Raising Hell: Issue 46: Doomscrolling At The End Of The World
"Welcome to hell" - message by Chechen fighters heard on Russian radios during the First Battle of Grosny moments before the 131st Separate Motor Rifle Brigade was wiped out.
Whenever a new conflict blooms in the headlines, the usual way of things here at the end of the world is for it to fade into a distant memory within a matter of hours. With Australian cities currently underwater, various elections coming up and a government hell bent on doing nothing about climate change let alone to provide proper services, things tend to fade quickly from the collective psyche. The world doesn’t think about us, and we turn don’t really think about the world.
Now that President of the Russian Federation Vladimir has let the tanks roll into Ukraine, however, the highly dangerous moment in world history is impossible to ignore for many. To put it in simple terms: Putin’s invasion of Ukraine is roughly equivalent to Australia invading New Zealand while accusing Jacinda Ardern of being a Stalinist — and then threatening to nuke the world if anyone tries to stop us. If the absurdity of this seems unthinkable, this is also what made the prospect of a full blown invasion of Ukraine a horrible shock to many Russians, some of whom, still refuse to believe what’s in front of them.
It is also a situation that is rapidly evolving. Although it needs to be said that a nuclear war is unlikely. Putin’s whole deal here is reabsorbing lost territory into Russia and it becomes impossible to do that when you push the big red button. There is simply no way back from that.
And like all major conflicts, it is increasingly hard to know what is actually happening on the ground. What is known is that things are highly unstable — and Ukraine is now at a point where it will slowly be overwhelmed. With peace talks supposedly happening at the Belarusian border, the Russian rouble in free fall, troops pouring into Ukraine and residents of Kyiv making molotovs in the street, both sides are now fighting for terms. The question is whether Russia gets to demand an unequivocal surrender of the Ukrainian government or not.
What I think is important for all the international relations nerds and legal scholars in the room is exactly how this moment translates into a direct assault on the post-World War II order. There might be plenty to criticise about the rules-based international order constructed after World War II, but it is hard to miss the symbolism of Putin declaring war during an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council (with Russia chairing). As a flex, there was no more dramatic way to give a middle finger to the world than to burn down the international status quo and make Ukraine the funeral pyre. It is also worth noting that the military targets hit in the opening hours of the conflict were the same bases singled out in Putin’s big, rambling speech as being refurbished with the help of the US. In mafia terms, that’s called sending a message and this was clear: the only nice things Ukraine gets will come from Russia.
This is the real significance of the moment. The Russian state may have been huffing its own stuff when they assumed Ukraine was just going to roll over. There seems to have been, at some point, a genuine belief Russian soldiers would be greeted as liberators or that the Ukrainian army would overthrow its government. A good example is the group of riot squad cops who seem to have been dispatched totally without support into central Kiev but were immediately ambushed and killed by the Ukrainian defence force. But then spectacle of Ukrainians sharing guides on how exactly to huck molotovs at passing Russian tanks on social media sends a pretty clear message on how easy it would be to maintain a military presence in Ukraine:
These sorts of images make for compelling moments in the conflict — this is an imperialist invasion to depose the democratically elected government of a sovereign state and carve off some territory. People want the Ukrainians to succeed in this moment, even though that becomes increasingly unlikely as Kiev is surrounded and the country enters a state of siege. What’s key is watching Ukrainian diplomats tell their Russian counterparts to go to hell during the UN meeting. It was a moment that made me think of Haile Selassie’s attempt to fend off the Italian invasion of Ethiopia at the League of Nations.
So far the only discernable goal of the Russian state appears to have been the overthrow of the Ukrainian government. But with Kiev under pressure and fighting ongoing in the rest of the country, a siege situation is developing. For Russia it’s now a matter of turning off the supply of food, water and bullets to Kiev and waiting out the defenders. For Ukrainians who remember the Holodomor resistance means simply surviving while those in the countryside mount a grinding insurgency campaign — unless of talks everyone agrees to call this one a draw and back down, which is probably unlikely.
As this extreme game of brinkmanship is played out, a whole series of possible futures fan out from this moment. On the one end of the spectrum, the Russian army continues to build on its successes, turning Kiev into a repeat of the First battle of Grosny before their army withdraws, drawing the Iron Curtain back over Eastern Europe having levelled Ukraine. The other options are other equally as bad, but if there is one constant at this point, it’s that it would be wrong to assume Putin is rational.
For the Fortnight: February 15 to March 1
Where I recap what I’ve been doing this last fortnight so you know I’m not just using your money to stimulate the local economy …
‘Northern Territory police still using ‘inhumane’ spithoods and restraint chairs on children’ (The Guardian, 25 February 2022).
‘Australia spending billions on new gas pipelines that may end up worthless stranded assets’ (The Guardian, 23 February 2022).
‘Lismore flood: hundreds rescued and thousands evacuated as NSW city hit by worst flooding in history’ (The Guardian, 28 February 2022)
Adelaide Writers Week is back for 2022 and I’ll be moderating two sessions.
Thursday, 10 March 2022, 9.30am: I’ll be speaking to Alec McGillis about his book Fulfillment: Winning and Losing in One-Click America covering the dystopian influence of Amazon and those who make their lives in or around its warehouses.
Thursday, 10 March 2022, 12pm: I’ll also be moderating a discussion with Fiona McCleod and professional bomb-thrower Michael West on the subject of “Grift, Lies and Influence”.
Cracking COVIDSafe - An examination of the machine that made the COVIDSafe app, a piece of software made by people who wanted to hack the pandemic (complete).
