“They must be out of their minds”: how the Collective West is stumbling towards nuclear Armageddon
I have in past weeks focused attention on the political talk show “Evening with Vladimir Solovyov,” calling it the best of its kind on Russian state television and a good indicator of the thinking of Russia’s political elites. However, it is time to admit that in terms of overall quality of presentation, level of invited panelists and screening of videos of topical developments in the West to inform the panelist discussion, Solovyov is now being outdone by Vyacheslav Nikonov’s “Great Game” talk show.
“The Great Game” in the past featured live discussion with its anchor in Washington, director of the National Interest think tank, Dmitry Simes. Now Simes is a rare guest, and the panel format more closely resembles that of other political talk shows, with the following notable qualification: the host, Nikonov, is an unusually gifted moderator, who does not impose his views on the panel and brings out the best from his panelists. Nikonov is a leading member of the Russian parliament from the ruling United Russia party, and has broad experience running parliamentary committees. As the grandson of Bolshevik revolutionary Molotov, he happens also to be a member of the hereditary ruling clans and practices ‘noblesse oblige’ in his public service work.
It bears mention that alongside the Solovyov show and the widely viewed Sixty Minutes talk show of Yevgeny Popov and Olga Skabeyeva, ‘The Great Game’ has evolved from a once or twice weekly event to a virtually daily affair, indeed with a couple of afternoon and evening time slots as justified by fast moving current events.
Notwithstanding the foregoing, Vladimir Solovyov has at least one advantage making it worthwhile to tune in. To my knowledge, he is the only host to go outside the usual circuit of ‘talking heads’ from universities, think tanks and the Duma. Solovyov regularly features a bona fide top manager in the arts who rubs shoulders daily with the ‘creative classes’ and shares with the audience what he hears from them. I have in mind Mosfilm general director Karen Shakhnazarov.
Over the course of the past six weeks, I have several times pointed to the changing mood of Shakhnazarov with respect to the ‘special military operation in Ukraine.’ At first he was buoyant, then he was fearful that the operation was going badly and running out of control, and finally he appeared to be ‘all in,’ looking for ways for Russia to win decisively and quickly.
Last night, we heard from yet another mood swing. I bring it to the attention of readers, because it has great relevance to the current complete passivity of our general public in the face of some very peculiar policy decisions with respect to Russia being made at the highest levels in the USA and in Europe, with zero public consultation so far.
To be specific, Shakhnazarov expressed amazement and deep worry that Western leaders have literally ‘lost their minds’ by pursuing measures to destabilize Russia in the hope of precipitating the overthrow of Vladimir Putin and maybe even the disintegration of Russia in a way similar to the dissolution of the USSR in late 1991. Shakhnazarov remarked that total absence of common or any other sense in Joe Biden is to be expected because of his health (read: senility). But his jaw dropped when he heard that the Chancellor of Germany, Olaf Scholz, declared a couple of days ago that “Russia must not be allowed to win this war!” Where are his brains? Shakhnazarov asked rhetorically.
The point of Shakhnazarov’s reasoning is as follows: Russia is the world’s leading power in terms of nuclear arms. An overthrow of Putin would lead to chaos, and very likely to genuine radicals assuming power. Their aggressive inclinations for policy to the West would be underpinned by the vast majority of the Russian population, which, in Shakhnazarov’s view, is now overcome with pure hatred for the West brought on by the sanctions, by the rampant Russophobia that is now public policy in Europe and the USA. If the conflict should escalate to the use of tactical nuclear missiles and beyond, then Russia would no longer limit its strikes to military installations but will happily target all capitals and population centers in Europe and, we may assume, in North America. In a word, Shakhnazarov equates destabilization of Russia with nuclear Armageddon.
I repeat, these are the fears of a highly responsible and publicly visible Russian general manager in the arts. Is anybody in the West with comparable standing even beginning to imagine the coming catastrophe let alone speak out about it?
Before closing, I redirect attention to a major newsworthy development in Russia yesterday afternoon which even our Western media have reported on this morning: the test launch of Russia’s new Sarmat ICBM, which sets new records for speed, distance, destructive force of its MIRV warheads and, surely most important, imperviousness to all known and projected anti-missile systems in the West. Part of the invulnerability of the Sarmat is a function of its range, which extends to every point on planet Earth. Sarmat’s trajectory can be set as best suits its undetectability. For example, it can hit the USA by approach via the South Pole, thereby evading American tracking systems, which look to attack from the Northwest. The Sarmat’s 7 or 15 nuclear warheads can each also evade ABM systems and head for target at hypersonic speeds.
