AB INITIO: AFGHANISTAN

17 November 2015. I wrote this under a pseudonym when I was writing for Russia Insider (A site which has betrayed its intention and which I — AGAIN — refuse the right to reprint my stuff: something I deny to no one else). I am inspired to do this by this piece Fuller just wrote. Go and read it and then come back. We now see the utter collapse of the whole project. Forty years and thousands — hundreds of thousands — of destroyed lives later.

Bigger Than Big, Maybe Even Huger Than Huge

Almost like Brzezinski saying he got it wrong

When I heard of the Paris atrocities I thought: Oh no, here we go again. Fake sincerity, prayers “going out”, “attack on values”, “stand together”, flag overlays on Facebook, mounds of flowers, op-ed writers flogging their dead horses, solemn parade with linked arms (but will they invite Poroshenko this time?), T shirt slogans and all the rest of the sentimental bogosity. What there would not be is any consideration or discussion of Wahhabism, the US causative element, NATO and its activity in the home countries of refugees, “moderate rebels” or anything actually challenging. Just another wallow in false emotion and cheap threats. And, oh yes, some bombing. Always some bombing.

Never would there be any actual thought about causes and effects, how these things came to be and certainly not even the tiniest admission that we – we the exceptionals – just might have a responsibility. Nor would we hear about all the other atrocities in places that don’t get the full soppy treatment. Especially not Syria which has had four years in which every day is a Paris. And certainly not any thought that the explosives and weapons used in Paris might just have been supplied… by Paris.

Well, perhaps I’m wrong. And very glad to be too.

Read this:

I reach this view with much mixed feeling. Over the years I have grown increasingly convinced that western military interventions and wars to “fix” the Middle East have not only failed, but have vastly exacerbated nearly all regional situations. Washington has at the end of the day, in effect, “lost” every one of its recent wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, Yemen, and elsewhere. The West has been as much the problem as the solution.

And now read this:

The policy of guiding the evolution of Islam and of helping them against our adversaries worked marvelously well in Afghanistan against [the Russians]. The same doctrines can still be used to destabilize what remains of Russian power, and especially to counter the Chinese influence in Central Asia.

Different guys, right? Nope. Same guy, different times.

The author is Graham Fuller. Here’s his bio on his website, and here’s what Wikipedia says. Details are sparse – of course – but he is widely regarded as one of the key people in the US support of the mujaheddin in the Afghanistan-Soviet war.

In other words, Fuller was one of the architects of the US policy to use jihadists in one part of the world expecting to put them back in the box afterwards. (The arrogance of the hyperpower: we’re the actors, you’re the puppets). Now he realizes they’re not puppets and they didn’t quietly go back in the box when the hyperpower was finished using them. Now he says:

The elimination of ISIS requires every significant stake-holder to be present: UN, US, EU, Canada, Russia, Iran, Kurds, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Iraq, Qatar, Egypt and others. China, aspiring to a major world role, cannot sit this one out either. This convocation requires real heft and clout to impose some rough plan of action. Above all, the UN must head up future operations involving the indispensable future ground operations. If ever an neutral face was essential, this is it.

Which is exactly what Putin is calling for.

Speaking of Putin, I guess Fuller now agrees that

It is equally irresponsible to manipulate extremist groups and use them to achieve your political goals, hoping that later you’ll find a way to get rid of them or somehow eliminate them.” And “So, it’s a big question: who’s playing who here?

So, maybe the Paris atrocity will lead to some clear thinking. And, as there can’t be any real action without clear thinking…

But Fuller’s only one man, plenty more have to now come to the same understanding.

UKRAINE AND THE LONG GAME

(First published Strategic Culture Foundation)

But if we have to use force, it is because we are America; we are the indispensable nation. We stand tall and we see further than other countries into the future.

Madeleine Albright February 1998

No, you aren’t; no you don’t.

Putin or Xi, date and source unknown

The myth of Maidan Ukraine is that a corrupt, Russia-friendly president was overthrown in a largely peaceful revolt by the disgusted citizenry in 2014. After a massacre of the peaceful protesters by his security forces, he fled; democracy was restored; a new government elected; “reform” began “progressing”. But Moscow wouldn’t leave Ukraine alone: it seized Crimea, blessing its conquest with a fake referendum, and then started a war in the east. Et cetera. This narrative is widespread in the West.

