a life-goal which has themselves as the end is living a life which falls far short of what human beings can achieve.  To make comfort, personal pleasure, not feeling “distress” – which all comes to the same thing – your aim in life is to live a diminished life.

Any worthwhile life starts with setting an aspiration which takes you higher than your personal state of comfort. Making the happiness of your wife and children your goal in life is already a far higher aim that simply securing your personal comfort. This doesn’t mean being in therapy yourself and expressing your ‘care’ for your partner by sending them to therapy too. A family where each member has enough therapy so they don’t feel too much distress in daily living is hardly a family; it is a collection of narcissisms. There are many goals a person can choose which take them beyond themselves. It might be to get very good at a sport (to give pleasure to spectators, to teach it), to produce a work of art, to contribute to the political development of your country. There are manifold ways a person can aim for something higher than their own personal comfort. Someone who has a goal higher than their personal comfort may naturally pay some attention to their personal comfort; but only up to a point. It is not the end. They are prepared to suffer discomfort when that helps them achieve their goal.

Therapy sets a very low benchmark for life. It diminishes everyone who comes into contact with it. Therapy is diametrically opposed to the worthwhile path in life.

Therapy is vaguely aware of this and tries to compensate with some propaganda that being “in therapy” makes you a virtuous person of some kind. But this is a vacuous claim.

In the vast majority of cases when people are “in therapy” they are making their problems worse. Endlessly circling around discussing themselves as if they themselves were the most important thing in life. (One therapist referred to this as clients “rooting around like pigs in their own emotional shit” – but this is precisely what therapy encourages). In the vast majority of cases the best bet would be for the person to find a goal which takes them out of themselves.

The problem with this culture is an excessive self-preoccupation. (Necessarily concomitant with an economy which emphasises the individual over the collective). Therapy is part of this. The oil which makes the ghastly machine work.

 

 

 

How the West weaponizes civilian deaths

Civilian casualties

Yemen

Up to January 2016 the UN reported 2,800 dead and thousands more wounded. The UN, necessarily, weighs up its language carefully and blames both Houtis and the Saudi coalition. They do say though:

“Airstrikes have continued into the New Year, with around 11 strikes taking place in the capital Sana’a on Sunday and Monday (3 and 4 January), and further airstrikes are reported to have been carried out in the early hours of this morning,” UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) spokesperson Rupert Colville told the regular news briefing in Geneva.

He put civilian casualties recorded between 26 March and 31 December, 2015 at 8,119 people, 2,795 of them killed and 5,324 wounded, noting that at least 62 civilians were reported killed by airstrikes attributed to coalition forces in December, more than twice the number of November.

“We have also received alarming information on the alleged use of cluster bombs by coalition forces in Hajjah Governorate,” he added, reporting that an OHCHR team found remnants of 29 cluster submunitions near banana plantations in Al-Odair village in Haradh District. [1]

By March the UN was more frank. 2/3’s of the causalities were caused by Saudi and coalition air-strikes. [2]

By August the UN was reporting that 3,700 civilians had been killed in the fighting. [3]

Syria and Iraq

Airwars is a monitoring organisation looking at civilian deaths in Iraq and Syria caused by US and Russian strikes. Airwars is largely staffed by ex-BBC journalists. It receives funding from the foundation of the wealthy financier George Soros. [4] Russia has recently banned any of George Soros’ foundations from operating in Russia because it sees them as a threat to the Russian state. [5] If there is any bias in their reporting it is likely to be in favour of the US and against Russia.

Airwars offers the following summary for civilian deaths caused in Iraq and Syria between August 2014 and October 2016 by the US coalition:

To October 10th 2016 an overall total of between 3,672 and 5,040 civilian non-combatant fatalities had been alleged from 574 separate reported incidents, in both Iraq and Syria. Of these, Airwars presently estimates that a minimum of 1,660 to 2,504 civilians are likely to have died in Coalition actions. However, some caution is needed given the significant challenges of casualty verification at present. [6]

On Russia Airwars summarises thus:

Between September 30th [presumably 2015 when the Russian campaign started. Ed] and January 31st 2016, a total of 513 reported civilian casualty incidents allegedly involving Russian aircraft have been identified by our researchers.

Claims are drawn from Syrian monitoring groups; from media and social media sites; from militant and rebel groups; and via local and international NGOs and news organisations. These have been cross checked where possible against official Russian military releases.

An overall total of between 2,856 and 3,873 civilian non-combatant deaths have been alleged from these 513 events, although as we explain below this overstates likely civilian deaths from Russian strikes. [7]

Airwars also claims:

As well as inflicting excessive civilian casualties, Russia is credibly reported to have extensively targeted civilian infrastructure in Syria – with water treatment plants, bakeries, food distribution depots and aid convoys all struck. [7]

No specific information is given for the claim that Russia inflicts “excessive” civilian casualties. Nor for the claim that Russia has “extensively targeted civilian infrastructure”.

There must be serious questions about Airwar’s methodology. They admit to using the social media accounts of NGOs, “Syrian monitoring groups”, “rebel and militant groups” and even “terrorists” to produce their figures. [4] That is, a range of groups, all of whom have a strong interest in creating an impression of Russia killing more civilians than they are. Some “Syrian monitoring groups” are funded by the UK, a party to the conflict. [8]  Airwars also references the Anti-Assad and pro-opposition ‘Observatory for Human Rights’ [4] as well as the UK based blogger and hoaxer [9] ‘Bellingcat’ [4] as reliable alternative sources of information. All this must cast into very serious doubt the reliability of Airwar’s reporting on Russian airstrikes in Syria.

This shows if nothing else how claims about civilian casualties are potentially weaponized in war. There are no neutral observers. The only one that might be – the UN – is often hamstrung by a diplomatic need to appear studiously even-handed.

