Tag Archives: russia

Stratfor describes the effects of sanctions on Russia (hegemon at work)

Summary: Our outrage about Russia’s meddling in Eastern Ukraine is the smoke. Sanctions on Russia are our tool. Weakening Russia is our goal. Exactly as with Iran (as we see in the die-hard opposition to the arms control treaty). Here Strafor examines the results of the sanctions on Russia.


Russia Readies Itself for Unrest

Stratfor, 7 August 2015


  • The Kremlin will allow the economies of many of the country’s Soviet-era mono-cities to deteriorate.
  • Protests against the Kremlin will increase as more Russians fall under the poverty line and regional and municipal debt grows.
  • The Kremlin will crack down on protest movements and opposition parties to block the formation of any serious challenge to its hold on power.


Russia’s economy is in steep decline, and the financial strain on the Kremlin is beginning to spread to the country’s regions, cities and people. Many of Russia’s regions are already on the verge of default. As the pressure continues to build at the regional level, the country’s municipal governments and citizens will find themselves increasingly strapped for cash.

With little hope of economic recovery in the near future, the Kremlin is taking steps to quash any threat of regional defiance or mass protests against its leadership. As its attention shifts inward over the next few years, the Kremlin’s capacity to assert itself abroad will diminish.

Continue reading

For 50 years Republicans have fought against treaties that brought peace

Summary:  To understand the dynamics and stakes of the Iran deal we should look at our past, rather than conservatives’ confident warnings about the future. The peace we’ve enjoyed for decades results in part from 50+ years of arms control treaties — all strenuously fought by the Right. We can learn much from their false predictions, as they’re repeated today about Iran.

Atomic bomb explosion


  1. Unceasing war.
  2. Clinton takes a turn.
  3. Obama negotiates a New START.
  4. Reagan the peacemaker.
  5. Conclusions.
  6. For More Information.

(1)  Unceasing war

The far-right’s grand strategy since WWII has been one of unceasing war and rigid opposition to all arms control treaties (we are always in 1938 Munich; are foes are always NAZI Germany). We see that in their opposition to a deal with Iran (where the likely alternative is war), just as we saw in their support for the continued above ground nuclear testing that was blanketing the world with radioactive fallout. Even after a full-court press by Kennedy, 19 Senators voted in 1963 against the first Nuclear Test Ban Treaty JFK negotiated in 1963. Fortunately saner people prevailed.

To get an idea of the results if the conservatives had won, read the National Institute of Health’s pages about exposure to radioactive Iodine-131 from fallout. These debates would play out repeatedly during the next 6 decades, but not always with a happy ending.

Continue reading

Finding truth amidst the lies about Russia & the Ukrainian civil war

Summary: Today we look at off-road sources of information about the world (especially wars), used by those who seek more than the polished narrow narratives of the western news media. What do we seek? Are we gathering information, or finding only new sources of propaganda? Answers and advice follow, using examples from the Ukraine Civil War. Post your thoughts in the comments.  {2nd of 2 posts today}

The Truth is Out There

The western news media deliver a richly detailed and polished narrative about our world. The information highway takes those seeking more detail or different perspectives to a vast array of websites offering what seem to be reliable pictures of conflicts in the far corners of the world. Usually described in the first or second person, often with graphics, pictures, or videos as evidence, they give dissidents from the mainstream worldview confidence that theirs is a more accurate worldview. Are they correct?

A frustrating aspect of cyberspace results from our inability to know what’s real. This makes effective propaganda easy to manufacture, and much of the fringe internet overflows with exaggerated, distorted, or fake news created by partisans about distant wars — some by amateurs, some by professionals. Debkafile developed many of the tactics now commonly used: details from the front lines (sometimes real, sometimes bogus) plus confident analysis dramatically presented.

Continue reading

The first rule of American war is not to believe what we’re told

Summary: Another war starts with its barrage of propaganda on America, raising the usual questions. Can we learn from experience? Will we demand accurate information and better analysis, laughing at those who have been so often wrong?  Today’s post provides some context that might help you decide what’s happening, or at least create useful doubts.  {2nd of 2 posts today.}

“‘Truth,’ it has been said, ‘is the first casualty of war’.”
— Philip Snowden in his Introduction to Truth and the War, by E. D. Morel (1916).

Ministry of Truth


  1. Update from Ukraine.
  2. About previous clashes with Russia.
  3. Compare Ukraine with Vietnam.
  4. Conclusions.
  5. Other posts in this series.
  6. For More Information.

(1)  Update from Ukraine

The US Army announced that “about 300” soldiers from the 173rd Airborne arrived in Ukraine on April 14 “to begin a six-month training rotation with Ukrainian national guard forces”. The NY Times describes the training in the upbeat prose typical of its stenographers repeating what they’re told, with a few specifics (“The courses will train 705 Ukrainian soldiers at a cost of $19 million…”). Canada has sent 200 trainers, Britain has sent 35, and perhaps Israel has sent some as well.

