Putin is Doomed

From the conclusion to ‘Kicking the Kremlin’ by British journalist Marc Bennetts:

The protest movement has failed to bring Putin down, but there is a new vulnerability about the ‘national leader’. The Kremlin’s crackdown was not so much a sign of Putin’s strength, as a tacit admission that he felt threatened.

… Ominously for Putin, the amount of Russians who believe what they see and hear on television is falling fast … and even those who believe are starting to have their doubts. … Russia is changing, but Putin is not. ‘It’s a very difficult moment to pinpoint,’ said Gleb Pavlovsky, the ex-Kremlin political consultant. ‘But whenever the emotional connection with the people is gone, it’s gone forever.’

A generation has lived their entire adult lives with Putin as either president or prime minister. Familiarity has, inevitably, bred contempt. In the words of one former supporter, Putin’s ‘judo tricks no longer cut it.’ … Putin is increasingly a figure of fun. His message of stability is increasingly irrelevant to a generation that has little memory of the chaotic 1990s. For many Russians in their early to mid-twenties, Putin is simply, as one protestor described him to me, some ‘weird old man’ who has been in politics far too long.

‘He’s lost it completely,’ said Matvei Krylov, the young activists who left home at the age of fourteen to join the fight against Putin. ‘When you look at him, you can tell that he doesn’t want to be in power anymore.’ … Krylov laughed, his words a mixture of pity and contempt ‘But he’s trapped. He’s got nowhere to run.’

Published in February 2014.


Crackpot Theory No. 10: We shouldn’t let how Bad guys think affect our actions

Today I revive my crackpot theory series to look at the odd idea that when making policies we shouldn’t take into account the possibility that others might misunderstand what we’re doing. Given that the importance of misperception is well understood in international relations theory, it’s odd that anyone should support this idea. But all too often they do.

For instance, in my last post I criticized Mark Galeotti’s suggestion that Western diplomats join the anti-government protests in Russia. It seems that Galeotti didn’t appreciate my criticism, to the extent that he wrote a full-length response for Johnson’s Russia List. I’m not interested in getting into a big long debate on the issue, but something he said in his response is crucial for understanding what’s wrong about so much Western strategic thinking (or rather lack of strategic thinking) in recent times.

In my post, I pointed out that Western support for protests in Russia would likely play into the Kremlin’s hands by reinforcing the perception that the protests were being orchestrated by the West. In response to this, Galeotti said the following:

To allow fear of how they might be misinterpreted to define our actions would seem as pointless as it is supine.

Nothing could be more totally and absolutely wrong.

I’ve said this before, again and again, but I’m going to have to explain it one more time.

Rational policy making involves choosing a policy objective which in some way benefits you. Good strategy involves using means which help you achieve that objective. Means which don’t serve the objective, or even undermine it, are not compatible with good strategy.

So what affects whether the chosen means help achieve the objective? There are many factors which affect the outcome, but one is how other actors respond. As I explained in a recent post, relationships, including international ones, are an ‘interaction’ (to use Clausewitz’s word). You do something; somebody else responds. The way they respond helps determine the result. Given that the way they respond depends on how they perceive what you are doing, how others are likely to perceive your actions is therefore a critical factor to take into consideration when designing a strategy. If other actors will perceive your chosen policy in a way that induces a response that helps the policy fulfil the chosen objective, then your strategy is sound. If, however, they perceive it in a way that induces a response which makes it impossible for you to fulfil your objective, then your strategy is a bad one, and you ought to change it.

Notice that in this calculation it doesn’t matter whether the other party responds in a way which is rational, moral, or correct in any other way. Their response can be irrational, immoral, and utterly mistaken in every way – but you still have to take it into account, because it is what it is, and you have to deal with the world as it is, not as you would like it to be.

This makes people a little uncomfortable, for it means that they have to surrender some degree of control, and to allow others to have an influence on what they do. When they regard those others as immoral or mistaken, this is a particularly difficult thing to do from a psychological perspective. Why should I be prevented from doing what is right because some slimeball misunderstands the situation and is going to respond in way that thwarts me? That isn’t right. I can’t allow that.

So goes the logic. But it’s wrong. It’s not a matter of you allowing it, or not allowing it. It is the reality. You have to take into account, or your strategy will fail.

