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 will some say on their impact on the battlefield, especially 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.)

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)

The Headquarters of the Ministry of State Security (above). China’s primary civilian intelligence service engaged in the political warfare struggle against the US is the Ministry of State Security (MSS). Yet, while fully involved in that work, MSS has adhered to its bread and butter mission of stealing national security and diplomatic secrets with specific regard to the US. It has also robustly enhanced another mission of grabbing intellectual property and an array of cutting-edge technologies from the US. This essay provides a few insights from outside the box on the MSS, the tactics, techniques, procedures, and methods, it believes, help to keep China secure and help to improve China’s capabilities and capacity to compete and struggle with the US.

There was a time not so long ago when discussion in US foreign policy circles concerning China centered on issues such as trade, Hong Kong, Taiwan, the South China Sea, North Korean denuclearization, and human rights. Now the primary focus of discussion is the coronavirus. China is where the virus originated and was surely ineptly handled, setting the stage for the current pandemic. How China has responded to the crisis turned pandemic has been a source of curiosity and absolute outrage globally. Despite preening about its own advances in science and medicine, China proved not to be up to the task of handling the outbreak that most experts agree more than likely began disastrously in a Wuhan laboratory. It is difficult to fully comprehend what on Earth went on in the minds of China’s leadership upon learning about their country’s coronavirus epidemic. Shutting down cities and restricting travel was among the means to control the spread among their own citizens but China’s government was quite derelict in ensuring the virus would not break out around the rest of the world. Worse, the Communist Party of China and the National Party Congress were unapologetic and frightfully defensive concerning all discussion of China’s role in what was happening. China very quickly became exercised with the US over the matter. They became particularly warm toward US President Donald Trump. The words of official spokespeople were certainly not seasoned in grace. Although it has found itself in an unpleasant, contentious relationship with the US as a result of its own doing, Beijing has nevertheless effectively doubled-down on the behavior that exacerbated the situation. China’s government spokespeople will most likely continue to assail the global media with waves of distortions. At the same time around the world, the number of people infected by the coronavirus continues to increase, the death toll rises, and the financial loss is being calculated in the trillions. Hopefully, People’s Republic of China President Xi Jinping is well-aware of what is transpiring and has set some type of guidance on just how far this whole cabaret put on by Beijing should go. Numquam enim temeritas cum sapienta commiscetur. (For rashness is never mixed together with wisdom.)

The figurative hammer of the foreign and national security policy apparatus swung by the arm of the Communist Party of China against the US is China’s intelligence services. They are the ones on the front lines of the political warfare struggle. Among those intelligence services, the primary element engaged is the Ministry of State Security (MSS). The Ministry of State Security is the embodiment of the logic that created the Chinese system’s intimidating, authoritarian order and for years has choreographed events to accomplish the Communist Party’s purposes. To that extent, the Communist Party of China has entrusted the defense of “their creation,” the modern Communist Chinese state, to this complex government organization. China has only offered soupçons about the MSS, and even less than that lately. Unless one is engaged in diplomatic, intelligence, defense, military, or law enforcement work, MSS is an elements of the Chinese government with which most outsiders when engaged in their normal business related to China, whether inside the country, in a country near by, or even at home, will have contact, but will often be completely unaware. The ostensible purpose and task of MSS is to defend China against external as well as internal threats. By performing its mission of collecting vital information about China’s friends, allies, competitors and adversaries MSS gives the leadership of the Communist Party of China time to make decisions and space to take action. To that extent, the MSS has adhered to its bread and butter mission of stealing national security and diplomatic secrets with specific regard to the US. However, it has also robustly enhanced another mission of collecting intellectual property and an array of cutting-edge technologies from the US. The Communist Party of China is surely counting upon it to successfully take on China’s adversaries in a large way with a small footprint. Interestingly though, there has been far greater discernment worldwide of MSS political warfare activities than Beijing might have imagined. The immediate implication of that has been the infliction of considerable damage to China’s reputation as a world leader. Veritas nimis saepe laborat; exstinguitur numquam. (The truth too often labors (is too often hard pressed); it is never extinguished.)

This essay does not focus on the political warfare effort by MSS, the nuts and bolts of which are somewhat straight forward, and compressed into summary form in the March 31, 2020 greatcharlie post entitled, “Commentary: Beijing’s Failed Political Warfare Effort Against US: A Manifestation of Its Denial Over Igniting the Coronavirus Pandemic”. It focuses on what the Ministry of State Security (MSS) is and what it does, day-to-day, for China. It is presented in two sections. This section, “Part 1,” provides greatcharlie’s insights from outside the box on the MSS and the tactics, techniques, procedures, and methods it believes both help to keep China secure and help to improve China’s capabilities and capacity to compete and struggle with the US. That discussion is buttressed by a few celebrated and trusted sources. “Part 2” continues that discussion and, without an ax to grind, greatcharlie calls attention to how, over recent years, a number of less-familiar, self-inflicted wounds have hindered the prosecution of a successful campaign by US counterintelligence services against the MSS as well as other Chinese intelligence services. The extent to which those same issues concerning US counterintelligence services have impacted the Trump administration is also touched upon. Without pretension, greatcharlie states that there is no reason for it to believe policymakers and decisionmakers in the White House and among US foreign affairs, defense, and intelligence organizations, would have a professional interest in its meditations on MSS intelligence operations in the US. However, it is greatcharlie’s hope that if given some attention, perhaps in some small way it might assist those who work on matters of gravity in this province improve their approach to defeating and displacing the MSS networks and operations as well as those of its sister organizations in the US. Bonus adiuvate, conservate popular Romanum. (Help the good (men) save (metaphorically in this case) the Roman people.)

People’s Republic of China Chairman Mao Zedong (left) and Kang Sheng (right). After the defeat of Imperial Japanese forces in China and prior to 1949, the Communust Party of China’s main intelligence institution was the Central Department of Socialism Affairs (CDSA). CDSA was placed under the control of Kang Sheng, a longtime political associate of Mao with a linkage from the past to Mao’s wife, Jiang Qing. With the Communist Party’s victory over Chang Kai-shek’s nationalist forces, CDSA became one among a full array of government intelligence organizations that were created to supplement Party-based intelligence services. CDSA would draw information from foreign news agencies and open sources. It was hardly a very rewarding business.

Chinese Intelligence Under the Communist Party: The Beginning

The foundation of the Chinese intelligence services was laid during the revolutionary period in which the Communist Party of China sought to establish its rule. In the early 1930s, two intelligence services existed. One was centered in Shanghai and the Communist Party, the othjer was based in the Chinese Communist government that existed in Shaanxi where Mao Zedong established his base after the Long March. The later intelligence service proved to be the stronger of the two. By the late 1930s, it was replaced by a newly created Social Affairs Department (SAD) within the Communist Party. Within the years of struggle against Imperial Japanese forces in China, there was the Yan’an Rectification, from 1942 to 1944, in which Mao consolidated his paramount role in the Communist Party of China. Yan’an was also the part of the ten year period in which: Mao established his premier role in the Party; the Party’s Constitution, endorsing Marxist-Leninism and Maoist thought as its guiding ideologies, was adopted (Mao’s formal  deviation from the Soviet line and his determination to adapt Communism to Chinese conditions); and, the postwar Civil war between the Communists and the Kuomintang. Prior to 1949, the Communist Party of China’s main intelligence institution was the Central Department of Social Affairs (CDSA). CDSA was placed under the control of Kang Sheng, a longtime political associate of Mao with a linkage from the past to Mao’s wife, Jiang Qing. With the Communist Party’s victory over Chang Kai-shek’s nationalist forces, CDSA became one among a full array of government intelligence organizations were created to supplement Party-based intelligence services. CDSA would draw information from foreign news agencies and open sources. It was hardly a very rewarding business.

The Ministry of Public Security was established as China’s principal intelligence service at the founding of the People’s Republic of China in 1949. It, too, was placed under the leadership of Kang Sheng. CDSA fell into the hands of Li Kenong, a deputy chief of staff to People’s Liberation Army (PLA) chief of staff Chou Enlai and a vice minister for foreign affairs. The main role of the MPS, as with all previous Chinese intelligence services, was to serve the interests of the Communist Party of China. However, as time passed, it was also officially given jurisdiction over counter subversion, counterintelligence, and conducting espionage in Macau, Hong Kong, and Taiwan. Overseas during the 1950s, most Chinese diplomatic missions accommodated the MPS with an Investigation and Research Office for intelligence collection staffed by CDSA personnel, with analysis performed by the Eighth Bureau, publicly known in 1978 as the China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations. In 1953, CDSA became the Central Investigation Department (CID). In China, the MPS presence was nearly ubiquitous, as it kept a watchful eye on China’s population. It was energetically engaged in monitoring Chinese who returned from abroad. To cope with what it determined to be errant citizens, MPS ran labor reform camps. MPS personnel were known for behaving harshly among its own citizens. That behavior was said to be reflective of the violent mentality of its initial leader, Kang. Despite his alleged romance with Mao’s wife, Kang was far from a charming man. Rather, he was known for being an absolute brute. He would move on to become a member of the Communist Party of China Political Bureau, and Li Kenong moved up to take command there. In 1962, the decision was made to move Ministry of Public Security counterespionage functions over to the CID.

The 1960s were a volatile time for Chinese intelligence services as with all military institutions in China. Li Kenong died in 1962 and in 1966 he was succeeded by Luo Quinchang, who had been adopted by Kang in 1958 and ushered into the MPS. However, the MPS became involved in the power struggles that embroiled the Communist Party during the Cultural Revolution. Mao, feeling his power base was threatened mainly as a result of his failed Great Leap Forward, implemented the “Four Cleans Movement,” with the objective of purifying politics, economics, ideas, and organization of reactionaries, led by a one time ally, Luo Quinchang of MPS. His staff files were seized and mined for candidates for criticism and banishment to the lao jiao prison system.

Kang Sheng (above). The Ministry of Public Security (MPS) was established as China’s principal intelligence service at the founding of the People’s Republic of China in 1949. It, too, was placed under the leadership of Kang Sheng. The main role of the MPS, as with all previous Chinese intelligence services, was to serve the interests of the Communist Party of China. As time passed, it was also officially given jurisdiction over counter subversion, counterintelligence, and conducting espionage in Macau, Hong Kong, and Taiwan. MPS personnel were known for behaving harshly among its own citizens. That behavior was said to be reflective of the mentality of Kang, who was known for being an absolute brute.

Most of the leadership of the CID was sent to the countryside for reeducation and the organization, itself, was abolished for a time. Its activities and assets were absorbed by the Second Department of the PLA’s general staff taking over its duties. The Second Department oversaw human intelligence collection to include military attachés at Chinese embassies overseas clandestine collection agents sent to other countries to collect military information, and the analysis of overt sources of information. Mao turned to Kang to ensure that his ideological and security directives were implemented. Kang, Mao’s wife Jiang, Wang Hongwen, Yao Wenyuan, Zhang Chunqiao, dubbed the “Gang of Four,” worked together in a campaign to renew China’s revolutionary spirit. With the assistance of the Red Guards, a mass student led paramilitary movement mobilized and guided by Mao from 1996 to 1967, the Gang of Four set out to destroy the “Four Olds” of society: old customs, old culture, old habits, old ideas. The Red Guards were particularly disruptive. Apparent moral confusion caused the base student army to rise and nearly wreck China by attacking senior Communist Party leaders such as Deng Xiaoping and by conducting mass executions. There were reports that the Red Guards cadres had engaged in cannibalism, eating students. They destroyed approximately 66 percent of China’s famous temples, shrines, and heritage sites. These included nearly 7,000 priceless works of art in the Temple of Confucius alone. The Red Guards would face resistance in major cities. Often the PLA was forced to violently put down their destructive attacks. The organization having fully flown off the rails, Mao instructed leaders of the Red Guards to end their movement.

