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01 March 2015


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Anatol Lieven has translated the 'Pivot to Asia', aptly IMO, as the US "concentrating on China" as their great strategic rival. Even though it doesn't catch the Mackinder reference, I think that the re-formulation is useful for its clarity.

Indeed, by pushing the Russians into the arms of China, the US has solved two of China's strategic key weaknesses in one go:

#1 They provided them with energy flows from Russia that cannot be interrupted by sea - China's Achilles heel.

#2 They provided China with worthwile ally (in particular when contrasted against Chinas's traditional allies - countries like Pakistan) in terms of military power and technological capability.

That outcome should not have come as a surprise.

The only way the US could not be concerned abbout such an outcome would be if they hadn't expected it - be it by expecting Russian acceptance of NATO encroachment on Russia's periphery, or by trusting in their capability to effect regime change in Russia.

Both assumptions are dubious.


"Both Russia and China have common ground in building a new world order "

Given the hostility that the US lavishly extends to both - what choice do they have?

The Russians wanted to be friends of the West for two decades only to be rebuffed time and time again.

To the US the Russians were, at best, junior partners who were expected to subordinate themselves to their proper place.

One of the Clinton people was iirc quoted saying that he would again go tell Jelzin to eat shit, and that Jelzin would agree as he always did.

The statement itself speaks volumes for one about Russian weakness under Jelzin, and about US attitudes towards Russia at the time.

The US on their part never quite gover over having lost the craven deference they were given by Jelzin. They want that back. Self respecting Russians should both be forgiven and expected to object to such a relation.

It is not that the US have lost the goodwill they had in Russia after the end of the cold war - they actively squandered it by just being themselves, and they blame the Russians for it.

William R. Cumming

The deceased's 23 year old girl friend has returned to the Ukraine after filing a statement that she did NOT see the killer.


In reply to confusedponderer 03 March 2015 at 08:05 AM .

No argument from me. :-) Your last 2 paragraphs reminded me strongly of something that Barbara Tuchman wrote. That war was always a result of miscalculation, that it always takes place because somebody thought they could get away with it.

If you haven't already read her books I think you especially would enjoy reading them. I checked on Amazon Deutschland and they do have her books.

The comment about miscalculation was in "The March of Folly" which was the book of hers I started on. On Amazon Deutschland it's listed as:

"Die Torheit der Regierenden: Von Troja bis Vietnam"


The interesting fact about the Matlock piece I linked to is that it comes from a former US ambassador to the USSR, not the Kirov reference, which is immaterial to his main point.

Another point: The formulaic references to the "Frankfurt School/cultural marxism" are off the mark. An academic who is 40 years now was not even born when female students chose Theodor Adorno as a target in their protest against perceived patriarchalism. Adorno would rather have continued teaching Kafka, Joyce, Proust and Schönberg than be confronted with those students' bared breasts and get himself escorted by police.
The "Frankfurt School"-meme is about as accurate as blaming the subprime crisis on the Rothschilds.


As to the whodunit issue: Someone upthread expressed skepticism about any premature exoneration of Putin. I would say that, while a "cui-bono?" analysis would likely implicate the Ukrainians, the long list of dead Russian journalists points to Putin as the prime suspect.
Over the last few days I tried to get a better handle on recent developments in Russia. The portrait of Khodorkovskiy in the New Yorker and some interviews by Nemtsov are quite telling, but the best article I could find is a 2012 interview with Gleb Pavlovskiy who worked in the Putin administration until Putin decided on his job swap with Medvedev. Russian-speakers can also look him up on Twitter where he seems to have posted after the Nemtsov murder (I do not want to imply, though, that a 140-character statement will be very enlightening). Pavlovskiy's interview is valuable because it is the closest approximation to a non-PR piece by an insider with access to Putin that we have (at least AFAIK). It is in the New Left Review. Link:



If you are referring to me, the reason I was skeptical was due to my doubt that Russia is run as efficiently at the behest of Putin or anyone else as many people, both enemies and admirers of Putin, seem to believe. If an organization, as I suspect, is full of factions working at cross purposes, for their own agendas, while feigning loyalty, I don't know if anyone can be unambiguously labeled as "responsible" nor the situation assessed with much clarity.

David Habakkuk


I strongly suspect that your descriptions of the Kremlin have a great deal of truth in them – but they do point in slightly different directions.

You argue that it is 'a rather over-centralized and top heavy place, the kind of place where seemingly overzealous yes-men pursuing their own agenda behind the scenes tend to thrive'. But you then suggest that it is 'full of factions working at cross purposes, for their own agendas, while feigning loyalty'.

