Tag Archives: War

Oh the Places You’ll Go…to Die!

Recently Russia lost a high-ranking general in Syria. Lt. General Valery Asapov (nope, not Valery Gerasimov in disguise) was killed along with two colonels in a mortar attack near the town of Deir-ez-Zor. Apart from the high rank of the deceased, this wouldn’t be particularly remarkable were it not for the fact that Asapov commanded the “1st Army Corps” of the so-called Donetsk People’s Republic in a conflict that Russia calls a “civil war” and swears it has no part in.

Isn’t it amazing how despite being a “civil war” and an “internal matter” of Ukraine, so many Russian military personnel have taken part with zero reprimand from the Russian government? Here we have a general who decided to go on vacation to fight in a conflict for a “country” his government does not recognize, and then he returned to the Russian army with zero consequences (possibly with a promotion) and got deployed to Syria.

Given Russia’s constant denials (against overwhelming evidence to the contrary) of any significant involvement in this “civil war,” you think they’d want to come down hard on all these “volunteers,” especially the military personnel who supposedly “went on leave” to fight for Ukraine. I guarantee you that if US military personnel took leave and then joined the YPG in Syria, or any other military force for that matter, there would be hell to pay. For starters that’s desertion, plain and simple. Yet the only deserters the Kremlin sees happen to be those who left the army because they say they were being pressured to sign contracts and fight in Ukraine. Curioser and curiouser.

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What About Iraq Indeed

Recently I saw another reminder of an issue that I haven’t devoted a lot of time to in the past, but which deserves attention. Russia’s involvement in Iraqi Kurdistan (aka the Kurdish Regional Government) is a story often overshadowed by the campaign in Syria and the occupation of Ukraine, but it’s a good idea to keep it in mind.

What involvement are we talking about? As usual it’s a matter of oil and gas, Russia’s bread and butter. Russia has become one of the biggest investors in Iraqi Kurdistan’s energy industry, apparently. I knew that Gazprom was there several years ago, but apparently so is Rosneft. In fact, according to the article Russia is moving in to fill a gap that was left by the US as it got out of Iraq.

That is quite interesting because we all know that the Putinophile’s favorite answer to any criticism of Russia’s aggressive foreign policy is “WHAT ABOUT IRAQ?!” Realistically, they already pissed away their right to use that when they decided to invade and occupy another country under false pretexts, just as Bush had done in Iraq. But the story about Kurdistan is just a reminder that Putin’s criticism of US actions in Iraq were always bullshit. Putin’s economic boom in the 2000’s was largely due to high oil prices. Putin had a win-win situation; criticize the war for political capital, reap the benefits of the war. But even if you say Putin had no control over oil markets (fair enough), he has certainly benefited from the toppling of the Baathist regime, which opened Iraqi Kurdistan up for investment.

Of course this doesn’t make Russia share responsibility for what the US did in Iraq, but the truth is that Putin never really cared. In his eyes, the invasion must have confirmed what he already believed- that a rules-based world guided by concepts like human rights and democracy was nothing but a sham, a velvet glove over an iron fist. In Putin’s 19th century worldview, invading Iraq was just realpolitik. Thus he saw him self justified in invading and occupying Ukraine.

The lesson here is one I learned long ago, even before I was totally wise to the Kremlin’s propaganda tactics. I’d see RT hosting some guest who would talk about the evils of US foreign policy, but you’d never see any criticism of Russia’s own foreign adventures (though they were far more modest at the time). That felt disturbing, and made me shy away from voicing my own criticisms of the West when in the company of Russians, because I didn’t feel any reciprocity. As one friend described conversations with a Russian mutual acquaintance- “When I talk about all the problems in America, her eyes light up, but when it’s her turn, she doesn’t have much to say.”

It’s different in many other countries. In Ukraine, I hate my government, they hate their government, I hate their government too, and we both hate the Russian government as well. There’s a kind of solidarity there. With pro-Kremlin Russians though, you’re a hero when you’re condemning the aggression of the United States, but you’re a neocon Banderite Nazi the second you start applying the same logic and criticism to the Kremlin. Some folks like to bask in the attention they get from pro-Kremlin Russians for voicing the former criticism, but the fact is that those giving the attention see them as traitors, as defectives who for some reason don’t know they’re supposed to cheer for their team. There is zero respect for such people in Russia. In fact, even Russians who aren’t pro-regime tend to see such enthusiastic Putinophiles as somewhat insane.

So just keep all this in mind when they say play the “what about Iraq” card. We who have been consistent on this issue have the right to criticize the American and British governments for that aggression. Putin’s fanboys don’t. They’re defending his aggression in Ukraine, either explicitly or implicitly. The truth is that as one Twitter follower pointed out- Russia actually won the Iraq War. America did the fighting, and they reaped the benefits.

Veiled Threat or Realistic Admission?

