THE MISQUOTATION

Translated into French

NOTE: Given that we’re going to hear this one a lot in the next little while, I have joined the two parts for ease of reference. I wrote the first in 2014, JRL picked it up and I got a lot of flak from flacks. But I proved my point in Part 2. Johnson sent me a lot of private messages from translators and interpreters saying that I was right. The essence of it is that English has three forms for adjectives: (big, bigger, biggest) but Russians have a fourth in between bigger and biggest. That’s the form Putin used and is so frequently misquoted.

Part 1 https://patrickarmstrong.ca/2014/07/30/deadly-quotation-part-1/

Part 2 https://patrickarmstrong.ca/2014/08/01/deadly-quotation-part-2/

PART 1

The idea for what follows came from a Facebook discussion. One individual, certain that Russia was to blame for the situation in Ukraine, said, among other things, that Putin claimed the biggest mistake was the collapse of the USSR and that he wanted to restore it. I said Putin did not say anything like that and challenged him to find the original. I was hoping to make a point and lead him to understanding something for himself. He dug up a number of statements from the Western media saying the Putin had called the end of the USSR the “greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the Twentieth Century”. Not so hard to find examples: Google returns 15 pages of hits for that exact search, starting with the BBC and ending with it used as a put-down by a commentator on a mildly approving Polish newspaper piece about Putin. The phrase has now become something like what Pravda used to say when it wanted to spread a lie, but had no real evidence, как известно: as is well-known. Over and over we see it used as the triumphant final proof of the argument. “Putin wants a new Russian empire”; “Ukraine PM: Putin wants to rebuild Soviet Union”; “Putin longs to be back in the USSR”; “Putin’s obsession is the restoration of Russia’s pride through the restoration of its imperium.”

Perhaps the most interesting reference my correspondent pulled up, however, was this from an essay by Anders Åslund:

In his annual address in April 2005, Putin went all out: ‘the collapse of the Soviet Union was the biggest geopolitical disaster of the century…. Tens of millions of our co-citizens and compatriots found themselves outside Russian territory…old ideals [were] destroyed.’ He presented himself as a neoimperialist.

What is interesting about it is that he actually footnotes the original source. I assume Åslund expected that no one would bother to look it up or be unable to find it. But it’s out there on the Internet.

So it is now perhaps time to see what it was that Putin actually said. Here it is: first in Russian, “Прежде всего следует признать, что крушение Советского Союза было крупнейшей геополитической катастрофой века.” and then in the official translation into English, “Above all, we should acknowledge that the collapse of the Soviet Union was a major geopolitical disaster of the century.” Hyperlinks take you to Putin’s Address to the Federal Assembly on 25 April 2005 on the Presidential website. That is the “original source”.

Not the greatest; not the most important; not the largest of anything. Not Number One. Not the superlative. One of many geopolitical disasters of the century, but a “major” one. If you like, you could argue with Putin about whether it was “major” or “minor” – here are his reasons for putting it on the “major” side of the list; you put yours:

As for the Russian nation, it became a genuine drama. Tens of millions of our co-citizens and compatriots found themselves outside Russian territory. Moreover, the epidemic of disintegration infected Russia itself. Individual savings were depreciated, and old ideals destroyed. Many institutions were disbanded or reformed carelessly. Terrorist intervention and the Khasavyurt capitulation that followed damaged the country’s integrity. Oligarchic groups – possessing absolute control over information channels – served exclusively their own corporate interests. Mass poverty began to be seen as the norm. And all this was happening against the backdrop of a dramatic economic downturn, unstable finances, and the paralysis of the social sphere. Many thought or seemed to think at the time that our young democracy was not a continuation of Russian statehood, but its ultimate collapse, the prolonged agony of the Soviet system.

(Note, by the way, how deceptive Åslund was with his second ellipsis).

Certainly big; anyone would agree that it was a bad enough disaster at least for those who lived through it. But bigger than any other disaster? No, but Putin isn’t saying it was. It ought to be perfectly obvious what he’s talking about: not a desire to re-create the USSR but an accurate description of how miserable the 1990s were for Russians (and, actually, for most other people in the former USSR). But, read on. This statement was part of the orator’s pattern, after the bad times, things are getting better: “Our society was generating not only the energy of self-preservation, but also the will for a new and free life. In those difficult years…”. And so on. Ex tenebris lux, or something like that.

The message is plain: Putin thought Russia was over the worst and better things can now happen (he was right, wasn’t he?). To use this as “proof” that he wants the USSR back, or is a “neo-imperialist” is wilfully to misunderstand what he said.

But just think how feeble your assertion that Putin wants to re-build the empire would be if the only quotation direct from his mouth that you had to nail your argument down tight with was “Putin did say that the collapse of the USSR was a pretty big disaster because people lost their savings, a lot of crooks stole stuff and many other sufferings ensued”. Doesn’t have quite the same ring does it?

So, the point that I was trying to get my correspondent to understand is that you simply cannot trust Western media reports on Putin or Russia. There is so much distortion, mis-quoting and outright falsifications that nothing you read in your newspaper, see on your TV or hear from your politicians can be accepted at face value. This particular quotation was ripped out of its context and made to serve another purpose; then it was endlessly repeated to cap the assertion that Putin is the world’s enemy because he wants to conquer his neighbours. The history of its use is a perfect illustration that the default position is always antiPutin. No secondary source can be trusted, always go to the original: is it an accurate quotation? what is the context? If you cannot find the original (both President and Prime Minister have a site in English, by the way; it’s not that hard to find the original), then doubt.