It is almost completely false. Take for example a founding myth of post-Maidan Ukraine – the “Heavenly Hundred“. The Canadian scholar Ivan Katchanovski has shown in the most convincing way, after meticulous examination of the evidence, that the “the protesters were shot by concealed shooters from the Maidan-controlled locations“. For those who believe that cui bono is a pointer to motive, the massacre put paid to the EU-brokered agreement that had just been negotiated. In the immortal words of Victoria Nuland: “fuck the EU” and lo! Yats was the guy six days later. Nuland told us that five billion dollars from Washington produced a “European future”, “justice”, “human dignity” and “return to economic health”. She did not mention the US Navy tender for the Renovation of Sevastopol School #5: another cui bono moment.

Seven years later, Ukraine is a mess – I can think of no better illustration than this fact from Ukraine Business News:

Remittances by Ukraine’s labor migrants is forecast to reach $13.3 billion this year – 11% higher than the $12 billion recorded in 2019 and 2020. Labor is expected to remain above metals this year as Ukraine’s second largest export, after food.

In short, all the cheerful Charlie stuff about “the progress of Ukraine in carrying out the reforms” falls down on the fact that it is living off the Black Earth area and citizens working abroad for richer neighbours. Deindustrialisation is nearly complete – Antonov is gone, Yuzhmash struggles, Donbass has left, Black Sea Shipyard liquidatedhere’s a summary:

As you can see, from the republic of the USSR, which had one of the most powerful industrial potentials in the country and is able to provide itself and other republics with products of almost all industries, Ukraine has turned into a territory where only enterprises for processing agricultural raw materials or the same forest operate. Its complete de-industrialization is, in fact, completed.

Polling shows the overwhelming majority of Ukrainians regard the present situation as bad and a third expect it to get worse. Worse off in every respect. Food, remittances, Russian gas transit fees, IMF loans: not much of an economy there.

Nuland’s “justice”, “human dignity” and “return to economic health” were just words: the school tender reveals Washington’s real interests. The overthrow of Yanukovych was a replay of his first overthrow – the now-forgotten Orange Revolution and the even more forgotten Yushchenko. The aims were to separate Ukraine from Russia and by empowering the Galicians, ever nostalgic for their nazi glory days, to instil a strong anti-Russian sense. Gain a military position closer to Russia. A fertile propaganda source. Ideally, get Russia enticed into invading – more hostility, more sanctions, maybe even get it stuck into an endless war. But always a problem for Russia.

How has that worked out?

There is no doubt that Ukraine produces sudden crises to which Moscow must react. But this can work two ways. A very good example occurred this spring when Ukrainian President Zelensky declared that it was time to “de-occupy” Crimea and moved some forces east. Within two weeks, Moscow had mobilised two corps plus airborne formations. Especially impressive were the division- and corps- level artillery systems: 2S4 heavy mortars, 2S7 long-range guns, Iskanders and the ships from the Caspian Flotilla. NATO and Washington huffed and puffed, but the game was up and the crisis subsided. Tiresome for Moscow, to be sure, a distraction from things it would rather be doing, potentially dangerous, but there were benefits too. The mobilisation system got a real life workout and sensible people learned that Russia could mobilise, in two weeks, more lethal force than NATO could assemble anywhere in any timeframe. (And just after the “miserable failure” of a US wargame against China, too.) Sanctions imposed on Russia after its “invasion” of Crimea have been cleverly used to build up Russian food production so that, far from having to import half its food, as was said in the 1990s. it is now an exporter of food. Other sanctions have also benefited Russian domestic production. So, on the one hand a cost and an irritation, but on the other a benefit.

So, altogether, one can make the argument that Washington’s “Ukrainian Gambit” has failed in its intent – Russia has been hurt, but not nearly as much as the planners hoped. But then, what can one expect when the USA is run by people who say Russia makes nothing and its economy is nothing but nuclear weapons and oil? (The last said, incidentally, in the very week a Russian-made module docked at the ISS.) No surprise that they were wrong again; and, with the same people back, they will be wronger still.

Russia’s strategy has been patience – the long game. After, that is, the initial swift move to allow the people of Crimea to choose what they had wanted since 1954. That took Washington by surprise and checkmated any thoughts of Sevastopol becoming a US Navy base. But since then, the strategy has been patient – putting a thumb on the scale from time to time to keep the rebels on Donbass from defeat – but avoiding temptations. The Russian Armed Forces could overrun Ukraine in short order but at the cost of guerilla war in the west and parts of the centre; Putin’s team is too smart to fall for that.

From time to time Moscow puts down markers for a future when the mass of Ukrainians free themselves from the Galician-driven nightmare and return to a rational relationship with Russia. Investigators have been taking note of the numerous crimes committed in Ukraine and in July presented their case to the ECHR. There is no great expectation that the case will be investigated now – “human rights” today are one-way – but there may be a future in which it will.

