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Playing Jenga the Russian Trade Edition

[NB: Check the byline, please and thanks. /~Rayne]

If you’ve played Jenga, you know many pieces can be pulled out of the tower of blocks and added to the top before the tower collapses. The trick is knowing how many pieces and which pieces must remain if the tower is to remain standing during its ongoing construction.

Now that Russia’s economy is heavily sanctioned, let’s play Jenga with Russian commodities. Which export commodities will be most affected? Which importing countries might be most affected?

I’ve spent a little time looking at Russia’s exports, concentrating on those where Russia’s products are a large part of the market. The picture is complicated. (It’s also not complete here, there are a few gaps which aren’t easy to fill.)

Context also matters which this simplistic look doesn’t offer. It should give us something to discuss and to consider outcomes.

Look at refined petroleum as an example. Within the last few years the US has been the largest importer at 7.84% of the total global export volume, but the US is also the largest exporter at 12.3%. While refined petroleum means more than one product — including ‘Mineral fuels, mineral oils and products of their distillation’ as well as ‘Oils petroleum, bituminous, distillates’ (under Harmonized Tariff Code 271000) — sanctions on Russia’s refined petroleum aren’t likely to affect export/import of US’s refined petroleum products.

Where sanctions will pose more serious challenges: smaller countries which may have relied on Russia because of negotiated finance terms which kept them in Russia’s political orbit, sometimes through secondaries. Think Cuba as one example (for good or ill, it’s not an IMF member) and its relationship with Venezuela. These countries may have difficulty obtaining materials in the market if they are crowded out by larger countries with better financing vehicles.

Here are the top products exported by Russia listed in order by total value:

Largest export product

Value USD

World Rank

Largest Importer

1 Crude Petroleum

121443

2nd – 12.5%

2nd in daily production

(2019 data)

1 – China ($204B) – 20.7%

2 – United States ($123B)

3 – India ($92.7B)

4 – South Korea ($67.4B)

5 – Japan ($64B)

Note: all EU combined ($276B, 2017)

2 Refined Petroleum

66887

1st- 9.62% (2019 data)

1 – United States ($54B) – 7.84%

2 – Netherlands ($41.8B)

3 – Singapore ($41.4B)

4 – Mexico ($29.3B)

5 – Germany ($23.5B)

3 Unspecified commodities

– Barley

– Buckwheat

– Oats

– Rye

55265

– Barley – 1st

– Buckwheat – 1st

– Oats – 1st

– Rye – 3rd

Barley:

1 – China 10K MT

2 – Saudi Arabia 6K MT

3 – Turkey 2.7K MT

4 – Iran 2.6K MT

5 – EU-27 1.3K MT

6 – Japan 1.2K MT

7 – Thailand 1.2K MT

8 – Libya 850 MT

9 – Jordan 800 MT

10 – Viet Nam 800 MT

Buckwheat: TBD

Oats:

1 – United States 1.3K MT

2 – China 350 MT

3 – Mexico 150 MT

4 – Peru 50 MT

5 – Switzerland 50 MT

6 – Chile 50 MT

7 – EU-27 50 MT

8 – India 50 MT

9 – Japan 50 MT

10 – South Korea 25 MT

Rye:

1 – United States 241 MT

2 – EU-27 60 MT

3 – Israel 30 MT

4 – Japan 20 MT

5 – Turkey 20 MT

6 – Norway 10 MT

7 – Kazakhstan 6 MT

8 – South Korea 5 MT

9 – United Kingdom 5 MT

10 – Belarus 3 MT

4 Coal

15987

2nd – 14.4%

(bituminous, not briquettes)

(2019 data)

1 – Japan ($19.3B) – 20.3%

2 – China ($15.8B)

3 – India ($11B)

4 – South Korea ($10.3B)

5 – Taiwan ($5.27B)

5 Petroleum Gas

9501

4th – 8.77% 1 – China ($47.8B) – 15.9%

2 – Japan ($42.3B)

3 – South Korea ($21.8B)

4 – India ($16.4B)

5 – Italy ($15.8B)

6 Wheat

6399

3rd 1 – Egypt 13K MT

2 – Turkey 11K MT

3 – Indonesia 11K MT

4 – China 9K MT

5 – Algeria 7.7K MT

6 – Bangladesh 7.4K MT

7 – Iran 7K MT

8 – Brazil 6.5K MT

9 – Philippines 6.5K MT

10 – Nigeria 6.2K MT

7 Semi-Finished Iron

6090

1st – 27.1% (2019 data)

1 – United States ($2.79B) – 10.8%

2 – Taiwan ($2.22B)

3 – Indonesia ($1.7B)

4 – South Korea ($67.4B)

5 – Egypt ($1.62B)

8 Gold

5740

less than 7% (2019 data)

1 – United Kingdom ($65B) – 19%

2 – Switzerland ($63.5B)

3 – China ($41.5B)

4 – India ($33.8B)

5 – United Arab Emirates ($31.8B)

9 Platinum

5121

1st – 16% (2019 data)

1 – United Kingdom ($6.83B) – 16.8%

2 – United States ($6.69B)

3 – Germany ($6.01B)

4 – Japan ($4.22B)

5 – China ($2.78B)

10 Raw Aluminum

4640

2nd – 10.1% (2019)
1 – United States ($8.63B) – 16.8%
2 – Japan ($4.44B)
3 – Germany ($4.44B)
4 – Netherlands ($3.36B)
5 – South Korea ($2.9B)
11 Sawn Wood

4506

2nd – 12.4% (2019 data)

1 – China ($7.36B) – 20%

2 – United States ($6.01B)

3 – Japan ($2.03B)

4 – United Kingdom ($1.95B)

5 – Germany ($1.45B)

12 Oils

4458

TBD TBD
13 Copper

4137

less than 3%

(copper bars)

(2019 data)

1 – China ($474M) – 9.17%

2 – Germany ($438M)

3 – United States ($395M)

4 – Italy ($392M)

5 – France ($226M)

14 Diamonds

3768

less than 4%

(all diamond types)

(2019 data)

