BIDEN AND START II

(Answer to Sputnik about my thoughts about Biden endorsing a renewal of START II.)

(Pretty hypothetical questions. I don’t think Biden will be chosen and I am confident Trump will be re-elected.)

Biden is running as Obama’s heir, therefore it’s not surprising that he would support START 2; he will probably claim he had a lot to do with it.

The Cold War left four important arms treaties. The ABM Treaty (1972) forbade anti ballistic missiles, the INF Treaty (1987) forbade intermediate range nuclear weapons, the CFE Treaty (1990 and modified) limited conventional weapons and the START Treaty (1991 and renewed) limited nuclear weapons. Washington (Bush II) abrogated the ABM Treaty in 2002; NATO never ratified the modified CFE Treaty and invented so many new conditions that Russia, which had ratified it, pulled out in 2015 (Obama); Washington has just pulled out of the INF Treaty (Trump). All that remains is the New START Treaty of 2011 (Obama) which Trump has said he doesn’t like and. So if he’s POTUS in 2021, that’s probably gone too.

So it looks as if the entire arms control regime inherited from the Cold War will be gone in a few years: in all cases the initiative has come from Washington although Moscow has (of course) been blamed.

It’s a good question whether anyone in the Democratic base is even aware of this reality or much interested. Maybe Biden can awaken people to the danger. Or is the Democratic Party too far down the rabbit hole of Trump conspiracies, PC obsessions and social justice warriors to notice important things?

THOUGHTS FROM URBAN’S SKRIPAL BOOK

Just finished (very) quickly skim reading Mark Urban’s book on Skripal.

I learn four things (the first two of which Rob Slane had already told me).

  1. Skripal was still doing work with the SIS and his house had been bought for him by it. Slane covers the deductions from that here.
  2. Skripal spent a lot of time watching Russian TV and did not believe Russia had invaded Ukraine (Urban has a minor case of the fantods about that, obviously can’t believe that anyone would doubt the Beeb). This supports the possibility that he was ready to go back to Russia (plus his aged mother was quite sick and he wanted to be with her) and that he was still a “Russian”.

The other two are

  1. The Russians had been watching Skripal for several years and it’s possible that they were feeding him fake information. Which leads to the interesting speculation, when he’s being interrogated by the Russians, that he’s told that although he didn’t know it, he was actually working for them all along. And, upon release, he still could be.
  2. The “NGO” Igor Sutyagin was giving information to did have a connection to SIS. (Urban idiotically says this was a case where Russian “paranoia” was justified.) So another big brouhaha in the Western media turns out to be wrong. Is it really going to turn out that Russia has told the truth every single time and the West has lied every single time?

Apart from that, everything in the book is what you would expect to see (although I do love his mention that an Army nurse was one of the first responders – try Colonel Alison McCourt, Chief Nursing Officer of the British Army! Quite a coincidence, eh?)

But these nuggets are worth the hour of skimming.

I don’t see anything to harm Michael Anthony’s theory (Urban does raise the possibility of Skripal having something to do with the Dossier but airily dismisses it.)

 

RUSSIAN FEDERATION SITREP 11 JULY 2019

THE HEARTLAND. The problem with Mackinder’s “heartland” is that moving around in it is so difficult: there are too many mountains, too many deserts and too much distance. Consequently, for 500 years sea travel has been both easier and, most of the time, faster; this reality has been a decisive power advantage for Mackinder’s “islands”. But China’s working hard at overcoming that. Another link in the OBOR is starting – Russia has begun work on a highway on its section of the Shanghai-Hamburg route. High-speed rail in China is about a decade old: 29 thousand kms now. (California has several dozen kms. Remember when the West, especially the USA, did everything first?) The sea will probably maintain its advantage for high-volume items but OBOR will change everything else.

LIBERALISM. Putin’s interview has stimulated some (more) silliness among people who probably haven’t read it. “What is happening in the West? What is the reason for the Trump phenomenon, as you said, in the United States? What is happening in Europe as well? The ruling elites have broken away from the people. The obvious problem is the gap between the interests of the elites and the overwhelming majority of the people… Our Western partners have admitted that some elements of the liberal idea, such as multiculturalism, are no longer tenable… [the liberal idea] has come into conflict with the interests of the overwhelming majority of the population.” Well, what’s incorrect? Putin has a better understanding than all the op-eds about populism. Western elites respond with a barrage of clichés.

CORRUPTION. “Nearly one in six Russian mayors have faced criminal prosecution over the past decade“. Is that a lot of corruption or a lot of corruption detection and punishment?

SUBMARINE FIRE. A fire in, we are told, the battery compartment killed a number of rather high-ranking sailors. Speculation that it was a very deep diving submarine. Back to the cutting cables scare.

RUSSIA INC. Only last month the NYT told us that Russia’s “economy suffers from flat growth and shrinking incomes“, now Russia has “The World’s Top Stock Market“. Hard to keep up, it is.

NEW NWO. The head of Rosobornexport says that Moscow has stopped using SWIFT or USD in arms transactions. So that’s the number three export taken out of Washington’s control, I don’t know about the other two but I would be surprised in Russia weren’t moving away from those as much as possible. India and Russia are talking about moving their trade to their own currencies.