Meanwhile, Kang had returned to the intelligence service from on high to assume responsibility for the CID cadres that remained left in limbo. Eventually, a new organization, the Central Case Examination Group, composed of CID cadres under Kang was created. That organization was instrumental in the removal of Deng Xiaoping from power. The CID was reestablished in 1971 following the death of Lin Biao and then again became entangled in another power struggle as Hua Kuo-feng and Deng Xiaoping vied for control of the party. By then, Kang had receded into the distance, viewed as too connected to the untidiness of the Cultural Revolution.

Following Mao’s death in 1976, the new leadership under Hua Guofeng initially tried to return to the pre-Cultural Revolution years and strengthen the CID. When Hua Kuo-feng and Wang Dongxing assumed power in 1977, they tried to enlarge the CID and expand the Communist Party of China intelligence work as part of their more general effort to consolidate their leadership positions. However, their hopes and dreams met their fate. Deng Xiaoping, having steadily ascended within the leadership ranks of the Communist Party of China, was uncertain of CID loyalties and his opinion of it was unfavorable. Circumstances indicated that he should order the shut down of all Investigation Offices in Chinese embassies. Although it remained part of the Chinese intelligence services, the CID was officially downgraded. According to Anne-Marie Brady in Making the Foreign Serve China: Managing Foreigners in the People’s Republic (Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2003), the impact of the CID’s downgrade was softened by the fact that its intelligence efforts  were being paralleled and to some degree occasionally outmatched by the extraordinarily secret International Liaison Department of the Communist Party of China, which became deeply involved in inciting and assisting international revolution by moving weapons, financial support, and other critical resources to numerous Communist and non-Communist insurgencies worldwide.

The emblem of the Ministry of State Security (above). In 1983, there was considerable frustration in the Communist Party of China with the high volume of secret information being leaked to the West. This was particularly true with regard to information about debates occurring within the Communist Party and reports of poor economic and social conditions within China. In reaction, counterespionage responsibilities were transferred from the MPS to the new Ministry of State Security (MSS). Known as the Guojia Anquanbu or Guoanbu, the MSS was stood up in July 1983 to rectify the deficiencies of the previous iterations of the intelligence function in the Chinese national security apparatus.

The Inception of the Ministry of State Security

The story of the Ministry of State Security (MSS) began thoroughly in July 1983. That year, there was considerable frustration in the Communist Party of China with the high volume of secret information being leaked to the West. This was particularly true with regard to information about debates occurring within the Communist Party and reports of poor economic and social conditions within China. In reaction, counterespionage responsibilities were transferred from the MPS to the MSS. Known as the Guojia Anquanbu or Guoanbu, the MSS was stood up to rectify the deficiencies of the previous iterations of the intelligence function in the Chinese national security apparatus. When the reorganization of the MPS was completed in 1983, it was temporarily left with only traditional police functions. Nevertheless, the change turned out to be quite positive as both organizations were allowed a new beginning so to speak. MSS represented a reimagination of the intelligence collection process abroad and the counterintelligence struggle against outside powers. It eventually bring new dimensions to China’s foreign intelligence scheme. The creation of MSS freed MPS to revamp existing capabilities and explore and adapt a new as well as more technological set of cards to play in the domestic intelligence game so to speak. It represented a reimagination of the intelligence collection process abroad and the counterintelligence struggle against outside powers.

At its nascent stage, the ranks of the MSS were filled with longtime MPS who transferred over to the office. MSS provincial branches were often staffed predominantly with PLA and government retirees. Despite the declaration of its raison d’être as a foreign intelligence organization, the MSS was initially asked to do what its rank and file knew how to do best, which was to perform as police. For that reason, the most important task that it was given after its inception, focusing on students in both China and abroad after the Tiananmen Square protests, was a natural fit. Tiananmen Square, in addition to being frightfully embarrassing to the Communist Party of China leaders, caused them to remain greatly concerned over a possible follow on move by students. That concern was thoroughly evinced when Chinese authorities announced that some 200 Chinese had been accused of spying for the Soviet Union. One might say that the counterintelligence purpose of the assignment made giving it to the MSS plausible. However, MPS had the domestic counterintelligence mission covered. Redundantly taking on the assignment concerning the student–surely MPS was on it–was a turn in a wrong direction. The MSS would eventually develop into an authentic foreign intelligence service, but it would take time. It would be an evolutionary process.

An ocean of student protesters in Tiananmen Square in May 1989 (above). At its nascent stage, the ranks of the MSS were filled with longtime MPS who transferred over to the office. MSS provincial branches were often staffed with People’s Liberation Army and government retirees. Despite the declaration of its raison d’être as a foreign intelligence organization, the MSS was initially asked to do what its rank and file knew how to do best, which was police work. For that reason, the most important task that it was given after its inception, focusing on students in both China and abroad after the Tiananmen Square protests, was a natural fit. The protests, in addition to being frightfully embarrassing to the Communist Party of China leaders, caused them great concern regarding a possible follow-on move by students.

As aforementioned, a paucity of quality information exists publicly from the Chinese government about the present-day MSS in primary or secondary sources. No official Chinese government website exists for the intelligence organization. There have been no press releases distributed or press conferences held by the organization’s public relations department. Access to information from the organization is essentially nonexistent. No significant writings have been published  by security scholars in China on the MSS. Precious few defections from MSS have occurred, so little has been provided from an insider’s view. What is best known generally about MSS in the US has been superbly relayed in I.G. Smith’s and Nigel West’s celebrated Historical Dictionary of Chinese Intelligence (Rowman & Littlefield, 2012).

The MSS headquarters is located in Beijing in a large compound in Xiyuan, on Eastern Chiang’an Avenue, close to Tiananmen Square. Within the security perimeter is snowing apartment block, Qian Men, where many of the MSS staff and their families live. The MSS is a civilian intelligence service and operates independently from the People’s Liberation Army General Staff Second and Third Departments, which also conduct military intelligence and counterintelligence operations. Although it has a central headquarters, the MSS actually was not built up as a centralized organization. It is composed of national, provincial, and local branches much as the MPS from which it sprang. Even the initial CDSA and later CID units of the MPS operated domestically under a decentralized and autonomous structure throughout China that was supported by the Communist Party of China. Their structure somewhat resembles that of the erstwhile regional and Soviet republic KGB bureaus. The provincial, and local branches receive directives from headquarters in Beijing and are financed by National Security Special Funds. Yet, only to the extent that provincial and local branches receive “administrative expenses,” could they be considered accountable to headquarters. They are largely autonomous in reality, reportedly acting as essential adjuncts to the local administration. The formal chief of the MSS holds the title Minister of State Security. As of this writing, the minister is Chen Wenqing. However, from the national level to the local levels, the MSS and its subordinate departments and bureaus report to a system of leading small groups, coordinating offices, and commissions to guide security work while lessening the risk of politicization on behalf of Communist Party of China leaders. Initially, the most important of these was the Political-Legal Commission (Zhongyang Guoja Anquan Weiyuanhui). The Political-Legal Commission was chaired by a Politburo member at the Central level with the title Secretary, who serves essentially as China’s security czar. There are Deputy Party Secretaries at the lower levels. The lower-level commissions oversee all state security, public security, prisons, and procuratorate (judicial) elements for their levels. Currently, there is a Secretary of the Central Political and Legal Affairs Commission (Zhengfawei) who oversees China’s security apparatus and law enforcement institutions, also with power reaching into the courts, prosecution agencies, police forces, paramilitary forces, and intelligence organs  Xi announced the creation of the Central State Security Commission (CSSC) in the Third Plenary Session of the Eighteenth Party Congress in November 2013. The CSSC held its first meeting on April 15, 2014. The purpose of this new commission was twofold. First, it was intended to balance internal political power created by the expansion of the security services and their capabilities in the 2000s. Second, the commission orient’s the MSS and other security forces toward planning and preempting threats to the party-state. At lower levels, provinces, counties, and municipalities have state security leading small groups (Guoja Anquan Lingdao Xiaozu). The political-legal Commissions and State Security leading small groups overlap in personnel but not perfectly. They combine with defense mobilizations committees and 610 offices to create a kind of system of systems that oversees local security and intelligence work. Headquarters is surely kept apprised of what the provincial and local branches are doing. Each level reports to the next MSS level up and the Political-Legal Committee at that level. This florid arrangement of horizontal and vertical relationships often creates bureaucratic competition that encourages pushing decisions upward while hiding information from elements of equal protocol rank.

Intellect, will, and hard earned experience drove MSS leaders forward as they molded the MSS into a truly effective intelligence organization. What compelled the domestic focus of its initial work is further apparent in that process. The first two ministers, Ling Yun and Jia Chunwang, faced the challenge of turning a small Ministry with only a handful of outlying provincial departments into a nationwide security apparatus. The expansion occurred in four waves. In the first wave during MSS’ inaugural year, the municipal bureaus or provincial departments of state security for Beijing, Fujian, Guangdong, Guangxi, Heilongjiang, Jiangsu, Liaoning, and Shanghai were created. A second wave appeared shortly thereafter between 1985 and 1988, including Chongqing, Gansu, Hainan, Henan, Shaanxi, Tianjin, and Zhejiang. The third wave from 1990 to 1995 completed the expansion of the Ministry across at the provincial levels, bringing in Anguilla, Hunan, Qinghai, and Sichuan provinces. The fourth wave the provincial-level departments expanded vertically, taking over local public security bureaus or established subordinate municipal or County bureaus. The MSS policy of expanding representative offices in most major towns and cities was reversed in 1997. Nevertheless, when MSS minister Jia left in 1998 for the MPS, the MSS was a nationwide organization at every level. Presently, the MSS’ thirty-one major provincial and municipal sub-elements. Interestingly, as MSS moved through each growth spurt, it did not ignite efforts to rename the organization, to divide it into pieces and parcel out some of its departments among other Chinese intelligence services, or to disband it altogether in the way CDSA and MPS suffered in the two previous decades. There seemed to be an understanding system wide that the need existed for a solid civilian foreign intelligence as well as counterintelligence capability. Continue reading

Commentary: China’s Coronavirus Tack Includes More Abrupt Officials and Political Warfare; Its Diplomatic Tool Must Endure the Consequences

Communist Party of China Headquarters (above). The Communist Party of China’s line on the coronavirus pandemic has been thoroughly questioned in the West, especially in the US. Beijing’s finger wagging in response has not resulted in some grand conversion of anyone in the US or anyone in the world to China’s point of view. If Beijing stays on its current course, activities in support of the Party-line will surely intensify. Political warfare units and officers overseas of the Chinese intelligence services possess the know-how to propagate the Party-line and are being relied upon. A quiet sense of resentment has likely risen among Ministry of Foreign Affairs diplomats and professionals who seem to be increasingly tasked with making right turns on the truth and have watched as their legitimate work, to promote China’s policy interests, is regularly supplanted by intelligence efforts.

