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Leading geopolitical analyst Gilbert Doctorow sorts out the clash between Russia and “the West”

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Gilbert Doctorow
International relations, Russian affairs


G. Doctorow at the podium.


A not so gentle hint from the Kremlin on what comes next?

My latest essay, “How Far Can Diplomacy Go?” dated 7 January, has taken on a life of its own.  Shortly after it was re-posted on http://www.antiwar.com in the early hours of 8 January it was immediately translated into Russian by politros.com, a St Petersburg based news portal. This was then picked up and re-posted by a half a dozen other Russian news websites including www.yandex.ru, the country’s equivalent of google.com, as well as fbm.ru, discover24.ru and rznonline.ru. It also was placed on the youtube channel 24NEWS plus: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AA7IVHljLH4, where the translated text of my article is read by a female voice, while the video shows Russian submarines and synthesized views of their cutting edge technology nuclear deep sea drone, Poseidon. The youtube broadcaster plays the theme song of state television Rossiya 24, but otherwise it is not clear what their relationship may be.

I emphasize that my articles are very rarely spotted and translated by Russian media. Their website specializing in such translations, inosmi.ru has done this only a few times over the past five years. Other Russian sites have occasionally re-posted me in Russian, but these appeared to be machine translations, unlike what politros produced, and took several days to appear.

I also point out that the translation which the Russian portals have now disseminated is a partial translation, amounting to about two-thirds of my original text.  They left out my comments on the “crackpot” whom I identified as a source of the “window of opportunity” argument which no doubt is driving the present Russian ultimatum to the West to revise the security architecture in Europe in its favor. They left out my remark on how revising this architecture must take place before Vladimir Putin’s current mandate in office expires in 2024 so that he may retire in peace and let the country move on to normal democracy.

For his fair analysis of Russia, and work for peace between nuclear powers, a rational and eminently needed position, Gilbert Doctorow has been viciously attacked by repugnant national security/ Birchite types who also attacked Stephen Cohen for not buying into the general Russophobia. Cowardly, underhanded outfits like Useful Stooges, which do not even provide identification for the authors they publish, nor information about the site's editorial staff, in other words simply run hatchet pieces anonymously, have rained vitriol on Doctorow.  In my view, that Doctorow attracts this scum's ire validates his credbility. Check this little gem, for example: Bashing dissidents: Gilbert Doctorow.
—The Editor
—The Editor

More importantly, the Russian reposting of my article leaves out my mention of “surgical strikes” as the way for Russia to prove to our skeptical foreign and military policy establishment in the United States and Europe that their demands are not a bluff, but are backed up by superior strategic and tactical military force.  Instead, the reposting focuses on placing Russian strategic arms just off the American shores, and in particular on stationing there submarines carrying the Poseidon, Russia’s new state of the art nuclear armed deep sea drone which is capable of setting off tsunamis that destroy coastal cities and installations.

The advantage of the offshore stationing of such weapons of mass destruction is that they pose an existential threat without need to actually destroy anything or kill anyone as would happen with another show of force I had mentioned, “surgical strikes” on the Ukrainian Black Sea coast naval bases now being outfitted and manned by US-UK teams.  The threat of Poseidon by itself would be very unlikely to elicit a kinetic response from the United States and NATO.  But will such a threat alone be sufficient to win for Russia the capitulation it is now demanding from NATO?  Perhaps, but only perhaps. There are simply a great many stubborn and proud global hegemonists in Washington who will not be persuaded by a purely peaceful display of might. 

Time will tell

©Gilbert Doctorow, 2022


How far can diplomacy go? Awaiting the US-Russian talks in Geneva on 10 January

As the day of the US-Russian talks in Geneva over revising the security architecture in Europe approaches, analysts on both continents are publishing their prognoses of the outcome. Among them are great optimists that the ongoing acute confrontation can be scaled back, and also pessimists who see a clash of arms as inevitable with the risk of its becoming an end in itself.

I would categorize my position as optimistic, though predicated upon actual military action occurring in the weeks ahead. That and only that can be the lever to force a diplomatic settlement which is unattainable through talk alone. 

I also remark up front that it is totally unclear at present which scenario will be realized and which will fall by the wayside.

Notwithstanding my calling a “crackpot” the Russian author of the “window of opportunity” argument for muscular behavior in my last essay, his argument on this narrow issue is very strong and no doubt is guiding present Russian foreign and military policy.  Moreover, as I said in passing, his time line for resolution of the critical security issues before Russia falls within Putin’s remaining time in office on this mandate.  So there is also the personal timeline of Vladimir Vladimirovich in play. If Russia’s military security is assured to the same degree as its economic security has been secured on his watch, then Putin can retire in 2024 and Russia can proceed on its way to normal democracy, because the system will no longer depend on one strong man in power to protect it from a hostile world led by a hubristic America.

By making their theses so public, nailing them to the door of the Wittenberg cathedral, so to speak, the Russians have not left themselves wiggle room to settle for something as limited as some of my peers are suggesting, to wit a formal American pledge not to install attack missiles in Ukraine on what will be nominally ABM bases, such as have been built in Romania and Poland.

The Russians will not tolerate de facto US and NATO control of Ukrainian territory, which presently includes the holding of massive war games directed against Russia in Ukraine during this year. They will not tolerate further US and NATO delivery of advanced arms to Ukraine enabling Kiev to retake the Donbas and possibly even Crimea by force. They want a formal renunciation of plans for Ukraine’s accession to NATO now and forever. 

They also want agreements that prevent the United States and NATO from redirecting their attention to Finland and Sweden, turning them into advance posts for attacking Russia from close proximity to its borders, and to prevent the considerable upgrading of airbases in Estonia, which are less than 20 minutes flying time to Petersburg in a conventional jet fighter, not to mention a hypersonic cruise missile. In short, the Russians want a global solution with the United States amounting to a real backdown or capitulation from its encroachments and threatening positions of the past 30 years.

But there is no way that Joe Biden can yield to the Russian demands if there is no Russian demonstration of strength, not just jawboning. 

One has to understand that the American and European foreign policy establishments, not to mention the broad public, still do not believe the Russians were capable of recovering from their degraded state in the 1990s to match or overtake the United States in military technology and physical deployment in 2022 on a budget that is ten times less.  There are snide remarks from our pampered expert community which have to be smashed by proofs that the Kremlin is not bluffing.  So some kind of military action is needed.

I continue to believe it will be surgical strikes, probably against NATO installations being built on the Ukrainian coast.  There is also the possibility that the Russians will announce the positioning on patrol just outside US territorial waters of their latest hypersonic cruise missiles and Poseidon deep sea nuclear drone, presenting an existential threat we have not seen since the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis.

Such actions would demonstrate that the Russians really and truly have strategic arms which reinstate MAD and also have enormously powerful and precise conventional arms which go toe-to-toe with America’s.  And what does the latter mean?  It means that the Russians are ready for a full scale war in Europe that they may just win without resorting to tactical nuclear arms, which would open the Pandora’s box of end of the world scenarios.

Does the US really want to have Russian missiles with a 5 minute flight time to the nation’s capital permanently positioned off its coast?  Does the United States want to fight a full scale conventional war in Europe?  I doubt it.  And that hesitancy would give Biden the political strength to tame Congress and cut a deal with the Russians giving them extensive revision of the European security architecture.

