RUSSIA, RUSSIA, EVER FAILING

First published Strategic Culture Foundation

One of the favourite delusions of the people Scott Ritter calls the “Putin whisperers” is that Russia or Putin – to them the two are synonymous – are always on the point of collapse and one more push will bring them down. To the sane, observing the development of Russia from 1991 to 2021, this conviction is crazy: Russia has endured and prospered. But, as I have said elsewhere, these people fit Einstein’s definition of insanity and forever repeat their failures: Ritter calls them “intellectually lazy”. They’re not Russia experts, they’re wrongness experts and constant practice has made them quite good at being wrong.

A recent example is a BBC documentary which I haven’t bothered to watch. I haven’t bothered because, after forty years in the business, I don’t have to: I know full well that BBC+Russia=clichés: bears, snow, unchanging horribleness and the confirmation of everything the BBC told you earlier. Bryan MacDonald has watched it and is especially amused by this line: “(However), some things in Russia change, like the seasons.” Paul Robinson describes the methodology: “talk to a few people, and then draw some sweeping conclusions“. In other words, just another piece of propaganda reinforcement typical of the species. Russia is always Russia: bad, smelly, stunted and vicious. Whether it’s spring, summer, fall or winter. As a Putin whisperer said in 1997

It is not prudent to deny or forget a thousand years of Russian history. It is replete with wars of imperial aggrandizement, the Russification of ethnic minorities, and absolutist, authoritarian, and totalitarian rule.

(This is from yet another screed on how to deal with Russia; compare it with Nuland’s a quarter century later: same old stuff – we’ve been too soft but if we add a withered carrot to the big stick, we’ll get them to do what we want. But at least Nuland recognises Russia’s military strength. Which, I guess, should be welcomed as some recognition of reality.)

One of my favourites, from twenty years ago, is Russia is Finished. But never mind what mere reporters write in newspapers and magazines – venues that in the pre-Internet days would have been forgotten after their final appearance as garbage wrap; the Russia is Finished delusion has taken root in more consequential soils. A senior member of the American apparat believes: “Inside the country, low oil prices, the coronavirus pandemic, and Russians’ growing sense of malaise all bring new costs and risks for the Kremlin.” She, or somebody of like opinion, is behind this statement from White House Press Secretary Psaki: “Well, I think the President’s view is that Russia is on the outside of the global community in many respects… What the President is offering is a bridge back. And so, certainly, he believes it’s in their interests to take him up on that offer.” Well, as to “outside”, in the first two weeks of April, Putin spoke with the leaders of Libya, Lebanon, Belarus, Finland, USA, Philippines, Turkey, Azerbaijan, Germany, Armenia, Brazil, Argentina, Vietnam, Mongolia and Saudi Arabia. Official Washington is as condescending as it is ill-informed.

A compendium of doom from the “experts”: Russia will fail in 1992, finished in 2001, failed in 2006, failed in 2008, failing in 2010, “rapid deteriorating economy” in 2014, failed or declining in 2015, failing in 2017, negligible economy and “rusted out” military in 2017 (“Russia’s coming attack on Canada” is an exceptional fount of worthless analysis: hardly a correct statement anywhere, starting with the sub-head), falling behind in 2018; headed for trouble in 2019. Russia’s isolation, ancient weapons, instability. A gas station masquerading as a country. Doomed to fail in Syria and losing influence even in its neighbourhood in 2020. One “expert” repeats himself as if the intervening decade had not passed.

But they repeat themselves because that’s what they do. They have one thing to say and they say it over and over again. Michael McFaul is an exemplar; read what he predicts and bet against it. “If Russia’s economy continues to grow at anemic rates, we should expect these anxieties about Putin’s current foreign policy course to grow” (2018); Russia could have been “strong and great” if only it had “integrated” with the West (2015); “a confident Putin and a confident Russia is no more” (2014). Anders Åslund is an ever-fresh source of wrongness: “The only person who needs a war with Ukraine is Putin. He presumably hopes to boost his minimal popularity through another war.” (2021). “Russia faces a serious – and intensifying – financial crisis. But the country’s biggest problem remains President Vladimir Putin, who continues to deny reality while pursuing policies that will only make the situation worse.” (2015) and, twenty years young: “Russia’s Collapse” from 1999. Mark Chapman gives more “glittering examples of Aslund reasoning“. This past, present and future failing is, of course, fatal for Putin. He is a killer without a soul and losing the battle for Russia’s future in 2021, a “weak strongman” in 2020, a “thug, bully and a murderer” in 2016, weak and terrified of losing control in 2015, a “virtual Lt. Col. Kije” in 2001 and a moral idiot in 2000.

The Wrongness Experts tell us it’s a big failure but, in the real world, he and his team have achieved quite a lot. His approval rating has not fallen below 60% in twenty years; the BBC tells us that Russia is heading for catastrophe but Russians tell us it’s “heading in the right direction“. (That’s, incidentally, about three times Americans’ assessment of their own future). The simple fact – impossible to get into the heads of the Putin whisperers – is that the Putin Team has done a good job and enjoys steady support. You’d agree too, if you lived in a country that was actually improving: just compare any Western country in 2000 with today and then do the same for Russia; it’s not hard to see. If you permit yourself to see, that is.

Even these dullards understand that a direct military confrontation might not be a good idea (I hope I’m not being premature: after all, in today’s White House, in one room they’re trying to get out of Afghanistan and in another they’re trying to get into more adventures near Russia.) So they recommend sanctions. We’re supposed to believe that each round of sanctions is a response to something Moscow did but the truth is that it’s not what Moscow does, it’s what Moscow is that’s the cause: the very day – 14 December 2012 – the Jackson-Vanik sanctions were lifted, the Magnitskiy sanctions were imposed. That is: from 3 January 1975 to today, for completely different ostensible reasons, Washington has been sanctioning Moscow.

Then after Crimea, more sanctions: Åslund misses the target again: “My view is that the sanctions are so severe that it’s simply not necessary to reinforce them further.” George Soros joined the Wrongness Experts when he confidently predicted Sanctions would bring “bankruptcy” by 2017. Nope: more sanctions, no bankruptcy.