Summary

All these considerations aside lets total up the figures we have reviewed:

Civilian deaths attributed to the US and its coalition in Syria and Iraq and its “ally and partner” Saudi Arabia in Yemen: 2,230 in Yemen (2/3 of the total figure based on the UN assessment that 2/3s of casualties were caused by the coalition) + 3,672 in Syria and Iraq (Airwars – lowest number) = 5,902

Civilian deaths attributed to Russia in Syria: (Airwars – lowest number) = 2,856. NB. Airwars figures for the US in Iraq and Syria are up to date but those for Russia only go up to January 2016 for some reason. (It would be too suspicious to wonder if this wasn’t because the Russian air campaign was drawn-down in March 2016 – so Airwars’ figures relate to the most intense period when, inevitably, civilian casualties will have been higher). If we (and this is a hypothetical exercise) assume the same rate of civilian deaths per month we can extrapolate to a figure for Russia in Syria to be 8,568. (I am aware that such a mathematical exercise might seem a little callous given what the figures are about; but it is necessary to try to achieve some comparison).

With all the qualifications above about problems with inherent bias and methodology of our source for Iraq and Syria, plus the rather large problem that we have had to extrapolate a figure to cover missing data, we are left with two numbers. One for civilians killed in Yemen, Syria and Iraq in current campaigns by the US and its allies and one for civilians killed by Russia in Syria. The figure for Russia is larger but comparable to the figure for the US and its partners and allies. If we included Libya, where the US is currently bombing [10],  the figures would draw closer. Note also that our figures for Yemen only went up to August 2016. Up to date figures from Yemen would also make the two figures draw closer.  (This exercise has started from 2014 when the US started to bomb in Syria. Obviously if we included other campaigns such as Iraq in 2003 and Libya in 2011 the US would go off the scale in terms of civilian deaths).

Bombing kills people. Modern wars between states and guerrilla armies are often fought amongst civilian populations. Civilians die. No doubt civilians are dying as a result of Russian bombs in Syria. But based on numbers alone (with all the qualifications above) there is no evidence that Russia is alone in being responsible for civilian casualties. While the narrative of the West is to accuse Russia of something especially heinous in Syria, the evidence is not so forthcoming. [11] The current Western narrative about Russia causing “excessive” civilian casualties in Syria does not appear to have a solid basis in fact (if by “excessive” we are to refer to their own standards, which, presumably, are deemed “not excessive”). Claims that seem to focus entirely on civilian casualties caused by Russia would appear therefore to be yet another attempt by Western “liberal” politicians to generate a narrative which legitimises their actions and demonises anyone who stands in the way of their global power plays. Using civilian casualties in this way (as a weapon of war and propaganda) suggests a disinterest in actual civilian casualties for what they are.

Finally the editor would like to offer some advice to the Russian MOD. Don’t downplay the civilian casualties you must (surely) be causing. Why not just admit them and go “oh, sorry” and “we never deliberately target civilians”. That’s what everyone else does. Apparently that’s fine. If you do that you can kill as many as you like. There is no end to it…

Update 27 Oct 2016 – manufactured “war crimes” and manufactured “outrage”?

Recently the US accused Russia or Syria of involvement in an airstrike on a school in Syria. [12][13] Cue outrage in the Western media. [13] However; the Russian side has issued a documented rebuttal. They have published a drone image which they say shows none of the kind of damage associated with an air-strike. They also comment on a photo published by AFP of the alleged air-strike. This photo appears to show a large blast hole in the wall of a classroom in the school. The photo shows all the desks in the classroom completely intact. The Russian side comment that in the case of a real bombing by an aircraft this simply couldn’t happen. On the face of it this seems a very plausible point to make. The Russians further comment that the “information” on this alleged air-strike was provided to Western media via the UK based ‘Syrian Observatory for Human Rights’ and the ‘White Helmets’. (This may be the case; we haven’t been able to check in this case. However; in general, the Western media very often relies on the ‘Syrian Observatory for Human Rights’ as the sole source of information about events in Syria. The ‘Syrian Observatory for Human Rights’ is an anti-Assad ‘information’ clearing house which bases its ‘information’ on reports from ‘activists’ in Syria. The ‘White Helmets’ is an ‘NGO’ which is also aligned with the anti-Assad opposition. The UK  – a party to the conflict in Syria and keen that “Assad must go” funds the ‘White Helmets’. [14] This group is often misleadingly described as ‘local civil defence forces’ by the Guardian. [15] The Guardian frequently cites them as a source for its reporting on Syria as in this example. [15] In the above piece [13] they use the phrase ‘local civil defence rescue group’).

Could the whole outrage about Russian “war-crimes” in Syria be based on a specific new propaganda modus operandi of the Western powers? They base lurid claims on information provided by one party to the conflict – usually published on social media. By basing their claims on this material they provide themselves with an escape route if the claims can ever be substantively proved to have been false. And (perhaps more importantly) they avoid having to substantiate them with their own surveillance footage. (Which may even not support the claim). We have seen this approach in Ukraine where the US Ambassador has routinely made claims based on social media postings. [16] The State Department picks up these social media postings and then the whole Western media follows suit and reports them as absolute matters of fact.

But people should check their sources and evaluate for bias. Otherwise it is just propaganda.

Notes

1. United Nations. January 2016

2. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-35842708

3. Sputnik News. August 2016

4. Airwars – methodology

Airwars – about

5. RT. November 2015. George Soros’s foundations banned as undesirable foreign organisation

6. Airwars – civilian casualties caused by the US

7. Airwars – civilian casualties caused allegedly by Russia

8. RT. October 2016. UK funds “White Helmets”

9. Bellingcat – analysis of fake ‘forensic’ report on Ukraine

10. RT. August 2016. US strikes in Libya

Reuters. October 2016. 

