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


(First published at Sic Semper Tyrannis under the pseudonym Shellback. They were first published in Russia Insider, respectively here, here and here)

Where they get their weapons

Especially as the shattering scale of destruction becomes apparent – Poroshenko says that Ukraine lost two-thirds of its military equipment (just one video of dozens) – Westerners who have been misled by the propagandist character of their media outlets are ready to believe that Russia must have been supplying the rebels with weapons and ammunition. While it is likely that some stuff crossed the border, there is another source that few Westerners are aware of.

What most Western commentators do not understand is that the USSR was preparing to fight World War II all over again with huge armies fleshed out with millions of conscripts and reservists. Millions of soldiers need immense quantities of weapons and ammunition and they need them to be ready and waiting for them as they are mobilized Consequently there were arms dumps all over the western USSR. Most of these sites were named as the headquarters of a division which had a skeleton staff in peacetime but would receive a flood of reservists who would find everything they needed to go to war with waiting for them.

The Soviets divided their formations into 3 categories. As far as I can remember after thirty years, Cat I were fully manned, equipped and ready to go; Cat II were partly manned but fully equipped and Cat III were at much lower levels. The idea being that Cat I formations were ready to go immediately (when the Wall came down I remember learning that the units in East Germany were on 48 hours notice to move. A stance, by the way, that indicated they were not intending to attack; and since NATO wasn’t either, that’s probably why we’re all still here). The Cat II formations would be ready to go in a week or so, while the CAT III formations would take a few months.

The whole Soviet system was based on waves of attackers (echelons) attacking, one after another, seeking out the weak spots; reinforcing success. So the Cat I formations in, say, the DDR and Polish PR assumed support from Cat II formations in their rear, in the Belarussian SSR and Ukrainian SSR and so on; behind that were the reserves of Cat III divs in the RSFSR etc.

When the whole thing stopped, this system was torn apart. Russia assumed responsibility for the stuff in the Warsaw Pact countries and Ukraine, for example, nationalized what was in its territory. As to the forward-based Cat I formations, Russia wound up responsible for the equipment and moving it to Russia, as to the personnel, the conscripts went home and the various nationalities went to their own countries. In short, almost overnight a tank division all ready to go would be turned unto an understaffed pile of equipment waiting to be quickly moved into Russia. I don’t think there were any Cat I formations in the Belarussian SSR and Ukrainian SSR; I think I remember that they were all Cat II there. These movements were accomplished quite quickly and the whole carefully constructed arrangement was destroyed. I used to explain what had happened with the analogy that Russia had got the spear head and Ukraine and Belarus had got the spear shaft; neither being much use without the other. But the enormous supply dumps necessary to bring Cat II divisions up to Cat I would have remained in Ukraine (and Belarus).

For some years Russia pretended that sites on its territory were actual divisions (I was in regular contact with our CFE and Vienna Document inspectors through this time) but the only things inspectors would ever find when they went to inspect the location of an so-called motorized rifle or tank division in the 1990s were fields of poorly maintained AFVs, officers and no troops. (We used to speculate that the secret that the Russians were guarding was that they had no soldiers – oh, they’re all out on a training exercise; oh yeah, with no officers and no equipment? But, as the CFE Treaty only covered equipment and the Russians were completely open about that, there was no problem.) Incidentally, training was impossible: I remember a Russian woman telling me that her brother was a company commander – he had two soldiers in his company! “Empty formations” was the expression used.

Then, suddenly one summer (I can’t remember the year: some time between the two wars in Chechnya), we received a blizzard of notifications (as required under the CFE Treaty) each saying something like “remove the xth MR Div from the list; enter the zth Storage Base at the same location”. When all this was completed, there was a much smaller number of divisions (which were gradually being transformed into independent brigade groups) and many storage bases. After thinking about it, we decided that the storage base idea was an attempt to provide employment in lieu of pensions for surplus officers. (In meetings at this time, the Russian military were always telling us that they simply could not afford the pension and housing obligations for the hundreds of thousands of unnecessary officers. Other ranks were easy to reduce, of course: as they’re conscripts, they can just be sent home early). These changes also recognized the reality that the old Soviet formations had gone forever.

Things began to change after this. I well remember one of the inspectors returning from an inspection of a brigade at Buynaksk in 1998 or 1999 quite excited: here, at last, was a complete formation with all the necessary equipment and men and (very significantly) a commander who commanded the whole thing. No more pretending that a handful of listless officers and field full of equipment would some day magically fill up with conscripts and become a real division. This process seems to have started in the North Caucasus and is one of the several reasons for the much improved Russian performance in the second Chechnya war.

So at the end of this process the Russian Army 1. had the beginnings of a rational structure (brigade groups) 2. had abandoned the fantasy that it was a huge multi-division army with a temporary manpower problem 3. pseudo-divisions with insecure storage of weapons manned by dispirited officers were transformed into something more secure and purposeful and the process of disposing of obsolete and insecure weaponry could begin. With money and a stable government since 2000, other improvements have been made as well.

