RUSSIA INC. More Western sources agree that Russia’s economy is growing again – EBRD, UN and IMF. Even Stratfor, which predicted Russia’s collapse, now admits it’s doing well. Which is no big news for those of us who ignored the NYT, WaPo and their friends. All I can say is: stop drinking each other’s bath water and do the work.

VICTORY DAY. What struck my attention was the Arctic camouflage air defence systems. Here’s the full parade. Here is the first parade on 24 June 1945: limos have replaced horses, loudspeaker trucks are less important, Nazi banners are stored away, but otherwise recognisable.

HISTORY. Much has been written about Putin’s views on Russia’s tangled history; much of it rubbish. Let’s listen to the man himself as he unveiled a monument to a grand duke assassinated in the Kremlin. “Russia’s history is regaining its unity. We treasure each page in this history, no matter how difficult. These are our national spiritual roots.” It has to be all of it, doesn’t it? They’ve already been through years of changing history around to suit present needs.

OIL PRICES. Moscow and Riyadh have agreed agree to extend the oil production cut. The January cut was initially successful at boosting prices, but they have fallen of late.

SYRIA. We do appear to have a measure of agreement among the principals, including Washington. Here’s the text of the “de-escalation zones” agreement. Still much that is murky though: are Washington and Ankara about to shoot at each other? Has Washington stopped the Assad must go stuff or not? Faked up atrocity stories continue. Is Washington still недоговороспособны – incapable of making agreements – as this would suggest? It’s all rather ambiguous; but I do understand that it takes a long time to turn a big ship around, especially when it’s surrounded – to keep the analogy going – by little boats pushing the other way and people in the engine room resisting the timoneer. I believe that my theory on last month’s airstrikes has not been falsified. So, things appear to be happening.

RECONSIDERATION. Let me introduce you, Dear Readers, to Graham Fuller. One of the authors of Washington’s (disastrous as it turned out) policy of supporting jihadists in one place expecting to put them back into the toy box afterwards, he has reconsidered: read this. He believes that overthrowing Assad would make things much worse: “Syria Will Likely Be Run By Terrorists”. He, by the way, appears to agree with my theory on the airstrikes, see last two paragraphs.

NO COMMENT. From the WaPo “NSA officials worried about the day its potent hacking tool would get loose. Then it did.” At least no one is blaming Putin for this. Yet.

COMEY FIRING. Assange predicts leaks will begin. One: Russian hacker claims FBI tried to bribe him to say he hacked DNC. Two: “federal investigator” says Seth Rich sent e-mails to Wikileaks. Stay tuned.

AMERICA-HYSTERICA. Ever louder. But not working: Democrats dropped 5 points. Two years ago Russia was “a regional power”, last year it was “important”; today its influence is everywhere; next year it will rule the world. Then I guess it’s all over. I’ve given up my PDS series now it’s merged with TDS: “Here’s how the Russians might have snuck a recording device into the Oval Office” (WaPo of course), I can’t keep up. Dimwitted and dangerous. Roman comparisons are trendy: try Cato and the Optimates.

WESTERN VALUES. Ukraine has blocked a number of Russia-based social media networks. A NATO spokesman is quoted as saying that’s OK because it’s “security”. (NATO’s “enduring mission”, by the way, is “defending values”.) Western values, which had real content a couple of decades ago, are now bedraggled camp followers of the juggernaut of war. (To be fair, an EU official, whom you didn’t know existed, did “voice concern”.)

UKRAINE. US House of Representatives passed a DoD funding bill that expressly forbade funding the Azov Battalion (Sec. 8131.) Meanwhile, in a decision it will live to regret, the EU has allowed visa free visits from Ukrainians.

NEW NWO. China hosted the Belt and Road International Forum. (The Chinese have a genius for coming up with descriptive slogans and this is one: a belt ties things together and a road communicates.) Putin was the first foreign speaker (not a coincidence, I’m sure) (his speech). Many countries attended. As always, the fact of the event itself and the side meetings were the most important. North Korea sent a delegation so probably some developments there with all its neighbours present. Eurasia: it’s real, it’s happening and it’s the future.

© Patrick Armstrong Analysis, CanadaRussia Observer

Underestimate Russia and be surprised

These pieces are papers that I believe to be still relevant; they were published earlier elsewhere under a pseudonym. They have been very slightly edited and hyperlinks have been checked.

I originally wrote this in November 2015. It seems appropriate, around Victory Day, to republish it. The manufacturers of Nazi battle standards would have been surprised had they known where they would end up. Likewise French cannon foundries. As there is more and more war talk in the West, it is as well to remember that, while you can easily start a war with Russia, it probably won’t be you who finishes it.

