Who can go the distance? We’ll find out
in the long run…
Eagles, from “The Long Run”
The substance of this post appeared as a comment to the last post, but I was having so much fun with it that I decided to expand upon it a little. Contrary to what the title might suggest, it is not my intent to discuss pending Russian legislation which might see Putin remain President of the Russian Federation for an additional term or perhaps even more than one – the positions on that issue are both far apart and clearly defined. The west blanches at the idea, and would have been happy to see him gone long since, and at least half the electorate in Russia would vote for him probably so long as he lives.
No, what I wanted to talk about for a little bit more – and hopefully to a wider audience – is the statistically improbable, and therefore incredible, run of luck enjoyed by the Russian leader since the west first soured on him and decided Russia could never be a friend and partner, and that it must therefore be shunned. Left to its own devices, it could not but destroy itself without western advice, know-how, initiative and wealth.
Well. About that.
Washington has tried for as long as the Russian Federation has existed, and before that when it was the Soviet Union, to alternately destroy it and subordinate it to Washington’s will. There was a brief window during the Bill Clinton presidency in which it appeared the United States was actually trying to come to terms with a great-power Russia co-existing with western power led by a great-power United States. But it lasted only until Clinton had gotten an agreement on a united Germany, whereupon the United States promptly reneged on its part of the bargain and began adding countries to NATO like an international charm bracelet. That notwithstanding, I’d like to look at US-Russia relations just including and since the George W. Bush presidency; this is both so that our scope does not broaden until it’s too unwieldy, and so that we restrict ourselves to those relations while Vladimir Putin has been in an influential political position, either as President or Prime Minister.
What I think will become clearer is that either (1) Putin has enjoyed an incredible run of good fortune which has permitted his country to dodge repeated attempts to smash it like a walnut, simultaneously remaining at the helm despite western machinations to drive him from office whose stubbornness is matched only by their incompetence, or (2) the whole thing has been a ballet of consummate skill, in which the blundering United States has been outmaneuvered by Russia at every turn.
The two principal drivers for this post were Mark ‘Gerasimov Doctrine’ Galeotti’s frustrated fuming that Putin enjoys ‘the luck of the devil’ – what he actually said was “Putin has the luck of the devil. He can just sit back and watch this richer, more powerful and legitimate values-based bloc tear itself apart” – and this more recent post, which muses that American-engineered sanctions designed to crash Russia’s economy have actually helped prepare it for the current pandemic chaos and insulate it from its damage.
So without further ado, let’s go back in time, and have a look at the George W. Bush administration’s tilting at the Russian windmill.
In this, George W. Bush himself was very much a secondary character, if not even further down the marquee. While he was the President of the United States at the time, that office is long past attracting America’s actual best and brightest – one hopes – and as the lackadaisical scion of a political family, Bush was a dullard who would have had a difficult time manipulating the manager of a roadside lemonade stand. God knows there’s no shame in not having what it takes to manipulate people, but it does require a certain skill set. No, the Russophobe in the rockpile at Team Bush was his National Security Adviser, Condoleezza Rice.
Ms. Rice may have appeared at first blush to have been just another tiresome flag-waver for democracy and freedom; two of the most overused words in American English, considering they are customarily just boilerplate for the latest plan to take over someone else’s resources for the benefit of wealthy investors. Ms. Rice frequently expressed the opinion that the USA was perfectly happy with a strong leader in Russia, just so long as that leader (a) was not Vladimir Putin, and (b) exercised that strength of leadership in pursuit of ‘democracy’ as an export model, which is to say in support of US-approved goals. She was fond of saying ‘Putinism’ and Russia were two different things from one another, but apparently did not notice that ‘democracy’ as practiced in countries the USA has recently ‘liberated’ has little resemblance to the democracy practiced in the United States, except that both have a bias toward income inequity.
It was fairly clear that the United States under George W. Bush maneuvered Mikhail Saakashvili – a colourful character, to say the least, in light of his subsequent nation-hopping – into hurling Georgia at Russia in 2008, in a failed bid to restore breakaway republics South Ossetia and Abkhazia to Tbilisi’s control. To characterize the operation as a disaster, from the western perspective, does not do it justice. Saakashvili, normally a dramatic speaker, excelled himself, and nearly burst into tears at the joint press conference (Rice/Saakashvili) in which he had to allow that Georgia had fallen a little short of total victory. Rice looked on, her face as expressionless as a frying pan.
