Vladimir Putin’s Electoral Manifesto: Speech to the Federal Assembly, 1 March 2018

Vladimir Putin’s Electoral Manifesto: Speech to the Federal Assembly, 1 March 2018

 

by Gilbert Doctorow, Ph.D.

 

Several days ago, I wrote the first installment of my analysis of Vladimir Putin’s Address to the two houses of Russia’s bicameral legislature, on Thursday, 1 March 2018. In that essay, I focused on the last third of the address in which the Russian President rolled out major nuclear weapons delivery systems which were notable for unparalleled technologies that may change the world power balance. Putin claimed that Russia’s full parity with the United States in strategic weaponry has been restored. His blunt message to the United States to abandon its 16 year attempt to achieve a first strike capability and sit down for arms control talks drew the immediate attention of world media, even if the initial reading was confused.

 

In this second installment of my analysis of President Putin’s landmark speech, I will consider the Address in its entirety within its other context, directed at the domestic audience and constituting his electoral platform for the election to be held on 18 March.

 

The Russian President’s annual Address is mandated by the Constitution. It resembles the State of the Union address in the United States. Normally it should have taken place more than a month ago, and Putin’s rescheduling it for this critical time in the midst of the campaign raised some eyebrows. The head of the liberal Yabloko party complained to the Central Electoral Commission last week about that very fact. However, such complaints were already dismissed previously by Commission director Ella Pamfilova as lacking merit since such speeches were said to be “standard practice in many nations around the world.”

 

Be that as it may, in actual fact the speech delivered by Vladimir Putin was not a simple summary of government activity in the year gone by and short term projection of future government plans. The speech took in a much longer time frame, looking back to the condition of Russia when Putin first took office in 2000  to highlight his administration’s achievements in social, medical, educational and other spheres till now and projecting forward six years, to the limit of the next presidential term, to set out in each domain of government activity what are the major objectives.

 

This was also the longest speech of its kind delivered by Putin in his three terms as President, exceeding by far his previous record of one hour forty minutes.  For all these reasons it is entirely appropriate to call the speech his platform, or still better, as the British would call it with the stress on cogency of thinking processes behind the stated objectives, his “manifesto.”

 

In every way, the Address was a direct response to all the criticisms of his time in office that Putin has received from his seven challengers in the presidential race coming from across the political spectrum from nationalists and liberals on the right and Communists of various labels on the left. When compared with the first debate among those seven aired on the federal television network Pervy Kanal on the morning of the 28th, it leaves the whole field of challengers looking like squabbling toddlers in a kindergarten.

 

Putin and his advisers knew full well from the challengers’ prior position statements what are their joint and several lines of attack and his address was a direct, almost point for point response. With the exception of Vladimir Zhirinovsky of the nationalist LDPR, who essentially supports Putin’s stress on strong foreign policy and strong military as his most important task as President and of the liberal Ksenia Sobchak, who totally rejects Putin’s foreign policy as detrimental to Russia’s interest in accommodation with the West for the sake of shared values and common civilization, all the other candidates have no interest in foreign policy as such and insist that the best foreign policy is a good domestic policy. That happens also to suit very well their own talents and experience, since the debates quickly revealed that none but Zhirinovsky has any relevant experience in international affairs.

 

 The common position of five out of seven challengers is that a good foreign policy is possible only for a powerful state, and a powerful state is the product of a strong economy and prosperous people. One of the candidates, Grigory Yavlinsky of the liberal Yabloko party summed up the problem most efficiently:  a country like Russia which only accounts for 2% of global GDP,  a country which has a GDP and a military budget that are both only 10% of those of the USA, cannot compete on the world stage.

 

Six of the seven challengers to Putin are persuaded that the electorate has no questions about foreign and military policy, but has a great many questions about the domestic programs of the federal government, about poverty, inadequate public health care, bad roads, corruption and thieving officials, to name just the most salient concerns.

 

Accordingly, in his Address to the Federal Assembly, Vladimir Putin devoted the first two thirds of his time on stage to domestic policy, setting out in detail specific targets to be reached by 2024 in many key areas of activity and financing by the federal government with a view to creating a prosperous society that is just and attractive to its members, that enjoys robust economic growth and values the human potential of its citizens above all.

 

However, in the last third of his speech devoted to military matters, he made the point that notwithstanding its still modest GDP and notwithstanding demographic and other problems confronting it, Russia has successfully countered US efforts to render useless Russia’s nuclear strike force. Ever since the United States abrogated the ABM Treaty in 2002, it has worked to encircle the Russian Federation with dual purpose anti-missile defense bases that will at some point confer on the United States a first strike capability.  The end result would be to deny to Russia its residual argument for holding its permanent seat in the UN Security Council and its prominent place in other international forums derived from the past glory of the Soviet Union.

 

In his speech, Putin said nuclear parity with the USA has been restored and will be indefinitely sustainable given the decade long technological lead his country now has in totally new and formidable strategic weapons systems that can defeat any ABM array.  Russia is and will be a powerful state because it has an unequalled defense capability which provides physical security to its citizens, surely the first responsibility of any government. With physical security ensured, the government can create the infrastructures for a successful economy and successful civil society.  In all of this, Putin turns the logic of his political opponents on its head. 

 

Russia’s hard power justifies its aspirations to a strong foreign policy. Russia’s nuclear umbrella, which he said covers not only the Russian Federation but also its “allies,” will be the strongest element of attraction. Depending on how the term “allies” is eventually defined, it is possible to imagine a line of candidate “allies” from the developing world in particular seeking protection from what they see as US bullying and regime change politics.  Russia’s hard power will clearly trump soft power, which is what Putin’s challengers are largely proposing to use in pursuit of an active foreign policy at some time in the future when the country is prosperous.

 

Moreover, the hard power can be used to fuel the Russian economy as a source of innovation which, we will see below, is key to his program for accelerating the growth rate.   Russia’s military budget has an unusually high ratio of equipment procurement to manpower maintenance and operational costs, namely 1:1. Cutting edge and world beating technological advances in weapons systems can be a source of unique new materials, electronics, software and the like. Over the course of several years, President Putin has encouraged the enterprises in the Russian military industrial complex to develop civilian applications for their scientific breakthroughs citing specifically the need to emulate U.S. practices.  He has told factory management they must look to the civilian economy because the state will be cutting back on their funding as it completes its immediate acquisitions program.

 

Some commentators in the West have said that the defense part of Putin’s Address was meant to rouse the patriotic pride of his compatriots for the sake of success at the voting booths.  However, I believe the calculation was more complex. The roll-out of new, invincible military hardware spelling national security swept aside the specific arguments of Putin’s challengers in the race.  It swept aside all the arguments from the past that he and his cronies have stolen the national wealth: the national wealth had instead been invested in saving the nation from its external competitors turned adversaries.

 

Another view that has been promoted among some Western commentators is that Putin was presenting a platform of “guns and butter.”  No, the platform thinking is more subtle:  that you get butter only if you have guns.  This aligns with an argument that Vladimir Putin has been making for years: that nations unavoidably pay for armed forces; the difference is only whether they are paying to support their own troops or to pay tribute, covering the costs of someone else’s troops dominating them.

 

There can be no question that electoral considerations drove the decision to present Russia’s new hardware precisely now.  There are several occasions of major publicity value domestically when this could have been done. The last one was back in December during Putin’s annual press conference.  Or, he could have chosen to break the news at a foreign venue of great moment, such as the Munich Security Conference in February, where Putin had first made waves globally with his speech of February 2007.  That instead Vladimir Putin and his advisers chose to use the annual Address to the Federal Assembly and to place that Address in the middle of the electoral campaign shows the intent was to kill two birds with one stone:  to overwhelm the presidential candidates challenging his next term in office, leaving them no time to formulate credible counter arguments, and to access the very large contingent of foreign correspondents who would be present for his annual speech to parliament.

 

If this was indeed his intent, he was only partly successful.  Today’s latest televised debates of the candidates on the federal news network Pervy Kanal showed that one challenger was unperturbed and found an opportunity to make political capital from Putin’s Address. Ksenia Sobchak has once again repositioned her campaign and adopted the slogan of Peace Candidate, casting Putin as the candidate of the War Party based on his rocket show.

 

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Now let us look at the specific objectives Putin set out in his speech for making Russia prosperous and an enviable society in the coming six years.  Then we will consider the tools he proposes to use to reach these often very ambitious objectives: Do they entail major structural reforms of the economy as many foreign and some Russian pro-market specialists have called for?  Are they likely to require wholesale changes to the cabinet of ministers and personnel in the ministries after the elections, as some speculate?  Or are they incremental, building upon the programs his government has already implemented often in pilot projects in one or another region of this enormous country?

 

 

“Quality of life” for its citizens and “prosperity of households” are set by Vladimir Putin as the ultimate objectives of his government’s domestic policies in a new term. This statement of purpose is undistinguishable from what his seven challengers are saying. Indeed, Putin has taken on board words and concepts that have in the past been the property of the opposition.  We note this stress on the realization of each person’s talents, and his specific mention of the need to expand to the greatest extent the space for personal freedom.  Putin’s program differs from those of the Right and the Left principally in the plans to achieve shared goals.

 

Instead of re-nationalization and re-distribution of wealth called for by the Left candidates or stress on sweeping personnel changes in the bureaucracy to root out corruption as well as total overhaul of the judiciary for the sake of better independence and professionalism called for by the Right candidates, Putin calls for a breakthrough in applying technology to “improve the people’s quality of life, modernize the economy, infrastructure and state governance and administration.”

 

The term breakthrough appears repeatedly in the text which follows and by itself would suggest disruption and new directions. He further says in the introductory section that it is “time to take a number of tough decisions that are long overdue.”

 

However, at the same time there is a counter-indication that Putin is not campaigning against himself. He insists that the foundation is already in place: “We have substantial experience implementing ambitious programs and social projects.”

 

In what follows, Vladimir Putin touches upon a great many separate social issues and on various sectors of the economy which will be central to any leap forward in global performance and creation of high quality and well- paying jobs at home.  Let us begin with those headings to which he has attached specific quantitative goals.