Likewise Putin’s essay on Russia and Ukraine and his follow-up remarks are addressed to those Ukrainians not lost in the absurdities of Freud being Ukrainian, ancient gods born in Ukraine and the language from Venus. And how many would that be? A lot more than Washington thinks. A recent Ukrainian poll showed 41% of Ukrainians agreed with Putin that Ukrainians and Russians are one people; 55% disagreed. The division in Ukraine is seen here (as on every question) with a majority in the east and south agreeing with Putin. But the official line in today’s Ukraine is that Moscow “hijacked the history of Kyivan Rus’” and it’s no relation: “There are no indications of any connection of Kyivan Rus with the Finnish ethnic groups in the land of ‘Moksel‘”. But, Putin can hope, one day this will be cast aside and Ukrainians and Russians can make a future of cooperation. (Not necessarily unity, be it noted – he speaks of Germany and Austria, Canada and the USA, as very similar peoples living as different political units.)

So that’s been Moscow’s strategy since its swift move in Crimea. Many would prefer a sudden smash, but there are very good reasons why Moscow has learned that it’s better to be patient as I argue here.

So Moscow has, to a degree, been caught in the trap, how about the oh-so-clever plotters? Well, first there’s the money: Ukraine has absorbed a lot for very little return. In 2014, when expectations were high, the IMF was talking about $18 billion. In 2021 it was withholding the next tranche “because conditions haven’t been met“. Were “conditions” ever met? This sounds more like an announcement that the West is losing interest. But the debt remains and Ukraine has one last thing to loot, although it’s resisting: its farmland. But, vide Confessions of an Economic Hitman, that’s the point of the debt in the first place. Trump’s first impeachment was about something he did or didn’t do about Ukraine – no one remembers or cares any more, but it said to be very important at the time – and so the Ukraine imbroglio came home. Hunter Biden’s laptop – ignored by the Establishment media but nevertheless known – also brings the story home. Then there’s the question of the nazis in Ukraine – the West downplays their existence but the fact is that there is a well-armed group in Ukraine, an attractor for similar people, who, to put it simply, believe the wrong side won the Second World War. And they’re doing their best to produce another generation. What long-term effect will they have when Ukraine is rotted-out and looted-out? In 2014 Der Spiegel explained How the EU Lost Russia over Ukraine; does that look like a worthwhile exchange today? There are a lot of nuclear power stations in Ukraine: are we confident that they are well-managed and maintained? Washington would probably have opposed Nord Stream 2 as it opposed previous pipelines but the Ukrainian connection gave it another impetus; it eventually recognised reality and stopped blocking it but what did that cost its relations with Germany? Something else to add to the neocon failures in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and the rest.

But these are only details. The most important entanglement is the thing itself. After the promises, aid, schemes, involvements and interferences, NATO, EU membership and the other withered carrots, Kiev has a seat at the table. Another anti-Russian voice that has to be placated; another actor that can start a crisis – even a war; more sanctions that hurt the sanctioner; an unresolvable item on every meeting agenda; another issue to compel subjects to bow to Washington. Another tail to wag the dog. And finally a political vulnerability at home: Biden’s Surrender to Merkel on Nord Stream 2 and Biden’s Gift to Putin scream the couch-warriors.

Of course Washington and its satrapies can just walk away from Ukraine (vide Somalia, Libya, Afghanistan et al); there will be a cost to their reputation for reliability but there isn’t much left of that. Russia, on the other hand, cannot walk away; but a Ukraine ruined and abandoned by its Western BFFs would be a different Ukraine. The long game, again.

There’s a Russian story about a thug holding a brick over someone’s head: Do you want to buy this brick? No thanks. You’d better buy it and not tempt fate. Who will buy the Ukrainian brick?

NORDSTREAM

(Answer to question from Sputnik.)

Washington invested a lot of time and effort into blocking the pipeline and has wisely admitted defeat, even going so far as to order its Tabaqui in Kiev to stop complaining. One can wonder whether Washington was trying to “keep Russia out” or “keep Germany down” but, as in the 1980s, it failed in both. The Biden-Merkel communique papered over this reality with guff about common values and empty threats should Moscow use “the gas weapon” – something it has never done but is always accused of. Berlin promised some money to Kiev but future money is not the same as present money. Nothing substantial there.

What of the future? There are too many uncertainties to answer. Merkel is apparently going in a couple of months; will her successor agree that her subservience to Washington on all issues but this one really was the best choice for Germany? Will Biden still be in office then? Will Germans assess their US connection as worth the cost? This failure of interference in Germany’s affairs, coming after the failure in Afghanistan into which Berlin sunk so many resources, make US-German relations rather fluid in the future.

