COMMENTS FROM THE LOCKED WARD

(Miscellaneous comments from pieces dealing with Russia I’ve collected. Most of them anonymous or with pseudonyms. They are chosen to illustrate either rabid hostility to everything Russian or stone-dead ignorance of present reality. I post from time to time when I have enough, spelling mistakes and all.)

Putin-style glorification of the Soviet regime is entering the mind of the president, inspiring his words and—who knows—perhaps shaping his actions. How that propaganda is reaching him—by which channels, via which persons—seems an important if not urgent question. But maybe what happened yesterday does not raise questions. Maybe it inadvertently reveals answers.

David Frum: Why Is Trump Spouting Russian Propaganda? The president’s endorsement of the U.S.S.R.’s invasion of Afghanistan echoes a narrative promoted by Vladimir Putin. The Atlantic 3 January 2019.

Frum, in his account, doesn’t give any reason for the Soviets to invade that contradicts what Trump said. He is also, it seems, unaware of Zbigniew Brzezinski’s involvement in enticing the Soviets to invade. The beginning, as it happened, of a long process that got us to 911 as Washington alternately supported and opposed jihadists.

GOODBYE RI

I HEREBY WITHDRAW PERMISSION FROM RUSSIA INSIDER TO REPRINT MY PIECES.

The gratuitous addition of a Nazi anti-semitic illustration to my piece was too much. After I posted this (and many other denials elsewhere) they changed the picture to an anodyne shot of a Pravda front page.

Too late.

I was a big supporter of (and contributor to) RI at its start but, over time, I lost my conviction. I stopped.

I got it wrong and trusted what I should not have trusted.

Well, as Aeschylus said: “Zeus, who guided mortals to be wise, has established his fixed law— wisdom comes through suffering.”

I can’t say I suffered all that much. But enough.

Goodbye, Charles Bausman and RI. I believed once, but no more.

Pity. There was a possibility once.

 

RUSSIA IS FINISHED QUOTATIONS

And yet more from the Russia is doomed collection. Alternate this with Russia is winning! Russophrenia.

Russia’s ongoing attacks on Ukraine and its persistent subversion of Western states demonstrates that Washington and Brussels have failed to restrain Moscow’s imperial ambitions.Engagement, criticism and limited sanctions have simply reinforced Kremlin perceptions that the West is weak and predictable. To curtail Moscow’s neo-imperialism a new strategy is needed, one that nourishes Russia’s decline and manages the international consequences of its dissolution.Russia is more fragile than it appears, and the West is stronger than it is portrayed. Under the regime of Vladimir Putin, which will soon enter its third decade, the country has transitioned from an emerging democracy to an unstable authoritarianism.

Janusz Bugajski, “Managing Russia’s dissolution“.

And here he is, a decade ago, saying the same thing:

NATO expansion in the Caucasus has been thwarted and the humiliation of the Mikheil Saakashvili government is a terrible warning to other westward-looking leaders around the Black Sea. Hopes that the Nabucco gas pipeline project can by-pass the Kremlin stranglehold on Europe‘s energy have also been shaken. Yet celebrations by the Vladimir Putin-Vladimir Medvedev tandem may be premature. Having started the fire of secession, the Kremlin now risks being burnt by its flames.”

Blah blah blah. Bet he turns up on an “Integrity” Initiative list.

C’EST TOUJOURS LA MÊME CHOSE

(First published at Strategic Culture Foundation. Picked up by Oriental Review.)

I have just read the memoirs of General Armand de Caulaincourt who accompanied Napoleon throughout the Russian venture. He was France’s Ambassador to Russia from 1807 until 1811 and got to know the Emperor Alexander quite well. Napoleon recalled him and he eventually resumed his tasks as his Master of the Horse.

