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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Ladder of Escalation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Taking Putin’s Words Seriously

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Implications of Russian Losses in Ukraine

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

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

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

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

Putin as Epic Hero

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Way Forward

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

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

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

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

Putin the Protector of the Russian People or the Despoiler of Ukrainian Resources: A Look at War Causation and Russian Military Priorities in Ukraine

Russian Federation President Vladimir Putin could be viewed as a true black box if ever a national leader could be viewed as one. Given that, finding ways to deal effectively with Putin has been made far more challenging. Doing so has been made more difficult by the fact that Putin, while generally in the West as rebarbaritive, even murderous route, is recognizably a calculating and calibrated thinker. Regarding Ukraine, he has seemingly been acting well-off the mark. Taking on the persona of the defender of Russian people everywhere and scourge of fascism, he insists that his cause in Ukraine was pure and just in his address announcing Russia’s special military operation on February 24, 2022. However, the basis for Putin’s decision to invade Ukraine may very likely been founded on some plan of far greater conception than the rescue of, and retribution on behalf of ethnic-Russians as he announced.

Long after its end, the war in Ukraine will likely persist in the collective memory of the world as a tragic waste of human lives and the shape of things to come, future challenges and horrors countries should expect to face, now that lower, cost high tech tools can be employed copiously on the battlefield. Machine guns, grenades, mortars, tanks, mechanized vehicles, heavy artillery and rockets are joined on the one hand by a set of small remotely piloted drones that keep watch over the battlefield while another set delivers heavy blows with their accurately targeted deployable ordinance. If an army does not have them or cannot counter them, its troops and equipment will face grave problems when sent to war. In the initial weeks of the Russian invasion, Ukrainian forces left the Russians sitting down hard at the door steps of their cities. The Ukrainians have fought the Russians with strength, endurance, and bitterness. How long the Ukrainians will remain favored by Tyche is unknown. As the war progresses, Russian efforts, now focused in East and southeast Ukraine appear to have met with some success despite fierce resistance by determined defenders.

Russian Federation President Vladimir Putin could be viewed as a true black box if ever a national leader could be viewed as one. Given that, finding ways to deal effectively with Putin has been made far more challenging. Doing so has been made more difficult by the fact that Putin, while generally in the West as rebarbaritive, even murderous route, is recognizably a calculating and calibrated thinker. Regarding Ukraine, he has seemingly been acting well-off the mark. Taking on the persona of the defender of Russian people everywhere and scourge of fascism, he insists that his cause in Ukraine was pure and just in his address announcing Russia’s special military operation on February 24, 2022. However, the basis for Putin’s decision to invade Ukraine may very likely been founded on some plan of far greater conception than the rescue of, and retribution on behalf of ethnic-Russians as he announced. In pursuit of what may have been some Delphian objective, Russia’s military and naval commanders, instruments of the Kremlin’s hypocrisy, nearly poured a quarter of Russia’s forces down the drain.

In each attempt to tackle the subject of Ukraine’s invasion, greatcharlie has sought to dive a bit deeper into Putin’s mind to better understand how he thinks and additionally offer not just insight on decisions he has made but foresight on decisions he might make in the immediate future and shape of future events. While it may be difficult for some in the West accept Putin feels he has achieved great gains in Ukraine, looking at the situation from his perspective create some clarity concerning that. Putin may also have reason to hope the situation on the battlefield may turn considerably in Russia’s favor. This essay is relatively brief and could hardly squeeze the issue dry so to speak, in order to put one in the full picture of Putin’s thinking. The hope, however, is to present some new ideas and insights that may lead readers, hopefully some practitioners in the field of foreign and national security policy analysis and decisionmaking to develop new lines of thought on how to proceed concerning this pressing issue. Duc In Altum! (Put out into the deep!)

Few officials, analysts, or news media commentators in the West would comfortably contend with the suggestion that Putin’s special military operation was less about protecting the Russian people and denazification than asserting his power against–at least in terms of size–his smaller neighbor. Nevertheless, in his national broadcast on Russian television on February 24, 2022 announcing his special military operation against Ukraine, Putin did his best to at least create the impression that the former was true. Still, it was certainly unreasonable for Putin to think Ukrainian forces were so weak that they could not even figuratively brush a harassing fly off their nose. Allowing Russia to walk into Ukraine the first time in 2014 has doubtlessly tormented leaders in Kyiv since, believing it was a gross error. For Kyiv to allow Russia to walk into Ukraine a second time would surely have been an historical act of gross negligence.

Revisiting Putin’s February 24, 2022 Speech

In two preceding post, greatcharlie has examined Putin’s February 24, 2022 televised speech on Ukraine, in which laid out the reasoning behind his decision to invade Ukraine. February 24, 2022 broadcast speech on the special military operation in Ukraine. Working under the aphorism that “there is always a good soup in an old chicken,” greatcharlie looks at it again with the aim of highlighting additional pertinent points, with the hope shedding additional light upon patterns in Putin’s decision-making. At the crux of his reasoning for starting the war is Putin statement that he acted “to protect people who, for eight years now, have been facing humiliation and genocide perpetrated by the Kiev regime. To this end, we will seek to demilitarize and denazify Ukraine, as well as bring to trial those who perpetrated numerous bloody crimes against civilians, including against citizens of the Russian Federation.” Putin surely wanted that “rescue and retributive” aspect of his speech to reverberate among listeners both at home and abroad. Yet, rather than a rescue operation, the indications and implications of his speech likely remained uncertain among those aware of patterns in his thinking. On the one hand, he may have thinly veiled his intention to conquer Ukraine entirely. French Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte is quoted as saying: “We should always go before our enemies with confidence, otherwise our apparent uneasiness inspires them with greater boldness.” On the other hand, rather than the whole ball game, he might of had some yet to be revealed objective which was in his view, worthy of the sacrifice of the men and women of the Russian Federation Armed Forces. There were too many missing pieces to allow one to be certain.

Quite prescient in Putin’s mind, as expressed in his February 24, 2022 address, appeared to be the Soviet ties between the Russian and Ukrainian people during World War II. At least outwardly, Putin convincingly gave the impression that he was hooked on the idea that among the officers, men, and women of the Ukrainian armed forces there was a lingering sense of Soviet unity equal to his own. Putin would go as far as to implore the Ukrainian armed forces to submit to his will and allow Russian troops to again simply march into their country. Putin can surely tell the difference between real and unreal. He has not managed to stay in power since 2000 by engaging in Quixotic pursuits. Still, there appeared to be a singular emotional commitment on his part to the ideas of Russian-Ukrainian unity and the fealty of the officers, men, and women of the Ukrainian armed forces to Moscow, to him, that it apparently was made a feature of his war plan. Putin “appealed” to members of the Ukrainian armed forces as follows: “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.” Putin continued: “I urge you to refuse to carry out their criminal orders. I urge you to immediately lay down arms and go home. I will explain what this means: the military personnel of the Ukrainian army who do this will be able to freely leave the zone of hostilities and return to their families.” Lastly, he stated: “I want to emphasize again that all responsibility for the possible bloodshed will lie fully and wholly with the ruling Ukrainian regime.” Il a une araignée au plafond.

The Combat of Saint-Cast and Putin’s Delusion

What Putin seemed to expect in February 2022, having surprisingly announced the “surprise” invasion–the special military operation–was being launched, was to shape and ensure through his words a situation similar to 2014 when Russian troops, dubbed the “green men”, moved without warning and somewhat stealthily into Crimea and the Donbas. To that extent, in his mind, the result of his address, particularly the points of which he spoke directly to the Ukrainian armed forces, should have been something akin to the legend of “The Combat of Saint-Cast”. The legend, judged by some historians to be a “Victorian confabulation,” is admirably discussed in Lewis Spence, Legends and Romances of Brittany (Pinnacle Press, 2017), As the story goes, In 1758 a British army was landed upon the shores of Brittany with the object of securing for British merchant ships safety in the navigation of the Channel and of creating a diversion in favor of the German forces, then our allies. A company of men from Lower Brittany, from the towns of Tréguier and Saint-Pol-de-Léon, says Villemarqué, were marching against a detachment of Scottish Highlanders. When at a distance of about a mile the Bretons could hear their enemies singing a national song which resembled “The Garb Of Old Gaul”.  “The Garb Of Old Gaul” (also known as Auld Gaul) is an 18th-century patriotic Scottish march. The title “Garb of Old Gaul” refers to the traditional Highland dress, ancient Gaul being thought of at the time as the heartland of the Celtic peoples. “The Garb Of Old Gaul” begins: In the garb of old Gaul with the fire of old Rome, / From the heath cover’d mountains of Scotia we come, / Where the Roman’s endeavour’d our country to gain, / But our ancestors fought, and they fought not in vain.

Spence reports in Legends and Romances of Brittany: “at once they halted, stupefied, for the air was one well known to them, which they were accustomed to hear almost every day of their lives. Electrified by the music, which spoke to their hearts, they arose in their enthusiasm and themselves sang the patriotic refrain. It was the Highlanders’ turn to be silent. All this time the two companies were nearing one another, and when at a suitable distance their respective officers commanded them to fire; but the orders were given, says the tradition, ‘in the same language,’ and the soldiers on both sides stood stock-still. Their inaction, however, lasted but a moment, for emotion carried away all discipline, the arms fell from their hands, and the descendants of the ancient Celts renewed on the field of battle those ties of brotherhood which had once united their fathers.” Unlike the Scots and Bretons nearly 265 years ago at Saint-Cast,  Russian and Ukrainian troops had no problem firing upon each other. The ties of brotherhood were not renewed on the battlefields of Ukraine.  Perhaps, the first verse edited for present circumstances might be altered to the following: “When the Russians sic [Romans] endeavored our country to gain, / Our ancestors fought, and they fought not in vain.”

Soldiers of the Soviet Union (above), likely from a mix of the then 16 union republics, on the attack during World War II, armed with PPSh-41 “burp guns”. Most prescient in Putin’s mind during his February 24, 2022 address appeared to be the Soviet ties between the Russian and Ukrainian people during World War II. At least that seemed to be his strongest selling point. Putin put much into his perception of an unwavering sense of comradeship between the Russian and Ukrainian people’s as former Soviet citizens. Putin convincingly gave the impression that he was hooked on the idea that among the officers, men, and women of the Ukrainian armed forces there was a lingering sense of Soviet unity equal to his own, Putin would go as far as to implore the Ukrainian armed forces to submit to his will and allow Russian troops to once again simply march into their country.

Putin surely appeared quite confident about his assessments of the situation and forecasts of how events would unfold. Yet, one should always expect the unexpected. It would have been daylight madness for Putin to think Ukrainian forces were so weak that they could not even figuratively brush a harassing fly off their nose. Passivity should hardly have been expected of Kyiv the second time by anyone thinking clearly in the Kremlin. Allowing Russia to walk into Ukraine the first time in 2014 has doubtlessly tormented leaders in Kyiv since, believing it was a gross error. For Kyiv to allow Russia to walk into Ukraine a second time would surely have been an historical act of gross negligence. Herodutus of Halicarnassus (c. 484 B.C.-c. 425 B.C.), was a renowned Greek historian of the Hellenic period, referred to as “the father of history” and known as for The Histories, his masterwork which mainly discusses the struggles between Greece and Persia. In Book 7, Chapter. 226 of The Histories, Herodotus provides an anecdote about Dianeces, who he describes as the bravest Spartan, pertinent to Putin’s likely reaction to reports indicating the Ukrainians were better prepared than he imagined. He writes: “Before battle was joined they say that someone from Trachis warned him [Dianeces] how many Persians there were by saying that when they fired their bows, they hid the sun with the mass of arrows. Dianeces, so the story goes, was so dismissive of the Persian numbers that he calmly replied, “All to the good, my friend from Trachis. If the Persians hide the sun, the battle will be in shade rather than sunlight.”

There may have been those in the Russian Federation Armed Forces who did not agree that Ukraine would rollover for Russia much as it had in 2014. However, once that fantastic position was generally accepted by Putin and his chief advisers, there was no room left to contradict it. François-Marie Arouet (November 21, 1694–May 30, 1778), most famous under his pen name Voltaire, was a French writer, philosopher, and leading writer of the enlightenment. Voltaire was recorded as stating in “Catalogue pour la plupart des écrivains français qui ont paru dans Le Siècle de Louis XIV, pour servir à l’histoire littéraire de ce temps,” Le Siècle de Louis XIV (1752): “Il est dangereux d’avoir raison dans des choses où des hommes accrédités ont tort.” (It is dangerous to be right in matters where established men are wrong.)

It was discovered a few weeks into its special military operation in Ukraine that a good amount of what one organization among the Russian intelligence services had provided Putin was pure fabrication. That was revealed to the world by the Russian government itself. Yet, that revelation had no impact on the prosecution of the war. No troops were withdrawn. No discernable urgency was placed on reaching a negotiated peace. In greatcharlie’s April 30, 2022 post entitled, “Brief Meditations on the Role of Deception, Deceit, and Delinquency in the Planning, Preparations, and Prosecution of Russia’s Invasion of Ukraine”, it was discussed that there is the possibility that Putin, knowing what he knows, experienced as he is, wanted to be deceived because he so badly wanted to invade Ukraine and needed to show his decision could not be viewed as reckless, but rather based in reason that would be generally accepted.

Putin also expressed in his February 24, 2022 address what might have posed a conscious or subconscious snag in his confidence over success in Ukraine. That was his concern over the West’s level of assistance to, and influence upon Kyiv since the collapse of the government led by his stern ally former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych. Putin indeed discovered after the invasion that the assistance that the West had been providing Ukraine, to include training and equipping its forces to meet Russian aggression on which former US President Donald Trump was impeached, turned out to be far greater in degree and quality than Putin likely ever imagined.

Putin reflecting (above). One might suggest Putin’s military priority Ukraine aligns with his spoken political goal, the elimination of Ukraine as a military, economic, and political ally of the West and the reduction of Ukraine as a military ally and obviation of the country from as a potential military threat to Russia. Yet, one cannot possibly be absolutely certain of Putin’s priority with any genuine expression from him to confirm the idea as true. It was stated by the aforementioned Polybius in The Histories that “true policy does not regard only the immediate necessities of the hour, but must ever look still more keenly to the future.” To that extent, one might also suggest that with Putin and his advisers having a mind to the future, precepts of economic warfare, which have shaped Russian military doctrine, played a considerable role in decisionmaking in the Kremlin on Ukraine.

A Second Look at the Ukraine War’s Causation

In his Dialogue xiv, Le Chapon et la Poularde (1763); reported in Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations, 10th ed. (1919), Voltaire states: “Ils ne se servent de la pensée que pour autoriser leurs injustices, et n’emploient les paroles que pour déguiser leurs pensées.” (Men use thought only as authority for their injustice, and employ speech only to conceal their thoughts.) As the situation has developed in Ukraine, it would seem that has been a goal. However, at least in terms of conquering territory in Ukraine, to the degree that Moscow can, it is possible that Russian aims were of far greater yet at the same time, very traditional in nature. Theorizing on the possibility of war during the period now realized as the run up to invasion, greatcharlie indicated 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”: “the main objective of the deployment of Russian forces would be to create a sufficient buffer in Ukraine between Russian and ‘ever expanding NATO forces.’ In performing this task, Russian forces would ensure territory and forces that might remain in Kyiv’s control would be of less utility to NATO as potential a launching pad for a ground attack on Russia and could not be used as part of a larger strategy to contain Russia at its own border. Since then, Putin has doubled down regarding such rhetoric. During the Victory Day parade in Moscow on May 9, 2022, Putin claimed that Kyiv was seeking to acquire nuclear weapons. He asserted there were parallels between the Soviet Union’s struggle against Nazi Germany and Russia’s current confrontation with Ukraine, the west and NATO. Further, with words somewhat more acerbic and accusatory than in his February 24, 2022 address, Putin stated US was assisting forces with historic links to the Nazis, who were planning to terrorise the Donbas and invade Crimea. As Russian soldiers were defending historical territory that belonged to the motherland, Putin exclaimed they were “fighting for the same thing their fathers and grandfathers did”.

One might suggest Putin’s military priority Ukraine aligns well with his spoken political goal, the elimination of Ukraine as a military, economic, and political ally of the West and the reduction of Ukraine as a military ally and obviation of the country from as a potential military threat to Russia. Yet, one cannot possibly be absolutely certain of Putin’s priority with any genuine expression from him to confirm the idea as true. In his work also entitled The Histories, Polybius (c. 200 B.C.-c. 118 B.C.), the renowned Greek “pragmatic historian” and intriguingly an eyewitness to the siege and destruction of Carthage accompanying none other than Cornelius Scipio Aficanus as one of his commanders, well-covers the Punic Wars. In it, Polybius states that “true policy does not regard only the immediate necessities of the hour, but must ever look still more keenly to the future.” To that extent, one might also suggest that with Putin and his advisers having a mind to the future, precepts of economic warfare, which have shaped Russian military doctrine, played a considerable role in decisionmaking in the Kremlin on Ukraine. While there are other documents, expressions that are reveal how such ideas have had an impact, the one in which greatcharlie is best familiar with is what was called the “Top Secret” 2013 Plan of Defense of the Russian Federation now dubbed the “Gerasimov Doctrine” in the West. 

The 2013 plan was developed in response to Moscow’s concerns with NATO expansion and Putin’s sense that Russia stands vulnerable to the US “tricks.” In greatcharlie’s November 16, 2016 post entitled, “Belarus Allows Small Demonstrations Outside KGB Headquarters: As Belarus Curries Favor with the West, Can It Help Russia, Too?”. That 2016 post noted that on February 14, 2013 at a conference called “Russia’s Military Security in the 21st Century,” the Chief of the General Staff of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation, General of the Army Valery Gerasimov, provided a glimpse of Russia’s official assessment of future wars it may face as outlined in the top secret Plan of Defense of the Russian Federation. The impact of Putin’s thinking on the Western threat to Russia is apparent. The Russian Federation General Staff believes future conflicts will be “Resource Wars.” Indeed, they conclude the depletion of energy resources will soon become an ultimate world crisis and overtake regions. Severe shortages of oil, gas and other natural resources would cause their prices to steeply rise. Russia’s senior military leaders believe outside powers, primarily the US and its allies, may invade their country from several directions to physically grab territory and its resources. The Kremlin has accepted the threat assessment of the Russian Federation General Staff. Putin signed the Plan of Defense of the Russian Federation into law on January 29, 2013. The plan guided Russia’s defense spending in 2016 which exceeded 6 percent of Russia’s GDP, along with national security and federal law enforcement budgets totaling an additional 3 percent. The plan guided the Russian military build-up in the Arctic, the Pacific, the Baltic, in Crimea and on the Ukrainian border. The Syria expedition was also part of that picture. Russian Federation Defense Minister, General of the Army Sergei Shoigu, when announcing the massive strategic military exercises, Zapad 2017, explained on November 2, 2016: “The US and NATO are actively increasing their offensive potential, building new bases and developing military infrastructure, undermining international stability, and attempting to impose their will by economic sanctions and use of military force. A propaganda information war is raging.” Shoigu further stated that Russian borders were being threatened and adequate defensive measures are being taken.” All of these ideas based on defending against Russia’s main opponent, the US and the West, run contrary to notions in the Western governments on the need to combat climate change, the move away from fossil fuels via public policy. One might presume, however, that in Moscow, such notions emanating from the West are beside the point.

Praeterea qui alium sequitur nihil invenit, immo nec quaerit. (Besides, he who follows another not only discovers nothing but is not even investigating.) Admittedly, on matters concerning economics, greatcharlie, not being steeped in them, figuratively goes out into a darkness in the midst of which it “does walk with an assured step.” Economists and historians alike hopefully might charitably read this bit with an open mind and aqua vitae on hand.

In the 19th century, Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels wrote that the main source of instability in the international system would be capitalist globalization, more specifically the conflict between two classes: the “national bourgeoisie” and the “cosmopolitan proletariat.” Historical materialism would be Marxism’s guideline in understanding the processes both in domestic and international affairs. Thereby, from the perspective of Marx, human history amounted to a struggle to satisfy material needs and to resist class domination and exploitation. Surely greatcharlie dates itself by relying on Bernard Brodie for support in this portion of its discussion as it has relied upon his work over the last 40 years. However, in his War and Politics (Macmillan, 1978), the renowned military strategist and proponent of the strategy of deterrence, known affectionately as “the American Clausewitz”, explained the Marxian theory of war causation has an explicit historical limitation. One might read into the Marxian philosophy a general emphasis on the economic interpretation of history that would seem to favor the notion that all wars are due primarily to economic causes. Marx’s main theoretical preoccupations were with the period of history marked by fully developed capitalism. Marx was uninterested in what were the respective causes of wars before that period of history. Nevertheless, his claims concerning the application of his ideas within that period were all-embracing. According to Marx, all important wars and important international conflict during that period resulted from the existence of the capitalist form of society. One might discern a theoretical weakness from the outset, as one sees no conspicuous increas,e in frequency of wars historically following the emergence of what Marx would call fully developed capitalism. On the other hand, Brodie concluded, there is no obvious reason why wars should not have distinctively different causes at different phases of world history. Intriguingly, such dialectic disagreements concerning old Soviet Marxism and Western capitalism have hardly been amplified in the West as a major cause for the dysfunctional relationship between it and Putin’s Russia. Nevertheless, when one hears from Putin, those disagreements are made more apparent. In less promoted, lesser known tracts and speeches, Putin stated as much beginning as early his first year as Russian Federation President. (Please see Putin’s December 31, 1999 essay, “Russia at the Turn of the Millenium”, that appeared on the website of the Russian Federation government. Putin’s expression as this type are discussed in greater detail in greatcharlie’s June 18, 2019 post entitled, “Why Putin Laments the Soviet Union’s Demise and His Renewed “Struggle” with the US: A Response to an Inquiry from Students”.)

To delve further with regard to Marx and war causation, in later years, a school of advocates, quite different from him and his Orthodox followers, even to the extent that they did not regard themselves as Communists, furthered Marxian theory, with what was dubbed neo-Marxian theory. They theorized that neither stupidity nor chauvinism or individual psychological quirks or wrong-headed ideologies among substantial numbers of people may have accounted for most of the wars of the modern era. Instead they have put the blame entirely on one emotion, that of personal greed, and have shifted primary guilt from the institution of capitalism to the individual capitalist. The latter has to be rich enough to be extremely influential politically and corrupt enough to use his political influence to advance his own profit at whatever cost to the nation. To that extent, it is worth noting that in a December 24, 1946 an address at the lighting of the National Community Christmas Tree at the White House, US President Harry S. Truman stated: “Selfishness and greed, individual or national, cause most of our troubles.”

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

Putin (above) holds a doctorate in Economics from Leningrad State University. Long before he became the legendary Russian President that he is today, Putin was a doctoral candidate at Leningrad State University (now the University of St. Petersburg). Putin’s 1997 thesis was titled “Strategic Planning of the Reproduction of the Mineral Resource Base of a Region Under Conditions of the Formation of Market Relations.” Putin’s research made him quite knowledgeable about the resources of countries that were formerly republics of the erstwhile Soviet Union. He would be very aware of Ukraine’s wealth in minerals, particularly in the eastern and southeastern regions. Ukraine in fact holds approximately 5 percent of the world’s mineral resources. Perhaps in his mind he imagined how future generations of Russians could benefit greatly through the possession of such resources. That would be one more piece of his legacy, the legacy of Putin’s Russia.

Putin the Mineralogist

Long before he became the legendary Russian President that he is today, Putin was a doctoral candidate at Leningrad State University (now the University of St. Petersburg). (A fuller discussion of that period of Putin’s life can be found in greatcharlie’s March 31, 2017 post entitled “Book Review: Vladimir Putin, First Person: An Astonishingly Frank Self-Portrait by Russia’s President (Public Affairs, 2000)). The rector at the St. Petersburg State Mining University as of this writing, Vladimir Litvinenko, chaired the committee that awarded Russian President Vladimir Putin his doctorate in Economics in 1997. He recently stated that Putin’s thesis was titled “Strategic Planning of the Reproduction of the Mineral Resource Base of a Region Under Conditions of the Formation of Market Relations.” Putin’s economic studies, at what was then Leningrad State University, were most likely heavily doused in Marxian theory. Even more pertinent here, his research made him quite knowledgeable about the resources of countries that were formerly republics of the erstwhile Soviet Union. He would be very aware of Ukraine’s wealth in minerals, particularly in the eastern and southeastern regions. Indeed, Ukraine has a large supply of many valuable mineral and raw material resources. Ukraine in fact holds approximately 5 percent of the world’s mineral resources. Its significant mineral resources include: iron ore, coal, manganese, uranium ore, natural gas, oil, salt, sulfur, graphite, titanium, magnesium, kaolin, nickel, mercury. As for stocks of iron, manganese, titanium and uranium ore Ukraine is ranked first among European countries. As for mercury ore reserves, it is second only to Spain. It seems, Putin wants it all for Russia. Perhaps in his mind he imagined how future generations of Russians could benefit greatly through the possession of such resources. That would be one more piece of his legacy, the legacy of Putin’s Russia.

Putin the Despoiler

As for the amounts of these resources that have fallen into Russia’s hands, coal, the main fossil fuel of Ukraine, is mined in the Donetsk and Lviv-Volyn basins. The Donetsk Basin is the largest in Ukraine. It is located within the Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts–provinces. At the time of this writing Luhansk oblast has essentially fallen to Russian troops and their attacks in the Donetsk oblast have intensified. A titanium ore deposit exists in Dnipropetrovsk oblast which reportedly has virtually unlimited reserves. Titanium is used in constructing rockets, submarines, making synthetic rubber,artificial rubies, sapphires, and products of that nature. Dnipropetrovsk oblast borders Donetsk oblast to the west, and its capture may be a likely follow-on objective of the Russian drive into Ukraine. Raw materials for aluminum production include nephelines in the Azov Sea area and boxites in the Vysokopillya deposit in the Dnipropetrovsk oblast. These areas are mainly under Russian control or, as aforementioned, may soon be. 

Ukraine reportedly has modest recoverable resources of uranium, recorded to be 225.000 tU in IAEA Red Book 2011. Uranium mining began in 1948 at Pervomayskoye in the Crimea, and 65.000 tU have been produced. Records indicate production reached about 1.000 tU/yr. Records indicate that it reached 960 tU in 2012 and 922 tU in 2013. Production was forecasted to increase by 2014-2015. 

