RUSSIA AND COVID. Latest numbers: total cases 613K; total deaths 8605; tests per 1 million 124K. Russia has done 18 million tests (second after USA); among countries with populations over 10M it’s second in tests per million and of those over 100M first. Scientists claim to have a vaccine; tests should be complete by end of July. Putin address: improving but still some bad regions; description of what government did; extension of some special payments. GDP fell 12% in April when “holiday” was begun.

OIL WARS. Seem to be pretty much over. But futures are still low for Saudi Arabia and US fracking.

TAX. For two decades Russia has had a flat income tax of 13% . A brilliant move when introduced, it ended widespread tax evasion almost instantly. But in the speech above, Putin said it will be bumped to 15% for people with incomes over 5 million RUR (US$71K). But still simple and pretty flat.

VICTORY PARADE. Held on the 75th anniversary of the first one. Video. Can’t get these numbers out of my head: Germany invades June 1941; three years later Operation Bagration annihilates Army Group Centre; a year later Soviet soldiers sight-see in Berlin. Has there ever been so quick a turnaround? (Well… Napoleon invaded Russia June 1812, the Russian Army entered Paris March 1814 and invented the bistro. Seems to be a historical lesson there…)

VICTORY. A VTsIOM poll shows 95% think that it was the most significant event for Russia of the 20th Century and 69% think the most significant event in Russian history.

SANCTIONS. “We are not asking for sanctions to be lifted. We are simply improving our resilience and self-reliance.” And so they have; and the newest US sanctions on Syria will be a gift to Iran.

VISAS. It is reported that the simple e-visas for visitors will be extended to all Russia starting next year. ABCA probably excluded.

A WIN. Two years ago the Russian authorities ordered the social app Telegram to give up its secrets; it refused; the authorities ordered it shut down; people kept using it; the authorities have given up after a sort of compromise.What’s the difference? Well, in our part of the world the social media doesn’t resist. Yet another of the many reversals of behaviour I’ve seen since I started in the business in 1984.

INFRASTRUCTURE. Moscow Metro has got quite a bit bigger in ten years.

VIDEO. Short video of Russian scenes and scenery.

PAUL WHELAN. Sentenced to 16 years for espionage; reports that an exchange is being worked out.

WEAPONS. A new Borey-A SSBN Knyaz Vladimir accepted into the Navy. Several new Army weapons shown at the parade. A Ukrainian looked at the equipment on parade and and asked his countrymen how they can believe they’re facing that army in the Donbass; sure would notice one of these things.

GAPS. MacDonald uses a car crash to show the attitude gap between Russian elites and the “little people”. But he has been arrested and could face 12 years. We’ll see.

SKRIPALMANIA. “5 Facts BBC’s ‘The Salisbury Poisonings’ Forgot to Mention“, “the only word for that is a miracle“. Propaganda for stupid people with short attention spans.

LESSONS OF THE WAR. Putin’s piece published in National Interest. Official text English, Russian. Apart from an unwillingness to acknowledge that territorial acquisitions in 1939 and 1940 were made to gain strategic space, I see nothing wrong with it. All of it was mentioned by AJP Taylor years ago.

HACKING. Don’t need cunning Russian hackers when incompetence gets the job done.

START. Talks began in Vienna with a childish stunt by the American side. I wouldn’t expect any results: the Americans are fatally deluded. As for the Russians: “We don’t believe the U.S. in its current shape is a counterpart that is reliable, so we have no confidence, no trust whatsoever“.Russian has a word for that: недоговороспособны and it’s characterised US behaviour since at least this event (in Obama’s time). Can’t make an agreement with them and, even if you do, they won’t keep it.

PUTIN DERANGEMENT SYNDROME. From Canada. Short version: everything we say or do is true; Putin the opposite. (“Mueller indicted Mr. Prigozhin and the Internet Research Agency for ‘waging information warfare against the United States of America'”. Oopsies! ) From the Baker of the Maidan Don’t waste your time on the original, Mark Chapman has done the work for you.

BELARUS. Colour revolution in progress? For what it’s worth Lukashenko was in Moscow for the parade and is confident it has been thwarted.

WESTERN VALUES. Hashim Thaci indicted for war crimes. NATO gave him a country.

