Russia Was Finished a Decade and a Half Ago, Why is The Damned Place Still Around?: But maybe I’m being too harsh on the author

As a trip down memory lane, I often recommend to people this piece from 2001, still embarrassingly available on the Internet for all to see. An uncompromising title, isn’t it? “Russia is Finished: The unstoppable descent of a once great power into social catastrophe and strategic irrelevance”. By one Jeffrey Taylor.

Who, unabashed, is still at it.


The lessons that emerge from the Russia-Georgia war are clear: Russia is back, the West fears Russia as much as it needs it, and those who act on other assumptions are in for a rude, perhaps violent, awakening.


News reports have been circulating recently that Russia, fresh from slapping down Georgia in the Caucasus, is now taking steps toward reclaiming other former territories.


Why did Russia’s two highest political figures refuse to join the global festivities over Obama’s election win?


Watching protest leaders heighten their rhetoric as the regime digs in, and remembering past episodes of political violence such as the October 1993 crisis in which 187 people were killed, one hopes that the government takes the protesters’ demands seriously and act on them — before it is too late.

2011 (Remember those protests? That was SO long ago.)

But whoever rules Russia will have to take into account the newly incensed political consciousness of its younger, and now most active, generation of citizens and voters.

But, at this point, Dear Readers, I have a confession to make. For years I have delighted in sending his piece on how Russia is finished to people as a classic example of being really, really wrong; an example of the wish being father to the thought, so to speak. And I expected, when I started this little piece, to be able to turn my Sneerometer up to eleven.

But, I must confess, having read more of his stuff, that Taylor’s not that bad. He understands, for example, that Saakashvili was egged on by Washington. He kind, sort of, understands that the protesters aren’t really all that representative of Russians generally. Many of his pieces say that Washington not only doesn’t understand Moscow’s point of view, but isn’t even trying to. So, maybe he’s doing his best under the heavy hand of editorial policy. After all, people with unearned incomes can afford to defy convention but others have to pay the bills.

Anyway, I seem to detect a change this year. Note these below. (I assume the “Russia’s orbit” stuff is editorial. In respect to understanding Moscow, Moscow doesn’t want Ukraine in its “orbit”; what it wants is a Ukraine that pays for what it buys, that isn’t a NATO launch pad and that doesn’t have a political crisis every five years that keeps everybody in Moscow up nights. That’s not exactly rocket science: if Russia really wanted to expand the “empire”, Georgia and eastern Ukraine would already be in the bag. If we must use “orbit”, “Ukraine” and “Moscow” in a sentence it would be “Moscow does not want Ukraine to be in NATO’s orbit.”)


Before traveling further down the road of confrontation with the Kremlin, the Obama administration needs to answer these questions—or face the prospect of a humiliating climbdown when it becomes clear, as it will, that the United States and the European Union cannot save Ukraine from becoming part of Russia’s orbit.


But will it [the West] change course? The NATO summit in Wales has set in motion moves to create a rapid-reaction ‘spearhead’ force that, though of little real import, will further convince Russia of the threat posed by the bloc. The logic of escalation moves in only one direction: up.

Will the West change course indeed? Jeffrey Taylor seems to have.

Ignoring the Beam in Its Eye, the NYT Obsesses Over Putin’s Mote (And does a careless job of research)

The New York Times amuses itself by going after something Putin said in his big press conference. He said “We have heard it even from high-level officials that it is unfair that the whole of Siberia with its immense resources belongs to Russia in its entirety.” Suggesting that the source was Madeleine Albright, the intrepid researchers at the NYT say there is no evidence that she ever said any such thing. (There is, however, a better candidate that the NYT never bothered to consider; see below).

Well, perhaps they’re right – although personally I long ago assumed that the NYT was only reliable when you assumed the opposite of what it was saying (bearded Spetsnaz in Crimea, “brutal interrogation”, no starvation in the USSR, toilets in Sochi, ). But maybe I’m wrong and the NYT has got it right this time. At any event, its take has become widely quoted.

