RUSSIA IS NOT EUROPEAN

First published Strategic Culture Foundation

A considerable amount of baggage has become attached to the word “European” over the half-millennium that Europe has dominated the world. There’s the geographical meaning – from the Atlantic to the Urals – but, because Europe is a peninsula on the western end of Asia, the frontier is subject to debate. Diplomats sometimes use the word to mean members of the European Union. But the most important meaning is the value-laden one – to be “European” is to be modern, civilised, rational, to hold “values”, to be successful. To be powerful. Not to be “European” is to be none of these things, perhaps even their opposites. Europeans are rulers and exemplars; the others are subjects and inferiors. Throughout the period of European domination, to be considered “European” was favoured and to adopt European habits, dress styles, education and appearance was desirable. Not to be “European”, on the other hand, was an insult: your culture didn’t make the grade. This meaning is commonly found today, especially in the smug phrase “European values“.

I have been considering writing this essay for some years but have put off doing so because I know that for many readers “Europe” means “best” and to say Russia is not European is to say that it’s not good enough. But at last President Putin has given me the opening: “Россия – это не просто страна, это действительно отдельная цивилизация“. “Russia, it’s not simply a country it is certainly a separate civilisation”. And who would dare disagree with him?

I have always regarded Russia, to quote Macron’s term, as a civilisation-state. It is its own thing – not European not Asiatic, it’s Russian. If we use Toynbee’s nomenclature it, like Western Christendom, is a daughter society of the Hellenic society.

To make my argument I will use Toynbee’s methodology in his Study of History to determine what he calls a “society” – a distinct, self-contained entity about which history in the largest scale can be studied. Is Britain one of these? is it, as many Britons thought in his day, a stand-alone culture? His argument was to imagine a history of Britain in a series of chapters. Let us start the book with a first chapter: Celtic Britain. Immediately there is a problem because a huge footnote has to be inserted to explain who the Celts were and where they came from because they didn’t originate in Britain; they arrived there fully-formed, so to speak. Then Chapter 2 might be Roman Britain. Again a huge footnote to explain their non-British origins and history. Then Chapter 3 about the Saxons and again a big footnote. Chapter 4 The Normans and so on. In short each chapter of British history leads one to huge digressions outside of Britain; therefore, Toynbee argued, Britain must be a part of some other society which has a more-or-less self-contained story – Celts, Romans, Saxons and Normans all originate in Europe; no footnotes are needed. This seems to me to be a powerful argument.

Let us apply it to Russia and Europe. We’ll start our European history – you have to start somewhere – with Chapter 1 The Roman Empire. We’d speak about its origin, its conquests, its decay, its legacy. There’s no similar chapter in our Russian book: Russia wasn’t part of the Roman Empire and, in fact, there isn’t much history of Russia up until the 800s. Chapter 2 of our Europe history book would probably be Christianity; Russia and Europe share that but again there’s a big difference. The Roman Empire became officially Christian in the early 300s and the religion spread throughout the Empire. Missionaries from Europe spread the word out to and past the limits of the Empire to Germany and Ireland. The Russian experience is both later and different: Grand Duke Vladimir made a conscious, top-down decision to Christianise and adopted the Christianity of Byzantium; European Christianity was Rome-centred from the start. Chapter 3 of our European history book would cover Charlemagne and the re-creation – independently of Constantinople – of a Christian Roman Empire centred on the formerly pagan and barbarian invaders; nothing like that in Russia which still has two centuries to go before it’s Christianised. Chapter 4 might be the Empire-Papacy struggle – nothing like that in Russia. Chapter 5 is The Renaissance and again there no equivalent in Russia. In fact, you could write most of the European history book without ever mentioning the word “Russia” up until the 1700s.

What of the Russian history book? Its Chapter 1 would probably be about the Varangians and the creation of a region of loosely connected city states at least nominally Orthodox; much of this story would be somewhat mythical or archaeological. Chapter 2 would cover the development of what is now called Kievan Rus, the trade with Byzantium and the many contacts with Europe – a Russian became Queen of France. At this point one could argue (leaving aside the growing importance of the difference of religion particularly after the Great Schism of 1054) that Russia and Europe might have become so entwined as to become one. But our Russian Chapter 3 brings the difference that is all the difference: The Mongols. In a series of lightning campaigns the Mongol forces overran the Russias, destroyed Kiev and forced all the Russian principalities to submit to Mongol rule and to give tribute. Nothing like this happened in Europe, although it might have: the Mongol forces retreated from Hungary in 1242 and never returned. This is another Great If of history; had the Mongols continued to the Atlantic, a second possible entwining of Russia and Europe might have happened. But they departed Europe and remained in Russia.

Much has been written about the effect of Mongol rule on Russia’s development but all agree that it shaped its future very strongly. The two and a half centuries of what the Russians call the “Tatar yoke” cover a time in contemporary Europe that begins when Thomas Aquinas is a boy and ends when Columbus is a young man – a period of enormous change in European civilisation. But in Russia they are years of compliance, endurance and resistance. The recovery of the “Russian Lands” was led by Muscovy, formerly a not very important part of Russia. The textbook date for the end of the “Tatar yoke” was the withdrawal of Mongol forces in the face of a Russian army at the Ugra River in 1480 but it was actually only with Catherine’s regathering of Crimea and “New Russia” in the late 1700s that the very last Mongol ruler of Russian Lands was displaced.

So, our hypothetical European and Russian history books have quite different chapters and that means that they have quite different histories; we’re talking about two things, not one thing.

Europe became immensely powerful in the 1500s, conquered the rest of the world and minor European players like Belgium snatched a pierce for themselves. Even mighty China was subjugated – its “century of humiliation”. Russia was one of the very few exceptions; despite several tries, Europe never conquered it. Peter the Great Europeanised Russia, built a navy, founded the gun factories at Tula, shaved beards, eliminated caftans and required the upper classes to dress like French dancing masters. He did it in order to better prepare Russia to fight Sweden, at that time the dominant power in the area. When Charles XII was defeated by Peter at Poltava in 1709 Russia arrived on the European scene as a great power that had to be taken into account. A century later, Emperor Alexander was one of the five people who redesigned Europe.

