FAILURE IN PLAIN SIGHT

(First published Strategic Culture Foundation

Let us contemplate what John Bolton, quondam National Security Advisor to US President Trump, had in mind for “restoring democracy” to Venezuela. We are familiar with the first phase: 1) accusations, 2) threats, 3) stunts, 4) “world community” recognition, 5) appeals for coup, 6) sanctions.

1) You know, Venezuela is one of the three countries I call the troika of tyranny. It will make a big difference to the United States economically if we could have American oil companies really invest in and produce the oil capabilities in Venezuela. It’d be good for the people of Venezuela. It’d be good for the people of the United States. (January 2019)

2) All options are on the table. (January 2019)

3) After diverting aid needed badly by Venezuelans to Cuba last week (100 tons), and giving away billions of the Venezuelan people’s wealth to Cuba – now Maduro seeks aid from Cuba and China. All while denying the Venezuelan humanitarian crisis and rejecting aid at the border. (February 2019)

4) National Security Adviser John Bolton said on April 30, 2019 that what’s happening “is clearly not a coup” because the U.S. and many other countries recognize opposition leader Juan Guaidó as Venezuela’s legitimate president. (April 2019)

5) The FANB [Venezuelan military] must protect the Constitution and the Venezuelan people. It should stand by the National Assembly and the legitimate institutions against the usurpation of democracy. The United States stands with the people of Venezuela. (April 2019)

6) Bolton said the U.S. is “sending a signal to third parties that want to do business with the Maduro regime: proceed with extreme caution. There is no need to risk your business interests with the United States for the purposes of profiting from a corrupt and dying regime.” (August 2019)

Despite “corrupt and dying”, Maduro was still in power, still supported by the population, the “burning aid” stunt failed (when you’ve lost even the NYT…) and the Venezuelan military remains loyal. (Irony alert! Washington’s sanctions on Venezuela increased Russian oil exports to the USA and Europe!)

What would Bolton have wanted to do next? (Easy speculation – we’ve seen it before.) A “coalition of the willing” (no matter how artificial), US aircraft attack key targets with “precision” “surgical” strikes; (more strikes added until, à la Serbia, bombing random bridges 200 kilometres away from the supposed target). The bombing and destruction would eventually force Maduro to leave. Enter the “liberators”, the “legitimate National Assembly” takes power, the “world community” recognises “Guaidó as Venezuela’s legitimate president”. With “democracy restored” and “freedom returned” the next stage: “American oil companies really invest[ing] in and produce[ing] the oil capabilities in Venezuela“, privatisation and IMF austerity. Happiness all round: “good for the people of Venezuela… good for the people of the United States”. Is Maduro still resisting in the hills and jungles? A surge or two will take care of that; there’s plenty of light at the end of the tunnel and the obedient corporate media will bleat that Maduro will soon be gone: March, April, May, May again, August, September (The Latin America version of the Assad Must Go Curse.)

That would have been Venezuela’s fate with Bolton fully turned on. But Bolton has been turned off. Maduro is still in Caracas and the story has tip-toed off the front pages. Although Hollywood leaps to obey its Master’s Voice and Jack Ryan will save us from a nuclear-armed Venezuela.

The war party is accustomed to blame its quagmires on someone else. Iraq was a success until Obama spoiled it:

because Hillary Clinton failed to renegotiate a status of forces agreement that would have allowed some American combat troops to remain in Iraq and secure the hard-fought gains the American soldier had won by 2009, [the Islamic State] was able to be literally conjured up out of the desert.

Afghanistan likewise: Obama’s Failed Legacy in Afghanistan. Libya is far down the memory hole: an MSNBC special on Libya as the gateway of migrants to Europe never uses the word “NATO”.

To tell the story of Libya’s escalating migration crisis, one must weave together the threads of instability left behind by a toppled dictator, Muammar Gaddafi, and the power vacuum filled by rivaling factions vying to take his place.

But Qaddafi didn’t just topple in a high wind, earthquake or other random phenomenon: NATO decided to topple him and did so – “We came, we saw, he died” cackled one of the architects. But MSNBC wants us to believe that the destruction was an inexplicable random event that nobody could have foreseen. And so, helped by the corporate news media’s goodthink, the war party slithers away from responsibility: Qaddafi “toppled”, we have a problem; nothing to do with us, or NATO, or Hillary. Bad stuff just happens. “The story of how Kosovo hosted an illegal market in human organs began to unfold today in a district court in the capital, Pristina” is so distant in time that only fringe websites talk about it. As to the Ukrainian disaster, news is starting to leak through the complacency membrane: Canadian officials honour Nazi collaborators in Ukraine, angering Jewish groups, Biden involvement, blowback.

With their excuses and deniability clutched in their hands, knowing the complaisant news media will back them up (CNN: Biden and Ukraine is a conspiracy theory), the war party rolls along. The wars start well, given the US military’s immense destructive power, and then bog down: US war-fighting doctrine is hard-wired for failure. Bolton’s Venezuela adventure, had it advanced to the bombing phase, would also have been pimped as a “success” – Guaidó inauguration, selected interviews, toppling of statues and the rest of the package. But Maduro and his supporters would not have given up and there’d be years of patrolling, “precision” bombing (eventually indistinguishable from “carpet bombing” – see Raqqa), door kicking, IEDs, ambushes, training failures. Iraq and Afghanistan again. They, in their turn, having repeated Vietnam.

But Bolton’s Excellent Adventure never got to that point because Trump would not sign off on the bombing stage and so his scheme failed in plain sight. Let us remember what Trump said while he was campaigning: everyone would be better off had President Bush taken a day at the beach rather than invade Iraq; the “six trillion dollars” spent in the Middle East would have been better spent on infrastructure in the USA; NATO is obsolete and the USA pays a disproportionate share; it would better to get along with Russia than not. Bolton, on the other hand, was all in favour of the Iraq war, believed one more war in the Middle East would have been good, thought NATO was great, and Russia terrible. (There’s a rumour that Trump was considering easing the failed Iran pressure and Bolton’s objections led to his firing.)

