Would the Ejection of Russian Forces from Ukraine Lead to a Thermonuclear Response by Moscow?: Some Meditations on Putin’s Likely Thinking

Test launch by the  US Air Force Global Strike Command of an unarmed Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile from Vandenberg Space Force Base in California. In discussing the Ukraine crisis even prior to the Russian invasion, it has been greatcharlie’s near mantra that understanding what Russian Federation President Vladimir Putin thinks is critical to resolving the issue for he is at the center of it all. It was Putin who started the war. There may be a possible nuclear dimension to his thinking that deserves greater attention. Western governments have lavished Ukraine with almost every kind of assistance in its fight against Russia, but it appears they have done so without keeping the matter fully in perspective. At some point, some or all of those governments must catch themselves out, and recognize victory for Ukraine may result in a crisis greater than the war itself, a nuclear showdown with Putin’s Russia similar to the showdown between the US and the Soviet Union over nuclear capable Soviet missiles being deployed to Cuba in October 1962. The nuclear issue regarding Ukraine should be brooked before events suddenly conspire to create a catastrophe. 

The people of the respective Western countries that support Ukraine during its present struggle have put much faith in their political leaders concerning the management of this very complicated situation. Much as their elected officials, they have applied hope against their fears that their world would not be enabled to regress back to a stage in which the evils as the quest for dominance, war, and tyranny would become norms of existence. As it was suggested in greatcharlie’s June 31, 2022 post entitled, “Brief Thoughts from Outside the US Foreign and National Security Policy Bureaucracies on Putin and Facilitating an End to the Ukraine War”, by training Ukrainian troops and providing them with an abundance of relatively cutting edge firepower assets and loads of other military gear along with financial assistance. Indeed, Western governments have lavished Ukraine with almost every kind of assistance in its fight against Russia, but it appears they have done so without keeping the matter fully in perspective. Yet, at some point, some or all of those governments must catch themselves out, and recognize victory for Ukraine may result in a crisis greater than the war itself, a nuclear showdown with Putin’s Russia similar to the showdown between the US and the Soviet Union over nuclear capable Soviet missiles that were being deployed in Cuba in October 1962. 

The honest choice would be to explain to their respective electorates that there is the possibility that the worst might be  the outcome of the Ukraine effort, nuclear war. However, they are also well-aware that mere talk of the use of nuclear weapons can bring strong images and feelings to the minds of their people. There are of course other huge concerns such as financial markets, international trade, commerce, and progress in general. Talk about thermonuclear war could truly have deleterious effects on such important things, and as such the mere mention of it would be a mistake. Perhaps with that in mind, putting the best face on the matter, aiding Ukraine’s potentially winnable ground war was settled upon as the course. If true, that would make it a case of deliberate short-sightedness. Waiting and then attempting to explain the dangers when things are hotting up will likely result in a considerable, unfavorable public reaction. The people would almost certainly ask what the devil their political leaders have been playing at. They would be angered that the efforts of their political leaders for landing them in such a terrifying situation. 

In preceding posts, greatcharlie has suggested that the matter with Russian Federation President Vladimir Putin runs deeper, more subtle than many might suppose. Understanding what Putin thinks is critical to resolving the Ukraine matter for he is at the center of it all. It was Putin who started the war. To that extent, for greatcharlie, providing thoughts on Putin’s pattern of decisionmaking on Ukraine and inferring from those patterns how Putin may perceive actions by the West and may respond to them has become a preoccupation. A possible nuclear dimension in his thinking, the greatest threat of all, deserves examination. It is certainly a issue that should be brooked before events conspire to create a catastrophe. Apparently, greatcharlie is not alone in thinking this. There has been greater visible discussion of this matter by well-experienced former military and diplomatic officials in the West presented within mainstream print and broadcast newsmedia houses. In an admirable essay published in the Sunday Times in August 2022 by retired British Army General Sir Richard Barrons, a former commander of the United Kingdom’s Joint Forces Command, very publicly brought the issue to the fore. Earlier in June 2022, the news website RealClearDefense.com provided a lucid report on Russia’s new threshold for the use of nuclear weapons by Russia and reinvigoration of its nuclear triad. Given this apparent rise in awareness, greatcharlie feels it can comfortably move on to cover other matters. However, before that happens, greatcharlie is compelled to figuratively gnaw at it once more.

Some readers might conclude the rather elementary suggestions made here appear too fanciful, too recherché. However greatcharlie’s aim and objective here is not to present something that resembles what has already been produced in the US foreign and national security policy bureaucracies as well as those of other Western governments, but to present novel ideas. ItsHow the War. Its ideas are designed to help ignite new lines of thought, new insights. Omnia non properanti clara certaque erunt; festinatio improvida est, et cæca. (All things will be clear and distinct to the man who does not hurry; haste is blind and improvident.)

Russian Federation General of the Army Aleksandr Dvornikov (center). Putin appointed Dvornikov commander of the “special military operation” in Ukraine on April 9, 2022, has seemingly well-orchestrated a regrouping of Russian forces, sweeping up the stable so to speak and getting things going. (Note: It has been alleged online, but not confirmed by Moscow, that he has been replaced.) After the relatively disastrous initial weeks of war, the military plans of the General Staff of the Russian Federation were left in pieces on the floor. Under Dvornikov, many Russian commanders have displayed skill in moving troops fairly long distances, shifted them to reinforce those in contact that desperately needed assistance, moved units of both the Army and Naval Troops from sector to sector, and avoiding any repeat of the punishing fights that resulted from attacks and counterattacks by Russian units at Kyiv and Kharkiv in the early days of the special military operation.

How Putin’s “Special Military Operation” Is “Progressing”

Fortunately for Putin, Russian Federation General of the Army Aleksandr Dvornikov, who he appointed commander of the “special military operation” in Ukraine on April 9, 2022, has seemingly well-orchestrated a regrouping of Russian forces, sweeping up the stable so to speak and getting things going. (Note: There has been chatter online from the West and even from Russia alleging Dvornikov was replaced in June 2022 as the overall commander of the special military operation by an an officer subordinate in rank, Colonel-General Genady Zhidko, who was serving as director of Russia’s Military-Political Directorate at the time. The strongest argument offered in support of the alleged change has been that Dvornikov has been away from public view. The supposed change in command has been neither confirmed or denied by the Kremlin or Russia’s Ministry of Defense. Absent official notice of the change, one might safely accept Dvornikov most likely remains in command in Ukraine.) After the relatively disastrous initial weeks of war, the military plans of the General Staff of the Russian Federation were left in pieces on the floor. Dvornikov has become quite a figurehead for the Russian Army cutting a tough as nails image, captivating Russian soldiers and officers alike. On the ground in Ukraine, he has breathed vigor into what was a thoroughly dismayed and disoriented force. Minus habeo quam speravi; sed fortasse plus speravi quam debui. (I have less than I had hoped for; but maybe I had hoped for more than I ought.)

To expound a bit more about events on the ground, Russian commanders displayed some skill in moving troops fairly long distances, shifted them to reinforce those in contact that desperately needed assistance, moved units of both the Army and Naval Troops from sector to sector, and avoiding any repeat of the punishing fights that resulted from attacks and counterattacks by Russian units at Kyiv and Kharkiv in the early days of the special military operation. That success early on convinced some military analysts in the West of the superiority of Ukrainian military leadership. As of this writing, especially in the Donbas, Ukrainian forces have faced retreats, setbacks, and even surrenders as in Mariupol. A land bridge between Crimea and Donbas has been created by Russian forces. It remains to be seen whether Russian forces have truly gained the initiative, and if so  whether they can retain it. Successfully protecting their units from the relatively slow-moving, low-flying threat of observation and attack drones and improving their units’ techniques of assaulting the opponents positions remain big issues for Russian commanders as losses from both continue to be abysmal.

If the Russian campaign is ever to become the fluid one originally envisioned, particularly by some experts in the West in which battalions would advanced hundreds of miles en masse, it must determine how to extricate their units from regional struggles east, southeast, and south, and attack west and north. Perhaps emphasizing the use of superior firepower, they might be able capture large swaths of territory and massing on decisive points, to include some large cities, in a formidable manner. Right now, Russian commanders do not appear to possess the forces in Ukraine or back in Russia necessary to do that and under current circumstances, may never be able to organize that capability. Additionally, such an offensive would need to be conducted before the spring, when the ground thaws, once frozen rivers and streams run faster and harder, and thick mud would positively hinder unit mobility.

General Valerii Zaluzhnyi, is Holovnokomanduvach Zbroynykh syl Ukrayiny or Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of Ukraine and is often mentioned with regard to the defense of Ukraine and foreign military assistance. However, Dvornikov’s main Ukrainian opponent in the field is Ukrainian Armed Forces Major General Eduard Moskaliov, commander of the Operatsiya ob’yednanykh syl or Joint Forces Operation. The Joint Forces Operation or JFO is military jargonese for the operational zone in the Donbas. When the war began, Ukraine’s strength in the JFO’s was 10 brigades and its soldier were considered among the best trained and equipped in the Ukrainian Armed Forces. Zaluzhnyi’s opposite number is Chief of the General Staff of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation, General of the Army Valery Gerasimov.

Ukrainian commanders have proven themselves to be formidable opponents by displaying amazing knowledge of their battle space, foresight and agility acumen, managing to block in one place, counterattack in another, withdrawing their units when conditions were most favorable more often than demanding troops hold on to untenable positions until they were forced to retreat in order to survive or surrender. The ability of Ukrainian commanders to think fast and soundly has been key to their relative success as time is always of the essence. Their opponent relentlessly seeks to gain ground and gain and retain the initiative, and more often than not weaker Ukrainian units have been pitted against stronger Russian ones, stronger at least on paper. French Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte is quoted as saying: “Strategy is the art of making use of time and space. I am less concerned about the later than the former. Space we can recover, lost time never.”

The top field commanders of both Russia and Ukraine have likely become accustomed to having their respective political authorities on their backs concerning the very latest developments despite their respective victories and tactical accomplishments. Putin and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky–the latter having become visibly more mature and harder in his job via an unsought crash course in national leadership during wartime–do not appear to be men who have the time and inclination to hear unsolicited opinions of others. They have enough opinions of their own. Nevertheless, both are quite expectedly absolutely gripped by matters concerning the war. In the interest of being diligent, they would imaginably seek recommendations from their respective commanders on how to proceed and what they will need to win the war. Such a potential circumstance would actually work well for both Dvornikov and Moskaliov.  Doubtlessly both would like to have far more firepower, troops, useful drones, and greater, effective close air support to name a few things.  It would seem their respective political authorities are actually working hard to get them just that. 

 From what is presented in international newsmedia reports, with everything taken into consideration, especially military assistance from the US, the war in Ukraine could still end in either side’s favor. To that extent, both Kyiv and Moscow have scrambled to reach out to allies and partners to request military assistance to the extent possible and ways to help them turn the tide sooner than later on the battlefield, to troops on the ground from mercenaries to units from their respective national armed forces.

Kyiv has genuine plans to raise a force of 1,000,000 soldiers to eradicate Russian forces from Ukrainian territory, to include the liberation of Crimea. Apparently, it is much more than an off-handed suggestion, but rather, an active pursuit. Indeed, Zelensky, still much lionized in Western capitals, has told the Ukrainian Armed Forces to retake coastal areas vital to the country’s economy, Ukrainian forces continued to engage in fierce fighting over control of the eastern Donbas region. Ukraine does not appear prepared as yet to mount any counteroffensive that could achieve decisive results. However, that, too, remains to be seen. The Ukrainians, as initially demonstrated in Kyiv, have often surprised observers by achieving what many might assess as unlikely.. Note that Ukrainian commanders have introduced US M142 High-Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems (HIMARS) and the United Kingdom’s M270 Multiple Launch Rocket Systems (MLRS) among their artillery units and are using that enhanced firepower in their operations. Thus, they may be prepared to do a lot of “big” things.

As for Ukrainie’s Western supporters, making certain Ukraine is able to take the fight to the Russians under current conditions has been challenging enough. An ailing global economy, limitations on the even the most feasible levels of military assistance from industrialized Western powers, Ukrainians available and ready to serve immediately in the military, resources for training both at home and abroad, and time available to make difference on the battlefield, to mention only a smattering of challenges facing the million man army plan, really puts the whole matter out of court. Before anyone might feel prompted to argue over what is possible or impossible for Ukraine to do based on what little is presented here, greatcharlie suggests one take also into consideration that Russian commanders will not wait around until Ukraine raises an army that would take the field and potentially overwhelm Russian battalions. Indeed, the Russians will have some say on how things turn out.

Ukrainian Armed Forces Major General Eduard Moskaliov (above), commander of the Operatsiya ob’yednanykh syl or Joint Forces Operation. The Joint Forces Operation or JFO is military jargonese for the operational zone in the Donbas. Ukrainian commanders have proven themselves to be formidable opponents by displaying amazing knowledge of their battle space, foresight and agility acumen, managing to block in one place, counterattack in another, withdrawing their units when conditions were most favorable more often than demanding troops hold on to untenable positions until they were forced to retreat in order to survive or surrender. The ability of Ukrainian commanders to think fast and soundly has been key to their relative success as time is always of the essence. Their opponent relentlessly seeks to gain ground and gain and retain the initiative, and more often than not weaker Ukrainian units have been pitted against stronger Russian ones.

In Moscow, Putin has ordered the Russian Federation Armed Forces to increase by another 137,000 troops starting January 1, 2023. The decree dated August 25, 2022 did not explain by what means Russian forces would be increased,, through expanded conscription, taking on more volunteer soldiers or some combination of both. Responding to concerns over a broader wartime mobilization among the Russian public, Moscow explained that only volunteer contract soldiers would  take part in the “special military operation” in Ukraine. Apparently, Putin’s hope is to increase the number of Russian Federation Armed Forces personnel to 2,039,758 overall, including 1,150,628 servicemen. Reportedly, a similar order in the past put Russia’s military strength at 1,902,758 and 1,013,628 respectively at the start of 2018.

Foreign fighters, who some might label mercenaries, they have been used on both sides of the conflict to bolster numbers and bring trained and well-experienced fighters immediately to the front. Foreign fighters for Russia are normally put under the control of the Glavnoye Razvedyvatel’noye Upravleniye Generalnovo Shtaba (Main Intelligence Directorate of the General Staff-Military Intelligence) or GRU. 

Foreign fighters for Ukraine operate in units under the control of the Ukrainian Armed Forces. The Ukrainians have had some success taking foreign fighters on to the strength of their frontline units. Many foreign fighters serving with Ukrainian forces are from the armed forces of Member States of NATO. (One must pardon this digression, but at the mere mention of the words mercenaries, greatcharlie calls to mind Stanzas of the renowned 19th century British Romantic poet and satirist, George Gordon Byron, 6th Baron Byron, known better as Lord Byron. In “When a Man Hath No Freedom To Fight for at Home” first published in Letters and Journals, November 5, 1830, ii, 337, Byron depicts the mercenary. The stanza’s jaunty lines were sent in a letter written to an associate, Thomas Moore, dated November 5, 1820. Byron writes: When a man hath no freedom to fight for at home, / Let him combat for that of his neighbours; / Let him think of the glories of Greece and of Rome, / And get knock’d on the head for his labours. / To do good to mankind is the chivalrous plan, / And, is always as nobly requited; / Then battle for freedom wherever you can, / And, if not shot or hang’d, you’ll get knighted.)

Napoleon is quoted as saying: “In war, the moral element and public opinion are half the battle.” What has not been very useful to either commander are the respective political warfare operations. In their own way, both sides through political warfare have resorted to Babylonian methods: eye for an eye and that sort of thing. It has not directly led to any apparent boost in morale, shift in momentum, or a dramatic turn of the tide. The indications and implications of it are not clear. At best, it has been a distraction, particularly with respect to the videos produced by both sides showing their opponents’ troops being killed and injured. Those videos have shown the world just how horrible the war is.

Postea noli rogare quod inpetrare nolueris. (Don’t ask for what you’ll wish you hadn’t got.) Hopefully, not one Western political leader actually believes that, if things go their way and fortune goes against Russian forces on the battlefield, Putin will simply throw up his hands, do Sweet Fanny Adams, wait for the West to reach out for peace talks, agree to the West’s terms for the unconditional withdrawal from Ukraine, and let chips fall where they may with regard to Russia’s future and his own. In Western capitals, some might imagine Putin after defeat in Ukraine, sitting alone, crying tears into his favorite samovar much as Achilles in Homer’s Iliad was depicted as crying an ocean of tears over the death of Patroclus. Yet, recall that Achilles took revenge over Patroclus’ killer, Hector, dealing with him in a positively merciless fashion. Putin, much in the same way as Achilles again, would surely try to act ferociously against the West following a hypothetical loss.

Russian Federation President Vladimir Putin (above). Hopefully, not one Western political leader actually believes that, if things go their way and fortune goes against Russian forces on the battlefield, Putin will simply throw up his hands, do Sweet Fanny Adams, wait for the West to reach out for peace talks, agree to the West’s terms for the unconditional withdrawal from Ukraine, and let chips fall where they may with regard to Russia’s future and his own. In Western capitals, some might imagine Putin after defeat in Ukraine, sitting alone, crying tears into his favorite samovar much as Achilles in Homer’s Iliad was depicted as crying an ocean of tears over the death of Patroclus. Any form of acquiescence by Putin to Western demands would be very unlikely. To expect some gross retardation of Putin’s aggressive instinct and expect him to become humble and conciliatory in the aftermath of defeat,would be absolute madness. Given this, it becomes somewhat difficult to understand what the genuine objective of the West is in Ukraine.

Any form of acquiescence by Putin to Western demands would be very unlikely. To expect some gross retardation of Putin’s aggressive instinct and expect him to become humble and conciliatory in the aftermath of defeat would be absolute madness. Given this, it becomes somewhat difficult to understand what the genuine objective of the West is in Ukraine. It is hard to imagine what Putin and his advisers–inarguably better aware of Putin’s authentic nature and intentions than anyone outside of Russia–make of it all. Suffice it to say, even in the best case scenario for the West in which Ukrainian forces reclaim the overwhelming majority of territory taken by Russian forces, problems of great magnitude will very likely be encountered. In his Ad Urbe Condita (From the Founding of the City) (c. 28 B.C.), the Roman historian Titus Livius (59 B.C.-A.D. 17), known as Livy, provides in Greek a history of Rome that begins with the earliest legends of Rome before the traditional founding in 753 BC through the reign of Emperor Caesar Augustus during his own lifetime. In Book III, section 39, he writes the apposite passage: “The troubles which have come upon us always seem more serious than those which are only threatening.”

There was a Moravian born scholar who within a series of lectures between 1911 and 1915 expressed: “It is a predisposition of human nature to consider an unpleasant idea untrue, and then it is easy to find arguments against it.” That Moravian scholar was Sigmund Freud, the neurologist and the founder of psychoanalysis, a clinical method for evaluating and treating pathologies in the psyche through dialogue between a patient and a psychoanalyst. In 1917, 28 of his aforementioned lectures were published in his book Introduction to Psychoanalysis or Introductory Lectures on Psycho-Analysis (German: Einführung in die Psychoanalyse). Pertinent to matters discussed here, Freud discusses the concepts of denial or abnegation–in German, Verleugnung or Verneinung, a psychological defense mechanism in which a person is faced with a fact that is too uncomfortable to accept and rejects it instead, insisting that it is not true despite what may be overwhelming evidence.

One’s denial can take three forms according to Freud. The two seemingly more apposite in this situation are simple denial and minimization. 1) simple denial: deny the reality of the unpleasant fact altogether; and, minimization: admit the fact but deny its seriousness (a combination of denial and rationalization). Let no ones heart be troubled as greatcharlie has no intention of getting involved in the business of psychoanalyzing anyone. Still, Freud’s luminous thoughts have helped to provide greatcharlie with insight into what, beyond political expediency, would lead to the insistence publicly that the defeat of Russia in Ukraine would lead to a favorable outcome for the West.

Someone with experience and expertise who has considered the possibility of a potential nuclear tragedy, as aforementioned, is retired British Army Lieutenant General Sir Barrons, former commander of United Kingdom’s Joint Forces Command (now designated United Kingdom Strategic Command) In his essay published in the Sunday Times online on August 6, 2022, Barrons explains “The West needs to think about the shape the fighting may now take and to include in that the prospect of catastrophic success for Ukraine: if Russia is thrown back to the extent that Putin senses strategic defeat, he is likely to employ tactical nuclear weapons.” He states such thinking is nothing new as Russian nuclear thinking accepts the use of small nuclear weapons to impose unacceptable damage on an opponent as a means of coercion, particularly in circumstances where the existence of the state is in question.” Barrons reminds readers that “Russia will have declared areas of occupied Ukraine part of the Russian state. So should an Ukrainian offensive roll over this new self-declared border, the use of nuclear weapons to break up the attack will be on the table. This is not unthinkable–it is only unpalatable.” He says that the type of nuclear weapon he has in mind is the Russian Iskander missile which has a range of 300 miles and can deliver a conventional or nuclear warhead of selected yield. He notes that it has already been used with a conventional warhead in Ukraine. Barrons makes the distinction between those weapons and the 1,000 kiloton weapons that might target Washington or London, and assures that he is in no way referring to the possible use of the latter. He concludes by stating: “These [nuclear] weapons exist for just the sort of circumstances the war in Ukraine may lead to, so nobody should claim total surprise if they are used. Events since 2014 have established that neither hope nor denial are sound approaches to dealing with Russia today.”

Russia’s mobile, short-range, nuclear capable, 9K720 Iskander ballistic missile system (above). Someone with experience and expertise who has considered the possibility of a potential nuclear tragedy, as aforementioned, is retired British Army Lieutenant General Sir Barrons, former commander of United Kingdom’s Joint Forces Command (now designated United Kingdom Strategic Command) In his essay published in the Sunday Times online on August 6, 2022, Barrons explains “The West needs to think about the shape the fighting may now take and to include in that the prospect of catastrophic success for Ukraine: if Russia is thrown back to the extent that Putin senses strategic defeat, he is likely to employ tactical nuclear weapons.” He states such thinking is nothing new as Russian nuclear thinking accepts the use of small nuclear weapons to impose unacceptable damage on an opponent as a means of coercion, particularly in circumstances where the existence of the state is in question.”

Barrons knows what he is saying. Given his impressive experience he is surely as experienced or more so to parse out this matter than many military analysts working an intelligence unit in any government focused on Ukraine. Reinforcing Barrons’ point of view is the current head of United Kingdom’s Strategic Command, British Army Lieutenant General Jim Hockenhul. In an interview with the BBC published August 12, 2022, Hockenhull stated that the likelihood of Russia using nuclear weapons in Ukraine may change if the battlefield dynamic shifts. Armies kill selectively and to that extent, a tactical nuclear weapon would be used on the battlefield to kill selectively. There is an odd rationality to it all. Still, greatcharlie states with immense respect for the well-considered views of these honorable men both of whom throughout their careers have spoken truth to power. that their depiction of Putin’s hypothetical nuclear response to the battlefield is a charitable one. 

Although the use of nuclear weapons remains a part of Russian military doctrine much as it was in the Soviet Army as both Barrons and Hockenhull point out, Dvornikov is fighting a conventional war without having some backup plan at his headquarters to use nuclear weapons if he is pushed up against Russia’s border. Putin would unlikely authorize him to use nuclear weapons. Putin would unlikely come to Dvornikov seeking a recommendation regarding the use of nuclear weapons. Taking such a hypothetical step in that direction would very likely be planned out in advance by Putin while doing “what ifs” before he launched his invasion.

Add to all of that, Moscow denies it has even considered the use of nuclear weapons in Ukraine. On August 16, 2022, Russian Federation Defense Minister, General of the Army Sergei Shoigu declared that Russia has no military need to use nuclear weapons in Ukraine. In his own words, Shoigu stated: “From a military point of view, there is no need to use nuclear weapons in Ukraine to achieve the set goals.” Shoigu reportedly went further “to slam newsmedia speculation” that Russia could potentially use nuclear or chemical weapons to compensate for slow progress in its special military operation in Ukraine as “absolute lies.”

Shoigu’s statement on the use of nuclear weapons on its face may have struck many as very odd. Rather than provide clarity, which was his stated intention, he has actually created more questions in inquisitive minds and among skeptics about Moscow’s thinking on nuclear weapons. What is immediately intriguing about the statement is that except to shape diplomacy as it had before the war, Moscow rarely explains its military plans and intentions. When it has done so, it has offered what were at best soupçons. Moscow is similarly reluctant to offer anything about its intelligence operations. Surely Shoigu does not believe Russia will lose the war. He is not expecting any pushback of Russian forces by the Ukrainians. Thus, in his mind there would hardly be any need to consider such a great step as to respond with nuclear weapons. Concerning what the international press has been saying about Russia, that long ago should have stopped being a concern of any loyal official in Moscow. If it has been a concern especially among top officials such as Shoigu, the indications and implications of his speech may be that the door is wide open for greater manipulation of them via the newsmedia. Perhaps the degree to which newsmedia reporting has already influenced thinking in Moscow has not been thoroughly appreciated in the West. 

On the other hand, perhaps deceptively, Shoigu wanted to relax Western capitals with regard to a nuclear end to the Ukraine War. Maybe he wanted to figuratively stir the pot by adding his words to the debate on Russian plans and intentions in Western foreign and national security policy circles. Absent any reason that might be remotely viable, Shoigu’s comments concerning Russia’s use of nuclear weapons could be considered superfluous. Still, it is unlikely that Shoigu would take the time and effort to make a public statement with the intention to speak superfluously or idly. Putin presumably green-lit his statement. Shoigu would not have formulated such an approach to nuclear weapons use on his own. Putin is still calling all the shots. To that extent, perhaps Shoigu’s statement should not be considered definitive. There must be something there. Whatever it is, it is not very apparent, but probably important.

Putin (right) and Russian Federation Defense Minister, General of the Army Sergei Shoigu (left). Moscow denies it has even considered the use of nuclear weapons in Ukraine. On August 16, 2022, Shoigu declared that Russia has no military need to use nuclear weapons in Ukraine. In his own words, Shoigu stated: “From a military point of view, there is no need to use nuclear weapons in Ukraine to achieve the set goals.” Shoigu reportedly went further “to slam newsmedia speculation” that Russia could potentially use nuclear or chemical weapons to compensate for slow progress in its special military operation in Ukraine as “absolute lies.” Shoigu’s statement on the use of nuclear weapons on its face may have struck many as very odd. Rather than provide clarity, which was his stated intention, he has actually created more questions in inquisitive minds and among skeptics about Moscow’s thinking on nuclear weapons.

The Ladder of Escalation

More than just having an impact on the battlefield, Russia’s use of nuclear weapons might become just an initial step up the ladder of nuclear escalation. Although members of a regional collective security organization and a political and economic union, in Putin’s mind, European countries are mainly an amalgamation of political authorities, each constrained by domestic political concerns and beholden to their respective electorates. Still, he could not be sure how under such extraordinary circumstances how the US, Member States of NATO, the EU, or European countries independently might act in response. 

Some national capitals in close proximity or actually bordering Russia are already very concerned, unnerved, over Putin’s potential plans and intentions for their respective countries. Presumably, protocols have already been established for such potentiality. Still, if frightened enough by the detonation of nuclear ordinance in Ukraine, there is no real knowing what a possible panicked response might be by political leaders in some governments. Perchance reactions to such an event may not be as orderly as NATO might have planned.

Putin may have already concluded that taking such an action would be akin to striking a hornets nest with a stick while in the nude. Retaliatory action could come from so many directions. His troops in Ukraine would be the initial victims. To that extent, nothing would be gained on the ground in Ukraine by using the weapons. If Ukraine’s partners were to take that bold step to strike Russian forces, likely against its Iskander and other nuclear capable weapons systems, it would be up to Putin to decide whether he would strike military targets in their countries. He would also have to imagine what would be his opponents’ follow-up response to his next move. 

Moving up the scale of escalation at that pace would simply be a slow walk toward global thermonuclear war. It is not inevitable, but very likely. Putin would probably be resigned to the fact that the West would hardly be able to back down after nuclear weapons hypothetically had been used in Ukraine. Domestic political considerations would make that nearly impossible Western national leaders. The respective countrymen would expect them to display strength, though groups of citizens may be formed that may insist peace be sought. It would not be prudent for Putin to apply any hope to what Moscow would likely view as “positive efforts”. 

Nullum est malum majus, quam non posse ferre malum. (There is no greater misfortune than not to be able to endure misfortune.) Some European leaders may panic when faced with a staggering crisis. When such a crisis arrives unexpectedly, it can unnerve one who might already be affected by chronic stress and might lack an identical or similar experience to draw from, it can happen to some of the best. (Although he was not one of the best, recall how in 1940, Soviet Premier Joseph Stalin was so shocked by German Reich Chancellor Adolph Hitler’s betrayal of the 1939 Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact that he suffered a nervous breakdown and left a power vacuum for two days while German forces poured in the Soviet Union.)

To be certain, moderately armed NATO Members do not take orders from the more powerful ones or the one military superpower, but they are more inclined to see their point of view. As more time passes, Western leaders more assured of what is the right way forward will be able to gird the resolve of those leaders less certain of how to proceed through continuous communications and hastily arranged bilateral and multilateral talks at NATO headquarters and the Europa building. Unsteady leaders, in particular, would be given the time and opportunity to draw upon the energy of the stronger ones. In general, the Europeans would be given more time to prepare for whatever might come next. In Cyropaedia (“Education of Cyrus”), the renowned Greek historian, soldier, mercenary, and student of Socrates, Xenophon (c. 430 – 354 BC), presents a partly fictional novel about Cyrus the Great, the founder of Persia’s Achaemenid Empire, but more so it was a tract on kingship and generalship addressed to the class of educated Greek commanders and potential leaders. Pertinent to the matter at hand, in Book I, Chapter 6, section 21, Xenophon writes: “[P]eople are only too glad to obey the man who they believe takes wiser thought for their interests than they themselves do. And you might recognize that this is so in many instances but particularly in the case of the sick: how readily they call in those who are to prescribe what they must do; and at sea how cheerfully the passengers obey the captain; and how earnestly travellers desire not to get separated from those who they think are better acquainted with the road than they are. But when people think that they are going to get into trouble if they obey, they will neither yield very much for punishment nor will they be moved by gifts; for no one willingly accepts even a gift at the cost of trouble to himself.” People have not changed too much over a couple of millenia.