1 – India ($21.4B) – 20.7%

2 – Hong Kong ($18.6B)

3 – United States ($17.9B)

4 – Belgium ($12B)

5 – United Arab Emirates ($9.56B)

15 Chemical Fertilizers

– Nitrogen

– Phosphorus

– Potassium

3165

– Nitrogen – 1st

– Phosphorus – TBD

– Potassium – 2nd (potassic fertilizers)

Nitrogen TBD

Phosphorus TBD

Potassic fertilizers (2019)

1 – Brazil ($2.98B) – 18.4%

2 – United States ($2.81B)

3 – China ($2.34B)

4 – India ($1.25B)

5 – Indonesia ($716M)

16 Nitrogenous Fertilizers

2896

1st – 12.9% (2019 data)

1 – India ($2.71B) – 11.4%

2 – Brazil ($2.36B)

3 – United States ($2.17B)

4 – France ($1.14B)

5 – Turkey ($808M)

17 Frozen Fish

2497

11th (fillets) – 2.48% (2019 data)

1 – United States ($3.02B) – 19.1%

2 – Japan ($1.98B)

3 – Germany ($1.42B)

4 – United Kingdom ($930M)

5 – France ($855M)

18 Hot-Rolled Iron

2462

6th – 5.25% (2019 data)

1 – Italy ($3.35B) – 6.82%

2 – Vietnam ($3.24B)

3 – Germany ($2.86B)

4 – South Korea ($2.19B)

5 – Turkey ($2.1B)

19 Gas Turbines

2352

less than 2% of global total (2019 data)

1 – United States ($36.5B) – 22.9%

2 – Germany ($11.2B)

3 – China ($9.44B)

4 – Singapore ($8.37B)

5 – France ($8.14B)

20 Potassic Fertilizers

2337

3rd – 15.1% (2019 data)

1 – Brazil ($2.98B) – 18.4%

2 – United States ($2.81B)

3 – China ($2.34B)

4 – India ($1.25B)

5 – Indonesia ($716M)

Here are export products besides those in the list above for which Russia is among the top five exporters in the world.

Vegetables

Largest export product

Value

World Rank

Largest Importer

Cabbage and other brassicas

TBD

3rd TBD
Chickpea

TBD

3rd TBD
Potatoes

TBD

3rd TBD
Carrots and turnips

TBD

3rd TBD
Pumpkin, squash, and gourds

TBD

3rd TBD
Safflower

TBD

3rd TBD
Sunflower seed

TBD

2nd TBD

Fruits

Gooseberries

TBD

1st TBD
Raspberries

TBD

1st TBD
Currants

TBD

1st TBD

Meat

Chicken

TBD

4th Chicken meat:

1 – Japan 1K MT

2 – Mexico 940 MT

3 – China 800 MT

4 – United Kingdom 675 MT

5 – EU-27 635 MT

6 – Saudi Arabia 625 MT

7 – United Arab Emirates 445 MT

8 – Philippines 400 MT

9 – Iraq 375 MT

10 – South Africa 370 MT

Fibers

Bast fibre

TBD

2nd TBD
Flax

TBD

4th TBD

Wood

Sawnwood (sawn wood and dimensional lumber)

See above

See above See above
Wood-based panels (plywood, particleboard, fiberboard, and veneer sheets)

TBD

3rd – 9.31% (2019 data)

1 – United States ($2.47B) – 16.7%

2 – Japan ($1.38B)

3 – Germany ($982M)

4 – South Korea ($714M)

5 – United Kingdom ($682M)

It’s easy to discount some of these commodities as inconveniences if they aren’t readily available. But for a country like Germany for which more than 40% of its GDP relies on exports which in turn require raw material imports, it’s not as easy to say a gooseberry or cabbage shortage is no big deal when it exports a lot of jam or kraut.  That iron whether semi-finished or hot-rolled may be short is a problem for a country whose largest industry is automotive with one in ten Germans working for that industry.

25.5% of Russia’s GDP relies on exports with much of the volume and income consisting of fossil fuels. In years when fossil fuels have been volatile, other commodities like agricultural products have kept GDP elevated. With the sanctions Russia’s GDP is already taken a beating. It could try to sell to neutral countries, but some of them may not have the financing or come with other risks. What could Venezuela offer, for example, when more than 80% of its own exports are fossil fuels in direct competition with Russia’s? Venezuela isn’t likely to want rubles even if it did have something to offer Russia.

Russia could trade with Mexico which has declared its neutrality. But efforts to increase trade would come at the expense of Mexico’s relationship with the US which buys more than 75% of Mexico’s exports in comparison with less than 3% Mexico exports to Russia.

The more immediate problem for Russia isn’t just that its industries are forced to scramble to find alternative buyers while imports needed for production are substantially more expensive now that rubles have lost most of their buying power. Or that their workers are or will be very unhappy with their wages which have also lost buying power.

It’s that they can’t make enough materiel fast enough to replace what has been destroyed in its 21 days of war on Ukraine. There won’t be enough electronics without some sort of submission on the part of Russia to China, in the same submissiveness exhibited by asking China for MREs for its troops.

There will be tectonic shifts in the marketplace because of the sanctions. India may play a much bigger role in filling the world’s wheat demand, as Dr. Sarah Taber noted in a Twitter thread this week. But it’s going to take time to ramp up a sustained place for India in the wheat market, and the amount of time is damned hard to predict when talking about a country which still plants, harvests, processes, and packages a considerable amount of its wheat using methods predating the 20th century. India is trying to scale up its seaports, but its largest seaport Port of Kandla is the size of Corpus Christi, TX. The changes are necessary immediately, not another crop season away even if India has a longer, more versatile growing season.

The upside to India as a wheat exporter is the physical location of Port of Kandla and its proximity to the markets which will need it most and urgently in the Middle East and Northern Africa.

And none of this figures COVID’s impact on agricultural labor. We’re kidding ourselves this is not a contributing factor to Russia’s problematic military deployment when we can see it’s a problem in our US labor force. It will be a problem in other countries which are now looked to as alternatives to Russian exports and we haven’t yet seen the worst of Omicron subvariant BA.2.

