Streetwise Professor

October 8, 2021

That Putin, He’s a Gas*: Or, Gazputin Returns!

Filed under: Commodities,Energy,Politics,Russia — cpirrong @ 5:59 pm

Churchill called Russia “a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma.” Those following the natural gas market, particularly in Europe, during the Great Spike of 2021 have no doubt agreed wholeheartedly. What is Russia’s (specifically Gazprom’s) game? Why haven’t they increased sales/output to profit from the spike? Because they can’t due to output constraints? Or because China is outbidding Europe for supplies? Or because they need to build domestic stocks?

Or because they are deliberately withholding output for some strategic purpose, a la 2006?

Yesterday Putin unravelled the riddle/mystery/enigma quite a bit: it’s the latter.

Specifically, Putin said Russia would be more than happy to send Europe more gas. But, only via Nordstream 2, not via currently operating pipelines, through Ukraine in particular. Too expensive to send via Ukraine, you see.

Nordstream 2 was just completed, at the insistence primarily of chief Putin-Versteher, Angela Merkel (whose energy policies have been boneheaded from start to finish), and against the determined efforts of Trump and Congressional Republicans. Biden caved recently on the issue and, waived Trump-imposed sanctions, thereby allowing the completion of the pipeline.

But there are still major disagreements between the European Union and Gazprom regarding the pipeline so gas is not flowing yet. Specifically, the EU has ruled–and EU courts have agreed–that Gazprom must “unbundle.” That is, there must be a separation between control of pipeline capacity and ownership of the gas. Meaning that Gazprom must auction off its capacity on NS2:

The Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline is not exempt from European Union rules that require the owners of pipelines to be different from the suppliers of the gas that flows in them to ensure fair competition, a German court ruled on Wednesday.

The Duesseldorf Higher Regional Court rejected a challenge brought last year by the operators of the Gazprom-backed (GAZP.MM) project to carry gas from Russia to Germany under the Baltic Sea. They had argued the rules were discriminatory.

.

“Russia’s Gazprom will be forced to auction pipeline capacity, which could delay deliveries further,” said Refinitiv gas analyst Xun Peng.

EU rules require the companies that produce, transport and distribute gas within the bloc to be separate, or “unbundled”. They aim to ensure fair competition in the market and to prevent companies from possibly obstructing competitors’ access to infrastructure.

This means that the company transporting the gas must auction its capacity to third parties.

Gazputin no likey!

And now he has a desperate gas short, winter-dreading Europe by the balls.

Did you really think he would pass on an opportunity to squeeze?

So he’s squeezing. Hard. The threat is clear: if you want more gas, cave to me on unbundling.

“Nice little continent you have here. Shame if something happened to it. Like, you know, freeze.”

In other words, Putin is not the Riddler, or a mystery, or an enigma after all. He is just playing to type. Where type includes adding sanctimonious snark to sugarcoat his threat.

Putin hasn’t changed a bit. The circumstances have changed, and Putin, in his oft-proven opportunistic fashion, is playing the scorpion in Aesop’s fable the Frog and the Scorpion. “I couldn’t help it. It’s in my nature.” Gazputin is back, baby.

For precisely this reason the Europeans–and Merkel in particular–have no one to blame but themselves. They are the ones who put the scorpion on their backs. One would think this sting would be a lesson. But given how many times they’ve been stung in the past, and continued in their course, that will almost certainly not happen. So I for one am shedding no tears.

*The title is an homage to Chicago Bears great Gale Sayers, and his commercials for Cheker Gas stations, in which the closing line was always: “That Cheker, it’s a gas.”

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July 21, 2021

Travis Putin

Filed under: History,Military,Politics,Russia — cpirrong @ 1:28 pm

Vladimir Putin penned–or at least posted–a long disquisition about how Russia and Ukraine really, really, really belong together. They are meant for each other. They are one soul ripped apart in a great historical injustice.

The most charitable way I could characterize it is that it reminds me of Pepe LePew (Putin LePew?) trying to sweet talk a reluctant female feline into falling for his historical charms. But that would trivialize what is really a weird and creepy and threatening missive. More Travis Bickle than Pepe LePew.

Putin portrays Russia and Ukraine as being spiritually connected and wrongly separated by malign Western actors (the Lithuanians, Poles, and Austrians at one time, the EU and US today), and misguided Bolsheviks who dismembered Holy Russia. Thus, they belong together. They need to be together. They are a single soul separated by cruel fate, who need to be reunited. And Putin is just the man for the mission.

But this begs the question: why don’t Ukrainians feel the same way? If the historical and spiritual ties are so deep, so mystical, why aren’t most Ukrainians equally desperate to be reunited with their Russian soulmate?

Putin’s answer, such as it is, is that malign forces–again Western–are conspiring to keep them apart. They have bewitched Ukrainians, or somehow fascistically intimidated them (which seems like a clear case of projection). Moreover, the underlying Western purpose of separating Ukraine from its spiritual kin is to attack Russia itself. And thus, Russia is justified in using force to unite Ukraine and Russia–it is an act of self-defense!

Yes, Putin and Travis Bickle have a lot in common. The paranoia and obsessions and delusions in particular. Except Travis only had Smith & Wessons and Walthers, not tanks, Buks, and nukes.

