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  • Gang of Four: Senators Call for Tillerson to enter into Arms Control Talks with the Kremlin

    The co-authored article below was posted on the Consortium News portal on 10 March 2018 (https://consortiumnews.com/2018/03/10/gang-of-four-senators-call-for-tillerson-to-enter-into-arms-control-talks-with-the-kremlin/ )

    Quite remarkably, what we wrote as a Commentary has become a news article because in this second day following the publication of the Letter to Secretary of State Tillerson by four U.S. Senators on the official Senate website of one, together with a Press Release, there has still been no report of this stunning development in mainstream U.S. print media.  It would appear that even Senators become non-persons when they cross the line of political correctness and advocate a rational approach to the number one security issue of our day.

    To the argumentation of the Commentary below, I will add here two points:

    First, the fact that California Senator Dianne Feinstein is one of the signatories speaks volumes about the way the Russians have outmaneuvered the United States in secrecy that was impenetrable by the 17 U.S. intel agencies. Indeed, the Russians seem to have stealthily brought to the production stage several new strategic weapons systems that may render useless the ABM systems on land and at sea with which the United States is encircling the Russian Federation for the sake of a potential first nuclear strike, The U.S. program, now described mockingly by Russian analysts as a new "Maginot Line" was procured at a cost of hundreds of billions of dollars to the U.S. taxpayer.  Feinstein is one of the longest serving members of the Senate Intelligence Committee where, from 2009 to 2015, she was the chair, a position she ceded only when her party lost control of the upper house in midterm elections.

    Second, it is worth paying especial attention to the final paragraph of the Letter. It is noteworthy that these 4 harsh critics of Putin’s Russia are looking back favorably at the way Americans and Soviets negotiated mutual restraint in weapons of mass destruction during the first Cold War. Of course back then we had none of the vicious denigration of  Soviet leaders as has become common practice in recent years when even a U.S. Secretary of State has seen nothing out of the ordinary in likening Vladimir Putin to Hitler.  If the proposed talks on arms control are to have any chance of success, the U.S. side is going to have to re-learn respectful behavior and professional diplomacy

    .

    Gang of Four: Senators Call for Tillerson to Enter into Arms Control Talks with the Kremlin

    March 10, 2018

    Four United States senators are urging a new approach to U.S.-Russian relations based on renewed arms control efforts, but you probably have not heard about it from the mainstream media, Gilbert Doctorow and Ray McGovern report.

    By Gilbert Doctorow and Ray McGovern

    In a sad commentary on the parlous state of the U.S. media, a letter to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson from four United States Senators dated March 8 calling for opening arms control talks with the Kremlin ASAP is nowhere to be found in mainstream newspapers a day after its release on the Senate home page of one of the authors, Jeff Merkey (D-Ore.). Nothing in the New York Times.  Nothing in the Washington Post.  And so, it is left to alternative media to bring to the attention of its readership a major development in domestic politics, a significant change in what its own senior politicians are saying should be done about Russia that was brought to our attention by …..the Russian mainstream media including the agency RIA Novosti, RBK, Tass within hours of initial posting.

    What we have is, first, a genuine man bites dog story.  Two of the senators who penned the letter, Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont), have in recent months been among the most vociferous promoters of the unproven allegations of Trump collusion with the Russians. Now they are putting aside for the moment their attacks on Trump and members of his entourage who dared shake hands or share a joke with a Russian ambassador. They are openly calling upon the Secretary of State to send U.S. personnel to negotiate with Putin’s minions over our survival on this planet.

    The authors were in a tough spot explaining their new marching orders for State. And they have done their best to impose consistency on what is patently a new policy direction holding great promise for sanity to be restored in U.S.-Russian relations.

    First, they cover their backsides by the lengthy recitation of Russia’s bad deeds, including alleged election meddling in the 2016 presidential election, violation of international law in Ukraine and the like.

    Secondly, they make the proposed arms talks look like a walk down the Rose Garden, with the Russians being told what to do from a position of strength. The objective is focused on inserting two of Russia’s latest weapons systems described by Vladimir Putin in his March 1 speech into the framework of the START treaty as it comes up for renewal. That and to resolve issues over alleged Russian violation of the Intermediate Range Missiles convention.

    However, buried in this mumbo jumbo is that reference to Putin’s speech and the new weapons systems he described, which actually numbered six among them several never heard about before inside the Beltway and looking pretty ominous.  So, one may conclude that Putin’s intended “shock and awe” speech did have some effect in DC, even if so far no one is saying so, and even if so far, our leading newspapers have called time out till they can decide how to deal with the unwelcome news.

    Wittingly or not, the Gang of Four has just opened a breach in the wall of contempt and loathing for Putin and Russia that has been building in Washington for months if not years now. The immediate task is for word of this development to go out to the broad public and for the relics of our once formidable arms negotiations teams to be brought out of mothballs to face Russian counterparts who have been waiting keenly for this moment.

    Democratic Fissures

    The unusual way in which the letter was made public — and the evident uncertainty on the part of the mainstream media as to how to play it — reflects widening fissures among Democrats.

