The Guns of August
On the Pushkin square in central
Moscow, McDonald’s, this symbol of Pax Americana, has been shut down
this week. It was opened 23 years ago, as the USSR collapsed, and the
unipolar world of One Superpower came into being. Soviet people queued
for hours to get in and try this divine foreign food. They were so
innocent, so inexperienced, the Russians of yesteryear! For 23 long
years, the US has ruled the world alone, while McDonald’s served its
burgers. Meanwhile Russia has changed. McDonalds is no longer an
attraction for world-weary Muscovites. Across the Pushkin square, there
is now another fashionable eatery, Café Pouchkine, serving the
best Russian haute cuisine. In a tit-for-tat, the cheeky Russians had
established a new Café Pouchkine in Paris, on Boulevard St
Germain, teaching the French the joys of Russian cooking.
The Americans did not accept the
challenge lightly. Kill Putin,
called American pundits. They proposed to strike against Russian
forces from the NATO bases in the Baltics. Pentagon extolled advantages
of the first nuclear strike. The Russians gloomily prepared for the
worst. In a quiet dacha summer-house to the west of Moscow, my
Russian scientist friends discussed Andrey Sakharov’s plan codenamed
The Wave to wash away the entire Eastern seaboard of the US by
means of a giant tsunami (yes, it is the same Sakharov). They lauded the
Perimeter, the Doomsday weapon system Russia inherited from the USSR
ensuring total destruction of the US even if Russia were erased. New
and secret weapon systems were mentioned. August 2014 increasingly
reminded of August 1914 or August 1939, the countdown to a Great War. At
that time, conciliatory tone of President Putin’s
Crimea speech signalled that the danger of general conflagration
abated somewhat. Russia stepped back from abyss.
Ostensibly this is a duel of
nerves between Russia and the US; though many states, great and small,
from China to Bolivia, are interested in dismantling the US hegemony,
meanwhile Russia is the only one with political will, military clout and
economical stamina to mess with the bully.
In order to preserve its place
of the ultimate consumer at the top of food chain, the US wants to cut
Russia down to size; publicly humiliate Putin and remove him; to assert
its superiority; to harm European economies and strengthen their
submission to Washington; to stop loose talk of its decline, to
eliminate opposition; to turn treatment of Russia into a case study for
all possible challengers.
Russia’s aims are not so grand:
the country wants to live peacefully its own way and to be respected.
This desire has been summed up by its
opponents as “challenging the architecture of the post-cold-war
order”, and it is probably true, for “the order” denies countries’ right
for peace and independence.
Americans do not mind a war.
They gained in every war: they had sustainable losses, they preserved
their industrial base and they profited by their victories. Their world
wars and their recent wars: Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria were profitable. A
war between Russia and Europe with some American support has attractive
sides, for them.
Russians want to avoid war. They
had hard and bad experience in world wars: Russia collapsed in the
course of the First world war, and suffered a lot in the Second one. In
both cases, their development was retarded, a lot of human misery and
economical disaster befell them. They did not enjoy their smaller wars:
none gave them an advantage or profit of any kind.
Paradoxically, Russian desire to
avoid war brings war closer home. The US military and politicians do not
mind to play chicken with Russia, as they are sure: Russians will
chicken out. This false certainty makes them more daring and fearless
with each round.
Russia is not alone. China
usually supports its moves, India under Modi gets closer, Latin America
builds its alliance with Russia, Iran looks for friendship in Moscow.
Equally important, in every state there are people who are dissatisfied
with the existing post-cold-war set-up of diminished sovereignty. They
are not too far from power in France, where Marine Le Pen makes gains in
elections. Americans who prefer to live their own way, just like the US
did before the WWII, a normal country, not the world sheriff are
potential Russian allies, as well.
The US is not alone. It has its
faithful allies, England the devoted, Saudi Arabia the wealthy, Israel
the cunning, - and a plethora of important politicians in all countries
on the globe that were supported and promoted by various US agencies.
There is probably no country without the US agents near power: Karl
Bildt of Sweden, Tony Blair of the UK... In Russia they occupy many
positions around pinnacle of power, as they were installed during Dark
years of Yeltsin’s rule. Whoever wants his country to serve the Empire
is an American ally.
This is not only the US vs
Russia, but Machine vs Man, as well. In plotting its foreign policy, the
US increasingly relies upon the computer-driven game theory using its
formidable data resources, while Russians prefer manual human control.