Putin goes on and on about how history, over a thousand years of it, means that Ukraine and Russia are destined to be as one. This argument is apparently quite persuasive to him, but not to most Ukrainians. Nor is anyone else in the world likely to be persuaded. Such historical arguments–especially ones stretching back to well before the First Millennium–are almost never persuasive or even plausible to those not steeped in that history. What seems self-evident to Putin seems bizarre to anyone who does not already believe in the Third Rome view of history. And especially so to anyone who views Russia as a historically predatory, imperial power.

Which would include Poland. Yes, Poland attempted to exploit Russian (Muscovite, actually) weakness during the Time of Troubles, but examining the sweep of history one must conclude that Poland has been far more the victim of Russia than the victimizer thereof.

Poland comes in for much criticism from Putin, but look at the benign way that he characterizes Russian connivance at the dismemberment of Poland:

After the partitions of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, the Russian Empire regained the western Old Russian lands, with the exception of Galicia and Transcarpathia, which became part of the Austrian – and later Austro-Hungarian – Empire.

The partitions just happened, I guess. And for someone who emphasizes the importance of language and religion, it is striking how Putin somehow happens to overlook that the partitions brought in Polish-speaking Catholics into the Russian Empire when it “regained the western Old Russian lands.” I would love to hear historian Putin’s explanation of say the January 1863 insurrection in the Polish parts of “Old Russian lands.” Somehow he left that out. Huh.

Indeed, reading this, I would say that not only Ukrainians should be put on notice as to Putin’s ill intent: Poles should be as well.

Another example of Putin’s selective history:

I would like to dwell on the destiny of Carpathian Ruthenia, which became part of Czechoslovakia following the breakup of Austria-Hungary. Rusins made up a considerable share of local population. While this is hardly mentioned any longer, after the liberation of Transcarpathia by Soviet troops the congress of the Orthodox population of the region voted for the inclusion of Carpathian Ruthenia in the RSFSR or, as a separate Carpathian republic, in the USSR proper. Yet the choice of people was ignored. In summer 1945, the historical act of the reunification of Carpathian Ukraine ”with its ancient motherland, Ukraine“ – as The Pravda newspaper put it – was announced.

Yes, elections held in the presence of Soviet tanks and bayonets and NKVD executioners are clearly an expression of the will of the people.

And if we want to go all historical, it is also sickly amusing that Putin’s tract was published 550 years to the month after Muscovy won a decisive victory that culminated it its subjugation of Novgorod the Great, which sort of harshes the entire image of the deep fraternal, linguistic, historical, and spiritual bonds between Russian peoples.

The question is whether Putin intends to reprise Ivan III, this time in Ukraine. The threatening tone surely suggests this. He gives the impression of trying to persuade Ukraine to embrace Russia willingly. But he is abundantly clear that should his advance be rejected, it is due to the fact that the country is ruled by local stooges of malign Western powers who threaten Russia, hence reunification may only be accomplished by force, which is (according to him) fully justified and which he is willing to use.

Empty threat or real? It would be unwise to discount it. Operationally and logistically, it would be difficult, and would likely result in a stalemate and vicious guerrilla warfare (as occurred in the aftermath of World War I during the Russian Civil War, and in the aftermath of WWII) that could well stop any Russian drive well before it reached Kiev/Kyiv. It would sharply increase tensions between Russia and the West, far more than the Crimean anschluss did. Poland and the Baltics–Nato members–would clearly consider such an invasion a mortal threat. This sharply raises the odds of a Russia-Nato confrontation.

But despite these obstacles and risks, Putin is clearly obsessed with Ukraine. He has been throughout his presidency. He clearly views the 2004-2005 Orange Revolution and the 2014 Maidan as devastating personal defeats. Megalomania and the knowledge that he is aging and thus doesn’t have long to achieve what he believes to be a historical mission may push him to act, sooner rather than later.

Ukraine is hard to love. It is the most Sovok of the Soviet successor states–a painful illustration of how decades of Soviet oppression wreaked havoc on psyches and institutions. Some of Putin’s criticisms of it have more than a grain of truth. But that does not mean that it should be consigned to Putin’s tender mercies. Especially since there is no guarantee that Putin’s pining for Russian lands will stop in Ukraine.

The situation is fraught. A man obsessed with a messianic mission, be he Travis Bickle or Vladimir Putin, is not easily deterred.

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April 24, 2021

Two Self-Inflicted Diplomatic Wounds. But At Least We Don’t Have to Worry About Mean Tweets, Right?

Filed under: China,History,Politics,Russia,Turkey — cpirrong @ 9:07 pm

The Biden administration self-inflicted two serious diplomatic wounds in the space of a single day.

First, even though India is experiencing a wave of covid infections and deaths, its worse so far, the administration refused to relent on a ban (imposed by the Trump administration) on the export of vaccine ingredients.

Yes, the policy was originally Trump’s, but (a) you’d think that would be a bug not a feature with this administration, (b) India’s circumstances are far more dire today than they were when the ban was implemented, and (c) in the US, vaccine usage has nearly reached a saturation point, with many providers having shots wanting for arms.

