The pro-detente position of Willy Brandt’s ‘Ostpolitik” still is alive and finding its voice in Germany today

 Open Letter signed by 40 top former diplomats, military officers and political scientists condemning U.S. belligerence and drumbeats of war

Many of us were surprised and impressed by the bold statements on behalf of common sense dealings with Vladimir Putin to de-escalate the conflict over Ukraine made by the German navy chief Vice Admiral Kay-Achim Schoenbach during his visit to New Delhi on 21 January. Moreover, when his remarks were disseminated on social media and elicited a storm of protest from the German mainstream, not to mention from the Kiev regime, Schoenbach very honorably tendered his resignation. In our day and age of moral and intellectual Lilliputians in high office most everywhere on the Continent, it was inspiring to see that there is at least one resister to political correctness in high office and that an old fashioned sense of honor can even direct the actions of generals and admirals.

To those who believe Vice Admiral Schoenbach’s actions were strictly idiosyncratic and have no broader significance, another development in German political life yesterday proves them wrong and provides us all with a glimmer of hope in this time of high anxiety over the ongoing confrontation between Russia and the US-led Collective West.

In what follows, I first set out the main theses of an Open Letter by leading German political scientists, retired ambassadors and high military officers that was published yesterday in mainstream German and Russian media, with further reposting on French and other portals. I then offer a brief retrospective, taking the thinking in this Open Letter back to the chancellorship of Willy Brandt and to the pen of his assistant Egon Bahr. That period established a pro-peace wing within Germany’s socialist party (SPD) and also among non-partisan Germans of good will. The last public demarche of that movement was in the autumn of 2016 and found supporters in the United States at the time. I know, I was there at its launch in Berlin.

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The more than forty signatories of the Open Letter published yesterday are all the more important given that they are connected with the international politics institute or think tank WeltTrends, which publishes its journal on the Potsdamer Wissenschaftsverlag. The most widely known names of signatories include former ambassadors Arne Seifert, Wolfgang Grabowski and Otto Pfeiffer; former Bundestag deputy Dr. Norman Paech; and retired colonel Wilfried Schreiber. Among them also is Dr. Alexander Rahr, who has long been a business adviser to Russian-German industrial projects including Gazprom-Wintershall, and is Research Director of the German-Russian Forum.

The Open Letter, which has the title “For a German security policy that serves Peace” was prompted by the publication on 14 January in the online news portal www.zeit.de of a very different kind of Open Letter by self proclaimed experts in Eastern Europe and security policy which in the view of the WeltTrends group “would promote an Ice Age, a new Cold War” and “would add to economic extortion a strongly confrontational policy of Germany towards Russia, heating up the Ukraine conflict and extending NATO right up to Russia’s borders. That letter on Zeit denounced peaceful settlement of conflicts and building trust…” The new Open Letter of the WeltTrends group intends to address the falsehoods, half-truths of their opponents, delivering a response based on building peace and friendly coexistence.

Indeed, the text of this Open Letter is remarkable in its boldness and clarity. We read the following:

“It is possible to lessen the severity of the conflict between NATO and Russia, at the center of which at present is the Ukrainian conflict, only by issuing guaranties of security for all involved states and building trust between NATO and its partners, Ukraine and Russia and with all the remaining European states. At the same time, it is essential to revive or create anew both international formats of negotiations and agreements, as well as measures for creating trust.”

“We stand before a choice: to ignite conflict or to extinguish the flames.”

The authors of the Open Letter blame the United States for taking the initiative to exert pressure on the Russian Federation, and the United States for imposing its will on its allies. The text emphasizes that the Western policy of confrontation with Russia does not correspond to the German and European interests; rather it panders to the U.S. desire to keep Western Europe under its control: “The demand that Germany strengthen its pressure on Russia still further subordinates German foreign policy to American policy. The so-called conflict between the West/Europe and Russia was always a conflict between the USA and Russia.”

The Open Letter continues:

‘’Russia preparing to straighten all this out. This is only possible with the withdrawal of the United States from Russia’s borders (or with the placement of missiles on Washington’s doorstep). The United States (President Joe Biden and Secretary of State Anthony Blinken) seem to have understood this fully – otherwise they would not have reopened the negotiating formats that Russia did not close. Direct talks between Russia and the United States remain the key to solving the problem.”

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The reference in the Open Letter to the Eastern Policy of the socialist chancellor Willy Brandt (1969-74) is highly significant even if the thinking of the authors of this Letter marks a radical departure from the underlying motif of the détente of Brandt and Bahr, their Entspannungspolitik, which was to recover relations with the Soviet Union after the harsh reality of the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968. The logic of Brandt was to moderate Soviet policy by exercising a force of attraction instead of the brinksmanship and negotiations from a position of strength that underlay American policy then (and now.)

The Open Letter sets out a brief overview of how following the collapse of the Soviet Union, the USA took advantage of the moment to continue unabated its containment policy, to leave its forces and nuclear weapons in Germany/Europe, to integrate a number of East European states into its advance organization and to bring its attack forces to the Russian borders.  In this perspective, the conflict between Russia and NATO/West Europe over Ukraine is not a separate conflict but is at the heart of the conflict with the USA.

The Open Letter then cites the updated thinking of Egon Bahr in the 1990s:

“The whole of Europe is larger than the European Union can ever become, so stability for this great Europe requires “the inclusion of Russia and the republics that used to be part of the Soviet Union, as far as they want it. Not without or against Russia, not without or against America, is pan-European stability to be achieved.

“Bahr pointed to a fundamental difference in the interests of Germany and the United States: ‘Perhaps America believes that it can gain advantages from the continuing internal and external weakening of Russia, as long as chaos is avoided and the nuclear factor remains controllable. For Germany and the EU, on the other hand, ‘a Russia that consolidates is preferable.’ Western confrontation policy against Russia is thus more in the interest of the U.S. and the desire to keep Western Europe under U.S. control than in the German and European interest.

The concluding paragraph of the Open Letter is dramatic and impressive:

“We therefore call on the new German government to return to the cornerstones of the peace policy of Willy Brandt and Egon Bahr. Security for Germany and the EU is only possible together with Russia. This requires equality and equal rights, as laid down in the Charter of the United Nations, the Helsinki Final Act, the Charter of Paris and the NATO-Russia Founding Act. On these bases, it is indeed necessary to assume more responsibility for peace and security.”

It must be said that the authors of the Open Letter have in common expertise in international affairs. They are not speaking as members of any political party.  In this sense the pro-peace policy invented by Brandt has left a legacy bigger than the party he led.

Nonetheless, it would be wrong to deny détente a home base in the SPD. Indeed, it was precisely a socialist chancellor Gerhardt Schroeder (1999-2005) who stood up to America and its war of aggression in Iraq, joining France and Russia in rejection of the American call for United Nations cover, and compelling Washington to resort to an ad hoc and patently illegitimate “coalition of the willing.”

It was also Gerhardt Schroeder who promoted the Nord Stream I gas pipeline over American opposition. And after leaving office following his brave decision to impose austerity on Germany as the bitter medicine to cure economic woes resulting from post-unification overspend, at foreseeable political costs in popularity, Schroeder accepted an offer to join the board of the pipeline’s operating company.

The conservative CDU dominated government which took the reins of power had no such commitment to strategic partnership with Russia, notwithstanding the oft-repeated characterization of Mutti Merkel in the American and European press as a Russian speaker who had a rapport with the Russian president. Her background as an Ossie made Merkel more a condescending superior than an equal partner of the Russians. When then President Dmitry Medvedev presented his draft treaty revising the security architecture of Europe, Merkel was among the first to dismiss the Russian initiative out of hand, saying that “we already have a security architecture – NATO – and have no intention of replacing it.”

When US and European relations took a sharp turn for the worse after the fateful coup d’etat in Kiev in February 2014 that placed a viscerally anti-Russian government in power, triggering the independence of Crimea and its annexation by Russia, then the rebellion against Kiev of the Donbas oblasts of Donetsk and Lugansk with Russian backing, Merkel applied the brakes to American sanctions, but then quickly sought to maintain prestige by becoming the sanctions’ enforcer within the EU.