Nothing like this happened in the Ukrainian Armed Forces. So one can expect the territory of Ukraine to be littered with piles of poorly guarded weaponry and “empty formations”. A Russian official recently confirmed this when he said: “

When the USSR collapsed, the Ukrainian territory was replete with millions of guns, mines, artillery systems and other weapons. The area where the combat activities are held today, where Kiev leads its punitive operation, is no exception

Slavyansk, in particular, is said to have a particularly large dump in an old mine.

In short, the Ukrainian Armed Forces are in the sorry state the Russian Armed Forces were in the 1990s but with another decade and a half of neglect. Much of this decayed equipment doesn’t work any more, but, if you cannibalize 100 tanks and get 10 runners, that’s a lot better than nothing. And, it should be remembered, the Donbass is full of mechanics, technicians, artificers and so forth. To say nothing of plenty of people who through conscription and the Afghan war, know how to operate them. Most of the weapons used in east Ukraine are from Afghan war vintage; the BM-21 Grad, arguably the most important weapon in the rebels’ arsenal and responsible for fearsome destruction, for example, has been around since the 60s. And finally, a characteristic of a lot of Soviet equipment was that it was easy to operate and very very rugged. (Remember that these guys actually got a T-34 that had spent the last 50 years sitting on a concrete slab in the rain and snow up and running: all the points illustrated at once!)

The other thing I recall that we learned when it was all over, was that, in contrast to the Western style of having dumps in floodlit spaces surrounded by fences, barbed wire, armed patrols and so on, making the site very noticeable but strongly protected, the Soviet style was to have something much more discreet in an out-of-the-way place and rely more on silence to secure it (an old mine, of which there are many in the Donbass, would be ideal). Given that the USSR military headquarters was in Moscow, it is quite possible that the Kiev government doesn’t even know where many of these dumps are. One service that Moscow could be providing is to tell the rebels where to look.

So, I have no difficulty seeing the rebels coming across (or being directed to) a dump and getting weaponry and ammunition; they have people who can get it working again and plenty of ex-Soviet Army veterans to make them work. On top of that is the equipment captured when Ukrainian conscripts abandon positions (quite a lot – this site attempts to make a photographic record) and a few things bought or bribed. So far all they would have needed from Moscow is maybe some command and control equipment and target acquisition services.

So Ukraine’s military problem today is that it has the two-decades decayed remnants of what was originally planned to be a first line of support for the best and most ready elements; never to be a stand alone force. And during this time Kiev has starved this remnant and sold off the best stuff abroad (Georgia got a lot from Ukraine). So, the rebels and the Kiev forces are much more evenly matched than would be the normal case in a rebellion against the center They are both learning on the job, but the rebels have much more motivation while Kiev has a larger stock of weaponry on which to draw.

Thus the rebels are doing better faster than would normally be expected and have a good stock of weapons and ammunition. This is one of the reasons why so many in the West believe that Russia must be helping them.

Cords and Cauldrons: How Good Little Guys Beat Bad Big Guys

Many in the West probably wonder how the the Ukrainian rebels can be defeating the Kiev forces without help from Russia. But this has happened many times before; good little guys often beat bad big guys: the Vietnamese beat the Americans, the Israelis beat the Arabs in 1948. But, for our purpose, it’s worth considering how the Finns beat the Soviets in the Winter War.

In 1939 the Soviet Army invaded Finland along the entire border. The Finnish Armed Forces were small and not very mechanized but they were determined and they knew the ground they were fighting on – it was theirs, after all. The Soviet Armed Forces were large, highly mechanized by the standards of the time but poorly led (Stalin had killed or imprisoned the best commanders a year or so before).

So what were the Finns to do? They could surrender, but they were Finns and disinclined to do so. They had two fronts to deal with. The first was in the south in Karelia. Here they understood that there could be no retreat. So they held the “Mannerheim Line” and sent whatever heavy weapons they had there. The Finnish strategy here was the word sisu. The English translation for sisu would be something like “We’re not giving up. Ever. No matter what”. I recommend watching the movie Talvisota to show what this actually meant.

But the Soviets also invaded in the north all along the border. Equipped, we are told, with Swedish-Russian dictionaries for when they got to the other side of Finland. Here the Finns could not spare their limited heavy weapons or manpower; but they could not afford to be defeated here either.

The Finnish word motti means a measure of wood cut for use. The English equivalent would be a cord of wood. The Finns chopped the Soviet invaders into manageable amounts of wood. The terrain was forest and frozen lakes; terrifying to the Russian, Ukrainian and Belarussian conscripts but familiar home to the Finns. The Finns made ski routes parallel to the roads the Soviets stuck to. The Finns chopped the Soviet columns into motti with abbatis (felled trees interlaced to make an impenetrable obstacle). The Soviet fragments found themselves in a hostile frozen nightmare with only the food, fuel and ammunition they happened to have with them. Two soldiers get together to have a smoke; an invisible sniper kills one of them. A field kitchen is lighted to give some hot food, an invisible sniper kills the cook, another destroys the stove. Soviet troops make a foray into the woods; they see nothing but on the way back an invisible sniper kills their officer. Soviet divisions simply disappeared, nothing was left but shattered vehicles and frozen corpses. It worked: a small, mobile light force of dedicated infantry who knew the terrain defeated much heavier forces; it wasn’t easy, there was very heavy fighting in places but, in essence, the five or six Soviet divisions that invaded simply disappeared. (I recommend A Frozen Hell by William R Trotter.)

