WEAPONISED COURTS

First published at RT with some additions and deletions and hyperlinks stripped out.

A Dutch court has just reversed an earlier Dutch court ruling which reversed an earlier Dutch court ruling. Russia had been sued by a company representing Yukos shareholders. The latest iteration, reversing the reversal and taking us back to the original judgement, demands Russia pay $50 billion. (Yukos was nationalised on the grounds of failure to pay tax arrears after the arrest of its CEO for tax evasion.)

What should Moscow do? It has appealed but perhaps it should think about whether it still wants to play the game. Let’s look at the behaviour of other Dutch courts. Slobodan Milošević appeared at the Hague charged with crimes against humanity, genocide – the full package – in 2001. And quite rightly said most Westerners – had not their media had already named him the “butcher of the Balkans“? In 2016 the International Court of Justice ruled that perhaps he hadn’t been as guilty as all that. Too late: Milošević had died in his prison cell ten years before, the trial still rolling on. The Netherlands is in charge of the investigation into the destruction of the MH-17 flight over Ukraine in 2014. Again we had immediate Western news assertions that Putin and Russia were responsible and the personal assurance of John Kerry that US intelligence resources had watched the whole thing. And it’s been a fact-free Gish gallop ever since. After several investigations, suspiciously dependent on Ukrainian intelligence sources, social media and Bellingcat, with no one asking where the “we saw it” was, the trial of four individuals began in March 2020 and has been proceeding at the same comfortable pace as the Milošević trial. In 2018 Ukraine, without the least suspicion of a chain of evidence, produced some missile parts that it claimed were from the SAM that was said to have shot the plane down. The parts had numbers, numbers can be traced and the missile factory traced them. They were parts of a missile shipped to an AA unit in the west of the Ukrainian SSR in December 1986. The judges decided that the documents were irrelevant because while they “may say something about where the missile was between [19]86 and 91, but they say nothing about where the missile was in July 2014“. (Presumably a daring raid from Donetsk to an ammo dump in western Ukraine had happened; which nobody noticed.)

So one might ask what Russia can expect from any trial held in the Netherlands except an interminable process until the defendant dies.

Russians might then turn their attention to the practice of the rule of law in other Western countries today. Meng Wanzhu is approaching her third year of house arrest in Canada. Julian Assange has been in one of the most severe British prisons for eighteen months and is approaching the second year of his trial. Mariya Butina: in a US prison, often in solitary, on very questionable charges. Venezuela stored its gold in London for safekeeping but can’t have it back (that judgement reversed for now). Or Frédéric Pierucci. Or the EU sanctioning Russia because it couldn’t prove its innocence of the latest accusation. A big fine in a Polish court over the Nord Stream pipeline. The open-ended CAATSA. Russian observers might be forgiven if they regarded this as not rule of law but war of law – lawfare.

Moscow has generally played the game and accepted Western Court rulings: and sometimes, they’ve gone its way: for example the European Court of Human Rights ruling of 2011 that the case against Khodorkovskiy had not been politically motivated. But, given the relentless cascade of accusations – redoubled in the past five years – perhaps Moscow should reconsider on the grounds that Western “justice” will never give it a fair shake.

Will it do so? Well, there have been some hints. At the Valdai conference Foreign Minister Lavrov said that Russia no longer looked to Europe as an example and was not going to be its vassal. The Constitution was recently amended to make Russian law primary. These would appear to be clues that Moscow is at least pondering the conclusion that Western courts are a weapon and. A pity, but there it is. As Margarita Simonyan said:

For fifty years, secretly and openly, we wanted to live like you, but not any longer. We have no more respect for you…

RUSSIAN FEDERATION SITREP 19 NOVEMBER 2020

KARABAKH. This ceasefire should last. Russian troops have been moved to the points of contact and secure the road link from Karabakh to Armenia proper. (Deployment positions and General Staff briefing). Baku recovered a lot of territory that had been taken in the first war and can justifiably claim to have won. Armenia, which officially was not involved at all, under its present somewhat colour revolution leadership has lost – but avoided a greater defeat – and Pashinyan is now under considerable pressure to quit. Ankara has once again extended itself but come up short. Moscow has demonstrated that it is the indispensable element in the area. However, it is important to recognise that the final status of Karabakh itself remains undecided and this will be a difficult problem to solve. But it will likely be settled with Moscow’s efforts and not that of outsiders.