Against this background of rising tensions, in November 2016 the intellectual heirs of Egon Bahr, who died in 2015, came out of the shadows and issued a call for Détente Now! (Neue Entspannungspolitik Jetzt!). I was present in Berlin at the public launch of this initiative which had at its core one of Egon Bahr’s assistants, Wolfgang Biermann, former secretary general of the World Council of Churches Konrad Raiser, chairman of the German Trade Unions Federation Reiner Hoffmann, and Member of the German Bundestag, SPD, member of the Committee on Foreign Affairs and Deputy Chairperson of the Subcommittee on Arms Control and Disarmament in the Bundestag Ute Finckh-Kraemer. 

In the United States, the declaration of this group won the support of the Association of International Physicians for Prevention of Nuclear War, Veteran Intelligence Officials for Sanity, Daniel Ellsberg and Noam Chomsky, among other notables. The appeal for a new détente was carried by the progressive American journal The Nation.

However, in 2016 the SPD was a minority party with steadily diminishing electoral support and this initiative led to nothing.  Today, of course, the stakes of war and peace are that much higher than back then and the standing of the SPD is now that of majority party in the new governing German federal coalition.  Within that coalition, there are signs that the Chancellor Olaf Scholz has a good memory for his party’s traditional commitment to détente. If he can overcome the hawkish, anti-Russian coalition partners in the German Greens, perhaps the latest Open Letter will do some good.

©Gilbert Doctorow

http://welttrends.de/res/uploads/WeltTrends-Erklaerung-Frieden-220124-2.pdf

https://rg.ru/2022/01/25/eks-diplomaty-i-voennye-frg-prizyvaiut-k-normalizacii-otnoshenij-s-rossiej.html

“The Détente Now! – Neue Entspannungspolitik Jetzt! – Appeal, 08 December 2016”, pp 317-321 in G. Doctorow,  Does the United States Have a Future?

Turkish state television on the U.S.-Russian confrontation over Ukraine

To my regret, I am very much in demand these days from various international broadcasters. Were it not for the ongoing crisis in relations between Russia and the Collective West over Ukraine, over Russian demands to radically revise the security architecture of Europe with the associated risk of an outbreak of war in Europe that could go horribly wrong, I would be left in peace to mind my wine collection in Brussels and to prepare our vegetable garden in our dacha plot south of Petersburg.

However, present day reality steals time from such pastimes and I am being asked to provide insights into the degree of risk to global peace day by day.  Today I was invited by TRT Turkish international English language television to join their panel discussing the latest state of play in the unfolding crisis over Ukraine. My fellow panelists were an expert on deterrence and a researcher on Russian policy-making at the federal level. The high level of the panelists was matched by the very capable presenter and by the station’s technical staff.

It is my pleasure to offer the link to this half hour program: 

Your comments will be most welcome.

Today was also a day when my latest observations on the U.S.-Russian negotiations in Geneva were picked up and disseminated in an analytical article published by a Belgian scholarly news portal.  True, my name does not appear in the text, but an embedded link in the first paragraph of this lengthy article takes you straight to my latest piece entitled “Blinken and Lavrov Meeting.”

For those of you who are not comfortable with Dutch, the text is readily machine translatable by insertion into www.linguee.fr or via Google translate.  I believe you will find this small effort is worthwhile.

I take particular satisfaction in this publication because of the company I keep there: a widely published American think tank expert, Anatol Lieven, and a director of the prestigious Royal Egmont Institute, Sven Biscop.

In the academic world, as in the business world, institutional affiliations count for a great deal. They are easier to rank than quality of output of any given researcher – writer, so that this bias for institutional names is understandable. I am able to break that rule for the simple reason of the added value I bring on my own, without prestigious affiliation. While my peers, including the two experts just named, are watching one another or are piled up on the scrimmage line of the day’s latest news from Western news providers, I am daily paying close attention to the Russian side of the equation.  This entails close monitoring of Russian media as an indicator of the predisposition of Russian political, business and social elites.  Those elites, of course, do not set policy in Russia, but they do set constraints on what policy makers above them can do, and occasionally provide a narrative to explain or justify decisions taken above on other grounds, for example Realpolitik, which is never popular in pure form. Moreover, as an occasional insider, as for example by participating in Russian domestic political talk shows, I know better than most academics who is who on the Russian side, and especially who may be acting as an unofficial spokesperson for the Kremlin to send us signals that should not be missed.

©Gilbert Doctorow, 2022

Blinken and Lavrov meeting in Geneva: two steps forward and one step back

Contrary to my expectations, the 90 minute meeting of Blinken and Lavrov in Geneva yesterday appears to have had some justification and ended with a slightly improved prognosis for resolution of the crises, both those at the borders of Ukraine and those in bilateral US-Russian relations over satisfaction of Russian demands that the security architecture of Europe be redrawn.

Very subtly, the second issue is moving into the center of attention, which is, all by itself, an undeniable achievement of Vladimir Putin’s stated policy of maintaining and intensifying pressure on the West to be heard about its security concerns.

In his press briefing, Blinken repeated his by now ritualistic statement that there will be severe economic punishment if Russia invades Ukraine. However, he also said that the United States will submit to Russia a written response to its draft treaties of 15 December within the coming week.  To this he added that the sides will meet again at the ministerial level after that submission, and, most significantly, that the U.S. President is ready to hold another summit meeting with President Putin if the sides believe that will be useful.

From the foregoing, one can extract the message that there will be some substantive counter offer from the United States to the Russian text that will be sufficiently interesting for the talks to continue and even to be bumped up to the presidential level. 

Sergei Lavrov’s separate press briefing was broadcast live by both CNN and the BBC, something we have not seen in years.

Lavrov declined to characterize the talks as proceeding well or otherwise and insisted that will be clear only after the American submission is received. He explained to journalists that the substance of the meeting had been to provide the Americans with clarifications of several points in the draft treaties.  We may assume that one such clarification was over the meaning of the Russian demand that NATO return to the 1997 status quo before the accession of former Warsaw Pact member countries.  We now were told that in the case of Bulgaria and Romania, for example, all NATO troops and installations would have to be removed.

On the sidelines of the talks, one interesting and relevant piece of news which the Russian state television reported but I have not seen in Western media.  Deputy Russian Minister of Foreign Affairs Sergei Ryabkov said to a journalist who met him in the cloakroom as he was on his way to the meeting: “We are not afraid of anyone, including the United States!”

That is a statement which only a handful of nations in the world can make.  It reflects the newfound self-confidence that is propelling the Russians forward in their present quest for treatment as equals by the Collective West and for changed security arrangements in Europe.

This brings us to the other side of the equation – the step back.  Both Russia on the one side and the United States with NATO member countries on the other are proceeding apace with saber rattling.

The U.S. embassy in Kiev announced yesterday the arrival by plane of substantial new “lethal arms” to Ukraine, apparently ammunition. Meanwhile, the day before, the United Kingdom had made numerous flights to Kiev to bring in weapons and elite trainers/military advisers.

For its part, Russia announced yesterday the immediate start of a worldwide exercise of naval power that includes the move of landing assault vessels into the Black Sea. Russia also has in the past few days added another 6,000 soldiers to its 100,000 strong forces at the Ukraine borders and has brought in Iskander missile launchers capable of making precise and highly destructive strikes on Kiev. Furthermore, Russia has brought into the theater its S-400 air defense missiles, which would enable it to enforce a ‘no fly zone’ over Ukraine at any time of its choosing, thereby denying access to the United States and other allied planes for delivery of further weapons or for performance of aerial reconnaissance.

All of the foregoing Russian measures fit nicely into the description of ‘military technical measures’ that Vladimir Putin had said Russia will apply should the talks with the United States over its security demands reach a dead end.