What are the other short-term challenges sanctions on Russia and war on Ukraine will cause? Pull another Jenga piece…in addition to all the damage wreaked on Ukraine, roughly 10% of its exports went to Russia. Ukraine may not miss the rubles for now, but they’ll need trade to replace that once the war is over.

Let’s hope military adviser to Ukraine’s President Zelenskyy is right in his prediction this won’t be a protracted war.

________

Sources:

Wikipedia:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_largest_producing_countries_of_agricultural_commodities

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_exports_of_Russia

Index Mundi:

https://www.indexmundi.com/agriculture/?commodity=chicken-meat&graph=imports

Observatory of Economic Complexity:

https://oec.world/en/legacy

https://oec.world/en/profile/hs92/petroleum-gas (2019)

Another Report from an Unidentified Russian Operative

[NB: Check the byline, please and thanks. /~Rayne]

Once again, a MASSIVE CAVEAT in advance of the fifth letter in a series purportedly by an FSB insider; this could be a psyop, it may be complete nonsense, it could be real, or something in between. I have no other authentication available at this time.

You can read the previous letters at these posts:

Letter One: The Pointy End of Attrition’s Stick

Letters Two through Four: Reports from an Unidentified Russian Operative

This most recent one is painful, knowing what we know now about some areas under Russian control in Ukraine.

There’s no rationality to this, no logic whatsoever correlating the actions of Russian military with Putin’s claims Ukraine is one people with Russia.

Or there is a rationality to this, consistent for the man who has either blown up, poisoned, or defenstrated those who are inconvenient.

Thanks to Igor Sushko for his effort translating the Russian to English.

1 🧵My translation of the 5th letter from the #WindofChange inside the FSB to Vladimir Osechkin. Written after the raid of the FSB on 3/11. The part that can be made public is pretty short and definitely please share far & wide. The text is only ~600 words. #FSBletters
2 As always, my comments for clarification are in parenthesis. So, let’s roll:

“Vladimir, good (REDACTED)! The temperature has really risen here, it’s uncomfortably hot. I won’t be able to communicate for a bit here going forward.

3 I hope that we’ll be able to chat normally again in several days. There is a lot that I need to share with you…
4 The questions are being raised by FSO (Federal Protective Service of the Russian Federation, aka Putin’s Praetorian Guard) & DKVR (Russian Dept. of Military Counterintelligence).
5 It is specifically the DKVR that’s mounted its horse and they are searching for “moles” and traitors here (FSB) and at Genstaff (General Staff of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation) concerning leaks of Russian column movements in Ukraine.
6 Now every structure’s task is to transfer blame to others and make the others’ guilt more visible. Almost all of us here (FSB) are occupied with this right now.
7 The bullseye is on us moreso than others right now because of the utmost hellish circumstances concerning the interpolitical situation in Ukraine:
8 We (the FSB, not #WindofChange specifically) issued reports that at minimum about 2,000 trained civilian in every major city in Ukraine were ready to overthrow Zelensky (President of Ukraine).
9 And that at least 5,000 civilians were prepared to come out with flags against Zelensky on the beck-and-call of Russia.
10 Do you want a laugh? We (FSB) were expected to be the arbitrators for crowning Ukrainian politicians who were supposed to start tearing each other apart competing for the right to be called “aligned with Russia.”
11 We even had established criteria on how to select the best of the best (of the Ukrainian politicians). Of course some concerns were even raised that we may not be able to attract a large number of people (Ukrainian politicians) in Western Ukraine among small tows and Lvov itself.
12 What do we actually have? Berdyansk, Kherson, Mariupol, Kharkiv are the *most* pro-Russian populated areas (and there is no support for Russia even there).
13 A plan call fall apart, a plan can be wrong. A plan can yield a 90% result, even 50%, or 10%. And that would be a total failure. Here – it’s 0.0%.
14 There is also a question: “How did this happen?” This question is actually a setup (disingenuous). Because 0.0% is an estimate derived from many years of work of very serious (top rank) officials.
15 And now it turns out that they are either “agents of the enemy” or are simply incomprehensible (according to FSO / DKVR that are now searching for “moles” within the FSB).
16 But the question doesn’t end there. If they are so bad, then who appointed them and who controlled their work? Turns out – the people of the same quality but one rank higher. And where does this pyramid of responsibility end? At the boss (Putin).
17 And here the wicked games begin: Our dear Александр Васильевич (Alexander Vasilyevich Bortnikov – Director of the entire FSB) can’t not understand how deeply he got caught. (Bortnikov realizes the deep mess he is in now)
18 And our ill-wishers from the GRU (Main Intelligence Directorate of the General Staff of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation) and the SVR (Foreign Intelligence Service – equivalent to the CIA) understand everything [and not just from these two orgs].
19 The situation is so bad that there are no boundaries to possible variants (of events about to take place), but something extraordinary will happen.
20 (The insinuation here is rather obvious in Russian: Putin and the Director of the FSB Bortnikov cannot co-exist.)
21 (The letter continues but we cannot post the rest)(END OF TRANSLATION)
22 Full translation in article form available here: http://igorsushko(.)com
23 [tweet promoting substack omitted]
24 Missed a word translating – “2000 trained civilian FIGHTERS in every major city…” Sorry.
25 [tweet containing Youtube music link omitted]

There’s such an emotional and psychic disconnect between the system described above which derived manipulated numbers reported as supporting Putin and Russia in Ukraine, and reality in Ukraine.

~ ~ ~

On March 11 in Melitopol, located in southern Ukraine about 119 miles west of Mariupol, the mayor was seized by Russian forces. A black plastic bag placed over his head, Ivan Fedorov was dragged away by armed men. He’s been accused of terror and allegedly tortured until he “cooperated.”

The town’s citizens have protested and demanded the return of their duly elected mayor.

Translation: “Residents of Melitopol took to the streets of the city. They chant: “Ukraine – Melitopol” and “Where is our mayor?” Russian military warns over a loudspeaker about the ban on rallies.”