In fact, sanctions, overall, have strengthened Russia because its intelligent government maximised substitution. As a small example, Canada used to have a pretty reliable half billion dollar market for pork in Russia, now Russia exports pork and Canada’s market is gone forever. In the 1990s, it was commonly estimated that Russia imported about half its food; now it is self-sufficient and earns more from food exports than from arms exports. That might have happened eventually, but it happened now because Moscow’s clever reaction was to ban most food imports and support its own farmers. (Remember when cheese was going to bring Putin down?) Europe’s – and Canada’s – loss became Russia’s gain. Washington, it should be noted, is careful never to ban imports that it wants like oil and rocket engines; sauce for the European goose is not sauce for the American gander. But the Putin whisperers, ever willing to reinforce failure, keep piling on the sanctions.

All these “experts” getting it wrong year after year is good for a laugh. But they always pop back up on the TV talk shows spouting the same old tripe. No one ever asks: Mr Expert, you’ve been wrong for twenty years, why should anybody take you seriously now? (Well once – check it out.) On and on it goes – being an Official Russia Expert is the easiest hornswoggle there is. But the Wrongness Experts don’t just clutter up the talk shows, they infest Washington, the White House, the Pentagon, K Street, the universities and the think tanks. They shape policy. We can laugh as we watch them fail again, but their under-estimation of Russia is very dangerous. We have just had an example. Ukraine President Zelensky, egged on by them, confident that mighty NATO had his back and that Russia was feeble, started moving troops and in March pompously decreed the “de-occupation of Crimea“. Within a couple of weeks Moscow had concentrated more soldiers and weapons in less time than NATO ever could anywhere. It was tense for a while but Moscow appears to have made its point and Zelensky is now begging for talks. Not so fragile; wrong again.

But the danger is that they will go too far. Scott Ritter thinks that the Putin whisperers have reached their high water level with the recent sanctions, Belarus coup attempt and tensions in Ukraine. I hope he’s right but I suspect that there is still more to come: they’ve made an easy living at this grift and they can’t change now. And it’s depressingly unlikely that they will be replaced by people who can see reality.

RUSSIAN FEDERATION SITREP 29 APRIL 2021

PUTIN SPEECH. Eng. Rus. Mostly domestic as usual but the foreign bits were memorable – in short: we’ve had enough. We will respond as and when we chose and we’ll do whatever we think we have to. And we’ll decide where the “red lines” are. I don’t think I’ve ever heard Putin make a threat before.

GEOPOLITICAL TECTONIC PLATES. They shifted quite a bit lately, haven’t they? In February Kiev starts moving heavy weapons east; next month Zelensky signs a pompous decree to “de-occupy” Crimea. Moscow moves more men and equipment in less time than NATO could dream of doing anywhere on the planet and makes it clear that it will use it. Wiser heads reflect; they back down. Zelensky now wants to talk. (Silly claims of victory from deluded parties in the West, but let them dream). So that’s it for now: Moscow has shown the world that Washington will fight to the last Ukrainian or Pole and that Moscow can and will respond with whatever violence is necessary. (I repeat my argument that Russia could certainly conquer Ukraine but doesn’t want to – speaking of “red lines”, note my last sentence.) Then there’s a coup attempt revealed in Belarus. The colour revolution was a flop so the next stage: assassination, power outages and cyber attacks on Victory Day followed by the usual appeals, interventions, fake governments and the rest. Except the security forces had it all on tape and the suspects are singing. (We can be confident Moscow and Minsk are telling the truth because of the silence in the West). The bounties story collapsed. Which raises the interesting question of why US intelligence would debunk it just as Biden had referred to it in his latest sanctions. (For your amusement a supercut of TV hairstyles – and Biden/Harris – pushing the story). Prague announces the sudden discovery that the Russians were responsible for an accident in 2014 at a weapons storage facility. On cue Bellingcat provides the “evidence” that the only two operatives the GRU apparently has dunnit. But neither the past nor present Czech President had heard of it – and you’d think they would have. (We already wonder who’s in charge in Washington and now must wonder who’s in charge in Prague.) Merkel insists Nordstream will be finished, Atlantic Council panics – time is running out. Is Washington trying to stop people using the Russian vaccine? There are indications of serious pressure being brought on Germany and Brazil at least (Czechia too?) – can’t let those pesky Russians “sow division” or gain a “propaganda coup”, can we? The neocons struck and they struck out. They haven’t given up because they can’t – that’s who they are – but I smell increasing desperation. Time is running out.

MOSCOW RESPONSE. We’ve already seen the reaction to Kiev’s moves – two corps (armies in Russian terminology) and several airborne units (and Russian airborne troops are not light infantry like the West’s) appear on the spot in a couple of weeks together with lots of air defence, division- and corps-level artillery, missile boats from the Caspian, landing craft, warships, submarines and aircraft. They’ve gone back to base now – some of them – but you may be certain that they can be back, thanks to the practice, even more quickly. (Why tell us about dummy weapons? To mess with NATO’s mind?) Moscow is about to declare some countries as “unfriendly” (Five Eyes for sure but who else?) and will cripple the operation of their Embassies by restricting (or blocking) their chance to employ locals (pretty essential to many operations). I don’t think Russian Embassies hire locals. There will be movement restrictions as well – no more chummy meetings with the “democratic opposition”. And as for the Tabaquis – the Czech Embassy has been reduced to almost no one. Moscow has lost its sense of humour.

BEIJING CLEARS ITS THROAT. Beijing is well aware that it’s on the hit list too and that if Moscow goes down it will be next. Not a formal alliance but “China and Russia will support each other in matters of protecting state sovereignty“. History note: France and Britain did not have a formal military alliance in 1914, but London was committed anyway.

PAPER PUSSYCAT. Pleased to see the GAO agrees with me: “Nearly 2 decades of conflict has degraded U.S. military readiness.” And the same applies to its allies. They spend the bucks but they don’t get the results. We just saw real warfighting capability in the host of Russian weaponry videoed on its way to the frontier. We can only hope that there are serious people in NATO who can see reality. And, further proof, from Israel, that the West does not have adequate air defence.