NO MORE EMPIRE. Dmitriy Trenin explains to Americans that Russia is just Russia. Moscow knows exceptionalism is a waste and that empire is too.

COVID. A curfew in Moscow at 2300. Phase III trial results of the vaccine are said to be good. To my cynical surprise, Reuters has pretty balanced coverage of the Western reaction to the Sputnik vaccine.

E-VISAS. A quick, easy and cheap visa system goes into effect next year for citizens of 52 countries. None of the “Five Eyes” is included. This move has been in the works since the great success of the quick visas for the World Cup.

ISS. Russia finally loses its taxi monopoly.

RED SEA. It is reported that a small naval logistics base will be constructed in Sudan. Not sure I understand why: I don’t see how this fits into Russia’s defensive posture. Although it might be connected to supporting Iran which is in Moscow’s interest (the enemy of my enemy is my friend).

GUNS. Washington realises its air defence has holes (Tehran’s “black cygnet“). US comms aren’t reliable. Strategic bombers and their weapons loads. Lasers on fighter planes. New nuclear war command bunker. The US State Department fears that the Russian Poseidon weapon underwater nuclear drones could unleash ‘radioactive tsunami’ on US. Well… that’s what they’re designed to do; maybe it’s time to reconsider your policy on Russia. I reiterate – Russia just has to counter.

WESTERN VALUES™. The country that judges other countries’ elections just had an election. Somebody won. One day a court will tell us who. Apparently it’s easy to lose track of votes and takes a long time to find them. There’s a box around here somewhere.

RUSSIA AND THE WEST. I speculate that Moscow is giving up on the West and Western courts.

THE EMPTINESS OF FORMER FLAPS. Remember all we were told about how weak US election security was and how Russia could easily change results? Well, forget it, Russia was shut out this year and US elections are solid as a rock. (Not that these people would give credit to Trump for the alleged re-securing.) Although those pesky Russians are still busy sowing, won’t congratulate and are disinforming.

WITHDRAWALS. The new US Defence Secretary says US troops in Iraq and Afghanistan will be reduced to 2500 each by 15 Jan 2021 and that “All wars must end“. Good luck with that: we’ve just heard a deep state operative boasting about defying Trump on this issue. And there’s opposition from the usual quarters: “leaving too soon”, Russia will “fill the vacuum” (but hasn’t Moscow been there and done that?). I guess they think doubling the Soviet record isn’t enough – Washington should go for the triple.

NEW NWO. 15 Asia-Pacific nations have signed onto the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership: a third of the world economy. And poof goes Obama’s Asian pivot and Trump’s isolate China attempts. The grouping include two of the Five Eyes as well as Japan and South Korea. The world is changing.

UKRAINE. Remember when Putin allegedly told Bush that Ukraine wasn’t even a country? What he meant was that it is a territory assembled out of parts of other countries by Lenin, Stalin and Khrushchev (not the people I’d personally pick to design my country) and deeply divided. It still is in the post-Maidan nightmare. A recent poll in “the poorest country in Europeshows it After all the propaganda, only 41% want to join NATO, 37% want non-alignment, 13% want to join the Russian-led security grouping. 57% expect relations with Russia to get better, 30% do not. Results vary with location. (Here’s the original). All that suffering and misery to remain where they were and not much change on the “cultural map” either. As I said at the beginning, Ukraine no longer exists: the West broke the First Rule of Ukraine.

© Patrick Armstrong Analysis, Canada Russia Observer\

GOODBYE: HAS RUSSIA HAD ENOUGH INSULTS?

First published Strategic Culture Foundation

I have argued that Russia is not a “European country”; my argument stands on the fact that Russia and Europe had quite different histories and little contact until the Emperor Peter became a major player in European history by knocking Sweden out of the running. I have argued that, whatever they may have wished in the past, an increasing number of Russians today don’t want to be “Europeans”: they view Europe – the West – with increasing distaste and bewilderment. “Europe” is, of course, a word with many meanings: here I mean a culture/civilisation/society that, over the past half millennium, has spread around the world and now is commonly called “the West”. These days, the capital power of the West is the USA but the USA, Canada, Australia, much of South America and many of the other outposts of European settlement are children of the original European civilisation.

