Tuesday, August 12, 2008

The real meaning of the South Ossetian war: Russia strikes back

The amazing and tragic events in South Ossetia seem to baffle most Western experts. While a majority of them fall back on the 'safe' position of blaming Russia for everything others, in particularly on the Left, appear to be rather unsure of what to think of all this; many basically ignore the issue altogether. In contrast to the Leftist blogosphere or to the free and independent press, the corporate media immediately understood that this was, yet again, a perfect opportunity to prove to its political and corporate masters what a loyal propaganda tool it is. While CNN basically used an 24/7 'open mike' policy towards Saakashvili, the rest of the US and European media uniformly bought into the US propaganda on the causes and effects of this conflict. This purely ideological approach to the unfolding crisis ended up blinding almost everyone to the real nature of what is going on.

Two speeches

The first sign that something radically new was happening could have been noticed in the tone, if not the words, of the TV address of President Medvedev to the Russian people on the day of the Georgian attack. Though his words were carefully chosen, and his statement short, one could clearly sense something new in the demeanor of this otherwise rather restrained, if not withdrawn, technocrat. What one could clearly perceive was Medvedev seething sense of deep anger.

The second, and even more amazing, speech which clearly showed what the Russians were thinking was the statement made by the Russian representative to the UN Security Council, Vitalii Churkin. His statement was an unscripted, spontaneous, and Churkin, while not agitated in any way, was clearly furious, disgusted and extremely determined. Against the background of the usually carefully scripted and mostly diplomatic (read: ambiguous) language of the UN, Churkin's words were packing a punch which only a Russian speaker listening to the original audio or video could fully appreciate.

Something important, something absolutely crucial, became clear that evening. The Russians were truly outraged and they were going to do something about it.

Within minutes of Churkin's speech the Russian blogosphere literally exploded with hundreds of posts expressing the same anger and the same resolve.

But why exactly were the Russian so outraged? Why did they sound far more angry about the death of 10 or 12 peacekeepers than over the death of far more many Russian soldiers in Chechnia? Why was Russia, who had been willing to let the Ukraine, the birthplace of the Russian nation, go without so much as firing a single gunshot, why was Russia so upset about South Ossetia being invaded by Georgians?

The answer is, of course, that this is not at all about South Ossetia – it was all about Russia.

What exactly is 21 century “Russia” anyway?

Russia, as it is today, is neither a continuation of the former Soviet Union nor, even less so, a continuation of the pre-1917 Orthodox Russia of Princes and Czars. Don't ever listen to anyone using these kind of historical references which are always used with one sole purpose: to conceal the ignorance of the person making them. They make for good cliches but for bad analysis.

Post 1991 Russia is essentially a new phenomenon which did come out, with great difficulty, from the ashes of the Soviet Union after a decade or more of utter chaos and collapse. To make a long story short, following the dissolution of the Soviet Union by the Soviet elites (there never was a “collapse of Communism”) and the breakup of the “Soviet pie” into many little “cakes”, Russia found itself at the mercy of ruthless and totally corrupt leaders. The Eltsin era really marks the lowest moment in the history of the Russian nation; not even World War II heaped such chaos and destruction upon the Russian nation as 9 years of 'democracy': in a short time the former Soviet superpower was reduced to the state of a “failed nation”. Two closely allied forces played a key role in this process, one inside, the so-called 'oligarchs' and one outside: the USA.

The Great Betrayal

Does anybody still remember the late eighties? How the West promised Gorbachev that if the Soviets withdrew their armed forces from Europe NATO would not expand? How the Russians were told that if they agreed to let the Republics of the Soviet Union go the West would assist Russia economically and politically? Probably not, this is old history now, something which people in the West just don't feel like reminiscing a lot about. It would be wrong to infer that, in contrast, the Russians spend their lives still fuming about these years and the lies they were told. In fact, they mostly don't. It's what followed the breakup of the Soviet Union which really bothers them.

Think about it. Not only did NATO expand to include almost all of Eastern Europe (one wonders what kind of contingencies still justify the existence of this alliance anyway?), but the West illegally attacked and dismembered the only country still friendly to Russia: Yugoslavia. US politicians love to say that they are “sending messages” and the bombing of Serbian enclaves in Croatia and Bosnia followed by the bombing of Kosovo, Serbia and Montenegro by NATO did “send a message” to Russia: “we hate your guts – screw you!”. The message was received, loud and clear.

Then there was the war in Chechnia during which the West strongly backed what can only be called a nasty gang of bloodthirsty and crazed Wahabis. Sure, September 11th brought a rather self-serving 180 degree reversal of this policy, but that was too little, too late.

And then there is all the rest of the long litany of ugly Western imperial policies: the radars and missiles in Eastern Europe, all the nonsense about the “KGB” killing Politkovskaia and Litvinenko, the whining about the “not-so-democratic” elections in Russia (nevermind that any idiot in Russia knows that Putin and Medvedev had no need to rig the elections at all) combined with the support for the electoral farce in Georgia, the systematic refusal to negotiate *anything* with Russia (this is politely referred to as “assertiveness” or “unilateralism”) and last, but not least, the obscene support for the aforementioned 'oligarchs' (who do you think paid for the Politkovskaia and Litvinenko propaganda campaigns?).

