THE US PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION 2020

In answer to a question from Sputnik on what difference the US election choice would make on US-Russia relations.

Before one speculates on the difference the choice might make to the foreign behaviour of a country whose foreign behaviour never seems to change, I think there is a more important question to think about.

I expect Trump to be re-elected but will he be elected by a lawyer-proof margin? If he does not win by an enormous and undeniable margin, there will follow an avalanche of lawfare, hanging chads, “lost” ballots discovered, judicial rulings and counter-rulings, foreign interference stories, security organ accusations, fake news, Electoral College struggles, ballot counts and re-counts stretching on for months and months. But more to the point, protests, riots, burnings, attacks, assaults. There’s even talk of secession. Are we looking at the possibility of as third American civil war developing? Many fear so – here, here, here, here, here. At least one group is preparing to shut down DC.

If the US is tied up in a mess of riots and legal battles in the full complexity of its curious election system, let alone a full scale civil war, what possible foreign policy would it have? Especially against the background of its enormous debt, forever wars and COVID failures.

Overseas issues will be the least of its concerns.

RUSSIAN FEDERATION SITREP 22 OCTOBER 2020

(This, BTW, is the 802nd Sitrep – forgot to count. The first was in March 1997)

WAAAY HARSH! Putin is only worried about catching a cold at the West’s funeral.

SOMETHING ELSE from the country that doesn’t make anything. First of the new project 22220 class on its way to Murmansk: most powerful icebreaker ever made.

COVECONOMICS. IMF predictions are out. I am fascinated to see that it predicts Russia will do better (less badly) than anyone in the G7 or Euroland. China is set to grow a bit.

CLUELESS. Paul Robinson reminds us that so many Western “experts” haven’t a clue: Putin is popular because Russians think he’s doing a good job, not because “state TV” tells them he is.

RUSSIA-EU. I’ve long wondered when or whether Moscow will decide it isn’t worth wasting its time talking to the West. Maybe it’s about to start with the EU. A cheap and easy case to make its first step.

ENEMIES. A recent Levada poll shows 82% of respondents think Russia has enemies: 70% name USA, 14% Ukraine, 10% UK, 7% EU, 7% Poland. Only half as many thought it had enemies in 1994.

KARABAKH. A Russian-brokered ceasefire failed immediately. But I get the impression that the fighting has stalemated and sooner or later Moscow will be required. It’s one of Stalin’s little cartographic jokes that has come back to make trouble. One should be aware that there are three pieces of territory. Armenia proper; the former Nagorniy-Karabakh AO – largely ethnic Armenian; the Azerbaijan territories conquered by NK two decades ago. Moscow is obliged to protect the first if attacked – which it has not been and for that reason likely won’t be; the second needs some creative diplomacy to make the inhabitants feel secure (and the involvement of Ankara takes them straight back to the massacres a century ago and reinforces their conviction that their forever enemy are the Turks), the third is unquestionably Azerbaijan territory. (Moscow taught Erdoğan a very sharp lesson in 2015; love to know what discussions are going on in the background.)

START. Obama prolonged it as a sort of gentleman’s agreement; but I don’t think it’s going to survive. For one thing, the US negotiator lives in cloud cuckoo land. But – maybe – a development.

CORRUPTION. I’ve long thought that corruption is a much more complicated subject than it’s usually presented as and that we, on our side, might well have more invisible corruption than Russia. Read this and see what you think. And the Pelosis bought a piece of Crowdstrike – well, just… gosh! Of course, if it’s not reported by the NYT it didn’t happen, did it?

THE WISDOM OF RETIREES. MI6 head told us Russia was a “standing threat” “fundamental threat“. Retired, he tells us not to exaggerate. I attempt to explain the appearance of reality upon retirement here.

AMERICA-HYSTERICA. “Scrambling their brains“, Well…. I guess it does recognise the phenomenon of scrambled brains even if the explanation is a bit of a re-run. Heres’ the story from one of the usual sources. Remember the crickets? Of course it’s primarily anti-Trump agitprop: “the victims are left wondering why so little is being done by the Trump administration”. It’s all so idiotically transparent. (And anything you hear about H— B— is Russian disinformation and not really a story).

USA. Sure are a lot of pieces like this: America on cusp of a Civil War. Or this; this; this; and, especially, this. “For those who have followed events outside the United States during the past few decades, much of this sounds familiar. We’ve seen it before – inflicted on other countries“. If the US itself is suffering a colour revolution, what happens to the colour revolutions in other places? If the USA is tied up in severe civil strife, secession movements, accusations of election fraud, lawfare and the like, in the background of a faltering economy, COVID and forever wars, it will take a lot of pressure off Russia. (Starting to sound a bit like the USSR in the 1990s, isn’t it?)