Europeans underestimate the importance of their skill at war, preferring to think that it was their values or their political skills or their modernity or their science that made them pre-eminent for five centuries. But their killing power (and their killing diseases) were mighty allies: “Whatever happens we have got The Maxim Gun, and they have not“. Peter, facing attack from Europe, learned European killing ways and so Russia remained independent. Many resisted Western aggression and failed – Tecumseh, Túpac Amaru, Cetshwayo, the Rani of Jhansi – but Peter succeeded. In short, Russia’s (and Japan’s) voluntary Europeanisation was motivated by the desire to learn the European way of war so as to keep independence. At Poltava in 1709, at Vienna in 1814, at Berlin in 1945, an independent Russia became a major force in Europe.

The realities that Europe was never able to conquer it, that Russians look and sound like Europeans on the surface, that in the European constellation Russia is a Great Power have caused no little confusion. Many people have come to believe that Russia is a part of European civilisation but a defective part: a European country, but a bad one. But, once one realises that Russia is not a European country and has a quite different history that moved in parallel with little contact for centuries, one can see past these illusions. Different forces shaped it and different results happened.

Not inferior, not “Asiatic”, not uncivilised, not uncultured; different. A “civilisation state”. As is China.

RUSSIAN FEDERATION SITREP 11 JUNE 2020

RUSSIA AND COVID. Latest numbers: total cases 502K; total deaths 6532; tests per 1 million 95K. Russia has done 13.8 million tests (second after USA); among countries with populations over 10M it’s second in tests per million and of those over 100M first. Moscow city lockdown and ID pass system ended on Tuesday. Russian developers register a drug that may help alleviate the worst symptoms.

COVID COUNTING. The usual suspects are convinced that Russia’s lying (the accusation is a pitiful attempt to cover up the failure of the “two best-prepared countries“) but I don’t believe anything Western outlets say about Russia. But Moscow city has published numbers that may explain things. 15,713 deaths in Moscow in May; three-year average is 9914; therefore excess of 5799. They calculate 2757 had COVID as the main cause of death but it was present in 5260 deaths. Therefore, as I suspected, it’s a counting issue: died of versus died with. In any case, even at the larger number, the deaths are far fewer than elsewhere. A new theory to add to the others is that there are fewer old people, thanks to high mortality rates in the Soviet days, and Russians don’t generally put them in nursing homes (the source of large proportion of deaths in Western countries.)

CONSTITUTIONAL REFERENDUM. Now set for 1 July. Wikipedia has a summary article and tells us that the vote will be a yes or no on the whole package. Some advertising billboards. Polls suggest the package will pass but not by big numbers.

GENETICS. Putin has told the government to ensure creation of Russian-made laboratory and scientific equipment for research in genetics. Remember the report that the USAF was collecting genetic material of Russians? I think COVID has made Moscow and Beijing rather thoughtful. Teheran too.

OIL WARS. Oil futures are creeping up. OPEC+ has agreed to extend the production cuts to the end of July. So, I guess if there was some attempt by Riyadh to crush US shale and Russian oil, it failed. Who won? Russia did: prices are back in Russia’s comfort zone. The Power of Siberia pipeline has sent 1.58 billion M3 of natural gas to China in the last 6 months. The icebreaker LNG ship is on its way to China via the Northern Sea Route.

MONOPOLY. With Dragon’s successful docking, Russia has lost its monopoly on taxi service to the ISS.

PERSONALLY I think Moscow is commenting with considerable restraint as the USA learns about colour revolutions first hand. Read this from the Atlantic: “The Trump Regime Is Beginning to Topple”. “Regime”. Wow, eh?

START. Russia-US talks will begin in Vienna on the 22nd. Beijing says it won’t be there. The US side is so deluded that I doubt much will happen. (BTW the US “super duper missilejust failed.)

THE DEATH OF IRONY. Russia Sends More Troops West, Challenging U.S.-NATO Presence Near Borders.

NUGGETS FROM THE STUPIDITY MINE. “Before Donald Trump, Russia Needed 60 Hours To Beat NATO—Now Moscow Could Win Much Faster” Forbes tells us. The assumption is that Russia would grab the Baltics and stop there. I know the author is just shilling for the weapons makers but, if you assume your audience is really stupid, you become stupider – a race to the bottom of the mine.

MH17. It looks as if all the prosecution has is stuff from Kiev and Bellingcat. So much for Kerry’s “we observed it”. So will the court find the defendants not guilty or continue with the farce? Speaking of “our values and way of life”.

CHINA IS THE NEW RUSSIA. You’d think NATO would be busy enough but it’s time to add China to the enemy list: the threat posed by China to “our values and way of life”.

AMERICA-HYSTERICA. A Republican caucus group from the legislature of “the greatest force for good the world has ever known” has decided that Russia should be named a “state sponsor of terrorism” and hit with “the toughest sanctions ever imposed“. But it doesn’t accuse Moscow of fiddling elections; I guess that particular sector of the delusion is reserved for the other side of the aisle.

PUTIN DERANGEMENT SYNDROME. Sure, we don’t need evidence – there’s the “playbook”.

EUROPEANS ARE REVOLTING. Germany rejects US extraterritorial sanctions against Nord Stream 2; a German politician suggests Berlin may respond with counter-sanctions. Trump orders a troop pull-out (would be about a quarter of the US troops in Germany).

© Patrick Armstrong Analysis, Canada Russia Observer

THE DELUDED SUPERPOWER

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

Marshall Billingslea, May 2020

(First published Strategic Culture Foundation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

AMERICA THE TERRIFIED

 

They want to meet me not because I’m Mike from Kansas, because I represent the greatest nation in the history of civilization.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo 28 February 2020

I want everyone to be reminded that America remains the world’s leading light of humanitarian goodness as well amidst this global pandemic.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo 7 April 2020

no greater privilege and no greater honor than serving as the commander in chief of the greatest military in the history of the world.

Barack Obama January 2018

First published Strategic Culture Foundation

One of the curiosities about the United States is that, on the one hand, Americans are forever boasting about how powerful, how democratic and altogether wonderful their country is while, on the other hand, they are receptive to assertions that this mightiness and excellence is on the brink of disappearing. It’s a very peculiar state of affairs probably best left to psychiatrists to ponder. We laypeople are left wondering has there ever been so frightened a superpower. So mighty and all about to be lost.