Among the number of national capitals that would normally take the lead in such a hypothetical crisis, some heed should be given to Xenophon’s words. According to a Pew Research Center survey published on June 22, 2022, the outlook is good so far. Overall ratings for the US were largely positive and stable. A median of 61% of the citizens across 17 countries in which surveys were conducted–not including the US–expressed a favorable view of the US, and large majorities in those countries viewed the US as a reliable partner to their country. Attitudes toward NATO, in contrast, are largely positive, and ratings for the alliance improved since 2021 among citizens surveyed in several of the 17 countries 

With the foreign and national security policy bureaucracies of at least 27 countries plus the staff at NATO Headquarters working night and day to formulate favorable moves that would allow the West considerable advantage over his country, Putin also might find it too risky to get locked into a back and forth struggle, attempting to stay ahead in the action reaction cycle against the aggregate of their capabilities. Naturally, Putin would not be inclined to slow walk himself into any of that. There would just be too many possibilities to consider. The playing field would be a bit too level or even feel a bit one-sided toward the West, despite its positively Wagnerian proportions. He would want to retain, at least in his mind, his position above all of that. Equally naturally, while all of that was happening, Putin would need to keep a very close eye on what was happening politically in Moscow and around Russia and the reactions to each step he would take. Looking at matter from another angle, but still from Putin’s lens, despite the excellent assessments of former and current expert military practitioners, in the grander scheme of Putin’s world, using nuclear weapons on the battlefields of Ukraine would relatively amount to “bad behavior” and not the appropriate response. 

In the worst case scenario, Putin may feel he could truly steal a march on Western leaders by attacking them first, hitting them where it hurts strategically, and then see just how committed they were to a green future. His hope in that vain would be that enough Russians and enough of Russia would survive to a degree that his efforts would not have been in vain. Knowing how some often misconstrue statements to the extent they give them the wrong meaning, it must be noted that greatcharlie is not married to the idea that initiating a thermonuclear war following a loss in Ukraine. For greatcharlie, the outcome it has outlined here is completely undesirable. Going a step further, more so than stealing a march, if Russian forces were forced out of Ukraine, to include Crimea, Putin would know it would be his end at home and everywhere else, and he would likely have no compunction making it everyone’s end.

NATO Summit Meeting on February 17, 2022 (above). Although united as members of a regional collective security organization and a political and economic union, in Putin’s mind, European countries are mainly an amalgamation of political authorities, each constrained by domestic political concerns and beholden to their respective electorates. Still, he could not be sure how under such extraordinary circumstances how the US, other Member States of NATO, the EU, or European countries independently might act in response to Russia’s use of a nuclear weapon in Ukraine. Retaliatory action could come from so many directions. His troops in Ukraine would be the initial victims. If Ukraine’s partners were to take that bold step to strike Russian forces, likely against its Iskander and other nuclear capable weapons systems, it would be up to Putin to decide whether he would strike military targets in their countries. He would also have to imagine what would be his opponents’ follow-up response to his next move. Moving up the scale of escalation at that pace would simply be a slow walk toward global thermonuclear war. It is not inevitable, but very likely.

Taking Putin’s Words Seriously

When Putin makes statements, announcements, declarations, and addresses on foreign and national security policy issues, his usual purpose is to lay out a foundation for action on them. His build-up of remarks foreshadowing the February 24, 2022 invasion provides an example of this. However, it would seem Putin’s words as with that matter and a number of others are more often viewed as being of no-count among political leaders in Western capitals as well as within their respective foreign and national security policy bureaucracies. Surely, they can seem to be scare tactics more than anything else, but in the end they tend to have meaning. As of late, Putin and his top officials have been doing a lot of talking about nuclear weapons and their use. Their expressions alone hold enough materiality and scope to warrant a significant investigation.of the nuclear issue or perhaps there could be wider exploitation of what has been uncovered already.

In July 2022, President Vladimir Putin threatened to continue the war until the last Ukrainian man was standing and his Deputy Dmitri Medvedev suggested that “punishing” Russia over war crimes “potentially poses a threat to the existence of humanity.” Since 2007, nuclear threats have been commonplace among high level Russian officials but the current ones are clearly more extreme. United Kingdom Prime Minister Boris Johnson once noted that Putin had personally made nuclear threats 35 or more times.

Putin’s June 2020 directive on nuclear deterrence made it clear the most alarming reports concerning the Russian nuclear first use threshold were accurate. Paragraph 19 (d) of President Putin’s June 2020 decree [translated] states concerning the conditions specifying the possibility of nuclear weapons use by the Russian Federation would inckude: “aggression against the Russian Federation with the use of conventional weapons when the very existence of the state is in jeopardy.” Further, Paragraph 4 of Putin’s decree links nuclear weapons use to sovereignty and territorial integrity. This is potentially very permissive.

To briefly return back to the aforementioned statement by Shoigu, what should not be downplayed is his remark that “the main purpose of Russian nuclear weapons is to deter a nuclear attack. Its use is limited to extraordinary circumstances.” Shoigu did not define what would qualify as “extraordinary circumstances.” That was an odd choice given his statement was ostensibly designed to provide clarity on the nuclear issue.

Putin (center), Russian Federation Defense Minister, General of the Army Sergei Shoigu (left), and Russian Federation Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov (right). When Putin makes statements, announcements, declarations, and addresses on foreign and national security policy issues, his usual purpose is to lay out a foundation for action on them. His build-up of remarks foreshadowing the February 24, 2022 invasion provides an example of this. However, it would seem Putin’s words as with that matter and a number of others are more often viewed as being of no-count among political leaders in Western capitals as well as within their respective foreign and national security policy bureaucracies. Surely, they can seem to be scare tactics more than anything else, but in the end they tend to have meaning. As of late, Putin and his top officials have been doing a lot of talking about nuclear weapons and their use. Their expressions alone hold enough materiality and scope to warrant a significant investigation.of the nuclear issue or perhaps there could be wider exploitation of what has been uncovered already.

Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty and Putin’s Comfort-Level with Nuclear Weapons

Alterations of Moscow’s policy and posture concerning intermediate range nuclear forces have run near concurrently with its troublemaking in Ukraine. Many might remember, perhaps some a bit vaguely, how nuclear weapons were an all engrossing topic in Western capitals during the Cold War and their reduction became a primary aim of diplomacy among Western countries,  prariiy the US, and the Soviet Union. Reductions were achieved through the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty.  The INF Treaty was an arms control treaty between the US and the Soviet Union. US President Ronald Reagan and Soviet General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev signed the treaty on December 8, 1987, and entered into force on June 1, 1988. Regarding its basics, the treaty required both countries to eliminate their ground-launched ballistic and cruise missiles that could travel between 300 and 3,400 miles by an implementation deadline of June 1, 1991. By the deadline, the two countries had together destroyed a total of 2,692 short- and intermediate-range missiles: 1,846 Soviet missiles and 846 US missiles. The INF Treaty was the first arms-control treaty to eliminate an entire category of weapons systems. Two protocols to the treaty established unprecedented procedures for observers from both countries to verify firsthand the other nation’s destruction of its missiles. 

The INF Treaty was signed in 1987, however, in 2013, the Russian Federation, which had assumed the obligations agreed to by the Soviet Union under the INF Treaty, had decided to untie itself from the treaty’s restrictions. Russia began developing, producing, testing, and deploying a new intermediate-range missile known as the 9M729, or SSC-8. The 9M729 Iskander missile, mentioned earlier, reduced the warning time for European capitals of Russian nuclear attack to minutes, lowering the threshold for nuclear conflict. The West sought to reason with the Russian leadership on what were seen as disturbing developments. The US initially first raised concern with Russia about the 9M729 missile system on May 23, 2013 without positive results. At NATO’s September 5, 2014 Summit in Wales, Member States called on Russia to preserve the viability of the INF Treaty. That was after Russia had displayed heightened aggressiveness in February 2014 when its forces moved into the Crimean Peninsula and subsequently annexed the territory. At NATO’s Summit in Warsaw in July 2016, Members called on Russia to answer US charges and preserve the viability of the INF Treaty. In an somewhat mocking response, on December 9, 2017, Moscow finally admitted the 9M729 exists but claimed it is compliant with the INF Treaty.

Leaving little doubt as to its thinking, on February 5, 2018, the West received news via the Russian news agency RIA that the head of the Lower House of the Russian Parliament’s defense committee reported Iskander missile systems had been sent to Kaliningrad, Russian sovereign territory on the Baltic Sea. The Iskander, a mobile ballistic missile system codenamed SS-26 Stone by NATO, replaced the Soviet Scud missile. Its two guided missiles have a range of up to 500 kilometers (about 300 miles) and can carry either conventional or nuclear warheads. Moscow stated that previous deployments of Iskander missiles to Kaliningrad, a slice of Russia wedged between Poland and Lithuania, were temporary and a response to the buildup of US forces in the Baltic region. In addition to having a destabilizing effect on NATO countries in the immediate area, US officials at that time expressed concern that the deployments appeared permanent.

In July 2018, NATO Members stated that after years of denials and obfuscation by the Russian Federation, and despite repeatedly raising their concerns, Russia had only recently acknowledged the existence of the missile system without providing the necessary transparency or explanation. Due to the absence of any credible answer from Russia on this new missile, the assessment was that Russia was in violation of the INF Treaty. In December 2018, NATO Foreign Ministers supported the US finding that Russia was in material breach of its obligations under the INF Treaty and called on Russia to urgently return to full and verifiable compliance with the Treaty.

NATO stood open to dialogue and welcomed engagement with Russia on its violation, to include a NATO-Russia Council meeting on January 25, 2019. However, Russia continued to deny its INF Treaty violations, failed to provide any credible response, and did not move a jot toward returning to full and verifiable compliance. Stating Russia’s continued non-compliance as the cause, on February 1, 2019, the US announced its decision to suspend its obligations under Article XV of the INF Treaty. On February 1, 2019, NATO Members stated that unless Russia honored its INF Treaty obligations through the verifiable destruction of all of its 9M729 weapon systems, thereby returning to full and verifiable compliance, Russia would bear sole responsibility for the end of the Treaty. Russia was entitled to return to compliance with the treaty in 6 months and thereby halt the US withdrawal and NATO Members repeatedly urged Moscow to do so, but it refused. On August 2, 2019, the US withdrawal took effect. On that day, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo stated that “Russia is solely responsible for the treaty’s demise.” NATO Members issued a statement fully supporting the US decision, and attributing “sole responsibility” for the INF Treaty’s termination to Russia. The statement made clear that NATO would respond in a “measured and responsible way” to the risks posed by Russia’s SSC-8 system, with a “balanced, coordinated and defensive package of measures,” ensuring credible and effective deterrence and defence. Members also made clear their firm commitment to the preservation of effective international arms control, disarmament and non-proliferation. 

On August 18, 2022, near the time of this writing, the Russian Federation Armed Forces reported that it had deployed Russian Air Force MiG-31K jet armed with state-of-the-art hypersonic missiles, Kh-47M2 Kinzhal, to the Chkalovsk air base in Kaliningrad as part of “additional measures of strategic deterrence.”as part of “additional measures of strategic deterrence.”

The fact that steps taken on policy concerning and deployments of nuclear weapons, with the exception of the deployment of MiG-31K jet armed with the Kinzhal hypersonic missiles have all occurred outside the context of Ukraine or at least the circumstances appear to be such, should indicate that whatever Putin is saying or doing now regarding the is of far greater conception than the “special military operation.”

Certainly, it would be rather counterintuitive for Putin to continue to make statements that intensively would inform the West that there has been a shift in his thinking about nuclear weapons to the extent that he is now more prepared to use them if in his calculus the sovereignty of Russia were both endangered.  That stated, Putin, having had his expositions and entreaties on relatively lesser foreign and national security policy issues of concern to him dismissed consistently by the West, Putin should now be reasonably aware that his concerns regarding nuclear weapons will continue to be brushed aside as Western leaders neither want to consider the possibility of him using them, nor want his words on the issue to have any meaning.

If orders were to be given by Putin to the military to use nuclear weapons, instead of Dvornikov, the call would more likely go to Colonel General Sergei Karakayev, the commander of Raketnye Voyska Strategicheskogo Naznacheniya Rossiyskoy Federatsii (Strategic Rocket Forces of the Russian Federation or the Strategic Missile Forces of the Russian Federation [literally Strategic Purpose Rocketry Troops]) or RVSN RF. The Rocket Forces are a branch of the Russian Armed Forces that control Russia’s land-based intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs). In addition, the Aerospace Forces (VKS), as well as the Russian Navy’s Northern and Black Sea, and Pacific Fleets would be alerted. Commanders who are in control of Russia’s strategic nuclear triad would act in the manner prescribed respectively by political authorities. Any plans to use nuclear weapons would be of the utmost secrecy. Discussion of it would surely be limited to a handful of advisers.

US President Ronald Reagan (left) and Soviet General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev (right) signing the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty in 1987. The Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty was an arms control treaty between the US and the Soviet Union. US President Ronald Reagan and Soviet General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev signed the treaty on December 8, 1987, and entered into force on June 1, 1988. The treaty required both countries to eliminate their ground-launched ballistic and cruise missiles that could travel between 500 and 5,500 kilometres (between 300 and 3,400 miles) by an implementation deadline of June 1, 1991. The INF Treaty was the first arms-control treaty to eliminate an entire category of weapons systems. However, in 2013, the Russian Federation, which had assumed the obligations agreed to by the Soviet Union under the INF Treaty, had decided to untie itself from the treaty’s restrictions. Russia began developing, producing, testing, and deploying a new intermediate-range missile known as the 9M729, or SSC-8. The 9M729 Iskander missile, mentioned earlier. reduced the warning time for European capitals of Russian nuclear attack to minutes, lowering the threshold for nuclear conflict.

Implications of Russian Losses in Ukraine

For those who might find it difficult to imagine Putin destroying the world over hypothetical defeat in Ukraine and that firing nuclear weapons is far short of setting off a conventional war, think again. A great conventional war involving hundreds of thousands of soldiers in these times was also extremely difficult for so many to imagine a few short months ago. The invasion of Ukraine and attending gross losses of Russian troops may serve as a proxy for understanding Putin and measuring his willingness to sacrifice human lives in pursuit of his goals. As mentioned earlier, Putin started the war. It was his decision to tear millions of people in Russia and much more so Ukraine from peace and cast them to a seeming foreverness of death and destruction, torment and anguish.

With regard to Russian casualties, according to the latest estimate by US intelligence and military officials, reportedly 500 troops are either killed or wounded every day. The casualty estimates of US officials are reportedly based on satellite imagery, communication intercepts, social media and on-the-ground media reports. The US Undersecretary of Defense for Policy, Colin Kahl, told reporters at the Pentagon on August 12, 2022: “I think it’s safe to suggest that the Russians have probably taken 70,000 or 80,000 casualties in less than six months.” The New York Times on August 12, 2022 reported that two US officials estimated that Russia’s losses included about 20,000 deaths. One confidentially explained further that about 5,000 from that number are believed to be fighters from the Wagner Group, and foreign fighters. US officials have gone as far as to assess that the progress of Russian forces in the Donbas became stalled in part due to high casualties. 

During his May 9, 2022 Victory Day address, Putin made a rare reference to casualties suffered by Russian forces fighting in Ukraine. With respect to casualties, Putin mentioned the “irreparable loss for relatives and friends.” He informed Russians then that support would be put in place for the children of the dead and for the wounded. Of course, one could say there is good reason for Putin to take this tack. It is a fairly elementary idea, but Napoleon expressed it in a succinct fashion: “We should always go before our enemies with confidence, otherwise our apparent uneasiness inspires them with greater boldness.” It may very well be the case that Putin is thoroughly disappointed by the heavy losses. He may even have strong personal feelings, and may in private appear somewhat emotional about it all. While that could be true, in public, he shows not a scintilla of interest in those losses. To a great degree, he has glossed over the losses with his words..

Still, readers might bear in mind that during an interview on June 7, 2015 the editor of the Italian newspaper, Corriere della Sera, then Luciano Fontana, asked Putin: “Mr. President is there one thing that you regret more than anything in your life, which you consider an error that you would never again want to repeat?” Reportedly, Putin adjusted himself in his chair, and his eyes suddenly seemed to sparkle. He remained silent for a few seconds, and then, according to the daily’s English transcription of the interview, stated: “I will be quite frank with you. I cannot recollect anything of the kind. By the grace of God, I have nothing to regret in my life.” In August 2022, perhaps Putin might offer another response to this question. On the other hand, it is more likely he would not alter his response in any way.. 

Putin as Epic Hero

Putin has a penchant for bringing to bear events in Russian and Soviet history in support of his arguments concerning both domestic and foreign, and national security policy issues. In April 2020, as Russia entered its first coronavirus lockdown, he compared the pandemic to 19th-century Turkic nomadic invasions of medieval Russia during a televised address to the nation. In July 2021, the Kremlin published an almost 7,000-word essay by Putin, entitled “On the historical unity of Russians and Ukrainians”, in which he argued that Russia and Ukraine were one nation, artificially divided. Putin’s inclination for referring to history was apparent in his February 24, 2022 speech announcing the special military operation during which he again  provided a lesson on Ukraine’s historic connections to Russia.

In June 2022, Putin compared himself to the 18th-century Russian Tsar Peter the Great, drawing the following parallel: “Peter the Great waged the great northern war for 21 years. It would seem that he was at war with Sweden, he took something from them. He did not take anything from them, he returned [what was Russia’s].” Putin might humbly shun being labelled a history buff, but he certainly can be said to have retained innumerable facts on the history of Russia and the Soviet Union. It may all appear quite puerile to some onlookers, but simply put, Putin’s predilection for making references may augur that in a very grave danger that may lie ahead in which Putin may view a situation from an historical perspective, not a pragmatic one for the here and now.

A part of Russia’s history and culture has been the creation and promulgation of tales about powerful mythical beings, whose behavior and actions supposedly account for the development of certain geological formations, aspects of Russian behavior, the Russian zeitgeist past and present, and a few place names in the country, to name a few things. Putin, who greatcharlie will go out on a limb and call an historian and recognize as an erudite on all things Russian, is doubtlessly familiar with such mythical heroes, and would surely be able to explain that everything which is most heroic and great about them, holds a place in the soul and spirit of all good Russians. Hearing those tales can reaffirm that. (It would be interesting to hear Putin speak on such matters.)

One of Russia’s greatest mythical heroes is Ural-batyr. His tale is popular particularly among ethnic Bashkirs who named their national epic poem after him. As the story goes, all his life, Ural-batyr (who for Putin might represent himself) selflessly fought against devs (demons), serpents, and dragons (who for Putin might represent the West), defending the human race (who for Putin might represent the Russian people). Also, he was kind and always showed forgiveness to his toxic and malevolent elder brother Shulgan (who for Putin might represent the national government in Kyiv, at least since Euromaidan), who associated with the devs, and responded to their demands that he destroy Ural-batyr and the humans. The people loved and extolled Ural-batyr as their hero and were proud to follow him. Defeating death was an aim and objective to which Ural-batyr dedicated himself. He wanted to allow his people to live forever and not have to die. One day, Ural-batyr encountered an immortal older man who was weary of life and explained to to the effect: “What we call Death and what we are accustomed to regard as evil are just the eternal order of things . . . There is only one thing in life that does not die and remains forever young – goodness.” The immortal’s words sowed within Ural-batyr an inner peace and happiness.

Ural-batyr, himself, would die performing an heroic act of self-sacrifice: He swallowed an entire lake in which devs, snakes, and evil spirits roamed to protect the people from them. The devs, snakes, and evil spirits gorged on Ural-batyr from the inside, thereby killing him. As he died, Ural-batyr tells his descendants not to accept evil in fellow travelers, always accept advice from elders and wise people, and to offer advice to the youth and assist them. By his example of self-sacrifice, Ural-batyr instructed the people to live by justice and peace. The people buried him high in mountains which they named in his honor, and were thereafter called Uralskiye gory: the Ural Mountains.

To the extent that greatcharlie has managed to understand him, any situation that would put Putin up against the wall would demand nothing less from him than something akin to a suicide charge. It would be less about achieving victory and more about a final display of what he might perceive as heroic valor. Inarguably, Putin would surely prefer to lead the Russian people in the next phase after a thermonuclear exchange. A man who has well-managed his survival for three decades would hardly become fatalist, chuck everything aside, and willingly go on to a higher calling. However, if Putin were to find that he would not survive a hypothetical thermonuclear war that he might start, he would conceivably hold some sense of satisfaction as he commenced it knowing that as the mythical Russian heroic figure, Ural-batyr, he was doing his utmost for the Russian people as their defender. Despite the expansive devastation around them, Putin might believe they would come to realize that he secured for them a chance to rebuild and enjoy a future that the US and rest of the West sought to deny them. He would also sense he would be instructing them by action that they should place no limit on their will to fight for the survival and freedom of Russia or some lesson to that effect. Male facere qui vult numquam non causam invenit. (Those who would do evil never fail to find a reason.)

Putin center stage at a concert marking the 8th anniversary of Russia’s annexation of Crimea  in support of Russia’s on-going special military operation in Ukraine at the Luzhniki stadium in Moscow on March 18, 2022. To the extent that greatcharlie has managed to understand him, any situation that would put Putin up against the wall would demand nothing less from him than something akin to a suicide charge. It would be less about achieving victory and more about a final display of what he might perceive as heroic valor. Inarguably, Putin would surely prefer to lead the Russian people in the next phase after a thermonuclear exchange. A man who has well-managed his survival for three decades would hardly become fatalist, chuck everything aside, and willingly go on to a higher calling. However, if Putin were to determine that he would not survive a hypothetical thermonuclear war, he would conceivably hold some sense of satisfaction as he commenced it knowing that as the mythical Russian heroic figure, Ural-batyr, he was doing his utmost for the Russian people as their defender. Putin might believe they would come to realize that he secured for them a chance to rebuild and enjoy a future that the US and rest of the West sought to deny them.

The Way Forward

Art Buchwald was a US columnist and humorist who delighted in the absurd, satirizing the follies of the rich, the famous and the powerful. In an interview from his hospital bed for the Associated Press on April 5, 2006, he stated: I don’t know what’s coming next and neither does anyone else. It’s something that we do have to face but the thing is that a lot of people don’t want to face it. And there’s denial. If somebody says it, like me, everybody feels a little better that they can discuss it.”

Finding a point to halt the war and seek peace without total victory by one side or the other seems remote. The ongoing fight could be best described as “bitter, relentless, and cruel.” Nevertheless, it may be the best possibility. Sometimes a solution that might be found can go beyond the physical boundaries of a struggle and include matters that at the moment seem remote from it, in order to provide a reasonably comfortable, sustainable peace for both sides. As aforementioned, for greatcharlie, there is little doubt Putin would not hesitate, in the normal sense, to launch a thermonuclear war in response to a theoretical defeat in Ukraine. In such an event, there would be little opportunity in the West for post mortems, who said what, when, and where. Assumptions are not conclusions, and can go only far with a good number of experienced hands. Expert individuals as them may feel there is no reason to make heavy weather of the issue as it seems so remote, at least at the moment.

Multo enim multoque seipsum quam hostem superare operosius est. (It is harder, much harder, to conquer yourself than it is to conquer your enemy.) As greatcharlie has mentioned in preceding posts, the idea that Putin would be willing to somewhat casually take an action that he knew could potentially lead to global annihilation is too difficult for many to fathom. It requires accepting a line of thinking which for them would be beyond the settled order of nature. It was once widely expressed by leaders in Western capitals that Putin was little more than a callous former executioner for the Soviet Union’s Komitet Gosudarstvennoy Bezopasnosti (the Committee for State Security) or KGB. A return to that thinking is not really suited to the discussion on Ukraine right now. Numquam aliud natura, aliud sapientia dicit. (Never does nature say one thing and wisdom say another.)

Recently, the editor of greatcharlie was described as a polemicist by one of the blogs readers. The somewhat brusque remark was albeit intended as bon mot. While it is certainly a more preferable label than propagandist, polemicist seemed a bit too heavy a word to derive from the not too controversial scribblings of greatcharlie. There has scarcely been an argument with which greatcharlie has been so bound that it has sought to incite readers to peruse a post. If there is a need to define greatcharlie as one thing or another, perhaps it might help to point out that the words of Stephen Grellet, the early 19th century French-American Quaker missionary, have provided guidance in the writing of every post: “I shall pass through this world but once. Any good therefore that I can do or any kindness that I can show to any human being, let me do it now. Let me not defer or neglect it, for I shall not pass this way

Brief Thoughts from Outside the US Foreign and National Security Policy Bureaucracies on Putin and Facilitating an End to the Ukraine War

Russian Federation President Vladimir Putin (above). Optimistically, some juncture may soon be reached in the Ukraine matter at which Putin might be presented with the circumstance and space to conclude it is time to stop fighting. This may sound unrealistic. It may appear that nothing lies ahead except more death and destruction. The effort must be made to look at Putin and the Ukraine matter from different angles with the hope discovering an approach that will prove to be fruitful. Novel ways at looking at issues, recognizably up to a point, can better enable the astute to grasp what may on the right occasion be a viable line of thinking. Any thoughtful insight could become more relevant and valuable as conceivably in back rooms of Western countries’ foreign and national security policy bureaucracies, where planning and preparation for the contingency of negotiating with Putin over terms for peace in Ukraine may be underway. It is greatcharlie’s hope that the few insights presented here will have the potential to ignite a new line of analyses. Sometimes the smallest key can open the largest door. 

The opportunity to forge the best possible peace between Ukraine and the Russian Federation has long since been passed. That peace could been established before the killing began. However, Kyiv wanted the freedom to decide to join NATO and the EU. It rejected terms that it declare its neutrality. It response was a reasonable, but it could have only led to war with Russia under its current leadership. Much has been lost by both sides already but there remains the opportunity to create the framework for an evolving peace plan that will allow both sides to end hostilities. Optimistically, some juncture may soon be reached in the Ukraine matter at which Putin might be presented with the circumstance and space to conclude it is time to stop fighting. There must be a starting point for Ukrainians to rebuild, rejuvenate their country. This may sound unrealistic. It may appear that nothing lies ahead except more death and destruction. Even so, the effort must be made to look at Putin and the Ukraine matter from different angles with the hope discovering of an approach that will prove to be fruitful. Potiusque sero quam numquam. (It is better to do something late than never.)

Novel ways at looking at issues, recognizably up to a certain point, can better enable the astute to grasp what may on the right occasion be a viable line of thinking. Matters already reviewed and ostensibly settled could potentially be lifted from the region of the commonplace. Thoughtful insights could become more relevant and valuable as conceivably in back rooms of respective Western countries’ foreign and national security policy bureaucracies, where planning and preparation for the contingency of negotiating with Putin over terms for peace in Ukraine may be underway. However, as things are, insights proffered from unapproved sources outside the foreign and national security policy bureaucracies on what Putin “may think” on matter concerning Ukraine, the likely reasons for his choices, and what he sees as the way forward, are more often discounted by practicioners. Such judgments are left to the eye of the beholder. The most available justifications to mark them out are surely concerns quality and disagreement over analyses. Yet, in the foreign and national security policy bureaucracies in perhaps every country, such appraisals are not completely objective. Additionally, as much of what Putin thinks is typically chalked up by experts as an expression of an ugly chip on his shoulder, his contempt for the West, spending time and effort diving deeper on the matter would likely be viewed upon as wasteful. 

Still, individuals as Putin with often have unique reasons for their choices, and no matter how unorthodox, disagreeable, or round the bend as they might seem, they must be applied in analyzing their decisionmaking process to have a chance at accurately predicting their moves. Perhaps greatcharlie marks itself as old fashioned but it believes even analyses of “unapproved outsiders” on what Putin thinks should not be looked upon as entirely unilluminating. At a minimum, many should be docketed for consideration later in its proper context. 

Later on, they may bring analysts to an understanding of those matters they had not held before. It is greatcharlie’s hope that the few insights presented here will have the potential to ignite a new line of investigation and analysis. It briefly highlights cause and effect, the interesting associations between things, yet avoids making too many charitable assumptions. Sometimes the smallest key can open the largest door. Non enim tam auctoritatis in disputando, quam rationis momenta quærenda sunt. (In every disputation, we should look more to the weight of reason than to the weight of authorities )

Putin’s problems with the West began long before the Ukraine crisis and subsequent invasion in February 2022. Although the reality is that Russia has invaded Ukraine, for a second time in less than a decade, and taken a good portion of its sovereign territory, Putin insists Western capitals are the ones with covetous minds. He often points to what the “insidious” way in which the US and its Western friends in the EU rolled up to Russia’s border with NATO in tow despite earlier understandings reached that they would never do so. Within the foreign and national security policy bureaucracies in Western capitals, his singular perspective was likely looked upon casually as one more of Putin’s pretensions. Seeing how the situation stands, with Russian forces controlling Crimea and the Donbas, it would appear that he is grabbing parts of Ukraine to enrich Russia. Except for his two daughters, each woman formidable in her own right, the only real family Putin has in that sense is Russia. Russia is his mother, his father, his home. Perhaps in part for this reason, it should not be so hard to understand why Putin had taken such a maximalist position on Ukraine, the need to invade, the West. and NATO prior to February 24, 2022.

Putin’s Feelings About the West: Brief Meditations

For Russia, the anticipated waltz through Ukraine became a national emergency and some policy analysts and newsmedia commentators began to say the invasion would ultimately be Putin’s last act. The Ukrainians were not supposed have a cat in hell’s chance of “winning” the war.” Yet, if not for lack of just about everything needed high-speed, high-empo, high-intensity maneuver operations except good soldiers and courage, it initially appeared to many after Russia’s Kyiv debacle that Ukrainian forces might have been able to deliver a crippling blow of Napoleonic proportions to their opponent and perhaps forced Moscow to negotiate terms for peace. Putin could not turn back so easily. He certainly cannot afford to lose. Once the situation began to look unsatisfactory for Russia on the ground, one could have gathered from Putin’s statements and actions on Ukraine that he felt he was in a fight for survival for both Russia and himself. He appears to view the fight in Ukraine as a climatic stand, their present-day version of the Malakoff Redoubt, Stalingrad, or the Neva Nickel. 

Luckily for Putin, Russian Federation General of the Army Aleksandr Dvornikov, who was appointed commander of the special military operation in Ukraine on April 9, 2022, has seemingly orchestrated a regrouping of Russian forces after those relatively disastrous initial weeks of the special military operation. As of this writing, especially in the Donbas, Ukrainian forces have faced retreats, setbacks, and even surrenders as in Mariupol. A land bridge between Crimea and Donbas has been created by Russian forces. It remains to be seen whether Russian forces have truly gained the initiative, and if so  whether they can retain it. From what the international newsmedia mainly reports that with everything taken into consideration, especially military assistance from the US, the war in Ukraine could still end in either side’s favor.