Now what I have just written is only one of many possible scenarios.  None of us knows what actually lies ahead.  

We have some optimism over the final outcome given Biden’s responding positively to the Russian initiative. He did not dismiss the two draft treaties out of hand as NATO General Secretary Jens Stoltenberg did at once.  But how far can Biden go on his own, without the Schumers and Pelosis of this world on board, supporting his capitulation? And the Republicans on The Hill have to be similarly scared. 

As for the Europeans, they will bark while the caravan of US-Russian negotiations proceeds and reaches solutions the Europeans will have to accept absent alternatives.

As any market observer knows, man is driven alternately by fear and greed.  The United States has had 30 years of greed. The day of fear is about to arrive.

©Gilbert Doctorow, 2022

PS: This article, as re-posted on http://www.antiwar.com in the early hours of 8 January was immediately translated into Russian and has been posted on half a dozen Russian news websites including yandex.ru, fbm.ru, discover24.ru, rznonline.ru. It also was placed on the youtube channel 24NEWS plus : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AA7IVHljLH4

Curiously, the Russian newscasters have chosen to put the spotlight on their nuclear deep sea drone as the threat likeliest to force a capitulation to Russian demands from NATO.

Sources of the Kremlin’s new defense and diplomatic playbook identified

My inbox is filled each day with many articles bearing on my interests in international affairs that I receive from a couple of high level online digests for professionals that also republish most of my own essays. One of them is Johnson’s Russia List based in George Washington University and serving primarily subscribers from among the American academic community. The other, also based in Washington, D.C., has subscribers drawn from among the diplomatic community in the nation’s capital.  It was the latter which on Monday brought in a catch worthy of two thumbs up.

I will now direct attention to some important information contained in one of the articles, entitled “What does the Russian ultimatum to the West mean?” written by the French Sovietologist and historian of contemporary Russia Françoise Thom. https://en.desk-russie.eu/2021/12/30/what-does-the-russian-ultimatum.html

Thom is an old-school political scientist. She is 71 years old and did her doctoral dissertation on “Soviet Wooden Language” at the Ecole des hautes études en sciences sociales under the internationally known Alain Besançon. Unlike so many of today’s professors of Russian studies in American universities who give courses and chair conferences on LGBT issues in Modern Russia and other frilly topics that may catch the fancy of students and land them a job in some NGO after graduation, unlike our mainstream media journalists who have long ceased to practice journalism and are mere conduits for Pentagon and State Department press releases, Thom’s work is intended to have direct practical application in formulation of government policy.

In recommending her article to my readers, I point out that Thom and I are on opposite sides of the barricades politically. She is a fierce defender of Western global hegemony. Nonetheless, what she has turned up about the sources of the latest Russian foreign policy initiative I see in no other publications at this moment. Of course, it may well be that similar knowledge is common currency within the Rand Corporation or, here in Brussels, among some faculty attached to the Royal Egmont Institute funded by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. But none of that knowledge behind closed doors does any good to promote open public discussion of the most important foreign policy challenge facing the United States and other Western nations at this moment. As The Washington Post wisely observes (but does not facilitate in practice), “Democracy Dies in Darkness.”

My debt to Thom for treading where few dare or are capable of treading is qualified by another consideration besides her political partisanship:  she ignores a fundamental rule of historical and political sciences, which is not merely to find and present what you believe to be influencers of state policy whether in Russia or elsewhere but also to explain who they are, on behalf of which economic and other interests they speak.  Thom has not done this although a simple visit to google.ru search would have been sufficient for the purpose. In what follows I will do precisely that, because the results of such search are very relevant to our understanding what makes Russia tick today.

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In the subtitled section of her essay “What is at stake,” Thom sets out in detail the full scope of Russian demands contained in the two draft treaties submitted to Washington on 17 December. The consequence of accepting the Russian terms is clear: “In a word, Russia is demanding that NATO commit suicide, and that the United States be reduced to the role of a regional power.”  So far, so good. I would not disagree with that observation.

 Where Thom goes off the rails is her follow-on conclusion: “By negotiating as an equal with the president of the United States Putin demonstrates at the same time to the Russians that his position as the boss is recognized by the cursed Westerners. The feeling of debasement the Russians experience in their hearts by submitting to despotism vanishes when they see the humiliation of the West: foreigners too are bowing down to Putin. The regime’s propaganda knows how to play these sensitive chords.” 

Regrettably, the Russian public that Thom knows about goes no farther than listeners to the fiercely anti-Putin radio Ekho Moskvy, meaning the two or three percent of the population who are dyed in the wool Liberals. These folks are not so much a Fifth Column as simply Russian self-haters, such as always existed in certain numbers through Russian history going back centuries. I think Thom is spending too much time inside the Sorbonne and too little time out and about in Russia, where she could see for herself what nonsense it is to apply the word “despotism” to the country and its form of governance today.

Another section, subtitled “An orchestrated blackmail,” puts in repugnant terms what other people might simply call Realpolitik. Yes, historically speaking, might has almost always made right. The USA has gotten away with this for decades, so why should the Russians, as another Great Power, not also feel entitled?  The question is can you impress your greater strategic and tactical capabilities upon your adversaries by firing a cluster of hypersonic missiles, as the Russians apparently did on 24 December to show off to the world their ability to sink American aircraft carriers if and when necessary by the flick of a switch, or do you have to kill a few hundred thousand people to make clear your might, as the United States has done from time to time in ‘shock and awe’ events.

The segment of Thom’s article under the subtitle “Why this Russian ultimatum?” is the most valuable contribution by the author. She has identified one, perhaps the source of the thinking that I heard repeated and broadcast to the nation on the 28 December edition of the talk show “Evening with Vladimir Solovyov.” It is a think tank called Russtrat (Institute of International Political and Economic Strategies) and its publication on 21 November 2021 was a paper entitled “Russia has focused its mind: the country and the world on the eve of great changes,” by a certain Igor Kazenas.    https://russtrat.ru/reports/21-noyabrya-2021-0010-7259

We see spelled out in this article the notion of a window of opportunity for Russia to solve here and now its international security issues with the West, both military and economic. This window of opportunity, by the way, falls conveniently within the present, likely final, mandate of Vladimir Putin as president.

Thom quotes extensively from the Russtrat source paper [translation hers]:

“In the next year and a half, Russia will considerably change the balance of global power.[…]Russia’s current historical situation is unique. The state has prepared itself for the major challenges that may arise under critical pressure. Huge reserves have been accumulated, including gold. National financial and information infrastructure plans have been created and launched.. Digitization has begun to encompass the entire economy, bringing it to a new level of competitiveness. The expansion of our own industrial base, including in highly sensitive high-tech areas, is proceeding in leaps and bounds, the ‘technology gap’ is closing. We have overcome critical dependence in the area of food security. […]For the past five years, the army has been the world’s leader. In this area, the ‘technological gap’ is in our favor and is only widening…Moreover, the explosion of planetary inflation is causing an energy crisis, which makes the Europeans for the most part, much more accommodating and rules out a blockade of our energy supplies, WHATEVER WE DO.”  

Thom notes the author’s emphasis on playing the China card, to coordinate actions against Ukraine and Taiwan, with the effect of freeing Russia’s hands even more. And she quotes the Russtat conclusion which surely bears on the delivery of Russia’s ultimatum to the West of 17 December: “Russia has restored its weight in the international arena to the point that it is able to dictate its own terms in the shaping of international security.”

