RUSSIAN FEDERATION SITREP 17 MAY 2018

PUTIN’S PRIORITIES. For those who think Putin dreams every night of conquering Estonia or re-creating the Empire, here’s his actual todo list: population growth; life expectancy; real wage growth; reduce poverty; housing; technology; economic growth; high-productivity export-oriented businesses. What Moscow wants is a quiet life to get on with making things better in Russia for Russians.

FOREIGN POLICY PRIORITIES. There is a certain amount of talk that Russia has “betrayed” Syria (or Donbass) or “backed down” or something. Apparently it should have turned on its military power and kept it going full throttle until victory. I believe this greatly oversimplifies reality; even childishly so. Moscow’s most important foreign policy priority is the preservation of Russia. In the face of Washington’s multi-faceted war against it, this is no easy task. While Russia is doing pretty well, one cannot forget the reality that Washington and its minions, while fading, still possess immense destructive military, financial and economic power. Therefore, prudence is essential. A direct shooting war would be disastrous for all; something that Moscow has little confidence that Washington understands. Moscow works to strengthen the multilateral system partly for its own sake (it knows the cost of “exceptionalism”) and partly as a countermove to Washington’s schemes. Moscow believes that the US in its self-appointed role as “upholder and defender of the liberal world order” aka “rules-based order” has an inbuilt tendency to produce chaos and destruction. It has come to this point of view by observation, not because it’s innately “hostile” or “predatory” or “malign”. It didn’t start out that way; here’s a reminder of what Putin once expected from the USA. This entails a continual effort to balance competing powers – not too much of this, not too much of that – in order to preserve a tenuous peace (we see this especially in the Middle East today). The Soviets had an concept: “the correlation of forces” – the attempt to take everything that could affect an outcome into consideration; you may be sure that Putin’s team is continually assessing it. To remind you of what he sees as his job: “I’m not your friend, I’m the President of Russia“.

CHURCH RESTORATION. When I was in Russia 20 years ago churches were being renovated everywhere. This shows some of the more dramatic restorations.

VICTORY DAY. Red Square parade. Immortal Regiment in Moscow, St Petersburg, Sevastopol, Surgut,

KERCH BRIDGE. Putin formally opened the road part. The “country that doesn’t make anything” has completed the longest bridge in Europe in two years. Newsweek, NYT and the Atlantic Council assure us it will fail and some random neocon wants Kiev to destroy it. Moscow has already thought of that.

SOCHI. Remember all that stuff about wasted money? It was always about more than the Olympic complex itself – the ski resort is doing well.

MEDITERRANEAN. Always, Putin says, there will be Kalibrs there. Newton’s Third Law.

PUTIN’S NEW WHEELS. Revealed at his inauguration last Monday. There will be other high-end luxury models. I can see them selling: twenty years of unrelenting hostility has (surprise!) made Russians more patriotic and it may become a fad for the rich to ditch their Mercs for “patriotic” cars.

AMERICA-HYSTERICA. Mueller’s grand indictment of miscellaneous Russian entities for interference (probably actually a commercial marketing scheme) was flimflam designed to keep the story going and he surely never expected to have to prove it. Well he has to: the catering company has produced lawyers and is demanding its day in court. And discovery. This should be a good laugh. Flynn’s sentencing for “lying” has been again postponed. And his Manafort case isn’t going well either. There’s no there there.

NEW NWO. Trump walks out of the JCPOA, scorning Europe’s pleas. Sanctions will follow and Washington will demand compliance from Europe (“secondary sanctions“). Will Europe knuckle under? Juncker, Merkel and Tusk talk tough but always before tough talk has preceded obedience: Washington’s sanctions on Russia have cost Europe a lot but it still dutifully signs up for more. But maybe (maybe) Washington has gone too far this time: we have a report that sanctions will be defied and US court rulings will be ignored. Brzezinski observed that for American global dominance “the most dangerous scenario” would be a grand “antihegemonic” coalition of Russia, China and Iran. He was confident it could be averted by a “a display of US geostrategic skill”. (!) His head would explode imagining a Russia-EU-China-Iran coalition.

