RUSSIAN FEDERATION SITREP 30 JANUARY 2020

KREMLINOLOGY. I’ve been at this business for a while and one of the things I’ve learned is that “Kremlinology” is a waste of time: speculating about who’s who and the meaning of personnel appointments is worthless. Why? Because we simply don’t know: we don’t know why X was given that particular job and not another, we don’t know how X and Y get along together and how they interact with Z. In fact we really don’t know very much about X, what he thinks, why he thinks it and how he reacts to new things. It’s all a black box: we see some of what goes in and what comes out and have little idea of what happened inside the box. (We don’t know these things about our own countries – was Freeland promoted or demoted? – so what makes anyone think that we know these things about far-away Russia?) So it’s hardly surprising that Kremlinology has been a complete bust every move, including Putin’s latest, surprises its practitioners. So I don’t waste my time speculating: I don’t know enough; nobody does. (The only worthwhile legacy of years of wasted effort is the HAT.)

NEW GOVERNMENT. That having been said, the new government seems to have a lot of ministers who are specialists in their ministry’s field. We’ll see how that goes. MacDonald gives names and backgrounds, Saker says the “Atlantic Integrationists” are weakened, Doctorow suggests it’s connected with the feeble implementation of the National Projects. I say it’s a step towards The Team’s replacement with younger people who will carry the project on. I still expect that Putin will leave with a successor firmly positioned. Tennison, who met him way back when, thinks so too.

CONSTITUTION. Robinson doesn’t see such a huge change. The usual outlets say Putin forever! (Can we pause a moment for a brief think? If he wanted power forever, all he had to do was drop clause 81.3. Nah, turn off brain and outgas: “some” “reportedly” and so on.) The other thing that we have learned is that Putin wants to make the two term restriction absolute.

DEMOGRAPHICS. A fall in the net population (immigration failed to compensate) because of the decrease in the number of women of reproductive age (fallout from the hard times of the 1990s.) Natural increase is expected to resume in three or four years. This month Putin announced a substantial increase in programs to encourage births and support families.

CORRUPTION. The (ex) policemen who framed Golunov will be charged. Not truly a case of protest forcing a change (although there were strong protests) but the system operating properly pretty quickly.

SANCTIONS. Russia now exports beef. (!)

FAKE NEWS. US Army liberated Auschwitz says the US Embassy in Denmark and Der Spiegel. Israel knows who did it, though. The US won the war; Hollywood told us so.

ANNIVERSARY. Saturday, as I calculate it, marked the day when the US and its minions had been in Afghanistan twice as long as the Soviets were. Record year for bombing, too.

AMERICA-HYSTERICA. “There is … a strong possibility that all Steele’s material has been fabricated.” I always thought it was a complete fake with no Russian input (except maybe Skripal’s). I reiterate: there was no Russian interference and no collusion. It’s a phoney story to explain away Clinton’s failure.

ASSASSINATION. Did Pompeo threaten Russian and Chinese officials with assassination? Misreported say I (Veterans Today and Pravda.ru – not a winning combination); don’t see it in the actual speech.

NOT ON YOUR “NEWS” OUTLET. UNSC meeting on OPCW fakery. Thousands, tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands. You decide.

NUGGETS FROM THE STUPIDITY MINE. Schiff: Trump made a ‘religious man’ out of Putin. Pillow man, another of Schiff’s nuggets. Reflect that his present career is based on his “knowledge” of Putin.

US DOLLAR. I’m interested that The Economist gets it (as the Mean Sea Level of conventional opinion, what it chooses to cover is significant): “But it is only under President Donald Trump that America has used its powers routinely and to their full extent, by engaging in financial warfare… They have in turn prompted other countries to seek to break free of American financial hegemony.” If it’s used as a weapon, it’s no longer convenient. This man predicts the collapse of the USD this year. Russia has half a trillion’s worth in its FOREX and gold kitty.

EUROPEANS ARE REVOLTING. UK approves limited use of Huawei; Pompeo not happy.

RUSSIA/CHINA. Donald Trump must split up Putin and Xi, the new odd couple. Not only does the author not realise that train left the station a long time ago, he’s not even sure where the station is.

© Patrick Armstrong Analysis, Canada Russia Observer

A NEW YEAR’S FANTASY

(First published Strategic Culture Foundation

History is indeed little more than the register of the crimes, follies and misfortunes of mankind

– Edward Gibbon

Counterfactual history is generally a waste of time because, in the end, it’s just speculation. But it’s fun and it can sometimes illuminate factual history.

For example, take the aborted Soviet-French-British alliance to stop Hitler. It came to nothing for a number of reasons but, had it happened, history would have been very different. (And – dare I say it? – probably better. And not the least of the benefits would be that we would be freed from the endless appeals to “Munich” to encourage us to stand firm and bomb the “Next Hitler”.) But I am not going to explore that counterfactual history in which the UK, USSR and France got together, Poland was convinced to let a million Soviet soldiers in and the German military, seeing the hopelessness of it all, overthrew Hitler and the future followed a different set of possibilities (Poland probably being occupied each time).

I am going to consider a counter-factual post Cold War history. Not because I believe – cynical as I have now become – that there was much of a chance of triumphalist Washington, in thrall to PNAC fantasies, allowing it to happen; I do it to illuminate some of the mess that we are in today.