Modern super-computers and surveillance techniques give the US an edge
over Russia’s decision-making. Increasingly, President Obama appears to
be a perfect cyborg of right appearance who says the right things in the
right time and right place, but whose actions bear no relation to the
words. I wouldn’t be amazed if in a length of time we shall learn that
Obama has been the first humanoid robot in the helm of power. And if he
is human, he is truly wonderful actor at pretending he is a robot. Even
his wife Michelle and girls seem to be well-chosen movie props rather
than live partner and children.
Putin is undoubtedly human and
manly. One may dislike him, and a lot of people do, but there is no
doubt about his belonging to human race. This makes the chicken game
less predictable than the US leadership considers. After Saddam Hussein
and Qaddafi’s horrible executions, much can be said in favour of an
all-out nuclear war in comparison with defeat and surrender. And the
young Russian generation does not share their fathers’ fear of war, and
they do not mind to try some of better toys their country has.
Moreover, the game theory
(partly declassified in the last decade) is not perfect yet in
cross-cultural conflicts, where antagonists may play different games.
For instance, you play chess, but your opponent is kickboxing. This
seems to be the case here. The US plays chicken with Russia, while
Russia skilfully evades the horns of charging American bull.
The US considers itself the
exceptional city on the hill, the God’s Chosen, predestined to rule the
world now and forever. History is over. They want to lecture and impose
their rules upon the world. Amusingly, the Soviets had similar ideas of
Communism being predestined to complete History, so the Cold War between
two predestined states was a natural thing. Nowadays Russians do not
believe in predestination. Countries rise, and go down, and form
alliances, and there is no End of History in sight. The unipolar world
is a fluke, now reverting to its normal multipolar state. The best and
most comfortable arrangement is each country lives the way it likes.
Leben und leben lassen.
For a long while the US was
itching to teach Russia a lesson. Russia was not in full rebellion: it
sold its oil and gas for US greenbacks, it kept profits in the US
Treasury papers, it observed the sanctions on Iran, it did not interfere
with despoiling of Libya. Still it was not sufficiently obedient. Russia
blocked destruction of Syria; it toyed with de-dollarisation of oil
trade; it was for Christ and against gay marriages; cunningly it tried
to undermine the Western unity by building pipelines and bridges and
bribing Europeans. In short, Russia forgot its collapse of 1991.
The Ukraine was chosen by the US
as a suitable place to ignite a war, or at least to put Russia a couple
of notches down and to get rid of Putin who became by far too
The US is winning ground while
Russia loses ground in the Ukraine. Putin stubbornly refuses to send his
troops in; he strains to come to terms with the US and the West over
future of Ukraine. Russia has been humiliated while proposing
humanitarian aid to the besieged cities of Donbass: its loaded lorries
are still delayed at the border, waiting for Kiev regime permission to
move forward. Half a million Ukrainian refugees crossed the Russian
border, a few thousand civilians, militia and army personnel were killed
in the confrontation.
The war for Donbass was not
especially successful for the Russians. Though the military reports are
exceedingly obscure and conflicting, it seems the rebels are losing the
battle against the Ukrainian army, as they have no external support.
While the US claimed that the conflict is caused by Russian
intervention, Russia tried to stay out of this conflict. Russia did not
interfere in Kiev, when all Western ambassadors and ministers encouraged
the revolt against the legitimate president. When Donbass flared up,
Russia did not support it.
Putin did not want to take
Donbass, in the first place, he did not want to take the Ukraine,
secondly, and he did not want to resurrect the USSR, thirdly. He was
forced to take the Crimea, the home base of Russian fleet, an old part
of Russia, populated by Russians, willing to join Russia, as otherwise
Crimea would become a NATO navy base, but he did not want to proceed
anywhere else. It did not help him: Putin is blamed internationally for
the conflict and internally, for non-involvement and the subsequent
The revolt in Novorossia (the
Russian-speaking half of the Ukraine) was a popular response to the
West-inspired coup in Kiev, as this coup had a strong nationalist
anti-Russian flavour. People of Novorossia would not try to secede if
their language and culture weren’t persecuted, and if their ties to
neighbouring Russia weren’t endangered. But they would not be able to
proceed far, unless their revolt attracted some rebels looking for a
cause, first of all – the military genius and a great romantic figure,
Colonel Igor Strelkov, a “Russian Lawrence”.
Igor Strelkov read history in
Moscow U, but he decided (like T.E. Lawrence) that it is more fun to
make history. He fought in Transnistria, a small sliver of land between
Moldova and Ukraine, defending local people from the onslaught of
Moldavian nationalists. He volunteered to a Serb militia in Yugoslavia;
he forced the indifferent Russian Army command to take him as an officer
to the First Chechen war; he served in the Second Chechen war, and as a
volunteer, he served in Syria and Dagestan. He writes beautifully, he is
a superb tactician, able to lead soldiers by the strength of his
charisma. His acquaintances describe him as a daredevil who does not
care about money, comfort, family life or pleasures.
