Putin’s Job Works on Him; His Apology; Navalny Detained

We continue with Putin’s Apology.  As a reminder, an apology is a defense, such as a good trial lawyer might offer. In comparison with the unknowable facts, it could be true, false, or a mix. The only requirement of this apology is that it be favorable to Putin, and not definitively refutable.

(Reuters) Opposition politician Alexei Navalny was detained today. It’s  a symptom of the loss of democracy. This article is about the reasons, related to terrorism, ethnicity, and  Russia’s borders.

Ironically, it became obvious that this blog has Russian readers in the angry response of some Navalny supporters to my conclusion that Putin had nothing to do with the murder of Boris Nemtsov.  Nemtsov Murder, Analysis Notes asserts that the ultimate instigators of the Chechen trigger men  were Russian nationalists upset with Nemtsov’s skillful documentation of Russian involvement in the Ukraine.

In the minds of the best and the worst rulers, there are three threads, country, party, and self.

  • Benefit to the country, the justification, the vision.
  • The party keeps the ruler in power.
  • Enlargement of self, in wealth  or  image, as indispensable.

Even a Mahatma Gandhi has these thoughts, if only in denial. He clearly thought he was indispensable, or he would have given the job to someone else. And perhaps he was. So the above list is not a statement that Vladimir Putin has these thoughts in a specific combination.

Putin’s vision of Russia was of  the preeminent natural resources state. Before the Saudis started pumping to kill fracking, there was every sign this would happen. And Gazprom was slated to become the world’s first trillion dollar company.  The benefit of Putin’s rule, the plus side of the equation, was to wrest Russia’s natural wealth from the oligarchs who grabbed it during Boris Yeltsin’s tenure, and put in the service of the Russian state. Putin is quoted as saying, (NY Times)  “A chicken can exercise ownership of eggs, and it can get fed while it’s sitting on the egg,” he said, “but it’s not really their egg.”

The NY Times article, “Even Loyalty No Guarantee Against Putin“, defines “party” in a new way. The   power base isn’t merely political; it is to a greater extent the economic elite, the new oligarchs. But it does have a political element. The consensus of Russia cannot be formed without it. Is this an example of “intelligent design”, or did it just happen? It succeeds in co-opting every class. Without the elite, Russia would be wide open to organized crime. Now crime is also co-opted, supporting the state instead of running free.

In Putin’s Apology,  there was no alternative to rescue Yeltsin’s Russia. Western democracy had been tried, and failed.

Now the dream of wealth has gone. It would be human nature for Putin’s self justification to focus on his fears. The Russians don’t advertise them.  To do so would weaken their bluff, and play to audiences they don’t want.  But what they are afraid of is extremely valuable to the negotiator, not for intimidation, but for constructive engagement.

Mark Smith of the Conflict Studies Research Centre wrote “Putin’s Nationalist Challenge”, downloadable as a pdf from a China website. Quoting,

In April 2005, the head of the presidential administration, Dmitry Medvedev, expressed concern over the possibility of Russia falling apart if the country’s various political elites (ie regional elites) were not consolidated. This assessment was used by Medvedev to justify the abolition of elections for regional governors.

This language is a little abstract, so let’s draw three fault lines:

  • The Caucasus, with a majority of Sunni Islam, contains the nucleus of Chechnya. Two wars have not subdued Chechnya to the position of the other regions of Russia. It is, in fact, a quasi independent enclave, a state within a state, with a large standing army. As with the co-opting of all classes, it demonstrates Putin’s creativity in statecraft.
  • Idel-Ural, more of an idea than a place, part of the southern Volga region, the second region of Russia with substantial Sunni Islam presence.

Moving east along the southern belt past the Urals (map), what’s there? Practically nobody! This is why, east of the Urals, Russia’s administrative regions are organized mostly as north-south belts. South of the border are the weak, landlocked Islamic states of Central Asia that were formerly part of the Soviet Union. Except for Afghanistan, these seem so peaceful as to be free of threat. These others are Turkic, meaning that in some way, from vague to strong, they have an ethnic affinity with the Turks of Turkey.

Our multicultural society  underestimates these strange bonds. We did not understand Russian outrage at the West’s “persecution” of Serbs in the Kosovo conflict. To the Russians, the Serbs are Slavic, and therefore, “brothers.”

The east end of the belt collides again with chaos:

  • The Uyghurs, also Turkic, at the eastern end of the belt, concentrated mostly in western China, with a secessionist East Turkestan Islamic Movement. They have been designated the foremost threat to the integrity of China, and they are hooked up with Al Qaeda. In their numeric superiority, the Han Chinese succeeded in swamping Tibetan culture, but have not succeeded with the Uyghurs.