This isn’t rocket science. It’s Strategy 101. But for some reason, too many people don’t seem to understand it, and I’ve lost count of the times I’ve heard people use the logic above to propose policies which are best doomed to failure and at worst likely to be deeply counterproductive.

Some 20 years ago, for instance, at the start of the Global War on Terror, myself and others argued that the military strategy that the United States and United Kingdom were adopting to fight terrorism would be counterproductive because it would annoy a lot of people, radicalize some of them, and increase not decrease terrorism.

Against this, people responded that we couldn’t allow terrorists to dictate what we did. What we were doing was right. They were wrong, they were evil, they shouldn’t have a say in our policy.

Dumb, dumb, dumb.

The aim of an anti-terrorism policy is not to do what is ‘right’. It’s to reduce terrorism. An anti-terrorism policy which reduces terrorism is a good one; an anti-terrorism policy which increases terrorism is not. It’s that simple. If your chosen anti-terrorism policy will radicalize people into becoming terrorists, it’s therefore a bad policy. So you shouldn’t do things which will radicalize them. Does that mean allowing potential terrorists in some way to dictate what you do? For sure. Does that matter? No. You judge a strategy not by its inputs, but by its outputs, in other words by results. Who is providing inputs into the policy is neither here nor there. What matters is the output, i.e. whether it achieves the relevant objective.

Regrettably, this doesn’t seem to be how those responsible for our security think. Going forward in time, in recent years I’ve repeatedly heard senior NATO officers and officials, as well as NATO advocates, make an argument along these lines:

NATO is a defensive organization. We have no plans to attack Russia. We pose no threat to Russia. Russia should not therefore be alarmed by the deployment of NATO troops in Eastern Europe, and any response it undertakes, such as increasing its own troop deployments, are unjustified. Therefore, since these responses would be unjustified, we don’t need to take them into consideration when deciding our own policy.

Dumb, dumb, and dumberer.

Let’s grant that the NATO guys are right. NATO is entirely defensive, it poses no threat to Russia, and so Russian responses are unjustified. Does that mean that NATO is right to ignore those responses? No, no, and three times no.

Why? The answer is obvious. The point of NATO, and so the point of any NATO strategy, is [or at least should be] to enhance the security of NATO members. If NATO policy makes members less secure by provoking a response from Russia which potentially harms those members, then that policy is mistaken. The fact that the Russian response is based on misperception is neither here nor there. That misperception is a reality that we cannot wish away, anymore than we can wish away the physical response which results from the misperception.

In short, if your policy is likely to be misperceived in ways that are harmful to you, then in objective terms your policy is harmful to you too. You should therefore change it.

Allowing the potential for misperception to define one’s actions would be ‘pointless’ and ‘supine’, says Galeotti. I fear that I’m sounding like a stuck record, but the ‘point’ is to achieve the objective. It is only by allowing for the potential for misperception that the objective can be achieved. Doing so is, therefore, the very opposite of pointless.

Why don’t people get this? I think that the answer is connected to what I said before. They feel that it deprives them, the good guys, of control, and passes control to the others, the bad guys. Galeotti rather gives it away when he complains that taking the potential for misperception into account is ‘supine’. But it’s irrelevant whether a policy is supine or not. International politics isn’t [or shouldn’t be] a test of manly vigour. Give me a policy which is ‘supine’ but gets the job done, or at least doesn’t do any harm, or a policy which is upright and active, but which is harmful, and I tell you that I’ll choose supine every day of the week. And so should everyone else.

How not to help the Russian opposition

The Moscow Times is reporting that the Russian authorities are planning to imprison opposition activist Aleksei Navalny for 13.5 years. This would consist of 3.5 years, previously suspended, for his earlier conviction for fraud in the Yves Rocher case, and an additional 10 years for new charges which allege that Navalny stole contributions given to his campaign by supporters.

I have no idea if this is true, but it is not implausible. The Moscow Times remarks that the reason for this sharp turn in policy towards Navalny ‘comes from the Kremlin’s belief that Navalny is a Western cutout.’ Support for this hypothesis came with a statement by the head of the Security Council, Nikolai Patrushev, who told the newspaper Argumenty i Fakty that the West was using Navalny to destabilize Russia from inside, with the aim of producing a result similar to the Maidan revolution in Ukraine. ‘The West needs this new leader [Navalny] to destabilize the situation in Russia, for social upheaval, strikes, and new Maidans,’ said Patrushev.