India (both the government but especially the citizenry) has reacted extremely negatively due to this refusal, which is not surprising given the state of covid panic in the country. The United States should be courting India, not alienating it. After decades of hostility to the US (due not least because of US support for Pakistan, India’s post-independence antipathy to colonial powers or their allies, and dependence on Soviet/Russian weapons), India’s existential conflict with an aggressive China had created an opportunity to make India if not an ally, a country with which the US could cooperate on issues of common interest–most notably containing China.

That underlying dynamic is still there, but this thoughtless refusal fuels the latent suspicions of the US among many Indians and makes such cooperation far, far more difficult. It benefits the health of Americans virtually not at all, but alienates a country we should be courting.

The second self-inflicted wound involves Biden’s official recognition of the Armenian genocide by the Ottoman Empire during the depths of WWI. (Do not underestimate how this war scarred Turkey. The Ottoman Empire suffered a greater percentage loss of population during the war than any other nation, even if one deducts the Armenian dead. The Ottoman Empire was dismembered, and Turkey itself was almost devoured in the aftermath. Only Ataturk’s miracles in the War of Independence saved Turkey from being divided among the Western powers and the Greeks, and left as an Anatolian rump that no one else wanted.)

Yes, the fate of Armenians was horrible. Well over a million died. Numberless others were displaced, often to desolate camps in the Syrian desert. If you meet someone whose name ends in “ian” they are almost certainly the descendants of the Armenian diaspora. (Those with names ending in “yan” are usually post-Soviet emigres). Their martyrdom was widely acknowledged in the US. In my parents’ era, children were told to eat their vegetables, because of the starving Armenians.

Like all historic episodes, especially those that occurred in the crucible of WWI, the story is complicated. But regardless of where the guilt lies, it happened more than a century ago. Those who committed the atrocities, and those who suffered them, have long since died.

But living Turks of all political persuasions are neuralgic about being blamed for these long-ago events. Even ardent Erdoğan haters in the CHP are of one mind with him on this issue: calling what happened in the long-dead Ottoman Empire a genocide is a red line. Those who do so are Turkey’s enemies.

Turkey’s response was immediate. It recalled its ambassador to the US, and its foreign minister gave a bitter statement, claiming that this will irreparably harm Turkish-US relations. He also said that the US should not cast stones, given its historical treatment of Native Americans. (The administration’s repeated condemnations of America’s historical actions make it a particularly attractive target for such barbs.)

Many in the US, particularly in the Armenian community, dismiss this. They say that it will blow over.

Don’t be so sure. Under Erdoğan Turkey has been wobbling away from the American (and Nato) orbit. Given Erdoğan’s dicey domestic circumstances, stoking the resentment and taking real steps to distance the country from the US are natural political moves. Russia will clearly notice–and seize upon–the opportunity. Erdoğan will be quite open to their blandishments.

And do not underestimate the power of Turkish nationalism. In my experience, they are among the most chauvinistic people in the modern world. (Han Chinese are the only rivals for the title.) They are not postmodern or post-nationalist, like most Europeans. This is deadly serious to them. It will not blow over.

Turkey has geopolitical importance, not least because of its geographic position. It has been a difficult country for the US in recent years, in large part because of its mercurial and grandiose leader. Provoking it unnecessarily will bring the US many policy headaches. Virtually at the same moment as Biden’s announcement, Turkey escalated its conflict with America-aligned Kurds in Iraq. The genocide announcement will make it all the more difficult to try to manage that conflict.

And for what? This gesture will not bring anyone back from the dead. It will not undo what has been done. America helped in the best way possible–by welcoming tens of thousands of Armenians. (Including the Kardashians. Isn’t that sacrifice enough?) It is moral preening that will not reverse past atrocities, nor prevent future ones. And it is contrary to US national interests.

And Turks–including in particular Turks in the US–believe that Biden’s action does not even rise to the level of moral preening. In their eyes it is corruption, political venality, repaying Armenian-Americans (in California in particular) for massive campaign contributions, given in exchange for his promise to do what he just did. Given the absence of any other plausible explanation, this seems very reasonable. And very despicable

One day, two pointless gestures that do significant damage to relationships with two geopolitically important nations with which the US has had difficult relations. I see zero upside for US interests in these actions, and much downside. God help us if these are harbingers of US policy over the next four years–which alas is extremely likely.

But hey. At least we don’t have to worry about mean tweets, right?

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April 17, 2021

Putin Calls Biden’s Bluff: Xi No Doubt Watches With Amusement

Filed under: China,History,Military,Politics,Russia — cpirrong @ 6:20 pm

Domestically, the US political situation is dysfunctional. On its best days. To compound the dangers, the international situation is fraught.

At present there are two smoldering hotspots involving world powers (and arguably superpowers) that could suck the US into a confrontation with such powers–Taiwan and Ukraine.

China has ramped up the rhetoric over Taiwan. It has also increased its provocative military behavior around the island.

Russia has amassed a 50,000 man plus military force, heavily armed and armored, on the borders of Ukraine.

Taiwan and Ukraine have been hotspots for years, but it is at least plausible, and in my view likely, that the increase in tensions is the direct result of the change in administrations. That is, China’s Xi and Russia’s Putin are testing Biden. Or they believe they have already found him wanting in the fortitude and strategic departments.

Who can blame them, really?

In Ukraine in particular, the Biden administration has played things in about the worst way imaginable, and has no doubt convinced Putin that they are weak.

