Stop The Spirit Of Zossen The Imperial City And The World Tue, 13 Sep 2016 14:22:28 +0000 en-US hourly 1 BREXIT And Confusion: Putin So Far The Only Winner Wed, 29 Jun 2016 08:42:56 +0000 As Stanford’s Michael McFaul states simply, Putin is the only BREXIT winner so far. Undeniably true. Nonetheless, Putin is an accidental beneficiary. The entire British political class’ inexplicably widespread moral and political bankruptcy ensured the catastrophic outcome, not Russian active measures (despite RT UK’s best efforts). Ambassador McFaul notes a prevailing Moscow point of view:

Most importantly, one of the European Union’s most principled critics of Russian aggression in Europe will no longer have a vote in Brussels. That’s good for Putin’s interests and bad for U.S. national interests. Boris Titov, Russia’s commissioner for entrepreneurs’ rights, who is hardly a militant nationalist by Russian standards, made the argument most clearly when he cheered on Facebook, “UK out!!! In my opinion, the most important long-term consequence of all this is that the exit will take Europe away from the Anglo-Saxons, that is, from the USA. This is not the independence of Britain from Europe, but the independence of Europe from the USA.” London also helped advance our common interests inside the E.U. on non-European security issues from Iran to Libya to as far away as the Pacific. That “Anglo-Saxon” perspective is now lost within this most important international organization.

Titov’s geopolitical prism is not just widely shared in the Kremlin, security circles or Russian apparat generally. Here’s how the Kremlin-founded RISI (Russian Institute of Strategic Studies) phrased the issue last February. The analytical frame – cited here previously – is now a Russian social bromide in some ways. Thanks to many decades of promotion by the report’s co-author, Alexander Dugin, appearing in 2016 under yet a new self-brand.

Americans in particular fail to distinguish (or understand the difference) between Dugin the erratic and still marginal individual and Duginism writ large as Russian domestic ideological vector. He was never ‘Putin’s brain’ or even a direct influence. Dugin, however, promoted his geopolitical analysis of how to attack the United States energetically in the mid 1990s, eventually reaching General Staff circles at Yeltsin’s close. His influence on Russian ‘geopolitical mania’ widened throughout the 2000s. Your policy entrepreneurship “made it” when Russian writer Vladimir Sorokin’s widely read 2006 satire, Day of the Oprichnik (День опричника), lampoons your ideas as the voice of a court faction surrounding the new Tsar.

The individual? Decidedly less successful. The Kremlin (reportedly via Surkov’s faction) in 2014 visibly demoted a marginal Dugin as described here earlier. Some in the West note the timing: Dugin’s demotion coincided with his demand for military escalation in Ukraine. Another, more important factor? Dugin’s marginalization began in July, 2014, after he personally attacked Putin in June for weakness. He denounced Putin’s refusal to initiate “Total Fascism”, exterminate ‘moderate’ Russian elites (the so-called “Fifth and Sixth Columns”) and eliminate institutional constraints on Ruler will. This is the significance of his invocation of his untrammeled ‘Sovereign’. As envisioned by Ur fascists, the Italian Julius Evola, Carl Schmitt and Heidegger (in the latter’s previously secret “Black Books”). Dugin’s dog-whistles to Western Ur fascist traditions (for example, using Evola’s ‘Lunar’ and ‘Solar’ labels to describe weak, bourgeois fascism as in Germany and true fascism), were mocked as ‘weird and bizarre’ locutions by D.C. specialists. The Kremlin (and many European fascists), however, understood. As often the case with Russian foreign policy questions, it’s the internal issues that are determinative.

So it’s understandable that General Reshetnikov, RISI’s head, explained Dugin’s 2016 re-emergence and collaboration in a detailed Russian media interview. Reshetnikov explicitly rejected Dugin’s (faux) Eurasianism and his domestic agenda. Reshetnikov noted instead Dugin’s special utility for attacking the West and the American geopolitical position. Dugin’s ersatz post-1989 ‘Fourth Way’ fascism resonates across Europe. And beyond ideological affinities, Dugin created and maintains extensive so-called Rightist contacts in Austria, Greece, France, Germany and Slovakia, etc. (His American network is not non-existent, either).

RISI, Dugin, Fascism, Russia

Ambassador McFaul’s Titov quote, supra, is the Dugin 1990s elevator pitch as re-circulated by RISI and many others. Again, we emphasize the difference between Dugin’s historic influence on modern Russian geopolitical entrepreneurship and his current individual, limited utility.

On this analytical plane alone, we reject simplistic American ‘sound of trumpets’ enthusiasms for BREXIT, especially as advanced by Eliot Cohen and others. One might observe that Cohen and others would benefit from economic, social, linguistic and historical background to place the EU in the modern geopolitical context. Theirs is a simpler perspective which failed to anticipate the obvious resulting complexity. And future consequences.

We’ve discussed here the EU’s undeniable macro economic, political-historical and geo-political limitations. BREXIT divisions within Merkel’s coalition, between Berlin and Paris, among Founding States and the overall membership merely underscore those structural problems. Juncker’s tragi-comic attempted pronouncements to the permanent apparat in Brussels do not help. Still, the British political class’ failure as a functioning unit highlights the problem is not inherently within the European idea.

Russian 2014 revanchism is an undeniable change in the European space that adds additional complexity to the EU’s challenges. Some in the West mistakenly conflate Russian revanchism with Putin personally. In many ways, Putin is both critical instigator and captive tactical moderate within that dynamic. Putin’s actions after mid-2014 demonstrate this reality, and decisions highlight the diminished room for maneuver he finds within narrowed elites.

Whether with Putin or a post-Putin actor with a sustainable power base, the widespread psycho-emotional reality in the Russian apparat as expressed by Titov or RISI’s ‘analysis’ will remain. How domestic Russian politics may or may not give voice to that reality through foreign policy (and over time) is a more complicated question. All the more reason for American strategy to appraise BREXIT, the shaken EU and their collective place in the U.S post-1945 liberal democratic order responsibly. Even within Cohen and other’s narrow assertions of Great Britain benefiting from BREXIT, blithe assurances NATO is an equal EU substitute for America are unpersuasive. Not only is NATO not immune to European political disarray. NATO isn’t designed to – nor can it – replicate the power dynamics and structure of a functioning European idea for America. That Cohen et al. failed to anticipate a BREXIT would shake profoundly assumptions of a United Kingdom remaining united as an actual country is notable.

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A Question Asked Everywhere From Moscow To Tehran Thu, 17 Mar 2016 02:33:21 +0000 Assad Putin Syria

What to make of the partial withdrawal? Putin’s a tactical thinker, not a strategist. His decisions often are delayed and impulsive – as clear throughout 2014-15. Interestingly, Tehran was as surprised as everyone else – including the Russian Ministry of Defense.

Russia accomplished readily achievable goals with its limited resources. Moscow strengthened Assad (or an Alawite successor) as we noted would happen in September. Long standing Russian bases in Western Syria will not be overrun now. Strategically, however, the actual controlled ground among the various fighting groups and Assad hasn’t changed significantly. (Professional Western pessimists’ claim Russia always planned to conquer all of Syria with Iran never analytically serious).

Syria Civil War Map

The limited, quick intervention in Syria and then partial withdrawal is perhaps the closest Moscow has come to using its military as it was designed after its calamitous 2008 performance against Georgia – even if accidentally. Syria, not the chimera of massed Soviet-style offensives across Ukraine to Poland, represents the example of the Serdykov (former Minister of Defense) modernization. (In Russian parlance, modernization is now a disfavored term – the new expression is ‘increasing national potential’). The Russian military is becoming optimized more for quick operational fighting around the Russian periphery, not protracted occupations or campaigns in Eastern Europe.