Three years of Trump have destroyed its alliances

The United States is the principal member of NATO – “the greatest alliance the world has ever known“. Its flacks sang its praises on its 70th birthday: greatest ever said Poland’s President, essential for world peace, stronger than ever and so on. And yet, a mere three years of President Trump has put it at the gates of death if not already killed it. “The Atlantic alliance as we know it is dead“. Or perhaps not dead quite yet: “an erosion of the foundations of the political system that defines — and protects — the modern world“; “The result could be nothing less than the fracturing of the Western alliance“.

It is not my purpose to discuss whether Trump is trying to kill the alliances – indeed, I suspect that he may be. The point is the assertion, apparently to be taken with a straight face, that this 70-year old alliance, the keystone of an interlocking system of alliances and relations centred on the United States, can be fatally weakened so quickly by one man. Even if that man be President of the principal member.

Three years of Trump have destroyed its democracy

The United States in 2016 was “the greatest democracy in the world” but just a bit of Trump and it’s fading fast. “Trump is a Frankenstein’s monster of past presidents’ worst attributes” chides someone worrying that Trump will destroy the presidency (but fortunately we have “esteemed former FBI director Robert Mueller” to redress the balance). Some now-forgotten statements were evidence of candidate Trump’s anti-American values. “On Inauguration Day, the president seemed poised to destroy American democracy” and the author lists people and institutions preventing him from doing so; some haven’t worn well: James Comey (Russia!), GCHQ (Russia!), Russiagate reporters (Russia!), the intelligence community (Russia!), Susan Rice (Russia!), Adam Schiff (Russia!). In fact, a little bit of Trump has ruined lots of things: “A List Of Everything Donald Trump Has Ruined This Year, From Retweets To The Solar Eclipse“. But, as the Russia story sinks, COVID-19 rises to give Trump the chance to express his inner fascist.

The American political system is more than two centuries old; it has gone through a lot; it has had many mediocre presidents and survived them. But, apparently, Trump is just too much. Again we see the “greatest” weakened quickly and easily.

Its elections are at the mercy of foreign enemies

To many non-Americans, its electoral system – registration, voting machines, Electoral College – is pretty arcane. Especially since they learned of the epistemological problems of “hanging chads“. But to Americans it’s theirs and they’re used to it. But suddenly, it’s at jeopardy in some undefined way. Did the Russians actually change the result of the vote? No evidence that it did. Hard to say. No evidence they changed votes but they tried to interfere. No, it’s “undeniable” that they affected it. How did they affect it? Mueller showed how (another one that isn’t wearing well). By “sowing confusion” or “discord” or something. But maybe they did swing it: “targeted cyberattacks by hackers and trolls were decisive“. Somebody thinks Putin thinks they did. Anyway, Trump is his “puppet” and is doing Putin’s bidding. “Mueller Exposes Putin’s Hold Over US President Trump“.

Next time it will be worse. “Putin helped Trump in 2016. What is he planning for 2020?” “Facebook: Russian trolls are back. And they’re here to meddle with 2020“. “Putin developing fake videos to foment 2020 election chaos: ‘It’s going to destroy lives’“. But not alone, this time: “Chinese Regime Bigger Threat to US Elections Than Russia, Barr Says“. The Russian sowing machine is joined by the Chinese one. Poor Americans: duped so easily by so little – Putin weaponises everything: information, culture, vaccines and many more. How can an electorate bamboozled by Putin’s weaponisation of Pokemon Go and mesmerised by cute puppies, even though they come from the country that is “#1 in Education Rankings“, possibly be expected to exercise their franchise? Don’t ask someone in the line at Starbucks – Putin’s unwitting agents are everywhere. Childrens’ cartoons are one of his weapons to take over America minds.

American democracy, so strong, so long, so flimsy.

Freedom of speech is under attack

But saying what you like is more accepted in the United States than anywhere else, according to recent research. Americans take great pride in the First Amendment and often argue that it gives free speech greater protection than in any other democracy. The now-crumbling Russiagate nonsense spawned an entire industry warning about Russian “disinformation”. Not only were the cunning Russians creeping into our elections, but they were creeping into our brains too. Perhaps the weirdest example of how stunningly powerful Russian disinformation was supposed to be is shown in the intelligence report on the supposed Russian involvement in the election: nearly half the space was devoted to a four-year old rant about RT. RT? Its budget is a mere fraction of the West’s media outlets and there is nothing to suggest it has much of an audience. It is, in fact, Americans talking about America in America; sure it’s propaganda but it’s a tiny baby next to the BBC, CNN and so on. Nonetheless: “Deeply divided and in the grip of partisan passions, U.S. society is slipping into a quagmire of Russian disinformation in which the Putin regime will find it very easy to create reality and destroy facts.” “The Threat of Fake News to Our Democracy” “China Launches a Fake News Campaign to Blame the U.S. for Coronavirus”Cyber Warfare: The Threat From Nation States

Something has to be done about the threat – “Existential threat“. Have to stop it on social media. Discussors in the NYT suggest how. Disinterested people like the Atlantic Council must take charge to help social media use “community standards”. So goodbye to the idea of an informed citizenry free to hear all points of view; the only way to defend freedom against this mighty Russian assault is to become subjects told what they may and may not see. It is striking that in the Cold War the Soviets blocked Western media but the West didn’t bother to block the Soviets. The present reversal tells you a lot about who’s more truthful, doesn’t it?

So little old RT blew up one of the great prides of American democracy that had survived wars and all sorts of crises. And so quickly, too

Its military power is about to disappear. ra

And finally we come to the “greatest military in the history of the world” aka “the best-trained, best-equipped and strongest military the world has ever known“. The USA spends far more than any other country – about a third of the world total in fact. It has 800 (or is it a thousand?) bases around the world; operates more fleet aircraft carriers than everybody else. Never lost a war (well Vietnam but, insisted Obama, “you won every major battle of that war. Every single one.”) The USA is the “ultimate military superpower“; it believes itself capable of “full-spectrum dominance“. The United States itself is as securely protected by geography as can be imagined – barring nuclear weapons, no power can or could threaten it. It is as secure as can be.