It’s clear, then, that the line the Kremlin plans to take against Navalny, and associated oppositionists, is that they are a tool of hostile Western powers. One might imagine, therefore, that those Western powers, if they really want to help the Russian opposition, would try to dispel this perception, to distance themselves from the opposition as much as possible, and so allow it to claim that it is truly an autonomous phenomenon.

Instead of this, however, Western pundits are lining up with proposals which seem to be designed to justify everything that Patrushev had to say, and so to discredit Navalny and the Russian opposition as a bunch of Western stooges.  

Take for instance one-time US diplomat Richard Haass, who now serves as head of the prestigious Council for Foreign Relations, considered by many to be the American establishment think-tank par excellence. On Monday, he posted the following message on Twitter:

A suggestion: the next Nobel Peace Prize recipient ought to be Alexei Navalny for advocating peaceful protest against corruption in Putin’s Russia. Doing so would not only be right on the merits but would provide some much needed protection & a boost to Navalny & his supporters.

I suppose that would be like how the Nobel prize for literature protected Boris Pasternak and Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn from persecution from the Soviet authorities (not!). In reality, the effect of such a move would likely be just to discredit the Nobel committee in the eyes of the Russian government, and to reinforce the impression that Navalny is a tool of the West.

Haass isn’t the only one making bad recommendations. For instance, an editorial in the Financial Times on Tuesday argued that the West must hold the Kremlin ‘to account for Mr Navalny’s imprisonment, and how it treats his supporters.’ Meanwhile The Times made the same point. Germany should cancel the North Stream 2 pipeline, it said, while the United Kingdom should seize the money of Russians hiding their wealth in London, so that the Kremlin’s lackeys in the UK ‘start to feel the pinch.’

The prize for worst advice, however, surely belongs to Mark Galeotti, who posted the following on Twitter:

I’d also like to see diplomats accompanying marchers in hope moderates state behaviour and esp media crews covering protests.

One can scarcely conceive of anything better designed to justify the authorities’ claims that Navalny and his supporters are in the pay of the West. Let’s imagine that Russian diplomats accompanied protestors in the United States or some other Western country – the outrage would be enormous. Why would it be any different in the case of Western diplomats joining political protests in Russia?

And just imagine what the Russian media would make of such a thing? They’d love it – pictures of Western diplomats ‘interfering’ in Russian affairs would be all over the TV, allowing the talk show hosts to make hay with claims that it was proof positive of how the protests were being orchestrated from abroad. It really is a truly misguided suggestion.

But it follows a pattern. Underlying a lot of these proposals is a sense that Russia is teetering on the brink of social collapse and political revolution. ‘Acting together, the West can send Mr Putin reeling,’ claims The Times. The West must prepare for Russia’s inevitable ‘rupture’, says Janusz Bugajski, a senior fellow at the Jamestown Foundation in Washington, DC, in an article for the Washington Examiner.

In these circumstances, it’s felt that all the West needs to do is give Russia a push and the whole rotten edifice will come crumbling down. But this isn’t correct. The system is much more stable than its critics like to think, and the current scale of protest is both far from unprecedented and far from sufficient to bring the system to its knees. A bit of help from foreign powers isn’t going to change that.

What it will do, though, is taint Russia’s opposition even more than it is tainted already. Right now, Navalny’s fate hangs in the balance. The authorities might yet decide not to go down too hard on him and others like him. But if the pundits above have their way, the response could well be very harsh. The more the West is seen as interfering in Russia’s affairs with hostile intent, the harder the state will clamp down on its opponents.

In brief, the last thing the Russian opposition needs is more ‘help’ from the West. I realize that saying that deflates our collective ego, by depriving us of a positive role in the unfurling of events. But in this case, as in so many others, a bit of humility might do everyone a lot of good.