Thom sees weakness and errors of the Biden administration as having brought on this new belligerence from Moscow.  In particular, the debacle of the summer evacuation from Afghanistan and the succession of envoys sent by Washington to deal with the Russians, none more damaging than William Burns, of whom she says, “Burns’ visit was interpreted in Moscow as an indication that the policy of appeasement has prevailed in Washington and thus an encouragement to raise the stakes and ‘seize the strategic initiative.’”

The least impressive section of Thom’s essay is “What to do?”  Her recommendation comes down to this: “do nothing, say nothing and stand your ground.” So, no dialogue, instead wage a new Cold War. I think even those with her on the other side of the barricades will find this “solution” unconvincing in the face of what she calls Russian blackmail backed up by strategic superiority.  Strategic inferiority was the hand of the Kremlin when the original Cold War was launched and remained the fact till the very end. On 1 March 2018 Vladimir Putin pointed out in his State of the Nation address that for the first time in modern history Russia had pulled well ahead of the West in development and deployment of cutting edge strategic weapons systems.

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As I indicated in the opening, there are serious methodological failings in Thom’s analytical essay.

She tells us nothing at all about the various Russian media and think tank source that she presents, although that knowledge is an essential context for our considering the political dynamics in Russia and the contribution of each writer/institution to setting state policy. Without such background we are unable to choose between cause and effect or identify which economic interests the authors of the articles cited represent.

First, with regard to the Russtrat essay:  we see here not a collectively prepared or anonymously written text as is customary in think tanks but instead a single author, Igor Kazenas, whose past and present is readily available using google.ru search. A biographical sketch of Kazenas posted on the REX Information Agency (https://iarex.ru) makes it clear that he is a certifiable crackpot. He is an economist by training. In that regard he fits the description of the Russtrat think tank, as I will discuss in a minute. But we are told that “Besides business, he has engaged in studies along the lines of the psychedelic guru Timothy Leary and with various gurus of India….As a result, he managed to develop a new philosophical-metahistorical toolbox allowing him to survey the prospects of any society, country, the world.”

Indeed, a substantial part of the text of his 21 November essay in Russtrat is devoted to spiritual issues and mystical-philosophical musings. Russia will show the world a new spiritual foundation for its unification. He calls out the triangle of Russia, China and India, which will lead humanity to the Kingdom of Light. Russian “conservatism” is said to be an ideology of planetary significance! “This is the creation of an agenda and one of the foundation stones of future world leadership.”

We need not be surprised that Thom has not quoted any of this philosophical claptrap, since it would detract from her story.

Meanwhile, Kazenas’s language, meaning his choice of words throughout his essay includes a lot of rough, bully boy words from the street. He is excessively boastful about Russia and excessively contemptuous about the United States and the Collective West. This is not what you would expect to see in the product of a ‘think tank’ and it is surprising that Thom, whose first academic achievements were as wordsmith and analyst of ‘wooden language’ does not convey these obvious facts to her readers.

It bears mention here that Russia experts have for years been looking for modern day Rasputins, crackpot advisers to the throne in Russia.  Several years ago they settled upon a certain Alexander Dugin, professor of philosophy at Moscow State University who was said to be feeding Neo-Eurasianist thinking to Vladimir Putin that allegedly underlay the Russian president’s foreign policy.  Eventually Dugin was ousted from his university post and disappeared without a trace into history’s dust bin.  The same fate may await Mr.Kazenas, though, it would seem that his argumentation about this being the time to strike and rewrite European security provisions has now become mainstream thinking among certain Russian elites.

We learn which elites by doing a bit of background search into the think tank that published Kazenas. The Russtrat website tells us very little about the institution other than that it was founded in April 2020 and holds a registration number with the Russian Ministry of Justice. Then there is their Mission Statement: “…to ensure the national-state interests of Russia in the foreign policy sphere by the forces of a team of highly professional experts in various fields of human knowledge – politics, economics, the humanitarian sphere, ecology and so forth. We ensure professional and objective decisions based on profound knowledge of the subject of research.”

We learn considerably more about Russtrat by looking at the biography of its director, Yelena Vladimirovna Panina whose career is summed up on the think tank’s “About Us” page:  “a well-known politician, chairman of the Moscow Confederation of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs, doctor of economics, professor.”

Indeed, Panina is a very serious personality, with decades of service at all levels of the Soviet, then Russian government, both appointive and elective.  Aged 73, she has served successive terms as deputy in the State Duma, where she was in the fraction of the ruling United Russia Party.  Back in the 1990s she was the author of the law on self-government in the Russian Federation that was in effect until 2009. She crafted this law with a backward look at the functioning of the zemstvos, the institution of local rule established in the 1860s by the Tsar Liberator Alexander II.  But it is clearly Panina’s role as a founder and officer of the Confederation of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs that is most relevant to our understanding of who chose Kasenas’ essay to be featured by Russtrat and why.

This conclusion about the economic interests behind the new muscular and assertive foreign policy of Russia is further substantiated by looking at the affiliation of another author whom Thom chooses to highlight in her essay without providing context. I have in mind Irina Alksnis, who is identified as writing for the news agency RIA Novosti. But Alksnis is also published in Vzglyad, still another media source that Thom quotes from.  It is essential to understand that Vzglyad is a business daily.  There Alksnis is a pundit, a commentator, nothing more. But the paper has a business audience, which is highly relevant to our case.

In this regard, it is worth noting that the argument for a muscular foreign policy rests not only on military strategic considerations but on economic-commercial considerations. Essentially they are saying that Russia is now sanction-proof, and they believe that the coming economic crises in the world, in particular high inflation, will favor inflows of industrial development money to Russia, where, due to low energy costs, prices will be much more stable.

From all of the foregoing, one wonders what are the concrete steps that Kasenas recommends for Russia to take the initiative and solve its security issues.  I find that he is headed off into a number of different directions, none of which matches the clearly defined answer – ‘surgical strikes’ against NATO targets – that Vladimir Solovyov spoke about in his 28 December television program.

Instead Kazenas talks about finishing up the war in Syria by liquidating the Idlib area of resistance. Of course, the Ukraine figures prominently in his plans. He expects that country’s forces will be annihilated with likely loss of Russian soldiers limited to 100-150 if the fight comes soon, larger numbers if the fight comes later and the United States succeeds in planting ever more advanced equipment on Ukrainian soil.  In his analysis, Belarus will draw ever closer to Russia, leading inevitably to their being a single state. The author concentrates on economic-commercial issues: winning the gas war and further consolidating its position in Europe, taking over market niches and whole segments thanks to its competitive pricing based on low energy costs. Kazenas foresees ever more localization of production in Russia.

What is missing entirely in the Kazenas plan for the way forward is any mention of ‘surgical strikes’ and very limited operations in Ukraine to achieve maximal political results in changing relations with the USA and its allies, which Solovyov promoted in his program.  Nor is there discussion of how Russia’s present advantages over the Collective West arising from its advanced strategic weapons systems will be lost if the country fails to act decisively in the coming 18 months.

