Streetwise Professor

August 31, 2008

Propaganda? Projection? Played?

Filed under: Uncategorized — The Professor @ 8:40 am

Putin recently claimed that the Russo-Georgian War was the result of a conspiracy to elect John McCain.

I really doubt that he actually believes this. It is more likely propaganda, an attempt to redirect blame and criticism. I imagine that Putin is somewhat surprised at the intensity of the blowback (although it’s mostly talk and very little action), and thinks that he can play into widespread anti-American sentiment by attempting to shift blame in our direction. Whatever.

But perhaps he does believe it. I could readily imagine a KGB guy thinking “That’s what I’d do” and projecting his own beliefs and motivations on the devilish Americans.

Regardless of his true beliefs, it is still something of a surprise that he would make this claim personally. For isn’t this an admission that he was played by the Americans? That they manipulated the judo master into an action that was in their interests, not his, or his country’s? Now he might say that the US pulled Saakashvili’s strings, but even so, what compelled Putin and Russia to react? Didn’t we effectively pull his strings as well by exploiting his well-known rage at Georgia and Saakashvili?

The eeeevil plan would succeed only if Russia responded to Georgian actions in a way that raised the specter of a new Cold War, to the benefit of the candidate with stronger national security credentials. For Putin’s argument to make any sense, the cabal planning this elaborate conspiracy would have to count on Russia to take the bait and smash into Georgia, meaning that Putin was used, played, to advance the interests of an anti-Russian candidate; that he acted exactly as his enemies thought he would. That’s not something I would admit to even if it were true–but especially if it weren’t.

August 30, 2008

Property Rights Economics 101

Filed under: Economics,Energy,Russia — The Professor @ 9:52 am

An article on the McClatchy wire states that the Russian oil industry is facing a dire future due to “the practice of reaping quick profits and ignoring long-term interests.” This is no big surprise to those who understand the effects of insecure property rights on the incentives to (a) invest in specific assets, and (b) take as much as you can grab today because it may not be yours tomorrow. There are few assets more specific than an oil well. If you invest wisely today to maximize the present value of the well’s future output, that does you no good if you’re not around to claim those future flows (because, for instance, you’re rotting in a jail in Chita.) So, to hell with the future–maximize what you can produce today, even though that impairs the well’s long run value.

This is somewhat ironic because in the early days of the oil boom, the property rights regime in the US favored accelerated depletion of wells due to its failure to address the common pool problem, whereas Tsarist Russia encouraged a longer view. This was reflected, in part, by the far larger number of wells drilled in the US to produce a given amount of oil. In the US, competing producers (including wildcatters) drilled wells to get the oil from a given pool before somebody else did. This wasteful competition was attenuated in Russia.

Short-termism is clearly an important–and arguably the dominant–source of friction between BP and its Russian partners in BP-TNK. The Russians want to maximize current cash flows, BP wants to take a longer view. This short-termism is also likely an important cause of the relatively low rate of fixed investment in Russia. And this short-termism is a direct result of the insecurity of property in Russia. The constant threats of state expropriation and corporate raiding a la Russe will continue to impede Russian economic growth.

The contrast with China is of some interest. Formal property rights are absent in China too, but China’s rulers act more like “stationary bandits” (in Mancur Olson’s felicitous phrase) with an “encompassing” interest in the long run health of the nation’s economy. They apparently figure they have a high probability of being around for awhile, and therefore temper their short term exactions in order to enhance their future take. Thus, property rights are informally protected and relatively secure (by comparison to the Chinese past and Russia, but not to the US.)

Russia’s rulers, by contrast, act like Olson’s “roving bandits.” Apparently insecure in their future prospects, they lean towards taking today and letting the future take care of itself. The Putinists probably have a longer view than the pirates of the 90s, but they clearly have shorter time horizons than their Chinese counterparts. In an environment where competing clans vie for control, this is probably a rational view. My clan may control asset X today, but who is to say that the competing clan may not seize it tomorrow? So rather than enhance X’s future potential, grab as much as I can from it today.

Throwing Cold Water on New Cold War Skeptics

Filed under: Military,Politics,Russia — The Professor @ 9:22 am

There seems to be more than a little whistling past the graveyard in the mantra of those who deny that a new Cold War is in the offing. The most common distinction drawn between then and now is that Cold War I was an ideological struggle, and that this ideological element is missing in the Yet-to-Be-Named-War. There are two objections to this reasoning. First, the ideological component of Cold War I is likely overstated. Second, the ideological dimension of the current contest between Russia on the one hand, the US, Eastern Europe, and even if they don’t believe it yet, Western Europe on the other, is often understated.

