Bellingcat proves the Russians didn’t do it.

The Bellingcat site has a piece entitled “Confirmed : Russian Bomb Remains Recovered from Syrian Red Crescent Aid Convoy Attack” which includes this picture as well as several others. You may look at the others, but this one picture is apodictic proof 1) that the Russians (or Syrians) didn’t do it and 2) that Bellingcat is a loyal servant of the Borg.


He spends a lot of efforts to establish that the metal piece is the tail piece of a Russian-made OFAB 250-270 Fragmentation High Explosive Bomb. No argument there, I’m sure it is. Said bomb has 92kg of explosive. Which is quite a lot.

  • If said bomb had exploded in this not very large room, all those cardboard boxes would be torn to pieces and burned. To say nothing of a lot more damage to the room itself. Therefore it did not explode in that room.
  • If said bomb was a dud and did not explode, where is the rest of it? Therefore the bomb was not a dud.
  • Therefore the bomb piece was put there to make it look as if the Russians had done it. (And not very competently either: note that it is supposed to have come through the ceiling and neatly placed itself underneath some undamaged cardboard boxes.)
  • If it is necessary to produce a fake picture, then the Russians didn’t do it.
  • QED

And, as a bonus, by perpetrating this fraud, Bellingcat has also proved that he is a stooge of the war party.

A lot to deduce from one photo, isn’t it? It used to be that it took more effort to disprove Bellingcat’s fakes. He’s losing his touch.


ELECTION. The Duma election is on Sunday. I haven’t paid much attention to it because I don’t expect anything exciting or different. A poll gives United Russia 41%, Zhirinovskiy’s party 13%, Communists 7%, Just Russia 6% and ten others (there are 75 (!) parties registered) in the weeds. This is believable (the Communists and Zhirinovskiy share a part of the electorate, it goes back and forth and both leaders have been around since 1993). Putin continues wildly popular, his government is pretty effective, the opposition is tired or tainted, so why shouldn’t his – admittedly boring – pedestal party do well? I doubt we’ll see protests – the NGO law has greatly reduced the power of the regime changers. (Yes there is some real opposition to Putin & Co but it’s so contaminated by Western interference it’s impossible to know what’s real. In any case, it’s likely that most opponents think he’s too soft.) I very much look forward to statements from the US, especially Hillary Clinton, that they weren’t “democratic” or “fair”.

CORRUPTION. A fairly big fish caught: an official, with a responsibility for combatting corruption, was arrested when a search found a lot of cash.

MILITARY. A big exercise wraps up in southern Russia. Video: note thermobaric bombs at 1:50. The “‘unsafe’ intercept of US aircraft” doing “routine operations in international airspace” happened during it. The limit is 12 nautical miles or 22.2 kms. The US plane was 40 miles from the coast and its transponder was off. What does Washington say about Russians when they leave Russia? “Highly irregular” and “aggressive, dangerous“, that’s what. And even more outrage when they turn their transponders off.

WADA WARS. “Fancy Bear” hacked WADA and discovered that some athletes have been given a pass on certain proscribed drugs. WADA doesn’t deny but says it was OK because they had prescriptions. Does drug X cease to enhance performance if doctor prescribes it? I think some explanations are needed.

NEW NWO PART 1. This year’s G20 in China was a triumph for Putin but not so much for Obama. Interesting isn’t it? All the nonsense three years ago in Australia, Obama coming up unscheduled to talk to Putin last year and now this. Zbigniew Brzezinski tells us today that the US’s “era of global dominance” is ending. Only two decades ago – a rather short “era” – he assured us the US was supreme in all categories. Said he then: “Potentially, the most dangerous scenario would be a grand coalition of China, Russia, and perhaps Iran… Averting this contingency, however remote it may be, will require a display of U.S. geostrategic skill…”. China-Russia-Iran…. It’s all happening quickly, isn’t it? Newton’s Third Law of Motion in geopolitics.

NEW NWO PART 2. China and Russia have begun a large and rather all-inclusive military exercise in the South China Sea. This (“routine” and “not aimed at anyone” of course) exercise was preceded by Moscow stating its support for Beijing in the Sea.

PUTIN DERANGEMENT SYNDROME. A new victim is admitted to the ward. “What is behind Vladimir Putin’s curious interest in Mount Athos?“. Not much of a mystery: there has been a Russian monastery there for 800 years, Russian governments traditionally supported it, Putin is a believer. But no: must be a “listening post or centre for intelligence gathering” or some other “secret agenda”. But seriously, PDS is neither a joke nor accidental as Robert Parry explains.