“And, Madame Secretary, as we were standing here last time a few weeks ago, there was intrusion of the Georgian – of Russian planes into Georgian airspace, just exactly in the lines of South Ossetia. And you remember as well as I do that then we downplayed it. I downplayed it myself. I said, well, they are here just to salute Secretary Rice. And normally, in the past, Russians would deny that. But that time they said, yes, this is us, we flew there, implying that there was intent to bomb against Georgians. And again, they watched the European reactions. No European country said anything about it.
So who invited the trouble here? Who invited this arrogance here? Who invited these innocent deaths here? Who is – not only those people who perpetrate them are responsible, but also those people who failed to stop it. And who is trying now to look for every excuse, saying, oh, you know, Georgians might have started it. Excuse me? Twelve-hundred tanks came into Georgia within few hours. There is no way you can mobilize those tanks in such a fast period unless you were ready. There were Russian pensioners taken off the streets of Moscow to fly the planes several days before the invasion. There was no way they were not preparing invasion. Why would they call back the pensioners? There were all these movements on the ground all around the place.
You know when it all started? I want the world to know. I was gone for holidays. My Defense Minister was gone for holidays. When the thing started, I had to rush back, cut my holiday short when the tensions started to raise. I had to summon back my – our Defense Minister. But most of our officials were gone. Most of decision-makers I tried to reach were gone for vacations. It was brilliantly selected timing for this intervention.”
Ahh….it never gets old; I want to laugh even now. The subsequent UN Report, commissioned by the European Union and overseen by Swiss diplomat Heidi Tagliavini, found that Georgia started the conflict by launching an artillery barrage at Tskhinvali during the night of 7/8 August, 2008. So either the Artillery Corps of the Georgian forces was celebrating the Georgian government’s departure on vacation, apparently leaving the palace janitor in charge, with an ordnance show – the kind of insubordinate behavior you would think would result at least in a reprimand – or President Saakashvili was actually in attendance and in charge of the operation, something he would most certainly have claimed had Georgia been victorious. For her part, Ms. Rice looked on stone-faced, and did not contradict any of the mercurial Georgian president’s simple-minded prevarications. I don’t know if you have a favourite yourself, but I crack up every time I read that the Russian Air Force scoured the streets of Moscow to dragnet experienced pensioners into fighter cockpits, oh, dear God.
Ms. Rice was a stalwart supporter of ‘democratic institutions’ in Russia, as you might expect of the assembly-line from which all earthly freedom issues. For the record, as they apply to Russia ‘democratic institutions’ are the non-governmental organizations (NGO) which the US Department of State likes to use to funnel aid and support to opposition parties in countries where America does not like the government, and wishes to implement regime change. Therefore unsurprisingly, Ms. Rice regularly called down thunderbolts on Putin’s head for supposedly ‘dismantling democratic institutions’ in Russia. In reality, only organizations which engaged in political activities and received funding from foreign countries were required to register as foreign agents; a stipulation which closely parallels the US Foreign Agents Registration Act.
The Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) was enacted in 1938. FARA requires certain agents of foreign principals who are engaged in political activities or other activities specified under the statute to make periodic public disclosure of their relationship with the foreign principal, as well as activities, receipts and disbursements in support of those activities.
In part owing to the political divides which continue to worsen in America, but still amazingly, George W. Bush reappeared for a second term as president. At that point, the entire world had enjoyed as much of Bush and the US Republican party as it could stand, and he was succeeded by the Democratic candidate, Barack Obama.
This was supposed to usher in a sea-change in American politics, and at first it seemed as if that would actually happen. But Obama blew his entire first term striving uselessly for ‘bipartisanship’ even after the Republicans had let it be known they would oppose any initiative which had his name on it. The Democrats’ foreign policy looked suspiciously like it had been written by the Republicans, and except for more lofty rhetoric about freedom and democracy in place of the Big Stick, it might have been. The objectives differed not a jot. Under Obama’s leadership, the USA hurled Ukraine against Russia, and it worked out just about as well militarily as using Georgia did. America invested a degree of diplomatic support for the hapless grifter Alexei Navalny that was nearly masochistic in its stubborn determination, actually arguing for positive recognition of his status as a political dissident in the same article which demanded Russia hand over Edward Snowden to face American justice.
As well, Obama’s administration drafted, implemented and strong-armed European cooperation in the very sanctions against Russia which are now being credited with preparing it for and insulating it against the global catastrophe of the COVID-19 ‘pandemic’. I put ‘pandemic’ in quotes like that because the WHO itself admitted it designated the Coronavirus a pandemic because it was unsatisfied with the lethargic response of some countries, and wished to galvanize global effort. The designation of a coronavirus as a pandemic is unprecedented.