    Even among the most rabid fans of Hillary Clinton (and haters of President Trump) there is a growing sense that, for example, Congressman Adam “trust-me-the-Russians-hacked-our election” Schiff (D-Calif.) may not be able to deliver anything beyond the “trust me.”  And many are beginning to question whether the sainted Special Counsel, Robert Mueller may not be able to come up with much more that click-bait farms in St. Petersburg and dirt to put dubious characters like Paul Manafort in jail on charges unrelated to Russiagate.  (After all, Mueller has already been at it a very long time.)

    And what would that mean for the re-election prospects of candidates like the superannuated Democratic-machine product Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), whose prospects are already waning?

    Not to be ruled out is the possibility that the four senators may also be motivated by a new appreciation of the dangers of blaming everything on Russia, with the possible result of U.S.-Russia relations falling into a state of complete disrepair. The key question is whether President Putin can be de-demonized.  That will depend on the mainstream media, which, alas, is not accustomed to reassessing and silencing the bellicose drums — even in the face of new realities like the petering out of Russiagate and Putin’s entirely credible declaration of strategic parity.

    Gang of Four Letter to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson

    As posted on the website of Senator Merkey 

    March 8, 2018

    The Honorable Rex W. Tillerson
    Secretary of State
    U.S. Department of State
    Washington, DC

    Dear Secretary Tillerson:

    We write to urge the State Department to convene the next U.S.-Russia Strategic Dialogue as soon as possible.

    A U.S.-Russia Strategic Dialogue is more urgent following President Putin’s public address on March 1stwhen he referred to several new nuclear weapons Russia is reportedly developing including a cruise missile and a nuclear underwater drone, which are not currently limited by the New START treaty, and would be destabilizing if deployed.   There is no doubt we have significant disagreements with Russia, including Russia’s brazen interference in the 2016 U.S. elections; continued violation of the Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF); invasion of Ukraine and illegal annexation of Crimea; and destabilizing actions in Syria.  However, it is due to these policy rifts, not in spite of them, that the United States should urgently engage with Russia to avoid miscalculation and reduce the likelihood of conflict.

    First, we encourage the administration to propose alternative solutions to address Russia’s violation of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF).  Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov admitted to the existence of this ground launched cruise missile (GLCM), but contended that the system was INF Treaty compliant.

    Senior officials from the United States and Russia have said that the INF Treaty plays an “important role in the existing system of international security.”  As such, we urge the State Department to resolve Russia’s violation through existing INF Treaty provisions or new mutually acceptable means.

    Second, we urge the United States to extend the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START).  The Trump administration’s own 2018 Nuclear Posture Review (NPR) references Russia’s robust nuclear modernization program as a main justification behind the U.S. need to recapitalize its three legs of the nuclear triad.  An extension of New START would verifiably lock-in the Treaty’s Central Limits – and with it – the reductions in strategic forces Russia has made.

    The New START Treaty, which entered into force in 2011, provides transparency and predictability into the size and location of Russia’s strategic nuclear delivery systems, warheads, and facilities. New START’s robust verification architecture involves thousands of data exchanges and regular on-site inspections.The United States confirmed in February that Russia met New START’s Central Treaty Limits and it stated that “implementation of the New START Treaty enhances the safety and security of the United States.” These same Central Treaty Limits could also govern two of the new types of nuclear weapons referenced by President Putin on March 1st – a case the United States can argue through the Treaty’s Biannual Consultative Commission (BCC).

    Lastly, as the 2018 Nuclear Posture Review notes, Russia maintains a numerical advantage to the United States in the number of non-strategic nuclear weapons. The Senate, in its Resolution of Ratification on New START in 2010, took stock of this imbalance and called upon the United States to commence negotiations that would “secure and reduce tactical nuclear weapons in a verifiable manner.” Attempts by the Obama administration to negotiate an agreement on this class of weapons met resistance from Russia.  However, even absent the political space for a formal agreement or binding treaty with Russia, we urge the State Department to discuss ways to enhance transparency on non-strategic nuclear weapons.

    Extending New START, resolving Russia’s INF violation, and enhancing transparency measures relating to non-strategic nuclear weapons will also help quiet growing calls from many countries that the United States is not upholding its Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) obligations.  The Treaty’s three mutually reinforcing pillars: non-proliferation, peaceful uses of the atom, and disarmament can only be advanced through U.S. leadership on all three.

    There is no guarantee that we can make progress with Russia on these issues.  However, even at the height of Cold War tensions, the United States and the Soviet Union were able to engage on matters of strategic stability.  Leaders from both countries believed, as we should today, that the incredible destructive force of nuclear weapons is reason enough to make any and all efforts to lessen the chance that they can never be used again.

    Sincerely,

    Senators Jeff Merkey (D-Ore.), Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont)

    Gilbert Doctorow is an independent political analyst based in Brussels. His latest book, Does the United States Have a Future?was published in October 2017. Both paperback and e-book versions are available for purchase on www.amazon.com and all affiliated Amazon websites worldwide.

    Ray McGovern works with Tell the Word, a publishing arm of the ecumenical Church of the Saviour in inner-city Washington. He served in Army and CIA intelligence analysis for 30 years and, after retiring, co-founded Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS).

     

  • Vladimir Putin’s Electoral Manifesto: Speech to the Federal Assembly, 1 March 2018

    Vladimir Putin’s Electoral Manifesto: Speech to the Federal Assembly, 1 March 2018

     

    by Gilbert Doctorow, Ph.D.