For Strelkov, the campaign in
Novorossia had a taste of destiny. Like many Russians of his generation,
he dreamed of resurrecting Russia as it was, whether the Soviet Union or
pre-revolutionary Russian Empire (his preference). Like many Russians of
his generation, he considered the Ukraine - a natural part of Russia,
and an independent Ukrainian state – a misnomer. Despite his military
rank, Strelkov was a free agent; he came to Novorossia without Putin’s
blessing and he would come and stay against Putin’s will, too. We shall
probably hear more about this remarkable man.
Strelkov was not alone: quite a
few brave fighters from Ukraine and Russia came to join the rebels.
Their initial success was a surprise for Putin’s administration. But the
rebellion failed to take over other provinces. In Odessa, the private
army of Kolomoysky the ruthless oligarch burned some fifty unarmed rebel
sympathisers alive in a grisly autodafe, and this cruel act scared the
timid and jovial Odessites. In Kharkov, the governor made a deal with
Kiev regime and the rising miscarried. It seems that Strelkov, though a
military prodigy, was less than a wonderful demagogue. His dream of
Great Russia did not make sense to the people of Novorossia. Yes, they
spoke Russian, yes, they hated Kiev and Lvov neo-nazi gangs, but they
did not understand Strelkov’s Russian nationalism.
Without direct Russian
involvement, a separatist movement in Novorossia was doomed to fail.
There was a way to win: to conquer the whole of Ukraine, perhaps barring
its far-west, and afterwards to make arrangements for federalisation or
even for break-up. It could be done by using an inclusive ideology,
acceptable for Donetsk, Odessa, Kiev, Poltava. Perhaps some neo-Soviet
ideas could be employed; dissatisfaction with the oligarchs could be
used. But Strelkov and other rebels with their firm rejection of Ukraine
per se could not sweep the masses, and they did not even try to move
towards Kiev or Kharkov.
Putin minimised Russia’s
involvement in the Donbass war. He supported it much less than the
United States supported the Texas revolution of 1835. His government
tried to patch up with Kiev regime, but its ‘president’ steadfastly
refused, under American orders. In Kiev, far-right radicals attacked the
Russian embassy; and the regime’s armed forces began indiscriminate
shelling and bombing of rebel cities. This was a great humiliation for
Putin who promised to defend the Russians in failing Ukraine. His
advisers, notably Sergey Glazyev, an expert on Ukraine, called to take a
leaf from the Western book on Libya and impose a no-fly zone over
Donbass. (In March 2011, as a rebellion flared up in Benghazi, the US
and its allies imposed no-fly zone over parts of Libya
professing horror of Qaddafi’s ruthless shelling of the rebels.
Russia and China abstained, and the French-British draft became the
Security Council resolution authorising not only no-fly zone but “all
necessary measures” to protect civilians from harm.) Kiev regime
certainly killed more civilians than Qaddafi did; but Putin did not
declare a no-fly zone, he did not use his firepower to suppress Kiev
artillery shelling civilians.
Russia did very little for
Donbass. Now, the Russians try to negotiate a conclusion to the Donbass
war. The reports predict some autonomy for Donbass within Ukraine.
Many Russians are likely to be
greatly disappointed. But some enterprises – worthy and unworthy - fail.
Life is full of disappointments. I remember Ibo separatists of Biafra,
who were eventually defeated by the central government. Separatists of
Iranian Azerbaijan were defeated, though Josef Stalin supported them.
The US failed to re-conquer Cuba. Argentines failed to liberate
Malvinas. This list is endless. Perhaps Russians have to wait for a
Did Putin chickened out?
Why did Putin gave up on
Novorossia? There is no doubt, Novorossia is extremely important for
Russia. NATO troops and US missiles in Donetsk and Lugansk would
endanger Russia. Its loss would threaten Russian defence industry as
this part of Ukraine was fully integrated with Russia since Tsar’s days.
Was it fear of an all-out war? Did President Putin consider intervention
of R2P mode a too dangerous step for his country?
In Putin’s view, Europe is more
important than Ukraine. He is willing to sacrifice Donbass in hope to
gain Berlin. For years, he courted old Europe. Even his Olympic games
with its expensive show aimed at Europe: he wanted to tell the Europeans
that Russia is part and parcel of Europe. Putin speaks German, he served
in Germany as KGB operative in the last years of the USSR, and he has a
soft spot for Germany.
