All You Need Is Putin, Nukes And A Sharpie

Putin, NATO, Ukraine, War, AEI, Rita, Iron Man

FADE IN:

INT. RADIO STUDIO, WASHINGTON DC – MORNING- SUNLIT WINDOWS

SOUND: Theme music, UP TEMPO with PERKY GUITAR as we see –

RADIO HOST is maybe 45. Slightly pale. Looks BUSINESS LIKE in shirt and tie. Sits at TABLE across from ASHBURY. Both have HEADPHONES. Radio host points to PRODUCER behind STUDIO GLASS as music ends.

RADIO HOST (V.O.)
Welcome to CNMBS’ FRESH AIR.
AEI Resident Scholar Ambrose Marius Ashbury the First is here.
Deerfield grad, Williams then an Athenian poetry PhD from Yale.

Doctor, good morning.

ASHBURY, coiffed in dark suit, black glasses. A green room WARRIOR of plastic age, demeanor is one who just UPGRADED TO FIOS.

ASHBURY
Call me Ash. All my interns do.

RADIO HOST
Sooo. Your NRO review on Christopher Nolan’s
new movie Interstellar
is burning up Buzzfeed.
But first, you call in the Washington Post for general European war

Ashbury UNFOLDS SMILE.

ASHBURY
We’re already at war. I’m just saying it out loud.

Radio host reaches for a DUNKIN DONUTS coffee but pauses, picks up handwritten question LIST.

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Why Putin Knows Europe Loves It Rough

Timothy Snyder’s recent Kiev presentation on the contending civilizational processes clashing in Ukraine is terrific. He notes today is in many ways a re-litigation of World War I and the contending integrationist agendas in the East. Snyder is concise and lucid.

Snyder is mistaken, however, asserting that EU integration is attributable to military defeats in 1945. European fears about American influence before WW I are the real precursor. European dread then of looming American power before 1914 lead many to ask how Europe could contend with such continental scale market and civilization. They mirrored today’s Russian nationalist and fascist anti-American obsession. To misunderstand this genesis is to miss why Putin’s anti-American assault gains traction so widely in Europe beyond just Moscow funded neo-fascists.

Before WW I European business and governments alike felt compelled to ponder countering American affluence, economies of scale and corrosive ‘leveling’ though mass consumption. American intervention in 1917 confirmed its actual power, underscored by American wealth subsidizing both Weimar and Allied war debt from 1923’s Dawes Paris Conference on. Only England, relying on India, could reasonably think of future, potential near-peer scenarios. Continental European pre-war national rivalries continued to prevent post-war active collaboration.

The Corporal’s continental empire was one answer. Speer and his Ministry of Armaments initiated actual industrial integration only after 1942. Speer found willing partners in France, Scandinavia and elsewhere. Speer enrolled French partners in an effort to scale Luftwaffe production using French components. Baby steps, to be sure. Yet possible because Europe by the 1940s had spent almost half a century looking for an answer to “the American power of scale” and popular culture penetration.

The Soviets had their own answers. The first Five Year Plan began in 1929 (originally proposed in less colossal grandiosity by Trotsky in 1923).

Formal European integration restarted in 1950 building on a Speer-based concept – the European Coal & Steel Community. And so on to Maastricht in 1992, creating today’s EU. The newly born EU represented many new political strands and goals, naturally. One, however, remained. Behind the European ritual of equality and endless meetings and receptions, the EU also finally enabled more than a passively anti-American critique.

In policy terms, the most obvious manifestations immediately began with trade and regulation. The Euro was intended to supplant the dollar as the world’s reserve currency. The French quite openly called for the EU (as led by France) to stand up to the “US hyperpower” and so on. The EU’s feeble response to genocide in the Balkans dialed back some hubris. Libya was even worse. EU weakness over Ukraine revealed a unique moral betrayal.