NUGGETS FROM THE STUPIDITY MINE. MI6 Chief says Russia is an “objectively declining power“.

MORE NONSENSE. Bulgaria imitates Czechia. Putin weaponises Syrian crickets.

UKRAINE. The non-existent nazis hold a parade. If you don’t recognise the symbol, look it up.

© Patrick Armstrong Analysis, Canada Russia Observer

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.)

“Russia is an objectively declining power economically and demographically,” Moore, the leader of the British foreign intelligence service, said in a rare The Sunday Times U.K. interview. “It is an extremely challenged place.”

I guess all that we can say is that intelligence isn’t. 25 April 2021

RUSSIA THE ETERNAL ENEMY QUOTATIONS

This is a classic: make up any old crap, when the Russians deny it, it’s proof.

Attributing such attacks, however, is imprecise, an ambiguity that Moscow takes advantage of in denying responsibility, as it did Thursday.

NYT on a story whose any old crap that particular time was how Russia was trying to steal vaccine information from other countries. 16 July 2020.

SUNBEAMS FROM CUCUMBERS: THE VIEW FROM THE KHANATE OF KAGANSTAN

First published Strategic Culture Foundation

We now have the complete set, so to speak. The Kakhans of the Khanate of Kaganstan have both spoken. The husband in A Superpower, Like It or Not and the wife in Pinning Down Putin: How a Confident America Should Deal With Russia; he, so to speak, is the theorist and she the practitioner. She, Victoria Nuland, is back in power as Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs. She is, of course, infamous for the leaked phonecall during the Maidan putsch. He, Robert Kagan, is one of the founders of the – what now has to be seen as ill-named – Project for the New American Century.

I mentioned Kagan’s piece in an earlier essay and found it remarkable for two things – the flat learning curve it displays and its atmosphere of desperation. PNAC was started in a time of optimism about American power: it was the hyperpower and nothing was impossible for it. Its role in the world should be, Kagan confidently wrote in 1996, “Benevolent global hegemony”. Washington should be the world HQ:

superpower, love it!

A quarter century later his message is:

superpower, endure it.

Quite a difference. Today “there is no escape from global responsibility… the task of maintaining a world order is unending and fraught with costs but preferable to the alternative”.

Kagan is at a loss to explain his difference in tone, or, more likely, he’s unaware of it. The reason, however, is quite easy to understand – failure. Washington followed the neocons’ advice into disaster: it’s been at war in Iraq and Afghanistan for two decades and it’s losing. The forever wars have come home: its economy is fading, its politics are shattered, its debt load is stunning, its social harmony is eroding. It’s not at the top of the hill any more. Brzezinski warned that a Russia-China alliance would be the greatest threat to US predominance but thought it could be averted by skilful diplomacy. Well, as it turned out, US actions (the word “diplomacy” is hardly applicable) drove Moscow and Beijing together and the strong domestic base that they all took for granted is crumbling. And, to a large extent, it has been the neocons, the wars they encouraged, the exceptionalism they displayed, the arrogance they embodied, that has created this state of affairs. Kagan should look in the mirror if he wants to know why Americans’ perception of superpower status changed from exultant opportunity to dreary duty.

With this background, we turn our attention to Nuland’s views about what should be done about Russia (“Putin’s Russia” of course – these people personalise everything). Her piece entertainingly marries stunning ignorance about Russia to stunning naïvety about prescriptions. There is no point in boring the reader by trudging through her nonsense, so I will just pick a few things.

Those three are enough – Victoria Nuland, for all that she pretends to superior knowledge, is absurdly unaware of the real situation in Russia. And it’s not as if it’s all that hidden, either: all the sources I mention above are in English and easy to find. In her world, Russia is guilty of everything Rachel Maddow says it is, including using cyberweapons against electrical grids.

What are her prescriptions? And, again, for someone who poses as an expert on Russia, they’re laughable. Her general theme is that Washington and its allies have let Putin get away with too much for too long and it’s time to take back control:

Washington and its allies have forgotten the statecraft that won the Cold War and continued to yield results for many years after. That strategy required consistent U.S. leadership at the presidential level, unity with democratic allies and partners, and a shared resolve to deter and roll back dangerous behavior by the Kremlin. It also included incentives for Moscow to cooperate and, at times, direct appeals to the Russian people about the benefits of a better relationship. Yet that approach has fallen into disuse, even as Russia’s threat to the liberal world has grown.

Whoever wins the U.S. presidential election this coming fall will—and should—try again with Putin. The first order of business, however, must be to mount a more unified and robust defense of U.S. and allied security interests wherever Moscow challenges them. From that position of strength, Washington and its allies can offer Moscow cooperation when it is possible. They should also resist Putin’s attempts to cut off his population from the outside world and speak directly to the Russian people about the benefits of working together and the price they have paid for Putin’s hard turn away from liberalism.

In short: reassert “leadership”, “resolve”, “position of strength”; the now familiar PNAC “strategy” that has failed for twenty-five years.

A few gems stick out.

  • “No matter how hard Washington and its allies tried to persuade Moscow that NATO was a purely defensive alliance that posed no threat to Russia, it continued to serve Putin’s agenda to see Europe in zero-sum terms.” No comment necessary or possible: this is just as solipsistic as describing a Russian military exercise in Russia as “Russia’s Military Drills Near NATO Border Raise Fears of Aggression“.
  • The US and its allies should continue “maintaining robust defense budgets”. As if they weren’t already hugely outspending Moscow. She knows they aren’t keeping up because she goes on to say they must spend more to “protect against Russia’s new weapons systems”. Perhaps the West’s behaviour has something to do with this? Perhaps a lot of the Western spending is a waste? No, too much for her: she can sometimes glimpse reality but her exceptionalism prevents her from seeing it.
  • “The one lesson Putin appears to have learned from the Cold War is that U.S. President Ronald Reagan successfully bankrupted the Soviet Union by forcing a nuclear arms race”. No, the lesson that Putin learned is that enough is enough and too much is too much. Brezhnev & Co didn’t get that. It’s the US that will bankrupt itself chasing down “full-spectrum dominance”.