So why did he appoint Bolton in the first place? A theory: Keep you friends close but your enemies closer. The late Justin Raimondo agrees: “Instead of taking on the neocons directly, Trump embraces them – and we can see the knife go in as this whole scenario plays out.” When it’s clear that everything Bolton had a hand in was a spectacular flop, he’s tossed out of the tent with the knife in his back.

But Venezuela was not Bolton’s only failure in plain sight: his “maximum pressure” strategy against Iran turned out to be much feebler than Tehran’s “maximum”: the strike on Saudi oil production. Note that, despite billions of dollars of weapons, air defence, radars and the like, neither Riyadh nor Washington has any idea of where the attack came from. Whether Iran did it directly, indirectly, at a distance, supplied some or all of the weapons, was entirely uninvolved or any other possibility you can think of doesn’t really matter: it’s checkmate. Lots of entities in the region are friendly to Tehran and so we can know that:

The attack was an amuse-bouche for what Iran

and its many allies could do

if Washington attacked it.

Another Bolton failure. Read his How to Get Out of the Iran Nuclear Deal and note that he assumes that Tehran has no response. The greatest blind spot of the war party is its assumption that Washington always has the initiative and that its targets can only feebly squirm. But Tehran has been on Washington’s hit list for four decades and it hasn’t wasted that time. A war with Iran will, I am certain, be the Last War for the Imperium Americanum because Iran will stop the oil and the world economy will stagger and probably fall. It has outwitted Washington every step of the way. If Trump really is a reader of Sun Tzu, he should reflect on “If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle“. The war party overestimates US power and underestimates the enemy’s will. Succumbs.

Returning to Raimondo’s theory, Trump is now in a position to tell the war party “see, we did what you told us to and it was a complete failure”. Will he appoint people in tune with his campaign thoughts? Apparently not, Bolton’s replacement is more of the same: “peace through strength”, US military dangerously weak, Obama “emboldened our adversaries and disheartened our allies” and the rest of the unreflective claptrap.

This is all part of the Mystery of Donald Trump: on the one hand he surrounds himself with the war party, on the other he hasn’t started any wars. (Bolton was fired in Trump’s day 963; by contrast Obama attacked Libya on his day 788 and called for Assad’s departure on day 940.)

But the war party has painted him into several corners.

(How can he get out of the corner? Easy – just blame his “bad advisors” and do it. The Trump haters won’t think any the worse of him and the rest of us will be glad to step away from the endless war and give him credit for deviousness in a good cause. Or, à la Macron’s suggestion, he can surrender while pretending to have won.)

RUSSIAN FEDERATION SITREP 10 OCTOBER 2019

HEALTH. Paul Robinson reads junk so that I don’t have to: a book by some academic explaining why so many Russians (wrongly – of course!) support the horrible Putin. Well, only a tenured intullekchul couldn’t figure it out. (I can never forget Orwell’s “There are some ideas so absurd that only an intellectual could believe them.“) Here’s two (more) reasons why so many Russian have liked and trusted Putin & Co for so long. An excellent report from Awara on Russian longevity. “In 2000, the difference in life expectancy between the two countries [USA and Russia] was 11.1 years or 14.5% in favor of the US. But by 2019, the difference had shrunk to only 4.8 years or 6.1% “. As it were, 20 years of Putin & Co cost his voters only 12! Suicides, homicides and infant mortality are also way down: a third or less of what they were in 2000. Boozing has dramatically decreased – a WHO report says down by 43%. Excessive drinking – especially binge drinking – was a weighty contributor to low life expectancies, suicide, homicide and infant mortality. The health system is improving hugely and Russians no longer have to drink their way through the Time of Stagnation and the misery and hopelessness of the 1990s. Many causes, certainly, but no one (except silly intullekchuls) could deny Putin and his team a lot of the credit. If you were a Russian, you’d support them too (well, maybe not if there’s enough American money – Navalniy’s operation just declared a foreign agent, BTW.) Putin and his team are doing what people hire governments to do. (I leave the reader to contemplate his own government’s achievements. Russia’s curves are all going up; ours are all going down. What will we see in another 20 years? And that’s not even mentioning China. For the West it looks bad. We want to start hoping that they – and Iran – are magnanimous in victory.)

NEW NWO. In August Rosneft said it would be moving to Euros to denominate its contracts, it has now done so. Ankara has signed on to the Russia replacement for SWIFT.

VISAS. Quick internet visas for St Petersburg are now being issued; the plan is that this will spread to the rest of Russia next year. Apparently the happy experience with the World Cup was the inspiration. The government is pushing tourism and I would expect it to grow significantly. Russian “soft power” is pretty inept but maybe they’re starting to figure it out: the experience of most visitors is that Russia “shows well”. For those of us in the “Five Eyes” the tiresome old procedure will remain.

SANCTIONS. US foreign policy today seems to be threats, bombs and sanctions. A GAO report declines to judge whether sanctions (20 countries!) are effective. (Are the other two effective?).

REMEMBER when they used to say once KGB always KGB? Does that also apply to former members of organs of state security who are now all over US TV as “independent experts”?

THE EMPTINESS OF FORMER FLAPS I. Years ago the anti-Russia mob were telling us that Moscow was doing something nefarious about Caspian Sea boundaries. I predicted the ultimate answer would be Baku’s and so, grosso modo, it has proved to be. The seabed is divided by the five. Putin just ratified it.

THE EMPTINESS OF FORMER FLAPS II. Remember the Russian submarine in Sweden in 2014? Well, not Russian: a “Swedish object”? It was pushed to boost defence spending. You’ll be glad to know Swedish state TV launched a campaign against fake news spread, apparently, only by Trumputin.

PROTESTS. Still believe they’re real? Read this.

AMERICA-HYSTERICA. Pelosi sees Russia’s “hand” in the Ukraine business and the NYT discovers a top secret scary Russia unit that’s bungled everything it tries to do. (Extremely unsecret, in fact.)