The benefits of Atlantic integration and common cultural ties seemingly transcend these geo-strategic impulses. Most assume “the West” is and always has been “the Allies” (post 1945). Few Americans could explain the differences among the EU, “the Allies”, NATO or a Eurasian Customs Union. Yet still today, the EU regularly and eagerly seeks to curb or cripple American technology companies and promote and subsidize competitors. Co-dependent competition as rational policy choices does not explain the pervasive low-level anti-Americanism in Europe today. That political/psycho-emotional reality taps into something deeper than Iraq/Bush, the crushing aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis or the environment. European fixation on alleged NSA/intelligence community abuses (ignoring European practices) ostentatiously turns a blind eye to Russian penetration of their governments, parties and industry leadership for a reason.

Snyder’s excellent analysis of the European-Russian crisis is actually too constrained. Civilizational questions invoke far more than just 1914. Putin’s anti-Americanism is not just a potent Russian gambit. The ploy ignites a century of European resentments and fears, even if submerged by Cold War expediency until 1991.

Putin would be delighted if observers mistook his anti-American offensive as fuel for the ghetto of Kremlin supported anti-democratic figures such as France’s Le Pen and now Hungary’s Orban. Or for separatist groups such as UKIP in Great Britain. “Russia Today” recently began broadcasting in Germany. It blasts anti-Americanism using both the Left and Right. Political consistency is irrelevant. The goal is de-legitimation and fostering pervasive cynicism. Yes, as Snyder notes, to pull the EU down and apart. But that’s just a step to the ultimate prize.

When Putin speaks of a “united Europe whole and free from Lisbon to Vladivostok” it’s code for Russian revanchist, imperial terms: a continental answer to American (and now Chinese) scale dominated by Moscow. Few in Europe understand this or are motivated to see the difference. The game – and stakes – are much bigger than just the EU and its petty wrangling.

Russia, Ukraine, Europe, France, Germany, Mistral

Putin’s Shambolic Improvisation In Ukraine

Being Prepared Is Hard Work

Great artists know an essential truth about the road. Doing a one-off show is often harder than preparing a lengthy tour. True whether musically, theatrically or even politically. One date demands the same rehearsal time and clarity as a tour. A lot to ask for one gig. Far easier to wing things, hoping that charisma’s momentum and spontaneity will carry the day. History’s detritus shows a vast landscape of resulting tattered reputations – from humbled musical legends to self-immolating political candidates.

War, unsurprisingly, isn’t much different. Consider Tommy Franks’ war plan (albeit with OSD and OVP intrusions) 2002-2003. Jettisoning carefully prepared pre-existing plans, not only did he comparatively wing it, Franks did a two-for. He abruptly bugged out and retired in 2003 before mistakes became devastatingly obvious. Adding Wolfowitz’ last minute failure with Turkey for a northern front and one gets the point. Conversely, much of the American success in the Pacific 1942-45 famously grew from significant planning and thinking about amphibious warfare campaigns from the 1920s.

Germany 1935-45 also is a popular topic. Germany lost the improvised war on September 1, 1939. Yet German conceptual and economic preparations for an eventual intercontinental war with the US are often ignored by the still British-dominated historiography and certain cable channels. In the European context, Germany’s 1936-37 economic crisis spurred radicalization and thinking about a general war by 1943-45. Still, the Four Year Plan and industrial base began alignment in 1938 for the later ‘inevitable’ world war with the US. The Corporal’s improvisations within this vague overall strategic concept jump started events and doomed both.

Not everyone shirks planning and rehearsals. Even for a single gig. Led Zeppelin notoriously devoted an entire month in 2007 to rehearse a solitary 2 hour London show. Embarrassed after decades of calamitously unrehearsed ‘re-unions’, vanity demanded it.

So what of Putin’s War on Ukraine? We say it’s a one-off. And Vladimir Putin is no Led Zeppelin.

Putin, Russia, Rock, Empty Cabs, Russian Rock

We know Putin launched his attack on or about the night of February 22nd relying only on his closest advisors, meaning almost no one. Assurances from MFA/MID and other senior government officials at the time otherwise meant nothing. He invaded Crimea based on a war plan dating back to the late 1990s to secure the Black Seas Fleet. We completely disagree with non-specialists who argue that a 2013 speech on the characteristics of emerging war by the General Staff is a modern “Hossbach Memorandum”, proving Putin long planned a carefully considered war of aggression on Ukraine. Such allegations by casual observers and social media hype usually misunderstand the culture, nature and purpose of General Staff discussions, planning and Putin’s 2014 context.

