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Tuesday, April 13

The 'Get Russia' crowd and Blowback

If you missed John Batchelor's discussions with Stratfor's Marko Papic about Russia's moves to re-acquire or solidify influence over its near abroad, you missed a lot. However, John's tour-de-force interview on April 12 with Dr Stephen F. Cohen is a chance to play catch-up.

The Papic interviews, with John's insightful questions driving the discussion, were great; they provided a detailed country by country analysis. (If I recall the interviews were on March 9 and 10 although I don't see the podcasts for them at the show's Archives page.) The Cohen interview, while touching on several countries, focused on Russia's relations with Poland and Kyrgyzstan, START, and the Nord Stream pipeline.

The interview went an entire hour (minus station breaks) and seamlessly worked history lessons into a situation report on Russia's relations with Europe, former Soviet republics, and the United States.

For my money Steve Cohen, a Russian history scholar and professor, is also the best expert on present-day Russian politics and foreign policy. See Steve's latest book, Soviet Fates and Lost Alternatives: From Stalinism to the New Cold War (June 2009).

And John himself is steeped in Russian and Cold War history and the geopolitics of Russia's relations in the present era. So to have those two talking for an hour about Russian geopolitics is hog heaven for foreign relations/defense wonks. The 'listen now' podcast of the Cohen-Batchelor interview is found here.

You can also download the interview (11 PM-midnight segment). See the Archives page.

I consider John and Steve among my best teachers on Russian-American relations but ironically what I've taken from their discussions over the years on John's show, combined with my own research, has perhaps made me a harsher critic of American policy toward Russia than either man.

I believe that during the post-Cold War era U.S. foreign policy was hijacked by people I refer to as the "Get Russia crowd." I term them a crowd because they're not a cabal or conspiracy, even though they network and have the same goals, which are complete control of Russia's government and while they're trying to bring that about, blocking Russia from any influence in its near abroad.

Who makes up the crowd? Russian Oligarchs -- men who made fortunes from the breakup of Soviet-era state controlled industries -- and their mobster enforcers; several U.S. members of Congress (who have their counterparts in Western Europe); a host of lobbyists for expats who hate Russia because of what they suffered under the Soviet regimes; certain foreign governments and energy companies that are in stiff competition with Russia's energy supplies and/or want control of Russia's energy resources; and foreign financiers who want Russia to revert to the 'Wild West' days of the Yeltsin era -- when they could control big chunks of Russia's economy without having any responsibility toward the Russians.

The crowd also includes some defense hawks who can't deal with the modern era unless they reshape it in the Cold War image; several of these are holdovers from the Cold War, although I see the Cold War Warriors in a different light than the Get Russia crowd. And there are also the blinkered among NATO's American supporters -- those who got so involved in NATO's priorities they overlooked that NATO is now "European Union" spelled backward, and that EU interests can work in opposition to America's best interests. If you put you all those types together the result is toxic.

In my view the Get Russia Crowd has been the most destructive force in U.S. relations and defense. They don't care about America's relationships with its neighbors in Latin America and the Caribbean, or the war on terror. Although they will lie if confronted with a bald statement of their thinking, their actions have demonstrated that they see the 9/11 attack on America as a trifle next to the serious stuff, such as the urgent necessity to encircle Russia and get rid of Vladimir Putin.

As for Mexico's problems and how this is affecting the USA -- tough beans. These Americans are not here, you understand. They are not focused on America or America's part of the Western Hemisphere. They are focused over there -- 6,000 miles away, in Russia and Eastern Europe.

What galls me is that they wrap themselves in the American flag and call any American who disagrees with them un-American. Yet their view of America's proper priorities has been very costly to the United States -- so costly that even if Washington could get free of that crowd's clutches, Americans could spend the rest of this century recovering from the negative consequences of their machinations.

The worst part of what they did was actually not their brainchild; it started under President Reagan as a Cold War tactic, but during the post-Soviet era the Get Russia crowd took the concept to the most perverse extreme. What they did was fashion American democratic principles into a scam -- an outright scam.

Yet the original idea was reasonably benign if you don't have anything against meddling in other countries in the name of doing good: Congress created a nonprofit organization called the National Endowment for Democracy to promote democracy around the world. While it's administered as a private organization its funding comes almost entirely from the U.S. government.

So the NED was the first of what's called a gongo -- a "government non-governmental organization." If you tell me that's gibberish, yup, but that's exactly what it is. Now you know why Putin eventually barred foreign ngos (non-governmental organizations) from Russia; by that time it was hard to tell the gongos from the ngos.

The NED provided cash grants, funded primarily through an annual allocation from Congress, to pro-democracy opposition parties in foreign countries that weren't democratic, or were communist, or had authoritarian regimes standing behind a democracy stage show.

