Streetwise Professor

April 17, 2014

Ukraine Update: Charlie Brown, Lucy, the Organ Grinder and His Monkey

Filed under: Military,Politics,Russia,Snowden — The Professor @ 10:05 pm

The farce involving Ukraine continues. Today John “Charlie Brown” Kerry and Sergei “Lucy” Lavrov met in Geneva, the scene of many previous Kerry pratfalls, mostly involving Syria. (Yeah, the Euros were there. Like that matters. Well, I guess someone has to make sure the places are set properly, with the forks in the right spot and all that stuff.)

Even after having Lucy pull the ball away time and again, Charlie Brown had another go at “diplomacy,” which in Russian means “war continued by other means.” In military terms, the Russians treat diplomacy with the US as a delaying action, knowing the US won’t do anything meaningful as the “process” is “working.” In Syria, Assad has used Russian diplomatic cover to turn the tide of war decisively in his favor.

Kerry and Obama have apparently never heard Einstein’s definition of insanity: doing the same thing over and over, and expecting different results. Maybe Kerry should hop the train to Bern and visit the Einstein museum. Maybe he’ll collect a clue.

This time around, Putin and the Russians are using the diplomatic pause to delay the implementation of meaningful sanctions. UST is continuing the FUD game, holding meetings with hedge funds and money managers to inquire about their Russian investments, knowing that the inquiries would be leaked, and perhaps spook the markets. But truly throttling sanctions will remain in abeyance as long as the jaw jaw continues. Putin is also using the diplomatic pause to continue infiltration and subversion in Ukraine. The Ukrainians are constrained by their own divisions, and incompetence, but the US is also restraining them while talks continue.

The meetings produced this paean to the passive voice:

All illegal armed groups must be disarmed; all illegally seized buildings must be returned to legitimate owners; all illegally occupied streets, squares and other public places in Ukrainian cities and towns must be vacated.

Who is going to do the disarming? The returning? The vacating? The GRU and the 45th Airborne and the locals are just going to say “my bad” and walk away? Really? I see objects here, but no subjects.

This hardly inspires confidence:

It was agreed [more passivity!] that the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission should play a leading role in assisting Ukrainian authorities and local communities in the immediate implementation of these deescalation measures wherever they are needed most, beginning in the coming days.

The OSCE? You mean the guys who were prevented from entering Crimea? My confidence is not inspired! (Damn, this passive voice thing is contagious!)

The Russians deny anyone in eastern Ukraine is theirs, so they can disclaim any responsibility. The Ukrainian military is too intimidated to take them on. The OSCE has no army to back it up. So I doubt much disarming, vacating, etc. will actually, you know, be happening.

But I forgot. “Local communities” are going to do it! This is a job for Community Organizer Man! Obama can follow his true calling!

Just one problem. Those “local communities” in large part support the “Pro-Russian” (or “pro-federalist”) forces, to the point of surrounding Ukrainian APCs so that the “local militias” could seize six of them. (As an aside, let’s give the “pro-Russian” bullshit a rest. It is more accurate to say “Russian pros.”) (Actually, the active supporters are few, but characteristic Russian apathy in the vast majority means that a few can achieve their objectives.)

All meaning that this plan will work out about as swell as the plan to eliminate Assad’s chemical weapons that Lucy used to entice Charlie into taking a big kick at the Syrian football, winding up flat on his back as always.

But as hard as it is to believe, the comedy in Geneva pales in comparison to the total farce in Moscow, where Putin held one of his call in shows. The whole thing was a carnival of mendacity, all too familiar to discuss in detail. But the banal absurdity of a VVP presser was excelled by a new high (or is it low) in farcicality: Snowden (in another Wizard of Oz appearance on a large screen) asked Putin whether Russia, that paragon of privacy and individual liberty, engaged in mass surveillance against its citizens. “Nous? Nous? Jamais!” responded Vladimir Vladimirovich. Even worse, Putin answered only after acknowledging Snowden as a fellow Chekist, and hence a man he could understand and respect. The pair posed for a photo after the event (Eddie is on the left):


There may be some uncertainty as to whether Snowden was Putin’s monkey before he decamped to Sheremetyovo, but there is no doubt now. Eddie is now totally owned and operated by Putin and the FSB.

