TOTALITARIANISM. Some excitement has been occasioned by Medvedev describing the USSR as “totalitarian” as if this were some sort of never-before breakthrough. “His comments on the USSR, the most outspoken by a recent Russian leader, will be seen as an attempt to distance himself from…Putin”. Seen by those who don’t pay attention to what Putin says, that is. Putin in 2000: “We have already lived under a totalitarian regime”. In 2005, describing things that did not exist “in the Soviet Union within the context of a totalitarian system”. (This was said during an interview with French TV which is interesting, given that the standard report everyone is recycling comes from AFP). And, in 2007, how the “pride of the nation” was killed in the Stalin years. But, of course, for years Putin has been mis- or selectively quoted by people who can’t be bothered to read what he says or who only want to find something they can twist to fit a preconception (“attempt to distance himself from Putin”). I stress again: always read the original at the official website; never trust a reporter’s agenda-driven (and ill-informed) partial quotation.

PRE-TRIAL DETENTION. The Moscow Regional Court appeals board has ruled that a lower court’s decision to extend the detention of Vera Trifonova was unlawful; she died in custody last month.

CORRUPTION. A criminal case against a Vice Mayor of Moscow for taking bribes has been opened.

FORCE AND OBJECT. The Immovable Object resisted the Irresistible Force and there were indeed a few portraits of Stalin among other Soviet war leaders in Moscow on Victory Day.

BLACK SEA FLEET BASE. Putin said that Moscow would complete the construction of a naval base in Novorossiysk by 2020 at a cost of about US$3 billion. The Black Sea Fleet is costing Moscow a lot of money.

JIHADISM. The battle continues with actions by both sides; the authorities doing better in the last two weeks. The FSB reported that those responsible for the bomb in Derbent on the 7th had been killed a few days later; there was an “own goal” on the 12th; and the FSB reported that 3 of the team responsible for the Metro bombings had been killed.

PIRATES. The captured pirates were set adrift and “most likely perished”. Medvedev has complained that there is nothing useful on the treatment of piracy in international law and Moscow’s Ambassador to NATO is calling for action.

KYRGYZ REPUBLIC. Disturbances broke out in the south of the country last week with Bakiyev supporters seizing administrative buildings in three cities. Violence continues with some deaths. The new government has formally asked Minsk to extradite Bakiyev to Minsk. Otunbayeva has been invested with the powers of President pending a new Constitution and elections.

GEORGIA-NATO. An opinion poll just published in Georgia shows that support for NATO membership is actually declining: 26% fully support and 36% generally support it. In October 2009 54% were fully supportive and in September 2008 69% were. Which is a remarkable result considering the fact that joining NATO is Saakashvili’s number one priority and that he is continually pumping out the propaganda. The only explanation I can think of, given the near-complete control of the news media by Saakashvili, is that ordinary Georgians realise that, when the army broke and ran in August 2008, there was nothing to stop Moscow; but it stopped anyway. They presumably understand that the threat is overblown.

GEORGIAN OPPOSITION. Opposition members/former government members – the two categories are almost identical – continue their efforts to shape a post-Saakashvili Georgia with Burjanadze meeting Putin again in Moscow. Zurab Nogaideli called for direct talks between Tbilisi and Sukhumi and Tskhinvali. Shevardnadze weighed in by saying that confrontation with Russia was a “destructive path for Georgia”.

© Patrick Armstrong Analysis, Ottawa, Canada (see


Despite the general satisfaction in the two capitals over the new Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty signed on 8 April, a potential misunderstanding is visible. As before, it concerns American plans for missile defence. Last month, US Secretary of State Clinton declared “And the treaty places no constraints on our missile defence plans – now or in the future.” Perhaps a finicky reading of the Treaty may lead one to conclude this but Moscow has made it clear that the missile defence issue could cause it to leave the Treaty. Therefore, US missile defence programs could “constrain” the new Treaty. But Russian statements have also made it clear that they don’t have to. This misunderstanding – and perhaps that is all that it is – must be cleared up if the Treaty is to last for its ten to fifteen years and be succeeded by further reduction treaties.