From the moment the coronavirus outbreak began, the People’s Republic of China was not able to overcome and resolve all challenges that beset it. Facing that reality appears to have shaken the psychological foundations of China’s Communist Movement to its core. Under the somewhat mechanical guiding principles of the Communist Movement reinvented by Chairman Mao Zedong insist that China must be forever driving upward and making progress. All efforts should be directed at pushing China to meet its destiny of taking a dominant position in the world. If China did not reach the top, it would remain a sheep not a shepherd. The volumes of collected concepts and quotes could not offer answers for Beijing to quickly and effectively contain the coronavirus, Having failed to meet the needs of its people, Beijing then failed to prevent a coronavirus outbreak worldwide which it must have come to term with by now. Thereby, any sense of failure has likely been intensified. Yet, Beijing has refused to give up the ghost and has continued to extol the virtues of its medical, scientific, and advanced technological capabilities. The identity of the Party is dependent on a certain worldview concerning the Communist Movement, the teachings of Mao, China’s greatness, and China’s world dominance in the future. When that worldview was threatened, the Party would only hold even more tightly to it and potentially double-down on that line of thinking. That possibility of doubling-down most likely led to the decision by Beijing to contain the virus in China as robustly as possible and contain any information just how bad the situation was. Certain medical approaches were approved and taken. Concern over what might have happened outside China was not given equal importance. and few real steps, if any, were taken that related to a concern over an outbreak. No alternative ideas concerning an almost certain outbreak from the discerning and wise in Beijing–academics, scientific scholars, any with relevant expertise–were investigated or allowed any light. Controversies were to be avoided. Those few who said anything contrary to the Communist Party of China line were effectively silenced.

Indisputably, the Communist Party of China’s line on the coronavirus pandemic clashes with the truth. It has been questioned in the West, especially in the US. Although finger wagging at the US in response may seem morally invigorating, it has not resulted in some grand conversion of anyone in the US or anyone in the world to China’s point of view. It certainly has not improved relations with the US. In China, the Communist Party of China, the National Party Congress, and the State Council of China are the immediate sources of all the daily needs of the Chinese people, that certainly would include information. The government would like to convince the Chinese people that international affairs, it says what it has to say, does what it has to do, to lay up a future of world dominance for China. Given this, perchance Beijing has continued this course because it believes the rebuke of the US has served to assure the Chinese public that there is no ambiguity in what the Communist Party of China has determined are the facts. Beijing may believe it is helping Chinese citizens live their lives fully and clear because they are provided “the truth.” By now, though, a good number of Chinese citizens are aware that one cannot know with certainty what is real from what one hears from the government.

In hac re ratio habenda est ut montio acerbitate. (Reason should be held to (applied) in this matter so that the admonition may be without harshness.) While greatcharlie would prefer to avoid being seen as providing advice to Beijing–which in reality would most likely have no interest in its meditations on the matter. Nonetheless, one might say out of academic interest, greatcharlie has sought to conceptualize what Beijing could have done on the world stage when the coronavirus epidemic began in China and offers some thoughts on what it could still do today to recurvate better present itself as “a leader” on the world stage. Related to that, greatcharlie also takes a brief look in the abstract at why any immediate change in the attitudes and behavior may not occur so quickly as its diplomatic tool, the People’s Republic of China Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA), has been going through a type of transition contrary to its purpose of building better relations with other countries.

As a net result of its ongoing tack concerning the coronavirus pandemic, Beijing has thoroughly encased itself in the dreadful mistakes it made by unintendedly, yet repeatedly, shining light on what it did not do right and by its continuous attempts to muscle its way out a disastrous situation with words and actions cobbled together inconsistently in an unsuitable emergency public relations campaign. It would seem that in undertaking its current course, not one appropriate contingency has been considered.

If one were to allow Beijing a bit of latitude, purely out of academic interest, its response to the Western, particularly the US, may be the sense that Chinese leaders might have seared into their psyches over decades about Western perceptions of China. That sense might be informed by utterances of identifiable relics of bigotry from a bygone era to the effect that China is nothing for the West to worry about and the Chinese lack the intellectual power and scientific and technological know-how to ever match US capabilities. That was the case when former US Vice President Joe Biden stated: “I mean, you know, they’re nice folks, folks. But guess what? They’re not competition for us.” To that extent, Chinese leaders view their country a being wronged for too long and they endeavor to right that wrong. (Interestingly, in the administration of US President Barack Obama from which political leaders who have made such statements mostly emerge, a laissez faire attitude resulted in policies on China lost in the wilderness that failed to genuinely protect or promote US interests. The delinquency and lethargy of previous administrations also allowed for the steady progress of China versus US power and further advances in technology.)

Certainly, the moment for immediate action has passed. However, a better course than the one taken, to be brief, would have been to accept the reality of their situation, listening to those in their own country who presented the truth about the virus, and fully acknowledging all of the different developments as they happened, the good, the bad, and the ugly. Most important would have been to be the very party that sounded the global alarm, proactively suggesting constructive precautions to all countries, interacting closely with those leading industrial powers which could have a real impact in stemming the problem worldwide while there was still at least a modicum of time for all countries to act, not just China. Beijing could have worked strenuously with international organizations to include the UN Security Council, fully alerting them that the threat that global pandemic may be in the making. Within those institutions, practical and promising forward-looking recommendations to forge a synergistic international response could have been formulated and promoted by China. The flurry of positive action, that would most noticeably include Beijing’s humble recognition of its errors, would have been an astonishing, powerful display of international leadership by Beijing, albeit over a crisis it caused. The fact that something akin to this approach was not undertaken, and perhaps not even considered, has been a sticking point for Trump.

If it so chose at this stage, Beijing could still direct energy and resources at pecking away at the shell in which they trapped themselves much as a chick breaking out an egg. Nuanced approaches requiring positive action by all relevant bureaucracies across the government to create a positive image and firm, favorable picture that a sanguine China is taking all affirmative steps possible should need to be developed. They would need to be finessed, reshaped continuously, to maximize impact upon viable opportunities to break out its self-inflicted shell the country’s earlier missteps. It would also require more humble cooperation with the rest of the world, not reckless antagonistic verbiage that has so far only triggered the never previously considered process of genuinely isolating China from the international community, international trade and political economy, that is slowly gaining momentum. Rather than experiment with anything new, thoughtful, and inspired, Beijing simply turned to the derivative tactics of locking down and concealing less-desirable and outright unpleasant developments. Disappointingly, the leadership of China appears to lack the reflexes, sensibilities, and sadly, the sophistication, to turn toward the more advanced notions required for positive cooperation. Perhaps, brooding leaders of the Communist Party of China have managed to convince themselves that the main front in all of this is a battle of wits between East and West, in which two disparate political and economic systems compete for dominance.

If no erosion of its current positions occurs, and Beijing stays on its current course, one can expect activities in support of them to intensify. Seemingly, the quondam Cold War era, in which such thinking held prominence is apparently not dead, at least not in the foreign affairs parlors of the Communist Party of China, as well as the Chinese intelligence services, particularly the Ministry of State Security (MSS), and to an extent, departments of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) and intelligence elements of the Communist Party of China. The MSS, a civilian intelligence agency, comparable to some degree to the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), is the embodiment of the logic that created the Chinese system’s intimidating, authoritarian order. Since 1983, it has choreographed events to accomplish the Communist Party’s purposes worldwide. With regard to China’s coronavirus crisis, MSS possesses the know-how through specially trained personnel in political warfare units and officers overseas who could engage in active measures, propagating the line of the Communist Party of China. So far, the apparent political warfare attack against the US, has not been the smashing success leaders of the Communist Party of China were hoping for. However, its effects are doubtlessly being felt throughout the foreign and national security policy apparatus of the Chinese government. With regard to the MFA, large swathes of activities concerning China’s foreign relations with other countries have been taken out of the hands of the diplomats and other professionals at the MFA and put in the hands of the intelligence services.

Materiam superabat opus. (The workmanship excelled the materials.) In the offices of the MFA, there is very likely a very quiet sense of resentment among professionals having chosen to represent China and promote its policy interests worldwide only to have their legitimate activities regularly superseded and supplanted by the machinations of the Chinese intelligence services at the behest of Communist Party of China. After decades of proudly engaging in complex, meaningful diplomatic work, mostly behind the scenes, with the goal of having China respected and reckoned as a power that can have a significant impact in international affairs by the international community, it is surely difficult for MFA diplomats and other professionals to watch as China, instead of further establishing its place among dominant powers, is now earning a reputation as an international pariah.

The purpose of diplomacy should be to prevent war. Bilateral and multilateral contacts with other countries, statements, press releases, and other messaging should not have the aim of antagonizing and raising the ire of leaders and other decisionmakers in foreign capitals. MFA diplomats and professionals would surely prefer to avoid a tit-for-tat situation with the US in which one act of retribution would lead to another from China. With every new act, the chance that a serious outbreak of violence increases.

As mentioned, MFA is ostensibly the primary government agency with a portfolio of implementing the foreign policy and managing diplomatic affairs of China, however the ministry now finds its diplomatic efforts with the US being increasingly supplanted by MSS efforts to conduct active measures such having journalist, academics, and other policy scholars promote the Communist Party of China’s hardline and by intensifying its efforts to steal a wide variety of technologies from US companies and universities. More recently, that nefarious work has included efforts to steal the fruits of money, time, and research into therapies and vaccines for the coronavirus. MFA diplomats may find themselves more and more dragged into MSS operations and those of other Chinese intelligence services as their efforts intensify. In a recent incident, it was discovered that a biology researcher at the University of California-Davis lied about her ties to the PLA. After being interviewed by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, she sought refuge in China’s San Francisco consulate. While it has not been definitively established that she was engaged in intelligence work in the US, there is a high probability she was. The PLA would not knowingly deploy an officer to the US without tasking her with some intelligence function. MFA is a consumer of information from cloak and dagger work, and it’s diplomats would prefer not to be sacked into the business of obtaining it.

One might suppose that it was already enough for MFA diplomats to tolerate a policy generally understood to be in effect that has MSS personnel assigned to China’s embassies and other permanent diplomatic missions overseas for up to six years, with a few remaining in post for 10 years if required. Reportedly, in the US, there are seven permanent Chinese diplomatic missions staffed with intelligence personnel. When the accommodations to the MSS aforementioned are added to this, it most assuredly piles on to a heap of discontent that has been long standing.

To enlarge on the point of how MFA is intriguingly being utilized in the larger more belligerent approach of China toward the US, recall how early into the coronavirus crisis, the world witnessed the Department of Information of the MFA using a far sharper tone. As time moved on, it seemingly devolved into being simply a direct mouthpiece for the Communist Party of China, providing some cover for the Party’s own offices. What was being declared about the US has been far from plausible, and apparently manifested anxieties, fears, over outcomes of grave errors made within China. Press briefings amplified those statements online with a bit more vigor. Spokespersons propagating the stronger line were abrupt in what is the approved Party fashion. Indeed, all MFA officials comported themselves publicly with an astringency which some regime critics would say uncloaked the true nature of the regime. Disinformation was also being spread from MFA sources through posts on Twitter. Those who are following this matter closely will hardly forget the shocking and incredulous tweet from Zhao Lijian, the Director of the Information Department of China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs in which he tried to direct blame at US for the coronavirus epidemic in China. From @zlj517 on March 12, 2000, at 10:37 AM, Zhao wrote: “2 CDC was caught on the spot. When did patient zero begin in US? How many people are infected? What are the names of the hospitals? It might be US army who brought the epidemic to Wuhan. Be transparent! Make public your data! US owe us an explanation!”