The Limited Political Value of Cultural Exchanges

In my latest article for RT, I tackle the issue of cultural exchanges. Various commentators have urged the US and European governments to make it easier for Russians to come and study there. The idea is that they will then go back and be all pro-USA and want to turn Russia into a pro-American liberal democracy. In response, I argue that cultural exchanges are a good in and of themselves, but it’s a mistake to think that they are of much value, if any, as a geopolitical tool. That’s just not how things work.

You can read the argument in full here.

Michael McFaul’s Counterproductive policy proposals

War, said the great Prussian strategist Carl von Clausewitz, is an “interaction.” It is “not the action of a living force upon a lifeless mass, but always the collision of two living forces.” One might say the same thing about international politics. Whatever you do always involves others, who have a will of their own and who act in ways which impede the fulfilment of your plans.  

The good strategist doesn’t assume that others will simply comply with his demands. Rather he considers their likely response, and if it is probable that they will respond in a way that harms his own interests, he jettisons his plan and looks for another.

Joe Biden’s victory against Donald Trump in the recent US presidential election has led to a slew of articles suggesting the policies that the new administration should pursue towards Russia. All too often, instead of considering how Russia will respond, they treat it as a “lifeless mass” which can pushed in the desired direction by pressing the correct buttons. Experience, however, suggests that this is not the case, and the Russian reaction to the proposed policies is not likely to be what the United States desires.

An example is an article by the former US ambassador to Moscow Michael McFaul, published this week in the magazine Foreign Affairs. Full of suggestions for ramping up the pressure on Russia, it fails to take into consideration how Moscow is likely to respond to such pressure. Consequently, it ends up proposing a line that if put into practice would probably be entirely counterproductive.

McFaul accuses Russian president Vladimir Putin of leading an “assault on democracy, liberalism, and multilateral institutions,” with the objective of “the destruction” of the international order. From this McFaul concludes that the United States “must deter and contain Putin’s Russia for the long haul.” He then makes several suggestions as to what this policy should involve.

First, he suggests that NATO build up its armed forces on Russia’s border, “especially on its vulnerable southern flank”. Why precisely this is “vulnerable” McFaul doesn’t say, but he does tell us that NATO “needs new weapons systems, including frigates with antisubmarine technologies, nuclear and conventionally powered submarines, and patrol aircraft.”

Second, he argues that America must increase its support to Ukraine. “A successful, democratic Ukraine will inspire new democratic possibilities in Russia,” he says, as if a “successful, democratic Ukraine” is something that can simply be wished into existence. But McFaul wants to do more than just help Ukraine; he also wants to punish Russia. “As long as Putin continues to occupy Ukrainian territory, sanctions should continue to ratchet up,” he says.

Third, McFaul wants the US to get more deeply involved in other countries on Russia’s borders. “Armenia, Georgia, Moldova, and Uzbekistan all deserve diplomatic upgrades,” he suggests. He also recommends that Joe Biden, “should meet with Belarusian opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya”.

Fourth, McFaul wishes to venture into the world of censorship. America and other Western democracies, “should develop a common set of laws and protocols for regulating Russian government controlled-media,” he says. To this end, he argues that Biden should get social media to “downgrade the information Russia distributes through its propaganda channels.” If a search engine produces a link to RT, “a BBC story should pop up next to it,” he says.

Finally, McFaul says that the United States should bypass the Russian government to forge contacts with the Russian people, so as to “undermine Putin’s anti-American propaganda.” The USA should also train Russian journalists as part of an effort to “support independent journalism and anticorruption efforts in Russia.”

Strategy, as Clausewitz, pointed out, is about using tactics to achieve the political aim. But it is almost impossible to see how the tactics McFaul proposes could help the United States achieve any useful objective. The simple reason is that Russia is hardly likely to react to them in a positive fashion.

Let us look at them from a Russian point of view. How will the Russian government see them?

Sanctions are to “ratchet up” in perpetuity (as they must if they are connected to Russia’s possession of Crimea, which no Russian government will ever surrender); NATO will deploy more and more forces on Russia’s frontier; America will interfere ever more in Russian internal affairs, building up what will undoubtedly be considered a “fifth column” of US-trained journalists and opposition activists; the USA will intensify efforts to detach Russia from its allies and build up a ring up of hostile states around it; and finally, America will launch an all-out information warfare to bend the international media to its will.

