Western media today, 28 April 2022

Compliance with Russian payment demands in rubles for gas deliveries: Western reporting falls on its own sword

It is widely assumed in the general public that all Russian news sources are propaganda, which justifies the banning of these sources from the airwaves, or to put it into simpler English, justifies the unprecedented Western censorship about which none of our human rights activists seems to care a fig. So much for European values!

However, in the The Financial Times reporting today on the unraveling of Europe’s supposed unified stand against payment for Russian gas in rubles we see that censorship is destroying not the Russia media but the Western media which, in the absence of competition and challenge, is printing and disseminating every ignorant and self-contradictory utterance that comes out of the mouths of European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, Charles Michel and Co. without exercising the slightest logic check.

Let me be specific. The article in question is entitled “EU energy groups prepare to meet Vladimir Putin’s terms for Russian gas. Germany’s Uniper and Austria’s OMV plan rouble accounts while Eni of Italy weighs options”. This piece has been slapped together by Sam Jones in Vienna, Andy Bounds in Brussels, Guy Chazan in Berlin and Marton Dunai in Budapest.  Going through the text and encountering the whoppers I will discuss below, you have to wonder where is the editorial staff of the FT to keep their feature articles at a level worthy of the world’s business elites who are their subscribers.

In line with the overall propaganda line set by the United States in the ongoing vicious Information War, cause and effect are systematically reversed.  Every dastardly intention and act laid at the door of Russia is, upon a moment’s reflection, actually being initiated by the West.  This game starts early on, in paragraph five:  “The preparations [for payment in rubles as demanded by Russia] show the impact of Russian efforts to weaponise gas supplies and challenge the EU’s ability to maintain a united front against Moscow.”

The authors have not gone one step further in their reasoning: they do not suggest that the evil intention of the Kremlin is to sow discord among European states. That is the subject of another feature article in today’s online edition of The Financial Times entitled “‘Divide and rule’: Russia’s rationale for halting gas flows to Poland and Bulgaria.” Apparently the authors Harry Dempsey and Neil Hume have forgotten or never heard the remark attributed to Sigmund Freud that sometimes ‘a cigar is just a cigar,’ meaning that there is no need for exotic explanations of a simple fact.

Wouldn’t it be more logical to say that the unprecedented freezing of Russian Bank dollar and euro assets in the West had the effect of “weaponizing” gas supplies?  If the existing contracts calling for payment in euros were to continue, the effect, as intended by the European policy makers, was to deprive Russia of the proceeds of its sales, all of which would be frozen in turn.

In the next paragraph the FT authors quietly acknowledge that “the EU sanctions against Russia’s central bank” prompted Vladimir Putin to impose the new rules for payment in rubles purchased on the Russian currency market. Of course, no conclusions are drawn from this fact regarding who is acting and who is reacting.

Then the FT cites Ursula von der Leyen’s description of the Russian cutoff of gas to Poland and Bulgaria over their refusal to sign up to the new payment scheme as “being tantamount to blackmail.”   Blackmail?   No deliveries if we get no money is blackmail?  Or is it rather just the application of normal rules of international business?

The FT writer group then opines that compliance with Russia’s new payment procedures “would result in Russia being able to access billions in gas revenues to support its currency and its economy…” But why else does one country sell its wares to another country?  Out of charity? With no cash receipts expected or demanded?

I will not belabor the points made above.  The FT can make its pitch to schoolchildren who have never studied business or economics.  But how they dare to feed this nonsense to the company directors and bank presidents who comprise their readership defies comprehension.

©Gilbert Doctorow, 2022

Russian Media Today, 26 April 2022

The number one news item on Russian state television on 26 April was the meeting in Rammstein, Germany of defense officials from the United States and 40 allied countries to set policy on providing military assistance to Ukraine, including the provision for monthly such meetings going forward.

 The U.S. delegation was headed by Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, and his remarks were parsed by Russia’s ‘talking heads. They also delivered their considerations on the practical value of the deliveries of heavy weaponry that Germany and other European countries pledged during the gathering.

As is now the rule, the very best discussion of these issues was on the political talk show “The Great Game,” which features the most calm and collected analysis of the day’s hot news items. None of the panelists tries to shout down others, which has been the long tradition of such shows. All are warned by the moderator against presuming to give military advice to the nation’s Commander-in-Chief. And yet even here it was clear that the mood of panelists is for more decisive action against Ukraine right now, meaning the bombing of the ‘decision making institutions’ in Kiev, as the Russian Ministry of Defense proposed to do a week ago in response to Ukrainian missile and artillery attacks across the border with Russia. This was made all the more topical by the statements of the British delegation in Rammstein encouraging the Ukrainians to do precisely that, and by the corresponding offer to ship appropriate missiles to Kiev now. The panelists also want the transportation infrastructure of Ukraine to be destroyed without delay in order to prevent the new heavy weaponry being shipped to Kiev from ever reaching the Ukrainian forces at the front.

Surely the bombing of central Kiev will come, effectively removing the Ukrainian regime. But it will come at the moment of choosing of Vladimir Vladimirovich and will signal the Russian decision to break up Ukraine into several states, as the Secretary of the Security Council of the Russian Federation Nikolai Patrushev yesterday said might be in the cards if the war drags on due to Western intervention and cheerleading.

With respect to Lloyd Austin’s statement yesterday that the United States’ objective is to greatly weaken Russian armed forces over an extended period of time, the panelists on The Great Game offered an interpretation that is well worth repeating here.  The Russians view this as an admission by Washington that the Ukrainians’ position on the battlefield is hopeless. The Americans now seek to redefine their objectives so as to turn a defeat into an apparent victory.  Whatever happens on the front lines in the coming days and weeks, Washington will be able to say that it forced Russia to dip deeply into its store of missiles and other high tech gear, that it forced Russia to lose a substantial part of its professional soldiers.  The objective is now intentionally vague and stands independently of the possible loss of Ukrainian’s main army forces adjacent to the Donbas in a ‘cauldron’ of confinement where they will be killed like herrings in a barrel.