The NED's mission statement sounds good on paper but the gongo's usefulness proved to be too much temptation. In 1991 Allen Weinstein, one of NED's founders, told The Washington Post that much of what the NED "does today was done covertly 25 years ago by the CIA" -- namely staging 'soft' U.S.-backed coups that masquerade as a democratic election.

The NED, and the copycat gongos that sprang up, got much help from a guide compiled by an American named Gene Sharp. Some have accused Sharp of working for the CIA but I would be surprised if that were the case; he strikes me as a sincere man who was always committed to promoting genuine democracy and civil rights through nonviolent means.

But what Sharp did was collect in the pages of one book (The Politics of Nonviolent Action; published 1973) a list of 198 nonviolent tactics that genuine democracy and civil rights activists had used over the years -- what had worked for them.

That was a great idea; the guide is an invaluable tool for democracy and human rights activists. It saves people who have little or no political savvy from having to recreate the wheel, if they want to stand up to a repressive regime and have a chance at living to tell the tale.

The problem with the guide is that just because it's such a handy reference, a no-brainer recipe, so to speak, it made it child's play for those with non-democratic motives to stage a 'soft' coup. Coups based on Sharp's recipe are virtually indistinguishable from a genuine democratic movement.

The result was an electoral version of 'supermoney' -- the counterfeit $100 bills that are such good copies of the real thing, only experts can tell them apart.

Thus, the 'color revolutions' during the post-Soviet era that were financed in great measure by George Soros's 'societies' and overseen by the U.S. Department of State working with gongos and ngos -- several of which were backed by the Get Russia crowd. It was almost impossible to tell the phony revolutions from the real thing unless you were very knowledgeable about the players and tactics involved.

That's why even today the majority of Americans believe that the Orange Revolution in Ukraine was a genuine democratic election. The American public got no help from the American NATO-leaning mainstream media in learning the real story. With one exception the mainstream media hailed the Orange Revolution as a giant step for democracy in Ukraine. The exception was John Batchelor; he was the only person in the news media who warned his audience that the Orange Revolution wasn't genuine.

There were eventually a few rays of light in the mainstream media. In September 2008 The Wall Street Journal carried an article about Gene Sharp -- although without mentioning the dark uses to which his work has been put.

And around the time of the campaign for the Ukrainian 2010 presidential election The Washington Post sniffed that 'some said' the Orange Revolution was not genuine -- as close as I think they'll ever come to admitting it was a sham.

The small nods to the truth did not undo the damage the U.S. news media did by remaining mum because, you see, everyone outside the USA learned about the democracy scam. As to how that came about: in my view it happened because Tony Blair's administration, which was a gold-plated member of the Get Russia crowd, got scared that they'd pushed the Kremlin too far.

No one, including those in the West who were machinating against Putin, could have predicted the massacre at the Beslan school in Russia, which took place in September 2004. Most of the victims were children; many of them killed just for fun, for target practice. Coming on top of everything else that was the final straw for Vladimir Putin, who was Russia's President at the time.

Shortly after the massacre he called a press conference for the major European press outlets and international news wire services, during which he excoriated the U.S. and U.K. governments. He held them responsible for the massacre and charged that the U.S. and the British were trying to apply the Carthage Solution to Russia -- the Carthage Solution being a legend that after the sack of Carthage the Roman victors leveled the city, then salted the ground so nothing could grow.

For 3-1/2 hours Putin held forth in the same vein. It was ugly. From my report on the press conference, in addition to his accusation about the Beslan massacre:
He accused the U.S. and the U.K. of colluding in a plot to destabilize Russia by fomenting anti-Russian sentiment in former Soviet republics. He accused the U.S. and U.K. of being behind the breakaway movement in Chechnya. He clearly implied that the U.S. and U.K. were trying to topple his government. And just to make sure he was perfectly understood, Putin came right out and said that the U.S. and the U.K. had launched a covert war against Russia. ...

I add that Putin's remarks got very little coverage in the U.S. media and only in attenuated form. The remarks were widely reported in painstaking detail by the European press and pored over and parsed for many days, to the great enjoyment of the Europeans who love opera and hate the Coalition's invasion of Iraq. They particularly liked the part about Carthage.

After he'd blown off steam it occurred to him that conjuring the image of Russia reduced to a salt flat was not a boost to Russian tourism and trade so eventually he scaled back on his accusations. However, he stuck by the gist, which still amounts to serious claims.
As to whether there was any truth to his claim about British and U.S. government support for the Chechens -- this part of the story is very murky. I am not the expert on this matter but I'd guess that if anything like that went on the support for Chechen's terrorist organizations came from some individuals in the Get Russia Crowd acting on their own, rather than through official channels.