     

    Several days ago, I wrote the first installment of my analysis of Vladimir Putin’s Address to the two houses of Russia’s bicameral legislature, on Thursday, 1 March 2018. In that essay, I focused on the last third of the address in which the Russian President rolled out major nuclear weapons delivery systems which were notable for unparalleled technologies that may change the world power balance. Putin claimed that Russia’s full parity with the United States in strategic weaponry has been restored. His blunt message to the United States to abandon its 16 year attempt to achieve a first strike capability and sit down for arms control talks drew the immediate attention of world media, even if the initial reading was confused.

     

    In this second installment of my analysis of President Putin’s landmark speech, I will consider the Address in its entirety within its other context, directed at the domestic audience and constituting his electoral platform for the election to be held on 18 March.

     

    The Russian President’s annual Address is mandated by the Constitution. It resembles the State of the Union address in the United States. Normally it should have taken place more than a month ago, and Putin’s rescheduling it for this critical time in the midst of the campaign raised some eyebrows. The head of the liberal Yabloko party complained to the Central Electoral Commission last week about that very fact. However, such complaints were already dismissed previously by Commission director Ella Pamfilova as lacking merit since such speeches were said to be “standard practice in many nations around the world.”

     

    Be that as it may, in actual fact the speech delivered by Vladimir Putin was not a simple summary of government activity in the year gone by and short term projection of future government plans. The speech took in a much longer time frame, looking back to the condition of Russia when Putin first took office in 2000  to highlight his administration’s achievements in social, medical, educational and other spheres till now and projecting forward six years, to the limit of the next presidential term, to set out in each domain of government activity what are the major objectives.

     

    This was also the longest speech of its kind delivered by Putin in his three terms as President, exceeding by far his previous record of one hour forty minutes.  For all these reasons it is entirely appropriate to call the speech his platform, or still better, as the British would call it with the stress on cogency of thinking processes behind the stated objectives, his “manifesto.”

     

    In every way, the Address was a direct response to all the criticisms of his time in office that Putin has received from his seven challengers in the presidential race coming from across the political spectrum from nationalists and liberals on the right and Communists of various labels on the left. When compared with the first debate among those seven aired on the federal television network Pervy Kanal on the morning of the 28th, it leaves the whole field of challengers looking like squabbling toddlers in a kindergarten.

     

    Putin and his advisers knew full well from the challengers’ prior position statements what are their joint and several lines of attack and his address was a direct, almost point for point response. With the exception of Vladimir Zhirinovsky of the nationalist LDPR, who essentially supports Putin’s stress on strong foreign policy and strong military as his most important task as President and of the liberal Ksenia Sobchak, who totally rejects Putin’s foreign policy as detrimental to Russia’s interest in accommodation with the West for the sake of shared values and common civilization, all the other candidates have no interest in foreign policy as such and insist that the best foreign policy is a good domestic policy. That happens also to suit very well their own talents and experience, since the debates quickly revealed that none but Zhirinovsky has any relevant experience in international affairs.

     

     The common position of five out of seven challengers is that a good foreign policy is possible only for a powerful state, and a powerful state is the product of a strong economy and prosperous people. One of the candidates, Grigory Yavlinsky of the liberal Yabloko party summed up the problem most efficiently:  a country like Russia which only accounts for 2% of global GDP,  a country which has a GDP and a military budget that are both only 10% of those of the USA, cannot compete on the world stage.

     

    Six of the seven challengers to Putin are persuaded that the electorate has no questions about foreign and military policy, but has a great many questions about the domestic programs of the federal government, about poverty, inadequate public health care, bad roads, corruption and thieving officials, to name just the most salient concerns.

     

    Accordingly, in his Address to the Federal Assembly, Vladimir Putin devoted the first two thirds of his time on stage to domestic policy, setting out in detail specific targets to be reached by 2024 in many key areas of activity and financing by the federal government with a view to creating a prosperous society that is just and attractive to its members, that enjoys robust economic growth and values the human potential of its citizens above all.

     

    However, in the last third of his speech devoted to military matters, he made the point that notwithstanding its still modest GDP and notwithstanding demographic and other problems confronting it, Russia has successfully countered US efforts to render useless Russia’s nuclear strike force. Ever since the United States abrogated the ABM Treaty in 2002, it has worked to encircle the Russian Federation with dual purpose anti-missile defense bases that will at some point confer on the United States a first strike capability.  The end result would be to deny to Russia its residual argument for holding its permanent seat in the UN Security Council and its prominent place in other international forums derived from the past glory of the Soviet Union.

     

    In his speech, Putin said nuclear parity with the USA has been restored and will be indefinitely sustainable given the decade long technological lead his country now has in totally new and formidable strategic weapons systems that can defeat any ABM array.  Russia is and will be a powerful state because it has an unequalled defense capability which provides physical security to its citizens, surely the first responsibility of any government. With physical security ensured, the government can create the infrastructures for a successful economy and successful civil society.  In all of this, Putin turns the logic of his political opponents on its head. 