DOUMA. How the OPCW’s investigation of the Douma incident was nobbled.

AMERICA-HYSTERICA I. The Myth of Russian Media Influence by Larry C Johnson. More below.

AMERICA-HYSTERIA II. To Mueller’s surprise, the IRA actually showed up in court. A judge has just ruled that Mueller’s indictment “does not link the defendants to the Russian government“. Once again, Moon of Alabama was far ahead of the mighty MSM: eighteen months ago, he said it was a click-bait operation; nothing to do with the Russian government or election interference.

S500. Being manufactured – adds an outer space defence capability to the family.

WESTERN VALUES. British media freedom conference bans RT and Sputnik but is held conveniently near Assange’s prison. So he could attend. If he could.

PESKY RUSSIANS. Another whiny official document about how those nasty Russians are dissing the USA’s impeccable position of respect in the world. (Usual pseudo-psychiatry: “Russia exhibits a deep-seated sense of geopolitical insecurity” and a whole new meme to accompany the “hybrid war” projectionism: “gray zone”.) Here’s the paper itself. I guess it must be that malign Russian influence that makes a fifth of the world regard the USA as a force for bad in the world.

EUROPEANS ARE REVOLTING. The EU mechanism for trade with Iran (INSTEX) is now declared operational. Too little, too late? We’ll see. Berlin and Amsterdam reject Washington’s request to send ground troops to Syria but London and Paris do not.

UKRAINE. Definitely some rumblings in Year Six of the Revolution of Dignity. First we have money movement revelations: Kolomoisky and IMF money; the Bidens, father and son. A documentary including Katchanovski’s findings that the “heavenly hundred” were murdered by their own side wins a prize, but will it be quietly disappeared and never be seen? More Israelis notice: Israelis protesting arms sales to the nazi groups. Helmer discusses two interesting polls that show that Zelensky’s party is way in front, and the Galicians way behind, in the parliamentary elections ten days away and that the population is sick of the civil war and wants settlement. US poll in May, Dutch poll in June.

© Patrick Armstrong Analysis, Canada Russia Observer

D-DAY MORE DIFFICULT THAN YOU THINK

First published Strategic Culture Foundation.  (SCF’s first illustration was of one of the US beaches; at my request they changed it to a still from this film of the actual moment when A Company, North Shore (New Brunswick) Regiment landed on Juno Beach.)

Before I begin. No, D-Day was not the largest military operation of all times. No, D-Day was not the decisive battle of the war. No, the Western Allies did not defeat Hitlerism with minor help from the USSR. The largest military operation of all time was surely Operation Bagration which was planned in coordination with D-Day. The decisive battle – much argument there, so my personal opinion – was the Battle of Moscow in 1941 although David Glantz has persuasively argued that the German victory at Smolensk sealed their defeat. Either way, the only path to German victory was a quick one and that hope was gone by the end of 1941. (Hitler’s rant to Mannerheim is instructive.) 80% of nazi military casualties were on the Eastern front, the rest of us did for the other 20%. But D-Day was important. And much more difficult than my Russian interlocutors think it was. And it had to succeed the first time.

I sympathise with Russians (and the other former USSR nations) when they hear the puffing of D-Day and hyperbole calling it the decisive moment and so forth. It is true that the Soviet part of the war has been downplayed in Western popular thought. (But not always: vide this excellent and balanced piece, The month of two D-Days.) One reason is, of course, that each country plays up its own part (Canada being a conspicuous exception). Soviet accounts of the war were not much available in Western languages in the 1950s and 1960s. So we grew up reading about our guys and what they did and a host of German accounts which tended to promulgate what Dr Jonathon House has called the Three Alibis: Hitler didn’t listen to his generals, who knew Russia was so cold? the Soviets outnumbered us. My personal journey to understanding the 80-20 split began with Panzer Battles in which the author describes victory after victory, but always one river closer to Germany: clearly he’s leaving out something important. An account of a panzer-grenadier division which mentioned that only about one-tenth the trains that moved it in were needed to move it out a year later made me realise that German infantry casualties were ferocious. Chuikov’s book taught me that Stalingrad was just not a slog but that there was serious operational thinking behind it. Bit by bit I came to understand the size and complexity of Soviet operations: surely the largest and most complicated ever carried out. David Glantz taught me much. But most Westerners – who aren’t that interested – remain where I was at the age of 16 or so, Battle of Britain, Sink the Bismarck, Dambusters, D-Day, Battle of the Atlantic and the American equivalents. (Canadians have an almost boastful ignorance of what Canada did.)

Understandable, really. But irritating for Russians who feel their part is ignored. But their reaction can go too far in the other direction: D-Day was not some minor river crossing deferred until it was clear that the Germans were beaten. It was a very difficult and complicated operation, requiring an enormous amount of preparation and could not have been done sooner. The point of this essay is to explain all this.

I start by pointing out that the Western Allies did open several “Second Fronts” before June 1944.

