Book Review: Markus Wolf, Man without a Face: The Autobiography of Communism’s Greatest Spymaster (Times Books, 1997)

On March 30, 2019, Chinese national Yujing Zhang (above) was twice caught slipping into US President Donald Trump’s Florida residence, Mar-a-Lago.  When caught the second time, found on her were two passports, four cell phones, one laptop, an external hard drive, and a thumb drive. While detained and at trial, Zhang sought to confuse authorities as to her purpose. Creating doubt to elude suspicion as to their purpose was a tactic used by a legion of deep cover spies the chief of German Democratic Republic’s foreign intelligence service, Markus Wolf, unleashed into the West during the Cold War. His spies penetrated key political offices, government agencies, business concerns and more. In 1997, Wolf published Man without a Face, revealing intriguing facts on his 35 year intelligence effort against the West.

Markus Johannes Wolf, the author of Man without a Face, was senior government official of the erstwhile Deutsch Demokratische Republik (German Democratic Republic) or GDR. The GDR was created as a self-described Socialist workers’ and peasants’ state and a satellite state of the Soviet Union on October 7, 1949 and eventually reunified with the Federal Republic of Germany (West Germany) on October 3, 1990. Wolf worked for nearly four decades in the GDR’s Ministerium für Staatssicherheit (The Ministry for State Security) or MfS. MfS was also known as the Staatssicherheitsdienst (State Security Service) or SSD. However, it was universally referred to as the Stasi. The Stasi was not just another repressive security service of an Eastern Bloc government. The Stasi has been evaluated as the most effective and repressive intelligence and secret police agency ever to have existed. In a similar way, Wolf was not some ordinary senior bureaucrat in the Stasi. As chief of the GDR’s foreign intelligence service Hauptverwaltung Aufklärung (the Main Directorate for Reconnaissance), commonly referred to as the HVA, for many he embodied the frightening efficiency and domineering power of the Stasi and the overarching freedom crushing nature of GDR Communist system. Even more, Wolf held a unique reputation not only in the GDR, but everywhere else in the Eastern Bloc, during the shadowy intelligence struggle with the West. In Man without a Face, the reader learns exactly who he was and what his job was all about.

Markus Wolf (above). Those who knew Wolf universally described him as strikingly handsome and endowed with great charm. Possessing a tall, athletic build, he was quite the opposite in appearance and demeanor to the common Western image of a Communist security official as a sedentary, somewhat overweight, granite faced apparatchik with the will to enforce Socialist ideals with an iron fist. Although a devout Communist, he admitted a fondness for well-cut suits, elegant diplomatic gatherings, and music. One can discern from the text of Man without a Face that Wolf was a cultured man and possessed scholarly intellect.

The Author

Born on January 19, 1923, Wolf lived a very extraordinary life until age 83, passing on November 9, 2006. His memoir serves as a testament to that. Those who knew Wolf universally described him as strikingly handsome and endowed with great charm. Possessing a tall, athletic build, he was quite the opposite in appearance and demeanor to the common Western image of a Communist security official as a sedentary, somewhat overweight, granite faced apparatchik with the will to enforce Socialist ideals with an iron fist. Although a devout Communist, he admitted a fondness for well-cut suits, elegant diplomatic gatherings, and music. Indeed, one can discern from the text of Man without a Face that Wolf was a cultured man and possessed scholarly intellect. University educated as an aeronautical engineer, his main employment experiences were as a propagandist, journalist, diplomat, intelligence analyst, and spymaster. Reportedly, Wolf possessed an understanding and empathy for others. How that manifested itself with regard to the suffering of the people of the GDR remains an issue if some controversy.  An almost universal criticism of Wolf concerned his political quietism in the response to the hardline approaches of GDR regime and his willingness served as a vital part of a government machine that would crush the souls of its own citizens. Yet, with regard to his work, those sensibilities allowed him to display a personal warmth and concern for his chers collégues. Those assigned to Wolf’s HVA, with the exception of those few who defected during the early years, were unshakable in their loyalty to him and a certain esprit developed within their number. In his efforts  to manipulate and exploit adversaries via the HVA, his particular interpersonal gifts proved useful. It has been posited that many double agents recruited from West felt somewhat comfortable turning to Wolf’s side as he had acquired a reputation for being a very capable spymaster with whom, oddly enough, they could feel secure.

In terms of how he comported himself, Wolf recognized both in his work and in his personal life, the importance of patience, nuance, open mindedness, and the full exploitation of information available. Away from official meetings and formal functions in the GDR or in the Soviet Union, Wolf lived a life in relative obscurity, brilliantly concealing his presence and the footprint of his organization as both operated against the West. Interestingly enough, the memoir’s title, Man without a Face, was a direct reference to the fact that at one point, Western intelligence services only had a blurred photograph of Wolf while he attended the Nuremberg Trials from which elements within the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) managed to identify him in 1959. Unable to collect an up-to-date photograph from which to identify Wolf, for a long-time he was referred to among Western intelligence services as the “man without a face.” As the story goes, only after a GDR defector, Werner Stiller, identified Wolf in a photograph in 1979 for the counterintelligence element of West Germany’s Bundesamt für Verfassungsschutz (Office for the Protection of the Constitution) did that change. The photograph of Wolf was captured by Säpo, Sweden’s National Security Service, during a visit he made with his wife to Stockholm in 1978. Within the Stasi and GDR government as a whole, the HVA would garner considerable power and influence. From its beginnings on a shoestring budget that left Wolf urging his government superiors for more resources, the HVA eventually had a hard currency budget of 10 million Deutschmarks a year. By the mid-1980s, only the KGB exceeded the HVA in manpower among the Eastern Bloc foreign intelligence services. At the same time, Wolf’s HVA was a prime source of intelligence for the KGB. Wolf would explain that his organization’s greatest contribution was helping to maintain peace between East and West by reducing the element of surprise with the information his spies collected.

Wolf did not follow the times with regard to intelligence tactics, techniques, procedures, and methods. He consciously stayed a step ahead of them. His operations enjoyed a level of security that intelligence services today have good reason to envy. Toward the end of his reign at the foreign intelligence service, Wolf excited further interest in the West when he backed the glasnost and perestroika policies of the Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev. Wolf explains in Man without a Face that he was planning to retire at the rank of Generaloberst (Colonel General) in 1985. There were alternative explanations for his retirement accepted in the West. It was said that Wolf retired at in 1986 “owing to serious health problems.” There was also the belief that Wolf was forced into retirement, strangely enough, when GDR officials learned that he had decided to divorce his second wife, Christa Heinrich, and marry his mistress Andrea Stingl. After unification, Wolf was convicted of treason by the Federal Republic government and sentenced to six years imprisonment. After an appeal, the charge and sentence were dropped on the basis that he had only been acting as a loyal government servant for the GDR, his erstwhile country.

Through Man without a Face, the reader is provided with the opportunity to discover how a master craftsman performed his work in his own words. In its review of Man without a Face, greatcharlie explores what sort of individual becomes Wolf, what the earliest years of Wolf’s odyssey informs the reader of the man, and what one can learn about his thinking process from what he provides in the text. To the extent that Man without a Face might interest those flirting with Socialism in the West today, the review calls attention to Wolf’s history as a defender of Socialism and the Communist Movement and his ultimate disillusionment and disappointment with the GDR government.

Previous Reviews of Man without a Face

Surely for those thrilled by spy novels, there was enough provided by the great spymaster to allow them to live vicariously through his anecdotes. Among the 365 page book’s 17 chapters are alluring titles such as: “Spying for Love”; “The Chancellor’s Shadow”; “The Poison of Betrayal”; “Active Measures”; and, “Enemy Territory ”. In his October 30, 1997 review for the London Review of Books, David Blackburn remarked: “Espionage junkies will enjoy bits of tradecraft scattered through the book: dead-ender drops, fullbacks, couriers, phoney brothels, false bottomed deodorant bottles left in the lavatory cistern of the night train.” However, at the time of its publication in 1997, hopes generally ran high that Man without a Face might also reveal much about the inner workings of a man such Wolf. To their chagrin, Wolf, with the assistance of Anne McElvoy (then a newspaper editor and columnist from the United Kingdom), did not write Man without a Face in a way to make the inner Wolf easily accessible. As a result, many previous reviewers expressed disappointment, feeling unfulfilled, after reading Man without a Face. The intelligence scholar and author, David Wise, in his July 13, 1997 review in the New York Times, explained: “Throughout his account, Wolf has a great deal of difficulty coming to terms with his own actions, and with the Stasi’s Orwellian, police-state methods and its murky operations. He defends his own role by drawing a distinction between his foreign intelligence service and the Stasi branch that acted as East Germany’s own Gestapo. But the lines were often blurred.” In the November/December 1997 edition of Foreign Affairs, Eliot Cohen stated more forcefully: “Wolf’s selective memory, continual attempts at self-exculpation, and specious resort to the argument that the West behaved as badly as the communists are neither convincing nor appetizing.” Some actually expressed anger over the fact the Wolf did not present an absolute “tell all” about life in the Stasi. The remuneration for publishing the memoir would hardly be enough to stimulate Wolf to open the kimono and unload a trove of furtive information which he had held tightly for years. (In the Independent on September 15, 1996, Leslie Colitt revealed in a synopsis of his book on Wolf entitled Spymaster, that Wolf was preempted with a contract to produce three books for more than $400,000.) In a July 17, 1997 review of Man without a Face in the Economist, it was stated: “Readers with the stamina to compare the English and German versions of Mr Wolf’s tome are likely to be struck by two things. One is how much the accounts vary, not just in substance (a lot more in English, for instance, about how East Germany gave succour to fleeing West German terrorists) but also in tone. Which reveals the true Mr Wolf? A silly question really. The other thing of note is how few of Mr Wolf’s revelations are new. Is that because he has nothing much new to say; or is he keeping in reserve some potentially explosive material about treachery practised by some of the good and the great in the West? Just as insurance, of course, against any western pressure. You can’t be too careful.”

Those who may have had only a passing or no interest in what the High Priest of the GDR intelligence service had to say, but familiar enough with the GDR, might have reasonably presupposed before reading the book that they would come across nothing more than a complete whitewash of the activities of the country’s security apparatus, the intelligence service specifically, and the afflictions and wounds of a society that was crushed under the heel of the government’s figurative iron boot. Gilbert Taylor of The American Library Association’s Book List Magazine stated in a May 15, 1997 review: “Wolf still believes in communism, even oddly describing a “semimystical aspect” to his memories about Stalin, whom he once met and regarded as a demigod. If he still holds onto his political dreams, Wolf is too worldly not to criticize (mildly) its failures; although in the spy game, rather than question the communist enterprise, he applied his worldliness to the exploitation of human nature. In that, at least, he was very good.”

Looking at Man without a Face today, knowing fully who Wolf was and void of Cold War bias, it appears that such critical assessments were off-base from the get-go. To be honest, anyone knowing much about Wolf might agree that writing Man without a Face in such an unimaginative, predictable way would be un peu trop classique pour son style et à ses goût. It may very well be that Wolf assessed that for those who may excavate through the book and thoroughly consider points of exposition concerning both himself and activities in which he was engaged, his work would be substantially edifying. To that extent, criticisms that insist Man without a Face is lacking, in the humble judgment of greatcharlie, are wrong. Through Man without a Face, the reader is provided with the opportunity to discover how a master craftsman performed his work in his own words. In its review of Man without a Face, greatcharlie explores what sort of individual becomes Wolf, what the earliest years of Wolf’s odyssey informs the reader of the man, and what one can learn about his thinking process from what he provides in the text. To the extent that Man without a Face might interest those flirting with Socialism in the West today, the review calls attention to Wolf’s history as a defender of Socialism and the Communist Movement and his disillusionment and disappointment with the GDR government.

The symbol of the German Democratic Republic’s Staatssicherheitsdienst (State Security Service), referred to universally as the Stasi (above). The Eastern Zone of Allied Occupied Germany after World War II eventually became the GDR in 1949. The Communist leaders of the new country would lie about or deny realities about what was occuring in their society. Control of the population was aided by the government’s insistence that the people keep a watchful over threats to the new system. It was understood that the reactionary, the counterrevolutionary posed an internal threat and had to be destroyed. In the performance of that mission, the Stasi earned a reputation for being the odious, oppressive instrument of the authoritarian regime.

For Those Unfamiliar with the Defunct GDR

Given the reality of the monstrous treatment that the people of the GDR received from their government, it would be reasonable to expect most of its former citizens to have an emotional response to Wolf’s book. Man without a Face could only have been prejudged as a distorted chronicle of the GDR’s governance as observed from the warped lens of a man who was among the masters of the nightmare in which the people lived. To many of them, it was also very likely thought to be one more occasion in which the moribund GDR regime sought to reach out from the grave to fire a parting shot in defense of Communist hypocrisy. For those too young to be sufficiently aware of the history of the long since gone GDR, one must go back to the end of World War II, during which the Soviet Union held in its tight grip the Eastern Zone of the four zones of Allied Occupied Germany and East Berlin. Three countries, the US, United Kingdom, and France, had control over what was the more well-heeled Western Zone and West Berlin. In the Eastern Zone and East Berlin, the Soviets took responsibility for the reconstruction of cities, towns, and villages destroyed by Allied bombers or its own advancing forces, building countless new residences for German refugees and displaced persons. There were massive infrastructure projects and governing bodies at the national, provincial, and local level. Yet, the Soviets also worked behind the scenes to establish a puppet government in Eastern Zone of Allied Occupied Germany set in East Berlin that would serve as an extension of Moscow’s rule. That government would have the initial outward appearance of being democratic but in reality was not. Local Communists were gathered into a coalition party then handed power after rigged elections. All political parties, other than the Communist Party, were dissolved. The Eastern Zone of Allied Occupied Germany eventually became the GDR in 1949. The leaders of the new country would lie about or deny realities about what was occuring in their society. Control of the population in the burgeoning Communist government was aided by its insistence that the people keep a watchful over threats to the new system. It was understood that the reactionary, the counterrevolutionary, most often “hiding in the shadows,” posed the greatest threat and was viewed as anathema.

Ostensibly, the response had to be strong enough to match “the severity of the disease”. It was in the performance of that mission that the Stasi earned a reputation for being the horrifically oppressive instrument of the authoritarian regime. The Stasi interfered in the interactions and relationships between citizens, ordered citizens to spy on their fellow citizens, demanded that they betray one another, regularly performed intrusive and demeaning searches of citizens’ person, homes, and workplaces. There were arrests of many innocent citizens, accompanied by abusive and endless interrogations. Untold numbers of GDR citizens were sentenced by kangaroo courts to lengthy imprisonments in dark and dank gaols. There was also the Stasi technique of psychological harassment of perceived enemies known as Zersetzung, a term borrowed from chemistry which literally means “decomposition”, but involved the disruption of the victim’s private or family life. Zersetzung was designed to side-track and “switch off” perceived enemies so that they would lose the will to continue any “inappropriate” activities. For those unfamiliar with the technique, it would likely be hard to imagine just how abominable cruel it was. Any foreigners which had contact with GDR citizens, or any visiting foreigners visiting the GDR were tracked by the Stasi. Essentially all of it was documented as a result of the GDR government’s neurotic practice of endless record keeping on everyone and everything. Records showed that the Stasi had over 90,000 employees and used well over 170,000 Inoffizielle Mitarbeiter or informants. The people of the GDR lived in an environment of fear created by their government. Michel de Montaigne, the 16th century French-Occitan philosopher stated: “A man who fears suffering is already suffering from what he fears.”

The society that would develop in the GDR, with its repressive, authoritarian underpinnings, could best be called a human tragedy. The terms austereness, sternness, dourness, grimness, sombreness, unfriendliness, and coldness all fittingly describe its tenor. The strictures of its laws amplified the government’s intention to limit freedom, experiment with social engineering, promote collective conscientiousness, reject individualism, and demand a conformist posture of all citizens at all times. Yet, from the moment the GDR government subjected the German people to terror and horrific brutality through the State security apparatus, it condemned his country to a form of arrestment and its people to soul crushing heartache and despair, and that situation stood until the fall of the Berlin Wall. Germany finally came into port after a rough sea.

Leben heißt nicht zu warten, bis der Sturm vorbeizieht, sondern lernen, im Regen zu tanzen. (Life is not about waiting for the storm to pass, but about learning to dance in the rain.) For the sake of providing a balanced perspective of GDR life, one could still say that most East Germans did not live in misery every minute of every day. Basic needs and services were provided to the people by the government to the extent possible. That allowed for some degree of satisfaction. Citizens of the GDR, as Germans, had a long storied history. They also had a rich culture to which they could adhere. By enjoying German traditions that had not been co-opted by the Communists, they could find some authentic satisfaction, joy, and happiness. Pleasant aspects of life in the GDR may have been things such as good times had among family, friends and colleagues (albeit, they may have been surveilling each other for the Stasi.) Luckily, that whole era is dead. (One can visit the Stasi Museum Berlin located in House 1 on the former grounds of the headquarters of the GDR Ministry for State Security and ”Runde Ecke” Memorial Museum and the Stasi Bunker Museum located at Dittrichring 24 in Leipzig, Germany to discover the actual horrors that the Stasi unleashed upon GDR citizens and how it all worked.)

Looking back, relatively widely-held notions from the past of a new world order based on Communism seem barky, but that certainly was once promoted as a philosophy that offered a better life for all. As decades have passed since the end of the Cold War, marked with the collapse of the Soviet Union, a new line of thinking would emerge on the erstwhile geopolitical struggle between East and West and all of the people and events associated with it. Unimaginable a few decades ago, today certain impulses in support of Socialism, apparently untutored by anyone truly knowledgeable on the matter, has manifested itself very publicly on the US political scene. For some, it may be invigorating to read through and adhere to sterilized tenets of Socialism discussed in the abstract in texts of scholars and academics. However, such studies are certainly isolated from the realities endured by earlier generations in the Eastern Europe. Those excited by Socialism today are actually attracted to the best possibilities of a pastiche of the political and economic theory. Their thoughts manifest the vanity of the mind. They need to know the real history of people who suffered under that system.

Konrad Wolf (left), Markus Wolf (center) Friedrich Wolf (right). From Wolf’s account of his childhood in Man without a Face, there is no way to know whether it was a happy one. What is presented on that aspect of his life in the book is a complex story with a lot of backstory. Wolf’s father, Fredrich Wolf, was a prominent physician, well-known playwrite, pro-abortion advocate, and devout, active Communist. His mother, Else Wolf, was a teacher and also a staunch Communist. Wolf’s only sibling was a brother, Konrad Wolf, who was two years younger.

Excavating Wolf’s Inner Workings

Wolf was born on January 19, 1923 in Hechingen, Germany. From the account of his childhood in Man without a Face, there is no way to determine whether it was a happy one. What is presented on that aspect of his life from Chapter 3 is a complex story with a lot of backstory. Wolf’s father, Fredrich Wolf, was a prominent physician, well-known playwrite, and pro-abortion advocate. He rejected Orthodox Judaism to become a devout and active member of the Kommunistische Partei Deutschlands (Communist Party of Germany). Among the plays his father wrote was “Professor Mamaluke,” which dealt with the oppression of Jews in Germany.  His mother, Else Wolf, was a teacher and also a staunch Communist. Wolf described her as follows: “My mother was quiet and gentle but a person of great courage, whether undergoing the Nazis’ rough house searches or those of the secret police in Stalin’s Russia.” He also stressed: “It was our mother who raised us during our father’s long romantic or political absences.” Wolf’s only sibling was a brother, Konrad Wolf, who was two years younger. Konrad would later become a film director. Wolf affectionately mentions him by his nickname “Koni” at various points in the book. The Wolf family lived comfortably in a large Bauhaus-designed home in Stuttgart. As both of his parents were Communist, Wolf says in Chapter 2 that from them he “came to perceive Stalin as as a wise and distant figure, like the benevolent magician in the fairy tales.” From his father specifically, he received considerable tutorial on Communist Movement as well as naturism. Wolf and his brother would become members of the Communist youth organization, Young Pioneers. However, as Adolf Hitler and the Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei (National Socialist German Workers’ Party better known as Nazis (Ehrlich! Hitler was a self-styled Socialist!)) took control of Germany, Wolf’s family would eventually rush to resettle in the Soviet Union in 1933.

Readers learn from Chapter 3 that during their exile in Moscow, Wolf’s family lived in a cramped apartment. Wolf adapted well to his new environment, acquired the local slang. He acquired the nickname, “Mischa”. As for his education, Wolf first attended the German Karl Liebknecht School and later a Russian school. Having been primed by his father’s teachings and his experience in the Young Pioneers, Wolf was immediately subsumed by Communism in school. There, Wolf’s understanding of all arguments in favor of the movement and the system were topped off. The beliefs he acquired then likely stood unaltered from that time onward. Any misgivings that he may have had were shucked off. He professed to all his fierce loyalty to Soviet Premier Josef Stalin. Interestingly enough, the Wolf’s family was present in the Soviet Union at the time of Stalin’s Purges, but it did not affect them directly, although Wolf indicates in the book that he was aware of what was happening. In 1936, at the age of 13, Wolf obtained Soviet identity documents. The Communist Party became aware of his attitudes and attributes and while a student selected him to be a member of the nomenklatura, the high ranking management of the apparat, the Communist Party or government bureaucracy. In his youth, Wolf could hardly discern that the virtues, that his political mentors asserted the system had, were never practiced fruitfully anywhere in which the Communist Movement took root. Having that new attachment to Communism and the Communist Party was crucial at that point because in 1938, his father, central to his life to that point, had a reduced presence. Very telling of his father’s mentality toward family, in 1938 Wolf’s father made his way to Spain to work as a doctor in the International Brigades. However, he was arrested in France and interned in the concentration camp at Le Vernet. In 1941, he gained Soviet citizenship and returned to Moscow where he became a member of Nationalkomitee Freies Deutschland (National Committee for a Free Germany), an anti-Nazi, paramilitary organization formed in 1943. He had affairs with other women, producing what Wolf called a “small brood of children.”

Wolf insists that despite his absences, his father remained the strongest political influence on his life. Whenever he was away, he would send letters “full of advice of how to be correct and honorable socialists and human beings.” Perhaps his departure was also made less disruptive by the fact that by that as Wolf grew older, he came to terms with his own life. In fact, Wolf apparently did not go through a vulnerable age, perhaps because did not really have the opportunity to do so. Indeed, Wolf never gave the indication at any point in the book that he was an uncomfortable person. Still, there is the possibility that lack of  permanence in his family relationships due to his father’s competing dedication to the Communist Party had a significant impact in another way. What he may have acquired from observing and internalizing his father behavior may very well have been how individuals can weave themselves into the lives of others and untangle themselves to find a way out and how natural it all can be. (Wolf’s father, by the end of World War II was thoroughly off on his own. He was in the Eastern Zone of the Allied Occupation, where Wolf would also arrive, active in literary and cultural-political issues. From 1949 to 1951 he was the first ambassador of East Germany to Poland. He died in his personal office in Lehnitz in 1953.)

Wolf would enter the Moscow Institute of Airplane Engineering (Moscow Aviation Institute) in 1940. The school was evacuated to Alma Ata, Kazakhstan after Nazi Germany’s  attack on the Soviet Union. Wolf and his mother and brother arrived there on the Writers’ Union train. While there, he was told to join the Comintern, where he and others were prepared for undercover work behind enemy lines. He would ultimately be assigned as a newsreader for German People’s Radio after dissolution of Comintern from 1943 until 1945. Contact with the Communist Party in Germany and a life lived early enough within the authoritarian Soviet Union very likely enabled Wolf to better understand and accept personal and group interactions under the control of others and learn or attain by unconscious assimilation the level of caution required to survive and thrive rather than bother considering notions of freedom of choice and the exercise of free will.

Wolf the journalist (above). In his first position in the Eastern Zone of the Allied Occupation, Wolf directed Berlin Radio in the Soviet Zone of occupation and worked as a journalist. He was among the journalists from the East who observed the entire Nuremberg Trials against the principal Nazi leaders. From 1949 and 1951, Wolf worked at the GDR Embassy in the Soviet Union, but even more importantly in 1951, he also joined the Stasi. He was assigned to its nascent foreign intelligence service. Although Wolf  presents that moment  as a simple anecdote among others, it is actually an inflection point in his life.

Inflection Point: Wolf’s Start in the World of Intelligence

In Chapter 3, readers discover that Wolf, in 1945, just married to Emmi Stenzer the year before and only 22 years old, was sent to postwar Berlin with the Ulbricht Group, led by one of the founding members of the Weimar era Communist Party of Germany, Walter Ulbricht. During the Nazi regime in Germany, Ulbricht lived in exile in France and in the Soviet Union  Although Wolf was actually coming home, the most formative part of his youth was rooted in the Soviet Union. Under such circumstances, even though German, he felt that he was being transplanted into a foreign land. As he states in Chapter 3, Germany was his “Heimat” (heartland) but he felt “a pang of homesickness” for Moscow.

Die Qual der Wahl haben. (To be spoiled for choice.) In his first position in the Eastern Zone of the Allied Occupation, Wolf directed Berlin Radio in the Soviet Zone of occupation and worked as a journalist. He was among the journalists from the East who observed the entire Nuremberg Trials against the principal Nazi leaders. From 1949 and 1951, Wolf worked at the GDR Embassy in the Soviet Union, but even more importantly in 1951, he also joined the Stasi. He was assigned to its nascent foreign intelligence service, operating as the Institut für Wirtschaftswissenschaftliche Forschung (Institute for Economic Research) under Anton Ackermann. Although Wolf presented that job change as a simple anecdote among others, it was the inflection point of his life. He joined a small cell alongside young Stasi officials as himself. Although Ackermann was the chief of the Institute for Economic Research, it was guided under the stewardship of Ulbricht. Ulbricht was already in control of the GDR, and remained so from 1950 to 1971, as the First Secretary of the Sozialistische Einheitspartei Deutschlands (Socialist Unity Party of Germany). Wolf made it clear that he was not exactly a fan of Ulbricht. In describing the GDR’s chief decision maker, Wolf stated that he was hard-line, ruthless, authoritarian, pig-headed and heavy-handed. Displaying a bit of patrician aesthetic, Wolf added that Ulbricht, who was from Leipzig, spoke with a “provincial Saxon accent.” Ulbricht’s continuous purges of senior leaders was a sign of his insecurity and unsteady leadership. (In addition to being First Secretary of the Socialist Unity Party of Germany, Ulbricht took on the role as GDR head of state from 1960 until his death in 1973. From 1971 to 1973, he only held the title of Honorary Chairman of the Socialist Unity Party, being succeeded in the actual position in 1971 by Erich Honecker, who ruled in the GDR until German Unification in 1989.)

Wolf’s first assignment in the foreign intelligence service was to serve as the deputy to the chief of analysis, Robert Korb. Korb had already worked with Wolf at Radio Moscow. Wolf’s work alongside of Korb did much to elevate his professional capabilities in foreign intelligence work. Wolf described how important Korb was to his development in Chapter 3. He stated: “Korb had profound political knowledge and an enormous command of facts and breadth of learning. I learned a great deal from him about things that had nothing to do with our work, such as Islam, the complicated background of Israel, and the religious conflicts of the Indian subcontinent. He was a brilliant analyst who taught me to regard field reports with skepticism, and we soon came to conclusion that a careful reading of the press could often produce results far superior to secret reports of agents, and that our own analysts should draw independent conclusions from diverse sources in order to evaluate raw intelligence material. This insight has remained with me ever since.” (Using the news media as an overt source of intelligence is not as feasible today as it was in Wolf’s time. The mainstream news media rarely acts as an unbiased, balanced reporter of events. The misguided extrapolation of information from news media sources is a subject that greatcharlie has dedicated considerable discussion.) Engaging in diligent, granular analysis as he learned at Korb’s side was undoubtedly beneficial to Wolf in his interactions with Ulbricht. Ulbricht was a longtime Communist Party operative, savvy about political intrigue. Once in the thick of things as head of the GDR, he apparently kept his head on a swivel so to speak, keeping everyone on edge, wary of his designs. Wolf’s well-managed interactions with Ulbricht may have resulted in part with Wolf becoming integral in the founding the HVA in 1953.

Starting out, Wolf’s HVA was certainly a weak child among the more mature and experienced Western and Eastern intelligence services. Reportedly as many as 80 intelligence services operated on the beat in postwar Berlin. Under its chief at the time, Ackermann, the HVA encountered a number of setbacks at the hands of the Western foreign intelligence services which were up and running well after World War II. There were great concerns regarding loyalties of GDR agents, the viability of networks, the ties to the intelligence service of the Communist Party of Germany. It was discovered through the Stasi’s arrest of an agent codenamed Merkur on the charge of being a double agent, that far more was known about the GDR spy networks outside of headquarters than any at HVA would have hoped. To better understand the situation, Wolf, then deputy chief of analysis, drew a diagram of the connections and choose connections among the existing intelligence networks, which began to look like a huge web. He attributed his capability to map out such fine details of the spy network to his training as an aeronautical engineer. He described his effort as follows: “On the diagram I connected all of the couriers, safe houses,  and the like. I colored suspected double agents red, sources blue, and residents green. The lines and boxes also identified personal and professional relationships. Special symbols marked suspicious circumstances or suspected contacts to opposing services. To the uninitiated, the diagram would have meant nothing, but to my eyes, it began to take on a clear outline indicating possibilities for expanding and deepening our work. It was also a clear picture of how deeply this service had been penetrated from the outside.” The conclusion for action that Wolf reached was rather prodigious. Recognizing that Western secret services could easily liquidate the whole network if they wanted to do so, Wolf decided to liquidate the network himself, and abandon all HVA contacts with Communists in West Germany. Ulbricht approved the decision. In 1952, the HVA recalled all of its agents, and even the most loyal Communists were placed in isolation under a sort of “villa arrest” and subjected to tough questioning.

Wolf provided an extraordinary description of how the HVA questioned its own agents, perfectly reflecting the nature of the GDR’s brutal, authoritarian regime. Wolf explained: “It was based on psychological pressure against men and women accustomed to drawing their sense of identity and self-esteem from membership in a group of like minded people. When that trust is suddenly withdrawn, the psychological pressure on them becomes acute. There was no need to threaten them or issue formal warrants of arrest. Addressing them as suspects and monitoring their replies was enough to convince us that they were innocent and that we had found no more double agents. Of course, there was no question of deployment in the West. They were warned not to talk about what happened. All of them kept their word about thus, as good comrades do.” It all seems quite intriguing and horrifying at once.

When Ackermann was removed as chief of the foreign intelligence service by Ulbricht. ostensibly because he was caught having an adulterous affair. Wolf, only 30 years old at the time, and only had 16 months of experience in the foreign intelligence service, was given the position. According to Wolf in Chapter 4, he was summoned to Ulbricht’s office and told: “We are of the opinion that you should take over the service,’ said Ulbricht. That was a royal’we–or, more precisely, ‘we’ meant the Party leadership. He did not ask me whether I thought I was up to the job, nor did he invite further discussion.” The HVA remained directly under the watchful eyes of Ulbricht until he was appointed as head of the Stasi, a member of the politburo, Wilhelm Zaisser, who he could rely upon. Wolf recalled that Zaisser was less concerned with the intelligence product HVA produced and focused more on his editing of a new German edition of Lenin’s collected works. Wolf, left to his own devices by Zaisser, worked hard daily to better understand the craft of intelligence. Despite his concerns about Ulbricht, Wolf acknowledged in Chapter 4 that he was provided ample opportunity by him to acquit himself well as the leader of the new intelligence service. That was a rather unique, positive response from Ulbricht. Nevertheless, in Chapter 3, Wolf recounts that he was often disappointed in the early years by the actions of Ulbricht. With regard to the uniforms worn by GDR officials that in Western mind came to symbolize the government’s Godless, authoritarian nature, Wolf noted: “One the odder ideas the Ulbricht espoused during the period was a return to military symbolism–a distinct about face given that we had criticized the West Germans for continuing the military nationalist traditions of Hitler’s Wehrmacht. Traditional military music was also revived . . . Like many Communists who had been brought up to view this blend of militarism and music as having prepared the ground for Nazism, I found this disturbing.” The early years of the GDR mark the time when the country began shaping up to be something far less than what motivated, young Communists had hoped. The direction that Ulbricht decided to take the GDR, according to Wolf, was driven by his uncompromising ideology and his desire to appeal to hardline Stalinists in Moscow. Upon Stalin’s death in 1953, Wolf felt that Ulbricht had leaned too far right, gambling that the Stalinist would emerge on top in a power struggle at the Kremlin and went out of his way to impress them with a policy of “accelerating socialism.”  As Wolf explains in Chapter 4: “Large firms and agricultural companies suffered under the sudden drive to perfect the Socialist economy. The activities of the Church were further curtailed.” Ulbricht bet on the wrong horse. Nikita Khrushchev came to power, famously recognizing the wrongs Stalin had inflicted upon the Soviet people. Ulbricht continued doing things his way nevertheless. A change at the top at Stasi would eventually result in Ulbricht settling on Erich Mielke. Wolf referred to him as Ulbricht’s “watchdog,” and would remain in charge at Stasi until 1989. Perhaps the most telling description of Mielke by Wolf was his statement in Chapter 4: “Mielke was a warped personality even by the peculiar standards of morality that apply in the espionage world.” He set the tone for the Stasi as Wolf further explained: “He [Mielke] was afflicted with an obsession for collecting data, not only on suspected dissidents, whom he ordered to be placed under round-the-clock surveillance, but on his own colleagues.” Such was the environment in which Wolf worked.

Wolf, the young HVA chief, in uniform (right). Wolf recounts that he was often disappointed in the early years by the actions of the GDR leadership. With regard to the uniforms worn by GDR officials, which in Western mind came to symbolize the government’s Godless, authoritarian nature, Wolf noted: “One the odder ideas the Ulbricht espoused during the period was a return to military symbolism–a distinct about face given that we had criticized the West Germans for continuing the military nationalist traditions of Hitler’s Wehrmacht. Traditional military music was also revived . . . Like many Communists who had been brought up to view this blend of militarism and music as having prepared the ground for Nazism, I found this disturbing.”

Inter bellum et pacem dubitabant. (They were hesitating (wavering) between war and peace.) The Cold War was a time of considerable intelligence activity. Intelligence studies and intelligence tradecraft are disciplines unknown in the minds of most observers. What is generally understood about it all is unfortunately gleaned from banal amusements propagated about spying, particularly the commercial product, James Bond. Through Bond, observers are inculcated with the idea that in spying, the mundane day-to-day can become exciting at any moment by expulsion or surprise attack! An everyday item can magically become a telephone, microphone, or weapon. In Chapter 4, Wolf stated that a song, that he helped compose, aided in reminding him that he was fighting an intelligence war on “The Invisible Front.” Still, some aspects of it were not so invisible. For the most part, foreign diplomatic services become a shell for the real Cold War being fought. Yet, while there was an understanding that all sides were engaged in such activity and it appeared to be an orderly world, it was actually anarchic. Both East and West were sending intelligence officers and running agents behind enemy lines was perilous undertaking in which one had to be thoroughly prepared. All agents were armed with a catalogue of proscribed practices. Collecting and disseminating was done under a pall of suspicion from all sides.

Those today who gleefully explore and promote the idea of creating Socialist systems, may be unable to view events of the Cold War as the Communist revolutionaries and anti-Communist forces who battled against one another across their respective borders and worldwide. Communism was indeed an aggressive revolutionary political system dedicated to the destruction of the West. Without having lived through the stand-offs between forces, the proxy wars, and incidents that had the two sides teetering between peace and war, one may be easily taken in by curious assessments of the Cold War that characterize it as an episode that was something less than one of the defining moments of the 20th century. It is instead characterized as something more akin to a mere “dust up” between the East and West. Those assessments of the decades long struggle are wrong. It was a collision between to world during great damage was done, and in the end, the West won. As the French Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte explained: “Between a battle lost and a battle won, the distance is immense and there stand empires.” There was no mildness, leniency, or geniality. In the West, Communism was seen as a danger to mitigate and eventually defeat. As Wolf’s opponent declared itself anti-Communist and he became subsumed by the effort to defeat it.

Personnel; Plans and Training

Wolf tried to take the bull by the horns at the HVA and learned with some difficulty how he could best to set about accomplishing things. Being admitted to the top of the intelligence service so quickly by Ulbricht put Wolf, in terms of the theater, downstage center. However, it meant that Wolf never would have the opportunity to see the work of the intelligence service through the lens of a junior worm, upstage, off to the side. At the bottom, realities are more apparent, poor decisions from the top are often felt more personally, and nuance is learned. One becomes aware pitfalls to be avoided. The going was somewhat rough. It was not long before Wolf dealt with what he called his first “bombshell”. Gotthold Klaus, who served in the HVA’s economic intelligence unit, became the first defector. Wolf explained that it took a heavy toll on him personally and made him realize that his young service was far from secure. Klaus had disappeared during the holiday weekend and his absence was not detected for several days. In that short period of time, West German intelligence extracted everything he knew about the GDR agents. Six were arrested before there was even the possibility of calling them back. The incident became known as the Vulkan affair. Interestingly, Wolf noted: “Franz Blücher, the vice chancellor of West Germany, announced at a press conference that thirty five agents had been arrested as a result of Vulkan information. This was an exaggeration; no officer never would have been allowed to know the identity of so many agents operating in a hostile country. It turned out the West German counterintelligence,  overexcited by their first big coup, caught in its net a number of innocent businessmen who did deals in the East but were certainly not spies.”

To his good fortune after that first set back–as well as few other initial failures, Wolf did not put his head completely underwater. He admits to being gently reproved by the head of Stasi, Zaisser, who said: “Mischa, you have to learn more and more about many things.” In the end, despite what occurred, Wolf was kept on board at Stasi. Fortunately for Wolf, at the very top, there was an apparent delicacy toward him. The individual watching over him was none other than Ulbricht. He was responsible for Wolf’s appointment as chief of the HVA, and he had considerable confidence in his capabilities. Presumably, he acknowledged that was operating with a blind spot concerning operational security that did not allow him to see straight about what was really happening. He failed to fully grasp the full measure of the operational prowess of his opponent. Still, Wolf kept his composure. He stated in Chapter 4: “The following months were spent reorganizing our whole operation along more efficient lines. Wolf might have pondered how can he be sure what is genuine anymore after that initial disaster. Surely, he did not want to fall victim to the same lapses again. Wolf’s diagnosis was to better control his organization’s activities, to deploy his agents throughout the West, ensuring that they were allocated wherever they might have a chance to identify and maximally exploit opportunities to collect critical information and links with key players in military, diplomatic, political, economic, social and business decision making. It was akin to sowing seeds across an open field and monitoring their growth. The concept behind it was known as the “principle of patience” in long-term operations. Along the way, Wolf would massage, through controllers,  the infiltration efforts of his agents. Wolf was given a chance to make tomorrow better than today. Wolf developed a sophisticated, intensified plan to place and service illegal agents in deep cover in the West. Surely, he was already engaged in that process at some level.  However, under the new strategy, his long-term “sleeper” agents introduced into the stream of East German refugees entering the West, but they would remain patient for years, sometimes decades, while they would carefully work their way into key positions.  One the innermost secrets of the “class enemy” were in their reach, they would begin to supply as much as they could back home.

Walter Ulbricht (left) and Markus Wolf (right). As First Secretary of the Socialist Unity Party, Ulbricht controlled the GDR from 1950 to 1971. Wolf made it clear that he was not exactly a fan of Ulbricht. In describing the GDR’s chief decision maker, Wolf stated that he was hard-line, ruthless, authoritarian, pig-headed and heavy-handed. Displaying a bit of patrician aesthetic, Wolf added that Ulbricht, who was from Leipzig, spoke with a “provincial Saxon accent.” Once in the thick of things as head of the GDR, he apparently kept his head on a swivel, keeping everyone wary of his designs. Ulbricht’s continuous purges of senior leaders, Wolf assessed, was a sign of his insecurity and unsteady leadership.