There is a weird logic to nuclear weapons. The subtext of Einstein’s famous letter to Roosevelt is that we cannot afford to let the other side be the only one with nuclear weapons; from here, step-by-step, the logic builds to the arcane issues of first strikes, secure retaliatory strikes and all the rest. The theory is that, no matter what one side may do, the other side will always have enough weapons left to destroy the other. This is the logic of MAD – mutually assured destruction. Therefore, the theory runs, each side is deterred from ever using the weapons because of the certainty of destruction. The weakness of the theory is that no one knows whether it is actually valid: all that is known is that the USA and the USSR never used the weapons against each other. Will deterrence work against “rogue states”? No one can be sure and that uncertainty is the impetus for attempts to create a missile defence system.

ABM systems are a threat to the stability of deterrence. If (in theory) one side can develop a weapon that can reasonably reliably – and it doesn’t have to be 100% or anything very close to 100% – shoot down the other side’s missiles or warheads, in theory (a lot of theory) it can so unbalance the calculations that the other side can no longer be sure that it will have enough weapons left for a retaliatory strike and the delicate balance of MAD would be upset.

On one level, all this is perfectly logical; on another, it is all crazy. If, let us say, Side A, believing that its ABM system is reliable, fires 500 warheads at the other, and 450 of them explode on their targets and Side B launches its 500 and the ABM system destroys 490 of them (a success rate that is very hypothetical at present), Side A will have won because “only” 10 nuclear weapons have exploded on its territory. I suspect that the survivors in Side A would not be very enthusiastic about their “victory”. Nonetheless, this increased level of uncertainty, might, so goes the theory, encourage Side B to make a pre-emptive first strike, on the principle of “use them, or lose them”. Therefore, a strategic missile defence system unbalances the MAD-based deterrence and leaves everyone guessing again.

In the 1960s both the USSR and the USA began work on missile interceptors and were faced with this unfolding logic: uncertainty would be increased and another area for an arms race would be opened. Stepping back from this possibility, the two negotiated the Anti Ballistic Missile Treaty in 1972. It froze developments and prohibited further construction of ABM defences. Washington abrogated the treaty in 2002. Abrogation made some sense because the reality had changed. The threat to the USA, and other countries, was not hundreds of sophisticated missiles, with all their decoys and deception devices, coming from Russia; the threat, in the near future, was a much smaller number of simple missiles and warheads coming from what used to be called “rogue states”.

In 2007 Washington announced a plan to put radars and anti-missile systems into Poland and the Czech Republic. The reason given was that these emplacements would protect Europe and the USA from potential missiles from Iran. Russian experts, however, maintained that these locations could (in theory – but it’s all theory) be used against Russian ICBMs. Not today, of course, but in the future. (For those who are interested, here is an analysis by Theodore Postol arguing that the Russians were correct.) Moscow is not unaware of the potential threat from third parties and is not in principle opposed to some sort of defence against these future possible threats. Prepared to accept a local defence system and following the principle of “trust, but verify”, it first sought involvement in the system and offered a radar station in Azerbaijan which it leased (having secured Baku’s agreement). When this offer received no real answer, Moscow sought verification: it asked to have Russian officers stationed in the proposed bases so that they could see for themselves that the radars were looking south and not east. This also received no response. Russians, who are no less suspicious than anyone else, became more sceptical of the stated purpose of Washington’s scheme. And, as we have seen, the logic of the nuclear balance is that if something might happen, preparations must be made to regain the MAD balance.

But President Obama has cancelled this plan and replaced it with one that does not concern Moscow. At present. Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov said in his press conference on the Treaty about current US plans: “The initial focus is on regional systems, systems that do not prejudice strategic stability, and do not create risks for the Russian strategic nuclear forces. When and if our monitoring of the realisation of these plans shows that they are reaching the level of a strategic missile defence, and this level will be regarded by our military experts as creating risks for the Russian strategic nuclear forces, it is then that we will have the right to take advantage of those provisions which this Treaty contains.” (My emphasis) Note the clear distinction he makes between regional systems and strategic systems: the latter can destabilise the MAD balance.