But so weak. A little decision by an agency few have heard of means Chinese dominance of future high technology. Space cyberwarfare? You can pretty well forget about that particular “spectrum”. Its military edge has “eroded to a dangerous degree“in every domain of warfare”. “Our military is becoming outdated.Could lose, would lose against China, could lose against Iran, or Russia, the military is in crisis, “no longer clearly superior“.

And so the world’s mightiest military is consumed with fear and doubt.

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

What are we outside observers to make of this alternating boasting and fearfulness?

I’m well aware of the motives. Saying that Trump is destroying everything and must be removed shows the demented state of politics of the USA; as Russiagate falls apart, they have to shout louder. Ranting about RT prevents admitting that the truthful part of the propaganda divide is on the other side. Shutting down discussion makes it easier to lie and cheat and steal. Shrieking that the USA is about to lose its military dominance is shilling for the weapons makers who pay you. All that is obvious.

But that’s not what fascinates me. A truly confident country would laugh at the suggestion that it’s on the edge of the precipice; a country that thinks it is, is not confident in itself. The “American Dream” has gone adrift in food stamps, opioids, prisons, the gig economy, super-rich. Recall Obama’s winning slogan “Hope and Change”; recall Sanders’ speeches about those left out of The Dream; recall Trump’s winning slogan: “Make America Great Again“. All these point to a gut knowledge of coming doom that cannot be eased by boasting.

The co-existence of blustering and tremulousness not only reveals an apprehension of failure but, in a country with the destructive power of the USA, it is frightening for the rest of us.

 

RUSSIAN FEDERATION SITREP 28 MAY 2020

RUSSIA AND COVID. Latest numbers: total cases 379K; total deaths 4142; tests per 1 million 66K. Russia has done 9.7 million tests (second after USA); among countries with populations over 10M it’s fourth in tests per million and of those over 100M first. The vaccines tests are reported to be going well. Peskov is out of hospital. Karlin thinks that it’s out of control in Dagestan. Doctorow argues that Russia has learned from China the value of segregating COVID sufferers in special hospitals leaving the others free for other problems. Restrictions continue to be lifted.

VICTORY DAY. Postponed because of COVID-19, the Moscow parade is scheduled for 24 June, the anniversary of the 1945 parade. The Immortal Regiment marches a month later.

OIL WARS. Russian gas shipments are down and US LNG isn’t looking good. US oil production is falling and a shale oil company has gone bust. Saudi Arabia has cut its production. Oil futures are below $40. The guessimates are that US shale needs about $60, Saudi Arabia about $80 while Russia is OK at $45 and can get by on $25 for some time. So Moscow’s still smiling, even if a little grimly.

PAUL WHELAN. A man of somewhat mysterious background, was arrested in Russia a year and a half ago, charged with spying and has been in jail since. Finally he’s been tried in a closed session; the prosecution wants him put away for 18 years, he insists he’s innocent. What I find interesting – and very singular – is that the several countries of which he is a citizen aren’t making much of a fuss. Which they usually do, even when they’re economical with the truth; vide spy rock and Bellona.

OPEN SKIES. In 1955 President Eisenhower suggested the idea; Moscow rejected it because it was an “espionage plot”. It finally happened in 2002 and 35 countries signed on to it. Given that 26 of the 35 are NATO members it could hardly be said to advantage Russia. Nevertheless Washington is dropping out: Russia of course is at fault: it’s using it to “collect information”. (To someone who’s been in the business since the Soviet days, this reversal of positions is a continual and amusing fascination.)

MORE RUSSIANS. Moscow has granted citizenship to nearly 216 thousand people in the first quarter of 2020; about two thirds of them from Ukraine. It’s a little known fact that Russia gets a lot of migrants: in 2019 it was fourth-largest (but does KSA really qualify?); second ten years earlier.

INFRASTRUCTURE. Sapsan trip. Always fascinated how clean and shiny everything is nowadays.

LAWSUITS. He said it was a joke, Putin disagreed and fired him. Now the former head of Chuvashia, Mikhail Ignatiev, says he’s going to court. Good luck with that. The lawyer representing Sturgess and Rowley wants the Skripals to be brought to court to testify. Good luck with that.

FOOD. Putin recently said that Russia was now self-sufficient in “basic food products”. I take that to mean that, while there may not be as many bananas as you might want, Russia produces enough calories in the right balance. I have no difficult believing him: it’s been coming. A stunning achievement – when I lived there about half the food was imported and farming was in a desperate state. The Russian counter-sanctions on food were a brilliant move. Thought they were. (Got RI wrong, though.)

FAUGH! The coolest plane ever is to be replaced by another blah flying wing.

FAKE NEWS. Something or other nefarious Russian thingee alleged in Czechia. Rubbish I say and I don’t bother to pay attention. Korybko does and here’s his take. Something or other in Germany. I’ve given up taking these accusations even partly seriously after Skripal, Russiagate, Litvinenko, MH-17 and all the rest. The burden of proof is on the West doubly so because it’s lied so often.

NEW NWO. A German poll on the post-COVID world gives a very interesting result: 37% consider close relations with the US more important than close relations with China; 36% see it the other way round. Almost exactly balanced and after all the anti-China propaganda too. The wheels are coming off the wagon.

THE AMERICAN DREAM. Is just fine. And as confident as can be.

NOT ON YOUR “NEWS” OUTLET. A UN study finds that 81% of civilians killed in east Ukraine were killed by Kiev forces shelling them. Peculiar “Russian invasion” isn’t it?

BIDEN-UKRAINE. Remember this photo of Biden at the head of the table? the guy sixth on his left is the so-called President of Ukraine. A recording of Biden giving Poroshenko his marching orders has appeared. Not as if we didn’t already know this from Biden’s own lips. A Ukrainian judge has ordered he be listed as alleged perpetrator of crime in Prosecutor’s firing. No mention of Hunter B though. So far.

© Patrick Armstrong Analysis, Canada Russia Observer

GOODBYE OPEN SKIES

(In response to question from Sputnik about Washington’s intention to leave the Open Skies Treaty)

The ABM Treaty and the CFE Treaty were already dead and the Trump Administration seems to be determined to kill off every remaining Cold War arms control Treaty. The Open Skies is just the latest. Russia will, of course, be blamed: it’s been “cheating“.

