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.

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.

LET’S POISON SOMEBODY

(Overheard by our secret source in the Kremlin)

– What a day! The Americans are really putting the boots to Merkel on Nord Stream, we’ve got demos in Khabarovsk and now Batko’s screwing up. Some days it’s just too much.

– We gotta come up with something to take people’s minds off things, Boss.

– Yeah, but what? No military anniversaries coming up. Do we have any new weapons which we can show?

– Not unless you count the re-done Bear.

– Nah, that won’t work – the Americans will just say it’s obsolete. Why it’s almost as old at their B-52!

– How about a video of the Tsar Bomba?

– Always good to remind the neo-cons that they may have Big Democracy but we’ve got Big Bomb. But I want something else.

– We could do a video of pretty girls singing that they’re Putingirls.

– Didn’t Obama did that? That’s as fake as the reset was.

– Wait Boss! I’ve got it. Let’s poison somebody! That’ll change the headlines. Sure worked that last few times.

– Hmmmm, sounds good, keep talking.

– We’ll poison that Navalniy guy…

– Who?

– You know, the guy the Americans think you’re obsessed with.

– Isn’t he in France, in a lunatic asylum?

– No, the other guy.

– Oh yeah, I think I remember. OK so we poison him, then what?

– Well, he won’t die of course – our poisons are no good – and, after a day or two we let him go to some NATO country and they’ll say he was poisoned.

– Well, that will certainly change the headlines, let’s do it.

– OK Boss, and while people are obsessed with that, we can swing a few elections in the West.

– Ah yes, gotta remember to talk to Xi and coordinate our efforts. I’m still pissed off that he thinks he can fix a US election. He can do Japan, Australia, Korea and the others. That’s what multipolarism is – you do yours, we do ours.

THE ABYSS OF DISINFORMATION GAZES INTO ITS CREATORS

He who fights with monsters should look to it that he himself does not become a monster. And if you gaze long into an abyss, the abyss also gazes into you.

Friedrich Nietzsche

First published Strategic Culture Foundation

The other day the US State Department published “Pillars of Russia’s Disinformation and Propaganda Ecosystem“. The report should have a disclaimer like this:

Everything you read in the NYT or hear Rachel Maddow say about Russia is true: Putin is a murderer, a thief and a thug, he shot down MH17, poisoned the Skripals, elected Trump, invaded Georgia and stole Crimea. If you question any part of this, you are controlled and directed by Russian Disinformation HQ.

Freedom of speech does not entitle you to doubt The Truth.

The methodology of all of these things – this is one of several – is uncomplicated. Paul Robinson has commented on the dependence of so much comment about Russia, and this report in particular, on the myth of central control.

  1. Anything anywhere on Russian social media, whether sensible or crazy, was personally put there by Putin to sow discord and weaken us. All social media or websites based in Russia are 100% controlled by Putin.
  2. The Truth about Russia is found in the West’s official statements and in the “trusted source media”. Anyone who questions it benefits Putin, who wants to bring us down, and is therefore acting as a servant of Russian Disinformation HQ.

The argument really is that simple and can be found in its baldest (and stupidest) version on the EU vs DiSiNFO site, The NATO Centre of Excellence is pretty bad while The Integrity Initiative seems to have been embarrassed into silence. Note the “disinfo”, “excellence” and “integrity” bits – that’s called gaslighting. Who funds these selfless truth seekers? The EU, NATO and the British government. But they’re good and truthful, unlike those tricky Russians.

In this particular effusion they look at seven websites, six of which are registered in Russia and one in Canada. The report declares that they are in an ecosystem directed from Russian Disinformation HQ. In reality they are sites in which publish writers who – to take one example – think that it is a bit unusual that a deadly nerve agent smeared on a door handle requires the roof of the house to be replaced. But doubt, these days, is the outward sign of an inward Putinism.

Door handle!

Yeah, OK, but why the roof?

Putinbot!

One of the websites mentioned in the report is the one you’re reading now – Strategic Culture Foundation.

