The Russian Invasion of Ukraine: Brief Meditations on Putin and Small Suggestions That May Support Achieving Peace Through Diplomacy

Russian Federation President Vladimir Putin (above). in preceding posts, greatcharlie attempted to plunge a little deeper into Putin’s mind to better understand how he thinks and offer not just insights on decisions that he has made, but foresight on decisions he might make in the immediate future and beyond concerning Ukraine. What Western decisionmakers require is some reliable foresight into Putin’s actions. This essay will be too brief to put one in the full picture, even if greatcharlie had that faculty. The hope instead is to present glimmers of light that may stimulate thinking among readers on new lines of thought and provide kernels of ideas on how to proceed for foreign and national security policy analysts and decisionmaking.

On February 24, 2022, frightful predictions of a Russian invasion were realized as Russian forces moved into the country from several points, to include attacks from the territory of Belarus. So many had hoped that the possibility of war would remain just a possibility, and good minds in Western capitals would find some solution and reach an agreement with Moscow by which Ukraine, Russia, and NATO, and the West in general would be satisfied. Evidently, in Ukraine, many wanted to avoid war to the extent they acted as if it were an unlikely possibility. With the surprise and shock barely worn off most Ukrainians at the time of this writing, some have scrambled to move West in order to escape the oncoming death and destruction, and others have joined the Ukrainian Armed Forces or have simply taken up arms in order to be part of a planned insurgency. They are ready and regularly giving all in defense of their homeland.

Not unexpectedly, at the center of it all is Russian Federation President Vladimir Putin and his mindset. Concerning the Ukraine crisis, the matter with Putin runs deeper, more subtle than it seems many might suppose. One might be aware of this given the multitude of reports on Putin attempting to see reason in his actions. With considerable discomposure, greatcharlie states that many one sided analyses of Putin and the current crisis continue to stifle the advancement of understanding about him. That in turn may be hampering effective action and keeping diplomacy stagnated. One sided analyses fail to genuinely consider the other party’s thoughts and needs. In preceding posts, greatcharlie attempted to plunge a little deeper into Putin’s mind to better understand how he thinks and offer not just insights on decisions he has made but foresight on decisions he might make in the immediate future and beyond. To be effective, top foreign and national security policy decisionmakers need to attain a full understanding of both Putin and new situations as they begin to develop. This essay will be too brief to put one in the full picture, even if greatcharlie had that faculty. The hope instead is to present glimmers of light that may stimulate the thinking of readers on new lines of thought and kernels of ideas on how to proceed mainly for US foreign and national security policy analysts and decisionmakers,  but those analysts and decisionmakers of other Western governments, too. The word heart-wrenching marginally describes scenes viewed worldwide on broadcast and online newsmedia of Ukrainians ruined by war. One cannot look without compassion at what is happening there. With emotions about Ukraine running high, greatcharlie approaches the subject of Ukraine with caution. What comes to mind are words of French actor and master of comedy in Western literature, Jean-Baptiste Poquelin, known as Molière. In one of his best-known dramas, “The Misanthrope” or “Le Misanthrope ou l’Atrabilaire Amoureux”, Molière writes the sardonic advisory to which greatcharlie has always paid heed: “That any gentleman should always keep in stern control this writing itch we’re seized with; That he must hold in check the great impatience We feel to give the world these idle pastimes; For, through this eagerness to show our works, ‘Tis likely we shall cut a foolish figure’.”

Putin at press conference following bilateral meeting with Hungarian Prime Minister Victor Orban on February 1, 2022 (above). Putin insists that his government invaded Ukraine for the sake of the Russian people and ethnic-Russians in Ukraine. Surely, Putin doubtlessly believes that everything he does is for the sake of the Russian people. To go a step further, Putin very likely sees himself as a sort of avenger of ethnic-Russians in Ukraine, defender of the people of Russia, and protector of the Russian Orthodox Church and all else that is Russian.

Putin’s Explanation for the War

In his February 24, 2022 televised speech on Ukraine, Putin laid out the reasoning behind his decision to invade Ukraine. Outlining his authority to invade Ukraine, in his own words, Putin explained: “In accordance with Article 51 (Chapter VII) of the UN Charter, with permission of Russia’s Federation Council, and in execution of the treaties of friendship and mutual assistance with the Donetsk People’s Republic and the Lugansk People’s Republic, ratified by the Federal Assembly on February 22, I made a decision to carry out a special military operation.” As for his reasoning for the invasion, Putin stated: “The purpose of this operation is to protect people who, for eight years now, have been facing humiliation and genocide perpetrated by the Kiev regime. To this end, we will seek to demilitarise and denazify Ukraine, as well as bring to trial those who perpetrated numerous bloody crimes against civilians, including against citizens of the Russian Federation.” As for the scope of the special military operation, Putin explained: “It is not our plan to occupy the Ukrainian territory. We do not intend to impose anything on anyone by force. At the same time, we have been hearing an increasing number of statements coming from the West that there is no need any more to abide by the documents setting forth the outcomes of World War II, as signed by the totalitarian Soviet regime. How can we respond to that?”

Boiled down, Putin stated with conviction that his government invaded Ukraine for the sake of the Russian people and ethnic-Russians in Ukraine. Surely, Putin doubtlessly believes that everything he does is for the sake of the Russian people. To go a step further, Putin very likely sees himself as a sort of avenger for ethnic-Russians in Ukraine, defender of the people of Russia, and protector of the Russian Orthodox Church and all else that is Russia. For almost every other national leader, there is no valid argument to support his choice. Most of the world would likely agree that what he has done is brustschmerzangst, strange and just wrong. In taking this dark, murderous route of invading Ukraine, Putin has sufficiently made the case, once again, that he can be a cruel monster. Few could reasonably deny that Putin cuts the figure of an immoral and cruel ethno-religious nationalist, not exactly steered spiritually by the precepts and strictures of the Russian Orthodox Church, but seemingly by obsession with his own hatred. Hardly any newsmedia commentators in the West, just to stir debate, would go through any pains to single out the points in Putin’s favor. Given choices of whom to alienate on the world stage, Putin has made the top of list. 

In Book X, Section 38 of his Meditations (161 AD-180 AD) the Roman Emperor and Stoic philosopher, Marcus Aurelius Antoninus (April 26, 121 AD-March 17, 180 AD), stated the following about the inner thinking of individuals: “Remember that what pulls the strings is the force hidden within; there lies the power to persuade, there the life,—there, if one must speak out, the real man.” In continuing its discussion on Putin, greatcharlie recognizes that many readers may not find the discussion immediately following satisfying, but it is asked that readers allow some room for maneuver on the following points.

All that has transpired in Russia since Russian President Boris Yeltsin declared the Russian Federation as a sovereign country, no longer a republic of the collapsed Soviet Union, has been the manifestation of Putin’s vigorous, and yes, masterful mind. Even the criminal mind can be regarded as masterful. Coldly exploring Putin, given his accomplishments despite his atrocious actions, it could be assessed that Putin is indeed a noteworthy individual. (The same might be said of Satan!) Perhaps some might coldly assess that Putin has been somewhat brave in the way that he spoke for what he says he believes in, brave in the way he takes on challenges presented to him and challenges he creates. He is ruled by his passions. if an Russian Orthodox Catholic priest, he would become the Primate. If a musician, he would rule the stage. None of this is not stated out of any respect or deference, but clear-headed consideration.

Within the foreign and national security bureaucracies of Western governments, formulating the best response diplomatically on Ukraine will mean better understanding Putin and how he thinks. Analyses within the US foreign and national security bureaucracies, given their access of analysts to intelligence reports, access to classified information collected by friendly foreign governments, their institutional knowledge and experience, etcetera, are understood to be a cut above that of the mainstream newsmedia. Stating this with no intention to offend, it would seem given outcomes and newsmedia reporting on the matter, that presently despite special sources, greater capabilities, and nuances, those bureaucracies are seemingly producing analyses somewhat similar to what the aforementioned newsmedia has on Putin. As a result, finding answers to cope effectively with Putin has been made far more challenging. It was once common wisdom that significant US involvement alone in earlier times would have had a steading effect. However, it does not appear to have such powers at the present. Neither promises nor “vague” threats from the US could induce Putin to pull back his forces and refrain from invading Ukraine. International law and maintaining international peace and security mean absolutely nothing to Putin any more.

The agreement Moscow signed promising not to invade Ukraine is the Budapest Memorandum. Drawn up in 1994, the Budapest Memorandum essentially states that Ukraine, having agreed to relinquish its nuclear arsenal which at the time was the third-largest in world, would be assured its sovereignty and territorial integrity by the other countries that signed the deal. Ukraine’s nuclear warheads would be transferred to Russia for decommissioning, and Ukraine would join the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty as a non-nuclear state. Other than then Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma, the memorandum was signed by then US President Bill Clinton, Russian Federation President Boris Yeltsin, and the United Kingdom Prime Minister John Major. With regard to assuring Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, Ukraine was only provided a politically binding security assurances to respect its independence and sovereignty which guaranteed its existing borders. The US was unwilling to agree to intervene then should Ukraine’s sovereignty be breached, and it clearly remains unwilling today. The government in Kyiv in 1994 very strangely put Ukraine in a wickedly precarious situation, relying too heavily on the goodwill of other countries. They did not know what the future would bring. Surely, they could not forsee or imagine the present-day Russian invasion. For Ukrainians, the deal reached in Budapest was a very bad one.

Putin interrogating the head of the Russian Federation Foreign Intelligence Service on February 21, 2022 during a Security Council meeting the Kremlin. (above). Western analysts have created the impression that they are unable to see Putin straight. CNN on March 1, 2022 reported that the US intelligence community has made evaluating Putin’s state of mind a top priority, seeking to establish how that is affecting his handling of the rapidly escalating Ukraine crisis. Although the US intelligence community has spent many years evaluating Putin, and possesses a considerable institutional knowledge about him, CNN noted that it has “a notoriously poor view into his day-to-day decision-making. The Kremlin remains what intelligence officials call a “hard target”–incredibly difficult to penetrate through traditional espionage.”

The Hopeless Search for a ‘Good Reason” for This War

Concerning the reasons for things,, the renowned “spy novelist” John Le Carre in his blockbuster work Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (Simon & Schuster, 1972) had his main character explain reason can be founded in three ways: “reason is logic”; “reason is motive”; and, “reason is a way of life.” Among those who examine Putin regularly, some surely would find his recent decision-making very difficult to reconcile within the settled order of nature. To that extent it is worth examining because it is inexplicable. The rational part of greatcharlie insists upon it.

A common theme heard in Western foreign policy circles and newsmedia concerning Putin’s attitude and behavior before and during the first few days of the invasion was that Putin was bent on reestablishing the Soviet Union as it existed before its collapse. Standing in the way of that expansion, was his perception of alleged expansionist aims of NATO. That perceived NATO expansion into Ukraine, which remains a real “threat,” an absolutely horrifying possibility to Putin and his advisers. Boastfully, provokingly Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky amplified the notion of Ukraine joining NATO before and more so right after the invasion. and before the invasion, his words likely stayed with Putin much as a song that would not get out of his head. In the fragile negotiations organized on the initiative of Ukraine and Russia since the invasion began, and endorsed by the US and other Western countries, Zelensky has back tracked on the matter, saying NATO membership is no longer an immutable position of Kyiv. However, that is due to the fact that far greater matters concerning Ukraine’s future, including the retention of its territory, are now at stake. Once a very weighty issue is now a simple bargaining chip of value yet to be fully determined at the negotiating table.

Intriguingly, US intelligence officials have made their assessments that Putin cannot be seen straight. CNN on March 1, 2022 reported that the US intelligence community has made evaluating Putin’s state of mind a top priority, seeking to establish how that is affecting his handling of the rapidly escalating Ukraine crisis. Although the US intelligence community has spent many years evaluating Putin, and possesses a considerable institutional knowledge about him as greatcharlie alluded to earlier when discuss the US foreign and national security bureaucracies, CNN noted that it has “a notoriously poor view into his day-to-day decision-making. The Kremlin remains what intelligence officials call a “hard target”–incredibly difficult to penetrate through traditional espionage.” In fact, CNN reported, based on information from an official source, that there has not been any new comprehensive assessment by the US Intelligence Community that indicates a particular change to Putin’s overall health. (It would appear that Gospodin Vladimir Vladimirovich has been terribly unhelpful concerning US efforts to evaluate him!) The fact that such a gap in knowledge and understanding about aspects of Putin’s life exist should not at all be satisfactory for the US Congress or for executives and managers within the Intelligence Community, itself.

Interestingly enough, there was also no serious discussion of Putin being off-key in the months leading to the invasion or even on February 24, 2022. In preceding posts on Ukraine, greatcharlie noted with curiosity that national leaders in the West, despite declaring Putin a violent, loathsome man, rarely if ever put into question his mental state. Thiere was no discussion of Putin’s mental state as he began the build up of Russian forces near Ukraine in 2021. On March 31, 2021, when the US European Command raised its awareness level to “potential imminent crisis” in response to estimates that over 100,000 Russian troops had been positioned along its border with Ukraine and within Crimea, in addition to its naval forces in the Sea of Azov. Indeed, European Command made it quite clear that there were signs of potential violence. An assessment of Putin’s mental state that greatly called into question his ostensible preparations to blindly inflict harm on the people of Ukraine may have changed everything for top decisionmakers in Western governments..

Observing how Putin was being perceived in Moscow, there was apparently no concern among political leaders about his mental state. indeed,, he was actually provided even greater powers by Russian political leaders to carry out his plans for Ukraine. On February 15, 2022, Russia’s parliament, the State Duma, voted overwhelmingly to ask Putin to formally recognize Donetskaya Narodnaya Respublika (Donetsk People’s Republic)or Donetsk and Luganskaya Narodnaya Respublika (Lugansk People’s Republic or Luhansk People’s Republic) or Luhansk. Before the invasion, Donetsk and Luhansk were still inhabited by somewhat large populations despite the heavy fighting between Ukrainian forces and separatists within them. According to the World Population Review, in 2021, the population in Donetsk was 899,325 and in Luhansk was 398,505. Fighting in both areas was exceedingly heavy. Eventually both movements declared their provinces independent republics. Putin took the step authorized by the Duma. The greatest concern in the West when Hi did so was the fact that it meant a formal end to Russia’s role in maintaining the integrity of the ceasefire between Ukrainian and separatist forces constructed under the Minsk Agreements. Duma Speaker Vyacheslav Volodin said on Telegram after the vote: “Kyiv does not comply with the Minsk agreements. Our citizens and compatriots living in Donbas need help and support,” He went on to state: “In this regard, [Duma lawmakers] believe the recognition of the Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics will create grounds for guaranteeing the security and protection of their inhabitants from external threats.”

Returning more directly to the issue of Western perceptions of Putin’s mental state, surely, there are those among US foreign and national security policy analysts who conversely would assess that his recent actions are consistent with those prior. An example provided in greatcharlie’s January 25, 2022 post entitled, Resolving the Ukraine Crisis: How Better Understanding Putin and the Subtle and Profound Undercurrent Influencing His Thinking on the West Might Help”, Putin would be willing to Russia to challenging and uncertain military operations. The prime example offered was the second on Chechnya by Russian forces in 1999. Russian forces went in depite having been unsuccessful in an operation there three years earlier. Speculation about Putin’s mental health became most popular after his broadcast address on his decision to order a special military operation against Ukraine. Reportedly, the most shocking aspect of the address for top officials was the justification he gave for the invasion. On February 25, 2022, US Senator Marco Rubio relayed on Twitter @marcorubio that Putin “has always been a killer, but his problem now is different & significant,” suggesting he was basing his assessment on intelligence briefings given to him as the vice chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee. He tweeted further: “I wish I could share more,but for now I can say it’s pretty obvious to many that something is off with #Putin.” Summing up all that he could say publicly what he gleaned from the briefing Rubio stated: “It would be a mistake to assume this Putin would react the same way he would have 5 years ago.”

CNN on March 1, 2022 noted that following the Congressional briefing that Rubio attended, the floodgates further opened regarding Putin’s mental state. Former US Ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul who served in that post during the administration of US President Barack Obama tweeted that Putin had “changed,” and sounded “completely disconnected from reality” and “unhinged.” Former Director of National Intelligence Jim Clapper, who also served under Obama, referred to Putin on CNN as “unhinged” and warned, “I worry about his acuity and balance.”

A photo from the Stasi archives in Dresden picture of Putin (second from the left) standing with a group of senior Soviet and East German military and security officers and officials. There are those who would point to Putin’s service in the Soviet Komitet Gosudarstvennoy Bezopasnosti (the Committee for State Security) or KGB, and emphasize that his behavior is reflective of the virtual nature of that erstwhile organization’s cold-blooded reputation, brutish methods, and the sinister mindset of its leadership. Yet, through that service, he certainly would be aware of numerous acts of sacrifice and valor by Ukrainians in the service of the KGB. It would seem remembering those KGB comrades would cause Putin pause and compel him to reflect hard on such a decision to invade Ukraine. Fraternité! However, clearly such thoughts about his KGB service provided no barrier to his actions.

When one moves into the realm of conjecture, one guess is as good as another. What may not make sense to one, might speak volumes to another. Among other, more recherché, even outré, explanations for Putin’s behavior are the following. There are those who would point to Putin’s service in the behemoth Soviet Komitet Gosudarstvennoy Bezopasnosti (the Committee for State Security) or KGB, and emphasize that his behavior is reflective of the virtual nature of that erstwhile organization’s cold-blooded reputation, brutish methods, and the sinister mindset of its leadership. Yet, that same KGB service surely had Putin working alongside Ukrainians who he appreciated and observed serving the service well in what was once East Germany. He certainly would be aware of numerous acts of sacrifice and valor by Ukrainians in the service of the KGB. It would seem remembering those KGB comrades would cause Putin pause and compel him to reflect hard on such a decision to invade Ukraine. Fraternité! However, clearly such thoughts about his KGB service provided no barrier to his actions. Interestingly, as Putin place much concern over the history of Ukraine in his calculus of how to proceed, he conversely would likely say thoughts of his KGB would not be relevant. What is most pertinent are circumstances as they exist today! Hearing his thoughts on the intersection of these matters would surely reveal an intriguing duality. 

Putin himself has played a active deliberate role in glazing over any prospective windows into him with staged scenes for worldwide newsmedia distribution. The truth of the moment is anyone’s guess. Putin likely has a near bottomless bag of tricks. The more recherché his behavior, the greater attention it gets and the greater its chances of retention. In the aforementioned CNN report of March 1, 2022, it is noted that one US official told the newsmedia house that US intelligence officials “have been on guard for the possibility that Putin’s strategy may well be to project instability, in an attempt to push the US and allies to give him what he wants for fear that he could do worse.” Still further, Putin, after all, is a fan of comedy. Supposedly, one of his films was “Ivan Vasilyevich Menyayet Professiyu” (“Ivan Vasilyevich Changes Profession”) (1973), a Soviet comedic film in which Ivan IV “The Terrible” is accidentally transported by time a machine in a apartment building to the present and the apartment building superintendent and a petty thief are sent to the 16th century a try to require themselves as Ivan the Terrible and a duke of his court. Absolute madness ensues. Russian cultural references, dry humor, and crni humor, is found in many of the characters’ lines. What may have tickled Putin about the film is not so much what was unexpected, but those things that were also outré. (When Putin is in a good mood, certainly unlikely the way he is today, one might speak figuratively that even the heavy planet Saturn which symbolizes maturity, responsibility, discipline, and stewardship, would laugh and leap with him. Yet, this is beside the question.) Surely, there is nothing humorous about anything Putin has done in Ukraine, but again concerning the diplomatic front and political warfare front, as mentioned the US Intelligence Community might agree, he is well-aware of the type of impact certain images, some possibly facetious, would most likely have upon Western observers.

Considering Putin’s recent behavior, perhaps it is not so much that Putin has changed, it may be the case that he has just gotten a little older, and that could have been expected. With age everything changes. Without any intention to appear ageist, greatcharlie suggests that this is an idea lost of many under 65. Of course, not every senior is the same. Some individuals actually shine brighter and find their true selves. Some do not change at all, either for the better or for the worse. Yet, perhaps it is very well the case that Putin, at 69, has entered a new era and has lost interest in what he might perceive as shoe-horning himself into Western constructs to gain some sense of attainment, sense of arrival, sense of assuring Russia a place on the world stage, the first tier. Knowing that Russia is a superpower, whether foreigners agree or not, may now be enough for him. Ukraine evinces this suggested mindset well.

While greatcharlie always senses it is moving out on shaky ground when suggesting medical causality for an individual’s behavior, but perchance Putin may have a B1 vitamin deficiency. As an odd symptom of B1 vitamin deficiency, one can become disconnected from reality, not rational, or reasonable. 

Surely, the notion that there may be something supernatural about Putin’s attitude and behavior at this time would offend all reason of most observers and analysts alike. Yet, perhaps Putin may have been put under the control of a dark shaman who has sinister intentions. Hopefully on this point, greatcharlie will not be accused of faulty humor. What would be most supportive of efforts to get to heart of the matter would be an explanation from disciplined reasoning that would be albeit more prosaic, not guesses that boil down to nonsense. As touched upon earlier, claiming that Putin is unstable and behaving irratically is not an answer. It is an expression of symptoms of observed, associates them with actions,  but that information does not explain their cause. To that extent, such assessments presumably unintentionally mask the failure to find real answers, develop useful information. National leaders and policymakers cannot neither develop worthwhile plans nor comfortably base decisions on such.

Watching the West interact with Ukraine since the collapse of the government led by his stern ally former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych following the Orange Revolution and Euromaidan, Putin likely felt more and more that  remnants of the former Soviet Empire which he hoped to hold on to were being chipped away by the West, bit by bit. Surely, from his lens, the military dimension of the relationship remains at the forefront as he surely perceives it as an important feature of Western efforts expand eastward toward Russia’s border. Indeed, NATO forces are creeping closer to Russia’s border, and that the government in Kyiv has been pulled far from Moscow’s political reach. Putin might believe any reasonable observer would accept and agree with his thinking about a threat from the West, and that he has logically reached that conclusion. given Western actions.

With further regard to Euromaidan, since then, national administrations in Kyiv that came to power after the exit of Yanukovych have gambled on what they wanted and saw as a sure bet, partnership with the West, which attendantly meant the exclusion of nearly everything from Russia that they could exclude safely, reasonably. Kyiv believed Ukraine, its growing partnership with the West, seemingly formalized with the US-Ukraine Strategic Security Pact along with existing agreements such as the Budapest Memorandum, the Minsk Agreements, meant greater security for Ukraine. Kyiv took a considerable risk taking that approach, and it lost. Although it should not have happened, but nonetheless did happen, Putin responded. He figuratively closed the casino and all the winnings on the tables. By tethering itself to the West, Ukraine surely did not become more secure. Perhaps the real issue is that Putin sees Ukraine as a whole-minus the Luhansk People’s Republic and Donetsk People’s Republic–traitorous, since Kyiv, under its present leadership, for all intents and purposes, has turned its back to Russia immutably. Ukraine had become the object of Putin’s pain.

One might consider that Putin’s most recent behavior and choices may possibly be part of a pattern of expression and actions seemingly given too little serious attention in not just the run up to the invasion but years before. Indeed, for greatcharlie, an reliable undemanding, uncomplicated way to develop an understanding of Putin’s perspectives on Ukraine would be to thumb through his expressions on the Ukraine matter. There have been numerous reports and transcripts of chief executive level telephone conversations, speeches, statements, and declarations that should not have left anyone in doubt that he was coming for Ukraine at some point if the matter were not addressed in some fulsome way beforehand. A brief sampling of pertinent expressions by Putin, to avoid being “too prolix,” reveals his concerns, sense of vulnerability to the West and that these expressions were both persistent and consistent.

US President Barack Obama during a 90-minute phone call with Putin from Washington on March 2, 2014 (above). One might consider that Putin’s most recent behavior and choices may possibly be part of a pattern of expression and actions seemingly given too little serious attention in not just the run up to the invasion but years before. There have been numerous reports and transcripts of chief executive level telephone conversations, speeches, statements, and declarations that should not have left anyone in doubt that he was coming for Ukraine at some point if the matter were not addressed in some fulsome way beforehand. During their March 2014 call, Putin told Obama that the US-backed interim Ukraine administration was threatening “the lives and health of Russian citizens and the many compatriots” in Crimea. Putin declared, “Russia retains the right to protect its interests and the Russian-speaking population of those areas.”

2014 Telephone Conversation with Obama

Reportedly, during a 90-minute phone call with Putin from Washington on March 2, 2014, Obama warned that Russia could face “serious repercussions” unless it halted military operations in Ukraine. Obama further stated to Putin that his actions were a “clear violation of Ukrainian sovereignty and territorial integrity, which is a breach of international law.” Obama additionally urged Putin to pursue “direct engagement with the government of Ukraine” and support the “dispatch of international observers under the auspices of the United Nations Security Council or the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). In a reported statement from the Kremlin, Putin told Obama, bluntly, that the US-backed interim Ukraine administration was threatening “the lives and health of Russian citizens and the many compatriots” in Crimea. Putin reportedly went on to say, “In the case of any further spread of violence to eastern Ukraine and Crimea,” and he warned, “Russia retains the right to protect its interests and the Russian-speaking population of those areas.” However, in an official statement from the Kremlin concerning the telephone call Putin had Obama on March 2, 2014, it was declared that “in reply to Obama’s concern over the possibility of the use of Russian armed forces on the territory of Ukraine, Vladimir Putin drew his attention to the provocative and criminal actions on the part of ultranationalists who are in fact being supported by the current authorities in Kiev.” The Kremlin statement further noted that “The Russian President spoke of a real threat to the lives and health of Russian citizens and the many compatriots who are currently on Ukrainian territory. Vladimir Putin stressed that in case of any further spread of violence to Eastern Ukraine and Crimea, Russia retains the right to protect its interests and the Russian-speaking population of those areas.” Themes from the Russian side of that conversation still heard today were the threat of ultranationalists (neo-Nazis) and threat to the lives and health of Russian citizens and compatriots who were in Ukraine. Notably, Putin deliberately describes Ukraine, a sovereign country as a territory. It was a subtle utterance Obama might have missed the significance of.

Putin’s Speech at the State Duma on March 18, 2014

One of Putin’s greatest expressions of vulnerability in his March 18, 2014 speech declaring Russia’s annexation of Crimea. In the official Kremlin transcript of that speech, Putin is quoted as stating the following on Ukraine and the rise of ultranationalists: I would like to reiterate that I understand those who came out on Maidan with peaceful slogans against corruption, inefficient state management and poverty. The right to peaceful protest, democratic procedures and elections exist for the sole purpose of replacing the authorities that do not satisfy the people. However, those who stood behind the latest events in Ukraine had a different agenda: they were preparing yet another government takeover; they wanted to seize power and would stop short of nothing. They resorted to terror, murder and riots. Nationalists, neo-Nazis, Russophobes and anti-Semites executed this coup. They continue to set the tone in Ukraine to this day. On the matter of ethnic-Russians in Ukraine, to which Putin refers directly as Russians, he stated: “The new so-called authorities began by introducing a draft law to revise the language policy, which was a direct infringement on the rights of ethnic minorities. However, they were immediately ‘disciplined’ by the foreign sponsors of these so-called politicians. One has to admit that the mentors of these current authorities are smart and know well what such attempts to build a purely Ukrainian state may lead to. The draft law was set aside, but clearly reserved for the future. Hardly any mention is made of this attempt now, probably on the presumption that people have a short memory. Nevertheless, we can all clearly see the intentions of these ideological heirs of Bandera, Hitler’s accomplice during World War II.” Putin would add further in the speech: “Those who opposed the coup were immediately threatened with repression. Naturally, the first in line here was Crimea, the Russian-speaking Crimea. In view of this, the residents of Crimea and Sevastopol turned to Russia for help in defending their rights and lives, in preventing the events that were unfolding and are still underway in Kiev, Donetsk, Kharkov and other Ukrainian cities.” As for the legitimacy of the government in Kyiv and attendantly the sovereignty of Ukraine itself, Putin explained: “It is also obvious that there is no legitimate executive authority in Ukraine now, nobody to talk to. Many government agencies have been taken over by the impostors, but they do not have any control in the country, while they themselves – and I would like to stress this – are often controlled by radicals. In some cases, you need a special permit from the militants on Maidan to meet with certain ministers of the current government. This is not a joke – this is reality.” Then, declaring his authority to act of what he perceived as a dangerous situation, Putin stated: “Naturally, we could not leave this plea unheeded; we could not abandon Crimea and its residents in distress. This would have been betrayal on our part.” The same the three elements were repeated in the speech as in the telephone call with tge March 2014 Obama telephone call, Ukraine was a base for neo-Nazis, ethnic-Russians lives were endangered, and Ukraine’s sovereignty was questionable.

Concerning Putin’s sense of vulnerability to the West, it was laid out in the open for all to hear. To summarize, Putin vented his anger at the US and EU, enumerating Western actions that fostered his contempt. He mentioned: Russia’s economic collapse, which many Russians recall was worsened by destructive advice and false philanthropy of Western business and economic experts that did more to cripple their country; the expansion of NATO to include members of the Soviet Union’s own alliance, the Warsaw Pact; the erroneous Russian decision to agree to the treaty limiting conventional forces in Europe, which he referred to as the “colonial treaty”; the West’s dismissal of Russia’s interests in Serbia and elsewhere; attempts to bring Georgia and Ukraine into NATO and the EU; and, Western efforts to instruct Russia on how to conduct its affairs domestically and internationally. Doubtlessly, the aggregate of US moves eastward in Europe over time so inflamed Putin’s sense of ardor to respond militarily.

Putin’s July 2021 Essay on Ukraine

During the Summer of 2021 and more so during the run up to the invasion, many passed their eyes over Putin’s July 12, 2021 essay entitled, “On the Historical Unity of Russians and Ukrainians” All in all, it is very interesting as a piece of history but has little to do with the present realities in the minds of reasonable thinkers and could hardly be the sort of thing that civilized, technologically advanced, industrial societies would go to war over. In greatcharlie’s view, it is essential to take note of Putin’s understanding of the matter to discern his true mindset lies, how his thinking works on the matter. It will doubtlessly have an impact on how he may settle on the matter as events take shape on the battlefield. 

Although Putin goes as far back as the odyssey of the Ancient Rus, dwells in the history of the 14th, 15th, and 16th centuries and moves more expediently through the 17th and 18th centuries, to explain the historical ties and the bond between Ukrainians and Russians, perhaps most relevant to his view of Ukraine’s place as a sovereign country starts with the Bolsheviks. Boiled down what can be gathered by greatcharlie from the essay as concisely as possible, greatcharlie recounts the following highlights from the essay. Putin explains that following the February Revolution, in March 1917, the Central Rada was established in Kiev, intended to become the organ of supreme power. In November 1917, in its Third Universal, it declared the creation of the Ukrainian People’s Republic (UPR) as part of Russia. In December 1917, UPR representatives arrived in Brest-Litovsk, where Soviet Russia was negotiating with Germany and its allies. At a meeting on 10 January 1918, the head of the Ukrainian delegation read out a note proclaiming the independence of Ukraine. Subsequently, the Central Rada proclaimed Ukraine independent in its Fourth Universal. Putin then explains that Ukrainians after signing a separate treaty with German bloc countries  Rada delegates signed a separate treaty with the. Germany and Austria-Hungary which needed Ukrainian bread and raw materials. In order to secure large-scale supplies, they obtained consent for sending their troops and technical staff to the UPR. Putin states that in fact, this was used as a pretext for occupation, by 1918, Ukraine was in his view essentially under German protectorate. Following the revolutionary events in Germany and Austria-Hungary in 1918, Ukrainian nationalists proclaimed the West Ukrainian People’s Republic (WUPR) and, in January 1919, announced its unification with the Ukrainian People’s Republic. 

Putin goes on to explain that in July 1919, Ukrainian forces were crushed by Polish troops, and the territory of the former WUPR came under the Polish rule. According to Putin, in April 1920, Symon Petliura signed a secret conventions on behalf of the UPR Directorate, giving up–in exchange for military support–Galicia and Western Volhynia lands to Poland. In May 1920, Petliurites entered Kiev in a convoy of Polish military units. Yet, as early as November 1920, following a truce between Poland and Soviet Russia, the remnants of Petliura’s forces surrendered to those same Poles. Putin, however, also reflects back to note that in early 1918, when the Donetsk-Krivoy Rog Soviet Republic was proclaimed, it asked Moscow to incorporate it into Soviet Russia. This was met with a refusal. During a meeting with the republic’s leaders, Soviet Premier Vladimir Lenin insisted that they act as part of the pre-existing Soviet Ukraine. On 15 March 1918, the Central Committee of the Russian Communist Party (Bolsheviks) directly ordered that delegates be sent to the Ukrainian Congress of Soviets, including from the Donetsk Basin, and that ”one government for all of Ukraine“ be created at the congress. The territories of the Donetsk-Krivoy Rog Soviet Republic later formed most of the regions of south-eastern Ukraine. 

Putin explains that under the 1921 Treaty of Riga, concluded between the Russian SFSR, the Ukrainian SSR and Poland, the western lands of the former Russian Empire were ceded to Poland. However, he reminds that in 1939, the USSR regained the lands earlier seized by Poland. A major portion of these became part of the Soviet Ukraine. In 1940, the Ukrainian SSR incorporated part of Bessarabia, which had been occupied by Romania since 1918, as well as Northern Bukovina. In 1948, Zmeyiniy Island (Snake Island) in the Black Sea became part of Ukraine. Imaginably, poignant to Putin was relaying the fact that in 1954, the Crimean Region of the RSFSR was given to the Ukrainian SSR, in gross violation of legal norms that were in force at the time. Putin’s reality on that matter founded his action to capture Crimea in 2014. It may be enough to comment on the this part of essay by quoting the 20th century US financier and statesman, Bernard Baruch, who remarked: “Every man has a right to his opinion, but no man has a right to be wrong in his facts.”

As for the Ukrainian identity, Putin explained that “In the 1920’s-1930’s, the Bolsheviks actively promoted the ”localization policy“, which took the form of Ukrainization in the Ukrainian SSR. Symbolically, as part of this policy and with consent of the Soviet authorities, Mikhail Grushevskiy, former chairman of Central Rada, one of the ideologists of Ukrainian nationalism, who at a certain period of time had been supported by Austria-Hungary, was returned to the USSR and was elected member of the Academy of Sciences. Putin emphasized that “The localization policy undoubtedly played a major role in the development and consolidation of the Ukrainian culture, language and identity. At the same time, under the guise of combating the so-called Russian great-power chauvinism, Ukrainization was often imposed on those who did not see themselves as Ukrainians.”

The decision of the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople Bartholomew I to allow a separate Ukrainian Orthodox Catholic Church from the Russian Orthodox Church for many in Russia may have oddly validated Putin’s concern that West was using its influence to pull Ukrainians away from their cultural traditions. Putin’s position on the matter has garnered support from thehead of the Russian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Kirill. There are not too many issues that could potentially reach the majority of the Russian population on the West’s alleged intention to separate Ukraine from Russia than to create or emphasize a connection between West and the schism from Russian Othodoxy in Ukraine. On that matter, Putin declared: “Our spiritual unity has also been attacked. As in the days of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, a new ecclesiastical has been initiated. The secular authorities, making no secret of their political aims, have blatantly interfered in church life and brought things to a split, to the seizure of churches, the beating of priests and monks. Even extensive autonomy of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church while maintaining spiritual unity with the Moscow Patriarchate strongly displeases them. They have to destroy this prominent and centuries-old symbol of our kinship at all costs.”

Regarding his concern over the alleged welcomed and influential place of neo-Nazis hold in Ukraine, politically, militarily, and socially, Putin expressed: “I think it is also natural that the representatives of Ukraine over and over again vote against the UN General Assembly resolution condemning the glorification of Nazism. Marches and torchlit processions in honor of remaining war criminals from the SS units take place under the protection of the official authorities. Mazepa, who betrayed everyone, Petliura, who paid for Polish patronage with Ukrainian lands, and Bandera, who collaborated with the Nazis, are ranked as national heroes. Everything is being done to erase from the memory of young generations the names of genuine patriots and victors, who have always been the pride of Ukraine.”

The July 2021 essay presumably was shaped not only for the benefit of future historians but certainly for the present-day domestic audience in Russia and the people of Ukraine. What the Russian public was supposed to take away was a sense the that West was trying to destroy Russia and its actions in that direction, many disguised, have been quite sinister. Putin explained: “Ukraine today is completely different because it involves a forced change of identity. And the most despicable thing is that the Russians in Ukraine are being forced not only to deny their roots, generations of their ancestors but also to believe that Russia is their enemy. It would not be an exaggeration to say that the path of forced assimilation, the formation of an ethnically pure Ukrainian state, aggressive towards Russia, is comparable in its consequences to the use of weapons of mass destruction against us. As a result of such a harsh and artificial division of Russians and Ukrainians, the Russian people in all may decrease by hundreds of thousands or even millions.” As for the Ukrainians, Putin left them with a choice to atone for their error of turning westward by joining a path he prescribed or face severe consequences, invasion. Likely in his own mind, he “judiciously” stated: “Russia is open to dialogue with Ukraine and ready to discuss the most complex issues. But it is important for us to understand that our partner is defending its national interests but not serving someone else’s, and is not a tool in someone else’s hands to fight against us. We respect the Ukrainian language and traditions. We respect Ukrainians’ desire to see their country free, safe and prosperous. Putin made what was a thinly veiled threat in stating: “I am confident that true sovereignty of Ukraine is possible only in partnership with Russia. Our spiritual, human and civilizational ties formed for centuries and have their origins in the same sources, they have been hardened by common trials, achievements and victories. Our kinship has been transmitted from generation to generation. It is in the hearts and the memory of people living in modern Russia and Ukraine, in the blood ties that unite millions of our families. Together we have always been and will be many times stronger and more successful. For we are one people.” Then given what has transpired in Ukraine since February he made a statement which now could be labelled bizarre: “Today, these words may be perceived by some people with hostility. They can be interpreted in many possible ways. Yet, many people will hear me. And I will say one thing – Russia has never been and will never be ”anti-Ukraine“. And what Ukraine will be – it is up to its citizens to decide.”

Putin during his February 24, 2022 televised address on Ukraine (above). In his February 24, 2022 televised address, Putin put before his audience a review of his sense of threat to Russia from the West, more specifically the US, and well-serves as a fulsome expression of the accumulation of stress and his sense of vulnerability. In his own words, Putin’s contends that “over the past 30 years we have been patiently trying to come to an agreement with the leading NATO countries regarding the principles of equal and indivisible security in Europe. In response to our proposals, we invariably faced either cynical deception and lies or attempts at pressure and blackmail, while the North Atlantic alliance continued to expand despite our protests and concerns. Its military machine is moving and, as I said, is approaching our very border.”

Putin’s February 24, 2022 Televised Address on Ukraine 

While Putin’s February 24, 2022 televised address made just hours before the invasion of Ukraine was not a comprehensive expression of his ideas and theories to include subjects neo-Nazis and Ukrainian sovereignty called attention to here, although in declaring the right to move Russian forces into Ukraine, he indicates that he has does not recognize the sovereign rights of the country. Putin does, however, put before his audience a review of his sense of threat to Russia from the West and an alleged anti-Russia mindset of Western governments. Putin’s contends that “over the past 30 years we have been patiently trying to come to an agreement with the leading NATO countries regarding the principles of equal and indivisible security in Europe. In response to our proposals, we invariably faced either cynical deception and lies or attempts at pressure and blackmail, while the North Atlantic alliance continued to expand despite our protests and concerns. Its military machine is moving and, as I said, is approaching our very border.” One Putin’s earliest expressions of resentment, albeit in a nuanced, subtle manner, toward the US was a 1999 essay entitled “‘Russia at the Turn of the Millennium’–A Strategy for Russia’s Revival.” In his February 24th address, he returns to that idea, far more aggressively stating: “As for our country, after the disintegration of the USSR, given the entire unprecedented openness of the new, modern Russia, its readiness to work honestly with the United States and other Western partners, and its practically unilateral disarmament, they immediately tried to put the final squeeze on us, finish us off, and utterly destroy us. This is how it was in the 1990s and the early 2000s, when the so-called collective West was actively supporting separatism and gangs of mercenaries in southern Russia. What victims, what losses we had to sustain and what trials we had to go through at that time before we broke the back of international terrorism in the Caucasus! We remember this and will never forget.” Putin went on to state on the matter: “Properly speaking, the attempts to use us in their own interests never ceased until quite recently: they sought to destroy our traditional values and force on us their false values that would erode us, our people from within, the attitudes they have been aggressively imposing on their countries, attitudes that are directly leading to degradation and degeneration, because they are contrary to human nature. This is not going to happen. No one has ever succeeded in doing this, nor will they succeed now.” 

Despite the problems Russia has encountered engaging with the West, Putin explained that Moscow tried to reason with Western powers. He noted that in December 2021: “We made yet another attempt to reach agreement with the United States and its allies on the principles of European security and NATO’s non-expansion. Our efforts were in vain. The United States has not changed its position. It does not believe it necessary to agree with Russia on a matter that is critical for us. The United States is pursuing its own objectives, while neglecting our interests.”

Putin moves on to the notion of Russia becoming in way similar to the designation in the children’s game “It” on a forever it, the forever enemy of the West, and NATO would exist as long as there was a Russia. Putin remarked: “Those who aspire to global dominance have publicly designated Russia as their enemy. They did so with impunity. Make no mistake, they had no reason to act this way. It is true that they have considerable financial, scientific, technological, and military capabilities. We are aware of this and have an objective view of the economic threats we have been hearing, just as our ability to counter this brash and never-ending blackmail. Let me reiterate that we have no illusions in this regard and are extremely realistic in our assessments.” Seemingly well-aware of the deficits in the capabilities of his conventional forces and delinquencies of Russian commanders, the consequences of which are full display in Ukraine, Putin placed emphasis Russia’s nuclear forces with regard to the countries’ defense, stating: “As for military affairs, even after the dissolution of the USSR and losing a considerable part of its capabilities, today’s Russia remains one of the most powerful nuclear states. Moreover, it has a certain advantage in several cutting-edge weapons. In this context, there should be no doubt for anyone that any potential aggressor will face defeat and ominous consequences should it directly attack our country.” Concerning the foreign military presence and build up on Russia’s borders, Putin noted that : “At the same time, technology, including in the defence sector, is changing rapidly. One day there is one leader, and tomorrow another, but a military presence in territories bordering on Russia, if we permit it to go ahead, will stay for decades to come or maybe forever, creating an ever mounting and totally unacceptable threat for Russia. To the extend that relates to NATO expansion, Putin explained: “Even now, with NATO’s eastward expansion the situation for Russia has been becoming worse and more dangerous by the year. Moreover, these past days NATO leadership has been blunt in its statements that they need to accelerate and step up efforts to bring the alliance’s infrastructure closer to Russia’s borders. In other words, they have been toughening their position. We cannot stay idle and passively observe these developments. This would be an absolutely irresponsible thing to do for us. Putin went on to declare: “Any further expansion of the North Atlantic alliance’s infrastructure or the ongoing efforts to gain a military foothold of the Ukrainian territory are unacceptable for us. Of course, the question is not about NATO itself. It merely serves as a tool of US foreign policy. The problem is that in territories adjacent to Russia, which I have to note is our historical land, a hostile “anti-Russia” is taking shape. Fully controlled from the outside, it is doing everything to attract NATO armed forces and obtain cutting-edge weapons. I have already said that Russia accepted the new geopolitical reality after the dissolution of the USSR. We have been treating all new post-Soviet states with respect and will continue to act this way. We respect and will respect their sovereignty, as proven by the assistance we provided to Kazakhstan when it faced tragic events and a challenge in terms of its statehood and integrity. However, Russia cannot feel safe, develop, and exist while facing a permanent threat from the territory of today’s Ukraine.”

Noting that his use of military power to resolve the supposed threatening situation in Ukraine was not unprecedented, Putin remarked: “Let me remind you that in 2000–2005 we used our military to push back against terrorists in the Caucasus and stood up for the integrity of our state. We preserved Russia. In 2014, we supported the people of Crimea and Sevastopol. In 2015, we used our Armed Forces to create a reliable shield that prevented terrorists from Syria from penetrating Russia. This was a matter of defending ourselves. We had no other choice.” Indulging what was long nursed reckless and dangerous eccentricity concerning the West, Putin went further to say: “The same is happening today. They did not leave us any other option for defending Russia and our people, other than the one we are forced to use today. In these circumstances, we have to take bold and immediate action. The people’s republics of Donbass have asked Russia for help.” Propter curam meam in perpetuo periculo non eritis. (Because of my care (concern), you will not be in perpetual danger.) Hey-ho!

The “Top Secret” 2013 Plan of Defense of the Russian Federation

Worthwhile to note along with these expressions is a very strong and apposite 2013 Military Statement a response to NATO expansion and Putin’s sense of vulnerability and belief that Russia stands vulnerable to the US “tricks.” In greatcharlie’s November 16, 2016 post entitled, “Belarus Allows Small Demonstrations Outside KGB Headquarters: As Belarus Curries Favor with the West, Can It Help Russia, Too?”, it was noted that on February 14, 2013 at a conference called “Russia’s Military Security in the 21st Century,” the Chief of the General Staff of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation, General of the Army Valery Gerasimov, provided a glimpse of Russia’s official assessment of future wars it may face as outlined in the top secret Plan of Defense of the Russian Federation. The impact of Putin’s thinking on the Western threat to Russia is apparent. The Russian Federation General Staff believes future conflicts will be “Resource Wars.” Indeed, they conclude the depletion of energy resources will soon become an ultimate world crisis and overtake regions. Severe shortages of oil, gas and other natural resources would cause their prices to steeply rise. Russia’s senior military leaders believe outside powers, primarily the US and its allies, may invade their country from several directions to physically grab territory and its resources. The Kremlin accepted the threat assessment of the the Russian Federation General Staff. Putin signed the Plan of Defense of the Russian Federation into law on January 29, 2013. The plan guided Russia’s defense spending in 2016 which exceeded 6 percent of Russia’s GDP, along with national security and federal law enforcement budgets totaling an additional 3 percent. The plan guided the Russian military build-up in the Arctic, the Pacific, the Baltic, in Crimea and on the Ukrainian border. The Syria expedition is also part of that picture. To rehearse the defense against the West, Russian Federation Defense Minister, General of the Army Sergei Shoigu, announced massive strategic military exercises Zapad 2017, scheduled to take place in September 2017. He said the joint exercise, which would include Russian and Belarusian forces, will be the “main military event of 2017.” Further, the two countries armed forces will cooperate in over 130 events and measures. Shoigu explained: “The US and NATO are actively increasing their offensive potential, building new bases and developing military infrastructure, undermining international stability, and attempting to impose their will by economic sanctions and use of military force. A propaganda information war is raging.” Shoigu further stated that Russian borders were being threatened and adequate defensive measures are being taken.”

Putin (right) and Russian Federation Defense Minister, General of the Army Sergei Shoigu (left). On February 14, 2013, the Chief of the General Staff of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation, General of the Army Valery Gerasimov, provided a glimpse of Russia’s official assessment of future wars it may face as outlined in the top secret Plan of Defense of the Russian Federation. The impact of Putin’s thinking on the Western threat to Russia is apparent. The Russian Federation General Staff believes future conflicts will be “Resource Wars.” Indeed, they concluded the depletion of energy resources will soon become an ultimate world crisis and overtake regions. Severe shortages of oil, gas and other natural resources would cause their prices to steeply rise. Russia’s senior military leaders believe outside powers, primarily the US and its allies, may invade their country from several directions to physically grab territory and its resources.

Message from the Biden Administration to Putin on Ukraine: “To Hell with You!”

Well before the Ukraine crisis, arguably Washington did not appear willing to approach Moscow with a mind to address in some fruitful way the concerns he broached. That tack has apparently played a role in bringing parties to the conflict to the point where they are today. At the end of 2021, in the face of the aggregate of Putin’s expressed concerns about Ukraine, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba ssigned the US-Ukraine Charter on Strategic Partnership in Washington, DC on November 10, 2021. Much of the Charter concerned countering Russian aggression, It notes that the US and Ukraine share a vital national interest in a strong, independent, and democratic Ukraine. It recognizes Ukraine’s situation vis-a-vis Russia developing into a near impossible one. “Section II: Security and Countering Russian Aggression” of the Charter explains that the US has offered Ukraine all that it can to prevent further encroachment on its territory and interference in its affairs. To that extent, the Charter says that the US is determined to gird Kyiv’s capabilities to defend itself against threats to its territorial integrity and deepening Ukraine’s integration into Euro-Atlantic institutions. Both are considered “concurrent priorities.” Describing those steps, the Charter states: “The United States and Ukraine intend to continue a range of substantive measures to prevent external direct and hybrid aggression against Ukraine and hold Russia accountable for such aggression and violations of international law, including the seizure and attempted annexation of Crimea and the Russia-led armed conflict in parts of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions of Ukraine, as well as its continuing malign behavior. The United States intends to support Ukraine’s efforts to counter armed aggression, economic and energy disruptions, and malicious cyber activity by Russia, including by maintaining sanctions against or related to Russia and applying other relevant measures until restoration of the territorial integrity of Ukraine within its internationally recognized borders.”

More specifically, on Crimea and the civil conflict in the Donbas stirred by Russia the Charter indicated that the US has no intention of backing away from its position on the matter. Apparently to avoid any ambiguities or misunderstandings in Moscow, the Charter firmly declares the US position on Crimea and the Donbas as following: “The United States does not and will never recognize Russia’s attempted annexation of Crimea and reaffirms its full support for international efforts, including in the Normandy Format, aimed at negotiating a diplomatic resolution to the Russia-led armed conflict in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions of Ukraine on the basis of respect for international law, including the UN Charter. The United States supports Ukraine’s efforts to use the Crimea Platform to coordinate international efforts to address the humanitarian and security costs of Russia’s occupation of Crimea, consistent with the Platform’s Joint Declaration.”

As for the way in which the US would tangibly support Ukraine’s defense, there are no warnings of intentions to take extreme measures, to include military action. However, the Charter states: “The United States and Ukraine endorse the 2021 Strategic Defense Framework as the foundation of enhanced Ukraine-US defense and security cooperation and intend to work to advance shared priorities, including implementing defense and defense industry reforms, deepening cooperation in areas such as Black Sea security, cyber defense, and intelligence sharing, and countering Russia’s aggression. The United States and Ukraine are key partners in the broader Black Sea region and will seek to deepen cooperation with Black Sea Allies and partners to ensure freedom of navigation and effectively counter external threats and challenges in all domains. Directly in terms of US military assistance, the Charter explains: “The United States remains committed to assisting Ukraine with ongoing defense and security reforms and to continuing its robust training and exercises. The United States supports Ukraine’s efforts to maximize its status as a NATO Enhanced Opportunities Partner to promote interoperability. Ukraine intends to continue to enhance democratic civilian control of the military, reform its security service, and modernize its defense acquisition processes to advance its Euro-Atlantic aspirations. The United States and Ukraine underline the importance of close cooperation within international institutions, including the United Nations, the OSCE and the Council of Europe, and intend to multiply efforts in finding new approaches and developing joint actions in preventing individual states from trying to destroy the rule-based international order and forcefully to revise internationally recognized state borders.” It is precisely this section of the Charter that likely occupied Putin’s mind.

Now that Russia has invaded Ukraine, perhaps one might be better enabled to derive the sense of the vulnerability, mentioned often here, that lies within in Putin, especially toward the US and its allies and how it has been a subtle and profound undercurrent in his decisionmaking and approaches toward them. Imagining Putin’s mindset, he likely firmly believed before the invasion of Ukraine that he had a good understanding of the way many senior foreign and national security policy officials in the administration of US President Joe Biden, many of whom had held senior posts in the Obama administration, would respond to a move toward Ukraine. As discussed in greatcharlie’s January 25, 2022 post, Putin had experienced considerable dissatisfaction and disappointment in his dealing with Obama administration officials, particularly on Ukraine. As he appeared to have perceived their actions, they found it rather piquant to interact with him as if he were a lesser party, and his positions and concerns were undeserving of consideration. Communications were condescending, actions were often insulting. In an explosion of aggression, doubtlessly in part response to his treatment, he conquered Ukraine and tormented civil war in the Donbass. He engaged in other destabilizing efforts. Apparently, he never forgot. Seeing the appointment of many of those same officials in even higher posts in the Biden administration, Putin viewed everything they did with a sense of their past actions. One might theorize that although he could not conventionally strike directly at those officials, Putin could reach the Ukrainians who, as suggested earlier, he may view as something akin to “defectors”, surely he would view them as “traitorous”. He knew what anguish and loss that would cause those officials and it would cause the same and much for the “Ukrainian followers.” To that extent, perhaps it is not too fanciful to imagine that given current attitudes and behaviors of Putin, the invasion of Ukraine may also have been in part an opportunity for Putin to have a return engaged, a rematch, with former senior Obama administration officials in the Biden administration and settle scores once and for all. (See greatcharlie’s January 25, 2022 post for a fuller discussion of its analysis of Putin’s view of the Biden administration officials,)

It is almost certain that Putin planned to move into Ukraine, surely into the Donbas, at some point in the first quarter of 2022. Yet, there was also the chance he would reconsider if the right type of discussions and negotiations were initiated. As it was, Moscow’s talks with Washington before the invasion had reached the doldrums. What Moscow would hear most from Washington were continual statements, alerts that Russia would invade immediately may have struck Putin curious at first, but eventually it would almost create the impression in him that he was being mocked as massed troops near Russia’s border with Ukraine. After a second round of talks with French President Emmanuel Macron, Putin green-lit Macron’s relating of a message to Washington that he was willing to meet Biden. However, he surely viewed such talks as undesirable and pointless after the precondition that he would agree not to invade Ukraine was communicated by Washington. That message from Washington, more than embarrassing, was most likely viewed by Putin as an effort to humiliate him. No one in Russia, out of self-preservation, would ever be so short-sighted as to communicate with the Russian President, particularly in what remains a very intense, highly stressful, period of uncertainty. Quite well-viewed now is the February 21, 2022 exchange at a Security Council meeting in the Kremlin between Putin and Sergei Naryshkin, head of the Sluzhba Vneshney Razvedki (Foreign Intelligence Service) or SVR. Naryshkin, an absolute Putin loyalist, known for his aggressive anti-western statements, became visibly uncomfortable as Putin interrogated him on Ukraine. One can only imagine the gasps sounded within his foreign, national security, and economic advisers when they discovered that was the response sent to him from Washington. Among his very top advisers, there was likely a palpable sense that fiery sea of anger, rage, and hatred churned violently inside of him. In that situation, none of them could be certain of what might happen in the immediate hours after receipt of the message.