RUSSOPHRENIA or or How a Collapsing Country Runs the World. I attempt to catalogue the craziness.

UKRAINE. Letter from three EU parliamentarians – strong supporters and believers – complain: “We cannot but see that the corruption perception in Ukraine in 2020 fell back to the 2017 mark, the praised reforms are backsliding…”. What happens when these people finally realise they’ve been lied to and played for suckers from the start? Will they do anything or go away and just be replaced by new suckers?

FROM LAPUTA’S KITCHENS TO YOU. Fighting the Russians with slingshots. No, Rudi, complete nonsense: Ukraine started out with a big slice of the USSR’s heaps of weapons. Like 1000+ tanks, 1000+ AIFVs and so on: Wikipedia list here. A better question is what happened to them?

TODAY’S QUOTATION ABOUT PUTIN

The unique achievements of Russian spin doctors in the 1999-2000 electoral campaigns will go into all the PR and image-making textbooks of the world – virtual Lt. Col. Kije was proclaimed not only president of All the Russias, but also the national hero who could raise the Third Rome from its knees.

– Andrey Piontkovskiy “Short, happy life of Russian ‘elite’” The Russia Journal, February 10-16, 2001

A Lieutenant Kije who today runs the world. (Reference for Kije)

RUSSIAN FEDERATION SITREP 8 OCTOBER 2020

THE STRUGGLE INTENSIFIES. Stalin: “because they are becoming weaker, they feel that their last days are approaching and are compelled to resist with all the forces and all the means in their power“. Navalniy, Belarus, Kyrgyz Republic, Armenia-Azerbaijan and another treason arrest. Connected?

SYRIA. Fifth anniversary of Russia’s intervention. And successful it has been: a brilliant combination of judiciously applied force, good intelligence, diplomacy and cooperation. And a reminder that, historically, Russians have been pretty good at war. Shoygu sums it up. (Russians like numbers as much as McNamara did – 133K jihadists killed? Let’s just say lots.)

SUGGESTION. Putin suggested how to improve Russia-US relations including a formal undertaking not to interfere in each other’s internal affairs. VOA coverage sums up the Western (non) reaction. I assume Putin does these things, not because he expects an answer, but for the record and the outside audience.

CHEESE. Among the silliest things ever said about Russia was this by Masha Gessen (one of the silliest purveyor of silliness about Russia): What the Russians Crave: Cheese. Moscow countered the EU sanctions with a food ban; together with a well-planned program of subsidies and grants, it has effected a huge turnaround in Russia’s food production. In the 90s it was commonly thought that Russia imported half its food, today it is probably self-sufficient. And so with Gessen’s cheese: “it is the third largest producer of cheese after the European Union and the US.” Fancy cheeses too. Probably the ur-mistake of the so-called Western experts on Russia is their baked-in conviction that Russia is as they think it is and cannot, ever, change. This despite all the changes in the Putin Team era. But they’re paid to believe what they believe to be paid.

MEDIA. Speaking of “Russian experts”, RFE/RL six and a half years ago: “The 20 Russian News Outlets You Need To Read Before They Get The Ax“. All still there except for No 7. Ah well, change the date and put it out again; no one will notice. Meanwhile, Twitter removes RIA Novosti. A Levada poll shows that, as elsewhere, Russians get less news from TV, newspapers and radio and more from the Net.

WEAPONS. Zircon test. More interesting to see the hit than just the launch, though. New AAMs?

PEOPLE POWER. The protests in Khabarovsk continue. But very weird now: USSR flag, “Sacred War” and current address of the Antichrist. Pretty hard to fit all those into a coherent narrative.

WESTERN VALUES™. “If the necessary information is not provided, then targeted and proportionate sanctions against those responsible on the Russian side will be unavoidable.” So much for that sacred Western principle, Russia: if you don’t prove you didn’t do it, you’re guilty. “Freedom, democracy and the rule of law. These values are what define us.” Yeah, right.

AMERICA-HYSTERICA I. Trump says he has declassified everything. OK, let’s get on with it. But one has to ask if a tree falls in the forest and the NYT doesn’t report it, does it make a sound? Or are those who hear the sound debunked conspiracy theorists? And it’s probably too late anyway.

AMERICA-HYSTERICA II. Forget actual evidence: the less there is the more proof there is. “Especially clever is planting tales of supposedly far-reaching influence operations that either don’t actually exist or are having little impact.” WaPo of course.

US ELECTION. Putin says he can work with either. Translation: “президенты приходят и уходят, а политика не меняется” (Presidents come and go, but the policies don’t change).

