RUSSIAN FEDERATION SITREP 14 OCTOBER 2021

PUTIN. Putin celebrated his 69th birthday on Thursday and Levada published a poll. (Googlish) He remains popular: about two thirds like him. Which is only slightly different from the score in 2000. A stunning performance, almost unequalled in modern history. But what of the future? Overall 47% would like him to be President for another term and 42% not. What is interesting about that number was that, in 2012, it was 40% against and 35% for. (For what it’s worth, about then I thought he would not run again but theorised that Libya convinced him that he had to stay on because the world was becoming more dangerous). Anyway, as the chart shows, he bounced back. This Levada poll shows that that there is a clear age difference. While the over-55s favour another term, a slight majority of those under 40 do not: and nearly a third of them think there’s a cult of personality about him. Everybody reaches his “best before” date and the wise leader gets out before then. I believe Putin is a wise man and therefore I think we will see him not run again. His auctoritas is strong enough that he can name a successor. But I doubt we’ll know who until he tells us: he runs a pretty leak-free operation. Non-committal too.

US-RUSSIA TALKS. Victoria Nuland, who believes Russia needs a stern talking to, was in Moscow for talks. Ukraine was on the agenda but Moscow’s position is set in Medvedev’s article: “There are no fools to fight for Ukraine. And it’s useless to talk to the vassal, we must talk to the suzerain.” There is a demented notion among some of the the neo-connerie that Washington can do another Kissinger and separate Moscow and Beijing. Perhaps her visit is an attempt to do that. It would be good, though, if they could – as Moscow has proposed – stop sanctioning each other’s diplomats. It appears that little useful resulted – the Russian side complained that it was the usual list of demands – but talk is always better.

EUROPEAN POWER TROUBLES. Not enough wind, cold winter used up reserves, decision to go to spot price buying rather than the long-term fixed-price contracts the Russians prefer (like the one Budapest has just signed). Nordstream delays haven’t helped either. Nothing to do with Moscow as Merkel has admitted – it’s a Euro own goal. Putin has said several times that Russia will supply what is needed; not charity, of course, but not leaving them to contemplate reality while wearing fourteen sweaters either. But he also said that the poor maintenance of the Ukrainian pipe lines means that not much can be shipped through them. Meanwhile, the shriekers shriek.

GUNS. The Navy announced a successful test firing of a Tsirkon hypersonic missile from a surfaced submarine followed shortly after by a submerged launch. It is a missile that travels at Mach 8 or 9, a range of 1000-2000 kms, warhead 300-400 kgs, manoeuvrable in flight, tested from air, land, surface ship and now submarine. Pretty formidable weapon.

BUTTER. Foreign reserves worth 618 billion USD. About a quarter in gold. All-time high.

BELLINGCAT. The Justice Ministry has added Bellingcat and MNews to the registry of media acting as foreign agents. I haven’t run across mnews.world but here’s all you need to know about Bellingcat.

CORRUPTION. A whistleblower has revealed videos of torture at a prison hospital in Saratov Region; the director of federal prison services fired four officers including the one the whistleblower says was the chief perpetrator. Further investigations are underway.

NUGGETS FROM THE STUPIDITY MINE. Maybe, at last, the idiocy limit has been discovered.

CIA CRI DU COEUR. According to the NYT, CIA HQ has sent a “top secret” (and how would the NYT know if it really were TS? Mysteries do abound, don’t they?) message to its stations saying too many of its agents have been revealed. Bernhard speculates that it may be connected to an arrest in Russia. Larry Johnson says CIA’s tradecraft has always been sloppy. A curious report, altogether.

STASIS. Rather than a New American Century, Nuland’s husband sees a future of chaos at home. Blames Trump & Co, of course; doesn’t see the contribution of years of neocon failures.

SAAKASHVILI. Returned to Georgia and arrested; announced a hunger strike; in terrible shape says his doctor. Georgian Dream leader says he was attempting a coup and PM Garibashvili says it was to be violent. In local elections the next day Georgian Dream won comfortably but Saakashvili’s party ran second. I guess this is the end of that particular “colour revolution”. Hard to tell whether anybody much cares about him now: he’s certainly time-expired. (And the story gets weirder.)

NOT ON YOUR “NEWS” OUTLET. The principal opposition leader in Ukraine had had his house arrest extended and will be charged with terrorism.

© Patrick Armstrong Analysis, Canada Russia Observer

RUSSIA IS FINISHED QUOTATIONS

“The political crisis in Russia is deepening and approaching a solution. A month may be left…”

Vytautas Landsbergis, Vilnius Lietuvos Aidas 3 Apr 1993 (from FBIS 22 Apr 1993 p 73, not found on Net today)

Russia will fall apart because all empires have their end. Russia has already fallen apart twice and will fall apart for the third time.

– Vytautas Landsbergis, 2021

Vytautas Landsbergis Wikipedia

ROME FELL AND IT’S PROBABLY YOUR FAULT

First published Strategic Culture Foundation

The Roman Empire fell because it did something the author doesn’t approve of. And the American Empire or Putin’s Russia or Communist China will fall because they also do what the author dislikes. It’s a fun trope and you see it all the time. It’s easy to do and lets the author pretend to be the edjamakated sort of fellow who can use Pompey, Pluto and Plato in a sentence rather than a hack re-wording the latest instructions from the Military-Industrial-Media-Complex. Now that the American Empire has been defeated by its allies over Nord Stream and by its enemies in Afghanistan, we can expect to see a lot more of it.

But exactly when did the Roman Empire end? We need a date so we can blame that end on that thing that we dislike. Edward Gibbon wrote a rather large book about its decline and fall: it begins in the 200s and ends in the 1400s. That’s 1200 years of declining and falling; hard to find a single cause in all that.