UKRAINE. After his disappointing meeting with Trump (“I really hope that you and President Putin get together“), Zelensky went home and signed on to the “Steinmeier Formula“. Which is really just a way of getting Kiev to do what it is already supposed to do in the Minsk agreements. Protests began immediately. Zelensky is in a difficult position: the plutocrats – who have the money – like to keep Ukraine lawless so they can steal more; the nazis – who have the guns – ditto; Trump doesn’t care and Europe is sick and tired of the mess. I reiterate that, at the end, I expect Ukraine to be much smaller.

WHERE DID IT GO? According to the head of Ukraine’s Central Bank, there is almost no gold left.

MH17. This could become interesting: Netherlands MPs demand investigation into Ukraine’s role. Do you think Zelensky might be tempted to blame his predecessors for that and the Maidan shooting?

SYRIA. US withdrawal? Or just rearrangement? Ankara’s actions and intentions? Where’s Russia in all this? The US war party is melting down. The Kurds will probably have to to make a deal with Damascus.

© Patrick Armstrong Analysis, Canada Russia Observer

THINKING THE UNTHINKABLE, SAYING THE UNSAYABLE

(First published at Strategic Culture Foundation, picked up by JRL/2019/155/16, ZeroHedge, Hedge Accordingly, Out of Mind,

We have resolved to pave the way for a grand peace for all the generations to come by enduring the unendurable and suffering what is insufferable.

The Showa Emperor, August 1945

A couple of months ago Putin observed that the time of modern day liberalism had passed.

There is also the so-called liberal idea, which has outlived its purpose. Our Western partners have admitted that some elements of the liberal idea, such as multiculturalism, are no longer tenable.

Liberalism, in its current manifestation, he suggested, was failing its people. The remarks were happily seized on to bolster the meme that Putin is the enemy. We were assured that liberalism was just fine and criticism was just what you’d expect from “a bloody dictator“. No, Mr. Putin, liberalism is not dead. Martin Wolf: why Vladimir Putin is wrong to claim liberalism is dead. Putin is wrong. Liberalism is more important than ever. So there the issue sat: Putin had been slapped down and any deviations from happy complacency – maillots jaunes, Brexit, Trump – were his fault. His attempts to wreck us would fail because “Defences have proven stronger; citizens are getting wiser“. In any case, Russia won’t be around much longer; the end was coming soon in 2001, 2009, 2011, 2014, 2014, 2019. Well… someday soon.

And then, out of the blue, appears this (my emphases):

We experience this world all together and you know that better than I, but the international order is being disrupted in an unprecedented way, with massive upheaval, probably for the first time in our history, in almost all areas and on a historic scale. Above all, a transformation, a geopolitical and strategic reconfiguration. We are probably in the process of experiencing the end of Western hegemony over the world. We were used to an international order that had been based on Western hegemony since the 18th century… Things change. And they have been deeply affected by the mistakes made by Westerners in certain crises, by American decisions over the last several years which did not start with this administration, but have led us to re-examine certain involvements in conflicts in the Middle East and elsewhere, and to re-think fundamental diplomatic and military strategy and on occasion elements of solidarity which we thought were forever inalienable… And it is also the emergence of new powers whose impact we have probably underestimated for far too long. China first and foremost as well as Russia’s strategy that has, let’s face it, been pursued with greater success over the last few years.

 

Putin’s gone over the top here: End of Western hegemony? Mistakes? Reconsider? Russia’s success? Well isn’t that just what he would want you to think? The sower of divisions, doubts and chaos just wants us to give up.

Except that the speaker is French President Emmanuel Macron

Video, English. Macron understands that things have got worse for many in the West and says so – maybe the maillots jaunes have got their message though. The market economy, that used to work well, today produces serious inequalities:

When the middle classes, which form the basis of our democracies, no longer have a fair share in it, they start to express doubts and are legitimately tempted by authoritarian regimes or illiberal democracies, or are tempted to question this economic system.

if we continue as before, then we will definitely lose control. And that would mean obliteration. (l’effacement).

He even (!) has a kind word for Orbán in Hungary.

(I don’t think he’s fully thought it out: if, as he thinks, the proper role for France and Europe is to balance between the USA and China, then that will require an independent position: Beijing could never regard an ally of Washington as a “balancer”. So… out of NATO. But he hasn’t got there yet.)

But what he says about Russia is more interesting: the West made mistakes (no counterfeit modesty of allowing that, perhaps, we’re in there for one or two percent of the blame):

We are part of Europe; so is Russia. And if we are unable to accomplish anything useful with Russia at any given time, we will remain in a state of deeply unproductive tension. We will continue to be stuck in conflicts throughout Europe. Europe will continue to be the theatre of a strategic battle between the United States and Russia, with the consequences of the Cold War still visible on our soil. And we will not lay the groundwork for the profound re-creation of European civilization that I mentioned earlier. Because we cannot do that without reassessing in depth, in great depth, our relationship with Russia. I also think that pushing Russia away from Europe is a major strategic error, because we are pushing it either toward isolation, which heightens tensions, or toward alliances with other great powers such as China, which would not at all be in our interest. At the same time, it must be said that while our relations have been based on mistrust, there are documented reasons for it. We’ve witnessed cyber-attacks, the destabilization of democracies, and a Russian project that is deeply conservative and opposed to the EU project. And all that basically developed in the 1990s and 2000s when a series of misunderstandings took place, and when Europe no doubt did not enact its own strategy [l’Europe n’a pas joué une stratégie propre] and gave the impression of being a Trojan Horse for the West, whose final aim was to destroy Russia, and when Russia built a fantasy around the destruction of the West and the weakening of the EU. That is the situation. We can deplore it, we can continue to jockey for position, but it is not in our best interest to do so. Nor is it in our interest to show a guilty weakness toward Russia and to believe that we should forget all the disagreements and past conflicts, and fall into each other’s arms. No. But I believe we must very carefully rethink the fundamentals. I believe we must build a new architecture based on trust and security in Europe, because the European continent will never be stable, will never be secure, if we do not ease and clarify our relations with Russia. That is not in the interest of some of our allies, let’s be clear about that. Some of them will urge us to impose more sanctions on Russia because it is in their interest.