As for Kiev, it has learned that loyalty to Washington is a one-way street; it can join the Afghanistan government in lamentation.

THE ARCTIC OCEAN IS A RUSSIAN LAKE

First published Strategic Culture Foundation

In 2007 a Russian submersible planted a flag on the sea floor at the North Pole. This sparked a flurry of pearl-clutching in the West and idiotic concerns for Santa Claus’ safety (but keep calm, Canada will defend him!) drowning out the rational comment of Christopher Westdal,a former Canadian Ambassador to Russia:

In the Arctic, for a start, Mr. Putin is playing by the same Law of the Sea rules we endorse. The truth is that if we could have, we would have, long ago done much the same thing the Russians have just done. We were not amused, but Russia’s gambit was an entirely legitimate use of an impressive technology that we wish we had to highlight a claim.

The operative statement here is “if we could have, we would have”. The truth is that only Russia can and that means that the Arctic is essentially a Russian lake, or, if you prefer, a Russian skating rink. First of all, about 160 degrees of the circle – or 43% – is Russian, quite a bit more than Canada at 22%, Denmark/Greenland at 19% or the USA and Norway at 8% each. But it’s not just that more of it is Russian, the main point is that Russia can and the other four can’t.

Most of the Arctic is frozen most of the time and icebreaker ships are necessary. According to this list of operational icebreakers, Canada has six, the USA four, Denmark three, Norway two. Russia has more than seventy. Russia’s fleet is modern, the others are old. Russia has the only nuclear-powered icebreakers – eight in service according to Wikipedia. The Arktika is the world’s largest and most powerful icebreaker capable of operating through three metres of ice; there are three more in the works. But an even larger class is coming: four metre ice; construction began in July. Russia’s icebreaker capacity is so enormous that one of them spends its time running tourist cruises to the North Pole. None of the other Arctic countries has anything like this. The USA is planning to build more to replace its elderly fleet; Canada is “exploring options“.

The principal reason for Russia’s construction of such powerful icebreakers as the Project 10510 (aka Leader or Лидер class) is to turn the “Northern Sea Route” into a year-round useable shipping route. The route runs from Murmansk (ice-free year-round and therefore accessible to world shipping) along the top of Russia, through the Bering Straits into the Pacific Ocean – a much shorter route than anything else. At present, its potential is offset by the facts that it has very thick ice at the eastern end and that current icebreakers move slowly at their icebreaking limits. The intention is that the Leader class icebreakers will be able to move through the heavy ice at normal ship speeds (about 12 knots). All this is explained in here by John Helmer.

There are considerable geostrategic implications – this route is not just a way for Russia to earn transit fees. At present Chinese goods bound for Europe travel south, through the straits in Malaysia and Indonesia, through the Indian Ocean and on either through the Suez Canal, Mediterranean and Gibraltar or round Africa. This route has many narrow passages that can be interdicted by hostile powers; much of it is within reach of NATO. If the Northern Sea Route became routinely useable throughout the year, China would be able to more quickly and cheaply ship goods to its European markets. Using the Northern Sea Route will also put these goods far from the reach of the US Navy and its interminable “freedom of navigation” patrols. Likewise, goods coming to China – especially energy from Russia – will be out of reach of hostile powers. The Northern Sea Route, when added to the fast rail network being built by Beijing through Mackinder’s “World Island“, will be a geopolitical fact of no small significance: a response, if not checkmate, to the five-century power of Mackinder’s “world islands”. Both Beijing and Moscow routinely look farther into the future than Western capitals do and Moscow’s work in the Arctic is an example of this forward planning.

The Arctic is thought to have a great deal of natural resources, particularly petroleum. In such a large and inhospitable territory there is much to be explored but already there are many estimates: one ten-year old source estimates that 30% of the world’s undiscovered gas reserves (most in the Russian Arctic) and 13% of its oil reserves may be there. Another source reports that more than 400 onshore oil and gas fields have been discovered north of the Arctic Circle, more than two-thirds are in Russia. One of the largest Russian petroleum sources is in the Khanty-Mansiysk Autonomous Region from which over half of Russia’s oil comes but there are many other oil and gas fields in the Russian sector. Modern technology has made it more possible than previously to tap these resources and Russia is in the forefront of the exercise: Rosneft has just begun what promises to be an enormous operation in the Taymyr peninsula,