His account begins with a long conversation with Napoleon. Just before he left St Petersburg, Alexander called him in for what was, unmistakeably, a message and warning to be passed on. De Caulaincourt really tries hard – but unsuccessfully – to make Napoleon get the point. He tells him that Alexander said he had learned something from the Spanish resistance to France and that was that Napoleon’s other opponents had given up too early; they should have kept fighting. Napoleon is unimpressed: his generals in Spain are incompetent and and his brother (to whom he had given the Spanish throne) is an idiot; he sees no larger lessons and believes that Spain is not important in the great scheme. De Caulaincourt reiterates that Alexander kept returning to that point, giving other illustrations of giving up too soon and emphasised that, if Napoleon invaded, he would persevere: he would keep fighting from Kamchatka if need be; Russia was very large and the weather very severe. One good battle and they’ll give up insists Napoleon. Napoleon then mentions how angry the Poles are getting with Russia. De Caulaincourt retorts that the Poles he knows, while they would certainly prefer a free and independent Poland, have learned that living under Russia is not as bad as they thought it would be and that real freedom might cost more than it would be worth. De Caulaincourt then, no doubt repeating what Alexander has told him, describes the compromise that would settle the problems between him and Russia; but Napoleon’s not interested. After five hours of this, Napoleon dismisses him but de Caulaincourt asks leave to say one more thing: if you are thinking of invading (now de Caulaincourt realises that he’s set on it) please think of France’s best interests. Oh says Napoleon, now you’re talking like a Russian.

Well, the similarities just leap off the page don’t they? Napoleon today is played by Washington. (One may hope that Trump’s pullout from Syria marks the beginning of real change. But let’s wait and see what actually happens.) There have been years of ignorant overconfidence in Washington – just like Napoleon’s – Russia is a gas station pretending to be a country, it doesn’t make anything and its GDP is less than Canada’s or Spain’s or some other not very important country. (In truth, since Russia’s arrival in Syria, some hawks are starting to sound less confident: as a recent example an American thinktank warms that the US Navy might not prevail against Russia and China.) But the popular expectation remains that one more push and Putin will cave in: he won’t be holding out in Kamchatka. Russia today is played by Russia, of course. As to who’s playing Poland, Ukraine makes a good stand-in (although Poland may be trying to reprise its role). Napoleon’s assertion that Poland wants war with Russia is replicated by today’s Kiev regime: it is doing its best to make it happen. But, like de Caulaincourt’s account of actual Poles, there is little to suggest that ordinary Ukrainians have much stomach for a war and one may suspect that a majority would be happy to a return to the (miserable, but not as miserable) time before the “revolution of Dignity”. Who plays the role of Spain, the nation that didn’t understand that it had been beaten? Today gives us several candidates: you may choose from Afghanistan, Iraq or Syria.

But, what’s really contemporary, and he repeats it several times, is Napoleon’s sneer that de Caulaincourt has become a Russian: even two centuries ago, long before RT, Sputnik or Facebook ads, Russia’s malign “information war” and “fake news memes” were polluting Western minds! Then, as well as today, anyone who deviated from the received wisdom must be echoing Russian falsehood.

As I said, the similarities jumped out at me a couple of pages into de Caulaincourt’s account. On the one hand we see the man who actually knows what he’s talking about and who is trying to relay an important message to his superior; on the other the arrogant superior who knows everything and calls all disagreement Putinism Russianism. And, in the background, the yappy little players trying to wag the Imperial Dog. And, airily dismissed, the years-old failures on other battlefronts.

Well, we all know what happened, don’t we? Napoleon put together an army (with lots of Poles) and invaded. De Caulaincourt was there at his side every step in and out. And Russia proved (as it did again in 1941) that it didn’t realise when it had been defeated. De Caulaincourt takes us through it. Napoleon’s confidence that the Russians are falling back and he will defeat them in detail. The shocking losses of horses and the gradual wearing away of cavalry scouts. The invisibility of the Russian army. Scorched earth – de Caulaincourt compares the Grande Armée to a vessel alone on a huge, empty ocean. Supply problems. More horse losses. Distance and more distance and still no victorious battle. Guerrillas. No prisoners. No information.

