Gilbert Doctorow is an independent political analyst based in Brussels. He chose this third career of 'public intellectual' after finishing up a 25 year career as corporate executive and outside consultant to multinational corporations doing business in Russia and Eastern Europe which culminated in the position of Managing Director, Russia during the years 1995-2000. He has publishied his memoirs of his 25 years of doing business in and around the Soviet Union/Russia, 1975 - 2000. Memoirs of a Russianist, Volume I: From the Ground Up was published on 10 November 2020. Volume II: Russia in the Roaring 1990s was released in February 2021. A Russian language edition in a single 780 page volume was published by Liki Rossii in St Petersburg in November 2021: Россия в бурные 1990е: Дневники, воспоминания, документы.
Yesterday’s print and electronic media in the United Kingdom had as their lead story the just announced 80% rise in the price cap on energy as from October. The new bill to households will come to approximately 350 euros per month, or the equivalent of 25-30% of take home pay for a large segment of the working population, more of course for those at the bottom of the wage scale. As British journalists remarked, by winter this will put many families before the stark choice of heating or eating.
Similar grim news on rising energy costs were on the front pages of Le Monde and Figaro in Paris, where energy costs to consumers are now running at 10 times the level of a year ago.
Iran’s Press TV channel convened a panel discussion on its ‘Spotlight’ evening program to discuss the causes and likely consequences of the looming crisis in Britain and across Europe.
85 Days in Slavyansk was first published in Russian in 2018, that is to say four years after the events it describes, but it has only now received international attention following its translation into English by Peter Nimitz and release in mid-spring 2022.
Today the city of Slavyansk appears regularly in news from the front. Slavyansk, together with its surrounding villages, and nearby strategic town of Kramatorsk is being reclaimed by Russia in its ‘special military operation.’ Indeed, as we write, the Russian army is within 20 miles of Slavyansk, which it will surely retake in the months ahead as it frees the entire Donbas from Ukrainian misrule.
This book was written as a tribute to a small band numbering initially 52 separatist fighters who crossed over from Russia into the Ukraine in April 2014 and ‘liberated’ Slavyansk, population 100,000 from its Ukrainian administration, virtually without firing a shot, by acts of shear daring. They were headed by a certain Igor Strelkov, who, like some of his fellow volunteers had participated in the takeover of the Crimea from Ukrainian forces a month before. They all believed passionately in the Russian Spring and in a national revival that would reunite Russian-speaking lands of the former Soviet Union with the Russian heartland.. They hoped and expected that the Kremlin would step in and support them as it had done in Crimea.
Their fight attracted local and Russian Federation volunteers, swelling their numbers to 2,500 of whom half were combatants and half logistics and medical support personnel. They confronted Ukrainian forces that were ten times as numerous. Ultimately they retreated, leaving what remained of the city to its fate under Ukrainian occupation.
And yet, judged on its own terms at the time it was written, the book was a lot more than an oddity, or footnote to history. As the author tells us, their retreat was not a defeat in the grand order of things. They turned what had been only street demonstrations in Donbas into a full-blown military challenge to the Ukrainian army. By instilling fear in the Ukrainian forces that they enjoyed military support of Russia, which was not in fact the case, they were treated more cautiously than was warranted. For two and a half months, they tied down Ukrainian troops which otherwise could have overwhelmed the entire Donbas separatist movement. Battle hardened by their own war experience, they formed the backbone of what became the Donbas militias in the months that followed their retreat from Slavyansk.
The author is a professional journalist who participated in the defense of Slavyansk on the front lines. His first hand knowledge of the people and events he is writing about endows the book with great value both for the general reader and for future historians. His book was skillfully organized and written to be an easy read even for those, like myself, who are strangers to accounts of artillery duels, sniper attacks and other armed skirmishes. He intermixes this material with biographical sketches of some of his fellow combatants and leaders, who are all extraordinary people. From interviews with them, he offers their appraisals of what was achieved as a counterpoint to his own thoughts.
The leading figure in the story, Igor Strelkov, was in 2014 and later highly critical of Russia’s early decision not to extend to Donbas the lifeline it provided to Crimea. His open criticism of the Kremlin resulted in his being shunted aside once Russia took charge.
The question ‘why Moscow held back’ hangs over the book from beginning to end. After all, in the summer of 2014 the Ukrainian army was weak, poorly armed, badly led and demoralized following the shameful loss of Crimea. Taking the Donbas militarily would have required a very small effort by the Kremlin and referenda over unification with Russia which would have followed would likely have given massive support to that initiative.
To be sure, the Russian Federation did in fact enter the conflict in the summer of 2014, but only three weeks after the loss of Slavyansk, and then with relatively modest assistance. Moreover, the Kremlin sought simultaneously to find a diplomatic solution to the crisis, and prodded the Donbas republics to accept the Minsk Accords which established the principle of their eventually returning to the fold of the Ukrainian state in return for its federalization, meaning the granting of considerable autonomy to the Donbas regions, including with respect to Russian as a language of state.
This question of why Russia did not pursue the Crimean scenario in Donbas in 2014 assumes special importance today, in 2022, when ensuring the security of the Donbas through the ‘special military operation’ is taking enormous efforts from Russia, including significant loss of life among its soldiers and massive expenditure of military equipment and munitions over a very lengthy period of time. Indeed Ukrainian capitulation may yet take many months to achieve.
The challenges to Russia’s move to subdue Ukraine today come from the eight years of work on its own and with the help of allies that Kiev has used to prepare militarily for this very conflict, in particular, by building vast fortifications just to the west of the demarcation line with the Donbas republics. Their concrete reinforced trenches and bunkers are resistant to most artillery fire and they are positioned in the proximity of residential communities, meaning that carpet bombing or other drastic methods would result in enormous civilian casualties, which the Russians cannot tolerate amidst a population they hope to acquire. In this same period of time, Ukraine has received both modern military equipment and extensive training under NATO country programs. The results serve them well.
The question of Russian restraint in 2014 came up in the 17 August edition of Evening with Vladimir Solovyov. The moderator himself answered the question: the Russian Army was then only partly on its way to the thorough reorganization that has produced the modern and well-equipped professional Army of today. Moreover, in 2014 Russia did not possess the cutting edge strategic weapons systems, both conventional and nuclear, that it has today to put fear into the United States and other international foes and moderate their direct involvement in a Russia-Ukraine war. Even if Ukraine’s military was weak and poorly led in 2014, behind it stood NATO, which surely would have stepped in to reverse any Russian victory.
But there is also an economic side to the calculations. In 2014 Russia was totally unprepared for the ‘sanctions from hell’ that would surely have been applied then had it taken the Donbas by force. It had nothing to counter any cut-off from SWIFT and its economy would have plummeted. It also had still far more dollar assets than it did this year given that it has sold off Treasury notes in the meantime. Russia has used the past eight years to devise new payment systems bypassing SWIFT, to agree on settlements of foreign trade in their national currency with friendly countries like India and China, and to otherwise insulate itself from US-dominated financial infrastructure. In addition, the sanctions imposed on Russia in 2014 over Crimea already set the country on course to import substitution and ‘economic sovereignty’ in a number of domains, in particular in agriculture, so that today the country is largely self-sufficient in food supplies and a major exporter of grains, poultry and other agricultural products.
For all of these reasons, it is appropriate to credit the Kremlin with realism and common sense in its dealings with Donbas and Ukraine in 2014, however disappointing its decisions then may have been for the Russian Spring movement.
