HOW I GOT HERE

Reprints

      http://turcopolier.typepad.com/sic_semper_tyrannis/2017/10/how-i-got-here.html

      http://russia-insider.com/en/how-i-became-kremlin-troll-patrick-armstrong/ri21379

(Now that the book is out I publish my entry. Most of the people who wrote their “how I got here” sections were awakened by the relentlessly one-sided coverage of Russia by the MSM: they suspected that it couldn’t possibly be that one-sided and started looking.

Putin’s Praetorians: Confessions of the Top Kremlin Trolls Kindle Edition; Phil Butler (Author), Patricia Revita (Illustrator), Pepe Escobar (Foreword)

I started work for the Canadian Department of National Defence in 1977 in the Directorate of Land Operational Research of the Operational Research and Analysis Establishment. I participated in many training games in real time and research games in very slow time. The scenarios were always the same: we (Canada had a brigade group in West Germany) were defending against an attack by the Soviet/Warsaw Pact side. In those days NATO was a defensive organisation and, as we later found out, so was the other side: each was awaiting the other to attack. Which, come to think of it, is probably why we’re all here today.

I enjoyed my six years, often as the only civilian in a sea of uniforms, but I realised that a history PhD stood no change of running the directorate so, when the slot opened, I contrived to switch to the Directorate of Strategic Analysis as the USSR guy. I should say straight off that I have never taken a university course on Russia or the USSR. And, in retrospect, I think that was fortunate because in much of the English-speaking world the field seems to be dominated by Balts, Poles or Ukrainians who hate Russia. So I avoided that “Russians are the enemy, whatever flag they fly” indoctrination: I always thought the Russians were just as much the victims of the ideology as any one else and am amused how the others have airbrushed their Bolsheviks out of their pictures just as determinedly as Stalin removed “unpersons” from his.

That was November 1984 and Chernenko was GenSek and, when he died in March 1985, Gorbachev succeeded. While I didn’t think the USSR was all that healthy or successful an enterprise, I did expect it to last a lot longer and when Gorbachev started talking about glasnost and perestroyka I thought back to the 20th Party Congress, the Lieberman reforms, Andropov’s reforms and didn’t expect much.

In 1987 two things made me think again. I attended a Wilton Park conference (the first of many) attended by Dr Leonid Abalkin. He took the conference over and, with the patient interpretation of someone from the Embassy, talked for hours. The Soviet economy was a failure and couldn’t be reformed. That was something different. Then, on the front page of Pravda, appeared a short essay with the title “A New Philosophy of Foreign Policy” by Yevgeniy Primakov. I pricked up my ears: a new philosophy? But surely good old Marxism-Leninism is valid for all times and places. As I read on, I realised that this was also something new: the author was bluntly saying that Soviet foreign policy had been a failure, it was ruining the country and creating enemies. These two were telling us that the USSR just didn’t work. As Putin told Stone, “it was not efficient in its roots”.

These things convinced me that real change was being attempted. Not just fiddling around at the edges but something that would end the whole Marxist-Leninist construct. As far as I was concerned, it had been the communist system that was our enemy and, if it was thrown off, we should be happy. Sometime around then I was interviewed for a job at NATO and the question was what, with all these changes, was NATO’s future. I said it should become an alliance of the civilised countries against whatever dangers were out there: the present members of course, but also the USSR, Japan and so on.

Well, that didn’t happen did it? I remember a very knowledgeable boss assuring me that NATO expansion was such a stupid idea that it would never happen. He was wrong too.

In 1814 the victors – Britain, Russia, Prussia and Austria – sat down in Vienna, with France, to re-design the world. They were wise enough to understood that a settlement that excluded France wouldn’t last. In 1919 this was forgotten and the settlement – and short-lived it was – excluded the loser. In 1945 Japan and Germany were included in the winners’ circle. At the end of the Cold War, repeating the Versailles mistake, we excluded Russia. It was soon obvious, whatever meretricious platitudes stumbled from the lips of wooden-faced stooges, that NATO was an anti-Russia organisation of the “winners”.