The USA/NATO has been surprised – or is stunned a better word? – by the Russian operation in Syria. The fact that it intervened; the speed with which it did it; the secrecy with which it did it; the numbers of sorties being flown; the accuracy and effectiveness of the strikes. But especially by the discovery that insignificant boats in the Caspian Sea – of all places – have a surprisingly long reach. McCain’s gas station or Obama’s negligible Russia couldn’t possibly be expected to do such things. And, if half the rumours about Russia’s “A2/AD bubble” are true, there’s another huge surprise as well.

Russia, over its millennium of history, has been usually successful in war, and especially so when defeating invaders. The Mongols were eventually seen off, the Teutonic Knights sent home, the Polish-Lithuanian invaders driven out, the Swedes defeated and Napoleon and Hitler were followed home by avenging armies. The West is only faintly aware of this record: it tends to remember Russia’s rare defeats like the Japanese war or World War I and, when Russia (or the USSR) wins, the common opinion in the West is that victory was really owed to factors like “General Winter” or endless manpower. In short, the Western meme is that Russia doesn’t really win, the other side loses.

This is, to put it mildly, incorrect. Dominic Lieven’s book “Russia Against Napoleon” destroys the meme. The author establishes the case that the Emperor Alexander and his government foresaw that war with Napoleon was inevitable, studied how Napoleon fought and made the necessary preparations to defeat him. And defeat him they did. Fighting an army as big as the one that invaded in 1812 led by as brilliant a commander as Napoleon is never going to be easy and Alexander probably didn’t envisage a battle as bloody as Borodino, so close to Moscow, to be indecisive. I’m sure nobody planned for Moscow to be occupied and burned. But, even so, Alexander held to his purpose. He knew that Napoleon’s typical campaign was a swift battlefield victory, followed by negotiations, perhaps the loss of a few bits of territory, a relative or two being made into a prince, and then the gathering of the defeated power into the French camp. In short, Napoleon expected that he and Alexander would meet again when Alexander had been taught a lesson: Russia would then rejoin the “continental system” and its navy would keep the Royal Navy out of the Baltic. Something limited like that. But Alexander was fighting a different war and never came to him. Moscow burned and Napoleon gave up waiting and went home. Certainly, “General Winter” played his part, but the French retreat turned into a rout as they were driven faster and faster by the menacing proximity of the rebuilt Russian Army, harried by warmly dressed Cossack raiders with endless remounts and enraged partisans roused into the first Great Patriotic War. This famous graph tells the story: four hundred thousand went in, ten thousand came out and the Russian army followed Napoleon all the way back to Paris. Lieven explains the planning and the enormous logistics operation which sustained a large army all the 1500 miles from Moscow to Paris. Very far indeed from the Western story of masses of men hurled at a freezing enemy.

In short: Alexander understood how Napoleon did things and surprised him with proper preparation and a full strategy. This, I believe, is the essence of the “Russian way in warfare”. Know and understand the enemy and surprise him. We have just seen this again in Syria. And, for that matter, over and over again in the Ukraine crisis where nothing has gone the way Nuland & Co intended. And in Ossetia in 2008.

While the First World War was a disaster for Russia, surprise and intelligence was present. Germany’s plan to deal with enemies both east and west assumed Russia would take so long to mobilize that the bulk of the German Army could be sent west to knock France out quickly – as it had done in 1870 – and return in time to meet the Russians. The Russians, who perhaps knew this, attacked early and threw the Germans into consternation. Their attack, however, went wrong: the Russian commanders were incompetent, the German commanders weren’t and the Germans were saved. Intelligence and surprise were there, but the execution was bungled. A second intelligence/surprise was the Brusilov Offensive in 1916 (again something not much known in the West). The attack was notable for two innovations later adopted in the Western Front: a short, intense, accurate artillery bombardment immediately followed up by attacks of small specially trained shock troops. Very different indeed from the synchronous Somme offensive on the Western Front with its prolonged bombardment and the slow advance of thousands of heavily burdened soldiers. But, in the end, Russia was overwhelmed by the strains of the first industrial war and undermined by German and Austrian subterfuges and collapsed. Intelligence and surprise weren’t enough.

Intelligence and surprise returned in the Soviet period. In the Far East we saw the perfect combination of surprise in 1939 with the annihilation of a Japanese army at the battle of Khalkin-Gol and intelligence in 1941 with Richard Sorge‘s discovery that Japan was turning south. This intelligence allowed Stavka to transfer divisions, that the Germans had no idea existed, to Moscow and surprise them with the first Soviet victory at the Battle of Moscow. Certainly Hitler surprised Stalin with his attack (although he shouldn’t have because Soviet intelligence picked up many warning signs) but that appears to have been the last German surprise of the war. From then on it was the Soviets who foresaw German plans and surprised them time and time again – the counter attack at Stalingrad and the entire Battle of Kursk being two of the most dramatic examples of the Soviets preparing for what their intelligence told them was coming and achieving complete surprise with their counter-attack. [And, as I have just learned today, the Soviets knew the details of the final German thrust on Moscow]. Again, surprise and intelligence, almost all of it on the Soviet side. (Which should make one wonder what Reinhard Gehlen, head of the German Army’s Soviet intelligence section had to sell the Americans in 1945, shouldn’t it?)