Most notable was the embarrassing exhibition involving the supposed dispatching of two US destroyers into the Black Sea. The Russians reacted quite aggressively, and last week it was announced that no ships would be transiting the Bosporus after all.

I thought it was a horrible idea to send the ships in any event. Play out the game. If deterrence fails, and Russia and Ukraine recommence the hostilities that (sort of) ended 7 years ago, then either the DDGs would have to turn tail (which would not be a good look), or they could get involved in combat with the Russians. Even overlooking the dire consequences of armed confrontation between the US and Russia, the ships would have been able to accomplish little, and would be at extreme risk. Yes, they are very capable platforms, but are intended to operate as part of a carrier battlegroup. Operating independently, they would have little influence on a battle in Ukraine, and would be extremely vulnerable operating within range of dominant land-based air and missile forces. Which is why they almost certainly would have turned tail.

The Russians would have known this, and playing out the game, would have realized that two DDGs would not effect their operations in Ukraine. So the deterrence value of the deployment would have been close to zero; the upside of the deployment negligible; and the potential downside huge.

In other words, don’t make non-credible bluffs. That’s exactly what the administration did, before backing down. Thereby revealing that it was bluffing, and had no intention of backing it up.

This came to mind:

(That was John Cleese as Putin at the end.)

The worst possible way to play this, regardless of whether you believe that the US should risk a confrontation with Putin over Ukraine, or not. The. Worst.

It’s sickly ironic that this climbdown from a confrontation with Putin occurred about the same time that one part of the administration discretely acknowledged that the “Russian bounties on American soldiers in Afghanistan” story was a complete crock. That story was flogged incessantly over the summer to reinforce the narrative that Trump cowered before Putin, and was running away from Afghanistan as a result. Well, the story was bullshit, so there was no cowering. It is the Biden administration that is demonstrably cowering. (Even while the Pentagon was backing off the bounties story, others in the Biden administration were continuing to assert it.)

That story was another flagrant example of media mendacity. The NYT journalists who wrote it should be consigned to oblivion–but they won’t be. If they were lied to by their anonymous sources, they should call them out–but they won’t. So there is NO accountability for lying, or for trading in lies (as the NYT journalists and so many other journalists do). They used to say never trust anyone over 30. That was always a dubious statement. It is anything but dubious to say never trust any journalist, regardless of age.

Furthermore, Biden cemented his image of weakness before Putin by offering to meet him in a summit–at least, you can be sure that this offer cemented an image of weakness in Putin’s mind. It makes it look like Biden is coming to Putin as a supplicant.

Another own goal.

And shifting to the other end of the world, you know Xi is watching this very, very closely.

The coming months could be worrisome, indeed.

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March 18, 2021

Putin on the Brain–Assuming Biden Has a Functioning Brain

Filed under: China,Politics,Russia — cpirrong @ 7:10 pm

Low oil prices, economic malaise (with stagnating GDP and declining real personal income), and demographic decline have combined to enervate Russia, and undermine Russian power. Seven years ago Putin invaded Crimea, and was top of the world, ma!–now he is a peripheral nuisance, far more focused on internal issues and concerns over succession and legacy, with an occasional turn at playing international spoiler.

But he looms large in the imaginations of American Democrats. He is the bogeyman who is the root of all evil. His machinations made Trump president, right? What could be worse than that? To this day, the American intelligence community (proving yet again that phrase to be an oxymoron) claims that he intervened in the 2020 election (yet provides absolutely no factual basis to support that claim). Everything bad in the world, they trace back to Putin. They have Putin on the brain.

Get real people. Putin reached his zenith in 2008: indeed, I can date it almost exactly to 8/8/8, with the invasion of Georgia. Thereafter, the financial crisis and the concomitant crash in oil prices gutted Russia’s economy, and put paid to Putin’s plan to exploit high energy prices to propel Russia back to being a superpower. The succeeding 12+ years have been a litany stagnation interrupted by periods of severe depression. Putin and Russia have been marginalized–objectively, anyways.

But Biden–with a big assist from the handmaiden media that has been flogging the Putin-as-Voldemort line since 2016–handed Putin an opportunity to get attention and twist America’s tail. In an interview with George Stephanopolous, simulacrum president Joe Biden agreed when asked whether Putin was “a killer.”

Putin didn’t miss a beat. He trolled Biden brilliantly. He turned the other cheek, and wished Biden good health:

This was no doubt a jab at the fact that Biden is clearly anything but healthy.

He challenged Biden to a debate, mano a mano:

That would be a riot: I would pay large $ to watch that on PPV. And quite frankly, Putin would trounce Biden, even if this “open direct discussion” was in English, given the simulacrum president’s obvious mental decline. And don’t think for a moment that Putin is not well-informed (better than Americans, certainly) about Biden’s actually physical and mental condition, which emboldens them to propose something he knows Biden (or more realistically, his puppeteers) could never agree to. (Ironically, the hysteria over Russian hacking gives great credence to this claim.)

I don’t think Obama did a lot of things right, but largely ignoring Putin was one of them. (Though he was an idiot in trying to play up the hapless Medvedev.) The obsessive attention that Democrats have given Putin post-Obama elevates his prestige and importance far beyond what the correlation of forces would justify.

So Biden gives Putin a perfect opportunity to troll him, and you can’t believe for a second that Vova would pass on it.

