RUSSIA-US RELATIONS? QUESTION MARK. QUESTION MARK. ?

Answer to a question from my guy at Sputnik.

Haven’t a clue really: half of me thinks we’re in the Last Days and I and all of mine will become radioactive dust in a few years and the Ultimate Cockroach will write the history of God’s Failed Monkey Experiment.

The other half of me hasn’t a clue. My Weirdshitometer broke long ago when it was pushed to 11. And then waaaaay past 11. None of it makes any sense. Think about it: McCain spent years as a POW in a useless and lost war; why would he want more wars?  But, it’s actually a true fact that Hitler went through the whole thing in the trenches, very dangerous, decorated for bravery and decided that he wanted more. So what do I know?

What you see below is my best guess (given that I haven’t a clue and things  just get weirder and stupider as time goes on).

(BTW How did the West manage to throw it ALL away? And so quickly? A couple of decades. How is that possible?)

In today’s Direct Line with Vladimir Putin, Russia’s President repeated what he has said many times: Russia, he, the Russian government, and, for all I know, every Ivan and Natasha on the street, is open to cooperation with Washington on many matters. But Washington has closed the door and only it can open it.

One of the reasons Trump was elected was his observation, which he stuck to against much opposition, that it was better to have good relations with Russia than not. When the DNC’s cheating was revealed, its response was to distract attention from its malfeasance by blaming Russia for the “hack”. The presstitute media (to steal Paul Craig Roberts’ useful term) obediently bayed the same theme. And the anti-Russia crowd happily repeated every rumour and added their own.

Now that the former FBI Director has admitted that he leaked, only the most unobservant and simple-minded can deny a deepstate/borg/blob (different names for the same thing) conspiracy to block any attempt to better relations with Russia.

The ultimate objective is, at maximum, to reverse the election by impeachment of Trump as Putin’s puppy; at minimum, to make him into a lame duck.

Two agents, two aims, one method.

This is all pretty evident and it’s been going on, full blast, for the better part of a year. My conjecture is that Trump knew there would be opposition to his intentions but he’s pretty stunned by its extent and not sure how to counter it.

So, the question is whether Trump, who is, after all, POTUS with all the considerable powers of that office, can confound the knavish tricks of his enemies. I don’t know whether he can but it’s an observable fact that Donald Trump has surprised and outwitted better people than I. So we shall see.

Meanwhile, in the real world outside the Washington beltway, China advances. In 10-20 years the world will be run by China (and Russia, India and Persia). So, in the Great Scheme of Things, maybe none of this matters very much. That Endpoint isn’t all that far away – we’re not talking about geological epochs here. Nor Brzezinski’s era of US dominance from 1997 to 2016.

Presidential Election 1996

I was an official observer on several elections when I was posted there. This is the start of counting at the Kubinka air base in Moscow Oblast. We were made welcome and I was even given a filled-in copy of the protocol of the results. Lebed 640, Yeltsin 394, Zyuganov 238, Yavlinskiy 190. Brintsalov — anybody remember him? — 6. 21 years ago today.

My wife just read this and made the intelligent observation that I had written it to look as if we arrived and were immediately given the final result. Not at all: we watched, over several hours, the whole tedious process of the ballots being sorted, counted and registered. We wandered around as much as we wanted, looked at anything we wanted to and oversaw the whole process. Didn’t see anything that looked wrong anywhere in the 20 or so polling stations we looked at (other than the whole family , children and all, going into the voting booth). 

And, as a followup, when we got home and voted in an election in Ottawa, we discovered that someone we had never heard of and had never rented our house to, was on the list at our address. We protested and Lo and Behold! another list, with our names on it was discovered.

Should have raised a stink but was too dumbfounded.

Cheating. On elections. In Dear Old Canada!

(BTW. I must have been in 60 or 70 Russian voting stations and never saw anything like  that.)

19960616-kubinka-ballot

RUSSIAN FEDERATION SITREP 15 JUNE 2017

PUTIN Q&A SESSION. Today so I haven’t had time to look at it. The Western media will report what fits its agenda so you should read it yourself. English here as they translate it, Russian here.

STONE-PUTIN INTERVIEWS. Website with first three parts. Transcript for Kindle.

FAKE NEWS I. Navalniy applies for a permit to hold a demonstration on Russia Day. City grants him a permit for Akademik Sakharov Avenue, a large reasonably central area that has been used before. Navalniy decides that’s not good enough and moves his rally to Tverskaya Street which is filled with historical re-enactors. The cops move in, the Western media laps it up and pundits pontificate about what This All Means for Putin. Some demos in other cities, but nothing much. A flop, actually, says Karlin (who prefers evidence to the clairvoyance of the Western journo – see this idiotic example). (What do you suppose would happen if Occupy Wall Street moved a licensed demo – yes, you need a permit there too – to the Mall on July 4? This and this of course. Russia’s no different.)