Despite the many challenges encountered as a result of his Ukraine venture, Putin leaves no doubt that he is doing what he feels must done for Russia and he believes he is on the right track. As it was illustrated in greatcharlie’s preceding, May 30, 2022 post entitled, “Putin the Protector of the Russian People or the Despoiler of Ukrainian Resources: A Look at War Causation and Russian Military Priorities in Ukraine” concerning war causation, there is an intellectual foundation to his choices. (There would be plenty of disagreement with that idea among those who loathe Putin as much due to bias than to sound argument.) 

Although the reality is that Russia has invaded Ukraine, for a second time in less than a decade, and taken a good portion of its sovereign territory, Putin insists Western capitals are the ones with covetous minds. He often points to what the “insidious” way in which the US and its Western friends in the EU rolled up to Russia’s border with NATO in tow despite earlier understandings reached that they would never do so. Within the foreign and national security policy bureaucracies in Western capitals, his singular perspective was likely looked upon casually as one more of Putin’s pretensions. Seeing how situation stands, with Russian forces controlling Crimea and the Donbas, it would reasonably appear that he is grabbing parts of Ukraine to enrich Russia. Doubtlessly, that was a planned attendant outcome of each occasion when Russia marched into Ukraine but not Putin’s priority. Except for his two daughters, each woman formidable in her own right, the only real family Putin has in that sense is Russia. Russia is his mother, his father, his home. Perhaps in part for this reason, it should not be so hard to understand why Putin had taken such a maximalist position on Ukraine, the need to invade, the West. and NATO prior to February 24, 2022.

Missteps with Putin

Putin’s problems with the West began long before the Ukraine crisis and subsequent invasion in February 2022. In its January 25, 2022 post entitled, “Resolving the Ukraine Crisis: How Better Understanding Putin and the Subtle and Profound Undercurrent Influencing His Thinking on the West Might Help”, greatcharlie briefly discuss much of what was at the nub of the matter. Portions of that discussion are provided here.

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

When Putin became Russian Federation President, he took the seat created for Yeltsin at what became the G8. Perhaps the other G8 leaders felt that it was important to keep Russia in the G8 for the same reasons it was brought in but also hoped that keeping Putin in their circle might stir and help sustain a great desire within him to make Russia a country “like to one more rich in hope.” Other national leaders of what became the G8 may have thought that Putin would passively acquire an appreciation of their world, imagine the potential of a rejuvenated Russia fitting into their world, and acquire similarities with them. However, their eyes appear to have been closed to what was happening with Putin and Russia and why the move was nearly doomed to fail to ameliorate East-West tension in the long run especially due to his personality then.

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

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

As a result of Euromaidan, power changed hands in Ukraine, and a series of measures that enhanced Western influence were taken. Putin responded robustly. The escalation of a struggle between ethnic Russians in Donetsk and Luhansk with the fledgling democratic Ukrainian government was followed by the greater step of Russia’s seizing and annexing Crimea, which at time was the sovereign territory of Ukraine and most national capitals say it still is. His actions resulted in Russia being placed back into what was supposed to be isolation; it was put out of the G8 and hit with many punitive economic measures. Both Putin and Russia have seemingly survived it all. Although Russia was suspended from the G8–once again the G7, Russia delayed announcing a decision to permanently withdraw from the group until 2017. Surely, Putin had great concerns over the perceptions in Russia and around the world of the decision of the G7 countries. Putin appears to have had a morbid fear that the G7 countries were exercising power over Russia and himself. That would not do. By waiting, Putin allowed himself to retain a sense of  control over the situation, choosing when Russia would depart. He exist in the substitute reality that his country had not been pushed out of the organization and marginalized. As far as he was concerned, Russia was still a member of the club of the most powerful countries. Despite everything, that recognition remained an aspiration of his at that time. It was an odd duality. Satisfying Putin’s desire then for Russia to possess the ability to discuss world problems with the leaders of the most influential countries, was Russia’s continued membership in the G20. The Group of 20, G20, in essence is a group of finance ministers and central bank governors from 19 of the world’s largest economies, including those of many developing nations, along with the EU. While the G7 existed for the top-tier industrialized countries, the G20, formed in 1999, provided a forum for the discussion of international financial matters that included those emerging economies which at the time began to represent a larger part of the global economy. The G20’s aim is to promote global economic growth, international trade, and regulation of financial markets.

Body language can reveal plenty! Putin speaking (top left). Leaders from Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia, the US and United Kingdom meeting at Lough Erne in Northern Ireland for the G8 Summit 17-18 June 2013. Within G8 meetings, Putin presented himself with grace and charm befitting his position. If Putin ever got the idea then that Western leaders enjoyed observing him outside of his comfort zone or disrespected him in any way, he would unlikely be able to hide his anger in his countenance and dwell on lashing out in some big way. Perchance at some point Putin might have imagined that the other technologically advanced countries used G8 meetings as a stage to lampoon Russia. He would be seated before them as they flaunted their economic power and progress while giving the impression in occasional off-handed comments and perhaps in unconscious condescending behavior toward him, that they imagine everything about Russia being tawdry and slipshod, particularly its goods and services, and would describe its industrial centers resembling a carnival the day after the night before.

Intriguingly, Putin did not attend the G20 summit in Rome in October 2021, informing the organization that his decision was due to concerns about the COVID-19 pandemic. Not to take precaution in these times would be short-sighted, but for Putin to abstain from physically attending a G20 leaders summit could indicate that the organization, for at least that moment, may have had less meaning to him. Putin participated in the summit in Rome via videolink, but the optics were hardly favorable. Reportedly, Putin coughed quite a bit during the meeting creating questions in the minds of others about his condition. That seemed unusual for a man who exudes strength and robustness.

One must add to this story the influence of the destructive impact of the West on the Russian economy and the country’s efforts to “build back better” immediately following the collapse of the Soviet Union on Putin’s thinking. As discussed in the June 18, 2019 greatcharlie post entitled, “Why Putin Laments the Soviet Union’s Demise and His Renewed “Struggle” with the US: A Response to an Inquiry from Students,” Putin would doubtlessly explain that under Yeltsin, the Russian leadership made the mistake of believing Russia no longer had any enemies. Putin, while ascending to the top in the new Russian Federation, saw how mesmerizing “reforms” recommended to Yeltsin’s government by Western experts unmistakably negatively impacted Russia’s economy in a way referred to somewhat euphemistically by those experts as “shock treatment.” Yeltsin was unaware that Western experts were essentially “experimenting” with approaches to Russia’s economic problems. His rationale for opening Russia up to the resulting painful consequences was not only to fix Russia’s problems but ostensibly to establish comity with the West. The deleterious effects of reform recommended by Western experts’ could be seen not only economically, but socially.  In another statement made while he was acting President in 1999, Putin diplomatically explained the consequences of relying upon foreign experts for assistance. He stated: “The experience of the 90s demonstrates vividly that merely experimenting with abstract models and schemes taken from foreign textbooks cannot assure that our country will achieve genuine renewal without any excessive costs. The mechanical copying of other nations’ experience will not guarantee success, either.” Once fully ensconced as Russia’s leader, he would publicly state that the greatest danger to Russia comes from the West. He also brought that sensibility to the G7 table with him. The memoirist, popular poet, and civil rights activist, Maya Angelou for Beautifully Said Magazine (2012) stated: “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

Putin has an excellent memory. Putin believes he was treated badly, and knows he and Russia deserved better. However, at this point, Putin seems less interested in opinions of him in the West or his international audience for that matter. As far as he might be concerned, members of those organizations can have their way. Unlike the past, Putin made certain not leave the West with the ability to derail his plans, or give them the intellectually opening to disturb him. Coercive economic tools at their disposal are illusions of power that Putin would in time disintegrate by shining light on the realities they may have ignored. To that extent, indications are that Putin has instructed his officials not to tolerate any untoward behavior from those in the West with whom they may meet. It would be best for them to just walk away rather than subject themselves to mistreatment and outrageous calumny.

Dangling that which would most content the opposing party in order to compell its good behavior has been a method used to resolve disagreements and conflicts between empires, countries, city-states, and families for seemingly aeons. It can lubricate diplomatic exchanges and create favorable outcomes. It often resulted in sense of mutual tolerance and peace with honor between opposing parties. It all sounds quite transactional, because it is. Western political leaders are well-aware that Putin’s strongest interests lie in the province of developing commerce. As such, that interest could have been used as a lever in a well-considered, calibrated way the gain a handle on the Russian leader. Western powers could lend furtive or mildly acknowledged copious support that would enhance what the Russian President, himself, might recognize as weaknesses in his system in exchange for significant, immediate and long-term cooperation. Again, what would be most important is getting him to go along with whatever plan is developed. (Many might argue that this practice was used without shrewdness, without any real calibration, by the US in the construction of the Joint Comprehensive Plan on Action of 2016 concerning nuclear proliferation in the Middle East.) If lucky enough, the diplomacy of national leaders who would have engaged in such action in the earliest stages of the Ukraine crisis–pre-invasion–would have likely been able to offer a narrative in which they could have been seen as saving the day.

However, instead of any of this, awareness of that commercial interest in Western capitals has led to the targeting of it to cause his hurt, harm, and even pain and resultantly his ire and recalcitrance. (It has also been important for Putin to recognize the West is entitled to its share of ire and recalcitrance, and when a situation is moving favorably, he must also consider his actions with respect to Western reactions. There must be a commitment on all sides, including Russia,to the advancement of negotiations to secure a sustainable agreement. One might get the impression given his record that he has not reflected too much on that in recent times. Then again, perhaps he has.

It is unimaginable that Western political leaders decided to target that commercial interest unaware of its terrible importance personally to Putin, although that possibility cannot be completely dismissed. From what can be gathered, the choice to handle Putin in that way was made a while back. It was most apparent in the US when the US Congress passed the Russia and Moldova Jackson-Vanik Repeal and Sergei Magnitsky Rule of Law Accountability Act of 2012 (the Magnitsky Law) and subsequent Global Magnitsky Act of 2016, which struck a nerve with Putin not only for economic reasons, but domestic political reasons as well. The Magnitsky Law,set precedent with regard to the manner in which the West would act to modify Putin’s behavior as well as that of other Russian officials and private citizens. Omnia mala exempla ex rebus bonis orta sunt. (Also, omnia mala exempla orta sunt ex bonis initiis.) (Every bad precedent originated as a justifiable measure.)

Putin (above) at work in the Kremlin. Western countries have imposed unprecedented sanctions on Russia’s corporate and financial system since it sent troops into Ukraine on February 24, 2022. At this stage of the game, however, Russia hardly seems too deprived by coercive sanctions from the West. One might suggest the West’s moves against Putin and Russia became overplayed and predictable, and thereby anticipated and prepared for, to the greatest extent possible. Reportedly, in preparation for the US response to the invasion of Ukraine, Putin drastically curtailed Russia’s use of dollars, and thereby a degree of leverage the US might have had. Enormous currency reserves were stockpiled, and budgets were streamlined to keep the economy and government services going even under isolation. Putin also reoriented trade and sought to replace Western imports.

Western Sanctions in Response to Ukraine’s Invasion

At this stage of the game, however, Russia hardly seems too deprived by coercive sanctions from the West. One might suggest the West’s moves against Putin and Russia became overplayed and predictable, and thereby anticipated and prepared for, to the greatest extent possible. Reportedly, in preparation for the US response to the invasion of Ukraine, Putin drastically curtailed Russia’s use of dollars, and thereby a degree of leverage the US might have had. Enormous currency reserves were stockpiled, and budgets were streamlined to keep the economy and government services going even under isolation. Putin also reoriented trade and sought to replace Western imports. It is not greatcharlie’s intention spoil anyone’s appreciation of this essay by offering a regurgitation on the nuance of steps Putin has taken at home to better shield Russia from the harmful effects of Western sanctions. Economics is not greatcharlie’s area of expertise. Suffice it to say that nothing done by the West just before and following February 24, 2022 unsettled Putin.

Indeed, once the whole Ukraine crisis began in earnest, the West metaphorically began wielding an economic bullwhip of sanctions to back him up. Perhaps from the perspective of the West, all that Putin was being asked to do was to behave as a good chap on Ukraine because be knows he should, given the conventions on international law, international peace and security, and multilateral agreements Russia signed with Ukraine as the Budapest Memorandum design to preserve it from military threat. However, it is hard to see how they could ever have expected to get far with that mindset or that tack. When his invasion began in earnest, the West flailed him harder with the whip. However, no matter how hard the West lashed out, Putin would not respond. He would not even put his demands up for Dutch auction. Putin has recently declared Western sanctions have not had much impact on Russia’s economy and have done more to harm global trade and the international economic system. Putin certainly feels confident his measures to sanction-proof Russia worked to a great degree. Speaking on the state of Russia’s domestic economy on April 18, 2022, Putin explained that inflation was stabilizing and that retail demand in the country had normalzed.

In the past, Putin surely in an unintended way, would very likely have lent a helping hand to Western efforts to subdue Russia. He often allowed pride to overshadow good sense and discretion, and that often led to miscalculation and errors. It was a gross miscalculation to lash out at the US by interfering with the 2016 Presidential Elections. It is an action Putin has repeatedly denied despite the fact that direct proof of Russian meddling has been presented by US intelligence and law enforcement organizations. Going after Kyiv, to knock out the Western oriented and Western supported government, early in the special military operation was an enormous mistake. Troops that would have been invaluable to the more militarily sensible operations of Russian forces in the Eastern and Southern Ukraine were needlessly lost with no gain. The whole world could see Putin had dropped a clanger. 

It is unlikely that Putin will make many more grand mistakes during the Ukraine campaign. Even if a real opportunity is set before Putin–the tiger and the tethered goat by the waterside scenario, he will very likely pass it up. Wrestling with this issue in a preceding post, greatcharlie supposed that at this point, a course has been set, calibrated by Russia’s best military, intelligence, diplomatic, and political minds, with all available and in-coming resources taken into consideration. There is probably little to no room for any sizable deviation from that path. Still, with all that being considered, almost anything is possible when it comes to Putin. All of this withstanding, there must be an answer, a way to initiate fruitful diplomacy even at this stage. One could get the impression given the record that finding a way to work with Putin, by creating some balance with which all would be reasonably satisfied, is just not a cross any Western capital would be unwilling to bear. Non enim tam auctoritatis in disputando, quam rationis momenta quærenda sunt. (In every disputation, we should look more to the weight of reason than to the weight of authorities.)

Putin (right) gestures during a press conference with French President Emmanuel Macron (left) in Moscow on February 7, 2022. At the foundation of thinking concerning an international order and international organizations created since the end of World War II is idea that members will be answerable to the group of countries they signed up to deliberate and act collectively with. The fact is Putin does not feel answerable to anyone in the world despite Russia’s multiple membership in international organizations as the UN, where it is Permanent 5 Members of the Security Council, and G20. The easy, less than thoughtful answer might be to eject Russia from the G20 or at least keep him teed up on the idea he will be removed. However, that would more than likely make matters worse. Rather than gain a further grip on Moscow’s behavior, parties insistent on doing such would only travel further along into unknown with Putin.

Likely Impact Recent Contacts with Western Leaders Have Had upon Putin

At the foundation of thinking concerning an international order and international organizations created since the end of World War II is idea that members will be answerable to the group of countries they signed up to deliberate and act collectively with. The fact is Putin does not feel answerable to anyone in the world, despite Russia’s multiple membership in international organizations as the UN, where it is Permanent 5 Members of the Security Council, and G20. The easy, less than thoughtful answer might be to eject Russia from the G20 or at least keep him teed up on the idea he will be removed. However, that would more than likely make matters worse. Rather than gain a further grip on Moscow’s behavior, parties insistent on doing such would only travel further along into unknown with Putin.

In a May 31, 2022 New York Times guest essay entitled “President Biden: What America Will and Will Not Do in Ukraine”, US President Joe Biden reminded that  President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine has said, ultimately this war “will only definitively end through diplomacy.” Conceivably, some may believe that with some tacit approval from all allied capitals, French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, have spoken with Putin, most recently on May 28, 2022, to reach some confidential arrangement for more fulsome peace talks or establish the basis for a proposa concerning a ceasefirel to present to him during their next contact. Impossible n’est pas français. They would also have likely sought to chinwag with Putin with the hope of finding and exploiting a sociability that lives in Putin that is surely part of human nature. That is what the noble Roman pagan, Tulius Cicero expressed in his discussion of the idea of commonwealth in De Republica (51 BC) with the words: naturalis quaedam hominim quasi congregation. European leaders have gone as far as to aggregate their efforts with Putin not only as a sign of unity but likely also with hope that acting together they might find the right convention, the right phrases to trigger him to respond favorably to an entreaty to talk.

Searching for some advantage by reflex, Putin might assess that the Western leaders, by acting in pairs or groups, even in their visits to Kyiv, are most concerned that if either their counterparts were to travel or make phone contact alone, they would act out of self-interest, placing the needs of their respective countries uppermost. One leader might not trust another to come toward Moscow empty handed. Some special deal particularly concerning energy resources might be sought. On the other end of their possible mutual suspicions, given what transpired with the February 10, 2022 meeting between United Kingdom Foreign Minister Liz Truss and Russian Federation Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, there may be a lingering fear that one might pick a fight with Putin, and all would in the end need to contend with the ramifications of that. (One might suppose Truss’ tack was likely agreed upon with United Kingdom Prime Minister Boris Johnson and foreign and national security counselors before she left for Moscow. The decision may have been to “pull out all of the stops.” Causa latet: vis est notissima. (The cause is hidden, but the result is known.)

To enlarge on that point, Truss’ heated, emotional outburst before the long-experienced Russian Foreign Minister, could be judged as being particularly inept given the need to develop some influence upon Moscow’s line of thinking during the tinderbox circumstances of the time. By her behavior, she merely advertised the limits she had. Indeed, she likely signalled to Moscow that London did not have any remarkable solutions, no good proposals to offer. She seemed to be revealing an angst that Moscow likely presumed to be prevalent among the United Kingdom’s foreign and national security policy decisionmaking officials. She appeared to express a sense of being trapped as lion in cage by the Ukraine situation. Truss’ behavior may have also indicated to Putin that there may be serious problems besetting Johnson’s Conservative Party as a whole, with cabinet members and Tory Members of Parliament feeling uncertain about their respective political futures. For the external audience, Truss may have amused some, but ultimately she did not enlighten or inspire and dismally failed move events forward in a positive way. No foreign official from any country should ever seek to do any of that in Moscow under any circumstance. Vacuum vas altius pleno vaso resonat. (An empty pot makes a deeper noise than a pot that is full.)

Putin doubtlessly feels that Western countries, other than the US, pose little real threat to Russia despite any noise they might make about the prowess of their respective armed forces. (It must be noted that the United Kingdom possesses an estimated 225 strategic warheads, of which an estimated 120 are deployed and 105 are in storage. Added to that deterrent is a total of four Vanguard-class Trident nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarines, which together form its exclusively sea-based nuclear deterrent. As of January 2019, France was said to possess approximately 300 nuclear warheads, most of which are designed for delivery by submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs) with the remainder affixed to air-launched cruise missiles (ALCMs) carried by strategic bombers.) To that extent,, Putin may believe there are many among certain foreign and national security policy circles in Western countries with a desire to emote more than do anything else such as find real answers to get Putin off Ukraine’s back and over to the negotiating table resolve matters.

United Kingdom Foreign Minister Liz Truss (left) and Russian Federation Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov (right) at their press conference in Moscow on February 10, 2022 moments before Ivanov walked out. Searching for some advantage by reflex, Putin might assess that the Western leaders, by acting in pairs or groups, even in their visits to Kyiv, are most concerned that if either their counterparts were to travel or make phone contact alone, they would act out of self-interest, placing the needs of their respective countries uppermost. One leader might not trust another to come toward Moscow empty handed. Some special deal particularly concerning energy resources might be sought. Additionally, given the torrid exchange that occurred between Truss and Lavrov during their February 10, 2022 meeting, there may be a lingering fear that one leader might pick a fight with Putin for whatever reason, and all would need to contend with the ramifications of that.

At the same time they tried come to some point of understanding with Putin, Western leaders also have publicly mocked him during multilateral gatherings. During the June 2022 G7 Summit in Schloss-Elmau, Germany they did so publicly on June 26th with regard to shirtless photos taken of Putin while horseback riding. One might not expect Western leaders to speak idly concerning Putin when matters concerning him are now so grave. That intriguing juxtaposition of the ideas of arming Putin’s opponents and mocking him yet contacting him hoping to stoke some goodwill and desire for peace is surely not lost upon Putin and his advisers in the Kremlin. Equally intriguing to Putin was the insistence of Western leaders that they committed to resolving the Ukraine conflict with diplomacy, while also arming the Ukrainians to the extent national budgets and the largess of their citizens–their electorates–will allow or tolerate

Putin might believe many of the national leaders with whom he has been dealing so far, will unlikely keep their jobs given what is likely perceived to be the constantly shifting direction of political winds and the fickle nature of the electorate of Western countries. Remaining the flavor de jure amongst fellow parliamentarians and the electorate is becoming more and more difficult for Western leaders to do. Putin may believe that as time marches on, those remaining in office will surely have greater, more pressing domestic issues to be seen working hard on. Conditions on the ground and terms for a diplomatic solution in which Moscow would have confidence at the negotiating table will be determined by Russia alone. Presumably for now, that is how Moscow most likely views the situation. Through Putin’s lens, the actions of Western leaders, in coming to him, might be best described, in the form of a metaphor, in the chorus of Charles Aznavour’s 1962 pop music hit, Les Comédiens”,: Viens voir les comédiens / Voir les musiciens / Voir les magiciens / Qui arrivent. (Come and see the actors, / See the musicians, / See the magicians, / Who are arriving.)

Nam neque quies gentium sine armis, neque arma sine stipendiis, neque stipendia sine tributis haberi queunt (For the quiet of nations cannot be maintained without arms, nor can arms be maintained without pay, nor pay without taxation.) Whether, the Europeans might be willing to stay the course on Ukraine, Putin might say it remains to be seen. As things begin to settle from the original smash of the war’s opening, the state of the global economy will become clearer, and the Europeans, among many other political factors, may not have the desire to remain so giving if they fail to see any progress by the Ukrainian allies on the ground as they had initially. Supporting Ukraine is one thing. Subordinating ones own country’s superior interests for those of Ukraine is another. On this point, perhaps Putin’s thoughts might be best metaphorically addressed by the final verse to the aforementioned Les Comédiens” sung by Aznavour.  He sings: Les comédiens ont démonté leurs tréteaux / Ils ont ôté leur estrade / Et plié les calicots / Ils laisseront au fond du cœur de chacun / Un peu de la sérénade / Et du bonheur d’Arlequin / Demain matin quand le soleil va se lever / Ils seront loin, et nous croirons avoir rêvé / Mais pour l’instant ils traversent dans la nuit / D’autres villages endormis, les comédiens. (The actors disassembled their boards. / They removed their rostrum / And folded the calicos. / They have left in the bottom of the hearts / A little bit of serenade / And harlequin happiness. / Tomorrow morning, when the sun rises / They will be far away, and we will think it was all a dream. / But for now, the actors are travelling through the night / Across other sleepy villages.)

As for the US specifically, Putin conceivably began the Ukraine enterprise believing he had a good understanding of the way many senior Biden administration foreign and national security policy officials, many of whom had held senior posts in the administration of US President Barack Obama, would respond to a move against Ukraine. Putin had strenuously wrestled with them via diplomacy before and doubtlessly had thought about them considerably since. He possibly intuited that they hold a sense that Crimea was lost on their watch. The nature of his interactions was discussed in greater detail in greatcharlie’s February 4, 2022 post entitled, “Recherché Pieces of the Putin Puzzle That May Serve To Better Enable Engagement with Him as Either an Adversary or a Partner Regarding Ukraine”.

However, what Putin is hearing now from Washington, though far from unnerving him, has unlikely provided him with any comfort. In the same aforementioned May 31, 2022 New York Times commentary, Biden explained that the US does not seek a war between NATO and Russia, will not try to bring about his ouster in Moscow. will not be directly engaged in this conflict, either by sending US troops to fight in Ukraine or by attacking Russian forces, so long as the US or its allies are not attacked, He added: “We are not encouraging or enabling Ukraine to strike beyond its borders. We do not want to prolong the war just to inflict pain on Russia.” He also stated: “The United States will continue to work to strengthen Ukraine and support its efforts to achieve a negotiated end to the conflict.” Having rallied to Ukraine’s side with unprecedented military, humanitarian and financial support, Biden explained: “We want to see a democratic, independent, sovereign and prosperous Ukraine with the means to deter and defend itself against further aggression. Biden further explained: “Every negotiation reflects the facts on the ground. We have moved quickly to send Ukraine a significant amount of weaponry and ammunition so it can fight on the battlefield and be in the strongest possible position at the negotiating table.”

As it would be as true for Russian forces, it would be true for Ukrainian forces that well-planned offensive action by them will determine whether a favorable position for Ukraine can be established. The military principle of offense prescribes that maintaining the initiative is the most effective and decisive way to dominate the battlefield. On the offensive, there must be an emphasis on the commander’s skilled combination of the elements of maneuver, firepower, protection, and intelligent leadership in a sound operational plan. The initiative must be retained. Moving forward, firepower, the allies’ greatest strength, must be used to its maximum advantage. Firepower can serve maneuver by creating openings in enemy defenses, but also destroy an enemy’s vital cohesion, his ability to fight, and effectively act. Indeed, one of the most important targets is the enemy’s mind. The allies should engage in actions that will sway moves by Russian forces to enhance the opportunities to destroy them.

To that extent, Biden stated: “That’s why I’ve decided that we will provide the Ukrainians with more advanced rocket systems and munitions that will enable them to more precisely strike key targets on the battlefield in Ukraine. Further explaining plans for assisting Ukraine militarily, Biden said: “We will continue cooperating with our allies and partners on Russian sanctions, the toughest ever imposed on a major economy. We will continue providing Ukraine with advanced weaponry, including Javelin anti-tank missiles, Stinger antiaircraft missiles, powerful artillery and precision rocket systems, radars, unmanned aerial vehicles, Mi-17 helicopters and ammunition. 

Deep strike assets could be provided to Ukraine in order to allow its ground forces to rapidly put direct and indirect fires on Russian armor and mechanized forces inside Russia at their lines of departure, assembly areas, and follow-on units in marshaling yards, and even transport hubs as soon as Russian forces cross the border. They could target equipment and facilities. However, Putin’s commanders have some say on their impact on the battlefield. If Russian forces could begin to move faster to capture territory and bring into Ukraine  systems to defeat any new weapons the US might provide. At Talavera during the Peninsular War (1809) of the Napoleonic Wars, Chestnut Troop Royal Horse Artillery attached to Brigadier General Robert Craufurd’s Light Brigade, which also included the elements of the 43rd Light Infantry, the 52nd Light Infantry and the 95th Rifles. The brigade remarkably traveled 40 miles in 26 hours, crossing mountain and river, to join the camp of then Lieutenant General Sir Arthur Wellesley (later the Duke of Wellington). Despite their outstanding feat of discipline and endurance, the guns of Chestnut Troop were unable to reach Talavera for the battle. However, even though they had just arrived, the entire Light Brigade had to march for another fifteen hours to secure the Almaraz Bridge, before French Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte’s forces could take it, thereby keeping open communications with Lisbon. US assistance in the form of firepower will certainly improve Ukrainian forces still on the defensive, help them hold on to territory tenaciously, but there is no guarantee such assistance will arrive in time in sufficient quantities to be decisive in ejecting Russian forces from Ukraine.

With regard to Biden’s statements on military assistance overall, the indications and implications of that to Putin would doubtlessly be that the US seeks to establish Ukraine and as well-armed military power on Russia’s borders. For Putin that will never be acceptable. He will work with an untrimmed fervor to prevent that even if it means the unthinkable, the use of nuclear weapons. That is a hard saying.

Putin (right) and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky (left) in Paris on December 9, 2019. Putin and Zelensky had contact on only one occasion in Paris during a multilateral meeting on December 9, 2019 with French President Emmanuel Macron and former German Chancellor Angela Merkel. The four leaders discussed what was at that time a six year fight in the Donbas between the Ukrainian government and ethnic-Russian separatists in the Luhansk and Donetsk oblasts directly supported by Russia. One might wonder if there was anything so singular about their encounter then that may have led Putin to believe Ukraine could be his for the taking militarily.

What Putin Might Have To Say on the “Zelensky Factor”

As the story goes, Samuel Bernstein, the father of Leonard Bernstein who was among the most important conductors of his time. He was also the first conductor from the US to receive international acclaim. Samuel Bernstein actively discouraged his son from pursuing music. He wanted his son to inherit the hair and beauty supply business he had created. However, Leonard Bernstein became a professional musician. A few months following his famous Carnegie Hall last-minute debut on November 14, 1943, which made him famous overnight, a journalist asked Samuel Bernstein if it was true that he had refused to pay for his son’s piano lessons. Sam famously replied: “Well, how was I supposed to know he’d turn out to be Leonard Bernstein?” No one knew Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky would turn out to be Volodymyr Zelensky when the comedian and actor took office in May 2019. One might suggest that as an experienced stage artist, performing under pressure in center stage, reaching his audience, capturing their attention, is his metier. Nonetheless, he is burning more refulgently than any could have expected, and to a degree,, displaying the qualities often ascribed to great leaders. Aux innocents les mains pleines.

Indeed, likely due to the conviviality he displayed prior to the Russian invasion, Western officials were apparently caught surprised by the fact that Zelensky would be such a lion of a man, stalwart of the Ukrainian cause, and a force to be reckoned with during the actual invasion. To say the least, Western government officials and news media commentators alike would viewed Zelensky as having galvanized the Ukrainian people to resist Russia’s effort to swallow up their country. Zelensky also impressed with his entreaties to the world to come to the aid of his fellow countrymen in the best ways that they could. One might safely assume that his efforts influenced how countries with the wherewithal to respond to the Ukraine in its time of need, worked with him, and rapidly developed and implemented plans to provide considerable support for his country. Indeed, such positive perceptions of Zelensky, his impact, that brought aid groups, humanitarian volunteers, foreign fighters, helpful weapons, and financial support to Ukraine. Although Zelensky, spelled a variety of ways in the international newsmedia, is his name, it is one that to people around the world now know singularly refers to the resilient leader of Ukraine. To that extent, it has become a mononym similar to but not as familiar as Beyoncé or Adele

What Putin thinks of Zelensky is important just for the fact that it surely has some part in the development of his aims and objectives. Surely,at least in part that opinion shaped his concept and intent for the Ukraine campaign. Certainly understanding how Putin feels about Zelensky would determine how a negotiated peace would reached. Rather than have the two presidents talk one-on-one, as with their previous meeting in 2019, a multiparty approach, with presidents, prime ministers, and chancellors, could be utilized. Stepping out on shaky ground, greatcharlie hypothesizes on how Putin may view Zelensky and what has been dubbed the Zelensky factor. The thoughts of Putin suggested here are constructed in the abstract. There is no acid test for what is theorized. One can only wait to hear what Putin says and see how Putin acts. At the same time, each suggestion should prove to be more than something akin to the top five ideas of a brainstorming session. Each has the quality of being most likely. 

