A Common Delusion, Ukrainian Version

Note: I believe that it was very commonly assumed in the USSR that the Russian SFSR was exploiting all the other union republics. As a consequence, most of the post-Soviet leaders expected their new countries to immediately become wealthier. But, the reverse was true: in fact the RSFSR was subsidising the others thanks to its energy reserves.

…like everyone else, I believed that Ukraine is so rich that it provided for the entire [Soviet] Union. It turned out that it is, in fact, rich. However, was it really a provider?

Leonid Kuchma, then PM of Ukraine and later President, Holos Ukrayiny, Kiev, 4 November 1993

Fracking, Slavyansk and War

Many people blame Strelkov/Girkin for the outbreak of serious fighting in the Donbass. I believe it is important to see the sequence of events. Chronology is always worth keeping in mind: it’s not necessarily cause and effect but it usually points to it.


So, if I had heard that I was being called a “terrorist”, with all that that means these days, by some people who had pulled off a coup and driven out the people I’d elected, whose first action is to try and ban my language,  if I’d heard about the Korsun attack, if I got wind that a large company with foreign involvement might want to strip mine my place and move everybody out of the way, if I was already mistrustful of the new regime in Kiev, maybe I’d get some guns too.


FIRST GUARDS TANK ARMY. I attended many meetings with the Russian military. Always – always – we were told that the Russian army was being re-structured into brigade group formations: all-arms formations of 5-6 thousand men. Such formations are suitable for fighting in places like Chechnya and, indeed, the first two were formed about 20 years ago in the south. At the same time there were no serious forces deployed along the tradition western invasion route. The old Soviet divisions – pretty well empty of soldiers at this time – were gradually eliminated. It was clear then – the 1990s and early 2000s – that Moscow was not expecting an attack from the west and neither did it expect to attack west: it was planning for smaller operations, mostly counter-terrorist. The old Soviet structure of divisions-armies-fronts which was applicable to really big wars against first-class enemies was no longer necessary; the smaller, nimbler brigade group structure was more appropriate. But, at the same time they warned that NATO’s relentless expansion, ever closer, was a danger (опасность), although they stopped short of calling it, as they did terrorism, a threat (угроза); “dangers” require attention; “threats” a response. NATO of course didn’t listen, arrogantly assuming NATO expansion was doing Russia a favour and was an entitlement of the “exceptional nation” and its allies. Well, we have reached another stage on the road. The 1st Guards Tank Army is being re-created. It will likely have two or three tank divisions, plus some motorised rifle divisions, plus enormous artillery and engineering support, plus helicopters and all else. This is a formation to fight a really big war against a first class enemy; designed to deliver the decisive counter-attack (see Stalingrad, Kursk). It will be stationed in the Western Military District to defend Russia against NATO (yes defend! otherwise why didn’t they have it all along?). It will likely be the first to receive receive the new Armata family of AFVs and be staffed with professional soldiers. This is what the light-hearted decision to expand NATO has brought us to. I need hardly say that NATO’s piddling little reinforcement is below the noise level of a tank army. (And pointless, too: a brigade more-or-less is meaningless in a real war and the trip-wire already exists. But NATO is working itself up to a real case of the screaming meemies.) I will probably write more on the significant of this, which is clearer to those with a military background, but here’s something to go on from Southfront.

SYRIAN CESSATION OF HOSTILITIES. Text here, Putin explains it here. I see it as a last chance for the US & Co to exhibit the ever-elusive “moderate opposition”: groups must identify themselves and stop shooting to be safe from Russian and allied attacks. If they don’t, they’re fair game. And Daesh is excluded from the offer. But, given the incoherence of US policy, someone is sure to contradict it. And maybe Kerry already has. Anyway, the Saker shows (as does Robinson) that Moscow actually understands how to use military force. Washington now just destroys everything in its course to defeat.

WHY DO RUSSIANS LIKE PUTIN? Because they remember life before him, that’s why.

LATEST ANTI-RUSSIAN STORY. Would you send a man who nailed his scrotum to Times Square and then cut off an earlobe for psychiatric observation? Maybe, but don’t do it in Russia: that’s “punishment psychiatry” of an artist. On the other other hand, the Moscow authorities have torn down the smoking kills more people than Obama poster. Pity the authors of that don’t call themselves artists.

HOSPITALS. Russia bombs MSF hospitals! Read this carefully: not MSF hospitals and, contrary to Geneva conventions, not marked according to modern standards. Has MSF sold out? Was the US bombing of its (really MSF and really marked) hospital in Kunduz a warning?