Let us consider another Putin quotation: the breakup of the USSR was the “greatest geopolitical disaster of the Twentieth Century”. This one is all over the place and seems to be a driver of US policy:

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.

And, the NYT likes it too. One, two, three, four. It’s a pillar of the anti-Putin point of view.

He didn’t say it, it’s a misquotation of what he said, I’m not going to argue the point again: I did here and part two here and won a very public argument on JRL in the summer.

Isn’t there something about motes and beams in the Bible? The NYT would perform a greater service (but would it be news that fitted?) if it devoted the same research to the much more influential misquotation than a throw-away line that didn’t much affect the meaning of what he said.

Oh, by the way, intrepid researchers of the NYT, maybe Putin was thinking of Zbigniew Brzezinski and not Albright. You might want to check that possibility out before you decide Putin is hallucinating. But, again, probably news that wouldn’t fit.

In these circumstances, Russia’s first priority should be to modernize itself rather than to engage in a futile effort to regain its status as a global power. Given the country’s size and diversity, a decentralized political system and free-market economics would be most likely to unleash the creative potential of the Russian people and Russia’s vast natural resources. A loosely confederated Russia — composed of a European Russia, a Siberian Republic, and a Far Eastern Republic — would also find it easier to cultivate closer economic relations with its neighbors. Each of the confederated entitles would be able to tap its local creative potential, stifled for centuries by Moscow’s heavy bureaucratic hand. In turn, a decentralized Russia would be less susceptible to imperial mobilization.

Putin Crushes BBC Smartass

From Putin’s marathon press conference yesterday. Reference here at Presidential Site.

Two questions, Dear Readers:

Is there any Western leader capable of standing up, without Teleprompter, and answering a mass of questions, some softball, some hostile, for several hours?

Given the recent expulsion of Giulietto Chiesa from Estonia for daring to question the Party Line, do “Western values”© even permit Western leaders to be asked question like Simpson’s?

JOHN SIMPSON, BBC: Western countries almost universally now believe that there’s a new Cold War and that you, frankly, have decided to create that. We see, almost daily, Russian aircraft taking sometimes quite dangerous manoeuvres towards western airspace. That must be done on your orders; you’re the Commander-in-Chief. It must have been your orders that sent Russian troops into the territory of a sovereign country – Crimea first, and then whatever it is that’s going on in Eastern Ukraine. Now you’ve got a big problem with the currency of Russia, and you’re going to need help and support and understanding from outside countries, particularly from the West. So can I say to you, can I ask you now, would you care to take this opportunity to say to people from the West that you have no desire to carry on with the new Cold War, and that you will do whatever you can to sort out the problems in Ukraine? Thank you!

VLADIMIR PUTIN: Thank you very much for your question. About our exercises, manoeuvres and the development of our armed forces. You said that Russia, to a certain extent, contributed to the tension that we are now seeing in the world. Russia did contribute but only insofar as it is more and more firmly protecting its national interests. We are not attacking in the political sense of the word. We are not attacking anyone. We are only protecting our interests. Our Western partners – and especially our US partners – are displeased with us for doing exactly that, not because we are allowing security-related activity that provokes tension.

Let me explain. You are talking about our aircraft, including strategic aviation operations. Do you know that in the early 1990s, Russia completely stopped strategic aviation flights in remote surveillance areas as the Soviet Union previously did? We completely stopped, while flights of US strategic aircraft carrying nuclear weapons continued. Why? Against whom? Who was threatened?

So we didn’t make flights for many years and only a couple of years ago we resumed them. So are we really the ones doing the provoking?

So, in fact, we only have two bases outside Russia, and both are in areas where terrorist activity is high. One is in Kyrgyzstan, and was deployed there upon request of the Kyrgyz authorities, President Akayev, after it was raided by Afghan militants. The other is in Tajikistan, which also borders on Afghanistan. I would guess you are interested in peace and stability there too. Our presence is justified and clearly understandable.

Now, US bases are scattered around the globe – and you’re telling me Russia is behaving aggressively? Do you have any common sense at all? What are US armed forces doing in Europe, also with tactical nuclear weapons? What are they doing there?