Russia’s relationships with the West have gone through many ups and downs – ally, for example, with Britain in 1812, 1914 and 1941, enemy in 1853, 1918, opponent during the so-called Great Game and the Cold War. Russians often see the relationship as one of ungrateful rejection: take, for example, the long-forgotten important service Russia did for the Union in 1863. In my mind this feeling stems from Russia’s unusual history as a predator fish which remembers its long time as a prey fish – its neighbours remember the first, itself the second – the prey fish feeling was, of course, strongly reinforced by the death struggle of 1941-45.

Be that as it may, since the fall of the USSR and the end of communism, Russia has been rejected by the West. After a short-lived period in the very early 1990s when there was talk of “A new era of Democracy, Peace and Unity” “a time for fulfilling the hopes and expectations our peoples have cherished for decades”, the rejection has been unmistakable, brutal and direct. NATO expansion, in whatever platitudes it was wrapped, now stands clear as what Moscow always thought it was – an anti-Russia enterprise moving military forces ever closer to Russia. Russians are quite right to see colour revolutions in their neighbourhood as moves against them. Russia is under a permanent sanctions regime – the excuse changes but the sanctions remain and Jackson–Vanik was instantly replaced by the Magnitsky Act. Washington continually adds new sanctions and ensures that its lackeys do as well. And, even though a strong argument can be made that the sanctions have benefited Russia because Moscow was smart enough to deal with them like a judo master, the fact remains that sanctions are hostile acts short of war.

So, many people wondered how much longer Moscow would keep on making offers to its “partners” and seeing them thrown back at it. Some think Putin is too soft – it’s a generally accepted estimate that about half of the 25% or so of Russians that do not approve of his performance in office do so because they think him too obliging.

Well, maybe it’s happening at last. We will take the remarks by Foreign Minister Lavrov noting that he is not a man who has ever spoken lightly or without thought: whatever he says is to be taken seriously. At Valdai he said:

we must stop considering our Western colleagues, including the EU, as a source of assessment of our behaviour that we need to follow, or measuring ourselves with the same yardstick.

And

if the EU is arrogant enough to declare, with this sense of unconditional superiority, that Russia must understand there will be no “business as usual,” well, Russia wants to understand whether there could be any business at all with the European Union under these conditions.

That’s pretty plain – Russia rejects the West’s self-awarded role of judge and will not be its liegeman. It strongly suggests that Moscow is thinking about giving up. It has, however, made one last offer – perhaps the last offer, even a test: Moscow will not deploy certain missiles if the West does not.

The Navalniy affair seems to have been the one step too many. Aleksey Navalniy is an anti-Putin activist much beloved in the West but mostly ignored by Russians: his poll rating is around the margin of error and only occasionally has he had much of an effect. In August 2020 he fell sick on an airplane which turned back and landed in Omsk where he was hospitalised. A few days later, still in a coma, he was flown to a hospital in Germany. We have only recently learned that the transfer to Germany was at Putin’s direct urging.

It is obvious that Putin didn’t poison him; to believe he did is to believe that the murderer, with the victim in his power, sent him to safety. Nonetheless it was immediately declared that Navalniy had been “poisoned” and by none other than “novichok” and, what is more, by a “a variant that the world did not know until this attack, but which is said to be more malicious and deadly than all known offshoots of the Novichok familyThe fact that he is still alive… is only due to a chain of happy circumstances.” (Those “happy circumstances” remind the cynic of the “miracle” that saved Detective Sergeant Nick Bailey and his family from the novichok smeared everywhere in their house.) Despite this especially “malicious” variant, he was out of his coma in a much shorter period than the Skripals who were not killed by the old version either. The cynic would notice that, despite being “more malicious”, this particular novichok did not need people in hazmat suits cleaning everything in sight. The poison arrived via tea; smeared on a water bottle; on his clothing. In short, a tale we have heard before: the assassins don’t try something simple like a car crash but use something that can be pinned on them; an incredibly deadly poison that is ineffective; the assassins don’t follow through; the story of how the poison got into him keeps changing and no actual chains of custody, evidence or anything else is every presented. But at least the German hospital has been allowed to keep its roof.

The European Union likes to boast about its values. Among them is this: “Everyone who has been charged shall be presumed innocent until proved guilty according to law.” But not if you’re Russia. Russia must answer questions demands UK, Europeans on OPCW, Merkel, NATO, When Russia was unable to prove innocence, the EU sanctioned Russian officials as did most of the West.