The Strategic Culture Foundation is directed by another Russian intelligence agency, the S.V.R., according to two American officials.

Could these be the officials who told the NYT about the bounties? Or gave it the photos it had to walk back a few days later? Or said their sources had “mysteriously gone quiet?” Or told it all 17? Or said it was probably microwave weapons? Or gave us years of scoops about how Mueller was just about to lock him up? Or told the NYT that Russia’s “economy suffers from flat growth and shrinking incomes“? Probably, but you’re not supposed to ask these questions.

The report has a good deal of speculation about who backs Strategic Culture Foundation (p 15). Personally I don’t much care who runs it (and I very much doubt that the Kremlin understands the point of running an opinion website). I’ve been in the USSR/Russia business for some time and what I think hasn’t changed much since 1986 or so. I’ve written for a number of sites which have faded away and I will not permit having what I write changed; the one time it happened twelve years ago, I immediately switched my operations elsewhere. Strategic Culture Foundation has never changed anything I’ve submitted and only twice suggested a topic – this one and Putin’s weaponised crickets. (And the warning is still up at the US State Department site!) The other writers on the site whom I know haven’t changed their views either. Strategic Culture Foundation hasn’t created something that didn’t exist before, it’s collected something that already existed. What do we writers have in common? Well, Dear Reader, look around you. Certainly we question The Truth. Or maybe SCF is a place where people “baffled by the hysterical Russophobia of the MSM and the Democratic Party since the 2016 election” can find something else? Or maybe it’s part of Madison’s “general intercourse of sentiments”?

There was a theory in the Cold War that the two sides would eventually converge. I often think that they met and then kept on going and passed each other. In those days the Soviets did their best to block what they considered to be – dare I suggest it? – disinformation. And so RFE/RL, BBC, Radio Canada and so on were jammed. We, on our side, didn’t care who listened to Radio Moscow or read Soviet publications. Today it’s the other way round. Which fact prompts the easy deduction that the side that’s confident that it has a better connection to reality and truth doesn’t waste effort trying to block the other. In a fascinating essay, the Saker describes Russian propaganda for its home audience: “give as much air time to the most rabid anti-Kremlin critiques as possible, especially on Russian TV talkshows”. They even took the trouble to dub Morgan Freeman’s absurd “we are at war” video. That’s brilliant – we won’t tell you they hate you, we’ll let them tell you they hate you.

The report talks as if this “ecosystem” were big and influential. But it’s a tiny mouse next to a whale. Total followers on Twitter of all seven sites are 156 thousand (p65). That’s nothing: the NYT has 47.1 million Twitter followers, BBC Breaking News 44.8, WaPo 16.1. Why even Rachel Maddow has ten million followers eager to hear her explain how Russia is going to turn off your furnace next winter. So the rational observer has a choice to make after reading this report: either the report ludicrously over-exaggerates the influence of this “ecosystem” or 156,000 website followers are astonishingly influential and I, with my Strategic Culture Foundation pieces, personally control several Electoral College votes.

The real message of “Pillars of Russia’s Disinformation and Propaganda Ecosystem“, to someone who isn’t invested in spinning – ahem – theories about a Kremlin disinformation conspiracy, is that the “pillars” are feeble and the “ecosystem” small: Maddow alone has three times the followers of these seven plus the RT (3 million) the “all 17” report spent nearly half its space irrelevantly ranting about. Or maybe it’s saying that American voters are so easily influenced that “the Lilliputian Russians, spending a pittance compared to the Goliaths of the Clinton and Trump campaigns, was the deciding factor in 2016“.

Ironically this thing appeared at the same time as two that suggest Washington’s view of Moscow needs some work: It’s Time to Rethink Our Russia Policy and The Problem With Putinology: We need a new kind of writing about Russia. Good to see titles like that but they aren’t really rethinking anything: they still agree that Putin’s guilty of everything that Maddow says he is. Real re-thinking might get a toehold, for example, were people to contemplate why it is imbecilic to say that Moscow holds military exercises close to NATO’s borders. But you’ll only see that sort of thing on Strategic Culture Foundation and the others.

