RUSSIAN FEDERATION SITREP 8 NOVEMBER 2018

US ELECTION. The chance of war has gone up a bit: the House investigation into the conspiracy will stop (unless Nunes can do anything in the next two months) and go into reverse. Any move Trump makes towards improving relations with Russia will be met by the House shrieking he’s a Putin puppet: the new people in charge there are too heavily invested in the Russia story to stop now. The US political system will be seized up – lots and lots of investigations. Threats and counter threats. Not such a bad thing for the rest of us if the US system turns into a cannibal banquet but further ratcheting up the anti-Russia hysteria is not so good (top priority says Schiff). (A Chinese view of increased danger).

COINCIDENCE? 25 October 2018, China: “concentrate preparations for fighting a war”. 26 October 2018, Russia: “Yes, Russia is preparing for war”. They hear what’s said; they see what’s happening in their neighbourhoods. They draw conclusions and take steps.

TODAY’S THOUGHT. “In light of this very low level of military competence, maybe wars are not our best choice of hobby.

THE MOTHERLAND CALLS. A Russian diplomat says Russian exiles are returning. I can believe it: they moved West for security or better money; as Russophobia intensifies (see below) it’s not safer and maybe the money’s not so good after all. I expect to see a steady trickle of returnees.

NUGGETS FROM THE STUPIDITY MINE. “Half of the Russians in London are spies, claims new report“. (But why not all of them? They’re Russians, after all, and should shut up and go away.) That’s 75 thousand Russian spies. Wow! And the report says there are only 200 case officers to handle them. But that’s nothing for Putin’s superhuman minions: they threw the US election with 80K FB posts buried among 33 trillion posts (that’s about half a billion others to every “Russian” post). They control time: they arrived in Gatwick at 1500 on a flight scheduled to arrive at 1545 that actually arrived at 1558. (Gotta be pretty stupid or inattentive to swallow this nonsense.)

SWIFT. Is a network linking banks around the world enabling transactions to move around easily and securely. US-dominated, it was used because it worked. But once Washington turned it into a weapon against Iran in 2012 (and again just now), it stopped being so convenient. It’s not fantastically complicated to replicate, SWIFT was used because it was expedient. But, if you’re on Washington’s hitlist, or fear you may be, it’s not so attractive. So Moscow, which is on the hitlist, has developed its own system and is linking other countries to it. It’s the same thing with the “petrodollar“: useful until Washington weaponised it; then time to find an alternative. And, when you must, you will: Delhi will pay for its S400s in rubles; Iran has turned off transponders on its tankers; Hungary upped its gold reserves (and so did Russia – now 17% of FOREX). The SWIFT story is an interesting demonstration of the fact that, sometimes, using it can mean losing it.

EUROPEANS ARE REVOLTING. Macron calls for real European armed forces and Europe continues to be rebellious about Washington’s stance on Iran (new sanctions imposed – but with waivers to its oil customers. But not for the EU). Ah well, talk is cheap – especially in the EU – and there are formidable problems creating a European army – a new report shows the stunning incapacity of the German forces. They would have to completely rethink the Russia relationship then find the mountains of money to build up their forces, support elements and supply chains. Today Europe relies on the US to provide all these things. The US military, in its turn, as a new report shows, depends on foreign suppliers or a single struggling domestic manufacturer for several hundred key inputs… (NATO should meditate on being a little less demanding, don’t you think?) But the Istanbul meeting did show a refreshing independence from Paris and Berlin. It’s rather like the SWIFT story: they went along with the USA because it was easy and it worked well enough. But it’s no longer easy and it doesn’t work so well.

SYRIA. While the Russia-Turkey-France-Germany meeting on Syria in Istanbul did not settle all issues, or maybe even any issue, it was momentous because of no USA and the end of the “Assad must go” magical spell. Moscow continues to give us lessons on how to blend military power with diplomatic skill. Meanwhile, in Syria, demonstrating the opposite, we see US-backed forces fighting Turkey. As I wrote three years ago, it’s not hard to see why Moscow runs rings around Washington here and elsewhere. The midterms will probably put Washington back to недоговороспособность: no agreement possible either because it can’t make one or won’t keep it.