SYRIA. After long negotiations and much back and forth, Kerry and Lavrov agreed on a cessation of hostilities and a program. Much is still secret (Lavrov wants it all out there but not Washington) but we are told that Damascus and Ankara are in on it too. Russian troops have positions on the Castello Road. So, some hope, I suppose, but I have noticed before that Kerry will agree to things when he is in the same room as Lavrov but, when in another room with other people, he seems to drift away from the agreement. Washington has to give up its imaginary “moderate rebels” and the “Assad must go” mantra. Does it want to? Can it? I honestly don’t know: who’s running the place anyway?

UKRAINE’S NIGHTMARE. Today’s reading list: Origins of the war in Donbass; Ukraine’s Perpetual War for Perpetual Peace; Why American Right-Wingers Are Going to War in Ukraine (note the drunken shootings into Donbass and the tacit support from the regular army). The hearing of Moscow’s case against Kiev for the US$3 billion loan will be in January. Kiev is not expected to win. The Maidan spirals down some more. But, “there is a great deal of ruin in a nation” and we’re not there yet. And, has Paris had enough of Kiev ignoring the Minsk agreement? Or is this another contumacity to be reined in?

© Patrick Armstrong Analysis, Canada Russia Observer

Trump and Clinton, Clinton and Trump

(Written for expert panel)

To me, the choice in the US election is utterly simple: the most important thing is stopping the perpetual wars of the New American Century.

President Clinton means more wars. Deeply implicated in the wars in Yugoslavia, Libya and Syria, she is contaminated by the noxious gospel of American Exceptionalism; the arrogant (and profoundly ignorant) assumption that the US is morally justified in doing anything anywhere to anyone at any time because its intentions are pure. “American Exceptionalism” is manifested today chiefly by armed force: military bases around the world, US special forces active in half the countries and war after war since the close of the Cold War a quarter of a century ago. It should be clear – even if it isn’t to the Exceptionalists – that the US is losing these wars, that each sets up the conditions for the next and that their consequences, far from the “stability” fantasised by the Exceptionalists, are uniformly disastrous. Clinton will end none of them and will start new ones. Added to which, given her extreme rhetoric, there is the non-zero possibility of bringing us to World War Last against Russia and China.

Trump, on the other hand, boasts of his skills at negotiating The Deal. This deserves more attention than it has received. “American Exceptionalism” never negotiates because there is nothing to negotiate about: there’s the Exceptionalist way, the correct way, and there are all the other ways and they’re all wrong; other countries’ national interests count for nothing against the Exceptional. For the Exceptionalists a “negotiation” is a command to do it our way – the right way – or we bomb you. This is not what Trump is talking about: in a real deal both parties feel that they have achieved a good result; a real negotiator respects the other side’s interests and takes them into account; a real deal doesn’t need to be bombed into place. As US power drains away – and even Zbigniew Brzezinski understands that it is “no longer the globally imperial power” he said it was only twenty years ago – managing the decline will be enormously important for the safety of the world. Far better that we have The Dealmaker for four or eight years than The Exceptionalist.

Can President Trump deliver on his promise to step away from confrontation and wars? There’s a very good reason to expect he can. The years of the so-called “imperial presidency” have shown us that while American presidents have to struggle to achieve anything domestically they can start wars ad libitum – especially now that the secret of disguising neocon aims behind a froth of humanitarian rhetoric has been discovered. So all President Trump has to do is not start them.

Therefore Trump is the obvious candidate to hope for and there are good reasons to think Trump can deliver: his starting approach is to negotiate and all he has to do to prevent a new war is to not start it. The other differences between the two candidates fade into froth and bubbles: no more Exceptionalist wars trumps – if my feeble pun may be accepted – everything else.


First You Ride the Meme and Then the Meme Rides You

What follows was put into my head by a piece claiming that in Syria “Russia [was] using advanced weapons system developed through a secret agreement with extraterrestrial visitors“. I’m not suggesting that anyone take this seriously but notice the assumption that Putin is in the superhuman category. Its creators are losing control of Putin Derangement Syndrome.

At first Putin was a figure to be mocked. He overcompensated for being short by taking his shirt off on all possible occasions, by catching large fish, finding amphoras and wrestling tigers. The high point of the mocking period was the Olympics: he’d squandered billions building a site where the water was brown and the doorknobs fell off.

But then the quick little regime change in Ukraine went sour and Putin became evil. As one of Canada’s professional Ukrainians put it “My Ukraine: A personal reflection on a nation’s dream of independence and the nightmare Vladimir Putin has visited upon it.” Ukrainians just wanna have fun but Putin turned the dream into a nightmare. Remember Olga Znachkova who didn’t want the Eurasian Union but wanted frilly undies instead? Evil Putin stole them too. “Smart but truly evil man” says Madeleine Albright (of all people). Too evil for derision but still limited in his effect: a “regional power” acting out of weakness.