FAKE NEWS II. Oh, and lots of the stories you read about Russiagate were, according to Comey, “dead wrong” (as in “NYT Scrambles To Fix ‘Almost Entirely Wrong’ Russia Scoop After Comey Testimony“). In short, Dear Readers, if it’s about Russia, it’s probably fake.

WHO YA GONNA BELIEVE? Macron e-mail dump. “The NSA Confirms It: Russia Hacked French Election ‘Infrastructure‘” or “French Cyber Security Leader: No Trace of Russian Hacking Group in Emmanuel Macron Campaign Leaks“.

RECOMMENDED READING. From a former Ambassador to Russia: “The Common Wisdom About Russia Is Not Wise“. From a former intelligence officer “Fake News and the Russian Interference Lie“.

RUSSIA-US RELATIONS. As plenty of us suspected: “In the early weeks of the Trump administration, former Obama administration officials and State Department staffers fought an intense, behind-the-scenes battle to head off efforts by incoming officials to normalize relations with Russia… “. A lot is invested in bad relations: to do otherwise would be to betray democracy, apparently.

RUSSIA INC. The Governor of the Bank of Russia said that the influence of Western sanctions on economy had been exaggerated and their effect was practically over; she also said that the economy had adapted to the lower oil prices in the last two years.

POLITKOVSKAYA. The man convicted of organising her murder has died in a penal colony.

QATAR BLOCKADE. Moscow is involved in two ways: it sent food there and it is diplomatically involved: the Presidential Website mentions calls with Turkey, Egypt, Qatar, Abu Dhabi and Saudi Arabia. However it ends, Moscow will come out stronger with a better reputation.

SYRIA. Apparently talks between Washington and Moscow are quietly going on in Jordan. Meanwhile the Syrian Army has advanced to the Iraq border cutting off the US-supported “moderate rebels” from their base of supply. Tillerson is quoted as saying that the US has no authorisation to use force against the Syrian Army. Meanwhile the USAF attacks the Syrian Army. Paul Robinson looks for, but is unable to find, Washington’s strategy. So, same-same. 1) Damascus with its allies from Russia, Iran and Hezbollah is winning slowly but steadily; 2) Washington remains incapable of either keeping its word or controlling its people. And, for once, the UN notices and the Guardian publishes something about the “‘staggering loss of civilian life’ caused by the US-backed campaign to reclaim Raqqa“.

UKRAINE. Profound dissatisfaction with the state of affairs at home plus visa-free travel to the EU. What could go wrong?

WESTERN VALUES™. Of the ten least peaceful countries in the world, according to the Global Peace Index, Syria, South Sudan, Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia, Yemen, Ukraine, Sudan and Libya have all had US/NATO interventions or involvements. Syria, Ukraine and Libya, in particular, were far more peaceful before: Syria 163rd today, 99th in 2008; Ukraine 156/101 and Libya 154/85. The USA itself dropped 11 places in the last year. Still they boast: “America has guaranteed freedom, security and peace for a larger share of humanity than any other nation in all of history“. NATO is about “Projecting Stability Beyond Our Borders“.

SHANGHAI COOPERATION ORGANISATION. India and Pakistan are now members. The new world is forming quickly; China and Russia will big players in it and I don’t think there will be much room for the USA. Martin Jacques suggests Europe had better get on board soon. I recommend his book.

© Patrick Armstrong Analysis, Canada Russia Observer

Russia the Eternal Enemy Quotations

Russia’s superpower ambitions are not limited to exercising, sometime in the future, greater control over its next-door neighbors. Its avowed primary objective is still to reduce America’s global influence as much as possible. As long as Russia’s leadership indulges every opportunity to damage U.S. interests abroad, any effort to treat today’s Russia as a genuine partner would have to be based on a significant degree of self-deception. There is an expansionist mentality among Russia’s ruling elite, deeply rooted in the country’s past, which makes it difficult for them to consider forming a partnership with the West. This almost permanent urge for territorial expansion has at the same time become a scourge for the Russian people, who continue to live in appalling poverty in a country rich in resources

Jan Nowak “What NATO can do for Russia” Washington Times, 19 Apr 2000 (Nowak is a former consultant to the National Security Council on Central and Eastern European Affairs. For 25 years he was director of the Polish Service for Radio Free Europe).

COMEYSTRAVAGANZA

(Response to a question from Sputnik about what I thought about Comey’s performance today.)