So far not a single shot has been fired. There is heightened tension but no war. It is safe to assume that this line of psychological warfare is precisely the favored strategy of the Russian President to reach his objective of revising the European security architecture.

Already the fissures within Europe over how to respond to the Russian demands are deepening.  In a lengthy address to the European Parliament meeting in Strasbourg, French President Emanuel Macron has spoken of the need for a Europeans-only approach to Russia on this question, showing more than a measure of skepticism if not contempt for the Biden administration. And German chancellor Scholz has tamed his inexperienced, loudmouth Greens Party foreign minister Annalena Baerbock and has himself taken the lead in parting company with the United States and fellow NATO members over how to deal with Moscow.  Even the BBC reporting yesterday on the flights of British planes carrying military supplies to Ukraine showed the large arc by which they skirted German airspace, traveling instead to the north through Denmark to avoid conflict with the German government’s policy against sending arms to Ukraine under present conditions.

Similarly, The Financial Times and other mainstream Western press are now giving considerably more attention to the Russian security demands which were previously buried in coverage of the stand-off at the Ukraine-Russia border.

The task before Vladimir Putin is to convert what the Russian leadership believes to be their present “window of opportunity,” when they have strategic and tactical  military advantage over the United States and NATO, into political gain.  They are demanding changes to the security architecture that normally come only after one side has won a war.  It is devilishly difficult to achieve without ‘breaking some china’ though that is the constraint that the ever cautious Putin is working under.

As I have mentioned in prior articles, one element in the ongoing Psy-ops is to release every few days information about additional options available to the Kremlin to get its way without invading Ukraine. One such option that emerged a couple of days ago was the announcement that a bill has been introduced in the State Duma calling upon President Putin to recognize the Donbas republics of Lugansk and Donetsk as independent, sovereign countries,, preparing the way for possible Russian annexation. Yesterday, Putin’s press secretary Dmitry Peskov addressed this issue, saying it must be approached “with caution.” It has further come out that the initiators of the bill in question were the Communist Party of the Russian Federation, not the ultra-nationalist LDPR of Zhirinovsky or the ruling party United Russia. Russian politics are definitely more complex and ‘normal’ than our Western media and governments tend to understand.

Apart from ideologically blinded fools in the United States, among them well known former diplomats like Ivo Daalder (ambassador to NATO 2009-2013) who published his view on how to constrain Putin in The Financial Times two days ago, the realistically minded politicians and statesmen in the United States, of whom there always were quite a few, are now sitting up straight and paying attention to Putin. We have not heard the words ‘thug’ or ‘killer’ applied to his name for some time. The worst we hear from people like Daalder is that he is a ’dictator’ and so by definition is our adversary in the global struggle between freedom loving democratic countries and dictatorships. But such Neocon ideological nonsense always was a veneer for popular consumption over the bitter pill of American military dominance.  Now confidence in that dominance is being put to the acid test by the Russians.

All of which brings me to the final point today, to what extent is the Russian confidence in its negotiating position assisted by the country’s growing alliance with China. 

In the United States, in the past several years when China was identified by U.S. President Trump as the prospective Public Enemy Number One that had to be contained at all costs, there has been the beating of drums in the American press telling us that the PRC is busy developing what will soon be the world’s most powerful armed forces.

In August 2021, when the Chinese conducted their first tests of their own hypersonic missiles, Western newspapers all quoted one Pentagon official who claimed this was a new ‘Sputnik moment,’ meaning that the Chinese had moved ahead technologically with an awesome new weapon system.  They all ignored the fact that the Russians had done the same three years earlier and now had hypersonic glide missiles ready for serial production.

In short, Western media and, presumably, most Western politicians were deceived by their own prevailing propaganda about Russia being a power in decline with ability only to act as ‘spoiler,’ and ignored the reality which the Russians are saying loudly and clearly today: that they have the world’s most modern armed forces and are second in strength globally only to the United States.

What this means is that the Chinese factor in Russian strategic actions exists only in the economic domain, where cooperation with China in the event of drastic U.S. and European sanctions such as cut-off from SWIFT will be very important for stability of the Russian economy and military potential.  However, in all other respects, the China factor is useful to Russia only as a scarecrow, to raise U.S. fears of a simultaneous Chinese strike on Taiwan when the Russians invade Ukraine.  Neither event is likely to happen, but the possibility is another feature of Russia’s ongoing psychological warfare to achieve its security objectives.

©Gilbert Doctorow, 2022

Post Script,23.01.22: In the past 24 hours several additional noteworthy facts about the Blinken-Lavrov meeting have been released by one or the other side. First, Blinken told Lavrov that when the U.S. response to the Russian draft treaties is handed over, they do not want the contents released to the press. As political commentator and talk show host Vladimir Solovyov has remarked today on his daytime television show, this suggests that the White House does not want the Western press to jump on Biden’s proposals at once and frustrate his will to do a deal with the Russians that averts a war. This would line up very well with the supposed gaffe of Biden a day ago when he said the United States would only react to a major Russian incursion in Ukraine, which the State Department immediately swooped in to retract. It would appear that the 79 year old Biden is the weak link in the bipartisan Democrat-Republican line-up of hawks in the capital. This may be the old man’s saving grace. For these reasons yet another Biden-Putin summit may yet achieve a breakthrough, though how Biden will sell the deal to Congress is the great puzzle.

Another fact relating to the meeting in Geneva on Friday is that for 15 minutes the two ministers of foreign affairs met one on one, without their advisors or translators. Russian commentators have mentioned the Iran nuclear deal talks as one of the subjects they discussed. This would be entirely logical given that Vladimir Putin and the visiting Iranian president had held talks in Moscow a few days earlier. And it would suggest a degree of collegiality in dealing with a common problem that one might not expect from the very frosty U.S.-Russian relations at this moment. There is also the remark by Russian observers that they talked about restoring normal functionality to their respective diplomatic missions in one another’s country.

Finally, it bears mention that in his Sunday evening broadcast News of the Week, presenter Dmitry Kiselyov opened the segment devoted to the state of play with Blinken and the American negotiators by saying that should the talks fail Russia will start releasing details of its agreements with the presidents of Nicaragua and Venezuela about “strategic cooperation.” This was said to underline that the Russian security demands in Europe are separate from and far exceed the question of finding solutions in Ukraine. By consciously reconstructing the issues underlying the Cuban Missile Crisis, the Kremlin would be targeting directly the hypocrisy of U.S. insistence that Russia may not enjoy a sphere of influence at its borders. The Monroe Doctrine would unravel and Russia’s prestige in Latin America would likely soar. Here again, the Putin strategy would be psychological warfare and not aggression by kinetic warfare.

Anthony Blinken and the intellectual bankruptcy of the Biden Administration

The American Secretary of State is adding air miles to his account this week by visiting Kiev, Berlin and tomorrow Geneva for meetings with President Zelensky, Chancellor Scholz and RF Minister of Foreign Affairs Sergei Lavrov respectively.  However, whether abroad or at home he is a captive of the U.S. foreign affairs community echo chamber, utterly indifferent to external stimuli and incapable of responding appropriately to the changing environment. Everywhere he repeats the mantra that Russia is about to stage a classical invasion of Ukraine, just as everywhere President Biden repeats daily that the Russians will face consequences for their actions, very grave damage to their economy as a result of American led sanctions.

Meanwhile reality develops on its own, paying no heed to the script written in stone in Washington, D.C.

The Russians have a very flexible and constantly changing set of responses to threats and opportunities. This is what makes it so difficult for us commentators to foresee the actual path to denouement.  But it is also what makes it almost certain the Russians will get what they want and change the European security architecture to their advantage in the face of American obtuseness.

A couple of days ago, several Russian news portals carried the story of a new generation Russian nuclear submarine packed with missiles capable of laying waste to half of America surfacing just outside U.S. territorial waters in a ‘peek-a-boo’ exercise to show they operate undetected by the Pentagon in permanent watch off of U.S. shores.  This may have been fake news, but if so it was seeded as a taste of what is to come shortly in real news as the Russians say ‘gotcha, the game is up’ to Washington and unsheathe their hypersonic missiles and deep sea nuclear drone on board real submarines off U.S. east and west coasts. The message: ‘Please sign here on our treaties of mutual security in Europe.’