As a crucial diplomatic communique, it was oddly void of subtlety, nuance,  wisdom. It was surely the clearest way to signal one’s side was not being thoughtful. While greatcharlie does not believe this was the intention, some might believe, within a degree of reason given what is known about Putin and given the tense circumstances then, that the message was oddly enough designed to provoke or aggravate him. Looking at the message now, it is doubtful those who constructed it, would recognize thar it could have been perceived as condescending or that it was short-sighted to demand the precondition concerning invasion. One might go as far as to state that demanding Putin accept a precondition–the would fly in the face of everything that he was expressing, negate him as national leader to be reckoned with–so publicly under the circumstances was surely not the best way to respond if a resolution was authentically sought. There were other ways to communicate with the Russian President, some furtively, that more likely would have resulted in an assurance from him concerning invasion. The reply was incautious, unwarranted.

In Book I, Chapter 3, of his masterwork, On War, the renowned Prussian military theorist Carl von Clausewitz explained: “Strength of character does not consist solely in having powerful feelings, but in maintaining one’s balance in spite of them. Even with the violence of emotion, judgment and principle must still function like a ship’s compass, which records the slightest variations however rough the sea.” (See the standard English translation from Michael Howard and Peter Paret, editors, Carl Von Clausewitz On War (Princeton University Press, 1976)). Intriguingly, despite what may have been stated here on the nature actions taken toward Putin before the invasion, since it began, the Biden administration has displayed a more calibrated, more disciplined approach to Putin, making better considered decision on when to act and when to observe and evaluate. Chasing Putin up the ladder of escalation will bring nothing good. Imaginably, there is the thought among responsible decisionmakers in Washington that peace will eventually come to Ukraine in some way, likely through negotiation with Moscow. Having apparently taken this approach, the Biden administration as a result has incurred the wrath of news media commentators and political opponents alike. Though many may insist providing more advanced, heavier weapons to Ukraine will provide Ukrainian forces a real chance at endsieg, it is difficult to see how Ukrainian forces will muster power superior to that of the armed forces of Russia and eject Russian force from Ukrainian territory in way in which Moscow would continue to hold back greater, more powerful parts of its arsenal. The way in which a lasting peace might be constructed will depend upon how the environment for it is shaped.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken (left) and Russian Federation Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov (right). The ongoing death and destruction in Ukraine, the smashing of any sense of international law, peace and security as of this writing, are enough of a catalyst to prompt more than urgent action to get a handle of the matter. Concerns over the likely near term deletorious impact on the global economy have served as a high intensity stimulus. Before the invasion and shortly afterward, there was such a thickness not just between the two parties, but supportive parties involved on both sides, that negotiation had appeared hopeless. It would be most beneficial and virtuous for all parties involved to work together to construct clear agreements, improve ties, and accomplish even more. Just saying there is unity but acting in independent ways obvious to the world bring into question not only unity, but respective aims.

A Glimmer of Hope: Peace through Diplomacy

Quaeritur belli exitus, non causa. (Of war men ask the outcome, not the cause.) The ongoing death and destruction in Ukraine, the smashing of any sense of international law and peace and security as of this writing, are enough of a catalyst to prompt more than urgent action to get a handle of the matter. Concerns over the likely near term deletorious impact on the global economy have also served as a considerable stimulus. Before the invasion and shortly afterward, there was such a thickness not just between the two parties, but supportive parties involved on both sides, that negotiation had appeared hopeless. Any steps in that direction could have been at best described as desultory. It would be most beneficial and virtuous for all parties involved to work together to construct clear agreements, improve ties, and accomplish even more. Just saying there is unity but acting in independent ways obvious to the world bring into question not only unity, but respective aims.

Concerning the US and the rest of the West, they must make the choice to find peace and save lives or go out to slay the dragon, Russia, and let the chips fall where they may. It is clear the West wants to avoid getting itself in a war with Russia. Western leaders say it all the time. However, some words spoken by many Western political leaders might convince observers that the West is moving closer to doing what it has already decided, for good reason, not to do so.

Now that Russian forces are in Ukraine, Putin has made slightly veiled threats concerning nuclear weapons. In response to such threats and the Ukraine crisis in general, some US political leaders have suggested that Putin must be removed from power in Russia. There has been additional talk of encouraging Russian officials and institutions, and the Russian people in general, to move against Putin could hardly be well-considered. Off-the-cuff remarks from US political leaders concerning the next moves must stop, if the US is to accomplish anything remotely leading to a desired, favorable peace. Long gone are the days of “dignified scorn”. The lack of moderation, temperance, could prove to be the source of a downfall. 

While some commentators in the US newsmedia suggest that the invasion signals Putin’s dénouement is drawing much closer, such is not actually the case. Such is the product of fertile imaginations. In point of fact, Putin will very likely manage. Conceivably, he hardly believes he is overmatched by the Ukrainians, the West, or the Russian people. To be sure, as of this writing Putin neither has displayed any apparent intentions nor has he expressed any desire to ride off. There are no big concerns at home from political leadership in power. At the moment, there is no stalking horse who possesses anything near Putin’s “popularity” that would be remotely favorable to the West and could potential displace him. 

For now it seems that Ukraine will unlikely be the issue that brings down Putin’s government. The Russian people have domestic concerns that have primacy. Surely, Putin maintains his appeal to many in Russia, and not just those those buried in the backwaters. Perhaps unimaginably to some promoting regime change is the reality that Putin to many Russians represents order, stability, and there is a certain constancy they feel from him to them through his style, image, and actions as a their leader. There is political opposition and an opposition movement that struggles against his government. There is also a burgeoning antiwar movement. However, the opposition movement, though world renowned, does not pose to great a threat at the moment that he would need to fortify the Kremlin. As for the anti-war movement, while very important, will unlikely gain momentum, size, and strength nationwide.

Interestingly enough, according to the Japan Times, polls and interviews indicate many Russians now accept Putin’s contention that their country is under siege from the West and had no choice but to attack. The Russian public’s endorsement of the war is not attendant to the patriotic groundswell that greeted the annexation of Crimea in 2014. The polls on the matter were conducted by Levada, Russia’s most respected independent pollster. In terms of numbers, its polls revealed Putin’s approval rating reached 83%, up from 69% in January 2022. Around 81% surveyed stated they supported the war, describing the need to protect Russian speakers or ethnic-Russians in Ukraine as its primary justification. (Authors of the Japan Times article cautioned that analysts note “polls in wartime have limited significance, with many Russians fearful of voicing dissent, or even their true opinion, to a stranger at a time when new censorship laws are punishing any deviation from the Kremlin narrative with as much as 15 years in prison.”)

Postea noli rogare quod inpetrare nolueris. (Don’t ask for what you’ll wish you hadn’t got.) Even if Putin were hypothetically moved from power, it is unlikely anyone among policymakers and decisionmakers in Washington would have the slightest idea of what  would likely come next in that circumstance. It is very likely that an undesirable outcome might be the result once again from US incited “regime change” in a foreign land. Indeed, those making statements concerning regime change have no idea what doors they may be opening that would have been best to have kept closed. Ignorance of subject matter does not bother many commentators. If the story of the Russian invasion of Ukraine is a tragedy–it has the hallmarks–its players will indoubitably meet respectively with ill-fate. Important for the US and other Western powers, concern primarily with the interests of their countries, is to straddle the line concerning their involvement in all aspects of the conflict, but to avoid crossing over it. Crossing that line would very likely put them on a path leading to some tragic outcome, much both Russia and Ukraine are traveling now. Ce n’est pas la vache qui crie le plus fort qui fait le plus de lait.

There is no good reason to raise Putin’s ire on the “regime change” front between the US and Russia. A tacit modus vivendi, as well as clear cut international law, must be observed to prevent the US and Russia from stumbling on an oblique, tragic path to war. As is the case on many issues concerning US foreign and national security policy decisionmakers, everything must happen immediately. Of course, Ukrainian lives are at the time of this writing being destroyed every second the conflict rages on. Still, respectfully with that dreadful circumstance in mind, one might posit that many of those so willing shoot from the hip, tossing out ideas unrealistic or reckless for the most part when examined in the round one might guess apparently have not been burned or at least singed enough over time to learn how to figuratively sit on a rabbit hole. The ones from the military, intelligence services, law enforcement, and diplomatic corps who have spent considerable time in the field possess the most awareness and experience with such.

Malo indisertam prudentiam, quam loquacem stultitiam. (I prefer silent prudence to loquacious folly) No more bad seeds as these need to be planted, that has been the pattern. Enough of that has been done already. Energies should be directed at deescalating, halting, and to the greatest degree possible, reversing the terrible circumstances, working with whatever may be left to salvage and build upon.

Putin (above) at “For A World Without Nazism” rally and concert at Moscow’s Luzhniki Stadium on March 18, 2022. A big issue for top officials in the Kremlin to think about in negotiations if the refuse to return territory acquires in the war, whether the fact is recognized or not, whether the situation is desired or not, is how Russia, after Putin either leaves office for good or “shuffles off this mortal coil,” will retain what it tore from Ukraine. Putin would indeed leave a huge problem behind for whoever might follow him as Russian Federation President. That would be his legacy. Just as Putin failed to recognize that the intelligence he was receiving on Ukraine was inaccurate, he may not have considered that the will may not exist to hold on to captured Ukrainian territory among a future generation or two, given the territorial gains were “ill-gotten.”

Thoughts on the Nuance of Diplomacy between the Warring Parties

Much has been torn away from the Ukrainian people, time, life, happiness, as a result of the Russian invasion. Hope to a small degree might spawn from forms of restitution and replenishment from the West. While it may make a difference, it would not make things right. However, with the coming of peace, fighting men and women on both sides will live on their days to age. Neighbors who survived and those who may return will have the chance to each other again. Families may start anew. The lives of some young family members, due to war, have sadly run full compass. Yet, those who may survive the war, albeit not as triumphantly as they might have imagined, must rebuild a new world for themselves and their posterity, stronger, far greater, than the one the lived in before. Cela requerra des efforts importants des deux.

The mounting death toll in Ukraine has forced President Volodymyr Zelensky to consider concessions to Russia in order to bring an end to the devastating conflict, but the specific elements of any peace deal his government may be discussing with Moscow remain a mystery to Western leaders, said US and European officials. At the same time, by mid-March 2022, Zelensky was claiming 14,000 Russian soldiers, naval troops, and airmen had been killed in Ukraine. While his claims if true speak well of the prowess of Ukrainian forces regular and irregular, it will surely influence negotiations for peace. Moscow will hardly be willing to surrender back territory to Ukraine if the cost of its capture was indeed so high. Any stand to retain captured territory could resultantly become an impediment to a satisfactory negotiated peace for Ukraine. In that vein, the very act itself of negotiating with their Russian counterparts is what many would rightly call an act of courage given how they must steel themselves against personal reactions to the loss of so many Ukrainians to Russian arms. The prospects for negotiated peace could be ruined with anger and grief. On the battlefield, such official Ukrainian government claims of massive numbers of Russian troops killed in action, rarely combined with wounded in action estimates and precise numbers captured troops, could very well lead to decisions by rouge Russian units or units of private military companies to take matter into their own hands in terms of settling scores. Hurt people hurt people! Additionally, hiding in almost all armed forces are individuals who capable of monstrous acts and atrocities. On first thought, greatcharlie’s mind harkens back to the series of 82 prints created by 1810 and 1820 by Spanish painter and printmaker Francisco Goya entitled “Los Desastres de la Guerra” (“The Disasters of War”). The works depicted atrocities committed during Spain’s Peninsular War (1808-1814) versus Napoleon and setbacks to the liberals after the Restoration of the Bourbon Monarchy in 1814. Atrocities of any kind would surely poison, if not kill, efforts to secure a negotiated peace by the present-day warring parties in Europe. Memores acti prudentes futuri. (Mindful of what has been done, aware of what will be.)

Speaking from the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry, Kuleba stated one day before the negotiations held in Turkey on March 29, 2022 that the Ukrainian negotiation delegation was given clear instructions from Zelensky on what he dubbed as the minimum program and the maximum program. The minimum program included talks concerning humanitarian questions, such the well-being of civilians (meaning noncombatants) and humanitarian corridors. The maximum program referred to talks aimed at establishing a stable ceasefire. He also noted that Zelensky gave clear instructions to the Ukrainian delegation not to trade over people, land, or sovereignty. These are not subjects for negotiation. He explained that the Ukrainian position is concrete, and is supported by international law, Ukraine’s Armed Forces, international sanctions that have been applied against Russia, and weapons that have been handed over to Ukraine to defeat Russian forces.

As for Russia, there has been a near endless chain of heavy losses of Russian troops since the invasion began–nearly every new loss being greater than the one proceeding it. If Putin has cornered himself, it may very well be due to his failure to realize that he was receiving bad intelligence on the situation in Ukraine and what to expect there, his own miscalculations, even hubris. No one is infallible. In a self-assessment, he might discover, self-diagnose, that some disturbance, rumples, have his smooth, grounded reasoning, within his normal parameters. Indeed, Putin’s energy appears to have been wrongly circuited. His talents and what has been a reliable intuition seem darkened. It is enough to say It will take having a lot of things go his way at this point for him to turn the situation on the battlefield around and spectacularly win his war. Otherwise, he must find a clean, honorable off ramp, the best being negotiations. However, if Putin might wish to engage authentically in peace negotiations on Ukraine, he must recognize that the biggest adjustments needed to allow for a fruitful process would be the ones he must make within himself. As far as greatcharlie is concerned, negotiations would be Putin’s best route out a worsening situation. 

All flowers must grow through dirt. That aphorism sounds somewhat worthless as aphorisms do under circumstances similar to the one that currently besets Ukraine. Nonetheless, up through dark and thick of sullen earth must peace be given a chance to grow and its growth must be nurtured if this present tragedy is to be brought to an end. Essential will be drawing on energizing minerals scattered in the soil, even if only present in gentle numbers. Both sides must seek an intellectual solution to the problem, not an emotional one. No party should use the negotiation as an alternative ways to settle scores. Rather than emotions, grace and inner strength should be sourced, especially on Ukraine’s side, to overcome challenges. Negotiators must be determined, focused, shrewd, innovative, mutually inspiring without theatrics. Hopefully, no party to the negotiation will have to the inclination to sit on the talks and plan surprise military moves that would doubtlessly end any chance of a negotiated peace. Russia and Ukraine must find a solution that allows both sides to feel secure and protected from attacks from the point of any agreement forward. There must also be a commitment on both sides to leave space the advancement of the societies of the other’s country in a way that allows their people to heal and get beyond the wounds of the war as best as possible. Qui se ultro morti offerant, facilius reperiuntur, quam qui dolorem patienter ferant. (It is easier to find men who will volunteer to die than men who will endure pain with patience.)

As the situation stands now and may likely pan out, “making things right” will be the task of future generations of Ukrainians and Russians. Important now is for the current generation to keep younger generations energized by their strength, positive spirit, or infuse them with the idea that Ukraine must be made whole again by using the right vibes, love and light, not hatred and anger, which could easily find a place in the psyche of those individuals so damaged by war. The younger generations must be encouraged to try working with each other to find real restorative solutions when it is their turn to lead.

Hardly with the intention of offering false praise to Putin or to offend any readers, but greatcharlie acknowledges the fact that the Russian President is a very intelligent man, not just on paper; he earned a doctorate in Economic Sciences from Leningrad State University (now St. Petersburg State University) in 1997, which was not a small academic achievement in his day. He is also a very experienced leader, thoroughly steeped in the entire post-Cold War history of interactions between East and West. Surely, he is aware that younger generations of Ukrainians would insist upon a life-style and future similar to their counterparts in Sweden, Denmark, Germany and Switzerland, than those in present-day Russia. As was alluded to in greatcharlie’s January 25, 2022 post entitled “Resolving the Ukraine Crisis: How Better Understanding Putin and the Subtle and Profound Undercurrent Influencing His Thinking on the West Might Help,” the same could be said of younger generations of Russians. Putin would leave a huge problem behind for whoever might follow him as Russian Federation President. That would be his legacy, the legacy of Putin’s Russia. Qui ipse si sapiens prodesse non quit, nequiquam sapit. (A wise man whose wisdom does not serve him is wise in vain.)

Thereby, after all is said and done, the big issue for top officials in the Kremlin to think about in negotiations if the refuse to return territory acquires in the war, whether the fact is recognized or not, whether the situation is desired or not, is how Russia, after Putin either leaves office for good or “shuffles off this mortal coil,” will retain what it tore from Ukraine. Just as Putin failed to recognize that the intelligence he was receiving on Ukraine was inaccurate, he may not have considered that the will may not exist to hold on by future generation or two, given the territorial gains were “ill-gotten.” Putin knows how to weaponize the internet, striking adversaries with cyberattacks, destroying networks, obliterating archives, altering data, collecting confidential information, spreading disinformation, etcetera. Yet, he is of a generation that may not fully grasp the transformative impact of the internet among the young. Using the internet, the young in Russia never needed the permission of the government to travel away from their country to observe, to take in, the world outside of Russia. They likely can do even more than that using the internet. This is not to gloss over the fact that young people in Russia have not lost more pleasure than they have been able to glean using online sites as a result of government censorship and instructions to abstain from viewing certain sites. Yet, they can still see, hear, and communicate with the outside world with a device as meager as an iPhone. The expenditure of effort to disrupt such links to the outside surely far surpasses the actual ability of the government to accomplish that. Perhaps the effort itself has created a false impression of success among those who try so hard to bust things up. Le palais de nos chimères a croulé avec mes illusions. 

Quod bellum oderunt, pro pace cum fide laborabant. (Because they hated war, they were working for peace with fidelity.) As the situation stands now and will likely pan out, making things right will be the task of future generations of Ukrainians and Russians. Important now is for the current generation to keep younger generations energized by their strength, positive spirit, or infuse them with the idea that Ukraine must be made whole again by using the right vibes, love and light, not hatred and anger, which could easily find a place in the psyche of those individuals so damaged by war. The younger generations must be encouraged to try working with each other to find real restorative solutions when it is their turn to lead.

Together, Russian and Ukrainian negotiators have already shared a number of technical accomplishments to date. Russian Federation Ministry of Foreign Affairs stated that Moscow had completed two prisoner exchanges with Kyiv since the invasion of Ukraine started. Humanitarian corridors have been established. They must keep trying, segment by segment, to tackle issues that will result in the construction of both a sustainable and enforceable, binding agreement that guarantees security. First, they must think what can physically be done to ensure security for both sides. Second, they must consider what can be done on paper. The scenery of this drama has been set in such a way that external parties may need to be called upon, perhaps the UN with a peacekeeping force of countries neither party may find threatening. That would likely leave the US, other Western countries, particularly EU countries, and NATO Member States out of the mix. No one benefit from an agreement that includes some military response to guarantee its enforcement. At the talks in Istanbul, the Ukrainian delegation presented their Russian counterparts with a framework for peace under which Ukraine would remain neutral and its security would be guaranteed by third-party countries, to include the US, the United Kingdom, France, Poland, Turkey, and China. There would be an arrangement similar to Article 5 of the NATO Charter, under which an attack on one would trigger a joint response by all. Yet, given the likely consequences of Western military action to enforce peace in Ukraine, a nuclear exchange, such a guarantee might end up being something akin to the one the United Kingdom and France provided Poland against possible attack from Nazi Germany in 1938. Ironically, the fear that Putin could act in a way similar to Nazi Germany is the impression, legacy the Putin has created. He actions reflect those of a leader drawn after the reviled German Chancellor Adolf Hitler, the historical nemesis of the Russian people. Putin has failed to follow his own precepts.

Together, Russian and Ukrainian negotiators have already shared a number of technical accomplishments to date. Russian Federation Ministry of Foreign Affairs stated that Moscow had completed two prisoner exchanges with Kyiv since the invasion of Ukraine started. Humanitarian corridors have been established. They must keep trying, segment by segment, to tackle issues that will result in the construction of both a sustainable and enforceable, binding agreement that guarantees security.

The Way Forward

Often included in greatcharlie’s posts is a quote from the renowned theoretical physicist Albert Einstein, who said: “Probleme kann man niemals mit derselben Denkweise losen, durch die sie entstanden sind.” (We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used to create them.) Concerning future relations between the US with Russia, without flickering candlelight and romance, diplomats from both the US and Russia, must meet soon enough to establish some framework upon which can be constructed a way to ameliorate tensions between the two countries on reasonable terms. That would mean coming to agreement on issues on which relative positions were unshakable before the killing, maiming, and destruction of property began without spending too much time on finger-wagging at the negotiation table concerning Ukraine. A new way of thinking toward Putin and his government will be the only chance for anything fruitful to come from interactions between the two countries. In the past, especially before the invasion, the failure reach a positive outcome from diplomatic efforts between Washington and Moscow was less a matter of wrong intention–although an argument could be made for that–and wasting time, than it was as a matter of running out of goor ideas. Leveling everything and starting from scratch is certainly not the answer. However, an infusion of fresh perspectives, fresh ideas, to ignite thinking among the seasoned analysts might help. With no intention to hurtful by broadly accusing analysts or decisionmakers with questionable behavior, greatcharlie is aware that there are a few who simply lift new ideas by mining the writings of those outside of the foreign and national security bureaucracies. It is not just a poor solution, absolutely the wrong answer. That will at best garner bits and pieces that in many cases will be misinterpreted or misapplied. A direct dialogue with those who might display novel ways at looking at issues will better enable the astute to grasp what may on occasion be their recherché line of thinking, which may bring analysts to an understanding, a view to a matter, they had not seen before. Le meilleur moment pour planter un arbre était il y 20 ans, le deuxième meilleur moment c’est maintenant.

On this point, greatcharlie feels compelled to ingeminate the position expressed in the conclusion of its August 31, 2020 greatcharlie post US counterintelligence services should consider hiring individuals from outside the bureaucracy who are already known due to demonstrated interest in the subject matter and recognized as possessing some ability to present what may be unorthodox innovative, forward-looking perspectives. New thinkers can rejuvenate the analytical process, effectively serving to unearth directions and areas for examination and offer hypotheses, good ones, that otherwise would be ignored. In effect, surface layers could be peeled off to reveal what may have been missed for a long time. From the inside, one might characterize observations and hypotheses offered by outsiders as mere surmisals and suppositions from those perceived lacking the necessary depth of understanding that long time analysts bring to an issue. With no intent to condescend, one might assess responses of that type would be defensive and emotional, and least likely learned. The purpose of using such perspectives is to have a look at issues from other angles. Thinking outside the bureaucracy would hopefully move away from the usual track, the derivative, the predictable, especially in special cases that may be hard to crack. Indeed, what outsider brings to the analysis of an issue, through the examination of people and events and interpretation of data, is the application of different sensibilities founded on knowledge acquired after having passed through a multitude experiences that might very well have thwarted the recruitment of the outside the box thinker. One could say the length and breadth of that knowledge and experience allowed for an alternative understanding of humanity. Such an understanding also could have been sought through personal study. It may all sound like a mad-capped scheme, but it is hardly such given what is at stake. Leaders of US foreign and national security bureaucracies must turn their minds to the goal of transcending beyond the sort of analyses developed in the past and look inward, tweaking the discourse, elevating the depth of thinking, raising their expectations, and thereby transforming assessments produced into something far better. Fata volentem ducunt, nolentem trahunt. (Fate leads the willing, and drags the unwilling.)

Commentary: The Choice of War or Peace Between Russia and Ukraine Rests on the Ability of Parties to View Each Other Differently

A unit of “buttoned up” Russian Federation Army BMP-3s rolls forward  while multiple launch rocket systems, obscured by smoke, fire in the background during Zapad-2021 Exercise (above).According to what is being reported publicly, positions on both sides during the Ukraine crisis are becoming more rigid. The convictions of both are most profound. Each day, the parties move closer to catastrophe. Still, the “game-clock” is not ticking in the red yet, and it is too early for parties to have run out of ideas. In support of the diplomatic process on Ukraine, and help ignite new ideas for successfully resolving the crisis, the intent here is to throw up at least some of the shutters to shed light on what may lie ahead, and to allow interested policymakers, decisionmakers, and analysts to extrapolate ways to encourage new thinking on available solutions from those scenarios during talks. Information that comes in on Putin and his actions, in particular, is seemingly judged via something akin to stare decisis. Whatever Putin has done before, and however the US and its allies have responded, is set as precedent for current conclusions and actions. The turn of events in recent times appear to have been missed. Old approaches may not be viable for new problems as they differ in far more than nuance with those of the past.

When considering the Ukraine crisis, those in Western governments and regional organizations with an interest in understanding the actual state of the matter cannot help but meditate on Putin’s current fixation on NATO. The general impression is that nothing was done by the US, United Kingdom, the EU countries, Ukraine, or NATO to threaten or provoke the Russian leader. NATO has indeed expanded eastward as Putin has decried. Yet, no one in the West would agree that its expansion could reasonably be perceived as threatening. As admirably explained, in brief, on January 26, 2022 by the BBC, only 6% of Russia’s borders touch NATO countries. Russia has good relations with some NATO members, like Italy and Hungary. Russia has even sold weapons systems to NATO member Turkey. Additionally, the presence of NATO on Russia’s border is nothing new. NATO, described as being in the shape of Norway, has been on Russia’s border for more than 70 years. Further, there is no sign that Ukraine, Georgia or other former Soviet republics will be joining NATO any time soon. Beyond the usual, go-to conclusion that Putin’s actions are meant for domestic consumption, hoping to unite the Russian people against a foreign foe, it has been suggested Putin may have made his move now because enough elements, that he has judged as favorable, have aligned to make it the right time to reshape the European security order in a way to benefit Moscow. Purportedly,  Putin hopes to re-establish Russia’s sphere of influence in a way resembling that of the erstwhile Soviet Union. Another popular view is that he is trying to rewrite the results of the Cold War.

Semper in fide quid senseris, non quid dixeris, cogitandum. (In an honorable dealings you should consider what you intended, not what you said or thought.) Rather than attempting to rewrite history, Putin would say that he is interested in getting Western governments to adhere to agreements he insists were reached in the period immediately following the collapse of the Soviet Union and the Eastern Bloc. Over a decade ago, it was rather popular in foreign policy circles in the US to label Putin as a revanchist, hoping to regain territory in the former Eastern Bloc lost to the US and NATO. Putin, unconcerned with Western labels for him, has stood fast, not retreating one jot from his beliefs on the matter. According to Putin, the agreements he refers to included guarantees that NATO would not expand toward the borders of the then new Russian Federation. The US, United Kingdom, EU countries, and NATO stand fast, too, remaining confident in current circumstances. According to what is being reported publicly, positions on both sides during the Ukraine crisis are becoming more rigid. The convictions of both are most profound. Each day, the parties move closer to catastrophe. The chance of creating harmony and balance feels more distant. A scenario in which Ukraine would be divided East and West much as post-war Germany, following some furious Russian military action is becoming an all too real prospect. That is a hard saying. If that happened, Ukraine would surely reunite once again in the future, but after countless people, two or three generations of Ukrainians will have been torn to pieces and destroyed, an immense amount of human energy will have been tragically squandered in the business of killing, and the enormous potential of so many of its young people will have been lost forever. In the future, it will all be much harder to understand and to reconcile. 

Still, the “game-clock” is not ticking in the red yet, and it is too early for parties to have run out of ideas. In support of the diplomatic process on Ukraine, and help ignite new ideas for successfully resolving the crisis, the intent here is to throw up at least some of the shutters to shed light on what may lie ahead, and to allow interested policymakers, decisionmakers, and analysts to extrapolate ways to encourage new thinking on available solutions from those scenarios during talks. Information that comes in on Putin and his actions, in particular, is seemingly judged via something akin to stare decisis. Whatever Putin has done before and however the US and its allies have responded is set as precedent for current conclusions and actions. The turn of events in recent times appear to have been missed. Old ways of doing things may not be viable for new problems as they differ in far more than nuance with those of the past. Perhaps after thoroughly reflecting on the aggregate information and perspectives old and new, as a collective in the West and in Russia, top officials could become more flexible, discover ways to see things within their values and interests, and advance talks with those new ideas. Consilia res magis dant hominibus quam homines rebus. (Men’s [People’s] plans should be regulated by the circumstances, not circumstances by the plans.)

Russian Federation President Vladimir Putin (above) speaking at a press conference following talks with Hungarian Prime Minister Victor Orban on February 1, 2022. The higher that one makes the risk out of proportion to the gain, there is less chance a proposition will be ignored. Such appears to be the approach Putin has taken with regard to halting NATO expansion and NATO Membership, and pushing it back with regard to Ukraine and Georgia. With regard to his military build up across from Ukraine in Russia, and Belarus, he most likely believes it will encourage the world to take him seriously. A Russian invasion would surely be adverse to the geostrategic interests, wants and wishes of the US and its Western allies. Perchance Putin believes his plan is working but very slowly. In the West, it would perhaps be said that he is well-off the mark.

Putin’s Threat of Military Action

The higher that one makes the risk out of proportion to the gain, there is less chance a proposition will be ignored. Such appears to be the approach Putin has taken with regard to halting NATO expansion and NATO Membership, and pushing it back with regard to Ukraine and Georgia. With regard to his military build up across from Ukraine in Russia, and Belarus, he most likely believes it will encourage the world to take him seriously. A Russian invasion would surely be adverse to the geostrategic interests, wants and wishes of the US and its Western allies. (The tricky bit for Putin is that if he decided to actually invade Ukraine, in order to look credible or just sane, he would need to declare some plausible cause or have the ability to create a pretext, some artifice, to green-light Russia’s invasion. Intervention on behalf of ethnic-Russia was used previously.) Perchance Putin believes his plan is working but very slowly. 

He has seemingly taken the tack of a spider, attempting to draw Western policymakers and decisionmakers into his web. Perchance Putin believes it is working but very slowly. Four years back in a February 28, 2018 greatcharlie post entitled, “A Russian Threat on Two Fronts: A New Understanding of Putin, Not Inadequate Old Ones, Will Allow the Best Response”–in which greatcharlie was terribly prolix, it was explained that Putin manifests ambush predation in his approach to victims–for lack of a more adequate description of those acts against. In animals and humans, ambush predation is characterized by an animal scanning the environment from a concealed position and then rapidly executing a surprise attack. Animal ambush predators usually remain motionless,  sometimes concealed, and wait for prey to come within ambush distance before pouncing. Ambush predators are often camouflaged, and may be solitary animals. This mode of predation may be less risky for the predator because lying-in-wait reduces exposure to its own predators. If the prey can move faster than the predator, it has a bit of an advantage over the ambush predator; however, if the active predator’s velocity increases, its advantage increases sharply.

Surely, Putin would enjoy aggravating any gap between what the US and its allies are doing on Ukraine and what the Ukrainians would prefer for them to be doing. Putin likely feels that moving against Ukraine would be as difficult as the “Western information blitz” would lead the Ukrainians and the world to believe. He would enjoy demonstrating to Europe and the world that in 2022, US promises to provide support for allies and partners is nothing to signify. What would lead Putin to believe he would have a chance to roll into Ukraine with relative ease would be his assessment of how inauthentic US assistance for Ukraine’s defense has actually been. To that extent, Putin might project his sense of how Russia was betrayed by the US and EU countries recommended mesmerising ideas for reforms from experts to the government of his predecessor, Russian Federation President Boris Yeltsin, that unmistakably negatively impacted Russia’s economy. Putin would explain that the solutions those Western experts enthusiastically prescribed and euphemistically called the “shock treatment” were experiments. Russia was their guinea pig.

 A unit of Russian Federation T-90M tanks with their long barreled 125-mm main cannon (above). As was discussed in the January 25, 2022 greatcharlie post entitled, “Resolving the Ukraine Crisis: How Better Understanding Putin and the Subtle and Profound Undercurrent Influencing His Thinking on the West Might Help,” the US Intelligence Community had initially concluded that the Kremlin could be planning a multifront offensive involving up to 175,000 troops. Yet, there have not been large additions to the estimated 100,000 Russian troops already deployed near the Russia-Ukraine border. Satellite imagery has revealed a buildup of Russian tanks and artillery as well as other gear near the border. However, they are mostly kept in depots in echelon. Imaginably, the deployment of Russian forces is being executed in a cost effective manner. Nevertheless, the expense for all the petroleum and oil lubricants being used by the armor and mechanized heavy force must be enormous. If Putin wanted to completely terrorize his Ukrainian neighbors, he would be positioning a force of overwhelming superiority with additional forces.

Commitment of the US and Its Allies to Ukraine’s Defense

In The Histories (439 BC), thought by many scholars to be the founding work of history in Western literature, the renowned Hellenic author, Herotodus (484 BC-c. 420 BC), wrote: “No one is so senseless as to choose of his own will war rather than peace, since in peace the sons bury their fathers, but in war the fathers bury their sons.” Truth be told, it seems that even outside of Moscow–especially in Kyiv lately–many believe that the sense of imminent threat of invasion felt in Western capitals and NATO is incommensurate with the rather deliberate speed in which Putin has deployed Russian troops into their present positions. 

As was discussed in the January 25, 2022 greatcharlie post entitled, “Resolving the Ukraine Crisis: How Better Understanding Putin and the Subtle and Profound Undercurrent Influencing His Thinking on the West Might Help,” the US Intelligence Community had initially concluded that the Kremlin could be planning a multifront offensive involving up to 175,000 troops. Yet, there have not been large additions to the estimated 100,000 Russian troops already deployed near the Russia-Ukraine border. Satellite imagery has revealed a buildup of Russian tanks and artillery as well as other gear near the border. However, they are mostly kept in depots in echelon. Imaginably, the deployment of Russian forces is being executed in a cost effective manner. Nevertheless, the expense for all the petroleum and oil lubricants being used by the armor and mechanized heavy force must be enormous. If Putin wanted to completely terrorize his Ukrainian neighbors, he would be positioning a force of overwhelming superiority with additional forces in the mix, likely to include elements of Morskaya Pekhota Rossii (Russian Naval Infantry) or MPR, which has a force of around 12,000 personnel, including 800 frogmen, and Generalnogo Shtaba Glavnoje Razvedyvatel’noje Upravlenije (Main Intelligence Directorate of the General Staff of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation) or Glavnoje Razvedyvatel’noje Upravlenije (Main Intelligence Directorate) or GRU, which maintains a force of about 12,000–15,000 Spetznaz, special operations forces, primarily of contract soldiers. Added to that might be some of the well-trained paramilitary units of other bureaucracies such as the Ministerstvo Rossiyskoy Federatsii po delam grazhdanskoy oborony, chrezvychaynym situatsiyam i likvidatsii posledstviy stikhiynykh bedstviy (Ministry of the Russian Federation for Civil Defence, Emergency Situations and Liquidation of Consequences of Natural Disasters) or EMERCOM, with its 71,000 employees, including paramilitary units, on the alert for emergencies. Of course, the Federal’naya sluzhba bezopasnosti Rossiyskoy Federatsii (Federal Security Service of the Russian Federation) or FSB, would likely be involved with post-invasion population control in captured areas. Urban contingencies are the strong suit of its troops. FSB is generally understood to employ about 66,200 uniformed staff, including about 4,000 Spetsnaz troops. It also employs Border Service personnel of about 160,000–200,000 border guards. Putin would organize a force that left no doubt that its purpose was to conquer and hold ground.

French Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte is quoted as saying: “War must be made as intense and awful as possible in order to make it short, and thus to diminish its horrors.” As the military situation is typically evaluated from the lens of Kyiv and Russian forces are compared with Ukrainian military capabilities, left out of the mix is the influence the Russian Air Force will have on the battlefield. It would be devastating. If the Ukrainians decide to rely on fixed defenses, they seem to be preparing defensive lines near their border, the worse the impact of airpower will be. The Russians will be able to attack in depth repeatedly with airpower. Various warplanes would become force multipliers. Additionally from the air, Ukrainians could expect missions to hold territory in-depth in Ukraine by Vozdushno Desantnye Voyska (Russian Airborne Forces) or VDV.

Ukrainian civilians being trained to use small weapons in preparation for war (above). Ukrainian civilians continue to make very brave declarations that in the event of Russian invasion, they will rush to the defense of their towns and cities, create an insurgency, and engage in guerilla warfare. Again, the higher that one makes the risk out of proportion to the gain, there is less chance a proposition will be ignored. There is surely a political warfare aspect to all that talk. Deterrence is not limited to bean counting military strength and capabilities and matching them up for both sides. The Ukrainians are making it clear that the war will be far more costly in terms of casualties and strain on resources than might be worth the risk. French Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte is quoted as saying: “An army’s effectiveness depends on its size, training, experience, and morale, and morale is worth more than any of the other factors combined.” Perhaps it would be hoped that talk of an insurgency would conjure up thoughts and memories of the dreadful experience of the Soviet Army in Afghanistan, in which Ukrainian veterans, then Soviet soldiers, shared with their then Russian comrades, and the meat-grinder that was Chechnya in which Russian soldiers endured alone.

Ukrainian civilians continue to make very brave declarations that in the event of Russian invasion, they will rush to the defense of their towns and cities, create an insurgency, and engage in guerilla warfare. Again, the higher that one makes the risk out of proportion to the gain, there is less chance a proposition will be ignored. There is surely a political warfare aspect to all that talk. Deterrence is not limited to bean counting military strength and capabilities and matching them up for both sides. The Ukrainians are making it clear that the war will be far more costly in terms of casualties and strain on resources than might be worth the risk. “Le Petit Caporal“, Napoleon, has also been quoted as saying: “An army’s effectiveness depends on its size, training, experience, and morale, and morale is worth more than any of the other factors combined.” Perhaps it would be hoped that talk of an insurgency would conjure up thoughts and memories of the dreadful experience of the Soviet Army in Afghanistan, in which Ukrainian veterans, then Soviet soldiers, shared with their then Russian comrades, and the meat-grinder that was Chechnya in which Russian soldiers endured alone.

Certainly, Russian Federation Army commanders are more convinced by what they see than what they hear in the international newsmedia. Kyiv must also recall that while Putin was Russian Federation President, the civil war in Chechnya was fought to its conclusion. Lessons learned from that experience, and some appear to have been applied here and there in Syria. One obvious tack applied was using more airpower, less ground troops. Urban areas were practically obliterated by high altitude bombing. No pilots were flying on the deck with the Russian government’s property to eyeball targets and check for civilians in the vicinity. Russian ground troops were not invested so much in urban battles. There were no close quarters battles fought by large Russian units. As long as bold declarations to create an insurgency against Russian troops continue, the less chance care will be given to avoiding civilians during a Russian invasion.

Justum bellum quibus necessarium, et pia arma quibus nulla nisi in armis relinquitur spes. (War is just to those for whom it is necessary, and to take up arms is a sacred duty with those who have no other hope left.) In the aftermath of an invasion, Ukrainians civilians, thereby any insurgents mixed among them, might be hemmed into zones by Russian forces. In a horrific twist, the more difficult zones would be better defined as killing zones, in which “cooperative Ukrainians would be separated from more difficult ones. Insurgents in those zones would be required to punch above their weight, likely against the FSB as well as the VDV and other well-suited Russian Federation Army units. They would perhaps need to do that long past the point when reasonably the towel might be thrown. Russian forces could be best informed of how to effectively use such a method by its allies in Beijing. Paramilitary police units of the People’s Republic of China Ministry of Public Security have developed an expertise in this sort of thing. To that extent, an arrangement might be made with Beijing to provide “a sufficient number of advisers” to assist in the prospective zones. (Putin would likely love to have the Chinese involved in some fashion. He would prefer to share claim to such villainy with China.) It all may seem fanciful, too imaginative, but one must consider the absolute madness of the current circumstance itself, and judge this possibility in that context.

Troops of the VDV on the move, mounted on a BTR-82A. Those mounted in the foreground are providing overwatch to the left (above). On the face of it, in the aftermath of an invasion, Ukrainians civilians, thereby any insurgents mixed among them, might be hemmed into zones by Russian forces. In a horrific twist, the more difficult zones would be better defined as killing zones, in which “cooperative Ukrainians would be separated from more difficult ones. Insurgents in those zones would be required to punch above their weight, likely against the FSB as well as the VDV and other Russian Federation Army units. Russian forces could be best informed of how to effectively use such a method by its allies in Beijing who have developed an expertise in this sort of thing. To that extent, an arrangement might be made with Beijing to provide “a sufficient number of advisers” to assist in the prospective zones. It all may seem fanciful, too imaginative, but one must consider the absolute madness of the current circumstance itself, and judge this possibility in that context.

Despite what is being patriotically exclaimed before any unwanted hostilities begin, Ukrainians might consider that political will might not exist in Western capitals after a Russian invasion to arm an insurgency against the Russian Federation Army which would be fought just across its own border in 2022. They only need to look at how Crimea has turned out. For greatcharlie, that is a hard saying. Further, Putin may have a plan for such the contingency of an insurgency supported by Western countries. Putin may choose to up the ante by repositioning several intermediate range missiles westward placing NATO Members at immediate risk of nuclear attack. Reasonable national leaders might believe Putin was being pushed over the edge and insist, out of concern for the well-being of their own countries’ security, that assistance to the insurgency be halted. 

Memores acti prudentes futuri. (Mindful of what has been done, aware of what will be.) Putin likely found the “come hell or high water” decision to withdraw from Afghanistan despite conditions on the ground most instructive. The manner in which the US scrambled out of the country higgledy-piggledy was unexpected. When the decision was made to evacuate, policymakers and decisionmakers seemed to give insufficient care as to the lasting impression it would leave on thinking about the current administration in most national capitals, to include Moscow. He could have made the assumption that the US would behave in the same way if Russian forces, in some robust, noisy fashion, charged into Ukraine. In a high stakes game of chicken, until the last moment, one can hope the other guy will flinch.

Ukrainian Military Capabilities 

Truth be told, waiting for Russian forces to get deep enough into Ukraine to face ground units with javelin and stingers would be very polite, but self-defeating. It should be acknowledged that once those systems are fired, Russian commanders would know the positions of those units with the weapons, deduce their comrades similarly armed and their resupply were both nearby. (If they did not already have that information as a product of intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance, in a process of elimination in the truest sense of the term,, Russian commanders would sufficiently pummel those positions with firepower making the survival of those troops and their equipment unlikely. They would be far more amenable to expending large stockpiles of artillery rounds and rockets than to losing soldiers.

In brief, to really assist Ukraine, to give it a chance to break up and knock back any aggressive move by Russian forces, an abundance, hundreds, of deep strike assets could be provided to Ukraine in order to allow its ground forces to rapidly put direct and indirect fires on Russian armor and mechanized forces inside Russia at their lines of departure, assembly areas, and follow-on units in marshaling yards, and even transport hubs as soon as Russian forces cross the border. They could target equipment and facilities. Artillery units would need to act before superior Russian air assets and rockets and artillery can direct fire on available firing positions. Ukraine would need to operate a sufficient number of artillery pieces and rocket launchers so that enough batteries could potentially survive a blazing opening Russian bombardment. As was true when Russia engaged its troops in the fighting in Syria, the world will doubtlessly see some new, powerful weapons employed for the first time.

Acquiring massive amounts of heavy artillery and rockets and attempting to absorb the system in formations as quickly as possible at this stage would be a challenge. However, Ukrainian forces could rapidly establish highly mobile hybrid task forces of artillery, engineer, transportation, and special forces units which could operate the new weapons. Trained to mass fires on targets, remain highly-mobile, and to survive against an adversary with considerable counter-battery capabilities, the hybrid units could be placed under a new command dedicated to striking at Russian forces in depth to attrit their numbers and in doing so have a decisive impact in the battlefield. Command and control could be managed through rudimentary communications (e.g., Morse code and mirrors, even a relay system, could be used to synchronize attacks on preset coordinates along the likely line of advance, lines of communication, etcetera.). If there is no intention to try to act decisively on day one, it might be better to just let Russian forces move in, with albeit kamikaze-like attacks upon their armored and mechanized formations by small units to delay, disrupt and divert them, and pray for decisive outcome through a long and hard-fought insurgency.  Continue reading

Recherché Pieces of the Putin Puzzle That May Serve To Better Enable Engagement with Him as Either an Adversary or a Partner Regarding Ukraine

US President Joe Biden (right) and Russian Federation President Vladimir Putin (left). “What is your substance, whereof are you made, . . . .” Many Western governments view working with Putin on the Ukraine crisis, which they say he caused, as an undesirable task. Still, like it or not, that is the job at hand, and it can be successfully handled. Putin has some grievances, and says he wants to get them resolved. Standing strong and fast, assured of the correctness of one’s positions, is a fine thing. On the other hand, posturing, pride and ego, do a poor job at concealing insecurities. In this crisis, the elimination of insecurities on both sides will be central to its resolution. What needs to be created is a sustainable balance of power that advances US, United Kingdom, EU, Ukrainian, and the better parts of Russian interests to promote peace and security and foster collaboration. It would be most beneficial and virtuous for all parties involved to work together to construct clear agreements, improve ties, and accomplish even more. Here greatcharlie hopes to assist those in US foreign and national security bureaucracies seeking to get a better handle on the Ukraine crisis, and gain greater clarity about Putin and his thinking.

With imaginable strain upon the national budget, Russian troops for the moment lie snug in the Winter weather in their homeland, still close enough to its border with Ukraine to unnerve those on that side. They are ostensibly the cudgel meant to induce the minds of leaders in Western governments–the US, United Kingdom, and the EU countries–to think Putin’s way on NATO’s “ceaseless” expansion toward its border. Putin’s demand to the West boils down to “Get out of my tree and stay out!” Things have not gone exactly his way so far, but perhaps to his satisfaction he has bathed in the sound of Western government voices and broadcast newsmedia, expressing shear terror and prognosticating war and doom in the meantime. Indeed, most Western governments believe that Putin intends to do a lot more than just build up military forces defensively and induce Western thinking to his like. Reportedly, multiple analyses of Western foreign and national security policy bureaucracies have concluded that he will definitely invade Ukraine. 

Surely, this has been a beast of an episode for the relatively fledgling, democratic government in Kyiv. One might posit that Putin’s presidency is the general misfortune of all countries neighboring Russia. The threatening, aggressive atmosphere is intolerable. They must reconcile to the universal order of nature. They have knowingly, comfortably organized middle grade armies to face a first class multidimensional military force, and they have left themselves in a state in which they could never see themselves winning without the US by their side. What beats the brains of decisionmakers in Western capitals is how to mitigate the danger in a sustainable way without disturbing the status quo much or at all. Concerns expressed in conference rooms on the top floors of the US foreign and national security bureaucracies might reasonably be that relaxation of the atmosphere may require taking Putin to the limit hoping he will choose peace and avoid the massive loss that would result from even a successful push into Ukraine. There is also the possibility that relaxation of the contentious atmosphere will not reverse ambitions in Moscow regarding Ukraine. Nevertheless, at some point after applying fears to hopes and hopes to fears, both sides will need to be flexible and to compromise, if either really wants to get anything out of the diplomatic process. New calculations must be made now on both sides if the aim is peace and stability. Qui totum vult totum perdit. (He who wants everything loses everything.)

To possibly assist the efforts of the US, and its allies also, to peer in on the other side to better understand Putin’s actions and intentions concerning Ukraine by stimulating ideas in others, in this essay, greatcharlie offers a few new ideas. They were inspired while preparing greatcharlie’s preceding January 25, 2022 post entitled, “Resolving the Ukraine Crisis: How Better Understanding Putin and the Subtle and Profound Undercurrent Influencing His Thinking on the West Might Help”. That post also offered suggestions for optimizing US-Russia diplomacy regarding the Ukraine crisis that matched the importance, enormity of the situation. Making the effort to stimulate new ideas sometimes requires stepping onto shaky ground. A few thoughts on possible steps and schemes of Putin, the course of things and thinking that may be hidden or most often excluded from analyses, are presented here. They were developed primarily in the abstract from evidence provided by official statements and newsmedia reporting. To an extent, thoughts offered might more aptly be described as intimations. Some facts uncovered and presented may appear odd, recherché, but nevertheless they were all gleaned from credible, often official sources made available to the public. Hopefully, that will not be a distraction for readers. To hold only to existing thinking on Putin is to cut oneself off from roads to understanding him and his decisions that might result through further examination. Facilius per partes in cognitionem totius adducimur. (We are more easily led part by part to an understanding of the whole.)

Putin (left) being interviewed by Le Figaro in the Russian Cultural Center in Paris on May 29, 2017. Reportedly, within the Russian government, there are varied theories held about the level of power US presidents have and theories that US presidents are under the control of groups of individuals in the background, some allege they are shadowy figures. To the extent this relates to US President Joe Biden, some of Putin’s advisers have also apparently been informed by stories from the US that say others act as a hammer to shape him into the instrument they want. During a June 11, 2022 interview in Moscow with NBC News, Putin again referenced, albeit vaguely,, unknown parties who he believes are iInfluencing perspectives of Russia’s bilateral relationships and himself. Putin stated: “Well, I don’t know. Somebody presents it from a certain perspective. Somebody looks at the development of this situation and at yours truly (THROAT CLEARING) in a different manner. All of this is being offered to the public in a way that is found to be expedient for the ruling circles of a certain country.”

Putin’s View of “Who Is in Charge” in Washington

If readers would bear with greatcharlie through these initial points, they will discover there is a method to what on the face of it recognizably appears as madness. Reportedly, within the Russian government, there are varied theories held about the level of power US president have and theories that US presidents are under the control of groups of individuals in the background, some allege they are shadowy figures. To the extent this relates to US President Joe Biden, some of Putin’s advisers have also apparently been informed by stories from the US that say others act as a hammer to shape him into the instrument they want. (That view nearly parallels the impression previous US administrations once held on Putin’s situation in Russia.) Without judgment from greatcharlie, claims of such an arrangement have been proffered by conservative commentators, particularly those appearing on Fox News. Reportedly, Fox News pundits have repeatedly pushed the theory that Biden is president “in name only” and that a group of progressives–initially said to be led by Vice President Kamala Harris and including former US President Barack Obama and former US Attorney General Eric Holder–are actually in control in Washington. How comments so outré expressed on Fox News, as well as others concerning the US administration found on online celebrity gossip magazines, blogs, websites, and YouTube channels, could find acceptance in Moscow is a curious thing. Perhaps the original hope among Russian officials was to sift through them to pick-up faulty scraps of “palace intrigue” with the correct degree of discernment was absent. Once such ideas are caught, despite all that is wrong about them, they often worm their way into analyses. They may appear as trifles, made imperceptible by the fact that they are notions too commonplace in the mind to raise concern. Nonetheless, they are damaging much as the microscopic virus that can fell a person in good health..

Russian theories concerning the power of the US President tend to be equally off-kilter. In an August 1, 2017 article, a journalist for Time, Simon Shuster, who served a stint in Russia, explained that “confusion over the limits on executive authority goes back to the early years of Putin’s presidency, when he established control over the Russian media and began to assume that his Western counterparts could do the same in their countries.” Pointing to the memoir of former US President George W. Bush, Decision Points, Shuster noted that during a discussion at a summit in 2005, Putin refused to believe that the US commander-in-chief does not have the power to muzzle journalists in the US. Bush quotes Putin as saying: “Don’t lecture me about the free press.” Referring to Dan Rather, formerly of CBS News, Putin continued, “Not after you fired that reporter.” Shuster further explained: “In Russian officialdom (and among the public generally) people often assume that the West functions a lot like Russia, with a tame judiciary, a subservient media and a ruling clique that pulls all the strings.”

However, the most shocking theory concerning “shadowy powers the run the US is that the ones who actually run the administration are more than simple advisers in the background receiving federal government salaries supposedly. On the official website of the Kremlin is the transcript of a May 29, 2017 interview Putin provided the French publication Le Figaro. In it, Putin depicts those who, in his view, pull the strings of US presidents. He states: “I have already spoken to three US Presidents. They come and go, but politics stay the same at all times. Do you know why? Because of the powerful bureaucracy. When a person is elected, they may have some ideas. Then people with briefcases arrive, well dressed, wearing dark suits, just like mine, except for the red tie, since they wear black or dark blue ones. These people start explaining how things are done. And instantly, everything changes. This is what happens with every administration.” Putin went on to say concerning US presidents: “Changing things is not easy, and I say this without any irony. It is not that someone does not want to, but because it is a hard thing to do.” During a June 11, 2022 interview in Moscow with NBC News, Putin was told Biden viewed him as a leader of autocrats, who is determined to undermine the liberal democratic order. The interviewer asked Putin if it was true. In response, Putin vaguely referenced unknown parties who he believes are iInfluencing perspectives of Russia’s bilateral relationships and himself. Putin stated: “Well, I don’t know. Somebody presents it from a certain perspective. Somebody looks at the development of this situation and at yours truly (THROAT CLEARING) in a different manner. All of this is being offered to the public in a way that is found to be expedient for the ruling circles of a certain country.”

Concerning thoughts in the West on Russian views of how the US President in handling the Ukraine crisis, there was a considerable uproar heard worldwide, particularly in the newsmedia and expectedly from his political adversaries in the US, over how Putin might perceive and respond to a statement Biden made during his January 19, 2022 press conference at the White House. To many ears, Biden appeared to suggest that the US and its allies may not act strenuously to what he called a “minor incursion” into Ukraine. In fairness to Biden, presented here are comments in some detail to a question concerning the Ukraine crisis and whether the US and its allies were willing to put troops on the line to defend Ukraine, whether the US and its allies can agree on a sanctions package, and whether the threat of new sanctions would give Putin pause. BIden explained: “Well, because he’s never seen sanctions like the ones I promised will be imposed if he moves, number one. Number two, we’re in a situation where Vladimir Putin is about to–we’ve had very frank discussions, Vladimir Putin and I.  And the idea that NATO is not going to be united, I don’t buy.  I’ve spoken to every major NATO leader.  We’ve had the NATO-Russian summit.  We’ve had other–the OSCE has met, et cetera. And so, I think what you’re going to see is that Russia will be held accountable if it invades.  And it depends on what it does.  It’s one thing if it’s a minor incursion and then we end up having a fight about what to do and not do, et cetera. But if they actually do what they’re capable of doing with the forces amassed on the border, it is going to be a disaster for Russia if they further ingra–invade Ukraine, and that our allies and partners are ready to impose severe costs and significant harm on Russia and the Russian economy.

Damnant quod non intellegunt. (They condemn what they do not understand.) It was determined on the face of it that with those words, “It’s one thing if it’s a minor incursion,” Biden opened the door to a Russian incursion into Ukraine. There was alarm over how Putin would react. The newsmedia in the US and worldwide laid it on thick, denouncing and condemning Biden for doing far more than giving away the store. Reporters and commentators put their art of communication into providing drama, much as Rembrandt in his works, to convince that Biden somehow worsened the crisis. That was hardly valid thinking. Their forecasts did not bear out. Russian forces did not move a jot in Ukraine’s direction en masse or piecemeal, nor was the deployment of them dramatically increased. Biden would not speak idly on such a grave matter. Recognizably, Biden erred to the extent that he offered a trifle, a glint from the discussion in the backroom, that turned out to be too much information for a world ready to react with opinions on what most appear to know too little about. Even the most experienced can learn lessons on matters they have known well for a long-time. Yet, in fairness to Biden, he may have had good reason to say what he did.