Put another way, the Russtrat article and the other articles cited by Thom are pieces of a game plan, while the integrated game plan was created at some other level, likely within the Presidential administration acting in consultations with the Russian General Staff. We may consider the authors of the various recommendations to be speech-writers of sorts, not principals. The only issue of substance, which is not identified by Thom, is that Russian business may be running well ahead of the Putin government in its aggressiveness towards the West. To those of us with an historical perspective, this is reminiscent of the situation in Russia in the several years just before the outbreak of WWI. Of course, Vladimir Vladimirovich is no Nicholas II, and surely he can keep his own society under better control and not  be pushed to overplay his hand.

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The second article which drew my close attention on Monday was “The non-West ‘stands up’. We witness history” by Patrick Lawrence, published on 3 January in The Scrum In this review of the year gone by from the perspective of the changing correlation of powers between those on the rise (Russia, China) and those in decline (USA and Collective West), the author identifies inflection points.

The inflection point of greatest interest to us is the first in his list, in March 2021 when Secretary of State Blinken and Jake Sullivan, the President’s national security adviser hosted their Chinese counterparts in an Anchorage hotel. The event was in Lawrence’s words ‘an unmitigated debacle’:

“Blinken and Sullivan….determined to lecture the Chinese on all the old stand-bys – human rights, democracy, a free press, persecution of Muslims, and so on. Instantly, the occasion blew up in their faces. In a manner I will risk terming unprecedented, FM Wang Yi and top diplomat Yang Jiechi dumped the whole shopping cart of condemnations back across the mahogany table: Who in hell are you to talk to us about human rights and press freedoms? Who are you to tell anyone else about how democracies ought to be governed? How dare you affect concern about the treatment of Muslim populations?…

“If Anchorage and its aftermath were disasters for the Americans, it was something else for the Chinese. They faced the U.S. in a way they rarely had until then. They said, We are done with humoring you people. We are done trying to work with you in a cooperative spirit so long as you insist on speaking to us as other than equals. It was not hard to detect that China had assumed a new posture toward America, the non-West as it faced the West.”

However, for our purposes what is most relevant is Lawrence’s following remark: “Immediately after the Anchorage encounter, Sergei Lavrov, Russia’s very able FM, flew to Beijing to confer with Wang.”

There is no need to reproduce Lawrence’s narrative on other turning points in East-West interaction during 2021.  He has set out a dimension that was missing in our examination above of the factors within Russia that led ultimately to the muscular, forceful presentation of its security demands to the United States and NATO in December. This dimension is the China factor.

Russia may have the weapons, but China enjoys the economic might to challenge the United States and the West in the most determined way.  The growing alliance between the two countries and their ability to coordinate actions simultaneously in the two global hotspots that have the full attention of Washington, Ukraine and Taiwan, present important additional support for the concept of a window of opportunity that the Kremlin found so attractive and underpin the present defense and diplomatic playbook.

©Gilbert Doctorow, 2022


Deciphering the Biden-Putin Telephone Chat of Yesterday, 30 December 2021

Information provided to the press by both American and Russian sides following the 50 minute telephone conversation between presidents Putin and Biden is very meager.  That has not prevented major Western media like the New York Times and Financial Times from putting out this morning normal sized articles filled mostly with background information for those readers who have been asleep for the past few weeks. The few statements about the meeting from official sources on both sides have just been repeated at face value in their articles, without any attempt at interpretation.

In what follows, I will provide precisely that:  a Kremlinologist’s deciphering of what we used to call ‘the wooden language’ of diplomacy and of officialdom.

Let us begin with the remark in the FT that “the telephone call between the leaders…was arranged at Moscow’s request.” They take it no further, but it certainly bears mention that until now all contacts –phone calls and in-person or virtual summits between the two leaders – have been called at the request of the American side, which was unnerved by the build-up of 100,000 or more Russian soldiers at the Ukrainian border and assumed that an invasion was being prepared.  So, I ask why did Russia take the initiative this time? And why a conversation now, just days before the official delegations from both countries meet in Geneva.  I will hazard guesses.

First, from their own perspective, as revealed in statements by panelists on the 28 December “Evening with Vladimir Solovyov” talk show that I published earlier today, the Russians say they are  now taking the strategic initiative in relations from the Americans and setting the agenda as they see fit. I believe that Putin wanted the call to discuss Ukraine one-on-one with Biden well before the planned date of the meeting in Geneva by their negotiating teams. Knowing that the Americans intend to divert discussion from the Russian agenda of NATO retreat, that the Americans have flagged Ukraine and arms control as their preferred subjects for negotiation, Putin decided to remove at least one of these issues here and now.

Indeed, the United States media and government have for more than six weeks been beating the drum over an expected Russian invasion of Ukraine, for which the build-up of Russian forces at the border was alleged to be the preparation. The FT duly reported in this manner today in the headline of their article on the phone call yesterday: “US will respond ‘decisively’ if Russia invades Ukraine, Joe Biden warns Vladimir Putin.” But all this claptrap about “consequences” for expected Russian boots on the ground in Ukraine is only domestic PR in the USA to make Biden appear to be standing tall, to show him as a determined defender of freedom who will put Putin in his place, and to help us all forget the disastrous U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan this past summer which gave Biden the image of incompetence and cowardice in foreign affairs.

What about Putin’s response to the threat of a ‘decisive’ U.S. response to an invasion.  We read in the FT article the following:  “Putin told Biden that sweeping sanctions would cause a ‘complete rupture’ in relations between the two countries,…adding that it would be a ‘colossal mistake that could lead to the most serious consequences.’”  This same line was used by the NYT at the start of its morning report “A call between Biden and Putin.”

Neither the FT nor the NYT hazards a guess as to what those consequences of Russian counter action might be, nor do they venture to say how a ‘complete rupture’ in relations might play out.  Let’s work on that now.

I believe that Putin’s counter threat of a complete rupture in relations is directed not at the USA as such but at Europe, and is intended to strip Biden of much of the impact of his proposed ‘sanctions from hell,’ as Deputy Secretary of State Victoria Nuland called them. 

Cutting off all relations with the United States does not have much importance by itself under present conditions of minimal diplomatic and other communications channels between them following waves of U.S. sanctions and expulsions of Russian diplomats, seizure of Russian diplomatic property over the past five years. As for trade, it was never very consequential between the two countries simply due to the structure of their economies.  What little the U.S. has imported from Russia is chiefly in certain grades of crude oil that Gulf of Mexico refineries in the United States cannot get elsewhere since a ban on Venezuelan oil was imposed some time ago.

The threat of total cut-off of relations would be an entirely different matter for the European Union, which would surely face the same issue if it dared to impose draconian sanctions on Russia in concerted action with the United States. And Biden’s threat holds water only if the EU acts in harmony with America. 

The European Union cannot possibly risk a total cutoff of relations with Russia because 30% of all gas it consumes comes from Russia, not to mention the other very extensive trade relations which make the EU Russia’s largest trading partner, and make Russia a major partner for Germany and several other key EU member states.

I would say that metaphorically speaking, Putin sank Biden’s ships with this one warning.

Now I direct attention to another tantalizing sentence in the FT article which takes us all the way back to last week, when “Putin …refused to rule out a military solution [in Ukraine] and has previously warned that he has ‘all kinds’ of options if his demands are not met.”

What could those ‘all kinds of options be’? If the FT staff in Moscow had bothered to listen to the December 28 edition of the talk show ‘Evening with Vladimir Solovyov’ they would know what readers of my transcription of the show published earlier today now know:  Russia is considering making surgical strikes against NATO military infrastructure that it deems threatening to its national security, and the targets are not necessarily in Ukraine.  No invasion, no overthrow of the fascist-rabid nationalist influenced government in Kiev, just surgical strikes, such as Israel and Turkey and the United States itself have carried out in places like Syria and Iraq in the past few years with total impunity.