But the most ridiculous suggestion is surely this:

With appropriate security screening, the United States and others could permit visa-free travel for Russians between the ages of 16 and 22, allowing them to form their own opinions before their life paths are set. Western states should also consider doubling the number of government-supported educational programs at the college and graduate levels for Russians to study abroad and granting more flexible work visas to those who graduate.

She seems to think that its 1990-something. But, in the real world it’s 2021. Russians have been to the West; Russians know about it; they travel; all over the place. If Nuland ever left her bubble she would see that every European tourist spot has Russian-language guidebooks. I read through her screed with growing contempt but that really sealed it for me: Victoria Nuland hasn’t got a clue. The truth is, that the more Russians see of the West, the less impressed they are. Just ask Mariya Butina.

Again a bit of reality leaks through, from time to time, but she is incapable of reflection:

The first order of business is to restore the unity and confidence of U.S. alliances in Europe and Asia and end the fratricidal rhetoric, punitive trade policies, and unilateralism of recent years. The United States can set a global example for democratic renewal by investing in public health, innovation, infrastructure, green technologies, and job retraining while reducing barriers to trade.

Actually, doing all this is quite a big job; a very big job; too big a job in fact. And, even if Washington were to seriously start “investing in public health, innovation, infrastructure, green technologies, and job retraining while reducing barriers to trade”, remedying the numerous deficiencies would take many years.

Another thing that she dimly perceives is the gap between Russian and American weapons capabilities. Of course she can’t see any connection between that and US/NATO behaviour or Washington’s forever wars: it’s just another nasty thing done by that nasty man in the Kremlin. However, it is actually encouraging that she knows, however dimly; it creates the possibility that she understands that an actual war with Russia would be a bad idea. So that’s something, anyway.

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

However, enough consideration of this ill-informed, complacent, unrealistic sunbeam. If this were a comparative treatise on the American extraction of sunbeams from cucumbers as contrasted with the failed attempts of the so-called savants of Laputa it would be amusing, but the author of this footling effort is a few arm’s lengths away from The Nuclear Button. It is not a joke.

The fading Imperium Americanum is influenced by dangerous ignoramuses like Nuland and her husband. Everything they have suggested has failed: they start in complacency, add to it ignorance and learn nothing; but they’re still there. It’s very frightening.

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

Speaking of “Putin’s information stranglehold”, Nuland’s essay is available at INOSMI translated into Russian and so is her husband’s. Russians can read this stuff and form their own opinions. “Putin’s disinformation campaigns” are so clever that they use real information.

We won’t tell you that they’re dangerous idiots;

we’ll let them tell you that they’re dangerous idiots.

RUSSIAN FEDERATION SITREP 15 APRIL 2021

UKRAINE-RUSSIA WAR. Lots of heavy stuff moving in Russia; especially big artillery systems: 2S4 heavy mortars, 2S7 long-range guns and Iskanders. (Powerful counter-battery fire would be both effective and semi-deniable). Stockpiles of equipment near Voronezh. Two armies (corps) plus airborne formations (probably more than NATO could field anywhere in real life; certainly never as quickly). What most impressed me were ships from the Caspian Sea Flotilla being transferred via the Volga-Don Canal. Never forget that the really important stuff is not visible – the Russians are the best at operational-level deception. A Ukrainian convoy by comparison – pathetic mix of civilian vehicles and elderly APCs. (Incredibly, despite all the genuine videos, CNN still fakes it.) NATO huffs and puffs; Blinken ditto; Berlin throws some cold water on Kiev. Ritter calls Kiev’s “NATO fantasy” a “suicide pill”.

AND THEN AGAIN, MAYBE NOT. Just reported that the two US warships will not enter the Black Sea; they are presently moored in Crete. Kiev changes its tune. Maybe the war hawks got the message: Moscow is determined, willing and more than capable.

BIDEN-PUTIN. At the US request, a phone call: White House take, Kremlin take. Biden talked tough (Ukraine, “cyber intrusions and election interference”), Putin mentioned Minsk agreement. No mention of Navalniy; I guess he’s passed his best-before date. Biden proposed a face-to-face meeting in a third country; I can’t believe that he will dare meet with Putin: look at his carefully scripted press conference. Probably won’t happen any way after this “national emergency” stuff.

INCOHERENCE. Killer, no soul but “stable and predictable relationship with Russia“; more sanctions (love the election tampering charge – they’re not even trying to make sense now) but mostly rational DNI report. Now a “national emergency“. The self-delusion in Washington is stunning: “Freedom and justice for all”. Who’s in charge? Whoever it is, Washington is not agreement-capable.

HOW TO FIX UKRAINE. My idea. Dmitry Orlov’s more interesting suggestion.

SPACE STATION. The ISS is coming to the end and Putin has signed off on plans to build a new one. I’ll bet China signs on.

ARCTIC. CNN excitedly discovers “huge Russian military buildup in the Arctic“; amusingly says “The Russian build-up has been matched by NATO and US troop and equipment movements.” Nope: Russia is far, far ahead of all the others: other than nuclear submarines, none has anything to compare.

SILENCE. Will be the sound that we hear in response to Lavrov’s call for a treaty banning weapons in space. (Not presumably to include the many communications and geo-locating satellites Russia and others already have up there. Bit of hypocrisy there: not weapons as such but necessary for many.)

HYPERSONIC. US test failure. The game of catch-up continues.

COVID. The EU’s vaccine rollout has been a dud and many countries are trying to obtain the Russian vaccine. CNN, for once, covers the issue reasonably evenly: reactions range from a welcome solution to the problem to those pesky Russians trying to divide us again. A German news outlet says Washington is trying to pressure Berlin and Korybko speculates that the tension in Ukraine may be related. One watches, somewhat dumbfounded – more evidence of things falling apart.

