Malaysia left out of MH17 Inquiry

“We could not view the aircraft and were not invited to attend certain meetings.”

The DSB report on MH17 is looking shabbier and shabbier. The latest is this from The New Straits Times Online of 24 October. When we add this to all the other omissions – radar data, Russian evidence of aircraft, damage to port wing and engine, the trivial number of lethal fragments – I realise that I was wrong to call it a “limited hangout“. It’s an incompetent limited hangout.

Responding to points made in the DSB final report on the incident, which stated that Malaysia did not extend its full cooperation in the initial stage of the investigation, Deputy Transport Minister Datuk Abdul Aziz Kaprawi said this was because Malaysia’s role was not honoured as it denied full access and privileges to the probe. He said the Department of Civil Aviation (DCA) was not made a full member in the joint investigation and unlike other members, Malaysian representatives were only granted limited access. “We were the owner of the aircraft. How can we be prevented full access? “We could not view the aircraft and were not invited to attend certain meetings.” “In the end, we cooperated when they gave us full access after acknowledging our role. It even says so in the news report,” said Abdul Aziz, referring to a recent foreign news article alleging Malaysia’s initial reluctance to cooperate.

RF Sitrep 20151022


TIME FOR A RE-THINK, ACROSS THE BOARD, DON’T YOU AGREE? Ukraine hasn’t turned out well for anybody, has it? Libya hasn’t either. The longest war gets longer. More war in Iraq. Do all the refugees come from places where NATO has been active; or just almost all of them? The West greatly underestimated Russia’s military power. (I remember writing briefing notes in the 1990s warning that while it might seem to be a lot of fun to kick Russia around when it was weak, it wouldn’t always be weak.) Former US defense secretary says the US training program in Syria was “nuts”. European Commission chief says “we can’t let our relationship with Russia be dictated by Washington“. Taliban surprises the Americans; Russia surprises the Americans. Washington hopes Iraq will not sign on to the Russian effort; too late. “Another A2/AD bubble“. Intelligence agencies rebel. The war party’s response? “get tough on Putin”. Time to man up and admit that it’s not weakness, it’s policy: everything the West/NATO/USA has done in the last decade has made things worse.

BUSY. If you look at his schedule, you can see that Putin is constantly meeting with people in and around Syria. There was a lot of preparation. Indeed, it seems that only Washington was kept out of the loop.

OIL AND GAS. Russia reports enormous finds in the Arctic.

BRIDGE TO CRIMEA. Moving along smartly. Video of the first section.

CRUISE MISSILES. In the INF Treaty the USA insisted that sea-launched cruise missiles (of which it had a monopoly) be excluded. Monopoly no more. Here’s a perceptive article on the Russian system and a video of an imaginative deployment in shipping containers; note the slogan at the end “Every state has the right to independence”. The US carrier battle group left the Gulf which may or may not be related to learning that it was in range of some insignificant ship in the Caspian Sea. Of all places.

WESTERN VALUES™. Should US military personnel be found responsible for the Kunduz hospital attack, “it’s a safe bet” that there will be no involvement of the ICC. On the other hand, Washington supports an effort to have Syria be indicted by the ICC. And, now, the Drone Papers.

MH17 REPORT. Not impressed. My principal observation: DSB’s direction of attack only possible if damage to port wing and engine ignored – as it was. Note the missing radar data from Ukraine and NATO. Identification of Buk depends on three or four particles. I call it a “limited hangout“.

GHOUTA CW ATTACK. Two Turkish parliamentarians come within an ace of saying that the sarin gas came from Turkey as part of a “false flag” operation. Will your local media outlet report this?

UKRAINE. I have always thought that what Moscow wants from Ukraine can be simply expressed: a country that pays its gas bills on time, is not a NATO launch pad and doesn’t have a crisis every five years that keeps everybody in Moscow up all night. In short, prosperous, neutral, stable. I agree (as I usually do) with Alexander Mercouris’s argument expressed here that it’s moved a lot closer to that end. The latest “Normandy format” talks have hammered some points home that were always in the Minsk agreement but Kiev had ignored; it appears Paris and Berlin have woken up to their dilemma. Kiev must talk to Donetsk to work out some real autonomy and it has to rein in the quasi-independent militia groups. More attacks are just more defeats. Time has been bought: I believe that Putin & Co understand – or hope, at least – that Ukrainians are not really represented by the corrupt plutocrats and nazi freaks now running the place and is playing for time: sooner or later the junta will go and then Moscow will be closer to the Ukraine it wants. Which is, of course the Ukraine that rational people in Europe should also want. (There are already a couple of million Ukrainian refugees in Russia, what happens if hundreds of thousands want to get into Europe?) A recent Ukrainian poll shows slightly more people want to begin big protests than did in 2013. Meanwhile, we learn that Kiev is starting an investigation into “the Heavenly Hundred”. Gordon Hahn speculates on why Kiev would be entertaining the possibility that the killings were done by the “Maidan defenders” and not – as legend says – by Yanukovych. 16,000 deserters out there, many with weapons. Worse to come, I fear.