There are oil and gas deposits in Ukraine, however, their reserves are not significant. Reportedly, reserves of these fossil fuels were depleted during the Soviet period. Ukraine has Europe’s third-largest shale gas reserves at 1.2 trillion cubic meters. There have been two potentially large shale gas fields. One is the Yuzivska gas field located in the Donetsk oblast and Kharkiv oblast. In 2013 the government of Ukraine reached a sharing agreement on shale gas produced at Yuzivska and Oleska with Dutch Shell and US Chevron. That in itself would be enough to convince Putin that there has been a longstanding interest within the US in Ukraine’s shale gas resources.

When it annexed Crimea in 2014, Russia managed to capture a considerable portion of Ukraine’s energy resources, to include the complete loss of its Black Sea gas fields. By Ukraine’s own statistics collected before the February 24, 2022 invasion, resources in the northwestern part of the Black Sea shelf were estimated at 495.7 billion cubic meters of natural gas and 50.4 million tons of oil and condensate. In the Kerch area, resources were estimated at 321.2 billion cubic meters of gas and 126.8 million tons of oil and condensate. In the continental slope, resources were estimated at 766.6 billion cubic meters of natural gas and 232 million tons of oil and condensate. The total gas potential of the Black Sea shelf was estimated at 2.3 billion tons of fuel. It is approximately 40 percent of total gas deposits in Ukraine. Though the industry requires large investments, the development of The Black Sea deposits was viewed as a possible means by which Ukraine could effectively reduce its dependence on gas supplies from Russia.

Besides having them is keeping them from others, another considerable benefit of capturing the natural resources in eastern and southeastern Ukraine was keeping the West from having access to them. Thereby, by securing Ukraine’s oil and gas resources, its mineral mines, and large ports, Putin likely feels he has taken a huge step in the direction of making Ukraine undesirable to the West. Only in ground combat, extracting Russian forces from Ukraine by force of arms, would the situation be potentially altered. It is very likely Putin postulated a while back that there is in fact nothing so special, so endearing about the Ukrainians that would cause Western powers to take such an interest in them. He likely felt certain that it is Ukraine’s proximity to Russia, making an ideal potential base for attack against it, its natural resources and its ports on the Black Sea and the Azov Sea which makes it so attractive.

In “Master of the Secret World: John Le Carré on Deception, Storytelling and American Hubris” by Andrew Ross, in Salon (21 October 1996), a quote is provided from the great British spy novelist John Lé Carre that is most apposite to what is discussed here. Le Carré stated: “In every war zone that I’ve been in, there has been a reality and then there has been the public perception of why the war was being fought. In every crisis, in every confrontation that has come my way, the issues have been far more complex than the public has been allowed to know.”

A map of Ukraine’s east and southeast (above), displaying the resource rich Donetsk, Luhansk, and Dnipropetrovsk oblasts and the Azov Sea. A great amount of Ukraine’s natural these resources that have fallen into Russia’s hands, coal, the main fossil fuel of Ukraine, is mined in the Donetsk and Lviv-Volyn basins. The Donetsk Basin is the largest in Ukraine. It is located within the Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts–provinces. At the time of this writing Luhansk oblast has essentially fallen completely to Russian forces and their attacks in the Donetsk oblast have intensified. A titanium ore deposit exists in Dnipropetrovsk oblast which reportedly has virtually unlimited reserves. Titanium is used in constructing rockets, submarines, making synthetic rubber, artificial rubies, sapphires, and products of that nature. Dnipropetrovsk oblast borders Donetsk oblast to the west, and its capture may likely be a follow-on objective of the Russian drive into Ukraine. Raw materials for aluminum production include nefelines in the Azov Sea area and boxites in the Vysokopillya deposit in the Dnipropetrovsk oblast. These areas are under Russian control or, as aforementioned, may soon be.

Have the Russian Federation Armed Forces Recovered after Earlier Failures?

Prewar in the West, the Russian invasion of Ukraine was speculated upon by many commentators to be something akin to a one act drama with an early curtain. Many were seemingly married to the idea that the Russian armed forces were ten feet tall. The danger ostensibly posed by Russian forces was worthy of a 2 percent expenditure on military articles pertinent for battle and training and maintaining their armed forces every year by NATO Members. Despite all that transpired, on February 24, 2023 the walls came down on what was supposed to be a Russian military juggernaut. So rapidly did Ukrainian forces discover and exploit the weakness of Russian forces wherever they could find them. Aux innocents les mains pleines. To be frank, the Russian Ground Force was very plainly outmatched by the Ukrainian fighters and lost in cities such as Kyiv and Kharkiv. The General Staff of the Russian Federation Armed Forces were left with few good options but to pull back from the Kyiv as well as the Chernihiv regions regroup elsewhere. That elsewhere has been inside Ukraine, across the east, southeast and southern borders. Those forces and their movements have been aggregated and have formed a solid front. 

As expressed in greatcharlie’s April 30, 2022 post, anyone trying to paint a picture of what was happening in the Russian command over the Ukrainian security operation would accurately produce an ugly daub. What has been discovered since the invasion began is that Russia had been running its military campaign against Ukraine out of Moscow, with no central commander on the ground to coordinate air, ground and sea units. Reportedly, that tack assists in explaining why the invasion struggled against an unexpectedly stiff Ukrainian resistance, and was plagued by poor logistics and flagging morale. In situations that require flexibility, innovation, thinking through problems, unit commanders at the squad, platoon, company, and even battalion levels in advanced armies are instructed to improvise and adapt. Since that is not taught and trained into the officers and noncommissioned officers of the Russian Army, once in contact with an opponent, units up to the battalion level–the battalion being the main tactical formation of the a Russian Army–tended to suffer greatly. Often commanders of many units handled their troops and equipment as if they were participating in an exercise–parking companies and battalions of T-90 tanks and BMP armored personnel carriers on open roads without air cover or organic antiaircraft systems providing security–rather than moving in strength behind enemy lines in a shooting war. Disorganized assaults reportedly also contributed to the deaths of several Russian generals, as high-ranking officers were pushed to the front lines to untangle tactical problems that Western militaries would have left to more junior officers or senior enlisted personnel.

From what can be seen in broadcast and online videos, albeit most provided by the Ukrainian Armed Forces and Ukrainian Ministry of Defense, no security was set up for units not in contact with their opposing forces in forward battle areas. There were visibly no pickets for armored and mechanized units while halting on roads, no moving pickets, no flank security, no air defense even watching the skies with heavy machine guns. This was the case despite foreknowledge that Ukrainian tank hunters with javelins and Turkish drones were lurking on the ground and in the air in their vicinities. Javelins and stingers provided to Ukrainian forces by the West were exploited to the point at which they had a multiplier effect on the battlefield. To that extent, a popular feature in the broadcast and online newsmedia on the Ukraine War are videos of formations of Russian T-90s and BMPs being identified and destroyed by Ukrainian drones or being hit by Ukrainian troops using javelins. Highways, roads, and even trails were seemingly used as a means to locate Russian armored and mechanized units, which were naturally traveling in the direction toward Ukrainian lines on them. Suffice it to say, practically the whole world via the international newsmedia learned this was the situation in the field. No amount of spin by the Russian Federation Ministry of Defense could alter the truth of what was witnessed. Russian commanders at the company and battalion levels virtually sabotaged their units as a result of their repeated delinquencies. 

The annual, immense Zapad exercises of the Russian Federation armed forces, much touted by Moscow, clearly were not exactly all that they were made to appear to be in terms of demonstrating their true strength and capabilities of the Russian armed forces, as well as the possibilities for their use. Putin, himself, had regularly observed the Zapad exercises and everything seemed fine enough, but it was not. Military commanders simply went through the motions with elaborate displays of firepower and mobility with little to no concern about how it would all come together in real world situations. This aspect is discussed in greater detail in greatcharlie’s April 30, 2022 post. In the end, the Russian armed forces fought the way they practiced. Commanders were left with no other way to do things. All the illusions created by the well-choreographed military drills were disintegrated in the light of reality.

The deficiencies and delinquencies of a commander or a group of commanders can become consistent enough to become predictable. Such shortcomings, when left uncorrected, can be well-exploited by a discerning opponent and can serve to determine the outcome of a campaign.

Discussing, in The Histories, the deficiencies and delinquencies of Hannibal, the great Carthaginian commander of the Second Punic War, whom he refers to as “Hanno,” Polybius notes that the Carthaginian commander had achieved regular success in defense. In fact, he states “duly he showed considerable ability, but he was quite a different man at the head of a sally in force: he was not sagacious in his use of opportunities, and managed the whole business with neither skill nor promptitude.” Polybius supports his view reviewing Hannibal’s failed first expedition to relieve Utica, during which he claims Hannibal very nearly brought the besieged, as well as himself, to utter destruction. He brought from Carthage catapults and darts, and in fact all the apparatus for a siege; and having encamped outside Utica undertook an assault upon the enemy’s entrenchment. Polybius notes “The number of his elephants, of which he had as many as a hundred, struck terror into the enemy.” He reports: “The elephants forced their way into the camp, and the enemy, unable to withstand their weight and the fury of their attack, entirely evacuated the position. They lost a large number from wounds inflicted by the elephants’ tusks; while the survivors made their way to a certain hill, which was a kind of natural fortification thickly covered with trees, and there halted, relying upon the strength of the position.” However, having achieved all of that Polybius says Hannibal made poor a use of the advantage he created. 

Polybius determined that Hannibal, “accustomed to fight with Numidians and Libyans, who, once turned, never stay their flight till they are two days removed from the scene of the action, imagined that he had already put an end to the war and had gained a complete victory.” He then was remiss, and gave little attention afterward to his men, or about the camp generally, but “went inside the town and occupied himself with his own personal comfort.” However, mercenaries among his opposition, who had fled in a body on to a hill within close proximity to Hannibal’s camp, had been trained in the daring tactics of the Barcas according to Polybius. (Barca was Hannibal’s family name. His father Hamilcar commanded the Carthaginians during the First Punic War.). Polybius suggests those mercenaries were also accustomed from “their experience in the Sicilian warfare to retreat and return again to the attack many times in the same day.” Once they discovered Hannibal “had left his army and went into the town, and that the soldiers, owing to their victory, were behaving carelessly, and in fact slipping out of the camp in various directions: they accordingly got themselves into order and made an assault upon the camp; killed a large number of the men; forced the rest to fly ignominiously to the protection of the city walls and gates; and possessed themselves of all the baggage and apparatus belonging to the besieged, which Hanno had brought outside the town in addition to his own, and thus put into the hands of the enemy.” Polybius notes that “this was not the only instance of his incompetence.”

A woman (above) walks amid destroyed Russian tanks in Bucha, outside Kyiv, in April  2022. As expressed in greatcharlie’s April 30, 2022 post, anyone trying to paint a picture of what was happening in the Russian command over the Ukrainian security operation would accurately produce an ugly daub. What has been discovered since the invasion began is that Russia had been running its military campaign against Ukraine out of Moscow, with no central commander on the ground to coordinate air, ground and sea units. Reportedly, that tack assists in explaining why the invasion struggled against an unexpectedly stiff Ukrainian resistance, and was plagued by poor logistics and flagging morale. In situations that require flexibility, innovation, thinking through problems, unit commanders at the squad, platoon, company, and even battalion levels in advanced armies are instructed to improvise and adapt. Since that is not taught and trained into the officers and noncommissioned officers of the Russian Army, once in contact with an opponent, units up to the battalion level–the battalion being the main tactical formation of the a Russian Army–tended to suffer greatly.

Problems Rest at the Commander’s Doorstep

Moscow could not hide the fact that Russian forces were in trouble in Ukraine. With much fanfare,, by March 29, 2022, it was announced by the Russian Federation Ministry of Defense that it was shifting its focus to expanding the territory held by pro-Russia separatists in the eastern Donbas region. The Russian Federation Defense Minister, General of the Army Sergei Shoigu stated hours before the talks the “main goal” was now the “liberation” of Donbas. This shift left little doubt in the minds of observers outside of Russia that an apparent initial plan to move rapidly to capture major cities in Ukraine and replace the national government had failed or at least had not gone as planned. That surely signaled that big problems might lie ahead for them. There was an attempt to spin the matter as a success. As aforementioned, a big part of that was to omit any discussion of the terrible costs in troops, materiél, and treasure for the military’s blunders. As the matter was laid out by the Chief of the Main Operational Directorate of the General Staff of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation Colonel General Sergei Rudskoy, head of the General Staff’s main operations administration stated “The main tasks of the first stage of the operation have been carried out.” He further stated: The combat capabilities of the Ukrainian armed forces have been substantially reduced, which allows us to concentrate our main efforts on achieving the main goal: the liberation of Donbas.” Clearly, the focus of Rudskoy’s spin was an effort to convince that efforts to encircle key Ukrainian cities as Kyiv and making them subjecting them the multiple airstrikes and artillery onslaught was to pin down Ukrainian forces elsewhere in the country in order to allow Russian forces to focus on the east. Thinking reasonably, one might imagine that Putin would unlikely be willing to begin a new adventure for greater gains eastward. Still, casting reason aside, there remains the chance that he still wishes to capture Kyiv and Kharkiv, and add to that Odesa. He may be insisting upon those actions and engaged in the process of planning them with his generals.

At first blush, many Western military analysts generally foresaw the shift in Russia’s approach as an effort by the General Staff of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation might have in mind trapping Ukrainian forces situated in eastern Ukraine roughly between the Donbas and the Dnieper River. Executing a two pronged attack, with one force moving north to south, the other moving south to north, Russian forces could potentially move to cut those forces off from the rest of Ukraine and their comrades defending larger cities and new units being trained in the western part of the country. Once the Ukrainian forces were cut off, the Russians would then seek to kill it.

It is still unclear whether Russian forces have recovered from the theater of errors in the first phase of the special military operation. It would be difficult enough to change tactics, techniques and procedures broadly for a force in constant contact with an opponent at multiple points, especially when initiative and independent thinking is not emphasized. Having a good portion of those forces somewhat battered and tattered would make carrying out such adjustments far more difficult. Indeed, turning the corner would be a terribly hard thing to do, not only in terms of reshaping and executing a better plan, tactics, and performing better, but in terms of motivating the troops to fight and win despite what had already transpired in the disastrous drives against Kyiv and Kharkiv. Russian Federation commanders and planners were surely clear eyed about all that. It is likely that there was likely an unspoken, private fear within the forces fighting in Ukraine that victory was out of reach. The early phases had gone too poorly to dismiss, just shrug off. Interestingly, if one lives with failure too long, one sometimes forgets what success is or how to achieve it.

The Roman Emperor and Stoic philosopher, Marcus Aurelius Antoninus Augustus was quoted as saying: “Because your own strength is unequal to the task, do not assume that it is beyond the powers of man; but if anything is within the powers and province of man, believe that it is within your own compass also.” On April 9, 2022, Russian Federation General of the Army Aleksandr Dvornikov was appointed commander of the special military operation in Ukraine. The sort of leader, thinker, manager, and commander that Dvornikov is mostly known from what Russia’s Ministry of Defense has released, all of it being very positive. On April 10, 2022, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) dispassionately described Dvornikov with the following: “Dvornikov, 60, served in Chechnya in the 1990s and in 2015 became the first Russian commander to lead military operations in Syria. Since 2016, he has overseen the southern military district, which includes Crimea, the Ukrainian peninsula seized by Russia in 2014.” RFE/RL continues by stating: “Dvornikov has a notorious reputation for his conduct of the war in Syria, where Russia bombed civilian districts. Putin awarded Dvornikov the Hero of Russia medal, one of the country’s highest awards, for his work in Syria.” It was likely hoped that Dvornikov’s presence at the helm of the special military operation would have a steadying effect throughout the armed forces. Dvornikov has become quite a figurehead for the Russian Army cutting a tough as nails image, captivating Russian soldiers and officers alike, raising morale to some degree, albeit modest perhaps, by his presence. The big question is whether he can make a difference.

If Russian forces can manage to completely dislocate Ukrainian forces in the Donbas and push them out of and away from the region and more importantly away from the Russian border, it would be an enormous relief for Shoigu, Gerasimov and Dvornikov. However, their problems would hardly be over. A well-armed, well-trained, and well-experienced Ukrainian military staring down at Russia for years to come, if that hypothetically would be the outcome of a negotiated peace, would be the last thing that they would want to leave in place. More than that, it would surely be the last thing that the Russian Federation President would want to leave behind. That may turn out to be a problem that the world will need to contend with.

As it is discussed in greatcharlie’s April 30, 2022 post, Russian Federation commanders and planners are aware that in the fights for urban centers, the ground forces of allies could do more than simply chisel away at enemy lines. Numerical advantages are not rare on the frontlines, yet Russian forces, if they choose to economize in less active areas, could develop superiority at points of their main efforts. An attacker, after concentrating quickly, can normally strike hard at an unexpected place and time to throw the defender off balance. Once the attack is underway, the attackers’ chance of success can be improved if he moves fast, aggressively pressing every advantage, and if the attacker capitalizes on opportunities to destroy the enemy’s forces and the overall coherence of his defense. Russian forces have appeared either too sluggish or to wreck less to accomplish any of this.

Russian Federation commanders and planners also know air power can greatly impact enemy moves in urban centers. If forced to move quickly in the face of Russian air power, an enemy commander would be allowed less time to ensure his unit’s concealment. It could cause him to move when conditions would not impede aircrews’ search of his unit. Rapid movement could also decrease the effectiveness of his air defense systems, allowing aircrews greater freedom to search for his unit, increasing the chance for it to be spotted. So far in Ukraine,  over 95 percent of the Russian Federation Aerospace Force flies 200 sorties a day, and according to the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense, 57 Russian aircraft and 7 Russian drones [unverified] have been downed. However, in response to the Ukrainian air defense threat, Russian aircraft are not evading by flying sorties at 15,000 to 20,000 feet as they had over Syria. Russian aircraft are remaining above Russian airspace and firing air launched cruise missiles into Ukraine. Since aircrews cannot identify targets across the border, airstrikes are made in areas where air intelligence reports the enemy is located. In attacking urban centers, that will always result in collateral damage in the form of civilian deaths and injury and the destruction of nonmilitary structures.

Les portes de l’avenir sont ouvertes à deux qui savent les pousser. Of course, Ukrainian forces will try to have some say in how things turn out for Russian forces in their country. Before Russian forces can do any of that the Ukrainian armed forces would surely like to launch a counteroffensive to drive them out of their country. Given the need for speed to play a role–Ukrainian forces have an uncanny ability to stay a step ahead in the action reaction cycle despite the small amount of experience maneuvering significant sized units on the battlefield that any Ukrainian commanders have had over recent years. One would need to go back to the invasion of Afghanistan decades ago, to point to such an opportunity. A huge issue for the Ukrainian armed forces at this point is fatigue. So much has been asked of so few for so long who were truly fighting, and albeit achieving success, against an opponent well above their weight class. The spirit may be willing to go on but the flesh may not be. Occasio non facile praebetur sed facile ac repente amittitur. (Opportunity is not easily offered, but it is easily and suddenly lost.)

Russian Federation General of the Army Aleksandr Dvornikov (above). On April 9, 2022, Russian Federation General of the Army Aleksandr Dvornikov was appointed commander of the special military operation in Ukraine. The sort of leader, thinker, manager, and commander that Dvornikov is mostly known from what Russia’s Ministry of Defense has released, all of it being very positive. It was likely hoped that Dvornikov’s presence at the helm of special military operation would have a steadying effect throughout the armed forces. Dvornikov has become quite a figurehead for the Russian Army cutting a tough as nails image, captivating Russian soldiers and officers alike, raising morale to some degree, albeit modest perhaps, by his presence. The big question was what to do.

Can a Hastily Deployed Force Recover from Initial Errors and Win a Campaign?

With the intent not to oversimplify, the conundrum Russian commanders face in Ukraine at first glance reminded greatcharlie of the circumstances British forces dealt with during the Boer War. If readers will allow greatcharlie to provide a short overview of the conflict’s genesis, the war began as two Boer Republics the South African Free Republic and the Orange Free State wanted to stemmed British expansion and influence in Southern Africa, especially in the Boer Republic in which large gold deposits were discovered. British citizens from the Cape Colony were denied rights, such as the right to vote and treated as invaders by the Boers. British citizens protested to British authorities in the Cape Colony who in response sought to negotiate with the Boers, but those talks failed. The Boers then began attacking British outposts. British battalions and regiments were hastily mustered and sent to South Africa. Indeed, the British force sent to cope with it was a force acutely less advanced technologically, militarily, intellectually and had drastically less opportunity to organize for military action than the Russian armed forces that invaded Ukraine on February 24, 2022.

Once British forces landed in South Africa, a large portion of it concentrated at the garrison town of Ladysmith. On October 30, 1899, a seizable force sallied out to engage Boer armies which were slowly surrounding the town. The result was a disaster for the British. Summarizing what occurred, omitting a discussion on the maneuvers, it is pointed out here how singular deficiencies of artillery and infantry in terms of tactics, techniques, and procedures caused British forces to face severe challenges. 

Regarding British artillery, Its role was somewhat marginalized in the fight. The fire of British guns was not as productive as that of the Boer StaatsartillerieBritish artillery came under accurate and effective fire from the Boers’ field guns, which were fought as individual gun detachments, and were quickly moved between emplacements before British guns could find their range. British field guns did occasionally hit their mark, silencing Boer guns, but not often enough to be called effective. Due to poor reporting on their opponent’s whereabouts, the fire of British guns was often wasted. British guns were deployed as they had been drilled to do, in neat rows of six without using cover from artillery or even rifle fire. Thereby, British gun batteries were regularly incurring casualties.

Regarding British infantry, establishing fire discipline through fusilade by command and movement as a team, no matter how trying the situation, were practices driven into British soldiers through excellence of drill. However, that product of excellence in the drill square and a practice that was effective and successful in battle for the British Army around the world in the 18th and 19th centuries, was liability against the Boers. (In a few short years ahead, on battlefields in Belgium and France, that practice will have no place whatsoever among British troops.) The Boers, although attacking in organized groups, moved independently, rapidly sought cover where they could find it, and fired at targets where they saw them. Since the British infantry relied on drill, they were firing volleys on the command of an officer. By the time the order had been given, the intended target was safe behind cover, while the British soldiers were exposed to fire. Unable to maneuver against or attrite the Boer’s in any effective way combining fire and movement, most often British troops fought their static, fighting in place, suffering heavy casualties, running low on ammunition and supplies, and facing exhaustion. In the end, the British fell back into Ladysmith. An isolated detachment of 800 men was forced to surrender.The day was subsequently termed “Mournful Monday”. The Boers, however, did not immediately take advantage of their victory by proceeding towards the strategically important port of Durban. Instead, they began a siege of Ladysmith. Following a near unrelenting, ferocious struggle to break through to Ladysmith by British regiments and battalions, it was relieved after 118 of that siege. In the end, the overwhelming power of the regiments and battalions of professional military officers and soldiers of the British Army quelled a brutally waged guerilla warfare campaign and overcame all other incumbrances–as aforementioned, some unknowingly self-inflicted–and defeated the rebellious Boers.

It is highly unlikely that Russian commanders studied the British Army’s experience during the Boer War before crossing into Ukraine. However, in a similar way to the ultimately victorious British forces, they likely hope now that overwhelming force and firepower applied effectively and rapidly can achieve immediate results that cannot be so easily responded to or countered by Ukrainian forces. In terms of creating opportunities and options for their political leadership, great gains by Russian forces might support any demands made for compromise from Ukrainian representatives at the negotiation table. Perhaps they may have created opportunities and options for something else.

Dvornikov at war (above). Dvornikov likely hopes now that overwhelming force and firepower applied effectively and rapidly can achieve immediate results that cannot be so easily responded to or countered by Ukrainian forces. In terms of creating opportunities and options for their political leadership, great gains by Russian forces might support any demands made for compromise from Ukrainian representatives at the negotiation table. Perhaps they may have created opportunities and options for something else.

What Will Putin Do with Russia’s Ill-gotten Gains in Eastern Ukraine?

Ukrainian cities and towns have drawn the brunt of Russian forces’ destructive capabilities. It was forecasted in greatcharlie’s February 10, 2022 post entitled, “Commentary: The Choice of War or Peace Between Russia and Ukraine Rests on the Ability of Parties to View Each Other Differently”, in captured Ukrainian cities and towns. Ukrainian civilians, as well as any insurgents mixed among them, might be hemmed into zones by Russian forces. In a horrific twist, the more difficult zones would be better defined as killing zones, in which “cooperative Ukrainians would be separated from more difficult ones. Insurgents in those zones would be required to punch above their weight, likely against the Federal’naya sluzhba bezopasnosti Rossiyskoy Federatsii (Federal Security Service of the Russian Federation) or FSB as well as the Vozdushno Desantnye Voyska (Russian Airborne Forces) or VDV, battered and tattered after fights in the initial stages of the invasion, and other well-suited Russian Federation Army units. They would perhaps need to do that long past the point when reasonably the towel might be thrown. Russian forces could be best informed of how to effectively use such a method by its allies in Beijing. Paramilitary police units of the People’s Republic of China Ministry of Public Security have developed an expertise in this sort of thing. To that extent, an arrangement might be made with Beijing to provide “a sufficient number of advisers” under the control of the Glavnoye Razvedyvatel’noye Upravleniye Generalnovo Shtaba (Main Intelligence Directorate of the General Staff-Military Intelligence) or GRU, to assist in the prospective zones. (Putin would likely love to have the Chinese involved in some fashion. He would prefer to share claim to such villainy with China.) It all may seem fanciful, too imaginative, but one must consider the absolute madness of the current circumstance itself, and judge this possibility in that context.

Ideally for Putin, inhabitants of Ukrainian cities and towns will be displaced at such a level that the cities and towns themselves would more or less resemble the southern portion of the city of Famagusta in Cyprus or the village of Oradour-sur-Glane in France. (Given results, it almost seems as if Russian engineering officers, artillery officers, air power officers, and ordnance officers, it would seem, are regularly drawing up plans for the systematic demolition of Ukrainian cities and towns, district by district, block by block, using ordnance fired from a variety of weapon systems.) The intermittent attacks on populated areas may indeed have some psychological warfare, punitive, or perhaps even a tactical purpose. Yet, something of far greater conception may be behind them. Perchance Russian commanders, as part of a preconceived plan, seek to displace Ukrainians from their homes, out of the cities and town through “massive evacuations” to make them easier to “manage,” easier to control. Surely, Putin would appreciate having the West finance and supply for their care on the other side of the Dnieper River. Destroying certain parts of cities and towns would also make them far less desirable. At the time of this writing, UN estimates are that over 4.1 million Ukrainians have moved into other countries. When Ukrainians move west, the better things become concerning Putin’s likely plans for Ukraine. 