When I heard this voiced by Vladimir Solovyov, this was the first time such an ingenious solution came up. I had been looking elsewhere when trying to make sense of Putin’s talk of ‘military technical’ means to achieve its political objective of removing existential threats posed by NATO installations. I had assumed he meant stationing submarines and frigates armed with hypersonic missiles just off American shores or planting still more missiles in Kaliningrad and in Belarus to threaten European capitals.  But how could the reality of Russian strategic superiority represented by these new weapon systems be driven home without an exercise similar to the US bombing of Hiroshima, which took place in the context of all-out war?  If instead Russia uses its new precision strike weapons against, say, what is nominally an ABM base in Romania, but which the Russians consider to be in fact an offensive missile base directed at themselves, who will raise a finger?  Is Romania better loved in the world, and even within the EU, than Syria or Iraq? Not really. Would that be an act of war?  Hardly. But to avoid any risk, the Russians might instead begin their political military case by bombing NATO formations in Ukraine.  When they bombed NATO units in Syria that were supporting terrorists, it was hushed up by NATO member states even though lives were lost.  The same would likely happen in any Russian attacks in Ukraine that had collateral loss of life.

These are surely the arguments that Russia will bring to the table in its own good time to get Uncle Sam’s signature on the treaties of security that they presented to Washington on December 17th.  And at that point the American political establishment will bless Biden, the peacemaker and drop all pretence at resistance.

©Gilbert Doctorow, 2021

gilbertdoctorow Uncategorized 8 Comments 6 Minutes

Russian elites talk: will the negotiations in Geneva on January 10 bring about a roll-back of NATO? 

In the past ten years as a journalist and commentator on current Russian affairs, I have had the pleasure of breaking new ground in the field. Following Russia’s implementation of counter sanctions on Europe in the tit for tat economic war that resulted from Russia’s occupation of Crimea in the spring of 2014, I was surely the first outside observer to visit Russian supermarkets and farmers’ markets to report on how Russian agriculture was coping with the challenges of import substitution.  My firsthand inspections were subsequently taken up by a number of different Western mainstream outlets. I am delighted to be copied.

I broke new ground in coverage of Russian media in 2016, the year in which I was invited onto all channels of Russian state and independent television channels to participate in political talk shows. Why 2016? Because the Trump phenomenon was a conundrum in Moscow and they were eager to hear about it from the few of us Americans who could offer explanations on air in Russian. My appearances began with a vignette appearance on a Russia 24 show hosted by Yevgeni Popov, who is today co-anchor of the widely watched program ‘Sixty Minutes’, as well as a newly elected Duma member. It reached a high point in September 2016 when I was a panelist on the country’s most respected talk show run by Vladimir Solovyov. In the warm-up room before going on air I got an answer from Solovyov on whom the Kremlin preferred to see as winner in the American elections and why. On air in that show I crossed swords with the ever venomous Vladimir Zhirinovsky,a frisson-evoking experience.  

 I was the first to write about the talk show genre as a litmus test on freedom of speech and freedom of the press in Russia. I published these articles on my website, then republished them in my book of essays Does the United States Have a Future? (2017).  I am pleased to see that in the past year the BBC Media Monitoring has from time to time picked up the theme and published its own surveys of Russian political talk shows and of Russia’s leading news program, another of my long time preoccupations, Vesti Nedeli, hosted by Kremlin insider Dmitry Kiselyov. I remind the reader that formerly Western journalism took no interest in what was being said on Russian television, because it was all assumed to be state run propaganda exposing no diversity of views.

During the years 2018 to 2020, I admit that Russian state television lost its interest even for me. ‘Evening with Solovyov’ and the other talk shows put up the same few commentators chewing the fat over the same predictions of imminent collapse of the Kiev regime or recounting the hardships of Lugansk and Donetsk residents under Ukrainian artillery barrages that violated the ceasefire. This year, when the suffering in Russia from the Covid pandemic approached European and American levels, when the anti-vaxxers came out of the closet and the government struggled to raise the vaccination rate, that subject introduced some vital diversity into the talk shows. But the intensifying political-military crisis around Ukraine which in the past few months has brought about two summits between Presidents Biden and Putin, one face to face and second virtual, not to mention yesterday’s telephone conversation between the two leaders, has not only put spice into Russian state television but made close monitoring essential to any understanding of what lies ahead for us all. The case in point is the December 28th edition of ‘Evening with Vladimir Solovyov,’ which had the provocative subtitle “War or Negotiations.” ( See https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=–zY5H9lYcIso far only in Russian).

In what follows below, I offer my own partial transcript of that one hour forty-six minute show. It is partial, because even by removing some of the empty cross-chat which was meant by the host to be amusing and by sticking strictly to what is informative, the result still comes to ten typed pages, and may strain the patience of readers.

My transcript is as complete as it is, even with these cuts and with summarizing sentences in some places rather than full word-for-word translation, because I believe it is important for Western readers to see, to the greatest extent possible, the thinking processes of some of Russia’s best analytical minds as they appraise what may be expected from the negotiations in Geneva over Russian demands to revise the security architecture in Europe to the status quo before the alliance’s expansion to the East in May 1997. It is especially illuminating to hear the commentary of the host, Solovyov, on what measures Russia may take if the talks in Geneva are a stale-mate and Russian demands are not satisfied. I frankly admit that what he says is entirely different from what I till now predicted and from what I have read in the array of commentary from peers in the alternative media, not to mention mainstream.

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Host Vladimir Solovyov opened the show with a pessimistic assessment of the chances for success in the meetings to be held between Russian, American and other teams of security experts in Geneva beginning on January 10: I quote:

The negotiations haven’t even started, but nonetheless there is the feeling that we are on the threshold of war. On the 10th, talks between US and Russia.  On the 12th, a meeting of the Russia-NATO Council.  On the 13th , a meeting of Russia and the OSCE. Best of all, here and now  we are beginning discussions among friends. 

It is difficult to forecast what results the meetings in Geneva will bring. But there is not much reason for optimism. This brings to mind the talks that went on before the outbreak of WWII. The British sent their people to us. 

We are thinking now – don’t play games with us. We will not play games. For the moment, the make-up of the U.S. delegation is not clear, though it has principal importance.

We sent the Americans the papers on what we want to discuss. They say they want to talk about arms control and about the situation in Ukraine. But why would we talk about Ukraine? What do we have to do with Ukraine? There is a civil war going on there. If they have questions, they can discuss them among themselves with Donbas.  We want to talk about NATO.

They want to talk about strategic stability, but that is not about arms control.  They are absolutely different questions.

Are the Americans trying to say they are hard of hearing?  Everything can fall apart at any moment.  Sergey Lavrov very correctly said that the only adult talk can be between Putin and Biden.  We have to listen to our military men who say that the entire structure of NATO is being built up for a large scale war with Russia.

Why do we want to talk only with the USA?  We hear Estonia shouting, ‘don’t start talks with Russia.’  But how many atom bombs do they have? They all start shouting. But do they have their own armies? I mean something more than a military band? The only real military constituent force in NATO is the USA. Without the nuclear arms of the USA, NATO presents no threat. We want to speak only to people who can take decisions.   Am I being too harsh?