  • North Africa. Fighting began here in 1940 and continued until the surrender of 270,000 Axis troops in 1943.
  • Italy. American, British and Canadian soldiers invaded Sicily in 1943, crossed onto the mainland and, joined by other nations, fought their way up Italy until the eventual German surrender in 1945.
  • Bombing. The Western Allies carried out an extensive bombing campaign over Germany. Very controversial in its effects but it certainly reduced German war production and tied up large resources in air defence.
  • Resistance in Occupied Europe, greatly assisted, armed and to a large extent directed by the Western Allies.

So, it is not true that the Western Allies did nothing before June 1944. (Again, I emphasise that all this is part of the 20%).

But, obviously, the invasion of France would be the main event. This essay discusses the planning process which began in earnest in March 1943. Here are some of the problems the planners had to take into account.

  • The English Channel. It is not a big river, it’s the Ocean. That means that it is accessible to submarines, aircraft carriers, battleships and other major combat ships. It has tides and serious storms. Rivers, even big ones, do not.

  • Atlantic Wall. The Germans knew that sooner or later the Western Allies would have to invade and, beginning in 1942, enormous efforts were made to create bunkers, obstacles, gun positions, beach obstacles and everything else human ingenuity could come up with. Defences were built even in Norway and I have seen bunkers in the very tip of Denmark. Previous Western Allied seaborne invasions – North Africa, Sicily and Italy – had been against almost undefended beaches. Attacking the Atlantic Wall was a different proposition.
  • The Funnies. When the infantry got ashore they would have to assault powerful defences with only the weapons they could carry. To give them more punch a family of specialised armoured vehicles was created. In particular, if tanks could landed first, the infantry would be greatly helped. This idea produced the DD tank: floating Sherman tanks. While in no beach they were the first things ashore, on four beaches they were a help: at Omaha Beach they were launched too far out and most foundered. Other specialised armoured vehicles were generally effective on the day; the AVREs and Sherman Crabs especially.
  • Harbour. The chosen site had no harbours. But the Allies had to put as many soldiers ashore on the first day as they could and follow them up with thousands more every day together with vehicles, ammunition, fuel and food in a continuous stream. Impossible over open beaches with small landing craft shuttling back and forth from the bigger ships offshore. A secure harbour was the sine qua non for an invasion. The disastrous Dieppe Raid of 1942 had shown that capturing an intact port was impossible. So here’s the dilemma: you can’t do it without a harbour but you can’t get a harbour. The solution was to bring the harbour with you: the “Mulberry”. This article describes them; note that it was only the autumn of 1943 that a prototype was successfully tested. The Mulberry harbour that survived the great storm of 19 June, “Port Winston”, landed 2.5 million men, 500,000 vehicles, and 4 million tons of supplies over the ten months it was used. This fact, alone, refutes the charge that the Western Allies could have invaded earlier if they had wanted to. Not without Mulberry; Mulberry wasn’t available until the winter of 1943; therefore no invasion before spring 1944. QED.
  • Resistance. French resistance activities had to be coordinated to the operation. This required much careful planning, supply and dangerous movement of people back and forth. Their activities played a significant part in isolating the landing areas.

  • Landing craft. D-Day involved nearly 4000 different kinds of landing craft. They were being built at the last moment: it was their shortage, once a five-division/five-beach assault had been agreed on, that forced the delay from the initial planning date of 1 May. The landing craft problem is another proof that the invasion could not have happened earlier.
  • Timing. The landing had to be early enough to allow activity in the fighting season. Therefore April, May or early June were the likely days. The attack could not be made as the tide was going out. The weather had to be acceptable. A full moon was desirable in order to help the air-dropped troops get to their blocking positions and take key bridges. The Germans could have figured this out which is why the deception plan was so important.

  • Deception. While the Atlantic Wall extended into Norway, no one seriously expected an invasion of Germany to start there. France, Belgium and the Netherlands was always the most likely. Again, the Germans knew that and that is where they put their strongest defences. Several locations were considered and the planners settled on Normandy because of its unconstrained space for the breakout. The Germans had to be convinced that the attack would come somewhere else and the planners hit on Calais, the closest place. A fake army under General Patton, whom the Germans respected as a hard-charger, was created. Lots of radio traffic, dummy guns and tanks to support the idea that Calais was the target and that any other attack was a diversion. For every bombing attack on a Normandy target, there were two on a Calais target. This deception tied down a number of German troops waiting for the “real” invasion. And, just to keep them guessing, other deceptions suggested Norway as a target and on the day, dummy paratroop assaults in other areas.
  • No failure possible. Failure could not happen: the blow to Allied morale and the lift to German morale of a Dieppe-style repulse would have been incalculable. If D-Day had failed, it would be at least another year before another attempt could be made and, in the meantime, the preferred invasion site would have been revealed to say nothing of much technology and deception. Stalin, feeling let down by the West again, might as he had done in 1939, make a separate deal with Hitler. There could be no second chance. And it was near-run enough: none of the first day objectives was taken and the advance was much slower than planned: German resistance in Normandy only collapsed in August when the Falaise Gap was closed by the First Canadian Army from the north and the US Third Army from the south.