Even at the height of Cold War I, there were prominent voices who argued that Soviet actions were driven more by traditional Russian (nay, Muscovite) imperatives than Marxism-Leninism. Prominent among those were George Kennan, who claimed that Bolshevism had merely restored:

The spirit and practices of the Grand Duchy of Muscovy: the defiant, xenophobic sense of religious orthodoxy, the breakdown of communication with the West, the messianic dreams of Moscow as the Third Rome, the terrible punishments, and the sultry, intrigue-laden air of the chambers of the Kremlin.

Moreover, Kennan argued that “traits were indeed becoming visible in old Muscovy that were destined later to play an important part in the psychological composition of Soviet power.” Traits that included:

A tendency to a messianic concept of Russia’s role in history; an intolerance of foreign outlooks and values; a pronounced xenophobia of Russian officialdom; an insistence on isolating the Russian people from foreign contacts; a secretiveness and deviousness of diplomatic practice; a seeming inability to understand anything in the nature of a permanently peaceful and equal relationship between states; a tendency to view every treaty of peace as being in the nature of a provisional armistice; a tendency to think of conflict as normal, peace as the provisional and abnormal.

Sounds eerily familiar, doesn’t it, boys and girls?

Kennan and other observers of Russia considered its actions as broadly a continuation of a deep historical trend stretching back to the days of the Mongol Yoke. The words and rationalizations were Marxist-Leninist tropes, but the fundamental motivations were as old as Muscovy.

Viewed in this light, Putinism, especially in its revanchist turn, is of a piece with the Soviet imperialism, which, in turn, was a piece with its Muscovite and Imperial predecessors. Ideology is a gloss. Not the essence. Thus, in the lack of a lack of unifying revolutionary ideology is cold comfort indeed. In its essentials, Russian motivations and Soviet motivations were the same. If there was a Cold War then, a Cold War is developing now.

Moreover, there is an ideological component to both current Russian and Western (especially American) thinking. In Russia, there are a variety of nationalist strains of thought that are very attractive to the populace at large, and to many in the leadership (although the latter’s affinity for them may be more pragmatic–which may also be a parallel with Soviet times.) One of the most notable of these is Eurasianism, or perhaps more properly, Neoeurasianism (to distinguish it from its interwar predecessor.) Neoeurasianism is built on a Russian exceptionalist world view; claims that Russians (and “Eurasians” more generally, which include Germans and Chinese and myriad others in some versions of the theory) are more spiritual and communitarian than the materialist, individualist “Atlantans” or “Oceanists” ; predicts a struggle for world domination between the Eurasians and the Atlanticists (or, as they also phrase it , between “tellurocracy” and “talassocracy”); argues that the United States is attempting to isolate Russia; and is profoundly anti-liberal.

One can see many elements of this philosophy in the statements of Putin, Medvedev, and Kremlin ideologists. Moreover, some recent policy proposals, notably Medvedev’s proposal to create a “new security architecture” in Europe that would cleave the Continent from America, and possibly Great Britain as well, has been advocated for more than a decade by prominent Neoeurasianists, such as Aleksandr Dugin.

It could be argued that the new ideology is different than the old in that Marxism-Leninism was universalist, and Neoeurasianism is not. This distinction should not be overdrawn, however. The anti-liberal, anti-globalist, anti-American core of Neoeurasianism is potentially exportable, just as Marxism-Leninism was. There are many anti-liberal, anti-globalist, anti-American elements around the world–even outside of Eurasia (e.g., Chavez’s Venezuela, Morales’s Bolivia, Middle Eastern and African authoritarian states.) Eurasianism won’t sell in the US (outside of the nutroots left who share its anti-globalism and anti-liberalism), but Marxism-Leninism never got traction here either.

Ideological considerations also influence the West, and in particular the US.   Those who argue that   promoting democracy, free trade, and liberal values should be a policy objective are taking an ideological position.   Indeed, paleocons who criticize American policy, many of whom support Russian actions in Georgia, criticize the ideological bent of American policy.

In brief, ideological competition was arguably only a secondary or tertiary factor driving the Cold War.   Moreover, ideological considerations are different today than in the 1945-1991 period, but they are not absent altogether.   Thus, the oft-cited difference between today’s contest between Moscow and Washington and Cold War I is no reason to believe that Cold War II has not begun, or may begin soon.   Great Power imperatives and historical Russian traits were arguably more important than ideology in driving Cold War I, and these factors are present today, and ideological differences also divide Russia from the US.

Loath as many are to admit it, the Cold War has returned, and the absence of the Marxist-Leninist vs. Liberal Capitalist divide doesn’t mean it hasn’t.

Some Perspective

Filed under: Military,Russia — The Professor @ 3:48 am

Until March, 2007 the United States Army’s 82nd Airborne Division was the country’s Rapid Reaction Force; it has since been supplanted in this roll by the 101st Air Assault Division.