But PDS has evolved far past any localised evil, let alone mockery. In my Putin Derangement Syndrome collection in August there were two principal themes. The first was that Putin had the very same uncanny influence over Donald Trump and Jill Stein that he had had over Bernie Sanders; in other words, he has such a grip on the American election that Hillary Clinton is the only truly American candidate left. The second theme was the extraordinary ability of RT and other Russian media outlets to shape people’s thoughts; far exceeding the effects of the much (much) better funded Western outlets. Putin has the power to cloud minds at a distance: he operates at a more than merely human status and he’s using that power to reshape the world.

This is an illuminating case study because it shows that propaganda can take off on its own and exceed the intentions of its originators. The US establishment is fond of demonising its enemies – in recent times we have seen it happen to Milosevic, Saddam Hussein, bin Laden and many others – but those hate campaigns, once they had whipped up war support, ceased and were forgotten (anyone remember Aidid?). Washington’s current trouble is that it has never tried the technique against someone whom it can’t get at, against someone who is not cowed and, worst of all, against someone who outwits it at every stage. The propagandists have no idea of what to do except turn the volume up higher and higher. So the rhetoric builds and builds, more and more extreme, larger and larger until it bursts into full-blown psychosis and panic.

Putin is already the Moriarty, the Voldemort of the US propaganda machine: the hidden power behind everything bad. Will we see Putin the extraterrestrial agent or Putin the Antichrist, already out there in the crazy fringe, start to appear in the NYT or WaPo as they are compelled to account for the next ratcheting up of hysteria?

Economist cover sometime next year: Cthulhu Returns!



Putin Derangement Syndrome August 2016

In which I collect all the examples of this strange mental defect that have caught my attention in the month of August in the seventeenth year of The New American Century.


Vladimir Nosferatuvich Putin



Hillary Clinton says “We know that Russian intelligence services, which is part of the Russian government which is under the firm control of Vladimir Putin, hacked into the DNC. And we know that he arranged for a lot of those e-mails to be released.” (Director of National Intelligence James Clapper would call this “hyperventilating” but what’s he know?).

Anne Applebaum informs us: “This time the goal is to disrupt the American election, discredit the process and, if possible, elect Donald Trump as President of the United States. All available evidence now points to Russian involvement in a thorough hack of the Democratic National Committee.”

Speaking of “all available evidence”, the WaPo tells us the lack of “fingerprints” is the evidence; CBS says the presence of “fingerprints” is the evidence. One or the other, I guess: but it’s all “evidence”, isn’t it?

A “scholar of Russian espionage and political subversion” informs us “For the first time since the 1950s, Russian subversion of the American political process has become a presidential campaign issue.

Jill Stein of the Green Party has been contaminated by Putin.

They’re everywhere: “Putin’s Pawns: Beware the Hillary Clinton-Loathing, Donald Trump-Loving Useful Idiots of the Left .”

And then there’s Donald Trump himself: “an unwitting agent of the Russian Federation.” A Clinton campaign video lays out the evidence of “Donald Trump’s connection to Vladimir Putin“. “So, you can say Trump and his friend Putin are the founder of ISIS, which probably would be more accurate than calling out the commander-in-chief in that way.” McFaul explains “Why Putin wants a Trump victory (so much he might even be trying to help him)”. Clinton says Putin, Farage and Trump are all together; her campaign chief details the links between Putin and Trump.

But maybe none of this matters, as the WaPo explains; Putin might use Russia’s tremendous hacking power to disrupt the entire election. He’s already sniffing around: “Russians Hacked Two U.S. Voter Databases, Officials Say” and he’s gnawing away at the “newspaper of record“. Maybe it’s already too late: “Vladimir Putin Has Already Won Our Election: It’s time to face the facts: Kremlin spies and hackers are undermining American politics“.

(A small request – can we have a pronunciation closer to vla-DEE-mir than VLAD-i-mir? Americans ought to be able to pronounce the name of their soon-to-be Commander-in-Chief.)


Just watching RT for a short time can so twist people’s thinking that they have to be put on a remedial course of BBC watching.

Are Putin’s beauties on a secret mission to break up the UK?

Then there’s the Nooscope. Whatever that is. But it’s frightening and sinister. A sort of mental Dracula, I suppose. Fortunately we have Masha Gessen to guide us through the forest “A final fact about Vayno is that the letters of his last name can spell voyna, the Russian word for war. Is this the message that Putin is sending?Вайновойна, you decide. Maybe Putin’s “gunslinger walk” or Asperger’s affects his ability to spell. (But he could probably find, or create, someone actually named Антон Эдуардович Война if he really tried, don’t you think?) But, as Gessen is a homonym for guessin’, who knows what message is being sent by whom?