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Play Russian Apologist Bingo!

We present to you “Russian Apologist Bingo!” Apologists for Russian aggression, lies and even lunatic screeds are everywhere. They’ll do about anything to defend Kremlin propaganda. From the infamous “Whataboutism” to “change the subject” or claiming that Ukraine tried to shoot down Putin’s plane and hit MH 17 (never mind Putin was in South America) — all their greatest hits are here. Play, won’t you?

Russia, Bingo, Propaganda

Can you spot all the Kremlin apologists’ tricks?

Nixon And The Dog Days Of August

Nixon is back, haunting every August as usual. This year he fights the centennial of the Great War for media mindshare. It’s an uneven match. Americans emerged almost unscathed from the first European civil war.

Relentless Pat Buchanan cuts and pastes his annual apologia. He reminds us:

Then he [Nixon] succeeded where liberalism’s best and brightest had failed. He ended the Vietnam War with honor, brought all our troops and POWs home, opened up China, negotiated historic arms agreements with Moscow, ended the draft, desegregated southern schools, enacted the 18-year-old vote, created the EPA, OSHA and National Cancer Institute.

Another reminder of how far we’ve come. The Nixon Center/National Interest can’t resist agreeing, too. Just attempting any of Nixon’s acts would galvanize the Movement to start impeachment calls. John McCain today would be against freeing John McCain.

Most striking? Nixon remained an internationalist realist even as America turned inward, indeed to his last day. Nixon advocated his views in both policy and practical political terms.

We’re certain Nixon would be baffled by Obama’s passive acceptance of the political status quo as setting limits on himself and the country. Nixon understood presidents are above all political actors. To lead they must engage political means to achieve their ends – beyond empty rhetoric. (We speak of his legal actions).

Obama believes politics is about judging others and declaiming rational choices. His job is to explain them, often as scold. Societies, however, require politics to address and somehow give meaning to the irrational as well. Aristotle understood we are all political animals.

His comments about Russia could be about anything:

But Obama says, quote, “people don’t always act rationally.” He says sometimes people don’t act based on their own interests.

True, the Movement after 2010 essentially destroyed functioning government beyond even the 1973-77 era. Obama’s passivity is a major causal factor there, too. We all together warned here in 2009-10 about the then embryonic Movement. We explained how Obama should act to co-opt, marginalize or impede it in early 2009.

The Obama White House publicly mocked the Movement, doing nothing, politically. And the Movement seized Congress and ended his presidency.

Nixon, Watergate, Vietnam

Obama sees the world as defining his limits, and thus ours. Successful presidents use politics to change the world and elevate us. Obama’s ISIL airstrike address this week merely another version of his earlier West Point address fiasco. At West Point, he may be the first modern president to “subtweet” his critics so passive aggressively.

Our Obama critique unfortunately remains true since 2007. He seems small today because he abdicated most of what makes a successful president.

In this sense, Obama is the anti-Nixon. And that’s not a compliment.

Putin’s New Style Of War Careens Off Course In Ukraine

Ukraine is dealing a strong setback to Putin’s allegedly novel model and doctrine of 21st century irregular war. Not because Ukrainian forces rout Russians and their allies in Ukraine and now control 2/3 of the Donbass.

Putin, Ukraine, ATO, Donetsk, Luhansk, MH17, War

Russia’s ‘new’ model of war escaped Moscow’s control. Putin understands it conceivably could evolve into a political threat inside Russia and even the faintest whispers of revolution. The regime could ignite war in Ukraine but not control its perceived domestic political impact on Putin’s authority.

We finally see the limits of Putin’s escalation. He will not risk even the perception of challenge to his authority. Of course, he still plays to win in Ukraine at some level. Ukraine will bear the brunt of his malice for years. And his global revanchism is unchanged.

Meanwhile, he refuses frantic demands in Moscow and from Russians fighting in Ukraine to commit formal Russian troops. Lavrov now calls for “a quick resolution” of the crisis. And Russian state controlled media is banishing Ukraine from the front pages of Komsomolskaya Pravda and changing tone, depicting Putin as face-saving “humanitarian” rather than war lord.