There’s no mention of involvement by US Special Forces, the premier trainers of foreign armies in the methods to fight civil wars, beyond a bland announcement by Special Operations Command Europe (SOCEUR) of deployments to train local troops in “Poland, Slovakia and the Baltic states of Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia involving several hundred personnel from U.S. special forces”.  No mention of direct involvement of US special operations troops, the covert tip of DoD’s spear — but then we shouldn’t expect to be told.

Relive the cold war

(2)  Compare it to previous direct confrontations with Russia

As usual with American geopolitical analysis, many “experts” quickly lose their perspective at the first hint of conflict, venting breathless warnings that we’re in a new Cold War — perhaps even sliding to nuclear war. It led them to predicted scores of great power wars since WWII; every month brings a new crop of war rumors (last year the hot “news” concerned war between some combo of Japan, the Philippines, and China).

Back on Earth, nuclear powers tend to walk lightly around each other after their first close call. For the US and Russia that was a close brush with death in the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis (see the tapes of the NSC meetings described in Virtual JFK; you’ll have a far higher opinion of him after reading it). For India and Pakistan that was a not-close but still scary moment during Kargil War in summer 1999.

One glimpse of atomic death convinces national leaders to avoid direct confrontations of armed forces, relying instead on proxies willing to die for the interests of their great power sponsors. After centuries of experience, western governments have become expert in managing these.

Continue reading

Notes from the Victory Parade in Moscow about our amnesia, & peace

Summary: Yesterday Russians celebrated their history, the 70th anniversary of VE Day. On the day marking this great shared accomplishment, America displayed our ignorance with a pointless gesture of the kind that damages the amity among nations and prevents diplomacy.  {1st of 2 posts today.}

2015 Victory parade in Moscow.

2015 Victory parade in Moscow. Photo by RIA Novosti/Maksim Blinov.

 Lest We Forget: a note about our past and present

By Simon Hunt, Simon Hunt Strategic Services. Posted with his generous permission.

On Saturday 9th May Russia held the Victory Parade in Moscow to mark the anniversary of The Great Patriotic War — as Russia’s defeat of Germany is called. Victory came at a terrible cost. Combat deaths totaled some 10 million Soviets plus another 17 odd-million civilians and prisoners of war of which about 70% were ethnic Russians. About 15% of the Soviet Union’s population was wiped out by the war. Only 3% of Soviet kids who graduated in 1941 survived the war. In contrast, Germany lost 3.5 million people, America 400,000 and the UK 280,000. Still huge numbers but nothing like those that the Soviet Union lost. Continue reading

How the world looks from Russia. It’s a picture the US media don’t show.

Summary: The US news media flood us with facts (mostly correct), but seldom show us how the world looks like from the perspective of our foes and rivals. Here we have a senior Russian official who explains that the world is in fact far different than we see it.  That’s a valuable gift.  {2nd of 2 posts today.}



  1. New sources on the Information Highway.
  2. A Russian official’s view of the world.
  3. Who is Leonid Reshetnikov?
  4. Consider the source!
  5. What does this tell us?
  6. For More Information.


(1)  Finding new sources on the Information Highway

One fascinating aspect of the information highway is the trust people put into the the new sources it makes available. We see this in the loyalty of so many to DEBKAfile, run by journalists Giora Shamis and Diane Shalem, which disseminates a mixture of fact and fantasy with a strong pro-Israeli government slant  (some examples of their rumor-mongering here).

This has become even more common in the wars of Eastern Europe and the Middle East, where people offering plausible sounding details become reliable sources to their fans. To many they are more reliable than the mainstream journalists at Reuters, BBC, and the London and New York Times. It’s similar in nature to the rise in popularity of fringe science and pseudoscience, as they fill the space left by the drop in confidence afflicting most US institutions except (oddly) the military and police.

In our increasingly tribal society, people’s trust becomes unattached to our big institutions — and somewhat randomly re-attaches to new homes (much like runaway children find new homes in gangs, often cruelly exploited). That so many people credulously immerse themselves in these alternative sources — and consider themselves extraordinarily informed — gives public discussions of so many sources (as in website comments) their often mad flavor. Not just geopolitics; economics and climate change are other realms of American madness. Perhaps health care most of all, with bouts of enthusiasm from Laetrile (“the perfect chemotherapeutic agent”) to the anti-vaxers.

But fringe sources can provide useful information, if handled well. Today’s post looks at an example showing how they can be used.

(2)  A Russian official explains how they see the world

Here’s are excerpts from a widely quoted interview with Leonid Reshetnikov, an important Russian official. Red emphasis added.