RUSSIA-TURKEY. I guess it’s time to teach Ankara another lesson: flights to Turkey have been severely restricted. Because of COVID; nothing to do with Ankara’s fiddling around in Syria or Ukraine. They say. Russian tourism is a big part of Turkey’s GDP. Moscow’s last shutdown brought results.

USA/AFGHANISTAN. Starting 1 May, all US troops to be out by 11 September. NATO’s too. Some questions: what about contractors, advisors, air power; but the biggest is how patient will Taliban be? – that’s another deadline passed. Neocons – Bolton, Haas, Boot – protest. The Pentagon too? We’ll see. Whether it happens then or later, the Afghans have defeated another mighty empire.

PUTIN DERANGEMENT SYNDROME. 111 things Putin weaponised. Where does he find the time?

STASIS. We get closer to what Scott Adams foresaw: Biden in the White House, belief that the election was rigged. Rassmussen poll: “A majority (51%) of voters believe it is likely that cheating affected the outcome of the 2020 presidential election.” What happens if that number grows to, say, two-thirds?

UKRAINE/USA. Foreign interventions have a nasty habit of coming home. “Far-right extremists see the war zone there as a laboratory where they can gain actual combat experience to bring back home.”

© Patrick Armstrong Analysis, Canada Russia Observer

AFGHANS SEE OFF ANOTHER EMPIRE

My answer to a question from Sputnik on Biden’s departure date from Afghanistan.

(Published here. I’m constantly fascinated by this “former diplomat stuff”. Yes I was a diplomat at the Canadian Embassy in Moscow from 1993 to 1996. That amounts to about 10 percent of my career. I held the rank of Counsellor which is a medium-senior rank. I was not the only one at that rank among the 50 or so Canadians there. I was never Charge d’Affaires which is the term for someone standing in in the absence of the Ambassador. And it is highly unlikely, as someone seconded to the Embassy from another Department (National Defence in my case), that I ever would have been. At the rate Sputnik retroactively promotes me — and I have many times asked them not to — I will soon be the longest-serving and most senior Ambassador in Canadian, or Galactic history. I much prefer “Former Analyst” or something like that.)

Well, the first fact is that Taliban has won. The second is that Taliban is not al Qaeda. It’s an Afghan phenomenon that has been radicalised thanks to 40 years of war.

Moscow and Beijing would probably have been happier with the Americans soaking up any jihadist hostility but they knew this was coming and are prepared. There’s a market for reconstruction there and they, especially China, will be able to take advantage of it.

For me the question is what happens between the Trump departure date and the Biden date: that’s about six months in which Washington can decide that the time is not quite yet right to leave or try and persuade NATO allies to stay. I would expect Taliban to hasten their departure; as we see in Iraq, US/NATO forces have supply lines that can easily be attacked.

It’s clearly a defeat for the US, whatever pitiful attempts are made to spin it in Washington: everyone knows that, once again, the Afghans have seen off a mighty empire. Baghdad, Damascus and Tehran will be heartened. 

THEY’RE NOT EVEN TRYING TO MAKE SENSE NOW

First published Strategic Culture Foundation

The US intelligence community published a report on 10 March, widely reported in the US free speech news media, on foreign interference in the US election (how many oxymorons so far?). The report establishes a new level of idiocy on the long-running “Russiagate” nonsense.

The idiocy began when Trump, campaigning, remarked that it would be better to get along with Russia than not. A sentiment that would not have surprised Presidents Eisenhower, Kennedy, Nixon, Reagan or any of the others who recognised that, like it or not, Moscow was a fact. A fact that had to be dealt with, talked to, negotiated with so as to produce the best possible result. Why? Well, apart from the diplomatic reality that it is better to get on with your neighbours, the fact that the USSR/Russia was a nuclear power that could obliterate the USA was adequate reason to keep communications alive. If relations could be improved, all earlier US Presidents would agree, so much the better. But for Trump – the outsider – to dare to say so was an outrage. Or more accurately, a hook on which to hang enough simulated outrage to cost him the election. Then, upsetting all expectations, he won. Immediately pussy hat protests, blather about tax returns, Electoral College speculations, 25th Amendment, psychiatrists opining unfitness (COVFEFE: Bizarre Trump Behavior Raises More Mental Health Questions): an entire industry was created to get Trump out, or, if he couldn’t be got out, then at least prevented from doing any of the things he campaigned on. All the swamp creatures were mobilised. The most enduring of these efforts was the Russia allegation. A Special Counsel was created to investigate Russia, Trump and the election. Leaks from this and other investigations fuelled outrage and talk shows.

One of the indications that the story was actually an information operation and not based on fact was its imprecision. Was Trump merely too friendly with Putin, or was he his puppet? Was Trump just a fool to think that relations with Russia could be improved, or was he following instructions? In short, was he a dupe or a traitor? How exactly had Russia interfered in the election and to what effect? Had a few voters been influenced or had the result been completely determined by Moscow? In short was Moscow running the USA or just trying to? Proponents of these crackpot theories never quite specified what they were talking about – it was all suggestion, innuendo, rumours and promises of future devastating revelations. Some of the highlights of the campaign: Keith Olberman shouting Russian scum! Morgan Freeman solemnly intoning that we were at war, and, night after night, Rachel Maddow spewing conspiracies. Some media headlines: Opinion: Here are 18 reasons Trump could be a Russian asset. Trump is ‘owned by Putin’ and has been ‘laundering money’ for Russians, claims MSNBC’s Donny Deutsch. Mueller’s Report Shows All The Ways Russia Interfered In 2016 Presidential Election. A media firestorm as Trump seems to side with Putin over US intelligence. Trump and Putin, closer than ever. All signs point the same way: Vladimir Putin has compromising information on Donald Trump. And so on. Four years of non-stop nonsense promising, tomorrow, or the next day, the final revelation that would disgrace Trump and rid the country of him forever: my personal favourite is this mashup of TV hairstyles telling us that the walls were closing in. Information war. Propaganda. Fake news.

All this despite the fact that the story as presented simply made no sense at all. As I pointed out in December 2017, if Moscow had wanted to nobble Clinton, it had far more potent weapons at its disposal than a too-late revelation of finagling inside the DNC.

