Eurasia Notes #1
Secrets at a bus stop, Russians dodging vaccines, free speech at The Observer -- and an exile's lament.
Jun 27, 2021 — Tbilisi.
Have you ever left sensitive documents at a bus stop? I mean actual documents. Not photos that accidentally copy to the Cloud and then leak all over the Internet but real official, corporate stuff for the loss of which you’d get a serious spanking.
The latest official oopsie is some classified papers from the UK Ministry of Defence that include the mission of a British warship bugging Russia in the Black Sea and some of the 1001 reasons British and U.S. forces will never leave Afghanistan. A passer-by found 50 pages of classified stuff, including presentation “decks” for PowerPoint and emails.
Who goes to the trouble of printing out emails today? That is just one of the minor riddles – minor, that is, compared with riddles like how the corporate media manages to get close enough to UK government officials to plant recording devices that catch them canoodling away from their spouses. Perhaps things just happen, or they are allowed to happen, or they serve some higher purpose.
The latest portfolio concerns, in part, predictions of Russia’s possible reaction to the visit of the Royal Navy’s destroyer HMS Defender on its Black Sea cruise, which the Ministry of Defence has called an “innocent passage through Ukrainian territorial waters.” As if the Black Sea leads anywhere.
The leaks describe the possible routes, including the few possible stops, at Odessa and the Georgian port of Batumi. Both are fine destinations that should refresh the spirits and appetites of the crew. And provide some sun, given that HMS Defender seems to be encased in a seamless high-tech hull, providing its crew with a mostly virtual view of the sea.
As to the discussion of possible Russia reactions, events have already overtaken it: Russia has displayed its feelings about the “innocent passage”, firing a few rounds at a safe distance behind the vessel.
Britain’s Independent newspaper once published a listicle, Seven Times Politicians and Government Officials Left Important Things on Public Transport.
As is the wont of British political journalists the list mostly concerns the buffoonish antics of politicians. The important cases concern the officials who actually do the work. In 2008 Richard Jackson was fined for leaving, on a train from Waterloo, in an orange Whitehall document envelope, an assessment of al-Qaeda vulnerabilities. A passer-by passed the document to BBC security correspondent Frank Gardner.
So they didn’t hand it back to the MoD, then. The documents we presume did not hint at the whereabouts of Osama Bin Laden, who was not officially found for another three years. Although he reportedly was on dialysis for kidney failure in 2002, so that would be a riddle wrapped in a mystery.
The other document that Jackson left on the train was a "damning" assessment of Iraq's security forces. Like the al-Qaeda vulnerabilities, this hardy sounds like news to anyone, let alone information that could be useful to an enemy. Indeed, it seems to be a picture the MoD could have been rather keen to paint… not letting expectations run ahead of capabilities for the (hint, hint) lack of resources.
Soon after the forgetful Mr Jackson, another batch of papers was left on a train from Waterloo, this time research from the UK Treasury into how bank and capital networks could be used to finance WMD production in Iran. The Rolling Stones ballad, Waiting on a Friend, comes to mind.
As the latest leaks suggest, managing expectations is a key part of policy. The contrast with Covid could not be more stark. The British government announces “freedom day”, promising to give the people a summer break from lockdown then, at the last moment, delays it to the second half of July. The policy appears to be to keep the people on their toes, cancelling holiday tickets and rescheduling childcare.
TOO SHY-SHY, HUSH-HUSH
Russians, we are told, are shying away from the Sputnik vaccine as the country struggles to jab its population. The press carried stories originating with Reuters and followed by Agence France-Presse, the BBC and The Guardian saying that 18 million out of roughly 145 million Russians have had a first dose. AFP focused on a “problem of trust and a lack of information” and The Guardian on an “explosion” of new cases and an unsourced lack of trust in Russian products. The story emerged between the lines: the Kremlin denying that Russians are being forced to get shots.
“Overall, vaccination is indeed still voluntary,” said Dmitry Peskov, the Kremlin spokesperson. But he added: “If a Muscovite works in the service industry, they should get the vaccine. If they have decided not to get the vaccine, they should simply stop working in the service industry,” writes Andrew Roth from Moscow.