Let us consider Smolensk. Napoleon occupied it and, after a brief fight (and the burning of the city), took possession. David Glanz has convincingly argued that the Battle of Smolensk in 1941, while a German victory, was actually Germany’s defeat because it meant that the short blitzkrieg victory Berlin counted on was no longer possible; in a long war, the USSR’s mighty industrial capacity would come into play. And so it was for Napoleon: too late, too little and still no negotiations. But he convinced himself that there would be peace in six weeks (he is now about the only optimist left in the Grande Armée). Messengers are sent to Alexander. No answer. The Grande Armée marches east in search of The Battle. At last – Borodino, one of the bloodiest days in warfare – but the Russian army disappears again. He takes Moscow – now Alexander must talk. He – another echo of today – has convinced himself that Russia’s nobles (big businessmen) will force Alexander (Putin) to give in because they are losing so much. But they don’t. Through de Caulaincourt’s reporting we see the adamantine self-delusion of Napoleon. At last Napoleon gives up, goes home and the Russian Army follows him all the way back to Paris. See the famous graph.

Napoleon still doesn’t get it: one of his sillier complaints is that Kutuzov doesn’t understand strategy; well it’s not Kutuzov who’s plodding through icy roads littered with abandoned equipment, butchered horses and dead soldiers, is it? “I beat the Russians every time, but that doesn’t get me anywhere”. Winning every battle and losing the war is not as uncommon as all that: we have seen it from Darius and the Scythians to the US and Afghanistan.

Everything turns out as de Caulaincourt warned him. Except that, in the end, Alexander doesn’t go to Kamchatka, he goes to Paris instead. The story is that the French bistro owes its name to the Russian быстро! (quickly!). True or not, there once were Russian soldiers in Paris demanding quick service. There are already bistros in Washington, So after Napoleon (USA/NATO) invades Russia (Russia) ignoring de Caulaincourt’s (lots-of-people-on-this-site’s) advice, what new culinary event will Russian (Russian) soldiers leave behind in Paris (Washington)? A Ёлки-Палки on every street? Kvas trolleys?

Oh, and Poland, after 70,000 casualties in the Russian war, remained partitioned.

We return to today. Napoleon (USA/NATO) professes its desire for peace but… those pesky Russians (Russians) are making trouble for Poland (Ukraine – or is it Poland again?) which presses for an attack. The Spanish (Afghans/Iraqis/Syrians) say, whatever Napoleon (USA/NATO) may think, they don’t feel beaten yet. Alexander (Putin) says “he would not fire the first shot, but also that he would sheathe the sword last”.

To quote Field Marshal Montgomery, who had more experience in big wars and standing on the victory podium than any US general since MacArthur: “Rule 1, on page 1 of the book of war, is: ‘Do not march on Moscow'”. (His second rule, by the way, was: “Do not go fighting with your land armies in China.” As Washington’s policy drives Moscow and Beijing closer together…. But that is another subject).

I don’t know who the next US Defence Secretary will be, but I have a suggestion for some introductory reading.

RUSSIAN FEDERATION SITREP 3 JANUARY 2019

BALANCE. The first successful test of the Avangard hypersonic vehicle is announced. Super fast (Mach 27 they say) and highly manoeuvrable, development began when Washington withdrew from the ABM Treaty. Putin promised that Russia would “act independently”, it did and here we are today. Avangard nullifies the entire US ballistic missile defence effort: “We don’t have any defense“. Impossible to shoot down: there’s only about 20 minutes from launch to anywhere and it can be coming in from any direction. Putin, in his presser, said Avangard “maintains the balance”. It’s important to understand Moscow’s point of view and not respond with petulance. Because, here as elsewhere, Moscow has got it right: the danger of ballistic missile defence development is that one side might come to believe that its defence is good enough to save it from a response and might be tempted to do a first strike. (Who’s stupid enough? Well, that’s what all this stuff is about: removing the possibilities). The ABM Treaty preserved the crazy, but stable, balance of mutual assured destruction. It was stable because, each side knew that, whatever the start state, whatever happened in between, the end state would always be the same: destruction of both. But Washington, convinced it would be supreme forever, tossed the Treaty in 2001. Russia now has a weapon that cannot be stopped; therefore there is no possible way to stop a retaliatory strike and so no first strike is conceivable. We’re back to the crazy stability of mutual assured destruction. This is rebalancing. But it would have been much easier, cheaper and safer to have kept the original Treaty.