Those who have been following Russia’s war on Ukraine have no doubt heard the increased buzz about the US potentially supplying lethal arms to the Ukrainian military. While I’m all for supplying Ukraine with military technology (though there’s a big difference between what they want and what they actually need), I find the hype to be ridiculous when you actually look at what US officials are saying. Basically Putin enthusiastically dumps tons of weapons and military vehicles into Ukraine without any reservations whatsoever, while US officials say things like “the US is now seriously considering the possibility of providing lethal weapons…” and the talking heads act like this is a sincere promise, as though the weapons are currently being crated for transport as we speak. Of course on the US side, and only the US side, there are also pundits who object to such transfers, but their arguments are typically poor.

Recently, Vladimir Putin reacted to the question of US arms for Ukraine during a press conference at the BRICS summit. His comments were rather ambiguous, with the first half seeming to indicate no reaction and the last half being a veiled threat about taking more territory in Ukraine. I give you his quotes here, translated by the Ukrainian UNIAN news service.

“This is a sovereign decision [providing lethal aid to Ukraine] of the U.S., whom to sell weapons or supply them for free, and the country that is the recipient of such assistance. We will not be able to influence this process in any way,” Putin said.

According to him, “there are international rules and approaches: the supply of weapons to the conflict zone does not contribute to the peace settlement, but only aggravates the situation.”

 “If this happens in this case, this decision will not fundamentally change the situation, in general will not affect the situation change, but the number of victims, of course, may grow,” Putin said. “I want to emphasize so that everyone understands – nothing will change,” the Russian president vowed.

“There is one more point to which those bearing such ideas should pay attention. This is about the fact that the self-proclaimed republics have enough weapons, including those seized from the opposing side – from nationalist battalions and so on. And if American weapons will be delivered to the conflict zone, it will be difficult to say how the proclaimed republics will act. Maybe they will get their weapons to other conflict zones that are sensitive to those who create problems for them,” Putin said.”

As far as interpreting the statement as a veiled threat, it seems that UNIAN focused on the last quote, wherein Putin hilariously claims that the “self-proclaimed republics” are somehow well armed entirely from captured weapons and, presumably, weapons that they either somehow manufactured or acquired from abroad. I tend to think the key takeaway in Putin’s statement comes before that, where he stresses there will be no change. Basically he’s posturing, trying to signal to the West that he won’t back down in Ukraine. To understand why you have to look at what “arming Ukraine” means in Western parlance.

Since the battle of Debaltseve in 2015, “arming Ukraine” has basically been boiled down to one issue- Javelins. For those non-military types out there I’ll give you the quick crash course. The FGM-148 Javelin is arguably the most effective portable anti-tank weapon in the world right now. It is “fire-and-forget,” meaning the operator does not have to guide the missile to its target and therefore can relocate to another position upon firing. It has incredibly long range, over 4 kilometers or nearly 3 miles. It also attacks from the top, where tanks are most vulnerable.

 

Of course there are some caveats- the system is extremely expensive and it’s not exactly a magic “Make Tanks Go Away” wand. We cannot say for sure how they would have affected the outcome of a battle like Debaltseve. More importantly, plenty of experts have correctly pointed out that Ukraine actually produces plenty of high-quality anti-tank missiles on its own– the problem is that Ukraine’s arms industry often fails to adequately deliver its products to the front. Ukraine’s arms industry also produces another product which is good at knocking out Russian tanks- they’re called other tanks.

But Putin’s quote about arms not making a difference may serve as another reminder of why the arm Ukraine debate should constantly revolve around Javelins. I’ve been saying for some time that Javelins would make little difference given the situation and the Ukrainian government’s position on the war. They can only serve as a deterrent to a Russian attempt to advance in the Donbas, something which they don’t seem interested in doing. Putin’s comment would seem to confirm this. Everything in 2014 from the Crimean annexation to the attempt at creating “Novorossiya” was nothing but a big gamble to see what Russia could get away with. After Minsk II in 2015, Putin knows his limit of advance. So in other words, Javelins would definitely serve as a deterrent, but they’d be deterring something Russia’s not planning to do.

Just to be sure, the Javelins could serve as a deterrent to something I’ve long worried about, especially after the winter of 2016-2017, which is a sort of punitive raid or small offensive aimed solely at isolating and destroying a Ukrainian front-line unit, in a place like Avdiivka or the so-called Svitlodarsk bulge. But beyond this, the only thing Javelins would be good for is sniping the occasional tank which comes up to the front to take potshots from time to time. The Russians could simply halt this practice and rely on their long-range artillery to keep inflicting casualties on Ukrainian forces. They’d be better off for it.