Starting in September, the Sarmat will be installed in silos till now housing the world’s most powerful ICBM, the Voevoda, which will be gradually retired and redeployed as launchers for commercial satellites.
In his words of congratulations to the designers, project developers, and manufacturers of the Sarmat, President Putin stressed the importance of the new armaments as Russia’s dissuasion directed against those in the West who would threaten the country militarily. Is anybody listening?
In fulfillment of my mission to bring to Western readers news items of particular importance in Russian media about which they otherwise would likely be clueless, I direct attention to information released on the Interfax website and carried by Lenta.ru and other major Russian news portals: the head of Russian External Intelligence (SVR), Sergei Naryshkin, has spoken out about Poland’s plans to take control of part of the territory of Ukraine.
According to SVR, Poland is coordinating this issue with the United States. The idea is to establish military and political control by Warsaw over the “its historic territories” which today fall within the boundaries of Ukraine. Poland would introduce its troops into the Western regions of the country under cover of a mission to “protect the territory from Russian aggression.” Eventually, this would be expected to lead to a partition of Ukraine. The Poles would install a friendly government in the territory they control, ousting the Ukrainian nationalists.
Of course, the Polish ambitions in Western Ukraine are as well-founded historically as are Russia’s with respect to Eastern Ukraine, which was once known as New Russia. Western followers of the war will now know for certain where the city of Lviv is located – 50 km or less from the Polish border. It is the city to which American and other foreign diplomats withdrew after Kiev seemed unsafe in the early days of the war. It has been the marshaling point for incoming foreign mercenaries and deliveries of military supplies to Ukraine from the West.
Following the three partitions of Poland in the 18th century and for the entire period of the 19th century, Lviv alias Lvov alias Lemberg, was a Polish city within the Austro-Hungarian Empire known for its splendid Central European architecture and philosophical bent: the city was home to mystical religious sects, both Jewish and Christian.
Indeed, if we want to trace back in history the sources of the present conflict in and over Ukraine, we necessarily find ourselves going back even earlier into the 16th and 17thcenturies, when the Great Powers of the day, Ottoman Turkey, Poland, Sweden and Russia were all engaged in warfare over lands that figure in modern-day Ukraine. For a good initiation into the culture, or perhaps better to say the barbarism of those days, which prefigure what is now going on in places like Bucha, a good place to start is with the novella Taras Bulba by the Ukrainian-Russian author Nikolai Gogol. I just re-read it in Russian and I assure you the novel is a splendid initial guide to understanding the passions of the present day.
However, none of the foregoing takes into account the military powerhouse that Russia is today. We may take the possibility of a Polish move of its forces into the Western Ukraine as the kind of intervention that Vladimir Putin had in mind when he said yesterday to legislators gathered in St Petersburg that it would provoke a lightning fast counter blow by Russia. Meanwhile, a similar possible intervention by Romania in swallowing up Moldova and threatening to overrun the Russian separatist territory of Transnistria which is sandwiched between Moldova and Ukraine, could also spark a powerful military response from Moscow.
The mainspring of history is unwinding spasmodically and destructively.
©Gilbert Doctorow, 2022
As I have noted previously, there is a firewall between what Western major media are reporting daily about the situation in the Russia-Ukraine War and more generally about Russia versus what one sees on Russian state television and reads in the Russian news agencies. On the advice of a colleague in Washington, I will now as occasion requires post news developments from Russia that Western audiences otherwise are not receiving despite their importance as indicators of where East-West relations are headed and whether we are all likely to survive the coming weeks.
The top such news item in Russia today is the successful capture by the Russian state intelligence agency FSB of a gang of would-be assassins based in Moscow and acting under orders from Kiev to kill the leading Russian talk show host Vladimir Solovyov, about whom I have written these past few weeks. And their ‘kill list’ went on to take in other leading personalities on Russian state television: Dmitry Kiselyov (director of all Russian television news programming), Yevgeny Popov, Olga Skabeyeva and Margarita Simonian (editor-in-chief of RT).
The gang, which appears to consist of White Power and other neo-Nazi elements, was interrogated before video cameras and the videos have been posted on the Russian internet by TASS and other state news agencies.