The Rapid Reaction force consists of a single brigade (about 3,300 men) that is able to “to begin flying anywhere in the world in 18 hours.” Begin flying. Not to get there–just to start the trip.   The brigade is always at a high degree of readiness, and trains assiduously to be able to begin its trip to its destination in some global hotspot in 18 hours. This is, moreover, a light force with no armored vehicles. It was somewhat cynically referred to as a “speed bump” because its lack of combat power made it no match for a determined attacking force with armor. In the first Gulf War, US commanders sweat bullets after the RRF was dispatched to Saudi Arabia because they feared if Saddam had continued his advance he would have rolled over the 82nd’s brigade in short order.

It is acknowledged even by defenders of the Russian incursion into South Ossetia that heavy elements of a Russian division traversed a single-lane mountain road including a stretch through a 5 kilometer long tunnel and reached the front in Tskhinvali no more than 18 hours after the initial Georgian shelling of that town.

18 hours. The same time it takes for one of the elite units of the US Army, a light unit, to get ready to move. I say again: there is no ‘effin way the Russian armor reached Tskhinvali within 18 hours after the commencement of the action unless (a) it had been preparing to move for days prior to 8 August, and (b) it had begun its movement well before the Georgian bombardment began.

August 29, 2008

Chronologies II

Filed under: Military,Politics,Russia — The Professor @ 8:30 am

The dueling chronologies of the R-G war come down in their essence to whether the Georgian attack on Tskhinvali on 7/8 August was a response to intelligence that Russia had started moving troops and armor to–and perhaps had already moved through–the Roki Tunnel. Saakashvili says:

“I got a call from the minister of defense that Russian tanks, some 200, were massing to enter Tskhinvali from North Ossetia,” Mr. Saakashvili told me. “I ignored it at first, but reports kept coming in that they had begun to move forward. In fact, they had mobilized reserves several days ahead of time.”

[The Financial Times and others have cast doubt on this assertion, based solely on the fact that the Georgian chief of peacekeeping failed to mention this detail (but remember absence of a statement is not a statement of an absence’-). However, US Undersecretary of State Matt Byrza has stated in an email to the FT that he had been told this by the Georgian leadership on the 7th and 8th, i.e., as events were unwinding.]

Other sources claim that the Russians did not begin their march into the Roki Tunnel until after the Georgians had begun their assault on Tskhinvali. But even this source–who is obviously pro-Russian, and evidently has connections with the Russian military if his assertions based on “captured Georgian plans and maps” are correct–admits the following:

Prior to August 8 . . . . the Russians, not being blind, moved five battalions from the 19th Motor Rifle Division closer to the Russian entrance of the Rok Tunnel, and placed the remainder of the 58th Army on yellow alert. Apparently, several other Russian units were activated at this time, namely the two ethnic Chechen battalions (“East” and “West”) and certain air assault formations. In addition, about half of Russia’s Black Sea Fleet, having recently conducted maneuvers off the Abkhazian and Russian coastlines, remained in the area, within a few hours of the Georgian ports.

What were these unit activations and movements prior to 8 August a response to?

Moreover, the pre-August 8 movements are consistent with Saakashvili’s statement that Russian tanks were preparing to move from North Ossetia into Georgia. In addition, the FT article linked above quotes Russian soldiers stating that

“they were on the road to South Ossetia long before the afternoon of August 8, and some said they were crossing the border into Georgia in the early hours of the morning. One foot-soldier with the 58th army division [sic] . . . said they headed from their base towards the Roki tunnel at 2am on August 8.

A colonel from the 58th division [sic] . . . says “We were called to react to alarm on the night of the 7th. There was such an escalation of events that I cannot remember exactly when we entered the tunnel.

It would have taken hours to get a significant armored force marshaled even to enter the Tunnel. Thus, even if the van of the Russian force entered the Tunnel at 2 AM, it must have assembled hours–and perhaps days–before that. Moreover, movements through defiles are painfully slow. (For an excellent quantitative analysis of this, see Donald Engel’s Alexander the Great and the Logistics of the Macedonian Army, especially his descriptions of the march through the Syrian Gates before Issus, and the passage of the Hindu Kush.) This is especially true with tracked vehicles, some of which broke down (according to Felgenhaur) and on a road crammed with refugees. (If the road was NOT crammed with refugees–then the movement must have occurred BEFORE the Georgian bombardment.) In my view, there is no way that the 58th Army could have arrived anywhere near Tskhinvali at any time on the 8th of August unless they were already on the move on the 7th–or before. This is consistent with Saakashvili’s and Byrza’s statements. Note too that even the pro-Russian anonymous source states: “The conflict began some time after midnight on August 8. The Georgians claim that they crossed into South Ossetia in response to an Ossetian attack; even if this had been the case, then the massed Georgian forces had been waiting for just such an opportunity – given their carefully prepared plans (see below). ” There is no way the Russians could have been moving in response to a Georgian attack if the conflict began “after midnight on August 8” (and by the beginning of the conflict he means the Georgian assault on Tskhinvali).