11. RT. October 2016. Russian ambassador demands Foreign Secretary provide proof for claims about “war crimes”

RT. October 2015. Russia asks for proof from the West that it has bombed civilian targets in Syria

12. http://www.dailymail.co.uk/wires/reuters/article-3879622/White-House-blames-Syria-Russia-deadly-Syria-school-attack.html

13. 26 October. Typical one-sided report in Guardian about Russia causing civilian casualties in Syria and this alleged air-strike

14. October 2016. RT. Quotes UK’s Foreign Secretary admitting funding White Helmets

15. Guardian. October 2016. Guardian describes ‘White Helmets’ as ‘civil defense’

16. RT. October 2016. Report on US Ambassador to Ukraine’s use of social media

New Obs review of some of US Ambassador to Ukraine’s use of social media

Analysing the construction of Western media propaganda. A case study.

This is an editorial or comment piece in the Guardian which is presented as a serious round-up of the state of Russia’s relations with the West. As we would expect it is full of narrative distortions. If this was presented as an essay by a first-year undergraduate politics student it would have to fail on the basis that it doesn’t encompass reality. A tutor would not be able to give marks to something based on dreams. As always it remains surprising that these people continue, apparently, to think of themselves as serious journalists.

Let’s take a few examples:

Boris Johnson’s suggestion that Britain, the US and other allies are re-examining “military options” in Syria has sharply focused minds on a phenomenon western politicians have spent the last 15 years trying not to think about: post-Soviet Russia’s determined drive to re-establish itself as a major global power and the willingness of its ruthless and tactically astute leader, Vladimir Putin, to employ almost any means, including use of force, to achieve that end.

“Ruthless” is a classic piece of character assassination. Once this kind of language is used it is not longer necessary to seriously discuss political disagreements. ‘Putin’ is “ruthless” – so we must be right. The focus on ‘Putin’ is a tactical piece of narrative building. By always blaming ‘Putin’ the West avoids the fact that Putin has a team around him and is backed by a political party (United Russia) – which have, collectively, evolved a new foreign policy for Russia. And, shock horror, on occasion Russia has used military force to back up its foreign policy objectives. And the West never does that? The contrast is obvious: Russia has used force when it has rational and understandable concerns. The war with Georgia in 2008 was started by Georgia [1] and took place on Russia’s borders. This web site has discussed the situation in Crimea, filling in the gaps which the Western narrative writers omit. [2] Once this is done Russian actions in Crimea become understandable in terms of Russian history – not the ‘expansionist aggression by a swaggering Putin’ of Western fiction writers. And in Syria Russia is there by agreement with the government of the country. The US on the other hand invaded Iraq illegally in 2003 and is now in Syria illegally. As always aided and abetted by the craven UK. In neither case is there a valid case for the intervention being based on national interests – unless we accept that it is a valid US national interest to be the sole ruler of the world. Who is interested in projecting themselves as a global power at any cost?

The narrative that Russia is aggressive, expansionist, is simply not tenable. This is an analysis by the academic Professor Furedi in which he notes that Russia is acting as a classic regional power in its self-defence. [3]  Notice that this article contains an analysis. Unlike many articles in the Western media on Russia it goes beyond simply heaping on pejorative narrative-lines. This article by Brendan O’Neil in Spiked discusses the reasons why Western journalists make up stories about Russia.

The key question is no longer how best to remove the Syrian dictator, Bashar al-Assad. It is how to stop the Russian military, Assad’s main backer, which is held responsible, directly or indirectly, for numerous lethal aerial attacks against civilians, hospitals and schools, including last month’s destruction of a UN aid convoy.

Russia is “held responsible”. The use of the passive voice is a characteristic of this kind of propaganda. It gives the claim an air of objectivity which it does’t have. Who says this? It is of course the US which is accusing Russia of ‘numerous attacks against civilians’. They are likely doing this not because it is a ‘fact’ but as an information tactic to drive forwards their military campaign against the Syrian government. Honestly; we know that in war governments produce propaganda. Claiming that the other side is hitting civilians is standard propaganda. It is naive to the point of absurdity that Western journalists take all explanations offered by the State Department at face value. To balance out the narrative here just slightly: Russia has denied hitting the aid convoy. [4] Why assume that the State Department is telling the truth and Russia is lying? Isn’t a newspaper supposed not to act as the propaganda wing of its sponsoring government? Strangely this incident is getting a lot of coverage in the Western press. It is being repeated all over the place, all the time. But the US strike on a Syrian army position by the US which killed upwards of 60 Syrian soldiers [5] is mentioned then quickly forgotten. It may be that Russian strikes in Aleppo are killing civilians. War in urban areas does this. This was the result of Israeli bombing in Gaza in 2014 and Lebanon in 2006. [6] The issue is not ultimately whether the selectively adduced facts are true but the way the Western political leaders use facts selectively to generate narratives. We can see why the State Department might want to do this. But journalists are supposed to consider the bigger picture, which means weighing up a range of facts. Not just echo the narrative lines of the State Department…

So furious was John Kerry, the US secretary of state, at what he saw as Moscow’s deliberate sabotage of the latest Syria ceasefire that he broke off bilateral talks with Moscow. Samantha Power, US ambassador to the UN, accused Russia of “barbarism”. But repeating a pattern of behaviour familiar in Ukraine, Georgia and other crises, an unabashed Putin refused to back down. On the contrary, he rapidly upped the ante.