So let’s take a look at what the latest failure of US-led western effort to push Russia off the scoreboard looks like. Let’s recall that the sanctions were originally purpose-built to wreck the Russian economy by making things so difficult for the Russian people that they would swell into the streets in wrath, and throw Putin out. It amuses me now to cruise the net for bellicose, overconfident statements on how Captain America was going to kick Putin’s ass; here’s an example;
“What many people don’t realize is just how pervasive the US financial system is. If, for example, Mr. Yakunin wanted to buy a nice vacation house in Dubai. He’d have to pay for it somehow. Yet to transfer the money, he would need to use a bank and that’s where things get difficult. Every financial institution needs a correspondent banking relationship with a US entity in order to do business.
The penalties for defying US Treasury designations can be quite severe—HSBC was fined $1.9 billion—and if the offending bank wants to continue to do business in the US, it complies. In effect, once you are designated, you are cut off from the international financial system.”
I realize that is an opinion column; however, it very much personifies the swaggering braggadocio which accompanied the implementation of the American sanctions – Putin was toast, by God! But as it turns out, the confidence that no bank or business could survive without a correspondent banking relationship with a US entity was a little misplaced.
“Perhaps most importantly, it’s hard to see how Putin will prevail. Ukraine is a big place and occupying it would take hundreds of thousands of troops—something Russia can’t afford financially or militarily. There is, in fact, very little he can do besides make threatening noises while Obama’s sanctions erode the Russian economy.”
Yet prevail he has. And so here we are, at the point of Trump just printing up another Trillion dollars to hump into circulation – which money either has to be paid back or is purely notional and does not exist – while Russia has actual savings of around $600 Billion in gold and hard-currency reserves; savings which, according to western sources, could enable it to survive the other looming crisis of the Saudi oil-price war for a decade.
“Six years ago, the United States and the European Union slammed the door on Western bank loans for Russian companies, starving the country’s oil and banking industries of financing. The harsh measures were intended to punish Russia for military interventions in Ukraine and Syria and for meddling in the 2016 American election to help Donald J. Trump.
Paradoxically, however, those sanctions and the policies Russia enacted in response prepared the Kremlin for what came this month: a universal dislocation of the global economy from the coronavirus pandemic and an oil price war that led to a collapse in oil prices and the revenues that Russia relies upon to support social spending.
Far from being a basket case, Russia enters the crisis with bulging financial reserves, its big companies nearly free of debt and all but self-sufficient in agriculture. After Russia was hit with the sanctions, President Vladimir V. Putin’s government and companies adapted to isolation and were virtually forced to prepare for economic shocks like the one hammering the global economy today.
Damn the bad luck! Steady on, though – perhaps there’s still hope that disease will decimate their lucky ranks.
“For now, Russia is relying on quarantines of individuals and contact tracking without major lockdowns. But measures to halt the virus’s spread will most likely bring Russia’s economy to a halt, as they have elsewhere, as companies send employees home. At that point, Russia’s treasure chest of hard currency will be of little help.”
Do tell. How does that thinking square with this preceding paragraph?
“Take, for example, a 2014 sanction limiting loans from Western financial institutions to a maximum of three months. Russian companies responded by paying down their debt so that total government and corporate foreign debt in Russia fell to $455 billion at the start of this year from $713 billion in 2014. By contrast, Western companies have taken advantage of low interest rates to run up trillions of dollars in debt in the past decade.”
The author’s judgment must have been addled by frustration and baffled fury; no virus ever kills 100% of the hosts it infects, and even if we take the WHO’s on-the-fly estimate of a 3% fatality rate, those contracting COVID-19 have about a 97% chance of recovering unless they are elderly or have a compromised immune system from an underlying medical condition. The ‘pandemic’ will eventually burn itself out. And when it does, who is going to be better off – a country which financed its operations with savings it prudently accumulated, or a country which simply printed its way out of the crisis by running up trillions in debt?
The west’s US-led efforts to wrestle Russia to the ground and get a knee on its throat have failed on almost a biblical level; each such mean-spirited attempt sees the country emerge stronger and more resourceful. By way of contrast, if the USA had made a friend of Russia and lured it through ‘soft power’ to adopt more western practices and policies, it probably would be a wreck today. Funny old world, innit? As Jane Austen reminds us, it is always so; those who do not complain are never pitied.
I think we’re done here; why not let the catchy tune that led us in also take us out?
People talkin’ about us
They got nothin’ else to do;
When it all comes down we will
Still come through:
In the long run
Ooh, I want to tell you, it’s a long run…