After the Second World War, Stalin, either because he was a dedicated expansionist enemy of the West or because he was determined that, the next time, invaders would have to start their attack farther away from Moscow, absorbed most of the countries the Soviet Army captured/liberated. Communists – and each country had plenty – were put into power. (I invite the reader to speculate: they were absorbed but which was his true motive?) After the Washington Treaty, Moscow formed the Warsaw Treaty. But while the former was, more or less, voluntary, the latter was not and, the moment the USSR weakened, everybody wanted out. Mikhail Gorbachev, GenSek in 1985, began glasnost and perestroyka, believing that the USSR as it was had exhausted its possibilities; one thing led to another, the Berlin Wall came down, the Warsaw Treaty organisation collapsed: when the USSR’s “allies” realised the tanks weren’t coming, they jumped. The USSR itself then fell apart and a whole new world was there for the making.

This is what happened, now begins my counterfactual speculation.

The Western (=NATO) capitals – none of which had foreseen these events – get together and think about how to profit from the collapse of their enemy and how to build a more secure world. A world that is not just better for themselves but more secure for everybody because the wise people in NATO understand that they cannot be secure if their neighbours are not: they know that security is indivisible.

The wise men and women of NATO ponder – it is their world-historical moment; they will create tomorrow. Alternate futures pass before their eyes, they have the power to choose one and eliminate the others; they will pick, out of all the possibilities, the one road the world will travel. Their challenge, now that a great war has ended, is how to fashion a wise ending to the struggle. Not a triumphant ending but a wise one; not just for us but for our descendants. Not momentary but enduring; not a quick sugar hit but lasting nutrition. Many roads to failure; only a few to success.

They take their place with modesty: while, naturally believing that their “free world” system was and is preferable to Marxism-Leninism, they are wise enough and modest enough to know that reality comes in shades of grey. No triumphalism here: just the pragmatic desire to build stability and peace. No boasting: just an acknowledgement that both sides have won.

They remember other decision points when a few created the future. The French Revolutionary/Napoleonic wars killed and maimed millions and devastated and squandered wealth throughout Europe. The easy end would have been to blame France and try to squash it for all time. But the victors – Britain, Prussia, Russia and Austria – were wiser: they included France in the settlement; and their settlement avoided a great European war for a century. They knew that France would always be an important player and therefore had to be invested in the settlement. If it weren’t invested in the settlement it would be invested in breaking the settlement. It’s the essence of The Deal: everybody gets something and everybody has an interest in keeping things the way they are. When no one wants to tip it over, you have stability. The victors of 1919 forgot this principle and their settlement collapsed into an even worse war in twenty years. The victors of that war remembered the 1814 principle (partially) and integrated Germany, Italy and Japan into the winners’ circle.

The wise ones of NATO know this history; they know that the losers have to be made into winners so that the peace can have a chance of lasting; they remember the terrible example of the 1919 failure. There’s no place for boasting or triumphantasising. They bend their powerful minds in the Great Peace Conference of 1991 (counterfactual fantasy event) to calculate how to accommodate everybody’s security concerns. They know that security is indivisible: if one doesn’t feel secure then, sooner or later, no one will.

They start with two realities: 1) Moscow’s former allies – or at least their current leaders – hate and fear Moscow and 2) Moscow doesn’t trust NATO. The Wise Ones waste no time moralising, they know these are the materials with which they have to work and have to make to fit together.

Expand NATO? No, say the Wise Ones: while it will please people in Warsaw or Prague (at least until they get the bill), it will make Moscow nervous and that violates the principle of indivisible security. If making Warsaw happy makes Moscow unhappy, then, at the end of the day, they will both be unhappy and, if they’re both are unhappy, then we will all be unhappy too. Indivisibility of security is the kernel of wisdom that the Wise Ones hold to. If nobody is unhappy then everybody is happy: it’s the geopolitical version of “happy wife, happy life”.

So, the question is this: how do we make a settlement to the Cold War in which NATO, the former Warsaw Treaty, former-USSR and Moscow all feel secure at the same time? Fortunately, at this unrepeatable moment in world history, the NATO leadership is replete with wise, knowledgeable and thoughtful people, well-informed about past errors, determined to do better, with the vision, modesty and ingenuity to square the circle. (I warned you it was counterfactual). They figure it out:

  1. They tell Warsaw, Prague, Kiev and the rest of them to form an alliance (Central European Treaty Organisation or some such name) grounded on NATO’s Article 5 (an attack on one is an attack on all).
  2. They get a formal, signed, ceremonial declaration from NATO that, should Russia attack any member of the Central European Treaty Organisation, NATO will come to its defence.
  3. They get a formal, signed, ceremonial declaration from Moscow that should NATO attack any member of the CETO, Moscow will come to its defence.

So, between NATO and Russia, there would have been a belt of neither-one-nor-the-other-but-guaranteed-by-both countries. CETO would have lots of weapons and a high degree of interoperability and command structure left over from the Soviet days; therefore they would be able to mount quite effective defences with what they already had. Their weapons, being Soviet and very rugged, would work for years to come so they wouldn’t have to spend much on their defence.

(Note that, we have, as a sort of scale model of something like this, the relationship between Malta and Italy. From 1981 Malta is officially neutral and its neutrality is guaranteed by Italy, a NATO member. The USSR recognised this neutrality soon after.)

If a CETO had been formed, guaranteed by NATO and Russia, wouldn’t everybody be 1) happier and 2) more secure?

But that didn’t happen. We all know what did: the men and women of NATO were not so wise, they missed their world-historical moment and they went for the triumphantasising quick sugar hit.

So I wish you all a happy

New Year

in which you may reflect upon what might have been

but wasn’t.