Given the inaccessibility of the Arctic, the most efficient way to transport natural gas is to liquefy it. Norway appears to have pioneered LNG technology in cold climates with its plant at Hammerfest that started operations in 2007. Two years later Russia opened its first LNG plant in Sakhalin (52 degrees north). In 2017 another plant was opened in the Yamal Peninsula at 71 degrees north (the same latitude as Hammerfest but much colder weather). To carry this LNG to its customers a fleet of icebreaking LNG carriers has been built in South Korea; the first, the Christophe de Margerie, completing a voyage from Norway to South Korea in August 2017 without needing the support of icebreakers. As of December 2019 the fifteenth and final of the fleet had taken on board its maiden cargo at the Yamal LNG port bound for China. That was the 354th LNG cargo from the port in the first two years of its existence. Once again we see that the country that supposedly “doesn’t make anything” actually makes big plans and executes them. Work on the plant begun in July 2012, it opened for business in December 2017 in time for the appearance of its fleet of specialised ships. The owner, Novatek, is building a third LNG plant in the Yamal region. Rosneft is building its own fleet of icebreaker LNG carriers for its Arctic LNG 2 project. Meanwhile an LNG plant for Alaska has been in concept since 2014 and thus far seems to have produced nothing expect planning permission. In Canada there are “feasibility studies“.

Petroleum supplies are by no means the only natural resources in the Arctic: there are many minerals there as well. In all these areas Russia is well advanced in exploration and exploitation. For many years Russia has maintained a coal mine in Spitzbergen, the Taymyr Peninsula has large coal reserves that India is interested in, there’s a large gold mine in Chukotka and Norilsk has been a producer of nickel, copper and palladium for years. Russia’s Arctic helium production is the the subject of a breathless NYT piece. But these are just samples of what is likely there and the Northern Sea Route, when it is routinely operational, will open more areas for exploration, exploitation and transport.

The Arctic is a formidable environment and work, let alone mere survival, requires enormous amounts of energy the sources of which may be far from the sites. Moscow has an answer for that too – nuclear power stations. Specifically floating, and therefore moveable, nuclear power stations. The first of these, the Akademik Lomonosov, has been operating for more than a year in Pevek, Chukotka. A second is under construction and the current plan calls for seven in total. But, if the project succeeds – and so far so good – there will likely be more. Again, none of the other Arctic nations has anything like this, even though the USA actually pioneered the concept.

Of the five Arctic nations, only three seem to operate military bases in the true Arctic area. The USA has a number of facilities in Alaska but all of them are south of the Bering Strait but it does operate a significant air base at Thule in Greenland (76 degrees north) (Google maps). Canada operates CF Station Alert at 82 degrees north; but it is a relatively small huddle of buildings reachable only by air: (Google Maps). A naval facility is being constructed at the top of Baffin Island and is expected to become operational in 2022. This paper describes Canada’s efforts in its 22% of the Arctic and admits “Significant gaps remain between its current abilities and desired end-state, yet there has been a steady improvement in its basic skill sets”. Two of the Arctic nations – the USA and Russia – operate fleets of nuclear-powered submarines which can travel under the arctic ice but only Russia has submarines actually based in the territory at Polyarnyy in the Kola Peninsula.

By far the largest military force stationed in the Arctic is the Russian Northern Fleet. Not only does this include considerable surface and submarine elements but it fields a strong aviation component and coastal troops complete with shore defence missiles and air defence assets. To say nothing of nuclear forces – here are four Bulava ICBMs being fired from an SSBN in the White Sea. Altogether a very strong and balanced force with direct exit into the polar ocean. The Northern Fleet is continually exercised as the Russian MoD site shows. The other Arctic nations have nothing to compare: they may make occasional excursions into the Far North but only Russia is there all the time.

But where Russia really has a military presence in the Arctic are the bases that it has built. In no way can CFS Alert’s huddle of huts be compared to the amazing Trefoil base on Alexandra Land at 80 degrees north (Google maps.) It is said to be able to provide “comfortable” living for up to 150 soldiers for a year and a half. Another base, the Northern Clover base (250 troops) on Kotelny Island, is in operation, equipped and exercised. Another base is being built in Tiksi. There are at least five airbases on the Russian Arctic archipelago. And it’s not just troops and aircraft – a couple of years ago Arctic-adapted vehicles were shown in the Victory Day parade – they include air defence systems, all-terrain vehicles and armoured fighting vehicles. A version of the T-80 tank is being refurbished for Arctic service. Meanwhile, in 2013 Canada was testing a snowmobile but nothing seems to have happened with it.

The reality of Russia’s possession of its Arctic territories is met with the usual hyperventilation in the Western media “Russia sees its assertive military posture…”; “What Is Behind Russia’s Aggressive Arctic Strategy?“; “Arctic Aggression: Russia Is Better Prepared for a North Pole Conflict Than America Is: Not good“; “Meeting Russia’s Arctic Aggression“; “Putin is making a power grab for the Arctic“. And so on. “Assertive”, “aggression”, “power grab” are the words of the propagandist: what Russia is actually doing is defending and exploiting its territory. Just as we would. If we could.