Yesterday, another route to resolving the Ukraine confrontation in their own favor was set out for the world to see:  several legislators advanced a bill in Russia’s State Duma calling upon President Putin to recognize the rebellious Donbas republics of Lugansk and Donetsk as independent countries. This means applying to the Donbas the scenario which played out so successfully in Crimea in 2014:  they become independent, then they hold a referendum to which international observers are invited calling for unification with the Russian Federation, followed in short order by their annexation.

In such a scenario, would a shot be fired? No!  Would there be an invasion or even an attack by Russia on Ukraine to justify application of any new sanctions?  No!  Are these possibilities being entertained by Blinken & Company as the Secretary of State travels the globe to align allies?  Obviously not, and this is why his diplomatic mission is a waste of everyone’s time.

I am surprised that Foreign Minister Lavrov is going the extra mile and proceeding to meet Blinken in Geneva tomorrow. From the Russian standpoint, such a meeting would have one purpose only: to collect the written response of the American side to the draft treaties they received on 17 December. In his press conference in Kiev yesterday, Blinken said he is not carrying the written response.  Consequently, the meeting can be no more than a photo opportunity for the vacuous Mr. Blinken.

In mentioning the possible annexation of Donbas above, I do not mean to suggest that that alone will satisfy the Russians that their security concerns have been met.  So long as the United States, the U.K. and other NATO member countries supply weapons and training to the Ukrainian military, Russia cannot rest easy. And just yesterday, in a move that makes as much sense as the Ukrainian idea of applying sanctions on Russia before they break any china, the United States announced it has approved sending another $200 million in military aid to Kiev. That is to say, it continues to prioritize pouring oil on the flames rather than finding solutions with Russia.

What move the Russians might make after an annexation of Donbas will also likely depend on the overall political context, including changes of position within Europe and consultations with China at the start of February when Vladimir Putin travels to Beijing.

Resolution of the Ukraine problem for Russia absent agreement with the U.S and NATO on the country being declared neutral would be possible only by destruction of Kiev’s military infrastructure, for example by aerial bombardment and missile strikes. That would put an end to NATO deliveries of materiel, training and war games at Russia’s front porch.

Meanwhile, there are growing signs of European disillusionment with leadership on Russia relations coming from Washington. Yesterday, in his five hour address and discussion with the European Parliament meeting in Strasbourg, President Macron called for Europe to reach its own settlement with Russia as Europeans to Europeans, without U.S. participation.  Of course, Macron was grandstanding as usual and he is a lightweight in European decision-making compared to his counterpart in Berlin, the German Chancellor. However, Scholz also has been making sounds showing disagreement with the stiff-necked and utterly unrealistic sanctions policy coming from Washington. The influential business newspaper Handelsblatt had a day before indicated that the most severe sanction proposed by the U.S. administration, cutting Russia off from SWIFT, would be a grave mistake, since the Russians could in short order achieve the same functionality in international settlements via a system they will jointly operate with the Chinese, and the only loser would be Europe. This is not to mention Scholz’s defense of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline as very important to the German economy, whatever the Americans may wish.

As I say, the geopolitical landscape is changing daily. The only ones too stubbornly proud and intellectually limited to appreciate this are the top officials in the Biden Administration, including the president himself.  Yes, there will be a price to pay…

In closing, I mention that Iran’s PressTV has been closely following developments between Russia and the West, with all the more reason to do so provided by the state visit of their President to Moscow. I had the pleasure of participating in an interview with them yesterday evening and now share the link:


www.urmedium.com/c/presstv/102893

©Gilbert Doctorow, 2022

Russian elites talk WAR: ‘Evening with Vladimir Solovyov,’ 16 January 2022

My last report on Russia’s premier political talk show, “Sunday with Vladimir Solovyov” was in advance of the scheduled Russia-US, Russia-NATO, Russia-OSCE talks that took place in the week of 10 January. Now I will present some findings from after these meetings, namely the show of Sunday, 16 January.

I will not take readers’ time with the remarks of all the panelists, only the remarks of the talk show host and his politically most important three guests: Vladimir Zhirinovsky, Duma member, leader of the nationalist party LDPR; Andrei Sidorov, dean of the department of world politics at Moscow State University; and Yakov Kedmi, retired officer of Israeli intelligence, former Soviet citizen, ‘refuse-nik’ refugee and present-day super patriot of the homeland he left behind. I preface their remarks only with some background information on who they are. My own comments on what they have said will be saved for the end of this essay.

 The show is worthy of our attention because of the shift in focus from negotiations with the West to war, in one form or another. 

Before summarizing or selectively quoting from the speakers on the program, I call attention to one point on which they all agreed: the embarrassingly low intellectual level of the American representatives to the talks in Geneva, Brussels and Vienna. But the scathing criticism reaches higher into the whole Biden administration where they find there is almost no one worth talking to on the American side. Blinken is a fool, who likely believes in the empty propaganda he endlessly spouts. Sullivan is disappointing. Victoria Nuland is beyond the pale as an outrageous liar and propagandist. Curiously the one American official who gets a thumbs up for advising Biden to engage with the Russians rather than walk away from their brazen demands is….Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin. Perhaps it is because he alone knows very well what “military technical” arguments the Russians have to back up their demands.

Lest readers draw the false conclusion that the Americans come in for exceptional scorn, the European statesmen do not score any better in the collective view of the Russian panelists.  EU foreign and defense affairs commissar Borrell is seen to be a pitiful buffoon, groveling now for a place at the table in the negotiations.  And Secretary General of NATO Jens Stoltenberg is singled out for special mention. He is seen as likely believing in the nonsense he delivers from the podium, and he is deemed to be mentally defective generally. As one panelist said about him: “Stoltenberg is the ideal person to lead NATO in this  period of political schizophrenia.”

Additional scorn, of course, was heaped on the Ukrainian leadership.  However, these moments of levity stand out in a session that dealt with the gravest issues of war and peace.

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Out of the six panelists on the program, two were outstanding for their assertive nationalism and calls for war. One was Vladimir Zhirinovsky, the bad boy of Russian politics ever since he first ran for the Duma against the ruling Communists in the early 1990s. His party surged in popularity in the 1996 elections and seemingly was on the cusp of displacing, along with the Communists, the pro-American parties on which Boris Yeltsin relied to control the national agenda. In the last Duma elections, his party won a little more than 12% of the vote and did especially well in Siberia and the Far East, where they control local politics in several cities.

 Zhirinovsky has often played the clown, making knowingly outrageous statements that drew to his side public attention while keeping him safe from attack by the ruling party precisely because he posed no threat among right-thinking citizens. But behind the façade of extravagance and excess was always a first class and broadly educated mind. Zhirinovsky has over the years been consistently contemptuous of the Soviet Union’s waste of Russian resources to maintain an empire of scroungers.

After Vladimir Putin unveiled Russia’s new offensive weapons systems in March 2018 and Liberal candidates asked how the country could  hope to compete militarily with the USA, with its very strong economy and military budget ten times the size of Russia’s, Zhirinovsky’s response on air was tough and persuasive. He showed his contempt for the United States over its costly global ring of military bases around the world which meant, in his words, that the $700 billion in defense budget was going to pay for toilet paper in all those latrines rather than in development of new weapons systems, such as Russia was doing very effectively in the new millennium.

Zhirinovsky has for years been given priority access to the microphone on Solovyov’s program and Sunday night, 16 January was no exception.  He speaks at length. Exceptionally for a Russian talk show, Zhirinovksy is never interrupted because of his venomous tongue that lashes at others who dare to cross him. So it was on Sunday.