UKRAINE. Still a tiny few in the WMSM who are capable of reporting reality: Patrick Smith. Meanwhile Canada provides a platform for the riviver of naziism.

POPE AND PATRIARCH. Here is the joint statement and a thoughtful analysis.

TURKEY AND SAUDI ARABIA. The combination of Moscow’s powerful reaction and lack of support has made them back off on their invasion threats.

UKRAINIAN NUCLEAR REACTORS. The last time Ukraine made a “civilisational choice”, it involved an attempt to provide its Soviet-made nuclear reactors with fuel from Westinghouse. That didn’t work out and could have been quite dangerous. But, never mind, time to try again.

Last Two Decades Explained in Two Quotations

These two pieces, although relatively recent, have a certain timeless quality about them: they could have been written at any time in the past two decades and would be both predictive and explanatory. They succulently explain the thinking that has brought us to today’s war talk. In essence, they are different ways of saying that We, the West, can do things that others are not permitted to do. And, do it by God’s good Grace. To take offence at these claims of supremacy and superiority is, ipso facto, a proof of hostility.

The first is by the Cheneys and is a hymn to American exceptionalism. (Originally at the Wall Street Journal 28 August 2015 a version can be found here). It begins with the obligatory lament: “President Obama has dangerously surrendered the nation’s global leadership, but it can be ours again—if we choose his successor wisely.” (An interesting feature which we often find in these discombobulations and atrabiliousnesses is the fear that the USA, the greatest, the mightiest, the most wonderfullest, the bestest is in danger of losing it all in a trice. But how could that be possible?)

A few selections are enough:

America has guaranteed freedom, security and peace for a larger share of humanity than any other nation in all of history. There is no other like us. There never has been…. It [the position as “the world’s sole superpower”] is ours because of our ideals and our power, and the power of our ideals…. Our children need to know that they – the citizens of the exceptional country, the most powerful, good and noble country in the history of mankind. They need to know that they are – the heirs of a great past and a great debt.

A couple of peculiarities of this are worth mentioning. By word count, a third of the piece is a rant against the nuclear agreement with Iran which is, to them, as so many things are, “eerily reminiscent of the Munich Agreement”. Iran is their focus; Russia is mentioned once in passing in a generic list of threats. And Putin not at all. A distinction without a difference: an identical piece – including the obligatory “eerily reminiscent of the Munich Agreement” – could effortlessly be extruded by the two about Russia, China or, come to think of it, Venezuela.

Another point that it is worth noticing is that the “exceptionalism” of the USA was, using their examples, mostly manifested in the Second World War and the immediate aftermath. They do not glory that the US selflessly brought democracy to Vietnam or El Salvador, nor do they congratulate themselves on the order and peace brought to Iraq or Libya. Their examples are rather old.

Now there are many people out there who are perfectly prepared to admire the USA of seven decades years ago but who think that it has rather gone astray since then. (One might be tempted to suggest that if even these cheerleaders cannot come up with anything much later than the Marshall Plan as an example of America’s goodness and nobility they themselves are perilously close to the sin of doubt.)

The creed of American exceptionalism is here laid out. The USA is simply the best, the brightest, the noblest. What it wants is requisite for all to want and its actions are exemplary; secure against error: its opponents are ever evil, it is ever righteous. Deserving of supreme power, whatever it does is for the best; no criticism is possible, no criticism is to be tolerated.

A very dangerous mindset indeed.

The next piece for your consideration was uttered by the former Secretary General of NATO: “The Kremlin’s Tragic Miscalculation“. (By the way, Rasmussen is now working for Goldman Sachs; a perfect closing of the circle that should make any conspiracy theorist faint with joy.) Writing more than sorrow than in anger, he says that Russia’s “tragic miscalculation” was not understanding that NATO is its friend:

In short, thanks to the EU and NATO, the stability on its Western borders that Russia has sought for centuries has now been achieved. Russia should be celebrating – and it should be seizing the opportunity to deepen its ties with the West.

There’s no need to read any further and it’s instructive that most of the commenters on the piece see this for the nonsense it is. NATO is a military alliance, it’s not a glee club, and it accounts for over half the world’s expenditure on weaponry. Who would be dumb enough to think that a country that finds NATO moving ever closer to its doorstep (while, at the same time claiming that Russia is on its doorstep), that is continually demonised by a strident and united media would not be concerned? Silly Russians indeed!