While it’s always difficult to predict what seriously deluded people will do next, I don’t see anything in Comey’s performance today to give comfort to them. He confirmed what Trump had said; namely that Trump himself was not under investigation. He admitted to being one of the leakers (not something, I imagine, in the FBI Director’s job description) and he implied (stated actually) that there was real interference from the Obama Administration in the Clinton investigation. None of these will give much comfort to the deluded. Especially if the POTUS orders his Attorney General to look into these admissions.

The Russia-Trumputin mania has two purposes. Originally a distraction from the fact that the DNC threw the nomination to Clinton, it has morphed into a full court press (pun intended) attempt to stop Trump from trying for better relations with Russia. And, for the most deluded, the Russia/Trump/Putin delusion was supposed to establish the foundation for reversing the election results. Comey’s performance today has not moved the delusion along. It has, in fact, given opportunities, if (if) they are taken, to destroy the whole confection.

PS I thank my UEL (that’s “Tory” for you Americans) ancestors for moving here (not that they had much choice) so that I could be a citizen of the less deluded half of the continent. (I grew up with the certainty that “they’re all crazy down there”. And so it seems to be).

When Intelligence Isn’t

First published at http://turcopolier.typepad.com/sic_semper_tyrannis/2017/05/when-intelligence-isnt.html

In my career in the Canadian government I was never formally in “intelligence” but I did participate in writing many “intelligence assessments”. Facebook, Twitter and other kinds of social media didn’t much exist at that time but, even if they had, I can’t imagine that we would have ever used them as sources of evidence: social media is, to put it mildly, too easy to fake. In writing intelligence assessments, while we did use information gathered from intelligence sources (ie secret), probably more came from what was rather pompously called OSInt (Open Source Intelligence; in other words, stuff you don’t need a security clearance to learn). What was, however, the most important part of creating an assessment was the long process of discussion in the group. Much talk and many rewrites produced a consensus opinion.

A typical intelligence assessment would start with a question – what’s going on with the economy, or political leadership or whatever of Country X – and would argue a conclusion based on facts. So: question, argument, conclusion. And usually a prediction – after all the real point of intelligence is to attempt to reduce surprises. The intelligence assessment then made its way up the chain to the higher ups; they may have ignored or disagreed with the conclusions but, as far as I know, the assessment, signed off by the group that had produced it, was not tampered with: I never heard of words being put into our mouths. The intelligence community regards tampering with an intelligence assessment to make it look as if the authors had said something different as a very serious sin. All of this is preparation to say that I know what an intelligence assessment is supposed to look like and that I have seen a lot of so-called intelligence assessments coming out of Washington that don’t look like the real thing.

Intelligence is quite difficult. I like the analogy of trying to solve a jigsaw puzzle when you don’t know what the picture is supposed to be, you don’t know how many pieces the puzzle has and you’re not sure that the pieces that you have are actually from the same puzzle. Let us say, for example, that you intercept a phonecall in which the Leader of Country X is telling one of his flunkeys to do something. Surely that’s a gold standard? Well, not if the Leader knew you were listening (and how would you know if he did?); nor if he’s someone who changes his mind often. There are very few certainties in the business and many many opportunities for getting it wrong.

So real raw intelligence data is difficult enough to evaluate; social media, on the other hand, has so many credibility problems that it is worthless; worthless, that is, except as evidence of itself (ie a bot campaign is evidence that somebody has taken the effort to do one). It is extremely easy to fake: a Photoshopped picture can be posted and spread everywhere in hours; bots can create the illusion of a conversation; phonecall recordings are easily stitched together: here are films of Buks, here are phonecalls. (But, oddly enough, all the radars were down for maintenance that day). It’s so easy, in fact, that it’s probably easier to create the fake than to prove that it is a fake. There is no place in an intelligence assessment for “evidence” from something as unreliable as social media.

An “intelligence assessment” that uses social media is suspect.

So why are there so many “intelligence assessments” on important issues depending on social media “evidence”?

I first noticed social media used as evidence during the MH17 catastrophe when Marie Harf, the then US State Department spokesman, appealed to social media and “common sense”. She did so right after the Russians had posted radar evidence (she hadn’t “seen any of that” said she). At the time I assumed that she was just incompetent. It was only later, when I read the “intelligence assessments” backing up the so-called Russian influence on the US election, that I began to notice the pattern.

There are indications during the Obama Administration that the intelligence professionals were becoming restive. Here are some examples that suggest that “intelligence assessments” were either not being produced by the intelligence professionals or – see the last example – those that were were then modified to please the Boss.

If one adds the reliance on social media to these indications, it seems a reasonable suspicion that these so-called intelligence assessments are not real intelligence assessments produced by intelligence professionals but are post facto justifications written up by people who know what the Boss wants to hear.