© Patrick Armstrong Analysis, Canada Russia Observer

NO, YOUR INTELLIGENCE IS ACTUALLY BAD. VERY BAD.

First published https://www.strategic-culture.org/news/2018/05/02/no-your-intelligence-is-actually-bad-very-bad.html

Picked up by https://russia-insider.com/en/us-thinks-it-knows-russia-keeps-getting-surprised-it/ri23357

JRL 2018-#79/4

About a year ago, one Evelyn Farkas boasted “we have good intelligence on Russia…“. She was an important functionary on Russian matters in the Obama Administration and was, therefore, much involved in “intelligence on Russia”. My immediate reaction when I read it was: No, you do not have good intelligence on Russia; if you did, you wouldn’t be surprised all the time and your boss wouldn’t be saying such silly things. In March 2015 I enumerated some of the delusions. Vide this famous quotation from a 2014 interview:

But I do think it’s important to keep perspective. Russia doesn’t make anything. Immigrants aren’t rushing to Moscow in search of opportunity. The life expectancy of the Russian male is around 60 years old. The population is shrinking. And so we have to respond with resolve in what are effectively regional challenges that Russia presents.

Obama was surely repeating what Farkas and others told him. Wrong on all three counts: Russia makes many things; it is the second immigrant destination on the planet; and its life expectancy and population are growing. This was not hermetic knowledge, available only to the Illuminati; these facts were easily discovered by any competent intelligence agency. That is not good intelligence. He liked to tell us that “Russia is isolated” or that “its economy [is] in tatters.” Wrong again.

The Duke of Wellington once observed:

All the business of war, and indeed all the business of life, is to endeavour to find out what you don’t know by what you do; that’s what I called ‘guessing what was at the other side of the hill.’

That is a concise description of intelligence. When done right, intelligence minimises surprise: it gives an idea of what is on the other side so that when it does come over the hill, you’re prepared. You can imagine anything you like, of course, but when it does come over the hill, you find out. Which made it all the more amusing to watch Obama when it did come over the hill: by two years later reality was making him admit that Russia was no declining regional challenge but

an important country. It is a military superpower. It has influence in the region and it has influence around the world. And in order for us to solve many big problems around the world, it is in our interest to work with Russia and obtain their cooperation.

Today Obama’s political party thinks Russia so powerful that it is suing it because “Russia launched an all-out assault on our democracy, and it found a willing and active partner in Donald Trump’s campaign.” Deep persistent ignorance: the opposite of “good intelligence”.

Washington was not prepared for Russia’s action in Crimea. It was so sure that it had the naval base there that the US Navy was soliciting bids on a real estate development in Sevastopol. But really… who thought that Moscow would acquiesce to the snatching of a territory that had been part of Russia before the USA existed and a part of the Byzantine-Russian space half a millennium before Columbus? Moscow moved and moved quickly and Washington was left inventing humanitarian crises in Crimea. Intentions and capabilities: the very stuff of intelligence. Both wrong.

Nor did they learn from their mistakes: Moscow had moved quickly after Saakashvili attacked South Ossetia and again Washington had had to explain it away with silly theories that Russia tricked him into attacking. Better intelligence would have considered that Moscow might react to its soldiers being killed and might have the capability to do so. Intentions and capabilities again.

In 2015 I speculated on the reasons why Moscow ran rings around Washington all the time:

So it’s not that complicated: competency, attention to first principles, reality, planning, consistency of purpose and unity of execution beats incompetency, interfering in everything everywhere, illusion, sloppy assumptions, confusion and disunity.

Syria was the next to show that American intelligence hadn’t seen over the hill. Some of the surprises.

  1. Relatively insignificant boats in the Caspian Sea with a thousand kilometre punch.
  2. The high sortie rate of Russian aircraft.
  3. “Dumb bombs” turned into “smart bombs”.
  4. Russian EW capabilities.
  5. The S-300/400/500 series, a major off-stage frightener.
  6. Impressive stunts like the “White Swan” strike from the Kola Peninsula, or the Kalibr cruise missile strikes from the super-silent Varshavyanka submarines were another unexpected display of capability.
  7. And, of course, the speed and decisiveness with which Moscow moved.