So, to recap. Navalniy falls sick, receives treatment in Russia, is moved to Germany, “novichok” is found, Russia “fails to explain”, Russia is blamed and sanctioned. No facts, no data, no believable or consistent story. Where was the “proved guilty according to law” there?

Very much of a pattern this and we’ve seen it with the Skripals, Nemtsov, MH17, Magnitskiy, Moskalenko (I wonder if anyone remembers that one? How about Patarkatsishvili?), Litvinenko, Politkovskaya – blame Putin immediately and declare him guilty when he fails to prove the negative and huff “Russia’s contempt for the international norm against chemical weapons use must stop“. Add to this NATO expansion, colour revolutions, endless accusations of submarine incursions or election interference and all the rest. Year after year after year. Even the dullest muzhik in deepest Siberia should have got the point that, as far as the West is concerned, Russia, the ever-enemy, is guilty of any charge you want to make. Russia is guilty just because it is. And anyone who asks about ducks or children can only be a Putinbot spewing fake news.

So is Moscow about to say it’s had enough? If so, it has somewhat of a problem. At the moment and for the foreseeable future, depending on how serious the civil disorder is after its election, the United States is the principal power in the world if for no other reason that it has far more destructive power than anyone else. Moscow must tread carefully here; cutting relations with Washington would cost more than it’s worth. London is probably lost to Moscow but Berlin, Paris and Rome are not necessarily lost. And, as they go, many other Europeans will follow. Therefore Moscow can hope that, in the reasonable near term, more normal relations with some of the principal European powers may be possible. Thus it would be a bad move to cut relations with them.

But, Brussels, the European Union structure, what use is that? Russia has an embassy to the EU because, they say:

The Russian Federation aims to develop close and comprehensive partnership with the European Union based on the principles of equality, mutual benefit and respect for each other’s interests.

Where’s the “close and comprehensive partnership”, where’s the “equality, mutual benefit and respect”? And the next sentence in the website is not true: “Russia and the EU enjoy intensive trade and economic relations.” No they don’t: the only entities to trade with the EU qua EU are manufacturers of office supplies, paper and red tape. Russia has trade with Germany, Italy et al – with members of the EU, not the EU itself. What’s the point?

So, if Moscow has had its fill of three decades of insults, offences and calumnies and wants to make a point, cutting relations with the EU structure would be the place to start: easy and cheap. Pull out the permanent mission and stop all doings: deal with the individual countries one by one. Brussels might even welcome the savings now that it’s lost a chunk of its budget.

2020 US ELECTION — FIRST THOUGHTS

(Response to a question from Sputnik)

The first observation is that Biden has not been officially declared winner and may not be pending court cases, Elector choice and other potential developments.

Whoever is actually resident in the White House, my expectation is that the US domestic situation will become very tense because half the American population will regard the vote as stolen from them and the sitting president illegitimate.

If it’s Biden I expect the first year or so to be taken up with the painful decision of when to remove him on 25th Amendment issues.

This resulting condition of – what? – rioting? incipient civil war? combined with uncertainty over Biden’s future, recrimination inside the Democrat Party over their poor performance and a power struggle inside a Biden Administration will reduce the amount of energy devoted to foreign affairs.

As to Russia specifically, “Russiagate” will be confirmed as absolutely true, Strzok, Brennan, Clapper, Vindman and the others as heroes who saved the republic from Putin and investigations will cease. Biden has promised to be tough on Russia and relations will get worse.

So, it appears we are in a competition – a race? – between the internal decay of the USA into chaos and the warmongering tendencies of the Obama administration.

RUSSIAN FEDERATION SITREP 5 NOVEMBER 2020

VALDAI. Putin’s speech is here. To my mind, other than the funeral crack, the most memorable bit was his strong defence of a mixed economy: when things are purring along, free enterprise does the job but in bad times you need the government. I’d say the last 20 years vindicates this point of view.

MOSCOW. I generally regard ratings lists as GIGO except when they provide an unexpected result as this does: Moscow fourth best city in the world for living and doing business. London, New York, and Paris ahead of it. Well… here’s a New Yorker saying COVID has killed NYC, and a Brit saying London too. The world does turn, doesn’t it? COVID is a gigantic black swan and it’s hit the West very hard.