We have already seen what appears to have been the first example of this with the “social media and common sense” of MH17. And, from that day to this, not a shred of Kerry’s “evidence” have we seen. The long-awaited Dutch report was, as I said at the time, only a modified hangout and very far from convincing.

Russia “invaded” Ukraine so many times it became a joke. The “evidence” was the usual social media accompanied by blurry satellite photos. So bad are the photos, in fact, that someone suggested that “Russian artillery” were actually combine harvesters. In one of the rare departures from the prescribed consensus, a former (of course) German Chief of Staff was utterly unconvinced by thse pictures and explained why. By contrast, here is a satellite photo of Russian aircraft in Syria; others here. Sharply focussed and in colour. The “Russian invasion” photos were lower quality than the Cuban Missile Crisis photos taken six decades earlier! A hidden message? See below.

The so-called Syrian government CW attack on Ghouta in August 2013 was similarly based on social media; heavily dependent, in fact, on “Bellingcat”. Quite apart from the improbability of Assad ordering a CW attack on a suburb a short drive away from arriving international inspectors, the whole story was adequately destroyed by Seymour Hersh. (Bellingcat’s “proofs”, by the way, can be safely ignored – see his faked-up “evidence” that Russians attacked an aid convoy in Syria.)

A dominant story for months has been that Russia somehow influenced the US presidential election. As ever, the Washington Post led the charge and the day after the election told us “Secret CIA assessment says Russia was trying to help Trump win White House“. But when we finally saw the “secret assessments” they proved to be laughably damp squibs. The DHS/FBI report of 29 December 2016 carried this stunning disclaimer:

This report is provided “as is” for informational purposes only. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) does not provide any warranties of any kind regarding any information contained within.

Perhaps the most ridiculous part of the DNI report of 6 January 2017 was the space – nearly half – devoted to a rant that had been published four years earlier about the Russian TV channel RT. What that had to do with the Russian state influencing the 2016 election was obscure. But, revealingly, the report included:

We also assess Putin and the Russian Government aspired to help President-elect Trump’s election chances when possible by discrediting Secretary Clinton and publicly contrasting her unfavorably to him. All three agencies agree with this judgment. CIA and FBI have high confidence in this judgment; NSA has moderate confidence.

In other words, DHS told us to ignore its report and the one agency in the US intelligence structure that would actually know about hacking and would have copies of everything – the NSA – wasn’t very confident. Both reports were soon torn apart: John McAfee: “I can promise you if it looks like the Russians did it, then I can guarantee you it was not the Russians”. (See 10:30). Jeffrey Carr: “Fatally flawed“. Julian Assange: not a state actor. Even those who loath Putin trashed them. In any case, as we now know, the NSA can mimic Russians or anyone else.

In April there was another suspiciously timed “CW attack” in Syria and, blithely ignoring that the responders didn’t wear any protective gear in what was supposed to be a Sarin attack, the Western media machine wound up its sirens. The intelligence assessment that was released again referred to “credible open source reporting” and even “pro-opposition social media reports” (! – are the authors so disgusted with what they have to write that they leave gigantic hints like that in plain sight?). Then a page of so of how Moscow trying to “confuse” the world community. And so on. This “intelligence assessment” was taken apart by Theodore Postol.

So, we have strong suggestions that the intelligence professionals are being sidelined or having their conclusions altered; we have far too much reliance of social media; is there anything else that we can see? Yes, there is: many of the “intelligence assessments” contain what look like hints by the authors that their reports are rubbish.

  • Absurdly poor quality photos (maybe they were combine harvesters!).

  • Including a photo of damage to the port engine intake which contradicts the conclusion of the MH-17 report.

  • DHS “does not provide any warranties”.

  • The one agency that would know has only “moderate confidence”.

  • Irrelevant rants about RT or assumed nefarious Russian intentions.

  • “Pro-opposition social media reports”.

There are too many of these, in fact, not to notice – not that the Western media has noticed, of course – they rather jump out at you once you look don’t they? I don’t recall inserting any little such hints into any of the intelligence assessments that I was involved in.

In conclusion, it seems that a well-founded case can be presented that:

Where done? By whom? That remains to be discovered. More Swamp to be drained.