An effective practice for selecting Individuals for recruitment was established at HVA after a lack of diligence and breakdowns were discovered in the process following the Vulkan affair. Wolf had to be a very effective talent-spotter. He explained: “The search for suitable candidates was difficult and costly. Checking their political reliability, their personal ties, and their character took time. We sought young, politically motivated citizens, convinced socialists who believed in serving our country and cause. We were not concerned if candidates to be agents had relatives in the West, in contrast to our policy for potential officers at headquarters, who were barred from employment if they had any. In fact, Western relatives could be quite useful in helping an aspiring agent bypass refugee camps and enter the Federal Republic. Undoubtedly, after studying individuals, Wolf ostensibly knew more about them than they knew about themselves. After looking at the individual over and Wolf and his people liked the “cut of his jib”, the recruitment process would begin in earnest. Recruitment in some services can often be a very imperfect process. In recruiting for his bigger and better intelligence service, Wolf was exceptionally careful at every point. Even for a task as surveillance, care was placed in the selection. The HVA would need to rely heavily on the competence of observers, reports they produced, and even their immediate impressions, all of which would impact data extrapolated and inferences made. It would certainly be daylight madness to hire operatives off the street for an intended clandestine operation that is supposed to be finely calibrated. Nevertheless, that very practice of taking anyone off the street to engage in surveillance for remuneration is apparently accepted among some intelligence services in the US today, as well as crude, money hungry contractors, with whom Wolf never would have considered working with in a million years, to which such work is often outsourced by those services. Ostensibly, the grand thought behind the practice is that the more eyes, even nonprofessional, untrained eyes, are placed on the target the better. Yet, the result of that is simply the accumulation of several observations, varied in accuracy and quality. False observation can often be provided by nonprofessionals in an ordinary case seeking to puff themselves up, as if to say: “Hey, look at me! I am a real spy!” This lesser form of “spying” may bestow a certain dignity to the mixed bag engaged in it, but once made aware of those individuals and the sloppy work they are doing at that level, often it can make the work of many in the same intelligence service who are doing far greater things feel less dignified.

If readers would please allow greatcharlie to digress a bit further, given the potential for dishonor that it creates–not all names on a list of impromptu hires may be genuine–it leaves open the question as to who might benefit by collecting the recompense of such nonexistent operatives. Somber and astute counterintelligence officers or investigators might hypothesize that such hiring could be beckoning initial indicia of someone trying “to give themselves a pension.” Wolf clearly understood that efficacious work at the most basic level would determine the success of his operations. Surely, adversarial intelligence services, by insinuating their operatives with little or no vetting into any surveillance element of the US intelligence service or contractors performing such work, would acquire the capability of knowing when the US was monitoring their own people. They might even attempt to move their operatives closer to whomever was managing the whole cabaret. One might suppose that this may have happened more than once.

Wolf’s preparation of his agents was never slipshod. HVA training was originally in the classic tradecraft of intelligence. It was after all the second oldest profession and there were well-known tactics, techniques, procedures and methods that the organization could utilize. However, after Vulkan, there were clearly many lessons learned that Wolf wanted brought to bear in the training process, and thereby, it became more nuanced. Wolf’s summary of how agents were trained to penetrate security screening and penetrate specific targets is something advanced technology and other firms in the US should pay close attention as present day intelligence services, aware of Wolf lessons, might seek or have already managed to infiltrate their staffs. Wolf recounted in Chapter 4: “Each agent’s training was personally supervised by the man who would be running his operation, and special training was added if there was a scientific or technical objective. Once accepted in West Germany, agents usually began their assignments with an inconspicuous period of manual labor to help overcome the bureaucratic barriers of getting established in the West. We therefore preferred candidates with craftsman’s skills or practical experience in a professional. Almost every one of the students and budding scientists who emigrated in the early years found employment in research facilities or companies of interest to us–the Federal government’s nuclear research facilities in Julich, Karlsruhe, and Hamburg; the Batelle Institute in Frankfurt-am-Main, which had been set up by the United States; Siemens, Germany’s largest electronics company; and IBM Germany or the giant German chemical companies BASF, Hoescht, and Bayer. Because we assumed that Germany’s traditional arms manufacturers would–after the storm over German militarization died down–eventually resume military production, we also placed people in companies such as Messerschmidt and Bölkow.” With specific regard to the controllers, they were not mere handlers of spies in the West but expert psychologists who prided themselves on their close personal ties to their charges on the “invisible front”.

As mentioned previously, West Germany was Wolf’s main target. He explained in Chapter 10: “Department 9, responsible for penetrating the West German intelligence institutions, was the second largest in the service, after the Scientific and Technological Sector was one of the busiest. It was the department to which I felt most closely attached.” Fortunately for him, the West was easily accessible to his spies and couriers, who, given new Western identities, were indistinguishable from West Germans. Wolf was also well-equipped to recruit West Germans as his sleeper agents and deep cover assets. He claimed to have a firm understanding of the habits and mentality of middle to upper middle class Westerners and above all their weaknesses as those were his prewar origin. Confident of being able to collect information at the human level, human intelligence played an outsized role as compared with electronic and technical intelligence gathering done at Sektor Wissenschaft und Technik (the Sector for Science and Technology) or SWT.

It has typically been enough to state that for the intelligence officers, the goal is to compel actions by another collect information or act in any way that would promote the interests of the officer’s country. The officer will seek primarily to penetrate organizations, institutions, and communities, and insinuate themselves in the lives of others. After having maneuvered, with Berliners guidance into a position close enough to the target, they would use their tradecraft to attempt to compel a target through seduction or some other form of manipulation. At a more advanced level, it is less akin to police work to the extent that police are typically required to obtain immediate results more often through stressful even harsh interrogations, threats, and offers of protection. Still, there are occasions when the obligation of meeting requirements to satisfy consumer of intelligence, national leaders has required the use of coercive actions, to include torture. In Chapter 4, Wolf made clear that this was his concept for using his intelligence service. Still, to conceptualize further, the intelligence officer’s main task is to open doors. Whether by their own hands or using the hands of an agent, they must very often find the doors of file rooms, code rooms, vaults, and unprotected and protected computers and open them. However, there is an additional effort made to open doors of the officer’s contacts and targets for recruitment. Before the officer is a figurative wall, a barrier to the inner thinking of the target that may be underpinned by patriotism, an honor code, religious beliefs in good and evil, right and wrong, a political philosophy, loyalty to his service and his comrades. The list is exhaustive. Yet, the intelligence officer’s must get through. Smashing through the wall or hoping to get up and over it may be accomplished through those law enforcement tactics of interrogation and carrots and sticks would represent failure. A pitfall would occasionally be betrayal down the road by the same target as he may be intercepted, neutralized, and recruited or re-recruited by his own side as counterespionage agent. He may simply betray the intelligence officer’s with not just chicken feed, but false information that may arouse the officers managers and stall, paralyse, or disastrously distract and divert activities to bring what may once have been a viable operation to its knees. The intelligence officer must believe that there is a door to the inner thinking, soul of the target, which the officer, if experienced and skillful enough, will manage to open.

The Evolution of Recruitment and Training

In Chapter 5, Wolf explained: “The early years of a new espionage undertaking are always prone to the workings of Murphy Law, and scientific technical activity offered abundant potential for errors and misjudgement.” Wolf made adjustments his initial methods. Concerning penetration into the West, he noted that during the 1950s, thousands of the GDR’s citizens streamed across the then practically open borders into West Berlin and West Germany. Those numbers, according to Wolf, increased considerably after a June 1953 uprising in the GDR. Nearly 500,000 of the nation’s 18 million people fled in the following three years. Those considered to be of suitable material, were still being sent along that stream, and they, Wolf says, “laid the cornerstone for many of our later successes.” When they were picked up and questioned in the refugee camps once they got to the West, and the usually were, they still had a good chance of blending in with the mass of refugees. The HVA would equip them with a viable cover story. The declared wish to join relatives in the West was useful. However, HVA diversified the pretexts for to move West. Wolf explained: An agent might say that he had been caught trying to hide his past membership in the Nazi Party or the Waffen SS, or that he made negative comments about our government’s policies.” Diligence in assuring those pretexts were strong, caused him to have HVA place what he referred to as “stains” into personnel files kept on these agents maintained at other ministries to ensure the charges had credibility if perchance BfV somehow got hold of their file. Concerns over the actions of BfV became great enough that Wolf shied away from staffing the HVA with individuals who had relatives in the West. Wolf reasoned that Western intelligence services, particularly West Germany’s Bundesnachrichtendienst (Federal Intelligence Service) or BND, could more easily penetrate us-as we did them–through family links and pressures. Wolf also noted that whereas sending our agents into West Germany, a country with the same language and culture, was clearly an advantage, as the two German countries grew apart, such infiltration became more difficult. The building of the Berlin Wall created even greater problems. Wolf said that it “cut to a trickle the heavy flow of émigrés in which we hid our agents.” Concerning pretexts for moving West, Wolf noted: “This meant cover stories had to become even more foolproof.”

Regarding training and control upgrades, Wolf displayed a firm sense of what he needed from his agents. Wolf stated: “For each person we sent across we had a predetermined mission, and each agent was trained by a staff handler responsible for the mission. We limited training to the elementary rules of espionage and tips on acquiring the information we wanted. It made no sense to train these agents in subjects and skills that did not concern them; in some ways, it would make the operations more risky by unnecessarily complicating their mission. In some cases, we retrieved agents from the West and brought them back to the GDR for additional training when the appropriate time came.” Interestingly, so ubiquitous and ever industrious were Wolf’s spies that they would often encounter each other without knowing due to compartmentalization they were both working for HVA. As a result, there were occasions, those with access to their true identities at headquarters would be tickled on those occasions when they would respectively submit reports on one another suggesting each had useful qualities and would go as far as to recommend one another for recruitment.

In examining the HVA’s success in recruiting West Germans, Wolf recognized that varied, special motives drove them. Wolf explained that among many issues, some felt a conservative distaste for West German Chancellor Konrad Adenauer’s “Americanization”, and other disgust over the top leadership roles former Nazis, Chief of Staff of the German Chancellery Hans Globke, President Karl Heinrich Lübke, and Chancellor Kurt Georg Kiesinger, all of the Christian Democratic Union, managed to play in Federal Republic politics. Many HVA recruits in West Germany believed that their actions were humanitarian contributions to peace. Wolf’s network of spies, sleepers, informers and instructors in West Germany, today estimated to have numbered as many as 20,000 at the height of the Cold War. It should also be noted that Wolf’s agents often sailed under the “false flag” to appeal to the thirst for adventure of potential traitors in the West. At times, they posed as KGB agents. The thinking was that spying for the Soviet Union would sound more exciting for West Germans than spying for the GDR. It worked in many cases. There were times when HVA agents would pose as agents of Western intelligence services under the guise of trying to understand what their West German allies were doing or determine whether West German operations were secure.

Additionally, recruitment and collection was facilitated by the use of so-called “Romeo agents”. Sex has been used to gather intelligence since ancient times. Typically, the female spy would seduce her male victim to obtain secrets. The HVA did not hesitate to use loyal GDR women as well as suitable prostitutes in that capacity. Yet, Wolf’s thinking would go beyond the usual in the sense that he imagined reversing roles to have male agents seduce female targets. To Wolf, it appeared easier for determined agents to ensnare the secretary of a high-ranking Western official than the official himself. In reality, she would often have the same access to confidential information as her boss. He established special team of “women hunters” with the mission of seducing secretaries in West German government offices, turning them into informants. The scores of lonely women that Wolf’s Romeo spies seduced were referred to by the HVA as “Juliets”. Ostensibly, spotters would watch targets, and through observation determine the individual’s needs, desires, strengths, and weaknesses. Wolf’s Romeos would happily waste their substance on lonely women in Bonn government offices and the NATO headquarters in Brussels targeted by HVA.

Within the Eastern intelligence services, the HVA would be known for having a committed visionary at its helm. Whenever Wolf’s spies and others came to light in the West, the event would feed into a paranoid doctrine that all foreign intelligence services were penetrated by Communist spies and intelligence victories were actually their victories. Within the Eastern intelligence services, the HVA would be known for having a committed visionary at its helm.In the West, Wolf was looked upon as a threatening spectre, and he knew it. To quote Wolf from the Introduction of Man without a Face, “As even my bitter foes would acknowledge, it was probably the most efficient and effective such service on the European continent.” Managers in the counterintelligence departments of Western intelligence services would wake up every morning pondering : “We know Wolf has been doing something. What could it possibly be?” Too often, they found themselves chasing shadows. Ironically, a spotlight was placed on a spy chief and his clandestine operations, both of which could not be seen. Der unbestrittene Meister schien unbesiegbar. (The undisputed champion seemed invincible.)

Interestingly, Wolf did not particularly stress the presence of NKVD intelligence officers whose job was to guide members of the burgeoning intelligence service into an effective tool for the GDR’s security but more importantly for exploitation by Soviet intelligence. He would only mention that reality here and there, somewhat higgledy-piggledy, in the text. When the “Institute for Economic Research” was stood up, it actually functioned under the control of the Soviet intelligence. In those same postwar years, Soviet organization of its intelligence, counterintelligence, and internal security functions went through its own period of transformation donning an alphabet soup of titles from the GPU, to OGPU, to GUGB/NKVD. to NKGB, to MGB. In 1954, the service eventually landing on the title, KGB. The KGB or the Komitet Gosudarstvennoy Bezopasnosti (the Committee for State Security) would be praised by the Soviet Union’s leadership as the country’s ”sword and shield” and the “Vanguard of Communism”. The organizations and intelligence operations undertaken by the Stasi and other Eastern Bloc intelligence services essentially duplicated of those of the Soviet KGB. Their role was made more important due to attention the KGB to Moscow’s chagrin  garnered on the world stage. After only a few years of operation, the KGB became a renowned, albeit dangerous, feature in international affairs. Looked upon as curiosities and celebrities, in foreign policy circles of many capitals, there was considerable, often banal speculation as to who among diplomats at Sovist embassies, consulates, and cultural centers were KGB officers. In certain countries, Moscow determined that was too high profile to use discreetly in the recruitment of agents. The alternative was to make use of other Eastern Bloc intelligence services that were very often operating under the radar in many countries around the world. That effectively took some pressure off the KGB. However, the KGB would insist on maintaining a tight grip on the reigns of all operations of other Eastern Bloc intelligence services. Eastern Bloc intelligence operations directed and controlled by the Chief Directorate of the KGB. The consequence of disobedience to their Soviet masters was well-understood. There is a common belief that those who rise so quickly, much as shooting star, tend to flame out just as fast. Wolf rise was fast, even a bit unsettling for him. Luckily, he and all around him soon discovered that he was a natural at the craft of intelligence. Nevertheless, it would seem he was not out in the world alone when his efforts at HVA first took flight.

Wolf (center) stands in his dress uniform with colleagues at an official event. Within the Eastern Bloc intelligence services, the HVA would eventually be known for having a committed visionary at its helm. In the West, Wolf was looked upon as a threatening spectre. Managers in the counterintelligence departments of Western intelligence services would wake up every morning pondering : “We know Wolf has been doing something. What could it possibly be?” Too often, they found themselves chasing shadows. Der unbestrittene Meister schien unbesiegbar. (The undisputed champion seemed invincible.)

Action and Adventure!

Wolf’s discussion of the various adventures of his agents has been thoroughly recounted in previous reviews of Man without a Face as well as various scholarly studies, books and articles on Wolf in which his memoir was used a source. Much as a previous reviewer noted, espionage enthusiasts would certainly find what Wolf laid out concerning the adventures of his agents is spine-tingling stuff. Some of the more popular stories concerning his actions and the adventures of his agents are still very much worth reading. Among those that greatcharlie found most edifying are: the Gunter Guillaume case; the Kuron walk-in case; and, the Tiedge walk-in case.

1. Gunter Guillaume Case

Gunter Guillaume was a HVA sleeper agent who navigated his way up to become a top staff assistant to West German Chancellor Willy Brandt, a member of the Social Democratic Party (SPD) and a liberal whose Ostpolitik, looking toward reconciliation of the two Germanys, made him GDR’s favorite West German Chancellor. Wolf admitted that he was somewhat surprised by Guillaume’s success. As he explained in Chapter 9: “We never lost hope of penetrating the heart of Bonn, but no one expected to get so close to the top man. Nor would I have bet on Guillaume, who we codenamed Hanson, to be the one to accomplish this historic espionage coup.” Guillaume and his wife, Christel, were a husband and wife team, just two of the hundreds of potential spies, sent into the West in the 1950s. Guillaume was recruited from an East German publishing house with fairly well-known links to the Stasi. The couple was sent to Frankfurt-am-Main, where Christel’s mother ran a tobacconist’s in the mid-1950s. They opened a small copying business and joined the local Social Democrats. His efforts in SPD politics and his contact with Leber really got the ball rolling for Guillaume. In praise for Guillaume, Wolf recounted: “His discipline and dedication never faltered. He rose to become a member of the Frankfurt-am-Main city council and head of its SPD group. Guillaume’s organizational abilities, along with his staunchly conservative position at a time of great ideological upheaval in the SPD, caught the eye of George Leber, the leader of the building workers’ Union and later minister for transport in the grand coalition of 1966-1969 between the SPD and the Christian Democrats.” Eventually, Guillaume was offered a job in Leber’s office and gained access to a number of secret NATO and Federal Republic documents. These were carefully copied by Guillaume and passed to his controller in empty cigar cases “sold” to the East German intelligence officer in his mother-in-law’s tobacconist’s shop.

Wolf went on to explain that when the SPD became the leading party in West Germany in 1969, the HVA ordered Guillaume and Christel “to play a waiting game and not push for personal advancement in the new administration.” Wolf believed that since the record indicated that Guillaume former worked in East Berlin publishing, if he tried to move into a government job, red flags would be raised. Indeed, Wolf would discover the following: “Herbert Hellenbroich, later the head of West German foreign intelligence (Bundesnachrichtendienst), confirmed that Guillaume had been investigated like no one else before him–but without turning up anything. There had, however, been two vague tips from the evaluators in West Germany’s counterintelligence (Office for the Protection of the Constitution, Bundesamt fur Verfassungsschutz–BfV) and Horst Ehmke, the head of Brandt’s office and thus responsible for personnel there, decided to confront Guillaume headlong with these suspicions.” Guillaume brilliantly dealt with all of the suspicions coming his way. With the rare use of a first name, Wolf praised his covert agent, writing: “Gunter’s reactions and his overall demeanor as he explained away his work at the Volk and Welt publishing house seemed so natural, as a stunned Ehmke would say later, that all doubts were put to rest.” (A hidden hope among West German counterintelligence specialists, that such a deep penetration into their country’s political arena was not probable, may have led to a preconception of Guillaume’s innocence that in turn colored their investigation. Such is always a danger. Intensified, thorough research, more interviews, in an effort to find the missing pieces of the figurative ring is the answer, certainly not spurious over compensation in the opposite direction.) When HVA agent, Willy Gronau, one the intelligence service’s oldest sources, was arrested in West Berlin there was concern that suspicion about his concept acts would placed Guillaume in jeopardy. Gronau and Guillaume had maintained professional contact as part of their jobs. However, it was one of those occasions in which neither knew the other’s true identity as an HVA agent. The BND and BfV were never caused to think any similar issues of spying existed among both.

The political world, being complex and often confused, required Guillaume to sift through whatever he came across for golden nuggets. While stuck to the matter at hand, for his own security, he also had to be aware of everything happening around him. Seemingly  extraneous matters were not out of court. In November 1969, Guillaume was offered the post of a junior aide to the newly elected Social Democrat Chancellor Willy Brandt. Guillaume methodically made his way up through the hierarchy of the Chancellery, steadily passing intelligence to East Berlin. Eventually, he became one of Brandt’s top aides. Guillaume’s mission was essentially a political job, monitoring the Brandt administration. Guillaume was able to provide the HVA and hence the KGB with details of divides among NATO members US President Richard Nixon and US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger  sought greater control over the alliance. However, sex would play a part in Guillaume’s work, too! Brandt was a womanizer. According to Wolf, Guillaume procured women for him.

A CIA counterintelligence officer looking into suspicions that there was a spy within the Chancellery remembered a clue from the late 1950s. The East Germans sent messages to their many agents in the West using a five-figure cipher broadcast read out by a female broadcaster who in western intelligence circles was nicknamed “Magdeburg Annie”. The codes were cracked by US computers; one was to an agent in West Germany known as “G” who was active in the SPD. As it was described by another previous reviewer of Man without a Face, with Teutonic precision, the Stasi remembered to radio birthday greetings to its agent. He was also  important enough to be congratulated on the birth of his son. That untidy behavior proved disastrous. The radio traffic was analyzed by the BfV who eventually figured it out. The known details of the agent, and, crucially, the date of the boy’s birth, matched those of Guillaume and his son, and he and his wife were put under surveillance. Guillaume was arrested on April 24, 1974. Brandt resigned ten days later. While the penetration was looked upon with amazement, Wolf lamented that it was all in all a defeat. Wolf, expressing the sense that he had only achieved a bit of a Pyrrhic victory,  explained in Chapter 9, “Our role in bringing down Brandt was equivalent to kicking a football into our own net,” He also stated: “We never desired, planned nor welcomed his political demise. But once the chain of events had been set in motion, they had their own momentum. Where was I supposed to have yelled stop?” Brandt was the architect of Ostpolitik, West Germany’s opening of relations toward the GDR and remainder of the Eastern Bloc beginning in 1969 and the German Basic Treaty of 1972,  setting the basis of relations between West Germany and the GDR. Moreover, the GDR secretly supported and encouraged Willy Brandt’s Ost-politik policy of rapprochement with the East German government. than the former chancellor. His successor as Chancellor, Helmut Schmidt, was less committed to the “Eastern” policy.

West German Chancellor Willy Brandt (right) and Gunter Guillaume in tinted glasses (left). Gunter Guillaume and his wife, Christel, were a husband and wife team, two of the hundreds of sleeper agents set up in West Germany by the HVA in the 1950s. Guillaume managed to navigate his way up to become a top staff assistant to West German Chancellor Willy Brandt. Guillaume dealt well with all of the suspicions that came his way. Wolf admitted that he was somewhat surprised by Guillaume’s success. As he explained: “We never lost hope of penetrating the heart of Bonn, but no one expected to get so close to the top man. Nor would I have bet on Guillaume, who we codenamed Hanson, to be the one to accomplish this historic espionage coup.”

2. Klaus Kuron Walk-in Case

There were occasions fortunate for Wolf when his intelligence officers came across the “walk-ins”, those who on their own volition turn toward and even work for the East. Among those stories is that of the spectacular recruitment of Klaus Kuron, deputy chief of the BfV. Wolf stated in Chapter 10: “ This was exceptional, even for the entanglements of the spy business.” The Kuron walk-in began with a tug of war between HVA and BfV over one of Wolf’s sleeper agents, Joachim Moitzheim. Moitzheim had been caught by BfV attempting to recruit the man who operated the counterintelligence computer named Nazis. Once intercepted by the chief and deputy chief of the BfV, respectively Hansjoachim Tiedge and Klaus Kuron, neutralized him with the threat of a lengthy  imprisonment and recruited him to work as a double agent for them. Moitzheim agreed, but informed Wolf and  his superiors at HVA  of the recruitment effort. The verdict was that Kuron, who was not seen as a threat to the GDR should be function as a triple agent for the HVA. Having been in contact with BfV officials. Moitzheim was asked if he could take a look at a letter anonymously dropped off at the GDR Embassy in Bonn in 1981. The letter written by an individual Wolf believed knew the structure of HVA well, offered to provide a high degree of inside intelligence for a one time payment of 150,000 Deutschmarks. In the letter, Wolf beloved as an effort “to whet our appetites,” by informing in the letter that there was an effort to recruit an official at HVA’s SWT, the unit responsible for technological espionage. To Wolf’s astonishment, Moitzheim identified the handwriting on the letter as Kuron, the deputy chief at BfV with whom Wolf had struggled in the intelligence war. Kuron communicated again by telephone call during which a meeting was arranged in Vienna.

Wolf noted that Kuron “was unembarrassed by his treachery” as he described his situation at BfV. Kuron who came from modest beginnings worked his way  lacked a university degree and was regularly passed over for more senior positions at higher salary levels. Wolf quoted Kuron directly: “It has been a struggle . . . Everyone knows how good I am, but I’ll never go any further.” Noting the bitterness of Kuron’s tone, Wolf quoted him further as saying: “In the West, they say that there is freedom and an equal chance for everyone to achieve their potential. I do not see it like that. I can work till I drop and still end up being treated as a drone. Then they bring along some half-wit bureaucrat whose daddy has paid his way through school and has a glittering path ahead. I can’t bear it any longer.” Wolf saw Kuron as being worth every penny. He noted that for six years, “Kuron did sterling work for us. With the innocent help of his teenage son, who thought he was just doing a favor for his dad for work, . . . . “ Wolf also noted that Kuron took professional pride in his work for the HVA, often helping with projects that fell outside of his agreed contract. While acting for the GDR within the BfV as a figurative predator in the forest, Kuron also had to have an awareness of his surroundings much as prey. Wolf recounted what that entailed. The HVA achieved successes with Kuron, undetected, right up until the fall of the Berlin Wall. For the most part, defections of Kuron’s type were typically driven by such unbalanced ambition. While the overwhelming majority of officers will find the intelligence service to be an acceptable way of life. Evaluations from his supervisors and managers reflect not only the officer’s performance and work product, but attitudes and behavior as observed. When the officer cannot come to terms with the job and the system, a resulting decision may be to escape it. The worst possible impulse would be to take on the defectors cloak and strike against the institution that tried to embrace the officer. The impulse to conquer the institution was equally powerful. It was certainly more than a lack of good judgment. The problem is the insufficiency of the individual.

3. Hansjoachim Tiedge Walk-in Case

As aforementioned, It was Hansjoachim Tiedge’s job as chief at BfV, to intercept, neutralized, and when possible, recruit GDR spies to work as double agents for the Federal Republic. It was believed by many at BfV that Tiedge addicted to the bottle. Tiedge’s condition was more than corridor gossip at the BfV. He could scarcely drag himself through the working day. On the day that Tiedge defected to the GDR, as Wolf thoroughly details in Chapter 10, he used tradecraft. In the summer of 1985, Tiedge reportedly came to the Magdeburg section of the Inter-German Border that a man identifying himself as “Mr. Tabbert” had arrived, demanding to speak to a representative of the foreign intelligence service. Wolf, who was preparing to go on summer vacation in Hungary, was called. According to Wolf: “Throughout Kuron we knew that Tabbert was Tiedge’s code name.” Wolf ordered to quickly pass him through without further questioning, and be treated well. Wolf also directed Karl-Christoph Grossmann, who ran Department 9 and handled Kuron’s first approaches, pick him up on the Autobahn junction leading to Berlin. Once stirred in a safe house outside of Berlin, Tiedge asked to speak with Wolf directly, but he declined to leave the matter to Grossmann. Wolf claimed that he was already planning to retire and decided continuity in terms of his handling was important given all of the ramifications.  After identifying himself to Grossmann, Tiedge reportedly stated: “I’ve come to stay. You are my last chance.” Then the full measure of Tiedge’s dilapidated state became known. Tiedge confirmed that he was a heavy gambler and drinker. His wife died in an accident at home after he had been involved in a drunken fight with her. Investigated for manslaughter, the verdict was death by misadventure. His children were unruly, never forgiving him for their mother’s death. His lifestyle had led to disciplinary proceedings. Tiedge believed he was being kept on at BfV as a means for his superiors to keep an eye on him. Wolf assessed his situation as follows: “Here was a man who had descended into such a psychological hell that he could see two possible escapes, suicide or defection.”

Wolf said regarding Tiedge’s arrival: “It was a much a surprise to me as to everyone else. I had some inkling that he might wash up on our shore if things got much worse for him in Cologne, but we did not seek contact with him.” Wolf used Man without a Face to categorically deny that Tiedge had been HVA’s agent before his defection. Based on what has been made public, Tiedge was very likely Wolf’s greatest catch. Outlining the benefits that Tiedge brought to HVA, Wolf noted: “Tiedge had a memory like a computer for names and connections and filled in a lot of blanks for us, though not as many as he thought, since he was unaware that his colleague Kuron was in our pay.” As the story goes, away from the book’s text, due to Tiedge’s defection, the West German intelligence community was at sixes and sevens, trying to determine what would happen next, who was who, what was real and what was not. His betrayal was called the most damaging of the Cold War for the Federal Republic. It resulted in the recall of numerous West German agents still in the field. In that period, the East Germans captured 168 West German spies. Wolf stated in Chapter 10: “We rubbed our hands in glee at the turmoil.” However, there would soon be a bit of irony to befall HVA as Grossmann, the man entrusted with handling both Kuron and Tiedge, two days after German Unification, accepted an offer to help track down HVA agents. Overall, Wolf believed that the successful recruitment of officials and the collection walk-ins from his adversaries confirmed his notion that intelligence work never simply rests upon technology. It rests upon what cannot be bought, the human element, the mind, thoughts, emotions, conscience and will. Wolf stated in Chapter 10: “Our successes right up to 1989 indicate a technological superiority is of limited usefulness if the basics of the service are mishandled. That kind of expertise can be bought, but good organization, tight discipline, and the right instincts are not commercially available.”

Hansjoachim Tiedge (above) was very likely Wolf’s greatest catch. As chief of West Germany’s Bundesamt fur Verfassungsschutz (Office for the Protection of the Constitution) or BfV, Tiedge’s job was to intercept, neutralized, and when possible, recruit GDR spies to work as double agents. His betrayal was called the most damaging of the Cold War for the Federal Republic. It resulted in the recall of numerous West German agents still in the field. In that period, the East Germans captured 168 West German spies. Wolf believed that the successful recruitment of officials and the collection walk-ins from his adversaries confirmed his notion that intelligence work rests upon the human element, the mind, thoughts, emotions, conscience and will, and never technology alone.

A Thought about Wolf and the German People

It is not difficult to imagine that Wolf firmly believed that through reeducation and practice, the German people would appreciate the Communist Movement’s benefits and the promise that the Socialist system brought for the GDR’s future. He would work toward the cause of establishing a proletariat paradise. Although Communism had been present as a political movement in Germany, it was never an idea universally accepted by the German people. Before World War II, the German people faced the dilemma of choosing between what were considered two undesirable options: Adolf Hitler and the Nazis and the Communist Party of Germany. The two parties engaged in a tumultuous and very violent struggle for political control of the country. Through the efficacious application of force and a more effective political strategy, the Nazis gained the upper hand. Once Hitler and his Nazis came to power, the Communist Party was eviscerated and banned. The road was left open for German people to fall under the spell of Hitler and to be overcome by the false promises and manipulations of the Nazi Movement. It all seemed inspired by ingenious telepathy from Hell. Nazi Germany was an abomination. Under the Nazis, the German people suffered loss beyond imagination. They were plunged into endless depths of despair, anguish, and agony.

For centuries, the German people had been steeped in Western religious traditions and a spiritual link to God. To that extent the laws of Western societies were generally an amplification of Divine law or biblical law. Much as expressed in Ephesians 4:18, under the Nazis, the German people were alienated from the life of God through the ignorance that was in them, because of the blindness of the heart. Postwar, the Communist finally had their chance to rule in Germany. With their country literally fractured by the war and the majority living in privation, the people of the GDR were subsumed by Communism as pressed upon them by their Soviet occupiers. Unlike their fellow countrymen in West Germany, they had to survive what became “Part 2” of a dark, bitter authoritarian epoque in German history. Once again, Germans in the East found themselves in a far country, which is anywhere outside the will of God. The Communist made certain that the people of the GDR were more thoroughly torn from their spiritual underpinnings. Under the Communists, the mystery of the covenant between God and man and His creation was reduced to a mere human puzzle whose pieces can be arranged according to limited human intelligence. Much as Wolf became an albeit willing victim of institutionalized atheism, which the Communist world’s Soviet masters called “gosateizm”, the same requirement to believe in unbelief was imposed on the people of the GDR.

As a true believer in the Communist movement, Wolf acknowledged feeling somewhat unnerved when he observed how the GDR’s society began to vibrate in response to the benefits of the opening and opportunity created by glasnost and perestroika. Suppressed no longer was the desire by the people of the GDR to have for a better life, a better world, better existence. The people of the GDR also heard a message from the West that resonated. French Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte has also been 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.”

It is not difficult to imagine that Wolf firmly believed that through reeducation and practice, the German people would appreciate the Communist Movement’s benefits and the promise that the Socialist system brought for the GDR’s future. He would work toward the cause of establishing a proletariat paradise. However, as a true believer, Wolf acknowledged feeling somewhat unnerved when he observed how the GDR’s society began to vibrate in response to the benefits of the opening and opportunity created by glasnost and perestroika. Suppressed no longer was the desire by the people of the GDR to have for a better life, a better world, better existence.

In Man without a Face, Wolf apparently sought to present himself as the man he believed himself to have been throughout his career, doing his job for his country as best he could. Through all the years of official secrecy and darkness, he saw himself as a normal man. Surely, normal and fine could be considered relative terms when it comes to Wolf, but letting the world know that he felt that way seems to have been an important point of the book. To that extent, Man without a Face is even more a very personal human story. Of course, everything discussed in Man without a Face is open to interpretation by the reader. One is certainly entitled to form their own opinion of Wolf and his work. To encourage that, greatcharlie suggests its readers take a look at the book give it the old school try! Without hesitation, greatcharlie highly recommends Man without a Face to its readers. Find a copy! For those who have already read it, take a second look. It is truly worth the read!

By Mark Edmond Clark

Commentary: Some Foreign Leaders Continue to Misstep in Approaching Trump: Yes, It Is Still Happening!

US President Donald Trump (center right), French President Emmanuel Macron  (center left) and other G7 leaders in Biarritz, France. Problems have obtained on the international scene because some foreign leaders have used flawed stories from the US news media about Trump as a basis for their decisions concerning the US. It is surprising that nearly three years into Trump’s first term, many foreign leaders remain uncertain about what he is doing and how to approach him. More national leaders must engage in a bit of self-intervention and halt what may be their respective governments’ self-destructive approaches toward the US President.

The renowned Ancient Roman Emperor Gaius Julius Caesar has been quoted as saying: Libenter homines id quod volunt credunt. (“Men freely believe what they want.”) Much as that centuries old adage obtains, critics in the US news media would have the world believe that Trump came to the G7 Summit in Biarritz, France on August 24, 2019 with a whip, so to speak, and the other leaders struggled to pull it away from him. The Economist summarized remarks made prior to the meeting in the following way: “the G7 summit in the seaside resort of Biarritz, an event many expected to be wrecked by conflict and theatrics.” However, there was in fact hardly anything that could be called conflict or uncongenial behavior in any form among leaders at the G7 Summit. Courtesy abounded. The leaders of the world’s economic powers were cozy enough as they figuratively shared the same tea trolley. There may have been some friendly, strong discussion among the members. There was also a very apparent misstep made by the host, French President Emmanuel Macron, with Trump. Still, each left with a better understanding of one another’s positions and better conception of how they can all work together on a variety of issues. During his remarks at an August 26, 2019 joint press conference with Macron at the close of the G7 Summit, Trump stated: This is a truly successful G7. There was tremendous unity. It was great unity.” He went on to say: “Nobody wanted to leave. We were accomplishing a lot. But I think, more importantly, we were getting along very well–seven countries. And it really was the G7.”  

Within reason, one could attempt to substantiate that misguided supposition propagated by many in the US news media that the G7 would by a disaster by noting that the agendas of foreign governments are usually single-minded. Coming almost naturally to them as politicians, foreign leaders meeting with Trump would certainly want to push the agendas of their countries forward. Some partners, much as competitors, pushed so hard with their respective agendas that the result was heated exchanges. However, the promotion of their respective countries agendas was not at the source of Trump critics’ expectations that their would be contentious interactions between him and other national leaders. Rather, those thoughts from Trump’s critics in the US news media were a manifestation of a personal dislike of the US President that echoes the established position of management in the various news media houses toward him. Their version of Trump has never been complimentary. They see no grace, creativity or intellect, in ways he has addressed foreign policy issues. They insist a dictatorial mayhem exists in the Trump administration that ensures only the worst decisions possible flow from it. Trump’s critics, while offering sentiment as reality, cannot be begrudged free expression. Yet, problems still arise on the international scene because some foreign leaders continue to use extrapolations from flawed stories from the US news media about Trump or make inferences from them to base their decisions concerning the US. The inability of Macron to grasp how Trump’s unique, successful, style of diplomacy that led to an aforementioned misstep with him at the G7 was very likely due in part to his use of faulty information from the US news media.

It is somewhat surprising that nearly three years into the first term of the Trump administration, many foreign leaders are still uncertain about what the US President is doing and how to approach him. Trump has been discussed by greatcharlie on previous occasions in its posts. Further, since 2017, greatcharlie has taken the opportunity to express its concerns about the US news media’s antagonistic treatment of Trump, initially in response to the heavy skepticism expressed about the nascent Trump administration and what was ostensibly an inchoate foreign policy. The hope then was that at least a few foreign leaders might heed advisories from greatcharlie cautioning against an over reliance on the US news media to collect “useful” information on Trump administration intentions and actions on foreign policy and diplomacy. During a January 21, 2018 CBS News “60 Minutes” television interview, the great novelist John le Carré, reflecting on his immediate work, explained that “Each book feels like my last book.” He wittily went on to say, “And then I think, like a dedicated alcoholic, that one more won’t do me any harm.” With regard to each essay it has produced on foreign leaders’ misunderstanding of Trump, greatcharlie feels similarly. The level of misunderstanding displayed in one situation or another always manages to prompt just one more essay on the matter. The hope now is that at least a few more foreign leaders might be egged on to engage in a bit of self-intervention and halt their respective governments’ self-destructive approaches toward the US President. Concordia res parvae crescent. (Work together to accomplish more.)

Trump’s Diplomacy: It Comes from the Heart

Watching Trump negotiate is akin to attending a master class on the subject. Trump has essentially been the administration’s metaphorical talisman on bilateral diplomacy, trade talks, essentially every kind of dealmaking. He will apportion his energy on foreign policy and diplomacy with an economical balance to each urgent, important, and not so immediate issue, as reasonably necessary. In doing things a bit differently on a variety of issues, Trump presents possibilities for getting many new, better things done. Perhaps by the manner in which Trump goes about doing things, he does displays a bit of magic, so to speak. He can see a clear way to doing things, sorting out the extraneous and sticking to the matter at hand. Some might describe what often emerges as a peculiar variety of diplomacy. Yet, there is in reality a clear logic to it all. Critics and opponents of Trump will likely find all of this hard to fathom. Henry Ford the US industrialist and inventor and Edward Everett Hale, a US author, poet, historian, and Unitarian minister have both been attributed to the quote: “Coming together is the beginning. Keeping together is progress. Working together is success.” It could be said reasonably that Trump’s thinking on diplomacy runs along that same track.

Despite what might be a history of war, aggression, and strong animus with an adversaries and opponents, or coruscating flashes of disagreement on defense, trade, and even climate change with allies and partners, to Trump, diplomacy, all talks, must start with “coming together”. For Trump, coming together is the beginning of any successful human interaction. To that extent, Trump always insists that he is ready to talk, even to adversaries. Since he knows that the process of creating a connection between countries can only begin with one side expressing itself to the other, Trump has often very publicly taken that first step. He sees an opportunity to initiate a form of personal diplomacy with almost everyone. What is necessary is having a foreign counterpart who is willing to listen and understand to what Trump is saying. In establishing terms for interaction, differences between the two leaders, which on a very basic level could include political orientation, age, work experience, prestige, power, must set aside or overcome. On a personal level, there may be differences in styles of communication and certain sensitivities. Trump, will usually straightaway engage a foreign leader by looking beyond outward appearance, seeking to discover what is in his heart. Ex abundancia cordis, os loquitor. (From the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks.)

From the beginning of a diplomatic process with a foreign leader, Trump will insist through his own cordial actions, that mutual respect shown and understanding given to positions expressed. Trump will rely upon soft sensory abilities, using intuition and intimations, to facilitate discussion on issues and all aspects that important to both leaders. As communication develops, he will desire to create a sense of “oneness” with his interlocutor on the matter at hand. Smooth interactions creates opportunities for fulsome talks more desirable and usually results in them becoming more frequent. In talks, Trump knows there will be moments when both sides must reconcile with dissonant components of one another’s thinking on the spot. Thinking ahead in order to cope with an issue that could develop into a major obstacle, Trump will lay the groundwork for handling those moments by ensuring that an open and friendly atmosphere exists in all interactions. He will promote that positive atmosphere without effort or pretentiousness and mainly through a natural discourse with foreign leaders. There is apparently no disproportion between what is observed publicly observed in Trump’s interactions with foreign leaders and what occurs between them behind closed doors. Another bit of nuance to Trump’s approach is to take into account emotional responses of his foreign interlocutor. Trump will regularly and earnestly express an interest in a foreign leaders well-being and what he was thinking. As leaders, he understands the harness in which one is strapped as a national leader. That harness can become a yoke for some. Being able to mutually see the world through that lense provides and excellent basis for commonality and understanding in which he and his interlocutor can find comfort, and to an extent, relief.

Once Trump has the US “working together” with another country on a matter as agreed, success has been achieved. His vision would typically entail both sides engaged in various levels of communication communicating, working together, and making equal contributions all along the lines of excellence. That type of shared contribution has been called the art of working as one. Trump spends time daily as chief imagineer of the US, engaged in forward thinking, considering new types of partnerships, largely economic, that would serve mutual interests, ensuring what is best for US. What he will hope and expect is that those with whom he is negotiating will be accepting of change and a new path forward. What will typically be seen as a result by other countries when it comes to trade is a mutually robust path toward economic growth or even renewal backed by the experience of Trump and the largess of the US. Trump has not displayed any interest in subsuming the interests of another country just to gain advantages. He knows that will only set the stage for a build up of animus and likely future contentious interactions over the unfairness of the relationship. Trump is not in the business of kicking the can down the road, leaving problems for the US President that would follow his second term.