What’s driving this? I suspect it’s the post Cold War triumphalism that we have seen in every previous administration: We won, we’re Number One, suck it up Russia, you’re unimportant. The difference is that the Trump Administration makes no attempt to sugar-coat.

The irony of course is that the whole thing was President Eisenhower’s idea in the first place.

More of Washington’s short-term gain for long-term pain.

BLACK SWANS FLY IN

First published Strategic Culture Foundation

A black swan is slang for an unexpected event with large consequences. 2020 has brought us two so far: the COVID-19 pandemic and the collapse of oil prices. Each will have potent consequences for the Imperium Americanum. And there is a nest of black cygnets maturing.

COVID-19

A new infectious disease was noticed in China at the end of last year, identified as a coronavirus in January and a pandemic was declared in March. Since then economic and social life has come to a stop in the West as governments have been convinced to declare shutdowns. Restrictions became widespread in March and April and are still in effect; while some jurisdictions lessen them, others talk about more months. It is not the purpose of this essay to wonder whether these measures were justified or effective, only to state that they happened and that the world economy will have been enfeebled for two to three months or even longer. A big black swan indeed.

The fuller effects won’t be known for some time but one result is certainly that the West’s repudiation for efficiency has taken a huge – perhaps fatal – hit. Only six months earlier, a survey confidently stated that the West – led by the USA and Britain – would do best in dealing with a pandemic. Not so: “We Are Living in a Failed State: The coronavirus didn’t break America. It revealed what was already broken“; “The Death of American Competence“; “The coronavirus is the worst intelligence failure in US history“; “US’s global reputation hits rock-bottom over Trump’s coronavirus response“; ““The world has loved, hated and envied the US. Now, for the first time, we pity it”; “Coronavirus: EU could fail over outbreak, warns Italy’s Giuseppe Conte“; “The EU has bungled its response to coronavirus and it might never fully recover“. China can’t hold back its laughter “Chinese state media calls US a ‘primitive society,’ says ‘democracy is dying’ amid coronavirus“. Many of the American pieces, reflecting the abyssal divide in US politics, write as through it were all Trump’s fault. But it wasn’t Trump who didn’t replace PPE stocks used up eleven years ago. Whatever failures are his, the failure is not his alone. And neither are the West’s other deficiencies his doing. No one seems to have stocks of PPE – the easier and most obvious first step against the threat.

Washington deflects its failure by blaming China. But here too it’s lost its competence: here’s US Secretary of State Pompeo asserting at the same time that it’s manmade and that it isn’t:

POMPEO: Look, the best experts so far seem to think it was manmade. I have no reason to disbelieve that at this point.

RADDATZ: Your — your Office of the DNI says the consensus, the scientific consensus was not manmade or genetically modified.

POMPEO: That’s right. I — I — I agree with that. Yes. I’ve — I’ve seen their analysis. I’ve seen the summary that you saw that was released publicly. I have no reason to doubt that that is accurate at this point.

To say nothing of Fauci’s money in the Wuhan lab. China may not even be the point of origin: France has just discovered a case from December and there may be a US case from November. The breathlessly reported Five-Eyes assessment blaming China is fast collapsing: “mostly based on news reports and contained no material from intelligence gathering” says one of the Eyes. Washington may lash its minions into a coffle, but the rest of the world will scorn it as a pitiful attempt to distract. There will be increased rejection of the West’s assumption of competence and veracity. And, in the West itself, more will doubt the words of “experts” (especially those from Imperial College and its professors), “authorities and “trusted media sources”.

Most of the West is still shut down but China is opening. Observers know that China is becoming the world’s top economy – the World Bank had already given it that title in PPP terms in 2013 – and COVID-19 is sure to accelerate the process by giving it a head start out of the economic slowdown. With cheap energy too.

Soft power” is a useful term that describes the appeal of a given culture to others. For many years this was a potent arrow in the America quiver – I often think of the character played by Gregory Peck in Roman Holiday as the exemplar: open, honest, honourable and modern, but content to be an example and never to take advantage of her. Propaganda, to be sure, but effective propaganda. COVID-19 shows something else: in the simplest terms China has given assistance to many countries and the “US accused of ‘modern piracy’ after diversion of masks meant for Europe“. Piffle like “The United States and President Trump are leading the global effort to combat this pandemic” or America remains the world’s leading light of humanitarian goodnessjust make it more obvious. From the EU we get word salads: reaffirms/recognises/supports/recalls. And only three months ago the West is winning“. It has be-clowned itself.

Of the downstream effects of the COVID-19 black swan, we can see at least three: great and possibly fatal damage to the assumption of American and Western competence; a widening of the economic gap with China; a further change in the world soft power balance. The “blame China” diversion (not forgetting the rest of the current Enemy Package – Russia and Iran) is childish and will earn disgust. None of these changes is to the benefit of the Imperium Americanum.

Oil

In March Riyadh, on behalf of OPEC, proposed to Moscow that they reduce oil production in order to keep prices up. Moscow refused and Riyadh started pumping. COVID-19 shutdowns collapsed demand. A month later West Texas Intermediate futures went negative and the price of a barrel of oil passed below $20.

Generally it is estimated that the US shale oil industry (about 60% of US production) needs prices of about $60 to be profitable, Saudi Arabia, despite very low pumping costs, squanders so much that it needs about $80; Russia on the other hand is profitable at $45 and has half a trillion dollars in its FOREX kitty. So, if Riyadh started a price war it is not in a strong position; Moscow, on the other hand, some say, can survive $25 a barrel for ten years. As China’s industry comes back on line, it is starting to buy oil but most of it from Russia.

The end result of this price competition in a demand crash is unknown but it is unlikely that the US shale industry will do well out of it. And, because so much of Washington’s behaviour is based on the confidence that it is oil-independent, the US will not come out of this stronger.

So two black swans are likely to leave the Imperium Americanum weaker and less influential. And, it should be said, more contemned. But there is more.