The hallowed diplomatic doctrine of the MFA has been moderation in all things. Calmness and authority must be shown not only in diplomacy but in all circumstances. The more recent assertive approach has pulled MFA officials from their more traditional conservative, stolid posture. Reportedly, the transition in approach is due to something called “Wolf-Warrior diplomacy.” The name derives from high grossing, action films, “Wolf Warrior” and “Wolf Warrior II,” that feature Chinese special operations forces in battle against China’s adversaries. While the films present a false reality, the nationalistic ideas and ideals they  promote apparently cross-polinated with thinking of China’s leadership on real foreign and national security issues.

Res ipsa repperi facilitate nihil esse homini melius neque clementia. (I have learned by experience that nothing is more advantageous to a person than courtesy and compassion.) With good reason, somber and astute foreign policy analysts worldwide have found it difficult to believe that MFA diplomats and professionals are pleased to adhere to a policy that is named after and centered upon a banal amusement. There is some indication that the Wolf Warrior diplomacy is not novel, but rather has been in effect for a decade. However, the requirement that MFA diplomats and even officials of other government ministries take on a “fighting spirit” has really been something insisted upon by Chinese President Xi Jinping. Wolf Warrior diplomacy is all seen is a response by Beijing to highly biased perceptions of China presented especially in Western media. Recall, that notion was touched upon earlier here. Biases heard from overseas by China are often perceived not only as ideological but racist. There is also a prevalent perception in China that as the country has become more powerful on the world stage, other countries increasingly sense that it poses a threat to their respective interests.

The official position on the impact of Wolf Warrior diplomacy on Chinese diplomats and professionals is that it has raised their morale and encouraged a more assertive style. Yet more plausibly, MFA diplomats and professionals feel Wolf Warrior diplomacy is a load of bollocks, and they could mercilessly dissect the shortcomings of that diplomacy and anything produced under it. Intriguingly, expressions of traditional Chinese diplomacy and professionalism have been heard here and there. Comments of that nature made by the People’s Republic of China Ambassador to the US Cui Tiankai about the anti-US declarations from Beijing were highlighted in greatcharlie’s March 31, 2020 post entitled, “Commentary: Beijing’s Failed Political Warfare Effort Against US: A Manifestation of Its Denial Over Igniting the Coronavirus Pandemic”. Reportedly, Cui told the HBO news program “Axios on HBO” that he stands by his belief that it’s “crazy” to spread rumors about the coronavirus originating from a military laboratory in the US. Cui even called this exact conspiracy theory “crazy” more than a month ago on the CBS News program, “Face the Nation.” well before the spokesperson for the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs first began publicly promoting the conspiracy. However, despite such coruscating flashes of what could be called true MFA sensibilities, strong disagreements felt by diplomats and professionals are generally left at the door of their office buildings. At best a very cautious demarche should be attempted in house by the most secure diplomats in the face of decisions and policies of the leadership in an authoritarian, and arguably totalitarian, Communist state. That demarche should never be looked upon by outside observers as a fuite du courage, as much as a pragmatic, existential necessity.

Perchance, more MFA diplomats and professionals disagree with Communist Party of China line policies than one could imagine. No one hoping for the best for China would want to see good thinking officials engage in some une enterprise désespérée that could result in having them brutally weeded out of the system. At least for the time being, nothing that could relatively “bring down the house” should be uttered. Having been directed to promote policies based on the attributes of a fictitious character from an action film, MFA diplomats and professionals have done so without question both overseas and at home. The Ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle stated: “It is the mark of an educated man to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.”

At one time, the MFA had a clear cut choice between being a mediator and an enforcer of China’s foreign policy. Its diplomats displayed a certain style and nuance as they made offers and discussed the proposals to resolve issues with other countries. Wolf Warrior requires a hardline stand every time. Insights will not advance efforts, dogma will. In following, as time passes, the MFA will likely be forced to make half turns away from the truth, ensuring that it is never on the correct side of issues. As the MFA is used more and more as a tool to proclaim the aggressive message of the Communist Party of China, it places into question whether the ministry will even keep its main job of making peaceful entreaties with foreign governments. While diplomats might meet with the foreign diplomatic counterparts, there would be superficiality to those contacts. It would be diplomacy after a fashion, albeit in an unsatisfactory way. The work of MFA diplomats, as it once was, would be finished. Maliuolum solacii genus est turba miserorum. (A crowd of fellow suffers is miserable kind of comfort.)

The fact that the Chinese government initiated the ongoing coronavirus disaster cannot be credibly truthfully argued against. Sadly, Beijing so far has not demonstrated any interest in acting appropriately concerning the present matter of the coronavirus. It will most likely attempt to continue to assail the global media with waves of distortions. Nevertheless, despite that having transpired, it is not too late to turn the situation around. China can put the present time to good use. The US, as the true dominant power in the world must maintain its poise. It must not react. It must act in a measured way using effective means, at a time and place of its choosing. Despite all the dissatisfaction and disappointment felt toward China, the US must interact as amiably as possible. Surely, the two countries are not at a point yet when the dark waters of despair have overwhelmed their leaders. When diplomats from both sides meet, they must approach each other with a certain buoyancy and hope. Consilio melius contendere atque vincere possumus quam ira. (We can compete and prevail better through wisdom than through anger.)

US-Led Military Strikes in Syria Were a Success: Was a Correlative Political Warfare Success Achieved, Too?

Syrian Arab Republic President Bashar al-Assad (left) and Russian Federation President Vladimir Putin (right). Given all that transpired in Syria surrounding the US, United Kingdom, and French military strikes, Putin, Assad and their respective senior advisers may very well have begun to ask questions about future of relations between their countries. Relations between Moscow and Damascus may have begun moving in a new direction to the dissatisfaction and disappointment of Putin, and the dismay and anger of Assad.

Correlative effects can result from airstrikes, cruise missile strikes, drone strikes, and artillery attacks. Those effects could include damage to surrounding structures, or could mean unfortunate harm to civilians, in or near a target struck. Correlative effects can sometimes include shaping the attitude and behavior of an opponent targeted, his ability think, what he thinks, his ability to fight, and even his interactions with individuals with which he is allied or tenuously unified can be others. A correlative result of the April 13, 2018 US, United Kingdom, and French military strikes in Syria may have been a hard blow upon the ties between Russia and Syria. Indeed, perhaps far more was accomplished by that US-led coalition than the Trump administration could have imagined. On April 13, 2018, US military forces, acting in coordination with military forces from the United Kingdom and France, took decisive action against the chemical weapons infrastructure of the Syria Arab Republic. It was in response to an April 7, 2018 chemical weapons attack against his own citizens in Douma. According to the Trump administration, the US has vital national interests in averting a worsening catastrophe in Syria, and specifically deterring the use and proliferation of chemical weapons. The military strikes took out “the heart” of the Syrian chemical weapons enterprise, but there were other facilities that were not struck due to concerns about civilian casualties. He declined to say exactly how much of the chemical weapons program was taken out. US Defense Secretary James Mattis explained that the strikes were “a one-time shot.” US Marine Corps Lieutenant General Kenneth McKenzie, the director of the Joint Staff, explained in an April 18, 2018 press conference at the Pentagon that the US carefully plotted out the strength, length of time, and target set of the strikes. Efforts were made to minimize the potential for chemical weapons to leak out of the facilities, with McKenzie saying “we believe we successfully mitigated” the risk. He explained that while it is possible that some material and people were moved from the site in the lead-up to the attack, there were certain pieces of equipment that the regime would not have been able to relocate. McKenzie acknowledged that the three sites did not represent the totality of the Syrian chemical weapons program known to the US. However, McKenzie and Pentagon spokeswoman Dana White emphasized that future strikes in the region could not be ruled out, saying that it is entirely up to the Assad regime. They went on to explain that the use of chemical weapons in the future could lead to more strikes.

After everything, Syrian Arab Republic President Bashar al-Assad sits ostensibly in relative safety and comfort in Damascus as the leader of all of Syria, even though he only controls a small part of the country’s territory. He only holds on to that with the assistance of Russia and Iran. Even more, he wields as much power as Russia will grant him to wield. To observers, there appears to be a blindness in Moscow about Assad. Yet, Russian Federation President Vladimir Putin is well aware of his Syrian counterpart’s merits and deficits. He has an intellectual understanding of Assad, his habits, his ways. Indeed, at this point, Putin, with albeit some effort, very likely can track his thoughts, and likely has intimations about his moves whenever he thinks about Syria. For some, the optics of their interactions would support the idea that Assad is something akin to a ventriloquist’s dummy for Putin. Others would insist that they have a strong personal bond. Imdeed, there are Western foreign policy analysts and scholars would go as far as to say the relationship with Assad is indissoluble. Putin would likely assert that the two men simply have a better than average friendly rapport based on mutual interests and military, diplomatic, and economic arrangements. It would be practically impossible for the truly experienced not to see that in their relationship, Putin is the top, the leader, the senior party and Assad is the bottom, the follower, the junior party. Often, Putin displays choreographed support for Assad. When relationships are built on mutual interests and useful arrangements, and not a higher bond, sometimes conditions can change to such a degree that the relationship might be altered or ended.

Given all that transpired in Syria surrounding the US, United Kingdom, and French military strikes. Putin, Assad and their senior advisers may very well have begun to ask questions about future of relations between their countries. The interior thoughts, emotions officials in Moscow and Damascus play an important role in all that is happening with Syria. There was nothing but negative feedback for Assad regarding Putin. Assad likely had no doubt that Putin would stand with him against the West. Yet, as the Western military strikes were executed on April 13, 2018, Assad watched as Putin did nothing. The lesson for Assad was that he should not be so trusting of Russia and his other somewhat powerful allies. After all, when desires action from them, he has almost no way to aafely shape their behavior. While Assad did not publicly brood over what transpired on April 13th, he was likely resentful and bitter about it. Postulating that the military strikes in Syria were designed to have the effect of sowing seeds of mistrust and dissent between Russia and Syria would go a bit beyond conjecture. However, there may have been coincidental, correlative political warfare effects resulting from the April 13th military strikes. A glut of information about Assad is held by the intelligence services of the US, United Kingdom, and France. Amid what has been collected is undoubtedly information about the dynamics of Assad’s relationship with Putin. It may confirm that their relationship is now a bit different. The tons of information coming in from Syria may be at a constipation point. Information of that sort may not have been synthesised yet. Nothing has been made public or provided newsmedia reports on whether the April 13, 2018 military strikes had either a deliberate or correlative effect of rocking the boat between Moscow and Damascus has been produced. Still, one can ruminate, outside of the box, that a ball may have begun rolling in a new direction to the dissatisfaction and disappointment of Putin, and the dismay and anger of Assad. The possibility that the relationship may take a new direction is briefly examined here. Opinionis enim commenta delet dies, naturae judicia confirmat. (Time destroys the figments of the imagination, while confirming judgments of nature [God].)

Assad (left) and Putin (right). From all that is publicly known, scoring a political warfare victory was not part of the concept and intent of the US. Unless one was involved in the planning of the military strike, it would be impossible to posit with certainty that some consideration was given to how the military strikes would affect the Russia-Syria relationship. Still the features of a political warfare effort, even if coincidental, are discernible.