A new mayor has been appointed. She sounds like a Trumpist.

On Sunday in Dniprorudne which is 50 miles north of Melitipol, the mayor was kidnapped.

We can expect yet another appointed mayor who will likewise sound like a Trumpy Stepford wife.

And as Guardian’s Isobel Koshiw wrote, there have been executions of civilians along with confiscations (a.k.a. thefts).

This is not an attempt to win the hearts and minds of Ukraine. It’s not a legitimate attempt to return people to the fold.

Putin’s invasion is genocide, and no amount of tepid arms-length explanations about Russia’s toxic internal politics can make this make sense.

If there’s a sixth letter in the future, I don’t think it will be worth the effort if it can’t shed realistic light on how to make this humanitarian disaster stop without compromising the consent of the Ukrainian people.

If there’s any value to this exercise, it’s that we can see connections more clearly between the U.S.’s veer toward fascism and its violent realization by Russia, manifest now in Ukraine.

Reports from an Unidentified Russian Operative

[NB: Check the byline, thanks. /~Rayne]

A MASSIVE CAVEAT upfront here, as with the first letter attributed to an FSB insider: this could be a psyop, it may be complete balderdash, and this time I have no further attempts to validate the source of the content to follow below.

However these three follow-up letters came through the same manner the first did — a Russian human rights activist Vladimir Osechkin published them to his website. I’m sharing here a translated version by a Ukrainian-born race car driver, Igor Sushko. You’ll note I’ve left Sushko’s interstitial interjections as they appeared in the Twitter threads in which he posted the translations.

Why am I not posting the originals from Osechkin’s site? Because I can’t be certain the site’s traffic is being monitored, or that the site hasn’t been tampered with, including malware and ransomware.

That said, I haven’t yet run across strong opposition to Sushko’s threads or translations. If you’ve seen any objections, please share them in comments.

There have been four letters to date; the first was published late on March 4 and shared on March 5. The second and third are dated March 5 but not translated and shared until March 9 and 10 respectively. The fourth was dated March 9 with its translation shared on March 10.

They’re worth reading as alternatives to U.S. perspective. What about these letters rings true, what doesn’t? Does the perspective here, filtered by a Ukrainian-born translator into English, have any potential affect on democratic nations which support Ukraine?

And what if all of this is an elaborate psyop? What should we take away from it?

~ ~ ~

Letter 2
Tweet thread beginning 10:35 PM March 9, 2022

1 🧵My translation of the 2nd letter in the series from an active FSB analyst to Vladimir Osechkin, Russian human rights activist exiled in France. Written 1 day later on March 5th. Buckle up for a long thread and definitely please share far & wide. The text is over 1000 words.
2 I will add clarification comments inside parenthesis where necessary. So, let’s roll: “Here’s the picture with regards to Putin & FSB.
3 On the one hand, he is supported and respected, but if you slightly dig deeper, it’s a collective feeling for the image, thanks to which FSB has the power that it really has. To serve (in the FSB), there is one unforgettable rule.
4 To most, this rule even appears rather natural and is taken for granted – To criticize Putin’s image is to betray your own interests.
5 In reality, Putin was never a spy. It’s actually an open secret. But here (FSB) our doubts concerning the authority’s competence is equivalent to treason.
6 Who makes the decisions? I can tell from our own work that there is no single decision-making post – intrigues and “people who are trusted by the top” lobby the teams, decisions, etc. In light of this, sometimes facts and even events are “created.”
7 I personally do not have contact with Putin, but if I were to assess him as a target for recruitment as an asset and develop a situational profile, then we have the following as fact:
8 1) Narcissistic disorders, possibly due to childhood complexes, as methods of overcoming them.
9 2) Rejection of family life – no information about his parents, secrecy around his children and his own personal life. This requires psychological compensatory mechanisms in search of close relationships. Such psychotype is prone to “cross dominance” in relationships.
10 3) He tries to surround himself with the type of people whom he respected/feared in his childhood psychotype, over whom he now has power.
11 4) Strongest psychological resistance of personal responsibility for difficult decisions. It is a result of the 1) above, but in turn, this also leads to a mechanism for denying his own guilt/responsibility even to himself.
12 From this, considering 3) above, we can say the following with near absolute certainty: Putin is psychologically incapable of refusing with justification, an offer from his closest circle.
13 But this also leads to the conclusion that he does not guarantee anything to anyone by saying “yes”, because to guarantee is to take responsibility.
14 With high probability I assert that in case of an offer from his closest circle, he will agree with every offer, delegating the control/responsibility to the person making the offer.
15 Psychologically, he will not have any contradictions in “agreeing” to mutually exclusive proposals – “you yourself are to blame if you failed.”
16 Next. The current situation is such that no one anywhere has reliable information on complex issues. The reports that go through me are then corrected by the leadership to be politically correct – more positivity, less negativity.
17 These already rosy reports are then again massaged to be even more rosy – and false. So, everything is very good here – I know this for sure.
18 At the top level of the authorities, several realities exist in parallel and they are all real in their own way. Power, just like money, is an illusion. It exists exclusively due to belief in it. It is an axiom of a theory of control. There is no Russia as a whole picture either.
19 It sure is something that Putin could find himself completely closed off in a “universe” belonging to someone in his close circle – there’s a reason he is afraid to even allow his ministers near him. This is something we are kept in the dark about and I do not have the details.
20 But what I know for sure: Volodin (Chairman of the State Duma of Russia) flew to Cuba prior to the war, and on the day of the invasion he wrote that it’s critical he fly to Nicaragua. No mention of war.
21 The lion’s share of people close to the main Towers sincerely believed that there would be no war. And they understood that such a war would be a trap. This is worth noting.
22 Did Shoigu (Minister of Defense) think that the war will turn out this way? No. He is not a real military man. He fully believed in the picture of the army that he painted Putin.
23 I am personally aware of such facts concerning this fu#&er, who is at the highest level of our military, they’d be too rich to turn into an anecdote (a Russian joke).
24 When for example Generals are demanded to provide rapid reports on victories, and they (chain-of-command) continue to pass on the order (for the report) downstream while screaming & cursing, until finally some Sergeant agrees to make the report in exchange for military leave,
25 after which he takes a video depicting American work in Afghanistan, erases the sound, and hands it off up the chain-of-command.
26 And the recipient up the chain, and so on, until it reaches the tables of the Command, who completely believe the report, and they hand it off to Shoigu (Minister of Defense of Russia), who then hands it off to Putin.
27 There are serious discussions about how Putin is lately absorbed by finding “mystical meanings.” From numerology to the shamans somewhere up north. Can’t say anything concrete – it doesn’t fit into any analysis.
28 But that the Czar is not the Czar is a fact. (Putin is not in charge anymore) He wants to be the Czar, but this is a trap of illusions and a field of object manipulations. Prerequisites are established for this from all perspectives.
29 About the internet – yes, we can shut down the internet. Technically. Can also sew closed your own mouth, in order to stop drinking. Technically, yes. Attempts to shut down (the internet) will be made. The worst is that various departments will compete for greater efficiency.
30 All kidding aside, my superiors sometimes say this in all seriousness: “North Korea lives in this regime (without internet) – and it’s fine.”
31 Anyway, war psychosis is scary – we can screw up a lot of things in this mental state. How this will end is unknown. Look at the big picture: We react in real-time. The law was passed criminalizing those who post “fake info against the military.”
32 Kadyrov reasonably responded that his structures belong to the RosGvardia (National Guard), meaning his members can’t be charged with this law. Another law can be passed (to exclude others).
33 And then one that excludes judges (from this law), then a law for those in the special forces, and then for the tax officials. This is not proper systematic work, but some kind of parody of case law in the United States. No exclusions should be made.
34 Which is why I believe in your actions (Vladimir Osechkin, human rights activist). No, I don’t believe that prison tortures will be reduced as a result of your actions. But the percentage of those who perfectly understand what is going on is rather high.
35 Within our ranks (FSB) as well as within the military. I need points of support so as not to feel like a doomed renegade. If this layer is also lost, that’s it, the lid of the country’s coffin will be hammered shut.
36 Soon everything will change. I am afraid to even think how and when exactly – we’ve entered the impossible state of “as it used to be” but do not fit into the state of “how we’d like it to be.”
37 We are now at a classic fault point in the country – as in (Evgeny) Messner’s “Mutinous War,” which was reworked into “Gerasimov’s Doctrine.”
38 Need any points of support (fulcrum) to maintain sanity even just minimally. And those who’ve already gone off the rails – they don’t care anymore.