RUSSIAN FEDERATION SITREP 1 JUNE 2017

ZBIGNIEW BRZEZINSKI is dead but he lives on in three ways. He didn’t invent jihadism or takfirism but he gave it a key lift by supporting the mujahidin in Afghanistan in order to entice the USSR to intervene: the disastrous policy of encouraging jihadism in one place arrogantly thinking you could stop it spreading to another. This is something he apparently never regretted (at least not in 1998: “What is more important in world history? The Taliban or the collapse of the Soviet empire?). His obsessive anti-Russian stance remains embedded in the USA as this absurd Time magazine cover shows. He had some influence on Obama and one can legitimately ask whether his silly view about the importance of Ukraine to Russia was a prime mover in the Ukrainian catastrophe. There are some indications that he was beginning to realise how dangerous (and unsuccessful) this policy was becoming. But, probably, the longest-lasting legacy, though neither to his liking nor wishing, is the resistance to US hegemony taking concrete form in many places but most powerfully in Beijing and Moscow. As he said in his key book in which he thought to lay out the game plan to keep the USA on top forever: “the most dangerous scenario would be a grand coalition of China, Russia… Averting this contingency, however remote it may be, will require a display of U.S. geostrategic skill…” Neither remote nor skilful enough I guess. He should have paid more attention to Newton’s Third Law of Diplomacy: if you push countries around, they will push back. An exceptional failure all round.

NATO. When the chief member tells the others that they’re not “paying their fair share” and their real job is the Daesh threat, you have to wonder what is the longevity of an organisation whose members have never “paid their fair share” and spend their time obsessing about “Russian threats”. Pay for what, by the way? Defence against the “Russian threat”? Overthrowing governments in the Middle East?

NATO CRUMBLE. We have here a very interesting poll conducted by an American GONGO. Spun as discovering “Vulnerabilities to Russian Influence”, it actually shows how tarnished the Atlanticist idol has become. Majorities in Slovakia (75%), the Czech Republic (62%) and Hungary (54%) want security cooperation with Russia and over a third of Poles (!) agree. They’re worrying about the erosion of traditional values, they’re watching more Russian media and they’re feeling less “European”. None of this has anything to do with Russian “disinformation” of course: it’s an entirely homemade failure. More Brzezinski legacy.

EUROPE-US. When the chief member of the EU says that automatic agreement with Washington is no longer a given and that Europe must “stand on our own two feet” you have to wonder what will next happen in an organisation that has been pretty obedient to Washington’s diktat in recent years. Think of how much the Ukraine mess and Russian sanctions have hurt, and will continue to hurt, Europe. Do they still have feet, by the way? More Brzezinski legacy.

RUSSIAN MILITARY POWER. Some time ago there was a story about a single Russian aircraft shutting down the electronics of a US warship. I put it in the “Who Knows?” file. But now and again something else appears. The expensive US new battlefield communications system is, apparently, worthless. Wonder how they found out? Not while fighting people with no EW abilities, air defence, artillery or anything much but determination and high explosives.

LOGICAL CONUNDRUM. Russia is wrong to say that NATO is a threat to it, but NATO is right to say that Russia is a threat to it. Russia is wrong not to take NATO’s word for it, but NATO is right not to take Russia’s word for it. Meditate on this: a koan for our time.

MH17. Russian sources have published documents claimed to be from Ukrainian intelligence sources. They describe a coverup after a Ukrainian fighter plane shot it down. (Original Совершенно секретно) (English) I merely put this out – I don’t know: there are plenty of fakes around. But I do not believe a Buk shot it down: a Buk warhead has about 6000 lethal fragments and detonation a metre or two from the aircraft would have left a lot more fragments in the wreckage than were found. The Dutch report is self-contradictory by the way.

MISSING. Amnesty International, citing a 2016 US government audit, says Washington failed to monitor over $1B worth of arms and other military equipment transfers to Kuwait and Iraq. Would these US weapons found in Aleppo be some of the “unmonitored” items do you suppose? More Brzezinski legacy.

AMERICA-HYSTERICA. 1000 Russian bots on Facebook.

© Patrick Armstrong Analysis, Canada Russia Observer

RUSSIAN FEDERATION SITREP 18 MAY 2017

RUSSIA INC. More Western sources agree that Russia’s economy is growing again – EBRD, UN and IMF. Even Stratfor, which predicted Russia’s collapse, now admits it’s doing well. Which is no big news for those of us who ignored the NYT, WaPo and their friends. All I can say is: stop drinking each other’s bath water and do the work.

VICTORY DAY. What struck my attention was the Arctic camouflage air defence systems. Here’s the full parade. Here is the first parade on 24 June 1945: limos have replaced horses, loudspeaker trucks are less important, Nazi banners are stored away, but otherwise recognisable.

HISTORY. Much has been written about Putin’s views on Russia’s tangled history; much of it rubbish. Let’s listen to the man himself as he unveiled a monument to a grand duke assassinated in the Kremlin. “Russia’s history is regaining its unity. We treasure each page in this history, no matter how difficult. These are our national spiritual roots.” It has to be all of it, doesn’t it? They’ve already been through years of changing history around to suit present needs.