A narrow projection of Afghanistan in the southern Pamir Mountains connects with the most densely populated portion of the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region of China, the Tarim Basin. It is a working corridor for China trade.  in the early stages of the War In Afghanistan, the U.S. imported Uyghur mules. The  U.S. suspected Russia-Taliban link may be an attempt to counter anticipated Uyghur influence.

Southern Russia contains the ethnic fracture line equivalent of the San Andreas Fault. Empty in the middle, it is anchored on the ends by reservoirs of radicalization. It’s quiet now, but that’s the odd thing about ethnic fault lines. Who would have thought that one Tunisian fruit seller could set the Arab world on fire? Might the Uyghurs hook up long distance with the Chechens, with Al Qaeda as the middleman? Open sources are not revealing, but Russian intelligence may feed the anxiety of the leadership.

An intelligence summary might stop here. You have one more task. I can’t do it for you, because it involves your imagination. You work at the job, and the job works on you. How does it work on Putin? How might it amplify his anxieties, and hence his attitudes? How does it affect his sleep, his dreams? We would all like to believe that we make important decisions with rational thought, but the credit may be a lie. With similar motivation, Russia is compiling a psychological dossier on Trump.

Next: How this relates to Alexei Navalny.


Russians Deploy to back Libya’s Haftar

Reuters: Link seen between Russia and Libyan commander Haftar: U.S. general, and (Reuters) Exclusive: Russia appears to deploy forces in Egypt, eyes on Libya role – sources. Quoting,

The top U.S. military commander overseeing troops in Africa, Marine General Thomas Waldhauser, told the U.S. Senate last week that Russia was trying to exert influence in Libya to strengthen its leverage over whoever ultimately holds power.

So it’s “influence” again. Perhaps we should consider replacing the Cold War lexicon.  Once we thumb the dictionary and find “influence”, we stop thinking. We have to go beyond the word to define what we are afraid of.

Russia is no longer an ideological adversary, exporting revolution. It exports  a kind  of subversion-via-corruption of  the weak emerging democracies of Eastern Europe. But the practices that we define as corruption are business-as-usual in Russia. In a country such as Libya, where there is no law, and everything is for sale already, there is nothing of purity to corrupt. Russia has a regional export, but not a global one.

The above is worth the words. It might be handy if we really want to understand why we oppose Russia helping Khalifa Haftar, who segued from a prior career as Muammar Qaddafi’s top military commander to U.S. citizen, who lived in the U.S. for 19 years.

Let’s compose a “meme list”, without trying to make them gel.

  • Russia is our adversary, for various reasons that have entirely to do with aggression and subversion in Europe.
  • Because Russia is our adversary, we are apprehensive of Russia’s support for Khalifa Haftar.
  • As a consequence of the U.S. historical tradition of religious tolerance and democracy, U.S. foreign policy in previous administrations has attempted to embrace Islamism without prejudice or distinction. The U.S.  backed Islamists who feigned  the pretense of democracy, such as Egypt’s Mohamed Morsi, and Syrian rebels.
  • The Foreign Assistance Act of 1961, section 508, forbids foreign aid to individuals such as Haftar, if the “…duly elected” leader “is deposed by military coup d’etat or decree or, after the date of enactment of this Act, a coup d’etat or decree in which the military plays a decisive role.”
  • In contrast to the U.S. embrace-without-prejudice of Islamism, the Russians fear it. This is the driver of Russia is Libya. It has no analog  in the genuine geopolitical rivalry of Europe. It explains the Russians willingness to bear high costs of backing autocratic secularists in Syria, and now, Libya.
  • Khalifa Haftar is a secularist. His long residence in the U.S. suggests he actually liked it here. U.S. foreign policy gives little or no consideration as to whether the client likes us on a cultural level.

The list is a mix of consistency and contradiction, influencing a U.S. foreign policy that ricochets like a billiard ball off these bumpers:

  • The desire to identify, in every revolutionary situation, a group to back with aspirations to democracy. The lure is so strong, it activates the imagination.
  • A tendency to view Russian activities everywhere with the same lens we apply to Europe, where there really is a cold war, driven not by ideology, but ethics.
  • Section 508 of the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961.
  • Inability to consider the intangible qualities of Libya’s Islamists, of Khalifa Haftar, or to make comparisons of such qualities.

The purpose of the above is to define the terms. It advocates nothing. It does offer a radical course for U.S. policy: to make Haftar an offer he can’t refuse.

Perhaps, under Russian aegis, Haftar will follow the murderous path of Syria’s Assad. Or perhaps the Islamists will.  But unlike Eastern Europe, we cannot base our concern on subversion of Libya. There are no institutions to destroy. Perhaps, down the line, the Russians could sell Haftar some weapons. But there are plenty of markets.

A Russia-Haftar  lockup could be driven by Haftar’s need for  recognition, for legitimacy. He will need it, and the Russians are selling.