But there is a greater point. The West, NATO, the USA and its followers, we are at war with Russia. A rhetorical war with economic aspects at the moment but it may already be a shooting war by proxy. It will get closer to a real war if the Russian Aggression Prevention Act of 2014 is passed. The authors of the bill are quite certain that Russia is expansionist, aggressive and wishes domination over its neighbours. The famous quotation is not in the bill but it is alive in the US Senate:

“The reality, however, is that Putin is not concerned with international law or historical justice. His sole focus is on correcting what he considers to be the ‘greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the 20th century’ by reassembling the Soviet Union.” (Sen Ted Cruz)

“He sees the fall of the Soviet Union as the ‘greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the century.’ He does not accept that Russia’s neighbors, least of all Ukraine, are independent countries.” (Sen John McCain)

“His grip on the Russian presidency is central to his designs to restore Russian dominance. After all, Putin once described the collapse of the Soviet Union as ‘the greatest geopolitical catastrophe’ of the last century’.” (Sen Roger Wicker)

And it’s in the White House too: “‘He’s been willing to show a deeply held grievance about what he considers to be the loss of the Soviet Union,’ Obama said of Putin in that interview.”

An influential mis-quotation, wouldn’t you say? Creating and supporting anti-Russian propaganda since 2005. It would, of course, be wrong to say that we are creeping closer to war with Russia only because of a mis-quotation, but the mis-quotation has certainly played its part in the creep.

PART 2

A number of people have challenged my (and the official Kremlin translators’) choice of “a major” for “krupneyshey” in Putin’s famous sentence “Above all, we should acknowledge that the collapse of the Soviet Union was a major geopolitical disaster of the century.” I stand by what I said: he did not say that there was no worse geopolitical disaster in the century. Neither did he mean that he wanted the empire back.

1. Meaning of the word “krupneyshey”. I take my authority from Pekhlivanova and Lebedeva: “Russian Grammar in Illustrations”; Moscow 1994; p 161. Here it is stated “To say that an object possesses some quality in extraordinary degree, without comparing it to other objects, the Russian uses a special adjectival form ending in -eyshiy (or -ayshiy, after zh, ch, sh, shch). A footnote tells us “These forms are used more frequently in bookish speech”.

To express the meaning “the object possesses the quality in the highest degree as compared to other objects” the modifier samyy is used.

A photograph of that page of the book is below

2. There is the argument from common sense: no Russian would ever say that any “geopolitical disaster” was bigger than the Second World War. His tongue couldn’t even form the syllables.

3. One must assume that Putin chooses his words carefully and knows what they mean especially in a formal speech like his address to the Federal Assembly in 2005 from which the sentence is taken.

4. One must assume that the Kremlin English translators know what they are doing. They chose the word “a major” for “krupneyshey”. By the way, I read the speech when it was given and downloaded the text in Russian and English at the time. There has been no change since. (It occurs to me, given that, in Latin, “maior” is the comparative of “magnus” – big, or great – the translators by that word choice might have been trying to suggest some quality that was on the high side of the scale without being “maximus”; in short “krupneyshey”; not just big but bigger than most? The comparative meaning of “major” seems to be hard-wired: can you even say “more major” or “most major” in English without sounding illiterate?)

5. The context makes it quite clear that Putin is not talking about loss of empire or anything like that. Here is the text around the famous sentence:

I consider the development of Russia as a free and democratic state to be our main political and ideological goal. We use these words fairly frequently, but rarely care to reveal how the deeper meaning of such values as freedom and democracy, justice and legality is translated into life.

Meanwhile, there is a need for such an analysis. The objectively difficult processes going on in Russia are increasingly becoming the subject of heated ideological discussions. And they are all connected with talk about freedom and democracy. Sometimes you can hear that since the Russian people have been silent for centuries, they are not used to or do not need freedom. And for that reason, it is claimed our citizens need constant supervision.

I would like to bring those who think this way back to reality, to the facts. To do so, I will recall once more Russia’s most recent history.

Above all, we should acknowledge that the collapse of the Soviet Union was a major geopolitical disaster of the century. As for the Russian nation, it became a genuine drama. Tens of millions of our co-citizens and compatriots found themselves outside Russian territory. Moreover, the epidemic of disintegration infected Russia itself.

Individual savings were depreciated, and old ideals destroyed. Many institutions were disbanded or reformed carelessly. Terrorist intervention and the Khasavyurt capitulation that followed damaged the country’s integrity. Oligarchic groups – possessing absolute control over information channels – served exclusively their own corporate interests. Mass poverty began to be seen as the norm. And all this was happening against the backdrop of a dramatic economic downturn, unstable finances, and the paralysis of the social sphere.

Many thought or seemed to think at the time that our young democracy was not a continuation of Russian statehood, but its ultimate collapse, the prolonged agony of the Soviet system.

But they were mistaken.

That was precisely the period when the significant developments took place in Russia. Our society was generating not only the energy of self-preservation, but also the will for a new and free life. In those difficult years, the people of Russia had to both uphold their state sovereignty and make an unerring choice in selecting a new vector of development in the thousand years of their history. They had to accomplish the most difficult task: how to safeguard their own values, not to squander undeniable achievements, and confirm the viability of Russian democracy. We had to find our own path in order to build a democratic, free and just society and state.

When speaking of justice, I am not of course referring to the notorious “take away and divide by all” formula, but extensive and equal opportunities for everybody to develop. Success for everyone. A better life for all.

In the ultimate analysis, by affirming these principles, we should become a free society of free people. But in this context it would be appropriate to remember how Russian society formed an aspiration for freedom and justice, how this aspiration matured in the public mind.

Above all else Russia was, is and will, of course, be a major European power. Achieved through much suffering by European culture, the ideals of freedom, human rights, justice and democracy have for many centuries been our society’s determining values.

It is bordering on dishonesty, to take that one sentence out of that context and use it as the capstone of an accusation that Putin wants to get the USSR back. It obvious that he is saying the Russian people are not doomed to become slaves or failures, they have come through this disaster and will grow again; freedom and democracy are possible for them. Ex tenebris lux.