© Patrick Armstrong Analysis, Canada Russia Observer


First published Strategic Culture Foundation

A considerable amount of baggage has become attached to the word “European” over the half-millennium that Europe has dominated the world. There’s the geographical meaning – from the Atlantic to the Urals – but, because Europe is a peninsula on the western end of Asia, the frontier is subject to debate. Diplomats sometimes use the word to mean members of the European Union. But the most important meaning is the value-laden one – to be “European” is to be modern, civilised, rational, to hold “values”, to be successful. To be powerful. Not to be “European” is to be none of these things, perhaps even their opposites. Europeans are rulers and exemplars; the others are subjects and inferiors. Throughout the period of European domination, to be considered “European” was favoured and to adopt European habits, dress styles, education and appearance was desirable. Not to be “European”, on the other hand, was an insult: your culture didn’t make the grade. This meaning is commonly found today, especially in the smug phrase “European values“.

I have been considering writing this essay for some years but have put off doing so because I know that for many readers “Europe” means “best” and to say Russia is not European is to say that it’s not good enough. But at last President Putin has given me the opening: “Россия – это не просто страна, это действительно отдельная цивилизация“. “Russia, it’s not simply a country it is certainly a separate civilisation”. And who would dare disagree with him?

I have always regarded Russia, to quote Macron’s term, as a civilisation-state. It is its own thing – not European not Asiatic, it’s Russian. If we use Toynbee’s nomenclature it, like Western Christendom, is a daughter society of the Hellenic society.

To make my argument I will use Toynbee’s methodology in his Study of History to determine what he calls a “society” – a distinct, self-contained entity about which history in the largest scale can be studied. Is Britain one of these? is it, as many Britons thought in his day, a stand-alone culture? His argument was to imagine a history of Britain in a series of chapters. Let us start the book with a first chapter: Celtic Britain. Immediately there is a problem because a huge footnote has to be inserted to explain who the Celts were and where they came from because they didn’t originate in Britain; they arrived there fully-formed, so to speak. Then Chapter 2 might be Roman Britain. Again a huge footnote to explain their non-British origins and history. Then Chapter 3 about the Saxons and again a big footnote. Chapter 4 The Normans and so on. In short each chapter of British history leads one to huge digressions outside of Britain; therefore, Toynbee argued, Britain must be a part of some other society which has a more-or-less self-contained story – Celts, Romans, Saxons and Normans all originate in Europe; no footnotes are needed. This seems to me to be a powerful argument.

Let us apply it to Russia and Europe. We’ll start our European history – you have to start somewhere – with Chapter 1 The Roman Empire. We’d speak about its origin, its conquests, its decay, its legacy. There’s no similar chapter in our Russian book: Russia wasn’t part of the Roman Empire and, in fact, there isn’t much history of Russia up until the 800s. Chapter 2 of our Europe history book would probably be Christianity; Russia and Europe share that but again there’s a big difference. The Roman Empire became officially Christian in the early 300s and the religion spread throughout the Empire. Missionaries from Europe spread the word out to and past the limits of the Empire to Germany and Ireland. The Russian experience is both later and different: Grand Duke Vladimir made a conscious, top-down decision to Christianise and adopted the Christianity of Byzantium; European Christianity was Rome-centred from the start. Chapter 3 of our European history book would cover Charlemagne and the re-creation – independently of Constantinople – of a Christian Roman Empire centred on the formerly pagan and barbarian invaders; nothing like that in Russia which still has two centuries to go before it’s Christianised. Chapter 4 might be the Empire-Papacy struggle – nothing like that in Russia. Chapter 5 is The Renaissance and again there no equivalent in Russia. In fact, you could write most of the European history book without ever mentioning the word “Russia” up until the 1700s.

What of the Russian history book? Its Chapter 1 would probably be about the Varangians and the creation of a region of loosely connected city states at least nominally Orthodox; much of this story would be somewhat mythical or archaeological. Chapter 2 would cover the development of what is now called Kievan Rus, the trade with Byzantium and the many contacts with Europe – a Russian became Queen of France. At this point one could argue (leaving aside the growing importance of the difference of religion particularly after the Great Schism of 1054) that Russia and Europe might have become so entwined as to become one. But our Russian Chapter 3 brings the difference that is all the difference: The Mongols. In a series of lightning campaigns the Mongol forces overran the Russias, destroyed Kiev and forced all the Russian principalities to submit to Mongol rule and to give tribute. Nothing like this happened in Europe, although it might have: the Mongol forces retreated from Hungary in 1242 and never returned. This is another Great If of history; had the Mongols continued to the Atlantic, a second possible entwining of Russia and Europe might have happened. But they departed Europe and remained in Russia.