I interject that this is another problem with the crowd: although there are civil servants and politicians among them they're rarely acting in official government capacity. The State Department's 'country desks' are notoriously opaque. So there's little or no transparency about what all these people do to assist 'democracy movements,' which translates to little or no accountability.

In short, the Get Russia crowd took on a life of its own, sort of like the Incredible Blob.

To continue with the story, the Get Russia Crowd didn't see the Chechen terrorists as terrorists, in the manner that many Palestinian supporters don't see Hamas and Hezbollah as terrorist organizations. The crowd claimed the Chechen terrorists were freedom fighters.

Yet I have a hard time featuring that anyone in that crowd, even the most vicious mobsters and most virulent anti-Russians, would have supported the Beslan massacre. Even other Chechen terrorists repudiated the massacre; indeed, what happened at Beslan took away much sympathy for the Chechen separatists' cause.

Putin's feeling, I think, was that the U.S. and British government's sympathy for the Chechen terrorists set the stage for Beslan, even if they didn't directly encourage or support the atrocity.

From all this, you can see why Tony Blair, the Labor party, and the British foreign office might have become alarmed after taking in Putin's presser. It wouldn't do for the British government to be seen as child killers.

About two months after Putin's press conference the (U.K.) Guardian newspaper ratted out the U.S. Department of State.

That's as much saying MI6 snitched on State. The Guardian is a conduit for MI6, in the way The New York Times is a conduit for the CIA and The Washington Post is a conduit for the State Department. Not all the articles, of course, but whenever these agencies want to 'leak' something to the public, they have their favorite press outlets.

In a sensational article for the Guardian titled US campaign behind the turmoil in Kiev, Ian Traynor reported on November 26, 2004 that the Orange Revolution had been orchestrated by State with the help of various gongos and ngos and George Soros. Traynor named some names:
[...] Richard Miles, the US ambassador in Belgrade, played a key role. And by last year, as US ambassador in Tbilisi, he repeated the trick in Georgia, coaching Mikhail Saakashvili in how to bring down Eduard Shevardnadze.

Ten months after the success in Belgrade, the US ambassador in Minsk, Michael Kozak, a veteran of similar operations in central America, notably in Nicaragua, organised a near identical campaign to try to defeat the Belarus hardman, Alexander Lukashenko.

That one failed. "There will be no Kostunica in Belarus," the Belarus president declared, referring to the victory in Belgrade.

But experience gained in Serbia, Georgia and Belarus has been invaluable in plotting to beat the regime of Leonid Kuchma in Kiev.

The operation - engineering democracy through the ballot box and civil disobedience - is now so slick that the methods have matured into a template for winning other people's elections.


The Democratic party's National Democratic Institute, the Republican party's International Republican Institute, the US state department and USAid are the main agencies involved in these grassroots campaigns as well as the Freedom House NGO and billionaire George Soros's open society institute.

US pollsters and professional consultants are hired to organise focus groups and use psephological data to plot strategy.[...]
And he detailed a few of the tactics, lifted straight from Gene Sharp's handy guide.

Ian Traynor's report became famous -- except in the United States. The American public is always the last to know about anything that might raise questions in the USA regarding America's continued involvement with NATO.

However, Traynor's report left out several things. The Americans weren't the only ones poking their nose into Ukraine's politics and other former Soviet republics. The British and EU bureaucrats were also mucking around, and to such an extent in Ukraine it was like gridlock. That was another reason the British had become alarmed: Putin's presser was a signal that he was turning the tables.

If NATO continued to drive a wedge between Russia and its former republics, he was prepared to drive a wedge into NATO. By singling out the British when he knew other EU governments were also meddling, he was as much posing a question to the rest of Europe's NATO countries, and notably Germany: Do you want the British vendetta against Russia to interfere with energy shipments from Russia to Western Europe?

Again, it was ugly. Yet even before Traynor's bombshell the machinations of the Get Russia crowd, and the phony color revolutions they backed, had been noted by despotic regimes. The phony Orange Revolution to install an American puppet leader, coming on top of Georgia's phony Rose Revolution to install another American puppet, was by then revealing a clear pattern.

Kyrgyzstan's autocratic president, Askar Akayev, sputtered in 2005 that there would be no color revolution or "tulip revolution" in his country. Not long after he was deposed by a phony revolution, which the Western media waggishly dubbed the Tulip Revolution. In his place the U.S. installed a thuggish puppet, who was deposed just a few days ago. I am not making any of this up.

If Americans ask, 'Why do we have to be the Fall Guy?' That is our designated role as far as the Europeans are concerned -- it's the role we slipped into, in stages. We stayed too long at Europe's ball after the Iron Curtain fell. That was not good for us and not good for the Europeans. We did a great deal of good in Eastern Europe but the phony revolutions threatened the good we did.