 

Life expectancy.  Putin identifies this as a gauge of well-being.  It was 65 when he came to power in 2000, with male life expectancy below 60 at the time.  Today it is 73.   The new goal for 2030 is 80 plus, i.e., on a par with Japan, France and Germany. Though it exists as a value in and of itself, in the context of Russia’s poor demographics coming out of the depression of the 1990s, extending the productive lives of the citizenry, just as subsidizing young families to encourage more births, can be a major contributing factor to national output.

Housing – in 2017  three million Russian families moved into improved housing. The target is for five million to do so each year in the next presidential term. Housing supply, presently at 80 million square meters annually, must go to 120 million

Transport – make Russia the world’s key logistics and transport hub

Roads – over the next 6 years to nearly double the spending on road construction and repairs, going from 6.4 trillion rubles over the period 2012-17 to 11 trillion with spending concentrated on regional and local roads which are still deplorable and a matter of great concern to the citizenry

Rail – raise the throughput of major rail links to the Far East by 1.5 times, reduce transit time of containers from Vladivostok to Russia’s Western borders to just 7 days, more generally increase the volume of transit shipments between Europe and Asia 4 times.

Northern Sea Route – increase cargo traffic 10 times by 2025

Power generation – attract investment of 1.5 trillion rubles in private investment for modernizing the power generation sector. Shift the whole country’s power grid to digital technology.

Internet – by 2024 ensure the whole country has high speed internet. Fiber optic lines to most populated areas with more than 240 people

Healthcare – double healthcare spending to more than 4% of GDP over the period 2019-24.

Restore primary healthcare to localities where they were shut. By 2020 ensure each small town with a population of between 100 and 2,000 has a paramedic station and outpatient clinic. For very small villages, create mobile units.

Promotion of small businesses – by 2025 their contribution to GDP should approach 40%, taking in 25 million people, up from 19 million today. 

Non-resource exports. In the coming 6 years to double the amount of non-resource and non-energy exports to reach $250 billion. Engineering exports to reach $50 billion; services, including education, healthcare, tourism and transport to reach $100 billion per year.

 

Other very important elements in the priorities for development in the next 6 year term are described directionally but not quantitatively. These include education, fundamental research, culture, agriculture.

 

Many of the metrics noted above imply very substantial government financing of infrastructures. Others assume public-private partnerships. And still others imply strictly private investment. 

 

As regards the state, where is the money to come from?  As regards private business, domestic and foreign, why would they decide now to invest in the government’s priorities for development?

 

The answer is found in an expanding economy, one placing bets on the newest technologies globally. An incoming tide raises all boats.  

 

In terms of per-capita GDP, Putin says that in his coming mandate Russia should be counted among the five largest global economies, with per-capita GDP rising by 50% to 2025.  This is a dramatic increase from the presently anemic 1.7% GDP growth per annum, which lags behind global growth by one percent. His plan assumes in particular increased labor productivity. He projects growth of at least 5% per year in medium sized and large enterprises of basic industries such as manufacturing, construction, transport, agriculture and trade to reach the level of leading world economies by 2030.

 

Rising productivity is a consequence of subsidies and other direct state support to priority industries to make competitive goods and a consequence of private investment of manufacturers on their own to upgrade and technologically reequip their own facilities.

 

Putin tells us that the first precondition for the virtuous cycle described above has been put in place: low inflation.  Thanks to the efforts of the Bank of Russia these past couple of years, the inflation rate has been brought down to an historic low of 2% per annum.

 

Low inflation has made it possible to lower the mortgage rate to below 10%, with a 7% mortgage on the horizon within the coming several years.  Mortgages already have reached an all-time peak of one million last year. Cheap credit will also enable project financing to housing construction, thereby passing from the consumer to developers the risks of non-completion of apartment buildings. This is not a small issue in the present campaign. The problem of defrauded apartment buyers has been seized upon by several of the presidential hopefuls as a stick to beat the present administration. Both mortgages on the demand side and project financing on the supply side will drive the housing boom that is presupposed in Putin’s electoral platform, raising the numbers of well-paid jobs.

 

Meanwhile, low inflation makes possible affordable credit to business of all scales, and for shared infrastructure investments, another fundamental driver of the economy in Putin’s economic model.

 

But there is more to the toolkit than Treasury funds and interest rate management. In his speech, Vladimir Putin described a whole array of legal, fiscal and administrative measures having the combined effect of improving the business climate in the country.  He called attention in particular to the need to pass enabling legislation for introduction of cutting-edge technologies such as driverless vehicles, Artificial Intelligence and blockchain transactions in several industries so that the Russian economy can be a leader in the fastest growing vectors of the global economy. 

 

Technical means to curb graft and thereby improve the business climate include further reduction of  reporting and of on-site inspections of business by tax and other authorities with a shift to remote, i.e., digital exchange of information over the internet. Plans also call for greatly curtailing recourse to the Criminal Code to resolve commercial disputes.  These types of technical solution to the seemingly intractable problem of day to day corruption already proved their worth at the very start of Putin’s time in power when he simplified the personal income tax to a flat 15%, thereby cutting all contact between the vast majority of the population and tax officers to “negotiate” exemptions and the like, while at the same time greatly increasing tax compliance.

 

The domestic portion of the Manifesto builds on real achievements over the past several years in steadying the economy during times of great outside stress. Though market oriented in most respects, it is also entails  state-directed economic priorities to promote “national hero” industries  as is practiced by France and other European countries. But this does not approach state capitalism. In his speech, Putin remarks that it will be an objective in his next term to reduce the share of the economy in state hands. This share has risen in the last several years as clean-up of the Russian banking industry resulted in failing banks being taken over by the state. Putin says these assets must now be sold off as quickly as possible.

 

The domestic policies are largely a continuation and acceleration of good trends already in place using a familiar tool kit.  So where is the “breakthrough”? Likely it is to be found in the new technologies that Russia will welcome and facilitate through support to start-ups, enabling legislation, cheap credits and other technical means.  In this, we may see the steady influence on Putin’s thinking coming from some liberal members of his entourage, including, for example Herman Gref, the chairman of Sberbank, and even his prime minister Dmitry Medvedev, who has been an avid promoter of digitalization to streamline all government services.

 

However one may regard the level of democracy in Russia, the connections drawn between freedom, innovation, the knowledge society and prosperity in Putin’s electoral Manifesto fit very well within liberal West European and U.S. thinking.  The thinking about balanced budgets and stress in domestic policy on the government’s role creating physical and legislative infrastructures for business to thrive fits well within conservatism of the pre-Reagan Republican party in the United States.  The fairly extensive social welfare dimension of Putin’s present domestic policy was not developed in this Address though he did speak of the need to raise pensions, ensure equal access to quality education and expand health care to all citizens however remote. That falls into the tradition of Bismarckian conservatism that gave rise to the welfare states on the Continent.  

 

The problems between Russia and the West arise not in the domestic programs of Vladimir Putin, present and future, but elsewhere in foreign and defense policy. At his and his country’s risk and peril, Vladimir Putin insists on its sovereignty and repudiates US global hegemony. In this area, he enjoys the company of Russia’s patriotic Left parties and is scorned by the liberal Right.

 

This then is the unique synthesis of Left and Right notions that we find in Vladimir Putin’s electoral Manifesto, which is nonetheless internally coherent.

 

For a brief overview of the speech which I delivered a couple of hours after Putin finished speaking, see my interview with RT: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mK66tkYuPVQ&t=57s 

© Gilbert Doctorow, 2018

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Gilbert Doctorow is an independent political analyst based in Brussels. His latest book, Does the United States Have a Future? was published on 12 October 2017. Both paperback and e-book versions are available for purchase on http://www.amazon.com and all affiliated Amazon websites worldwide. See the recent professional review  http://theduran.com/does-the-united-states-have-a-future-a-new-book-by-gilbert-doctorow-review/    For a video of the book presentation made at the National Press Club, Washington, D.C. on 7 December 2017 see  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ciW4yod8upg

 

Missile-gate

Missile-gate

by Gilbert Doctorow, Ph.D.

 

President Putin’s 2-hour long address yesterday to the Federal Assembly, a joint session of both houses of Russia’s bicameral legislature, plus large numbers of Russia’s cultural, business and other elites constituted his platform for the upcoming presidential election on March 18. This, in lieu of participation in the televised debates on all federal television channels in which other seven candidates are busy these days.

But as is the case with many of Vladimir Putin’s major presentations, the speech yesterday was addressed to a far broader audience than the Russian electorate. Many of the estimated 700 journalists invited to attend were foreign correspondents.  Indeed, one might reasonably argue that the speech was directed abroad, precisely to the United States. 

The final third of the address, devoted to defense and presenting for the first time several major new and technically unparalleled offensive nuclear weapons systems, established Russia’s claim to full nuclear parity with the United States, overturning the country’s withdrawal from superpower status dating from the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1992. Some Russian commentators, in a burst of national pride, claimed that the power of the Soviet Union had now been restored and the wrongs of the 1990s’s were finally undone.

 In its own way, this speech was as important, perhaps more important than Putin’s talk to the Munich Security Conference in February 2007 at which he set out in length Russia’s grievances with US global hegemony installed in the 1990s and the  utter disregard for or denial of Russia’s national interests.  That speech was a turning point in US-Russian relations which headed us to the deep confrontation of today.  Yesterday’s speech suggested not the onset of a new arms race, but its conclusion, with outright Russian victory and US defeat.

Putin’s address was a “shock and awe” event.  I leave to others, more competent than I in military technology to comment on the specific capabilities of the various systems rolled out yesterday. Whether short range or unlimited range, whether ground launched or air launched, whether ballistic missiles or cruise missiles, whether flying through the atmosphere or navigating silently and at high speed the very depths of the oceans, these various systems are said to be invincible to any known or prospective air defense such as the United States has invested in heavily since it unilaterally left the ABM Treaty and set out on a course that would upend strategic parity.

Since 2002, US policy has aimed at enabling a first strike knocking out Russian ICBMs and then rendering useless Russia’s residual nuclear forces which could be shot out of the air.  Russia’s new highly maneuverable and ultra-high speed (Mach 10 and Mach 20) missiles and underwater nuclear drone render illusory any scenario based on non-devastating response to the US homeland following a US strike on Russia. In passing, the new systems also render useless and turn into sitting duck targets the entire US navy, with its aircraft carrier formations.