The end of the Roman Republic – that’s an easier thing to date. Most would agree on the date at which Gaius Julius Caesar Octavianus became supreme after the defeat of Anthony and Cleopatra in 30BP. But even that becomes hazy when we take into account the Roman pretence that Rome never changes even while it’s changing. And the issue is further complicated by the Romans’ love of great antiquity which meant that they never stopped doing something that they had once done. So the ancient priesthood of the flamines with their curious costumes and taboos endured; the Sibylline Books, lost but then restored, were consulted even into the Christian period; they honoured geese and punished dogs; the sacred fire burned; the lowering of the flag stopped the trial. So, no matter how cataclysmic the crisis, at the end, the Republic was once again “restored” just as it was. And that is what Octavianus claimed to have done – consuls, the Senate, praetors and all the rest remained but he, now named the August One, was merely the first man in Rome. He had restored the Republic. And we will see this throughout: whatever happens, nothing has happened; the pretence is kept up.

410. That’s the date it ended. The Visigoths, under Alaric, sack Rome. But Rome isn’t the capital of the Empire nor even of the Western Empire at this time. And Alaric, who had been a Roman soldier, is seen by many as unsuccessfully seeking a formal position inside the Empire. But the date is significant because, among English-speaking historians, it is probably the origin of the notion that “the Roman Empire fell” at some definable time. Roman Britain seems to have been generally prosperous and peaceful (with some friction north of the Wall) for three centuries until the middle of the 300s when sea raiders and northerners combined to shake its security, a general then took many soldiers to the continent in an unsuccessful bid for the crown and the last soldiers left in the early 400s to defend Rome. This left the Romanised (and Christianised) British to the mercies of the raiders. Little but legends survive from this time; this is the era of Arthur: but was he in Cornwall or the Borders? did he even exist? was he Roman, Briton or Sarmatian? king or war leader? Libraries are full of books of speculation; no one knows and archaeology doesn’t help. Gradually the Britons were pushed out and Saxons settled what was now called “England”. Recorded history picks up again in the 700s when the Saxons become Christianised. So in Roman Britain, there certainly is a “fall” in the early 400s, followed by a three-century “dark” age, followed by a gradual growing of the “light” as Christian Saxons struggle against a new round of pagan raiders from the seas. Here, the Roman Empire did “end”. But not for any moralistic reason – the legions left and Britannia was a juicy target.

The history on the Continent is quite different. Barbarians, yes, but always pretending to rule by permission of the Emperor in the East and seeking a Roman-style title. Henri Pirenne’s researches make this clear. Take, for example another “end date” – 478. The last Western Emperor, Romulus Augustulus (a name ironically combining the founders of Republican Rome and Imperial Rome) is overthrown by the barbarian Odoacer. But Odoacer is careful to seek authority to rule from the Emperor in Constantinople and to consult the Roman Senate. So the pretence of the unchanging Roman Empire is kept up. And this kept on – a barbarian king, formerly a soldier of the Empire, would take power and the Emperor in the East would appoint him to some Roman position and he would be king of his people and an official in the Empire. Marius is Consul seven times, Sulla appoints himself Dictator, Caesar becomes Dictator for life: it’s all perfectly Roman and in accordance with the Twelve Tables. Given a little twisting of the rules. Which now become the new rules.

Of course it’s pretence and of course each iteration is a blurred copy of the last. But it’s a continuous process and one cannot find – except by making some arbitrary decision – a moment at which one thing ends and another begins. An important moment in the Western Empire comes when Charlemagne declares himself Emperor of the West. Crowned by the Bishop of Rome without reference to the Emperor in the East. That’s a split; but it’s all done in Latin, it’s all Christian and it’s still calling itself the Roman Empire headed by the Imperator Romanorum. Charlemagne even referred to himself occasionally as Augustus and claimed to have renewed the Empire. So 800 marks a moment to be sure, but there’s still something in the west calling itself the Roman Empire and it’s not entirely fanciful to do so.

The Holy Roman Empire existed until 1806. That’s another thousand years after Charlemagne created it and by 1806 there’s no doubt that Caesar Augustus would recognise nothing in it – but how much would he have recognised in Constantinople in 600? Certainly some time in those thousand years the (Western) Roman Empire ceased to have any content beyond the name. But one cannot find a “moment”: it just faded away over time until nothing was left but the name and Bonaparte – having just made himself emperor in a ceremony redolent of Rome and Charlemagne – puffed the last bit of dust away.

Meanwhile in the East the Empire continued. Its hold on the Western Empire waxed and waned but by the 800s had disappeared in form and in reality (although it kept Venice). But it certainly endured in the East; rich and powerful. What did it in was the century of destructive war with the Persian Empire beginning in the early 500s which so weakened the two that they were unable to resist the Muslims. By the mid 700s, Islam ruled over Roman Africa, Egypt, Spain, most of today’s Middle East and the Persian Empire itself. The Eastern Roman Empire was left with the Balkans and Anatolia. Over the subsequent seven centuries, Islam, which never lost its desire to rule over “The City“, ate more and more until the Empire was reduced to the bounds of the city itself and, when it fell in 1453, that was the end. And that’s the date Gibbon picked.

So, when did the Roman Empire “fall”? There isn’t any date – unless you take 1806 or 1453 – and therefore there isn’t any “cause”.

So the next time – and that time will be soon – you read someone pontificating that the Roman Empire fell because it did something he doesn’t approve of and the USA or Russia or China is doing the same – smile. It’s just gas and persiflage.