Of course there are ways Ukraine could use Javelins in a more offensive manner to actually retake territory, but the government clearly doesn’t have the stomach for that and doing so would require the military to adopt unconventional, insurgent-style tactics, something that conventional military forces typically don’t do unless they’re absolutely forced to. The Ukrainian military has worked so hard just to achieve a minimum of professionalism as a conventional army that I can’t imagine there’d be anyone among the top brass willing to consider more revolutionary methods of warfare, which is a pity because personally I think Ukraine’s only hope lies in such bold, unconventional strategies and tactics.

Getting back to the topic at hand, one can still read Putin’s final comment as a veiled threat, but it’s most likely an empty one. The meat of this statement is that he’s calling the whole situation a stalemate by saying that new weapons won’t make a difference. For the moment, at least, arms can only serve as a deterrent to something he’s not planning to do.

Of course there is one scenario in which Putin might make good on his threat, and US leaders and other officials had better pay close attention. Although the Russians naturally tell themselves that the US has been arming Ukraine this whole time (this is the a priori justification that Russia’s leaders so often use), if they see the US seriously talking about the matter they might choose to act before those weapons arrive and rule out something like a small-scale offensive. This could serve as a major spoiler and let the Russians chalk up one more operational victory to go along with Crimea, Ilovaisk, and Debaltseve. Therefore if the US actually wants to help and thinks the arms will make a difference, it would be a lot better if they would stop making ambiguous statements and hinting signals at Putin and just provide the missiles. Realistically, what Ukraine actually needs is more advanced electronic warfare platforms, but the rapid shipment and deployment of Javelins could at least prevent or deter a potential “now-or-never” offensive action from the Russian side.

Then again, you might choose to ignore Putin’s comments as another example of his increasingly delusional, rambling statements. After all, this is the guy who seems to have no idea whether he wants to run for president next spring, nor does he seem to have any idea what is supposed to come after him. Perhaps the real key to Putin’s statement is when he said Russia can’t do anything to influence America’s decision. Maybe the confidence from 2014 is beginning to wear off like a crystal meth high, and he’s starting to realize that all this time he’s been punching far above his weight (it’s easy when your opponents are all centrist dipshits who can’t fathom the idea that someone would question their so-called “norms of behavior”). Fatigue, desperation, belligerence? Who can say what’s going through that little man’s mind at this point?

A contrarian’s view on anti-German hysteria

DISCLAIMER: This article is SATIRICAL, though some of the arguments you find within have actually been made both in the past and by apologists of the Third Reich to this day. 

By Dr. William Percival Thomas IV

June 1939

It seems not a day goes by that we don’t see alarmist headlines telling us that Germany plans to invade Poland, or that Germany is supposedly acting “aggressive” toward its neighbor, Czechoslovakia. Typically these pieces are written by talentless hacks who have no background knowledge of Germany and its history, and as such it is easy for them to demonize Germany and its leader, Adolf Hitler. Unlike such journalists, I have actually spent significant time in Germany, and have studied German history for the better part of my adult life. It is for this reason that I cannot go along with the bandwagon that is currently crying “wolf” over so-called “German aggression.”

First let us be realistic for a moment. Germany has indeed annexed some territory in recent years, but we might do well to remember that so far, the only territory Germany has been “annexing” is territory it used to control. First let us look at the Rhineland, where Germany allegedly flouted the Treaty of Versailles and acted “aggressively” by re-militarizing the territory in 1936. Sure, if we are to stick to the very letter of the Versailles treaty,  the Germans were certainly in violation. But this was, for all intents and purposes, Germany territory, and how logical is it to demand that a nation not station troops on a part of its own, sovereign territory? How can we condemn Hitler’s demands toward his neighbors while simultaneously making demands on Germany?

Then of course there is the matter of the Anschluss, another example of Germany being tarred as aggressive for “invading” what is arguably ethnic German territory. Once again, a little historical context is in order. The mostly German Austrian republic made an attempt to join Germany in 1918, yet was forbidden to do so by the treaties of St. Germain and that pesky Versailles treaty. Another fact that journalists tend to ignore due to their utter lack of German historical knowledge is that there was something of a German union that included Austria in the past- the German Confederation which was dissolved after the Austro-Prussian War of 1866. And even if we ignore that, let us not forget that Germany held a plebiscite to determine the will of the German and Austrian people, who supported the unification by 99.7% of the voters. A more democratic expression of a people’s self-determination is hard to come by these days, but the mainstream press apparently thinks that self-determination is something for Poles, Czechs, and Slovaks, but not Germans.

Then of course there is the matter of the Sudetenland and Czechoslovakia, the latter recently having been “annexed” by Germany. The matter of the Sudetenland has long been settled- this was German land, populated by a majority of Germans. As for the rest of Czechoslovakia, Germany has been far more generous than it needed to be. With Austria having been unified in a Greater Germany, Berlin has a rightful claim to all former Hapsburg territory. Yet in the case of Czechoslovakia, one of the many artificial creations conjured into existence by the hated Treaty of Versailles, Germany absorbed only Bohemia and Moravia as a protectorate, granting the right of self-determination and independence to Slovakia. Funny how the mainstream press ignores this inconvenient fact while implicitly demanding that Ukrainians, Croats, Slovenes, and other nationalities remain within the borders of superstates where they lack ample representation in governments controlled by other nationalities.