Not everything went Putin’s way. To overcome initial failed Syrian offensives, Russia committed limited ground troops into actual combat and escalated air strikes. Putin’s speech and award of medals confirms their role. The Western-backed Free Syria Army bore the brunt of Russian attacks, ISIS almost none at all. After that, what were Moscow’s realistic military options? Not much. And real and potential costs continued to grow.

At the macro strategic level, Russia’s military gambit failed to create the always unrealistic Grand Bargain with Washington/Europe – Moscow’s coveted Yalta 2.0. Sanctions over Ukraine remain. Washington’s grudging acceptance of a Russian role in Syria is not the same. In Syria itself, uncontrollable risks grew as set forth in the preceding post, ranging from Turkish hostility/regional ambitions, Saudi/Sunni rage (delivered MANPADs as well as threatened troops), Iranian agendas, blowback inside Russia and growing domestic Russian economic crisis. Worse for Moscow, China challenges Russian security influence in Tajikistan and across Central Asian (often ignored by the West).

Of the 15 aircraft pulled so far, about half the limited numbers, are mainly SU-24s and SU-25s: a bomber and ground attack platform. Those would be needed to support future ground operations. While Putin claims he could re-introduce forces to Syria, it would not be as easy this time. Syrian Opposition MANPADs greatly complicate future plans. The remaining fighter force in Syria? More than sufficient to complicate a no-fly zone, deter others and gain time to re-assess within strategic constraints.

Claims circulate in Russia the last few days that the Syrian gambit cost Moscow far more than Putin’s stated price of $480 million. The Russian defense budget going forward is already under massive pressure.

The questions still are many. Is it too soon to call Russia’s efforts Pyrrhic? Syria after 2011 remains true today: watch this space.

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Putin’s View From The Крепость (Fortress) Thu, 10 Mar 2016 19:59:35 +0000 Two years into Putin’s war against the global order Moscow declares a new Cold War in Munich. How would Putin view his progress?

An Embryonic Counter-Intelligence Regime Goes To War

One should begin with Putin’s world view and his closest security advisors. Putin and his security elite pursued three primary and interrelated goals upon his return to power in 2012: (a) the survival of the Putin regime against a Colored Revolution; (b) fabricating a Russian domestic identity opposed to American internationalism; and (c) creating a Russian led geopolitical order breaking American unipolar hegemony.

Putin began his war with the same inner circle in place today. Members still include FSB Chairman Bortnikov, former FSB Chairman and now Chair of the National Security Council Patrushev, SVR Chair Fradkov, Chief of Staff Sergei Ivanov (former KGB, Putin FSB associate & Minister of Defense) and others. Minister of Defense Shoigu is not a full member of the innermost circle but actively participates; he was a popular civilian political figure before assuming his post. Still further outside the inner circles are a number of other former intelligence officers, such as RISI Chair General Reshetnikov, other former KGB or FSB associates.

Non power entities like the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ministry of Finance, etc. remain outsiders and may be consulted but are rarely included in key national security decision-making. Putin’s Central Banker and Minister of Finance, for example, often can not get a face to face meeting. (Putin’s disdain for technocratic experts is well known). Patrushev, not the Ministry of Finance, ruled on potential defense budget restrictions.

Putin’s innermost security circle share a counter-intelligence culture. That circle in turn activated and uses various nationalist, ultra-nationalist, fascist and Orthodox voices as useful. The KGB fostered that symbiotic relationship during the later Soviet era; the contemporary relationship remains utilitarian. All nonetheless share a perceived threat from globalization and international norms long pre-dating Ukraine’s Maidan in 2014.

The counter-intelligence ideology – as during the Soviet period – attributes American causality to international events. Putin et al. continue to believe American policies purposefully create so-called Colored Revolutions in Tunisia, Egypt, Georgia, Ukraine and intended to export one to Russia. The tautology? American power drives globalization, so any event touched by globalization is America’s fault. Moreover, American media and social technology such as Facebook, YouTube and Twitter are seen as weapons promoting American hegemony. A Russian response requires control, censorship or manipulation via state-sponsored information war campaigns.

The 2012 Bolotnaya Moscow protesters demonstrating against Putin’s return to power confirmed Putin’s view of attempted American regime change. A counter-intelligence mind set perceives intent and linkages signaling threats in Moscow – as made clear by this March 2016 development. Maidan is another example; Putin himself declared America manipulated Ukrainians “like rats” to overthrow Yanukovich, ushering in Maidan. To dismiss this view as mere rhetoric is a mistake. Patrushev accused the US of using Ukraine as a pretext to overthrow the Kremlin and split Russia. Reshetnikov from RISI frequently uses KGB tradecraft frames to uncover alleged CIA and American operations driving many contemporary events.

These specific potential revolutions are seen as the inevitable result of US-led globalization, the proxy for American power and unipolar hegemony. The Russian Institute for Strategic Studies (RISI), the Kremlin think tank, recently described international globalization and norms as an existential threat to Russian distinctiveness and geopolitical identity.

Russia, War, NATO

Europe is an important Russian target in Putin’s war for two reasons. First, as Timothy Snyder et al. emphasize, Russia is outclassed only by a unified EU. Russia would be again closer as a peer power with the EU collapsed, facing individual countries. Secondly, American power is seen as rooted in the unified Western idea. Breaking the EU is a means of ejecting America from the European littoral.

In this context, ascribing Western notions of defensive and offensive actions to Moscow can be misleading. Russian counter-intelligence mind-set stipulates Russia faces a protracted existential threat. This siege mentality assumes a priori that the assault already began. Accordingly, actions responding to (notional) assault may be rationalized as defensive. Reduction of tensions through Western compromise that do not dismantle globalization and international norms will not alleviate the existential threat. Mirror imaging Western notions of rationality will misidentify Russian threat perceptions and decision loops.

Auditing Putin’s War in 2016

Using his own counter-intelligence metrics, Putin’s war on Ukraine can be judged a costly — though incomplete — success. Putin crushed the Bolotnaya movement and stopped a potential Maidan arising in Russia. Ordinary Russians in 2016 overwhelmingly view Ukraine, Maidan and Ukraine’s uprising in starkly negative terms.

Securing his regime from a (notional) American-sponsored Colored Revolution (in 2012 and again after Maidan) is a priceless achievement. By definition.

Putin also fabricated a crude Russian tribal identity to resist globalization’s alleged homogeneity. Unleashed Russian chauvinism supported roll back of fragile liberal democratic civil society and NGOs, rule of law and marginalized ‘liberal’ Opposition.

Abroad, Russian operations in Crimea and Donbas cripple Ukraine’s post-Maidan consolidation. Crimea under Russian control proved Russia can alter the post War European map by force and defy international norms. Russian military assets in Crimea now extend regional area denial power projection by sea and air.

The Ukraine war’s great failures are nevertheless stark. Putin created Ukrainian nationalism. Moscow completely misjudged the potential for taking Ukraine with a “Russian Spring” uprising. Ukrainians overwhelmingly now support a European path. EU sanctions also surprised Moscow. NATO reinforces its eastern flank. Russian international isolation is undeniable; an independent Russian geopolitical pole not only failed to materialize, China refused to support the concept.

Domestically, Russian euphoria over Crimea stalled; Ukraine fatigue is undeniable. Russian media long ago dropped anti-Ukraine agitprop. Polls, never reliable in Russia, nonetheless show widespread opposition to further operations in Ukraine. Russians now debate the names of 2,000 individual alleged combat deaths.

Economic concerns dominate. In the famous Russian battle between the television and the refrigerator, the latter is winning. Saudi oil warfare drives the Russian economy into recession. In 2015 the economy contracted by 3.7%. The IMF predicts recession continuing into 2017. Kudrin, Moscow’s former Finance Minister, agrees 2016 will be another painful year.