And it wasn’t just TV talking heads; the US intelligence community participated. There were two laughable “intelligence assessments”. The DHS/FBI report of 29 December 2016 carried this stunning disclaimer:

This report is provided “as is” for informational purposes only. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) does not provide any warranties of any kind regarding any information contained within.

The DNI report of 6 January 2017 devoted nearly half its space to a four-year-old rant about RT and admitted that the one Agency that would really know had only “moderate confidence”. In short: ignore the first report, and don’t take the second one seriously. Were people inside these organisations trying to tell us it was all phoney? No matter, the anti-Trump conspiracy shrieked out the reports immediately.

One by one, it fell apart. Mueller, despite the prayer candles, came up with nothing. The “Dirty Dossier” was a fraud. The impeachment for something that Biden actually did failed. These dates should be remembered – Crowdstrike CEO Shawn Henry told the House committee that he had no evidence on 5 December 2017; this classified testimony was not made public until 7 May 2020. Simply put: the key allegation, the trigger for all the excitement and investigations that followed, was a lie, many people knew it was a lie, the lie was kept secret for 884 days. But the lie served its purpose.

There were no investigations of this fraud, only pseudo investigations that went nowhere. When the Republicans had a majority on the House of Representatives there were serious investigations but the testimonies – like Henry’s – were kept secret because they were “classified”. When the Democrats gained control, there were continual boasts that the evidence of collusion was overwhelming, but nothing happened either. Trump’s first Attorney General recused himself and the investigation was conducted by the conspirators. His second Attorney General promised much, set up a Special Counsel, but nothing happened. Well, not quite nothing: a junior conspirator had his knuckles rapped for faking a FISA warrant. In short, the Deep State ran the clock out: the swamp drained Trump.

Ran it out quite successfully too: relations with Russia got worse and Trump himself was hamstrung. His orders were ignored everywhere: on investigating the conspiracy and on removing troops; here’s an insider telling us that the Pentagon ignored his orders on Afghanistan. He was stonewalled on Syria: “We were always playing shell games to not make clear to our leadership how many troops we had there.” The “most powerful man in the world” was blocked on almost every initiative and the long false Russia connection story was a powerful weapon in the conspiracy to impede his attempts to change course.

In 2021 Trump left office and there was no need to mention any of it again. But here’s where it gets really stupid. In December 2020, the NYT solemnly told us: Russian Hackers Broke Into Federal Agencies, U.S. Officials Suspect: In one of the most sophisticated and perhaps largest hacks in more than five years, email systems were breached at the Treasury and Commerce Departments. Other breaches are under investigation. At the same time we were equally solemnly told by US officials “The November 3rd election was the most secure in American history”.

In short, we are supposed to believe that

in 2016 the Russian hacked nothing but the election

and in 2020 they hacked everything but the election.

How stupid do they think we are? Even stupider evidently. Instead of retiring the Trump/Russia/collusion/interference nonsense when it had achieved its purpose, the Intelligence Community Assessment on Foreign Threats to the 2020 US Federal Elections takes us right back down the rabbit hole. I haven’t read it and certainly don’t intend to (see oxymoron above), but Matt Taibbi has and eviscerates it here; he’s read far enough to have mined this gem “Judgments are not intended to imply that we have proof that shows something to be a fact”. (Is this a hint from insiders that it’s all fake?) The report claims that Putin authorised, and various Russian government entities conducted, a campaign to denigrate Biden. Specifically by using Ukrainian sources to talk about corruption of Biden and his son Hunter; despite the video of Biden boasting about firing the investigator, we’re assured that this is all disinformation. And the consumers of the NYT and CNN will believe what they were told. Or, actually, will believe what they weren’t told: the media kept quiet. (Now that’s interference and interference that actually might have changed votes.) The report goes on to say that China did something or other and Iran, Hezbollah, Cuba and Venezuela also chipped in. But fortunately no foreign actor did anything to affect the technical part of the election.

The US security organs expect us to believe,

giving no proof,

that there was lots of malign activity

which had no effect on the election whatsoever.

Which is telling us they think we’re even stupider. Russia swung the election four years ago but forgot how to this time? Putin’s attempt to keep Trump in was blocked by security measures adopted when his tool was President? This time Putin wanted Biden in? Russia’s efforts on behalf of Trump were countered by China’s on behalf of Biden and Iran’s interference broke the tie? But then, information operations don’t have to make sense, they just have to create an impression: Russia, China, Iran and Venezuela do bad things to good people.

Oh, and the latest is that Moscow cultivated Trump for over 40 years, Imagine that: in 1980 they were so perceptive as to see the future importance of a property developer; who’ve they got lined up in the wings now? And Rachel Maddow is back at the old stand pushing some conspiracy theory about Trump, Putin and COVID. I guess it’s not yet time to put away the tinfoil hats.

As I have said before, English needs a whole new set of words for the concept “stupid”: the old ones just don’t have the power any more.

RUSSIAN FEDERATION SITREP 1 APRIL 2021

RUSSIA AND EUROPE. A Levada poll finds the number of Russians – specially the young – who regard Russia as a European country has nearly halved since 2008. Russia is not part of European civilisation in my opinion, but many Russians think it is and they expected to be welcomed home when the USSR went away. Hopeful signs at the beginning were quickly replaced with NATO expansion, hostility, accusations, sanctions and so on. Russians are getting the message. The significance of this is is that many people – and some Russians – regarded Russia as a European country but a defective one; a delinquent who had to be lectured, cajoled and spanked into proper behaviour. Russians who think of themselves as European are prepared to put up with a certain amount of this, but Russians who see Russia as a civilisation-state are not. “For fifty years, secretly and openly, we wanted to live like you, but not any longer.” Original should be read (Googlish) if you want a real Russian perspective.