The existence of factions seems quite clear – and one way of getting the beginnings of a handle on this may be to listen to the accusations people involve make against each other – while being cautious in assuming that claims by any of those involved should simply be accepted or rejected.

Anyone who has followed 'the Saker' will be aware of his portrayal of Russian elite politics as a battle between those he calls 'Eurasian Sovereignists' and those he terms 'Atlantic Integrationists' – who he regards as a 'Fifth Column', and of whom he appears to see Medvedev as part.

A good illustration of this school of thinking comes in a post by 'the Saker' from last October, entitled 'An example of the Russian 5th column at work.'

(See http://vineyardsaker.blogspot.co.uk/2014/10/an-example-of-russian-5th-column-at-work.html .)

The division which 'the Saker' makes mirrors that suggested in the piece to which 'elev8' refers by Gleb Pavlovsky, who is clearly on the other side of the argument. Both writers, ironically, suggest a clear-cut division: whether this is accurate seems to me a moot point.

Until it was closed down in 2008, some of best Western coverage of political intrigues in Russia was provided by the down-at-hell bohemians of 'the eXile'.

Two pieces by its former editor, Mark Ames, have just appeared on the 'Russia Insider' site. One is a scathing dismissal of Nemtsov's 'liberal' pretensions – the other, an equally scathing denunciation of the coverage of Russia in the 'Economist', and indeed the magazine as a whole.

(See http://tinyurl.com/o22n4t2 ; http://tinyurl.com/pxaltkd )

But then, one of the preferred sources of Ames is the 'National Bolshevik' Eduard Limonov. Even accounts by serious observers need to be treated with caution.

That said, the view of the Russian elite as 'full of factions working at cross purposes' as you put it, meshes with the account given by the British scholar Richard Sakwa in his new study of the Ukrainian crisis of Putin's role – which has merit I think not simply in relation to the current crisis but more generally.

As Jonathan Steele puts it in his review of the book in the 'Guardian':

'As for Putin, Sakwa sees him not so much as the driver of the crisis but as a regulator of factional interests and a temporiser who has to balance pressure from more rightwing Russian nationalists as well as from the insurgents in Ukraine, who get weapons and help from Russia but are not the Kremlin’s puppets.'

(See http://tinyurl.com/m39ja4j .)

The question of how far people are 'feigning loyalty', as you put it, is also crucial. Relevant here is the fact that the chaos which was developing under the surface before the collapse of communism and erupted after it generated very strange behind-the-scenes alignments.

Some time ago I had occasion to check out an enigmatic figure by the name of Anton Surikov, and came across a site entitled 'Research by burtsev.ru.'

(See http://tinyurl.com/n85ovut )

If one took the materials produced by 'burtsev.ru' at face value, one would conclude that both Igor Sechin and also the former chairman of the U.S. National Intelligence Council Fritz Ermarth were closely involved with a shadowy company called 'Far West.'

This supposedly brought together former Soviet intelligence officials – essentially I think GRU – from non-Russian nationalities who were involved in drug-trafficking as well as various forms of anti-Russian political conspiracy.

Absolutely the last thing I would do would be to take this material at face value. But although some elements in it could be checked and found to be implausible, others turned out right.

So it was of interest to know that Surikov, commonly used as a source by Western journalists, was also Mansour Nathoev, a Circassian nationalist.

(See http://tinyurl.com/pornrl3 )

Likewise, claims of the involvement of 'Far West' in a supposed plot to smuggle nuclear capable cruise missiles to Iran appear to have some relation to reality, although what seems to have been at issue was an 'information operations' exercise.

Now I am not saying that there is necessarily anything wrong with being a Circassian nationalist – but when Western journalists who used Surikov as a source simply described him as a former GRU officer, they were damning themselves. If they hadn't checked out who he was, they were incompetent; if they had, they were misleading their readers.

Against this background, the question of what loyalties people have – if they have any – may be opaque: whether someone is attempting to escape from compromising entanglements, or still fully in their grip, may be difficult for many of those involved to decide.

But then, this is hardly a situation unknown in other places: it will be familiar to any lover of American 'film noir'.

Among the implications of all this, however, is that those in the West who believe that the alternative to the current 'sistema' in Russia is likely to be the restoration of pro-Western 'liberals' like Nemtsov to their supposed rightful place are, to be blunt, stark staring bonkers.




The perspective in this article is a bit closer to my hunch. I don't think the factions inside Kremlin are necessarily looking to stage a coup against Putin the way the author seems to suggest. What I was thinking was that there are factions that "seem to be" loyal to Putin but are impatient with him or otherwise in disagreement with his policy (say, with regards to Ukraine or perhaps with the West in general) are attempting to force the issue by precipitating an "incident" major enough to shake things up, whether or not Putin wanted this or not in the first place. In other words, they are not exactly "disloyal," but are impatient and overeager, perhaps.