© Patrick Armstrong Analysis, Canada Russia Observer

AMERICAN WAR DECLARATION

(First published at Strategic Culture Foundation; picked up by JRL/2018/193/25)

 

Wess Mitchell, Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs in the US State Department, gave a remarkable presentation to the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee on 21 August 2018. Titled “U.S. Strategy Towards the Russian Federation” it ostensibly lays out the US reaction to Russia’s continuing aggression, hostility, interference and so forth. It is written in the tone of a sadder but wiser householder who, formerly expecting better from his neighbour, now realises that there will be no better: the neighbour, alas, is not capable of decent behaviour. While remaining ever hopeful that reason will prevail, the peaceful neighbour must gird himself for an unpleasant struggle – Washington must respond to Moscow’s disruption. How sad.

But in all of these areas, it is up to Russia, not America, to take the next step. Our policy remains unchanged: steady cost-imposition until Russia changes course.

But, in an interesting slip of the tongue, he gave away the real policy. I say “slip of the tongue” because the State Department version of his speech leaves out the two sentences that tell you that most of Mitchell’s testimony is sleight of hand to distract the audience.

Senate testimony version

The starting point of the National Security Strategy is the recognition that America has entered a period of big-power competition, and that past U.S. policies have neither sufficiently grasped the scope of this emerging trend nor adequately equipped our nation to succeed in it. Contrary to the hopeful assumptions of previous administrations, Russia and China are serious competitors that are building up the material and ideological wherewithal to contest U.S. primacy and leadership in the 21st Century. It continues to be among the foremost national security interests of the United States to prevent the domination of the Eurasian landmass by hostile powers. The central aim of the administration’s foreign policy is to prepare our nation to confront this challenge by systematically strengthening the military, economic and political fundaments of American power.

The State Department version leaves out the two emphasised sentences.

So, Mitchell – who ought to know – is telling us that a “foremost [but there can be only one foremost] national security interest” of the USA is to

prevent the

domination of

the Eurasian landmass by

Russia and China

In 1904 Halford Mackinder wrote a paper in which he divided the world into “the World-Island” (Europe, Asia and Africa); the “Offshore islands” (British Isles, Japan and others), and “the Outlying Islands” (the Americas and Australia) and discussed the geopolitical implications. In 1919 he summed his theory up as:

Who rules East Europe commands the Heartland;

who rules the Heartland commands the World-Island;

who rules the World-Island commands the world.

In Mitchell’s presentation, the principal “Outlying Island” and its allies in the “Offshore Islands” must prevent Russia and China from controlling the “Heartland”. Echoed by George Friedman’s remarks that the essence of US policy for a century or more was to prevent Germany and Russia from uniting.

Now Americans have always been a bit uncomfortable about their imperium. Going so far sometimes as to deny that there is any such thing. Perhaps a hegemony but only an empire if President Bush makes the wrong decisions (which I suppose the author would say he did). Niall Ferguson says it’s an “empire in denial“. Friedman seems prepared to use the word. A “tempered American imperialism” maybe. Not an empire; yes it is but it’s a good empire. And so on: there’s as much or as little debate as you want but the central reality is that Americans are not comfortable with the idea of being an imperial power. Not so the Romans: they gloried in it; Rome had the power and it used it. Cato the Elder was delighted with the death and enslavement of the Carthaginians. Caesar claimed to have killed a million Gauls and enslaved a million more and there’s nothing to suggest he lost a moment’s sleep over it. Vae victis.

What Mitchell would be saying, if he were a Roman, is that we intend to remain the world’s predominant power and if Russia is an obstacle, we will crush it. That’s the way of the world and that’s what we’ll do. And China and Iran and anyone else. But he’s an American so he must pretend that the USA is the peaceful householder and Russia is the troublesome neighbour; he must tell the Senate committee, and it so expects, that Moscow has broken the peace and deserves punishment.

The specific charges he makes against Russia are nonsense.

In Ukraine, we have maintained an effort under Ambassador Kurt Volker to provide the means by which Russia can live up to its commitments under the Minsk Agreements.