As might be expected, Russian media have been properly roiled by this news. I caught the discussion on Vyacheslav Nikonov’s afternoon edition of “The Great Game.” His panelists saw this ‘terrorism’ as a new phase in Ukraine’s hybrid war that is being stage-managed from Washington. Panelists made the point that the West has been very lucky till now that Russia’s president, Vladimir Putin, has shown great forbearance by not responding in kind to the vicious war being waged by Washington, which always remains one step short of kinetic war in the mistaken belief that these kinds of aggression are water-tight and mutually exclusive. The panelists stressed that at a certain point Putin will indeed respond and the response will be kinetic. The message was addressed to Messrs. Blinken and Austin, who, following their meeting with Zelensky, said at a press conference at the Polish-Ukrainian border, that the goal of the U.S. in the whole matter of the Ukraine-Russian war is to so weaken Russia that it will be incapable of similar actions in the future. In simple English, what they are saying is that the U.S. ambition is to destroy Russia. The masks have been dropped.
Another item in Russian news yesterday and today has been the screening several times a day of videos taken in the United States during Joe Biden’s latest trips across the country to sell his narrative on the economic travails America is now experiencing. Two separate speeches end in Biden’s turning from the lectern and seeking to shake someone’s hand when there is in fact no one around him. Biden then looks lost and makes a sad retreat from the stage.
Nikonov remarked that these videos have not been aired on major U.S. television, have not been reported on in mainstream print media. My friend in Washington confirms that this is so. Meanwhile, the fact of Biden’s blatant disorientation was denounced by Donald Trump a day ago – so at least he has seen the videos which the Russians take as indicative of the mental degeneration of the U.S. President and a token of the degeneration of the entire U.S. political class. Trump commented that Biden’s disorientation is something the country has never seen before and that the Biden administration has put the U.S. on a path to hell.
Where will all this end? It is not headed in a good direction
©Gilbert Doctorow, 2022
Questions not being asked about the Mariupol die-hards, about the availability from today of Euro and dollar cash withdrawals at Russian banks, and much more
As I have remarked in earlier diary entries, the Russians are very sparing in the information they release daily on the status of the war effort. A couple of days ago, we were shown the 1300 or so Ukrainian marines who surrendered in Mariupol. Yesterday, Russian television devoted a lot of time to brief interviews with some of these prisoners of war, all of whom were Russian speakers, by the way. No surprises there, of course, since the whole region is basically Russian speaking, which is why there is a civil war going on against the extreme nationalist government in Kiev which has sought from the beginning to wipe out the language, the culture, and all Russian ethnic identity.
There was another curious news item yesterday on Russian television: a video report on the capture of the latest mobile air defense system produced in Ukraine, which was abandoned by its technical crew in mint condition, with all of the manufacturer’s technical brochures still intact. Here again, most peculiarly, all of the technical documentation is in Russian! This would be amusing if the broad context were not tragic, set alongside the number of Ukrainian servicemen whom the Russians have listed as killed in action: over 23,700. That is approximately eight times the number Zelensky gave to the press the day before.
Finally, Russian news in the past day recounted how a Ukrainian freight plane loaded with Western military supplies was shot down by Russian forces as it approached Odessa from the sea.
Aside from these feature items in the news, Russian authorities continue to give no overall picture of how the campaign is proceeding. Strangely, Ukrainian news sources from the field can be more informative. Among the items today posted on www.news.google.ru are reports from the Ukrainian controlled administration of what remains of Lugansk under their control. They speak of Russian artillery attacks, on the damage being done to houses in hamlets, on the evacuation of civilians to the West ahead of Russian advances on the ground. All of this is in anticipation of the full-scale Russian onslaught on Donbas expected imminently.
Western media have been featuring today the “brave” decision of the remaining Ukrainian forces in Mariupol, holed up in the underground fortress of the Azovstal works, to refuse the Russian offer of their lives in exchange for unconditional surrender. But Western coverage asks no questions whatsoever about the decision and what it tells us about the regime in Kiev that these thousand or so die-hards are serving, seemingly heroically. Russian talk shows today shine a spotlight on that very question and produce some interesting interpretations. We are told that Kiev instructed the Azov battalion leaders and those aligned with them in Mariupol to fight to the end and not to negotiate with the Russians over surrender. From within the ranks of the desperate troops underground, whose ammunition, food and water are all depleted, we are told that anyone daring to speak in favor of surrender is being shot on the spot. We are also told that among the 1,000 or so hold-outs are 400 foreign mercenaries including a goodly number of high ranking NATO instructors. Since from the standpoint of Kiev those instructors are better dead than taken alive, we may assume they are from Member States lower in the pecking order than the British pair of cut-throats taken several days ago who may yet be saved by intervention of Boris Johnson in a prisoner exchange. Shall we assume that the NATO instructors in the lower tunnels of Azovstal are Polish or Lithuanian? I think that would be a fair guess.