There might be the chance that citizens of the Russian homeland would be “invited” to relocate and settle in those cities and towns to participate in their reconstruction and, particularly in the southeast, reside in cities and towns in order to reconstruct and work at ports on the Azov Sea and in the many mineral mines. Veterans of the military operation who so inclined could be invited to relocate to the cities and towns they “liberated,” in effect to enjoy the spoils of the war. (Putin must hope that future world events, fate and fortune, will cause sanctions to be lifted just enough that international markets will be open again to Russian products. Not such a fanciful notion, noting again that the current US administration reportedly has turned to Saudi Arabia, Venezuela, and others to increase production of oil for markets after heavily sanctioning the regimes and industries of those countries, in some cases for years. Some may even be allowed to develop nuclear power plants and reap benefits from uranium production.) In the same vein, Kyiv, if eventually captured–as of the time of this writing that seems doubtful–would imaginably be transformed into a center of Russian Othodox theological study. The return of displaced Ukrainians, an ineluctable issue of any peace negotiations, will likely be difficult to sort out with Moscow. If parts of Ukraine unavoidably must remain in control of Russia at the time of ceasefire or peace talks, how the issue of returnees is settled will doubtlessly influence the speed of reconstruction in certain districts of cities and result in limited numbers of displaced being accepted. Imaginably for Moscow, ethnic-Russians would perhaps be given priority for what it might tacitly consider to be “naturalization.” 

Returning to Polybius, in The Histories, he describes the Roman invasion of Africa in 256-55 BC during the First Punic War, commanded by the ruthless and vengeful M. Atilius Regulus, which resulted in a singular disaster. As the story goes, Carthage lost over 90% of its forces as the Romans achieved a string of successes. The Carthaginian commander was taken prisoner by Regulus. Polybius explained that Regulus had the opportunity to end the war on very favorable terms, however, in 256, the Roman commander pushed his luck and demanded overly harsh terms of surrender. This drove the Carthaginians to fight him again in a battle that ended in a complete Punic victory. The situation on the battlefield was reversed, and the Roman army was nearly annihilated. The outcome was that Africa was freed from the constraints of occupation. Regulus was severely punished, but Rome from that point was put on the defensive. Polybius ends his account of Regulus there. Modern historians report that the First Punic War was fought for another 14 years, wearing down both sides. Rome eventually forced Carthage to surrender after the Battle of Aegates Islands in March 241 BC, on terms lighter than those Regulus had proposed.

Polybius offers a lesson that both Russia and Ukraine might learn from the ill-considered and brash actions of Regulus in the The Histories. He states: “This event conveys many useful lessons to a thoughtful observer. Above all, the disaster of Regulus gives the clearest possible warning that no one should feel too confident of the favors of Fortune, especially in the hour of success.”

Novotoshkivka (above), a small village about 16 miles southeast of Severodonetsk, in Luhansk. Ideally for Putin, inhabitants of Ukrainian cities and towns will be displaced at such a level that the cities and towns themselves would more or less resemble the southern portion of the city of Famagusta on Cyprus or the village of Oradour-sur-Glane in France. The regular attacks on populated areas may indeed have some psychological warfare, punitive, or perhaps even a tactical purpose. Perchance Russian commanders, as part of a preconceived plan, seek to displace Ukrainians from their homes, out of the cities and town through “massive evacuations” to make them easier to “manage,” easier to control. Surely, Putin would appreciate having the West finance and supply for their care on the other side of the Dnieper River. When Ukrainians move west, the better things become concerning Putin’s likely plans for Ukraine.

The Way Forward

Putin has created a national security emergency for Russia by invading Ukraine. He realizes Russian forces are performing poorly on the battlefield. He knows that he was not provided the opportunity to give a victory speech in Kyiv. He is aware of the immense drain his special military operation has placed on his military resources. The situation is far from satisfactory. It is a wonder if national leaders in the West, and the foreign and national security policymakers in their respective cabinets at all foresaw this outcome. If so, in all seriousness, they surely should have done more in response the urgent need to “save Putin from himself.” As the situation stands, Russia and Ukraine remain in conflict, and the West is remaining outside of the fighting, but supplying Kyiv with what it needs to handle and possibly completely defeat invading Russian forces. That has been forecast as being a long rather drawn out process in which casualties will continue to mount on both sides. However, in war, things do not always turn out the way one might expect. In viewing the situation in the way just described, from the outside of the policymaking and decisionmaking process of every Western country, it appears to greatcharlie that the West has engaged in a bit of self-deception. A blinddpot appears to have been created, fostered by the sense of security, comfort, due to the unity resulting from long-standing bilateral d multilateral ties, at least among the major industrialized powers, membership in NATO, of course, EU membership, and memberships in a variety of regional organizations. The fact is, as aforementioned, Russia is facing a national security emergency and that is a huge problem for the West because from the lens of Moscow, the West is at the center of its problems and has exacerbated them. 

As far as Moscow is concerned, things have not gone as they were supposed to for Russia in Ukraine. It is unlikely, but nonetheless possible that some genius for war in Russia may emerge and turn the situation on the ground immensely and Russia will move unstoppably to the Polish border. That would settle the matter in the most unfortunate way. However, if the situation collapses for Russia in a profound way his response will include retribution against the West. To that extent, the better Ukraine does on the battlefield offensively, the more dangerous the situation becomes for the West and the world. Just viewing a handful of video clips on the death and destruction levied on Ukraine, a country in relative peace–the Donbas excepted, should not leave anyone to think the one responsible would hesitate to bring worse to the rest of the world. It would seem enough to remind those who have forgotten that Russia is a nuclear superpower.

At the moment, again due to Putin’s choice to invade Ukraine, everyone is actually in the same bucket. Ensuring Putin is unable to worsen the situation certainly requires action, training and equipping and assisting Ukrainian forces with combat support so they can halt and push back Russian forces. Actively working to increase the degree of emergency Russia faces makes the world itself less secure. Again, all parties to the conflict, Ukraine, Russia, and the West are all the same bucket. No one will get out if there is no cooperation, some agreement. To be frank, without any intention to insult, greatcharlie states that to believe anything else would be to delude oneself. 

The idea that fighting in Ukraine can be allowed to go on until some stalemate, some situation on the ground will force the warring parties to negotiate is a lost proposiition. For Russia, its an emergency and perhaps for Putin, the last gasp of power. He cannot lose, he cannot turn back so easily. Ukraine, a country that was once a Soviet republic drew a bad card being so abundant  resources and bordering Russia. It wanted the freedom to decide to join NATO and the EU. It rejected terms that it declare its neutrality. All of that was reasonable, but its insistence on these matters facing Russia under its current leadership could only lead to problems to say the least. There must be a starting point for Ukraine to rebuild, rejuvenate itself. There must be a pot in which Putin must be enabled to stop fighting. The opportunity to forge the best possible peace before the killing began has been long since lost. However, there remains the opportunity to create the framework for an evolving peace that will allow both sides to end hostilities.A robust effort must be made in that direction for the sake of everyone. Potiusque sero quam numquam. (It is better to do something late than never.)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Possible Manipulation of Great Conception

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Putin’s Understanding of “the US Within”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Way Forward

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Situation: What Could Russian Forces Do?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The View from the US

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

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

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

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

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

Some Key Issues for Negotiation as the Situation Stands

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

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

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

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

Some Common Wisdom Regarding Putin

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Missteps in Responding to Putin Somewhat Downplayed

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

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

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

As for Putin, he had not as yet grabbed all reins of power firmly in Russia, much as he tightly grips them today. It is not inconceivable that his political qualities were not fully scrutinized by any member state. However, more pertinently, Putin was unlikely ready to manage Russia’s stake at the G8 when first began participating in leaders’ summits. Looking into Putin’s inner-being, it is possible that Putin, 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. Crimea, at time was the sovereign territory of Ukraine, and most national capitals say it still is. Putin’s 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.

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

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

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

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

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

Putin from a Different Lens

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

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

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

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

What Might Be Done Regarding Putin To End This Crisis?

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

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

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

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

A Possible Way Ahead in Diplomacy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Way Forward

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Perfidious Communist China”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Do Not Rely on Beijing’s Goodwill!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Recent Displays of Beijing’s Tactfulness toward Foreign Companies

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Experience Speaks?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Prospective Problems Ahead

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

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

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

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

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

The Way Forward

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

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

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

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

Book Review: Bill Gertz, Deceiving the Sky: Inside Communist China’s Drive for Global Supremacy (Encounter Books, 2019)

People’s Republic of China President and Communist Party of China Party Secretary Xi Jinping in People’s Liberation Army uniform (above). Successive US administrations, both Democrat and Republican, stuck to a belief that by maintaining good relations with China and conducting trade and other business with it, the Communist regime in Beijing would eventually evolve into a free market, democratic system. However, it is clear now that China has reverted to its Maoist Communist roots. Instead of becoming more moderate and more democratic, China has become a more repressive dictatorship domestically. Internationally, instead of becoming more integrated, China has emerged as a dangerous threat to peace and security as it seeks to become the world’s dominant power. How this all came about and what the US can expect from all of this is elaborated upon in Deceiving the Sky: Inside China’s Drive for Global Supremacy.

In Deceiving the Sky: Inside Communist China’s Drive for Global Supremacy (Encounter Books, 2019), Bill Gertz, the author, directs a flood light on China’s practices that are designed to undermine the US economy, weaken and ultimately defeat the US military, and diminish the global influence of the US. An emphasis of Gertz’s discussion is how US leaders have repeatedly failed to understand the preparations in which Beijing is engaged to ready China for a confrontation with the US in the near future. Gertz also asserts the US leaders have also habitually failed to take appropriate steps to deter and act appropriately in response to Beijing’s threatening moves. An example of how destructive and impactful such delinquencies have been is the US response following Beijing’s use of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) to crush the democratic aspirations of thousands of Chinese in Tiananmen Square in June 1989. China was sanctioned. However, Gertz says that far more consideration should have been given to how China would and actually did react to sanctions. Gertz says what China actually did was launch an unbridled campaign over the next three decades to steal and otherwise acquire some of the most valuable technology from the US. The theft has been staggering, estimated to be as much as $600 billion annually in stolen technology and intellectual property. However, in successive US administrations, both Democrat and Republican, there was a wilful blindness toward what was occurring. They stuck to a belief that by maintaining good relations with China and conducting trade and other business with it, the Communist regime in Beijing would eventually evolve into a free market, democratic system. 

Gertz says the outcome of this decades long policy failure by the US has been the emergence of an expansionist, hard line Communist regime headed by a supreme leader, who took power in 2012, with unchecked powers matched only by Mao: People’s Republic of China President and Communist Party of China Party Secretary Xi Jinping. Gertz asserts that Xi has ruled with an iron fist. China has reverted to its Maoist Communist roots. Instead of becoming more moderate and more democratic, China has become a more repressive dictatorship domestically. Fundamental freedoms rights and prosperity for the Chinese people have essentially been eliminated.Internationally, instead of becoming more integrated, China has emerged as an ever more dangerous threat to peace in security as it seeks to become the world’s dominant power. Communist ideology is the centerpiece for that Chinese drive for dominance. How this all came about and what the US can expect from it all is elaborated upon in Deceiving the Sky: Inside China’s Drive for Global Supremacy.

The attention of greatcharlie was drawn to Deceiving the Sky at first upon recognizing the title’s reference to “The Thirty-Six Chinese Strategies.” The Thirty-Six Chinese Strategies or Stratagems are a collection of tactics that can be applied to very different situations. The strategies are derived from military tactics applied during the Warring States Period (403-221 B.C.) or during the Three Kingdom Period (220-265 B.C.). Comparisons are naturally made to other Chinese military texts such as Sun Zu’s Art of War focus on military organization, leadership, and battlefield tactics, the Thirty-Six Strategies, is a unique collection of ancient Chinese proverbs, more apt for the fields of politics, diplomacy, and espionage. The origins of this book are unknown. No author or compiler has ever been mentioned, and no date as to when it may have been written has been ascertained. Deceiving the Sky is the first stratagem of the thirty-six.

Gertz explains in the text that the title Deceiving the Sky comes from an ancient Chinese strategy used by generals to win battles called deceive the Sky to cross the ocean. As the story goes, an Emperor was hesitant to launch a military campaign against neighboring Koguryo, now Korea. In reaction, one of his generals convinced the Emperor to go to dinner at the home of a wealthy peasant. As the Emperor entered the house for a meal, the residence moved. The emperor had been tricked onto a boat ended for battle across the sea. Rather than disembark, he ordered the military campaign to advance, and the battle was won. What is derived from this story is that a leader’s determination to win a war should be so unrelenting that even an Emperor, viewed in Chinese culture as the son of heaven or the Sky, can be deceived. Translated into military precepts, deceiving the sky suggests that a commander: 1) Openly act as if intending to do one thing then do something else; 2) Create false alarms until the opponent no longer takes notice of alarms; 3) Lull the opponent into a sense of false security by appearing innocuous. Then when the opponent ignores you, one can attack at will; and, 4) One can also do the reverse, acting mysteriously and pretending to know things onees do not. Try different things and watch the opponent’s responses. The opponent will react most strongly to that which creates most concern. (See Stefan Verstappen, The Thirty-Six Strategies of Ancient China (China Books and Periodicals, 1999))

As Gertz discusses how China has acted against the US in recent decades, no doubt is left about how pertinent this ancient yet timeless stratagem is to its approach. According to Gertz, the strategy well-reflects the Marxist maxim that the ends justify the means. Beijing practices strategic deception known in the ancient formula as using false objectives to facilitate true objectives. It is another way of describing the Communist strategy of using all means warfare against the US which is the sole obstacle to China crossing the ocean and achieving the rightful place as the most powerful state in the world. Nemo repeite fuit turpissimus. (No suddenly becomes bad.)

So impressed was greatcharlie with Deceiving the Sky, it has sought to allow its readers to gleen enough about the book in a review that they would choose to well-thumb its pages themselves. What greatcharlie can state in all conscience that if one really does not have much time to dig deep into the crisis of Chinese actions and intentions, Gertz’s breakdown of the whole matter is about as accurate and concise a report on the matter as one is going to get. What is most impressive to greatcharlie about the book is the manner in which it stimulates thought on the grave issues concerning China. As greatcharlie has stated in previous reviews, books that can stir a fire inside the reader, and a passion for a subject, are the most memorable and most enjoyable to sit with. The role of reviewer, an unsolicited intermediary between a book’s prospective reader and the author, is a responsibility that greatcharlie takes seriously. Rarely if ever, will greatcharlie read a book then take the time to write a negative review, presenting its judgments on the shortcomings and failures of an author’s toil on a manuscript. It is greatcharlie’s preference to provide reviews of books that readers of blog can enjoy and from which they may edify themselves. Never is harm intended.

Gertz is an award-winning national security journalist and author of eight books, four of which were national bestsellers. He is currently national security correspondent for The Washington Times. On China, he is accepted in both journalistic and foreign and national security policy circles as being an authority. Even more, he is something of a treasury of knowledge on its pursuits versus the US. Confidential sources for years within the US national security bureaucracies have shared what they have reasoned was permissible with Gertz that clarified much about personalities, events, and situations concerning China with all possible precautions concerning national security firmly in mind. Gertz’s considerable standing among federal employees in rather sensitive positions is a reality that the most senior executives in the US government have recognized and have begrudgingly accepted. Gertz has been a guest lecturer at the FBI National Academy in Quantico, Virginia; the Central Intelligence Agency; the National Defense University at Fort McNair, and, the Brookings Institution.

The Author

Gertz is an award-winning national security journalist and author of eight books, four of which were national bestsellers. He is currently national security correspondent for The Washington Times. As a journalist, he recognizes his responsibility to speak truth to power. On the issue of China, he is accepted in both journalistic and foreign and national security policy circles as being an authority. Even more, he is something of a treasury of knowledge on its pursuits versus the US. 

Confidential sources for years within the US national security bureaucracies have shared what they have reasoned was permissible with Gertz that clarified much about personalities, events, and situations concerning China with all possible precautions concerning national security firmly in mind. Gertz’s considerable standing among federal employees in rather sensitive positions is a reality that the most senior executives in the US government have recognized and have begrudgingly accepted. In his biography posted by the Harry Walker Agency, a speaker’s bureau, it is noted that former Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) Director R. James Woolsey stated: “When I was DCI [Director of Central Intelligence] Bill used to drive me crazy because I couldn’t figure out where the leaks were coming from. Now that I’ve been outside for two years, I read him religiously to find out what’s going on.” During the 1990s, Secretary of Energy Bill Richardson told the author: “We talk about your stories at Cabinet meetings.” Defense Secretary William S. Cohen once remarked to China’s military intelligence chief that Bill “has access to more intelligence information than anyone I know.” Former Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld once told him: “You are drilling holes in the Pentagon and sucking out information.”

Gertz has also been a guest lecturer at the FBI National Academy, the CIA, the National Defense University at Fort McNair, the Brookings Institution, and Hillsdale College. He has participated in the National Security Studies Program at the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies and the Syracuse University Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs.

In Deceiving the Sky, Gertz has provided a most discouraging account of how the US has fared in a “struggle” to claim the perch of the dominant power in the world which China has promoted. At the same time, he answers in an admirable way the questions that US policy makers and decision-makers should be asking. To that extent, he has supplied the US foreign and national security policy bureaucracies with their deficiencies. An earlier work by Gertz, The China Threat: How the People’s Republic Targets America (Regnery, 2000), was prescient in assessing Communist China’s goals and intentions. Deceiving the Sky includes new details of the danger and proves his warning was correct. Gertz warns that if nothing significant and lasting is done, it will only get worse.

Gertz digs into the dark roots of Beijing’s plans. Readers will find that the information Gertz provides will prove to ring true on every issue. He demonstrates that there are clearly greater issues hanging from any issue with China than usually appear at first glance. Surely, presenting a full excavation of China’s actions and intentions was unlikely desired or practical given the larger audience Gertz sought to reach. Perchance if Gertz were to write enough works on the matter he will manage to at least touch upon all of its many aspects. Gertz is not a storyteller. His job is not to entertain, despite what his publishers might desire without the ultimate objective of every publisher which is to sell books. As a journalist, he delivers the news, lays out the facts as they are, and to the extent that he may provide analysis, he edifies and enlightens with his insights. Gertz has the power to intellectually stimulate with his words

The present situation between the US and China is recognized by many scholars, academics, policy analysts, and journalists as being unhealthy. Gertz’s reports on Chinese plans and actions have run concurrently to those of other journalists and scholars writing on the subject and the main features of their stories tally. Indeed, a lengthy list of authors have written fine books on the matter and offer similar perspectives. Concerning those other books, greatcharlie would not dare offer even a short-list of them for it would only open the door to judgments on the the selection of them and perhaps their numerical order. As this review is focused on Gertz’s work, all of that would be beside the matter.

It would be difficult to convince greatcharlie that Gertz wrote Deceiving the Sky with the objective of eclipsing the whole of its kind. What he has done is add an invaluable volume to the body of literature that accurately discusses “The China Threat.” He articulates the struggle in a manner that gives all matters that hang from it real meaning. Gertz only asks readers to follow closely what he has written and learn. Some seem disposed to remain content with that situation as long as it lasts. Though he lays it all out impressively before his readers, those not so warm to Gertz’s views will for themselves determine what if anything in the book is essential and what is not. Certainly, one must also accept that not everyone will be attuned to the scream of writers such as Gertz on the real and immediate threat China poses. 

Multi cives aut ea pericula quae imminent non vident aut ea quae vident neglegunt. (Many citizens either do not see those dangers which are threatening or they ignore those that they do see.) To those who seek to find normality and safety in what China is doing in Asia and beyond and see it all as being modest enough, it is likely Deceiving the Sky put their noses are not out of joint. Whether they might be characterized as rejectionists or alarmist in accord with their responses to Gertz, nothing in Deceiving the Sky was apparently intended to harshly cut so deep into the foundations of thinking of proponents of an ascending China that they should find his facts and deductions threatening to their own analyses or interests. He is not on the attack. His goal is to illuminate. He encourages all readers to simply evaluate for themselves how things have actually been moving and where they are actually heading. Not just out of a sense of professional satisfaction but rather the urgency and importance of the matter, he would welcome and wish for an effort by them to test the virtues of what he presents.

Xi and senior decision makers on foreign policy within the Communist Party of China albeit are individuals of an exceptional nature judging from what they have displayed of themselves in challenging the US for the position as the world’s dominant power. That is a desire that they have in abundance. They have shown themselves to be a thoroughly bad lot. Gertz paints an even more sinister picture of Xi in a discussion of historical figures among his role models.

To accept that China would cause the release of COVID-19 through what might be called deliberate negligence would cause one to accept China was capable of any fantastic outrage. Doubtlessly, many already believed that. Gertz would perhaps be among their number. China was frugal with information about COVID-19 enough so that rather than being seen as heroes, they have set themselves up as the antagonist of every Western country, primarily the US, struggling to resolve the COVID-19 pandemic in this all-too real global tragedy. Many in the federal government foreign and national security policy bureaucracies and the US Congress with the responsibility to monitor what China is doing, have refrained from telling too much about its actions and intentions and the full extent of what its intelligence services are doing against the US to the public possibly for fear of figuratively frightening the horses. An unwavering conviction over China’s malign intentions appears to be a luxury that many especially in US foreign policymaking circles sense they cannot afford to have. They understand that one’s political fortune could possibly be balanced against it. That job has really been left to individuals as Gertz.

It appears important to note that in more than one spot in Deceiving the Sky, Gertz’s discussion on US policymaking on China is colored by his political perspective, recognizably conservative. As aforementioned, Gertz is a national security correspondent for the Washington Times, a daily newspaper with a conservative political alignment and was employed in that position at the time he wrote Deceiving the Sky. The book was published in 2019, and Gertz also expressed some satisfaction with the decision-making of the administration of US President Donald Trump under a strategy of competitive engagement. (Readers for whom this will pose some problems have been forewarned.) Not to make a labor of this matter, suffice it to say that such digressions in the text should not distract somber and astute readers from taking into consideration the healthy, accurate, and urgent message Gertz offers exposing the true intentions. That discussion, in greatcharlie’s assessment, is not partisan.

What greatcharlie Found Most Interesting

Deceiving the Sky is 256 pages, portioned in 13 chapters and a titillating conclusion. It presents what could perhaps be called a catalogue of sins by China. The range of Gertz’s coverage of China’s activities in Deceiving the Sky can be readily observed in his descriptive chapter titles. They include: Chapter 1: How Communists Lie: The 2007 ASAT Test; Chapter 2: The East Is Red: Communism with Chinese Characteristics; Chapter 3: China Wars: The Failure of Pro-China Appeasement; Chapter 4: The Coming Space War with China; Chapter 5: Assassin’s Mace in Space; Chapter 6: Seeking Digital Superiority: China’s Cyberattacks; Chapter 7: High-Tech Totalitarianism; Chapter 8: Chinese Intelligence Operations; Chapter 9: Influence Power: Beijing and the Art of Propaganda and Disinformation Warfare; Chapter 10: Financial and Economic Warfare with Chinese Characteristics; Chapter 11: Corporate Communism: Huawei and 5G; Chapter 12: Military Might: World Domination Through the Barrel of a Gun; and, Chapter 13: Flashpoints at Sea and China’s String of Pearls Expansion. He sums up the book with the thought-provoking segment: Conclusion: What Is to Be Done? Declare China an Enemy, Liberate the Chinese People. 

It would be impossible for greatcharlie not to receive the lessons and messages of books as Deceiving the Sky and feel compelled to ruminate upon them. Yet, in this review, greatcharlie’s focus is not turned dutifully and perhaps expectedly toward the fundamental and vital issues of concern such as China’s military growth, military strategy, investment in space platforms, ties to Russia, moves in the South China Sea, threat to Taiwan, and other issues of the utmost importance concerning its expansion and hegemony in its the Far East and ambitions beyond Asia. Regular readers of greatcharlie are aware that the blog’s editor has a keen interest in what author’s offer about what makes those of interest to them tick. For years, such independent analyses by reliable sources have often saved federal bureaucracies an infinity of extra trouble by offering insight on what may very well be on the minds of decision makers in foreign capitals. After examining a sufficient record of an individual’s attitudes and behavior in the aggregate sometimes, their motives may still remain inscrutable and those writing books on their policy making and decision making with little resource may turn to speculation. An additional interest of greatcharlie of late are the activities of Chinese intelligence services in the US.

Four chapters in which Gertz offers insights into the thinking of the leadership of the Communist Party of China at the present and into the future  and Chinese intelligence services that caught greatcharlie’s attention are: Chapter 2: The East Is Red: Communism with Chinese Characteristics; Chapter 3: China Wars: The Failure of Pro-China Appeasement; Chapter 8: Chinese Intelligence Operations. Insights Gertz offers in the book’s close, Conclusion: What Is to Be Done? Declare China an Enemy, Liberate the Chinese People, are also worthy of special note.

According to Gertz, no other Chinese leader since Mao has embraced the rigid orthodox Communist ideology more than Xi Jinping, who came into power in 2012. Soon after, Xi engaged in a ruthless, albeit less viable, ideological cultural revolution of his own, a political purge of thousands of officials, some were among the most powerful players in the system. By 2018, under Xi, the Party once again emerged with Mao-like devotion to the Socialist ideal of creating New Chinese Man. He lays out how Xi has assumed more power than any Chinese leader since Mao.

Chapter 2 The East Is Red

It is in Chapter 2, Gertz’s more fully explains, as mentioned earlier, that no other Chinese leader since Mao has embraced the rigid orthodox Communist ideology more than Xi Jinping, who came into power in 2012. Soon after, Xi engaged in a ruthless, albeit less viable, ideological cultural revolution of his own, a political purge of thousands of officials, some were among the most powerful players in the system, such as regional Communist Party boss Bo Xilai, police, intelligence and security czar, Zhou Yongkang, and former Vice Chairman of the Central Military Commission, General Guo Boxiong. 

Gertz reminds that beginning in the 1980s and over the decades that China noted the post-Mao policy dubbed “reform and opening up,” Gertz has readers cast their minds back to the years when Chinese Communist leaders went to great lengths to hide their ideology. He states that “ideological speeches were reserved for Party meetings and three-hour long recitations on the great works of the Party.” He continues further explaining that propaganda organs deliberately substituted the more-moderate sounding Socialism in place of Chinese Marxist-Leninsm in a strategy designed to win widespread support from non-Communist countries around the world.