    +++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

I hope I have convinced the reader, especially the Russian reader, that the D-Day operation was extraordinarily complicated. Not something to be thrown together on a whim. Many many problems had to be solved in order to deal with the multitude of difficulties of landing over 150,000 soldiers, 11,000 vehicles and 3000 guns on strongly defended beaches and then following up the first day with day after day of more landings of men and materiel. It had to succeed the first time.

It is not true that the Second Front was delayed until the Soviets were obviously winning or anything like that: it happened as soon as it could – any earlier attempt would have failed. Maybe it’s been over-hyped but it was a remarkable event and one to be proud of.

As I wrote elsewhere:

In a word, 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.

The Normandy Invasion and the campaign that followed were essential parts of that significant help.

I wish both sides would calm down and stop claiming either that D-Day won the war or that it was a very minor offstage event.

But that’s probably too much to hope for today.

TRUMP-PUTIN AFTER OSAKA

(Response to a question from Sputnik)

I’m not very optimistic. As everyone knows, Trump years ago said it would be better to get along with Russia than not. A perfectly reasonable point of view and not a thought that Roosevelt, Kennedy, Nixon or Reagan would have had much trouble with. But Clinton lost the “more than a 99% chance” election and “Russian interference” became her favourite excuse; the typists of the complaisant US media snapped to attention and repeated and repeated the charge, pumping the intensity of “Russian interference” to ever higher levels.

Mueller’s report has killed the collusion charge but the other half of the lie, Russian interference, remains.

Until a real investigation is completed and people are charged, convicted and sent to jail – we who been following events can name many of them – producing effects so indisputable that even the readers of the NYT and WaPo, the watchers of MSNBC and CNN, the last partisans in Congress, are speechless, the loudly shouted charge that Trump is Putin’s stooge will block genuinely improved relations.

So, until – if – that happens, I can’t expect much except minor improvements. Which are better than nothing but a good deal short of what is necessary between two powers either of which can obliterate us.

RUSSIAN FEDERATION SITREP 27 JUNE 2019

PUTIN DIRECT LINE. (Eng) (Rus) Deep in the weeds, this one: trash (apparently piling up since Soviet times), healthcare, maternity and child care issues, farming, corruption (declining said Putin, it’s the inevitability of punishment that matters), over-zealous inspectors, protecting Russia’s electronic/internet/cyberspace against attacks (several mentions of Washington’s attacks on Huawei), air routes, water supply. “Russia’s greatest problem” was to secure “higher labour efficiency”. Little on foreign issues other than that Putin & Co stand ready to talk (but I get the impression that they don’t expect they’ll get much chance to). Sanctions had led to substitution: “Look, if ten years ago I… had been told that we would be exporting agricultural products worth $25.7 billion, like we did last year, I would have laughed… ” Suppose Russia gives in? he doubted sanctions would ever stop – Huawei again. Why is he polite to those “slinging mud at us”? he was brought up that way and rudeness isn’t useful in negotiations. And we learned a reason why he does these things; “a direct line that is intended to bring the bottlenecks into focus and to find solutions to these problems”. A theme this year was how orders from the centre often aren’t fulfilled on the ground. He and the producers observed that “Problems end as soon as Direct Line starts”. I re-read one of his earlier ones (from 2002) and I would say that today’s concerns are smaller, they’re more about the uneven implementation of strategic plans or fine tuning some strategy than the need for big solutions for big problems. Which is a sign, of course, of how far things have improved since then. (In those days, Russia was finished.) See below.

STATISTICS. I saw these numbers the other day. Life expectancy steadily climbing. Meat consumption up. Murders down. All reasons why Russians generally believe that Putin & Co are getting the job done. (And, it should always be remembered, half of those who don’t like him, don’t because he hasn’t occupied Ukraine or bombed Tbilisi into obedience. Russian exceptionalists, so to speak.)

PEOPLE POWER. The Boss’ advice was taken: referendum, strong opposition discovered, church cancelled. But the Boss’ opinion should not have been sought. And, as we see every year in Direct Line, there are still too many people asking Batyushka to fix their roof.

FLOATING NPP. Approved for operation. It is to be towed to isolated places in the Russian north to provide power. Causing, no doubt, more blather like this or this about Russia taking over the Arctic.

FREEDOM OF NAVIGATION. Russia does its bit to ensure ships carrying goods through the Panama Canal can do so; it’s the principle of the thing. (Russian ship transits Panama Canal. Now in Cuba.).

MH17. More unsupported allegations from JIT (note that Bellingcat seems to be the source.) Malaysia PM Mahathir (correctly) remains sceptical: “Even before they examined the case, they have already claimed it was done by Russia“. As do I (the port air engine intake is an important clue). BTW, what happened to the last “conclusive proof” out of JIT… attentive people remember.

TRUE? FALSE? Who knows? it’s the NYT after all. “U.S. Escalates Online Attacks on Russia’s Power Grid“. Does that sound like a good idea to you? Anyway, it shows that pieces like this from 2017 were projection. All this provocation, baiting and risk because of… see below.