 

 

 

 

 

RUSSIAN FEDERATION SITREP 16 JANUARY 2020

THE GREAT RESHUFFLE. I do expect Putin to retire and assume him to be working on a succession plan to keep the team’s aims in operation. He’s due to go in about four years. I would not be surprised if we see something à la Kazakhstan where Nazarbayev still has a significant advisory authority.

1. NEW PM. Mikhail Mishustin, head of Tax Service. Is he the chosen one? (Would be a blow to the Hirsute Analytical Tool, though.) (Мишустин bio on Russian Wikipedia.)

2. CONSTITUTION. Putin suggested constitutional tweaks. A ban on any form of dual citizenship for certain positions: they must “inseparably connect their lives with Russia and the Russian people without any assumptions and allowances”. The Duma should appoint the PM and the PM the government although little was said about exactly how responsibilities were to be divvied up. (Did he support removing the two consecutive term rule? Don’t know – depends on what you think “этим” refers to.)

3. PRECEDENCE. Back when the world was simpler and happier and Russians naïve, the Constitution (Art 15.4) said “If an international treaty of the Russian Federation establishes rules other than those stipulated by the law, the rules of the international treaty apply.” Brutal reality has taught Moscow the true nature of the “Rules-Based International Order” and Putin has proposed to reverse the authority.

4. MEDVEDEV. Deputy Chairman of the Security Council. I think it’s a real job and not a sinecure.

WHAT’S IT MEAN? My take. Doctorow. MacDonald. We are broadly in step. Robinson discusses possibilities. Those who see Russia as one man and many robots of course see this as Putin hanging onto power forever. But their predictive track record is pretty pathetic, isn’t it?

FEDERAL ASSEMBLY ADDRESS. In addition to the constitutional matters above, Putin’s address (Rus) (Eng), touched on other subjects. He began with population – the births per woman were 1.5 and he wants to raise that to 1.7 and proposes more day care places and greatly extending existing financial support programs as well as spending to improve healthcare. All this is possible because “The federal budget has had a surplus again” and inflation is low. (Robinson points out, quite correctly, that there’s a gap between what The Boss decrees and what actually happens. Nonetheless I’d say Putin has been much more successful than most leaders.) Foreign matters received the barest mention: situation in MENA threatening, Russia ready to cooperate, “defence capability is ensured for decades to come”.

RUSSIA INC. Awara does a study of Russian and American earnings and demonstrates that, in purchasing power, they’re a lot closer than you would think. It’s not just money: health, housing and education – big expenses in the USA – are negligible costs in Russia.

CORRUPTION. After an investigation, the Russian Academy of Sciences has forced the retraction of hundreds of scientific articles for plagiarism and other forms of fraudulent behaviour.

RUSSIA, SPORTS AND DRUGS. It’s all fakery – Mark Chapman takes the trouble to put it all together.

USN ALWAYS HAS RoW. Again the US accuses the Russian Navy of dangerous behaviour, again it was the USN ship that should have given way. (Give way to starboard vessel.) Speaking of rules-based.

IRAQ. It is reported that that Baghdad is in talks with Moscow on buying S-300 SAM systems. Baghdad orders Americans out; they refuse; Baghdad might need air defence that’s independent of US backdoor programming.

TURKSTREAM. Formally launched by the two presidents in Turkey.

NOT IN YOUR “NEWS” OUTLET. Helmer discusses a German parliamentary report that shows that there really isn’t any evidence that Russia “invaded” Ukraine or controls the rebels: “few reliable facts and analyses aside from the numerous speculations”. It calls it a “civil war” (bürgerkriegs). Which is what it actually is (with assistance from NATO and Russia, to be sure). (Report, German only).

TROUBLE IN PARADISE. A contested presidential election led to pretty strong protests with the Supreme Court changing its ruling. The long and the short is that Raul Khajimba, an important player and President for six years, resigned on Monday. New elections will be held in March. Independent Abkhazia has not been very stable and I don’t have any good sources to guide me on what’s happening. Although I have been told it is determined on real independence, joining neither Russia nor Georgia.

NEW NWO. Iran has just demonstrated it belongs to the rather small club of countries which can precisely strike a target from far away. At least somebody got the message.

© Patrick Armstrong Analysis, Canada Russia Observer

RUSSIAN RESHUFFLE

(Also published at Sic Semper Tyrannis, Strategic Culture Foundation, picked up by JRL, Technical Politics, The New Dark Age,

(Written on the evening of. So subject to reconsideration/revision/outright denial as we learn more.)

I didn’t expect any of it. Neither did anyone else, whatever the so-called experts outgassing on the US Garbage Media may be pretending. I don’t know what it all means. Neither does anyone else. (Well Putin & Co do, but they keep their cards close to their chests. As we’ve just seen.)

What do we know? Putin gave his annual address to the Federal Council (Rus) (Eng) and started off with how important it was that the birthrate should be raised. Fair enough: he wants more Russians on the planet, the government’s programs have ensured that there will be quite a few more but there are still more to come. Many programs planned; some of which will work: after all, not everything works out as we hoped does it? He mentioned how dangerous the world is – especially the MENA – and said at least Russia is pretty secure (as indeed it is except against lunatics addicted to the Book of Revelation.)

