HOW I GOT HERE

Reprints

      http://turcopolier.typepad.com/sic_semper_tyrannis/2017/10/how-i-got-here.html

      http://russia-insider.com/en/how-i-became-kremlin-troll-patrick-armstrong/ri21379

(Now that the book is out I publish my entry. Most of the people who wrote their “how I got here” sections were awakened by the relentlessly one-sided coverage of Russia by the MSM: they suspected that it couldn’t possibly be that one-sided and started looking.

Putin’s Praetorians: Confessions of the Top Kremlin Trolls Kindle Edition; Phil Butler (Author), Patricia Revita (Illustrator), Pepe Escobar (Foreword)

I started work for the Canadian Department of National Defence in 1977 in the Directorate of Land Operational Research of the Operational Research and Analysis Establishment. I participated in many training games in real time and research games in very slow time. The scenarios were always the same: we (Canada had a brigade group in West Germany) were defending against an attack by the Soviet/Warsaw Pact side. In those days NATO was a defensive organisation and, as we later found out, so was the other side: each was awaiting the other to attack. Which, come to think of it, is probably why we’re all here today.

I enjoyed my six years, often as the only civilian in a sea of uniforms, but I realised that a history PhD stood no change of running the directorate so, when the slot opened, I contrived to switch to the Directorate of Strategic Analysis as the USSR guy. I should say straight off that I have never taken a university course on Russia or the USSR. And, in retrospect, I think that was fortunate because in much of the English-speaking world the field seems to be dominated by Balts, Poles or Ukrainians who hate Russia. So I avoided that “Russians are the enemy, whatever flag they fly” indoctrination: I always thought the Russians were just as much the victims of the ideology as any one else and am amused how the others have airbrushed their Bolsheviks out of their pictures just as determinedly as Stalin removed “unpersons” from his.

That was November 1984 and Chernenko was GenSek and, when he died in March 1985, Gorbachev succeeded. While I didn’t think the USSR was all that healthy or successful an enterprise, I did expect it to last a lot longer and when Gorbachev started talking about glasnost and perestroyka I thought back to the 20th Party Congress, the Lieberman reforms, Andropov’s reforms and didn’t expect much.

In 1987 two things made me think again. I attended a Wilton Park conference (the first of many) attended by Dr Leonid Abalkin. He took the conference over and, with the patient interpretation of someone from the Embassy, talked for hours. The Soviet economy was a failure and couldn’t be reformed. That was something different. Then, on the front page of Pravda, appeared a short essay with the title “A New Philosophy of Foreign Policy” by Yevgeniy Primakov. I pricked up my ears: a new philosophy? But surely good old Marxism-Leninism is valid for all times and places. As I read on, I realised that this was also something new: the author was bluntly saying that Soviet foreign policy had been a failure, it was ruining the country and creating enemies. These two were telling us that the USSR just didn’t work. As Putin told Stone, “it was not efficient in its roots”.

These things convinced me that real change was being attempted. Not just fiddling around at the edges but something that would end the whole Marxist-Leninist construct. As far as I was concerned, it had been the communist system that was our enemy and, if it was thrown off, we should be happy. Sometime around then I was interviewed for a job at NATO and the question was what, with all these changes, was NATO’s future. I said it should become an alliance of the civilised countries against whatever dangers were out there: the present members of course, but also the USSR, Japan and so on.

Well, that didn’t happen did it? I remember a very knowledgeable boss assuring me that NATO expansion was such a stupid idea that it would never happen. He was wrong too.

In 1814 the victors – Britain, Russia, Prussia and Austria – sat down in Vienna, with France, to re-design the world. They were wise enough to understood that a settlement that excluded France wouldn’t last. In 1919 this was forgotten and the settlement – and short-lived it was – excluded the loser. In 1945 Japan and Germany were included in the winners’ circle. At the end of the Cold War, repeating the Versailles mistake, we excluded Russia. It was soon obvious, whatever meretricious platitudes stumbled from the lips of wooden-faced stooges, that NATO was an anti-Russia organisation of the “winners”.

But I retained hope. I think my most reprinted piece has been “The Third Turn” of November 2010 and in it I argued that Russia had passed through two periods in the Western imagination: first as the Little Brother then as the Assertive Enemy but that we were now approaching a time in which it would be seen as a normal country.

Well, that didn’t happen did it?

And so the great opportunity to integrate Russia into the winners’ circle was thrown away.