~ ~ ~

Letter 3

Tweet thread beginning 3:45 AM March 10, 2022

1 🧵My translation of the 3rd letter in the series from an active FSB analyst to Vladimir Osechkin, Russian human rights activist exiled in France. Dated March 5th. Buckle up for a long thread and definitely please share far & wide. The text is over 1400 words.
2 I will add clarification comments inside parenthesis where necessary. So, let’s roll:
3 “I will start with the big picture. There are people with particular talents in the field of analytics (inside the FSB), who are retained here in the bureau not just for the value they bring, but to ensure that they remain under “control” (of the Russian government).
4 For example, and I am one of them, such people may never return to an ordinary life, the system does not allow for such a shift. “There” (outside the FSB) we are considered dangerous. This is my department’s policy.
5 I am here, and now I definitely understand why we won’t have any more Mercedes or BMWs (in the country), but will have a ton of Ladas. In order (for Russia) to have Mercedes, we must behave according to protocol which is optimized and controlled.
6 Without political decisions and knee-jerk demands of the authorities (that affect an agency like the FSB). This isn’t about “catching up and overtaking,” but about methodical and painstaking work, with a strategy rather than a wishlist. But in Russia this never happens.
7 We have plenty of resources within the FSB to switch to a method of systemic analysis, but nobody fuc$ing wants it. We can meticulously calculate variations, build models, and identify problems.
8 But on a whim, some bastard who is usually not even from our structure – I’m talking about senior officials, politicians and their hangers-on) can suddenly declare that “here (in the department) the mood is too defeatist,
9 and you are casting a shadow on the leadership of some state structure with which we want to avoid conflict.” There is professionalism and there is loyalty.
10 Loyalty is demanded – and is highly valued at critical times to elevate the leadership (within FSB) or to satisfy the “requirements from the very top.”
11 While we work on some pedophile & human trafficking cases, I say from first-hand experience, no one interferes. And we get results. And once we deliver results, then we are assigned to more political cases.
12 Analysts should not have emotions. There are forecast models, there are statistics, there is sociology. “Believe or don’t believe” should not exist (in his line of work). But it exists.
13 And those who are ready to nod and say “We will find a solution and solve the problem” are the ones climbing the ladder. Problems from such an approach are only piling up.
14 Now on to your question – the situation is out of control. Any model has a time horizon in planning with parameters for performance within functional boundaries. Now there is none of this: most input parameters are junk based on political decisions.
15 – reliable data on the military prospects of the operation. There are whole sets of data from various departments and services, and they contradict each other, which means there’s nothing.
16 -a well-developed model of economic management under the current restricted conditions (sanctions)
17 – reliable information with regards to loyalty of the elites in the financial and political sectors.
18 – reliable data on the impending extreme measures to be implemented in Russia.
19 (I POSTED THIS PARTIAL TRANSLATION AS I AM EXHAUSTED AND WANTED TO ENSURE I COMMITTED MYSELF TO POSTING THIS AS SOON AS POSSIBLE – I WILL KEEP TRANSLATING AND I WILL POST MORE SOON)
20 What we do have:
21 – a constant stream of new data on “emergent” economic problems that “cannot exist”:
22 partial failures in the supply chains of raw materials can stop complex processes, including the production of strategic products (military), the (non) functioning of single-industry towns and industrial agglomerations;
23 – the expected explosive growth of banditry and crime, due to the superposition of several factors including: economic problems, a decrease in the mental stability of the population from stress + war psychosis + compounded nervous state from isolation measures
24 – situational planning of the political sort without assessing the long-term [and even short- and medium-term] prospects for their introduction;
25 – segregation/compartmentalization of workflow and services and departments due to the loss of a unified management system;
26 – the growth of foreign policy threats, including military – there is no guarantee that Japan will not attack the Kuril islands or that Georgia will not attack Ossetia-Abkhazia, Syria and Libya is preparing for attacks against our units);
27 – the complete dysfunction of the former economic model as there is no more stabilization fund, the exchange rate is not stable, and the old system of employment is now impossible in principle.
28 There can’t be any forecasts with such inputs. We have now jumped from anti-crisis management to crisis management. And to be honest, we just entered catastrophic mode.
29 A catastrophe as a condition is characterized by “it will not be as it was, and how it will be, we will not know until it happens.”
30 Paradoxically, the country’s survival under such conditions for some time is only possible because of the autonomy of certain parts of the government. To be blunt, a police chief of a small town knows what he needs rather than adhering to the “universal commands from the center.”
31 Here and now, this and only this can extend the survival of structures and systems, but if we take a horizon of a year or more, then this is the death of the (centralized) government as whole.
32 As I predicted, Nabiullina (Head of the Russian Central Bank) will now be dragged, people around her will be prosecuted.