NEW NWO. Borrell in Moscow, China in Alaska. “The United States does not have the qualification to say that it wants to speak to China from a position of strength.” The Western side opened with the list of “crimes” against the “Rules Based International Order”, in each case the charges were contemptuously thrown back. Once China and Russia were prepared to endure the lectures to get to the real business; but no longer. See “Illegal US Operations” from the MFA. Does not have the qualification. The correlation of forces is changing but the West’s rulers keep doing the same things, previous failure teaching nothing.

WESTERN VALUES™. Remember “rule of law”? Taking a beating these days, isn’t it? Here’s another to add to Meng, MH-17 trial, Assange and Butina. Russians notice: “You and your so called ‘values’“.

FAKE NEWS. A good example of how enmity is implanted by Western propaganda. The headline from the BBC: “Nato intercepts Russian planes ’10 times in a day‘”. Further down we learn “the Russian military aircraft never entered its member states’ airspace”. We are told their transponders were off which could be dangerous, we are not told that NATO refused Moscow’s suggestion that military flights in tight areas leave their transponders on; we are not told how many NATO flights there have been around Russia lately. And so the impression is created that Russians are bad people doing bad things to good people just because they are bad people.

RUSSIA/CHINA. A Levada poll shows Russians’ views of China – pretty favourable. I reiterate that while alliances are based on shared enemies, the relations between the two are deepening and widening all the time. Moving away from Washington-controlled trade systems will be the new emphasis apparently. I would expect, given that neither is prone to boasting, that the two are much farther along on payment independence than they say.

RUSSIA AND COVID. Putin has taken a vaccine and one is being developed for animals.

TRUMP BUYS PUTIN’S PALACE. Ummm… check the date, folks. (Fun to see how far this travels.)

PROBLEMS WITH THE NARRATIVE. Fresh sanctions may barely dent Fortress Russia. Some of the usual ignorance (“Since 2014, Russia has fallen off the list of the world’s ten largest economies”) but far better than most. This also is an attempt to re-think things, but again hobbled by Western arrogance.

AMERICA-HYSTERIA. You’d think now that the Russia/Trump story had served its purpose, they’d stop it. You’d be wrong: apparently, in 2016 the Russian hacked nothing but the election and in 2020 they hacked everything but the election.

STASIS. Civil war in Atlantic council: can’t suggest even the slightest change in behaviour towards Russia. WaPo tells us that China’s rise is exactly the kind of threat NATO exists to stop; that’s absurd – China has taken advantage of American outsourcing its manufacturing, hardly a problem for guns to solve. Putin’s a killer without a soul: pointless outgassing from the weak.

NUGGETS FROM THE STUPIDITY MINE. The ignoramus actually says it.

UKRAINE. Drunken nazis popping off mortar bombs into residential areas, but no real war. US propaganda organs are winding themselves up. Maybe the Russians have sent enough signals to make even the war-crazed in Kiev and Washington think twice. EW equipment in Donbass. Artillery exercise. Disappeared submarine in Med. Paratroop exercise in Crimea. Belarus-Russia exercise. All Black Sea Fleet subs at sea. Second disappeared submarine. Lots of ships in the Med. AD exercise in Crimea. Also a great deal of activity in Syria. And, just for fun, submarines in the high Arctic. So maybe nothing will happen. But, for sure, Moscow’s response will stun everybody.

© Patrick Armstrong Analysis, Canada Russia Observer

WHY DO THEY KEEP DOING IT?

First published Strategic Culture Foundation

Einstein is said to have observed that insanity is doing the same thing, over and over again, and expecting a different result. What a perfect description for US foreign policy since the end of the Cold War. Two decades in Iraq and Afghanistan is not enough: keep doing it. Sanctions on Russia haven’t made any difference, keep doing them. Beijing is not the least deterred by “freedom of navigation” cruises, keep doing them. Iran won’t bend to Washington’s will, keep doing the same thing.

One of the ur-neocons figured out what the problem is. Even if he didn’t realise he had: “Robert Kagan Diagnosed America’s Biggest Problem: Americans Who Don’t Want To Run the World“. What’s interesting about Kagan’s piece, actually, is the tinge of depression that runs through it – he’s actually at one of the stages of grief. When the PNAC project was announced in 1997, it was very confident indeed: its founding document – also by Kagan – Toward a Neo-Reaganite Foreign Policy – laid it out

What should that role be? Benevolent global hegemony. Having defeated the “evil empire,” the United States enjoys strategic and ideological predominance. The first objective of U.S. foreign policy should be to preserve and enhance that predominance by strengthening America’s security, supporting its friends, advancing its interests, and standing up for its principles around the world.

The enormous web of the global economic system, with the United States at the center, combined with the pervasive influence of American ideas and culture, allowed Americans to wield influence in many other ways of which they were entirely unconscious.

And so on. The US was powerful enough to do it; it could do it; it should do it: the ruler of the world – all-benevolent and all-powerful. This was the flavour of the time: History had stopped moving, the liberal order was the future, everybody knew it. Washington “stood taller and saw farther“. It was the indispensable nation.

Kagan’s piece this year – no doubt penned to celebrate the departure of Trump and the return of his wife to power – was titled A Superpower, Like It or Not. The title itself gives a hint of doubt – no longer a proud assertion, it’s a defiance.

The only hope for preserving liberalism at home and abroad is the maintenance of a world order conducive to liberalism, and the only power capable of upholding such an order is the United States.

Two decades earlier it was the promise of a better world, now it’s the fear of a worse. Obviously so – not that Kagan sees it this way – but obviously nonetheless: the past two decades have not been successful for the project. Kagan’s unacknowledged fear of the worse is hammered home again and again:

The time has come to tell Americans that there is no escape from global responsibility… the task of maintaining a world order is unending and fraught with costs but preferable to the alternative.

The US is sitting on a dragon and it daren’t get off or the dragon will kill it. But because it can’t kill the dragon, it must sit on it forever: no escape. And dragon’s eggs are hatching out all around: think how much bigger the Russian, Chinese and Iranian dragons are today than they were a quarter-century ago when Kagan & Co so confidently started PNAC; think how bigger they’ll be in another.