Fiona Hill, Putin’s Apology; Analysis Part 4; KGB Culture

Let’s pick up from Fiona Hill, Putin’s Apology; Analysis Part 3 with an examination of KGB culture, which changed over the lifespan of the Soviet state. Nikita Khrushchev’sThaw”  actually presaged Gorbachev’s Perestroika, weak in the absolute sense, but profound compared to what had come before.

When a totalitarian leader experiments with liberalization, one of the inevitable scripts is that the beneficiaries end up threatening the leader on either an emotional or physical level. In Khrushchev’s case, it was emotional. The fragility of his thaw shows in how it came to an end. He visited a modern-art show, was shocked out of his wits by the “avante-garde”, and called an end to it.

But it kept melting. Samizdat, the self-publication, typically by carbon copy, and distribution of banned literature, began during the Thaw, and accelerated after. After Khrushchev was deposed, replaced by a troika, and the troika, eventually by Leonid Brezhnev, the “period of stagnation” set in. Stagnation was partly the consequence of the post-Khrushchev leadership that everything should stay the same, echoing the sentiment first voiced by Plato in The Republic — “if we could only avoid change.”

The fear of change, the emotional basis of conservative sentiment, is the root of  repression in all societies not actively in the throes of revolution. The prevention of change reached the highest technical level in East Germany under Erich Honecker. Under his aegis, the Stasi replaced the lethal methods of Walter Ulbricht,  pursuing the development of nonlethal methods of social control. The breakthrough was Zersetzung, “disintegration”,  the total psychological destruction of the individual as an opponent to the state. Quoting from Directive 1/76 (via Wikipedia):

…a systematic degradation of reputation, image, and prestige in a database on one part true, verifiable and degrading, and on the other part false, plausible, irrefutable, and always degrading; a systematic organization of social and professional failures for demolishing the self-confidence of the individual; […] stimulation of doubts with respect to perspectives on the future; stimulation of mistrust or mutual suspicion among groups […]; putting in place spatial and temporal obstacles rendering impossible or at least difficult the reciprocal relations of a group […], for example by […] assigning distant workplaces. —Directive No. 1/76 of January 1976 for the development of “operational procedures”

Unlike their distant relation with external spying, the internal security branches of the KGB and the Stasi collaborated closely, inter operating, and sharing files. Putin’s service with the KGB in East Germany spans the latter part of this period, till the Wall came down in 1989. It does not define him, but it takes an extraordinarily insular personality not to absorb at least some of the corporate culture.

Even though Putin’s vision of Russia is closer to the West than East Germany, familiarity with Zersetzung is like one of the tools of a trade that you keep handy, even if you’re not sure what to use it for. It also defines an attitude that can come out under pressure. Today, Russia is under pressure.

Zersetzung did not work as well in Russia as it did in East Germany. Every society has different nerves and pressure points. In old Vienna, Sigmund Freud developed psychoanalysis in a world hotspot of the psychological syndrome of hysteria. Not before or since has hysteria been so colorfully popular. It almost seems that in the rest of the world, a cigar is just a cigar.

Among the tricks of Zersetzung were to go into someone’s home, rearrange the furniture, switch the knick-knacks, spoil the food, etc. The Soviets found this was hard to do because Soviet living standards were so low, space so intensely shared, there was no expectation of privacy. Somebody was always there.

The Soviets found that when they tried to embarrass the hell out of Soviet citizens, nothing happened. For example, one of the favorite “techniques” of the Stasi was to mail a sex toy to someone’s wife. Enough of that totally destroyed some Germans. How would you react if you or your partner received one in the mail? Would you be totally destroyed?

The Soviet solution was to remove the individual from life, place him in a psychiatric hospital, and inject him with drugs. Quoting Alexander Solzhenitsyn,

“The incarceration of free thinking healthy people in madhouses is spiritual murder, it is a variation of the gas chamber, even more cruel; the torture of the people being killed is more malicious and more prolonged. Like the gas chambers, these crimes will never be forgotten and those involved in them will be condemned for all time during their life and after their death.”

This, not murder,  was the principal  form of Soviet repression during the time of Leonid Brezhnev/Andropov, during Putin’s career with the KGB. Assassination was just occasional.  The techniques were justified by communist ideology, which Putin rejects. But the Russians appear interested in possible uses of Zersetzung, even though it hardly seems effective in the post-Soviet Russia. The application against American diplomats seems experimental. American diplomats, as a population, are not susceptible to the end results achieved by the Stasi. It didn’t work against journalistic muckrakers either. Russia has been lethal to them.

This was Vladimir Putin’s professional environment. He appears to have rejected much of it. He exhibits impulses of personal kindness, as well as a ruthlessness towards perceived threats that the West finds troubling and fear-inspiring. Professional exposure such as his works on the mind in ways unknown even to the recipient. These things occupy mental space.