None of what is presented should be taken too much to heart by the Ukrainian government and its supporters. Lest we forget an apposite quote, used by greatcharlie previously, from F. Scott Fitzgerald’s essay, “The Crack-Up”, published in the ”February 1936 edition of Esquire magazine: “Before I go on with this short history let me make a general observation—the test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function. One should, for example, be able to see that things are hopeless and yet be determined to make them otherwise. This philosophy fitted on to my early adult life, when I saw the improbable, the implausible, often the “impossible” come true.”

Putin and Zelensky are oil and water as leaders of adversarial countries at war, but also oil and water intrinsically as people. Given what is understood about Putin’s thinking, his assessment of this novice adversary would hardly charitable. The world heard a bit of that view in Putin’s February 24, 2022 address on the special military operation when he stated the following: “I would also like to address the military personnel of the Ukrainian Armed Forces. Comrade officers. Your fathers, grandfathers and great-grandfathers did not fight the Nazi occupiers and did not defend our common Motherland to allow today’s neo-Nazis to seize power in Ukraine. You swore the oath of allegiance to the Ukrainian people and not to the junta, the people’s adversary which is plundering Ukraine and humiliating the Ukrainian people. I urge you to refuse to carry out their criminal orders.” 

It  could not be said that Putin has a penchant for the abstruse. There were many lurid suggestions about Zelensky, with emphasis on his life-style, circulating long before the invasion that likely undecertainlyrlied Putin’s somewhat Delphic remarks with regard to how “the junta” was “humiliating the Ukrainian people.” Putin may be many things but he is not an anti-Semite. However, at the risk of casting aspersions upon Putin with regard his possible attempt to exploit intolerance toward the LGBTQ+ community in Ukraine, it may be fitting to note that upon taking office,  Zelenskiy promoted a tolerant culture, saying he stands for all people’s equality and freedom. A month after taking office, LGBTQ÷ Community in Ukraine celebrated “Pride Month” on Sunday, June 23, 2022 with a march in Kyiv. That celebration was unlikely widely approved of in Ukraine. According to a survey published six month beforehand by the independent think-tank Democratic Initiatives in which 1,998 people were interviewed, almost 47 percent of Ukrainians think that rights of sexual minorities should be limited while 37.5 percent are against restrictions, and 15.6 percent do not have an opinion. Perhaps Putin had information, maybe simply FSB 5th department pokery-jiggery, that attitudes had not softened or Ukrainians actually had become more intolerant over the last three years.

Interestingly, it was reported first in the Western newsmedia and later in more detail in Russia that much of what Putin was told about Zelensky and the government in Kyiv was the product of fabrications and falsehoods from some the Russian intelligence services, Sluzhba Vneshney Razvedki (Foreign Intelligence Service) or SVR, Glavnoye Razvedyvatel’noye Upravleniye Generalnovo Shtaba (Main Intelligence Directorate of the General Staff-Military Intelligence) or GRU, and Federal’naya Sluzhba Bezopasnosti Rossiyskoy Federatsi (Russian Federation Federal Security Service) or FSB. When asked to provide assessments on the situation there, it would appear some in those services sought to simply placate Putin, responding to his sentiments on Ukraine. In the reports of the FSB foreign intelligence department, the organization’s 5th department, there were allegedly many unproven torrid statements on the nature of Ukrainian society made concerning the destructive impact of the West on the culture, morality, spiritually, self-image of the people, ultranationalists, and the leadership in Kyiv, and the Ukrainian people’s willingness to stand fast against an invasion. Conceivably, the information provided in those reports on Zelensky was so satisfying to Putin that it managed to stick with him. 

Putin and Zelensky had contact on only one occasion on December 9, 2019 in Paris during a multilateral meeting with French President Emmanuel Macron and former German Chancellor Angela Merkel. The four leaders discussed what was at that time a six year fight in the Donbas between the Ukrainian government and ethnic-Russian separatists in the Luhansk and Donetsk oblasts directly supported by Russia. One might wonder if there was anything so singular about their encounter then that may have led Putin to believe Ukraine could his for the taking militarily.

Zelensky (on screen) addresses the UN Security Council by video on April 5, 2022. Zelensky has become a bona fide superstar in the West, and as such, the main hope of his Western managers would likely be that his words grip audiences of the powerful and star-studded personalities in their respective societies. After gaining their support for the actions of their respective governments to assist Ukraine, those government would have an easier time convincing ordinary citizens their actions on the matter were all very necessary regardless of expense. Zelensky has moved from one high place to another, the US Congress, the United Kingdom Parliament, the French Parliament, the Italian Chamber of Deputies, the Bundestag along with other European national legislatures. He addressed the NATO Summit, the G7 Summit, the UN Security Council and even venues such as the 75th Cannes Film Festival.

Putin Likely Looked Upon Zelensky’s Recent Effort To Determine What Aid Ukraine Would Recieve with Some Fascination

From Putin’s lens, Zelensky has been allowed the chance by Western powers to be seated, at least temporarily, at their high tables to gain an even firmer handle on Zelensky’s fealty. Putin might say that Zelensky succumbed quickly to trappings of it all much as he would have expected of him. Putin knows the drill all too well as once the effort was made by the West to draw him into such a cabaret. As aforementioned, he was once the dernier cri and darling of Western powers. He at one time was entertained in similar ways as Zelensky by the West. That effort was ultimately unsuccessful.

Zelensky has become a bona fide superstar in the West, and as such, the main hope of his Western managers would likely be that his words grip audiences of the powerful and star-studded personalities in their respective societies. After gaining their support for the actions of their respective governments to assist Ukraine, those government would have an easier time convincing ordinary citizens their actions on the matter were all very necessary regardless of expense. Zelensky has moved from one high place to another, the US Congress, the United Kingdom Parliament, the French Parliament, the Italian Chamber of Deputies, the Bundestag along with other European national legislatures. He addressed the NATO Summit, the G7 Summit, the UN Security Council and even venues such as the 75th Cannes Film Festival. 

Doubtlessly from Putin’s lens, Zelensky behaved as if he had become a new member of the club of Western leaders, and was enjoying every minute of it. Of course, that is exactly how Western capitals want Zelensky to feel. Intriguingly from the start, Ukrainian political leaders oddly expressed an impression that something akin to what young people call a “ride or die” relationship exists between the West and their country. Yet, Putin would likely insist they have erred as the inexperienced would. He would surely suggest that enthusiasm over Zelensky’s popular appeal, interest in Ukraine’s fate, should not be mistaken for some newly established brotherhood between Ukraine and the West, especially now that Russia has made its interests and intentions absolutely clear. If the Russian forces can shape things in their favor, Putin likely believes that will take the shine off Zelensky and Kyiv significantly. Western support of Ukraine continue in considerable measure, but Zelensky, himself, might become quite passé; so Putin would surely predict and hope.

Putin might posit, cynically, that after Zelensky spoke to all of those grand audiences, more support was gained for the Ukrainian cause than might have been achieved without it all. Putin would insist that the West was the true engine behind everything the West had accomplished. He would perhaps say that Zelensky’s heightened image was an aspect of a Western directed, US led, political warfare campaign regarding Ukraine. A Russian intelligence doyen, Putin knows the routine. He doubtlessly could explain forensically exactly how that image by reviewing piles of newsworthy fabrications. some have been exclusives. Moscow has produced its fair share during the war. All in all, Putin would need to accept that if such a political warfare campaign, as he might allege, is being waged by the West, it has been very successful.

Putin could not have missed the fact that Zelensky, more than being just pleased, appeared a bit too confident and too comfortable interacting with Western capitals. There was something to that. When Western leaders deigned to ask him what Ukraine needed–they surely had their own assessments prepared by their respective military, intelligence, diplomatic, and international aid bureaucracies, Zelensky perhaps misconstrued respect and approbation for submissiveness. Recognizably not just to Putin but presumably to all involved at a certain point, Zelensky began behave somewhat spoiled. Most apparently, Zelensky moved a few octaves off the mark and began very publicly offering his “informed” suggestions on what the Western powers should be doing for him then making demands for a line of action to Washington. As part of an effort by officials in Kyiv to be as creative as possible when the war was in its initial stage, two novel ideas were birthed of establishing a no fly zone and obtaining Soviet era MiG-29 fighters from Poland for use by pilots trained to fly them. It is a relatively forgotten issue, but nonetheless very pertinent. The jets would not be excess articles, therefore, to restock the Polish arsenal, the US would provide F-16 fighters. Poland has suggested the re-training of Ukrainian pilots and absorption in their forces would be arranged in Germany. Zelensky’s behavior brings to mind the “Le Misanthrope ou l’Atrabilaire Amoureux” (“The Cantankerous Lover”) (1666), known popularly as The Misanthrope, one of his best-known dramas of 17th century French actor and master of comedy in Western literature, Jean-Baptiste Poquelin, known as Molière. In Act 1 Scene 1, Alceste a disgruntled older aristocrat speaking to his friend Philinte on authenticity, courtesies, and the good of adhering social norms, states: “Non, vous dis-je, on devrait châtier, sans pitié, / Ce commerce honteux de semblants d’amitié. / Je veux que l’on soit homme, et qu’en toute rencontre / Le fond de notre cœur dans nos discours se montre, / Que ce soit lui qui parle, et que nos sentiments / Ne se masquent jamais sous de vains compliments.” (No, I tell you. We ought mercilessly to punish that shameful interchange of hollow facilities. I like a man to be a man, and on all occasions to show depth.of his heart in his words. Let him speak openly and not hide his feelings beneath vain compliments.)

There are certain expectations in interactions, exchanges between countries. Convention requires a certain etiquette. courtesy, expression of respect when asserting ones opinions and beliefs and concerns and priorities. Whatever is discussed must be communicated with the aim of preserving and if possible enhancing the relationship. Zelensky has had learn about such by crash course. He did not have any experience equivalent to working alongside Western capitals at such a level, could hardly had little idea of what was appropriate or what things looked like from their lens or their intentions. Admittedly in the role of apologist in this case, greatcharlie suggests the former comedian and actor, being a novice in politics and on the world stage, had not been up in such rarified air long enough to understand a few important things. His advisers were unlikely much help in that regard. Zelensky could only respond as he knew how. He likely saw nothing but green lights everywhere. 

A tactless approach of a national leader, even of a novice, warrants reproach and rebuff. For Zelensky to believe that he was in any position to determine how other national governments should spend taxpayer dollars, pounds, and euros on Ukraine was daylight madness. Washington doubtlessly recognized that Zelensky has been given attention and has been both supported and admired. However, he should not have felt, as a result of thm respect and courtesies shown to him, entitled to dictate anything to Western governments. Surely, one might say the exigent circumstances that had beset his country made him desperate, even aggressive in his effort to garner as much assistance as possible from those he believed could help. Being 44-years-old at the time, Zelensky was still relatively young. Perhaps he had something to prove to himself or to the Ukrainian people. Interestingly enough, in Molière’s Misanthrope, in the same aforementioned act and scene, Philippe responded to Alceste’s remark by stating: “Il est bien des endroits où la pleine franchise / Deviendrait ridicule et serait peu permise; / Et parfois, n’en déplaise à votre austère honneur, / Il est bon de cacher ce qu’on a dans le cœur. / Serait-il à propos, et de la bienséance / De dire à mille gens tout ce que d’eux on pense? / Ét quand on a quelqu’un qu’on hait on qui déplait, / Lui doit-on déclarer la chose comme elle est?” (There are many circumstances in which plain speaking would become ridiculous, and could hardly be tolerated. And, with all due deference to your austere sense of honour, it is well sometimes to conceal our feelings. Would it be right or becoming to tell thousands of people what we think of them? And when there is somebody whom we hate or who displeased us, must we tell him openly that this is so?)

A couple of Polish Air Force Russian made MiG 29 fighter jets fly above and below two Polish Air Force US made F-16 fighter jets during the Air Show in Radom, Poland, on August 27, 2011 (above). As part of an effort by officials in Kyiv to be as creative as possible when the war was in its initial stage, two novel ideas were birthed of establishing a no fly zone and obtaining Soviet era MiG-29 fighters from Poland for use by pilots trained to fly them. It is a relatively forgotten issue, but nonetheless very pertinent. The jets would not be excess articles so to restock the Polish inventory, the US would provide F-16 fighters. Poland has suggested the re- training of Ukrainian pilots and absorption in their forces would be arranged in Germany. Surely, one might say the exigent circumstances that had beset his country made him desperate, even aggressive in his effort to garner as much assistance as possible from those he believed could help. Zelensky’s comments were not viewed as helpful in Washington.

Perhaps Putin considered Zelensky’s choice to approach the rich and powerful West in such a demanding way was impelled by something bubbling up from his subconscious. He likely Zelensky being what he always has been, a humorist, who by reflex, was making satire of the West and its wherewithal. Putin has a keen eye and taste for dry humor and crni humor. Zelensky may very well have given Putin cause to chuckle in the midst of all the bad that was happening on the ground in Ukraine for Russian forces. Putin probably imagined it all would eventually come to a head sooner than later.

Moreover, Putin perhaps viewed Zelensky’s behavior as being useful, distracting Western capitals, creating the primary narrative concerning Western support for Ukraine while he worked on getting Russian forces away from the horrid meat grinders in Kyiv and Kharkiv in redirected his forces in Eastern and Southern Ukraine. Putin would likely go as far as to call Zelensky a convenient nuisance. As far as Putin was likely concerned, any attention and time placed on Zelensky’s behavior was time not spent increasing the strains they were trying to place on Russia. Zelensky, just as Putin, was willing to exploit any advantage he could find at that point. One aspect which is quite noticeable is that Zelensky seems to comfortably expect something for nothing as if it were the norm in this world. (Perchance Zelensky feels his country self-defense against Russia is the something in return for Western munificence.)

Washington surely was not amused at all by Zelensky’s no fly zone idea or his jet swap plan. Clearly, taking Zelensky’s proposed ideas would mean would only result in exchanging one bad situation for a worse one. Options such as Zelensky’s proposed no-fly zone and Polish MiG-29 transfer, supported by Warsaw, looked real, but they were nothing more than illusions. All illusions disintegrate when confronted by the light of reality. The possibility that US Air Force fighter jets might clash with Russia Federation fighters or bombers and invariably shoot down several of them put the whole matter out of court. Zelensky had to know the Biden administration has been emphatic about avoiding any violent exchanges between the US and Russia that could ignite a full-blown shooting war. It was unclear how the jets would enhance the defensive capabilities of the Ukrainian Armed Forces. The Ukrainians already had MiG-29 fighters and others in its possession that were not being effectively utilized. It was unclear what would be the survivability of the MiG-29 over Russian controlled airspace and whether Ukrainian pilots would be able to contend with the Russians. Further any financial resources needed to bring such a plan into reality had already been earmarked for weapon systems that US military experts had determined would better suit Ukraine’s needs. Zelensky is receiving intelligence from the US and other Western powers. That intelligence has had a multiplier effect on the battlefield. It has lent confidence to decisionmaking in Kyiv. Still, Zelensky would never have all the facts, the big picture, to the extent western capitals do.

As experience, acumen, and the interests of the US dictated, Washington apparently moved fast to reign him in a bit via conversations with their respective countries senior officials and certain legislators. On April 24, 2022, US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin and US Secretary of State Antony Blinken visited Zelensky in Kyiv. The trip by Blinken and Austin and Blinken was the highest-level US visit to the Ukrainian capital since Russia invaded. In the meeting, Zelensky may have complained about feeling supervised as a president of a sovereign country. In response to such a likely perception and complaint, Austin and Blinken would surely make the greater point that the plans of the US must not be interfered with. Surely, they spoke without savaging him. An indication that Austin and Blinken likely set Zelensky straight was the fact that Zelensky did not engage in similar behavior concerning US assistance afterward. One can only imagine what might have come next from Zelensky if such a likely agreeable exchange might not have taken place.

The mood of Zelensky and his advisers during the visit by Austin and Blinken was doubtlessly uplifted when they were informed that the US would provide more than $300 million in foreign military financing and had approved a $165 million sale of ammunition. Despite the stresses that may have placed on Ukraine’s relationships in the West, he was fortunate none his benefactors handed him his hat, or turned to very blatantly using military assistance and training as a locus of control. Likely given their heavy focus on Putin they did not give up on the partnership, if they ever would have–which was presumably a card Zelensky felt he held. The true focus of the West was Putin and gaining a firm handle on him and his behavior. Zelensky was, and still is, a means to that end.

US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, left, and Secretary of State Antony Blinken, right, meet with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky (center), April 24, 2022, in Kyiv. The juxtaposition between Zelensky’s “Sunny Jim” visage and the smiling faces of Austin and Blinken is stark and seemingly speaks volumes about the nature of the interaction and his attitude toward meeting his very important guests. Washington surely was not amused at all by Zelensky’s no fly zone idea or his jet swap plan. Clearly, taking Zelensky’s proposed ideas would only result in exchanging one bad situation for a worse one. The possibility that US Air Force fighter jets might clash with Russia Federation fighters or bombers and invariably shoot down several of them put the whole matter out of court. Zelensky had to know the Biden administration has been emphatic about avoiding any violent exchanges between the US and Russia that could ignite a full-blown shooting war. It was unclear how the jets would enhance the defensive or offensive capabilities of the Ukrainian Armed Forces.

Putin’s Likely View of Zelensky’s “Popular Appeal” in Ukraine

While Western analysts, officials, and news media commentators express the view that Zelensky has rallied his people despite what Ukainians themselves at best might say, it has worked out okay for Ukraine, Putin might argue that he has not actually gained their admiration. Putin’s statement about Zelensky’s government in his February 24, 2022 address on the special military operation was aforementioned. Still, Putin would need to admit that many Ukrainians appreciate the tireless efforts of Zelensky in the face of what is an existential crisis for their country. He can still distinguish between fact and the fanciful. Yet, with all intention to slight the Ukrainian President, Putin would likely state, and imaginably with some asperity, that the people of Ukraine more so view themselves as masters of their own will, independent and girded by their own sense of patriotism, of course inculcated from preceding decades as a society nurtured under the Soviet system. That sense of patriotism was transferred when they were presented, in Putin’s view errantly, with idea that they were living sovereign country, that  Ukraine was a real country. Further, the essence of their will and the spirit behind their sense to remain and defend what they were told was their country does not reside in one man. Such ideas about Ukraine being a country were repeatedly outlined by Putin well-before the February 24, 2022 address. C’est une idée bizarre, un peu folle.

Putin would possibly note somewhat accurately on this occasion tha in contemporary times, it is more difficult through news media reporting to distinguish popular leadership from celebrity and novel amusement. While Zelensky continues to say the right things–there creative suggestions–and is trying to do the right things for the Ukrainian people, the Russian Federation likely feels only time will tell whether he will take a place among the pantheon of great national leaders. Putin is aware that many men and women similar to Zelensky have fallen short and have already been forgotten.

Breaking Zelensky Down

From what is known publicly, it would not be accurate or appropriate to suggest Zelensky in any way at all has come round the twist. Nevertheless, Putin may be wondering what will be the breaking point for Zelensky. He has likely calculated from observing and intelligence reports ordered prepared by the SVR and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, how much can the former actor stand and how long can he do his job before succumbing to chronic stress, the pressures and loneliness of leadership, how long he can he live with all that has transpired and the horrors he has witnessed, and how is he coping with the reality that his name is inextricably attached to every order that has resulted in lives being lost in the tens of thousands on both sides. When Zelensky sneezes, the SVR likely counts the decibels. A number of newsmedia outlets have pondered this issue, too, making comparisons between Zelensky and US President Abraham Lincoln during the Civil War. 

Though Putin is aware that the prosecution of the war is Zelensky’s priority, there remain countless political, economic, social, and other concerns on the domestic front that require his attention. Many of those concerns may pre-date the war and even transcend it but nevertheless are being impacted by it. Western advice and assistance has doubtlessly helped but it all has a cumulative effect on Zelensky who is harnessed in the seat of the presidency. Putin would certainly know about the many challenging aspects of national leadership as such has been his patch for the most part of two decades. Putin also knows tired presidents can make big mistakes. He might imagine one of Zelensky’s acolytes from the more aggressive security bureaucracies could find advantage in that at some point. An over-wound watch requires repair and Putin may suspect that the West has not been tending to Zelensky with diligence as the focus is on other priorities. Putin perhaps would like to know what he could do to bring him over the line. Maybe he has already been working hard on that front furtively

Despite all of the deficiencies he may very likely detect in Zelensky that make him something in his eyes far less than a force to be reckoned with, Putin would likely admit that it would be better if someone with less of a stage presence ascended to the top in Kyiv. Surely, if Zelensky left the helm in Kyiv, Putin would believe a big hitch would be put in the plans of the West. It was widely reported at one point that Putin sought to have him called to higher service. Perhaps he is still trying, but if so, he must have his people moving at deliberate speed. Ukrainian security services have surely sussing out the tiniest of rumors of a threat. Woe betide those in Ukraine who make a habit of telling the wrong sort of jokes or just uttering negative things about Zelensky. On this matter, there may be some pertinence in Falstaff’s utterance near death in Act 3, scene 3 of William Shakespeare’s play The First Part of Henry the Fourth: “Company, villanous company, hath been the spoil of me.” All of that being said, Putin’s threat to Zelensky’s well-being is a point upon which greatcharlie has no desire to enlarge. Its fervent hope is that this suggestion above all others is unlikely and no plan of the kind outlined is in play. Overall, if what is suggested here about Putin’s larger view of Zelensky proves to be true, one-on-one peace talks between the two leaders would be out of the question. At a minimum, It might be best to include a third party, a leader representing countries able to lend the type of support that could gird an agreement.

Zelensky’s expression (above) is not one of an actor using his talent harnessed by technique. It is the expression of a man managing torment, anguish, fatigue and chronic stress, pushing himself to the utter limit. Though Putin is aware that the prosecution of the war is Zelensky’s priority, there remain countless political, economic, social, and other concerns on the domestic front that require his attention. Many of those concerns may pre-date the war and even transcend it but nevertheless are being impacted by it. Western advice and assistance has doubtlessly helped but it all has a cumulative effect on Zelensky who is harnessed in the seat of the ppresidency. Putin would certainly know about the many challenging aspects of national leadership as such has been his patch for the most part of two decades. An over-wound watch requires repair and Putin may suspect that the West has not been tending to Zelensky with diligence as the focus is on other priorities. Putin perhaps would like to know what he could do to bring him over the line. Maybe he has already been working hard on that front furtively.

The Way Forward

Postea noli rogare quod inpetrare nolueris. (Don’t ask for what you’ll wish you hadn’t got.) Hopefully, political leaders and officials in not one Western capital believe that, if things go their way and fortune goes against Russian forces on the battlefield, Putin will reach out to the West, humble and conciliatory, and seek terms for a full, unconditional withdrawal from Ukraine. Indeed, as a result of defeat, there would not be some gross retardation of Putin’s aggressive instinct. As any form of acquiescence by Putin to Western demands would be very, very unlikely, it becomes more difficult to understand what the genuine objective of the West is in Ukraine. It is hard to imagine what Putin and his advisers–inarguably better aware of Putin’s authentic nature and intentions than anyone outside Russia–make of it all. Suffice it to say, even in the best case scenario for the West in which Ukrainian forces reclaim the overwhelming majority of territory taken by Russian forces, problems of great magnitude will very likely be encountered. This is not a situation that lends itself to the attitude of debrouillez-vous (“We’ll muddle through somehow”), which was the attitude of the the Supreme Command of the French Imperial Army in 1870 which failed to discern and act upon signals that the Prussian Army would move via the Ardennes Forest through Belgium into France. 

In Yours Faithfully, Bertrand Russell: A Lifelong Fight for Peace, Justice, and Truth in Letters to the Editor (Open Court Publishing, 2002), there is passage by Bertrand Russell that explains: “And all this madness, all this rage, all this flaming death of our civilization and our hopes, has been brought about because a set of official gentlemen, living luxurious lives, mostly stupid, and all without imagination or heart, have chosen that it should occur rather than that any one of them should suffer some infinitesimal rebuff to his country`s pride.” Rebuffing the reality that their time on Earth is inconstant, they seek in conceit to shape it with a view not just leave their mark but to transform it to meet their idea of what is best. As is the pattern, they would declare that they are using national values and interests as a yardstick. The degree and manner in which those respective national values and interests are applied is dependent on the nature of the officials involved in the drama. In a few years or less, their “high-minded” notions, as they generally appear in contemporary timeshare, are now and then rebuked by the reality of the impermanence of actions taken by them. Their deeds often fail the test of time. They may even hold success for a little moment, but fail ultimately to really change the course of anything as successfully as fate does. After they move on from their high offices, the ascent to which they skillfully navigated over a number of years, more often than not their names are forgotten or rarely spoken anywhere except in seminars and colloquiums at universities and respective family gatherings of their antecedents. It should be enough to do the right thing and appreciate the collateral effects of that. 

Still in all, these aforementioned decisionmakers are indeed only human, and must not be judged by idealistic or super-human standards. Admittedly, harshly judging the competencies of those in the foreign and national security policy bureaucracies is the old hobbyhorse of those watching from the outside. Whether this essay for some inside will cause a journey from a lack of clarity or curiosity to knowledge remains to be seen. Harkening back one last time to Molière’s Misanthrope, he writes pertinent to this matter in Act V, scene i: “Si de probité tout était revêtu, / Si tous les cœurs était francs, justes et dociles, / La plupart des vertus nous seraient inutiles, / Puisqu’on en met l’usage à pouvoir sans ennui / Supporter dans nos droits l’injustice d’autrui.” (If everyone were clothed with integrity, / If every heart were just, frank, kindly, / The other virtues would be well-nigh useless, / Since their chief purpose is to make us bear with patience / The injustice of our fellows.) Memores acti prudentes futuri. (Mindful of what has been done, aware of what will be.)

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

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

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

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

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

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

Putin’s Threat of Military Action

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ukrainian Military Capabilities 

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

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

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

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

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

This post should be considered a continuation of the preceding one

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

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

Opprobrium from the Communist Party of China or Observations?

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

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

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

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

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

Private Investigators from the US

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

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

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

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

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

The Noticeable Absence of the Theorized Countersurveillance 

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

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

Breakaway Identification and Repatriation Team Member

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

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

FBI Interview of Key Identification and Repatriation Team Member

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

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

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

Harassment of the Daughter of Xu and Liu

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Hiring Pattern/Modus Operandi?

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

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

A Rare Glimpse Inside Operation Fox Hunt via a Braggart

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Way Forward

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

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

Food for Thought for US Companies Maintaining Robust Operations in China despite Beijing’s Strained Relations with Washington

The Great Wall of China (above) actually consists of numerous walls built over two millennia across northern China and southern Mongolia. The most extensive version of the wall dates from the Ming dynasty. Despite the Great Wall’s construction, China has always been relatively open to contact and trade with foreigners. The Communist Party of China would explain that due to such openness, in more recent times, China was the victim of Western “imperialist,” “capitalist” countries that reaped huge benefits from it. Many foreign companies currently operate in China, but their host, quite different from the past, is a world power. The Communist Party calls China’s success the vindication of an ancient civilization after a ‘century of humiliation.” China desires to take the title of the dominant power in the world and in its quest has created a challenging situation with the US. US companies in China must closely watch how US-China relations “progress,” and well-consider what prospective outcomes could mean for them.

Many in the US government’s foreign and national security policy bureaucracies and the US Congress with the responsibility to monitor what China is doing apparently do not want to tell too much about its actions and intentions and what its intelligence services are doing against the US, possibly for fear of metaphorically frightening the horses,  the US public. The Communist Party of China has at least demonstrated to itself that it had all the cleverness to outwit, outmaneuver, and surpass some preceding US administrations in its quest to establish the People’s Republic as the world’s dominant power. China’s accomplishments in that direction are now recognized by many policy experts as being far more significant than once realized. Relatively recent, popular books on US-China relations cut to the foundation of that which was perhaps previously satisfying and assuring in US policy circles about Beijing’s actions and intentions. While is far from exhaustive, among list of such books that greatcharlie has read or reread on the matter are: Michael Pillsbury, The Hundred-Year Marathon: China’s Secret Strategy to Replace America as the Global Superpower (Henry Holt and Company, 2015); Steven Mosher, Bully of Asia: Why China’s Dream is the New Threat to World Order (Regnery Publishing, 2017); Robert Spalding, Stealth War: How China Took Over While America’s Elite Slept (Portfolio, 2019); and, Bill Gertz, Deceiving the Sky: Inside Communist China’s Drive for Global Supremacy (Encounter Books, 2019). Those with a keen interest in what has popularly been called “The China Threat” surely possess copies of one or more of these texts and likely have frequently made a long arm for copies in their libraries for reference. Though recognizing their popularity, greatcharlie would not dare hint at some rank or order of them for it would only open the door to judgments of its choices which is beside the matter. For its April 30, 2021 post, greatcharlie reviewed Gertz’s Deceiving the Sky. Of course, a treasure trove of excellent, recent academic books on US-China relations have been presented by university press and think tank publishers, which includes a few greatcharlie has appreciated and recommends: Michael E. O’Hanlon and James Steinberg, A Glass Half Full?: Rebalance, Reassurance, and Resolve in the U.S.-China Strategic Relationship (Brookings Institution Press, 2017); Elizabeth Economy, The Third Revolution: Xi Jinping and the Chinese State (Oxford University Press, 2018); Clyde Prestowitz, The World Turned Upside Down: America, China, and the Struggle for Global Leadership (Yale University Press, 2021); and, Ryan Hass, Stronger: Adapting America’s China Strategy in an Age of Competitive Interdependence (Yale University Press, 2021).

Despite readily discernible differences of each text, their respective discussions harmonize on the point that China is in the midst of implementing a strategy to supplant the US as the world’s dominant power. Some say the deadline for this takeover is 2049, the one-hundredth anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic, but others believe it may come earlier. (Some policy circles in the US have assessed dispiritedly that it has happened already.) To that extent, on an additional common point, the authors explain how preceding US administrations, with an apparent tinge of romanticism, misguidedly believed that the US could somehow guide and manage China’s industrialization, trade and overall economic development and thereby impact its political and social development. They also explain how, in some instances, the US government has unwittingly assisted China in achieving its goal of world dominance. In fact, each author essentially declares that China is a national security challenge for the US and its allies. China has made that very clear by building island seabases to secure claims of sovereignty over waters in the South China Sea, conduct overflights of the airspace and naval incursions into the waters of US allies in the region, regularly organize parades of their latest weapon systems, and marches of tens of thousands of men, stupefying to the eyes. The authors by in large suggest that the US should implement a more competitive strategy toward China, as it really is, to get a handle on it, by using all instruments of national power and urging US allies in Asia and outside to do the same. The efforts of the aforementioned authors, and many authors of notable books not discussed here, to expose China for the danger they believe it poses is driven not by antipathy but rather by evidence. There is materiality on the balance of negative probabilities which they have dug up in their research and revealed in their works. 