Hardly anything is all peaches and cream. When meeting with foreign leaders face-to-face, Trump’s eyes are always wide-open. He knows that even when it is easy enough for others to be supportive, to do the right thing, they will often choose the opposite. As he no longer a novice US President, he no longer seen from him are any mistaken assumptions about the loyalty, honor, capabilities of others, particularly among longtime political leaders of his own Republican Party. Indeed, Trump has honed his ability to see straight through just about anyone he encounters in both politics and diplomacy. In that vein, what is presented to him by foreign leaders is not accepted at face value. In addition to being able to see through the false face, he can discern true intention and position. Having this ability does not make Trump dismissive of them. There is no turn to being condescending. Interestingly, he will do his best not to let on to what he is thinking and feeling in those situations.

While it can be reasonably stated, as mentioned here, that Trump actually does things a bit differently in diplomacy, it would also be correct to state that he has not engaged in a variety of diplomacy so peculiar that foreign leaders and their aides and advisers would need to bang their heads on the tables, attempting to understand it. (If that is truly the case anywhere, greatcharlie respectfully suggests that those leaders find new, more effective aides and advisers.) What foreign leaders may characterize as vagarities, unexpected actions, in fact is a certain nuance which has been Trump’s style on foreign policy and diplomacy since day one and should have been better understood and have become part of a reliable calculus concerning him long since. He never makes himself ordinary, and he should be treated as such, nor should his thinking be considered such. (On immediate impression, perhaps what has been presented may appear quite evident and to a degree, common wisdom, however, negative preconceptions and false assessments of Trump so dominate the world scene, it becomes necessary to lay it when discussing perception versus the realities about him.)

Macron’s Surprising Misstep with Trump at the G7

Periclum ex aliis facito tibi quod ex usu siet. (Draw from others the lesson that may profit yourself.) When efforts are made by foreign leaders to connect with Trump by taking manipulative steps designed to find advantage over his way of thinking, they typically fall flat. Perchance, those failed efforts reflect much more about the foreign leader making an assumption or basing a decision concerning Trump on mere conjecture. A recent example of this was Macron’s effort to bring Trump and Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif together at the site of the recent G7 Summit. Apparently, Macron saw promise in the effort based on what Trump accomplished at the DMZ at Panmunjom with North Korean Chairman Kim Jong-un. It appears that based on information he was provided by aides and advisers, and one might presume even his own research, Macron comprehended only on a superficial level what Trump had done with Kim. He unfortunately drew all the wrong lessons from Trump’s inspired move.

It has been suggested that Macron seeks to exert greater influence on the world stage. He is seen as growing into a role as a European leader who is “prepared to take risks, push new ideas, and try to use the multilateral system to ease tensions and defend the liberal order.” For Macron, organizing an impromptu US-Iran meeting turned out to be far more challenging and riskier than he could ever have imagined, particularly as it created the image of him among US officials and scholars, not as a European leader, but more as Europe’s busybody. When one does a comparison between what Trump accomplished at the DMZ between the two Koreas and what Macron attempted, similarities can be seen, but great differences become most apparent. In those differences can be found reasons why Macron’s venture went wrong. Further, Macron may have wanted to create something akin to Trump’s extempore meeting with Kim at the DMZ when bring Javad Zarif to G7 Summit site, but the matter was clumsily handled. It may not have been a stunt, but it reasonably appeared as such. Some effort was made by some mainstream European news media houses to dress up what occurred as something positive. The Economist claimed that Macron managed “to avert disaster, keep America’s Donald Trump happy, ease trans-Atlantic tensions over a French tech tax and win a pledge from Mr Trump to talk to Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani.” Yet, alas, the effort was a failure.

The DMZ meeting was part of an ongoing effort to solidify the mutual respect,  understanding, and trust between Trump and Kim. As already explained, Trump and Kim demonstrated to each other that they equally understood the importance of “keeping together for progress.” They managed to indicate to each other that they were both interested in securing an agreement as things progressed. For Trump, in particular, it was part of an effort that greatcharlie has dubbed the ”maximum defusion campaign”. Further, Trump was also paying a visit to a new friend while “in the neighborhood” of his country as that is what real friends do! Having Kim respond to his invitation and come with a smile and outstretched hand to the DMZ was a tremendous success for Trump. Kim was willing to talk and follow-up on past meetings and letters. In the end, there were meetings that day in Panmunjom that resulted in a decision to bring teams of US and North Korean negotiators to getting to hash out irritating issues. The entire venture was born out of Trump’s life experience. Experience is something that one has and can be tapped into. Experience cannot be simulated.

Looking at the idea of bringing Trump together with Zarif in the manner that Macron should have, many things become apparent. Zarif was sanctioned by the US. Trump has doled out a number of hard hitting sanctions against Iran and Iranian officials following his administration’s withdrawal from the 2016 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action negotiated by the US, Russia, China, France, the United Kingdom, and Germany, suspending the Iranian nuclear program for a short 10-year period. There had been no previous meetings between them, no positive relationship, not even a noncommittal plan for interaction preexisted between the Trump administration and the Iranian regime to build upon. Zarif has made more than a few dismal remarks, garden-variety disparagements about Trump and his administration. One comment that stands out is his mocking reference of the Trump administration as the “B team”, which may indicate his gross misunderstanding of the political scene in the US. It is difficult to understand how and why in Zarif’s mind that the Trump administration would not constitute the “A team”. Maybe Zarif uttered the phrase only as means to entertain the lessen lightened at home with some banal amusement. In the spirit of full-disclosure, Trump also said a few uncongenial things about Iran, particularly about it being a state-sponsor of terrorism and its distabilizing activities throughout the Middle East and beyond. That view has been repeated by the US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. The big difference between what they have said versus Zarif’s comments is that all of their comments have been accurate.

Regarding Trump’s decision to meet impromptu at the DMZ, it certainly was not a decision based on preference or predilection toward meeting in that fashion. Rather, it was more about recognizing the potential in a particular circumstance and creating an opportunity. Thus, there was no reason whatever to duplicate such extempore circumstances in Biarritz. Further, it is difficult to understand why Macron would think Trump should meet with the sanctioned foreign minister of Iran and not the president. Kim is the Chairman of the Workers’ Party of Korea, the leader of North Korea. It would only be fitting for Trump to meet with Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei or at a minimum, Hassan Rouhani, the President of Iran. Under the circumstances, it is Zarif and his Foreign Ministry that could be called the “B team”. He is hardly eligible to meet with the US President.

Trump was unlikely pleased to discover that Macron completely failed to understand the DMZ meeting, that he was confused about what occurred, and even more, that Macron really did not understand him so well. However, in the face of it all, Trump displayed sangfroid and statesmanship. At the April 26, 2019  joint press conference with Macron at the G7 Summit’site end, Trump tried to tidy up the mess that the French President made with invitation to Zarif. Trump let Macron off the hook a degree by stating the French President had informed him of the surprise move with Zarif. Trump even agreed to meet Rouhani, with the condition of Iran becoming a good player in its region and on the world stage, but that accommodation fell flat. Rouhani absolutely rejected the idea of meeting with him unless, sanctions imposed by his administration were lifted. That was unrealistic condition insisted upon. Rouhani further stated incredulously that the US would also need “to bow its head in respect to Iran as an equal.” There is absolutely nothing that the US should have appreciated about Macron’s intercession into the current diplomatic difficulties between the US and Iran. Surely the impromptu venture was worth its candle enough that Macron should have been willing to go farther into the woods to consider all of its aspects, all of its possibilities, positive and negative. One might offer the conjecture that what was most importantly really revealed by the whole affair was a better understanding of Macron thinking on foreign policy and diplomacy. Smart, confident people can find real resolutions to difficulties. As a result of how the matter was handled by Macron, nothing good stemmed from it. If officials in the Palais de l’Élysée could please pardon greatcharlie’s frankness, the whole venture cobbled together by Macron was not particularly clever. Ornat haec magnitudo animi, quae nihil ad ostentationem, omnia ad conscientiam refert recteque facti non ex populi sermone mercedem, sed ex facto petit. (To all this, his illustrious mind reflects the noblest ornament; he places no part of his happiness in ostentation, but refers to the whole of it to conscience; and seeks the reward of a virtuous action, not in the applause of the world, but in the action itself.)

Examples of Recent and Past Failure by Foreign Government’s to Understand the US

This sort of ill-conceived approach not only to understanding of every new US President, but US society as a whole, tends to be a common problem in the decision making centers of foreign capitals. Perchance, even before the end of the first year of Trump’s first term, it became apparent to most foreign leaders that they could not rely on the intellectual support of their respective  subordinates when it came to dealing with Trump and the US, yet many continued to do so. Even Russian Federation President Vladimir Putin, at the dawn of the Trump administration, appears to have been egged on by certain aides and advisers in his cabinet who harbored strong anti-Western sentiments and believed Trump could be pressed on certain issues. It was likely such skewed thinking and a desire of aides and advisers to create the impression that they had an easy handle on things that led to the continued execution of an election interference campaign in the US that began during the administration of US President Barack Obama. That operation, now well-exposed, indeed left little doubt that over the years that officials in Moscow have not learned much about the actual multifaceted inner workings of the US government and the dynamics of US politics. That misunderstanding of how the system worked in the US surely led officials there to believe that they could ever influence a US presidential election. With the considerable interests of so many in the US staked on the 2016 election’s outcome, there was hardly a chance that a rather weighty level of influence activity stemming from an odd, unexpected direction would not be detected in many quarters. Moreover, US intelligence services and law enforcement agencies were watching over everything. When the covert operation was uncovered, the US responded with expulsions of diplomats and closures of Russian Federation facilities in the US. So much was discovered about the operation that Putin was left with little ability to plausibly deny his knowledge of those particular activities of Russia’s intelligence services.

As explained in greatcharlie’s January 14, 2019 post entitled, “Trump Uses Prior Experience, Flexible Thinking, and Even Empathy, to Make Foreign Policy Decisions Fit for Today’s World”, the unique qualities and character of each US President in great part impels the US public to select them on election day. As chief executive of the US Government requires the president to take certain positions and actions in accord with US values and interests. Yet, it is the unique qualities and character of each which causes the choices of each to diverge a bit or a lot from those of their predecessors. How a president will act on certain foreign and national security policy issues will typically be outlined during an election campaign for the public to read and hear. From what is enumerated, the public will form an opinion on a candidate. There must be the belief that the candidate will make a positive difference in their lives personally such as making them financially better off and more secure, allowing for improvement to their communities by making more services available and life better in general, and in the country by improving its condition, guiding it in a positive direction, and ensuring its status as a world leader and force for good. Negative ideas that might to orbit around a preferred candidate and even a rival candidate, while seemingly important in campaign efforts–every campaign has elements that focus on those matters and to an extent promulgate negative information on an opponent–and in news media stories broadcasted, published, and posted, may remain correlative, even de minimus, in the minds of many voters. In the end, it is not what is wrong with a candidate that sticks in the mind of a voter that is so important. It is what is right for the voter which makes the difference. The thinking of the US public generally moves in that direction. To the extent that negative information about a preferred candidate might have an impact, it may drive voters to the polls to ensure their candidate wins. However, an influence operation that would ensure such behavior in sufficient numbers to manipulate an election results would need to be nuanced to a degree that would it nearly impossible to carry out. (At a minimum, a full-fledged shadow campaign, with a multitude of operatives on the ground, would be needed to be successful. Moscow carried it out its 2016 interference relatively on the cheap!) Basing the interference operation on a failed interpretation of US political activity, meant it was doomed from the start. Essentially, it was sabotaged by ignorance.

During the Cold War, within the furtive decision making centers of the Soviet Union, there was a similar half-baked understanding of race in US society. It was seen as a matter in which their intelligence service could insulate themselves and exploit. To be more specific, the hope of the Soviet intelligence services was to exploit the disaffection of ethnic communities, particularly African-Americans, toward the US Government as part of its mission. Conjecture, more than anything else, was used to develop some official understanding of the racial strife in the US. They simply needed to create some basis to conduct operations to exploit it. When it was expedient, they undoubtedly substituted revolutionary ideals of the Communist Movement as a framework for understanding the civil rights efforts of the African-American community where they lacked an authentic understanding of the many dimensions of the race issue. (There was apparently a penchant toward that type of projection by the Soviet and Eastern Bloc intelligence services.) The operations of the First Department of the Soviet Union’s intelligence service at the time, Komitet Gosudarstvennoy Bezopasnosti (the Committee for State Security) better known as the KGB, covered the US and Canada. A target of the First Department among others, was the African-American community, particularly African-American radical groups. The task was to fund and support the radical groups in preparation for direct action, attacks on government facilities. However, they shpuld have only expected to achieve results. If the KGB had looked deeper into the matter, it might have discovered that despite the contentious, aggressive, and violent exchanges on race that were taking place during the Civil Rights Movement and afterward, for African-Americans there was certainly no desire to fight the US Government. Extremist elements with that in mind or something similar, promoting a divide between people, were few and far between. Further, despite any likely projection by Moscow of its own Socialist and Communist thinking in Moscow on the African-Americans community, the Civil Rights Movement was never about any of those political ideas. Respect and love for the US, and a sense of patriotism was present and apparent in most African-Americans despite incredible difficulties they faced in society. The goal of the Civil Rights Movement was not to tear down, destroy, transform system as it stood, but integrate more fairly society. The goal was to ensure the recognition of the rights of the African-American their community as due under the US Constitution and inclusion of members in all that was the US. The culture, attitudes, behavior, thinking, and laws had to be changed to allow and support the equal opportunity of African-Americans to enjoy those rights. Important to the struggle was getting the majority in the society value the lives of others, to value the lives of their fellow country regardless of race. Logic and wisdom had to conquer the sentiment and traditions of the past. For years, these elements were righteously insisted upon. Due to a willingness to accept change for the better and new federal laws passed, some progress was eventually made.

Intriguingly, a similar degree of skewed thinking on race in the US has been displayed by the Russian Federation Government today. According to The Atlantic, a spate of recent reports, accounts tied to the St. Petersburg-based Internet Research Agency—a Russian “troll factory”— used social media and Google during the 2016 electoral campaign to deepen political and racial tensions in the US. Indeed, as explained on the Russian TV network TV Rain, those trolls were directed to focus their tweets and comments on socially divisive issues, such as guns, but another consistent theme has been Russian trolls focusing on issues of race. Russian ads placed on Facebook apparently placed emphasis on Ferguson, Missouri and Baltimore, Maryland, which were the sites of considerable and extended protests after police killings of unarmed African-American men. Another Russian ad showed an African-American woman firing a rifle. Other ads played on fears of groups such as Black Lives Matter.

Should Foreign Leaders Blame Their Intelligence Services for the Failure to Understand Trump?

When national leaders do not grasp what is happening on an issue and cannot get a handle on a situation in a satisfying way, anxiety, a sense of panic, can ensue. To fill those gaps information, they make use of their intelligence services. The information that the intelligence service may provide may not necessarily be collected through agent running in the field or technological means. Whatever might have already been gathered by intelligence professionals from clandestine operations and perhaps covert sources of collection, may be supplemented and even complemented by overt sources. Indeed, among the tactics, techniques, procedures, and methods of many intelligence services of countries of various sizes and power, is to have analytical units mine for information through overt sources of intelligence, traditionally newspapers, magazines, books of certain authors. Now certain websites, blogs, and social media are also commonly raked through.

Using such overt sources, however, can be risky. Analysts can easily become victims of faulty reports, misleading stories, and politicized commentary. There is no assurance that the information is true. Without the means for verifying and confirming whether it is true, intelligence service must proceed with caution. Presently, overt sources can pose nearly as much danger as information that might be dangled before collectors by adversaries. When the wrong information is collected and presented to consumers, things can go terribly wrong. Policy and decision makers demanding intelligence, may not ask or give a cursory look at how and from where the information available was collected. Depending on how bad the situation is, those officials directly advising or supporting key leaders, rather than sit palms up due to detected discrepancies, questionable findings, intimations, will pass it along as work product, demonstrating that they possess some type of control, a handle on the situation. Those consumers might be pleased to receive verification of their ideas. Those ideas, strengthened with the support of new data, no matter if they are dead wrong, can often become facts and make their way from consumer to consumer as such.

What Foreign Leaders Should Keep in Mind about the US News Media

With regard to news related to foreign affairs and diplomacy, national security and defense, international and national, the news media serves as the eyes and ears of the US public in realms that are generally inaccessible. What is immediately apparent in the way in which stories are being reported and commented upon lately is the great degree that it deviates from well-established standards of professional practice of the past. That would include informing truthfully about people and events, reporting facts and not simply offering opinions. In particular, the quality of mainstream news media efforts devoted to foreign affairs and diplomacy, national security and defense, has degraded significantly.

US news media houses sell papers and magazines, but more importantly, advertising space when they express and act on such sentiment. The so-called “Information push” drives the made grab for stories and a source, almost any source, that will provide information to corroborate what is going out over the air, on paper, and online. Misguided speculation by the US news media can make stories seem more exciting, even lurid. Human nature is fascinated by what sounds exceptional and scandalous. When foreign leaders are drawn to such stories, they most often suffer the consequence of losing opportunities for their respective countries.

It is important to know that since the first days of the Trump administration, there has been an “us-them” approach taken by the majority of the US news media toward anything it does. Reporters and pundits in the broadcast media have gone beyond the point of being gadflies. Primacy is given to an effort to shape the thinking of the public against Trump, as well as provoke the US President, with daily stories that harshly criticize him, gainsay his administration’s decisions and actions, and chastise administration personnel from senior advisers to middle level staff. Words used are beyond hostile and aggressive. The distance that many journalists are willing to travel away from past norms is unknown. Into the second year of his first term in office, the news media remains all Trump, all the time. Journalists discuss hypotheticals sometimes with only a tenuous connection with the realities to ongoing events instead of informing the US public of facts from solid reporting and analysis based on studied patterns of decision making. The facts offered are more often bleached to the point of being superficial. Deeper dives into facts are avoided, and gaps are filled with opinions. Journalists will even seek to capitalize on Trump’s criticism of their stories whenever he decides to get involved with them.

The modality of the attacks on Trump from the news media catches the eye. Many critics have proven better skilled in unpleasantry than bon mot.  The attacks have been meted out in gradations of intensity. None of it represents, healthy, objective, traditional reporting and commentary. It is defined by a supercilious, holier-than-thou perspective of the US President, that they believe gives the free reign to be arrogant and rude toward him without regard for the fact that he is still a human being, and in an honored position that, itself, should garner respect. A type of patrician aesthetic has lead some critics to put themselves in position high enough to judge whether Trump is “presidential enough” for their liking. The words “not presidential” were heard every time Trump spoke. Efforts by Trump of any kind elicit a range of reactions by those engaged in the broad, piquant, counter-Trump discourse. From what has been observed, critics and detractors within the US news media as much as some angry scholars, policy analysts, political opponents, and leaders of the Democratic Party, have essentially exhibited a collective mindset, determined to find wrong in Trump. They have tried endlessly to uncloak some nefarious purpose in his legitimate effort to perform his duties.

On a secret recording made at a staff meeting on August 12, 2019, Dean Baquet, the executive editor of the New York Times, was heard making comments to the effect that the newspaper saw its job as imposing a “narrative” on the world rather than listening to what the world teaches. In that vein, Baquet seemed more concerned that in the Times coverage of the Russian collusion story concerning Trump and the 2016 US Presidential Election, it failed to deliver “the Russia story its readers wanted.” As Baquet stated: “Our readers who want Donald Trump to go away suddenly thought, ‘Holy [bleep], Bob Mueller is not going to do it.’ ” Baquet went on to explain that despite the fact that the newspaper covered an unsubstantiated story, he was satisfied with its work. He said, “We set ourselves up to cover that story. I’m going to say it. We won two Pulitzer Prizes covering that story. And I think we covered that story better than anybody else.” Baquet additionally indicated that the newspaper was not through with Trump yet. He suggested that the Times next needed to deliver the narrative that Trump is a racist, insisting that the Trump racism story is the one the newspaper’s readers want. He stated: “How do we cover America, that’s become so divided by Donald Trump? How do we grapple with all the stuff you all are talking about? How do we write about race in a thoughtful way, something we haven’t done in a large way in a long time? That, to me, is the vision for coverage. You all are going to have to help us shape that vision.” Baquet’s comments would have been considered unimaginable a few years earlier. Such is that state of the mainstream US news media today.

An Element of “Monkey See, Monkey Do” Overseas?

As greatcharlie discussed in its May 31, 2018 post, “An Open Mind and Direct Talks, Not Reports Developed from Overt US Sources, Will Best Serve Diplomacy with Trump”certainly, officers in topflight intelligence services around the world are carefully watching the drama being played out between Trump and the US news media. Interestingly, if any reports being produced by an intelligence service are still using the product of the US news media in their intelligence analyses of Trump, then those services are truly being remiss in their duties. Yet, maybe there is an element of “monkey see monkey do” that might drive such behavior.

During the testimony of the Special Counsel to Investigate Russian Interference with the 2016 Presidential Election and Related Matters, Robert Mueller, on July 24, 2019 before the House Judiciary Committee, Congresswoman Debbie Lesko (R-AZ) pointed out that in the final report of his office, entitled “Report On The Investigation Into Russian Interference In the 2016 Presidential Election” and known commonly as the Mueller Report, cited numerous media stories. Indeed, in Volume II of the Mueller Report, commonly referred to as Part 2, much of the supporting evidence used was from the US news media and not interviews or collected documents. Lesko asked Mueller directly: ““I think you relied a lot on media. I’d like to know how many times you cited The Washington Post in your report?” Lesko also asked Mueller how many times the report cited the New York Times or Fox News. Lesko then told Mueller that he cited the Washington Post “about 60 times,” the New York Times “75 times,” and Fox News “about 25 times.” She went on to state: “I’ve got to say, it looks like volume two is mostly regurgitated press stories. Honestly, there’s almost nothing in volume two that I couldn’t already hear or know simply by having a $50 cable news subscription.”

While the research as presented in Part 2 of the Mueller Report, analyses may have resembled authentic collection by intelligence and law enforcement officers, in reality it was a superficial mockery that fell far short of any professional standards. Perhaps foreign intelligence services a bit more familiar with the practices of the US intelligence community, may be taking a lesson from it. However, that particular practice, if it is indeed a common practice of the US intelligence community, certainly it would behoove foreign intelligence services not to allow that method to serve a model for what they should be doing to fulfill the requirements created by their consumers.

The Way Forward

Understandably, foreign leaders have great interest in successfully interacting with Trump. However, the use of information gleaned from the US news media is certainly not a way to accomplish that. To that extent, greatcharlie has been thoroughly critical of foreign leaders efforts in that direction. So scarcely can it be said that what appears in the US news media about Trump are  accurate facts that it would behoove foreign leaders to be more than circumspect of information they receive that has arrived out of its stories. Moreover, they should perhaps avoid such information, regardless of their own respective intelligence services procedures for using it as an overt source, altogether. As for alternatives, alas, greatcharlie’s not in the business on telling foreign how best understand the US President’s intentions and actions. Yet, lessons for anyone on the matter can be drawn from the approaches taken by Trump aimed at affecting change in the foreign and national security policy decision making of other countries in his first term while working outside the auspices of international institutions. There might be some disagreement with this suggestion, but very often from what critics might declare as crises, Trump has managed to create starting points for new beginnings in relations with other countries. Trump sees potential in everything. As a result, if he sees a better way, an easier route to put the figurative golden ring in his reach. His critics and detractors insist that there are strictures on foreign and national security decision making to which he must adhere as US President. However, Trump, having been engaged in international business for years, has had time to examine the world using his own lens, and not a political or bureaucratic prism. He came to office confident that he could maneuver well among the galer of national leaders, each with his or her own ideas, goals, ambition, will, and predilections. There will occasionally be surprise shifts in his approaches. Indeed, he exhibits the type of flexibility of thinking and action that an accomplished general would hope to display in war. It is possible that he has by instinct the methodology to do it all well.

Additionally, greatcharlie has neither the intent nor the wherewithal to insist the leaders in foreign capital to accept its explanation of how far off-base many of their analyses of Trump must be and that they must immediately change their perspective. It would seem that some might prefer to continue onward in that way given a degree of comfort has been found in believing the situation truly is as they see it. It would only hope that with a record of being unable to find a pathway to understanding what will most likely be a two-term US President, that all would adopt a perspective on Trump in line with reality. Laudem virtutis necessitati domus. (We give to necessity the praise of virtue finding the benefit in what is needful.)

Why Putin Laments the Soviet Union’s Demise and His Renewed “Struggle” with the US: A Response to an Inquiry from Students

When Putin occasionally grieves publicly over the Soviet Union’s demise and expresses pro-Soviet sentiments, some confusion usually ensues among listeners worldwide. Putin, just being himself, certainly does not make it easy for anyone to understand him. Still, he is not beyond human knowledge, comprehension, and speech. A group of university students in the US inquired with greatcharlie on Putin’s expressions concerning the Soviet Union following a lively seminar debate. It was decided that this post would be used to provide a response to their inquiry. Hopefully, what is at the root of Putin’s stance on the Soviet Union has been figuratively dug up for them to see.

In late-May 2019, greatcharlie received an intriguing message from some undergraduate students of a university in the US concerning recurrent comments of Russian Federation President Vladimir Putin, lamenting the Soviet Union’s demise. There had apparently been a very lively debate in their political science seminar on Putin’s “often public lamentations over the dissolution of the Soviet Union, his insistence that it had many positive attributes and that as a superpower, it played a valuable role globally.” The students’ solicitation of greatcharlie’s thoughts on the matter was flattering. It was even more stirring to see them express great interest in international affairs and Russian politics in particular. Another subject was selected for greatcharlie’s June post.  However, rather than simply suggest a few books and journal articles to supplement their seminar debate, it was decided that this post would be used to provide a response to the students’ inquiry. Undergraduate and graduate students represent a significant portion of greatcharlie’s audience. The hope of greatcharlie is that by responding in this way, these intrepid students and others reading the blog will be encouraged to further pursue their international affairs studies and to continue reaching out beyond their classroom lessons to augment their knowledge base.

Confusion over one’s thinking can often issue from imprudently offering enthusiasms on a subject. When Putin occasionally offers pro-Soviet sentiments, some confusion usually ensues among listeners. Putin, just being himself, does not make it easy for anyone to understand him. Yet, Putin is not beyond human knowledge, comprehension, and speech. It would be counterintuitive not to accept that when Putin acts at any level, he does so with purpose and that purpose can be uncovered. What is at the root of Putin’s nostalgic, pro-Soviet position is figuratively dug up for them to see from this somewhat informal, multidirectional examination. Hopefully, it discusses a few valuable points perhaps not covered in the inquiring students’ seminar. Further, from this examination, insights were generated on the Russian Federation President’s intentions and actions that will contribute to the foreign policy debate internationally. Nulla tenaci invia est via. (For the tenacious no road is impassable.)

What has been striking about those occasions when Putin spoke so fondly of the Soviet Union and lamented its collapse was the very public nature of his expressions. Even in those dire initial days in office, Putin rarely offered comments off the cuff that could possibly produce a marked impression. True, expressions of sentimentality as they related to feelings of patriotism were heard from him before. Still, he avoided uttering sentiments that stemmed from truly personal feelings. If Putin was at all comfortable with publicly bemoaning the demise of the Soviet Union, it was because he thought it was the best thing to do on each occasion.

Putin Has Said Some Interesting Things about the Soviet Union

When Putin first began publicly discussing his feelings about the Soviet Union, he provided a rare glimpse of how thoughts coalesced in his consciousness. Only a few years earlier Putin had become a full-fledged political man, a deputy mayor of St Petersburg, and then suddenly found himself at the very top, learning his way through the Kremlin jungle, domestic politics, and the larger world of global international affairs. Prior to his statements about the Soviet Union, Putin left no doubt that the essence of his thinking was akin to a “Russia First” concept. On August 16, 1999, the members of the State Duma, the Russian Federation’s Parliament, met to approve Putin’s candidacy of a prime minister. He was President Boris Yeltsin’s fifth premier in 16 months. In his speech to the Duma, Putin stated with spirit: “Russia has been a great power for centuries, and remains so. It has always had and still has legitimate zones of interest . . . We should not drop our guard in this respect, neither should we allow our opinion to be ignored.” Being Yeltsin’s choice, Putin was dutifully confirmed as prime minister without much been made in support of, or against, his nationalistic stance. His strong patriotic tone was heard again in a statement made in Part 5, “The Spy” of Putin’s memoir First Person: An Astonishingly Frank Self-Portrait by Russia’s President (Public Affairs, 2000) page 80. One of the interviewers preparing the book, notes that she asked him, “Did you suffer when the Berlin Wall fell?”, he explained: “Actually, I thought the whole thing was inevitable. I only really regretted that the Soviet Union had lost its position in Europe, although intellectually I understood that a position built on walls and dividers cannot last. But I wanted something different to rise in its place. And nothing different was proposed. That’s what hurt. They just dropped everything and went away.”

Even so, only after a few short months as acting president and as the elected president, Putin, with the apparent aim of keeping the Russian Federation a welcomed player on the international stage, began taking a nuanced approach in issuing statements. When Russian Federation President Boris Yeltsin departed in 1999, he left his young, hand-picked successor, Putin, with a rather dire situation economically, socially, and politically. Through strenuous efforts, Putin managed to halt what was once the country’s downward spiral toward abject ruin. Yet, after leveling things off, he hoped to move forward with plans and programs to improve living standards for average Russians and conditions around the country as a whole. At Kremlin press conferences, official government meetings and events, political rallies,  presentations at universities, policy think tanks, scholarly journals, and other institutions, Putin expressed his desire to create something better for the Russian people. Reading through Putin’s December 31, 1999 essay, “Russia at the Turn of the Millenium”, that appeared on the website of the Russian Federation on December 31, 1999, he clearly believed, boiled down to the bones, that the key to Russia’s progress would be a successful effort to maximize the performance potential of the Russian people. That became his stated aim. He would focus on those factors that have brought some level of success and advancement, and attempt to amplify them to create some change.

Putin also was interested in acquiring Western investment into his economically troubled country to provide the people with the support they needed. For a while, he seemed to stoke Western approval of the Russian Federation with his words. However, he also made a number of half-turns away from a pro-Western position that really evinced there was a duality in thinking. As an example, on March 5, 2000, Putin made a statement to the effect that he did not rule out having the Russian Federation join NATO. However, he stressed that it would only do so “when Russia’s views are taken into account as those of an equal partner.” After stating that he could not imagine Russia being isolated from Europe, Putin went further on NATO to state: “it is hard for me to visualize NATO as an enemy.” Putin’s nuanced language was apparent, too, when very publicly broaching the issue of the Soviet Union’s fall. He remarked: “Whoever does not miss the Soviet Union has no heart, whoever wants it back has no brain.” Putin’s efforts were successful to the extent that statements as these caused the West, if not to drop its guard, certainly to take a more relaxed view of him and his intentions. It would seem even then, that his true feelings and intentions would have readily identified him as a Russian nationalist. In that same vein, those pro-Western statements ran counter to the strong nature of his later statements of near adoration of the Soviet Union.

Soon enough, that nuanced bit of his statements that provided a touch of goodwill to the West was dropped. The collapse of the Soviet Union was publicly discussed by Russian Federation officials with the apparent goal of amplifying the message to world of how badly Russian people suffered as a result and that consideration might be given to increasing any efforts to invest in and generally assist their country. It also had the purpose of letting the Russian people know that their government was aware of their plight. No deception was being used then to hide deficiencies in the system which was the practice under Soviet rule. On April 25, 2005, Putin stated: “Above all, we should acknowledge that the collapse of the Soviet Union was a major geopolitical disaster of the century. As for the Russian nation, it became a genuine drama. Tens of millions of our co-citizens and co-patriots found themselves outside Russian territory. Moreover, the epidemic of disintegration infected Russia itself.” In process of repairing things, however, Putin encountered significant obstacles that primarily concerned the capabilities and capacity of the Russian people to get beyond only making changes here and there for the better, and get behind efforts at making real progress. The product of his efforts could be characterized as rather anemic. There was still an uneasiness in Russia when Putin began as president. Morale was low, fruitful activity was sparse, and new, useful ideas were absent. One might posit that faced with disappointment and discontent over immediate results of his own efforts over the years, he has been able to manage his greatest concern which is not to allow the country to roll backward. That was probably a nightmare that likely nearly suffocated him many nights at the time. In order to stabilize the situation, he apparently decided to turn toward something that felt familiar and safe. Eventually, Putin’s goal became to develop some simulacrum of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics or the Soviet Union. Sustainability was less likely a concern given the exigent circumstance of a need for immediate answers. On March 2, 2018, Putin issued his most direct comment to date about the Soviet collapse. Taking questions from supporters in Russia’s European exclave of Kaliningrad, Putin was asked what Russian historical event he would like to change. Putin immediately answered, “The collapse of the Soviet Union.”

What has been striking about those occasions when Putin spoke so fondly of the Soviet Union and lamented its collapse was its very public nature. Putin has never been anything akin to some wandering preacher, expressing his convictions about matters. Even in those dire early days in office, Putin, who emerged from the secret world of Soviet intelligence, rarely offered comments off the cuff that could produce a marked impression. True, expressions of sentimentality as it related to feelings of patriotism were certainly heard from Putin before. Still, Putin is a man who has typically avoided uttering sentiments genuinely stemming from personal feelings, which in this case was his grief over loss of the Soviet Union. If he ever slipped up and revealed blithely his inner feelings on a matter, he would have moved quickly to preserve the confidentiality of such statements. If Putin was at all comfortable with publicly bemoaning the demise of the Soviet Union, it was clearly because he thought it was the best thing to do on each occasion.

Typically after hearing Putin’s worldview was shaped by his service in the KGB, the imagination runs wild among many in the West. Putin is more likely visualized as being still on the beat, working in the exotic and mysterious segment of the organization that engaged in kidnappings, harsh interrogations, relocations of citizens to prisons and internment camps, paramilitary operations, and assassinations. With tongue in cheek, Putin has fueled exaggerated Western characterizations of himself by posing in photos as a stern man of action, training his sights on targets with pistols, sniper rifles, and other weapons.

The KGB Factor

An immediate impression of Putin’s words might reasonably be that he and most likely many others who were part of the Soviet apparat continued to adhere to their “unique reality” about the Soviet Union. Indeed, his statements were true to life with respect to the commitment to the Soviet system by hardline, old guard, former apparatchiks, which includes Communist Party functionaries or government bureaucrats, nomenklatura or high ranking management, and dead-enders among former rank and file Soviet citizens. For all those from the same water in which Putin swam, each time anyone referenced the Soviet Union in such a positive manner, there would doubtlessly be agreement that it was the full version. For them, such words from Putin likely ring patriotic bells. It strikes greatcharlie as hopelessly derivative to remind readers that Putin’s decisions and actions have been influenced by his life in the Soviet Union’s Committee for State Security, initialized from Russian and better known as the KGB. It was Soviet agency responsible for intelligence, counterintelligence, and internal security. Nonetheless, it is a reality and an important factor that should be examined first.

A seemingly infinite number of primary and secondary sources exist on the KGB. However, an intriguing Cold War era description of the KGB that greatcharlie has referred to often is a concise November 13, 1982 New York Times article entitled, “KGB Praised By Some Feared By Many”. The article explained that the KGB was the most widely feared instrument of the Soviet Government. It measured the strength of the KGB at 90,000 or so staff officers inside the Soviet Union to guard against internal security threats and run the political prisons. Along the country’s borders, 175,000 of border troops patrol its 41,800 miles of frontiers. Outside of the country, the article noted that its scientific-technical operatives sweep Western countries seeking the latest secret inventions, while its ”illegals” try to penetrate foreign intelligence operations. The article explains further that the first Communist secret service, the All-Russian Extraordinary Commission for Combatting Counterrevolution, Speculation and Sabotage, mainly referred to under the acronym Cheka, virtually copied the Czarist secret police organization and even co-opted some of its more capable officers. The Cheka’s founder, Feliks Dzerzhinsky, was quoted as saying, ”Trust is good, but control is better,” and, in 1918, ”We stand for organized terror.” In its earlier years, the article states, the Soviet secret police acquired a reputation as an instrument of mass terror: beginning in the 1920s as the organizer and supplier at home of huge concentration camps where millions perished; in the 1930s as Soviet Premier Josef Stalin’s executor of huge purges of the party and the Red Army officer corps; and, in the late 1940s and 1950s, as the perpetrator of assassinations of opponents abroad. The latter killings were performed by a group specialized in what Soviet intelligence reportedly  called ”wet affairs”. In the immediate aftermath of Stalin’s death on March 5,1953, the KGB was accused of trying a coup in the Kremlin, using secret police troops. Its chief, Lavrenti P. Beria, was seized by his party comrades and executed. The article notes that it was not until 20 years later that the KGB recapture the degree of respect it once held in the Soviet Union when its director, Yuri Andropov, was elected to the Communist Party’s ruling Politburo.

Citing a common perspective of Western intelligence specialists then, the article states that the KGB, while retaining excellent abilities in traditional espionage was devoting greater resources to acquiring Western military and industrial technology. In fact, in the decade before the article was written, the KGB has acquired the plans of American spy satellites, advanced radar, computer source codes and conventional weapon innovations. It posits that those acquisitions could have been attributed to Andropov. It was under his supervision the KGB became a type of office for technology transfer from the West, in addition to its conventional tasks, such as penetrating the coderooms of the NATO alliance. The article further explains that the KGB, to the envy of foreign intelligence services, was able to retain key personnel for many decades, providing a kind of continuity particularly valuable in counterintelligence. The article quoted an assessment of the KGB by James J. Angleton, retired head of the CIA’s counterintelligence branch, a controversial figure, yet sacred cow US intelligence. Angleton simply stated: “I wish we had their continuity.”

Interestingly, the New York Times article’s treatment of the KGB had an almost prosecutorial tone. Still, there should not be any misunderstanding that among those who were or potentially could have been victims of the KGB in the Soviet Union and abroad, the organization was not by any means viewed as the “good guys”. its actions were not misunderstood. However, while it is a bit one-sided, the article manifests prevailing Western impressions of the KGB at the time, It hopefully allows one to gain a sense of the tension and tenor of the geopolitical struggle between East and West during the Cold War as late as the 1980s.

In First Person, Putin, himself, left little doubt that his service in the KGB was a crucial feature of his life. Having had a rather successful career in the renowned security organization, Putin certainly has memories of an existence quite different from most Russians in the Soviet Union. Indications are that members of the KGB managed to skirt many of tribulations most Soviet citizens endured as a result of his service. Moreover, they were able to enjoy certain privileges. Putin found great value in what the Soviet Union was able to provide for him in terms of a livelihood and in terms of self-respect. He has great reason to be thankful to it.

On Putin’s KGB Perspective

Ex umbris et imaginibus in veritatem. (Into the truth through shadows and images.) Typically after hearing Putin’s worldview was shaped by his service in the KGB, the imagination runs wild among many in the West. Putin is more likely visualized as being still on the beat, working in the exotic and mysterious segment of the organization that engaged in kidnappings, harsh interrogations, relocations of citizens to prisons and internment camps, paramilitary operations, and assassinations. While embellished to a considerable degree, that remains the “commercialized”, Hollywood version of the KGB officer, popular in the West during the Cold War. It was certainly a great departure from reality. Essentially, for Putin, they paint a portrait of someone who does not exist. Some appear so satisfied seeing Putin as such, they do not seem interested in getting the picture straight. With tongue in cheek, Putin has fueled exaggerated characterizations of himself by posing in photos as a stern man of action, training his sights on targets with pistols, sniper rifles, and other weapons. A fair appraisal of Putin’s career would be that he was good at his work and that he well-impressed his colleagues and superiors alike. Certainly, he could be dashing and audacious when necessary, but moreover he was honorable and discreet, using his wits and memory. He progressed gradually and fruitfully with agents he recruited. As a result of his many successes, he received promotions up to the rank of lieutenant colonel. Similar to most of his young colleagues, the KGB offered Putin a solid basis for believing that the Soviet system could be protected and sustained. The KGB, as a central organ of the government, ostensibly had the know-how and the resources to prevent the Soviet Union, and the contiguous countries of the Eastern bloc that it led, from falling into a chaotic condition.