Detecting Political Warfare

Again, from all that is publicly known, scoring a political warfare victory was not part of the concept and intent of the US and did not factor into the planning of the military strikes in Syria. Unless one was involved in the planning of the military strike, it would be impossible to posit with certainty that some consideration was given to how the military strikes would affect the Russia-Syria relationship. Still the features of a political warfare effort, even if coincidental, are discernible. Under a definition offered by the RAND Corporation, political warfare consists of the international use of one or more of the implements of power–diplomatic, information, military, and economic–to affect the political composition of decision making within a state. Political warfare is often, yet not necessarily, carried out covertly, but must be carried out outside the context of traditional war. In the broadest sense, it could take the form of anything other than military operations. It could for example include: economic subversion; propaganda–not tied to the military effort; psychological warfare–as part of a military effort; conditional aid to a state; aid to political parties; aid to resistance groups; political accommodation; and, assassination. Brian Jenkins, a security affairs analyst at RAND has explained that political warfare reverses the famous dictum of the 19th century Prussian military theorist Carl von Clausewitz that “war is the extension of politics by other means,” political warfare is the extension of armed conflict by other means. Political warfare does not focus exclusively on enemies who are at large or end with their capture. It targets those on their way in to enemy ranks, those who might be persuaded to quit, and those in custody. Political warfare sees the enemy not as a monolithic force, but as a dynamic population of individuals whose grievances, sense of humiliation, and desire for revenge, honor, status, meaning, or mere adventure propel them into jihad and resistance. Political warfare accepts no foe as having irrevocably crossed a line, but sees enemy combatants as constantly calibrating and recalibrating their commitment. It sees every prisoner not merely as a source of operational intelligence, but as a potential convert. Political warfare is infinitely flexible and ferociously pragmatic. It accepts local accommodations to reduce violence, offers amnesties to induce divisions and defections, and cuts deals to co-opt enemies.

Until recently, things have typically gone relatively well between Putin and Assad. There has rarely been reason for them to think too negatively of one another. However, as circumstances develop in which their perspectives grow in variance on matters of mutual concern. The atmosphere has already changed a bit. It will change even more if Assad decides to use chemical weapons again. Common wisdom in the West is that Assad would unlikely use chemical weapons again, not because his known chemical capability has been denigrated, not because he has been punished him excessively, but because Assad, according to Western thinking, Assad has already won the war with the assistance of Russia and Iran. Dropping more chemical weapons would have no strategic value any Western military analysts can think of. Moreover, it would not make sense to incur the wrath of the US and other Western powers as a result of using such weapons. All of that being stated, it appears the West must learn over and over again that Assad thinks differently than most national leaders, and military analysts as well. Assad has embraced his role as a tyrant. He is concerned mainly with holding power. In his conscious or unconscious mind, he may be haunted by the fear of facing retribution for violent acts ordered in defense of his power and atrocities committed against his own people. Everyone does not think the same and Assad is a perfect example of that. Putin, however, is certainly aware of how different Assad is.

The chief foreign linkage of Syria under Assad and his father, Hafez al-Assad, before him, have been the Russian Federation and the Soviet Union, respectively. The present Assaf has been useful to Russia as a figurehead, a symbol of resistance to the Syrian opposition, ISIS and Islamic terrorist groups  and the West.  He is undoubtedly viewed in Moscow as Putin’s man, and his ball to play with. It was the strength and realities of those ties between Damascus and Moscow  that were poorly considered when the US injected itself in Syria in support of the anti-Assad opposition movement during the Arab Spring in 2011. By the Fall 2015, Assad appeared to lack the ability to remain in power against ISIS and perhaps US-backed Syrian Opposition forces. The military situation began recurvate after Russia, with the urging of Iran, moved its forces into Syria in September 2015 and supported Syrian military operations.

It is interesting how Putin and Assad, two men from desperate backgrounds have established a very positive relationship that goes beyond mutual courtesy and civility. Putin rose from humble beginnings, raised by a mother and father who respectively managed to survive the siege of Leningrad and violent battles during World War II. Assad, on the other hand, was the privileged, eldest son of the former President of Syria, General Hafez Al-Assad, who ruled from 1971 to 2000. Putin completed his studies in law at Leningrad University before embarking on a successful career in the Soviet Union’s Komitet Gosudarstvennoy Bezopasnosti (the Committee for State Security) known better as the KGB—the agency responsible for intelligence, counterintelligence, and internal security. Along with the well-earned praise of his colleagues and positive evaluations from his superiors, he had a record of service that led others to support his rise to the pinnacle of power in Russia. Assad was educated as a doctor, trained as a surgeon, and lived a comforrable life in London before being called home to take the reigns in Syria after his father’s death. Indeed, one man, Putin, was self-made, with his knowledge and capabilities shaped and polished by every obstacle and adversity he managed to overcome. The other man, Assad, had everything in life laid out in front of him, and there were few character shaping struggles. Ignis aurum probat, miseria fortes viros. (Fire provides proof of gold, misery, proof of strong men.)

In crafting a fruitful relationship with Assad, Putin seems to have handled him much as he would have handled an operative during his days in the intelligence industry. During his one-on-one contacts with Assad he has likely spent time motivating, befriending, briefing, advising, counselling, debriefing, and perhaps paying and welfaring him. It has served to establish the bridge between them. It is the sort of interaction to which Putin is attracted. It has helped to shape the dynamic and apparent congenial nature of their exchanges. It is likely that somewhere, Putin keeps notes that are part of a personal study of Assad. At age 65, Putin as a man and a leader, and in terms of capabilities and shrewdness, is far more advanced than Assad who is 52. For Putin, there certainly would be advantage in maintaining the relationship as is, if he can. There is an expediency in working with something, someone that you understand, who has been predictable. It is hard to imagine Putin might be overly concerned with Assad’s feelings. Yet, while Putin might only relate to other leaders much as strangers on a train, his relationship with Assad has been something more. In all the years until this point, whenever he met with Assad, they likely simply picked up wherever they leave off. Assad was granted a ticket to the high table international affairs by Putin. Contrarily, Assad cannot do much independently to enhance Putin’s life.

Putin (left) and Assad (right). In crafting a fruitful relationship with Assad, Putin seems to have handled him much as he would have handled an operative during his days in the intelligence industry. During his one-on-one contacts with Assad, he has likely spent time motivating, befriending, briefing, advising, counselling, debriefing, and perhaps paying him. It has served to establish a bridge between them.

Putin almost never fails to publicly cover Assad’s actions that reach the world’s gaze. He has supported Assad with strong words, diplomatic maneuvering at the UN and bilaterally with a handful of receptive countries, mostly it neighbors. He has of course, supported him by deploying Russian military forces to his country to protect his regime. Moscow’s initial response to the Assad’s chemical attacks in Douma was a grand denial that the Assad regime had anything to do with it. Russia, a Permanent Member of the UN Security Council, sought to fight fire with oil, giving credence to the idea that Assad did not and would not use chemical weapons and the entire matter was a hoax. This was made worse by Russia’s futile attempt make the investigation of the chemical attacks a joint venture in which Russia would work alongside the UN Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) at the site of the attack and in their research labs. It must not be forgotten that Assad should not have access to chemical weapons at all, but an intriguing diplomatic tact taken by Moscow in 2013 left the door open to that. On September 14, 2013, Moscow and Washington reached an agreement under which Russia guaranteed Syria’s chemical weapons stockpile and all equipment for producing, mixing, and filing chemical weapons would be destroyed before the end of the first half of 2014. The OPCW would implement the agreement.  The genesis of the agreement was an August 21, 2013 chemical attack by the Assad regime against several towns of the Ghouta agricultural belt to the West and East of Damascus.  Reportedly the administration of US President Barack Obama was nearing a decision to launch US-led punitive strikes against Syria. A suggestion was made by the US Secretary of State John Kerry stated offhandedly at a press conference on September 9, 2013 that the US might not conduct military strikes if Assad placed Syria’s enture chemical weapons stockpile under international control within a week. Hours after that statement, Russian Federation Foreign Minister managed to have Syrian Arab Republic Foreign Minister Walid Muallem agree to the idea. On April 13, 2018, and back on April 6, 2017, the Trump administration, based on clear and convincing evidence took action against Assad contrary to decision of the Obama administration when it had the opportunity. Most importantly, however, action had to be taken because both Russia and Syria clearly failed to meet their responsibility under the 2013 agreement. There has been little no mention of the September 14, 2013 agreement by Moscow or Damascus after the April 13, 2018 chemical attacks. Moreover, rather expressing of concern over the use of chemical weapons, as could be expected, prevarications emanated from Moscow and Damascus concerning the attacks.

Moscow also made false claims that the majority of cruise missiles fired into Syria were shot down. Russian news outlets, as well as social media from the region, had claimed as many as 70 percent of coalition weapons were shot down by Syrian or Russian air defenses. But the Russian systems did not attempt to intercept the incoming weaponry, and the Syrian system launched around 40 surface to air missiles after the last targeted weapon hit its target, Referring to this type of activity by Moscow as information warfare perhaps gives it too much respectability as its purpose is to position it as master of the mob: anti-US, anti-EU, anti-West, and pro-Russian elements worldwide. Even Moscow must realize that in each case, all of its falsehoods would be overcome by the truth over time. Assad clearly had no concern over having frightful clouds hang over himself for atrocities committed before and during the Syrian War. There is not much that could further vulgarize his reputation. From experience of the Soviet Union as well as that of their own Russian Federation, officials in Moscow should have learned that the wounds Russia’s image suffers from such antics are all self-inflicted, deleterious, and all very unnecessary. Russia is reduced to a level akin to a “Fourth World” dictatorship, a so-called “Banana Republic”, when it prevaricates on matters concerning the US.

Every time Moscow distorts the truth, it confirms the worst about itself. The ugly image many policy makers, decision makers, and analyst in the West long since have had seared in their minds about Russia are reinforced. Few anywhere in the world can be confident what’ Moscow says is true, except those willing to be deceived. When Putin and his officials make claims on other occasions to the effect that Russia is a land of the mind, this questionable behavior, along with a lot of other things, puts that notion in doubt.

Intriguingly, Moscow puts significant effort into improving its image as a world leader, yet undermines that effort by backing Assad and destroying its image in the minds of many. There are consequences to the way one lives. He who walks with wise men will be wise, but a companion of fools will be destroyed. On April 11, 2018, Trump wrote on Twitter: “You shouldn’t be partners with a Gas Killing Animal who kills his people and enjoys it!”, referring to Moscow’s alliance with Assad. Assad, by his actions, has repeatedly immobilized Putin. He is left unable to smoothly move on to better things. If there are future chemical attacks by Assad, it is uncertain what the future of his relationship with Putin will be. A number possible scenarios exist based on questions Putin and Assad might ask themselves as well as steps they might take as the situation between them develops. Those steps would likely fall under the category of political warfare.

US President Donald Trump (above). It is intriguing to observe Moscow put significant effort into improving its image as a world leader, and then undermine that effort by lending unwavering support to Assad after he has acted against the norms of civilized world. On April 11, 2018, Trump wrote on Twitter: “You shouldn’t be partners with a Gas Killing Animal who kills his people and enjoys it!”, referring to Moscow’s tie with Assad. By his actions, Assad immobilizes Putin, leaving him unable to move on to better things.