33 This will pulverize the banking sector into the trash – what will happen with the exchange rate and policy of the Central Bank – I am not an economist by education, don’t even want to think about it without systematic study.
34 The worst option – they will put in place the one who offers to turn on the printing press to “hold the situation.”
35 For the same reason [I am not an economist] I will not assess the prospects of the commodity market, but it has gone off the rails: everything is being bought out, which means the demand is causing crazy swings.
36 As a result, normal logistics are impossible as warehousing and transportation are calculated from the model of optimal average values, when there is the most uniform load to its full potential.
37 And when you need to produce, transport, store, and sell 2-months supply of goods in just 3 days, and then go idle for 2 months – that’s fu#Ked. At the same time, not the best is happening with loans – rates are rising, and access to money is only getting more difficult.
38 Burnout. Personally, I’m already burned out – indifference is seeping in, the desire to bust my ass is gone. It’s impossible to work toward a result with such inputs.
39 You want me to give you “plans for victory” and put on a smart face “according to the law of wartime” – OK, you won. Now that’s what I do. And burnout will be absolute, rampant.
40 Now the internal mobilization of the power resources (riot police, etc.) will begin, and when it is done without a time horizon, it is a catastrophe.
41 All departments are in elevated mode, everyone is looking for enemies and saboteurs, everyone is saving the country from the inside. Those who do not burn out – that’s who we should be afraid of. It will be classic lawlessness and fascism.
42 Many of our people (FSB) also believe that “now it is necessary to be tough with enemies,” and anyone around can become an enemy. This psychosis is happening against the backdrop of the professional deformation of one’s personality. This is a moral shift. Irreversible.
43 The Scariest. If at the top they decide to issue a command of “military expediency” – hell will be here immediately. Military expediency is lawlessness. The right of force. A person is psychologically wired to seek justifications for all his actions.
44 The law is only a tool that sets the boundaries. Because “for the sake of your country” you can shoot out the legs of a suspicious person, and you can kill a person who refuses to submit to a soldier.
45 Military expediency unleashes total freedom for internal justifications. In fact, it is the same revolution when force overthrows the establishment.
46 I have no universal forecasts except for the old one: By May-June we won’t have what to fight with (weapons), whom to fight with (soldiers) and how to support all this. But the turning point (of the war) will be in the coming days. I suspect for the worse.
47 And even if we choose to activate strategic aviation – it will only make it worse for us. Frankly, the United States is allowing us to get sucked into this conflict further. They understand that we are now trapped.
48 Markers we are still monitoring:
49 The West preparing programs that conditionally fall under the category of “oil in exchange for food.” For us. This will mean that the trap has been slammed shut;
50 Sudden changes in personnel in the government bloc, which we will not be notified about in advance to ensure additional control. This will speak of panic governing – a system of abrupt and consequential personnel decisions solely based on emotions;
51 Total nationalization. Personally, unlike many of my colleagues, I prioritize this marker above all others, as after this we will economically turn into Venezuela even without war and sanctions, this will be de-facto pillaging.
52 Military ultimatums from other countries. But we can also make our own ultimatums for now.
53 Desertion by the highest-level military-political representatives of Russia to other countries. We are tracking this nominally, but we do not have a “clean” special service (FSB) after all. It’d take long to explain nor is it very pleasant.
54 Improvement of the economic situation in Russia within the next 3-5 years is impossible in all available scenarios.
55 Although, of course, there could be exceptions: highly developed aliens 👽 who choose to specifically support us, we will learn to cast spells🧙‍♂️; something else from this opera (a Russian expression meaning something from a similar story).
56 And currently unknown is how Asia and the Arab world will react when hunger strikes these regions in the summer – grains will not be exported this year (from Russia).
57 It’s difficult to succinctly summarize such topics, but I hope that at least partially I’ve answered the question. You simply must hamper the torture processes within the prisons – there is no one beside you who can possibly do it.
58 Uncontrolled violence will be such that the bloody arrival of Bolsheviks to power will seem like a light warm-up. I don’t think we will be able to avoid the terrible, but it is worth at least to soften up the hell that is coming.
59 (END OF TRANSLATION)
60 Full translation accessible in article form: http://igorsushko(.)com

~ ~ ~

Letter 4

Tweet thread beginning 3:51 PM March 10, 2022

1 🧵 My translation of the 4th letter in the series from an active FSB analyst to Vladimir Osechkin. Written March 9th. As consequential as the 1st translated letter. Buckle up for a long thread and definitely please share far & wide. The text is over 1200 words.
2 Vladimir, good afternoon!

This is probably the first time that I’ve been able to write to you in the daytime during a weekday – everything is upside down now.