MISTRALS. Russia is “satisfied”. Egypt (Egypt? What’s it need an expeditionary force for?) will be buying them. Hollande hopes to sell more ships to Russia. What do you bet that, after a decent interval, Egypt sells them to Russia? If so, Poland and the Baltics will have apoplexy.

© Patrick Armstrong Analysis, Ottawa, Canada Websites: ROPV, US-Russia, Russia Insider

MH17 Final report is Not a Final Report; It’s Just a Limited Hangout: It tells as much of the truth as it has to. But no more.


“Limited hangout” is spy jargon for a partial admission of the truth to attempt to control the exposure of a clandestine operation. The hope is that the partial truth will satisfy the questioners and they will look no further. The phrase came into popular awareness during the Watergate scandal in 1973 as the cover story unravelled. The Dutch Safety Board report on the MH17 disaster is an example. It’s a partial statement: something very important is left out; but it is not completely left out because there may be a later need for “reconsideration”.

The sources and abbreviations I use are below.

  • Russian MoD briefing July 2014 (MoD) (English)
  • Dutch Safety Board Final Report October 2015 Video (DSBV) Text (DSBT)
  • Almaz-Antey First Report June 2015 (AA1) (Video) (Almaz-Antey is the manufacturer of the Buk family of SAM systems which has been in service in many countries since 1979. Over the years, as is common with evolutionary Soviet and Russian weapons systems, there have been several different rockets and warhead designs.)
  • Almaz-Antey Second Report October 2015 (AA2) (Slideshow in English)

In August I published a piece at RI named “Questions a Real MH17 Report Would Answer“. The DSB report fails my test but it fails it in an interesting way: in a limited hangout way, in fact. I said there were four vital points that must be addressed:

  1. The “black boxes” will tell us where MH17 was when it was hit, what direction it was going in, what speed it was travelling.
  2. Analysis of the damage pattern of the wreckage will show where the missile was when it detonated.
  3. Backtracking from that point will show from where it was launched.
  4. Lethal fragments will show what weapon hit it.

The report deals with 1 satisfactorily, there is a question about 4 but it is in its answer to numbers 2 and 3 that we see the limited hangout.

The report was delivered by its Chairman, Tjibbe Joustra, [quondam the Netherlands’ National Antiterrorism Coordinator – is that significant? You decide, Dear Reader – and Chairman of the DSB since February 2011] who stated that it was not the DSB’s job to assign blame. The DSB’s conclusion was that MH17 was brought down by the explosion of 9N314M warhead as carried on 9M38 series Buk surface-to-air missile (SAM) (DSBT-9); other scenarios were considered, analysed and excluded. It offers an area from which it believes the missile was launched.

The Flight Data Recorder (both “black boxes” were in good shape) showed MH17 flying at 33,000 ft heading 115° at 293 kts (542kph). The recording stopped at 13.20:03 UTC at 48.12715N 38.52630538E (DSBT-47).

I begin with my principal conclusion that the DSB report is a “limited hangout”.

By ignoring the damage to the port wing and port engine, the Board was able to shift the approach route of the missile away from Kiev-held territory south of MH17’s route to rebel-held territory in the south-east.

