We continue from Russian Bounty on U.S. Soldiers in Afghanistan; Unit 29155, Part 2.
In deference to readers in the Russian government, this is not a judgment of their domestic policies. But Russian foreign policies are malign to the West, with no better justification than Richelieu. In the West there seems to be increasing understanding that Putin is not a potentate; he is the designer of a nation. He has the kind of power that like money, is diluted by use, and concentrated by conciliation.
Future historians may analogize Putin to Lycurgus, author of the constitution of Sparta. Both were scientific endeavors. Both fall short. See Putin, Balance of Power, Richelieu, Lycurgus, the Ruble, and War, and Putin,…, Lycurgus, the Ruble, and War, Part 2.
Lycurgus created an obsessively military state. Russia is very loose-jointed with violence. The old Soviet Union was held together by stolid, phlegmatic old men. The new Russian foreign policy is alive with the metaphor of switchblades, box cutters, guns, poisons, and all sorts of improvised weapons, deployed with casual abandon. Salisbury was not an accident. It is an institution.
Since Putin is not a potentate, there is the intriguing possibility that as with Special Tasks, the Kremlin is fearful of processes they cannot completely control, yet addicted to their use. The Skripals were poisoned in March of 2018. In the kind of bungle that Unit 29155 has become renowned for, the targets survived, multiple areas of Salisbury were contaminated, and an innocent person died.
In November 2018, Igor Korobov, head of the GRU, in charge of Unit 29155, died of undisclosed cause. There are open source notes to the effect that Korobov was severely reprimanded by Putin some months before his demise. Pick your own reason for his liquidation:
- To neutralize an insubordinate power center.
- As punishment for failure.
- As defector Viktor “Suvorov” thinks, at risk for defection. Possible, though “Suvorov” does not bat 1000.
- Victim of his own poisonous garden.
The abandonment of glasnost is a factual tragedy of Russia. In consequence there exists no way to
- Adjudicate Korobov’s offenses.
- Punish him openly without admissions Russia is too small to make.
- Develop, by precedent, the myth of the most advanced countries, that justice will prevail.
Russia seems stuck on Stalin’s solution, described by Anatoly Rybakov as “Death solves all problems,. No man, no problem.” Hence, poison is likely. Yet Korobov’s probable liquidation did not stop the bounty killings which occurred in 2019. “Suvorov” scores a point. This is the backstory of the Afghanistan bounties.
Did Putin know or approve of the bounties? Open source has nothing to say. If clandestine know more, they aren’t tipping their hand.
Were the bounties intended to hurry U.S. withdrawal? This is the mainstream analysis, probably correct. It is possible to imagine the opposite. The U.S. neutralized the Taliban as a threat to Russia. As precedent, I refer to a former U.S. secretary of state, who is reputed by some to have said about the 8-year Iran-Iraq War, “It would have been great if it had gone on forever.”
It is also possible that the bounties had no reasoned purpose other than someone’s good idea.
Will U.S. punishment of Russia deter this kind of behavior? It does not appear to bother Russia in the least that it has become a pariah in the West. It is more significant to Russian strategists that harrying the enemy is producing results. That is what they think.
Quasi academician-apparatchik hybrids exercise think-tank creative freedom to prove that the decline of the West is all their work. They have been shaking the tree pretty hard, and we provide the evidence with our own behavior. Our response also falls short in technical comparison:
- Apart from the violence of units like 29155, the Russian art is psychological manipulation. We call it subversion, but the art has outraced the term.
- U.S. sanctions, which emphasize material damage, have little or no psychological effect.
The counters to manipulation and violence:
- Convince the Russians of our great faith in ourselves, which we will do by acting on that faith.
- Meld sanctions, and other forms of material policy, with applied psychology. A visible scoreboard is required to translate from the numerical purity of sanctions to psychological impact, manipulation in kind.
If within the Kremlin there are voices opposed to subversion of the West, a sophisticated U.S. strategy could empower them. There are established techniques. See Advice for a New Secretary of State, Part 6; How to Use a Skinner Box.
With our persuasion, perhaps they can finally bury Stalin’s words.