RUSSIA INC. From Putin’s presser. 2018 numbers so far. GDP up 1.7%, industrial output up 2.9%; fixed capital investment up 1.4%; real incomes showing small growth of 0.5%; expect to hit inflation estimate of 4%; unemployment down to just under 5%; trade surplus on track to be about $190 billion; gold and foreign currency reserves $464 billion. There will be a small budget surplus (first since 2011) and the National Welfare Fund has grown about 22%. Life expectancy up a bit to 72.9 years. The Energy Minister estimates Russia earned an extra $120 billion in two years of oil production cuts. Russia is surviving the West’s sanctions. Putin later added that Russia produces about 80% of “vital medications”.

PUTIN ON SOCIALISM. See this. Still a тупик (Russian slang for dead end).

THE COUNTRY THAT MAKES NOTHING. Moscow opens the 17th Metro station built this year. A 60-kilometre fence along the Crimea-Ukraine border is completed. The modernised Tu-22M3M has taken its first flight. 3 1/2 million cars have travelled the Crimea Bridge. (Winter bonus picture: Russia’s, and the world’s, second largest icebreaker at the North Pole).

RECIPROCITY? The FSB has arrested an American on espionage charges. It is possible that this is retaliation for the disgusting treatment of the wretched Maria Butina but if so, we may be sure that Moscow will be scrupulous in playing by the rules. If for no other reason than to make the point.

SYRIA. Predictable results from Trump’s withdrawal decision. Ankara holds back on its attack on the Kurds but continues threatening. Syrian Army took over a key town with Kurdish agreement. Moscow is the place to be: Kurds are there and so are Turks. The likely result will be Kurds and Damascus making an agreement that allows Damascus to control the territory and Ankara’s concerns taken into account. Recognising reality, Arab states re-establish relations with Damascus. The soldiers of Washington and its minions were the obstacle to peace. More to come apparently: Trump has ordered a big withdrawal from Afghanistan and that plans for full withdrawal be drawn up. Pat Buchanan sums up the complete failure of Washington’s wars in the MENA. Good analysis by Elijah Magnier.

SKRIPALMANIA. Putin: “Without the Skripal case, they would have come up with something else. This is quite obvious to me. Their only goal is to contain Russia and prevent it from emerging as a potential competitor.” Sochi toilets; MH17; doping; “invasion of Crimea”; election whatever-the-story-is-now; Masha and the Bear and on and on. Always something. (But I don’t think Russia is losing this, do you?)

AMERICA-HYSTERICA. This headline sums up the latest stage of nonsense: “Firm Who Warned America of ‘Russian Meddling’ Caught Running Fake Russia Bot Campaign. And yet the idiocy continues and can only get worse when this guy, who thinks Putin has a man follow Medvedev around threatening to smother him, is in charge of investigations. We’re finding out how stupid stupid can become. It would be funny if there was anything to laugh about taunting a nuclear superpower.

UKRAINE. Informative exchange between Putin and a Ukrainian reporter. To read it, search here for Roman Tsymbalyuk.

© Patrick Armstrong Analysis, Canada Russia Observer

TODAY’S PUTIN QUOTATION

Question at 2018 press conference: do you think that a restoration of socialism is possible in Russia?

Vladimir Putin: I think this is impossible. I believe that the deep changes that have taken place in our society make restoring socialism in the sense you mean impossible. There can be social elements in the economy and the social sector, but expenses will always exceed profits, and as a result, the economy would be at a dead end.

(…Возможны элементы социализации экономики, социальной сферы, но это всегда связано с расходами больше доходов, и, в конечном итоге, с тупиком в экономике.)

(My emphasis. Note that he called communism a road to a dead end in 1999.)

Putin annual press conference, 20 December 2018.