The tangible impact of this on average Russians is clear. The ruble lost 60% of its value against the dollar. Average wages of Russians have fallen already 10%. Almost 60% of Russians say the economy is the greatest threat to Russia. The majority of Russians now favor rebuilding ties to the West. Russia’s economy shrunk to the approximate level of The Netherlands – GDP is now at 2006 levels.

Russian Economic Decline

More worrying for Moscow, oil and gas revenues constitute 44% of the federal budget. The resulting $38 billion deficit led to panicked efforts to raise revenue from new taxes or rushed privatization. Even the formerly sacrosanct defense budget is being cut by 5%. Delays in paying defense contracts and salaries led to an “unprecedented revolt” in 2016 by regional defense enterprises.

Western sanctions have a more targeted impact than Saudi oil policy. A key example is military development. Russian re-armament under their so-called 2020 plan began to hit its stride in 2014. Russian inability to access Western technology is now a critical limiting step for the Russian defense industrial base (VPK). Chief of the General Staff Gerasimov’s article “About the Syrian Experience”, underscored the essential nature of high tech cyber, precision and other weapons for future warfare – and Russian need to catch up. Such weapons are much more expensive to procure than those under the 2020 plan. To design and build them, the Russian VPK needs Western (and Chinese) technology.

Military requirements highlight a contradiction in Putin’s counter-intelligence approach. Modern technologies will not likely emerge from Russian neo-autarky, if at all. Yet Gerasimov attributes Syria’s civil war to another attempted American-led Colored Revolution. His call for Russia to develop a formal hybrid warfare doctrine and information warfare capability because of Syria reveals how pervasive the counter-intelligence mindset pervades Russian national security thinking in 2016.

The Syrian Hail Mary

Moscow’s Syrian gambit should be seen in this context. Syria marks the first overt Russian military deployment to halt (at least temporarily) a perceived neo-Color Revolution.

Russia curtailed Ukrainian activity before the Syria operation. Russian Ukraine fatigue, diplomatic signaling and maskirovka undoubtedly played a role. Syria deployments also demanded substantial planning, command and control bandwidth at the General Staff and decision-making levels. A question is how much Putin’s style of personalized rule necessarily limits simultaneous strategic operations.

Moscow unrealistically believed it could use Syria to re-open a global settlement with Washington (the aborted Medvedev DC trip, etc). Putin clearly dangled a Yalta 2.0. To date, the US compartmentalized its grudging cooperation to Syria.

(N.B.: Russia did not create the Syrian refugee crisis to undermine the EU. Putin, however, opportunistically uses it.)

Moscow currently supports cessation of military operations (never described by Moscow as an actual ‘cease fire’). Americans and Europeans now discuss partition with Assad remaining in a rump state. This is a tentative operational victory that could become strategic.

Putin also underestimated challenges. He promised a three month commitment and no ground troops. Russian offensives then failed. Russia achieved tactical and almost operational success around Aleppo by increasing air strikes and deploying actual ground troops. (Social media posts by Russian troops from Syria prove they are in actual combat, not just advisors). When would this end? At what cost? Moscow observers already noted Putin’s raiding training budgets to pay for Syria would soon be unworkable.

Russia lacks experience fighting in the Middle East unlike its Eastern European comfort zone. After Turkey shot down the Su-24, Russia faced unpredictable conflict. Turkey’s large military and control of the Straits pose significant strategic risk. Russia also has no interest in Turkey expanding its regional influence via a pseudo Ottoman revival. Saudi threats to deploy troops in Syria would expose Russians to direct combat against Sunni nations. Worse, the Saudis are technologically more advanced than the Russian military, boasting precision guided weapons that Moscow lacks. Finally, Russia’s relationship with Iran is more complicated than many perceive.

A pause now allows Moscow to assess circumstances and re-think tactical and strategic objectives.

Where To From Here?

Of Putin’s three goals, only one can be said to be fully achieved: preventing (notional) regime change in Russia and blocking a potential Maidan in Moscow. In Ukraine, his grip on Donbas puts Kiev’s alleged attempted Color Revolution on hold and buys him time. Moscow did, however, manage to arrest Assad’s imminent defeat. That outcome arguably marks the second time Putin defeated a (notional) American-led Colored Revolution.

Other goals remain elusive. And costs are staggering.

His new, fabricated Russian tribal identity frays at the edges from recession and growing ineffectiveness of regime propaganda. Worse, Putin’s counter-intelligence ideology is at odds with necessary measures for sustained Russian economic development and military transformation.

War, however, is often a function of results over time. Operational outcomes frequently are relative to a specific moment. Can Putin gamble and manage his costs better than the American and EU international order? Better than Kiev? His economic and political burn rate is massive. There’s no doubt, however, it’s better than Kiev’s currently. After all, some Russian economic recovery — at reduced levels — is expected sometime in 2017.

Putin has long said the EU’s great weakness is it began as an economic integration without the political. Major European political dysfunction at the national and EU level over austerity, terrorism, refugees and EU membership underscore that point. Can Putin out-wait/hasten European drift towards disintegration while absorbing his costly missteps? A counter-intelligence view of existential threat mandates he try or improvise again.

Accordingly, Russian funding for European Left or Right extremes (openly as in the case of Le Pen, others covertly) and other subversion must continue. EU political de-stabilization at worst (for Putin) means sanctions likely collapse regardless of Minsk II. At best, the EU itself eventually could, too. Putin is the only leader supporting a British June 2016 vote to leave the EU.

An ongoing existential threat motivates Putin to avoid a Gorbachev-esque accommodation 1988-91. What circumstance(s) trigger a transition to a standing fight are not known. Yet Moscow already thinks about scenarios. Military publications emphasize the need to ensure today’s Russian Army will not waiver in regime defense as the Soviet Army did in 1991. The West should think about scenarios, too.

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Дебилы бля* Sun, 25 Oct 2015 20:27:00 +0000 [* “Fucking morons”]

Even diplomats speak the truth now and then. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov famously reminded us all last August.

Did Lavrov refer to Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir at their joint press conference? A personal aide? Or perhaps he, too, hates his home cable TV service provider; we may never really know.

We can still ask if Western analytical responses 18 months into Putin’s revanchist acting out deserve a similar declaration. Our 2012-2015 record is decidedly mixed.

First, regarding Maidan, we covered here already the initial mistakes among Brussels (and national EU member states), Kiev, Moscow and Washington. The complexity is far beyond mono-causal (and inaccurate) assignments of historical culpability.

Second, the West largely failed to appreciate the proximate cause of today’s environment: continuity in Russian structural revanchism from 2005-2014. Medvedev interregnum aside, by 2013 the pattern and trajectory of today’s Russia should have been abundantly clear. Western tunnel vision focus on the Middle East as defining national security dulled decision makers and two generations of analysts. And still does.

Finally, the West even in 2015 still tries to avoid recognizing Ukrainian (and others’) agency. The current White House’s immersion in perception management explains some of it. European stunted maturity and psychological implosion under austerity and refugee crises even more. Ukrainian tendency to blame external others for their self-inflicted difficulties compounds the problem.


So where to begin an appraisal? At the formal national institutional level, intelligence product cycles underestimated Russian reactions (Crimea/off ramps, the August 2014 formal military intervention, the January 2015 military offensive, Syria) and overestimated Russian capacity as events unfolded. Misreading the obviously failing “Russian Spring” in April/May 2014 as it happened or Putin’s various military posturings, including nuclear, cases in point. The analytical shortcomings and causes are far deeper than missing Putin’s Syria gambit.