The importance of leaving out the wing and engine

The Dutch Safety Board did not take into account the damage to the port wing and the port engine (see below). While it did provide a photo of the damaged port engine intake ring at DSBT-50, there is no other discussion of damage to the engine and I believe that the inclusion of the photo provides the DSB with an “out” should there be a need for a later “reconsideration” of the evidence. To summarise (see below): the DSB established a point at which the detonation occurred; the DSB understood the blast pattern of the warhead (DSBT-130 but see a better representation at AA2-35). But it ignored the fact that the existence of damage to the port wing and port engine proves that the missile had to have come from the side of MH17 and not from in front of it. That is the key point: everything up to that point in the analysis of the destruction of MH17 (leaving aside the rather small number of “bow-ties” – see below) is closely reasoned. The sleight of hand occurs when the wing and engine are forgotten. Concentrating only on the damage to the cockpit allows the path of the missile to be twisted from the south to the south-west as is required by the “rebels did it theory”. A launch point from the south rules that possibility out.

This is illustrated at AA2-21. Both Almaz-Antey reports calculated the firing point as being near Zaroshchenskoye while the DSB calculates it as being near Snezhnoye. AA2-21 shows a damage comparison: a Buk fired from Zaroshchenskoye damages the port wing and port engine, a Buk fired from Snezhnoye does not. The damage to the cockpit is similar in each scenario.

Because the damage to the port wing and port engine was ignored by the DSB report, they were able to make the approach line of the missile closer to the direction MH17 was heading, which allowed them to calculate the launch point so as to include rebel-held territory. Had they included the port wing and port engine damage, they would have been forced to accept a launch point farther south into Kiev-held territory.

In short, they told as much truth as they could without compromising the required answer. A “limited hangout” indeed.

But there are some other – less significant, to be sure – points that should be considered.

Missing Radar Data

The first point worthy of attention is the radar data or, rather, its absence. We are told that “The Ukrainian civil primary radar stations in the area were not functioning at the time of the crash due to scheduled maintenance. The military primary radar stations were also not operational. The Ukrainian Ministry of Defence stated that this system was not operational, because there were no Ukrainian military aircraft in the sector through which flight MH17 flew” (DSBT-38). NATO had an AWACS aircraft in the air but that said MH17 was out of its range (DSBT-44). Thus only limited radar information was available from Ukraine and nothing from NATO.

This is not believable. Ignoring the “scheduled maintenance” stuff, the Ukrainian Ministry of Defence statement that there were no military aircraft in the area is contradicted when DSBT-185 informs us that Kiev claimed that a military aircraft was fired at in the Donetsk area on that very day. That is less than 40 kms away from MH17. As to NATO, it is absurd to think that NATO had an AWACS aircraft up that was not looking at the fighting area. The DSB accepts these statements without comment.

Russia also provided limited radar information because, it said, as the crash occurred outside of Russian territory, it did not record the primary data (DSBT-42). The report spends some time chiding Russia for this.

Flight Path

Another of the points that I made in my RI piece was the change in the flight path as recorded in the FlightAware website. No mention whatsoever is made of that in the DSB report. I did notice, however, that the flight plan as shown at DSBT-212 shows a slight turn to the left at the Germany-Poland border and a slight turn to the right at the Kazakhstan-Turkmenistan border. If we remove this slight deviation, we have a straight line flight path that goes over the Sea of Azov as the earlier routes did before they were changed on FlightAware.

I still believe that this is a point that has been insufficiently discussed and I remind readers of the screen shots taken of the FlightAware tracks showing previous routes well south of the track taken that day by MH17 shown here and here. I remember noticing the change at the time and thinking that the flight path of 17 July was the first question that had to be answered. Again, the DSB makes no mention of any other routes taken by this daily flight.

Fighter planes

As to the fighter plane story the flat statement is made that there are no aircraft shown on the Ukrainian radar tracks except MH17 and two other commercial flights (DSBT-114). No mention whatsoever is made of the Russian presentation (MoD 9th illustration) that showed a fighter plane close to MH17. (But note the careful statement that there is nothing on the Ukrainian radar tracks. Perhaps the DSB is leaving space for a later “reconsideration”.) The report rules out cannon fire because 1) there are too many holes in the fuselage for a limited number of cannon rounds; 2) the presence of “bow-tie” fragments (see below); 3) there were no military aircraft in the area (DSBT-126). It returns to the issue at DSB-131 where it argues that all penetrations of MH17 came from a single point.

Personally I do not find this very convincing and I do not believe that the presence of a fighter as well as a SAM is excluded, although it is clear that the SAM was sufficient to bring the plane down and kill the cockpit crew. But the DSB ought to have said something about the Russian statement that there was a fighter plane nearby. And certainly there are many holes in the wreckage that look as if they may be caused by cannon fire. And then there are the numerous claimed eyewitness statements of fighters in the area. All this should have been discussed and, if rejected, rejected with serious arguments and evidence.