Listen, Russia has increased its military spending for 2015, if I am not mistaken, it is around 50 billion in dollar equivalent. The Pentagon’s budget is ten times that amount, $575 billion, I think, recently approved by the Congress. And you’re telling me we are pursuing an aggressive policy? Is there any common sense in this?

Are we moving our forces to the borders of the United States or other countries? Who is moving NATO bases and other military infrastructure towards us? We aren’t. Is anyone listening to us? Is anyone engaging in some dialogue with us about it? No. No dialogue at all. All we hear is “that’s none of your business. Every country has the right to choose its way to ensure its own security.” All right, but we have the right to do so too. Why can’t we?

Finally, the ABM system – something I mentioned in my Address to the Federal Assembly. Who was it that withdrew unilaterally from the ABM Treaty, one of the cornerstones of the global security system? Was it Russia? No, it wasn’t. The United States did this, unilaterally. They are creating threats for us, they are deploying their strategic missile defence components not just in Alaska, but in Europe as well – in Romania and Poland, very close to us. And you’re telling me we are pursuing an aggressive policy?

If the question is whether we want law-based relations, the answer is yes, but only if our national economic and security interests are absolutely respected.

We negotiated WTO accession for 19 years or so, and consented to compromise on many issues, assuming that we are concluding cast-iron agreements. And then… I will not discuss who’s right and who’s wrong (I already said on many occasions that I believe Russia behaved the right way in the Ukrainian crisis, and the West was wrong, but let us put this aside for now). Still, we joined the WTO. That organisation has rules. And yet, sanctions were imposed on Russia in violation of the WTO rules, the international law and the UN Charter – again unilaterally and illegitimately. Are we in the wrong again?

We want to develop normal relations in the security sphere, in fighting terrorism. We will work together on nuclear non-proliferation. We will work together on other threats, including drugs, organised crime and grave infections, such as Ebola. We will do all this jointly, and we will cooperate in the economic sphere, if our partners want this.


RUBLE. After the excitements of the past few days, it seems to have settled down at about 60 to the USD: in short, half the value it was at the beginning of the year. I have seen a number of reasons put forth for its decline; mix and match to your taste. Certainly, the principal cause is the decline in oil prices: compare for example, the Canadian dollar which is now at a a 5-year low. (By the way, contrary to popular opinion, energy is only about 20% of Russia’s GDP). Other explanations. Russian companies, affected by sanctions on their ability to raise loans, are buying foreign currency to pay off their loans. The Central Bank fumbled it. Speculators and hostile action from the USA are other candidates. Take your choice on the implication: Russia has lost the economic war; on the contrary, it is following the strategy that defeated Napoleon and Hitler. And more “out there” theories – my favourite being the “Samson defence”, an attack to weaken Russia before the Eurasian Union kicks into gear next month and the ever-popular Putin soon to be brought down by coup. (But wasn’t Russia Finished years ago?) At any event, it is very dangerous to fool around with a top-ten economy – plenty of downstream effects. It’s not over by a long shot and Beijing has yet to weigh in. By the way, the ruble cost of a barrel of oil is pretty much unchanged and it should be remembered that Russian oil companies spend rubles and earn dollars.

PUTIN SPEECH. As usual, most of the content (68.9% by word count) was domestic: for my money the two most important were a “holiday from inspections” for ordinary companies (Russian officials and legalisms can be pretty predatory) and an amnesty for returning capital (Putin pointed out that the “Cyprus haircut” showed their money isn’t safe outside). He complained about corruption in the military procurement system (not that the former Defence Minister is in jail. On the contrary). Externally, long-stated themes: for Russia, “either we remain a sovereign nation, or we dissolve without a trace and lose our identity”; for the world: “It is imperative to respect the legitimate interests of all the participants in international dialogue.” He’s had enough: “the more ground we give and the more excuses we make, the more our opponents become brazen and the more cynical and aggressive their demeanour becomes” but never closes the door, “Our goal is to have as many equal partners as possible, both in the West and in the East.” English, Russian.