In President Putin’s Arctic policy statement of March 2020:

Russia’s main national interests in the Arctic are as follows: to ensure Russia’s sovereignty and territorial integrity; preserve the Arctic as a territory of peace and stable mutually beneficial partnership; guarantee high living standards and prosperity for the population of the Russian Arctic; develop the Russian Arctic as a strategic resource base and use it rationally to speed up national economic growth; develop the Northern Sea Route as a globally competitive national transport corridor; and to protect the Arctic environment, the primordial homeland and the traditional way of life of the indigenous minorities in the Russian Arctic.

A bit of propaganda there, but mostly cold hard national interest.

Russia has made the plans and followed through – the other Arctic nations mostly talk about it or complain.

To repeat Christopher Westdale:

“If we could have, we would have.”

HOW TO FIX UKRAINE

  • Hold a plebiscite throughout the territory of the former Ukrainian SSR (yes that includes Crimea – we’re trying to make a settlement that everyone agrees with and there’s no doubt how that would turn out).
  • Said plebiscite to be monitored by countries with no dog in the fight: say China, India and a South America one. Get the UN to bless the results in advance.
  • Question for Round 1
    • Do you want to be part of Russia?
    • Do you want to be part of Ukraine?
    • Do you want to be independent?
  • Re-design the borders to accommodate results of votes as much as possible.
  • Generous financial assistance to those who want to move from one area to another. Paid for by the USA and the EU who, after all, blew up the old Ukraine.
  • In five years as Rump Ukraine gets worse off, repeat plebiscite with one additional question
    • Do you want to be part of a neighbouring country? If so, which one?
  • Repeat in another five years and keep repeating until everyone is where he wants to be.
  • Make sure you have tight border controls around Rump Ukraine to keep the nazis in.

What are the chances of this happening? Well, given that Trump is a new phenomenon, you can’t say it’s absolutely zero.

What happens if this isn’t done? The same thing eventually but after a lot more suffering and a lot more time.

Is this a precedent? Yes, what’s wrong with that?

THOUGHTS ON KOREA

(Response to a question from Sputnik. https://sputniknews.com/analysis/201804301064040839-kim-north-south-korea-summit/)

I have long thought that the solution in Korea is what the Chinese call the “dual suspension”: the north gives up its nuclear weapons and the south agrees to stop the annual threatening exercises with the USA. Kim remembers the horrors visited on North Korea by the USA in his grandfather’s time and has little trust in Washington. Especially after the destruction of Libya.

But, getting from here to there will take a lot of careful testing of intentions and actions. Yesterday’s announcement suggests a step towards “dual suspension” in this sentence: “South and North Korea agreed to carry out disarmament in a phased manner, as military tension is alleviated and substantial progress is made in military confidence-building.” But a seven-decade situation will take a long time to end.

The real question is what will Washington do? The last agreement in 1994 – a type of “dual suspension” – was broken by Washington; Washington is what Pyongyang really fears. Will Washington step back and let the locals solve the problem?

Reading his inaugural speech, one would expect Trump to want to get out. But who can say? Washington is, as the Russians say, not-capable-of-agreement-with (недоговороспособниы). One President says no to NATO expansion; the next says expand. Korean agreements are passed by presidents, blocked by Congress. UN resolutions are used as licences to kill. One says deal with Iran, the next says no deal. Syrian ceasefires are negotiated by State and cancelled by the Pentagon. The present one says time to get out of Syria and a week later attacks Syria. Impossible to predict; impossible to trust; impossible to agree with.

That’s the problem. I believe that the two principals and their immediate neighbours could work their way to a solution over time; Washington is the unpredictable part.

NEW US OPERATIONS IN AFGHANISTAN

(Asked by Sputnik for comments on US scheme to use “small teams of highly experienced officers and contractors alongside Afghan forces to hunt and kill Taliban militants.”)

“Precise”, “targetted”, “pinpoint”, “experienced”. All exciting words that look good on the prospectus but they all require accurate and detailed intelligence. And that is something that the ever-expanding US intelligence apparatus – “all 17” – does not have very much of. The US intelligence establishment was surprised by Pearl Harbor, the Soviet A bomb, the invasion of South Korea…. the fall of the Berlin Wall, 911, virtually every subsequent terrorist attack on US soil… the rise of ISIS, Russia’s operations in Syria, North Korean nukes… (Of course there are those who insist that half of these were actually CIA operations and therefore no surprise at all….).

