Meditations on US/Russian Relations: Part One, The Prescient Retrospective

Introduction: Revisiting Mr. Kennan

In 1946, George Kennan, the American charge d’affaires in Moscow, penned infamous 8,000-word telegram to the Department of State explaining his views on the Soviet Union, and presciently outlined a forward-looking predisposition for U.S. policy toward the communist state. Kennan’s analysis provides insight into one of the most influential periods of America’s foreign policy, with particular relevance to the containment of the former Soviet Union.

Kennan's letter has obvious significance to today's super-charged global environment—as policy makers question the multipolar and highly chaotic world we share. Kennan aspired to get ahead of the problem that emerged over the course of next forty years between the two super-powers. Ironically his letter has even greater relevance to internal developments in western governments themselves; and almost uncanny accuracy as to the increase in nepotism, cronyism, and corruption in the US.

It is all the more relevant then, that for many analyst colleagues, the global conflict has emerged not as a distinct possibility, but as a reality that has the potential to exacerbate existing tensions entirely, destroy traditional alliances and severely degrade the geopolitical landscape to a level of precarious and permanent instability. They are many naysayers—one of whom happens to lead the free world. Let me be clear. When I or any other pundit harkens visions of impending apocalyptic devastation to hasten our shared need to mitigate the risks of mass migration, violence, hunger, and poverty it is not fear-mongering.  Fear-mongering is when you play chicken with a foreign nuclear power run by a lunatic.

I studied Kennan’s telegram after taking the advice of a colleague who suggested a respectful continuation; a modern sequel to Kennan’s telegram. I’m keen to point out that I hold no official governmental post, nor have even the remote international stature he did in his day. That I have access to information, and the education to address this development is impressive as well—signalling, I believe, that if people want information, if they desire to keep the Republic we have—well, one must only be activist about it.

Please note that there is absolutely nothing in this essay that the reader could not find on his or her own.

The primary factors influencing the global landscape at the time of this writing are straightforward.

•    Climate Change and resultant amelioration of poverty in the developing world is the major global security threat of our age.

•    Nuclear, electronic and hydrocarbon-based industries will likely be the first target in an electronic of conventional exchange between Russia and the US.

•    China will not forge alliances openly with either country.

•    Proxy wars on the India/Pakistan border, Syria, and Yemen, as well as skirmishes in the Spratly Islands are side-shows. The real war is being fought by hackers from China, Russia, Iran and the US. 

•    Geopolitical factors including the radicalization of Saudi Arabia, provocation of NATO by Russia, and the inability of the U.S. to negotiate, are all limiting factors that drain the actual capital and political attention of free people.  

These factors can and will conjoin with other asymmetrical or “black swan” factors.  Unprecedented shifts in technological/electronic warfare as evidenced by the scale of the DDoS attack on the 20th of October, the downward pressure on the European economies and controversial monetary policy worldwide will exacerbate problems. Any contemplation of the previous issues, the influx of big data sources, hyper-connected markets, and the tenuous grasp sovereigns necessitate action.

A Blast from the Past

In the bipolar world of two Superpowers, the challenge was easier--to use familiar language--the Russians presented "clear and present " danger and in a pronounced way that came to a head in the 1980's. The biggest challenge we as a species have today is that of a multipolar world that to many, lacks any semblance of coherency.  To be concise, we must make more sense of the world and to one another, unless we are prepared to navigate complexity indefinitely, and without a course.

As made apparent by the vulgarity of the American election, politics is a palpable obstacle, rather than a tool to cut through the multiple and complex layers of nation-state governance towards consensus-building. As business leaders, we are affected by and must respond to global trends, not only the consumption and demand bias of the hyper-connected world in which we now live but also the needs of some seven billion people on earth who will be affected individually by global unrest. The answer to the geopolitical turmoil of the scale we are presently experiencing involves such a level of sophisticated analysis so strange to our normative form of thought, and so important to an analysis of our international environment that one cannot compress answers into single brief message without yielding to a dangerous degree of over-simplification.

For those astute enough to glean policy points from the mess that is the American media, most assume that the President supports a war against North Korea. The difference is one in the scale alone. Donald Trump, despite his extremism and blatant stupidity, is more of an isolationist whom many thought would likely attempt to broker a peace (albeit a weird one, with his counterpart Vladimir Putin-whom it is worth noting would make the former's head spin). On the other hand, he defeated the consummate insider Hillary Clinton, who was allegedly more willing to risk more on a "big war" that reconsolidates US supremacy in the face of China's reticence. Most analysts agree that current GDP to private rates of debt is unsustainable and that monetary policy innovation has now run dry, that the world is due to face a new financial crisis in 2017-2018, which the threat of war may be even more imminent than we currently suspect.

In reality, the signs are puzzling.