The end of the INF Treaty requires us to have this dialogue [with Russia], because the missiles would return to our territory.

He’s not entirely free from delusion:

that great power [Russia], which invests a great deal in arming itself and frightens us so much, has the gross domestic product of Spain, a declining demographic, an ageing population and growing political tension.

(If it were declining it wouldn’t be as successful as he said it was earlier, would it? And the GDP argument is nonsense.) And “cyber-attacks, the destabilization of democracies, and a Russian project that is deeply conservative and opposed to the EU project” is the usual unexamined twaddle. And if Russia dreamed of destroying an entity which was giving “the impression” that its “final aim” was to “destroy” it, it would just have been defending itself, wouldn’t it? But every journey begins with a single step and this is very far from the usual “if Russia would behave ‘like a normal country‘ we might let it back into the club on probation”.

What really struck me was this:

Take India, Russia and China for example. They have a lot more political inspiration than Europeans today. They take a logical approach to the world, they have a genuine philosophy, a resourcefulness that we have to a certain extent lost.

So the West is not “logical”, has a “shallow philosophy” and no ingenuity. (You know it’s true, don’t you?)

One of the major players in the Western World’s ancien régime is saying:

Our day is coming to an end

and the other guys have a better take on things than we do.

We at Strategic Culture Foundation and other alternative outlets may take pleasure that when we said the world was changing, that the Western establishment was dangerously unaware, when we said that Russia and China were stronger and more resilient than complacent op-ed writers thought they were, that the West was fragile, that Western leaders had failed their people, we were not just crazy people shouting at lamp-posts: a principal of the ancien régime agrees with us. Maybe they do read us in the Elysée.

(Meanwhile, across the Atlantic, they haven’t got the memo:

We don’t always get it right. Not always perfect. But our efforts are noble and important, and we try to make America secure and at the same time [improve] the lives of people in every country … to improve their capacity for freedom and liberty in their own nation.)

But, when all is said and done, it’s just a speech. Will we see actions that prove intent? Suggestions: Crimea is Russian; the fighting in Ukraine is a civil war; Assad’s future is up to Syrians; Maduro’s of Venezuelans; everybody out of Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria ASAP; stop arming the killers in Yemen. Lots to admit to; lots to stop doing.

We may have a clue soon: a Normandy Format meeting on Ukraine to which Macron has invited Putin. If it’s more claptrap about how Moscow must honour its commitments under the Minsk agreement (there are none – the word “Russia” does not appear) then we’ll know that it was just words.

Western media coverage will be interesting to watch – not much at the moment in the Anglophone world and what there is misses the big points; several times it’s presented as just a “turn away” from Trump (which it is – more evidence for my Gordian Knot theory). But what he’s saying is hard to take in if you’ve been cruising along, confident that what is “really obsolete” is not liberalism but “authoritarianism, personality cults and the rule of oligarchs”; it will take time before it sinks in that one of the prominent figures of the Western establishment is pretty close to agreement with Putin.

RUSSIAN FEDERATION SITREP 26 SEPTEMBER 2019

RUSSIA INC. Another must-read report from Awara on the Russian economy. Bottom line: “In a global recession, no country is safe, but Russia looks to have quite a lot going for it in terms of economic advantages… by far the lowest debt of all major countries. All economic actors… are economically solid and minimally leveraged… government virtually debtless, but it has again replenished its spectacular forex and sovereign wealth fund reserves… hefty budget surplus… Russia runs the world’s third biggest trade surplus…We also need to point out that Russia has an enormous strength by way of being the world’s most self-sufficient major country. Russia has the by far lowest level of imports relative to GDP of all countries.” Discussion of the true state of the Russian economy is hindered by two errors: while oil and gas are two-thirds of its exports, they’re only 10% of the total economy (and getting smaller). Secondly, measuring Russia’s GDP in USD is useless – Russia, is a full-service economy. Further discussion by Hellevig here: “while Russia does not export a great deal of manufactured goods, it produces by far a bigger share of those for the domestic market than any other country… The Western world is in turmoil: the previous overwhelming geopolitical domination is gone and over with; military solutions against the main adversaries – China and Russia – are off the books; hybrid wars against them have failed; China and Russia are economically stronger than ever, too strong for the adversary…”

RUSSIAN ARMED FORCES. Good interview with Minister of Defence Shoygu on how they started all over again to build them up. (Russian only but use a machine translator).

ELECTIONS. The bottom line in Moscow: low turnout, pedestal party retained majority but lost somewhat. Karlin thinks Navalniy’s strategy made have made a bit of a difference (in a 22% turnout, mind you.) Otherwise the pedestal party pretty well kept control. Not much of anything, really. Russian politics remain dull, uninspired and stagnant which either means that people are generally satisfied or that they’ve given up. Turnouts are now getting as low as they are in the West.

CORRUPTION. A very senior policeman was arrested in a sting and charged with extortion yesterday.

WITH A THIN SMILE Putin offers hypersonic weapons to the USA and SAMs to Saudi Arabia.

BROWDER. Magnitskiy’s family (remember him? Browder’s honest lawyer murdered in jail by corrupt cops?) brought a case against Russia in the European Court of Human Rights. It was thrown out: read it here “This judgement utterly explodes the accepted narrative, and does it very succinctly“. Bet your local news outfit never tells you that the entire base of the “Magnitskiy” case has been punctured by a Western court. Not the first time that a pillar of the anti-Russia mindset has been exploded in a real court. Here’s another ruling by the same court. Good betting assumption for analysts: Moscow tells the truth much more often than Western governments or media do.

SMOLENKOV. I doubt it: Johnson’s take smells right to me.

THE COST OF GETTING RUSSIA WRONG. We’ve just learned that Putin phoned Bush two days before 911 warning him that something big was coming out of Afghanistan. Other Russian warnings were ignored; one reason being Condoleezza Rice’s belief that it was “Russian bitterness toward Pakistan for supporting the Afghan mujahideen”. She was supposed to be a “Russia expert” too! A flat learning curve: error piled on conceit piled on complacency.

