Monday, 18 August 2014

Putin’s libertarians

Guest post from our Russian correspondent, Mikhail Svetov

u-genghis-khan-monumentI DECIDED TO WRITE THIS after I noticed that western libertarians have unaccountably developed a soft spot for Russian president Vladimir Putin.

The consensus among them seems to be that Putin is in the right in Ukraine. Even Ron Paul, whom I normally admire, has fallen for his charms. But as a Russian libertarian myself, it leaves me disappointed and terribly sad.

The biggest complaint from libertarians about the Ukraine seems to be that the government in Kyiv is somehow “fascist,” which in their eyes warrants Russian military intervention. I would like to start by outlining some facts about Russia and Ukraine, and hopefully dispel some myths about the war in the Donbass region of Ukraine (also known as the Donetsk Basin).

The simplest way is to focus on some of the most notable characteristics of fascism. The defining characteristic of Fascism is that the good of the State comes before the good of the individual, identified by Laurence Britt as being commonly manifested in the following ways

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1) Cult of Personality
Putin’s cult of personality is central to the people’s attitude toward his regime as a whole. And his approval rating has soared to an all-time high of 87%. To put this number into perspective: Putin is just 3% shy of the support Hitler had in 1939, just before the start of World War II.
    This popularity is because, you see, “Vladimir Putin was sent to Russia by God to help it deal with its troubles.”
    So great is the idolatry that Putin T-Shirts fly off the shelves at Moscow megastores; pop songs are written about him, praising his qualities; and the Russian Patriarch calls Putin’s reign a "miracle of God.
    There is no cult of personality in Ukraine.

2) Disdain for the Recognition of Human Rights
Just last week, Putin in his address to the Russian Parliament said that quitting the jurisdiction of the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) is possible, but not on the agenda at the moment. He also mentioned that Russia is ready to withdraw unilaterally from international treaties, if this step meets domestic interests – as determined by him.
    No such sentiment has ever been expressed by Kyev.

3) Identification of Enemies as a Unifying Cause
In Russia “war on traitors” is rampant and spreading to every corner of our society. People are being fired and publicly humiliated just for voicing their opinions.
    People like me, or Vera Kichanova (and everyone else in the Libertarian Party of Russia) are called "fifth columnist" and "national-traitors.”

You may appreciate the installation above: The words on the banner read: “You’re not welcome here.” Annual Kremlin-sponsored extremist youth camps feature, among other dubious things, mock-ups such as these of heads of Moscow human-rights defenders on pikes.   Note that this is not some irrelevant event, Putin and Prime Minister Medvedev visit this particular camp every year.
    Homosexuals in Russia are vilified and persecuted, with the explicit approval of the Putin government.  A year ago the so-called “LGBT propaganda law” was enacted, which made it illegal both to equate straight and gay relationships and to show public affection, both of which are deemed “gay propaganda.”
    Nothing like this exists in Ukraine. There are no “national-traitors,” nobody’s being fired for voicing their opinions, and no heads are put on pikes. Of course, there are some extremists, as in every other country. The difference is that in Ukraine they remain on the fringe of the society, while in Russia they are hosted by the government, and their events are routinely graced by President Putin.

4) Supremacy of the Military
A few days ago Putin announced that an extra 20 trillion rubles ($570 billion) had been set aside for the army and fleet rearmament until 2020. That will bring the Russian military budget to 6% of the GDP, the second largest in the world. Ukraine’s military budget is just 2.2% of its GDP.
    Meanwhile, “Russia diverts [sic] pension savings to plug budget hole.” Just to make it clear, “diverts pension savings” means they blatantly ransacked people’s retirement accounts.
    Russia, by the way, still has a conscription army. Russians are subject to a military draft. Ukraine, until four months into the war at leadt, had a professional army filled by volunteers.