Moscow has been pursuing a defensive policy over the past 16 years, hence the adage of the "sleeping bear."  Even now, when “the Russians are (seemingly) coming,” an independent observer would probably notice that the lion’s share of the activities of Moscow is reactive rather than proactive. The Kremlin enjoys petty provocations from time to time (like ongoing incidents in the air over the Baltic Sea), but is quite cautious in undertaking any serious action, which would require the use of force and lead to real casualties. Even when Turkey shot down the Russian plane along the Syrian border, there was practically no military response and, on the contrary, it all ended up with a new friendship with Ankara.

Moscow is now fond of “asymmetric measures,” and they do not leave any room for substantially armed clashes. Russian President Vladimir Putin is fond of his status as the victim of Western pressure and the image of the global peace supporter. It is not in his interests to start a war – he would rather wait for the Western “attack” and would not necessarily give it an immediate response, to get the proper media effect.

Maskirovka 2.0

It is a well-known fact that the Russian military engages in propagandist deception and psychological warfare known as Maskirovka (Маскировка) going as far back as the beginning of the twentieth century. 

Maskirovka includes deceptive measures include concealment, imitation with decoys and dummies, manoeuvres intended to deceive, denial, and disinformation. Maskirovka includes strategic, political, and diplomatic means including manipulation of "the facts," situation and perceptions to affect the media and public/world opinion, to achieve or facilitate tactical, strategic, national and international goals.  Maskirovka campaigns include denial and deception operations in the Cuban missile crisis, the Prague Spring, the annexation of Crimea and a host of misinformation campaigns regarding the actual possibility of a nuclear exchange with the US.

The Russians are also wisely fond of collecting sympathy and fanning anti-American sentiment under the guise of being a support of global peace.

Russia has also simultaneously cautioned the US and the press-notably Sergey Lavrov's meeting with John Kerry and following an interview with CNN's Christine taken related American "impudence," where the minister stated somewhat matter of fact manner that tension could mount to “nuclear dimensions.”

Recently on a popular Russian television show, the host, Evgeny Kiselyov, described how three Russian missile frigates this week had sailed toward Syria to head off potential U.S. airstrikes against Syrian military targets. Spent 40 minutes taking viewers through a panoply of possible nuclear options Russia possesses if the United States were to intervene too strongly in Syria.

"Incidentally," Kiselyov cryptically informed his audience, the ships missiles also [come] in a nuclear version. Which version is aboard our missile frigates right now isn't known.”

Last year Russia also held a large-scale civil defence drill across the country, meant to prepare people for disasters, among them nuclear catastrophe. The exercise, which Russian authorities claimed affected 40 million inhabitants, and particularly the way it was presented on state television, resembled Soviet-era practices, with scenes of schoolchildren flooding out in evacuations and being taught to pull on gas masks hurriedly. The military simulated that scenario during a massive exercise in southern Russia. Russia’s defence ministry has announced how the country would function in time of war, clarifying which government bodies would take command. The answer was that the State would take control of governor’s offices, local administrations, and the police.

Russia deployed nuclear-capable missiles to Kaliningrad, its northern European enclave between Poland and Lithuania that put the weapons within striking distance of Western capitals. Moscow has threatened before to deploy the Iskander-M missiles to Kaliningrad, in response, it says, to the establishment of the U.S. anti-missile shield being erected in Romania.

Analysts suggest that Putin wants to this movement to play it as part of the broader sabre-rattling display in the confrontation with Syria. Russia also conducted a series of intercontinental ballistic missile tests this week, launching three rockets in a single day. Two of the nuclear-capable missiles were launched from submarines off Russia’s Pacific coast; the third was fired from a land-based launch pad, RIA Novosti reported. Despite all of this--inevitably astute Russian observers find seams. In the NTV report warning people to identify their nearest fallout shelter, the presenter interviewed a retired colonel "showing several possible scenarios of the catastrophe" on a map. The “plan” turned out to a screenshot of a U.S. video game based on nuclear conflict.

Hurry, Places are limited.

Reports from Moscow tell us that today's Russians are not as naive as their parents. A photo shared on social media turned out to be the handiwork of enterprising fraudsters who posted a flier asking residents to donate cash to build a neighbourhood bomb shelter.

What deductions do these developments lead us to believe about Russian policy?

(a) Everything being done is purposefully geared to advance the relative decline of Western influence, and at the same time, position Russia as a victim US aggression. The reader will recall that Obama tartly referred to Russia as a "regional power," (site) which was nice. Now, every opportunity will be used to projects strength and influence, collectively against the West.

(b) Russian propagandist efforts will be towards deepening and exploiting of differences and conflicts between capitalist powers. Though the rhetoric of "imperialist" war makers is gone, the weakening of NATO countries and alliances serves as evidence the power of the West is in serious decline.

