“We swung over the hills and over the town and back again, and I saw how a man can be master of a craft, and how a craft can be master of an element. I saw the alchemy of perspective reduce my world, and all my other life, to grains in a cup. I learned to watch, to put my trust in other hands than mine. And I learned to wander. I learned what every dreaming child needs to know – that no horizon is so far that you cannot get above it or beyond it.”
Beryl Markham, from “West with the Night”
“Well I can bend, but I won’t break;
‘Cause you ain’t got what I can’t take…”
Bryan Adams/Bonnie Raitt, from “Rock Steady”
Everyone still wants to talk about Navalny; the western press is full of blather and botheration about noble Navalny struggling against the monolithic and remorseless state; you would think nothing else was going on in the world. He’s not really very important, because – try as his western backers might to make a Robin Hood of him – most voting-age Russians regard him with disgust and boredom, and he likely could not get elected lifeguard in a car wash even if he could run for office, which he can’t because he is a convicted criminal. A convicted criminal who is likely to get a couple more convictions added on in the weeks to come, if you take my meaning. The Great Patriotic War, or what most of us know as the Second World War remains a seminal event in the minds of Russians who were alive when what is now the Russian Federation was the Soviet Union. As well it might – Soviet losses against Nazi Germany were more than 20 million people, far more than any other nation. Surviving veterans of that war are iconic even in a country which affords respect to military service in general, and considers it critical in such an unfriendly world. Navalny’s record of contempt for a Great Patriotic War veteran may have been his western-backed attempt to jolt Russians out of their reverence for the nation’s hard-won existence, and deprive them of a vital touchstone which welds the public into common sorrow and resolve on Victory Day. If so, it was a decisive failure, and Navalny’s rudeness and posturing have earned him widespread loathing in his own country; he is about as likely to get elected to any public office which requires the candidate to be voted in as he is to discover the secret of spinning straw into gold, like Rumpelstiltskin.
Yes, he is a jerk, my, my. But the thing about Navalny I wanted to mention – he and his portly roving operations manager, Leonid “Two-Tummies” Volkov – is their immediate reaction to Navalny’s arrest, which was foretold with about the same reliability as the sun rising in the east. Their “beam me up, Uncle Sam” cry for help was “more sanctions!!” Yes, let Navalny go, immediately and unconditionally, or the US-led west will impose further sanctions.
We’ve asked this question before – how’s that working out, do you think? Are western sanctions any closer to bringing Russia to its knees? Have they had any success – any success at all – at changing Russian behavior, in any way, to behavior the west regards with approval and a sense of accomplishment? Feel free to disagree with me, but I would have to say no. Is there anything to justify, do you think, the west’s faith in the potential of further sanctions to arrest or modify behaviors the west does not like? Again, I would have to say no. Why, then, does the west keep doing the same thing, and threatening more? I am at a loss to explain. If you were driving half-inch stakes into the ground for fence palings with a hammer, and every time you swung it you hit yourself in the balls with it, how many times would you try it before you gave it up? Until you were a eunuch?
Anyway, that’s enough of Navalny and his anarchic followers – suffice it to say that when Nadia Tolokonnikova of Pussy Riot writes a fan song about your brave stand against the state, you have strayed far enough from statesmanship that you probably could not find your way back with a GPS. No, it was more the sanctions element I wanted to talk about than Navalny.
What Russia has learned from having sanctions leveled against it, and rolled over every six months like clockwork, is that it cannot depend on the west for any kind of commercial relationship. Europe continues to buy gas from Russia, and the USA stands on the sidelines and wrings its hands with anxiety but does not quite dare to forbid Europe’s purchase of Russian gas, because no other supplier has both the capacity and the infrastructure. But every other commercial commodity is carefully parsed for the degree to which Russia is dependent upon it, weighed against how much Europe would lose if it stopped selling it. Pretty much every time Europe has lost, as Uncle Sam squeezes it to cut off trade with Russia. The lesson, then, is that (a) Europe is spineless as a squid, and incapable of resisting American pressure, and (b) the USA is determined to push Russia off the map altogether, and will never relent so long as it has the power to continue trying. These two elements convince Russia that no agreement with the west is worth committing to paper, and that whatever Russia wants, it must make for itself or trade with alternative markets to purchase.
It has long been a pet theory of mine that Russia – and its growing partner in adversity, China – are well-placed to strike a significant commercial blow against the west in a field the west has become accustomed to dominating: civil aviation. And it is my belief that the partners could do so by the simple expedient of designing, producing and buying their own commercial aircraft.
I’m not the only one who thinks so, of which I was reminded by Gunnar Ulson’s piece for New Eastern Outlook and which I read at Tony Cartalucci’s Land Destroyer, entitled “Russian-Chinese Civilian Aviation Challenges Western Duopoly”.
“China’s Commercial Aircraft Corporation of China (COMAC), founded as recently as 2008 is developing a range of commercial airliners for use domestically and is attempting to promote its products abroad. While the latter is an intermediate to long-term prospect, domestically China already has the largest aviation market in the world with a growing demand for airliners projected well into the future.”