AMERICA-HYSTERICA. Not only did the FBI never examine the DNC’s servers but it never saw an un-redacted final copy of the Crowdstrike report accusing Russia of hacking them. It’s all assertion by interested parties. The interference meme is nonsense too – read this.

IRAN. I believe them when they say they will shut it down: they fought Iraq for eight years until they prevailed. Very dangerous indeed.

GEORGIA. The Interparliamentary Assembly on Orthodoxy meets in Tbilisi; the President, a Russian, gives a speech in Russian. This leads to riots. At the same time Washington and its minions are pushing for a Gay Pride march in a country where there isn’t much support for such things. Washington is apparently deeply concerned about this in Georgia but not elsewhere. I agree with Jatras that it sounds like an attempt at a coloured revolution: protesters with signs in foreign languages are hardly grassroots (Russian in Latin script!!??). Moscow has banned flights to Georgia and blocked Georgian airlines: this will hurt their tourism revenue. Remittances are a significant part of Georgia‘s economy and Russia is the largest source so blocking those may be next on the list. (Worked with Turkey, didn’t it?)

UKRAINE. Poroshenko’s new church is de-laminating in fights over money.

© Patrick Armstrong Analysis, Canada Russia Observer

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.)

Trump has criticized President Obama in foreign policy matters but refuses to say anything negative about Putin who he is clearly taking orders from in this Iran imbroglio. He is a comprised fool and a danger to our Nation.

I bet you Putin rang you and told you not too

 

Response to Trump tweets on why he didn’t attack Iran, 21 June 2019

A MONTH IN THE LIFE OF THE WORLD’S RICHEST MAN

First published Strategic Culture Foundation

Between one hundred billion and one hundred and sixty billion dollars. That’s a lot of moolah. Taking the lower number, that’s a line of thousand dollar bills half way to the Moon. Personal yacht? buy the latest Princess cruise ship, staff it, have it all to yourself forever and still have 99 billion or so to fool around with. A brand new Italian super car every day for ten years wouldn’t make much of a dent. You like to cruise? Reserve the Owner’s suite on every Princess cruise ship and have a private plane standing by 24/7 just in case. Hotels? Buy a couple in your favourite part of the world; permanently rent the Emperor’s Suite in a couple of dozen others. Put yourself into orbit on your private orbiter. Private planes? how about a double-decker Airbus? Only a billion for two. Private Caribbean island? Lots to choose from. Hire a bunch of healthy organ donors and a mobile hospital to follow you around. Anything. Build a new Great Pyramid, it’s chump change out of $100 billion. Endow a university chair to study your life and works. Fill Easter Island with giant statues of yourself. It would be impossible to spend that much in a human lifetime.

This, we are told, is the extent of Putin’s wealth.

In the book, “Russia’s Crony Capitalism: The Path from Market Economy to Kleptocracy,” Aslund estimates that through the practice of “crony capitalism,” Putin has amassed a net worth between $100 billion and $160 billion, which would make him richer than the officially wealthiest man in the world, Amazon owner Jeff Bezos.

(Love that “net” – sounds so precise.) Pfeh! says Browder: a measly one hundred – try two hundred billion! Nah! A trivial seventy billion says somebody else. Why not eleventy-seven squintillion? Net.

The origin of the “Putin is fabulously rich” story seems to have been this interview with Stanislav Belkovskiy (certainly he’s used as the source often enough.) Russia is about to collapse, nothing is working properly: agriculture, banking; all failing. But Putin & Co have trousered millions for the day when they will have to get out:

Putin knows that extremely destructive processes are going on that he simply can not control. Therefore, it is important for him to leave the game, as long as the explosion has not yet occurred. There will be no third term for him.

The acuity of this analysis is spoiled a bit by the fact that, twelve years later, Putin and Russia are still there. Belkovskiy turns out to be the cousin of Boris Berezovskiy which gives away his motivation. Boris Berezovskiy, by the way, was the chief anti-Putinist until he begged Putin to be allowed back in. Whereupon he committed suicide. They say.

And where, by the way, does Putin keep all the gelt?

Not a good idea to do it offshore, especially when you consider suggestions like “Why Exposing Putin’s Wealth Would Be Obama’s Best Revenge” or “Why not seize Putin’s assets?” or “US ready to target Russian president’s hidden $40bn stash“. But where inside? A gigantic bag of paper rubles will be worth nothing when Russia crashes. Gold? but gold is heavy and hard to move at the Last Moment. Title deeds? Gazprom shares? Same problem: if he’s squirrelling it away against the day the building collapses, it doesn’t make much sense to keep it in the building, does it?

But these are questions nobody asks.

Remember the Panama Papers? First they were about Putin; then when somebody noticed that the word “Putin” didn’t appear anywhere, they were by Putin. But bubbles keep bubbling. Leaked US diplomatic cables citing opposition sources (opposition sources are the gold standard of reliability, aren’t they?) NYT speculates away: “it [the Obama Administration] is sending a not-very-subtle message that it thinks it knows where the Russian leader has his money“. The Sun hit it out of the park in 2016: “many believe” “claimed” “claimed” “rumoured” “believe he could be” “alleged” “alleged” “said to be” “alleged”. How many tonnes of rumours equal one gram of fact?