This follows on from the previous paragraph. The claim that Russia hit the aid convoy is now taken a fact. There is even an implication that Putin has accepted this – he ‘refused to back down’. It simply isn’t true. Here we see how initial fictions based on fact-selection develop rapidly into accepted fact. (This is what happens when you hallucinate something which isn’t there; after an initial mis-perception the mind quickly finds adducing ‘evidence’ to support the reality of the initial mis-perception). As we have seen, the Russians denied hitting the aid convoy. In fact President Putin himself personally made this rebuttal. [7] So it was not about Putin “not backing down”. According to Putin they had nothing to back down on. By omitting the facts though the Guardian’s propaganda writer has managed to re-fuel his narrative about an aggressive (‘swaggering’?) Putin. They love talking about ‘Putin’ as if he were a naughty child. Phrases like ‘pattern of behaviour’ are characteristic of this kind of discourse. No wonder the Russians feel insulted by the Western press. This kind of language substitutes for rational analysis. Presumably as a way of avoiding rational analysis.

Almost simultaneously, Putin scrapped a US-Russia agreement to reprocess excess plutonium to prevent its use in nuclear weapons and two other nuclear cooperation agreements. The deployment of short-range, nuclear-capable Iskander-M missiles in Kaliningrad, the Russian enclave in eastern Europe bordering Nato members Poland and Lithuania, was confirmed. And, not coincidentally perhaps, massive civil defence exercises were held inside Russia, in apparent preparation for a nuclear war

As always Western propaganda writers build their narratives by omitting the context. The background to the cancellation of the arrangements about re-processing plutonium is that the American side has changed the way that they reprocess plutonium under this agreement. According to the Russians the new way the Americans are using would enable the plutonium to be recovered for use in weapons. This disagreement and the Russian basis for it has existed for some time. [8] The move of Iskander missiles to Russia’s territory of Kalingrad is also reported without context. Again; the Russians have explained for some time that this is a move they may have to make in response to US plans for a missile system to be based in Poland. [9] (According to the Russians the missile system targets their nuclear weapons and could also be re-purposed to launch cruise missiles against Russia). [10] The Russians have indeed just held civil defence exercises. The Guardian suggests that this may not have been a coincidence. According to Russian state broadcaster RT the same exercise took place last year on Civil Defence day. [11] We see how the narrative about an aggressive Russia is built by omitting context.

That said; it may well be that Russia intended to send a signal to the US by bringing various simmering matters to a conclusion following what they see as the US failure to deliver on the Syria ceasefire deal and their attempt to shift the blame onto Russia together with their public cancelling of cooperation with Russia. [12] That is, Russia is likely to have been sending a signal that says “if you don’t cooperate with us there will be a price to pay”. By only telling one side of the story however the rational basis for the Russian actions is denied. The actions are then presented as “not backing down”, “upping the ante” etc.

“They started this hysteria, saying this [hacking] is in Russia’s interests, but this has nothing to do with Russia’s interests,” Putin said. His government would work with whoever won the election “if, of course, the new US leader wishes to work with our country”.

This latter statement was chilling. Putin was plainly saying that Russia, no longer the post-Communist economic and military basket-case it briefly became under his predecessor Boris Yeltsin, does not need or seek American approval or agreement to take action in its own interests in Syria or anywhere else. If Barack Obama or his successor want to do business in future, then Russia must be treated as a global equal, not as an irritant or a spoiler or mere regional actor.

The overall direction of current Russian Foreign Policy is clear. There is no especial secret about it. They will pursue their national interests through the framework of international law and agreements. (Their actions are consistent with this. In Syria they are working with the legitimate government. Crimea may be arguable though here they point to the legal precedents with Kosovo which was allowed by a UN court to separate from Serbia without agreement with Serbia. [13] In Eastern Ukraine Russia is a party to the Minsk agreements. If they have given military support to the militias in the Russian-speaking part of Ukraine that is at least more defensible in terms of national interest that US interventions in the Middle East). Russia expect to be treated as an equal and not ‘mentored’ or told what to do. Why is this ‘chilling’? Surely this – working with other countries on the basis of diplomacy and within the framework on international law – is exactly what the West claims to be doing? Why is it ‘chilling’ that the other party now seems willing to stand up for themselves? That said; it is true that Russia is no longer the push-over that it was in the immediate aftermath of the collapse of the Soviet Union. And it follows that the West does need to adjust. But this rare moment of rational analysis is then immediately lost and we are back into the safe old myth of Russian aggression:

Poland and the Baltic states, threatened by the Kaliningrad deployment and border troop build-ups, demand a more muscular Nato stance. Neutral Finland and Sweden, troubled by Russian air and sea incursions, edge ever closer to the western alliance.

It is NATO which has been building up its presence in the Baltics. This was their declared aim early on in the Ukraine conflict. [14] Once NATO has done this it is inevitable that the Russians would have to re-think their military deployments (within their own country). [15] The deployment of Iskander’s to Kalingrad (temporary or permanent) is, as we have discussed above, a planned response to a specific development – the planned US missile base in Poland. The ‘sea incursion’ may be a reference to the Swedish claims about a submarine in their territorial waters in 2014. As the Guardian itself reported at the time no trace of this alleged submarine was ever found. [16] A Swedish admiral subsequently claimed that the alleged submarine was a workboat. [17] We can’t be sure because what exact alleged ‘sea incursion’ is being referred to is not mentioned. But this looks like another case of an allegation being floated and by a process of magic characteristic of Western media propaganda writers shortly afterwards being treated as an absolute fact. That the specific claim is not substantiated is also characteristic of this kind of propaganda as general claims are harder to refute that specific ones. As far as air incursions into Finish and/or Swedish air-space go Finland has apparently made such claims. Russia has denied them. Naturally the Guardian takes the statements of NATO member countries (Estonia) – and allies (Finland) – as true. They don’t even mention the Russian denials. [18]

In Britain, meanwhile, as Johnson splutters impotently and contradicts himself over no-fly zones, the Labour party claims against all known facts that there is some kind of equivalence between Russian and US actions in Syria. If opposition fighters vacate Aleppo (handing victory to Assad), Labour suggests, all will be well. Its script could have been written by the Kremlin.