In short a lot of activity, a lot of killings, a lot of doors kicked in, a lot of personal grudges paid off by fooling the Americans into doing your dirty work and not much else. Shades of Operation Phoenix in Vietnam.

And why go after the Taliban anyway? It’s not ISIS/DAESH or Al Qaeda: it’s a purely Afghan phenomenon and it has been getting stronger because it embodies the long Afghan desire to be left alone by foreigners.

So the result will be more deaths, more Taliban and another signpost on the road to American overextension.

But the program will succeed in getting the USA to the milestone of being in Afghanistan twice as long as the USSR was.

Why Russia Hasn’t and Won’t Invade Ukraine

These pieces are papers that I believe to be still relevant; they were published earlier elsewhere under a pseudonym. They have been very slightly edited and hyperlinks have been checked. NOTE 2017: I originally wrote this in November 2014. Breedlove has come and gone but a new American general is apparently believing that there are thousands of Russian soldiers in Eastern Ukraine. So this is apposite again.

https://orientalreview.org/2017/09/11/russia-hasnt-wont-invade-ukraine/

Here we go again. NATO is again – how many times does that make it? – echoing Kiev and saying that Russia has invaded Ukraine. Or so says NATO’s General Breedlove. “‘Across the last two days we have seen the same thing that O.S.C.E. is reporting,’ General Breedlove said at a news conference in Sofia, Bulgaria. ‘We have seen columns of Russian equipment, primarily Russian tanks, Russian artillery, Russian air defence systems and Russian combat troops entering into Ukraine.’” Well, here are the OSCE reports, read then and see whether you think Breedlove is telling the truth: columns moving around in east Ukraine, yes; crossing the border, no. Meanwhile, back at the Pentagon, the official spokesman has no “independent operational reporting that tells me that they have crossed the border”. But NATO has its own reality.

So has Russia invaded Ukraine? Of course, that all depends on your definition of “is” is, or some similar piece of deceptive hair-splitting, doesn’t it? But, for most people, “invasion” means regular troops and equipment crossing the border and staying there. Is Moscow aiding the rebels in the east? Probably. But that’s not what’s being claimed.

The neatest way to respond to these endless frothings is this:

If Russia had invaded, you wouldn’t have to ask; if you have to ask, it hasn’t.

It would have happened quickly and be plain for all to see. A thousand soldiers, a dozen or two tanks is not how it would have happened: it would have been big, it would have been sudden and it would have been over quickly. There would be no need for grainy satellite photos of combine harvesters or whatever they were; no need for reporters who forgot their cell phones saying they saw something: there would be Russian soldiers at the Dnepr certainly and maybe in Kiev or Lviv; Russian soldiers, guns, helicopters, tanks and aircraft all over the place. (Interesting to speculate, as it gets colder and armed thugs throw their weight around, how Russian troops would be received in Kiev today, isn’t it? But we’ll probably never know).

Or at least the first part would have been over quickly. Just like the US invasion of Iraq. Getting to the Dnepr, Kiev or Lviv would have been easy, but once there, the Russians would have found themselves surrounded by people who didn’t want them to be there. And that, as the Americans found out in Iraq, is quite a different thing. If one were to take a horizontal slice of Ukraine from east to west and ask the inhabitants to rate the presence of Russian soldiers in their neighbourhood from one to ten, one would get an answer ranging from ten in the far east to minus ten in the far west: flowers in the east, bullets in the west.

Russian troops in the centre and west would find themselves opposed by people who had had military training in the Soviet or Ukrainian Armed Forces, many of whom had military experience in Afghanistan. In other words, Russian invaders would be met with exactly the same response that western Ukrainian invaders found in the east.

Crimea was different: there it was all flowers, all the way and the borders are clear, distinct and obvious. Not at all the same in the rest of Ukraine. (NOTE 2017: And the Russian troops were already there, a point that Western accounts usually glide over.)

Yes, the Russian Army could get to the western border in a week or two without much difficulty but it wouldn’t be able to stay there.

So that’s why Moscow hasn’t and won’t “invade Ukraine”: it doesn’t want to find itself bogged down in months or years of ambushes, IEDs and all that. And then probably have to leave at the end, anyway. Moscow has watched the US in Iraq and Afghanistan. And, of course, it remembers its own experience in Afghanistan. Huge cost for a trivial and momentary gain.

The same reason, come to think of it, why Moscow, with its alleged desire to rebuild the empire or whatever, didn’t put Georgia into the bag in 2008. And why it won’t invade Estonia either. It could do it, but it wouldn’t be worth it.

Afterword: All this is predicated on the West confining its support to the discreet provision of training and weapons (something that Breedlove and the others don’t talk about much – the projection in this whole affair is enormous). Should NATO forces enter Ukraine and move east, then all bets are off.