Given what generally presented, it would appear that China may not be the safest country for US companies to operate in at the present. Being steeped in matters concerning China, and they certainly are, one might presume that senior executives of firms there have already formed positions. Perhaps the best answer for senior executives of US companies is to consider moving their operations to a country that presents no risk or at a minimum, far less risk than China at the moment while the opportunity still exists. Yet, as many US companies are operating robustly in China, clearly moving out is not the course that all senior executives would agree upon. With un fil di voce, greatcharlie, cautiously takes on the task of shining some light on why they would continue operating in China despite problems their firms could face as a result of a collapse in US-China relations or even conflict between the two countries. Some not so subtle changes in attitudes and behaviors of Chinese officials toward the US in recent times are examined to develop insights on specific reactions that should be expected from Beijing. The possibility is considered that Beijing may have plans to make their companies targets of its wrath in the event such dark days come. Simply with the possibility of trouble on the horizon, it would seem their respective companies will soon become targets of China’s public security and intelligence services in very apparent ways. Along with think tank scholars, academics, policy analysts, and military and diplomatic officials, journalists, and students that would hopefully be an interested audience for this essay, greatcharlie would hope that senior executives of US companies with considerable operations in China, might take note as it directly concerns their efforts. Absent from the discussion is any mention of the identities of companies that have placed themselves in, or may have in some way fallen into, a somewhat precarious position in China as greatcharlie believes that information is immaterial, away from the heart of the matter. As for the senior executives of US companies, they are only referred to in the third person as the sole goal here is to touch upon the likely prospective broad range of thinking among them, not to throw the spotlight upon anyone. Make no mistake, greatcharlie is not offering any business advice to anyone. It is stated without pretension that such would be out of its province, and any impressions of the kind caused by this writing should not be given flight. The aim is to provide a look at some important issues from a new angle, provoke thought, and contribute to the greater discourse on the matter at hand. Non enim parum cognosse, sed in parum cognito stulte et diu perseverasse turpe est, propterea quod alterum communi hominum infirmitati alterum singulari cuiusque vitio est attributum. (For it is not having insufficient knowledge, but persisting a long time in insufficient knowledge that is shameful; since the one is assumed to be a disease common to all, but the other is assumed to be a flaw to an individual.)

People’s Liberation Army forces on parade in Beijing (above). In the past, US administrations believed the US could somehow guide and manage China’s industrialization, trade and overall economic development and thereby impact its political and social development. Some scholars assert that in certain instances, the US government unwittingly assisted China in achieving its goal of becoming the world’s dominant power. China is surely a national security challenge for the US and its allies now. It has made that very clear by building island seabases to secure claims of sovereignty over waters in the South China Sea, conduct overflights of the airspace and naval incursions into the waters of US allies in the region, regularly organize, parades of their latest weapon systems, and marches of tens of thousands of men, stupefying to the eyes.

“Perfidious Communist China”

“Perfidious Albion” is the nickname that French Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte would use to acidulously refer to his arch rival Great Britain, which he considered to be treacherous in international affairs, distrustful of foreigners, and had a knack for frustrating his plans. Albion is a literary or poetic term most often used for Britain or England of Ancient or historical times. The term, “Le perfid Albion,” was said to have been first used by Augustin-Louis, Marquis de Ximenès, the 18th century French poet and playwright. In the same vain that the term, “Perfidious Albion,” was used by Napoleon, perhaps the term, “Perfidious Communist China,” could be used in Washington in reference to China as US leaders must remain suspicious and distrustful of it. Leaders of the Communist Party of China do not leave any room for doubt that they are determined to bring down the US in order to claim the title of dominant power in the world. Moreover, they are clearly willing to use whatever jiggery-pokery it takes and use, so far within tolerable limits, the aggression needed to achieve that goal. 

Becoming the world’s dominant power may not seem to some as a worthy pursuit for a developed, industrialized country. The US essentially fell into the role and has held it as a matter of events, fate, and necessity, though arguably some political leaders in the early years of the 20th century, such as President Theodore Roosevelt, envisioned the country reaching the top. Many countries and national leaders in the past two centuries that sought the mantle can now be found upon what former US President Ronald Reagan in 1982 referred to as the “ash heap of history.” Yet, it is the Communist Party of China’s pursuit nonetheless, and Beijing seems to be moving inexorably toward that goal. The strategy to reach its objective apparently from the start was far larger in conception than some in US foreign and defense policy and business circles still appear willing to consider. 

The words of the Chinese officials have begun to reflect the Communist Party of China’s unsheathed antipathy toward the US. The Party, itself, might explain the words of the Chinese officials rightfully manifest the tone of a country once victimized, yet not demoralized by Western “imperialist,” “capitalist” countries that reaped benefits from it. (Truth be told, by the late 1800s, China was “carved up like a melon” by foreign powers competing for spheres of influence over trade and territory.)  The Party line is that China’s success is the vindication of an ancient civilization after a “century of humiliation.” Their words have the flavor of officials from a country that has been executing a clearly defined strategy to unseat the US as the world’s dominant power. It often smacks of something personal for members of the Communist Party of China. With regard to the officials and diplomats of the People’s Republic of China Ministry of Foreign Affairs, this behavior was briefly discussed in the June 30, 2020 greatcharlie post entitled, “Commentary: China’s Coronavirus Tack Includes More Abrupt Officials and Political Warfare; Its Diplomatic Tool Must Endure the Consequences.”

Such qualities in Chinese officials words could be ascribed to those expressed by the People’s Republic of China delegation led by the Director of the Central Foreign Affairs Commission of the Communist Party of China Yang Jiechi, and People’s Republic of China Foreign Minister Wang Yi at bilateral meeting with a US delegation in Anchorage, Alaska in March 2021. The US delegation led by US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and US National Security Adviser, Jake Sullivan. Blinken, indeed, started the meeting off by telling the delegation from China that the US intended to address “deep concerns” over the treatment of the Chinese citizens in Xinjiang and Hong Kong and the situation with Taiwan. However, Yang responded boldly, taking a bit of time to express sharp criticism of the US over what he described as its struggling democracy, poor treatment of minorities, and over its foreign and trade policies.

Yang’s words of reproach and his demeanor were completely out of character for an opening statement, particularly a very public one, for a bilateral meeting between industrialized powers. If the matter were not so serious and the prospects for improved relations between the two countries so grim, it might have been characterized as satire and marked down as a response. Needless to say concerning the speeches given by the two senior officials of the Chinese delegation in Anchorage, bon mot, they were not! Previously, there was an apparent Chinese doctrine of moderation in talks with other countries. Calmness and authority was once shown not only in diplomacy but in all circumstances by officials. This more assertive approach as of late has pulled Chinese officials from their more traditional conservative, stolid posture.

Overall, Yang, as well as Wang when he spoke immediately after him, comported themselves with an astringency which some critics would agree uncloaked the true nature of the regime. Certainly, as discussed in greatcharlie’s April 30, 2021 post, one could not help but get the impression by the vexatious words used lately by Chinese negotiators that all talks and perhaps the overall situation with the US, something even more is going on with Beijing’s thinking. It may very well be that leaders of the Communist Party of China have been satisfied enough with its accomplishments and ongoing progress towards surpassing the US that they have approved behavior by officials in interactions with foreign counterparts that would indicate the transition of power has already occurred. In the New American Bible, it is written in Luke 6:45: “A good person out of the store of goodness in his heart produces good, but an evil person out of a store of evil produces evil; for from the fullness of the heart the mouth speaks.”

In its April 30, 2021 post, greatcharlie also postulates that the Chinese officials appear to be presenting themselves as symbols of national resistance to US power. The Chinese officials wanted not just the US delegation, but the world to pay heed to their exhortations concerning the US. Such public behavior is part of what is known as united front work under Communist Party of China. During the current rule of the People’s Republic of China President and Communist Party of China Party Secretary Xi Jinping, united front work calls for the never-ending, enthusiastic promotion of the Communust Movement, the Communist Party of China, Xi, and the People’s Republic, and a lot of other things. The Communist Party of China is happy to foster animus toward the US wherever it may be found in the world as well as cause foment over such where it can. James Baldwin, the 20th century US novelist, playwright, essayist, poet, and activist, rightly recognized in his fascinating September 23, 1979 New York Times interview: “The world changes according to the way people see it, and if you alter, even but a millimeter the way people look at reality, then you can change it.”

The future situation is not entirely clear. One might reasonably suspect that while Beijing wants a peaceful resolution to the most stressing geopolitical issues it faces with regard to the US, it is uncertain whether they would even imagine accepting a balanced one. Real success for Beijing may very likely mean achieving some major advantages across issues in contention with the US. Looking at the extreme alternative, measuring what it might lose against what it might gain in some limited use of force, its judgments are likely balanced on perceptions of the will of the US to act and to sacrifice in such a way to actually protect its interests and allies in the region. Another factor included in the forecasts of Beijing’s moves would perhaps be the temperament of Xi. Conflict of any kind would have a dreadful impact on US companies in China. The lead up to any turn for the worse would likely mean problems for their operations and their employees in-country. As would be expected, some US companies have moved out or have expressed plans to move out. Other companies appear to be tiptoeing in the same direction. Still, there are those firms that are not just reluctant, but unwilling to take a new course. 

People’s Republic of China President and Communist Party of China Party Secretary Xi Jinping (above). In an April 30, 2021 post, greatcharlie postulates that the Chinese officials appear to be presenting themselves on the world stage as symbols of national resistance to US power. That was apparent during a bilateral meeting in Anchorage , Alaska in March 2021. Chinese officials wanted not just the US delegation, but the world to pay heed to their exhortations concerning the US. Such public behavior is part of what is known as united front work. Under the current rule of the People’s Republic of China President and Communist Party of China Party Secretary Xi Jinping, Chinese officials appear required to engage in a never-ending, enthusiastic promotion of the Communust Movement, the Communist Party of China, Xi, and the People’s Republic, and a lot of other things.

Do Not Rely on Beijing’s Goodwill!

Knowing what is wrong is not as great as knowing how to fix the problem. Moreover, one must accept there is a problem and be willing to fix it. In his philosophical and autobiographical treatise, “Discourse on the Method of Rightly Conducting One’s Reason and of Seeking Truth in the Sciences” (1637), the renowned 17th French philosopher René Descartes wrote: “And thus, the actions of life often not allow any delay, it is a truth very certain that, when it is not in our power to determine the most true opinions we ought to follow the most probable.” In the small hours of the morning, one might imagine US executives look within to find the truest answer to how to proceed given all that they have been informed of respectively. 

What greatcharlie has discovered in its own research and the voluminous scholarly sources that support the view that danger lies ahead is that from the aggregate of respective discussions in recent books and other publications in this vein, this idea can be confidently drawn by business executives in question, too! More so, executives sophisticated enough to create a successful space for their companies in China have sufficient information available to them even beyond what outside experts offer, to include reports from the US government, that would allow them to grasp the potential impact of decisions they might make. Undoubtedly, capable and diligent regional specialists in their own companies have collected and presented similar information on the dangers of remaining in China. Everything asserted about the threat Beijing poses to US companies can be substantiated by a history of necessary commiserations between company senior executives and decision-makers of the Communist Party of China.

Yet, while it is most apparent that China’s recent past clearly is not without stain, that fact appears to be by the by to those senior executives of US companies working robustly in China who choose to remain. They will not allow their minds to be biased by theories and suspicions suggested by those who do not have the type of investment at stake in China as their respective companies. They are unwilling to condescend to what they would call fear mongering about the Communist Party of China. China appears to have won many of them and those in that number will hear nothing against it. In this discussion, greatcharlie leaves aside any suggestion that the continued investment by US companies in China is the result of some urge among their senior executives to act in a knowingly dangerous way, l’appel du vide. What those business executives may believe is that in their own assessments of Beijing, they have the advantage of being well informed through what they might characterize as their own most informative, “regular” contacts and “substantive” conversations with officials of Chinese government bureaucracies and leaders of the Communist Party of China. They may believe their relationships with them are strong, bien entretenue. Many appear willing and some comforted by refusing to look beyond what Beijing presents about itself. In that respect, some have become metaphorically tone deaf to warnings concerning all urgent matters now underway. It was expressed by Aristophanes in Clouds (423 BC): “To invoke solely the weaker arguments and yet triumph is a talent worth more than a hundred thousand drachmae.”

As for Beijing’s guile and maneuvering, some of the senior executives even at this point would doubtlessly declare that the evidence that has publicly presented on its malign actions and intentions as something akin to an albeit a peculiar rag bag of singular happenings. Ironically, they might sarcastically note that some new wrinkle of China’s malevolence comes to light practically “every ten seconds” as the 20th century US humorist Sam Levenson might remark to defuse the tension caused by the subject.

In A Mountain of Crumbs: A Memoir (Simon & Schuster, 2010), Elena Gorokhova recounts growing up under the Communist government of the Soviet Union in the 1960s, and tells of her discovery of the hidden truths about adulthood and her country’s profound, brazen lies. Gorokhova recounts: “The rules are simple: they lie to us, we know they’re lying, they know we know they’re lying but they keep lying anyway, and we keep pretending to believe them.” The regime in Communist China operates in a similar deceitful fashion both at home and abroad. There are doubtlessly many more aspects of Beijing’s thinking and behavior that have not as yet been discerned or at least publicly reported. They may become known only after a situation literally blows up. One might state that within the Communist Party of China, the powers of evil are exalted, anything negative is possible. 

The latest word from the US Intelligence Community is that the US supply chain from China now faces real threat. There are a few normal factors that can affect US supply chains, including production shortages, trade disruptions and natural disasters. However, the US National Counterintelligence and Security Center (NCSC) has warned that “actions by foreign adversaries to exploit vulnerabilities in US supply chains pose unique counterintelligence and security threats.” According to the NCSC, foreign adversaries are increasingly using companies and trusted suppliers as “attack vectors” against the US for espionage, information theft and sabotage. Officials warned that those actions compromise the products and services that “underpin America’s government and industry” and warned of the effects–“lost intellectual property, jobs, economic advantage, and reduced military strength.”

What is shared by the US government on Beijing’s plans and intention toward companies foreign working in China should be fully heeded by US companies. Beijing would of course become indignant claiming Western arrogance would lead accusers to say an idea was stolen. Perhaps Chinese government spokespersons would rely upon words similar to those of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s fictional character Sherlock Holmes, who in “The Adventure of the Dancing Men,” the third story of 13 in the The Return of Sherlock Holmes (1905), stated: “What one man can invent, another can discover.” 

Simple facts can go some way to explain what might be recognized as a charitable position. To that extent, distortions of truth from Beijing or other trusted or favored sources are far more satisfying as a result of an infatuation with a present preoccupation. In arguments, the business executives will mistakenly grab the nearest evidence to hand that would uniquely support their perspective. What they might characterize as the “stirring of alarm” would likely be inexplicable to those who have not abandoned the idea that China acts in goodwill. They would likely assert that China’s sense of a rivalry between itself and the US is natural given geopolitical, geostrategic, economic considerations alone. Indeed, among those reluctant to accept what present evidence insists upon, one might find that almost every decision to carry on with their current business plans in China is likely founded upon a mix of reality and imagination.

As reported in the Wall Street Journal on March 26, 2021, in the weeks that surrounded the inauguration of President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris, Chinese leaders waged an information campaign aimed at the US business community. It included a flurry of speeches, letters and announcements. Of special note was a February 2021 speech by the Communist Party of China’s  foreign policy director, Yang, to a virtual audience of US business leaders and former government officials. Initially laying out a very positive situation for investment and trade opportunities in China, he then offered the stern warning that Tibet, Xinjiang, Hong Kong and Taiwan are “red lines” that anyone from the US should remain silent about. He also made the demand that the business community lobby the new Biden-Harris administration to reverse Trump administration policies toward China which he excoriated. 

Without the intent of being folsom, greatcharlie states that there are highly qualified individuals that serve as senior executives at companies. In their respective fields, these professionals are generally known and admired for their astute judgments, being steady and reliable, and having keen minds and the laudable capacity to reason. Finding answers to such situations were what the executives were hired for. Being incommoded by the regulations of China’s bureaucracies would by no means be new to them and they would expect to find a way to work around any problems. Their thoughts would remain focused on optimizing their respective companies’ investments in China. That would be the vintage way of thinking, so to speak.

One might go as far as to suppose that some US business executives may feel that if accomplishing that meant being under some recherché obligation to Beijing, they would accept that. They doubtlessly would expect to gain additional favor from the Communist Party of China through such loyalty. As a bonus of taking such a step, they might believe they would be taking the steps that would allow them to avoid a serious dilemma in the near future. (Such would hardly be a schema Beijing would feel obligated to follow, and indeed, something one should not plan for.) One might expect to occasionally hear expressions of appreciation from US companies to the most senior leaders of the Communist Party of China and the Chinese people for their “magnanimity.” In fact, they have been heard. Those companies could do no greater service for Beijing than to take such a course. Those in the US outraged by China’s overall behavior toward the US and its allies would very likely call it a perverse allegiance.

Perhaps conditions for some companies were never idyllic to start, and any new circumstances that arise are just one more hurdle to overcome. One might suppose that for senior executives of US companies in China, navigating any problems that have arisen so far has been a bit similar to white water rafting. It is a challenge, but in the end overall satisfying. To speak more in metaphors, senior executives of most US companies still operating in China likely feel that they successfully managed the disturbed sea of those relations by monitoring essential currents and will achieve further success by navigating them intelligently. Indeed, in many cases having spent years inveigling their way into many meetings with Communist Party of China leaders and government officials they likely feel that have created links with them near equal to those that exist between those same Party leaders and officials that the executives of China’s state-run companies. They are likely confident that as a result of those linkages, their companies’ investments In China are to the greatest extent possible shielded from any possible troubles in relations between Beijing and Washington. In corporate conference rooms and meetings with Communist Party of China or other government officials, any dark imaginings of Beijing’s behavior evaporate fastest. Conceivably, ideas and attitudes expressed In those same conference rooms of US companies are very likely encapsulated with the quip: “I will believe it when I see it.” There may very well be companies planning to simply carry on even under the worst circumstances should it come to that. 

Yet, many have doubtlessly assessed that contrary to the reports of experts, they have so far had no reason to regret, nor do they believe they shall have any reason to regret their speculation in China. Until they are caused to accept anything to the contrary, one could imagine certain senior executives of US companies would happily seek to remain in their offices in China. The claim that Beijing could turn against them in some profound way may simply be a counterfactual. Perchance senior executives still engaged in robust operations in China believe Beijing’s intentions are the best and would refer to all of the negative talk of Beijing’s intentions as slander. Presumably, senior executives of US companies, having minimized in their own minds the danger that China presents, might suggest to other senior executives whose companies are similarly invested in China, that no one should get ahead of oneself in reaction to what they may have heard or observed of those companies that have moved out. Perhaps the retention of that mindset, a certain stubbornness among some, may be a prime obstacle in convincing them to open their eyes. Assuming that all have the best intentions at heart, one might believe that differences in thinking among senior executives of US companies are mostly a matter of clarification 

There are situations in which even the most accomplished business executives might find themselves helpless. No US firm should count upon the goodwill of Beijing to help see them through the storm of greatly deteriorated relations, or the catastrophe of a clash, between the US and China. Beijing time and again has proven that it is unworthy of such trust. Most US companies operating in China or have an extremely close relationship with Party leaders and government officials, they should not expect that they would be able to just carry-on as they have been no matter what. By the mere fact that they are Western companies representing Western capitalism, there would be a fairly good chance that they would fall afoul of the Communist regime in Beijing. That has been a reality all along.

To be as frank as possible, the Communist Party of China has no love for them. Without a shadow of doubt, many Party leaders yearn to reach that day in the future when China can show its true colors, declare broad powers over all foreign companies and severely alter terms of any signed agreements to immensely favor its own interests, if a firm is allowed to remain in China at all. Surely they believe there would be more than one parallel Chinese firm of its respective industry to replace just about every foreign entity, except those as the National Basketball Association (NBA), and could take on their markets even in the US.

Director of the Central Foreign Affairs Commission of the Communist Party of China Yang Jiechi (above). In the weeks that surrounded the inauguration of US President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris, Chinese leaders waged an information campaign aimed at the US business community. It included a flurry of speeches, letters and announcements. Of special note was a February 2021 speech by the Communist Party of China’s foreign policy director, Yang, to a virtual audience of US business leaders and former government officials. Initially laying out a very positive situation for investment and trade opportunities in China, he then offered the stern warning that Tibet, Xinjiang, Hong Kong and Taiwan are “red lines” that anyone from the US should remain silent about. He also made the demand that the business community lobby the new Biden-Harris administration to reverse Trump administration policies toward China which he excoriated.

Recent Displays of Beijing’s Tactfulness toward Foreign Companies

The renowned English philosopher and physician, John Locke, in An Essay Concerning Human Understanding (1689), wrote: “I have always thought the actions of men the best interpreters of their thoughts.” There have been a few  fresh events in China concerning foreign companies operating there over the grave issue of members of China’s Uyghur ethnic minority from the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR) in China’s far west, being used as forced labor in factories. They may provide some clues as to the sort of subterfuge and sophistry senior executives of US companies still operating in China should expect, and perhaps things even more intense. (In citing news articles concerning these events, greatcharlie felt some reluctance given a few US companies are directly mentioned in them and that information is central to understanding the events that occurred. However, to the extent that these incidents were well-supported in the news media, the sense that anything fresh about the firms was being revealed was mitigated.)

In an extensive new report by the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI), a think-tank founded by Australia’s government, between 2017 and 2019, the Chinese government relocated at least 80,000 Uyghurs from Xinjiang in western China to factories across the country where they work “under conditions that strongly suggest forced labour.” The report further explains that the manufacturers using these transported Uyghurs supply at least 83 international companies making everything from footwear to electronics. Regarding the Uyghurs, the Chinese Communist Party is waging a targeted campaign against Uyghur women, men, and children, and members of other Turkic Muslim minority groups in Xinjiang, China. Abuses have included coercive population control through forced abortion, forced sterilization, and involuntary implantation of birth control; the detention of more than one million Uyghurs, ethnic Kazakhs, ethnic Kyrgyz, and members of other Muslim minority groups in internment camps; forced labor in facilities nearby or affiliated with the internment camps; the destruction and closure of mosques and other religious sites, prevention of youths from participating in religious activities, forced political indoctrination or “re-education.” 

Beijing has denied all of these claims, declaring them to be unjust aspersions. It has stated that rather than running forced labor camps, it is providing vocational training, and that its measures are needed to fight extremism. Recall that Xinjiang was an issue broached by Blinken at the bilateral talks in Anchorage. In January, Washington had banned Xinjiang cotton used widely by clothing producers for Western markets. The US, the European Union, United Kingdom, and Canada have imposed sanctions on Chinese officials for alleged human rights abuses in Xinjiang in March 2020. . China retaliated with sanctions on European lawmakers and institutions.

According to a March 27, 2021 Bloomberg report, Hennes & Mauritz AB (H&M), the Swedish multinational, expressed the view in March 2021 statements that it’s “deeply concerned by reports from civil society organizations and media that include accusations of forced labor and discrimination of ethnoreligious minorities.” It was a risky move for H&M given that China is one of the five biggest markets for the company in terms of revenue with 5.2% of the group’s total sales in 2020. The company had opened 505 stores in China as of November 30, 2020. The company’s access to China, the Communist Party of China, and to customers was put on the line. Almost immediately, H&M encountered what was characterized as backlash over its statements from the company concerning issues surrounding Xinjiang. The company quickly removed its statement on Xinjiang from its website, on a separate link on its homepage expressing the same stance on Xinjiang cotton remained active.

Authors of the news story notably recognized that China’s response to H&M was markedly stronger than its previous pushback when foreign brands crossed political lines. Xi had already set a red line on the issue of China’s human rights record, and foreign companies surely understood at that point that addressing the issue in any way would mean picking a side. In a briefing in Beijing, Gao Feng, a spokesman for the Chinese Commerce Ministry, essentially proscribed H&M’s statements as slanderous ravings. He reportedly said: “We can’t tolerate any forces bringing shame on and tarnishing the pure and flawless Xinjiang cotton.” He went on to state: “Chinese consumers have acted in response to the so-called business decisions made by some companies based on false information. We hope the relevant companies will respect market laws, correct wrong practices, and avoid the politicization of commercial issues.”

As would be expected, H&M’s statement was blasted by organizations such as the Communist Youth League and the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) on social media. However, there was also rising outcry and calls for a boycott on Chinese social media against an undated H&M statement over its website that also expressed concern about reports of forced labor in Xinjiang. At least six stores in the lower-tiered cities of Urumqi, Yinchuan, Changchun and Lianyunang have been shut down by the owners of the properties, according to mall operators in those areas who were contacted by Bloomberg. Local media have reported more closures and pictures showing H&M’s brand billboards being removedThe global clothing retailer’s outlets have also vanished on Apple Maps and Baidu Maps searches.

Adverse effects from the H&M’s statement about forced labor in the contentious region of Xinjiang have spread to other Western brands that have voiced their views on the matter. DW News noted that the Better Cotton Initiative (BCI) declared in October 2020 that it was suspending cotton sourced from Xinjiang for the 2020-2021 fashion season, also citing concerns over that region’s human rights. BCI, formed in 2009 and based in Geneva, Switzerland  states that it was formed to make global cotton production better for the people who produce it, better for the environment it grows in and better for the sector’s future. Its goal is to transform cotton production worldwide by developing Better Cotton as a sustainable mainstream commodity. Members include US-based Nike, Germany-based Adidas, Japan-based Fast Retailing, as well as China-based ANTA. Certainly, BCI members would not comment idly on such a grave matter or any matter for that case.

As foreign companies speak out concerning Xinjiang and forced labor, they are being targeted for treatment. China’s government-aligned English language newspaper the Global Times cited Burberry and New Balance as having made “cutting remarks” about Xinjiang cotton two years ago. It also cited the brand Zara as having expressed a “zero-tolerance approach towards forced labor.” ANTA, a Chinese shoe brand announced it was quitting BCI and would continue buying Xinjiang cotton–prompting a spike in its share prices on Hong Kong’s Han Seng Index.

Chinese social media users expressed umbrage against Western sanctions over alleged abuses of Uyghur Muslims in Xinjiang province by ostracizing further global clothing and footwear brands. DW News quoted one “netizen” as stating: “If you boycott Xinjiang cotton, we’ll boycott you. Either Adidas quits BCI, or get out of China.” Social media posts in China have reportedly also mentioned the Japanese and US brands Uniqlo and Gap but it was unclear whether the people posting messages were private citizens or government plants online. Two popular Chinese television stars, Wang Yibo and Tan Songyun, reportedly said they would end promotional work for Nike over remarks it made in 2020. China’s People’s Daily newspaper began a social media campaign via the microblog Weibo, using a slogan translating as “I support Xinjiang cotton. Citing Reuters, DW News explained many Chinese online users said they would instead support local Asian brands such as Li Ning and ANTA, prompting share price surges in Hong Kong. The US government has called attention to China’s state-run social media campaign and boycott against foreign companies that refuse to use cotton from Xinjiang. State Department deputy spokeswoman Jalina Porter stated that tactic amounts to a state-run “corporate and consumer boycott.”

Taking a closer look at what has been directed at Nike, according Reuters it faces rather a singular social media storm in China over its statement concerning Xinjiang Indeed, anger with Nike reportedly erupted on Chinese social media late immediately after China’s netizens spotted a statement from the sporting goods giant saying it was “concerned” about reports of forced labour in Xinjiang and that it does not use cotton from the region. There is a well-known love affair among the Chinese people and basketball shoes worn by NBA players. It was no small matter. 

Topics around the Nike statement were among the highest trending on China’s Twitter-like social media Weibo the day it was revealed and the social media backlash had a wider fallout. It was in direct response to Nike’s statement concerning Xinjiang and social media criticism on social media, that the agency representing actor Wang Yibo stated on Weibo that he has terminated his contract as a representative for Nike. It was not apparent when exactly Nike had put out the statement. It did not have a date on it. Nike explained in the statement: “We are concerned about reports of forced labor in, and connected to, the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR).” It also stated: “Nike does not source products from the XUAR and we have confirmed with our contract suppliers that they are not using textiles or spun yarn from the region.” To prevent further interference, Hu Xijin, editor-in-chief of the state-run Global Times urged Western companies to be “highly cautious” and not to “suppress China’s Xinjiang” in a social media post. To do so, Hu anticipated, would “undoubtedly arouse the anger of the Chinese public,” he added. He did not single out any companies.

Jean-Jacques Rousseau, the 18th century philosopher, writer, and co)mposer of the then independent Calvinist city-state of Geneva, explained in The Social Contract (1762): “Virtue is a state of war, and to live in it we have always to combat with ourselves.” Naturally, foreign companies operating in China will attempt ameliorate and perhaps resolve Xinjiang controversy or any other with Beijing, senior executives of those companies be assured that the Communist Party of China’s memory of even temporary disrespectful acts and what its leaders may perceive as betrayal through declarations of concerns on what are in reality documented human rights abuses, substantiated by Western government sources, will be long.

A heavily secured industrial park in Xinjiang, China (above). In a report by the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, between 2017 and 2019, the Chinese government relocated at least 80,000 Uyghurs from Xinjiang in western China to factories across the country where they work “under conditions that strongly suggest forced labour.” The report also explains that manufacturers using these transported Uyghurs supply at least 83 international companies making everything from footwear to electronics. The Chinese Communist Party is waging a targeted campaign against Uyghur women, men, and children, and members of other Turkic Muslim minority groups in Xinjiang, China. Abuses have included coercive population control through forced abortion, forced sterilization, and involuntary implantation of birth control; the detention of more than one million Uyghurs, ethnic Kazakhs, ethnic Kyrgyz, and members of other Muslim minority groups in internment camps. Beijing has denied such claims.

Experience Speaks?

Memores acti prudentes futuri. (Mindful of what has been done, aware of what will be.) As aforementioned, with consideration of a full range of facts on the current situation between the US-China, to include many discussed here, as well as other key business considerations, some US companies have accepted that the risks are too great to remain and rather than wait for a crisis to arise. To the senior executives of those companies, China’s true, malevolent nature appears to be self-evident. Aware of those practices first-hand, they watch likely in horror as other US companies confidently stroll into the Chinese tangles from which they avoided or feel they escaped. Hope undoubtedly remains even among those companies that have already left that Xi and the Communist Party of China are not intending anything tragic. Any positive prospects for their future reinvestment in China surely rest upon what comes next with Xi and the Biden-Harris administration.