In part 1, Fiona Hill, Trump’s Putin Advisor, I wrote

One problem I perceive with the psychoanalytic model itself is that it is a model of a mind, not of a mind embedded in society.  Hill’s analysis is referent to Freud and Jung. Mine is referent to Vilfredo Pareto, and his work, The Mind and Society. In my analysis, Putin is inseparably bound into a matrix of unconscious influence that flows both from him, and to him.

There’s a modern saying, “You work at the job, and the job works on you.” Putin’s job is Russia.

Next: How the job works on Putin.




Russian Spy Ship off East Coast

NBC: The Victor Leonov is back. Everybody is wondering, what secrets they are trying to steal? Why didn’t it come in the summer? When I was a kid, vacationing in Atlantic City, it was such a treat to spot a Russian submarine a mile or so off shore.

The electromagnetic clutter in the region is immense. Only the shore-most cell towers are exposed to the ship; the rest are shielded by electromagnetic noise. Military communications are best intercepted from orbit. So, if the Victor Leonov is to have a rational purpose, other than to “test Trump”, what could it be?

In spy lingo, an “illegal” is a spy who is

  • A foreign national with respect to the target country.
  • Resides in the target country under a false identity, with an intricate forged back story, called the “legend”.

In the past, dead people have been favorites. KGB officers used to visit countries solely to harvest names from graveyards.

It is thought that, after the Abel spy ring was rolled up, the Soviets were not able to rebuild their illegals networks. All of the known breaches of the 70’s and 80’s were due to native American traitors, with the possible exception of Hungarian Steve Weber.

But the Russians did try; the (FBI designation) Illegals Program was busted in 2010. But not by luck, and not by technology. The entire ring, including Anna Chapman, who was retired to wear a bikini, were betrayed by their spy master Colonel Potayev, about whom a Kremlin spokesman said, “We have already sent a Mercader“. He was naming the assassin of Leon Trotsky. Sadly, Potayev died at the tender age of 64. I hope it was not an unfortunate accident.

In  Victor Cherkashin’s memoirs, Spy Handler, he states that the craft of being a spy, of running networks, contacting agents, etc., is a solved problem, that detection of a spy ring due to a failure of correctly executed  “tradecraft” has negligible probability.  I leave it to others to state whether it is true in all places and all circumstances.

But the capabilities of the NSA must give the Russians pause, because they cannot be sure what the NSA can’t do. So the normal means of communication, encrypted email, steganography (messages hidden in pictures), the Dark Web, etc., have an unacceptable risk for a very particular, special kind of message. What follows is mere speculation. I am not an insider.

This is the exchange of cryptographic keys. A key set is a pair of long numbers, typically numbers that have unknown factors. The keys are part of the general method called public key cryptography. The keys are so valuable, extraordinary measures are taken to preserve their secrecy. (In most uses, only one of the numbers is secret, but not so here.) For an illegals ring, an additional secret is the identity of the recipient. The keys are the equivalent of the “secret codes” of World War II.

The most secure kinds of communications known, outside of quantum key, are very short range or directional, with spread-spectrum modulation. So imagine, if you will, the Victor Leonov exchanging keys with someone on shore who carries an innocuous pocket-size device. Aiming the device precisely at the ship, the exchange occurs via a beam so narrow, it cannot be intercepted.

It must be very picaresque, being out on a windswept beach in this lousy weather, pretending to be  polar bear, just to get your secret keys. If I was a spy, I would want to do it only in the summertime.





Fiona Hill, Putin’s KGB; Part 4

Every totalitarian state has a distinct character, which may change over time. Nazi Germany was characterized by competitive fiefdoms, with division of domains adroitly juggled by Hitler to prevent combination against him. In this sense, privileged individuals had considerable latitude of personal choice, as do oligarchs. Private lives also existed, with some finding sanctuary in the churches.  See Conversation: Growing Up in Nazi Germany, with Frederic C. Tubach, and Willy Schumann’s Being Present: Growing Up in Hitler’s Germany.

In Germany, immediate total control was opposed by a Germany that was one of the centers of western civilization. The compact density and interconnectedness of German society required an approach with concealment as one of the core attributes. And much extant human development in Germany required preservation for the benefit of the new state. Perhaps if it had gone on longer, Nazi Germany would have reached the pervasive control that the Soviets achieved in short order.

Outside of Moscow and St. Petersburg, the Soviet Union was a vast, primitive place. Serfdom, officially abolished in 1861, was replaced by something like indenture. So there was nothing to keep but the soil to grow the “New Soviet Man.” The organizations of control, of which the KGB was one in succession, have always been instruments of the Party.