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Let’s have a look at how the world’s wealthiest man spent his time in April 2019. English and Russian.

  • Monday 1 April: telephone conversations with three foreign leaders, meeting with a businessman
  • Tuesday 2 April: more phone calls, another businessman, congratulations
  • Wednesday 3 April: visit to a factory, birthday greetings, meeting with a foreign leader and discussions, press statement on same
  • Thursday 4 April: meetings with two foreign leaders, an opening ceremony, condolences
  • Friday 5 April: government committee meeting, more greetings
  • Saturday 6 April: no activity noted
  • Sunday 7 April: greetings and a phone call to a foreign official
  • Monday 8 April: more greetings, talks with foreign officials, press conference on same
  • Tuesday 9 April: greetings, meetings with several foreign leaders, attend international forum
  • Wednesday 10 April: more greetings, meeting with foreign leader, meeting with Russian official, meeting with government committee, church visit
  • Thursday 11 April: greetings, ceremony, government meeting
  • Friday 12 April: congratulations, factory visit, meeting with foreign businessman, gala event
  • Saturday 13 April: quiet day: just greetings to a judo tournament
  • Sunday 14 April: no activity noted.

In the rest of the month, nine government meetings, two phone calls to foreign leaders, eight meetings with foreign leaders or officials, five meetings with Russians, five international talks or forums, two trips inside Russia, three news conferences or interviews, one foreign trip and two ceremonies. Two days off, one of which was Easter when he went to church. And so on; the month before the same and the month after. Month after month.

Fun eh? Where’s the time to play with his yachts, visit his palaces, wind up his watch collection? The man works all the time. What’s the point of being the world’s richest man if you slave away in meeting after meeting, interviews, endless paperwork, strategy sessions, planning meetings, briefing notes, meeting preparations, debriefings? Doesn’t sound like some guy who’s trousered huge sums of money, does it? More like the hard-working president of his country.

But maybe the wealth is more of a concept, really. Navalniy, “Russia’s Last Opposition Hero“, helpfully suggests “The czar of corruption owns everything and nothing“. I guess that means Putin’s wealth is some figure between zero and infinity.

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

So, we’re supposed to believe that Putin has used his position to steal vast sums which he can safely hide neither at home nor abroad, sums of which he doesn’t spend a kopek because he’s too busy sending greetings to The Age of Archaeology: Discoveries, Goals, Perspectives International Forum, answering media questions about the latest meeting with the President of Turkey and holding meetings with the Russian Security Council. On his off days, he spends two hours standing in church.

But it’s all a GIGO circle: people with a grudge against Putin (Berezovskiy’s cousin, the inventor of the Magnitskiy fraud, Integrity Initiative trolls) tell the punters what they want to hear. There are lots of folk-tales about smart little guys tricking stupid giants (ATU 328 in fact); the giant, hearing what he wants to hear, believes it. Russia, they imagine, is a sort of mafia project of which Putin is the capo di tutti capi and dips his beak into every deal. After being told what they want to hear by people who want to tell them what they want to hear, they decide that sanctioning the underbosses will make them turn against Putin. And, with Washington’s customary expectation that changing the Boss will change the whole country, they do this. Over and over again.

And they never learn. Years of unbroken failure never seem to teach them anything. The sanctions aren’t working because the assumption is wrong. These are the very same people who promised a quick victory in Afghanistan, a quick victory in Iraq and are now promising a quick victory in Iran; their learning curve is absolutely flat.

As someone observed: the US bench (read NATO and the UK too) on Russia is very shallow. Their intelligence is lousy and their unbroken record of failure should teach them that.

But it doesn’t, they continue and people make money and serve their own ends by encouraging them to do so. Jack tricks the giant and gets a bag of gold. Two million quid in the case of Integrity Jack.

RUSSIAN FEDERATION SITREP 13 JUNE 2019

CORRUPTION. I haven’t written much on the subject lately not because corruption in Russia has stopped, but because I haven’t seen much to comment on. But there are some things this week that are worth reporting. An official has been charged with fraud: in essence taking money for something that wasn’t done. Another more complex case combines organised crime, officials, embezzlement on state projects and incomplete plea bargains made earlier by a defendant. The third case involves a traffic accident and the collusion of a forensic expert to get the guilty party off. Further investigation revealed the fake forensic report but the punishment of the expert appears to be trivial. Details are at Southfront. Probably the most interesting case is that of Ivan Golunov. a reporter specialising in corruption stories. He was arrested on drug charges on Friday; immediately his lawyer said the drugs were planted. On Saturday a court released him into house arrest. On Monday three newspapers came out in his support and the Interior Ministry said several different DNA signatures were on the drugs. On Tuesday the prosecution dropped the case, he was freed, the police who arrested him were suspended and an investigation into their conduct opened. Two senior police generals were fired today. Two things strike me: how quickly it happened, and the fact that the Interior Ministry swiftly produced evidence suggesting the drugs were planted. (RFE/RL amusingly spins it as if Putin had personally been behind every step until forced off by public pressure.) My conclusion from all this: plenty of fraud, embezzlement and police misbehaviour but also a system that is, at the very least, making it more difficult for the bad guys.