As regards the newly announced shipment of super tanks from Germany and other high tech gear from other NATO Member States, the Russian panel appeared confident this will be too little, too late and would be mostly destroyed on the ground by Russian missiles and aerial bombing.

The foregoing is all more reassuring about our future survival here in Brussels and in New York than any U.S. declarations yesterday that nuclear war is off the table.

©Gilbert Doctorow, 2022

Russian media today, 25 April 2022

As I have noted previously, there is a firewall between what Western major media are reporting daily about the situation in the Russia-Ukraine War and more generally about Russia versus what one sees on Russian state television and reads in the Russian news agencies.  On the advice of a colleague in Washington, I will now as occasion requires post news developments from Russia that Western audiences otherwise are not receiving despite their importance as indicators of where East-West relations are headed and whether we are all likely to survive the coming weeks.

The top such news item in Russia today is the successful capture by the Russian state intelligence agency FSB of a gang of would-be assassins based in Moscow and acting under orders from Kiev to kill the leading Russian talk show host Vladimir Solovyov, about whom I have written these past few weeks.  And their ‘kill list’ went on to take in other leading personalities on Russian state television:  Dmitry Kiselyov (director of all Russian television news programming), Yevgeny Popov, Olga Skabeyeva and  Margarita Simonian (editor-in-chief of RT).

The gang, which appears to consist of White Power and other neo-Nazi elements, was interrogated before video cameras and the videos have been posted on the Russian internet by TASS and other state news agencies.

As might be expected, Russian media have been properly roiled by this news. I caught the discussion on Vyacheslav Nikonov’s afternoon edition of “The Great Game.”  His panelists saw this ‘terrorism’ as a new phase in Ukraine’s hybrid war that is being stage managed from Washington.  Panelists made the point that the West has been very lucky till now that Russia’s president, Vladimir Putin, has shown great forbearance by not responding in kind to the vicious war being waged by Washington, which always remains one step short of kinetic war in the mistaken belief that these kinds of aggression are water-tight and mutually exclusive. The panelists stressed that at a certain point Putin will indeed respond and the response will be kinetic.  The message was addressed to Messrs. Blinken and Austin, who, following their meeting with Zelensky, said at a press conference at the Polish-Ukrainian border, that the goal of the U.S. in the  whole matter of the Ukraine-Russian war is to so weaken Russia that it will be incapable of similar actions in the future.  In simple English, what they are saying is that the U.S. ambition is to destroy Russia.  The masks have been dropped.

Another item in Russian news yesterday and today has been the screening several times a day of videos taken in the United States during Joe Biden’s latest trips across the country to sell his narrative on the economic travails America is now experiencing.  Two separate speeches end in Biden’s turning from the lectern and seeking to the shake someone’s hand when there is in fact no one around him. Biden then looks lost and makes a sad retreat from the stage. 

Nikonov remarked that these videos have not been aired on major U.S. television, have not been reported on in mainstream print media.  My friend in Washington confirms that this is so.  Meanwhile, the fact of Biden’s blatant disorientation was denounced by Donald Trump a day ago – so at least he has seen the videos which the Russians take as indicative of the mental degeneration of the U.S. President and a token of the degeneration of the entire U.S. political class. Trump commented that Biden’s disorientation is something the country has never seen before and that the Biden administration has put the U.S. on a path to hell.

Where will all this end?   It is not headed in a good direction

©Gilbert Doctorow, 2022

“They must be out of their minds”: how the Collective West is stumbling towards nuclear Armageddon

I have in past weeks focused attention on the political talk show “Evening with Vladimir Solovyov,” calling it the best of its kind on Russian state television and a good indicator of the thinking of  Russia’s political elites.  However, it is time to admit that in terms of overall quality of presentation, level of invited panelists and screening of videos of topical developments in the West to inform the panelist discussion, Solovyov is now being outdone by Vyacheslav Nikonov’s “Great Game” talk show. 

“The Great Game” in the past featured live discussion with its anchor in Washington, director of the National Interest think tank , Dmitry Simes.  Now Simes is a rare guest, and the panel format more closely resembles that of other political talk shows, with the following notable qualification:  the host, Nikonov, is an unusually gifted moderator, who does not impose his views on the panel and brings out the best from his panelists. Nikonov is a leading member of the Russian parliament from the ruling United Russia party, and has broad experience running parliamentary committees.  As the grandson of Bolshevik revolutionary Molotov, he happens also to be a member of the hereditary ruling clans and practices ‘noblesse oblige’ in his public service work.

It bears mention that alongside the Solovyov show and the widely viewed Sixty Minutes talk show of Yevgeny Popov and Olga Skabeyeva, ‘The Great Game’ has evolved from a once or twice weekly event to a virtually daily affair, indeed with a couple of afternoon and evening time slots as justified by fast moving current events.

Notwithstanding the foregoing, Vladimir Solovyov has at least one advantage making it worthwhile to tune in. To my knowledge, he is the only host to go outside the usual circuit of ‘talking heads’ from universities, think tanks and the Duma. Solovyov regularly feature a bona fide top manager in the arts who rubs shoulders daily with the ‘creative classes’ and shares with the audience what he hears from them.  I have in mind Mosfilm general director Karen Shakhnazarov. 

Over the course of the past six weeks, I have several times pointed to the changing mood of Shakhnazarov with respect to the ‘special military operation in Ukraine.’  At first he was buoyant, then he was fearful that the operation was going badly and running out of control, and finally he appeared to be ‘all in,’ looking for ways for Russia to win decisively and quickly.