A couple of weeks before Vladimir Putin announced his ‘special military operation’ in Ukraine, he met in the Kremlin with Germany’s chancellor Olaf Scholz. At their joint press conference following the meeting, Putin mentioned in passing that Ukraine is controlled today by neo-Nazis. This remark was famously ridiculed by Scholz as “laughable,” thereby earning for him the Kremlin’s utter contempt. German-Russian relations have undergone a sharp deterioration ever since, with Germany gradually stepping up its supplies of cutting-edge lethal weaponry to Kiev and Russia, in its internal political discussions, placing Germany alongside the United States and Britain as de facto ‘co-belligerents’ which may be subjected to Russian missile attacks if the war escalates further.
At the time of the exchange of courtesies between Putin and Scholz in February, I wrote an essay in which I tried to explain the background to Russian claims of rampant Nazism in Ukraine, which sounded very odd to Westerners but found a very receptive audience among the Russian population, where evocations of Nazism arise at every annual May 9th celebration of Victory in Europe Day, marking the end of WWII. As I noted then, one source of Russian allegations was the celebration by official Kiev of the ultra-nationalist Stepan Bandera, a Nazi collaborator of the German forces in WWII who practiced vicious ethnic cleansing against Jews, Russians and Poles. Statues are erected to him; streets are named after him across Ukraine.
Of course, the numbers of actual neo-Nazi groups in Ukraine before and since 2014 have been very small as a percentage of the overall population. In the parliamentary and presidential elections that have taken place since the United States installed its preferred regime in Kiev in February 2014, the neo-Nazi candidates have not scored more than several percentage points. However, from the first days of the February coup d’etat, neo-Nazis have held the key ministerial posts in defense and the security apparatus of the Ukrainian government, effectively calling the shots in foreign policy and the confrontation with Russia.
When the Russians finally flushed out the Azov battalion extremists from their fortified positions at the Azovstal steel works in Mariupol three months into the ‘special military operation,’ they found and presented on television proof positive of the Nazi presence at the core of the Ukrainian armed forces. Ukrainian prisoners of war were stripped and the Russian camera men video-recorded their tattooed bodies, featuring not only swastikas and other German Nazi symbols but also portraits of Hitler and other Nazi leaders from the Third Reich. Western journalists, of course, saw all of this but it hardly was reported in our media. Nor has there been any reconsideration in the West of the facile dismissal of Russian concern over neo-Nazism that Scholz demonstrated.
Events in the EU’s ‘front line’ countries of the Baltic states and Poland have given a new dimension to the Russian concerns over neo-Nazism. I have in mind the dismantling and removal of statues and other monuments to the Soviet Army liberators of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania from German occupation in 1945 even as their own Nazi collaborators from the past are given new honors. This has greatly accelerated in recent weeks. Meanwhile, parades of the descendants of the collaborators have been going on in Riga and elsewhere year after year.
Still more controversial and significant has been the attempts of Lithuania to close down land transportation between the main territory of the RF and its Kaliningrad outpost in violation of all signed undertakings for free transit between different constituent parts of Russia agreed by the EU.
Add to that the latest Estonian led effort to close Europe entirely to Russians. A few weeks ago, Estonian border guards at the Narva crossing refused to admit Russians holding Schengen visas issued previously by their own authorities and now they are refusing to recognize Schengen visas issued by other EU Member States. Together with Poland, all three Baltic States have demanded that the EU no longer issue visas to Russian tourists.
To be sure, the demand that all Russians be barred from Europe as punishment for their war on Ukraine has not met with universal approval within the EU. Even Germany came out against the initiative, with Scholz saying that exceptions must be made for humanitarian reasons. Others have debated the legality under EU law of such generalized prohibitions directed at an entire population. But the debate rages on.
Finally, a statement made yesterday by Latvian President Egils Levits got the full attention of Moscow. He said that Russian-speaking residents of Latvia should be ‘isolated from society’ if they oppose his government’s policies with respect to the war in Ukraine. Just what is meant by “isolate” is not clear. Does Levits intend to intern them in concentration camps? Given the absolute failure of Latvia to respect EU human rights norms going back from the first days of the country’s independence from the USSR in 1991, such an atrocity would not be out of character.
I have dealt with precisely this issue in essays going back to 2014 which were included in my collection Does Russia Have a Future?: see chapter 22 “Latvia’s 300,000 Non-Citizens and the Ukrainian Crisis Today” and chapter 33 “Latvia’s failed U.S. inspired policies towards Russia and Russians.” I further explored these issues in my 2019 book A Belgian Perspective on International Relations, chapter38 “Republic of Latvia, Apartheid State Within the EU.”
The point is that upon achieving independence thanks to the active support of many of its Russian-speaking citizenry, the government of Latvia turned around and stripped 400,000 of them of their citizenship, close to 40% of the total population at the time, and offered them a path to regain passports that only a tiny fraction of them could follow. When President Levits speaks today of Russian-speaking “residents” of Latvia, he has in mind those who were deprived of civil rights including passports and remain stateless up to the present time. Everything that Latvia did to its Russian-speaking population going back 30 years set the precedents for Kiev’s repressive policies towards its own 40% who are Russian speakers after the nationalists from Lvov came to power in 2014.
These various developments were the main topic for discussion in yesterday’s Evening with Vladimir Solovyov political talk show, which stood out as especially valuable. Although I have made reference to this particular talk show frequently over the years as a good source of information about what Russia’s political and social elites are thinking, I freely acknowledge that the presenter cannot and does not fill every program with material and panelists worth listening to. Indeed, there is a lot of sludge on air between the gems. By ‘sludge’ I mean the kind of ‘kitchen talk’ in which expert panelists talk the same non-facts-based drivel that ordinary Russians will engage in when they follow the principle of socializing described by Chekhov in Act Two of The Three Sisters: “They are not serving us tea, so let’s philosophize.”
In any case, last night’s Solovyov was definitely worth listening to. The question of neo-Nazism in Europe was the glue binding together different elements of the discussion, ranging from Levits’ obnoxious declaration of the same day to the fate of ordinary Russians in Kazakhstan and Central Asia after the collapse of the Soviet Union, and what to do about all of these challenges to the Russian World.
The overriding point was that the Russophobia and ‘cancel Russian culture’ movements that have swept Europe during 2022 mean that Russians are the Jews of today. They are what the Hitlerites called Untermenschen, against whom all manner of rights violations if not outright murder can be practiced. This arises in its worst form in Ukraine, where Russians as a people are systematically dehumanized in statements from the top leadership of the country. In Ukraine, the ultra-nationalists call Russians “Colorado,” a reference to the bugs that infest potato crops. These insects carry the orange and black colors of the St George’s ribbons that patriotic Russians wear. This is the same logic that made possible the biological weapons attack on Russian soldiers in the Zaporozhie that was carried out last week by Ukrainian forces, sending the victims to intensive care treatment for botulism poisoning. That development probably did not get coverage in your daily newspaper.
The conversation on Solovyov was particularly interesting in the ‘what is to be done’ segment. Acknowledging that a ‘special military operation’ against Latvia is not practicable yet given Latvia’s membership in NATO, a panelist who heads the State Duma committee on relations with the Former Soviet Union states, said that those Russians who profited from the transit business between Russia and Latvia for decades should now pay up and contribute financially to relocating the Russian speakers in Riga to the Russian Federation, meaning providing good housing and jobs that till now were never on offer to incentivize immigration. A fellow panelist broadened the proposed assistance to suggest a government program of resettlement modeled on what Israel did some decades ago to facilitate the relocation of certain Black African Jews from their country of persecution to the State of Israel. And it was suggested that similar relocation offers should be extended to Russian speakers in Kazakhstan and other Central Asian countries where they have all been second class citizens since these countries became independent of the USSR.