Heavens above. An ‘equivalence’ between Russian and US actions in Syria. The very thought that those lovely Americans could have any equivalence to those nasty Russians. Interestingly this Guardian article links to another one where we can read the actual statements by the Labour party:

“Independent assessments are that there have been very large-scale civilian casualties as a result of the US-led coalition bombing. There are several cases of large numbers of deaths in single attacks, and there hasn’t been as much focus on those casualties,” the spokesman said.

The Labour spokesman said said he wasn’t drawing a “moral equivalence” between Russia’s actions and those of the US, but when asked whether it was as equally legitimate for the public to protest outside the US embassy as the Russian, he replied: “People are free to protest outside the intervening powers’ embassies, and there are a number of them.” Asked if that included the US, he said, “obviously”. [19]

The Guardian writer in our original article says that the claim that the US is also killing civilians goes “against all know facts”. We don’t know what ‘independent assessments’ the Labour party spokesperson was referring to but we can do some research ourselves. Immediately we can find a report in the Guardian itself which discusses the numbers of civilians killed by US airstrikes in Syria. [20] The report is based on figures from Amnesty International and ‘Airwars’. Airwars is a monitoring group quite largely staffed by people who have worked for the BBC or on BBC projects. One staff member is a current Guardian sub-editor. [21] Amongst its funding sources is the Open Society Foundation [21] –  an organisation set up by US based international financier George Soros. [22] Airwars is likely, if anything, to be more favourable to the West than to Russia. Based on these sources the Guardian’s July 2016 article on civilian casualties in Syria says: “The US says its bombs have caused 55 civilian deaths since the coalition air war against Isis was launched two years ago. But campaign groups that keep a tally of the war’s civilian toll – including Amnesty and Airwars – say the real total is at least 10 times that number – and could be far higher.” [20] In one strike alone 210 civilians were possibly killed in Manbij. Airwars provides data on civilian casualties caused by both the US coalition and Russia with the data cut up in various ways. We can look ourselves at the source data which the Guardian will have used. Reviewing one set of data shows Airwars claiming that in the period October 2015 to March 2016, and based on an assessment criteria of ‘fair’ for the likely reliability of the reports, the US killed civilians 358 and Russia 1734. The period starts from when Russia started its air campaign in Syria. The US strike at Manbij which took place in July 2016 and caused heavy civilian casualties is therefore not reflected in the figures. (Table ‘Coalition v. Russia: Alleged civilian deaths and levels of reporting’). [23] This particular data set is not matched directly against the numbers of strikes carried out. While the figure for Russia is substantially higher this may reflect a much higher rate of strikes. Given the reliance of Airwars on social media accounts of NGOs their figures may not be all that reliable. [24] At any event even if we take the Airwars figures as reliable it is clear that the claim by the Labour party does not in fact “go against all known facts”. There may well be a valid concern about the level of civilian casualties caused by Russian bombing in Syria. Overall they may have caused more casualties than the US coalition. But what the Labour party said was “Independent assessments are that there have been very large-scale civilian casualties as a result of the US-led coalition bombing” and, far from being “against all known facts”, that indeed appears to be the case.

Assuming Trump loses, a Clinton administration has three possible courses of action. One is to acknowledge Putin has a fair case when he argues that the US, the EU and Nato ignored or trampled on Russia’s interests in the post-Soviet era, accept that Crimea is lost and that Assad stays in power for the time being, and focus in future on pragmatic, one-off “transactional” deals where interests coincide.

A second approach is a longer-term variation on the first, containing Russia wherever possible, maintaining or toughening sanctions, and waiting for the departure of Putin and what some economists say will be Russia’s inevitable economic collapse as its oil and gas runs out and international ostracism, corruption and a declining working-age population take their toll. The plan would be to re-set relations (again) with a post-Putin “new Russia”.

The third possibility, and one that seems most likely at this point given Clinton’s policy positions, is that the US will move on to the front foot and purposefully confront Russia directly, not only in Syria but on a number of other areas, backed up by the possible use of military force

This is a fair assessment which outlines some strategic options which the US might choose. Though it does rely on an out of date stereotype about corruption in Russia. The idea of corruption in Russia has widespread traction. The reality that the current Russian authorities, (Putin’s government), has taken substantial steps to tackle corruption – as this OECD report indicates [25] – is less well-reported. Why give up a myth which has served you so well in the past?

The Guardian propaganda writer continues:

This prospect [option 3] is fraught with danger, especially since Putin has shown repeatedly that he reacts badly to diktats and threats. When cornered, Putin does not back down. He escalates. He does not have a domestic electorate, critical parliament or independent media scrutiny to worry about. He disdains international opinion and international law.

“When cornered”. This is part of the language on Russia where is is the norm to discuss the President of a large country as if he were a naughty child (“patterns of behaviour”) or even, as here, a wild animal.

He [Putin] does not have a domestic electorate, critical parliament or independent media scrutiny to worry about. He disdains international opinion and international law.