Once again our Western press is beating the war drums, this time over Poland. Once again we might do well to bear in mind that the overwhelming majority of the Free City of Danzig is German, and they resent being separated from their German brethren by the absurd “Polish corridor.” We might also ask why the press does not speak of “Polish aggression” when that country annexed parts of the supposedly inviolable Czechoslovakia, or why they do not speak of “Polish fascism” when it is well known that the Polish government is not only quite reactionary, but oppresses its own national minorities such as the Ukrainians and Jews.

Ultimately what we have here is a lack of understanding toward the German people. Few Englishmen or Americans ever travel to Germany and thus they are not only ignorant of German history, but they also lack any knowledge of the average German’s point of view. If we look from a historical perspective, we see that Germany has suffered a myriad of wars and invasions going back to Roman times. Indeed, the Romans themselves conquered much of Germany. But we need not go back so far into history to see why Germany is so driven toward militarism, as its critics claim. Geography suffices to explain German behavior.

Germany’s location in the center of Europe, surrounded on all sides by enemies, naturally makes defense a priority in the German mentality. Again we need not delve into the depths of ancient history for an example; we need only look to the recent memory of the Great War and Germany’s Schlieffen Plan to see how the need to fight on two fronts has become embedded in the German mindset; it is simply something the German cannot reasonably ignore. And when we consider how Germany lost that war and the humiliation it has suffered at the hands of the victors and their Versailles treaty, the average German’s resentment toward Western Europe is totally understandable.

Western hypocrites as of late love to criticize Germany’s so-called “rampant anti-Semitism,” but once again if they had bothered to actually go to Germany and speak with the men on the street, they might benefit from getting the German point of view. For one thing, the Germans see the Jews as the cause of their misfortunes following the Great War. To us, the anti-Jewish rhetoric may sound like demagogic scapegoating, but ask any German in a beer hall what the Jews have done to him and he will tell you the same thing- that the Communists are controlled by Jews, that “Red Jewish treachery” stabbed the German army in the back, leading to Germany’s defeat in the war and the humiliating Versailles treaty which followed. We might dispute such claims with numbers of Jewish citizens who loyally fought in the ranks of the German and Austro-Hungarian armies or by pointing out that the majority of Communist and Social Democrat party members are in fact non-Jewish, but we might take pause to ask what right we have to tell another nation its history. Germans, with the humiliation of the defeat so fresh in living memory, have a valid point of view as well.

bolshevism

The average German sees only a choice between his Nazi leaders and Soviet Bolshevism. Who are we to tell them otherwise, when we in the West have never seriously faced the threat of revolution?

Others criticize Germany’s supposedly racist, chauvinist policies, as well as German leader Adolf Hitler’s well known intentions to create an ethnically pure Lebensraum or “living space.” To those who call such a policy imperialist I would first ask whether they are prepared to demand that Great Britain, France, Belgium, Portugal, or Japan give up their colonial empires. Germany was stripped of its empire at the end of the last war. Do we have a right to demand any people space in which to live and grow? Meanwhile, those who balk at the idea of a contiguous, ethnically pure German empire in Europe ought to keep in mind that it was not Germany’s National Socialists who pioneered the practice of eugenics or race laws. Indeed, Germany has taken its inspiration from that self-proclaimed bastion of freedom and democracy, the United States. Clearly any American critic of Germany must remove the mote from their eye before pointing out the speck in Germany’s.

Having taken into consideration the German point of view in politics and foreign policy, we can now return to the present crisis between Poland and Germany, where we initially began. For one thing, we rarely if ever see our mainstream media accurately represent Germany’s claims on supposedly Polish territory. We are constantly told about German sabre-rattling, yet we never hear anything in our press about the repeated outrages committed by Poles against ethnic Germans, left defenseless in what became to them a foreign country overnight. We are told that Germany is an aggressive country, while the fact that Germany is surrounded by expansionist enemies is completely ignored. To the West, Germany faces a hostile France and Britain. France, I remind the reader, has formal military treaties with Poland and the Soviet Union, but of course we never hear about aggressive French, Polish, or Soviet expansion.

map

A map shows the enormity of forces arrayed against Germany. Who exactly is being militaristic and aggressive?