And the surprises keep coming. Whether the Syrian air defence (with, no doubt, Russian help) really did shoot down 70% of the missiles in the latest FUKUS strike as the Russian MoD claims, there is no doubt that FUKUS is hiding something (unless you believe their absurd claim that 76 missiles hit this site). An American general complains that

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.

Another surprise from the country “that doesn’t make anything”. Today the US Defense Secretary talks of “the erosion of U.S. military advantage in relation to China and Russia.

So, in short, bad intelligence. Wrong on the significance of Russia; wrong on its capability; wrong on its determination; wrong on its military sophistication. Wrong too on the effect of sanctions.

‘It seems that the people working on this lost their way a bit,’ said a former Treasury official who was involved in drafting the sanctions imposed in the wake of Moscow’s annexation of Crimea. ‘The bottom line is that the US government has a very shallow bench on Russia. And so they end up acting more-or-less at random.’

“Shallow bench”? More of an echo chamber in which people at the top expect to hear what they want to hear and are told it; reinforced by a news media full of people paid to believe what they believe to be paid. The only challenge to this bubble of complacent idiocy is the difficulty of inventing excuses for failure: Putin tricked Saakashvili, Ukraine would be rich if Putin hadn’t “invaded”, Crimeans are suffering, Russia’s not really fighting ISIS, Putin hacked our elections, the Russian economy trembles, Putin is about to fall (here’s the latest in the long series).

We do know what we’re doing; tomorrow will prove us right; we’ll shout louder.

All this would be harmless and amusing if it were about Ruritania and the Duchy of Strackenz. But this complacent bubble of idiocy directs and informs the behaviour of the “world’s indispensable power” in its undeclared war against a power with enough nuclear weapons to obliterate it.

Victory Day 1995

19950509

 

As it was the fiftieth it was a big deal. We sent a pipe band and it, a Russian band and an American (USAF?) band all set up shop on Tverskaya near the Dolgorukiy statue and played in turn. A battle of the bands. I need hardly say who won and got the most attention.

COMMENTS FROM THE LOCKED WARD

The fact is the the Crimea is a part of Ukraine and has been occupied by the Red Army. The Red Army is also occupying a part of easter Ukraine. Russia is also increasing its military/Naval activity in the Baltic and along the borders of eastern European and Scadinavia. The current Russian government is not a friend of the free world and its activity must be countered.

Comrade Putin is an unreformed KGB thug who has hijacked the Russian government.

Comment on a report that the US will increase its navy as (and I quote an Admiral): “a dynamic response to the dynamic security environment… the Atlantic Ocean is as dynamic a theater as any…”.

Couldn’t get much more dynamic than that, I say.

Gotta stop the Red Army led by that commie Putin.

RUSSIAN FEDERATION SITREP 3 MAY 2018

MILITARY SPENDING. SIPRI says that Russia’s defence budget has been cut by 20%, the first decrease since 1998. The reason, I believe, is not the “economic problems” they suggest (always exaggerated by Western sources) but that the very big post-Soviet lag has been overcome. Modernisation and development certainly hasn’t stopped: here are the latest AD improvements. By the way, Russia seems to be the only country in the world that has cut spending.

TECHNOLOGY. The Akademik Lomonosov, a floating nuclear power plant, has left St Petersburg for Murmansk where it will be fuelled. This is not the very first floating NPP, but it is by far the biggest. It will move to Kamchatka and provide power to settlements there. There will likely be more of them built.