Søren Kierkegaard, the Danish philosopher and theologian noted: “Our life always expresses the result of our dominant thoughts.”  In his bildungsroman, First Person. Putin, himself, left little doubt that his service in the KGB was a crucial feature of his life. The officers of the KGB were the tried and true protectors of the Soviet Union. The organization was praised by the Communist leadership as the country’s ”sword and shield”. The KGB certainly had the trust of its customers. At the same time, the KGB, was an indispensable instrumentality of the government to the extent it was the means through which it subjected the Russian people to terrible conditions believing that there was little chance that those conditions would fully effect its members. Indications are that KGB officers managed to skirt many of the tribulations most Soviet citizens endured as a result of his service. Moreover, they were able to enjoy certain privileges. Having had a rather successful career in the renowned security organization, Putin certainly has memories of an existence quite different from most Russians in the Soviet Union. Putin found great value in what the Soviet Union was able to provide for him in terms of a livelihood and in terms of self-respect. For those reasons alone, he has great reason to be thankful to it. In Part 3, “The University Student” of First Person, Putin states about himself: “I was a pure and utterly successful product of Soviet patriotic education.” Ubi bene, ibi patria.  (Homeland is where your life is good.)

It must be mentioned that Karen Dawisha, in Putin’s Kleptocracy: Who Owns Russia? (Simon & Shuster, 2014), insists that there was more than an emotional connection between former KGB officers and the Soviet Union. Dawisha explains that in the period after the collapse of the Soviet Union that the Chekists were asked to take control of the currency that the Communist Party had accumulated. There were Central Committee decrees ordering such activity. Dawisha cites an August 23, 1990 decree which authorized: “urgent measures on the organization of commercial and foreign economic activities of the party” and laying out the need for an autonomous channel into the Party cash box . . . the final objective is to build a structure of invisible party economics . . . a very narrow circle of people have been allowed access to this structure . . . .”  Dawisha makes the connection between this period when KGB officers heard the clarion call of the Communist Party to loot state coffers and Putin’s start in politics at the local level in his hometown of St. Petersburg. As head of the St. Petersburg Committee for Foreign Liaison, a job he received through KGB patronage, Putin began working with a tight knit circle of Chekists.  Grabbing money became their métier, and they worked hard at it. In St. Petersburg, Putin obeyed his patrons and proved himself to be reliable.  He also gained a solid understanding of the linkages between organized crime, which is of a special breed in Russia, bureaucrats, and former KGB officials. (While in St. Petersburg, he befriended an attorney named Dmitry Medvedev.) When his boss, Alexander Sobchak lost his bid for reelection as St. Petersburg’s mayor, Putin was out of a job. Yet, in the course of less than two years though, Putin rose from being an out-of-work deputy mayor to head of the FSB. A year later, Putin was the prime minister. Six months after that, he was Russian Federation President. On April 2, 2015, greatcharlie posted a review of Putin’s Kleptocracy. There is far too much to follow along that argument to unpack here. However, Dawisha does an excellent job of providing evidence to support her thesis. It could very well be an important part of the larger picture of Putin, the KGB, and governance in the Russian Federation.

Why a KGB Veteran Is Likely to Follow His Former Institution’s Line of Thinking

Surely, those who joined the KGB would say that they had answered the call to serve their nation in the security service. Some likely found a home, that offered employment security, a steady salary a place to belong to, a place where they will be taken care of, and an ordered life. That would not be considered irregular. The same could be said of those who have sought military careers or foreign service careers. Yet, as a result of more than a “collective consciousness” about defending the homeland, and given the unique nature of their work, a bond would form among KGB personnel and their families to the extent that a sort of mini society existed in the service. There may be some evidence that KGB officers, having an innate sense for being discreet, were mainly repressed people. Unable to express love within family or in close circles, the repressed have a habit of investing emotionally into larger organizations. Their love can be put into an institution, which in the case of Putin and his colleagues, was the KGB. The intelligence service, that closed off part of the intelligence officer’s life, becomes his family. For some, it becomes their raison d’etre. That type of linkage can lead to difficulties upon retirement and separation from organization. That makes associations of retired intelligence professional all the more important by creating links to the organization in which they served. The more contentment officers found in the KGB, the more settled and satisfied they became with their lives. Through the KGB, they got the picture of their lives straight.

Putin rose meteorically through the newly formed Russian Federation Government under Yeltsin almost as if his life had been mapped out by providence. He found support and guidance from former KGB colleagues from St. Petersburg which is both his hometown and where got his start in politics at the local level. Many have since become officials in Putin’s government, political leaders, and key business leaders with whom Putin remains in close contact. In the KGB, these former officers are affectionately referred to as Chekists. They come from a community of families whose “roots” go back to the beginnings of the Communist Party and its first political police known as the Cheka. Among the aforementioned cadre of government officials, political leaders, and business leaders with whom Putin has surrounded himself are men who came from Putin’s hometown of St. Petersburg were mostly Cheka. Putin’s own Cheka heritage includes both a father and grandfather who served in the security service. He was in fact raised in the Chekisty (Chekists) community, attending schools and a university Chekists’ progeny typically attended. With a loyal and effective team, Putin could stay ahead of troublesome political and business leaders that would disrupt his plans more often than not to the extent they would enable themselves to achieve their own self-aggrandizing, short term goals. However, by surrounding himself with like-minded Chekists of his “KGB family”, retaining his prevailing Chekist beliefs that aspects of the Soviet Union provides a good model for Russia to itself build upon has been made easier for Putin.

While it might be viewed as daylight madness in the West, some former Soviet citizens in Russia imagine the Soviet Union as a better place than it was. Moreover, these Russians, who miss the past, even crave it, warts and all, were not all from among those who were privileged in the Soviet system. Those who were not privileged seem to discount just how shabby the majority of their lives were under that system. According to a December 19, 2018 Levada Center poll, more Russians regretted the breakup of the Soviet Union then than at any other time since 2004.

Is Putin in Touch with His Fellow Russians Regarding the Soviet Union?

His KGB life aside, Putin must be able recall that the Soviet Union was not satisfying for all Russians. Even in First Person, Putin admits that housing conditions for his family in St. Petersburg were far less than perfect, nevertheless, they still lived better than many. For those not so enthusiastic with the Soviet system, Putin’s pro-Soviet sentiments likely reminded of the ugliness of a not so distant past. The majority of Russians were unable to obtain positions equivalent in prominence and power as Putin held. Surely, they did enjoy the relatively staid and secure life that came with it. While it was more “democratic” to claim that Soviet citizens had equal access to education, opportunity, housing, sustenance, health care, social welfare, and other programs, efforts by the Soviet system in that direction were more cosmetic than consequential in establishing the type of society to which they made claim. All of those services, while satisfying when made available and were of appropriate quality, hardly reflected an effort by the Soviet government to respond to the will of the people.

Under the authorized description of the Soviet system, it was a so-called classless society. However, it assuredly was economically stratified, and could be visualized in terms of concentric circles. The quality of life for citizens in the society would degrade sharply as one looks outward from the center all the way to those circles at the end where citizens struggled daily to survive. Those who occupied the center circle were the nomenklatura, the country’s leaders and power elites at the top. Those moguls lived in luxury relative to other citizens, and enjoyed the best things that Russia had to offer. Outside of the nomenklatura, the standard of living was passable for Soviet citizens from what would approximate “middle-class”. Those were usually the apparatchiks of the Soviet system, full-size functionaries of the Communist Party or the Soviet government apparat (apparatus). Apparatchiks were also those who worked in any bureaucratic  position or position of political responsibility. In many cases, they were lucky enough to be employed under the “self-management” concept positions, which required employees to evaluate the quality of their own productivity. However, that virtual middle-class was never completely comfortable for they , too, could suffer the effects of housing shortages, rationing, corruption, and other inconveniences. In some cases, they had to pay their superiors in order to keep their positions. This was even true in some parts of the military

Russian citizens living under a lower standard encountered those same problems and more with far greater intensity. They often suffered periods of rationing and privation. Some fell into a state of penury, a reality that the Soviet system desperately sought to conceal. They were forced to make the most of nothing. Those citizens emerged from the Soviet system holding a worldview, infiltrated by pessimism. They fully experienced the self-serving, self-enriching, behavior of national leaders for whom they were simply statistics.

Of the many Russians émigrés who escaped the Soviet Union during the Cold War, some who were activists or associated with activist organizations, were labelled anti-social elements when they lived there, and the Soviet government was likely happy to rid the country of them. There were some defectors, and some who managed to immigrate in order to take advantage of Western educational and professional training programs, getting away from the Soviet Union. What these groups typically had in common though, was the manner in which they spoke with disdain about of the Soviet system once they arrived overseas. They generally told stories with unmitigated rancor of an abominable government security apparatus that abused power, had neighbors spy on neighbors, obliterated all aspects of privacy, and made freedom something that could only be enjoyed in dreams. They could vividly recount their difficult lives in a manner that would bring the walls down. Very often, Soviet intelligence services would troll émigré communities in the West, to recruit and develop agents abroad using the threat of harming family members still living in the Soviet Union if cooperation was not provided.

Immediately after the Soviet Union’s collapse, tens of thousands of detailed facts, intriguing anecdotes, and classified debriefings collected on furtive actions taken by the KGB were collected from the archives (vaults) of what was once called 2 Fellx Dzerzhinsky Square Moscow, the headquarters and prison of the KGB. With that information, and insights such those discussed here, there is enough to assess today, as it had been at the time of the Soviet Union’s demise, that the inability of the government to find an efficacious way to meet its all important responsibility to provide for and ensure the well-being of its citizenry, that led to the country’s downfall. Despite all of the alleged promise and dogma uttered about the “great socialist system”, the results confirmed that the Soviet concept was never viable. Despite all appearances, the country for years was slowly being strangled by many ills from within. While not easily stirred by the transfer from one national leader to another, at some level, Russians surely had expected that the rather shrewd, worldly-wise young ex-KGB man, Putin, might be the elixir their country needed. Many may have hoped that he would be able to present a concept for change to overcome what was before. It certainly would not have expected that Putin main focus would be to use Russia as a platform from which the supposed splendor and the power of the Soviet Union could be reestablished

As Putin, himself, acknowledged, the average Russian citizen had little idea beyond the US and the European Union to find examples of what they quietly wanted to be after the Soviet Union collapsed. Even in that case, they had absolutely no idea what it would really take to reach such heights. They also had little knowledge of how to discern what would indicate a political leader has the qualifications or capabilities to put the country on a path to advance there successfully. Steps in that direction were made. Russia was made a member of what became the G8 and G20. It would become the key member of NATO’s Partnership-for-Peace and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. It participated in UN peacekeeping and peace-enforcement missions mandated by resolutions. After the 1990s, there was the image of Russia acquiring a place at the main table with the top industrialized countries despite its precarious situation economically, socially, politically, and militarily. As a policy, Russia sought to incorporate itself into the international system of regulating foreign economic operations, particularly the World Trade Organization. However, paying careful attention to Putin’s words when he was acting President, the impression is created that finding a true path toward comity with the West was not actually on his mind. Putin explained in his very revealing essay, “Russia at the Turn of the Millenium”: “Russia will not become a second edition of say the US or Britain, where liberal values have deep historic traditions. Our state and its institutions and structures have always played an exceptionally important role in the life of the country and its people. For Russians a strong state is not an anomaly to be gotten rid of. Quite the contrary, it is a source of order and the main driving force of any change.”

Do Russians Want to Go Back to Soviet Days?

In the West, one might expect that concerns or fears would be so universal among all Russian citizens over any wording that would even hint some form of the Soviet Union would be reanimated in Russia. That uneasiness clearly would not be based on unreason and paranoia, but rather upon the experience of having lived so shabbily under its system. Conceivably as a result of the experience many Russians had enduring dissatisfaction in the Soviet Union and living with the limitations and inconveniences of daily life in the Russian Federation, they had become expert in keeping a sense of proportion. The follow-on to the Soviet system was supposed to be the great Russian liberalization. However, that was not the case.

There are occasionally some significant grumblings about Putin’s governance. Protest rallies become considerably more intense than perambulating demonstrators near election dates. Flaps of clashes with police and the security services by more politically active segments of the population have been predicted by Western experts, and reported in the Western media, as spelling the beginning of the end for Putin. Nevertheless, Putin remains. Interestingly, Putin has been ridiculed and denounced in the news media. Further, there has been television programming in the Russian Federation that has lampooned Putin much to his dissatisfaction. However, he hardly dealt with any problems of considerable intensity from his core constituency or, relatively, from the majority of Russians countrywide. They have not really exhorted Putin to try harder. They keep within the margins. Perhaps the old adage “go with what you know” could be applied, for it best suits the situation for the Russian people regarding their country’s path and its leadership. To the extent that they will continue have any order in their country, average Russians believe that they can at best rely upon Putin. That begrudging sense of being somewhat satisfied has been just enough to bring Putin victory in election after election. One might say therein lies a sort of duplicity on their part. Still, in an even bigger way, the Russian people are really gambling on Putin’s mortality. The possibilities of who might come to power from other powerful political forces in Russia is hair raising. Via trita, via tuta. (Beaten path, safe path.)

While it might be viewed as daylight madness in the West, some former Soviet citizens in Russia imagine the Soviet Union as a better place than it was. Moreover, these Russians, who miss the past, even crave it, warts and all, typically are not all from among those who were privileged in the Soviet system. That is quite intriguing because those who were not privileged seemingly discount just how shabby the majority of their lives were under that system. They are the dead-enders. It is posited here that in some cases, such pro-Soviet elements apparently focus upon and magnify aspects of Soviet life that they may have enjoyed from the totality of their experiences and then determined that it was as a result of the benefits of being Soviet. To be more precise, it appears that as a result of some psychological transference, what defined their private existence somehow became what universally defined their existence under the Soviet system. Those positive, pleasant aspects of Soviet life may actually have been things such as good times had among family, friends and colleagues that in reality are common to people all over the world, transcending citizenship or nationality. Perhaps in Soviet terms, it could be chalked up to humanism. While being a Soviet citizen may have been a common experience, what they had even more in common was their humanity. It was the US philosopher, psychologist, and educational reformer, John Dewey, who stated: “Time and memory are true artists; they remould reality nearer to the heart’s desire.”

Statistical evidence of such pro-Soviet thinking among former rank and file Soviet citizens was provided by a poll published on December 19, 2019 by the Levada Center, a Russian independent, nongovernmental polling and sociological research organization. According to that poll, more Russians regret the breakup of the Soviet Union at that moment in time more so than any other since 2004. The poll was conducted between November 18, 2018 and November 28, 2018, surveyed 1,600 people nationwide. When asked whether they regret the 1991 Soviet collapse, 66 percent of respondents answered “yes”. That represented an increase of 58 percent from 2017, and is the highest proportion since 2004, the last year of Putin’s first term. Reportedly, 25 percent of respondents said they did not regret the Soviet breakup, the lowest proportion since 2005, and 9 percent said they could not answer. Interestingly, Levada found that Russians’ concerns about their economic security today were among the main reasons for the increase in the number voicing regret. Indeed, a Levada pollster explained that 52 percent of respondents named the collapse of the Soviet Union’s “single economic system” as the main thing they regretted. The peak of regret over the Soviet collapse came in 2000, when 75 percent of Russian polled by Levada answered “yes” to the same question. At the same time, 36 percent said they miss the “feeling of belonging to a great power,” and 31 percent lamented mistrust and cruelty in society.

US and Soviet armor units face-off at Checkpoint Charlie on the Friedrichstrasse in Berlin October 27-28, 1961 (above) For nearly 50 years, the West struggled against efforts by the Soviet Union and the Soviet Bloc countries to spread the Communist philosophy that underpinned their governments. An almost universal belief in the West was that the way of life on its side was elevated well-above the Communist world. The West always emphasized its moral superiority, but that never needed to be done in a sententious way. The tragic nature of the situation for the people in the East, revealed widely in West through newsmedia stories, spoke for itself.

The World Does Not Miss the Soviet Union

An examination of the Soviet Union’s position in the world cannot be made by only weighing how the government administered the domestic affairs of the country against the preferences of quondam citizens. Those who speak nostalgically before the world about their own positive version of the Soviet Union, such as Putin, typically engage in an act of omission by airbrushing its realities. The impression is given that its collapse was the result of some benign decision among its republics to succeed to pursue their own aims. They omit, albeit intentionally, that the failed country not only posed problems for its own citizenry, but particularly after World War II, it posed a threat to the world. To be frank, the history of Soviet behavior is atrocious. The people of countries that stand just outside of its sphere of influence but close enough to feel threatened, and the people of border countries that are former Soviet republics, many of which in some way have been victimized by Russian Federation transgression, would unlikely ever think or say anything positive about the Soviet Union. The haunting spectre of the departed Soviet Union has helped to form negative impressions of the Russian Federation. Surely, one should not, using a broad brush, condemn the people of a country for the acts of their government. It was the Soviet government that ruled by fear and terror and was the anathema. As for the Soviet people, they were most often appreciated around the world. Many significant contributions were made by the Soviet people to the arts, mathematics, sciences, engineering, philosophy,  that were remarkable. Some space could reasonably be granted for former Soviet citizens wax about the loss of a homeland and those good days that existed. Still, looking at the pertinent facts, the greater realities about the Soviet Union cannot be denied.

Running through the basics of the Cold War, one would learn that in the postwar period, the Soviet Union essentially replaced Germany as occupiers large areas of Eastern Europe, to include Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Romania and Bulgaria. In a very powerful speech in Fulton, Missouri in March 5,1946, the then former United Kingdom Prime Minister Winston Churchill would say that those countries were locked behind an “Iron Curtain.” In those countries, a process of “Sovietization” began. Soviets operatives worked behind the scenes to establish puppet governments that would serve as an extension of Moscow’s rule. These governments had the initial appearance of being democratic but in reality were not. Local Communists were gathered into a coalition party then handed power, usually after coups or rigged elections. All political parties, other than the Communist Party, were dissolved. Leaders of the Soviet-dominated countries would lie about or deny realities about what was occuring in their societies. As a result of Soviet efforts, an “Eastern Bloc” and “Soviet Bloc” had been established. US officials agreed that the best defense against the Soviet threat was a strategy called “Containment” formulated by the US diplomat George Kennan. In his famous February 22, 1946 “Long Telegram” from Moscow outlining the policy, Kennan explained that the Soviet Union was “a political force committed fanatically to the belief that with the US there can be no permanent modus vivendi [agreement between parties that disagree]”; as a result, the only choice for the US was the “long-term, patient but firm and vigilant containment of Russian expansive tendencies.” US President Harry Truman agreed with Kennan and stated before the US  Congress on March 12,1947, “It [Containment] must be the policy of the United States to support free peoples who are resisting attempted subjugation . . . by outside pressures.” In his speech, Truman also asked Congress for $400 million in military and economic assistance for Greece and Turkey to counter Soviet meddling in those countries. The Containment Policy would shape US foreign policy for the next four decades.

Direct confrontation came when the Soviet Union cut all road and rail links to West Berlin, allegedly in response to a decision by the US, the United Kingdom, and France to merge their occupation sectors of the city. With no access to any sustenance, the US and United Kingdom flew in tons of food and supplies by air transports in what was known as the Berlin Airlift. Elsewhere in the world, North Korean forces, trained, equipped, and supported by the Soviet Union, invaded South Korea. Led by the US, UN forces collectively responded. The fighting was halted on July 27, 1953. Pro-Soviet Russians, might point to the fact that actions taken by Russia in the period capsulated here were the result of Stalin, who many Russians decry as a corrupt despot who sullied the grand ideals of the revolution. However, in the years that followed his death in 1953, the commitment of Moscow to the revolutionary and expansionist paradigm continued. Under Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev, the Soviet Union, despite calls for peaceful coexistence and desire to reopen ties with the West, firmed the Soviet Union’s grip over its empire and increased its support of Third World Communist movements. On May 14, 1955, the Soviet Union and seven of its European satellites sign a treaty establishing the Warsaw Pact, a mutual defense organization that put the Soviets in command of the armed forces of the member states. The military alliance was named the Warsaw Pact because the treaty was signed in Warsaw. Warsaw Pact countries included the Soviet Union, Albania, Poland, Romania, Hungary, East Germany, Czechoslovakia, and Bulgaria as members. Similar to NATO, by treaty, Warsaw Pact members were required to come to the defense of any member attacked by an outside force. The force was initially set up a unified military command under Soviet Army Marshal Ivan Konev.

Soviet efforts to maintain a tight grip over its empire were highlighted by the quelling of protests against Communist rule in 1956 culminating with Soviet tanks successfully taking control of Budapest on November 10, 1956. On August 15, 1961, the Soviet Union initiated the construction of a wall between East Berlin under Soviet control and West Berlin under US, United Kingdom, and French control. The border between East and West Germany were also sealed by fencing. A decision by Khrushchev to construct a Soviet intermediate range nuclear armed missile base in Cuba, led to a blockade of the island country and strenuous demands from US President John Kennedy that the missile be removed. As the US prepared to invade Cuba, negotiations between Khrushchev and Kennedy, initially through back channels, led to an October 28, 1962 agreement to remove the weapons.

Khrushchev legacy was not one of diplomacy, but rather brinkmanship the nearly led more than once to nuclear war. On October 15, 1964, Khrushchev was removed from office. His successor Soviet Premier Leonid Brezhnev led the Soviet Union for nearly two decades. Brezhnev also wanted to launch a new era of negotiation with the West, labeled détente by US Secretary of State and National Security Adviser Henry Kissinger in the administration of US President Richard Nixon. However, under his leadership, the Soviet Union never ceased its military buildup and pressed its efforts to expand Communism into Africa, Asia, and Latin America. From July 1965 to April 1975, the Soviet Union supplied North Vietnam and the Communist Viet Cong in South Vietnam with everything from rifles to fighter jets in war against the South Vietnamese government which the US and its Southeast Asia Treaty Organization allies supported with troops and materiél. The result was the intensification of fighting and prolonging the wreckage of human lives. On August 20, 1968, the Soviet Union invaded Czechoslovakia and crushed efforts by Czech President Alexander Dubcek to initiate reform programs, known as the “Prague Spring”. Dubcek was arrested when he refused to halt his efforts. On December 24, 1979, the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan. On December 30, 1980, the Solidarność (Solidarity) Movement in Poland was crushed with the imposition of Martial Law. It was finally under Soviet Premier Mikhail Gorbachev, who in attempting to reform the Soviet Union under perestroika (restructuring) and glasnost (openness), destabilized it to the point of collapse.

For nearly 50 years, the West struggled against the Soviet Union and the Soviet Bloc countries to spread the Communist philosophy that underpinned their governments. Its defense against those Soviet ideals was simply referred to as anti-Communism. Societies in the West were somewhat disparate, with loosely associated forms of freedom, and democracy in most of its countries must have appeared disorderly from the East, with up roars over government decisions and actions, demands for justice and social progress, and political rivalries that played out publicly. Yet, they still took on an amiable form. Moreover, it was well-accepted by those in the West that their world and way of life was worthy of protecting. Militarily, the means was collective defense. Those who were part of that struggle, using the white hat black hat symbolism of the Western film genre of the 20th century, saw themselves as the white hats representing all that was good, admirable, and honorable and viewed the Soviet and Soviet Bloc operators as the black hats, the villains. One was either on the right side or the wrong side. Using familiar terms of today concerning human interactions in societies to explain Communism, it posed a threat to individual freedom, inclusiveness, and tolerance. An almost universal belief in the West was that the way of life on its side was elevated well-above the Communist world. The West’s moral superiority was always emphasized, but it never needed to be presented in a sententious way. The tragic nature of the situation for the people in the East, revealed widely in West when occasional newmedia stories told what was happening there, really spoke for itself. US President Ronald Reagan, getting to the root of the differences between East and West in his renowned June 12, 1987 “Remarks at the Brandenburg Gate” explained: “The totalitarian world produces backwardness because it does such violence to the spirit, thwarting the human impulse to create, to enjoy, to worship. The totalitarian world finds even symbols of love and of worship and affront.” (Attempting to boil down to the bones the Cold War to provide an accurate, comprehensive summary of ideas and events felt a bit Sisyphean. Too much occurred. There were too many episodes, too many flaps of diplomacy and periods of aggression and war, to synthesize. If a sense for the monumental geopolitical struggle was created, this synopsis has served its purpose. Hopefully, the information has also provided some factual counterbalance to pro-Soviet statements recounted here.)

Primarily through the state run media, Putin has created a public persona of being a caring and empathetic leader, a friend to animals, but more importantly, the tough and virile vanguard of the Russian people, land, and culture.  He established that image brilliantly through televised conversations with Russian citizens. Putin appears attuned to the concerns of average Russians especially through televised conversations. There is an art to being a man that one is not. Perhaps Putin has mastered that. Russians have never seen the coming of a new day, but rather an ongoing dark night, a black void they have stared into for decades.

What Has Putin Established in Russia?

Primarily through the state run media, Putin has created a public persona of being a caring and empathetic leader, a friend to animals, but more importantly, the tough and virile vanguard of the Russian people, land, and culture.  He established that image brilliantly through televised conversations with Russian citizens countrywide. Putin appears attuned to the concerns of average Russians especially through televised conversations. There is an art to being a man that one is not. Perhaps Putin has mastered that. Indeed, it would not be out of court to say that despite what one might perceive at first blush, Putin seems, in practice, oblivious to the economic realities those conversations revealed. If the Russian people were to take a careful look over their shoulders today, they undoubtedly might recognize that nothing spectacular has been accomplished at home on their behalf by his government. There is no interest in disparaging any of Putin’s exertions, but many Western analysts and other observers would agree that Russians never seen the coming of a new day in their country, but rather just the ongoing dark night, a black void which they have stared into for decades. It might be stated with confidence that in a general sense they are not content. The reality that their lives have hovered in an endless limbo seems to be suppressed by most.

It may very well be that by the time Putin reached the top of the power pyramid, such people skills, his ability to understand others he is not associated with became a bit seared. Perhaps proper focus has not been placed on the people’s thinking and the ability to perceive their needs. Even his intuition regarding experiences of other Russians and where many were at a given moment seem darkened from disuse. A gentleman must always adapt to his circumstances. To a great degree, what has emerged in the Russian Federation is indeed Putin’s version of the Soviet Union. Although the struggle to establish global Communism is absent, Putin certainly has included imagery from the Soviet Union in his new Russia. It would seem that some methods well-used during the Soviet era to maintain social order and population control, were implemented by Putin in response to the fragility of the society and that the Russian Federation remains vulnerable to collapse. It is also assured that many of Putin’s former KGB colleagues would find ample opportunities to make use of their dark and unusual skill sets.

Once again, the old adage “go with what you know” seems to fit well, in this case with the Putin’s thinking. Of course, such explanations do not provide an excuse or a defense for his actions. The following list includes only a few of those elements: utilization of prison camps, “gulags”, in Eastern Russia, to detain reactionaries and other undesirable elements; the suppression of political opposition; assassinations of political opposition leaders; assassinations of journalists; the padlocking of media houses, newspapers the broadcast, publish, and post stories exposing what they perceive as questionable or even corrupt activities of Putin’s administration; and, the expulsion of “undesirable organizations” such as foreign and international religious, human rights, and civil society organizations and termination of their programs. There are also: massive military parades before the Russian Federation’s leadership; fiery anti-Western speeches at rallies; military deployments into other countries (e.g., Ukraine, Syria, Venezuela, Moldova, Georgia, and Belarus) the occupation and annexation of the territories of sovereign neighboring countries; the sudden death, murders, suicides of senior diplomats, senior military officers, senior intelligence officials, senior law enforcement officials, and senior officials of other security related services; the arrest and prosecution of Russians who are international business elites, known better as oligarchs, who have fallen into disfavor with the Kremlin; regularly renaming and repeating policy conferences, trade shows, and exhibitions of technology created to highlight Russian intellect, ingenuity, and advancements; the hosting international amateur sporting tournaments in Russia as a means to showcase the country; and, reported violations by Russian Federation national sports teams of rules and regulations of international sporting associations, including the International Olympic Committee. Ad mores natura recurrit damnatos fixa et mutari nescia. (Human nature ever reverts to its depraved courses, fixed and immutable)

Being the solitary decider in Russia, and being in the harness leadership for so long, one might theorize that speaking so nostalgically of the Soviet Union might be part of the process of Putin imagining an easier existence. Surely, searching for an efficacious way to meet the needs of all Russians has doubtlessly been a considerable psychic drain along with the stresses and anxieties of other matters in which he has been engaged daily. He may never have publicly exhibited strong emotions when looking at the unappealing conditions in which many Russians live, yet as Russian Federation President, he must maintain his balance in spite of them.

Putin Knows How Much Progress Is Really Possible in the Russian Federation

There is rarely a single reason for anything, and that certainly applies to Putin’s claims about the Soviet Union. With no intention of being whimsical, it might be worthwhile to consider that theories on what may have influenced Putin other than his KGB background, can also be joined by others built on his additional dimensions. It should not be thought that analysis from another direction might even compromise theories already proffered on Putin’s pro-Soviet comments. After all, the hope and primary goal of this examination remains reaching the actual state of the matter. Putin may not necessarily be so dedicated to other foreign and domestic matters that he has not tried to develop a clearer vision for Russia and has not sought to respond at all to the echoes of those suffering economically in his country. It might be reasonable to doubt that Putin would be completely unable to see the world through the prism of average Russians. That would run counter to expectations of what should be among the suite of skills possessed by a KGB officer in the field. Interestingly, in Part 3, “The University Student”, a close friend notes that he once asked Putin about his work in the KGB. Putin cleverly replied, “I’m a specialist in human relations.”

Putin might very likely reject the idea that being in the intelligence service of the KGB seared his conscience and left him indifferent toward the situation of fellow Russians or cause him to disregard their well-known plight. Moreover, he would most likely reject the idea that members of the KGB thought to help the Soviet government subject the Russian people to “unappealing conditions.” It may very well be that a heartbreaking value judgment was made. Putin may have viewed it as unconstructive to turn his attention fully in the direction of the troubled state of affairs of the Russian people because his ability to be fruitful has been simply too limited. From the start, he knew that the job of Russian Federation President involved achieving monumental tasks. So much wrong had to be made right. Being the solitary decider in Russia, and being in the harness of leadership for so long, one might theorize that speaking so nostalgically of the Soviet Union at this point might be part of the process of Putin imagining an easier existence. Surely, searching for an efficacious way to meet the needs of all Russians has been beyond peradventure a considerable psychic drain in tandem with the stresses and anxieties caused by other matters in which he has been engaged daily. Psychologically, the aggregate disappointment and agony could have become so magnified in his mind and everything would become unmanageable. Being the true professional that he is, Putin knows that he needs to stay focused on the larger picture. He must avoid losing himself in the labyrinth. He must not allow himself to be over matched by difficulties. He has never publicly exhibited strong emotions when looking at the unappealing conditions in which many Russians live. However, as Russian Federation President, he must maintain his balance in spite of them

The Russian Federation government’s limited capabilities and capacity to resolve those domestic problems for some time, in fact, is not necessarily the result of Putin’s leadership being remiss. Certain inadequacies that have harmed output, seem to be intrinsic to the Russian system. Among them are included: unreliable governance at the republic, krai, and oblast levels, poor execution economic policies, banking and financial disarray, low moral in the workplace, alcoholism, drug abuse, mismanagement, corruption, and criminality. With focus has been placed on Putin’s efforts to extol cherry picked “virtues” of the Soviet Union, little attention is given to other comments that he made during his first months of service as a national leader. He often spoke the truth about the ills of collapsed superpower, and often explained that lingering problems from the Soviet era made getting the Russian Federation moving forward very difficult, if not impossible. A statement to this effect from Putin can also be found in his December 31, 1999 essay, “Russia at the Turn of the Millenium”. He stated: “We had to pay for the Soviet economy’s excessive focus on the development of the raw materials and defence industries, which negatively affected the development of consumer production and services. We are paying for the Soviet neglect of such key sectors as information science, electronics and communications. We are paying for the absence of competition between producers and industries, which hindered scientific and technological progress and prevented the Russian economy from being competitive in the world markets. This is the cost of the brakes and the bans put on Russian initiatives and enterprises and their personnel. Today we are reaping the bitter fruit, both material and mental, of the past decades.” It is hypothesized in a January 31, 2018 greatcharlie post entitled, “Trump Wants Good Relations with Russia, But if New Options on Ukraine Develop, He May Use One”, that the type of success Putin really wants for Russia out of his reach, not by some fault of his own, but rather because it’s problems are so heavy, and may run too deep. He may have run out of real answers to put the Russian Federation on real upward trajectory given the capabilities and possibilities of the country using all tools available to him.

Even militarily, Russian Federation efforts to create an aura of technological modernity have fallen short. Its latest high tech, 5th generation fighters and hypersonic missile reflect the measure up only to the latest developments in the West nearly two decades past. The US move to lasers, 6th generation fighters that hardly resemble anything the world has seen before, and hypersonic systems that it has already has been developing almost the point of deployment, ensure that the Russian arsenal will pale in comparison with the US for some time to come.

Given all of that, it is very likely that Putin arrived at the conclusion that he had little choice but to simply do things as he saw fit with available resources to create the best circumstances possible. Unable to move steadily and safely in a new direction, Putin apparently saw the best option as creating a copy old order with all of its power and prestige. As aforementioned, sustainability was not at issue. He likely took this step originally as a temporary measure, to allow him time to chisel something better. That would certainly be in following with Putin’s modus operandi. However, in the end, in spite of many improvements, the country moved so much in the direction of the old order, the familiar for the Russian people, that it became figuratively “heavier” and more difficult way of being to transition from. If Putin learned anything from his KGB work, it was that sacrifice is required in nearly every endeavor. Many Russians have failed to benefit from his efforts. Indeed, there is a tendency for some to suffer while others benefit. Yet, those who continually fail to benefit have unlikely been forgotten. Imputing the best intentions on Putin, he will eventually use his full powers as president to make amends to them at some point, if time and opportunity will allow. Though the people may very well be uplifted at that point in the future, until then, they will be left twisting in the wind. Si sapis, alterum alteri misce: nec speraveris sine desperatione nec desperaveris sine spe. (If you are wise, mingle these two elements: do not hope without despair, or despair without hope.)

US President Donald Trump (left) and Putin (right) in Helsinki, July 16, 2018. The vengeful thinking which prevailed during Russia’s struggles with the Obama administration likely initially insinuated itself into the Kremlin’s planning and actions concerning the Trump administration. However, the situation had clearly changed. Trump explained that he wanted to work with Putin to achieve things globally that could best be done jointly. In response, Putin has insisted upon playing a version of the great power game with the US mirroring the geopolitical struggle between it and the Soviet Union. He has promoted what greatcharlie has labeled un grand défi, a grand challenge against the Trump administration.

Troubling Manifestations

It is important here to point out a unique aspect of Putin’s KGB world. Enlarging on a point made earlier about Chekists, they share a view that the greatest danger to Russia comes from the West. They believe Western governments are driven to weaken Russia, create disorder, and make their country dependent of Western technologies. They feel that under former President Boris Yeltsin, the Russian leadership made the mistake of believing Russia no longer had any enemies. As heard in Putin’s public statements, Chekists consider the collapse of the Soviet Union, under Western pressure, as the worst geopolitical catastrophe of the 20th Century. Fully xenophobe and suspicious, Putin was determined to save Russia from disintegration, and frustrate those he saw as enemies that might weaken it. In many respects, Putin has conformed to what might be expected of a Chekist. Although he would seem to be much more than average, he appeared to have been poured into same mold as all the others. Putin has actually stated publicly that the greatest danger to Russia comes from the West. While on his way to the top of the political heap in the new Russian Federation, Putin saw how mesmerising “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.”

Some Have Said Putin’s US Policy Manifests His Revanchist Mindset

When character and behavior are brought together, one uncovers motivation. In the summer of 2013, the EU Council sharply condemned Russia’s mounting pressure on members of the EU Eastern Partnership, countries with association agreements with the EU. In 2012, the EU accounted for 52 percent of Russia’s exports, 68 percent of which consisted of fuel and energy. Following the annexation of Crimea in March 2014, the EU suspended virtually all cooperation. Still, Putin’s thinking on the EU was not positive even before the Ukraine crisis. Putin saw the EU as a project of deepening integration based on norms of business, law, and administration at variance from those emerging in Russia. Putin was also concerned that EU enlargement would become a means of excluding Russia from its “zones of traditional influence.” Certain Russian actions, to include election meddling, indicate Moscow actively seeks to encourage members to withdraw from the EU sphere and discourage countries joining it. Joint projects with European countries reportedly allowed Russia to exploit their differences on political, economic and commercial issues creating a discordant harmony in the EU. As much as making money, a goal of such efforts has been to undermine EU unity on sanctions. The Nord Stream-2 gas pipeline, for instance, has provided Putin with the means to disrupt, and potentially weaken, European unity. A murmur exists in Europe that solidarity ends at the frontiers of some countries.

Regarding 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 West German Parliamentarian Egon 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 EU as having acquitted themselves of ties to promises to avoid expanding further eastward, and arrogating for themselves the right to divine what would be in the best interest of all countries. He feels historians have ignored the machinations and struggles of people involved. Putin further stated: “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. You can also see this striving for an absolute triumph in the American missile defense plans.” Felix qui potuit rerum cognoscere causas. (Fortunate is he who understands the causes of things.)

Putin did not stand by while the EU and NATO expanded. One might agree with the supposition that Putin has a revanchist mindset, his decision to attempt to pull independent countries that were once part of the Soviet Union back into Russia’s orbit would surely support that idea. To accomplish that, Putin had to create something that did not preexist in most near abroad countries: ethnic-Russian communities forcefully demanding secession and sovereignty. That process usually began with contemptuous murmurs against home country’s identity, language, and national symbols and then becomes a “rebel yell” for secession. It was seen in Nagorno-Karabakh in Azerbaijan, South Ossetia and Abkhazia in Georgia, Transnistria in Moldova, and more recently in Crimea, the Luhansk and Donetsk in Ukraine. Each time an ethnic-Russian space is carved out of a country, Putin gains a base from which he can exert his influence in that country.

A greater part of the foreign policy matters upon which Putin, seemingly in revanchist mode, felt cause to be laser focused was the geostrategic competition with the US. By the time his third term as Russian Federation President began, Putin left little doubt that the Russian Federation would assert itself in the world and he would ensure that Russia would never fall victim to business and financial experts and multinational corporations. Hostile feelings toward the US seemingly came to a head during the administration of US President Barack Obama. The details that contentious period are too sizable to unpack here (The most recent posts in which greatcharlie has outlined those many episodes in detail include: “Commentary: Trump and Putin: A Brief Look at the Relationship after Two Years”; Building Relations between Trump and Putin: Getting beyond the “Getting to Know You” Stage; “Trump Achieved More at Helsinki than Most Noticed: Putin Is Not a Challenge for Him”; and “Ties Fraying, Obama Drops Putin Meeting; Cui Bono?”.) Crimea was likely just the first step among what would likely have been far worse actions leading even to war had the interregnum between Democrat and Republican administrations had not occurred in 2016.

Un Grand Défi

One might theorize that the sort of vengeful thinking which prevailed during the Russian Federation’s struggles with the Obama administration, initially insinuated itself into the Kremlin’s planning and actions concerning the Trump administration. However, the situation clearly changed with the arrival of the Trump administration. Putin and his aides and advisers should have recognized that. It was never the stated intention of the Trump administration to engage in a protracted, geostrategic competition with Russia. That is still the case despite the entreaties of some advisers. It was the expressed intention of candidate Trump during the 2016 Presidential Campaign to improve relations with Russia. As US President, Trump made it clear that he wanted to try to work with Putin and achieve things globally that could best be accomplished jointly. Trump has been graceful in his overtures to the Russian leader, focusing on finding ways to connect with Putin on issues, creating a unique positive connection as leaders of nuclear superpowers, and finding a chemistry between them.

Clearly, the Russian Federation has not been threatened by any unprovoked aggressive or outright hostile offensive actions on the geostrategic landscape by the Trump administration. In reality, with the current political environment in the US, sounding the alarm over what might be identified as revanchist behavior by Putin might have served Trump well in at least an attempt to mollify critics and detractors. Nonetheless, without such provocation, Putin, has insisted upon playing a version of the great power game with the US that would mirror the geopolitical struggle between it and the Soviet Union. Accordingly, he has propagated what greatcharlie is labeling un grand défi, a grand challenge against the Trump administration. The benefit from un grand défi that Putin stands to gain is that it helps him create the appearance that the Russia Federation is a world leader and superpower. Indeed, despite all of Putin’s other maneuverings, the Russian Federation is only able to seen as a superpower when it is interacting with the US or measured against it. Correspondingly, as long as the Russian Federation is competing geostrategically in a discernable form of rivalry with the US, it can retain a strong place for itself at the grand table of military superpowers, although it stands a far off second to the US. Further, from what is detectable, that military tie in Putin’s mind also allows the Russian Federation, by a slender thread, to set a place for itself among the world’s economic powers, although it is not one. (As a measure of goodwill from the West, Russia was once welcomed on the G7. Putin wrecked that by conquering Crimea.) Alas, any unvarnished assessment would confirm that without tying itself to the US, any claims by Moscow of being a true world leader would simply appear self-styled, and could not be substantiated. Unless there is something or someone who could change Putin’s mind otherwise, doubtlessly as a matter of policy, he will continue to create a competitive environment with the US, leaving US Presidents with little choice but to meet any challenges posed by the Russian Federation. Curiously, it may very well be that Putin, living the Judo Ichidai, likely appreciates being in a “struggle” with the US. Odimus accipitrem quia semper vivit in armis. (We hate the hawk because he always lives in arms.)