So much for easy questions that go unasked, let alone unanswered by Western media, by Russian media or by both. Now I will raise a different question just to demonstrate how the news and analysis flow on this ‘special military operation’ or war, if you will, runs in a narrow rut. The net result is that we have very limited ability to understand what is going on and where we are all headed.
I will just turn attention to the announcement in Russia that as of today the public can make cash withdrawals of dollars and euros in substantial amounts, and also can order foreign currency transfers abroad, up to $5,000 if I understood properly. This means that poor Mr. Piotr Aven, the billionaire banker and Russian wheeler dealer sitting in London at present with his vast assets frozen under sanction rules, may yet be able to pay his chauffeur by ordering a transfer from his Sberbank account in Moscow.
Curiously no one is asking how and why Russia has reopened nearly free currency exchange and cash withdrawals after a month of a strict clampdown. Where are the dollar bills and euro notes coming from? Surely the question is begging to be asked. It is not coming in from tourists to Russia since there are virtually no foreign tourists in Russia at present. It is not being carried by foreign business visitors for the same reason. So let us guess. Could it be that Germany and other select EU Member States are delivering planeloads of cash to Moscow to pay for their gas, oil and coal deliveries? Yes, this would allow them to claim they are defying Putin overpayment in rubles while respecting the terms of their long-term contracts with Gazprom. But it is a pretty picture that they would not want to be made public, since the European Parliament would make the life of them all quite unbearable if the word got out. Perhaps readers can offer better explanations.
©Gilbert Doctorow, 2022
The number one news item on Russian state television on 26 April was the meeting in Rammstein, Germany of defense officials from the United States and 40 allied countries to set policy on providing military assistance to Ukraine, including the provision for monthly such meetings going forward.
The U.S. delegation was headed by Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, and his remarks were parsed by Russia’s ‘talking heads. They also delivered their considerations on the practical value of the deliveries of heavy weaponry that Germany and other European countries pledged during the gathering.
As is now the rule, the very best discussion of these issues was on the political talk show “The Great Game,” which features the most calm and collected analysis of the day’s hot news items. None of the panelists tries to shout down others, which has been the long tradition of such shows. All are warned by the moderator against presuming to give military advice to the nation’s Commander-in-Chief. And yet even here it was clear that the mood of panelists is for more decisive action against Ukraine right now, meaning the bombing of the ‘decision making institutions’ in Kiev, as the Russian Ministry of Defense proposed to do a week ago in response to Ukrainian missile and artillery attacks across the border with Russia. This was made all the more topical by the statements of the British delegation in Rammstein encouraging the Ukrainians to do precisely that, and by the corresponding offer to ship appropriate missiles to Kiev now. The panelists also want the transportation infrastructure of Ukraine to be destroyed without delay in order to prevent the new heavy weaponry being shipped to Kiev from ever reaching the Ukrainian forces at the front.
Surely the bombing of central Kiev will come, effectively removing the Ukrainian regime. But it will come at the moment of choosing of Vladimir Vladimirovich and will signal the Russian decision to break up Ukraine into several states, as the Secretary of the Security Council of the Russian Federation Nikolai Patrushev yesterday said might be in the cards if the war drags on due to Western intervention and cheerleading.
With respect to Lloyd Austin’s statement yesterday that the United States’ objective is to greatly weaken Russian armed forces over an extended period of time, the panelists on The Great Game offered an interpretation that is well worth repeating here. The Russians view this as an admission by Washington that the Ukrainians’ position on the battlefield is hopeless. The Americans now seek to redefine their objectives so as to turn a defeat into an apparent victory. Whatever happens on the front lines in the coming days and weeks, Washington will be able to say that it forced Russia to dip deeply into its store of missiles and other high tech gear, that it forced Russia to lose a substantial part of its professional soldiers. The objective is now intentionally vague and stands independently of the possible loss of Ukrainian’s main army forces adjacent to the Donbas in a ‘cauldron’ of confinement where they will be killed like herrings in a barrel.
As regards the newly announced shipment of super tanks from Germany and other high tech gear from other NATO Member States, the Russian panel appeared confident this will be too little, too late and would be mostly destroyed on the ground by Russian missiles and aerial bombing.