Given its concerns about anti-missile defences and their scepticism over mere declarations, Moscow has made it clear, in its statement appended to the Treaty, that unilateral development of anti-ballistic missile defences by the US could cause them to abrogate the treaty. “The Treaty between the Russian Federation and the United States of America on the Reduction and Limitation of Strategic Offensive Arms signed in Prague on April 8, 2010, can operate and be viable only if the United States of America refrains from developing its missile defence capabilities quantitatively or qualitatively.” The statement specifically refers to Art XIV.3 which allows either party to withdraw from the Treaty at any time “if it decides that extraordinary events related to the subject matter of this Treaty have jeopardised its supreme interests”

There should be no doubt that the Russian government means it. Moscow abrogated the Conventional Forces in Europe Treaty in 2007 – one of the very few arms treaties that has actually destroyed weapons, and one very much in Moscow’s interests today – when, after years of complaints, no one else had ratified it and NATO kept adding new conditions to ratification. Contrary to much casual opinion, Moscow does not make threats, it makes statements. If ABM systems on Poland, then Russian anti-ABM systems in Kaliningrad. No ABM systems in Poland, no anti-ABM systems in Kaliningrad. Its appended statement to the Treaty makes it clear: if Washington develops its ABM systems in a way that Moscow believes undermines the strategic nuclear balance, in short develops a strategic missile defence, then Moscow will abrogate the Treaty. Therefore, while Clinton may be correct in a narrow sense, it is clear that she is wrong in a wider sense. There is a constraint on the agreement the US Administration is so pleased with: Moscow will accept tactical or limited defences, and indeed wishes to be part of any such system, but resists strategic missile defence.

But, as was said earlier, the threat to Washington and its allies does not come from hundreds of ICBMs from Russia but from a much smaller number of less sophisticated missiles from somewhere else. This is a threat that Russia also shares and defence against it is an obvious matter of mutual interest. Medvedev in the press conference after the signing made Moscow’s interest in cooperation clear: “We also offered our services to the United States in creating a global missile defence system which should be our concern in light of our world’s vulnerabilities and terrorist threats, including the possibility that terrorists could make use of nuclear weapons”.

It ought to be a no-brainer: if the civilised world is concerned – and it ought to be – about defence against “rogue states” with nuclear weapons and missiles, then it would be idiotic not to include Russia in the defence system. Russia has geography that is much more convenient than anything in eastern Europe and it has technology which is not to be slighted. A defence system against small numbers of not very sophisticated or accurate missiles with nuclear warheads that took in the territories and technologies of North America, Europe, Russia and Japan would be worth having. A defence system excluding Russia and threatening the new START would not be worth having.

So, what is to be done?

  1. Take the Russians at their word: no unilateral MAD-eroding strategic ABM systems; Moscow will abrogate the new Treaty if that happens.
  2. Take up Medvedev’s offer of cooperation on a defence system appropriate to the actual threat: incorporate Russia’s territory and technology into a defence system for the civilised world.
  3. And, it might be a good idea to negotiate a new ABM Treaty that excludes what should be excluded and includes what should be.

The Cold War is over, Russia and the USA are not enemies; they have common enemies. Defend against them, not against the past.


LONG-TERM PLANNING. Charles Heberle has been conducting a training program in a region of Russia for a decade. Based on his successful school program in the USA, the essence is to train subjects to become citizens. As time went on it became clear to him that not only did Putin fully support his efforts, but that the whole thing had actually been Putin’s idea in the first place. Ten years ago a Russian NGO approached Heberle; convinced that the activities of Western NGOs would only create a new elite that used democratic slogans to disguise their rapacity, they had been searching the world for a better approach and had discovered his program. He accepted their invitation, arrived in Russia and instituted his training program in schools in their city and, eventually, their region. And there has been absolutely no publicity about it; I first heard about it from Heberle a year ago and was flabbergasted: I had no idea that Putin and his team were planning so far ahead. Putin has talked much about the need for a civil society but I did not realise that he a) understood that such things cannot come by government decree and b) was actually sponsoring an attempt to change the mindset of a new generation, individual by individual. I urge everyone to read Heberle’s account and his description of how he came to realise that Putin was behind the whole idea – it’s a vital insight into what Putin and his team are trying to do.