(The fall of the Republic, on the other hand, could be framed as the inability of a smallish city state to deal with an expanding empire, the strain of the need for large armies and foreign garrisons, greed and ambition fed by the tremendous inrush of loot, the impoverishment of many ordinary citizens. You don’t often see that comparison, but here’s one: Donald Trump as Tiberius Gracchus; “farcical” sneers the reviewer – well it is the NYT. All I can say is that there is a certain parallel and wait till he meets Cataline and Clodius!)

RUSSIAN FEDERATION SITREP 29 SEPTEMBER 2021

DUMA ELECTION. Official results are that the pedestal party keeps its strong majority but lost a bit; the communists (KPRF) gained a bit. Not too different from four years ago. A new bubble in the stagnant swamp of Russian politics appears: a new party – New People – makes it into the Duma. The KPRF has two main campaign points: the ordinary guy is doing poorly (especially because of the pensions issue) and Moscow isn’t tough enough on the world stage. I am amused that, immediately, Putin spoke to the government and said that Russia’s greatest enemy was poverty; and he held another meeting on socioeconomic development yesterday. The harder foreign policy is happening anyway. As to communist performance, it’s interesting that young Americans view communism and socialism more favourably too. Maybe Marx isn’t as dead as I used to think he was.

FRAUD? Gordon Hahn enumerates the ways in which the ruling party (United Russia aka “pedestal party”) finagles its way to victory. Not precisely cheating I think, more the use of power and position to “persuade” people where their “true interests” lie. But the big issue is that e-voting was used and there is a dramatic difference in Moscow City: before the e-vote was added in, a lot of opposition wins; after, very few. BUT, before we get excited, we’re not talking about a few strategically-distributed e-votes: there were nearly two million e-votes as against 1.7 million paper votes; I believe there are important differences between the two types of voters: I would expect most KPRF voters to prefer paper to e-votes and Establishment supporters the reverse. Anyway, a re-count is promised and the communists (who lost most) are protesting. BBC coverage (essentially pre-written) typical of Western coverage. See below.

WESTERN TAKE. Bernhard shows that the NYT can see some of the failure but still doesn’t get it. Western-sponsored fake liberals won’t sell in Russia. See below for one reason and next one for another.

DEMOCRACY A LA RUSSE. Intelligent piece by Natylie Baldwin on Russian attitudes: social justice is a big requirement. Americans make a big thing about freedom and let the chips fall where they may. Or they used to anyway. For Russians security is more important. As she says, a lot of what you hear about Russian “lack of democracy” is really just saying they’re not as we like to think we are.

NAVALNIY. A probe into the Navalniy organisation’s activities is opened. Closer to a treason charge?

MEETING. Gerasimov and Milley met in Helsinki last week; it is reported that Milley asked for permission to use Russian bases in Central Asia. Can’t see Moscow agreeing: Washington cannot be trusted; maybe occasional use on a case-by-case assessment.

IS THIS A GOOD IDEA? Apparently officials in Sakha are looking at a proposal to populate the region with “resurrected” mammoths. Sounds pretty nifty but we have to consider the possibility that, after the oohs and ahs, comes the screaming.

SHANGHAI COOPERATION ORGANISATION. Long anticipated but highly significant – Iran is now a full member. Without getting too MacKinderish, this is an important piece of the “pivot area“.

SUBMARINES ET AL. Can’t afford them, can’t build them, can’t crew them. And, anyway, they’re years and years away – it will be a different world then. But it does reveal Washington kicking Europe to the curb. Another of Washington’s gifts to Europe are the current energy problems: despite the Guardian’s effort to blame them on Russia, the delays and obstructions of NordStream are one of the causes. Europeans aren’t willing to be dragged into the new cold war with China, either. Europe is talking; but talk is easy and the Europeans never seem to get past the empty grumbling: cutting loose from Washington’s diktat and forging a genuinely independent foreign activity is a very difficult step. But they do keep getting brutal reminders that Washington doesn’t really care. In that respect the new regime is even more blatant than the old: Trump’s line was pay your bills and I’ll maybe listen; Biden/Harris don’t even pretend to listen.

MEETING. Putin and Erdoğan meeting today. Much to discuss.

FROM LAPUTA’S KITCHENS TO YOU. China Is a Declining Power and US has to get ready for war. Russia’s a “declining power” too. The philosophers of Laputa don’t seem to have noticed that neither has declined much since 2000, have they? Litvinenko! Skripalmania! Projection and deflection.

WESTERN VALUES™. Plans to kill Assange and the key witness lied: never mind, keep him in jail, Meng released with charges forgotten. CSIS welcomes the “Michaels” back. Hard to keep up.

AMERICA-HYSTERICA. And now, after all the damage was done, we discover, what many of us knew, that it was entirely fake. This guy, however, is surprised. But will any others wake up?

© Patrick Armstrong Analysis, Canada Russia Observer

RUSSIAN FEDERATION SITREP 16 SEPTEMBER 2021

EXERCISE. The Armed Forces hold big exercises every year, working their way around the compass. This year was West – Zapad. Back in the Day, every September saw big exercises in West Germany – REFORGER – in which formations drove around the countryside (I was on a couple myself and we just drove tanks anywhere we wanted to). The Russian ones, however, are generally restricted to exercise areas and, while they are said to involve, in this case, 200,000 troops, they count everyone involved in any way. But the alarmists make a big deal out of it – here’s can’t-find-Putin’s-speech Applebaum, for example. But they’re impressive nonetheless; two highlights this year: the night drop of a parachute battalion plus armoured vehicles and the appearance of some combat robots.

THEN AND NOW. There is a series of videos using Google Street view of Russian towns in 2010 and 2020. I mentioned Gelendzhik last time but here’s Perm, Sochi (booming, by the way), Arkhangelsk, Petrozavodsk. If you still believe the Western media’s rubbish about decaying Russia, give them a look: it’s not China, but it’s a lot of improvement.