While satellites and other technical means are providing streams of intelligence on the day-to-day activities of their presumed opposition Ukrainian forces, there have no doubt been occasions when Russian intelligence units have gone on forays into Ukraine to take a good look, a “shifty,” to confirm what is known or find out if anything has not been discern imagery or other information. Special reconnaissance missions are likely being performed by the Generalnogo Shtaba Glavnoje Razvedyvatel’noje Upravlenije (Main Intelligence Directorate of the General Staff of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation) or Glavnoje Razvedyvatel’noje Upravlenije (Main Intelligence Directorate) or GRU Spetsnaz (special operations units), Spetsnaz of the 45th Independent Guards Reconnaissance Brigade of the Vozdushno Desantniye Voyska (Russian Airborne Forces) or VDV, and even reconnaissance units of Russian Federation Army formations. Special reconnaissance missions typically include penetrating deep behind opposition lines to engage in the covert direction of air and missile attacks, place remotely monitored sensors, and prepared the ground for other special operations troop who might engage in direct action against the opposition and unconventional warfare, to include guerrilla operations and counterinsurgency operations. On special reconnaissance missions in Ukraine, Spetsnaz might be tasked to move a little bit deep into the country to determine what activities are being conducted at certain highly secured military facilities, locate new weapon systems that have been deployed, locate and assess newly constructed defenses, monitor troop movements, locate and monitor foreign military advisers possibly operating in the Donetsk and Luhansk and Ukrainian military officers and other foreign military officials of interest.

Scouts from Russian Federation Army reconnaissance units at a minimum would do the following: investigate the quality and size of enemy units; report on all activities of opposition units observed; report grid coordinates of opposition units. (If opposition units are moving, determine whether they are advancing of withdrawing and what routes they are using; determine which opposition military units or civilians are performing an activity, collecting information on uniforms, patches, any unit designations and features of civilians; report which opposition units were engaged in a particular activities; and, collect specifics about opposition units and their activities, detailed information with descriptions of tactics used, equipment and gear involved and all other noticeable aspects.

As suggested in greatcharlie’s January 25, 2022 post, one could conceive that concerning Western military assistance, a special task force has been organized and assigned in advance, among other things, to: monitor the delivery, stockpiling of stinger, javelin, and other weapons systems to Ukrainian forces; maintain real-time knowledge of the distribution and location of those weapons; destroy those weapons systems; and, destroy or support actions by other Russian military units to destroy Ukrainian military units to which those weapons were distributed. That hypothetical task force would also likely be tasked to monitor–covertly monitor the intelligence activities and military operations of–Western countries as they relate to supplying Ukraine with special military capabilities.

Russian Federation Army reconnaissance scouts in training in the Western Military District (above). During his January 19, 2022 press conference at the White House. To many ears, Biden appeared to suggest that the US and its allies may not act strenuously to what he called a “minor incursion” into Ukraine. It was determined on the face of it that with those words Biden opened the door to a Russian invasion of Ukraine. There was alarm over how Putin would “react.” There reality is that there have doubtlessly been several occasions when Russian intelligence units have gone on forays into Ukraine to take a good look, a “shifty,” to confirm what is known or find out if anything has not been discern imagery or other information. Special reconnaissance missions are likely being performed by GRU Spetsnaz (special operations units), Spetsnaz of the 45th Detached Reconnaissance Regiment, and even reconnaissance units of Russian Federation Army formations. Surely, it was easier for many to launch into hysterics about his words than to think of a technical alternative. If the episode were docketed at all by Putin, he would most likely have done so in recognition of how the matter supported his thinking on the weakness of the US president versus the unseen forces.

Additionally, Russian military advisers are very likely present, “covertly”, in the Donetsk and Luhansk, recognized in Kyiv and by the  majority of governments in the world as the sovereign territory of Ukraine, engaging in a range of military assistance activities to separatist force the two regions to include some of the following: supplying weapon systems; resupply ammunition; provide training on new weapon systems, provide training separatist in small unit tactics and larger unit operations, support the operation of air defense systems; support the operation of intelligence, surveillance systems; support the operation of rocket systems (Interestingly enough, the Minsk Agreement requires Russia to maintain knowledge on all of these types if weapon systems, their capabilities, locations, and numbers deployed.); support air traffic control; support separatist command, control, and communications, supporting separatist operations and strategy; and support the collection of intelligence; and, provide separatist commanders with technical intelligence from Russian sources.

Finally, according to the US and the overwhelming majority of governments in the world, Crimea remains the sovereign territory of Ukraine. There is currently a rather large Russian force on that territory which moves troops and equipment in and out of it daily. The presence of those Russian forces in Crimea is a serious problem, yet the regular movement of troops in and out of the province at this point is a relatively minor matter.

In “Il Penseroso” (1631), published in his Poems (1645), the great John Milton quips: “Where more is meant than meets the ear.” With respect to Biden’s statement, it would appear more was meant than met the ear. The minor movement of Russian military personnel into Ukraine most likely for reasons outlined here would certainly not be worthy of a nuclear confrontation. Still, more pertinent is the fact that Putin, himself, unlikely believed Biden was suggesting hypothetically that Russia could move into Ukraine with a battalion sized force to capture some border territory in Donbass to establish some permanent Russian military presence or even more fanciful, land paratroopers at Kyiv’s Airport, reinforce them with tanks, create a well-defended corridor to the border along the most direct highway. Misunderstanding that says much about what the majority understands about Putin. Surely, it was easier for many to believe that Biden was suggesting such a thing and the launch into hysterics about his words than to think of a technical alternative. There was nothing that Biden or his aides could have said publicly about actual minor incursions by Russian forces into Ukraine as described here without making matters far worse. If the episode were docketed at all by Putin, he would have done so because Biden’s comments indicated the US and its allies were aware of Russian intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance activities inside Ukraine. He would most likely have docketed the event also in recognition of how the matter supported his thinking on the weakness of the US president versus the “shadowy forces.” 

To make one last point concerning Putin’s view on the relative impotence of the US President versus the unseen power in Washington, one must cast one’s mind back to the time when everything negative imaginable was said about US President Donald Trump in the newsmedia and elsewhere by his detractors and political adversaries. Given the sort of visceral reactions that typically ensue with the mere mention of Trump’s name, greatcharlie feels it is going out on shaky ground to remind how official action was regularly undertaken against him–in the Congress, through multiple hearings on alleged wrongdoings and two impeachment and through the appointment of a Special Counsel. All of that and more was done seemingly with a blindness to the interests of the US as it concerned the presidency as an office and US foreign and national security interests. No matter which side one might fall on this matter, it might be recognized that even to some small degree, on international matters, the new administration is reaping the bitter fruit of those negative efforts.

Conceivably, Putin (above) began the Ukraine enterprise believing he had a good understanding of the way many senior Biden administration foreign and national security policy officials, many of whom had held senior posts in the administration of US President Barack Obama, would respond to a move toward Ukraine, real or feigned. Putin had strenuously wrestled with them via diplomacy before and doubtlessly had thought about them considerably since. He possibly intuited that they hold a sense that Crimea was lost on their watch. It was a move made in tandem with his enhanced support of ethnic Russian separatist movements in Ukraine’s Donetsk and Luhansk provinces. As an element of his current gambit, Putin may have  urged Russian foreign and national security policy officials and political leaders to deliberately seek to aggravate, frustrate, and provoke US officials by denying a threat to Ukraine. Ostensibly, enough confusion might be created by Russian officials in talks and communications with what Putin may perceive as their overly sensitive US counterparts that they might stoke emotional responses from US decisionmakers on Ukraine, To the degree that they would be led to miss advantages, make big mistakes, Putin could desire an outcome in which US officials might possibly provide a provocation in words and actions that would allow him to green-light an invasion.

A Possible Manipulation of Great Conception

In greatcharlie’s January 25, 2022 post, it is noted how Putin so surprisingly has gone through some lengths to signal that he is considering a move into Ukraine. Everything done to date appears designed to ensure the US and its allies know exactly what Russian forces are doing. Putin’s experiences as an intelligence officer in the field, political leader, and national leader have no doubt given him a mighty understanding of human nature and human interactions. However, equally pertinent is the fact that he is a judoka and well-experienced tournament competitor. In this respect, he is an expert in assessing competitors’ responses and reactions to forced falls and defeat. 

Conceivably, Putin began the Ukraine enterprise believing he had a good understanding of the way many senior Biden administration foreign and national security policy officials, many of whom had held senior posts in the administration of US President Barack Obama, would respond to a move toward Ukraine, real or feigned. Putin had strenuously wrestled with them via diplomacy before and doubtlessly had thought about them considerably since. He possibly intuited that they hold a sense that Crimea was lost on their watch. They were caught flat-footed when Russian forces moved in by the thousands. They were dubbed the “green men.” It was a move made in tandem with supporting ethnic Russian separatist movements in Donetsk and Luhansk, oblasts (provinces) which border Russia. Donetsk and Luhansk are still inhabited by somewhat large populations despite the heavy fighting between Ukrainian forces and separatists within them. According to the World Population Review, in 2021, the population in Donetsk was 899,325 and in Luhansk was 398,505. Fighting in both areas was exceedingly heavy. Eventually both movements declared their provinces independent, sovereign republics. 

Despite their best efforts short of military action, Obama administration officials could not put together a response that could pry Russia out. Bonjour les dégâts! Not to offend those in power now, but on Crimea,  as on a few other issues, senior Obama administration officials would habitually underestimate Putin. Putin then added figurative insult to injury by formally annexing Crimea. His latest build up of forces, several miles distant, yet near enough to the border of Ukraine, has caused sufficient anxiety in Washington and teasingly offer the opportunity for former senior Obama administration officials in the Biden administration to have a return engagement with him, and as he might hope, an opportunity to settle an old score. Perhaps in such a way Putin, too, might be revealing his desire too for a return engagement in which he could get even more of what he wants from Ukraine. Consuetudinis magna vis est. (The force of habit is great.)

Surely, in Washington, officials would claim what happened in the past with Russia on Crimea has not colored their new reactions on Ukraine. Subconsciously, perhaps it is a different story. As Putin had strenuously wrestled with them via diplomacy before and doubtlessly had thought about them considerably since. To that extent, Putin may feel he has seen them straight, and seek, possibly as a side project, to stimulate their attitudes and behavior and calculate, even influence their moves successfully. As an element of his current gambit, Putin may have  urged Russian foreign and national security policy officials and political leaders to deliberately seek to aggravate, frustrate, and provoke US officials by denying a threat to Ukraine. Through their statements, it is clear that US administration officials believe the threat of Russian invasion is real. To enhance that sense of alarm, Putin would intermittently move a modicum of his forces in very observable ways, guaranteed to catch the attention of the US and its allies and heighten the sense of alarm, even though nothing  significant was really happening. As for the Ukrainians, every movement would hopefully serve to emphasize the defenseless condition in which the US and its allies have left them in. Putin might hope that would stir a sense of extreme vulnerability and anxiety, anguish and despair, among them. Ostensibly, enough confusion might be created by Russian officials in talks and communications with what Putin may perceive as their overly sensitive US counterparts and panic among the Ukrainians that an emotional response might be stoked from US decisionmakers on Ukraine, to the degree that they might make big mistakes or even miss considerable advantages that are right before them.

To enlarge on this point on forced mistakes, Putin could desire an outcome in which US officials might provide a provocation in words and actions that would allow him to green-light an invasion. Alternatively, depending how the wind blows, he would seek to check US decisionmakers, leaving them without any good options that would allow the successful support of US interests and only holding the choice to make compromises, even furtively, on his main demands, that  would allow Ukrainians to live in peace in some satisfactory way. No one is infallible. As Putin knows, logic sometimes fails us. Reacting out of emotions rather than logic and wisdom could only result in missteps. Perhaps US decisionmakers might not even recognize any errors were made until they witnessed Putin exploiting their choices to the fullest. This may all sound like a mad-capped scheme, However, it is all hardly beyond Putin. His thinking in formulating such a scheme would likely be informed, bolstered by the aforementioned shambolic US pull-out from Afghanistan in 2021.

Without any intention to be offensive, greatcharlie states that one top US official that Putin would seek to influence most by his actions would be the Secretary of State Antony Blinken. Putin is quite familiar with Blinken as he played a prominent role in all of the rather rough approaches taken toward him and Russia during the Obama administration–he was Obama’s National Security Adviser. He likely sees him as a real foe. Blinken is a professional, with experience in the high realms of government in the Obama administration, surely seeks only to be unwavering in his pursuit of US interests and not to be distracted by emotions toward Ukraine and its people. He is absolutely loyal and patriotic to the highest degree possible as his country’s top diplomat. In addition to being handsome and débonnaire, Blinken has a strong intellect and is strong-minded. Yet, he is mindful and very appreciative of his ethnic Ukrainian heritage. One might imagine that in a very human way, he would hope to make the land of his parents, grandparents, and ancestors very proud of his intercession in Ukraine’s time of crisis. On May 5, 2021, Blinken made his first visit to Ukraine as Secretary of State. Blinken visited Ukraine numerous times as a senior official in the Obama administration. Blinken’s great-grandfather, Meir Blinken, emigrated from Kyiv in 1904. He was accompanied by his wife Hanna and sons Solomon and Maurice Henry, Blinken’s grandfather. For Blinken, it was a cracking visit, during which his Ukrainian heritage was emphasized. At events, he often spoke the national language as taught to him by his family.

Etiam sapientibus cupido gloriae novissima exuitur. (The desire for glory is the last infirmity to be cast off even by the wise.) A shark can smell blood a mile off when he is hungry. That first Ukraine visit as Secretary of State in May 2021 meant much personally to Blinken. That visit very likely meant much to Putin, too! He no doubt, closely analyzed moments of it, to better understand Blinken and to uncover some advantages gleaned from it all. Exploiting someone’s meaningful personal event in some dark way is an unprincipled, reprehensible business, and a practice that was polished and honed within the erstwhile intelligence organization in which Putin spent his first career, the Soviet Union’s Komitet Gosudarstvennoy Bezopasnosti (the Committee for State Security) or KGB. Needless to say, intelligence work was his metier. 

To go a little further on this point, also as explained in greatcharlie’s February 28, 2018 post, individuals as Putin can have a different context for learning about people. When Putin asks about an interlocutor’s family, home, office, even capabilities, it is not small talk or the result of friendly interest. Rather, he may be signalling, warning, that he has already evaluated an interlocutor as a potential target. He may be confirming information or collecting more. He may also be testing one’s vulnerability to falsehoods or how one might respond to unpleasant information. He is creating a perceptual framework for his interlocutor. Such tactics, techniques, procedures, and methods truly match those of a predator. Predators often use deflection, social miscues, and misinformation to provide cover for themselves. “Predatory humans” can use a contrived persona of charm and success to falsely engender trust. They have an exit plan in place, and are confident with regard to the outcome of their actions. Boiled down, they accomplish their deception using three steps: setting a goal; making a plan; and, compartmentalizing. By setting a goal, they know what they want and what it will take to get it or achieve it. They have no inhibitions about causing damage or harm. They stay focused. By making a plan, they not only determine ways to get what they want, but also develop exits if needed. By compartmentalizing, they detach themselves emotionally from attachments that might be embarrassing or be a liability if their plans are found out. They train themselves to give off no tells, so they can pivot easily into a different persona. While some might acquire this skill as Putin likely had while working in the intelligence industry, others may not have any natural sense of remorse.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken (left) and Russian Federation Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov (right) meeting in Geneva in January 2022. It is possible that as an element of his current gambit, Putin and Russian Foreign and national security policy officials and political leaders would likely deliberately seek to aggravate, frustrate, and provoke US officials by denying a threat to Ukraine. Through their statements, the US administration believes the threat is real. One top US official that Putin would seek to influence most by his actions would be the Secretary of State Antony Blinken. He played a prominent role in all of the rather rough approaches taken toward him and Russia during the Obama administration. Without being present, it is impossible to know if Russian Federation Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, perhaps obedient to possible directions from Putin, may have tried to push Blinken’s buttons so to speak in the way aforementioned. The likely consonance of Lavrov claiming there was no intent to drive Russian troops into Ukraine, yet lacking any authority to guarantee that his superior, Putin, would not order such, would imaginably be unsettling for Blinken. Perchance Lavrov would use his diplomatic acumen to artfully speak in a way to hint at compromise, to thoroughly turn Blinken’s ear in his direction, and then make a half-turn away from the correct side enough to frustrate, to perturb. In the end, it was revealed publicly that Lavrov doubled down on the demand for guarantees on NATO expansion.

Revenons à nos moutons. Without being present, it is impossible to know if Russian Federation Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, perhaps obedient to some possible directions from Putin, may have tried to push Blinken’s buttons so to speak in the way aforementioned. The likely consonance of Lavrov claiming there was no intent to drive Russian troops into Ukraine, yet lacking any authority to guarantee that his superior, Putin, would not order such, would imaginably be unsettling for Blinken. Perchance Lavrov would use his diplomatic acumen to artfully speak in a way to hint at compromise, to thoroughly turn Blinken’s ear in his direction, and then make a half-turn away from the correct side enough to frustrate, to perturb. In the end, Lavrov doubled down on the demand for guarantees on NATO expansion. Deeper and more subtle than what is on the surface for Blinken in such a circumstance would likely be the thought that Ukrainians at the end of all his diplomatic effort could find Russian troops sitting their laps. For him, that will not do. No prospective thought of Blinken on the whole matter would likely be more offensive than that to the extent US military units would not be involved on the ground. Ira furor brevis est; animum rege. (Anger is a brief madness; govern your soul)

Although the vicissitudes of fortune in foreign affairs and war–friction in battle–have been described many times and in many ways by statesman, commanders, and scholars over millennia, greatcharlie chooses to quote Polybius (c. 204-122 B.C.), the Greek “pragmatic historian.” As presented in Book II, Ch. 4 of The General History of Polybius [Books 1-17] Tr. by Mr. Hampton 5th Ed. (TheClassics.us, 2013), he states: “In all human affairs, and especially in those that relate to war, . . . leave always some room to fortune, and to accidents which cannot be foreseen.” Whatever position Blinken may have developed concerning his ancestral homeland’s protection, perhaps its current citizens might be seeking to recast it a bit in what they deem would be a more helpful way. During a televised speech to the nation on January 25, 2022, Zelensky urged Ukrainians not to panic. It was the second such speech on the crisis in two days. The speeches were not only in response to the situation the country faced, but also in response to what Zelensky appears to perceive as ad nauseum and unhelpful comments about an imminent threat of a Russian invasion of Ukraine heard from US and other Western officials. Depicting a very trying situation facing Ukraine in a graceful way, he told Ukrainians, “We are strong enough to keep everything under control and derail any attempts at destabilization.” 

Zelensky also explained that the decision by the US, the United Kingdom, Australia, Germany and Canada to withdraw some of their diplomats and dependents from Kyiv “doesn’t necessarily signal an inevitable escalation and is part of a complex diplomatic game.” He went on to say tactfully, “We are working together with our partners as a single team.” Speaking in the Ukrainian Parliament also on January 25th, Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov said that, “as of today, there are no grounds to believe” that Russia is preparing to invade imminently, noting that its troops have not formed what he called a battle group that could force its way across the border. He sought to comfort the parliamentarians by stating: “Don’t worry–sleep well,” He continued by sardonically saying: “No need to have your bags packed.” 

The indications and implications of these statements for Blinken may have been that repeatedly sounding the alarm that the “Russians are coming,” more than stoking fears of invasion among Ukrainians, was garnering considerable disfavor and rebuke from them. In this wise, it clearly appears to be the preference of his ancestral homeland to counter and handle Putin by stimulating an authentic atmosphere of cooperation. To that extent, the Ukrainian officials would surely like to douse the “madding fever” consuming its proud son over Russian moves with a bucket of ice cold water. Faber est suae quisque fortunae. (Every man is the artisan of his own fortune.) (Note as aforementioned, thoughts as these are intimations, developed in the abstract from evidence provided by official statements and newsmedia reporting.)

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky (left) and US Secretary of State Antony Blinken (right). During a televised speech to the nation on January 25, 2022, Zelensky urged Ukrainians not to panic. It was the second such speech on the crisis in two days. The speeches were not only in response to the situation the country faced, but also in response to what Zelensky appears to perceive as ad nauseum and unhelpful comments about an imminent threat of a Russian invasion of Ukraine heard from US and other Western officials. Depicting a very trying situation facing Ukraine in a graceful way, he told Ukrainians, “We are strong enough to keep everything under control and derail any attempts at destabilization.” The indications and implications of these statements for Blinken may have been that repeatedly sounding the alarm that the “Russians are coming,” more than stoking fears of invasion among Ukrainians, was garnering disfavor and rebuke from them. On this wise, it would surely be the preference of the people leading his ancestral homeland to counter and handle Putin by stimulating an authentic atmosphere of cooperation.

Putin’s Understanding of “the US Within”

In his parsing of US policy construction before engaging in the current Ukraine enterprise, Putin doubtlessly concluded societal attitudes in the US toward himself, Russia, and military action must be considered. He likely would assess that Ukraine is a country unimportant or of no-account in their day-to-day lives. He may further assess the true level of investment with what is the vague goal of halting Russia from taking control over territory in a distant country who most would not be able to locate on a map is unknown to the US public.  With regard to the more pertinent matter of committing the US in strenuous ways to Ukraine’s defense against Russian aggression, support from the US public would reasonably be decidedly low. Most apposite, there would certainly be no drum roll for  committing US troops for that purpose either. If this parsing of Putin’s line of thinking at all hits the mark, certainly polling, would support any of the analysis hypothesized as being held by him. According to a Pew Research poll published on January 26, 2022 overall, 49% of US adults perceive Russia a competitor of the US. Only 41% view it is an enemy, and oddly 7% see Russia as a partner of the US. Despite evidence of increased political polarization in recent years, Republicans and Democrats apparently hold similar views of Russia’s bilateral relationship to the US. Among Republicans and Republican-leaning independents, about 50% believe Russia as a competitor to the US, and 39% call it an enemy. About 9% of Republicans feel Russia is a partner of the US. Among Democrats and Democratic leaning independents, 49% see Russia as a competitor, while 43% view it as an enemy. About 6% of Democrats say Russia is a partner of the US.

Putin would also conceivably posit that at best what is known in the US public as the great East-West geopolitical struggle begun long-ago during postwar years and the unstemmed, unsatiated predilection of dividing up the world and deciding which country stands in which bloc, for most part is the stuff of school studies where the average Joe was concerned. If anything, they are viewed as matters in the province of government officials, policy officials. The January 26, 2022 Pew Research poll also finds that about 26% in the US public perceive the Russian military buildup near Ukraine to be a major threat to US interests. Only 33% in the US public believe Russia is a minor threat to US interests. About 7% of those polled say it is not a threat at all. As it is hypothesized here about Putin’s likely assessment, 33% of the public, a noticeably large share, are unsure whether Russian actions toward Ukraine affect US interests. Impressions of Russia’s military buildup near Ukraine also do not differ much by political affiliation. Republicans 27% of Republicans consider Russia a major threat to US interests, while 36% of Republicans view it as a minor threat in that regard. A somewhat large portion, 28% of Republicans, say they are unsure how the military buildup will have an impact. Among Democrats, 26% consider Russia’s build-up a major threat to US interests, while a greater 33% view it as a minor one, despite the position of the current Democrat-led US administration. Surprisingly, despite numerous public statements made about Ukraine by the administration, about 34% of Democrats stand slightly unsure how Russia’s military buildup will affect US interests. It would seem that for the US public, Ukraine is nothing to signify. They would do nothing to discover more about the situation. Even for those somewhat interested, doing so would hardly be worth the candle.

In his parsing of US policy construction before engaging in the current Ukraine enterprise, Putin (above) doubtlessly concluded societal attitudes in the US toward himself, Russia, and military action must be considered. He likely would assess that Ukraine is a country unimportant or of no-account in their day-to-day lives. He may further assess the true level of investment with what is the vague goal of halting Russia from taking control over territory in a distant country who most would not be able to locate on a map is unknown to the US public. With regard to the more pertinent matter of committing the US in strenuous ways to Ukraine’s defense against Russian aggression, support from the US public would reasonably be decidedly low. Most apposite, there would certainly be no drum roll for committing US troops for that purpose either.

Memores acti prudentes futuri. (Mindful of what has been done, aware of what will be.) Perhaps the worst episode of his experiences with State Department diplomats during the Obama administration was over Ukraine. Some diplomats stationed in Kyiv–names purposely excluded here–had made some very disturbing statements concerning Putin and Russia that likely seared a negative impression of State Department officials upon the Russian President. From that, one might imagine that still today, Putin may judge US foreign and national security policy officials as seeing the world strictly through the filter of their comfort. They take a high and mighty attitude toward all others. Publicly they tell the world how their interests are amplified by their values, and express concern over human rights, diversity, and global warming. Yet, privately, they are most frantic about US power and prestige, economic power foremost, and the aesthetics of its power in the world which translates into its geopolitical stance. Putin would expect them to put the US national interest first and foremost, but he may feel they take that tack with a blindness to the interests of others. On Ukraine and Taiwan, Putin hopes it will lead them down blind alleys to deadends.

To enlarge on this point, as it would concern US public opinion, State Department officials in Putin’s view, act in a world of their own, and drag the US public in directions that they for the most part are unaware of, and may disagree with, if ever consulted. As far as Putin might see, there are types in the US foreign and national security policy bureaucracies who look upon members of the US public as “Hottentots,” who could hardly fathom the complexity of the policy issues, situations their high offices contend with. Putin might imagine they would hardly believe the US public could understand what kind of skill and experience is required to maneuver against, to supplant, and to negate the interests of other countries and secure that of their own. That would closely equate to what Putin might project of his sense of the condescending attitude and behavior taken toward him during the Obama administration.

Surely, Putin would enjoy aggravating any gap between what the current US administration is doing on Ukraine and what the US public presently knows about it. If the US position could be better defined for the US public, Putin would want to be the one to do that. What would lead Putin to believe he would have a chance now at Influencing US public opinion would be his likely assessment that the Biden administration, as he may perceive has been pattern in the US administrations he has dealt with over two decades, would not want the US public to be fully aware of what is happening, what is being done about Ukraine ostensibly in their interests. Putin would certainly be following polls of the US public, too. Data directly on the point of public attention in the US to the Ukraine crisis from the January 26, 2022 Pew Research poll confirms that public interest has been very limited. While 23% of those from the US public surveyed say they have heard a lot about the deployment of Russian troops near Ukraine, a greater 45% have heard a little about the military build up, and 32% say they have heard nothing about it.

Using whatever medium might be made available and capitalizing on any popularity he may retain as an international figure, he may again seek to pitch his facts, his perception of the realities of the Ukraine matter to the US public. To be a bit more specific, Putin might express why Russia feels as it does about the situation, and what it feels it must do without security guarantees. Surely, it would be loaded with history from the Russian perspective, that any citizen living in Russia would dare not disagree with. Putin would hold out hope that the right choices will be made by the political leaders in the US. His hope would be that he will, using a diplomatic tone and soft phrases, stealthily scare the US public straight and make a lasting impression upon them, albeit a decidedly frightening one. Responding in a manner that he would doubtlessly suggest in his communication, he would hope the public will contact their Congressional Representatives and Senators, and repeat the facts and views he would have supplied them with. The ultimate hope for Putin would be to have encouraged Members of Congress to contact the White House and State Department to suggest “a better course” to Biden and top foreign and national security policy officials.

Recall that Putin attempted to reach the US public to shape opinions on Russia more than once. In a September 13, 2013 New York Times editorial entitled “A Plea for Caution,” Putin reached out to the US public concerning what he then perceived as the problematic nature of Washington’s policy approach to Syria and problems that could have been expected or possibly might have been avoided if a better path would have been chosen. He apparently believed then,  as very likely does now, that because of a perceived disinterest and disregard of public opinion in the US in foreign affairs, there was space for him to jump in to insinuate his views among the people. Misreading or miscalculation, he actually made the attempt. (See greatcharlie’s August 31, 2014 post which analyzes Putin’s 2013 editorial.) Prior to that editorial, Putin published November 14, 1999 op-ed in the New York Times, justifying Russia’s military action in Chechnya which at great cost re-established government control of the breakaway province. Putin was so concerned with shaping opinions in the US that doing so apparently in part impelled his efforts to interfere with the 2016 US Presidential Election. 

When he became Russian Federation President in 2000, he was mistakenly viewed in the West as shy, self-effacing despite his willingness to give interviews, make speeches, and publish writings, including a book entitled, First Person. An experienced national leader and well-practiced speaker, he seems more eager than ever to offer his views in public. Data directly on the point of public attention in the US to the Ukraine crisis from a January 26, 2022 Pew Research poll confirms that public interest has been very limited. While 23% of those from the US public surveyed say they have heard a lot about the deployment of Russian troops near Ukraine, a greater 45% have heard a little about the military build up, and 32% say they have heard nothing about it. Surely, Putin would enjoy aggravating any gap between what the current US administration is doing on Ukraine and what the US public knows about it. If the US position could be better defined for the US public, surely Putin would like to be the one to do that.

The Way Forward

Ita durus eras ut neque amore neque precibus molliri posses. (You were so unfeeling that you could be softened neither by love nor by prayers.) No senior Western official has publicly made the argument that Putin has lost his mind, nor has any provided evidence, even circumstantial evidence, that would lead one to believe some dramatic change in his mental health has occurred. To that extent, one might conclude no matter how disagreeable, deplorable his actions may be, it is accepted that he is behaving in a logical, quite sane manner. Moving comfortably in the reality of a leader as Putin is no mean feat. Few national leaders have had an authentic, natural rapport with him. That was not a shortcoming on their part, simply a reality as a result of their respective life experiences. Many Western governments view working with Putin on the Ukraine crisis, which they say he caused, as an undesirable task. Still, like it or not, that is the job at hand, and it can be successfully handled. Putin has some grievances, and says he wants to get them resolved. 

Standing strong and fast, assured of the correctness of one’s positions, one’s righteousness, is a good thing. On the other hand, posturing, pride and ego do a poor job at concealing insecurities. In this particular crisis, the elimination of insecurities on both sides will be central to its resolution. 

What needs to be created is a sustainable balance of power that advances US, United Kingdom, EU, Ukrainian, and the better parts of Russian interests to promote peace and security and foster collaboration. It would be most beneficial and virtuous for all parties involved to work together to construct clear agreements, improve ties, and accomplish even more. Superficial approaches to achieving an agreement, mere appearances of taking action that lack materiality, that are elaborate and useless, must be avoided. Such fruitless efforts will end up aggravating the situation. This episode may have actually opened the door to healing wounds, to solving problems that have only been bandaged to this point. Opportunity is not easily offered, but it is easily and easily lost. Hopefully, the parties involved will make the most of this opportunity. Casus ubique valet, semper tibi pendeat hamus. Quo minime credas gurgite piscis erit. (There is scope for chance everywhere, let your hook be always ready. In the eddies where you least expect it, there will be a fish.)

Resolving the Ukraine Crisis: How Better Understanding Putin and the Subtle and Profound Undercurrent Influencing His Thinking on the West Might Help

Russian Federation President Vladimir (above) at the International military-technical forum “Army-2021” at the Patriot Congress and Exhibition Centre, Moscow, August 2021. Putin ostensibly wants the US and its allies to understand that their military activities in Ukraine, too near Russia’s borders, are moving very close to a red line for him. Ostensibly to achieve that, he has massively built-up Russia Federation military forces perilously close to the border with Ukraine. Some in the West believe Putin intends to do a lot more than just build up military forces defensively and negotiate. Multiple analyses of Western foreign and national security policy bureaucracies have concluded that he plans to invade Ukraine. In that way, the current situation concerning Ukraine has become an inflexion point in US-Russian relations. Still, more appears to be involved here than Putin just being the Putin he has been over four US administrations. If the US is to get a real handle on relations with him, not just a perceived one, a more useful understanding of the man will be required. To that extent, what may lie beneath the surface of Putin, the person, will be briefly scratched a bit here.

Regarding the massive build-up of Russia Federation military forces perilously close to the border of its neighbor, Ukraine, and alarming activities that may indicate those forces will invade it soon, Washington and Moscow continue to wave their fists at each other. Moscow has denied having any intention to attack Ukraine and has explained away its buildup of troops as being a defensive measure. By building up military forces near Ukraine, which is all he has actually done physically at this stage, Russian Federation President Vladimir Putin ostensibly would like to cause the US and its allies to understand that their military activities in Ukraine, too near the Russian Federation (hereinafter referred to as Russia), are moving very close to a red line for him. Putin insists that the US and its allies provide Russia with signed guarantees to refrain from expanding NATO to include Ukraine and Georgia and limiting their military activity near Russia’s borders, particularly in and around Ukraine. However, some in the West believe that Putin intends to do a lot more than just build up military forces defensively and negotiate. Reportedly, multiple analyses of Western foreign and national security policy bureaucracies have concluded that he plans to invade Ukraine. In that way, the current situation concerning Ukraine has become an inflexion point in US-Russian relations. Ukraine was a flashpoint during the administration of US President Barack Obama in February and March of 2014. It was then that Crimea, Ukraine, was quietly and orderly captured by Russian troops dubbed “the green men.” The Obama administration was similarly at odds with Russia over Syria, mutants mutandis.

Putin seems to enjoy being seen fighting the good fight against Russia’s old adversaries the US and its allies.On the other side of the coin, dealing with Russian moves, Russian aggression, has become more tiresome for US administrations and Western capitals as much as anything else. Yet, Putin has not challenged the US mainly as a result of some domestic political consideration, or even less likely boredom or some vanity. Putin did not move so many troops to Russia’s western border because that area is more commodious than the locations they were previously based. Assuredly, Putin harbors negative thoughts and feelings toward the US and choices made by decision-makers that concern Russia in a significant way. Asked to bend: retreat back away from a matter, it is unlikely that he would without acquiring “concessions” from the US and its allies. He has issued preconditions concerning an agreement on “NATO expansion” already. (Perhaps he did not issue preconditions before entering any talks because he even realized that would be going a bit too far.) One would imagine he entered into this venture thinking, hoping he could potentially get what he wanted without having Russian forces fire a shot. it does not appear that Putin and his advisers are not too far down the road to change course. However, greatcharlie agrees that he would probably go into Ukraine if at some moment he feels it is, as it likely would have been determined by him along with his advisors and war planners in advance, to be the right time to do so. One would do no more than justice to Putin by presuming he long contemplated his military moves before cutting orders to get them rolling. He is certainly not moving step by step in what might be described as a hot-headed manner. Still, the larger decision to act as he has regarding Ukraine may very well be the result of a miscalculation. It is the unsought, undesirable job of the West to help him see that.

Inquiry into the fruit of things requires consideration of how Putin may view the situation. Russia has been led by Putin and his thinking from the posts of president and prime minister since 2000. A positive relationship with Russia has not been maintained by the US. There are many patterns apparent in his repeated confrontations with the West. Some eyes in the West appear somewhat closed to what may be happening with the Russian Federation President from the inside. What currently plagues the relationship is more than Putin just being the Putin he has been over five US administrations. The threat of the use of force, even mutual destruction, underlies Washington’s diplomacy with Moscow. The idea being that a somewhat expansionist, yet plainly aggressive, Putin can be made to behave as desired by placing a club at the end of the path he is traveling. He is ostensibly put in a position to act reasonably before he reaches it. It would go a long way to explain the somewhat unbroken string of unsuccessful interactions of US administrations with him, if the problem is that no useful perspective of why Putin has responded so aggressively has been developed. If the US is to get a real handle on relations with him, not just a perceived one, a more useful understanding of the man will be required. To that extent, what may lie beneath the surface of the intractable Putin, the man, will be briefly scratched a bit here. New light is shed on the man by using a different lens. There may be something about his inner self repeatedly being manifested and must be looked at from the correct angle. The aim is not to shoot down other analyses, but hopefully to add to them in a way to figuratively help put the reticle of some analysts on the bulls-eye. Offering what may be a few missing links might create an improved understanding of Putin and his actions, lifting thinking on Putin, to a degree, up from the region of the commonplace. Periclum ex aliis facito tibi quod ex usu siet. (Draw from others the lesson that may profit yourself.)

The Russians are coming! A mixed formation of Russian attack and transport helicopters moving toward their target during the Zapad 2021 military exercise. (above). If Putin decides to go into Ukraine, firepower, astronomically massed, from ground, air, and possibly from sea assets, would likely be used to destroy Ukrainian forces in the field, and in depth as far back as units held in reserve or even on training bases. Relentless fire from air and ground would be utilized to support the movement of forces inside Ukraine. What might have been identified as the front line of Ukraine’s defense would figuratively become a map reference for Hell. Imaginably, the main objective of the deployment of Russian forces would be to create a sufficient buffer in Ukraine between Russian and “ever expanding NATO forces.” In performing this task, Russian forces would ensure territory and forces that might remain in Kyiv’s control would be of less utility to NATO as potential a launching pad for a ground attack on Russia and could not be used as part of a larger strategy to contain Russia at its own border.

The Situation: What Could Russian Forces Do?

From what can be gathered about the situation, the US Intelligence Community has concluded that the Kremlin could be planning a multifront offensive involving up to 175,000 troops. An estimated 100,000 Russian troops have already been deployed near the Russia-Ukraine border. Satellite imagery has revealed a buildup of Russian tanks and artillery as well as other gear near the border, too. Reportedly, online disinformation activity regarding Ukraine also has increased in the way it did in the run-up to Russia’s 2014 invasion of Crimea. According to the New York Times, the most evident scenario given the scale of troop movements on the ground is a Russian invasion of Ukraine may not be to conquer the entire country but to rush forces into the breakaway regions around the cities of Donetsk and Luhansk, or to drive all the way to the Dnieper River. Purportedly at the Pentagon, “five or six different options” for the extent of a Russian invasion are being examined. Suffice it to say, Moscow calls such assessments of Russia’s intentions slanderous ravings. Russia denies it is planning an invasion and, in turn, accused the West of plotting “provocations” in Ukraine. Russian Federation Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokeswoman Maria Zakharova, who unfortunately does not exactly have a watertight record for tying her statements to reality, laid it on thick in the newsmedia, alleging Western and Ukrainian talk of an imminent Russian attack was a “cover for staging large-scale provocations of their own, including those of military character.” It is really disempowering to put out such a message. 

If Putin decides to go in, firepower, astronomically massed, from ground, air, and possibly the sea assets, would most likely be used to destroy Ukrainian forces in the main battle area and in depth as far back as units held in reserve or even on training bases. Relentless fire from air and ground would be utilized to support the movement of forces inside Ukraine. What might have been identified as the front line of Ukraine’s defense would figuratively become a map reference for Hell. Russian forces would most likely be deployed in a way to prevent the resurrection of Ukrainian forces in areas which Russian forces have captured. As for reinforcements or reserves, the rest of Russia’s armed forces would be right across the border in Russia. Imaginably, the main objective of the deployment of Russian forces would be to create a sufficient buffer in Ukraine between Russian and “ever expanding NATO forces.” In performing this task, Russian forces would ensure territory and forces that might remain in Kyiv’s control would be of less utility to NATO as potential a launching pad for a ground attack on Russia and could not be used as part of a larger strategy to contain Russia at its own border.

A stern fact is that the Ukrainians will hardly receive enough military aid from partners and friends, particularly Javelin handheld anti-tank rockets and Stinger handheld antiaircraft rockets, fast enough in the short-term to check a well-coordinated, rapid advance of heavy Russian forces. In the most favorable assessment, they might be able to supply them with enough to hurt Russian forces and perhaps “tear off an arm.” Having experience in contending with somewhat recent Western efforts to assist Russia’s adversaries and those its allies in Syria, Georgia, and Ukraine militarily, perhaps a special task force has been organized and assigned in advance, among other things, to: monitor the delivery, stockpiling of Javelins, Stingers and other weapons systems shipped to Ukrainian forces; maintain real-time knowledge of the distribution and location of those weapons; destroy those weapons systems; and, destroy or support actions by other Russian military units to destroy Ukrainian military units to which those weapons were distributed. That hypothetical task force would also likely be tasked to monitor–covertly surveil the intelligence activities and military operations of–Western countries as they relate to supplying Ukraine with special military capabilities. As for an insurgency in captured areas after an invasion, doubtlessly Russian security services have some sinister plan to cope with that contingency that will not be speculated upon here.

Amat victoria curam. (Victory loves preparation. [Victory favors those who take pains.]) As aforementioned, Putin is hardly acting on impulse, making it up as he goes along. Evidently, Putin believed acting now militarily would best serve Russian interests as he perceives them, not knowing whether the opportunity would present itself again. His decision suggests to the mind that events have apparently moved in some way that enough boxes were ticked off to allow a well-thought out plan based on facts, calculations, possible opposition moves, and predicted outcomes, to be green-lit. To that wise, one might presume any and every coercive economic measure possibly levied against Russia by the West would doubtlessly be anticipated by him. One also might presume he has some plan, stratagem, to counter such steps short-term and long-term. Watching the West interact with Ukraine since the collapse of the government led by his stern ally former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych in February 2014 as a result of Euromaidan, the Revolution of Dignity, Putin likely feels more and more that he is being “rock souped.” Surely, from his lens, the military dimension of the relationship remains at the forefront of Western expansion eastward. NATO forces are creeping closer to Russia’s border, and the government in Kyiv is hopelessly pulled further away from Moscow’s reach. Putin might believe any reasonable observer would accept and agree with his thinking about a threat from the West, and that his logically reached perception has actually been fostered by Western actions.

Ukrainian troops training with the FGM-148 Javelin, a handheld, shoulder-fired precision missile system designed to destroy tanks and other armored vehicles, as well as hovering helicopters (above). The Ukrainians would hardly receive military aid from partners and friends fast enough in the short-term to check a well-coordinated, rapid advance of heavy Russian forces. In the most favorable assessment, they might be able to supply them with enough to hurt Russian forces and perhaps “tear off an arm.” Having experience in contending with somewhat recent Western efforts to assist Russia’s adversaries and those its allies in Syria, Georgia, and Ukraine militarily, perhaps a special task force has been organized and assigned in advance, among other things, to handle all aspects of that matter. As for a post-invasion insurgency, surely Russian security services have some sinister plan to cope with that contingency that will not be speculated upon here.

Admittedly, it is surprising how much Putin has done to signal that he is considering a move into Ukraine. However, there is surely an art that moves Putin’s mind. One might presume that as he initially staked the situation with regard to the US, almost nothing communicated through telephone conversations or bilateral talks alone would be enough to compel the US to act as he wished. The potential use of military force could not exist as an abstraction, being left to the imagination of Western national leaders and their advisers. With a build-up military force, he could illustrate, convince US decisionmakers that the threat of military action was real.

Surely Moscow closely observed events as they developed in the border crisis between India and China. Although it has been repeated as of late that China backed down to India on the matter of the border crisis in which occasional gunfire was exchanged and lives were lost. The common wisdom is that the aggressive moves it made with ease against India placed China in a situation which in the long run would prove too consuming, too difficult to handle and contrary to national interest, particularly such an approach can have an impact economically. There was also too little gain for China both geostrategically or geopolitically as compared to the potential loss suffered from such an investment. 

An odd advantage that Putin has is that the US will act in a fairly predictable fashion. There is less for him to fear of some random, unexpected decision from the US than the US may fear about such a choice made by him. Placed in a trying position, which Putin surely hopes he has done, a certain reality would need to be faced by US decisionmakers. Conceivably, he would expect the top military officers and officials at the Pentagon (US Department of Defense) to see the situation straight. Indeed, he may be hoping the Pentagon would be the voice of reason, the source that will explain that the real possibility exists for the situation to get out of control if the US were to commit itself too heavily to Ukraine’s defense. That would seem especially true if US decisionmakers contemplated having to act if both Russia moved on Ukraine and China moved on Taiwan almost simultaneously. That is a real possibility despite how fanciful it may sound. Tremendous pressure would be placed on the available military resources of the US and its allies. It would seem unlikely to Putin that decisiommakers in Washington would sink themselves deeper into a situation in which only bad choices were left available. C’est comme ça! However, Putin still cannot be absolutely certain that Washington would parse out the situation as he has. He has the task of showing it this perspective and convincing it to acquiesce to at least most of his demands.

The clever bit for Putin would be to determine what military action by NATO, if any, would be taken to physically halt a Russian advance into Ukraine. To that extent, Putin may have assessed that with regard to Ukraine, as well with Taiwan, policies of past eras are no longer viable under current circumstances. The military forces of Russia have been transformed. Insofar as Putin is concerned, unless the US planned to transport the bulk of its armed forces into Ukraine and nearby, any challenge by the US and its allies that included military action would mean recklessly placing some small set of their forces in great peril. Russia would not back down once hostilities were initiated. Again, fighting along its own border would allow Russia countless advantages to bear on its prospective opponent. It would truly be absolute madness for Washington to commit its forces to the fight without some clear way to win or create some acceptable circumstance they could not have achieved without firing a shot. Ironically, in the name of global peace and security, to avoid a nuclear Armageddon, it would need to let its declared partners in Kyiv fall. Even though the US public today is uninterested in starting foreign wars, if the Biden administration commits the US to a fight that would have an uncertain purpose and outcome, it would garner great attention from the public and very likely fail to get its approval. To the extent that these considerations factor in Putin’s calculus, he would most likely find Washington’s stated position on Ukraine to be unrealistic and unreasonable. It only makes sense as long as Moscow does not act.

If efforts at peace fail, it is not completely clear to greatcharlie whether Putin would want all of Ukraine or just some of it: Donetsk and Luhansk for instance. If he wants more, his plans may likely include capturing Kyiv and establishing a new Ukrainian government. That would take up an enormous amount of time, resources, effort, and political capital. Putin seems too shrewd to rush into something as colossal as administering Ukraine. Still, no one is infallible. Putin has been known to miscalculate. It was a gross miscalculation to interfere with the US elections in 2016, an action Putin has repeatedly denied despite the fact that direct proof of Russian meddling has been presented on by US intelligence and law enforcement organizations. If Putin acts militarily in Ukraine and successfully captures enough territory to his content–at least on paper he should be able to with some ease, he would again be looked upon as a shining hero among supporters. The effort by NATO and the West in general to deter him would be depicted as a debacle. If he fails to make gains against the Ukrainians and capture sufficient territory, the failure would be an enormous defeat for Putin. It is possible that the rippling effect of such a prospective defeat would lay the groundwork for his departure as Russia’s leader.

US President Joe Biden (left center) and Russian Federation President Vladimir Putin (right). As aforementioned, Putin is hardly acting on impulse, making it up as he goes along. Evidently, Putin believed acting now militarily would best serve Russian interests as he perceives them, not knowing whether the opportunity would present itself again. His decision suggests to the mind that events have apparently moved in some way that enough boxes were ticked off to allow a well-thought out plan based on facts, calculations, possible opposition moves, and predicted outcomes, to be green-lit. To that wise, one might presume any and every coercive economic measure possibly levied against Russia by the West would doubtlessly be anticipated by him. One also might presume he has some plan to counter such steps short-term and long-term.

The View from the US

In remarks before meeting with his Infrastructure Implementation Task Force on January 20, 2022, US President Joe Biden laid out his position on a potential invasion of Ukraine by Russian forces. Biden, who would not expect to speak idly on such a grave matter or any matter, for that case, stated: “I’ve been absolutely clear with President Putin.  He has no misunderstanding.  If any–any–assembled Russian units move across the Ukrainian border, that is an invasion.  But–and it would be met with severe and coordinated economic response that I’ve discussed in detail with our allies, as well as laid out very clearly for President Putin. But there is no doubt–let there be no doubt at all that if Putin makes this choice, Russia will pay a heavy price. It is also not the only scenario we need to be prepared for: Russia has a long history of using measures other than overt military action to carry out aggression in paramilitary tactics, so-called “gray-zone” attacks, and actions by Russian soldiers not wearing Russian uniforms. Remember when they moved into the Donbas with “Little Green Men”?  They weren’t–they were dealing with those who were Russian sympathizers and said that Russia had no–nobody in there. Well, that includes “Little Green Men” in uniforms, as well as cyberattack. We have to be ready to respond to these as well–and decisively–in a united way, with a range of tools at our disposal.” Très, très fort!

During a two hour videolink call concerning Ukraine and other disputes on December 21, 2021, Biden also warned Putin that the West would impose “strong economic and other measures” on Russia if it invades Ukraine. Putin complained NATO is attempting to “develop” Ukrainian territory. He demanded guarantees that NATO would not expand farther eastward. Although there were no breakthroughs, the two sides agreed upon continuing communications. In greatcharlie’s December 31, 2021 post entitled, “Infrequently Discussed Issues Regarding Taiwan Likely Influencing Decisions of Communist Party of China Leaders and PLA Commanders,” it was explained that from Washington’s perspective, the door must be left open to type of contrition in diplomacy. Within time perceived to be available as conflict appears to draw near, there must exist an opportunity to amend a position. In theory, there may be an epiphany within logic and reason that leads one side to align itself with a view closely matching the other. Despite expressing concerns that Putin may invade Ukraine at any moment, there may still be some in Washington who assess and intuit, correctly or incorrectly, that since action has not been taken, with all of the tactical benefits such a surprise move would garner, it may not be taken. The delay In smashing into Ukraine may be a true lack of desire on the part of Putin to bear the burden of administering more of that country. There is the off chance that Putin may have some doubts about the military capabilities of Russian forces. The capture of Ukrainian territory may be quick and dirty but may leave unexpected problems in its aftermath. Given the way in which Biden spoke of sanctions, it is possible, despite what greatcharlie has already suggested here on this matter, that Putin may be worried about economic retaliation from the West. (Russia does not have much to shield itself from economic retaliation as compared to China, bound to the West with its products and production capabilities. The energy it provides to Europe and Nord Stream 2 are the more meaningful cards for Moscow to play. With concern to that, during the administration of US President Donald Trump, the US offered Europ a fairly decent alternative source of energy worthy of consideration.)

Putin usually plays his cards close, making it difficult to know whether some resolution might be found through a more open dialogue. No doubt officials in Western capitals are mindful of being too attached to diplomacy in coping with Putin. Each is doubtlessly versed enough in history to hark back to this infamous statement which likely has an expected chilling effect on efforts to work with him: “As long as war has not begun, there is always hope. For the present I ask you to await as calmly as you can the events of the next few days. As long as war has not begun, there is always hope that it may be prevented, and you know that I am going to work for peace to the last moment.” These words were spoken by United Kingdom Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain on September 27, 1938, during an address to the British people as concerns of war rose as negotiations between German Chancellor Adolf Hitler and himself. The tragic outcome of that effort is well-known. 

For Washington, Moscow’s actions have far greater implications than the progress of US-Russian relations. As Blinken also explained during his January 8, 2022 CNN appearance: “There are large principles at stake that go to the fundamentals of international peace and security.” He went on to note that the US is joined by international partners “to make it clear to Russia that this aggression will not be accepted, will not be tolerated.” An additional step in knocking down the idea that this crisis stands as a problem between Washington and Moscow has already been taken by the US. On January 9, 2022, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken stated very clearly on CNN: “It’s hard to see making actual progress, as opposed to talking, in an atmosphere of escalation with a gun to Ukraine’s head. So, if we’re actually going to make progress, we’re going to have to see de-escalation, Russia pulling back from the threat that it currently poses to Ukraine.” In effect, he expressed the view that despite intercession of the US and its allies, this matter remains Kyiv’s problem mainly. Looking at the crisis in that way makes it something akin to Ukraine’s “Reichenbach Falls”, the moment where Arthur Conan Doyle’s great fictional detective character, Sherlock Holmes, from The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, originally published as twelve short stories in the Strand Magazine (1891), was confronted by his archrival Professor James Moriarty after repeatedly disrupting his criminal schemes. As the story initially went, Holmes met his end in combat with him. It was revealed in subsequent installments of the series appearing in the Strand that Holmes survived the fight, his resurrection being demanded of Doyle by the magazine’s editors to satisfy a readership made much distraught over his demise. One might hope fate will allow Ukraine to survive this crisis intact, yet there is nothing fictional about this situation. Moreover, Putin is a far more powerful opponent for Ukraine than Moriarty was to Holmes.

Putin (right) seated in a conference room at the Kremlin during a videolink call with Biden (on screen left). During a two hour videolink concerning Ukraine and other disputes on December 21, 2021, There were no breakthroughs, but the two sides agreed to continue communications. From Washington’s perspective, the door must be left open to type of contrition in diplomacy. Within time perceived to be available as conflict draws near, there must exist an opportunity to amend a position. In theory, there may be an epiphany within logic and reason that leads one side to align itself with a view closely matching the other. There is the off chance Putin may have some doubts as to the military capabilities of Russian forces. The capture of Ukrainian territory may be quick and dirty but may leave unexpected problems in its aftermath. Given the way in which Biden spoke of sanctions, Putin may very well be worried about economic retaliation from the West.

Some Key Issues for Negotiation as the Situation Stands

Washington wants to avoid a conflict in Ukraine. For Washington, success in resolving the Ukraine crisis for the moment would imaginably mean, in brief, crafting an agreement with Russia that will relax tensions, strengthen the sovereignty of Ukraine, enhance the security of Ukraine, and ensure Russia remains committed to whatever agreement is reached. Ukrainians must be allowed to enjoy full control and use of their own territory. Ukraine would retain self-determination as a sovereign state. If Ukraine wants to join NATO that wish will be protected. (Perhaps with some disagreeable yet necessary minor alteration in the short-term.) Russia would need to take action assented to in an agreement that would confirm it has no aggressive intention. Any action that may have prompted accusations by both sides that the other was moving back to the adversarial thinking of the Cold War and the paradigm of East-West spheres of influence of the past must be addressed. Lending some further context for Washington’s efforts to negotiate with Moscow on Ukraine, Blinken, also stated during his January 9, 2022 interview on CNN that, “It’s also not about making concessions. It’s about seeing whether, in the context of dialogue and diplomacy, there are things that both sides, all sides can do to reduce tensions.” 

Recognizably, neither the US nor any government in the West wants to jump through hoops to satisfy Russia. They would all doubtlessly agree they have no reason to give up anything they have. They are not bothering Russia and Russia should not be bothering them. Even if some agreement were constructed with Moscow that they could accept, they would want to know how Russia would be held to the terms of the signed document. They would be skeptical over Russia’s willingness to adhere with anything to which it might be remotely disagreeable in the long-run. Plus ça change! All would likely agree that force should not need to be relied upon to hold Moscow to it. There is the likelihood many NATO allies and neighboring countries to Russia might sign an agreement with Russia, but would be hesitant to do so. If the US sought some collective agreement concerning the situation with Ukraine, those countries may see it as too much to ask or a manifestation of naiveté by leading powers less threatened by Russia. Some capitals would likely respond to the suggestion with reproach. Even more, they may believe the constant struggles with Russia that have created their anxieties among them about negotiating with Moscow. US officials would be up against that sort of reception and more if it sought to create some consensus among the Europeans on constructing a comprehensive agreement with Russia. Perchance if the situation is approached with a degree of gentleness and patience–“with diplomacy”–their efforts may bear fruit.