US and Western media response to Putin’s address was variable. The Financial Times tried its best at neutral reporting, and midway through its feature article gave a paragraph each to two of Russia’s most authoritative politicians with special expertise in relations with the West:  Konstantin Kosachev and Alexei Pushkov, both former chairmen of the Duma Committee on Foreign Affairs. However, their reporters and editorial supervisors were out of their depth, unable to reach a consistent view on what the Kremlin is doing. On the one hand Putin’s statements about Russia’s “unstoppable” nuclear weapons are reduced to “claims,” suggesting a certain skepticism; on the other hand, the consequence is to “fuel concern about a new arms race with the US.” They cannot fathom that the race is over.

The Washington Post was fairly quick to post a lengthy article in its online edition yesterday. An unusually large part consisted of quotes from Putin’s speech. The editorial line tells it all in the title assigned: “Putin claims Russia is developing nuclear arms capable of avoiding missile defenses.” I would put the accent on “claims” and “is developing.” The reporter and newspaper management seem not to have gotten the point: that one of these systems is already deployed in the Russia’s Southern Military District and that others are going into serial production.  These systems are not a wish list, they are hard facts.

The New York Times was characteristically slow in posting articles on a development which caught its staff and management totally unprepared.  In the space of a couple of hours, it put up two articles in succession dealing with the defense section of Vladimir Putin’s address. In both, but more particularly in the article co-authored by reporters Neil MacFarquhar and David E. Sanger, the stress is on “bluff.”  It is blithely assumed that Putin was just delivering a campaign speech to rouse “the patriotic passions of Russians” and so consolidate his forthcoming electoral victory. The writers take solace in the notion that “deception lies at the heart of current Russian military doctrine,” so that “questions arose about whether these weapons existed.”

 

These speculations, especially in The New York Times tell us one thing: that our media willfully ignore the plain facts about Vladimir Putin.  First, that he has always done what he has said.  Second, that he is by nature very cautious and methodical.  The word “carefully” (аккуратно) is a constant element in his speech vocabulary.   In this context, the notion of “bluff’ in a matter that would put Russian national security at risk and possibly cost tens of millions of Russian lives if the bluff were called – such a notion is utter nonsense.

 

I would like to believe that the Joint Chiefs of Staff in Washington will not be so giddy or superficial in judging what they heard yesterday from Mr. Putin. If that is so, they will be urgently recommending to their President to enter into very broad negotiations with the Russians over arms control.  And they will be going back to their staffs to completely revise their recommendations with respect to the military hardware and installations which the United States is financing in 2019 and beyond. Our present budget, including the trillion or so being appropriated for upgrading nuclear warheads and producing more low-yield weapons is a waste of taxpayer money.

However, still more importantly, the implications of Vladimir Putin’s address yesterday are that US intelligence has been asleep at the wheel for the past 14 years if not longer. It is a national scandal for the country to lose an arms race it was not even aware was occurring.  Heads should roll, and the process should begin with proper hearings on Capitol Hill. For reasons that will be clear from what follows, among the first witnesses called upon to testify should be former Vice President Dick Cheney and former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld.

In the past such a revelation of a vast security gap with the country’s main geopolitical and military competitor would lead to political recriminations and finger pointing.  What came up yesterday is far bigger than the “missile gap” of the late 1950s that brought Jack Kennedy to the White House in a campaign to restore vigor to American political culture and wake it from the somnolent Eisenhower years with their complacency about security matters and much else.

Moreover, the roll-out yesterday of new Russian weaponry that changes the world power balance was just one in a chain of remarkable Russian achievements over the past four years that caught US leadership entirely by surprise.  The explanation has till now been the alleged unpredictability of Vladimir Putin, even if absolutely nothing he did could not have been foreseen by someone paying close attention.

 

One prime example was the Russian capture of Crimea in February-March 2014 without a shot being fired or a single fatality in circumstances where the 20,000 Russian troops based in their leased Sevastopol enclave confronted 20,000 Ukrainian forces on the peninsula. Western media spoke of a Russian “invasion” which amounted to nothing more than the Russian troops leaving their barracks. The Russians had used nothing more exotic than psychological warfare, old-fashioned “psy-ops” as it is called in the States executed to perfection by pros, all dating from the time of Von Clausewitz. 

 

Then the Pentagon was caught with its pants down in September 2015 when Putin at the United Nations General Assembly announced the dispatch of Russian warplanes to Syria for a campaign against ISIS and to support Assad that would begin the next day.  Why did we suspect nothing?  Was it because Russia was known to be too poor to execute such a challenging mission abroad to precise objectives and timelines? In the same war theater, the Russians again “surprised” Americans by setting up a joint military intelligence center in Baghdad with Iraq and Iran.  And it further “surprised” NATO by flying bombing missions to the Syrian theater over Iran and Iraqi airspace after being denied flight rights in the Balkans.  With thousands of military and diplomatic staff based in Iraq, how is it that the United States knew nothing about the Russian agreements with Iraqi leadership in advance?

 

My point is that the confusion over how to interpret Putin’s announcement of Russia’s new defense capability is a systemic failure of U.S. intelligence.  The next obvious question is why? Where is the CIA? Where are the intel bosses when they are not investigating Trump?

 

The answer is not to be found in just one or two elements, for sure. Nor is it a failure that developed recently.  There is a good measure of blinding complacency about Russia as a “failed state” that has cut across the whole US political establishment since the 1990s when the Russia was flat on its back. One simply could not imagine the Kremlin rising to the challenge of its missions in Crimea, in Syria, in development of the world’s most sophisticated high-tech armaments.

 

And it is not only blindness to things Russian. It is a fundamental failure to grasp that state power anywhere is not dependent only on GDP and demographic trends but also on grit, patriotic determination and the intelligence of thousands of researchers, engineers and production personnel. This conceptual poverty infects some our most brilliant Realpolitik political scientists in the academic community who in principle should be open to understanding the world as it is, not the world as we wish it to be. Somehow we seem to have forgotten the lesson of David and Goliath.  Somehow we have forgotten the Israeli numbers of 4 or 5 million standing up militarily to 100 million Arabs. It was unimaginable to us that Russia would be the David to our Goliath.

 

But there are more objective reasons for the utter failure of US intelligence to grasp the scale and seriousness of the Russian challenge to US global hegemony. Specifically, we must consider the gutting of our Russian intelligence capabilities in the days, months, years following 9/11.

 

There are those who will say, with reason, that the decline of US intelligence capabilities on Russia began already in the second administration of Ronald Reagan, when the Cold War came to an end and the expertise of Cold Warriors seemed no longer relevant. Surely numbers of Russia experts were allowed to decline by attrition. 

 

And yet, when 9/11 struck, many of those in higher positions in the CIA had come to the Agency as Russia experts. It was the CIA’s lack of skills in the languages and area knowledge of the Middle East that was glaring in the aftermath of the Al-Qaeda attack on the Twin Towers that guided the reshaping of priorities for intelligence. Clearly this deficiency and the necessary re-profiling of expertise could not augur well for the continued employment of holdovers from the Soviet desk.

 

But a still greater factor in the sharp decline in Russian expertise within US intelligence agencies was the shift from dependence on civil service employees to use of outside service providers, i.e., outsourcing of intelligence work.  This was totally in line with the preferences of the U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney, who introduced outsourcing in a generalized way to deal with the new challenges of the War On Terror. The same phenomenon affected the U.S. military, especially beginning in 2003 following the invasion of Iraq. Operational security tasks of the U.S. military were outsourced to companies providing mercenaries like Blackwater.  And normal procurement arrangements for materiel were short-circuited by the Vice President for the sake of quick satisfaction of urgent field requirements: hence the procurement of non-traditional but much needed fleets of armored troop transport and the like.

 

Several articles in Consortium and elsewhere in recent months have called attention to the phenomenon of intel outsourcing. However, what was happening, why and to what effect was already clearly known a decade ago and promised nothing good.

 

In a sense, the commonality of all these changes in supply of intelligence, equipment and military force has been a quick-fix mentality and direct political intervention into processes that had been insulated in the civil service with its bureaucratic procedures. Political intervention means ultimately politicizing methods and outcomes. Outsourced intelligence is more likely to meet the demands of the paymaster than to have some intellectual integrity and broad perspective of its own.

 

To better understand the phenomenon, I refer the reader to an outstanding and well documented article dating from March 2007 that was published by the European Strategic Intelligence Security Center (ESISC) entitled “Outsourcing Intelligence: The Example of the United States.”

 

The author, ESISC Research Associate Raphael Ramos, tells us that at the time 70% of the budget of the American intelligence community was spent via contracts with private companies. At the time he wrote, outsourcing was said to be greatest among the agencies reporting to the Defense Department. The CIA was then said to have one-third of its staff comping from private companies.

 

Besides the changing priorities for foreign intelligence resulting from the end of the Cold War and the onset of the War on Terror, another factor in the changing structure of US intelligence was technologically driven. This relates to the modern communications technologies, with many start-ups appearing in the specialized fields of Signals Intelligence and Imagery Intelligence. The NSA availed itself of these new service providers to become a pioneer in outsourcing intelligence.  Other Pentagon agencies which followed the same course were NRO, responsible for space based systems of intelligence and the NGA, charged with producing geographic intelligence from satellites.  Add to that the changing intel practices coming from the development of the internet, which prioritized open source intelligence.  OSINT could flourish in the private sector because it does not require special security clearances. This soon accounted for between 35% and 90% of intelligence procurement. 

 

As noted above, outsourcing enabled the intelligence community to modernize, gain skills quickly and try to meet urgent new needs. However, judging by the results of intelligence with respect to Putin’s Russia it seems that the outsourcing model has not delivered the goods.  The country has been flying blind while taking outlandish and unsupportable positions to bully the world as if we enjoyed full spectrum dominance and Russia did not exist. 

