Welcome to part two of my interview of Sean Guillory of Sean's Russia Blog. You can check out part one by clicking here.
This could be completely inaccurate, but my perception is that Ukraine isn't in the news much these days. What is the latest there?
Ukraine has been off the news since the Minsk II agreement in February. I’ve felt for a while that the European powers would rather the Ukrainian crisis go away. The only reason they reluctantly responded with sanctions is because of American pressure and the downing of MH 17 by the rebels using Russian supplied Buk missiles. The EU is in no position to inherit a political and economic basket case like Ukraine except to open its markets to free trade. Sure, they would ideally like to see Ukraine adopt European political and legal standards, but I don’t really see any EU invitation coming. Nor do I see a NATO invite coming for a long time, if ever. Putin put the kibosh on that by showing he was willing to support a proxy war in the east. No one in Europe or the US is willing to go to war with Russia over Ukraine, except for neoconservative hawks, Russophobes, and Cold War re-enactors. This is why the US response has mostly been lukewarm. Ukraine might matter in the geopolitical game board of Risk, but Ukraine is not a vital object of US interests, regardless of Russian paranoid induced fantasies. Plus the US can’t even contain the Middle East. We won’t even mention Africa, which will be the next theater in the “war on terror.” Sure Obama had to do something in response to Crimea and certainly to MH 17. Being the global hegemon comes with that kind of obligation. Sanctions and attempts at isolating Russia from the “West” are pretty much all the US can do. The Obama Administration has the power to subordinate Russia but the will isn’t there because the costs are way too high. The US and EU will sell out Ukraine eventually, and it will be done quietly as not to be perceived as not being tough with Putin. We see indications of this already. In the last few months in particular, the French and Germans have been putting more pressure on Kiev to comply with the Minsk II agreement. The US has almost completely disengaged diplomatically though it still engages in backroom machinations in terms of guiding the outer contours of Ukrainian politics (as best it can) and, mainly, influencing the neoliberal institutional and economic reforms (as best it can). Ukraine remains a pet project for a handful of American Russia obsessed imperialists who salivate at the prospect of Russia’s collapse and neoliberals searching for “live experiments” for their defunct doctrines. But the whole of the American foreign policy establishment has moved on, if they were really ever “on” in the first place. The Ukrainian populace is also tired of the war and polls show that the majority want some kind of resolution in the Donbas. Even the Russians are backing off as attention turns to Putin’s Syria adventure.
Indeed, Ukraine has mostly fallen victim to Syria, which I’m sure is a secret big relief for many in Brussels, Paris, Berlin, and Washington. This is not to say that they would rather deal with the refugee crisis and the Syrian civil war. But Russia’s involvement in Syria allows for a potential diplomatic deal with Moscow. There have been hints of this in the press. Putin may be willing to trade Assad for a neutral Ukraine and some kind of de facto recognition of Crimea. Putin’s main condition will probably be that Moscow has some say so over a post-Assad Syria, in whatever political or geographical form it takes. If a deal is able to be struck (the Americans would have to get the Turks and Saudis to go along), the West can quietly let Ukraine go. That is a big if, though, and a lot of it depends on how far the Russians are willing to go to prop up Assad. Russia faces the danger of getting sucked in to Syria as the Americans, Turks and Saudis double down and prolong the conflict. Ironically, what might happen in Syria is exactly what some were saying would happen if the US supplied weapons to the Ukrainians. Now the situation is reversed.
In all, I think we’re seeing the twilight of the Ukrainian crisis unless something brash and unforeseen occurs. It will likely continue on a low simmer for a while which will benefit Putin. In fact, I’m sure there are Russian elites eagerly waiting for the Russian state to aid in the rebuilding of the Donbas so they can pillage the kitty. This is what happened in Sochi and I’m sure is happening in Crimea. War presents all sorts of economic opportunities and I’m sure there is a tacit agreement between Putin and his elite that they will get access to the spoils in the Donbas in exchange for their loyalty. The only problem with all this is that Russia doesn’t have the money since oil and gas prices are so low. Nevertheless, the opportunity is there.