Zhirinovsky’s opening words set the tone for the entire evening: “The year 2021 was the last year of peace in the new millennium. We have nothing to talk about with the United States. Foreign troops are at our borders along with their weapons. We can hold talks. They took place. Maybe there will be some more, and talking is better than pushing the button on both sides. But the solution can only come by force.”  This, he emphasized, was his personal opinion and not the official opinion of Russia.

“The end may be that part of Europe doesn’t exist any more. Take out London! Leave Ireland alone. Don’t touch Wales. London is the heart of the anti-Russian forces. And London is dancing its last days. Look at the photo of Boris Johnson [projected onto the screen].”

“Ahead is a great tragedy for Europe, for humanity. War is inevitable!  It will spell the end of Europe, the end of the USA.”

“We now demand a return to the NATO configuration of 1997. I would demand removal of all nuclear weapons from Europe, including denuclearization of France and the UK.”

“I would demand that all sanctions be cancelled at once. If they don’t say yes to this, then I have just one sanction for them: we force them to fulfill our demands. Our armed forces are in full battle readiness and they await an order from their commander in chief.”

Following these inflammatory words by Zhirinovsky, moderator Solovyov intervened, not to calm down the discussion but to heighten the emotion. Indeed, Solovyov’s opening speech of the evening had been a lengthy denunciation of the United States for its never ending lies to Russia, about Russia going back to the 1990s and continuing to this very day in the official statements from the Biden Administration.

Now he denounced NATO and the false self-image it projects as nonthreatening to Russia, just a peacemaker. Instead he pointed to the alliance’s bloody wars as from the bombing of Belgrade in the late 1990s, then the murder of two to three million Iraqis in George W. Bush’s attack of 2003. This was followed by the assault on Libya. And most recently the installation of a fascist dominated regime in Ukraine, about which Europe does nothing.

Solovyov ended his fiery speech with talk about the Germans, and their acknowledgement of guilt before the Jews over the Holocaust but their absolute indifference to what they committed as a nation by their Operation Barbarossa, namely the murder of 27 million Soviet citizens. Instead, the Germans come before us as moralists, castigating Russians for their supposed aggression.

The intensity of the remarks from Zhirinovsky and Solovyov were then allowed to cool down when the microphone was passed to Andrei Sidorov, dean at Moscow State University.  Sidorov had smiled knowingly through the tirades, but used his opening words to respond to Zhirinovsky’s implicit criticism of the Russian diplomatic corps earlier on, which had implied that by recruitment of graduates from the elite MGIMO higher school, then by postings to cushy positions in London, Paris and New York, the Ministry had been preparing cadres which are unable, unwilling to strongly defend Russian interests abroad against the West. Without remarking on past educational programs, Sidorov said that a lot has changed, and very pointedly noted that since March 2020 the president of the department of international relations at Moscow State is none other than Leonid Slutsky, member of the State Duma from Zhirinovsky’s own party, chair of the Duma committee on foreign relations and holder of a doctorate in economics.  Let all those who wonder about the patriotic cast of Russia’s present-day preparers of their foreign policy community take notice.

Sidorov observed with pleasure that Russia has begun responding to the West, where there is still the illusion that after Putin Russia may return to its pliable state in the 1990s. He said it is good that Russia is dealing now directly with the United States.  The USA tries to dilute the discussion by bringing in NATO. Meanwhile, the Baltics, Poland say Russia is the source of all the problems today – this is because conflict is essential to justify their own existence.

Yes, the United States can create problems for us – sanctions. Or by their special operations to foment unrest, as, for example, in Kazakhstan and in Belarus.  We have to secure our rear.   Here at the level of the USA, Sidorov does not see military solutions. But with respect to Ukraine: it has to be resolved, by war if necessary.

When the microphone was passed to Yakov Kedmi, the emotional temperature in the room rose once again.

Kedmi has appeared on the Solovyov program by remote from his home in Israel, as well as by coming to the Moscow studio, which he did on Sunday.

In the past, Kedmi has made statements on the Solovyov show that were so stridently pro-Russian, so admiring of Russian military forces and so intent that they be unsheathed that I have wondered if he wasn’t an agent provocateur.  However, for purposes of this essay, let us assume that his remarks are all bona fide and based on his knowledge as a professional in military intelligence.

On Sunday evening he came forward more as a practitioner of political intelligence, a traditional Kremlinologist. He devoted most attention to recent statements from Kremlin officials and tweaked out hidden messages that others have missed. He directed special attention to the answer given a couple of days earlier by Putin’s press secretary Dmitry Peskov to a question whether Russia would be invading Ukraine.  Peskov chose his words carefully :  “I can neither confirm nor deny that we will use offensive weapons in Ukraine.” Per Kedmi, that is a clear signal from the man closest to Vladimir Vladimirovich from among all his assistants that Russia will attack Ukraine, and not with tank columns and boots on the ground but ‘the American way,’ with high level bombing and missile strikes against the military infrastructure. And, per Kedmi, the casus belli will be not some Ukrainian attack on Donbas but Kiev’s overall disregard for fulfillment of the Minsk Accords.

Kedmi insists that the Russian war plans are developing along entirely different lines from those anticipated by NATO, where Stoltenberg continues to talk about a traditional invasion.

According to Kedmi, Russia has not only delivered an ultimatum to the United States and NATO; it has delivered an ultimatum to itself. Russia cannot afford to fail in the coming confrontation. To fail would, in his words, put the government and the state in peril. It would show that Russia is weak, irresolute and incompetent. Therefore it is vitally important for Russia to win this fight, while for other countries, like the EU, it is just a matter of lost prestige.

Russia awaits concrete written answers on every point in the draft treaties within a week. If the demands are not agreed to, then Russia must move on to “military-technical means” to achieve its objectives.

NATO must be kept out of not just Ukraine and Eastern Europe; it must be kept out of the entire post-Soviet space.

At this point Solovyov jumped in to remind the audience that on 3-4 February Putin will be in Beijing for the Winter Olympics and meeting with Chairman Xi. It is clear that the meeting will be used to agree a coordinated plan of action going forward.  Like Russia, the Chinese have important material levers to bring the West to its knees without deploying military force:  by cutting all exports of rare earth.

Kedmi closed out this section of the session with the observation that in case of full nuclear war between the United States and China, Russia might suffer ‘heavy losses’ but the United States would be obliterated, wiped off the face of the earth and its territory would remain radioactive for a thousand years. The same would be done to the nuclear powers of Europe, meaning the U.K. and France.

Again Solovyov jumped in to thicken the plot, saying that implementation by Europe of the US-drafted sanctions on Russia would bring about economic collapse globally, and that it would first hit European and American shares, given that a large part of the hydrocarbon assets on the books of Western oil companies are in fact assets in Russia.

His closing remarks posed the rhetorical question whether a Russian attack on the Ukraine infrastructure would be a “war” or something less.  He reminded the audience that rational behavior on the part of the Americans in the days ahead is hard to predict, that Americans still believe that their F-35s  can destroy anything and allow them to act with impunity on the world stage. The flaw there, per Solovyov, is “there are too few of them.”  And, at the end of the day, the Americans don’t have the will to fight, as we see from the diminishing world status of the present administration. They have lost their hegemonic status and they are now rallying to what remains of their status as “world leader.”

                                                                          ****

I refrain from comments on anything said by the panelists save one: the remark by Kedmi that in case of full nuclear war Russia may incur serious damage but the USA would be obliterated.  This bears uncanny resemblance to an unforgettable dialogue in Stanley Kubrick’s Dr Strangelove: when the flighty, gum chewing senior Army officer in the War Room reports to the U.S. President, that “in case of war I won’t say we will not take a haircut, maybe ten or twenty million, but the Russians will be totally destroyed.”

I close this essay with several observations on the little signals the Kremlin is now giving regarding its intentions if and when it pulls out of further talks with the United States in the two or three weeks to come.