Gertz then emphasizes how all of that changed with Xi. By 2018, the Party once again emerged with Mao-like devotion to the Socialist ideal of creating New Chinese Man. He lays out how Xi had assumed more power than any Chinese leaders since Mao. Gertz notes that following the death of Mao, the next leader of China, Chairman Deng Xiaoping, argued that Mao’s fanatic view of the World Communist Revolution needed to be changed. In its place, he adopted a new strategy called “Beyond Ideology and Social Systems” that sought to scale back Maoist ways but not give up Communism. Deng intentions were not benign. Gertz asserts that Deng believed world peace was at hand and that China should find a way to exploit it. To that extent, Gertz writes, Deng put forth China’s pragmatic strategy enabling massive trade and investment with the Capitalist world. As Gertz explains,”Bide our time, build our capabilities” was the Dengist ideology, and when the peace eventually collapsed, China would be ready both economically and militarily to dominate. Interestingly, despite appeasement of China by successive US administrations after Chinese tanks crushed the hopeful democracy movement in Tiananmen Square in June 1989, Gertz notes that Beijing continued to harbor the conspiracy theory of US plans to subvert and contain the People’s Republic.

As a very intriguing and instructive point, Gertz explains that “Chinese Communism mimics religion-it presents a version of history with a journey of deliverance played out in chapters written in a chosen language. It boasts its own priesthood–political commissary ubiquitous throughout–and an enforced infallibility of its leadership.” There are prophets and devils, along with a council of senior religious leaders who have the power to change or interpret the Communist historical narrative. Gertz goes on to state that Party loyalty equals morality; doubting history is blasphemy, heresy and treasonous. He then declares: “There is a chosen people, the Chinese, a promised land, China, temples, pilgrimages, faith in the face of contrary facts, deep intrusion into the personal life of each person, and the indoctrination of children into the tenets of Chinese Communism.”

Perhaps a very apparent expression of Chinese Communism as religion is through united front work. To better understand united front work, greatcharlie turns to the expert source for perspective, Peter Mattis. Since leaving the CIA, where he was a highly-regarding analyst on China, Mattis has published a number of superlative essays on Chinese intelligence and counterintelligence. Mattis, along with a former military intelligence officer and diplomat, Matthew Brazil, published a superb book, Chinese Communist Espionage: An Intelligence Primer (United States Naval Institute Press, 2019). According to Mattis, the central element to understanding what the Chinese Communist Party is doing and why to shape the world outside the party is united front work. Mao described the purpose of this work as mobilizing the party’s friends to strike at the party’s enemies. In a more specific definition from a paper in the 1950s, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) defined united front work as “a technique for controlling, mobilizing, and utilizing non-communist masses.” In other words, united front policy addresses the party’s relationship with and guidance of any social group outside the party. To that extent, as Mattis explains, united front work entails shaping those outside the party, and not simply the Chinese people or world outside the People’s Republic of China. United front work must also be a tool of political struggle. It is not confined to activities that we would call propaganda or public diplomacy. It is not limited to covert action. In 1939, Mao wrote: “Our eighteen years of experience show that the united front and armed struggle are the two basic weapons for defeating the enemy. The united front is a united front for carrying on armed struggle. And the Party is the heroic warrior wielding the two weapons, the united front and the armed struggle, to storm and shatter the enemy’s positions. That is how the three are related to each other.” Mao’s outline of united front work within the party’s toolbox remains as the core understanding of it within the Communist Party of China today. United front activities have “aided” the Communist Party of China in resolving several dilemmas of the post-Mao era. That was most apparent following the Tiananmen Square and the death of Deng.

Evaluated on the basis of the united front policy system, the Communist Party of China’s management of political influence operations runs to the very top of the party, involving senior leaders directly. The policy system extends through the party’s hierarchy and spills over into China’s government ministries as well as other state-owned and state-administered organizations. The State Council ministries to include the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and many other organizations with a party committee offer unique platforms and capabilities that the united front policy system can draw upon for operational purposes. United front work is conducted wherever the party is present. To that extent, as Mattis explains, united front work is not an “influence operation” or a campaign. It is the day-to-day work of the party. The importance of united front work to the Chinese Communist enterprise is the reason why Xi has repeatedly emphasized the importance of a working organ of the Communist Party of China’s Central Committee, the United Front Work Department (UFWD ), to China’s rejuvenation. Among experts on China, UFWD is generally understood to be a Party intelligence organ,

One could only have imagined that foreign policy decision makers at the top of the Communist Party of China were aware that if the COVID-19 disaster was not put right with urgency, it would have had an unfortunate effect on US-China relations. Relative to the enormity of the crisis created, Beijing’s response could not reasonably have been considered apologetic or a recognition of their misstep at all. Overall, the design of the response appeared to be to protect the image and reputation of the Communust Party of China, and leave the impression that it was infallible in its response.

United front work in diplomacy can often be a dominant feature. Diplomacy with leading industrialized Western countries and prominent industrialized countries in their own region is used as a platform to promote the message of the Communist Party of China and bolster its standing. To discern such efforts, one might watch for matters stated publicly that might have little purpose in a more private setting and in fact might be best conveyed on the sideline meeting or during a break in bilateral or multilateral talks.

The reason for this is that the target audience of those comments will not be the party to the negotiation. The target is the people of China and people of underdeveloped and burgeoning industrialized countries who erroneously might see China as having eclipsed the power of leading industrialized countries and directly confronting them. China’s effort to pull countries of the Third World in Asia and Africa and even countries in Eastern Europe, with a particular focus on the Balkans, within its sphere of influence to turn a phrase has the characteristics of a near collection mania. However, the behavior of the Communist Party of China perhaps has had its best results among countries led by tyrants and other potentates who themselves have engaged in the ions old quest for dominance in their region or in the world. Aliquis latet error. (Some trickery lies hidden.)

A tangible demonstration of how China is leading the march to a “better” future for the world, by taking on US power publicly. This was recently done during a two-day bilateral meeting from March 18, 2021 to March 19, 2021 at the Captain Cook Hotel in Anchorage, Alaska. A  US delegation led by US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and US National Security Adviser, Jake Sullivan met with a People’s Republic of China delegation led by the Director of the Central Foreign Affairs Commission of the Communist Party of China Yang Jiechi, and People’s Republic of China Foreign Minister Wang Yi. The two-day meeting got off to a tense start, with a public display of the strained nature relations between the US and China. 

Blinken laid out many of the areas of concern, from economic and military coercion to assaults on basic values. Sullivan made clear that the overriding priority of the US was  to ensure that its approach in the world and approach to China benefits the US public and protects the interests of US allies and partners. Further, he explained further that the US did not seek conflict, but welcomed stiff competition and will always stand up for its principles, for its people and its friends.

Yang responded boldly, taking a bit of time to express sharp criticism of the US. He spoke with great authority. There was an air of ceremony in his reproach. Yet, through his words were evinced the restricted, mental prison of Communism. His statement must be examined in some detail to allow readers to sense the style, tone, rhythm, mood, the expression of indignation, and the recognition that a new world order is on the horizon that will have Chinese characteristics. One can discern a certain flavor in expressions of united front work in diplomacy.

Yang explained: “We believe that it is important for the United States to change its own image and to stop advancing its own democracy in the rest of the world. Many people within the United States actually have little confidence in the democracy of the United States, and they have various views regarding the government of the United States. In China, according to opinion polls, the leaders of China have the wide support of the Chinese people. So no attempt to–the opinion polls conducted in the United States show that the leaders of China have the support of the Chinese people. No attempt to smear China’s social system would get anywhere. Facts have shown that such practices would only lead the Chinese people to rally more closely around the Communist Party of China and work steadily towards the goals that we have set for ourselves.”

In an effort to turn a disadvantage into advantage with mere words, Yang went on to say: “On human rights, we hope that the United States will do better on human rights. China has made steady progress in human rights, and the fact is that there are many problems within the United States regarding human rights, which is admitted by the US itself as well. The United States has also said that countries can’t rely on force in today’s world to resolve the challenges we face. And it is a failure to use various means to topple the so-called authoritarian states. And the challenges facing the United States in human rights are deep-seated. They did not just emerge over the past four years, such as Black Lives Matter. It did not come up only recently. So we do hope that for our two countries, it’s important that we manage our respective affairs well instead of deflecting the blame on somebody else in this world.

Ostensibly speaking on behalf of peoples “oppressed” and formerly oppressed by Western powers as China, itself, once was. Yang was particularly biting, stating: “The United States itself does not represent international public opinion, and neither does the Western world. Whether judged by population scale or the trend of the world, the Western world does not represent the global public opinion. So we hope that when talking about universal values or international public opinion on the part of the United States, we hope the US side will think about whether it feels reassured in saying those things, because the US does not represent the world. It only represents the government of the United States. I don’t think the overwhelming majority of countries in the world would recognize that the universal values advocated by the United States or that the opinion of the United States could represent international public opinion, and those countries would not recognize that the rules made by a small number of people would serve as the basis for the international order.”

No doubt was left as to his loyalty and dutiful nature toward the Communist Party of China as Foreign Minister Wang performed his united front responsibilities expressing the following position: “China certainly in the past has not and in the future will not accept the unwarranted accusations from the US side. In the past several years, China’s legitimate rights and interests have come under outright suppression, plunging the China-US relationship into a period of unprecedented difficulty. This has damaged the interests of our two peoples and taken its toll on world stability and development, and this situation must no longer continue. China urges the US side to fully abandon the hegemonic practice of willfully interfering in China’s internal affairs. This has been a longstanding issue, and it should be changed. It is time for it to change. And in particular, on the 17th of March, the United States escalated its so-called sanctions on China regarding Hong Kong, and the Chinese people are outraged by this gross interference in China’s internal affairs and the Chinese side is firmly opposed to it.”

Latrant et scitis estatint praetesquitantes estis. They bark, so you know that you are in front of them.) One could reasonably presume any genuine negotiations planned by Chinese officials was secondary to what was stated at the outset of the meeting. Nothing stated by them could have led one to believe they were negotiating, seeking to establish common ground and points of agreement on issues and ways to come together on the most nagging ones. The meeting in Anchorage, Alaska provided a grand stage. The target audience of the Chinese officials’ reproaches was not really Blinken and Sullivan who were present in the room, but rather the people of China stand people of underdeveloped and burgeoning industrialized countries who would likely see China directly confront the US through their words. The Chinese officials sought to establish separate warring identities between the US and China. They sought to create the impression that some equipoise of power had already been by China versus the US.

Further, the Chinese officials clearly wanted to establish an image for the world to see of how disassociated China’s worldview was that of the US. They also appeared to want to demonstrate that China’s old view was more closely related with underdeveloped and burgeoning industrialized countries. They wanted to create the impression that there were both positive and negative forces present at the meeting, setting China up as the positive force and the US as the latter. 

Director of the Central Foreign Affairs Commission of the Communist Party of China Yang Jiechi in Anchorage, Alaska, March 2021 (center). Gertz explains that in the 21st century, “the US is facing the potential of a new world war by miscalculation involving China that has been quietly and systematically building up what it terms comprehensive national power–military, diplomatic, economic–for what the Chinese Communust leadership believes will be an inevitable showdown in creating a new anti-democratic socialist and communist world order without the US.” In his most acidulous commentary, Gertz declares that “the pro-Beijing hands in and out if government were complicit in these policy crimes that deliberately appeased China through a rigid, establishment view that ignored the reality of the People’s Republic and cast it as a normal nation and not as a nuclear armed Communist dictatorship.” Gertz says that it was not until 2015 that the pro-China view was recognized as being no longer sustainable.

Chapter 3: “China Wars: The Failure of Pro-China Appeasement”

In the four decades after the period of reform and opening up began in 1972, Gertz says that “the vast majority among a relatively small and close knit community of China experts who glowed into government policy positions, intelligence agencies, and the officer corps from universities and think tanks produced one of the most serious failures of foreign and security policy in US history.” Gertz explains again that “forty years of willful blindness about China led to the adoption of disastrous policies toward China that have produced a new era of danger many experts see as analogous to the 1930s,” a period when shortsighted diplomats and policymakers prevented the US military from preparing to meet the threat of the growing power of the Japanese Empire. As that story goes, tabletop war games against Japanese forces were forbidden. The ruling elite feared that “it would create a new Japanese threat where there was none.” Gertz says that similarly, pro-Beijing hands created another strawman argument for the appeasement of China. In the aggregate, the result according to Gertz has been “a devastating run of policies toward Beijing that avoided all reference to China’s illicit activities and behavior from the massacre of unarmed pro-democracy students in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square in 1989, to China’s role in stealing US secrets on every deployed nuclear weapon in the US arsenal and hastening their spread globally by supplying nuclear warhead design secrets to Pakistan.”

Cuiusvis hominis est errare, nullius nisi insipientis, in errore perseverare. (Any man can make a mistake, only a fool keeps making the same one.) Gertz explains that in the 21st century, “the US is facing the potential of a new world war by miscalculation involving China that has been quietly and systematically building up what it terms comprehensive national power–military, diplomatic, economic–for what the Chinese Communust leadership believes will be an inevitable showdown in creating a new anti-democratic sociakist and communist world order without the US.” In his most acidulous commentary, Gertz declares that “the pro-Beijing hands in and out if government were complicit in these policy crimes that deliberately appeased China through a rigid, establishment view that ignored the reality of the People’s Republic and cast it as a normal nation and not as a nuclear armed Communist dictatorship.” He goes on to state the dominant pro-China community of both officials and non-government experts “inflicted serious damage on US interests by consistently producing biased and misleading assessments on both China’s intentions and capabilities.” Gertz says that it was not until 2015 that the pro-China view was recognized as being no longer sustainable.

As greatcharlie discussed in its March 29, 2021 post entitled, “Listening to and Understanding the Positions of Others: A Requirement for Thoughtful and Fruitful Talks in All Cases,” diplomacy has been defined as the established method of influencing the decisions and behavior of foreign governments and peoples through dialogue, negotiation, and other measures short of war or violence. In its practice, its key for negotiators to ensure the other side is listening and understanding what they are communicating. That necessitates managing negotiations without arousing hostility. Any awkward situations must be handled with tactfulness. 

Although only in office for a few months at the time of this writing, the administration of US President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris presumably has used US citizens, individuals with the very best reputations to contact Beijing through so-called back channels. Those individuals would be doyens, men or women of the world with a natural turn for diplomacy, and for discreetly presenting issues of concern and arranging delicate matters as a point of honor for Washington. China appears to commit itself to nothing where the US and Western countries are concerned, or where any other country is concerned for that matter. China’s government is founded on a movement that produced a revolution. It believes it provides a way of living based on Mao’s teachings that should be embraced for all humanity. It will never be satisfied until it puts the rest of the world’s government’s on a solid footing in that direction.

Whether diplomats, intelligence officers, Communist Party of China operatives, or businessmen, they spout the old propaganda line while overseas, “Communism is the wave of the future.” The Biden-Harris administration’s policy makers will have ample opportunity to test theories on how to get the best results from US bilateral relations and economic competition with China. Gertz does not use page space to present readers with exact details of how the US has bargained and negotiated with China, or the tone heard during opportunities in which they communicated bilaterally. The outcomes of such talks speak for themselves. It is one thing to establish a competitor firmly in one’s mind to help drive the effort “to up one’s game.” It is wholly another thing to seek something akin to world domination and to find a way up by stealing from, forcing out, and stepping upon, others. China is attempting to do all of the latter to the US. China will almost always be happy to meet with US officials to negotiate and sign any agreements both to humor themselves, satisfy those among US policy makers and decision makers naive enough to believe there would be any hope of hampering China’s march to dominance, and mollify others who may “fear” the change that Beijing assures is coming.

Qui cumque turpi fraude semel innotuit, eriemsi verum dicit amittit fides.  (Whoever has once become known for a shameful fraud, is not believed even if he speaks the truth.) One could go as far as to say it is delusional to persist in communicating entreaties of that kind to Beijing. This is especially true when it is clear how the troubling behavior in question is associated with China’s quest for dominance. There is no shortage of ambition. One cannot show a tender conscience to Beijing without soon facing a test of will or other undesired effect. The next generation may say preceding ones were dull indeed not to recognize and respond to China’s maneuvers. To go on in partnership with the Chinese, US administrations have forgiven, while not warranted, its worsening behavior. They have forgiven much. Diplomatic outcomes on contentious matters may often be part of larger arrangements, schemes of the Chinese. Indeed, Chinese negotiators will expect that parties to a negotiation will be willing to accept and start with the conditions they initially present. They will strenuously negotiate. If the Chinese can find no flexibility and no further room for satisfactory results from the negotiations they may alter their position more in line with the other party’s terms. The other party may be eager to accept China’s new amiable terms but they may be unaware that there could be a catch. A follow-on malign action, may weaken the benefit of any settlement on the same original matter. An opportunity for the Communist Party of China to test the the virtues of this approach presented itself with the Trump administration when it negotiated and signed a trade agreement in 2020. The Communist Party of China was already aware of the burgeoning COVID-19 crisis at home. It no longer appears Beijing is disposed to negotiating fairly, nobly, on anything. This may appear all the more the case as Beijing may feel it is moving closer and faster to its goal of overcoming the US as the world’s dominant power. After examining this, readers should recall the discussion earlier in this review of the “decieving the sky” strategy ascribed to China’s approach. It is very fitting. Quite so!

By the time the second action is realized by the second party, be it the US or otherwise, it is usually still too unfathomable to imagine that the more malign outcome was sought all along by China. By the time it may be accepted by the second party that every step taken by China was part of one larger scheme, the dye will have long since been cast. In its business of conquest, Beijing almost always does everything completely. China’s efforts in this manner do not seem to have an end.

US political leaders must be willing to do the hard yards to ensure its position is protected. This is not a situation that can be nuanced through talks at the negotiation table. China will not surrender any of its gains or leave what appears to be clear paths to its objective for anything the US might offer, except surrender or capitulation.

However, those US political leaders might also consider the words of Paine, 18th Century American political writer, theorist, and activist of the American Revolution asserted in The Crisis No. V (1778): “To argue with a man who has renounced the use and authority of reason, and whose philosophy consists in holding humanity in contempt, is like administering medicine to the dead, or endeavoring to convert an atheist by scripture.”

Workers in a high-tech facility in China (above). Gertz explains that an expert source in the US Intelligence Community revealed to him that Chinese intelligence operations only began receiving the attention they deserved in the late 2010s after China stopped using more cautious methods and adopted bolder approaches to stealing secrets and recruiting spies. Citing a retired source from the US Intelligence Community, Gertz notes that Chinese intelligence activities are akin to a storm. That Chinese intelligence storm is a secret assault on the US that is without parallel since that mounted by the Soviet Union in the 1930s and 1940s. Gertz explains that current Ministry of State Security recruitment efforts are focused on all US citizens with access to secrets China wants. Those secrets come in two main categories: counterintelligence information about Chinese working for US intelligence, and government secrets and even openly available information that will boost China’s military and civilian modernization and industrialization programs.

Chapter 8: Chinese Intelligence Operations

In Chapter 8 “Chinese Intelligence Operations”, Gertz takes the reader into the arcane world of espionage via the operations of Chinese intelligence services in the US. US counterintelligence services have tried to grapple with the matter of Chinese espionage, however the situation with the activities of Chinese intelligence services nevertheless has become an impossible one for them. The anecdotes that Gertz presents well depict the course of that intelligence struggle. He reconstructs the drama of each case. He does this so clearly, that one would believe that he was present in each case to watch events unfold.

At the core of the chapter’s discussion, Gertz explains that today, the Ministry of Public Security (MPS), Ministry of State Security (MSS), and People’s Liberation Army (PLA) intelligence agencies, along with the United Front Work Department, a Communist Party intelligence unit, are the leading forces of China’s intelligence power. Gertz supports the well-established view that the power of those services is focused solely on maintaining and expanding the power of the Communist Party of China in its drive for global domination. At the end of the chapter, Gertz briefly explains that there was ano important reorganization of the PLA intelligence departments has been eliminated. Oversight of the PLA’s technical intelligence capabilities (including cyber, signals, and imagery intelligence) now resides with the new Strategic Support Force under the Central Military Commission. To provide a bit more detail on that transition, the Second Department of the People’s Liberation Army, responsible for human intelligence, the Third Department of the People’s Liberation Army, the rough equivalent of the National Security Agency, responsible for cyber operations, and a Signals Intelligence, or a Fourth Department of the People’s Liberation Army, responsible for electronic warfare have been rolled into the new Strategic Support Force. The PLA’s human intelligence operations are managed by the Joint Staff Department, and comes under the Central Military Commission. Surely, Gertz is aware of all of this. However, as the main focus of Deceiving the Sky was shed light on the realities of China’s attitudes and behavior, actions and intent, with regard to the US, it was reasonable for him to preclose where he saw fit in his discussion of the Chinese intelligence services.) As for the United Front Work Department, as mentioned earlier in this review, it is one of four key bodies of the Communist Party of China’s bureaucracy at the central level for building and exercising political influence outside the party, and especially beyond China’s borders. The other three are the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, the International (Liaison) Department, and the Propaganda Department.

Regarding MPS, Gertz says that it is the Chinese version of what has been called intelligence led policing that seeks to preempt crime. Yet, unlike the West, where laws limit the activities of police and security services, Gertz says Chinese security operations have few boundaries. One feature of the MPS is a system called “the Big System” that seeks to fuse masses of data from Chinese police and intelligence services into one program. Big intelligence is the intelligence version of the PLA’s drive for “informatization,” a term used for high technology analysis activities. 

Gertz informs that the massive police intelligence apparatus promises to make it more difficult for those seeking democratic political reforms in China to operate. As Gertz puts it, dissidents and enemies of the state as well as actual criminals will find it hard to plan and organize without leaving behind digital breadcrumbs that security services can collect and connect. He notes that theos MPS has also created the Golden Shield, a military style command structure designed to share intelligence throughout China. The systems have created pathways designed to breakthrough bureaucratic obstacles and link data. Golden Shield involves automatic analysis and cloud computing for analyzing masses of data including computerized facial, voice, and gait recognition. While MSS and PLA focus their spying operations on technology acquisition, MPS agents are engaged in spying on Chinese dissidents in the US.

Citing a former CIA director of counterintelligence, Gertz notes that Chinese intelligence activities, lay those of MSS and the PLA, are akin to a storm. That Chinese intelligence storm is a secret assault on the US that is without parallel since that mounted by the Soviet Union in the 1930s and 1940s. Gertz appears absolutely taken by the fact that penetration of US national laboratories has led to the loss of at least six nuclear weapons designs and the enhancement of Chinese offensive and defensive capabilities. Gertz explains that current MSS recruitment efforts are focused on all US citizens with access to secrets China wants. Those secrets come in two main categories: counterintelligence information about Chinese working for US intelligence, and government secrets and even openly available information that will boost China’s military and civilian modernization and industrialization programs. The modus operandi of MSS counterintelligence Includes the recruitment of foreign intelligence officers and their agents for work as double agents. Gertz tries to get to the center of the mystery of how MSS was able to completely destroy the CIA’s networks in China through combination information from an operative within the CIA and communications system breach. An estimated 30 agents were caught of which three were killed.

Beyond its own human intelligence activities, the PLA, particularly what Gertz, as mentioned, still refers to as the 3rd Department of the PLA, has engaged in a cyber campaign which has inflicted considerable damage to include the theft of sensitive government trade and industrial secrets.

Much Gertz explains here, greatcharlie has also observed in previous posts that little progress has been made in halting it or even making a discernible dent in Chinese intelligence operations. Many minds in the US national security bureaucracies are certainly working fiercely on this matter of utmost importance, but too few facts have been collected for them to run on to break new ground or produce anything worthwhile for that matter. Trails of espionage may lead to the MSS and PLA, directly in many instances, but those who commit the devilry of spying on Beijing’s behalf, in the US and from China, are seldom caught. With estimates as high as 25,000 Chinese intelligence officers, operatives, and informants on the loose in the US, it is difficult even the most partisan observers such as greatcharlie to deny China has secured a massive advantage for itself. Publicly, there appears to be not much of anything comparable achieved to knock back Chinese espionage. If US counterintelligence services had ever managed to achieve some significant breakthrough on the Chinese intelligence front, one would hear “singing in the valleys.” US intelligence services, much as those of other countries, abhor the prospect of public scrutiny, but it is too late now to be concerned by such anxiety.

The deluge of Chinese espionage has torn away so much information, eroded so many formerly reliable defenses, that each day the situation moves closer to the tragic and the terrible. Hopefully, among possible dissenters, an interest, not solely due to exigency, will grow on the idea. Chinese intelligence services have hampered the work of US businesses, research and development firms, high-tech firms, academia, and the federal government itself. They have created spy networks within institutions critical to US economic security and defense. They have attempted to inconvenience the US in its efforts to improve bilateral and multilateral relations in under developed, less industrialized countries and even long time friends of the in certain regions, and multilateral institutions that the US actually had a hand in creating.

In Aristophanes’ play, Birds (414 BC), the character Epops states: “The wise can often profit by the lessons of a foe, for caution is the mother of safety. It is just such a thing as one will not learn from a friend and which an enemy compels you to know. To begin with, it’s the foe and not the friend that taught cities to build high walls, to equip long vessels of war; and it’s this knowledge that protects our children, our slaves and our wealth.” Chinese intelligence services, perhaps at one time, expecting to face something out of the ordinary, that US counterintelligence services would have a few tricks up their sleeves, have not been challenged in any way that has halted or deterred their cyberintelligence or human intelligence activities. Chinese intelligence services have unfortunately managed to do their job successfully, collecting mountains of secret and information from the government bureaucracies and research and development sites, private businesses, high-tech firms particularly, academia, and think tanks. Surely there must be an atmosphere of optimism in the halls of the headquarters buildings of the Chinese intelligence services. The Communist Party of China most likely delights that without openly admitting to possessing such intelligence capabilities, at least through perception, it has that power over the US. 

One can imagine that on more than one occasion, resources, energy, and time were squandered following a false scent. (God help those who have been wrongfully suspected and falsely accused by mistaken or errant officers of any of the US counterintelligence service. It happens. No amount of reparation could ever fix the psychological and material damage very likely done to innocent targets and their loss of reputation and honor.)

Nam qui peccare se nescit, corrigi non vult. (If one doesn’t know his mistakes, he won’t want to correct them.) Perhaps US counterintelligence services are applying old ways of thinking to a new type of intelligence struggle that bears little resemblance to previous ones. The key to it all remains out there somewhere. Finding those who would be capable and disposed to sniff it out using traces available would seem to be the real task ahead. One might presume that US counterintelligence services would hardly imagine anyone from outside the bureaucracy would be capable of producing some shred through their amateur study of the matter. Indeed, some senior executives and managers of US counterintelligence services, determined to stand as solid pillars of standard thinking and behavior that will not be blown down by the winds of change, may brook the idea of bringing in outsiders to handle sensitive matters. They may be mistaken. 