Then the constitutional stuff. He believes the Constitution needs a few tweaks. Important officials should really be Russians and not people with a get-out-of-jail-card/alternate-loyalty-card in their vests. Reasonable enough: they should “inseparably connect their lives with Russia and the Russian people without any assumptions and allowances.” (Good idea actually. Can we in the West steal the idea? We vote for X but who does he vote for?) Russian law should take precedence over decrees contaminated by the “Rules-Based International Order” (“we make the rules, you follow our orders“). The PM should be named by the Duma. (A pretty big change, actually: let’s have more details on the division of labour please. In some countries the head of state is The Boss – USA, Russia (now), France – in others the head of government is The Boss – Germany, Canada, Denmark. There is a serious carve up of powers question here that has to be worked out in detail.) Constitutional changes should be approved in a referendum. The President either should or should not be bound by the no-three-terms-in-a-row-rule (I personally can’t figure out what “этим” refers to in “Не считаю, что этот вопрос принципиальный, но согласен с этим. Не считаю, что этот вопрос принципиальный, но согласен с этим.” But, no doubt we will soon learn.)

So, a somewhat less presidential republic. Details to be decided. Many details. But I’m confident that it’s been worked out and we will learn. Putin & Co have shown us over 20 years that they don’t make things up on the fly.

Then we learned that the entire government had resigned – but individuals to stay in place until replaced. Then we learned – a fast few hours indeed! – that Dmitri Medvedev was replaced by somebody that no one (other than Russian tax specialists) had ever heard of: Mikhail Vladimirovich Mishustin. (Russian Wiki entry – none in English so far.) Those cheering Medvedev’s dismissal (something predicted and hoped for by a sector of Russianologists) had to then swallow this: not tossed out into ignominy and shame, as they wanted, but something else. Putin says that there is a clear distinction between government and presidential concerns; defence and security are clearly in the latter. But Medvedev has always been closely following defence and security issues and it is suitable and appropriate that he continue to do so. So a new position, deputy heard of the security council, will be created for him. So what are we to make of this? Medvedev has been given the boot and a sinecure? Or he’s been given a crucial job in the new carve-up of responsibilities?

After all, Russia’s problems keep getting bigger but nobody is getting any younger. Especially the problems from outside. For some years Washington, an implacable enemy of Moscow, has been getting less and less predictable. Lavrov and Kerry spend hours locked up negotiating a deal in Syria; within a week the US military attacks a Syrian Army unit; “by mistake”. Who’s in charge? Now with the murder of Soleimani, possibly on a Washington-approved peace mission, Washington has moved to another level of lawlessness and is exploring the next depth as it defies Baghdad’s order to get out. A pirate power. The outside problems for Moscow aren’t getting smaller, are they? Washington is certainly недоговороспособны – it’s impossible to make an agreement with it and, if you should think you have done so, it will break it. A dangerous, uncontrollable madman, staggering around blowing everything up – is any foreign leader now to be assumed to be on Washington’s murder list? Surviving its decay is a big job indeed. The problems are getting bigger in the Final Days of the Imperium Americanum.

So, maybe Moscow needs more people on the job.

So are we looking at a new division of labour in Moscow as part of managing the Transition? (To say nothing of the – what’s the word? – Thucydides trap?). Mishustin looks after the nuts and bolt of Russia’s economy and internal management. Medvedev looks after defence and security – something not likely to get smaller — while Putin looks after the big picture?

But this is only the first step in The Transition and we will learn more soon.

NOTE 16 January. The Presidential website now has the actual words on the issue of defence and security:

There is a clear-cut presidential block of issues, and there is a Government block of issues, even though the President, of course, is responsible for everything, but the presidential block includes primarily matters of security, defence and the like.

Mr Medvedev has always been in charge of these matters. [Дмитрий Анатольевич всегда занимался этими вопросами}. From the point of view of increasing our defence capability and security, I consider it possible and have asked him to deal with these matters in the future. I consider it possible and will, in the near future, introduce the position of Deputy Chairman of the Security Council. As you are aware, the President is its Chairman.

COMMENTS FROM THE LOCKED WARD

(Miscellaneous comments from pieces dealing with Russia I’ve collected. Most of them anonymous or with pseudonyms. They are chosen to illustrate either rabid hostility to everything Russian or stone-dead ignorance of present reality. I post from time to time when I have enough, spelling mistakes and all.)

Yup Russia isn’t a trouble maker,right ok!

What is Russia?

A failing state,built from the wreckage of a failed state and failed system

What does Russia do?

It supports failure,Syria

It supports failure, Venezuela

It supports failure,Iran

It’s oligarchy supports Putin so they can loot Russia!

Russia isn’t going anywhere its just a big lump of Forrest and oil

corrupt state enterprise outfits making crap wiz bangs

which will certainly be well worked out by Israel, and thats why Putin sucks up to Israel, because he doesn’t doesn’t want this known as its very embarrassing

Personally Putin should walk away from Syria but he’s stupid

Tweet on occasion of latest US accusation of Russian Navy dangerous driving, January 2020

TWENTY YEARS LATER – WHAT PUTIN FORGOT

(First published Strategic Culture Foundation

This site has just published my assessment of what Putin (and his team) got right in the program laid out, twenty years ago, in his essay “Russia at the turn of the millennium”. I concluded that he outlined four main projects: 1) Improve the economy. 2) Re-establish central control. 3) Establish a rule of law. 4) Improve Russia’s position in the world. I assessed that he accomplished three of them triumphantly and one reasonably well.

But, re-reading the essay, I noticed something that he did not mention. A something that in the twenty years has become rather important. Here is his only mention in the essay of that thing.

Russia was and will remain a great power.. It is preconditioned by the inseparable characteristics of its geopolitical, economic and cultural existence. They determined the mentality of Russians and the policy of the government throughout the history of Russia and they cannot but do so at present. But Russian mentality should be expanded by new ideas. In the present world the might of a country as a great power is manifested more in its ability to be the leader in creating and using advanced technologies, ensuring a high level of people’s wellbeing, reliably protecting its security and upholding its national interests in the international arena, than in its military strength.