A dispiriting state of affairs – not that Kagan is capable of perceiving it. Past failures – like the Iraq war – are brushed off as “relatively low cost” because their failure cannot be admitted: the wars must trudge on. And what’s Kagan’s advice to his fellow Americans? They must get used to shipping their children off to the forever wars because the alternative is worse. No “benevolent global hegemony” now, just sitting on dragons forever. A very gloomy outlook indeed. Doing the same thing over and over again hoping for a different outcome.

Take Russia, for example. I’ve written elsewhere about the American obsession with Putin, its complete ignorance of what’s happening in Russia. Russia and China are listed routinely as Washington greatest enemies/opponents and Russia has been on that list for a long time. NATO has expanded, Russia has been accused, Russia has been sanctioned. But Russia is still there and more powerful than ever – quite a large dragon now. To say nothing of China, a mighty dragon indeed. Here’s their latest piece of wishful thinking – separate Moscow and Beijing, maybe they can bribe Moscow by letting it have Ukraine. Andrei Martyanov eviscerates this bird-brained attempt to emulate Kissinger and Nixon.

Can one venture the thought that the Kagan/PNAC strategy of hegemonic aspirations based on military power isn’t working very well and that US auctoritas is receding? From another ur-neocon source, the Atlantic Council, two writers dare to suggest that Washington should change the way it deals with Moscow: “a reality check” they call it. A minor change; well hardly any change, really. No attempt to use their supposed better vision to ascertain Moscow’s view of things, or try to envision what Moscow might want, no discussion of what Moscow regards as its grievances; no, none of that:

Instead, the Biden administration should seek to build a less aspirational policy toward Russia, minimize the use of sanctions, and look for incentives that might induce Moscow to take steps in line with US interests.

Different means, same ends. Russia is still bad, “human rights” are something from the US Patent Office. (Obviously the authors haven’t seen the video about police violence that Moscow is passing around.) Again the tedious assumption of superiority – indispensability – only a dim realisation that lecturing all the time isn’t working and an occasional carrot should be added to the mix. But Moscow still has to be pushed into line.

But even this milquetoast suggestion outraged twenty-two of their colleagues who issued a rebuff: “misses the mark… premised on a false assumption … disagree with its arguments and values and we disassociate ourselves from the report”. Absolutely no reason to change anything, keep doing the same thing; bound to be a different result this time. Let’s try sanctions again on the latest excuse; didn’t work before, maybe they will this time. But the more sanctions, the stronger Russia gets: as an analogy, think of sanctions on Russia as similar to the over-use of antibiotics – Russia is becoming immune.

Has there ever been a subject on which people have been so wrong for so long as Russia? How many times have they said Putin’s finished? Remember when cheese was going to bring him down? Always a terminal economic crisis. A year ago they were sure COVID would do it. A US general is in Ukraine and Kiev’s heavy weapons are moving east but, no, it’s Putin who, for ego reasons – and his “failing” economy – wants the war. Why do they keep doing it? Well, it’s easy money – Putin (did we tell you he was in the KGB?) wants to expand Russia and rule forever; therefore, he’s about to invade somebody. He doesn’t, no problem, our timely warning scared him off; we’ll change the date and regurgitate it next year. In the meantime his despotic rule trembles because of some-triviality-of-the-moment. These pieces write themselves: the anti-Russia business is the easiest scam ever. And there’s the difficulty of admitting you’re wrong: how can somebody like Kagan, such a triumphantasiser back then, admit that it’s all turned to dust and worse, turned to dust because they took his advice? Much better to press on – it’s not as if anybody in the lügenpresse will call him out or deny him space. Finally, these people are locked in psychological projection: because they can only envisage military expansion, they assume the other guy is equally obsessed and so they must expand to counter his expansion. They suspect everybody of suspecting them. Their hostility sees hostility everywhere. Their belligerence finds belligerence. The hyperpower is forever compelled to respond to lesser powers. They look outside, see themselves and fear; in their mental universe the USA is arrogantly strong and fearfully weak at the same time.

Their learning curve is absolutely flat – the USA must expand into the South China Sea to stop Chinese expansion, expand up to the borders of Russia to stop Russian expansion, expand into the gulf to stop Iranian expansion, expand into Africa because someone else might want to expand there. All of it wrapped in sickening protestations of innocence – read any State Department briefing on Venezuela – like this one from 25 February:

international champions standing up for democracy… human rights… calling for a return to democracy… accountability for these human rights abuses… millions of Venezuelans are suffering.. support the democratic aspirations of the Venezuelan people.

In their minds the USA has to move far away from its borders to defend itself; they cannot comprehend that other powers see Americans at their borders as aggression. The mighty USA is the blameless victim of other countries’ suspicions. Anyone who dares suggest trying something else is de-platformed, scorned and calumniated – we must keep failing because we cannot succeed. It’s repeated by all the West’s rulers: the walking dead.

There’s a historical curiosity here. Five hundred years ago Columbus had an idea that you could sail west to China, and he hawked it around the capitals of Europe looking for someone to bankroll him. He was wrong, as all educated people knew: China was to the west all right, but any ship would have run out of food and water and all the crew died of scurvy long before it travelled 180 degrees of latitude. Finally he found a backer, discovered the Americas (going to his death certain it was China) and all else followed. About fifty years earlier, the Chinese sailor Zheng He made enormous voyages of discovery. But the new Emperor wasn’t interested and that was that. One of the strengths of Europe in those days was its diversity – Columbus failed to sell his idea to Portugal, Genoa, Venice, England but, finally, Spain took the bet. Of the many fish in the European pond, he needed to catch only one. China, centrally ruled, had only one and his no was final.

In the West, and especially the USA, today, we observe an inability to imagine, understand, come to terms with or tolerate difference. The “diversity” being pushed today all over the West is the pseudo-diversity of different faces with the same approved thought. Today it’s the West that insists on the uniformity of the so-called Rules-Based International Order (the West makes the rules and gives the orders) while it’s China that calls for “seeking harmony without uniformity“.

The Kagans dimly perceive that things haven’t gone quite the way they were supposed to but they have no idea of what to do except more of the same. Zombies.