Solovyov then passed the microphone to the most senior political personality in the room, Vyacheslav Nikonov.

Nikonov is probably best known to Russian and foreign audiences for hosting a “tele-bridge” Moscow-Washington weekly hour long talk show on Russia’s Channel One. This started in 2018 and ran for several years.The program was internationally accessible on youtube.com.  Nikonov’s counterpart in Washington was Dmitry Simes, a former Nixon aide, later director of the Nixon Center for Peace, which more recently took the name Center for the National Interest. On what was called The Great Game, they discussed current events in bilateral relations together with invited guests.

Others have heard of Nikonov for his being the grandson of Bolshevik leader Molotov. However, his right to privileged use of the microphone on the Soloviev program is by personal merit not family relations. He was for several years director of the Russky Mir foundation that provided financial and other assistance to the Russian diaspora. He is a Duma member of long standing, presently holding the rank of deputy chair of the Committee on Foreign Affairs. He is, of course, a member of the ruling United Russia Party.

I have given this detailed introduction so that his words regarding the forthcoming US-Russian talks in Geneva will be appreciated for what they are:  coming from a Kremlin insider who speaks for a substantial segment of the Russian power elite. In matters of national security, national prestige people like Nikonov naturally set the limits on what Vladimir Putin can do. The notion of an Autocrat acting on whim, so widespread in ideology-driven American discourse, is nonsense.

Nikonov opened by invoking the principle of Occam’s Razor: discussion of the forthcoming negotiations must be stripped to the essentials, which amount to talks between two countries only, the United States and Russia. I quote:

 It has been at the request of the United States that separate meetings are being organized as well with NATO and with the OSCE. From the Russian perspective, this can have but one purpose: to change the question from NATO’s unacceptable expansion to Russian borders, which is what prompted the Russian ultimatum of December 17, or “hard demands.” The United States wants to shift the agenda to arms control, which it presents as the key to ensuring strategic stability. But for the Russians, that is all wrong.  Moreover, convening a meeting between NATO and Russia in the guise of the deliberative body from which Russia withdrew several months ago after its diplomatic personnel were expelled from Brussels, is an exercise in futility. A security treaty must be agreed with Russia’s opposite number, the USA.

Inviting NATO to hold talks with us makes as much sense as it would have been for Kennedy to negotiate with the Warsaw Pact in 1962 during the Cuban Missile Crisis. The only ‘adults in the room,’ in his view are Biden and Putin.

As for the OSCE, there is even less reason for it to hold parallel talks. The security dimension of the OSCE was over the years since the Helsinki Acts reduced to nil by the Americans.

With respect to the draft treaties passed by the Kremlin to Washington on December 17, the West has not understood the main point: they are not a menu from which you order a la carte, accepting some dishes and rejecting others.  They are a fixed menu meal which you eat as set down or you kick over the tray.

In conclusion,  the negotiations will be very interesting. In the West, they have not understood that the rules of the game have changed.  This is not Russia backed into a corner. We have set the rules now.  If there are separate meetings with the OSCE and with NATO, these will be one time meetings only, without any continuation. We meet and part ways, because we have nothing further to discuss with one another. As for the US-Russian talks, they will continue, because the Americans are not ready to say “no.” If they wanted to say “no,” they would have done so already. They haven’t decided what they want to extract for themselves from all this. Do they want Russia to slam the door and solve its problems with Ukraine by military means, in which case everyone will pile on sanctions against Russia. There are many in Washington who would like this.

As an illustration of how the rules have changed, we now have no interest in proving to anyone what Baker said or didn’t say regarding NATO moving to the East.  We are just asking them to sign the piece of paper. That is what the talk is about. If you don’t want to sign, then goodbye.  If they say ‘no,’ then we have a full-scale crisis.

Our embassy compiled a list of the US legislative acts imposing sanctions on us. There are 48 of them. If they add a 49th now it will change nothing.

That is one scenario. However, I am certain that there are people in the National Security Council and other agencies who are not happy with this scenario, they are not happy that Ukraine will collapse. It’s not that they care about Ukraine; it is useful to them only as a military staging area against Russia. It is not a dagger held to our neck. No, it is dynamite that can be blown up once and only once, after which it ceases to exist.

I think that in Washington they are sitting and considering what they can expect from us. A whole array of publications has come out on what Russia may do. The range is over how many hours Russia will need to finish things up in Ukraine. The West mistakenly thinks Russian actions following a breakdown in negotiations will be precisely in Ukraine.

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The discussion opens as the panelists ask whether a showdown with the United States now will lead to a new isolation of their country, a return to Soviet life: no travel abroad and domestic repression. The answer is a clear ‘no’. All believe that the Putin government will defend the open society they now enjoy.

The next speaker, Andrei Sidorov, is a heavyweight in the Russian academic and think tank world, who is invited rather frequently to Solovyov’s talk show. Sidorov is Dean of the Faculty of World Politics at Moscow State University.   I quote:

Arms control is the topic that the Americans want most to put forward during the coming Geneva talks. But arms control is only part of the equation of strategic stability.  The Americans want to talk about hypersonic missiles, about the removal of Russian short range missiles from Kaliningrad in return for which they will not introduce their missiles in Europe. However, we will not agree to such talks now.

As for the American negotiating team, it appears to be driven by the State Department, where the boss, Blinken, is not a serious person.  I had counted on Jake Sullivan at the Security Council to take the lead, I am now disappointed in Sullivan.

There is a paradoxical situation surrounding Russian relations with NATO. Officially, Russia is still in a partnership with NATO for the war on terror. How will we talk with NATO?  It will be one against 30, where any one of the 30 has a say.

As for the OSCE, the only structure left from the system of European security, it is now a balloon without content. The OSCE had a “basket” labeled “economic cooperation.”  “Economic cooperation” does not allow for sanctions. For the OSCE to come into play, they have to remove the sanctions.

We propose to go back to the situation in May 1997, that is the basic concept. Can we do this?  Not now.  It would be easier just to speak of the dissolution of NATO. And the Americans will not agree to this because NATO is very necessary to them as an instrument.

Solovyov interjects: but NATO wasn’t necessary for Trump.

Sidorov:  Yes, Trump wanted the USA to rely only on itself.  But now again NATO is needed to apply constant pressure against Russia. Meanwhile, in U.S. national security considerations under Biden, it is likely that the number one adversary will be named as China.

The United States is practicing a Cold War against us. In the year gone by we began to resist, leading up to the present tough confrontation. And if the United States does not go along, then we must act according to our own interests.

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Solovyov then turned over the microphone to another regular panelist on his shows coming from the Liberal opposition camp of Russian politics, political scientist and historian, Sergei Stankevich

Stankevich’s biography is colorful. He was close to power early in the Yeltsin years, then had a falling out with Yeltsin which led to his flight abroad to avoid prosecution for bribery, on the basis of what he called fabricated documents. After a brief stay in the USA, he spent three years in Poland, which refused to act on extradition demands from the Russian State Prosecutor. He returned to Russia and to political life only at the end of the millennium. In the past twenty years he has dabbled in opposition politics and made his living in business, where he is on the board of directors of numerous substantial companies in food processing and other industries. During the 2018 presidential elections, he was a close advisor to candidate and business ombudsman Titov. During several of the televised debates, Stankevich stood in for Titov, who was traveling in London, where his family lives.