© Gilbert Doctorow, 2018

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For my brief overall analysis of Vladimir Putin’s speech which was broadcast live on RT International a couple of hours later, go to  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mK66tkYuPVQ&t=11s Here I specifically address the question of Russia’s nuclear umbrella for its “allies,” one element in the speech which surely has Washington guessing.

Gilbert Doctorow is an independent political analyst based in Brussels. His latest book, Does the United States Have a Future? was published on 12 October 2017. Both paperback and e-book versions are available for purchase on http://www.amazon.com and all affiliated Amazon websites worldwide. See the recent professional review  http://theduran.com/does-the-united-states-have-a-future-a-new-book-by-gilbert-doctorow-review/    For a video of the book presentation made at the National Press Club, Washington, D.C. on 7 December 2017 see  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ciW4yod8upg

Transcript of the first debate in the Russian presidential election, 2018

 

Transcript of the first debate in the Russian presidential election, 2018

by Gilbert Doctorow, Ph.D.

 

Introduction

I commend the document below for the perusal, and hopefully the close attention, of all those who could be interested in hearing the political views of seven of the eight candidates for President in the current electoral campaign that ends on 18 March. Given the nearly hysterical focus of US media on things Russian these days, it may be useful to hear what the Russians actually say for themselves and in particular what they think and say about foreign affairs which were the topic for this first of several televised debates.

These seven represent a very broad cross section of thinking of Russians from the political class straight down to your Everyman.  They are invaluable as evidence on the degree of freedom of speech in the Russian Federation today. In an analytical article which I will publish in the coming two days, I will attempt to provide the context for their respective parties and positions. Here I invite the reader to draw his or her own conclusions without direction from an intermediary.

The eighth candidate who was not present or represented in the debates was the incumbent president, who made his campaign speech today by way of his Address to the Federal Assembly, the joint session of Russia’s bicameral legislature.  That was a two-hour political statement that truly stands apart. It will be receiving enormous media attention, as it justly deserves, for being as significant as Vladimir Putin’s February 2007 speech in Munich that shook up the American political establishment by its boldness and open challenge to American global hegemony.  The speech today was a declaration of Russia’s full strategic parity with the United States. At worst it will set off all the alarm bells in Washington. At best, it will have a sobering effect on the world, precipitate new arms control negotiations covering a very widely expanded range of offensive and defensive weapons systems.  It may also powerfully reinforce the nuclear non-proliferation treaty in that it opened a Russian nuclear umbrella over all those countries that enter into “partnership” with the Russian Federation.  I will develop these and other analytical points in a separate article on Putin’s speech in the coming day or two.

I took down the transcript below directly from one of the several youtube.com postings of the debates:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PUmwgLa0HLQ I estimate that I wrote down about 80% of the statements made by the participants which I then translated from Russian into English. I believe that I captured the most essential remarks even if I have left out the cross banter that violated the rules of the debate hosts and some of the slang used by one or another candidate.

 

The debate was hosted by Pervy Kanal, one of the two leading  Russian state television channels with national coverage.  The moderator is one of that channel’s better known talk show presenters who is associated with the daytime talk show Time will Tell.  With his broad experience keeping boisterous and often rude Russian talk show guests in check, he was well prepared for some of the uncivil behavior of the candidates, in particular Ksenia Sobchak and Vladimir Zhirinovsky. Indeed as Russian speakers will be aware, other tapes of the debates which somehow made it to the internet include some fairly ugly exchange of compliments between those two which were excised from the final version broadcast by the Pervy Kanal.  In fact, most Russian talk shows go out taped rather than live precisely to prevent abuse of air time by unruly Russians.

The single biggest disruption to the proceedings appearing in the final broadcast version was the objection stated loudly by Sobchak but backed up by others that the format of the show and more particularly the broadcast time were chosen in such a way as to minimize the impact of the participants, meaning their interaction with one another, and the available audience. Indeed, the debate was taped the night of the 27th and broadcast at 8am Moscow time on the 28th. 

In her complaint, Sobchak is only partly justified.  The presenter insisted that 8 am is considered Prime Time morning on Russian television and advertisers pay accordingly.  The bigger issue is that the vast country with 11 time zones presents necessary choices if a show goes out nationally “live.”  Namely, 8am Moscow is 3pm in Vladivostok, in the Far East.  If it were broadcast at 8pm Moscow, then it will show at 3am in Vladivostok.  Of course, these shows are then available on the internet where they will capture millions of additional viewers at whatever hour is convenient to them.

The format issue is also a legitimate matter of concern.  Each contestant has the microphone 3 times. The order of speaking was determined alphabetically by surnames. The first time at the microphone was given to them to make an opening statement of two minutes duration.  Second, to respond to a specific question pitched to them by the presenter during 2 minutes 15 seconds.  And third, to make a closing statement of two minutes. 

 

As will be clear from the transcript, several but not all of the participants used their second or third opportunity to speak so as to respond to (meaning attack) the positions of other candidates. In this sense only was it a debate.

Finally, by way of introduction, please note the following party affiliations of the 7 participants in the debate:

 

 Sergei Baburin,  Russian All-People’s Union

Pavel Grudinin, Communist Party

Vladimir Zhirinovsky, LDPR party (nationalist)

Ksenia Sobchak (Civic Iniative party, liberal)

Maxim Suraikin, Communists of Russia (Stalinist)

Valery Solovey (representing candidate Boris Titov),  Party of Growth

Grigory Yavlinsky,  Yabloko party (liberal).

 

 

Transcript of the debate broadcast on Pervy Kanal morning of 28 February

 

 

Opening statements:

 

  1. Baburin – I voted against break up of the Soviet Union. The question of our further existence is here and now. We must restore the Union to be strong and successful. We must correct the crime of 1992. Eurasian integration as path to bringing back together a single country.
  2. A strong foreign policy is possible only if we have a strong State. I just got back from Krasnodar. No one had questions there about foreign policy. They had questions such as how will we combat poverty. How do we ensure free education, free medical care?  How do we ensure that young specialists get decent housing, a decent first job? How to ensure that on your television channel we are not collecting money for sick kids, but that this money is paid by the government.  All of these questions come down to one:  what is a strong state?  A strong state is when debates on Pervy Kanal are shown at an hour when the audience is at home to watch. To ensure that everyone is able to watch – and not taped like now for 8am showing.  And if you start talking about domestic issues on your channel that is also a sign of a strong state.  A strong state has a strong press and media.   Before we change our foreign policy we have to ensure that we are a country to be reckoned with. We have to work on our domestic policy. The question today is whether we continue with the policies of the past 18 years or change over to policies building a strong state. We in our party want to ensure that it is good to live here not for oligarchs and officials but for the simple people. That will give us a strong foreign policy.
  3. Zhirinovsky – I want to say that I and others of us are not satisfied with the format. These are not debates, they are like a school lesson. Each of us will have a say and then we are shown out the door.  Now, as for foreign policy:  The people standing here around me don’t have a clue. They are not specialists. They are good people, but that’s it. They never were engaged in this.  I have been involved in international relations for 50 years.   The threats we face are from the Near East.  But Yavlinsky says we should get out of there. Sobchak says we should get out. These people pursue an anti-state line. For this we shot people  in Moscow at the outbreak of WWII. Now with NATO approaching, the Middle East in turmoil : we are in a situation where war can break out at any moment.

We need to put order in our Western borders.  All these Communists here tonight, they were all for the Soviet Union, but not for the Russian people. There were big mistakes in foreign policy. Now we have done the right thing getting into Syria, but there are those here tonight who are impeding us in pursuing our correct foreign policy.   The main task of the President of Russia is foreign policy and rightly so.

 

  1. Sobchak – the main problem with our foreign policy is our domestic policy. My main question about foreign policy is why we lead in trade only in arms and hydrocarbons. Why do we pursue hybrid wars which we do not acknowledge. Why do our soldiers die in Syria? Why doesn’t Putin show his respect for us by taking part in debates. Why is it Pervy Kanal  is taping these debates, which violates our rights? Why doesn’t Pervy Kanal respect the voters? Why are you showing this at 8am, when people are going to work or taking kids to school?  I demand that these debates take place in prime time when the maximum number of people can see us.  I think everyone here agrees with this, right? [everyone agrees]    I call upon Pervy Kanal to show these debates Live and at 8 pm.  And I want to debate not with these people here today who are very convenient to Putin, but with Putin himself. I want to understand why Russia pursues an aggressive foreign policy. Why do we forget we are a European country. We must return to good neighborly relations and friendship with the European countries, to civilized society.

 

ANSWER of the presenter:   the show is in Live tape format.  You have to consider the scale of our country and time zones.  We are showing this in what is called Morning Prime Time. This is what is known in the trade and advertisers pay accordingly.  The taped show is broadcast without any cuts.

 

  1. Suraikin- In the 90s we were told to love America and the West.  What happened? We saw Iraq, Libya and now Syria. They have moved their forces to our borders. They don’t attack us only because we have nuclear weapons.  And here we have a 5th   Look at Titov – going to London where he has his buddies and kids. Ksenia is constantly in Washington holding negotiations.  Grudinin has children and property in Europe and bank accounts there.  What will happen if these people become President? What does it mean to have your kids and property in NATO countries!   Only real Communists, only a return to the Soviet system can guaranty the future of our country.  We can ensure Soviet industry, a Soviet army and a powerful foreign policy. We have no alternative to Stalinism.
  2. Solovey (Titov rep) –    Foreign policy should be a path to prosperity.  We need to increase the number of our friends and partisans, and win over some of our detractors and adversaries. We should avoid unnecessary conflicts at the perimeter of the Russian Federation. We should defend the interests of our economy and our business.  Only a country with a strong economy and healthy society can have a strong foreign policy.  No one wants to introduce sanctions against China. Why? Because they have a strong economy and everyone wants to cultivate good neighborly relations with it.  Russia should follow the same path.  The goal of our foreign policy should be to maintain good relations with all for purpose of developing our economy.
  3. Yavlinsky – All policies, including foreign policy, should be directed at raising the living standards in our country. That is the first goal of foreign policy.  The second goal is peace, stability and security. Russia is a country which should take part in all major world decisions.  It is a great problem of our foreign policy today that we were thrown out of the G8.   The fourth goal is to become an attractive country. Attractive by its culture, people, history, quality of life   – to attract investments.  I will do everything to ensure our people can travel the world without visas, so that in every country of the world RF citizens will feel protected.  And the main thing – that Russians will not give up their lives for unnecessary, foreign interests.