     

    Russia’s hard power justifies its aspirations to a strong foreign policy. Russia’s nuclear umbrella, which he said covers not only the Russian Federation but also its “allies,” will be the strongest element of attraction. Depending on how the term “allies” is eventually defined, it is possible to imagine a line of candidate “allies” from the developing world in particular seeking protection from what they see as US bullying and regime change politics.  Russia’s hard power will clearly trump soft power, which is what Putin’s challengers are largely proposing to use in pursuit of an active foreign policy at some time in the future when the country is prosperous.

     

    Moreover, the hard power can be used to fuel the Russian economy as a source of innovation which, we will see below, is key to his program for accelerating the growth rate.   Russia’s military budget has an unusually high ratio of equipment procurement to manpower maintenance and operational costs, namely 1:1. Cutting edge and world beating technological advances in weapons systems can be a source of unique new materials, electronics, software and the like. Over the course of several years, President Putin has encouraged the enterprises in the Russian military industrial complex to develop civilian applications for their scientific breakthroughs citing specifically the need to emulate U.S. practices.  He has told factory management they must look to the civilian economy because the state will be cutting back on their funding as it completes its immediate acquisitions program.

     

    Some commentators in the West have said that the defense part of Putin’s Address was meant to rouse the patriotic pride of his compatriots for the sake of success at the voting booths.  However, I believe the calculation was more complex. The roll-out of new, invincible military hardware spelling national security swept aside the specific arguments of Putin’s challengers in the race.  It swept aside all the arguments from the past that he and his cronies have stolen the national wealth: the national wealth had instead been invested in saving the nation from its external competitors turned adversaries.

     

    Another view that has been promoted among some Western commentators is that Putin was presenting a platform of “guns and butter.”  No, the platform thinking is more subtle:  that you get butter only if you have guns.  This aligns with an argument that Vladimir Putin has been making for years: that nations unavoidably pay for armed forces; the difference is only whether they are paying to support their own troops or to pay tribute, covering the costs of someone else’s troops dominating them.

     

    There can be no question that electoral considerations drove the decision to present Russia’s new hardware precisely now.  There are several occasions of major publicity value domestically when this could have been done. The last one was back in December during Putin’s annual press conference.  Or, he could have chosen to break the news at a foreign venue of great moment, such as the Munich Security Conference in February, where Putin had first made waves globally with his speech of February 2007.  That instead Vladimir Putin and his advisers chose to use the annual Address to the Federal Assembly and to place that Address in the middle of the electoral campaign shows the intent was to kill two birds with one stone:  to overwhelm the presidential candidates challenging his next term in office, leaving them no time to formulate credible counter arguments, and to access the very large contingent of foreign correspondents who would be present for his annual speech to parliament.

     

    If this was indeed his intent, he was only partly successful.  Today’s latest televised debates of the candidates on the federal news network Pervy Kanal showed that one challenger was unperturbed and found an opportunity to make political capital from Putin’s Address. Ksenia Sobchak has once again repositioned her campaign and adopted the slogan of Peace Candidate, casting Putin as the candidate of the War Party based on his rocket show.

     

    * * * *

     

    Now let us look at the specific objectives Putin set out in his speech for making Russia prosperous and an enviable society in the coming six years.  Then we will consider the tools he proposes to use to reach these often very ambitious objectives: Do they entail major structural reforms of the economy as many foreign and some Russian pro-market specialists have called for?  Are they likely to require wholesale changes to the cabinet of ministers and personnel in the ministries after the elections, as some speculate?  Or are they incremental, building upon the programs his government has already implemented often in pilot projects in one or another region of this enormous country?

     

     

    “Quality of life” for its citizens and “prosperity of households” are set by Vladimir Putin as the ultimate objectives of his government’s domestic policies in a new term. This statement of purpose is undistinguishable from what his seven challengers are saying. Indeed, Putin has taken on board words and concepts that have in the past been the property of the opposition.  We note this stress on the realization of each person’s talents, and his specific mention of the need to expand to the greatest extent the space for personal freedom.  Putin’s program differs from those of the Right and the Left principally in the plans to achieve shared goals.

     

    Instead of re-nationalization and re-distribution of wealth called for by the Left candidates or stress on sweeping personnel changes in the bureaucracy to root out corruption as well as total overhaul of the judiciary for the sake of better independence and professionalism called for by the Right candidates, Putin calls for a breakthrough in applying technology to “improve the people’s quality of life, modernize the economy, infrastructure and state governance and administration.”

     

    The term breakthrough appears repeatedly in the text which follows and by itself would suggest disruption and new directions. He further says in the introductory section that it is “time to take a number of tough decisions that are long overdue.”

     

    However, at the same time there is a counter-indication that Putin is not campaigning against himself. He insists that the foundation is already in place: “We have substantial experience implementing ambitious programs and social projects.”

     

    In what follows, Vladimir Putin touches upon a great many separate social issues and on various sectors of the economy which will be central to any leap forward in global performance and creation of high quality and well- paying jobs at home.  Let us begin with those headings to which he has attached specific quantitative goals.

     

    Life expectancy.  Putin identifies this as a gauge of well-being.  It was 65 when he came to power in 2000, with male life expectancy below 60 at the time.  Today it is 73.   The new goal for 2030 is 80 plus, i.e., on a par with Japan, France and Germany. Though it exists as a value in and of itself, in the context of Russia’s poor demographics coming out of the depression of the 1990s, extending the productive lives of the citizenry, just as subsidizing young families to encourage more births, can be a major contributing factor to national output.