Then Guardian writer thus launches himself into an astonishing piece of phantasy. Putin does not have a “domestic electorate”. In reality the President of Russia is an elected position. Readers who wish to take an informed view about the absence or not of a domestic electorate for the position of President of the Russian Federation could, for example, read the report by the OSCE on the 2012 Presidential election which saw Putin elected. [26] As a first point we can note that the OSCE was invited to monitor the election. Were it to be the case that the election was to have been systematically rigged then it is unlikely that the OSCE would have been invited. The report paints a mixed picture of the elections. All candidates were able to compete unhindered. Protests by those claiming fraud in previous elections were allowed to proceed. Voting itself was well-manged. However there were ‘procedural irregularities’ in the count.  The OSCE report sums up the actual voting: “On election day, the OSCE/ODIHR EOM observers visited over 1,000 polling stations. Voting was assessed as ‘good’ and ‘very good’ in 95 per cent of polling stations visited; however, the process deteriorated significantly during the count that was assessed as ‘bad’ and ‘very bad’ in almost one-third of polling stations observed due to procedural irregularities.” The kind of irregularities mentioned include a failure to cross-reference ballots cast back to voting lists at the point the ballots were cast. Some, but by no means all, of the irregularities then simply reflect a lack of administrative skill and knowledge rather than deliberate manipulations. Russia has only been holding open elections for a short-time and it would be unreasonable to expect an overnight transformation to the standards say of a UK election process. That said, the OSCE does cite significant instances of actual vote manipulation. These instances took place in Kalingrad and St. Petersburg in particular. The leading candidate, President Putin, received much more coverage on TV than the other candidates. And there were examples of state and regional authorities directing people which way to vote. The reality is that there is (measured against equivalent Western standards) partial democracy in Russia. Putin had to stand. People could vote. Other candidates were able to stand unhindered. Putin received favourable treatment from the media. There was a mixture of open corruption and administrative failings in the count. On balance however the fact remains that President Putin is enormously popular in Russia as polling indicates. [27] This author recently visited Russia and was able to observe first-hand that Putin is indeed popular. While anecdotal, he met people ranging from a University professor to an unemployed ex-soldier who were both favourable to Putin and his policies. The Western liberal media narrative on Russia simply brushes over any of the nuances of the situation and pretends that popular support for Putin is all manufactured. Because Russian elections are not conducted exactly like those in the UK with 99.9% probity they are completely dismissed. No account is taken of 70 years of one-party rule. The possibility that Russians may prefer and expect a certain degree of authoritarian rule is never discussed. Wider analogies are avoided. For example; in Singapore the same party has been elected continuously since 1959. The government has strong control over the media. The government claims to represent the long-term national interest of the country and positions itself above party politics. [28] All this is similar to the Russian model. But we don’t see liberal journalists in the West up in arms about the lack of democracy in Singapore. It is true that (rightly or wrongly) elections in Russia are not conducted with the same degree of impartiality as they are in, say, the UK. However; it is not true that Putin installed himself in office without reference to an electorate. The claim that there is no “independent media” in Russia has the same status; it is an oversimplification of a more nuanced situation. It is true that the state controls a large percentage of broadcast media and that these outlets report favourably on the government. However in the print media sector ownership is more diffuse. [29] Independent and critical journalists can and do work in Russia. The Guardian recently carried some reports by one such journalist – who has worked for a number of different outlets in Russia. [30]

The claim that President Putin “disdains international opinion and international law.” is even more outlandish. Firstly; we shouldn’t even really discuss this claim. It is made without any substantiation at all. That is not journalism. But let’s consider if it does bear any relation to reality. The claim shows a considerable degree of ignorance of current international affairs. If the writer of this piece had ever taken the trouble to familiarise himself with current Russian foreign policy he would notice that the policy is to work within the framework of international law. For example; were Russia to really disdain international law and opinion would the Russian Foreign Minister have continued to persistently and despite all the insults heaped on him and his country continued to, time and time again, meet with the US side on Syria? Even on Crimea the Russian side, as we have discussed above, went out of their way to justify their actions in terms of international law. It was important to them that their actions could be so justified. If Putin really held international opinion and law in disdain they wouldn’t have bothered. Leading Russian politicians believe that Russia is acting in line with international law more so than the US. [31] It may be possible to construct a legal argument that this is not the case (though the long list of US and/or NATO interventions in countries from Yugoslavia to Iraq and Syria would make it quite hard to construct such a case) – but if we are to weigh up matters with any degree of responsibility we should at least understand how the Russians see the situation. The Western media and political class frequently express concern about the growing influence of the English language version of Russian broadcaster RT. RT exists in the main to explain the Russian point of view on international relations to a Western audience. Would the Russians trouble to do this if they did not care about “international opinion”? The truth here is the opposite of what the Guardian suggests. Russia cares very much about international opinion. What the propaganda writer means to say perhaps is that when Putin believes he is defending Russian national interests as on Crimea for example he will stick to his guns and not be swayed by pressure from the West. (In fact sanctions rather than ‘opinion’). But this is not the same at all as having “disdain for international opinion”.

Despite last month’s bust-up, Kerry and Lavrov met again on Saturday to try to agree another Syria ceasefire. But a lasting solution looks as far away as ever. If the past 15 years show anything, it is that Putin, like a marauding Red Army tank, has no reverse gear.

A naughty child. A wild animal. A “marauding tank”. Anything but a human being. This really is disgusting.

As if to back up his fictional narrative the Guardian propaganda writer concludes his piece with some punchy little summings up of the current main bones of contention between Russia and the West. Not surprisingly Russia is 100% at fault in every case – except where the fault is a lack of hawkishness on the part of the US.

Barack Obama’s decision not to intervene militarily after Bashar al-Assad used chemical weapons left the door open for Russia. By going to the aid of his long-term ally Assad, Putin saw a chance to expand Russian influence in the Middle East at American expense and secure military bases on Syria’s Mediterranean coast. Fighting Islamic State terrorism was a secondary consideration. The US insists Assad must go, but its limited commitment so far means the non-jihadist opposition continues to struggle while civilians bear the brunt of the violence.