 

Direct questions to each:

  1. Baburin – Q -what is wrong with our current foreign policy? Answer: it is not sufficiently consistent.  The same Neo-Liberals who destroyed the country in the 90s have now clustered and attack our government policies for being patriotic.  We need to create a country without poor, without thieves in government. We need to get rid of oligarchs. Then we will have a worthy foreign policy.
  2. Grudinin – Q -what do you think about plans to reform the UN and in particular the UN Security Council?   How should Russia relate to BRICS, the G-20, the Shanghai  Treaty Organization?   Answer: As I said, the world only respects the strong.  These platforms – Shanghai, BRICS, etc. have not met our expectations. Other members of these groups have much faster growing GDP than we do. Only when we address our domestic requirements can we be more weighty on the international arena.   Our people think not as you show on Pervy Kanal – they have other concerns: how to feed their kids.  Money is going to oligarchs which should go to the state so it has the means to finance programs.  It is not right to hear constantly there is no money for this and that.
  3. Zhirinovsky Q- how do you plan to respond to the attacks of the West on Russia?  Answer: These attacks are not something new. They have been going on for a thousand years.  We are the biggest country in the world. Europe is small. They look to move East. Germans even have the expression Drang nach Osten. They have been saying this for hundreds of years.  For these reasons, we need a strong army. You say we should be friends.  With whom are we supposed to be friends?  With the NATO forces in the Baltics who are just 5 minutes flying time from St P and 7 minutes to Moscow? They are a real enemy. They have military plans to destroy our country. And you are just talking about Schengen and the economy.  What good is your economy if they strike tomorrow or the day after tomorrow. If we have a strong army then we can resolve our domestic problems.  And you, who would capitulate, you say let’s fix up everything domestically and then people will respect us.

But they need our resources, our territory.  So many need drinking water.  Everyone looks at Russia and wishes we did not exist.  You cannot understand this. You are just blind. Go abroad. You who have property and accounts abroad. They will try to exert influence through you.  Yavlinsky of Yabloko is tied to Germany. Where did Sobchak go? To America. Why?  To get advice? To get money?  Their blessing?  Titov is wandering around England.  We have to purge the country of this 5th Column.

  1. Q – As a possible future president what do you think about relations with the Shanghai Treaty Organization and ASEAN? Answer: Our hopes for the Shanghai Treaty Organization have not been justified. We thought we would work with Kirghizia, Turkmenistan…But there the main role is played by China. China has its own bilateral relations. To compete against China, the world’s second largest economy is not possible. Russia doesn’t play the role there that it hoped to play. The same is true of ASEAN. There is nothing wrong that we cooperate with these countries, But we should cooperate with both Asia and Europe.  We should return to those principles which were said by Putin himself back in 2002 – have an association with NATO. We should not fear NATO will attack us. We should cooperate. We should work out a road map on how we will enter all these institutions of security, and European security institutions. Why not? These are the priorities we should set in Russia.

What have we achieved in ASEAN – signed papers upon papers.  Cooperation with Europe is held back by one thing – that our Minister of Foreign Affairs uses four letter words.  That people from the LDPR party, Slutsky, pinches the ass of a young female journalist.   With people like this representing us in the international arena, it is clear why relations are what they are.

  1. Q -How do we follow the policy you suggest and not find ourselves in isolation?  Answer:  Our 5th column speaks of our being isolated.  But the Soviet Union had more allies and covered more of the world than the USA and Western Europe, which were busy exploiting the Third World. First we have to restore socialism in our own country. We have to nationalize all extractive industries, drivers of the economy , metallurgical industry.. This will double the federal budget and enable us to double pensions, double the military spending.  Then we start with Belarus and others including Ukraine will rejoin us, followed by dozens of other countries joining us in a great political and military bloc which will isolate our enemies.
  2. Solovey (Titov)   Q – First we get strong and then we have a strong foreign policy. How much time do we need for our development to get strong?  Twenty years? And what about international relations in the meantime?  Answer:  to realize the program of growth we need 10 to 12 years.  While we are concentrated on our internal affairs, there will be many who want to help and invest in our country. Not just to buy our raw materials but to produce here a lot of things.  We can be friends with those who are not our enemies, meaning most everyone.  We should pull out of Donbas. That is enough.

 

  1. Yavlinsky – Q – How do we deal with the Euro-Atlantic world, with NATO?  Answer:   In order to behave like a super power, you have to be one.  Today Russia’s share of the world economy is only 2%  In these conditions the country cannot carry on an effective foreign policy.  Foreign policy is a great art.  I don’t see it.  In the last few years Russia wrote off debts of 165 billion dollars. 9 trillion rubles were forgiven other countries.  For this money, we could have built thousands of schools etc. this is a huge sum. Three trillion is the whole defense budget for a year. Same for education and for medicine.  This is the current foreign policy that has led to sanctions.   A situation where any small country like Albania can declare sanctions on Russia – that is a disaster of foreign policy.

 

Closing remarks from each

  1. Baburin – the NeoLiberals capitulated in the 90s. and here they are again.  We have the right to consider ourselves a great power. Because that is defined not only by an Army, by an economy, but is determined by the spirit of the nation. And Russians will never capitulate however much our Liberals try to achieve that. What is Russia’s Choice? You have to love kids. Look after the family. Defend the motherland. And forever keep pure your immortal soul.

Yes, fraternity of the peoples. But the backbone of our country is the Russian people with its Orthodox faith.

  1. Grudinin – Of course this is not a debate. It is separate slogans and appearances. Each says his own thing. Everyone understands that only when we are strong will everyone want to be our friend. You cannot force people.  The Soviet Union will be created only when we have a just society, when you ensure that life here for pensioners, children, workers , peasants  is so good that outsiders want to get in.  So far we have created a society to which no one wants to come, because  our courts have no justice, our officials steal,   our mass media lie,   where oligarchs set the policies for the whole country. For this reason we have to concentrate on domestic policy.

Then we can introduce labor visas for migrants to make a work force available when we need it. We need to have salaries we can be proud of.  We want a Russia to which people come for medical treatment, as was the case before, not where our people including Pervy Kanal sends children abroad for treatment.  Where you go into a pharmacy and buy medicine without having to think how you are going to live till your next pension payment..  If we do this then we will be a strong power with which everyone will have to reckon.   But at present, what we are doing at the state level is selling our fighter aircraft abroad and taking back palm oil. And after that our dairy farmers don’t know where to sell their milk.

We are following a policy which made our country weak.

Russia has no friends, Russia has interests.  Our number one interest is to have a prosperous population.

 

  1. Everyone here is saying the same thing: first a rich country, first focus on domestic issues. They don’t understand anything. We hear about the Russian Choice (Baburin). What is that? We have hundreds of other nationalities.  Baburin only thinks about Russians. Then tomorrow we will have a civil war here.  Grudinin is just the same: what is your wealth, it is expensive Moscow suburban land. 100 km away there is poverty, and you are renting out your land, you are doing nothing. And this young lady [барышня – Sobchak] – for 10 years you were doing those television reality programs, complete debauchery. Here she is talking about who pinched whom some time ago [Slutsky]. You should be in an insane asylum Sobchak, not here.  Then Yavlinski says we forgave 160 billion dollars.  That wasn’t money, Yavlinsky. It was help to our friends, it was arms.  And our storehouses are full of arms.  We can give away another 100 billion, and another 100 billion. This brought us no harm There was a privatization program – 500 days. It was a deception. You cannot achieve it in 5000 days.  Privatization in general was criminal.  We should have developed our powerful state sector.  Then we have Titov who is strolling around somewhere.  And our candidate who wants to restore Stalinism. No we won’t go back to the stone age. But we will help you and your Communist forces get rid of the Fifth Column, so that Sobchak wouldn’t be here, Yavlinsky wouldn’t be here. And Grudinin and Baburin.  Russians?  Yes.  But just remember that in 1991 I stood alone on Manezh square but you in the Supreme Soviet betrayed everyone.
  2. Dear television viewers, I want to say one thing. Just look at the faces of those who surround me here in the studio. None believes they will win the election. This is just a crowd scene of old clowns and others sent here with the objective of your seeing them in a broadcast, if you succeed in watching while preparing to take the kids to school or going to work and say:  No, there is only one President in our country, Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin.  That is why this was all set up.  Don’t listen to what they are saying about Neo-Liberals, about the 90s. For the last 18 years our country has been run by one person.  And what has happened in our foreign policy in these 18 years:  they have succeeded in our waging two hybrid wars, one in Ukraine and the other in Syria. Our soldiers are dying there but for what. What goal are we pursuing in our war in Syria?  What goal are we pursuing when we have quarreled with our most fraternal people, with Ukraine? What is the objective in these wars? Why are our Russian people dying there?  Give these questions to Vladimir Putin, who is not here today.  Not the Liberals of the 90s, but he has been ruling our country for 18 years.  What has happened in our foreign policy that our only friends are North Korea, Venezuela, Afghanistan? There are our friends.  Instead of European countries, instead of the USA, with which we had good relations till not long ago. Now we are conducting a policy of isolationism. Now they threaten us, saying we live in a circle of enemies. That is not so. Now our task is to return to normal, civilized relations, that we remember that we are a European country and our place by right is within European civilization

 

  1. Suraikin – What do we hear from the “democrats” – the same that we heard at the end of the 80s from Gorbachev and others.. You are forgetting how the countries of Europe came down on us at the end of the 80s.  the countries of the Baltics  do not extract one kilogram of metal but in the 90s took number one position as biggest merchants of metals because for 20 years they robbed our country.  Of course now they don’t like that Russia has risen. But look at our major metallurgical and energy industries. What are they doing – wealth sitting in offshore companies. And the western companies. Where is the profit going? To the West. And the profit from these companies which were built thanks to the labor of the Soviet Union for us, for the future generations….These companies, Lipetsk LPK…they have hundreds of billions of dollars of profits, stolen profits and they go to the West.  In the 90s foreigners bought into our military industrial complex and destroyed it.  We were never in isolation.  How they have loved us… as slaves.  But we are not slaves. That is why our grandfathers fought. This is why we should go to the elections and elect real Communists, make our socialist choice. We will restore industry, socialist economy and  great power. Military-political bloc. We must restore the Soviet Union. We can start with the union with Belarus…
  2. Solovey (Titov). Dear television viewers, as you have seen there are two ways to discuss foreign policy – one is hysterical, the other is realistic is based on fact.  Facts are that we are a European state.  Secondly, national pride: return of Crimea was an act of national reconfirmation. That is unconditionally true. But you cannot take pride only in that if you have poor education, poor medicine, and a weak economy.