For a long time I thought it was stupidity and ignorance. I knew the implacably hostile were out there: Brzezinski and the legions of “think” tanks (my website has a collection of anti-Russia quotations I’ve collected over the years) but I greatly underestimated their persistence. Stupidity and ignorance; you can argue with those (or hope to). But you can’t argue with the anti-Russians. Russia wants to re-conquer the empire so it invaded Georgia. But it didn’t hold on to it, did it? No but that’s because we stopped it. Putin kills reporters. Name one. You know, whatshername. Provocative exercises on NATO’s borders. But NATO keeps moving closer to Russia. Irrelevant, NATO’s peaceful. Putin is the richest thief in the world. Says who? Everybody. Putin hacked the US election. How? Somehow.

I quoted Hanlan’s razor a lot – “never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity”. And, stupidity and ignorance there were (a favourite being John McCain’s notion that the appropriate venue for a response to a Putin piece in the NYT was Pravda. And then he picked the wrong Pravda! (But he won’t hate Russia or Putin any the less if he were told that, would he?) At some point I came to understand that malice was the real driver.

I suppose it grew on me bit by bit – all the stupidity converged on the same point and it never stopped; but real stupidity and ignorance don’t work that way: people learn, however slowly. I think the change for me was Libya. I started out thinking stupidity but, as it piled up, it became clear that it was malice. I’d seen lies in the Kosovo war but it was Libya that convinced me that it wasn’t just a few lies, it was all lies. (My guess is that Libya was an important development in Putin’s view of NATO/US too.)

Naive perhaps but, for most of history stupidity has adequately explained things and malice is, after all, a species of stupidity.

So what’s the point of writing? I’ll never convince the Russia haters, and there’s little chance of getting through to the stupid and ignorant. And most people aren’t very interested anyway.

Well, this is where malice meets stupidity. If we consider the Project for a New American Century, the neocon game plan “to promote American global leadership”, what do we see twenty years later? Brzezinski laid out the strategy in The Grand Chessboard at the same time. What today? Well, last year he had to admit that the “era” of US dominance, he was so confident of twenty years earlier, was over. There’s no need to belabour the point: while the US by most measures is still the world’s dominant power, its mighty military is defeated everywhere and doesn’t realise it, its manufacturing capacity has been mostly outsourced to China, domestic politics and stability degenerate while we watch and there’s opioids, spectacular debt levels, incarceration, infant mortality, недоговороспособны and on and on. Donald Trump was elected on the promise to Make America Great…. Again. Hardly the hyperpower to lead the globe is it?

The Twentieth Century was the “American Century” thanks to limitless manufacturing capacity allied to great inventiveness anchored on a stable political base. What is left of these three in 2017? Can America be made “great” again? And wars: wars everywhere and everywhere the same. And what other than malice has brought it to this state? Malice has become stupidity: the neocons, Brzezinskis, the Russia haters, the Exceptionalists, scheming “to promote American global leadership”, have weakened the USA. Perhaps irreparably.

So, who’s the audience today? The converted and people at the point when a little push can break their conditioning have always been there. But now there is a potentially huge audience for our efforts: the audience of the awakening.

Which brings me back to where I started. Except that it’s the USA this time:

IT’S NOT WORKING

We’re here and we’re waiting for you: you’ve been lied to but that doesn’t mean that everything is a lie.

After the Trumpquake — Что делать?

http://us-russia.org/4507-coming-together-to-generate-ideas-for-a-new-foreign-policy-agenda.html

Question: (Coming together to generate ideas for a new foreign policy agenda). In the end, the 2016 US presidential campaign did what democracies are supposed to do: it gave the electorate a clear choice between two different visions of the country’s future and the policies each party proposed to take us there.  When faced with the prospect of “more of the same,” meaning more impoverishment of the middle and lower classes, more risks of new wars:  it ‘threw the bums out.”

Unfortunately, on the way to this happy outcome the level of political culture on display by the presidential candidates and their campaign staffs sank to unprecedented lows and vicious personal attacks on each other often obscured the policy differences between the candidates.

Nevertheless now that the outgoing President Obama and the incoming President Trump have shaken hands at their first transition meeting in the White House, it is time for the rest of us to make our peace with one another.  This, however, should not mean ending our differences of opinion on policies.  On the contrary, what the country needs now is a good dose of debate and in particular partisan, as opposed to nonpartisan discussion of our foreign policy issues, since we have for the past 4 years at least been stumbling into a very dangerous confrontation with both Russia and China without the benefit of free public discussion of our options.

What concretely can we all do to force the media, the foreign policy establishment to ‘come out and play’ now rather than sulk and spit venom at the victorious Trump team?