So, Dear Readers, I submit these two short pieces for your consideration as a quick guide to the thinking that has brought us, and continues to bring us, ever closer to the Last World War.

First, the deeply embedded conviction in Washington that the USA is so wonderful, so noble, so pure of purpose and clean of intention that it cannot do wrong. And second that NATO is a peace alliance dedicated to bringing peace and prosperity (rather than, as Kosovo, Iraq, Libya, Ukraine et al show, the reverse).

And finally, there is the unstated, but nevertheless attendant, assumption that the Russians (and Chinese) aren’t smart enough to understand that the consequences of these two beliefs are 1) that their interests are not worthy of consideration and 2) that war is peace.

Mohamed Heikal’s Lesson

I see Mohamed Heikal has just died full of years and honour. He wrote a book from the Egyptian side in the preparations for the 1973 war. In it he told a story that I have never forgotten.

I haven’t the book any more so I have to tell the story as I remember it.

The time was the early 1970s and the Israeli Air Force was really busting up the Egyptian defences along the Canal – Israel had conquered up to the eastern edge in 1967. Nasser and Heikal went to Moscow to get help from the Soviets.

So they’re in the meeting room and Brezhnev and Kosygin are on the other side of the table. We need new air defence weapons, says Nasser. OK, say B&K, no problem. Ah, says Nasser, but there’s another problem we need your help on. While our people are training on the new weapons, we’ll need somebody to man the existing defences. So we want you to send us troops to run the existing air defence systems and fly the planes. No way! say B&K, that’s too much. Never! Oh dear, says Nasser, I guess I’ll just have to go home, tell the Egyptian people that I’ve failed and that we’ll have to go to Washington for protection. B&K confer, and agree to sent troops.

What’s the lesson? It is that great powers – and most international affairs pundits – think the great powers always control their clients. But they’re wrong: as this story shows, the clients frequently manipulate the great powers.

The reason is that for the great powers it’s a sideshow, for the clients it’s the only show; for Moscow this was one of many balls to keep in the air, for Cairo it was the only ball. Cairo had much more to gain from understanding how Moscow worked and where the hot buttons were than Moscow had in understanding Cairo. And, in this case, Cairo’s investment of time and study paid off.

Just because, for example, Ankara is a “client” of Washington, doesn’t mean that Ankara always follows the script written in Washington. And we certainly know that Israel and Saudi Arabia have invested a great deal of effort and money to influence, if not altogether create, the script that Washington reads from in the Middle East.

The tail often wags the dog; maybe even more often than not.

Heikal’s Lesson I call it, and I’ve never forgotten it.

Today’s Quotation About Putin

For by going to St. Petersburg, President Bush, Prime Minister Tony Blair, President Jacques Chirac, and the leaders of Italy, Germany, Canada and Japan will in effect place their stamp of approval on the removal of political rights, the harassment of independent groups, the renationalization of energy and the censorship of media that Putin has imposed on his country since he took over from Yeltsin six years ago. They will also give their blessing to Putin’s use of gas pipelines to threaten Ukraine, and to his ambiguous role in Iranian nuclear and Middle East peace negotiations.

Anne Applebaum “Skip St Petersburg, Mr Bush” Washington Post, 8 Mar 2006 http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/03/07/AR2006030701332.html

Making Russia into an Enemy

Note February 2016. I wrote this in June 2012 as a suggestion to a website on what to do to counter the endless anti-Russia propaganda. In many ways, it summarises the theme of everything I have written since the early 1990s: the end of the Cold War gave us an opportunity to integrate Russia and the other USSR successor states into the winners’ circle. We failed to do that and, thereby, have set up the conditions for what we see today. And, there was no reason to do it. Moscow is now trying to counter the propaganda as I wished it would then; with some success, given the hysteria in the West about its loss of narrative control.

My concern is that, as a result of a mixture of reflexive hostility, sloth, lazy re-typing of memes and the campaigns of vengeful people we, the “West”, are gradually turning Russia into an enemy. And there is absolutely no reason for this: Russia needs a quiet life so that it can repair the ravages of 70 years of communism. In short, this behaviour is weakening our security: Russia is not and never will be a negligible power; we gain nothing and lose much by making it into an enemy.