PRESIDENTS. Last week Putin submitted a bill to the Duma that would make ex-presidents members of the Federation Council, today another to given them extensive immunity. Is he planning to go soon? After my predictive failure nine years ago, I’ve given up. I have always expected him to go when he thought the time was right and has a successor ready; he’ll determine the timing. But it’s a black box and I don’t know what’s going on inside. (This is not pseudo wisdom about “Mysterious Russia”: in any political process, we only see things going in and things coming out, what happens inside is speculation).

CORRUPTION. The CEO of the Vostochniy cosmodrome was arrested. The project has seen a lot of corruption and embezzlement.

ARCTIC. There are eight “Arctic nations“. But only one, thanks to its unequalled fleet of powerful icebreakers, has the capability to do anything more than maintain a thin presence. Helmer discusses.

ARMS CONTROL. As START will probably not be renewed, I agree with a Russian chief designer that Russia is well ahead of the USA in nuclear weaponry.

RELIGIONS. Putin had his annual meeting with religious leaders. Quite a variety; read the list.

DOESN’T MAKE ANYTHING. Sputnik reports that Russian scientists have found a way to quickly diagnose cancer. We’ll see: Sputnik sometimes gets ahead of itself on these matters.

SECURITY ORGANS. I think allowing intelligence officers take foreign citizenship and residency is being misinterpreted. If required “by the tasks of operational and intelligence activities”; it’s not permission to get a winter home in Majorca.

SNOWDEN. He was granted permanent status residence and says he will apply for citizenship. He’s very lucky the timing of his passport pull set him down in Russia – one of the few countries that has the will and muscle to defy Washington. Otherwise he’d be sharing the fate of Assange.

PC AND WOKENESS. An interesting essay arguing that the USA is repeating some Russian “follies”.

THE DOSSIER. I was always sure it was made up but I thought there were no actual Russians involved. Turns out there were actual passport-holding Russians, now quarrelling, involved in the invention. Of course, should Biden win, all this will be forgotten and Rachel Maddow’s version will become The Truth. But no Russian fiddling this time we are assured.

BREXIT. Oh, and Putin didn’t do that either. But people got airtime and a few quid out of saying he did.

WESTERN VALUES™. The country that judges other countries’ elections just had an election. Somebody won. One day a court will tell us who. Apparently counting votes is a tremendously difficult task, requiring enormous amounts of time.

BELARUS. A source suggests that the head of the SVR was sent to tell Lukashenka that the situation is serious, he should stop blaming outsiders and take responsibility for his mistakes. This, and other indications, suggest Moscow is pushing for a peaceful transfer of power. Anyway, Tikhanovskaya’s “ultimatum” came and went without effect.

CHICKENS, HOME, ROOST. “…we have repeatedly warned our French partners of the dangers posed by terrorists of North Caucasian origin, while they accepted them as ‘fighters for freedom‘”. “The extremists in this case are more cunning, clever and stronger than you, and if you play these games with them, you will always lose.

BIRTHRATES. We always hear about how Russians are disappearing but the fact is that turning West is much worse for your birthrate: for example the Baltics. Now we have some Ukraine numbers: 40% decline in the birthrate since the Maidan coup. Really, all Moscow has to do, if it covets the territory, is wait a couple of decades and then move into a forest with a few nursing homes scattered though it.

© Patrick Armstrong Analysis, Canada Russia Observer

TODAY’S PUTIN QUOTATION

I would like to tell those who are still waiting for Russia’s strength to gradually wane, the only thing we are worried about is catching a cold at your funeral.

хочу сказать тем, кто ещё ждёт постепенного затухания России: нас в этом случае беспокоит только одно – как бы не простудиться на ваших похоронах.

Address to Valdai Club, 22 October 2020

RUSSOPHRENIA – OR HOW A COLLAPSING COUNTRY RUNS THE WORLD

First published Strategic Culture Foundation

I am indebted to Bryan MacDonald for this brilliant neologism: Russophrenia – a condition where the sufferer believes Russia is both about to collapse, and take over the world.

An early example comes from 1992 when the then-Lithuanian Defence Minister called Russia a country “with vague prospects” while at the same time asserting that “in about two years’ time [it] will present a great danger to Europe” (FBIS 22 May 92 p 69). Vague prospects but great danger. Given the vague demographic prospects of his own country, it was a rather ironic assertion given that Lithuania’s future would appear to be a few nursing homes surrounded by forest. But he said it in the days of the full EU/NATO cargo cult. In 2014 US President Obama immortalised this in an interview:

But I do think it’s important to keep perspective. Russia doesn’t make anything. Immigrants aren’t rushing to Moscow in search of opportunity. The life expectancy of the Russian male is around 60 years old. The population is shrinking. And so we have to respond with resolve in what are effectively regional challenges that Russia presents.