About the war in Ukraine

Q: How do you think the events in Novorossia will develop in the spring and summer? Will there be a new military campaign?

Continue reading

Did Robert Heinlein in 1961 predict the fall of the Soviet Union? Lessons learned from this.

Summary: Our past can help us to better understand our present. The ills of the present didn’t just appear, and often can be seen more clearly in the past — such as as our penchant for believing fables. This post has it all: a great story about Robert Heinlein’s astonishing prescience, the Evil Empire, demographic collapse, gross errors by experts, a spectacular save at the end, and insights to help us tomorrow.  It’s another in a series about experts.  {1st of 2 posts today.}

Writing about geopolitics = progress by making mistakes

Ask an expert

I find it difficult to guess about the future (track record here). But it’s often difficult to get the past correctly, which makes it almost impossible to accurately see the present.

For example, in 2009 I wrote about the failings of our experts, especially those at the intel agencies, during the Cold War. I cited science fiction writer Robert Heinlein as an example of a non-credentialed expert who got a big question right while they were wrong. I told a commonplace kind of story one sees these days, about how the official sources are wrong when the outsiders are right.

It’s the story so often told by many groups — the climate scientists are frauds people, the down with the Federal Reserve crowd, the anti-vaxers, and the pollutants are everywhere (soda bottles, cell phone towers) tribe — as well as people with whom I largely agree (e.g., the military reformers, the 4GW community, and the peace and justice movements).

It’s an extension of the “crowdsourcing” concept — the anti-establishment belief that wisdom is found on the fringes, in the hands of outsiders. Since 2009 I have found other examples of this. Under examination most proved to be false.

As part of an article about our new cold war (it’s only a slightly chilled dispute, the past repeating as farce) I intended to again cite this example of Heinlein’s wisdom. But my mistakes of the past 5 years (tracked here) taught me to dig deeper before writing. Doing so disproved my 2009 post, giving in exchange some useful insights.

Did Robert Heinlein foresee the fall of the Soviet Union?

In 1960 Robert and Virginia Heinlein visited Moscow. In 1966 he published this note about his trip in Worlds of Robert Heinlein, republished in 1980 as Expanded Universe. In 2009 I cited it as an example of genius by a non-expert. Let’s examine it more closely.

Cover of "Worlds of Robert Heinlein"

For many days we prowled Moskva — by car, by taxi, by subway, by bus, and on foot. Mrs. Heinlein, in her fluent Russian, got acquainted with many people — drivers, chambermaids, anyone. The Russians are delightful people, always happy to talk with visitors … She was able to ask personal questions by freely answering questions about us and showing warm interest in that person — not faked; she is a warm person. But buried in chitchat, she always learned these things:

  • How old are you?
  • Are you married?
  • How many children do you have?
  • How many brothers and sisters do you have?
  • How many nieces and nephews do you have?

Put baldly, that sounds as offensive as a quiz by a Kinsey reporter. But it was not put baldly — e.g., “Oh, how lucky you are! Gospodin Heinlein and I didn’t meet until the Great Patriotic War … and we have no children although we wanted them. But we have lots of nieces and nephews.” Etc, etc.  She often told more than she got but she accumulated the data she wanted, often without asking questions.

… Mrs. Heinlein is a close student of Russian history, history of the Russian Revolution, history of the Third International or Comintern, and so skilled in Marxist dialectical materialism that she can argue theory with a Russian party member and get him so mixed up that he’s biting his own tail.

So far, so good. He’s established some grounds for credibility.

{Virginia said…}  “They claim to have finished the War with about two hundred million and Moscow at four million. Now they are claiming twenty-five million more in the Union, and over a million increase in Moscow. It’s a lie. Unless they are breeding like flies everywhere outside Moscow, they have lost population since the War — not gained. I haven’t found even one family with more than 3 children. The average is less than 2. And they marry late. Robert, they aren’t even replacing themselves.”

…We stopped in many other cities — Alma Ata, Tashkent, Samarkand, Minsk, Vilno, Kiev, Riga, Leningrad, etc. — and she continued her gentle questioning but never found reason to change her opinion. Even out in the Muslim countries of Turkestan the birthrate was low, or the answers seemed to show it.

By the 1990’s Russia’s demographic collapse spread so that the total population began to decline, something rare in modern times except during wars. The Heinleins had discovered this in its early stages 2 decades before the CIA saw it! I was awed. Heinlein had more observations in this article.

One day we were seated on a park bench, back of the Kremlin and facing the Moskva River. I said, “How big does that guide book say this city is?”

“Over five million.”

“Hmmph! Look at that river. Look at the traffic on it. (One lonely scow) “Remember the Rhine? … Ginny, this dump isn’t anything like five million. More the size of Copenhagen, if that. Pittsburgh. New Orleans. San Francisco, possibly.  Yet they are trying to tell us that this dump is bigger than Philadelphia, bigger than Los Angeles, bigger than Chicago. Nonsense. … Three quarters of a million, not five million.”   {1960 population of San Francisco: 740 thousand}

She looked at that empty river. “Not quite as big as Copenhagen is my guess.”