G7. Trump and Macron have hinted at Russia’s being invited into the G7/8. Putin said he’s ready to host so long as China and India attend too. A polite way of saying 1) no thanks 2) G7 is not very important.

UKRAINE. Some interesting stirrings. An investigation against Parubiy over his involvement in the Odessa massacre has been opened. Several investigations of Poroshenko. At least a re-look into the Maidan shootings. The prisoner exchange was a good sign although the western media didn’t notice that most of the 70 people exchanged were, in the eyes of Kiev, Ukrainian citizens. This is important because in a real war you capture citizens of the other side, in a civil war you capture your own citizens and call them traitors. Ergo, it’s a civil war, but the West pretends it is not.

PAINTED CORNER. Iran and/or its allies have just given Washington a lesson on what “maximum pressure” really looks like and there’s a story that Trump is looking at a French plan that allows Washington to get out and pretend victory. Bolton’s absence may make this possible.

TRUMP-ZELENSKY PHONE CALL. The Democrat Party has found a new rake to step on.

MACRON SPEECH. Certainly saying unsayable things. We’ll see whether it’s just a speech though.

© Patrick Armstrong Analysis, Canada Russia Observer

THE WAR – AGAIN

(First published at Strategic Culture Foundation,

The USSR, with significant help from the rest of us, defeated Hitler and changed the world away from that dark and horrible future. At enormous cost.

Patrick Armstrong

I don’t usually waste my time taking apart run-of-the-mill anti-Russian stuff: there’s too much of it and it usually takes more effort to tear apart than it took the author to write. Fools and wise men, as the saying goes. But we have just had a number of pieces on the anniversary of the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact in Western news outlets. For example, the Washington Times, RFE/RL, The Guardian the Globe and Mail and Bloomberg. Governments have issued condemnations. The gist of them is that the pact showed that Hitler and Stalin were soul-mates and conspired to start the war and rip apart their neighbours. In most cases the authors try to tie this to today’s Russia: enemy then, enemy now.

Most of these pieces take it for granted Putin has some sort of approval of Stalin. But is it “approval” to call communism a road to a dead end – said earlier but most recently last December? What about his statement at the Butovo execution ground?

Those who were executed, sent to camps, shot and tortured number in the thousands and millions of people. Along with this, as a rule these were people with their own opinions. These were people who were not afraid to speak their mind. They were the most capable people. They are the pride of the nation.

Or about what he said when he unveiled the memorial in the centre of Moscow?

This horrific past must not be stricken from the national memory — let alone justified in any way — by any so-called higher good of the people.

One of Putin’s advisory councils speaks against statues to Stalin quoting a government resolution that it’s “unacceptable” to “justify the repressions” or deny that they happened. Paul Robinson has demonstrated the falsity of the “Stalin is back” here. It’s nonsense.

Another theme is that Moscow is distorting or whitewashing history. But the truth is that the articles are the ones distorting history. History is not supposed to be a box from which convenient accusations are selected, ignoring the rest: historians are supposed to try to figure out what happened and explain how it came to be. Most Western accounts of the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact are selective briefs for the prosecution. Although I very much suspect that the authors don’t know any better and their outrage is founded on their ignorance.

23 August was the 80th anniversary of the Molotov-Ribbentrop agreement and its secret protocol for carving up Poland and other countries. An occasion to hammer Russia which was too good to pass up. But their argument – assertions really – collapse because none of them knows that what Stalin really wanted was an alliance with the Western powers to stop Hitler: the Molotov-Ribbentrop agreement was Plan B, not Plan A.

When I was in university in the 1960s a text in one of my courses was AJP Taylor’s Origins of the Second World War. It mentioned the British-French mission sent to Moscow upon Stalin’s invitation to form a USSR-UK-France alliance to stop Hitler. This event has mostly slipped down the memory hole but periodically makes a reappearance as, for example, in 2008 “Stalin ‘planned to send a million troops to stop Hitler if Britain and France agreed pact’“. Stalin’s anti-Hitler pact failed and, knowing that the USSR was on Hitler’s target list, he bought time with the pact and started grabbing territory so as to gain a buffer.

In other words, all these pieces, in their prosecutorial enthusiasm, leave out the context (or in the case of the Guardian, present the Russian view as mere – and, you’re supposed to understand, unwarranted – assertion). As I said, I was generally aware that Stalin had made an overture to Paris and London and therefore understood that the pact with Germany was his Plan B, but it wasn’t until I read this piece by Michael Jabara Carley that I understood just how comprehensive and long-lasting Stalin’s attempts to form an effective anti-Hitler coalition had been. I strongly recommend reading Carley’s essay in full but in summary Moscow understood the threat immediately and spent five or six years trying to get the Europeans to join with it in an anti-Hitler agreement. A weak mutual assistance pact with Paris appeared in 1935, approaches to London that year collapsed when it made a deal with Berlin, approaches to Bucharest and Prague failed, Warsaw was hopeless because of its early pact with Berlin and baked-in animosity. The Munich agreement of 1938 and (memory hole again) Warsaw’s collaboration with Berlin in eating Czechoslovakia just about ended Moscow’s hope but it tried one last time in late 1939. (The discussion here has some more details, particularly Chamberlain’s view and the British military’s warning that the Poles, alone, would last two weeks).

There were plenty of reasons why Stalin’s approaches were rejected by Western politicians: they didn’t see the threat, Chamberlain’s “most profound distrust of Russia”, no one liked communism, few trusted Stalin, many questioned the effectiveness of the Red Army, some hoped that the nazis and the communists would fight each other to the death, some preferred the nazis. Poland, whose territory was essential for an effective Soviet threat to Germany, was the decisive obstacle: Warsaw doubted that the Soviets, once in, would ever leave and believed, with its pact and collaboration with Berlin, that it was safe. So, Stalin’s Plan A never happened. Carley: “The Molotov-Ribbentrop pact was the result of the failure of nearly six years of Soviet effort to form an anti-Nazi alliance with the western powers”. Yes, the pact included a carve-up of several countries but Stalin was looking to the security of the USSR. (And, à la Fawlty Towers, don’t mention the Czechoslovakia carve up, it will spoil the morally superior position the West likes to take.) In the end Stalin miscalculated the timing: Hitler invaded before he’d knocked out Britain and its empire/commonwealth and before the Soviets had properly fortified their new borders.