The NYT suggests that in Sweden, where actually two thirds don’t want to join NATO, all expressed opposition to joining can only be the work of A Powerful Russian Weapon: The Spread of False Stories. (Amusing to consider the three “false stories” the NYT mentions and think: 1) nukes in İncirlik 2) renditions and other things we only learn about later and 3) SOFA – see Okinawa. The NYT should put more effort into its propaganda: this is an insult to its readers.)


Time for another Olympics, time for another invasion says Luke Harding. (Bit stale-dated that, but the Para-Olympics aren’t over so there’s still time for Putin to invade somebody. But Harding can recycle the piece in two years.)

Why is Russia in Syria? Don’t waste your time listening to what the Kremlin says: the current Porcelain Cup holder knows it’s because “Russia wants to erase the humiliation of the Soviet Union’s defeat in Afghanistan in the 1980s.

But there’s hope: despite all that Putin has done “Twenty-five years after the great revolution that toppled the Soviet regime, the spirit of dignity and freedom still burns.

Next month, new collection. The PDS epidemic is very contagious.


OLYMPICS. Sports Minister Mutko says the WADA report was “falsified” and that Moscow would file lawsuits against the “accusers.” High time Russia struck back; it has had some success in the Western court system. The ridiculous YUKOS shareholder judgement was reversed for example. While accusations of “probably” can be thrown around ad libitum, actual courts don’t want to set precedents that may bite them later.

PUTIN DERANGEMENT SYNDROME. Putin’s campaign to become US President is attracting a lot of attention. Here’s another American opinion sector he controls. I think he’s a shoo-in, don’t you? My August collection of PDS will be out tomorrow.

MORE RUSSIAN “THREATS”. Plans to create a coastal defence division in Chukotka have been announced; there were some facilities in the Soviet times in Anadyr. This is the part of Russia that’s next door to Alaska. I look forward to Thinktankistan’s reaction. (The “Putin threat to Alaska” is out there now, but only in a small way: here, here and here.)

PUTIN DOCUMENTARY. Very good. First 20 minutes a reminder of the hopeless mess of 1999.

THE EMPTINESS OF FORMER FLAPS. Remember last year when Russia was destabilising Norway by shoving migrants into it? This year we’re told it wasn’t true actually. But never mind, Russian hackers are the new threat. Classic propaganda: keep the lies coming; nobody remembers the details but the bad impression remains.

RUSSIA-SYRIA. Russia’s intervention began 11 months ago. Obama, again displaying the pitiful advice he gets, predicted a “quagmire“. Better he should have listened to “Shellback” and understood “that Moscow confined itself to the things that can be accomplished by violence and stopped when it had done them“. Even a few in Thinktankistan and MSM are starting to get it:: “Russia has been able to reassert itself in the region partly because it set out limited goals – something the US might consider taking a cue from.” “As Bismarck said, you can do anything with bayonets except sit on them. But Washington is always trying to sit, indeed trying to sleep comfortably, on them.”

TURKEY-SYRIA. Turkish forces invaded Syria last week and took the town of Jarabulus just across the border on the west bank of the Euphrates. Supposed to be a short-term operation. There seem to be two opinions: A: it’s a betrayal of the Ankara-Moscow rapprochement or B: it’s actually all manoeuvring for the end game and Moscow is OK with it. I’m inclining towards B. “A Deal Over Syria That Left The U.S. Out“. We have seen two indications the Moscow-Ankara rapprochement continues.

IRAN. Iranian TV showed S-300s deployed at the Fordow underground uranium enrichment facility.

FOLLOW THE MONEY. “We know that uptick is coming and so we postured ourselves for it.Germany makes some.

GONGOS. Two more named undesirable: the International Republican Institute (John McCain’s – “further proof that he fears democracy“) and the Media Development Investment Fund, Inc. That’s 7 now: those 2 and National Endowment for Democracy, the OSI Assistance Foundation, the Open Society Foundation, the US Russia Foundation for Economic Advancement and the Rule of Law and the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs. (Does your local media outlet, reporting on this, tell you about the US law on which the Russian one is modelled? Bet it doesn’t).

DONBASS. A poll shows support for recognising independence or incorporation into Russia is down from January 2015 (23% and 14%) and neutrality is still the preferred option (up from 28% to 38%). There is very strong support for providing humanitarian assistance. Moscow’s policy operates within these constraints. I still say Putin & Co are playing a long game: sooner or later Brussels and Washington will tire and maybe the Ukrainians will get rid of their new masters.