Something for them to talk about

US President Trump and Russian President Putin are due to have their first face-to-face meeting in Hamburg in a few days. This meeting should have taken place in April or May and, had that happened, by now the two would be well into substantive issues. But thanks to the devotion of the lügenpresse to the anti-Russia tarradiddle, Trump was unable to move. And, exploded as a “nothingburger” it may be, and devoid of evidence as we are continually told it is, people are still banging away at it: “You must state bluntly to Putin that Russia can never again violate our sovereignty by stealing and publishing our data, and must stop cyber probes of our electoral machinery.”

So Trump may be wary that anything he does or says to Putin, short of outright rudeness or a punch in the face, will be spun as further “proof” that he is Putin’s puppy. Although – one can hope – Trump, empowered by his contempt for the fake news media and emboldened by CNN’s troubles, may ignore the yapping.

From Russia’s perspective the meeting is easy enough. Putin is self-controlled, intelligent and disciplined: he’s ready and capable of talking about anything; he knows what Russia’s interests are; he has an open mind; I believe he is hopeful but not deluded. He knows that the WaPo and NYT think Trump is an idiot but I doubt he looks to these propaganda rags for guidance. He is smart enough to know that a man who became POTUS against all opposition could not possibly be an idiot but, at the same time he is experienced enough not to hope for too much (as he told Oliver Stone: presidents come and go but US policy doesn’t change).

The commonly suggested subjects for discussion present some difficulties. In Syria Washington is simply too involved with fantasies of “moderate rebels”, confusion from moment to moment and speaker to speaker about what Assad’s future should be. Added to which, there is more than a little evidence that, whatever official Washington may say, the generals on the ground will attack Syrian units or aircraft ad libitum. Therefore it is too complicated a subject for a first discussion. Countering terrorism is another suggestion but, for a serious discussion to be possible, Washington must first decide what side it is really on: it has too long a history of supporting jihadists here but fighting them there to be believed (and especially not by Putin who told Stone that he had proof that Washington had supported jihadists in Chechnya). So, neither of these subjects makes for a good first discussion.

But there is one serious subject that would work and that is North Korea and its nuclear and missile programs. It drew attention to itself in the most dramatic way by launching a rocket that could reach Alaska on the most sacred holiday of the American mythos. There is no reason to think that either Beijing or Moscow are much pleased with this development either. Chinese President Xi was just in Moscow with Putin and the two discussed North Korea and a joint statement was issued. They call for the cessation of missile and nuclear tests by Pyongyang and cessation of US-South Korean military exercises near the border; Beijing calls this the “double suspension”. If a solution is found, it will have to be that; threats from Washington do nothing to solve anything. Pyongyang isn’t scared and it has every reason to hate and distrust Washington: US aircraft dropped 25% more bombs on North Korea than it did on Japan, killing, one US general estimated, 20% of the population. Americans may have forgotten that, but North Koreans have not.

This, therefore, is a subject that is topical; it is a problem that all three capitals recognise; there is a solution. While the solution will necessitate some climbdown by Washington, it can be accomplished in the spirit of Catch-22’s Colonel Scheisskopf by the announcement, every year, that this year’s exercise has been cancelled.

North Korea’s missile launch will certainly be on the G20 agenda. Trump has met with Xi, Xi has met with Putin; Xi and Putin have the solution, they’re all going to be in the same place at the same time. So I would suggest that a meeting of the three of them to discuss the “Korean peninsula” issue would make for some fruitful results. Xi could, as it were, make the introduction.

I don’t suppose that any of the three has people devoted to reading my website so I don’t expect one of them to pick up the suggestion.

But I think that it is something to watch for and there isn’t any reason not to think that bilateral discussions in North Korea couldn’t segue into a three-sided conversation.

Russia the Eternal Enemy Quotations

The world now faces a choice between the cooperative exploitation by the East and West of natural resources or a wasteful struggle that could cost a fortune in blood and treasure. Regional conflicts in the Caucasus and Central Asia threaten to deny Western access to the vital oil and gas reserves the world will need in the 21st century. The wars in Chechnya, between Armenia and Azerbaijan, and in Georgia were started or exacerbated by the Russian military, and the outcome of these wars may determine who controls future pipeline routes. Moscow hopes that Russia will. Powerful interests in Moscow are attempting to ensure that the only route for exporting the energy resources of Eurasia will pass through Russia.

Ariel Cohen, Senior Policy Analyst, The Heritage Foundation “The New ‘Great Game’: Oil Politics in the Caucasus and Central Asia”; 25 January 1996.