I’m sure most everyone is aware this will be a slow transition to develop – the future of western civil aviation is already tenuous, and is going to require heavy commitment of money for little short-term reward as the world struggles to get back to a place where we feel comfortable – I won’t say ‘safe’, as I am beginning to despise that word – traveling to other countries for vacation and taking to the skies in some of the most cramped public-transit conditions. Airlines cannot make money with only every third or fourth seat occupied while people remain terrified of COVID, and while they are not making money – are struggling for survival, in fact – no serious thought can be given to expansion.
Still, one day the west’s attention will turn once more to selling airliners, and when it does it will turn first to China, the biggest growth market in the world for airliners.
“Before the trade war, China was a big market for Boeing. In 2015 and 2016, China sales accounted for 13% and 11% of the company’s total revenue, respectively, according to its annual reports. In 2015, China was Boeing’s largest export market, and it was the third largest in 2016. But the company hasn’t sold any passenger planes to China in the past two years, Sherry Carbary, president of Boeing China, said late last year, according to the state-owned Shanghai Observer.”
At the end of 2019, China had more than 3,700 planes in its civil aviation fleet.
Looking forward, every domestically-produced civil heavy cargo or passenger aircraft China buys is one that is not bought from Boeing or Airbus. The COMAC C-919, a narrow-body jet designed to compete in the class of the Boeing 737 and the Airbus A-320, already has 400 orders, mostly by the state. American company Honeywell hopes to provide critical flight-control system components in a deal worth $15 Billion, and probably out of caution to not offend the builder, claims it is ‘going to be a great aircraft, very competitive with the aircraft that are flying right now’.
How quickly the advantage shifts to the purchaser – China, in this case – and it is easy to see COMAC purchasing flight-control systems from the United States so long as it is convenient to do so, but energetically developing its own against the day America will withhold them due to sanctions. The United States is very good at building a lot of things, but it is its belief that it will always be the sole nation capable of producing them that is its Achilles heel. Typically for the USA, it assumed until recently that the Chinese civil aviation market was its own for the asking, and grumbled a little at how hard it was going to have to work to keep up with Chinese demands.
“China will likely become the largest market in the world for new large civil aircraft (LCA), with global LCA manufacturers expecting to sell 100 LCA per year in the Chinese market for the next twenty years, or one every three to four days, at a total value ranging up to $350 billion.”
You’re probably wondering where Russia comes into this. The original reference cited describes a partnership between China (COMAC) and Russia (UAC) to build a long-range wide-body twinjet, the CR-929.
“Together, COMAC and UAC through the China-Russia Commercial Aircraft International Corporation (CRAIC), are developing a long-range wide-body twinjet airliner that would further enhance the competitiveness of both companies. Designated the CR929, the new aircraft is expected to make its first flight by 2025, before being introduced to the market in following years.
The ability for the CR929 to compete head-to-head with Boeing and Airbus at the moment seems unlikely. What is more likely is that it, along with other offerings from both COMAC and UAC, will prove themselves first in the Russian and Chinese civilian aviation markets, before future developments are more widely accepted by others internationally.
It is a long-term plan that takes into account not only the current geopolitical climate, but one that takes into consideration a future international order that has tilted considerably more toward the multipolar and away from the West’s current unipolar order, and an order that has produced and still jealously protects the Boeing-Airbus duopoly. ”
Two things should stand out from those passages; one, the west stinks out loud at long-term planning, and two, a determination to rely on sanctions even when they don’t accomplish much of anything is teaching – may have already taught – the world that the west is an unreliable commercial partner who is constantly assessing what it sells to you to determine if its market share equates to leverage it might use to direct your behavior as a nation. Kind of odd behavior for a bloc which is forever blabbering about freedom, isn’t it? Here’s a little whiff of nostalgia for you, Uncle Sam, circa 2006; remember this?
“Since the demise of the BAe, Douglas, and Fokker brands, and in light of the inability of Commonwealth of Independent States’ manufacturers to sell their equipment to Chinese operators in sizeable numbers,Boeing and Airbus essentially share the new equipment market. Given China’s past relationships with Commonwealth of Independent States’ manufacturers, there is some room in China’s market for Russian-and Ukraine-built aircraft if they offer performance characteristics similar to Western aircraft, attractive pricing, and after sales support comparable to Western manufacturers. However, this window of opportunity is closing, as China’s airlines invest heavily in support of infrastructure (training, parts, tools,etc.) geared towards Western models.”
Is a hazy picture starting to emerge? Is it possible to see a little more clearly what a disastrous decision it was to push Russia and China into a defensive, commercial, energy and policy alliance? Is it more realistic now to imagine a short-term future in which Russia and China increasingly stop buying western-built airplanes altogether in favour of building up their civil-aviation fleets with domestically-produced designs? If those aircraft demonstrate a reliable safety record and decent performance characteristics, is it possible to imagine a long-term future in which price, but more importantly political detachment by a Sino-Russian manufacturer brings increasing pressure on western regulators to certify their designs for international operations?
I thought it might be.