But despite all this Obama and Kerry think that Putin and Lavrov are legitimate interlocutors, interested in reaching mutually beneficial deals.

David Ignatius had a column in the WaPo yesterday describing the administration as being “flummoxed” by Putin’s refusal to see reality the same way Obama does. Believe me, “flummoxed” is never a good thing.

I swear to God, mirror imaging is going to be the death of the west. Distressingly, good little mouthpiece that he is, Ignatius reports that Obama’s strategy is “to make Putin pay for his adventurism, long term. Unless the Russian leader moves quickly to de-escalate the crisis, the United States will push for measures that could make Russia significantly weaker over the next few years.”

Excuse me while I go bang my forehead on the corner of my desk. In the long term we are all dead. At least a lot of Ukrainians may be.

And the point of this is what, exactly? Just how will this deter Putin? And note that the administration will just be “push[ing] for measures that could make” Russia weaker. Not implementing. Pushing for: what happened to Mr. Executive Order? (Sounds like more community organizing is involved.) Not measures that will make Russia weaker, but “could.” And Putin cares about tomorrow. The long term-whatever.

To give you an idea of Putin’s mindset, and how little he cares about Obama’s incredible threats to push for some measures that could impose some costs at some ill-defined future date, the Russian president used the term Novarossiya to refer to parts of Ukraine. Meaning that his irredentist goals remain, undeterred. (And does anybody else notice that the only thing that Putin criticizes the leaders of the USSR for is their penchant for redrawing borders in ways that put traditional Russian territories outside of the Russian Soviet Socialist Federative Republic?)

Russia is weak economically, demographically, and militarily. The US is none of those things. It is weak by choice, and letting Putin proceed in his irredentist and revanchist mission.

We are so screwed.

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April 10, 2014

Germany & Russia: Psychology, Ideology, Economics–and Romanticism

Filed under: History,Politics,Russia,Snowden — The Professor @ 7:11 pm

In a sign of the impending apocalypse, Der Spiegel has run several articles that evaluate critically Germany’s all too accepting and “understanding” approach to Russia, including during the Ukraine and Crimea crises. The articles argue that there is a volatile brew of psychology (neuroses, actually), philosophy, and ideology, which when combined with the economic interests of German industry, makes Germany ambivalent at worst about Russia.

World War II of course plays a central role in this. One of the articles notes that the Germans are acutely conscious of the horrific things they did in the East, and that despite that, the Russians do not really hold that over the Germans. This impels the Germans to make amends, and makes them somewhat grateful to the Russians. In contrast American moralism about German actions during the war rankles the Germans deeply: this helps explain why the Germans revel in shrieking about American transgressions, notably Viet Nam and more lately, Snowden. If the Americans are morally tainted, Germans can feel less guilty about their past. (Similar considerations apply with force to German attitudes towards Israel.)

One point that the articles all make is the deep anti-western streak in German thought and attitudes. The similar anti-westernism in Russia, which is central to Putin’s new ideology, therefore resonates deeply in Germany and makes Germans think that Russians are kindred spirits.  These attitudes are particularly pronounced in the former GDR.

More specifically, there is a strong element of anti-Anglo Saxon-ism in both German and Russian thought.

This anti-westernism is rooted in Romanticism. Five years ago, I wrote a post drawing the parallels between the Romantic elements in German and Russian culture and thought.  Here’s a taste:

Following on Pauli, Viereck hypothesizes that German Romanticism was the product of the division of Germany between the Latinized West and the Barbarian East.  That Germany was on the divide between two civilizations with wildly different mental and moral universes.  Romanticism was a revolt of the East against the West.