This issue of the fate of ethnic Russians living outside the borders of the Russian Federation at the time of the break-up of the Soviet Union has been around for a long time. When Vladimir Putin spoke the words that have been so often raised by Russia-haters in the West, namely that the break-up of the USSR was the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the 20th century, he definitely had in mind the fate of the 25 million Russian speakers who were left high and dry in the other republics, now sovereign states ruled by the non-Russian majority populations. In 1991 and later years, Russia’s own economic woes left it unable to offer decent housing to its soldiers and officers transferred back to Russia from the former Warsaw Pact countries, let alone to care for the 25 million Russian civilians outside its borders.
Last night’s panelists argued that the time has come to redress this moral failure of Russia to stand by its former citizens who are Russian-speakers, to offer to repatriate them under attractive conditions. This would respond to the country’s own economic interests by redressing the demographic challenges Russia is facing as a result of its 1990s collapse and birth rates that then declined precipitously. And it would be a direct answer to the neo-Nazi movements in Europe which would gladly exacerbate repression among Russians in their midst.
I am delighted to offer here the link to last night’s Spotlight program on Iran’s Press TV. The show opened with a discussion of the failure of the United Nations to address Israel’s nuclear arsenal and moved much more broadly to the U.S. trillion dollar program to renovate its nuclear arms, then to the increased military and economic security of Iran today following conclusion of arms and energy investment memoranda of understanding with Russia and China that owed their signing to Russia’s ‘special military operation’ in Ukraine.
Key concepts: hypocrisy is the small change of diplomacy, and bullies are by definition cowards
A few days ago, the most widely read journal of international politics in the United States, Foreign Affairs published an article by University of Chicago professor John Mearsheimer entitled “Playing with Fire in Ukraine: the Underappreciated Risks of Catastrophic Escalation.” The online version is accessible here – https://www.foreignaffairs.com/ukraine/playing-fire-ukraine
This publication was a major event in itself given FA’s orthodox spin on everything to do with Russia and the challenges to the Washington narrative made by Mearsheimer ever since his article “Why the Ukraine Crisis is the West’s Fault” appeared in the autumn 2014 issue of Foreign Affairs. At the time, that article prompted a paroxysm of rage among the hardliners who form the majority of the American foreign policy community and of the journal’s readers.
The video of a speech on the same subject which Mearsheimer made in 2014 shortly after the article came out has been viewed by more than 12 million visitors to the www.youtube.com site. An updated version of the same speech presented on youtube during this spring has attracted more than 1.6 million viewers. It is safe to say that John Mearsheimer is the most widely seen and listened to academic disputing the conventional wisdom on the Ukraine war today.
I freely acknowledge the merit of Mearsheimer’s new article: to warn how the conflict in Ukraine could easily spin out of control and escalate to a nuclear war. The White House team of inexperienced and ignorant advisers must be shaken from their complacency and anything published in Foreign Affairs will necessarily be brought to their attention, whereas a piece published by www.antiwar.com, for example, will be burned before reading.
However, this does not excuse Mearsheimer from basing himself on the same restricted and distorted sources of information as are used by mainstream media and mainstream academics, while ignoring other sources of information that would give greater depth to his analysis and possibly change his conclusions substantially. To be explicit, I believe he has been listening too closely to Washington and Kiev’s rosy forecasts of a counter-offensive that will result in a stalemate, possibly in a Russian defeat, and he is not listening to Russian reporting on the progress of their campaign on the ground, which points to a slow and steady grinding down of all in their path to conquest of the Donetsk oblast, meaning the capture of the entire Donbas.
The Russian advance is only slightly slowed by diversion of troops to the Kherson region to nip in the bud that well advertised Ukrainian attack. The latest news is of the Russians approaching the strategic strong points of Slavyansk and Kramatorsk, the cradle of the Donbas independence movement in 2014. By taking these central region cities, they are cutting off the supply of weapons to the most heavily fortified Ukrainian positions just outside Donetsk city, which have been bombarding residential districts and killing civilians daily for the past eight years. This explains their finally overrunning and destroying Ukrainian positions in the town of Peski just two kilometers from the DPR capital this past week.
The capture of Peski was not reported in Western media just as the war crimes nature of its activity, concentrated on civilian targets in violation of international conventions on conduct of war, was never reported. Thus, the Russian advance carries no hint of ‘shock and awe,’ which is to say the Russians are doing nothing to grab headlines and force the hand of Biden to implement some disproportionate escalation.
The Russians’ latest timetable, as announced in their leading televised talk shows, is to complete the liberation of the Donbas by year’s end. After that, if there is no Ukrainian capitulation, the likely case will be ongoing advance through Odessa to Transdnistria and the Romanian border, at which point no peace treaty would be needed by anyone. The Zelensky regime could be left to die on the vine as mutual recriminations shake his power base.
Mearsheimer’s article goes into great detail over the many possible scenarios for dangerous if not catastrophic escalation of the conflict. But these are myriad and largely unforeseeable, so that he ultimately covers only a fraction of the possibilities for things to go haywire. They are, as he admits, not very likely to occur. Amen.
One of those possibilities for catastrophic escalation that has captured the attention of global media at present is the stand-off at the nuclear power plant in Russia-occupied Zaporozhie, Europe’s largest such power plant. Both sides to the conflict are playing up the threat inherent in artillery and rocket strikes on a nuclear installation for propagandistic purposes, to paint the other side as madmen: the Ukrainians speaking of the Kremlin leadership as nuclear terrorists and blackmailers, the Russians speaking of the Ukrainian forces firing on the power station as ‘apes carrying grenades.’ Surely damage to the plant followed by the release into the atmosphere of radioactive substances was on the mind of Mearsheimer when he formulated his article. However, let me be perfectly clear: this is a phony issue, just as the alleged Russian blockade of Ukrainian ports supposedly was forcing starvation on African nations that were failing to get grain they had ordered from Ukraine before the conflict. The fact is that the nuclear reactors are encased in meter-thick concrete walls which are impervious to all the projectiles which the Ukrainians are capable of launching. The risks are to the administrative buildings and cooling systems. The Russians are fully capable of shutting down the nuclear reactors at any time to prevent a catastrophe.
Now let me turn attention to the nuclear risk that Mearsheimer identifies in the article. He has taken up exactly the same argument as mainstream commentators in the United States, namely that Russia might resort to nuclear weapons in case the campaign turns against them due to higher levels of Western intervention including troops on the ground. We all know that troops are already on the ground, namely the ‘instructors’ who are directing fire for HIMARS. We know that senior American and other Western officers liaising with their Ukrainian counterparts were recently blown to bits by the Russian rocket attack on Vinnitsa. That was all hushed up and the only tip-off of this disaster for Washington was the firing of the Ukrainian intelligence leadership the next day.
Of course, no one knows what might yet force an escalation. But there again, Mearsheimer misses some important considerations. Why does he assume the Russians must escalate to nuclear options and why those options would be directed against Kiev and not, for example, against London? More to the point, he is missing the fact that the Russians have hardly begun to fight, as Putin recently said publicly. They have not mobilized and put out draft notices, they have not put the economy on a war footing. And they have not deployed their most consequential weaponry. Instead, they have held it back, ready for use if necessary in a direct war with NATO. This is massively destructive conventional payloads carried by hypersonic rockets and similar.