His personal, emotional obsession with revanchism remains. He still yearns to tear down the international order and gain his psychological revenge on Americans for the Soviet Union’s demise and his modest height (5′ 6″).

Putin is taking a walk because he no longer could control the nationalism and overt fascism he courted and stoked in through April 2014. Various ideologues surrounding Putin and their movements have always had more independence than most in the West understood.

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Russia Loses Again in Ukraine, Keeps Raising The Ante

Putin keeps gambling. His first, impulsive attack on Ukraine in February 2014 netted him Crimea and 80% approval ratings. He’s stumbled since.

Russia failed to replicate the unopposed Crimean takeover in Ukraine’s Southeast from March-April. Moscow then threatened formal army invasion. That only solidified an improbable Ukrainian nationalism, creating a prohibitive cost. Ukrainians’ vote for Europeanist President Porochenko is another blow. Yet Putin keeps doubling down on escalation, even if formal invasion isn’t on the table for now.

Putin and Russia Go Backwards

Nihilist Nostalgia

Putin’s goals lie beyond Ukraine. He seeks to alter fundamentally the global balance of power and pull down the liberal democratic order. It’s ambitious for a $2 trillion economy confronting a combined West of $32 trillion. Russia’s 2020 defense re-armament program tops $90 billion a year, against $1 trillion combined in the West.

Invading Ukraine in 2014 revealed Putin’s plans and techniques 5-7 years early. That’s the good news. Putin so far keeps testing his improvisation against a disorganized Western alliance. Why not keep doubling down?

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Ukraine At War Spring 2014

Putin‘s war of aggression in Eastern Ukraine failed its original purpose: to replicate Crimea’s easy capture and herald the so-called “Russian Spring.” Putun must now play for time and bank on his ability to improvise better than Western passivity and derail the May national elections.

Ukraine, Putin, Russia, Sloviansk

The initial operation featured 100 Spetsnaz GRU special forces officers leading pre-identified networks of pro-Moscow forces in Eastern Ukraine. Joined by Russian citizens (“tourists”) flooding into Ukraine, the FSB and GRU operatives used the social smart phone app Zello, Twitter and other means to direct and rally ‘spontaneous’ pro-Moscow support. GRU intercepted calls reveal they were taking direction from Moscow-based PR agencies.

Stage one was to seize key Eastern cities such as Kharkov, Donetsk and Luhansk like in Crimea. Once secured, the Russians planned to spread west and south, backed by the threat of Russian military forces across the border. The plan didn’t work.

Ukrainians surprised Moscow by their resistance or passivity. Despite Moscow offering up to $100 a day to join a pro-Russian protest, no crowd ever topped 4,000 anywhere – in cities with a million or more population. Most crowds were pitifully small. More disappointing to Russia, Yanukovich’s old Party of the Regions, the main political force in Eastern Ukraine, largely supported a unified Ukraine with conditions. Some oligarchs also played a double or triple game with their patronage networks and private militias. Local police frequently were bought off, but local populations still remained inert.

Moscow used the Geneva negotiations to buy time. The Crimea model failed. But Moscow lacked reliable local cadres to pretend to be the face of an ‘authentic’ Ukrainian protest against Kiev.

In the new strategy, the GRU no longer hid its hand. Russians operated openly after taking over government buildings in Sloviansk and Donetsk, etc. Moscow discarded its hoped for partner in the Party of Regions. Russia is recruiting and activating more radical elements in the East, Ukrainians (and transplanted Russians) who despise not only Kiev, but the entire kleptocracy of oligarchs, Party of Regions, local government, etc. Organized crime in the East is also a natural partner, preferring lawlessness and disorder to a successful Kiev stabilization.

This new approach is a revolutionary step. Moscow not only is rejecting Ukraine’s territorial integrity but its existing institutional base – from political parties to local governance. Even pro-Moscow figures such as Kharkov’s mayor Kernes are abused as traitors and enemies. Eventually Kernes was shot and denounced in pro-Russia social media. Moscow is trying to build a new mass, radical political movement on the fly.