Once. That’s it. That’s the only time “military strength” is mentioned and it is mentioned disparagingly: other things – technologies, wellbeing, diplomacy – are more important in this new world of the Twenty-first Century as Putin then saw it.

There is, in fact, almost nothing in the essay about the outside world and therefore little from which to deduce Putin’s expectations of how his program would be received. At one point he writes that Russia, after the dead end of the Soviet years, “has entered the highway by which the whole of humanity is travelling”, in another that an important aim is to “integrate the Russian economy into world economic structures”. This sounds as if he either expected Russia to be welcomed into these structures or that its arrival on the highway would, at least, not be impeded.

But, in one of his first interviews to a foreign source, a German newspaper in June 2000, the outside world made it presence known in three issues – the US flouting of the ABM Treaty, US missiles in Europe and NATO expansion. A year later an interview with American reporters (JRL 20 Jun 2001) is almost completely given over to American plans to place ballistic missile defences in Europe. In short, he wasn’t at his new job very long before his daily schedule started to have a large foreign component. And, from his perspective, all problems. We see in these first interviews points that Putin will return to over and over again in the coming years. He doubts that the Bush-era ABM systems have much to do with “rogue states”; he regards the ABM Treaty as vital to nuclear stability; he objects to the expansion of NATO. But most of all, he talks of a multipolar world, or as some call it a “Westphalian” system, of sovereign countries. This, he argues, again and again, is the only route to peace and stability. These themes feature in almost every speech on foreign issues he has made since. Given weight by the knowledge that Moscow wasted 70 years on the exceptionalist, moralistic path – a dead end as he said in his millennium essay.

So if, as the essay suggests, Putin was expecting the mostly domestic task of reconstructing Russia – “the price which we have to pay for the economy we inherited from the Soviet Union” – to proceed with a benign reaction from the outside world, he was soon disabused of the notion. The West, for all its honeyed words, was taking advantage of Russia’s weakness.

In short, he forgot the saying attributed to the Emperor Alexander III thatRussia has only two allies – its Army and its Navy”.

Eventually missiles were emplaced in Europe, the ABM Treaty and two of the other keystone arms control treaties were abandoned and NATO kept expanding. And much else. By February 2007 Putin had had enough and said so in the famous Munich Conference speech. The essence of his speech – and who today can deny its prescience? – is that that “security for one is security for all”. He proclaimed the unipolar world dead – as it has become. He decried the ignoring of international law; today there isn’t even the pretence: keep their oil, Bolivia coup. He pointed out the broken promise about NATO expansion – no longer can it be denied. He never quite gives up hope: who can forget his question, referring to the mess in the Middle East caused by Washington and its minions (September 2015): “I’m urged to ask those who created this situation: do you at least realize now what you’ve done?” or (October 2016) “I address the players once again: 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.

So, at some point between 1999 with the millennium essay and the Munich speech of 2007, Putin realised that the reconstruction of Russia would have to proceed in a hostile atmosphere; Washington and its allies did not want a strong Russia as a partner or or even as peaceful competitor: they wanted the Russia of 1999 – poor, divided, lawless and insignificant. Or perhaps his turning point was NATO’s destruction of Libya in 2015. Or when Washington did kill the ABM Treaty in 2002. Most likely, though, it was a gradual process by which Putin and his team realised they had to look to Alexander’s allies.

And they did. They warned – Putin told the American reporters in 2001 “We are offering cooperation. If that is acceptable, we will do this with pleasure. If not, then we will act independently” – and, quietly, they did.

In March 2018 he showed the Federal Assembly and the world what the Team had been working on. A final reminder:

We proposed working together in this area [prolonging the ABM Treaty – ‘the cornerstone of the international security system’] to ease concerns and maintain the atmosphere of trust. At one point, I thought that a compromise was possible, but this was not to be. All our proposals, absolutely all of them, were rejected. And then we said that we would have to improve our modern strike systems to protect our security.

Six new super weapons: the Sarmat ICBM, Burevestnik nuclear powered cruise missile, Poseidon nuclear powered underwater cruise missile, Kinzhal hypersonic air-launched missile, Avangard hypersonic manoeuvrable re-entry vehicle and the Peresvet combat laser. He warned:

Any use of nuclear weapons against Russia or its allies, weapons of short, medium or any range at all, will be considered as a nuclear attack on this country. Retaliation will be immediate, with all the attendant consequences.

He couldn’t resist adding “nobody wanted to listen to us. So listen now.” They scoffed: just virtual reality. But they’re not; US inspectors have been shown the Avangard which, with its ability to hit anywhere in less than half an hour, ends the US dream of antiballistic missile defence. The two cruise missiles present a unprecedented threat – lurking over Antarctica or in the ocean deeps for months ready to strike? A volley of Kinzhals coming in at Mach ten will obliterate any carrier group or staging harbour or base in Europe. Checkmate.

But there’s more: great advances have been made on conventional defence as well. As I argue here, the Putin Team understood that the two essentials of NATO’s war-fighting doctrine are air superiority and assured communications. They won’t have them against Russia. The First Guards Tank Army has been revived and far exceeds anything that NATO has in offensive power. NATO has been writing NSF cheques for years and Moscow has called its bluff.

So, eventually, the Putin Team did take Alexander’s advice. Russia’s army and navy and air force have probably made Russia more secure against attack than at any time since his Great Uncle entered his capital in triumph two years after Napoleon’s attack or when Marshal Zhukov accepted the enemy’s surrender in his capital four years after Hitler’s attack.