And some black cygnets

Some may remember the excitement of TV commentators about cruise missiles in the Gulf War of 1990. And a weapon that could be launched a thousand kilometres away and hit a particular floor of the building aimed at was pretty amazing. That was the first large-scale public combat use of very long-range precision weapons and for many years cruise missiles were a signature feature of US attacks and practically a monopoly. Until 2015 when Russia struck targets in Syria from otherwise insignificant small craft in the Caspian Sea. So flabbergasted was Washington by this that its first reaction was to pooh-pooh the accuracy. But they were real; many Kalibres have been launched from different platforms including submerged submarines. So, there were now two demonstrated members of the club that could, in real conditions, precisely hit a target a long distance away. In its response to the killing of Soleimani, Iran showed that it too was a member of the club. While it seems some of its missiles did go astray, most hit exactly what they were aimed at. (The US military’s opponents also took note – again – of the fact that it does not have effective air defences). And the usual reaction from Washington: downplaying at first; later we heard of the hundred-plus brain injuries. Quite an achievement for a country that has been under sanctions for decades. And Iran just joined another small club: countries that can launch a satellite on their own (again the US contemptuous dismissal: “tumbling webcam in space“).

The Trump Administration is very hostile towards Iran but no more so than most US Administrations since the departure of the Shah – himself put back into power by a US-UK coup. Probably the hottest moment of this undeclared war was in 1988, but there have been many other crises and we just had another threat from Washington. Tehran knows its on Washington’s hit list and has been preparing for decades. Missiles will be one of its principal defences. Washington would do well to reflect on Iran’s – surprising to it – membership in these two elite clubs before it makes any more threats. Little cygnets become big swans.

Another black cygnet is the Iraq parliament’s demand that US forces leave the country. Washington is consolidating its troops but they will be besieged prisoners if the country rises against them. Which sooner or later it will when the new Prime Minister forms his government. Two consequences of the neocon-dominated “New American Century” in the Middle East have been the growth of Iran’s influence and the demonstration that the US military is not the omnipotent force it thought it was. When the effort to get it out starts, Washington will have three choices: hunker down and hope it goes away, enormously reinforce its troops for a completely new war, withdraw à la Vietnam. This cygnet is growing.

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A pandemic, oil price collapse, a target country showing it has more capability than assumed, threatened expulsion from Iraq. The surprises have exposed long-time weaknesses.

It’s always the unexpected things that test things to destruction.

 

 

RUSSIAN FEDERATION SITREP 14 MAY 2020

RUSSIA AND COVID. Today’s numbers: total cases: 250K; total deaths: 2305; tests per 1 million: 42K.Russia has done six million tests (second after USA); among countries with populations over 10M it’s fifth in tests per million and of those over 100M first; one could therefore expect it to find new cases – most of which have little effect. Mishustin is back at work, Putin’s spokesman is not. Putin, in a virtual meeting, announced the end ofthe “paid holiday period” and a gradual lifting of lock-down in a report on the state of play. There’s a report that Russia is undercounting: actually it’s taking a hard approach while some other countries take a soft approach (the from vs with question.) Which of course means that the numbers at worldometers.info are so varied in methodology as to be practically worthless…

OIL WARS. Prices creeping up to about $27. This piece argues that Riyadh has made a really big mistake and enumerates the ways it has. The US industry is in trouble.

RUSSIA INC. The IMF says, in PPP terms, Russia’s economy passed Germany to become number five.

BROWDER. His story takes another hit – as it always does when someone takes a real look at it. The German press council rejected his complaint against Der Spiegel saying his narrative lacked proof.

NORDSTREAM. After a long trip from Nakhodka in which it kept pretending to change its destination, the pipe-laying ship Akademik Cherskiy is now ready to complete Nord Stream 2. In an amazing coincidence, the Russians hack Merkel’s cell phone. Get in line Russia!. (Bernhard catches the NYT in another sloppy anti-Russia assertion.)

RUSSIAN YOUTH. It’s a widespread delusion, strengthened by the narrow circle Western reporters talk to in Russia, that “the government’s anti-Western agenda and reports of widespread corruption are turning young Russians against the leader.”Levada has done a survey of Russian youth and that’s pretty hard to find; in general they’re not far off their parents: a bit more liberal but also a bit more nationalist. Perhaps the most interesting result was that a solid majority thought Russia was not European. Robinson discusses. He wonders why so few show much support for “‘classical’ civil and political liberties”. My guess is that 20 years of observation of Western practice of these noble ideals has soured them.

PROVOCATIVE. US and British warships enter the Barents Sea, promoting regional security and stability, while building trust. I think a Russian-Chinese naval trip to the Beaufort Sea would get us all some stability and trust, don’t you?

WESTERN VALUES. Given that NATO likes to blather on about how it “promotes democratic values“, it’s amusing to see that Freedom House says that Hungary, Poland, Hungary, Montenegro and Turkey don’t make the cut as “consolidated democracies”.

AMERICA-HYSTERICA. Transcripts from House hearings have been published. Here they are. Nothing. It was all lies. Remember Crowdstrike and its “proof” the Russians hacked it? When they’re under oath, nothing. Remember all those people on TV saying there was strong evidence of collusion? Under oath, they said there wasn’t any. Schiff knew this and said it anyway. Justice Department drops case against Flynn – entrapment.More to come. But that doesn’t mean that the shills have given up: Russia will steal the next election; or will China? But does Beijing want Trump or out? (Wouldn’t it be fun if Moscow and Beijing disagreed on whom to put into the White House?)

DOES THE NYT PLAGIARISE RUSSIAN REPORTERS? You decide.

WHY IS THE US IN SYRIA? Washington longer bothers to prettify – the boot is straight to the face. ISIS? Forget ISIS says Jeffrey: “My job is to make it a quagmire for the Russians“. An amazing confession, in the same class as “We lied, we cheated, we stole“.

DOUMA. More leaked documents expose OPCW corruption – the whistle-blower was not, as we we told, some marginal guy, but one of the leaders of the inspection team. The official line requires us to believe that this smashed through a steel reinforced concrete ceiling and landed peacefully on a bed.

UKRAINE. A police official wants to know the names, addresses and phones of all the Jews in Kolomyya, a city in western Ukraine; “most of its Jews were murdered by February 1943 at the Szepariwice forest outside the city and the Bełżec death camp.” “Is Ukraine a Hub for International White Supremacist Fighters?” wonders a piece published by Harvard. Remember when it was Putin disinformation about nazis in Ukraine?