Russia, too, has a very uneasy, conflicted relationship with the Latinized West.  Indeed, although the dividing line did not run directly through Russia, as it did Germany (thanks to Hermann/Arminius), post-Peter I’s introduction of Western ideas into Muscovy, the same conflict has rent Russia, with many of the same consequences, political and psychological.  The Slavophiles and latterly, the Eurasianists (new and old), are in essence Russia’s indigenous Romantics.  (It is well known that German Romanticism was quite influential in Russia.  I think that this is primarily a matter that the doctrine found very fertile soil waiting for it there.)

In brief, Russia’s conflicted relationship with the West, and the psychological complexes associated therewith, bear uncanny similarities to Germany’s.  Both Germany and Russia lie on civilizational fault lines, and Russia and the non-Romanized parts of Germany were not all that dissimilar in terms of economy and social organization.  It should not be too surprising that each reacted similarly to the onslaught of modernity and the hegemony of the Latinized West, though each of course exhibits its own distinct characteristics.

Similarly, my post On Russophobia I noted the deep anti-liberal strains in Russian thought: similar strains exist in Germany.

If you combine economic interest, latent (and not so latent) guilt, and deep anti-western (and specifically anti-American) sentiments rooted in Romanticism, Germany is entirely unreliable in opposing Putin.

And don’t doubt that Putin hasn’t figured that out, and is planning accordingly. And also don’t doubt that he is playing this for all it is worth. Exhibit A: Snowden.

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March 10, 2014

Snowden Pegs the Cheesy-Meter, and Is Not Asked the Questions that Matter

Filed under: History,Military,Politics,Russia,Snowden — The Professor @ 2:16 pm

Like something out of 1984 (irony!), the disembodied head of Ed Snowden delivered remarks to SXSW in Austin.

Ed had nothing new to say.  Same old blah blah blah.  The only thing remarkable is that the appearance of the image of his talking head in front of the image of the Constitution did peg the cheesy-meter.  Jumping the shark doesn’t come close to conveying how lame this was.

Until someone asks Snowden “if as you claim your interest has been solely in exposing privacy violations against US citizens, why did you steal hundreds of thousands of documents relating to military and foreign intelligence matters, and why have the bulk of your leaks been related to such matters?” he deserves to be treated with extreme skepticism and scorned. But of course, the geek idiots at SXSW failed to do so.  Making them accessories after the fact in the Snowden operation.

It is becoming clearer by the day that the privacy campaign is an elaborate cover scheme meant to divert attention from an operation targeted at undermining legitimate US foreign and military intelligence functions.  It is also targeted at undermining US alliances, most notably with Germany, which has been (courtesy of Laura Poitras’s collaboration with Der Spiegel) the subject of a disproportionate number of the stories. The Germans are particularly vulnerable to such tactics, desiring so desperately to escape the burdens of their past by believing the Americans are as bad or worse.  (And by the way, German pusillanimity in the face of Putin’s aggression provides justification, as if any was needed, for surveilling German politicians.)

And look how important dividing the US from Germany is right now, in the midst of the Ukraine crisis.

There are no coincidences, comrades.

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March 3, 2014

A Reprise of a Low, Dishonest Decade

Filed under: History,Military,Politics,Russia,Snowden — The Professor @ 10:28 pm

The pusillanimity of the US in the face of Putin’s aggression is bad enough (spare me any more expressions of “deep concern”), but it pales in comparison with the utter cowardice of the Europeans, especially the Germans and shockingly, the British.

There is only one explanation: they have been cowed by their energy dependency on Russia, and corrupted by dirty Russian money-much of which is merely money Europeans spent on Russian energy, recycled/laundered through European financial institutions.