***********************************

And, as an afterword, at Munich Putin said this:

It is a world in which there is one master, one sovereign. And at the end of the day this is pernicious not only for all those within this system, but also for the sovereign itself because it destroys itself from within.

Do we not see this today? The USA is tearing itself apart over imagined Russian collusion, imagined Russian electoral interference and real Ukrainian corruption. And, meanwhile, the forever wars go on and on.

TWENTY YEARS LATER – HOW DID PUTIN DO?

(First published Strategic Culture Foundation picked up by JRL, Greanville Post, The Liberty Beacon, Technical Politics, Covert Geopolitics, Astute News, Europe Reloaded, The Falling Darkness,

(NOTE: Thanks to Veleslav Grivov who pointed out that in my World Bank figures below, the billions should be trillions and the millions billions. Too many zeroes for me!)

Twenty years ago a not very well-known Vladimir Putin published an essay “Russia at the turn of the millennium”. It was printed in Nezavisimaya Gazeta and at the Russian government website. The only copy that I can find on the Net in English now is here but I will be referring to the official English translation and Russian text that I downloaded at the time.

Putin had been Prime Minister for about five months and, when Yeltsin resigned the day after the publication of this essay, he became Acting President. Since that day his team has been running Russia. It is reasonable to regard this essay as his program and, on its twenty-year anniversary, appropriate to see how well he (and his team – it’s not a one-man operation) have done.

I concluded that he outlined four main projects:

  • Improve the economy.

  • Re-establish central control.

  • Establish a rule of law.

  • Improve Russia’s position in the world.

Putin took power at a time when people were seriously saying Russia is Finished. And, however silly this may look now when we are hysterically told every day that “Putin’s Russia” is infiltrating, controlling, interfering, attacking, hacking, conquering, violating, cheating it is worth running over what the author said. Assassinations, mafiya, corruption, kryshas, oligarchs, unpaid salaries, military collapse: “the Russians are likely to face a long, slow, relatively peaceful decline into obscurity – a process that is well under way”. The author acknowledged the changing of the guard – the piece was published in May 2000 – but believed Putin was picked only because he had the “security connections to protect” Yeltsin’s entourage; he was just another centraliser building a personality cult in “Zaire With Permafrost.”

The author – like almost everyone else – got Putin wrong but generally he was describing the reality of Russia in 2000. It was a mess. In Putin’s own words last June:

But I must note that during that time our social sphere, industry and the defence sector collapsed. We lost the defence industry, we practically destroyed the Armed Forces, led the country into a civil war, to bloodshed in the Caucasus, and brought the country to the verge of losing sovereignty and collapse.

As far as I know, most Western intelligence agencies (but not the one I was involved with) would have agreed with his prediction that Russia was, inevitably, going down to “obscurity”. The fear then was of chaos – rogue generals, nuclear weapons gone missing (remember suitcase nukes, “red mercury“?): Russia’s weakness was the threat, not its strength. We appreciated how badly off Russia was but also knew that Russia in its thousand years has often been down but never out. We also knew that there was more to Putin than the absurdities that were said about him of which I especially remember this:

Psychiatry recognizes a condition known as ‘moral idiocy’. Every time he opens his mouth in public, Putin confirms this diagnosis for himself.

In my group we took note that he had been the trusted disciple of Anatoliy Sobchak who was, in the terminology of the time, a “reformer” and therefore a “good Russian”. We had also read the millennium paper and saw the program. I am not pretending that, in 1999, I or my colleagues expected him to do all this but at least we saw the possibilities. We, as it were, saw a half full glass where others saw a glass quickly emptying.

************************************

He and his team were trying to make Russia prosperous, united, law-governed and internationally significant. A formidable program from the perspective of 1999 to be sure. How well have they done?

Taking the economy first. One of the famous quotations from the millennium paper was this:

It will take us approximately fifteen years and an annual growth of our Gross Domestic Product by 8 percent a year to reach the per capita GDP level of present-day Portugal or Spain,

That mission has been accomplished and much more than merely accomplished. According to the World Bank Russia’s GDP in purchasing power parity in 2018 (4.0 billion trillion) was nearly 12 times as high as Portugal’s (339 million billion) and twice Spain’s (1.8 billion trillion). It was in fact larger than France’s (3.0 billion trillion) or the UK’s (3.0 billion trillion), two other countries he mentioned. (By comparison, China 25 billion trillion and USA 20 billion trillion). Valuations of Russia’s GDP in US dollars contradict reality: as I have argued elsewhere, Russia’s economy is in fact full-service and it is one of four potential autarkies on the planet. And, the way things are going, it won’t become any less so: as Awara points out it is one of the most independent economies in the world, well positioned to survive a world recession. While individual Russians could certainly be richer, the improvement from the desperate situation in 2000 is extraordinary. Ironically, Western sanctions (and Moscow’s adroit response) have strengthened the Russian economy; as Putin said in his last direct line program:

Look, if ten years ago I or anyone else in this hall had been told that we would be exporting agricultural products worth $25.7 billion, like we did last year, I would have laughed in the face of the person who said this.

An outstanding success.

The second point was re-centralising power. In 2000 there were concerns that the federation might break up: the CIA in 2004 (has there ever been an organisation with a worse track record of Russia predictions?) thought it could break into as many as eight different parts by 2015. Many of the “subjects of the federation” had negotiated sovereignty pacts with Moscow and, as of 2000, Chechnya was effectively independent. So, in fact, the CIA’s prediction was not, of itself, idiotic but it assumed a temporary weakness to be a permanent condition: a longer view of Russia’s track record shows weak periods but it always comes back. As Putin said in the millennium paper:

For Russians a strong state is not an anomaly which should be got rid of. Quite the contrary, they see it as a source and guarantor of order and the initiator and main driving force of any change.