Then there is another dimension to the conflict which Mearsheimer does not address in his article though it will exert a decisive influence on whether Washington or Moscow wins the tug of war: the economic damage from sanctions on Europe through blow-back that is about to become politically unsustainable as the fall and winter heating season arrives. The Baltics and Poland are and will remain immune to reason, led as they are by delusional Russophobes. However, when the inevitable street demonstrations come in France, the most volatile of the major EU states, followed by Eastern Germany and even by Belgium, a more passive country, as I hear from the local elites I talk to, then the politicians of Europe will head off in contradictory directions and unity will collapse. The Russians are sure to win this psychological war despite all the efforts of EU state media to put a lid on it. The day when Scholz gives the go-ahead to opening Nord Stream II will mark the Russian victory and put an end to US-driven suicidal decision making here in Europe.
For all of the above reasons, I urge professor Mearsheimer and his followers to pay closer attention to what the Russians are saying and less attention to the hot air coming out of Washington.
At the start of this week, I picked up at my nearby post office in Brussels an eagerly awaited parcel containing the Fifty-fifth Reunion Report of my Harvard Class of 1967. In the days since, I have been wading through its dense texts. It is among the most interesting of all such quinquennial Reports because of the new openness of my classmates about what makes them tick, where they derive their pleasure and see their contribution in life, rather than the traditional recitations of career landmarks. I believe that Covid 19 and staring mortality in the face brought about this change for the better. However, that is a subject for another note.
Here, I focus on the mental processes unleashed when I came across the entry of Richard Morningstar, one of my more notorious classmates, notorious in the same way as another nestling of 1967, Tom Ridge, the first Secretary of Homeland Security, appointed by Bush Junior: they were the most visible implementers of wrong-headed U.S. Government policies that led to our current confrontation with Russia, in the case of Morningstar, and, in the case of Ridge, to a sharp erosion in the country of civil liberties and to a new McCarthyism that is still with us.
As I reached Morningstar’s entry, I had to stop for a moment to reflect on what his name meant to me. Up came the recollection of an essay I had written about him in 2012 entitled “Letter to a Wayward Classmate.” You can find that in my first collection of essays on Russian-American relations published in 2013 as Stepping Out of Line, currently available from Amazon.com in paperback and e-book formats.
From a career in law and private business, Morningstar leveraged his work on behalf of the Democratic Party, including major fundraising responsibilities and personal contributions of cash, into a second career in government service as advisor, then coordinator and ultimately ambassador and U.S. coordinator of relations with Europe over Eurasian, and in particular, Caspian Sea energy resources. The tasks he was given were first formulated in 1998 by then Secretary of State Madeleine Albright. They followed from the recommendations on containing Russia advanced by her former academic supervisor and mentor, Zbigniew Brzezinski.
Most everyone interested in the development of U.S. policy on Russia after the fall of Communism is aware of Brzezinski’s contribution to the intellectual debate from his best-selling book The Grand Chessboard, which focuses on geopolitics. However, ‘Zbig’ also took an assignment Albright offered him that we may call economic warfare on Russia: the creation of what became the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan oil pipeline which brings Azerbaijani oil to world markets via Turkish networks and, most importantly, redirects such exports away from Russian pipelines and ports, which had been the traditional routes dating from the Soviet Union. Morningstar was the key participant in this project, which opened commercially in 2006 well after the Democrats lost the presidency and Morningstar was temporarily sidelined. However, this background served him well in the next Democratic administration, under Obama, bringing him to leading positions in new projects of the “Pipeline Wars” with Russia.
Let us recall that Russia’s phoenix like rise in the new millennium from the nadir of its 1998 default was largely due to energy exports once global demand and prices recovered from the global financial crisis that preceded Russia’s implosion. All attempts by Washington to set free Azerbaijani and, still more promising in volume, Turkmenistani gas supplies from control by Gazprom through building of pipelines outside Russian territory and connecting to European consumers could only bring Russia to its knees economically if successful.
I can heartily recommend several other chapters in Stepping Out of Line which provide details on the ‘Great Game’ of the period 2008-2010, when there were competing projects from Russia (the so-called South Stream) and from the EU-US (what was known as ‘Nabucco’ or ‘the new Silk Road’). As we now know , the latter was stymied by Russian and Azerbaijani measures depriving it of necessary gas volumes to justify the investment. And the Russian ‘South Stream’ was frustrated by successful last minute U.S. pressure on Bulgaria, a crucial participant. However, the Russians may be said to have won the contest by negotiating and building their alternative ‘Turkstream’ gas pipeline.
Note: there was no potential economic benefit to the United States from any of its own or EU-proposed pipelines, since the suppliers would be ‘Eurasian’ and since the US had no gas of its own to offer, the fracking revolution still not having realized its potential at the time. The only motive on the part of the United States was geopolitical, to destroy the Russian economy.
It also should be noted that the nearly frantic efforts by the United States to cut Russia out of the European gas market in the first Obama administration followed from the sharp confrontation of these Powers before, during and after the Russian-Georgian War of 2008. Under Obama, these efforts were in full contradiction with the highly publicized policy of ‘reset’ and accommodation to negotiate new arms control agreements. The anti-Russian efforts on the economic front were further heightened by the consequences of the Russian-Ukrainian ‘gas war’ of 2009 when a dispute over payments and over illegal Ukrainian siphoning of gas for its own use from the distribution system led to a shutdown of Russian gas supply via Ukraine in mid-winter. These developments allowed Morningstar and other U.S. representatives to beat the drum over the alleged undependability of Russian supplies to Europe and over the alleged Russian monopoly that had to be broken if Europe were to enjoy energy independence.
It is against this background that we have to understand the recent sanctions on Russian gas and oil which the United States imposed and forced Europe to comply with in exchange for the continued security umbrella of NATO. These sanctions and their logic had a history of their own which I invite readers to follow in the essays mentioned above.
In this respect, Vladimir Putin’s remark in the past few months that the sanctions were developed as a form of unfair business competition for the sake of replacing Russian gas supplies with LNG from the United States is inaccurate. The U.S. interest today remains primarily geopolitical: to remove dependence on Russian supplies from the thinking of European policy makers and to enforce the United States domination of Europe.
Joe Biden brought a lot of Cold War and 1990s baggage with him to the presidency in 2021. The notion of driving Russia to its knees by depriving the country of its European consumers for gas and oil was a dated notion that just does not work in 2022. Russia began actively developing its Eastern markets for gas and oil in….the very same period as the Pipeline Wars, namely 2009. It was in that year that Russia finally concluded its commercial contracts with China for massive credits to be used to develop its Eastern Siberian gas fields and to lay down pipelines to serve the 20 year supply commitments enshrined in the contracts with Beijing. It was in that year that Russia opened the Sakhalin-1 LNG facility which instantly became a supplier of 7% of Japan’s total gas requirements and from which the Japanese government has refused to withdraw in the past month despite Russia’s tough new law on Sakhalin ownership and financial management simply because this gas supply is crucial to its economy. Back in 2009, we foresaw 25% of Russian hydrocarbons being sold in Asia. European sanctions of this year have vastly accelerated Russia’s pivot to Asia which will continue for years to come.
By the way, as regards Mr. Morningstar, he now describes himself as semiretired and we may assume that he is no longer pursuing mischief in Europe or Eurasia. His professional mission has been achieved without his intervention thanks to the Biden administration boys. However, old consultants never fall silent: Morningstar continues to serve as founding chairman of the Global Energy Center at the Atlantic Council.