The obsession with Putin and Russia is particularly perverse given that the real strategic challenger to the US is China: focusing on Russia is a distraction from the real threat. But whereas Biden believes that deference to “cultural norms” justify giving China justifies soft-pedaling what is arguably genocide and a host of other grotesque repressions orchestrated by Xi, he gives no such deference to Russia and Putin. So I guess only non-white dictators get a pass because of “cultural norms.” Pretty progressive, right?

Putin is a pain. He has malign intent. But whether someone is a threat depends on both intent and capability. Russia’s capability has been waning inexorably for over a decade. Obsessing on intent while capability erodes and the capability and bad intent of another actor (China) grow is idiotic. But that’s where we are. Putin is relevant primarily because Democrat obsessions make him so. Biden’s latest gaffe will only make it worse.

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October 18, 2020

Eight Is Not Erdo’s Lucky Number

Filed under: Economics,Military,Politics,Russia,Turkey — cpirrong @ 5:58 pm

Tayyip Erdoğan has been on a real tear. Most recently, the Turkish military test fired S-400 missiles that Turkey had bought from Russia over strenuous US objections. This is a real Kim Jung Un move, the kind of provocative acts that unhinged dictators under pressure undertake. This puts him even more on the bad side of the US.

Moreover, Erdoğan has stoked the fires of conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia, clearly having given the green light to Azerbaijan to escalate the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, and providing extensive military support to Azerbaijan. This puts him on the bad side of Russia.

He has ramped up conflict with the EU, and with France in particular, through his provocative drilling expeditions in waters claimed by Greece. Today, according to a connection in Turkey–who sent pictures–this involved sending a Turkish warship to the waters outside of Patara–and therefore close to the Greek island of Kastellorizo.

Which raises the question of why Erdoğan would pick fights with forces far more powerful than he. Perhaps he figures that neither Russia nor the US nor the EU are in a position to do anything to him. (The EU–totes understandable!) The US is embroiled in a contentious election. Russia is facing numerous problems, including covid, protests in the Far East, and the fallout from the Navalny poisoning.

But I think that is only part of the picture. If you’ve watched the Turkish Lira recently (USDTRY) you’ll see that it has plummeted to all-time lows, flirting with 8: it reached 7.94 on Friday. When I was in Turkey a few years ago, it was around 4. This is a good indicator of how parlous Turkey’s economic position is. Eight is a lucky number in China, but not for Turkey, when the lira is involved.

So what’s on the first page of the autocrat’s playbook? When facing domestic economic trouble, create international incidents. This is an especially important play in a non-post-modern country like Turkey, in which nationalism–chauvinism, really–is a potent political force, unlike in Old Europe and wide swaths of the US.

Perhaps a more interesting question relates to Putin’s extremely passive reaction to Erdo’s provocation in a region that Russia considers part of its post-Soviet space. Especially given the large Russian military presence in Armenia. Contrast Putin’s current passivity to Russia’s growling reaction to Turkey’s downing of a Russian Su-24 over Syria in 2015. Putin made harsh threats, and Erdo folded almost immediately.

Today, with Erdo romping in Russia’s backyard–nothing.

Perhaps this reflects Putin’s own problems. While the lira is flirting with 8, the ruble is flirting with 80, having fallen dramatically in recent months. Russia’s economy is stalled, and there is widespread discontent with its handling of covid. Putin has retreated to not so splendid isolation (though he is no doubt isolating in splendor), requiring those who wish to see him to quarantine for 14 days–a dramatic contrast with his “don’t worry, be happy” message to the public on covid. He’s also at loggerheads with Europe over Navalny, though given Europe’s anger at Erdo, Putin could probably earn Brussels brownie points by standing up to him.

Or maybe Putin wants to teach Armenia a lesson. But frankly, it would be stupid to encourage conflict in the post-Soviet space merely to chasten a recalcitrant satrap–especially when that chastening comes largely due to the intervention of a foreign power. I would have thought that a major red line for Putin.

So Erdoğan’s behavior, though extremely rash, is fairly understandable in conventional terms. Putin’s, not so much.

Would that the American establishment pay more attention to that puzzle, rather than descend into another frenzy of allegations about “Russian disinformation campaigns,” this one involving Hunter Biden’s laptop.

Just how would that work exactly? In 2016, Russia allegedly interfered in US elections by buying less than $100K cheesy Facebook ads. Yet apparently within a mere 4 years Russian disinformation has reached such levels of sophistication that it can create a laptop filled with forged material about Joe and Hunter Biden–including lurid photos of the latter doing what the latter is known to do, i.e., smoke crack and patronize hookers, not to mention incriminating emails–get it to some repair guy in Delaware who just happens to give a copy of the hard drive to Rudy Giuliani (after he had told the FBI about it).

Amazing tradecraft, if true. But to anyone who shaves with Occam’s Razor, it’s not true. The story that passes the Occam’s Razor test is that a drug addled Hunter–who, recall, in the past left a crack pipe and cocaine in a rental car because he saw an owl flying over him and thought it was following him so that he figured he might be hallucinating–dropped off the laptop and didn’t pick it up. Probably because he was distracted by too many lap dances, and paternity litigation involving lap dancers.