The encouraging truth is that reality eventually triumphs; the discouraging truth is that it only does so over a long and painful time. Trump’s victory is, in its way, a victory for reality but a mighty effort remains.

What can we do in forums like this one? Keep talking about reality I suppose: the reality that the neocon domination of Washington has failed in every way possible; the reality that Washington’s endless wars have been failures; the reality that every failed war has planted the seeds of the next; the reality that a extraordinary opportunity was squandered in the 1990s; the reality that making Russia into an enemy is stupid, unnecessary and extremely dangerous; the reality that “exceptionalism” is exceptionally dangerous, destructive and stupid; the reality that the MSM is lying about Syria, about Russia, about Ukraine and about almost everything else; the reality that Putin is not a “thug” determined to re-create the USSR; the reality that Russia is not “isolated”, in “economic freefall” or on the edge of “regime change”; the reality that “The West” has been on the wrong course for two decades. The reality that the neocon/liberal interventionist route leads to destruction.

We may eventually hope that our little drops of water wear away the stone. Perhaps some of us have had an effect on Trump’s thinking, or Flynn’s thinking, or Bannon’s thinking. But we will probably never know and, in truth, it’s almost impossible to work out the influence.

But if Trump can get the Russia relationship right, then a great number of Washington’s international entanglements will be easier to remedy. And he does seem to be interested in getting that right.

But I think, in the last analysis, we have to agree with the great physicist Max Planck:

A new scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light, but rather because its opponents eventually die, and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it.

In short, a new foreign policy for the USA will have to advance, to paraphrase Planck again, “one political funeral at a time”.

But it’s encouraging that Trump’s election has produced so many political funerals.

Today’s Putin Quotation

Only a strong – effective, in case someone does not like the word strong – effective democratic state is able to protect civil, political and economic freedoms and to create the conditions for a good life for the people and the prospering of our native land. (только сильное, эффективное, если кому-то не нравится слово “сильное”, скажем эффективное государство и демократическое государство в состоянии защитить гражданские, политические, экономические свободы, способно создать условия для благополучной жизни людей и для процветания нашей Родины.)

Putin address to Federal Assembly, 8 July 2000

Today’s Putin Quotation

They [the oligarchs] see the mass media as their chief instrument of influence over the state. They have all become accustomed, especially recently, to getting everything they want from the state and using it as they want. They don’t want to live in accordance with the law, and I don’t think that’s right.

Putin interview in Globe and Mail, Geoffrey York and Chrystia Freeland, “We are not looking for enemies”, 14 Dec 2000

I Wasn’t Really Wrong When I Said Putin Would Retire: Here’s my rationalisation

http://russia-insider.com/en/i-wasnt-really-wrong-when-i-said-putin-would-retire/ri10223

I did not expect Putin to return for a third term and on August 2011 I said he would not. In September (that’s fast!!) I had to eat my words. But I wasn’t happy to: while I thought Putin was a pretty effective leader – maybe the best Russia has ever had, in the last thousand years, anyway – every leader (and everything else) has a “best before” date. There’s a time when a leader runs out of ideas and creativity, a time when the sycophants figure out what buttons to push (“I know you don’t like flattery boss; that’s one of the things I admire about you”), a time when subordinates start plotting, a time when the Old Guy’s past it and it’s time to think about our futures and so on. Putin’s not there by a long shot, but it will come one day. Better to leave at the top of your game.

And, I have to admit, there was some personal embarrassment on my part – a US Congressman was ranting to me about how Putin was just power-hungry and I stopped him by saying: then why isn’t he president right now? Well, the last laugh’s on me, isn’t it? He’s president again and maybe he never really stopped being the real boss.

So why did he come back? Why does he risk becoming the Turkmenbashi of Russia?

I prefer to think that he’s not just the power-crazed dictator that the US Congressman thinks he is. And so fearlessly risking another episode of logophagy, I offer another theory which allows me to preserve my August 2011 idea and pretend to have been right all along while actually having been wrong. (A bit like being an op-ed writer, in fact. It’s nice to have a rolling memory that forgets when you were wrong. Take, for example, Der Spiegel, which now blames Merkel for the whole sorry mess in Ukraine without ever admitting its own responsibility for whipping up the hysteria. But I, unlike Official Journalists©, know that the Internet Never Forgets.)

So, why did Putin not take my advice and return to the presidency?

Libya, in a word. Consumers of Western media outlets who can still remember the dim, distant days of March 2011 will recall that Qaddafi “was bombing his own people”. First appearing, I think, on Al Jazeera, the story spread everywhere and was amplified by the West’s pet “human rights” N”G”Os. There doesn’t appear to have been any evidence that he was – and a later report concluded that he wasn’t – but this was the mantra. And, it’s important to remember, “humanitarian bombing” episodes are always preceded by unanimity in the media; we’ve seen it in Kosovo and Syria and more recently in Ukraine – every news outlet saying exactly the same thing at exactly the same time.