    Housing – in 2017  three million Russian families moved into improved housing. The target is for five million to do so each year in the next presidential term. Housing supply, presently at 80 million square meters annually, must go to 120 million

    Transport – make Russia the world’s key logistics and transport hub

    Roads – over the next 6 years to nearly double the spending on road construction and repairs, going from 6.4 trillion rubles over the period 2012-17 to 11 trillion with spending concentrated on regional and local roads which are still deplorable and a matter of great concern to the citizenry

    Rail – raise the throughput of major rail links to the Far East by 1.5 times, reduce transit time of containers from Vladivostok to Russia’s Western borders to just 7 days, more generally increase the volume of transit shipments between Europe and Asia 4 times.

    Northern Sea Route – increase cargo traffic 10 times by 2025

    Power generation – attract investment of 1.5 trillion rubles in private investment for modernizing the power generation sector. Shift the whole country’s power grid to digital technology.

    Internet – by 2024 ensure the whole country has high speed internet. Fiber optic lines to most populated areas with more than 240 people

    Healthcare – double healthcare spending to more than 4% of GDP over the period 2019-24.

    Restore primary healthcare to localities where they were shut. By 2020 ensure each small town with a population of between 100 and 2,000 has a paramedic station and outpatient clinic. For very small villages, create mobile units.

    Promotion of small businesses – by 2025 their contribution to GDP should approach 40%, taking in 25 million people, up from 19 million today. 

    Non-resource exports. In the coming 6 years to double the amount of non-resource and non-energy exports to reach $250 billion. Engineering exports to reach $50 billion; services, including education, healthcare, tourism and transport to reach $100 billion per year.

     

    Other very important elements in the priorities for development in the next 6 year term are described directionally but not quantitatively. These include education, fundamental research, culture, agriculture.

     

    Many of the metrics noted above imply very substantial government financing of infrastructures. Others assume public-private partnerships. And still others imply strictly private investment. 

     

    As regards the state, where is the money to come from?  As regards private business, domestic and foreign, why would they decide now to invest in the government’s priorities for development?

     

    The answer is found in an expanding economy, one placing bets on the newest technologies globally. An incoming tide raises all boats.  

     

    In terms of per-capita GDP, Putin says that in his coming mandate Russia should be counted among the five largest global economies, with per-capita GDP rising by 50% to 2025.  This is a dramatic increase from the presently anemic 1.7% GDP growth per annum, which lags behind global growth by one percent. His plan assumes in particular increased labor productivity. He projects growth of at least 5% per year in medium sized and large enterprises of basic industries such as manufacturing, construction, transport, agriculture and trade to reach the level of leading world economies by 2030.

     

    Rising productivity is a consequence of subsidies and other direct state support to priority industries to make competitive goods and a consequence of private investment of manufacturers on their own to upgrade and technologically reequip their own facilities.

     

    Putin tells us that the first precondition for the virtuous cycle described above has been put in place: low inflation.  Thanks to the efforts of the Bank of Russia these past couple of years, the inflation rate has been brought down to an historic low of 2% per annum.

     

    Low inflation has made it possible to lower the mortgage rate to below 10%, with a 7% mortgage on the horizon within the coming several years.  Mortgages already have reached an all-time peak of one million last year. Cheap credit will also enable project financing to housing construction, thereby passing from the consumer to developers the risks of non-completion of apartment buildings. This is not a small issue in the present campaign. The problem of defrauded apartment buyers has been seized upon by several of the presidential hopefuls as a stick to beat the present administration. Both mortgages on the demand side and project financing on the supply side will drive the housing boom that is presupposed in Putin’s electoral platform, raising the numbers of well-paid jobs.

     

    Meanwhile, low inflation makes possible affordable credit to business of all scales, and for shared infrastructure investments, another fundamental driver of the economy in Putin’s economic model.

     

    But there is more to the toolkit than Treasury funds and interest rate management. In his speech, Vladimir Putin described a whole array of legal, fiscal and administrative measures having the combined effect of improving the business climate in the country.  He called attention in particular to the need to pass enabling legislation for introduction of cutting-edge technologies such as driverless vehicles, Artificial Intelligence and blockchain transactions in several industries so that the Russian economy can be a leader in the fastest growing vectors of the global economy. 

     

    Technical means to curb graft and thereby improve the business climate include further reduction of  reporting and of on-site inspections of business by tax and other authorities with a shift to remote, i.e., digital exchange of information over the internet. Plans also call for greatly curtailing recourse to the Criminal Code to resolve commercial disputes.  These types of technical solution to the seemingly intractable problem of day to day corruption already proved their worth at the very start of Putin’s time in power when he simplified the personal income tax to a flat 15%, thereby cutting all contact between the vast majority of the population and tax officers to “negotiate” exemptions and the like, while at the same time greatly increasing tax compliance.

     

    The domestic portion of the Manifesto builds on real achievements over the past several years in steadying the economy during times of great outside stress. Though market oriented in most respects, it is also entails  state-directed economic priorities to promote “national hero” industries  as is practiced by France and other European countries. But this does not approach state capitalism. In his speech, Putin remarks that it will be an objective in his next term to reduce the share of the economy in state hands. This share has risen in the last several years as clean-up of the Russian banking industry resulted in failing banks being taken over by the state. Putin says these assets must now be sold off as quickly as possible.