HISTORY. Putin unveils a monument to Aleksandr Nevskiy. In the meeting room in the MoD in Moscow (where I’ve been a couple of times – maybe they meet somewhere else now) there are three decorative bas reliefs – 1941-45, 1812 and Nevskiy. The existential threat to Russia has always come from the West. Highly recommend Paul Robinson’s essay on the background and meaning of this.

NORD STREAM. The last pipe was welded on the 6th; apparently there are some legal details to be completed before the gas comes through. Kiev fulminates, Washington threatens. Meanwhile gas prices in Europe hit a record high.

INFLATION. At a five-year high – 6.7%. Food especially; but that’s a world-wide phenomenon.

NAVALNIY “POISONING”, John Helmer has much on how the story was created. (Still waiting for a Western “news” outlet that was insisting Putin wanted him dead to explain why he isn’t.)

DISEASE. Further evidence that Russia is thinking about biowar attacks: it is building a network of labs and testing facilities: “sanitary shield” they call it.

ELECTION INTERFERENCE. The US Ambassador was challenged to explain “irrefutable evidence” of interference in next Sunday’s election. (Video purporting to show observers coached to claim fraud.) As typical, the West will instantly condemn them; the object, as Korybko argues, being to block any attempts to better relations. This example shows how savagely such suggestions are beaten down and one can be sure that “yet-another-rigged-election” will be used to smear the next modest suggstion to improve American relations with a country that has 1) a close relationship with the number-one economic power, 2) the capability of obliterating the USA and destroying NATO’s military.

JUST NUKES AND OIL. Work on a Russian-Chinese jetliner begun. Big market, few suppliers (especially given the damage Boeing did to itself). Another medium-sized tanker launched.

THE EMPTINESS OF FORMER FLAPS. CNN then “Authorities in Belarus have announced the arrest of 33 Russian mercenaries on suspicion of terrorism“. CNN now: “Ukraine spies tried to ensnare alleged Russian war criminals with a fake website, promises of riches and an international sting.” I didn’t cover the story at the time, correctly assessing it to be part of the colour revolution attempt against Lukashenka. (Why would CNN, not known for admitting to its propagandising, put this out? is Ukraine being “Afghanised”?).

LEARNING. General Hyten described a recent US exercise as a miserable failure – see my piece here. In a talk at Brookings he said “our goal is to never go to war with China and Russia.” He also said that the US military was moving too slowly and suggested that the USA wasn’t getting its money’s worth in defence. Very interesting, especially when said in such a citadel of the neocon world. On the other hand, he’s apparently retiring soon and will probably be replaced by a rah-rah type.

UKRAINE. Zelensky complains that Washington is still vague on NATO; possibility of war with Russia; has “no time to think about [Putin]” but wants a meeting. Ukraine is not Afghanistan; army “one of the most powerful“. Meanwhile Edward Lucas gushes about Ukraine’s success which is somehow a challenge to Putin. Stunning levels of delusion; second-poorest in Europe they say.

AFGHANISTAN. I’m amused by all the statements that Taliban must do this or that. No. USA/NATO were defeated. That means Taliban doesn’t care what they have to say and isn’t frightened by their threats.

© Patrick Armstrong Analysis, Canada Russia Observer

AFGHANISTAN: SAME, SAME; AGAIN, AGAIN

(First published Strategic Culture Foundation)

The lesson of Afghanistan is not that the US is washed up as a great power. The lesson is that the US is such a great power, militarily and economically, that it is continually tempted to try hopeless things that nobody else on earth – including China – would ever attempt.

David Frum gives new meaning to the expression “in denial”.

Don’t believe what you’re told by the generals, or the ambassadors, or people in the administration saying we’re never going to do this again. That’s exactly what we said after Vietnam. We’re never going to do this again. Lo and behold we did Iraq. And we did Afghanistan. We will do this again.

John Sopko, the special inspector general for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR)

Bill Ehrhart arrived in Vietnam in 1967 believing everything. His first indication that all was not as expected came when he wasn’t welcomed the way Allied soldiers had been in 1944. A couple of days later he was shocked to see “detainees”, bound hand and foot, casually tossed off a high vehicle by other Marines. This didn’t seem to be the way to treat people the Americans were there to help said he to his companion who told him to keep his mouth shut “until you know what’s going on around here”. And, he continues in this video, “it went downhill from there”. Every day patrols met “snipers and mines” but he saw hardly any enemy soldiers. He came to realise that the Viet Cong didn’t have to force people to fight the Americans; once a Marine patrol had destroyed its way through a village, they’d have all the recruits they needed:

the longer we stayed in Vietnam, the more Viet Cong there were, because we created them; we produced them… The Vietnamese people hated me and I gave them every reason to hate me.

The war he saw bore no resemblance to the optimistic stuff he read in Time Magazine and other mass media. So he hunkered down, stopped asking the questions of what and why – “the questions themselves were too ugly even to ask” – did what he did and waited for the date when he would go home.

This story is from Afghanistan but it fits Ehrhart’s conclusion perfectly. The first Americans into a valley in 2001 make contact with a local timber baron; he tells them his rival is a Taliban supporter; the rival is bombed; he loses his business, some of his family are killed and he does join Taliban. You can just imagine the locals, when these dumb and ignorant – but terribly destructive – aliens drop out of the sky, calculating how best to manipulate them. The Americans never think to reflect on Putin’s observation of five years ago:

The extremists in this case are more cunning, clever and stronger than you, and if you play these games with them, you will always lose.

Or try to answer his question: “who’s playing who here?