Last night, we heard from yet another mood swing.  I bring it to the attention of readers, because it has great relevance to the current complete passivity of our general public in the face of some very peculiar policy decisions with respect to Russia being made at the highest levels in the USA and in Europe, with zero public consultation so far.

To be specific, Shakhnazarov expressed amazement and deep worry that Western leaders have literally ‘lost their minds’ by pursuing measures to destabilize Russia in the hope of precipitating the overthrow of Vladimir Putin and maybe even the disintegration of Russia in a way similar to the dissolution of the USSR in late 1991.  Shakhnazarov remarked that total absence of common or any other sense in Joe Biden is to be expected because of his health (read: senility). But his jaw dropped when he heard that the Chancellor of Germany, Olaf Scholz, declared a couple of days ago that “Russia must not be allowed to win this war!”    Where are his brains? Shakhnazarov asked rhetorically.

The point of Shakhnazarov’s reasoning is as follows:   Russia is the world’s leading power in terms of nuclear arms. An overthrow of Putin would lead to chaos, and very likely to genuine radicals assuming power.  Their aggressive inclinations for policy to the West would be underpinned by the vast majority of the Russian population, which, in Shakhnazarov’s view, is now overcome with pure hatred for the West brought on by the sanctions, by the rampant Russophobia that is now public policy in Europe and the USA. If the conflict should escalate to use of tactical nuclear missiles and beyond, then Russia would no longer limit its strikes to military installations but will happily target all capitals and population centers in Europe and, we may assume, in North America.   In a word, Shakhnazarov equates destabilization of Russia with nuclear Armageddon.

I repeat, these are the fears of a highly responsible and publicly visible Russian general manager in the arts.  Is anybody in the West with comparable standing even beginning to imagine the coming catastrophe let alone speak out about it?

Before closing, I redirect attention to a major newsworthy development in Russia yesterday afternoon which even our Western media have reported on this morning:  the test launch of Russia’s new Sarmat ICBM, which sets new records for speed, distance, destructive force of its MIRV warheads and, surely most important, imperviousness to all known and projected anti-missile systems in the West.  Part of the invulnerability of the Sarmat is a function of its range, which extends to every point on planet Earth.  Sarmat’s trajectory can be set as best suits its undetectability. For example, it can hit the USA by approach via the South Pole, thereby evading American tracking systems, which look to attack from the Northwest. The Sarmat’s 7 or 15 nuclear warheads can each also evade ABM systems and head for target at hypersonic speeds.

Starting in September, the Sarmat will be installed in silos till now housing the world’s most powerful ICBM, the Voevoda, which will be gradually retired and redeployed as launchers for commercial satellites.

In his words of congratulations to the designers, project developers, and manufacturers of the Sarmat, President Putin stressed the importance of the new armaments as Russia’s dissuasion directed against those in the West who would threaten the country militarily.   Is anybody listening?

©Gilbert Doctorow, 2022

Unasked, unanswered questions

Questions not being asked about the Mariupol die-hards, about the availability from today of Euro and dollar cash withdrawals at Russian banks, and much more

As I have remarked in earlier diary entries, the Russians are very sparing in the information they release daily on the status of the war effort.  A couple of days ago, we were shown the 1300 or so Ukrainian marines who surrendered in Mariupol. Yesterday, Russian television devoted a lot of time to brief interviews with some of these prisoners of war, all of whom were Russian speakers, by the way.  No surprises there, of course, since the whole region is basically Russian speaking, which is why there is a civil war going on against the extreme nationalist government in Kiev which has sought from the beginning to wipe out the language, the culture and all Russian ethnic identity.

There was another curious news item yesterday on Russian television: a video report on the capture of the latest mobile air defense system produced in Ukraine, which was abandoned by its technical crew in mint condition, with all of the manufacturer’s technical brochures still intact.  Here again, most peculiarly, all of the technical documentation is in Russian!  This would be amusing if the broad context were not tragic, set alongside the number of Ukrainian servicemen whom the Russians have listed as killed in action:  over 23,700.  That is approximately eight times the number Zelensky gave to the press the day before.

Finally, Russian news in the past day recounted how a Ukrainian freight plane loaded with Western military supplies was shot down by Russian forces as it approached Odessa from the sea.

Aside from these feature items in the news, Russian authorities continue to give no overall picture of how the campaign is proceeding.  Strangely, Ukrainian news sources from the field can be more informative.  Among the items today posted on www.news.google.ru  are reports from the Ukrainian controlled administration of what remains of Lugansk under their control.  They speak of Russian artillery attacks, on the damage being done to houses in hamlets, on the evacuation of civilians to the West ahead of Russian advances on the ground. All of this is in anticipation of the full-scale Russian onslaught on Donbas expected imminently.

Western media have been featuring today the “brave” decision of the remaining Ukrainian forces in Mariupol, holed up in the underground fortress of the Azovstal works, to refuse the Russian offer of their lives in exchange for unconditional surrender.  But Western coverage asks no questions whatsoever about the decision and what it tells us about the regime in Kiev that these thousand or so die-hards are serving, seemingly heroically.  Russian talk shows today shine a spotlight on that very question and produce some interesting interpretations.  We are told that Kiev instructed the Azov battalion leaders and those aligned with them in Mariupol to fight to the end and not to negotiate with the Russians over surrender. From within the ranks of the desperate troops underground, whose ammunition, food and water are all depleted, we are told that anyone daring to speak in favor of surrender is being shot on the spot. We are also told that among the 1,000 or so hold-outs are 400 foreign mercenaries including a goodly number of high ranking NATO instructors.  Since from the standpoint of Kiev those instructors are better dead than taken alive, we may assume they are from Member States lower in the pecking order than the British pair of cut-throats taken several days ago who may yet be saved by intervention of Boris Johnson in a prisoner exchange.  Shall we assume that the NATO instructors in the lower tunnels of Azovstal are Polish or Lithuanian?  I think that would be a fair guess. 