     

    The domestic policies are largely a continuation and acceleration of good trends already in place using a familiar tool kit.  So where is the “breakthrough”? Likely it is to be found in the new technologies that Russia will welcome and facilitate through support to start-ups, enabling legislation, cheap credits and other technical means.  In this, we may see the steady influence on Putin’s thinking coming from some liberal members of his entourage, including, for example Herman Gref, the chairman of Sberbank, and even his prime minister Dmitry Medvedev, who has been an avid promoter of digitalization to streamline all government services.

     

    However one may regard the level of democracy in Russia, the connections drawn between freedom, innovation, the knowledge society and prosperity in Putin’s electoral Manifesto fit very well within liberal West European and U.S. thinking.  The thinking about balanced budgets and stress in domestic policy on the government’s role creating physical and legislative infrastructures for business to thrive fits well within conservatism of the pre-Reagan Republican party in the United States.  The fairly extensive social welfare dimension of Putin’s present domestic policy was not developed in this Address though he did speak of the need to raise pensions, ensure equal access to quality education and expand health care to all citizens however remote. That falls into the tradition of Bismarckian conservatism that gave rise to the welfare states on the Continent.  

     

    The problems between Russia and the West arise not in the domestic programs of Vladimir Putin, present and future, but elsewhere in foreign and defense policy. At his and his country’s risk and peril, Vladimir Putin insists on its sovereignty and repudiates US global hegemony. In this area, he enjoys the company of Russia’s patriotic Left parties and is scorned by the liberal Right.

     

    This then is the unique synthesis of Left and Right notions that we find in Vladimir Putin’s electoral Manifesto, which is nonetheless internally coherent.

     

    For a brief overview of the speech which I delivered a couple of hours after Putin finished speaking, see my interview with RT: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mK66tkYuPVQ&t=57s 

    © Gilbert Doctorow, 2018

          * * * *

    Gilbert Doctorow is an independent political analyst based in Brussels. His latest book, Does the United States Have a Future? was published on 12 October 2017. Both paperback and e-book versions are available for purchase on www.amazon.com and all affiliated Amazon websites worldwide. See the recent professional review  http://theduran.com/does-the-united-states-have-a-future-a-new-book-by-gilbert-doctorow-review/    For a video of the book presentation made at the National Press Club, Washington, D.C. on 7 December 2017 see  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ciW4yod8upg

     

  • Missile-gate

    Missile-gate

    by Gilbert Doctorow, Ph.D.

     

    President Putin’s 2-hour long address yesterday to the Federal Assembly, a joint session of both houses of Russia’s bicameral legislature, plus large numbers of Russia’s cultural, business and other elites constituted his platform for the upcoming presidential election on March 18. This, in lieu of participation in the televised debates on all federal television channels in which other seven candidates are busy these days.

    But as is the case with many of Vladimir Putin’s major presentations, the speech yesterday was addressed to a far broader audience than the Russian electorate. Many of the estimated 700 journalists invited to attend were foreign correspondents.  Indeed, one might reasonably argue that the speech was directed abroad, precisely to the United States. 

    The final third of the address, devoted to defense and presenting for the first time several major new and technically unparalleled offensive nuclear weapons systems, established Russia’s claim to full nuclear parity with the United States, overturning the country’s withdrawal from superpower status dating from the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1992. Some Russian commentators, in a burst of national pride, claimed that the power of the Soviet Union had now been restored and the wrongs of the 1990s’s were finally undone.

     In its own way, this speech was as important, perhaps more important than Putin’s talk to the Munich Security Conference in February 2007 at which he set out in length Russia’s grievances with US global hegemony installed in the 1990s and the  utter disregard for or denial of Russia’s national interests.  That speech was a turning point in US-Russian relations which headed us to the deep confrontation of today.  Yesterday’s speech suggested not the onset of a new arms race, but its conclusion, with outright Russian victory and US defeat.

    Putin’s address was a “shock and awe” event.  I leave to others, more competent than I in military technology to comment on the specific capabilities of the various systems rolled out yesterday. Whether short range or unlimited range, whether ground launched or air launched, whether ballistic missiles or cruise missiles, whether flying through the atmosphere or navigating silently and at high speed the very depths of the oceans, these various systems are said to be invincible to any known or prospective air defense such as the United States has invested in heavily since it unilaterally left the ABM Treaty and set out on a course that would upend strategic parity.

    Since 2002, US policy has aimed at enabling a first strike knocking out Russian ICBMs and then rendering useless Russia’s residual nuclear forces which could be shot out of the air.  Russia’s new highly maneuverable and ultra-high speed (Mach 10 and Mach 20) missiles and underwater nuclear drone render illusory any scenario based on non-devastating response to the US homeland following a US strike on Russia. In passing, the new systems also render useless and turn into sitting duck targets the entire US navy, with its aircraft carrier formations.