Text of the speech in Russian (http://archive.kremlin.ru/appears/2005/04/25/1223_type63372type63374type82634_87049.shtml) in English (http://archive.kremlin.ru/eng/speeches/2005/04/25/2031_type70029type82912_87086.shtml)

6. More quotations.

Speaking of freedom and democracy, if one must quote Putin, why not this one? “History proves all dictatorships, all authoritarian forms of government are transient. Only democratic systems are intransient.” (“Russia at the turn of the millennium” 1999). Interesting point, isn’t it? Democracies will outlive dictatorships, no matter how tough the former appear at the beginning.

What’s he mean by “democracy”? “Authoritarianism is complete disregard for the law. Democracy is the observance of the law.” (Interview with reporters, 24 Dec 2000). Depends on the laws, of course, but not a silly or trivial statement, is it?

Or, if we want his opinion on the USSR, how about this one? “In the Soviet Union, for many decades, we lived under the motto, we need to think about the future generation. But we never thought about the existing, current, present generations. And at the end of the day, we have destroyed the country, not thinking about the people living today.” (Putin, press conference in Washington, 16 Sept 2005, White House website). The failure of the USSR was built-in from the start.

I could go on – I have a file of quotations collected over the years – Putin has said a lot about a lot of things. Almost all of it carefully considered and embedded in a deep and broad context. But I’ll stop at one more:

“Our goals are very clear. We want high living standards and a safe, free and comfortable life. We want a mature democracy and a developed civil society. We want to strengthen Russia’s place in the world. But our main goal, I repeat, is to bring about a noticeable rise in our people’s prosperity.” (Address to the Federal Assembly, 26 May 2004”.

RUSSIAN FEDERATION SITREP 23 DECEMBER 2021

Happy Christmas, so to speak, as it were, sort of. Let’s hope.

ULTIMATUM. Moscow has had enough. “Do they really think we do not see these threats [угроз]? Or do they think that we will just stand idly watching threats to Russia emerge? This is the problem: we simply have no room to retreat“. Excellent backgrounder from Doctorow. Here they are: draft USA/Russia treaty and draft Russia/NATO agreement. Short summary: after enumerating all the agreements these people have signed up to (remember all the stuff about “Rules-Based International Order”?) the drafts flesh out the principle that security is mutual. Neither should make the other nervous; if one party feels threatened, the issue will be resolved by negotiation. Neither is to station nuclear weapons outside its territory (which means the USA will have to pull back); no further expansion of NATO. Or to put it another way, USA/NATO must formally commit in writing to what they promised back then: “U.S. Secretary of State James Baker’s famous ‘not one inch eastward’… was part of a cascade of assurances about Soviet security given by Western leaders… according to declassified documents…”. Maybe Washington hears. USN seems to get it. We stand at the edge.

OR ELSE. All ultimatums have an “Or Else” – possibilities that I see. Two points – Russia will not “invade” Ukraine – it is a huge decaying, lawless, collapsed, unstable liability and Russia doesn’t want to rescue it, pay for it or police it. (This has been clear to me for years.) But it will respond powerfully to any foolishness from the Ukronazis. Second, stopping Nord Stream only costs Moscow money (it has plenty: USD620 billion-worth) but it will cost Germany much more.

TREATIES. There were four key Cold War arms control treaties, negotiated with much effort. The CFE Treaty controlled conventional weapons. The INF Treaty banned medium range nuclear weapons. START regulated the big nuclear weapons. Open Skies, the least of the four, allowed inspection flights (Moscow withdrew Saturday). All that remains is a feeble version of START. For all their deficiencies they kept the lid on things and created a level of trust and interaction. All were killed by Washington (blaming Moscow of course). This is part of Moscow’s motive to force a re-start.

KENNAN saw it all coming a quarter of a century ago: “a light-hearted action by a Senate that has no real interest in foreign affairs”.

GUNS. Since last Sitrep: super anti-submarine torpedo, Okhotnik dropping PGM, RPV shooting down helicopter target, mass production of Tsirkon begun, two new SSNs and two new Airborne regiments.

CORRUPTION. University report suggests extensive kickbacks in state contracts.

JUST NUKES AND OIL. A large maternity centre opened in Khanty-Mansi Region.

PUTIN PRESS CONFERENCE. I’ll cover it next Sitrep. Summary from Sputnik.

BATTLE ON THE ICE MEMORIAL. Check it out. Powerful. Speaking of Russia’s attitude today…

RUSSIA/CHINA. The two presidents talk (Kremlin) (Beijing). Xi: “China and Russia need to launch more joint actions to uphold the security interests of the two sides more effectively. China and Russia need to step up coordination and collaboration in international affairs, be more vocal on global governance”. Washington should understand that Beijing is a co-signer of Moscow’s ultimatum.

MH17. The Dutch “trial” hops along to its pre-ordained conclusion.

WESTERN VALUES™. CSIS comes to call. Knowing what my American colleagues went through, and knowing that when Shere Khan growls, Tabaqui obeys, I informed SCF that I would stop writing for them and thanked them – always published what I sent, never tried to shape it, never changed a word and always treated me right. More from Ron Paul’s site.

NUGGETS FROM THE STUPIDITY MINE. This takes the cake – boy oh boy when we do a whole bunch of stuff that there’s no way we ever will, you’ll be sorry then, you nasty people!

RUSSIA-UKRAINE RELATIONS. A Levada poll shows some interesting results. (Googlish) To me the most important finding is that about half of each think relations should be those of separate countries but without visa and customs barriers. (I suspect the Kremlin gets its views about Ukraine from sources like this rather than opeds in the WaPo or Guardian. Where does the White House get its do you suppose?)

UKRAINE. Zelensky likes to live dangerously – he’s shutting down the largest opposition party, attacked one of the plutocrats and decided to charge his predecessor with treason. Whole thing will probably blow up soon. In the cold.