But I retained hope. I think my most reprinted piece has been “The Third Turn” of November 2010 and in it I argued that Russia had passed through two periods in the Western imagination: first as the Little Brother then as the Assertive Enemy but that we were now approaching a time in which it would be seen as a normal country.

Well, that didn’t happen did it?

And so the great opportunity to integrate Russia into the winners’ circle was thrown away.

For a long time I thought it was stupidity and ignorance. I knew the implacably hostile were out there: Brzezinski and the legions of “think” tanks (my website has a collection of anti-Russia quotations I’ve collected over the years) but I greatly underestimated their persistence. Stupidity and ignorance; you can argue with those (or hope to). But you can’t argue with the anti-Russians. Russia wants to re-conquer the empire so it invaded Georgia. But it didn’t hold on to it, did it? No but that’s because we stopped it. Putin kills reporters. Name one. You know, whatshername. Provocative exercises on NATO’s borders. But NATO keeps moving closer to Russia. Irrelevant, NATO’s peaceful. Putin is the richest thief in the world. Says who? Everybody. Putin hacked the US election. How? Somehow.

I quoted Hanlan’s razor a lot – “never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity”. And, stupidity and ignorance there were (a favourite being John McCain’s notion that the appropriate venue for a response to a Putin piece in the NYT was Pravda. And then he picked the wrong Pravda! (But he won’t hate Russia or Putin any the less if he were told that, would he?) At some point I came to understand that malice was the real driver.

I suppose it grew on me bit by bit – all the stupidity converged on the same point and it never stopped; but real stupidity and ignorance don’t work that way: people learn, however slowly. I think the change for me was Libya. I started out thinking stupidity but, as it piled up, it became clear that it was malice. I’d seen lies in the Kosovo war but it was Libya that convinced me that it wasn’t just a few lies, it was all lies. (My guess is that Libya was an important development in Putin’s view of NATO/US too.)

Naive perhaps but, for most of history stupidity has adequately explained things and malice is, after all, a species of stupidity.

So what’s the point of writing? I’ll never convince the Russia haters, and there’s little chance of getting through to the stupid and ignorant. And most people aren’t very interested anyway.

Well, this is where malice meets stupidity. If we consider the Project for a New American Century, the neocon game plan “to promote American global leadership”, what do we see twenty years later? Brzezinski laid out the strategy in The Grand Chessboard at the same time. What today? Well, last year he had to admit that the “era” of US dominance, he was so confident of twenty years earlier, was over. There’s no need to belabour the point: while the US by most measures is still the world’s dominant power, its mighty military is defeated everywhere and doesn’t realise it, its manufacturing capacity has been mostly outsourced to China, domestic politics and stability degenerate while we watch and there’s opioids, spectacular debt levels, incarceration, infant mortality, недоговороспособны and on and on. Donald Trump was elected on the promise to Make America Great…. Again. Hardly the hyperpower to lead the globe is it?

The Twentieth Century was the “American Century” thanks to limitless manufacturing capacity allied to great inventiveness anchored on a stable political base. What is left of these three in 2017? Can America be made “great” again? And wars: wars everywhere and everywhere the same. And what other than malice has brought it to this state? Malice has become stupidity: the neocons, Brzezinskis, the Russia haters, the Exceptionalists, scheming “to promote American global leadership”, have weakened the USA. Perhaps irreparably.

So, who’s the audience today? The converted and people at the point when a little push can break their conditioning have always been there. But now there is a potentially huge audience for our efforts: the audience of the awakening.

Which brings me back to where I started. Except that it’s the USA this time:

IT’S NOT WORKING

We’re here and we’re waiting for you: you’ve been lied to but that doesn’t mean that everything is a lie.

NEW US OPERATIONS IN AFGHANISTAN

(Asked by Sputnik for comments on US scheme to use “small teams of highly experienced officers and contractors alongside Afghan forces to hunt and kill Taliban militants.”)