PUTIN POPULARITY. Also from RFE/RL is this: “Russians’ Trust In Putin Sinks To New Low“. The reference is to a May VtsIOM poll. But there were two questions: in the question of approval of institutions, “President of Russia” scored 65.8%; in the open question of which politician do you trust, “V.V. Putin” scored 31.7%. The Kremlin asked VtsIOM to explain how twice as many people could “approve” as “trust” and the answer was the difference between closed and open questions. I’m a bit confused myself (can there be anybody in Russia who doesn’t know that Putin is President?) but I don’t think that Putin & Co have much to worry about. (And the poll showed that his pedestal party was still well in front. Contrary to what you’d think if you believed the Western media, as customary, the KPRF is second and Zhirinovskiy third; Navalniy is lumped in with the pack sharing 10% support).

SPIEF. Just wrapped up; each year’s bigger than the last. 19 thousand participants from 145 countries, 650 agreements worth 3.1 trillion rubles ($48 billion).

RUSSIA/CHINA. Putin and Xi spent quite a lot of time together: Putin: “truly comprehensive partnership and strategic interaction”; Xi: “high level of bilateral relations and close strategic cooperation”. Putin’s spokesman says it would be wrong to think they were “coordinating efforts” against Washington. Well… not perhaps in exactly those words: maybe they’re just making plans, or taking action.

DOLLAR. “International financial organisations need to adapt and reconsider the role of the dollar, which, as a global reserve currency, has now become an instrument of pressure exerted by the issuing country on the rest of the world.” Said Putin at SPIEF, after much talk with Xi Jinpeng. Neither engages in empty talk or boasting: I think they’re ready to roll. Once Washington started using SWIFT as a weapon it stopped being convenient.

D DAY. Rather curious guest list but this is the rationale. Russia (and other former USSRs) not invited; sets off usual fuss. But two balanced Western takes: AFP and New Statesman. This interesting set of polls show that the Russians do have some reason to feel neuralgic. I will have something soon on SCF arguing that many Russians underestimate the importance of D Day even if Westerners over-hype it. It was an essential part of the 20%.

NUGGETS FROM THE STUPIDITY MINE. “How British spies smuggled secrets about Putin’s new supersonic bomber out of country…” Yeah, sure; then they boasted to the DM. Sounds like the sort of story the Integrity-Challenged Initiative would invent thinking it was a wizard jape.

EUROPEANS ARE REVOLTING. According to a Spanish newspaper, Washington is demanding closer integration in weapons manufacturing between the USA and Europe. American LNG is now “freedom gas“, almost twice the price of Russian gas (but, as we all know “freedom isn’t free”:) And Ankara has until 31 Jul to drop the S400 purchase or no F35s (a threat or a promise? Latest F35 catastrophe). Erdoğan remains defiant. Trump mulls sanctions over NordStream 2. “From now on, the US will put might over market” and Europe may have to choose between the two.

© Patrick Armstrong Analysis, Canada Russia Observer

VICTORY DAY

First published Strategic Culture Foundation under the title “Why Russia’s Victory Day Was Crucial for the Survival of ‘European Values'”

This is the Last Post ceremony at the Menin Gate in Belgium on 18 April 2018. It has been performed every night since 1928 except during the German occupation. What you see above is, as I calculate, the 31,237th performance; at the moment of writing, it has happened another 401 times and will again tomorrow night. Through this gate – much rebuilt – passed the majority of British Empire soldiers in the First World War. Including my Great-Uncle Roland Lines (killed in 1916) and my wife’s Grandfather John Thompson who made it all the way through.

Battle of Britain Day is commemorated with flypasts and solemn ceremonies. In the USA Memorial Day honors veterans and military graves are tidied and decorated. For decades there has been a standing guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington Cemetery. Remembrance Day, celebrated throughout the Commonwealth (and even in Moscow once) attracts ever-larger crowds in Ottawa. In 2000 an unidentified body was recovered from one of the Canadian grave sites around Vimy Ridge and interred in a sarcophagus at the National War Memorial in Ottawa with a huge crowd watching. Since 1945, the Netherlands has sent Ottawa tens of thousands of tulip bulbs in thanks for liberation by the Canadian Army. Since 1947 Oslo has sent a giant Christmas tree for Trafalgar Square. D-Day commemorations are larger every year. The Juno Beach Centre was opened in 2003 – 59 years after the event. The Normandy American Cemetery Visitor Center was opened four years later.

We shall remember them“. People do remember: in different ways, at different times. Tim Cook describes how the memory of the Canadian Corps victory at Vimy Ridge has waxed and waned over the years until today it eclipses everything else.

It’s true that governments have different motives for emphasising this or that, but, if the people do not follow, the memorials fall flat. And traditions grow: in Canada placing one’s poppy – the World War One symbol throughout the Commonwealthon the Grave appears to have developed spontaneously. All these varied ceremonies, retrospective memorials, changing attitudes go on in many countries without the accompaniment of snarky op-ed writers babbling about ostentation, legitimise, ominous nostalgia, personality cults, military muscle, rattling swords or perpetuating a war mystique to shore up failing popularity.