But now the abyss gazes back.

Clinton loses an election, blames Russia, the intelligence agencies pile on, the media shrieks away. Americans are told patriotic Americans don’t doubt. And now we arrive at the next stage of insanity. William Evanina, director of the National Counterintelligence and Security Center, informs us that “Russia is backing Donald Trump, China is supporting Joe Biden and Iran is seeking to sow chaos in the US presidential election…”. I guess that means that Russia and China will cancel each other out and that he’s telling us that Iran will choose the next POTUS. Who would have thought that the fate of the “greatest nation in earth” (as Presidents Trump, Obama, Bush Jr, Clinton, Bush Sr and Reagan like to call it) would be hidden under a turban somewhere in Iran?

So, American, know this: your “trusted sources” are telling you not to bother to vote in November – it’s not your decision.

THE REAL “RUSSIAN PLAYBOOK” IS WRITTEN IN ENGLISH

First published Strategic Culture Foundation

I hadn’t given The Russian Playbook much attention until Susan Rice, Obama’s quondam security advisor, opined a month ago on CNN that “I’m not reading the intelligence today, or these days — but based on my experience, this is right out of the Russian playbook“. She was referring to the latest US riots.

Once I’d seen this mention of The Russian Playbook (aka KGB, Kremlin or Putin’s Playbook), I saw the expression all over the place. Here’s an early – perhaps the earliest – use of the term. In October 2016, the Center for Strategic and International studies (“Ranked #1“) informed us of the “Kremlin Playbook” with this ominous beginning

There was a deeply held assumption that, when the countries of Central and Eastern Europe joined NATO and the European Union in 2004, these countries would continue their positive democratic and economic transformation. Yet more than a decade later, the region has experienced a steady decline in democratic standards and governance practices at the same time that Russia’s economic engagement with the region expanded significantly.

And asks

Are these developments coincidental, or has the Kremlin sought deliberately to erode the region’s democratic institutions through its influence to ‘break the internal coherence of the enemy system’?

Well, to these people, to ask the question is to answer it: can’t possibly be disappointment at the gap between 2004’s expectations and 2020’s reality, can’t be that they don’t like the total Western values package that they have to accept, it must be those crafty Russians deceiving them. This was the earliest reference to The Playbook that I found, but it certainly wasn’t the last.

Russia has a century-old playbook for ‘disinformation’… ‘I believe in Russia they do have their own manual that essentially prescribes what to do,’ said Clint Watts, a research fellow at the Foreign Policy Research Institute and a former FBI agent. (Nov 2018)

The Russian playbook for spreading fake news and conspiracy theories is the subject of a new three-part video series on The New York Times website titled ‘Operation Infektion: Russian Disinformation: From The Cold War To Kanye.’ (Nov 2018)

I found headlines such as these: Former CIA Director Outlines Russian Playbook for Influencing Unsuspecting Targets (May 2017); Fmr. CIA op.: Don Jr. meeting part of Russian playbook (Jul 2017); Americans Use Russian Playbook to Spread Disinformation (Oct 2018); Factory of Lies: The Russian Playbook (Nov 2018); Shredding the Putin Playbook: Six crucial steps we must take on cyber-security—before it’s too late. (Winter 2018); Trump’s spin is ‘all out of the KGB playbook’: Counterintelligence expert Malcolm Nance (May 2019).

Of course all these people are convinced Moscow interfered in the 2016 presidential election. Somehow. To some effect. Never really specified but the latest outburst of insanity is this video from the Lincoln Project. As Anatoly Karlin observes: “I think it’s really cool how we Russians took over America just by shitposting online. How does it feel to be subhuman?” He has a point: the Lincoln Project, and the others shrieking about Russian interference, take it for granted that American democracy is so flimsy and Americans so gullible that a few Facebook ads can bring the whole facade down. A curious mental state indeed.

