In the past few weeks, I have commented several times on the way Western media and politicians either overlook or fail to understand the Russian Way of War as implemented presently during the military operation in Ukraine. They judge the success or failure of the Russians by what the U.S. Armed Forces would do if their objective were to subdue Kiev. With no ‘shock and awe’ opening by the Russians and considering the very slow progress of their move to free the entire Donbas region from Ukrainian control, Western commentators consider the Russian effort a failure.
Perhaps the most extreme analysis and most dangerous conclusions were presented on 6 May by a British journalist who has for decades written about Russia and is widely considered to be an expert, Mary Dejevsky. Her article in The Independent was given a heading that almost says it all: “By hyping up the Russia threat, the west helped ignite this war. It turns out that Russia had a far more realistic idea of its own strength, or lack of it, than the west allowed.”
In the body of the article, Dejevsky takes us back to the days of the USSR, which despite its faltering economy in the Gorbachev years was considered in the West to be a military powerhouse. The country’s poor performance in the Afghanistan war and then the total collapse of the Soviet Union forced a revision of the mistaken notion of a military threat from Moscow.
Now again, she believes the West has overrated Russia’s arms. She supposes that the arms manufacturers in the West have a vested interest in perpetuating the myth. However, Russia’s poor results against the Ukrainian forces, which have been trained and supplied by the West, compels us to think again.
Unfortunately, Dejevsky goes beyond this observation, which is shared by all too many Western commentators. Her concluding paragraph merits full quotation:
“The west fatally misread a weak state as a strong state, meaning that its attempts to second-guess Russia’s behavior largely misfired. If there is to be any new relationship between the west and Russia – which is unlikely to be very soon – the west must start with this basic reassessment. It must accept that Russia is a weak state, and that the west and Nato are strong.”
Quite amazing that she does not see what is right in front of her nose. About Russian military strength, the fact that Russia now occupies a part of the Ukraine bigger than the United Kingdom thanks to its advances in the ‘special military operation’ somehow does not register. As for economic strength, it is also amazing how blind she is: the market economy of Russia today is vastly more resilient than the command economy of the USSR. Indeed, no other country on earth could have withstood the ‘sanctions from hell’ that the USA has imposed on Russia since 24 February.
But my key point is that if Russia is deemed to be weak, then American and EU pressure will have no limits and will precipitate a reaction from the Kremlin that takes us straight to Armageddon. Vladimir Putin has threatened precisely this and he is, above all, a man of his word.
Now I would like to direct attention to delusional thinking on the Russian side that may in its own way head them and us to Judgment Day. The material for my commentary is a front page feature article on today’s online edition of Rossiiskaya Gazeta, a high quality pro-Kremlin newspaper.
Pride of place in the right column is an interview with Nikolai Patrushev, Secretary of the Security Council of the Russian Federation. His position may be likened to that of Jake Sullivan in the USA. He surely has the ear of Vladimir Vladimirovich and what he says in this interview should worry us all.
Patrushev opens by stressing that the root evil in present world crises as in the past is Washington’s striving to consolidate its global hegemony and to prevent the collapse of the unipolar world.
“The USA does everything to ensure that other centers of the multipolar world do not dare raise their heads. However, our country not only dared but declared for everyone to hear that it will not play according to imposed rules. They have tried to force Russia to renounce its sovereignty, its self-awareness, its culture and its independent foreign and domestic policy. We have no right to agree with this approach.”
So far, so good. I broadly agree with Patrushev on the foregoing. But the problems begin as he proceeds, in particular his expectations of what the future holds for Europe:
“What awaits Europe is a deep economic and political crisis for the various countries. Growth of inflation and lowering standards of living already are making themselves felt on the pocketbook and in the mood of Europeans. Moreover, large-scale immigration adds to the old threats to security. Almost 5 million Ukrainian migrants already arrived in Europe. In the near future, their numbers will grow to 10 million. The majority of the Ukrainians arriving in Europe expect Europeans to maintain and look after them, but when they are forced to work, they begin to rebel.”
Patrushev goes on to forecast food shortages that will push tens of millions of people in Africa and the Near East to the edge of starvation. To live on, they will try to reach Europe.
He concludes: “I am not certain that Europe will survive this crisis. The political institutions, supranational associations, economy, culture, traditions may all recede into the past. Europe will be gnawing at its knuckles, while America will be rid of its main geopolitical fear – a political alliance between Russia and Europe.”
Unfortunately, Mr. Patrushev is confusing what he would like to see happen with what indeed will probably happen. Intellectually mediocre, conformist and slavish in their pandering to the American overlords as the leaders of the EU Member States and EU central institutions may be, they are unlikely to lose political control at home. Their instinct for survival is not that far gone yet. Moreover, passivity and indifference to the political class are the rule in most of Europe. What the highly unpopular Emanuel Macron just achieved in winning reelection is proof positive of that reality.