In 1814, after 20 years of war, the settlement was made by the 5 “Great Powers” – Britain, Russia, Austria, Prussia and… France. France was included because it was understood that Revolutionary and Napoleonic France was not the only possible France; that France was not about to disappear from the map; that it was better to bring it into the winners’ circle than freeze it out. In 1945 the Western Allies incorporated the losers (Germany west and Japan – and Italy, which had switched sides just in time) into the winners’ circle. We do not seriously worry about a 4th Reich or 2nd East Asian Co-Prosperity Sphere today.

But the 1919 settlement punished Germany and tried to keep it down forever. The combination of harsh restrictions and feeble enforcement contributed to a second worse war.

The lesson of these two successful post-war settlements and the disastrous failure of the third seems obvious: incorporate the losers into the winners.

When the Cold War ended, the “West” did not follow either the 1814 or the 1945 examples. The “original sin” was the expansion of NATO in a manner that made it obvious that anyone could join. Except Russia. A door was slammed in Russia’s face. At the time George Kennan, the famous Mr X of 1946, warned us of the consequences of this “light-hearted” decision. We see the fruits today. My fear is now, and has been from the start, that we are repeating the disaster of 1919 and not the wisdom of 1814 or 1945.

I am afraid that I have no bright ideas about overcoming the biased, incompetent, hostile and often knowingly false coverage of Russia in the Western MSM. On the bright side, the Old Media is dying and had already lost much of its power to define what constitutes “The News”. But the New Media is still weak and, in any case, will never have the near-monopoly of “News” that the Old Media had.

So, given the terrible state of coverage of Russia in the West, we have to ask the traditional questions: Кто виноват? and Что делать?

Who’s guilty? Well there are those for whom Russia is and always will be the Eternal Enemy. And there are those who have a personal interest in denigrating Russia. There’s nothing that we can do to change their minds: we cannot reason them out of ideas they were not reasoned into. These people will die off eventually. As to the others, the imitators, the lazy, perhaps we can.

What to do? All I can suggest is to keep chewing away at the memes – but it always takes more effort to defeat a meme than it does to re-type it. It’s like Hercules and the Hydra: as soon as you destroy one, another two are created.

One suggestion is to create a website – a sort of reference library – with pieces that counter some of the memes. (Although many of them cannot be countered by mere facts). I expect no great effect from this but it would at least make our jobs easier if we had a single source to point to.

Finally: I do wish Moscow would put more effort into countering this. I sometimes think that Russians are too proud to engage in PR. But they should.

US and Russia Under Obama

There are aspirations and then there are policies. I think we really can’t talk in terms of a unitary policy being made by a government as headed by Obama. I do not see Barack Obama as being in control. I see him buffeted about, very inexperienced, advised by similarly inexperienced advisers on foreign policy, people who really don’t know which end is up when it comes to Russia. And I see on the other side what we call the neocons. Those are the people who hate Russia.

Ray McGovern, February 2016

George Kennan on NATO Expansion

I think it is the beginning of a new cold war,” said Mr. Kennan from his Princeton home. ”I think the Russians will gradually react quite adversely and it will affect their policies. I think it is a tragic mistake. There was no reason for this whatsoever. No one was threatening anybody else. This expansion would make the Founding Fathers of this country turn over in their graves. We have signed up to protect a whole series of countries, even though we have neither the resources nor the intention to do so in any serious way. [NATO expansion] was simply a light-hearted action by a Senate that has no real interest in foreign affairs.”

”What bothers me is how superficial and ill informed the whole Senate debate was,” added Mr. Kennan, who was present at the creation of NATO and whose anonymous 1947 article in the journal Foreign Affairs, signed ”X,” defined America’s cold-war containment policy for 40 years. ”I was particularly bothered by the references to Russia as a country dying to attack Western Europe. Don’t people understand? Our differences in the cold war were with the Soviet Communist regime. And now we are turning our backs on the very people who mounted the greatest bloodless revolution in history to remove that Soviet regime.

”And Russia’s democracy is as far advanced, if not farther, as any of these countries we’ve just signed up to defend from Russia,” said Mr. Kennan, who joined the State Department in 1926 and was U.S. Ambassador to Moscow in 1952. ”It shows so little understanding of Russian history and Soviet history. Of course there is going to be a bad reaction from Russia, and then [the NATO expanders] will say that we always told you that is how the Russians are — but this is just wrong.”

Did Kennan miss out anything in his prediction, do you think?

Thomas L. Friedman: “Foreign Affairs; Now a Word From X”, 2 May 1998 http://www.nytimes.com/1998/05/02/opinion/foreign-affairs-now-a-word-from-x.html