© Patrick Armstrong Analysis, Canada Russia Observer

WE’VE SEEN THE ULTIMATUM, WHAT IS THE “OR ELSE”?

We are making it clear that we are ready to talk about changing from a military or a military-technical scenario to a political process that really will strengthen the military security… of all the countries in the OCSE, Euro-Atlantic and Eurasian space. We’ve told them that if that doesn’t work out, we will create counter-threats; then it will be too late to ask us why we made such decisions and positioned such weapons systems.

Мы как раз даем понять, что мы готовы разговаривать о том, чтобы военный сценарий или военно-технический сценарий перевести в некий политический процесс, который реально укрепит военную безопасность <…> всех государств на пространстве ОБСЕ, Евроатлантики, Евразии. А если этого не получится, то мы уже обозначили им (НАТО – прим. ТАСС), тогда мы тоже перейдем в вот этот режим создания контругроз, но тогда будет поздно нас спрашивать, почему мы приняли такие решения, почему мы разместили такие системы.

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Aleksandr Grushko quoted by TASS

Moscow has issued an ultimatum to USA/NATO. It is this: seriously negotiate on the issues laid out here and here. Some of them are non-negotiable.

Ultimatums always have an “Or Else” clause. What is the “or else” in this case? I don’t know but I’ve been thinking and reading other peoples’ thoughts and some ideas/guesses/suppositions follow. They are the order that they occurred to me. Whether Moscow has such a list in front of it or not, it certainly has many “counter-threats” it can use.

Why now? Two possible answers, each of which may be true. US/NATO have been using “salami tactics” against Russia for years; Moscow has decided that a second Ukraine crisis in one year is one thin slice too many. Second: Moscow may judge that, in the USA’s precipitous decline, this will be the last chance that there will be sufficient central authority to form a genuine agreement; an agreement that will avoid a catastrophic war. (The so-called Thucydides Trap).

Of course I don’t know what Putin & Co will do and we do have to factor in the existence of a new international player: Putin, Xi and Partners. Xi has just made it clear that Beijing supports Moscow’s “core interests”. It is likely that any “counter-threats” will be coordinated. The Tabaquis have responded as expected but maybe (let’s hope so) Washington is taking it more seriously.

Other commentaries I think are worth reading: Martyanov, Bernhard, Saker, Doctorow. The Western media is worthless as a source of independent thinking (typical clichéfest from the BBC – bolstered by The Misquotation) but maybe the WaPo shows that the wind is starting to blow from a different quarter: “The Cold War is over. Why do we still treat Russia like the Evil Empire?

To my CSIS readers: the world is at a grave inflection point and the West had better concentrate its attention. Moscow and Beijing don’t depend on me for advice and I’m not talking to them: regard this as one of the briefing notes that I used to write. Moscow is serious and it does have real “counter-threats”.

MILITARY MEASURES

  • Moscow could publish a list of targets in NATO countries that can and will be hit by nuclear or non-nuclear standoff weapons in the event of hostilities. These would likely include headquarters, airbases, port facilities, logistics facilities, ammunition dumps, military bases, munitions factories and so on.
  • Moscow could station medium and short-range nuclear missiles in Kaliningrad and Belarus. The latter requires agreement from Minsk but Belarus President Lukashenka has hinted that it will be granted. Moscow could then make it clear that they are aimed at NATO targets.
  • Moscow could station Iskanders and have lots of aircraft in the air with Kinzhals and let it be known that they are aimed at NATO targets.
  • Moscow could make a sudden strike by stand-off weapons and special forces that destroys the Azov Battalion in Eastern Ukraine. Moscow would see two advantages: 1) it would remove the principal threat to the LDNR and 2) it would change the correlation of forces in Kiev. It would also be a live demonstration of Russia’s tremendous military power.
  • Moscow could remind the West of the meaning of Soviet Marshal Ogarkov’s observation that precision weapons have, to a degree, made nuclear weapons obsolete. A prescient remark, somewhat ahead of its time 35 years ago, but realised now by Russia’s arsenal of hypersonic precision missiles.
  • The Russian Navy operates the quietest submarines in the world; Moscow could could make and publish a movie of the movements of some NATO ship as seen through the periscope.
  • I believe (suspect/guess) that the Russian Armed Forces have the capability to blind Aegis-equipped ships. Moscow could do so in public in a way that cannot be denied. Without Aegis, the US surface navy is just targets. Objection: this is a war-winning secret and should not be lightly used. Unless, of course, the Russian Armed Forces have something even more effective.
  • Russia has large and very powerful airborne forces – much stronger than the light infantry of other countries, they are capable of seizing and holding territory against all but heavy armoured attacks. And they’re being increased. Moscow could demonstrate their capability in an exercise showing a sudden seizing of key enemy facilities like a port or major airfield, inviting NATO representatives to watch from the target area.
  • The Russian Armed Forces could do some obvious targetting of the next NATO element to come close to Russia’s borders; they could aggressively ping ships and aircraft that get too close and publicise it.
  • Moscow could make a public demonstration of what Poseidons can do and show in a convincing way that they are at sea off the US coast. Ditto with Burevestnik. In short Moscow could directly threaten the US mainland with non-nuclear weapons. Something that no one has been able to do since 1814.
  • Does the Club-K Container Missile System actually exist? (If so, Moscow could give a public demonstration, if not pretend that it does). Either way, Moscow could publicly state that they will be all over the place and sell them to countries threatened by USA/NATO.