© Patrick Armstrong Analysis, Canada Russia Observer

MAYBE KARL MARX WAS RIGHT AFTER ALL

First published Strategic Culture Foundation

Before Marx socialism was a sort of voluntary wish thing, no doubt growing out of Protestant fantasies of life in early Christianity when everything was supposedly shared. There were a few attempts at building Christian socialist communities and most of them had unhappy endings – the Munster Anabaptists’ ending especially so. Secular socialist communities – Robert Owens’ attempts for example – also came to little, albeit more peacefully.

Marx’s claim was that he made socialism scientific by which he meant that he believed he had discovered the mechanism that had driven society through history: he concluded that socialism was the inevitable next stage of evolution. He and his collaborator Engels laid out the theory in The Communist Manifesto in 1848 and Marx spent the rest of his life working out the details. Class struggle – the means of production – the triumph of the bourgeoisie in modern times – labour theory of value – surplus value – the more the bourgeoisie succeeds, the more it creates its destruction: “What the bourgeoisie therefore produces, above all, are its own grave-diggers. Its fall and the victory of the proletariat are equally inevitable.” It’s a complete theory of history and society. The driving force of the coming socialist period is the emmiseration of the proletariat – as the owners of the means of production squeeze more surplus value out of the workers, they become more powerful and richer while the condition of the workers becomes worse:

The modern labourer, on the contrary, instead of rising with the process of industry, sinks deeper and deeper below the conditions of existence of his own class. He becomes a pauper, and pauperism develops more rapidly than population and wealth.

By the same process, more and more formerly rich capitalists are ruined and pushed into the ranks of the miserable workers (“One capitalist always kills many“) until – and the details are never really described – there are so few rich and so many poor that:

Centralisation of the means of production and socialisation of labour at last reach a point where they become incompatible with their capitalist integument. This integument is burst asunder. The knell of capitalist private property sounds. The expropriators are expropriated.

The final stage doesn’t need to be especially violent: at the end point, there are so few super rich that whether they’re hanged from lampposts or pensioned off like the last emperor of China doesn’t make much difference in the great scheme of things.

Marx believed that he had discovered the laws, the processes, the machinery, that drove history and society: the way things are and will be, that must be: scientific. After Marx, socialism is no longer something to be wished for, something some rich benevolent owner might create if we asked him politely, an appeal to Christian conscience, but something that is the very mechanism of the way things are and the way they must develop. Socialism is hard-wired into history.

But, right away, there’s a contradiction: if it’s scientific, nothing you or I can do will make it come faster or slower so there’s no point in joining socialist parties: Newton’s laws of motion don’t care whether you or I create a society to proselytise for them. But if it’s important to work towards socialism – and Marx himself was closely involved in at least one effort to do so – then it’s not inevitable and, therefore, not scientific. This created two threads in Marxism – spontaneity (it is going to happen in its own time) and voluntarism (it has to be made to happen).

The scientific expectation that A leads to B and B to C came to a crisis in the late 1800s. Eduard Bernstein argued that things were not following the path that Marx had foreseen half a century before – ownership of capital was not concentrating in fewer and fewer hands, the conditions of the workers was not growing worse. In a word, political developments – the working class’s political power – were changing Marx’s laws. From this conflict of theory and observation was born the idea of what we now call social democracy. Socialists should work within the system to reduce working hours, break up monopolies, eliminate child labour, force up wages, support labour unions and so on: in Marxist terms, use political power to compel the owners to give up a significant portion of the surplus value. Social democracy could be harmonised with the idea of free enterprise by describing it as levelling the playing field. If the essence of the free market is competition, then who can disagree with the idea that labour’s demands should freely compete with capital’s in conditions where each is level; if competition in output is desirable then it is desirable in inputs as well. The mixed economy: the dynamism of the free market prevents the stagnation and bureaucracy of socialism and the power of labour prevented the crushing of the weak and the government is the enforcer of the balance.

Lenin hated Bernstein’s conclusions (“revisionism“) and in What is To Be Done? took a different course: an informed and disciplined few should drive development. And that led to the USSR and, at its flaccid end, the “developed socialism” of Brezhnev. (Parenthetical aside: Brezhnev is what Plato’s Philosopher King looks like when actual humans try it out in real time). Interesting to observe, however, that both Bernsteinism and Leninism were voluntaristic approaches: the future will be created by acts of will today. So much for scientific socialism.

The mixed economy worked pretty well for a long time and social democracies in Europe delivered high standards of living and social justice across the board. Even the USA, with its hatred of “socialism”, delivered a fine standard of living to its “proletariat” thanks to the power of labour unions and majority voting. Rather than wretchedly existing at the edge of the commodity cost of labour like the protagonists of The Ragged-Trousered Philanthropists, a worker in the West could buy a house and support a family. Altogether, the generality could agree that a good balance had been struck and Marx’s predictions had been disproven. The collapse of the USSR and its satellites fired a nail gun into his coffin. Marxists turned into whiskery crazies shouting on street corners that it can’t have failed because it was never really tried!!!

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

But that was then and this is now. What started me off on these thoughts was this headline: “The 3 Richest Americans Hold More Wealth Than Bottom 50% Of The Country, Study Finds“. That’s pretty astonishing: 3 people could buy out 160 million Americans: pay off their rents and mortgages, clear out their savings accounts, pocket their health plans, empty out their pension plans, throw their clothing into the Salvation Army box, pile their knick-knacks at the curb and cash out their tooth fillings. As to buying the other half, the only question is how many more billionaires would it take: a hundred, two hundred? How long before the three could buy up two-thirds of the population? (Last week, we’re told, one of the three added six billion to his kitty – that’s twelve of the latest Princess cruise ships or half a US aircraft carrier.) Before I heard about the big three I’d known of this study from 2014: “Researchers then concluded that U.S. policies are formed more by special interest groups than by politicians properly representing the will of the general people, including the lower-income class.” The two headlines are not, to put it mildly, unconnected.