There is one ambiguity in the pro-Georgian (Totten) and pro-Russian (anonymous) chronologies. Where did the Georgian heavy forces come from? The anonymous pro-Russian commentator writes: “Prior to August 8, the Georgians moved two combat brigades with perhaps half the republic’s total number of tanks and IFVs, and what looks to be most of their artillery (certainly all of their MRLS systems) up from Gori and towards the gorge that led to Tskhinvali.” In contrast, Totten’s source states:

On the 6th, while this is going on, the integration minister who was until a few months ago an NGO guy and who believes in soft power things, tried to go there and meet the separatist leadership. The meeting doesn’t happen for farcical reasons. The shelling intensifies during the night and there is, again, tit for tat, but this time with weapons coming from the South Ossetian side which are not allowed under the agreement. By that time, the Georgians were seriously worried. All their armor that was near Abkhazia starts moving, but they are tanks, they don’t have tank transporters, so they move slowly. They don’t make it back in time.

Thus in one version, the troops are moving “from Gori” at some (indefinite) time “prior to 8 August.” In the other, they are moving from Abkhazia on the 6th. Perhaps this can be reconciled as follows: the troops moved from Abkhazia on the 6th, proceeding through Gori and then north on the 7th. Importantly, in the Totten account, this movement occurred in response to a series of Ossetian escalations in the days beginning 1 August.

The anonymous chronologist’s account contains an important detail that relates to my earlier post. Specifically, he blames the Georgian’s failure on inept planning (“brilliance” is meant sarcastically):

Problem 2. The plan’s sheer brilliance.Let’s see. Time is of the essence. Speed is of the utmost importance. So let’s send the main thrust of our attack straight into the enemy’s main city.

Let me rephrase that. Let’s ignore the fact that said city can be relatively easily bypassed and blasted to bits by tanks and artillery deployed on the heights around it. No. Let’s go straight into the damn place. And actually capture every square inch of it. In about 5-6 hours.

You know, back during World War 2, the Russians learned very well the place of cities in strategic and operational warfare; speed traps. Actually storming one cost a lot of time and blood, while bypassing one and racing into the enemy’s operational rear usually meant that a given garrison would be compelled to flee of its own volition. The Germans trying to physically capture Stalingrad, just as the Russians storming Kiev, Koenigsberg or Berlin, resulted in a total exhaustion of the besiegers; while bypassing all those cities and towns in Belorussia during the June 1944 Soviet offensive meant that the Germans barely had the time to abandon their heavy equipment and race to the rear; similar to what the Germans did to the Russians in June of 1941, before they bogged down in reducing centers of Soviet resistance.

Not that this means that there are no times in war when sieges and clearing operations need to be conducted – preferably by the second-echelon troops with ample artillery support (while the first echelon continues to mangle the enemy’s operational depths). Yet in this case, speed was the key to the Georgian plan – Ossetia had to be defeated within scant hours, the road north cut and the Rok Tunnel sealed off, with nothing for anyone else to do other than bemoan the Georgian Blitzkrieg.

Ah. But instead, we’re going to send our main column into an urban battle, granted, inside a town of 20,000 rather than a large city like Stalingrad. Still, narrow streets are bottlenecks and deathtraps to armored vehicles no matter what the scale.
Absolutely brilliant.

Problem 2.5 – the brilliance continues.

On top of everything said above, the Georgians also had to devise a way of dealing with the 500 Russian peacekeepers deployed in South Ossetia. So what did they decide? Bypass and isolate? No no – surround and assault! Presumably hoping that only a portion of a single combat brigade would suffice to overrun a full battalion of albeit lightly-armed (assault rifles, machine-guns, a few RPGs, a couple of BMP IFVs) peacekeepers while the rest of the force could proceed to subjugate South Ossetia while sticking to the Brilliant Master Plan’s schedule.

Problem 3.

Absolutely no margin of error assuming a scintilla of intelligence on the side of the Russians. For, you see, any delay in the Grand Plan of Ossetian Subjugation meant that the Russians could (and did) race down the road from the Rok Tunnel and turn a would-be “fait accompli” into an actual slugfest. See Problems 1 and 2 above for potential sources of said delays.

If, in fact, the Georgians initiated the fight, their failure to seal the Roki Tunnel, and to bypass Tskhinvali, would have been a criminal blunder that not even a rank amateur would have committed. And in the end, that’s the key aspect of the analysis.