Thus far, Putin has shown himself to be very intelligent man. All of the factors pulling him away from positive relations with the US seem to have caused Putin to metaphorically miss his exit along the road of diplomacy. The truth about the Trump administration and its good intentions should have reached Putin and made an impression, if only subconsciously. It is difficult to believe that Putin genuinely does not understand what Trump has been doing and that he does not recognize the great opportunity that lies before him to let Russia do some good in the world. By now it should be clear to Putin that Trump will not rise to grab the bait and begun some contentious back and forth between Washington and Moscow. As a consequence of  un grand défi he purposefully designed and promoted to compete as a soi-disant “superpower” with the Trump administration, Putin must contend with the missed opportunities for progress and advancement of the Russian people by insisting the two countries remain essentially divorced from each other. Those realities seemingly make Putin’s own effort at keeping Russia on top both counterintuitive and somewhat Quixotic.

It does not appear possible to ascribe any basis for objectivity for Putin’s view that the collapse of the Soviet Union represented a great loss for him, the Russian people, and the world. His coruscating flashes of pro-Soviet sentiment have naturally confounded to the world given that the Soviet Union was a country that failed its people and its collapse was nothing less than fated. It may very well be that through such recurring statements about the Soviet Union, Putin is not revealing any deeply personal feelings. His statements appear to have served a purpose in terms of his leadership, governance, and national image.

The Way Forward

By approaching the matter of Putin’s nostalgia romanticising of the Soviet era from a couple different directions and arguing matters from varied angles, it is hoped that the undergraduates who contacted greatcharlie, it has provided an edifying journey of exploration on their inquiry. It is also hoped that this essay was also satisfying for greatcharlie’s other regular readers. The purpose of greatcharlie’s examination was to simply consider Putin’s reiterative statements of praise for the Soviet Union. It does not appear possible to ascribe any basis for objectivity for Putin’s view that the collapse of the Soviet Union represented a great loss for him, the Russian people, and the world. His coruscating flashes of pro-Soviet sentiment have naturally confounded to the world given that the Soviet Union was a country that failed its people and its collapse was nothing less than fated. It may very well be that through such recurring statements about the Soviet Union, Putin is not revealing any deeply personal feelings. His statements appear to have served a purpose in terms of his leadership, governance, and national image. Patriotism, national identity, national pride, history, and culture are powerful ideas to organize a country’s population around. Focus upon them, often allows tricky leaders to distract from the internal with external The argument is made that the cause of Russia’s problems is the outside world, not internal difficulties, lack of capabilities, mismanagement, corruption, criminality, and so on. Nemo mortalium omnibus horis sapit. (Of mortal men, none is wise at all times.)

For the past two decades, great wells of anger have stored up among Putin and senior Kremlin officials toward the US for a variety of reasons. That has made finding a moderate path more difficult.  At the same time, as a practical matter, the Russian Federation’s contentious interactions with the US create a tie to it that could imaginably support the claim that a superpower competition exists. As greatcharlie posits here, without interacting with the US or being measured against it on a geopolitical matter for example, the Russian Federation would simply appear as a self-styled superpower, unable to substantiate the title in any way except by ostensibly harkening back to historical examples of the superpower rivalry between the US and the Soviet Union. Indeed, the Russian Federation can only steal a modicum of the “superpower light” radiating from the US. It has precious little ability to generate any light of its own in that respect. Thereby, negative interactions need to be regularized and promoted by Putin. Under such circumstances, engaging positive interactions with the Russian Federation will prove very difficult for the Trump administration. However, Putin should not believe that he has found some sweet spot from which he can take on the US without any real consequences. There are also inherent dangers that stem from un grand défi Putin has inflicted upon the US. It could very well open the door to unmanageable disagreements and potential clashes. Fortunately, the Trump administration has shown little interest in rising to take Putin’s unappetizing bait. Whenever Trump feels he needs to act in response to Putin’s moves, it will be at a time, at a place, in a manner of his choosing, most likely with some degree of impunity, and when necessary covertly with plausible deniability. In that respect, although he has promoted un grand défi, Putin has in reality only established pas de problème, or no problem at all.

Things could certainly be better for the Russian people. The “golden mean”, a middle way, could very likely be found to create positive relations with the US that would bring real benefits to the Russian Federation. Moving in that direction would certainly mean doing more than just putting a toe in the water. Still, as long as the Russian people are satisfied, as a few polls and studies indicate, attempting to judge from the outside what would be best for them seems unmerited. Putin’s actions appear to illicit some uniquely Russian reactions. Putin does not need to turn back the clock and resurrect the Soviet Union because it has not really moved too far away from what was in a functional sense. Actions that have resulted in economic sanctions and have prevented the Russian economy from participating in competitive world markets, attendantly hinder genuine scientific and technological progress. The potential of Russian enterprises and people consequently remains locked in. It is almost assured that bitter fruit will be reaped in the future by moving forward in such a troubled way. Occasio aegre offertur, facile amittitur. (Opportunity is offered with difficulty, lost with ease.)

The Putin-Kim Summit: An Uneasy Episode in Kim’s Introduction to a Brave New World

Russian Federation President Vladimir Putin (right) and North Korean Chairman Kim Jong-un (left). During his summit meeting with Kim on April 25, 2019, in Vladivostok, Russia, Putin had the opportunity to resolve some matters with regard to relations between their countries. Russia and North Korea are more than just friends; they are allies. In Washington, a reasonable concern would be that Putin used the meeting in part to mangle inroads made by US President Donald Trump with Kim, and spun up the young leader enough to cause him to drift back into a posture of belligerence. In reality, he may have unwittingly done the opposite.

The fate of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea), good or bad, will likely be decided at this moment in time. Hopefully, what is negative, wrong, and evil, will not walk upon the scene. The potential source of those ills could possibly be Russian Federation President Vladimir Putin. During his summit meeting with North Korea’s Chairman Kim Jong-un on April 25, 2019, in Vladivostok, Russia, Putin had the opportunity to resolve some matters with regard to relations between their countries. Russia and North Korea are more than just friends; they are allies. Presumably, an item for discussion during the meeting was the diplomatic process on denuclearization in which Kim has been engaged with US President Donald Trump for more than a year.

Kim’s vist to Vladivostok was actually a two-day affair. Beginning on April 24, 2019, there were compliments and toasts offered with affectation, and the photo opportunities swollen with the pretension of a great friendship between the two leaders. Yet, despite all of that, beneath the surface, where mostly those obsessed with scrutinizing such events closely might look, Putin’s approach to Kim was not tender, but rather rough edged and, to a degree, domineering. Some analysts and scholars who study the Russian leader and, to the extent possible, understand his idiosyncrasies and the nuances of his facial expressions and body language, chalked it all up to Putin just being Putin. It was perceived by others as a display of Soviet-style formality. The suggestion being that not much should be put into Putin’s behavior at Vladivostok. However, the results of the meeting bare out the idea that Putin, to put it plainly, was not very nice to Kim. Consider that Putin did nothing special to help him. If he did, it was so subtle that it could not to be seen. Putin certainly did nothing publicly to convince anyone that he was Kim’s benefactor or protector. If he did, giving notice to the world of such a pledge is the usual way to ensure other countries would pay heed. Alas, he did not do that. Kim apparently failed to correctly parse out Putin’s agenda, moreover his concept and intent, with regard to North Korea before he arrived. Kim likely came to Vladivostok comforted by the thought that the Russian relationship has been long-term, beneficial, and historically speaking, reliable. He perhaps thought he might be able to eek out some type of additional assistance from Russia, in some form or another. If Kim truly came to Vladivostok with that purpose, his was truly an anemic effort. That approach may have left him open to the measures of the artful Putin.

A reasonable concern over Vladivostok in Washington would be that Putin used the meeting in part to mangle the inroads achieved by Trump with Kim, and that he may have successfully spun up the young North Korean leader enough to cause him to drift back into a posture of belligerence. Throw on top of that reports in the US news media indicating that even before Kim left for Vladivostok, there was intelligence apparently collected by the US on activity taking place at facilities related to North Korea’s supposedly dormant nuclear weapons and long-range missile programs. That would present the possibility that Kim wants to have the capability to leap back into developing systems that will allow him the launch a nuclear strike against the mainland US. Such would be an act of daylight madness by Kim. To intuit that the diplomatic effort at this point is still somewhat fragile surely would not be out of court. However, as result of his relatively lukewarm reception of the young North Korean leader, Putin may have actually given that diplomatic process a boost by bumping Kim in the direction of Trump. So different are the approaches and opportunities presented respectively by Trump and Putin, that Kim’s choice of whom to travel North Korea’s path into the future is essentially black and white. There is no equivalence, no shared attitude toward people, no mutual conduct displayed, no matching diplomatic techniques, for Kim to find comparison between the two leaders. Through the next set of communications and via a third summit, Trump may have the opportunity to capitalize on Putin’s shrewd, but barbed and unconventional moves. Si computes annos, exiguum tempus, si vices rerum, aevum putes. (If you compute the years in which all this has happened, it is but a little while; if you number the vicissitudes, it seems an age.)

There were compliments and toasts offered with affectation, and the photo opportunities swollen with the pretension of a great friendship between the two leaders during Kim’s visit. Yet, despite all of that, beneath the surface, perhaps where mainly those obsessed with scrutinizing such events closely might look, Putin’s approach to Kim was rough edged and, to a degree, domineering. Some analysts and scholars who study the Russian leader chalked it all up to Putin just being Putin. However, the results of the meeting bare out the idea that Putin, to put it plainly, was not very nice to Kim.

A Reality Check for Kim

Kim seemingly came to Vladivostok bearing all of Pyongyang’s vulnerabilities and anxieties on his sleeve. The Achilles Heel of North Korea is its economy. That economy has been in an absolute shambles for many decades. Through the Trump administration’s maximum pressure campaign targeted at North Korea’s economy, the country has been slowly strangled to death. Kim may have been desperate to maintain or increase Russia’s economic munificence in talks with Putin. As for his country’s anxieties, Kim, from the start of the Trump administration, boasted about North Korea’s nuclear weapons and burgeoning capability to reach the US with them. However, the US has the actual capability and capacity to attack and destroy North Korea. Away from the rallies and loudspeakers in his country through which he has convinced his people that their country is part of a larger bulwark of anti-US countries in Northeast Asia, there is the reality that Pyongyang’s allies in Moscow and Beijing would never put their countries’ well-being at risk for North Korea. There is the additional reality that North Korea was more of a financial strain and psychic drain on Russia and China than a useful and valued asset as a buffer against the US and its allies in the region. It is likely that Putin, to some extent, saw the meeting as an opportunity to demonstrate that what Russia thinks and says has relevance with regard to Northeast Asia, a region in which its territory resides. Putin had been unsuccessful in finding the angle to latch on and carve out an influential role for Russia in the Trump-Kim Talks. Putin surely knows why Trump was not so eager to offer him a place in the diplomatic process.  He was already on fairly shaky ground with the US President over Russian efforts to interfere in US elections as well as Russian misdeeds in Crimea, Eastern Ukraine, Venezuela, Syria, and other points around the world.

Perhaps it was thought in Moscow and Pyongyang prior to the actual meeting that Vladivostok had the potential to become a public relations triumph. However, the world appeared to take only a moderate interest in events there. Public relations-wise, Trump had already made an authentic splash with his first meeting with Kim on June 12, 2018 in Singapore. His second meeting from February 27, 2019 to February 28, 2019 in Hanoi also drew quite a bit of attention. After Kim met with Trump in Singapore and Hanoi, there was a real sense that a new energy, new hope for peace and progress in Northeast Asia had been created. Kim was brought out the hermit kingdom to discover a brave new world, a world from which his people still remain isolated. For introducing him to that world, Kim really has much to thank Trump for. Any luster was left to glean from a Kim meeting was exploited by Chinese President Xi Jinping when they met from March 25, 2018 to March 28, 2018 and January 7, 2019 to January 10, 2019. Indeed, by the time Kim met with Putin in Vladivostok, he was no longer the mystifying, obscure young leader in Pyongyang.

In the search for indicia that there was plenty of goodwill between the Russian and North Korean leaders and the meeting served to advance their relationship, much has been made of the fact that Putin was reportedly thirty minutes early for the April 25th meeting and waited for Kim. That fact takes on greater significance given Putin’s well-known history for arriving late for meetings with world leaders. He was nearly one hour late for his Helsinki Meeting with Trump in July 2018, four hours and fifteen minutes late for a meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel in 2014, fifty minutes late for a meeting with Pope Francis in 2015, and a tame fourteen minutes late for a meeting with Queen Elizabeth II in 2003. Yet perhaps conversely to creating a positive atmosphere around which the Russian-North Korean relationship could be viewed internationally, Putin was of the mind to set a sort of trap for Kim. The goal of which most likely was to suss Kim out and, at the right time, take the opportunity to establish the nature of their relationship as leaders. As a result of that effort, the entire visit had a strange feel. Everything seemed a bit off kilter, a little grayish. Certainly, Putin and Kim were never too chummy publicly. Putin’s personal approach and demeanor toward Kim did not mirror that of the avuncular Trump. Rather, he behaved nearly in the manner of a cold-hearted, Ian Fleming’s James Bond sort of “gangster as spy” of whom Trump’s critics and detractors inappropriately claim the US President faced in Hamburg, Da Nang, Helsinki, and Buenos Aires. He did not! Putin handled Kim much as a bewildered target for recruitment. As it was previously discussed 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,” Putin prepares for his meetings or any other forms of contact with another national leader or senior foreign diplomatic official, in advance, by mining all available information and by considering all possible angles of how an interlocutor might challenge him and how he would explain himself in a plausible, satisfying way. Being engaged in an exceptionally devious sort of manipulation of Kim, one could be certain that every little move made in Vladivostok was performed with purpose. To that extent, even the anomaly of Putin’s punctuality was a calculated step.

Putin (right) and Kim (left) on escalator in Vladivostok. Taking cues from how the two men appeared standing together, Putin clearly was the leader and Kim was the follower. Perhaps in the confidential one on one meeting between them, Putin also sought to establish his position as “the boss” with Kim. Intriguingly, at Vladivostok, Putin was practically every bit the Ian Fleming’s James Bond sort of cold-hearted, gangster as spy about which critics and detractors of Trump have endlessly waxed and have inappropriately claimed the US President faced in Hamburg, Da Nang, Helsinki, and Buenos Aires.

Attempting to reach into Kim’s head concerning the visit, Putin probably calculated that he would be very optimistic over the outcome of his visit. Putin may have also parsed out that Kim believed that there was virtually an organic affinity between them given the long relationship Russia has had with North Korea. That affinity would be primarily founded on the notion that Putin was raised and served for years as an officer of the Komitet Gosudarstvennoy Bezopasnosti (the Committee for State Security) known as the KGB in the Soviet Union. The Soviet Union was the original, unholy bastion of Communism, Marxist-Leninism, and Socialism, which form the political underpinnings of North Korea today. Russia, a former Soviet republic, was at the center of the collapsed superpower. Moscow was the Soviet capital. Further, in support of his grandfather and hero, Kim Il-sung, the Soviet Union provided not only weapons, equipment and training for North Korean forces during the Korean War, but covertly provided Soviet soldiers and airmen to to engage covertly in combat operations. (China’s commitment to its North Korean ally during the war was even greater.) Thus, Putin would be reasonably assured that drawing Kim in would not pose difficulties. Ensuring that he would be able to exert influence on Kim would be his main task. Putin’s effort to miniaturize Kim was almost heartbreaking to watch. Yet, few would shed tears for the despotic North Korean leader under the thumb of the ex-Soviet spy. He exploited every opportunity to publicly demonstrate that he was dominant. On each occasion that he did so, he had the look of a cat among pigeons. This is how it looks when expediency and outcomes are given primacy before method. Taking cues from how the two men appeared standing together, Putin clearly was the leader and Kim was the follower. Perhaps in the confidential one on one meeting between them, Putin also sought to establish his position as “the boss” with Kim.

Psychologically, Putin may never have been disposed to even pretend that he was on level terms with Kim. Putin has never spoken of any meeting with another national leader as a “meeting of equals”. Putin has never hesitated to take the “Alpha-male” position with leaders of other countries and let them know his intentions. In Putin’s Kleptocracy: Who Owns Russia?, Karen Dawisha recounts the occasion when the new prime minister of a Central Asian country paid his first visit to Moscow. He met with Putin. After the cameras had left the room, Putin is said to have loosened his tie, leaned forward, and in a menacing snarl told the startled leader: “Listen here (slushay syuda), I decide everything. Don’t forget it.” (This reality makes Putin’s attitude and behavior with Trump even more intriguing. One can clearly observe a certain grace and sangfroid displayed by the Russian leader. He has never appeared jagged or, even more, threatening in the slightest degree toward Trump at any moment in which they were together publicly.) Among the North Korean people, Kim is the “Alpha-male”, who rules with an iron fist. He is the country’s supreme leader, its champion, its top man above all, deified, never to be second-guessed, never to be challenged. That side of Kim was not present in Vladivostok. There was no swagger, no expressions of conceit from Kim.

Putin may never have been disposed to even pretend that he was on level terms with Kim. He has never spoken of any meeting with another national leader as a “meeting of equals”. He has never hesitated to take the “Alpha-male” position with leaders of other countries and let them know his intentions. In Putin’s Kleptocracy: Who Owns Russia?, author Karen Dawisha recounts the occasion when the new prime minister of a Central Asian country paid his first visit to Moscow. He met with Putin. After the cameras had left the room, Putin is said to have loosened his tie, leaned forward, and in a menacing snarl told the startled leader: “Listen here (slushay syuda), I decide everything. Don’t forget it.”

Something that one might also consider is that in adherence to the principles of Korean culture, a world that he understands well, Kim likely sought to show a degree of deference to Putin as a part of his responsibilities as a guest. He likely believed his host would display an equal degree of authentic respect and graciousness toward him and the North Korean delegation. In that way, the kibun (mood or inner feelings) of both visitors and hosts would remain balanced in a harmonious environment. Kim encountered that sort of experience in Singapore, Hanoi, and Beijing. In Vladivostok, Kim was figuratively moving blindly in “the real” new world outside of North Korea. He seemed confused by the web Putin had spun for him. Indeed, seeing the footage revealed to the public of Kim’s expressions, gestures, and positions in Vladivostok, one might have trouble believing Kim was sure of anything while there. No one could show Kim the way while in Russia. Lucky enough for him, he maintained his balance, saw his way through, and made his way home. For Kim, it was doubtlessly an embarrassing chain of events. If those in Pyongyang who might read this would pardon greatcharlie’s freedom, Kim appeared to be caught completely off guard by Putin and stumbling around with his pants at his ankles in Vladivostok.

The Putin-Kim meeting most assuredly was not an inflexion point in Russian North Korean relations. Beyond Putin’s use of the meeting to remind Kim of the nature of their relationship, it is difficult to discern, with certitude, what was accomplished in Vladivostok. Urgent and important matters specific to their countries underpinning the meeting, at least officially, were not sufficiently enumerated publicly. From what was witnessed, no significant change in the geostrategic balance in Northeast Asia or relations in general among countries in the region that resulted from the meeting. As for dealing with the US as a threat, Kim did not appear to have been given the assurance of support from his country’s longtime “ally” that he wanted receive. It could be imagined that instead of promising to provide a type of nuclear umbrella for North Korea that the US provides for its allies in the region, Putin, in a hollow gesture, likely praised Kim’s willingness to take on the US and found his devotion and heroic disregard for death admirable. Concerning the denuclearization diplomacy with the US, it would be difficult to believe that Kim was given, at any point while meeting with Putin, solid, hopeful advice. Putin most likely acted in the manner of a dark muse for Kim on the matter.

Given that economic conditions of both countries have been greatly harmed by US sanctions and both leaders have publicly indicated that they would like to have all international trade sanctions removed, one might extrapolate that the matter of business, relations, business activities, between the two countries were broached. Russian-North Korean business ties are divided between a modicum of legitimate and substantial illicit activity. Legitimate trade was limited to $34 million in 2018 due mainly to sanctions against North Korea. Statistics on gains from illicit activity are not available here but reportedly clandestine sanctions busting efforts are ongoing and apparently profitable enough to be worth the risk. It would not be a matter too trite to be managed by the two leaders as detection by the international community of any clandestine business activities, disallowed by sanctions, would mean grave consequences for both countries via sanctions. Through the process of monitoring their business activities, the international community has learned that transport agents in the Russian Federation have prepared documents for North Korean vessels. The government has not denied that. However, certain actions  have also been taken to help North Korea evade sanctions. Port services have allegedly been provided to North Korean-flagged ships. North Korean vessels have been fueled in Russia. The sale of that fuel to them by representatives of certain firms has been ignored. No interest is given to whomever might be selling cargo and oil products to the North Koreans. Further, a blind eye is turn toward whomever may be loading North Korean vessels. Vasili Kolchanov, head of the Russian Federation port services agency involved, explained to Reuters: “It’s not our concern who fuels the vessels, who sells that fuel, who they buy the cargo and oil products from.” He further stated: “We do not load vessels. As an agent, I only need to check that they have permission from customs.”

The type of business Putin would like Russia to develop with North Korea concerns mineral resources, including rare metals. Kim would like access to Russian electricity supplies. While Moscow generally views North Korea as a poor investment, Kim would like Russia to invest in the modernization of Soviet-built industrial plants, railways and other infrastructure. Nevertheless, as long as sanctions remain in place, none of that will come to fruition.

Image of an illegal cargo transfer to a North Korea vessel on the open sea. (above). Economic conditions of Russia and North Korea have been greatly harmed by US and UN trade sanctions. One might extrapolate that business activities between the two countries was a key issue in the Putin-Kim talks. Russian-North Korean business ties are divided between the legitimate and illicit. Detection by the international community of any clandestine business activities disallowed by sanctions would mean grave consequences for both countries.

Kim’s Health

Taking a look at Putin’s bearing in Vladivostok, the Russian leader made a proper showing of himself as the usual sharp, strapping Russian leader. It was the loose, athletic, macho Putin, who in meetings exudes confidence, high-energy, and a readiness to do business. Taking a comparable look at Kim’s bearing, one could reasonably state that he appeared to be having health problems. Being most apparently somewhat outside of his appropriate weight range and being a smoker, it could be expected that Kim would be dealing with dome underlying health issues. However, in Vladivostok, Kim simply looked unhealthy. Kim breathed laboriously as if he had anything from a very bad cold, bronchitis, asthma, or pneumonia, to something much worse, such as a pulmonary edema, a pulmonary embolism, or some other pulmonary episode. A far lesser possibility now, but one worthy of consideration at the time of the Vladivostok meeting is that Kim was suffering from a myocardial infarction (heart attack) of a Type 2 diabetic, slowly dying in discomfort, without appropriate care.

In every video clip made public of the North Korean leader in Vladivostok, Kim appeared pale, shuddering, breathless. At times he additionally appeared disoriented, uncertain, uncomfortable, anxious, even jumpy. This uneasy behavior was not observed in Kim in Singapore, Hanoi, or Beijing. Thinking in a way similar to greatcharlie, Eric Talmadge of the Associated Press, stated in his article published in Time magazine on April 26, 2019: “What caught the attention of many outside observers Thursday wasn’t the scene, but the sound — of Kim’s loud breathing. Clips of the introductory encounter were quickly tweeted around the world, many with comments about the leader’s audible breathlessness. South Korea’s media, meanwhile, speculated that it could be a sign of Kim’s poor health. He is, after all, overweight and a notoriously heavy smoker.” According to Talmadge, Kim has evinced similar health problems at previous high-level meetings. Some may recall that in April 2018, on the occasion of his first summit meeting with South Korean President Moon Jae-in, he looked out of breath as he signed a guestbook following a short walk.

The following link, https://youtu.be/40M-cfOhqxQ, provides a short video clip of one of several occasions at the Putin-Kim summit during which Kim’s labored breathing can be seen. Please focus on the region of the thorax between the neck and diaphragm in the front of Kim’s body or stated more plainly, his chest. On medical matters, greatcharlie is somewhat out of its province. Nonetheless, it seems fitting in this case, no matter how clumsy it may seem, for it to engage in an unlicensed, uncertified foray as an apothecary, to better understand Kim’s behavior. If Putin noticed Kim’s condition, odd behavior, in response, he showed him no quarter, no sympathy.

Kim takes cigarette break in China while en route to Hanoi Summit (above). In Vladivostok, Kim looked unhealthy. He breathed laboriously as if he had anything from a very bad cold, bronchitis, asthma, or pneumonia, to something much worse, such as a pulmonary edema, a pulmonary embolism, or some other pulmonary episode. A far lesser possibility now, but one worthy of consideration at the time in Vladivostok was that Kim may have been suffering from a myocardial infarction (heart attack) of a Type 2 diabetic, slowly dying in discomfort. If Putin noticed Kim’s condition, he showed him no sympathy.

In addition to directing attention at Kim’s difficulty breathing, the international news media noted what was generally described as an awkward gift exchange. Kim gave Putin a sword. Interestingly, among Russians, presenting swords and knives is considered sign of bad omen that could lead to disagreements and confrontations. Kim may have been aware of that superstition when decided to present Putin with a sword. After all, Russians and North Koreans are certainly not strangers to one another. Both Putin and Kim have sufficient, well-qualified experts to inform them of the nuances of gift giving in the respective cultures. Still, Kim presented it anyway, perhaps believing that Putin would be impressed with its size and value. Putin’s gift to Kim was even more intriguing. He gave Kim a coin. Video of the gift exchange made public show Kim completely befuddled in response. He seemed disappointed, closely eyeing the coin, clearly fazed by its diminutive size and relatively low value.

One might attempt to airbrush the episode by suggesting that Putin meant well when he gave Kim the coin, but that is unlikely. Putin was surely well-aware of Kim’s tastes and what would please him when deciding upon a gift for him. Gifting Kim with a coin may have been an atrocious display of Kremlin wit. Indeed, there is the real possibly that the coin presentation served as a banal amusement devised by Putin and his circle of mostly male acolytes. They may have wanted to witness an “entertaining”, stunned reaction from Kim. Even worse, a darker meaning of the gift could have been to create the impression that Putin was giving coin to a beggar. Along with their boss, the boys’ club in the Kremlin’s Senate building, who most likely in private mock and lampoon foreign leaders, have too often allowed such predictable, over-rehearsed, bad behavior, insinuate itself in important matters. Recently, it has been a persistent, distasteful theme in Russian diplomatic behavior that analysts and scholars have either missed or ignored. Indeed, Putin has been engaging in rather curious form of gift giving. Notable was his public presentation of a soccer ball to Trump in Helsinki. In response, Trump looked at the ball with a smirk, stated that he would give it to his son Darren, palmed it with his large right hand, and then casually tossed it one-handed to the First Lady, Melania Trump.

Despite the many problems associated with their interactions, Kim seemed to speak in harmony with Putin after the summit, and adhered to an anti-US line. It is unclear whether Kim simply wanted to oblige Putin just for old times’ sake or create the impression that he achieved some success in Russia. It may also be that he was left with little choice but to acquiesce to Putin’s position. At a post summit press conference, Putin, projecting a sense of accomplishment, stated that the North Korea’s denuclearization was necessary, but he insisted that North Korean sovereignty must be recognized and that security guarantees must be provided to Pyongyang. For Putin, security guarantees is a alternative way of stating the US must retreat from Northeast Asia, abandoning its longtime allies, and most importantly, remove the nuclear umbrella that shields those allies from a nuclear threat, not just from the North Korea, but also Russia and China as that umbrella was originally designed. Over the years, those capitals have been satisfied to see US military resources, psychic energy, and ire, directed at North Korea. By encouraging North Korea to seek steps that would to improve its security situation by reducing, even weakening the defensive posture of the US and allies in Northeast Asia, Russia would consequently serve its own security needs by invariably weakening the security of the US and its allies versus it, too.

Something that one might also consider is that in adherence to the principles of Korean culture, a world that he understands well, Kim likely sought to show a degree of deference to Putin as a part of his responsibilities as a guest. He likely believed his host would display a similar degree of authentic respect and graciousness toward him and the North Korean delegation. In this way, the kibun (mood or inner feelings) of both visitors and hosts would remain balanced in a harmonious environment. Kim encountered that sort of experience in Singapore, Hanoi, and Beijing. In Vladivostok, Kim was figuratively moving blindly in “the real” new world outside of North Korea. He seemed confused by the web Putin had spun for him.

Wake Up Kim!

Qui non proficit, deficit. (Who does not advance, recedes.) Ideally, for Trump, Kim would come to a third summit strangling at the leash, anxious to get going. It would be counterintuitive for Kim to come into a third round of negotiations with well made plans to melt away sanctions without offering necessary progress on denuclearization. He may very well retreat intellectually and be satisfied to accept advice from the North Korean intelligence services, crafted with an intelligence bigotry of military and security service elites founded on conspiracy theories about Trump and US actions and intentions. Particularly at this cut bait or fish stage, there is the potential for North Korean intelligence services, expert at whipping up scenarios and hypotheticals to expediently conjure up reports that provide support for the politicized or even hysterical views of consumers. (This is a disturbing reality that intelligence services almost everywhere face: hiring in error, individuals without honor, unfit to meet the moral obligations of the job.) The minstrels for the occasional exaggerated, distracting flashes of a belligerent posture to the US have been North Korea’s Foreign Minister Ri Yong-ho and Vice Foreign Minister Choe Son-hui. To promote peace, and being the responsible party, the Trump administration listens to those expressions, but does not react emotionally to them.

As greatcharlie has noted in previous posts, there is an endless sense of distrust within North Korea toward the West that always comes into play in diplomacy. Further, given what is known about Kim’s psychological disposition, success with him in diplomatic effort was never assured. With Kim, one must take into consideration his selective welcome toward outsiders, pretension exhibited in public displays of affection for his people, reported lurid acts of self-indulgence, irate outbursts, outright cruelty, violent actions towards the people, associates, and family, and murder, Kim has not been popularly described as an up and down, manic depressive. These attitudes and behaviors have been chalked up as the stuff that defines tyrants and despots.

To enlarge on that, one must remember that prior to all of the niceties that followed the Singapore and Hanoi meetings and the many kind letters exchanged between Trump and Kim, the US President accurately assessed in his September 2017 remarks at the UN, that the North Korean leader’s regime was extraordinarily violent. Some expert observers of Kim might call the young leader essentially a sadist who is intoxicated by violence. The March 31, 2018 greatcharlie post entitled “Commentary: Trump-Kim Talks: Will Desire Obey Reason or Will Force Be Used to Overcome Force?” discusses a Yonhap article on an examination made by South Korea’s National Intelligence Service (Gukga Jeongbowon) of Kim’s behavior. Trump is well-aware of such reports about Kim. Yet, in the greater cause of denuclearization, international peace and stability, and the betterment of conditions for the people of North Korea, it is expedient to put all of that aside. The focus must be on what is positive, to ensure the diplomatic process is fruitful. If Kim goes down the wrong road, observers should expect to see him figuratively shoot the soccer ball far off to the wrong side of the aluminium goal post at the next summit with Trump. Perhaps Moscow and Beijing, in order to promote their own respective geostrategic goals versus the US, may very well be trying to undermine Trump’s diplomatic efforts with Kim at the moment. Even more, they may be nefariously encouraging him to behave in ways contrary to advancing that diplomacy.

Trump has kept a positive front, projecting optimism with regard to the antithetical attitudes and behavior of the leaders of both Russia and China. He has likely kept in mind that a delicate symmetry does exist among their three countries from which any good basis for a positive interaction now and the future might be founded. Yet, there can be no doubt that Trump is well-aware of their unseemly ways. US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo scheduled a visit to Moscow on April 14, 2019, in order to express US concerns over Russian “aggressive and destabilizing actions.” Doubtlessly, Putin’s meeting with Kim in Vladivostok qualified to be an agenda item of the in camera Moscow meetings. In further response to the strategic goals and thinking of its soi-disant friends in Moscow and Beijing, Washington has nourished the strengths and equities of its alliances with allies in Northeast Asia. Those ties that bind the US and its allies in the region are the same ties that assure unity when dealing with Russia and China.

Kim must decide what his priorities are. Though, the choice for Kim, through the use of reason and wisdom alone, seems obvious. Trump offers the best solution for Kim and the North Korean people. North Korea has nothing to gain long-term from Russia and its stumbling economy, made all the worst by Western sanctions leveled upon it. Perhaps just a bit more time is needed before the economic well-being and the geo-strategic position of North Korea genuinely becomes paramount in Kim’s mind. To encourage Kim, Trump has practically indicated that he already has the US checkbook out. He has regularly expressed hope publicly, that Kim will do the best thing and make the right choice.

Trump (right) and Kim (left) in Singapore. Trump offers the best solution for Kim and the North Korean people. North Korea has nothing to gain long-term from Russia and its stumbling economy, made all the worst by Western sanctions leveled upon it. Perhaps just a bit more time is needed before the economic well-being and the geo-strategic position of North Korea genuinely becomes paramount in Kim’s mind. To encourage Kim, Trump has essentially announced that he has the US checkbook out. He has regularly expressed hope publicly, that Kim will do the best thing, make the right choice.

Trump to the Rescue?

Maybe if everything had been going perfectly on the denuclearization front, a third round of summit talks would be an opportunity to put the finishing touches on a deal. Meetings between US and North Korean business, financial, and development experts as well as meetings of international experts forms in various committees ostensibly would have come next in order to get cracking on North Korea sanctions economic rejuvenation. Surely, there is still time for that. At the moment, things are perhaps moving more gradually than initially expected. Yet, optimistically, everyone and everything will eventually arrive at the same place. To that extent, Trump continues to do the best things even in arguably unappealing circumstances with the hope of avoiding a calamitous situation in Northeast Asia. Trump sees no need for scare tactics. At the same time, Trump has kept his weapon, the armed forces of the US and its allies, figuratively cleaned and his sight zeroed. Cito rumpes arum, semper si tensum, habueris, at si laxans, quum voles, erit utilis. (A bow kept taut will quickly break, but kept loosely strung, it will serve you when you need it.)

In April and May of 2019, Kim launched missiles into the Sea of Japan. It may very well be that Kim believed the April 18, 2019 test of North Korea’s new “tactical guided weapon” and its May 4, 2019 “strike drills” using short-range, multiple launch rocket systems, fell well outside of the parameters of his promise to Trump not to test nuclear weapons or long-range missiles. Both weapons systems, fired off North Korea’s west coast, fell into the Sea of Japan, and did not intrude into Japanese or South Korean waters. As a result of the launches, Kim’s intent concerning denuclearization and halting missile development was placed into doubt among most US analysts and scholars. Some went as far as to assess that Trump should have taken a harder line with Kim on the matter. True, no matter how one might look at Kim’s mens rea, his missile launches were unquestionably displays of ill-advised audacity. Yet, Trump felt the tests were not of sufficient order of concern to derail the diplomatic process. He determined that the tests did not constitute, by performance or in spirit, a breach of Kim’s promise concerning weapons testing. His statement in response reflected that thinking. His response was in line with his concept of pitting hope against despondency in the diplomatic process on denuclearization. On May 4, 2019, using his Twitter account, @realDonaldTrump, Trump explained: “Anything in this very interesting world is possible, but I believe that Kim Jong-un fully realizes the great economic potential of North Korea, & will do nothing to interfere or end it. He also knows that I am with him & does not want to break his promise me. Deal will happen!” Hopefully, Kim will not push such injudicious activity alongside the borderline on which Trump would not be able to countenance it.

To a larger extent, Trump would hardly believe that Kim thought for a moment that the launches would in any way improve his tactical position against the US. North Korea was never in great shape tactically versus the US, and will never be allowed the opportunity to be so. Trump would hardly imagine Kim thought the launches could somehow strengthen Pyongyang’s hand in the diplomatic process or pull him closer to Pyongyang’s negotiation position. On a more basic level, Trump is aware that many individuals develop and express impressions of decisions and actions of foreign leaders without attempting to detect internal matters that might be driving events. Homosum: humani nil a me alienum puto. (I am human: I consider nothing human alien to me.)

When Kim launched missiles into the Sea of Japan on April and May of 2019, Kim’s intent concerning denuclearization and halting missile development was placed into doubt among most US analysts and scholars. No matter how one might look at Kim’s mens rea, his missile launches were  unquestionably displays of ill-advised audacity. Some analysts and scholars went as far as to assess that Trump should have taken a harder line with Kim on the matter. Trump, however, determined the tests did not constitute, by performance or in spirit, a breach of Kim’s promise not to conduct tests.

A dimension of North Korea that one on the US side must lose sight of is that it remains a totalitarian tyranny, with power elites stratified in neat rows. To maintain his grip on the ranks of the military and security services in the midst of his denuclearization diplomacy, Kim may have decided to demonstrate his control and interest in the activities and developments within their organizations. It has been best for him to act in this way before even sensing any issues trouble in the ranks, Kim, to some degree, must also be responsive to Workers’ Party of Korea elites and senior leaders of North Korea’s now a tad more significant, forward-thinking, business leaders. North Korean military and security service elites, in particular, might have the sense that denuclearization will have the impact of discrediting and disenfranchising them. They would ostensibly be stripped of a considerable degree of real and psychic power. There would also more than likely be a loss of pride, prestige, and a certain emotional satisfaction. In any actions that he might take, Kim must be certain to avoid precipitating grumblings from them. By the same token, Kim would certainly be intolerant of the slightest scent of fragmentation within the Workers’ Party of Korea as a result of his diplomatic initiative with the US. Rather than avoid or preempt problems in the ranks, Kim might simply punish and obliterate suspected reactionaries and potential ones. Perhaps recent shifts made within the party’s senior leadership reflect his sensitivity to potential dangers.

Among the thoughts of those other than Trump in Washington, a greater concern might be that although Kim has metaphorically boarded the elevator and is riding it up, he does seem willing to travel to the top floor. He appears to be willing to get off several floors beneath it, just short of a grand prize for himself and North Korea. Perhaps when meditating alone over committing fully to a path toward denuclearization and working with the US, Kim may now and then feel slightly unclean in mind and body. Indeed, a turn toward denuclearization would surely require Kim to go against instinct. (In a way, that makes the mere fact that he is very openly considering it an extraordinarily step.) Alternatively, Kim might fear that Trump’s proposal is a cruel hoax, all too good to be true. Fool’s gold offered by a false heart. Considering such thoughts, one would not be on a slender thread to speculate that a real obstacle to working with Kim on denuclearization, may not be external manipulation or domestic concerns at all. There is the possibility that Kim, himself, remains the greatest restrictor to forward movement on a deal. However, in the diplomatic process, Kim is not being asked to bow down to US pressure, its desires, or accept something ephemeral. Putin would not ask for anything less from him. It cannot be stated enough that through Trump, Kim is being presented the opportunity to choose a better future for his people over the misfortune that they are coping with today.

Inter cetera mala, hoc qunque habet stultitia proprium, semper incipit vivere. (Among other evils, folly has also this characteristic, it is always beginning to live.) A potential pitfall for Kim would be failing to realize during a third meeting that Trump will be able to almost immediately read the writing on the wall as to where everything is headed. Indeed, if Kim’s efforts have not been legitimate, Trump will be fairly certain as to the Communist leader’s intentions once he leaves the table. As the erstwhile businessman, Trump will have a contingency plan for bad news. He calls such plans “alternatives.” Those alternatives surely include inflicting an unimaginable tragedy upon North Korea at best through ratcheting up the ongoing maximum pressure campaign of sanctions and at worst via a war fraught with the wreckage of innocent lives. It is also very possible that a prospective war might be fought with nuclear weapons.

In the diplomatic process of denuclearization, Kim is not being asked to bow down the US pressure, its desires. Putin would not ask for anything less from him. Through Trump, Kim is being presented the opportunity to choose a better future for his people. A potential pitfall for Kim is failing to realize during a third meeting that Trump will be able to almost immediately read the writing on the wall as to where everything is headed. Indeed, if Kim’s efforts have not been legitimate, Trump will be certain as to his intentions once he leaves the table. Trump will have a contingency plan. He calls such plans “alternatives.”

When one’s brain is functioning at such a high speed as Trump’s does, it regularly searches into the abstract. With the imagination serving as guide through the obscurity, his mind discriminates, vets, facts and ideas it has both recently encountered and has collected over time. His mind grasps for those most relevant to matter being focused upon. Those separate, yet correlative, facts and ideas are associated and via an even deeper analysis, are given higher meaning. As a result, an impression is formed which Trump’s mind constantly challenges with new information that is introduced to it. Having the ability to think in this way truly places Trump in a different category. (Note: There is no intent here to link Trump’s way of thinking to transcendentalism.)