Wrong on all counts: all he did was display how poorly advised he was.

Russia, Russia ever failing: will fail in 1992, finished in 2001, failed in 2006, failed in 2008, failing in 2010, failed in 2015. Russia’s failing economy, 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.

a country with GDP comparable to that of Australia cannot afford to be a superpower, fight a protracted war in Syria, fight in the Ukraine and develop its own stealth fighter and other equipment to match the United States.

In 2016 Stratfor, predicting the world of 2025, thought it unlikely that the Russian Federation will survive in its current form. And neither will Putin. He was only a petty dictator with a Swiss bank account in 2000; a Lt. Col. Kije in 2001; another Brezhnev in 2003; facing his biggest crisis in December 2011, under dire threat and losing his leverage in January 2015; weak and terrified in July 2015; overextending his reach in May 2016; losing his shine in June 2017; losing his grip in October 2018; losing their trust in June 2019; losing control in September 2019; his house of cards was wobbling and he was the symbol of Russia’s humiliation in August 2019. His political demise was near in January 2020; more crises and coronavirus could topple him in April, another biggest crisis in May; losing popular support in June; running out of tricks in August; holed up in isolation, another gravest crisis in October. Soon gone. Russia’s economy won’t last much longer either: smaller than Spain’s or California’s in 2014; in tatters and facing a slow and steady decline in 2015; surprisingly small in 2017; about the size of Belgium plus the Netherlands and smaller than Texas’ in 2018; headed for trouble in 2019. Weak energy prices its Achilles heel in 2020. And on and on: really weak in 2006; its three biggest problems in 2013; Russia is not strong. And Putin is even weaker in 2015. Don’t fear Russia, marginalize it because it’s weak and has a rapidly aging and shrinking population in 2018. Still weak in 2019 and Paul Gregory tells us that’s it’s weak but with nukes in 2020.

Occasionally – very occasionally – someone, more acute than most, wonders How Did A Weak Russia Ever Become A Great Power Again? or why with less money than Canada and fewer people than Nigeria, it “runs the world now”. But the explanations are facile: too much butter spent on guns or a passing situation:

In the emerging post-Cold War-era Russia, no matter how poor it is in many key areas, can be #2 in the world for many years to come. Only when China rises in the next 20 years or a new kind of President emerges in the United States will that change. Until then Vladimir Putin can play his games to his heart’s content.

Of course all of these headscratchers assume that the exchange rate of the ruble is the true measure of Russia’s economy; which is a pretty silly and misleading idea.

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

But at the same time Russia is an enormous, dangerous, existential threat functioning with enormous effectiveness in all dimensions.

Far from a having the deceptively weak military of 2015, it is developing the world’s most powerful nuclear weapon in 2018 and in future wars the US will have nowhere to hide. The next January we’re told that it and China are building Super-EMP bombs for ‘Blackout Warfare’. Russia has imposed aerial denial zones and fields eye-watering EW capabilities; it has “black hole” submarines, a generational lead in tanks, an unstoppable carrier-killer missile and devastating air defence. It’s working on a new missile threat to the US homeland. General Breedlove, former NATO Supreme Commander who did much to poke the bear, gives us a particularly striking example: he now fears that a war “would leave Europe helpless, cut off from reinforcements, and at the mercy of the Russian Federation.” The British army would be wiped out in an afternoon, NATO would lose quickly in the Baltics – NATO’s totally outmatched. The Russian threat is unlike anything seen since the 1990s. The worry is that Nato has under-reacted.

Putin was the world’s most powerful man and, linking up with China, could soon become more powerful than the U.S. in 2018. He was wielding Russia’s formidable military and powerful economic policies in 2019. And never forget Russia’s major hacking threat and deadly malware. Its interference and influence in Western voting is stupendous: the 2016 US election; Brexit; Canada; France; the European Union; Germany; Catalonia; Netherlands; Sweden; Italy; EU in particular and Europe in general; Mexico: Newsweek gives a helpful list. And, long before Putin: “100 years of Russian electoral interference“. As a covert influence actor and purveyor of disinformation and misinformation Russia is the primary threat in the US election.