First, there is the stunning late breaking news of the surfacing of a fully armed Russian nuclear submarine just off the East Coast of the United States.

https://english.pravda.ru/news/world/150057-russian_submarine/

This story is carried by a dozen or more news portals in Russia, none of particular repute and may well be fake news. According to the portal of Russia’s Federal News Agency, the submarine was either from the recent super-quiet Akula or Borei class vessels. It would be carrying up to sixteen ballistic missiles, each with multiple entry warheads, enabling it to destroy a large swathe of the USA. The captain of the ship said they had entered his service zone off the American coast undetected by the Pentagon. His vessel was performing its permanent watch.

True or not, this particular report is an unsubtle hint from sources close to the Kremlin about what surprises may be in store in the coming weeks as real as opposed to fake news. In any case sightings like the one which is alleged to have taken place on 14 January have been made from time to time going back to 2012, when CNN disseminated such a report. We are dealing here with traditional Psy-ops, which is a proper arm of state warfare.

Lastly, I note the latest change in the tune of leading Western media about the applicability of Nuland’s ‘sanctions from hell’ to Russia.  Today The Financial Times published a lengthy article by its Moscow correspondent Max Seddon explaining how Russia has amassed wealth, reduced its foreign exposure to purchases of its state bonds and to foreign investment flows generally, so that it can withstand whatever Washington is planning to send its way should it take action in Ukraine. The same article explains Western Europe’s energy dependence on Russia as barring imposition of sanctions that leave no channel of payment open. There is nothing new in the report, so its timing for publication now reflects only one factor: the growing recognition in Western financial media that Russia is bullet-proof and that it will do what it wants to secure its vital security interests whatever Washington and Brussels may think.

In the meantime, I can recommend to all a short film clip from The Wizard of Oz that one reader of my last essay kindly forwarded. Let us hope that the denouement of the present crisis follows the script.

©Gilbert Doctorow, 2022

Common sense and self-preservation go mainstream in Washington, D.C.: capitulation to Russian demands becomes discussable

It is one month since the Russians presented first to American diplomats and then to the world community their brazen demands to roll back NATO to its configuration status quo ante in May 1997 before the accession of former Warsaw Pact countries.

Those demands were taken up with seeming seriousness by the U.S. Government, then by NATO, whose Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, initially dismissed them out of hand as unacceptable. In short order dates were sketched in for a meeting of U.S. and Russian delegations in Geneva on 10 January. Then at U.S. insistence further meetings were scheduled with NATO in Brussels on 12 January and with the OSCE in Vienna on 13 January.

Western media were invited by their ‘high level but anonymous’ information sources in Washington to see these astonishing developments as required to de-escalate tensions at the Russian-Ukrainian border, where the Russians had amassed over 100,000 troops.  Secretary of State Anthony Blinken and his minions said repeatedly the troop concentration was in preparation for a Russian invasion of Ukraine. Such an invasion would spell a blitzkrieg victory for the Russians and would undo the 2.5 billion dollar U.S. investment made under two U.S. presidents to turn Ukraine from one more “catch” by the American team, as described by Gideon Rose, then editor in chief of Foreign Affairs magazine when it happened in February 2014, into a major military asset in the policy of threatening and containing the Russian Federation. Instead, this looked to become the second U.S. foreign policy debacle in less than a year after the shameful chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan last August.

It is astounding that none of the major Western media picked up the fact in front of their noses: that on the pretext of an invasion they had no intention of staging, the Russians had succeeded in lining up high level meetings with the United States and its NATO allies to discuss total revisions to the security architecture in Europe, something which was the laugh of the town when first proposed by Russian President Dmitry Medvedev in 2008-2009 and led to nothing back then.

I would call this the first Psy-ops success scored by Moscow.  The second success was the admission by the United States, the United Kingdom and France in the run-up to the meetings in Geneva and Brussels that they would not send a single soldier to help defend the Ukrainians if they were invaded!  This was the loudest possible signal to Kiev to sober up its rabid nationalist militias and forget entirely using their shiny new U.S. military gear to stage the genocide and ethnic cleansing of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions that remain in open rebellion against the central authorities.  Was this foreseeable on the part of Joe Biden, who in 2008 had been inciting the Georgian president Saakashvili to similar folly of recovering rebel provinces by force of arms in the face of Russian opposition?  No, it resulted directly from some folks on Capitol Hill knowing what’s what with respect to comparative U.S. and Russian military strength, capabilities and will in Russia’s Near Abroad today.  Victory two for Psy-ops!

Now today I am delighted to share with readers an article just published by The National Interest in Washington urging what would be, in effect, total capitulation to Russian demands for NATO’s downsizing. I am especially delighted that the author’s lever for his argumentation is precisely the definition of “military technical means” that I have provided to an otherwise clueless community of Russia experts in the U.S. and Western Europe. It is all set out on page one of his essay.

https://nationalinterest.org/feature/biden%E2%80%99s-opportunity-peace-eurasia-199344

That this was dynamite is confirmed by its immediately being reposted by a news portal in Latvia, which would be one of the countries whose anti-Russian, pro-American government would be finished, kaput should the recommendations in this article be implemented.

https://latvia.on-24.com/world/109351.html

I hasten to add that the publishers of this article are just one step away from U.S. mainstream in terms of respectability. The officers of the parent organization, the Center for the National Interest, formerly known as The Nixon Center, include not only dual citizenship former Soviets, whose patriotism might be put in question by political foes, but also some high serving former U.S. government folks who made the right sounds of patriotism when given a microphone in the past. Not entirely unimpeachable, but pretty solid.  And now we read this call for capitulation in their journal!

It is entirely logical that the author has used my little linguistic exploration as the starting point for his argumentation. Because language is key to what is before us: the American foreign policy community is largely lacking all competence in Russian thanks to policies that go back more than a decade.  I recall my semester on Columbia campus in 2010-11 when I refreshed my knowledge of The Harriman Institute and discovered they had dropped all language requirements for their master’s degree in regional studies relating to Russia and Eurasia. Instead, they required students to concentrate on numerical skills, which presumably would be more useful for their obtaining jobs after graduation in banks and international organizations.  And Columbia was not at all alone in its downgrading of language skills.

The net result is that journalists who report today on crises like the ongoing crisis between the United States and Russia are heavily reliant on handouts from the State Department and Pentagon, i.e. on state propaganda which they are unable to interpret critically and just pass through to their readers without comment.

But there is a bigger issue that cannot be resolved just by starting up language courses:  it is the unwillingness of institutions of higher education presently to listen to our adversaries and try to understand the logic underlying their behavior.  In the case of Russia, anyone presenting the Russian side of things has been instantly labeled a ‘stooge of Putin’ over the past decade.  I know very well, because all of my efforts as a public intellectual during this time have been precisely to present the thinking of the other side to my readers. Not to be an advocate or modern day “Tokyo Rose,” just to let the facts fall where they may.

Now that the Russians are saying “move or we will move you,” which they can back up with superior tactical and strategic military hardware, it is obvious there is a price to pay for ignorance.

©Gilbert Doctorow, 2022

Russian roulette: as croupier at this particular casino table, I invite you to place your bets

The Russia-US-NATO-OSCE meetings this week have come and gone.  The Russian verdict was succinctly delivered by Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Sergei Ryabkov, who explained even before the OSCE session was over that the talks have come to “a dead end” and it was unlikely the Russians will participate in any follow-on talks.

This opens the question to what comes next. 

Official Washington feels certain that what comes next is a Russian invasion of Ukraine, which could come in the next few weeks and thereby fall within the timetable for such an operation suggested by State Department officials when they met with NATO allies ahead of Biden’s December 7 virtual summit with Putin. The logic put out then was that January-February would be very suitable for a land invasion given that the frozen ground would well support tank movements.  One might add to that argument on timing, one further argument that was not adduced:  in midwinter it is questionable how long the Russians would want to keep 100,000 soldiers camped in field conditions near the border; such stasis in these severe conditions is not conducive to maintaining morale.

In what I would call a rare show of failing confidence in the predictive powers of the Biden Administration, U.S. media admit to uncertainty over Russia’s next moves. However, they cleverly present this by pointing to the uncertainty of the analysts and commentators on the Russian side.