Thirdly, armed forces.  You cannot spend a third of the national budget on the armed forces. If you want to have strong armed forces, you must have a strong economy. 

Fact number four: from where do we get modern technology? We have bought it from the West. Asia could not and cannot provide this to us.  Moreover, where did we get long term credits for industrial development? From the West.  From all of this it follows that Russia is interested in restoring good relations with the West. This does not exclude good relations with the East. We must develop relations with all of Asia later.

This is what Titov has been saying constantly: if you don’t have a strong economy and developed social sphere no one will take you into account. This is an unconditional medical fact.

Happily Stalin is left in the past, but our discussion today is about the future. keep that in mind.

 

  1. Yavlinsky – Most important is to name 5, 6, 7 concrete steps for our foreign policy to work for the prosperity of our citizens, and its future, its development and decent living.

First, end the bloodshed in Donbas

Second, settle the problem of the status of Crimea

Remove troops from Syria as quickly as possible

Remove Russia from its isolation

             Achieve peace with our neighbors and firstly with Ukraine

Achieve an end to sanctions

Achieve mutually beneficial trade and economic relations with Europe and the whole world

Strictly observe the international obligations we assumed

Stop lying endlessly about our situation in foreign policy, as well as in all else

Stop looking at the world as an adversary.

Seek mutually advantageous cooperation with all.

Peace, respect for our fellow citizens, professional foreign policy –  this is what is of vital importance for our country. This assumes the election of a different policy.  The present policies unfortunately are leading Russia to a dangerous boundary which is ruinous


© Gilbert Doctorow, 2018

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 Gilbert Doctorow is an independent political analyst based in Brussels. His latest book, Does the United States Have a Future? was published on 12 October 2017. Both paperback and e-book versions are available for purchase on http://www.amazon.com and all affiliated Amazon websites worldwide. See the recent professional review  http://theduran.com/does-the-united-states-have-a-future-a-new-book-by-gilbert-doctorow-review/    For a video of the book presentation made at the National Press Club, Washington, D.C. on 7 December 2017 see  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ciW4yod8upg

 

 

 

The Munich Security Conference, 2018: Mutually Assured Contempt

The Munich Security Conference, 2018:  Mutually Assured Contempt

by Gilbert Doctorow, Ph.D.

The annual Munich Security Conference is to geopolitics what Davos is to global economics: a forum for public discussion of challenges and trends, as well as a venue for side meetings off the official schedule by Very Important People that are at times even more intriguing than the formal events. By the latter I have in mind, for example, the tête-à-tête behind closed doors between former Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko and the Russian ambassador to Germany that set tongues wagging back in Kiev and Moscow, even if it was passed up in the Euronews coverage.

The very biggest names in global politics make their appearances at Munich and occasionally catch the imagination of all with substantive as opposed to merely clever remarks.  No one familiar with the venue can forget Vladimir Putin’s speech there of February 2007. It set in motion the open challenge to US global mastery that has evolved into the deep cracks in the world order which were the main theme of Munich a year ago, and which presented themselves  again for consideration in the latest, 2018 edition.

Last year the biggest name in Munich was Chinese President Xi, who did not disappoint and stole the show by his robust defense of free trade, global cooperation to combat climate change and other leading issues of the day from which Donald Trump’s America seemed to be retreating. This year there was no one leader who commanded the attention of the audience and media. What special meaning the gathering had could be found in the Report of the organizers, which highlights the issues and guided the discussion in the various sessions over three days.

Parsing an 88-page text like the Report might be a step too far. But a word about its style is in order since that takes us directly to analysis of its content. 

The Munich Security Conference takes place in Germany. Its website and promotional literature are bilingual, German-English.  However, the Report is in English, and in very special English at that. No British spelling or turns of speech here, unlike so many documents of think tanks generated on the Continent. No this is the American English of the U.S establishment in the self-satisfied and coy style of Foreign Affairs magazine. Where else would you find section headings entitled “Russia: Bearly Strong?” or “United States: Home Alone?”

And while the texts in the Report allude to interviews in the press by former German Foreign Minister Walter Steinmeier, and a side column quotes from Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov’s speech to the Conference last year, there is more than a sprinkling of references to leading personalities in America’s Council on Foreign Relations, starting with its president, Richard Haass. And what is surely the most remarkable quote in the Report (see below) comes from Council member and long-time book reviewer for Foreign Affairs, Princeton University professor G. John Ikenberry. 

To cut to the quick, the American input to the agenda and posture of the Munich Security Conference is of decisive weight when you look at the recommended reading (“Food for Thought”) and special reports sections at the back. In the Acknowledgements section at the very end, we find the heavyweights RAND Corporation, North Atlantic Treaty Organization and NATO Strategic Communications Center of Excellence listed together with the lightweight but very voluble Freedom House.

 

This Establishment is Atlanticist, a promoter of the liberal institutional order that it helped to create over the past 60 plus years in the knowledge that the biggest financial and political beneficiary of an order based on rules written in Washington has been the United States.  To a man, they are anti-Trump.

Indeed, the text of the Munich Report reeks of anti-Trump venom and a good dose of despair over the ongoing triumph of the anti-Christ who is now the U.S. President.

The introductory chapter of the Report bears the ominous title: “Present at the Erosion: International Order on the Brink?” The most striking remark on its first page is by G. John Ikenberry: “the world’s most powerful state has begun to sabotage the order it created. A hostile revisionist power has indeed arrived on the scene, but it sits in the Oval Office, the beating heart of the free world.”

Let us remember that over the course of his career Ikenberry has been a penetrating and at times courageous analyst. Back in 1992, he co-authored with Daniel Deudney a splendid article entitled “Who Won the Cold War” (Foreign Policy) explaining why it was a draw, ended by mutual agreement. He thereby went directly against the rising tide of Neoconservatism and American hubris built on falsification of modern history.

American Establishment biases, willful ignorance of realities and fake news are given free rein in the page of the 2018 Report devoted to Russia.  Here we read about the Kremlin’s “disinformation campaign” during the French presidential election of 2017 and about the “efforts to influence the US presidential election in 2016” that have “paid dividends.”  Unproven allegations of meddling and illogical conclusions about dividends, considering the track record of the Trump administration in its first year in office:  the dispatch of lethal military equipment to Ukraine that even Obama hesitated to approve, the extension of sanctions and a number of other measures raising the tensions with Russia in the Baltics and in Syria.

Here we find the stubborn refusal to accept the true scale and breadth of Russia’s might. We are reminded that the country’s GDP is the size of Spain, a proposition that is distorted and misleading depending as it does on exchange rates rather than purchasing power parity At last report, Spain was not supplying one-third of all the natural gas consumed in Europe; Russia was.  At last report, Spain did not have a military industrial complex that is second only to the United States; Russia has.

Yet, the Munich Security Conference differs in an important way from the American establishment, which is today not very welcoming of “adversaries” or “competitors” who may conceptualize the world order in their own way. Whatever its home grounds philosophically, the Munich Security Conference does try to be inclusive and brings even troublemaker countries and personalities into the tent. Moreover, the Security Conference, like Davos, has substantial continuity in the attendees. You heard from the Iranian Foreign Minister last year, and you will hear from him again this year, and probably next year as well.  This does not smooth out all the rough edges in these encounters, but it keeps them somewhat in check.

One of the “regulars,” and perhaps the most remarkable performer at the 2018 Munich Security Conference was Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. I call him remarkable because of his ability to rise above his detractors in the hall through superior command of the facts, wit and daring. 

At last year’s Munich Conference, a number of Lavrov’s pronouncements were met by derisive laughter from the Americans in the front rows, picked up by other Western diplomats and politicians.  Yet, Lavrov took it in stride, remarking acidly that he had also found some statements by representatives of other countries to be laughable but had shown greater restraint than members of his audience.

Heckling also took place during Lavrov’s speech this year, though on a markedly lower scale. And once again, Lavrov took the upper hand, chided his detractors for their incivility and joked that it did not matter:  “after all, they say laughter helps us live longer.”

Lavrov’s speech itself was a masterpiece of argumentation against the exclusion of Russia from the common European home, the descent of a divisive “we/they” thinking in Western Europe to justify the New Cold War. He specifically called out for condemnation the ongoing rewriting of history in the Baltic States, in Poland, in Ukraine that airbrushes Russia out of the victory over Hitlerite Germany, encourages destruction of monuments to Soviet liberators and makes heroes of home-grown fascist movements as in Ukraine.

It bears mention that back home in Moscow, there are voices of strident nationalists like Vladimir Zhirinovsky who explain on national television day after day why it is time for Lavrov to go, because he is too soft, too easy going with the nation’s enemies in the West.

However, the skill at debate, nerves of steel and icy reserve that Lavrov displayed in Munich show yet again that he is the right man in the right place to defend Putin’s Russia.

The problem that comes out of the Report and the body language we saw in the conference proceedings is the following: whether the opposing sides of East and West were more or less restrained in their gestures and words, there lies on each side a poisonous contempt for the other that could lead to miscalculations and rash actions in the event of some incident, some mishap between our respective armed forces in any of the theaters where they are now operating in close proximity in support of opposing sides.