Putin was a threat to the Rules-Based International Order in February 2007, May 2014, January 2017, February 2018, May 2018, June 2019 and many months before or since.

During two decades as Russia’s leader, Vladimir Putin has rarely concealed his contempt for Western-style democracy and the rule of law. The poisoning of Russian political activist Alexey Navalny, amid a widening Russia-supported crackdown on opposition leaders in Belarus, indicates the lengths to which Putin and his cronies will go to silence their enemies and maintain power.

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

So, on the one hand Russia is a failing country, with a trivial economy, a greatly over-rated military led by someone who is always facing a catastrophe at home. Nothing to worry about there: presently weak and future uncertain. On the other hand, Russia has a tremendously powerful military, an economy that does whatever its ever-young autocratic permanent ruler wants it to. Its propaganda power is immense and unbeatable, the background determinant of the world’s action. Russophrenia.

And, out of the blue, COVID gives him another opportunity to bamboozle the helpless West and undermine its precious Rules-Based International Order. Somehow. See if you can make sense of this incoherence:

This should worry the West once the pandemic has passed. Not because Russia poses a serious long-term threat to our interests; it doesn’t, although Putin would prefer us to think that his shrivelled realm does. But because Russia is not the only authoritarian state seeking to learn lessons from the current crisis which could be used in a future conflict.

Russia’s Vaccine Stunt which experts worry is dangerous is being supported by attacks on the Oxford vaccine which Russia tried to steal. Russians, Russians everywhere!

Russophrenics are unaffected by reality. Russia’s success? Forget maleficence and try competence. Its military is designed to defend the country, not rule the world: a less expensive and attainable aim. Its economy – thanks to Western sanctions – has made it probably the only autarky in the world. Election interference is a falsehood designed to damage Trump and exculpate Clinton which has been picked up by Washington’s puppies. But don’t bother with mere evidence; As the author of this New Yorker piece explains:

Such externally guided operations exist, but to exaggerate their prevalence and potency ends up eroding the idea of genuine bottom-up protest—in a way that, ironically, is entirely congenial to Putin’s conspiratorial world view.

Or as the Washington Post memorably put it: “Especially clever is planting tales of supposedly far-reaching influence operations that either don’t actually exist or are having little impact.”

Scott Adams understands the process perfectly:

Absence of evidence is evidence.

KI4Rk1nHd2o

Pretty crazy isn’t it? And getting crazier. All this would be funny if it were Ruritania ranting at the Duchy of Strackenz. But it isn’t: it’s the country with the most destructive military in the world and a proven record of using it ad libitum that is sinking into this insanity. And that’s not good for any of us.

THE US PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION 2020

In answer to a question from Sputnik on what difference the US election choice would make on US-Russia relations.

Before one speculates on the difference the choice might make to the foreign behaviour of a country whose foreign behaviour never seems to change, I think there is a more important question to think about.

I expect Trump to be re-elected but will he be elected by a lawyer-proof margin? If he does not win by an enormous and undeniable margin, there will follow an avalanche of lawfare, hanging chads, “lost” ballots discovered, judicial rulings and counter-rulings, foreign interference stories, security organ accusations, fake news, Electoral College struggles, ballot counts and re-counts stretching on for months and months. But more to the point, protests, riots, burnings, attacks, assaults. There’s even talk of secession. Are we looking at the possibility of as third American civil war developing? Many fear so – here, here, here, here, here. At least one group is preparing to shut down DC.

If the US is tied up in a mess of riots and legal battles in the full complexity of its curious election system, let alone a full scale civil war, what possible foreign policy would it have? Especially against the background of its enormous debt, forever wars and COVID failures.

Overseas issues will be the least of its concerns.

RUSSIAN FEDERATION SITREP 22 OCTOBER 2020

(This, BTW, is the 802nd Sitrep – forgot to count. The first was in March 1997)

WAAAY HARSH! Putin is only worried about catching a cold at the West’s funeral.

SOMETHING ELSE from the country that doesn’t make anything. First of the new project 22220 class on its way to Murmansk: most powerful icebreaker ever made.

COVECONOMICS. IMF predictions are out. I am fascinated to see that it predicts Russia will do better (less badly) than anyone in the G7 or Euroland. China is set to grow a bit.

