Deadly Quotation Part 1


The idea for what follows came from a Facebook discussion. One individual, certain that Russia was to blame for the situation in Ukraine, said, among other things, that Putin claimed the biggest mistake was the collapse of the USSR and that he wanted to restore it. I said Putin did not say anything like that and challenged him to find the original. I was hoping to make a point and lead him to understanding something for himself. He dug up a number of statements from the Western media saying the Putin had called the end of the USSR the “greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the Twentieth Century”. Not so hard to find examples: Google returns 15 pages of hits for that exact search, starting with the BBC and ending with it used as a put-down by a commentator on a mildly approving Polish newspaper piece about Putin. The phrase has now become something like what Pravda used to say when it wanted to spread a lie, but had no real evidence, как известно: as is well-known. Over and over we see it used as the triumphant final proof of the argument. “Putin wants a new Russian empire”; “Ukraine PM: Putin wants to rebuild Soviet Union”; “Putin longs to be back in the USSR”; “Putin’s obsession is the restoration of Russia’s pride through the restoration of its imperium.”

Perhaps the most interesting reference my correspondent pulled up, however, was this from an essay by Anders Åslund:

In his annual address in April 2005, Putin went all out: ‘the collapse of the Soviet Union was the biggest geopolitical disaster of the century…. Tens of millions of our co-citizens and compatriots found themselves outside Russian territory…old ideals [were] destroyed.’ He presented himself as a neoimperialist.

What is interesting about it is that he actually footnotes the original source. I assume Åslund expected that no one would bother to look it up or be unable to find it. But it’s out there on the Internet.

So it is now perhaps time to see what it was that Putin actually said. Here it is: first in Russian, “Прежде всего следует признать, что крушение Советского Союза было крупнейшей геополитической катастрофой века.” and then in the official translation into English, “Above all, we should acknowledge that the collapse of the Soviet Union was a major geopolitical disaster of the century.” Hyperlinks take you to Putin’s Address to the Federal Assembly on 25 April 2005 on the Presidential website. That is the “original source”.

Not the greatest; not the most important; not the largest of anything. Not Number One. Not the superlative. One of many geopolitical disasters of the century, but a “major” one. If you like, you could argue with Putin about whether it was “major” or “minor” – here are his reasons for putting it on the “major” side of the list; you put yours:

As for the Russian nation, it became a genuine drama. Tens of millions of our co-citizens and compatriots found themselves outside Russian territory. Moreover, the epidemic of disintegration infected Russia itself. Individual savings were depreciated, and old ideals destroyed. Many institutions were disbanded or reformed carelessly. Terrorist intervention and the Khasavyurt capitulation that followed damaged the country’s integrity. Oligarchic groups – possessing absolute control over information channels – served exclusively their own corporate interests. Mass poverty began to be seen as the norm. And all this was happening against the backdrop of a dramatic economic downturn, unstable finances, and the paralysis of the social sphere. Many thought or seemed to think at the time that our young democracy was not a continuation of Russian statehood, but its ultimate collapse, the prolonged agony of the Soviet system.

(Note, by the way, how deceptive Åslund was with his second ellipsis).

Certainly big; anyone would agree that it was a bad enough disaster at least for those who lived through it. But bigger than any other disaster? No, but Putin isn’t saying it was. It ought to be perfectly obvious what he’s talking about: not a desire to re-create the USSR but an accurate description of how miserable the 1990s were for Russians (and, actually, for most other people in the former USSR). But, read on. This statement was part of the orator’s pattern, after the bad times, things are getting better: “Our society was generating not only the energy of self-preservation, but also the will for a new and free life. In those difficult years…”. And so on. Ex tenebris lux, or something like that.

The message is plain: Putin thought Russia was over the worst and better things can now happen (he was right, wasn’t he?). To use this as “proof” that he wants the USSR back, or is a “neo-imperialist” is wilfully to misunderstand what he said.

But just think how feeble your assertion that Putin wants to re-build the empire would be if the only quotation direct from his mouth that you had to nail your argument down tight with was “Putin did say that the collapse of the USSR was a pretty big disaster because people lost their savings, a lot of crooks stole stuff and many other sufferings ensued”. Doesn’t have quite the same ring does it?