“Precise”, “targetted”, “pinpoint”, “experienced”. All exciting words that look good on the prospectus but they all require accurate and detailed intelligence. And that is something that the ever-expanding US intelligence apparatus – “all 17” – does not have very much of. The US intelligence establishment was surprised by Pearl Harbor, the Soviet A bomb, the invasion of South Korea…. the fall of the Berlin Wall, 911, virtually every subsequent terrorist attack on US soil… the rise of ISIS, Russia’s operations in Syria, North Korean nukes… (Of course there are those who insist that half of these were actually CIA operations and therefore no surprise at all….).

In short a lot of activity, a lot of killings, a lot of doors kicked in, a lot of personal grudges paid off by fooling the Americans into doing your dirty work and not much else. Shades of Operation Phoenix in Vietnam.

And why go after the Taliban anyway? It’s not ISIS/DAESH or Al Qaeda: it’s a purely Afghan phenomenon and it has been getting stronger because it embodies the long Afghan desire to be left alone by foreigners.

So the result will be more deaths, more Taliban and another signpost on the road to American overextension.

But the program will succeed in getting the USA to the milestone of being in Afghanistan twice as long as the USSR was.

WHY SELL S-400s TO THE OTHER SIDE’S ALLIES?

(First published at https://www.strategic-culture.org/news/2017/10/16/why-sell-s400-other-sides-allies.html)

Moscow is selling S-400 air defence systems to Turkey and Saudi Arabia. In the first case, a down payment has apparently been made while in the second the intention has been announced. This immediately presents the question of why Moscow would agree to sell one of its crown jewel weapons systems to countries which are not only not solid allies but are, in fact, American allies.

The “Atlanticist View” answer to the question would run something like this: Putin’s “hold on power” is trembling, the Russian economy is in trouble, Russia is running out of money and because it has only two exports, weapons and energy, it is desperate to sell either to anyone. And, right on cue, from the usual people, we had this a couple of weeks ago:

Putin’s hold on Russia may be more fragile than it appears. One reason is Western economic sanctions, which are biting and causing hardship to Russian businesses and ordinary citizens. Another is the dependence of Russia’s economy on fossil fuels at a time when oil prices are down and not expected to rebound soon. To the extent that Putin’s legitimacy rests on prosperity, Russia’s economic woes are a problem for him.

While no one in the report stated that “Putin’s Russia” might sell weapons, the participants would probably see such sales as another indications of “economic woes”. To them “Russia has effectively declared political war on the West, even if Europe and the United States haven’t quite grasped that yet.” Such people think that, in order to “keep Russians under his autocratic thumb, he needs them to see that the freedoms of Berlin, London and Washington are nothing to be envied”. This is a continuation of the fantasies that have ruled in such circles (and paid the participants generously) for years and makes them always surprised by what Moscow does. A year ago, for example, some of the “best security minds” of the “POLITICO Cabinet” quoted above were rabitting on about how Russia was in a quagmire in Syria and that “time is not on Russia’s side”. And, a year before, one of them was saying Russia was economically weak and politically “brittle”. Flat learning curves all of them. Syria was not a quagmire, Russia is not isolated, it’s not failing, its leaders are not fools, its economy is not collapsing, support for the Putin team is strong, sanctions are not “biting” and weapons sales are not the last gasp before collapse.

Where these people profess to perceive an innate Russian malevolence and hostility to “freedom”, others see a wholly rational response to years of NATO expansion and Washington’s flouting of international law and custom, regime change operations and invasions wrapped in sanctimonious protestations of virtue. Moscow believes – quite rationally – that it is on Washington’s target list and it is my opinion that it was the destruction of Libya under “human rights” cover that finally convinced the Putin Team that it had better look to Russia’s defences. Subsequent experience of Ukraine and Syria would only have strengthened their resolve. The S-400 sale is better seen as component in a prophylactic policy against further Washington-NATO chaotic wars and to safeguard Russia itself than malicious resistance to counselling from its betters.

The S-400 sales are actually a geostrategic move of some significance.

