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An interesting and potentially enlightening exchange took place in the Comments section of the Foreign Affairs magazine website on November 8, 2014. The participants were “Tom,” “Hutin Puylo” and your correspondent. I reproduce it here.

The original post was in response to a Foreign Affairs article by Mark Galeotti, a Ph.D. in Politics who studied history and politics at Cambridge and the London School of Economics respectively. He now a full clinical professor at New York University’s Center for Global Affairs. I very much respect his views even when I don’t entirely agree. And when were political scientists ever in full agreement about anything?


The exchange begins with the disapproving comment of “griffinalabama,” who feels, as so many do, that much of the State Department’s narrative on Ukraine is more fiction than fact.

GRIFFIN: This article is a joke isn’t it? I can’t believe the Council On Foreign Relations actually put that assessment together. It is shameful and leaves out the fact that in 2014 it’s pretty much impossible to hide the atrocities of the Kiev junta online. The world has seen what is truly going on, the Russiaphobia being put out by the media is having a reverse effect. People know they are being lied to by our governments., the US and UK in particular. The wheels are coming off the bus because the video evidence has never yet matched the medias put forth narrative. It’s going to get worse for the west as the Kiev Right Sector battalions are impossible to control and they always film themselves conducting atrocities. Maybe the US COFR should think about that one before they jump into bed with real terrorists.

HUTIN PUYLO: What a load of BS! Another overpaid kremlin troll. The only joke here is you. Despite the overwhelming evidence, that Russia is a terrorist state, you still decide to ignore it… unless you are a terrorist too? Russians like you griffin are the most hated people on earth, next to ISIS.

JS (Me): What “overwhelming evidence?” Russia’s rulers are tough, smart and noticeably more perceptive than our people, but their policies don’t include terrorism. Why should they? They’ve defeated Ukraine’s NATO ambitions without a struggle, by covert operations alone. Russia has often been the victim of terrorism, as in Chechnya, but not a perpetrator. Those who so passionately believe NATO’s narrative on Ukraine need to remember that neither China nor India take it seriously. Washington, London and Brussels are hardly “the international community.”

TOM: You just named two most backward countries in the world to prove your point – China and India. Yeah, okay. You convinced me.

ME: No one argues with your appraisal of China and India, but it’s not relevant to a discussion of foreign policy. Nor do I seek to convince you. You’re welcome to your half-baked opinion. Your calling a previous comment “a load of BS” identifies you as a seriously misinformed commentator. In foreign policy it’s realities that count, not ideals. Still, you’re no worse than the Obama White House, which likewise see the world not as it is but as it would like it to be. Like yours, Tom’s ill informed reply to Griffinalabama relies not on fact but on the official US-EU fiction that Russia “invaded” Crimea and has sent troops into Eastern Ukraine. The fact is that Crimea’s referendum was as lawful as the one that separated Kosovo from Serbia with the loud approval of the EU and NATO. And it was indeed a good thing, but neither referendum is any more or less lawful under international norms. As for the Eastern Ukraine conflict, the presence of Russian “volunteers” and “borrowed” equipment is no different from that of the American special forces who helped the Northern Alliance shoot the Taliban out of office in Afghanistan. Certainly hypocrisy has its place in geopolitics. Cynics call it “the vaseline of political intercourse.” But it’s no substitute for intelligent diplomacy.

Noticing an attribution error, I followed up with a correction, and a more conciliatory tone, realizing that Tom and I were comparing apples with oranges. He was arguing ethics and morality – the wrongness he ascribes to Russia’s power politics – as against my brand of political pragmatism. I agree with Tom about the moral swamp in which foreign affairs are conducted, but as you may have noticed I deplore NATO and Europe’s tunnel vision strategy.

JS: I see I inadvertently attributed Hutin Puylo’s “BS” comment to Tom. Sorry Tom. You and I don’t disagree on what kind of world we’d like to see. My criticism is directed at the misguided strategy we repeatedly attempt to apply with such dismal results. It’s clear that George Soros’ democratization NGO, which has accomplished great things in eastern Europe, and has powerful influence on the Obama Democrats, has gone off the rails on this one and dragged governments with it.

TOM: Funny you mention Kosovo, when Russia, just like Serbia, does not recognize it (at least not officially). Also, the two, Kosovo and Crimea, cannot compare to each other, since the background on the Balkans that led to its independence is entirely different. There was no war between Russia and Ukraine directly before Crimea’s annexation. There was no ethnic cleansing committed by Ukraine’s government (Yanukovych himself was a Putinophile which Ukranians didn’t like). However, Russia’s propaganda helped get that referendum. Austrians too voted in favor of the Nazis at the plebiscite in 1938 when Austria was annexed to Germany. You can’t just enter a sovereign country and take a part of it just like that (even if Crimea used to be a part of Russia long time ago). It is obvious what Putin is doing and there is nobody in Russia who can stop him or oppose him (or else they end up dead like Alexei Devotchenko).

ME: What you say is true, or mostly so, and I agree with your legal and moral analysis. However I’m no lawyer defending Russia; I’m one of many political scientists who advocate realism in dealing with Russia’s ruling “thugocracy,” as Stratfor’s Robert Kaplan defines it. We see Kissinger’s experienced and realist assessment as correct and Brzezinski’s as misguided, which is not to say his anti-Russian bias isn’t well founded. For example the facts show us that you can indeed “just enter a sovereign country and take a part of it” if you’re NATO (in the case of Kosovo) or Russia (in the case of Ukraine). Both of them offer the usual self serving rationales and both excuses have merit. NATO portrays its intervention as aid to beleaguered freedom fighters. Russia points to its treaty with Ukraine which authorized up to 25,000 troops in Crimea and to the Crimean government’s referendum. That vote was fairly and lawfully conducted according to foreign observers, a fact that State Department press releases never mention. My fundamental point is that none of this should ever have arisen. Without the US/NATO/EU meddling the Ukrainians would have lost no time dislodging Yanukovych in the scheduled national election because like most Ukrainian politicians he was simply awful but didn’t bother to pretend otherwise. The tycoons who backed the Right Sector and other West Ukrainian nationalists were mistaken, as we now see, in thinking Ukraine to be a unitary state that could be controlled entirely from Kiev. These errors have had profound consequences. Ukraine is irreparably fragmented. Russia is now fast tracking its formation of a Russo-Chinese-Indian economic bloc, a more substantial misfortune than many on Capitol Hill realize.