The solution to this espionage riddle, at least based on public reports, appears no closer within their reach. If the matter has not indeed already been settled, it may seem to some that it is at least at the edge of the end. The chance for US counterintelligence services to exhale will not come for a while. Chinese intelligence services do intend to let it come at all. US counterintelligence services have not despaired of getting a handle on the situation. Uppermost in the minds of senior executives and managers in US counterintelligence services is whether anyone within the bureaucracy can produce the magic that will allow them the ability to gain and retain the initiative in a cause that appears to be lost. They must press ahead on the forward foot.

A US B-2 bomber and two US F-22 fighter jets fly in formation (above). The rocky nature of US relations with China is a matter of great urgency. Yet, Gertz is not planting seeds of war in a time of peace. Despite how he labels his conclusion, he does not propose war as a solution. He still holds hope that US officials will come across something along the way that might bring a solution to the crisis. Gertz explains that there is a growing bipartisan political consensus that new strategies and policies urgently are needed to deal with China. Ostensibly to assist in that effort, he presents a set of 14 recommendations for a policy of liberation for the Chinese people from the yoke of Marxist-Leninism with Chinese characteristics.

Conclusion: What Is to Be Done? Declare China an Enemy, Liberate the Chinese People

Readers might recall the words of the 16th century Italian diplomat and political theorist Niccolo Machiavelli in his famous instruction guide for new princes and royals by The Prince (1532): “There are two ways of contesting, the one by the law, the other by force; the first method is proper to men, the second to beasts.” The rocky nature of US relations with China is a matter of great urgency. Yet, Gertz is not planting seeds of war in a time of peace. Despite how he labels his conclusion, he does not propose war as a solution. Prosing out on that matter, he still holds hope that US officials will come across something along the way that might help them develop a solution to the crisis.

Gertz explains that there is a growing bipartisan political consensus that new strategies and policies urgently are needed to deal with China. He does not believe it will be impacted by what he calls the national predicament, a seeming loss of clarity amid increased political polarization. To assist in finding that solution, he presents a set of 14 recommendations for what he hopes will be a policy of liberation for the Chinese people from the yoke of Marxist-Leninism with Chinese characteristics. Gertz emanates a sense of assurance in his writing that the recommendations he offers in Deceiving the Sky would obtain good results.

Each of the 14 recommendations is sufficiently self-explanatory, some are accompanied here with a précis of his summary on it or greatcharlie’s own comments on it. Together, his recommendations have a cumulative effect. They include: 1) Information: Conduct aggressive competition in the realm of ideas. He proffers that the first step in creating a free and democratic China would be regime change, an effort to peacefully oust Communist Party of China; 2) Reciprocity: Restrict access by China to the US in ways equal to Chinese restrictions. A key measure would be to counter Chinese financial warfare with a US program of economic warfare; 3) Intelligence: Shift the focus and operating methods of American intelligence toward more robust and aggressive operations and more effective analysis. Rather than accept being pushed back on its heels, Gertz recommends that the US Intelligence Community should step up aggressive intelligence and counterintelligence operations against the Communist Party of China and the PLA; 4) Foreign Policy/Diplomacy: Restructure and Reform the diplomatic system. Such reforms would need to be implemented in a way that would allow the US to better confront and counter growing Chinese hegemony; 5) Alliances: Create a pro-freedom, pro-prosperity, and pro-rule of law network in Asia. What was already seen in the Trump administration and still being seen in the Biden-Harris administration is Gertz recommendation that the US develop “a global network of democratic alliances targeting China that will seek to pressure Beijing into abandoning its totalitarian communist system and global designs.”; 6) Cultural/Educational: Severely restrict activities by Chinese nationals in the US who are abusing the American system. Gertz suggests that such activities should be restricted in recognition of the subversion and technology theft threats many unfortunately pose; 7) Counterintelligence: Major strategic counterintelligence operations and analyses should be implemented that focus on aggressively targeting Chinese intelligence and security services; 8) Economic: The US should begin a gradual policy of disengagement from Communist China economically; 9) Financial: Plan and carry out covert financial warfare operations against China; 10) Military Exchanges: The Pentagon and US Military must adopt a new policy that recognizes the Communist Party of China and the People’s Liberation Army as the main enemy; 11) Military Missile Defense: Expand American Regional missile defenses. As part of a strategy of neutralizing China’s massive and growing force of ballistic, cruise and hypersonic missiles, Gertz says US missile defenses around the world should be expanded; 12) Military Gray-Zone Warfare: Develop asymmetric warfare capabilities designed to negate Chinese military, cyber, electronic, and psychological warfare capabilities; 13) Political: Create a Parliament in exile. The creation of a “democratic Chinese parliament in exile” that will develop new policies for a free China is an old chestnut.; and, 14) Russia: Play the Russia card. One might call Gertz the suggestion that the US should play the “Russia card” against China by seeking a free and democratic Russia aligned with the free world somewhat fanciful.

Most notable to greatcharlie in the context of this review is Gertz’s recommendation on “Foreign Policy/Diplomacy: Restructure and Reform the diplomatic system.” In his summary of that recommendation, Gertz suggests that US diplomats and foreign service personnel should be retrained in the use of new and innovative diplomatic methods and techniques for the information age that emphasize successfully implementing new strategic objectives toward China that reject the failed diplomacy of the past. The new diplomacy will be rooted in honest assessments and understandings of the true nature of Communist China. A new objective will be to report on and take steps to force an end to the systematic abuse of human rights in China as a high priority. The US should seek to create a new alliance of nations that will seek to isolate China and spur internal democratic political reforms and promotion of freedom and free market systems in the region. Strategic and economic dialogues such as those in the past that produced no results must be ended. New engagement should be limited to conducting bilateral and multilateral talks on concrete, achievable objectives such as verifiable arms limitation and enforceable trade agreements. It certainly would not be velvety going forward if such a course were followed, but perchance US values and interests would be well-served.

In Deceiving the Sky, Gertz’s research sheds an extraordinary side light on the undeniably aggressive thinking of Beijing. While US political leaders are still in a position to reexamine the facts, they should do so. Surely, if any of them were to take the time to look at Gertz’s book with an open mind, it would given them the necessary nudge to begin thinking in that direction. Deceiving the Sky could also lend support to deliberations among colleagues on the matter. 

There are likely quite a few citizens in the US who have heard about China’s aggressive activities. Surely, they would appreciate reading Deceiving the Sky as it would provide them a firm basis for understanding the many issues involved. As greatcharlie has already stated in this review, information from the text that is discussed here only represents a fraction of what the reader will find in Deceiving the Sky. For greatcharlie, the book was both edifying and a pleasure to read. Without hesitation, greatcharlie recommends Deceivibg the Sky to its readers.

By Mark Edmond Clark

Meditations and Ruminations on Chinese Intelligence: Revisiting a Lesson on Developing Insights from Four Decades Ago

A most apparent sign of the presence of Chinese intelligence services in Hong Kong is this plaque outside the People’s Republic of China National Security Office there (above). This essay is as a companion piece to greatcharlie’s proceeding essays on Chinese intelligence services. For the scholar who is a regular reader of greatcharlie, the essay will hopefully be an interesting discussion on the function of intelligence services in China with respect to functions of services in the United Kingdom and the US. However, this essay has the additional purpose of serving as a vehicle to assist students. For students, this essay aims to ignite an inner-conversation of issues reviewed, in this case concerning intelligence, to promote their recognition of additional parallels and the development of further insights. Hopefully, students will evoke thoughts from their respective sources and lessons, but also from personal experience, and worldviews, and produce strong insights.

For a one man shop as greatcharlie, reviewing a voluminous quantity of sources in the preparation of the July 31, 2020 and August 31, 2020 posts entitled, “China’s Ministry of State Security: What Is This Hammer the Communist Party of China’s Arm Swings in Its Campaign Against the US? (Part 1 and 2 respectively), was, to a degree, an exercise in large data processing. Yet, while engaging in that consuming, yet satisfying process, the thoughts of greatcharlie’s founder and editor hearken back to an assignment received as an undergraduate at Columbia College, Columbia University in a course “The Politics of Policymaking.” The course instructor, Roger Hilsman (1919-2014), who was also the student advisor and mentor of greatcharlie’s editor, asked students to construct an essay or, as he dubbed it, a “thinkpiece,” in which they were required to present their “observations, meditations, ruminations, assumptions, and hypotheses” that billowed up after reading a primary or secondary source directly related to a foreign and national security policy topic covered in his class. (The source greatcharlie’s editor used, at the suggestion of Hilsman, was Glenn Paige’s The Korea Decision (June 24-30, 1950) (Macmillan, 1968).) However, Hilsman’s goal with the assignment was to encourage students to move away from simply regurgitating what was studied and writing the derivative college essay. Instead, he wanted students to evoke thoughts from their respective sources and lessons but also from personal experience, and their albeit youthful worldview, and draw from them their best insights on the topics they chose. For Hilsman, a phenomenal educator, the assignment was not founded upon some understanding of the requirements of analytical work in international affairs developed in the abstract, but rather, developed upon substantial experience preparing his own analyses and supervising and mentoring subordinates and colleagues in their analytical work in the US military, intelligence, and diplomatic arenas; real world! More specifically, Hilsman’s background included: studying at US Military Academy; service in Merrill’s Marauders and command of an Office of Strategic Services guerilla warfare battalion in Burma in World War II (Hilsman’s valorous service is superbly related in his memoir, American Guerilla: My War Behind Japanese Lines (Brassey’s, 1990)); his work as a military planner for NATO and the Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe; service in the administration of US President John Kennedy as Director of the Bureau of Intelligence and Research for the US Department of State; and, service as Assistant Secretary of State for Far Eastern Affairs in the administration of US President Lyndon Johnson.

Hilsman would not only transmit his sagacity through his “The Politics of Policymaking” course, but through discussions on policymaking and analysis that he had with students during seminars held at his residence were marked not only by the inspiration and encouragement he would give to students in their research and career plans, but also by a frankness and realism that would give them a leg up in future endeavors. The reminiscences Hilsman would share directly with greatcharlie’s founder and editor during office hours were from those periods of his life that are perhaps the most intriguing in his biography. During lectures, he would always provide a riveting anecdote from his experiences during the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis to accompany his “pearls of wisdom.” The student-teacher relationship between Hilsman and greatcharlie’s founder and editor was mentioned in a March 8, 2016 greatcharlie post entitled, “An Look at Stephen Marrin’s ‘Improving Intelligence Studies as an Academic Discipline’ and Remembering a Professor and Friend, Roger Hilsman.”

For student readers, this essay, divided into three segments, aims to ignite an inner-conversation of issues reviewed, in this case concerning intelligence, to promote their recognition of additional parallels, and to stimulate the development of further insights. Hopefully, by focusing on the topics discussed, students will evoke thoughts from their respective sources and lessons, but also from personal experience, and worldviews, and produce strong insights. The essay also aims to foster conscious critical reading of scholarly works by student readers. Some emphasis is placed on the sources themselves. Hopefully, reading about spies and spying makes this unsolicited bit of mentoring all the more interesting. For scholars who are regular readers of greatcharlie, the aim of the essay is to provide an edifying discussion on the function of intelligence in China relative to intelligence functions in the United Kingdom and the US. This essay also stands as a companion piece to greatcharlie’s preceding essays on Chinese intelligence services. While as a thinkpiece this essay may be limited in scope, greatcharlie surely has not touched bottom of its well of ideas on the subject of Chinese intelligence services. For greatcharlie, this “multipurpose” essay is only a part of its process of worming out the story of Chinese foreign intelligence and counterintelligence. Rapiamus, amici, occasionem de die. (Friends, let us seize the opportunity from (of) the day.)

MPS officer finger-wags a warning to photographer in Beijing (above). Except for experienced hands on China policy and the Chinese intelligence services and national security via diplomatic, intelligence, defense, military, or law enforcement work, most in the West have likely never heard of either. MPS is an organization under the State Council in charge of the country’s internal and political security and domestic intelligence. MSS, also under the State Council, is responsible for foreign intelligence, counterintelligence, and internal security as well.

I. MPS and MSS: Keystones of Chinese Intelligence

Two relatively quiet but absolutely key elements of the Chinese government that impact its foreign and national security policies: the Ministry of Public Security (MPS) and the Ministry of State Security (MSS). Except for experienced hands on Chinese foreign and national security policy and Chinese intelligence services via diplomatic, intelligence, defense, military, or law enforcement work, most in the West have likely never heard of either. MPS is an organization under the State Council in charge of the country’s internal and political security and domestic intelligence. MSS, also under the State Council, responsible for foreign intelligence, counterintelligence, and internal security as well. Their impact stems firstly through providing consumers in Beijing of analyzed information to include the Communist Party of China leadership, the Party’s key organs responsible for foreign and national security policy, government ministers, senior executives of relevant ministries and organizations of the State Council, as the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, with data that may shape their decisions. They additionally share what is collected and analyzed with the People’s Liberation Army (PLA). At times, that information is also collected and analyzed with the help of the military. The impact of the MPS and MSS is also demonstrated through contacts their officers and operatives respectively have daily with officials and staff of foreign governments as well as personnel at all levels of Chinese and foreign businesses engaged in international trade, high-tech-firms, defense contractors, financial institutions, academia, and organizations from all fields in China and worldwide.

The true foundations for MPS and MSS were 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 other 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 Mao Zedong 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 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 in 1949, a full array of government intelligence organizations were created to supplement Party-based intelligence services such as SAD. CDSA would draw information from foreign news agencies and open sources.

The Zhōnghuá Rénmín Gònghéguó Gōng’ānbù (Ministry of Public Security of the People’s Republic of China) or 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. 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. According to Xuezhi Guo in China’s Security State: Philosophy, Evolution, and Politics (Cambridge University Press, 2012), it took on the role of a security service in a manner based on Soviet and Eastern Bloc models. It eventually received responsibility for all aspects of security, from regular police work to intelligence, counterintelligence, and the suppression of anti-Communist political and social groups. That led to receiving  official jurisdiction over counter subversion, counterintelligence, and the conduct of 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. 

MPS made its way through the turbulent 1960s with the Cultural Revolution and dynamic changes in politics in the 1970s with the loss of Mao and the coming of Chairman Deng Xiaoping. By 1983, there was considerable frustration within 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 a new organization known as the Zhōnghuá Rénmín Gònghéguó Guójiā Ānquán Bù (Ministry for State Security of the People’s Republic of China) or the MSS. The Communist Party of China’s first big mission for MSS was to place focus on students in both China and abroad. Students had left no doubt that there was reason for the Chinese leaders to hold such concern after the Tiananmen Square protests. Chinese leaders struggled to deal with fallout from it. The sense of danger that students posed to the country was promoted with the announcement by Chinese authorities that some 200 Chinese had been accused of spying for the Soviet Union. When the reorganization of 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.

In the West, certainly the most significant, largest, and most powerful intelligence services reside in the US. However, the foundational intelligence services that was the model upon which the main US intelligence services have been based–as well as the services of many other countries–are those of the United Kingdom, namely the Security Service, known popularly as MI5, and the Secret Intelligence Service, known popularly as MI6. To provide a common point of reference regarding the type of intelligence services and activities performed by MPS and MSS, greatcharlie, perhaps going out on shaky ground, points to parallels between their roles in China and the roles of the Security Service and Special Intelligence Service MI6 for the United Kingdom. Before going forward with discussion here, it seems appropriate to at least broach some of more apparent distinctions between the services of the two countries. Two prominent works, central to the discussion here, are Christopher Andrew, Defend the Realm (Knopf, 2009) and Stephen Dorril, MI6: Inside the Covert World of Her Majesty’s Secret Intelligence Service (Free Press, 2000). Both scholars undertook Herculean tasks respectively and managed to fulfill them marvelously and masterfully. Both texts respectively hold richly textured accounts of intelligence activities at home and around the world, the British Empire as it still was for a time in the 20th Century. Both are major contributions to the scholarship on intelligence in the United Kingdom.

A clear-cut comparison of MI5 and MI6 side-by-side with MPS and MSS is admittedly not possible. Plainly, there is no moral equivalence between MI5 and MI6 and their opposites, MPS and MSS. What the United Kingdom and Chinese intelligence services would call successful operations based on the respective goals of political authorities are quite disparate. Officers of the respective countries’ intelligence services are certainly not birds of a feather. Additionally, and importantly, MI5 and MI6 are the opponents of MPS and MSS, and visa-versa. Enlarging on the point of the political authorities they obey, the respective societies and political authorities, that the intelligence services of the United Kingdom and China serve, are considerably divergent, and founded on disparate philosophies. The United Kingdom is a parliamentary democracy under a constitutional monarchy. Despite having the structure, the veneer, of being a multiparty system at the national level, for all intents and purposes, China is a single party, Communist, police state. 

Quaeritur belli exitus, non causa. (Of war men ask the outcome, not the cause.) At a basic level with regard to intelligence services, moral principle and philosophy, in this case whether recognized as being based on Judeo-Christian values, Liberalism, Capitalism, Communism, Socialism, Maoism, or otherwise, is not method. Method is method. Philosophy is philosophy. Moreover, in the intelligence industry, results are what matter most. To that extent, at the basic level, the work of the two services are going to have sufficient likenesses to suggest parallels and comparisons. It is on such a basic level that the parallels and comparisons have been made in the discussion here. With this in mind, hopefully scholars will be open to considerations presented.

Two MPS officers operating high-tech optical equipment in Beijing (above). To provide a common point of reference regarding the type of intelligence services and activities performed by MPS and MSS, greatcharlie, perhaps going out on shaky ground, points to parallels between their roles in China and the roles of the Security Service and Special Intelligence Service MI6 for the United Kingdom. Before going forward with discussion here, it seems appropriate to at least broach some of more apparent distinctions between the services of the two countries. A clear-cut comparison of MI5 and MI6 side-by-side with MPS and MSS is admittedly not possible. at the basic level, the work of the two services are going to have enough likenesses to suggest parallels and comparisons. It is on such a basic level that the parallels and comparisons have been made in the discussion here.

Using MI5 as a Yardstick to Gauge MPS and Its Activities

The Security Service, known informally and hereinafter referred to in this essay as MI5, is the United Kingdom’s government agency assigned with managing the country’s internal security. It is authorized to investigate any person or movement that might threaten the country’s security. Although MI5 is responsible for domestic counterespionage, it has no powers of arrest. MI5’s motto is: Regnum Defende (Defend the Realm). The Secret Intelligence Service, known informally and hereinafter referred to in this essay as MI6, is the United Kingdom’s government agency responsible for the collection, analysis, and appropriate dissemination of foreign intelligence. MI5 has only a few thousand employees. It is headquartered in London, at Thames House. MI5 is a component of a vast intelligence apparatus in the United Kingdom. Reportedly, command and control is directed via no less than four entities: the Central Intelligence Machinery, the Ministerial Committee on the Intelligence Services, the Permanent Secretaries’ Committee on the Intelligence Services, and the Joint Intelligence Committee. Communications intelligence is the responsibility of the Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ), which works closely with the Communications Electronics Security Group, while a number of agencies manage military intelligence under the aegis of the Ministry of Defense. Even London’s Metropolitan Police, or Scotland Yard, has its own Special Branch concerned with intelligence.

While MI5 is the agency responsible for the internal security of the United Kingdom, it primarily provides security services and intelligence operations within England and Wales. Its current role was best expressed by the Crown Minister in 1945, with regard to its postwar raison d’être: “The purpose of the Security Service is defense of the Realm and nothing else.” MI5 reports to the Home Secretary of the Home Office. It may be confused as being a domestic law enforcement organization, but it is far from that. To perform the internal security function, MI5’s activities include: domestic counterintelligence; counterespionage; counterterrorism, counterproliferation, and cyber work within the country and protective details for many top government officials. Its officers do not have authority to arrest citizens. When needed, MI5 will work in close cooperation with London’s Metropolitan Police Service (headquartered at New Scotland Yard) and other local police agencies within England and Wales. This is especially when it concerns their efforts to fight domestic terrorism. MI5 may also interface with MI6 when foreign intelligence and domestic intelligence activities intersect.

It cannot be overemphasized that MI5 is a secretive organization. Well back in 1931, the firm instruction to a new employee was: “No one, not even our own families, should be told where we worked or for whom.”  The existence of MI5 was not acknowledged officially until 1979, when Mrs Thatcher unmasked Sir Anthony Blunt as the Fourth Man in a statement to the House of Commons. Its head was publicly named for the first time in 1991. It was also at that time when some previously classified information about MI5, such as the number of its employees and its organizational structure, was made public. During the past three decades, MI5 worked its way through a number of scandals–to include incessant hunts for apparently nonexistent moles–that further tarnished its reputation in many circles. Reflective of British culture, members of the intelligence services, from top to bottom, were unwilling to display any disappointment or hurt and never looked to cry on anyone’s shoulder. They remained reticent about attitudes toward them and placid, straightforward, as they performed their work. Somewhere along the line, a solution was found. The decision was made to release their stories, not to drain themselves out, but let little bit find its ways into the public marketplace to unmask appearances public relations-wise. Through the use of surrogate voices, a sudden fracture in the marble reveals the interior. The inner life. Studies were commissioned to tell their stories, to the extent possible.

Most relevant in Andrew’s Defend the Realm to the examination of MI5 in this essay, are anecdotes loaded with insights on events that were in their time of the utmost importance. Those cases chronicalized, carefully selected from MI5’s storied past, and detailed the complex nature of MI5’s modern day work is revealed. Additionally, from Andrew’s work, one receives a picture of MI5 as a tightly-knit institution, in which many officers keep body and soul together, and others actually thrive, in its atmosphere of secrecy. Based on what has been made public, in an investigation of a threat to the United Kingdom, MI5 officers will usually seek to gather covert intelligence directly. Often, they operate openly and declare themselves as representatives of foreign intelligence services to their host country. The methods used by MI5 officers vary widely, and are often limited only by their ingenuity. Armed with a suite of the latest high-tech tools for surveillance, they will use it to eavesdrop, tap telephone calls and communicate secretly. Normally, MI5 officers will recruit spies to obtain intelligence on their behalf. 

More formally, a spy working for MI5 is known as a “covert human intelligence source,” but in the United Kingdom, spies are more commonly referred to as agents (Interestingly, in the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), a covert human intelligence source is called an “informant” rather than an “agent.” Such agents have been consistently referred to as operatives by greatcharlie.) MI5 agents will do far more than just inform about people and events. Agents secretly provide private information to which few or no others might have access, as well as classified information to an officer. An agent will probably not be a professional “spy” but an MI5 intelligence officer will usually provide them with some basic instruction in tradecraft, espionage methods. The human relationship between intelligence officers and their agents remains a key element of espionage.

MI5’s earliest precursor was a secret service formed in 1569 by Sir Francis Walsingham, who later became secretary of state to Elizabeth I. What came to be called MI5 was formed in 1909 under the leadership of Vernon Kell, then a captain in the British army, to identify and counteract German spies then working in the United Kingdom. It performed that task with great effect. MI5 originally stood for “Military Intelligence [Department] 5.” (In fact, there were a number of departments within the Directorate of Military Intelligence–MI1 through MI19–which dealt with a range of issues. MI1, for instance, was responsible for code-breaking, and MI2 handled Russian and Scandinavian intelligence. The responsibilities of these departments were either discontinued or absorbed into The War Office, MI5 and MI6 and, later, the Government Communications Headquarters.) After World War I, MI5 remained in place as part of the United Kingdom’s effort to centralize control of intelligence functions. In 1931, MI5 was renamed the Security Service, but was still commonly known as MI5 then as it is today. About the time it was renamed, MI5 was paired with MI6, under the Defence Ministry and functioned with a “combined staff” of only two men. Kell, MI5 founder, remained in charge of the agency until 1940. During World War II, with far more staff, MI5 enjoyed a considerable number of successes. One was the Double-Cross System, which fed disinformation to Nazi Germany. For the most part, however, it is recognizably difficult to measure MI5’s success, since it can only be judged by things which do not happen, such as the prevention of sabotage. 

There was initial period of confusion at the start of World War II as a MI5 was inundated with work and had too few staff at all levels to handle it. Missteps led to “life-saving” reforms with the coming of Sir David Petrie in April 1941. MI5 is better known in the war as having achieved great success in uncovering Nazi agents in the United Kingdom. Captured Nazi records studied after 1945 indicated almost all of the Nazi agents working against the United Kingdom were captured. The exception was ine the committed suicide. MI5 managed to recruit a number of the enemy agents to become counterespionage agents for the service and fed false information to the enemy concerning military strategy during the war. MI5 executed the famous “Double Cross” system which was a deception that supported the success of the D-Day Invasion at Normandy in 1944. A proud episode for MI5 was its defense of Gibraltar from enemy agents and saboteurs throughout the war.

MI5 engaged in a hard fought struggle with Soviet, Eastern Bloc and Chinese espionage efforts in the United Kingdom. The situation was made more difficult was the rise in IRA terrorism during the Troubles. One MI5 renowned victories was its uncovering of Soviet Union’s most valuable agents was exposed. However, MI5’s record during the Cold War, actually was mixed. There were a number of widely publicized blunders during that period. The Soviet Union was found to have deeply penetrated MI5, as well as MI6 which reportedly undermined the public’s confidence in the organization.

Low morale reportedly plagued MI5 after the end of the Cold War and the Good Friday agreement of 1998, which led to massive cutbacks. The agency’s focus would eventually shift after the Cold War from counter-espionage and counter-subversion to counterterrorism. That shift was given greater emphasis following the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in the US, and counterterrorism became a role of the utmost importance following the July 7, 2005 and July 11, 2005 terrorist bombings in the United Kingdom. MI5’s ranks were filled out rapidly, and within it was a renewed sense of purpose. Today, counterterrorism operations still account for much of MI5’s activities. 

Not all of the anecdotes that Andrew offers spotlight the valor of its officers. There are some of the rather lurid intrigues. They include a cast of cheats, schemers, supplanters, unsavory allegiances, and unimaginable acquaintances. One dare not imagine the sensibilities of the errant individuals behind them. In the discussion of the work done within the analytical shops of MI5, the finer shades of analysis and deduction are spotlighted. Information was looked upon pathologically as the source of motives, clues, indications, and implications. With that analyzed information, MI5 leaders would speak truth other power, whatever it came upon, no matter how offensive, it was told straight.

Zhao Kezhi, State Councilor of the People’s Republic of China and the Minister and Party Committee Secretary of the Ministry of Public Security, with the top police officer rank of Police Commissioner General (above). MPS senior executives are influential members of the Communist Party of China senior ranks, What often compels the Communist Party of China to select requirements and direction for Chinese Intelligence is not necessarily based on Maoist thought as much as political expedience, necessity, and personal interests. As a consequence, finding the truth is not always the main goal of MPS in its intelligence, counterintelligence, or law enforcement pursuits. That is the type of relation that Chinese intelligence services have with the Communist Party from their very beginning.