UKRAINE. The Ukrainian nuclear power authorities and a European consortium signed an agreement to supply fuel from a Westinghouse plant in Sweden. Many think that this is potentially dangerous. Allegedly Westinghouse has redesigned its fuel rods after earlier problems. The former Chernobyl director is concerned. A nuclear disaster would dwarf most of the other spillovers from the Ukrainian calamity. Of which there will be many – the Saker predicts the future: a big Somalia next door.

MORE UKRAINE. Even its cheerleaders recognise it: “Every roulette table in Las Vegas is more promising than Ukraine. I know from personal experience“. And for once, no attempt to blame Russia.

© Patrick Armstrong Analysis, Canada Russia Observer

Russia Is Finished Quotations

The turbulent events of the past seven days are a defeat for President Boris Yeltsin, a huge setback to the cause of reform, and a warning to the West…[Zhirinovskiy] will be ideally placed in coming months to exploit popular discontent…Just over a hundred days ago, Yeltsin’s forces blew up the old Russian parliament and killed 147 people in the name of reform…The government is now dominated by men who have a strong taste for communist style state controls of the economy…the death of liberal Russia is a direct consequence of the free vote held on 12 December.

Tony Barber, “Back to the USSR”, The Independent on Sunday, 23 Jan 1994

The August 1991 Coup Attempt and Me

David Jones (who just died the other day. RIP) organised an annual meeting at his ancestral home in Bedford Basin, Halifax, Nova Scotia. Purpose to talk about all the stuff that was going on in the USSR. I was one of the participants (greatly outranked by most of the others. Thank you David).

So, down I went to Halifax in August 1991 by car with my wife for the latest. We have the meeting; serious bunch of people, knowledgeable and informed. I remember, on the last day, having a debate with one of the participants on the subject that the Soviet Armed Forces had more power than ever before; I argued no, they were just as divided on perestroyka, glasnost, Gorbachev and what was happening as any other part of the USSR and could not be considered as monolithic at all. Anyway, after convivial discussions boozing chatting and so on, we get into the car to drive back to Ottawa on Sunday. Overnight somewhere in Vermont.

Turn on the TV in the motel Monday 19 August and there’s the news of the coup – tanks on the street, Gorbachev overthrown, lots of people saying “told you it wouldn’t last”. Sinking feeling in the stomach – it always hurts to be proved wrong. Here I am saying no coup and I’m instantly contradicted by the facts. And will probably get home to be fired (I heard years later that one senior had been joyfully saying that at least we’ll never have to hear from Armstrong again.) But tank crews arguing with citizens is not the sign of a successful coup I think as I drive. As the day wears on and we listen to whatever we can get (no Internet then, boys and girls, only what we now scornfully call the Lame Stream Media; so you had to listen carefully through the piffle and bias and deduce heavily) it occurs to me that this coup really isn’t working out very well. In short, coups have to be fast and total (or at least look that way) or they trickle away.

So Tuesday, into the office. Get some intelligence that confirms my suspicion that the coup isn’t really working and won’t take. (And also do some thinking; two things are missing: nobody from the CPSU in the Extraordinary Committee and where are the planes flying low and loud? In short, not everyone is on board.) Get a phone call from the Globe and Mail. Tell the reporter (I was new to the business then – I trust reporters a lot less now) that the coup is a bust and will fail.

Wednesday. Front page of G&M – Foreign Affairs says um ah maybe yes maybe no; so-called Defence Department “Expert” by name (sneer sneer) is so inexpert (sneer sneer) as to say no one expected the coup attempt and it will fail (hah hah, what a doofus!) Even made Quote of the Day: if the coup succeeds I will eat my hat. On my desk a stack of telephone messages. Phone the Director, phone the Director General, phone the ADM, phone the Minister! But, by Wednesday, it was clear that the coup had failed and that it was wrapping up. So I phone nobody.

Thursday lots of phone calls from various media outlets asking for interviews because I’m the only (later learned that I wasn’t actually the only) “expert” (not so sneery now) in the whole Canadian Government to have got it right. Asked my boss what to do. He said (wisely) that, since the then foreign minister had said that Canada would probably have to recognise the junta, I would be smarter, from a career perspective, to keep my mouth shut.

So, dear comrades, that’s why

  1. I’m not world famous today but
  2. I am living happily on a solid government pension.

There’s a lesson in here somewhere for you younguns but I don’t know what it is.

(Pre Internet so I can’t find the Globe and Mail reference. Have the cutting somewhere; if I find it, I’ll post it.)


LET’S GO TO WAR WITH RUSSIA! Don’t think I can improve on Fred here: “The standard American approach to war is to underestimate the enemy, overestimate American capacities, and misunderstand the kind of war it enters”. (PS Fred was in Vietnam. So he’s been there, done that). The Saker earlier used the analogy of “suicide by cop“.