The word “Russia” doesn’t even appear in the Minsk Agreements; there are no “commitments”.

unprecedentedly brazen influence operations orchestrated by the Kremlin on the soil of our allies and even here at home in the United States

A few Facebook ads, most of which appeared after the election and only “Russian” by assertion. Even at the most generous interpretation of “Russian-influenced”, it’s a negligible number of possibles. And, as I have argued elsewhere, had Moscow wanted to influence the election it would have used the Uranium One case to either blackmail or smear Clinton.

Putin wants to break apart the American Republic, not by influencing an election or two, but by systematically inflaming the perceived fault-lines that exist within our society. His is a strategy of chaos for strategic effect.

I suppose that the “factual basis” for that is that some American who wants to break California into two parts lives part time in Moscow and a Russian professor thought that the USA would break up into a number of pieces. So what? there are lots of opinions around, who cares what some academic says or thinks? Zbigniew Brzezinski, who was a lot closer to power than these Russians, thought that a “loosely confederated Russia” of three parts would be a good idea. And Stratfor’s Friedman thinks Russia will break up soon. But when a senior US official says that “Putin wants to break apart the American Republic”, that’s existential; that’s a pretty serious charge. Is it a nuclear war kind of charge?

the Putinist system’s permanent and self-justifying struggle for international dominance.

(But didn’t Mitchell say something about preventing the “domination of the Eurasian landmass by hostile powers”? Wouldn’t his Russian equivalent be able to point to his speech and talk about how Russia must resist Washington’s “permanent and self-justifying struggle for international dominance”?). It’s not Moscow that has 800 or so military bases around the world; Moscow isn’t expanding its military alliance to the US border. Projection.

There’s lots of projection in Washington’s and its minions’ assertions about Russia. As far as official Washington is concerned, Moscow’s resistance to the Imperium can only mean that it wants to crush the US, break it up, incite civil war and impose its imperium on the world. (Romans would agree: either Rome eats, or Rome is eaten.) If you look in a mirror you see yourself. Projection again.

Doing so involves an evolved toolkit of subversive statecraft first employed by the Bolshevik and later the Soviet state, which has been upgraded for the digital age. While these tools and technologies differ depending on the context, the key to their success is that the Kremlin employs them within a common strategic and operational framework aimed at leveraging all available means to achieve a decisive strategic effect.

Bolsheviks, Putinists whatever: Russia, the Once and Future Enemy. I think my favourite part – what adjective? – deluded? crazy? insane? McCartheyesque? is this bit:

we formed a new position – the Senior Advisor for Russian Malign Activities and Trends (or, SARMAT) – to develop cross-regional strategies across offices.

SARMAT – a Russian ICBM named after the Sarmatians, who may have been the origin of the Arthurian legends. Is this a joke? But who can tell these days? But one can be certain that the office will grow and grow as it busily finds evidence of Russian involvement everywhere: Star Wars, organic food, guns, Mueller, vaxx; whatever brings in the salaries and promotions. (But a rather unimaginative name though: why not SPecial Executive for Countering Terrorist Russian Excesses? Or Special Ministry for Engaging Russian Sabotage and Horrors?)

Pretty crazy stuff indeed – frighteningly so – but, thanks to Mitchell giving away the secret, we don’t have to waste our time debating Russia and Ukraine or how cute puppies “sow discord and chaos“. They’re only shoved in because Americans have to be the white hats – “Moscow is attacking us!” – when a Cato would bluntly say: “Moscow must be destroyed!” But it’s the same thing: it’s a Mackinder war. So far with sanctions (the economic fundament) and propaganda accusations (the political fundament). The military fundament fortunately remains offstage.

***********************

But Mitchell is late to the party. Moscow and Beijing know they’re on the hitlist and their alliance grows and strengthens. Iran, a significant player on the “World-Island” knows it’s on the hitlist too. India is playing both sides. The endless American wars in the MENA do not strengthen Washington’s control of the “Eurasian landmass”. CAATSA will alienate everyone else. Even Zbigniew Brzezinski came to understand “[the US was] no longer the globally imperial power“.