In regard to Syria, the propaganda response in the US has been incredible. The ramping up of the Russian propaganda machine is expected, because as I said above, this is one of the few mechanisms the Russian state has at creating consensus. But in America, it has been clumsy and transparent—the transformation of jihadists into “moderate rebels” or just “rebels” and the constant harping on the fact that the Russians aren’t hitting ISIS like they said they would. I mean it has been really pathetic. I think this desperate response by the entire US ideological state apparatuses is in part due to Russia interfering on US turf, and by doing so revealing the utter failure of US power projection in the Middle East. You can see this in all the rhetoric about Putin outfoxing Obama, winning, “not letting him get away with it,” etc. It’s like the US’ collective masculinity was insulted by the bare-chested Slav on horseback.
You've spent the past few years in Pittsburgh and I understand that you speak Russia fluently. So have you met and talked with Evgeni Malkin?
I’ve been in Pittsburgh for four years. It’s a great place and we decided to stay. The one (of many) things about Pittsburgh that disturbs me is how racially segregated it is. This is not to say that LA isn’t segregated. It is. But LA is a multiracial and multiethnic, albeit balkanized city. Here it’s just black and white. And frankly I’m not so comfortable with all these—what my mother would call—white-white people.
I don’t speak Russian fluently. I wish! I have a constant battle with the language even after all these years. I read a lot better than I speak. I’ve been in Russia for a year at two different intervals—2004-2005 and 2009-2010, in addition to several shorter trips. My Russian got quite good in that period. I think the only solution is for me to spend some extended time in country, and by extended time, I mean 3-5 years. That’s not going to happen under my current situation. I sometimes wonder if I’ll ever get a chance to go back. Maybe when my daughter is older and she can appreciate it. This is too bad because I really enjoy being there. It’s a fabulous country despite all its flaws. In all, I’m just not good with languages. I’m always amazed by those people who have picking up languages as their superpower. Unfortunately, I think languages are my kryptonite.
I’ve never met Evgeni Malkin.
The Original Hot Dog: Great place to get a hot dog and fries or greatest place for a hot dog and fries?
It’s okay. (Sean's note: It's better than okay!) I’ve been there a few times. Honestly, no fast food anywhere beats In-N-Out Burger in Los Angeles. N-o-w-h-e-r-e. Five Guys is a decent substitute. But still . . . I don’t miss a lot of things about LA except three things: In-N-Out, the Lakers, and the weather. Oh, perhaps medical marijuana as well.
(Sean's Note: In-N-Out is very, very good though I'll take the O Fries over In-N-Out fries.)
It seems like your blog has been pretty quiet lately. Are you currently working on anything for the site?
I’ve been real busy this summer. I was in Tanzania for ten days. It was absolutely amazing. I’ve always wanted to go to the African continent so this trip was very special for me. Then my wife and I bought a new house in East Liberty. Moving and setting up the house has taken a lot of time and has been my singular focus for the last two months.
But I’m now starting to reemerge from my hole. I’ve started up the podcast again and I will be writing more.
The big project ahead of me, however, has nothing to do with Russia. I’m embarking on a research project into American non-profit funding of Israeli settlements for the organization my wife works for, Partners for Progressive Israel. The idea is to track, collect, and make publically available information about the non-profit organizations that provide funds to organizations that send money to settlements. Our goal is to make this information available in a searchable database. We’re only getting started and it probably won’t be until sometime next year before it’s done.
Thanks again to Sean for taking the time to participate in this interview. These two posts are probably the most thoughtful entries on my blog ever. I'll get back to my usual posts about kids and other stuff in my life next week.
Please make sure to check out Sean's Russia Blog, follow the other Sean on Twitter, and check him out on iTunes.