Russia is a civilisation statePresident Macron’s expression – Europe by contrast has always been a series of (quarrelling) independent states. For much of the time, the state – the King’s power – was something to be resisted or limited. Russia, on the other hand, during its “prey-fish” period, learned to value the state as the guarantor of its existence. And so, to Russians, state power is much more important than it is to most Europeans. Western commentators have to understand this or else they look like fools to Russians: Russians think centralisation is good, they respect state power, not slavishly as Western prejudice would have it, but because Russia has fought for its existence too many times for them to want to risk anarchy. Putin and his team have re-established state power; that someone like David Satter thinks Putin is a dictator or the Western media calls his elections fake, matters nothing to Russians. Russia exists again and it’s full of Russians. A rather interesting illustration can be seen in this video when the Chechen MP in Syria says we are all Russians. The Russian language has two words that would be translated as “Russian”: one for ethnic Russians, the other for citizens of the country. A Chechen can’t be the first (and wouldn’t want to be) but he can be proud of being the second. Again, we have to agree that the Putin Team achieved its second aim.

The third aim was rule of law. And here assessment is on more uncertain grounds. The first question to ask is whether any country actually does have a “rule of law”. Britain is holding Assange in jail on rape charges jumping bail… what charges? What exactly did Maria Butina do? Why did Canada seize a Chinese executive? Whataboutism they call this but it establishes the base of reality – all countries have corruption, all countries have one law for the powerful and another for the weak; it’s not absolute, it’s a matter of degree. Certainly, by any standards, twenty years ago Russia was very lawless; how lawless is it today and how successful has the Team been? I don’t know know of any good study on the matter – I don’t take Transparency International seriously: Ukraine less corrupt than Russia? – but it does appear that things are much better than they were. Certainly we hear very little about businesses needing criminals’ protection today and Russia’s ranking on ease of doing business is continually improving and is respectable today. This guide indicates some remaining problems but generally assumes that it’s possible for foreigners to do business there as does this guide. Recently we learned that “Nearly one in six Russian mayors have faced criminal prosecution over the past decade” which is either evidence of a lot of corruption or a lot of success combatting it. The construction of a new cosmodrome has involved much theft but other mega projects – like the Crimea Bridge or the new Moscow-St Petersburg highway – seem to have been carried out with little. A balanced (and sourced) piece argues that there has been considerable improvement in the rights of the accused in the twenty years. But a frequent complaint in Putin’s Q&A sessions are over-zealous officials destroying businesses – perhaps for venal purposes. So a cautious conclusion would suggest that the two decades have seen a reduction in criminality and an improvement in rule of law. How much of each is debatable and the argument is not helped by tendentious pieces asserting that the imitation of the American foreign agents law was “a landmark on the journey towards the end of the rule of law in modern-day Russia.” So some success in this aim but some distance to go still.

The fourth aim was to improve Russia’s standing in the world. Here another enormous turnaround is seen – even if not much to the liking of those who ruled the world in 2000. There’s no need to spell it out – despite the West’s efforts to isolate and weaken Russia, Putin is a welcome visitor in many places. The delirium over Russia’s imagined influence and control proves that it is hardly “decline[d] into obscurity”. Moscow’s status is, of course, especially recognised in Beijing where the Russia-China alliance grows stronger day by day. When we see the NYT, after years of “Trump and Putin: A Love Story“, solemnly opining “President Trump is correct to try to establish a sounder relationship with Russia and peel it away from China” or President Macron suggesting that Russia shouldn’t want to be “a minority ally of China” we see the belated realisation that twenty years’ of pushing around an “insignificant” Russia has not turned out so happily for the pushers. The NYT and Macron are too late: why would Moscow or Beijing ever trust the West again? Meanwhile Moscow manages to have, for example, good relations with Iran, Iraq and Syria as well as with Saudi Arabia and Israel; quite a contrast with Washington and much of the West.

************************************

So, in conclusion, twenty years later the program has been very successful.

Improve economy? Yes, dramatically, extra marks.

Re-centralise control? Yes, full marks.

Rule of law? Considerable progress, part marks.

Improve Russia’s role in the world? Yes, dramatically, extra marks.

The West resents this achievement and has been in an economic (sanctions) and diplomatic (ditto) war with Russia. But, many would argue, that the only Russia the West has ever liked is a weak one (except, of course, in times of war against Napoleon, the Kaiser or Hitler); enmity is a given and the only way the West would like Russia would be if the Putin Team had failed and it had remained, poor, divided, lawless and insignificant.

A remarkably successful achievement; not accomplished by accident or luck: a good plan, intelligently and flexibly carried out.

************************************

As an afterword, given the repetitive scare stories about the return of Stalin, here’s what Putin said about the Soviet period (Note: this is the official English translation; it takes some liberties with the original but is true to the spirit).

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

Почти три четверти уходящего столетия Россия жила под знаком реализации коммунистической доктрины. Было бы ошибкой не видеть, а тем более отрицать несомненные достижения того времени. Но было бы еще большей ошибкой не сознавать той огромной цены, которую заплатили общество, народ в ходе этого социального эксперимента. Главное же, пожалуй, в том, что власть Советов не сделала страну процветающей, общество -динамично развивающимся, человека – свободным. Более того, идеологизированный подход к экономике обрек нашу страну на неуклонное отставание от развитых государств. Как ни горько признаваться в этом, но почти семь десятилетий мы двигались по тупиковому маршруту движения, который проходил в стороне от столбовой дороги цивилизации.