Yet, given these and other considerations that would shape a diplomatic effort in this crisis, to get a firm handle on this matter, the primary focus, as postulated here, must be placed on Putin. All that has transpired, all of the preconceived management of this crisis from the Russian side, has been the manifestation of his vigorous and masterful mind. Formulating the best response diplomatically will mean better understanding him and how he thinks. For US policymakers, decisionmakers and negotiators, finding a way, within reason, within acceptable parameters of US values and interests, to satisfy Putin and themselves will be no mean feat.

Putin (center) flanked by Russian Federation Minister of Defense, General of the Army Sergey Shoigu (right) and Chief of the General Staff of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation, General of the Army Valery Gerasimov (left). Recognizably, neither the US nor any government in the West wants to jump through hoops to satisfy Russia regarding Ukraine. Even if some agreement were constructed with Moscow, all would remain skeptical over Russia’s willingness to adhere with anything to which it might be remotely disagreeable in the long-run. To get a handle on this matter, the primary focus, as postulated here, must be placed on Putin. All that has transpired, all of the preconceived management of this crisis from the Russian side, has been the manifestation of his vigorous and masterful mind. Formulating the best response diplomatically will mean better understanding him and how he thinks. For US policymakers, decisionmakers and negotiators, finding a way, within reason, within acceptable parameters of US values and interests, to satisfy Putin and themselves will be no mean feat.

Some Common Wisdom Regarding Putin

Many Western political leaders and senior foreign and national security policy officials have claimed to have the ability to look into Putin’s soul. The reviews of their skills have been mixed. US President George Bush provided the following statement on the matter on June 18, 2016: “I looked the man in the eye. I found him to be very straightforward and trustworthy. We had a very good dialogue. I was able to get a sense of his soul; a man deeply committed to his country and the best interests of his country. And I appreciated so very much the frank dialogue.” However, given his former work in the intelligence industry, his decades of experience in politics and as a national leader, Putin is the one who has mastered such an art. While he is never publicly vocal with his findings concerning other national leaders he meets, his conclusions are best manifested by the actions he takes as they regard their interests.

Every US official Putin meets likely for him becomes the avatar of Western duplicity. He will always be distrustful, and will simply study the individual seeking to gain a sense from his or her words, the nature of the conversation among the most senior US officials on Ukraine. To this extent, each conversation informs his next move, not due to its content, but due to what he perceives to lie behind their words. In many ways times have changed for Russia, and more dramatically for Putin. Russia can not exactly match the US as a global power. It cannot exactly match the power of the US even militarily. However, its capabilities have increased and it can do more things in the world now than a decade or two ago. It would appear that Putin so badly wants to get that point across.

It was never the case that Putin could have been shaped into the Russian leader Washington wanted. Moreover, Putin was never a man to be trifled with. However, these were among many ideas about Putin perhaps carried over from the tail-end of the Clinton administration, over two decades ago, when the then young president was establishing himself both at home and abroad. Perhaps it accounts for the manner in which those officials in the Obama administration approached Putin, dismissing him to a degree as something akin to a potentate, a footnote in their dealing with a Russia that was a shadow of its former self during the Soviet era in nearly every respect. There is a popular saying among many in the younger generation that “to compete, one must compare.” Officials in the Obama administration saw no comparison between the power Russia had maintained following the Soviet Union’s collapse, and the US which was at the time, and remains, the preeminent power in the world. Putin would likely posit that Washington has done more than enough since the Obama administration to push him to act as he has.

It remains a trend to look at Putin superficially. Interestingly, it allows everyone to have an equal shot at analyzing him and his moves. To that extent, time is spent, near idly, discussing how bad a person he is. (One very senior US official referred to Putin as “a killer” In May 2021.) At the core of even such unremarkable analyses must be something about the whole authentic enough to give it true weight. Yet, aspects of such analyses are often not quite logical. It is fascinating to see how simple facts may go some way to explain what might be recognized at best as a charitable position. As seasoned analysts would tell, if that product is simulated, conclusions that result from it will be inauthentic. What is left to examine amounts to a mere perception of what is going on in Putin’s mind and in his camp as compared to the hard facts. Using conclusions that result from such analyses will never allow policymakers and other senior officials to approach him in the right way. Even logical opinions are not the equivalent of fact. Truth is not an opinion. In the defense of some analysts, adhering to such a limited, official approach to Putin could hardly be described as neglectful. Perhaps considerations outside of what is generally accepted are avoided in fear of being castigated for devoting time and effort to trivialities. There must be something stronger that lends an understanding of his state of mind

Another problem arises when such views, despite all that is wrong about them, are adopted unconsciously by senior policy officials or worm their way into analyses, and even worse, as a possible result of that contamination, more apposite aspects may fail to receive sufficient or any treatment. It is hardly deliberate. They may appear as trifles, made imperceptible by the fact that they are notions, too commonplace in the mind to raise concern. Nonetheless, they are damaging much as the microscopic virus that can fell a world class athlete.

The West’s position on Putin as it stands today is that Putin has a mind to have Russia serve as the follow-on to the Soviet Union and claim its status and glory as a power. The enterprise has faced some rough patches over the years, but has progressed nonetheless. Putin’s actions in countries formerly aligned with the Soviet Union or were under its influence decades ago have been his targets and he has managed to get the attention and response from the West led by the US, the adversary of the erstwhile Soviet Union. It sounds bad enough for his neighbors, the West, and all others interested in maintaining stability and security in their countries, regions, and the world. Yet, in taking that tack, he has to an extent guaranteed Russia would remain stuck, limited to being a only simulacrum of the Soviet Union, a shadow of the past. Granted, Russia may be seen as possessing formidable military forces, with new weapons developments and declarations of the intention to defend its territory and its interests, but not a country that was advancing politically, economically, or socially, seeking to elevate to something better. Not to offend, but perhaps that was the best he could ever expect from his people.

Putin (right) and US President Bill Clinton (left) at the G8 Summit in Nago, Okinawa Prefecture, Japan, in July 2000. When Putin became Russian Federation President, he took the seat created for Yeltsin at the G8. Perhaps the other G8 leaders felt that it was important to keep Russia in the G8 for the same reasons it was brought in but also hoped that keeping Putin in their circle might stir and help sustain a great desire within him to make Russia a country “like to one more rich in hope.” Other national leaders of the G8 may have thought that Putin would passively acquire an appreciation of their world, imagine the potential of a rejuvenated Russia fitting into their world, and acquire similarities with them. However, their eyes appear to have been closed to what was happening with Putin and Russia and why the move was nearly doomed to fail to ameliorate East-West tension in the long run due to his personality, no offense intended.

Missteps in Responding to Putin Somewhat Downplayed

The formal inclusion of the new Russian Federation in the high realms of international politics following the collapse of the Soviet Union was nobly attempted. A seat in the Permanent Five Members of the UN Security Council was inherited from the erstwhile Communist state. As important, Russia began to engage in separate meetings with leaders of the intergovernmental group of the leading economic powers, the G7, in 1994 while Russian Federation President Boris Yeltsin was in office. Russia formally joined the group in 1997 at the invitation of US President Bill Clinton and United Kingdom Prime Minister Tony Blair. This noble step was ostensibly taken in the name of international peace and security. Surely, inviting Russia to join the G7 was more than a friendly gesture and a fresh start. Membership would plug Russia into the international order, forestalling any burgeoning sense that if left isolated, control in Moscow might fall fully into the hands of organized crime groups, and so would Russia’s nuclear arsenal. Russia membership would more importantly plug the G7 countries vis-à-versa into Moscow in a structured way, creating an effective, stable line of communication and political and economic influence.

When Putin became Russian Federation President, he took the seat created for Yeltsin at the G8. Perhaps the other G8 leaders felt that it was important to keep Russia in the G8 for the same reasons it was brought in but also hoped that keeping Putin in their circle might stir and help sustain a great desire within him to make Russia a country “like to one more rich in hope.” Other national leaders of what became the G8 may have thought that Putin would passively acquire an appreciation of their world, imagine the potential of a rejuvenated Russia fitting into their world, and acquire similarities with them. However, their eyes appear to have been closed to what was happening with Putin and Russia and why the move was nearly doomed to fail to ameliorate East-West tension in the long run due to his personality, no offense intended.

At the G8, national leaders would come to the big table committed to having a positive impact in not only economic affairs, but world affairs in general. The existing seven members–the US, United Kingdom, Canada, Japan, Germany, France and Italy, plus the EU–were bound by shared values as open, democratic and outward-looking societies. Russia was not a country completely devoid of desirable things, Russia possessed natural resources, particularly oil and gas which the energy industries of the other powers coveted. Certainly, Russia retained the power to destroy with its nuclear arsenal and the residue of the once powerful Soviet military. However, Russia was hardly developed enough to participate in that way as a member. 

As for Putin, he had not as yet grabbed all reins of power firmly in Russia, much as he tightly grips them today. It is not inconceivable that his political qualities were not fully scrutinized by any member state. However, more pertinently, Putin was unlikely ready to manage Russia’s stake at the G8 when first began participating in leaders’ summits. Looking into Putin’s inner-being, it is possible that Putin, though in his own way appreciating the status G8 membership bestowed Russia and him, he likely felt well-out of his comfort zone and despite his ego, felt somewhere inside that the manner in which Russia acquired G8 membership was counterfeit. For Putin to be satisfied, Russia would need to possess membership on his terms, legitimate terms. Further, within group meetings, Putin presented himself with grace and charm befitting his position. If Putin ever got the idea that Western leaders enjoyed observing him outside of his comfort zone or disrespected him in any way, he would conclude that something akin to a schoolboy prank was being played on him and he would unlikely be able to hide his anger in his countenance. It may seem an odd thought, but it does not appear so fanciful when one considers how he currently perceives NATO. Perchance Putin could imagine, in the abstract, that the other technologically advanced countries used G8 meetings as a stage, and he would be seated before them as they flaunted their economic power and progress while giving the impression in occasional off-handed comments and perhaps unconscious condescending behavior toward him that they imagine everything about Russia being tawdry and slipshod, particularly its goods and services, and would describe its industrial centers resembling a carnival the day after the night before. Perhaps such thinking could be said to have some validity given that such was essentially the case in early post-Soviet Russia. Putin had already brought to the table a sense within himself that Russia remained vulnerable to Western plans and intentions. That sensibility seemed to stick regardless of all else good that came his way through the G8. The whole G8 experience, overall, may have left a bad taste in his mouth. Other group leaders could not have guessed that outcome.

Further reflecting his hot and cold impressions about the other industrial powers, although Russia was suspended from the G8, Russia delayed announcing a decision to permanently withdraw from the G8 until 2017. Surely, Putin had great concerns over the perceptions in Russia and around the world of the decision of the G7 countries. Putin appears to have had a morbid fear that the G7 countries were exercising power over Russia and himself. That would not do. By waiting, Putin retained control of that situation by choosing when Russia would depart and then exist in the substitute reality that his country had not been pushed out of the organization and marginalized. As far as he was concerned, Russia was still a member of the club of the most powerful countries. Despite everything, that recognition remained an aspiration of his. It is an apparent odd duality. Satisfying Putin’s desire for Russia to possess the ability to discuss world problems with the leaders of the most influential countries, was Russia’s continued membership in the G20–the Group of 20, in essence a group of finance ministers and central bank governors from 19 of the world’s largest economies, including those of many developing nations, along with the EU. While the G7 existed for the top-tier industrialized countries, the G20, formed in 1999, provided a forum for the discussion of international financial matters that included those emerging economies which at the time began to represent a larger part of the global economy. The G20’s aim is to promote global economic growth, international trade, and regulation of financial markets. As of 2021 there are 20 members in the group to include Putin’s erstwhile G8 partners, the US, United Kingdom, Canada, Japan, Germany, France, Italy, and the EU, and also Argentina, Australia, Brazil, China, India, Indonesia, Mexico, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, South Korea, Turkey and his Russia. To all appearances, as a G20 member, Russia plausibly retains authority in world governance. 

Una idea perplexina. (The idea is strange to us.) Intriguingly,  Putin did not attend the G20 summit in Rome in October 2021, informing the organization that his decision was due to concerns about the COVID-19 pandemic. Not to take precaution in these times would be short-sighted, but for Putin to abstain from physically attending a G20 leaders summit could indicate that the organization, for at least that moment, may have less meaning for him. Putin participated in the summit in Rome via videolink, but the optics were hardly favorable. Reportedly, Putin coughed quite a bit during the meeting creating questions in the minds of others about his condition. That seemed unusual for a man who exudes strength and robustness. (Hopefully, Putin was not feeling any real discomfort.) It was a small matter, a trifle, but perhaps it will later be discovered that it was small in the way that small movements of a needle would indicate an earthquake on a seismograph.

One must add to this story the influence of the destructive impact of the West on the Russian economy and the country’s efforts to “build back better” immediately following the collapse of the Soviet Union on Putin’s thinking. As discussed in the June 18, 2019 greatcharlie post entitled, “Why Putin Laments the Soviet Union’s Demise and His Renewed “Struggle” with the US: A Response to an Inquiry from Students,” Putin would doubtlessly explain that under Yeltsin, the Russian leadership made the mistake of believing Russia no longer had any enemies. Putin, while ascending to the top in the new Russian Federation, saw how mesmerizing “reforms” recommended to Yeltsin’s government by Western experts unmistakably negatively impacted Russia’s economy in a way referred to somewhat euphemistically by those experts as “shock treatment.” Yeltsin was unaware that Western experts were essentially “experimenting” with approaches to Russia’s economic problems. His rationale for opening Russia up to the resulting painful consequences was not only to fix Russia’s problems but ostensibly to establish comity with the West. The deleterious effects of reform recommended by Western experts’ could be seen not only economically, but socially.  In another statement made while he was acting President in 1999, Putin diplomatically explained the consequences of relying upon foreign experts for assistance. He stated: “The experience of the 90s demonstrates vividly that merely experimenting with abstract models and schemes taken from foreign textbooks cannot assure that our country will achieve genuine renewal without any excessive costs. The mechanical copying of other nations’ experience will not guarantee success, either.” Once fully ensconced as Russia’s leader, he would publicly state that the greatest danger to Russia comes from the West. He also brought that sensibility to the G7 table with him. 

One might go as far as to say apparently none of the negative perspectives, memories that Putin held regarding the West were revealed. He concealed them with sangfroid and equanimity. Yet, he likely thought of them by day and nursed them by night. Inclusion was not enough to stem those feelings or his responses to Western moves albeit in Russia’s direction. Once power changed hands in Ukraine, and a series of measures that enhanced US influence were taken, Putin responded robustly. The promotion of a struggle between ethnic Russians in Donetsk and Luhansk with the fledgling democratic Ukrainian government was followed by the greater step of Russia’s seizing and annexing Crimea, then the sovereign territory of Ukraine. His actions resulted in Russia being placed back into what was supposed to be isolation; it was put out of the G8–now once again the G7–and hit with many punitive economic measures. Both Putin and Russia have seemingly survived it all.

Putin (left) United Kingdom Prime Minister David Cameron (center) and US President Barack Obama (right) at the G8 Summit in Lough Erne, Northern Ireland in June 2013. Putin was unlikely ready to manage Russia’s stake at the G8 when first began participating in leaders’ summits. Looking into Putin’s inner-being, it is possible that Putin, though appreciating the status G8 membership bestowed Russia and him, he likely felt well-out of his comfort zone and despite his ego, felt somewhere inside that the manner in which Russia acquired G8 membership was counterfeit. Perchance Putin could imagine that the other technologically advanced countries used G8 meetings as a stage, and he would be seated before them as they flaunted their economic power and progress while giving the impression in occasional off-handed comments and perhaps unconscious condescending behavior toward him, He already brought to the table a sense within himself that Russia remained vulnerable to Western plans and intentions. The whole G8 experience may have left a bad taste in his mouth.

Putin from a Different Lens

What one might gather from this part of the story is that more than anxiety and dissatisfaction with US policies and moves, there is apparently a real sense of vulnerability in Putin toward the US and its allies. It has been a subtle and profound undercurrent in his decisionmaking and approaches toward them. Often, that sense of vulnerability has been exacerbated by efforts from Washington to make diplomatic inroads with countries Putin seems to feel belong to Russia. Note how every step taken eastward by the US in Europe, as innocuous as each may have appeared to Washington’s eyes, has led to hyper-vigilance–for example, increased intelligence and surveillance activity and aerial and naval incursions in the territory of NATO Members–and military action by Moscow. Though it has been listened to with skeptical ears in the West, Putin has said that US moves evoke his actions.

In a December 21, 2021 Washington Post opinion piece entitled, “Putin Wants Us To Negotiate over the Heads of Our Allies. Washington Shouldn’t Fall for It”, the former US Ambassador to the Russian Federation Michael McFaul lists what he identifies as Russian actions and policies undermining European security. McFaul included the following on that list: Russia well-maintains troops and weapons from the territory of the Republic of Moldova; Russia has recognized the regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia as independent countries; Russia caotured and annexed Crimea and well-supports the separatist movements in eastern Ukraine; Russia has deployed SS-26 Iskander missiles in Kaliningrad and maintains them in other deployment locations; Russia has placed tactical nuclear weapons in Kaliningrad; Russia has engaged in assassination operations, such as those conducted in the European cities of London, Moscow, Salisbury, Berlin and Tomsk; and, Russia has aided remaining European dictators who kill and arrest Europeans exercising freedom of assembly and freedom of expression. One can only imagine Putin’s inner-dialogue as he took each step.

Cast one’s mind back to Putin’s greatest expression of vulnerability in March 18, 2014 speech declaring Russia’s annexation of Crimea. He vented his anger at the US and EU, enumerating some Western actions that fostered contempt in Moscow. He mentioned: Russia’s economic collapse, which many Russians recall was worsened by destructive advice and false philanthropy of Western business and economic experts that did more to cripple their country; the expansion of NATO to include members of the Soviet Union’s own alliance, the Warsaw Pact; the erroneous Russian decision to agree to the treaty limiting conventional forces in Europe, which he referred to as the “colonial treaty”; the West’s dismissal of Russia’s interests in Serbia and elsewhere; attempts to bring Georgia and Ukraine into NATO and the EU; and, Western efforts to instruct Russia on how to conduct its affairs domestically and internationally. Conceivably, the aggregate of US moves eastward in Europe over time have truly rattled Putin and could potentially push him over the edge. That must always be considered. If the actual intention is to irritate Putin, then there will be no firm peace ever reached while he runs Russia.

Putin (above) in an office in the Senate Building at the Kremlin. In state-to-state talks between the US and Russia concerning Ukraine a structure has been established in which talks are held in rank order. Biden communicates with Putin, and Blinken communicates with Russian Federation Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. On both sides, the possibility exists that a set of reactions and responses to the positions and personas have already been formed. It would only be human to color anything truly novel added to the dialogue with considerations of what had already been said. Accordingly, it might be useful to enlist an envoy who could deliver the message that will end Putin’s sense of vulnerability and give immediate legitimacy to a call for multi-party negotiations for a comprehensive agreement on European security. That individual would need to have considerable standing with Putin to deliver that message.

What Might Be Done Regarding Putin To End This Crisis?

More than once has Putin associated himself with the ideas of “West German” Parliamentarian Egon Bahr on East-West competition. Discussing NATO in an interview published on January 11, 2016 in Bild, Putin provided insight into his thinking then and now. During the interview, Putin quoted Bahr who stated in 1990: “If we do not now undertake clear steps to prevent a division of Europe, this will lead to Russia’s isolation.” Putin then quoted what he considered an edifying suggestion from Bahr on how to avert a future problem in Europe. According to Putin, Bahr proffered: “the USA, the then Soviet Union and the concerned states themselves should redefine a zone in Central Europe that would not be accessible to NATO with its military structure.” Putin claimed that the former NATO Secretary General Manfred Worner had guaranteed NATO would not expand eastwards after the fall of the Berlin Wall. Putin perceives the US and its allies as having broken their promises to avoid expanding further eastward, and doing only what is best for their own interest in the name of all countries. Putin told his interviewer: “NATO and the USA wanted a complete victory over the Soviet Union. They wanted to sit on the throne in Europe alone. But they are sitting there, and we are talking about all these crises we would otherwise not have.”

Vitae summa brevis spem nos vetat inchoare longam. (Life’s short span forbids us to enter on far reaching hopes.) Whatever it is that Putin wants to achieve, he must move faster than time wastes life. Time is not on Putin’s side. National leaders and political figures in power now in the capital of those countries of the former Eastern bloc which Putin so dearly covets to develop Russian influence are individuals of the last generation that even briefly lived while the Soviet Union had considerable influence, sway in their countries. Coming generations will only know the Soviet Union from history books. They will unlikely as a pattern, by inertia, due to insouciance  simply seek as their predecessors seek to connect with Moscow. The benefits of connection to the West will be well understood by them. Relatives who in the past decades who immigrated West would likely have some influence on their understanding of those benefits. Russia simply will not compare, offer anything they would desperately want to invest in their future. Russia itself represents the past, and how bad things were, something no one should reasonably want to be like or be part of.

As greatcharlie ruminated on in its January 18, 2018 post entitled, “Trump Wants Good Relations with Russia, But if New Options on Ukraine Develop, He May Use One,” Putin very likely has considered what Russia would be like after he, as one might presume he accepts, is “called to heaven” or perhaps elsewhere, goodness knows. It would seem that now while on Earth, he is on course regarding Ukraine to saddle future generations of Russians with a country or parts of it that are still economically, socially, and politically challenged that they will need to care for, to pay for. Future generations may not appreciate that. In Donetsk and Luhansk, future generations might abandon their homelands for “the other Ukraine” or points further West. They would unlikely pour into Russia for employment, a “better life.” In the future, a Russian leader might very well try to reverse whatever Putin seems to be attempting in Ukraine due to financial strains caused, or–not to be offensive–out of decency. Taking on Donetsk and Luhansk might very well be viewed in the future as a grave miscalculation, another step toward sealing Russia’s fate as a second tier superpower. It is greatcharlie’s assessment that future generations of Russians will not want to hold on to Ukraine as leaders of Putin’s generation, with an idea to reestablish Russia to resemble the Soviet Union. This reality may have value in negotiations with Putin. 

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken (left) and Russian Federation Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov (right) meeting at Hotel Wilson in Geneva, Switzerland. January 21, 2022. For their next diplomatic step with Moscow, US policymakers, decisionmakers and negotiators must find a way for the two sides to work together in similar positive ways to create an outcome in which they both have a mutual and balanced influence on the situation. For instance, perhaps ways in which Ukraine could be helped along the way by both the West and Russia in tandem through an agreement that would also promote the maintenance of good neighborly relations and support the establishment of strong, positive relationships overseas without anyone being irritated. Washington and Moscow could engage in an exploratory dialogue during which suggestions could be sought on how the two sides could get from where they are to where they want to be.

A Possible Way Ahead in Diplomacy

For their next diplomatic step with Moscow, US policymakers, decisionmakers and negotiators must find a way for the two sides to work together in similar positive ways to create an outcome in which they both have a mutual and balanced influence on the situation. For instance, perhaps ways in which Ukraine could be helped along the way by both the West and Russia in tandem through an agreement that would also promote the maintenance of good neighborly relations and support the establishment of strong, positive relationships overseas without anyone being irritated. Engaging in what in essence would be an exploratory dialogue, transparent and frank, between Washington and Moscow on such matters would be the first step. In that dialogue, suggestions could also be sought from Moscow on how the two sides could get from where they are to where they want to be. If the US and Russia can cooperate on matters concerning the International Space Station, surely they can cooperate on an Earthly matter as Ukraine. N’est-ce pas vrai?

In theory, enough compromise might result from the collective talks to result in an agreement that would satisfy hopes and mitigate fears on all sides. Perhaps it would become the paradigm for peace in Europe that would remain until that time a new generation of Russia leadership that would share the values of other open, democratic and outward-looking societies. After the agreement is reached, Putin would need to feel freer and be able to stand upright. The US and its allies, the EU, NATO, the OSCE, the UN, and especially Ukraine would be on a long list of those who would need to be satisfied with the plan for negotiating with Russia and the resultant argument. Creating consensus and acquiring agreement across the board on everything negotiated with Russia will take time but that course must be taken. Besides, if one is to believe Putin, and accept that he has no plans to invade Ukraine, then there is no real need to rush.

In state-to-state talks between the US and Russia concerning Ukraine a structure has been established in which talks are held in rank order. Biden communicates with Putin, and Blinken communicates with Russian Federation Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. On both sides, it is possible that a set of reactions and responses to the positions and personas have already been formed. It would only be human to color anything truly novel added to the dialogue with considerations of what had already been said. Accordingly, it might be useful to enlist an envoy who could deliver the message that will end Putin’s sense of vulnerability and give immediate legitimacy to a call for multi-party negotiations for a comprehensive agreement on European security. That individual would need to have considerable standing with Putin to deliver that message. It could be a former US President, German Chancellor, or European President or Prime Minister that Putin seemed to favor. Perhaps a small multinational delegation of doyens rather than a single doyen could meet with Putin. He may appreciate that. The immediate task of whoever meets Putin would be agreement to cease actions threatening Ukraine and publicly making demands for that would require its government to surrender self-determination and freedom to associate with other countries as Kyiv saw fit. The appropriate alternative suggested would be to discuss all issues. Putin would need to be convinced that everything Moscow, he, might deem pertinent could be hashed out at the suggested multi-party talks. The theme of the conversation would essentially be “Let us do everything the right way this time.” Again, Putin may appreciate that.

As for any agreement reached through multi-party talks, if Putin accepts that approach to diplomacy, more than simple guarantees must be insisted upon. Apparently, Lavrov presented a rather one-sided draft treaty to Blinken when they met in Geneva on January 21, 2022. That will not do. It was a rather incommesurate and hasty approach to the situation given its enormity. The effort to maintain Ukraine’s security, Russia’s security, Europe’s security must not only be comprehensive, it must be a dynamic process. Not to get into too much detail,, but as a comprehensive agreement, a new agreement would supersede the existing Minsk Agreement, although its terms could be referenced. Reasonably, terms of a new agreement could be built upon terms of the Minsk Agreement when directly related. Of course, the decision on that, as with everything else, is completely in the hands of the negotiating parties. All issues concerning Crimea and existing sanctions could be disassociated from these talks. Those talks could continue in their current venue. Again, the choice there is completely in the hands of the negotiating parties.

The negotiation process might require parties to take some the following steps, among many others: construct detailed plans of action on every key area as mutually recognized, each issue of contention, must be formulated to ensure greater clarity not confusion; create a security zone could be created within which zero tolerance of isolation of the agreement would be established; create firm timetables for actions as reducing the number of destabilizing forces near border; create a security zone could be created within which zero tolerance of isolation of the agreement would be established; create firm timetables for the suspension for refraining from existing actions such as military exercises; reduce the scope and scale of military exercises near the Russia-Ukraine border despite perceptions of whether they are threatening or benign; establish liaison offices in the security zone on both sides of the Ukrainian-Russian border could be created staffed by Russian and Ukrainian officers and military advisers if desired by either party; organize limited but comprehensive aerial surveillance over the security zone would be organized and appropriately scheduled; establish multiple military and diplomatic committees each with responsibilities in key areas of the agreement and respectively staffed with appropriate expertise and authority could be created to review plans for action in key established under the main agreement or hash out nagging issues could possibly exist; organize and schedule direct Ukraine-Russia talks, in a multiparty forum, at the ministerial level and deputies just below to include NATO Members and non-NATO Members in European countries neighboring Ukraine can be created.

It would be crucial to eliminate all ambiguities at the negotiating table through multilayered agreements if necessary as the process moves along. Pull all loose threads detected at the negotiating table may include using scenarios and hypotheticals. Whether a negotiating path as suggested will create stability in Europe right away, greatly improve Ukraine’s security and remove Russia’s fears, perhaps even through some very creative steps, remains to be seen. Nil sine magno vita labore dedit mortalibus. (Life grants nothing to us mortals without hard work.)

Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky (center) visiting his country’s eastern frontline in December 2021 (center). On January 9, 2022, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken expressed the view on CNN that in the end, despite the vigorous efforts of the to correct the situation, this matter is mainly Kyiv’s problem and the Ukrainians have a Russian “gun to their head.” Viewing the crisis in that way makes it something akin to Ukraine’s “Reichenbach Falls”, the moment where Arthur Conan Doyle’s great fictional detective character, Sherlock Holmes was confronted by his archrival Professor James Moriarty after repeatedly disrupting his criminal schemes. As the story initially went, Holmes met his end in combat with him. It was revealed in subsequent installments of the series appearing in the Strand Magazine that Holmes survived the fight, his resurrection being demanded of Doyle by the magazine’s editors to satisfy their readership. One might hope fate will allow Ukraine to survive this crisis intact, yet there is nothing fictional about this situation.

The Way Forward

Non enim parum cognosse, sed in parum cognito stulte et diu perseverasse turpe est, propterea quod alterum communi hominum infirmitati alterum singulari cuiusque vitio est attributum. (For it is not having insufficient knowledge, but persisting a long time in insufficient knowledge that is shameful; since the one is assumed to be a disease common to all, but the other is assumed to be a flaw to an individual.) Putin does not seek to make Russia first in Europe nor match the power and position of the US in the world. Russia lacks the wherewithal, the resources,, and a lot of other things required to accomplish such objectives. However, Putin does want to control what he claims to be in Russia’s “near abroad”: the former Soviet republics on its border. As the US and its European allies become more engaged with them, it becomes less likely that he will be able to accomplish that goal either. If the US and its allies were not enough trouble for Putin, his “friends” in Beijing have been knocking on the doors of those near abroad governments, making enticing, huge offers, which Moscow cannot match, to invest in their economies and support industrial and infrastructure development as a way to enhance ties–albeit perhaps not always in a legitimate way. Unfortunately for Putin, he was unable to shape Russia’s position in the world positively over the past two decades, by transforming the country to be a contributing member as an advanced industrialized, economic power, and present Russia as anything close to an alternative as a partner to its neighbors. Russia remained a country from which villainy of some sort was expected more than anything else. Unable to sway the capitals of bordering former Soviet republics to Russia’s camp, it would seem he made the decision a while back to use brute force. US decision-makers should not simply expect Putin to get a hold of himself, and get a grip concerning the use of greater military force in Ukraine. He already moved on Crimea, so for many, no points could be argued that would convince them that he would not do more. The capture of Crimea may have actually been only the first phase in a plan of far greater conception concerning Ukraine.

Washington wants to avoid a conflict in Ukraine. For Washington, success in resolving the Ukraine crisis would likely mean crafting a sustainable agreement with Russia, within acceptable parameters of US values and interests, and that is the rub. Some national leaders in Europe might go as far as to say aggression simply resides in Putin and it is too late for any worthwhile diplomacy with him. They may need to overcome an anxiety over the history of Russian behavior before altering their thinking on that. Still, at the same time, no responsible party involved in this matter wants war. Given how Putin thinks, more than aggression and dissatisfaction with US policies and moves inform his actions. A real sense of vulnerability in Putin toward the US and its allies has been a subtle and profound undercurrent in his decisionmaking and approaches toward them. That sense of vulnerability is intensified by Washington’s efforts to make diplomatic inroads with countries Putin seems to feel belong to Russia. Putin has actually said that US moves evoke his actions, which thereby are actually reactions. That is hardly something he, or any military commander, would want to admit or to accept.

As suggested here, US policymakers, decisionmakers and negotiators must find a way for the two sides to work together in similar positive ways to create an outcome in which they both have a mutual and balanced influence on the situation. For instance, perhaps ways in which Ukraine could be helped along the way by both the West and Russia in tandem through an agreement that would also promote the maintenance of good neighborly relations and support the establishment of strong, positive relationships overseas without anyone being irritated. Some, despite everything presented here, albeit in brief, might contend that there is little obvious room for compromise from either side. However, the referee has not yet blown the whistle for full-time. It has always been greatcharlie’s contention that smart people are usually able with the appropriate amount of effort to find answers to problems. A posse ad esse. (From possibility to actuality.)

Infrequently Raised Issues Concerning Taiwan Likely Influencing Decisions of Communist Party of China Leaders and PLA Commanders

Map of Taiwan (above). Note on the map that part of Taiwanese population lives on islands in the Taiwan Strait and the East China Sea, perilously close to the shore of Mainland China. Despite being a tacit ally, and over the years occasionally directly declared one by some hardline US politicans, Taiwan is understood internationally to be part of China, and Beijing refers to it as a province. China says it has held claim over the island since 239 AD. There could be no greater insult to Beijing than to hear Washington come close in words to declaring Taiwan to be an ally and within its sphere of influence and that maintaining its independence falls within US interests. It is uncertain how much longer People’s Republic of China President Xi Jinping and other Communist Party of China leaders will be able to stomach what they likely perceive as the shameful global image of their new China, after literally centuries of subservience to Western powers, still unable to claim its own sovereign territory from them. Examined here is how this sentiment and others infrequently broached likely influence Party and People’s Liberation Army decisionmaking on Taiwan.

It is uncertain whether the US and its allies through their words and actions have successfully mitigated the People’s Republic of China’s plans to take control of Taiwan or Beijing is simply approaching the task very methodically, on its own schedule, leaving no appearance of feeling rushed to act militarily. What is clear however, under both circumstances, it is clear that perceptions in Beijing on either will ultimately determine how China will act. What those perceptions may prove to be is of concern among the US public. An April 3, 2021 Pew research study found that 89 percent of adults in the US “consider China a competitor or enemy rather than a partner.” The percentage of those who harbored “cold” feelings toward China increased from 46 percent in 2018 to 67 percent in 2021. During the same interval, poll participants in the US who held “very cold” feelings toward China more than doubled, from 23 percent to 47 percent. More than a few foreign and national security policy officials in the US and its allies, likely hope the status quo will hold fast. Imaginably, enough simple facts could be aggregated that might go some way to explain and support that position, which might be reasonably recognized as charitable. A temper of the soul wants to live in illusion. However, it must be accepted that convincing Beijing to surrender what it declares to be its sovereignty over Taiwan, may be akin to convincing a devoted mother to surrender her child. The Communist Party of China may even say its lead by an even deeper sense of a rightful custody. This is a very dangerous business and it appears less than likely that some peaceful resolution will be found to satisfy Beijing regarding Taiwan given how both sides have staked their respective interests. Peior est bello timor ipse belli. (Worse than war is the very fear of war.)

In attempting to inspire thinking beyond the typically raised geostrategic issues concerning US dominance in the Indo-Pacific and China’s challenge to that and the stature it has acquired as it continues to grow as a regional hegemon, and get beyond the geopolitical dynamics of East versus West, Chinese Communism versus capitalism, the eventual victory of the Communist Revolution worldwide, and so on, one might successfully discover that there are other aspects to consider in looking at key elements that drive the thinking of the Communist Party of China on Taiwan. Further thinking on matters is always possible.

The intent of greatcharlie with this essay is to offer a few new ideas that may stimulate others to peer more deeply into Beijing’s ongoing actions and intentions. Most were inspired following it’s reread of Robert Spalding’s Stealth War: How China Took Over While America’s Elite Slept (Portfolio, 2019), on which greatcharlie posted a book review on November 30, 2021. It is unlikely that all readers will find what greatcharlie presents as agreeable, this is most likely possible in the portions of the discussion that concerns how China may approach Taiwan militarily and the discussion on the possible influence of race and history upon thinking on the US by Communist Party of China leaders. However, sometimes making the effort to stimulate new ideas requires stepping a bit onto what might be deemed shaky ground. Praeterea qui alium sequitur nihil invenit, immo nec quaerit. (Besides, he who follows another not only discovers nothing but is not even investigating.)

People’s Republic of China President and Communist Party of China Party Secretary Xi Jinping (above). There could be no greater standing insult to a more audacious and assertive China than to stand by while Washington declares Taiwan, China’s own province, to be an ally and within its sphere of influence and that maintaining its independence is in US interests. According to the facts as one knows them, the US and China since 1971 have had an implicit understanding that Washington would not recognize Taiwan as a sovereign country, and China would take control of Taiwan by force. As the US since then has done as much as possible, short of recognition of Taiwan as an independent country, to provide support for the government in Taipei, one might reasonably sense that in the eyes of the Communist Party of China, the US, through its policy approaches toward the island, exercises its power over China. There is an art in the way Xi moves. If there is a way he can take control of Taiwan with acceptable loss by his calculus, he will very likely act.

Immediate Thoughts on US Regarding Taiwan That Likely Beat the Brains of Leaders in Beijing

Assessing the aggregate of sentiment expressed by the leadership of the Communist Party of China, one might posit that they believe their country’s stand, one-on-one with the US, which at one time for most of them appeared to be an indomitable power, is nothing less than heroic. At the same time, however, there is very likely some quiet recognition that Taiwan is a manifestation, a very apparent sign, of US dominance in the Asia-Pacific region. Despite being an tacit ally of the US, Taiwan is understood internationally to be part of China, and Beijing refers to it as a province. China says it has held claim over the island since 239 AD. There could be no greater insult to a more audacious and assertive China than to stand by while Washington comes close in words to declaring Taiwan to be an ally and within its sphere of influence and that maintaining its independence falls within US interests. The US approach on Taiwan has been conspicuously at variance to that taken toward China for decades on the economic front.

According to the facts as one knows them, the US and China have had an implicit understanding that Washington would not recognize Taiwan as a sovereign country, and China would take control of Taiwan by force. It is an agreement that resulted from US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger’s secret visit to Beijing in 1971. As the authorized version of the story goes, during talks with the People’s Republic of China First Premier Zhou Enlai, Kissinger agreed the US would “recognize the government in Beijing, not Taipei, as the only legitimate China.” During a November 15, 2021 virtual meeting between US President Joe Biden and Communist Party of China under People’s Republic of China President and Communist Party of China Party Secretary Xi Jinping, the issues of Taiwan’s status and security were broached. Reportedly, Biden underscored that the US was still committed to the “one China” policy, guided by the Taiwan Relations Act, the three Joint Communiques, and the Six Assurances. However, he also explained that the US was strongly opposed to any unilateral efforts to change the status quo or undermine peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait.

Given that the US for quite some time has been doing as much as possible, short of recognizing Taiwan as an independent country, to provide support for the government in Taipei, one might reasonably sense that in the eyes of the Communist Party of China, the US, through its policy approaches toward the island, exercises power over China. There may also be a belief within the Party that the US enjoys exercising that power. It is uncertain how much longer Xi and other Communist Party of China leaders will be able to stomach what they may likely perceive as the shameful image presented throughout the world of their new China, a supposed power, after literally centuries of subservience to Western powers, still unable to claim what is, by its own declarations, its own sovereign territory. All of China’s taunts of becoming the dominant power in the world appear to amount to nothing more than whistling in the wind. Certainly, regarding Taiwan, China does not display itself as the rising world power that it pretends to be. 

Surely, some foreign capitals have begun to believe Its military power and capabilities have been subject to hyperbole. Indeed, many in the world, watching it all transpire might be left with the impression that there is not a thing China can do about except lie back and take it, as unpleasurable as it may feel. An October 12, 2021 Newsweek article indicated that such feelings about the unlikelihood of China doing anything about Taiwan were recorded in a poll on the island. According to a public opinion survey released on September 29, 2021 by Taiwan’s opposition-run think tank, Intelligentsia Taipei, it was revealed that despite the apparent gathering shadows, 50.2 percent of respondents were little concerned about the prospect of war with China compared to 42.5 percent who were. Moreover, 58.8 percent believed a war with China was unlikely to happen in the next 10 years, compared to 17.6 percent who thought it was probable. A slender 2.2 percent were certain war was coming within this decade.

“Peace in Our Time”

Admirably discussed in Spalding’s Stealth War, are the matters of past US administrations’ blindness towards China’s actions and intentions and the importance of how Beijing assesses how Washington would respond to a move to retake Taiwan. In his search for a reason, a rationale, a purpose, for the current state of relations with China, Spalding, led by the data available to him explains it was the “errant” policy positions of former US administrations. At the core of those policies pursued, according to Spalding, was the misguided belief that economic development would lead the way to China’s transformation to a more democratic form of government and away from Communism. As he explains it, one is left to contemplate how such a horrifying blunder could continue on for so long. Attractive lies can worm their way into the intellect.

Regarding Beijing’s assessments on Washington’s most likely response to its taking control of Taiwan, pertinent is Spalding’s focus on how preceding US administrations perceived, constructed policies, and acted on China. It would appear that in current times, the way in which the US and its allies will respond to a move against Taiwan is how it will perceive China’s action toward its overall interests in the region. Despite what most might imagine, war may not be the obvious choice. Parsing out such concerning the US must be an ongoing process, an obsession, in Beijing at the moment. It would be part of the effort to determine how the US might react when presented with a situation as an assault on Taiwan.

Quod bellum oderunt, pro pace cum fide laborabant. (Because they hated war, they were working for peace with fidelity.) Presently from Washington’s perspective, the door must be left open to type of contrition in diplomacy. Within time perceived to be available as conflict appears to draw, there must exist an opportunity to amend a position. Hypothetically, there may be an epiphany within logic and reason that leads one side to align itself with a view closely matching the other. The expectation is for senior policymakers to master the situation through their management of it. When this is the case, they can often be more precise, to an extent exact, in policy planning, formulation, and implementation. On the other hand, policymakers can sometimes be out of touch with the real situation and act on mere perceptions and perhaps faulty inferences. Errant consilia nostra, quia non habent quo derigantur; ignoranti quem portum petat nullus suus ventus est. (Our plans miscarry because they have no aim. When a man does not know what harbor he is making for, no wind is the right wind.)

There remains the real possibility that a train of atrocious, unimaginable, grave events may come to such a head that it might be impossible to wait even an hour before taking the correct action. Fighting the type of war that the US might be required to prosecute, defeat China, thwart China’s ambitions, drive it off and forever away from Taiwan might not be characteristic of certain leaders. In taking that course, there would be the potential for millions to die in China, unacceptable losses on the side of the US and its allies. Additionally, as grotesque as the thought may be, China could potentially level an unexpected, crippling blow to US naval and air forces could also result. Indeed, what might be hoped in Beijing to be a limited lighting war attack launched in the name of protecting China’s sovereignty, could become total war, a war of national survival. (Note that there is no intention by greatcharlie to put into question the personal qualities of the men and women who have honorably chosen to dutifully serve the people to the best of their abilities.) As noted in greatcharlie’s November 30, 2021 review of Stealth War, perhaps in Washington, a decision has already been made on how to proceed in such a contingency. Perhaps the decisions on the defense of Taiwan have been established as protocols. In defense of its ally, US political leaders may be obliged to comply with them. If no such protocols exist, in the end, it will boil down to what the US political leaders want from the situation, a war ending in a type of Pyrrhic victory with losses or a struggle resulting in some acceptable or tolerable new paradigm that allows for an Irenic victory, in which the two opposing sides find some resolution and at least a modicum of satisfaction. 

During the Cold War, US assessments of a possible conflict initiated by the Soviet Union and its Warsaw Pact satellites was a surprise attack across the Iron Curtain initiated with conventional weapons. As discussed in greatcharlie’s March 16, 2014 post entitled, “Obama Urges Putin to Pursue Diplomacy; After Crimea Is Firmly Under Russian Control, Perhaps He Will”, Bernard Brodie explained in his renowned work on military affairs and statecraft, War and Politics (Macmillan, 1973): “The attack might be general along the line, intended to wipe out NATO and take over Western Europe to the Pyrenees.” However, Brodie also suggested that “there might be some variation in diminished form, like what became known as the ‘Hamburg grab.’  In the latter instance, the Soviet forces would slice around the important city of Hamburg and then leave it up to us to try to take it back—which without large conventional forces we obviously could not do unless we were prepared for a nuclear holocaust.” In contemporary times, the question of how the US and its NATO allies might respond when Russian Federation forces marched in Crimea which was the sovereign territory of a NATO partner–not a Member State–in 2014. The manner in which the US responded on the Crimean matter could possibly have enormous implications concerning Beijing’s thinking on Taiwan.

Lex talionis. (The law of retaliation.) As far as one knows, central to arguments made in Beijing to take military action to gain and retain control of Taiwan, may very well be what was central to the argument on taking all available steps to subtly exploit the US investment in China’s possible development into a more democratic society; the character of the US political leadership. Indeed, as consideration of the character of US political leaders did much to place the US in the current challenging position with Beijing, it may influence a decision by Beijing to go to war. To that extent, the nature of the one who would make the decision in the US on how to respond to China’s aggression will make all of the difference.

People’s Liberation Army Ground Force General Li Zuocheng, Chief of the Joint Staff Department of the Central Military Commission (above). As far as one knows, central to arguments made in Beijing to take military action to gain and retain control of Taiwan, may very well be what was central to the argument on taking all available steps to subtly exploit the US investment in China’s possible development into a more democratic society; the character of the US political leadership. Indeed, as consideration of the character of US political leaders did much to place the US in the current challenging position with Beijing, it may influence a decision by Beijing to go to war. To that extent, the nature of the one who would make the decision in the US on how to respond to China’s aggression will make all of the difference.

Begrudging Acceptance of a New Paradigm?

Tacit and explicit threats of a military response to an assault by China on Taiwan may with difficulty be recognized as a failed effort at deterrence. Domino theories and arguments based on the like predicting China’s systematic conquest of one US ally in the Indo-Pacific region after another may fail to gain traction among the most senior decision makers in Washington. That case would be made that all along it was recognized that Taiwan’s case was quite different from that of sovereign countries in the region. If anything, in the face of Taiwan being grabbed by a People’s Liberation Army (PLA) blitzkrieg, regional allies will need to strengthen their military partnerships and coordination with the US more than ever. In the capitals in which wisdom is exalted, leaders will immediately recognize that reality.

Though very aggressive statements may be made and every coercive tool other than war, particularly economic, would surely be used, military action that may lead to devastating attacks on regional allies, increasing the loss of life, may not be seen as the best way to establish a new dynamic with a relative world power. China in control of Taiwan might be albeit reluctantly accepted as a new paradigm.

Possible War with China over Taiwan

Forecasts of all types have been made on how a conflict between China and US and its allies will ignite. Perchance there may be points in each of some value. Perhaps some are worthy of great consideration. Still, in the end, they may prove to be in the aggregate, a mass of mistaken theories, indicating that there is no certitude or uniform position established on how the PLA will come at Taiwan. For long-time China watchers and the newly interested, the near deluge of newspapers, magazine, and broadcast and online reports up to journal articles and scholarly studies on Taiwan has left available a mass of diverse assessments, making the possibility of twinkling out the most likely scenario from the pack far more difficult. Ficta voluptatis causa sint proxima veris. (Fictions should approximate the truth in order to please.)

Reuters’ Predictions

Warplanners of the armed forces of the US and its allies surely without fail have established in their professional judgment what they believe to be the most viable. There is a fairly popular theory discussed in the US newsmedia that the PLA is waging so-called gray-zone warfare against Taiwan, lending support to the theory that China’s effort to retake the self-governed territory is already underway. Gray-zone warfare reportedly includes: an almost daily campaign of threatening military exercises, aerial and naval patrols, and all manner of surveillance. China has also used sand dredgers to swarm Taiwan’s outlying islands. In response, the US and its allies have accelerated, weapons sales to Taiwan, Taiwanese regular and reserve forces have improved readiness, stockpiled munitions, organize for asymmetric warfare: It disperses and conceals hundreds of lethal, long-range missiles capable of striking at the PLA’s superior force of warships, aircraft and targets inside Chinese have been dispersed. Further reports indicate that military planners in China, the US, Taiwan, Japan and Australia are expectedly gaming out scenarios for how an attack should launch, how the island’s defenders should act, and what the likely outcome will be. As the attacker, experts recognize that China has a range of options. Options suggested include seizing Taiwan’s outlying islands such as Quemoy and Matsu and the remote Pratas Islands, military and economic blockades, or least likely, invasion. 

An intriguing November 5, 2021 Reuters online report entitled, “Reuters Investigates T-Day: The Battle for Taiwan,” examined some of the conflict scenarios. It is based on interviews with close to a dozen military strategists and 15 current and former military officers from Taiwan, the US, Australia and Japan and drawing from articles in US, Chinese, and Taiwanese military and professional journals and official publications.

It is assessed by many of Reuters‘ military experts that top PLA commanders would likely convince Xi that an invasion, even under the most volatile circumstances, would be the biggest and most complex amphibious landing ever attempted, and is beyond the PLA’s capabilities. The alternative they foresee is an effort by China to launch a devastating air and missile attack on the island’s defenses. The military objective would be to destroy Taiwan’s military, demoralize the population and force Taipei to the negotiating table before the US and its allies can intervene.

Four PLA Dong Feng-26 (DF-26) ballistic missiles (above). The DF-46 missile is feet long, 44,000 pounds, and built to carry both conventional and nuclear warheads–was designed to obliterate aircraft carriers. It has a range of 2,500 miles, which means it can strike US warships in the western Pacific Ocean, including ships based in Japan. In order to deploy a carrier’s bombers on a mission in the South China Sea, a US aircraft carrier would have to come within the range of DF-26 and other missiles that would destroy it. The sheer amount of smaller, long-range ballistic missiles at China’s disposal and the blazing speed with which these weapons travel–six thousand miles in thirty minutes–pose, at the moment, an enormous threat to US warships.

What Must Be Remembered from Stealth War

In Stealth War, Spalding tosses into the debate on the defense of Taiwan the reality that China has thousands of precision warheads tied to a sophisticated command and control system. He expounds on this by pointing out that the Dong Feng-26 (DF-26) ballistic missile–46 feet long, 44,000 pounds, and built to carry both conventional and nuclear warheads–was designed to obliterate aircraft carriers. The DF-26 has a range of 2,500 miles, which means it can strike US warships in the western Pacific Ocean, including ships based in Japan. He gets across the idea that in order to deploy a carrier’s bombers on a mission in the South China Sea, the carrier would have to come within the range of DF-26 and other missiles that would destroy it. Though noting that the US Navy has SM-6 interceptor missiles, thought to be capable of destroying the DF-26, Spalding leaves no doubt that the sheer amount of smaller, long-range ballistic missiles at China’s disposal and the blazing speed with which these weapons travel–six thousand miles in thirty minutes–pose, at the moment, an enormous threat to US warships. To that extent, he writes: “It is conceivable that an undetected conflict might end in thirty seconds. Game over.” That is a hard saying.

Gnawing on the subject a little bit more, Spalding explains that when assessed from an economIc standpoint, the PLA constructed a $1 billion dollar missile system designed to destroy a $30 billion ship. Spalding says that there is no doubt our carriers are valuable and powerful machines. However, in plain English he also states that “their effectiveness in policing the Pacific is now extremely limited.” To that extent, ironically, the wrong message may have been repeatedly sent at an exorbitant cost. Again, introspectively, the value of the option for the US and its allies is the opportunity to rehearse cooperation, display joint power, and appreciate benefits of US leadership. Other than that and attendant technical accomplishments, in deterring China the move is valueless. In fact, no matter how necessary some action, some display would be in the face of challenges presented by Beijing to Taiwan, no greater support could be provided to the cluster of expressive hawks within the leadership in the Communist Party of China under Xi, mustering for a national war with the US.

The Digital Battlefield: A Decisive Factor?

Information and the technology used to generate, transmit, process, store, and manipulate it, has well become the primary means of obtaining an offensive or defensive advantage. Perhaps readers can cast their minds back to the era when strategists, tacticians, and military analysts were exploring the many possibilities resulting from its use in warfare. One article that greatcharlie recalls was entitled “Information Warfare: Good News and Bad News,” published in 1997 by then US Army Major Keith D. Anthony in Military Intelligence. In the 25-year-old article–which greatcharlie fortuitously discovered online, posted by the Federation of American Scientists, the author explained that military history is replete with examples of how information has been used in conflicts. He stated, “It has always been sought; sometimes it has even been used effectively, and sometimes it has been vital. The common thread, though, has been that physical engagements were still necessary to impose one’s will upon the enemy. Information warfare changes the rules.”

In the 1997 Military Intelligence article included the discussion of a translated “Military Forum” column by Zhang Feng and Li Bingyan, “Historical Mission of Soldiers Straddling 21st Century Roundup of ‘Forum for Experts on Meeting Challenge of the World Military Revolution’,” in Beijing Jiefangjunm, 2 January 1996. It reveals that over 25 years ago, the two authors recognized that this significant change had occurred in the nature of warfare, even calling it a military revolution. To that extent, one author explained, information technology is the nucleus and foundation of this revolution, for it is information and knowledge that bring change to the old practice that the military strength of an army was measured simply by the number of its armored divisions, air force wings, and aircraft carrier groups. He further stated that today, a number of invisible forces need to be taken into consideration, which include the calculation capacity, the telecommunications volume, and the reliability and real-time reconnaissance ability of relevant systems.

In the aforementioned 1996 conference paper on the burgeoning role of information technology in warfare, the notion of a digital wing of the PLA or intelligence services was nominal, only conceptualized. However, it soon became a reality. As Spalding explains in Chapter 5: “The Digital Battlefield”, in Stealth War, in making it so, it was determined that the PLA, an official security wing of the Communist Party of China, would become more than a national army, in the traditional sense of the term. Spalding goes on to explain that an organization, designated Unit 6139, became the PLA’s massive cyber warfare division. He deems it a politically sanctioned hostile military force built to prey on the West day in and day out. To that end, the PLA engages in digital assaults to access data that are both destructive–entrapping and disrupting the West by setting off digital landmines, raids, and intelligence operations–and constructive. The results of these operations–covertly harvested data–have allowed China to amass influence and power. In a political warfare mode, the goal of such work is to obtain and use influence to force other countries to cede to its way of looking at the world–how to organize society, what rights citizens should have, and encourage economic decisions that will benefit China

Spalding writes that by 2008, several published reports indicated that the Chinese government was paying tens of thousands of citizens 50 Chinese cents–the equivalent of 7 US cents–each to write an independent post promoting Party policy. By 2013, China’s state-run media reported that the propaganda wing of the Communist Party of China had hired 2 million “public opinion analysts.” Spalding assesses that number has climbed since, aided by an estimated 10 million student volunteers, who also engage in monitoring and disinformation work, both at home and on foreign websites. Meanwhile, the PLA’s force of hackers, continued to wander with near impunity, hidden, putting US counterintelligence in their shade, and continues to bombard US companies, government agencies, and political parties today

Perhaps it is bitter thIs, but an assault on Taiwan will be the occasion that among the near countless pieces of secret information, intellectual property, and actual technologies collected by China’s intelligence services, there was everything needed to thwart a successful defense of Taiwan. For the those wretched citizens and legal permanent residents of the US, who were accepted and ascended to positions of importance enough in their government, corporate, high-tech, or academic institutions to be sought out by Chinese intelligence officers and due to venal, self-interest, ideology, conspiracy, or dispaysment and love of homeland, chose to betray their country, as well as their organizations, colleagues and fellow citizens, perhaps there will be satisfaction knowing their villainy led to a prospective tragedy. For those whose responsibility was to halt the capture of key information and technologies that may have led to some tragic outcome and intercept Chinese intelligence officers who encouraged betrayal, there would surely be, among those really interested, a great burden of failure and loss, guilt and regret, to bear which could potentially take a lifetime to heal, if ever

Xi (above) during an inspection of the command center of PLA’s Joint Battle Command. The battle-dress camouflage uniform indicates that he is Commander-in-Chief of the PLA’s supreme Joint Battle Command. Xi is the long-time Chairman of the Central Military Commission. How China manages to pull Taiwan back in its fold permanently may not be as important to Xi as just getting hold of the island. Securing the island quickly with as few losses in personnel and material as possible, may require something a far cry from using the operational art, and acting with combined arms decisively to conquer territory. That may require both the complete destruction of the military capacity of Taiwan, and the complete and total destruction of property and eradication of those living there. A strategy of this type is known in military terms as a “battle of annihilation.” PLA commanders and warplanners would surely be prepared to execute such.