Intelligence Work of MPS

If one placed the history of Chinese intelligence alongside that of the United Kingdom, one would find that the craft of intelligence was studied in China long before the idea of formally organizing intelligence activity was manifested in 16th century England. The most illustrious expressions of intelligence concepts and methods in China was in Chapter 13 of The Art of War, a treatise dating from the 5th century by the Chinese military strategist Sun Tzu. Chapter 13 focused on the importance of developing good information sources, and identified five specific types of intelligence sources along with ways to best manage each. However, the lineage of modern Chinese intelligence services,  as noted earlier, have more recent beginnings in the era of Mao. Similarities between MPS and MI5 exist insomuch that it is the Chinese intelligence service charged with internal security and domestic counterintelligence activities of China. It investigates and acts against any person or movement that might threaten China’s security, but unlike MI5, its officers have the power to arrest. In addition to its performing those standard domestic functions as an intelligence service, MPS is very much tied to the Communist Party of China to maintain control of the population and maintain the Communist order. To that extent, it has remained obedient to the ever shifting requests and requirements the Party issues to it. To be more specific concerning the responsibilities of MPS, they include: preventing, stopping and investigating criminal activities; fighting against terrorist activities; maintaining stability and order; administering to transport, fire fighting and dangerous objects; administering to household registration, identification cards, nationality as well as entry, status and exit of Chinese and foreign nationals; maintaining border security; protecting persons, venues and facilities as designated by the state; managing gatherings, parades and demonstrations; supervising public information networks; supervising security concerning state organizations, social organizations, enterprises, institutions, and large construction sites; and, guiding community security commissions.

The Communist Party of China has hardly proven to be pristine in practicing what it preaches. What often compels the Communist Party of China to select requirements and direction for Chinese Intelligence is not necessarily based on Maoist thought as much as political expedience, necessity, and personal interests. As a consequence, finding the truth is not always the main goal of MPS in its intelligence, counterintelligence, or law enforcement pursuits. Normally, finding the truth is sine qua non among intelligence and counterintelligence services, and law enforcement. To fail to find the truth, well-aware that one holds a paucity of facts, information and data, is to fail oneself. Naturally, being aware of the existence of information that contradicts one’s initial hypothesis and doing nothing to dig deeper is counterintuitive.  Having stated that, in the intelligence industry, the slightest deviation from the course ordered on an investigation to satisfy the requirements of the powers that be throw the rules out of the window. However, when tasked directly by the Communist Party of China, the truth lies in what the Party says the truth is. If MPS officers were to present findings from an investigation that held information contradicting the truth as declared by the Communist Party of China, they would unlikely garner understanding from their respective national provincial, or municipal senior executives and managers. In the best case scenario, the ironic admonition might come from on high to stick with the primary problem instead of rooting around at “extraneous matters.” That is the type of relationship that Chinese intelligence services have had with the Communist Party from their very beginning. They are charged with the responsibility for ensuring the tranquility of order. From outside of China, one can freely call the well-experienced intelligence officers who fill the ranks of MPS as tragedians, specializing in a very tragic role for their country.

Manifestations of Political Pushes from Behind in MI5’s Past

In examining MPS, it cannot be stressed enough that it is a political creature of the Communist Party of China. MI5’s circumstances are not remotely similar. MI5 is not an organization designed intrinsically to service the political interests of political authorities. However, there have been occasions when political authorities have misused the vital security arm by using pressure to influence its actions, for purposes that were questionable. Shockingly, the MI5 carried out secret surveillance of the colonial delegations which came to London to discuss terms for independence in the 1950s and 1960s. Andrew gives a disturbing account of the stealthy gathering of intelligence on the delegates attending conferences which negotiated the independence of Cyprus and Kenya. The Home Secretary, Rab Butler, cynically condoned these operations on the grounds that “obviously the product was of great importance and of great value to the government negotiators”.

In most of the British Empire, claims Andrew, MI5 contributed to a smooth transfer of power through the work of its liaison officers. However in Guyana, where United Kingdom Prime Minister Sir Winston Churchill wanted to “break the Communist teeth,” a shameful exception was witnessed. MI5 obediently provided support for the United Kingdom and US covert action to oust the democratically-elected Cheddi Jagan from power. Andrew claims that the dominant intelligence agency in the years leading up to Guyana’s independence in 1966 was the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). However,  MI5, and thereby the government of the United Kingdom, nevertheless had a hand in the affair. 

In the present day, such outcomes are certainly not intended in MI5, an organization tasked and trusted to protect and serve the United Kingdom. To ensure that remains so, the Ministerial Committee on the Intelligence Services exercises regular ongoing oversight of intelligence activities. Through this committee, the Prime Minister, with the assistance of the Secretary of the Cabinet, exercises authority over the daily operations of the British intelligence and security communities as a whole. The Home Secretary oversees MI5, as well as the National Criminal Intelligence Service and Scotland Yard. To the extent that there is always the need for such a degree of oversight from above, one must never overlook the shadowy side of the business. It is at the core of intelligence work. There is a reality that by doing the dirty work, the people of the United Kingdom are allowed to sleep peacefully at night. When the situation is dire and urgent enough, use has been made of agent provocateurs who may take direct action to maintain their bona fides within their groups for the organization’s purposes.

Today, officers join and serve MI5 with the belief that its work has much to do with the wider good. As the targets of MI5 efforts are the terrorists or the war criminals or the nuclear proliferators. There is an understanding how the need to approach a matter of the utmost importance with the most effective method available can subordinate all else. Whether or not exigent circumstances permit, there at least exists the earnest aim among them to defend the values of the United Kingdom’s liberal democracy. Unlike its counterpart in the Chinese intelligence services, MPS, causing harm to the free people of their own country, who are living within the law, is never the intended purpose of MI5. Indeed, while also ostensibly tasked and trusted to protect and serve the people of their country. MPS keeps a boot not only to the neck of criminals and true threats within China, but of groups of innocent citizens labeled as undesirable by the Communist Party of China, and doing that appalling work at the Party’s behest, to be frank, could be ascribed as an essential part of their raison d’etre.

Other Ugly Truths

As long as humans are involved in an organization and its plans and activities, rarely will outcomes be perfect. It could be expected to be imperfect shaped by mistakes, misjudgments, biases, and emotions. To that extent, there is no purpose here to establish MI5 as a paragon of moral behavior. In its history, mistakes were made. Pointing to them means admitting to the truth. (Interestingly, the historical record indicates the nearly contemporary national intelligence service has suffered from its share of mistakes.) What can be greatly appreciated in Defend the Realm is that Andrew tells the MI5 story straight. The ugly truth as told, creates some disappointment, yet from it, lessons were certainly made available that would allow for the organization’s improvement. According to Andrew, recruitment within MI5 was perhaps the most outward expression of inward thinking in the organization. It was surely not acceptable by today’s standards intellectually, morally, ethically, and professionally. Indeed, within the organization itself, MI5, a public service, did not advertise openly for recruits before 1997. Up to that point, recruitment was based on personal recommendation. This was a narrow social group, many of whom had served in India or elsewhere in the Empire. To that extent, the organization was sure to recruit “from good Anglo-Saxon stock.” Reportedly, male officers listed their recreations as cricket and hunting, while female officers were graduates of elite schools and universities

Right up to the mid-1970s, the post-war Security Service refused to recruit Jews on the grounds that a dual loyalty to both Israel and the United Kingdom might create a conflict of interest. This was “inexcusable,” Andrew rightly observes. There was also a very disturbing attitude taken toward Blacks interested in joining the Security Service. In 1949, then Deputy Director General Guy Liddell told the Joint Intelligence Committee: “It was true that niggers coming here often went to the C[ommunist] P[arty].” That fact that he held such appalling racist views were reinforced when he explained there was no doubt in his mind that “West African natives are wholly unfitted for self-rule.” There was a sour spirit to it all. Yet, that was the spirit of the moment. A sort of “pigs in clover” self-satisfaction influenced and distorted thinking in the world of that past era.

While MI5 was busy keeping some citizens out of its intelligence service, its rank and file was surprised to discover who they had let in. In 1951, as the result of the decrypted telegram of the Soviet Union’s Komitet Gosudarstvennoy Bezopasnosti (the Committee for State Security) or KGB, that any of the Cambridge Five–then current or former all MI5 or MI6 employees, who were recruited as spies by the Soviets in the 1930s when they were young misguided Communists at Cambridge University–were identified. The bombshell revelation sent shock waves through the halls of MI5. In response, MI5 initiated an investigation that lasted 30 years in order to get to the bottom of the matter.

Among other unfortunate episodes for MI5 was the “Wilson plot” of the 1970s in which United Kingdom Prime Minister Harold Wilson was accused of being a Soviet agent–the information came from the CIA’s Counterintelligence Division, James Jesus Angleton based on claims of questionable source. MI5 investigated the claims and found them to be false. There was also the “Death on the Rock” case in 1988 in which MI5 with Spanish authorities were alarmed about three members of the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) Belfast Brigade who travelled to Spain. It was presumed that they planned an attack against British troops in Gibraltar. MI5 intended to capture the IRA members with the assistance of the British Army’s Special Air Service Regiment cooperation of Spanish Authorities, but all three were killed in the process.

Zhao Kezhi, State Councilor of the People’s Republic of China and the Minister and Party Committee Secretary of the Ministry of Public Security, with the top police officer rank of Police Commissioner General (above). MPS senior executives are influential members of the Communist Party of China senior ranks, What often compels the Communist Party of China to select requirements and direction for Chinese Intelligence is not necessarily based on Maoist thought as much as political expedience, necessity, and personal interests. As a consequence, finding the truth is not always the main goal of MPS in its intelligence, counterintelligence, or law enforcement pursuits. That is the type of relation that Chinese intelligence services have with the Communist Party from their very beginning.

The Communist Party of China’s Political Manipulation of the MPS Today

It would appear that the leadership of the Communist Party of China is usually distressed exceedingly when even the mere suggestion is made that some underlying evil is present in the decisions and actions of the Chinese government towards its own people. There is the insistence by the Communist Party of China that it acts only in their best interests and the thinking behind each choice is gifted by what their Western counterparts would call scruple. Thus, when any reports, photos, or videos of the actual treatment of ethnic and religious minorities in China are secreted out of the country and headlined in the West or anywhere else in the world, it is nothing less than an absolute disaster. The belief among Communist Party of China’s leadership and members that China’s Communust society is near perfect and would be best for the world is a belief in a false reality. The prospect of any citizen or any foreigner, unmasking the appearance created by Beijing of China being an advanced industrialized society and superior culture truly seems to terrify the Communist Party of China. Burned rotten by somewhat regular investigative reports and exposé documentaries, written and produced in the West, they, without fail, will attempt to cover their traces rather than spill it out. Government and Party spokespeople will roar about China’s innocence and the false and bizarre nature of what is reported. Trying to figuratively get the toothpaste back into the tube has never worked though. Focusing on what it can control, the Communist Party of China engages continuously in an effort to grease the wheels of citizens thinking to ensure that it always slides in its favor and toward appreciation of the Communist Revolution. To stanch the thickening of misgivings among the Chinese people toward its actions, ever present are warnings to citizens to guard themselves against foreign agents, look upon foreigners with some suspicion, and be cognizant of the possibility of unwittingly giving cause for foreign agents to trace them and spot them as potential recruits as spies and informants through seemingly innocuous contact.

The Communist Party of China has long acknowledged that there is always a threat that could arise from the “unsuccessful” education of Chinese citizens. A symptom of that would be the attraction to materialistic symbols of success for the former bourgeoisie class apparatus of success: business success, homes, cars, things constructed around people. It was what identified them as being above the proletariat, the working class. In China, given its relative prosperity, there exists the fear among leaders of the Communist Party and government bureaucracies that the bourgeoisie existence of the West would insinuate itself in the thinking of Chinese citizens and become a preference in their minds. Any aspiration created for what the West has to offer not under controlled circumstances could figuratively spread among the people much as a virus, infecting the proletariat, potentially creating some mass disaffection toward the system. Perhaps such sensibilities reveal a secret doubt that Chinese citizens could see that so-called ideals of Maoist Thought and Marxist-Leninism had been betrayed or perhaps were simply Utopian, and that they would desire great changes. Communist Party of China leaders determined long ago that the response to this threat needed to be strong enough to match “the severity of the disease.” 

As part of its efforts at population control, the Chinese government insists that the people keep a watchful eye over threats to the new system. It was understood that the reactionary, the counterrevolutionary, most often “hiding in the shadows,” posed the greatest threat and was viewed as anathema. It was in the performance of the mission to discourage, punish and obliterate that threat that the MPS earned a reputation for being the horrifically oppressive cats paw of the authoritarian regime. The MPS has interfered in interactions and relationships between citizens, ordered citizens to spy on their fellow citizens, demanded that they betray one another, regularly performed intrusive and demeaning searches of citizens’ person, homes, and workplaces. There have been arrests of many innocent citizens, accompanied by abusive and endless interrogations. The shadow of sudden death hangs over the head of any individual in MPS custody.

As of late, what should be of greatest concern is the approach the MPS has been taking toward foreign visitors. (The matter is elaborated upon later in this essay.) As a practice, foreigners, especially, Westerners, are closely observed and often investigated by provincial offices and local MPS stations. Under such circumstances, there is always a real possibility that one might be arrested or “briefly” detained for questioning, would be created. Foreign visitors who have faced such treatment have almost immediately become the center of a frightful international incidents, which is actually the goal of Chinese authorities. Regardless of one’s status in the US, it can happen in China. Reportedly, the attempt has been made with some foreigners to persuade with the pressure of interviews, interrogation, and detainment or use certain manipulations to convince them to let themselves go and reveal “the truth.” Telling the truth would mean copping to preconceived ideas held by their interrogators about their alleged wicked missions against the People’s Republic of China. The treatment of Chinese citizens detained by the MPS for even lesser “offenses,” is always decidedly worse.

The Beijing Municipal Public Safety Bureau Office Building (above) MPS counterintelligence officers will regularly collect and closely review reports on a foreigner’s behavior via informants among neighbors in the vicinity of their residence and locals among colleagues at work. They would be interested in knowing if they have engaged in behaviors that would make them open to recruitment. Their attitudes toward China and its system would be important. The friendships they have made would be of interest. Assessments of what type of temptations could be used to bring them to China’s side will be based on observations of the foreigner’s lifestyle. MPS officers have no qualms about exploiting individual weaknesses.

Multi cives aut ea pericula quae imminent non vident aut ea quae vident neglegunt. (Many citizens either do not see those dangers which are threatening or they ignore those that they see.) Spin concerning the maltreatment of ethnic and religious groups is propagated through narratives in the state-run news media of how much the Communist Party of China is doing to protect China from enemies, domestic and foreign, at the hands of which the Chinese people have suffered for so long. Nevertheless, a good number of Chinese people are aware that one cannot know with certainty what is real from what one hears from the government. However, holding a secret doubt about the system in China can lead to a solitary despair. The secret doubt becomes dissatisfaction with one’s work and one’s situation which can become a full-blown loathing of the system. Soon after may come the rejection of authorities. In response to conditions forced upon them, being subjected to humiliations, Chinese citizens of some ethnic and religious minorities have acted in protest, releasing a sense of frustration. Becoming vocal may relieve his sense of frustration for the moment will only open the door to far greater problems. To Chinese government authorities, it represents nothing less than a social dissembling within those groups.

Loyal Communist Party members can hardly understand that any other citizen’s disillusionment or disappointment in government efforts to respond to their needs could be based in logic. Thereby, the attitudes of those citizens are irrational and reactionary. Surely, those approached by MPS display intense emotions, very likely overwhelmed by great fear and sheer terror, given an expectation the worst will befall them given the organization’s reputation, would avail themselves to be apprehended and held indefinitely as their situation would immediately be converted into a psychiatric issue. After all, any charge will do. The goal is to cull the so-called threatening population by plausibly arresting benign citizens and warehousing them away from their homes. One can only imagine that it would mean for those declared to have psychiatric issues to be placed in the hands of medical professionals linked to the MPS. MPS officers are apparently not timid to draw very false, aberrant, far-fetched inferences from fact collected during investigations. Of course, no professional ethics, no moral principles founded upon religion, and no less spiritually based philosophy of humanism could not obstruct such actions. Ethnic and religious minorities must feel akin to big chickens in a world of foxes.

A principle is a precise standard, a course of conduct you are committed to, a way of life that you live by. Adherence to principles, has little meaning to the Communist Party of China unless the principles adhered to are those of the Party. Publicly available sources show that Beijing considers Falungong, Tibetans, Uyghur Muslims, democracy activists and pro-independence Taiwanese undesirables as they adhere to principles and a way of life adverse to that insisted upon by the Communist Party of China. They have been named the “five poisons” that constitute the greatest threat to Beijing’s rule. Tibetans, Uyghur Muslims, in particular, are essentially looked upon as vindictive ill-balanced creatures of China’s hinterland.

As noted here MI5 unfortunately has a record of past mistakes and poor judgment, too, and fortunately from that history, lessons have certainly been learned. Yet still, making mistakes and misjudgments is a far cry different from being deliberately bad, acting the name of injustice and engaging in cruelty, based on a contrived motive and without any reasonable provocation. MPS currently engages in activities which, not to apportion wickedness, manifest just how different the two intelligence services really are. MPS, as an organization, espouses great anger about ethnic and religious minorities, dubbing them activists, reactionaries, counterrevolutionaries, and terrorists, and for the sake of the Communist Party of China and the Communist Revolution, has done what it does best, acted aggressively toward such “threats.” If one is of a ethnic group or religious groups at variance with the Communist Party of China, and consequently under the thumb of the MPS, one will have the sense of being in contact with an evil of an exceptional nature. In recent years, egregious abuses have increased through government policies under the pretext and justification of fighting the “three evils” of “ethnic separatism, religious extremism, and violent terrorism.” 

Tibet is an autonomous region in the People’s Republic of China. The region has historically been the home to ethnic Tibetans, among others ethnic groups. It is the spiritual home of Tibetan Buddhism and the traditional seat of the Dalai Lama. China  has long considered Tibet to be part of its historical empire. In 1951, China occupied Tibet and took control of the region. Many Tibetans believe the region was illegally incorporated into China and have pressed for independence. A Tibetan independence movement has been calling for the independence of Tibet and political separation from China. That independence movement is largely supported by the diaspora of ethnic Tibetans worldwide. During periods of repression and martial law in the region, it is believed that the Chinese government has killed thousands of Tibetans. The Chinese government has referred to Tibetans as one of “the five poisons” threatening China’s stability. Omnis enim ex infirmitate feritas est. (All savageness is a sign of weakness.)

Tibetans detained by MPS officers facing judgment in court (above). China has long considered Tibet to be part of its historical empire. In 1951, China occupied Tibet and took control of the region. Many Tibetans believe the region was illegally incorporated into China and have pressed for independence. A Tibetan independence movement has been calling for the independence of Tibet and political separation from China. That independence movement is largely supported by the diaspora of ethnic Tibetans worldwide. During periods of repression and martial law in the region, it is believed that the Chinese government has killed thousands of Tibetans. The Chinese government has referred to Tibetans as one of “the five poisons” threatening China’s stability

Regarding the Uyghurs, the Chinese Communist Party is waging a targeted campaign against Uyghur women, men, and children, and members of other Turkic Muslim minority groups in Xinjiang, China. Abuses have included coercive population control through forced abortion, forced sterilization, and involuntary implantation of birth control; the detention of more than one million Uyghurs, ethnic Kazakhs, ethnic Kyrgyz, and members of other Muslim minority groups in internment camps; forced labor in facilities nearby or affiliated with the internment camps; the destruction and closure of mosques and other religious sites, prevention of youths from participating in religious activities, forced political indoctrination or “re-education.” A commonality among the homelands of the different ethnic and religious groups in China is the fact that they are depressed regions with unemployment, poor infrastructure and many structures tumbled down. Interdum volgus rectum videt, est ubi peccat. (At times the world sees straight, but many times the world goes astray.)

Regarding religious minorities, during the first thirty years of its existence, the Communist Party of China committed itself to making atheist Marxism the fundamental ideology of the country. depriving the Chinese people of their constitutional right of religious liberty. There is a clarity and certainty that comes from being able to know another’s origins. One place to look to identify, research, is to study a the  of culture, history, customs, that may shape the subject’s attitudes and behaviors, worldview. Adherence to religion, culture and identity as well, stiffens resistance to authoritarian pressures and coercion, and girds uncommon perseverance. To that extent, the Communist Party of China surely fears citizens’ adherence to their religions and cultures, and the rejection of Communism. In response to that threat, Beijing has formulated and implemented new policies, regulations, and legislation impacting religious freedom have been created and implemented, particularly since 1979. The idea of it all being to surgically strip citizens of their ethnicity, culture, and religion, thereby smother the individual’s identity, leaving the individual with nothing to grab onto, except Mao’s teachings on Chinese Communism. In the report of the US Congressional Executive Commission on China (CECC), 2017 Annual Report 127 (October 5, 2017), it is noted that Chinese authorities commonly prosecute Falun Gong practitioners under article 300 of the People’s Republic of China Criminal Law. That information was found on the official Chinese government “anti-cult website.” In February 2018, a woman in Beijing was convicted of “using cult organizations to obstruct the enforcement of laws” under article 300 of the Criminal Law. The woman was sentenced to one and half years in prison and a fine for publicly advocating “the evil cult Falun Gong.” Falungong, essentially an anti-Communist China spiritual group, was banned by Beijing in 1999, having been labeled an “evil cult.”  In 2014, a leader of the Church of Almighty God, a quasi-Christian group also known as Eastern Lightning, was also convicted of “using cult organizations to obstruct the enforcement of laws” and sentenced to four years in prison. That church is now officially banned.

Reportedly, MPS has detained or otherwise restricted the freedom of Catholic leaders in both the underground and official churches. The government has reportedly pushed for Chinese Catholic bishops to be selected through the patriotic religious organizations and then ordained by Chinese bishops without the involvement of the Holy See. Chinese officials have also reportedly subjected Protestant Christian beliefs and practices to a wide range of restrictions. Beijing reportedly pressured unregistered house churches to join the officially recognized religious organization, the Three-Self Patriotic Movement. Protestant house churches faced raids during church gatherings, eviction from meeting spaces, and official bans on worship. Martin Luther King, Jr. said that “The moral arc of the universe bends toward justice.” While that may be true, it surely has not bent so much in China’s direction yet. Iniqua nunquam regna perpetuo manent. (Unjust rule never abides continually.)

Uyghur citizens seated in formation in a detention center (above). Regarding the Uyghurs, the Chinese Communist Party is waging a targeted campaign against Uyghur women, men, and children, and members of other Turkic Muslim minority groups in Xinjiang, China. Abuses have included coercive population control through forced abortion, forced sterilization, and involuntary implantation of birth control; the detention of more than one million Uyghurs, ethnic Kazakhs, ethnic Kyrgyz, and members of other Muslim minority groups in internment camps; forced labor in facilities nearby or affiliated with the internment camps; the destruction and closure of mosques and other religious sites, prevention of youths from participating in religious activities, forced political indoctrination or “re-education.”

II. The Role of the MSS in China’s National Security Bureaucracy

As aforementioned, Chinese intelligence services, in terms of task and purpose, work within an authoritarian government and must be viewed as a different kettle of fish than the services of the United Kingdom. Having created the space and acquiring the flexibility over the past few decades to allow the service to evolve into the elite, very capable intelligence service the Communist Party of China originally wanted it to be, MSS senior executives and managers have now figuratively declared “game on” to China’s competitors and adversaries. The mission, as originally intended, has not changed much since 1983. Overall, it is now defined as collecting solid intelligence from the inner workings and the very top of foreign military, diplomatic, political, economic, financial, scientific, educational, media, communications, and social institutions. By conventional wisdom, one might proffer those are its priorities. It is surely what Beijing wants now and it is what MSS is chasing after. Its tactics, techniques, procedures and methods are surely more refined than ever before. As previously mentioned, Western intelligence services until recently have habitually underrated the abilities of Chinese intelligence services. That was a mistake. Central to greatcharlie’s understanding of China’s intelligence services and their activities are the writings of Peter Mattis. Since leaving the CIA where he was a highly-regarded analyst on China, Mattis has published a number of superlative essays on Chinese intelligence and counterintelligence. Mattis’ writings evince an appreciation of the depth of thought, organization, and planning Chinese intelligence services have put into building up their organizations and conducting operations in all areas. To that extent, he proffers that the West as of late has been facing very modern, competitive Chinese intelligence services that make use of tactics, techniques, procedures, and methods at a level equal and in some cases far more competitive than those of Western intelligence services. As he explained in a September 2012 article in Studies in Intelligence entitled, “The Analytical Challenge of Understanding Chinese Intelligence Services,” Chinese writings on intelligence bear remarkable similarity to familiar US definitions of intelligence functions and goals. He reminds that Sun Tzu taught that “foreknowledge” (xianzhi) allowed commanders to outmaneuver opponents. However, he notes more modern definitions range from “activating [catalytic] knowledge” (jihuo zhi-shi) to information to protect national security, domestic stability, or corporate interests in a competitive environment. Mattis goes on to state that Chinese military scholars today frame intelligence as a distinct subset of knowledge, defined by its relevance to decision makers and a competitive environment. Specifically, intelligence is transmittable (chuandi xing) and is knowledge that satisfactorily (manzu xing) resolves a specific decisionmaking problem. He further asserts that empirically, Chinese intelligence officers consistently have demonstrated the use of widely practiced professional tradecraft, having successfully exploited for political and military intelligence purposes agents with vulnerabilities familiar to anyone who follows the subject.

The Minister of State Security, Chen Wenqing (above). Chinese intelligence services target a broad range of national security actors, including military forces, defense industrial companies, national security decision makers, and critical infrastructure entities of the United Kingdom, the US, and other advanced industrialized countries. Lately, the chief feature of the intelligence war between those countries and China has been the economic front. Indeed, economic espionage, one might venture to say, holds perhaps a prominent place among the bread and butter activities of the MSS and is best known to industries around the world most of which could easily become one of its corporate victims.

Using MI6 as a Yardstick to Gauge the MSS and Its Activities

Everyone on the outside has their own version of what MI6 is and does. Looking at MI6 as a yardstick to understand the MSS, the two organizations pair up to the degree that both are foreign intelligence services. The United Kingdom’s MI6, formally the Secret Intelligence Service as mentioned previously, is the government agency responsible for the collection, analysis, and appropriate dissemination of foreign intelligence. It is also charged specifically with the conduct of espionage activities outside of the United Kingdom’s territory. The MI6 motto is Semper Occultus (Always Secret), but the organization states as its mission: “We work overseas to help make the UK a safer and more prosperous place.” Much as MI5, MI6 has only a few thousand employees. It is headquartered in London, at Vauxhall Cross. It is a component of the same intelligence apparatus in the United Kingdom as MI5. 