SANCTIONS. A Brussels think tank reports the share of Chinese goods in Russia’s imports increased from 5% in 2000 to 25% in 2014 and has continued to grow, while the share of EU-manufactured products has decreased from 70% to 55%. I wouldn’t expect the EU to be able to recover much of that market share even if the sanctions were dropped tomorrow. Russia, to put it simply, has no reason to trust anyone in the West ever again on anything: at any moment, some accusation can be manufactured.

ECONOMY. From Bloomberg, not an especially Russia-friendly source: “Russia’s economy has been slow to rebound, but things are perking up” and “Russia’s food producers have beaten an import ban and kept inflation in check“.

ARMOURED TRAINS! Who’d have thought they were still around?

NEW NWO. More data points. The presidents of Russia, Azerbaijan and Iran met; then Putin met with the President of Armenia (obviously working on the Karabakh problem.) Then we learn that Moscow plans to make the Hmeymim air base in Syria permanent. Then it turns out Russia is using a base in Iran to bomb Syria (permission to cross Iraq too). (Interesting historical bit). Then a Chinese military delegation visits Syria and talks of cooperation (Chinese report). A lot of data points for two weeks, eh?

DOPING. Read this. Even through the CBC’s bias you can see how completely the IOC rejected WADA’s report. Sue them, says this guy. Individually. Make them spend the rest of their lives in court.

LEAKING AND HACKING. Edward Snowden worked for the NSA and, appalled at what he saw, leaked. 50 analysts at the DIA, appalled at what they saw, leaked and a US Congressional hearing has validated their charges. Drone operators, appalled at what they’ve seen and done, leak. Assange has almost directly said that DNC insider Seth Rick, presumably appalled at what he saw, was the DNC leaker. And now more NSA leaks. More disgusted insiders I suspect. But Snowden disagrees: he thinks Russia did it to send this message: “This leak is likely a warning that someone can prove US responsibility for any attacks that originated from this malware server.” In short, Dear NSA, we know exactly what you do to interfere around the world and we can prove it. NSA ought to be airtight; I sometimes think that the most underrated reality of the Obama period is out-and-out incompetence across the board. For example: US statement, Russian response.

WOBBLES. British PM May phoned Putin and agreed relations should be improved; reiterated by the Foreign Minister. Let’s not get excited but don’t forget a couple of years ago how “isolated” Putin was, how he was “failing” and how Russia was “reeling”. Reality does eventually bite and its bite is strong.

TURKEY. Erdoğan and Putin met: here’s the press conference. Note Putin’s mention of a program of “cooperation for 2016–2019“; in short, it has to be earned. Syria is being discussed; it will be a long and hard discussion but, in the end, it’s Ankara that will have to come most of the distance. Especially if the story that Erdoğan is planning to go to Tehran is true: neither Moscow nor Tehran will support Daesh (nor any of the “moderate” Daeshlets Washington is always pretending to discover) nor will they turn on Assad. The new line is that both Moscow and Tehran are necessary in Syria. Ankara continues to burn bridges: Washington must chose between Ankara and Gülen.

CRIMEA. Whatever it was that whoever it was was trying to do by attacking Crimea, failed.

FROM LAPUTA’S KITCHENS TO YOU. So, just after learning that Breedlove’s “intelligence” was cooked up by neocon deskwarriors, we find that CENTCOM cooked intelligence data on Daesh.

SYRIA. “Dramatic Rescue! – 44 Staged Pictures. A kid. “The British government is… funding media operations for some rebel fighting groups“. No connection, of course.

MSM AND YOU.The unfortunate fact is that when a massively important story is reported only once, with virtually no follow-up, the impact may be minimal. Only a small slice of the public encounters that initial account, and the lack of any repetition would eventually lead even those individuals to forget it, or perhaps even vaguely assume that the subsequent silence implied that the claims had been mistaken or later debunked.”

© Patrick Armstrong Analysis, Canada Russia Observer

Living the Dream – Latvia, NATO and the EU

This essay is an attempt to discuss the consequences of Latvia’s membership in both NATO and the EU. I chose Latvia simply because I found data for it. Membership in either standard bearer of Atlanticism, let alone both, would have been unimaginable for any citizen of the Latvian Soviet Socialist Republic and, for many, a glorious dream.

North Atlantic Treaty Organisation

Because Latvia joined it first, I will consider the NATO half of the dream first. Latvia became a full member in April 2004 (“From now on, 26 Allies will be joined in a commitment to defend each others’ security and territorial integrity. This is the strongest, most solemn commitment nations can undertake“).