OOPS! A Ukrainian TV poll on whether Putin should get the Nobel Peace prize: 76% said yes.

EUROPEANS ARE REVOLTING. Some more steps along an uncertain path. It is principally the relationship with Russia that is the driver (although China and the Muslim lands are factors too). Whatever may have been the case on the past, I don’t see that Europe gets much out of its subservience to Washington these days. But the separation will be slow and painful. I suspect Trump may be pushing it. (Gordian Knot 3).

TROUBLE IN PARADISE. In the early cargo-cult phase of EU/NATO aspirations, no one considered the full package. To a large extent the promised riches have been elusive but the globalist “human rights” package has not. I am amused to see that Budapest and Warsaw, targets both, have decided to fight back. What does this have to do with Russia? Well, Russia is the poster-child of a Westphalian world of independent sovereign states while Brussels is the poster-child of the globalist, one-size-fits-all world. Another tiny step.

© Patrick Armstrong Analysis, Canada Russia Observer

RUSSIAN FEDERATION SITREP 24 SEPTEMBER 2020

This is the 800th Sitrep

RUSSIA AND COVID. As far as I can see it’s pretty much under control in Russia. CNN has a (surprisingly) intelligent discussion; counting is everything (vide: with or from?) and the Russians are stricter on their counting. They also treat early with an effective drug. Meanwhile in the USA and UK, supposedly the best prepared… I recommend Stephen Walt’s essay again: The Death of American Competence. And I reiterate: 2020 will go down as the year the West lost its mojo.

MEDICAL. Russian researchers claim to have found a powerful new antibiotic.

HYPERSONIC. Putin said it was the US withdrawal from the ABM Treaty in 2002 that forced Russia to start designing hypersonic weapons. One of the chief designers, refuting stories that Russia stole the technology from the USA, said research began long ago.

LENIN. A recent poll finds 40% want Lenin’s body out of Red Square and buried; 22% want it left there and 17% think it should stay there until last person alive in communist days is gone. Putin’s line has always been that it will be moved when a majority wants it so we’re not there yet. (I was premature nine years ago). Will the whole of the Communist pantheon on the wall – Stalin and all – have to go too? One of these days…

KAVKAZ-20. Big international exercise. I wouldn’t put too much emphasis on the 80,000 – Russians tend to count everyone involved, even if at a desk in Moscow.

OOPS. Russian cop who planted marijuana to get his arrest numbers up, becomes an arrest number.

RUSSIA INC. Now the second-largest car market in Europe after Germany.

RT AMUSES ITSELF. Trump’s new job post-November. Fun to watch the Trumputin conspiracists’ reactions; a humourless bunch.

RUSSIA BASHING. Easy money. Someone should develop a program. Putin’s latest victim X, one of a series DATA DUMP. Putin attacks Rules-Based International Order DATA DUMP. And so on.

NAVALNIY. I can’t be bothered keeping up with the latest nonsense – John Helmer follows the twists and turns and asks the questions. EG: why would Navalniy thank a diabetes and kidney specialist?

VENEZUELA. It appears that Venezuela’s large oil tanker has been switched to Russian ownership. An interesting move. Presumably to reduce the chance of US piracy.

IRAN. A Russian official suggests Moscow will sell arms to Iran as soon as embargo ends on 18 October. I’ll bet they’re discussing details now. Let me predict: air defence and EW will lead the list.

BELARUS. Still demos. Lukashenka sworn in. EU fails to agree on sanctions.

YEAH, WHATEVER I. Facts just don’t matter: re-type whatever “the sources” tell you as long as it’s anti-Trump, -Russia, -Iran or -China. Bounties. Trump insulting soldiers. US Ambassador.

YEAH, WHATEVER II. Fine example of what passes for reporting in the USA these days: first the fakery then, at the end, the reality. Finally, in the very last para: “Russia has an exceptionally good track record on managing clinical trials”. But who reads to the end?

YEAH, WHATEVER III. “C.I.A. Reasserts Putin Is Likely Directing Election Influence Efforts to Aid US President Trump“. And then we’re told “The C.I.A. has moderate confidence in its analysis… in part because the intelligence community appears to lack intercepted communications or other direct evidence… “. Now read this and wonder what’s going on: “Everyone who works here knows that analytic objectivity is beyond reproach”.

THE DEATH OF IRONY. “US must demand equal access to Russian airwaves.”

EUROPEANS ARE REVOLTING. Macron insists Europe will not compromise over Iran.

BIDEN/UKRAINE. Son of the man at the head of the table? Nothing to see here; move along.