Laramba’s Water - Laramba is a remote Indigenous Community in the Northern Territory which has been drinking uranium-contaminated water since 2008. We tried to find out what why (on-going).
‘High levels of uranium in drinking water of NT community’ (NITV, 31 July 2020).
‘Company remains shtum on plans to filter Laramba's contaminated water supply’ (NITV, 21 October 2020).
‘‘It makes us sick’: remote NT community wants answers about uranium in its water supply’ (The Guardian, 18 October 2021).
You Hate To See It
A dyspeptic, snark-ridden and highly ironic round-up of the news from our shared hellscape…
On The Money
That faint ringing you heard around the world at the start of open hostilities in Ukraine? No, that wasn’t the first bombs being launched into civilian areas, but the simultaneous clink of a thousand champagne glasses going kinetic in boardrooms of gunsmiths and purveyors of fine military hardware the world over. But you can good people like those at Raytheon — inventors of the knife missile — aren’t the only ones with their own on the stock. Yahoo already has a helpful series of guides for the Mom and Pop investor suggesting “10 oil stocks to buy amid the Ukraine crisis” and “7 defence stocks to buy as Ukraine crisis heats up”.
Not Quite Ever Given
To international waters now where the Felicity Ace, a 199.99 metre cargo ship jam packed with Porches, Volkswagens and other luxury German cars, is currently under tow. The ghost car ship had been left adrift in the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of the Azores when a fire began to rapidly spread. It’s unclear what causes the blaze but the incident immediately trigger a race among salvage tug boats because, under the law of the sea, a timeless and honoured principle suddenly applied to a cargo ship laden with rich people stuff: finders keepers.
As Clear As Night And Day
If international events have taught us anything in these uncertain times, it’s that in a
companycountry as stable and prosperous as Australia, the value of a strong Fourth Estate that operates with a deep suspicion of power is vital to an enduring democracy. If we were attempting to test this Australia we might look, say, to the Sydney Morning Herald and the paper’s coverage of a recent industrial relations dispute. There the New South Wales government locked out workers with the Rail, Tram and Bus Union for engaging in “terrorist-like activity” by simply discussing the possibility of a strike. This potential strike ended up being upgraded into an actual strike by the paper’s editor, Bevan Shields, who ordered his staff to make it so, even though it was not a fair and accurate description of events, earning a strong talking to by the head of the journalists union. Later, when Sydney Morning Herald staff were given the chance to ask anonymous questions at a recent town hall meeting, they raised the issue and were mostly ignored — which is probably why someone went and leaked the text message exchanges.
Freedom Isn’t Free
And nothing truly says lower case “f” freedom like “free labour”.
Where we recognise and celebrate the true stupidity of the rich, powerful and influential…
With the outbreak of war in Europe for the first time since Yugoslavia broke up, it took mere hours for the American Petroleum Institute to react. Reading the tea leaves and knowing full well Russia, a large producer of oil and gas, was about to be isolated, the group which is alleged in several lawsuits to have undermined action on climate change immediately pumped out a “list of four things the White House can do right now to ensure energy security at home and abroad”.
Of course we here at Raising Hell had our eyes keenly on Australia to see who might be chomping at the bit to make the same points. Lo’ and behold, our instincts were rewarded by the visage of Nationals Senator Matt Canavan who took a look at the situation unfolding in Eastern Europe, did the mental math and decided the best response would be to confront petro-fascism by calling for the construction of a petro-fascist state of our own.It is time we forget about trying to build a green economy to save the planet and instead build an industrial economy to defend Australia.
Apparently it has never dawned on the good Senator that a war with a major oil producing nation is perhaps the best national security reasons to transition away from fossil fuels as fast as possible. But then, we’re all just doing our part in this hellscape, ain’t we?
Good Reads, Good Times
To share the love, here are some of the best or more interesting reads from the last fortnight…
This is an excellent Twitter thread on the history of the Chechen people.
It is always disappointing to see a turn in someone you admired. Matt Taibbi once wrote one of the best books I have read on the Global Financial Crisis (and remains so). It captured the absolute rage at how an army of grifters chasing a dollar were allowed to work over poor people in search of the dollar. The more I learned about Taibbi the more I came to believe he was an asshole, but at least he was the people’s asshole. However, I’ve been disappointed to watch his post-Rolling Stone career descend into several truly weird crusades on cancel culture or other libertarian causes. So it was with some interest I noted his apology to his readers over his Russia analysis — one of several similar apologies from analysts recently, particularly those more closely associated with Russian society than Ukrainian. Fuck ups happen and while I respect these people for being honest enough to apologise — how many quietly pretended their cheerleading for that whole Iraq debacle just never happened? — my suggestion when it comes to Taibbi is that if you follow him for news and analysis of current events, perhaps don’t.
Before You Go (Go)…
Are you a public sector bureaucrat whose tyrannical boss is behaving badly? Have you recently come into possession of documents showing some rich guy is trying to move their ill-gotten-gains to Curacao? Did you take a low-paying job with an evil corporation registered in Delaware that is burying toxic waste under playgrounds? If your conscience is keeping you up at night, or you’d just plain like to see some wrong-doers cast into the sea, we here at Raising Hell can suggest a course of action: leak! You can securely make contact through Signal or through encrypted message Wickr Me on my account: rorok1990. Alternatively you can send us your hard copies to: PO Box 134, Welland SA 5007
And if you’ve come this far, consider supporting me further by picking up one of my books, leaving a review or by just telling a friend about Raising Hell!