I doubt that the Russians could have arrived at any time on the 8th unless they had initiated their march through Roki some time on the 7th. Even overlooking that, however, if the Georgians were initiating the attack, rather than reacting to a Russian advance, it is hard to believe that the Roki Tunnel would not have been their first objective, and that they would have not initially bypassed Tskhinvali in an attempt to block Roki with heavy forces rather than merely attempting to interdict the route with fires and a forlorn hope paratrooper attack. On the other hand, a helter-skelter assault on Tskhinvali, a suicide attack on the Tunnel, and a desperate attempt to block the road with indirect fires is perfectly consistent with an improvised response to an unexpected Russian move to and through Roki. That is, the Georgian actions are consistent with Saakashvili’s assertion that they moved only when they had detected a Russian advance from North Ossetia. Only by positing criminal stupidity on the part of the Georgian command could one claim that their actions were the result of a PLAN to seize South Ossetia. The anonymous Russian defender must–MUST–posit such idiocy in order to hold his entire narrative together. His timeline makes no sense otherwise. This leads me to discount his account.

Add to this the fact that the Russian Black Sea fleet–which seldom ventures from Sevastopol–just happened to be on maneuvers off the coast of Abkhazia when the Georgians just happened to invade; the apparent fact that Russia had repositioned various air strike groups to the region in July; the recent completion of maneuvers by the 58th Army just days before; the escalating provocations by the South Ossetians; the clearly systematic effort by the Russians and their separatist allies to blind Georgian intelligence by taking out its UAVs; the sudden shift of tensions from Abkhazia to South Ossetia (consistent with the execution of a feint to distract attention from the intended point of attack–which had the advantage of threatening the Georgian capital much more quickly than an attack from Abkhazia); the reports that Russian journalists were primed and ready and on location to cover the story; and, let’s not forget, Russia’s relatively recent withdrawal from the CFE Treaty (freeing its hands to move forces to the Caucasus flank); it is very difficult to draw any other conclusion that the invasion was long planned.

In sum, (a) the logistical and operational challenges of moving a large armored force through a defile on a single road rapidly enough to arrive any time on 8 August (which is not in dispute), and (b) the necessity of positing complete incompetence–and I mean utter, abject, gobsmacking incompetence–to explain away the Georgian’s failure to strike hard and fast for the Roki Tunnel tells me that Saakashvili’s explanation is most likely to be true. Specifically, he launched an improvised attack in response to intelligence of a Russian movement through the Roki Tunnel that began hours before the first Georgian Grad fell on Tskhinvali. The attack failed. Indeed, it was almost doomed to failure. Add in the other evidence, including the FT quote from the Russian soldier, and the extensive evidence of a Russian operational plan coordinating the operations of naval, air, and ground assets as well as local irregular forces, and the only conclusions that makes sense are (a) that Russia’s attack was premeditated, and (b) that the assertions that Georgia started the conflict with its bombardment of Tskhinvali are wrong.

Unclear on the Concept

Filed under: Economics,Politics,Russia — The Professor @ 4:54 am

In its pique (or should I say rage) over US opposition to its invasion of Georgia, Russia is threatening to cut meat and poultry imports from America:

Russia’s agriculture minister said Moscow could cut poultry and pork import quotas by hundreds of thousands of tons, hitting American producers hard and thereby raising prices for American shoppers.

Er, ag ministry guy, reductions in American exports would arguably harm producers, at least in the short run, but this wouldn’t raise prices for AMERICAN shoppers. Let’s go through this slowly. Reduced import quotas would reduce the demand for American produce, which would REDUCE prices in the US. But reduced imports into Russia, or substitution of more costly or lower quality imports from non-US nations would INCREASE prices for RUSSIANS. Given the acute sensitivity of the inflation issue in Russia, this will hardly be popular, though perhaps in the short run the jingos in Russia will no doubt consider it a patriotic honor to pay higher prices for the benefit of spitting on the Americans. But, the fact that the government simultaneously announced its plans to spend an additional $4.1 billion on agriculture (presumably in the form of subsidies or payments to producers) also strongly suggests concerns about the sensitivity of the food price issue. So, one explanation is that the Russian government is trying to get a boost by thumbing its nose at Uncle Sam, but isn’t sufficiently convinced that this kick-the-dog response is sufficiently gratifying to overcome anger over higher food prices. It therefore devotes billions that could be spent on other things that Russia really needs, like, you know, AIDS medications, roads, etc., to cushion the effect on prices.

The article linked above doesn’t say whether Russia will raise import quotas from other countries to offset the effect of the cuts of the US TRQ (the acronym for the the Russian tariff quota program). If they don’t, Russian prices will definitely rise. If they do, Russian prices will rise somewhat as Russia will buy from less efficient (i.e., more costly) suppliers. But this will also mitigate the impact on American producers, as some sales diverted to Russia will be replaced by sales from America.

One thing for sure is that American consumer prices will not rise in the short run or the long run. In the short run, prices will fall more than in the long run, but long run American consumer prices will not rise.

But thanks for the thought!