After the Bolsheviks consolidated power, and Trotsky was exiled, there was never again a center of power outside the Communist Party. After Stalin consolidated power around 1924, the fiefdoms that existed within the party were weak and fragile. They were limited by the deliberate strategy of the purges, which was to elevate leadership from the party cadres, use them for a few years, and then liquidate them. An interesting research question would be whether Stalin’s purges were motivated more by a psychological disorder, or as a rational strategy to maintain his hold on power. Some Kremlin visitors were informed that it was a conscious strategy with affordable costs. Pavel Sudoplatov, in  Special Tasks, p298- , gives the Doctors’ Plot a chessboard quality that contrasts with the perception in the West of a simple antisemitic pogrom. In Sudoplatov’s account, Stalin used antisemitism as a mere tool to implicate the actual targets of his purge within the Party.

So the Cheka, MGB, NKGB, SMERSH, KGB, etc., were no more than the oppressive instruments of the “will of the Party”, which changed over time. Lenin is generally considered to have been a better human being than Stalin. Nobody knows how many died in the Red Terror, perhaps as many as 1.5 million. but this  was a fraction of the Purges.  But this is enough to divide the character of the Soviet security services into three big periods:

  • The “Little Terror”, my term, for the Red Terror, motivated by the practical goal of obliteration of a recalcitrant culture.
  • The “Big Terror”, also my term, inclusive of Stalin’s Purges, which was many times worse. To illustrate the character of the times, the MGB had the “informal” autonomous authority to execute ordinary Soviet citizens without even a “make-believe” hearing. Sudoplatov offers a darkly amusing anecdote. This is the source of the image of the “commissar with a pistol”, not James Bond’s SMERSH, which existed for only a few years.
  • The “Post Terror” period, which began with Khrushchev and continued until 1991, with implementation of nonlethal methods of social control.

Little, Big, and Post are  terms motivated by the need to simplify, to step back from the point of view of the ideologue, who could write volumes about it.  Social control in today’s Russia borrows elements from the above, used in a very occasional and “judicious” fashion. The occasional nature of it can be a strong argument in Putin’s Apology. You can’t compare twenty million dead with a Kremlin critic, Kara-Murza, who is poisoned twice and then permitted to seek treatment in the west.

Before Glasnost, Russia had one other reformation. In 1956, Nikita Khrushchev gave the  “Secret Speech”, “On the Cult of Personality and Its Consequences”. This repudiation of Stalin marked the beginning of the Khrushchev Thaw. It had a  limitation inherent in Khrushchev’s former role as  one of Stalin’s implementors. But it was genuine. In our rush to vilification, we might miss that Khrushchev had seen too much killing. Perhaps he didn’t want to go out that way.

With the alternatives of letting people speak their minds (a little), and harsh repression, Khrushchev chose a little conversation. Perhaps if more gentle (meaning nonlethal) methods of control were available, he would have chosen them, or been  pushed to use them by other members of the Politburo. (In deference to his son Sergei, who lives on Long Island, let’s give Nikita the benefit of the doubt.) But in the U.S.S.R. of 1954, nothing was known of alternatives.

Like so many other fine technologies, the answer had to be imported. The import came from East Germany.

Next: The Stasi; Innovations in Modern Social Control.



Plan to Defeat ISIS Part 3; 1000 Troops to Kuwait; New Doctrine

A continuation of Plan to Defeat ISIS, Part 2, this is prompted by (Reuters) Exclusive: U.S. weighs deploying up to 1,000 ‘reserve’ troops for IS fight, which suggests a new military strategy is in the offing.

The most famous quotation of Carl von Clausewitz is “War is a mere continuation of policy by other means.” With multiple translations to english, there is question by some scholars as to whether von Clausewitz actually wrote this, or meant what he wrote. In the age of Hegel, some say, it could have been a mere debating point. But you can find it in bold print on page 22 of the “obsolete” translation of Colonel J.J. Graham. This is why General Mattis said, (Face the Nation) “If you cut the State Department’s budget, then you need to buy me more bullets.” And, (CNN) “More than 120 retired generals and admirals signed a letter Monday pushing back on the White House’s proposal to make major cuts to diplomacy and development.”

Even though von Clausewitz never encountered stateless warfare, On War is still the one of the ultimate wellsprings of military thought. Conceived in the age of massed formations, muskets, and cavalry, he was somehow able to distill the principles of warfare in a manner that transfers over centuries. Nevertheless, new principles arise. Military thinkers naturally want to constitute these in a way commensurate with his clarity of thought.

Since the reforms of the “Rumsfeld Doctrine”, the U.S. has shifted away from emphasis on heavy forces, with massive firepower, that require long lead-times to deploy, and massive logistical tails. It has moved sharply in the direction of lightweight forces, capable of almost momentary deployment. This is because of the change of perception of potential threats, which held rigorously until  Ukraine.

But there is a “doctrine gap” between SEAL raids and conventional deployments, meaning, no guiding principle for brief deployments substantial forces. In the U.S., the beginnings and ends of interventions are marked as political events, even if they never actually occur. Every strategic move in Iraq was marked as a political decision. The withdrawal of the last American units from Iraq was marked by a picture.