The scene shifts to Afghanistan as we move four decades ahead from Ehrhard’s observations. For example, in this account in the Military Times:

  • Expecting to be welcomed: “I just felt we were over there fighting an enemy who attacked America and liberating the people of Afghanistan from Taliban rule”.
  • They’re all the enemy: “It was such a complex war with more than one enemy, not just the Taliban… Sometimes it seemed like it was just some young, bored kids shooting at us”.
  • The happy-happy reports are all fake: “Seeing politicians use Afghanistan and Iraq as a talking points without any action, then seeing young men and women run through deployment after deployment until they have nothing left to give, only to be discarded and left to figure out how to cope…”.

What’s the difference between these American soldiers’ experiences in Afghanistan and their predecessors’ in Vietnam?

Ehrhart doesn’t talk about personnel rotation policy in Vietnam although there is an allusion to it: he knew to the day when his time would end and, as it happened, he was literally plucked out of a firefight and sent home. The practice was that junior officers were at the front for six months and other ranks for one year. Thus an individual infantryman might go through two or three platoon commanders with fellow platoon members appearing and disappearing as their dates came up. The effects of unit cohesion were devastating – indeed there was no unit cohesion at all. This rotation policy was argued to be one of the reasons for the defeat as described in this essay. A colleague of mine was peripherally involved in this discussion as he presented the British/Commonwealth “regimental system” in which units and subunits went in together and came out together. But what do we see in Afghanistan four decades later?

Hearts and minds sounded great on paper, but it was often seen as an empty promise to the locals… We would inevitably break those promises in one of two ways. First, the command may just up and move us to a different area, leaving those who helped us high and dry. Second, frequent deployment rotations meant personal relationships would only last, at most, a few months to a year.

And, of course, that great favourite of the American Way of War – bombing. Lots of bombing. In the Vietnam War the US is said to have dropped seven million tons of bombs on Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia. I haven’t found tonnage numbers for Afghanistan, but there are numbers on “weapons releases”. This presumably includes bombs (but was each “dumb” bomb really counted?) and missiles but not artillery or – vide the destruction of the MSF hospital in KunduzHercules gunships. The numbers I can find say that there were, between 2013 and 2019, about 26,500 “releases” plus about another 21,000 going back to 2006. Another estimate puts it at at least 81,000 in total. It is generally accepted that 160,000 tons were dropped on Japan proper – a country with numerous shipyards, naval bases, aircraft and munition factories; few of which existed in Vietnam and none at all in Afghanistan. What were they bombing?

The next similarity is that reports in both wars were, to put it gently, doctored to make things look better than they were. The Pentagon Papers have their direct match in the Afghanistan Papers. From each it is clear that the authorities knew, from the first few years, that it was a failure; but they hid, lied and obfuscated. Each commander kicked the failure down the road for his successor to deal with. Official accounts of each war show plenty of “light at the end of the tunnel”, “turning the corner” year after year until the last corner was turned and the lights went out.

In Vietnam the enemy was moving under forest cover, so the US forces dropped immense quantities – tens of thousands of cubic metres – of defoliants to clear away the leaves they were hiding under. Few trees in Afghanistan so instead there was geological bombing “blasting away mountain passes and potential cover to limit where and how militants can operate”. An insane use of technology and destructive power substituting for tactical competence. And little to no effect on the outcome.

Accounts of soldiers’ experiences in Vietnam speak of patrols that, when they run into snipers or mines, call in artillery or airstrikes at vague targets – effectively saturation bombing – and helicopter out. We hear the same thing in Afghanistan. The only difference being that patrols in the former were on foot and in the latter in vehicles. It sees that the patrols had little purpose other than to show a presence: they’re not armies moving closer to Berlin or some other objective, they are just moving around. Something to do with “hearts and minds”, I suppose. But targets for the enemy and the opportunity for immense random destruction in retaliation.

Fake metrics are another similarity. Robert McNamara was US Secretary of Defense from 1961 to 1966 – the very height of the Vietnam War. He had been a “whiz kid” at Ford and had had the knack of impressing his superiors with flow charts and numbers. His behaviour in Vietnam has led to an entire fallacy being named in his honour. The “McNamara Fallacy” is described by Daniel Yankelovich as the following four steps

The first step is to measure whatever can be easily measured. This is OK as far as it goes.

The second step is to disregard that which can’t be easily measured or to give it an arbitrary quantitative value. This is artificial and misleading.

The third step is to presume that what can’t be measured easily really isn’t important. This is blindness.

The fourth step is to say that what can’t be easily measured really doesn’t exist. This is suicide.

In the Vietnam case the “easily measured” was the famous body count – number of enemy soldiers killed: the higher the number, the closer to “the light at the end of the tunnel”. According to this source, a rough calculation suggests that in 1965 there were more than five million males aged 15-39 in Vietnam and another seven million younger. That’s lot of bodies between the USA and victory. Secondly, if that’s what the boss wants to hear, that’s what we’ll tell him and the metric rapidly became GIGO. In Afghanistan, according to this account, it was dollars spent:

Perversely, because it was the easiest thing to monitor, the amount of money spent by a program often became the most important measure of success. A USAID official told SIGAR, “The Hill was always asking, ‘Did you spend the money?’…I didn’t hear many questions about what the effects were.”

Schools, hospitals, roads: hard to find, hard to measure (especially with widespread corruption) – bundles of hundred-dollar bills out the door easy to measure and so that became Afghanistan’s version of McNamara’s Fallacy. The make-believe precision measurement of nothing.

In a word, everything I’ve written about the American Way of War has been illustrated in the Afghanistan failure. The initial success feeding the appetite for further engagement and ever-larger aims. The assumption of free air movement and reliable communications. The obsession with technology. The self-replicating intelligence feedback cycle in which you only hear what you want to hear culminating in the final error of how much time was left to get out. The reinforcement of failure – bombing hasn’t worked, do more of it; can’t find the enemy, change the terrain. Worthless metrics. Inability to see things from the enemy’s perspective.