OIL PRICES. Moscow and Riyadh have agreed agree to extend the oil production cut. The January cut was initially successful at boosting prices, but they have fallen of late.

SYRIA. We do appear to have a measure of agreement among the principals, including Washington. Here’s the text of the “de-escalation zones” agreement. Still much that is murky though: are Washington and Ankara about to shoot at each other? Has Washington stopped the Assad must go stuff or not? Faked up atrocity stories continue. Is Washington still недоговороспособны – incapable of making agreements – as this would suggest? It’s all rather ambiguous; but I do understand that it takes a long time to turn a big ship around, especially when it’s surrounded – to keep the analogy going – by little boats pushing the other way and people in the engine room resisting the timoneer. I believe that my theory on last month’s airstrikes has not been falsified. So, things appear to be happening.

RECONSIDERATION. Let me introduce you, Dear Readers, to Graham Fuller. One of the authors of Washington’s (disastrous as it turned out) policy of supporting jihadists in one place expecting to put them back into the toy box afterwards, he has reconsidered: read this. He believes that overthrowing Assad would make things much worse: “Syria Will Likely Be Run By Terrorists”. He, by the way, appears to agree with my theory on the airstrikes, see last two paragraphs.

NO COMMENT. From the WaPo “NSA officials worried about the day its potent hacking tool would get loose. Then it did.” At least no one is blaming Putin for this. Yet.

COMEY FIRING. Assange predicts leaks will begin. One: Russian hacker claims FBI tried to bribe him to say he hacked DNC. Two: “federal investigator” says Seth Rich sent e-mails to Wikileaks. Stay tuned.

AMERICA-HYSTERICA. Ever louder. But not working: Democrats dropped 5 points. Two years ago Russia was “a regional power”, last year it was “important”; today its influence is everywhere; next year it will rule the world. Then I guess it’s all over. I’ve given up my PDS series now it’s merged with TDS: “Here’s how the Russians might have snuck a recording device into the Oval Office” (WaPo of course), I can’t keep up. Dimwitted and dangerous. Roman comparisons are trendy: try Cato and the Optimates.

WESTERN VALUES. Ukraine has blocked a number of Russia-based social media networks. A NATO spokesman is quoted as saying that’s OK because it’s “security”. (NATO’s “enduring mission”, by the way, is “defending values”.) Western values, which had real content a couple of decades ago, are now bedraggled camp followers of the juggernaut of war. (To be fair, an EU official, whom you didn’t know existed, did “voice concern”.)

UKRAINE. US House of Representatives passed a DoD funding bill that expressly forbade funding the Azov Battalion (Sec. 8131.) Meanwhile, in a decision it will live to regret, the EU has allowed visa free visits from Ukrainians.

NEW NWO. China hosted the Belt and Road International Forum. (The Chinese have a genius for coming up with descriptive slogans and this is one: a belt ties things together and a road communicates.) Putin was the first foreign speaker (not a coincidence, I’m sure) (his speech). Many countries attended. As always, the fact of the event itself and the side meetings were the most important. North Korea sent a delegation so probably some developments there with all its neighbours present. Eurasia: it’s real, it’s happening and it’s the future.

© Patrick Armstrong Analysis, CanadaRussia Observer

Underestimate Russia and be surprised

These pieces are papers that I believe to be still relevant; they were published earlier elsewhere under a pseudonym. They have been very slightly edited and hyperlinks have been checked.

I originally wrote this in November 2015. It seems appropriate, around Victory Day, to republish it. The manufacturers of Nazi battle standards would have been surprised had they known where they would end up. Likewise French cannon foundries. As there is more and more war talk in the West, it is as well to remember that, while you can easily start a war with Russia, it probably won’t be you who finishes it.

The USA/NATO has been surprised – or is stunned a better word? – by the Russian operation in Syria. The fact that it intervened; the speed with which it did it; the secrecy with which it did it; the numbers of sorties being flown; the accuracy and effectiveness of the strikes. But especially by the discovery that insignificant boats in the Caspian Sea – of all places – have a surprisingly long reach. McCain’s gas station or Obama’s negligible Russia couldn’t possibly be expected to do such things. And, if half the rumours about Russia’s “A2/AD bubble” are true, there’s another huge surprise as well.

Russia, over its millennium of history, has been usually successful in war, and especially so when defeating invaders. The Mongols were eventually seen off, the Teutonic Knights sent home, the Polish-Lithuanian invaders driven out, the Swedes defeated and Napoleon and Hitler were followed home by avenging armies. The West is only faintly aware of this record: it tends to remember Russia’s rare defeats like the Japanese war or World War I and, when Russia (or the USSR) wins, the common opinion in the West is that victory was really owed to factors like “General Winter” or endless manpower. In short, the Western meme is that Russia doesn’t really win, the other side loses.