Is Assad Worth the Trouble?: Scenario for Putin

Due to flaws in his government, his own deficiencies as a leader, and perhaps a lack of empathy, Assad failed to spare the people of the old ills of war and crime. Without the support of Putin and Russia, one could reasonably conclude that Assad would have been brushed aside awhile ago. Indeed, in 2015, Assad appeared to lack the ability to remain in power against both ISIS and other Islamic terrorist groups and the US-backed Syrian Opposition forces. Policy makers and decision makers in Moscow and Tehran doubted Assad could hold on to power in Damascus without assistance. They mainly feared the real possibility that Syria would fall in the hands of ISIS. One could only imagine what would have been needed to regain and retain control of the country if ISIS had forced the regime out of Damascus. Putin provided a rational for Russia’s intervention in Syria in a speech at a meeting of the Collective Security Treaty Organization in Dushanbe Tajikistan, on September 15, 2015. In response to Western criticism of Russia’s move, Putin explained, “We support the government of Syria in its opposition to terrorist aggression. We have provided and will provide necessary military and technical support and call on other nations to join us.” Putin noted the exodus of refugees toward Europe and the crisis in Syria was a result of the support foreign powers provided the Syria opposition rebels. He said, “I would like to note that people are fleeing Syria because of the military actions that were largely imposed externally by deliveries of weapons and other special equipment. People are fleeing to escape the atrocities committed by terrorists.” Putin went on to state, “[The refugees] are fleeing from radicals, above all. And if Russia had not supported Syria, the situation in this country would have been worse than in Libya, and the stream of refugees would have been even greater.”

Speaking to Western and Arab capitals, Putin declared, “We must sideline geopolitical ambitions, refrain from so-called double standards, from the policy of direct use of separate terrorist groups to achieve opportunistic goals, including the change of governments and regime that may be disagreeable to whomever.” Concerning Assad, Putin relayed that he might be willing to enter a power-sharing agreement with opposition but that the fight against terrorism was the priority. To that extent, Putin explained, “The Islamic State is providing ideological indoctrination and training to fighters from different countries including, unfortunately European countries and the Russian Federation, and many former Soviet republics. And of course, we are worried with the possibility of them returning to our territories.” As explained in a December 30, 2015 greatcharlie post, commanders of the Russian Federation Armed Forces reportedly believed the military objective of any ground operations in Syria should first be to create a regime stronghold in what is referred to as “Useful Syria” (Suriya al-Mufida) from Damascus up to Aleppo through Homs. That would require Russia and its allies to sweep up the Western part of Syria. The objective was to take pressure off Latakia, a pro-Assad, Alawite heartland and locale of an important airfield and take pressure off Tartus, a long-time Soviet Naval port passed on to the Russian Federation Navy. It is key for the delivery of military material to Russian and Syrian forces and important for the conduct of military operations in support of Syria. After reaching Latakia, Russia and its allies would turn toward Idlib. Part of the force could have pushed farther north to gain control of the Syrian-Turkish border west of the Kurdish Democratic Union Party’s (PYD) territory, blocking the US coalition and ISIS from access to it. In an additional phase of their offensive, Russia and its allies would press eastward. A key objective was to take Palmyra from ISIS and the oil and gas resources around it. Russia began to gain control of the situation on the ground in Syria soon after deploying significant forces there in September 2015. At this point, the fight to secure “Useful Syria” has essentially been won. Syria, however, is still reliant upon a military and security umbilical cord tied from Moscow to Damascus.

Discord obtains when things get mixed up. Assad would likely disagree with any assessment that described him as a follower, or stated that his existence is contingent upon Russian power. He would likely describe himself as partner with Putin and other leaders and that Syria is working jointly with its allies. It is imaginable that Assad believes he is delegating part of the job of using military power to defeat Syria’s enemies to Russia and others. For Assad, all arrows point his way, for he almost always thinks and acts in terms of self-interest. Assad would likely proffer that Syria in the aggregate has the capability and capacity fend off threats to its security. Trouble comes when Assad sets out to confirm his thinking with heinous acts of violence, such as the chemical weapons attacks, which he knows are antithetical to norms of the civilized world, counter international law, and in defiance of demands made of his regime by the UN Security Council through resolutions. Assad apparently has much to prove to his fellow countryman, to other regional leaders, to his allies such as Russia, and the rest of the world. When he has lashed out, and he has done so regularly during the war, he proves that he is truly a despot. Errare humanum est, perseverare diabolicum. (To err is human, to persist in it, is diabolical.)

Assad (left), Putin (center), and Russian Federation Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu (right). Commanders of the Russian Federation Armed Forces reportedly believed the military objective of any ground operations in Syria should first be to create a regime stronghold in what is referred to as “Useful Syria.” Once Russian forces moved into Syria in September 2015, the military situation began to recurvate. The fight to secure “Useful Syria” has essentially been won. Syria, however, is still reliant upon a military and security umbilical cord with Russia.

In Syria, the Assad regime, through an unending propaganda campaign, projects an image of its president in a way in which he is in firm control. That image also serves to assure the Syrian people that they still live in a sovereign state and that they have control over their own destiny. That image is completely inaccurate. Yet, there is little in Syria to interfere with that imaginative process as the government has strict control over media. True, Syrians can see that Putin has provided thousands of Russian advisers, troops and airmen who are engaged in daily operations to fend off and destroy the regimes adversaries. Yet, Syrians supportive of the Assad regime would likely assure that the tie between their leader and Putin was unbreakable. Rather than feel threatened, they, in fact, welcome Russia’s presence and taken refuge in the umbrella of the added security provided by the Russians. They are happy to believe they need not fear for their survival as long Putin and Russia are working hand in hand with their country. Simultaneously, those same Syrian’s would argue that Assad is still the real power in Syria. Moreover, they are likely ignorant or unconcerned with the problems Assad’s actions have caused Russia. Vivit et est vitae nescius ipse suae. (Man lives in ignorance of his own life.)

Assad very likely believes his self-crafted, virtual image truly mirrors his real life. Looking at newsmedia video clips of Assad in Damascus, one might be bemused by the artificial size of his life. Syria is an authoritarian regime ruled by Assad much as, but albeit far less orderly and competently than his father before him. Politically, Syria is an odd hybrid, a quasi-national socialist, Islamic state. Assad is accepted by his beloved Alawites as well as elites from his own Arab Socialist Ba’ath Party, the Syrian Social Nationalist Party, other like-minded political groupings, business leaders, and leadership of the Armed forces and the security services. The People’s Council–the national legislature of Syria–and the Syrian judicial system cannot even provide a fig leaf of democracy for Assad regime. Syria’s elites appear satisfied with conditions in “Useful Syria”. It is something akin to a kingdom of gold for them. The coffers of Syria have serve the purposes of the elites and Assad. It is a type of larceny Assad inherited from his father. Those in Syria who have money, power are celebrities, heroes of the society, having what the majority can never attain. The Presidential Palace on Mount Mezzah is emblematic of Assad’s efforts to provide a venir of prosperity and power over a broken country in unimaginable suffering has visited countless homes.

None could doubt at this point that the life, happiness of the common man means nothing in Assad’s Syria. Assad does not have the type of government that elevates human beings. Assad has never used his words or events in the outside world to encourage Syrian to raise themselves up, to be more, to accomplish more. Assad uses words to stimulate nationalism, to cause Syrians to accept that the source of their country’s problems is the aggressive, greedy, external world, the West as opposed to any cause that comes from within, such as himself. An appropriate understanding among all Syrians about of what is happening in Syria will never be obtained as long as they are fed contradictory or insufficient facts. Even if the “have nots” in proximity of elites demanded some changes, an almost inexhaustible number of agencies among the security services would subdue them, punish those who do not revere the masters of their society. When the war is over, Syrians who can, would like to love the simpler lives they had once before. Syrians want to return to Assad’s version of peace and tranquility: the peace of submission to the regime; the tranquility of working in a secure position within the narrow confines of the regime’s dictates. Assad’s vision for future of Syria is most likely based on self-interest, his own well-being. The hope that anchors him is that he will remain in power, and the problems that have seized him since the civil war in Syria began in 2011 would eventually go away. Est enim unum ius quo deuincta est hominum societas et quod lex constituit una, quae lex est recta ratio imperandi atque prohibendi. Quam qui ignorat, is est iniusta s, siue est illa scripta uspiam siue nusquam. (For there is but one essential justice which cements society, and one law which establishes this justice. This law is right reason, which is the true rule of all commandments and prohibitions. Whoever neglects this law, whether written or unwritten, is necessarily unjust and wicked.)

Perhaps it would not be judged as a fair comparison, but compared with countries in the West, Syria could hardly be viewed as a normal, functioning, sovereign country. A sovereign country that cannot defend its borders is not authentically sovereign. Moreover, Syria could be labelled derelict given the condition of most of its towns and cities. To Putin, who, unlike Assad, is thinking realistically about the future of Syria, it is very apparent that reconstruction in Syria will be another huge hurdle to overcome. The bellwether of Syria’s future condition can be observed in South Ossetia, Abkhazia, Transnistria, Donetsk People’s Republic, and the Luhansk People’s Republic. Lacking any significant resources from the US and the rest of the international community to rebuild, that would be the only viable long-term condition that Syria could reach with Moscow’s assistance alone. Syria would simply become a larger version of those political, economic, and social disasters. Few other countries or international organizations appear willing to dive in to help Syria with signigicant financial assistance or investment. Few countries are in a rush to reopen or fully staff their embassies in Syria. They most lilely believe there would no benefit, but only difficulties in working with Assad. As a result, the Syrian people are shut off from those in the rest of the world who might be able to truly help them.

Optimists would hold out some hope that the situation would improve. However, no international conference, no guarantees from Russia to keep him in check, no surgical procedure even, could make Assad palatable to the West at this point, or to any government in the Middle East other than Iran. Manipulations that might ordinarily knock things back on track with Assad would likely have been exhausted or be seen as useless. It may be safe to say the Assad will never develop, never change. Luckily for Moscow, Assad is actually at its disposition. Given the strong influence Russia has on the Assad regime’s main elements of his power, the Syrian Arab Armed Forces and the security services, at the very least, the effort might be made to remder Assad’s presidency symbolic. In a more virile approach, Russia, perhaps in sync with Syria’s foreign benefactors, might seek to replace Assad with a leader who would be more acceptable among the Syrians, more palatable for themselves. As far as Assad’s well-being was concerned, the basing arrangements for Russian naval, air, and ground forces, and the relationship developed with Putin would no longer have meaning.

Assad would likely disagree with any assessment that would describe him as a follower, or that his existence is contingent upon Russian power. He would likely describe himself as partner with Putin and other leaders and that Syria is working jointly with its allies. It is imaginable that Assad believes he is delegating part of the job of using military power to defeat Syria’s enemies to Russia and others. For Assad, all arrows point his way, as he nearly always thinks and acts in self-interest.

Keep the Status Quo or Assert Himself?: Scenario re Assad

So far, Assad has been able to have his cake and eat it, too! He has defiantly launched chemical weapons against his own people, while savoring the general protection and support of Russia and others. How long this situation will last is uncertain. Surely, the Russians will have a say in that. There are still a lot of hand shakes and pats on the back from Putin meant to encourage. Yet, a handshake or pat on the back cannot supplant rejection. It cannot correct a problem or resolve a serious disagreement.

If Assad were to sense an undercurrent of dissention toward him inside Syria, he would undoubtedly physically thin out the ranks of those he would deem potential plotters and replace them immediately with a more loyal sort. He would do so taking care not disturb the defined ecosystem of power elites, sending the message that he demands loyalty but avoid starting another uprising particularly among those who have supported him.

Such events would certainly catch the attention of the Russians. Assad might conclude that Moscow may see some benefit in aiding an group of Syrian elites willing to remove him. An “organic rebellion” that could remove Assad would be more agreeable to Putin and elites in Russia who might have already concluded that his removal will lead to more beneficial outcome of Russia’s investment there. He may fear that removing him under such conditions might be more understandable to tyrants in rogue regimes worldwide who may also rely upon Russia to back them with military force, some level of economic wherewithal or payments. However, Assad would not willingly step aside for a successor albeit selected by friendly, outside power, even if he had some say in who would replace him. He surely would not sit idly by as the plot developed to put his reign to an end.