SANCTIONS. Anti-Russia sanctions are partly based on the absurd assumption that Putin is a sort of criminal-in-chief surrounded by lesser criminals and if these lesser criminals can be hurt enough by sanctions, they will overthrow him. And so the attack on Oleg Deripaska and his Rusal company. Which is the second-largest aluminum producer in the world. With a lot of customers who won’t be happy if it’s driven out of business. Bloomberg is scornful: “a lack of expertise”. Two things are happening: Deripaska is trying to sell some of the company and Washington has backed off a bit. So far Moscow hasn’t reacted to the latest sanctions which, it should be clear, are hostile acts that have nothing to do with the ostensible reasons: Moscow is really being punished because it resists. Moscow did not interfere in the US election (and if it had, Clinton would have been the one: it had bought her once, why not again?); the Minsk agreement doesn’t even mention Russia and no one in the West cares what really happened in Crimea. I expect that, as usual, Moscow’s reaction, when it comes, will surprise the West. John Helmer suggests EW in Syria. And when is Europe going to react to the fact that the anti-Russian sanctions hurt them more than either Russia or the USA? Some murmurings in Germany, but we’ve heard them before and they eventually knuckle down. But, given the unending torrent of anti-Trump propaganda, it may become more acceptable to question Washington’s diktat. And, if Washington does pull out of the Iran agreement, the split could become very wide. Moscow may be waiting to see what happens then and tailor its response to widen the gap.

TELEGRAM STUPIDITY. Just gets worse and worse. And it’s not working.

WADA YA KNOW. The sole source of the doping accusation backtracks. But that’s OK: the purpose of propaganda is to leave a bad impression when the details have been forgotten.

PROBLEMS WITH THE NARRATIVE. Russia says it has a complete Tomahawk and that only 22/105 missiles hit anything, Pentagon denies. Russia brings the actual victims of the so-called CW attack to the Hague, FUKUS covers their eyes and ears.

SKRIPALS. Not news any more. Believing the government story requires an enormous amount of doublethink. Murray believes there’s a connection to Steele, Orbis and the Dossier. Oh: it’s apparently OK to leave this incredibly dangerous stuff around for 51 days before cleaning it up. Wearing your full protective suits. Well, some of you wearing them. Still more doublethink and crimestop required.

ARMENIA. What appears to be a colour revolution triggered by the long-time President’s re-treading himself as Prime Minister continues. And you can’t have a “peaceful” colour revolution without a little mysterious gunfire. Unlikely to have a happy ending for anybody in Armenia.

AMERICA-HYSTERICA. Do you think the Democrats are going to win the mid-term elections on a platform of “Because Putin stole the last election from us, you owe us this one“?

PUTIN DERANGEMENT SYNDROME. Metastasises: “Exposed: Russian Twitter bots tried to swing general election for Jeremy Corbyn“.

NEW NWO. “the erosion of U.S. military advantage in relation to China and Russia.” US Defense Secretary. Not very PNAC, is it? And, in Yalta, the International Economic Forum attended by people from 71 countries (last year 26 countries, the year before 13.) A somewhat larger chunk of the “international community” that we hear so much of from FUKUS and friends, isn’t it?

UKRAINE. The first US Javelin MAWs have been delivered. I don’t expect them to make a battlefield difference (Russia is not actually attacking Ukraine with armoured formations) but it may encourage Kiev to think it has the green light to attack (it will be another defeat for Kiev). And morale is terrible – at least 554 suicides since the start of the war. (8.4K WIA and 3.7K KIA).

© Patrick Armstrong Analysis, Canada Russia Observer

THOUGHTS ON KOREA

(Response to a question from Sputnik. https://sputniknews.com/analysis/201804301064040839-kim-north-south-korea-summit/)

I have long thought that the solution in Korea is what the Chinese call the “dual suspension”: the north gives up its nuclear weapons and the south agrees to stop the annual threatening exercises with the USA. Kim remembers the horrors visited on North Korea by the USA in his grandfather’s time and has little trust in Washington. Especially after the destruction of Libya.

But, getting from here to there will take a lot of careful testing of intentions and actions. Yesterday’s announcement suggests a step towards “dual suspension” in this sentence: “South and North Korea agreed to carry out disarmament in a phased manner, as military tension is alleviated and substantial progress is made in military confidence-building.” But a seven-decade situation will take a long time to end.