The Oligarchs can best be compared to “mercenary bloodsuckers” who, with the full support of the West, literally tried to bleed Russia dry of all its resources. And, for a while, they did a very good job. US political 'advisers' flooded Moscow and provided all the aide and expertise needed to help these 'oligarchs' (almost all of them Jewish) to plunder Russia as fast as possible. What only very few people realized at the time was that there was a force which was quite cynically letting all this happen and waiting for the best time to strike back.

The Hidden Power – the “Putin people”

While the pinnacle of power in the Soviet Union was formally in the hands of the Politburo's Security Council, the real, deeper, power of the Soviet regime was in the hands of the Central Committee of the Soviet Union. Few people realize, even today, that the presumably almighty KGB had no rights whatsoever to even investigate a CC CPSU member. This created a paradoxical situation: while the intellectual elite of the Soviet Union was, without any doubt, concentrated in the KGB, the real political power was in the hands of the CPSU. This created a rift which greatly contributed to the so-called “stagnation” years under Brezhnev.

When the Soviet Union was dismembered in 1991 the KGB went down into something of a duck and cover mode, hunkering down while the political passions of the time, including a very real hatred of the KGB for its oppression of the Russian people, overwhelmed the political scene. Many KGB officers left the “Kantora” (nickname of the KBG among its employees) and joined the Russian mob and became “businessmen”. Some retired and some skillfully re-entered the political life as either “patriots” or “democrats” (or both). One group of younger KGB officials, however, managed to quietly regroup and reorganize itself behind the scenes.

This group, mostly based in Leningrad, realized that there was no way the KGB and what it represented could become popular again unless the situation in Russia became truly chaotic and desperate. These KGB officers, mostly from the First Main Directorate (PGU) which dealt with foreign intelligence rather than internal security, understood the West very well, and they knew who had put the Oligarchs into power after 1991. Still, unlike their mostly hapless colleagues from the “internal” KGB, these PGU officers sat and waited for the right moment to make their move. This moment came in 2000 when they literally conned the overconfident Oligarchs to accept Putin, a totally uncharismatic and dull bureaucrat, as a compromise candidate which would threaten nobody. The ploy worked and without firing a single shot the KGB men retook the reigns of power back into their hands. They immediately proceeded to purge the society from any and all oligarchs which would not immediately submit to their rule: some were jailed (Khodorkovskii), others were exiled (Berezovskii) and others were killed (Dudaev & Co.).

The Western Imperial Overlords rapidly understood what had happened, but there was nothing they could do about it. In a very real sense, Dubya “lost” Russia. The Brits, desperately frustrated at having their entire network in Russia quietly dismembered resorted to a rather futile propaganda campaign against the “KGB murders”. Predictably, it failed to interest, much less so impress, anybody in Russia. In contrast, Washington decided to step up, this time very overly, its international campaign to isolate and weaken Russia. More recently France, now headed by the Neocons Sarkozy and Kouchner, also joined into the anti-Russian chorus, but this had no more effect than the British efforts.

It is important to understand here that the KGB people which managed to seize the power away from the Oligarchs fully understood, from day one, that the Oligarchs were agents of the West and that these officers had absolutely no illusions whatsoever left about the West, its role, methods and objectives. For them the West had proved beyond any doubt that the old Soviet KGB had been correct in calling the West “the enemy number one”: the Oligarchs were not anti-Soviet – they were anti-Russian.

Another thing to keep in mind is that while it is not incorrect to speak of the importance of the the KGB (and, in particular of the PGU) in this struggle, it would be wrong to reduce it all to this one organization. There are plenty of signs that the much less known, but no less sophisticated and powerful, military intelligence agency, the GRU, has concluded a strategic alliance with the “Putin people” and that these formerly rather antagonistic organizations are now working together towards a common goal. The “Putin people” (and I refer to Putin himself not as a leader, but only as a symbol, a figurehead) are really composed of a mix younger generation of Russian intelligence officers from various services who joined forces with key personalities in the military industrial and petrochemical complexes. They represent a generational change even more than any one single corporate interest. And if there is one thing which must be understood about them is that they are genuinely immensely popular in Russia. How could that be otherwise since, after all, the “Putin people” performed nothing short of a miracle in the eight short years between 2000 and 2008.

Lastly, don't get too upset about the ominous sounding “KGB” letters. Remember - its not your father's KGB at all. It's not about Stalin, the Gulag or dissidents (which were dealt with by only one Directorate, the 5th, of the KGB). Think of it more like something of a slightly militarized elite corporate club with alumni of the best Ivy League colleges, and let Hillary and McCaine spew the nonsense about the “coldness of Putin's KGB eyes”

For all their bad aspects, of which there are quite a few, these new Russian rulers managed to bring Russia back, big time, and now they are in control.