RUSSIA INC. Russia has weathered the international financial crisis reasonably well but its Reserve Fund has come down from about US$100 billion a year ago to about US$40 billion today. The money has gone to cover the budget deficit; but that was the reason for the fund: so that the fat years would cover the lean years.

PRE-TRIAL DETENTION. A woman, in one of Russia’s awful prisons on pre-trial detention since December, died last week. On Tuesday a deputy head of the Moscow Oblast investigation department was fired and his boss disciplined. As is so often the case in Russia, although the law now allows bail, the reality is slow to change.

PARADES. May Day saw parades, protests and demonstrations all over the country by every group imaginable. For the most part, they are reported to have passed off without incident. Another illustration of the reality that if demonstrators follow the rules (leaving aside the rules themselves and their application: but who allows anyone to march anywhere at any time?), nothing happens. Other Russia tries to make a big deal out of it. (By the way, what sense does the slogan “Putin is Brezhnev, Putin is Stalin” make? One is the senescence, the other the youth, of totalitarianism; how can Putin be both?)

PEOPLE POWER. Members of the ever-inventive Federation of Russian Car Owners are wandering around Moscow with blue buckets on their heads. The ever wooden-headed police, deciding that the inscriptions on the buckets made them posters, which made it an unsanctioned demonstration, arrested a few of them. This is something the police cannot win.

PIRACY. Today Russian commandos freed a tanker taken yesterday by Somali-based pirates. One was killed and 10 captured. Now Moscow has to figure out what to do with its prisoners.

THINGS YOU WON’T HEAR. Lyudmila Alexeyeva’s attacker was given a year’s suspended sentence at her request and with her approval. The attack was the occasions for some harrumphing about the condition of Russia.

NORTH CAUCASUS JIHAD. Several attacks in the last week: a car bomb in Dagestan; a bomb in Nalchik; and an attack on police in Ingushetia. With their usual indifference to civilian casualties. We go to Paradise, you go to Hell. Today the authorities killed another leader. It is quite absurd that the US State Department still refuses to recognise the “Caucasus Emirate” for what it really is: a node in the International Jihad.

BLACK SEA FLEET AGREEMENT. Last Thursday both Presidents signed off on the agreement. Putin grumbled about its cost while Medvedev spoke of its long-term benefits. Which, come to think of it, is an illustration of their roles: the President does the big strategic stuff, the PM has to figure out how to do it and how to pay for it. The agreement is opening the way for others: Moscow and Kiev have signed an agreement on the duty-free import of Ukrainian steel pipes into Russia.

KYRGYZ REPUBLIC. The interim government seems determined to have a trial: there have been some arrests; rewards are offered for capture of officials and it wants Bakiyev extradited. The country seems to be calming down but no one can say whether that will last.

© Patrick Armstrong Analysis, Ottawa, Canada (see

On the Commemoration of the Circassian Exile

Note February 2016. Wrote this for a website discussing Circassia and I can’t find the original.

I do not think such commemorations are a good idea because the memory of yesterday’s miseries can lead to tomorrow’s.

Warfare is one of the engines of history – people live in this place and not that, speak this language and not that, have this religion and not that as the consequences of victory or defeat in war. The Circassians lost a long and brutal war and many of them went into exile as miserable refugees. But all peoples have the same past; all have been losers, all have been winners. My own ancestors, Border Reivers, were dispossessed of their lands and driven from Britain 400 years ago. It aids no one to dwell on these past miseries and injustices.

Therefore, commemorations of past tragedies can fuel present disputes that will lead to future tragedies. They should be matters of history to be dispassionately remembered and assessed. These events happened and, in most cases, had the losers been the winners, they would have done the same to their enemies.