Patrushev’s belief in Western weakness is as fraught with danger as the notion among the U.S. and European political establishment that Russia is weak. These misconceptions easily lead to reckless policies of brinkmanship.
©Gilbert Doctorow, 2022
27 thoughts on “Delusional interpretations on both sides of the Russia-West divide”
I guess Wikileaks taught us that a really tough army can be identified by how many Reuters journalists is manages to shoot down.
Russia has been very poor at destroying tower blocks in big cities with heavy artillery. Indeed if you count Donbas, Ukraine has been as good or better at this.
Russia may have been very good at long distance strikes on military radars, storage centres, fuel dumps, equipment, airports and hangars – but we only have Russian statements for that (in great detail). Until Reuters can put diesel in their car and travel we will never know for sure.
“The west fatally misread a weak state as a strong state” what a wonderful way to double bluff your way out of a plain lie.
“But my key point is that if Russia is deemed to be weak, then American and EU pressure will have no limits and will precipitate a reaction from the Kremlin that takes us straight to Armageddon. Vladimir Putin has threatened precisely this and he is, above all, a man of his word.”
Yes. But I think what we are seeing is an internal debate between hawks and doves. Only the hawks have access to the opinion columns right now, but they are responding to what is being thought elsewhere (hope so anyway).
Why would you believe Reuters?
Sorry too much sarcasm in that comment.
Lots of good stuff today. Thanks.
I can only half agree with Patrushev who:
“opens by stressing that the root evil in present world crises as in the past is Washington’s striving to consolidate its global hegemony and to prevent the collapse of the unipolar world.”
It isn’t unipolar or multi-polar, but just my block versus theirs. The US understands that it is psychologically unable to operate in a multi-polar world while China clearly can. I believe that the conclusion is that a BiPolar world is coming, US block, China block, and mayhem for any country that thinks it can get by without direct US or Chinese support/roof. I suspect Putin also recognised that early.
The US pretty much controlled post-coup Ukraine and it could have kept that control with a little diplomacy. Instead it pushed Ukraine into war with Russia (much like it did with Georgia). Biden sacrificed Biden’s own 2014 gains to create a huge divide between Russia (read China block) and rich Europe. Possibly the endgame even back in 2013.
Rich Europe has been firmly cemented into US block. A huge Biden success offset but the clear disgust of a lot of the rest of the world such as India, Pakistan, Brazil and even Saudi. They all know what comes next for them.
I am an avid reader of news on Russian military progress in quite a few languages. What you quoted from The Independent seems bolder than most anything that appears, even if we take into account that British media are by far the strongest believers in Russia’s failure to achieve its objectives. Maybe the Independent was rallying the British readers in case they started to feel unsure about what their government is doing in Ukraine. Regarding other British sources, I’m puzzled by the fact that military experts produce detailed accounts of what happens in the battlefield and yet fail to grasp the reality. How about intelligence, don’t they know anything at all, I wonder. Anyway, the article of the FT I reported on in a previous comment was not questioning the actual ability of Russia to unleash Armageddon, but more its willingness to do so, as it would not be cost effective. Without explaining why. After all (I guess!) a nuclear war is no small thing to initiate and what is the point of minimising civilian casualties in Ukraine, only to slaughter millions of innocent people on earth?
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It’s not only the West that has reassessed Russia’s state capacity, let’s be honest, that reassessment has been happening everywhere, the Middle East, China, India. First it was win the war in 72 hours, then it was close the Donbas cauldron, now it is attrition Ukrainian troops, while Ukrainians actually take back significant territory near Kharkiv. We are in a situation where Ukrainian troops are much more likely to make it to the border with Russia than we are to Russians making it to the Ukrainian border with Poland. And given the military reputation that Russia had built up from 2014-2021, that is absolutely amazing.
To put it in a charitable way, the Russian military was built to fight a standoff war with Nato. Strong Russian air defense to attrition nato air superiority, and hypersonic missiles to strike carriers, bases in Germany, etc. The Ukraine war is almost the opposite. There is no Ukrainian Air Force to attrition, and using Iskander hypersonic missiles to make tactical strikes on vintage Soviet era Ukrainian MLRS is not very effective. Russia never bothered to stock up on true precision munitions that could be used from high altitude, because they never expected to make airpower (rather than missile) strikes on nato territory. The result is a war strangely almost without air power (Russia can’t fly low because of all the manpads, and there is no point flying high without precision munitions). Instead Russia has to take out Ukrainian artillery the hard way, with its own artillery. And Russian counter battery effectiveness has got to be one of the major Russian disappointments of the war.
Russia doesn’t need nor IMO do they want to reach the Polish border…and…you seem to have missed Ukraine is already at Russia’s border in fact they share a large common border. While you’re making progress in admitting (finally) Russia occupied part of Kharkov Oblast, my guess is Russia is not intending to hold it and instead used their temporary occupation as a feint to reduce UAF from moving south into Donbas. If Russia takes major cities IMO they will surround them until they surrender – no street to street fighting like in Mariupol, which was required because
AZOV. It will be embarrassing if Ukraine forces do breach Russian border…we’ll have to wait and see what happens.