There is a widespread meme that the new NATO members eagerly sought membership because of popular concerns about Russia but the truth, in Latvia at any rate, is that public opinion required some time (and lots of American GONGOs) to develop the preference. And while EU membership followed a referendum, NATO’s did not. In an opinion poll in 1998 we find a slight preference for neutrality “In Latvia, the larger group of population believe that the neutrality best guarantees Latvian security and stability (29%). The second option – NATO and EU membership together (26%) while NATO membership is the third option (15%). 10% of Latvian population believe that EU membership alone can guarantee stability and security for Latvia.” The same poll found that if there were to be a referendum on joining NATO in the three Baltic states “Latvia has the lowest number of the supporters for the country’s membership in alliance: 37% would vote for, 29% against, while 34% of Latvian population has not decided yet.” Not much enthusiasm there.

But Latvia has been a member for a decade now and one has to wonder whether Latvians feel secure. One would think that Article 5 of the NATO treaty gave as indisputable a security assurance as could be wanted. “Collective defence means that an attack against one Ally is considered as an attack against all Allies.” So, if Russia were to attack Latvia it would be the same as if it had attacked the USA, Canada or Germany; there would be no need for American, Canadian or German troops to actually be there. And yet there are always calls for more money to be spent and more troops to be stationed. And the recent NATO summit agreed to do so. Outsiders with weapons to sell Latvia have their interests in playing this up as when a BBC program in February 2016 had Russia invading Latvia. Propagandists keep the pot boiling: “Counting Down to a Russian Invasion of the Baltics“, “Reinforcing Deterrence on NATO’s Eastern Flank: Wargaming the Defense of the Baltics“, “If Russia Started a War in the Baltics, NATO Would Lose — Quickly“, “Russia’s aggression in Ukraine is part of a broader, and more dangerous, confrontation with the West“; War games show NATO’s eastern flank is vulnerable. To deter Moscow, the United States will need to deploy heavy armor on a large scale, a new study says.” And so on. There are sceptics, to be sure: “Why on Earth Would Russia Attack the Baltics?“, but the subject is omnipresent and the Warsaw communiqué is full of Russian “aggression”, “destabilising actions”, ” military intervention”, “provocative military activities near NATO borders” and so forth. (And, lest we forget profits: “We welcome Allied efforts to address, as appropriate, existing dependencies on Russian-sourced legacy military equipment”). Indeed, NATO is back in business at the old stand.

All this scare-mongering is having its effect. A recent Gallup poll finds 42% of Latvians seeing Russia as a potential threat. A 2015 poll finds 69% of Latvian speakers seeing a threat from Russia. We see these op-eds: “The society has fear“. “Who’s Afraid of the Big, Bad Bear?“, “Latvians fear elections could let Kremlin in by back door“, “Panic in Latvia: Trump Will Hand Ukraine, Syria and the Baltics to Putin“. “Russia’s Annexation Of Crimea Worries Baltic Nation Of Latvia“. “Baltic Russians could be the next pawns in new cold war“. In short, Latvians are becoming nervous.

Nonetheless, the cynic who really thinks about it understands that the foreign troops are wanted not because of some perceived immediate Russian threat, but because of a lack of confidence that, when it came to it, the NATO allies would stand up. Indeed, we have a poll that suggests just that: “NATO’s European Allies Won’t Fight for Article 5“. Another poll finds that not even Americans are very willing to fight for Latvia. So, the deployments probably owe less to the “Russian threat” than to the “indifference threat”. We are reminded of George Kennan’s prescient remark: “We have signed up to protect a whole series of countries, even though we have neither the resources nor the intention to do so in any serious way“.

It has to be said that the comparison between Crimea and Latvia (or the other two Baltic states) is rather forced. A thousand years ago, Crimea was clearly part of the Byzantine/Rus culture – indeed Vladimir the Great, ruler of Novgorod and later of Kiev, was baptised in Khersones in Crimea. Conquered by the Mongols in the 1200s, it became an appanage of the Ottoman Empire and was reconquered by Russia in 1783. The Russian Black Sea Fleet was then founded and has been based there ever since. In 1954 Khrushchev transferred Crimea from the RSFSR to the Ukrainian SSR (illegally it appears). When the USSR broke up, the Black Sea Fleet remained under treaty between Moscow and Kiev together with up to 25,000 Russian soldiers and sailors. In the 2014 referendum well over 90% voted to (re)join Russia and the Russian troops provided security; there was no “invasion”. As to the Donbass: when the president you voted for is ousted, the party you voted for is declared an enemy, the central government sends the army at you and your home is renamed the “Anti-Terror Operation Zone“, there’s no need to invent a “Russian invasion”. Latvia’s history is quite different: it has been ruled by Germans, Poles, Lithuanians and Swedes until absorbed by the Russian Empire about the same time Crimea was reacquired. Despite a substantial Russian minority, it has never been considered part of the “Russian lands” and there are no Russian troops there. So the parallels are very contrived – propagandisticly contrived – indeed. And, if Latvians are really concerned that a crafty Moscow may use the Russians inside Latvia as some sort of lever, then they might consider giving them full citizenship. (An idea, it is interesting to note, that seldom occurs to the reporters who write pieces like this one: “Latvia, with a large minority of Russians, worries about Putin’s goals“).