So, the point that I was trying to get my correspondent to understand is that you simply cannot trust Western media reports on Putin or Russia. There is so much distortion, mis-quoting and outright falsifications that nothing you read in your newspaper, see on your TV or hear from your politicians can be accepted at face value. This particular quotation was ripped out of its context and made to serve another purpose; then it was endlessly repeated to cap the assertion that Putin is the world’s enemy because he wants to conquer his neighbours. The history of its use is a perfect illustration that the default position is always antiPutin. No secondary source can be trusted, always go to the original: is it an accurate quotation? what is the context? If you cannot find the original (both President and Prime Minister have a site in English, by the way; it’s not that hard to find the original), then doubt.

But there is a greater point. The West, NATO, the USA and its followers, we are at war with Russia. A rhetorical war with economic aspects at the moment but it may already be a shooting war by proxy. It will get closer to a real war if the Russian Aggression Prevention Act of 2014 is passed. The authors of the bill are quite certain that Russia is expansionist, aggressive and wishes domination over its neighbours. The famous quotation is not in the bill but it is alive in the US Senate:

“The reality, however, is that Putin is not concerned with international law or historical justice. His sole focus is on correcting what he considers to be the ‘greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the 20th century’ by reassembling the Soviet Union.” (Sen Ted Cruz)

“He sees the fall of the Soviet Union as the ‘greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the century.’ He does not accept that Russia’s neighbors, least of all Ukraine, are independent countries.” (Sen John McCain)

“His grip on the Russian presidency is central to his designs to restore Russian dominance. After all, Putin once described the collapse of the Soviet Union as ‘the greatest geopolitical catastrophe’ of the last century’.” (Sen Roger Wicker)

And it’s in the White House too: “‘He’s been willing to show a deeply held grievance about what he considers to be the loss of the Soviet Union,’ Obama said of Putin in that interview.”

An influential mis-quotation, wouldn’t you say? Creating and supporting anti-Russian propaganda since 2005. It would, of course, be wrong to say that we are creeping closer to war with Russia only because of a mis-quotation, but the mis-quotation has certainly played its part in the creep.


I’ve been doing these Sitreps for 14 years; I have never done a special before. But I have never felt that we were close to war before either. To go to war is bad enough, but to go to war over lies…

RUSSIAN MILITARY BRIEFING. The key points are 1. There was a Ukrainian fighter plane at the same altitude and 3-5 kilometres away from MH17; the radar traces are shown. It stayed on station as the Boeing was shot down; the radar traces are shown. 2. Ukrainian Buk air defence systems were in range; satellite pictures are shown. 3. The film supposedly showing a Russian Buk TEL being taken back to Russia was in fact taken in a city under Kiev’s control as is proven by a background billboard. 4. The US was watching and the device doing the watching is named. The original full briefing; RT summary; another summary. Your local media outlet probably hasn’t even mentioned it.

WASHINGTON AND KIEV REACTION. The Russian briefing was on Monday apparently about 1600 Moscow time; plenty of time for the USA to reveal its own radar tracks, satellite pictures and intercepts contradicting the Russian evidence. So far nothing. We have selections from social media. (This “social media” evidence doesn’t make State’s cut. Nothing either about the Spanish air traffic controller. Who may or may not exist; but that’s the thing about tweets and twitters isn’t it? Some of it’s real and some of it isn’t. Selective.) And bluster: “I would say that we are not two credible – equally credible parties…” (State Department, Monday). Well, maybe there is no direct link to Moscow, after all (“senior US intelligence officials”, Tuesday). This AP report of the US intelligence briefing is worth reading carefully. “Offered no evidence of direct Russian government involvement” “cautious” “no direct evidence” “likely” “did not know” “not certain” and so on. This is the best the multi-billion dollar US intelligence industry can produce? Social media and “we don’t know a name, we don’t know a rank and we’re not even 100 percent sure of a nationality”? The only significance of this piffle is that it suggests the US intelligence community wants to distance itself from State and the White House but isn’t prepared to come right out and say they are lying. Where are the US radar tracks, satellite photographs and comms intercepts? (well, a photo of Rostov, but what’s that got to do with MH17?) Nor the air traffic control recordings from Ukraine (taken by the security services says the BBC; go to 15:29).

WHAT ELSE? Moscow waited through four days of “Putin killed my son” “There’s a buildup of extraordinary circumstantial evidence” and otherwise watched the hole dug deeper before dropping its bombshell. What other information is Moscow sitting on? The complete flightpath of the Ukrainian fighter? Missile launch information? Missile tracks? Recordings from the MH17 pilot? Recordings from Ukrainian or Polish air traffic controllers telling him to fly over the fighting? They have to be wondering in Washington and Kiev.