But what matters now to Biden and the establishment–including the traditional media and especially Twitter, Facebook, and Google/YouTube–is that Joe is able to dodge this until past the election.

At which time this October surprise could turn into the national November hangover.

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October 15, 2020

Twitter and Facebook Are Partisan Hacks. QED!

Filed under: Commodities,Economics,Energy,Politics,Russia — cpirrong @ 1:15 pm

As if to add a QED (with an exclamation point) to my last post, Facebook and Twitter cranked the censorship amp to 11 in an attempt to suppress dissemination of the New York Post story about the release of material from one of Hunter Biden’s laptops. Among the censored, inter alia: the NY Post itself, White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany, and the GOP House Judiciary.

After I read about McEnany’s Twitter account being suspended, I told a friend that I estimated the over/under on how many days before they blocked Trumps account at 2.

The under won. Twitter suspended him today.

This was after Jack Dorsey had said that censoring the article was wrong and that Twitter had made communication errors in explaining its actions.

Translated: “We need to lie better.”

The ostensible justification for this was that the information had been acquired by hacking.

GMAFB.

Crack addict whoremaster Hunter dropped off the laptop (3 actually, 2 of which were unrecoverable) for repair. He didn’t pick them up, or pay for them, for 90 days. Meaning that they were the property of the repair shop. No hacking involved. Hunter surrendered this laptop–and the information on it.

And by the way: a real hacker would have blackmailed Hunter/Joe/the DNC.

It’s not as if Hunter doesn’t have a record of such dumbassery. He left a crack pipe and cocaine in a rental car that he dropped off. While he was in rehab.

And as if Twitter, FB, etc., are routinely sooooo cautious about the dissemination of articles that include information not provided voluntarily by the subject.

You know, like articles about Trump’s tax returns, which were metaphysically obtained illegally and without his consent.

Of course the biggest news is that emails on the computer that show Joe Biden was lying about talking with his son about Burisma, or meeting with Burisma people.

The campaign is trying now to tell the truth slowly, by claiming that the meetings weren’t official, and were perfunctory.

Because yeah, when you are trading influence, you always do that in official meetings.

To me the more interesting angle is the revelations about Hunter’s dealings with, and flacking for, and arranging meetings for, CEFC, the dodgy Chinese energy company. So dodgy that its CEO, for whom Hunter carried water, is now in prison.

CEFC, you might recall, was the alleged buyer of a stake in Rosneft. I called bullshit on that deal when it happened.

And yes, it was bullshit. A crooked deal between crooked companies in crooked countries.

These are the kinds of scumbags that Hunter Biden was taking money from, in order to make it rain in DC. Something that wouldn’t have been possible had his father not been Joe Biden.

Birds of a feather.

Insofar as Twitter and Facebook is concerned, the mask is off–as if it was ever really on. These companies are basically arms of the Biden campaign, the Democratic Party, and the anti-Trump establishment. Perhaps it’s not surprising that Jack Dorsey is trying to cover for a drug addict, but the motive goes deeper than that. It is deeply partisan. To the bone.

Which doesn’t make Twitter or Facebook any different than the NYT or the WaPo. But that raises the question: why do they have legal protections as “platforms” that traditional news outlets don’t? And whereas the NYT, etc., face competition–e.g., from the NY Post–as platforms Facebook and Twitter do not. Indeed, they are clearly attempting to quash competing viewpoints.

We are supposed to FREAK OUT over Russians paying less than $100 grand to buy cheesy FB ads because that’s a grave threat to democracy, but we’re supposed to allow Facebook and Twitter to engage in far more consequential election interference?

Why, exactly?

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July 23, 2020

What To Do With With Erdo?

Filed under: History,Military,Politics,Russia,Turkey — cpirrong @ 6:06 pm

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan seems hell-bent on making enemies. Indeed, other than Qatar, it’s hard to point to any nation that is allied with Turkey. Turkey doesn’t even seem to have frenemies, only real enemies.

The FT had a long piece detailing how Erdoğan is using force and threats of force to prevent other nations, notably Cyprus, from drilling for gas in the eastern Mediterranean. He has also entered into a deal for what passes for a government in Libya to develop its offshore gas, and to build pipelines that deny that Crete is part of Greece. (Hey, it was Ottoman once, right?)

Speaking of Libya, Erdo has intervened in the conflict there. Turkey has supplied advisors, drones (including armed UAVs), anti-air defenses, and electronic warfare systems to support the “government.” Further, Turkey haas shipped in thousands of Syrian jihadi-types to provide the ground forces to fight against the force led by warlord Khalifa Haftar, who is trying to overthrow the UN-recognized government.

This has led to a confrontation between French and Turkish ships off the Libyan coast. Turkey has demanded an apology, and Macron trumpeted a call with Trump during which Libya was discussed–a clear indication to Turkey that the US was leaning towards France and against Turkey.

To make things even more complicated, Egypt supports Haftar and is threatening to intervene with its ground forces to combat the Turkish-supported troops. Turkey has made stern warnings to Egypt to stay on its side of the border.

To make things even more complicated, Russia is Haftar’s biggest backer. Russian mercenaries operate there. So in Libya Erdoğan is risking conflict with Russia, France (and hence the rest of the EU–yeah, I know), and Egypt.