Despite everything Kim has done so far, Trump, more so than anyone, appears to view him as a national leader, who has albeit made mistakes, but still has promise and is a work in progress. Trump does not believe Kim has limited faculties to improve his mind. Having worked with, coached, and mentored a number of young men and women during his business career as a land developer and builder, Trump has seen many evolve into very capable executives who went on to make the most of opportunities placed before them. Throughout the denuclearization diplomatic process, Trump has taken into account Kim’s emotional response to the process, its meaning, and enormity. Such empathy was likely difficult to muster given the singularity of Kim’s emotional responses. The very type of stresses that Trump wanted to keep out of his denuclearization diplomacy with Kim appeared to weigh heavy on the North Korean leader while he was with the Putin. Trump doubtlessly discerned that something was bringing him down, and seemingly burning him out. To steal a phrase from Trump, Kim “was low energy.”

Hopefully, Kim is self-aware enough to recognize that since June 2018 his relationship with Trump and his sense for what could be accomplished has been moving through a process of maturation. As part of that maturation, Kim must recognize that there needs to be a mutual exchange of inspiration between Trump and himself. If Kim is truly able to apply the discipline of accuracy, think with precision, accept the truth, and discern how beneficial everything Trump has proposed would be for North Korea, he will recognize that Trump has offered the best path possible, and all will be well. Interestingly, Kim, both keeps his hair cut and most often dresses in suits tailored in ways similar to those of his grandfather, Kim Il-sung. He has also fashioned his leadership style in his image. However, Kim, as with most humans, may aspire to advance to some greater form of himself. To that extent, there is the real possibility that he will want to take both his people and country to a far higher level from where they stand today.

The Way Forward

In Act III, scene i of William Shakespeare’s The Third Part of Henry VI, King Henry is being held captive by two armed keepers in a forest north of London. Stirring a discussion with his two captors, King Henry discusses his responsibilities as king. He explains that as king he serves for the purpose of his people, not for his own benefit. He states that every king must settle in to that idea. They must accept that is what it means to be a leader. Henry says in that moment: “My crown is in my heart, not on my head; / Not decked with diamonds and Indian stones, / Nor to be seen: my crown is called content: / A crown it is that seldom kings enjoy.” When Putin and Kim met in Vladivostok, everything was seemingly done under the pretense that all was well between the two countries. Still, there was a palpable sense while observing events in Vladivostok that Putin does not want North Korea to advance. He wants to  pull Kim and North Korea backward in time, backward to a circumstance in which North Korea could only define itself as subordinate to Russia and obedient to its whims. It may very well be Putin’s standard behavior with leaders of “lesser countries” and nothing extraordinary. Perhaps Putin, before and after the meeting, viewed Kim as being naive and that he could easily have him eating out of his hand. It has been considered in previous posts by greatcharlie that Trump, being different in his approach, may be able to do things that others cannot. Kim left Vladivostok appearing uncertain of how to respond to what he observed and heard from the Russian Federation President. As aforementioned here, in a scenario favorable for Washington, Kim, having met with Putin, may now be better aware of the stark differences between the respective futures that the Russian and US leaders offer North Korea. Putin met Kim figuratively empty handed as opposed to Trump who offered a golden future for his country. To the extent that Russia can exert influence in the world, particularly its large stake in the energy field, its attention is sought after by some. Whatever influence it may have internationally, it pales in comparison with that of the US.

If Trump had been even a bit iffy about the prospects for his denuclearization diplomacy to succeed, he would not have been able to move forward with it. Still, it is not Trump’s responsibility to be the sole engine behind denuclearization and the legitimate push to advance North Korea economically. If and when he meets with Trump for a third summit, it would behoove Kim to show how he is moving North Korea in that direction. It must be reflected in his proposals, his language, and his demeanor at the negotiation table and away from it. If Kim is unable to recognize the real value in what Trump is offering, at best, he will essentially condemn North Korea to a grey economy of black market and questionable bootleg products of all types, reliant on back alley deals with organized crime and corrupt foreign government officials, cash influx from North Korean guests workers abroad with limited to no access to substantial salaries and remain present in foreign countries at the whim of their governments. Throw on top of that nuclear weapons and long-range missile program that the US fully intends to eliminate if not through diplomacy, through devastating military strikes.

In all likelihood, Kim, would be incensed over failing to remove painful sanctions and end the maximum pressure campaign; impress his people by scoring a diplomatic victory over their US foe by removing sanctions while retaining the DPRK’s nuclear program; and, losing time on developing more nuclear weapons and perfecting their ability to reach the Continental US. If the denuclearization process fails, that will be a tough ticket for Trump to swallow. Yet, rather than being angered, he would likely be saddened over failing to reach the young North Korean leader, to establish a friendship with him, or embrace him as neighbor in this small world; and, to prevent the great potential of the North Korean people from being wasted. Hopefully, none of that will be the case. Nunquam sero te venisse putabo, si salvus veneris. (I shall never think you are late arriving as long as you come safely.)

Commentary: Trump and Putin: A Brief Look at the Relationship after Two Years

For two years, US President Donald Trump has sought to create an effective working relationship with Russian Federation President Vladimir Putin. That effort was made more urgent because the previous administration of US President Barack Obama left the US-Russia relationship in tatters when it departed. Trump has created conditions for an authentic engagement with Putin. He has done nothing contrary to US values or harmful to US interests. He has given Putin no cause to behave in aberrant ways. Yet, Trump surely has not as yet developed a relationship to his satisfaction with Putin. A choice will likely be made soon on how he will proceed with the Russian Federation President.

Trusting in the adage that there is always a good soup in an old chicken, greatcharlie looks once again at a favorite subject of its meditations: US President Donald Trump’s interactions with Russian Federation President Vladimir Putin. Two years have passed since Trump, as part of his effort to reshape US foreign and national security policy for the better, sought to create an effective working relationship with Putin. That effort was made more urgent because the previous administration of US President Barack Obama left the US-Russia relationship tatters when it departed. Having poorly managed relations, particularly by failing to act in a well-considered, well-measured, well-meaning way with Putin, there is now evidence that indicates that the previous administration more than likely provoked what became an overreaction in Moscow, marked by the annexation of Crimea and an effort to interfere in the 2016 US Presidential Elections. Further, judging by Putin’s fast-paced effort to create a greatly improved first-strike capability, the collective obituaries of the people of both the countries were nearly written as a result of the previous administration’s contentious interactions with Moscow.

Trump has known from the start that his efforts with Putin could all end in something akin to a car crash. Certainly, proper consideration and proper measure needed to be given every interaction with Putin. For Trump, who, using his own wits created a successful multinational corporation and fought his own way through a tough campaign to become President of the US, subduing the ego in order to acquit himself to ensure positive interactions with Putin was easier to think and say than do. Yet, Trump managed to control his ego, his passions, through self-discipline. After also facing down iniquitous criticism of having a delusional ambition, Trump has created conditions for an authentic engagement with Putin. He has done nothing contrary to US values or harmful to US interests. He has given Putin no cause to behave in aberrant ways. Kindness, generosity, respectfulness, and frankness have been an important part of that interaction. Still, two years later, it appears that Trump, who clearly has acquitted himself well, may have developed a relationship with Putin not yet to his satisfaction. It is a relationship subject to vexatious fluctuations. Some important aspects of the relationship, viewed from Trump’s side of the line, are briefly considered here. It is likely that a decision will soon be made by Trump on whether to use the inroads he has made with Putin as foundation on which to continue building a good relationship or call the whole effort a wash, and from that point onward, only contain and mitigate whatever bad actions Putin might take. Oportet privatis utilitatibus publicas, mortalibus aeternas anteferre, multoque diligentius muneri suo consulere quam facultatibus. (A man must rate public and permanent, above private and fleeting advantages and study how to render his benefaction most useful, rather than how he may bestow it with least expense.)

The Environment in which Trump Is Forced to Work

From what has been observed, critics and detractors within the US news media and among scholars, policy analysts, political opponents, and leaders of the Democratic Party, have exhibited a practically collective mindset, determined to find wrong in Trump. His presidency was figuratively born in the captivity of such attitudes and behavior. They have tried endlessly to uncloak some nefarious purpose in his legitimate effort to perform his duties, which has been akin to seeking long shadows at high noon. The attacks can be broken down to gradations of intensity, none it represents, healthy, objective, traditional reporting and commentary. It is defined by a supercilious, holier-than-thou perspective of the US President, that they believe gives the free reign to be arrogant and rude toward him without regard for the fact that he is still a human being, and in an honored position that, itself, should garner respect.

Coruscating flashes of a type of patrician aesthetic has lead some critics to put themselves in position high enough to judge whether Trump is “presidential enough” for their liking. They have left a record littered with moments of absolute absurdity in the past few years that will break their own hearts if they ever took a look over their shoulders and reviewed their work.  In developing their attacks on Trump, they build whimsy upon whimsy, fantasy upon fantasy. Some will often present angry insinuations of Trump guilt in one thing or another along with the pretense that they know more but were not saying, in a silly effort to puff themselves up. Former US President Jimmy Carter was quoted in the New York Times on October 21, 2017 as saying: “I think the media have been harder on Trump than any other president certainly that I’ve known about.” He added: “I think they feel free to claim that Trump is mentally deranged and everything else without hesitation.” Nonetheless, those critics seem to be held hostage to such ideas. Rotam fortunae non timet. (They do not fear the wheel of fortune.)

From what has been reported about the 2016 Trump Presidential Campaign, opportunists, who managed to latch on to it, appear to have independently engaged in enough ill-advised, foolish actions before and during its existence to create a detectable smog of wrongdoing around it. However, their actions were nothe in any way connected to Trump. (Interestingly, many of those opportunists had prominent names in political circles, yet there were no immediate impressions offered by critics and detractors and the US news media that indicated they were problematics even as they very publicly signed on to the campaign.) Far less acceptable have been very prominent attacks that insist there is truth in allegations that Trump colluded with the Russian Federation to win the 2016 Presidential Election and obstructed justice in an effort to cover-up his alleged wrongdoing. On February 12, 2019, when the two-year investigation into the 2016 US Presidential Election was close to being completed, both Republicans and Democrats on the US Senate Intelligence Committee revealed that no direct evidence of a conspiracy between the Trump Campaign and Russia had been found. It really appears that a farfetched novel on covert espionage was been used by critics and detractors as a template from they could to judge Trump. They have worked very hard to convince that nothing more than fantasies represented the authentic version of events. Investigations into those fantastic accusations have created the impression in the minds of some in the US public that he has at least done something wrong. Not much can be worse than to bring the loyalty of a patriotic citizen, such as Trump, into question. Interestingly, by engaging in this behavior one can get a good idea of exactly what his critics and detractors do not know about that province in which they have tried wedge Trump: the secret world of intelligence.

The Tall-Tale of Trump as “Russian Spy”

The notion that experienced foreign intelligence operatives of the Russian Federation would approach and recruit Trump is ludicrous. Pardon greatcharlie’s freedom, but experienced, foreign intelligence operatives of the Russian Federation would unlikely want to work with Trump and members of his family on an operation of such magnitude. To begin, they had no experience whatsoever with the type of conspiracy. A significant amount of teaching would need to be done along the way and that would require plenty of covert contact.  The danger of having an effort to approach Trump or actual effort to recruit him uncloaked would be too great to risk. US-Russian relations would be in a far worse place than where they were before the operation was executed. There is certainly an art that moves Trump’s mind. Just approaching him would be a parlous undertaking. Traits that would obviate him as an intelligence recruitment target would include: his patriotism; his wealth; his extroverted personality; his gregarious, talkative nature; his desire to lead and be in command at all times; and his oft reported combustible reactions. If the matter of recruiting Trump had at all debated within the Russian Federation intelligence services, the idea may have simply bubbled up as part of some late night brainstorming session with plenty of good vodka on hand. Humor aside, even under that circumstance, true professionals more than likely would have tossed the idea out immediately. (The matter as laid out is quite reminiscent of early 19th century ruminations about possible “Bolshevik plots” against the US.)

Hypothetically, if such an operation had been green lighted, it remains unclear how Trump would have communicated with a Russian handler and which handler would have had enough experience and stature to manage him. Some critics and detractors have made the very cavalier suggestion that Putin is his handler. However, in the Russian Federation, no one mens sana in corpore sano and for existential reasons, would even suggest that Putin should be attendant to such a matter because he is Putin. That means far more in Moscow than many outsiders might be able to comprehend.

One might expect that a far higher threshold and a more finely graded measure would be used to judge the actions of the President of the US before making the grave allegation that the individual was functioning as a creature of a foreign intelligence service. Relying upon off-handed remarks and ill-considered gestures of a sitting US President to initiate an investigation would be very questionable, if not completely unwarranted. Using the brief authority of a government position, abusing one’s power, and using money of the people of the US, to satisfy one’s curiosity stirred by an inchoate set of facts, or worse, attempt to substantiate mere surmisal, might actually be called unlawful under certain circumstances. That is not the type of high quality performance that at one time garnered US counterintelligence specialists considerable praise among intelligence services worldwide.

For astute and somber counterintelligence specialists in the US Intelligence Community, far more than just a matter of perception would be required before any would conclude an investigation to determine whether Trump was a Russian spy was validly predicated. Evidence they would require might include some indicia, a genuine trail of Russian Federation intelligence tradecraft leading to Trump. Good US counterintelligence specialists are exceptionally knowledgeable of the tactics, techniques, procedures, and methods of the various departments of the Russian Federation’s intelligence apparatus: the Glavnoye Razvedyvatel’noye Upravleniye Generalnovo Shtaba (Main Intelligence Directorate of the General Staff-Military Intelligence) or GRU; the Sluzhba Vneshney Razvedki (Foreign Intelligence Service) or SVR; and, the Federal’naya Sluzhba Bezopasnosti Rossiyskoy Federatsi (Russian Federation Federal Security Service) or FSB. The case of the counterintelligence specialists would have been fattened up a bit once they had figuratively scratched through the dust to track down certain snags, hitches, loose ends, and other tell-tale signs of a Russian Federation intelligence operation and presence around or linked to him. An approach toward Trump most likely would have been tested by Russian Federation Intelligence Community and evidence of that would exist. Certain charms used to lure Trump would need to be identified and confirmed as such. To suggest one charm might have been promising him an election victory is farcical. Bear in mind that no reasonable or rational Republican or Democrat political operative in the US would ever be so incautious as to offer the guarantee of an election victory to any candidate for any local, state, or national office. Recall how the good minds of so many US experts failed to bring victory to their presidential candidates in 2016.

The goal of US counterintelligence specialists is to do things the right way. The purpose is to get things right. (Of course, there have been periods such as the “James Angleton episode”, when things were done wrong.) One would hope that counterintelligence specialists would occasionally engage in the healthy process of self-assessment. If concerning Trump, some have self-diagnosed that they hold some bias against him, they must, as a treatment, leave that bias outside of the office and be certain to remain objective and use diligence in appraising him in their work product. It would have behooved US counterintelligence specialists at the beginning of Trump’s term to consider that attitudes and behaviors displayed by him which were nonstandard most likely were a result of him being: new to not just politics in general, but specifically national politics; new to government; new to foreign policy and national security making; and, new to diplomacy. Trump was certainly a novice in almost all respects with regard to the intricacies of the secret world of intelligence. That understanding should then have been commingled with the understanding that when Trump campaigned for president, he explained that he was somewhat contemptuous of orthodox ways of doing things in Washington. That is clearly what everyone is seeing. Trump declared that he wanted to “drain the swamp!” He would come to the Oval Office wanting to do things his way. To an extent, that was his prerogative. Perhaps a greater degree of, not necessarily tolerance or liberality, but certainly patience and understanding could have been used in assessing what could be called “a beginner’s missteps and misstatements.” True, for the US Intelligence Community, there is a responsibility to speak truth to power. Still, expectations should have been kept within reason. Consideration might have been given to “cutting ‘the kid’ some slack.” Res ipsa repperi facilitate nihil esse homini melius neque clementia. (I have learned by experience that nothing is more advantageous to a person than courtesy and compassion.)

Instead of initiating expensive, prying investigations of Trump and his administration, directors and senior managers in the US Intelligence Community present when Trump came to office might have better spent their time by stepping up and developing more effective ways of briefing Trump with digestible slices of information on the inherent problems and pitfalls of approaching matters as he was. Attempting instead to “transform” the presidency to fit their liking when Trump came to office was wrong. With enormous budgets appropriated to their organizations by the US Congress, every now and then, some directors and senior managers in the US Intelligence Community will succumb to the temptation of engaging in what becomes a misadventure. (If money had been short, it is doubtful that the idea of second guessing Trump’s allegiance would have even glimmered in their heads. Starting an investigating would most likely have been judged as not worth the candle.) Those directors and senior managers present at the Trump administration’s start might have simply held out hope, as is the practice in a democracy, that national electorate had made a good choice and that Trump, himself, would evolve nicely, and perhaps rapidly, while in office. Two years into his presidency, none of “missteps and misstatements” concerning foreign and national security policy initially observed are being seen any more.

Trump’s Alleged Problems with Intelligence Reports

On foreign and national security policy, especially as it concerns Putin and the Russian Federation, Trump has actually acted with integrity, and has been true to his cause: putting “America First”;  “Making America Great Again”; and, the US public. Trump has no need to vindicate himself on this big issue for he has done well. Nothing needs to be dressed-up. He has been forthright. Indeed, if critics and detractors would care to watch closely at what Trump has been doing, they would see that he has stood against, pushed back on, and even defeated many Russian Federation efforts to advance an agenda against the US and its interests. Those who might try to suggest otherwise are well off the mark. A normative hope might be that critics and detractors actually know the truth and for their own reasons are acting against it. In Lord Jim, Joseph Conrad wrote: “No man ever understands quite his own artful dodges to escape the grim shadow of self-knowledge.” However, it seems Trump’s critics and detractors will never compromise their wrongful beliefs with reality. In a country where one is presumed innocent until proven guilty, where one has a right to due process, and upholding the rights of the citizen is paramount, one might hope that at least in the subconscious of the US public, there has been a very poor reaction to what is being witnessed concerning investigations of Trump and the reporting of them. Trump has a defense and has fought back. It is more than likely that the outcome will all go Trump’s way. Nevertheless, the impression of wrongdoing, having been propagated for so long and with such intensity by his critics and detractors, will likely stick to some degree.

As if generating evidence from thin air against Trump concerning the Russian Federation were not enough, there are also claims that his brashness and alleged meager intellectual capacity prevents him from appropriately making use of the intelligence community to better understand Putin and the Russian Federation. Most recall how the US public was assured by former US President George W. Bush that Iraq’s Saddam Hussein was developing weapons of mass destruction, to include nuclear weapons and chemical weapons, and how Obama declared that Syrian Arab Republic President Bashar al-Assad, facing an opposition movement, “was toast!” Neither was true. Yet, one might assume that both former presidents made use of information from the Intelligence Community to reach those conclusions and validate them. One might surmise that Trump is labelling intelligence presented to him as wrong Intelligence because it does not validate a point of view he might harbor on an issue. However, that that would be wrong.

As mentioned in the February 4, 2019 grearcharlie post entitled, “The Second Trump Kim Summit: A Few Things Kim Should Consider when Negotiating with Trump”, in his current position, much as during business life, Trump will treat important what he intuits on how to proceed. While government foreign and national security policy professionals may appreciate his ideas, requirements on the development of their work product demand that they refrain including their “gut reactions”  as well as those of the US President in their analyses. Absolute obedience to such requirements  by professionals of the Intelligence Community could be viewed as a manifestation of having to perform under the security bubble, and live daily with the awkwardness of setting limitations on one’s own rights to speak and to think whatever they want in a free society. There is also the paranoia caused by the discomfort of occasionally being watched and the need for self-policing. When there is a disparity between what he may be intuiting and what the US Intelligence Community may be saying, Trump in an orotund way, which is his style, may state that he thinks he is correct. While his public expression of disagreement may create the wrong impression as to the nature of Trump’s relationship with his intelligence services among observers as his critics and detractors have alleged, it is all really harmless as it concerns foreign and national security policy making and decision making. Trump will always press them for their very best answers. Trump is well-aware that a clear picture of what going on regarding an issue can only exist when intelligence provides him with the objective truth. Notwithstanding what critics and detractors may proffer, Trump will always turn his ears toward his intelligence chiefs. (He certainly hears what they say to the US Congress.) Anyone who truly believes, despite his now patented attitudes and reactions, that he is not listening intently to what is being written for and told to him by the US intelligence community, is still in the cradle intellectually when it comes to Trump. Unglaublich!

The Reality of Trump’s So-called “Infatuation” with Putin

A criticism espoused of Trump for the past two years is that he is enchanted with tyrants, strongmen, rogue leaders, such as Putin. His comments about Putin have been decried by critics as being unduly pleasant and oleaginous. However, that is a mischaracterization of Trump’s efforts.  Under Trump’s leadership, there is a new spirit exists in US foreign and national security policy to build better relations with countries around the world. That certainly did not mean Trump will be soft on any countries or on any issue. Whenever he saw the need to defend US interest against moves by another country, including Russia, he would act with determination. The Trump administration’s actual response to reports from the US Intelligence Community that Russian Federation interfered in the 2016 US Presidential Election, in 2017 and 2018 serves as an example of that. Boiled down to the bones, the administration decided to keep 2 Russian Federation’s compounds in the US closed and sustain the expulsion of 35 diplomats in response to Russian interference in the 2016 election. In March 2018, the administration imposed sanctions against 16 Russian entities and individuals for their roles in Russian Federation’s interference in the 2016 Presidential election. In June 2018, the administration imposed sanctions against 5 Russian entities and 3 Russian individuals for enabling Russian Federation military and intelligence units to increase their country’s offensive cyber capabilities. In May 2017, President Trump signed an Executive Order to strengthen and review the cybersecurity of our Nation and its critical infrastructure. In September 2017, the administration banned the use of Kaspersky Labs software on US Government computers due to the company’s ties to Russian Federation intelligence. In March 2017, the administration charged 3 Russians for the 2014 Yahoo hack, including 2 officers of the FSB. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has taken the lead in working with all 50 states, local governments, and private companies to improve election security and integrity. DHS has increased coordination and information sharing among all election partners, with nearly 1000 elections jurisdictions, including all 50 states, participating in the Election Infrastructure Information Sharing and Analysis Center.

Trump’s critics and detractors comment as if he has given Putin some type of free pass to do what he wants in the world. Yet, that is simply gossamer fantasy that has been let loose very publicly on the world via the US news media. Putin, himself, knows that he has been unaccommodated by Trump and displeased by all that has done in response the Russian Federation’s election meddling. It might have been helpful for Moscow to understand before it engaged in such a grand, perilous and injudicious undertaking as interfering in a US Presidential Election that all US Presidents make policy in the world of politics. If Trump had the only say in how policy would be constructed, surely it would look just as he wanted. However, Members of the US Congress, who also represent the citizens of the US, their electorate, will review administration initiatives, relations with other countries and on its own judge behaviors of other national leaders. Often Congress will take action through legislation, that will impact the shape of US policy. It will do assuring that it has support from enough Members to prevent action by the President to halt it. Further, no matter what direction either takes on policy, both the President and Congress must take actions that connect with the US public. Putin’s dissatisfaction doubtlessly does not end with Trump’s response the Russian Federation’s election meddling. Putin has been dissatisfied by a number of other foreign and national security policy decisions by Trump administration: it has encouraged NATO members to increase military spending, greatly enhancing the capabilities and capacity of the alliance in face of the Russian Federation’s military build up in its West; it has increased funding for the European Deterrence Initiative to help defend our NATO allies and deter Russian Federation aggression, by providing billions to increase US troop readiness in Europe; it discouraged European support for the Nord Stream 2 Pipeline Project; it has enhanced its support of the Ukrainian Government to stabilize the society; it robustly equipped and trained Ukrainian naval and military forces; it condemned the Russian Federation for the attempted assassination of former Russian Federation intelligence officer Sergei Skirpal and his daughter Yulia with the assurance military-grade Novichok nerve agent in Salisbury, England in March 2018; it ordered the expulsion of 48 Russian Federation intelligence officers from the US and ordered the closure of the Russian Federation Consulate in Seattle, Washington; it coordinated that action with those taken by US allies around the world; it expelled 12 Russian intelligence officers from the Russian Mission to the UN in New York for abusing their privilege of residence; it imposed sanctions against 7 Russian oligarchs and the 12 companies they own or control, 17 senior Russian government officials, and a state-owned Russian weapons trading company that has provided military equipment and support to the Government of Syria, enabling the regime’s continual attacks against Syrian citizens; it also sanctioned a bank that weapons trading company it owns; it ordered new Russia-related sanctions under the Sergei Magnitsky and Global Magnitsky programs; it imposed export controls against 2 Russian companies that were helping the Russian Federation develop missiles that violate the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF); it sanctioned a total of 100 targets in response to Russia’s ongoing occupation of Crimea and aggression in Eastern Ukraine; it designated Russian actors under Iran and North Korea sanctions authorities; the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network proposed a new rule to bar a Latvian bank involved in illicit Russia-related activity from opening or maintaining correspondent accounts in the US; and, the arrest of Russian Federation national Maria Buttina based on what were efforts to infiltrate, to monitor and to potentially influence the hierarchy of the National Rifle Association with regard to its involvement supporting political campaigns.

Putin is most likely additionally displeased over: the US withdrawal from Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action concerning the Iranian nuclear program to which the Russian Federation  was a signatory; the US support of Syrian forces in opposition to the Russian Federation’s man in Syria, Syrian Arab Republic President Bashar al-Assad; the continued US presence in Syria; the appearance of what some Russian analysts might conclude has been a “feigned retreat” from Syria similar that of Russian Federation in 2016 when Putin declared that Russian Federation forces were withdrawing from Syria. (See the August 20, 2016 greatcharlie post entitled, “Under Pressure Over Aleppo Siege, Russia Hints at Seeking Deal with US: Can Either Country Compromise?”); the killing of over 200 Russian “mercenaries” by US forces as they attempted to capture an oil refinery on the grounds of a US military base in Syria; the US bombing in both 2017 and 2018 of Syrian military bases and facilities due to what Russia would call false allegations that the Assad regime used chemical weapons on its own citizens; the US efforts at denuclearization and economic vitalization the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, potential weakening of Russian influence as a result; the US withdrawal from the INF; and recently, US efforts to “undercut” the Russian Federation’s man in Venezuela, Nicolas Maduro and stirring popular support in Venezuela as well as support and full recognition of capitals worldwide for the President of the Venezuelan National Assembly Juan Guaidó, now the self-declared Interim President. Much more has been done by Trump, but it is a bit too much to unpack it all here.

What Has Been Putin’s Aim?

Due to Putin’s penchant for doing something untoward, there always the chance that there could be a big falling out between Trump and himself. Indeed, from what is observable, Putin can often behave in ways to negatively impact ties with others. He has a way of making half-turns away from what is correct, just enough to perturb. There is certainly a lot going on behind his eyes. As a result of that negative behavior, he can fall out from one’s senses, away from what one can understand and even believe. In any event, it is not a joyous experience, it is rather the type of experience from which one would reasonably want to escape. Putin certainly does not have friendly thoughts about the US. To make any noise that would sound as if one sympathizes with Putin and his aides and advisers would be to stand on shaky ground. However, it is somewhat apparent how negative circumstances got them to the point they have reached regarding the US and West in general.

In fairness, the Soviet Union was an arrested as well as broken society that never fully overcame the ravages of World War II. Its people doubly suffered by living under the iron grip of an authoritarian government. It allowed them no voice to express the stresses and pains under which they were trapped. With the collapse of the Soviet Union, measures taken by Western experts, many with very bad ideas on fixing the economies of the former Soviet republics, rushed to the Russian Federation’s assistance. They had the effect of creating more pain, more uncertainty, more instability for Russians at all levels. At that point, for the majority of Russians, the US completely lost its claim to compassion as they looked over the damage done to their society via the experimentation of the economic and financial experts. Interregnum, the multinationals exploited the Russian Federation as it tried to reorganize itself. Russian officials stumbled behind the multinationals experts and marketers trying to understand what they were doing with the futile hope that things would turn out for the best. On that basis, one might muse in an objective way that the resentment of many Russians was somewhat justified. Russians, such as Putin, under the notions that their anger was righteous, took things  a step further via their own angry expression of the consequences and humiliations of such a life.  They reject the notion that the West is superior in any way. They do not see evidence that justifies the claim that the US has a superior society, that is such a thing as “American Exceptionalism”. They rejected what they view as geopolitical and metaphysical fluff propagated by the West. Unable to keep the old order intact they invented a copy, equally threatening at home with regard to recognizing the rights of the Russian people, yet unable to project the power of the mighty Soviet Union. Absent also is the struggle to establish global Communism. Still, ensuring that Russia would never fall victim to business and financial experts and multinational corporations, and seeking vengeance when possible became a means to soothe their pride. “Unser ganzes leben, unser ganzer stolz!”

Calling attention to the flaws, shortfalls, and faults of the US did not serve to positively shape their approach to governing the Russian Federation where the abuses of power and the excesses of elites were most apparent. Expert observers of Russia throughout the world would agree too often the government will regularly exceed what is decent. Even today, one stands on dangerous ground in Russia by even questioning the actions of the country’s leadership. Even Putin’s aides and advisers must tremble at his fury. Perhaps they even shudder when misfortune befalls others at his hand. Life can quickly turn from sweetness to bitterness for those who keep company with him. A majority in the US public might stand in utter horror to know what was actually happening in the Russian Federation. Still, regardless of the Russian Federation’so condition, Kremlin officials insist that their country should retain its place among industrialized countries. In the Kremlin, it was believed that the legacy of being a superpower is validates the Russian Federation’s demand to be included among the main powers in the international order. The Kremlin never felt that the Obama administration was willing to view or act toward the Russian Federation, at least while Putin was it’s president, in a way befitting it. Putin seemingly remains infuriated by the idea projected by the Obama administration that Russia should only be allowed the power that the US wanted it to have. Vocal veterans of the Obama administration, former senior appointed officials, continue to speak in such unkind ways about Putin and Russia, apparently unaware of how much damage their line of thinking did to their own policies, and oblivious to the impact their words still have in the Kremlin today. Numquam enim temeritas cum sapientia commiscetur. (For rashness is never mixed together with wisdom.)

Despite efforts by Trump to blunt Putin’s aggressiveness, the Russian Federation President is still left with a say on whether the relationship will be good or bad. One cannot just sit back and hope for the best, to presuppose Putin will eventually become a good partner around the world. Trump must take steps when the best opportunity arises, to better position the US and its interests in the world. Of course the support of sufficient analysis and forecasts of a favorable outcome anchored in reality would be required, too!  It might be too far to claim Putin has a negative intellect through which no logic can penetrate. The sort of figurative crystal ball gazing that caused anyone to believe Trump was being led by the nose by Moscow is not what is needed at all. Along with a strong interest in improving US-Russian relations, there should be a seamless flow of empathy between the two leaders an apparent chemistry. That does not appear exist, and may not possible. If anything, Putin should be the one find such as outcome regrettable, having squandered so much potential for his own country. However, it is equally possible that he could not care less. How proportionate Putin will respond on a matter can best be speculated upon as logic is not always the best yardstick to use with him. (The best example is Russian interference in the 2016 US Presidential Election.)

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.) Trump will not let his curiosity become the cheese for any trap laid by Putin. Certainly, changing course with Putin, having invested two years in the effort to build better relations, would be disappointing. Such are the pitfalls aspiring to do new things and accomplish more. Abandoning the effort or at least paring it down if satisfactory results in the form of responses from Putin are absent, would be completely in step with the America First policy. For Trump, what the US public thinks and feels and what is best for them will always have primacy in his thinking and decision making. Furthermore, taking on such challenges is what Trump likes to do successfully. When things do not turn out exactly the way he would like, he will at least know that he gave it his best. Assuredly, Trump will continue to take on challenges for the US public as his presidency marches forward. The matador Escamillo’s aria, “Votre toast, je peux vous le rendre”, from Georges Bizet’s Opera Carmen fits Trump’s stouthearted drive to succeed very well: Car c’est la fete du courage! / C’est la fete des gens de co / Allons! en garde! Allons! Allons! ah! / Toreador, en garde! Toreador, Toreador! (Because it is a celebration of courage! / It is the celebration of people with heart! / Let’s go, on guard! Let’s go! Let’s go! Ah! / Toreador, on guard! Toreador, Toreador!)

Trump Uses Prior Experience, Flexible Thinking, and Even Empathy, to Make Foreign Policy Decisions Fit for Today’s World

US President Donald Trump (above). International Institutions as the UN, the World Bank, and NATO have served well in promoting global economic development, international peace and security, and providing responses to threats to democracy and freedom. Still, some countries, sensing they are surrendering a degree of control and power by creating space for the conciliation of such institutions, frequently work outside of them. Doing that well is not easy. Lessons can be drawn from Trump’s efforts at effecting change in other countries’ foreign and national security policy decision making.

Throughout centuries, overwhelming military power, hard power, has been used by empires, countries, tribes seeking to force some modifications in other groups or halt certain actions altogether. Threaded through that history has been the less frequent use of what the renowned international affairs scholar Joseph Nye referred to as “soft power”, the ability to shape the long-term attitudes and preferences of country by using economic and cultural influence rather than force. Institutions as the UN, the World Bank, and NATO, have well-served the interests of countries since the postwar era by promoting economic development worldwide, international peace and security, and providing responses to Communist aggression and other threats to democracy and freedom. However, effecting change peacefully since the end of the Cold War has often been a process in which stronger, very capable, sophisticated, industrialized countries, with a goal of “leveling the playing field”, and promoting an Utopian unreality of all countries “negotiating as equals”. Great strain and limitations have been placed on their diplomatic efforts. Indeed, they feel that they have been in a downward spiral in which they are slowly surrendering an ever increasing degree of control and power to create space for the conciliation of international institutions. Hardline political elements of those countries have gone as far as to complain that working through international institutions has resulted in an absolute derogation of their respective countries’ rights and power.In addition, authoritarian regimes have regularly exploited international institutions for their own ends. For example, Cuba and Venezuela, two of the world’s most egregious human-rights abusers, sit on the UN Human Rights Council. China exploits benefits of membership in the World Trade Organization while engaging in unfair trade practices to protect its domestic market.

In response to this dilemma, the US and a number of other countries have begun to engage more frequently outside of those institutions in their diplomatic efforts on major issues. They want to better enable themselves to determine outcomes on those efforts. Moreover, as Kiron Skinner, Director of Policy Planning at the US Department of State, explained in a December 11, 2018 opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal: “With the international order under siege from actors that would remake it in their own illiberal image, the Trump administration is acting to preserve a just, transparent and free world of sovereign states.” Surely, this does not mean that international institutions are not being abandoned. Efforts are being made to reform them. Abandoning them completely would be a terrible miscalculation for their good offices still have purpose in certain urgent and important multilateral, regional, and global diplomatic situations. Rather, as an alternative, countries can cooperate effectually by making themselves the guarantors of their own domestic freedoms and national interests. Once national leaders become involved in bilateral or multilateral diplomacy outside of the auspices of an international institution, they must be a bit shrewder, more incisive, have an optimal situational awareness, and remain truly dedicated to reaching an agreement or resolution as there will be no “middleman” available to referee or mediate. They must be willing to struggle with an idea until its inception, rather than back away from finding a solution because it takes too much effort, energy, and time. Countries may not be able to insist upon negotiating as equals outside of international institutions, but that matter can be overcome by acting with a heightened spirit of goodwill. National leaders and negotiators must ensure that they are empathetic toward an opposite’s circumstances and positions.

Lessons can be drawn from the approaches taken by Trump aimed at affecting change in the foreign and national security policy decision making of other countries in his first term while working outside the auspices of international institutions. There might be some disagreement with this suggestion, but often from what observers might perceive as crises, Trump has managed to create starting points for new beginnings in relations with other countries. Trump sees potential in everything. As a result, if he sees a better way, an easier route to put the figurative golden ring in his reach, there will occasionally be surprise shifts in his approaches. His critics and detractors insist that there are strictures on foreign and national security decision making to which he must adhere as US President. However, Trump, having been engaged in international business for years, has had time to examine the world using his own lens, and not a political or bureaucratic prism. He came to office confident that he could maneuver well among the galer of national leaders, each with his or her own ideas, goals, ambition, will, and predilections. He indeed exhibits the type of flexibility of thinking and action that an accomplished general would hope to display in war. It is possible that he has by instinct the methodology to do it all well. By identifying and examining patterns in his efforts, lessons become available. From an out-of-the-box perspective, an abbreviated discussion is provided here of the types of considerations behind Trump’s thinking on four salient foreign and national security policy issues set before his administration: Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (“DPRK”) denuclearization; Russian election interference in the US; the Russia-Ukraine confrontation in the Azov Sea (Kerch Strait); and, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and the Khashoggi assassination. The intention here is not to insist that other national leaders should be guided by the meditations of greatcharlie on Trump’s decision making. Rather, the discussion simply outlines what may be some of the new necessities of thinking and reasoning by national leaders and their foreign and national security policy decision makers today as more countries seek to engage in diplomacy outside of international institutions. Further, it is hoped that the discussion here will become part of policy debate concerning the Trump administration. ‘Tu me’ inquis ‘mones? iam enim te ipse monuisti, iam correxisti? ideo aliorum emendationi vacas?’ Non sum tam improbus ut curationes aeger obeam, sed, tamquam in eodem valetudinario iaceam, de communi tecum malo colloquor et remedia communico. (“What,” say you, “are you giving me advice? Indeed, have you already advised yourself, already corrected your own faults? Is this the reason why you have leisure to reform other men?” No, I am not so shameless as to undertake to cure my fellow-men when I am ill myself. I am, however, discussing with you troubles which concern us both, and sharing the remedy with you, just as if we were lying ill in the same hospital.)

Trump (left) and DPRK Chairman Kim Jong-un (right) in Singapore. The Singapore Summit was held on June 12, 2018. in the months since, Kim, nestled in Pyongyang, has likely become comfortable. Just thinking now and then about drawing closer to denuclearization and the future Trump presented, likely disrupts that sense of comfort. Calculating what would actually be required to effectuate the economic transformation of his country, may make change a less attractive. Encouriaging Kim to move forward may be a challenge for Trump, but not an insurmountable one.

The DPRK and Denuclearization

Given DPRK Chairman Kim Jong-un’s apparent temporizing on the decision to denuclearize, critics and detractors of Trump would want everyone aware of the interactions between the US and DPRK to believe that Kim is using the US President to achieve his own ends. However, even if Kim actually feels that there is something more to the idea of denuclearization, surely he would still be hesitant to advance the matter. It would only be natural for anyone to have a bout with wintery feet facing the enormity of the potential undertaking before Kim. In the chambers where Kim and the DPRK’s most senior officials make decisions on foreign and national security policy, innovative and imaginative thinking would hardly be welcomed and denuclearization is likely accepted unenthusiastically. What has been produced there for quite some time has usually been uninspired stuff, aimed primarily at advancing the ideals of the Worker’s Party of Korea . Kim is surely aware of what happened in Russia economically with the help of “Western experts” after the fall of the Soviet Union. As mentioned in the July 27, 2018 greatcharlie post entitled, “To Foster Forward Movement on Denuclearization by Kim, Trump Says there Is No Rush, But His Patience Has Limits”, a complete trust in Trump hardly could have sprouted and blossomed exponentially in Kim during the Singapore meeting. Months have passed since Singapore, Kim is some distance away from it all. Any initial second-guessing Kim may have had about Trump may have morphed into considerable apprehension since. Kim has been comfortably nestled in Pyongyang. Drawing closer to the world that Trump presented, would require Kim to tear away from the only world he and his people have known. Just ruminating about what would be required to effectuate the economic transformation of his country may make it all seem so difficult and thereby a less attractive option.

When mulling over a new approach on a matter in negotiation with another country or countries, the foreign and national security policy machinery of countries as the DPRK will very often move with the same speed as the massive naval dreadnoughts of early and mid-20th century. Wheeling those giant ships port or starboard took real effort. They often moved so slowly that during World War II in particular, they became relatively easy targets for dive bombers and torpedo planes. Self-interested bureaucracies will champion their points of view on a matter and guard their turf. Their devotion to ensuring the primacy of their organizations’ partisan interests can even surpass their enthusiasm over the matter at hand. Decisions are usually reviewed endlessly, as they seek to advance their organizations’ parochial interests in an optimal way. Indeed, the bureaucracies can suffer the paralysis of analysis. Compromise is usually reached as last resort. Yet, “turf battles” can become so volatile on an issue that often in the end, while there may have been some compromise from the different organizations, no satisfactory decision is made at all, no approach truly beneficial to the country is advanced. Another result can be some composite solution that will be ineffectual in resolving the matter at hand in the best interests of their country. Further, there can be a result in which too many points, most of which were found to be too controversial to settle on in the bureaucratic struggle, are left uncovered, making it virtually impossible to proceed in the best interest of their country on a matter. All of this makes encouraging change in the thinking of another countries foreign and national security policy appear insurmountable. Trump and his advisers and aides have taken all of this into full consideration, and remain confident that the administration’s efforts will lead to success. In fact, it remains a goal in Washington to find a way to get Kim to accelerate his efforts at denuclearization. What they would like to do is create an occasion on which Kim to have a second chance to be in contact with the persuasive and assuring Trump. For Trump, there is a type of voluptuous quality about the entire challenge, as it will require the full use of his capabilities along the lines of excellence. Moreover, Trump has the freedom to maneuver in his own unique and often successful ways in the negotiation process. He does not need to be concerned that an international institution might impose limitations on his ability to make deals. Fortuna adversa virum magnae sapientiae non terret. (Adverse fortune (adversity) does not frighten (intimidate) a man of great intellect.)