There are myriad reports that Britain will not support any trade or financial sanctions against Russia. The fig leaf is that such measures will damage the world economy:

However, a document photographed in Downing Street suggested that Britain is concerned about the economic impact of any sanctions against Russia. The paper states that the “UK should not support, for now, trade sanctions … or close London’s financial centre to Russians”.

Seriously?  This gives new meaning to the old phrase “perfidious Albion.”

But what should we expect, really? Britain showed its true colors in its abject refusal to investigate seriously the Litvinenko murder and release any evidence that would make plain the connection between the murderers and the Russian state.  Heaven forfend that real estate in Belgravia take a hit.

Then there’s Germany.  Despite the fact that Merkel herself has all but admitted that Putin is insaneGermany is adamant against taking any measures that will actually inflict pain on Russia.  Indeed, Foreign Minister Steinmeier met with Lavrov in Geneva, and bleated out a statement about the necessity of relying on diplomacy:

Ahead of an extraordinary meeting of EU foreign ministers in Brussels, Germany’s Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said international diplomacy must prevail to solve the crisis.

“Crisis diplomacy is not a weakness but it will be more important than ever to not fall into the abyss of military escalation,” Steinmeier told reporters.

Steinmeier also suggested a fact-finding mission by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), Europe’s main human rights and democracy watchdog, as an initial response.

“We are considering whether it wouldn’t make good sense to create transparency about what is happening on the ground in eastern Ukraine and Crimea instead of being dependent on rumors,” he said.

Yes.  There is so much ambiguity about what is happening on the ground.  We are so starved of facts about what Russia is doing.  Fact finding! That’s what we need!

There are none so blind as those who will not see.

Remember that Steinmeier is a SPD leader, and Schroeder’s political protege.  And further remember that Schroeder is Putin’s apologist and waterboy, and has been awarded for his lifetime of service with a sinecure as chairman of the board of Gazprom’s Nordstream pipeline.

If there was ever a more vivid illustration of why I’m damned glad NSA was giving extra special attention to German politicians, I’d be hard pressed to think of what it might be.

Indeed, this seems like a perfect time for a dump of some juicy kompromat on Herr Steinmeier and his ilk in the SPD.

In light of this, thinking of all the condescension and moral superiority directed at the US by German politicians and the German populace in the past 12-13 years is beyond nauseating.

Germany dresses up its cowardice in the garb of moral superiority.  In fact, its cravenness is driven by its dependence on Russian energy and the deep ties of German businesses to Russia.  Germany gets about 1/3 of its gas and about 28 percent of its coal from Russia (h/t @libertylynx).  The European oil market is also highly dependent on Russian supplies.

And of course, Germany has increased its dependency as a result of an insane energy policy, retiring its nuclear generators in a hysterical reaction to Fukushima (lest there be any tsunamis in Bavaria) and forcing a massive reliance on inefficient renewables.

Churchill said that the Germans are either at your throat or at your feet.  It’s quite obvious that the current generation of Germans has an intimate acquaintance with Putin’s taste in footwear.

The Balts and Poles are rightly freaking out.  Just today the Russians conducted live fire exercises in the Baltic.  Yes.  Totally pacific.  Just routine, surely.  But the Germans consider these long suffering victims of Russian (and truth be told-German) oppression as annoyances who are interfering with their desire for Ostpolitik and Ostwirtschaftlich.   Germany stymied the effort by Latvia and Lithuania to invoke Article 4 of the Nato Washington Treaty.  But Poland is having another go.

Ironic, isn’t it, that countries that border the Baltic are the true Atlanticists now?  The original Euro-Atlanticists, the UK and Germany, have been suborned by energy dependency and dirty Russian money. Germany accepted American protection when it faced an existential threat from Russia, but now repays the favor by running interference for Putin when it perceives that only Untermenschen  in eastern Europe are going to be ground under the Russian boot.

The poet Auden called the 1930s a “low, dishonest decade.”  The 2010s are proving to be one of history’s rhymes. The same fecklessness and cravenness in the face of aggression, and this cowardice is yet again dressed up in the language of high principle.