Russians I have spoken to tell a different story. There are rumours that borders have been closed (rumours that reflect psychology more than reality) which could be explained by the same vaccine or test requirements imposed in destination countries. People are cancelling holidays, preferring to live, shot-free, at home. They are resistant. Their resistance is more than mere vaccine hesitancy, however.
Most Russian millennials were born in the Soviet Union and even 40-somethings remember queuing for bread. The dysfunction of communism is fresh in Russian minds in a way that it is not in Germany, for example.
Germans, we should acknowledge, were subjected to decades of deNazification that has divorced cause from effect. By misdirecting blame to a degree, Germans are left pointing fingers in all directions, or no direction at all.
Anton Chaitkin points out that Germans were tutored in the authoritarian personality. “The goal was to persuade the German people that Hitler’s rise to power was not to be found in international conspiracies or City of London/Wall Street manipulation…but rather in the authoritarian psychological-genetic disposition of the German people themselves.” (British Psychiatry from Eugenics to Assassination,)
There has been no parallel to deNazification in Russia and this is not altogether a bad thing. The attempt to bring the families of NKVD executioner and victim together has been left to non-profits like Memorial. On the other hand, schoolchildren are required to read Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s The Gulag Archipelago (If only British or American schoolchildren were required to wrap their minds around such a tome, even if it is the abridged version.)
To a degree, Russians are left to confront the historical record in their own time and to come to their own conclusion. What the state is capable of doing remains fresh in Russian minds. You won’t see this discussed in the western press, at least not in the context of Covid and the shot.
A SLIVER OF FREE SPEECH
The Observer has an editorial on free speech, a concept that it links to being a democrat four times in one article — though I take to mean in the non-party political sense.
The editorial is concerned mainly, or only, with the split within feminism between subsequent waves, each cancelling its forebear. I realize this fight has taken a toll on individual journalists at G/O so they are not blowing hot air (though the editorial fails to note Suzanne Moore’s hounding and departure over precisely this matter).
Why, though, does it not recognize free speech as an overarching right? That would cover feminists along with everyone else. Instead it appears to constrain free speech in the defence of it: skirting how vitally important it is that humans must be free to speak in defiance of group think.
A fundamental right to speech would help to heal the tectonic fissures of gender politics and, I guess after a final round of internecine bloodletting, might help build a foundation for consensual advancement.
Isn’t it funny how we are told to accept the “consensus” when it is a topic we are not supposed to question because it has acquired the imprimatur of the political class and the media mainstream, along with financial-invested policy prescriptions (aka someone’s making money out of it).
Meanwhile on the frontline, f*** the consensus….
HERON, GAZE FOR ME
Billionaires have got richer during Event Covid – trillionaires, too, I dare say. For the rest of us, however, it’s been more the great equalizer. We are supposed to own nothing and be happy, after all.
Some of us are exiled or stranded, with funds close to exhausted — something more common by a factor of 1000s to people who have long lived a marginal existence.
My few pleasures are the beauty of walks and my son living nearby (I was visiting him when the cov lock, travel freeze hit). Increasingly a nagging worry for the future and the inability to feed him when he visits mean even these opportunities for relaxation are strained.
This is probably why some yield to the promises of the gene shot while others give themselves over to religion. Yet others, I trust, rediscover political fire in their bellies.
Mulling, like Shelley by a babbling brook is not an option. At least that was what I wrote before I was reminded by a fellow poster on Off-Guardian that I was being unfair. Shelley’s cries for justice against tyranny reach us today.
O Liberty! if such could be thy name
Wert thou disjoined from these, or they from thee:
If thine or theirs were treasures to be bought
By blood or tears, have not the wise and free
Wept tears, and blood like tears?”
And, of course, Tennyson by the babbling brook.
And it caught in my gullet, that line about the heron, who would stand in the river next to my family home in Zurich, from which I suffered another exile, that of divorce: two exiles in one year. May they catch the heron’s cheeky gaze and think of mine.
I come from haunts of coot and hern,
I make a sudden sally,
And sparkle out among the fern,
To bicker down a valley.
By thirty hills I hurry down,
Or slip between the ridges,
By twenty thorps, a little town,
And half a hundred bridges.