I would argue that the American dominance of the Twentieth Century was principally due to four factors. A tremendous manufacturing capacity; great inventive ingenuity allied to the ability to exploit new inventions; a stable political system; the emotive reality of “the American Dream”. How much remains? A recent government report summarises the outsourcing of manufacturing. Is the inventive capacity more than just social media, pop music or a different iPhone button? Political stability wobbles. And as to the American Dream: will your children be better off than you are? One should not forget that Trump was elected on the slogan “Make America Great Again“.

Perhaps the Mackinder War has already been won by the “Heartland” powers.

********************************

Statement of A. Wess Mitchell

Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs

Senate Foreign Relations Committee

U.S. Strategy Towards the Russian Federation

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Chairman Corker, Ranking Member Menendez, thank you for inviting me to testify today. I will use my prepared comments to outline in brief form the overarching strategy of the United States towards the Russian Federation. The foundation for this strategy is provided by three documents, as directed and approved by the President: the National Security Strategy, the National Defense Strategy and the Russia Integrated Strategy.

The starting point of the National Security Strategy is the recognition that America has entered a period of big-power competition, and that past U.S. policies have neither sufficiently grasped the scope of this emerging trend nor adequately equipped our nation to succeed in it. Contrary to the hopeful assumptions of previous administrations, Russia and China are serious competitors that are building up the material and ideological wherewithal to contest U.S. primacy and leadership in the 21st Century. It continues to be among the foremost national security interests of the United States to prevent the domination of the Eurasian landmass by hostile powers. The central aim of the administration’s foreign policy is to prepare our nation to confront this challenge by systematically strengthening the military, economic and political fundaments of American power.

Our Russia policy proceeds from the recognition that, to be effective, U.S. diplomacy toward Russia must be backed by “military power that is second to none and fully integrated with our allies and all of our instruments of power.” To this end, the administration has reversed years of cuts to the U.S. defense budget, begun the process of

recapitalizing the U.S. nuclear arsenal, requested close to $11 billion to support the European Deterrence Initiative, and, in the past year and a half, worked with NATO Allies to bring about the largest European defense spending increase since the Cold War – a total of more than $40 billion to date. In addition to commitments from over half of the Alliance to meet NATO’s two-percent defense spending requirement by 2024, the United States achieved virtually all of our policy objectives at the NATO Summit, including the establishment of two new NATO Commands (including one here in the United States), the establishment of new counter-hybrid threat response teams, and major, multi-year initiatives to bolster the mobility, readiness, and capability of the Alliance.

In tandem, we have worked to degrade Russia’s ability to conduct aggression by imposing costs on the Russian state and the oligarchy that sustains it. Building on Secretary Pompeo’s recent testimony, I am submitting for the record a detailed list of actions this administration has taken. These include, to date: 217 individuals and entities sanctioned, 6 diplomatic and consular facilities closed or kept closed, and 60 spies removed from U.S. soil. The State Department has played the lead role in ensuring that these efforts are closely and effectively coordinated with European allies through synchronized expulsions and the continued roll-over of sanctions related to Russia’s ongoing aggression against Ukraine.

Our actions are having an impact. Research by the State Department’s Office of the Chief Economist shows that on average sanctioned Russian firms see their operating revenue fall by a quarter; their total asset valuation fall by half; and are forced to fire a third of their employees. We believe our sanctions, cumulatively, have cost the Russian government tens of billions of dollars on top of the broader impact on state-owned sectors and the chilling effect of U.S. sanctions on the Russian economy. Following the announcement of sanctions in April, the Russian company Rusal lost about fifty percent of its market value. In the five days following our August 8 announcement of Chemical and

Biological Weapons Act sanctions, the ruble depreciated to its lowest level against the dollar in two years.

Even as we have imposed unprecedented penalties for Russian aggression, we have been clear that the door to dialogue is open, should Putin choose to take credible steps toward a constructive path. In Syria, we created de-escalation channels to avoid collisions between our forces. In Ukraine, we have maintained an effort under Ambassador Kurt Volker to provide the means by which Russia can live up to its commitments under the Minsk Agreements. But in all of these areas, it is up to Russia, not America, to take the next step. Our policy remains unchanged: steady cost-imposition until Russia changes course.