The real question is what will Washington do? The last agreement in 1994 – a type of “dual suspension” – was broken by Washington; Washington is what Pyongyang really fears. Will Washington step back and let the locals solve the problem?

Reading his inaugural speech, one would expect Trump to want to get out. But who can say? Washington is, as the Russians say, not-capable-of-agreement-with (недоговороспособниы). One President says no to NATO expansion; the next says expand. Korean agreements are passed by presidents, blocked by Congress. UN resolutions are used as licences to kill. One says deal with Iran, the next says no deal. Syrian ceasefires are negotiated by State and cancelled by the Pentagon. The present one says time to get out of Syria and a week later attacks Syria. Impossible to predict; impossible to trust; impossible to agree with.

That’s the problem. I believe that the two principals and their immediate neighbours could work their way to a solution over time; Washington is the unpredictable part.

RUSSIAN FEDERATION SITREP 19 APRIL 2018

MISSILE STRIKE. Pentagon briefing. Russian MoD briefing (Google trans). You decide.

CRIMETHINKING. If you doubt FUKUS’ word that 76 missiles hit this site (here’s just one missile), you’re a Russian troll. If you don’t believe the Russians Swiffered Douma clean, you’re a Russian troll. If you think England will not win, you’re probably a Russian troll. We trolls can read Fisk, a German and an American reporting from the spot. In a previous universe we were told by Janes, no less, that ISIS had used CW at least 52 times in Iraq and Syria. Have they jumped the shark at last?

PROBABLY SIGNIFICANT. A commentator on China’s English language TV takes on the FUKUS story. “China and Russia have since decided to draw a red line to prevent the abuse of UN resolutions.”

TRUMP AND RUSSIA. From the WaPo: “Trump, a reluctant hawk, has battled his top aides on Russia and lost“. The story of the diplomatic expulsions is especially interesting.

AMERICA-HYSTERICA. The US House of Representatives Intelligence Committee ends the probe: “We have found no evidence of collusion, coordination, or conspiracy between the Trump campaign and the Russians.” Although it still believes in “Russian cyberattacks on U.S. political institutions in 2015-2016 and their use of social media to sow discord”. Mueller, on the other hand, wanders ever farther from Russia. The first part of the IG report (covering McCabe’s firing) is out.

SOCIAL MEDIA. Telegram is a Russian messaging app that has a certain popularity. The security organs want to be able to break in at will, claiming that terrorists use it. The owners of the app have refused. On the 13th a court ordered the app blocked. And it was; but so clumsily that there were many unexpected downstream effects. The story is detailed here. Encouraging, I suppose, because it shows that it’s much harder to control these things from outside than the authorities think it is.

RUSSIA-EGYPT. Russia has resumed direct flights to Cairo which means the Russian authorities believe security is OK. Egypt was a big tourist destination for Russians, we’ll see if it gets the business back; to some extent Crimea and Sochi compete as sunny places at home.

RUSSIA AND THE WEST. Vladislav Surkov says Russia’s long attempt to become part of the West is over. Paul Robinson discusses. Certainly since Peter there have been attempts to Westernise and an on and off debate over the issue. Personally, I do not regard Russia as “European” – a sibling so to speak, but not the same thing. One day I will set out my argument; for those who know Toynbee, it’s a variation on his discussion of why British is part of European society and not an independent entity. I remember years ago thinking that to older Russians NATO expansion was a continuation of an enemy alliance but to younger ones it was a door slammed in their faces. It is worth reflecting that in the recent presidential election pro-Westernisation candidates altogether got less than 5%. The dream is certainly tarnished.

CHUTZPAH. Rolls-Royce wants to supply the engines for the new Russian-Chinese passenger plane. Germany wants to re-build Syria.

POKING THE BEAR. STRATCOM commander says Russia and China are operating hypersonic missiles and that US nuclear weapons are “operating beyond their designed service life”. NORAD commander says Russia has “advanced cruise missiles capable of holding targets within North America at risk from distances not previously seen.” You wonder whether any of these guys ever wish they could put the clock back: lots of us warned then that Russia’s often down, but it’s never out.