Looking at the US, United Kingdom, and French military strikes in the aggregate, it somewhat understandable that some analysts doubt that Assad and his advisers in Damascus would be so spun up by them. The US-led coalition has conducted airstrikes in Syria against ISIS and targets threatening coalition ground forces for many months. The Israeli Air Force has conducted regular strikes in Syria so precise and effective and with impunity, that one could say with some humor that the Israelis were using parts of Syria as a bombing range. The issue is that the military strikes of April 13th were the second time the US has deliberately attacked Syrian targets and the second time Russia did not act. That is the rub. Prior to the Western military strikes, Russia urged the US to avoid taking military action in response to an alleged chemical attack in Syria. On April 10, 2018, the Russian Federation Permanent Representative to the UN Vasily Nebenzia stated: “I would once again beseech you to refrain from the plans that you’re currently developing.” He warned Washington that it will “bear responsibility” for any “illegal military adventure.” A threat from Moscow to down US missiles came from the Russian Federation’s Ambassador to Lebanon, Alexander Zasypkin, who said his comments were based on previous statements by Putin and the Chief of Staff of the Russian Federation Armed Forces General Valery Gerasimov. The Russian Federation Armed Forces stated on March 13, 2018, that it would respond to any US strike on Syria by targeting any missiles and launchers involved. However, Russian air defense systems did not attempt to intercept the incoming weaponry, and the Syrian system launched around 40 surface to air missiles after the last targeted weapon hit its target, according to the Pentagon. The Pentagon noted that the S-400 systems were not turned off, simply not activated, leaving open the option their radar systems were used to tracking incoming threats but the weapons systems were not fired. The fact that those systems were active but not used may serve as evidence that the deconfliction line between the US and Russia, which was used to urge Russia not to escalate the situation, had been effective.

Within his own close circle in Damascus, it may very well be that Assad’s grievances are well-expressed. There may be lung busting exertions of his sense of being betrayed once again by Putin, driven by a nagging sense at this juncture that his relationship with him does not have much future. Assad may wish to take matters into his own hands. Seeing Assad interact with Russian emissaries in Damascus, he left little evidence of being riled emotionally by actions by his benefactors. The Interfax News Agency quoted Natalya Komarova, governor of Russia’s autonomous Khanty-Mansiysk district, made it a point to state: “President Assad was in absolutely positive spirits. He is in a good mood.,” To date, Assad has not publicly proffered any fevered dreams of conspiracy about the military strikes. His own officials and advisers are likely impressed by a type of controlled schizophrenia he displays. Nevertheless, the April 13th military strikes, and events surrounding them, may have set the stage for counteractions by Assad. It may very well be that Assad will launch additional chemical attacks to demonstrate that his regime does not feel threatened by US power, prove to himself that he is not being led by the nose by Putin, and ironically to pull Russia deeper into the situation as it has sought to full back by failing to act April 13th. To foreign policy and military analyst, it may all seem irrational, and that would be a reasonable response. Still, everyone does not think the same. Assad, the trained surgeon, has done so much that would be deemed improbable, it would seem counterintuitive to assume he will act in accord within any norms in the future. Scenarios for other ways in which Assad might seek retribution might include the following:

1) Assad might decide to establish some simulacrum of the US Lend-Lease arrangements of World War with China. Under it, China could possibly build its own military base or port. Assad could receive guarantees of significant assistance from China in Syria’s reconstruction efforts. China could also agree to provide Syria advanced command, control, communication and surveillance systems and agree to allow Syrian forces create garrisons and store Syrian military hardware on its new bases. Assad’s goal in that hypothetical situation would not be to allow a build-up in Syria by China that would establish it as a counterbalance to Russian military power. Assad’s goal in allowing a enough of a build-up that would lead Putin to better the value and importance of his ties to Syria. A decision by Assad to reach out to China might be viewed as injudicious given the possible consequences. Chinese ambitions in Syria might be difficult for Damascus to tame. The opportunity to build bases so close to Europe would present an I exhaustive list of possibilities for Chinese military planners. Putin may overreact to the decision and strongly suggest that Assad to rescind the invitation to China creating a genuine, visible rift between the two countries. Under circumstance, for Assad it would simply be a existential choice to create some counterbalance to Russia power in his country or at least convince Putin that he was willing to do so in order to better position himself with the Russian leader.

2) Assad may attempt to strike US or other Western troops with chemical weapons. Assad may seek to do this even if a suicide mission is required. While he and his advisers may view the operation as risky. Yet, they may also wrongfully believe that as long as the US-led coalition’s response does not result in a direct attack against him,  they may view it as a calculated risk. If Russia decides not to respond in defense of it ally, Syria, Assad might be able to convince himself that he has proved at least to the Syrian people in Useful Syria that he is strong and that he can do powerful things. The US has about 2,000 troops on the ground in Syria, supporting the ongoing US-led Coalition mission to defeat ISIS militants that remain in the region. The April 13th military strikes have created some concern at the Pentagon that those troops could be vulnerable to retaliation from Syrian forces. Efforts by Assad to put his forces in a position near US-led coalition ground forces must be scrutinized and keep in the coalition’s cross-hairs. If multiple streams of intelligence indicate those forces pose a danger, they should be pushed back or destroyed. There is always the possibility and the danger of miscalculation by Assad. As long as Assad thinks rationally, logically, this scenario could never materialize, as he would be deterred by the thought that an attack on US or another coalition ground forces would be met by an immediate, devastating military response. The targets of the US attacks would hardly be limited to the forces that launched them. Attempts at deconfliction for such attacks might be made, but they would take place regardless of whose forces might be nearby or mixed in with Syrian forces. Depending the response of Russia if its forces were caught in the middle of it all, Assad might manage to drag Moscow into what was likely the worst nightmare it thought of when it deployed its forces to Syria.

If Assad wants to maintain conditions that will allow the march of time to move forward in his favor, he should be reluctant to bother Putin about matters surrounding the April 13th chemical attacks. Doing so would very likely raise even greater concern in Putin. Assad’s circumspection itself may have already awakened Putin’s curiosity. Putin, after all, is super observant. It is a quality that stirs admiration from some and or elicits terror in others. If any one could detect a hint of anger or dissention in the eyes, in mannerisms, in bearing and deportment, in the words of another, it would be Putin. If he manages to discern a new uneasiness in Assad, that might trigger Putin to take steps against him or at least begin peering into the regime with a nearly zoological interest in its main players, searching for a plot against its main ally. Yet again, it may be that Assad is not worried at all about Putin’s reaction. Rather, Assad’s primary concern may be managing Putin’s behavior. Assad may believe that he has been successfully doing that. A mistake in that possible “management effort”, however, would be to attempt to convince Putin that he can count on him. It would be an even bigger mistake for Assad to try to get the pulse of Putin, to find out what he is thinking about him. No one should ever ask Putin if he loves them. The answer in nearly every case would be “No!”

If Assad wants to maintain conditions that will allow the march of time to move forward in his favor, he should be reluctant to bother Putin about matters surrounding the April 13th chemical attacks. Doing so would very likely raise even greater concern in Putin. Assad’s circumspection itself may have already garnered Putin’s curiosity. Putin, after all, is super observant. If he manages to discern a new uneasiness in Assad, intimate trouble, it might cause him to take steps against him.

Is It Time to Wrap Things Up with Assad?: Scenario re Putin

Fata volentem, ducunt, nolentem trahunt. (Destiny carries the willing man, and drags the unwilling.) Moscow entered into all of its deals with Assad, strengthened links to him, with its eyes open. Putin would unlikely have engaged with Assad in a search for areas of common ground on handling chemical weapons. Putin is not conciliatory. He very likely set rules for Assad on the matter. However, leaving the door open for Assad somehow to use the weapons has come back to haunt him. Given what has transpired, Putin surely can reasonably be viewed as being complicit in Assad’s use of chemical weapons. Yet, while Putin may find Assad’s attitude toward those in the West, in the Middle East, and in his own country who oppose him to be understandable, he may also view his approach as reckless.

Syria is broken, and with someone such as Assad at its helm, hardly any outside of the country, capable of supporting its reconstruction, would be willing to do so. In Moscow, there must be some authenticity in its examination of Assad and what it will be able to do with him in the future. Putin most likely sees that there is nothing about Assad that would indicate he can be transformative, creative, or productive. After the April 2017 cruise missile strikes by the Trump administration, a discourse should have been initiated in Moscow on how to better handle the remnants of Assad’s chemical weapons arsenal and how to defeat their use against Russian Federation Armed Forces in Syria. If Putin can truly discern what billows in Assad’s mind, he may have already made the decision to move against him. Finding a leader or group of very senior leaders among elements of power in Syria may not be too difficult. Most in Damascus who are in the best position to know what is happening in Syria understand they live in privileged times. They may not speak of, or whisper, about being called on to be part of a change in leadership. Still, they may be considering where they will stand and how they will act if the situation arose.

To this point, nothing has been stated to indicate that there was anything time sensitive about Putin’s relationship with Assad. Syria’s standing internationally has not been good to say the least. Assad has not used any time or exploited any opportunities to make improvements in his situation. It is unknown whether Assad is ignorant, willfully ignores, or perhaps even suppresses thoughts about reconstruction, something Russia, by jumping into Syria may have committed itself to as a duty. Assad does not appear emotionally devastated by what has befallen his country. This was observed in his very congenial newsmedia appearances the day after the April 13, 2018 military strikes.

Assad is not a shy man, and is unlikely frozen in fear contemplating what Putin might respond the fact that he has rocked the boat so thoroughly. Even if only unconsciously, though, he likely has felt an elevated level of concern over his future since April 7, 2018 chemical attacks. Putting himself in Assad’s shoes, perhaps Putin could imagine that Assad is feeling a bit betrayed by his unwillingness to deter or defeat the Western military strikes in Syria, no matter how unreasonable that would have been. Putin can be sure Assad knows him well enough to realize that expressing his disappointment through impotent snarling will accomplished nothing useful or good. Yet, he also may sense that in the long run that Assad may not be truly able to move on. Putin might consider that when one is angry for a long time, one in a way becomes comfortable with that anger. Soon that anger becomes so familiar that the individual forgets feeling any other way. Assad is a calculator, although he albeit uses an odd calculus. Sed tamen ira procul absit, cum qua nihil recte fiery nec, considerate potest. (But still anger ought be far from us, for nothing is able to be done rightly not judiciously with anger.)

Putting himself in Assad’s shoes, perhaps Putin could imagine that Assad is feeling a bit betrayed by his unwillingness to deter or defeat the Western military strikes in Syria, no matter how unreasonable that would have been. Putin can be sure Assad knows him well enough to realize that expressing his disappointment through impotent snarling would have accomplished nothing useful or good.

Putin may eventually need to make a decision if Assad cannot restrain himself from using chemical weapons again. As mentioned earlier, It is possible that Putin has already has plan for responding to Assad’s future actions. Big issues likely remaining are exactly when and how to set things up. It is also possible that given the gravity of the decision to remove Assad from power, he has not made a final decision. He may prefer to mull things over until he is left with no choice. To decide exactly how to proceed, Putin would unlikely need to refer to any notes or look among huge piles of information collected from Syria to find pieces that answered his questions. He would only need his knowledge, experience, insights, intuition, and instincts. Putin would review what Russia really wants with Syria, what its goals are. He would then need to thoroughly consider how exactly removing Assad will better able Russia to reach those goals. Putin may decide to give Assad the benefit of doubt. He knows the margin between being very clever and being very stupid is very thin. If in some odd way, alien to most reasonable thinkers, the goal of Assad’s behavior only been to strengthen his position with Putin and ensure Russia’s investment and commitment to his well-being and the well-being of the country.