As with the overall strategy, the premise of these efforts has been that our diplomacy is most effective when backed by positions of strength. We have placed particular emphasis on bolstering the states of frontline Europe that are most susceptible to Russian geopolitical pressure. In Ukraine and Georgia, we lifted the previous administration’s restrictions on the acquisition of defensive weapons for resisting Russian territorial aggression. In the Balkans, American diplomacy has played a lead role in resolving the Greece-Macedonia name dispute and is engaging with Serbia and Kosovo to propel the EU-led dialogue. In the Caucasus, Black Sea region, and Central Europe we are working to close the vacuums that invite Russian penetration by promoting energy diversification, fighting corruption, and competing for hearts and minds in the lead-up to the 30th anniversary of the end of Communism.

Our strategy is animated by the realization that the threat from Russia has evolved beyond being simply an external or military one; it includes unprecedentedly brazen influence operations orchestrated by the Kremlin on the soil of our allies and even here at home in the United States. These activities are, as FBI Director Wray recently stated, “wide and deep,” being both extensively resourced and directed from the highest levels of the Russian state. We work closely with the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of Justice and, and

the National Security Council to ensure that all relevant resources are being brought to bear to thwart and punish any Russian influence campaigns in the run-up to the elections.

It’s important to state clearly what these campaigns are and are not about.

What they’re not about is any particular attachment to specific U.S. domestic political causes. They are not about right or left or American political philosophy. The threat from Russian influence operations existed long before our 2016 presidential election and will continue long after this election cycle, or the next, or the next. As the recent Facebook purges reveal, the Russian state has promoted fringe voices on the political left, not just the right, including groups who advocate violence, the storming of federal buildings and the overthrow of the U.S. government. Russia foments and funds controversial causes – and then foments and funds the causes opposed to those causes. Putin’s thesis is that the American Constitution is an experiment that will fail if challenged in the right way from within. Putin wants to break apart the American Republic, not by influencing an election or two, but by systematically inflaming the perceived fault-lines that exist within our society. His is a strategy of chaos for strategic effect. Accepting this fact is absolutely essential for developing a long-term comprehensive response to the problem. The most dangerous thing we could do is to politicize the challenge, which in itself would be a gift to Putin.

What Russian efforts are about is geopolitics: the Putinist system’s permanent and self-justifying struggle for international dominance. As stated by a handbook of the Russian Armed Forces, the goal is “to carry out mass psychological campaigns against the population of a state in order to destabilize society and the government; as well as forcing a state to make decisions in the interests of their opponents.” Doing so involves an evolved toolkit of subversive statecraft first employed by the Bolshevik and later the Soviet state, which has been upgraded for the digital age. While these tools and technologies differ depending on the

context, the key to their success is that the Kremlin employs them within a common strategic and operational framework aimed at leveraging all available means to achieve a decisive strategic effect.

The State Department takes this threat very seriously. From my first day on the job, I have established for our team that countering this threat, in both its overt and covert forms, will be among the highest priorities for the Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs. As a co-chair of the Russia Influence Group, I work with General Scapparotti to bring the combined resources of EUR and EUCOM to bear against this problem. Under EUR’s leadership, all 50 U.S. missions located in Europe and Eurasia are required to develop, coordinate and execute tailored action plans for rebuffing Russian influence operations in their host countries.

Within the Bureau, we recruited one of the architects of the Global Engagement Center legislation from the staff of a member of this committee; in addition, we formed a new position – the Senior Advisor for Russian Malign Activities and Trends (or, SARMAT) – to develop cross-regional strategies across offices. Early this year, EUR created a dedicated team within the Bureau to take the offensive and publicly expose Russian malign activities, which since January of this year has called out the Kremlin on 112 occasions. Together with the GEC, EUR is now working with our close ally the UK to form an international coalition for coordinating efforts in this field. The State Department requested over $380 million in security and economic assistance accounts in the President’s 2019 Budget for Europe and Eurasia that can be allocated toward combatting Russian malign influence.

In these efforts, we recognize that Congress has an important role to play in providing the tools and resources that will be needed to deal effectively with the combined Russian problem set. As Secretary Pompeo made clear in his recent testimony, we are committed to working with all of you to make headway against this problem and align our efforts in support of the President’s Russia strategy.

Mr. Chairman, thank you again for inviting me to speak today. I welcome your questions.