The only difference between the American performances in Vietnam and Afghanistan is that in the first, the vehicles were painted green and in the second, sand. They should sit out the next one.

RUSSIAN FEDERATION SITREP 2 SEPTEMBER 2021

QUESTION. How many in the former USSR and Warsaw Pact now think that they made the correct bet in the 1990s? How about Western Europe? This will be one of the biggest geopolitical questions for the 2020s. The Afghanistan disaster will have very significant downstream effects; much more than the Vietnam defeat. That was one thing but this is another: in 1975 NATO had a purpose because the USSR was still there; China was poor and weak; the Shah still ruled. Afghanistan wasn’t just a defeat of the Washington’s neocon cabal and revelation of the duplicity of the military-industrial-media complex, it was the finish of post Cold War triumphantasies, moralistic finger-wagging, superior values boasting, NATO adventurism, “nation-building” and many other delusions widely shared in the West.

RESCUE. There are still a lot of NATO and Tabaquis left behind in Afghanistan – what do you bet they make their way to the Russian Embassy to ask to be helped out? And Moscow will do it – the propaganda value is too great to pass up: Russia – the reliable partner.

AFGHANISTAN. Another exercise on Afghanistan’s periphery: Combat Commonwealth-2021. Troops from Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan and the Kyrgyz Republic will be involved. Mostly air defence which is an interesting choice.

WATCH THIS. They tell you Russia is a decaying rathole, check this out: Gelendzhik 2010 and now.

ELECTIONS. Duma elections will be held on the 19th and the pedestal party (United Russia) isn’t doing too well. The communists (KPRF) and Zhirinovsky’s party (LDPR) may triumph in some regions but most expect UR to keep a working majority overall. Putin – who’s not formally a member of UR – and other government people are out busily bribing the taxpayers with their own money.

NAVALNIY. A documentary takes a look at the “poisoning” and concludes it was likely a mishap from lithium. Meanwhile, in an interview from prison, he complains that the worst thing is official TV. (BTW, didn’t Western “news” outlets spend weeks telling us that Putin was determined to kill Navalniy and actually tried twice; why aren’t they wondering why he’s still alive? The answer of course – which shows you what Western coverage of Russia really is – is that details in war propaganda aren’t supposed to be remembered: they’re just made up and ignored as needed to create the enemy picture.)

IMPORT SUBSTITUTION. As everyone knows, Putin is skilled at judo which is the art of using the opponent’s strengths against him. When sanctions were imposed after Maidan, Moscow cleverly imposed counter-sanctions on food. This, plus government support, has resulted in Russia becoming pretty much food independent. Likewise many other industries have profited from import substitution. The next area is what you might call electronic independence. Even the Moscow Times has to admit that Russia has made huge improvements here too. Russia is gradually becoming a rather curious economic beast – a economically self-sufficient country with high-demand exports. Pretty strong position, I think.

PLUTOCRATS. Forbes (not that I take it very seriously – anybody remember when it put Chernomyrdin at the top?) has decided that Tatiana Bakalchuk and her husband are Russia’s richest. What’s interesting is that they didn’t use their connections to steal stuff in the 1990s but made it from their e-commerce company Wildberries. Banned in Ukraine, of course.

TANK BIATHALON. Loud and dirty things you can do in a tank.

GARBAGE. A subject that has featured in the last few Putin Q&A sessions is garbage dumps. It seems that the communists were pretty casual and the problems are building up. People complain of nasty messes near them and the Natural Resources Minister has warned that facilities in more than 20 regions will run out of space within the next two or three years. There is a plan and I expect that the problem will – as so many others have been – gradually be ameliorated. Plastics ban?

THE DEATH OF IRONY. “Ukraine Shuts Down Opposition Media – U.S. Ambassador Applauds ‘Daring Act’, Calls For Support“. What actually happened is that Medvedchuk’s party is more popular than Zelensky’s; so shut his news outlets down and put him under house arrest. Perfectly acceptable and praiseworthy because… Putin!

ENDING? Biden, in his end of Afghanistan speech said: “we’ve got to learn from our mistakes… This decision about Afghanistan is not just about Afghanistan. It’s about ending an era of major military operations to remake other countries”. Does that mean out of Iraq and Syria too? Or is the key word here “major”? which in practice means no change (they all start as minor, soon-to-be-over victory parades.)

Patrick Armstrong Analysis, Canada Russia Observer

WHAT TO DO? – THE EUROPEAN DILEMMA

First published Strategic Culture Foundation

According to hoary tradition, there are two obsessive questions in Russian history: who is guilty and what is to be done? This assertion is likely another Russophobic trope in which Russia was, is and always will be a mess populated by supine drunks slurring “Not me” and “Pass the bottle”. Nonetheless, good questions they are and ones that Europeans should ponder. Here are some circumstances that call out for doing something different.

European Union as an emerging superpower” – Wikipedia has a whole article on it. And, on paper, it is: the population, the economic power, the potential military power, the intellectual power and everything else necessary to become a significant independent player on the world scene – fully equal to any other major power. Except… it isn’t. Why isn’t it? Why did it follow Washington’s lead and sanction Russia? The sanctions have certainly cost it more than the USA and probably more than Russia; Washington, on the other hand, never sanctions Russian rocket engines or Russian oil. Why do the Europeans dutifully swallow it down? Many of them followed Washington into Afghanistan and other disastrous military adventures for a reward of failure and crisis. At least they’ve found the will to stop pretending Guaido is really President of Venezuela but they’re piling on Belarus at Washington’s command. Why? No kind of “superpower” on the geopolitical stage, the EU pretty well does what it’s told by Washington. There’s the occasional rebellion – Germany and Nord Stream 2 – but then the obsequious sending of a warship on a FON mission to please Washington. Hoping to cut the cost with a cringing attempt to placate Beijing. Are these the actions of a self-respecting independent country? What is to be done?