DIPLOMATIC/INTERNATIONAL MEASURES

  • Moscow could publicly transfer some key military technologies to China with licence to build them there.
  • Moscow could make a formal military treaty with China with an “Article 5” provision.
  • Moscow could make a formal military treaty with Belarus including significant stationed strike forces.
  • Moscow could station forces in Central Asian neighbours.
  • Russia and Chinese warships accompanied by long-range strike aircraft could do a “freedom of navigation” cruise in the Gulf of Mexico.
  • Moscow could recall ambassadors, reduce foreign missions, restrict movement of diplomats in Russia.
  • Moscow could ban all foreign NGOs immediately without going through the present process.
  • Moscow could recognise LDNR and sign defence treaties.
  • Moscow could work on Turkey, Hungary and other dissident EU/NATO members.
  • Moscow could give military aid to or station weapons in Western Hemisphere countries.
  • Beijing could do something in its part of the world to show its agreement and coordination with Moscow raising the threat of a two front conflict.

ECONOMIC MEASURES

  • Moscow could close airspace to civil airlines of the countries that sanction Russia.
  • Moscow could declare that Russian exports must now be paid for in Rubles, gold, Renminbi or Euros (Euros? It depends).
  • Moscow could announce that Nord Stream 2 will be abandoned if certification if delayed past a certain date. (Personally, I am amused by how many people think that shutting it down would cause more harm to Russia than to Germany: for the first it’s only money and Russia has plenty of that; for the second….)
  • Moscow could stop all sales of anything to USA (rocket motors and oil especially).
  • Moscow could announce that no more gas contracts to countries that sanction it will be made after the current ones end. This is a first step. See below.
  • As a second and more severe step, Moscow could break all contracts with countries that sanction Russia on the grounds that a state of hostility exists. That is, all oil and gas deliveries stop immediately.
  • Moscow could announce that no more gas will be shipped to or through Ukraine on the grounds that a state of hostility exists.
  • Russia and China could roll out their counter-SWIFT ASAP.

SUBVERSIVE MEASURES

  • Moscow could stir up trouble in eastern Ukraine (Novorossiya) supporting secession movements.
  • Moscow could order special forces to attack key nazi organisations throughout Ukraine.
  • Moscow could order special forces to attack military facilities throughout Ukraine.

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

But I’m sure that whatever “counter-threats” Moscow comes up with will be powerful and surprise the West. My recommendation is that USA/NATO take the ultimatums seriously.

After all, the Russian proposals really are mutually beneficial – their theme is that nobody should threaten anybody and if anybody should feel threatened, there should be serious talks to resolve the issue.

Security is mutual:

if all feel secure, then all are secure;

if one feels insecure, then none is secure.

As we now see: when Russia feels threatened by what USA/NATO do, it can threaten back. Better to live in a world in which nobody is threatening anybody and everybody feels secure.

George Kennan foresaw this a quarter of a century ago:

I think the Russians will gradually react quite adversely and it will affect their policies. I think it is a tragic mistake. There was no reason for this whatsoever. No one was threatening anybody else.

AMERICANS NEED A CONSPIRACY THEORY THEY CAN ALL AGREE ON

No subtlety of thought survives in the culture of unreason. Public space is populated with poseurs, cutouts, and imposters. Public discourse, with some exceptions, is much of the time not worth bothering with.

Patrick Lawrence: Obituary for Russiagate.

First published Strategic Culture Foundation

There is a conspiracy theory that the CIA put the very expression into general use to discredit alternate theories about the murder of President Kennedy. Perhaps that’s true – there is a CIA document – but the expression has been around for a long time. At any event it has become a slur to discredit political opponents. The accusation replaces rational discussion.

There have been actual conspiracies in history. There was a conspiracy to murder Caesar. And to murder Anwar Sadat. The Bolsheviks did conspire to take power and so did Guy Fawkes. Sometimes they succeeded – often surprising the conspirators – and sometimes they didn’t. Many times the conspirators thought the deed itself was all that needed to be done but Caesar was succeeded by Caesar and Sadat by his chosen successor. There are probably fewer conspiracies than people imagine but they do exist.

Conspiracy theories abound in the USA today. But, it should be made clear from the outset of this discussion that there are two different kinds of conspiracy theories – unacceptable ones and acceptable ones. An example of the first kind is the assertion that Trump was cheated of victory by vote-faking in key areas. The assertion is “baseless”, pushed by the “far-right-wing” and the “deluded“; has been “debunked” in detail; its so-called arguments are “bogus, none credible“; there is “no evidence” and so on. The full weight of the corporate media stands against this idea and it flourishes only in the undergrowth. Nonetheless, 29% of Americans in a March survey “completely” or “mostly” agreed that the election had been stolen from Trump (66% of Republicans, 27% of independents and 4% (!) of Democrats). So that particular conspiracy theory has significant support.

Other conspiracy theories are respectable: for example the one that the Russians got Trump elected in the first place. Loudly trumpeted by the corporate media for the entirety of his term, the indictment of a principal source of the famous dossier ought to have killed it. But no: to the believers the revelation that a key foundation of the conspiracy theory was a made-up and paid-for fraud makes no difference – “Even if every single word in the Steele dossier was wrong, that would not change the fact that the Russians sought to manipulate the US election“; “it wasn’t a hoax“; the fact that it was a fake was further proof that it was Kremlin-managed.

And so the American population is divided between those who think that Putin won the 2016 US presidential election and those who think Trump won the 2020 election. There is no common ground.

A lot has been written about conspiracy theories, the how and why of them – here’s one and there’s plenty more. But something that is seldom mentioned in these discussions is falsifiability. As Karl Popper argued, a real theory must be capable of being proved false. There must be some imaginable empirical datum that would disprove it. Sometimes, as with the addition of the Lorentz transformations to Newtonian/Galilean transformations, an old theory is proven to be accurate but incomplete. Sometimes an old theory is completely disproven as the aether theory was by the Michelson-Morley experiment. But all real theories are falsifiable. A scientific theory, in short, is true until someone proves that it isn’t. As Richard Feynman said: “Science is the belief in the ignorance of experts”. And, as another great physicist observed, these changes are not necessarily accomplished by rational argument: “A new scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents… but rather because its opponents eventually die.”