I quote:

The New Year gives grounds for cautious advance optimism. I will try to explain, because you are all talking about war. What has happened is what I long foresaw – the opening of a dialogue under pressure.  The United States and its allies long refused to enter into dialogue about collective security, but now they have been compelled to do so. We gave them two serious documents. Very good. There is a certain breakthrough. Now we have to apply pressure again during the negotiations to achieve results.

This is so because there is a danger of their being drawn out, of the agenda being changed from those set down in the two documents drafted by Russia.  I see two criteria to judge how serious are the United States and the whole Euro-Atlantic side.  In 2022, there are plans to start construction of two naval bases in Ukraine: in Berdyansk and Ochakov. This is crossing a new red line. Formally the bases are Ukrainian but the ‘filling,’ equipment and personnel, will be entirely British and American. They are clearly aimed at Russia. The distance from Ochakov to Crimea is less than 100 km. The British have already signed agreements to supply their own rockets. So far these missiles are for deployment in aircraft and naval vessels. But land deployment will surely come. This activity is a move towards attack.   The second criterion is what NATO does in Madrid in June 2022 when it will set down its new strategic doctrine. Will they identify Russia as an enemy? Will they repeat their traditional slogans about everyone who wants to join can join NATO? 

Nonetheless, the negotiations open up certain possibilities.  I agree that the meeting with NATO has a more or less ritualistic character. I think the U.S. insisted on this to show that they consult with their allies, that they are not acting unilaterally on Russia.  I think of Martin Luther and his theses nailed to the church door. We might have nailed our lists to the door of NATO in Brussels.

I see more reason for expectations from the direct U.S.-Russian talks in Geneva which start on the 10th.  Then there will be direct talks with the Americans on the 12th and 13th.  The Americans will want to shift the subjects. They want to talk about Ukraine, for their domestic public, to gather support.

Solovyov interjects:  And how will Biden sell Ukraine to the American public. They see it is a corrupt country. They don’t respect Zelensky. See what the New York Times writes.

Stankevich:  For Biden it is important to say to his home audience that he intervened and prevented an invasion.

Solovyov:  How will this influence American voters. They couldn’t care less about Ukraine. Americans are now worried about the thousands of homeless war veterans.

Stankevich: The Americans can give us a guaranty of security. That will be good for a start.

* * * *

Solovyov then gives the microphone to Dmitry Kulikov, an analyst within the agency Russia Today.  I quote:

I don’t feel any optimism about the negotiations. And for that reason I am full of optimism. I have optimism for my nation, my state, my people and our possibilities. The Americans tricked us and claimed they won the Cold War. But they have also deceived themselves. They did not defeat us. They only persuaded the world that they had defeated us. Their supposed victory is the foundation for their global hegemony. And now if they go into reverse then the whole structure starts to come crashing down.

 As soon as we see they are using delaying tactics on concluding a peace, we will take that for a refusal, “with all consequences flowing from that,” to quote from our official declarations.   Look at Soviet military strategy in WWII, which began with fierce defensive fights in Stalingrad, Kursk, etc before we went onto the offensive in 1943. The same situation prevails now: we are at the point of taking the strategic initiative.

The United States has already lost Ukraine. The question now is how to formalize this. The U.S. has to launch a big PR campaign to cover up the loss.  There are those in the States who want to push us into armed conflict with Ukraine to bring down the Iron Curtain on us, to take us back to 1949.

But history does not repeat itself.  So what can we do?  I am not a military man. If they refuse to sign a peace with us, then we can go and sign a military-political alliance with China. And what if some other Eurasian states join this alliance? Theoretically, what then happens to the Empire and its hegemony?

When he was asked what we will do if the Americans refuse, our President said we will ask the opinion of experts.  We have a rich understanding of the word “expert.” Another term rich in meaning here is “military-technical” means.

The year 2022 will be more difficult for the economy than 2021. This is very important for them.

Yes, they are trying to drag things out.  This meeting with NATO – maybe we will go to it, maybe we won’t.

We don’t know what powers to decide Biden has.  We know about Estonia, Poland, about Mr. Borrell.. There will be a lot of shouting from the sidelines, but the negotiations will be with the USA. They will decide to accept peace or not.

From our perspective, the power of Mr. Biden to do something is very doubtful given the situation in Washington today.   We understand perfectly well that this may lead nowhere. What comes next? I won’t venture a guess, but we have to think clearly about it.

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Next to speak is the military affairs journalist with the official daily Gazeta.ru, Mikhail Khodarenok, who has the rank of colonel in the reserves.  I quote:

A few words about the military strength of the United States. People talk about its having nuclear weapons. But then so does the United Kingdom, France. And even that smaller level of weapons they possess is quite enough to turn upside down European Russia. Only there will be no one left at the end to draw up the scoreboard.  The strength of the USA is the most up to date intelligence, most up to date management, leadership in high technology warfare. There are very few countries around the world which could resist the USA for more than two weeks.

Solovyov intervenes :  And what about Afghanistan?

Khodarenok:  That was not a military defeat. Where was the enemy? By daytime they were ordinary citizens. By night they became Taliban fighters.

Solovyov: And what about our hypersonic cruise missiles, our mach 27 missiles, our Poseidon deep sea nuclear armed drone?

Khodarenok: Nonetheless, it is a big mistake to underestimate your opponent.  Now as regards some representatives of our political class who are sometimes too hot, too emotional and are ready to enter into an armed conflict:  I will now give them a cold shower. We don’t need a war right now in whatever form.

Solovyov: Why not?  In a year or a year and a half two bases will be built on Ukrainian territory. Rockets are moved in there. In a year or two the Americans will have hypersonic missiles of some kind. That is to say we will lose the advantage we have now in armaments.  So will it be better then, in a year or a year and a half? And in this time military airports in the Baltics will be renovated, Poland will be strengthened with new equipment. Will then be a better time for us to wage war?

Khodarenok: Given our strategic nuclear arms, what are these two naval bases to us?  One blow and they are gone. I cannot imagine a conventional war being waged between Russia and NATO. It will start with use of tactical nuclear weapons and then proceed to full scale war.

Solovyov:  And how much warning time do we have when an incoming missile is detected for us to decide on a return strike?

Khodarenok: It depends on the missile and where it is fired from. If from the continental USA…

Solovyov: But if it is fired from one of those bases in Ukraine?

Khodarenok:  No time at all, just a few minutes

Solovyov: That is what I am talking about and why our strategic power will be irrelevant, because they will destroy us before we have a chance to even take a decision.

Khodarenok:  But before January 10th war will certainly not break out.

Solovyov: Besides, we are on vacation.

Khodarenok: As for these political –military questions, I would like to be an optimist.  But the fixed menu will not be accepted, for sure.

Solovyov: They have sweet-talked us and taken bite after bite so that now they are at our borders. In this way they have begun to influence our internal military doctrine.   And what if they exacerbate the conflict in Donbas?

Khodarenok:  I think that is highly unlikely. That would not be in the interests of the Kievan authorities. Although they have significantly raised their military preparedness, still to take on a major military power…. Personally I don’t expect an attack on Donbas.

Solovyov:  But we have to be ready for everything.

Khodarenok: Our political leadership has already spoken: we will defend our citizens there.

Solovyov: And if they attack in two years time? They will be still better prepared then. And the people of Donbas will be still more exhausted. Will it be easier then to perform the tasks that our leadership has set?