The reconstruction and the damage

We now come to an analysis of the reconstructed aircraft. Or – and this is a point of great significance – the partly reconstructed aircraft. DSBV gives a good view of the reconstruction at 22:44. We see that the cockpit and part of the lower forward passenger section is all that has been constructed. Missing are the port wing and port engine. This is the key to the limited hangout.

DSBT-55 begins a long section detailing what parts were recovered and from where they were recovered. Everything is accounted for except – an important exception – missile parts consistent with an Buk 9M38 missile (DSBT-80). No location is given for them and there is no chain of custody given. Are these the parts reported to have been found only as late as August 2015? We are merely informed they were found “in the wreckage area”. Photographs appear at DSBT-82.

A long section analyses the sounds from the Cockpit Voice Recorder and establishes a source outside the the upper port side of the cockpit (DSBT-112) This is assumed to be the location of the centre of the explosion. This location is verified by analysing the holes (DSBT-124). All this is perfectly convincing.

About 75 fragments were found in the human remains. Some of these are argued to have come from outside through the aircraft skin; some photos at DSBT-89. Two of these (three?) are claimed to be “bow-tie” shaped (DSBT-92). These two – or is it three or four? – “bow-tie” shaped fragments are conclusive as far as the DSB is concerned: their assertion that it was a Buk warhead type 9N314M completely depends on these two or three or four fragments. John Helmer has argued that there is a suspicious amount of secrecy and national security about these vital pieces.

This is a point of contention with Almaz-Antey’s reports which maintain that the Buk used did not have a “bow-tie” warhead. AA2, which used a static test of a Buk with “bow-tie” (Almaz-Antey calls them “I-beam”) shaped particles in its warhead, argues that the resulting destruction pattern shows bow-tie/I-beam shaped holes (AA2-27) (which DSBT does not) and many more bow-tie/I-beam fragments – there are more than 2000 in that particular warhead design – in the wreckage than two or four. From this Almaz-Antey concludes that the warhead used was not the 9N314M (which has bow-ties/I-beams) but the B9N314 which does not. Their point is that this is the type of Buk in Ukrainian service but no longer in Russian service.

Launch point of missile.

DSBT-144 gives the estimated launch point for the Buk. It chooses a rather large area to the east of Torez more-or-less in front of MH17. In that area is a smaller one it claims to have been provided by Almaz-Antey and a still smaller one provided by the Kiev authorities. Therefore a missile fired from any of these positions would have been approximately head-on to MH17 (from directly head-on to about 30°). This is one thing to which I will return, but I must say I do not understand what the DSB is talking about when it includes an Almaz-Antey estimate of the launch point in this area: neither Almaz-Antey presentation gives an origin in that area. As we saw above, Almaz-Antey gives an estimated firing point that would place the missile launch point much more to the right of MH17 – at roughly 60° from its course. Which brings us back to the key point: ignoring the damage to the port wing and port engine allows the DSB to make the missile track more to the front of MH17’s course. Such an origin is impossible if the damage to the wing and engine are taken into account. The DSB report elides the issue altogether but does provide an “out” by showing a photo of the engine damage.


There are a number of questions that can be raised about the report: the lack of primary radar data from Ukraine and NATO is just not believable and the authors should not have blandly accepted it: there were Ukrainian fighters in the air and no one should possibly believe that NATO assets weren’t watching the area.

The report airily ignores the Russian MoD claim of a fighter plane near MH17 (although leaves itself an out by saying the Ukrainian data showed nothing).

The “flight route question” is completely unaddressed.

Too much hangs on the very small number of bow-tie/I-beam pieces.

By the main thing is that, because it has ignored the damage to the port wing and port engine (although leaving a photo of the latter in the report so as to provide an out), it is able to shift the approach line of the missile away from Kiev-held territory to the south of MH17’s route to rebel-held territory in the south-east.

So what happened?

I agree that we will probably not know until the regime in Kiev collapses or some Edward Snowden reveals something. (Although, as it now appears that the Kiev regime is actually questioning the official “heavenly hundred” sniper story, discussed here by Gordon Hahn, who can say what’s next?).

I would suggest the following possibilities.