3 Under different circumstance, this information would look like utter nonsense, but right now, I am afraid, this won’t be the end of it.
4 First, we (FSB) are seriously evaluating a version that the current events of war with Ukraine is a war between the US and China, in which the Americans simply set us up and are using us. Now I’ll try to explain succinctly & clearly.
5 (This is the new ‘nonsensical’ working theory that the FSB analysts are being tasked to work on)

A global clash between the USA and China was unavoidable.

6 After the war started in Ukraine [at least here in this correspondence I don’t have to use the term “operation”] the cost of resources has risen globally, especially energy.
7 The main casualty of these events is China and our side (Russia) provided China certain guarantees, which I can personally confirm – that everything will end quickly (invasion of Ukraine). Which is why China has been tolerating the situation. But this was before.
8 The American situation is such that owners of the industry and oil drilling are in essence the same corporations, and that helps with the internal balance:
9 They make money on drilling when oil is expensive, and when it’s cheap – from industrial development. This is a bit blunt, but it provides the necessary insight into their approach. Shales (oil fracking), unlike the classic method (of oil extraction), is easy to stop and start.
10 Now the US will make an agreement with Venezuela and Iran. They can buy out Venezuelan light crude with a crazy discount. And the opening of the Iranian oil (market) will obviously be perceived with hostility by Saudi Arabia and UEA.
11 The Yemeni conflict is also relevant here, and a row of other factors which I will ignore for the sake of simplicity. But it all leads to the fact that the US had already made preparations for these negotiations in advance.
12 The US has basically set a trap for us, almost analogous to the trap set for Iraq in Kuwait, when Saddam Hussein was being convinced that for a “small conflict (incursion)” there will be no response. He entered Kuwait and “Dessert Storm” began. The beginning of the end of Iraq.
13 We were receiving similar signs that the US will not get involved, which has been confirmed from a military perspective.
14 China can absolutely give us a harsh ultimatum to end the war to stabilize the price of oil. If this happens, I don’t want to make predictions – it’d be on the horizon of catastrophic events.
15 Russia’s image is so negative in the eyes of so many countries because of the war, that the US can easily pressure the Europeans to impose sanctions against China in case China decides to maneuver around the current sanctions against Russia (to help Russia).
16 China’s high dependence on exports coupled with its dependence on commodity prices would result in a fatal blow if the cost of commodities goes up because their domestic market will disappear (Chinese population can’t afford the increased price of goods).
17 Not only that, Xi Jing Ping was considering a takeover of Taiwan in autumn – he needs his own small victory to be re-elected for his 3rd term – there’s a colossal internal fight between the elites.
18 Now after the events in Ukraine, the window of opportunity (to take Taiwan) has been closed. This gives the US an opportunity to blackmail Xi and also negotiate with his rivals on favorable terms.
19 In this instance, it is us (Russia) that set this trap for China through our actions (in Ukraine). We won’t be able to admit this out loud, even an assessment of scenarios from current conditions is “not entirely appropriate.”
20 Hence the desire that the secret becomes open: Yes, this is only a working version, but it exists in our structures (in the FSB).
21 Second – the evolution of the current situation.

Now about our other plans, which go beyond any bounds of insanity. Sanctions against Russia have reached a level with no precedent in history. The only thing that Putin is right about – this is essentially equivalent to war.

22 The current approach with sanctions leaves Russia without any chances. Now the matter may not be limited to threatening Europe – the chance of hostilities, albeit of localized nature, can be considered to be historically high.
23 Ukraine is a monstrously large front, there are smaller fronts. For example, if we were talking about Moldova, the military operations would really be limited to several hours. With the Baltics – several days, but there’d be artillery hits first.
24 (WILL CONTINUE TRANSLATING AND WILL PUBLISH IN A BIT. INTERMISSION FOR NOW)
25 Actual threats of conventional rocket strikes against Europe [not bluffs] in the event of further sanctions can no longer be dismissed.
26 Supporters of such an approach, who exist among those with influence on the decision, muse that in a sordid case we will simply be crushed by waiting until an internal implosion and collapse from inside (in Russia).
27 In addition to the rockets, we have the capability to conduct a massive cyberwar – the internet can be shut down (by Russia inside Russia). Such a possibility exists and it’d be difficult (for the West) to respond symmetrically (since Russia won’t have internet anyway).
28 And the external war should reduce the internal tension and redirect the aggression outward. However “should” – doesn’t mean it’ll be so.
29 There’s also a more realistic [but I can’t say good] plans of a massive disinformation campaign that we are prepared for the war and sanctions for years to come: This should pressure the Ukrainians psychologically – “It won’t end quickly, better to surrender” and also the West.
30 I suppose that various government powers (in Russia) could start pushing their own plans (on how to proceed). That will simply lead to even more chaos (in Russia).
31 I won’t talk about the economy – it’s like discussing the nuances of pacifism while being nuclear-bombed.

The terror has strengthened – there are no internal instruments to hold the (economic) situation inside the country.

32 But terror is a complicated and expensive thing – it should become temporary. It’s like holding your breath because the air is poisoned: If you can escape the area, then the action is justified. But if you hold your breath for “an hour” – you saved yourself from poison but…
33 Systemic decisions with a positive outcome do not exist. There is no Ukrainian political power that we could delegate the authority just for the optics.
34 If we present Yanukovich (former President of Ukraine that was Putin’s asset, who dismantled the Ukrainian military pre-2014), it will only expose how bad things really are here. No single strategically important city has been taken in Ukraine.
35 Kherson and Kharkov were considered the most pro-Russian. Pro-Ukrainian protests are not dying down in Kherson despite the presence of our soldiers. In Khrakov things are much worse.
36 Just summarizing the gist without getting into the details.

There is another piece of information that is critical.