Khodarenok:  So you consider that the present moment is the best time to attack?

Solovyov: I believe problems like this are solved by having the political will.  Back in the days of Maidan, Yanukovich lacked the political will and he lost the country called Ukraine.  Look by contrast at Lukashenko who took his son and both went out onto the streets carrying Kalashnikovs. He won because he was ready to die and those who came out against him were not ready to die.   People understood that with Yeltsin that you could do what you wanted, just pour him glass after glass. And he said, ok, let Poland join NATO. People understood that Gorbachev gave up the national interests of the country. And with Putin, people understand. He has said that’s all, we will not retreat any further. We have no room to retreat. And they understand he is not bluffing.

Khodarenok:  Our appraisals of the situation basically coincide. We only differ on whether we should begin soon or….

Solovyov:  Russia never begins wars. But we finish them. Was it the start of war when Israel made an air strike on Latakia and destroyed freight which it believed threatened the national security of Israel? Was it the start of war when the Israeli air force flew into Iraq and destroyed a nuclear installation under construction? Was it the start of war when Turkey sent its armed forces 30 km inside the border of sovereign states of Syria and Iraq?  So does this kind of solution satisfy you?

Khodarenok:  Completely

Solovyov:  So we will behave in exactly the same manner as our Western partners…

Sidorov:  We don’t have to use the word “war.”  We will take a political action with limited use of armed force.

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The next speaker is political scientist Dmitry Estafyev, specialist in American studies, military-political issues, professor in the (liberal leaning) Higher School of Economics. He is a graduate of the Institute of the USA and Canada, Russian Academy of Sciences.  I quote:

 We have now overtaken the political initiative from the Americans, having already overtaken them on the military side. I think they understand this very well and want to take back the initiative. The big advantage the US has generally and what may allow them to prolong their dominance is in logistics. No one can rival their capacity to move freight and men anywhere. Let’s start from the assumption that our adversary is malevolent, crafty, sneaky and strong. If it turns out that he is a fool, then that will be a pleasant surprise.

 I return to the political side. I understand why the US wants to have NATO there in the talks. They want to be surrounded by their people. But it reduces the value of the meeting.   As Ambassador to the EU Chizhov has said: the Europeans want to participate in the talks on security without having purchased an entry ticket.

This period reminds me of 1984-85. Absolutely empty negotiations on arms control.  The treaty on nonproliferation of weapons of mass destruction ran into a dead end.  The period 1983-85 was a period of considerable risk and tension starting with the Boeing that was shot down.

We should begin to talk about war. The Americans haven’t heard that before and will begin to understand this is serious.  We should begin to speak to Western society not about peace but about war.

Solovyov: We understand that in America there is absolutely an anti-Russian consensus.  The American political system is very stable. Each state makes its own decisions.  They don’t see how anything occurring thousands of kilometers from their borders can affect them personally.

As for China we have excellent relations but nothing has been put to the test.

Sidorov:  I don’t say rely on China, but American elites are very concerned about China. 

Solovyov:  Americans may look like us but mentally they are structured entirely differently.

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Next to the microphone is passed to Nikolai Zlobin, president of the Center on Global Interests, a Washington-based think tank focused on Russia that is host to events frequently broadcast on C-SPAN. A dual national, American and Russian, he appears frequently on Solovyov’s talk show and is the traditional outside, critical voice from America meant to challenge the consensus of Kremlin insiders and to be defeated by them time after time in debates.

I quote:

Americans know there are always crises and one has to be prepared. They know you have to be competitive. They know that sometimes you lose in a competition. There is no weak point in the USA that will bring it all down.  We are approaching the moment of truth when we must fight.  None of us will fight. We are not in the age group.     I ask does a war now serve the national interests of Russia?

Solovyov: Why do you assume a war means moving in tanks?

Zlobin: After a war on Ukraine, the pressure on Russia will be much greater than now.

Solovyov: You are talking about Ukraine, but the question is much broader. We will move back the military infrastructure as we see fit.

Zlobin: I like the way the draft treaties were compiled and presented.  They are not about collective security but about the security concerns of Russia. We have set out what we want and in negotiations can come to compromises

Solovyov:  But this is not an a la carte menu. There is no room for compromises.

Zlobin:  The Americans will also present their demands, many of which may be unacceptable to us.  I say it is better to have 10 years of negotiations than one day of war. No one will die from negotiations. But in one day of war a huge number of people may die.  Someone has said that Russia would like to go back to 1945, Yalta, and today divide the world the same way. For its part, the United States would like to go back to 1991 when it had complete control. So they will not agree.

Solovyov: So what happens next?

Stankevich:  The Russian position is already clear. We go to counter-threats.

Solovyov: We have said we do not want to have NATO infrastructure on our borders. Putin has said – ‘move it away.’  So we remove that infrastructure which threatens us. What can the Americans do about that? Are they going to go to war with Russia? Will NATO go to war with Russia?  There will be no NATO infrastructure in Ukraine!

Nikonov:  Over the past 30 years the question of Russian security did not follow a straight line. There were moments when Russian security grew stronger, a great deal stronger. In 2008 we forced Georgia to sue for peace. Then when Crimea became ours we sharply improved our security situation. And then in 2015 we took steps to force a peace and destroy the Islamic State in Syria,  and that greatly improved our security.  And remember back in 1962 Khrushchev forced the Americans to withdraw their missiles from Turkey and from Italy. And the Americans assumed the unilateral obligation not to attack Cuba. Why? Because the Americans were very worried over the Soviet nuclear devices in Cuba.

Khrushchev took steps that concentrated their minds. During the Caribbean crisis, the correlation of forces was much worse than now. The Americans had ten times more carriers of nuclear bombs, warheads, etc.  The Americans only understand the language of power. You shouldn’t look to negotiations about conditions with them. Our position is very simple: our proposals amount to the demand – “leave or we will move you.”

I hope that Ryabkov, who will be leading the talks for us, will decipher our message. Our arguments on the table will give the Americans the basis to accept our menu.   Remember the vulnerability of the USA, Wall Street. I am sure our arguments will be persuasive – don’t push things to war.

****

I have no doubt that one or more of the exchanges in this talk show were agreed in advance, although my experience as a particpant in the past showed no prior commitments from panelists to say this or that, and free use of the microphone subject to interruptions and shouting by other panelists. As to “choreography,” the exchange between Khodarenok and Solovyov showcases the latter’s explanation of what Russia may do to resolve security threats by force. This may be assumed to be an unofficial message from the Kremlin of its intentions if the USA does not order the ‘full menu’ and sign on the dotted line. That the talk show would have been used in this way in no way diminishes its importance, on the contrary.

©Gilbert Doctorow, 2021

Gilbert Doctorow is a professional Russia watcher and actor in Russian affairs going back to 1965. He is a magna cum laude graduate of Harvard College (1967), a past Fulbright scholar, and holder of a Ph.D. with honors in history from Columbia University (1975). After completing his studies, Mr. Doctorow pursued a business career focused on the USSR and Eastern Europe.

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Up to You.

^3000US citizens have no real political representation.

We don't live in a democracy. And our freedom is disappearing fast.

I don't want to be ruled by hypocrites, whores, and war criminals.

What about you? Time to push back against the corporate oligarchy.

And its multitude of minions and lackeys.


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