NEW NWO. Hamid Karzai said only Russia could help Afghanistan and the USA has “been killing us for17 years”. Now I don’t quote him because I think that his opinion is golden but that a man, who many would regard as pretty much Washington’s puppet, is saying these things shows how Washington’s status and power is slipping. Countries – Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Philippines to name three – are looking around for alternatives. The two Koreas might be about to solve their own problems. Speaking of which, this former Turkish general sees the S-400 as protection against the USA (as I said here).

PUTIN DERANGEMENT SYNDROME. “Putin hacks British homes: Russian cyber agents set to cripple laptops, phones and ‘critical’ infrastructure after secretly accessing millions of computers“. But it’s not selling: the best rated comment by 10 to 1 is “Would you stop with this fake news please? No one can take it anymore.” The others are equally scornful.

© Patrick Armstrong Analysis, Canada Russia Observer

WHY MOSCOW’S FOREIGN PHILOSOPHY IS “WESTPHALIAN”

First published at https://www.strategic-culture.org/news/2018/04/02/why-moscow-foreign-philosophy-is-westphalian.html
These days there are two styles of foreign policy being practised; Paul Robinson here describes them: one is a “a traditional, Westphalian, order in which states are equal sovereign entities”. In the other style, there are said to be two kinds of states: “the just and the unjust”; they are not “legally or morally equal”. Others have called the second “idealism” or “moral diplomacy”. There is a continuous tradition of the USA regarding itself as quite a new category of country as recounted here and so the moralistic stance is sometimes called “Wilsonian” after the President who wished to “teach the South American republics to elect good men” but it’s quite bipartisan: witness the “Roosevelt Corollary” in which Theodore Roosevelt arrogated to the United States of America, as a “civilised country”, the right to intervene “in flagrant cases of such wrongdoing or impotence”. Neither of these approaches is new: there have always been countries that have believed that their gods gave them the mission of instructing and disciplining their neighbours and there have always been countries that were content to leave others alone.

The moralistic position is erected on the assumption that the speaker’s country is virtuous; that its virtue is evident and demonstrable: that its virtue is a fact. The lack of virtue of the other country is also a fact. Some countries are virtuous and others are not and the virtuous ones are permitted to do things the others can’t. Not assumption but reality; not hope but realisation; not relative but absolute; not subjective but objective. Stated that baldly, one wonders how any adult can believe such a thing. But they do. And with straight faces too:

Our children need to know that they – the citizens of the exceptional country, the most powerful, good and noble country in the history of mankind.

Most of all, America is indispensible — and exceptional — because of our values… The world looks to us to stand up for human rights, LGBT rights, religious and ethnic minorities, women, people with disabilities and people everywhere who yearn for peace. We challenge ourselves and other nations to do better.

How fortunate that the best and noblest country in human history is also the most powerful! The United States is the current headquarters of the notion that some (or is it only one?) countries are “exceptional” and operate under different, but higher, standards than mere ordinary ones. In the last couple of decades the idea has spread throughout the Western world generally via, as Robinson observes, the (self-awarded) distinction of “those who respect and those who don’t respect human rights“. The West, it need hardly be said, considers itself to be a respecter.

So some of us are morally elevated and the rest of us are not. Those who aren’t should look to their defences: it’s bad for one’s life expectancy to be on the defaulters’ list as Slobodan Milosevich, Saddam Hussein and Muammar Qaddafi can attest. It is striking how often this moral superiority is expressed by sanctions and bombing rather than by example, but the morally exceptional can do such things because they are morally exceptional. And, when Milosevic is exonerated, the WMD that was the pretext for Saddam’s overthrow isn’t there and it’s discovered that Qaddafi wasn’t “bombing his own people”, moral purity lets the exceptionalists shrug it off and move on; children die, but in a good cause. Exceptionalists bomb hospitals by mistake; the others do it on purpose.