Over the course of the past few months I have alluded both in writing and in various televised interviews to the ‘ship of fools’ composition of the German coalition government under Chancellor Scholz. This falls in line with my repeated emphasis over the years on the undemocratic results of seemingly progressive political processes across the European Continent guided by proportional representation as opposed to the Anglo-Saxon rule of ‘first past the post.’ I say undemocratic, because as is now commonly the case, no single party in such elections favoring minority groupings enjoys a majority in parliament and governments are cobbled together behind closed doors whereby the public has no say in the outcome. Ministerial portfolios are allocated following political haggling among party bosses and most often competence or prior experience with the given dossier of responsibilities plays no role.
In the German case today, though the Chancellor himself often seems clueless about international affairs, he is brilliant when compared to two of the ministers from the Greens Party whom he installed in his cabinet in positions which weigh heavily today on the most critical issue facing Germany and Europe generally, the sanctions imposed on Russia over its invasion of Ukraine. The ministers in question are responsible for Foreign Affairs (Annalena Baerbock) and The Economy and Environmental Affairs (Robert Habeck).
These two former co-leaders of the German Greens are now featured almost daily on European print and electronic media and so we can more easily reach conclusions about their personalities and suitability for office than is the case with other ministers in the coalition. That conclusion is shock over the incompetence, unprofessionalism and inconsistent logic they project from day to day.
Though most everyone associates the German Greens with environmentally friendly policies, that is not the priority of these two ministers. Instead their priority is punishing Putin in any and every conceivable way, with cavalier disregard for the economic consequences in Germany. Coal power stations can be restarted. The working lives of nuclear power stations formerly scheduled for decommissioning can be extended. These formerly key electoral issues of the Greens now go by the boards to maintain energy supplies to the public and to industry if and when the Russians respond to the sanctions by cutting completely gas deliveries via Nord Stream 1.
From the very start, we heard the trivial proposal from Ms. Baerbock on how Germany could give Putin the finger by cutting back on personal hygiene and reducing daily hot showers to washing the four strategic parts of their bodies. It was hard to believe that a federal minister in the very serious country of Germany could stand before the cameras and utter such rubbish. That was when a Russian push-back was strictly hypothetical. Now that the flow of gas through Nord Stream I has been reduced to 20% of capacity, the complete shutdown is entirely possible and the impact on the German economy will be severe pain, meaning a likely recession on the order of 6%. That implies the loss of hundreds of thousands if not millions of jobs.
I can well imagine that the chosen priorities of the Greens’ ministers may be dismissed by some as being idiosyncrasies of the given individuals. However, that is not the case. From the time of its founding more than 30 years ago by Daniel Cohn-Bendit and Joschka Fischer, the German Greens party took anti-Russian policy positions. In the new millennium, it was precisely the German Greens who came out time and again in the European Parliament with calls to sanction Russia for alleged abridgements of human rights such as over the falsified claims of the U.S.-U.K. investor William Browder in what Washington knows as the Magnitsky affair.
The Greens movement across Europe has various faces locally. Here in Belgium the Party, both in its Flemish and Walloon (Francophone) versions, is perceived as a single issue party, as the spokesmen and women for environmentally friendly policies. They have enjoyed variable success at the polls, but have nonetheless been an influential force in Brussels for realization of a variety of Luddite policies.
The Brussels city fathers in the 1960s and 1970s were excessively enamored of the automobile. The downtown was ripped up to make way for highways which were initially elevated. The long drawn-out construction and the resulting ‘Chinese walls’ killed off small shops along the way, to no one’s apparent concern in the ministerial offices. From the ‘90s on, the pendulum swung the other way, with the Greens leading the charge. Arterial roads connecting the city to its residential suburbs have been constricted to make bus and tram lanes which carry a fraction of the traffic of the autos they have displaced. Commuting time has gone up dramatically at all times of the day. Consequently, the economy of Brussels has suffered substantially. Slogans of car-free days have been symptomatic of a government policy that cares little about economic consequences and cares a great deal about populist ideology.
In a related domain, our Belgian Greens have had a great influence on management of park lands. Their slogan has been biodiversity. On this basis, they have promoted the cutting of what was for a couple hundred years through the 1980s Europe’s largest and most beautiful beech forest, the Forêt de Soignes. Their idea was to return this forest to its ‘native state’ before human intervention created a nearly single variety forest. And so we have nearly lost the cathedral of lofty beeches which was the glory of this city.
The forest of the past was home to chipmunks, squirrels, foxes and other small creatures. I recall very well how careful we cavaliers had to be on our weekend horse rides lest our mount shy at a chipmunk crossing our path. That challenge no longer exists. For one reason or another, the forest floor outside Brussels today is devoid of animal life. The mismanagement of our forest heritage by the Greens-influenced authorities today means that obligations of private cutters to clean up after themselves and to remove dead and fallen trees are not observed. Our forest floor is covered with dead branches and rotting tree trunks. It is only the good fortune of a wet climate that spares us devastating forest fires given the amount of kindling waiting to go up in smoke. So much for Green policies in practice.
My point in the foregoing is very simple: the Greens Party in Germany, in Belgium and I assume elsewhere in Europe is nothing more than a vehicle for incompetent, unprofessional sloganeers to seize power and to implement radical social policies of which the public has no inkling. If it were only economic hardship for the population that resulted from their policies, that would be bad enough. But by foolishly and ignorantly baiting the Russian bear and trying to inflict maximum damage on the Russian economy, which is a policy that has “Greens” written all over it, the party and its leadership are pointing Europe to what may yet become a pan-European conflagration that spins out of control.
It is good to be back home in Brussels, and the popular song Happy Days from Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s pitching optimism to a depressive populace in the 1930s runs on a circular tape through my mind.
However, it seems less good when I switch on the television and watch the BBC news or browse Le Soir and other local mainstream media to complement the Financial Times and New York Times which come to my inbox wherever I am. The barrage of propaganda coming from Zelensky’s narcotics-distorted face on my screen brings to mind very unkind thoughts about what his tragic final scene should be in the ‘nearest future,’ as the Russians say..
Today’s dose of venom from the Ukrainian president, presented as God’s honest truth by the editorial team at Euronews, concerns the latest attacks on the Zaporozhie nuclear power station, which, of course, he lays at the door of the Kremlin, notwithstanding the nonsensical nature of such allegations given that the Russians would be interested in the uninterrupted supply of electricity to the territories they now occupy whereas the Ukrainian command would be interested in its disruption or even in some leakage of radiation that would threaten the nearby population that is now once and forever outside their control.
All of these Ukrainian allegations following one or another atrocity that they themselves have committed with an eye to false flag propaganda become very tiresome. I think of the atrocities in Bucha, in which the victims were one and all persons suspected by pro-Ukrainian neighbors of having collaborated with the Russian occupation forces. I think of last week’s shouting by Kiev that the missile attack on a POW camp which killed and wounded large numbers of Azovstal defenders in captivity was done by the Russians. This impudent, bare-faced lie which does not stand up to any test of logic, sailed past the editorial teams of our major electronic and print media.
However, there are some signs that enough is enough. Yesterday the FT carried an article about what they call the war weariness of the European public, which, they say, endangers further economic and military aid to Kiev. The public, they say, has stopped being interested in news dispatches from the front. The numbers of published articles on the Ukraine war seem to be down 80% from where they were in March. Is it that the European public is unable to concentrate on any one issue for long, as the FT would have us believe, or is it that the farcical accounts of what is going on in Ukraine have brought about sullen rejection from the broad majority of readers who just turn the page to get to sports news?