UNGA SPEECHES. Interesting to compare; Putin and Xi about cooperation; Trump boasting and hostility (par for the course – here’s Obama in 2015.) Sure it’s PR from the first two but effective in comparison. The so-called Rules-Based International Order is dying of failure.

NEW NWO. I note that Beijing is becoming much tougher in its statements (check this video). Moscow’s countermoves are also becoming more direct – as we see with the latest moves on the Venezuelan tanker and arms sales to Iran. I guess they feel that the correlations of forces is shifting. I think they’re right: the USA seems to be heading for really dramatic domestic problems. Lots of talk, anyway, from both sides.

© Patrick Armstrong Analysis, Canada Russia Observer

WHATEVER…

In answer to a question from Sputnik about Trump’s UN address.

The United States has become a place where anything at all can be said and someone will believe it. Its elections are determined by foreign countries spending trivial amounts of money. Joe Biden is mentally capable of becoming president. Trump is to blame for COVID deaths in Democrat controlled areas. Iran must be punished because Washington broke the agreement. Guilt is known before the investigation. Science is settled. Only a conspiracy theorist would doubt the official conspiracy theory. Whatever. Anything goes. Were it not for its immense destructive power, who would care what Americans said? Blaming China for COVID makes as much sense as anything else.

TRUMP AND THE GORDIAN KNOT, YEAR 3

First Published Strategic Culture Foundation

In January 2018 I advanced the hypothesis that US President Trump understood that the only way to “Make American Great Again” was to disentangle it from the imperial mission that had it stuck in perpetual wars. I suggested that the cutting of this “Gordian Knot of entanglements” was difficult, even impossible, to accomplish from his end and that he understood that the cutting could only come from the other side. I followed up with another look the next March. I now look at my hypothesis as Trump’s first term comes to an end.

While we are no closer to knowing whether this is indeed Trump’s strategy or an unintended consequence of his behaviour, it is clear that the “Gordian knot of US imperial entanglements” is under great strain.

German-American relations provide an observation point. There are four demands the Trump Administration makes of its allies – Huawei, Iran, Nord Stream 2 and defence spending – and all four converge on Germany. Germany is one of the most important American allies; it is probably the second-most important NATO member; it is the economic engine of the European Union. Should it truly defy Washington on these issues, there would be fundamental damage to the US imperium. (And, if George Friedman is correct in stating that preventing a Germany-Russia coalition is the “primordial interest” of the USA, the damage could be greater still.) And yet that is what we are looking at: on several issues Berlin is defying Washington.

Washington is determined to knock Huawei, the Chinese telecommunications company, out of the running for 5G networks even though, by most accounts, it is the clear technological leader. In March Berlin was told that Washington “wouldn’t be able to keep intelligence and other information sharing at their current level” if Chinese companies participated in the country’s 5G network. As of now, Berlin has not decided one way or the other (September is apparently the decision point). London, on the other hand, which had agreed to let Huawei in, reversed its decision, it is reported, when Trump threatened to cut intelligence and trade. So one can imagine what pressures are being brought on Berlin.

Berlin was very involved in negotiating the nuclear agreement with Tehran – the JCPOA – and was rather stunned when Washington pulled out of it. German Chancellor Merkel acknowledged that there wasn’t much Europe could do about it: but added that it “must strengthen them [its capabilities] for the future“. When Washington forced the SWIFT system to disconnect from Iran, thereby blocking bank-to-bank transactions, Berlin, Paris and London devised an alternate system called INSTEX. But, despite big intentions, it has apparently been used only once – in a small medical supplies transaction in March.

Thus far, Berlin’s resistance to Washington’s diktats has not amounted to much but on the third case it has been defiant from the start. Germany has been buying hydrocarbons from the east for some time and it is significant that, throughout the Cold War, when the USSR and Germany were enemies, the supply never faltered. And the reason is not hard to understand: Berlin wants the energy and Moscow wants the money; it’s a mutual dependence. The dependence can be exaggerated: a BBC piece calculated two years ago that Germany got about 60% of its gas from Russia but that only about 20% of Germany’s energy came from gas: a total of 12%. But it is very likely that that 12% will grow in the future and Russian supply will become more important to Germany. On the other hand, while it is happy to get the business, given the limitless demand from China, Russia could give up the European market if it had to. But, at present, it remains a mutually beneficial trade.