The US propaganda machine called
upon Europeans to defend Ukraine from the Russian bear, claiming the
Russians will not stop in the Ukraine but continue to the Atlantic. This
claim was quite successful; especially as it came after the very long
anti-Russian media campaign (gays, orphans, toilets in Sochi etc.).
Putin was afraid that by taking Ukraine he will alienate European public
opinion. So he procrastinated, until the Malaysian liner disaster
The Malaysian liner crash was a
terrible disaster in many ways. Not so much per se: three hundred people
are being killed each day in Gaza, Iraq, Donbass. Europeans and
Americans forgot the Cuban air liner
flight 455, or Iranian liner
flight 655, or Libyan liner
flight 114, as these liners were downed by “our side”. But this was
a chance for the Western media machine to unleash its dreadful might.
This machine is as powerful as nuclear weapons; when in full blast, it
incapacitates leaders and countries. Thousands of TV channels,
newspapers, radio programs, bloggers, internet sites, experts,
ministers, presidents united in one single message, terrifying as vox
Dei, though it’s not even a vox populi, just a device of
Masters of Discourse, akin to big trumpets used by Romans to scare the
All British newspapers ran
photos of dead children with captions like “He was murdered by Putin”.
Russians were overwhelmed by the furious blast of propaganda. People
wept; some weak and emotional personalities admitted their guilt and lit
candles in front of Netherlands embassy in Moscow. Why Netherlands, if
the liner was Malaysian? (Because Netherlands is a European “white”
country, while Malays are not?) Why guilt, if nothing was known yet? Why
did not we see pictures of slaughtered Gaza kids with caption “murdered
by Netanyahu”, killed Iraqi kids “murdered by Blair”, murdered Afghani
babies “murdered by Obama”? This is the incredible power of the Masters
of Discourse: when they go full blast, people lose mind and panic.
I welcomed every conspiratorial
scheme in this case, as well as in 9/11 case. Not because I believe or
even prefer this or other scheme. I see it as a useful device to release
minds from the holding power of mass hysteria induced by mass media. It
is necessary to sow doubt in order to release minds and regain sanity.
A successful 9/11 conspiracy
theory could have saved lives of thousands of Muslims killed in
Afghanistan, Iraq and elsewhere. Recently Israeli Jews were induced with
mass hysteria as three young settlers disappeared. This mass hysteria
resulted in half a million refugees and two thousand dead of Gaza. An
attempt to sow doubt regarding the official story (claiming they were
stolen by Mossad etc.) was an attempt to save lives. Likewise, every way
to sow doubt regarding the Malaysian plane was a way to save lives.
Now, one month later, we know
that there was no evidence of Russian involvement in the tragedy. There
are strong pieces of evidence suggesting Kiev and US involvement, the
best of them is a negative one: if Kiev and Washington would have a
proof of Russian and/or rebels’ guilt we would hear of it day and night.
If you are interested in detailed analysis of the disaster, you can read
this one, recommended by our friends. I must admit I am not
interested in details, for the reasons similar to those of Noam Chomsky
regarding 9/11. While every explanation that differs from one promoted
by Masters of Discourse is good because it breaks their hold on minds,
importance of such an event is greatly overblown by media. Anyway, the
air liner is out of news and out of mind by now, and this means it was
an accident or a failed provocation by Kiev or Washington, for otherwise
we would hear about it.
However, in real time the air
liner disaster made a huge impact on Russian minds. For a while, I
feared Putin would retire or be retired or removed from power, and
Russia would fall apart. The US wanted to get rid of Putin and place a
more pliable figure on the Russian throne, preferably an oligarch like
Their thinking was summed up by
Herbert E. Meyer, a spook (“an ex- Special Assistant to the Director of
Central Intelligence and Vice Chairman of the CIA’s National
Intelligence Council”). He
wrote: “Since subtlety doesn’t work with Russians, the president
and his European counterparts should also make absolutely clear that we
have no interest whatever in how these people solve their Putin
problem. If [the oligarchs] can talk good old Vladimir into leaving the
Kremlin with full military honors and a 21-gun salute -- that would be
fine with us. If Putin is too stubborn to acknowledge that his career
is over, and the only way to get him out of the Kremlin is feet-first,
with a bullet hole in the back of his head -- that would also be okay
Tension peaked at the most
dramatic night between Sunday, July 20 and Monday, July 21, when Putin
delivered a short message to the nation – at 01.40 am. For such an
unusual time, it was quite a tame message. Putin said nothing of
importance. Next day, he was supposed to make a major speech at his own
security cabinet. Again, he said nothing of importance. In my view,
President Putin wanted to show he is still alive and well and still in
command. Apparently this was not obvious for some persons, in Russia or
abroad, at that fateful night.
(to be continued)
Israel Shamir can be reached at