The only bright spot on the news front is the release last week by Amnesty International of its report on the Ukrainian army’s systematically putting civilians at risk by intermingling its weapons and men in residential blocks, hospitals and schools, all in violation of international law. The word “war crimes” has now been used in conjunction with the Zelensky regimes. Some media in the United States are now challenging Zelensky’s credentials as a democrat and champion of human rights.
And yet, it is clear that whatever European leaders know or do not know about Zelensky and the murderous gang presently holding the Ukrainian nation captive, they are not about to reverse course and say ‘sorry’ to Russia. Only a clean sweep of Europe’s “leaders” and their replacement by new persons who may or may not be smarter but who will have no reason to double down on dead wrong policies out of empty vanity can bring some reason and common sense back to European politics. Johnson is gone. Draghi is gone. Time for Scholz, Macron and a host of other buffoons wearing presidential hats to leave the scene.
Without meaning to offend fellow dachniki, I affirm that the farming life is not conducive to intellectual pursuits. During most of my time in Russia during July, I was busy from morning to night putting order in the chaos we found when we arrived at our country residence 80 km south of Petersburg. Waist high grasses and aggressive vines covered nearly all of the 1400 square meters of our property.
My electric ‘trimmer,’ supported by 200 meters of linked-up extension cords, was a great help in clearing the land. However, a lot of hand work was inescapable when freeing the vegetable patch, the flower beds and the many berry bushes. Suffice it to say that by evening my optimistic plans for writing about current international events succumbed to generalized exhaustion and I barely managed to set down a few lines about one or another issue of the day that captured my imagination.
In what follows below, I set out these longer and shorter diary entries which are systematic only in chronological order, not themes. If I have to identify a couple of overarching themes from international developments during this period, they would be the unstoppable advance of Russian forces through the Donbas and southern reaches of Ukraine, accompanied by the changing Russian war aims, which now suggest plans to annex the entire Black Sea littoral. The logic of this change in objectives has been clearly stated by Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov a couple of weeks ago: the ongoing deliveries of long range artillery-missile systems (HIMARS) by the United States and its allies represent a serious escalation in the war that imposes on Russia the need to push back the borders with Ukraine to the point where the new weapons no longer threaten the Donbas, not to mention civilian populations in adjacent territories of the Russian Federation. Continued Western military assistance to Ukraine, which now clearly includes dispatch of military technicians to man and direct the advanced materiel, will result in the full conquest of Ukraine by Russian forces and a dictated peace with whatever regime replaces the Zelensky junta.
Under these changed circumstances, my proposal of six weeks ago for a peace in which Russia would leave in place the independent and sovereign self-declared people’s republics of the Donbas in exchange for Western lifting of sanctions no longer is relevant.
Day by day, Russian actions on the ground in the ‘occupied territories’ as Kiev calls them, show the clear intent to incorporate all of them into the Russian Federation. I have in mind the issuance of Russian passports to all comers in these territories, the preparations for a new school year based on the standard Russian curriculum, the pay-out of pensions and state salaries from the Russian budget, the ongoing construction of new housing and schools to accommodate those who have lost their lodgings in Mariupol and elsewhere. These actions complement and underscore the words delivered by Sergei Lavrov. What we are witnessing will add perhaps 10 million citizens to the country’s population as well as vast new economic potential from what was since 1922 the industrial heartland of Ukraine.
At the level of daily life of Russians both in the city and in the countryside, little has changed since my visit ending a month earlier. Not only food stores, but those selling consumer goods of all kinds seem to be well stocked. Prices are higher than before the ‘special military operation,’ but not more so than in Western Europe. A couple of our city friends left for their annual vacation of several months duration on their tiny property in Crimea near Feodosia. The trains to the South function normally even if air traffic has been shut down for safety reasons. Other friends grouse about the now much more expensive package tours to Turkey due to higher airfares and they look further afield to places like Kazakhstan where beaches on the Caspian are in lesser demand. Still others who would normally vacation in Europe at one or another spa now instead are driving south to Krasnodar, making many stops in historic towns along the way. One friend just came back from Kostroma, where she was delighted to discover a local cheese producer whose wares rival what we see around us in Belgium; in short, a pre-Revolutionary tradition has been successfully revived.
In the countryside, our neighbors are busy tending their greenhouses and harvesting daily their wonderful Bio quality tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers and the like. The mood is of greater solidarity and sociality than we have seen before in our ten years on the land. We were given buckets of vegetables by neighbors on both sides, which was a surprise and a pleasure.
Crossing the border into Russia from Finland, 14 July 2022
Departure of our bus from Vantaa airport, Helsinki was on time, and our arrival in St Petersburg was 45 minutes ahead of schedule, for a total travel time of 7 hours, of which 1.5 hours was spent crossing at customs and passport control on both sides of the frontier.
Every seat in the bus was taken. Of the 50 passengers, I was the only foreigner. This became clear when the driver asked foreigners to step forward to be presented to a Russian border official – for the purpose of checking on the mandatory PCR test result.
The time going through Finnish control, meaning presenting our passports inside their administrative building, was less than half an hour. The building itself is state of the art, much superior to the Estonian border facility we passed through on our last trip. But then at this Finnish border the Russian administration is also a modern and spacious building, However, on the Russian side the checking is redundant and aggressive. Once we are processed, including x-ray inspection of all our luggage, we were then checked again to see that the date stamp was properly entered in our passports, and this was repeated twice more before our bus was allowed to move on. Meanwhile while we were waiting, we watched the inspection of the bus itself, which included the requirement that the engine compartment be opened for checking. Were they looking for stowaways going into Russia? More likely they are trying to break narcotics smuggling. That would fit the other ‘show’ to which we passengers were treated: a couple of German shepherds were put through their attack paces just outside our waiting room. The bureaucracy is working overtime to put in controls. It begins to look like the Soviet Union all over again.
Otherwise, the bus trip here from Helsinki allowed me to see firsthand the enormous engineering and construction project now proceeding at full speed from the Finnish border down to the city of Vyborg, about an hour’s drive to the southeast. The scale of the project is stunning and includes putting in electricity lines and construction of side roads going off into the forest. Our bus driver told me it is an extension of the “Scandinavia” highway, the first fully modern, international standard throughway in northwest Russia, built 20 years ago from the outskirts of St Petersburg up to Vyborg. Completion is scheduled for 2024.
Considering the rupture in relations with Finland over the past several months, considering that there are today virtually no semi-trailers at the border on either side, you have to ask why the Russians are continuing the construction at this level of intensity and cost.
I see two possible answers. 1. They believe the rupture will be short-lived and normal commercial exchange will resume before the completion date of the highway or 2. They are preparing for war with Finland/NATO and this new highway will greatly simplify logistics for heavy Russian equipment going up to the 1,000 km shared border.
I mention in passing that the original Scandinavia highway has also been modernized in its full original length, meaning state of the art lighting and the addition of sound buffer screens where it passes through settlements. Moreover, it has been extended south into the city proper and connected with the arterial roads and bridges that the city built in preparation for the FIFA games three years ago. Thus you now pass over the southern tip of Vasilievsky Island and the roadway descends to ground level only when it overpasses the Port with its shipbuilding wharves and views of the broader harbor. The roadway is spectacular and fitting for the country’s second most populous municipality.