As a practical matter, negotiating countries should ascribe probabilities of their opposites’ likely actions and reactions respectively. In that vein, national leaders of the negotiating countries must also be a bit more empathetic of each others circumstances. As the negotiation process continues, direct communication must be used to convey and remind what the expectations are for both sides and respective red-lines on trade-offs that neither side will cross. Nothing does more to prove how vested the other is on an issue when one party absolutely refuses to negotiate on it, even when perhaps minor agreements tied to it are reached in the negotiating process. Every country has lines that it simply will not cross. If anything, those small steps that might be achieved should serve to build confidence on other matters as the negotiations continue. If one country feels unduly pressured or imposed upon, some capitals could react in a disproportionately negative way. One-sided outcomes successfully forced down one party’s throat will not last.  One-sided outcomes, even if consented to by the initiating party will rarely survive over time. This was recently observed with regard to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action; the North American Free Trade Agreement, and the Paris Agreement of Climate Change.

Months have passed since Singapore. Any initial second-guessing Kim may have had about Trump may have possibly morphed into considerable apprehension. The foreign and national security policy machinery of the DPRK, mulling over a new approach on a matter in negotiation with the US, is moving very slowly. Self-interested bureaucracies will champion their points of view on a matter and guard their turf. Their devotion to ensuring the primacy of their organizations’ partisan positions undoubtedly far surpass their “enthusiasm” over denuclearization. 

For Trump, as would be the case for any US president, success in such an endeavor would also depend upon the ability to create an outcome that supports balance in the international order; that is compatible with US values and interests. If the matter at hand is urgent enough, substantial resources and energy will be speedily directed to it. That has been the case with DPRK denuclearization; trade with China; and the US-Mexico-Canada Agreement. For Trump specifically, there would most likely be a determination to remain stalwart at the side of the US public. Without deviation, he will keep the US public first and firmly in mind as he considers how he will encourage and initiate the changes he desires. He will also keep the US public first and firmly in mind as he considers withdrawing from US military commitments overseas. While reelection in 2020 is certainly the goal and the plan, Trump is not in a popularity contest to the extent that he only wants to make the US public happy or get the people to like him. (Many do already.) He wants to do what is best for their true interests, both for the short-term and the long-term. In that respect, Trump cannot always, metaphorically, serve dessert first, but there is always something better coming.

Omnis nimium longa properanti mora est. (Every delay is too long to one who is in a hurry.) As a caveat, one should not become so steeped in the effort to encourage and draw the response from the other side that one would be willing to make concessions that were never even imagined before the negotiation process began. Trading off something a country’s negotiators would prefer not to relinquish, a major concession, may very well be required at some point. It is almost an immutable part of the process of negotiating at the international level. Still, a line must be drawn along the measure at which nothing beyond would be acceptable. To lessen the pain of giving up anything, whatever one might be willing to part with must be determined and enumerated before any diplomatic negotiations begin. When mulling over what to give up, one must use reason to determine what it’s relative value might be to the other side. It must be useful enough to create some sense of equity, balance, and perhaps if a side is lucky, it might represent some real gain. (In that process of determining what would be best to trade versus what might be gained, difficulties can arise internally in many national governments’ foreign and national security bureaucracies.) Concerning the DPRK and denuclearization, the Trump administration certainly does not want to give up the strengths and equities of its alliances with allies. Those ties that bind allies in the region are the same ties that assure unity when dealing with China.

The Trump administration officials, particularly US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, have sought to engage in very open, honest, and frank communications with their DPRK counterparts. That would include making inquiries regarding what is happening within the chambers of decision making of the DPRK. From that information, the administration has been able to proceed with a good idea of whether success is possible. There have also been letters from Kim to Trump that have provided a sense on where things stand in the DPRK regarding denuclearization. Where explanations are somewhat unclear, there becomes the need to ascribe the probability of success from the interpretations of what has said and even what has not been said during negotiations and in the briefest communications to include pull asides and other less formal discussions away from the negotiating table. Attention would also need to be placed on what is said contemporaneously among officials from the respective countries who may have met on unrelated matters. That would include theories, surmisals, and any offhand comments. When negotiators get beyond their own wits as to what may come next from the other side, or are unable to decipher what type of obstacles may be delaying or blocking a favorable decision, it is the best time to seek greater assistance from the intelligence services.

US Air Force U2 Surveillance Plane (above). When negotiators get beyond their own wits as to what may come next from the other side, or are unable to decipher what type of obstacles may be delaying or blocking a favorable decision, it is the best time to seek greater assistance from the intelligence services. In Western countries, particularly the US, substantial information is also collected by electronic surveillance, typically obscure, clever ways to collect what is happening over the horizon via satellites and special aircraft from above.

As greatcharlie explained in its May 31, 2018 post entitled, “An Open Mind and Direct Talks, Not Reports Developed from Overt US Sources, Will Best Serve Diplomacy with Trump”, for intelligence services, getting to know what is happening in a country, regarding a particular event or issue will invariably require having agents who are in the right place, are articulate, can answer questions, and receive instructions. In Western countries, particularly the US, substantial information is also collected by electronic surveillance, typically obscure, clever ways to collect what is happening over the horizon via satellites and special aircraft from above. Electronic collection, although very costly, has brought many benefits, by allowing for the monitoring of all manner of communications, discovering plans, patterns of activity and locations of targets. Many have grumbled for years in the intelligence industry that increased use of such surveillance and reconnaissance systems has resulted in the disappearance of the sure-fire agent on the ground with his string of spies and informants and with a willingness to travel the danger route. When this issue became most apparent in the US in the late 1970s and the 1980s, there were efforts to make adjustments, but it is still posited that human intelligence has taken a back seat in favor of technology.  Illud autem ante omnia memento, demere rebus tumultum ac videre quid in quaque re sit: scies nihil esse in istis terribile nisi ipsum timorem. (Remember, however, before all else, to strip things of all that disturbs and confuses, and to see what each is at bottom; you will then comprehend that they contain nothing fearful except the actual fear.

Trump has no intention of moving down a blind alley. Regarding the use of his “gut feelings”, intimations backed up with the strength of reports and briefings from intelligence community, military, and diplomatic professionals. Supported in that way, such feelings are less guesses than judgments based on the aggregate of all the information received, tied in with an awareness of seemingly abstract pieces of information to form an orderly and coherent perception. During World War II, German military commanders were known for relying on intimations based on what was occurring on the battlefield and perceptions of what the thinking and planning was in the opponent’s command center. Still, in contemplating what Kim might do, the US will do much more than rely on such hunches. The administration cannot afford to become complacent even to the slightest degree. It will remain vigilant and cautious. Resources have been dedicated to surveilling developments at North Korean nuclear sites. As many analytical resources as possible should also be dedicated to the discernment of signs of a reversal in Pyongyang.

Il ne fait pas l’ombre d’un doute que Trump and his advisers and sides will seek to be read-in on daily assessments, appraisals, and conclusions. Concrete facts, inference, interpolations from data, intimations, hunches based on experience, will all be heard and considered when senior US foreign and national security policy officials meet. Leg work by a secret grey army of US intelligence officers in the region and confirmed reports from agents ensconced naked where detection could mean certain death, serve to confirm possible actions or unsettling activity, even if not immediately threatening, would be rapidly synthesized and provided to decision makers. Those consumers may also have an interest in reading reports from intelligence officers of regional allies and their agents, as well as data streams from technical collection systems of those allies. US allies just might discern something the US might have missed. Despite the most optimistic hopes and projections on the DPRK, Trump remains ready to process in his mind what he sees to surmount what he is hoping for. Looking deeper allows one to see what is lacking. The diplomatic process with the DPRK cannot sit between success and failure in a figurative foreign policy halfway house. Previous administrations submitting to the fantasy that the DPRK wanted peace allowed Pyongyang to establish a pattern of success that very likely helped build Kim’s self-confidence in dealing with US. One can be assured that Trump will not base his decision on an emotional response, and bend too much in an effort to understand the uneasiness of Kim’s position. It is most important for Kim to know that.

Trump (right) and former US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (left). The efforts of Russian operatives were too unnatural, too unusual. Their focus was primarily on the unconstructive and destructive aspects of US political activity, and were detected. The fact that Clinton, Trump’s opponent in the 2016 Presidential Election, won the popular vote, evinces that the degree to which Russian efforts failed to sway the US public was disproportionate to the degree of risk involved with undertaking a political manipulation effort of such magnitude in the US.

Russia’s Ongoing Election Interference

The unique qualities and character of each US President in great part impels the US public to select them on election day. As chief executive of the US Government, the president is required to take certain positions and actions in accord with US values and interests. Yet, it is the unique qualities and character of each which causes the choices of each to diverge a bit or a lot from those of their predecessors. How a president will act on certain foreign and national security policy issues will typically be outlined during an election campaign for the public to read and hear. From what is enumerated, the public will form an opinion on a candidate. Indeed, in the end, it is not what is wrong with a candidate that sticks in the mind of a voter that is so important. It is what is right for the voter which makes the difference. The thinking of the US public generally moves in that direction.

To clarify further on the perception of how a candidate will perform differently to satisfy the voter, there must be the belief that the candidate will make a positive difference in their lives personally such as making them financially better off and more secure, allowing for improvement to their communities by making more services available and life better in general, and in the country by improving its condition, guiding it in a positive direction, and ensuring its status as a world leader and force for good. Negative ideas that might to orbit around a preferred candidate and even a rival candidate, while seemingly important in campaign efforts–every campaign has elements that focus on those matters and to an extent promulgate negative information on an opponent–and in news media stories broadcasted, published, and posted, may remain correlative, even de minimus, in the minds of many voters. In some cases, the negative information about a preferred candidate may drive voters to the polls to ensure their candidate wins.

Although Russian Federation intelligence services may pride themselves as having what they may believe to be a considerable expertise in US affairs, they are surely not up to snuff when it comes to understanding US politics. While their studies and observations of the US may have appeared to yield a genuine picture of the broad US political scene, certainly when it came to understanding what was happening in the lead up the 2016 Presidential Campaign and the Presidential Election, they completely missed the mark. An immediate impression is that since Russian analysts lacked points of reference within their own society that resembled what was happening in the US, there was really nothing upon which they could found their interpretations and conclusions. As social media was a main focal point on which Russian operatives sought to inflict considerable damage during the 2016 US Presidential Elections, it appears that much of what was collected and extrapolated about the US political scene came from popular, yet incredibly hostile commentaries propagated on social media by emotional individuals across of the political spectrum, political activists, and fringe elements who simply attack and lack boundaries. The Russians analysts could not discern that what was on social media did not reflect what was going on in the mind of the US public. Basing the interference operation on that sort of failed interpretation of US political activity, meant it was doomed from the start. Essentially, it was sabotaged by ignorance. As they performed their mission, the efforts of Russian operatives, being too imitative, too unnatural, too unusual, stood out. It was all nothing more than  a soupy simulacrum of the real thing. Their focus was almost solely on the unconstructive and destructive aspects of US political activity. Their efforts  were out of rhythm and rhyme with the stylings of authentic political message of mainstream US political parties. No matter how well Russian operatives may have believed their operation was cloaked, executed, and managed, those who began investigating what was going on could flag their burlesque without too much difficulty. The fact that Trump’s opponent in the 2016 Presidential Election, former US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, reportedly won the popular vote, evinces that the degree to which Russian efforts failed to sway the US public. The operation’s modicum of success was disproportionate relative to the degree of risk involved in undertaking an extensive political manipulation effort in the US. The interference operation really appears to have been an act of vengeance more than anything else. Passion did not obey reason in the Kremlin.

Added to that, the US intelligence community and law enforcement had the technological means to trace the efforts of Russian operatives all the way home to their headquarters. So successful were the counterintelligence efforts of the US intelligence community and law enforcement that they could determine when and how things happened and who was involved. For example, they acquired complete profiles of those members of the Russian Federation’s Glavnoye Razvedyvatel’noye Upravleniye Generalnovo Shtaba (Main Intelligence Directorate of the General Staff-Military Intelligence) or GRU involved with the interference operation. They were able to determine the particular role each played in it. Recall that Putin reached the rank of lieutenant colonel in the Soviet Union’s Komitet Gosudarstvennoy Bezopasnosti (the Committee for State Security) known better as the KGB—the agency responsible for intelligence, counterintelligence, and internal security. Once on the right path, he broke all sorts of records on his way to the top. In 1997, he served as head of the Main Control Directorate. In 1998, he was named first deputy head of the Presidential Administration, responsible for the regions, he was ordered to serve as director of the Federal’naya Sluzhba Bezopasnosti Rossiyskoy Federatsi (Russian Federation Federal Security Service) or FSB, and he was named Secretary of the Security Council. Having observed the US collect such granular information on the operation, it is very likely that Putin had parsed out that someone in Russia’s intelligence services pointed the US in the right direction. He likely began to believe that there was a rotten apple buried somewhere at the bottom of the Russian intelligence apple barrel. One might informally speculate that anger, even rage over the the ability of the US to discover so much might have been one more straw on the pile that has caused Russia to lash out at the West, and those in West’s fold, in ham-handed ways since. Ira furor brevis est; animum rege. Anger is a brief madness; govern your soul (control your emotions))

The fact that Russia sought to disrupt the democratic process of the country is what makes the interference in the 2016 US Presidential Election so insidious. A long espoused criticism of Trump is that he is enchanted with tyrants, strongmen, rogue leaders such as Putin. His comments about Putin have been decried by critics as being unduly pleasant and oleaginous. This tenuous notion became a story was heavily covered even before Trump’s inauguration, and has received even greater coverage since. The story considered in light of reports from the US intelligence community that Russia interfered in the 2016 US Presidential Election, has been posited as the causality for the investigations of the Office of Special Counsel Robert Mueller. The reality is that rather finding a national leader as Putin intoxicating, Trump has his own considerable reservations about them. In the past year, Trump observed Putin behave in a very disappointing manner. Indeed, while engaged in diplomacy, the Trump administration has closely monitored hostile Russian moves, not only the continued interference in US elections, but also: Russia’s continued interference in the election processes of countries other than the US; Russia’s efforts to support Syrian President Bashar al-Assad; and, Russia’s efforts to tighten its grip on Crimea and the Donbass. As it was explained in the October 31, 2018 greatcharlie post entitled, “Building Relations between Trump and Putin: Getting beyond the “Getting to Know You” Stage”, Trump has repeatedly gotten on Putin’s case about the matter, and has publicly insisted that he has done so. Trump also has surely shared his perspectives with him on: how reported government abuses within Russia have left the world with a very negative impression of the country as a whole; why it is difficult for anyone to see Russia as a decent constitutional society; why considerable doubt exists in the minds of top Russia hands and his close advisers and aides that Russia could ever be an honest broker and good partner in tackling transnational issues; and, how tough it will be for Russia to ever overcome such views on its own. It would seem that Trump could publicly snatch Putin’s lunch away, eat it, and pop the bag in his face, and critics would still say he too soft on the Russian leader. There could not be a worse source or gauge of Trump’s interactions with Putin than his critics and detractors.

German troops passing through Ardennes Forest on their way to France in 1940. (above). Trump knows it would be imprudent to ignore information from the US Intelligence community that confirm some action by an adversary is very likely, imminent, or has been taken. The failure of consumers to include assessments of situations in their calculations can be unfortunate. Consider how the French military high command failed their government In 1870, 1915, and 1940 by dismissing warnings about the intentions of Prussian and German Governments.

Trump knows that it would be imprudent to ignore information from the US Intelligence community that confirms some action by an adversary is very likely, imminent, or has been taken. Predictions concerning an action are made more urgent when commingled with existing impressions of a national government or national leader, specifically, based on behavior both at home and abroad. The consequence of insufficient intelligence analyses, the failure by consumers to include valuable forecasts in their appraisals of situations, can be most unfortunate. Consider for example how the military high command of France failed their government 3 times in 70 years by minimizing warnings about the intentions of Prussian and German Governments. In 1870, the Supreme Command of the French Imperial Army, with its attitude of debrouillez-vous (“We’ll muddle through somehow”), did not heed signalling that the Prussian Army would move via the Ardennes Forest through Belgium into France. In 1918, the French Grand Quartier Général (General Headquarters) did not heed indicia signalling that the Imperial German Army, to avoid French defenses on the Franco-German border, would move via the Ardennes Forest through Belgium into France. In 1940, the Anglo-French Supreme War Council, relying on the defenses of the Maginot Line, did not heed indicia signalling that the German Army would move via the Ardennes Forest through Belgium into France. Even with this history, in 1944, the Supreme Headquarters of Allied Expeditionary Forces in Europe ignored idicia signalling that the German Army might attempt to move via the the Ardennes Forest into Belgium in an attempt to reach Antwerp and cut Allied Forces into two pieces. The result was the Battle of the Bulge in which US forces suffered an estimated 75,000 casualties.

A newly discovered official US Government memorandum has revealed that intelligence collected about the activities of the Imperial Japanese Navy, led to assessments that Japan might attack the US on the West coast, the Panama Canal, and the US naval and military bases in Hawaii some time in December 1941. The Japanese Imperial Navy would eventually execute a devastating surprise, aircraft carrier-based, aerial attack and submarine attack on the US Naval Base and Headquarters of the US Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor, and aerial attacks against the US Army Base at Schofield Barracks and the US Army Air Corps Base at Hickam Field. Most US military commanders were bewildered by the successful attack which they never would have believed Japan could execute before it actually happened. By leaning into those beliefs, they were caught flat-footed by the attack. Their immediate responses were meager and ineffectual.

There were more recent occasions when intelligence was not given primacy required and not sufficiently analysed and integrated in the decision making of a US administration. Boiled down to the bones, in the late summer of 2001, the administration of US President George Bush was remiss in not giving primacy to information indicating the leader of the Al-Qaeda terrorist organization, Osama Bin Laden was determined to strike in the US. In fact, Al-Qaeda did strike on September 11, 2001. Failing to become overly concerned over warnings of an impending terrorist attack, the Bush administration did not formulate and implement an effectual response to deter or defeat the threat that revealed itself. As explained in the December 2018 greatcharlie post entitled, “Commentary: Trump Withdraws US Troops from Syria: What Considerations Impelled His Decision?”, US President Barack Obama and other national leaders poorly interpreted information concerning an opposition movement that had organised against the regime of Syria Arab Republic President Bashar Al-Assad in March 2011. They believed that opposition movement made Assad regime ripe for change, however, opportunity was seen by Obama and his foreign and national security policy decision makers where there was none. The conclusion was that with a modicum support for the right opposition groups, the Assad regime would face collapse and be forced to the negotiation table, where Assad, himself, would agree to an orderly and immediate transition of power. Among a long list of negative consequences that have resulted from that policy approach have been: a seemingly never ending civil war in which millions of civilians have become casualties, millions more have been displaced; Russia and other countries who are potential adversaries of the US have strengthened their presence in Syria and increased their influence on the Assad regime; and, extraordinarily dangerous terrorist groups such as Al-Qaeda and ISIS, have established strongholds.

How a US President might proceed at forks on the road on policy concerning, a countries, or group of countries will typically be based on information provided by the US intelligence community. Sometimes, that information will create a clear path on which the president can proceed with a relatively assured step. In cases in which US responses have been ineffectual or simply wrong, there may have been a failure to integrate information that warned that success was unlikely. Sometimes, “The path is smooth that leads on to danger.” If the US public were kept aware of every occasion in which Russia posed a threat or interfered with US interests, and if the US Government were to react publicly to concerns and intelligence reports about Russian activity, certainly the US would have stumbled into war with Russia long ago. Consider for example that the Russians regularly use their satellites to interfere with US satellites as they transit the Earth. That situation is made more challenging by the fact that there is considerable positive cooperation between the US and Russia on space and it would be disadvantageous to tear it apart. In that same vein, an honest assessment must be made of where incidents fit into the bigger picture of vital US interests and the maintenance of international peace and security. At best, the country must rely on a president’s experience and judgment as each incident arises.

Having been placed under the bright lights, it is hard to imagine why Russian intelligence and security services are reportedly continuing their efforts to manipulate US elections. The operation was blown. Perhaps it will end after Putin recognizes that the more his spies plug into the US system to do damage, the more US intelligence services and law enforcement is enabled to discover about Russian intelligence tactics, techniques, procedures, and methods, leadership, personnel, and resources.

Russia was wrong to act against US interests in the 2016 elections. Trump can continue to respond to its behavior by keeping the most effective punitive economic measures in place. However, he also knows that Putin, to the best of his ability has thought through the possible consequences to his actions with his advisers. He does not at least publicly appear overly concerned with retribution from the US short of acting on Russian sovereign territory or acting harshly against Russian interests and its allies. Beyond providing lip-service to Putin as suggested by critics and detractors, Trump has sought to close the door on Russian election meddling activities against the US as best as possible, build a positive personal relationship with Putin, and improve US relations with Russia. Although Trump, a patriotic US citizen, very likely feels some anger, bitterness, and resentment in his heart over what Putin and Russia have done, he knows behaving too aggressively would be short-sighted, and would only lengthen the distance he will need to travel to improve the US relationship with Russia. Trump will not sacrifice any benefits that might result from his acting in a measured way. Having been placed under the bright lights, it is hard to imagine why Russian intelligence and security services are reportedly continuing their efforts to manipulate US elections. The operation was blown, and keeping it going seems a bit barky. Perhaps it will end after Putin recognizes that the more his spies plug into the US system to do damage, the more enabled US intelligence services and law enforcement are to uncover Russian intelligence tactics, techniques, procedures, and methods, leadership, personnel, and resources. Perhaps he is on the verge of becoming conscious or accepting of that now.

According to Kiev, the confrontation in the Kerch Strait began on November 25, 2018, when 3 of its ships, travelling from Odessa to Mariupol, were intercepted by the Russian Federation Coast Guard. (The Kerch Strait is a crucial waterway separating the Black and Azov seas.) The Russian Coast Guard vessels then fired on the Ukrainian ships and also rammed one of their tugboats. Moscow says 3 Ukrainian sailors were wounded, Kiev says the number was 6. The 3 Ukrainian ships and 24 sailors are now being held in Crimea by Russia.

Russia, Ukraine and the Kerch Strait Incident

Trump came to office with the intention of assuaging the long standing tension and anger that characterized the US-Russia relations, exacerbated by the Obama administration’s poor stewardship of it. He did not begin by trying the figuratively test the water nervously with his big toe. With boldness, he jumped right in, attempting to find a way to create a genuine connection with Putin in order to establish a stronger bond bofh between themselves and their two countries and hopefully as a result, a decent arrangement for interaction could be created. Trump has been graceful in his overtures to the Russian leader, focusing on finding ways to connect with Putin on issues, creating a unique positive connection as leaders of nuclear superpowers, and finding a chemistry between them. With any luck, Putin would understand and appreciate what Trump has been doing and recognize the great opportunity that lies before him to let Russia be seen as doing some good for the world. It has been a bedeviling process. At Helsinki, there was an incident that certainly raised Trump’s antennae. Despite his desire and efforts to make things right, Putin took the anomalous and very awkward step of presenting Trump with an official football from the World Cup saying, “The ball is in your court.” Trump stated that he would give the ball to his son Darren, and tossed it to the First Lady, Melania Trump. One could immediately observe by his visage that Trump would want answers from his team on what Putin’s move was all about.

Although, with some effort, benign intent can be posited to Putin’s presentation of the ball to Trump. The negative side of Putin may have been on full display. It was clear to all who observed closely that Trump’s reaction to the presentation was negative. His countenance revealed disgust and disappointment in Putin. It may very well be that Trump felt vibrations about trouble ahead with him. It was also very surprising because Putin, an acute watcher and listener. should have known by the time he met with Trump in Helsinki that the presentation of the ball would have created more difficulties than inroads with him. Critics and detractors of Putin would surely explain that he did not seek to gain anything from doing such an unorthodox thing and that it was all very characteristic of the Russian President’s churlish thinking. Si animus infirmus est, non poterit bonam fortunam tolerare. (If the spirit is weak, it will not be able to tolerate good fortune.)

The clash between Russia and Ukraine in the Kerch Strait makes plain the reality that problems between the two countries are deepening. According to Kiev, the confrontation began on November 25, 2018, when 3 of its ships, travelling from Odessa to Mariupol, were intercepted by the Russian Federation Coast Guard in the Kerch Strait. The Russian Federation Coast Guard vessels then fired on the Ukrainian ships and also rammed one of their tugboats. Moscow says 3 Ukrainian sailors were wounded, Kiev says the number was 6. In addition, Russia scrambled jets and helicopters, and even blocked the Kerch Strait with a barge, closing access to the Sea of Azov. Russia claims the Ukrainian ships violated territorial waters. The 3 Ukrainian ships and 24 crewmen as have been held as of January 2019 by Russia in Crimea. The Kerch Strait is a crucial waterway that serves as the gateway from the Black Sea into the Sea of Azov, which borders both Russia and Ukraine. From Moscow’s perspective, it is most importantly, the waterway between mainland Russia and Crimea which Russia annexed from Ukraine in 2014. Both countries have the right to patrol the waters in accord with a bilateral treaty. However, the strait is also the site of a new 12-mile bridge built by Russia that cost an estimated $4 billion. Russia has significantly built up its military presence in the region since 2014.

Russian Federation FSB officer (left) escorts Ukrainian sailor (right). Trump indicated to reporters as he left the White House to travel to the G-20 Summit in Argentina that he intended to be read-in on a finalized report” on the Kerch Strait incident on Air Force One. In flight, Trump tweeted: “Based on the fact that the ships and sailors have not been returned to Ukraine from Russia, I have decided it would be best for all parties concerned to cancel my previously scheduled meeting in Argentina with President Vladimir Putin.”

The incident in the strait alarmed senior US officials. Sharp criticism of Russia’s actions were immediately voiced. For US allies in Europe, the incident was edge of the seat stuff. There were widespread calls for Russia to immediately release the 24 Ukrainian sailors it captured, and some European leaders called for fresh sanctions against Russia. Kiev put martial law in effect for 30 days in Ukraine. The Kremlin scoffed at an appeal by Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko for NATO to reinforce the Azov Sea with naval ships. Russia shrugged off Western pressure. Moscow maintained that the crisis was created by Poroshenko for political gain. When Trump commented on the matter right after occurred, his words fell short of condemning Russia directly by stating: “I don’t like that aggression.” While there was nothing irregular about that, Trump’s critics and detractors, in response, characterized him as being too reticent on the matter. However, the situation was fluid, and Trump wanted to collect all the information available before taking any steps. So profound was his reaction that he reportedly signalled to the Washington Post that he would consider forgoing the meeting with Putin after the incident in Kerch Strait and escalating tensions between Russia and Ukraine. Trump then indicated to reporters as he left the White House to travel to the G-20 Summit in Argentina that he intended to be read-in on a finalized report” on the Kerch Strait incident on Air Force One. Early in the flight, however, Trump tweeted: “Based on the fact that the ships and sailors have not been returned to Ukraine from Russia, I have decided it would be best for all parties concerned to cancel my previously scheduled meeting in Argentina with President Vladimir Putin.” He added: ““I look forward to a meaningful Summit again as soon as this situation is resolved!”

Likely swept off their feet over “how well” they were managing their interactions with US and believing that they had a handle on the highly publicized meeting with Trump at the G-20 Summit Meeting in Buenos Aires, Argentina, Putin and his whole cabaret of acolytes were caught completely off guard by his decision. Coming down from their overdose of confidence, their immediate concern would reasonably have been what Trump’s move would mean in terms of future Russian interactions with the US. The Kremlin’s worry seemed to be manifested in the attitude and behavior of Spokesperson Dmitry Peskov. At the time, his works lacked a usual sense of certitude. There was a noticeable absence of his normal swagger. He presented a less impressive substitute of himself. Early on November 29, 2018, Peskov told reporters in Moscow that the meeting between Trump and Putin would take place December 1, 2018 around noon. He explained, “We are expecting the two presidents to speak briefly at first, but everything is left to the discretion of the heads of state.” He added that “Washington has confirmed.” Agitated by Trump’s tweet, Peskov told TASS Russian News Agency that the Kremlin had not been informed separately by the White House of the cancellation. He made the necessary correction by stating, explained, “If this is indeed the case, the president [Putin] will have a couple of additional hours in his schedule for useful meetings on the sidelines of the summit.”

Whatever could have led the Kremlin to think for a moment that they ever had a firm handle on Trump is a bit of a black box. Among the basket of possibilities, one might hypothesize that the vengeful thinking the prevailed during Russia’s struggles with the Obama administration is now insinuating itself into the Kremlin’s planning and actions concerning the Trump administration. (Many of former Obama administration officials successfully needle Kremlin’s officials by presenting acidic analyses of Putin’s behavior, antagonistic critiques of Russian foreign and national security policy, and make warlike recommendations on handling Russia for the Trump administration.) There is the possibility that Putin and Kremlin officials, being vexed by Trump’s willingness to bargain on the basis of fairness with them, chose the easy answer of simply continuing to do what they had been doing in response to Obama. There is also the possibility that being unable to understand Trump, and believing that his range of action, ability to do big things, and take on real challenges, was likely restrained somewhat by his domestic political struggles, which they doubtlessly perceive as amusing. If that perchance is the case, there is the possibility that Russian intelligence analysts covering the US political scene have been remiss by conceivably allowing highly politicized commentaries from Trump’s critics and detractors and iniquitous reports in the US news media insinuate themselves in their assessments. It is possible that any penetration by the GRU and the Sluzhba Vneshney Razvedki (Foreign Intelligence Service) or SVR in the US may simply be collecting: chicken feed; misleading information grabbed because it was within easy reach of officers, sounded plausible, and would look good in Moscow; or, false reports conjured up by delinquent officers just to look good or prolong their postings in the US. (It can happen even in the best intelligence services.) Additionally, Kremlin officials may have decided to simply leave well-enough alone and remain satisfied with stale, derivative analyses that would serve the bureaucratic requirement of producing some product, but inhibits the exploration or exploitation of opportunities for positive engagement with, and actions toward, the US.

Trump did not make contact with Putin on December 1, 2018 at the G-20 Summit. Reportedly, Trump walked by Putin as if he were a stranger when the leaders stood for a group photo. Still, having studied the the Obama administration responses to very questionable moves by Putin, Trump doubtlessly reasoned that he should not resort to taunting or pressuring him with slights. A conversation finally occurred at a cultural dinner in Buenos Aires, organized for the national leaders and their wives. Putin told reporters later that they discussed the “Black Sea situation.”

Having studied the Obama administration’s responses to contentious moves by Putin, Trump doubtlessly reasoned that he should not resort to taunting or pressuring him with slights. Putin’s reaction to that approach was adverse and disproportionate. Sensing that Putin may actually have a penchant for destroying progress made with the US, Trump would not set him up with the opportunity to do so again. Moreover, Trump saw no need to move up the ladder of escalation for no benefit, for no purpose. Apparently as an expression of his disappointment with Putin over Russia’s actions in the Kerch Strait, Trump did not make contact with him for most of the day, December 1, 2018. Reportedly, Trump walked by Putin as if he were a stranger when the world’s leaders stood for a group photo. Kremlin officials insisted throughout the day that the two leaders would ultimately meet. Finally, the two leaders had an “informal” conversation. According to White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders, the conversation occurred at a cultural dinner in Buenos Aires’ famous Teatro Colón, organized for the national leaders and their wives. As for its content, Saunders stated: “As is typical at multilateral events, President Trump and the First Lady had a number of informal conversations with world leaders at the dinner last night, including President Putin.” Putin told reporters afterward that he indeed met with Trump briefly at the event and they discussed the situation in Ukraine. Putin further explained, “I answered his questions about the incident in the Black Sea. He has his position. I have my own. We stayed in our own positions.”

As mentioned earlier, Trump’s patience has limits. However, he will at least make the effort manage contact with Putin as best as possible to get a successful result. If it should all fall apart, it will not be because of a silly move or the failure to do everything feasible within reason to promote it. Again, Trump is not doing any of this for himself; he has committed himself to this process for the sake of his country and the US public in particular. He will not allow his personal feelings about those he may deal with to get in the way.

Jamal Khashoggi (right) entering the Consulate of Saudi Arabia in Istanbul, Turkey. On October 2, 2018, Washington Post columnist and Saudi Arabian national, Jamal Khashoggi, went to the Saudi Arabian Consulate in Istanbul, Turkey to obtain a document certifying that he was divorced to enable him to marry his Turkish fiancée. Based on information available to them, Turkish officials said Khashoggi was killed inside the Consulate, his body was dismembered, and then likely disposed of elsewhere.

Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the Khashoggi Matter

On October 2, 2018, Washington Post columnist and Saudi Arabian national, Jamal Khashoggi, went to the Consulate of Saudi Arabia in Istanbul, Turkey to obtain a document certifying that he was divorced to enable him to marry his Turkish fiancée. Based on information available to them, Turkish officials said Khashoggi was killed inside the consulate, his body was dismembered, and then likely disposed of elsewhere. Before the murder, the Turkish Government had been monitoring a 15-person team that arrived at the consulate on October 2, 2018. That team returned to Riyadh the same day. The Turkish Government reportedly provided US officials with both audio and video recordings that confirm Khashoggi was killed inside the Saudi Consulate.

Omnis enim ex infirmitate feritas est. (All savageness is a sign of weakness.) The murder of Khashoggi certainly has not made Saudi Arabia appear as an attractive country. In fact, it has brought views of it worldwide more in line with that of its harshest critics and detractors, particularly those focused on its human rights record and the governance of the House of Saud. With the advantage of hindsight, it would appear that the assassination plot was formed at the behest of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, first in line to King Salman. His fate is all over the matter. On dit, the Khashoggi assassination has also allegedly provided a candid look at how the Saudi Arabian Government has typically quieted voices of perceived adversaries both at home and abroad.

When the furtive “wet work” of an intelligence services is uncovered, the consequences for the national government that sanctioned the mission and it’s operatives, even if they avoided detection and capture if acting in another country, can be severe. This is a unique and not so often discussed area of commonality among national leaders. An affinity could surely develop for others in that same circumstance. Attendant to that affinity is a type of empathy that may insist the one should not be too judgmental or harshly slam another leader, particularly over an intelligence misstep or disaster. That empathy may obviate efforts to claim the moral high road and false claim of innocence after perhaps having similar experience. In international affairs, much as in “ordinary life” only partial version of oneself is offered. The priority of coexistence must be considered in what one might say or do versus what might be gained or lost. Countries may spare the feelings, national pride, or honor of allies and friends or even or avoid provoking or inciting adversaries. To that extent, acting in that way requires a country to circumscribe itself. Typically, a national leader who might sign off on any covert operation will be provided with the ability to plausibly deny knowledge of it. Yet, on top of that, secrecy, albeit deceit, might be used to protect relationship with an ally or friend and to make any act of circumscription by that ally or friend a bit easier.

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (above). The murder of Khashoggi certainly has not made Saudi Arabia appear as an attractive country. In fact, it has brought views of it worldwide more in line with that of its harshest critics and detractors, particularly those focused on its human rights record and the governance of the House of Saud. From all news media reports, it would appear that the assassination plot was executed at the behest of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, first in line to King Salman. His fate is all over the matter.

Any harsh criticism and expressions of deep disappointment conveyed by the US to Saudi Arabia–which most likely have been made by Trump in his telephone contacts with Riyadh early on during the matter–would never be explicit with an ally of such stature. Certainly, Trump did not shy away from the beastiality of the crime. What Trump and senior administration officials tried to do is bring perspective to the matter. On November 28, 2018, then US Secretary of Defense James Mattis at the Pentagon reminded reporters that as of the moment he was speaking about the Khashoggi matter: “We have no smoking gun the crown prince was involved, not the intelligence community or anyone else. There is no smoking gun.” He further explained that the US still expected those responsible for the killing to be held accountable. In a November 28, 2018 Wall Street Journal Op-Ed piece, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo expatiated on the matter, summarizing the position of the US Government as follows: “The US doesn’t condone the Khashoggi killing, which is fundamentally inconsistent with American values—something I have told the Saudi leadership privately as well as publicly. President Trump has taken action in response. Twenty-one Saudi suspects in the murder have been deemed ineligible to enter the US and had any visas revoked. On Nov. 15, the administration imposed sanctions on 17 Saudis under Executive Order 13818, which builds on the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act. We’ve worked to strengthen support for this response, and several countries, including France and Germany, have followed suit. The Trump administration will consider further punitive measures if more facts about Khashoggi’s murder come to light.” Pompeo went on the explain the importance of Saudi Arabia as a regional ally, by additionally stating: “The kingdom is a powerful force for stability in the Middle East. Saudi Arabia is working to secure Iraq’s fragile democracy and keep Baghdad tethered to the West’s interests, not Tehran’s. Riyadh is helping manage the flood of refugees fleeing Syria’s civil war by working with host countries, cooperating closely with Egypt, and establishing stronger ties with Israel. Saudi Arabia has also contributed millions of dollars to the US-led effort to fight Islamic State and other terrorist organizations. Saudi oil production and economic stability are keys to regional prosperity and global energy security.” Yet, once Trump and his senior officials sought to explain the importance of Saudi Arabia as an ally when discussing the Khashoggi matter, a knee-jerk response of critics and detractors was the hackneyed claim that the US President placed a pecuniary interest in its Middle East ally at greater value than the life of journalist. That claim was stated so often that it became a common observation.

wTrump (left) and Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan (right). An intriguing type of leadership could be seen from Trump on the Khashoggi matter. A US President must keep in mind that the US, as a leader on the international stage, is a role model to much of rest of the world. It is in a unique position of being able to promote peace and security worldwide. If the US had officially concluded that Saudi Arabia was responsible for the murder and that a strong response was in order, the country offended most, Turkey, might have taken tough steps against it. 

Through Trump’s decision making regarding the Khashoggi matter, an intriguing type of leadership could be seen in him. A US President in considering how to proceed on a matter, must indeed keep in mind that the US, as a leader on the international stage is a role model to much of rest of the world. As such, the US is in a unique position of being able to promote peace and security worldwide through its actions. The values and interests of the US, of course, will hold primacy in decision making on a matter, the interests of allies and partners will also be taken into account. In the Khashoggi case, the reality is that the murder occurred in Turkey (although the Saudi Arabian Consulate is technically the sovereign territory of Saudi Arabia). As reported, the assassination team that killed Khashoggi came into Turkey through Istanbul Airport and a number of the co-conspirators moved in and around the streets of Istanbul before and after the killing. If the US had immediately and officially concluded that Saudi Arabia was directly responsible for the murder and that some form of retribution was in order, the country offended most, Turkey, might have taken some type of steps against it. Turkey may very well have acted unilaterally and swiftly, utilizing its military or intelligence services, to punish those who used its country as the site to slaughter an esteemed and welcomed journalist. Turkey would have unlikely felt that it needed the permission of the US to act, just as Saudi officials, at some level, doubtlessly felt that they did not need to confer with or ask the permission of the US to act against Khashoggi.

As for the US role in mitigating Turkey’s likely desire for retribution, it offered not only words exhorting restraint, but also served as an example of restraint. Consider that there was a preexisting animus between Turkey and Saudi Arabia before the Khashoggi murder. Reportedly, Saudi Arabia was angered over Turkey’s support to Qatar and withdraw its troops from the country. That demand caused Turkey to perceive Saudi Arabia as a threat to Turkey’s interests. In Riyadh, Turkey was on the top of its list of enemies. Khashoggi’s murder brought tensions to new heights. Knowing this, Saudi Arabia, days after the murder, made a secret offer to pour billions of dollars into Turkey’s economy and ease its hard-line stance on Qatar if Ankara helped whitewash the scandal. Turkey rejected the proposal. Afterward, Turkey allegedly began producing evidence that indicated Mohammed bin Salman was involved. Nevertheless, Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan did stop short of accusing Prince Mohammed directly. He would only posit that responsibility for Khashoggi’s death lied at “the highest levels” of the Saudi Arabian Government. Turkey’s fresh anger against Saudi Arabia also added to decades of animus toward the Arab World ignited as a result of battles of the Ottoman Empire to maintain order. What happened so long ago remains a big part of Turkish history, culture, and psyche. Indeed, the loss of many young Turkish soldiers in Arabia still touches the hearts of many Turkish families. None of this is to suggest or imply that an anti-Arab strain runs through Turkish thinking today. Nonetheless, given that memories of past wars persist, and the fact that emotions were running very high after the Khashoggi murder, convincing Turkey, free to act on its own, not to act, was not an easy thing to do. Turkey, as the guarantor of its own national interests, made the choice to cooperate effectively with US diplomatically, outside the auspices of an international institution.