So much for easy questions that go unasked, let alone unanswered by Western media, by Russian media or by both.  Now I will raise a different question just to demonstrate how the news and analysis flow on  this ‘special military operation’  or war, if you will, runs in a narrow rut.  The net result is that we have very limited ability to understand what is going on and where we are all headed.

I will just turn attention to the announcement in Russia that as of today the public can make cash withdrawals of dollars and euros in substantial amounts, and also can order foreign currency transfers abroad, up to $5,000 if I understood properly.  This means that poor Mr. Piotr Aven, the billionaire banker and Russian wheeler dealer sitting in London at present with his vast assets frozen under sanction rules, may yet be able to pay his chauffeur by ordering a transfer from his Sberbank account in Moscow. 
Curiously no one is asking how and why Russia has reopened nearly free currency exchange and cash withdrawals after a month of strict clampdown.  Where are the dollar bills and euro notes coming from?  Surely the question is begging to be asked. It is not coming in from tourists to Russia since there are virtually no foreign tourists in Russia at present.  It is not being carried by foreign business visitors for the same reason.  So let us guess.  Could it be that Germany and other select EU Member States are delivering plane loads of cash to Moscow to pay for their gas, oil and coal deliveries? Yes, this would allow them to claim they are defying Putin over payment in rubles while respecting the terms of their long term contracts with Gazprom. But it is a pretty picture that they would not want made public, since the European Parliament would make the life of them all quite unbearable if the word got out.  Perhaps readers can offer better explanations.

©Gilbert Doctorow, 2022

The Russian Way of War: Part Two

Sometime in the distant future, when the Russian internal documents relating to the conduct of this war in Ukraine are made public, one of the great conundrums of our time may finally receive a definitive answer:  why Russia has been prosecuting its ‘special military operation’ in Ukraine with one hand tied behind its back, always holding back the vast destructive forces at its command, and so drawing out the operation and suffering losses of its soldiers in a way which a more cruel, ‘American style’ campaign would largely have avoided. 

At the very start of the armed conflict, I remarked on the specifics of what I called ‘the Russian Way of War’ now being applied in Ukraine. This approach does not inflict death on huge numbers of civilians, does not count on a ‘shock and awe’ initial attack to demoralize and overrun the enemy.  I said at the time that the overriding considerations on the Russian side were the traditional ‘brotherly’ relations between Ukrainians and Russians, who were extensively intermarried and had relations on both sides of the national frontiers. The intent of Vladimir Putin and his war collegiums was to do minimal damage to the Ukrainian people, to try to separate the ‘healthy’ elements in the Ukrainian military command from the rabid nationalist Azov and similar irregular forces that had become embedded in the army over the past eight years. If the two could be separated, the war could be won with absolute minimum expenditure of materiel and loss of life.

However, in the early weeks of the operation, after it had become manifestly clear that these were illusions, that Russia was facing a unified military force supported by widespread popular civilian backing, still there was no change visible in how Russia was operating on the ground.  The only hint of change to come was the refocusing of available forces on the capture of Mariupol, to secure the whole Azov Sea littoral and the progressive redirection of the ground forces to the encirclement of the major part of the Ukrainian army that was entrenched just to the west of the line of demarcation with Donbas. In compensation, there was the withdrawal of Russian troops from Kiev and Chernigov, in the north.

There has been a lot of supposedly expert analysis of the war from British, American and other retired generals.  Add to that the ignorant but voluble speculations of simple Western journalists, especially ladies, who have never held firearms of any kind let alone drawn up battle plans.  All of these Western commentators begin with assumptions on how an invasion of Ukraine should be fought, assuming the war was unleashed by the USA or Britain.  Any deviation by the Russian forces from the timetable or scope of such a Western style assault aimed, of course, at overthrowing the regime in Kiev and subjugating the entire country, is deemed to be a failure of morale or ability to coordinate air cover, artillery and other elements of the battle. Full stop. The conclusion they reach is that the Russian armed forces are far less ominous than we had feared, and we should not hesitate to expand NATO and push them back.

At the same time, no one, NO ONE, in the West has commented on a few obvious facts that place the Russian ‘military operation’ totally outside the traditions of invasions or other acts of aggression.  The Russians’ choice of words to describe what they were about to do was anything but arbitrary. They had specific objectives of ‘demilitarization’ and ‘denazification,’ to which was added in the past couple of weeks, almost as an afterthought, to secure the Donbas from any further attacks by Ukrainian forces positioned on the other side of the line of demarcation.  The importance of the last-named would not be obvious to Western readers, because the only war pictures put up on Western media are those showing suffering of residents of Mariupol or Khamatorsk.  However, Russian television viewers are shown daily the consequences of Ukrainian missile and artillery barrages on the civilian population of Donetsk and surrounding villages, with a daily death toll and casualties requiring hospitalization. This is only the tail of a story of vicious attacks in violation of the Minsk Accords that goes back eight years and produced more than 14,000 civilian deaths, of which the West has chosen to be oblivious to this very day.

The appointment several days ago of General Dvornikov to head the next phase of the war, the full liberation of the Donbas and liquidation of the main concentration of the Ukrainian ground forces, received immediate comment in the Western media.  Russian media are just beginning to catch up and publish their evaluation of what changes in the conduct of the war may result. 

Dvornikov distinguished himself as commander of Russia’s very successful military operation in Syria. He was known for effective coordination of air and ground forces, something for which the first phase of the war did not seem impressive, whether because of incompetence, as Western analysts insisted, or because of avoidance of collateral damage and loss of civilian life within the constraints of a geography where the enemy troops were intermixed with residential housing, as the Russian narrative insisted.  The new battlefield in Donbas would be far better suited to “technical” solutions of artillery and missile strikes.