The “idealistic” camp is led by Washington, while Moscow has come to be the chief spokesman for the “realistic” camp. Practically every speech Putin makes on foreign affairs has an appeal to “multilateralism” or to Robinson’s “traditional, Westphalian, order in which states are equal sovereign entities”. Here he is in an interview in 2000, but many many times since:

The world cannot develop effectively and positively if one state has a monopoly on taking and implementing whatever decisions it wants… In the history of mankind, such a drive for a monopoly has never ended well. For that reason, we are constantly proposing a different democratic world structure.

There are several reasons why Putin (and Yeltsin before him) calls for the primacy of the United Nations in a multilateral world system. Two are obviously self-serving: Russia is a permanent member of the UNSC and, second, it fears that it’s on the Exceptionalist hit list. And, given the predominance of “human rights violations” as justifications for “humanitarian interventions”, the annual condemnatory US State Department human rights report shows it has reason to fear.

But there is another reason why Moscow is dedicated to “a traditional, Westphalian, order in which states are equal sovereign entities”. And it’s one that’s easy to forget:

The USSR spent 70 years pushing an “exceptionalist” foreign policy and it was a bust.

The USSR, as the “world’s first socialist state” was the standard-bearer for the “bright future of mankind”, a novus ordo seculorum, even a new type of human – “новый советский человек“. It was the exceptional country, it was the “most good and noble country in the history of mankind”, it was the leader of “people everywhere who yearn for peace”. It intervened all over the world in support of its self-awarded moral superiority. National Communist parties echoed Moscow’s superior wisdom. The German Communist Party collaborated with the Nazis to weaken the Weimar Republic. Why? Because socialism would prevail when Weimar went down. But it didn’t: the Nazis prevailed and the USSR paid a mighty price for their triumph. Cuba, a socialist state (“The Island of Freedom”), had to be supported by the Leader of World Socialism. That support brought the world close to a nuclear war. Any little movement that called itself socialist called for Moscow’s help, even countries the Politburo’s decrepit members had never heard of. They had to be provided with weapons, loans, aid and diplomatic support. It would have been impossible for the World’s First Socialist state not to intervene in Afghanistan when the so-called socialist government there began to wobble. Once socialist, socialist forever:

When forces that are hostile to socialism try to turn the development of some socialist country towards capitalism, it becomes not only a problem of the country concerned, but a common problem and concern of all socialist countries.

How could the USSR avoid lending money or weapons to any state that said it was socialist? Peace movements had to be infiltrated because theory said that only socialism brought peace. Being exceptional has heavy obligations:

More than any other people on Earth, we bear burdens and accept risks unprecedented in their size and their duration, not for ourselves alone but for all who wish to be free. (John Kennedy actually, but Brezhnev probably said something like it, although at greater length.)

And it all came to nothing. Consider, for example, Poland. The USSR liberated it from the Nazis who had killed off about a fifth of the population; Stalin redrew the map so that, for the first time in history, all historical Poland was united and that territory was almost completely ethnically homogeneous. The USSR intervened in Polish politics and civil life for four decades by enforcing, as it believed it was morally obliged to do, the “bright future of mankind” to the expected benefit of the Polish people. Or so the exceptionalists in the Kremlin said. And with what result? The moment it became clear that the tanks weren’t coming, Poland threw off the Soviets, the alliance and the whole socialist package. And so throughout the other Fraternal Socialist States. It was a bubble. Exceptional countries have no friends because they have no equals, they can only have clients; but clients have to be fed or coerced.

The Russian Federation, as the successor to the USSR, inherited what it owed and what it was owed. But there was a big difference: the debts were real; the credits were not. Russia has paid all that it owed and written off most of what it was owed. In the case of Cuba, in 2014 Putin wrote off $32 billion in debt. The USSR had lent money to African “socialist” countries – as Leader of the Socialist World how could it refuse? Putin just wrote off $20 billion of that. And so on. Exceptionalism was money down the hole.