What does McFaul imagine Russia will do when it sees all this? Put up its hands and surrender? If he does, then it’s clear that in a lifetime studying Russia, he’s managed to learn nothing.

In reality, the response would probably be not at all to his liking. The growing sense of external and internal threat would lead to an increase in repressive measures at home, undermining the very democracy and liberty McFaul claims to be supporting. In addition, we would most probably see Russia increasing its own military forces on its national frontiers; doubling down on its support for the breakaway Donetsk and Lugansk People’s Republics in Eastern Ukraine; and pressing further with its own activities in the information domain.

In short, the Russian response would involve Russia doing all the things that McFaul dislikes, but even more so. It is hard to see how his strategy could be deemed to be a sensible one.

If it was just McFaul, it would probably not matter too much. But he is far from the only person saying these things. The general theme among supporters of the new Biden administration is that Trump was too soft on Russia, and that America needs to take a more robust line. This does not bode well for the next few years.

“Know your enemy and know yourself,” said another great strategist, Sun Tzu. Unfortunately, Americans seem to have forgotten this advice. They would do well to heed it.


‘Isn’t it ironic, don’t you think?’ sang my fellow Ottawan Alanis Morissette. Of course, the really ironic thing was that Morissette didn’t understand the meaning of ironic. Nevertheless, her words often come to mind when thinking of developments in the United States, especially when they involve Russia. For when it comes to matters Russo-American, the cup of irony truly runneth over.

Take, for instance, the purge of conservatives from social media following the riot in Washington a couple of weeks ago in which a mob of supporters of now ex-president Donald Trump invaded the Capitol building. As anybody who has been even remotely following American politics for the past four years will know, Trump and his supporters have been repeatedly accused of being puppets of Russian president Vladimir Putin. Expelling them from social media is thus portrayed as in part a liberation of the United States from years of Russia disinformation and behind-the-scenes manipulation.

But where have these purged conservatives gone?

One answer is that they have fled from Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp, and all the rest of them, to the messaging app Telegram. Indeed Telegram has been making hay, portraying itself as the home of free speech, and inviting people to defect to it en masse. Adverts have been popping up on my computer screen, showing a deleted Twitter symbol alongside the words ‘Leave Censorship’, followed by Telgram’s symbol and the words ‘Choose Freedom’, and then the hashtag ‘#LeaveTwitterJoinTelegram’.

But what is Telegram? It’s a Russian app, that’s what. And it’s doing really well from the media purge in America. This week the number of Telegram subscribers passed 500 million, with tens of millions having joined in just a couple of weeks.

From a Russian point of view, the irony is sweet: suddenly, America is the home of censorship, and Russia the home of free speech. More broadly, the irony lies in the fact that the assault on Russian disinformation has driven tens of millions of people into the hands of the Russians. You kinda gotta laugh.

And it’s not just Telegram. Also involved in this story is a conservative rival to Twitter which goes by the name of Parler (I’ve heard people pronounce this as ‘parlour’, but Americans don’t speak French any more than they do irony, so I guess we have to forgive them). Founded in 2018, Parler attracted conservatives who felt that Twitter was censoring them, and to that end it advertised itself as a bastion of free speech.

Until a couple of weeks ago, Parler had somewhere around 2 million users, making it something of a minnow on the social media scene. Nevertheless, it was deemed sufficiently objectionable for the rest of the internet community to gang up to shut it down, first throwing it off the various app stores from which people downloaded it, and then denying it access to any computer servers.

So what has Parler done about it? According to today’s news, it’s moved to Russia, finding a new home on the servers of the Russian tech company DDoS-Guard. It expects to be back online and operating again by the end of January.

Heh, heh, heh. Just a few weeks ago, left-wing conspiracy theorists were claiming that Parler was a Russian asset. Well, guess what? It wasn’t, but then you shut it down, and now it is! How’s that for irony?

Now, I want to be clear about one thing. I’m not a fan of the sort of right-wing nutjobbery which got Trump and so many of his supporters thrown off social media. I don’t follow those kind of people, have never used Parler, and don’t intend to. Sadly, the internet is in part a beautiful source of wonderfully useful information and in part a cesspool of rotten filth. I can see why people want to do something about the latter.