However, the appointment of Dvornikov is only one sign that the Russian Way of War is being reconsidered at present in the highest levels of the Russian command.  In part, this is so because of the ever more daring, or shall we say reckless American and NATO promises to supply heavy armaments to Kiev. The alarm bells rang in Moscow yesterday over statements by a Deputy Secretary of Defense in Washington that the next level of support to Kiev would include intermediate range missiles capable of striking at airfields within Russia.

The Russian response to that threat was immediate.  General Konashenkov, the spokesman of the Russian military throughout the campaign, issued a special announcement that any attacks on Russian territory coming from Ukraine would result in Russia’s directing strikes at the decision-making instances in Kiev, which the Russian command had so far chosen not to do.  This obviously means the Ministry of Defense, Zelensky’s presidential administration, perhaps the Rada, as well as their handmaidens including Ukrainian television towers would now be instantly destroyed.  De facto regime change would be the direct consequence.

While the leaders of several European countries have in the last couple of days publicly discussed whether Russian actions in Ukraine constitute “genocide,” as Joe Biden blithely declared, no one seems to remark on the most glaring contradictions to any notion of Russia’s presently staging an all-out war in Ukraine. 

Ursula van der Leyen, Boris Johnson and the prime ministers of Poland and several Baltic States calmly travel to Kiev, stroll down the boulevards of central Kiev together with Zelensky, as if no war existed.  To be sure, they are surrounded by security escorts, but these are only of value should there be some violent passersby on their route.  The possibility of a Russian missile attack seems not to cross anyone’s mind.  In light of Konashenkov’s remarks, all that may change abruptly at any moment.

Finally, I am obliged to mention that not all military professionals in Russia have remained silent over how the ‘military operation’ is being conducted. Last week, reporting live from Mariupol and surveying the scene of utter destruction around him, Yevgeny Poddubny, the most experienced war correspondent of Russian state television, veteran of the Syrian war and other hotspots, quietly muttered, as if spontaneously: “in a military campaign you normally bring in forces six times the numbers of your opponent and here we were nearly matched in numbers.” Surely therer was nothing “offhanded” about that.

The point was repeated in yesterday’s edition of the semi-official newspaper Rossiiskaya Gazeta in an interview with Lieutenant General Leonid Reshetnikov, a retired officer of the foreign intelligence service. Reshetnikov said:

“When on the attack, military science tells you that you should have a minimum of three times the numbers of the defending side. But on the ground, according to available information, we are artacking from a minority position. We are achieving results that come very rarely in history, in Izyum, in Novaya Kakhovka and in other territories. This shows the mastery of our soldiers and command.” Yes, Reshetnikov has cast his remarks as a compliment, but the hidden criticism is there for anyone who cares to look closely.

                                                                     *****

From the beginning, I have directed attention to what Russian social, academic and political elites have to say about the ‘special military operation.’  One of my key markers has been the Evening with Vladimir Solovyov political talk show and yesterday’s edition provided a lot of food for thought.

First, with regard to sanctions, there was near unanimity among the panelists that it is time for Russia to respond directly and strongly to the full economic and hybrid war that the United States and Europe are now waging against their country.  They call for an immediate cut-off of gas supplies to Europe, to an embargo on export of titanium and other essential raw materials for advanced industrial production in the West.  One alternative to these cruel and devastating moves against Europe would be to try it all out first on Japan, which has been a fervent enforcer of the trade war on Russia and even in the past few days publicly came out in support of the Azov ultranationalists, by removing them from the list of global terrorists.  Russia should impose a total commercial embargo on Japan, beginning with hydrocarbons and extending into all spheres, such as fishing concessions. Moreover, Russia should position tactical nuclear weapons and other significant armaments on the Kurile Islands as a firm reminder of who owns these territories now and forever.

As regards military action, the consensus of the panelists was also in favor of all-out war on Ukraine, to hell with collateral civilian casualties. The war must be ended quickly, decisively and with minimum further Russian casualties. Period.  As several noted, it is highly likely that television viewers are also confused by Russia’s ‘softly, softly’ approach till now.  While they trust the Commander in Chief, they want more decisive action in the air and on the ground.  It is worth mentioning that the panelist who represents Russia’s ‘creative’ classes, director general of the Mosfilm studios, Karen Shakhnazarov, who had been wavering in his support for the war a couple of weeks ago, was now ‘all in’ and doing his best to find solutions to winning the kinetic war at once.

Then there was also the question of war mobilization. The consensus of panelists was that the Russian economy has to be put on a full war footing, with decision making concentrated in the Executive and removed from the hands of entrepreneurs.  This is required not for the ongoing conflict with Ukraine but for continuation of the wider war with the U.S.-led West that constitutes the context for the conflict.  Dispatch of longer range missiles to Kiev would make the USA a cobelligerent and Russia should be prepared to strike at the ‘decision making’ institutions there.

In short, the logic of the discussion on Solovyov’s show was that the Russians should make perfectly plain to Washington that it is courting disaster, that we are not in a video game but in a life and death struggle in which Americans do not enjoy immortality.

How much of this feistiness will influence the next moves from the Kremlin remains to be seen. But American analysts would do well to cast an eye on programs like Solovyov’s lest we all move on to end of the world scenarios out of ignorance and miscalculation.

©Gilbert Doctorow, 2022

Read all about it: Final days of the battle for Mariupol

The Russian operation to take the port city of Mariupol is drawing to a successful conclusion.  “Success”  has to be understood today in a qualified sense, since large parts of the city now lie in ruins and as many as 4,000 civilians may have been killed in the fighting, largely victims of trigger happy Ukrainian ultra-nationalists. The Azov battalion soldiers and other irregulars holding the city from fortified positions in residential communities of this city of 460,000 shot wantonly at those who tried to escape from the basements of apartment houses to fetch water or who dared attempt to join the humanitarian corridors and exit the city. The civilian population was held hostage and constituted a “human shield.” They protected the Ukrainian forces from the full fury of Russian artillery and precision air strikes, which otherwise would have been deployed.