Hardly an endorsement is it?

SULEIMANI ASSASSINATION

Answer to question from Sputnik

Three pretty likely consequences: Washington has begun its last foreign war and Trump’s future is in Tehran’s hands. Iran’s reaction will completely surprise Washington for the simple reason that smart people are smarter than stupid arrogant ignorant people.

Some questions:
Given that a large number of Israelis have dual citizenship, how many will stay when the rockets start to fall?
What will Washington do when (not if) the Iraqi government orders all US troops out?
But, it’s not August 1914: China and Russia will keep out and, one hopes, will have the good taste not to laugh out loud at this monstrous error.
One might suggest that Washington finish a few wars before starting a new one: on the 25th, Washington and its minions will have been in Afghanistan for twice as long as the Soviets were.

RUSSIAN FEDERATION SITREP 2 JANUARY 2020

TWENTY YEARS. Putin & Co have been running the place for two decades. I assess how well they accomplished his 1999 program and discuss the one thing he forgot about then but has since been forced to remember. The verdict has to be that they have achieved their goals extremely well. Twenty years ago Russia had a collapsed economy, was falling apart, lawless from top to bottom and insignificant in the world. Not any more. The propagandists at RFE-RL do their best to belittle the achievement. (USA and EU 20 years ago and now; Russia and China 20 years ago and now. You decide which management team you’d like.)

GOLD. Russia’s FOREX kitty is US$548.7 billion of which gold (2261 tonnes) accounts for about 20%.

RUSSIA INC. Reasonable quickie on the economy in 2019: de-dollarisation, turning eastwards, consolidation but still rather flat living conditions. Moscow is planning for the future. I still say that we are going to discover what Russia, freed from autocracy serfdom and bolsheviks, can do.

INFRASTRUCTURE. It’s hard to keep up. Some videos for those who believe Russia is a stagnant mess. Local trains. New highway. Grozniy. Shopping in a Moscow region town. Don’t need a freezer in Yakutsk. Aurus car factory. Trefoil Arctic base. Floating NPP. Beef farm. Farm in Voronezh. Maternity hospital. Fancy hotel in Crimea. Medium range passenger plane. Grocery store. Village shop. Restaurants in Irkutsk. ATOM tram. Siberian cities. Big changes – in my time it was more like this grocery store.

CRIMEA BRIDGE. Last week the railway part was formally opened and the first trains have crossed; the road part opened in May 2018. 63 months from decision to now; 46 from start of construction.

INTERNET TEST. Last week Russia tested the independence of its internet from world connections. The test was said to be successful. Not Russia cutting itself off but defending itself in case it is cut off.

HISTORY WARS. Putin displayed a number of documents relating to the start of the Second World War, thereby giving the fantods to many. But it’s true, even if most people in the West are ignorant: Moscow did all it could to create an anti-Hitler alliance and only gave up at the very last moment. That having been said, my advice to Putin would be to stop trying to defend the USSR’s territorial grabs – they were a cold-blooded attempt to gain strategic depth for the attack Stalin knew was coming.

NEW NWO. A Russia-China-Iran naval exercise in the Gulf of Oman and the Indian Ocean. Not big but very symbolic.

RAQQA. Russian forces enter the town the US destroyed with “precision bombing“.

NORD STREAM 2. Nearly finished and Washington is infuriated. Tucked into a gigantic military spending bill are sanctions against companies working on it; one company has already quit. The Russians say they can finish the job and Berlin remains determined to do so. So what will the net effect be? A few months’ delay and Washington’s allies even more irritated. Which, I speculate, might be the point.

FAKE NEWS. Russia bombs hospitals says NYT. But, if you look closely, you’ll find, deep down, the admission that many of the given locations are wrong. That they are fakes doesn’t occur to the NYT.

OPCW. More leaks (good summary). Corporate media pretty quiet: in UK, Hitchens then Fisk yesterday; only Carlson in the USA. I guess exposing the lies that support attacks on Syria aren’t really real news.

NUGGETS FROM THE STUPIDITY MINE. “Its economy, already smaller than Italy’s, may be sputtering… “. Two howlers and he hasn’t even finished the sentence.

US EXPERTISE. Somebody said that the USA has a shallow bench on Russia and so it does. Here’s a rather brutal exposure of the “expert” who is presumably Biden’s main advisor. Ten predictions about Russia in 2019, all assuming a malevolent expansionist lawless Russia. Result: no wins, many miserable misses. Has any US government “expert” got anything right about Russia? (Of course I exclude Cohen, Hahn et al; but they’re not official. Unfortunately.) An echo chamber of complacent ignorance.

AMERICA-HYSTERICA. Horowitz put a few nails in the conspiracy coffin, but only on the FBI part.

IMPEACHMENT. Who imagined that a little regime change to weaken Russia and get a naval base in Crimea would have such reverberations at home? And not, by any means, done yet.

UKRAINE. More encouraging steps. Another prisoner exchange (again most were, from Kiev’s POV, Ukrainian citizens). And finally a gas deal that ensures transit through Ukraine and supply to Ukrainian users at a discounted price. All issues settled says Medvedev and Zelensky is also happy. (So miserable is Ukraine’s economy that the transit fees will be 8% or more of Kiev’s revenue.)

© Patrick Armstrong Analysis, Canada Russia Observer