Much has been written about the effect of Mongol rule on Russia’s development but all agree that it shaped its future very strongly. The two and a half centuries of what the Russians call the “Tatar yoke” cover a time in contemporary Europe that begins when Thomas Aquinas is a boy and ends when Columbus is a young man – a period of enormous change in European civilisation. But in Russia they are years of compliance, endurance and resistance. The recovery of the “Russian Lands” was led by Muscovy, formerly a not very important part of Russia. The textbook date for the end of the “Tatar yoke” was the withdrawal of Mongol forces in the face of a Russian army at the Ugra River in 1480 but it was actually only with Catherine’s regathering of Crimea and “New Russia” in the late 1700s that the very last Mongol ruler of Russian Lands was displaced.

So, our hypothetical European and Russian history books have quite different chapters and that means that they have quite different histories; we’re talking about two things, not one thing.

Europe became immensely powerful in the 1500s, conquered the rest of the world and minor European players like Belgium snatched a pierce for themselves. Even mighty China was subjugated – its “century of humiliation”. Russia was one of the very few exceptions; despite several tries, Europe never conquered it. Peter the Great Europeanised Russia, built a navy, founded the gun factories at Tula, shaved beards, eliminated caftans and required the upper classes to dress like French dancing masters. He did it in order to better prepare Russia to fight Sweden, at that time the dominant power in the area. When Charles XII was defeated by Peter at Poltava in 1709 Russia arrived on the European scene as a great power that had to be taken into account. A century later, Emperor Alexander was one of the five people who redesigned Europe.

Europeans underestimate the importance of their skill at war, preferring to think that it was their values or their political skills or their modernity or their science that made them pre-eminent for five centuries. But their killing power (and their killing diseases) were mighty allies: “Whatever happens we have got The Maxim Gun, and they have not“. Peter, facing attack from Europe, learned European killing ways and so Russia remained independent. Many resisted Western aggression and failed – Tecumseh, Túpac Amaru, Cetshwayo, the Rani of Jhansi – but Peter succeeded. In short, Russia’s (and Japan’s) voluntary Europeanisation was motivated by the desire to learn the European way of war so as to keep independence. At Poltava in 1709, at Vienna in 1814, at Berlin in 1945, an independent Russia became a major force in Europe.

The realities that Europe was never able to conquer it, that Russians look and sound like Europeans on the surface, that in the European constellation Russia is a Great Power have caused no little confusion. Many people have come to believe that Russia is a part of European civilisation but a defective part: a European country, but a bad one. But, once one realises that Russia is not a European country and has a quite different history that moved in parallel with little contact for centuries, one can see past these illusions. Different forces shaped it and different results happened.

Not inferior, not “Asiatic”, not uncivilised, not uncultured; different. A “civilisation state”. As is China.


RUSSIA AND COVID. Latest numbers: total cases 502K; total deaths 6532; tests per 1 million 95K. Russia has done 13.8 million tests (second after USA); among countries with populations over 10M it’s second in tests per million and of those over 100M first. Moscow city lockdown and ID pass system ended on Tuesday. Russian developers register a drug that may help alleviate the worst symptoms.

COVID COUNTING. The usual suspects are convinced that Russia’s lying (the accusation is a pitiful attempt to cover up the failure of the “two best-prepared countries“) but I don’t believe anything Western outlets say about Russia. But Moscow city has published numbers that may explain things. 15,713 deaths in Moscow in May; three-year average is 9914; therefore excess of 5799. They calculate 2757 had COVID as the main cause of death but it was present in 5260 deaths. Therefore, as I suspected, it’s a counting issue: died of versus died with. In any case, even at the larger number, the deaths are far fewer than elsewhere. A new theory to add to the others is that there are fewer old people, thanks to high mortality rates in the Soviet days, and Russians don’t generally put them in nursing homes (the source of large proportion of deaths in Western countries.)

CONSTITUTIONAL REFERENDUM. Now set for 1 July. Wikipedia has a summary article and tells us that the vote will be a yes or no on the whole package. Some advertising billboards. Polls suggest the package will pass but not by big numbers.

GENETICS. Putin has told the government to ensure creation of Russian-made laboratory and scientific equipment for research in genetics. Remember the report that the USAF was collecting genetic material of Russians? I think COVID has made Moscow and Beijing rather thoughtful. Teheran too.