At the time, most “military experts” bet on the Soviets: more tanks, more aircraft, more men and so on. Just as most “military experts” probably bet that Kiev would defeat the rebels.

Much the same thing happened in eastern Ukraine; the favorite word there being “cauldron” or котёл. The principal difference being that you can create motti in forests, but only a котёл in steppe land. I no know better description of how to create one than the Saker’s. But it is very much the same as how to make a motti. Road-bound, poorly commanded heavily mechanized units advance too far and are cut off. Sometimes they can fight their way out but it’s a declining situation if they stay: every day they have less food, fuel, ammunition and water. If they don’t fight their way out, they die or surrender. In Ukraine it’s summer, so at least they don’t freeze to death as thousands of Soviets did in the motti.

So there you have it, that’s how the little guys (but they have to be very brave and very determined) can beat the big guys. We see the same thing in Iraq or Afghanistan, by the way. The difference being that the Iraq or Afghanistan insurgents can’t concentrate because of America air power so they never can create a motti or котёл.

And another similarity, and a very important one, in eastern Ukraine and Finland as well as Vietnam, Afghanistan, Israel in 1948 or Iraq is, to quote James Clapper, the director of national intelligence (USA),  that the attackers don’t “predict the will to fight”. In June Poroshenko was talking about the whole thing being over quickly: “in hours, not weeks”.

As that great military strategist, Muhammed Ali, put it, when you haven’t got the muscle to stand toe to toe, float like a butterfly, sting like a bee. And chop them up into into motti if you get the chance.

The Donbass RebelsSecret Weapons

The two decisive weapons of this war that have given victory to the rebels are the MANPADS (MAN Portable Air Defense System) and the Grad (“hail” in Russian).

Kiev had, at the beginning, complete air superiority; it may not have had very many helicopters and ground-attack fixed wing, but it had all that there were. Against these the rebels had stocks of the SA-7 shoulder-fired missile. Like many Soviet weapons it was modified and improved in incremental steps over its service life since the 1970s and produced in quite large numbers. It has an infra-red guidance system and is shoulder-fired. Like most weapons of this type, it is most effective against aircraft that are actually attacking the firer, ie when the angular momentum of the aircraft is low. According to this site, quoting the Kiev Post, Kiev lost ten helicopters and nine fixed-wing aircraft. The true number is likely higher but the point is that this weapon system effectively nullified the air superiority that the Kiev regime had; they either destroyed the aircraft or forced them to fly higher and faster and therefore be less effective. These weapons made the war into a ground war.

The real destruction of the Kiev forces – Ukraine President Poroshenko says two thirds of Ukraine’s military equipment was lost – was carried out by the BM-21 Grad MLRS. Another weapon system from decades ago, this is a truck with 40 122mm rocket tubes at the rear. Not particularly accurate – it is what is known as an “area weapon” – the fact that all 40 rockets can be fired in 20 seconds means that after a few ranging rounds a terrifying amount of explosive can be delivered very quickly by a few Grads. Here are a lot of them firing at a demonstration. Here are some videos from the fighting in Ukraine. Grads firing at night – we see the ranging rounds and then the full salvo from two. Hits nearby. This is what remains after a strike.

There are dozens of videos showing the destruction of Kiev forces trapped in a “cauldron” or котёл by Grads. As I said in another essay, the bulk of the rebel forces were men who knew the area: the back roads, where this forest trail comes out, where that hill is and how to get there without being seen. The Kiev forces did not know the area and had ludicrously inadequate maps (one report spoke of maps from the 1920s) and bad information; thanks to their reliance on heavy equipment they stuck to the main roads. Their commanders were spectacularly incompetent, they themselves were either either poorly motivated untrained forced conscripts unwilling to advance or gung-ho “volunteer” forces, pumped up with warrior fantasies, who charged down the road and got trapped. In either case, there would be periods of being stopped, all jammed together when the mobile rebel spotter forces would call in the target. A few adjustment rounds, then a hundred or more rockets. This is what would happen, over and over and over again. All done by discreet spotter teams and a few Grads within twenty kms or so.


Therefore, there is no particular reason to assume any large-scale Russian military assistance here. Dedicated people fighting for their homeland, on their homeland, have beaten many a bad invader. Add to this the military training left over from the Soviet days, the weapons stockpiled in the area against a future huge war, mechanical ability and the incompetence of the invader, it is not surprising that they have held their ground.


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