If the reader is still in doubt as to the severity of the situation facing Germany, I would remind them that Germany was recently forced to counter a Bolshevik threat in Spain. Indeed, where were the condemnations for the Soviet Union when it sent thousands of men, tanks, planes, and tons of ammunition to prop up what some claimed to be the legitimately elected government? Certainly the Franco regime did not see things that way. And since Great Britain, France, and the United States were all more than willing to impose a non-intervention regime effectively embargoing the Republican, Communist-dominated government, with the United State going so far as to grant Franco’s forces oil on credit during the war, we clearly see that there are key questions of foreign policy in which the Western powers can find common ground with Germany and its allies. If we could come to an agreement then, and indeed if we could achieve an even greater understanding in Munich last year, who’s to say that we cannot do the same by seeking a compromise with Hitler and granting his rather reasonable, modest demands toward the obstinate Polish government. Is it not better to have Germany, standing there as a bastion against Asiatic Bolshevism, rather than a weak divided Poland which could not hope to withstand a Russian onslaught for more than a few weeks at best? I’d argue that Prime Minister Chamberlain certainly thinks so.

Indeed it was Chamberlain himself who brought us, as he called it, “peace in our time” at Munich. Now the warmongerers wish to tear up that document and plunge us into another bloody conflict, one which will almost inevitably involve as many nations as the last if not more. A kind of Second World War, if you will. If such a prospect does not sound too dire to those currently calling for a tougher stance against Hitler (who might be embarrassed to find Soviet dictator Josef Stalin on their side), I have been to countless German military parades and I can testify that Germany’s military might has truly exceeded that which it wielded in 1914. In 1916-1918 the German Reich scrambled to find an antidote to the British tank; now the German armies field entire divisions consisting of tanks of every sort. The German Luftwaffe possesses squadrons of modern aeroplanes which proved their effectiveness against Bolshevik flyers in the recent civil war in Spain. The German soldier is motivated, trained to a high degree, and prepared to defend his home soil to the last man. Is this a nation we truly want to provoke, and all for the sake of Poland, no less?

It is clear to any reasonable and educated man that we must come to an understanding with Mr. Hitler if we wish to avoid a Second World War. Germany has legitimate, security-related grievances which many Westerners are unable to perceive due to the lack of experience with foreign invasions and bloody attempted revolutions. It is time for our leaders to stop being stubborn, stop listening to hysterical war mongers, and instead show their willingness to compromise with Germany by granting them their modest demands in regards to Poland. They should seek counsel not from the Germanophobes but rather from those who truly understand Germany and its leaders, or Hitlerversteher as they are known in Germany.  Such people are aware that even if we concede the point that Germany has been behaving aggressively as of late, we cannot deny that since 1919 we have pushed them in that direction. A compromise that involves giving Germany lands it once controlled for centuries will show Mr. Hitler that we are indeed reasonable people and reliable partners.

Dr. William Percival Thomas IV is a professor of Germanic History at Cambridge University who has spent considerable time in Germany both before and after the Great War. 

Russia’s Best and Brightest

Recently I’ve been reading the fascinating book The Perfect War: Technowar in Vietnam by James William Gibson. Technowar, far from being a type of all-out DJ battle, is how the author describes the concept of war which evolved in the minds of America’s military and political elite at the beginning of the Cold War, and in particular shaped America’s strategy in Vietnam. When it came to understanding the US defeat in Vietnam, in the past I read books such as A Bright Shining Lie* by Neil Sheehan, along with biographies of Vo Nguyen Giap and some of that illustrious general’s own works. While the so-called “liberal” explanation of defeat, that America’s leaders held a number of incorrect assumptions and mistaken ideas which led to a big misunderstanding that killed well over a million people, has always been closer to the truth than the conservative tale of self-imposed restraints and a stab-in-the-back myth in regards to the home front, Gibson set out to expose both explanations as mythology, fairy tales that different segments of America told themselves.

Gibson digs deeper, past basic political misconceptions and the idea that the US military simply didn’t know how to fight a proper counter-insurgency campaign. No, according to the dominant beliefs among the generals and political elites of the time, they knew exactly what they were doing. They weren’t perplexed by the intricacies of winning hearts and minds or fighting against guerrilla tactics. They had a strategy, which Gibson dubs Technowar, and not only did they know it would succeed, but the very idea that it could possibly fail was simply unthinkable. The US war machine was far more technologically advanced than that of the National Liberation Front, AKA the Viet Cong, and the North Vietnamese military. American industry was far more developed than that of Vietnam, and even the Chinese and Soviets who were supplying them. This would turn into a battle of attrition, but unlike WWI where the idea was to effect a breakthrough and capture territory, Vietnam strategy boiled down to two words- body counts. The idea was to kill enough VC and NVA until both the NLF and North Vietnam were convinced that they could not win their war. To see how this strategy played out on the ground, as well as its nuts and bolts, you’ll just have to read the book.