5) Controlled Mass Media
There is no freedom of the press in Russia. None, Not one report from inside the country can be trusted. Every country-wide channels is tightly controlled by the government. Of course, that includes Russia Today, which receives $300 million dollars from the Russian government every year.
    By far the biggest TV channel in Russia is the state controlled “Channel One,” famous for its news anchor Dmitry Kiselyov who, among other things, said that the Kremlin can turn the US into nuclear dust any time it likes, and suggested the hearts of gays should be burned.  Having listened to him, rather than being horrified, Putin was so impressed he personally appointed him the head of Russia Today. How about that?
    On the other hand, and even though Yanukovych tried to control it before he was ousted. Ukraine, has a relatively free press. So much so, for the last 10 years Russian journalists systematically fled to Ukraine because they were forbidden to do their job in Russia.
    Not just forbidden, unsafe. Journalists are killed and assaulted in Russia every year. 49 have been killed since Putin first came to hold power in 2001, all of them assassinated for political reasons.
    No journalists were killed in Ukraine between 2001 and 2014. Not until the Russian invasion.  Since then, several journalists were killed by Russian militants in Donbass.
    Despite the iron fist on mainstream media, internet in Russia was relatively free. Until recently, that is, when Putin decided to annex Crimea. Since then opposition blogs have been routinely blacklisted, online news outlets censored, and the biggest and most successful independent online newspaper saw its entire staff laid off by the pro-Kremlin oligarch. Twitter too is being censored, and Wikipedia.
    Further, Putin blocked the sites of opponents, outlawed anonymous blogging, and ordered all bloggers to 'register' with the mass media regulator, i.e., the Kremlin censor.
    Nothing like this exists in Ukraine.

5) A single-party state
Even though there are four parties in the Russian parliament, Russia is a de-facto single-party state. The laws on the majority of issues are being passed unanimously. The anti gay law was passed unanimously; so did the ban on foreign adoption; so too  the internet censorship law. The Russian parliament also approved the troop deployment in Ukraine unanimously. This is not just because parliamentarians are a bunch of tailors’ dummies: it is done to ensure collective responsibility, so that no one can avoid the blame should any law backfire.
    Boris Gryzlov, state duma speaker and a good friend of Vladimir Putin famously said, that the “parliament is no place for discussions.” This is the man whose job in the parliament is to allow debate. Indeed, in Russia the parliament is the place where every bill supported by the president is passed unanimously.
    Ukraine, on the other hand, is a democracy. There are 9 distinct parties in the parliament that hardly agree on anything, even on the issues of defence in time of war.  Even when there is a majority, the competition is fierce and controversial. As it should be in parliament.

6) Rampant Cronyism and Corruption
Both countries are seriously corrupt, so I’ll just leave it at that.

7) Disdain for Intellectuals and the Arts
Putin’s Russia has a rich history of persecution of artists and intellectuals under the guise of patriotism and morality.
    As many know, the Russian punk band Pussy Riot was famously jailed for two years for an impromptu performance inside a Christ the Saviour church. The Council of Laodicea, the 7th century Quinisext Council and other religious decrees have been used in court as the proof of their undeniable guilt.
    The exhibition Ostorojno Religiya! (i.e., Beware Religion!) was trashed by religious extremists. However,no charges or fees were imposed on the vandals -- instead, curators were fined a hefty 200,000 rubles for allowing the exhibition to happen!  And both were later fired.
    Famous Russian gallery-owner and art patron Marat Guelman had to leave Russia because he was systematically forced to close his projects in Russia.
    Ukraine does not infringe on the freedom of artistic expression.

8) Obsession with National Security
Ukraine willingly surrendered its entire nuclear arsenal to Russia in 1991 at the break-up of the Soviet Union. Russia promised in exchange that it will never threaten or use force against the territorial integrity or political independence of Ukraine, a promise now violated.
    Post-Soviet Russia under Yeltsin and then Putin started wars in Chechnya, Abkhazia, South-Osetia, Transnistria, and now Ukraine.  It resumed testing nuclear-capable missiles, in violation of Cold-War treaties.
    All  in the name of "National Security."
    Ukraine on the other hand enjoyed 21 years of continuous peace. It has been a good neighbour. Since 1991 it hasn’t been involved in a single armed conflict. Until now.