But part of what makes the cesspool is the fact that the internet encourages people to self-isolate among those who share their own out-of-the-way beliefs. At least if they are all together on the same platforms, there’s a chance that they might be subjected to some alternative points of view now and again. But that changes once you boot them out. At that point, you don’t actually shut them up. As we’ve seen above, they just find somewhere else to go. But now they’re by themselves even more than they were before. How that is meant to help make things better, I really don’t know. I fear that it will just add to embittered sense of persecution that lies behind so many of America’s current political problems.

Meanwhile, as American social media rips itself apart, Russian internet providers are raking in the profits. It’s ironic, don’t you think?

Silencing Putin’s enemies

Andrei Illarionov, once Vladimir Putin’s economic advisor, but later a devoted oppositionist, has become the latest victim of ‘cancel culture’, being forced out of his position at the Cato Institute in Washington DC. Read my piece about it here, on RT, as I discuss the irony of Putin’s enemies being ‘silenced’ in the United States.

General Madness

Back in the days before covid, when I walked to my to office I would occasionally take a route which took me past an apartment building named ‘The Sandhurst’. I have no idea why anybody would consider that an attractive name. To me, rather than warm thoughts of a cosy apartment, it always invoked memories of the less than pleasant months I spent confined at Her Majesty’s pleasure in the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst back in 1989.

Anyway, it’s rather sobering to realize that my generation of Sandhurst graduates are now running the show. The current Chief of the Defence Staff, General Sir Nick Carter, is a bit older, but his successor could well be a direct contemporary of mine. For some reason, I find it a bit scary.

Not that my contemporaries weren’t good soldiers. To be honest, if you’d had a choice of being led under fire by them or by me, you’d have been a fool to choose me. But those who remain in the service and have climbed up the slippery pole to the rank of General are no longer junior officers. We’re not asking them to leads troops under fire. We want them to display some strategic judgement. And in that regard, I fear, they are rather lacking.

 Mark Galeotti has quite a good article out today in The Moscow Times in which he berates ‘the continued presentation of a Russian threat that is both outsized and out of control’. This threat inflation, he argues, ‘is profoundly problematic for the West itself’. For if Western politicians ‘are seduced by the easy caricature of Putin as Sauron to the Russian Mordor and assume both that everything they do is hostile and that they are driven not by self-interest but an irrational hatred, then this will distort policy.’

Well, hurrah to that, though I’ve been saying it for years and nobody has yet to pay attention.

But, I digress. Let’s get back on track. Galeotti cites an example of what he calls ‘intemperate talk … about Russia as an existential threat and Putin as an all-powerful dictator with an irrational enmity for the West.’ This was a statement by the former head of the British special forces, Lt Gen Sir Graeme Lamb, who remarked to an online conference that Russia was committed to ‘killing our way of life’, and that ‘we’re being boiled like a frog’ by the Russians’ covert campaigns against the United Kingdom. The situation, claimed Sir Graeme, was like that of the 1930s, and if it wasn’t careful the UK could find itself in the same mess as it did against Nazi Germany.

As Galeotti rightly remarks, such gross exaggerations of the Russian ‘threat’, and the ‘misleading and insulting parallels’ between Nazi Germany and contemporary Russia, do nobody any good. At that point, though, Galeotti makes a mistake in calling Lamb’s remarks an ‘outlier’. If only they were. Unfortunately, they’re not.

According to Galeotti, General Carter, speaking at the same event was ‘rather more statesmanlike’. Maybe he was. But he hasn’t been in the past. Speaking to the Royal United Services Institute in November last year, Carter complained that the Russians were ‘flexing their muscles in our own backyard, with an ostentation they have not displayed since the Cold War’. As an example, he cited the fact that ‘The week before last Russia assembled 10 or so warships and combat aircraft from the Northern, Baltic and Black Sea fleets in a show of force in the waters off the British and Irish coasts.’

This is the point where one demands that generals show some strategic judgment. Obviously, General Carter considers it threatening when foreign military forces turn up close to home. So what’s his response? Do the same thing. As he said:

Deterring these threats, signalling to the Russian regime that we will not tamely acquiesce should they escalate, requires conventional hard power – warships and aircraft – as well as less conventional capabilities like cyber. It requires us to hold their backyard at risk, whether that’s in the Barents Sea, the High North, the Baltic or the Black Sea.