Friday, 15 July, St Petersburg
Local media report that more than 5,000 people crossed the border into Finland today, the first day that the Russians dropped the travel restrictions they imposed shortly after the onset of the Covid 19 pandemic in March 2020.
The balance of traffic was 60% from Russia to Finland and 40% going the other way. The border service noted that most Russians were traveling to Finland for tourism or shopping, some to check on their property in Finland. Finns were crossing into Russia to fill up with cheap gasoline.
Separately, the Finnish embassy in Moscow announced that from the moment when the Corona virus restrictions were lifted by the Russians they received around 59,000 visa applications. In all of 2021 they received a total of 46,000 applications.
A surprise awaited us as we entered our apartment house in the southern St Petersburg borough of Pushkin: a notice on the door informed us that the annual shutdown of the central hot water boiler serving our neighborhood has come and there will be no hot water from the 14th through 27th July. Here was proof positive that you don’t have to be German in this period to limit your showers to four strategic parts of the body. This annual timing may also explain why so many of our neighbors in the building have chosen to leave town for their dachas or for other vacation destinations right now.
Sunday, 17 July, Orlino
The online “Morning Briefing” of today’s New York Times carries the news of Zelensky’s firing his prosecutor general and intelligence chief, calling it the most important shake-up in the government since the start of the Russian invasion.
The newspaper repeats Zelensky’s allegation that he took the decision due to “a large number of treason investigations that were opened into employees of law enforcement agencies.” The changes are said to have the approval of American officials, who now expect the Ukrainian president to put more experienced personnel in charge of key security positions. As The Times article further explains, “the firing of Ivan Bakanov, the leader of Ukraine’s domestic intelligence agency and a childhood friend of the president’s, was not because of any mishandling of intelligence or any major penetration of Ukraine’s intelligence services by Russia.”
Quite separately, NYT also reports today on a Russian missile attack on Vinnitsa, where it says 23 people died including a 4 year old child with Down’s syndrome. Meanwhile, http://www.yandex.ru tells me that the Russian military command on Sunday reported that their missile strike in Vinnitsa was directed at the Officers’ Club, where it killed senior military officers of the Ukrainian air command together with high level NATO personnel who had come to a meeting to discuss Western shipments of aircraft to Ukraine.
I juxtapose these accounts to highlight the propagandistic editorial manipulation of news by The New York Times. Yes, separate facts are reported, but their causal relationship is utterly ignored for running counter to the official Washington narrative. Linking the stories leads without fail to the conclusion that the shake-up of the intelligence services in Kiev was directed from Washington, which was licking its wounds over the death of high ranking personnel due to intelligence leaks which Kiev could not thwart.
By the way, here at the dacha our no-fee satellite tv receiver still provides the Bloomberg and BBC News channels in English. However, contrary to common sense logic, the Russian state television channels which the pan-European satellite operator Eutelsat dropped on 15 June no longer are accessible here on my receiver. This is very disappointing. So here in the Russian countryside I do as in Brussels and watch Russian news on www.smotrim.ru. However, I am assured that Russia’s largest satellite television operator, Trikolor TV, which has more than 12 million subscribers across the country, continues to offer its paying clientele all Russian channels, though foreign broadcasters like National Geographic, Discovery Channel, the Disney Channel as well as the BBC and other international stations are no longer available.
Wednesday, 20 July, Orlino The Financial Times and other Western media discuss Sergei Lavrov’s interview with RT and indications that Russia is preparing the territory it occupies for annexation. Plans to hold referendums make this very clear. So was I wrong to propose a month ago that Russia would not annex the newly liberated territories if in exchange the West lifted sanctions? The latter question was answered by Scholz in the past few days when he said that a peace with Ukraine on Russian terms would not lead to lifting of sanctions. Moreover, Russian objectives have been changing in keeping with the changing level of US and Western equipment being supplied to Ukraine. The delivery of the HIMARS multiple rocket launchers with 80 km range has been a game changer, but not in the sense meant in Washington.
Monday, 25 July, St Petersburg
Last night’s “Sunday Evening with Vladimir Solovyov” was enlightening. The mood was optimistic that Russian military superiority will prove itself on the Ukrainian battlefield. Let the Americans send in their F16s (they dare not send in more recent fighter jets) and we will just shoot them down, given the edge of our latest generation fighters. What we need now is to concentrate on those NATO members which are supplying the preponderant majority of arms to Ukraine: the USA and the UK. See the need to destroy satellites in Musk’s system, which are relaying real time positioning of Russian forces to the Ukrainians. The United States will begin to worry only when we threaten their territory, and their weakest link is Alaska.
The Russian war aims are ratcheted up with each escalation of the heavy equipment the US is dispatching to Ukraine. HIMARS was a turning point. The Russian logic is: as the Ukrainians are given increasingly long range missile systems, we have to push the borders back to the West so they cannot threaten our civilians as they are doing now.
The Russians are now issuing passports in Kharkiv! The city, the second largest in Ukraine, will surely fall to Russian forces. They are moving on Odessa. Transdnistria is appealing to Russia for annexation. It is a foregone conclusion that in several months the Russians will reach end game and take the entire Black Sea coast, making Ukraine a landlocked and mainly agricultural country. They will also dictate terms on completion of demilitarization and denazification. The demilitarization is already proceeding at a fast place. The missile attacks on local command cetnters across Ukraine is liquidating the officer class and most experienced soldiers. What is left will be rabble.
The Solovyov show made a big issue of the visit to Moscow this past week by the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Hungary, who came begging for increased deliveries of Russian gas to Hungary, saying that realism shows there is no alternative today to Russian energy resources. His arrival speech and his speech at the closing press conference were shown on the screen. Pleading, begging. Lavrov responded by saying we will consider this request with the utmost speed.
The panelists asked whether Orban will survive some US led attack on him for this betrayal. Maybe there will be a political attack, maybe physical liquidation.
The panelists also note Hungary’s contempt for Kiev over its Ukrainization policies with respect to the Hungarian ethnic minority in their western borderlands. There we see exactly the same criminalization of the use of Hungarian language as is applied to Russian speakers. The Kiev nationalists are suicidal madmen. In this respect, indeed they are true to the Hitler cult.
Friday, 22 July, Orlino
Sergei Brillyov, host to the “News on Saturday” weekly program and member of the board of Russian state television news reporting, who has been on leave since shortly after the start of the ‘special military operation’ in Ukraine, and is now doing spot reporting from South America, announced he is quitting the Russian news service and will take up special documentary film projects as an independent. Brillyov has a British passport; his family is long established in Britain. Here is one more leading case of a prominent personality finding it impossible to sit on two chairs any longer. To put it starkly, as George Bush said during the Iraq war,’you are either with us or you are against us.’
Saturday, 23 July, Orlino
A Russian missile attack on Odessa is denounced by Western media as showing contempt for the just concluded Ukraine-Russia-Turkey agreement on resumption of grain exports brokered by the United Nations.
Sunday, 24 July, Orlino
One news item of the day catches my attention: Russia and Israel are in open dispute over the Kremlin’s recent announcement of plans to close down the Sokhnut agency which is charged with recruiting Russian Jews for ‘repatriation.’
The issue seems not to have been picked up by Western mainstream media. It is a landmine, and yet I feel compelled to take a position on it based on what I perceive are the underlying factors that have influenced the Kremlin’s decision.