A featured article in The New York Times a couple of days ago by their Moscow correspondent Anton Troianovsky says it all in the title: Putin’s Next Move on Ukraine Is a Mystery. Just the Way He Likes It”

Indeed, all the best known Russian experts appear to be stymied, none more so than the ubiquitous Fyodor Lukyanov, host of the weekly television show “International Overview” and long time research director of the Valdai Discussion Club, where his peers in the front ranks of American international affairs specialists have gotten to know him.  Lukyanov has in recent days humbly admitted he hasn’t a clue to what comes next.  Another leading figure in the Russian foreign affairs think tank community, Andrei Kortunov, director of the Russian International Affairs Council, has shown in recent interviews that he is no better informed about what is going on in the Kremlin and what comes next.

Western experts are also shown by our media to be clueless. Today’s Financial Times article “Russia writes off security talks…” ends with a quote from Andrew Weiss of the Carnegie Endowment for Peace: “Nobody knows Putin’s next move. And we’ll all find out at the same time.”

By definition, ‘experts’ cannot declare they know nothing and be taken seriously. This reminds me of the saying of my boss for five years at ITT Europe in the 1980s, Georges Tsygalnitzky. Each time we sat down to prepare the annual Business Plan he told us that if we calculated the sales forecasts badly, we could be up to 100% off, but if we failed to deliver a Plan we would be “infinitely wrong.” The same rules apply to government defense planning.

No right-thinking person likes the idea of a major war coming to the middle of Europe, as the Ukrainians consider themselves to be.  The United States has still more reason to worry about a looming war between Russia and Ukraine, because the outcome of total rout for the Kiev military forces equates to a bloody nose for Washington: its acknowledged 2.5 billion dollar investment in arming and training the Ukrainian military will have been in vain, and the loss would rival the catastrophic withdrawal from Afghanistan in terms of American global prestige. The Biden administration would enter the midterm electoral period reeling from its losses in international relations.

Without wishing the Biden administration ill, I believe their scenario of a Russian invasion is wrong-headed and unimaginative. It fails to come to terms with the Russians’ imperatives on altering the security architecture in Europe as drivers of their current policies, not settling scores with Ukraine, or bringing them back to a common homeland, as Blinken & Company repeat ad nauseam.

So what comes next?  In successive articles on this website, I have set out several scenarios, or algorithms. My most recent prognosis in yesterday’s piece was that Putin’s Plan B would likely be purely “military-technical” in the sense of roll-out of medium range nuclear capable missiles in Kaliningrad and Belarus, to place all of Europe under threat of attack with ultra-short warning times, such as Moscow finds unacceptable coming from U.S.-NATO encirclement of its territory.

At the same time, Moscow might announce the stationing off of the American East and West Coasts of its submarines and frigates carrying hypersonic missiles and the Poseidon deep sea nuclear capable drone, all to the same purpose, namely putting a pistol to the head of the U.S. leadership. And now there is even talk of Russia building military installations in Venezuela, likely to host Russian strategic bombers capable of swift attack on the Continental United States without having to fly half the world. And a Cuban delegation is reportedly in Moscow, no doubt talking about posssible installation of missiles there. This is all very reminiscent of the goings-on in 1962.

One reader of this essay has written in, saying that news of Russian submarines posted off the coast of New York and Los Angeles could sink the S&P. Yes, indeed, and this financial damage is an aspect of policy that the Russians have taken into account. The sensitivity of Wall Street to bad news was mentioned specifically by Deputy Foreign Minister Ryabkov earlier in the week in Q&A. The American middle classes may be indifferent to foreign affairs generally but they are very attentive and politically active when the value of their 401k pension fund is hit. It is not for nothing that wealth fund managers in the City of London, board members of leading U.S. banks and insurance companies are readers of my essays as reposted on my LinkedIn account.

I imagine that Russia’s Plan B could begin implementation in the next couple of weeks and would be given three or four weeks to take effect on Western public consciousness.  If the United States and NATO still resisted coming to terms over changes to the Alliance that satisfy Russian demands, then I envision a Plan C which would indeed be kinetic warfare, but quite different from the invasion that figures in U.S. public statements and approaches to its allies.

Without putting a single soldier on the ground in Ukraine or contemplating direct overthrow of its regime and occupation, Russia could by “military-technical means,” such as missile and air attacks destroy the Ukraine’s command and control structure as well as “neutralize” the most radical nationalist militias and other hostile units now threatening Donbas. The destruction of Ukraine’s military infrastructure would by itself put an end to Washington’s plans for extensive war games there later in the year.  We may assume that Russian forces will remain massed at the border till such operations are completed.

The clean-up of Ukraine, ending its potential to threaten Russian national security, would be a very strong signal to all of Europe to back off in practice even if no formal treaties are signed with Russia at present.

In an exchange with a close colleague in Washington this morning, we agreed a bet on whether my prediction holds. And in this casino of international politics, I invite readers to place their own bets on what comes next.

©Gilbert Doctorow, 2022

‘Fly on the wall’ at the press conference of Deputy Russian Foreign Minister Alexander Grushko, Russian Embassy, Brussels, 12 January 2022

With administrative assistance provided by an RT television crew who had invited me to the Russian Embassy, Brussels to give an interview on the results of yesterday’s NATO-Russia meetings, I had the opportunity to witness most of the press conference given there by Deputy Russian Foreign Minister Alexander Grushko, who co-led the Russian delegation earlier in the day.  

In the spirit of my writings on this website generally, I provide here an account of the press conference that reflects the facts but also my personal impressions of the event and of its main actor, Mr. Grushko. I conclude this report with the link to my 15 minute interview with RT.                                                                         

                                                                                   *****

I know Deputy Foreign Affairs Minister Grushko from face to face meetings we had in Brussels back in the time when he served as Russian ambassador to NATO. He had to leave that post in 2018 after savage cuts imposed on the Russian staff as part of the global US-led move to cut ties with Russia, to denigrate its leadership and move the country to pariah status internationally. Once back in Moscow, Grushko further climbed the hierarchical ladder to assume deputy minister status.

From our talks in 2018 and before, I found Grushko to be a sincere and dedicated public servant, as idealistic in orientation as one can reasonably be in any large organization, whether governmental or private. His statements and answers to questions at the press conference yesterday proved that these personal qualities remain with him. Even The New York Times account of the press conference noted Grushko’s remark about the nature of the talks earlier in the day at NATO headquarters: “This was a heart-to-heart discussion,” he said.  Frank, constructive, professional – these are the commonplace, diplomatic wooden language terms both Russian and American officials used to describe the meetings.  But “heart-to-heart”? – this was very much the man of the day speaking his mind.

He spoke favorably of the four hours of talks at NATO headquarters, although what the Russians call their three “imperatives,” beginning with exclusion of Ukraine forever, were rejected by the NATO member states unanimously.  Grushko said it was important that the Russian delegation could set out directly to all 30 NATO member states what its security concerns are and what motivates any further action their country will take to get satisfaction. Thus, the message was received by each member directly and not by way of summary from the hands of the U.S. State Department.

Grushko also used his time at the microphone to share with the press some of his personal regrets at the change in NATO policy from the time of the creation of the NATO-Russia Council in 1997. In these remarks he drew upon his own experience of the functioning of the Council during his six years as the envoy of his country to NATO.

To his understanding, the overriding principle behind creation of the Council had been to go beyond clearing away the wreckage of the Cold War relations and to establish a positive joint agenda for the future. He saw this in the joint activities of NATO and Russia to combat terrorism globally, which included notably activities to stabilize Afghanistan, to root out the narcotics traffic emanating from that country, to combat piracy at sea, to coordinate measures to thwart would-be hijackers of commercial aircraft and the like. Now none of these cooperative activities remains and the sides have been cut off from one another for more than two years. Instead, Russia has been used by the United States and its NATO allies as their common Enemy Number One, with whom no cooperation is possible or desirable.