Moving down to mere millions we learn that the “Ousted Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg left the company with stock options and other assets worth about $80 million, but did not receive severance as part of his departure from the embattled company, Boeing disclosed late Friday.” A gold-standard company, probably destroyed on his watch, and he pockets more moolah that you, I or all the readers of this piece will ever see. Meanwhile average wages haven’t changed much for 40 years in the USA. Rich getting richer, poor getting poorer.

What happened? Well, simply put, the rich grabbed hold of political power, took over the government and started to unlevel the playing field. Wherever they can exercise their power they do: executive salaries rise, university fees grow, parliamentarians grow richer, bureaucracies expand, government bailouts bail. None of this is new or unusual, of course: greed+power=more greed is an equation for all times and all places. But somewhere the West lost the countervailing forces that balanced the greed of the bosses with the greed of the unions. We see this throughout the West: super rich, enormous executive salaries, endless perqs for some; austerity for the rest. More dramatically in the USA, of course, because it is the West’s leader and its “early adopter”. Socialists and the institutions they encouraged provided a counterforce and brute power created a balance in which everybody got something. That counterforce disappeared somewhere.

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

So, in a way, what Marx foresaw 170 years ago has come to happen. Much later than he expected and much differently than he expected. His theory held that the owners of the means of production – Carnegies, Vanderbilts, Rockefellers – would rule the world. But of the three Americans who, we are told, can buy half the population, one is an investor, another a software developer and the third the inventor of a mail order store. Where are the means of production? Well – another irony – they were sold to China.

So the super rich in the West own intangibles;

The communists in the East own the means of production:

Not exactly what Marx expected.

And yet: three people as rich as half a country? Legislatures that do what they’re told by their paymasters? That is rather like the late stage capitalism that Marx was talking about – a few, very few, super rich and a large number of emmiserated people.

As Marx might say today, opioids are the opium of the people.

So what happens next? COVID-19 is brutally exposing the fact that these Western societies aren’t actually very efficient. Is it significant that three quarters of the COVID-19 cases are in NATO countries? Only six months ago, they were supposed to be the best prepared. Endless wars go on endlessly, debt piles up, wealth gaps grow, austerity policies grind on. The propaganda of Western exceptionalism is still strong but weaker and less convincing with every failure.

The world is changing and Karl Marx doesn’t look as out of date as he did 50 years ago.

RUSSIAN FEDERATION SITREP 30 APRIL 2020

RUSSIA AND COVID. Today’s numbers: total cases: 106K; total deaths: 1073; tests per 1 million: 24K. Why so few deaths per cases? One theory is that Russia has done more tests than most large countries so the denominator is larger; another is the the idea that the BCG vaccine has some effect; Russophobes (of course) say that Russia is lying (as if it could cover up lots of deaths given today’s social media). Moscow, where half the cases are, is now, after a very unsteady start, tracking people electronically. Putin has extended the lockdown (with full pay) until 11 May. The PM has it.

POST COVID. Russians turn out to have quite a bit saved: 16% say they have enough for a year or more; 25% for 3-6 months; 29% for 1-2 months; 30% report none. The quoted piece sees this as a disaster but, when you add in the support measures the state has provided during the shutdown, low health, education and housing costs, Russians will come out of this better off than many other countries. (Thanks to Jon Hellevig).

RUSSIA’S DOOMED AGAIN. COVID this time. And oil.

OIL WARS. The bottom has dropped out of the business. Full tankers lined up; negative futures prices; current price about $17. Lots more Saudi oil on its way to the USA. The agreement to cut production doesn’t seem to have had any effect. Did MBS launch it in a fit of pique? As China’s economy powers up again, it will need oil but apparently it’s buying it mostly from Russia.

BLAME. The egregious failure of the USA and its minions is going to lead to a lot of accusations: we already see Chinadunnit in full cry in the two supposedly best prepared countries. China, Russia and Iran are all busy spreading disinformation says Pompeo and “disparaging” US efforts. If the story that Fauci gave money to the Wuhan lab to research bat coronaviruses is true, there will be an embarrassing back blast.

THE GREAT PUTIN DISAPPEARANCE II. “Putin Has Vanished, but Rumors Are Popping Up Everywhere” says the NYT. Memory lane trip time. For a modest retainer I will provide the West’s intelligence agencies and media access to the top-secret, well-hidden and known-to-only-a-few-of-the-initiated information on his activities. (BTW, we need a new word in English to cover the concept of “stupid”.)

HISTORY. A large church to “unite all Orthodox Christians serving in the Armed Forces” is nearly finished outside Moscow. (I do wish they’d stop translating “храм” as “cathedral”). RFE sneers; Moscow Times melts down. Four halls will commemorate three warrior saints and a famous icon from the 1812 war. As I’ve said before, unlike some countries that prefer to airbrush their history or turn it upside down (as did the USSR, of course) modern Russia attempts to face it all: Stalin plus the Smolensk Icon; it all happened, why pretend that half of it didn’t?

MILITARY STUFF. It was revealed that the T-14 Armata MBT had been tested in Syria. Of course they never tell us if it just drove around in the dust and heat or actually shot at things. Syria is a big test-bed for Russian weapons. Paratroopers made a 10,000 metre jump in the Arctic. (Video) The Soviets practically pioneered large-scale parachute operations and today the Russian Airborne are still the only one that routinely drops AFVs and is not, therefore, merely light infantry when it hits the ground.

RUBBISH. The so-called Gerasimov Doctrine is back; sort of. Rubbish and projection I say.

DEATH OF IRONY. “Well, what we have seen is that Russia maintains military presence close to NATO borders and NATO countries, including in the Black Sea.

ELBE. A Putin-Trump joint statement, which is something I guess as we move into the Russians-are- falsifying-history, we-really-won-it and the wrong-side-won season.

AMERICA-HYSTERICA. Looks like Flynn was set up by the FBI.

GOOD QUESTION. Why does the US have so many biolabs close to Russia? Georgia. Ukraine. Armenia. It’s not as if the safety record for the ones in the US is so good.

UKRAINE. For your amusement: “The Peril of Polling in Crimea: Is It Possible to Measure Public Opinion in an Occupied Territory?” Unsurprisingly Ukraine’s Foreign Minister concludes it isn’t. Meanwhile Saakashvili’s back. And land sales are on.

© Patrick Armstrong Analysis, Canada Russia Observer