Perhaps the biggest issue confronting the West remains psychological. Both analysts and policy makers have no experience actually confronting revanchism. Putin aggressively improvised within a vague, emotional (and thus irrational by definition) framework of Russian defiance of the international order. His acting to vandalize consensual ‘normality’ simply was and remains beyond the policy and analytical majority’s imagination: Merkel’s famous “he lives in a private world”. That disparity remains Putin’s strongest ally.

Policy elites and nations who embody the international status quo naturally find it easier to hope for a return to normalcy. 2014’s talk of “off ramps”, etc. are not far removed from London’s failed efforts to induce Italy, Japan and then Germany to return to international ‘normality’ after 1929. Western sanctions in 2014 marked a small departure from pure passivity but by their nature assume revanchism is a temporary aberration.

Purposeful strategic action to defend and buttress the current international order is not defined solely by typical Neocon policy options of mindless bellicosity. Yet yearning for the status quo often conflates the two. Creating a straw man argument of Neocon recklessness or the passive rebuttal is intellectually dishonest and strategically foolish. It’s no surprise to learn that Susan Rice and others around Obama do precisely that in internal debates.


Assessing Russia’s overall strategic direction after 2012 should not have been that difficult. Even today, Russia is not close to the Soviet Counter Intelligence State target. For example, on the most fundamental macro level, understanding the Russian economy and re-armament implications presented few obstacles. Certainly not when compared to the challenges Herb Levine or Gertrude Schroeder et. al faced estimating and modeling the Soviet economy and defense burdens. Similarly, Putin’s ideological path to 2014 manifested in 2005, years before Munich in 2007 and continued after.

Putin’s personalized rule, especially after 2012, presents different challenges to be sure. His improvisational decision making is opaque to and a surprise for even senior most Russians. Overall, however, Russia and Putin’s regime offer infinitely more openness. Putin and his innermost circle actually telegraphed much of current Russian action. Specific decisions given Putin’s closed circle will be difficult to penetrate. Anticipating and preparing for possible courses of action, however, shouldn’t be. Western analytical shortcomings deserve to be held to a far more rigorous standard. Policy makers will face their own audit at the ballot box.

Formal intelligence product cycle output and policy maker mindsets may have shortcomings (and successes as well). Unofficial institutions (think tanks, advocacy centers, web sites, etc.) and personal policy entrepreneurs, however, are particularly uneven. Regardless of preferred analytical frame, the unofficial output is mostly (and remarkably) unimpressive. Even prosumers interested in Russian affairs may find sorting through it all hopelessly Sisyphean.

More than ever we see confirmation that the Russian (nee Soviet) affairs community isn’t a self-regulating profession like law or medicine. There are no bars to pass to gain a license. Nor are there formal (or informal) sanctions for negligent (or worse) analytical malpractice. And it shows.

Until the end of the Cold War, unofficial institutions obeyed some informal regulation via education credentialism or professional output. Generally accepted distinctions between analysis and advocacy remained. The field often attracted its portion of a generation’s ‘best and brightest’. As the field shrunk from 1993 through 2012 the lack of funding and career opportunities imposed a certain ersatz discipline but created new problems. The difference in human capital/talent cohort is striking.

Putin’s crisis is the first to unfold with that diminished environment in our era of ubiquitous social media. While we tend to focus on Russia’s (failed) infowar, we have waged our own infowar on ourselves in a way. There are no real innocents. Unsurprisingly, the difference between an analyst and a pundit, between analysis and advocacy today is largely lost. To paraphrase Milton Friedman, “We’re all (self-promoting) pundits now.”

Re Lavrov’s comment and the observations, supra, the Stiftung isn’t any different, of course. Here or in the real world. We are all in this together to quote Harry Tuttle, the terrorist plumber from Terry Gilliam’s movie “Brazil”.

What do you think? Who has done the best overall job?

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Putin Intervenes In Syria: Can He Avoid Zugzwang? Wed, 23 Sep 2015 03:16:27 +0000 Putin led by destiny plants his flag in the Syrian desert. Ukraine’s resilience in 2015 thwarted his roll to daunt Kiev with maximum bluster and minimal formal force.

Ostracized by the West, Russia flounced to China but met crossed arms. Beijing, rocked by economic crises and keenly aware of Moscow’s neediness, offered only hollow symbolism. Oil and gas prices abandoned Russia, too, pummeling her economy. Putin can no longer count on out-waiting Ukraine’s catastrophic economy or fickle Western resolve. But where could he turn to save face or win another throw?

Putin's Syrian Adventure

Assad’s army disintegrated in 2015, presenting Putin with a clear choice: see Free Syrian Army (FSA) rebels and Jabat al-Nusra in the north close in further on Damascus, threatening Russian facilities or pull a Russian mini, ersatz version of Spain’s Condor Legion airlift. Moscow’s intervention grants relief from Russia’s strategic cul de sac in Ukraine. Russia gains some fresh potential agency to act while stirring Western confusion. Putin adds relevance to Europe’s staggering refugee crisis.

Russia’s Syrian move stokes discussions about Moscow’s Ur geopolitical fantasy — a new grand bargain, a Yalta 2.0 world empowering regional hegemonies. Some declare it in sight.

Moscow maintains it seeks only force protection in Syria for existing Russian activities. The US goes along for now. There’s some evidence. The SA-22 Pantsir S1 missiles deployed, for example, are a point defense system. Yet each day sees more weapons systems appearing in country.

Meanwhile, speculation builds that Russia seeks to shore up Assad. Informed Russian observers conclude such a gambit will fail. We agree.

On one level, Assad and Russia are compared to American resignation about Somoza in Nicaragua – “He may be a son of a bitch but he’s our son of a bitch.” Moscow’s desire to avoid humiliation from Assad’s imminent fall is understandable. Russian forces already exert battlefield influence by existing.

Influential Russian military analyst Pavel Felgenhauer concludes Russia alone can’t preserve Assad in power even with additional forces. Nor will Russia secure its Yalta 2.0 dreams. Felgenhauer correctly notes Putin will need hundreds of additional combat aircraft and attack helicopters, not dozens, to prop up Assad. Moscow also will need to deploy tens of thousands of troops. (The Syrian Army essentially no longer exists and the residual Iran-backed militias fighting FSA in the north lack cohesion and density to gain and hold ground on their own). Yet Russia lacks the troops, support forces, logistics and money to even match the 1980s Soviet Syrian levels of 9,000 troops.

On paper, Russia can field approximately 3 brigades for deployment. Russian tooth to tail ratios, distance to Syria, little supply and logistics infrastructure, fiscal constraints, etc. make even deploying a substantial portion fraught. (For the moment, the Ukraine axis is in operational pause for political and practical reasons).

ISIS, mostly located in the south and elsewhere, largely is not within current Russian deployments. After all, Moscow could have joined the International Coalition against ISIS at any time over the past years. While the Western coalition (notably France, US and UK) do not demand Assad’s ouster a precondition to peace talks today (much to Ankara’s chagrin), it’s a matter of “modalities” – timing and sequencing, rather than supporting his continued rule.

Putin’s hole cards are: (i) he can still walk away and claim he just wants force protection; (ii) he knows many avidly seek Assad’s departure; and (iii) US/Western passive confusion continues. Even so, the International Coalition expresses little doubt on inevitable Assad irrelevance.

Moscow — as in February/March 2014 — leverages the old maxim that perception is reality. In crude terms, Russia’s insufficient military might can only prolong Syria’s agony. Putin simply lacks the power to change Assad’s eventual fate or Syria’s future, which likely may be devolution into new fragmentary neo-states/territories. Fyodor Lukyanov summarizes Russia’s desire to merge all factions in a governing coalition. He smartly notes it’s impractical.