9) Religion and Government are Intertwined
Under Putin,  the Russian Orthodox Church has become an increasingly influential political force – the immediate reason for Pussy Riot protests.   “We must protect holy places from liberals and their satanic ideology,” say the people being called Putin’s God Squad.
    Two years ago United Russia (aka The Party of Putin) created a parliamentary group in defence of “Christian values.”  The Cossacks were allowed to patrol the streets -- and to “patrol the morals.” These are the same Cossacks that form a bulk of pro-Russia militants in Ukraine by the way.
    The construction of 200 (!) new churches in Moscow was sponsored by the Moscow government. Even . the Communist Party supports the church nowadays. Indeed, there is state a blurred line between the Russian Church and state.  Says Putin:  “The voice of the church should be heard loudly everywhere, especially on TV channels. …The state should ensure adequate expression of citizens' interests, which binds their world view to the values of Orthodoxy and other traditional confessions.”(Translation here).
    Further, Putin  made religious education mandatory in all Russian schools. Putin: “Children should be taught by well-trained people, either by theology teachers or priests.”
    The reversal from the Soviet era is profound, echoing the famous totalitarian principle, “what isn’t prohibited will be made compulsory.”
   There is no compulsory religious education in Ukraine. Church is separate from the state, and ancient religious decrees are not used in courts as legal documents.

10) Fraudulent Elections
I was an election observer during the Russian presidential election in 2012. You can read my report, alas in russian,  here.
    Elections in Russia are neither free nor fair. Opposition parties   are universally barred from elections. And opposition candidates are just as routinely put in jail or under house arrest. Some are even abducted abroad and tortured.
    Libertarian Party of Russia was also refused registration. Libertarian candidate Vera Kichanova was  attacked during her electoral campaign and her petition signatures destroyed.
    There are  41 recognised prisoners of conscious in Russia at the moment.
    Since the release of Yulia Tymoshenko there are no political prisoners in Ukraine. The elections in Ukraine were genuine and “ in line with international commitments and with a respect for fundamental freedoms in the vast majority of the country.” 

HERE ARE SOME MORE quick facts, this time about Russian “anti-fascists” in Eastern Ukraine.

Oleg Tsarev,  the pro-russian oligarkh in Donbass, introduced the new flag of Novorossiya. The same flag is heavily used by neo-Nazis in Russia and is called “imperka,” meaning the imperial flag  (check out the armbands, and  balaklavas.)
    A majority of separatists fighting in Ukraine are in fact  Russian neo-Nazis with no prior connection to the region.  Their warlords are Russian nationals, too (Aleksander Borodai, Igor Strelkov and Babai, to name a few). None of them visited Donbass before the war.
    Dmitry Rogozin, now the Deputy PM of Russia in charge of the defence industry, was elected as a member of the ultra-xenophobic “Rodina” (motherland) party. Check out his political ad from 2005 (make sure you enable the captions.

    Scared of the nationalist “Svoboda” party in Ukraine? Sure, these are some pretty bad guys. But check out Vladimir Zhirinovsky, a leader of the Russian ultra-nationalist LDPR party and a deputy speaker of Russia's lower house of parliament. Just few days ago he promised to “wipe out Poland and the Baltic states.” He advocated  reducing the birth rate among ethnic minorities by imposing a penalty for the birth of a third child. And he was also  a close friend of Saddam Hussein. In the last parliamentary election in Russi,a his party won twice the share of seats “Svoboda” has in Ukraine.
    Just in case you want to know more about him, there is a great documentary about him: “Tripping with Zhirinovsky.”

A civil war is by definition not a foreign attack. In Ukraine, Russian troops fight with Russian weapons under Russian warlords against Kyiv government. What happens in Ukraine is not a civil war, it’s a Russian invasion.

SOME QUICK FACTS ABOUT the allegedly “fascist” government in Kiev.
    You know the bill that everyone is talking about, that supposedly “revoked Russian language rights” in Ukraine? It  has never been signed into law.
    The Law on Education grants Ukrainian families (parents and their children) a right to choose their native language for schools and studies.
    There are 8,334,141 Russians living peacefully in Ukraine. It is Ukraine’s largest minority. There are 1,154 schools available to them where all the instructions are provided in Russian.  In most other Ukranian schools Russian is taught as the second language.
    There are  1,927,888 Ukrainians living in Russia, the second-largest minority after the Tatars. Do you know how many schools are available to them in Russia? None. Zero. There are no schools with instructions on Ukrainian. There are just Sunday schools, all 15 of them.
    Furthermore, Russia banned Ukrainian language from schools in Crimea. This was literally the first thing they did.