All of the fighting over Mariupol has gotten very little coverage in the Western media. All that we heard about was the difficulty in establishing humanitarian corridors and interviews with the few terrorized civilians who managed to get out to the West.  To be fair, the situation on the ground in Mariupol has been reported only partially by the Russians because it has been very much a work in progress that they kept under rules of secrecy in line with their entire ‘special military operation.’

Now that the capture of Mariupol is in its final phase, some information of value has been published in alternative Russian media and I propose to present that here to give readers a sense of how this war is being prosecuted and why.  Main source:  https://www.9111.ru/questions/7777777771838727/

In effect, most of the city proper has been taken by the Russian army and Donetsk militias, with significant assistance from a battalion of Chechens headed by their leader Kadyrov.  As the routes out of the city heading east were freed and as the snipers and other Azov forces were pushed back to provide some level of safety in the streets, large numbers of civilians have left the city in the past week. It is estimated that the civilian population remaining in Mariupol at present is about one third what it was at the start of the conflict.

The Azov fighters, other irregulars and Ukrainian army forces numbered about 4,000 at the start and have been reduced due to casualties. They include among them “foreign mercenaries” as the Russians have said for some time.  Now from intercepted phone conversations of these belligerents, it appears that among the foreigners are NATO instructors. This means that the proxy war between Russia and the USA/NATO begins to approximate a direct confrontation, contradicting the public pronouncements coming from the Biden administration. Should the Russians succeed in taking these NATO instructors alive, which is one of their priority tasks, the next sessions of the UN Security Council could be very tense.

To be sure, the 4,000 enemy forces mentioned above were only those within the city. Ukrainian forces numbering six times more were positioned to the west of the city at the start of hostilities. Presumably they have been pushed back to the West.

As we have known for a week or so, the remaining Azov and other Ukrainian forces have retreated from the city proper to two locations on the outskirts of Mariupol:  the port and the Azovstal industrial territory. The Russians have now entirely encircled both.

The port runs for about 3 kilometers along the sea and reaches inland about 300 meters. It is from here that in the past week, the Azov group tried to send out by helicopter a dozen or more of its top officers. The helicopter was shot down by the Russians, killing all aboard.  A relief helicopter also was destroyed by the Russians, but here one Ukrainian survived and he was interrogated about the failed operation.

The port is now being cleared of enemy forces, with the Donbas militia taking the lead.  

The Azovstal industrial complex is a much tougher nut to crack. It consists of two steel works. Their specific feature is underground levels going down as much as six to eight stories, where the enemy has to be flushed out by siege methods not by artillery barrage or bombing.  As many as 3,000 nationalists and Ukrainian army soldiers may be there. The main task for the Russians is to watch all entrances and exits to the underground.

The Russians are not bombing for two reasons:

First, there is no sense in destroying the infrastructure above the ground level if the enemy is holed up below.  Moreover, there are some residential buildings in the vicinity.

Second, if you bomb and bury the nationalists underground, then there will be no witnesses to bring to court to talk about the atrocities which these people have committed in the Donbas. And there may well be in these underground bunkers still more biological laboratories which were till now very carefully kept out of view. The Russians want to get their hands on proof.

Whatever the level of destruction may be, the pending Russian victory over Ukrainian forces in Mariupol is anything but Pyrrhic.  It is a full-blooded victory with great strategic importance insofar as it gives the Russians full control of the Azov Sea littoral. It seals the land bridge connecting the Russian Federation mainland with Crimea. It also is a key piece in ensuring water supplies to Crimea, which had been cut off by Ukraine in order to inflict maximum pain on Russian Crimea. With water now flowing once again from the Dnieper, there is a solid basis for resuming farming on Crimea in its traditional levels and also to support tourist inflows, a key source of income for the region. Add to that the likelihood that with some time and investment, Mariupol will reassume its important economic role as seaport and industrial town.

©Gilbert Doctorow, 2022

Postscript, 21 May 2022 In the past week approximately 500 civilians, mostly women, children and pensioners were released from the Azovstal complex via a humanitarian corridor supervised by international organizations and were permitted to move on east or west as they wished. In the past three days nearly 2,500 Azov fighters in the steelworks raised the white flag and surrendered to Russian authorities. Among them were 100 seriously wounded or ill soldiers who were taken to medical facilities for care while remaining in Russian custody. In short, there has been a total capitulation by the most determined and ‘heroic’ fighters on the Ukrainian side, including foreign mercenaries. Kiev has put a brave face on this defeat, calling it an “evacuation” and insisting that the fighters had successfully completed the mission assigned to them, which was to pin down large numbers of Russian troops for three weeks. The Russians do not mince words: they speak of their victory setting the stage for much larger surrender of Ukrainian troops in the Donbas as they close several ‘cauldrons’ and crush the resistance of the enemy in foritifed concrete bunkers by application of heavy artillery. During the coming weeks, the Russians will be conducting interrogations of all the POWs to separate out the neo-Nazi ringleaders whom they intend to bring to trial for war crimes against the civilian population of Donbas over the past eight years. Those tried in Russian courts will face sentences of up to 25 years imprisonment. Those tried in Donbas courts will face the death penalty. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has already appealed to Moscow “to show mercy” to British warriors who are among the captives. Such requests may soon turn to demands as Western governments and media raise the alarm over the trials in due course.