The failure of Moscow’s long effort to put together an alliance to stop Hitler is the reason for the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact, not Stalin’s all-round nastiness and sense of fellowship with Hitler. Nasty the pact was, in a nasty period, but it was Stalin’s second choice. Those are the historical realities. Another historical reality (almost down the memory hole) is the fact that, if we’re talking about agreements with Hitler, Moscow was late to the party. Lots of leaders were fooled by Hitler but Stalin probably least of all.

Now, I suspect that the average Western newspaper consumer doesn’t know this background and – speaking for myself – I only found out about the Warsaw-Berlin pact a year or two ago. In fact, had it not been for remembering Taylor’s book, I would probably have been ignorant of Stalin’s Plan A too. The memory hole has swallowed much and most of the authors of these pieces seem quite unaware of that fact and are very offended when, for example, the Russians point out that Warsaw – officially the victim par excellence of the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact – took its pound of flesh from Czechoslovakia.

Many of these pieces, after falsely establishing what they imagine to be a Stalin-Hitler common purpose, can’t resist trying to make a connection between what they imagine to have been Stalin’s motives then and Putin’s today. But it’s hard to see it. Yes, the effects of the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact endure but, surely, the biggest “deadly result” of Stalin’s failed Plan A is the war itself. There are at least two ways to look at the Soviet occupation/control of most of the territories it liberated from the nazis: 1) the behaviour of an aggressive expansionist power, 2) that of a power determined that its neighbours would never again be assembly areas for another attack and had learned that it would be on its own if it happened again. We all know which conclusion the Western Allies came to. Elsewhere I have speculated on the cause of that choice but that’s another bit of past living on in the present.

In short, the basic premise of these pieces is quite simply wrong: Stalin didn’t feel an affinity to Hitler and cheerfully join him to rip things apart. And when the Russian talk about the Western European share of responsibility for Hitler’s war, it’s not “odious sophistry” or “rewriting history” or “propaganda”, it’s because they know about Stalin’s failed anti-Hitler coalition and most Western commentators don’t. It is very plausible that a coalition of the USSR, France and Britain and the smaller threatened countries would have prevented the war altogether. We do know that one conspiracy to overthrow Hitler was aborted by Chamberlain’s appeasement. Perhaps when one truly understands that Stalin’s Plan A might have prevented the war altogether, one can understand how irritated the Russians are when they’re blamed for starting it.

While the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact was the starter’s gun for Hitler’s attack on Poland it is historical nonsense to present the pact as Stalin’s preferred option. And more nonsense to somehow tie it all to Putin.

And what of Poland? Alone, it did last only a few weeks, the nazis killed about 20% of the population and in the end the USSR occupied it anyway. (A bit reminiscent, come to think of it, of Poland, Napoleon and Russia.)

(There is, however, an unforced parallel which doesn’t occur to anybody: both Putin and Stalin looked first to the West for partners; both were disappointed. Stalin probably realised with Munich that his alliance idea was impossible and I believe that for Putin the moment came with Libya. They decided that the West was недоговороспособниы. That complicated Russian word contains within it the meaning that you cannot make an agreement with them and, even if you do, they will not keep it. So, there is some connection, after all, but it’s not what these people think.)

 

COMMENTS FROM THE LOCKED WARD

(Miscellaneous comments from pieces dealing with Russia I’ve collected. Most of them anonymous or with pseudonyms. They are chosen to illustrate either rabid hostility to everything Russian or stone-dead ignorance of present reality. I post from time to time when I have enough, spelling mistakes and all.)

the Satanic one called the Antichrist is Russian President Putin

Revelation13.net: The English King James version Bible code

 

BYE BYE BOLTON

(Response to a question from Sputnik)

Trump campaigned in part on the idea that the American wars had been a disaster for the country; John Bolton never met a war he didn’t want more of. So the mystery is not what the two disagreed about but why Trump hired him in the first place.

I can’t help wondering if the late Justin Raimondo was right when he suggested Trump had appointed Bolton as a cunning plot: “Instead of taking on the neocons directly, Trump embraces them – and we can see the knife go in as this whole scenario plays out.” Certainly everything Bolton has had a hand in has been a spectacular flop and Trump is now in a position to tell the war party “see, we tried that, and it didn’t work”.

Why fire him now? It might be connected with the re-evaluation of weapons supplies to Ukraine or getting out of Afghanistan before the US and its minions double the Soviet time there on 25 January. Or the undoubted failure of the regime change in Venezuela. Or the fact that Tehran has outwitted Washington at every step; a desire to finally improve relations with Russia; Bolton’s sabotage of the North Korea initiatives or many other things where the two would have been at odds.

And, although I doubt Trump or he knew it, he was fired on Ashura which is rather ironic.

But we’ll have a better idea when we see whom he appoints next. And whom he fires next. It is rather a mystery why Trump has chosen to surround himself with representatives of the war party.

PUTIN AND 911

Andy Card: One of the president’s first thoughts, from Sarasota to Barksdale, was Vladimir Putin.

Gordon Johndroe: [Putin] was important—all these military systems were all put in place for nuclear alerts. If we went on alert, we needed Putin to know that we weren’t readying an attack on Russia. He was great—he said immediately that Russia wouldn’t respond, Russia would stand down, that he understood we were under attack and needed to be on alert.

Ari Fleischer: Putin was fantastic that day. He was a different Vladimir Putin in 2001. America could have had no better ally on September 11th than Russia and Putin.

‘We’re the Only Plane in the Sky’ Politico 9 Sep 2016

Of course it doesn’t occur to these Americans that maybe it wasn’t Putin who’s become “different” since then. How could that possibility ever appear in their exceptionalist minds?