Yikes. ‘Hold their backyard at risk’. That’s his solution?? If his response to having Russians turn up near the UK is to send troops to Russia, how does he think that the Russians will respond to when British troops turn up near them? Does he really think that they’ll just sit back and do nothing? Does it not occur to him that just as he feels threatened, they’ll feel threatened, and act accordingly, increasing their defence spending, carrying out more exercises, flexing more muscles, and so on? Why does he think that they are any different?

In about their very first class, international relations students learn about the ‘security dilemma’. You feel under threat from another party, so you take measures to enhance your security. But those measures make the other party feel threatened, so it takes additional measures itself. The result is that you end up less secure than when you started. It’s hardly rocket science. Once you start on the ladder of escalation, it can be hard to get off. Walking faster up the ladder doesn’t actually help you come down again.

Yet somehow, our generals seem blithely unaware of this. They also seem to have learnt the wrong lessons from their experiences of the last 20 years. Carter, Lamb, and so many of their contemporaries, have spent lots of time fighting fruitless wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. At the end of it, they don’t seem to have drawn any suitable conclusions about a) the ability of armed force to solve problems, or b) Britain’s role in the world. You might imagine that Iraq would have induced a bit of humility, that the top brass might have woken up to the fact that the world isn’t a black and white morality show, that the British armed forces aren’t really a ‘force for good’ (to use their motto during the days of Tony Blair). Finally, c) you might imagine that they’d have noticed that if you push people hard, they tend to push back, and it doesn’t leave you any better off.

But none of it. Twenty years on, and still, as Flanders and Swann once sang, ‘The English, the English, the English, are best, I wouldn’t give tuppance for all of the rest. … The English are clever, the English are good, and clever and modest and misunderstood.’

In a way, I get it. I remember what it was like to be a officer in Her Majesty’s army. You have a great confidence in yourself as a member of an ancient and glorious institution, with fine traditions of defending Blighty and the world from the evil Johny Foreigner (you tend not to enquire too closely into what all those Imperial battle honours on the regimental colour really involved). You view the world in terms of threats. You have no doubts about your own side’s righteousness. You have a ‘can do’ spirit, and are confident in the enormous professionalism of yourself and your colleagues. There’s nothing you can’t do if only those damn, cheapskate slimeball politicians would give you the proper resources.

Live in that sort of environment for 30 years, and by the time you’re a general … well, perhaps you really don’t have a proper understanding of the world.

It’s kind of sad. What’s really needed is a lot more introspection, a much better understanding that we’re not always the good guys; that just as we fear others, they fear us, and that they perhaps have some good reasons for so doing. But we don’t see to be getting it.

As Galeotti notes in his article, ‘Kremlin policy is often reacting to perceived Western slights and pressures, and that it is often both pragmatic and risk-averse.’ Painting it as the ‘enemy’, and then ramping up the military pressure on the Russians will only exacerbate Russians’ sense of being under threat. They will respond accordingly and we won’t like it when they do. Perhaps, it’s time to think again.

Fascist Blindness

Yale historian Timothy Snyder was out banging the fascist drum again this weekend in The New York Times. In the aftermath of the Washington riot by America’s version of the old Russian Black Hundreds, Snyder warns of Donald Trump’s ‘pre-fascism’. This builds on his previous work, which portrays Trump as tool of the not pre- but very genuinely ‘fascist’ Valdimir Putin.

As well as his job at Yale, Snyder has a position as a Permanent Fellow at the Vienna-based Institut fur die Wissenschaften vom Menschen (IWM – Institute for Human Sciences, in English). In November he gave an interview to the IWM for its online publication Eurozine, in which he again evoked the spectre of American fascism, saying that, ‘I think it’s impossible to talk sensibly about Mr. Trump without invoking the history of fascism.’

Snyder, therefore, has no problem in seeing fascists. Except, of course, in Ukraine, where fascists are an invention of Russian propaganda designed to delegitimize the glorious and democratic ‘Revolution of Dignity’. Which makes the following rather interesting.