So let us consider The Russian Playbook. It stands at the very heart of Russian power. It is old: at least a century old. Why, did not Tolstoy’s 1908 Letter to a Hindu inspire Gandhi to bring down the British Indian Empire and win the Great Game for Moscow? The Tolstoy-Putin link is undeniable as we are told in A Post-Soviet ‘War and Peace’: What Tolstoy’s Masterwork Explains About Putin’s Foreign Policy: “In the early decades of the nineteenth century, Napoleon (like Putin after him) wanted to construct his own international order…”. Russian novelists: adepts of The Playbook every one. So there is much to consider about this remarkable Book which has had such an enormous – hidden to most – role in world history. Its instructions on how to swing Western elections are especially important: the 2016 US election; Brexit; “100 years of Russian electoral interference“; Canada; France; the European Union; Germany and many more. The awed reader must ask whether any Western election since Tolstoy’s day can be trusted. Not to forget the Great Hawaiian Pizza Debate the Russians could start at any moment.

What can we know about The Playbook? For a start it must be written in Russian, a language that those crafty Russians insist on speaking among themselves. Secondly such an important document would be protected the way that highly classified material is protected. There would be a very restricted need to know; underlings participating in one of the many plays would not know how their part fitted into The Playbook; few would ever see The Playbook itself. The Playbook would be brought to the desk of the few authorised to see it by a courier, signed for, the courier would watch the reader and take away the copy afterwards. The very few copies in existence would be securely locked away; each numbered and differing subtly from the others so that, should a leak occur, the authorities would know which copy read by whom had been leaked. Printed on paper that could not be photographed or duplicated. As much protection as human cunning could devise; right up there with the nuclear codes.

So, The Russian Playbook would be extraordinarily difficult to get hold of. And yet… every talking head on US TV has a copy at his elbow! English copies, one assumes. Rachel Maddow has comprehended the complicated chapter on how to control the US power system. Others have read the impenetrably complex section on how to control US voting machines or change vote counts. Many are familiar with the lists of divisions in American society and directions for exploiting them. Adam Schiff has mastered the section on how to get Trump to give Alaska back. Susan Rice well knows the chapter “How to create riots in peaceful communities”.

And so on. It’s all quite ridiculous: we’re supposed to believe that Moscow easily controls far-away countries but can’t keep its neighbours under control.

There is no Russian Playbook, that’s just projection. But there is a “playbook” and it’s written in English, it’s freely available and it’s inexpensive enough that every pundit can have a personal copy: it’s named “From Dictatorship To Democracy: A Conceptual Framework for Liberation” and it’s written by Gene Sharp (1928-2018). Whatever Sharp may have thought he was doing, whatever good cause he thought he was assisting, his book has been used as a guide to create regime changes around the world. Billed as “democracy” and “freedom”, their results are not so benign. Witness Ukraine today. Or Libya. Or Kosovo whose long-time leader has just been indicted for numerous crimes. Curiously enough, these efforts always take place in countries that resist Washington’s line but never in countries that don’t. Here we do see training, financing, propaganda, discord being sown, divisions exploited to effect regime change – all the things in the imaginary “Russian Playbook”. So, whatever he may have thought he was helping, Sharp’s advice has been used to produce what only the propagandists could call “model interventions“; to the “liberated” themselves, the reality is poverty, destruction, war and refugees.

The Albert Einstein Institution, which Sharp created in 1983, strongly denies collusion with Washington-sponsored overthrows but people from it have organised seminars or workshops in many targets of US overthrows. The most recent annual report of 2014, while rather opaque, shows 45% of its income from “grants” (as opposed to “individuals”) and has logos of Euromaidan, SOSVenezuela, Umbrellamovement, Lwili, Sunflowersquare and others. In short, the logos of regime change operations in Ukraine, Venezuela, Hong Kong, Burkino Faso and Taiwan. (And, ironically for today’s USA, Black Lives Matter). So, clearly, there is some connection between the AEI and Washington-sponsored regime change operations.

So there is a “handbook” but it’s not Russian.