The foregoing is all more reassuring about our future survival here in Brussels and in New York than any U.S. declarations yesterday that nuclear war is off the table.
©Gilbert Doctorow, 2022
Compliance with Russian payment demands in rubles for gas deliveries: Western reporting falls on its own sword
It is widely assumed in the general public that all Russian news sources are propaganda, which justifies the banning of these sources from the airwaves, or to put it into simpler English, justifies the unprecedented Western censorship about which none of our human rights activists seems to care a fig. So much for European values!
However, in the The Financial Times reporting today on the unraveling of Europe’s supposed unified stand against payment for Russian gas in rubles we see that censorship is destroying not the Russia media but the Western media which, in the absence of competition and challenge, is printing and disseminating every ignorant and self-contradictory utterance that comes out of the mouths of European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, Charles Michel and Co. without exercising the slightest logic check.
Let me be specific. The article in question is entitled “EU energy groups prepare to meet Vladimir Putin’s terms for Russian gas. Germany’s Uniper and Austria’s OMV plan rouble accounts while Eni of Italy weighs options”. This piece has been slapped together by Sam Jones in Vienna, Andy Bounds in Brussels, Guy Chazan in Berlin and Marton Dunai in Budapest. Going through the text and encountering the whoppers I will discuss below, you have to wonder where is the editorial staff of the FT to keep their feature articles at a level worthy of the world’s business elites who are their subscribers.
In line with the overall propaganda line set by the United States in the ongoing vicious Information War, cause and effect are systematically reversed. Every dastardly intention and act laid at the door of Russia is, upon a moment’s reflection, actually being initiated by the West. This game starts early on, in paragraph five: “The preparations [for payment in rubles as demanded by Russia] show the impact of Russian efforts to weaponise gas supplies and challenge the EU’s ability to maintain a united front against Moscow.”
The authors have not gone one step further in their reasoning: they do not suggest that the evil intention of the Kremlin is to sow discord among European states. That is the subject of another feature article in today’s online edition of The Financial Times entitled “‘Divide and rule’: Russia’s rationale for halting gas flows to Poland and Bulgaria.” Apparently, the authors Harry Dempsey and Neil Hume have forgotten or never heard the remark attributed to Sigmund Freud that sometimes ‘a cigar is just a cigar,’ meaning that there is no need for exotic explanations of a simple fact.
Wouldn’t it be more logical to say that the unprecedented freezing of Russian Bank dollar and euro assets in the West had the effect of “weaponizing” gas supplies? If the existing contracts calling for payment in euros were to continue, the effect, as intended by the European policymakers, was to deprive Russia of the proceeds of its sales, all of which would be frozen in turn.
In the next paragraph, the FT authors quietly acknowledge that “the EU sanctions against Russia’s central bank” prompted Vladimir Putin to impose the new rules for payment in rubles purchased on the Russian currency market. Of course, no conclusions are drawn from this fact regarding who is acting and who is reacting.
Then the FT cites Ursula von der Leyen’s description of the Russian cutoff of gas to Poland and Bulgaria over their refusal to sign up to the new payment scheme as “being tantamount to blackmail.” Blackmail? No deliveries if we get no money is blackmail? Or is it rather just the application of normal rules of international business?
The FT writer group then opines that compliance with Russia’s new payment procedures “would result in Russia being able to access billions in gas revenues to support its currency and its economy…” But why else does one country sell its wares to another country? Out of charity? With no cash receipts expected or demanded?
I will not belabor the points made above. The FT can make its pitch to schoolchildren who have never studied business or economics. But how they dare to feed this nonsense to the company directors and bank presidents who comprise their readership defies comprehension.
©Gilbert Doctorow, 2022
[su_panel background="#d5e3f7" color="#101215" border="1px solid #4c3a3a" shadow="3px 1px 2px #eeeeee" radius="10"]Gilbert Doctorow holds a Ph.D. in Russian history from Columbia University and is a fluent Russian speaker. He spent most of his professional life in corporate business with a focus on Russia. Doctorow has authored five books of essays. He also has participated in expert forums devoted to international affairs and appeared in Russian domestic political talk shows on all national channels. His latest book, the newly published "Memoirs of a Russianist, Volume I" directs attention to two periods of his business career when his perch afforded him a rare opportunity to observe and interact with the people and institutions shaping economic, cultural and social life in Russia, 1976-80 and 1989-2000.[/su_panel]
^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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