The reality that the fight to Assad is being carried on by Islamic terrorists and right-wing Sunni Islam groups is airbrushed out of the picture. [32] This has been the case since as far back as December 2013 as reported by the Guardian. [33] The idea that an increase in US arms supplies to the “non-jihadist” opposition would somehow solve the crisis in Syria remains to be tested. Hopefully it won’t be. Is the author really suggesting that the “non-jihadist” opposition be armed to the extent that it can defeat, in turn, ISIS, Al-Qaeda and then the Syrian “regime” with its allies in Hezbollah and Iran? That would imply a lot of arms. But does this “non-jihadist” opposition even exist? The September 2016 ceasefire agreement between the US and Russia included a requirement that the US would try to separate this moderate opposition from Al-Qaeda. By their own admission they failed to do so. [34] By many accounts the “Free Syrian Army” – i.e. the “non-jihadist” – opposition no longer even exists. [35] The Guardian writer might have a hard job even finding “non-jihadists” to arm. Oh. The US already tried. But they could only find a few dozen in the north of Syria. And most of these were quickly killed or captured (with their weapons) leaving only 5 left. [36]. (Though this doesn’t stop the CIA arming heaven knows who in the South of Syria). [37] The idea that all problems will be solved in Syria by pouring in more arms to one small part of a multi-faceted opposition is fanciful.

Despite the US-orchestrated imposition of international sanctions on Russia, Putin shows no sign of reversing his 2014 annexation of Crimea. Moscow’s not-so-secret support for separatists in eastern Ukraine opposing the pro-western government in Kiev continues unabated, with renewed fighting reported last week. Peace efforts led by Germany in the so-called Minsk group have stalled. Given the US believes it is upholding an important principle of international law, a future Clinton administration is unlikely to recognise Russian-made “facts on the ground”.

Annexation. The narrative is fixed. We could say of Western propaganda writers that once they’ve fixed on a line there is no reverse gear. A referendum was held. Approximately 80% of the population voted to join Russia. This 80% figure has been confirmed in polls conducted by Western polling organisations [38]; which shows a) that it reflects a real percentage and b) that the referendum was a real act of voting. Crimea was a part of the Russian republic until Khrushchev transferred it as an administrative arrangement to the Soviet Republic of Ukraine in 1954. The question of Crimea re-joining Russia came up at the time of the fall of the Soviet Union but was not resolved then. [39] At least 60% of the population of Crimea are ethnic Russians. [40] They could at least say “disputed annexation” or something like that. When liberal Western journalists say “annexation” it sounds like the wishes of all those people who voted to rejoin Russia don’t matter – because they are Russian.

It is interesting to note that the Guardian propaganda writer does not try to apportion blame for the uptick in fighting in the DPR last week. That’s probably because he doesn’t want to go into the details. The OCSE monitoring mission in Ukraine publishes daily reports. For the 14th October they report multiple violations of the ceasefire on both sides. Of particular interest are the multiple reports of heavy weapons on the Ukrainian government side which have been relocated from their permanent storage sites and multiple reports of heavy weapons also being moved on the Ukrainian government side in the disengagement zone in violation of the Minsk agreements. [41] The Guardian article, incidentally, is illustrated with a library photo of “pro-Russian rebels”. The tag “pro-Russian” is itself a piece of propaganda designed to suppress the actual motives for the revolt. The largely Russian speaking Eastern regions of Ukraine were not represented in the 2014 coup in Ukraine. The coup saw the toppling of an elected President. The President had had particular support in the East of Ukraine. [42] From the point of view of the people of the East of Ukraine the coup disenfranchised them. But all this is highly inconvenient for the narrative about a ‘democracy uprising’. Hence the need to re-cast the rebels as some kind of a Russian (Soviet) proxy army. Hence “pro-Russian” rebels. The basic lesson is that if you disagree with Western liberals they won’t try to disagree with you back. Rather they will try to extinguish you out of existence.

The deployment of Russian nuclear-capable missiles in Kaliningrad, the isolated enclave it controls on Poland’s and Lithuania’s border, is the latest move in a war of nerves along Europe’s eastern flank. The Baltic sea has also become a contested area as Russian submarines and aircraft test western reactions. Nato has beefed up its defences, and Britain has pledged its support. But the uncomfortable question remains: would an American president go to war to defend Estonia?

Isolated enclave. Well; Kalingrad is part of Russia. Agreed so at the Potsdam conference at the conclusion of WWII. I suppose then we should refer to the Falkland Islands as “distant island which Britain controls” and Gibraltar as “isolated enclave which Britain controls”. With its reference to “Russian submarines testing Western reactions” this passage seems to confirm that the writer believes in the Russian submarine in Swedish waters (which has now become submarines in the plural) – though no evidence of the same was ever found. And then; the wild idea that Russia is contemplating an invasion of NATO member Estonia.  And to confirm his lack of grasp of foreign affairs the writer suggests that an American President would rip up their NATO commitment should this (wildly unlikely) event actually occur.  But here we are long since in the realm of vacuous words.

The US has formally accused Russia of launching a hacking campaign to disrupt the American presidential electoral process. The suspicion is that Putin, who has been praised by Donald Trump, wants Hillary Clinton defeated and the credibility of the election result put in doubt. Trump has already claimed the poll is fixed against him. Putin denies involvement. But the affair resembles previous cyber attacks on countries that were blamed on government-backed Russian hackers

The accusation was free of proof and the US admitted this. The charge rests on a claim that the attack came from Russia and then on the assumption that the Russian state must have authorised it. [43] Note; it was Trump who praised Putin, not the other way around. The claim that Russia actively wants Trump elected is therefore not substantiated. And then a stupendous piece of logic. Last time there was a similar attack we blamed Russian then. Now this one looks like Russia. So it must be Russia! This is the logic of the ducking stool. But this is indicative of anti-Russia narrative building in the Western media. It really doesn’t matter how you get there so long as you manage to demonise Russia.

The US and Putin’s Russia have clashed repeatedly in the UN Security Council, most recently over Moscow’s veto of a resolution demanding an immediate halt to the bombing of Aleppo. The standoff has raised wider concerns about the effectiveness of the UN system when permanent members appear permanently at odds and its aid convoys are blown up. Russia is accused by the US of ignoring international law and of possible war crimes, and there are moves to refer it to the International Criminal Court.