One of the IWM’s ‘focal points’ is what it calls ‘Ukraine in European Dialogue’, as part of which it has an annual competition to appoint Ukraine in European Dialogue Fellows. Today the IWM issued the following Tweet:

The jury of the Ukraine in European Dialogue fellowship has been requested by the IWM Collegium to reconsider the award of a fellowship to Olena Semenyaka. We take the information recently brought to our attention very seriously and will issue an official statement tomorrow.

And then four hours later:

Following a decision by the program jury, the IWM revokes Semenyaka’s fellowship with immediate effect. We sincerely apologize for the inexcusable misjudgment, especially to the Ukrainian research community, & will take further steps to prevent a similar incident in the future

So, who is this Olena Semenyaka? Well, she is allegedly the one on the left in this picture holding the Nazi flag and doing the Hitler salute.

If you want to know more about Ms Semenyaka, I would recommend an article published in October by George Washington University’s Illiberalism Studies Program, entitled ‘Olena Semenyaka: The “First Lady” of Ukrainian Nationalism’. It’s about the first thing which pops up if you Google her name, which makes the IWM’s decision to appoint her as a fellow all the more bizarre. Did they not check her out first? Or did they just not care until somebody found out?

According to the GWU article, ‘Olena Semenyaka is the female figurehead of the Azov movement’. A former disciple of Alexander Dugin, she broke ties with him following the Maidan revolution and joined the Right Sector before switching to Azov. She has since become a prominent proponent of the Intermarium – a sort of Eastern European Union stretching from the Baltic to the Black Sea, rather along the lines of the old Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. To this end, she has established links with far right groups across Europe.

Philosophically, Semenyaka draws on the likes of Ernst Junger, Martin Heidegger, Carl Schmitt, Alain de Benoist, ‘collaborationist writer, Pierre Drieu de la Rochelle’, Julius Evola, and Charles Maurras. On top of this, she’s a big fan of Black Metal music, which she calls an ‘Aryan Luciferianism’. She is ‘close to the neo-pagans and Esoteric Nazis of Wotan Jugend, led by Russian Alexey Levkin, vocalist in the Militant Black Metal band M8L8TH,’ and played ‘an active role in the organization of the “Asgardsrei” Black Metal festival and the “Pact of Steel” Conference.’

If we looking for a fascist, who’s going to be first on our list? Donald Trump or Olena Semenyaka? The answer is pretty damn obvious. So why are people so quick to shout ‘fascist’ in the case of Trump but completely blind to it when it comes to Ukraine?

Take another example – Ottawa-based Twitter commentator Michael McKay, who touts a PhD from the London School of Economics and declares himself a ‘veteran of Ukraine democratic and civil society renaissance.’ Over the past few days, Mr McKay has been keen to portray the riot in Washington as the work of the Kremlin. ‘Not defeating Russia’s invasion of Crimea and Donbas led to Russia falsifying the U.S. election and putting Putin puppet Trump in the White House. Not removing Trump as Ukrainians removed Yanukovych led to the insurrection and attack on the Capitol,’ McKay Tweeted over the weekend.

To this McKay added evidence that Russia was behind the ‘insurrection’ in Washington. Posting pictures of Ukrainian journalist Serhiy Dubynin first with soldiers during the battle for Donetsk airport in 2014 and then with protestors at the Capitol last week, Mckay commented:

A tie-in between Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the insurrection in the United States. Serhiy Dybynyn is an infowarrior for Inter TV, nominally owned by fugitive oligarch Firtash but beneficially owned by Putin pal Medvedchuk. Donetsk airport was destroyed by RU forces.

Suspicious, huh? Except, as Bryan MacDonald has pointed out, Dubynin is actually ‘a Ukraine supporting Neo-Nazi who is wanted on criminal charges in the “pro-Russian” Donbas region of East Ukraine.’

Outside of a particular time period (1920s to 1940s), I don’t think that the term ‘fascism’ has a lot of meaning. But I find it odd that those who do like to use the word somehow fail to see it when it’s staring them in the face. Odd, but not inexplicable. It’s probably no coincidence that the IWM somehow failed to investigate Ms Semenyaka’s political beliefs, or that Dr McKay misidentified Mr Dubynin. The term ‘fascist’ is far too easily abused. It’s out there, but not where many people would like you to think it is. Caveat lector.