Given the problems of gas transit through Ukraine, the Nord Stream pipeline under the Baltic was built and began operation in 2011. As demand and the unreliability of Ukrainian politics grew, a second undersea pipeline, Nord Stream 2, began to be constructed. It was nearing completion when Washington imposed sanctions and the Swiss company that was laying the pipe quit the job. A Russian pipe-laying ship appeared and the work continues. Meanwhile Washington redoubles its efforts to force a stop. Ostensibly Washington argues security concerns – making the not-unreasonable argument that while Germany talks about the “Russian threat” it nevertheless buys energy from Russia: which is it? dangerous or reliable? Many people, on the other hand, believe that the true motive is to compel Germany to buy LNG from the USA; or “freedom gas” as they like to call it. This passage deserves to be pondered

LNG is significantly more expensive than pipeline gas from Russia and Norway, which are currently the two main exporters of gas to Europe. But some EU countries – chiefly Poland and the Baltic states – are ready to pay a premium in order to diversify their supplies. Bulgaria, which is currently 100% reliant on Russian gas, said it was ready to import LNG from the US if the price was competitive, suggesting a $1 billion US fund could be used to bring the price down. But Perry dismissed any suggestion that the US government would interfere on pricing, saying it was up to the companies involved to sign export and import deals.

Freedom isn’t free, as they say.

In July the US Congress added to the military funding bill an amendment expanding sanctions in connection with Nord Stream 2 to include any entity that assists the completion of the pipeline. Which brings us to the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act. This extremely open-ended bill arrogates to Washington the right to 1) declare this or that country an “adversary” 2) sanction anyone or anything that deals with it, or deals with those who deal with it and so on. Eventually, virtually every entity on the planet could be subject to sanctions (except, of course, the USA itself which permits itself to buy rocket engines or oil from “adversary” Russia). In short, if you don’t freely choose to buy our “freedom gas”, we’ll force you to. The latest from US Secretary of State Pompeo is: “We will do everything we can to make sure that that pipeline doesn’t threaten Europe” (the pretext of security again). Berlin has re-stated its determination to continue with it. 24 EU countries have issued a démarche to Washington protesting this attempt at extraterritorial sanctions. The convenient “poisoning” of Navalniy is being boomed as reason for Berlin to obey Washington’s diktat. This far Merkel says the two should not be linked. But the pressure will only grow.

Another of Trump’s oft-stated themes is that the US is paying to defend countries that are rich enough to defend themselves. NATO agreed some years ago that its members should commit 2% of governmental spending to defence. Few have achieved this and Germany least of all – 2019’s spending was about 1.2%; the undertaking to raise it to 1.5% by 2024 will probably not be fulfilled. Presumably as a consequence, or because he imagines he’s punishing Germany for its contumacy, Trump has ordered 12,000 troops to be removed from Germany. It is significant that most Germans are pretty comfortable with that reduction; about a quarter want them all gone. Which suggests that Germans are not as enthusiastic about their connection with the USA as their governments have been and so one may speculate that a post-Merkel Chancellor might be prepared to act on this indifference and cut the ties.

Iran is on Washington’s “adversary list” and Washington is determined to break it. Having walked out of the JCPOA, Washington is now trying to get the other signatories to impose sanctions in it for allegedly breaking the deal. This ukase is proving to be another point of disagreement and Paris, London and Berlin have refused to join in this effort stating that they remain committed to the agreement; in Pompeo’s chiaroscuric universe this was “aligning themselves with the Ayatollahs“. This failure followed another at the UNSC a week earlier. Again, the knot is not severed but it is weakened as the US Secretary of State comes ever closer to accusing Washington’s principal allies of being “adversaries” and they refuse obedience.

And so we can see that the Trump Administration is stamping around the room, smashing the furniture, brusquely ordering its allies to do as they’re told or else. One could hardly find a better exponent of this in-your-face style than “we lied, we cheated, we stole” Mike Pompeo. If your object were to outrage allies so much that they quit themselves, he’s ideal. Washington’s demands, stripped of the highfalutin accompanying rhetoric of freedom, are: join its sanctions against China and Iran; buy its gas; buy its weapons; if not, risk being declared “adversaries” in a sanctions war. Germany is defiant on Huawei, Iran, Nord Stream and weaponry; much of Europe is as well and Berlin’s example will have much effect on the others.

Point-blank demands to instantly fall in with Washington’s latest scheme is certainly no way to treat allies. But is this part of a clever strategy to get them to cut the “Gordian Knot of entanglements” themselves or just America-firstism stripped of politesse? Some see an intention here:

For Trump, I believe he sees Nordstream 2 as the perfect wedge issue to break open the stalemate over NATO and cut Germany loose or bring Merkel to heel.

If re-elected, the reality is that a Trump administration, given four more years, will tear down the entire NATO edifice.