When a country signs up with the EU, it signs up to the complete package. Not just the diktats of the bureaucracy in Brussels but the ever-metastasising “human rights” package. I use quotation marks because, these days, human rights to the West appears to be concerned with nothing other than what Monty Python called “your naughty bits”; Assange is never to be mentioned and nor is Yemen. The LGBTQIA+ obsession sits poorly with some of the members. Against them the full vocabulary is mobilised – Poland’s victorious party is “right wing” and “populist”. Epithets that fall just short of Hungary’s “soft fascism”:

Hungary is a warning of what could happen when a ruthless, anti-minority populist backed by a major political party is allowed to govern unchecked.

Here’s Hungary’s Orbán defending himself. But so great is his sin that some say Hungary should be expelled from the EU. And maybe Poland too. The DM has a piece that is reasonably balanced, once you get past the obligatory insult (“ugly far-right”):

Instead of a serene and harmonious Europe of Tuscan villas, Provencal markets, German opera and Bavarian beer halls, we are witnessing rancorous divisions over migration, economic stagnation and incipient independence movements. And the bitter truth is that in Hungary, the Czech Republic and Poland, there is now a stridently anti-Brussels, anti-migrant and anti-Establishment movement with the increasingly angry peoples of these nations convinced they are being treated as second-class citizens.

Hungary and Poland did not get out from under the diktat of Moscow to subjugate themselves to the diktat of Brussels. What is to be done?

When the Euro was introduced, each country produced its own coins; citizens could have coins from Spain, Greece, Germany and Poland in their pockets; each with its own language and symbols. An effective demonstration of unity. The paper money was an equally instructive, but contrary, choice. Architectural details: a Romanesque door, a Gothic arch, but no particular door or arch – generalised Romanesque or Gothic. Or, to put it rudely, architectural details from plastic buildings in Walt Disney’s Euroland. And that is where Orbán does not want to live: he wants to live in Hungary, the ancient homeland of Hungarians. He fears that Brussels is building a smushed together fake Europe: no Frenchmen, just baguettes; no Italians, just gelato; no Spanish, just paella. Consumed in buildings populated from people from somewhere else; in a décor with arches of no particular provenance. No history, no reality – a movie set. Orbán is the most prominent of those who think this way but there are many more in the real, actual Europe – AfD in Germany, LePen in France, Five Star in Italy: it’s a growing phenomenon; so widespread that the tired epithets of “far-right” or “fascist” or “populist” have a contrary effect. They are becoming the European equivalents of “deplorable” in the USA – because they so despise the insulters, the insulted take pride in being insulted. What is to be done?

Refugees/migrants. They used to pretend it was not a problem – even welcomed it – but that pretence is harder to support now. And, little by little, they notice. But where do these people come from? That’s easy – here’s the list: the leading three countries of origin are Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan. What do these three countries have in common? A question that shouldn’t even have to be asked but, still, is unasked. The next two are Nigeria (partly connected with NATO’s destruction of Libya) and Pakistan which brings us to NATO’s destruction of Afghanistan. NATO’s GenSek flatulates:

When it comes to NATO’s role in addressing the migrant and refugee crisis, so NATO’S main role has been to address the root causes, the instability in the region and trying to help stabilize the countries where the refugees are coming from.

“Root causes” indeed: “stability” is, of course, NATOese for chaos. Ubi solitudinem faciunt pacem appellant. Here are pictures of the solitude NATO made and what preceded it. Is it surprising that the inhabitants want to leave that solitude and go somewhere else? Again Europe is paying for the consequences of Washington’s destruction of the MENA. What is to be done?

The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) was the result of a long and complicated negotiation between Iran on the one hand and China, France, Russia, UK, USA, Germany and the EU on the other. The agreement provided an inspection regime that would ensure that Iran did not develop nuclear weapons; Tehran agreed, it was adopted by the UNSC and ratified by the EU. But it was never ratified in the USA – Obama made it an “executive agreement” – which made it easy for his successor to abandon the “horrible” agreement and sanction Iran. Under the CAATSA law, sanctions are contagious: if you disobey them, you’re sanctioned too. And since Washington has great power over the world’s – West’s anyway – economies, its sanctions are potent. Washington has formally declared Iran a terrorist country; on negligible evidence, of course; but what matter? Europe must obey. Thus, after immense negotiation and general satisfaction with the result, Europe finds itself subject to the whim of Washington on its trade with Iran and forced to kneel. Biden promised to return to the deal but, thus far, American negotiators want Iran to make concessions: “The ball remains in Iran’s court” while Iran’s Supreme Leader Khamenei has warned against trusting the West and so the outlook looks poor. Europe didn’t walk out of the agreement and neither did Tehran, but they will be paying the cost of Washington’s walkout. What is to be done?

And then the protests. Ostensibly about COVID restrictions, fuel prices or migrants, they’re really protests against uncaring, unresponsive and incompetent rulers. On the last Saturday in July “Thousands upon thousands of demonstrators were seen in London, Dublin, Paris, Rome, Athens, and other cities across Europe“. The next Saturday “major mobilizations took place in several European cities including Berlin, Rome, Paris, Marseille and Lyon, among others”. Lithuania a couple of days ago. The protests have been met with considerable police brutality as Moscow delighted in pointing out in the video it handed out in February. But plenty more examples since then and more protests to come. What is to be done?