August 28, 2008

Lawfare in the WaPo

Filed under: Economics,Military,Politics,Russia — The Professor @ 10:02 am

In the WaPo David Rivkin and Carlos Ramos-Mrosovsky (now that’s an interesting name) second the SWP recommendation that we “cry ‘havoc’ and let slip the dogs of accounting.” They write:

The shady cadre running modern Russia has embraced globalization. These “Chekist oligarchs” — to distinguish them from the Western-oriented robber barons who rose in the 1990s, only to be purged by Putin — increasingly dominate lists of the world’s richest individuals. They invest their ill-gotten wealth abroad and maintain opulent residences in London, Paris and the Cote d’Azur. They educate their children at Western universities and even collect Western sports teams.

These tycoons bankrolled Putin’s rise and are the medium by which he has consolidated control over Russia’s vast wealth. Putin and his cronies have used the levers of state power (including trumped-up prosecutions and official intimidation) to enrich themselves and crush rivals. Complex financial mechanisms — often involving major international financial institutions — are in place to launder vast sums for reinvestment abroad. Western banks seeking to profit and curry favor with Russia’s rulers have rushed to underwrite the dubious transactions used to place Russia’s natural resources under Kremlin control.

The oligarchy’s widespread corruption, disrespect for the rule of law and embrace of globalization make it a perfect target for Western “soft power.” Whenever they have jurisdiction to do so — which should be often — U.S. and E.U. regulators should examine the business transactions of people close to Putin’s regime for money laundering or for securities, tax and other economic irregularities. Asset tracing and long statutes of limitation should enable Western authorities to examine years’ worth of business activities. The U.S. Justice Department should aggressively prosecute any instances of Kremlin-connected market manipulation, fraud, tax evasion and money laundering that fall within its reach.

Sounds familiar–and sounds good.

We Blinked–Not Them

Filed under: Military,Politics,Russia — The Professor @ 9:56 am


The U.S. Embassy in Georgia had earlier said the Dallas was headed to the port city of Poti but then retracted the statement. A Georgian official said the port in Poti could have been mined by Russian forces.

Poti’s port reportedly suffered heavy damage from the Russian military. In addition, Russian troops have established checkpoints on the northern approach to the city, and a U.S. ship docking there could have been seen as a direct challenge.

Would be very interested in knowing what’s really going on here. Was the US Embassy talking through its . . . hat? Was it right that the Poti mission was planned, but something caused it to be scrubbed? If so, what? It would have been better not to have said anything than to declare that USCGC Dallas was headed for Poti and then do a Roseanne Rosannadanna-esque “Never mind.” That’s bush league–the question is whether it was Bush league.

In other navy-related FUBARS, apparently the Fernandez story based on a Wired story based on the McClatchey news service stating that the USS Dallas (SSN700-a Los Angeles class fast attack sub) is wrong. That boat is NOT in the Black Sea, having returned to its base in Groton, CT (where I spent this week 30 years ago–eek!) on 21 August. The Dallas had been in the Black Sea on maneuvers and port calls, but began its return to its home port prior to the outbreak of the war.

Nonetheless, it appears that the naval situation in the Black Sea is very tense. The Russians seem nervous as cats over the NATO naval presence there.

Oh, and BTW, re Russian assertions that “battleships” never deliver humanitarian aid–tell that to tsunami victims, and others the US Navy has saved over the years.

August 27, 2008


Filed under: Uncategorized — The Professor @ 4:51 am

Here are two very important sources of information regarding the timeline of the outbreak of the Russo-Georgian War. The first is from the intrepid Michael Totten. The most important aspects of Totten’s report are that (a) the Russians were debouching from the Roki Tunnel almost simultaneously with the commencement of the bombardment of Tskhinvali, and (b) the Georgians launched a desperate attack on a bridge south of the tunnel in an attempt to stall the Russian advance. Given the time to transit the Roki Tunnel, a long, single-lane road winding through the mountain, it is evident that the Russians had a rolling start. Moreover, the improvisational nature of the Georgian attack on the tunnel–which resulted in the deaths of the paratroopers sent on the mission–is consistent with Totten’s source’s assertion that the Georgians were improvising a response to a situation that they did not initiate but which was spiraling out of control. If the Georgian operation in Ossetia had been a planned effort to seize control of the province, step one would have been to seize or disable the entrance to the tunnel. Failure to do so would have been rank incompetence. Instead, from Totten’s description, the Georgians were responding to Ossetian attacks; in the middle of their response, they learned of the Russian advance, and ad libbed a Hail Mary play in an attempt to block the tunnel. They evidently inflict serious losses on the Russians, but didn’t have the combat power to stop them for long.

In my view, these events suggest the following: The Ossetians, in connivance with the Russians, dramatically escalated their aggressive actions against the Georgian troops/peacekeepers in the area surrounding Tskhinvali. The Georgians responded by desperately attempting to reshuffle units from the Abkhazian front–perceived as the more likely trouble spot. At the same time the Russians were moving through the Roki Tunnel–indeed, it is highly likely that their movement began simultaneously with the Georgian move at the latest, and probably before. The Georgians made their forlorn hope stab at the Roki Tunnel with their paratroopers, and tried to fight through Tskhinvali with their main force units in a vain attempt to shut the road before the Russians could deploy. They failed in Tskhinvali, and their forlorn hope was destroyed at Roki. The rest was a foregone conclusion.