“Bombing your own people” is a terrible, terrible thing and “something must be done”. (or, rather, it was then: not so important today in Ukraine). The US and its allies went to the UN and secured a resolution to create a “no fly zone” so as to stop Libyan government aircraft from “bombing his own people”. Russia (and China) abstained rather than veto.

To make a long story short, NATO paid no attention to the text of the resolution. They bombed everything, then they supplied weapons, then special forces trainers, then forward air controllers. At the end, after seven (seven!) months, Qaddafi was run to ground and brutally killed. Hillary Clinton’s cackle should not be forgotten.

All appearances suggest that Washington and those NATO members who participated lied from start to finish: they never meant the “no fly zone” stuff and they always intended to overthrow Qaddafi. They played Moscow and Beijing for suckers.

Well, my guess is that Putin is tired of Russia being played for a sucker, tired of Washington & Co bombing everyone it wants to whatever pretext it invents (is Russia on the list?). My guess is that President Xi agrees with him (could China be on the list?) In fact he/they is/are thinking some unthinkable thoughts. I suspect they may be entertaining the notions that, under present management:

  • Washington is a force for chaos in the world.
  • Washington cannot be trusted.
  • Agreements with Washington are worthless.
  • Washington cannot be dealt with.

There is no honour, no consistency, nothing to be trusted in Washington. And, worst of all, pace Palmerston, they don’t even know their own interests (Stupidity is very frightening when combined with Washington’s military power).

Washington is, and will be, Russia’s (and China’s) enemy.

And that is why I think he came back. He foresaw, thanks to the US/NATO deception on Libya, that hard times were coming for Russia. Only he had the necessary muscle to both over-awe the contending factions in Russia and, at the same time, stand tough against the threats.

And the Ukraine nightmare has shown he was right. In the eleven month period from delaying the EU agreement (v2013) to delaying the EU agreement (v2014), Russia has been ceaselessly calumniated and provoked. Putin, leading and controlling his team, has proved cooler, calmer and cleverer than his enemies.

There is nothing about US actions in Syria that will make him think differently.

What did we hear in his 2014 address to the Russian parliament? – a speech, you may be sure, in which every word is tried out, tested and tasted.

Back then, we realised that the more ground we give and the more excuses we make, the more our opponents become brazen and the more cynical and aggressive their demeanour becomes.

Could anything be plainer than that? We tried, they rejected us; we tried again, they spat again. One last attempt… That’s it. It’s over. He’s come to the end, past the end, of the rope. So, altogether, Putin read the tea leaves and I did not.

Is Russia’s anti-corruption drive the real thing?

http://us-russia.org/941-is-russias-anti-corruption-drive-the-real-thing.html

http://english.ruvr.ru/experts13/

(Other discussion http://globaldiscussion.net/index.php?%2Ftopic%2F112-is-russia%E2%80%99s-anti-corruption-drive-the-real-thing%2F

JRL/2013/31

Vlad Sobell mentioned two theories: Putin might be seriously attacking corruption or it’s only inter-clan fighting.

“Clannology” has been a popular notion for years. In the early Putin years I remember an intelligence agency proudly presenting its typology. Three clans were fighting: “Family”, “Siloviki” and St Petersburg? – I can’t recall now. Unimpressed, I asked: What have we learned from this? What is explained? What is predicted? “Clannology” has nothing to offer: it has Popper’s fatal sin of not being falsifiable. Whatever happens will be fitted into the theory: Putin and Medvedev fall out, different clans; they don’t, same clan. A theory that explains everything, explains nothing.

So we must (Popper again) make a falsifiable hypothesis that Putin really is making a serious attack on big scale corruption and ask what would be the evidence that he is. Let us consider three hypothetical corruption examples. A hospital exists, but the staff demand bribes to do their jobs. The hospital exists, but the money for many items was stolen. No hospital exists because the money was stolen before anything happened. Arresting the bribe-taking staff is not evidence of a serious anti-corruption drive: they’re little guys and easy to catch. Arresting the locals who divert some of the money is better but the real effort must be getting the big thieves – the connected people who can make money disappear before it appears. Big Russian corruption – vide the OboronServis case – resembles the third example: money allocated for some public purpose is diverted to private benefit by people at the top of the money flow. This is much more serious than some traffic cop scoring a free lunch: more money is stolen, further up the power chain and it therefore corrupts the body politic more. Putin has to bite into this layer to reverse behaviour and send the message to the big thieves who think they are immune.