Even The Economist, that reliable indicator of the mean sea level of conventional opinion, wonders:

But it is only under President Donald Trump that America has used its powers routinely and to their full extent, by engaging in financial warfare. The results have been awe-inspiring and shocking. They have in turn prompted other countries to seek to break free of American financial hegemony.

A year ago French President Macron said Europe could no longer count on American defence. German Chancellor Merkel at first disagreed, but as Berlin’s struggles with Washington intensify, now sounds closer to Macron’s position. Just words to be sure, but evolving words.

If Trump gets a second term (the better bet at this moment, I believe) these words may become actions. At least one calculation assesses that the sanction wars have cost the EU more than Russia and very much more than the USA which has carefully exempted itself. Many Europeans must be coming to appreciate that there is more cost than gain in the relationship. (Which, of course, explains the rolling sequence of anti-Russian and anti-Chinese stories calculated to frighten them back into line.) As the slang phrase has it, the Trump Administration is saying “my way or the highway”. The Europeans are certainly big enough to set off on the highway by themselves.

RUSSIAN FEDERATION SITREP 10 SEPTEMBER 2020

RUSSIA AND COVID. Latest numbers: total cases 1046K; total deaths 18,263; tests per 1 million 270K. Russia has done 39.5 million tests (fourth after China, USA and India); among countries with populations over 10M it’s done the most tests per million. Lancet paper on Russian vaccine. Photographs of the vaccine production line. Claims that Surfactant drugs are effective treatment. A machine capable of detecting numerous pathogens including COVID-19 unveiled.

CAR CRASH. The famous actor Efremov was given an 8-year sentence for causing fatal car crash.

TREASON. A military historian and reservist has been imprisoned on charges of high treason; no details given and the trial was in camera. There have been several recent trials. I wonder what’s going on. Renewed attacks on Russia, or a decision to clean things up?

NAVALNIY. Notice Novichok doesn’t need people in hazmat suits this time? Noticed the mysterious bottle? (Helmer and Cunningham have). Hard to keep the lies straight – another hole in Skripalmania.

CONTEMPT. Now they come right out and tell us they think we’re stupider than pond scum: “a variant that the world did not know until this attack, but which is said to be more malicious and deadly than all known offshoots of the Novichok familyThe fact that he is still alive… is only due to a chain of happy circumstances.

IN THE COUNTRY THAT MAKES NOTHING. “The President drove an Aurus limousine along a newly-built section of the Taurida motorway.”

UBI. Medvedev, leader of the majority party, floats the idea of universal basic income. Something to watch.

VODKA. Continues its decline as Russia’s booze of choice. Another change to the Russia of clichés.

AGRICULTURE. Short piece on how effectively Russia has used sanctions and counter sanctions to make its agricultural sector an important international player. It’s been a stunning achievement in fact and unimaginable in the 1990s – I remember an agricultural guy then just shaking his head. I reiterate – Russia, far from being the feeble and failing entity described by Western propaganda, is the closest thing to an autarky on the planet today. Twenty years of peace and you won’t recognise Russia.

THE HUMBLE SOYBEAN. China imports a lot from the USA. But, given the way things are going, it’s probably reconsidering: Commerce Minister Zhong calls for a “soybean industry alliance” with Russia.

DOOM AVERTED. AGAIN. Russia’s military, formerly “hamstrung” by lack of parts from Ukraine, has replaced the lack. COVID-19 didn’t finish Russia and Putin off. Relying on Western coverage of Russia makes you more ignorant. Continuing to, failure after failure, makes you stupid.

RATINGS. New Levada poll puts Putin back in the high 60s.

ANOTHER ONE. The Admiral Nakhimov (remember seeing it in the distance in the 1990s) put in water after years of reconstruction. Prestigious-looking ships packed with weapons.

COOLEST PLANE EVER. Is back. Did you know it’s actually younger than the American B-52?

PROBABLY NOT A COINCIDENCE. Film of biggest nuclear weapon ever declassified.

WESTERN VALUES™. Navalniy. Assange. MH17 trial. Meng. Sacoolas. Sterling examples all.

AMERICA-HYSTERICA I. “Vote because Russian lessons are expensive“. But suppose Putin doesn’t care whether you speak Russia as long as you obey? But see below – Farsi is probably a better choice.

AMERICA-HYSTERICA II. China Russia and Iran are “are seeking to disrupt our election“. Has there ever been such a fearful superpower? I still bet that Tehran will make the choice because the other two will cancel each other out.

PROBLEMS WITH THE NARRATIVE. Remember when we said Russia was dangerously fast tracking its vaccine? Forget we said that.

EUROPEANS ARE REVOLTING. Pompeo says the European Allies “chose to side with the Ayatollahs“. Time to sanction them all I guess.