RUMOURS. Was MH17 shot down by an air-to-air missile? Here’s an argument: note that the deduced position of the shooting aircraft is consistent with the radar data. Or was a missile fired from a Kiev position? The two are not exclusive. By the way, the Buk leaves a huge contrail behind it; why no films?


MORE LIES. Site looting; grave robbers and ghouls; evidence tampering: all lies. Bottom line: little to no looting (this video is a perfect example of how your media is manipulating you); bodies respectfully treated; black boxes handed over to Malaysian authorities.

CREDIBILITY. On 30 August 2013, US Secretary of State John Kerry said “We know rockets came only from regime-controlled areas and went only to opposition-controlled or contested neighborhoods.” This was false. His predecessor implied Qaddafi was using cluster bombs against his own people when, in fact, he wasn’t. The same people and news media so certain then are equally certain today.

CUI BONO? Certainly not the rebels and certainly not Moscow. But what about changing the subject? Winding up the anti-Russia siren? Getting Europe to impose sanctions? Tightening up the NATO alliance? Passing the Russia Aggression Prevention Act? You decide.

MEANS, MOTIVE, OPPORTUNITY. Things to keep in mind when trying to solve a mystery.

© Patrick Armstrong Analysis, Ottawa, Canada (


BRICS. When I first saw the expression BRIC, it seemed just a catchy name for an incidental grouping. But something is emerging. Emerging, I believe, largely in response to Washington’s actions. After so many governments overthrown followed by the insouciant unconcern for the consequences (Libya is the paradigm), absolutely inexplicable (except to the direst conspiracy theorist) actions like supporting jihadists in one place and fighting them in another, more and more countries are coming to two conclusions. The first is that Washington is the cause of most of the world’s instability and that, under present management at least, it simply cannot be trusted or relied on. And, some wonder who’s next for a “colour revolution”. So the BRICS evolve: from a cliché, into a loose association, into a economic and political player. And not an insignificant player: the two most populous countries, two UNSC members, three nuclear powers, significant conventional military power, one economy the biggest or soon will be, three more in the top ten. Not insignificant at all. Yesterday they took another step against the Bretton Woods arrangement, which many see as the foundation of Washington’s power, establishing a Development Bank and reserve currency pool. Their own World Bank and IMF. Early days to be sure, much can go wrong but a step towards a rather different power structure.

DIVISIONS. Washington issues more sanctions, but Europe lags. (Maybe I’m missing something, but the European Council conclusion sounds like the square route of nothing). Who would have thought, 20 years ago, that Ukraine would become so important.

UNIPOLAR WORLD. Failed says Putin; tranquillity says the White House.

LOURDES. The Soviets built a SIGINT base in Cuba in 1962. Putin, at Washington’s request, closed it in 2002. It is about to be re-opened. Perfect illustration of Putin’s trajectory from thinking that cooperation with Washington was possible to realising that it isn’t.

QUOTE OF THE DAY. From a Lugansk militia fighter: “The western regions twice overthrew the government, without consulting us; and so we thought – live however you like, and we will build our life the way we like. And that’s when you came and started killing us.”

UKRAINE. The ceasefire agreed to by representatives from Russia, France, Germany and Ukraine never happened: Poroshenko either does not have the power to deliver or was lying. Another attempt is being made to revivify it. But the problem remains: who is in charge in Kiev? Fighting continues: the resistance’s loss of Slavyansk was compensated for by the destruction of a Kiev column. Kiev seems to have just suffered a major defeat near Lugansk with another coming: a substantial force is pinned at the border and may be close to surrender or annihilation. In short, the resistance is more than holding its own. There are now about half a million refugees in Russia, predominantly women and children. Indiscriminate bombardment of civilian areas is not, as one would expect, winning Kiev much support in the east; neither is conscription in the west. Is Moscow helping? Certainly with the refugees but in other ways? After months of false assertions from NATO and Washington, duly re-typed by the MSM, there is no real evidence of significant flows of weapons or soldiers. I can believe that Moscow is helping surreptitiously, perhaps with targeting information and some weapons, but I have no problem believing that the resistance gets most of its weapons from Soviet-era dumps, deserting Ukrainian conscripts and captures. I remain convinced that Moscow is trying to build a consensus for a diplomatic solution, but that becomes less probable every day. Terrible atrocity stories are starting to appear. The English speaking MSM coverage is mostly one-sided and worthless but there are exceptions like The National Interest and The Nation where one can avoid the mechanical reproduction of Kiev handouts.