The UK finally left the EU. Who will be next? If the unthinkable happened once, it can happen again. And the history of referendums is not encouraging for advocates of the EU: France and The Netherlands rejected the EU Constitution in 2005. The name was changed and Ireland rejected the re-tread in 2008 but approved it on a re-run in 2009. If this sort of finagling happened in, say, Belarus, there would be solemn condemnations throughout Europe of Lukashenka’s undemocratic behaviour. In the actual Europe, Brussels has learned never to let the people anywhere near a decision again. What is to be done?

Afghanistan. What more is there to say? Many European countries, believing what Washington told them, trusting Washington’s competence and leadership, buying into and contributing to NATO’s gassy platitudes about its new role, spent years, lives and treasure in a futile effort. The final disillusion was the US President solemnly declaring they had months, when there were only days dwindling quickly to hours. Their soldiers and “nation-builders” are now now being “sent under the yoke” in Kabul. What is to be done?

Finally, why pay all that money to visit Los Angeles when you can stay home in Paris and see the same thing for free? What is to be done?

What is to be done?

Well, here’s a list of things that Brussels could work towards.

  • Aim for genuine independence: preserve that thought of a united Europe becoming an independent force in the world.
  • Russia is there, it’s not going away, it’s not getting weaker; forge relations with it, on Europe’s own terms, following its own, true, interests. Europe has to live with Russia, the USA does not.
  • Ditto with China.
  • NATO does nothing for Europe except get it stuck into disasters that – see refugees – see Afghanistan – see Libya – see Syria – Europeans wind up paying for; quit it; form a genuinely European independent defensive alliance.
  • Ukraine – another Washington project – will not have happy consequences. Change behaviour.
  • Washington is not really a friend; cut dependence on it and reduce the links.
  • Understand that lots of things in the world are a) none of Europe’s business b) nothing it can do anything about. Moralistic posturing is not a useful starting position.
  • Exceptionalism is a bust: Moscow learned it the hard way; Washington is learning it the hard way; learn from their mistakes.

But the depressing reality is that the chances of that happening are probably somewhere between none and a lot less than none. But maybe – maybe – the Afghanistan disaster will concentrate minds in Europe: things are not going as they should.

As to who is to blame? That’s for later.

AB INITIO: AFGHANISTAN

17 November 2015. I wrote this under a pseudonym when I was writing for Russia Insider (A site which has betrayed its intention and which I — AGAIN — refuse the right to reprint my stuff: something I deny to no one else). I am inspired to do this by this piece Fuller just wrote. Go and read it and then come back. We now see the utter collapse of the whole project. Forty years and thousands — hundreds of thousands — of destroyed lives later.

Bigger Than Big, Maybe Even Huger Than Huge

Almost like Brzezinski saying he got it wrong

When I heard of the Paris atrocities I thought: Oh no, here we go again. Fake sincerity, prayers “going out”, “attack on values”, “stand together”, flag overlays on Facebook, mounds of flowers, op-ed writers flogging their dead horses, solemn parade with linked arms (but will they invite Poroshenko this time?), T shirt slogans and all the rest of the sentimental bogosity. What there would not be is any consideration or discussion of Wahhabism, the US causative element, NATO and its activity in the home countries of refugees, “moderate rebels” or anything actually challenging. Just another wallow in false emotion and cheap threats. And, oh yes, some bombing. Always some bombing.

Never would there be any actual thought about causes and effects, how these things came to be and certainly not even the tiniest admission that we – we the exceptionals – just might have a responsibility. Nor would we hear about all the other atrocities in places that don’t get the full soppy treatment. Especially not Syria which has had four years in which every day is a Paris. And certainly not any thought that the explosives and weapons used in Paris might just have been supplied… by Paris.

Well, perhaps I’m wrong. And very glad to be too.

Read this:

I reach this view with much mixed feeling. Over the years I have grown increasingly convinced that western military interventions and wars to “fix” the Middle East have not only failed, but have vastly exacerbated nearly all regional situations. Washington has at the end of the day, in effect, “lost” every one of its recent wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, Yemen, and elsewhere. The West has been as much the problem as the solution.

And now read this:

The policy of guiding the evolution of Islam and of helping them against our adversaries worked marvelously well in Afghanistan against [the Russians]. The same doctrines can still be used to destabilize what remains of Russian power, and especially to counter the Chinese influence in Central Asia.

Different guys, right? Nope. Same guy, different times.

The author is Graham Fuller. Here’s his bio on his website, and here’s what Wikipedia says. Details are sparse – of course – but he is widely regarded as one of the key people in the US support of the mujaheddin in the Afghanistan-Soviet war.

In other words, Fuller was one of the architects of the US policy to use jihadists in one part of the world expecting to put them back in the box afterwards. (The arrogance of the hyperpower: we’re the actors, you’re the puppets). Now he realizes they’re not puppets and they didn’t quietly go back in the box when the hyperpower was finished using them. Now he says:

The elimination of ISIS requires every significant stake-holder to be present: UN, US, EU, Canada, Russia, Iran, Kurds, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Iraq, Qatar, Egypt and others. China, aspiring to a major world role, cannot sit this one out either. This convocation requires real heft and clout to impose some rough plan of action. Above all, the UN must head up future operations involving the indispensable future ground operations. If ever an neutral face was essential, this is it.

Which is exactly what Putin is calling for.

Speaking of Putin, I guess Fuller now agrees that

It is equally irresponsible to manipulate extremist groups and use them to achieve your political goals, hoping that later you’ll find a way to get rid of them or somehow eliminate them.” And “So, it’s a big question: who’s playing who here?

So, maybe the Paris atrocity will lead to some clear thinking. And, as there can’t be any real action without clear thinking…

But Fuller’s only one man, plenty more have to now come to the same understanding.