Charles I

This was my tiny undergrad complaint with the Amb. Matlock murder-of-Kirov bit.



I posted the previous reply without having looked at your post in detail. Thanks for the long and thoughtful reply.

I am actually somewhat acquainted with Richard Sakwa, through mutual acquaintances. His take on politics in Russia jives with my understanding of a lot of alleged "dictatorships" in general. My take is that that sort of environment actually encourages one or more of the "insider" factions being "bottled up" staging an incident to force events. For example, in 1930s Japan, the military had multiple factions at odds with each other, even as they all professed unending loyalty to the Japanese state and their emperor. Leaders of the Kwantung Army in Manchuria, the most extremist faction that was being shunned in Tokyo precisely for their extremist views--that is how many of them were exiled to Manchuria in the first place, since they were also too important to be dismissed outright--was able to gain immensely in political currency by staging a series of "incidents" in China that forced the hands of their rivals' hands in Tokyo, although, in the end, they precipitated a World War that destroyed Japanese Empire.

I always suspected that the goings on behind Putin's facade in Russia resembled this in some fashion. I don't know who is Russian government exactly and that tracing their backgrounds and motives will require a great deal of footwork, no doubt. I do think that, on surface, many of them will simply appear to be "Putin loyalists" or "dissidents." In both camps, no doubt, they are doing their part to keep up their appearances. What are they up to really? At minimum, we in the West should not be too eager to jump at obvious conclusions either way, that is all.

Charles I

Thanks for posting this, was just mooting this very thing in conjunction with Sino/Russo energy embrace, push for southern Stream etc with FB and Ingolf.

From under my tinfoil hat: Last night on epi 6 of House of Cards it was the Czech Republic Petrov wanted the ABM's removed from, Poland could keep a few for appearance's sake.

David Habakkuk


Thanks for the reference to the Kagarlitsky piece.

It may be I misunderstand what he is claiming, but while I find it interesting it seems to me another of those instances where evidence from Russia presents interpretative puzzles.

The suggestion that some of those whom 'the Saker' calls 'Atlantic Integrationists' would deal like to topple Putin seems to me eminently plausible. Indeed, I think a good deal of the strategic calculations being made by 'neocon' elements in Washington and London have been based on the hope that this would happen.

However, Western policies towards Ukraine, which have – predictably – caused very many Russians, including a substantial number of the minority who are hostile to Putin, to rally behind him as national leader, make such a coup less likely, rather than more.

And I cannot see how assassinating Nemtsov is in the interests of such people.

If – as seems plausible – this is a politically-motivated assassination, the likely candidates are people who want ensure bad relations between Russia and the West. The 'cui bono' argument – on which I am cautious about building too much – would then point towards either certain kinds of Russian nationalists or elements among the Ukrainian nationalists.

As regards Kagarlitsky, he is a classic example of the difficulties in assessing Russian sources.

Among the areas where the 'burtsev.ru' material can be corroborated, an important one has to do with Kagarlitsky's role in disseminating claims that the bombings of apartment blocks in Moscow and elsewhere in 1999 – which paved the way for the second Chechen War and the election of Putin as President – were a 'false flag' operation.

Critical here were claims about a supposed meeting in Nice, which it was alleged involved among others the Chechen leader Shamayel Basayev and the chief of the presidential administration under Yeltsin, Alexander Voloshin. If 'burtsev.ru' are to be believed – and on this point I think they are – a crucial source for these claims was Surikov.

However, the site presented evidence that Basayev could not have been at that meeting on that date – evidence which I suspect is credible.

(See http://left.ru/burtsev/ops/fake.phtml )

It was a central claim of the Berezovsky group – with Alexander Litvinenko being a prime disseminator – that Putin was responsible for the apartment block bombings.

Among the information which has emerged as a result of the proceedings of which it is now reasonably clear is a thoroughly corrupt British inquest/inquiry into Litvinenko's death, an important element is that, when making these claims, he was a paid agent of MI6.

In fact, as so often with murky events in the former Soviet space, the evidence about the apartment block bombings is confused and contradictory.

Anyone interested in post-Soviet history should certainly read – although they should do so critically – the case made by Robert Bruce Ware, an American academic who has done fieldwork in the Caucasus – in the 'Journal of Slavic Military Studies', edited by Colonel Lang's fellow VMI alumnus Colonel David Glantz.

(See http://tinyurl.com/oa5ejlp )



As always, thanks for your insights and suggestions. Truly a "puzzlement" indeed. Woe be to anyone who thinks anything is "obvious" amidst all these...either that or I see too much complications and complexities b/c I'd like to see them myself.

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