There is no “fascist” government in Ukraine. In the Ukrainian presidential election of 2014,  nationalists generated an embarrassing 1 percent of the vote for Oleh Tyagnibok of ultra-nationalist Svoboda Party, and less than 1 percent for Dmitry Yarosh of the new Right Sector party that sprung up during the protests. Tyagnibok and Yarosh together received fewer votes than Vadim Rabinovich, a Jewish candidate who captured a little over 2 percent of the ballots.

QUICK FACTS ABOUT THE Crimean occupation.

Putin admitted that  Russian troops took over Crimea, removing any doubt that it was an occupation and not a popular uprising.
    The same kind of referendum Putin staged in Crimea is illegal in Russia. Public calls for actions violating the territorial integrity of the Russian Federation are punishable by 4 years in prison. Putin systematically bans Siberian independence marches, and blacklists every news outlet that dares to mention it -- making Russia a kind of Hotel California of nations.
    Crimean Tatars enjoyed an autonomy within Ukraine. But since Russia annexed Crimea the deportation of Tatars resumed. Leaders of Crimean Tatars are labelled 'extremists,' and  banned from returning home. More here.
    Tatar books are being banned in Crimea; Crimean Tatars are being kidnapped; some of them are found  tortured to death.
    These are the facts about Putin’s Crimea.
    Nothing like this happened when Crimea was part of Ukraine.

WHAT I ARGUE IS that if you consider the facts, you will see that Russia fits the description of a fascist state much better than Ukraine.

But what upsets me the most is not that western libertarians are defending Russian aggression, but that they are defending lesser freedom as well. Ukraine may be a weak state, but it’s also less oppressive – something libertarians should sympathise with.

Sure, Ukraine has its problems and it’s far from being a libertarian utopia. But Ukraine has freedom of speech and free elections, something Russia lost a long time ago. People of all creeds and religions are left to their own devices, something banned in Russia. And gays are protected by the anti-discrimination laws, the opposite of things is Russia. It’s not much, but it’s much better than what Russia has to offer, and vastly better than what Putin has been delivering by force in eastern Ukraine.

I hope this post will allow fellow libertarians in the west to see through Russian propaganda a little bit better.

Mikhail Svetov has been a member of the Libertarian Party of Russia since 2010.


  1. Thank you for that interesting article.
    "The Return"
    [Auckland] library book - mentions Putin trained by Andropov the KGB head who organised crushing Hungary '56, Czechoslovakia '68; that Putin laid a wreath on Andropov's grave; reinstated Soviet era music to anthem; thought the Soviet break-up the biggest geo-political error, ever. Book's Author unsure just how corrupt Putin is - but lists how his spy mates from earlier era ended up extremely wealthy
    Communist past
    Another book that supports the contributors about authoritarianism and intrusion of basic individual rights.
    Mentions that the Orthodox Church leaders were discovered to be high level informants for KGB

  2. Thanks for posting quite an informative post.

    B Whitehead

  3. Thank you for such a well written, honest account of the situation in Ukraine & Russia. It truly is disheartening that Libertarians in the west have accepted the lies and propaganda used by the Kremlin and jumped on any opportunity to blame the west for the misfortunes in Ukraine.

    If you are ever in London, or indeed wish to visit western Ukraine (my birthplace), please let me know. In London I'll buy you a few drinks (some good pubs around) and in western Ukraine we can drink Russian Baby's blood (local delicacy)... but very hard to get fresh :) haha

    Ukrainian Libertarian

  4. Thank you for your article! Hope it will allow people to understand that Ukraine has nothing to do neither with fascism nor with nazism.

  5. Too many Western libertarians have jumped on the counter-culture anti MSM trend that sees Western media as inherently in cahoots with mainstream politics or worse some corporatist conspiracy. So when RT came along challenging most of the Western MSM, they embraced it and got sucked it. RT takes the framework of a true story and layers multiple levels of fiction on top of it. It's hardly new, it is what TASS used to do, and Radio Moscow in its day (today Voice of Russia, still beaming out a 24/7 English service on various platforms). Those layers involve everything from lies, to quoting deranged nobodies who are asserted as experts to simply not covering facts that don't fit the Kremlin's point of view.