The CIA estimate of Moscow’s population in 1960 was 6 million. Heinlein’s estimate of 750,000 was absurd. That’s almost an order of magnitude difference. Asserting that experts are grossly wrong is a red flag for wingnuttery.

How was it possible for the Russians to claim that Moscow was seven times as big as it actually was? How could I be right and the whole world wrong? The World Almanac gave the same figures the Russians did, all news services seemed to accept Russian population figures. How could a Big Lie that big not be noticed and denounced?

About a year later I had a chance to discuss it with an old shipmate, an admiral now retired but then holding a major command. I asked him how many people there were in Moscow. … He closed his eyes and kept quiet for several minutes. “750,000, not over that.” (Jackpot!)

I said, “Mister 007, have you made a special study of Russia? Or shouldn’t I ask?”

“Not at all. [This command] gives me all the trouble I need without worrying about Russia. I simply worked it as a logistics problem, War College style. That city just doesn’t have the transportation facilities to be any bigger than that. Get much over three quarters of a million and they’d starve. Until they double their tracks and increase their yards they can’t risk a bigger population. You don’t do that over night. They can pick up some slack with the river, but it doesn’t go where they need it most.”

Look, both the Pentagon and the State Department know exactly how big Moscow is, and the Kremlin knows that they know. We were highflying ‘em with the U-2 for four years; you can bet Moscow was carefully photographed many times. Our present Eye-in-the-Sky satellites are so sharp-eyed that they can come close to reading the license plate on your car …

I have one very wild theory. Our State Department may see no advantage in calling them liars on this point. Through several administrations we have been extremely careful not to hurt their feelings.

This should have loudly rang the FAKE alarm for me, since it has so many of the classic elements of urban legends: an anonymous authority figure, an assertion that the author has the hidden truth not visible to lesser beings, and a conspiracy theory about the government hiding truths for mysterious reasons. But I wanted to believe him, and so my critical sense slept.

David Hume


A generation of Boomers grew up with Robert Heinlein as a voice of authority about the world. But this is an odd story in many ways.

Millions still believe Heinlein’s insights from his fiction — such as “an armed society is a polite society” (Beyond This Horizon, 1942), but this assertion about the Soviet Union’s weakness never caught on. Also, after WWII Heinlein was a far-Right conservative. Yet Heinlein’s story contradicts the Right’s belief about the USSR’s growing power, powerfully asserted even in the 1977 by the right-wing Team B (although largely wrong, its members went on to great career success).

Heinlein reminds us that political delusions passed by trusted people are always with us. They are easier to see in the past, which can help us to see them in the present. There are so many of them today, from both Right and Left. I doubt we can regain control of the Republic until we regain our sense of skepticism, even about those we trust.

Also: this post was added to the “Smackdowns” page.

Some thoughts about Heinlein

Here are comments about Heinlein much like my own, from Walter Jon Williams’ “Revisiting the Classics“:

Heinlein had the gift of a perfect avuncular voice: if you were a bright kid of thirteen and curious about the world, he was the kindly uncle who would help you find out how things worked. And as a 13-year-old I read Heinlein and I believed everything Uncle Bob told me: I believed we should bring back flogging (Starship Troopers), practice Upton Sinclair’s version of socialism (Beyond This Horizon), and practice Free Love (Stranger in a Strange Land).  (Of course, when you come down to it, what 13-year-old male doesn’t want to practice Free Love?)

That Heinlein’s various visions of the future were contradictory did not occur to me. I also was unable to distinguish between the ideas that Heinlein meant seriously and the ideas he was just throwing out for their own sake.

When I re-read the book in college, I had the feeling that my kindly uncle was something of a blowhard. Now that I’m older, I’m finding the avuncular voice just the least bit condescending.

Comment by MDHughes:

Stranger’s weird now because it’s not so weird; at the time it must’ve been pure fantasy, and today it passes for current events minus Mars (and we’ll be there soon enough). The sexuality and politics seem plausible … The religious lunatics and stormtroopers are half our political system.

For More Information

If you liked this post, like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.  See the other posts about Robert Heinlein and the other posts about experts, especially these:

  1. Today’s debate: a passionate defense of credentialism. State your view!
  2. Experts now run the world using their theories. What if they fail, and we lose confidence in them?
  3. Do we face a future without confidence in experts?
  4. Our confidence in science is crumbling. Why? How can we fix this?
  5. 2015 might bring an end to the great age of experts’ experiments on us.
  6. Tips to find the experts that help you see the world more clearly.
  7. Will our geopolitical “experts “lead us to ruin?