Those with a turn of mind to commit themselves to a defense of China’s behavior as a “competitor” of the US, and commit to even greater investment there, may eventually find themselves obliged to be a bit more obedient to Beijing’s wishes if events cause the authoritarian Chinese government to make its true self clear to them. If that day comes, the sense of the scale of its malignant being and purpose will likely be overwhelming. Those dead-enders, though they would hardly see themselves as such, will discover just how masterful Beijing has been at deception, offering satisfying explanations and signing agreements that really had no meaning. 

Some senior executives whose companies remain in China may already fear doing anything to subvert Beijing and incurring its wrath upon their respective interests. Others will perhaps be paralyzed to act in a crisis having been sufficiently instilled with fearfulness over a perception that the Chinese government will become noisy and rough. Even then, reaching a low point but not yet bottom, it would not be too late to accept the loss, as wise business executives sometimes must do, and move out.

Fallaces sunt rerum species. (The appearances of things are deceptive.) The security of US companies, all foreign companies, working in China, is a subject greatcharlie previously broached on the individual employees of those companies might face. Certainly, security offices of any US companies whose executives and staff frequently visit China should have long since arranged opportunities to brief those employees on problems they could possibly face in China. Such briefings might include the discussion of ways to subtly execute defensive measures to defeat Ministry of Public Security (MPS), Ministry of State Security (MSS), PLA Joint Staff Department human intelligence groups, and any Communist Party of China intelligence organs (e.g., the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, the super secret and malignant International (Liaison) Department, the United Front Work Department, and the Propaganda Department) from capturing information that meets their organizations’ immediate intelligence requirements as well as whatever information that managers of those spy organizations may deem useful otherwise.

What was presented in the discussion of the December 13, 2020 greatcharlie post entitled, “Meditations and Ruminations on Chinese Intelligence: Revisiting a Lesson on Developing Insights from Four Decades Ago” on security precautions employees of foreign companies must take in China seems worthy of review as background. The discussion is preclosed here. Only the more apposite points are presented.

As discussed, the foreign visitor is always a potential target for province and municipal offices of MPS and MSS. The capability of Chinese authorities to use technological means to keep a close eye on foreigners and detect, apprehend, and deal with those who protest and oppose the government has been enhanced immensely. Two sensational articles in the New York Times, “A Surveillance Net Blankets China’s Cities, Giving Police Vast Powers” dated December 17, 2019, and “Inside China’s Dystopian Dreams: A.I., Shame and Lots of Cameras,” dated July 8, 2018, well lay out the increased use of technology in MPS and MSS surveillance efforts. Reportedly, as part of Xi’s effort to have the security services take on a greater role in China, he has launched a major upgrade of their surveillance capabilities. China, as a result, has become the world’s largest market for security and surveillance technology. It is reported that almost 300 million cameras have been installed in the country. Government contracts are supporting research and development into technologies that track faces, clothing and even a person’s gait. MPS officers on the beat have been observed using experimental gadgets such as facial-recognition glasses. In Zhengzhou, police and security services can use software to create lists of people. They can create virtual alerts when a targeted  individual approaches a specific location. They can acquire updates on people every hour or every day, and monitor anyone with whom those people have met, particularly if there exists a report that one or both individuals have committed an infraction.  Yet, while the new technology may ostensibly provide police and security services with a way to track criminals, it also improves their means to crack down on sympathizers of the protest movement in Hong Kong, critics of the Communist Party of China, and critics of the police and security services, themselves. Worse, it better enables the police and security services to target migrant workers who travel from the countryside to fill China’s factories and ethnic minority groups as the Uyghurs.

On the street, the surveillance of foreigners will typically be relatively light, calibrated to ensure utilization of an optimal number of officers and informants in the role of surveillance operatives in the field. Doing so also facilitates the monitoring process. The more surveillance one uses the more reports that must be reviewed to find one aggregate picture of what occurred. MPS counterintelligence officers will regularly collect and closely review reports on a foreigner’s behavior via informants among neighbors in the vicinity of their residence and locals among colleagues at work. They would be interested in knowing if they have engaged in behaviors that would make them open to recruitment. Their attitudes toward China and its system would be important. The friendships they have made would be of interest. From the reports of informants and technical surveillance, assessments of what type of temptations could be used, if necessary, to bring them to China’s side based on observations of the foreigner’s lifestyle. 

In its December 13th post, greatcharlie additionally cites Articles 9, 11, 12, and 13 of the National Security Law of the People’s Republic of China, as adopted at the 15th session of the Standing Committee of the Twelfth National People’s Congress to explain that for citizens of the People’s Republic of China, the motivations of money ideology, conspiracy, and excitement do not factor in such a decision to come to call of their country’s intelligence services. The law requires them to do so. If any motivations at all could be said to factor in a Chinese citizen’s decision to obey the direction of an intelligence service, expectedly the Communist Party of China would list faith and adherence to the ideals of the Communist Revolution, the Communist Party of China, patriotism, and the homeland. Supposedly, revolutionary zeal drives the heart of China as “one beating heart.”

Since that writing, the NCSC provided, on Twitter, three articles from China’s National Intelligence Law of 2017, Cybersecurity Law of 2016, and, National Security Law of 2015. NCSC explained its aim in doing so was to help those entering an agreement with a company based in China better understand the legal landscape and that Chinese companies will provide data they obtain or information stored on their networks to China’s state security apparatus upon request. More directly, the NCSC wants US citizens to better understand by its message that Chinese companies and citizens are required to assist in intelligence efforts against them by law. Under Article 7 of the PRC’s National Intelligence Law (2017), NCSC cites: “All organizations and citizens SHALL support, assist, and cooperate with national intelligence efforts in accordance with the law, and shall protect national work secrets they are aware of.” Under Article 28 of the PRC’s Cybersecurity Law (2016), it cites, “Network operators SHALL provide technical support and assistance to public security and national security organs that are safeguarding and investigating criminal activities in accordance with the law.” Under Article 77 of the PRC’s National Security Law (2015), it cites, “Citizens and organizations SHALL provide the following obligations for safeguarding national security,” and then cites section specifically (5), which instructs: “Provide national security authorities, public security authorities, and military authorities with needed support and assistance.”

The foreign businessman, scientist, engineer, academic or any other type of professional  working closely with a Chinese counterpart in China may not be aware that he or she is being monitored by that same friendly colleague. It should be expected. When told, it may be so emotionally shocking to outsiders  that it may very well be near impossible to believe. Perhaps refusing to accept that reality is the only way a foreigner can continue to function comfortably in China. In any event, it is the responsibility of the Chinese citizen to engage in such activity under the National Security law. To that extent, friendship with Chinese colleagues may never be authentic as there is an element to the interaction between the foreigner and the Chinese citizen that is cloaked. China comes first. The foreigner is inconsequential to that reality. Ordinary people doing a little this and a little that for the MPS as well as the MSS is a norm.

Although it has not as yet become a commonplace problem, if a foreigner visiting China for the purpose of business or tourism, accepts  documents, notebooks, and books, the traveler might discover quite surprisingly that he or she is carrying items that contain sensitive data the possession of which could be considered criminal. Those illicit materials would have been presented to the traveler intentionally, perhaps even by a Chinese citizen with whom the traveler may have a positive personal relationship, almost certainly at the behest of MPS or MSS. It was said somewhere that it is terrible to find an enemy in a friend, but it is much worse not to find a friend in a friend. (Given the uncertainty of what may result from contact with Chinese intelligence and counterintelligence units, ordinary Chinese citizens typically will not seek out contact with them nor independently engage in activity with foreigners outside of the workplace on matters related to their work. They will focus on true personal relationships on personal matters, human interests.)

One must also be very cautious about accepting recording devices or recorded materials, or any devices, thumb drives, dvds, or materials that may include video or audio recordings unless one can be absolutely certain as to their contents. Documents contained in any of these media may prove to be government documents concerning confidential matters, and not any run-of-the-mill confidential matters at that. One must immediately open the documents and read them before those who presented them using a laptop or tablet. The review of the recordings posthaste could be passed off as an affected display of ebullience and appreciation of the gift and wonderment about what it holds. 

As things stand, from year to year, the situation has not gotten better in terms of stability and safety. If troubles between the US and China ever begin to arise with regularity, such as detainments of employees of US companies, one might expect some form of ransom will be discreetly demanded by Chinese officials with a warning not to acknowledge their villainy to the world. More than just an aggressive act, it would be an expression of Beijing’s power over those companies, designed to work in the psyche of the US business executives. If a US companies is resolute about remaining in China, it would to be willing to accept that the situation could change rapidly for the worse, new ground rules could be put in for operating in a flash, and it would know without doubt who is really in charge. They would need to accept that ties back to the US would have little meaning to Beijing. The Communist Party of China would surely delight in exercising such power over Western “capitalist” guests. The door opening in that direction of what is outlined here can already be heard creaking.

President Xi in his People’s Liberation Army uniform on parade (above). It would be more than likely that if a military conflict between the US and China arose on the greater world stage, Beijing would lash out at available US targets right at home such as US companies and their employees. Indeed, when leaders of Communist Party of China are exhausted of tricks and manipulations, they often turn to the cane. If US companies were to face such a situation, the matter would need to be put right by senior executives of those companies at the crisis point, if at all possible.

Prospective Problems Ahead

ata volentem ducunt, nolentem trahunt. (Fate leads the willing, and drags the unwilling.) As US companies, by their own devices, continue to entangle themselves in meshes with Beijing, they may be grooming themselves to become subject to its machinations. An impregnable collection of evidence already indicates that Beijing’s desire to control Western business communities attitudes and behavior toward nearly anything Chinese. Perhaps one day US companies will awaken to the true character of the Communist Party of China and the Chinese government after it is too late. Once any extraordinary conduct is exhibited by Beijing toward one or more US companies  it would be almost impossible for the US government to chuck itself in the mix in a calibrated way that mitigates such steps as opposed to exacerbating the situation.

As it was explained in the 14th century by the English lawyer, author, and statesman, Saint Thomas More, “What is deferred is not avoided.” Caught in such a conundrum, it would be best if US companies had already laid plans to respond to such a contingency well in advance of it. It would be the only way to have a fighting chance of getting some handle on it. Complete consideration of Beijing’s immoral side must be part of that assessment. Exactly how business executives might intend to put the matter right on their side under such circumstances is unknown. In spite of contingency planning, it is hard to see from greatcharlie’s vantage point what cards US business executives could realistically play to sway Beijing in such a crisis. They would be in a weak position to negotiate relief from Beijing. Perhaps it was in the process of planning for such a contingency, that senior executives of such companies along with their security offices recognized that it was time to leave.

Conceivably, the senior executives of some US companies in China might hold the idea that they might serve as “go-betweens,” neutral emissaries, who, while loyal to their US homeland, are also loyal and responsive to their Chinese hosts, and assist in finding some settlement between the US and China during a conflict. The idea would unlikely interest Beijing in wartime. Despite any notions senior executives might have of their ties to China and relationship with leaders of the Communist Party of China, during a war, they would most certainly be tagged as enemy aliens, perhaps dangerous enemy aliens, and handled with due care by MPS and Party security organs. In an atrocious yet very possible scenario, they may be tasked to perform high profile duties against their will for the Party’s Propaganda Department. United Work Department and International Department operatives might force them without compunction to any point resembling a front line of the conflict to demonstrate the senior executives recognition that China was on the correct side of the struggle and any of its actions against the US were righteous. Chinese security services might force them to visit foreign capitals, accompanied of course, to give speeches on how the US allegedly may have wrongfully threatened China’s interest and caused the conflict. One could imagine a hundred possibilities and none of them would be good for the senior executives. At about that point, the business executives will have the truest and fullest understanding of the Communist Party of China.

Interestingly enough, any decision by Beijing  to take steps against one or more US companies would undoubtedly be a measure decided upon in its own contingency planning in the event of a sudden ratcheting up of contentious relations with Washington. To that extent, what might happen to US companies stranded in China in such circumstances would assuredly be a fixed fate. Leaders of the Communist Party of China, under such circumstances, would hardly be inveigled by the platitudes of foreign business executives to be more lenient toward their companies. Any Party leaders would feel both angered and shamed if that perception was created about them within the Party’s membership. It is imaginable that such a bargaining effort would be responded to violently.

Essentially, any breakdown in relations between the US and China, or worse, a military conflict, would have an unfortunate effect upon the position of US companies operating there. More than likely, it would cause Beijing to lash out at available US targets right at home such as those US companies and their employees. Indeed, when the brains of the leadership of Communist Party of China are exhausted of tricks and manipulations, they have often turned to the cane. If US companies were to face such a situation, the matter would need to be put right by senior executives of those companies at the crisis point, if at all possible.

The Way Forward

Aligning the suppositions offered here on thinking over remaining in China with specific senior executives of US companies operating in China undoubtedly would not be too difficult for numerous investigative journalists if they preferred to do so. Yet, as mentioned on the outset of this post, their identities are immaterial with regard to the objective here which was to provide a picture of the challenging circumstances that those business executives face particularly from China’s public security and intelligence services, shed light upon what they are likely discussing among their counsels, and present insights on the decisions they have reached given the paths they have taken.

If credit might be given to their line of thinking of those US business executives resolute about remaining in China, it might be provided by F. Scott Fitzgerald in a February 1936 Esquire magazine essay entitled, “The Crack-Up.” Fitzgerald explains: “the test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function. One should, for example, be able to see that things are hopeless and yet be determined to make them otherwise. This philosophy fitted on to my early adult life, when I saw the improbable, the implausible, often the “impossible” come true.” However, it cannot be denied that those executives are placing their respective companies’ interests in a vulnerable position by remaining on the ground in China. Some might call that a calculated risk. 

Worrisome is the possibility that some may be unable to fully grasp the effect of their own actions. If placed in a trying position by external events as a collapse in US-China relations or a military conflict between the two, it is hard to imagine how US business executives would preserve their respective companies’ operations in China or more generally, how they would actually act. They may very well be placing themselves in what could become a serious dilemma. Concerning those executives laser focused on the bottomline–some might say they should be, they might do better to employ their minds on the matter of the well-being of their employees and equities in China before there is some tumultuous event. Perhaps some would say greatcharlie is over-egging the pudding here. However, greatcharlie hopes only to be of some material assistance.

The world exists in an ordered universe and one expects everything to follow that design. There are patterns one can discern that establish order in the human mind. Illusion must never be chosen over fact. Any senior executive of a US firm operating in China should have already been sufficiently aware of how Beijing is acting. Sentiment is a poor substitute for true feeling and fact. Ignorance more often than not dissolves into tragedy. While they are in a position to reexamine the facts, they should do so while there is still time available. Qui ipse si sapiens prodesse non quit, nequiquam sapit. (A wise man whose wisdom does not serve him is wise in vain.)

Suggestions for Resolving the Conundrum of Chinese Intelligence Operations in the US: Fragments Developed from a Master’s Precepts

The People’s Republic of China Consulate in San Francisco (above). The Consulate has been a bit troublesome. On occasion, it has been linked to suspected Chinese espionage efforts on the West Coast. However, Chinese intelligence operations in the region, which holds world-leading science and tech firms, have more often been tied to state-owned businesses, private firms, academic institutions, or research institutes than the Consulate. In a January 31, 2021 post, greatcharlie reviewed James Olson’s To Catch a Spy: The Art of Counterintelligence. In Chapter Six, Olson lists 10 “benefits of a counterintelligence operation” and explains how to reap them. In this essay, greatcharlie presents some suggestions on how Olson’s precepts might be applied to help defeat Chinese espionage efforts throughout the US.

In its January 31, 2021 post, greatcharlie reviewed James Olson’s To Catch a Spy: The Art of Counterintelligence (Georgetown University Press, 2019. In Chapter Six “Double-Agent Operations,” Chapter Seven, “Managing Double-Agent Operations,” and Chapter Eight “Counterintelligence Case Studies,” in particular, Olson provides a generous amount of information on how counterintelligence operations have been conducted by US counterintelligence services. Readers are also favored with many of the logical principles that Olson would practice and expound during training during his service in the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) counterintelligence. Included among what he presents is a list of benefits US counterintelligence seeks to gain from a double-agent operations: spreading disinformation; determining the other side’s modus operandi; identifying hostile intelligence officers; learning the opposition’s intelligence collection requirements; acquiring positive intelligence; tying up the opposition’s operations; taking the oppositions money; discrediting the opposition; testing other countries; and, pitching the hostile case officer. Many of the tactics, techniques, procedures, and methods of US counterintelligence are laid out. Some portions are couched in anecdotes illustrating practices used in the past. Each to an extent is a display of the imagination and creativity. One discovers how double-agents were dangled to garner interest from adversarial intelligence services, false information spiked with just enough truths, “chicken feed,” was transmitted, and nuanced communications between the double-agent and his handler were managed. In 12 case studies, Olson finally presents a classical series of demonstrations along with lessons learned. He tells it all in an apposite way. Virum mihi, Camena, insece versutum. (Tell me, O Muse,of the skillfully man.)

In fairness, Olson’s work should not be judged in terms of his reaction to the prevailing national security crisis at the time of this writing: Chinese intelligence penetration into the foundations of US power. A criminal strain is observed running through the thinking of the Communist Party of China as it dispatches Chinese foreign intelligence services to steal volumes, tons of information from the most secure locations in the US. Perhaps what the future may hold is made darker by the fact that among its central members, are individuals of immense intellect, making them a far more dangerous threat to US interests. In greatcharlie’s view, there is much that can be extracted from To Catch a Spy that might constructively provide some suggestions on how to address this crisis. With the objective of being transparent, greatcharlie must disclose that on the matter of Chinese espionage in the US it is partisan, giving its complete support to the US, the homeland. That does not imply that a bias colors its discussion. No information is skewed or bent with preconceived ideas. What it does mean is that readers will likely discern facts are interpreted from that perspective.

In Chapter Six of To Catch a Spy, Olson lists the 10 “benefits of a counterintelligence operation” related in particular to double-agent operations and explains, in brief, how to reap them. In this essay, greatcharlie may albeit step out on shaky ground to present some discreet suggestions on how 9 of Olson’s 10 precepts might be applied in efforts to defeat Chinese espionage activities in the US. The suggestions are the result of some creative thinking on what if anything new might be said on the matter. In the essay’s discussion, greatcharlie hopes to avoid any appearance of instructing counterintelligence officers on what to do. Rather, the only desire is to offer all readers its suggestions, leaving it up to those in US counterintelligence to observe, reflect, and act as they may. It would be satisfying enough to know that some of what is presented here might  resonate with a few of them. It is presumed by greatcharlie that Olson’s precepts harmonize to a great degree with those that currently guide US counterintelligence officers in active service and thereby anything resulting from them would not be deemed too fanciful or even recherché. Applying Olson’s precepts to developments on the Chinese intelligence front in greatcharlie’s would have been beyond its scope of its preceding review of To Catch a Spy –although some readers noting the review’s length might sardonically query why there might be any concern over a few thousand words extra. In response to such concerns, greatcharlie has attempted to apply Olson’s teachings to the discussion here without making it an exercise in “large data processing.” It should also be noted that from the corpus of work on Chinese intelligence, a great influence upon greatcharlie are the writings of Peter Mattis. Since leaving the CIA, where he was a highly-regarding analyst on China, Mattis has published a number of superlative essays on Chinese intelligence and counterintelligence. Mattis, along with a former military intelligence officer and diplomat, Matthew Brazil, published Chinese Communist Espionage: An Intelligence Primer (United States Naval Institute Press, 2019), a book which is nothing less than brilliant.

Additionally, upon consideration of what it could offer to support the development of more effective approaches to defeat Chinese human intelligence and electronic intelligence collection activities against the US, greatcharlie bore in mind that it would need to be somewhat Delphic in its discussion. Therefore, what is offered are fragments of ideas with the aim of leaving a figurative trail of breadcrumbs that  a few officers in the US counterintelligence services might pick up. Hopefully, after testing their virtue, they will find something useful. Given this approach, greatcharlie apologies in advance to other readers who may find the discussion somewhat cryptic or a bit “undercooked” at places. De minimis grandis fit magnus acervus. (From the smallest grains comes a big heap.)

Chinese Foreign Intelligence Versus US Counterintelligence

Resolving the problem of halting the torrent of successful Chinese intelligence operations against targets inside the US has hardly provided mental exaltation for the rank and file in US counterintelligence services operating in the field. US counterintelligence has lived with failure too long. Surely, a great cloud has covered any happiness of their work. The inability to put an appreciable dent in Chinese efforts has likely had some measurable impact on the morale of earnest US counterintelligence officers. Indeed, the abstruse puzzle that Chinese intelligence operations pose has most likely been an anxiety generating challenge that has pressed those given to believe it is their purview to know things others cannot know. At the top, senior executives and managers must account for the failing of their respective US counterintelligence services. Imaginably, they resent the deficiency. Surely, they are feeling terribly unsettled by regular reports of so much being blown, so much intellectual property and classified material being lost. They have certainly had a bellyful of the failure rate against the Chinese intelligence networks. There has been so much scandal–or at least what should be scandal–with US political leaders becoming entangled with Chinese intelligence operatives, from interns, drivers, fundraisers, to “camp followers.” Expectedly, senior executives and managers should be wondering whether the rank and file of US counterintelligence has gone on hiatus. To use contemporary sports vernacular in the US, US counterintelligence services “have not shown up” in the struggle with China. They may also be wondering, given the array of tools and considerable resources available to them, whether the rank and file, led by squad, shop, or unit supervisors and commanders, have told them the whole story. Perhaps harshly, they would question whether the rank and file were organizing valid plans or going off on profitless “school boy larks,” not remotely sufficient to defeat a most cunning opponent. Against the Chinese style intelligence operations, it may very well be the case that the ordinary principles of trade craft and security have gone to the wall. French Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte is quoted as saying: “You must not fight too often with one enemy, or you will teach him all your art of war.” Directors and commanding officers of US counterintelligence services can only come to the US Congress for hearings on oversight and appropriations seeking sympathy not approval or report any real success.

Perchance little has really been provided in any official assessments of why US counterintelligence efforts have been so unsuccessful. Perhaps senior executives are not asking the right questions or any questions. When one is overmatched, one will usually lose. Some enhanced intelligibility in the discussion of what has been occurring would help to bring at least the US public around to a better understanding of what where things stand and the prospects for success. Without that, policy analysts and other observers are left to presume that the Chinese are that much better. Indeed, as of this writing, the suggestion that has frequently been voiced in certain quarters concerned with the crisis, and has even spilled out into the newsmedia, is that the professional, diligent officers of the US counterintelligence services–and sadly those qualities cannot be ascribed to the entire group–are simply unable to get a handle on the Chinese threat. That suggests there has been a complete eclipse of their faculties. However, that should not be taken as the gospel truth. Surely, the men and women of the US counterintelligence services, correctly focused, will be able to gain and retain the initiative and start pulling apart Chinese intelligence networks. The renowned US industrialist Henry Ford once remarked: “Failure is simply the opportunity to begin again, this time more intelligently.” The US counterintelligence services maintain their vigil.

Olson’s Precepts from To Catch a Spy

On “Spreading disinformation”

Olson begins his veritable “mini manual” by explaining double-agents can be used to provide the opposition service with false or misleading disinformation, but this a relatively infrequent objective. Deceiving the enemy in this manner requires tremendous planning and subtlety because adversarial foreign intelligence services are not easily deceived. Very often they possess the means to verify the provenance of the double-agent’s reporting. Moreover, if the double-agent reports that some action will take place in the future and it does not, the double-agent’s credibility is seriously undermined. According to Olson the use of disinformation in a double-agent operation would only make sense when the stakes are unusually high or the opposition has limited means of verification.

With reference to “Determining the other side’s modus operandi”

Olson explains that a double-agent is in a perfect position to report back on the opposition’s modus operandi. For any counterintelligence officer responsible for monitoring and thwarting hostile services operations, it is invaluable to know how the service conducts its business. Olson recalls that when he was tasked with developing counterintelligence programs at CIA field stations, the first thing he did was review all of the double-agent operations that any US government agency had run in that location. What he wanted to learn was how the target services operated. Among the questions that he would ask were the following: “Did they meet their agents in safe houses, cafes, parks, vehicles, or some other location? What time of day did they prefer for agent meetings? Were there sections of the city they overused? Did they incorporate initial contact points into their modus operandi, and if so, what kind? What kind of equipment and training did they provide for their agents? Did they use electronic communications of any kind? Where were their dead drops and what did their concealment devices look like? What type of signal device did they prefer?”

Olson remarks that It was especially helpful to have double-agent history in the same city that you are operating, but there was value in reviewing any foibles of double-agent operations run by the target service anywhere. As Olson explains, the case officers of the service have all had the same training and follow the same operational doctrine. They tend to fall into habits and use operational techniques that have worked for them elsewhere. The result can be predictability–a major vulnerability in spying that can and should be exploited by the opposition’s counterintelligence. 

Concerning “Identifying hostile intelligence officers”

Foreign intelligence services take great pains to hide their case officers under a variety of covers according to Olson. They can pose as diplomats, trade officials, journalists, students, businessmen or businesswomen, airline representatives, employees of international organizations, and practically any other profession that gives them an ostensible reason for being in the country. US counterintelligence is tasked with piercing those covers and identifying the spies. One of the best tools available for this task is the double-agent.

In some cases the handling officer is the recruiting officer. If the recruiting officer first met our double-agent dangle when he was providing the dotting and assessing venues in true name, then the double-agent can provide a positive identification from the beginning. As standard practice, however, the case officer will use an alias in meeting with the double-agent. The double-agent can still provide a detailed description of his or her handler and can often make an identification through a photo spread. Also, since counterintelligence service running the double-agent operation knows when and where the case officer will show up, for example to meet to meet the double agent, to service a dead drop, or to mark a signal, it has technical options to assist in identification. The case officer usually comes from a known pool of officials from the local embassy, consulate, the UN, a trade mission, or some other official installation. Olson claims that it never takes long “to make” who the handler is.

Double-agent operations that go on for an extended period, as many of them do, Olson explains that they will lead usually to additional identifications of hostile intelligence personnel. Case officers rotate regularly to other assignments, and their agents doubled or otherwise, are turned over to a new case officer for handling. Other case officers are sometimes introduced into the operation as a back-up or as a subject expert. The primary case officer may handle the day-to-day operational aspects of the operation but may not have the in-depth knowledge required to debrief the double-agent effectively on a highly technical subject. Olson says it is not uncommon in these cases for intelligence services to insert a more knowledgeable debriefer into an operation from time to time. He continues by explaining that If the primary case officer may not be able to get a surveillance break to pick up a dead drop, for example, or may not have cover to mark or read a given signal. In that event a colleague from the residency is called on to help out–and can be identified by employed cameras or other surveillance techniques nearby. Olson states that in some long term double-agent  operations, as many as twenty or thirty opposition case officers and support personnel have been exposed in this manner.

Olson warns that things get funny when the handling or servicing officer if a double-agent operation is an illegal or nonofficial cover officer (NOC). Case officers in these categories face arrest or imprisonment if caught. For that reason, illegals or NOCs are used carefully and as a rule only handle or support a case in which the bona fides of the operation are considered airtight.

With respect to “Learning the opposition’s intelligence collection requirements”

In what Olson calls “the cat-and-mouse game” of counterintelligence, even the slightest advantage can be the difference between winning and losing. A good double-agent operation can provide a winning edge by alerting the sponsoring service to the opposition’s collection requirements. Knowing what the double-agent is being asked to provide the handler is a valuable window into what the opposition’s priorities and gaps are. A question posed would be “How much pressure is being put on the double-agent to collect intelligence in a certain area?” He says that the range of tasking is limited, of course, to what the double-agent professes his access to be,  but a good double-agent might hint at the possibility if expanded access to smoke out the opposition’s response. For example, a high technology double-agent might tell his handler that his future duties might include research in high technology devices. Olson says the question then would be: “Does the opposition service respond either alacrity or lassitude?” According to Olson, the latter reaction could indicate that this requirement is being covered by another agent.

Olson demonstrates another ploy that can be used to learn the adversary’s collection priorities which was to have a military double-agent, for example, announce to his handler that he is up for reassignment and is about to put in his wish list for a new posting. Olson says the double-agent would be prompted to ask his handler: “Where would the service like him to go?  Where does the service not want him to go? For what kind of bullet should he be applying?” Olson explains that how the handler responds can indicate the services collection priorities and gaps in locations where it thinks it can handle the double agent safely.

Olson further explains that intelligence services do not task their agents haphazardly. The requirements are generated by a systematic process that includes input from all the interested parties. In the US, for example, requirements for the intelligence community result from an elaborate consultation and give and take managed by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. The process is far from casual. Any intelligence service can learn a lot by analyzing the requirements given to its double agents. There is significant meaning in what the opposition service is asking for and what it is not.

Regarding “Acquiring positive intelligence”

Olson reveals that occasionally, a foreign intelligence service so believes in the trustworthiness of a double agent that it shares with that double-agent positive intelligence information. The purpose may be to give the founder agent background information to assist in his or her collection efforts. Another reason for doing so might be that the case officer-double-agent relationship may become so critical that the case officer assumes the double-agents ironclad loyalty and “talks out of school.” Olson also says a case officer may try to enhance his or her standing with the double-agent by boasting about past or current accomplishments.

With reference to “Tying up the opposition’s operations”

Every minute an opposition case officer spends on a double-agent, proffers Olson, is a wasted minute. The handlers time is wasted. Also tied up in the operation for no productive purpose are technical teams, linguists, surveillance, and analysts. Olson goes on to note that It is perhaps a perverse but still undeniable pleasure for a US counterintelligence officer to sit back to survey his or her double-agent operations and to gloat about owning a big chunk of that adversary’s time and energy. Every useless thing that a foreign intelligence service does in handling one of our double agent operations leaves less time for it to hurt us with real operations. In the great game of counterintelligence, these are gratifying victories.

As to “Taking the oppositions money”

Foreign intelligence services vary tremendously in how much they pay their agents, but Olson admits that with the right kind of material, a good double-agent can command big money. He explains that the willingness of an adversarial service to pay our double-agents large amounts of money is a good indicator of how deeply we have set the hook. 

About “Discrediting the opposition”

Commenting generally, Olson says intelligence services hate to lose face. Enough of them around the world have acquired such bad reputations for violating human rights, torture, other violent acts, and murder, that there is not too much for the many to lose in terms of good standing. They want to project to the world an image of competence, professionalism, toughness and discipline. Olson explains that any publicity that highlights their failures can undermine their support from their government and demoralize their troops. He notes that in closed societies like the Soviet Union, East Germany, China, and Cuba, intelligence services were hardly accountable to the press and public as those of Western democratic societies. However, he maintains that they still did everything they could to protect their reputations. Olson says that the same is true today of our major counterintelligence adversaries.