Except about Russia.

Of course, not, never, not about Russia.

Victory Day – 9 May in Russia because of time zones rather than the 8 May VE-Day celebrated by the Western Allies. Here is a video of the real thing and here is a re-enactment.

Some numbers. There is a rough agreement that 80% of the German and German allied military casualties occurred on the Soviet front; the rest of us – UK, USA, Canada, Australia, India, South Africa, New Zealand and all the European resistance movements – accounting for the other 20%. In the process, according to the latest numbers, 27 million Soviet citizens died.

A political officer polled his rifle battalion in January 1945 and found that 208 of the 300 soldiers had had a family member killed by the Germans; I doubt that any of the American, British or Canadian battalions attacking on D-Day would have found the same. Soviet soldiers who made it from Moscow to Berlin – and I actually met one once – spent months fighting through the total destruction of their homeland. Anglosphere wars are usually fought offstage: we have no idea. For the Soviets some numbers of the destruction — estimates, of course. Sacred War has become the anthem, and Russian audiences stand and uncover when they hear it. Other countries have other songs, but for Russia the Second World War was the slaughterhouse.

For us the slaughterhouse was 1914-1918 when about 60,000 Canadians were killed (population then about eight million). Gregory Clark’s father told him and his brother to walk down the back alley because, of all the sons on that street, they were the only ones still alive. (And it irritates me that most Canadians have never heard of Canada’s Hundred Days or know what 8 August means.) 1939-1945 killed about 40,000 Canadians (population about eleven million) so, naturally, the Eleventh Hour of the Eleventh Day of the Eleventh Month is more sacred to us than 7/8 May.

These are sacred dates. Were the wars “worth it”? Who can say? Alternative history is not convincing. What happened, happened. But the suffering and sacrifice is worthy of honour and remembrance.

But, even so, who would dare say that the defeat of Hitlerism was not a “sacred war”? Only “self-hating Russians” as Paul Robinson puts it: “the self-hating Russian has to deny anything positive about Russian history as well.”

In a word, 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.

So, Masha Gessen, lose your snark: it is your Grandmother’s day: I know that you’re paid to believe what you believe to be paid but there’s a reality out there and without Zhukov and the rest of them (Stalin too) you wouldn’t have been alive to leave the USSR in 1981. Self-hating.

Wars are terrible. People are killed by mistakes, corruption, incompetence, accident, random events. Bravery and self-sacrifice too. Higher ups decide that this regiment has to make a diversionary attack; hundreds killed. Somebody isn’t paying attention, reads the map wrong, looks in the wrong direction; hundreds killed. It’s never a contest between the Archangel Michael and Satan: it’s only humans. But all this has to be commemorated and respected: people – your people – suffered and died to make the future you live in.

Yes, the history of Victory Day in the USSR/Russia has varied, is malleable and has been re-purposed to fit The Story Of The Moment. There was a big celebration in June 1945Zhukov on a horse, Nazi banners. But Stalin didn’t like to share the limelight and Zhukov got a bit too big and the celebration faded away. Victory Day began to re-appear in 1965 and grew until 1985. It suffered in the general decline until its reappearance in 1995 – the fiftieth anniversary – brought it back. It has now subsumed the May Day military parade and is the Big Day of modern Russia.

But Russia/USSR is not alone in redesigning the past: why would Canada wait 80 years to decide it needed a Tomb of the Unknown Soldier killed in a battle in 1917; why would Americans decide six decades later that D-Day needed a commemorative museum? It’s complicated, it’s involved: there is no easy answer. People don’t forget but they do need to be reminded and governments think they will gain some advantage from reminding them. So in the West, so in Russia.

So, yes. Putin, or somebody in his apparat, may very well have said we need a big military parade on Victory Day (which we’re going to turn into a Really Big Event) because NATO is expanding, Washington and the EU are sanctioning, and the united voice of the Western MSM is accusing and we need support. Time to

  • push the Great Patriotic War
  • which we won
  • and show that today we have lots of pretty effective weaponry
  • in case somebody tries to do it again.

But if the population doesn’t go along with it it falls flat. I mentioned the poppies on the Grave in Canada as a sign that, whatever cynical motives you may ascribe to governments, the population either responds and makes it real, or does not and exposes it as fake.

Back to Russia: the Immortal regiment. A spontaneous development that shows the Western commentariat’s smirking scorn to be “a tinkling cymbal“. Begun in Tomsk in 2011, the idea was that ordinary people, bearing portraits of ancestors who endured the war, should march after the official parade. The notion has spread throughout Russia and around the world. There is nothing to suggest it won’t get bigger. And why not? What would the world look like without their their 80% and our 20%? Read RFE/RL’s snarky and ignorant take; after that, to cleanse your palate, read Gilbert Doctorow’s respectful and understanding take.

They died so that we might live.

Oh, and speaking of “European values”; without the Soviets (80%) and the Anglosphere (20%), today’s “European values” would have a lot more leather and straight-armed salutes than they do today, wouldn’t they?