If Totten’s timeline is correct, this was clearly a planned Russian invasion of long planning. An extended period of stoking tensions in Abkhazia to serve as a feint diverting attention from the site of their planned attack, drawing Georgian heavy units (such as they were) to that front. Maneuvers designed to put heavy units in place on the borders of Ossetia were carried out in late July. The infiltration of irregulars, followed soon after by a quantum escalation of violence in Ossetia. Nearly simultaneously with the Georgian response to this escalation, the Russian 58th Army moves before the Georgians can react. Every piece makes sense as part of a coherent operational plan. In contrast, the Georgian actions bear all the hallmarks of an ad hoc response to an unexpected escalation in hostilities.

It is very difficult to square this timeline with Russia’s characterization that they were responding extemporaneously to an unprovoked, genocidal attack by Saakashvilli. The Georgians were the ones extemporizing, the Russians the ones acting according to an operational plan. The evidence is that the Russians acted with premeditation, the Georgians without it. That speaks volumes on where the guilt lies.

The Washington Post presents a less detailed chronology that gives the Russians more of a benefit of the doubt than Totten’s, but which nonetheless supports important pieces of his reporting.

Omelette History

Filed under: Politics,Russia — The Professor @ 2:04 am

When asked about the excesses of Stalin’s Russia, despicable NY Times reporter Walter Duranty was wont to say “you can’t make an omelette with out breaking eggs.” Dmitri Minaev’s post on the new History of Russia 1900-1945 (a textbook for Russian secondary schools) demonstrates that Duranty’s apologia for Stalin has been embraced by the Russian educational establishment/Russian state. Dmitri posts a translation of an article on in Vremya, which I feel is worth quoting in full:

The following is the translation of some excerpts from the article in Vremya by Anatoly Bernshtein.

“The attention of the students should be concentrated on the explanation of the motives and logic behind the actions of the authorities”, write the authors. So, the book is basically the history of the authorities. Here are some uncommon ideas which my grandchildren will probably have to learn: Russia never lagged behind other countries, it only fell behind in the things that “were not a part of the Russian civilization, but borrowings from outside”. In 1914-1917 the Great Russian revolution, modeled after the Great French revolution, took place in Russia. The bolsheviks were guilty in the beginning of the Civil war, while the Whites “in a number of occasions represented a pro-fascist alternative to bolshevism, and had the chances to implement a nationalist model in the future”. The famine in the Soviet villages in 1920s-1930s was not a result of the actions of the Soviet state, but it “was caused both by outstanding weather conditions and by the incomplete collectivization”. The social structure built in the USSR by the end of the 1930s was no socialism or capitalism, but the industrial society. The pact of Molotov-Ribbentrop was a response to the Munich agreement. The entry of the Soviet troops to Poland was the liberation of Ukraine and Belorussia. The Winter war with Finland was won by the USSR who reached its goals. The USSR, probably, was preparing the preemptive war against Germany, but “Stalin assumed that he should wait for the concentration of the enemy’s army for aggression, to make the planned strike look as justified self-defense, but in the summer of 1941 such plan was not yet possible”. The initial defeats in the war were caused by strictly objective reasons. The mass deportations in the course of the war should be discussed with “special restraint and caution”.

An even more obvious task of the book is the justification of the mass repressions in the Stalin’s period. So, recognizing the fact of the mass executions of the Polish prisoners of war in Katyn by NKVD, the authors comment: “It was not only the matter of the political advisability, but also a response to the death of many thousands of Red army soldiers in the Polish prison after the 1920 war, which was initiated by Poland, not the Soviet Russia”.

While in the Soviet schoolbooks the mass repressions were either hushed up or presented as a distortion of the general policy of the communist party, this book tried to give “rational” explanations to the extermination of millions of people by the Soviet regime:

It is important to show the two components of this problem. The first one is an objective force. The resistance to the Stalin’s policy of accelerated modernization and his apprehension of losing control over the situation was the main cause of the “great terror”. Being the only political party, VKP(b) was also the only way of getting feedback for the leaders. At the end, under the influence of the growing oppositional attitude of the Soviet people the party became environment where various political and ideological groups and trends were formed, and was losing its integrity. For Stalin it was a threat of the loss of leadership and even physical elimination (as the results of the voting on the 17th congress of VKP(b) had shown). It was also a threat of the general political destabilization. The high activity of various emigrant organizations increased his apprehension. The usage of the “fifth columns” by external forces in other countries (Spain being the best example) was thoroughly studied by the Soviet leaders. Besides, Stalin had good reasons to consider the military leaders who started their career during the Civil war Trotsky’s adherers. Before the war, facing the choice between the competence and the loyalty, Stalins chose the loyalty of the army’s officership and bureaucracy in general. The negative attitude among the military leaders could not be neglected. It was especially important considering the threats of terrorism against the country’s leaders. The assassination of S.Kirov catalysed these processes. The ideas of the party’s right wing (Bukharin and others) were popular among the party functionaries and it was necessary to oppose them both ideologically and politically. Stalin did not know whence the strike will be blown and so he attacked all known ideological groups and all those who did not support him without reservation. The second component of the matter was subjective, it was explained by the dogmatism of the bolshevist ideology and the personality of Stalin himself.