    US and Western media response to Putin’s address was variable. The Financial Times tried its best at neutral reporting, and midway through its feature article gave a paragraph each to two of Russia’s most authoritative politicians with special expertise in relations with the West:  Konstantin Kosachev and Alexei Pushkov, both former chairmen of the Duma Committee on Foreign Affairs. However, their reporters and editorial supervisors were out of their depth, unable to reach a consistent view on what the Kremlin is doing. On the one hand Putin’s statements about Russia’s “unstoppable” nuclear weapons are reduced to “claims,” suggesting a certain skepticism; on the other hand, the consequence is to “fuel concern about a new arms race with the US.” They cannot fathom that the race is over.

    The Washington Post was fairly quick to post a lengthy article in its online edition yesterday. An unusually large part consisted of quotes from Putin’s speech. The editorial line tells it all in the title assigned: “Putin claims Russia is developing nuclear arms capable of avoiding missile defenses.” I would put the accent on “claims” and “is developing.” The reporter and newspaper management seem not to have gotten the point: that one of these systems is already deployed in the Russia’s Southern Military District and that others are going into serial production.  These systems are not a wish list, they are hard facts.

    The New York Times was characteristically slow in posting articles on a development which caught its staff and management totally unprepared.  In the space of a couple of hours, it put up two articles in succession dealing with the defense section of Vladimir Putin’s address. In both, but more particularly in the article co-authored by reporters Neil MacFarquhar and David E. Sanger, the stress is on “bluff.”  It is blithely assumed that Putin was just delivering a campaign speech to rouse “the patriotic passions of Russians” and so consolidate his forthcoming electoral victory. The writers take solace in the notion that “deception lies at the heart of current Russian military doctrine,” so that “questions arose about whether these weapons existed.”

     

    These speculations, especially in The New York Times tell us one thing: that our media willfully ignore the plain facts about Vladimir Putin.  First, that he has always done what he has said.  Second, that he is by nature very cautious and methodical.  The word “carefully” (аккуратно) is a constant element in his speech vocabulary.   In this context, the notion of “bluff’ in a matter that would put Russian national security at risk and possibly cost tens of millions of Russian lives if the bluff were called – such a notion is utter nonsense.

     

    I would like to believe that the Joint Chiefs of Staff in Washington will not be so giddy or superficial in judging what they heard yesterday from Mr. Putin. If that is so, they will be urgently recommending to their President to enter into very broad negotiations with the Russians over arms control.  And they will be going back to their staffs to completely revise their recommendations with respect to the military hardware and installations which the United States is financing in 2019 and beyond. Our present budget, including the trillion or so being appropriated for upgrading nuclear warheads and producing more low-yield weapons is a waste of taxpayer money.

    However, still more importantly, the implications of Vladimir Putin’s address yesterday are that US intelligence has been asleep at the wheel for the past 14 years if not longer. It is a national scandal for the country to lose an arms race it was not even aware was occurring.  Heads should roll, and the process should begin with proper hearings on Capitol Hill. For reasons that will be clear from what follows, among the first witnesses called upon to testify should be former Vice President Dick Cheney and former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld.

    In the past such a revelation of a vast security gap with the country’s main geopolitical and military competitor would lead to political recriminations and finger pointing.  What came up yesterday is far bigger than the “missile gap” of the late 1950s that brought Jack Kennedy to the White House in a campaign to restore vigor to American political culture and wake it from the somnolent Eisenhower years with their complacency about security matters and much else.

    Moreover, the roll-out yesterday of new Russian weaponry that changes the world power balance was just one in a chain of remarkable Russian achievements over the past four years that caught US leadership entirely by surprise.  The explanation has till now been the alleged unpredictability of Vladimir Putin, even if absolutely nothing he did could not have been foreseen by someone paying close attention.

     

    One prime example was the Russian capture of Crimea in February-March 2014 without a shot being fired or a single fatality in circumstances where the 20,000 Russian troops based in their leased Sevastopol enclave confronted 20,000 Ukrainian forces on the peninsula. Western media spoke of a Russian “invasion” which amounted to nothing more than the Russian troops leaving their barracks. The Russians had used nothing more exotic than psychological warfare, old-fashioned “psy-ops” as it is called in the States executed to perfection by pros, all dating from the time of Von Clausewitz. 

     

    Then the Pentagon was caught with its pants down in September 2015 when Putin at the United Nations General Assembly announced the dispatch of Russian warplanes to Syria for a campaign against ISIS and to support Assad that would begin the next day.  Why did we suspect nothing?  Was it because Russia was known to be too poor to execute such a challenging mission abroad to precise objectives and timelines? In the same war theater, the Russians again “surprised” Americans by setting up a joint military intelligence center in Baghdad with Iraq and Iran.  And it further “surprised” NATO by flying bombing missions to the Syrian theater over Iran and Iraqi airspace after being denied flight rights in the Balkans.  With thousands of military and diplomatic staff based in Iraq, how is it that the United States knew nothing about the Russian agreements with Iraqi leadership in advance?

     

    My point is that the confusion over how to interpret Putin’s announcement of Russia’s new defense capability is a systemic failure of U.S. intelligence.  The next obvious question is why? Where is the CIA? Where are the intel bosses when they are not investigating Trump?

     

    The answer is not to be found in just one or two elements, for sure. Nor is it a failure that developed recently.  There is a good measure of blinding complacency about Russia as a “failed state” that has cut across the whole US political establishment since the 1990s when the Russia was flat on its back. One simply could not imagine the Kremlin rising to the challenge of its missions in Crimea, in Syria, in development of the world’s most sophisticated high-tech armaments.