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Putin’s Revanchist Crimean Gamble After Sochi

Putin Attacks Ukraine

Revanchist
1. an advocate or supporter of a political policy of revanche, especially in order to seek vengeance for a previous military defeat.
adjective
2. of or pertaining to a political policy of revanche;
3. of or pertaining to revanchists or revanchism.

Sometime between February 21st and February 22nd, Vladimir Putin decided to violate the settled international order. By all evidence, like Andropov and Ustinov over Afghanistan in Dec. 1979, his rump war cabinet was insular: FSB Chairman Bortnikov, Chief of Staff Sergei Ivanov and very few others.

He started a war of aggression on Ukraine and against the Western international system. He chose war for both internal and external reasons. He gambles that he can improvise more skillfully than Western coalitions. Any Western pressure he judges will not be much or last long. He can also use pressure for internal consolidation ala his speech denouncing internal opposition as a “5th column”. So far his assumptions aren’t markedly off.

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Putin’s Sochi Spring Break

Putin’s $51 billion gamble to re-make Russians’ self-image achieves its initial, limited goals. Putin wanted Sochi to sell Russians they’re active participants in the 21st century’s pop culture meme bubble, not just observers. Sochi’s distraction and legitimization will buy crucial time for his regime.


Giving The Russian People A Chance To Escape Today

It’s beyond just Putin individually. His restive elites need him to peddle illusions of Russian global emergence. All have a stake in prolonging the faltering system’s inertia. Russia’s economic growth, once over 8% in the mid 2000s, may not break 1% in 2014. Infighting among self-dealing elites over extractive and infrastructure resources grows more public. Putin’s no longer the axiomatic arbiter. Russia fails to embrace economic innovation to replace dead dinosaurs/gas/oil in the ground. Russia’s future is bleak.

Worse, Putin’s bag of tricks is almost empty. He’s tapped Russia’s Reserve Fund and also guaranteed Sochi expenses. His extravagant but ineffectual re-armament plan forced his earlier Finance Minister, Kudrin, to resign. Putin adds promises for grandiose Soviet-mega projects to develop the desolate and decrepit Far East. His $15 billion bribe to Ukraine in December 2013 drains reserves still more.

It’s understandable the regime naturally turns up the AgitProp. Putin’s State-controlled media is doing everything it can to manufacture artificial “us” versus “them”.

What is the regime promoting? A toxic blend of revanchism added to ethnic and religious chauvinism that trumpets a “Russianness” brutalizing the needy and marginal. Even the Kremlin is concerned about how how to keep this environment sustainable, fearing a slide toward nihilism or spontaneous ‘chaos’ (organization) without something more.

Enter Sochi. Its essential mission — sell Russians that Putin’s noxious mixture is internationally mainstream. Revanchism with a patina of glossy, Daft Punk-loving globalism. The squalor and bigotry of Russian daily life hidden by Euro disco hip sheen.


Why Sochi Is Not Berlin

Comparisons to 1936 and Berlin miss this critical point: Putin needed Sochi because he and Russia are weak. His elites increasingly tempted to think past or through him. 1936 by contrast? The Corporal, 2 years after the famous Nuremberg rally memorialized on film, totally controlled his elites and populace. Germany’s economy boomed.

1936 declared the regime to the world. 2014 asks the world for help to make Putin’s regime look cool.

Of course, global perceptions matter. World leaders boycotting Sochi hurts. But the regime is adept turning real and imagined hurts into daily AgitProp fodder. Watching and reading the regime’s lieutenants and sycophants’ reactions to the games instructive. Not just their unhinged anger over a U.S.-Russia hockey game. Day in and day out while the games unfold the regime can’t mask its true psychology of petty resentment or rages that few Americans will ever see or care to see.

Two questions today: How long will Putin enjoy a post-Sochi halo? And was it worth the cost?

On the latter, our answer is clear. The regime faces a looming, possibly severe crisis at home with a faltering economy. Sochi may help distract by buttressing Russian self-identity and vague global legitimacy. Sochi’s reprieve – if it’s real – for Putin is worth its weight in gold. For a little while.