OIL WARS. Oil futures are creeping up. OPEC+ has agreed to extend the production cuts to the end of July. So, I guess if there was some attempt by Riyadh to crush US shale and Russian oil, it failed. Who won? Russia did: prices are back in Russia’s comfort zone. The Power of Siberia pipeline has sent 1.58 billion M3 of natural gas to China in the last 6 months. The icebreaker LNG ship is on its way to China via the Northern Sea Route.

MONOPOLY. With Dragon’s successful docking, Russia has lost its monopoly on taxi service to the ISS.

PERSONALLY I think Moscow is commenting with considerable restraint as the USA learns about colour revolutions first hand. Read this from the Atlantic: “The Trump Regime Is Beginning to Topple”. “Regime”. Wow, eh?

START. Russia-US talks will begin in Vienna on the 22nd. Beijing says it won’t be there. The US side is so deluded that I doubt much will happen. (BTW the US “super duper missilejust failed.)

THE DEATH OF IRONY. Russia Sends More Troops West, Challenging U.S.-NATO Presence Near Borders.

NUGGETS FROM THE STUPIDITY MINE. “Before Donald Trump, Russia Needed 60 Hours To Beat NATO—Now Moscow Could Win Much Faster” Forbes tells us. The assumption is that Russia would grab the Baltics and stop there. I know the author is just shilling for the weapons makers but, if you assume your audience is really stupid, you become stupider – a race to the bottom of the mine.

MH17. It looks as if all the prosecution has is stuff from Kiev and Bellingcat. So much for Kerry’s “we observed it”. So will the court find the defendants not guilty or continue with the farce? Speaking of “our values and way of life”.

CHINA IS THE NEW RUSSIA. You’d think NATO would be busy enough but it’s time to add China to the enemy list: the threat posed by China to “our values and way of life”.

AMERICA-HYSTERICA. A Republican caucus group from the legislature of “the greatest force for good the world has ever known” has decided that Russia should be named a “state sponsor of terrorism” and hit with “the toughest sanctions ever imposed“. But it doesn’t accuse Moscow of fiddling elections; I guess that particular sector of the delusion is reserved for the other side of the aisle.

PUTIN DERANGEMENT SYNDROME. Sure, we don’t need evidence – there’s the “playbook”.

EUROPEANS ARE REVOLTING. Germany rejects US extraterritorial sanctions against Nord Stream 2; a German politician suggests Berlin may respond with counter-sanctions. Trump orders a troop pull-out (would be about a quarter of the US troops in Germany).

© Patrick Armstrong Analysis, Canada Russia Observer


The president has made clear that we have a tried and true practice here. We know how to win these races and we know how to spend the adversary into oblivion. If we have to, we will, but we sure would like to avoid it.

Marshall Billingslea, May 2020

(First published Strategic Culture Foundation

Billingslea is President Trump’s Special Presidential Envoy for Arms Control and will presumably be in charge of Washington’s team in negotiating a new START treaty.

An outstanding example of American arrogance and ignorance, to say nothing of the implication that the only actual negotiation expected will be over how loudly the negotiatees say “Yes Master”. Hardly likely to entice anyone to the table, let alone China.

The Soviet Union went down for many reasons which can be pretty well summed up under the rubric that it had exhausted its potential. Its economy was staggering, nobody believed any more, it had no real allies, it was bogged down in an endless war. Buried in there somewhere was the expense of the arms race with the USA. Billingslea evidently believes that it was that last that was the decisive blow. Believing that, he thinks that the USA can do it again.

A snappy comeback immediately pops into mind: staggering economy, loss of self confidence, allies edging away, endless wars – who’s that sound like?

But there is a bigger problem than his arrogance and that is his ignorance. Washington likes to think that its intelligence on Russia is pretty good but actually it’s pretty bad – and the proof is that it is always surprised by what Moscow does next. Intelligence is supposed to reduce surprises, not increase them.

What Billingslea is ignorant of is the difference between the Russian Federation and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. And he probably isn’t alone in this ignorance in Washington: yes they know it’s not communist any more – some of them do anyway – but that’s just the outward difference. The USSR was an exceptionalist state. As the 1977 USSR Constitution said:

the Soviet state, a new type of state, the basic instrument for defending the gains of the revolution and for building socialism and communism. Humanity thereby began the epoch-making turn from capitalist to socialism.