     

    And it is not only blindness to things Russian. It is a fundamental failure to grasp that state power anywhere is not dependent only on GDP and demographic trends but also on grit, patriotic determination and the intelligence of thousands of researchers, engineers and production personnel. This conceptual poverty infects some our most brilliant Realpolitik political scientists in the academic community who in principle should be open to understanding the world as it is, not the world as we wish it to be. Somehow we seem to have forgotten the lesson of David and Goliath.  Somehow we have forgotten the Israeli numbers of 4 or 5 million standing up militarily to 100 million Arabs. It was unimaginable to us that Russia would be the David to our Goliath.

     

    But there are more objective reasons for the utter failure of US intelligence to grasp the scale and seriousness of the Russian challenge to US global hegemony. Specifically, we must consider the gutting of our Russian intelligence capabilities in the days, months, years following 9/11.

     

    There are those who will say, with reason, that the decline of US intelligence capabilities on Russia began already in the second administration of Ronald Reagan, when the Cold War came to an end and the expertise of Cold Warriors seemed no longer relevant. Surely numbers of Russia experts were allowed to decline by attrition. 

     

    And yet, when 9/11 struck, many of those in higher positions in the CIA had come to the Agency as Russia experts. It was the CIA’s lack of skills in the languages and area knowledge of the Middle East that was glaring in the aftermath of the Al-Qaeda attack on the Twin Towers that guided the reshaping of priorities for intelligence. Clearly this deficiency and the necessary re-profiling of expertise could not augur well for the continued employment of holdovers from the Soviet desk.

     

    But a still greater factor in the sharp decline in Russian expertise within US intelligence agencies was the shift from dependence on civil service employees to use of outside service providers, i.e., outsourcing of intelligence work.  This was totally in line with the preferences of the U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney, who introduced outsourcing in a generalized way to deal with the new challenges of the War On Terror. The same phenomenon affected the U.S. military, especially beginning in 2003 following the invasion of Iraq. Operational security tasks of the U.S. military were outsourced to companies providing mercenaries like Blackwater.  And normal procurement arrangements for materiel were short-circuited by the Vice President for the sake of quick satisfaction of urgent field requirements: hence the procurement of non-traditional but much needed fleets of armored troop transport and the like.

     

    Several articles in Consortium and elsewhere in recent months have called attention to the phenomenon of intel outsourcing. However, what was happening, why and to what effect was already clearly known a decade ago and promised nothing good.

     

    In a sense, the commonality of all these changes in supply of intelligence, equipment and military force has been a quick-fix mentality and direct political intervention into processes that had been insulated in the civil service with its bureaucratic procedures. Political intervention means ultimately politicizing methods and outcomes. Outsourced intelligence is more likely to meet the demands of the paymaster than to have some intellectual integrity and broad perspective of its own.

     

    To better understand the phenomenon, I refer the reader to an outstanding and well documented article dating from March 2007 that was published by the European Strategic Intelligence Security Center (ESISC) entitled “Outsourcing Intelligence: The Example of the United States.”

     

    The author, ESISC Research Associate Raphael Ramos, tells us that at the time 70% of the budget of the American intelligence community was spent via contracts with private companies. At the time he wrote, outsourcing was said to be greatest among the agencies reporting to the Defense Department. The CIA was then said to have one-third of its staff comping from private companies.

     

    Besides the changing priorities for foreign intelligence resulting from the end of the Cold War and the onset of the War on Terror, another factor in the changing structure of US intelligence was technologically driven. This relates to the modern communications technologies, with many start-ups appearing in the specialized fields of Signals Intelligence and Imagery Intelligence. The NSA availed itself of these new service providers to become a pioneer in outsourcing intelligence.  Other Pentagon agencies which followed the same course were NRO, responsible for space based systems of intelligence and the NGA, charged with producing geographic intelligence from satellites.  Add to that the changing intel practices coming from the development of the internet, which prioritized open source intelligence.  OSINT could flourish in the private sector because it does not require special security clearances. This soon accounted for between 35% and 90% of intelligence procurement. 

     

    As noted above, outsourcing enabled the intelligence community to modernize, gain skills quickly and try to meet urgent new needs. However, judging by the results of intelligence with respect to Putin’s Russia it seems that the outsourcing model has not delivered the goods.  The country has been flying blind while taking outlandish and unsupportable positions to bully the world as if we enjoyed full spectrum dominance and Russia did not exist. 

    © Gilbert Doctorow, 2018

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    For my brief overall analysis of Vladimir Putin's speech which was broadcast live on RT International a couple of hours later, go to  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mK66tkYuPVQ&t=11s Here I specifically address the question of Russia's nuclear umbrella for its "allies," one element in the speech which surely has Washington guessing.

    Gilbert Doctorow is an independent political analyst based in Brussels. His latest book, Does the United States Have a Future? was published on 12 October 2017. Both paperback and e-book versions are available for purchase on www.amazon.com and all affiliated Amazon websites worldwide. See the recent professional review  http://theduran.com/does-the-united-states-have-a-future-a-new-book-by-gilbert-doctorow-review/    For a video of the book presentation made at the National Press Club, Washington, D.C. on 7 December 2017 see  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ciW4yod8upg