It would be nice if that were the last time America’s leaders succumbed to a delusion disconnected from military reality. Members of the Bush administration found a unique way of dealing with counter-insurgency in the modern world- just pretend it won’t be an issue. They picked a conventional opponent, knocked it out using America’s insurmountable advantage in conventional warfare, and then expected the troops to be showered with roses by a grateful population, just before the latter buzzed off to design a Western-style liberal democracy wherein entrepreneurship and the free market decide everything. To some extent, the US and its allies showed that they had learned from past mistakes in Vietnam. At least they seemed to have stopped measuring success in body counts, more body counts, and nothing but body counts. Holding territory and at least attempting to build functioning governments and institutions in Iraq and Afghanistan appear to have played a more central role. Still in the run up to the Iraq invasion Bush and his advisers constructed an echo chamber for themselves and thus fell victim to a delusion just like the “best and brightest” who got the country into Vietnam.

One cannot help but to find parallels with Putin’s post-2014 imperial adventure. In fact, in many ways the delusion is even more destructive than it was for the US in Vietnam. A fundamental pillar of Technowar was the irrefutable fact that America’s military-industrial complex was superior to that of the Vietnamese and their insurgent organization in the South. As the US was getting increasingly involved in Vietnam (something its leaders did quite deliberately for the most part), it was simultaneously experiencing its biggest economic boom. That the US could produce more helicopters, more small arms ammunition, more shells, more rockets, more bombs, etc. was not up for debate, and given the accomplishments of US industry during WWII and the period thereafter, you can almost forgive some of the country’s leaders for succumbing to the delusion that this ability would convince the Communist Vietnamese that they couldn’t win.

Putin, of course, has embarked upon a branching warpath with nothing like the kind of economy the US had prior to 9/11, let alone that of 1950’s-1960’s America. Worse still, while Putin did at least start a massive military overhaul prior to his superpower play, it’s difficult to determine the extent to which the Kremlin gets its money’s worth. When it comes to contractor corruption and questionable budget items, the Pentagon is by no means a virgin. But in Russia corruption permeates every level of society, including the military. Who can say for sure what the Ministry of Defense actually gets for the money it’s spending?

Besides this we can see that the Kremlin, itself not particularly known for waging terribly successful counter-insurgency warfare (paying tribute to a Chechen ex-rebel is hardly victory), has obviously succumbed to a number of Technowar-like delusions in its wars.

In Ukraine there’s  lot of evidence suggesting that the Russian government intended to take a much larger swath of land in the East; at the very least we know they wanted the whole of the Luhansk and Donetsk oblasts. There’s also a very good possibility that in the beginning, they believed they could effect this without much costs, just as they did in the Crimea. It’s also quite possible that they merely let their proxies think this would be the case, letting them take the walk through the minefield. However, one must remember that prior to the mobilization of 2014, Ukraine had at best a token military, one which had disarmed quite a bit with the help of the United States, incidentally. As such, the idea of a two-day drive to Kyiv might not have seemed to far fetched to anyone familiar with the military capabilities of Ukraine and Russia.

Yet despite a government plagued with infighting and corruption, the new Ukrainian army has managed to hold the line in the East. Perhaps showing slightly more regard for reality than the Bush administration or those of the Vietnam War era, the Kremlin radically revised its line toward the “rebellion” in the East, from giving up any plans for taking cities like Kharkiv and Dnepropetrovsk to scrapping the whole “Novorossiya” project and declaring what’s left of the rebel territories to be part of Ukraine.

Syria, has turned out to be another matter, and another possible source of delusion. It began with the idea that Russia would pretend to lead a crusade against ISIS, and in the process, Western nations would have to work with Moscow to obtain a resolution in Syria. It is highly likely that the “destroy ISIS” pretext was never seriously believed by the Russian Ministry of Defense, but it’s hard to tell because the system here isn’t known for brooking dissent. If Putin says destroying ISIS is the goal, then that’s the goal, even as you’re bombing almost everyone but ISIS in the beginning.

Of course Putin and company were mistaken on other aspects of Syria. The West didn’t exactly jump at the chance to effect reconciliation with Russia, as Putin had apparently hoped when he inaccurately likened the struggle to that of the Grand Alliance of WWII. The sanctions are still in place and there’s no real sign that this will change anytime soon. It is very possible that Western leaders have finally started to understand the interests behind Putin’s sabre-rattling, and if so they might have figured out that any concession they make will not be appreciated, nor will their be reciprocity. Western countries can afford to play the long game in this case.

The Kremlin got a bucket of ice water over the head last November, when one of their fighter-bombers in Syria was easily shot down by Turkish F16’s. This of course was followed by all manner of economic threats against Turkey, but Ankara doesn’t seem to show signs of folding. Erdogan, like Putin, is also an authoritarian steeped in delusions, and he won’t back down in his own backyard. Yet in spite of this, the recent “simulated attack” on the USS Donald Cook (Yes, again) shows that the Russian government hasn’t learned its lesson about what actually happens when they go toe to toe with NATO forces.