Trump has made shrewd, empathetic considerations whenever acting on foreign and national security policy. His judgments have been made with circumspection, and are pollinated by US values and interests. With information available and the benefit of experience, he develops his own situational awareness. Taking account of geostrategic realities in a region, he measures what might be lost versus what might be gained short-term and long-term. A great portion of the US public, watching him, feels assured that all will be fine.

The Way Forward

In Act 3, scene 3 of William Shakespeare’s play, Cymbeline, King Cymbeline of Britain has married a woman who has made him her puppet. Cymbeline arranges for his beautiful daughter, Imogen, to marry his new wife’s son, Cloten, but she instead marries the poor but worthy Posthumus Leonatus. Angered, Cymbeline banishes Posthumus. Before he leaves for Italy, Imogen gives him a diamond ring and he gives her a bracelet. In Italy, Posthumus encounters a Iachimo, who vacuously argues all women are naturally unchaste, and bets Posthumus that he can seduce Imogen. Yet, once at the British court, he fails to seduce her. Full of tricks, Iachimo hides in a large chest he has sent to her room; slips out at night while Imogen slept, and steals the bracelet Posthumus gave her, Iachimo returns to Italy and uses both the bracelet and knowledge of the details of Imogen’s bedchamber, to convince Posthumus that he won the bet. Posthumus, furious, sends a letter to his servant, Pisanio, in Britain, ordering him to murder Imogen. Pisanio, believing in Imogen’s innocence, gets her to disguise herself as a boy and get to Posthumus while he would report to him that Imogen was dead.  On the run, Imogen becomes lost in the wilds of Wales, where she meets Belarius, a wrongfully banished nobleman, and his sons, Guiderius and Arviragus. Unbeknownst to them, both were actually Cymbeline’s sons. They would later come to the aid of Imogen and to the aid of Britain against the Romans. The audience first meets Belarius, Guiderius and Arviragus as their “father”, instructs them on the nuances of a calm life while climbing a mountain. Belarius states: Now for our mountain sport: up to yond hill; / Your legs are young; I’ll tread these flats. Consider, / When you above perceive me like a crow, / That it is place which lessens and sets off; / And you may then revolve what tales I have told you / Of courts, of princes, of the tricks in war: / This service is not service, so being done, / But being so allow’d: to apprehend thus, / Draws us a profit from all things we see; / And often, to our comfort, shall we find / The sharded beetle in a safer hold / Than is the full-wing’d eagle. O, this life / Is nobler than attending for a cheque, / Richer than doing nothing for a bauble, / Prouder than rustling in unpaid-for silk: / Such gain the cap of him that makes ’em fine, / Yet keeps his book uncross’d: no life to ours. These words, which may appear somewhat cryptic to modern readers, essentially explain that maintaining a balanced, rational view is the best way of examine a situation and will allow for a rational analysis of it. In each foreign and national security policy issue examined here, evidence indicates Trump made shrewd, empathetic considerations as he acted. His judgments were made with circumspection, considering what precedes and what follows, are pollinated by US values and interests. With information available and the benefit of experience, he developed his own situational awareness. Taking account of geostrategic realities in a region, he measured what might be lost versus what might be gained in both the short-term and the long-term. When moving to make changes in the status quo, Trump typically assessed the situation before him much as a half-back in US football searches for openings in the line that may allow him to breakthrough and do some open field running. Trump has also exuded a confidence on the world stage. Trump knows where he is and what he is doing, and a good portion of the US public, watching him work, feels assured that everything will be alright. Presenting oneself as confident and assured in itself is an art of leaders. When taking risks one naturally feels risk. The French Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte explained of himself: “There is no man more pusillanimous than I when I am planning a campaign. I purposely exaggerate all the dangers and all the calamities that the circumstances make possible. I am in a thoroughly painful state of agitation. This does not keep me from looking quite serene in front of my entourage; I am like an unmarried girl laboring with a child. Once I had made up my mind, everything is forgotten except what leads to success.”

In each case presented here, Trump, in seeking to manage and influence the actions of other national leaders, was allowed the freedom to act in his own way, and unshackled by what administration officials might call the limitations of an international institution managing some collective action under its auspices. Countries that would like to work effectively outside of international institutions should feign nothing, and make a wholehearted effort at it. As Trump continues to evolve as US President, other national leaders are provided with an example on how they might approach foreign and national security policy decision making for their own countries. Perhaps most leaders would have small interest in the ministrations of greatcharlie on this matter. Of course, there are rarely situations that arise that are so uniform in nature that lessons from one leader would allow a cookie cutter approach to resolving them. However, smart people are able to find solutions to problems. If national leaders would like to work outside of international institutions more frequently, new more thoughtful and empathetic perspectives must be allowed to arrive in their thinking on their diplomacy with other countries.

Building Relations between Trump and Putin: Getting beyond the “Getting to Know You” Stage

US President Donald Trump (left) shakes hands with Russian Federation President Vladimir Putin (right) in Paris at the 100th Anniversary of World War I Armistice. Trump began the process of engaging Putin by looking beyond outward appearance, seeking to discover what is in his heart, and grasping the necessities of his positions fully. After every encounter and after being read-in on every new report, Trump would assess where things stood. At this point, Trump undoubtedly would like to push further out from the “getting to know you” stage in his efforts.

According to an Associated Press story reported on October 26, 2018 in the New York Times, US National Security Adviser John Bolton stated that same day that Russian President Vladimir Putin has been invited to visit Washington next year. The article entitled, “US Official Says Putin Invited to Visit Washington Next Year”, quoted Bolton as saying, “that “We have invited President Putin to Washington after the first of the year for, basically, a full day of consultations.” Bolton, speaking in Tblisi, Georgia, did not offer any date for the meeting. Still, it is generally understood by US and Russian officials concerned that the Washington meeting would likely take place in early 2019. The proposed meeting It would be Putin’s first trip to the US since 2015 when he met with US President Barack Obama. It is unclear whether Putin would come to  the White House to meet Trump. Other options likely include: Camp David, Mar-A-Lago, and the Trump National Golf Club. Putin’s last visit to the White House was in 2005 when he met with US President George Bush. The proposed 2019 meeting would not be the first between Trump and Putin following the July 12, 2018 Helsinki Summit. On November 2, 2018, Yuri Ushakov, Aide to the President of the Russian Federation responsible for International Affairs, announced from the Kremlin that Trump and Putin would hold substantive meeting at G-20 in Argentina. Ushakov told reporters the meeting on the sidelines of the G-20, taking place over November 30, 2018 and December 1, 2018 would be “lengthy and substantive.” In Argentina, the two presidents would likely talk more about Trump’s recent decision to pull the US out of the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF). Trump has stated that Russia is not abiding by the treaty and that the US needs to build up its nuclear arsenal to meet the threats of the Russians and the Chinese. Russia, on the other hand, has contended it is in compliance with the accord.

Plus tamen tibi et viva vox et convictus quam oratio proderit; in rem praesentem venias oportet, primum quia homines amplius oculis quam auribus credunt, deinde quia longum iter est per praecepta, breve et efficax per exempla. (Of course, however, the living voice and the intimacy of a common life will help you more than the written word. You must go to the scene of action, first, because men put more faith in their eyes than in their ears, and second, because the way is long if one follows precepts, but short and helpful, if one follows patterns.) Immediately after Helsinki, a second Trump-Putin meeting in Washington was initially bandied about between Trump and his advisers and aides, but it was put on hold. Trump’s insistence on meeting with Putin is a manifestation of his desire to begin a new era of US-Russia relations with cooperation and partnership with the Russian President. Trump’s expectations do not appear too great or out of order. However, he understands that he must put considerable effort into the process creating positive relations. The Trump administration has amassed a number of foreign policy successes, to name a few: the destruction of ISIS’ so-called “Islamic Caliphate” and destruction of ISIS as a fighting force; the liberation of Iraq; the strengthening of ties between Saudi Arabia and Israel; the suspension of DPRK nuclear weapons and missile testing; gaining big increases in NATO spending; and, the US-Mexico-Canada Agreement. Those successes have hardly been acknowledged by his many critics and detractors who have not as yet turned away from their predictions that the Trump administration would rendezvous with failure and catastrophe on foreign policy. While unable to criticize Trump over his performance during the summit meetings because they were not present, critics and detractors, many in the US news media, and members of his own party, heavily criticized his performance at a follow-on joint press conference. Many of them, upon hearing Trump’s comments, alleged that he was siding with Putin and accepting his denials on Russia’s election interference over the conclusions of US intelligence officials who say Russia certainly did so meddle, ostensibly to benefit Trump.

As it was explained in the September 30, 2018 greatcharlie post entitled, “Trump Achieved More at Helsinki than Most Noticed: Putin Is Not a Challenge for Him“, Helsinki was not the great disaster for Trump that most critics and detractors assert it was. Trump most likely wants to make the correct adjustments in his approach, exploit success already achieved by finding more points at which their thoughts touch. As he prepares to meet Putin in Argentina and considers how to shape the meeting in Washington in 2019 will take, greatcharlie look at some of the considerations unique to this ongoing diplomatic process with Putin. As he observes Putin’s moves during the process such as forming the delegation for talks and toning down his hostile rethoric on the US that was regularly heard during his interactions with Obama and has carried over to his administration. Trump also has kept a watchful eye on Putin use his conventional military forces and his nuclear forces. Trump knows a lost cause and would certainly be willing to declare his efforts with Putin as such if that becomes the case. Still, Trump is very likely heartened by the fact that through their meetings and telephone calls since 2017, he understands Putin better and that there is a chemistry developing between them. As long as his efforts continue to bear fruit, he can remain sanguine and as best as possible, continue to shut out the array hostile voices attacking him, Concerning Putin’s interest in improving relations, there is the hope that Putin has learned a bit more about Trump, not just through contacts, but also through misjudgments and missteps, such as Putin’s gifting of the football at Helsinki press conference. Faux pas! Optimistically, the result of these developments will be a fruitful, edifying, and satisfying set of future meetings in which some important and urgent transnational, regional, and bilateral matters may be resolved. Accomplishing that would be one more promise to the US public kept. Eo animo quidque debetur quo datur, nec quantum sit sed a quali profectum voluntate perpenditur. (Our feeling about every obligation depends in each case upon the spirit in which the benefit is conferred; we weigh not the bulk of the gift, but the quality of the good-will which prompted it.)

Trump is very likely heartened by the fact that through their meetings and telephone calls since 2017, he understands Putin better and that there is a chemistry developing between them. As long as his efforts continue to bear fruit, he can remain sanguine, continue to shut out the hostile voices. There is the hope that Putin has learned more about Trump. Optimistically, the result of these developments will be a fruitful, edifying, and satisfying future meetings in which important and urgent transnational, regional, and bilateral matters may be resolved.

Trump Pushes ahead with Putin

Trump began engaging Putin well-aware that Putin is not a moral paragon. He was surely familiar with varied reports from nongovernmental organizations, civil society watchdogs in Russia, journalists, and US government agencies that indicate a considerable number abuses of civil and human rights have occurred under Putin’s reign. Activists in Russia would explain that the soul of the Russian people has grieved during the nearly years of Putin’s rule. Putim’s grip on the Russian public is strong, and he is utilizing all the old security systems with which he is most familiar. In the West, some analysts would not go as far as to call Putin a modern day tyrant, but they would still call him an awful man. Civil rights and human rights are issues that no US President, the leader of free world, could ever eschew concerning Russia or any other country for that matter. Trump would certainly be willing to discuss civil rights and human rights issues concerning Russia with Putin. Indeed, he most likely has already shared his perspectives with him on: how reported government abuses within Russia have left the world a very negative impression of the country as a whole; why it is difficult for anyone to see Russia as a decent constitutional society; why considerable doubt exists in the minds of top Russia hands and his close advisers and aides that Russia could ever be a honest broker and good partner in tackling transnational issues; and, how tough it will be for Russia to ever overcome such views on its own. Trump, knowing Putin as he does now, would be the one US president who could reach Putin on matter without simply prodding him with the “high road” and ensuring nothing good would be achieved. (This is another matter in which the lack of a viable plan of action is most telling of the critics and detractors flawed understanding of the situation.)

It would be gossamer fantasy to belIeve that Putin would metaphorically wake and  smell the coffee, simply clear his head, reason everything out, decide to forgive and forget, and see the advantage of cooperating fully with Trump. To that extent, it is difficult to determine exactly where the Kremlin is on developing better relations. Trump apparently senses that a general change in the approach toward Putin will create new conditions that will stimulate positive reactions by the Russian leader. Peelng back the layers of negativity from US-Russian interactions with the previous US administration, he has tried to create a clean slate and has offered to work with Putin fairly and with mutual respect. With any luck, Putin will eventually recognize what Trump is doing and recognize the great opportunity that lies before him to let Russia be seen as doing some good for the world. While it would only be natural to remain somewhat skeptical about his progress with Putin, it seems that he gotten his attention and has him thinking about what he is saying.  According to the renowned Ancient Greek Stoic philosopher Epictetus: “Appearances to the mind are of four kinds. Things either are what they appear to be; or they neither are, nor appear to be; or they are, and do not appear to be; or they are not, and yet appear to be. Rightly to aim in all these cases, is the wise man’s task.” Putin can be counselled but, of course, in the end he must come to the right understanding of the matter on his own.

Trump certainly does not desire to lure Putin to his way of thinking or manipulate him in any way. Even if Putin’s desire is to seek better ties only for the purpose of doing more wrong, Trump would not seek in a similar way to take some type of advantage of Putin to score some short-term victory. Trump also does not want to commit any errors or missteps with Putin that would result in creating opportunities for him to harm US interests or gain some major advantage over the US that could spell catastrophe. Trump’s goal is to create something best for the long-term, to genuinely transform the relationship between the US and Russia. All of his efforts must not result in the type of understandings and set of agreements that would fall apart with the coming of a new administration, Republican or Democrat.

Trump began the process of engaging Putin by looking beyond outward appearance, seeking to discover what is in his heart, and grasping the necessities of his positions fully. After every encounter with Putin and after being read-in on every new report received from government agencies responsible for studying those encounters, Trump would assess where things stood, look for ways to move things forward and if possible, identify issues on which he might be able to do some real open field running to advance his cause. With that, Trump would then look within himself to design the next best steps he would  take with the Russian leader, steps with which he would feel most comfortable. At the same time that he was working with Putin, Trump was learning about other competitors, rivals, and adversaries in the same way. For example, he has interacted positively with President Xi Jinping of China, and is cautiously optimistic about how the relationship will shake out. He met with Kim Jong-un of the DPRK. He has spoken with leaders who have gone some distance to appear problematic for US policy such as Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte and Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan. His interactions with them have led to real improvements in relations with those respective countries. He contended with the initial recalcitrance of Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto. However, relations steadily improved with both. The US Mexico, Canada Agreement proved that with the right words, the right touch, their respective disagreements could be overcome. Those leaders looked at the repercussions of an new agreement, what their respective countries might lose, what they might gain. Consideration of the needs of their people and the national interests came to the fore. Surely, Trump has grown considerably in wisdom about many leaders and on how to proceed on policy since his contact with them. Trump has options regarding his approach to Putin beyond diplomacy, but it appears his choice is to continue trying to find a way to work with him. A rough road often leads to great things. Thomas Paine, the US political theorist and revolutionary, wrote in his pamphlet series The Crisis in December 23, 1776, “the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph. What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly: it is dearness only that gives everything its value.”

It would be gossamer fantasy to belIeve that Putin would metaphorically wake and smell the coffee, simply clear his head, reason everything out, decide to forgive and forget, and see the advantage of cooperating fully with Trump. To that extent, it is difficult to determine exactly where the Kremlin is on developing better relations. Peeling back any layers of negativity from US-Russian interactions with the previous US administration, he has created a clean slate and has offered to work together with Putin fairly and with mutual respect.

At this point, Trump undoubtedly would like to push further out from the “getting to know you” stage in his efforts with Putin. In every meeting with Putin so far, Trump has broached important and urgent issues ranging from, Syria, Ukraine, nuclear forces, ISIS, terrorism in general, energy, economic sanctions, and perhaps Magnitsky. In Argentina, the two presidents may discuss Trump’s recent decision to pull the US out of the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty. The INF prohibits the US and Russia from possessing, producing, or deploying ground-launched ballistic and cruise missiles with a range of between 500 kilometers and 5,500 kilometers. On October 20, 2018, Trump explained to reporters following a rally in Nevada, “Russia has not, unfortunately, honored the agreement. So we’re going to terminate the agreement and we’re going to pull out.”

On October 22, 2018 at the White House, Trump made similar statements concerning his decision to withdraw from the INF as a result of Moscow’s alleged violations and a need to respond to China’s nuclear buildup. He told reporters that “Russia has not adhered to the agreement . . . . Until people come to their senses — we have more money than anybody else, by far. We’ll build it up.” Trump added: “Until they come to their senses. When they do, then we’ll all be smart and we’ll all stop.” When asked by reporters if that was a threat to Putin, Trump replied: “It’s a threat to whoever you want. And it includes China, and it includes Russia, and it includes anybody else that wants to play that game. You can’t do that. You can’t play that game on me.” China was never a party to the 1987 INF, which was signed by US President Ronald Reagan and Soviet Premier Mikhail Gorbachev four years before the collapse of the Soviet Union. Trump explained that China should be included in the accord. Nearly 2,700 short- and medium-range missiles were eliminated by the US and the Soviet Union under the INF treaty, but China has been building up its capabilities to field the same kinds of weapons. It is estimated that nearly 95 percent of China’s missiles would violate the INF treaty if Beijing were a signatory. Additionally, Trump stated that Russia was not abiding by the treaty, and that the US needed to build up its nuclear arsenal to meet the threats of Russia and China. The Kremlin has claimed it has only acted in accord with the treaty’s terms.

Even if Putin’s desire is to seek better ties only for the purpose of doing more wrong, Trump would not seek in a similar way to take some type of advantage of Putin to score some short-term victory. Trump also does not want to commit any errors or missteps with Putin that would result in creating opportunities for him to harm US interests or gain some major advantage over the US that could spell catastrophe. Trump’s goal is to create something best for the long-term, to genuinely transform the relationship between the US and Russia.

Putin Pushed ahead with Trump

Simulatio delet veritatem, sine qua nomen amicitiae valere non potest. (Pretense obliterates the truth, without which the name of friendship cannot survive.) Putin has repeatedly said that improvements in US-Russian ties have been thwarted by US political infighting, but voiced hope that Trump could eventually move to repair the fractured relations. Earlier this month, the Russian leader said “playing the Russian card” was a convenient instrument in US politics ahead of the midterm election in November 2018. However, that view is not very precise. Causality aside, it was Russia that drove into Crimea and later interfered with the 2016 US Elections. Putin’s statement skirts these gargantuan issues. The Kremlin has left little doubt that over the years, officials their have not learned much about the actual multifaceted inner workings of the US government and the dynamics of US politics. It was likely that a misunderstanding of how the system worked in the US that may have led officials there to believe that they could ever influence a US Election, not only while US intelligence services and law enforcement agences were watching over everything, but with so many in the US with considerable interests staked on the election’s outcome, and not be detected. The covert operation was discovered and responded to with expulsions and closures of Russian Federation facilities. So much was discovered about the operation that Putin was left with little ability to plausibly deny his knowledge of those particular activities of Russia’s intelligence services.

Putin is likely well aware now that he cannot live off the intellectual support of any of his subordinates when it comes to dealing with Trump and the US. At the dawn of the Trump administration, Putin appears to have been egged on by certain advisers in his cabinet who harbored strong anti-Western and believed Trump could be pressed on certain issues. They likely want to create the impression that they had an easy handle on things.Since that time, a few of them, such as the Deputy Prime Minister responsible for military and space industries, Dmitry Rogozin, have been removed from his Cabinet. However, there is still room for advisers with a mindset that is very suspicious of US actions and intentions. Consider that of the figurative high priest of Russian Federation security, Alexander Bortnikov, director of the Federal’naya Sluzhba Bezopasnosti Rossiyskoy Federatsi (Russian Federation Federal Security Service) or FSB. Bortnikov is not well-known for his contributions to Russia’s foreign policy making and stays out from the public eye. Unknown to greatcharlie is the degree to which Putin might refer to him on foreign policy beyond how an issue might relate to state security. Yet, he is a confidant of Putin, as his trust in Bortnikov has been sustained. Bortnikov would only see traps in what Trump offers. If the attempt at subversion cannot be easily seen, Bortnikov would only assume that it is cloaked. Counsel from other key advisers such as Russian Federation Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, and Secretary of the Security Council of Russia Nikolai Patrushev are two members of Putin’s inner circle that are also figurative deep-wells of skepticism and paranoia concerning the US. As part of Patrushev’s mantra, the US constantly seeks to have levers of pressure on Russia and contain his country’s growing influence as means to hold on its waning global leadership. Some might disagree with the notion that Shoigu is very hardline as he most often presents himself as an elegant, dignified general officer, who speaks cordial and measured words. Yet, statements and military strategic concepts produced by his Defense Ministry leave no doubt that he views the US as a serious threat to Russia and it’s interests and everything possible must be done to mitigate that threat which is directed from points 360 degrees around Russia with a deterrence posture and if necessary respond as violently and shrewdly as possible to that threat with all resources available. His Plan of Defense of the Russian Federation, signed into law by Putin on January 29, 2013, expresses his country’s defense needs in this fashion. (Shoigu is certainly a man that Trump should keep one eye on.) The key for Putin is to well-manage how much the appraisals of Shoigu and Patrushev should be allowed to insinuate into Russia’s foreign policy making concerning the US. There would be little hope relations could advance in a positive direction if no limits were put on their influence. Theirs is the sort of thinking that might have more value on foreign policy matters concerning other Western countries and the rest of the world. Their verbiage would certainly be of better use in communicating the message that Putin’s aim is to restore Russia to greatness to his political supporters, his wily political adversaries, and mostly hidden, influential elites domestically. Perhaps an answer that might best explain how Putin manages all of his responsibilities as Russian Federation President in any given day would need to be drawn from “metaphysics”. Certain natural talents, unique to Putin, are always in play.  Managing relations with the US as led by the Trump administration, with all of the new approaches and its more businesslike way thinking, has required a lot more effort than likely anticipated. If the Russian President could pardon greatcharlie’s freedom, so far, there has been little sophistication in the moves he and his advisers and aides have made with regard to the US.

What would likely be useful to Putin and his Kremlin advisers and aides would be to make a strenuous effort to move away from the thinking they found necessary during the Obama administration. At that time, they ostensibly sought to assert Russia’s power and identity, to fight back against what they perceived were Obama administration efforts to hurt and humiliate Putin and their country. Looking at Russia’s annexation of Crimea and it’s 2016 US Election interference, it would seem incredulous to consider Putin as a victim. He could easily be called the aggressor in both instances. However, it could be, as Trump has posited, that moves by Obama and his administration directed at reigning in Putin, executed with type of adolescent exuberance by many his administration’s officials, backfired immensely. Behavioral scientist, psychologists, and psychiatrists in the US foreign and national security policy establishment, looking at Putin, very likely understood and explained that there would be a considerable negative reaction from Putin to any “narcissistic injuries” or slights. This issue was covered in greatcharlie’s September 30, 2018 post entitled, “Trump Achieved More at Helsinki than Most Noticed: Putin Is Not a Challenge for Him“. When Putin reacted, and that reaction included in part the capture of Crimea and the 2016 Election interference, it was in ways completely unexpected by the Obama administration. One could posit harshly that the Obama administration found was it was looking for when it poked the “Russian bear”. Undoubtedly, Putin also has his government behavioral scientists, psychologists, and psychiatrists analyzing Obama. It is very likely that they, along with Putin, concluded with certitude, that beyond economic sanctions and dismissals of diplomats and intelligence officials, Obama would do precious little in response that would be comparable to the election interference and certainly he would not do anything more aggressive. In fact, the Obama administration was repeatedly caught completely “flat-footed” and totally unprepared to cope with the consequences of its poor relations with Putin. Gladiator in arena consillium capit. (The gladiator is formulating his plan in the arena.)

No joy! Former US President Barack Obama (left) and Putin (right). What would likely be useful to Putin and his Kremlin advisers and aides would be to make a strenuous effort to move away from the thinking they found necessary during the Obama administration. At that time, they ostensibly sought to assert Russia’s power and identity, to fight back against what they perceived were Obama administration efforts to hurt and humiliate Putin and their country.

Within the Kremlin, the psychic wounds of its winter actions with the Obama administration may not be soon forgotten. To that extent, they must be given a chance to heal. Putin is the one who must lead the way in Russia. It is a clear aim of Trump’s diplomatic efforts to provide Putin with the necessary space and and calibrated amount of pressure needed to help create the conditions for change. A foundation must be created from which constructive change in support of US and Russian respective and mutual interests. To achieve that, both sides would need to reach some mutual understanding of what is reality and what is truth. Hyperbole would no longer have a place at the table. Sciant quae optima sunt esse communia. (The best ideas are common property.)

Reaching that type of mutual understanding within the Kremlin would not only require Putin’s wishes and his will, but also the supportive efforts of thoughtful advisers such as: Ushakov; Sergey Lavrov, Russian Federation Foreign Minister; Anton Siluanov, Russian Federation Finance Minister; Dmitry Peskov, Press Secretary for the Russian Federation President; and Russian Federation Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev. The counsel of Ushakov, Lavrov, and Peskov was visibly relied upon by Putin at Helsinki. They are the sort of thinkers who are able to breathe the fresh air of Realpolitik into their analyses. Theirs is a unique ability in an environment of authoritative men in which assessments offered are colored by nationalistic-based theorizing and unoriginal, unimaginative ideas. Perhaps at times, Putin may feel somewhat limited or smothered by such thinking. He may desire a higher order thinking that would result in solid concepts and viable policy options. This is not to state that Ushakov, Lavrov, and Peskov are not any less nationalistic or patriotic than others in Putin’s immediate advisory circle. Rather it would only mean that when it comes the big picture, their thinking is a bit more incisive, of a higher order, than the others. Overall success for both sides will be signalled by contradictions in traditional ways of thinking and acting on both sides. Recede in te ipse quantum potes; cum his versare qui te meliorem facturi sunt, illos admitte quos tu potes facere meliores. Mutuo ista fiunt, et homines dum docent discunt. (Withdraw into yourself, as far as you can. Associate with those who will make a better man of you. Welcome those whom you yourself can improve. The process is mutual; for men learn while they teach.)

For the moment, it may very well be that Putin has little genuine interest in adhering to existing agreements or would likely hold fast to any new ones eventually reached. Certainly, that is understood by the Trump administration. For that reason, along with existing attitudes, biases, about Russia and the Soviet Union from the past, entrees from Putin, new steps, will still at first blush be suspected as chicken feed, deception, until they have been highly scrutinized and determined otherwise. To build confidence and eventually some degree of trust, both sides must approach each other, beginning on small issues, with honesty, morality, and even fidelity. Yet, they must also retain the ability to verify that promised steps are actually taken. That is the fascinating type of cooperation actually seen between the space programs of both countries. It is interesting that despite the cooperation that exists between the two countries on a big issue as space, they remain far apart on foreign and national security policy. Trump’s insistence on talks generates real hope for change.

In an intriguing July 17, 2018 article Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reported that in an interview on Ekho Moskvy radio, Aleksei Venediktov, a foreign policy scholar and the radio station’s editor in chief, offered an interesting perspective on how the line up of advisers who sat at the table with Trump and Putin at Helsinki revealed the two countries’ differing agendas. He concluded that the delegations showed the main US concerns at Helsinki were strategic security and election interference, while Putin’s concerns were Syria and “public relations.”

Advisers and Aides Are Involved in There Special Ways

In an interview on Ekho Moskvy radio, Aleksei Venediktov, a foreign policy scholar and the radio station’s editor in chief, offered an interesting perspective on how the line up of advisers who sat at the table with Trump and Putin at Helsinki revealed the differing agendas of the two countries. Venediktov analyzed the seating arrangements as follows: “On the Russian side at that lunch . . . there was, of course, Lavrov and [US Secretary of State Mike] Pompeo. They are equals. But further down sat Putin’s press secretary, Dmitry Peskov.” Venediktov went on to note: “Then there was, of course, the ambassador to the United States, [Anatoly] Antonov and the director of the Foreign Ministry’s North America department, Georgy Borisenko.” He added: “I would draw attention to the fact that none of these people directly deal with security or global strategy, not counting the foreign minister . . . . Not one person in the Russian delegation did this work full-time. [Nikolai] Patrushev of the Security Council wasn’t there. The defense minister wasn’t there. The head of the General Staff wasn’t there. No one.” Discussing the US delegation, Venediktov stated: “If you remove Pompeo and [US Ambassador to Russia Jon] Huntsman, then we see that there is the president’s national-security adviser, [John] Bolton, and senior adviser to the national-security adviser on Russia affairs, Fiona Hill. And, and this is important, we see White House Chief of Staff John Kelly . . . You can see how these delegations differ. John Bolton is in charge of global security. Fiona Hill is in charge of security issues between Russia and the United States. And John Kelly is in charge of the interference in the [US presidential] election. Domestic politics. That is what John Kelly does. You can see how the delegations are at cross-purposes. Different agendas, differing delegation compositions. On one side, security experts. On the other, people from the Foreign Ministry.” Venediktov concluded that the delegations showed that the main US concerns at Helsinki were strategic security and the election interference, while Putin’s concerns were Syria and “public relations.” He concluded: “Peskov — that’s public relations,” adding, “Peskov is about selling the summit results.”

It may be as Venediktov as posited that Putin’s contacts with Trump serve some limited public relations purpose. He may be simply building himself up on the international stage by creating the optics of having some equivalence to the US President. On the other hand, there could still be a variety of other reasons for the composition of the Russian delegation at Helsinki. Much as greatcharlie mentioned earlier, Putin may believe the counsel of Ushakov, Lavrov, and Peskov, is most useful in his talks with Trump as their thinking on the US is more incisive, and that mindset may have been evinced in the composition of his Helsinki delegation. It is possible that Putin may be showing deference to the Foreign Ministry and top officials such as the Russian Federation Ambassador to the US, Anatoly Antonov and the director of the Foreign Ministry’s North America department, Georgy Borisenko, given their knowledge about the US is not politically based, is erudite, and they have authentic expertise in US affairs. Perhaps Putin’s selection could be an expression of his effort to keep the reactions and words of Shoigu and Patrushev, away from the observant, probing eyes of Trump and his advisers and aides, knowing how strong the anti-US sentiments of those two are. A suspicious mind might suggest Putin deliberately limited the access of certain advisers to Trump and other US officials as a form of information control. Advisers absent from the talks would have less ability to later gauge, influence, or question Putin’s policy approaches with the US. Their views would be limited, inferred from the abstract. They would remain reliant on Putin’s appraisals of the situation. It is possible that Putin’s choices may simply reflect the routine management of his team, for example, he may have selected one adviser over an another based on their schedules or there may have been an urgent need to have his other key advisers cover important matters that fell within their portfolios, that he could not personally attend to. Lastly, there is the possibility that the composition of the delegation could have been the result of a combination of all of these possibilities as well as many others. A certain amount of caution and paranoia is programmed into the Russian leader’s decision making in general. However, Putin’s actions regarding the delegations composition were unlikely an effort to signal that he questioned the loyalty of Shoigu or Patrushev. He knows that their allegiance is strong. Both men would prefer to sleep at his doorstep than rest in their own homes.

US National Security Adviser John Bolton (left) and Russian Federation Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu (right) in Moscow. Just as their figurative “kings go forth” to resolve matters, top foreign and national security policy officials of both governments have met to discuss and find answers to important and urgent matters. Russian Federation Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov had a call with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo following Helsinki. Bolton had meetings in Moscow with Putin and Lavrov, as well as Shoigu and Patrushev who were absent in Helsinski.

The respective advisers and aides of Trump and Putin have worked feverishly to set up meetings between the two leaders. Yet, just as their figurative “kings go forth” to resolve matters, advisers and aides, who are the top foreign and national security policy officials in both governments, have met to discuss and find answers important and urgent matters. As it happened, Lavrov had a call with Pompeo following Helsinki. In a statement from the Russian Federation Foreign Ministry, the two diplomats discussed “acute issues on the international agenda and bilateral ties in the context of preparations for planned contacts between the presidents.” More intriguing were contacts between Bolton and Putin and Lavrov, as well as Shoigu and Patrushev in Moscow between October 22,2018 and October 23, 2018. Long before meeting Bolton, Shoigu and Patrushev were surely read-in on all available profiles to include any classified case files on him. They also likely took a good look at his many essays, articles, and editorials on policy, reviewed the greater portion of Bolton’s presentations and panel discussions at policy conferences, and read ttanscripts of his interviews with the US and foreign news media, at academic institutions, and by think tanks. While Bolton is not Trump, both Shoigu and Patrushev likely hoped to gain insight from him into the inner thinking of the administration on foreign and national security policy making: the thinking behind its conceptualization of new policies and how issues, events, and crises are analyzed. From that, they might get a better sense of the possibilities and capabilities of the administration as its presently staffed. Reportedly, US plans for withdrawal from the treaty were discussed in talks with both officials as well as with Putin and Lavrov. He explained to the Russians that the US decision to pull out of the treaty was logical given that Russia has been violating it and other countries, including China, Iran, and the DPRK are free to develop weapons that would be prohibited under the agreement. He explained that US did not intend to restrict itself of INF while other were not. Bolton also told the Russians that the INF, a bilateral treaty of the Cold War was outdated because technologies have changed and geostrategic realities have changed.

Bolton (left) and Secretary of the Security Council of Russia Nikolai Patrushev (right). Bolton has reportedly discussed US plans for withdrawal from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF) in his meetings with Shoigu and Patrushev, as well as with Putin and Lavrov. He explained that the US decision was logical given that Russia has been violating it and countries including China, Iran, and the DPRK, can develop weapons the treaty prohibits. Bolton also explained that technologies and geostrategic realities made the treaty outdated.

Critics and Detractors Remain Ineffective Dream-Killers

Negative perspectives of political rivals, critics, and detractors of Trump have not been mitigated since Helsinki, In fact the October 26, 2018 New York Times article reminded that Trump was widely criticized in the aftermath of Helsinki for failing to publicly denounce Russia’s interference in the 2016 US election and alleged that Trump seemingly accepted Putin’s denials of such activity. Indeed, reports alleging that his administration has performed poorly on foreign policy serve more than adequately as an impediments, and perhaps even prevents, many in the US public from recognizing what he has actually achieved. There is unlikely much that Trump could ever do directly to relieve critics and detractors of their more creative than fact based impressions of Putin as a “super spook” still on the beat. No matter what success might be achieved by Trump at Helsinki or on any issue on the foreign policy front, it would not overcome existing impressions of critics and detractors. US Vice President Mike Pence and Trump advisers and aides such as US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, and White House Press Secretary Sarah Saunders have explained fervently that Trump has been wholeheartedly engaged in an effort to advance the interests of the US public in his meetings and negotiations with his foreign counterparts. Trump’s plans for handling the meeting diligently were worked out with his high qualified foreign and national security policy team. They were executed along the lines of excellence. However, lacking confidence that Trump would do things right in Helsinki, Trump’s political opponents warned him about having an overly friendly meeting with Putin, particularly after Trump had picked trade battles with longtime US allies. A NATO meeting ahead of the Putin summit was widely panned as being contentious after Trump pressed members of the alliance to increase their defense spending.

Just days before the first summit, Democrats in Congress urged Trump in a letter to hold Putin accountable for Russia’s destabilization efforts, including election meddling, support for the Syrian regime and the annexation of Crimea. US Senate Democrats Robert Menendez, Dick Durbin, Mark Warner, and Jack Reed wrote to Trump: “While there is a place for dialogue between nations on disagreements and common challenges, such as reducing nuclear dangers, we are deeply concerned that your Administration continues to send mixed messages regarding the Russian security threat.” They added: “During your meeting with President Putin, we ask that you convey that there will be clear consequences for Russia’s interference in democratic processes in the United States and elsewhere, its support for violence and bloodshed in Ukraine and Syria, and the illegal occupation of Crimea.”

If Trump had thought it prudent, he would have had little problem meeting the demands of critics and detractors by repeatedly and enthusiastically admonishing Putin over election interference in the two leaders furtive meetings or publicly. However, the reality is that the steps Trump’s political opponents and other critics and detractors suggest that he take, would never be part of an effective plan for dealing with Putin. Their approaches would guarantee disaster and a set back with Russian leader who is very reactive to slights and who may respond negatively in a very disproportionate way, raising the stakes for everyone. This was discovered by the Obama administration but oddly denied as a reality. Moving in retrograde, back to the disasterous “my way or the highway”, “bullying” approach to the somewhat sensitive Putin used by the Obama administration, which was what US Senate Democrats were recommending, was undoubtedly recognized by Trump as the recipe for disaster. Indeed, the letter amounted to an exposition of the Obama administration’s unsuccessful policy. Consilio melius contendere atque vincere possumus quam ira. (We can compete and prevail better through wisdom than through anger.)

Under Trump’s leadership, US foreign and national security policy, in its spirit, is brand new. Trump will not be soft on Russia. He will act with determination when he sees the need to promote or defend US interest against moves by Moscow. However, while he is in office, he will as best as possible, create space for the US and Russia to do great things together. Hopefully, the process of trying to find a very positive, working relationship with Putin will not in the long run become the equivalent of trying find a way to sleep on the top of a flagpole.

The Way Forward

In Act 1 scene 3 of William Shakespeare’s play Much Ado About Nothing, Leonato, a kindly, respectable nobleman in the Italian town of Messina, shares his house with his daughter, Hero, his niece, Beatrice, and his elderly brother, Antonio, who is Beatrice’s father. Leonato welcomes a few friends home from a war as the play begins, to include They include: Don Pedro, a prince who is a close friend of Leonato;  Claudio, a young nobleman; Benedick, a wit; and, Don Pedro’s illegitimate brother, Don John who is sullen and bitter. Almost immediately upon arriving at Leonato’s home, Claudio quickly falls in love with Hero and decide to be married. Through at trick, they manage in the weeks before the wedding to bring together Beatrice and Benedick who knew each other in the past. However, Don John decides to create problems for the others. He acknowledges that his actions against them, as well as his brother, are inspired by jealousy and envy and his bad nature in general when he states: “I had rather be a canker in a hedge than a rose in his grace, and it better fits my blood to be disdained of all than to fashion a carriage to rob love from any: in this, though I cannot be said to be a flattering honest man, it must not be denied but I am a plain-dealing villain. I am trusted with a muzzle and enfranchised with a clog; therefore I have decreed not to sing in my cage. If I had my mouth, I would bite; if I had my liberty, I would do my liking: in the meantime let me be that I am and seek not to alter me.” The predominant amount of evidence available in abstract indicates that Putin has the propensity to devise to do evil. Any negative actions taken by Putin during the process of building better relations with Trump and the US would hardly be sudden considerations. Sin is conceived long before sin on committed. Putin’s attitude and behavior toward the US could be considered, not completely, but to a great degree to be the result of a further trust lost during the Obama administration. Actions have consequences and can have rippling effects over time.

When one side in a relationship feels offended or wronged, things will rarely return to normal or even cool off until there is some recognition of the offense or wrong by the offender. Even if the offense or wrong has been forgiven, even after the offender has humbled himself or herself, the relationship may no longer be viable or have room for growth. Much as a broken pot, a relationship can be put together again but it may not hold water the same. In a situation in which a party has been offended or feels wrongly done in some extreme way, it will usually take time before trust is rebuilt. Regarding Russia, Trump came into office refusing to be held captive to the failed approach that the Obama administration took. He would not persist in the same behavior of engaging in very real, needling slights. Under Trump’s leadership, US foreign and national security policy, has a new spirit. There is a better to build better relations with countries around the world. That certainly does not mean Trump will be soft on any countries or on any issue. He will as best as possible, create space for the US and other countries to do great things together. When he sees the need to promote or defend US interest against moves by another country, including Russia, he will act with determination. This may be a key to success of Trump’s approach to Putin. Hopefully, the process of trying to find a very positive, working relationship with Putin will not in the long run become the equivalent of trying to find a way to sleep on the top of a flagpole. Recto actio non erit, nisi recta fuit voluntas, ab hac enim est actio. Rursus, voluntas non erit recta, nisi habitus animi rectus fuerit, ab hoc enim est voluntas. (An action will not be right unless the intention is right, for from it comes the action. Again, the intention will not be right unless the state of the mind has been right, for it proceeds the intention.)