Pertinent Concerning Thinking of Communist Party of China Leadership and PLA Commanders about Taiwan

How China manages “to pull Taiwan back in its fold permanently” may not be as important to Xi as just getting hold of the island, again, as it is what the Communist Party of China “knows” to be China’s sovereign territory. There are military options available for reclaiming Taiwan that take a turn toward the sinister. Securing the island quickly with as few losses in personnel and material as possible, may require something a far cry from using the operational art, and acting with combined arms decisively to conquer territory. Achieving that military objective may require both the complete destruction of the military capacity of Taiwan, and the complete and total destruction of property and eradication of those living there. A strategy of this type is known in military terms as a “battle of annihilation.” PLA commanders and warplanners would surely be prepared to execute such.

Such thinking should not be deemed too fanciful or alien. To keep the discussion of the postulation brief, a model to ponder in order to better understand such an approach could be measured against how China’s military partner, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea), has made the complete destruction of the capital of the Republic of Korea (South Korea), its most likely adversary, central to its defense. Indeed, it is well-accepted that North Korea has had an estimated 200,000 artillery pieces aimed at Seoul for quite some time. Ostensibly, the threat of the destruction of Seoul from the North Korean perspective was established as a deterrent to any thoughts the South Korea’s most powerful ally, the US, might have of invading and reuniting the island by force. Yet, from another perspective, the destruction of Seoul would avoid the need to capture it by ground assault. The decisionmakers and warplanners in Pyongyang have never been under any illusion that the government in Seoul would allow the North’s control of its capital and an urban battle similar to those witnessed during World War II in places such as Stalingrad (1942), Caen (1944), Manila (1945), Berlin (1945), to name only a few would delay offensive action and drain resources for initial attacks on other critical points as well as likely plans for decisive engagements in depth. With this in mind, it may not be as difficult to consider that thinking in Beijing concerning a PLA assault against Taiwan, mutatis mutandis, may be similar in concept to that of Pyongyang for Seoul. The destructive effort, of course, would be on a far larger scale. The defense of Taiwan will be ferocious. Its struggles against China’s opening attacks, however, would appear self-destructive and self-defeating. Ostensibly, the sheer weight and power of the PLA juggernaut as organized would overcome whatever defense Taiwan might have in place. On Taiwan, the scene would be nothing less than apocalyptic.

With regard to a likely decision to attack essentially all structures on Taiwan, it must be considered that the independently minded Taiwanese government falls into one of the categories of what the Communist Party of China declared to be the “five poisons.” Those five include: Uyghur advocates of the East Turkestan Independence Movement; Tibetan advocates of the Tibetan independence movement; believers of the Falun Gong; followers of China’s democracy movement; and, adherents of the Taiwan independence Movement. Looking at the matter from that angle, one might imagine leaders of the Communist Party of China long ago recognized that even if China captured the island and gained control of what remained of its civilian population, surely the work of re-education could far surpass the level of exertion put into the Uyghurs, Tibetans, and people of Hong Kong combined. Re-education indeed may have been assessed to be so difficult that it may not at all be a part of reconstruction and rejuvenation planning for the island. The sinister solution would be to mitigate the problem during the military assault. Those Taiwanese who might remain, the survivors, would most likely be relocated, probably dispersed. Far worse acts against the people–for instance the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution–blaze on the pages of Communist China’s history. The Communist Party of China’s leaders would likely be concerned that spectacle of re-education camps on the island, following a destructive assault, would hinder any post-assault diplomatic efforts to create normalcy and do much to put China’s claim to a world in jeopardy, especially given the world’s reaction to camps in Xinjiang.. Imaginably, Xi would want to avoid that after the military assault

Among those in the world rightly concerned with the circumstances of ethnic and religious minorities in China, the moral fiber of Xi has certainly been looked upon darkly by. As aforementioned, the Uyghurs, Tibetans, as well as Falun Gong and Christians are roughly handled, pressured to uncouple from their culture and traditions, philosophies, and religious tenants and assimilate into culture and beliefs of Chinese Communism. If Xi can be viewed as contorted morally on those issues and just for being able to direct state security organs to act monstrously against his own citizens on mainland China in the name of preserving the integrity of the Communist Movement and the country, and putting counterrevolutionaries and reactionaries, and organized and individual criminals, there should little doubt that Xi would do whatever he thought was necessary to gain and retain control of Taiwan.

Ethnic Uyghurs standing in formation in a secured facility (above). China’s Xinjiang region is home to around 10 million Uyghurs, Turkic Muslim people by identity. In a report released on April 19, 2021, Human Rights Watch accused the Chinese government of engaging in a systematic campaign of human rights violations against Uighur Muslims in northwestern Xinjiang, an autonomous region in the country. Up to 1 million people, or about 7 percent of the Muslim population in Xinjiang, have been incarcerated in an expanding network of “political re-education” camps, according to US officials and UN experts. One might imagine leaders of the Communist Party of China long ago recognized that even if China captured Taiwan and gained control of what remained of its civilian population, surely the work of re-education could far surpass the level of exertion put into the Uyghurs, Tibetans, and people of Hong Kong combined. Re-education indeed may have been assessed to be so difficult that it may not at all be a part of reconstruction and rejuvenation planning for the island when captured. The sinister solution would be to mitigate the problem during the military assault. Far worse acts against the people–for instance the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution–blaze on the pages of Communist China’s history.

Taiwan Pummeled?

The prospective unending aerial and naval bombardments and a long range missile onslaught from mainland China would not resemble what may already be expected and planned for. As aforementioned, there is the belief that attacks with firepower will be used not only to weaken Taiwanese forces, but destroy morale on the island and force the Taipei government to the negotiating table. However, that would take a considerable amount of time to achieve. There is a line of thinking characteristic of analyses of what is likely to happen in the event of a Chinese assault on Taiwan that leaves time available for friendly action. Sentiment should never serve as a substitute for true feeling and fact. One could be assured that the lapse of time between a prospective Chinese assault on Taiwan and the movements of the US and its allies in response has been factored into any strategy developed by PLA commanders and warplanners. Within that interval, whatever calculation of that time and distance has been predicted by PLA warplanners for the movements of their opposition, would likely be the time frame set for successful action. It would be that anticipated time frame the Communist Party of China will expect Taiwan to fall into its hands.

The bombardment of Taiwan hypothesized here would be of a size that would exponentially surpass even those witnessed during the earliest days of Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan in 2001. More structures would likely be destroyed on Taiwan in the initial hours of the attack than had been built in its first 50 years. The number of lives lost on the island after a pummeling as foreseen might possibly be qualified as Biblical. 

The situation that Taiwanese military and security forces face brings to mind the French song and military march, “Le Régiment de Sambre et Meuse” by Robert Planquette and Paul Cezano. The lyrics concern a regiment that battled the Austrians in 1794 to defend the emerging French Republic. The march was composed in 1870 in an effort to raise patriotic feelings within the French public following their country’s defeat during the Franco-Prussian War. “Sambre et Meuse” is the name of a former French province that is now part of Belgium. In the fourth verse, the lyrics state: “Le nombre eut raison du courage / Un soldat restait – le dernier! / Il se défendit avec rage / Mais bientôt fut fait prisonnier. / En voyant ce héros farouche / L’ennemi pleura sur son sort / Le héros prit une cartouche / Jura, puis se donna la mort.” (Numbers prevailed over bravery. / A soldier was left standing. The last one! / He defended himself furiously, / but soon was taken prisoner. / Seeing this fierce hero, / the enemy took pity of his fate. / The hero loaded a cartridge, / cursed, then took his own life.) There is ample reason to believe China would do its worst in an effort to take control of Taiwan. If it takes untrimmed, the drastic, destructive course described here, it is likely that much as the “Régiment de Sambre et Meuse,” Taiwan as it exists today, after its capture by China, would attain immortality in memory, and perhaps also go on living only in verse. C’est une situation extrêmement désagréable.

Taiwanese soldiers in training (above). The bombardment of Taiwan hypothesized here would be of a size that would exponentially surpass even those witnessed during the earliest days of Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan in 2001. More structures would likely be destroyed on Taiwan in the initial hours of the attack than had been built in its first 50 years. The number of lives lost on the island after it was pummeled might possibly be qualified as Biblical. Both pleas and demands for China to halt its action as well as fierce protests and condemnation from capitals world-wide and international and regional bodies would surely be expected and most likely be disregarded. Beijing doubtlessly would have some plan formulated well in advance to deal with such matters after Taiwan was firmly in China’s hands.

Assessing Beijing’s Likely Thinking Correctly

In greatcharlie’s February 26, 2021 post entitled, “Suggestions for Resolving the Conundrum of Chinese Intelligence Operations in the US: Fragments Developed from a Master’s Precepts,” included was an excerpt from an intriguing story by Clarice Lispector published in the Winter 2011 edition of the Paris Review, entitled, “A Story of Great Love.” Lispector writes a sentence that is conceptually germane as well to what is discussed here: “Once upon a time there was a girl who spent so much time looking at her hens that she came to understand their souls and their desires intimately.” The leaders of the Communist Party of China and PLA Joint Military Staff are certainly not hens. Still, the notion that deeper look into their respective thinking to include emotional concerns and reactions is surely valid, even if it requires giving room to intimations and “informed speculation” in the abstract. Here are a few thoughts on other ways in which Beijing may view the Taiwan matter through its lens.

Political and Economic Competition

Most often in US newsmedia commentary on China’s arguments on the difference between the US and itself, centrality is given to the difference in political systems. In a November 8, 2021 article in the Economist, it was explained that if all goes to plan for the Communist Party of China in 2022, political events in the US will ostensibly offer a study in contrasts that humiliates the US. The article suggests that China’s leaders, reading opinion polls, expect the Democratic Party to suffer a considerable set-back in the mid-term Congressional elections in November. Beijing hopes a divided government with all of its uncertainties, including gridlock, would be the possible result. If all of this transpired, supposedly China’s propaganda machine would be presented with a new chance to declare that “China enjoys order and prosperity thanks to one-party rule,” while US-style democracy “brings only chaos, dysfunction and decline.” Interestingly, if such is indeed their strategy, then the Communist Party of China’s propaganda wizards will likely find themselves moving down a blind alley. The outcome of this premeditated ideological collision would be nothing to signify.

If economics were the determining factor of a choice by the Communist Party of China to move on Taiwan, on its face there would be little chance of military action. Capitals world-wide and international and regional bodies would react harshly and the impact on China’s economy would be catastrophic. Recognizing that and hope Beijing could be brought back to reality, on the onset of an assault, both fiery demands for China to halt its action, some even accompanied by threats of military action. However, such would surely be expected and most likely be disregarded. Beijing doubtlessly would have formed a picture of what that period would look like and some plan formulated well in advance to deal with such matters after Taiwan was in China’s control. 

The Communist Party of China may calculate that China through its products and the production of those for others is sewn into the lives of nearly everyone in the world. Although foreign capitals, particularly those of highly industrialized countries, would strenuously condemn and do the maximum to isolate China, ensure its status as a pariah, they would not really want to do so. While they would take every measure possible to inflict pain and bring China to its knees, they would very unlikely cut themselves off from it for the long-term. Beijing would likely assess that political leaders in capitals world over would need to calculate what cutting their countries off from China would mean for their own economies, businesses, and institutions, as well as their own citizens’ pocketbooks. An improvement in relations sooner than later would be expected. Finely detailed plans for rejuvenating China’s economy have likely been formed and continuously updated and upgraded in case events move in the direction of war. However, until a positive change in relations got underway, the people of China would need to make do, but do so knowing that the Taiwan province was firmly in their hands.

Director of the Central Foreign Affairs Commission of the Communist Party of China Yang Jiechi (center), and People’s Republic of China Foreign Minister Wang Yi (left), in Anchorage, Alaska in March 2021. Communist Party of China leaders–though not being absolutely certain, greatcharlie will nevertheless go out on a slender thread here to ascribe the trait to Xi himself–appear to hold considerable animus toward the US. Of course, there have been waves of what has been dubbed anti-foreigner sentiment propagated by Communist Party of China leaders before. The primary case was China under Mao in the 1950s and 1960s. However, the issue of race as posited here is something different as the sentiment is not some political tool or mechanism for social control. It goes to self-esteem. self-worth, self-image. Indeed, an inner awareness, sentiment intérieur, of the racial dimension of China’s history with the US may attend Communist Party of China thoughts, beliefs, sensations, and passions, albeit very negative, toward it. To that extent, the impact on individual leaders, their attitudes and policies could possibly be strong.

Race and History

What is rarely broached is the Communist Party of China leadership’s thinking on the somewhat inviolable issue of race and history. Indeed, though seldom in the forefront of discussion and analyses, it may have a greater importance in thinking on China’s side than one might imagine. To that extent, it might influence decisionmaking on Taiwan as it concerns the US response. Further, it may influence the Party’s perceptions and actions in the face of rebuke and “punitive actions” from the US in the aftermath of Taiwan’s capture.

Communist Party of China leaders–though not being absolutely certain, greatcharlie will nevertheless go out on a slender thread here to ascribe the trait to Xi himself–appear to hold considerable animus toward the US. Of course, there have been waves of what has been dubbed anti-foreigner sentiment propagated by Communist Party of China leaders before. The primary case was China under Mao in the 1950s and 1960s. Things foreign were purged. The foreigner was the enemy. However, the issue of race as posited here is something different as the sentiment is not some political tool or mechanism for social control. It goes to self-esteem. self-worth, self-image. Indeed, an inner awareness, sentiment intérieur, of the racial dimension of China’s history with the US may attend Communist Party of China thoughts, beliefs, sensations, and passions, albeit very negative, toward it. To that extent, the impact on individual leaders could possibly be strong.

Perchance, on some far deeper level, the leadership of the Party may want to leave no doubt that the men calling shots today in China are not little coolies who came to the old West to labor on the railroads sporting shaved heads and queues–ponytail first worn by the Jurchen and Manchu peoples of Manchuria, and later was required to be worn by male subjects of Qing Chinai–an indication of submission, who unfortunately suffered incalculable indignities at the hands of their exploiting hosts.

Party leaders likely want to leave no doubt that China’s military is not the same lesser-skilled and equipped, albeit courageous force, that suffered atrocious losses nearly a century later during the Korean War. China, then under Mao Zedong chose to go into North Korea to support the Communist Movement led by Kim Il-sung, providing far more than their partners in the Soviet Union. Apocalyptic size casualty lists resulted from frontal assaults, human wave attacks, on hilltops dubbed by US forces with names such as the Ice Cream Cone, Punchbowl, Heartbreak Ridge, Hill Triangle, Hill Eerie, Jane Russell, Old Baldy, T-Bone, and Pork Chop. Although these battles are long forgotten to the great majority in the US, are doubtlessly firm in the minds of Communist Party of China leaders and one might imagine stories of relatives lost are likely still told within a sizable number of families in China, too!

Party leaders likely want to leave no doubt that they are aware of, what they may believe are, prevailing images and impressions of the Asian male, particularly the Chinese male, are in the West. Statistics may show that some change has occurred and more positive, politically acceptable images of Asians in the US and the West in general are now the norm. According to a new Pew Research Center survey produced in this era of COVID-19, the vast majority of Asian adults (81%) also say violence against them is increasing, far surpassing the share of all US adults (56%) who say the same. To go further, it appears to be the case empirically that negative impressions of the Asian male, and most relevant here, the Chinese male, have seemed to stick. Suffice it to say they are still often portrayed appallingly in Western entertainment media as amusing little men, most often comedic, socially inept, even pathetic, stubborn and suspicious, brash and insufferable, and exuding scattered energy.

An awareness of Western impressions of the Asian male as noted here appears to factor into thinking, planning, and action at many levels in international affairs. As reported in greatcharlie’s May 24, 2021 post entitled, “Food for Thought for US Companies Maintaining Robust Operations in China despite Beijing’s Strained Relations with Washington”, during a bilateral meeting in Anchorage, Alaska in March 2021 between a US delegation led by US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and US National Security Adviser, Jake Sullivan, and a People’s Republic of China delegation led by the Director of the Central Foreign Affairs Commission of the Communist Party of China Yang Jiechi, and People’s Republic of China Foreign Minister Wang Yi, there was a heated diplomatic exchange. As the story goes, Blinken started the meeting off by telling the delegation from China that the US intended to address “deep concerns” over the treatment of the Chinese citizens in Xinjiang and Hong Kong and the situation with Taiwan. However, Yang responded boldly, taking a bit of time to express sharp criticism of the US over what he described as its struggling democracy, poor treatment of minorities, and over its foreign and trade policies. Yang, as well as Wang when he spoke immediately after him, comported themselves with a certain astringency. Their words were unkind and ungenerous, ostensibly designed to embarrass the new administration in Washington.

A large part of communication comes down to tonality, how one sounds. The choice by Chinese officials to respond angrily was at the time explained by and large in the US newsmedia and foreign policy circles mainly to be a matter of expediency. Perhaps instead, the words of the Chinese officials reflect more what greatcharlie has previously described as the Communist Party of China’s unsheathed antipathy toward the US. One might not be going too far to state the words spoken by Yang, a senior member of the Communist Party of China. smacked of something more personal.

Sensibilities on race and history may also account in part for the popularity and acceptance of the Communist Party of China and the population in general of the recent compensating and repairing image of “Wolf Warrior” in the Chinese film industry. Released in 2015, “Wolf Warrior” presents the adventures of Leng Feng, a PLA special operations sniper who is as tough as nails, smart, and near invincible. He is also popular with females, including his special operations commander, the beautiful Long Xiaoyun. Its sequel, “Wolf Warrior 2,” released in 2017, was the highest grossing film of all time in China.

Stirring poster for the film “Wolf Warrior” (above). Sensibilities on race and history may also account in part for the popularity and acceptance of the Communist Party of China and the population in general of the recent compensating and repairing image of “Wolf Warrior” in the Chinese film industry. Released in 2015, “Wolf Warrior” presents the adventures of Leng Feng, a PLA special operations sniper who is as tough as nails, smart, and near invincible. He is also popular with females, including his special operations commander, the beautiful Long Xiaoyun. Its sequel, “Wolf Warrior 2,” released in 2017, was the highest grossing film of all time in China.

Perhaps the mere thought of these indignities, as well as others, super charges the desire among leaders of the Communist Party of China, at the far end of the spectrum of possibilities, to obliterate both the memory and the progenitors of the offenders, generally. As such, it might also be an attendant element of Xi thinking, it may not be too fanciful to believe that he would enthusiastically take on the West via an assault on Taiwan to do his part to forever wipe away the image of the little people of China who are available to be bullied and a country, despite its achievements is merely tolerated as a player on the international stage, and spoken of in foreign capitals as an annoyance or nuisance as much as anything else. Lessons of China’s Communist Movement perhaps suggest to him that the habit of a lifetime for many in the world of viewing the Chinese people in such a condescending way cannot be altered by anything except an appropriate display of force. Etiam sapientibus cupido gloriae novissima exuitur. (The desire for glory is the last infirmity to be cast off even by the wise.)

While one could imagine that thoughts of issues concerning race and history might often inflame even Xi’s sense with ardor to lash out with China’s newly minted military might. Yet, to the knowledge of greatcharlie, Xi is not at all known for being hotheaded or indiscreet when discussing national security issues or  foreign relations, at least not publicly. Surely, if such moments of madding fever have at all occurred, doubtlessly sangfroid and equanimity have prevailed over them. Any strong feelings are harnessed and redirected in calibrated ways in actions against the interests of what might be deemed in Beijing as the main opponent. From what has been presented publicly, it seems that national leaders who have talked with Xi have not encountered or have failed to discern any thinking or attitude of this kind. If he has been able to hold such within, perhaps it could be said that Xi, a complex man, perhaps has mastered the art of being all things to all people, but never at last to be a particular thing to anyone. What is also known publicly is that national leaders leave talks with Xi feeling they understand him and have handle on matters concerning China. Alas, they very seldom do. 

While the issue of race and history may be looked upon as a supposable issue and among those belonging to the far side of analyses on Communist Party of China thinking concerning a possible military assault on Taiwan or worse viewed to be of no-account. Some internationally may perceive this discussion as a projection of the dysfunction on race and ethnicity that has long-plagued the US. Nevertheless, race and history may indeed be a very impactful factor if the US hopes to negotiate an agreement with China that will help sustain the relative peace, slow the marshaling of forces and other requisite preparations on the mainland for an assault on Taiwan. The influence of thoughts about race and history, as partially outlined here, is surely within the bounds of possibility. Issues of race would not be some element alien to the consciousness and the decisionmaking of the leaders of the Communist Party of China. If one were only remotely aware of how the Communist Party of China has responded to the Tibetan, Uyghur, and other Muslims, as well as people of Christian faith and others, issues aforementioned in this essay, the claim could hardly be made that race would unlikely be an issue of concern to the Party’s leadership.

A fuller discussion or argument on these points will certainly not be presented here. Imaginably, there may be the urge among some reading what little has been discussed here to dismiss the matter as a possible peripheral issue, however, for all one knows the matter may very well factor into the thinking of the Communist Party of China leaders specifically on the Taiwan issue. That makes it worthy of consideration. All doors inside the thinking within the Communist Party of China leadership must be opened and the interiors that they open to must be fully examined.

A rare public expression of disapproval in Xi’s countenance (above). While one could imagine that thoughts of issues concerning race and history might often inflame even Xi’s sense with ardor to lash out with China’s newly minted military might. Yet, to the knowledge of greatcharlie, Xi is not at all known for being hotheaded or indiscreet when discussing national security issues or  foreign relations, at least not publicly. Surely, if such moments of madding fever have at all occurred, doubtlessly sangfroid and equanimity have prevailed during them. Any strong feelings are harnessed and redirected in calibrated ways in actions against the interests of what might be deemed in Beijing as the main opponent.

The Way Forward

Est tempus quando nihil, est tempus quando aliquid, nullum tamen est tempus in quo dicenda sunt omnia. (There is a time when nothing may be said, a time when something may be said, but no time when all things may be said.) While recognizing in current analyses that major challenges exist, it may be worth giving consideration to the idea that too much of what is intrinsic to the thinking of US policymakers and warplanners–at least on the surface for that cadre–is being projected on Xi, the Communist Party of China leadership, and the Chinese military command and warplanners. Perchance in Beijing, they would gladly accept that outcome as there would be nothing better than to have decision makers of their main opponent blind as beetles. They would relish discovering that those decision makers have been clouding and obscuring their own thinking and negating what may be a deeper awareness when the pieces of what is known are out together in the subconscious, absent thoughts of political leaders’ expectations. Of course, they indubitably hold themselves to the duty of speaking truth to power as Spalding has in Stealth War and throughout his military career, but they may be ignoring and obviating what may twinkle in their intuition and intimations, and as a result, some analyses perhaps are being driven in the wrong direction. There may be the chance that greatcharlie is ruminating on something here that some US warplanners may feel unable to say themselves under current circumstances. The odds are not enormously against this theory being a reality. Yet, entertaining a discussion of these issues would doubtlessly disrupt routine examinations and responses. That is a hard saying. Hopefully, there is currently no place for intransigence. Certainly, discernment is always required, but with regard to China, no precaution should be neglected.

In previous posts on Chinese intelligence operations in the US, greatcharlie has suggested that if firm understandings of how the Chinese operate in the US and lessons learned regularly are aggregated with thinking from outside he national security bureaucracies, new lines of sight may be opened into difficult problems by which old hands in the US counterintelligence services would surely find advantage by including in their analyses. Ostensibly, the thinking of those fromm the outside would not be biased by any existing theories and prescriptions. Perhaps a similar recommendation could be made on the matter of how China may move against Taiwan. Based on how things appear and continued lack of real success, it would seem greatcharlie’s cautious appeals for US counterintelligence services to seek assistance from certain recherché thinking individuals from outside the national security bureaucracies, who could possibly help to resolve the conundrum of the Chinese espionage storm, amounted to watering dead plants. One might reasonably get the impression the matter is just not a real emergency, not that important. Alas, with that track record as a measure, it seems unlikely there would be a belief that any step in the direction of seeking assistance from external sources on the Taiwan matter would accomplish anything greater. Somehow, left to their own devices, they may move from where they are to where they ought to be. Fata volentem ducunt, nolentem trahunt. (Fate leads the willing, and drags the unwilling.)

Book Review: Robert Spalding, Stealth War: How China Took Over While America’s Elite Slept (Portfolio, 2019)

A B-2 “Spirit” Stealth Bomber (above). Though Robert Spalding’s Stealth War: How China Took Over While America’s Elite Slept bears the name of the exquisite machinery depicted, the book actually concerns something different. Stealth War refers to how China has quietly waged a six-front war on the economy, military, diplomacy, technology, education, and infrastructure of the US, and has been winning. Spalding provides piercing judgments, a novel-like reporting of actual events, and a clarity that allows him to cast a cold eye on China policy analysis and intelligence analysis both past and present. He has interestingly taken his own dissatisfaction, disappointment, and anger over how badly the US has handled China, placed the country in some danger, and safely expressed it on paper, turning it into a positive force to better understand how things have taken shape and how events are unfolding before the eyes of every US citizen.

As of late, there has been an altogether different spring in Beijing’s step. Without a shadow of doubt, Beijing now has a broader attitude towards Asia, a broader attitude towards the world, than it ever had before. Very convinced men and women in China awake each day invigorated with the idea that their country will soon be the dominant power in the world. Some might say it has been a long-standing perspective held among Chinese Communists. However, it would appear this view is being clinged to stronger now than ever. Long ago, Beijing formulated a long-term plan to eventually become the world’s dominant power. That plan has been underway without pause for decades. Few who planned it, lived to see the type satisfying results that have blossomed in recent years. Surely, People’s Republic of China President and Communist Party of China Party Secretary Xi Jinping hopes that under his leadership, the long sought goal of dominance will be achieved. In statements and speeches, he has often assured the Chinese people that the hopes and dreams of the Party and the people will be manifested. Though the idea of China being the world’s dominant power may be a pleasurable thought in Beijing, the moral and ethical implications are remarkably overwhelming. The notion of China achieving that goal is a frightening prospect, terrifying leaders in other countries whether its friend or foe.

US President Joe Biden recently reminded before a Joint Session of the US Congress that “Our greatest strength is the power of our example, not just the example of our power.” Perhaps many Asia observers and analysts would agree that such is not the case for China. Despite having the structure, a perceptible veneer to those unfamiliar with its ways, of being a multiparty system at the national level, for all intents and purposes, China is a single party, Communist, authoritarian state. The course of its leadership of the world might follow the same pattern as China’s censorship approach. Whatever China wanted would be dictated and punishment would closely follow behind its threats to those who disobey Beijing. The dynamics of relationships with cautious allies as the Russian Federation, for instance, would change, as China would likely want it at least to be tacitly understood that it was the “senior partner,” the leader. Discussion about China and its moves toward becoming the dominant world power is no longer outside the realm of even everyday conversation among the US public. If the people were provided with the full facts on China’s rise in competition with the US it would likely take the breath away of many. China stands convinced of the correctness of both its points of view and its actions.

The subject of this review, Robert Spalding’s Stealth War: How China Took Over While America’s Elite Slept (Portfolio, 2019), has been promoted as a book which discusses how China has quietly waged a six-front war on America’s economy, military, diplomacy, technology, education, and infrastructure, and has been winning. It might be enough for greatcharlie just to describe Spalding’s exceptional achievement with Stealth War as providing piercing judgments, a novel-like reporting of actual events, and a clarity that allows him to cast a cold eye on China policy analysis and intelligence analysis, both past and present. However, Spalding, even more, has interestingly taken his dissatisfaction, disappointment, and anger over how badly the US has handled China, placed the country in some danger, and safely expressed it on paper, turning it into a positive force to better understand how things have taken shape and how atrocious events are unfolding right before the eyes of every US citizen.

Although packed with excellent suggestions, the book is not about moving from choppy waters to calmer times. It is about preparing the US, using all tools of its power, military, diplomatic, economic, political, and information (media) power, to best handle what is happening with China and the worst that will most likely, or will eventually, come from its direction. Have no doubt that as a retired US Air Force Brigadier General, Spalding is well up on how the US could take on China militarily, and win. Spalding has presented his findings and judgments in such a way to plant good, well-thought out, seeds with the hope they will take root well. It is difficult to see how policy analysts and policymakers in the US, Democrat or Republican, would not recognize that Spalding is largely in the right.

In this review of Stealth War, greatcharlie hopes it can demonstrate how those reading the book for the first time will be provided a full picture on the matter. Hopefully the review will spark their exploration of the book to see what they can draw from Spalding’s meditations. For those who have already read Stealth War, this review hopefully will provide an opportunity to consider perspectives not thought of during their first look. In this review, greatcharlie will not run through Stealth War chapter and verse as it typically has in preceding book reviews. While still offering what it may humbly call its well-considered opinions and commentary, greatcharlie will discuss what it feels is the essence of the work, how Spalding stirs the development of perceptions and insights through the manner in which he presents his facts. Admittedly, being somewhat assiduous over facts in reviews, greatcharlie has often been somewhat prolix. A conscious effort has been made by greatcharlie to avoid again presenting what one reader acidulously, and lyrically, described as “a typical edifying, yet verbose greatcharlie review.” There is no desire to create a challenge for some readers to stay onboard with a post until the end of the ride. (Despite our deeming it necessary to do so, greatcharlie apologies to all readers for severely curtailing the discussion of the text of Stealth War in this review. It is recognized that Stealth War is a book of such quality that some readers might view taking such a step as a sort of malfeasance.)

Acknowledged as the master of the heroic couplet and one of the primary tastemakers of the Augustan age, British writer Alexander Pope was a central figure in the Neoclassical movement of the early 18th century. In “An Essay on Criticism,” a didactic poem first published anonymously in 1711 when the author was 23 years old, in greatcharlie’s humble view superbly gets to heart of the reviewer’s mission, explaining: “But you who seek to give and merit fame, / And justly bear a critic’s noble name, / Be sure your self and your own reach to know, / How far your genius, taste, and learning go; / Launch not beyond your depth, but be discreet, / And mark that point where sense and dulness meet.”

The author of Stealth War, Robert Spalding (above), is by no means an outsider with special access, looking in on the situation. He is an erstwhile insider, who worked within the deepest points, most grave points, of the US military and other national security bureaucracies. It must be noted that being a former US Air Force brigadier general, B-2 Stealth bomber pilot and unit commander, among many other accomplishments, Spalding was a member of an unique, elite caste of military officers who are not quick to speak out, do not lightly show emotion, at least publicly or react because of it, never fret over a perception without the full facts, would hardly speak idly, and whose views when expressed should be taken very seriously. Spalding spoke truth to power at the Pentagon and the White House, and speaks of only what he knows to be the truth in Stealth War. His scruple does him much honor.

The Author

Robert Spalding retired from the US Air Force as a brigadier general after more than 25 years of service. If US Air Force officers were listed by achievements–perhaps they are somewhere in the Pentagon, Spalding would surely be among the luminaries. His Air Force biography provides the best picture of the experience and knowledge he possess. Minus his list of educational accomplishments, it reads as follows: “General Spalding received his commission through Fresno State University’s ROTC program in 1991. He earned his doctorate in economics and mathematics from the University of Missouri at Kansas City in 2007. The general attended undergraduate pilot training in 1993, and was subsequently assigned as a B-52 Stratofortress co-pilot in the 5th Bomb Wing at Minot Air Force Base, North Dakota. He subsequently transitioned to the B-2 Spirit at Whiteman Air Force Base, Missouri. In 2001, he was selected as one of three Air Force Olmsted Scholars, and was a distinguished graduate of Mandarin Chinese language training at the Defense Language Institute in Monterey, California. Afterward, the general attended Tongji University in Shanghai as a graduate research student. He then returned to Whiteman Air Force Base as a B-2 evaluator pilot and assistant director of operations for the 393rd Bomb Squadron. The general was then assigned to the Office of Secretary of Defense’s Prisoner of War Missing Personnel Office as the military assistant for the deputy assistant secretary of defense. During the Iraq surge in 2007, General Spalding deployed to Baghdad and directed the Personal Security Coordination Center. After a stint at the Air War College at Maxwell Air Force Base, Alabama, he was reassigned to the B-2 at Whiteman Air Force Base. While at Whiteman Air Force Base, he was the chief of safety, operations group commander and vice wing commander. He was then selected as a Military Fellow at the Council of Foreign Relations in New York. General Spalding then served as the chief China strategist for the chairman of the Joint Chiefs, the Joint Staff at the Pentagon, Washington DC. His next assignment led him back to China as the Senior Defense Official and Defense Attache to China in Beijing, China. Prior to his current assignment he served at the White House as the Senior Director for Strategic Planning at the National Security Council, Washington D.C.”

Spalding is by no means an outsider, with special access, looking in on the situation. He is an erstwhile insider, who worked within the deepest points, most grave points of the US military and other national security bureaucracies. It must be noted that being a former US Air Force brigadier general, B-2 Stealth bomber pilot and unit commander, among his many impressive accomplishments, Spalding was a member of an unique, elite caste of military officers who are not quick to speak out, do not lightly show emotion, at least publicly or react because of it, never fret over a perception without the full facts, would hardly speak idly, and whose views when expressed should be taken very seriously. Spalding spoke truth to power at the Pentagon and the White House, and speaks of only what he knows to be the truth in Stealth War. His scruple does him much honor.

As of this writing, Spalding is set to publish a new book with Sentinel in April 2022, War Without Rules: China’s Playbook for Global Domination. In War Without Rules, readers are again presented with the perspectives and insights on US-China relations through the lens of a man with years of experience on such matters. Resolved that the Communist Party of China’s leaders believe that there is no sector of life outside the realm of war, Spalding illustrates how they have gone about that by use corporate espionage, global pandemics, and trade violations to achieve dominance. The ultimate goal of the Party is world dominance. Spalding provides insight into how US citizens can be made better aware of China’s tactics in order to mitigate its creeping influence.

Polybius (c. 204-122 B.C.), the Greek “pragmatic historian,” and intriguingly an eyewitness to the siege and destruction of Carthage accompanying none other than Cornelius Scipio Aficanus as one of his commanders. In his noted work, The Histories, Polybius covers the period from 264 BC to 146 BC, focusing primarily on the years 220 BC to 167 BC, and detailing Ancient Rome’s conquest of Carthage, which allowed it to become the dominant force in the Mediterranean. Additionally in The Histories, Polybius offered what he believed were the process and traits required of a good historian. Among all things enumerated, he emphasized: “All available evidence must be collected, thoroughly sifted, soberly weighed, and, lastly, the historian must be animated by a sincere love of truth and a calm impartiality.”

Spalding’s book is far from a dispassionate clinical study of US-China relations. Spalding is not presenting Stealth War at any point in the book as an intermedial. If one is looking for a book written by such an author, Stealth War would be the wrong choice. Being that he is in every way a patriot, Spalding’s position concerning the US interests versus China or any other country for that matter is vigorously partisan for the US. Moreover, he is not reluctant to confide his thoughts on such matters either. Readers should expect his relative partisanship to be the dominant tone of the text. However, Spalding’s patriotic tone does not degrade into anything akin to jingoism or chauvinism. His partisanship does not impact the quality of Spalding’s analysis. He is in fact very critical of US decision making on China. To the extent that he vigorously engaged in the process of collecting relevant evidence and sought to present the absolute truth, Spalding demonstrates all of the traits that Polybius would likely agree qualifies him as a solid reporter of past events.

While Spalding puts readers in the full picture, at the same time, he does not attempt to squeeze every issue dry so to speak. What he does present, however, provides enough to leave no doubt as to China’s actions and intentions. It is his book, and his prerogative to preclose as his present the facts as he knows them.

As a read, the book is presented in a way by Spalding as not to be too heavy going. Often, analysis becomes more uncertain as it becomes more sophisticated. His examination admirably allows for safe passage on each occasion to the very heart of the matter. There are no exaggerated claims. There is nothing to debunk. Surely, China would insist and seek to create the impression that statements made by Spalding regarding election interference, cyberattack, espionage, theft of intellectual property are simply Innuendo and insinuation. The notion of a misunderstood China offends all of Spalding’s reasoning.

People’s Republic of China President and Communist Party of China Party Secretary Xi Jinping (above) celebrating the Centennial of the Communist Party of China. Long ago, Beijing formulated a long-term plan to eventually become the world’s dominant power. That plan has been underway without pause for decades. Few who planned it, lived to see the type satisfying results that have blossomed in recent years. Surely, Xi hopes that under his leadership, the long sought goal of dominance will be achieved. In statements and speeches, he has often assured the Chinese people that the hopes and dreams of the Party and the people will be manifested. Though the idea of China being the world’s dominant power may be a pleasurable thought in Beijing, the moral and ethical implications are remarkably overwhelming. The notion of China achieving that goal is a frightening prospect, terrifying leaders in other countries whether friend or foe.

A Courageous Act by Spalding

Spalding speaks independently with his own points of view. It should be reminded that when he published Stealth War in October 2019, few from the ranks of his fellow military commanders with his experience had effectively and successfully reached an audience with such perspectives on China. Much as the man standing on high rock in the painting, Der Wanderer über dem Nebelmeer (The Traveler Contemplating a Sea of ​​Clouds) (1818) by the 19th century German Romantic painter Caspar David Friedrich. The “Dean of Cold War Historians” and Professor of Military and Naval History at Yale University, John Lewis Gaddis, suggests that the position of the character above the precipice and in front of a tormented landscape is contradictory because “evoking the domination over a landscape but at the same time the insignificance of the individual who is included in it.” In greatcharlie’s interpretation, Spalding could be represented by the man standing as he sees dangers that his country faces at the present and tries to imagine and consider responses to those unknown that it may face in the future. He fiercely desires to mitigate them, and thereby allow the US public to rest more easily. 

The practice of understanding the competition between powers and the clashes that result in the establishment of a dominant power was well-demonstrated more than two millennia ago by the Athenian historian and general, Thucydides (c 460 – c. 400 BC)  . The primary focus of Thucydides’ studies was the burgeoning competition and eventual clash of Athens and Sparta. Sparta was the superpower in the region, particularly militarily. As the Athenian empire rapidly grew with determination, to Thucydides, it clearly was just a matter of time before the two powers would clash.

In his book, Greek Political Thought from Homer to the Sophists (Cambridge University Press, 1995), Michael Gagarin presents Thucydides explanation for the Peloponnesian War which states the following: “I will first write down an account of the disputes that explain their breaking the Peace, so that no one will ever wonder from what ground so great a war could arise among the Greeks. I believe, however, that the truest reason for the quarrel, though least evident in what was said at the time, was the growth of Athenian power, which put fear into the Spartans and so compelled them into war, while the explanations both sides gave in public for breaking the Peace and starting the war are as follows.” 

There is a sense, a feeling, within the pages of Stealth War that Spalding believes the unwanted crisis, war between the US and China, will come. To that extent, he wants the US to be best prepared to fight that war and to win. There is a definite materiality in what he presents. Specific points of China’s attack on the US and suggestions on responses are clearly laid out by Spalding in the 11 chapters of his book’s 256 pages They are organized and titled as follows: Chapter 1: “Unrestricted Warfare”; Chapter 2: “How We Got Here”; Chapter 3: “Economy”; Chapter 4: “The Military Crisis”; Chapter 5: “The Digital Battlefield”; Chapter 6: “Modern Warrior 5.0: The 5G Future”; Chapter 7: “Politics and Diplomacy”; Chapter 8: “Stealing Intellectual Property”; Chapter 9: “World Domination via Infrastructure”; Chapter 10: “Sino Solutions: How to Combat and Stop China’s Stealth War”; and, Chapter 11: “Beating China at Its Own Game”. In his discussion of each issue, Spalding first looks from within, taking a deeper dive into impressions of the situation that he has developed over years of immersion in all aspects of the matter. His discussion of issues reflects the realist, the pragmatic thinker that he is. 

Support for Spalding’s pragmatic approach to examining China’s behavior vis-a-via the US, and the world, appears to have been provided more than two millennia ago by the aforementioned Thucydides. Thucydides is sometimes credited with founding of what is known as”political realism.” It is unknown to greatcharlie whether Spalding actually does or does not associate himself with the world of political realism, and it would go out on shaky ground to claim either was the case. Yet, Spalding’s discussion of China’s ambitions appears to manifest aspects of that theory. Central to political realism is the assumption that humans, deep down, are selfish, fearful, ambitious, and self-interested. As for countries, they are driven to safeguard national interests. To that extent, the tragic choice to go to war stand as indispensable tools in the management of state affairs and diplomacy: statecraft. As a result, the world has become a place in which each country may find themselves in conflict with competitors with similar interests, ambitions, and goals (targets charted by time).

In his search for a reason, a rationale, a purpose, for the current state of relations with China, Spalding, led by data available to him, explains it was the errant policy positions of former US administrations. At the core of those policies pursued, according to Spalding, was the misguided belief that economic development would lead the way to China’s transformation to a more democratic form of government and away from Communism. Given the manner in which he explains it, readers are left to contemplate how such a horrifying blunder could continue on for so long.

Even when the First Chairman of the People’s Republic of China Mao Zedong (left) was offering his olive branch to US President Richard Nixon (right), he reportedly regarded the US as the enemy, and that Chinese documents “likened it to Hitler.” Spalding notes Pillsbury recounts how People’s Republic of China Foreign Minister Zhou Enlai, during a meeting with US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, proclaimed “America is the ba.” The Chinese interpreter rendered this statement as “America is the leader.” That was a blatant mistranslation: “ba,” as used in most political language, means “tyrant.” When the translator was later asked why he softened Zhou’s language to Kissinger, he said, “It would have upset him.” At the time, US policymakers and decisionmakers were too interested in embracing a policy of helping China in order to destabilize the Soviet Union to concern themselves with the Communust Party of China’s hostile attitudes toward their country.

China Well Exploited Pro-China Policies of the Past

Providing some framework for understanding the approach China took toward the situation, Spalding explains that war between countries in the 21st century looks much different than war in the 19th and 20th centuries. He notes that instead of bombs and bullets, it is about “ones and zeros and dollars and cents: economics, finance, data-information, manufacturing, infrastructure and communications.” He insists that today if one controls those fronts, “you can win a war without firing a shot.” Spalding calls it a simple logical strategy that leaders in the West have been very slow to grasp. To provide a taste from the text, Spalding elaborates further on matter in Chapter 1: “Unrestricted Warfare” on page 14: “Military might is only one way to express aggression, only one of many ways to attain power. In China’s view, economic power strengthens all the fields of potential engagement. In other words, money bolsters the military but also bolsters every other sphere of engagement imaginable. It can be used to influence and sway political leaders in foreign countries, silence ideas, and purchase or steal technology. It can be used to manufacture goods at dirt cheap prices and drive competitors out of business, or weaken rival economies. It can be used to create an army of academics, who fan out to gather scientific, technological, and engineering intelligence that can be used to further other goals.” 

To that extent, Spalding goes on to clarify the matter by stating that perhaps one of the most important and revealing documents of the Communist Party of China is a 1999 work entitled Unrestricted Warfare. Written by two senior colonels in the PLA, Qiao Liang and Wang Xiangsui, it discloses a number of prospective strategies that could possibly shift the balance of power throughout the world in China’s favor. Spalding insists that Unrestricted Warfare should be required reading for all branches of the US government and for business leaders because it outlines the strategy at the root of China’s policies in the world. He quotes a passage of the document that states: “The new principles of war are no longer ‘using armed force to compel the enemy to submit to one’s will,’ but rather are ‘using all means, including armed force and non-armed force, military and non-military, lethal and non-lethal means to compel the enemy to accept one’s interests’.”

Past US Administrations: Blind as Beetles

Given what Spalding reports, it seems at one point, opinion in nearly all foreign policy circles in the US were adverse to the suggestion of an aggressive China that would challenge the US position as a the world’s leader, or as Chinese government spokespersons and Communist Party of China leaders refer to as US dominance in the world. It is to go out on shaky ground to ask readers to remember that sentiment was heard during the 2020 US Presidential Campaign when then Presidential candidate Joe Biden referring to China stated: “I mean, you know, they’re nice folks, folks. But guess what? They’re not competition for us.”

Spalding notes that in The Hundred-Year Marathon: China’s Secret Strategy to Replace America as the Global Superpower (Henry Holt and Co, 2015), China observer Michael Pillsbury discloses that even when the First Chairman of the People’s Republic of China Mao Zedong offered his olive branch to US President Richard Nixon, he regarded the US as the enemy, and that Chinese documents “likened it to Hitler.” Spalding notes Pillsbury recounts how People’s Republic of China Foreign Minister Zhou Enlai, during a meeting with US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, proclaimed “America is the ba.” The Chinese interpreter rendered this statement as “America is the leader.” Pillsbury said that was a  blatant mistranslation: “ba,” as used in most political language, means “tyrant.” When the translator was later asked why he softened Zhou’s language to Kissinger, he said, “It would have upset him.” At the time, US policymakers and decisionmakers were too interested in embracing a policy of helping China in order to destabilize the Soviet Union to concern themselves with the Communust Party of China’s hostile attitudes toward their country.

US President Bill Clinton (left) and General Secretary of the Communist Party of China, Jiang Zemin (right). From 1993 and 1998, there were several meetings between Clinton and Jiang. One the surface, US-China relations were mostly positive, a situation Spalding would explain was due to a desire in Washington to satisfy Beijing. Clinton signed a law passed by Congress establishing permanent normal trade relations with China. With the relationship codified, US investor confidence soared, as did business. China’s economy roared forward, too, due to a confluence of events: China was then accepted as a member of the World Trade Organization, Apple unveiled the iPod, and an eruption of digital goods turned into a stampede of international investment. Spalding makes the acidulous remark that many policy makers and business investors then, as well as years before, seemed to assume capitalism has special powers that could melt away authoritarianism and totalitarianism. Yet, despite China’s exponential growth, Spalding notes, as predicted by James Mann in his book, The China Fantasy: Why Capitalism Will Not Bring Democracy to China, the Communist Party of China only honed its brand of authoritarian capitalism.

Spalding remarks acidulously that many policy makers and business investors of the past seemed to assume capitalism has special powers that could melt away authoritarianism and totalitarianism. He goes on to discuss James Mann’s book, The China Fantasy: Why Capitalism Will Not Bring Democracy to China (Viking Adult, 2007), in which the author calls the West’s idea that China will morph into a liberal democratic society “the Soothing Scenario,” Mann summarizes the logic this way: “The country’s rapid economic growth will lead to far reaching political change as well. Eventually, increasing trade and prosperity will bring liberalization and democracy to China.” Spalding also points to Mann’s discussion of the opposite of the Soothing Scenario: “The Upheaval Scenario,” in which doubters envision China collapsing as a result of economic chaos or some kind of mass revolution. The result is turmoil and chaos. Spalding explains that Mann was way ahead of the curve when he wrote his book in 2007–a time when China was literally exploding with commerce and manufacturing. Six years earlier, then US President Bill Clinton signed a law passed by Congress establishing permanent normal trade relations with China. With the relationship codified, US investor confidence soared, as did business. China’s economy roared forward, too, due to a confluence of events: China was then accepted as a member of the World Trade Organization, Apple unveiled the iPod, and an eruption of digital goods turned into a stampede of international investment. Yet, despite China’s exponential growth, Spalding notes, Mann did not adhere to either the Soothing or Upheaval scenario. For Mann, all signs indicated that the Communist Party of China would continue to hone its brand of authoritarian capitalism.

There was not simply a gap between a perception of Chinese actions and intentions with a perception exemplar of the political realism school of thought as that of Spalding. Moreover, there appeared to be a gap between perception and reality on China among US political leaders and policy makers. They saw no urgency in responding effectively to what Beijing has been doing. The reality was hardly missed in Beijing that it would not be possible to simply rise to the mantle of the world’s dominant power. In order to possess the title of the world’s dominant power, China had to dispossess the US of it.

Spalding presents the subtle differences between logic and lunacy in expressing the actions of US political leaders and policymakers coddling a China determined to surpass the US, a thought many within policy circles and the general public in the US might still find difficult to wrap their heads around. Yet, Spalding curiously manages to forge an intriguing link for the US public, and imaginably the world at large, to what once quietly resided in the hearts and minds of senior military decision makers on China as well as what may generally reside in them now.

To that extent, the book has become, and will likely remain for some time, a stimulus to the discourse on US-China relations for a broader audience than other books on the subject. As awareness increases on the realities of that relationship, there has been an albeit gradual shift in perspectives on China. In foreign policy circles, it has been a gradual turn. In business circles, it has been an even slower transition, but somewhat steady. As he insists upon immediate change in response to developments, Spalding, himself, notes that “Some critics will accuse me of being alarmist or sensationalist.” Perhaps it will turn out in the end that the necessary change in thinking occurred too slowly.

Though not felt within the society as a whole but more so among a finite set of those in the national security bureaucracies whose responsibility is to keep an eye on China, there is a sense of foreboding similar to that which characterized the Cold War era when it was in full gallop during the 1950s and 1960s. Indeed, they are plenty worried. Many are worried enough to express their own concerns, if able, if permissible, in books after leaving the respective services, military, diplomatic, intelligence, sounding the claxson loudly on China’s moves much as Spalding had already done with Stealth War. In Graham Greene’s The Ministry of Fear (Penguin Classics, 2005) is found the line: “He had been frightened and so he had been vehement.”

Indeed, since the time Spalding published Stealth War, more have joined him in shining increased sunlight China’s activities, not just on the coronavirus disaster or in the realm of national security, but a multitude of other actions, all, nonetheless, malign. Included among those actions would be: predatory investment scams directed against trusting governments of often small and less industrialized countries; intrusion of sovereign waters for mass fishing; intellectual property theft from companies and research labs that have invested millions in research and development into that which was stolen; and, demands of censorship insisted upon of those in any arena who have received funding from, or are doing business with, China, concerning anything the Communist Party of China does not want discussed. Beijing must accept that as a result of such actions, impressions of China have not exactly been positive worldwide.

The Key Chapter at the Moment: Chapter 4: “The Military Crisis

Spalding states on page 43 in Chapter 4: “The Military Crisis”, “Fortunately, for the moment, China has no interest in engaging in a ground war, or any kind of war that entails actual violence and physical destruction.” Nevertheless, it is a coming war between the US and its allies against China which haunts the story that Spalding tells and has kept many readers turning the book’s pages to find clues as to why and how it will all come about. Though Spalding admirably discussed the issue of a possible war between the US and China, he explained the situation as it existed at the time he wrote Stealth War. It appears that the problem has metastasized a bit on the diplomatic and economic front since. 

No doubt, the Communist Party of China is not expending enormous financial and material resources only to pose a potential threat to Taiwan’s self-rule and somewhat attenuated sovereignty out of academic interest or worse, some banal amusement; far from it. It is not Spalding’s message, but after aggregating what he explains with more recent events, what becomes clear can be stated in simple words for political leaders in Washington and Taipei: “The Red Chinese are coming!” If this assessment is in error, and upon greatcharlie proved, better news could not be reported for the sake of international peace and security, and humanity itself.

In the top senior policymaking offices of the civilian leadership of US and its Western and Eastern allies, officials surely believe uniformly that a show of force is the most effective option to respond to and deter: China’s territorial ambitions particularly regarding Taiwan and the waters of the Western Pacific, China’s displays of naval and air power and China’s threatening words in rebuff to US leadership and dominance in the region and the world. The most formidable show of force policymakers have used is joint exercises between US Navy aircraft carrier battlegroups and aircraft carriers of its allies and having US warships transit the Taiwan Straits. In addition to being a show of force, such deployments also serve as an excellent opportunity for the US and its allies to project joint power and demonstrate their commitment to collective defense, rehearse cooperation, and particularly allow allies to appreciate the benefits of US leadership. Based on what Spalding explains, some readers might conclude that such displays of force by the US and its allies more satisfy the need for some ostensibly strong action and serve more to soothe international concerns, provide a display of leadership, and domestic consumption. In reality, the aircraft carrier battlegroups, as mighty as they are, present themselves as easy prey for Chinese missiles.

Spalding explains that China has thousands of precision warheads tied to a sophisticated command and control system. He expounds on this by pointing out that the Dong Feng-26 (DF-26) ballistic missile–46 feet long, 44,000 pounds, and built to carry both conventional and nuclear warheads–was designed to obliterate aircraft carriers. The DF-26 has a range of 2,500 miles, which means it can strike US warships in the western Pacific Ocean, including ships based in Japan. In the specific context of defending Taiwan,, he gets across the idea that in order to deploy a carrier’s bombers on a mission in the South China Sea, the carrier would have to come within the range of DF-26 and other missiles that would destroy it. Though noting that the US Navy has SM-6 interceptor missiles, thought to be capable of destroying the DF-26, Spalding leaves no doubt that the sheer amount of smaller, long-range ballistic missiles at China’s disposal and the blazing speed with which these weapons travel–six thousand miles in thirty minutes–pose, at the moment, an enormous threat to US warships. To that extent, he writes: “It is conceivable that an undetected conflict might end in thirty seconds. Game over.” That is a hard saying.

Gnawing on the subject a little bit more, Spalding explains that assessed from an economIc standpoint, the PLA constructed a $1 billion dollar missile system designed to destroy a $30 billion ship. Spalding says that there is no doubt our carriers are valuable and powerful machines. However, in plain English he also states that “their effectiveness in policing the Pacific is now extremely limited.” To that extent, ironically, having US and allied aircraft carriers sail within the range of the DF-26 may repeatedly send the wrong message at an exorbitant cost. In terms of deterring China regarding Taiwan, the move may have repeatedly demonstrated that the US and its allies would be unable to act in a way to halt an assault on the island while at the same time avoiding unacceptable losses. No greater support could be provided to the cluster of expressive hawks the leadership in the Communist Party of China under Xi, clamoring for an assault on Taiwan sooner than later.