This principle can also be applied to conspiracy theories. For example, if it could be established that Dominion voting machines can not be connected to the Internet, that fact would be a fatal blow to one of the pillars of the Trump won story. Likewise, if it could be established that a fundamental source of the Dossier was a fake then a pillar of the Putin elected Trump story falls. A theory that cannot be falsified is nonsense. Likewise a theory whose believers will never accept any contrary evidence is nonsense. Q-Anon rolls on for years promising the Complete Revelation every tomorrow and the one after that; the Russiagate conspiracy theory rolls on mutating as required. The more contrary evidence, the more tightly believers cling to them. Actual conspiracy theories therefore are not falsifiable because they’re all conspiracy and no theory.

If they are falsifiable, therefore, “conspiracy theories” are theories; no modifier. The examples in the article cited above – Pizzagate, Q-Anon, Obama’s place of birth and Soros – all happen to be theories that violate conventional wisdom and therefore are tossed into the conspiracy theory bin by the conventionally-inclined. Typically, the author makes no mention of a conspiracy theory that occupied far more space and effort and had much greater effect on the real world than any of these. And that’s because Trumputin was conventional wisdom, pushed every day by the corporate media, and the others weren’t. Trumputin was said to have “a mountain of evidence” and “proof“; the others were dismissed without consideration.

In short, rather than using the useless expletive “conspiracy theory”, it would be more accurate to say that theories that run counter to conventional wisdom abound in the United States today. Some of them – Q-Anon – fail the test of falsifiability, others do not. Some have received enough attention to make them more or less probable, others have not. In this respect, it is appropriate to look at what Americans think of their mass media. To an older generation “I read it in the paper” meant something but a Gallup poll in October tells us that it doesn’t mean much today. Only 7% of US adults surveyed had a “great deal” of “trust and confidence” and 29% “a fair amount”; the “trusters” were outnumbered by the 29% who had “none at all” and 34% “not very much”; in 1997 the trusters were 53%. Does anyone expect that decline to reverse? Another poll says the USA ranks last in media trust of 86 countries. One more shows a major political division. No one should be surprised – the mainstream media was full of one conspiracy theory and ignored the other.

COVID-19 is another revelation that there are two separate islands of opinion. Take, for example, the simple factual question – yes or no – did Dr Fauci’s organisation fund gain-of-function experiments in the Wuhan laboratory? A rather important matter, one would think. Snopes, that reliable defender of the status quo, says “unproven” in May in a long-winded piece. Denied by Fauci in May: The NIH has not ever and does not now fund gain-of-function research in the Wuhan Institute of Virology.” Two Pinocchios said the WaPo. But finally admitted in October: “a top official at the National Institutes of Health has conceded that contrary to the repeated assertions of Dr. Anthony Fauci, the NIH did indeed fund highly dangerous gain-of-function research on bat-borne coronaviruses in the Wuhan Institute of Virology.” And more: “The annual report described the group’s work from June 2017 to May 2018, which involved creating new viruses using different parts of existing bat coronaviruses and inserting them into humanized mice in a lab in Wuhan, China. The work was overseen by the NIH’s National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, which is headed by Anthony Fauci.” And so May’s conspiracy theory became October’s fact.

Did the virus leak from these US-funded experiments? No one knows but it cannot be ruled out. As to Dr Fauci himself, he may have overreached by telling his critics that he represents science; when even the WaPo carries a piece entitled “Fauci Can’t Use Science to Excuse His Missteps” perhaps his best-before date is nearing. Despite the prayer candles. In this respect, the fate of Robert Kennedy’s book, The Real Dr Fauci, is indicative; it’s Number One on Amazon with 96% five-star ratings. This is the more remarkable because of the full-scale attack on him from the establishment media: he is “the dumbest Kennedy“; “race-baiting ‘documentary’ and disinformation to advance bogus theories and seed anti-vaccine sentiment“; “documented history of promoting debunked theories about vaccines“; banned on social media. Tucker Carlson, in “a new escalation of his anti-science rhetoric”, had an interview “with longtime anti-vaccine conspiracy theorist Robert F. Kennedy Jr.” Nonetheless, a lot of people are buying and reading it. These media campaigns don’t work as well as they used to. Indeed the 29% who had no trust at all probably believe the reverse of what the conventional media says. I know I do: if they’re all shouting the sane thing, I take it as a powerful indicator that the opposite is true. We should read Western media the way the Soviets read theirs.

However, there are unrelenting attempts to create conspiracy theories that all Americans can agree on. For years we have had the conspiracy theory that Putin is behind everything bad; in its current manifestation he’s about to invade Ukraine (or as the US Defense Secretary put it: “an incursion by the Soviet Union into the Ukraine“). Another fast-growing set of conspiracy theories focus on China, the “Wuhan lab leak” being one example. (Dangerous that because of Fauci’s funding of GoF research in Wuhan). China is about to invade Taiwan or starving Uyghers are forced to stuff themselves with pork or tennis players are disappeared; these conspiracy theories are safer. One of the principal pushers of the first conspiracy theory is switching to the other: he senses the change in the party line. And there’s always North Korea where the rats eat the babies and the babies eat the rats.

The China conspiracy theory seems to be working – a survey by the Reagan Foundation found that 52% saw China as the “greatest threat” to the USA (Russia well behind at 14% and North Korea just behind it at 12%). Three years ago Russia was 30% to China’s 21%. More striking is that China has gained twenty points since February. Can the Putin-won-2016/Trump-won-2020 divide be bridged by a Chinadunnit conspiracy theory?

But agreeing on a common enemy is one thing, the internal divisions are something else. In this respect the Reagan Foundation survey cited above is indicative. It finds that disbelief is spreading rapidly in the American population: trust in all institutions is dropping; confidence in the US military is dropping; support for active global leadership is dropping. A survey just now shows a slight majority of American youth regarding their democracy as in trouble. Not the strongest foundation for more foreign adventures.