The US is reluctant to publicize expired double-agent operations out of fear of revealing sensitive methodology or subjecting the American principal of notoriety. In selected cases, Olson states that he would like to see US counterintelligence be more proactive in capitalizing on the other side’s failures. He believes that by doing so the US can make them gun shy about engaging in future operations against its citizens. He asserts that the US could publicize how they fell into our trap and how much they gave away to us in the process. He suggests that once they are lured into operating inside the US, counterintelligence services can do a splashy expulsion of case officers who have diplomatic immunity and arrest those who do not. As a benefit, Olson suggests the hostile service looks bad for letting itself be duped by our double-agent operation, and should pay a price for it. It loses some of its operational staff, its reputation for professionalism suffers. He feels that no mistake by the opposition should go unexploited. 

The People’s Republic of China Minister of State Security, Chen Wenqing (above). Resolving the problem of halting the torrent of successful Chinese intelligence operations against targets inside the US has hardly provided mental exaltation for the rank and file in US counterintelligence services operating in the field. US counterintelligence has lived with failure too long. Surely, a great cloud has covered any happiness of their work. The inability to put an appreciable dent in Chinese efforts has likely had some measurable impact on the morale of earnest US counterintelligence officers. Indeed, the abstruse puzzle that Chinese intelligence operations pose has most likely been an anxiety generating challenge that has pressed those given to believe it is their purview to know things others cannot know.

Suggestions Drawn from Olson’s Precepts

Do Not Fume, Think!

In Greek Mythology, there was Até, an unpredictable figure, not necessarily personified, yet represented rash, chaotic, ruinous responses by both gods and men to a situation. She was famously mentioned in Act 3, Scene 1 of  William Shakespeare’s play The Tragedy of Julius Caesar, when Mark Antony addresses the body of Caesar and predicts civil war: “And Caesar’s spirit ranging for revenge,/ With Até by his side, come hot from hell,/ Shall in these confines, with a monarch’s voice,/ Cry havoc, and let slip the dogs of war.” Até has been described as a chain reaction, a mechanism in which evil succeeds evil. In finding a handle to the current espionage crisis with China, it is not a time for a “gloves off” attitude. Minds should be directed toward getting at the opponent to send a message, to bully or even to overwhelm, The requirement in this situation is subtlety, nuance, thinking, not any heavy-handed business. If any US counterintelligence officer involved cannot sustain that, he or she is working the wrong target. Informed by experience, greatcharlie is aware that it is a predilection among not all young special agents in a particular US counterintelligence service, but some, to be frightfully eager to prove something to their cohorts and to themselves. Ira furor brevis est; animum rege. (Anger is a brief madness; govern your soul (control your emotions)).

Practicing what is compulsory for all investigations in the Chinese crisis is sine qua non. However, if one’s thinking is not yielding satisfactory outcomes, then one must focus upon how and what one thinks. A corrective step must be to concentrate to enhance one’s ability to summon up new ideas and insights, study, understand, and consider the deeds of personalities. It is one thing to supposedly see everything–certainly the tools available to US counterintelligence services allow them to see an extraordinary amount of things, but another thing to properly reason from what one sees. US counterintelligence officers must think harder and conceptualize better. They must ruminate on events in relation to those that proceed them and meditate on what the future may bring. They must practice forecasting decisions by their adversary that may shape what might come and then proof their efforts by watching events unfold in reports. 

The question that must beat the brain of every US counterintelligence officer working on the matter is most likely: “Where will they strike next?” As a practical suggestion, the focus of many investigations–if not all investigations–of Chinese intelligence networks send operations might be placed on two points: those controlling networks and running operations in the field; and the composition of operations in the field.

Know Who Controls the Chinese Intelligence Networks

As it was discussed in the July 31, 2020 greatcharlie post entitled, “China’s Ministry of State Security: What Is This Hammer the Communist Party of China’s Arm Swings in Its Campaign against the US? (Part 1),” personnel of the Ministry of State Security (MSS), the civilian foreign intelligence service of China, are usually assigned overseas for up to six years, with a few remaining in post for 10 years if required. In most countries, MSS officers are accommodated by the embassy. In the US, there are seven permanent Chinese diplomatic missions staffed with intelligence personnel. MSS personnel are usually assigned overseas for up to six years, with a few remaining in post for ten years if required. In most countries, the local MSS officers are accommodated by the embassy. Having stated that, it is near certain that presently far greater numbers of MSS officers as well as officers from the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) and Communist Party of China intelligence units are operating without official cover throughout the West. (Note: The four key bodies of the Communist Party of China’s bureaucracy at the central level for building and exercising political influence outside the party, and especially beyond China’s borders are the United Front Work Department, the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, the International (Liaison) Department, and the Propaganda Department.) Instead of embassies and consulates, they operate out of nongovernmental, decentralized stations. They are known to often operate out of front companies created solely for intelligence missions or out of “friendly” companies overseas run by Chinese nationals, “cut outs“, who are willing to be more heavily involved with the work of MSS and other Chinese intelligence services than most Chinese citizens would ever want to be. This approach may be a residual effect of pollination with Soviet intelligence in the past. 

There is a common misunderstanding about the Soviet KGB Rezidentura. While it is generally believed that all intelligence activity by KGB in another country was centralized through the Rezidentura in the embassy or consulate, under a Rezident with an official cover, as fully explained by former KGB Major General Oleg Kalugin in his memoir, The First Directorate: My 32 Years in Intelligence and Espionage against the West (St. Martin’s Press, 1994), there were also nonofficial Rezidenturas that operated away from Soviet diplomatic centers. Those nonofficial Rezidenturas had their own Rezident or chief of station, chain of command, missions, and lines of communication to Moscow. One might suppose that when the relationship during the Cold War was still congenial, had doubtlessly demonstrated to the Chinese, the benefits of operating two types of Rezidentura overseas, official and nonofficial. In a July 9, 2017 National Review article entitled “Everything We Know about China’s Secretive State Security Bureau”, Mattis explains that the MSS’ thirty-one major provincial and municipal sub-elements of MSS more than likely possess most of the officers, operatives, and informants and conduct the lion’s share of the operations. For some time, those provincial and municipal sub-elements performed mostly surveillance and domestic intelligence work. These provincial and municipal state security departments and bureaus By the time of Mattis’ writing, they had become small-sized foreign intelligence services. They were given considerable leeway to pursue sources. In Mattis’ view, that independence accounted for variation across the MSS in terms of the quality of individual intelligence officers and operations. At the present, the provincial and municipal state security departments and bureaus may be operating entire networks of their own in the US with appropriate guidance from MSS Headquarters and the Communist Party of China.

There are likely many unexplored possibilities that perhaps should be considered about the managers of Chinese intelligence networks in the US. Anything that can be gathered or inferred about the individuality of such a person must be put forth for study. A constant effort must be made to understand what makes the network manager tick. Using some of what is publicly known about how Chinese intelligence services have been operating in the US from a variety of sources, to include US Department of Justice indictments and criminal complaints, one might conceptualize traits that could be ascribed to those managers possibly on the ground in the US, controlling operations day-to-day, are: energy, enthusiasm, and creativity. Among their traits, one might expect that they would exude a positive attitude that encourages officers, operatives, and informants to do their utmost in the field. That energy is transmitted to US citizens and Chinese émigrés being recruited to serve the purposes of their intelligence services and, of course, the Communist Party of China. There would very likely be the hope among Chinese intelligence services and the Communist Party of China that following the detection of each of their victories by US counterintelligence services there is an opposite effect upon the officers of those organizations. Chinese intelligence services would surely hope that a sense of defeat reaches deep into the psyche of US counterintelligence services rank and file and firmly sets within them a sense of disponding woe, sorrow, and discouragement. They doubtlessly want them to feel gutted.

The managers controlling operations of Chinese foreign intelligence networks in the US have undoubtedly been selected due to their proven mental alertness, quick thinking, adaptability, and curiosity. They surely have the right stuff to be open-minded and imaginative, within authorized parameters, and are willing to adapt. Surprisingly given the iron-grip culture among managers and executives in Beijing, these “field managers” have apparently been given some leeway to use their initiative to achieve progress. It likely accounts for how the Chinese are able to react quickly to any changing circumstances. To an extent, it may also explain why Chinese intelligence services may appear to some to be so disdainful of any danger that US counterintelligence efforts might pose to their operations despite knowing that they are actively being pursued by them by the hour. To be on top of everything, the network managers are likely sharp as a tack and no doubt endlessly study what is known by Chinese intelligence about US counterintelligence tactics, techniques, procedures, and methods, concepts and intent, and the latest counterintelligence tools US counterintelligence has fielded. Among such individuals, a solid foundation of information likely allows for the development of viable inferences and strong insights which in turn allows for confidence in using their intuition on what may come or what is coming their way. These network leaders are also likely able to identify any “bad habits” that may have ever brought US counterintelligence services too close for comfort. 

There remains the possibility that the network manager may not even be located in the US. Still, someone must be present on the ground in the US, to relay, with authority, directions from the manager and respond to inquiries and urgent matters from those operating in the field. It could be the case that they maintain modest lodgings not only to reduce costs and keep a low-profile in general. However, the presumption of a low-profile manager could also be entirely incorrect. It may very well be that they are individuals who have achieved considerable success and prominence in areas such as business and finance. As such, they, as a professional requirement, would both have access to and daily accumulate knowledge far beyond average boundaries of the latest events in industry and government. They would know what is important and urgent, what is moving things forward, what is the next big thing, who and where are the individuals influencing events and how to make contact with them and get connected to all of it. In their fields, they may be among the most capable at doing that and may have the recognition, awards, and the financial benefits that would confirm it. It would appear that they avoid engaging in any surreptitious or malign efforts in their own companies or in their own fields. However, it is still a possibility.

Such prospective network managers would very likely be untainted by any apparent or questionable affiliation with Chinese universities, the PLA, and the Communist Party of China. (That does not mean family members who may reside in China would not be thoroughly connected to such organizations.) If the individuals have family ties back to China, there would be nothing apparent about them that would make them suspicious. They would likely have no overseas travel or contacts that would create suspicion. Doubtlessly, an endless list of notables from their fields might be prepared to vouch for them. All the while, though, they would be managing intelligence operations of their networks in an exquisite fashion, and feeding back information to China vital to US national security and the key to helping US businesses maintain their competitive edge against foreign rivals. (If the manager is situated in the US, oddly enough, there may actually be a number of creative ways to draw out such senior managers of field operations. As aforementioned, greatcharlie will never offer any insights even from its position outside the bureaucracy that it believed might result in any negative outcomes for the US as it seeks to resolve the China crisis. That being stated, as stated in the December 13, 2020 greatcharlie post entitled, “Meditations and Ruminations on Chinese Intelligence: Revisiting a Lesson on Developing Insights from Four Decades Ago,” if one were to mine through the US Department of Justice’s very own indictments and criminal complaint against those few Chinese officers, operatives, and informants that have been captured, reading between the lines very closely, one can find to more than few open doors that might lead to successes against existing but well-cloaked Chinese intelligence networks and actors. Not one case has been a “wilderness of mirrors.”)

Perchance those of a younger generation would say that Chinese intelligence network managers in the US, as described here, as being  “woke,” or as the Germans would say, “wach,” both words roughly refer to them as being awake. In greatcharlie’s view, spying on the US is not woke. Nonetheless, everyday, the network managers place their keen eyes on the world around them and have a deep understanding of how people tick, how they fit in and feel where they live and work, and how they can get the ones they have targeted tangled up in their respective espionage enterprises.

Perhaps reading this, one might get the impression that greatcharlie was attempting to convince readers that Jupiter himself was running the Chinese intelligence networks. That is surely not the case. However, it must be recognized that the sort controlling those networks are likely of a very special nature. Surely, with regard to politics which is all so important in the regime of the Communist Party of China, one would expect that network managers deployed against the US, despite not having much physical contact with anyone in Beijing, would be the fair-haired boys or gals among one or more of the senior executives in MSS or even a senior leader of the Party, itself. 

Whatever any US counterintelligence service may attempt to do in an effort to break Chinese intelligence operations, its officers must be mindful that this may likely be the sort of individual they are seeking to maneuver against. Without the ability to get up close to these managers, it might be enough to conceptualize them, given the pattern of activity and interrogations of intercepted officers, operatives, and informants and reinterviewing the handful of “recent” defectors in US hands. (It is wholly plausible that the officers, operatives, and informants working in the US have never seen and do not know the identity of their network manager on the ground. They may only recognize the individual by code via orders, rectifications, responses to inquiries and requests, and inspirational messages.) If the abstract entity, de créature imaginaire, constructed here is, by coincidence, correct in every particular, there may be the rudiments to get started on trying to “steal a march” on perhaps a few of the Chinese intelligence network managers. Shaping one’s thinking against thinking and conceptualized tratits of de créature imaginaire, may be enough to open new doors. Perhaps in time, such in-depth study of these aspects will allow informed counterintelligence officers to develop true intimations, not valueless surmisals or absurd speculation, of what may be occurring and what is about to occur. In “A Story of Great Love,” published in the Winter 2011 edition of the Paris Review, Clarice Lispector writes a sentence that is amusing yet conceptually germane to what is discussed here: “Once upon a time there was a girl who spent so much time looking at her hens that she came to understand their souls and their desires intimately.”

The People’s Republic of China Consulate in Houston (above). From this now closed building, China directed government, economic, and cultural activity across the southern US. Ministry of State Security (MSS) personnel are usually assigned overseas for up to six years, with a few remaining in post for 10 years if required. In most countries, the local MSS officers are accommodated by the embassy. Having stated that, it is certain that presently far greater numbers of MSS officers as well as officers from the People’s Liberation Army and Communist Party of China intelligence units are operating without official cover throughout the West. Instead of embassies and consulates, they operate out of nongovernmental, decentralized stations.

Discover the Composition of Network Operations

One might suppose the Chinese intelligence networks in the US, as a primary purpose, unlikely conduct operations in which they blithely seek out new targets day-after-day, although there are perhaps some operations underway that serve to monitor individuals in positions that might be interest and sites of information of interest with the guidance of MSS headquarters, provincial bureaus and municipal departments based on available intelligence. The settled, more fruitful networks that have nettled US counterintelligence services the most are likely set up to run operations on targets of a certain type, rich with prospects at locations in  which Chinese intelligence operatives and informants are well ensconced. One could reasonably expect that there will be a commonality in location for both predator and prey. (Although, nothing can really be certain for espionage is a deke business.) The Chinese intelligence operation will be set up in proximity of a figurative “happy hunting ground,” a high-tech firm, laboratory, academia, political network, foreign, national security, economic, trade policymaking office, agribusiness, and aviation, and energy business to list only a handful. In addition to propinquity, there will be a common functionality of any Chinese owned business that may establish themselves in the hunting ground, and very apparent efforts to create employee links by them with their likely targets. 

Control remains essential in the authoritarian (totalitarian) regime of the Communist Party of China and therefore there is a certain specificity intrinsic to every operation–despite nuance in design, methods, and other imaginative approaches attendant–that will presumably allow for monitoring, oversight, and audits. If it ever was detected that an odd Chinese intelligence network was skillfully mixing tactics, techniques, procedures, and methods in operations conducted following an aggregate rollup of known Chinese intelligence efforts in the US, it is unlikely that particular network’s approach, while perhaps creative to the extent possible, will never stray too far from any observances that would be laid down by their respective Chinese intelligence services. If the tactics, techniques, procedures, and methods used by Chinese intelligence networks are really so similar, one could say their operations will likely have a common “DNA.” The adversary’s known practices are undoubtedly cataloged by US counterintelligence services. It will be necessary to more closely study the common functionality of networks and operations. As much information on their operations must be collected as possible. Study what has been learned by allies. Identify common vulnerabilities in every network. Identify, study, and exploit their deficiencies.

As much of what the networks Chinese intelligence services are exactly doing day-to-day in the US remains unknown publicly at least, it is impossible to say with certainty how the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted their operations. One can imagine there has been some impact. Nevertheless, given that reality, in considering how COVID-19 factors into their efforts, one must again enter the world of supposition in which one analysis of how those networks are not only operating, but more specifically, how managers of those networks are communicating with Beijing and with their officers, operatives, and informants, can be just as good as another.

Even before COVID-19 hit, for Chinese intelligence networks on the ground in the US, managing communications in any direction was imaginably no mean feat. As it was discussed in the August 31, 2020 greatcharlie post entitled, “China’s Ministry of State Security: What Is This Hammer the Communist Party of China’s Arm Swings in Its Campaign Against the US? (Part 2).” Perhaps, the main lesson for Chinese intelligence services was that it was not safe to continue creating and maintaining secret communications or reports, any truly important documents, electronically. It was the same as leaving an open door to foreign intelligence service penetration. The transition back to paper would be the best answer and easy enough. Indeed, the use of hard documents and files was what the most seasoned foreign intelligence and counterintelligence officers were most familiar with using. Moreover, they are very likely individuals of conservative habits, and never became so familiar with computer work as their younger counterparts. The return to paper files would certainly lead to the collection of what would now be thought of as considerable amounts of documents. File rooms and vaults have very likely been rebuilt or returned to service. Urgent issues concerning diplomatic matters were likely communicated via encrypted transmissions. There was very likely a sharp increase in transmissions once the consulate received notice that it was being forced to close. Use of that medium would provide some reasonable assurance that content of the communication would be protected. Nothing of any real importance was likely communicated by telephone given that the US would surely successfully eavesdrop on the conversation. 

One might venture to say that a likely move to hard documents may have been evinced when the world observed presumably Ministry of Foreign Affairs security officers and MSS intelligence officers using fire bins to burn bundles of documents inside the compound of the People’s Republic of China Consulate in Houston, Texas as it prepared to close. It might be the case that burning the documents is standard operating procedure for Chinese diplomatic outposts in such instances as an evacuation. MSS counterintelligence would hardly think that US intelligence and counterintelligence services would pass up the fortuitous opportunity to search through or even keep some or all of the documents consulate personnel might try to ship or mail to China while evacuating the building, even if containers of documents were sent as diplomatic pouches.

From what is publicly known, it appears that Chinese intelligence networks do not recruit after simply spotting a potential operative or informant. If that were the case, the success rate of US counterintelligence services against them would be far higher given the opportunities such activities would present and given the experience of their organizations in dealing with such a basic set up. Chinese intelligence services clearly work wholly on their own terms, investigating only those “targets” who they choose to investigate, essentially ignoring anyone that may have the slightest appearance of being dangled before them. It is a benefit for them to operate in what could be called a target rich environment in the US. Recruitment is “by invitation only.” If one is not on the figurative guest list, one does not get in! As part of their investigations of targets for recruitment, doubtlessly it is important to identify the psychological profile of a person, his political orientation, his attitude towards his motherland, China or towards the US, where he or she has become a citizen or visiting for school or long-term employment. And then, after accumulating a sizable amount of material (based on a whole array of undertakings: plain observation, audio- and video-surveillance of the places of residence, agency-level scrutiny, including “honey traps”), on the basis of the analysis, a decision is made about a transforming the investigation into a recruitment with appropriate conditions (such as through compromising materials or a voluntary agreement) or about wrapping up the whole matter by “educating” a foreigner, conveying a favorable message on China and the wave of the future, Chairman Mao Zedong’s vision of Communism.

After studying what is being specifically done by a network long enough, one will begin to see dimly what a network or specific operation is driving at. After finding a few missing links, an entirely connected case will not always, but can be obtained. Once a clear picture emerges, one can start developing attack vectors against Chinese intelligence networks with a forecast of nearly assured fruits. Lately, the identification and aim at any networks has clearly been far less than accurate. Do not use individuals lacking good judgment and sanguine required based on one’s own standard. Create the best team possible. Know your people well. Keep a close eye on neophytes. (As touched on in the discussion of Olson’s “Ten Commandments of Counterintelligence” of Chapter Four in greatcharlie’s review of To Catch a Spy, a supposition verging on the ridiculous must be seen as such by a supervisor and appropriately knocked down. A keen interest must be kept on how subordinates, especially novices, are reasoning with facts. A supposition verging on the ridiculous might involve imputing criminal motive or involvement on a party that could not have been part of a criminal conspiracy or ascribing characteristics to an individual who could not possibly possess them or has not displayed them. A good case could be blighted by such wrongheadedness.)

Gnawing a bit further at the matter of using young, novice counterintelligence officers on such delicate cases concerning Chinese intelligence, one should avoid the pitfall of allowing them to manage surveillance work for a case and turn it into something that might more reflect the work of a security service in a totalitarian country to soothe their egos. Be mindful of the use of time, energy, and budget by them such as placing heavy, wasteful surveillance on the street not to advance the casework but to prove some immature point of power. Casting some wide net will bring in nothing but a lot of extra things that time, energy and money cannot be wasted upon. Differ nothing to their judgment. Every mistake or misstep made by US counterintelligence, whether the result of a manager’s use of some clever misdirection or whether self-inflicted, represents a success for a Chinese intelligence network manager. Keep firmly in mind the managers of Chinese intelligence networks are flexible enough in their thinking that they appear to be able to change horses in midstream while maintaining the metaphoric helm on a steady heading so to speak. 

Concerning contractors, by their nature, they are owned and managed by businessmen out to make money as priority. That focus among many of them can be boiled down to the  precept, “minimum effort, maximum gain” and that can be most apparent in how they conduct their so-called operations on the street. As already alluded to here, their “operatives,” often poorly vetted before being “hired,” many times find it difficult in the field, physically surveilling a target or trying to open a clandestine conversation, to be their higher selves. They are often too aggressive, even ruthless, and engage in what could politely be called “aberrant behavior.” Strangely enough, for many contractors, the reality that their operatives display these characteristics is a point of pride.. As it was discussed in greatcharlie’s January 31, 2020 review of To Catch a Spy, the negative behavior of contractors witnessed in the field by an adversarial intelligence service’s officers, operatives, and informants could very likely have an impact on their impressions of US counterintelligence services beyond what has already been inculcated within them by their masters. It should be expected that any negative impressions could have the deleterious effect of negatively impacting a decision to defect or be recruited if the idea might ever cross their minds. It is impossible to calculate, but it surely can be imagined that a number of potential defectors and recruits may have been deterred from taking the first step over this very issue. Recognizably, there is a reduced ability to effectively oversee what contractors are doing at all times on behalf of US counterintelligence services. At best, the managers of a particular counterintelligence operation that they may be hired to support will only know what the contractors divulge about their efforts. Close observance of them in operation, done furtively by managers of US counterintelligence services, would doubtlessly substantiate this.

Those in US counterintelligence services considering what is noted here might cast their minds back to the observation of the renowned 17th century French philosopher Blaise Pascal in Pensées (1670): “Justice without power is inefficient; power without justice is tyranny. Justice without power is opposed, because there are always wicked men. Power without justice is soon questioned. Justice and power must therefore be brought together, so that whatever is just may be powerful, and whatever is powerful may be just.”

Surely at one time the relationship between contractors and US counterintelligence services was quite beneficial as they provided real assistance through manpower and talent, but again, the situation has since changed considerably. They are shadows of what they once were in terms of quality.  Beyond some possible invaluable assistance they may be providing through precious outside of the bureaucracy analysis and advice on Chinese intelligence activities in the US, in the China case, US counterintelligence services should severely minimize or eliminate contractors if possible. There may be a place for such contractors and their ways in counternarcotics, organized crime control, human-trafficking or some other kind of criminal investigations. However, up against the sophisticated intelligence services of a determined adversary as China, those contractors are not a credit to US counterintelligence services. They are nothing but a liability. The China case is too important to indulge in any uncertainties. On an additional point, technical intelligence tools must be utilized effectively and appropriately. Monitor only those who need to be monitored. Resist the urge to play George Orwell’s “Big Brother.” That urge is another weakness. Nimia illæc licentia profecto evadet in aliquod magnum malum. (This excessive license will most certainly eventuate in some great evil.)

The continued success Chinese intelligence services and counterintelligence services in being able to conceal their massive espionage efforts may suggest that conceptually, they may approach establishing their presence in the US with the thought of “peacefully coexisting” in the same environment as US counterintelligence services. The relationship that they seem to have sought with US counterintelligence services in order to ensure the security of their networks and operations is not “cat and mouse” or combative. It is strangely, but logically, symbiotic. 

That symbiotic relationship, however, is malignant, and designed to be parasitical. To that end, managers of Chinese intelligence and counterintelligence services in the US likely respond to any detection of the presence of US counterintelligence personnel or activity not by avoiding them, but by connecting in some smart way to them. Connecting to them, to give a couple of simple examples means having operatives work for a contractor engaged in physical surveillance, or take on low level employment in or around offices of those contractors. From such positions and similar ones, they would enable themselves to monitor the most well-orchestrated, well-conducted activities from the inside. Some operatives, finding work as operatives in the agencies of contractors for US counterintelligence services  could actually become, and have very likely actually been, part of those operations. Note that operatives of Chinese foreign intelligence and counterintelligence services directed to get close to US counterintelligence services personnel and activities may not necessarily be ethnic Chinese. (For a fuller discussion of that matter, see the July 31, 2020 greatcharlie post “China’s Ministry of State Security: What Is this Hammer the Communist Party of China’s Arm Swings in Its Campaign against the US? (Part 1).”) Such a precaution would likely be deemed less necessary by managers of Chinese foreign intelligence and counterintelligence services for operatives placed within or close proximity of contractors offices and personnel as those managers have likely become well-aware of the astonishing lack of due diligence and security practiced by them. Surely, US counterintelligence activities of greatest interest would be those against Chinese foreign intelligence networks and operations. However, there would undoubtedly be significant and considerable value in being aware of physical surveillance activities by US counterintelligence services against the other adversaries of those services. There is every reason to believe cooperative relationships exist among the intelligence services of US adversaries. To say the least, there would be some monetary value in information collected by China of that kind.

Much as some parasites, those operatives who might successfully penetrate any organizations of or pertaining to US counterintelligence services would never act directly  to destroy those personnel or organizations but would rather only nourish themselves off  of them by collecting critical information from them for the security and survival of Chinese Intelligence activities in the US. Reminding again of what might be called Olson’s maxim from To Catch a Spy, “Penetration is the best counterintelligence.” One can almost be certain that senior executives and managers in adversarial foreign intelligence services surely believe that, too! That is something for US counterintelligence services to be very concerned about.

With regard to working with quantitative data, broken down to the essentials, it must continually be used to keep US counterintelligence officers cognizant and well appraised of activity by confirmed Chinese intelligence officers, operatives, and informants tied to diplomatic missions. With quantitative data, users ought to drill down on data concerning their daily and hourly activity from communications to commuting. One must be able to discern even the slightest changes in activity, whether increased or decreased. Data should be reviewed daily to identify the slightest changes from the aggregate numbers. Revisiting data that has already been rolled up and aggregated is also advised. It should be mined through for more details, clues. (One should never get so caught up with data to believe that an opponent’s actions can be reduced to an algorithm. The opposition’s leaders are living, breathing, agile, flexible and–despite working in Communist China–potentially unconventional thinkers.)

Getting Results

Measures of success of the practices suggested here may hopefully be a marked increased prospective opportunities to: neutralize; displace; and, intercept, even recruit, from a targeted Chinese intelligence network.

1. Displace

If the purpose of US counterintelligence is to displace a Chinese intelligence network or operation, the rapid shutdown of an operation would be a sign of success in that endeavor. The threat of intercept or the very public revelation that an officer, operative, or informant in the network has been apprehended would naturally spur such an action. If the environment is made hot enough for the network, its managers and the remainder of their string of officers, operatives, and informants will indubitably go to ground with the hope of resurrecting their network with its diffuse operations at a more favorable point in time. However, if an operation has packed up and moved out, there will be a palpable change in the working atmosphere for the counterintelligence officer who has had their noses to grindstone working the case. In a frenzied rush to exit the US, individual suspected Chinese intelligence officers, working in academia or industry, in physical isolation from their compatriots, or ones that may appear to be operating independently and farthest away from their network compatriots and resources, may no longer see the need to carry on with any pretenses. It is also interesting to see that there is never mention of any effort by Chinese intelligence officers, operatives, or informants to figuratively throw dust in the eyes of those investigating, plant false leads or use other means to misdirect, as they make their escape.

Interviews can be used as a psychological tool to prompt displacement. For the network manager who is logical, visits to the residence or workplace of a subject of investigation by US counterintelligence officer to invite them for an interview in the respective office of their service, or to interview them at that location, may be viewed as probing based on some insight possessed by the adversary. There is the odd chance a network manager might believe a US counterintelligence service was on to something. However, it would seem they would more likely think a US counterintelligence service would “hold its cards a little closer” if it had something solid to act on. If the network manager is thinking in that way, it would mean  he or she has been trying to see through all things cooked up by US counterintelligence. Surely, for the Chinese intelligence  services as much as those of the US, studying their oppositions modus operandi is as important a task as anything else.

Operatives and informants, on the other hand, may become jittery. However, such a visit may not unnerve the network manager. The reaction of a network manager may be no visible  reaction at all. He or she will likely continually display nerve and knowledge. The possibility of such interviews has likely already crossed the managers mind. The network manager has likely already assessed how officers, operatives, and informants in his or her retinue will act or react when approached. The task of the network manager will be to deduce what triggered the interview, reason from cause to effect what is the likely course of events to follow, and act accordingly. That being stated, activities and especially the communications of those approached for interviews must be monitored. New travel plans by individuals with some association to those interviewed, scheduled closely by date, must be examined.

2. Neutralize

To assist in determining where to interdict, stand up a “Red Team” on a non-stop basis, using templates properly constructed from everything known and insights and inferences on Chinese operations and to continue to build up a legend for de créature imaginaire with the objective of achieving increasing accuracy. Among tools that should be made available for use in neutralizing Chinese intelligence officers, operatives, and informants, should be heavy financial rewards for “coming forward”; and whistle-blower-like protections. Casting one’s mind back to the “Chieu Hoi” program used to contend with the Viet Cong during the Vietnam War, US counterintelligence services, using an approach certainly not the same but conceptually similar to that, may very well be able net a few long-time operatives and informants of China see intelligence services with deep involvement in their efforts, who may have had their fill of the whole business and want to get out, but safely. Cela n’a rien d’évident. (The fact that the Chieu Hoi program was implemented in an Asian country is purely coincidental. No deliberate connection regarding a region, race, or political philosophy was made. The parallel is that much as the Viet Cong, Chinese foreign intelligence officers in particular, but any operatives and informants as well are often “true believers,” who act out of conviction. Similar to the Viet Cong, they are driven by a deep-seeded ideology. In their unique case, it is usually the erroneous belief that China is the champion of the oppressed and will become the dominant power in the world.) In case the point has been misunderstood, heavy financial rewards for them would mean steep rewards. Ideally, the result will be to threaten the rewards structure, financial and psychological, of the Chinese foreign intelligence and counterintelligence services. If money would not be the elixir to turn any Chinese intelligence officers, operatives, or informants, US counterintelligence services would only need to pose the question to themselves: Deployed to the US and caught in the business of spying, what else would truly satisfy them enough to cause them to  defect or to become a double? If the situation becomes desperate enough, ask the targeted Chinese intelligence officer, operative, or informant: “What do you want? Name it!” (In other words, at least to get things moving, do whatever it takes, but within reason!) Turning Chinese operatives and informants should ideally take on the appearance of something akin to a business enterprise while actually being a counterintelligence task, if successful. Cela encore n’a rien d’évident. (Note, however, that money can become poisonous in both directions, creating temptation among those in service ranks unfortunately disposed to transgressions. Therefore, its distribution must be very carefully supervised.)