But Grushko’s concerns go much further. He condemned the U.S. led efforts to drag Russia back into a Cold War, when all the efforts and budgets of humankind should be addressing our real common threats, including Global Warming, food security, Covid and similar threats that are outside of geopolitical pigeonholing.

Of course, none of these personal appraisals of Mr. Grushko was picked up by our major Western media covering the press conference. They would sound too human, too progressive to be attributed to our sworn enemies. Instead, our newspapers and television news bulletins disseminated NATO Director General Jens Stoltenberg’s insistence on the same day that the Russian demands for closing NATO’s open door to new members was unacceptable, but that progress in diplomatic channels was still possible on other issues including limitations on war exercises in Europe, measures to reduce the risks of accidental conflict, arms control. if the Russians were genuinely interested in continuing the talks.

However, I detect some progress made by our media in exposing to their audiences the logic of the Russian security concerns, which previously had been untouchable. They are being looked at for themselves apart from the present confrontation over Ukraine, and that is real progress.

Meanwhile, The Financial Times in today’s issue carries an Opinion article written by Samuel Charap of the Rand Corporation entitled “Nato honesty on Ukraine could avert conflict with Russia.” This extraordinary piece argues for NATO to abandon its stiff-necked response to Russian demands and to openly acknowledge what we all know for a fact, that NATO is not reviewing Ukraine’s bid to join the alliance.

Western media repeat uncritically the position taken by U.S. Under Secretary of State Wendy Sherman that if the Russians choose to break off negotiations it will show they were never serious about finding a diplomatic solution.  All are confused over what Mr. Putin’s military options are and which he will exercise if the talks fail.  Like today’s New York Times, they repeat the Russian President’s warning of an “unspecified ‘military-technical’ response.” They obviously do not understand the term, though a good Russian dictionary could point the way and tell us that the Russians’ Plan B is not to invade Ukraine or bomb Estonia but to position their latest tactical and strategic weaponry in places that present to the United States and NATO the same existential threat and ultra-short warning times of attack that the U.S.-led encirclement of Russia presents to Moscow today.  Of course, if that does not work, no doubt the Russian Plan C will involve some kind of kinetic or cyber warfare that demonstrates Russia’s negotiating “from a position of strength,” as the Americans like to say.

                                                                       *****

I was asked a couple of days ago by an old schoolmate in the States whether I have to cut and trim what I say in public not to lose the privileged access I have to Russian media.  Behind this question lies the ubiquitous opinion in the West that Russian media are strictly controlled by the Kremlin, that everything is censored for the thought control you expect in an “autocratic” or “authoritarian” regime.

I repeat here the observation I made back in 2016 when I was a frequent panelist on political talk shows hosted both by Russian state television and commercial channels.  Yes, the programming and selection of panelists is tendentious, but part of the tendency is to give the microphone to representatives of views at odds with official Russian policies and to let the panelists have a go at one another in the confidence that the superiority of the reasoning preferred by the state will be shown. I also noted back then that when given the microphone I was never censored, said what I thought and saw that the later releases of the respective videos onto youtube.com were complete and without cuts. And, at times, I have made statements that directly contradicted the preferred positions of United Russia, as for example with respect to the amended constitution which granted to Mr. Putin the right to stand for reelection in 2024.

Now, as regards complicity with my interviewer yesterday:  in the ten minutes or so that I, the camera man and the interviewer stood waiting for the press conference in the background to end so that noise interference would be removed, my interviewer read out to me the questions she intended to ask me. In turn, and exceptionally, I told her what key point I wanted to make on air. I did this to avoid assuming the commonplace but not very polite routine of interviewee who hears a question, ignores it and makes his own prepared communication to the audience.  I was pleased a few minutes later to see that what I wanted asked of me was duly worked into the sequence of questions so that I had no need to abuse my right to the microphone.

In the end, I was satisfied with the interview. I leave it to readers to draw their own conclusions.

©Gilbert Doctorow, 2022

First full review of the Russian language edition of “Russia in the Roaring 1990s”

I am pleased to share with readers of my articles a just posted full review of the Russian language edition of my diaries and memoirs Россия в бурные 1990е: Дневники, воспоминания, документы as published in November 2021 by Liki Rossii, St Petersburg.

https://zen.yandex.ru/media/id/5d5add3a46f4ff00ad8a4a08/burnye-1990e-amerikanskogo-menedjera-61dbd8b4f443461eefed4f4d

This 780 page hard bound book represents the full text of Volume II of the original English edition published in the USA, integrated with the narrative and selected diary entries from the English language Volume I.  It has a photo-montage insert illustrating key moments in the narrative. A selection of these photos has been included in the book review.  The Russian edition also has a very useful Index of Names, which facilitates navigation for browsers.

To a large degree my memoirs-diaries were prepared for publication with an eye to the potential audience in Russia, where most any educated person over the age of 50 will know very well the personalities in political, business and cultural life who populate my text. The book reviewer is one such person. As for the English-language edition, that has already attracted readers in the academic community of historians of Russia, though hopefully, the value to students of business management in developing markets will eventually also be appreciated.

A not so gentle hint from the Kremlin on what comes next?

My latest essay, “How Far Can Diplomacy Go?” dated 7 January, has taken on a life of its own.  Shortly after it was re-posted on http://www.antiwar.com in the early hours of 8 January it was immediately translated into Russian by politros.com, a St Petersburg based news portal. This was then picked up and re-posted by a half a dozen other Russian news websites including www.yandex.ru, the country’s equivalent of google.com, as well as fbm.ru, discover24.ru and rznonline.ru. It also was placed on the youtube channel 24NEWS plus: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AA7IVHljLH4, where the translated text of my article is read by a female voice, while the video shows Russian submarines and synthesized views of their cutting edge technology nuclear deap sea drone, Poseidon. The youtube broadcaster plays the theme song of state television Rossiya 24, but otherwise it is not clear what their relationship may be.

I emphasize that my articles are very rarely spotted and translated by Russian media. Their website specializing in such translations, inosmi.ru has done this only a few times over the past five years. Other Russian sites have occasionally re-posted me in Russian, but these appeared to be machine translations, unlike what politros produced, and took several days to appear.

I also point out that the translation which the Russian portals have now disseminated is a partial translation, amounting to about two-thirds of my original text.  They left out my comments on the “crackpot” whom I identified as a source of the “window of opportunity” argument which no doubt is driving the present Russian ultimatum to the West to revise the security architecture in Europe in its favor. They left out my remark on how revising this architecture must take place before Vladimir Putin’s current mandate in office expires in 2024 so that he may retire in peace and let the country move on to normal democracy.

More importantly, the Russian reposting of my article leaves out my mention of “surgical strikes” as the way for Russia to prove to our skeptical foreign and military policy establishment in the United States and Europe that their demands are not a bluff, but are backed up by superior strategic and tactical military force.  Instead, the reposting focuses on placing Russian strategic arms just off the American shores, and in particular on stationing there submarines carrying the Poseidon, Russia’s new state of the art nuclear armed deep sea drone which is capable of setting off tsunamis that destroy coastal cities and installations.

The advantage of the offshore stationing of such weapons of mass destruction is that they pose an existential threat without need to actually destroy anything or kill anyone as would happen with the other show of force I had mentioned, “surgical strikes” on the Ukrainian Black Sea coast naval bases now being outfitted and manned by US-UK teams.  A secondary advantage is that the pressure is piled on against one country, the United States, the moving force of the Alliance. The negotiations which follow would then be strictly bilateral talks, without the cacophany of the other 29 NATO members delaying or preventing achievement of results.

The threat of Poseidon by itself would be very unlikely to elicit a kinetic response from the United States and NATO.  But will such a threat alone be sufficient to win for Russia the capitulation it is now demanding from NATO?  Perhaps, but only perhaps. There are simply a great many stubborn and proud global hegemonists in Washington who will not be persuaded by a purely peaceful display of might. 

Time will tell

©Gilbert Doctorow, 2022