CLUELESS. Paul Robinson reminds us that so many Western “experts” haven’t a clue: Putin is popular because Russians think he’s doing a good job, not because “state TV” tells them he is.

RUSSIA-EU. I’ve long wondered when or whether Moscow will decide it isn’t worth wasting its time talking to the West. Maybe it’s about to start with the EU. A cheap and easy case to make its first step.

ENEMIES. A recent Levada poll shows 82% of respondents think Russia has enemies: 70% name USA, 14% Ukraine, 10% UK, 7% EU, 7% Poland. Only half as many thought it had enemies in 1994.

KARABAKH. A Russian-brokered ceasefire failed immediately. But I get the impression that the fighting has stalemated and sooner or later Moscow will be required. It’s one of Stalin’s little cartographic jokes that has come back to make trouble. One should be aware that there are three pieces of territory. Armenia proper; the former Nagorniy-Karabakh AO – largely ethnic Armenian; the Azerbaijan territories conquered by NK two decades ago. Moscow is obliged to protect the first if attacked – which it has not been and for that reason likely won’t be; the second needs some creative diplomacy to make the inhabitants feel secure (and the involvement of Ankara takes them straight back to the massacres a century ago and reinforces their conviction that their forever enemy are the Turks), the third is unquestionably Azerbaijan territory. (Moscow taught Erdoğan a very sharp lesson in 2015; love to know what discussions are going on in the background.)

START. Obama prolonged it as a sort of gentleman’s agreement; but I don’t think it’s going to survive. For one thing, the US negotiator lives in cloud cuckoo land. But – maybe – a development.

CORRUPTION. I’ve long thought that corruption is a much more complicated subject than it’s usually presented as and that we, on our side, might well have more invisible corruption than Russia. Read this and see what you think. And the Pelosis bought a piece of Crowdstrike – well, just… gosh! Of course, if it’s not reported by the NYT it didn’t happen, did it?

THE WISDOM OF RETIREES. MI6 head told us Russia was a “standing threat” “fundamental threat“. Retired, he tells us not to exaggerate. I attempt to explain the appearance of reality upon retirement here.

AMERICA-HYSTERICA. “Scrambling their brains“, Well…. I guess it does recognise the phenomenon of scrambled brains even if the explanation is a bit of a re-run. Heres’ the story from one of the usual sources. Remember the crickets? Of course it’s primarily anti-Trump agitprop: “the victims are left wondering why so little is being done by the Trump administration”. It’s all so idiotically transparent. (And anything you hear about H— B— is Russian disinformation and not really a story).

USA. Sure are a lot of pieces like this: America on cusp of a Civil War. Or this; this; this; and, especially, this. “For those who have followed events outside the United States during the past few decades, much of this sounds familiar. We’ve seen it before – inflicted on other countries“. If the US itself is suffering a colour revolution, what happens to the colour revolutions in other places? If the USA is tied up in severe civil strife, secession movements, accusations of election fraud, lawfare and the like, in the background of a faltering economy, COVID and forever wars, it will take a lot of pressure off Russia. (Starting to sound a bit like the USSR in the 1990s, isn’t it?)

RUSSOPHRENIA or or How a Collapsing Country Runs the World. I attempt to catalogue the craziness.

UKRAINE. Letter from three EU parliamentarians – strong supporters and believers – complain: “We cannot but see that the corruption perception in Ukraine in 2020 fell back to the 2017 mark, the praised reforms are backsliding…”. What happens when these people finally realise they’ve been lied to and played for suckers from the start? Will they do anything or go away and just be replaced by new suckers?

FROM LAPUTA’S KITCHENS TO YOU. Fighting the Russians with slingshots. No, Rudi, complete nonsense: Ukraine started out with a big slice of the USSR’s heaps of weapons. Like 1000+ tanks, 1000+ AIFVs and so on: Wikipedia list here. A better question is what happened to them?

TODAY’S QUOTATION ABOUT PUTIN

The unique achievements of Russian spin doctors in the 1999-2000 electoral campaigns will go into all the PR and image-making textbooks of the world – virtual Lt. Col. Kije was proclaimed not only president of All the Russias, but also the national hero who could raise the Third Rome from its knees.

– Andrey Piontkovskiy “Short, happy life of Russian ‘elite’” The Russia Journal, February 10-16, 2001

A Lieutenant Kije who today runs the world. (Reference for Kije)