Reading Sharp’s book, however, makes one wonder if he was just fooling himself. Has there ever been a “dictatorship” overthrown by “non-violent” resistance along the lines of what he is suggesting? He mentions Norwegians who resisted Hitler; but Norway was liberated, along with the rest of Occupied Europe, by extremely violent warfare. While some Jews escaped, most didn’t and it was the conquest of Berlin that saved the rest: the nazi state was killed. The USSR went away, together with its satellite governments in Europe but that was a top-down event. He likes Gandhi but Gandhi wouldn’t have lasted a minute under Stalin. Otpor was greatly aided by NATO’s war on Serbia. And, they’re only “non-violent” because the Western media doesn’t talk much about the violence; “non-violent” is not the first word that comes to mind in this video of Kiev 2014. “Colour revolutions” are manufactured from existing grievances, to be sure, but with a great deal of outside assistance, direction and funding; upon inspection, there’s much design behind their “spontaneity”. And, not infrequently, with mysterious sniping at a expedient moment – see Katchanovski’s research on the “Heavenly Hundred” of the Maidan showing pretty convincingly that the shootings were “a false flag operation” involving “an alliance of the far right organizations, specifically the Right Sector and Svoboda, and oligarchic parties, such as Fatherland”. There is little in Sharp’s book to suggest that non-violent resistance would have had much effect on a really brutal and determined government. He also has the naïve habit of using “democrat” and “dictator” as if these words were as precisely defined as coconuts and codfish. But any “dictatorship” – for example Stalin’s is a very complex affair with many shades of opinion in it. So, in terms of what he was apparently trying to do, one can see it only succeeding against rather mild “dictators” presiding over extremely unpopular polities. With a great deal of outside effort and resources.

His “playbook” is useful to outside powers that want to overthrow governments they don’t like. Especially those run by “dictators” not brutal enough to shoot the protesters down. It’s not Russian diplomats that are caught choosing the leaders of ostensibly independent countries. It’s not Russians who boast of spending money in poor countries to change their governments. It’s not Russian diplomats who meet with foreign opposition leaders. Russia doesn’t fabricate a leader of a foreign country. It’s not Russia that invents a humanitarian crisis, bombs the country to bits, laughs at its leader’s brutal death and walks away. It’s not Russia that sanctions numerous countries. It’s not Russia that gives fellowships to foreign oppositionists. Even the Washington Post (one of the principals in sustaining Putindunnit hysteria) covered “The long history of the U.S. interfering with elections elsewhere“; but piously insisted “the days of its worst behavior are long behind it”. Whatever the pundits may claim about Russia, the USA actually has an organisation devoted to interfering in other countries’ business; one of whose leading lights proudly boasted: “A lot of what we do today was done covertly 25 years ago by the CIA.

The famous “Russian Playbook” is nothing but projection onto Moscow of what Washington actually does: projection is so common a feature of American propaganda that one may certain that when Washington accuses somebody else of doing something, it’s a guarantee that Washington is doing it.

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.)

Just when you thought things couldn’t get any crazier, this comes along. From the Lincoln Project (“Dedicated Americans protecting democracy”).

Clinton loses an election, blames Putin, deep state and garbage media chime in, more and more, finally we’re all nuked to ashes.

Martian historians can’t figure out what happened.

Watch the video. (We DEFINITELY need a whole new set of words in English for “crazy”)

As Anatoly Karlin tweeted “I think it’s really cool how we Russians took over America just by shitposting online. How does it feel to be subhuman?”

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.)

As I’ve said before, in the McCarthy days, there was a bit of reality to the craziness

Trumputin

Daily Kos, 28 Jun 2020

RUSSIA HATERS THEN AND NOW

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.

Max Planck

First published Strategic Culture Foundation

I’ve been at the Russia business for a while – since the days of Konstantin Chernenko in fact. As I’ve related elsewhere it was the summer of 1987 when I began to realise that things were really changing. Sometime around then I was invited to Massey College to debate with a Soviet diplomat the proposition that perestroyka meant the end of Marxism-Leninism; which, of course, it did. While I saw changes coming and was listened to seriously by my superiors in the Department of National Defence (DND) there were plenty of people who said that change was impossible. One senior guy from Foreign Affairs said his experience in Algeria showed him these regimes could never change and soon after he caused a paper to be produced that argued that the threat of nuclear war over Africa was very high. (!) The last words a local professor said to me was that change was impossible. I used to, when I gave presentations, ask the audience when they thought things were really changing in the USSR. Most of them would say when the Berlin Wall came down in 1989. Well, I would say, I realized it back then; just think how much farther along I am on the curve.