China’s Dong Feng-26 (DF-26) ballistic missile (above) was designed to obliterate aircraft carriers. The DF-26 has a range of 2,500 miles, which means it can strike US warships in the western Pacific Ocean, including ships based in Japan. So do the math: in order to deploy a carrier’s bombers on a mission in the South China Sea, the carrier would have to come within the range of DF-26 and other missiles that would destroy it. The sheer amount of smaller, long-range ballistic missiles at China’s disposal under a sophisticated command and control system, and the blazing speed with which these weapons travel–six thousand miles in thirty minutes–pose, at the moment, an enormous threat to our ships. Spalding says It is conceivable that an undetected conflict might end in thirty seconds. Game over. It is a hard saying.

Following up on Spalding’s statement in Chapter 4 that the US cannot fight a ground war with China, he expounds on that point by stating products from China are crucial for the production and operations of much of the US military’s weapon systems and gear. He states directly that “the amount of goods that have been shipped and continue to be shipped from China for military use is mind-boggling.” Spalding goes into detail somewhat by offering examples of the daunting amount of military equipment that contain components made in China. He says the propellant that fires out Hellfire missiles, which are launched from helicopters, jets, and drones, is imported from China. He points the glass in night-vision goggles contains a metal called lanthanum, a large majority of which comes from China. He also points to computers that US military and naval officers write plans and reports and print them on come from China predominantly. Instructional videos are watched on screens made in China.

Spalding reminds that there are laws mandating that the US military buy goods that are made in the US. However, he believes that the US has gone too far with outsourcing and has reached a point where it is unable to defend itself and its interests without Chinese manufacturing and logistical support. If supply lines were cut from China, or even if a trade war broke out with embargoes, Spalding predicts the US military would have a nightmare sourcing its needs and getting them to the battlefield. Spalding quotes a 2015 essay by retired US Army General John Adams which states: “Our almost complete dependence on China and other countries for telecommunications equipment presents potentially catastrophic battlefield vulnerabilities.”

The Nuclear Dimension

On China’s nuclear capabilities, on page 201 in Chapter 10: “Sino Solutions: How to Combat and Stipop China’s Stealth War”, Spalding revealed that his greatest concern was that as the US seeks to balance our economic relationship, the PLA will continue to be left unrestricted. Spalding explains that unfortunately as a consequence, the US needs the threat of its nuclear arsenal as a deterrent. Spalding says the assumption is if course that these bombs will never be used. Nevertheless, he feels that “invoking fear of the unthinkable–the madman or Wildman theory of negotiation–often works.”

Delving a bit into the realm of conjecture, it is conceivable that warplanners in China may assess that they do not have the time to develop nuclear parity with US in order to offset the massive advantage the US has with its nuclear arsenal and that Washington would likely use as leverage to impact China’s choices in a conflict  However, they may have assessed that it might be feasible to create a sufficient nuclear counterbalance to threaten a rapid response retaliatory nuclear strike or sufficient first strike to convince the US that some resolution might be best to avoid incurring unacceptable losses of people and property.

From background to foreground: USS Carl Vinson (CVN-70), (Japanese Maritime Self-Defense) JS Ise (DDH-182), HMS Queen Elizabeth (R08), and USS Ronald Reagan (CVN-76). Spalding explained that from an economIc standpoint, the PLA with the DF-26 constructed a $1 billion dollar missile system designed to destroy a $30 billion ship. Spalding says that there is no doubt our carriers are valuable and powerful machines. However, he also states that “their effectiveness in policing the Pacific is now extremely limited.” To that extent, ironically, having US and allied aircraft carriers sail within the range of the DF-26 may repeatedly send the wrong message at an exorbitant cost. Other than providing the US and its allies the opportunity to rehearse cooperation, display joint power, and appreciate benefits of US leadership, in terms of deterring China, the move may have demonstrated that the US and its allies are unable to act in a way to halt an assault on Taiwan while at the same time avoiding unacceptable losses. No greater support could be provided to the cluster of expressive hawks within the Communist Party of China’s leadership, clamoring for an assault on Taiwan sooner than later.

Other Thoughts That Billowed Up in This Reader on Taiwan Via Spalding’s Dialectic Ladle

In the end, central to the argument to take military action to gain and retain control of Taiwan, is what was central to arguments on how the US managed to place itself in such a challenging position with Beijing: the character of US political leaders. That is stated not to put into question the personal qualities of the men and women who have honorably and admirably chosen to dutifully serve the people to the best of their abilities.  Rather, it is to suggest that fighting the type of war that the US might be required to prosecute, defeat China, thwart China’s ambitions, drive it off and forever away from Taiwan might not be characteristic of certain leaders. In taking that course, there would be the potential for millions to die in China, unacceptable losses on the side of the US and its allies, and as grotesque as the thought may be, China could potentially level an unexpected, crippling blow to US naval and air forces could also result. What might be hoped in Beijing to be a limited lighting war launched in the name of protecting China’s sovereignty, could become total war, a war of national survival. The nature of the one who would make the decision in the US on how to respond to China’s aggression will make all of the difference. Perhaps in Washington, a decision has already been made on how to proceed in such a contingency. Perhaps the decisions on the defense of Taiwan have been established as protocols. In defense of its ally, US political leaders may be obliged to comply with them. In the end, it boils down to what the US political leaders want from the situation, a war ending in a type of Pyrrhic victory with losses or a struggle resulting in some acceptable or tolerable new paradigm that allows for an Irenic victory, in which the two opposing sides find some resolution and at least a modicum of satisfaction.

Post factum nullum consilium. (Counsel is of no effect after the fact.) To race well, a jockey and horse must be one animal. The horse must be superbly harnessed. When a horse does not run well, it is typically considered that it may have a poor jockey. On China, military capabilities and resources, state diplomacy to include economic and public diplomacy, and policymaking must also function together as one figurative animal. The expectation is for senior policymakers to master the situation through their management of it. When this is the case, they can often be more precise, to an extent exact, in policy planning , formulation, and implementation. Evidence of that can be found in the fact that their figurative brush strokes will appear finer.

Policies that seem to be too far off from the realities of military capabilities and resources, military power, and awkward diplomatic exchanges and pursuits of inconsequential inroads may evince to competitors and opponents that policymakers are out of touch with the real situation and acting on mere perceptions and perhaps surmisal. Parsing out such concerning the US must be an ongoing process, an obsession, in Beijing at the moment. It would be part of the effort to determine how the US might react when presented with a situation as an assault on Taiwan.

In the US, producing the very best answers to situations is made more difficult because there are a variety of views and interests within the national security bureaucracies that must be balanced when policy is being made. if decisionmaking were directed, controlled by a single source, as in China under the Communist Party of China, under the command of Xi, a magician may seem to be somewhere in the mix who is clearly aware of what to do and how to do it in a way that keeps China a step or more ahead of its main competitor or opponent. Perhaps that is Xi, himself. On the other hand, some policy analysts perceive that for too long there has been a blindness to the best interests of the US that borders on madness. A sense is given off by them–to include Spalding it seems–that it may be too late to really change the course of things by implementing new approaches.

What might be hoped in Beijing to be a limited lighting war launched in the name of protecting China’s sovereignty, could become total war, a war of national survival. The nature of the one who would make the decision in the US on how to respond to China’s aggression will make all of the difference. Perhaps in Washington, a decision has already been made on how to proceed in such a contingency. Perhaps the decisions on the defense of Taiwan have been established as protocols. In defense of its ally, US political leaders may be obliged to comply with them. In the end, it boils down to what the US political leaders want from the situation, a war ending in a type of Pyrrhic victory with losses or a struggle resulting in some acceptable or tolerable new paradigm that allows for an Irenic victory, in which the two opposing sides find some resolution and at least a modicum of satisfaction.

At the outset of the review, greatcharlie explained that the book would not be broken down to the fullest extent possible, but hopefully enough so to raise interest in readers to take a look at the book. There is so much more to discover in Stealth War. The book is a steady flow of information, data, and expressions from beginning to end. Spalding is the purveyor of a foundation upon which an honest discussion can be had on US-China relations or simply the China Threat at all levels, from the senior government policymaker to the average US citizen.

There nothing that greatcharlie appreciates more than a book that stirs the readers curiosity, inquiry into the author’s judgments, greater consideration of their own views on the matter, and elicits fresh insights based on what is presented. That is exactly the type of book that Stealth War is. It is assured that after the first reading Stealth War, one would most likely go back to the book and engage in that stimulating process again and again. There is no telling what insights and how many might be brewed up from within readers after they have had a chance to read through it. Too much pleasure has been lost whilst abstaining from this delightful book. As greatcharlie suggested earlier here, those reading this review who have already read Stealth War would do well to go through the book again. 

Perhaps needless to say but it is nonetheless stated, with absolute conviction and relish, greatcharlie unequivocally recommends Spalding’s Stealth War to its readers.

By Mark Edmond Clark

China’s Operation Fox Hunt: Facts and Theories on How Missions Succeed and Flaws and Delinquencies Ripe for Exploitation (Part 2)

People’s Republic of China Minister of Public Security Zhao Kezhi (above) Although the citizens sought by China are located overseas, identification and repatriation would be a task intrinsic to the mission of MPS. MPS surely has the most complete, up-to-date records, and tracking down and identifying Chinese citizens is a honed and polished practice of its officers. For that reason, MPS may very well be pulled into the mix of overseas espionage activities more often than may be presently conceived in the US and among its allies and partners. That same information about Chinese citizens is certainly of great interest to the Communist Party of China and in its hands via MPS. In addition to performing standard domestic functions as a law enforcement and intelligence and counterintelligence service, MPS is very much tied to the Communist Party of China to the extent that its present raison d’être and primary responsibility is to help the Party maintain its tight grip on the population.

This post should be considered a continuation of the preceding one

(Brief Overview of the Essay: A bungled Operation Fox Hunt mission in New Jersey that began in 2016 has allowed for the first prosecution involving Operation Fox Hunt in the US. From the New Jersey case, a few insights are drawn by greatcharlie on this particular case of Operation Fox Hunt that may provide a better understanding on what Chinese operatives are doing via the operation and how they are doing what they are doing. With the color and life of the investigative reports greatcharlie found most informative aggregated with the facts laid out plainly in the federal court document, a somewhat definitive account of the event can be constructed. By highlighting flaws in the development, planning, and execution based on available facts of that case, greatcharlie seeks to provide insight on additional ways to defeat ongoing and future Chinese identification and repatriation activities under Operation Fox Hunt or under some new operation launched by Beijing.)

Before boarding his April 12, 2017 flight to Shanghai, Zhu Feng was interviewed by US border and law enforcement officials. During the interview, Zhu identified a photograph of the defendant Tu. Zhu stated that she was a friend of his uncle and he had been Tu’s “tour guide” while she was in the US, that he did not know anything about her job other than that she traveled frequently, and that she did not ask him to do anything in particular on the flight back to China. Searching Zhu’s luggage, US border officials  discovered night vision goggles and associated accessories. When questioned about the equipment, Zhu said that the goggles belonged to Tu, and he was bringing them back to China for her. 

Opprobrium from the Communist Party of China or Observations?

One might presume law enforcement organizations federal state and municipal around the US may take issue with this statement as it feels too  near the bone, but it would seem the powers that be in Beijing assessed that investigators of those organizations often display varied levels of diligence, are often inattentive when visiting site, are rarely thorough and at time outrightly remiss when interviewing individuals of interest, display their insecurities in conversation, prone to bullying their own citizens without any professional cause, and are unprofessional often in dealing with recruited operatives, informants, and other contacts.

Shortly before boarding the flight to Shanghai on April 12, 2017, Zhu was interviewed by US border and law enforcement officials. During the interview, Zhu identified Tu in a photograph he was shown. Zhu falsely stated that she was a friend of his uncle and he had been Tu’s “tour guide” while she was in the US, that he did not know anything about her job other than that she traveled frequently, and that she did not ask him to do anything in particular on the flight back to China. A search of Zhu’s luggage by US border officials led to the discovery of night vision goggles–a device used for surveillance at night or in low-light conditions–and associated accessories. When questioned about the equipment, Zhu stated that the goggles belonged to Tu, and he was bringing them back to China for her. Tu had already departed and could not by reached by US authorities. However, more pertinent was the fact that Tu was a government official and too important to be captured. Zhu, though heavily rely upon on the mission, was expendable. It would not matter as much for him to be captured with the night vision goggles.

Following the border interview, the Zhu told Co-conspirator #2 to destroy any potential evidence: “Delete all of our chat record after reading this [message]. There are some problems. Someone in the US will be looking for you.” Zhu added: “The sooner the better”; “Delete all the chat record. Delete [a measuring application]. You are just a tour guide.”; and “Be careful of everything. If there is anything, use other phones to call. Your cell phone may be tracked.” Tu instructed Zhu on how to handle Xu’s father’s return to China before Zhu boarded his flight with Xu’s father. Tu, who attributed the instructions to Chinese Official #1, told Zhu to speak to Xu’s father about his travel posing as “staff of a travel agency.” Tu added warnings that Zhu should maintain secrecy and operational security, and should not use his own phone number to make any phone calls associated with Xu’s father. In the same series of messages, Tu instructed Zhu to hand Xu’s father to Li in Shanghai. However, during the flight, Zhu was unable to engage Xu’s father and reported that to Tu. As written in the federal court document, Zhu explained: “[John Doe #1’s] [Xu’s] father is very hostile to me and he was convinced that I was one of your young people and asked me again and again how I knew his location and travel plan and he talked to flight attendants repeatedly.” Zhu informed that the flight attendants in response to Xu’s father, forbade him from speaking with the elderly man. Zhu stated that Xu’s father expressed concern that “there is an informant on this flight.” Tu responded by instructing Zhu that he did not “need to take care of Xu’s father” and that he should “delete all the chat content” and to “leave by yourself.”

Michael McMahon, the team’s US-based private investigator, did not receive any warnings from anyone. The detective kept his emails and texts from the case which prove that. McMahon was also not made aware that Xu’s family had contacted the FBI. Still, the FBI saw clear evidence of McMahon’s alleged role in the conspiracy. Reportedly, McMahon emailed a newspaper article to himself on April 6, 2020 the day before Tu flew back to China, with the headline “Interpol Launches Global Dragnet for 100 Chinese Fugitives.” The article had photos of Xu and Liu and information about the Chinese government’s fugitive-apprehension programs. An FBI agent wrote in the criminal complaint: “Accordingly, I believe that McMahon was aware that” the couple “were Operation Fox Hunt targets,” 

As the federal court document indicates, when they believed there would be some benefit, Chinese operatives, with government authorization, have hired private investigators, some non-ethnic Chinese investigators as Michael McMahon, to assist in their effort. Ostensibly the work identification and repatriation teams would ask those investigators to do for them would be requested without informing those investigators of the true nature of the work. There was nothing on the surface so remarkably abnormal or abstruse about the Chinese investigators’ requests to alert McMahon. The Operation Fox Hunt mission planners surely designed the approach to any US private investigator to appear that way. One might suppose that because there was nothing odd, McMahon, despite becoming involved in a case tied to China, was never compelled to ask incisive questions about the purpose of the work he was contracted to do. Six FBI agents and two police officers arrested McMahon at his home in northern New Jersey at 6:00AM on October 28, 2019.

Private Investigators from the US

As the federal document indicates, when they believed there would be some benefit, Chinese operatives, with government authorization, have hired non-ethnic Chinese investigators to assist in their effort. Ostensibly the work identification and repatriation teams would ask those investigators to do for them ” nature of the work. Surely, Hu and other team leaders likely believed the private investigators would try their hardest to avoid disappointing their client as it was presumed they want to receive similar contracts of its kind from “Chinese companies” in the future.

While there appeared to be on each occasion–two well-discussed ones concerning this team–a more than sufficient amount of time and opportunity to make secure choices among private investigators available in the vicinities in which the identification and repatriation teams were operating, the selection, nevertheless, was rushed through. Diligence shown in other aspects of team, was non-existent on this point

Thereby, the private investigator, McMahon, was compromised by the fact that his Chinese client did not tell him everything or that his venal interests overcame requisite precaution when dealing with a foreign client who is a citizen or even merely closely associated with a country that is an adversary. Interestingly, his attorney alleges that he was only paid $5,017.98 for the many challenging tasks that he performed.

Truly, there is nothing on the surface so remarkably abnormal or abstruse about the Chinese investigators’ requests that greatcharlie can highlight. The Operation Fox Hunt mission planners surely designed the approach to any US private investigator to appear that way. One might suppose that because there was nothing odd, McMahon, despite becoming involved in a case tied to China, was never compelled to ask incisive questions about the purpose of the work he was contracted to do. What the Chinese may have believed in establishing this step was that the private investigators primary interest would be venal. However, the apparent failure to conduct a thorough background check of the private investigator, to include discovering his political and patriotic leanings, and the likely lack of due diligence in ensuring a private investigator in California would be motivated by payment and not just presume it was so, resulted in Hu’s team almost falling into a trap set by US counterintelligence officers and law enforcement. Hu and his identification and repatriation team were remiss with a key detail, which left a gaping hole in their security scheme, and nearly resulted in the capture of everyone involved. As it is, a number of the team’s members have been identified and indicted in federal court. Until that point, the identification and repatriation team had not been challenged in any way that halted or deterred their activities. Theirs had been la performance majuscule.

Michael McMahon and his wife (above). As the federal document indicates, when they believed there would be some benefit, Operation Fox Hunt team leaders, with government authorization, have hired private investigators, some non-ethnic Chinese as McMahon, to assist with their effort. Ostensibly the work identification and repatriation teams would ask those investigators to do for them would be requested without informing those investigators of the true nature of the work. There was nothing on the surface so remarkably abnormal or abstruse about the Chinese investigators’ requests. One might suppose that because there was nothing odd, McMahon, despite becoming involved in a case tied to China, was never compelled to ask incisive questions about the purpose of the work he was contracted to do. Interestingly, before setting up surveillance on a house in New Jersey. McMahon took the precaution of alerting local police to the surveillance presumably to prevent any misunderstandings if detected or reported by passers-by. At that point, McMahon demonstrated the willingness to cooperate with law enforcement. Thereby, ample opportunity existed  for US counterintelligence services and law enforcement to enlist his assistance as an informant or operative. For reasons unknown, the opportunity was passed up.

The Noticeable Absence of the Theorized Countersurveillance 

One might say some empiric evidence of a likely withdrawal of support of greatcharlie’s theorized Chinese intelligence covert countersurveillance team ostensibly provided to Hu’s identification and repatriation team. The most obvious evidence is the fact that some team members were captured. It is unlikely that would have transpired so hurriedly if the theorized countersurveillance team had continued to provide overwatch for them. There would most likely be protocols in place concerning the activities the theorized countersurveillance support team during exigent circumstances. If an identification and repatriation team, or some other non intelligence related service operating in the US, has erred and misstepped or stumbled into situation that might result in its detection or capture, the countersurveillance team as a result of operating in its vicinity, would also face the prospect of being detected and captured. Thus, the countersurveillance team as a protocol would perhaps be authorized to immediately disengage and clear out. One might expect it to even terminate its support of the team in operation.

French Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte is quoted as saying: “There are only two forces in the world, the sword and the spirit. In the long run the sword will always be conquered by the spirit.” Maybe that is relevant here. Approximately seven months after departing the US, Zhu returned from China. Hu had warned Zhu to remain in China after he flew back with Xu’s father, but he did so nevertheless. Once on ground, on November 9, 2017 and November 10, 2017, Zhu participated in two voluntary interviews with FBI special agents. During the interviews, Zhu admitted to his involvement in the scheme to forcibly repatriate Xu to China. Zhu admitted that he was brought into the conspiracy by Hu, that in September 2016, he was tasked by Hu with several activities related to the planning and execution of the attempted repatriation of Xu, that on or around December 2016, Zhu met with Hu, PRC Official-1 and Tu to discuss the scheme, and in April 2017, Zhu traveled to the US with Tu and participated in the effort to coerce Xu’s return to China. Intriguingly, the FBI special agents let Zhu go following the two interviews. Not even an otiose explanation has been offered for that decision. Zhu returned to China the next year.

Breakaway Identification and Repatriation Team Member

The centrality of the Operation Fox Hunt story is the Communist Party of China and its willingness to brazenly violate international law, with the goal of maintaining its iron grip on its citizens. What also emerges, though, is a picture of a country of citizens, some of whom are loyal to it and their conviction that the path it has placed China will lead to great success and in the preeminent position in the world and conversely, those who loathe their government and see nothing good coming out of being led by the Communist Party of China. That was the apparent mix of thinking found among identification and repatriation team members.

Perhaps there was never a time when Zhu did not loathe the regime, much as the larger part of émigrés he assisted in pursuing. On the days he was interviewed by the FBI, he seemed suddenly struck by his true feelings about living under the authoritarian rule of the Communist Party of China, and he chose to spill the beans to the FBI special agents on Operation Fox Hunt. (Admittedly, despite all that discussed here, the thought comes to mind that Hu and managers may have decided to use Zhu as a dangle, hoping US counterintelligence might recruit him to become something akin to a counterespionage agent inside Operation Fox Hunt. However, Operation Fox Hunt has had considerable success despite the New Jersey fiasco. To be frank, it may be the case that Operation Fox Hunt managers feel an effort specifically by MPS to penetrate a US counterintelligence service would not be worth the candle.)

FBI Interview of Key Identification and Repatriation Team Member

Interviews will always be the best way to get to understand an identification and repatriation team member. As was seen with the Fox Hunt caper, not every team member may be fully onboard with the operation and many other things. This perhaps may sound oversimplified, but what must be included in interviews of team members are casual yet personal questions. Among those on the list should be the following: “Have you had a chance to enjoy yourself while you have been in the US?” “Did you really come here at your own free will or have you been sent here and told to obey orders?”; “How are your relatives doing in China?; “Has a family member of yours been threatened with imprisonment or been imprisoned wrongfully?”; and eventually, “Would you ever consider staying in the US? It is critical to display real interest in mending what may be an individual’s broken soul. He or she may not take it, but they should be offered a chance at a better life. An explanation of how it would be made possible should be laid out.

Even if they considered making the jump to the other side, the more astute and mature team members would know the degree of China’s penetration into US national security bureaucracies, if any, and would hesitate and withdraw, feeling the move would not be safe for them on one hand and safe for their families on the other. It would seem best to limit effort placed on those team members who wholly reject anything positive discussed. Praise at unexpected points will keep him or her parsing out the interview. It may lead them to believe that they have a card to play in the future if need be. Try to open that door and wedge it open in the identification and repatriation team member’s mind.

Zheng Congying, hired muscle for the New Jersey mission (above). The identification and repatriation team leader Hu Ji gave Zhu Feng the task of overseeing operatives he had hired in the Chinese community in New York. Among them was Zheng Congying, the 25 year old Chinese citizen and a legal permanent resident of the US, resided in Brooklyn, New York. On September 4, 2018, Zheng and an Anonymous defendant in the federal court case,  drove to the New Jersey residence of Xu and Liu and pounded on the front door. Zheng and Anonymous tried to force open the door to the residence, before accessing the backyard, entering a raised outdoor deck and peering into the windows of the residence. After these efforts, Zheng and Anonymous left a handwritten note taped to the front door of the residence. Surveillance video and fingerprints led investigators to Zheng.

Harassment of the Daughter of Xu and Liu

Only weeks following the failed New Jersey scheme, Hu took a more aggressive approach. The Operation Fox Hunt campaign against Xu turned toward coordinated operations targeting his adult daughter living in northern California dubbed Jane Doe #2 in the federal court document. Indeed, the campaign reportedly next included: a surveillance operation conducted against Xu’s daughter from approximately May 2017 to July 2017, and, an online harassment campaign against her from approximately April 2018 to July 2018 related to the allegations levied by China against Xu. The operations against Xu’s daughter began shortly after the conclusion of April 2017 failed attempt to render Xu, himself. Xu’s daughter had arrived in the US as a child, studying at a private boarding school years before her parents fled China. She had earned an advanced degree at Stanford, had gotten married and made a life for herself far from her parents and their problems with the Chinese courts.

Around May 2017, Zhai Yongqiang directed an an individual based in the US, dubbed Co-conspirator #3 by the US prosecutor, to hire a private investigator to locate Xu’s daughter. Zhai provided Co-conspirator #3 with personal identification information belonging to Xu’s daughter, including her name, date of birth, Social Security Number, known addresses and academic history. According to the federal court document, Zhai told Co-conspirator #3 that if he were to locate Xu’s daughter, Zhai, himself, would receive a fee from a department in the People’s Republic of China’s prosecutor’s office. Zhai Yongqiang promised to split the fee with Co-conspirator #3.

It would appear that Conspirator #3 was actually Rong Jing, Hu’s point man in California. In May 2017, as instructed by Zhai, Rong hired a private investigator to stalk Xu’s daughter. Unfortunately for Rong, the privaye investigator was a confidential informant for the FBI. US officials did not disclose if or how they maneuvered the informant into place. However, after starting an investigation in New Jersey in early April, FBI special agents had been mapping the travel and contacts of the Fox Hunt team. For instance, according to interviews and court records, the FBI became aware that Hu had spent time in California. With a man inside Hu’s operation, the next step for the FBI was to try accomplish as much as possible with him. Negligentia semper habet infortuniam comitem. (Negligence always has misfortune for a companion.)

On May 22, Rong met for four hours with the private investigator-informant at a restaurant in Los Angeles. In a recorded conversation, Rong offered the private  detective $4,000 to investigate and videotape the daughter. If the team succeeded with the repatriation, he and the detective could split any reward money, Rong stated. Rong said the managers in Wuhan had not told him “what to do with” the daughter. It was possible they could ask him “to catch” her, he told the private detective. He explained that they might have to act as proxies for Chinese officers who “wouldn’t feel comfortable to arrest her” in the US. Rong went further to say that if there are “things they wouldn’t feel comfortable to do,” he continued, “we need to be there on their behalf.”

Rong asked whether the detective had a problem with removing someone from the country. “Say, if he wants us to bring him/her over, can you bring him/her over? Would this bring about any legal issues?” Step one for the private detective was to shoot video of Xu’s daughter. The next step would be to contact Xu and Liu and persuade them to return to China, Rong said. For the next few weeks, the private investigator went through the motions of shadowing the daughter, while actually being supervised by the FBI.

Reporting to Rong on July 14, 2018, the private detective discussed photos he had provided of the daughter and her home. Then he asked: “You don’t think they’ll do any harm to her, do you?” Rong’s reply was not reassuring. He said,, if the private detective got in trouble, they would both be in trouble, “If there was an accident,” he said, “in truth you [could claim that you] were just … investigating her.” At other moments, Rong sounded less menacing. She was “simply a daughter,” he said, emphasizing that the parents were the main targets.

A Hiring Pattern/Modus Operandi?

Hiring private investigators in the US was the closest anything the identification and repatriation teams did that resembled improvised and haphazard work. The choice to succumb to expediency errantly is often the point at which many plans fail  in all fields, and in the case of espionage and other crimes, it is the act from which investigators can often catch a big break in a case.

Much as with the first private investigator in the US hired, Hu, the lead investigator wanted to establish an operational relationship with the one hired in California, dubbed by US prosecutors as P1 (Private Investigator 1). As far as one knows, hiring that second investigator felt right to him. There was apparently no reason for the lead investigator to question the private investigator’s intentions. Imaginably, the team’s lead investigator presumed his interest, first and foremost, was venal. Oddly enough, his word was presumed to be inviolate. Hu was also quite satisfied with that private investigator’s work, as was Tu. Whatever criteria caused them to tick the boxes that established confidence in the US private investigators may unlikely be the standard ever again. Yet, a trace as to whom the identification and repatriation teams may still prefer to hire might be found in any similarities in the private investigators’ backgrounds.

A Rare Glimpse Inside Operation Fox Hunt via a Braggart

Recordings of conversations that the private detective made with Rong provided a rare look inside Operation Fox Hunt. Imaginably, for the FBI, collecting those recordings was an accomplishment. As purported by Rong, he performed freelance missions under Operation Fox Hunt exclusively for Wuhan, receiving a fee for each repatriation. Rong spoke of teams of visiting “lobbyists.” He noted that they were salaried “civil servants” of the Chinese government who traveled on work visas under multiple identities. Their task was “persuading people” to return to China. In addition to being the target of surveillance efforts, Xu’s daughter was harassed via online communications from another conspirator, dubbed “Co-conspirator #4” by a US prosecutor, between April 2018 and July 2018, Co-conspirator #4 sent unsolicited and derogatory messages to Xu and Liu about their daughter. Similar messages were sent to Facebook “friends” of Xu’s daughter, as well as to Facebook friends of the spouse of Xu’s daughter.

On September 4, 2018, Zheng Congying and another unidentified co-conspirator allegedly taped a handwritten note in Chinese (above) on the front door of the home of Xu Jin and Liu Feng. The note read: ‘If you are willing to go back to mainland and spend 10 years in prison, your wife and children will be all right. That’s the end of this matter!’

Harassment of Xu Jin and Liu Feng at Their New Jersey Home

In September 2018, Xu and Liu were again harassed by members of the conspiracy, including Zheng Congying and Anonymous, among others. On September 4th, Zheng and Anonymous drove to the New Jersey residence of Xu and Liu and pounded on the front door. Zheng and Anonymous tried to force open the door to the residence, before accessing the backyard, entering a raised outdoor deck and peering into the windows of the residence. After these efforts, Zheng and Anonymous left a handwritten note taped to the front door of the residence. The note, written in simplified Chinese characters, threatened Xu: “If you are willing to go back to the mainland and spend 10 years in prison, your wife and children will be all right. That’s the end of this matter.”

Harassing Mailings to Xu Ji, Liu Feng, and a Relative of Liu

Seven months after the threats of September 2018, Xu and Liu were sent a package anonymously that contained a DVD. Over a song in Mandarin, a video showed images of their relatives in China, including the elderly father whom Hu’s team had brought to New Jersey. It was another “emotional bomb.” Xu’s father sat next to a desk where a book by Xi entitled, The Governance of China, was displayed. A FBI special agent wrote in the complaint: “I believe that this shot was deliberately staged to make [the son] aware that the Chinese government played a role in taking this picture and creating this video.” The special agent described the photo as a form of implicit coercion demonstrating “the government’s control over [the son’s] aged parents.” Reportedly, in the video, Xu’s sister pressured him to come back. She said their parents were sick, isolated and distraught. She went on to state: “When parents are alive, you can still call someplace a home,” She next said: “When parents are gone, you can only prepare for your own tomb.”

Beginning in or around February 2019, a relative of Liu who lives in the US (“Jane Doe #3”), an individual whose identity is known to the Grand Jury, received several unsolicited packages. The packages were from China, purportedly from Xu’s sister’s in China (“Jane Doe #4”), an individual whose identity is known to the Grand Jury,or Jane Doe #4’s husband. Between July 2016 and April 2017, and between April 2017 and December 2018, Jane Doe #4 was imprisoned by Chinese authorities as part of an effort to cause Xu to return to China. On or about April 22, 2019, Jane Doe #3 received a package containing a CD with two “mp4” video files titled “30 Family Letters.mp4” that included a slide show of still photographs depicting her husband’s aged parents, among other family members. Written Chinese text scrolled at the bottom of the video during the presentation. The text, styled as a letter from Jane Doe #4 to Xu, implored him to “come home” to China before his parents died. Among other things, the written text stated that Xu had a “duty as a child” to his parents and much as the letter sent directly to Xu from China, the line was written that “[w]hen parents are alive, you can still call someplace a home; when parents are gone, you can only prepare for your own tomb.” Included among photographs in the video was the same photograph of Xu’s father seated next to a desk featuring Xi’s book, The Governance of China.

The video file “A few words from [Jane Doe #4] to brother.mp4” contained a video of Jane Doe #4. An individual appearing to be her spoke on the video, stating: she was released from Chinese custody on November 4, 2018 after pleading guilty to a crime; Xu’s parents health was deteriorating, and they were suffering; she wanted Xu to return to China; the Chinese government was determined to fight against corruption; Xu should accept responsibility and admit to unspecified crimes; and, Xu should stop defying the Chinese and come back in order to receive leniency. All and all, the “emotional” performances contained in the videos surely would have disappointed Aeschylus.

Seven months after the threats of September 2018, Xu and Liu were sent a package anonymously that contained a DVD. Over a song in Mandarin, a video showed images of their relatives in China, including the elderly father whom Hu’s team had brought to New Jersey. It was another “emotional bomb.” Xu’s father sat next to a desk where a book by Xi entitled, The Governance of China, was displayed. A FBI special agent wrote in the complaint: “I believe that this shot was deliberately staged to make [the son] aware that the Chinese government played a role in taking this picture and creating this video.” The special agent described the photo as a form of implicit coercion demonstrating “the government’s control over [the son’s] aged parents.”

The Way Forward

Fortuna adversa virum magnae sapientiae non terret. (Adverse fortune (adversity) does not frighten (intimidate) a man of great intellect.) An inspirational speech on what US counterintelligence services and law enforcement organizations in the US would likely include expressions to the effect that the time has long passed for them to get off the roundabout concerning Chinese clandestine and covert operations in the US. Beneath it lies a volcano which is being given the chance to erupt turning everything the worst and most destructive direction possible. However, approaching the matter realistically, it appears that a considerable journey lies ahead for law enforcement organizations around the US and US counterintelligence services when it comes to China. Compared to what China may bring on in the near future, what may seem to be a full workout with Chinese operators now will then seem as a mere warm up. The challenge of coping with Chinese operators in the US during a possible conflict was mentioned earlier. Whether they might achieve victories or not, the approaches of law enforcement organizations around the US and US counterintelligence services to China’s malign activities must transition with lessons learned from failures and recognized changes in the opponent’s practices. US counterintelligence services and law enforcement organizations around the US must accept that coping with China successfully will mean accepting the need to be in a state of perpetual evolution. The Chinese intelligence services and other invasive entities are not going to lend a helping hand to law enforcement organizations around the US and US counterintelligence services by waiting for them to catch up. The renowned theoretical physicist Albert Einstein said: Probleme kann man niemals mit derselben Denkweise losen, durch die sie entstanden sind.” (We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used to create them.)

The range and rigor of thinking must be widened. There will always be the basics, that which  is foundational, to each job. Still, as averred to earlier, senior executives and managers and field agents should take heed to opportunities that arise to look at situations, facts through a new lens and consider somewhat unorthodox postulations differently, may open eyes to constructive angles and real possibilities that may contribute mightily to fruitful outcomes. Dictum sapienti sat est. (Enough has been said for the wise.)

China’s Operation Fox Hunt: Facts and Theories on How Missions Succeed and Flaws and Delinquencies Ripe for Exploitation (Part 1)

An Air China jet (above) soars upward after take-off on its flight home. On a number of similar flights from the US, a considerable number of For nearly a decade, undercover Chinese identification and repatriation teams, as greatcharlie has dubbed them, at the direct request and under the authority of the Chinese government, have entered the US under false pretenses, enlisted US-based accomplices, stalked hundreds of people, including US citizens and permanent residents, and coerced and cajoled them to return to China to face charges for economic crimes they allegedly committed. This effort is called Operation Fox Hunt. It went on near unhindered by US authorities until a bungled mission to capture a target in New Jersey led to arrests and allowed for the first prosecution involving Operation Fox Hunt in the US. Through an examination of flaws in the development, planning, and execution of that New Jersey mission based on available facts, greatcharlie provides some insights on additional ways to defeat ongoing and future missions by Chinese identification and repatriation teams.

On the intelligence front, the crisis of Chinese espionage in the US and the rest of the West has all of the hallmarks of a sort of ordeal. Chinese intelligence services have unfortunately managed to do their job successfully, collecting mountains of secret and information from the government bureaucracies and research and development sites, private businesses, high-tech firms particularly, academia, and think tanks. It would seem safe to say that Chinese espionage operations are ubiquitous. It is very likely that everyday they work harder and harder to make their networks and operations better and more effective, pushing their espionage capabilities far-beyond the reach of the counterintelligence services of the countries in which they operate. The primary conductors of China’s successful espionage operations orchestrated in the US, and globally are the Zhōnghuá Rénmín Gònghéguó Guójiā Ānquán Bù (Ministry for State Security of the People’s Republic of China) or the MSS, China’s preeminent civilian intelligence agency, responsible for overseas espionage and counterintelligence both at home and abroad, and the Central Military Commission (CMC) Joint Staff Department, Intelligence Bureau of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), responsible for collecting and analyzing foreign military intelligence, including technology. 

But alas, there are other efforts at penetration and clandestine action undertaken by Chinese operatives in the US as well as other countries that are as insidious and perhaps worse. For nearly a decade, Chinese identification and repatriation teams, as greatcharlie has dubbed them, have absconded not with precious, secret information or property, but rather with people. (Identifying targets was actually one of the most challenging aspects of the teams’ activities. Without the ability to investigate and identify targets, any repatriation effort would be hopeless. In a worst case scenario, the wrong individual might embarrassingly be brought back to China.) Targets have not only been non-residents, but residents and naturalized US citizens. Indeed, incontrovertible proof exists that shows undercover identification and repatriation teams at the direct request and under the authority of the Chinese government have entered the US under false pretenses, stalked hundreds of people, including US citizens and permanent residents, and enlisted US-based accomplices–private investigators and self-styled bounty hunters–and relentlessly hound their targets. Ostensibly, the Chinese operatives have sought out fugitives from justice in China as part of an anti-corruption campaign. 

In a number of operations, Chinese identification and repatriation teams were completely successful in capturing their targets and bringing them back to China to face what the Communist Party of China deemed as justice. Yet, that has not always been the case. There is a great difference between grabbing intellectual property, trade secrets, computer files as well as actual technologies and grabbing people. There is a human element which, particularly under conditions that the Chinese government creates for its “volunteers,” leaves a degree of uncertainty and unpredictability that cannot be assessed until one sees actual results. In identification and repatriation operations, that same uncertainty can exist in the way that the targets may behave, too! That was the case with Chinese identification and repatriation operatives acting in New Jersey beginning in 2016. It was a bungled mission that has allowed for the first prosecution involving Operation Fox Hunt in the US. 

From the New Jersey case, a few insights are drawn by greatcharlie on this particular case of Operation Fox Hunt that may provide a better understanding on what Chinese operatives are doing via the operation and how they are doing what they are doing. With the color and life of the investigative reports greatcharlie found most informative aggregated with the facts laid out plainly in the federal court document, a somewhat definitive account of the event can be constructed. By highlighting flaws in the development, planning, and execution based on available facts of that case, greatcharlie seeks to provide insight on additional ways to defeat ongoing and future Chinese identification and repatriation activities under Operation Fox Hunt or under some new operation launched by Beijing. Just knowing what is wrong is not as great as knowing how to fix the problem. This commentary does not look at the situation only in the end to say everyone appears to be doing their best to halt China’s malign activities and all is peaches-and-cream. Comments and suggestions are offered, leaving it up to readers, think tank scholars, academics, policy analysts, and military and diplomatic officials, journalists, and students, but particularly practitioners who may serve in US counterintelligence, to observe, reflect, and act as they may. In the essay’s discussion, greatcharlie hopes to avoid any appearance of instructing counterintelligence officers on what to do. It would be satisfying enough to know that some of what is presented here might resonate with a few of them. By shedding light on some flaws in the development of plans and the organization of operators for action, as well as delinquencies in the execution of the plan, greatcharlie hopes it can offer something of use to the US, its allies, and friends to combat and to defeat similar malign clandestine and covert operations by China worldwide. If the matter of the identification and repatriation and repatriation operations is not put right, surely it will have an unfortunate effect on US national security now and into the future. Nihil tam difficile est ut non possit studio investigari. (Nothing is so difficult that it is not able to be tracked down by study.)

After People’s Republic of China President and Communist Party of China Party Secretary Xi Jinping (above) assumed power in 2013, he initiated a sweeping anti-corruption campaign. Xi vowed to hunt down powerful “tigers” as well as lowly “flies” in the campaign to eradicate corruption. The slogan of the campaign became “fight tigers, swat flies and hunt foxes.” Xi warned corruption was so bad that it could threaten the Communist Party of China’s grip on power. That campaign has netted thousands of party leaders and rank-and-file government officials domestically. Indeed, Operations Fox Hunt and Operation Sky Net were part of the effort internationally in that regard. In June 2014, authorities established the International Office of Pursuing Fugitives and Recovering Embezzled Assets–staffed with a composite of personnel seconded from eight government agencies. In the first alone, 3,587 fugitives from over 90 countries had been returned to China.

Overview of Operation Fox Hunt and Operation Sky Net

As alleged in a July 22, 2021 criminal complaint filed in the Eastern District of New York, Criminal Division, defendants participated in an international campaign to threaten, harass, surveil and intimidate John Doe #1 and his family, in order to force John Doe #1 and Jane Doe #1 to return to China as part of “Operation Fox Hunt.” It was revealed in the reports of investigative journalists that John Doe #1 and Jane Doe #2 are Xu Jin and his wife, Liu Fang. The defendants allegedly engaged in clandestine, unsanctioned and illegal conduct within the US and facilitated the travel of Chinese government officials to the US in order to further carry out these illegal acts.  Between 2016 and 2019, multiple Chinese officials directed the defendants, and several others, to engage in efforts to coerce the victims to return to China.

The US Department of Justice has identified Operation Fox Hunt as an initiative by the People’s Republic of China’s Ministry of Public Security to locate and repatriate alleged Chinese “fugitives” who had fled to foreign countries that have committed crimes under Chinese law.  The Zhōnghuá Rénmín Gònghéguó Gōng’ānbù (Ministry of Public Security of the People’s Republic of China) or MPS is an internal and political security and domestic intelligence service. Once back in China, those individuals typically face stiff charges. After  People’s Republic of China President and Communist Party of China Party Secretary Xi Jinping  assumed power in 2013, he initiated a sweeping anti-corruption campaign. Xi vowed to hunt down powerful “tigers” as well as lowly “flies” in the campaign to eradicate corruption. The slogan of the campaign became “fight tigers, swat flies and hunt foxes.” Xi warned corruption was so bad that it could threaten the Communist Party of China’s grip on power. According to Human Rights Watch, that campaign has netted thousands of party leaders and rank-and-file government officials domestically. Operations Fox Hunt and Skynet were part of the effort internationally. In June 2014, authorities established the International Office of Pursuing Fugitives and Recovering Embezzled Assets–staffed with a composite of personnel seconded from eight government agencies. Just three years afterward, 3,587 fugitives from over 90 countries had been returned to China. 

Absent an extradition treaty between the US and China, one might look upon the problem as Chinese authorities taking it upon themselves to bring criminals to justice. However, it is of great concern for US officials that Operation Fox Hunt operatives, rather than working in the US with the approval and coordination of the federal government, instead regularly enter the US without notifying any bureaucracy in Washington relevant to their planned actions and engage in violations of US criminal law. To that extent, the activity has been described not only as “an end-run around the Department of State and the Department of Justice,” but “an end-run around US law.” Even more, it is alleged by US national security officials that despite Beijing’s claims to the contrary, identification and repatriation teams are pursuing certain individuals not due to a business dispute in China or violation of Chinese criminal law. Rather, there is a political purpose to the activity. In addition to tracking down those accused of economic crimes, Chinese identification and repatriation teams travel the world in pursuit of those afoul of the Communist Party of China, to include: Tibetans, Uyghurs, Hong Kongers, and followers of the Falun Gong religious movement. To force them into returning, authorities subject their relatives in China to harassment, jail, torture and other mistreatment, sometimes recording hostage-like videos to send to the US. Somewhat less concerning is Operation Sky Net which is a program that runs concurrently alongside Operation Fox Hunt and augment it by cutting-off the financial flows of citizens who have fled overseas and working to recover any proceeds gained through corruption.

Operation Fox Hunt: A MPS Mission

Although the Chinese citizens sought under Operation Fox Hunt are located overseas, identification and repatriation would be a task intrinsic to the mission of MPS. MPS surely has the most complete, up-to-date records on Chinese citizens and tracking down and identifying citizens its officers have honed and polished over decades. For that reason, MPS may very well be pulled into the mix of overseas espionage activities more often than may be presently conceived in the US and among its allies and partners. That same information about Chinese citizens is certainly of great interest to the Communist Party of China and in its hands via MPS. In addition to performing standard domestic functions as a law enforcement and intelligence and counterintelligence service, MPS is very much tied to the Communist Party of China to the extent that its present raison d’être and primary responsibility is to help the Party maintain its tight grip on the population.

To cloak their pursuit of individuals in apparent legality, Beijing has had the International Criminal Police Organization (Interpol), an inter-governmental law enforcement organization, to issue “Red Notices,” enumerating hosts of business crimes allegedly committed by their targets. In April 2015, China published a most-wanted list, called “100 Red Notices” that held the names of 100 officials and business executives accused in major corruption cases. According to government statistics, by December 2017, 51 out of “100 Red Notices” had returned to China. Among them, 10 were reportedly repatriated by foreign governments, while 35 returned “voluntarily” after being “persuaded.”

To cloak its pursuit of individuals in apparent legality, Beijing has had the International Criminal Police Organization (Interpol), an inter-governmental law enforcement organization, to issue “Red Notices,” enumerating hosts of business crimes allegedly committed by their targets. In April 2015, China published a most-wanted list, called “100 Red Notices” that held the names of 100 officials and business executives accused in major corruption cases. According to government statistics, by December 2017, 51 out of “100 Red Notices” had returned to China. Among them, 10 were reportedly repatriated by foreign governments, while 35 returned “voluntarily” after being “persuaded.”

Interestingly, Beijing’s acquisition of Red Notices on the innocent is surely a sinister practice. It has been a human rights concern of considerable importance in US-China relations. Reportedly, there are ongoing efforts by the US and other countries to snuff out Beijing’s Red Notice acquisition activity. One might say that any effort to do that would be near akin to shutting off the lights in the library reading room before closing. The list of “100 Red Notices” and every Red Notice acquired since that list  was posted, long ago should have served as figurative beckoning fingers for those seeking to defeat Operation Fox Hunt as to where the identification and repatriation teams would eventually show up. Countless traps and other tricks should have brought the whole cabaret down. With a proper strategy, officers directly from US counterintelligence services and perhaps truly well-equipped and well-experienced state, county, and municipal law enforcement organizations around the US should have used for good, stealthy, professional reconnaissance and surveillance. That reconnaissance and surveillance would have needed to have been performed unobtrusively and for the sake of those under Beijing’s requested Red Notices, unintrusively. Patience would also have been a main ingredient for success. The 17th century French traveller and jeweller, Jean Baptiste Chardin, (1643 – 1713) in “Voyages en Perse et autres lieux de l’Orient” (1711), wrote: “La patience est amère, mais son fruit est doux.” (Patience is bitter, but its fruit is sweet.) Further, to succeed, no assistance from contractors in the activity should have been allowed. Contractors for the most part can only offer what the young people refer to as “gangstalking,” “Keystone Cop” type choreography, and school-boy pranks. In one way or another they would have ruined anything they touched as they typically do.

Federal Court Documents Versus Investigative Reports as Sources

In an interview with George Plimpton in the Fall 1990 edition of the Paris Review, Maya Angelou said: “The facts can obscure the truth, what it really felt like.” Many might imagine the rudiments of tactics, techniques and procedures, and methods of China’s efforts as presented in the federal court document might serve as a source for guidance. They would be mistaken. Reading through the indictment, the facts of the case on first impression may appear laid out in the federal court document in a somewhat Daedalian manner to the nonlegal scholar, the layman. Not even the sequence of events was not made clear. From what is presented in the federal court indictment, one might believe the case leading to the indictment of Operation Fox Hunt operatives was rather featureless. The ways in which Chinese identification and repatriation teams acted as laid out appear almost predictable, given the nature of their mission and their desire to satisfy the authorities who commissioned the enterprise. There is nothing in the document that would strike a reader as something new, intriguing, or recherché. Much of what is within could hardly serve as a foundation upon which US law enforcement and counterintelligence service might be better enabled to construct new approaches to mitigate them. The whole matter actually took on new meaning for greatcharlie after reading a July 22, 2021 ProPublica article which conveyed the facts of the case in an interesting way stirred greatcharlie’s interest and resulted in a decision to dive deeper into the facts of the case.

 In the reports of investigative journalists of ProPublica and other publications, there is general acceptance of the facts as presented in the federal criminal complaint. Yet, even more important, the investigative reports provide color to the story of the identification and repatriation team’s activities. The investigative journalists’ stories offer assessments of principal actors involved, ascribing traits to them, painting pictures of them as well as locations where specific acts occurred, and aiding readers in understanding how it likely felt to be victimized by such an enterprise. Investigative journalists also present moments of life in a way that allows readers to enter an experience. Indeed, there is much to learn from several impressive articles by investigative journalists. By including that information with facts, the story of the episode provides a structure that allows a sufficient parsing of everything involved. 

Xu Jin (above), a legal permanent resident in the US, formerly directed the development commission of Wuhan, China before he left for the US in 2010. In both 2012 and 2014, the Chinese government caused the International Criminal Police Organization (Interpol) to issue “Red Notices” for Xu and Liu. According to those Red Notices, Xu was wanted by the Chinese government for “embezzlement,” abuse of power, [and] acceptance of bribes,” pursuant to Chinese Criminal Law Articles 383, 385, and 397, which carried a maximum possible penalty of life imprisonment. In 2015, the Chinese government put the couple on its list of 100 most wanted fugitives in Operation Fox Hunt. Chinese authorities have said they made three formal requests for US assistance about the couple, providing evidence about alleged money laundering and immigration crimes that could be prosecuted in the US.

Targets of the New Jersey Mission

As reported in the Wall Street Journal, Xu had directed Wuhan’s development commission before he left for the US in 2010 with his wife, Liu, who is a former insurance company executive. Xu and Liu, both 57 at the time of this writing, had obtained US green cards through a program that grants residency to foreigners who invest more than $500,000 in the US. In the interest of full-disclosure, a California consultant who helped them apply for the green cards later pleaded guilty to immigration fraud, and investigators in that case alleged that the wife’s petition for residency contained false information. But they remain legal residents. Using its standard artifice to tie everything up neatly with a legal bow, in and around 2012 and 2014, the Chinese government caused the International Criminal Police Organization (Interpol), an inter-governmental law enforcement organization to issue “Red Notices” for Xu and Liu. According to those Red Notices, Xu was wanted by the Chinese government for “embezzlement” abuse of power [and] acceptance of bribes,” pursuant to Chinese Criminal Law Articles 383, 385, and 397, which carried a maximum possible penalty of life imprisonment. In 2015, the Chinese government put the couple on its list of 100 most wanted fugitives in Operation Fox Hunt. Chinese authorities have said they made three formal requests for US assistance about the wanted couple, providing evidence about alleged money laundering and immigration crimes that could be prosecuted here. A spokesperson for the US Department of Justice declined to comment on that assertion.

In April 2018, the Chinese privately owned company, Xinba Construction Group Company, filed a lawsuit against the couple in New Jersey state court, accusing Xu of holding up projects to extort money from companies, and due to his actions, those companies still owe Xinba more than $10 million for contracts performed. In court filings, the couple denied Xu extorted or looted any company, calling the litigation an artifice designed to coerce the couple “to return to China and, if not, to harass and attempt to bankrupt” them. Their countersuit also alleged an extensive harassment campaign was being waged against them by Chinese operatives. They also claimed those same operatives had kidnapped Xu’s father living in China and that they had posed as special agents of the US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) to stalk an immediate relative of Xu’s living in the US. Although the endangered couple’s attorney had accurately and clearly laid out the Chinese government’s villany, a judge in September 2019, out of ignorance, rejected their claims, saying they failed to provide sufficient evidence that Xinba was working with the Chinese government. A preceding judge overseeing the case, completely failing to understand the absolute gravity of matter with regard to US national security, remarked: “It’s not your ordinary case you see in the Superior Court in Essex County, but we’re open for all business I guess . . . No herniated discs. No slip and fall in this case.”

Perchance, back in Beijing, dismissive responses as such  from jurists of the US court system were predicted. US judges, unsure when they wanted to be sure, would reject what they did not understand or thought unimaginable. Predicting such behavior would presumably be one among a set of assumptions and predictions made in Beijing on the actions and reactions of those elements in the US whose responsibility and capability would be to present obstacles or prevent Operation Fox Hunt from succeeding. Those elements in the US were apparently no more threatening to senior executives, managers, and planners in MPS than the Maginot Line was to the Oberkommando der Wehrmacht in 1940.

Liu Feng (above), is the wife of Xu Jin. A former insurance company executive, she came to the US with Xu in 2010. According to a Red Notice issued by Interpol, Liu is equally sought for arrest as Xu. In April 2018, the Chinese privately owned company, Xinba Construction Group Company, filed a lawsuit against Xu and Liu in New Jersey state court, accusing Xu of holding up projects to extort money from companies, and due to his actions, those companies still owe Xinba more than $10 million for contracts performed. In court filings, the couple denied Xu extorted or looted any company, calling the litigation an artifice designed to coerce the couple “to return to China and, if not, to harass and attempt to bankrupt” them. Their countersuit also alleged an extensive harassment campaign was being waged against them by Chinese operatives. They also claimed those same operatives had kidnapped Xu’s father living in China and had posed as federal agents to stalk an immediate relative of Liu living in the US.

Preparation for the Mission: What Was likely Raised in Feasibility Studies Done in Advance?

One should never expect China to come charging in with reckless abandon. If it had happened in the past, it surely will happen any more. The efforts of those operating in the US on all levels, espionage, identification and repatriation, and perchance, covert operations, will typically be calibrated, with supposedly every precaution taken into consideration. Vouloir c’est pouvoir. Operation Fox Hunt has been marked by concerted, energetic, and endless activity by China. For the most part, Chinese efforts in the US have been quiet, smooth, and quite sophisticated in nature. Albeit moving into the realm of conjecture, one can imagine how a feasibility study for the rendition operation was constructed and the assessments that led to the project being green-lit. 

MPS in coordination with China’s foreign intelligence services likely studied the situation, and recognized just how open the US was for the theft of its secrets in all sectors and then clearly decided to pour through, taking whatever they could. To date, there is no indication that they have decided to pare down any aspect of their clandestine and covert operations in the US, and evidently they have encountered nothing to even suggest that they should retreat. Ventis secundis, tene/tenete cursum. (The winds being favorable, hold the course.)

Surely, there were several feasibility studies produced on the possibility of successfully conducting identification and repatriation operations with concern at minimum focused on how under current circumstances, with espionage activities drawing so much attention in the US, the situation has not been made less secure for all teams operating there,  and the pitfalls of conducting such identification and repatriation operations with relations between the two countries at a relative low point. Such studies would likely be put before those assigned to manage the identification and repatriation operations in the US ostensibly  along with the volumes of studies done that provided confidence fhst China’s “espionage tsunami” would meet with considerable success.