© Gilbert Doctorow, 2018

      * * * *

 Gilbert Doctorow is an independent political analyst based in Brussels. His latest book, Does the United States Have a Future? was published on 12 October 2017. Both paperback and e-book versions are available for purchase on http://www.amazon.com and all affiliated Amazon websites worldwide. See the recent professional review  http://theduran.com/does-the-united-states-have-a-future-a-new-book-by-gilbert-doctorow-review/    For a video of the book presentation made at the National Press Club, Washington, D.C. on 7 December 2017 see  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ciW4yod8upg

An Open Letter to Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY)

Senator,

I cannot understand why you are leading the Senate Democrats on a confrontational position with respect to the Kremlin Report and are calling for further ratcheting up of sanctions on Russia. Why are you taking the unproven allegations about Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential elections to be God’s own facts?

These irresponsible positions are leading us along the path to a nuclear exchange with Russia. The only outcome can be the end of civilization on earth.

Did you not read Vladimir Putin’s response to the Kremlin Report two days ago?  Namely that if new sanctions were indeed promulgated he was/is prepared to cut US-Russian relations down to zero?   Do you know what that means? It is telegraphed message that war is coming if we, the United States, do not sober up.

Why do you persist in arrogantly viewing Russia as just a “regional bully” to quote Obama, a gasoline station masquerading as a country, to quote Senator John McCain, or the sick man of Europe that poses no real military threat as it indeed was in the mid-1990s, but most definitely is not today.   Russia today embodies the principle of our state of Vermont:  “Don’t tread on me!”   And yet that is precisely what the Congressional consensus to which you are a major contributor is doing.

I am an expatriate, living in Belgium, but by law New York is my federal voting state and you are my Senator. 

I am fully at your disposal and at the disposal of your staff to give any assistance by fleshing out the arguments I make above. And as a Russian affairs specialist, holder of a doctorate in this field from Columbia University (1975), I know what I am talking and writing about. I refer you to my latest book “Does the United States Have a Future?”, available on Amazon.com  It will help you to get the gist.  I believe I invited members of your staff to my presentation of that book in The National Press Club, Washington, D.C. on December 7th just as I invited my Harvard classmate Senator Richard Blumenthal. Neither your staff nor his was there. Alas…  That event is available for viewing on youtube in case a staffer can find the time for it.

As a down payment on the analysis I am prepared to offer your staff, I refer you to my overview of the release of the Kremlin Report as it was covered by Russian and American media and where it heads us:  https://consortiumnews.com/2018/01/31/treasurys-kremlin-report-seen-as-targeting-russian-economy/ 

 

Respectfully

Gilbert Doctorow

 

                                                   * * * * *

 Gilbert Doctorow is an independent political analyst based in Brussels. His latest book, Does the United States Have a Future? was published on 12 October 2017. Both paperback and e-book versions are available for purchase on http://www.amazon.com and all affiliated Amazon websites worldwide. See the recent professional review  http://theduran.com/does-the-united-states-have-a-future-a-new-book-by-gilbert-doctorow-review/    For a video of the book presentation made at the National Press Club, Washington, D.C. on 7 December 2017 see  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ciW4yod8upg

US policy on Russia: is the US Administration or Congress calling the shots? And where are sanctions leading?

by Gilbert Doctorow, Ph.D.

 

For reasons that I will explain below, Russia media were in a countdown to “D-Day,” 29 January, for weeks in advance, awaiting what they believed could mark a critical change for the worse in relations with the United States. In this they pitched their coverage to the country’s elites, who were under the Sword of Damocles of new U.S. sanctions that might be directed against them, but also to the general Russian public, who watched with curiosity and ominous concern lest there be a secondary impact of sanctions on the economy, on their livelihood and living standards.

The main document to be released was the so-called “Kremlin Report.” In its public version this report would contain lists of Russian government personnel and “oligarchs” alleged to be close to Putin for possible sanctions which the Trump Administration was required to file with Congress no later than on 29 January under the terms of the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act.  CAATSA was passed overwhelmingly by Congress and signed into law by President Trump on 2 August 2017, notwithstanding the Act’s directly contradicting his expressed desire to normalize relations with Russia. His signature was forced, in the recognition that his possible veto would be instantly overridden and further embitter his relations with Congress at a time when his Administration had still no legislative achievements to its record.

In anticipation of breaking developments of great importance to the nation, Russian media spared no expense to ensure their coverage on the ground in the U.S. at the time of the release of reports relating to sanctions would be appropriate to the suspense at home. The top-rated Russian state news channel, Rossiya-1 sent its principal talk show presenter Yevgeni Popov to Washington to head up a panel of local experts that would get extensive broadcast time back home. Among the American panelists chosen to speak about the Kremlin Report were the credible and well known commentators Paul Sanders of The National Interest and David Filipov, until recently the Moscow bureau chief of The Washington Post. Their live coverage began at mid-day Moscow time which turned out to be almost 20 hours before the Report about which they were expected to comment was actually released. No matter, talk shows often dwell on speculation and so the medium did not disappoint.

By contrast, American and European media reacted with variable speed to the release of the Kremlin Report by the Treasury Department after the fact. Part of the lag in timing and variable extent of coverage among Western media on two continents may be explained by the 6 hour time difference between North America and Europe: the report was released just before midnight on the 29th. This was an inconvenient hour for reporters, columnists and editorial boards on both sides of the Atlantic. Partly the differences in coverage may be explained by the level of prioritization the various players in the media give to Russian affairs.

In any case, be it known that notwithstanding the midnight hour of release, the European newspapers The Financial Times (UK) and Le Monde were right there in their morning online editions with excellent news coverage of the reports that remained factual and did little or no editorializing. This set them apart from other mainstream print media on the Continent who had zero coverage even in the middle of the business day on the 30th. I think in particular of The Guardian (UK), Le Figaro (France), Die Zeit or Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (Germany).

Tuesday morning in the United States found no coverage of the Kremlin Report in mainstream print media including The New York Times and The Washington Post. Typically on major developments relating to Russia that somehow take an unexpected turn, as was surely the case with the Kremlin Report as I explain below, the editorial boards take their time, sniff the air to see which way the wind is blowing, and only then commit themselves to an editorial position that directs their journalistic reporting. And so it was not before mid-afternoon that the online edition of The New York Times took a stand on the Report. And it was an equivocal and arm’s length stand, telling us that the Trump Administration had issued a report that managed to offend both sides to the issue: the Russians and the American Congressmen, both sides being outraged at the lists and how they were compiled.

U.S. electronic media were faster off the mark and gave much more extensive coverage to the issue of the Kremlin Report and Russia sanctions. None entered the fray with greater zest for the scent of blood than CNN, the longstanding bête noire of the Trump Administration. CNN reporter and guest experts rounded on the President for defying the will of Congress and not immediately ratcheting up the sanctions on Russia to punish them for their meddling in the 2016 presidential elections and to prevent continued meddling in the 2018 midterm elections as CIA director Pompeo had warned might happen just the day before.

Meanwhile, Bloomberg’s online article on the sanctions was factual if brief, while their opinion writer specializing in Russian affairs, Leonid Bershidsky, smelled a rat in the way the lists of officials and in particular “oligarchs” had been compiled. As one-time chief editor of the Russian edition of Forbes, the rather embittered anti-Putin émigré Bershidsky used his space less for objective analysis and more for editorializing on how the lists really should have been drawn up and on how sanctions should have been imposed now.

* * * *

Russian concerns over what exactly the Trump Administration would issue had been fed by statements to the media from several advisers to the sanctions list project, all of whom have well established reputations as Russia-bashers. I make reference to the authors of an article entitled “How to Identify the Kremlin Ruling Elite and its Agents. Criteria for the US Administration’s Kremlin Report” published by the Atlantic Council on 13 November 2017.(http://www.atlanticcouncil.org/blogs/new-atlanticist/how-to-identify-the-kremlin-ruling-elite-and-its-agents) These are Anders Aslund, Daniel Fried, Andrei Illarianov and Andrei Piontkovsky. The idea they wished to see realized was an exposé of Putin and his “cronies,” tracing their alleged illicit gains through corruption and abuse of power. Their view follows directly on the principles that guided the first American sanctions on Russia, the Magnitsky Act of 2012.  In the days just before the 29th, Russian television carried a short video of several of the authors. One, Aslund, boasted that the coming sanctions would be “smart,” i.e. targeted against the malefactors running things in Russia while doing no harm to the general population.

For more than a week in advance of what they called “Judgment Day,” Russian media had featured warnings that the Kremlin Report could spell sharply stepped up sanctions.  In Davos last week, Andrei Kostin, CEO of VTB Bank, one of the country’s largest state-owned financial institutions decried the expected new sanctions as all-out economic warfare which would get a very harsh response from the Kremlin.

Against the background of threats by American Neocons and Russian fears and warnings in response, US Ambassador in Moscow Jon Huntsman  had, in the meanwhile, been issuing statements to the press insisting that the sanctions would not be a serious impediment to relations,, that he sought dialogue with Russia just as his counterpart, the Russian Ambassador in Washington, was doing, and that there remain prospects for cooperation in areas of common interest notwithstanding the disagreements making the news.

So we must ask yet again, which voice on Russia policy coming from Washington is authoritative?  Who has the upper hand:  Congress or the Administration?  And within the Administration, the President or his cabinet, and in particular his Secretary of State, who has in recent months become an intellectual hostage to the same Neocons who ran the Obama foreign policy and before that the foreign policy of George W. Bush?

The “Kremlin Report” mandated by U.S. law was released to the public by the Treasury at the same time as a longer secret redaction was delivered to Congress.  The time of delivery and more importantly the content of the report suggest that the Trump Administration was responding punctiliously to the letter of a law that the President had opposed but could not veto given its fulsome support in the legislature. I will go a step further: the Administration dragged its feet and produced at the very last moment a report that could have been compiled in a couple of hours if it so desired. And the public version of the report itself is so patently absurd in content as to bring ridicule on the Congress that ordered it.

To wit, as the few Russians who were amused by this cynical anti-Russian exercise commented, the authors of the Kremlin Report lists of 200 plus Russians eligible for future sanctions just took the telephone directory of the Russian cabinet of ministers, presidential administration, and parastatal institutions and copied down the names of the top officers.  The only high official omitted was Vladimir Putin himself. As for the “oligarchs,” they were arbitrarily defined as persons with net worth of more than $1 billion, as shown in the Forbes ranking of the 100 richest persons in Russia.