The first question to be asked is what, exactly, will be sold to NATO member Turkey and US ally Saudi Arabia? I doubt it is the full-capability S-400 system that Russia itself is using. First, Almaz-Antey is already working on the next in the evolving series. Secondly I would be very surprised if there weren’t, buried inside the circuits, an IFF system that would prevent firing at a Russian aircraft and a self-destruct failsafe if anyone should try to tamper with the inside. As for those who think that no one would buy systems with such limitations, the simple response is this: who apart from the makers would know whether there were such limitations, where and what they were and how to nullify them? We have the confirmation of all that here:

“We won’t give them any of the electronic codes or ‘internals.’ Under the agreement, technical servicing will only be done by Russia and they [the Turks] won’t gain entry to the systems,” a Russian military source told Gazeta.ru.

and here:

“All the fears about the leak of technology are greatly exaggerated, especially so far as anti-aircraft missiles are concerned,” Khodarenko said. “Even if they were to disassemble the system down to the last bolt to try to pull out some military secrets, they would still be left with nothing.”

So, as to the question of Moscow’s risking the secrets of the S-400 falling into the wrong hands, I would assess that it is greatly reduced if not altogether eliminated.

The S-400 system is generally considered to be pretty capable even there has been – as far as we know – no combat use of it. Its threat may have reduced US coalition aircraft operations in Syria and a US general said that “the introduction of an A2/AD bubble in Syria would be Russia’s third denial zone around Europe“. It is a complete mobile system involving several different missiles and a full suite of radars, management and command centres. There are a number of variations and combinations of parts possible – it’s not yet public exactly what parts either will be buying – with effective ranges out to 400 kilometres against targets including ballistic missiles, cruise missiles and all kinds of aircraft. A large number of targets can be tracked and many missiles controlled at once by the integrated detection and command package. Like most Russian (and Soviet) systems it is the product of years of evolution, testing and learning. So, on paper, it is very formidable. And, since it has a number of customers, one has to assume that they are convinced that it is as good as it is advertised. In conclusion, therefore, it is likely that the systems sold to Turkey and Saudi Arabia will be protected against being used against the Russian Aerospace Forces and protected against prying eyes trying to get its secrets. But they are buying an air defence system effective against non-Russian targets.

And why would they want that? They know that Washington has a history of turning against former associates. Saddam Hussein was useful until he wasn’t, so was Manuel Noriega, bin Laden & Co ditto, Qaddafi had his moment of cooperation, even Bashar Assad had his after 911. It is more dangerous to be Washington’s former friend than to be its permanent enemy. Both Ankara and Riyadh could be contemplating the possibility of becoming Washington’s former friend. One should remember that Erdoğan attributes last year’s coup attempt against him to Washington’s influences and Riyadh may be contemplating another switch of Western patron.

In short, should either Ankara or Riyadh be contemplating a move away from Washington, precedent suggests they should prepare for the worst. And, as Hussein, Noriega, bin Laden, Qaddafi and Assad can all attest, air attacks are the principal expression, in military form, of Washington’s displeasure. If all you have are antiquated and poorly maintained Soviet air defences from the 1980s (or US equipment with hidden IFF settings) you are pretty helpless and US air power will have a free run.

But, with S-400s, you have a chance. Or at least an alternative. And that is the geopolitical significance of the sales.

The possession of S-400 system gives the owner the possibility of a foreign policy independent of Washington.

Therefore it’s not just another weapons sale, it could be a geopolitical game-changer.

RUSSIAN FEDERATION SITREP 19 OCTOBER 2017

SAUDI ARABIA. The visit of Salman bin Abdulaziz was pretty significant I think. The deal on the petrodollar was that Riyadh would insist on USD for payment in return for protection. Because Washington’s wars in the MENA have only made Iran stronger, Riyadh cannot think the deal is working out and it may be looking for a new sponsor: it happened before when Abdulaziz switched from London to Washington. My thoughts here. I believe that the sale of S-400 air defence systems could be a geopolitical gamechanger. Another of Moscow’s strengths is that it talks to everybody: and so it has offered to mediate between Riyadh and Tehran. Because Washington takes sides, it is useless should Riyadh want to negotiate its way out of messes with its neighbours. “The success of the Euro-Asian triptych is based on the essential principle of transforming enemies into neutral players, neutral players into allies, and further improving relations with allied nations.” Slowly, patiently, bit by bit the long game is played.