RUSSIAN FEDERATION SITREP 8 AUGUST 2019

MOSCOW PROTESTS. Whatever might have been the reason for the original protests, they’ve now gone full provocation. How to make a photogenic riot: 1) ask for a demo permit 2) refuse it 3) move to the main drag 4) invite cameras. (Is there any country that allows protests anywhere, anytime? Not USA, not Canada, not UK and certainly not France.) This impresses Western pundits – Putin’s frightened! but not Muscovites, who support the authorities. Why? Because they’ve seen the movie before: the regime changers are running out of ideas. Another sign it’s a colour revolution attempt is the creation of a poster girl – just like Bana of Aleppo and I am Ukrainian. (Venezuela too). Moscow’s Ms Deeds confronts Evil; the hero facing down the tank (Click on the link: it’s not what you’re expecting). Not such striking images as these from France, or of France’s poster man, but they will have to do. And – another tired trope – Navalniy was poisoned, but not very effectively. So what’s the point? Distract attention from Gillets jaunes (Week 38); but who was covering that? Last chance to use the tattered playbook before Trump & Co crush the Russia-interference lie and bring the Deep State down? (Well, one can dream). Force of habit? Seizing an opportunity? Whatever, it’s not working very well.

NEW WEAPON. Video of a test flight of a stealth RPV named Okhotnik (hunter).

GOLD. Still buying it, now 2.3 tonnes; and the bet is paying off as gold prices rise. Meanwhile, Russia’s US treasury holdings are down to $12 billion USD from nearly $100 billion 12 years ago.

RUSSIA IS FINISHED! Again. Just as well – it doesn’t have a “better nature“. And they tell us that Russia’s the one spewing out the we-they stuff.

ATLANTIC COUNCIL. The Procurator-General named it an undesirable organisation.

FOREST FIRES. Big, but not as big as all that.

INF. INF Treaty is dead. If Trump thought he could include China, he’s wrong – Beijing is not interested. Three of the four arms-control treaties left us are gone, all killed by Washington although Russia was blamed of course. But Putin & Co saw it coming and their answers are already here: whatever Washington may think it can do, it’s been checkmated: MAD returns. As to nearby missiles, Moscow’s got that covered too: Tsirkon on a submarine off the US coast.

RUSSIA/CHINA. The NYT had an absurd editorial chiding Trump for not doing enough to split Moscow away from Beijing. Too late, that ship has sailed. I’d change the illustration – the ship is over the horizon.

AMERICA-HYSTERICA. A Pew poll shows 65% of Democrats and 35% of Republicans see “Russia’s power and influence” as a “major threat”. I would say that the 30-point difference is Muellermania and the lie that Russia hacked the DNC computers. A poll by Gallup, on the other hand, shows concerns about Russia haven’t registered all year. A CNN poll (p12) likewise shows Russia’s nowhere. So it’s only a big concern to Democrats and only when they’re asked about it. Interesting. Meanwhile, Tulsi Gabbard, pretty mainstream on most issues, dares to criticise the endless wars: she’s a Putinassadbot! Full attack!

THE “FAKE NEWS” FAKE. An article describes how Finland is “winning the war on fake news” (all from Russia of course) by getting students to take their “laptops and cell phones to investigate their chosen topics“. This could easily backfire: what would a reasonably intelligent child think when presented with, say, both the BBC coverage of Skripal and Rob Slane’s? Not much to the BBC’s benefit, I suspect. They sure don’t want them to start wondering what happened to Kerry’s we saw the whole thing or any of the other tripe they’re supposed to take on faith. Best just to train them to love Big Brother and understand that what BB says is true news and be done with it.

MH17. French reporter reveals that there are still many parts aircraft parts and human remains at the site. Also shows photo of what look a lot like bullet holes. Malaysia expresses more criticism of JIT.

UKRAINE. “Ukraine is turning to the playbook that helped rebuild the continent’s ex-communist wing back in the 1990s.” Well, maybe in Poland or the Czech Republic, but in the other places it was pretty disastrous. Especially in places – like Ukraine – with deeply embedded corruption. Come to think of it, it was a disaster in Ukraine in the 1990s too. Time to re-read Collision and Collusion.

HISTORY. Only a couple of years ago I learned that Poland (1934) had signed a non-aggression pact with Hitler’s Germany. Yesterday, thanks to this, I learned that Estonia (1939) and Latvia (1939) did too. Lots of countries taken in by Hitler, eh? Some thought to buy the package, others thought to buy time. (BTW Finnish “fake news” mavens, don’t let your students discover that the USSR was not the only one; that could lead to questions and questions are always doubleplusungood.)

© Patrick Armstrong Analysis, Canada Russia Observer

ENOUGH AND NOT TOO MUCH

(First published Strategic Culture Foundation, also posted on SST, picked up by The Daily Coin, in French,

 

Moscow will not engage in an exhausting arms race, and the country’s military spending will gradually decrease as Russia does not seek a role as the “world gendarme,” President Vladimir Putin said. Moscow is not seeking to get involved in a “pointless” new arms race, and will stick to “smart decisions” to strengthen its defensive capabilities, Putin said on Friday during an annual extended meeting of the Defense Ministry board. “Intelligence, brains, discipline and organization” must be the cornerstones of the country’s military doctrine, the Russian leader said. The last thing that Russia needs is an arms race that would “drain” its economy, and Moscow sure does not want that “in any scenario,” Putin pointed out.

RT, 22 December 2017

It’s easy to forget it today, but the USSR was, in its time, an “exceptionalist” country. It was the world’s first socialist country – the “bright future“; it set an example for all to follow, it was destined by History. It had a mission and was required by History to assist any country that called itself “socialist”. The USSR had bases and interests all over the world. As the 1977 USSR Constitution said:

the Soviet state, a new type of state, the basic instrument for defending the gains of the revolution and for building socialism and communism. Humanity thereby began the epoch-making turn from capitalist to socialism.

A novus ordo seclorum indeed.