A deeply divided country: there is no common conversation in the United States today – one person’s conspiracy theory is another’s truth.

GOODBYE TO SCF

Just sent this to SCF

As you can see from this, the threats that have silenced many of your American contributors will be coming to Canada soon.

I will no longer contribute to Strategic Culture Foundation. Thank you for your honourable behaviour and honesty. I am sorry to do this but it’s a case of force majeure. I’m too old to want to fight it.

Please give any remaining honorariums to this charity supported by the Rotary Club of St Petersburg.

Thank you.

NOTE 18 Jan 2022. And they did, bless them. They couldn’t get it to that charity but they donated 22 thousand Rubles to a children’s charity in Moscow. Honourable and reliable to the last. Thank you!

CSIS COMES TO CALL

About 1000 Tuesday morning (14 December 2021) a ring on the doorbell. A man with ID from CSIS told my wife he wanted to speak with me. When I went outside he said he had some questions about Strategic Culture Foundation. Many of my fellow contributors in the USA have been hassled by the – as they used to call them in the USSR – Organs; then the US government imposed heavy penalities if they continue to write for it because it decided it was a Russian intelligence front (without any evidence – but who needs that these days?) So I was quite testy. No freedom of speech any more? No, no, he said, nothing like that, just want to ask a few questions.

The questions were these:

  1. Has SCF ever suggested I write something in a certain way? I told him they had three times asked me to write on a subject – “Real Crickets, Fake News” and “The Abyss of Disinformation Gazes Into Its Creators” – but the third time I said I wasn’t interested. In the two cases I had written what I wanted to and they had changed nothing.
  2. Had they ever changed or re-written anything I’d given them? No I said. Not even corrected typos. And, I said the moment they do, I will stop writing for them – I am an independent operator. He knew I’d quit an outlet before that so I guess he’s read this.

When I was working I was a member of an interdepartmental intelligence committee on Russia for about ten years. This gave me acquaintance with the various Canadian intelligence organisations that dealt with Russia. I was profoundly unimpressed by CSIS. Did they, I asked him, still do “scanning”? Not familiar with that he said – well, I replied, some extremely dull CSIS guy used to bore us stupid with the CSIS scanning program without ever telling us exactly what it was. We eventually decided that it must have been a newspaper clipping service. He hadn’t heard about the person who was fired for faking his credentials whom CSIS then hired. Another CSIS guy was just so tremblingly excited about the CSIS building (a pretty snazzy one – most of us were in office plankton cubes) – he, as I recall, had little to contribute to our discussions except a knowing sneer. Not an impressive organisation at all and to think, I said, that it was wasting its time on me. Surely they had better things to do. Like the Canadian possibilities of this, maybe?

He of course believed that there was such a thing as Russian disinformation – should have challenged him to give a few examples. Although I did ask him if he believed the Steele Dossier, speaking of what US intelligence had passed off as true. Mumble mumble he answered (I think he realised that that wasn’t exactly a great starting horse any more.).

Just an informal, private discussion, no hard feelings, said he. No intimidation. Did I have any idea who ran Strategic Culture Foundation? I did not but didn’t think it was the Russian government – not smart enough, I told him: they still think RT is all they need to do. Some of the writers I’d spoken to had speculated that it might be funded by some Russian plutocrat (this guy?) who was sick and tired of all the dangerous BS pumped out about Russia. Crap that was in danger of getting us into a war. But, as I said here (and he showed that he had read it)

Strategic Culture Foundation hasn’t created something that didn’t exist before, it’s collected something that already existed. What do we writers have in common? Well, Dear Reader, look around you. Certainly we question The Truth. Or maybe SCF is a place where people “baffled by the hysterical Russophobia of the MSM and the Democratic Party since the 2016 election” can find something else? Or maybe it’s part of Madison’s “general intercourse of sentiments“?

I said the Americans were dumb enough to think Strategic Culture Foundation was funded by the GRU which, I emphasised, was and always had been a 100% military intelligence organisation. He thought they’d said SVR (the Russian foreign intelligence organisation). (I checked – he was correct, they do say SVR – it was the GRU they claimed had been behind the Steele Dossier or the whatever-it-was in St Petersburg during Russiagate. I’ve forgotten the details – Trumputin was such a Gish gallop of rubbish that it’s hard to remember what was taken as absolutely true one day and forgotten the next).

I reiterated several times that I wrote what I felt like, when I felt like it, and so far they’ve published everything I’ve sent them. They can refuse something, but the moment they change what I’ve written, I quit.

So when I’d vented enough, he went away saying I could call whenever I wanted – we’re in the book – and wishing me a good day.

So, fellow Canadians who dare to write for Strategic Culture Foundation or similar crimethink publications, the day is coming when you’ll get a visit from our guardians from MiniTru too. And, eventually, our independent Canada will independently do what it’s told to and impose heavy penalties on us for crimethink.

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

Who does run Strategic Culture Foundation? They pay the writers so somebody is putting money into it. I don’t know. I asked once and was told “a foundation”; which didn’t tell me much. I doubt it’s the Russian government – I can’t see it thinking that it’s cost-effective to pay for another miscellaneous opinion website. And, as I told him, it seems to think RT is worth the investment. (As for me, I can’t figure out what the point of RT is.) I bet on the plutocrat theory. Here’s some of the usual speculation – somebody who’s associated with somebody who knows somebody. Whatever: they’re all Russians so they’re all connected somehow. If you check, you’ll find that most of its stable of writers have been writing exactly the same stuff for years in other places. As I said above – SCF has just gathered them, it hasn’t created them. It publishes a pretty wide range – some things I read, other things I don’t bother to; like every other site, it varies in quality. I don’t much care who’s behind it: I write what I’ve always written and they (and other outlets) publish it. They change something or dictate something, or if I think the quality is slipping, I’ll take my business elsewhere; I’ve done it before.