By and large, most westerners either have no knowledge whatsoever of their Russian counterparts or are under the false impression that the Russians must "like us," which is naive.  No longer friendly to outside world, nor eager for an experience of it, Americans are interested in securing a false peace in which to enjoy not the fruits of their labour, and the whimsy of their consumerism.  Across the Pacific, China brokers a "peaceful and mutually profitable coexistence of capitalist and socialist states" is entirely possible because of the contagion of consumption. Conflict in advanced countries does not arise out directly of capitalist ownership of means of production but rather from the effects of financial repression, advanced urbanism, migration and increasing nationalism as discussed above. In other words, chaos is sewn into the lives of those not able to participate in the economic paradigms.

According to Kennan, Russia’s success was thwarted economically by their backwardness. He was correct. In comparison, internal rivalries in capitalism do not result in wars, whereas internal strife amongst the Russians has allegedly caused factionalism between the KGB and newly formed? We are all but certain that they played a part in intervening in US elections.

What does this indicate? It suggests that current Russian meddling has little to do with conditions outside of Russia and that this new political dimensionality arises mainly from basic Inner-Russian necessities which existed before the Cold War and continue to live today. In other words, the Russians are still struggling economically (data), and their elaborate machinations and meddling is nothing but a con.

Putin's neurotic view of world affairs is traditional and instinctive Russian sense of insecurity. Originally, this was insecurity of a peaceful agricultural people trying to live on vast exposed plain in the neighbourhood of fierce nomadic peoples. To this was added, as Russia came into contact with economically advanced West, fear of more competent, more powerful, more highly organized societies in that area.

*Putin has seized on this insecurity and invariably used his rule to continue the psychological foundation of communist rule--the era that shaped him.  The Russians are unable to stand comparison or contact with political systems of Western countries.

For this reason, Kennan believed that the Russia feared foreign penetration, feared direct contact between the Western world and their own, feared what would happen if Russians learned the truth about the world without or if foreigners learned a truth about the world within. Moreover, they have come to seek security only in patient but deadly struggle for the destruction of rival power, never in compacts and compromises with it.

Like America--Russia is the gigantic island unto itself, mostly isolated to the outside world by sheer size.  Marxism smouldered ineffectively for half a century in Western Europe before blazing in Russia. Only in this land which had never known a friendly neighbour or indeed any tolerant equilibrium of separate powers, either internal or international, could a doctrine thrive which viewed economic conflicts of society as insoluble by peaceful means.

In the last year's news cycle, Putin, Trump, May, and Duterte all represent a perfect vehicle for a sense of insecurity and justification for an instinctive fear of outside world. From Trumps unabashed conspiracy-laden campaign to Putin’s dictatorship, to the bellicosity of Duterte' threats to abandon US alliances to cruelties inflicted in the Crimea to demand moral and intellectual respectability from the West.

Putin is driven the necessities of his past and present position to put forward which [apparent omission] outside world as evil, hostile and menacing, but as bearing within itself germs of creeping disease and destined to be wracked with growing internal convulsions until it is given final Coup de grace by rising power of socialism and yields to new and better world. This thesis justifies that increase of military and police power of Russian state, for that isolation of Russian population from outside world, and for that fluid and constant pressure to extend limits of Russian police power which are together the natural and instinctive urges of Russian rulers.

This is only the steady advance of uneasy Russian nationalism, a centuries old movement in which conceptions of offense and defence are inextricably confused. But it competes now with democracy in the new guise of globalism, with its “honeyed promises”, and police actions. It’s interventions and innovations. Both are more dangerous and insidious than ever before. The Russians long for a recapitulation of their imperial history, and the American, in a very “American” way, wish to assert an exceptionalism they no longer possess.

On the Russian side, Putin rightly argues that before Perestroika, the Party line was necessarily disingenuous and insincere. I am not sure if Putin’s quasi-czarist regime is an improvement. Meanwhile, a horrendously vast majority of Americans are ignorant of outside world and mentally too dependent on consumerist propaganda to question their self-hypnotism. What they find is comforting and convenient—even the things that they were naught to believe just ten years ago. Trump’s discourse is conspiracy-laden and often moronic. We are left with tithe mystery as to who, if anyone, in this world receives accurate and unbiased information. In an atmosphere of secretiveness and conspiracy which pervades the media and spooks the people, possibilities for distorting or poisoning sources and currents of information are infinite . The traditional sources of morality and objective truth, the family, the church, the government are all now distrusted--indeed, disbelief in the existence of any objectivity--leads people to view all stated facts as instruments for furtherance of one ulterior purpose or another.

What we encounter as contemporary citizens are that governance and power is engineered by corruption, and lives as “a conspiracy within a conspiracy,” to again quote Kennan. The vast majority of humans who are in the developed world are either reluctant or too apathetic even to consider an objective picture of outside world.