QUOTE OF THE DAY: “The world has entered an era of rapid change. Things that were only recently referred to as fantastic or unattainable have become a reality and have become part of our daily lives.” I don’t think Putin’s referring to the latest computer game, do you? History didn’t end, after all.

RUSSIA INC. I expand on something I wrote some time ago. Russia is a “full-service” economy. One of four on the planet. It and China are going up; the USA and the EU are going down.

CW. It was announced that the last of Russia’s chemical weapons inherited from the USSR have been destroyed. The USA, not completed its own program, is now aiming for 2023. Neither country hit the first deadline of 2007, nor the second of 2012. The NYT does its best to blame Russia for finishing early.

PUTINVILLE. Moscow has been named the fourth safest megacity for women and St Petersburg the best tourist destination in Europe. I don’t put a lot of stock in these ratings but they are useful counters to the Russia as hellhole nonsense that clogs the Western MSM.

WESTERN VALUES™. This should be good for a laugh: Petr Pavlenskiy has been arrested for setting a fire at the Bank of France. Paris granted him asylum after he was fined for setting a fire at the FSB headquarters in Moscow. Does “protest art” in Russia become arson in France?

GETTING SCARED. Russia used to be feeble and falling apart and the danger was that some crazy general would get hold of “loose nukes” and do something bad. Now the Russia-as-enemy campaign is starting to frighten the people who created it. Some of the alarm is feigned as part of the campaign for more money but I think they’re really starting to understand that they have woken a sleeping giant and filled him with resolve (as Admiral Yamamoto is said to have said). And they fear that the US military, after a couple of decades of fighting people who can only fight back with car bombs and suicide belts, isn’t ready for Prime Time. Some US military connected outfit has put out a how to fight Russia manual (rather amusingly based on the assumption that Kiev forces were fighting the Russian Armed Forces in Donbass – won’t they be surprised if they were to meet the real thing!). Meanwhile the Heritage Foundation laments that “Our military has undoubtedly grown weaker“. This shouldn’t be unexpected, Washington assumed too much and pushed too much. But, still, nothing much has been learned: Kiev wasn’t fighting the Russian Armed Forces and Heritage’s idea that Congress should “pass a budget that will truly provide for the common defense” is laughable. The problem isn’t money. But here we are: another step towards the new new world order.

AMERICA-HYSTERICA. Latest top hits from the three principal fake news outlets: “Catalonia held a referendum. Russia won” from the WaPo; Pokemon from CNN; cute puppies from the NYT. Meanwhile Senator Burr admits that, after months of hearings, “I’m not going to even discuss any initial findings because we haven’t any” and the real Russian scandal emerges from the shadows. (But, Dear Readers, before the usual drivel about corrupt and corrupting Russians starts up, if your government is for sale, can you blame people for buying it?)

UKRAINE. Another coup in the making? Demonstrations kicked off by a torchlight parade. Demands (at the moment) are a new election law for parliamentarians, an anti-corruption court, ending parliamentary immunity. Signed by Tymoshenko and Saakashvili among many others including some of the nazi battalions. Perhaps not coincidentally, an investigation into fraud committed by President Poroshenko has been opened. Did the coal from Pennsylvania actually come from Russia? Nuclear fears. Another huge ammunition dump fire. The collapse continues.

© Patrick Armstrong Analysis, Canada Russia Observer

EXCHANGE RATING RUSSIA DOWN AND OUT

https://orientalreview.org/2017/09/18/exchange-rating-russia/

Why Russia — a country with less money than Canada and fewer people than Nigeria — runs the world now” wondered the Canadian newspaper National Post in January. The piece doesn’t give useful answers: nuclear weapons, good diplomacy, yes, but also the usual claptrap about “ruthlessness” and “Abandon[ing] economic worries to double down on efforts to grab geopolitical status”; in short only a brute lashing out in delirium tremens. The editors should better have wondered whether the headline even made sense: the first point is wrong and the second irrelevant. But, like so much of what passes for analysis in the Western media, it’s written backwards: it’s decision-based evidence making.