More on the Bucha atrocities: Iran’s Press TV

“Short and to the point.”  With those words I would characterize the 12 minute news bulletin on Iran’s Press TV yesterday in which I was given the microphone to place the Bucha scandal in the broader context of the ongoing vicious Information War. The United States and the United Kingdom are conducting precisely such a hands-off operation due to  their animal fear of confronting Russia in a kinetic war.  Moreover, it is the only kind of war they have any chance of winning, for all that is worth. The hasty, indecent withdrawal of the United States from Afghanistan last August capped a series of disastrous military adventures by the US and NATO forces in Iraq, Syria and Libya over the course of the past two decades that left millions of civilians dead and these given unfortunate countries in ruins economically and politically.

The result of the present Washington policies is a vast discrepancy between the “virtual world” being disseminated by the U.S. led Collective West and a “boots on the ground” reality from the Russians. 

As I note, for reasons of military secrecy, the Russians are divulging very little about their troop concentrations and immediate plans.  Consequently, we will have to wait some time to see the outcome. I anticipate it will be the utter destruction of the bulk of the Ukrainian military parked to the West of the Donbas demarcation line. Such an outcome will obviate the need for a negotiated peace treaty. Facts speak louder than words.

With regard to Press TV:  I draw your attention to the moderate and rather fair handed news management.  This drives home the fact that even in present day massive censorship in the USA and Western Europe and propagandistic manipulation of the media facilitated by a blackout on Russian news sources of all kinds (not just Sputnik and RT), the curious and open-minded public can find the “other side” or sides of issues making the headlines by tapping into the English language broadcasts of major global players like Turkey, Iran, India.

www.urmedium.com/c/presstv/107681

Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin’s Address to the State Duma, 07 April 2022

By good fortune, I turned on our satellite receiver of Russian state television today just in time to catch key moments from the Prime Minister’s annual report to the State Duma on the work of the Government in the year gone by. Mishustin described in substantial detail the Government’s funding for domestic social and economic needs in 2021, but went on to say how the appropriations are being greatly increased in the current year to counter the negative effects of the “sanctions from hell” which the USA and the EU unleashed after the start of the Russian “special military operation” in Ukraine on 24 February.

Mikhail Mishustin is a heavy-set man but radiates energy, mastery of the subject matter of the day and enormous confidence in the ability of his team to manage effectively all of the challenges, challenges which would have already sunk most every other nation on earth save China. Instead, Russia recovered from a brief collapse of the ruble exchange rate, attaining once again in the past few days the level from before the sanctions. Of course, the exchange rate is not the only measure of success in coping with the sanctions, but it is a good initial barometer of business and public confidence in the government’s financial management.

At his appointment by Putin a couple of years ago, Mikhail Mishustin had going for him a reputation as what the Russians call a хозяйственник, meaning a technocratic manager who can keep tight reins on government spending and get things done.  Following the trials of seeing Russia through the Covid crisis, Mishustin has filled out his inventory of skills to be a very impressive manager of men as well as means. He is a good public speaker.  What he is not is a politician: he does not pose a threat to the occupant of the Kremlin; instead he is deferential and mentioned at every turn how this or that initiative of the Government or the legislature is made in response to directives from the Head of State.

He spoke a good deal about support for the people in these trying times, in particular about subsidies for mortgage loans to ensure that housing construction remains at the highest levels of output ever seen in modern Russian history. This is good for employment and good for people’s well being. In farming communities, the mortgage will be held at 3%.

He spoke about the massive funding being realized for infrastructure build-out, in particular for roads having regional importance.  He talked about several industries having national importance which are being given special assistance – ship-building and civil aircraft production. The latter is being given every support to complete import substitution of all critical components, a task which began already several years ago following earlier waves of sanctions against Russia when Russia was denied supplies of the materials for composite wings on its newest passenger airliners.

But the greatest attention appeared to be to assist industry and commerce with subsidized credit for both investment and working capital. This takes on special importance under conditions of the very high prime rate (20%) which the Bank of Russia recently imposed to rein in inflation. The inflation was sparked by the sanctions and pull-out of foreign suppliers and manufacturers from the Russian market.  It also related to the collapse of the ruble in the early days of the ‘special military operation.’

Such high prime rates would normally put a halt to the currency exchange crisis which it did very nicely. However, it would normally also starve the economy of capital and so lead to sharp reduction of supply as well as of demand.  The measures that Mishustin set out, feeding capital at affordable rates directly to enterprises through subsidy arrangements with the banks, provides oxygen where it is needed at this critical moment.  The objective is to keep enterprises afloat, workers employed, and give a breathing space for the enormous challenges of import substitution to be resolved.  It all makes good sense.

In general, despite its statist overarching policies, which include, in present circumstances, naming champions in the target industrial sectors for import substitution, the government’s emphasis remains on encouraging private entrepreneurship at all levels, from small and medium sized enterprises, to the industrial giants, which are also under great stress from the sanctions.  That is to say, Russia remains predisposed to free markets as the best response to foreign pressure.

The statist, interventionist side of the present Government shows itself in the measures Mishustin listed with respect to facilitating closer cooperation between universities and other centers of research on the one side and industry on the other.  Going back to Soviet times, this was always a weak point in the Russian economy.  Now, listening to Mishustin, it appears that there are people in charge who know how to fix the problem just when the Russian economy will be in greatest need of innovation and new technological talents.

My take-away from Mishustin’s speech is that Russia has in place a world class management of the economy and finance.  Those in Washington who thought the country could be crushed misunderstood Russians and underestimated the capabilities, determination and sang froid of their Government.

But then there is nothing to be surprised at in this state of affairs.  Russian studies in the United States have been virtually useless to anyone for at least two decades.  Taking the well known and respected Harriman Institute of Columbia University as a marker, I can say that apart from LGBTQ issues in Russia or Ukrainian films, the monthly program of events for the student body has zero on offer. The lectures and round tables on the Ukraine war today are talk between tweedle-dum and tweedle-dee, with all panelists reading from State Department briefings, no different from what the journalists in mainstream media are doing.  Not an original perspective or thought to be found there. The field has been totally politicized into an anti-Putin street party and otherwise trivialized.  There is no way that this esteemed institution could help anyone in Washington planning economic warfare on Russia to understand the resilience of the Russian side and the futility of their mission.