What really rips me up is that the best about America, our democratic system and the high value we place on civil rights, was made into a mockery by the phony democratic revolutions -- a mockery that the world's anti-democratic regimes used to their advantage.

Genuine ngos found it even harder to operate in countries with repressive regimes. And the regimes used the excuse of defending against the color revolutions to crack down harder on their citizens. And they presented democracy as an evil enterprise cooked up by the U.S. Department of State.

I warned about this in Not Clockwork Orange Century, one of the earliest essays I wrote for this blog, although my light tone masked how upset I was at the time. I was watching a great tragedy unfold.

In the name of promoting democracy the Get Russia Crowd had sold democracy down the river, and they did so while singing "Star Spangled Banner."

There was no way to stop it, no way to alert the American public to what was happening. The American blogosphere had no interest in the issue; only a handful of blogs -- mine, Anti-war, and two or three others, made any protest about the Orange Revolution.

The irony is that I was a war hawk. I should have been the last person to be shouting in a glass booth along with the Anti-war site. But I was in full agreement with their protests about the phony revolutions.

Well, I'd meant to write something about Poland's tragedy and to make a futile plea that the Get Russia crowd back off and let the Russians and Poles find their own way. Another day perhaps, but right now I'm too upset to do anything more than extend my condolences to the Polish people. I don't like dredging up the past when it comes to the Get Russia crowd's machinations. But at least you know now why I'm so tough on them.

And I suppose this writing is also an answer to readers who ask why I've had little to say about U.S. foreign policy since 2008. The final straw came for me when John McCain, during his presidential campaign, announced on August 12, 2008 that he had told Georgia's President Mikheil Saakashvili by phone that he knew he spoke for all Americans when he said, "Today, we are all Georgians."

His words were an allusion to a famous statement by Jean-Marie Colombani, a French journalist and editor of France's Le Monde. Colombani wrote in Le Monde on Sept. 12, 2001:
"In this tragic moment, when words seem so inadequate to express the shock people feel, the first thing that comes to mind is this: We are all Americans! We are all New Yorkers ... "
That McCain twisted Colombani's words to equate what happened in Georgia with 9/11 was the gravest of insults to the victims of 9/11 and to all Americans. Yet he didn't seem to care.

Saakashvili turned right around and repeated at a large rally what McCain had told him, leading the Georgians to believe that the United States would intervene militarily, in response to the Russian counterstrike against Georgian military forces. Those forces had launched a surprise attack in South Ossetia, slaughtering UN-mandated Russian peacekeepers and many unarmed residents of South Ossetia.

Of course McCain didn't describe it that way when he announced that Americans were all Georgians now:
The impact of Russian actions goes beyond their threat to a democratic Georgia. Russia has used violence against Georgia to send a signal to any country that chooses to associate with the West and aspire to our shared political and economic values.
What shared political and economic values would those be?

McCain knew very well that Saakashvili was an American-installed puppet who turned out to be a thug. A thug who wouldn't tolerate even the appearance of an opposition voice in Georgia. Rupert Murdoch is probably still trying to get his money back from his investment in Georgia's Imedi television station, which Saakashvili's goons smashed up; that was Saakashvili's editorial response to the station's call for a little transparency in his regime.

At the time I'd spent months on this blog fighting Barack Obama's presidential campaign. But while listening to McCain lie about what happened in Georgia, the full implications struck me. Obama was being installed in the White House by the same tactics George Soros used to stage-manage counterfeit revolutions -- the same tactics that John McCain, American war hero, had gone along with.

At that moment I realized Barack Obama's stage-managed election would be poetic justice. It would also be what the CIA calls blowback.

U.S. foreign policy is not meant to run by people who don't have to be accountable to the American electorate. That was the argument for finally reining in the CIA. Decades later we were back at the same place -- only this time with a host of gongos, ngos, members of Congress, political machines, lobbyists, ad agencies, civil servants, and a collection of characters from around the world who were straight out of Mordor.

So what use was it talk seriously about U.S. foreign policy? There is no policy. There's just a maze of machinations against Russia that don't add up to a damn bit of sense. When I fully confronted that, if you recall my foreign policy advice for 2009 was "Run for your lives."

For more blowback, listen to Steve Cohen and John Batchelor discuss what Vladimir Putin has accomplished. He has been very busy since that 2004 press conference. The Get Russia crowd should have left well enough alone.

As for the poor suffering Chechens, I'll discuss that tomorrow.
Excellent piece.
I do not understand america's fixation with "getting" Russia even after end of cold war. Its easy to easy that america is expending considerable energy on "surrounding" Russia.

If you look at last 20 years, you would think US would spend more time dealing with economic and security threats emanating from china. But curiously, the current administration feels more comfortable with china than with Russia.
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