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There is absolutely no way Ukrainian troops will ever reach the Russian border considering their paltry logistical support and lack of artillery. They lack the diesel to even run their trucks for an extended period of time. You’re also ignoring that everything you’re claiming is regurgitated from Western media narratives. We have no clue what the Russian General Staff was planning on the strategic level. The “72 hours to win” BS came from RAND wargames conducted in 2014-2015.
As for the vaunted “counteroffensive” north of Kharkiv, Russian troops withdrew from positions to avoid having the river to their backs. Key word being “withdrew” and not “forced to withdraw”. The Ukrainians can’t hold those positions in any meaningful way considering they will be perpetually exposed to artillery and air support. If there’s a hallmark of decisive advantage in a war, it’s when an army can move at its own discretion without being dislodged by enemy troops.
Very good point. Thanks Gilbert. The oligarchy in Europe and North America are militarily very weak but they have a very powerful domestic control. Populations are incredibly passivized. I suspect the only thing that will remove them is an outside invasion.
True the domestic populace is pacified, but how long the passivity will last when they have growling stomachs and empty cup boards. I don’t believe they need an outside invasion, but I do believe empty stomachs would wake up them up from this WOKE dreams and LGBTQ narratives.
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You are right to say this about the EU
But as GD relates, Patruschev makes a point about the Ukranian immigration into the EU and then a vast increase in African immigration
Is this the invasion you refer you? 10 million or so Ukranians will be hard to absorb and will destablise established politics and politicians, but an equal or potentially much greater number of Africans will do much more than destabilise
As some pointed out at the very beginning of this SMO, one purpose, and perhaps the essential ingredient in the feint to Kiev, was to demilitarise and denazify by way of emigration
The Ukranians want to become citizens of the EU -et voilà!
Who’s to complain?
With regards to Macron’s recent victory in France, one should read a Jacobin magazine piece today on an agreement among Left bloc parties in France to form a United front under Jean Luc Melechon for the upcoming parliamentary elections this June. This could quickly turn the tables on Macron’s win and lead to a very strong resistance to both NATO a and the EU.
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I beg to disagree with you DR. Gilbertdoctorow ” What the highly unpopular Emanuel Macron just achieved in winning reelection is proof positive of that reality.” I would like to ask you a question. If France is a true democracy how come the so called elite French voters brought in an unpopular person as their president? To my mind it seems to me that French people like the rest of the people in the Western world are brain washed by the media into accepting whatever is coming to them. But I believe that Petrushov is right, when the full weight of inflation hits the Democratic west and when they find their cup boards are empty like those despised 3rd world peasants the scenes will get ugly pretty fast. What I wonder is this, how long do you think these image peddlers can manage the farce when people are hungry? Thanks
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Interesting point. I agree with you…and…agree and disagree with GD. There likely will be revolt if not revolution against sanctions in that 1). Hungarian Prez scored an unexpected landslide election victory 2). Incumbent Dems will get slaughtered in 2022 elections (but highly buffered by gerrymandering) and 3). What are upcoming European elections? I expect that they will trend anti incumbent if they are allowed (clearly they were not allowed in France as it managed that Le Pen would only be allowed as long as she hopelessly behind in the polls). So I think the Russian calculated as GD quoted is accurate but only by half.
I feel like Macron isn’t great enough to be popular, but he’s still better than his competitors, and he’s not terrible, so he wins elections. I don’t know all his competitors terribly well.
Well, for every dead Russian there are 10 dead Ukrainians (and that is about to get a lot worse) Civilian deaths around 4000 and Russian casualties including DPR are under 7000. Including lots of urban warfare this says a lot about Russian ‘go slow’ tactics. Things are going fine taking into account the original purposes of the operation (de militarisation, de nazification and liberation of Donbass) I hope the West doesn’t take into account Dejevsky’s ramblings, it could lead to an increadibly deadly conventional exchange. I suspect the Pentagon know the score, certainly much better than the twits in Europe and the Zombie and his Russophobes in the Whitehouse. However many times you have to say it, a certain amount of troops and materiel where assigned to this mission/operation, they will not be exceeded, this by neccessity means it will be slower in order to protect troops, civilian lives and materiel. As things stand I see no need to ‘speed things up’ and risk incurring unacceptable losses. We could be looking at the total collapse of the Donbass Ukie Army in a few weeks and if things continue after that anything left in the West of Ukraine will not have the weapons to do anything more than dig in (like the Azov at Azovstal) and wait to die. Will Zelensky refuse to come to terms or will he just allow Russia to destroy everything? That is on the Wests conscience.
Hello, Prof. Doctorow. Just wanted to inform you that the “share” tool at the bottom of the page would not allow me to tweet this article. Also, the Chrome browser balked at tweeting it. I was able to mechanically tweet it. Democracy! in the #USofA Gotta love it.
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