There’s a heavy cost to being an exceptionalist state – everything everywhere is your business, you are obligated to interfere all over the world, in the USSR’s case, any government that called itself socialist was entitled to assistance. The Soviet Union’s military was not just for self-defence, it was for power projection, assistance to allies and it sought full-spectrum dominance. Or, if not dominance in every imaginable sphere of warfare, at least capability. If Washington or NATO did something the USSR and the Warsaw Pact had to respond – no challenge could go unanswered. You can “spend into oblivion” a country with so expansive a self-awarded mission, especially one with a flaccid economy. And Washington tried to do so and, and I agree that the arms race made some contribution to the dissolution of the USSR and its alliance.

But Moscow has learned its lesson. Being the standard-bearer of the “bright future” brought it nothing; propping up socialist governments that deserted the moment the tanks went home brought it nothing. Exceptionalism was a bust for Russia and the Russians. It won’t do it any more. And that implies a much more modest military goal: defence. And defence is always cheaper than offence.

Moscow doesn’t have to match the US military; it just has to checkmate it.

Washington can interfere in Africa as much as it wants, Moscow doesn’t care – and if it should care, it’s demonstrated in Syria how effective a small competent and intelligently directed force can be. Washington can have all the aircraft carriers it wants; Moscow doesn’t care as long as they keep away – and if they don’t keep away, there are plenty of Kinzhals. Washington can build a space force (complete with cammo uniforms) if it wants to; Russia doesn’t have to – it just has to shoot down what attacks it. Checkmate in one defined area of the globe is much easier and much cheaper than “full spectrum dominance”.

Full spectrum dominance is the stated goal of the US military: supremacy everywhere all the time.

The cumulative effect of dominance in the air, land, maritime, and space domains and information environment, which includes cyberspace, that permits the conduct of joint operations without effective opposition or prohibitive interference.

In practice it’s unattainable; it’s like looking for the end of the rainbow: every time you get there, it’s moved somewhere else. The countermove will always be cheaper and simpler. The USA will bankrupt itself into oblivion chasing down supremacy over everything everywhere. Take, for example, China’s famous carrier killer missile. Independently manoeuvrable hypersonic powerful warhead; here’s the video. Does it exist? Does it work? Maybe it does, maybe it only works sometimes. Maybe it doesn’t work today but will tomorrow. But it certainly could work. How much would Washington have to spend to give its carrier battle groups some reasonable chance against a weapon that was fired thousands of kilometres away and is coming in at Mach 10? Certainly much less than it would cost China to fire five of them at that one carrier; only needs one hit to sink it or put it out of action. Who’s going to be spent into oblivion here?

Which brings me to the next retort to Billingslea’s silly remark. Before the US spends Russia and China into oblivion, it must first spend to catch up to them. I’ve mentioned the Chinese carrier killer, Russia also has quite a number of hypersonic weapons. Take the Kinzhal, for example. Fired from an aircraft 1500 kilometres away, it will arrive at the target in quite a bit less than 10 minutes. When will its target discover that it’s coming? If it detects it 500 kilometres out (probably pushing the Aegis way past its limits) it will have three or four minutes to react. The Russian Avangard re-entry vehicle has a speed of more than Mach 20 – that’s the distance from Moscow to Washington in well under five minutes. How do you stop that? Remember that Russia actually has these weapons whereas all the US has is a “super-duper missile“. Not forgetting the Burevestnik and Poseidon neither of which the US has, as far as is known, even in its dreams. So, Mr Billingslea, before you get the USA to the point of spending Russia and China into oblivion, you’ve got to spend a lot to catch up to where they already are today and then, when you get to where they are today, even more to get to where they will be then and still more – much more – to block anything they can dream up in all of the numerous “spectrums”. Who’s heading for oblivion now?

In conventional war the US military does not have effective air defences: this should be clear to everyone after the strikes on the Saudi oil site and the US base. US generals are always complaining about the hostile electronic warfare scene in Syria where the Russians reveal only a bit of what they can do. Russia and China have good air defence at every level and excellent EW capabilities. They do because they know that the US military depends on air attack and easy communications. They’re not going to give them these advantages in a real war, Something else for Mr Billingslea to spend a lot of money on just to get to the start state.

The US military have spent too many years bombing people who can’t shoot back, kicking in doors in the middle of the night and patrolling roads hoping there’s no IED today. Not very good practice for a real war or an arms race.

China and Russia, because they have given up exceptionalism, full spectrum dominance and all those other fantasies, only have to counter the US military and only in their home neighbourhoods. That is much cheaper and much easier. What’s really expensive, because unattainable, is chasing after the exceptionalist goal of dominance in everything, everywhere, all the time. That’s a “tried and true” road to oblivion.

They’re just laughing at him in Moscow and Beijing.