PUTIN BIG ANNUAL PRESS CONFERENCE. Today – here’s Sputnik News’ summary. “Our partners never stopped. They decided they were the winners, they were an empire, while all the others were their vassals, and they needed to put the squeeze on them.” No “equal partners” there.

PLEASE HELP US PUTIN! Port-au-Prince a few weeks ago. Interesting, eh? “Putinism” is growing. A lot of people are sick of “the greatest threat to peace” and Putin is becoming a symbol of resistance.

RUSSIA-INDIA. Successful visit and intensification of a close relationship: oil delivery agreement; nuclear construction plan; investments. some weapons cooperation. And trade with Crimea.

FRACKING. The drop in oil prices is not going to help the fracking business. One Australian company has gone down already and Chevron has pulled out of Ukraine. More to come, no doubt. And not just fracking – North Sea “close to collapse” shrieks the BBC. How much of Washington’s policy is based on the assumption of energy independence? But the price may go up again.

WAR. US House and Senate. Not my interpretation, Ron Paul’s, Dana Rohrbacher’s and Pat Buchanan’s. And, says another former ally, the USA is a “dangerous ally”. (Note that we never see this criticism from serving politicians, only from formers. Why would that be, Dear Readers?)

MH17. Trucks carrying wreckage enter the Netherlands. But quite a bit left behind. The relatives who wanted the UN to take charge of the investigation were turned down.

REGIME CHANGE. Are the Czech Republic, Hungary, Slovakia next in line? Note the references to Viktor Orban – “Putin Mini-Me”, “neo-fascist dictator”, second-last para; he’s on the hit list for sure.

UKRAINE. Time to pay the bills. Or not. And guess who’s first in line?

© Patrick Armstrong Analysis, Ottawa, Canada (

Report Claims Rebels Get Few Weapons from Russia

A colleague sent me the following report from Armament Research Services; Research Report #3: Raising Red Flags. It examines, in exhaustive detail, with many photographs, and much specialised information, the weaponry used by both sides in the Ukraine civil war. (It is even-handed and informed but, personally, I could do with less of the “pro-Russian separatist fighter” stuff. You don’t have to be “pro-Russian” to decide you don’t support people who are shelling you, call you “Moskal” and worship Bandera).

As we know, for months NATO, Washington and Western media outlets have been telling us that Russia is providing significant quantities of weapons the the rebels in East Ukraine. This report does not support that assertion. Neither, by the way, does it have evidence of significant outside supplies to the Kiev side.

The principal conclusion of the researchers is that while some weaponry from Russia probably has got to the rebels, most of their weaponry comes from captures or from existing bases and weapons caches (see “Where the Rebels Find their Weapons”).

This is their conclusion

ARES has assessed that it is very likely that pro-Russian separatist forces have received some level of support from one or more external parties, however the level of state complicity in such activity remains unclear. Despite the presence of arms, munitions, and armoured vehicles designed, produced, and allegedly even sourced from Russia, there remains no direct evidence of Russian government complicity in the trafficking of arms into the area (Reuters, 2014c). The majority of arms and munitions documented in service with separatist forces have evidently been appropriated from the Ukrainian security forces and their installations within Ukraine. The 1970s and 1980s vintage ex-Ukrainian military inventory is likely to continue to predominate. The various older and expedient types of arms and munitions outlined in this report should not be taken to mean that separatist forces are ill-equipped. Some of the more capable arms and munitions available to them have been outlined. However, ageing light weapons systems and larger ordnance, along with MANPADS and other SAM systems, will all retain a niche amongst pro-Russian forces in Ukraine for as long as government forces maintain their overwhelming advantage in air power and armour. The Ukrainian regime has access to more powerful weapon systems, in greater numbers, and with a more robust logistical chain than separatist forces could hope to muster without overt support from a foreign power. As it stands, the limited but noteworthy external support pro-Russian separatist forces have received has not proven significant enough to turn the tide in their favour.


SPEECH. Putin is making his annual speech to parliament today. Again I encourage you all to read what he actually says rather than selections twisted to fit propaganda requirements in the MSM. English. “The agreement between Ukraine and the European Union has been signed and ratified, but the implementation of the provisions regarding trade and economy has been postponed until the end of next year. Doesn’t this mean that we were the ones who were actually right?” Well, doesn’t it?