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March 1, 2014

Putin Digs Into the Main Course, Served Up by the Ignominious Failure in the WH

Filed under: History,Military,Politics,Russia,Snowden — The Professor @ 1:24 pm

As I said yesterday, the appetite comes with the eating, and Putin would snap up the rest of Ukraine.  Having finished up the appetizer of Crimea, he is now digging into the main course.  Today the upper chamber of the Russian trained seal show, aka its parliament, approved Putin’s request for authorization to send Russian military forces into Ukraine.  Not Crimea. All of Ukraine.  It was sure a cliffhanger following the debate and vote on Twitter.  The issue was in doubt to the very last vote.

Sorry.  In times like these one needs to find humor where one can, and black humor and sarcasm are about all that work.

Putin’s “request” for authorization included all of the elements laid out by Medvedev and Lavrov and others in the Russian hierarchy in the immediate aftermath of Yanukovych’s fall.  Like I said, they were building the justification for intervention in Ukraine.  This was in the works from the very beginning of the crisis.

Why is Putin moving so quickly?  I think this is overdetermined.  A mixture of personal/subjective and objective/pragmatic considerations.

First, as I said from the very early days of this blog, Putin is a man in a hurry: it is part of his nature.  His impatience was no doubt increased by the burning desire to revenge what he views as a personal humiliation inflicted on him by the Ukrainian revolutionaries at the climax of his Olympic extravaganza.

Second, Ukraine is in a chaotic state, as is every government in the immediate aftermath of a revolution. The military is no doubt reeling and riven by dissent and rivalry.  The government has little idea of which units and commanders it can rely on.  There is no experienced competent authority in place, especially in the defense and interior ministries.  There cannot be a unity of command in such circumstances.  Moreover, parts of the country are ripe for putsches by fifth columns supported and guided by Moscow.  (During the Cold War, Soviet operational plans for an invasion of Europe included extensive provisions for sowing chaos in rear areas, including by fomenting civil unrest.)  A disorganized, chaotic polity is much easier picking than would be the case in a few months, or even a few weeks, when it has had time to get its feet under it.

Third, Putin has taken the measure of his opponents in the West, and found them lacking.  Note the timing.  Within mere hours of Obama’s craven and empty warning, Putin moves to war.  He knows he has nothing to fear from Obama.  Obama’s warning turned out to be less of a deterrent, and more of an invitation.  Obama’s pre-gala dinner act had pretty much the same effect on Putin as Dean Acheson’s neglect to mention that South Korea was in the US security perimeter had on Stalin. And you know that Putin has nothing but scorn for the Euros.

Fourth, knowing the dithering nature of the Western leadership, he wants to get inside their slow decision loop (I don’t call it an OODA loop because there is considerable doubt whether any “Act” would be involved).  By moving fast, he can present them with facts on the ground that will be virtually impossible to reverse.  Possession is nine-tenths of the law.

So here we are.

A couple of other points must be made.

First, this has to be the most complete public humiliation inflicted on any American president ever.  Obama gave what he thought was a stern warning, and within hours Putin defied it with relish.  Such defiance is a sign of complete disrespect.

Second, this represents another utter and abject failure of US intelligence, which evidently had concluded that Putin would not invade.  In this, they were at one with the bien pensant set, epitomized by Dmitri Trenin, but which sadly in this instance included Mark Galeotti, who is usually more wise to Putin’s thuggery.

If I had to guess at a diagnosis, I would say that this is a case of projection and mirror imaging.  Rather than seeing Putin as he is, the intelligence community assumed that Putin is a rational actor not really different from any Western leader.  Putin is a rational actor, perhaps, but his premises, goals, and interests are far different.  By failing to understand him, the IC completely miscalculated and misunderstood.