BELARUS. The shape of the settlement is appearing: a referendum on constitutional changes; Lukashenka steps down; new election; solid alliance with Russia.

UKRAINE. A poll shows 49% distrust and 44% trust President Zelensky. Not so surprising: he hasn’t delivered on anything. Not that anybody would let him. Ukraine continues its misery.

© Patrick Armstrong Analysis, Canada Russia Observer

LET’S POISON SOMEBODY

(Overheard by our secret source in the Kremlin)

– What a day! The Americans are really putting the boots to Merkel on Nord Stream, we’ve got demos in Khabarovsk and now Batko’s screwing up. Some days it’s just too much.

– We gotta come up with something to take people’s minds off things, Boss.

– Yeah, but what? No military anniversaries coming up. Do we have any new weapons which we can show?

– Not unless you count the re-done Bear.

– Nah, that won’t work – the Americans will just say it’s obsolete. Why it’s almost as old at their B-52!

– How about a video of the Tsar Bomba?

– Always good to remind the neo-cons that they may have Big Democracy but we’ve got Big Bomb. But I want something else.

– We could do a video of pretty girls singing that they’re Putingirls.

– Didn’t Obama did that? That’s as fake as the reset was.

– Wait Boss! I’ve got it. Let’s poison somebody! That’ll change the headlines. Sure worked that last few times.

– Hmmmm, sounds good, keep talking.

– We’ll poison that Navalniy guy…

– Who?

– You know, the guy the Americans think you’re obsessed with.

– Isn’t he in France, in a lunatic asylum?

– No, the other guy.

– Oh yeah, I think I remember. OK so we poison him, then what?

– Well, he won’t die of course – our poisons are no good – and, after a day or two we let him go to some NATO country and they’ll say he was poisoned.

– Well, that will certainly change the headlines, let’s do it.

– OK Boss, and while people are obsessed with that, we can swing a few elections in the West.

– Ah yes, gotta remember to talk to Xi and coordinate our efforts. I’m still pissed off that he thinks he can fix a US election. He can do Japan, Australia, Korea and the others. That’s what multipolarism is – you do yours, we do ours.

THE ABYSS OF DISINFORMATION GAZES INTO ITS CREATORS

He who fights with monsters should look to it that he himself does not become a monster. And if you gaze long into an abyss, the abyss also gazes into you.

Friedrich Nietzsche

First published Strategic Culture Foundation

The other day the US State Department published “Pillars of Russia’s Disinformation and Propaganda Ecosystem“. The report should have a disclaimer like this:

Everything you read in the NYT or hear Rachel Maddow say about Russia is true: Putin is a murderer, a thief and a thug, he shot down MH17, poisoned the Skripals, elected Trump, invaded Georgia and stole Crimea. If you question any part of this, you are controlled and directed by Russian Disinformation HQ.

Freedom of speech does not entitle you to doubt The Truth.

The methodology of all of these things – this is one of several – is uncomplicated. Paul Robinson has commented on the dependence of so much comment about Russia, and this report in particular, on the myth of central control.

  1. Anything anywhere on Russian social media, whether sensible or crazy, was personally put there by Putin to sow discord and weaken us. All social media or websites based in Russia are 100% controlled by Putin.
  2. The Truth about Russia is found in the West’s official statements and in the “trusted source media”. Anyone who questions it benefits Putin, who wants to bring us down, and is therefore acting as a servant of Russian Disinformation HQ.

The argument really is that simple and can be found in its baldest (and stupidest) version on the EU vs DiSiNFO site, The NATO Centre of Excellence is pretty bad while The Integrity Initiative seems to have been embarrassed into silence. Note the “disinfo”, “excellence” and “integrity” bits – that’s called gaslighting. Who funds these selfless truth seekers? The EU, NATO and the British government. But they’re good and truthful, unlike those tricky Russians.

In this particular effusion they look at seven websites, six of which are registered in Russia and one in Canada. The report declares that they are in an ecosystem directed from Russian Disinformation HQ. In reality they are sites in which publish writers who – to take one example – think that it is a bit unusual that a deadly nerve agent smeared on a door handle requires the roof of the house to be replaced. But doubt, these days, is the outward sign of an inward Putinism.

Door handle!

Yeah, OK, but why the roof?

Putinbot!

One of the websites mentioned in the report is the one you’re reading now – Strategic Culture Foundation.

The Strategic Culture Foundation is directed by another Russian intelligence agency, the S.V.R., according to two American officials.