The media dog is no longer barking

I would draw the reader’s attention to the media coverage. A media campaign blaming the rebels and Russia began almost immediately after the crash; on the other hand, the media has been very silent about the DSB report. The Daily Mail can serve as an example of both: “Anything to confess, Putin? Russian president in church as world leaders warn him you can’t ‘wash your hands’ of MH17 disaster” 18 July 2014 (“Amid growing evidence that the flight was hit by a sophisticated surface-to-air missile, launched from areas controlled by pro-Russian rebels in the separatist eastern regions of Ukraine, fingers have increasingly been pointed at Russian president Vladimir Putin, who denies involvement.”) and “Russian missile killed pilots and cut jet in half but passengers could have been conscious for up to a minute as plane plunged, reveals official report into MH17 downed over Ukraine” 17 October 2015 (rather neutral coverage full of “he said, she said”). And the story seems to have disappeared. A cynic might be excused for wondering if some central agency puts out the story line. I find this suggestive.

To watch

As for further developments I recommend Alexander Mercouris’ piece on RI – there are some legal cases coming up that may prove interesting. I also recommend John Helmer’s writings on the subject at his blog Dances with Bears. The story appears to be unravelling in several places at once. He also goes into more details on the tiny number of bow-tie/I-beams on which the DSB hangs so much of its case.

Stay tuned, there may be more to come.

Ukraine will Conquer Russia!

In someone’s alternate universe. Maybe.

I was struck by this quotation in a piece by Anatoly Karlin; it is by one Adrian Bonenburger writing in Forbes in July. I am certainly not going to waste my time reading the rest of the Bonenburger oeuvre even though there may be more keepers in it.

This is the greatest risk we face for World War III. Not that Russia defeats Ukraine and moves toward Poland and Estonia, but that Ukraine wipes out the Russians currently in Ukraine, and Putin is forced to take some drastic action to prevent further losses. After all, why should Ukraine not feel entitled to take some of Russia’s territory in return for their lost Crimea? And who will be there to stop them, save demoralized and confused Russian conscripts?

I don’t think “deluded” is a strong enough word. Bonenburger obviously believes that 1) Ukraine is soon going to be “Europeanised” 2) that “Putinism” is soon going to collapse and 3) that European armies squash Russian armies like bugs.

And, you know, he’s right. The Ukrainian juggernaut did smoothly roll over the pathetic rebels in the summer and Putin is said to be hiding out with his (only) friend in Pyongyang.

European armies do routinely crush Russia’s demoralised and confused conscripts. We’ve all seen paintings of Charles XII crowning himself in the Kremlin. Who has not admired Napoleon’s glorious summer house among the volcanoes of Kamchatka? Every schoolchild has heard of the historic Hitler-Tojo meeting in January 1942 in Sakhalin.

It’s rather fascinating that anyone would pay Bonenburger to do anything more complicated than lifting heavy objects.

RF Sitrep 20151008


10 DAYS THAT CHANGED THE WORLD. They did, don’t you think? Gilbert Doctorow describes the interlocking parts of Moscow’s actions: coalition assembled, the UNGA, the military moves, the demonstration that Russia has full-capacity armed forces, Ukraine.

SYRIA. Clearly the big story. Others have commented: I recommend Dyer, Escobar and Buchanan. But there are plenty more. All I have to add are a few observations. Re the “Russian invasion” of Ukraine and grainy photos of combine harvesters or whatever somewhere or other, this is what real satellite photos look like: colour, detail, precision. Russia’s intervention has exploded the US fantasy of “moderate opposition” (but weren’t there only four or five of them?) and its incoherent two-horse scheme (watch McCain lump “barrel bombs” and beheaders together as if Assad and ISIS were the same at 6:51). As to Russia being “doomed to fail“, its strikes are coordinated with the forces on the ground that are actually fighting ISIS; Syrian forces have begun an offensive. And with Iraq too. Egypt as well. Israel even? Is Iran coming? There are suggestions that both Iraq and Afghanistan would welcome Russian assistance because ISIS has only grown stronger in the year of the US-led operation, despite its claims. Moscow prepared the ground, did everything legally, assembled a coalition and moved quickly and decisively. Not Putin vs Obama, or “standing up to Putin“, but a direct challenge to the New American Century crowd; “the most powerful, good and honorable nation… the exceptional nation“: “Do you at least realise now what you have done?” (Вы хоть понимаете теперь, что вы натворили?).