The gap exists partly because, until recently, there was a technical gap between the capability for commando deployments and the conventional. The Osprey aircraft, other hardware innovations, and basing in Kuwait offer alternatives. The doctrinal gap remains, partly due to  the political process, the shared understanding that war is a serious thing, requiring public deliberation and common assent. The downside is lack of agility against ghost-like opponents, and “telegraphing the punch.” If you’re not into boxing, this means a preparatory arm movement that cues the opponent on when and where a punch is coming.

The extreme of this was in the Vietnam War, when, due to infiltration of the government of South Vietnam by the North, almost every deployment, even by helicopter, was known to the North before it occurred. In Iraq, it is not a problem now, but it will become a problem soon. When the temporarily deferred clash with Iran’s proxies occurs, infiltration of Iraq’s government will have an analogous effect. This is why, in Is Iraq Headed for Another Civil War?,   I wrote,

The Shiite Iraq that follows the passing of Sistani will not be a permissive setting for American operations. Other parts of it, such as the Kurdish area, might be. But the kinds of cultural shift and political combinations that would make a viable rump state are prohibited by the strange-to-us cultural animosities.  Iran, a unified and disciplined state, would  steamroller it.

A different guiding principle is required to operate in the non-permissive Iraq and Syria of the near future. Some recent  strategies of other countries contain innovative elements:

  • Russia in Ukraine: a “private brand” military, has had a ghost-like quality. With multiple withdrawals and redeployments, it significantly delayed correct identification by the West, and so, political response.
  • Russia in Syria:  a similar pattern, with an over-advertised withdrawal, and understated deployment.
  • Russo-Georgian War of 2008: an almost completely transient event, snatching only small bits of territory as a permanent acquisition.
  • China in Vietnam: In the 1979  Sino-Vietnamese War, an antiquated Chinese army occupied northern provinces of Vietnam for about a month. China’s military performance was said to be unimpressive. A bunch of provincial towns were destroyed. And then, the necessary message having been sent, China withdrew. It was, from the Chinese point of view, a complete success.
  • In the Sino-Indian War of 1962, China seized substantial parts of Ladakh, and gave most of it back. The result was unusually ambiguous.

None of these had geopolitical goals of the type pursued by the U.S. All of the above are characterized by the temporary seizure of territory. They were ephemeral. They offer suggestions as to how the U.S. can project power into a region with weak or nonexistent states, and hostile non-state forces:

  • Deploy very, very quickly.
  • Accomplish the objective, but without the usual finality or thoroughness.
  • Get out before non-state forces can react to the presence.

I call this the “Doctrine of Ephemeral Deployment.” It is an estimate of the purpose of the proposed Kuwait deployment. It is not new. Von Clausewitz thought of it some time between 1816 and 1830.

Fiona Hill, Putin’s Apology; Analysis Part 3

From Should Fox Apologize to Putin?,

(Reuters) Fox News host Bill O’Reilly described Putin as “a killer” in the interview with Trump as he tried to press the U.S. president to explain more fully why he respected his Russian counterpart. O’Reilly did not say who he thought Putin had killed.

O’Reilly’s assertion is probably an amalgam of feelings, stemming from

  • The conduct of the Russian intervention in Syria, and of Russia’s proxy, the government of Bashar Assad.
  • The tendency, in Russia, of prying journalists, errant members of the Kremlin’s inner circle, and, to a lesser extent, figures of the political opposition, to end up dead or injured.
  • Putin’s career as a KGB officer.

The conduct of Russia in Syria was covered by

2. Putin is ruthless towards external adversaries, or rivals, of Russia, but it is his responsibility, so he thinks, his obligation, to the Russian people.

The”tendency” was addressed with

After I had studied Vladimir Putin for a while, I realized that it is impossible to separate the man from the world in which he is embedded…

meaning, that Russia is a country where there are plenty of people, in government, associated with government, or freelancers, who are willing and able to do the deed. To Putin’s Apology, in any particular case, we could add

  • He was sorry that it happened.
  • He was glad that it happened.
  • He ordered it to happen.

In any particular case, no one knows beyond a doubt which it was. It seems to have been a mix. In the West, the failure to separate one’s self from a “situation” is covered by Aesop’s fable, “A man is known by the company he keeps.” But Kurt Waldheim, 4th Secretary General of the U.N., and 9th President of Austria, when accused as a Nazi, successfully mounted the defense “couldn’t extricate himself”. Perhaps we should extend the courtesy to Vladimir Putin. Putin’s Apology includes the line, of which I myself am skeptical:

“Putin is working for change from the inside.”

It might have once been true. People change. Perhaps, before the NGO’s were thrown out of Russia, before the peace of Europe was broken in the Ukraine, before Sweden felt it necessary to re-institute a military draft. If he wishes, Putin can edit it out.