The correlation of forces here is definitely not in Turkey’s favor, especially if Egypt intervenes on the ground. Egypt shares a border with Libya, and as the Desert Campaigns of 1940-41 showed, an armored force can race across Libya and achieve operational dominance. Egypt’s logistics would also be relatively simple, and it would be operating well within range of its air forces. Turkey, on the other hand, has no direct land route to Libya, and would have to reinforce and supply by sea. If shit gets real, it is highly doubtful that such a supply line would be sustainable. It would certainly be highly vulnerable to attack from air and sea.

Turkey has some submarines, some frigates (including some old US Perry Class ships) and corvettes, and some small landing craft. Egypt’s forces are comparable, with the big difference being the French-built (originally for Russia) Mistral assault ship, for which Turkey has no counterpart.

So Turkey would be in a very weak position if it indeed attempted to challenge an Egyptian incursion.

Libya is not the only country where Turkey and Russia are at loggerheads. They are also on opposite sides in Syria, and Russian-supported forces have killed well over 100 Turks. There is an uneasy coexistence between Russian and Turkey in Syria, nothing more.

But there’s more! The conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan (which has been going on since 1988 or thereabouts) is heating up again. Armenia is close to Russia, but Erdo is rallying behind Azerbaijan.

It’s not surprising, then, that Russian helicopters flew along the Turkish border soon after the initial Armenian-Azeri clash in mid-June, and Turkey’s condemnation of Armenia for that fighting.

Erdoğan also has a very strained, and strange, relationship with the US generally, and Donald Trump in particular. Given Trump’s mercurial nature, Erdoğan would be a fool to expect Trump to pull his irons out of the fire in a Turkish dust up with Russia. Or France. Or Greece. Or Egypt.

The Turkish economy is also in a parlous state, meaning that the country is extremely vulnerable to economic pressure. The lira has depreciated badly in recent years, is near all time lows against the dollar, and could easily tip–or be tipped-off a cliff. Turks of a certain age remember the extreme privations that followed US sanctions imposed in the aftermath of the Turkish invasion of Cyprus in 1974. Younger generations don’t have that experience, and have (at least in the big cities) attained a degree of affluence that could be gone in a trice. It is an open question whether they would, in a fit of nationalist pride, forgive Erdoğan for that.

Erdoğan also outraged much of the Christian world with his conversion (on extremely dubious legal grounds) of the venerated Aya Sophia/Hagia Sofia from a museum (established by Ataturk) back to a mosque.

Erdoğan’s political situation is shaky–which may be why he is engaged in so much adventurism. He lost the big cities–Istanbul and Ankara notably–to the opposition CHP. He still has very strong support in the Anatolian heartland, especially among devout Muslims there (and in the cities as well). But the country is divided and Erdoğan has a lot of domestic enemies, and is making more by the day.

In sum, Erdoğan has picked a fight with pretty much everyone with a stake in the eastern Mediterranean. Why he’s doing so is not completely clear. In part, it’s delusions of grandeur: he envisions himself as the emerging dominant power in that region. But he can be so only at the sufferance of the US and Russia in particular. He is appealing to a highly chauvinistic populace–Turks are arguably the most chauvinistic nation in the world–in order to bolster his political situation.

But strategically his actions appear to be incredibly foolhardy and shortsighted. It is hard to see the upside, especially in Syria and Libya. The downsides are huge. He must be counting that the big boys in the neighborhood are willing to put up with his bumptiousness. But if he’s wrong, Turkey will be in a world of hurt.

He needs to be most careful about the Russians. After Turkey shot down a Russian jet over Syria, the furious Russian reaction forced Erdoğan to back down. Now he is risking confrontation with them not only in Syria, but in Libya and Armenia/Azerbaijan. With Putin too perhaps needing a wag the dog moment again (given the uninspiring results of his constitutional referendum, growing discontent as illustrated by open protests in the east, and chronic economic difficulties), Erdoğan could be made to order.

Fools rush in where angels fear to tread. Erdoğan is rushing in where angels avoid, and doing so very likely because he is a fool.

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July 4, 2020

The “Russian Bounties” Story: The Media Dog Returns to the “Intelligence” Community’s Vomit

Filed under: History,Military,Politics,Russia,Uncategorized — cpirrong @ 2:43 pm

“As a dog returns to his vomit, so a fool repeats his folly” — Proverbs 26:11 

This Proverb applies to the American news media and the US “Intelligence” Community, with a variation. The variation being the media returns to the “Intelligence” Community’s vomit, rather than its own per se.

For about four years the news media lapped up whatever lies the “I”C barfed up about “Russian collusion.” And it was all lies. 100 percent.

Honest people can be fooled. Yet, once they are fooled, they distrust who fooled them. Dishonest people lap up lies over and over again. Because they want to.

The latest iteration of this is the recent hysteria over the allegations that the Russians (namely, its military intelligence service, the GRU) paid bounties to the Taliban to kill Americans, that Trump had been briefed about it, and did nothing. These allegations were “credited” to “anonymous intelligence sources.”

The dogs at the New York Times ran to the vomit like they hadn’t eaten in months. Which may be true, since the demise of the impeachment fiasco, and the dominance of the Covid-19 story. But rather than treating another “I”C leak with skepticism, if not disdain, they wolfed it down. Because they wanted to.