Now, what conclusions do the authors make of all this?

So, it is important to show that Stalin acted in accordance with the historical situation, acted (as a manager) on a fully rational basis — as a protector of the system, a consistent proponent of the transformation of the country into a centrally managed industrial society, as the leader of the country staring in the face of a large war.

The rational terror, the authors write, was stopped as soon as Stalin understood that the integrity of the society is not threatened anymore. And then Lavrntiy Beriya, another effective manager, began yet another project: “The terror served the goals of the industrial development: NKVD organized planned arrests of engineers and specialists necessary to solve the defense problems and other tasks in Siberia and the Far East. Terror became a pragmatic tool to solve the economic problems.”

Understanding that the scales of the repressions cannot be explained by the logic of “rational management”, the authors propose to review the number of the repressed people: “It must be determined clearly who may be considered repressed. We think it would be correct to include in this number only those who were sentenced to death and executed”. By using this new formula, the authors refuse to recognize those who died in Gulag as victims of the repressions. This position contradicts the law of the Russian Federation “On the rehabilitation of the victims of political repressions”, adopted by the president of Russia on 18 October 1991, which defines the term “repressed” as including those who were deported and removed, deprived of citizenship, exiled and so on.

In brief, everything that Stalin did was rational, and therefore defensible. In other words, once you accept the premise behind–the objective of–a series of actions, as long as those actions are cognizable, rational means of achieving that objective, they are perfectly acceptable, regardless of the consequences. The objective is taken as a given, and immune from any question, or any challenge over whether the goal was worth the cost required to achieve it.

Rapid industrialization is a good thing, so it is worthwhile to incur any cost to achieve it. A single party state is threatened with political destabilization, so by all means genuflect to the decision to liquidate anybody who challenged the leadership, rather than question the wisdom of perpetuating such a state even when its defenders acknowledge that it was cut off from all feedback and inherently brittle.

In other words, once the decision to make the omelette has been made, the number of eggs required to cook it, the damage done to the kitchen, and the number of cooks killed and imprisoned in the preparation, are all irrelevant. And this is the view of history that is endorsed by the Putinists. Those who ignore the lessons of the history lessons are doomed to repeat them.

The Vremya article also reveals the mendacity of the authors of this screed–and their political patrons. One telling example–the Great Famine was the result of bad weather and–wait for it–incomplete collectivization! This is to turn reality on its head. Such a bizarre distortion is so egregious that it is difficult to recall anything as mendacious even from Soviet propaganda.

This isn’t about the past. History never is. It is about the present and the future too. This is just more evidence that the Putin system is a revisionist one, bent on undoing the consequences of the Cold War. Rehabilitation of Stalin and Stalinism, especially when done contemporaneously with the invasion of Georgia, makes it clear that Putin and his minions are hellbent for a trip back to the future.

One last comment. The uncritical attitude towards the maintained assumptions and goals of those in power displayed in the History of Russia 1900-1945 also permeates most of the apologia for Russia’s actions in Georgia. Russia desires to be a Great Power. It views the Near Abroad as its sphere of influence. Russia resents the loss of influence in the post-Soviet era. It seethes at the impudence of cheeky neighbors who until recently were in its thrall. So, anything that the US or the West does (such as expanding NATO, or building missile defenses in Poland or the Czech Republic or recognizing Kosovo’s indpendence or promoting democracy in Ukraine and Georgia) that offends these sensibilities and sensitivities justifies an aggressive Russian response. The invasion of Georgia is a rational response, you see, once you accept the Russian premises about their interests–and ignore any consideration of the interests of others who may be trampled on when the Russians pursue theirs. (See this article for an exemplar of this line of thought. I especially love the line about Poland being “Russia’s historical nemesis.” Since the Time of Troubles, the score has been pretty lopsided in the other direction, dontcha think, Gordon old buddy?)

This approach is purely amoral realpolitik and needs to be recognized as such.   Moreover, it is amoral reapolitik that defers obsequiously to the goals and interests of a kleptocratic regime–a regime, as the textbooks it endorses demonstrates, that worships power and force.   Sadly, playing realpolitik with a such a power usually turns out to be not that realistic in the end.

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