SOUTH STREAM. South Stream was a proposed gas line from Russia, under the Black Sea, to come ashore in Bulgaria and serve southern Europe. The southern equivalent of Nord Stream, it would avoid the uncertainty of Ukrainian transit routes. The EU took against it and Bulgaria was pressured to delay or cancel. Brussels thought that Moscow could be bullied. It was wrong: Putin announced the cancellation in Ankara. “If Europe does not want to implement it, then it will not be implemented. We will focus our energy resource flows on other regions of the world”. Western governments and media are trying to spin this as a defeat for Russia. “These reports are evidence of pressure mounting on Russia… and reduce Russia’s ability to use gas as a tool of coercion”. This is nonsense of course. Southern Europe will remain dependent on uncertain shipments of Russian gas passing through Ukraine or on as-yet-unbuilt tankers and port facilities bringing in more expensive and possibly non-existent LNG from the USA. It won’t see employment in building the line or transit fees. Some reactions from Bulgarians. The Eurocrats and NATOcrats in Brussels get their Russian gas via Nord Stream. So they will be warm this winter.

ECONOMY. Some numbers. From RosStat year-on-year: industrial growth up 2.9%, average monthly salaries up 8.6%, unemployment down 6.6%, economic growth in Q3 slowed to 0.7%, retail trade turnover up 2.2%; new housing construction up 18.3%. Economic Development Ministry forecasts: GDP growth in 2014 increased from 0.5% to 0.6%, recession expected first half of 2015, inflation in 2014 9%, up from 7.5%; Ruble/USD average in 2014 37.4 (weakened 6.8%), in 2015 will average 49. So, yes sanctions and oil prices are having an effect but a good deal of substitution is going on.

MH17. The report that The Netherlands, Ukraine, Australia and Belgium signed a non-disclosure agreement on the results of the investigation appears to be true. There are only two logical possibilities: either the rebels shot it down or Kiev-associated forces did; should Kiev have a veto on the investigation? A basic questions has been given new life by the mother of a victim who is suing Kiev because the airspace wasn’t closed. Others may join the suit. Indeed, why wasn’t it closed? Finally it is reported that Malaysia has been invited to join the investigation: why wasn’t it in the first place? All of this is highly suspicious.

CHINA-RUSSIA. On the very day Putin announced the cancellation of South Stream, Xi declared that China must establish “big country diplomacy with Chinese characteristics”. Deng’s mantra had been “hide your brightness, bide your time”. I guess the time has come to show the brightness. Meanwhile Russia-China trade has increased 7-10% this year already. And, in an enigmatic but nevertheless clear way Beijing recognises Crimea’s secession (a more accurate choice of word than “annexation”, by the way) and supports Moscow’s actions in Ukraine.

UKRAINE-EU. A piece from Der Spiegel on the EU-Ukraine negotiations giving a lot of blame to Merkel for the disaster. And the agreement was postponed after all. Nothing is said about Nuland’s meddling or the EU’s curious indifference to the collapse of the February agreement it negotiated.

BRILLIANT DIPLOMACY. Beijing and Moscow ever closer. Southern Europe will now be nervous every winter and resentful of Brussels’ diktat. Moscow and Ankara are closer. And now the Japanese PM says he is determined to settle the territorial dispute with Russia. Russia finds a new friend in Nigeria. And Hungary is run by a “neo-fascist dictator”. If there were anything amusing about this, it would be funny.

NOTHING TO WORRY ABOUT. Nuclear accident at the Zaporozhskaya reactor, but nothing to worry about says Yatsenyuk. This story from May of a Right Sector attack is, of course, just Russian propaganda.

OOPS. Biden visited Kiev, taking the head of the table(!) Cyberberkut says it hacked his staff’s files. The alleged files, showing the deep extent to which Washington backs Kiev’s military, are on its website.

© Patrick Armstrong Analysis, Ottawa, Canada (