To be succinct, the hope of US counterintelligence should be to come in contact with an officer, operative, or informant with an albeit idealistic vision of China as the dominant power and shape of the world for the future, but with reservations, serious reservations. Those sentiments would need to be worked on. The next best hope would be to find the officer, operative, or informant who is not doing things for an ideal, and whose reasons for turning on China would be venal. Pretio parata vincitur pretio fides. (Fidelity bought by money is overcome by money)

3. Intercept

Non capiunt lepores tympana rauca leves. (Drumming is not the way to catch a hare.) This could be entirely off the mark, but it appears that aggressive counterintelligence appears to have been directed at targets of opportunity versus the industry-centric networks of Chinese intelligence in the US. While there may be a meretricious benefit to this practice, it accomplishes nothing in terms of tearing down Chinese intelligence networks or smothering greater espionage operations. Again, elevated thinking is required. There must be an inflexion point at which US counterintelligence services become the fox, and the days of being the chicken come to an end. Better use must be made of tools available and good practices. There must be better use of deception. To lure Chinese intelligence networks into traps, network managers and higher ups in the Chinese system must be convinced that the figurative cheese in the trap is something worth the risk of trying to take. Psychological operations must be used to draw them closer to targets US counterintelligence can cover while remaining concealed. As part of the information warfare campaign with China, an effort must be made to surreptitiously “assist” Beijing in discovering a novel target worth pursuing. Chinese intelligence services have enjoyed a halcion season of success. They apparently have no intention of being thrown off their pace and streak of victories by what they in all likelihood suspect are attempts by US counterintelligence to score a victory against their effort during their moment of glory.

US counterintelligence officers must do their utmost to go beyond the normal scope in determining what will attract Chinese intelligence network managers. They must not proceed by pretending to know. There is no room for guesswork. Approaches developed must not be derivative. They must put as much time as necessary into developing them to become as certain as humanly possible that any new approaches will work. Any enticement or manipulation must not give off any indication of being a plant nor chicken feed. It must appear as genuine gold dust. Under extremely controlled circumstances, it may need to be actual gold dust! What is left is to wait for the network to show itself. There is nothing else to do otherwise. Efforts to stoke or prompt the adversary will lead to blowing the entire set up. Impatience is what the Chinese will look for because that is what every other foreign intelligence service expects of US counterintelligence.

Logically, it would be a capital mistake for Chinese Intelligence services to adulterate what could likely be characterized as an operation in which every aspect was well-known with individuals of ultimately unknown character, loyalties, or reliability and targets of likely no immediate unknown value and of no prior interest or desire. As senior executives and managers in Beijing might assess, if anything suddenly put before them was truly of any immediate value or desirable to China, the individuals or the information would have respectively been recruited or stolen already. Assuredly, that is the pinch for US counterintelligence services when it comes to getting decent double-agent operation off the ground.

John le Carré, the renowned author of espionage novels of the United Kingdom who served in both both the Security Service, MI5, and the Secret Intelligence Service, MI6, during the 1950s and 1960s, offers the statement in The Honourable Schoolboy (Alfred A. Knopf, 1977): “A desk is a dangerous place from which to view the world.” US counterintelligence officers must be mindful of what may be perceived in the conference room as an advantage over the opposition intelligence network manager may be the ugly product of groupthink. They must judge perceptions in view of what is  actually known about that opponent, even if he or she remains de créature imaginaire and how that manager may act in response to what they plan to put in his or her way. Use of aggressive tactics or overwhelming superiority can be turned into a liability by an agile thinker. It is also important to understand that no matter how the Chinese intelligence network or operation may be approached, everything done, particularly if successful, will be studied by superiors in Beijing so that all gaps that may have been exploited in a disrupted, displaced, or destroyed network will be rapidly and quietly set right in all remaining networks. Operational missteps that might have been exploited will be identified and never made again. (Be observant for changes in practices among networks and operations being traced.) In view of what Beijing may learn from an initial attack, adjustments in the next US counterintelligence strike against a Chinese intelligence network or operation must be considered even before the first is executed. In a cycle, this approach to attacking Chinese intelligence networks and operations must be adjusted for each new situation and repeated.

To go a step further, one might speculate that having achieved countless victories with near impunity inside the US, Chinese foreign intelligence services now very likely conduct counterintelligence exercises in the field, likely in a nondisruptive way vis-a-vis ongoing operations, to ensure that in their present state, their intelligence networks are free from US counterintelligence detection and interference and that no intelligence service from anywhere could play havoc with them. 

It is unlikely that the senior executives and managers of Chinese foreign Intelligence services are sitting back and gloating about their victories. Rather, it is very likely that everyday they work harder and harder to make their networks and operations better and more effective, pushing their espionage capabilities far-beyond the reach of the counterintelligence services of the countries in which they operate. All of that being said, one might still imagine that soon enough, in a gesture aimed at figuratively putting some dirt in the eyes of US counterintelligence services, the Chinese foreign intelligence services may spend some hours planning some upheaval that their networks could cause in the US to embarrass US counterintelligence services. It would imaginably be designed to knock them well-off track and symbolically mark China’s domination of their opponent on his own home ground. China would also be sending a message concerning its dominance throughout the espionage world. Of course, despite its meretricious effect, whatever such a potential ploy might be, it would doubtlessly be conducted in such a way that the government in Beijing and the Communist Party of China would feel enabled to plausibly deny China’s connection to the action. (These are only some thoughts, ruminations, on the situation. Hopefully, this should not cause any undue concern. Or, cela n’a rien d’évident.)

The Chinese have likely concluded US foreign intelligence and counterintelligence services are under stress and are bound to take risks to score a victory or win the whole ball game. To that extent, it is unlikely Beijing wants its intelligence services reaching after anything when their plates are already full follow up on leads they created for themselves. It is possible that the Chinese foreign intelligence services have never seen US counterintelligence services get anything substantial started against their networks in terms of penetration. However, the Chinese will unlikely mistake quiet for security. They probably never really feel secure in the US. It is hard to imagine what might ever be worth the candle to Chinese intelligence services to reach after. Assuredly, impatience in any US operation would be anathema.

People’s Republic of China President Xi Jinping (above). Given the success of Chinese intelligence services in the US, China might soon enough choose to send a message to symbolically mark China’s domination of their opponent on his own home ground. and its dominance in the espionage world. Chinese foreign intelligence services operating in the US may spend some time planning an upheaval that would figuratively put some dirt in the eyes of US counterintelligence services. Despite any meretricious effect such an act might have, whatever such a potential deplorable ploy might be, it would doubtlessly be conducted in such a way that the government in Beijing and the Communist Party of China would be able to plausibly deny their connection to the action.

The Way Forward

Month after month, US counterintelligence services discover another set of occasions when China has incommoded a federal agency, a private firm, an academic institution, or research institute by stealing from them classified information or intellectual property most often vital to the national interest. Leave it to say, having engaged in an empirical study of public facts coming in what has been transpiring, the potential trajectory of China’s malign efforts is breathtaking. By 2021, it should have been the case that MSS networks were being regularly penetrated by US counterintelligence and rolled up in waves at times chosen by US counterintelligence services. Ongoing and developing MSS operations should have already been heavily infiltrated and those infiltrated operations which are not destroyed should be used as conduits to push disinformation back to China. As for individuals recruited by MSS, many should have already been identified as a result of US counterintelligence infiltration of MSS networks and at appropriate moments, those operatives and informants should have been intercepted, neutralized, and recruited as counterespionage agents. However, that is not the case. Perhaps in some allied country, success against China will be achieved showing US counterintelligence services the way forward. With a long history of successfully defending the United Kingdom from foreign spies, it may very well be that MI5 will not have the Cabinet, the Prime Minister, the exalted person herself, wait much longer for good news.

Whether this essay for some will cause a journey from unawareness, curiosity, or a lack of clarity to knowledge, remains to be seen. There has been more than enough talk about how bad the problem with China is. That becomes by the by. There must be more talk about how to defeat it. The US must move from the defensive to the offensive, and take the game back to China and destroy all of its networks. It could be the case that US counterintelligence officers must relearn and hone the skill of lying before the water course and awaiting the big game. Many plans can be developed to advance against a problem. However, choosing the right plan, the one that will work, is the challenge. Much as with physicians, for investigators, every symptom must be told before a diagnosis can be provided. In a very small way here, greatcharlie has sought to contribute to development more effective approaches to defeat Chinese intelligence collection efforts in the US. Before writing this essay, greatcharlie fully understood and accepted that there are those singular US counterintelligence services that would be completely uninterested in, and even shun, any voice or meditations from outside the bureaucracy that would dare offer assistance to them in their struggle with China’s intelligence services. (It must be stated that greatcharlie has either been retained to supply any imaginable deficiencies of US counterintelligence services nor has it been retained for anything by any of them.) Often in the US national security bureaucracy, perspectives on adversaries can become too austere. Over time, even unknowingly, walls are built around those perspectives, fending off an effort to more accurately understand an adversary at the present that may shake the foundations of them. That sort of mindset, as suggested,, perhaps an unconscious bias, can creep its way in and become comfortable. That can spell disaster. This may very well be the case with Chinese foreign intelligence activity in the US.

With a near endless chain of losses, the following theft sometimes being a greater defeat than the one proceeding it, greatcharlie feels compelled to ingeminate the position expressed in the conclusion of its August 31, 2020 greatcharlie post US counterintelligence services should consider hiring individuals from outside the bureaucracy who are already known due to demonstrated interest in the subject matter and recognized as possessing some ability to present what may be unorthodox innovative, forward-looking perspectives. New thinkers can rejuvenate the analytical process, effectively serving to unearth directions and areas for examination and offer hypotheses, good ones, that otherwise would be ignored. In effect, surface layers could be peeled off to reveal what may have been missed for a long time. From the inside, one might characterize observations and hypotheses offered by outsiders as mere surmisals and suppositions from those perceived lacking the necessary depth of understanding that long time analysts bring to an issue. With no intent to condescend, one might assess responses of that type would be defensive and emotional, and least likely learned. The purpose of using such perspectives is to have a look at issues from other angles. Thinking outside the bureaucracy would hopefully move away from the usual track, the derivative, the predictable, especially in special cases that may be hard to crack. Indeed, what outsider brings to the analysis of an issue, through the examination of people and events and interpretation of data, is the application of different sensibilities founded on knowledge acquired after having passed through a multitude experiences that might very well have thwarted the recruitment of the outside the box thinker. One could say the length and breadth of that knowledge and experience allowed for an alternative understanding of humanity. Such an understanding also could have been sought through personal study. 

The suggestion should not seem so exotic at this point. Even the adversaries of the US would likely imagine the possibility that some assistance from an unexpected source and direction could pose the greatest threat to their success. Perhaps some US counterintelligence services will never brook the idea of receiving such assistance from outside the bureaucracy. However, in the end, the US counterintelligence service which opens itself up to new, thinking, new insights, new approaches, will very likely bag its tiger. Vigilando, agendo, bene consulendo, prospera omnia cedunt. (By watching, by doing, by consulting well, these things yield all things prosperous.)

Commentary: Border Protection and National Security: Will a Border Wall Be Useful or Useless?

Graphic of US President Donald Trump’s vision of a “physical barrier” for the Southern Border (above). Trump has requested additional funds for its overall approach to border security, to include $5.7 billion for a wall. The wall would serve as an impediment to people and vehicles moving north. Its steel bars, embedded deep in concrete, making it relatively impervious to demolition and hindering excavation. Pointed heads on its steel bars would allow it to function in much as an abbatis. To Congressional Democrats, a physical barrier across the entire border is expensive and ineffective, and insist they will never fund it. The result has been an awful muddle.

While greatcharlie has kept abreast of the debate in the US on building a wall along the US-Mexico border, the matter had not found its way on our radar until it was labelled a national security issue. The matter has been discussed so often and for so long in the US news media that the landscape is already familiar to most. US President Donald Trump, being thoroughly convinced of the need for a “border wall”  or “physical barrier”, is insisting on $5.7 billion for its completion. With his eyes wide open, he leaped into a  protracted struggle with Democratic Congressional leaders, Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer and  Speaker of the House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi, to get that funding. To encourage them to take that step, as of this writing, Trump has allowed a segment of the government to shut down for over a month by refusing to sign any spending bill that would keep it open unless funding for the wall was included in it. Congressional Democrats have refused to provide that funding. As a result, over 800,000 federal employees have either furloughed or have continued working without their salaries. Congressional Democrats paint a picture that is very black on “Trump’s Wall.” They have abrasively called the idea of a physical barrier across the entire border expensive and ineffective, and insist that they will never fund it. They believe an authentic solution to problems on the Southern Border would involve more personnel, drones, and detection technology.

The result has been an awful muddle. Although both sides apportion blame, and responsibility for any ensuing consequences, to one another. One side will eventually need to face the music. On January 4, 2019, President Donald Trump first publicly mentioned using executive authority to build the border wall. That has become a real possibility. It is not an affectation to state that in discussing this matter, greatcharlie does not seek to admire or condemn one side or the other. What is here will hopefully provide, not in an immodest way, some brief, additional facts and ideas deprived from popular public arguments. If it contributes in some way to the policy debate on the border wall, greatcharlie would be satisfied.

During his January 8, 2019 speech from the Oval Office, Trump provided statistics in support of his belief that a worsening problem at the Southern Border was a humanitarian crisis that is now relevant to US national security. In his “Address to the Nation on the Crisis at the Border” on the evening of January 8, 2019, Trump explained that 2,000 inadmissible migrants arrive at our border every day and overwhelm our immigration system. Countries of the so-called “Northern Triangle” of Central America which include Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador, have shown a significant spike in illegal immigration to the US. Reportedly, many families from the Northern Triangle have rushed from countries with significant levels of violent crime. Data indicates that in 2016, El Salvador had the world’s highest murder rate (82.8 homicides per 10,000 people), followed by Honduras (at a rate of 56.5). Guatemala was 10th (at 27.3), according to data from the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. Another motivating force for migration from Northern Triangle countries is poverty. Those countries are among the poorest in Latin America. Some reportedly have seen a reduction of extreme poverty in recent years, however, large numbers of their populations live on less than $2 a day (the international poverty line is $1.90).

Indeed terms of impact, Trump pointed out in his January 8, 2019 address that Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has arrested 266,000 aliens with criminal records in the last two years. He indicated that statistic includes aliens charged or convicted of 100,000 assaults, nearly 30,000 sex crimes, and 4,000 violent killings. Reports from the Pew Research Center show that among ICE arrestees in 2017 with prior convictions, the most common criminal conviction category was driving under the influence of alcohol (59,985 convictions, or 16% of the total), followed by possessing or selling “dangerous drugs” such as opioids (57,438, or 15%). Immigration offenses, which include illegal entry or false claim to US citizenship, were the third-most common crime type (52,128 convictions, or 14%). Apparently, those arrested can have more than one type of conviction or pending charge so the total number of charges and convictions is greater than the total number of arrestees; ICE counts an immigrant with a prior criminal conviction and pending criminal charges only in the criminal conviction category. Regarding drug trafficking, Trump explained deadly drugs are flowing across our borders, taking far too many US citizens: 300 die every week from heroin, 90% of which comes across our Southern Border. According to the 2015 National Drug Threat Assessment, the largest share of heroin and methamphetamine comes across the border in trucks and personal vehicles, using secret compartments or hiding the drugs amidst legitimate products.

Trump further explained in his address that the US does not have the resources needed to hold migrant entering the US illegally, and legal loopholes and activist court rulings prevent authorities from promptly returning them. He pointed to Immigration courts are overwhelmed, with a backlog of over 800,000 cases. With the goal of securing the Southern Border, to protect US communities, the Trump Administration has requested additional funds relative to the Department of Homeland Security funding bill that passed the Senate Appropriations Committee. Within that request for funds as part of an overall approach to border security, Trump stated: “Law enforcement professionals have requested $5.7 billion for a physical barrier. At the request of Democrats, it will be a steel barrier rather than a concrete wall. This barrier is absolutely critical to border security. It’s also what our professionals at the border want and need. This is just common sense.”

Remedium irae est mora. (The cure for anger is delay.) Despite their polemic, Trump does not necessarily see Congressional Democrats as misguided or worse, amoral. He feels that they are engaged in the unfortunate game of political brinkmanship, they, too, are allowing the portions of the government to remain closed. He senses that they are presenting an artificial side of themselves by rebuffing his plans for a border wall, and presenting what is simply a preferred position on the matter. As of this writing, Trump hopes Congressional Democrats will eventually face up to how injudicious their choice is and come to his way of thinking given that the national security, even more the sovereignty of the country is at stake. He believes political expediency and private emotion will obey reason and public duty. Still, though his preference is negotiation, Trump may eventually find cause the use his authority as president to declare the situation at the border a national emergency and seek funding for the wall through that process. Trump’s patience has its limits.

Given that they are well-seasoned political figures, it is very difficult to discern whether their arguments against the border wall proffered by Congressional Democratic leaders are allowed to be misleading through an act of omission, whether they simply do not understanding how the wall fits in to the broader picture of border security and purely believe in the rectitude of their argument. One might ascribe greater possibility to the later given how they handled their own efforts to create a wall on the Southern Border through the Secure Fence Act of 2006. As a result of considerable deal making among Congressional Democrats and Republicans, $1.2 million was authorized to construct 700 miles of “border fencing” along the Southern Border. It was the only option at the time, but certainly not the best approach. As a result of the authorization, the US has 649 miles of various types of walls and fences along the border. Some of it to keep pedestrians from crossing, with others meant to stop vehicles. To protect the habitat of the last North American jaguars, an endangered species, barriers are absent on a portion of the border. A good portion of the border is delineated by the Rio Grande with its canyons and bluffs and also lacks barriers. However, the border from the Pacific Ocean to the Gulf of Mexico is nearly 2000 miles long. Much of the border, where barriers could serve the purpose of thwarting penetration, was left unprotected.

On walls and fixed fortifications, the renowned US commander in World War II, US General George Patton, explained in his memoir published posthumously in 1947, War As I Knew It: “Fixed fortifications are monuments to man’s stupidity. If mountain ranges and oceans can be overcome, anything made by man can overcome.” In Appendix D of the memoir, he added: “. . . Study the Siegfried and Maginot Line, remembering that these defenses were forced; that Troy fell; that the wall of Hadrian succumbed; that the Great Wall of China was futile . . . .” The gaping holes in the 649 mile wall that Congressional Democrats were willing to sponsor certainly left the door wide open to penetration by opponents. The limited “border fencing” concept failed miserably. A 2011 Government Accountability Office report concluded that despite 649 miles of completed fencing, the “the southwest border continues to be vulnerable to cross-border illegal activity, including the smuggling of humans and illegal narcotics.” Perhaps their understanding of the utility of a wall is greatly informed by their own unsatisfactory efforts. Yet, engaging in the symbolic act of simply raising a wall, as they did, is not the equivalent of using a wall as an obstacle and part of a larger plan for an active defense against an opponent’s continued effort to penetrate US territory. Ideally, a wall of sufficient, properly placed, should create physically and as well symbolically, a nonpermissive environment for opponents. Nam qui peccare se nescit, corrigi non vult. (If one doesn’t know his mistakes, he won’t want to correct them.)

Looking from another angle, unacknowledged and undiscussed by Congressional Democrats is the actuality that their approach to securing the Southern Border is a limited approach to managing difficulties there. Implementation of a limited approach to combating problems at the border may very likely lead to limited results. Surely, some truly comprehensive approach to coping with problems at the border would be an considerable challenge. Such an effort might include working effectually with governments of the Northern Triangle to stem the tide of migrants and illegal activities of organized crime from migrant smuggling to human trafficking, much as they cooperate on counter narcotics operations in the Drug War, would be an important element of a plan.  It would means attacking in depth at the root of the problems, such as poverty, crime, and disillusionment at home. One might even consider the starry-eyed notion of Initiating a Marshall Plan type of investment in Central America. The goal would be to economically revitalize countries and to mitigate much of the economic hardship people in them face. Steps might include eliminate financial and other resource deficiencies that have beset national, state, and local governments, hindering their capability and capacity to satisfactorily provide services to their people. There might be efforts to invest in rebuilding infrastructure, available industries, and trade, to tackle housing needs, to improve health and sanitary conditions, and to assure clean water and other natural resources serve the needs of the people. The social justice systems of those countries in the region would be revamped, and civil rights and human rights discrepancies would be addressed. These steps, indeed, only touch the surface of what would need to be done. However, with their plates already piled high with issues, selling the idea of remaking Central America will not be the agenda of any political party in the US any time soon. If securing authorization for the funding of a border wall has been difficult, one can only imagine what trying to secure funds for such a comprehensive development plan would look like. The alternative is combat the problem in a way that makes activities from illegal entry and the establishment of sequitous routes of border penetration.

The Southern Border will unlikely be completely sanitized of illegal activities, but those fighting the problem may be able to make such activities by making them unprofitable with a suite of undefeatable measures and insurmountable obstacles. The identification and neutralization of the varied illegal activities doubtlessly will require the development of tactics, techniques, procedures, and methods against the known capabilities and capacities of opponents and those forecast for future. The approach to the opponents should evolve as they invariably will shift their tactics. Use of sophisticated technologies to detect opponents’ efforts will provide border security units with greater abilities to complete their defined, enumerated tasks. Still, while technology may create greater opportunities for success, what is new will work most likely better when it is married to what is tried and true.

Congressional Democrats might argue that the border wall as envisioned by Trump would simply be a supersized obstacle. One must agree that on its face, the border wall is an obstacle. The Oxford English Dictionary defines an obstacle as a thing that blocks ones way or prevents or hinders progress. As a physical barrier, obstacles are typically used by military forces and law enforcement to impede the movement of an opponent on foot or by vehicles to prevent the achievement of their objectives or goals. Among the types of obstacles, those most relevant to discussion of the border wall are constructed obstacles and natural obstacles. The greater part of the wall would be a constructed obstacle, and much as those prepared by the military, it would serve as an impediment to people moving north on foot or in vehicles. The steel bars, embedded deep in concrete, would make the wall relatively impervious to demolition and prevent or at least greatly hinder excavation. The pointed heads of its steel bars would allow the wall to function in a way similar to an abbatis. Natural obstacles such as the Rio Grande, the Pacific Ocean, and the Gulf of Mexico, are terrain features that severely limit the movement of people on foot and halt the movement of vehicles transporting people and contraband.

Sciant quae optima sunt esse communia. (The best ideas are common property.) A more substantial discussion on the effective use of obstacles in a military fashion is provided by the US Army. For its purposes, obstacles are part of a commander’s larger plan for offensive or defensive operations. Obstacles do far more than just blocking an opponent’s movement on its axis pf advance. Stated as plainly as possible, obstacles serve to disrupt an opponent, turning the opponent into other areas where effective ways and means can be used attack it. The obstacles used for this variety of purposes are integrated into the course of action for an operation as determined by the commander. Field Manual 3-0, Operations (FM 3-0), provides doctrine on how US Army forces, as part of a joint team, conduct sustained, large-scale combat operations with current force structure and capabilities against a regional peer. In terms of opponents, the doctrine focuses on the current Russian threat against which large-scale ground combat operations are possible. To that extent, the manual explains that the Russians integrate the use of obstacles in their operational plans, too! FM 3-0 states, “The enemy typically attempts to slow and disrupt friendly forces with a combination of obstacles, prepared positions, and favorable terrain so that they can be destroyed with massed fires [to include direct and indirect artillery and rockets].”

To simply build a border wall believing the structure itself will perfectly serve to thwart an opponent’s entry onto US territory would be both misguided and foolhardy. Surely, it would be quickly overcome by the opponent’s often unexpected ingenuity, although the border wall is an obstacle, its raison d’être is not serve solely as a static defense against opponents’ efforts. There is a broader picture of a dynamic defense of the Southern Border of which the new wall, the most visible symbol of that defense, would be a part. Indeed, the wall would integrated into the defense in a way that would perfectly support the considerable ongoing operations of law enforcement and military elements protecting the Southern Border. Indeed, the border wall will have a multiplier effect upon those operations.With regard to better supporting those operations, the Trump administration has requested: $211 million to hire 750 additional Border Patrol agents for US Customs and Border Protection (CBP); $571 million for 2,000 additional ICE personnel; $4.2 billion for 52,000 detention beds, personnel, transportation, and detention alternatives; and, $563 million for 75 additional immigration judges and support staff. Law enforcement and military elements at the Southern Border will be enabled to focus on new ways to defeat opponents’ from new angles and do more things to defeat their efforts.

Rather than suggest anyone rely solely on a few offstage meditations and considerations, historical support for some of the ideas posited here can be found from the great military commanders of the past. The world renowned military commander, Emperor of France Napoleon Bonaparte had a point of view on approaching a struggle with a mindset of limiting ones’ efforts: “If you wage war, do it energetically and with severity. This is the only way to make it shorter and consequently less inhuman.” While the border wall might be characterized as a huge expenditure, that will make little improvement in the struggle at the border, Congressional Democrats might discover that such small things make a big difference as the situation. As the situation on the border evolves, as the criminal elements and other opponent move the goal post for defending the border, the border wall will continue to limit and eliminate their options for movement, action.

Napoleon also explained that when resources are available and they can make difference in the field, one must deprive themselves of them. One must mass upon the opponent in order to optimize chances for success, and victory. Napoleon stated: “When you have resolved to fight a battle, collect your whole force. Dispense with nothing. A single battalion sometimes decides the day.” Using a truncated approach to border security, driven perhaps by back room political horse trading along the way, that cavalierly subtracts available elements from ones operations will nearly ensure an equivalent or worse subtraction from potential success. The problem at the border may never be mitigated. As opponents there constantly shift their strategies and tactics, and many innovative approaches to penetrating the border are revealed, the struggle may prove to be a long hard slog. Continuing with an unsatisfying tack in the face of a proven imaginative opponent, will result in both wasted energy and effort and slow spiral downward toward defeat. There may be no light at the end of the tunnel. Indeed, it is always possible that any momentum toward success could shift from the US Government in favor of border opponents who are absolutely determined to succeed, attempting to overwhelm via their efforts, never satisfied with achieving some stalemate with the US Government. They would like to find a sustainable way to make US Government efforts futile.

Given how the desire to thoroughly countering the activities of opponents across the Southern Border have shaped by the Trump administration for the border wall, interesting parallels in the concepts of the King of Prussia Frederick the Great for the use of such an obstacle. Regarding European warfare, Frederick the Great is recognized in the world of military science as the master of forming defenses. While the wordimg may sound somewhat strange to the modern ear, his comcepts were well-outlined in his work entitled: “The King of Prussia’s Military Instruction to His Generals.” Through a late 18th century translation by Lieutenant Colonel T. Foster, in “Article VIII. Of Camps”, Frederick the Great conveyed: “We entrenched a camp, when it is our intention . . . to defend a difficult pass, and supply the defects of the situation by throwing up works so as to be secure from every insult on the part of the enemy.” Expounding on using barriers and walls, Frederick explained: “In camps that are intended to cover a country, [in this case would refer to the positioning of CBP, ICE, law enforcement of border states, local law enforcement and the military on the border] the strength of the place itself is not the object of attention, but those points which are liable to attack, and by means of which the enemy may penetrate. These should all be surrounded by the camp. Not that it is necessary to occupy every opening by which the enemy may advance upon us, but that one only which would lead to his desired point, and that situation which affords us security, and from which we have it in our power to alarm him. In short, we should occupy that post, which will oblige the enemy to take circuitous routes, and enable us, by small movements, to disconcert his projects.”

With regard to discovering as much as possible about an opponent before determining how to effectively employ an obstacle such as the Southern Border wall, Frederick imparted: “The army of the enemy [which in the present case would include the drug cartels, organized crime groups, smugglers, foreign intelligence operatives, economic refugees, and others attempting illegal entry] should be the chief object of our attention, it’s designs must be discovered, and opposed as vigorously as possible.” Similar to the way US border protection elements want those crossing the border to travel to designated points of entry, Frederick stated: “Intelligent generals are well informed how to oblige the enemy to attack those points where the work is made strongest by the ditch being widened, deepened, and lined with pallisadoes, chevaux de frize placed at the entrances, the parapet made cannon-proof, and pits dug in the places that are most exposed.” With regard to the design of a barrier on the Southern Border, Frederick explained: “The rules which a general has to observe in the formation of all entrenchments are, to take advantage of every marsh, river, inundation, and abbatis which may serve to render the extent of his entrenchments more difficult.” Additionally, Frederick continued by making an important point relevant to the nature of any barrier built on the border;  “ . . . The progress of the enemy is not checked by the entrenchments themselves, but by the troops who defend them.”

Aut inveniam viam aut faciam. (I shall either find a way or make one.) In the present case concerning the border wall, figuratively,  generals of varied qualifications, insist on implementing their respective plans to win the battle on the Southern Border, when one general, with one set of ends and ways must suffice. Resources authorized will be dependent on who prevails in that struggle at headquarters. Congressional Democrats failed in their border security efforts in the past, and insist that Trump administration efforts will be futile. Still, the synergistic integration of the wall and new technologies, and strengthening the capabilities and capacity of those manning the border, as the Trump administration may actually be far better for the interests of the US. Fresh ideas, that have the potential to yield results are better than old, derivative ones. The Roman Emperor and Stoic philosopher, Marcus Aurelius Antoninus Augustus was quoted as saying: “Because your own strength is unequal to the task, do not assume that it is beyond the powers of man; but if anything is within the powers and province of man, believe that it is within your own compass also.”

It is difficult to gauge how the US public likely views all of this. Some may believe they are observing the system of checks and balances in their government at work or  other may feel they are witnessing Washington as an erratic bipolar world in which their political leaders bicker incessantly. What is certain to all is that the border security of US matters. If anything, through this debate, or impasse, the Trump administration has sent that message worldwide.