This is, to put it mildly, incorrect. Dominic Lieven’s book “Russia Against Napoleon” destroys the meme. The author establishes the case that the Emperor Alexander and his government foresaw that war with Napoleon was inevitable, studied how Napoleon fought and made the necessary preparations to defeat him. And defeat him they did. Fighting an army as big as the one that invaded in 1812 led by as brilliant a commander as Napoleon is never going to be easy and Alexander probably didn’t envisage a battle as bloody as Borodino, so close to Moscow, to be indecisive. I’m sure nobody planned for Moscow to be occupied and burned. But, even so, Alexander held to his purpose. He knew that Napoleon’s typical campaign was a swift battlefield victory, followed by negotiations, perhaps the loss of a few bits of territory, a relative or two being made into a prince, and then the gathering of the defeated power into the French camp. In short, Napoleon expected that he and Alexander would meet again when Alexander had been taught a lesson: Russia would then rejoin the “continental system” and its navy would keep the Royal Navy out of the Baltic. Something limited like that. But Alexander was fighting a different war and never came to him. Moscow burned and Napoleon gave up waiting and went home. Certainly, “General Winter” played his part, but the French retreat turned into a rout as they were driven faster and faster by the menacing proximity of the rebuilt Russian Army, harried by warmly dressed Cossack raiders with endless remounts and enraged partisans roused into the first Great Patriotic War. This famous graph tells the story: four hundred thousand went in, ten thousand came out and the Russian army followed Napoleon all the way back to Paris. Lieven explains the planning and the enormous logistics operation which sustained a large army all the 1500 miles from Moscow to Paris. Very far indeed from the Western story of masses of men hurled at a freezing enemy.

In short: Alexander understood how Napoleon did things and surprised him with proper preparation and a full strategy. This, I believe, is the essence of the “Russian way in warfare”. Know and understand the enemy and surprise him. We have just seen this again in Syria. And, for that matter, over and over again in the Ukraine crisis where nothing has gone the way Nuland & Co intended. And in Ossetia in 2008.

While the First World War was a disaster for Russia, surprise and intelligence was present. Germany’s plan to deal with enemies both east and west assumed Russia would take so long to mobilize that the bulk of the German Army could be sent west to knock France out quickly – as it had done in 1870 – and return in time to meet the Russians. The Russians, who perhaps knew this, attacked early and threw the Germans into consternation. Their attack, however, went wrong: the Russian commanders were incompetent, the German commanders weren’t and the Germans were saved. Intelligence and surprise were there, but the execution was bungled. A second intelligence/surprise was the Brusilov Offensive in 1916 (again something not much known in the West). The attack was notable for two innovations later adopted in the Western Front: a short, intense, accurate artillery bombardment immediately followed up by attacks of small specially trained shock troops. Very different indeed from the synchronous Somme offensive on the Western Front with its prolonged bombardment and the slow advance of thousands of heavily burdened soldiers. But, in the end, Russia was overwhelmed by the strains of the first industrial war and undermined by German and Austrian subterfuges and collapsed. Intelligence and surprise weren’t enough.

Intelligence and surprise returned in the Soviet period. In the Far East we saw the perfect combination of surprise in 1939 with the annihilation of a Japanese army at the battle of Khalkin-Gol and intelligence in 1941 with Richard Sorge‘s discovery that Japan was turning south. This intelligence allowed Stavka to transfer divisions, that the Germans had no idea existed, to Moscow and surprise them with the first Soviet victory at the Battle of Moscow. Certainly Hitler surprised Stalin with his attack (although he shouldn’t have because Soviet intelligence picked up many warning signs) but that appears to have been the last German surprise of the war. From then on it was the Soviets who foresaw German plans and surprised them time and time again – the counter attack at Stalingrad and the entire Battle of Kursk being two of the most dramatic examples of the Soviets preparing for what their intelligence told them was coming and achieving complete surprise with their counter-attack. [And, as I have just learned today, the Soviets knew the details of the final German thrust on Moscow]. Again, surprise and intelligence, almost all of it on the Soviet side. (Which should make one wonder what Reinhard Gehlen, head of the German Army’s Soviet intelligence section had to sell the Americans in 1945, shouldn’t it?)

So then, Syria is just the latest example of something that has been present in Russian and Soviet war-fighting doctrine for at least two centuries.