As of today, we don’t agree that Putin’s modest gesture in Syria turns it into “Assadland” or represents a coup de main on the cusp of re-ordering international politics. (See, e.g., this panglossian take ).

We, like Felgenhauer, see Putin’s likely medium term outcome as zugzwang – a chess outcome where each future move further undermines one’s position. Putin will probe all the more, knowing the stakes. The upcoming UN General Assembly and aftermath will be worth watching for a change.

Russian Spring Meets Russian Fall

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Boris Nemtsov’s Execution: Real Time Crisis* Thu, 12 Mar 2015 22:08:45 +0000 Boris Nemtsov’s heart breaking execution provoked more than outrage. Much informed and emotive opinion quickly converged: Putin personally ordered the assassination. The murder’s audacity and brazen proximity to the Kremlin pointed to sanctioned activity. Speculation invoked dark Soviet precedents like Kirov’s 1934 death or (more improbably) 1937’s mass terror.

Boris Nemtsov, Putin, Assassination, Kremlin

Many in the Russian opposition close to Nemtsov (Nemtsov’s own attorney, among others) in grief noted Russian domestic realities frequently are more complex: potential suspects extended beyond one man or the Kremlin. Yet they rightly emphasized even if Putin personally did not order the crime, he is still guilty. He created the domestic propaganda climate targeting opposition leaders.

Here’s our reaction as events unfolded at the time. We called some things decently, could have been more specific on others. We noted Kadyrov’s earlier signs of factional manipulation. We should have underscored Kadyrov’s new national ambitions and tensions with Moscow power ministries. Twitter has limits; the omissions, however, are ours.





Reuters and general media arrive at similar takes now. Russian sites Slon and Novaya Gazeta offered more detailed reporting a little earlier. Pavlosvky offers a general agreement. As of this writing, we believe the above frame is essentially accurate. Much remains unclear.

Rumors Fly

Putin’s public absence since March 5th ignited mass speculation. Rumors range from ill health, arrival of a new child to forcible detention as a result of factional infighting. The Kremlin promises a public appearance within days.

Putin’s initial lying low made sense if voluntary – regardless of speculation. Nemtsov’s assassination exposed the regime’s structural fissures.

One level is bureaucratic. The FSB and its rival the Ministry of Interior (MVD) energetically pursued the murder investigation; the Investigation Committee (a quasi FBI-like entity) less so. The FSB Chairman announced the arrest of Chechens in previously out-of-bounds (for Russian federals) Chechnya under Kadyrov, Putin’s regional protege. Moscow federal authorities long chafed at Putin’s protection over Chechnya. Kadyrov flaunted it by conducting criminal activity in Moscow immune from Russian authorities.

Nemtsov’s death and the Chechnyan angle stoked institutional rivalries. Putin since his 2013 return nurtured the MVD, placing loyalists in charge of its 170,000 troops. Some Putin appointees are considered ‘liberal’ in the Russian context. (Putin staunch supporter Yakunin, as head of the railways, also commands a significant armed force). Putin has criticized the FSB (and thus Chairman Bortnikov) in the past. For example, he blamed them for the 2011 opposition demonstrations. He then granted MVD more authority. Bortnikov’s personal announcement that the FSB arrested Chechens for Nemtsov’s death is significant in that context. Are we seeing a new version of the ‘Siloviki War’ from the mid 2000s?

Ideological differences on overall direction are another level. We’ve written here before how Putin attempted in 2014 to triangulate among his hardline ideologues and the more pragmatic as he improvised in Ukraine. Each Putin swing ignited protests. Those closest to the Novorossiya ideological project (and regime proxies such as Malofeev, etc.) find Kadyrov and his Chechen troops useful in Ukraine; others in the Ministry of Defense less so. The Novorossiya advocates feel Putin betrayed Russia with moderation. In parallel, economist Guriev and others in the Kremlin have demanded Putin go further towards a command-type economy (so-called mobilization). They, too, signal Putin’s triangulation is too liberal.

Can Putin forge a new consensus if free to do so? Indications are Putin’s first effort to placate after Nemtsov’s murder failed – granting Kadyrov new, long planned (but not first tier) federal honors, allow FSB et al. a substantial roll-up even in Grozny, and assure Kremlin elites and opposition figures no new violence. Recall that after Putin’s 2012/2013 re-election, he required protracted negotiations to build a consensus and form a new government. He worked then during the good times with a stable elite when the pie was still growing. A similar task today is infinitely more difficult.

Factions continue to leak on each other in various media outlets. Rumors swirl over possible institutions and figures aligning against or for Putin. Sechin, for example, it’s leaked to the Russian press, will retire – prompting immediate denials. Kadyrov is said to be scrambling as well. Sechin and Kadyrov traditionally are seen as actual and symbolic pillars of Putin’s authority yet Putin also has criticized Sechin for poor management lately.

It’s therefore no surprise that Putin skipped the annual FSB Board meeting (after also canceling a summit in Astana days earlier) if healthy. Regardless of rumors. To attend would require first resolving stakeholder questions. Similarly, if Putin could travel it’s unlikely he would leave Moscow for Kazakhstan while authority is perceived to be in flux.

Foreign policy is linked beyond ideological fervor. For example, Patrushev, Secretary to the Security Council and former FSB Chairman, highlights the regime’s worst fears about ‘privatizing’ its Ukraine war from February 2014 are coming true. Patrushev acknowledges fighters from Ukraine are now able to plan and conduct “sophisticated terrorism” inside Russia. Eminently predictable from the start; recall Russian border guards earlier reportedly shot at those seeking exfiltration back into Russia from Donbas.

Patrushev, of course, seeks to frame the official agitprop that Ukrainian terrorists in Moscow shot Nemtsov. He’s also underlined the main driver of Moscow’s war: most of the Donbas effective fighters are Russian mercenaries/”volunteers”. The Kremlin has few appealing options: 1) offer likely unworkable one-way permission; 2) increase formal Russian military ratios; or 3) re-calibrate/possibly scale back goals and methods. Each choice demands interrelated political costs at home linked to the regime’s stakeholder struggles. Boris Nemtsov’s murder is forcing the regime collectively to glance at (even if obliquely) some fundamental questions.

Russia’s deepening domestic crisis will tax our analytical community, too. Throughout history, Russian and Soviet domestic politics are usually the main engine for foreign policy. Some Western analysts/commentators may be experiencing their first real protracted crisis – along with many Russians. One hopes we remember to distinguish between advocacy’s emotional tribalism and analysis for informed policy-making.

Frankly, we’re a bit skeptical about that.


*UPDATED: Thanks to @Lena_Mukhina for noting questions surrounding a news report:

Sechin, Nemtsov, Kadyrov
Sechin calls Kadyrov an ‘ignorant animal’

The news item report apparently was poorly sourced and originates back to an unofficial Twitter account. For completeness, we double checked the Nezavissimaya Gazeta editor’s report on Sechin’s retirement (denied by his representatives) and other items cited above.

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Winter Offensive In Ukraine Fri, 23 Jan 2015 23:51:35 +0000 Russia launches another major offensive in Donbass. Its operational scale and intensity already approaches peak Russian tempo from August/September. We warned official and unofficial Washington variously in November and December 2014 this attack would come – despite the professed optimism of a ‘soft landing’ with Putin based on the so-called Minsk Accords.

A favorite response? “Russians don’t typically like winter operations” – or something like that. What can one say? Ray Garthoff’s generation of Soviet analysts is long gone. It’s a Buzzfeed world now, we just live in it.

Buildup And Prelude

Russia telegraphed her intent in several ways. Throughout the Fall Russia pushed Ukrainians back from agreed upon start lines incrementally. By January Russia captured over 200 square miles. Simultaneously, substantial Russian military and logistical support poured into Donbass. It’s important to note a key Russian military lesson from 2014 – the expenditure of ammunition and other support in Ukraine vastly exceeded their expectations.