One of the half-witted theories floating around at the time was the recoil theory. The Soviets were pulling out of Eastern Europe so as to better bounce back and grab it later. Or something; never fully articulated – how could such a daft notion be? – yes, one can’t deny that they were pulling their tanks out but those cunning commies must be up to something. The idea was supported by a KGB defector who said that it was all a huge deception. There was a real outburst of excitement when a lot of tanks were moved out of the CFE area – see! They are cheating! the bounce back is beginning. This faded away when the satellite photos showed the tanks just pushed off the flatcars into the fields. The CFE Treaty requirements for cutting up a tank were very expensive; Moscow had no money so the tanks were sent out there to decay in the rain. (Which they did – one of my colleagues was an inspector and years later saw the sad rusted things). The necessity of pulling a lot of personnel out quickly meant that they were dumped wherever they could be – Norwegians, on one of our visits, worried that there were too many in the Kola Peninsula. And dumped they were – there were reports of officers and their families living in railway cars or even helicopters. Moscow wasn’t trying anything funny: the sudden withdrawals were just very difficult, especially with an economy that was collapsing. But it did what it promised it would do.

Change was happening and senior leadership at DND was open to it: I was given the chance to address the most senior group to make my pitch (1988?); I said that everything I saw indicated that Gorbachev would make a big arms reduction announcement soon. Which he did but, alas, one day too soon for publication of the paper the military intelligence people had written saying I was wrong. (Shortly before the Pentagon had put out a list of Soviet tank holdings which included a thousand or so useful T-10s; the naysayers scoffed at Gorbachev’s promise because, among other cuts, he was eliminating the now useless T-10s – an early case of damned if you do and damned if you don’t). With some opposition from Foreign Affairs, military to military talks were held (the first ever I believe) in 1989. As usual, being in the same business, the military got on well and the sole civilian lay low lest they turn on him. The talks continued and there were port visits as well.

But, there were still plenty of naysayers. For example a man who is today a player in the ludicrously titled Integrity Initiative informed us that all Russians were natural liars. In the Soviet days he’d tried to buy some scarce item, was told there was none and seen it sold to another. Liars every one! No, not liars, a shortage economy: you don’t sell a rare item to some foreigner who can’t do anything for you in return. I’ll bet he’s still telling people they’re all liars. Another now-II guy revealed to me what a complete uncoordinated balls-up NATO’s Kosovo war was; he now sings war songs on behalf of NATO. Another, quite reasonable then, turned ferocious when he lost an argument with me on JRL. Another young guy who’s part of the II slate started out balanced but is now writing Russian horror comics. Now I have some sympathy with young people starting out – I very much doubt anyone today could have the career I had either in government or academia; Russia is the enemy and if you don’t sing that tune, or pretend to, the doors will probably close in your face. But that doesn’t mean that you have to mention the “Gerasimov Doctrine” as if it were anything but obvious projection onto Russia of what NATO actually does. But it’s true: I had a career in which nobody ever told me what the “correct answer” was – other than the good advice I got in August 1991 – and I don’t think you could today. Which is just another sign of the general loss of freedom and deterioration of the intellectual climate of the West.

The August Coup attempt gave many of these a (brief) second wind – I was one of the very few in the government who said it would be a failure; over at Foreign Affairs they were all ready to recognise the junta – almost with, I think, a sense of relief that things were returning to the tried and true.