Talking about the relative insignificance of Russia’s GDP is an old game: Wikipedia says Canada’s GDP is greater than Russia’s and Germany’s is about two and a half times greater. These comparisons all assume that the price of the ruble in US dollars is a measurement of Russia’s production; a mere tweak in the relative exchange therefore knocks Russia from Number 8 down to below Spain according to Business Insider in 2014. Easy to calculate, easy to write, these head nodders are just feel-good junk: Russians don’t actually eat dollars, they don’t buy their necessities with them and they won’t have to eat grass and Putin speeches when a ruble buys fewer USDs.

There’s something deeply misleading and, in fact, quite worthless about these GDP comparisons. Whatever rubles are selling for at the moment, Russia has a full-service space industry which has the only other operating global satellite navigation system, the only taxi service to the ISS, much of which it built, and, apparently, the only rocket motors good enough for US military satellites. Neither Canada nor Germany, let alone Spain, does. It has an across the board sophisticated military industry which may be the world leader in electronic warfare, air defence systems, silent submarines and armoured vehicles. Canada, Germany, Spain do not. It builds and maintains a fleet of SSBNs – some of the most complicated machinery that exists. Ditto. It has a developed nuclear power industry with a wide range of products. Ditto. Its aviation industry makes everything from competitive fighter planes through innovative helicopters to passenger aircraft. Ditto. It has a full automotive industry ranging from some of the world’s most powerful heavy trucks to ordinary passenger cars. It has all the engineering and technical capacity necessary to build complex bridges, dams, roads, railways, subway stations, power stations, hospitals and everything else. It is a major and growing food producer and is probably self-sufficient in food today. Its food export capacity is growing and it has for several years been the leading grain exporter. It has enormous energy reserves and is a leading exporter of oil and gas. Its natural resources are immense. Its pharmaceutical industry is growing rapidly. It is intellectually highly competitive in STEM disciplines – a world leader in some cases. Its computer programmers are widely respected and regularly win the ACM International Collegiate Programming Contest. (Yes, there is a Russian cell phone too.) Its social networking apps attract users outside Russia (especially with fears that US-based ones may be censored or otherwise controlled). It’s true that many projects involve Western partners – the Sukhoy Superjet for example – but it’s nonetheless the case that the manufacturing and know-how are now in Russia.

Germany or Canada has some of these capabilities but few – very few – countries have all of them. In fact, counting the EU as one, Russia is one of only four. Therefore in Russia’s case, GDP rankings are not only meaningless, but laughably so. While Russians individually are not as wealthy as Canadians, Germans or Spaniards today, the foundations of wealth are being laid and deepened every day in Russia.

And, speaking of oil prices, what these head-scratchers all miss is this simple fact: Russia sells oil in dollars but produces it in rubles. So, whatever the exchange rate, things pretty well balance out. In fact, thanks to the exchange rate, Russia had some of the lowest production costs, measured in USD, in the world in 2015. It also funds its space effort, automobile production and wheat fields in rubles. And sells whatever exports they produce in dollars.

What of the future? Well there’s a simple answer to that question – compare Russia in 2000 with Russia in 2017: all curves are up. Meanwhile sanctions are driving the Russians to create new industries, oilfield services for one, or to boost others: agricultural products are now the second-largest export sector. Understandably, many Russians prefer the long time gain to the immediate (and declining) pain and hope the sanctions continue. For what it’s worth, PwC predicts Russia will be first in Europe in 2050, but, even so, I think it misses the real point: Indonesia and Brazil ahead of Russia? No way: it’s not GDP/PPP that matters, let alone how many USDs your currency buys, it’s full service. (Anyway, by 2050 the renminbi or gold will likely be the measure and how will the USA itself look by that measurement?).

Russia has a full-service economy and it won’t become any less so in the next 30 years. And there’s very few of them. And… in that little group of four autarkies on the planet, which are on the rise and which not?

Simple-minded GDP comparisons by exchange rate cause people to get it wrong over and over again. A more intelligent question would be to wonder whether Russia, hampered in the past by autocracy and Marxism-Leninism, might be about to show its real possibilities.