Finally, Russian military and a significant number of special forces battered Ukrainian troops defending the Donetsk airport in late January. The so-called Ukrainian “cyborg” heroes repulsed Russians for over 200 days. Russia’s TV Channel One underscored the importance of the January airport assault showing Russian naval infantry fighting there on national TV (see update). The Ukrainians held out until overwhelmed by Russian troops who, according to OCSE reports, also may have used gas.

Ukraine Cyborgs Donetsk Airport Donbass Russia Putin DNR LNR

Germany once again tried to paper over Russian aggression with a new agreement. The next day Russia launched multi-pronged offensives across Donbass, far beyond boundaries of September’s Minsk agreement.

What to make of it all? Here are five key points with thoughts on arming Ukraine to follow.

5 Take Aways

One: Russia exposes again American illusions that a consensus reality ‘soft landing’ bargain is currently possible.

Two: Putin seeks more than just re-negotiating the Minsk Accords or chastising Merkel. Russia’s long term goal remains Ukraine’s subordination to Moscow in toto. Putin improvises within that framework. Russian security state thinking in Putin’s war cabinet rejects the idea of a neutral Ukraine because it has the *potential* to be pro-Western and lead regime change in Moscow. From 2004-2014 they consistently repeat this point. As long as they and Putin are in power, a ‘frozen conflict’ is acceptable as a strategic pause; the Minsk Accords are a practical nullity.

Three: Russian domestic politics drive most of Russian foreign policy, as with the Soviets, too. Putin’s power is based on personal popularity derived from plebiscitary radicalization. Putin has stated repeatedly his entire 2014-2015 acting out is about escaping from the perceived yoke of the international community and its alleged EU/American values. Those values of process and procedure are antithetical to his mobilization regime: the essence of Russian revanchism. This internal dynamic is separate from Ukraine itself and uses a Ukrainian crisis as a prop.

Four: Putin is indifferent how he accomplishes Ukraine’s subordination or manipulates Russian domestic emotionalism. He will mix and match military, paramilitary, terrorism, bribery and feigned cooperation; all are tactical, improvised guises to use or discard per the exigencies of a moment. His improvisation remains the constant. It is a profound mistake to confuse the guise for the purpose.

Five: There is no example in modern recorded history of a revanchist regime being successfully deterred into reform. (1947’s Soviet Union wasn’t revanchist). This is true from Italy, Germany, Japan if you count the militarists’ 1920s attack on democracy (which we do), various governments in Eastern Europe, and even France’s de Gaulle. History teaches that revanchist regimes stop when their options for improvisation are denied, almost always and unfortunately, kinetically.

Ukraine’s Military: State of Play

The military situation in Ukraine is grave. Evidence to date, however, does not indicate the Russians are conducting large scale operations in strategic depth to threaten Ukraine’s integrity. The main operational purpose so far is as much psychological as to achieve specific local political-military objectives – as with the Russians seizing the Donetsk airport.

The Russian offensive renews American calls to arm Ukraine. The main problem facing Ukraine is more difficult than mere arms – it’s people. First, while Ukraine uses the word “war” often, in truth they’ve wisely refused the bait to actually declare it. IMF assistance and other crucial Ukrainian international relationships can be affected technically by such declarations. Second, there’s more that Ukraine can do. Various mobilizations have come and gone with minimal effectiveness. Poroshenko’s promise to raise the defense budget to 3% GDP is feasible but remains just that.

Execution is the key. Ukrainians themselves acknowledge Kiev’s military culture, training and doctrine are inappropriate for a modern war, declared or not. Specific command level personalities may not be suited for responsibilities. Kiev tolerates too much rivalry and factionalism in military matters. Ukrainian command dysfunction deeply exacerbated the Ilovaisk tragedy. Similarly, Ukraine’s military failed to support the Donetsk ‘cyborgs’ due to poor planning and operations, not lack of weapons.

We support improving Ukraine’s defensive capabilities. After all, the best deterrent to Putin’s improvisation is to send back “Cargo 200” (Russian KIA). American training assistance and advice on military reform is key. In the past, simple items like body armor, fuel or night vision goggles were blocked because they were deemed “force multipliers”, i.e. too aggressive.

Identifying the best arms to fit Ukraine’s current state of doctrine, training, and C3I is not easy. Choices should be carefully considered.

For example, tactical kinetics are more problematic than some realize. The rate of ammunition expenditure in Donbass and engagement intensity with regular Russian forces (65% of Ukrainian armor was lost in August/Sept.) are extraordinary. Kinetics are useful only with substantial logistical flows not only *to* Ukraine but *within* Ukraine to the front. Ukraine already struggles to supply troops with arms made in Ukraine by Ukrainians. Adding new foreign systems (and spares) to that sagging logistical/depot system without crucial familiarity and training is a recipe for – at best – disappointment. Finding and supplying (improved) Russian-made weapons familiar to Ukrainian logistics and fighters is a more effective answer.

Helping Kiev with comms/C4ISR is more straightforward. Some is being done now. C4ISR cooperation must be careful; Russian penetration of Kiev’s military and security services remains a problem. COTS should not be dismissed, either.

An uparmed Ukraine without corresponding changes in doctrine, training and personnel still would be overmatched by Russian professionals. The resulting Russian propaganda victory would be immense. Changes require time. As the improved training, C3 and doctrinal reform take place, Ukraine’s military efficiency will increase, as well as her capacity to absorb different classes of weapons. Assisting Ukraine the smart way will help Kiev deter Russian proxies in the near term and ultimately make Russia pay a full price for further adventurism.


UPDATE: The Russian soldier shown on Russia Channel One television wearing naval marine insignia now claims he was a volunteer. Details of his story are here.

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Je Suis Charlie Thu, 08 Jan 2015 22:51:51 +0000 The assassination of French satirists and police at Charlie Hebdo resonates particularly strongly. Americans take for granted political satire’s great purpose: to unveil communal recognition of a moment’s unspoken truths. Contemporary American political satire is safely and universally anodyne. It’s not post modern, just another dreary SEO empowered brand.

Elsewhere, shared laughter can be a more purposeful political and social act. With real repercussions. Political satire at its best gives immense power and voice to the seemingly powerless. And helps societies see dangers they might otherwise willfully ignore.

Je Suis Charlie

The re-emergence of Europe’s old “New Right” (ENR) from its birth in 1968 through the 1980s to its new, more viral guise underscores political satire’s importance. Satire is a crucial part of a healthy secular society. ENR long understood extremist Het Vlaams Blok leader, Filip Dewinter when he declared “the ideological majority is more important than the parliamentary majority.”

A new novel imagining France governed by Muslims summons a firestorm. This book and other best sellers about Islam in France and the French identity create a mood that ‘the center is giving way to extremes’. Here, in the realm of fascist and racial culture fears and sub rosa warfare, satire is especially valuable. Calls for a deceptive peace through satire’s self censorship in the name of ‘responsibility’ are a chimera.

Fascism in France is a complex, evolving and active political phenomenon. It deserves more attention here soon. For today, it’s worth noting that both Le Pens built the Front National into the third largest political party in France only partly upon French fascist Alain de Benoist’s Nouvelle Droite from 1968 et les autres. Along the way they rejected many of de Benoist’s core beliefs, including his stance against racism, antisemitism and xenophobia (de Benoist consistently has been anti-clerical). Marine Le Pen, even more than her father, combines the most antidemocratic aspects of the ENR with the virulent racialist existentialism of a ersatz Duginism. In a recent mock poll, she beat Hollande for the presidency with 54% of the vote.