So, one could make the case that one part of the Latvian dream – NATO membership – has not in fact given the Latvian population a greater sense of security. Indeed, an effect of the non-stop anti-Russia campaign may be that Latvians feel less secure today than they did when they were neutral.

And, as a further irony, Latvian soldiers are back in Afghanistan: under a different flag this time but with much the same results.

European Union

Latvia became a full member of the EU in May 2004 after a referendum (“We welcome a country that naturally belongs to us and we trust, that Latvia as the others future Member States, will enrich and strengthen the European Union. Welcome home, Latvia!”) . It joined the Eurozone in January 2014 (no referendum then: support only about 20%).The source for most of what follows is “Latvia in the EU – Ten Years Later. A Different Latvia?” which is a fairly detailed assessment of the first decade’s experience. The purpose of the authors is described: “We intend to take a snapshot of the moment when Latvia joined the EU, and compare it with a snapshot of the country taken today”. It was published in May 2014, too early to show any effects of Eurozone membership; neither had the refugee criss bitten. A very quick summary of the various tables follows.

In the period defence expenditure declined and the armed forces became smaller. (We’ll see what effect the Russia scare will have on them). The unemployment rate improved, got a lot worse and is now about where it started. The service sector is larger, the industrial sector smaller, labour productivity significantly up, applications for high-tech patents down. The crime rate is much improved across the board with the exception of drug offences. The population has decreased (the authors don’t tell us how much). There are significantly fewer non-citizens, more foreigners live in Latvia, tourism is up quite a bit, the proportions of native Latvian speakers (73%-71%) and native Russian speakers (27%-27%) unchanged. The number of students is down, but those studying abroad is up, the proportion of the population with higher education has increased. The average net salary has better than doubled and GDP per capita has increased from about half the EU average to about two-thirds, the poverty rate is significantly down, agricultural production is significantly up. The population is a little more satisfied with the “quality of democracy” but trust in governmental institutions (including the EU) is down a bit, electoral participation is down nearly ten percentage points but the traffic police expect bribes significantly less. Life expectancy is up about 3 years, infant mortality is down, generally speaking health seems to be better (but a significant increase is reported for malignant tumours) although both doctors and hospital beds are down. Latvia is either “greener” or it isn’t, depending on what indicator you choose to emphasise. The authors sum it up as “in the course of ten years Latvia has become more secure and prosperous.”

So, altogether in the decade, there have been improvements in Latvia’s economic situation, health and crime. But these are not dramatic and, of course, there is no way of telling what the numbers would be if Latvia had taken some other course (cf Belarus, for example). The declining esteem in which institutions are held (trust in government down from 28% to 20%, parliament 20% to 15%, EU itself 39% to 36%) and drop in electoral participation (national from 72% to 59%, municipal 53% to 46%) argues a certain lack of enthusiasm for present circumstances.

The authors mention the population decline but don’t give the numbers. Wikipedia tells us the population in the EU decade dropped from 2.277 million to 1.995 million. It was 2.651 million in 1991. That’s a drop of a quarter; a significant decline indeed. “Demographic disaster” some say, “We are dying out“. If I were Latvian, I’d worry about that a lot more than about imaginary Russian invasions: at this rate, if they really wanted Latvia’s beaches, all the Russians have to do is wait fifty years or so to peacefully occupy an old folks’ home surrounded by vacant real estate.


It would appear that there are good reasons to argue that NATO membership has made Latvians feel less secure because they have been sucked into the NATO anti-Russia hysteria. In the ten years of EU membership there have been real gains albeit none very dramatic. There is no way of knowing where Latvia would be today had it adopted a different membership package.

So, it while it would certainly be wrong to call the dream a nightmare, it’s not proved as happy a dream as was no doubt expected. Improvements to be sure, but none of them dramatic and all overshadowed by depopulation (Latvia and Bulgaria are the only countries in the world with a smaller population today than in 1950.)

The downstream costs of the Euro and refugees – both direct consequences of EU membership – as well as pressures for greater defence expenditure from NATO are as yet uncalculated.

So, a bit of a wash altogether.