There is also, of course, the overarching problem of having no direction or easily-defined objectives, both in Ukraine and Syria. In Ukraine it’s fairly clear that the goal was propaganda aimed at preserving the regime in Moscow. Conditions in Ukraine must ever be worse than those in Russia, so that millions of viewers can always say “At least this isn’t as bad as Ukraine!” It’s also dangerous to have so many Russian-speaking people, and indeed the Kremlin’s propagandists and even Putin himself all insist that Ukrainians and Russians are one people, creating a fully-functioning democratic society that can hold its leaders accountable. If they don’t need a “strong” hand to keep them in line in Sumy or Kharkiv, why do they need it in Kursk, Voronezh, or Moscow?

Of course the problem here is that “troll Ukraine” isn’t really a goal. It costs tons of money and has done nothing but hurt Russia’s image while proving to be a major boon for NATO and the Western military-industrial complex. When it comes to strengthening NATO and getting the US back into Europe, Lucas and Applebaum are amateurs compared to Vladimir Putin. This, incidentally, is probably one of the arguments you’ll hear from conspiracy theorists after the fall of Putin’s regime, when he is inevitably labeled an agent of the State Department (Because fuck the CIA, apparently).

In Syria it would appear there’s more of a concrete goal- defeat ISIS. Whether Assad stays or goes, kicking ISIS back across the border is a coherent, achievable goal. The problem is that it’s clear that more and more of the fighting is falling on the shoulders of Iranians, Russians, and Hizbollah. Russia has the most military resources out of these groups, which means it would be very easy for them to get drawn further in and end up shouldering more of the burden. But let’s say for the sake of argument that they kick ISIS out of Syria- what do they get for this? Sure they’ll gain some propaganda points, perhaps justifiably so this time, but they’ll most likely get stuck with the task of keeping Assad afloat, and there’s always the remaining threat of other rebel groups plus possible ISIS stay-behind forces who could go over to unconventional warfare. You know, that warfare that Russia is really bad at?

When we read the Russian state and pro-Kremlin press on Syria, we don’t really see much discussion about possible failure. In fact, one writer for Russia Insider published a piece that criticized Putin’s move, quite reasonably pointing out that it could put Russia in a difficult lose-lose scenario. The response from other Russia Insider Putin fanboys was harsh. The very idea that Putin’s plans in Syria could possibly fail is “anti-Russian.”

The delusions of the Kremlin regime don’t stop in the realm of military adventures. We see it in their so-called “information war” as well, particularly every time they release another laughably phony video or story. It’s not that Russia doesn’t have plenty of past mistakes to learn from; it’s just that unlike the US, Germany, Japan, or the UK, the powers that be basically nullified those mistakes, and in more recent times they have sought to make their official narrative the only one. All past shocks in Russian society are simply attributed to spies and foreign agents, and thus preventing the next one is simply a matter of finding and stopping the spies and foreign agents. It’s almost like those body counts in Vietnam.

Reality is a harsh mistress. Regimes can ignore her only for a limited time until she kicks in the door and stabs you repeatedly in the gut with a steak knife. It’s clear that the delusions of the Kremlin aren’t quite identical to the meticulously constructed pseudo-science of Gibson’s Technowar, but parallels do exist, and in fact the Kremlin has actually fallen further from reality in some respects. Far from despising force, Putin and his cronies looked with awe and envy at America’s military interventions in Kosovo, Afghanistan, and Iraq. If only they could send troops and planes around the world to violate other nations’ sovereignty! Now, at the expense of millions of Russian citizens they believe they have achieved this capability, one which is by no means a sign of true national greatness. Believing themselves to have achieved parity, the Kremlin appears to have devoted zero attention to understanding the foundations of US military might, and they certainly never considered the staggering costs America has paid thanks to the delusions of the original neocons (really good point on that from ex-ambassador McFaul).

Indeed it is ironic that the regime has spent so much on propaganda that gloats over the decline of the American empire when it is traveling down that same road in a much worse condition. Just up that road, slightly off to the side, there’s someone hiding in the brush clutching a Kalashnikov and waiting to spring an ambush. But it’s no Victor Charlie. It’s Lady Reality.

*A Bright Shining Lie is an extremely thick book, but if you don’t have the time or just want to get the gist first, it was made into an HBO original movie back in the 90’s and the whole thing can be found in four part here on Youtube. It’s definitely worth watching.

Stolen Shame

Yesterday evening I noticed a young man heading down the escalator of my metro station dressed in modern military gear and sporting a Novorossiya patch on his arm. Today in a nearby supermarket, I saw another man in typical Donbas military dress, wearing a cossack papakha. Even on my way back from the supermarket I saw a guy wearing what looked like super-modern(i.e. Western-designed) military clothing with a Russian flag patch.