Could these be the officials who told the NYT about the bounties? Or gave it the photos it had to walk back a few days later? Or said their sources had “mysteriously gone quiet?” Or told it all 17? Or said it was probably microwave weapons? Or gave us years of scoops about how Mueller was just about to lock him up? Or told the NYT that Russia’s “economy suffers from flat growth and shrinking incomes“? Probably, but you’re not supposed to ask these questions.

The report has a good deal of speculation about who backs Strategic Culture Foundation (p 15). Personally I don’t much care who runs it (and I very much doubt that the Kremlin understands the point of running an opinion website). I’ve been in the USSR/Russia business for some time and what I think hasn’t changed much since 1986 or so. I’ve written for a number of sites which have faded away and I will not permit having what I write changed; the one time it happened twelve years ago, I immediately switched my operations elsewhere. Strategic Culture Foundation has never changed anything I’ve submitted and only twice suggested a topic – this one and Putin’s weaponised crickets. (And the warning is still up at the US State Department site!) The other writers on the site whom I know haven’t changed their views either. Strategic Culture Foundation hasn’t created something that didn’t exist before, it’s collected something that already existed. What do we writers have in common? Well, Dear Reader, look around you. Certainly we question The Truth. Or maybe SCF is a place where people “baffled by the hysterical Russophobia of the MSM and the Democratic Party since the 2016 election” can find something else? Or maybe it’s part of Madison’s “general intercourse of sentiments”?

There was a theory in the Cold War that the two sides would eventually converge. I often think that they met and then kept on going and passed each other. In those days the Soviets did their best to block what they considered to be – dare I suggest it? – disinformation. And so RFE/RL, BBC, Radio Canada and so on were jammed. We, on our side, didn’t care who listened to Radio Moscow or read Soviet publications. Today it’s the other way round. Which fact prompts the easy deduction that the side that’s confident that it has a better connection to reality and truth doesn’t waste effort trying to block the other. In a fascinating essay, the Saker describes Russian propaganda for its home audience: “give as much air time to the most rabid anti-Kremlin critiques as possible, especially on Russian TV talkshows”. They even took the trouble to dub Morgan Freeman’s absurd “we are at war” video. That’s brilliant – we won’t tell you they hate you, we’ll let them tell you they hate you.

The report talks as if this “ecosystem” were big and influential. But it’s a tiny mouse next to a whale. Total followers on Twitter of all seven sites are 156 thousand (p65). That’s nothing: the NYT has 47.1 million Twitter followers, BBC Breaking News 44.8, WaPo 16.1. Why even Rachel Maddow has ten million followers eager to hear her explain how Russia is going to turn off your furnace next winter. So the rational observer has a choice to make after reading this report: either the report ludicrously over-exaggerates the influence of this “ecosystem” or 156,000 website followers are astonishingly influential and I, with my Strategic Culture Foundation pieces, personally control several Electoral College votes.

The real message of “Pillars of Russia’s Disinformation and Propaganda Ecosystem“, to someone who isn’t invested in spinning – ahem – theories about a Kremlin disinformation conspiracy, is that the “pillars” are feeble and the “ecosystem” small: Maddow alone has three times the followers of these seven plus the RT (3 million) the “all 17” report spent nearly half its space irrelevantly ranting about. Or maybe it’s saying that American voters are so easily influenced that “the Lilliputian Russians, spending a pittance compared to the Goliaths of the Clinton and Trump campaigns, was the deciding factor in 2016“.

Ironically this thing appeared at the same time as two that suggest Washington’s view of Moscow needs some work: It’s Time to Rethink Our Russia Policy and The Problem With Putinology: We need a new kind of writing about Russia. Good to see titles like that but they aren’t really rethinking anything: they still agree that Putin’s guilty of everything that Maddow says he is. Real re-thinking might get a toehold, for example, were people to contemplate why it is imbecilic to say that Moscow holds military exercises close to NATO’s borders. But you’ll only see that sort of thing on Strategic Culture Foundation and the others.

But now the abyss gazes back.

Clinton loses an election, blames Russia, the intelligence agencies pile on, the media shrieks away. Americans are told patriotic Americans don’t doubt. And now we arrive at the next stage of insanity. William Evanina, director of the National Counterintelligence and Security Center, informs us that “Russia is backing Donald Trump, China is supporting Joe Biden and Iran is seeking to sow chaos in the US presidential election…”. I guess that means that Russia and China will cancel each other out and that he’s telling us that Iran will choose the next POTUS. Who would have thought that the fate of the “greatest nation in earth” (as Presidents Trump, Obama, Bush Jr, Clinton, Bush Sr and Reagan like to call it) would be hidden under a turban somewhere in Iran?

So, American, know this: your “trusted sources” are telling you not to bother to vote in November – it’s not your decision.