Then there is one other aspect to this.  Was it an analytical failure only?  Or was there an information failure?  Indulging in some speculation, I wonder if it is possible that information obtained from Snowden allowed the Russians to identify and plug some vulnerabilities in their communications that deprived us of vital information precisely when it was needed.

Regardless.  This whole episode is an utterly ignominious failure by the US and European “leadership.”

Somewhere Chamberlain is smiling.  He has company.

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February 8, 2014

Benedict Arnold, Yield to Edward Snowden the Dubious Distinction of Most Perfidious American

Filed under: Military,Politics,Russia,Snowden — The Professor @ 8:03 pm

The headline and lede of this article focus on the fact that Snowden used a rather ordinary webcrawling tool to scrape and steal hundreds of thousands of NSA documents.  Yes, that’s important, primarily because it reveals serious breakdowns in security at NSA.  Most notably, the lack of compartmentalization at NSA is rather shocking.

But that is not the most important thing. By far.  Two other things put it in the dust.

The first is that Snowden set the parameters of the webcrawler to look for specific categories of documents:

Mr. Snowden appears to have set the parameters for the searches, including which subjects to look for and how deeply to follow links to documents and other data on the N.S.A.’s internal networks. Intelligence officials told a House hearing last week that he accessed roughly 1.7 million files.

If Snowden had really been interested in the privacy of Americans, he would have limited his search parameters to documents that contained such information.  But through the myriad non-privacy related stories derived from Snowden documents, and the statements of US officials, we know that the vast bulk of the materials he stole had nothing to do with this.  Instead, they were related to intelligence operations against potential adversaries, and to US military operations and movements.

That is, he chose to take this information.  Information that has nothing to do with civil liberties, but which when revealed is deeply damaging to US security.  And which if obtained by Russia or China in particular-both stops on the Snowden World Tour, remember-would wreak havoc on US intelligence and military operations.

Second, the article shows that the Booz Allen Hamilton facility in Hawaii where Snowden worked was the most vulnerable to an inside attack of all NSA facilities:

Agency officials insist that if Mr. Snowden had been working from N.S.A. headquarters at Fort Meade, Md., which was equipped with monitors designed to detect when a huge volume of data was being accessed and downloaded, he almost certainly would have been caught. But because he worked at an agency outpost that had not yet been upgraded with modern security measures, his copying of what the agency’s newly appointed No. 2 officer, Rick Ledgett, recently called “the keys to the kingdom” raised few alarms.

Given that Snowden left one NSA contractor (Dell) and went to another with greater access, and the one that was the least secure, the only reasonable inference is that he chose BAH with malice aforethought.  Combine that with the fact that Snowden’s searches were deliberately far more expansive than would have been necessary to achieve his ostensible purpose of alerting Americans to purported threats to their privacy, the only reasonable conclusion is that Snowden’s real purpose was to inflict grave damage on the security of this country.  His country.  My country.

One possibility consistent with that is that he did so at the behest of, or connivance with, a foreign power, most notably Russia.  Definitive or even compelling evidence to that effect is not yet in the public domain.

But that doesn’t really matter.  Whether Snowden acted at the behest of Russia or some other foreign entity, or was simply acting on his own twisted and narcissistic impulses, the consequences for American security are incalculable.

Snowden’s “whistleblower” persona is a cover.  A cover for a directed attack on the US.  Whether he did it all on his own, or with the support, assistance, and encouragement of Russia or China is a a secondary issue.  They (and other adversaries of the US) are the main beneficiaries of his perfidy, and the citizens of the US-yes, the people whom Snowden claims to have been trying to help-are the biggest casualties.

At least Benedict Arnold (another malignant narcissist) contributed mightily to the American cause before his betrayal of his country: ironically, the US may never have achieved independence without Arnold.  Moreover, Arnold’s perfidy was uncovered before he could do serious damage. Snowden never contributed anything positive to this country or its people, and he is still at large, wreaking more havoc by the day.

Where is Inspector Javert when you need him?

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