The resolution in question was not serious. It was introduced by the US after they failed to deliver on their part of the ceasefire agreement [34]. It was part of an attempt to effect the narrative and paint Russia into a corner as the one ‘obstructing’ a peace settlement in Syria. It was introduced in the full knowledge that Russia would block it. [44] Again; note the tactic of using the passive voice. By saying “Russia is accused of …” the propaganda writer is attempting to give some objectivity to his claims. Who is accusing Russia? Ah. The US (and its allies who are also involved in a illegal bombing campaign in Syria). The accusation came on the heels of the failed ceasefire. It was linked to an attack on an aid convoy. (The Guardian propaganda writer has luridly managed to turn this into aid convoys in the plural). Russia has denied that it hit the aid convoy in question [45] and the US has not presented proof of its claims. During this same ceasefire the US ‘accidentally’ hit a Syrian army position killing upwards of 60 soldiers. The Syrian side claims that this attack was deliberate. [46] At any event one can see why this might have made them lose confidence in the ceasefire. Notice too the way that the propaganda writer links an attempt to abolish the Russian veto at the UN with a contested claim about an aid convoy. Abolishing the Russian veto at the UN would be a serious matter, not least since it would mean in effect ripping up the current UN treaty and starting again without Russia. It would not be wise to base this on one incident. (Even you are convinced that the Russians are lying about this). As far as the International Criminal court goes the propaganda writer needs to inform himself about the terms of reference of this court. The court’s jurisdiction is limited to cases where the crime was committed on the territory of a State Party or by a national of a State Party or in cases of a referral by the UN Security Council. [47] The US, Russia and Syria have not ratified the relevant treaty. [48] The propaganda writer here has leapt on some colourful language employed by the State Department and reproduced by the UK’s Foreign Office without doing his research. All of this narrative is told straight from the point of view of the Western powers. As the Russian side have pointed out if you want to start talking about war crimes let’s get busy… [49]

This Guardian / Observer article was written by someone called Simon Tisdall. He is described as an assistant editor at the Guardian and one-time foreign editor at the Observer. [50] If we look at the article it is clear that it is attempting to build a certain case (Russia is bad, more intervention is called for). It does this by being highly selective with the facts it mentions, omitting the context, introducing small but pivotal distortions in the re-telling of the tale, inflating unsubstantiated claims to the level of absolute fact and deploying various linguistic ruses such as the use of the passive voice to lend partisan claims an air of objectivity. There also a tendency for singular events to be multiplied into the plural. Sometimes these devices occur twice on the same event creating a real sense of unreality. It doesn’t qualify as journalism if journalism includes a mandate to be careful to stick to facts and avoid creating a distorted effect. It belongs to a certain style of Western propaganda writing. It as if these people are incapable of emerging from a shrink-wrapped bubble where the wrapping is provided by the US State Department.

Notes

1.

Daily Telegraph. 2009. Report on EU fact-finding mission on Georgian war.

The Daily Telegraph quotes from the report:

None of the explanations given by the Georgian authorities in order to provide some form of legal justification for the attack lend it a valid explanation.

14. Guardian. August 2014. NATO to build up forces in Baltics to “deter President Putin from causing trouble in the Baltics”

15. RT. May 2016. Russia announces creation of 3 new military divisions

16. Guardian, October 14. No trace of alleged Russian submarine

17. International Business Times. April 2015. Swedish admiral says alleged Russian submarine was workboat

18. RT. October 2016. Russia denies incursions into Finnish and Estonian airspace

19. Guardian. October 2016. Labour party says that all intervening parties in Syrian conflict have a responsibility

20. Guardian. July 2016. Civilian casualties caused by US in Syria

21. Airwars

22. WikiPedia. Open Society Foundations

23. Airwars – data. Retrieved 16 October 2016. Copy of data available from New Obs.

24. Airwars. Methodology

25. OECD report on Russia 2013.

26. OSCE report into 2012 Presidential election in Russia

27. RT. September 2016. Putin does well in opinion polls The poll was conducted by the Levada centre, a Russian based organisation which is listed as a foreign agent under Russian law because it receives funding from abroad: Sputnik news. September 2016. Levada centre can appeal foreign agent listing

28. Wikipedia article on Singapore

29. Wikipedia article on press freedom in Russia

30. Wikipedia article on journalist Oleg Kashin

Oleg Kashin on the Guardian.

31. RT. February 2016.

32. New Obs. October 2016. What is happening in Syria?

33. Guardian 2013. Report on growing influence of Islamic groups in Syria

34. New Obs. 2014. Report on State Department briefing about failed Syrian ceasefire

35. International Business Times. October 2015. Summary of rebel groups in Syria

36. Guardian. September 2015. Report on failed programme to arm rebels in the North of Syria

Guardian. September 2015. Report on failed US programme to train Syrian rebels

37. New York Times. June 2016. CIA programme to arm Syrian rebels

38. Forbes magazine. March 2015. Western polls confirm Crimean choice

39. Peter Hitchens in the Daily Mail on the history of Crimea. http://hitchensblog.mailonsunday.co.uk/2015/02/a-not-so-brief-history-of-crimea.html

40. Wikipedia article on Crimea

41. OCSE Monitoring Mission to Ukraine. October 14th 2014

42. The party of Yanokovich the Party of the Regions was strong in South Eastern Ukraine. Source: Wikipeda

43. Guardian. October 2016. US accuses Russia of being behind political cyber attacks

44. RT. October 2016. Report on UN resolutions on Syria following ceasefire collapse

45. RT. October 2016. Russia denies it hit aid convoy in Syria

46. Independent 2016. Assad accuses US of deliberately targeting Syrian army positions

47. International Criminal Court

48. Wikipeda article on State Parties to the ICC

49. RT. October 2016. Russian Foreign Ministry response to war crimes cry

50. Guardian. Simon Tisdall