When I came back from Moscow in 1996 I was invited to one of the regular meetings our intelligence people had with our southern neighbours. One of them said that, he knew he’d been saying this for years, but finally the signs were all there of… a military coup. (In fairness, the others didn’t think much of that. By the way, has there ever been a military coup in Russia? palace coups, certainly, but no military ones). It was at that meeting when I realised that my three years there had given me a lot of on the ground experience – I’d been in grocery stores, watched the evolution of kiosks, seen the decaying Soviet Navy in Murmansk, talked to senior clergy, watched Mayor Luzhkov’s clean-up of the city, stayed in gigantic Intourist hotels in the provinces, flown, travelled by train and so on. Even met a shaman in Buryatia. A huge country and just a tiny bit seen by me but way more than most of the others. I had noticed this before on a visit to Stockholm to give a lecture. The USSR/Russia had been a far-off galaxy and, as the all-Russians-are-liars-guy showed, even some of those who’d actually visited hadn’t been very astute observers.

So the Russia-haters (Russia-fearers?) were active then too. The difference being that they didn’t have the complete influence that they now seem to have. They have persevered, over the years, shouting “Russia is the enemy!” and today they dominate. Maybe, as Planck suggests, we will just have to wait for time; they certainly can’t be argued with as this official statement shows:

Russia has generally followed international law and procedure in establishing the limits of its extended continental shelf. Russia could choose to unilaterally establish those limits if the procedures prove unfavorable and could utilize its military capabilities in an effort to deny access to disputed Arctic waters or resources. (My italics)

If forced to admit that Moscow is playing by the rules, they retort that it’s only to better break them tomorrow. They would pride themselves on having expanded NATO so as to be ready. They are the ones today who say – with no consciousness of irony – that “Russia maintains military presence close to NATO borders“.

Up to, say, 2005 nobody gave them much space because Russia was so obviously finished and dead but when Putin began to bring it back they got more attention. They joined forces with the America-first people: Russia’s contumacy could not be permitted in the post Cold War triumphalism of the New American Century. But what really put these people in the driver’s seat was the Clinton campaign’s excusing its failure by blaming Russia, the compliant corporate media’s amplification of the story and the bogus collusion story from “all 17 intelligence agencies”. You’d think that, with COVID-19 and all the dud “bombshells“, they’d be quietly dropping it, but no: they’re still trying to find that bombshell.

And it’s so easy to be one of them. Just start with the latest unproven charge – Skripal and MH17 are back in the news – then accuse them of being behind something current – BLM, gillet jaunes – throw in a selection of other unproven accusations, election interference, don’t forget a piety about the “Rules-Based International Order”; and presto! another op-ed or output from a NATO churn outfit. You could probably program a computer to do it: an anti-Russian version of the PoMo Generator. Maybe like the people at II you can strike it rich by getting the government to top up your pension in return for a little easy fantasising. The danger is that they’re training up a new generation on this easy and remunerative behaviour and Planck’s change will be postponed another generation.

But Putin turned out to be a Russia-first man, a Russian patriot, determined not to bend the knee. Not the least of the fascinations, by the way, is that the Yeltsin years are now regarded by the Russia-haters as a time when Russia was “on the right path”. Not what they were saying at the time, of course: Russia was menacing its neighbours, throwing away democracy and just generally all-round bad during the Yeltsin years too. Putin has grown and grown to monstrous proportions in these people’s minds as this selection of magazine covers shows. His “playbook” is the One Ring To Rule Them All. He controls the world with his 25¢ Facebook warriors, sowing division in a division-free paradise. Even crazier than the recoil theory!

As for my former employer, we’ve stopped talking to the Russians; we’re maintaining “security and stability” by keeping Putin out of Latvia and honouring nazis in Ukraine. The naysayers won that one too.

Ten years ago I wrote a piece arguing that, after periods of Russia being the West’s little brother and then the assertive enemy, we were coming to a time when Russia would be seen as another country with which to have normal relations. Well, that didn’t happen, The Russia-haters won the debate.

To sum up, a former head of GCHQ said at one of my presentations in the Putin era, “they just don’t share our values”. Russians would probably agree, but not in the way he meant.

THE DELUDED SUPERPOWER

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

Marshall Billingslea, May 2020

(First published Strategic Culture Foundation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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