RUSSIAN ISOLATION. Still not so lonely. The head of France’s central bank: “A movement to diversify the currencies used in international trade is inevitable.” (A response to the Paribas fine: you’d think Washington was trying to drive away its allies). Putin is having a successful visit to Latin America and the BRICS summit. The Indian Navy is coming for an exercise. Russian businessmen are joining the board of a major Italian company. But, most striking of all, the US Department of Commerce says US exports to Russia reached a new record of US$1.25 billion in May.

© Patrick Armstrong Analysis, Ottawa, Canada (

Moscow’s Intervention in Ukraine. A Modest Proposal

Note in February 2016: And then….. MH17 was shot down and all this changed…..

What set me thinking was the Guardian piece on the suffering of the people in Slavyansk and the flat out statement that the town was being routinely shelled by the Kiev forces. We all got excited about the Daily Mail piece comparing the destruction in eastern Ukraine to WW2, but it very carefully avoided naming whose fingers were on the triggers. I find it rather significant that the Guardian, the house organ of UK Russia haters, published a piece naming Kiev as the killer. It would be more its style to have another piece about how evil Putin is. But it did it. And that, to me, marks a development.

So, what is Putin trying to do in Ukraine? Well, read what he says, is my standard advice. Putin says what he means and means what he says. He does not say everything that he’s thinking, but what he says, you can take to the bank. So what is he saying about Ukraine? Diplomacy, stop the shooting, everybody should talk, come to mutual agreement; but, at the same time, Crimea is a done deal. What I understand from this is that Putin’s preferred outcome is a Ukraine (minus Crimea – done deal) that is not a problem for Moscow (which it has been for 20 years). Putin dreams of a Ukraine that pays its gas bills, a Ukraine that doesn’t have a political crisis every five or six years, a Ukraine that isn’t a NATO launch pad. Translated into English, this means that what Putin really hopes for is a Ukraine that is prosperous, happy and independent. And united (minus Crimea – done deal). He has no desire to take it over, re-build the empire or any other Brzezinski fantasy; Putin just wants a future where he doesn’t have to listen to “the latest Ukraine crisis” briefing every day. That’s it, simple, easy-peasy; read what he says; think about it. It’s not all that complicated when you think about Putin’s average day: no Ukraine crisis and only the other problems of Russia is an average day; Ukraine crisis as well as all the other problems is a terrible day.

And, truth to tell, it’s probably what most Ukrainians want too. Just a quiet life.

Many people think that Putin/Moscow should have done something earlier. The human suffering in east Ukraine is building. You Tube is full of films of dismembered bodies, burning buildings, refugees and other suffering in east Ukraine and of the atrocity in Odessa. Russians see this and demand succour; Putin has promised to protect people, nothing happens. Russian border posts are “accidentally” fired on routinely; no response.

A lot of people think Putin should have invaded or done something earlier but I believe that he has been patiently building a case in which Russia will (I think he hopes that it won’t have to but he prepares for the worst) justifiably intervene with many Europeans supporting him. The piece in the Guardian is a step in that direction as was the failed Berlin agreement. A couple of days ago France and Germany put their skin into the game and they now find that Poroshenko either has contemned them or that he is impotent to deliver what he has promised: clearly there has been no “ceasefire” at all. And that has to reflect on France and Germany whose representatives were all photographed.

So, where are we? At this moment, 2100 GMT on 5 July 2014. We see that Moscow has many times made its statements and that the Berlin agreement is in tatters; as a bonus, even the most slavish organs in the West are beginning to notice that all is Not As It Should Be.

Perhaps it is time for Moscow to intervene in order to preserve/save the Berlin agreement. To enforce the ceasefire that Kiev agreed to but is unable to enforce. To help Kiev realise its better self. As it were. So to speak.

How would Moscow intervene? Amateurs would say: tanks, invasion, “boots on the ground” and similar amateur-night blather. But what is the essence of the military problem? And how best and most economically to counter it?

The reality on the ground is that the the Kiev forces are unwilling to meet the Donbass defenders face to face. Consequently, their preferred modus operandi is to fire at long range: artillery and air strikes.

Thus I would expect (and recommend, not that the Russian MoD listens to me) that Moscow should propose a “no artillery fire into towns zone”. Any Kiev battery that fires on a town will be obliterated by MLRS, air or Iskander as appropriate. This policy should be loudly announced in advance with full reference to the ceasefire that all sides agreed to in Berlin. In other words, Moscow will enforce the Berlin agreement and assist (so to speak) Kiev in making its decision effective.