Imaginably, information gathered for such feasibility studies would be up-to-date, and perhaps would be thorough enough to include manifests of law enforcement officers and counterintelligence officers within the planned area of operation of the identification and repatriation team, with notes on their working hours, usual movements and daily habits. If that might even remotely be the case, it would also mean China has engaged, and is likely continually engaged, in covert surveillance of many law enforcement and counterintelligence officers in the US who they may have discovered were handling Chinese espionage and identification and repatriation cases. They may have discovered that those investigators often display varied levels of diligence, are often inattentive when visiting site, are rarely thorough and at time outrightly remiss when interviewing individuals of interest, display their insecurities in conversation, prone to bullying their own citizens without any apparent cause, and are unprofessional often in dealing with existing contacts. Despite this perception based on analyses in the abstract or empirical evidence, US counterintelligence and law enforcement organizations around the US are not without count, and it would prove to be a mistake to minimize the threat of their presence altogether.

It is possible that feasibility studies such as those suggested had some influence on the decision on the location, the timing of the operations, and which émigré to pursue from a list of those sought. To this extent, Chinese investigators, as those participating in the identification and repatriation scheme, would be armed and enabled with an abundance of information. They enter the US, clearly equipped, able, and expecting to overcome difficulties foreseen and unforeseen from federal, state, or even municipal law enforcement or US counterintelligence services they may encounter. They have managed to establish, in the venues in which they have operated, freedom of movement so to speak. Of course, certain levels of information deemed “ultra-secret” or however it might be described by Chinese intelligence, would unlikely be shared by intelligence services with the identification and repatriation teams. Perhaps overall, the exchange of information by some organizations would be on a “need to know” basis.

In the abstract, conceivably lessons learned are internalized, studies and observations of law enforcement as much as counterintelligence surely are constantly underway in all the countries by every organization operating in respectively. In turn those studies and observations are doubtlessly shared to mutually support the success of one another. What may be recognized as too risky, ineffective, expected by the adversary through recent experience, would be cut away. What seemed to be a more available path to ends, is given consideration, and will likely find its way in efforts to prepare those going on the next missions. Malum est consilium quod mutari non potest. (Bad (ill-considered) is the plan that cannot be changed.)

Most important to note is that whether the matter is espionage or other malign clandestine and covert activities overseas, there can be no doubt that all are constantly moving through a process of evolution. It appears to be a manifestation of an idea, reflective of what has been dubbed “Xi thought,” that Chinese activities performed by government, Communist Party of China, or irregulars must be driven by an energy to push the country onward and upward into the position of the dominant power of the world and one might imagine perhaps even beyond that stature, whatever designs the Communist Party of China leadership might have in mind for that to be. At first blush, these comments may strike a few readers as being a bit lightweight, but some reasoning behind risking such audacious action in the US should be parsed out and laid out for readers to possibly accept and provide a basis for greatcharlie’s suggestions as to what may have been organized and had transpired beneath the surface.

The Main Operation Fox Hunt Players in This Drama

Once fully operational, the identification and repatriation team for the New Jersey mission grew to at least 19 US and Chinese operatives. Nine of the operatives among the identification and repatriation team members of the Operation Fox Hunt New Jersey operation are part of the case filed in the Eastern District of New York, Criminal Division.

Included in the criminal complaint were the following. Hu Ji was the lead investigator and identification and repatriation team leader.  Hu was at the time of the indictment a 46 year old officer serving in the Wuhan Public Security Bureau, a municipal bureau of MPS. To be a bit more specific, he was a veteran officer of the bureau’s foreign affairs unit. Hu is a man of the world with a natural turn for clandestine action and placing others in trying positions. Hu gained notice after joining an Operation Fox Hunt task force. Reportedly, in early 2016, the Wuhan newsmedia had published glowing profiles about him, describing his imposing height, his travels to 29 countries, and his arrests of eight fugitives.  In the view of the Wuhan newsmedia, Hu est a un autre niveau! In an interview, Hu told the Hubei Daily: “Out of the country does not mean out of the legal system.” He added: “Show your sword and punish even those in faraway lands.” 

Though in photographs Hu looks careworn, they typically present him as a professional, intelligent, well-minded, well-built–about 6-foot-1, well-dressed, well-groomed, handsome, smooth, and confident-looking, Chinese male. Hu is a compound of cunning and audacity, girded with steady nerves. His gift as a cool observer of mankind and an understanding of complicated interpersonal relationships allowed him to successfully carry off the job of team leader. That understanding of people surely aided him in manipulating and exploiting others. Hu’s cases had led from Fiji to France to Mexico, making headlines back home. The work was riskier here; in fact, it was illegal. He acquired dominant knowledge of the territory in which he operated. Hu was not even afraid to be at the elbow of law enforcement personnel to explain his purpose using some tall story, some artifice. Hu would identify himself as a Chinese police officer on his tourist visa. US officials hardly gave him a second glance. Sometimes, it was best to hide in plain sight. Perhaps the best way to express what is discussed here is to state that in his work, Hu could be dashing and audacious, but also honorable and discreet, using wits and memory, acting gradually. He could display a certain gentleness but certainly had the capability to be quite cruel. He had no qualms about exploiting individual weakness. Surely, individuals as Hu often seem far too well-equipped for the world in comparison to people most readers might know, or to themselves. In attempting to ascribe certain traits to Hu given his role as a normal Operation Fox Hunt lead investigator and identification and repatriation team leader, those considered by greatcharlie may appear to be mere abstractions. However, as far as one can tell, these are precisely the traits that assisted Hu in becoming a master at his work.

 At the time the complaint was filed, Zhu Feng, also known as “Johnny Zhu,” was a 34 year old PRC citizen and US lawful permanent resident, and until approximately April 2017, was a resident of Flushing, Queens, in New York City. Zhu had studied in Guam before moving to Flushing, which holds one of largest enclaves of Chinese immigrants in the US. His extended family became legal US residents and appreciated life in their new home. Zhu’s older brother served in the US military and then worked for the Social Security Administration and Customs and Border Protection, according to court documents and public records. Zhu reportedly performed odd jobs: tour guide, selling used cars. On social media, he sported a Yankees cap and a boyish smile and called himself “Endless Johnny.” He was torn from that life to serve as an involuntary clandestine operative for the Chinese government. Zhu Yong, also known as Jason Zhu,” was a 64 year old Chinese citizen and a legal permanent resident in the US. Zhu Yong was the father of co-defendant Zhu Feng. The older Zhu, is divorced and suffers from diabetes and high blood pressure. He did not have a steady job, and divided his time between a home in Connecticut and his older son’s place in Queens. He traveled frequently to China which very likely caught the attention of MPS.

This conscription of families of captured targets is a ruthless and effective tactic. Yet, Chinese authorities find great value in it reportedly because they believe it ensures loyalty and obedience. They also apparently believe that allowing identification and repatriation teams to use local intermediaries enable them to shield Chinese officers from scrutiny by US counterintelligence services and state, county, and municipal law enforcement organizations around the US. The teams are often organized in what has been described as silos to keep operatives unaware of who other team members are or the full details of their mission.

Michael McMahon, a 53 year old US citizen, was a licensed private detective in New Jersey. McMahon came from an Irish-American family of police officers and firefighters. During his 14 years at the New York City Police Department, he worked in narcotics and an elite street crime unit, rising to detective sergeant. He received the Police Combat Cross, the department’s second-highest honor, for his role in a gunfight in the Bronx. In 2003, he retired on partial disability related to ailments caused by his time at Ground Zero after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. His wife, an actress, once had a long-running part on “As the World Turns,” a daytime soap opera. Zheng Congying, a 25 year old Chinese citizen and legal permanent resident, resided in Brooklyn, New York. Investigators believe he was hired muscle. Li Minjun, a 65 year old citizen and resident of China, was a physician formerly of the Hubei Xiangyang Center Hospital in Xiangyang, China. Li had also worked for the MPS. Brought aboard the team as a specialist, her assignment was to escort Xu’s father from China to the US against his will with the hope that he would cause his son to surrender to the identification and repatriation team.

Hu Ji was the lead investigator and identification and repatriation team leader.  Hu was at the time of his indictment was an officer serving in the Wuhan Public Security Bureau, a municipal bureau of MPS. To be a bit more specific, he was a veteran officer of the bureau’s foreign affairs unit. Hu is a man of the world with a natural turn for clandestine action and placing others in trying positions. Hu gained notice after joining an Operation Fox Hunt task force. Reportedly, in early 2016, the Wuhan newsmedia had published glowing profiles about him, describing his imposing height, his travels to 29 countries, and his arrests of eight fugitives. In an interview, Hu told the Hubei Daily: “Out of the country does not mean out of the legal system.” He added: “Show your sword and punish even those in faraway lands.”

PRC Official-2 was at one time an individual whose identity was known only to the Grand Jury. However, PRC Official-2 has since been revealed to be Tu Lan, a 50 year old citizen and resident of China, was employed as a prosecutor with the Hanyang People’s Procuratorate and a leader of a Wuhan Fox Hunt task force. She would eventually direct day-to-day activities of the identification and repatriation team. However, as she did not speak English, Johnny would stick close and be her intermediary between her and Michael McMahon, the US private investigator, who was referred to by the identification and repatriation team members simply as “Mike.” 

Zhai Yongqiang, a 46 year old Chinese citizen, resided in China and California. According to court documents, Tu Lan and Zhai Yongqiang, age 46, were the last of the nine charged in the superseding complaint. The identity of a ninth defendant, named Anonymous by US prosecutors, remains under seal.

Among those also included in the federal court documents but not indicted were PRC Official-1 is an individual whose identity remains known only to the Grand Jury.  PRC Official-1 is said to be a Chinese citizen and a director of the Wuhan prosecution office’s anti-corruption bureau. Note that US prosecutors did not charge or identify PRC Official-1 or PRC Official-2 which frequently occurs for strategic and diplomatic reasons with regard to counterintelligence cases. Rong Jing, a 39 year old permanent resident in the US, was Hu’s point man in California. He was a married businessman, living in Rancho Cucamonga, about 35 miles east of Los Angeles. Court documents state Rong described himself as a bounty hunter for the Chinese government. He apparently enjoyed his “Motherland” and was quite talkative about it. Rong’s discussion of his work as identification and repatriation team member provided investigators with a wealth of information on the insidious nature and ubiquitous presence of the Operation Fox Hunt networks. Co-conspirator #3 was an operative who on or about and between May 15, 2017 and May17, 2017, contacted and hired a private investigator in California–dubbed P1 in the federal court document–for the purpose of surveilling Jane Doe #2. Co-conspirator #3 provided P1 with a picture of a document from the defendant Zhai Yongqiang containing the name and personal identification information belonging to Xu.

Communist Party of China Expectations of the Identification and Repatriation Team 

In 2015, Liu Dong, then deputy director of MPS’s economic crimes division, headed Operation Fox Hunt for the organization. He used interviews with China’s newsmedia to supposedly provide citizens with a rare look into the Operation Fox Hunt teams. He told Xinhua news agency that the work required a young team because members needed the strength to withstand long hours and frequent long-distance travel. Liu also told Xinhua that his team was highly intelligent, tough and nimble, with backgrounds in economics, law, foreign languages and business management. He further stated that team members were selected in part for their “emotional quotient” for dealing with overseas law enforcement, and for their ability to handle adversity.

For those team members indoctrinated in Communist Chinese thought doubtlessly recognizes his or her solemn responsibility to ensure China achieved its maximum potential everyday. Chinese intelligence officers in the various services likely feel that they can outperform their opponents and overcome their efforts to defend targets from espionage and efforts to intercept them. One might postulate in the abstract that Chinese intelligence officers may very well have closely observed, or may have read reports on how the behavior, performance and professionalism of officers of organizations in adversarial countries responsible for investigating and halting China’s espionage and any other activities in them was so negative, self-defeating, and self-destructive that confidence in their own abilities was uplifted. Perhaps this impression or belief grows in certitude with every review of certain adversaries. While there may not exactly be a wide open door there likely appeared to be seemingly endless potential for action and perhaps limitless possibilities.

Imaginably, those operatives from China already associated with the Chinese government who were selected for the identification and repatriation team had no bad habits–such as indulging in alcohol, narcotics, pornograpby, misogyny, and prostitution–that could potentially become amplified in a Western environment. To go a bit further using Chinese intelligence officers as a model, identification and repatriation team members, while deployed in service of their country, would not be expected to take any aspect of their duties lightly. They expectedly would never display any desire to involve themselves with banal amusements to fill time when not active in the field–one could hardly call any time while deployed “outside working hours.”–or entertain themselves on mobile phones while performing work tasks. One might presume that whatever they may most enjoy, they contented themselves with least. In effect, the team was expected to figuratively display the “company culture” of the Communist Party of China and live and act by “company principles.” By engaging in heavy handed actions against family members of the targets, team members certainly could be said to have displayed the “best practices” of the company.

Despite all of the safeguards in place, team members were well-aware that danger in the form of lurking US counterintelligence services. While perhaps highly motivated, on the ground, the hyperbole of China’s domination of the field in the US uttered by senior executives and Communist Party of China leaders is likely obviate in the minds of many operatives due to the very strong desire not to be captured. Presumably, no Chinese intelligence officer or clandestine or covert operative of any kind wants to be caught due to his or her own delinquency, carelessness, or outright stupidity. There is also the matter of punishment they might face back home for their failure. In recent memory, few to none among have been caught and put on trial in a US court. This is surely the standard and the expectation for all of those deployed at the Chinese government’s bidding. Unusquisque mavult credere quam iudicare. (Everyone prefers to believe than to think.)

In 2015, Liu Dong, then deputy director of MPS’s economic crimes division, headed Operation Fox Hunt for the organization. He used interviews with China’s newsmedia to supposedly provide citizens with a rare look into the Operation Fox Hunt teams. He told Xinhua news agency that the work required a young team because members needed the strength to withstand long hours and frequent long-distance travel. Liu also told Xinhua that his team was highly intelligent, tough and nimble, with backgrounds in economics, law, foreign languages and business management. He further stated that team members were selected in part for their “emotional quotient” for dealing with overseas law enforcement, and for their ability to handle adversity.

Stalking and Attempted Repatriation of Xu Ji and Liu Feng

As the story goes, in September 2016, Hu flew to New York to launch the operation. Among his first moves, he went into New Jersey to reconnoiter the house in Short Hills and other locations. Then at Hu’s direction, his bevy of clandestine operatives began building a network. First, they needed a local private investigator, preferably a former police officer with contacts and the skills to track people down. Zhu Yong, together with co-conspirator whose identity is known only to the Grand Jury as “Co-conspirator #1,” hired Michael McMahon to investigate and surveil Xu. McMahon came from a family of police officers and firefighters. As an officer in the New York City Police Department (NYPD) for 14 years, he had served in a narcotics unit and an elite street crime unit. He rose to the rank of detective sergeant. He received the Police Combat Cross for his role in a gunfight in the Bronx. McMahon retired in 2003 on partial disability related to ailments caused by his time at Ground Zero after the September 11, 2001 World Trade Center attack. Reportedly, his wife, an actress, had a long-running part on “As the World Turns,” a daytime soap opera. Imaginably as a security precaution, Hu’s operatives enlisted a woman who presented herself as the New York-based employee of a translation company to contact McMahon. The woman explained to him that she discovered him through a Google search. She then introduced him to Zhu Feng and Zhu Yong, describing them as representatives of a private Chinese company that was trying to recover assets from a former employee who had stolen money.  Zhu Feng identified himself as the nephew of the owner of the Chinese firm, which he allegedly described as a construction company. The following month, Hu traveled to the US to meet with McMahon at a Panera Bread restaurant in Paramus, New Jersey, a suburb about 20 miles from New York City. Reportedly, the MPS officer presented himself as Eric Yan, an executive of the private company, during that meeting and other interactions. Zhu Feng and Zhu Yong also participated in Hu’s meetings with McMahon. Hu provided McMahon with a retainer of $5000 at that first meeting.  The two Zhu’s were reportedly involved with his succeeding payments. McMahon’s attorney claims his client “believed he was meeting company personnel” and never learned the identification and repatriation team’s true mission. “Nothing seemed suspicious at meetings” according to McMahon’s attorney. He also indicates that the identification and repatriation team members that his client met at no point mentioned the Chinese government or that anybody worked in law enforcement in China. He claims the focus of discussions was asset recovery, and they convincingly portrayed themselves as company employees with a vested interest in locating the money. 

Soon after he was hired, McMahon began to investigate Xu and his family, a process which included conducting surveillance on Xu and obtaining his banking information. ProPublica reports that McMahon brought in two more investigators to help stake out a suspected location of Xu and Liu, a house in New Jersey. He took the precaution of alerting local police to the surveillance presumably to prevent any misunderstandings if detected or reported by passers-by. (At that point, McMahon demonstrated the willingness to cooperate with law enforcement. Thereby, ample opportunity existed  for US counterintelligence services and law enforcement to enlist his assistance as an informant or operative. For reasons unknown, the opportunity was passed up.) As indicated by the federal document, McMahon’s activities were initially directed by the defendant Zhu Yong and later directly by Hu and Zhu Feng. McMahon was diligent in providing reports on his progress to Hu. In the Fall of 2016, McMahon sent Hu information regarding Xu and his family. In or about November 2016, McMahon emailed information about Liu’s international travel. Later, around December 2016, McMahon emailed Hu information concerning Liu’s date of birth, Social Security Number, and banking information. In November, Hu, still using the nom de guerre Yang, emailed McMahon to say he had “reported all we found” to his superiors in China

In December 2016, Hu visited New York again. On that occasion, he traveled with his manager. US authorities only identified Hu’s superior only as PRC Official-1, the director of the Wuhan prosecution office’s anti-corruption bureau and a leader of a Wuhan Fox Hunt task force that includes prosecutors and investigators in the Communist Party’s anti-corruption unit. After that visit, Hu and Zhu Feng returned to China. Oddly enough, in a meeting in Wuhan, Hu confided to Zhu that next time they did not plan to come back from the US without the targets.

Following months of investigative work by McMahon, the identification and repatriation team planned a specific operation to stalk and grab Xu via psychological coercion. It was then that the team moved to bring Xu’s elderly father from China to the US in order to communicate a threat on behalf of the Chinese government directly to Xu. As part of the plan, Xu’s father was directed to tell him to the effect that if he did not return to China, his family there would suffer serious harm, including imprisonment. In furtherance of this criminal scheme, team members, Zhu, Tu Lan, and Li Minjun traveled to the US.

Malgré-nous Among the Team’s Members

It has been said that in zealousness, one can usually find some weakness, some hidden doubts. In China, the world is limited to what is seen through the lens of the Communist Party of China and “Xi thought.” For some Chinese citizens, that line of thinking and a will of iron act as blinders, preventing other perspectives from seeping in. From the view of the Communist Party of China, in the New Jersey operation, a team was being sent in under Hu’s leadership whose members’ minds were turned wholly toward bringing John Doe #1 back to China. In no small part, therein lies the causality for the ultimate breakdown of the New Jersey identification and repatriation operation. 

Interestingly, not all team members were members of the Communist Party of China or aspired to be such. One would think Party membership would be sine qua non for a mission of this type as it was actually commissioned by the Party and given that certain exigent circumstances could arise, requiring almost anything of team members, including literal self-sacrifice. Those called upon were indeed not the most dedicated. The teams and their superiors in Beijing erred in presuming without any reliable ability to predict or confirm the fidelity of those non-Party members would gladly follow orders in every circumstance.

With the New Jersey enterprise, it is clear two team members, Zhu Feng and Zhu Yong were called upon presumptively because their loyalty was guaranteed with dangled threats to cause misfortune for their relatives, some of whom had already suffered by the government’s hand. It was certainly an odd type of fidelity. In Zhu Feng’s particular case, in the summer of 2016, he received news from relatives in Wuhan that MPS had brought his uncle, a former accountant, back to China from Houston. Zhu’s relatives also contacted him to say: “The cop who caught your uncle is named Hu Ji. They further explained: “He will contact you about another case. Do what he says.” Team Members of identification and repatriation teams such as Zhu Feng and Zhu Yong are ostensibly China’s version of the French malgré-nous. Malgré-nous were those men of the Alsace-Moselle region who were conscripted against their will into the German Wehrmacht or the Waffen SS during World War II. Chinese citizens were torn from their normal daily lives and pressed into service not simply as a matter of being under the authority and thumb of hostile power that controlled the territory in which they lived, but coping with the threat of harm, even death, of loved ones also living under the regime.

The Initial Effort and the First “Emotional Bomb”

In the spring of 2017, the plan was ready and all team elements were assembled in the US. Hu remained in Wuhan, managing activities, but he sent in a specialist, Tu Lan, a prosecutor for the Hanyang District of Wuhan. She would lead the repatriation team on the ground, but because she did not speak English, Zhu Feng (hereinafter referred to as Zhu as the role of his father, Zhu Yong, was not discussed beyond this point in any sources) would stick close and be her intermediary with McMahon. The other specialist sent into the US, Li Minjun, as aforementioned, was a doctor who had worked for MPS, US officials allege her assignment was to escort an elderly man across the world against his will in order to ambush his son, Xu. Reportedly, Hu hoped the shock would cause the wanted man, Xu Jin, to surrender on the spot. The true age of Xu’s father has not been disclosed, but presumably Hu felt he was frail enough to put Li at his side for the more than 15-hour flight. Interestingly, Zhu Yong, who at the mission’s outset was entrusted to find and establish links with a US-based private investigator with specific characteristics, Tu, Li, and McMahon were ages 64, 50, 65, and 53 respectively. It seems that for MPS managers, age has importance, imaginably equating to experience, capability, reliability, solid judgment, and wisdom among other positive qualities.

Hu told McMahon in an email in March that the plan was to bring the father unannounced to the house in New Jersey and lure him out. Hu also gave him the following instructions: “We just want to recomm[e]nd you trace him to find [his son’s] address.” According to the federal court document, Hu offered to pay McMahon in cash for his assistance. McMahon accepted the offer. Hu later emailed McMahon two photographs, one of which depicted Xu and Liu while the other depicted Xu’s parents. Before returning to the US, Zhu was given the task of overseeing operatives he had hired in the Chinese community in New York. He sent a text message ordering one operative to join Mahon’s  surveillance in New Jersey with instructions to “conduct surveillance there for 5 days. 12 hours on the first day, 10 hours on the second day, and 8 hours on the last three days . . . The compensation is 1800USD.” 

To all appearances, Zhu had Hu’s complete confidence. On first impression, an interesting historical parallel comes to mind with regard to the developing relationship between Zhu as a conscript with his superiors, or more accurately, his captors Hu and Tu. Despite being torn from his former carefree existence and forced to become a player in Operation Fox Hunt, he was nevertheless given key tasks, considerable responsibility, and treated in a rather avuncular manner particularly by Hu. In Ancient Rome, occasionally certain masters would depend upon slaves to perform important duties and provide them with opportunities for growth within the society. A couple of famous examples of that are the relationship that grew between the master Terentius Lucanus and Publius Terentius and that between Carpophorus and Callixtus. Born between 195/185 BC, Roman senator Terentius Lucanus brought Publius Terentius to Rome as a slave. He educated him, and freed him after being impressed by his abilities. Publius Terentius would become a playwright known better today as Terence. Terence’s 6 plays have survived through the centuries. He died young around 159 BC. Callixtus was a young slave from Rome. His master Carpophorus, gave him the responsibility of collecting funds given as alms by other Christians. Callixtus would become a Christian himself. According to Sextus Julius Africanus, Callixtus would become the Bishop of Rome from c. 218 AD, and is known both as Callistus I and Pope Callixtus. He was martyred for his Christian faith in c. 223 AD and is venerated as a saint by the Catholic Church. Perchance Hu was grooming Zhu as a protégé and foresaw a future for him as a full-fledged officer in MPS or some other security service.

Exploitation of Émigré Communities

Clever choices have been made by the identification and repatriation teams based on studies on the practices of law enforcement organizations around the US where Chinese investigators must operate. Aware of the Chinese government’s hostile activities within their own community, it would seem to be grave error to believe law enforcement around the US could possibly know what the Chinese government is doing in the US against émigrés or what it is capable of doing to please or make a good impression with the Communist Party of China. It is not always the case but to an extent, the émigrés, thinking ostensibly in survival mode, will typically see no other way to get by but to remain obedient to Chinese authorities. Unfortunately, there is of course the other reality that not everyone can be or wants to be a noble soul. 

As discussed in the December 13, 2020 greatcharlie post entitled  “Meditations and Ruminations on Chinese Intelligence: Revisiting a Lesson on Developing Insights from Four Decades Ago,” under Article 9 of the National Security Law of the People’s Republic of China, as adopted at the 15th session of the Standing Committee of the Twelfth National People’s Congress, maintenance of national security, priority shall be given to prevention, equal attention shall be paid to temporary and permanent solutions, specialized tasks shall be combined with reliance on the masses, the functions of specialized authorities and other relevant authorities in maintaining national security shall be maximized, and citizens and organizations shall be extensively mobilized to prevent, frustrate, and legally punish any conduct that compromises national security. Article 11 decrees that there will be no tolerance shown for the failure to meet one’s obligation to maintain national security. The article states: “All citizens of the People’s Republic of China, state authorities, armed forces, political parties, people’s groups, enterprises, public institutions, and other social organizations shall have the responsibility and obligation to maintain national security.” Authorities in China understand that extraordinary powers are entrusted in the hands of many, such as MPS and MSS officers, who work on national security matters. Contractors, and even informants, who might work on their behalf are placed under the same scrutiny. Those who have attempted to cross the Chinese government have faced stiff reprisals. The shadow of sudden death can hang over the head of any individual arrested for such betrayal. As stated under Article 13: “Whoever as an employee of a state authority abuses power, neglects duty, practices favoritism, or makes falsification in national security work or any activity involving national security shall be held liable in accordance with the law.” The article further declares: “Any individual or organization that fails to fulfill the obligation of maintaining national security or conducts any activity compromising national security in violation of this Law or any relevant law shall be held liable in accordance with the law.” The furtive work of Chinese citizens at home and abroad under the direction of the MPS, MSS, or PLA, does not need to be without guerdon. As explained under Article 12: “The state shall commend and reward individuals and organizations that have made prominent contributions to maintaining national security.

Unable to keep pace with the identification and repatriation teams from the start, naturally the initial hope would be given the gravity of the intrusion on US soil, that while moving about within Chinese émigré communities, the teams would at least act with some measure and would not exceed what is decent. That has not been the case regarding their behavior. Operation Fox Hunt teams have created great fear among the émigré communities. One might toss on top of that an apparent impunity with which hunters from China act against them. True, on paper, members of the Chinese émigré communities have nothing to fear in the US and are welcome to enjoy the benefits of living in a free society. Yet, as the MPS was able to accomplish more than imaginable in the US, displaying its power and capabilities, there remains uneasiness, fear, terror among Chinese émigré communities from something they are thousands of miles from. Chinese émigré communities are for the most part convinced of the ubiquitous nature of the Communist Party of China and China’s security services.

Chineee Émigré Communities and Unshakable Grip of Beijing

Unable to keep pace with the identification and repatriation teams from the start, the initial hope would be given the gravity of the intrusion on US soil, that within Chinese émigré communities, the teams would act with some measure and would not exceed what is decent. Surely, that has not been the case regarding their behavior. Operation Fox Hunt teams have created great fear among the émigré communities. One might toss on top of that an apparent impunity with which hunters from China act against them. True, on paper, members of the Chinese émigré communities have nothing to fear in the US and are welcome to enjoy the benefits of living in a free society. Yet, as the MPS was able to accomplish more than imaginable in the US, displaying its power and capabilities, there remains uneasiness, fear, terror among Chinese émigré communities from something they are thousands of miles from. Chinese émigré communities are for the most part convinced of the ubiquitous nature of the Communist Party of China and China’s security services. Indeed, within the émigré communities, there is an expectation, especially among more recent arrivals that always close by are recruited informants of MPS, Party Members, planted United Front Work Department operatives and informants, planted MSS intelligence officers, operatives, recruited informants. Memories and ways of living to survive in an authoritarian China are not easily shaken off. Quando libertas ceciderit, nemo libere dicere audebit. (When liberty will have fallen (falls/is lost), no one will dare to speak freely.) 

The learning curve for law enforcement organizations around the US may remain steep for some time as the ways and means with which the Chinese government uses to approach Chinese émigré communities on matters such as returning citizens and former citizens to China “to face justice,” is ever evolving. Use of lessons learned by the Operation Fox Hunt identification and repatriation teams will mean for the future more effective use of artifice, more effective collection of information within émigré communities, more effective counter-surveillance, more effective sharing information and data useful for operations among organizations engaged in clandestine and covert operations in the US.

To get Xu’s father into the US without incident, Zhu coached the captive elderly man on responses to standard questions asked by border inspectors at Newark Liberty International Airport. In advance of Xu’s father’s arrival in the US, the defendants Zhu and Tu flew to  Newark Liberty International Airport on or about April 3, 2017. Xu’s father and Li, the doctor, arrived at Newark Liberty International Airport on a flight from Shanghai on April 5, 2017. While in the US, the Tu met with Zhu and an individual known to US prosecutors as Co-conspirator #2 at a hotel in New Jersey. At that meeting, Tu directed Zhu and Co-conspirator #2 to surveil a residence belonging to a relative of Xu and Liu using night vision goggles in advance of bringing Xu’s father to the home. Tu also subsequently communicated with Zhu with regard to the logistics of the operation. On the evening of April 5, 2017, identification and repatriation team members brought Xu’s father to a house in New Jersey that belonged to his wife’s relatives. As that transpired, McMahon performed surveillance in the vicinity of the house belonging to Liu’s relatives to determine the present locations of members of Xu’s family, including Hu himself, which at that time remained unknown to the team.

On April 6, 2017, Xu met his father at a public location before they returned together to his residence. McMahon and other team members monitored the meeting of Xu and his father. That same day, Zhu requested that McMahon run a database check for a license plate number and address associated with Xu. McMahon provided that info. Xu’s father remained with his son for several days. During that time, he explained to Xu that his family in China would be harmed if he did not return to China. Hu’s hopes for a lightning-bolt triumph evaporated. Instead of acquiescence, the family stood fast and contacted law enforcement. The FBI got involved, a move the Operation Hunt team was almost immediately made aware of. According to the federal court document, on April 7, 2017, Zhu sent a text to Tu saying Hu wanted her “and the doctor to come back as soon as possible” to “evade actions by US law enforcement.”  That same day, Tu departed from John F. Kennedy International Airport in Queens, New York on a flight to Beijing. The next day, Li departed from Newark Liberty International Airport on a flight to Beijing.

Identification and Repatriation Team Receives Intriguing Alert

Although executed piecemeal, the departure of key members and leaders of the identification and repatriation team after the alert was sounded may have followed a prearranged course. As it was always possible that such a need to move fast would arise. Nevertheless, a flaw became apparent in that process. it would have made a bit more sense if team lead investigators and their superiors, when selecting team members, had only selected individuals who possessed certain talents, perhaps demonstrated on previous operations maybe in other areas, who would expectedly contribute to the operation’s success. In this particular situation, some identification and repatriation team members who remained in the field as Zhu appeared unsure of how to proceed, were unfamiliar with steps to take, and required supervision. Those next steps that needed to be taken should have been standard operating procedures deeply ingrained through training. In an exigent situation, the team leader also appeared not certain as to how team members might perform. Tu, for instance, appeared to feel the need to be emphatic when issuing instructions. Zhu communicated in a similar way to the operatives that he supervised. This “crack” in the team selection process was to a degree a self-inflicted handicap and vulnerability that could have proved costly if US counterintelligence services and law enforcement organizations around the US were aware of the situation and positioned themselves to take advantage of it. Knowing that this is how the identification and repatriation teams operate, it could allow them to be better prepared and steal a March on their prey on another occasion when they are in their sights. However, this may have been a lesson learned by Operation Fox Hunt managers and it is unlikely that they would not make the necessary changes to avoid dealing with this issue in the future. Surely, there remains a chance the situation will be the same next time, too! Some Operation Fox Hunt managers may feel on ne change pas une équipe qui gagne!

Chinese Countersurveillance Operations in the US

The fact that the identification and repatriation team received an alert that the FBI was fully aware of the effort to coerce Xu by using his father was reported almost as a trifle in the federal court document. Yet, in reality, it was small much in the way that the small movement of a needle on a seismograph can report a giant earthquake. Upon first reading about this particular moment of identification and repatriation operation, there grew an interest in greatcharlie in how Chinese operators engaged in all sorts of activities in the US are seemingly forewarned whenever law enforcement and counterintelligence services draw near them. Of course, one of the counterintelligence organizations might just be a leaky ship. There could be rotten apples in their midst. However, it certainly would not be too fanciful to conceive that Chinese operatives on government sanctioned missions receive more support from unknown entities nestled in the US than may be recognized officially or publicly.

One might postulate that with so many Chinese intelligence officers–there were reports of as many as 25,000 “in country” back in 2017–and their operatives and informants moving furtively throughout the US, there may very well be specialized counterintelligence elements, covert surveillance teams, positioned in numbers deemed sufficient by the powers that be in the PLA CMC Joint Military Staff Intelligence Bureau and MSS counterintelligence that provide overwatch for espionage operations. The PLA teams, rather than come from intelligence units, might instead be formed from PLA Army special operations units primed in the reconnaissance and surveillance operations and to engage in a special reconnaissance mission. Teams from MSS would likely be secounded from the provincial departments and municipal bureaus, Chinese intelligence elements operating in the US would surely appreciate a resource that would allow their officers, operatives, and informants to repeatedly evade intercept. Similar covert surveillance teams may be operating in other countries. It is just a theory.

One might postulate that with so many Chinese intelligence officers–there were reports of as many as 25,000 “in country” a few short years ago–and their operatives and informants moving furtively throughout the US, there may very well be specialized counterintelligence elements, covert surveillance teams, positioned in numbers deemed sufficient by the powers that be in the PLA CMC Joint Military Staff Intelligence Bureau and MSS counterintelligence secounded from the provincial departments and municipal bureaus, that provide overwatch for espionage operations. If providing assistance to them would actually be feasible, it would be counterintuitive not allow identification and repatriation teams to enjoy the overwatch of any theorized covert countersurveillance teams of MSS and PLA operating in close proximity to them. 

If providing assistance to them would actually be feasible, it would be counterintuitive not allow covert countersurveillance teams of MSS and PLA to provide overwatch for other operations ostensibly underway in close proximity to them, perhaps of a variety and number far in excess of espionage. Such would be to the great benefit of the Operation Fox Hunt identification and repatriation teams.

As part of their mission, the theorized covert surveillance teams would very likely shadow any law enforcement or US counterintelligence organizations for the purpose of countersurveillance and early warning. No law enforcement or US counterintelligence organizations would be allowed to surprisingly appear at the site of a meeting between team members and a target ol contracted operative. No law enforcement or US counterintelligence organizations would be allowed to place surveillance teams on any of Chinese operatives without the knowledge of the covert surveillance teams. Any alerts about threatening moves by law enforcement or US counterintelligence organizations would unlikely be relayed through channels from the intelligence element’s headquarters down to those managing the teams as the circumstances would invariably be exigent, and time would be of essence. Communication between intelligence elements and the team would ostensively be confined at the level of the intelligence field managers and the lead investigator of the team. Imaginably, MSS and PLA managers would establish some incognito for their contacts as a security measure in case some catastrophe should befall the identification and repatriation team and through interrogation, the team leader reveals anything about their MSS or PLA counterpart that could identity them.

MSS and PLA intelligence network managers would hardly want some incident with the identification and repatriation team to draw unwanted attention to their province. It would be best to help the team get in and get out rapidly and safely. Additionally, having the opportunity to study and make observations of their opposition’s practices in surveilling suspected foreign operatives or the steps they go through and how they perform and behave while in investigation mode imaginably would be invaluable for MSS or PLA intelligence officers operating in the US. On top of everything, as the identification and repatriation operations are apparently the brainchild of the Communist Party of China, it would be essential for them to accomplish their task. Those able to make that a reality would be expected to do their utmost to assist with all possible precautions taken into consideration. All involved would likely be called to account if it failed. A MSS or PLA field manager who has the identification and repatriation teams operating in their area of operation would have to be considerably indifferent to the wishes of the Communist Party of China to have a clear ability to ensure the success of the team’s effort, and do nothing to assist and actually allow it the flounder.

Much as the MPS organized the identification and repatriation teams, it may very well be that any prospective covert surveillance teams organized for purpose suggested, might be well trained officers of MPS–also an intelligence service with what might be deemed a counterintelligence proclivity, doing what they do best for the Communist Party of China, keeping an iron grip on all Chinese citizens. Covert communications between team lead investigators and the covert countersurveillance teams theorized here would likely be uniquely designed by MPS in China for the operation. If the theorized covert surveillance team discussed in this essay were a creature of MPS, having it take their eyes off what members of the identification and repatriation teams were doing surely would not thrill the powers that be at MPS Headquarters.

Omne ignotum pro magnifico est. (We have great notions of everything unknown.) Of course, it is possible that nothing remotely resembling what has been suggested here exists at all. On the other hand, there may actually be surveillance teams operating around the US in a manner of far greater conception than what has been hinted.

Gnawing Bit More on the Theorized Covert Surveillance Teams 

Conceivably, when not engaged in their patient vigil over Chinese operatives of all kinds, the hypothetical covert surveillance teams maintain a low key, traveled existence wherever they are. What may be viewed as most remarkable about the covert surveillance team members if discovered would be the fact they are by appearance so unremarkable. Anything linked to their activities would hardly be found wherever they might reside or frequent. All in all, they would surely keep themselves to themselves. Yet, perhaps the most troubling aspect of the theorized covert surveillance team is that they would likely be gaining experience and honing their skills with everyday that passes during which they have perhaps been out in the field. As their skills increase, their capabilities and willingness to take on greater challenges would also likely increase. Further, for those trying to cope with Chinese operatives of all kinds in the US, the imagined increase in experience and capabilities among the theorized covert surveillance teams would surely be attended by a marked increase in the degree of difficulty in capturing them. Imaginably some financial support would be provided for the additional expenditures on logistical needs for the supportive surveillance work. As the activity would be in direct support of a Communist Party of China directed operation, a large request would unlikely be made to cover personal service expenses. The honor and privilege of serving the Communist Party of China would expectantly be viewed in Beijing as sufficient reward.

Oddly enough, the identification and repatriation team still did not just pull the shutters down and run off just because FBI agents were onto them. With the specialists safe, the identification and repatriation team members rather audaciously continued to watch Xu’s in-laws home and Xu’s home. Tu joined Hu at the command post back in Wuhan where she continued to direct the identification and repatriation operation while in China. On April 9, 2017, Zhu messaged Tu Lan, inquiring: “Prosecutor Tu [Tu Lan] whose order should I take for now while I am here?” Tu replied: “You communicate with me and Hu [Hu Ji]. I will go to the Commission for Discipline Inspection this afternoon. I will contact you afterwards.” The “Commission for Discipline Inspection,” which was a Chinese government agency responsible for investigating members of the Communist Party for corruption. Tu also wrote to Zhu: “[Y]ou need to confirm that Mike [McMahon] can execute according to our requirement.” According to the federal court document,, on April 9, 2017, Tu  sent an electronic message to the Zhu asking: “Did you tell Hu [Hu Ji] that I still want to confirm [John Doe #1’s ] [Xu’s] father’s status?” Zhu responded, “It seemed that he has reported to the [Chinese Official #1] already,” and added that “I arranged to have me [McMahon] stay there Monday morning.” Zhu told Tu Lan that ” the money I have on hand can only have me [McMahon] to stay there for two days.” On April 11, 2017, McMahon and Zhu discussed–in English–additional steps to intimidate Xu into returning to China. The federal court document specifically quotes McMahon as proposing they “harass” Xu, including by “[p]ark[ing] outside his home and let him know we are there.” Zhu replied that they “can’t harass [John Doe #1] [Xu] like that lol.” The efforts to persuade Xu to return to China were unsuccessful. The emotional bomb fizzled.. On April 12, 2017,  Zhu and Xu’s father departed from Newark Liberty International Airport on a flight to Shanghai.

Discussion will be extended in Part 2, to be published later.

Sidelights on Nicholas Eftimiades, A Series on Chinese Espionage, Vol. I: Operations and Tactics (Vitruvian Press, 2020)

China is currently engaged in a very aggressive, massive espionage, cyber, and covert action assault on the US with the goal of catching up with it technologically, militarily, and economically as quickly as possible. China hopes to eventually become the world’s dominant power. Atrocious thefts are now occurring right before everyone’s eyes. Penetration by Chinese officers, operatives, and informants appears to be successfully carried out almost anywhere China desires in the US or worldwide. Victories on the intelligence front have likely most satisfied People’s Republic of China President and Communist Party of China Party Secretary Xi Jinping, as under his leadership, China’s intelligence capabilities have been greatly enhanced and have evolved. In his monograph, A Series on Chinese Espionage, Vol. I: Operations and Tactics (Vitruvian Press, 2020), Nicholas Eftimiades shares information and data that will shock its readers. They will discover that China’s spy activity is of far greater conception than they might have ever imagined.

Since the era of the People’s Republic of China’s Second Chairman Deng Xiaoping, from 1976 to 1994, the Communist Party of China’s leadership has lived in optimistic expectation of better fortune for the Chinese people in terms of economics and their standard of living. Party leaders covet the position the US holds as the dominant power in the world. In accordance with that thinking, long range plans were formulated. Such really should have been the expected response of Chinese national leaders who were first and foremost dedicated to a very aggressive revolutionary movement. It was determined in Beijing that espionage offered a relatively cheap, quick, and easy method to obtain information that could help Chinese companies remain competitive. At that time, many of China’s largest companies were state owned, or had close linkages to the government. From all accounts, China thereby embarked on what has become a very aggressive and massive espionage, cyber, and covert action assault on the US with the ever-fixed goal of catching up with it technologically, militarily, and economically as quickly as possible.

Atrocious thefts are now occurring right before everyone’s eyes. Penetration by Chinese officers, operatives, and informants appears to be successfully carried out almost anywhere China desires in the US or worldwide. Chinese intelligence officers have experienced innumerable satisfactions in the spy war. According to a former chief of Counterintelligence for the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), James Olson, in his superb book, To Catch a Spy: The Art of Counterintelligence (Georgetown University Press, 2019), China is presently in a class by itself in terms of its espionage, covert action, and cyber capabilities. (The January 31, 2021 greatcharlie post is a review of Olson’s To Catch a Spy.) The struggle on the intelligence front impacts the whole climate of the relations with China. Even when China is engaged in bilateral or multilateral talks, whether on trade, security, or the environment, Chinese intelligence services never cease engaging in robust espionage. Imaginably, victories on the intelligence front provide a most satisfying opportunity for People’s Republic of China President and Communist Party of China Party Secretary Xi Jinping, to cock-a-doodle, about how, under his leadership, China’s intelligence capabilities have evolved to the point at which the intelligence services can carry the battle to the home ground of the US itself and win. Senior executives and managers in US counterintelligence services doubtlessly stand exasperated over regular disappointments.

In A Series on Chinese Espionage, Vol. I: Operations and Tactics (Vitruvian Press, 2020), Nicholas Eftimiades shares information and data that, although well-known within the US Intelligence Community and within other intelligence services worldwide, will shock nonpracticioners among his monograph’s readers. They will discover that China’s spy activity is of far greater conception than they might have ever imagined. As might be expected, Chinese intelligence services target a broad range of US national security actors, including military forces, defense industrial companies, national security decision makers, and critical infrastructure entities. The revelation will be that Chinese espionage activity is not the exclusive purview of China’s civilian and military intelligence services. In addition to government organizations, commercial entities, academic institutions, and private individuals, entrepreneurs are heavily engaged in espionage against preferred targets in highly industrialized countries. Chinese firms have proved themselves to be quite capable at performing such work. Surely, if the average US citizen fully understood the audacity and effectiveness of this campaign, they would be outraged and would demand action. 

Eftimiades examination is based on his study on the nature of Chinese espionage worldwide and in-depth understanding developed through decades of experience in the intelligence field. He reviews intelligence processes, setting objectives and tasking, organizations that engage in espionage, looks at their efforts through case studies and analysis of them. He also discusses how China’s espionage activities worldwide has had an impact on US national security, international security, the international political economy, and geopolitics. Eftimiades delves into the practical matters that concern intelligence officers of government organizations and employees of commercial entities and academic institutions as they engage in espionage, and how the Chinese government manages the hybrid government and “independent” civilian intelligence system it has created. While Series on Chinese Espionage, Vol. I: Operations and Tactics is the actual title of Eftimiades’ monograph, the monograph is listed on Amazon.com as Chinese Espionage Operations and Tactics (Vitruvian Press, 2020). The monograph is heretofore referenced in this essay by the latter title. (It might be best for those who may wish to possess a copy to research the text under the latter title. The publication date is September 3, 2020).

A sidelight, as defined by the Oxford English Dictionary, is a piece of information usually given by accident or in connection with another subject, that helps one to understand somebody or something. The goal of sidelights offered in this essay is to present Eftimiades’ monograph in a way that will give our readers a good sense of both what is in it and sort of ideas and insights they might draw from it. In effect, it is a review. For those who may excavate through the monograph and thoroughly and consider points of exposition concerning specific malign activities conducted by China, his work will prove to be substantially edifying. What is most impressive to greatcharlie about the monograph is the manner in which it stimulates thought on a grave issue concerning China. As stated in prior posts, greatcharlie prefers to review texts that can stir a fire inside a reader, and transmit the author’s passion for a subject. Those writings are the most memorable and most enjoyable to sit with. Praeterea qui alium sequitur nihil invenit, immo nec quaerit. (Besides, he who follows another not only discovers nothing but is not even investigating.)

The role of reviewer, an unsolicited intermediary between a text’s prospective reader and the author, is a responsibility that greatcharlie takes seriously. Rarely if ever, will greatcharlie read a work then take the time to write a negative review, presenting its judgments on the shortcomings and failures of an author’s toil. It is greatcharlie’s preference to provide reviews, sidelights here, that readers of the blog can enjoy and from which they may edify themselves. Nothing greatcharlie states in this essay is intended to give Eftimiades some stick–perish the thought. In greatcharlie’s view, he is brilliant, and works such as his monograph educate nonpracticioners as greatcharlie. They are very much appreciated. This review is not an inquiry into facts presented. All that is being presented here are insights greatcharlie birthed while parsing out the text. Although important details of Eftimiades monograph are discussed here, not everything is revealed. This is greatcharlie’s hard and fast rule on reviews, whether books, or as in this case a monograph. Plenty is left for readers to discover and draw their own insights upon.

Nicholas Eftimiades, the author (above), among other high level positions in the US government, was formerly the Director of Counterintelligence at the Central Intelligence Agency. He is highly regarded for his expertise on China and national security space issues. Currently, Eftimiades is a professor at Pennsylvania State University, working in the Homeland Security Program. He is a member of the graduate faculty, teaching homeland security, intelligence, and national security policy. He conducts research on China’s economic espionage, intelligence, and emerging threats. Eftimiades holds an MS Strategic Intelligence, National Defense Intelligence College; and a BA East Asian Studies, George Washington University.

The Author

Eftimiades, among other high level positions in the US government, was formerly the director of Counterintelligence at CIA. He is highly regarded for his expertise on China and national security space issues. For over two decades, senior government officials and Members of the US Congress relied on Eftimiades to provide in-depth expertise and cogent analysis on China and other national security issues. As a former senior intelligence executive, he has considerable experience in managing intelligence programs, strategic security issues in Asia, and emerging threats/disruptive technologies. The Intelligence Community awarded Eftimiades with its highest honors to include the National Intelligence Council Achievement Award and DIA Director’s Intelligence Award. As of this writing, Eftimiades holds appointments on the National Intelligence Council as an Intelligence Community Associate, Homeland Security Advisory Council, Economic Security Subcommittee, and the Defense Science Board. Although he has left the CIA, one does not get the impression that Eftimiades has left the fight yet! Eftimiades has testified before several US Congressional and Presidential Commissions concerning National Security issues, future technology development, and the future of the US space program. 

Among several high level positions, Eftimiades was formerly the director of Counterintelligence at CIA. He is highly regarded for his expertise on China and national security space issues. For over two decades, senior government officials and Members of the US Congress relied on Eftimiades to provide in-depth expertise and cogent analysis on China and other national security issues. As a former senior intelligence executive, he has considerable experience in managing intelligence programs, strategic security issues in Asia, and emerging threats/disruptive technologies. Currently, Eftimiades is a professor at Pennsylvania State University, working in the Homeland Security Program. He holds an MS Strategic Intelligence, National Defense Intelligence College; and a BA East Asian Studies, George Washington University. He has lived and studied in Asia. He once served as a senior research fellow at King’s College, War Studies Department in London. During that period, Eftimiades authored books, reports, and a number of articles on China’s intelligence methodology, national security, technology, and space issues. Currently, Eftimiades is a professor at Pennsylvania State University, Homeland Security Program. He is a member of the graduate faculty, teaching homeland security, intelligence, and national security policy. He conducts research on China’s economic espionage, intelligence, and emerging threats. 

As Eftimiades possesses such formidable credentials, it seems needless to say that readers should approach all matters of fact presented by Eftimiades as true to the best of his knowledge and belief. Eftimiades spoke truth to power within halls of the US national security bureaucracies and in the White House. He presents the monograph’s discussion essentially in that same mode, discussing only what he knows to be the truth on Chinese Intelligence Operations. His proceeding publication, Chinese Intelligence Operations is regarded as the seminal work in the field. In the period surrounding its publication in 1994, greatcharlie’s editor did not have the pleasure to read Nicholas Eftimiades, Chinese Intelligence Operations (CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 1994) and in fact was not even aware of its existence. Having read through it in preparation for this review, the book impressed as being a damnably good breakdown of the organization departments, the missions, guiding concepts and intent of its leaders, and the tactics, techniques, procedures, and methods of each service of the “Chinese Intelligence Community” during what could now be called a bygone era. 

To the extent that it has relevance other than by mere subject matter with regard to Eftimiades Chinese Espionage Operations and Tactics. The preceding enables one, through comparisons of assessments of the work performed in varied operational and functional areas, to observe how far Chinese intelligence services have evolved, among many things, as organizations, within the country’s foreign and national security policy bureaucracy, and as vital tools in the hands of the leadership of the Communist Party of China. Interestingly, by examining both Chinese Espionage Operations and Tactics and Chinese Intelligence Operations, one is also provided the opportunity to examine an evolution in the experience, education, thinking and type of insights developed on Chinese intelligence services.. Perhaps readers will discover, much as greatcharlie did, that Chinese Espionage Operations and Tactics takes the reader to a higher level of understanding of the topics and raises the level of discourse to a seasoned intelligence analyst on China. For China watchers in particular, the monograph provides a loom from which new understandings and fresh insights can be crafted. Of course, for those who have not read or do not plan to read Eftimiades, Chinese Intelligence Operations, the opportunity still exists to prosper intellectually by plotting Chinese Espionage Operations and Tactics as the start point on the figurative charts of their respective learning curves on Chinese Intelligence.

Make no mistake, Eftimiades worked at the sharp end of intelligence work and knows the true value of each bit, even trifles, emphasizing in the text what is important to know in order to get the counterintelligence job done. Indeed, through his monograph, readers get a small taste of the discourse between intelligence officers within the bureaucracies in which Eftimiades served, and the flavor of its tone. One might as far as to say that by reading Eftimiades monograph, one gets a sense of the thinking within key US national security bureaucracies on Chinese intelligence activities in the US in the current climate.

Previous Reviews

Among reviews of Chinese Espionage Operations and Tactics published on Amazon.com are a few from former and current US senior executives and intelligence officers of the US Intelligence Community. Their glowing expressions of satisfaction and appreciation,reviews attest to the value, positive impact the monograph had on their thinking and their work. One such review was by Maryann Fialdini, Former Chief, Counterintelligence Operations of the US Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA). She explained: “Mr Eftimiades has broken new ground on his closely researched series on Chinese Espionage Operations and Tactics. His work on Chinese espionage spans 30 years in the intelligence community. In the 90’s he sounded the alarm on China’s rising espionage activities directed against US corporate and government entities. His current series on Chinese Espionage identifies for the reader China’s massive “whole of Society” approach to espionage activity and offers the exceedingly rare combination of insight and judgement from a professional who has a wealth of firsthand experience. Eftimiades work fills an important gap in US literature as it relates to Chinese intelligence. I highly recommend this book!” Another fine review was from David Tsai, formerly of the Library of Congress. He stated: “Most up-to-date comprehensive and detailed treatment of the subject based on the author’s objective analysis of close to 600 cases! An intelligence practitioner as well as academic scholar Mr. Eftimiades has given his readers a clear picture of Chinese espionage doctrine and tradecraft, based on a combination of his experience and scholarship. This excellent and insightful book is highly recommended for both professionals and novices who are interested in this subject.” A review from Nicholas Kikis, former Director of the DIA’s Defense Clandestine Service and Chief of East Asia Division, that appears on the back of the monograph, proffers: “A must-read for professionals in Counter intelligence, security and government affairs. The author has crafted the most detailed account ever published on China’s espionage operations and tactics . . . The USA is loosing its secrets and technology to China’s “whole of society” approach . . . Our Nation’s need for good counterintelligence has never been greater . . . Mr. Eftimiades is the real deal, a veteran of the Intelligence Community who describes the challenges and provides recommendations on how to do a better job in protecting America.”

Interestingly, Eftimiades does not mention anything about having to submit his monograph to the Publications Review Board of his former employer, CIA, for review. For security reasons, it is a requirement for officials from the US Intelligence Community with backgrounds as his. One might expect his former employer’s solemn warning of secrecy was increased with regard to the knowledge he retained as any of that information could possibly provide some important bit, some nuance on what the US knows about China’s espionage operations and tactics in the US. Surely, the Publications Review Board stopped anything from going into the text if in its view it even approximated classified information. Hypotheses and arguments are a bit more challenging to judge for security reasons. Certain facts, even if left out hypotheses and arguments, can be assessed as being confirmed by some clever sorts in an adversaries camp seeing that those facts might alone be the sole solid basis upon which a particular inference might logically be made.

Sidelights

Eftimiades’ monograph is divided into 12 sections. They are entitled as follows: Section1: “Preface”; Section 2: “Key Findings”; Section 3: “Introduction”; Section 4: “Analytical Methodology”; Section 5: “China’s Legal Framework for Espionage”; Section 6: “PRC Organizations Conducting Espionage”; Section 7: “Intelligence Collection Objectives”; Section 8: “Analysis of Espionage Cases”; Section 9: “Analysis of Espionage Tradecraft”; Section 10: “Impact”; Section 11: “Summary”; and, Section12: “Link to video Analysis of China’s Economic Espionage Tactics.” Since the monograph is only 56 pages in total, it seemed apropos for this review to condense the discussion of 8 of its 12 sections, highlighting from each what might be its most intriguing elements/aspects for our readers. For 9 of the monographs sections, to include one not précised, greatcharlie provides sidelights.

