SUNBEAMS FROM CUCUMBERS: THE VIEW FROM THE KHANATE OF KAGANSTAN

First published Strategic Culture Foundation

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

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

superpower, love it!

A quarter century later his message is:

superpower, endure it.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A few gems stick out.

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

But the most ridiculous suggestion is surely this:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

THEY’RE NOT EVEN TRYING TO MAKE SENSE NOW

First published Strategic Culture Foundation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In short, we are supposed to believe that

in 2016 the Russian hacked nothing but the election

and in 2020 they hacked everything but the election.

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

The US security organs expect us to believe,

giving no proof,

that there was lots of malign activity

which had no effect on the election whatsoever.

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

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

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

RUSSIA THE ETERNAL ENEMY QUOTATIONS

Fascinating to watch the world of disinformation at work. The Trump campaign last year was the first to disseminate the idea that Biden is senile. That was picked up by Russian disinformation and amplified by its bots, RT, and state media. Now that Putin is giving it more fuel by challenging Biden to a debate (even though Putin refuses to participate in political debates at home in Russia) the information operation has come full circle with Fox News now amplifying Russian propaganda. It’s a small world, isn’t it?

From someone who pretends to be a friend to Russians but hates their political choice.

Any disagreement with the proposition that Biden is as sharp as a tack has to be the work of a Putinbot, doesn’t it? BTW, half of Americans don’t think he’s running things. I guess they’re all Putinbots too.

REALLY STUPID THINGS SAID ABOUT RUSSIA

There are at least two reasons for Putin to be thinking about similar big and bold actions today. One is strategic and abiding: glory for himself and his Russia, the two by now entwined in his mind. The other motive is tactical: He is working toward a lifetime presidency—a six-year term in 2024, at 72, and perhaps another in 2030— in a country where the economy and incomes have stagnated for over a decade and the still-raging Covid-19 pandemic has left deep scars. What’s more, the arrest of pro-democracy leader Alexei Navalny has ignited waves of protest rallies in over 100 Russian cities for the first time since anti-Putin demonstrations in the winter of 2011-12.


Could Putin Launch Another Invasion? By Leon Aron Politico, 15 March 2021

The very first words are: “A trained KGB agent…” and it goes on in the same vein.

Of course, the reason why people like myself are talking about another war in Ukraine are because of things Kiev and NATO are doing; not because of trite imaginings about what goes on in Putin’s head.

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.

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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.

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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 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.)

Every time you think you’ve found bottom, some crazy American digs out another sub-basement. Putin doesn’t care about anything except wrecking the USA. Watch it. And marvel at his ignorance – Russia’s infrastructure is growing fast. When I was a kid in Canada, we all knew they were crazy down there.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8wreu1QG32k

And then I discover that this guy was saying this during the impeachment thing (anybody remember that?) so he actually precedes my other examples. So I admit — American craziness has actually slipped a bit. But still… I wonder. First thing in the morning, last thing at night. But what does Putin do at lunch? Ah…. got it. think about undermine American allies.

But seriously folks, where and how does this insane, demented, obsessional, failure-driven American anti-Russia hysteria, invention, hyperbole end?

Nuclear war?

 

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