WESTERN VALUES™. No sooner had the US and its allies complained about “civilian casualties” (on faked evidence) than US forces struck a hospital in Afghanistan. The American story is now in its fourth iteration but still no response to the three main charges – that they knew where the hospital was, that there was no firing from it, that the hospital was repeatedly struck after MSF had called on the US authorities to stop. Meanwhile, on Russia’s “violation of Turkish airspace”, look at this screen from a Western source: the green are NATO aircraft in Syria. Whose violations there? Turkey has been violating Syria airspace for some time. And here’s a Deutsche Welle report on the ISIS supply route from Turkey.

PAST AND PRESENT. Wikileaks tells us that Qadaffi was willing to talk but Clinton was not willing to listen. The former Defense Intelligence Agency head says the Administration made a “wilful decision” to ignore its warnings about the growth of ISIS; nor does he believe the “moderate opposition” exists.

INTENTIONS. Don’t know what Russia’s intentions are? Stop speculating and read Putin’s speech. A clue: “we can no longer tolerate the current state of affairs in the world” (что терпеть складывающееся в мире положение уже невозможно). He’s been saying this since the famous Munich speech and now he’s found a time and place to act. He seems to have a lot of support in the West, too – see below. Read Xi’s speech as well, not as blunt, but the same message.

THE WORM TURNS. Read the comments on this story, this story, this story and this story. The first two condemn Russia’s actions, the second two approve. But, in all cases the readers’ comments are overwhelmingly supportive of Russia’s attacks. I have suspected for a while – why else all the talk about “Putin trolls”, Putin’s “information war” and the closing of comments sections? – that an increasing proportion of the Western audience sees through the spin and propaganda. Syria may burst the dam. The last words go to Paul Craig Roberts: “By telling the truth at a time of universal deceit, Putin committed a revolutionary act“.

RT. Remember when RT was “Putin’s weapon of mass deception” and a challenge that had to be countered? Well now it fakes its numbers and is insignificant. Hard to keep up with the story, isn’t it?

RUSSIA INC. I highly recommend this from the perceptive Mr Mercouris on how Russian economy measurements miss something important. While the USA undeniably leads his super trio, how much longer can it with so much of its manufacturing out-sourced?

CORRUPTION. Is a big problem in Russia and no one hides it. I’ve said before that I’ll believe a serious anti-corruption effort is really happening when someone in an office next to Putin’s or Medvedev’s is taken away. It almost happened with Serdyukov but he seems to have got away with it. Ditto the Luzhkovs. Well, maybe something more significant than busting traffic cops is beginning. We’ll see.

© Patrick Armstrong Analysis, Ottawa, Canada Websites: ROPV, US-Russia, Russia Insider

We Know What Putin Wants; We Haven’t a Clue What He Wants

Something I have noticed with some amusement is the conjunction in utterances by Western talking heads of the conviction that they know exactly what Putin wants with the admission that they haven’t a clue what he wants.

Reading what he says and watching what he does is apparently out of the question.

Here’s NATO commander Breedlove in April as an example. Just for fun I invite you all to read through thickets of impenetrable prose to find more examples of we know but we don’t know.

He knows what Putin wants

We also know that Putin only responds to strength and seeks opportunities in weakness.

You know, I believe that Mr. Putin very much wants in a very simple way, he wants the West out of Ukraine, and he wants Ukraine out of the West.

Mr. Putin wants Ukraine as a part of his sphere of influence.

He doesn’t know what Putin wants

We cannot fully be certain what Russia will do next, and we cannot fully grasp Putin’s intent.

So we can’t know what Mr. Putin has in mind.

We don’t know what Mr. Putin’s objectives are.

Poor old Breedlove, wakes up to find Russia’s locked down Syria while he was busy  keeping it out of Estonia.

PS if he can’t bear to read what Putin actually says, here’s a piece in Newsweek (of all places) from last December that might have helped him be less surprised “The rise of ISIS confirms what Moscow has long said to the West: Backing Assad’s opponents will lead to state collapse and jihadism.”

I Wasn’t Really Wrong When I Said Putin Would Retire: Here’s my rationalisation

I did not expect Putin to return for a third term and on August 2011 I said he would not. In September (that’s fast!!) I had to eat my words. But I wasn’t happy to: while I thought Putin was a pretty effective leader – maybe the best Russia has ever had, in the last thousand years, anyway – every leader (and everything else) has a “best before” date. There’s a time when a leader runs out of ideas and creativity, a time when the sycophants figure out what buttons to push (“I know you don’t like flattery boss; that’s one of the things I admire about you”), a time when subordinates start plotting, a time when the Old Guy’s past it and it’s time to think about our futures and so on. Putin’s not there by a long shot, but it will come one day. Better to leave at the top of your game.