Perhaps O’Reilly’s feeling is really anchored by Putin’s KGB career. The KGB, in continuity with the organs that preceded it, was the direct instrument of repression of the Soviet state. But the culture of these organs was not continuous; it changed radically between 1917 and 1991.

Putin must have absorbed at least some of the culture of the KGB, with which he spent a major part of his professional life. But what was that culture when he was there?

Next: The culture of the KGB.



WikiLeaks, CIA cyber spying tools and the Übermensch

Reuters: WikiLeaks says it releases files on CIA cyber spying tools.

When I was a kid, I was a programmer. I wrote one of the first programs with some of the character of a virus. Totally benign, it was intended to add a capability to an early operating system, CP/M (control program/micro), to facilitate remote printing with a Televideo 950 green-screen terminal. This was in the floppy disk era. Since CP/M did not have a methodical way of adding capabilities, an ad hoc approach was devised. This mystified the “gurus” for about three weeks.

In this way, I was socially exposed to the rag-tag band of savants, misfits, and visionaries who laid down the foundations for the world of the 1990’s, when almost everyone became the operators of computers. We are now exiting that era. While formerly, we were custodians of computers, the machines are becoming our custodians. With every new release, the diapers become softer.

Even in those early days, the personalities were divided into constructors and deconstructors. The constructors wrote the databases, calcs, word processors, games, tools, and so forth. The deconstructors exhibited remarkable skill with a tool still in use, the disassembler. This activity takes apart a computer program and, in a crude way, translates it to a human readable code. There are also decompilers, but that’s too much detail.

The two activities, construction and deconstruction, had associated personalities. The “constructors” were methodical, creative, and goal oriented. The “deconstructors” were mischievous, addicted to peak experience and the act of discovery. They were disciplined to hard yet voluntary work, and also risk-takers, since the goal, glory of the secret, was risky to share. Later, this morphed into software piracy. And they tended to work alone, or in groups with the identities of the individuals hidden by aliases.

These are desirable characteristics for spies. They may be common  for some NSA employees who specialize in breaking into systems, whose activities resemble the “deconstructors.” Other NSA employees, the mathematicians, and those who devise complex software, belong to the “constructors”. From my observations of personalities, the deconstructors, of whom Edward Snowden was a member, are more likely to have an Übermensch moral view.

And, to act on it.


Fiona Hill, Putin’s Apology; Analysis Part 2

Before proceding further, it’s essential to create “Putin’s Apology.” Here “apology” refers not to Webster’s “1.a : an admission of error or discourtesy accompanied by an expression of regret”, but

“2.a :  something that is said or written to defend something that other people criticize :…”

Plato’s The Apology of Socrates is the great example. Socrates’ self defense won history to his side, while condemning himself to drink the hemlock. Traces, but only traces, live on in our society in modern legal defense. While lawyers for both the defense and the prosecution are both “officers of the court”, and bound to uphold the rule of law, not conceal evidence, etc., the adversarial approach frequently trumps it, as in:

This kind of adversarial thinking, in law, politics, and sports, is not specific to us. The Russians have a bad case of it too, shown by the doping scandal.  It is a personal obstacle to writing a good apology for Putin, because it requires that we write to lose an argument.

In what follows, you can assume the personal pronoun “I”, as in Vladimir Putin. It’s omitted; I think it would just be too cute to include.

  1. Putin is personally incorruptible and modest. Since we’re just starting out, remember this is part of an apology. It does not take into account future revelations of kompromat. But importantly, you should not substitute some lesser grade of character simply because you don’t like him. If you feel  so inclined, write a separate piece with all the denigration you want, and work back and forth between the two.

Aside: If it seems improbable that Putin could find a virtuous  communist leader to pattern after, consider the following:

  • Stalin, who arguably was the greatest mass murderer in history, had a personally modest lifestyle.
  • Lavrentiy Beria may have had the aspirations of a reformer, who after Stalin’s demise may have wanted to do a deal with the West. He was a sexual predator, a serial rapist, who kidnapped and killed many young women.
  • Hitler, who competes with Stalin for the prize, was fatherly to his bunker staff, and actively promoted animal welfare.
  • The early Bolshevik crew, before Stalin, had, in addition to their blood lust, a certain degree of personal virtuousness.
  • Nikita Khrushchev, one of the implementors of Stalin’s purges, had a sense of institutional propriety, and towards the end of his public career, attempted to obliterate the institution of Stalinism. His son Sergei, who lives in the U.S., seems to have no difficulty in remembering his father’s works in a positive way.
  • Leonid Brezhnev had less blood on his hands than the aforementioned. He exhibited  the affectations of a wealthy individual, and was, at least by association, corrupt. LA Times, January 24, 1988|Associated Press: “Soviets Uncover Massive Corruption : Billions Lost in Uzbekistan Case Involving Brezhnev Kin.