Now to be sure, all three of these people could be airsoft enthusiasts.But what are the chances they could be volunteers returning from the Donbas? Pretty slim, I’d say. For one thing, Russia has a problem with fake veterans just like in the US, if not maybe worse. After all, military-worship in Russia exceeded that of America years ago. In spite of this, there is a much wider gap between the military and the civilian population. Many males spend a great deal of money so as to have nothing to do with the military, while females typically have no interest in it whatsoever. This, plus a strong disdain toward dissent, creates a perfect environment for fraudsters.  How perfect? Well Russia actually has its share of phony WWII vets. Yeah. WWII.

King Michael I of Romania is the only man who can wear a Soviet Order of Victory, and you're not him, buddy.

King Michael I of Romania is the only man who can wear a Soviet Order of Victory, and you’re not him, buddy.

Given the unqualified worship towards “veterans” in contemporary Russia, and the staggering lack of critical thinking skills, this is prime time for young Russian men to pose as Donbas volunteers. Due to the secretive, irregular nature of the conflict, calling them out would be hard even for Russian army veterans. “Oh that’s not how you did things in the Russian army? Well I was in a volunteer unit. We did things differently. Who are you do question me?”

Oh yes, cowardly scumbags everywhere can take advantage of this cowardly, immoral war in Ukraine to bask in attention, con people out of money, and of course, score all kinds of tail in discotheques and courtyards all across Russia. In this climate, you’re unlikely to see anyone calling them out the way they do in the States. There they call it stolen valor. With this war, it’s stolen shame.

What ought to happen.

A Smoking Gun?

Recently, Interpreter mag released a translation of a document published in Novaya Gazeta, which was supposedly leaked to them by a source in the Kremlin. The document was drafted prior to the flight of Yanukovych on 22 February 2014, and supposedly shows how the Kremlin planned the dismemberment of Ukraine  before that so-called “coup d’etat” took place.

It has been theorized before that Russia had a contingency plan for the annexation of the Crimea. It has even been suggested that Yanukovych may have been threatened with this to change his mind about signing the European Union association agreement. It is clear, however, that something went seriously wrong with the plans for the Donbass.

It should also be noted that the authenticity of the documents has not been established. If Novaya Gazeta gets subjected to some pretty serious raids in the next few weeks, that might be a clue as to their authenticity. It’s been argued that the document seems to be describing the actual events that played out, with only minor variations. This is a good point but it must be taken with a grain of salt. Like Biblical prophesy written after the events, it could have been written much later than it was purported to be, with the “plans” written to fit the outcome.

That being said, there are some details in this document which make it seem authentic. For example, it says that protesters were under the control of Polish and British intelligence, not the CIA or US State Department. That seems oddly specific; someone trying to frame the Kremlin would have undoubtedly used their narrative, which always implicates the US. The document also makes no reference to specific nationalist groups or neo-Nazis. It seems a fake document would include some specific instruction to “portray all Maidan forces as neo-Nazis and fascists.” The fact that this isn’t brought up suggests that it was written by a person with a specific, limited brief, who knew that questions of propaganda would be left up to others.

Another interesting aspect that appears in the commentary, is the lack of any mention for concepts like Novorossiya or concern over the safety of Russian speakers. Again, this looks like the person writing this was dealing with very practical matters within their sphere of work. I’m sure there are people in Putin’s inner circle who do personally believe in this geopolitical, revived Russian empire bullshit, but whoever wrote this was all business. A hoaxer might not have been able to resist the urge to use Russian propaganda memes in the document, as a way of “debunking” those that appeared on TV screens and the internet since the flight of Yanukovych.

The commentary after the document also mentions the cynicism of the writer. Maidan is portrayed as European “intrigue,” then the writer recommends getting involved in that “intrigue.” This fits the kind of 19th century imperial mentality that seems to dominate Russian politics.

When it comes to authenticity, one must consider what the purpose of the document is. Could it have been fabricated simply to lead one of Russia’s few remaining independent media outlets on a wild goose chase, or possibly discredit them later? Or, as it seems to put heavy blame on people like Borodai, Strelkov, Dugin and Malofeyev, could this leaked document be the first move in a campaign to pin all responsibility for Ukraine on those individuals? Strelkov already took huge responsibility on himself in an interview in Russia. He’s also had people suggest that he might make a good replacement for Putin in the future, which is a great way to get someone arrested or killed. With this in mind, it’s worth noting that none of these people were present for, or even associated with, 21 February’s anti-Maidan march. One would think these people would be lauded as heroes at such a march, yet they were curiously absent. Also absent was another Russian political figure associated with Novorossiya, Sergey Kurginyan.

Unfortunately the Byzantine nature of Russian politics forces everyone to play these guessing games. All conclusions here ought to be taken with a grain of salt, and people should keep this document in mind as events play out in the next few months.