And, I have to admit, there was some personal embarrassment on my part – a US Congressman was ranting to me about how Putin was just power-hungry and I stopped him by saying: then why isn’t he president right now? Well, the last laugh’s on me, isn’t it? He’s president again and maybe he never really stopped being the real boss.

So why did he come back? Why does he risk becoming the Turkmenbashi of Russia?

I prefer to think that he’s not just the power-crazed dictator that the US Congressman thinks he is. And so fearlessly risking another episode of logophagy, I offer another theory which allows me to preserve my August 2011 idea and pretend to have been right all along while actually having been wrong. (A bit like being an op-ed writer, in fact. It’s nice to have a rolling memory that forgets when you were wrong. Take, for example, Der Spiegel, which now blames Merkel for the whole sorry mess in Ukraine without ever admitting its own responsibility for whipping up the hysteria. But I, unlike Official Journalists©, know that the Internet Never Forgets.)

So, why did Putin not take my advice and return to the presidency?

Libya, in a word. Consumers of Western media outlets who can still remember the dim, distant days of March 2011 will recall that Qaddafi “was bombing his own people”. First appearing, I think, on Al Jazeera, the story spread everywhere and was amplified by the West’s pet “human rights” N”G”Os. There doesn’t appear to have been any evidence that he was – and a later report concluded that he wasn’t – but this was the mantra. And, it’s important to remember, “humanitarian bombing” episodes are always preceded by unanimity in the media; we’ve seen it in Kosovo and Syria and more recently in Ukraine – every news outlet saying exactly the same thing at exactly the same time.

“Bombing your own people” is a terrible, terrible thing and “something must be done”. (or, rather, it was then: not so important today in Ukraine). The US and its allies went to the UN and secured a resolution to create a “no fly zone” so as to stop Libyan government aircraft from “bombing his own people”. Russia (and China) abstained rather than veto.

To make a long story short, NATO paid no attention to the text of the resolution. They bombed everything, then they supplied weapons, then special forces trainers, then forward air controllers. At the end, after seven (seven!) months, Qaddafi was run to ground and brutally killed. Hillary Clinton’s cackle should not be forgotten.

All appearances suggest that Washington and those NATO members who participated lied from start to finish: they never meant the “no fly zone” stuff and they always intended to overthrow Qaddafi. They played Moscow and Beijing for suckers.

Well, my guess is that Putin is tired of Russia being played for a sucker, tired of Washington & Co bombing everyone it wants to whatever pretext it invents (is Russia on the list?). My guess is that President Xi agrees with him (could China be on the list?) In fact he/they is/are thinking some unthinkable thoughts. I suspect they may be entertaining the notions that, under present management:

  • Washington is a force for chaos in the world.
  • Washington cannot be trusted.
  • Agreements with Washington are worthless.
  • Washington cannot be dealt with.

There is no honour, no consistency, nothing to be trusted in Washington. And, worst of all, pace Palmerston, they don’t even know their own interests (Stupidity is very frightening when combined with Washington’s military power).

Washington is, and will be, Russia’s (and China’s) enemy.

And that is why I think he came back. He foresaw, thanks to the US/NATO deception on Libya, that hard times were coming for Russia. Only he had the necessary muscle to both over-awe the contending factions in Russia and, at the same time, stand tough against the threats.

And the Ukraine nightmare has shown he was right. In the eleven month period from delaying the EU agreement (v2013) to delaying the EU agreement (v2014), Russia has been ceaselessly calumniated and provoked. Putin, leading and controlling his team, has proved cooler, calmer and cleverer than his enemies.

There is nothing about US actions in Syria that will make him think differently.

What did we hear in his 2014 address to the Russian parliament? – a speech, you may be sure, in which every word is tried out, tested and tasted.

Back then, we realised that 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.

Could anything be plainer than that? We tried, they rejected us; we tried again, they spat again. One last attempt… That’s it. It’s over. He’s come to the end, past the end, of the rope. So, altogether, Putin read the tea leaves and I did not.