Likewise, no more “accidental” firing at Russian border posts will be allowed. Under the same penalties.

Announce once, next time action.

All this is do-able. It would be really desirable if a French or German official could be standing there when the announcement is made, but I think we are now at the point where Moscow could do this and have a certain significant percentage of Europeans supporting it.

As to Americans, well, they’re still figuring out what the 4th of July is all about.


DIPLOMACY. We can’t see below the surface but there are continuing diplomatic efforts around the Ukraine crisis. We keep hearing of conversations involving Moscow, Paris, Berlin, the OSCE and (rather interestingly) Vienna. Kiev is involved of course but, it appears, at a lower level; almost as a child whose fate is being decided by adults. What does seem to be true is that these discussions, of which we see only the surface ripples, involve Moscow but not Washington. This may reflect the fact that, as the Polish Foreign Minister – hitherto such a loyal follower – is beginning to find out (“The Polish-American alliance is not worth anything”), Washington has nothing positive to offer. (Incidentally, these phone intercepts are fascinating; the authenticity is never denied, the only reactions are whining that it has been done). There is an agreement. This is all to the good, but there is still much to do and one may question whether the new rulers in Kiev control the situation on the ground. One should remember the 21 February agreement, which reminds us of another intercepted telephone call. But, thinking of yet another intercept, maybe “Yats” wouldn’t have been been PM under that agreement and it had to be changed.

TERGIVERSATION. Watch this reaction by a US State Department official to the UNHCR finding that over 100,000 Ukrainians have fled to Russia. But admitting they had would disprove Washington’s line.

SPONTANEITY. A Polish newspaper reports that Polish police trained 86 members of Pravy Sektor, the Ukrainian neo-nazi organisation, “in combat tactics, protection against gas, leadership and use of weapons to be used by snipers” in autumn of 2013. Before the protests began. (The paper is left-wing and excitable and one would want more corroboration but, these days, what is there in the NYT and other mainstream outlets that you can believe? Photos of Russian Spetsnaz, Russian hackers?)

ATROCITIES. The US and its allies continue to cover up the atrocities their new friends in Ukraine are committing. And, how exactly does the regime in Kiev expect to win the hearts and minds of eastern Ukrainians by doing this?

PROPAGANDA. In its eagerness to get another “Putin is a monster” meme laid down, the Guardian didn’t do its research. Condemning a new ordinance in Russia that prohibits swearing, it failed to spend the 30 seconds on Google that would have told it that the same laws exist in the UK. But the WMSM is not interested in reporting reality but rather in building an anti-Russia consensus. More “brown water.

ECONOMY. The statistics agency has announced that unemployment in Russia is at its lowest point since the end of USSR. Using ILO methodology, 3.7 million, or 4.9% of the economically active population are so classified. And Russia expects to export over 20 million tonnes of grain this year.

BREAKING THE US DOLLAR. “The ultimate goal would be to break the Washington’s money printing machine that is feeding its military-industrial complex and giving the US ample possibilities to spread chaos across the globe, fueling the civil wars in Libya, Iraq, Syria and Ukraine.” Latest development.

MEANWHILE, OUTSIDE THE BELTWAY. Russia’s isolation is not as lonely as some would want you to think. Austria signed on to the South Stream pipeline. Iran (soon a new US ally?) wants more reactors. India is interested in a big gas deal. US businesses are not happy with more sanctions. BP and RosNeft just signed an agreement. Baghdad is happy to see the Russian Su-25s . Maybe change in the Beltway too.

CHEMICAL WEAPONS. The OPCW confirms the withdrawal of the last consignment of CW stockpiles from Syria. Meanwhile ISIS has seized the CW stockpiles in Iraq. (If you’re confused, Dear Reader and ask what Iraqi CW stockpiles?! Well, the WMSM hasn’t been entirely truthful with you.)

CRIMEA. In 1979 the novel Island of Crimea was published. The fantasy was Crimea actually was an island and that it had remained in the possession of the Whites after the Civil War. It thus represented a sort of alternative, non-communist Russia. It will now stand as an alternate Ukraine.

EU AGREEMENTS. Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine signed the EU association agreement. We are expected to believe Moscow was unable to prevent little Moldova or Georgia from signing but able to prevent big Ukraine from doing so. They will likely be sorry they did: the EU cannot pour the billions, that Poland and other “early adopters” received, into their decrepit economies. The rewards will be deferred but the costs immediate.

© Patrick Armstrong Analysis, Ottawa, Canada (