The chicken coming home to roost

It is quiet amusing, at least for me, to hear how the US now threatens Russia with “long term damage” in their relationship. Think about it: is there anything, anything at all, short of a nuclear war, which the USA could do to Russia which it has not already done? One crackpot at the Heritage Foundation is now seriously suggesting that the West should prevent Russia from hosting the Olympic games. Some threat! A marginally more realistic option is for the West to implement some kind of economic sanctions except this idea overlooks two simple facts: first, Russia does not need the West, but the West needs Russia (think Iran, think North Korea, think oil) and second, this ignores the fact that most of the planet has no interest whatsoever in cutting down economic ties with Russia.

The US, having already lost the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, barely has the energy to contemplate a conflict with Iran, nevermind trying to take on Russia. The EU, for all the buffoonery of its leaders, is totally dependent on Russian gas and has no military means to intervene in the conflict. Worse, any crisis in a petrochemically-rich region (such as the Caucasus) only makes Russia richer and the West poorer. The Greenback is in free fall and the US economy is in a recession. Talk about a paper tiger...

In their seemingly incurable imperial hubris, the Imperial Overloards in the USA think that they can threaten Russia with a worsening of relations while in reality it is Russia which could threaten the West. The Russians won't threaten though; there is a basic tenet of Russian hardball play which says that one should never threaten, never promise and only take direct action. This is exactly what happened in Ossetia

The Conflict in Ossetia: just the first battle in a much wider war

Russia and the USA are at war and they have been at war since 1991 - this is the ugly little secret which the Imperial rulers are trying hide and which most Russian understand. The conflict in Ossetia is just the first time Russia is actually “returning fire” not so much at the American puppets in Tbilissi or at the US and Israeli trained Georgian forces, but at the US Empire itself. The Russian response is a “message” to the West: “we will fight back!”

The initial Western response to Russia's stance is predicable: the USA will step up its anti-Russian propaganda campaign, NATO will declare that it will incorporate the Ukraine and even possibly Georgia and Western politicians will solemnly declare that their military budgets need to go further up to deal with the “Russian threat to our friends and allies”.

Will Russia be deterred by such threats? Not at all.

As mentioned earlier, Russia has little to fear from the West on the economic front. Not only that, but Russia has nothing to fear from the Western military power. How is that possible?

Sure, the USA is spending more on “defense” (read: aggression) than the rest of the world combined, but that is explained by the fact that the USA seeks world domination. Russia, in contrast, has no such ambitions at all. At the most, Russia wants to be capable of fighting a war right across its border. That, and the capability to deter the USA with its nuclear forces. All in all, a cheap and eminently achievable objective and one which Russia does not need to strain too much to reach. The USA cannot match such a minimalist approach because if it did renounce world domination it would immediately collapse economically and become a “normal” country like any other i.e. a country which cannot take on Russia. Thus the USA is in a loose-loose situation: it cannot threaten Russia and seek world domination, but it cannot give up world domination and hope to be able to threaten Russia.

Paradoxically, Russia can afford an arms race with the USA precisely because the USA are already spending themselves into bankruptcy with their bloated, over-priced and under-performing armed forces.

So why are the Russians angry?

The Russians, both the people in the Kremlin and the general population are so angry at the West because they (correctly) feel that the West hates them and has being waging a unilateral war against everything Russian since 1991. They are angry because the double-standards and the hypocrisy of the West are simply too immense to fully comprehend. For example, it is mind boggling that the US Representative at the UNSC accused Russia of using “disproportionate” actions in Georgia when the USA found it legitimate to bomb all of Serbia and Montenegro during its aggression on Kosovo. Two decade of “we hate you” “messages” from the West have not fallen on deaf ears in Russia and now the feeling has become very mutual.

The current outraged Russian anger at the West is, I believe, of a comparable fundamental quality, if not magnitude, to the one the Russians felt against the Nazis in WWII. It is fueled by an acceptance that Russia itself is being attack by an uncompromising and evil foe which cannot be dealt with with anything other than force. Those of you who have seen Russian TV and movies recently can attest that they are literally filled with stories about WWII and how the Russian people had to accept the greatest of hardships to prevail; some will call it “propaganda”, which it is in many aspects, but it is also the expression of a popular mindset, of a mental mode which says that you have to fight to survive.

The ugly attack by Washington's Georgian puppet on the Russian peacekeepers combined with the absolutely amazing hypocrisy of the Western media and politicians who all fully sided with the aggressor turned into something of a “last straw” for Russia. This seemingly marginal development, at least when assessed quantitatively (“what else is new?”) ended up making a huge qualitative difference: it brought up a new Russian resolve to deal with, to use a favorite Neocon expression, an existential threat represented by the Western Empire. It will take a long while for the West to realize what has really happened and the most obtuse of pundits and politicians will probably hang on to their usual self-righteous rhetoric forever, but historians will probably look back at the month of August 2008 as the moment when Russia decided to strike back at the Empire for the first time.

The Saker