Sunday, June 22, 2014

Why Novorussian authorities need to get their act together

We already had the somewhat "bipolar" statements of Igor Strelkov who could go from "we are about to win" to "they are about to exterminate us" in 24 hours and then back.  Still, looking at his videos he looked tremendously stressed and frustrated and, what is really a major issue in such situation, he looked severely sleep deprived.  He also clearly was trying to wake up the semi-comatose part of the Novorussian population which preferred to stay home and either let Strelkov's men die for them or, if all else fails, they hoped for Russia's Polite Armed Men in Green to liberate them.  So, if anything, I feel sympathy for Strelkov who, after all, is a military commander, not a professional spokesman.  But then a truly incredible piece of news began popping up all over the Internet: the NDF had taken a major military base with 221 tanks, 228 APCs, 12 Self-Propelled guns, 18 Grad launchers, 183 IFVs, and 12 Mortars.  Wow!  I even saw an article claiming that the NDF was now in the process of forming an tank division (nevermind that there is a lot more to a tank division than just tanks).  Tank division or not, if true this was truly fantastic news. The information came from "chief of the information section of the southeastern front", Konstantine Knyrik, it was picked up by Interfax and made its way to other news outlets (including ANNA news).  A day later the press service of the Donetsk People's Republic denied this information.  In fact, it appears that not only did the NDF not get such a fantastic arsenal - they did not even take the military base from which supposedly this arsenal came from: the Ukies had successfully repelled their attack.

Fog of war or no fog of war - this is a real problem, in my opinion.

All it takes is just *one* such embarrassing situations to shoot down in flames the credibility of all the information coming out of the resistance forces in Novorossia.  And again, I will point out to Hezbollah as the perfect example of a successful information policy: as Hassan Nasrallah himself explained in a speech last year, Hezbollah might not always reveal all that it knows, but it will never lie.  Never.  Hezbollah announces its defeats as well as its victories.  It even admits when it does a mistake.  And this remarkable policy - especially in the Middle-East - gives Hezbollah a huge capital of credibility, even with the Israelis.

There is another example which the NDF and the authorities of Novorossia might want to pay attention to.

Yesterday evening I was watching a recorded experts panel basically discussing the viability of a Donetsk and Luganks People's Republic or Novorossia.  The panel included mostly Russian experts, but a number of Novorossian officials were also invited.  One of the panelist asked the Novorussians what they were doing to help those whose houses were being destroyed by Ukie shelling.  The reply was: "we are actively discussing the issue".  At which point, the moderator jumped in and said "stop discussing and help these people now!"

During the Israeli war on Lebanon in 2006 Hezbollah had an amazing policy: as soon as the bombs/shells stopped falling out of the sky, a truck with a group of Hezbollah young men would pull up and offer each family whose house had been destroyed three options: a) we rebuild your house b) we give you the money to rebuilt your house c) we help you relocate. The most interesting thing is that Hezbollah did that with all families regardless of whether they were Christians or Muslims and regardless of their political affiliations!  Your house is lost - Hezbollah will help you out.  Period.  And before I get accused of parroting Hezbollah propaganda, I know about this from a (non-Lebanese and non-Muslim) friend who happened to be in south Lebanon during the war (I never read about this anywhere).  This friend told me that Hezbollah had developed these policies many years ago during the various shelling and bombing campaigns the Israelis regularly engaged in.

And let me preempt the argument that Hezbollah is awash with Iranian money.  So?  The NDF should be (and probably is) awash with Russian money.  Ditto for the argument that Hezbollah had it easy compared to the Novorussians: not so, Hezbollah was born during the Israeli occupation of Lebanon and it was primarily representing the interests of the poorest Lebanese, not the fact cat millionaires a la Hariri & Co, and most of the original Hezbollah members were rather young and inexperienced.  So no, Hezbollah happened in very hard conditions and while Iran and Syrian did help, they did not do the job for the locals Lebanese patriots.

Hezbollah's example is highly relevant to the Novorussian situation because it shows that what a resistance movement need is what I would call a "holistic" approach to resistance.  Yes, the military aspect is important (and Hezbollah is probably the most formidable guerrilla force on the planet), but the resistance effort must include a professionally run public/media information service, a smart fund-raising campaign.  Do you remember when you could "buy" one Katusha-rocket for $10'000 on the Internet which Hezbollah would then guarantee would be "delivered" on Israeli positions?  They also offered a rifle for a combatant, a full equipment set for a combatant and even 1 AK-74 bullet for $1 if I remember correctly.  And money came pouring in!   They also developed a computer-based RPG (role playing game) in which the player could play the role of a Hezbollah fighter.  The invented many such schemes and did not only rely on Iranian money.   Just imagine if such "purchases" were made available on the Russian Internet: "for $1000 you can "buy" an RPG round which will be shot at a National Guard target, for $100 dollars we will shot a mortar round at the Ukies, $10 will buy you a sniper shot and $1 an AK round" - the money would flow in in minutes because it would give Russians in Russia a way to feel like they are doing something useful, that they are participating to the struggle against the Fascists and their death-squads.  By the way, there is already a precedent: during the wars in Chechnia, Russian businesses sponsored entire units, including elite ones: the businesses would give them all the money needed to get the best and latest gear in exchange simple for a heartfelt "thank you" from these units.  Local OMON and SOBR units often had such corporate sponsors who then could count on the support of these units in case of problems with the local mobsters.

These are just a few examples of how creative one can get with some out of the box thinking.  Again, Hezbollah set the gold-standard in this kind of business.

But first and foremost, the Novorussian authorities need to make it clear to the population that voting for independence is not enough - they need to also fight for it.  This is what Strelkov clearly tried to do, but this has to be the job of a professional PR person, not an exhausted battle commander.  I am sure that with time the Novorussians will do better, but they need to learn fast as Novorussia is still not anywhere near its real resistance potential and people are dying because of this "less than full scale" resistance.

The Saker