MI6’s four main areas of focus are: countering international terrorism, combating weapons proliferation, supporting stability overseas and securing the United Kingdom’s cyber advantage. Countering international terrorism means exactly that, protecting the United Kingdom from terrorists. Performing that task entails: gathering and assessing intelligence; conducting investigations and disrupting terrorist activity; preventing people from becoming terrorists; and, protecting critical national infrastructure and crowded places. Through gathering intelligence and disrupting operations, MI6 plays an indispensable role in the United Kingdom’s counter weapons proliferation efforts directed at combatting the international proliferation of chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear weapons. Working in cooperation with key national and international partners as the US, MI6 also helps to ensure that the United Kingdom’s weapons exports never fall into the hands of terrorists. Instability and conflict overseas leads to weak governments and poor national security, and nurtures a fertile environment in which terrorists and organized crime groups can thrive. Using agents, the MI6 provides intelligence to government policymakers and decisionmakers and provides early warning indications of potentially hostile threats. Most often that information can lead to early political intervention to prevent prolonged instability. Cyber threats are a key security risk to the United Kingdom, as they have the potential to disastrously impact individuals, organizations and governments. Global and ever becoming increasingly complex, cybercrime has the unusual characteristic of having the potential to rear its ugly head and reach out from anywhere in the world. The MI6 provides secret intelligence to help protect the UK from current and emerging cyber threats across a range of adversaries such as hostile countries, terrorists and criminals. Additionally, MI6 conducts counterintelligence operations via a furtive counterintelligence section, but it is generally understood that the organization shares that work with MI5.

In order to meet the challenges of their work, MI6 officers are highly trained in the tactics, techniques, procedures, and methods of their profession. Within intelligence services, as noted earlier, it is referred to as tradecraft. High on the list skills learned and honed are espionage techniques and the use of agents. Often MI6 officers may operate openly in their host country, declaring themselves as representatives of the United Kingdom’s foreign intelligence services. Otherwise they will work covertly under the cover of other official positions such as diplomatic staff or trade delegates. Some MI6 officers may operate under non-official cover to conceal the fact that they work for an intelligence service. That usually entails posing as a business person, student or journalist for example. In some cases MI6 officers will operate under “deep cover,” meaning they will use false names and nationalities. In the intelligence industry, such officers operating under such cover are referred to as “illegals.” They operate without any of the protections offered by diplomatic immunity. MI6 officers typically seek to establish networks of agents whom they can use over a sustained period of time, so that they can obtain a reliable flow of information. As it was stated in the aforementioned discussion on MI5 agents, MI6 agents operate by exploiting trusted relationships and positions to obtain sensitive information. They may also look for vulnerabilities among those handling secrets. They may be aware of flaws in their organization’s security that they can exploit. Recruiting agents, both foreign and domestic, who can provide intelligence on terrorist plans and organizations is of the utmost importance to MI6 officers.

MI6 was constituted in its present form in 1912 by Commander (later Sir) Mansfield Cumming as part of the United Kingdom’s attempt to coordinate intelligence activities prior to the outbreak of World War I. In the 1930s and ’40s it was considered the most effective intelligence service in the world. Following the rise to power of Adolf Hitler in Germany, MI6 conducted espionage operations in Europe, Latin America, and much of Asia. When the US entered World War II, MI6 helped to train personnel of the US Office of Strategic Services (OSS). As mentioned, it was the organization in which Hilsman served. Much of OSS’ foreign intelligence and counterintelligence tradecraft was adopted from MI6. Indeed, the CIA still uses much of it today. Reportedly, many “old boys,” veterans of the OSS are fond  of saying, “The Brits taught us everything that we know, but certainly not everything that they know.” The two organizations worked closely during the war. MI6 has since cooperated extensively with the OSS’s successor, the CIA. MI6 senior executives, managers, and officers refer to the US intelligence organization the “American cousins.” Details of MI6 operations and relationships have rarely appeared in the press. In the mid-1950s, the public reacted with consternation when it was revealed that MI6 had been penetrated by double agents who had served the Soviet Union since the 1930s. It was not until the 1990s, that the head of MI6 was publicly named for the first time. Still, information about MI6 is still much more closely guarded than that about MI5, which carries out internal security and domestic counterintelligence activities. The agency has the power to censor news accounts of its activities through the use of “D” notices under the Official Secrets Act. MI6 reports to the Foreign Office.

Stephen Dorril’s work, MI6: Inside the Covert World of Her Majesty’s Secret Intelligence Service, is a true reflection of the organization, its people and its history, what it has done and where it has been most influential . Dorril, a meticulous observer and chronicler of the security services, demonstrates an understanding of everything one might have thought about MI6. Through the text, readers learn that MI6’s postwar activities were mired in prewar attitudes and practices. Many in the United Kingdom imagined the foreign policy task dividing up the world with US and other global powers. Instead, the preoccupation was the Soviet Union and the Cold War. In chronicalizing the Cold War segment of MI6’s history, Dorril fills the pages with anecdotes of its most spectacular failures, stirring successes, unsavory plots and bizarre missions, the real-life cloak-and-dagger world is exposed. There is a discussion of Operation Stalin, which exploited the Russian dictator’s paranoia and led to the execution of thousands. There is another about the tunnel MI6 dug beneath the Berlin Wall. During the Cold War, in the intelligence war, it seems that there was no opportunity, in the midst of his work against the Eastern Bloc and more the Soviet Empire, to view matters from a broader or humane perspective. Surely, with the benefit of hindsight, it is easy to enumerate all of the mistakes, poor choices that were made. By 1992, influence abroad had been lost in the Middle East, most of Africa and large swathes of Asia. The United Kingdom was not exiled and isolated as some might suggest. It was then and remains a key partner to the US with its superpower status, and often takes lead from the US, the main push was to abrogate the world’s resources. In the post-Cold War era, there was once again a sense, particularly in the administration of US President Bill Clinton of the West’s entitlement to the world’s spoils. That rush to take what was available was intensified by the need to get to what was out there before the People’s Republic of China did. Political power seemed to embrace corporate power. As a consequence, there was the appearance that corporate power was supported by government power. MI6, one of the great information-gathering organizations of the world, was put to that task, placing some strains on the service.

The book presents a well of extraordinary characters. As alluded to earlier, the lion’s share of what was told is meat and drink for those who enjoy spy novels, but it is all real. Yet, in addition the book presents the similitudes of the intelligence industry with profoundly human stories. The world of the intelligence officer is often a dank and grey one, visceral, boring at times. There is a drudgery about agent running. Doing chores in the analytical shops can be tedious. One is invited to understand the suffering and sacrifices of MI6 officers. Prerogatives are surrendered, loves, passions, moral ambiguities, moral compromise. Many officers fall off, finding satisfaction in other professions and pursuits, others engaged in betrayal, a few entered the device with the objective of spying. As with MI5, MI6, as a dynamic, intelligence service, operating worldwide, has a history riddled with complexity. Stories of unpleasantness are even found in Dorril’s authorized study, too! The more counterintuitive these acts are from the past, the more puzzling they are. In such an old, but odd profession, if one finds oneself doing odd things, the hope would be to catch oneself out when one is so far out of bounds that nothing good is being accomplished.

The People’s Republic of China Embassy in Washington, DC (above), home to the MSS resident in the US. Much as it was the case during the Cold War with Soviet and Eastern Bloc intelligence services, it remains a penchant today among the Chinese intelligence services, to troll the émigrés who have made their way out of those countries. They will go as far as to twist their tails to garner their cooperation as operatives and informants. There is almost an insistence that even having left China, the émigrés must accept China’s iron rule. It may appear to be daylight madness, nevertheless, it is happening. In the recent case of an New York City Police Department officer was alleged to be supporting the intelligence activities of the Communist Party of China’s intelligence organ, the United Front Work Department. That case brought to fore the fact that Chinese intelligence services work hard at compelling overseas Chinese to take part in economical and technical espionage, whether through patriotic appeals or simple threats.

Present Day Focus and Operations of MSS

MSS, as well as other Chinese intelligence services, target a broad range of US national security actors, including military forces, defense industrial companies, national security decision makers, and critical infrastructure entities. Lately, the chief feature of a defacto intelligence war between West and China has been the economic front. Indeed, economic espionage, one might venture to say, holds perhaps a prominent place among the bread and butter activities of the MSS and is best known to industries around the world most of which could easily become one of its corporate victims. To understand the intelligence efforts of MSS, one must understand how guIding concepts from Deng Xiaoping led to a decision by Chinese intelligence to make economic espionage an even greater emphasis. Under the Second Chairman of the Communist Party of China, Deng Xiaoping, China began authentic economic reform partially opening China to the global market. China’s economy grew rapidly soon afterwards. In a five-year economic plan 2006-2010, the Communist Party of China outlined that China must maintain fast and stable economic growth and support the building of a harmonious society. The Communist Party of China’s aim was to raise the country’s gross domestic product by 7.5% annually for the next five years. In order to achieve such rapid economic growth, However, countries such as India and Vietnam had begun competing with China to offer cheap manufacturing bases for Western companies. Further, the increased demand for raw materials such as oil and iron ore, and new environmental and labor laws led to cost increases, making manufacturing in China more expensive which caused some factories to close. China sought to diversify its economy, for example, through the manufacture of better made high end products. However, that diversification of the economy required the Chinese to increase their knowledge of design and manufacturing processes. Espionage has offered a relatively cheap, quick, and easy method to obtain information that could help Chinese companies remain competitive. Many of China’s largest companies are state owned, or have close linkages to the government, and receive intelligence collected by Chinese intelligence services. Those firms have also proved to be capable of engaging in commercial espionage themselves. To get an idea of how well the MSS operates, one only needs to consider its ongoing activities in the US. Without the intention of tarnishing or being beastly toward US intelligence and  counterintelligence services, and law enforcement, they have been unable to prosecute a successful, fruitful, and victorious campaign against Chinese intelligence services operating in the US and against US interests globally. Readers might recall from previous posts on the subject, greatcharlie noted that Western intelligence services until recently have habitually underrated the abilities of Chinese intelligence services. Further, in previous US administrations, particularly in the administration of US President Barack Obama, a somewhat relaxed 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. The burgeoning threat was apparently not fully discerned or appreciated. 

In response to past US missteps, Chinese intelligence services presumably placed a laser focus upon enhancing and adjusting their approaches to US targets. As a product of their success in recruiting officers and contractors from the US intelligence services, Chinese intelligence services have apparently managed to better understand what the US has been doing to try to recruit Chinese intelligence officers, operatives, and informants is prioritized. To the extent, US intelligence officers and contractors recruited as spies are typically tasked with actions to support Chinese counterintelligence requirements. Doubtlessly, the collection of information on what MSS foreign intelligence has been doing has been insufficiently analyzed in light of information collected on US counterintelligence surveillance strategies and technological capabilities would inspire audits in Chinese intelligence services to better assess how closely its operatives were being monitored and how US counterintelligence managed to see a number of MSS efforts straight. If Chinese intelligence services actually hire hundreds, perhaps even thousands, of officers, operatives and informants, it stands to reason there would be a number of bad apples among them. If not, one must become reconciled with the fact that Chinese spies do not go astray so often.

Foreign Intelligence Operations of MSS

Successful multifaceted activities of Chinese Intelligence services have included: conventional espionage; outright intellectual property theft via corporate and academic institutions worldwide, and cyber attacks. For a good idea of how MSS conducts conventional espionage today, Ryan Clarke, a senior fellow at the East Asia Institute, a Singapore-based think tank, boils it down well in a July 31, 2020 Asia Times article entitled, “The Face of Chinese Spying in Singapore.” Curiously using MSS efforts primarily in the US primarily as an example, Clarke asserts its intelligence operations are highly targeted and tethered to specific state goals. He explains: “These types of operations are quite simple with relatively few moving parts, which is why they are replicable at scale.” To illustrate the variety of targets attacked by MSS, Clarke says: “We’ve seen operations against a range of American targets, from Covid-19 vaccine research to the F-35 fighter jet program.” With regard to the collection effort, Clarke goes on to propound: “The general approach is to establish target priorities and then proceed to collect what appear to be rather innocuous inputs with relatively limited value when viewed in isolation. Sometimes the information may not even be classified. This is done on a massive scale in-country with a parallel synthesis-fusion operation in China itself.” Putting such a massive and energetic effort into perspective, Clarke maintains: “The strategic logic is that, in the aggregate, this massive collection and synthesis-fusion effort will yield unique findings and insights which the Chinese Communist Party can leverage across a range of domains.” The Idea that a massive synthesis-fusion operation exists to mine useful intelligence from piles of information collected was also proferred and the analytical operation was conceptualized in greatcharlie’s July 31, 2020 post entitled, “China’s Ministry of State Security: What Is This Hammer the Communist Party of China’s Arm Swings in Its Campaign Against the US? (Part 2).”

So far as is known publicly, counterintelligence services of the countries Chinese intelligence services have struck, to include the US, have yet to get to the bottom of their business in their countries in order to put an appreciable dent in their work. One might imagine that trying to spot, intercept, neutralize, and recruit significant numbers of Chinese intelligence officers, operatives, and informants has become an exercise in chasing shadows. This has likely left senior executives and managers of many counterintelligence services in a mute frenzy. For the US, in particular, long gone are the opportunities such as the relatively facile recruitment of the MSS officer Yu Zhengsan back in 1985. Then, when MSS was barely up and running for two years, Yu Zhengsan, a mid-level MSS officer from a well-connected political family, was allegedly aided by the CIA allegedly in escaping China and defecting to the US. Once in US hands, Yu provided investigative leads for US counterintelligence services to capture Larry Wu-Tai Chin, a retired CIA language analyst, who had spied for China since the 1940s. If Chinese intelligence services actually hire hundreds, perhaps even thousands, of officers, operatives and informants, it stands to reason there would be a number of bad apples among them. If not, US counterintelligence services must become reconciled with the fact that, today, Chinese spies do not go astray so often. That is, there must be nothing so creative that US counterintelligence services are doing or offering to encourage them to do so.

Prior to the coming of the administration of US President Donald Trump, economic espionage by Chinese intelligence gained real traction. Startled US government officials began to sound the alarm particularly over the destructive impact of Chinese commercial espionage upon US national security. Intrusions by Chinese actors into US companies and other commercial institutions harm both the individual companies and the overall US economy, to the benefit of China. Indeed, in July 2015, Bill Evanina, who was the National Counterintelligence Executive in the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, and remains in that position as of this writing, stated point blank, “Economic security is national security.” Nevertheless, the vociferous statements of those tasked with defeating China’s operations had no real effect on the course of the administration of US President Barack Obama and Chinese intelligence activities steadily intensified. In response to counterintelligence and cyber defense missteps, Chinese intelligence services seem to have placed a laser focus upon enhancing and adjusting their approaches to US targets.

It is important to note that much as it was the case during the Cold War with Soviet and Eastern Bloc intelligence services, it remains a penchant today among the Chinese intelligence services, to troll the émigrés who have made their way out of those countries. They will go as far as to twist their tails to garner their cooperation as operatives and informants. There is almost an insistence that even having left China, the émigrés must accept China’s iron rule. It may appear to be daylight madness. However, while it is madness, it is happening. Clearly, the Communist Party of China must think it makes sense or they would be acting in this way. In the recent case of a New York City Police Department officer was alleged to be supporting the intelligence activities of the Communist Party of China’s intelligence organ, the United Front Work Department. That case brought to fore the fact that Chinese intelligence services work hard at compelling overseas Chinese to take part in economical and technical espionage, whether through patriotic appeals or simple threats. To be more precise, they will twist the tails of émigrés by threading to harm family members still living in China if cooperation was not provided.

The People’s Republic of China National Security Office in Hong Kong (above). MSS counterintelligence certainly would do whatever possible to intercept, neutralize, and recruit foreign intelligence officers, as well as their operatives and informants in China and those working in locations close to, and on matters concerning, Chinese interests in other countries. As with almost any other counterintelligence organization worldwide, necessary attributes must be present to initiate a counterintelligence investigation on a suspected “foreign spy.” The primary means to confirm their identity is through careful study and observation of the subject and thorough research of all available information. It is a process similar to selecting a target for recruitment. Covert audio and video monitoring in the residences, vehicles, offices, hotels frequented and homes of friends of the suspected foreign spy. Passive collection by informants will also be used to eavesdrop on the individual’s conversations.

MSS Counterintelligence

MSS shares the counterintelligence role with MPS. The primary mission of organic MSS counterintelligence elements is the infiltration of all the foreign special service operations: intelligence and counterintelligence services, as well as law enforcement organizations worldwide. Its primary targets hands down are its chief competitor, the US, the bordering Russian Federation, and Australia and New Zealand. The advanced industrialized countries of Western Europe would also fall under its watchful eyes although China has not achieved prominence in their space. Second would come Taiwan, India, Pakistan, Nepal, Mongolia, and Iran which it trusts up to a point.  China must also measure its national interests, and particularly its national security against Japan, South Korea, Vietnam, Indonesia, Thailand, the Philippines, Malaysia, and Singapore. China has also stepped up intelligence operations throughout Africa to support and facilitate its effort to extend its geopolitical influence and acquire oil, rare Earth minerals, and fish. Africa is estimated to contain 90 percent  of the entire world’s supply of platinum and cobalt, 50 percent of the world’s gold supply, 66 percent of the world’s manganese, and 35 percent of the world’s uranium. Africa accounts for almost 75 percent of the world’s coltan, which is a key mineral required for the construction of electronic devices, including cell phones. Well over 10,000 Chinese firms are operating on the continent with 25 percent located in Nigeria and Angola. China has also expanded its military presence in Africa, rivaling the level of US military equities there.)

A Difficult Comparison with MI6 Counterintelligence

Making a proper comparison between MSS counterintelligence operations and those of MI6 is difficult due to the fact there are only soupçons to go on with regard to that United Kingdom intelligence service. One aspect of that work already noted here is that counterintelligence responsibilities among the United Kingdom’s intelligence services have been divided between MI5 and MI6. In Nigel West’s Historical Dictionary of British Intelligence (Scarecrow Press, 2014), one of his many superlative reference books on the subject of intelligence, not surprisingly one can find at least some reference to the work of MI6 in that province. As explained in the Historical Dictionary of British Intelligence, in the United Kingdom, counterintelligence is the discipline devoted to penetrating the adversary’s intelligence structure and protecting one’s own organization. (This is significant for a number of other intelligence services take a different approach to the matter. In the CIA and the FBI in the US and in the erstwhile Soviet Union’s KGB and the Russian Federation’s Sluzhba Vneshney Razvedki (Foreign Intelligence Service) or SVR, for instance, counterespionage operations are organic to the work of their organizations’ counterintelligence sections.)  West notes that during World War II, the MI6 counterintelligence section was designated Section V, the romance numeral five being the cause of considerable misunderstanding and confusion for outsiders.

With regard to counterespionage, in the Historical Dictionary of British Intelligence, West notes that responsibility for such operations lies primarily with MI5, although inevitably the Secret Intelligence Service and Government Communications Headquarters as well occasionally encounter evidence of hostile activity and investigate it. During World War II, counterespionage was acknowledged as an interagency discipline that overlapped different organizations and in 1942, was the motive for an attempt at amalgamation, which was ultimately rejected. Following the collapse of the Soviet Union, MI5’s commitments were reevaluated periodically, and the counterespionage branch, designated K in 1968, was absorbed to a new D Branch in 1994 

To elaborate further on MSS counterintelligence, certainly it would do whatever possible to intercept, neutralize, and recruit foreign intelligence officers, as well as their operatives and informants in China and those working in locations close to, and on matters concerning Chinese interests in other countries. As with almost any other counterintelligence organization worldwide, necessary attributes must be present to initiate a counterintelligence investigation on a suspected “foreign spy.” The primary means to confirm their identity is through careful study and observation of the subject and thorough research of all available information. It is a process similar to selecting a target for recruitment. Covert audio and video monitoring in the residences, vehicles, offices, hotels frequented and homes of friends of the suspected foreign spy. Passive collection by informants will also be used to eavesdrop on the individual’s conversations. The surveillance effort may not always be easy going. A foreign intelligence officer’s trade craft may be superb and all of his or her interactions and moves might appear authentic. The foreign intelligence officer’s movement technique could make maintaining surveillance on the subject difficult. For any counterintelligence services, that type of professionalism in an opponent can pose a challenge. Oddly enough though, it will result in increased suspicion among some.

Shifting a bit from United Kingdom intelligence efforts to elaborate more effectively on this point, federal indictments and criminal complaints against MSS foreign intelligence operatives and informants caught in the US indicate that they are generally tasked, as most field operatives and informants of any intelligence service, as intelligence collection requirements demand. As noted in greatcharlie’s August 31, 2020 post entitled, “China’s Ministry of State Security: What Is This Hammer the Communist Party of China’s Arm Swings in Its Campaign Against the US? (Part 2),” from what can be learned from indictments and criminal complaints about such cases that are made public, in almost all of the MSS taskings of those intercepted operatives and informants, certain counterintelligence aspects can be discerned. Those aspects appear aimed at providing ways to assist MSS counterintelligence in identifying and locating foreign intelligence officers, operatives, and informants, particularly in China, or assist in devising ways to intercept, neutralize, and recruit them. Typical counterintelligence aspects in takings that include collecting information on how the US intelligence services communicate with officers, operatives, and informants overseas. In order to develop ways to counter the efforts of US counterintelligence services against MSS foreign intelligence officers, operatives, and informants, MSS counterintelligence would want to know how the organization is set up to confront adversarial networks of spies, who is who, where they are situated, and what exactly are they doing. Understanding the surveillance strategies of US counterintelligence services, particularly the FBI, would inform MSS counterintelligence of what layers of surveillance are usually being pressed on MSS foreign intelligence officers, operatives, and informants in the US and how to devise better ways to defeat them. Technological capabilities would inform MSS counterintelligence whether all along US counterintelligence services have had the capability to monitor its activities or whether they have the capacity and have simply failed to use it effectively. The collection of information on what MSS foreign intelligence has been doing ineffectively in the face of US counterintelligence surveillance strategies and technological capabilities would undoubtedly inspire audits to better assess how closely its operatives were being monitored and how US counterintelligence managed to see a number of MSS efforts straight. (If one were to mine through the US Department of Justice’s very own indictments and criminal complaint against those few Chinese officers, operatives, and informants that have been captured, reading between the lines very closely, one can find to more than few open doors that might lead to successes against existing but well-cloaked Chinese intelligence networks and actors. The particulars of those real possibilities will not be delved into here. Not one case has been a “wilderness of mirrors.” It is hard to know what to make of how things are currently transpiring.)

FBI wanted poster for hackers Zhu Hua (left) and Zhang Shilong (right) of the Advanced Persistent Threats 10 (APT 10 Group) which acted in association with the MSS Tianjin State Security Bureau. In its intelligence campaign against the US, EU Member States, and other advanced industrialized countries, the MSS has taken a multidimensional approach. Three apparent dimensions include: illicit technology procurement, technical collection (cyber attacks), and human intelligence collection. Cyber attacks are perhaps the most prolific type used against industry advanced industrialized countries. This dimension of Chinese intelligence collection is also perhaps the most aggressive. Hackers locate doors that they can rapidly pass through and grab whatever might be within reach. It is by no means a supplemental or mere attendant method of espionage relative to running operatives and informants. It is a full-fledged  dimension of China’s intelligence campaign strategy.

MSS Electronic Intelligence

In its intelligence campaign against the US, EU Member States, and other advanced industrialized countries, the MSS has taken a multidimensional approach. Three apparent dimensions include: illicit technology procurement, technical collection (cyber attacks), and human intelligence collection. Cyber attacks are perhaps the most prolific type used against industry advanced industrialized countries. This dimension of Chinese intelligence collection is also perhaps the most aggressive. Hackers locate doors that they can rapidly pass through and grab whatever might be within reach. It is by no means a supplemental or mere attendant method of espionage relative to running operatives and informants. It is a full-fledged  dimension of China’s intelligence campaign strategy. If human intelligence were the only focus, constraints on manpower resources would always be a big problem to overcome. Cyber collection complements all other forms of attack well. Typically, Chinese spokespersons from the People’s Republic of China Ministry of Foreign Affairs or the Communist Party of China, itself, will issue declarations seemingly designed to create the false impression that China was engaged in a lex talionis of allegations with the US on cyber espionage. Perchance the aim in doing so was to distract the world from the reality of its one-way abusive and criminal cyber attacks to obtain classified information from the federal government, intellectual property from private firms, and research from academic institutions in the US.

When GCHQ Was Part of MI6

For a time, MI6 also enjoyed having an organic technical surveillance capability. That technical surveillance capability today resides in an independent intelligence agency known as the Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ). GCHQ grew out of the Government Code and Cypher School (GC&CS), established in November 1919. During the 1920s and 1930s, GC&CS had considerable success in its efforts to decipher German and Soviet transmissions. Once Nazi Germany acquired the Enigma machine, with its apparently unbreakable ciphers, in the late 1930s, GC&CS greatly stepped up its efforts. In August 1939, just before war broke out in Europe, it moved its headquarters to Bletchley Park outside London. There its cryptanalysts undertook Operation Ultra, the breaking of the Enigma cipher—a project whose details remained classified until the 1970s. Renamed the Government Communications Headquarters in 1942 to conceal its activities, this leading communications intelligence agency of the United Kingdom. Through GCHQ, MI6 enjoyed a number of successes during World War II, most notable among them being the Ultra program to break German Enigma ciphers. Today GCHQ functions similarly to the US National Security Agency (NSA) Working in coordination with the NSA during the Cold War, it greatly escalated its efforts. Reportedly, it participates in the Echelon global surveillance network. Much of what is known about how GCHQ is organized was provided publicly in James Bamford’s famous 1982 book on NSA, The Puzzle Palace (Houghton Miflin Harcourt, 1982). Knowing how GCHQ is organized allows one to infer with at least some degree accuracy, how it functions. According to Bamford, GCHQ at that time had six directorates. Among these were the Composite Signals Organization, dedicated to radio intercepts; the Directorate of Organization and Establishment, whose functions were chiefly administrative; the Directorate of Signals Intelligence Plans, concerned with long-range planning and management; and the Joint Technical Language Service, which intercepted foreign communications. Bamford stated that the largest and most secretive directorate, the Directorate of Signals Intelligence Operations and Requirements oversaw codebreaking activities. 