Section 1: “Preface”

From the outset, Eftimiades makes it clear that the focus of his monograph, although there is some emphasis on espionage activities against the US, is on China’s worldwide human intelligence operations. The monograph does not include a discussion of China’s intelligence analysis capabilities, technology collection, not domestic operations against perceived internal threats. He indicates that cyber espionage is only addressed in select cases which were enabled by humans providing insider access. Eftimiades notes that he brings his own experiences and perceptions into his interpretations of those cases.

Eftimiades also gives notice to readers that the monograph only reflects known Chinese intelligence operations. Even with a review of hundreds of espionage cases, he recognizes that certain matters are left open such as the number of individuals engaged in espionage activities worldwide for China, and whether the cases he analyzed represent as much as 90 percent of the total or as little as 10 percent. (The word “worldwide” qualified the former statement of the two. Perchance the number operating in the US is known!) Eftimiades insists that even the Chinese government does not know the precise number of individuals spying on its behalf. He suggests that uncertainty about that total would be due to China’s decentralized “whole of society” approach to intelligence collection. Still, he felt enabled due to the volume of cases and careful–experienced, astute–analysis of operational details, he could draw certain conclusions about China’s espionage operations and tactics.

Eftimiades’ statement about Chinese intelligence operations and tactics practiced in the US is a very bold one to make starting off from scratch in his “Preface”. Writing in that manner, Eftimiades was sure to create more questions than anything else. Reading what was stated by a number of reviewers of the monograph from outside the US national security bureaucracies, this point could perhaps be deemed as the metaphorical low-hanging fruit for criticism. Given the strength of the mind of a man as Eftimiades, it could be the case that he has dangled this statement on the number of Chinese officers and operatives around the world, aware that it would draw a strong reaction among close readers and light the fire that would ignite a lively discourse within and among them. He is a former director of CIA Counterintelligence, which makes him a member of a rather unique caste of singular individuals who would hardly do anything without considerable forethought. To go a bit further, given Eftimiades background one might think perhaps there is some counterintelligence benefit in refusing to confirm publicly, not allowing an adversary to discover what the accepted size and strength of its espionage operations are. Imaginably that information might aid them in planning around US thinking, potentially finding some advantage if the estimated figures are too high, too low, or spot on. 

The likely first impression of readers resulting from Eftimiades’ “declaration of nescience” on the numbers of would be Eftimiades could not have managed to effectively consider the ends, was, and means of Chinese organizations engaged in espionage if an important leg of the three leg “strategy stool”, means, which includes the resources, size and strength of those organizations, was unknown to him. Unaware of that it was harder to see how he could delve into a more elaborate discussion of their operations and tactics. Curiosity over how Eftimiades managed everything would surely compel the many readers to push forward into the text. However, it would very likely be regularly done with some reservation. To the extent that Eftimiades does not have the actual figure of Chinese intelligence officers and operatives or numbers of Chinese espionage operatives from commercial entities, academia, as well as individuals engaged in such activity at his fingertips, anything he discusses that offers some picture of the totality Chinese espionage in the US, to be both above board and fair, are only proffered in the abstract.   

Readers looking at the matter on their own might wonder what is the average caseload for a Chinese intelligence officer from either the civilian or military service If it is more than one, let one surmise three or four, then one might begin to believe the espionage crisis is much greater in magnitude. One might consider that given likely number of Chinese intelligence officers and operatives in the field, the true number of Chinese personnel involved increases exponentially when the number likely needed to provide logistical support for such a grand number of officers and operatives in the field and their operations which appear to vary in size and scope, are considered. One might not only infer from the number and size of known operations, their intensity and tempo, and apparent effective level of support for each the totality of Chinese intelligence officers and operatives in the field, but a close approximation of their number might be reached by considering just how much has been stolen, usually detected well after the fact. Later, in the “Summary” section, Eftimiades notes that although he may not be certain of the true number of Chinese intelligence officers that are on the ground in the US but himself surmised it must be in the thousands.

There have been claims that the number of Chinese intelligence officers in the US was at least 25,000, meaning the number of their operatives in the field. The issue of numbers of Chinese spies in the US is not limited to debate within the US Intelligence Community. It has been widely reported by the mainstream newsmedia in the US that China’s intelligence services have established espionage networks throughout the country. Guo Wengui is a billionaire businessman who claimed to have close ties to China’s civilian and military intelligence services and broke with the regime. Guo revealed in his first interview in the US that those espionage networks reportedly include up to 25,000 Chinese intelligence officers and more than 15,000 recruited operatives. Guo explained that he learned about Chinese spy activities from Ma Jian, a former vice minister of the civilian intelligence service and Ji Shengde, a former military intelligence chief. As that figure, 25,000, was put forward nearly 5 years ago, the number of Chinese intelligence officers who have essentially strolled into the US and are now operating clandestinely and successfully on the ground now may be much higher. Surely, there is an officially estimated number of Chinese intelligence officers and operatives in the US Intelligence Community. Whether it will ever be made public remains to be seen, but surely, even without that figure, there is some general acceptance that what is coming toward the US is à la débandade.

People’s Republic of China Minister of State Security, Chen Wenqing (above). Chen studied Law and Political Science at Southwest University in Chongqing, and joined the Ministry of Public Security in 1984, where he worked for a decade. In 1994, Chen was assigned to the Ministry of State Security (MSS), becoming Deputy Director at the Sichuan provincial state security department. In 1998 Chen took over leadership of the State Security Department in Sichuan. He held that position until 2002, when he was appointed Chief Prosecutor at the Sichuan Provincial People’s Procuratorate. In 2006, Chen transferred to Fujian, serving as Deputy Party Secretary and concurrently head of the provincial Commission for Discipline Inspection (CCDI) until 2012. Following the 18th National Congress of the Communist Party China, Chen was brought to Beijing to serve as a Deputy Secretaries of the CCDI. He was appointed Party Secretary of the MSS in October 2016 and Minister in November 2016.

Section 2: “Key Findings”

In the section, “Key Findings”, Eftimiades provides a list of judgments supported by the information and data in his monograph. For readers, especially students, they may provide some guidance on an academic inquiry concerning Chinese intelligence. Right out of the gate, he notes that his “Key Findings” section is the product of his earlier analysis of 595 documented cases of China’s worldwide collection efforts. Thereby, they stand here independent of, but a primary feature of what is discussed in the monograph. In the monograph’s “Preface”, Eftimiades plainly states that “the focus of this work is on [China’s] worldwide human intelligence (HUMINT) operations.” Yet, in his key findings, he seems to indicate that the true focus of the monograph’s discussion, rather than being the aggregate espionage efforts of government organizations and commercial entities, academic institutions, and independent individuals in the US, is Chinese government civilian and military operations. Imaginably for some, Eftimiades may appear to shortshrift readers on any findings developed through the study of the totality of China’s espionage in the US. Perhaps in Eftimiades’ defense, his omission may very well have been more of an issue of editing and oversight.

To the extent that his key findings are limited to government espionage activities, some might readily assert that rather than opening up new territory, his findings were nearly all well-trodden ground. Indeed, at first blush, one might view what Eftimiades presents as his findings as a somewhat prosaic enumeration of highlights from his examination of the 595 cases. However, greatcharlie assures that they are much more as there are some striking elements among them. Eftimiades 10 key findings were a follows: 1) Chinese espionage activity  has greatly expanded in the past 20 years; 2) Chinese entities conducting espionage include government agencies, the People’s Liberation Army, State Owned Enterprises, private companies, individuals, and several universities; 3) Approximately half of China’s worldwide intelligence collection efforts target military and space technologies; 4) Over 90 percent of China’s espionage activities are performed by ethnic Chinese and males perform more than 80 percent of it; 5) The Ministry of State Security, China’s main civilian intelligence service, exploits social media to target foreigners with access to sensitive information. Those recruitment efforts vary in quality considerably; 6) The Ministry of State Security make use of China’s visa and border control system to identify potential recruitment and manage clandestine assets; 7) Ministry of State Security espionage tradecraft has improved over the last four years, due in part to pressure against it from US counterintelligence services; 8) Nearly half of China’s traditional espionage efforts–pursuing political and military secrets–and covert action campaigns are targeted against Taiwan; 9) China’s foreign science and technology collection efforts correlate closely to the priority technologies identified in government strategic planning documents; and, 10) China’s “whole society approach” to espionage has a harmful effect on the US economy, diplomatic influence, and military capabilities. Furthermore, China’s actions threaten European national and economic security through espionage and coercion against government entities and business decision making.

What sparked greatcharlie’s interest considerably was Eftimiades finding concerning non-ethnic-Chinese recruitment, that more ethnic Chinese recruits are used than nonethnic ones by Chinese government organizations and commercial entities engaged in espionage in the US. Multum in parvo. (Much in little. (Small but significant.))

He makes an impressive statement, but regrettably, he does delve deeper into this issue at any point later in the monograph allowing readers to understand how he got there.  His “Analysis of Espionage Tradecraft” section would have been taken to even greater heights. Useful at some point of the monograph’s discussion also would have been some background on the evolution of Chinese intelligence practices to recruit nonethnic Chinese as well as ethnic Chinese as operatives. With regard to greatcharlie’s aforementioned presumption concerning Eftimiades somewhat likely effort to stoke debate on the monograph, perchance once again he is providing more grist for the mill on this score. Perhaps a set plan regarding the monographs page length did not allow him to expound on the matter.

Perhaps it would be enough for some to say in this case that Chinese intelligence services may have recognized they can achieve their respective goals more efficiently and effectively by working mainly with ethnic Chinese recruits. Yet, surely, Chinese espionage in the West has evolved from pursuing ethnic Chinese sources alone. All things considered, such a limited effort by Chinese government organizations and commercial entities would hardly be the case. It stands to reason that the number of nonethnic recruits with which they have been successful is far higher than the few he has enumerated. To an extent, in Eftimiades own examples there is evidence that a number of nonethnic Chinese operatives were targeted and successfully recruited. Chinese intelligence services clearly have the interest and capabilities to bring in such recruits presumably as would Chinese commercial entities engaged in espionage in the US.

As discussed in the July 31, 2020 greatcharlie post entitled, “China’s Ministry of State Security: What Is this Hammer the Communist Party of China’s Arm Swings in Its Campaign against the US? (Part 1),” it was once generally understood in the West that the standard approach to human intelligence collection by MSS has been to co-opt low-profile Chinese nationals or Chinese-American civilians to engage in the acquisition of mid-level technology and data. Travellers, businessmen, students, and visiting researchers are often approached to undertake intelligence tasks, and the MSS maintains control of them through inducements and personnel connections, and the potential threat of alienation from the homeland. Members of the Chinese diaspora residing in Western countries, especially new émigrés, who possessed the requisite expertise and appropriate positions in a public or private organization and family members remaining in China, would be compelled to perform tasks and to steal information of interest that they came across for the intelligence services. This method of intelligence collection also followed the concept of keeping things simple. It is still being put to use. However, while ostensibly being a satisfactory solution, MSS found itself simply working on the margins targeting ethnic Chinese as a priority. It proved too reserved, too limiting. Not wanting to confine themselves to a small set of targets for recruitment, the logical next step was to attempt the recruitment of operatives and agents from a variety of ethnic backgrounds. According to William C. Hannas, James Mulvenon, and Anna B. Puglisi in Chinese Industrial Espionage: Technology Acquisition and Military Modernization (Routledge, 2013), cases at the time of the book’s writing suggested that was exactly what Chinese intelligence services did as a whole. Tradecraft was observably broadened to include the recruitment non-ethnic-Chinese assets as well. MSS still uses this method.

Guo Wengui, aforementioned here as the billionaire businessman who broke with the regime and revealed information from highly placed sources in the Chinese intelligence services that China’s espionage networks reportedly include up to 25,000 officers and 15,000 operatives, also spoke on the matter of non-ethnic-Chinese recruitment. Guo said Ma Jian, who recall was the vice minister for the civilian intelligence service, told him that a major shift by the Chinese was expanding the scope of agent recruitment from Asians to other ethnic groups.

One might argue that if Chinese government organizations and commercial entities engaged in espionage in the US were running only a few nonethnic operatives in the field, an idea Eftimiades’ statistics would apparently support, those few nonethnic operatives were doing a colossal amount of work alone to collect the loads of information from institutions where ethnic Chinese may not necessarily have been well represented or significant at all. In the abstract, and not to cast aspersions on any employees anywhere in which the erstwhile spies worked, but it may have been the case that other nonethnic Chinese employees were involved in espionage in those same institutions who went undetected and whose work was completely unknown to those who were caught.

Imaginably from a counterintelligence standpoint, if Chinese government organizations and commercial entities engaged in espionage in the US were running merely two or a few more nonethnic operatives in the field, trying intercept so few well-concealed individuals from a field of dozens of potential spies would conceivably be rather challenging. Finding them all during the past few years would be nothing less than spectacular accomplishment. C’est chercher une aiguille dans une botte de foin.

Chinese government organizations and commercial entities engaged in espionage in the US go after whomever might be best suited to meet their needs. For the accomplished services in the intelligence industry, espionage is a results focused business, not an ethnocentric one. It was noted earlier that Eftimiades insists that no one really knows how many officers and operatives working for China are on the beat in the US, but later in his “Summary” section suggests that they may very well number in the thousands. Aforementioned, too, were claims that the numbers of Chinese intelligence officers in the US was at least 25,000, meaning the number of their operatives in the field would be enormous. If those high numbers are accurate, it would likely mean those officers would be going after greater numbers of recruits. Surely, along with increased ethnic Chinese recruiting, nonethnic Chinese recruiting numbers would see far more than a nominal increase as a result.

Incidentally, Eftimiades mention of the balance between ethnic and nonethnic Chinese recruitment by Chinese government organizations and commercial entities engaged in espionage in the US, determined as a product of his analysis of the 595 cases, somewhat flies in the face of what he boldly asserted earlier in the discussion on the general on the unawareness of numbers of officers and operatives working on the ground there for China. As stated earlier, to the extent that Eftimiades does not have the actual figure of Chinese intelligence officers and operatives or numbers of Chinese espionage operatives from commercial entities, academia, as well as individuals engaged in such activity at his fingertips, anything he discusses that offers some picture of the totality Chinese espionage in the US is in the abstract.   

People’s Republic of China PLA Major General Chen Guangjun (above), Chief of Central Military Commission (CMC) Joint Staff Department Intelligence Bureau. The 54 year-old Chen currently serves as chief of Central Military Commission (CMC) Joint Staff Department, Intelligence Bureau as well as an Assistant to the Chief of the Joint Staff. Chen joined the Rocket Forces of the PLA in 1984. In the mid-2000s, he earned a Ph.D. from Northwestern Polytechnical University. The PLA’s human intelligence (HUMINT) operations are managed by the aforementioned Central Military Commission (CMC) Joint Staff Department, Intelligence Bureau. Chen achieved some notoriety prior to taking over the Joint Staff Department Intelligence Bureau. Through 2007 and 2008, Chen was the focus of several newsmedia reports chronicling his role in improving levels of education in his unit.

Section 3: “Introduction”

Eftimiades begins his Introduction by stating that while espionage is often employed to support foreign policy, a country’s clandestine activities rarely become the subject of foreign policy. However, despite how rare it might be, he says that is the case for the People’s Republic of China with its massive “whole of society” approach to conducting espionage. Eftimiades believes its approach is creating a new paradigm on how intelligence activities are conducted, viewed, and addressed by countries. He notes that a key element in the US-China trade war and downward spiral in relations–a matter the received much attention from the US newsmedia at the time he penned his monograph–is Washington’s demands that Beijing cease stealing US intellectual property and trade secrets. Despite China’s denials, Eftimiades stressed that “hundreds of recently prosecuted espionage cases” prove otherwise. China’s espionage activities are changing the global balance of power, impacting the US and foreign economies, and providing challenges to domestic, national security, and foreign policy formulation.

Not to be an apologist, but rather, to be fair-minded, Eftimiades notes that there are otger governments, companies, and individual entrepreneurs that violate US laws in the drive to possess or sell US technology, government and corporate secrets. He states: “Violating a country’s laws is common practice in the murky world of espionage. According to Eftimiades, almost every time an intelligence service conducts espionage in another country, it violates that country’s laws, and that includes US intelligence operating overseas.” However, he insists that the difference is that the US and other countries engage in espionage to determine and counter hostile or potentially hostile adversaries. The purpose of espionage is not to develop their countries’ own industries or transfer foreign wealth which is a main focus of China’s activities.

There is little doubt that the public affairs departments of nearly every bureaucracy under the State Council, and Propaganda Department and Foreign Affairs section of the Communist Party of China would chomp at the bit to enthusiastically and gloatingly state in response that the US space program was developed through the employment of scientists and engineers from Occupied Germany. The resettlement of the professionals and all of their research and development was facilitated by intelligence elements of the US national security bureaucracies. The Chinese would doubtlessly assert that US activities on that matter essentially established the model for acquiring foreign capabilities through national security bureaucracies to support their technological needs and channel down to large industries mostly related to defense and intelligence to support their advancement. Chinese public affairs spokespersons would surely go on to state, likely with the pretension of lamenting, that as a result of depriving Germany of its own citizens best efforts in aerospace technologies, the country was denied trillions in revenue from potentially providing the world the fruit of their expertise. Indeed, Germany could have become the epicenter of aerospace technology development and research in the world. (Mind readers this is a presumed argument of the Communist Party of China, not at all the position of greatcharlie.) Mayhap, the counterpunch would be that Werner Von Braun and the other German scientists and engineers sought to to the US and if they were left to their devices in Occupied Germany, the Soviet Union would have surely grabbed them up to use for Soviet Premier Joseph Stalin’s sinister purposes. Germany as a whole benefited immensely from postwar reconstruction due to the US Marshall Program. German industries were given an excellent restart as a result of their rebuilding and retooling under that program.

Section 4: “Analytical Methodology”

Eftimiades explains that for purposes of this study, all of the legal definitions of criminal acts in the statutes and administrative regulations found in the export violations–International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR), Export Administration Regulations (EAR), International Emergency Economic Powers Act (IEEPA), as well as covert action, and research violations, are categorized as espionage. Eftimiades again explains that over a period of 10 years, he compiled and analyzed 595 cases of Chinese espionage that have occurred worldwide. He notes that over 450 of those cases occurred after 2000. He states again that through the analysis of these cases, sufficient evidence provided on espionage by the Chinese government, Beijing’s promotion and support of organizations outside of the government responsible for the same, and the information objectives, determines gaps in their knowledge, and operational “tradecraft” techniques of those organizations.

There is perhaps an argument to be made that once Eftimiades decided upon the definition of espionage mentioned in this section, he shaped his discussion of what Chinese non-government entities, institutions, and individuals would be viewed as engaging in espionage. One could hardly find fault with his decision. After all, his choice was not without precedent as certain bureaucracies of the US government involved in the 595 cases he studied made the same decision based on the law. However, from the lens of the accused Chinese non-government entities, institutions, and individuals, it may be the case that they were stealing trade secrets and intellectual property, but they may not have viewed their actions as espionage, rather just theft and just a part of business. One could imagine individuals of elements involved with such thefts saying with acidulous humor that if those, who possess information that they desired to purloin, really wanted to prevent theft, they would do a far better job at securing that information. Those with such larcenous instincts might go on to insist that those possessing the information would need to look deeper within to find the answer as to why they have so often left themselves wide open to theft. This thought, on the perception of thieving Chinese non-government entities, institutions, and individuals on whether their actions are a matter of espionage or “merely” grand larceny, is developed further in this essay in the “Analysis of Espionage Tradecraft” section.

The monograph’s following four sections on Chinese operations and tactics were meat and drink for greatcharlie and will likely be for like-minded souls. They are: Section 6: “PRC Organizations Conducting Espionage”; Section 7: “Intelligence Collection Objectives”; Section 8: “Analysis of Espionage Cases”; and, Section 9: “Analysis of Espionage Tradecraft”. Only three of the four are fully discussed in this review.

Section 6: “PRC Organizations Conducting Espionage”

The espionage effort by Chinese government organizations and commercial entities, as explained by Eftimiades, has features that are entirely its own. From an analysis of his 595 cases, Eftimiades explains espionage activities correlated to their sponsoring organization (the “customer” receiving the information or technology) showed five distinct clusters of organizations engaging in espionage. The governing Communist Party of China uses government, quasi government, academic, and commercial entities as mechanisms to conduct all forms of espionage abroad. Most interesting of these are China’s “non-traditional collectors”, which include State Owned Enterprises, universities, and private companies. He confirms that the employment of such a broad set of entities for intelligence collection evinces China’s “whole of society” approach to espionage. The list of includes: 1) the Ministry of State Security, the Guojia Anquan Bu, China’s preeminent intelligence agency, responsible for overseas espionage and counterintelligence both at home and abroad; 2) the Central Military Commission (CMC) Joint Staff Department, Intelligence Bureau of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), responsible for collecting and analyzing foreign military intelligence, including technology; 3) State Owned Enterprises (SOE), include the 50,000 aerospace and defense companies, subordinate research institutions, and technology transfer organizations owned by the central government; 4) Private Chinese companies or individuals acting unilaterally for commercial benefit only were engaged in espionage in approximately 22 percent of cases Eftimiades analyzed, and in nearly 30 percent of those cases, there was a clearly identifiable Chinese government, SOE, or university as the ultimate customer for illegal exports or trade secrets; and, 5) Other Chinese government elements that collect intelligence (information) and technology include the PLA Political Department Liaison Office (targeted against Taiwan), the United Front Work Department (UFWD), and many universities under the State Administration for Science, Technology, and Industry for National Defense (SASTIND). 

Most intriguing to greatcharlie was Eftimiades’ discussion of the PLA Political Department Liaison Office, the UFWD, and SASTIND. Beginning in reverse with SASTIND, Eftimiades explains that the State Administration for Science, Technology, and Industry for National Defense (SASTIND), which is housed under the State Council, manages military acquisition requirements for the Central Military Commission’s Equipment Department. Clearly put by Eftimiades, as the start point of a virtual wheel of information exchange, SASTIND assigns projects to ministries with military production responsibilities. Those ministries pass the work to the research institutes under their auspices. The associated research institutes send their information and technology gaps back to SASTIND. There are two departments within SASTIND,responsible for developing and tasking technologically related intelligence requirements and for collecting intelligence against those requirements.They are the Comprehensive Planning Department and the International Cooperation Department. The Comprehensive Planning Department tasks collection to the MSS and most likely to the PLA Joint Intelligence Bureau. The International Cooperation Department has its own independent collection capability. Members of this department travel with China’s scientists to collect information against specific requirements.

Eftimiades reports that SASTIND also has direct supervision over seven universities as well as contracts more defense research with 55 additional universities. The seven universities have been dubbed the Seven Sons of National Defense. Some have been identified in US federal court documents as actively conducting espionage, working with the MSS to conduct espionage, or receiving stolen foreign research and technology. Many of these universities have high security research facilities that support classified technology development for the PLA and are on the US Department of Commerce Entities List for their research in support of Chinese defense entities involved in the theft of technologies. That list includes: Beijing Institute of Technology; Beijing University of Aeronautics and Astronautics; Beijing Engineering University; Harbin Engineering University; Harbin Institute of Technology; Northwestern Polytechnical Institution [University]; Nanjing University of Aeronautics and Astronautics; and, Nanjing University of Science and Technology. As of the monograph’s writing, over 35 Chinese universities (or professors from those universities) have been identified in US federal court documents as having some role in China’s overseas espionage cases, according to Eftimiades.

Eftimiades explains that the distribution of Chinese espionage cases worldwide illustrates the magnitude of Communist Party of China controlled businesses, research entities and business organizations involved in espionage activities. Providing superb graphs and charts for readers to examine while following along with his discussion, he shows that there is a near equal distribution of espionage activities between the four major organizational clusters (MSS, PLA, SOEs, and Private Companies). Eftimiades explains that the distribution indicates a concerted effort to use all mechanisms of government and the economy to collect foreign information and technology. To date, the Communist Party of China and the Chinese government have not taken steps to impede illegal activities (according to foreign countries laws) of their state corporations, private businesses, universities, and citizens. Eftimiades says China, referring to it once again as a “digital authoritarian state”, is clearly capable of doing so. He suggests that the Communist Party of China sees the appropriation of foreign innovations and technology as part of a policy aimed at developing domestic technology and increasing production.

In addition, his statistical breakdown of the 595 espionage cases illustrates that Chinese private companies have an aggressive posture in conducting espionage, resulting in 136 cases or approximately 23 percent of all activity worldwide. Similarly, SOEs were surreptitiously examining or collecting information or technology in 121 cases or 20 percent of the total. The SOEs are primarily collecting advanced military technology and associated research. Private companies and individuals primarily pursue commercial technologies, intellectual property and military technologies. Espionage activities conducted by the PLA Joint Intelligence Bureau give primacy to defense information, armaments, and military (or dual use) technology. The PLA was involved in 122 instances of espionage or 19 percent of all cases. Eftimiades reports that the MSS was involved in 95 instances of espionage or 16 percent of all cases. Preferred MSS targets included political or defense information, foreign policy, overseas dissidents, military capabilities, too, and foreign intelligence services. The final category of entities conducting espionage on behalf of China were Chinese universities and the UFWD. The universities generally targeted foreign technology to support advanced military weapons systems development and commercial endeavors.

Regarding the PLA Political Department Liaison Office, Eftimiades, in a markedly  unadorned way, explains that it is targeted against Taiwan. However, some confusion may befall those readers who perhaps may think of the Communist Party of China’s International Liaison Department when they come across the title, International Liaison Office. Among the pertinent facts, as part of Xi’s military reforms, in November 2015 the General Political Department of the Central Military Commission was abolished and was replaced with the Political Work Department. In January 2016, the Political Work Department became official. Its primary role as the chief political organ under the Central Military Commission is to integrate the Communist Party of China and its ideology and propaganda into the People’s Liberation Army. In that role, its responsibilities include: preparing political and economic information for the reference of the Political Bureau; conducting ideological and political work on foreign, particularly adversarial armed forces, by promoting China’s policies among their ranks, and disrupting unit cohesion within adversarial forces by withering their morale. It also has the duty to incite descension and rebellions particularly within the Taiwan army and other foreign armed forces. The Political Work Department’s Liaison Department controls a united front organization called the China Association for International Friendly Contact (CAIFC) that is active in overseas intelligence gathering and influence operations. Reportedly, the International Liaison Office has dispatched agents to infiltrate Chinese-funded companies and private institutions in Hong Kong. Their mission is also counter-espionage, monitoring their own agents, and preventing their recruitment of Chinese personnel by foreign intelligence services.

The International (Liaison) Department of the Communist Party of China is a very different organization. It stands as one of four key bodies of the Communist Party of China’s bureaucracy at the central level for building and exercising political influence outside the party, and especially beyond China’s borders. The other three include the UFWD, the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), the Propaganda Department. Founded in 1951, International (Liaison) Department is the party’s diplomatic arm, handling relationships with more than 600 political parties and organizations as well as individual, primarily political, elites. The department previously handled the Communist Party of China’s relationships between fraternal Communist parties and cultivated splinter factions of Moscow-dominated Communist parties after the Sino-Soviet split. The activist bent of the International Department disappeared as the department began re-establishing itself from 1970 to 1971 following the tumultuous early years of the Cultural Revolution. Indeed, in the 1970s, as Anne-Marie Brady explained in Making the Foreign Serve China: Managing Foreigners in the People’s Republic (Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2003), the International Liaison Department’s intelligence efforts often surpassed and even outmatched those of regular Chinese intelligence services. It became deeply involved in inciting and assisting international revolution by moving weapons, financial support, and other critical resources to numerous Communist and non-Communist insurgencies and guerrilla movements worldwide. Interestingly, the department originated as a UFWD bureau before being carved out into an independent entity.

You Quan (above), head of the Communust Party of China’s United Front Work Department (UFWD). You Quan was appointed United Front Work Department (UFWD) head on November 7, 2017. You directs the UFWD, assisted by seven deputy directors. The UFWD is divided into offices, bureaus, and subordinate units, that is to say, mass organizations. The nine numbered Bureaus each specialize in either a particular facet of united front work or a geographic location. While the Communist Party of China employs many means through which it seeks foreign intelligence, the UFWD is distinct from other organizations in its overt and benign appearance.

Although he mentions the UFWD, Eftimiades does not provide any discussion of the organization. For readers wholly unfamiliar with it, greatcharlie provides some small treatment here. As discussed in the October 19, 2020 greatcharlie post entitled, “The Case of a NYPD Officer Allegedly Engaged in Intelligence Activities for China Spotlights the United Front Work Department”, within China, the UFWD plays a vital policy development and coordination role, especially for ethnic and religious minorities. Outside of China, the UFWD has had a hand in developing political and business ties with overseas Chinese, bringing investment and research benefits, as well as helping the Communist Party of China shape foreign views of China. Xi has repeatedly emphasized the importance of the UFWD to China’s rejuvenation. United front work is the central element to understanding what the Communist Party of China is doing and why to shape the world outside of itself. In a June 9, 2020 Australian Strategic Policy Institute report, You Quan, the head of the UFWD, is quoted as saying: “The United Front is a political alliance, and united front work is political work. It must maintain the party’s leadership throughout, having the party’s flag as its flag, the party’s direction as its direction, and the party’s will as its will, uniting and gathering members of each part of the United Front around the party.” People’s Republic of China Chairman Mao Zedong described the purpose of this work as mobilizing the party’s friends to strike at the party’s enemies. In a more specific definition from a 1950s CIA paper, united front work was referred to as “a technique for controlling, mobilizing, and utilizing non-communist masses.” In other words, united front policy addresses the party’s relationship with and guidance of any social group outside the Party.

Perhaps from a publisher’s point of view and with some intimation of what would most interest the monograph’s readers in fields of business and finance, Eftimiades thought it most necessary to place emphasis upon the State Administration for Science, Technology, and Industry for National Defense (SASTIND) over all of the other PRC organizations engaged in espionage. The information presented on SASTIND, for instance, is assuredly not part of regular discourse on Chinese espionage. Eftimiades, in a rather sedate tone but still a quite edifying stream of consciousness, lays out what that government organization’s well-controlled work against the US and other highly industrialized countries worldwide and its stealthy and insidious nature.

It should be expected, and may actually be tacitly accepted by some intelligence analysts in the US and in the services of other highly industrialized countries, that among Chinese government organizations and commercial entities on the ground in the US engaged in espionage, there are understood defined areas of responsibility and much as the clear boundaries already set, and well-known, between PLA HUMINT targets and activities and those of its civilian counterpart, MSS, similar arrangements have been made to avoid unwittingly conducting redundant operations, accidental collision of officers and operatives in the field, and potential interservice competition and quarrels in pursuit of available sources for US secrets. A similar delineation between the MSS and Zhōnghuá Rénmín Gònghéguó Gōng’ānbùthe Ministry of Public Security of the People’s Republic of China (MPS), both a law enforcement and an intelligence and counterintelligence service. Harmony among organizations is doubtlessly desired and required in order for them to succeed and to avoid being caught.

Yet, with so many Chinese government organizations and commercial entities on the ground in the US engaged in espionage, theft, overt collection, hiring operatives, surveilling and studying the opposition, as a reality, on more than one instance an effort to collect a particular type of information might lead more than one organization, for example, one governmental and one commercial, to the same target. One might imagine how chaos could reign without some communication. Officers and operators, perhaps not even immediately aware of each others presence, might literally run into each other, occasionally tread on each other’s work, and might even step on each other’s toes now and then creating some disruption. Some general agreement between organizations and entities in the field would need to exist in order to ensure possible fruitful operations would not face “friendly” challenges and obstacles albeit unintentionally, and to ensure they are enabled to adhere to clearly delineated lanes of action for each organization. On the matter of security, one might imagine how much easier it would be to detect and intercept Chinese espionage operators from the different organizations if they all kept showing up at the same institution trying to contact, recruit, smooze, cajole the same people in them, or one institution were simply bombarded by attempts by individuals to inveigle their way into it with a similar focus on its research and development. Obviously Chinese espionage efforts have been far quieter, smoother, and more sophisticated in nature.

Perhaps the best way to what is discussed here is simply to state that there are likely furtive bridges across organizational lines and areas of responsibilities that allow managers on the ground and officers, old hands in the business who have mastered the job, engaged in intricate operations against similar targets to directly communicate, provide assistance, modest resources, and advice all designed to facilitate security and activities and promote success. It would be a form of unofficial, collegial, furtive modus vivendi established with the requirements for operational security firmly in mind and every imaginable precaution taken. In this section, Eftimiades briefly mentions that in at least two cases, there were actually joint MSS and PLA operations in which individuals inside an aerospace company were recruited as operatives to assist in targeting the company for cyber-attacks. The MSS is so segmented with its many state department’s and provincial bureaus, that the most effective aspect of any effort by the two organizations to work jointly must have occurred between managers in the field. Given the success each espionage element, government or otherwise, has found in the US, the Communist Party of China, which would indubitably be aware of such interorganizational contacts, would likely stay mum about it all but monitor it all the same. After all, Communist Party of China intelligence organs operating sub rosa in diplomatic missions and commercial entities or incognito wherever else, would conceivably benefit too from being tied into the clandestine communications among managers in the field imagined here.

Concerning another point that flows from this discussion, rather than lacking actual knowledge or even a good sense of where everyone was relative to each other among Chinese government organizations and commercial entities engaged in espionage in the US and not having an full account of who was on the ground and stand bereft of paths for the most senior network managers of each organization to liaise, potentially in some extraordinary emergency, in the abstract, surely one could conceive that there would be a least some tacit coordination among their senior leaders, perhaps back in China. Such information would at least be in PLA, MSS, and–as often ordinary Chinese citizens will usually be involved–MPS hands. MPS surely has the most complete, up-to-date records–are perhaps often pulled into the mix of overseas espionage activities to some small degree for that reason. That information would also most likely be in the hands of the Communist Party of China via MPS. In addition to performing standard domestic functions as a law enforcement and intelligence and counterintelligence service, MPS is very much tied to the Communist Party of China to the extent that it helps the Party maintain its tight grip on the population.

For the edification of greatcharlie’s readers who may be not so familiar PLA intelligence, as explained in the  January 31, 2021 greatcharlie post entitled Book Review: James M. Olson, To Catch a Spy: The Art of Counterintelligence (Georgetown University Press, 2019)”, the PLA’s human intelligence (HUMINT) operations are managed by the aforementioned Central Military Commission (CMC) Joint Staff Department, Intelligence Bureau. The previous breakdown of the PLA into intelligence departments has been eliminated. Oversight of the PLA’s technical intelligence capabilities (including cyber, signals, and imagery intelligence) resides with the new Strategic Support Force under the Central Military Commission. Thereby, the Second Department of the People’s Liberation Army (2PLA), responsible for human intelligence, the Third Department of the People’s Liberation Army (3PLA), something similar to the National Security Agency (NSA), responsible for cyber operations, and a Signals Intelligence, or a Fourth Department of the People’s Liberation Army (4PLA), responsible for electronic warfare are now aggregated into the Strategic Support Force. As with its sister civilian service, the MSS, and intelligence services worldwide, the PLA makes regular use of diplomatic, commercial, journalistic, and student covers for their operations in the US. It aggressively uses Chinese travelers to the US, especially business representatives, academics, scientists, students, and tourists, to supplement their intelligence collection.

Eftimiades explains that the State Administration for Science, Technology, and Industry for National Defense (SASTIND), which is housed under the State Council, manages military acquisition requirements for the Central Military Commission’s Equipment Department. Eftimiades reports that SASTIND has direct supervision over seven universities as well as contracts more defense research with 55 additional universities. The seven universities have been dubbed the Seven Sons of National Defense. On that list is Northwestern Polytechnical University of Xian, China, It is ranked number 1 in the discipline Aeronautical and Astronautical Science and Technology, known for producing some of the best brains in China’s defense industry.

Section 7: “Intelligence Collection Objectives”

As promised, greatcharlie has condensed the sections of Eftimiades monograph, providing important details, but it has not revealed everything. Yet, with such a relatively short text, there would naturally arise occasions when little option would appear available than present wholly what is provided in a particularly diminutive section, in order to provide the reader with a full understanding of the author’s thinking. That is the case with the “Intelligence Collection Objectives” section of the monograph. Under what has been whimsically dubbed as “spookspeak” by members of the intelligence industry some time ago, Collection Objectives, also known as Information Objectives or Requirements, identify the specific information or technology that is tasked to intelligence services for collection. Eftimiades stated that requirements can number in the tens-of-thousands, and explains that one can infer from requirements a country’s knowledge and technology gaps for they are a reflection of them. He provides as an example a country that has been continually pursuing information on specific components of turbine engines. The implications and indications for taking that course, says Eftimiades, are that the country most likely lacks the required information or technology on turbine engines for its planned purposes and espionage presents the only immediate way of acquiring it. Non solum eventus hoc docet, iste est magister stultorum, sed etiam ratio. (Not only does the outcome teach (us) this, that is the teacher of fools, but (so) too does reason.)

Regarding China, Eftimiades explains that its strategic collection objectives can be identified through a number of national level strategic planning documents. Listed earlier in the “Key Findings” section in the monograph, they are: Made in China 2025; Space Science and Technology in China; and, A Road Map to 2050, the National Key Technologies R&D Program, and the 13th Five Year Plan. Those national level strategic planning documents can be subdivided into specific technology development programs, are the following: the National Basic Research Program (973 Program); the National High-Tech Research and Development Program (863 Program); the National Key Technologies R&D Program; and, The National S&T Major Projects. Eftimiades offers a subset of those National S&T Major Projects which includes: Advanced Digital Control Machines and Fundamental Manufacturing Equipment; Breeding of New Variety of Transgenic Biology; Core Electronic Devices, High-end General Chips and Fundamental Software; Key New Drug Innovation; Large Scale Development of Oil and Gas Fields and Coal-bed Gas; Megascale Integrated Circuit Manufacturing Technologies; Next Generation of Broad Wireless Mobile Networks; Wastewater Control and  S&T Achievement Industrialization; National New Products Program; and, the National Soft Sciences Research Program. 

Eftimiades says that as one further breaks down the strategic technology objectives, a strong correlation to China’s espionage activity emerges. The Director of National Intelligence report, Foreign Economic Espionage in Cyberspace (2018) identified industries and private technologies that are frequent targets of foreign espionage. Eftimiades’ informs that an even closer correlation between China’s espionage efforts and national requirements can be made when comparing the 595 cases with the 19 key Technologies identified in the Communust Party of China strategic industrial planning documents Made in China 2025. These technology requirements were the primary objectives in the 435 cases. The fact that such a high proportion of espionage activities are correlated in Made in China 2025 Key technology list indicates the Communist Party of China’s role in guiding China’s global espionage effort.

Laying out points on this matter from his case analysis for all readers to understand, avec brio, Eftimiades states that China puts a strong emphasis on the collection of aerospace and aeronautical equipment. (116 cases). Approximately half of those collection activities are targeted against military aerospace technologies, related trade secrets, and intellectual property. The primary collectors are: the PLA Joint Staff Department Intelligence Bureau and private companies conducting export violations, and individuals, Eftimiades refers to as “Insider Threats”, working in foreign aerospace companies. He says the MSS is actively engaged in stealing foreign aerospace technology, too. Several of the 595 cases show the MSS utilizes both HUMINT and contract cyber hackers to collect foreign aerospace technology. In at least two cases, these were Joint operations recruiting individuals inside an aerospace company as operatives to assist in targeting it for cyber-attacks. Such collection efforts support PLA military aerospace programs and China’s commercial aviation sector. Going further, he states that a review of the 116 cases targeted at aerospace companies identified over 200 specific military and civilian technologies and trade secrets (stolen and attempted stolen). Among the many “Key Technologies” sought, were: Cryogenic pumps for space vehicles, valves, transfer lines, refrigeration equipment, space qualified radiation hardened circuits, components for the storage and use of liquid hydrogen, cryogenic coolers, Ka-band space communications, satellite/missile insulation blankets–germanium coated polyimide film, and multi octave traveling wave tubes used as amplifiers in satellite transponders. Major systems include: the Space Shuttle, Delta IV Rocket, F-15 Fighter, C-17 transport, F-22 Fighter, F-35 Fighter, B-1 Bomber, Ch46/47 Chinook, C-130 training equipment.

China’s Mars rover, the Zhurong (above) rolls off its lander, to begin a mission of seeking out geological discoveries. Was its development the result of espionage? Eftimiades states that China puts a strong emphasis on the collection of aerospace and aeronautical equipment. (116 cases). Approximately half of those collection activities are targeted against military aerospace technologies, related trade secrets, and intellectual property. The primary collectors are: the PLA Joint Staff Department Intelligence Bureau and private companies conducting export violations, and individuals, Eftimiades refers to as “Insider Threats”, working in foreign aerospace companies. He says the MSS is actively engaged in stealing foreign aerospace technology, too. Several of the 595 cases show the MSS utilizes both HUMINT and contract cyber hackers to collect foreign aerospace technology. In at least two cases, these were Joint operations recruiting individuals inside an aerospace company as operatives to assist in targeting it for cyber-attacks.

Another high priority collection target of Chinese espionage is information technology. Statistically speaking, China’s collection of information technology (113 cases) is second in numbers only to aerospace technology. China has placed strong emphasis on collecting information technology to include semiconductors and manufacturing technology. Eftimiades reports that in 2015, Beijing began allocating $50 billion dollars for the domestic development of advanced integrated chips. This action was initiated to ensure self-reliance after the US began restricting semiconductor sales to the Chinese company ZTE. ZTE was sanctioned for evading sanctions on Iran and North Korea respectively, and repeatedly lying to US Department of Commerce officials. The US subsequently lifted the order three months later when the company paid a $1 billion fine and agreed to reprimand its Board and cut their bonuses, which it never did. The Chinese company Huawei has been under similar export restrictions for evading restrictions on Iran and stealing US technology. Company personnel face charges of economic espionage or espionage in the US, Germany, and Poland. Eftimiades explains that China has not as yet developed the manufacturing technology to produce certain categories of advanced semiconductors, including radiation hardened chips. Such technology has as its core element, several methods of etching laser lithography chips at a nanoscale.

Key information technology related to China’s collection requirements include: microelectronics, microwave integrated circuits, microprocessors, circuit boards, crypto key devices, data and voice transmission systems, semiconductors, and trade secrets such as laser manufacturing techniques. Semiconductor manufacturing is a priority target for Chinese espionage as the US and several other nations still maintain a sizable lead over China in production capabilities. Additional priority targets for collection include biopharma and medical devices, automated machine tools and robotics, energy saving/new energy vehicles, and new materials development. Eftimiades informs that these are often distinct patterns of intelligence activity that correspond to each category of technology. For example, excluding China’s  cyber espionage campaigns, collection on biopharma and medical devices is limited to exploiting research programs (e.g., Thousand Talents Program) or economic espionage using company insiders. The three targets for this category are universities, research institutes, and pharmaceutical companies. Lastly, In the category of energy saving/new energy vehicles, Eftimiades states that most of the collection activity has been economic espionage employing insiders. The two targets for this collection effort have been companies and research laboratories. Eftimiades reveals that the majority of thefts of this technology have occurred through insider threats with cyber espionage as a secondary method.

To be succinct, in many fields, subject areas for analysis, facts are often misused and abused, but on intelligence, it can lead to great failures, and potential national disaster. Facts cannot be nailed down and used to support only what one wishes. To the contrary, facts should take the analysis toward what is authentic. From that judgments and plans must be based. Doing anything otherwise, especially while in pursuit of an opponent, is simply to procrastinate by entertaining oneself with errant deliberations. The opponent, no matter what one might choose to believe, does not procrastinate. As Eftimiades, himself, notes in the “Intelligence Collection Objectives” section of his own text, the Chinese know what they want and go after it at the time, in the way, and with the means they desire. Operatives complete their tasks and off secrets go–and oftentimes actual technologies as well–to China. That is one of the simple and more apparent keys to the opponent’s success.

China has shown little compunction over putting in full view at home, marketing, technologies, and making geopolitical moves that would be suggestive of the fact the information that allowed for those developments and actions was stolen from the US. It is almost as if the Communist Party of China encourages such actions to flaunt their country’s considerable bag of intelligence victories. Of course, government officials in Beijing will normally assert that there have been thefts and declare any evidence presented of such as circumstantial or outright lies.

Given just how much China has poached from the US has been revealed, even paraded in Beijing, one could reasonably conclude–and it is absolutely true–that China has run off with far more than a bale of information and data on classified defense and intelligence related projects, innovative commercial products, trade secrets, intellectual property, and classified foreign and defense policy documents. It is safe to say that an enormous amount is being collected. It might leave some to reasonably accept that a stratospheric level of espionage is being conducted by far greater numbers of intelligence officers and operatives and it has been ongoing.

Eftimiades provides a brilliant account of Chinese intelligence collection requirements. He supports his claims with superb charts. Some are practically signposts pointing to where the adversary is likely to show up next. Some are strong enough to serve as figurative beckoning fingers enticing along with whispered words, “Here they are.”

Eftimiades reports that in 2015, Beijing began allocating $50 billion dollars for the domestic development of advanced integrated chips. This action was initiated to ensure self-reliance after the US began restricting semiconductor sales to the Chinese company ZTE, now defunct. ZTE was sanctioned for evading sanctions on Iran and North Korea respectively, and repeatedly lying to US Department of Commerce officials. The US subsequently lifted the order three months later when the company paid a $1 billion fine and agreed to reprimand its Board and cut their bonuses, which it never did.

Section 8: “Analysis of Espionage Cases”

The dominant activities for China’s overseas espionage are espionage, economic espionage, and export administration regulation (dual use) violations, together comprising 60 percent of all activities. Taken as a whole, statistically speaking, illegal exports (theft of dual use and military technology) make up approximately 47 percent of China’s espionage activities abroad. Eftimiades divides the 595 espionage cases that he analyzed into the following categories: espionage; economic espionage as defined by ITAR, EAR, IEEPA; covert action; and, research violations. China’s illegal export of military and dual use technology, to include IEEPA, EAR, and ITAR violations and other export related violations in the US, comprise 43.7 percent (260) of all cases worldwide. Eftimiades says more than 80 percent of these cases occurred in the US. Reportedly, economic espionage which is mainly conducted by private companies or individuals, account for 25.98 percent (119 total) of cases). The category of “traditional espionage” stands at 22 percent (108 total) of worldwide activities. Eftimiades notes the figure of traditional espionage cases sits at 55 if Taiwan is separated out as a Chinese intelligence target. Of known cases, Taiwan is the single highest priority target for individual espionage.

On a chart provided by Eftimiades, one can observe the distribution of cases to the many venues of Chinese espionage in the US. The distribution pattern reveals concentrations occurring in tech sectors, manufacturing hubs and business centers. In California, “Silicon Valley” is shown to be the number one spot in the US for China’s illegal technology collection efforts. Apparently, more than half of the 140 cases that occurred in California targeted technology firms in that venue. Other cases centered around San Diego and then Los Angeles in the state. Further, collection activity in California was mainly economic espionage (51) cases), EAR violations (30 cases), ITAR violations (25 cases), and IEEPA violations (13 cases). In the economic espionage cases, the predominant form of tradecraft was using insiders (employees) to access restricted technology and trade secrets. Priority collection objectives in California were information technology (46 cases), aerospace and aeronautical equipment (27 cases), and automated machine tools and robotics (20 cases). Nationwide, China’s collection activities cluster around the major educational, research, and manufacturing centers in several states to include Massachusetts, Michigan, New York, Pennsylvania, Florida, New Jersey, and Texas. Victims of China’s espionage efforts in the US include major defense and aerospace companies, pharmaceutical firms, technology research companies, and manufacturers. In cases in Virginia and Florida, Chinese diplomats and citizens were caught trespassing on military facilities to conduct ground photo reconnaissance. Those facilities were associated with US Naval forces and special operations capabilities.

Multi cives aut ea pericula quae imminent non vident aut ea quae vident neglegunt. (Many citizens either do not see those dangers which are threatening or they ignore those that they do see.) Eftimiades notes that research universities are clearly primary targets for collection efforts, achieved most often through talent programs such as China’s Thousand Talents Program, Hundreds Talents Program. Eftimiades reports that most estimates suggest there are “at least 200 Chinese talent programs designed to employ academic and professional expertise from the West into serving China’s national development.” He continues further to explain: “This expertise ranges from scientific and engineering fields to business, finance, and social Sciences. These programs are serviced by 600 overseas stations that gather information on foreign scientists and then attempt to recruit them. In numerous cases, professors, graduate students, and PLA researchers have also been arrested for stealing research from overseas universities for use in China.”

Chinese intelligence services apparently studied the situation, and recognized just how open the US was for theft of its secrets in all sectors and then clearly decided to pour through, taking whatever they could. Surely, the Communist Party of China saw no need to halt commercial entities engaged in their own espionage activities, much as Eftimiades remarks earlier in the section entitled “PRC Organizations Conducting Espionage”. It appears they have seen nothing but opportunities to do a lot of open field running for them with little real risk. To date, it appears that they have all found no reason to pare down their operations, and certainly no reason to retreat. From Eftimiades own data, one can infer their espionage activities have steadily increased. Opinionis enim commenta delet dies, naturae judicia confirmat. (For time destroys the fictions of error and opinion, while it confirms the determination of nature and of truth.)

Though Eftimiades explains in his Preface that “cyber espionage is only addressed in select cases which were enabled by humans providing insider access. However, in discussing how exactly the FBI and DHS have thwarted Chinese espionage efforts later in his “Analysis of Cases” section, the discussion meanders into cases in which they discovered sources within China of cyberattacks into sensitive computer files of the US government, defense related businesses, financial institutions, high-tech and medical research facilities, academia, and anywhere else the hackers apparently believed there was a good opportunity to break-in and seize data. While Eftimiades expressed the intent to focus on HUMINT operations and tactics of Chinese government organizations and commercial entities engaged in espionage in the US, it would seem that he had little choice but to present it if he sought to put some positive face on what US counterintelligence services are doing to thwart China’s efforts. It is the brightest rift which can at present be seen in the clouds,

Readers may recall in Act 1, scene 3 of William Shakespeare’s play, The Life and Death of Julius Caesar, Cassius utters these apposite words to his co-conspirator Brutus: “The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars / But in ourselves, . . . .” With the intention of being frank, but by no means beastly, greatcharlie proffers that the fault for China’s success may lie with the US counterintelligence services themselves. It may be less a matter of tactics, techniques, procedures and methods, and rather a problem among US counterintelligence service personnel that the Chinese have recognized that they can exploit. As a matter of professional development, some effort might be made to ensure their cognitive abilities regularly honed through weekly, even daily, exercises and tests to strengthen their thinking skills, their prowess at uncovering all relevant facts, even from trifles, and developing solid insights from those facts, and their effective and correct use of a reliable intuition and intimation. Though this is stated in the abstract, one can almost be certain that the Chinese intelligence services to some degree are doing like-minded things to strengthen their intelligence officers competences. It could be something as simple as the private performance of Tai chi chuan or likely Martial Qigong every morning. (imaginably, both techniques would be performed respectively with a dynamic and free-flowing form and stances that would cause any instructor to weep with delight while observing ) Along with exercise, stretching, and breathing, it would allow their intelligence officers to mediate and attain deep focus and a relaxed state. Such activity would be helpful in any struggles with dépaysement.The Chinese intelligence services surely are quite determined to maintain an edge over their adversaries. So far, they have proved themselves to be competent and accomplished services in the field.

The Chinese company Huawei has been placed under similar export restrictions as ZTE had been, for evading restrictions on Iran and stealing US technology. Company personnel face charges of economic espionage or espionage in the US, Germany, and Poland. Eftimiades explains that China has not as yet developed the manufacturing technology to produce certain categories of advanced semiconductors, including radiation hardened chips. Such technology has as its core element, several methods of etching laser lithography chips at a nanoscale.

Section 9: “Analysis of Espionage Tradecraft”

As stated earlier, a condensed review of Section 9 “Analysis of Espionage Tradecraft” is not included here. The section is left to each reader to enjoy at first blush and perceive and decipher all they can from it. Recall that in November 1922, when excavating the tomb of Tutankamen, the English archeologist and Egyptologist, Howard Carter, pierced a hole enabling him to see inside the actual chamber. He was asked by colleagues if he could see anything, and he simply replied: “Yes! Wonderful things!” Readers will say the same when they read this section.

Having stated that, greatcharlie nevertheless includes some commentary on section, compelled by Eftimiades to mention that among those committing acts of espionage for China are commercial entities, SOEs and private companies, academic institutions, and independent individuals, particularly entrepreneurs. Eftimiades explains that SOEs and commercial entities have been determined to engage in espionage in the US and elsewhere outside of China. Having dubbed them as entities engaged in espionage, they are examined as such and ascribe all of the qualities of an intelligence service. Thereby, one would expect to observe certain traits of an intelligence service such as tradecraft to be performed by their representatives while operating in the field. Yet, unless there is some information collected by US Intelligence Community–and that would unbeknownst to greatcharlie–stating those entities as well as individual business engaged in similar acts, view themselves to be intelligence services or espionage organizations, one may not see them regularly act as such.If they display any tactics, techniques, or methods that resemble tradecraft it should be viewed as exceptional and not an expectation. Imaginably, they, themselves, might be quite surprised anyone might refer to them as espionage organizations. They simply may view themselves as a “collective” Chinese citizens working in the US availing their home companies and country of technologies, hardware, documents or whatever else they might grab from US institutions that may employ them as the opportunities present themselves. To that extent, they may really be nothing more than somewhat organized rings of thieves, nothing more. As for these individuals showing such willingness to respond to the requests and demands of the Chinese intelligence services or other State Council bureaucracies as SASTIND, too much might be made of the fact that they are obedient to the commands and demands of their authoritarian and very often punitive, government. After all, in addition to their own lives, everything that they hold dear, their families, are in the hands and under the awful power of an authoritarian–some might say totalitarian–Communist government in Beijing.

Of course, one must be open-minded. Thus, the door should not be shut completely on the possibility of some deliberate design in the practices of such commercial entities and individuals with regard to their espionage. Note that overall, their practices are not chaotic or haphazard, but rather they are grounded and for the most part accomplished. Aliquis latet error. (Some trickery lies hidden.)

In the abstract, one could imagine their movements and interactions of individuals operating for commercial entities may be intentionally stochastic. Indeed, if the activity is genuine espionage and not simply criminal behavior what greatcharlie supposes should really draw the attention of US counterintelligence is not as much whether it meets a certain expected standard of tactics, techniques, procedures and methods. What should draw that attention is the appearance of control, orchestration, and forceful activity, and that something intense is happening. Something is intended and is being achieved. The fact that there is a professional side to all of that activit