If there was any exposé, any dirt on Russia’s government and business elite in the secret version of the report, one can be sure that would have been leaked by now, given past behavior of the US authorities in anti-Russian operations.  Nothing at all has surfaced so far.

This, of course, did not prevent the Russian authorities from hyperventilating over the sanctions report when asked to comment by local and international media today.  For his part,while attending a campaign gathering, Vladimir Putin explained his views on the Kremlin Report when he answered a question from the floor as to why he alone in the Government was not on the sanctions list.  Said Putin, the Report named individuals and office-holders behind which stood whole sectors of the economy and strata of the population, In that sense the sanctions lists embraced the entire Russian nation of 146 million people. He noted that things could have been worse, and that he had been prepared, if necessary, to cut all ties with the United States down to zero. Nonetheless, he deemed the release of the Kremlin Report to be a hostile act that would contribute only to further deterioration of relations with the United States. For the moment, there would be no Russiancounter-measures, but his Government would adopt a wait-and-see posture.

Indeed, while the Kremlin Report did not introduce new personal sanctions and only identified those who would be the first to feel them if the situation justifying sanctions changed, that situation itself is very much under the control of American authorities and their proxies in Ukraine, in the Baltics, in Syria. The possibility is ever present that some miscalculation or some provocation would once again bring opprobrium upon the Russian Federation and prompt imposition of severe sanctions that were averted now.

Finally, let us consider the second report delivered by the Trump Administration to Congress last night under the terms of the CAATSA: the report on advisability of further sectoral sanctions on Russian companies. This was still more brief and will surely be questioned by the Russia-bashers in Congress. The Administration reported that the existing sectoral sanctions on Russia’s Military Industrial Complex and on those who do business with it domestically in Russia and abroad were working effectively, so that no further sectoral actions were required. Specifically, it was claimed that thanks to the sanctions in place, Russia had been denied sales of arms worth several billion dollars.

That claim may be hard to verify, but 29 January was also the effective date for application of previously enacted sanctions on companies anywhere in the world doing business with prescribed Russian defense manufacturers and sales or import entities. The ultimate objective of these sanctions is to attack Russia’s arms sales abroad which amounted to more than $14 billion in 2017, making it one of the largest suppliers worldwide. Major customers for Russian arms were India, China, Algeria, Vietnam, Iraq and Egypt as reported by the news agency RBC quoting Jane’s for 2016.

Theoretically the US can punish companies violating this ban on dealings with the Russian military industrial complex by applying any of 5 different sanctions including restricting their access to credits from American banks, a prohibition on carrying out transactions in dollars, barring their officers from entering the United States. 

However, in practice these sales can be shifted from private companies to Ministries of Defense, and then the feasibility of attaching sanctions becomes doubtful.  The recent efforts of the US to persuade the Turkish authorities to abandon their $2.5 billion contract with Russia for procurement of its S-400 air defense system failed miserably.  In these open trials of strength with the objective of punishing Russia, the United States exposes itself to failure and humiliation.

To summarize, should the United States resolve one day to impose sanctions on the whole Russian government listed in the Kremlin Report of 29 January, it will create a barrier that will quickly be broken by kinetic action, meaning a hot war with Russia.  If it implements the possibilities it theoretically enjoys against Russian industrial sectors, and in particular against the military industrial complex, then it is likely to suffer humiliation as other nations refuse to be bullied. For the United States in relation to Russia, the whole sanctions game amounts to a “heads you win, tails I lose” proposition. 

 

 

© Gilbert Doctorow, 2018

      * * * *

 Gilbert Doctorow is an independent political analyst based in Brussels. His latest book, Does the United States Have a Future? was published on 12 October 2017. Both paperback and e-book versions are available for purchase on http://www.amazon.com and all affiliated Amazon websites worldwide. See the recent professional review  http://theduran.com/does-the-united-states-have-a-future-a-new-book-by-gilbert-doctorow-review/    For a video of the book presentation made at the National Press Club, Washington, D.C. on 7 December 2017 see  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ciW4yod8upg

The coming Russia-Ukraine War: update and analysis

by Gilbert Doctorow, Ph.D.

 

While the United States and a good many countries around the world this weekend have been reflecting on the first anniversary of Donald Trump’s move into the Oval Office, drawing up balance sheets of his promises and achievements, Russia has had a rather different issue on the front-burner:  the coming war with Ukraine.

The situation in Donbass (South-Eastern Ukraine) has been an intermittent feature of Russia’s political talk shows for the past couple of years, along with the military campaign in Syria and more recently the stages in the preparation for presidential elections on 18 March. 

To be sure, minds became focused on Donbass in the closing weeks of 2017 as military action on the front lines separating the forces of the self-proclaimed republics of Donetsk and Lugansk enjoying Russian support from Ukrainian militias and armed forces reached an intensity not seen for more than a year. This, despite the heralded exchange of military prisoners by both sides before New Year’s under talks supervised by the Patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church Kirill.

Then, this past Thursday there came a wholly new development.  Readers in the United States and Europe may be forgiven for knowing nothing about it as yet.  Only the Russians have placed it under the microscope and have been seeking to give it meaning.  I am speaking about a draft law passed that day by the Ukrainian Parliament (Supreme Rada) which the Russians believe amounts to a declaration of war.

As usual, the most comprehensive interpretation of this emotion-charged development has been delivered by the head of all Russian television and radio news services, Dmitri Kiselyov on his Sunday evening news wrap-up.

 

Dmitri Kiselyov,  News of the Week, Sunday, 21 January 2018

 

According to Kiselyov, the new law, which awaits Poroshenko’s signature, ends Kiev’s participation in the Minsk Accords and prepares for war.  The mission in Donbass is no longer described as an “anti-terrorist operation.” The mission now is to send armed forces against “military formations of the Russian Federation” in Donbass.   A military HQ is created to coordinate the military operation to be waged in Donbass. Whereas till now the self-declared republics of Donetsk and Lugansk were under the Minsk Accords considered as negotiating parties, there are henceforth only “occupation administrations” of the Russian Federation on these territories.  Russia is identified as an “aggressor.”  Says Kiselyov, “This makes it all the more convenient for Ukraine to start a war.” In this way, Poroshenko has prepared the way not to pay the country’s foreign debts. In this way he has prepared to stay in power forever.

The report then switches over to the Vesti reporter on the ground in Donetsk.  Local residents confirm that the law means war.  They see the current moment on the front line as “calm before the storm.”  Donetsk soldiers at their trenches say they are fully ready to engage with the enemy.

 

Kiselyov draws back a bit, wondering whether he is not overstating the dangers.  Perhaps the draft law, which Poroshenko still has to sign, will not be implemented, like so much else passed by the Rada.  But it is not the law itself that is the issue. It is the mood in favor of war in Kiev. The facts speak for themselves, he tells us:  Poroshenko has done nothing to implement the Minsk Accords. Not one cease fire along the lines of contact has been observed. There are attacks and deaths every day. Only counter force has pushed back recent Ukrainian attempts to gain territory.  Kiev has written off the population of the two republics. It has cut off all transport and telecoms links. It does not pay pensions and assistance to the needy. It closed the banking system and there are no commercial ties. Kiev does not recognize the population of Donbass. For Kiev the two provinces are merely territory to take back from the occupiers.  

Other circumstantial evidence that war at this moment is in the interests of Kiev comes from the economic front. The EU has refused to extend 600 million euros of credits to Ukraine due to corruption. The IMF recently refused a tranche of $800 million over failure to introduce reforms. Meanwhile, in 2019 Ukraine has to start repaying earlier loans. This will come to 14 billion dollars a year, which amounts to one-half the state budget of Ukraine.  Due to the dire economic conditions, Poroshenko, Grossman and all the other government officials in Kiev have become utterly unpopular, They have no chance of winning any elections.

Apart from Kiev, who else wants a big war in Ukraine? .For its part, Europe is fed up with Ukraine.  Macron and Merkel no longer are keen to continue the Normandy format of negotiations.

However, the United States stands out as a backer of war. Washington has started delivering lethal weapons including the Javelin anti-tank missile system free of charge to Kiev. Trainers are now on location. The US has budgeted $350 million for the war in Ukraine.

And what does Russia say to all this.  Per Kiselyov, for Russia, the best would be to stay with Minsk. But it seems there is no way back.

Analysis and Forecast

 

The Maidan demonstrations which culminated in the coup d’etat of 22 February 2014 in Kiev overthrowing the government of nominally pro-Russian Premier Yanukovich have been seen  by some analysts as an operation of the Neocon dominated U.S. State Department under Barack Obama to take revenge for their humiliation a year earlier when Obama reneged on his declaration of “red lines” in Syria over chemical weapons attacks. To the surprise and dismay of the Deep State, Obama agreed to a Russian proposal that they oversee the destruction of Assad’s chemical arsenal instead of ordering an air attack on Damascus with the objective of overthrowing the Syrian dictator.  

Now that the United States has been again and still more decisively humiliated in Syria by the nearly complete military victory of Assad forces with substantial Russian air assistance, the Deep State once again is looking to Ukraine to wreak its vengeance on Russia.

 

It is clear that the Kremlin has very little to gain and a great deal to lose economically, diplomatically from a campaign now against Kiev.  If successful, as likely would be the case given the vast disparity in military potential of the two sides, it could easily become a Pyrrhic victory.  But notwithstanding Kiselyov’s calming words, it may well be that Moscow feels it has no choice. Kiev must be neutered now and very quickly, a new provisional government must be installed now and very quickly lest the United States and its NATO allies have the time to intervene militarily, creating the conditions for the outbreak of WWIII.

 

Watch this space in the coming days.

 

© Gilbert Doctorow, 2018

      * * * *

 Gilbert Doctorow is an independent political analyst based in Brussels. His latest book, Does the United States Have a Future? was published on 12 October 2017. Both paperback and e-book versions are available for purchase on http://www.amazon.com and all affiliated Amazon websites worldwide. See the recent professional review  http://theduran.com/does-the-united-states-have-a-future-a-new-book-by-gilbert-doctorow-review/    For a video of the book presentation made at the National Press Club, Washington, D.C. on 7 December 2017 see  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ciW4yod8upg