It would be a compound tragedy if Le Pen manages to hijack the Charlie Hebdo heartbreak to further the FN’s racist, violent intolerance and gain additional traction. Merkel recently spoke out against German ultra Rightists groups. Europe needs more active affirmation of liberal democratic values. The French political establishment waivers how to deal with the FN in the assassinations’ aftermath. The lights truly go out in Europe if the intolerance of 3 extremists with guns empower the brown barrack intolerance of the crowd.

Revised Afterword

We reserve comment re putative American GWOT enthusiasts, unencumbered by history, now urging an alliance with the European right against muslims in Europe (and giving a silent nod to Putin). The Russian response reveals much. Putin expresses his sympathy to France. Yet Kremlin front organizations and mainstreamed fascist and nationalist rightists differ.

Russian TV predictably claimed US special forces carried out the attack. Not a few Russian Orthodox activists blamed Charlie Hebdo and call their murder ‘a just punishment’. The Russian Mufti Council denounced both the shooting and Charlie Hebdo’s ‘sin of provocation’. Authoritarian regimes naturally fear and suppress political satire. Putin knows Russia is a multi-ethnic, multi-faith State potential powder keg.

Practical politics aside, the ideological parallels between embracing (i) the Paris attackers; and also (ii) French fascism’s grievance are not accidental. Russian revanchism is based on abstract emotionalism. Hence an obsession to be free from others’ imagination and perceived slights shared with militant Islam. Putin stoked national and racial identity politics; solidarity with FN as fellow kampfer necessarily would become routine. A popular Izvestiya commentator tweeting “Je suis Le Pen, Je suis Front National” (Yegor Holmogorov) is unremarkable.

From the other side, Dugin, Russian fascists and the Russian Orthodox Church have since 2006-2008 cultivated a joint alliance between militant Islam and the ROC for external reasons. Dugin and Kirill, then Metropolitan (now Patriarch since 2009), embraced a joint critique with Islam against the West, denouncing international human rights, legalism and individualism as decadent Western secular offshoots.

In 2013 Dugin hosted at Moscow State University videos for “Eurasia TV”. One promoted Islam with a sheik who allied Islam with Russia, both rejecting Western individualism, elections and voting in favor of tribal (and faith-based) identity politics. The claim is Russia and this ‘authentic’ Islam share a geo-political desire to roll back the West and be free of its narrative.

That rage to be free from hurt feelings (but note, not from inflicting them) is summed up by French citizen Limonov:

The frivolous, obscene, humiliating, cocky and arrogance-filled attitude which was demonstrated by these assholes from Charlie Hebdo does not remain unpunished anymore in the modern world, as we see.”

Limonov’s a marginal gadfly in Russian fascist politics. Yet across the Zaftra set it’s much the same. A highly trivial but telling example: Holmogorov wrote after seeing “Interstellar” his offense that the movie depicts Americans and liberal democracy flying to space from dying Earth to find humanity a new home. His better ending – he envisioned Russian missiles intercepting and destroying the American rockets in mid air, giving fireworks for mankind left to die on Earth.

Victims’ grievance, trapped within someone else’s story, justifies literal and figurative destruction. Creating their own peaceful narratives and tuning out the rest is denied to them. Nihilism doesn’t embrace authentic creation.


Events in France are moving rapidly. The overall ideological challenge will remain after today’s tragic news fades. All the more reason why it’s vital to re-affirm our first principle commitment to inclusive, tolerant, secular liberal democracy. These ideas project great power and strength when we collectively stand for them.

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Year In Review 2014: And The Winner Is? Sat, 13 Dec 2014 23:51:48 +0000

More than most years, 2014 will be retrospectively consequential. The US post-1945 order finally enters its transition era. Most obviously, Putin launched an ill-conceived war to challenge its foundations. Other developments promise significant portent. Modi’s rise in India is but one example. Domestically, Americans’ facade of a post-racial society collapsed. And Neocons re-emerged.

American Luck Holds

Americans remain lucky internationally for now. Russia’s war began with clumsy improvisation and lurched to a strategic dead end. Ukrainian grit surprised Moscow – just one of many Russian strategic intelligence failures. China, India and others support Moscow symbolically in part yet preserve their own options and interests in the present order. They follow their own timetable for systemic change, not Putin’s.

America avoided directly engaging Russia, denying Moscow the co-equal status it craves. That US stance encouraged Merkel and the EU to confront Russian aggression themselves. Russian hawks in power (and outside, like Sergei Markov) concede their hopes to split the alliance (to date) are unrealistic. One would like to think a coherent US strategy helped shape these events. Equally plausible is American tactical improvisation simply was more fortunate.

Putin? We’d rate him 2014’s net loser. Had he stopped at Crimea, he faced no sanctions and enjoyed stratospheric domestic approval. Russia is far weaker, more isolated, and domestically more fragile than during the Sochi boondoggle. From canceling Russia’s pet Southstream pipeline into Europe, ruble woes – Russian Central Bank Chief Elvira Nabuillina may have the toughest job in Russia today – to a bad gas deal with China and Putin’s isolation at the G20, Russian horizons shrunk a great deal.

Ukraine, conversely, is far more unified and committed to a European liberal path than ever. Two successful elections and a newly vibrant society show potential. Russia’s war in the Donbass forged a new nationalism and but sidelined a region (along with Crimea) that would’ve sent significant votes for Communists and pro-Moscow parties in Kiev.

Ukraine’s struggles are still beginning. IMF-driven reforms will pack a dislocating wallop. Kiev’s economy will remain on edge for some time. And vital domestic initiatives such as lustration and anti-corruption are still embryonic.

Merkel’s clear stance against Russian revisionism surprised Moscow. Many predicted she would follow German SPD party’s equivocation and German industrialists’ demands for “understanding”. Her marathon 6 hour November conversation with Putin in Australia may mark a watershed. Merkel now directly confronts Russian subversion in the Balkans. It’s a new German EU foreign policy leadership role. Will it work? Does she have the vision to sustain it? Can she maintain German domestic support?

2015 may be another story. EU sanctions expire soon if not renewed. Some US European experts are certain sanctions will be lifted. Moscow re-packages itself as a peace maker yet again to empower EU apologists. Putin hedges bets by advising Moscow technocrats to prepare for ten years of confrontation.

Wine In A Brand New Jar?

Neocons took 2014 by storm. 2015 can only offer more blue sky.

2014 marked the year Democrats en masse scrambled to join. Yet Democrats can’t articulate an alternative to Obama’s foreign policy that meaningfully differs from the Neocon critique. The Right and Rand Paul’s conversion to internationalist Realism (while Paul remains instinctually an isolationist) remain the exception. Interestingly, Fred Kagan and others openly declare their true home is in the Democratic Party (again).

The Neocons’ greatest 2014 success is framing ISIS as an existential threat. A tentative and reactive Obama Administration jumped on to ill-advised, ill-considered spastic kinetic force without a clear strategy.

The New Republic‘s demise is a different story. The larger and more important indictment? TNR long ago ceased to be an authentic, liberal, progressive voice.

Should TNR be a new Upworthy or Buzzfeed for a certain social set, perhaps it’s a fitting epitaph. The staff’s reaction to young owner Chris Hughes’ decisions reveals a mindset accustomed to benefactor patronage. To discover they’re employees like much of America is a harsh lesson.

Home Alone

America’s long vacation from social realities crashed on a global stage. Ferguson, Eric Garner in NY, Tamir Rice (the 12 year old boy shot by police because he had a bee bee gun) and so many others highlight the cost in lives and potential lost. American social dysfunction can’t be obscured. And it’s more than de-legitimized, excessively militarized local law enforcement.