©Gilbert Doctorow, 2022

P.S. – On the issue of the failure of Russian Studies in the United States to produce anything of value, I refer the reader to my 2013 essay in The Moscow Times: https://www.themoscowtimes.com/2013/11/18/defunding-russian-studies-may-be-a-blessing-a29668

R.I.P. Vladimir Volfovich Zhirinovsky

I met Vladimir Zhirinovsky just once, in the autumn of 2016 when I was a ‘hot property’ on the Russian political talk shows and took part in Evening with Vladimir Solovyov, where Zhirinovsky was one of the ‘regulars.’  My making the rounds of the talk shows was due to the keen interest just then of the production teams, and presumably of their domestic Russian audiences, in views of the Trump candidacy from bona fide Americans. This is all well before Covid and the Zoom era:  panelists on these shows had to be based in Moscow, or no further away than St Petersburg, where I was at the time, and had to be on call for invitations on a moment’s notice. There were very few Russian-speaking Americans with tested on-air political analytical skills who met those criteria. I was one.

In any case, my shared time with Zhirinovsky on a segment of the Solovyov show did not leave a pleasant aftertaste. Zhirinovsky made one of his typically outrageous remarks, which I countered when my microphone was turned on. He then pounced, asking rhetorically: “What is this CIA agent doing on the show.”

That vitriolic statement was classic Zhirinovsky.  It was a sign of why he had so many enemies and…so many devoted supporters.

I had first become aware of Zhirinovsky’s existence back in the fall of 1995, when he was running for the State Duma elections in December and was making waves.  He was then the leading figure in the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia (LDPR) which he founded in the closing years of the Soviet Union and then re-registered as the first non-Communist party in the new, sovereign state of the Russian Federation. 

My favorite English-language newspaper, The Financial Times, called him a fascist in 1995. That designation stuck for a while, though even the FT understood it was a gross misrepresentation, and quickly changed to “far-right” the adjective that it regularly attached to his name.  At the time, it was widely recognized that the LDPR led by Zhirinovsky and the Communist Party led Gennady Zyuganov shared ultra-patriotic views and antipathy to the American-led West that was busily buying up Russia and installing its representatives in Russian ministries. Both parties rallied the general electorate behind an anti-West electoral revolt that claimed many Duma seats in December 1995.  Though it is largely ignored, that tidal wave of nationalism set off alarm bells in Washington, where it now became clear that the pro-Western government of Boris Yeltsin could be replaced by politicians who were not friendly at all.  Thus, the nationalist wave in Russia put wind in the sails of those in the United States who were pressing for NATO expansion to the East.  I discuss this in some detail in my diaries of the period that were published a year ago in Memoirs of a Russianist, Volume II:  Russia in the Roaring 1990s. (see amazon.com and all other online book sellers; available in ebook, hardbound and paperback formats).

When the Soviet Union was disbanded by the Belovezh Accords in December 1991, Zhirinovsky denounced the dissolution.  However, over time he revised his views substantially and in the last decade of his life spoke out repeatedly against any attempt to reconstitute the Soviet Union and its empire in Eastern Europe. This is a point that most Western analysts overlook entirely when they speak of supposed Russian nostalgia for its Soviet past especially among the patriotic Right.  Zhirinovsky explained his position in the entirely rational arguments of economic nationalism:  the Soviet republics had been a net drain on its core political entity, Russia. Similarly, the East European countries in the Soviet bloc were also a net drain on Russia. Zhirinovsky spoke in favor of the American practice of extracting financial benefit from foreign policy instead of the Soviet pattern of throwing good money after bad by trying to buy friends abroad.

Vladimir Zhirinovsky, or “Volfovich” as he was familiarly called on the talk show that promoted him and his ideas the most, that of Vladimir Solovyov, was during the Putin years a regular contestant in the presidential elections, mostly polling less than 10% but nonetheless a force that was felt around the country, in particular, in the Far East, where LDPR had especially strong local presence. He was intentionally colorful, both in the loud sports jackets he wore on occasion, and in the unspeakable proposals he made regarding the exercise of Russian power abroad. 

It is commonplace in Western journalism to say there are no “opposition parties” in Russia but that is a gross oversimplification.  It is true that Zhirinovsky’s LDPR voted regularly with the Government on nearly all foreign policy issues.  However, in domestic policy the party had its own programs which it consistently defended in legislative initiatives, quite distinct from those of United Russia.

In the new millennium, Zhirinovsky played the fool in his television appearances, but it was all very well calculated to remain in the public eye while not arousing repression from the powers that be.  When his 75th birthday was celebrated on television, he dropped the clown’s mask and spoke honestly about the challenge of remaining at the top of Russian politics in the face of a very strong and dominant United Russia party.

Otherwise, it bears mention that Zhirinovsky was well educated and a skillful linguist. His Ph.D. in the humanities focused on the Turkish language and culture. He is said to have been fluent in Turkish even to the end and he always was a knowledgeable commentator on political developments in the Middle East and Central Asia, where he was born.

As part of the feature programs on Russian television dedicated to his life that are being put on air now that his demise was announced in the morning, we are shown snippets from his predictions of political events to come year by year.  In the midst of the ongoing Russia-Ukraine war, we are all reminded that Zhirinovsky foresaw this proxy war between the United States and Russia.  He was a leader among the patriotic Russian elites in being ready to stand up to the United States militarily in the confident expectation that Russia will be victorious.

The leadership position in his LDPR party that Zhirinovsky held for most of three decades cannot be filled by anyone else. But the patriotic Right that he represented will in one form or another remain a major current in Russian politics.

©Gilbert Doctorow, 2022