However, if Assad seems to be on the road to doing something spectacular, going astray and lashing out against its long time ally, Putin would invariably choose to act first and decisively. Assad would not have any lobby available to advocate for him in the Kremlin. Money is short in Russia. Decision makers would hardly sign on to allowing Syria to languish without end in a difficult and dangerous situation given the moves of its leadership. While Assad created an image of himself as a strong leader in Damascus, in Moscow, a portrait has most likely been painted that depicts him a being bad for the long-term interests of Russia and Syria. Russia never had the intention of sacrificing its own image to make Assad look good. As mentioned earlier, Assad has no problem with acting in a way that makes Russia look bad. Among likely steps Putin would consider are the following three:

1) After some convincing, have Assad voluntary depart Syria to begin exile somewhere in Russia. The Syrian people would be informed via a video recording that Assad is completely fine and well-aware for, and it was necessary to move him to Russia due to an imminent threat from Western powers to capture him and usher him to the Hague for War Crimes trial. Once, in Russia, it could be said Assad would never be surrendered to anyone and, that he would indeed be returned to Syria once Russia resolves the matter. In the meantime, the Syrian people would have an interim, acting president. In fact, Assad would never return to Syria. If Putin were to ask Assad to leave Damascus, he would have no need to ask twice. Damascus would become a far more dangerous place for him if he does not go.

2) Through a coup de main, Putin could have Assad suddenly captured and relocated to an undisclosed site in Russia. This would be done after making appropriate arrangements furtively with Syrian military officers, security service officials, and other elites in Damascus. Again, he could be brought to an undisclosed location in Russia. After some He would be strongly encouraged to made a video recording for broadcast in Syria indicating that he is safe, doing well, and was brought to Syria’s main ally, Russia, temporarily for his own safety. The specific threat Assad would not need to be disclosed. For security reasons, the source of the information would not revealed. Forcing Assad to leave would be an alternative to having him eliminated.

3) There is the possibility that after appropriate arrangements have been made again with Syrian military officers, security service officials, and other elites, Assad might be assassinated. Russia would be the arbiter of the matter with likely nods from Iran and Turkey,

With Assad removed, Putin would move quickly to install his successor. It would be necessary for Russia to have a central figure, a strongman, one in charge in Syria to assure it has a central conduit through which it could impose its will. Assad’s successor, certainly an Alawite, would be enabled to hold a degree of power similar to that Assad held as long as Russia remains in strength in Syria, and is willing to mitigate pressure placed on the regime from Islamic extremist groups as Al-Qaeda and ISIS, and the battered and tattered Syria Opposition forces as well. The change, no matter how necessary or expected, would be traumatizing to many in Damascus and in every capital that has supported him. It would be the end of a sad story concerning the misuse of power, the poor stewardship of a country. Moscow would likely dub the successor’s acting presidency as a caretaker government. Only with the insistence of the US and other P5 Members, would new elections be held.to replace him.  The acting Leader’s presidency would be tainted by the irregular nature of his installment. At the UN Security Council, there would be reminders of Resolution 2254 (2015) concerning free and fair elections in Syria. Moscow would dance around it claiming there that new constitution had not been drafted as also required under the resolution. Moreover, Moscow would explain that conditions were not right for elections as the war was not over. Meanwhile, it would argue Syria was on the right path and seek aid for its reconstruction.

A more tense relationship may eventually ensue if possible future military strikes from a US-led coalition, or even Israel, are met with inaction by Russia. If Assad is able to detect real trouble from his benefactor, he might draw back, and walk back any statements. However, if he fears for his life, anything is possible.

Will He Bite the Hand That Saved Him?: Scenario re Assad

Although Putin has not heard grumblings from Mount Mezzah, he surely recognizes that his relationship with Assad has not been not perfect since the April 13th missile strikes. Putin cannot be sure that Assad accepts that he is concerned with him or Syria or that he has any real compassion for what has befallen his regime. Putin knows that he too would feel somewhat betrayed by any ally who promised to stand by him against an adversary, yet did nothing during an attack. Putin may sense that Assad, after constantly hearing rhetoric from Moscow about curbing the power and defeating its adversary, the US, has not seen any significant efforts in that direction even when opportunities present themselves, such as the April 13th military strikes. Putin cannot deny that he completely and correctly, abandoned his ally in the face of US diplomatic pressure and military power. Under such circumstances, Putin’s promise after the April 13th missile strikes to provide Assad with new, high performance weapons amounted to a bromide. It could not resolve problems facing the Russia-Syria relationship.

It seems unlikely that Assad will remain quiet if there were future Western military strikes in response to his further use of chemical weapons or other dark moves, and as on April 13th, Russia fails to act. Conspiracy theories are an element as ubiquitous as rumors in statements of officials and common conversation among citizens within rogue, authoritarian regimes. It is a corrupted version of thinking out of box preferred mostly because it typically points to behavior of external elements, enemies and false friends, as causality for a regimes disappointments and failures. Assad and his advisers may be discussing whether Russia even considered defending Syria from the military strikes of the US, the United Kingdom, and France. Some might postulate in confidential meetings that Russia may have been hoping the US would destroy Syria’s remaining chemical weapons inventory. Assad and his advisers know that Moscow was in contact with Washington in the days and hours before the military strike. US Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff USMC General James Dunford explained that normal deconfliction channels were used to deconflict the airspace that we were using. Dunford further explained that the US did not coordinate targets or any plans with the Russians. Yet, in Moscow, the head of a Russian parliamentary defense committee, Vladimir Shamanov, said Russia was in direct contact with the US Joint Chiefs of Staff about the situation. Hearing this view from Russia would likely satisfy Damascus as it would support surmisals there that Russia assisted the US in identifying targets as the Russians certainly did not use any countermeasures interfere with US efforts to target sites. In an inner monologue, Assad may ponder whether the failure of Russia to act may mean that there was some truth to expressions made by Moscow and Washington in 2017 that there was a new, cooperative era in US-Russia relations. That would contradict what Russia insists in private, and what is strongly hinted public statements, that the US is its adversary. Assad could conclude that in the crafting of the April 13th military strikes, Russia had a figurative vote!

A more tense relationship may eventually ensue if possible future military strikes are met with more inaction by Russia. It is in that environment that Putin would very likely consider moving against Assad. He would most likely act without warning. If Assad is able to detect trouble, he would draw back, and walk back any statements. However, if he fears for his life, he will likely act. Indeed, there could be a final demonstration of his power. He will make a stand or lash out with vigor before he goes. His concealed stockpiles of chemical weapons might even allow him to strike any erstwhile allies with some effect.

Surely, Assad comprehends that Russia commands great power. However, Assad may also feel that there are limits to Putin’s ability to respond to his aggressive moves. Putin would be remiss not to explore whether that is Assad’s thinking. Assad may believe even now that as long as he has chemical weapons and has demonstrated a willingness to use them, he can deter the few allies he has from turning against him. People with the most absolute power in history have tried to hold on by their fingernails knowing when they let go, all will be gone. They have often self-destructed. Misused power is always built upon lies. Tyrannical figures redefine what exists into projections of their egos. There are no noble thoughts. They become wrapped up in themselves. Assad seems to find pleasure in what is evil. As time goes on, the more tragic he becomes as a figure.

Surely, Assad comprehends that Russia commands great power. However, Assad may also feel that there are limits to Putin’s ability to respond to his aggressive moves. Assad may believe that as long as he has and has demonstrated a willingness to use chemical weapons, he can deter the allies he has from turning against him. He could also use them in a final self-destructive act. Putin would be remiss not to consider that possibility.

The Way Forward

In Act I, scene iv, of William Shakespeare’s The Tragedy of Macbeth, Generals Macbeth and Banquo have already defeated two separate invading armies, from Ireland and Norway. Following that, they encounter three witches as they cross a moor. The witches prophecy that Macbeth will be made thane of Cawdor and eventually King of Scotland, and Banquo, will beget a line of Scottish kings. Once the witches vanish, Macbeth and Banquo speak skeptically of their prophecies. However, some of King Duncan’s men arrive to thank the generals for their victories and tell Macbeth, just as the witches prophesized, that he has been named thane of Cawdor. The previous thane was executed for betraying Scotland by fighting for the Norwegians. Arriving at King Duncan’s castle, Macbeth and Banquo profess their loyalty and gratitude toward him. King Duncan announces Malcolm will be named heir to his throne. Macbeth declares his joy but notes to himself that Malcolm, the Prince of Cumberland, stood between him and the crown the witches also said he would have. Standing aside, Macbeth says to himself: “The Prince of Cumberland! that is a step On which I must fall down, or else o’erleap, For in my way it lies. Stars, hide your fires; Let not light see my black and deep desires: The eye wink at the hand; yet let that be, Which the eye fears, when it is done, to see.” Regarding the military strikes from the US, United Kingdom, and France, the most effective way for Assad to deal with the matter and maintain the status quo is accept that what happened, has happened, and no matter how upsetting it might be, it cannot be changed. Retribution is not a reasonable or rational option. Creating difficulties in Syria’s relationship with Russia by advancing the idea will only lead to additional problems  does not need. Negative feedback from the Assad regime’s experience when it fought alone in Syria without Russia assistance may have helped convinced Assad not to make waves. Still, as the situation on the ground has changed somewhat with the US-led coalition’s efforts against ISIS, Al-Qaeda, and other Islamic militant groups, he may feel that regime forces are in a better position to do more by themselves. Syrian elites and some average citizens may be welcoming, supportive of the Russian partnership and presence at the moment. However, after observing the effects of few months of rain and wind on the ruins of cities and towns, they may eventually recognize that Moscow cannot support “Useful Syria” in a way that would allow for its rebuilding. The situation would only worsen if pressure was placed on Russia over Syria through future sanctions.

If Assad continues launching chemical attacks, Russia will need to keep justifying his actions and its failure to control him. It may very well be that Putin has developed a negative outlook on Assad, particularly concerning his reliability and trustworthiness. Given Assad’s nature, perhaps Putin has foreseen that the time will come to wrap things up with him. Assad’s wrongs have been too big to successfully cover up using the usual public relations methods. His inadequacies have become stark. Russia is not dealing with a brush fires in Syria, but a serial arsonist in Assad. Syria exists in a condition that the Syrian people would not have too much difficulty moving forward and getting past Assad’s loss. They have been doing that for seven years now. They have faced one tragedy after another. Many Syrians may have been concerned about Assad’s safety after the April 13th military strikes. They only knew he was safe when they saw him on national television the next morning. If the Syrian people were to learn that Assad was gone, those outside of the regime’s good graces in Syria, those displaced, and those who live as refugees worldwide would likely roar and dance in celebration. Those in Useful Syria would be very likely be disappointed, distraught, and likely some in the North Mezzah and Ar Rabwah neighborhoods where he has resided, would be devastated. Still, the old, Assad, would be replaced by the new. With little choice otherwise, all Syrians would move on to the next phase. Omnia autem quae secundum naturam fiunt sunt habenda in bonis. (Whatever befalls in accordance with Nature [God’s will] should be accounted good.)