Russia, however, is just Russia. There is no feeling in Moscow that Russia must take the lead any place but Russia itself. One of the reasons, indeed, why Putin is always talking about the primacy of the UN, the independence of nation states, the impermissibility to interfere in internal activities – the so-called “Westphalian” position – is that he remembers the exceptionalist past and knows that it led to a dead end. Moscow has no interest in going abroad in search of internationalist causes.

Internationalism/exceptionalism and nationalism: the two have completely different approaches to constructing a military. The first is obsessed with “power projection“, “full spectrum superiority“, it imagines that its hypertrophied interests are challenged all over the planet. Its wants are expensive, indeterminate, unbounded. The other is only concerned with dealing with enemies in its neighbourhood. Its wants are affordable, exact, finite. The exceptionalist/interventionist has everything to defend everywhere; the nationalist has one thing to defend in one place. It is much easier and much cheaper to be a nationalist: the exceptionalist/interventionist USA spends much more than anyone else but always needs more; nationalist Russia can cut its expenditure.

The USSR’s desire to match or exceed the USA in all military areas was a contributing factor to the collapse of its alliance system and the USSR itself. Estimates are always a matter for debate, especially in a command economy that hid its numbers (even when they were calculable), but a common estimate is a minimum of 15% of the USSR’s production went to the military. But the true effort was probably higher. The USSR was involved all over the world shoring up socialism’s “bright future” and that cost it at home.

Putin & Co’s “bright future” is for Russia only and the world may do as it wants about any example or counterexample it may imagine there. While Putin may occasionally indulge himself by offering opinions about liberalism and oped writers gas on about the Putin/Trump populism threat, Putin & Co are just trying to do what they think best for Russia with, as their trust ratings suggest (in contrast with those of the rulers of the “liberal” West), the support and agreement of most Russians.

The military stance of the former exceptionalist country is all gone. As the USSR has faded away, so have its overseas bases and commitments: the Warsaw Pact is gone together with the forward deployment of Soviet armies; there are no advisors in Vietnam or Mozambique; Moscow awaits with bemusement the day next January when the surviving exceptionalist power and its minions will have been in Afghanistan twice as long as the USSR was. The United States, still exceptionalist, still imagining it is spreading freedom and democracy, preventing war and creating stability, has bases everywhere and thinks that it must protect “freedom of navigation” to and from China in the South China Sea. It has yet to learn the futility of seeing oneself as The World’s Example.

Putin & Co have learned: Russia has no World-Historical purpose and its military is just for Russia. They understand what this means for Russia’s Armed Forces:

Moscow doesn’t have to match the US military; it just has to checkmate it.

And it doesn’t have to checkmate it everywhere, only at home. The US Air Force can rampage anywhere but not in Russia’s airspace; the US Navy can go anywhere but not in Russia’s waters. It’s a much simpler job and it costs much less than what Stalin, Khrushchev and Brezhnev were attempting; it’s much easier to achieve; it’s easier to plan and carry out. The exceptionalist/interventionist has to plan for Everything; the nationalist for One Thing.

Study the enemy, learn what he takes for granted and block it. And the two must haves of American conventional military power as it affects Russia are 1) air superiority and 2) assured, reliable communications; counter those and it’s checkmated: Russia doesn’t have to equal or surpass the US military across the board, just counter its must haves.

Russia’s comprehensive and interlocking air defence weaponry is well known and well respected: it covers the spectrum from defences against ballistic missiles to small RPVs, from complex missile/radar sets to MANPADS; all of it coordinated, interlocking with many redundancies. We hear US generals complaining about air defence bubbles and studies referring to Russia’s “anti-access/area-denial (A2AD) exclusion zones“. Russian air defence has not been put to the full-scale test but we have two good indications of its effectiveness. The first was the coordinated RPV attack on Russian bases in Syria last year in which seven were shot down and six taken over, three of them landed intact. Then, in the FUKUS attack of April 2018, the Russians say the Syrian AD system (most of which is old but has benefited from Russian coordination) shot down a large number of the cruise missiles. (FUKUS’ claims are not believable).

The other area, about which even less is known are Russian electronic warfare capabilities: “eye-watering” says a US general; “Right now in Syria we are operating in the most aggressive EW environment on the planet from our adversaries. They are testing us everyday, knocking our communications down, disabling our EC-130s, etcetera.” Of course, what the Americans know is only what Russia wants them to know. There is speculation about an ability to spoof GPS signals. AEGIS-equipped warships seem to have trouble locating themselves (HNoMS Helge Ingstad) or avoiding being run into (USS Lake Champlain, USS John McCain, USS Fitzgerald). Bad seamanship may, of course, be the cause and that’s what the US investigations claim. So more rumour than fact but a lot of rumour.

In the past two or three decades US air power has operated with impunity; it has assumed that all GPS-based systems (and there are many) will operate as planned and that communications will be free and clear. Not against Russia. With those certainties removed, the American war fighting doctrine will be left scrabbling.

But AD and EW are not the only Russian counters. When President Bush pulled the USA out of the ABM Treaty in 2001, Putin warned that Russia would have to respond. Mutual Assured Destruction may sound crazy but there’s a stability to it: neither side, under any circumstance, can get away with a first strike; therefore neither will try it. Last year we met the response: a new ICBM, a hypersonic re-entry vehicle, a nuclear-powered cruise missile with enormous flight time and a similar underwater cruise missile. No defence will stop them and so MAD returns. A hypersonic anti-shipping missile will keep the US Navy out of Russian waters. And, to deal with the US Army’s risible ground forces in Europe, with or without NATO’s other feeble forces, Russia has re-created the First Guards Tank Army. Checkmate again.

No free pass for US air power, strained and uncertain communications, a defeated ground attack and no defence against Russian nuclear weapons. That’s all and that’s enough.

And that is how Moscow does it while spending much less money than Washington. It studies Washington’s strengths and counters them: “smart decisions”. Washington is starting to realise Russia’s military power but it is blinded and can only see its reflection in the mirror: the so-called “rising threat from Russia” would be no threat to a Washington that stayed at home.

If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.

Sun Tzu