    It's insidious, and bear in mind that there is no real counter to this for most Russians, as half don't use the internet, and foreign news channels have largely been dropped from redistribution within Russia, and the age of listening furtively to the BBC, Voice of America and Radio Liberty on shortwave has largely gone.

    Oddly few really trust the Chinese equivalents (CCTV, CNC) perhaps because the Chinese channels by and large don't go for the confrontational approach of RT, but tend to avoid embarrassing China by simply not reporting on matters that do that, or by not reporting that point of view.

  6. The article was worse than poor stuff in that it encouraged the usual Western collectivist mythologies to be proudly excreted. Talk about confirmation bias!

    Ron Paul is right. The conflict in Eastern Ukraine is not the business of Western powers, politicians or Western agencies. It is the business of the individuals who live there.

    There ought to have been (and be) no continuing expenditure of money or resources by Western governments to destabilise Ukraine and fuel unrest and violence (as there has been and as has been carefully omitted from the above article). There ought to be no expenditure of resources, supply of weapons or training of combatants and agents provocoteur by the West. The political arrangemnets and status of those who live in East Ukraine is the business of those who live in East Ukraine.

    If people who live in East Ukraine want to be independent of the outfit in Kiev then they have the right to be. If they are foolish enough to want to have the government of Russia as an authority over them, it is their right to choose to have that. No-one, not Western governments, Western agencies, Western media, Western military, Western financiers and bankers and so forth and so on, have any right to prevent, let or hinder them in the expression of their choice. Similarly, the outfit in Kiev has no right preventing individuals in Eastern Ukraine from making the choice and acting on it either. They ought not to be using force (let alone military force) against individuals who do not want to associate with them or who do not want to accept their authority.


  7. Amit

    The issue is whether you apply the same moral clarity to say that the conflict in Eastern Ukraine is also not the business of Russia. If you're committed to the idea that internal political conflicts in sovereign states are to be resolved by the people within them, then you too would reject Russian involvement in Ukraine, but somehow I doubt you apply the same standards given your bias against the West.

    Who knows what individuals in east Ukraine want? The recent "referenda" were the usual Soviet style fraud, where anyone who campaigned to stay in Ukraine was harassed, bullied and given absolutely no airtime on the Russian controlled media. In short, the thugs who "govern" east Ukraine (whose discipline and behaviour have been exemplified by how they treated the downing of the Malaysian airliner) don't tolerate dissent. If there were to be a referendum it should be held as the one in Kosovo was - with equivalence granted to both sides of the argument and no intimidation.

    The choice in east Ukraine is between a highly flawed but relatively open and liberal regime run from Kiev, where there is plurality and choice, or under the Putin dictatorship. Your moral equivalence is that both are the same and it doesn't matter if some people get to live under tyranny, as long as the majority want it.

    This is exactly the faux-libertarianism embraced by the "anti-war" mob, who are simply anti-establishment, and no friends of freedom.

  8. This comment has been removed by the author.

  9. I completely accept that there are human rights issues in Russia. But frankly, Putin doesn't need to violate them to be extraordinarily popular. Anyone who genuinely believes Putin would lose in a "fair fight" is completely deluding themselves.

    Likewise, claims of fraud and impropriety in Crimea, whether true or not, are completely irrelevant, given that most of the population there is ethnic Russian, speaks Russian, and is understandably pissed off that a government they helped elect was overthrown. Clearly most of the population there wanted to be part of Russia, and they got their wish. Whether they had "help" is irrelevant. The right result was achieved.

    Claims that Ukraine is some sort of oasis of democracy have no credibility whatsoever. In fact, this whole crisis started because a democratically elected government changed its policy, as governments sometimes do, and instead of using the democratic process, the "ethnic Ukrainian" Uniates - who are indeed assisted by fascist elements and meddling by Western powers - decided to riot. Why should ethnic Russians tolerate this?