In 1987 a short piece by Yevgeniy Primakov appeared in Pravda: “A New Philosophy of Foreign Policy”. Essentially it argued that the USSR’s foreign policy had been a failure: it had reduced security and was bankrupting the country. After 70 years of exceptionalism, what was left? No friendship, often the opposite. No monetary profit, just costs. The Leader of the Socialist Bloc and the Bloc itself evaporated as if they had never been. It was all for nothing. And worse than nothing: here’s Putin himself in 1999:

For almost three-fourths of the outgoing century Russia lived under the sign of the implementation of the communist doctrine. It would be a mistake not to see and, even more so, to deny the unquestionable achievements of those times. But it would be an even bigger mistake not to realise the outrageous price our country and its people had to pay for that Bolshevist experiment. What is more, it would be a mistake not to understand its historic futility. Communism and the power of Soviets did not make Russia a prosperous country with a dynamically developing society and free people. Communism vividly demonstrated its inaptitude for sound self-development, dooming our country to a steady lag behind economically advanced countries. It was a road to a blind alley, which is far away from the mainstream of civilisation.

“Outrageous price”. “Historic futility”. “Inaptitude”. “Steady lag”. “A road to a blind alley”. Nothing: no money, no friends, no power, no prosperity. Nothing: neither at home nor abroad.

Moscow knows the exceptionalist road is “a road to a blind alley” because it wasted 70 years on that road. However imperfect and irritating the “traditional, Westphalian, order in which states are equal sovereign entities” may be, Moscow knows that “idealism” is completely worthless.

It’s worth observing that the “Westphalian system” is named after the several agreements in 1648 that ended the religious wars in Europe by accepting the principle of cuius regio, eius religio or that each state would be allowed to do things its own way. In other words, Westphalianism was accepted only after idealism had burned everything to the ground.

It’s an old lesson that Russia has learned but Washington, with its still-large purse, hasn’t. Yet.

THE NOVICHOK TALES, PART √-1

(Overheard in the Kremlin by our secret source)

OK, we’ve spent millions. Hidden our production facilities from the OPCW (but strangely failed to prevent the Super-Duper Ultra Top Secret formula for Novichok being published everywhere). Years in the making, millions spent: so what do we use it for?

Whack out some traitor we traded away years ago because we figured that he had already done all the damage he could.

Good, makes sense to me. But how?

Spray it.

Spray it on what?

Ummmm… Pets.

No. The Brits will just abandon them to their deaths. They hate animals.

Cars.

No. You can’t be sure British cars will start in the rain.

Food.

No. We don’t want to kill everybody else in the restaurant. That might get people excited.

Doorknobs.

Doorknobs? Why?

Because everybody touches the outdoor doorknob. Especially when leaving the house. And, Boss, that’s what The Manual says.

The Manual? What? Oh, wait, I remember now. We all learned it in the KGB: “Doorknobs, the Secret to a Successful Wet Job”. There was a study (hundreds killed, but hey! that’s how it goes. And they were only Ukrainians) that showed that only the people you want to whack out actually touch the doorknob.

I knew you’d remember, Boss. Ahhhh the good old days, eh?

Yes. Those Golden Days in the KGB. Ya know I gotta thank the WaPo for reminding me that I was a former KGB guy; occasionally I forget because it was sooooo long ago. But thanks, Jeff, it’s always a thrill to remember. But, back to business, will anybody suspect us?

But isn’t that the point, Boss? I thought you wanted more sanctions. Sanctions make Russia stronger. Plus it’s a great time to cut down on Foreign Ministry expenses. There will be a lot of expulsions.

OK. Do it. But, you do assure me that it’s many times more lethal than anything else and there’s no antidote. We don’t want the two of them making phone calls in a week or two. Let alone resurrecting on Easter. Either their Easter or ours.

Guaranteed Boss. And Boris tells me that, if they do, he’ll get all the media in the UK and its allies to cover it up too.

Boris! Gotta say, one of our best investments. Stupidity is our greatest ally. And, the best part is that nobody gets it. Novichok was good but Durakchok is way better: spray it around and everybody becomes an idiot. OK. Thanks guys, good job! Got to get back to inspecting my watch collection and training up Labs to frighten Merkel. Oh, but wait: are there any Western elections coming up that I should know about?