Once again I observe that in the Cold War, they spent a lot of money and effort trying to stop their population from getting alternate opinions. Today we do. Pretty easy deduction about which side is confident that truth and reality supports it, isn’t it?

Why do we do it in a Russian outlet and not in a home outlet? Why don’t the NYT or Globe and Mail snap us up? We write lots and we’re cheaper than their usual scribes. Oh, I know, Russian disinformation. We didn’t puff the Steele Dossier; we wonder why novichok on the doorknob means that the roof has to be replaced; we don’t understand how Russia keeps invading Ukraine but can never get past Donetsk Airport; we ask why, if Moscow really wanted to interfere in the US election it fired a weak gun too late to make any difference. Writers for those outlets swallow everything whole. So, I guess, we who write for SCF do have a certain commonality of viewpoint; but that’s not because those sinister Russians make us do so, it’s because we did before it and will after it goes. And, what I wrote in the government was much the same as what I write now.

My point of view hasn’t changed since then – and here’s how I got here. A war with Russia won’t be fun for anyone and that’s where the mono-view of the Western media is taking us.

So, yeah, I am a loyal subject of Her Majesty – I don’t want her realm of Canada to be obliterated in a war we got into because we only heard one side of the story. So I contribute my moiety to the other side.

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

I mentioned a couple of things to him and he said he hadn’t heard of them. Given that he will probably be reading this, here they are.

RCMP entrapment thrown out of court in BC

Piece in Reuters about the power of neo nazis in Ukraine.

Piece in Christian Science Monitor ditto.

A Canadian’s experience training the AZOV Battalion to NATO standards

RUSSIAN FEDERATION SITREP 9 DECEMBER 2021

RED LINES. Eng. Rus. Putin lays them down: “we will insist on the elaboration of concrete agreements that would rule out any further eastward expansion of NATO and the deployment of weapons systems posing a threat to us in close proximity to Russia’s territory… we need precisely legal, juridical guarantees, because our Western colleagues have failed to deliver on verbal commitments…” What do you do when someone is threatening you, lying about you, breaking every agreement, getting closer and closer to you? Salami tactics: each step is small but there’s always another. Eventually some thin slice will be one thin slice too many. I think that this is the last time Putin & Co will ask; I really get the feeling that they’ve had enough. Read the speech yourself – the important bit is short and the Western propaganda mill will distort it. As the joke goes, it’s not a threat, it’s a promise. Kinzhals off the US coasts? Poseidons lurking at every port? Burevestniks in a holding pattern just offshore? How about these things? Destroy the Azov Battalion to illustrate will and capability?

PUTIN-BIDEN. Neither side is saying much about it (Kremlin, White House). Maybe the only significant outcome is this: “The two leaders agreed to instruct their representatives to engage in meaningful consultations on these sensitive matters.” Western propaganda predictable: “warning“, “warns” “confronts“, “strong response“. There are reports that Biden is telling Kiev to back off and Doctorow sees Western propaganda easing a bit. A NATO/Russia meeting is coming. The Saker is hopeful. Want my take? First tell me who’s in charge in Washington: all I see are bulldogs fighting under a rug and nothing to indicate that Washington is agreement-capable. Let alone Kiev which has yet to act on any part of the Minsk Agreement. Biden is capable of reading threats from a script but is he capable of the give-and-take of real negotiations? We’ll see.

INDIA. More significant was Putin’s visit to India. Joint statement (note “mutual settlement of payments in national currencies”). Lots of agreements signed; pretty widespread interaction.

DOESN’T MAKE ANYTHING. On Tuesday Moscow opened ten new Metro stations completing another piece of the 70-km Big Circle Line.

SWIFT. If Russia, China and the other “non-democracies” weren’t thinking of setting up their own system for moving money and credits around, they are now. (Of course they have – what we don’t know is how close they are to pushing the button and how much gold that button will have.)

AURUS. Interesting video on the development of the luxury Aurus car (and Putin’s ride). Has much to say about import substitution, Soviet engineering and Russian qualitative development.

PORTENTS OF THE END. Just watch this and weep. This guy is on the US Senate Armed Services Committee and is supposed to know something. Any US warship entering the Black Sea to “rain destruction” would have three or four minutes to detect and deal with a swarm of hypersonic missiles coming at it. As to nukes, Russia has them too. Crazy dangerous empty ignorant threats.

AMERICA-HYSTERICA. Media taking a “limited hangout” in reaction to the implosion of Trumputin. NUGGETS FROM THE STUPIDITY MINE. Nyah nyah, we’re not coming! But you weren’t invited.

STASIS. While a poll finds that 52% of Americans see China as the “greatest threat” to the USA, they have little confidence in much, not even the military. Another shows American youth pretty pessimistic. Not the strongest foundation for firing threats in all directions. Particularly when 30% think the POTUS is illegitimate and few believe the MSM. And Trump would beat Biden today says a poll.

BELARUS. Developments crawl along. Lukashenka promises a new Constitution for people to vote on soon next year. Suggests Russian nuclear weapons might be stationed in Belarus if NATO moves farther. And he promises to “team up” with Russia if it faces “aggression from Ukraine. Once again, Washington’s policy unites people against it.

TROLLING. Beijing trolls USA on democracy in US practice. Both Beijing and Moscow are getting less polite. Check out Lavrov’s picture and its probable meaning. The correlation of forces is changing.

EUROPEANS ARE REVOLTING. The new Norwegian government says it wants Norwegian forces patrol the border with Russia. Is this a way of saying “we don’t want our oafish provocative allies to do something that we’ll have to pay for?”. France isn’t joining in.

UKRAINE. Zelensky has begun actions against Rinat Akhmetov after accusing him of being behind the alleged coup attempt. Not likely to make his position stronger.

© Patrick Armstrong Analysis, Canada Russia Observer