A good piece of advice, then: if you are contemplating a war (even a non-shooting war) against Russia you’d better assume that they have a pretty good idea of what you are doing but that you have very little idea of what they are doing.

It’s much more likely that you will be surprised than you will surprise them.

Lots of people in lots of places over lots of years have underestimated Russia. Most of them have regretted it.

Is there anything in the last couple of years in the West’s anti-Russia campaign that would cause anyone to think otherwise?

RUSSIAN FEDERATION SITREP 4 MAY 2017

RUSSIAN ISOLATION. Remember when Russia was “isolated“? Today it seems to be the essential hub: just in the last seven days Japan, Germany and Turkey have visited and USA has phoned. Patience, persistence, performance, principle; they take a while but they kick in eventually.

JEHOVAH’S WITNESSES. The Jehovah’s Witnesses have been ruled an “extremist” organisation; there is still an appeal period. This seems a very wrong decision, and one based on a rather poorly-written law, as the conservative Fr Vsevolod Chaplin points out, with bad potential. On the other hand, I can well understand Russian concern about the true intentions of any US-based entity these days.

TRUST. The Levada survey of most trusted politicians has, as usual, Putin in the lead in the 80s, followed by Defence Minister Shoygu (who has been number two for many years) and Foreign Minister Lavrov. And why not? Westerners can only dream of such competency. PM Medvedev is in the 40s; I’m not sure that that means much: someone has to be blamed for things that go wrong.

CORRUPTION. Prosecutor General Chayka produced some data on corruption in 2016: 13,774 cases involving 15,207 people (both numbers down a trifle from 2015). He said that 97% of corruption crimes were detected (how did he detect the undetected examples?) The Moscow City Court sentenced the former head of the anti-corruption (!) department of the Interior Ministry to 22 years; subordinates received from 4 to 20 years. Western commentators often assume things should go faster than they do: the FSB started this back in 2010 and the case was formally opened in February 2014; the trial itself lasted about a year.

NAVALNIY. Big Western media coverage of a small subject. Yes, you are “fake news”.

SANCTIONS. A UN official, who has been examining the matter, praises the Russian government for taking “appropriate measures to insulate the population from the most adverse impact of the sanctions“. He estimates that Western countries lost more over the three years of sanctions and counter-sanctions: US$100 billion to Russia’s US$55 billion. This corresponds to what I (December 2015 for example) and many others not in Western governments, thinktanks and media outlets expected.

CHECHNYA. The NYT, quoting Novaya Gazeta, had this story: “Chechen Authorities Arresting and Killing Gay Men, Russian Paper Says“. Mark Ames, who holds to a quaint belief in the value of research, tells us this about the source. Hmmm…. НГ, NYT and Alekseyev. Not very reliable sources say I.

CHINA-RUSSIA. A Chinese official delivered a message to Putin from Xi. It should be read in full: it is a strong statement of the closeness and permanence of the Moscow-Beijing relationship. Any fantasies in Washington that the two can be separated should be abandoned.

NORTH KOREA. There is a solution to the dilemma and it has been around for some time. Beijing calls it the double suspension” (Pyongyang stops missile and nuclear tests and Washington and Seoul stop big military exercises near the border) and, with Moscow’s support, has put it on the table at the UNSC. The problem is that Washington, ever the virtuous one, has always refused to do so. But things are happening in the background and we shall see. By the way, I am fascinated to see this in the WaPo: “The U.S. war crime North Korea won’t forget“; it actually dares to suggest that Pyongyang’s point of view should be considered. Likewise “Let’s stop calling North Korea ‘crazy’ and understand their motives” and “Kim Jong Un Is a Survivor, Not a Madman“. All I can conclude is that the Party Line either hasn’t been formulated or hasn’t yet been sent to editorial offices. Normally, there is only one valid POV.

AMERICA-HYSTERICA I. “They went over the script they would pitch to the press and the public. Already, Russian hacking was the centerpiece of the argument.” And it still is part of the excuse package: “I was on the way to winning until the combination of Jim Comey’s letter on October 28 and Russian WikiLeaks“. The ever complaisant MSM followed its instructions (“we are not fake news!“) and we have the story. But it’s crumbling into incoherence; there’s no there there. Perhaps in a year or two the Democratic Party will stop blaming its catastrophe (more than 1000 elected positions lost in 8 years) on others. It will probably take more defeats, though, before it does: it’s pretty heavily invested in the anybody but us meme.

AMERICA-HYSTERICA II. Well worth the read – shows the Russian hacker story began with vague accusations during the Ossetia War and its fundamental shakiness; now it’s “a multibillion-dollar boondoggle, employing shoddy forensic techniques and politicized investigations”.

© Patrick Armstrong Analysis, Canada Russia Observer