In short, someone high up must be arrested; otherwise thieves just learn that it’s better to steal big than steal small. No such arrest has yet been made although the dismissal of Serdyukov has put us within sight of one. (And, pace the clannologists, Serdyukov, appointed and retained by Putin in a very important ministry, would surely have been considered a member of Putin’s clan). Former Moscow Mayor Luzhkov’s fate, or his wife’s, while they are a few orbits away from the inner ring, is also something to watch. Talk about their malfeasances has quieted but the Prosecutor General’s Office moves slowly. And investigations must be done properly, with evidence, otherwise it’s not a real campaign.

Can we put a time limit on this? I would suggest, given that Putin recently described corruption as “the biggest threat to our development”, that we should see someone in the inner ring, or an orbit away from it, charged before the end of Putin’s current term. (Unless they are all pure. Which no one believes.)

But it’s possible Putin will try but fail: in 2007 he was asked “How can you control corruption?”, “Unsuccessfully” said he, “We are addressing this issue unsuccessfully.” It won’t be easy to take a bite out of people who have been stealing for years.

Medvedev recently said that there were about 50,000 corruption cases being investigated. If half of these go nowhere and 90% of the rest are small fry, that still leaves several hundred potentially big cases that we may hear about. I believe that an effort is indeed being made, but it has not yet passed the test of one of the inner ring being punished.

How Will History Judge Putin?

http://us-russia.org/392-how-will-history-judge-putin.html

I believe that “history” will judge Putin as one of the best leaders Russia has had in its thousand year history.

Or would have so judged him had he retired.

When he came to power, according to his “Russia in the New Millennium”, he set himself four tasks: to reverse the economic collapse, to reverse the decay of central power, to improve Russia’s status in the world and to institute a rule of law, or at least a rule of rules. On his watch these goals were achieved to a considerable extent (the last, less, to be sure). Most leaders are lucky if they can attain even a few of their goals, partially. Putin did much better.

But he missed one thing: to set an example to his successors that two terms are enough for any mortal.

If he built a system that can’t work without him, then it doesn’t work.

He runs the risk of “history” judging him the Turkmenbashi of Russia.

http://www.expat.ru/analitics.php?item=1124

Note February 2016. These were done for the Russia Profile Weekly Experts’ Panel which I cannot find on the Net now. Many were picked up by other sources and I have given links where I can find them.

As that great Russianologist, Sherlock Holmes, observed: “It is a capital mistake to theorise before one has data. Insensibly one begins to twist facts to suit theories instead of theories to suit facts.”

I’ve never had much use for Kremlinology, either in The Day or now. It is founded on two fatally weak conjectures. The first is the reductionist notion that Russia (or, in The Day, the USSR) can be explained by the relationship between a small group of individuals. Where is the evidence for that? But most absurdly, it imagines that we outsiders can understand what those relationships are. Do we, after all this time, understand the relationship between Lenin and Stalin? Or Stalin and Voroshilov? Or Stalin and Beria? Why should anyone think we understand the relationship between Putin and Medvedev and how they make decisions? We don’t even know what goes on inside our own governments’ offices. Kremlinology’s predictive record is negligible.

A decade or so ago, Neo-Kremlinologists spent their time categorising people into groups: the Family, the Siloviki and I can’t now remember the third; but, for some reason, these airy constructions always had three groups. Then I recall a period of speculation that Putin had created a “politburo” in the Security Council to sideline the government. I’m sure I’ve forgotten many other weighty thinkpieces that came and went scrying the future through imagined personal relationships. None of these efforts ever produced much that was either predictive or explanatory.

Furthermore, it ought to be pretty clear, after more than a decade’s observation, that Russia has a remarkably collegial, discreet and effective management team. While a few former insiders have gone over the opposition (Kasyanov, Illarionov and presumably Kudrin) it is striking how well the Team has held together. The second thing a decade’s worth of observation tells us is that Putin is loathe to kick someone into the darkness and so we see today that old ministers have been “kicked upstairs” to advisory positions in order to preserve their dignity and make way for new people in the government. (Perhaps Putin has learned from Lyndon Johnson: “It’s better to have some one inside the tent…”).

Thus, there is no second or parallel government: there is a Team. The same team that has been running the place for 12 years. Any disagreements are kept inside the box.

It is much better to regard Russia’s governing structure as a “black box”: observe what is said and what happens rather than speculate about the unseen gears inside the box.