In the event–I’m sure you will find this shocking–the “intelligence” was of dubious provenance, and because of that Trump had not been briefed about it. So the story was 100 percent unadulterated puke.

A word to the wise. If you claim to put any credence in any story based on “anonymous sources in the intelligence community,” you are either a fool (because you actually believe it despite the repeated evidence of their untrustworthiness) or a knave (because you know it is likely untrue but choose to treat it as gospel regardless because it is politically useful).

Arguendo, suppose the story is true. What is Trump supposed to do about it? Nuke Russia? Add more sanctions? What’s left to be sanctioned, pray tell?

Those who are flogging this story, and those like it, want a new Cold War with Russia. But apparently they expect only one side to fight it: the Russians, evidently, should be pacifists in this Cold War II. But if the Russians are pacifists, why fight a war against them?

So let’s get real. If there is a Cold War II, then one can expect both sides to utilize the tactics of Cold War I. During which, you might remember, the Soviets supplied massive military supplies to, inter alia, North Vietnam and North Korea which were used to kill Americans.

And during which the United States “Intelligence” Community supplied weapons to Afghan Islamist foes of the USSR that were used to kill thousands of Soviet soldiers.

Memories run long, and payback is a bitch.

Meaning that if you fight Cold War II with the Russians, as day follows night, Russians will try to kill Americans–while attempting not to leave fingerprints. That’s the way Cold Wars are fought.

So be very careful what you ask for: and if you ask for a New Cold War, expect the consequences. And if those consequences include the deaths of American soldiers, you need to accept that the responsibility is largely yours.

It is particularly perverse to blame Trump for the deaths of Americans in Afghanistan. He has been laboring to extract the US from that cesspool, precisely because he believes that it is pointless for American troops to die there, for . . . well, for nothing.

And the establishment–notably the “Intelligence” Community and the Pentagon–have fought him tooth and nail. Apparently forgetting the adage “never reinforce failure,” they have reinforced it for going on 20 years now. And they will not admit failure, and have fought Trump more viciously in his attempts to withdraw than they have fought the Taliban in the Hindu Kush.

In other words, Trump has been trying to save American lives, and the Pentagon and the “Intelligence” Community have been willing to expend them. To what purpose, they cannot explain.

In that respect, the “Russian bounty” story is even more twisted than the run of the mill Russian collusion story. For it represents the most malign elements of the Deep State and their vomit mongers in the media and the Democratic Party crying crocodile tears over dead Americans in Afghanistan, and blaming the man who is trying to prevent more Americans from dying there, all to perpetuate their insane war that will kill Americans as long as it lasts.

It is hard for normal people to imagine a more damning commentary on the American establishment than that. But that likely reflects the limits of my imagination. I am sure that these malign, evil creatures that dwell in the bowels of Langley and the Pentagon will conjure up even more sick actions in the future.

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June 16, 2020

Igor Sechin Is An Idiot. But You Knew That.

Filed under: Commodities,CoronaCrisis,Economics,Energy,Russia — cpirrong @ 1:06 pm

The very informative RBN Energy blog notes “Look What You Made Me Do – Permian Crude Producers Waste No Time In Ramping Up Production“:

Crude oil supply news comes in from all angles these days, bombarding the market daily with fresh information on producers’ efforts to ramp their volumes back up now that the global economic recovery is cautiously under way. Crude demand is rising, storage hasn’t burst at the seams yet, and prices have come a long, long way in just a few weeks. Permian exploration and production companies, having avoided a fleeting, longshot chance that the state of Texas might regulate West Texas oil production, are responding to higher crude oil prices as free-market participants should. The taps are quickly being turned back on, unleashing pent-up crude and associated gas volumes that, you could say, were under a sort of quarantine of their own for a while. Today, we provide an update on the status of curtailments in the Permian Basin.

The story mentions “the taps.” US shale regions, Permian in particular, are as close to something that can be turned on and off like a tap as anything in the history of the oil business.

You will recall that Igor Sechin’s brain flash in responding to the Covid-caused demand crash was to spurn Saudi importuning to extend output cuts, which spurred the steamed Saudis to increase output, thereby turning a hard fall in prices into a bona fide crash. A crash that hurt Russian producers generally, and Rosneft specifically, extremely hard.

The reasoning for Sechin’s strategy was that US shale producers had been the main beneficiary of previous output cuts, and he wanted to drive them out of business. Predatory pricing, in other words.

But as the RBN post indicates, this strategy, like most predatory pricing strategies, doesn’t work if the target can rope-a-dope and recover when you attempt to raise prices. That’s exactly what’s happening.

Yes, some companies have gone bankrupt–but bankruptcy is different than destruction. (Igor might not know this. Seriously.) And yes, the industry is facing more stringent financing conditions–but if prices rise these will ease too, and drilling activity will resume.

In other words, Sechin failed to realize that not only is predatory pricing almost always a futile strategy, it is particularly futile when unconventional US oil production is concerned. The Saudis found this out in 2014-2015, but Igor either wasn’t paying attention, or didn’t learn the lesson.

Predation doesn’t pay. This is hardly a new insight, or one not demonstrated by repeated experiences–including experience involving Igor’s intended prey.

Sechin’s predatory endeavors work when they involve exploiting the Russian legal system. In the marketplace, not so much. But we all knew that Igor is basically a thug, and not all that bright.

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