So then, Syria is just the latest example of something that has been present in Russian and Soviet war-fighting doctrine for at least two centuries.

A good piece of advice, then: if you are contemplating a war (even a non-shooting war) against Russia you’d better assume that they have a pretty good idea of what you are doing but that you have very little idea of what they are doing.

It’s much more likely that you will be surprised than you will surprise them.

Lots of people in lots of places over lots of years have underestimated Russia. Most of them have regretted it.

Is there anything in the last couple of years in the West’s anti-Russia campaign that would cause anyone to think otherwise?


RUSSIAN ISOLATION. Remember when Russia was “isolated“? Today it seems to be the essential hub: just in the last seven days Japan, Germany and Turkey have visited and USA has phoned. Patience, persistence, performance, principle; they take a while but they kick in eventually.

JEHOVAH’S WITNESSES. The Jehovah’s Witnesses have been ruled an “extremist” organisation; there is still an appeal period. This seems a very wrong decision, and one based on a rather poorly-written law, as the conservative Fr Vsevolod Chaplin points out, with bad potential. On the other hand, I can well understand Russian concern about the true intentions of any US-based entity these days.

TRUST. The Levada survey of most trusted politicians has, as usual, Putin in the lead in the 80s, followed by Defence Minister Shoygu (who has been number two for many years) and Foreign Minister Lavrov. And why not? Westerners can only dream of such competency. PM Medvedev is in the 40s; I’m not sure that that means much: someone has to be blamed for things that go wrong.

CORRUPTION. Prosecutor General Chayka produced some data on corruption in 2016: 13,774 cases involving 15,207 people (both numbers down a trifle from 2015). He said that 97% of corruption crimes were detected (how did he detect the undetected examples?) The Moscow City Court sentenced the former head of the anti-corruption (!) department of the Interior Ministry to 22 years; subordinates received from 4 to 20 years. Western commentators often assume things should go faster than they do: the FSB started this back in 2010 and the case was formally opened in February 2014; the trial itself lasted about a year.

NAVALNIY. Big Western media coverage of a small subject. Yes, you are “fake news”.

SANCTIONS. A UN official, who has been examining the matter, praises the Russian government for taking “appropriate measures to insulate the population from the most adverse impact of the sanctions“. He estimates that Western countries lost more over the three years of sanctions and counter-sanctions: US$100 billion to Russia’s US$55 billion. This corresponds to what I (December 2015 for example) and many others not in Western governments, thinktanks and media outlets expected.

CHECHNYA. The NYT, quoting Novaya Gazeta, had this story: “Chechen Authorities Arresting and Killing Gay Men, Russian Paper Says“. Mark Ames, who holds to a quaint belief in the value of research, tells us this about the source. Hmmm…. НГ, NYT and Alekseyev. Not very reliable sources say I.

CHINA-RUSSIA. A Chinese official delivered a message to Putin from Xi. It should be read in full: it is a strong statement of the closeness and permanence of the Moscow-Beijing relationship. Any fantasies in Washington that the two can be separated should be abandoned.

NORTH KOREA. There is a solution to the dilemma and it has been around for some time. Beijing calls it the double suspension” (Pyongyang stops missile and nuclear tests and Washington and Seoul stop big military exercises near the border) and, with Moscow’s support, has put it on the table at the UNSC. The problem is that Washington, ever the virtuous one, has always refused to do so. But things are happening in the background and we shall see. By the way, I am fascinated to see this in the WaPo: “The U.S. war crime North Korea won’t forget“; it actually dares to suggest that Pyongyang’s point of view should be considered. Likewise “Let’s stop calling North Korea ‘crazy’ and understand their motives” and “Kim Jong Un Is a Survivor, Not a Madman“. All I can conclude is that the Party Line either hasn’t been formulated or hasn’t yet been sent to editorial offices. Normally, there is only one valid POV.

AMERICA-HYSTERICA I. “They went over the script they would pitch to the press and the public. Already, Russian hacking was the centerpiece of the argument.” And it still is part of the excuse package: “I was on the way to winning until the combination of Jim Comey’s letter on October 28 and Russian WikiLeaks“. The ever complaisant MSM followed its instructions (“we are not fake news!“) and we have the story. But it’s crumbling into incoherence; there’s no there there. Perhaps in a year or two the Democratic Party will stop blaming its catastrophe (more than 1000 elected positions lost in 8 years) on others. It will probably take more defeats, though, before it does: it’s pretty heavily invested in the anybody but us meme.

AMERICA-HYSTERICA II. Well worth the read – shows the Russian hacker story began with vague accusations during the Ossetia War and its fundamental shakiness; now it’s “a multibillion-dollar boondoggle, employing shoddy forensic techniques and politicized investigations”.

© Patrick Armstrong Analysis, Canada Russia Observer