Returning to the discussion of MSS technical collection, it can include the use of high-tech tools covering phone calls and all forms of messaging to relatively low level actions against electronic equipment such as mobile phones and computer networks. While technical intelligence collection, cyber attacks by Chinese intelligence services upon targets in the US, have been deplorable, the skill displayed and their list of accomplishments has been impressive. What have essentially been standard targets of cyber attacks from Chinese intelligence services in recent years have been those levelled against US national security decision makers and government organizations, particularly during the Obama administration. The objective of that targeting has been to access any classified information they might possess. Through that information, MSS would surely hope to develop insight into highly sensitive US national security decisionmaking processes.

MI6 in the Political Realm: A Bad Mix

There is much beyond the controlled bearing, composure of MI6 officers and the organization itself. From what has been revealed, their efforts have been defined by hard work, establishing solid foundations, diligence and forethought, practicality and organization, determination and dependability, passion and drive. Creativity is combined with thoughtful effort and hard work to manifest positive energies, opportunities and results. 

As aforementioned, the Ministerial Committee on the Intelligence Services exercises regular ongoing oversight of intelligence activities. Through this committee, the Prime Minister, with the assistance of the Secretary of the Cabinet, exercises authority over the daily operations of the British intelligence and security communities as a whole. MI6 answers to the Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary. The Foreign Secretary receives assistance from the Permanent Secretaries’ Committee on the Intelligence Services. Finally, the Joint Intelligence Committee draws up general intelligence needs to be met by MI6. It also prepares National Intelligence Estimates.

As with officers in MI5, speaking truth to power is also the charge entrusted to leaders of MI6. Yet circumstances have often been complicated enough to spoil adherence to that. One might say how MI6 has performed, has really boiled down to leadership. Indeed, the intelligence services may have figuratively been wonderful horses but the chief or key senior executives–no names here–may have been less-than-perfect jockeys in matters of high policy. Admittedly short on specifics of such cases here, yet with all conspiracy theories aside, it may be enough to say the resources and capabilities of MI6 allegedly have reportedly  on certain occasion been used by political leaders to turn a situation that might not necessarily stand in their favor due to interests beyond those urgent and important to the United Kingdom. Some believe it was really seen during the Iraq War when the United Kingdom followed the US into the whole affair which was unfortunately founded on false intentions,  namely weapons of mass destruction were being produced by the regime of the erstwhile Iraqi President Saddam Hussein. Tragically, MI6 became the alleged coauthor and signatories to misleading information

When misgivings and disfavor might have been expressed what may have been proposed from the top, it may have been the case that  the powers that be would brook no denial. Those too concerned of their position or being politically indebted, might have seen themselves with little option but to follow orders. Those who see themselves as pragmatists, may explain away a decision to go along thoroughly with a suggestion from on high as an effort to simply adapt in a shifting world. They may not have seen themselves as keepers of some sacred flame. The fatal mistake occurs when the choice is made to play along thoroughly. No proper MI6 or MI5 officer would be expected to shrink at the last. If the organization’s leadership had decided to disappoint the political leadership, they might not only have been forced to surrender the coveted privilege to serve their country in the intelligence services. To many in the intelligence service, that idea would be anathema. Such thoughts likely broke through any defenses their minds raised against them. Additionally, after their departure they might find the whole force of the state on his or her back. L’homme c’est rien—l’oeuvre c’est tout.

Assuredly, Parliament, which provides oversight of MI6, has a process for ascertaining the truth about such matters. The principal oversight committee for British intelligence is the Central Intelligence Machinery, based in the Prime Minister’s Cabinet Office. It oversees the coordination of security and intelligence agencies. It also acts as a mechanism for assessment and accountability, observing and reporting on the performance of specific agencies. Further, it more directly intelligence operations as it is also concerned with tasking and the allocation of resources.

To discuss such issues concerning MI6, even if it is just a part of a mere commentary on MSS, is to walk out on shaky ground given many who may read this post may be invested in maintaining the image of the organization and may have previously been invested heart and soul in its work. While admittedly greatcharlie has sought to be sensitive to the concerns of those readers, doubtlessly, the soupçons discussed here will still be an issue of contention in some quarters and there will surely be those disposed to quarrel most bitterly over it. All the same, what is opined here is only what has been publicly discussed by those familiar with the issue. To that extent, not being aware first-hand of it all, greatcharlie would not like to swear by it.

There is no legal “right to know” what is undertaken abroad in the name of the United Kingdom’s security, what it costs or how it is run. Reportedly, beyond mere concerns exposing any classified information about MI6, to write about MI6, even today, risks harassment and prosecution. Former members and current commentators are fully aware of this and have complied thereby allowing the organization to remain beyond any educated public scrutiny. In the past, any dissident reports of its operations were effectively snuffed out. The agency has the power to censor news accounts of its activities through the use of “D” notices under the Official Secrets Act. As one might imagine, this reality does not sit well with the citizens of the United Kingdom. There is a perception among many in the United Kingdom that such behavior brings the organization more closely in sync with that of MSS, an organ of an authoritarian government, than it should in a free society. Civil rights groups and average citizens argue that the policy of total should be reconsidered and scrapped, should not be disparaged as rubbish in any quarter.

Meeting of the Politburo of the Communist Party of China (above). Changes in both competency and necessity have favored an increase in MSS influence in foreign policymaking. One change was the decision of the Communist Party of China wanted MSS looking further abroad than minority groups on China’s periphery. Another change was the expansion of Chinese interests abroad. The real threats to China were no longer seen as coming from traditional internal security concerns but from countries capable of stopping China’s access to trade. By successfully building up its foreign intelligence capabilities to meet this challenge, MSS managed to increase its influence and favor with political authorities. Apparently, it was understood in the Communist Party of China that foreign intentions can best be monitored and resolved with intelligence.

MSS in the Political Realm

MSS was stood up to rectify the deficiencies of the previous iterations of the intelligence function in the Chinese national security apparatus. With its inception, MSS added new dimensions to China’s foreign intelligence scheme while freeing MPS to revamp existing capabilities and explore and adapt a new as well as more technological set of cards to play in the intelligence game so to speak. MSS represented a reimagination of the intelligence collection process abroad and the counterintelligence struggle against outside powers. MSS also represented the tidying up of old ways of conducting its business, and a modernization of Chinese intelligence that was long overdue. The MSS generally appears to have adhered to the non-politicization  of the service. This is not to say that occasionally shifts away from that position by some senior executives has not impacted the organization. MSS elements, particularly at local levels, often have provided protection services for the business dealings of Communist Party of China officials or their well-connected friends. However, the Ministry rarely appears connected to any elite political maneuvering or purges. Since 1983, only the purges of Beijing Party secretary Chen Xitong (1995) and Shanghai Party secretary Chen Liangyu (2006) were rumored to involve the ministry. In the wholesale purges after the fall of Bo Xi laid and Zhou Yongkang, the Beijing State Security Bureau chief Fangfoss Kent and Vice Minister Qiu Jin were ousted precisely because they exploited MSS resources to back particular leaders in their political struggles against each other.

Of course, the foreign policy influence of intelligence services depends on the quality of their inputs and their leadership’s influence with key policymakers. If an intelligence chief is not influential, then his service’s influence depends on performance. The MSS’s role in policymaking could be rising as China’s overseas interests expand. When China entered the World Trade Organization (WTO) in 2001, the thought was that there would be an influx of foreign business into China. That was a concern. At the time, the response was to make greater use of MPS. However, changes in both competency and necessity have favored an increase in MSS influence in foreign policymaking. When direct political power is absent, influence usually relates to merit and necessity. Senior foreign policymakers would eventually want the MSS in the room, contributing to the discussion. The Communist Party of China’s leadership wanted an MSS looking further abroad than minority groups on China’s periphery. The MSS’ foreign intelligence service is now more similar to the CIA. Another major change was the expansion of Chinese interests abroad. The real threats to China were no longer seen as coming from traditional internal security concerns but from countries capable of stopping China’s access to trade. Apparently, it was understood in the Communist Party of China that foreign intentions can best be monitored and resolved with intelligence. By successfully building up its foreign intelligence capabilities to meet this challenge, MSS managed to increase its influence and favor with political authorities. Indeed, MSS has managed to move from backstage, second to MPS, to frontstage, up from behind its bureaucratic competitor in internal security.

The Way Forward

As indicated in its introduction, this post serves as an expatiation of a technique learned long ago for directing one’s thoughts upon developing ideas and insights on issues in international affairs and other subjects of interest. Given its subject matter, it hopefully managed to satisfy the experienced scholar, academic, and policy analyst. By showcasing the generation of ideas and insights on subjects, hopefully it satisfied the desire of students to see examples and will become a subject of inquiry for some. 

By their very nature, insights are inherent to the writer, unique in that way. At least, they should be. No truer are the words, “everyone is entitled to an opinion.” The ideas and insights of the novice writer have a right to be aired equal to that of experienced, published authors in the various fields. Note, however, that eccentric, whimsical, and outlandish ideas are seldom useful and never desirable. In some respect, the process of generating ideas and insights is a form of self-exploration. One’s mind must be open to all reasonable considerations and all plausible possibilities. Nontraditional students should try to apply sensibilities shaped by a multitude of experiences. The length and breadth of their knowledge and experience may allow for a broader understanding of humanity. That is what the world will most appreciate reading.

Saepe stilum vertas, iterum quae digna legi sint scripturus. (Often must you turn your pencil to erase, if you hope to write something worth a second reading.) It is perfectly in order to feel a bit timid about drawing inferences and sharing them for others to review. Accept those awkward feelings, but write down all of the ideas and insight that may develop inside anyway. Have at it! To enhance one’s ability to summon up new ideas and insights, study, understand, and consider the deeds of personalities. Ruminate on events in relation to those that proceed them and meditate on what the future may bring. Build on that thinking. Strive to forecast decisions that may shape what might come and proof one’s efforts by watching events unfold in the news. Some of the best ideas and insights may come at inopportune times. Whether one is struck with a coruscating flash of logic, or has a nagging thought on an issue that builds throughout the day, notes must be kept of it all. At one’s earliest convenience, write those ideas and insights down in a notebook, on a pad, or on the back of an envelope. If one can, type them up on an electronic device. Organize them as bullet points if that is easier, however, one must make certain that enough is recorded to ensure that actual ideas are being expressed and that they “feel” compelling. Avoid simply jotting down statements of fact, or worse, simple fragments of your thoughts. State your conclusions about matter! Each expression can be fleshed out and tidied up with editing later. Sticking to this course may not be easy at first. After a time and with honest effort, one should become accustomed to it. Optimally, a writer will effectively generate enough ideas and insights to allow for the selection of more reasoned, potent, and eloquent among them for inclusion in a draft essay. The ability to increase quantity and improve the quality of ideas and insights produced will come with practice. Plus novisti quid faciendum sit. (You have learned more what has to be.)

Commentary: There Is still the Need to Debunk the Yarn of Trump as “Russian Federation Spy”

The current director of the Russian Federation’s Sluzhba Vneshney Razvedki (Foreign Intelligence Service) or SVR, Sergey Naryshkin (above). US President Donald Trump’s adversaries have tried endlessly to uncloak some nefarious purpose in his legitimate effort to perform his duties, which has been akin to seeking long shadows at high noon. Some in the opposition Democratic Party have gone as far as to offer dangerous fantasies that Trump and officials in his administration are operatives of the Russian Federation. The notion that Russian Federation foreign intelligence officers would not only approach, but even more, attempt to recruit Trump, is daylight madness. No one knows that better than Naryshkin and the directors of the other Russian Federation intelligence services. It is more than likely that in the 2020 US Presidential Election, the outcome will go Trump’s way. Unfortunately, many of the ludicrous allegations, having been propagated for so long and with prodigious intensity by his adversaries, will likely stick to some degree for some time.

From what has been observed, critics and detractors, actual adversaries of US President Donald Trump, within the US news media and among scholars, policy analysts, political opponents, and leaders of the Democratic Party, have exhibited a practically collective mindset, determined to find wrong in him as President and as a person. His presidency was figuratively born in the captivity of such attitudes and behavior and they remain present among those same circles, four years later. Trump’s adversaries have tried endlessly to uncloak some nefarious purpose in his legitimate effort to perform his duties, which has been akin to seeking long shadows at high noon. Many of those engaged in such conduct have garnered considerable notoriety. Specific individuals will not be named here. When all is considered, however, those notables, in reality, have only left a record littered with moments of absolute absurdity. That record might break their own hearts, if they ever took a look over their shoulders. In developing their attacks on Trump, his adversaries have built whimsy upon whimsy, fantasy upon fantasy. One stunt that became quite popular was to make an angry insinuation of Trump’s guilt in one thing or another, and attach the pretense of knowing a lot more about the matter which they would reveal later, in an childlike effort to puff themselves up. Ita durus eras ut neque amore neque precibus molliri posses. (You were so unfeeling that you could be softened neither by love nor by prayers.)

Of the many accusations, the worst was the claim, proffered with superfluity, that Trump and his 2016 US Presidential Campaign were somehow under the control of the Russian Federation and that he was the Kremlin’s spy. The entire conception, which developed into much more than a nasty rumor, a federal investigation to be exact, was daylight madness. (It is curious that anyone would be incautious enough to cavalierly prevaricate on hypothetical activities of the very dangerous and most ubiquitous Russian Federation foreign intelligence services in the first place.) Before the matter is possibly billowed up by Trump’s adversaries again in a desperate effort to negatively shape impressions about him, greatcharlie has made the humble effort to present a few insights on the matter that might help readers better appreciate the absolute fallaciousness of the spy allegation.

With regard to the yarn of Trump as Russian Federation spy, his adversaries sought to convince all that they were comfortable about accusing Trump of being such because they had the benefit of understanding all that was necessary about the tactics, techniques, procedures, and methods of the Russian Federation’s 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, the Federal’naya Sluzhba Bezopasnosti Rossiyskoy Federatsi (Russian Federation Federal Security Service) or FSB. However, it was frightfully obvious that the whole subject was well outside the province of those self-declared experts. Whenever they made statements concerning how Russian Federation foreign intelligence services operated, no doubt was left that they did not have a clue as to what they were talking about. It actually appeared that everything they knew about it all was gleaned from James Bond and Jason Bourne films, as well as streaming television programs about spying. That fact was made more surprising by the fact that Members of both chambers of the US Congress who were among Trump’s political adversaries actually can get facts about how everything works through briefings from the US Intelligence Community. They even have the ability to get questions answered about any related issue by holding committee hearings. Those on the House and Senate Intelligence Committees, in particular, can get themselves read-in on a good amount of available intelligence on an issue. The words and actions of many political leaders leaves open the real possibility that they were intentionally telling mistruths about Trump with the goal of deceiving the US public. That would simply be depraved and indefensible. As one should reasonably expect, there are stark differences between the banal amusements of Hollywood and the truths about spying.

Imaginably as part of their grand delusion, Trump’s adversaries would claim the reason why Russian Federation foreign intelligence would want to recruit him would be to establish an extraordinary, unprecedented level of access to, and influence upon, US policymaking, decisionmaking, and top secret information. In considering how Russian Federation foreign intelligence senior executives and managers would likely assess Trump as a recruitment prospect, purely out of academic interest, one of the first steps would be a genuine examination of his traits. Among the traits very likely to be ascribed to Trump that would obviate him as an intelligence recruitment target would include: his extroverted personality; his gregarious, talkative nature; his high energy; his desire to lead and be in command at all times; his oft reported combustible reactions to threats or moves against him, his family, or their interests; his strong intellect; his creativity; his curious, oftentimes accurate intuition; his devotion to the US; and his enormous sense of patriotism. To advance this point furthrr, if Russian Federation foreign intelligence senior executives and managers were to theoretically ruminate on just these traits while trying to reach a decision on recruiting him, they would surely conclude that an effort to get him to betray his country would fail miserably. Indeed, they would very likely believe that an attempted recruitment would more than likely anger Trump. They would also have good reason to fear that he would immediately contact federal law enforcement and have the intelligence officers, who approached him, picked up posthaste. If any of the lurid negative information that his adversaries originally alleged was in the possession of the Russian Federation intelligence services–all which has since been totally debunked–were used by Russian Federation intelligence officers to coerce him, Trump might have been angered to the point of acting violently against them. (This is certainly not to state that Trump is ill-tempered. Rather, he has displayed calmness and authority in the most challenging situations in the past 4 years.) Whimsically, one could visualize Russian Federation intelligence officers hypothetically trying to coerce Trump, being immediately reported by him and picked up by services of the US Intelligence Community or federal law enfiecement, and then some unstable senior executives and managers in Yasenevo would go on to publicize any supposed embarassing information on him. That would surely place the hypothetical intercepted Russian Federation intelligence officers in far greater jeopardy with the US Department of Justice. They could surrender all hope of being sent home persona non grataCorna cervum a periculis defendunt. (Horns protect the stag from dangers.)

Perhaps academically, one might imagine the whole recruitment idea being greenlit by senior executives and managers of the Russian Federation foreign intelligence services despite its obvious deficiencies. Even if they could so recklessly throw caution to the wind, it would be beyond reason to believe that any experienced Russian Federation foreign intelligence officer would want to take on an assuredly career-ending, kamikaze mission of recruiting Trump and “running” him as part of some magical operation to control the US election and control the tools of US national power. As a practical matter, based on the traits mentioned here, no Russian Federation intelligence officer would have any cause to think that Trump could be put under his or her control. Not likely having a truly capable or experienced officer step forward to take on the case would make the inane plot Trump’s adversaries have speculated upon even less practicable. Hypothetically assigning some overzealous daredevil to the task who might not fully grasp the intricacies involved and the nuance required would be akin to programming his or her mission and the operation for failure. (Some of Trump’s adversaries declare loudly and repeat as orbiter dictum the ludicrous suggestion that Russian Federation President Vladimir Putin was his intelligence “handler.” No one in the Russian Federation foreign intelligence mens sana in corpore sano, and as an existential matter, would ever suggest that Putin should involve himself in such an enterprise. The main reason for that being because he is Putin, and that means far more in the Russian Federation than outsiders might be able to comprehend.) One could go even a step further by pointing out that in order to make his adversaries’ notional plot work, Russian Federation foreign intelligence senior executives and managers conceivably involved would need to determine how to provide Trump with plenty tutoring along the way given that Trump had no experience whatsoever with the work involved in the sort complicated conspiracy as his adversaries have envisioned. Such notional work would require the impossible, Trump’s “obedience,” and even more, plenty of covert contact, thereby greatly increasing the chance that any Russian Federation foreign intelligence officers involved would be noticed and caught.

Politically, for Russian Federation foreign intelligence service senior executives and managers, there will always be a reluctance to make new problems for the Kremlin. If proper Russian Federation foreign intelligence officers under this scenario were actually caught attempting to recruit Trump, US-Russian relations would be put in a far worse place than where they were before the theoretical operation was executed. If the matter of recruiting Trump were ever actually brought up at either SVR or GRU headquarters, it would imaginably be uttered only as an inappropriate witticism at a cocktail reception filled with jolly chatter or during some jovial late night bull session with plenty of good vodka on hand. Even under those circumstances, experienced professionals would surely quiet any talk about it right off. Unquestionably, few on Earth could be more certain that Trump was not a Russian Federation operative than the Russian Federation foreign intelligence services, themselves. For the Russians, watching shadowy elements of the US Intelligence Community work hard to destroy an innocent man, the President of the US nevertheless, must have been breathtaking.

Information that may appear to be evidence for those with preconceptions of a subject’s guilt very often turns out to be arbitrary. One would not be going out on shaky ground to suggest that a far higher threshold and a more finely graded measure should have been used by the US Intelligence Community to judge the actions of the President of the US before making the grave allegation that the country’s chief executive was functioning as a creature of a hostile foreign intelligence service. Initiating an impertinent federal investigation into whether the US President was a Russian Federation intelligence based primarily on a negative emotional response to the individual, and based attendantly on vacuous surmisals on what could be possible, was completely unwarranted, could reasonably be called unlawful, and perhaps even be called criminal. Evidence required would imaginably include some indicia, a bona fide trail of Russian Federation foreign intelligence tradecraft leading to Trump. The hypothetical case against him would have been fattened up a bit by figuratively scratching through the dust to track down certain snags, hitches, loose ends, and other tell-tale signs of both a Russian Federation foreign intelligence operation and presence around or linked to him.

To enlarge on that, it could be expected that an approach toward Trump by Russian Federation foreign intelligence officers under the scenario proffered by his adversaries most likely would have been tested before any actual move was made and authentic evidence of that initial effort would exist. Certain inducements that presumably would have been used to lure Trump would have already been identified and confirmed without a scintilla of doubt by US counterintelligence services and law enforcement as such. To suggest that one inducement might have been promising him an election victory, as his adversaries have generally done, is farcical. No reasonable or rational Republican or Democrat political operative in the US would ever be so imprudent as to offer the guarantee of an election victory to any candidate for any local, state, or national office. Recall how the good minds of so many US experts failed to bring victory to their 2016 Presidential candidates, to their 2018 midterm Congressional candidates, and to their 2020 Democratic Presidential candidates. Anyone who would believe that the Russian Federation Intelligence Community would be more certain and better able, to put a candidate into national office in the US than professional political operatives of the main political parties would surely be in the cradle intellectually. Martin Heidegger, the 20th century German philosopher in What Is Called Thinking? (1952), wrote: “Das Bedenklichste in unserer bedenklichen Zeit ist, dass wir noch nicht denken.” (The most thought-provoking thing in our thought-provoking time is that we are still not thinking.)

Trump came to the Oval Office somewhat contemptuous of orthodox ways of doing things in Washington. He referred to those elements of the system in Washington that were shackled to traditional, politically motivated ways of doing things as “the swamp.”  Trump said he would do things his way and “drain the swamp.” To an extent, as US President, that was his prerogative. Trump was new to not just politics in general, but specifically national politics, new to government, new to foreign policy and national security making, and new to government diplomacy. (This is certainly no longer the case with Trump for he has grown into the job fittingly.) For that reason, and as their patriotic duty, directors and senior managers in the US Intelligence Community should have better spent their time early on in Trump’s first term, developing effective ways of briefing the newly minted US President with digestible slices of information on the inherent problems and pitfalls of approaching matters in ways that might be too unorthodox. More effective paths to doing what he wanted could have been presented to him in a helpful way. With enormous budgets appropriated to their organizations by the US Congress, every now and then, some directors and senior managers in the US Intelligence Community will succumb to the temptation of engaging in what becomes a misadventure. If money had been short, it is doubtful that the idea of second guessing Trump’s allegiance would have even glimmered in their heads. Starting a questionable investigation would most likely have been judged as being not worth the candle.

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s superlative sleuth, Sherlock Holmes, had occasion to state: “To a great mind, nothing is too little.” It should be noted that Russian Federation foreign intelligence and counterintelligence services almost certainly have kept their ears perked hoping to collect everything reported about the painstaking work of elements of the US Intelligence Community first to prevent, then to bring down, Trump’s Presidency. Indeed, they have doubtlessly taken maximum advantage of the opportunity to mine through a mass of open source information from investigative journalists, various investigations by the US Intelligence Community, the US Justice Department, and varied US Congressional committees, in order to learn more about how US counterintelligence services, in particular, operate. Strands of hard facts could be added to the existing heap of what Russian Federation foreign intelligence and counterintelligence services had already collected about the deplorable enterprise. Previous analyses prepared in the abstract on other matters were also very likely enhanced considerably by new facts. Indeed, Russian Federation foreign intelligence and counterintelligence services very likely have been able to extrapolate, make inferences about, and more confidently conceptualize what was revealed to better their understanding of the activities of the US Intelligence Community in their own country, both past and present. Sadly, that may have helped to pose greater challenges and dangers for US intelligence officers, operatives, and informants.

The illustrious John Milton’s quip, “Where more is meant than meets the ear, “ from “Il Penseroso” published in his Poems (1645), aptly befits the manner in which words and statements are often analyzed in the intelligence industry. When those senior executives and managers formerly of the US Intelligence Community who were involved in the plot against Trump and are now commentators for broadcast news networks, offer their versions of the whole ugly matter on air, there is always something for Yasenevo to gain. Despite the best efforts of those former officials to be discreet during their multiple on air appearances, there have doubtlessly been one or more unguarded moments for each when a furtive tidbit that they wanted to keep concealed was revealed as they upbraided Trump. Moreover, their appearances on air have surely provided excellent opportunities to study those former officials and to better understand them and their sensibilities. Such information and observations doubtlessly have allowed Russian Federation foreign intelligence and counterintelligence services to flesh out psychological profiles constructed on them over the years. (Although it seems unlikely, some could potentially return to government in the future. It has been said that “Anything can happen in cricket and politics.”) Moreover, Russian Federation foreign intelligence and counterintelligence services have also likely been allowed to use that information and observations, to put it in the bland language of espionage, as a means to better understand specific US intelligence and counterintelligence activities that took place during the years in which those errant US senior executives and managers involved in the plot against Trump were in their former positions.

To journey just a bit further on this point, Russian Federation foreign intelligence and counterintelligence additionally had a chance to better examine specific mistakes that they respectively made in their operations versus the US, using revelations from investigations into the plot against the Trump administration. That information would have most likely inspired audits in Yasenevo to better assess how closely its foreign intelligence officers, operatives, and informants have been monitored and how US counterintelligence has managed to see many Russian Federation efforts straight. Whether these and other lessons learned have shaped present, or will shape future, Russian Federation foreign intelligence operations in the US is unknown to greatcharlie. Suffice it to say that there were most likely some adjustments made.

Trump has absolutely no need to vindicate himself concerning the “hoax” that insisted he was in any way linked to the Russia Federation for it is just too barmy. Trump has the truth on his side. Nothing needs to be dressed-up. He has been forthright. Regarding the Russian Federation, Trump has stood against, pushed back on, and even defeated its efforts to advance an agenda against the US and its interests. Those who have tried to suggest otherwise are lying. The normative hope would be that Trump’s adversaries actually know the truth and for their own reasons are acting against it. In Lord Jim, Joseph Conrad wrote: “No man ever understands quite his own artful dodges to escape the grim shadow of self-knowledge.” It seems, however, that Trump’s adversaries, refusing to accept reality, have replaced it with a satisfying substitute reality by which they may never find the need to compromise their wrongful beliefs. In the US, one is presumed innocent until proven guilty, has a right to due process, and upholding the rights of the citizen is paramount. For the most part, US citizens understand these ideas and are willing to defend those rights. As such, there has actually been a very poor reaction among US citizens toward the aggressive posture Trump adversaries have taken toward him. It is still a possibility that in the 2020 US Presidential Election, the outcome will go Trump’s way. Unfortunately, the many abominable, false stories of his wrongdoing will likely stick to him to some degree for some time. Opinionem quidem et famam eo loco habeamus, tamquam non ducere sed sequi debeat. (As for rumor and reputation let us consider them as matters that must follow not guide our actions.)

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.