    This nonsense about the Russians being "thugs" - well there is thuggish behaviour all around, and there are good thugs and bad thugs. It is the Uniates who hijacked the government and the democratic process - that's where the thuggery started. The best way to fight thuggery is not some pussy liberal tolerance of dissent, it's to be a bigger thug and beat the other thugs back. There's no choice here where one side is liberal and democratic, they're all thugs. So I am on the side of the people who don't want to be oppressed, who don't want their Priests persecuted, and want to be ruled by those with their best interests at heart. The Eastern thugs just want the East to themselves. It's the Western thugs who think they have a right to rule over the Eastern minority, aided by the US and the EU.

  10. Neocon Scott

    The issues are that not only do you not know what you are on about but that it is none of your business in the first place.

    You whine, "Who knows what individuals in east Ukraine want?", as if somehow that question leads towards justification for your favoured brand of statist violence making.

    "Who knows what individuals in East Ukraine want?" They do. You most certainly do not. You ought not to ascribe to them your lusts, wishes, prejudices and yearnings. It is none of your business. It is not the business of your fellow travelers whether war-mongers, neocons or whatever collectivist outfit you care to hang with. It is up to the individuals directly to decide what they want, what to do and how to go about dealing with the matters of concern to them. It is not up to some collectivist neocon busybodies in the West. And that is the take-home lesson for you today. Learn it.

    You write, "The choice in east Ukraine is between a highly flawed but relatively open and liberal regime run from Kiev, where there is plurality and choice, or under the Putin dictatorship."

    This is false. For a start the mob presently in power in Kiev are not accurately described as you have written. You are telling lies by describing them as such. Whether this is deliberate malice on your part or merely repeating of propaganda in your ignorance (readers should be aware you have never lived there so it is clear you don't actually have a serious knowledge or understanding of the individuals who are there, of the region, of the history, let alone present circumstances & what has been and is now going on- you have no direct contact to find out) I won't comment. Suffice to say, how you have characterised those presently in power in Kiev is grievously inaccurate.

    As to the available choices that the individuals involved face, there are more options available to them then the false choice between two alternatives you present. But, let's accept for a moment (and just for the one moment only) that the false choice you present is indeed the only choice faced, even then the decision is up to the individuals concerned. There ought to be no violence arraigned against them and certainly none resourced, financed, trained, influenced or directed from the West (as there has been and presently is). It is their business to make their choice, not to have one forced upon them by violence.

    You write this, "Your moral equivalence is that both are the same and it doesn't matter if some people get to live under tyranny, as long as the majority want it.'

    Odd how you support democratic majority rule when it suits you (for example, in Kiev or Kosovo), but simultaneously express dislike of it when that suits (when the result goes against your preferences). I'm not a supporter of democratic majority rule of some by others. Had you bothered to read what I posted previously you'd have been able to figure that out. So much for your language comprehension. As for your "moral equivalence" comment, that fails to justify your position. Perhaps it makes you feel good to smear me with your own moral corruption.

    There is an important assumption you make which also require correcting. Only individuals possess sovereignty, not states. The lines on a map colloquially referred to as borders are merely that- arbitrary lines on a map. They are not permanent. They do not supersede or trump individual rights or the lives of individuals.


  11. Blair

    What you have written is along similar lines to what I've heard.


  12. Great article. Thank you very much.

  13. I have no problem to accept that a libertarian does not like Putin, who is obviously a statist. But what this article contains (beyond the obvious factual error about "government and religion intertwined" for the anti-religious atheistic USSR) is a whitewashing of the ukrainian fascism. All points of the checklist - except for the one-party-system, which has not yet been established, because there are several fascist fractions - hold for the Ukraine.

    In particular, a true libertarianism would be illegal - simply because it is an extremal variant of separatism, which gives everybody the right to separate. But separatism is illegal.

    In general, if libertarians evaluate different statist actors, the question can be only about what is the minor evil. Here, the general rule is quite simple: Separatism is less evil than big states. And a multipolar world order is less evil than a unipolar world order. The reason is simple - more states means weaker states, more poles means more freedom of choice between them. Above criteria favour the Putin-supported separatists in the Easter Ukraine.

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