The US for the first time nationally experienced how social technologies fueled protests from Tehran to Tunisia, Hong Kong to Maidan. Many Americans didn’t like uncensored voices. Protestors (from varied backgrounds) self organize, distribute video and photos, and use Livestream for alternative broadcasts to cable “news” coverage. (That America in 2014 lacks an actual cable news channel at all is merely symptomatic).

Racial inequality is the most prominent aspect of American disinterest in forging a healthy, inclusive society. Socio-economic stratification continues to widen. Congress’ roll back of its own weak 2008 Wall Street reforms — at the request of Wall Street — underscores the fault lines only grow. Dysfunctional government that responds only to the few doesn’t happen by accident. Nor is it sustainable.

Richard Haas observed that Foreign Policy Begins At Home. Our effectiveness abroad is directly linked to good governance at home. The link above deliberately is to the Daily Show. American youth (or young at heart), unfettered by old wedge issues on race, gender and class, can make a powerful difference – if they choose to engage politically.

These are the year’s highlights (or low points) to us. What did we miss? Who or what do you think made 2014?

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All You Need Is Putin, Nukes And A Sharpie Mon, 10 Nov 2014 00:51:47 +0000 Putin, NATO, Ukraine, War, Rita, Iron Man



SOUND: Theme music, 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 wear HEADPHONES.

Welcome to CNMBS’ FRESH AIR.
ZYX Resident Scholar Ambrose Marius Ashbury the First is here.
Deerfield grad, Williams then an Athenian poetry PhD from Yale.

Doctor, good morning.

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

Call me Ash. All my interns do.

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


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.

Another war? What’s going on?

Ashbury’s smile WIDENS.

Look, it’s Russia. Same deal. Stalin. Nukes. Putin. They’re marching.
Who’s next? Prague? Topeka?
We’re just women, talking. God awful.
A woman is ushering in the EU’s surrender even now.

Angela Merkel? She’s pushing sanctions on Russia. I thought Hillary…

Ashbury looks like he’s repeating lines from MEMORY. He is.

Sanctions are useless. They never work. Ever.
Impact on Russians? ZERO. Forget it.
Russians only respect force.

Radio host checks off list question with BLUNT short PENCIL.

So why do sanctions at all?

Ashbury feigns surprise. He’s bored already. He’s been in this EXACT conversation dozens of times before.

ASHBURY (rote)
Sanctions are vital. The West’s resolve to defend Sloviansk. Russians study every signal.
This Administration needs much stronger sanctions.

Producer informs Radio host in headphone Sloviansk is in Ukraine. Radio host losses train of thought.

Uhhhh… so you call for US troops in Ukraine,
airstrikes on Russians. With no danger of escalation

Ashbury drifts into his ZONE. He loves this one ROCK STAR moment. He turns in chair like Roger Ebert on his old TV show.

It’s that or surrender.
Even the Scowcroft Center wants air strikes.
OK not Scowcroft per se, just a random staffer tweeting, but still. So… yeah, air strikes.

What about the Ukrainian people?

Ashbury waves hand.


No. Just no. Calling for airstrikes means we don’t use them.
Move narrative goal posts, move governments…
Maybe some military aid stuff wind ups in Kiev? I don’t know. 50-50ish?
It’s really not the point. This isn’t your older brother’s Iraq. We’re doing a re-boot.

Radio host scans his list. Can’t read his own handwriting.

What if you push too far
and people back away, then Ukraine gets no real help.

Not a problem. This time Russia really is
killing innocent people. That’s the re-boot.
You’re thinking Saddam and Spiderman with TOBY MAGUIRE back in 2002.
Libya? Two IRON MAN sequels ago. Ancient news.

Radio host drops his list, starts to twirl pencil.

This feels like recent tired Daily Show sketches. Even Colbert’s leaving.

Let me put it this way. What if Putin nukes Kharkov?
Not saying he will, I’m just asking.
Bold second act stuff.

Producer via headphones tells Radio host where Kharkov is.

The West? We’d fold.
Game over. NATO, the EU? Done. Kaput.

Hello new Russian empire, goodbye Katy Perry!
What a downer. America must stop it by controlling the script.

Stop the nuking? Or the war?

Exactly. Our military? Unstoppable.
Our economy is 8 times bigger. Sanctions are hurting them bad.
Like clubbing baby seals.

But we can’t risk the idea Putin could nuke Europe and wreck Walmart. He wins the re-write.

Some people take you literally.

I’m not responsible for HOW people react.
Kant said that. Pretty sure.

It’s a new arms race. The Russians — way ahead on all this.
An old French guy. Bow-drill-hard. Truth is irrelevant.
Some Russians practically worship him. Let me tell you, in this game? The Russians — Bow-drill-hard but on PS4s.
We’re using 360s without multi-player. Russia Today makes Fox look like Walter Cronkite.

Objectivity. Just kills us.

Ukrainians are in a real war, right?

No kidding. Big time. Total high risk deal.

The IMF type people, there’ll be money and so forth.
In fact, they’ll be completely fine. Probably…most likely (trailing off).

(perks up) It’s just we’re writng the trickiest reboot since Batman Begins.
And this White House is…Superman Returns (blanches face). We’ve lost script dominance.

So calling airstrikes to defeat our question of a possible Russian
idea they might be thinking of a nuclear war…

All I did was ask a question. It’s simple. Russians are playing NFL, we’re baseball.
And it’s third and goal. What good is a mitt?

SOUND: Theme music begins to swell.

Both men slide off headphones. PLEDGE DRIVE promo in BACKGROUND. Off air.

How was it? Did you get what you need for the teaser?

Yeah. Thanks. One more segment before the next bump?

Ashbury nods. Both re-center their headphones.

SOUND: Theme music begins to fade OUT.

And we’re back. Dr. Ashbury, a final question. Over drinks say — what’s your real opinion?

ASHBURY (slight pause, caught off guard)
Very meta. Don’t normally go there. Not even for donors…clients.
No fingerprints I always say.

Putin’s kicked the chess board. He doesn’t want to invade Europe.
But I can’t tell my clients there that. They need this new script more than we do.
It’s just … Russia’s perception managing us into the ground.

Putin’s script is a loser. Too many details, strange names.
28, 35 European countries nag like ex-wives?
That’s Russia’s third act?
Bad Reality TV Dostoevsky.

America can do it. Emotion, forward or back.
Air strikes in Ukraine or surrender. People don’t like choice.
We must Bow-drill-HARDER. That’s my advice.

Keeping sanctions, rebuilding and eventually arming Ukraine is…

Total dog. Tested it with every demo.
That’s them.

Ashbury points at window. Maybe trying to find the White House but it’s a CLOSED SBARROS.

Who even knew what a KOBANI was 5 weeks ago?
Now? Upper West Side kids demand we go in there, Syria, Turkey, whatever, you know, and just win.
That’s real script control.

Wait. You’re talking scripts or a real war? It doesn’t end.

Nope. And it never did.
The Russians have 1991 in re-write as we speak.
But you can do something. Write a number on your hand.

Ashbury shows Radio host his LEFT HAND with a number on it in BLACK SHARPIE: 34.

Each time you feel you’ve lived this re-boot loop before? Mark it.
That’s how you remember.

SOUND: Theme music. PRE-RECORDED host sign off, theme music. OFF AIR SIGN lights.

Both remove headphones. They shake hands.

We’ll send a web link. Sorry we missed Interstellar. You were different —
but good, very good — I expected, I don’t know…

Yeah, I get that a lot. We’re from the Yonkers branch …

Interstellar? Long Brit chick flick with rockets. Guy next to me cried. (laughs, hands Radio host a new Sharpie).

AEI,Loop,War,Sharpie,Fred Hiatt


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