What are the chances that Putin’s private life is the stuff of kompromat? Marvin Shanken’s “A Conversation With Fidel”  for the Cigar Aficionado is telling. On August 26, 1985, Cuba launched a health campaign against smoking. The absolute ruler of Cuba, whose revolution executed perhaps 10,000, explains why he didn’t try to sneak a smoke:

I said, look, in order to smoke, you need some accomplices. You need somebody to buy the cigars for you. You need somebody to hide the ashes that are left around. You need at least three, four, five accomplices who know that you are smoking cigars. They would know that you are doing something like that. They would know that you are smoking behind closed doors, and I wouldn’t want three, four or five people knowing that I was deceiving others. So I chose not to do that.

Even during Beria’s reign of terror, middle-rank Soviet bureaucrats knew of Beria’s depravities. So it is reasonable to include in Putin’s Apology the assertion that Putin’s character is blameless, for two reasons:

  • It would be impossible to perfectly conceal improprieties. The butler always knows.
  • There are plenty of prior examples among Russian rulers of personal virtuousness regardless of their manners of government.

Aside from that, Putin’s former wife complains that he has a dark, incomprehensible sense of humor. And he likes cats.  Let’s continue:

2. Putin is ruthless towards external adversaries, or rivals, of Russia, but it is his responsibility, so he thinks, his obligation, to the Russian people. Here the relativity of moral values is striking. In the U.S., as multicultural society, we refer frequently to shared values, and infrequently, to “American people.”  In Russia, an ethnocentric society, there is an historical continuation of the moral ethos of the Bolshevism, commonly stated as “The end justifies the means“, although the communists did not invent the phrase, nor were they the first to use it.

In the estimation of the man we deal with, much has been   obscured by the recent epithets.  No suggestion is implied that you should ditch your core values, but Putin’s Apology helps establish a relative framework, useful for analysis.

Before we continue, you may wish to download Putin’s Character and the Intersection With the Ethics of the Russian State from academia.edu.

Fiona Hill, Trump’s Putin Advisor

Many of us, myself included, feel great relief that Fiona Hill, a Putin critic, has been appointed to advise Trump on things Russian. This is not because I entirely agree with her. It is because many of us have been fearful of the possible presence of a persistent, subversive Russian presence in the new administration. The major news outlets have responded to Hill’s appointment by purchasing clip-art from AP and others that show Putin sucking his thumb. The implication of this “new-new journalism” is that, somehow, the press monitors Putin’s thoughts, and snaps a picture at exactly the moment when he is regretting the appointment of Hill.

I agree with Hill on one thing: Putin does not understand us any more than we understand him. In Should Fox Apologize to Putin?, I wrote,

In this milieu, there is a significant minority of completely modern  people who have hybridized themselves with the west. They are just like us, a confusing veneer.

Putin is part of this group, but the traditional Russian ethos dominates his mind. His formative years occurred within the Russian autarchy, which had much continuity of attitude with the communist Russia that was supposed to replace it. Putin, like the Soviet leaders who preceded him, is, partially in his case, a product  of a system that makes a clear view of the West very difficult to achieve. This has resulted in the recent tragedy of military reawakening. Perhaps, if the West had treated Russia more kindly during Perestroika, the tragedy would have been averted. But neither can we blame ourselves for the fact that Vladimir Putin is not the person to drag his people toward a future he incompletely understands.

The above contains my understanding of where Hill and I agree.

But I preceded this with,

After I had studied Vladimir Putin for a while, I realized that it is impossible to separate the man from the world in which he is embedded. It is an ethnocentric world of corrupt institutions and extrajudicial punishments,  coexisting with a western yearning that willed the  city of St. Petersburg into existence.

This is the crux of my disagreement with Hill, who with her coauthor Clifford Gaddy, have created an elaborate psychoanalytic theory of Putin.  To simulate the mind of the adversary is one way of predicting the initiatives and responses of that adversary. A sample chapter (pdf) of Mr. Putin; Operative in the Kremlin, attempts a working model of Putin’s mind, which can be used for that purpose.

One problem I perceive with the psychoanalytic model itself is that it is a model of a mind, not of a mind embedded in society.  Hill’s analysis is referent to Freud and Jung. Mine is referent to Vilfredo Pareto, and his work, The Mind and Society. In my analysis, Putin is inseparably bound into a matrix of unconscious influence that flows both from him, and to him.

I use psychoanalysis in a limited way, trying to understand what the subject might be thinking about the current question.  But Occam’s Razor, the “simplest explanation is most likely to be correct”, is more important. As a therapy,  the patient can tell if psychoanalysis helps, and determine the use. But many therapies, this one included, do not rise to the level of science. Psychoanalysis has many doubters, even when the subject is in the clinic. The distance with which Putin is observed and “experienced” makes him a more difficult object than a patient on the couch.

Next: How our observations and predictions differ in very substantial ways.