The question is not Israel per se but Zionism and how it contradicts the Kremlin’s definition of what the Russian Federation is all about. Vladimir Putin has in recent months repeatedly stressed the multinational, multi-creed, multi-ethnic nature of Russia. This has been particularly underlined in the reports on heroism of RF soldiers in the field in Ukraine, many of them coming from minority peoples and coincidentally from Russia’s Muslim population.
The question of closing Sokhnut will be decided by the Basmanny Court in Moscow. Though the government has not divulged its reasons for seeking the closure, it is rumored that the case against the agency includes its comments on war crimes committed by Russian troops in Ukraine and violation of Russian laws governing personal information about citizens.
Other news today concerns official Russian military denials that the missile strike in Odessa yesterday was directed against civilian infrastructure or against the grain loading facilities. They struck a Ukrainian naval vessel and a storehouse of U.S. Harpoon missiles. Such attacks do not violate the terms of the signed agreement over grain shipping from Ukraine, say the Russians.
Monday, 25 July, Orlino
The warming in relations with neighbors on both sides of our property continues. Yesterday I had a lengthy chat with one over taming nature on our farms, the lives of trees and so forth. Later they invited Larisa to join them for some watermelon. Then today as I walked by the fence on the other side, I was summoned by the wife of the second in command to the owner, her mother in law. “Hey, neighbor. Come here. Take this bucket of cucumbers! This morning we went through our vegetable garden and found that we have four buckets of them. We can’t possibly eat them all. My mother in law said – take them to the market to sell. But that is not for us. So please accept this.” I did and she waited for me to return with the empty bucket.
Thursday, 28 July St Petersburg
We go into Petersburg for a number of tasks and find ourselves stuck in traffic as the Full Repetition for the Naval Parade on the Neva takes place and shuts access to Nevsky Prospekt for several hours till 2 pm. On the brighter side, this gives us more time to chat with our regular driver, Andrei, who has just returned from his 10 day unpaid summer vacation which he spent at his mother’s country house to the south of Petersburg, past our own village. In that time, he went fishing daily and caught a total of 150 fish which he immediately cleaned and salted, and is now hanging out to dry in the back yard of his house. The result will be what the Russians call vobly, an essential accompaniment to a stein of beer.
Andrei explains to us that a lot of VIPs from Moscow will come for the naval parade. Of course, Putin will be there, but it is also very likely Medvedev will make the trip. After all, he very discretely keeps a house in the St Petersburg area. Moreover, there may well be a visit of the Patriarch to our borough of Pushkin, where from time to time he appears at the Federovsky Sobor, a church constructed in 1909-12 at the orders of Emperor Nicholas II in honor of his cavalry regiment. It bears mention that the nearby Federovsky Gorodok is being restored as a patriarchal residence. The Gorodok was initially built to house those serving the Sobor. What liturgical obligations the Patriarch may perform in Petersburg on Navy Day have not yet been announced.
Friday, 29 July, Pushkin
We made a trip into Petersburg for talks at the Palace of Grand Prince Vladimir Aleksandrovich, which for many years in the Soviet period served as the House of Scholars. We completed our reservation of their ground floor dining rooms facing the Neva at the level of the Peter and Paul Fortress for 19 September. The views are wonderful and the building itself is a remarkable architectural monument to the imperial age, which justifiably takes visitors on paid tours of the premises on several floors.
I had first visited this palace when I was courting my Russian bride and her father’s membership was our entry ticket. It is wonderful to return now as the venue for our banquet celebrating fifty years of matrimony. This will be the follow-on to a second taking of vows in the very same Wedding Palace on the English Embankment where in September 1972 we were married. The American consul had then been the witness signatory and we had our little party in his apartment. The forthcoming event hopefully will be witnessed by assorted friends from all walks of life, meaning a stage director and a soloist from the Mariinsky Theater, some childhood friends of my wife, our trusted guardian and repairman of our Orlino dacha, our publishers in Petersburg and others. The opportunity to rent these historic premises to host 15 guests at a price that is not ruinous is typical of what has been and remains so endearing to us about this city and country. Indeed, if we were a simple Russian-Russian couple, nearly all the costs of the celebration would be compensated by a grant from the city authorities.
Sunday, 31 July, Orlino
We watch the television broadcast of the Navy Day parade on the Neva which Putin oversees. It does not rain on Russian parades! Beautiful clear skies are the order of the day. The display of ships is very interesting – many of the latest surface and submarine craft are on the Neva river and harbor; others are in the Kronstadt harbor. Nearly all are relatively small but packed with weaponry and electronic gear. Most of them have cruise missiles – vertical launch Kalibri. The corvette Admiral Gorshkov has the new hypersonic missile Zircon, which has 8 Mach speed and a range of 1,000 km. Stationing off the US coast would give it five minute flying time to Washington, D.C.
Putin makes a short speech from the reviewing stand. It focuses on the history of the fleet and the valor, bravery of the crews and their commanders. It is a dignified speech. There is no reference to international affairs, no threats to anyone. Simply the fleet is there to safeguard Russia’s sovereignty and interests. He speaks of Petersburg as “the naval capital of Russia.”
Note that among the places where Russia is staging naval parades today are Vladivostok, Sevastopol, a Caspian Sea port, and there is also Tartus in Syria!
Before the start of the naval parade, in the Peter and Paul fortress Putin signs a new Naval Doctrine which takes into consideration the challenges of the new sanctions against Russia and global geopolitics. It places priority on the Arctic. It emphasizes that Russia operates in all the world’s oceans. It states that Russia will be increasing its shipbuilding capabilities, in Vladivostok and elsewhere. And it mentions that Russia will build an aircraft carrier.
Otherwise, I took my final swim in Orlino lake this visit. Folk wisdom holds that autumn begins on 1 August and from that day you do not go swimming since the water temperature drops steadily. Already today I feel that the lake temperature has dropped a degree or two, down to the barely acceptable level of 19 degrees.
Monday, 1 August, Orlino – St Petersburg
The news continues to feature calls for an investigation into the bombing of a prisoner of war installation in Donbas where several hundred Ukrainian fighters who surrendered at the end of the Azovstal siege were being held for interrogation. A missile struck the facility in the middle of the night killing 53 detainees outright and injuring another 90 or so out of the 200 kept in the dormitory that was struck. Among the victims were Azov Battalion members.
Zelensky claims the Russians did this and calls for an international investigation into the war crime. This was picked up and rebroadcast by mainstream Western media. The complete illogic of such claims has gone past nearly all journalists. One need only consider who had an interest in preventing these POWs from talking about their crimes.
Also today Algeria announced its interest in joining BRICS. This joins numerous other announcements of candidacy for both BRICS and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization. Taken all together, it spells the end of US-European global domination. And to whom do we owe this very promising reordering of the global landscape? To Putin and the ‘Special Military Operation’ in Ukraine.
My three weeks of vacation in the Russian countryside south of St Petersburg come to an end tomorrow and by Thursday I expect to publish my day by day notes for this period. In the meantime, I offer the link to a panel discussion on Iran’s Press TV in which I participated a couple of days ago. The subject was the ECB’s latest decision to raise interest rates to combat rampant inflation throughout the Eurozone. The inflation is in large part due to the anti-Russian sanctions which Europe imposed on energy exports from Russia, and so that policy also featured in the program.
You will note that my hosts assumed I was speaking to them from Brussels when in fact I was in my Petersburg apartment at the time. Thanks to 5G capable fiber optic cable now installed in our apartment complex the broadcast quality is indistinguishable from what it would have been speaking from Brussels.