The “Plan for Victory” in the FSB is being painted as such:

37 Zelensky will be pressured into signing a fluff peace agreement recognizing Crimea as Russian, and Luhansk- and Donetsk-oblasts will become LDNR. LDNR will be the focus of our negotiators in terms of nuance, etc. But it’s just a distraction.
38 The key clause would be about demilitarization, which would essentially ban Ukrainian intelligence services, and most importantly dismantle their counter-intelligence.
39 And here our people (FSB) already see the prognosis: Over a number of years, it would be possible for us (FSB) with some minimal help from the GRU (Russian Military Intelligence), to carry out a total cleansing of the socio-political field in Ukraine.
40 And after all this, we could install any government in Kiev. With high probability this plan will become dominant for the Kremlin with strategic correction, although the scenario is insane and aggression on other fronts is not being cancelled.
41 In theory, the plan does have potential, but how it will be in practice is unknown. There will be no military victory, only something like this
42 Lots of nuances, but most important – our side will be able to breach such agreements after they’re signed anytime, when there’s strength to turn the tide.
43 Then it won’t be the military but the “black crows” who will be executing the “second phase,” arresting those accused of breaking the agreement from the Ukrainian side.
44 This scenario is not as crazy as the others, but it is completely contingent on the idea that Kiev can actually be pressured in the negotiations.
45 We are now working the Western contacts at the highest levels – looking for countries who will support our position and to put pressure on Zelensky.
46 It could be another bluff, it could be an analogue of Wenck’s army in our current reality. Overall, as I’ve been saying, the level of chaos here is quite high.
47 In economic terms, we are falling and everything is very predictable: the abyss is fervently winking at us. 😉
48 We are limited in our ability to verify all data, but consider it important to disclose this information for the purpose of informing of the existing threats to global security. Нет войне! (No to War!)
49 (END OF TRANSLATION)
50 Full translation in article form here: http://igorsushko(.)com

~ ~ ~

I lean toward thinking this is mostly true, though even if true it’s presented by someone whose work is tightly defined, who is used to working toward an expected outcome if Letter 1 is an accurate assessment of the FSB’s condition. They live in one of the parallel realities they describe in Letter 2, section/tweet 18.

A narrow reality might explain perceptions about the oil market although it doesn’t explain why they don’t acknowledge their personal risk because they live in a Hotel California situation and there can’t be many occupants in that space.

All four letters taken together, I suspect the only way out for Putin is to pin the blame on someone or some department and make a massive example of them. If he uses FSB he will encourage those who can destroy him. If he goes after the military, there are retired military who may not take this well.

It’s a recipe for a lot of radioactive tea, nerve gassed shorts, and inconveniently placed windows.

It would be best for everyone if one of Putin’s leadership cohort chose to fall on their sword to get him out of this mess, but if Putin is perceived as weak in the same way this purported letter writer does, they’re not going to leave Putin at the helm.

This alleged FSB insider still suffers from delusional thinking inside their parallel reality, too — no reformulation of Russian intelligence will give them control over Ukraine’s democracy. A purged and rejuvenated Russian intelligence,  however, might eventually seat a leadership in Russia which looks more like Ukraine’s.

But I don’t recommend anyone hold their breath.

Two things which really must be discussed whether these letters are true, partly true, or not true at all:

— food aid and not just for oil, given the likelihood of massive crop failures ahead which will affect large portions of the world;

— the trap, because there is one though it doesn’t yet appear fully set.

Go ahead, bring it in comments once you’ve finished digesting this.

Putin’s FSB: Failed Straightforwardness and Benevolence

[NB: Check the byline, thanks. /~Rayne]

It’s rather amusing that in Sun Tzu’s The Art of War — the ancient Chinese monograph used globally to teach the fundaments of warfare — spying is addressed in the very last of its 13 chapters.

To conduct successful and effective warfare, intelligence collection and analysis including spying should be a country’s first consideration. A nation’s leader can’t make an informed, reasoned decision  to take any military action let alone commit resources ahead of the possibility of war, without knowing everything possible about the potential opponent as well as knowledge of one’s own state.

Somehow Vladimir Putin neglected this critical lesson, subordinating the critical nature of Russia’s own FSB to his narcissism. He’s learned the hard way — assuming he’s actually getting the truth from anyone in his circle — that the intelligence on which he operated was deeply flawed.

He has no one to blame but himself but he’ll be sure to punish others for his weakness. The director and deputy of FSB have allegedly been taken into custody for questioning.

I actually feel a little sorry for FSB personnel, if the first letter from the FSB insider is true; political conditions didn’t allow anyone to share anything but happy talk of victory based on the narrowest of intelligence, because Putin apparently can’t handle the truth.

From The Art of War:

15. Spies cannot be usefully employed without a certain intuitive sagacity.

16. They cannot be properly managed without benevolence and straightforwardness.

17. Without subtle ingenuity of mind, one cannot make certain of the truth of their reports.

Assuming the first FSB letter is true — and the detention of FSB leadership suggests it is — Putin wasn’t able to exercise the necessary benevolence and straightforwardness necessary to obtain candid and complete reports. How can spies and analysts obtain and present the truth when they’re under tight political restrictions to report only what a volatile president wants to hear?

Furthermore, if the president is afraid of his own intelligence community to the point where he ensures they are suffocatingly restrained, he will get out of them nothing useful.

~ ~ ~

Let’s look at the organization of the Russian “coercive apparatus” which has been compartmented to reduce the changes of a coup. Adam Casey, post-doc fellow at Weiser Center for Emerging Democracies at the University of Michigan, shared a Twitter thread describing this system.

1 What are the prospects for a coup against Putin in Russia? A thread on what we know about coups in other similar regimes and how the Russian coercive apparatus is structured to prevent coups 1/16
2 First of all, the grievances that have motivated coups elsewhere are present in Russia: battlefield setbacks, low morale, economic catastrophe, disgruntled elites harmed by Putin’s actions
3 But Putin has been preparing for the risks posed by a palace or military coup for decades. The Russian coercive apparatus in fact has multiple mechanisms to prevent a coup
4 First, Russia has a large praetorian guard, the Federal Protective Service (Федеральная служба охраны). The FSO is the successor to the KGB 9th Directorate and is responsible for leadership protection and is well armed. Estimates of its size vary widely
5 Second, Putin consolidated his internal security troops under the National Guard (Росгвардия) in 2016. I don’t see the Guard as a coup-proofing measure per se, but more about centralizing the agencies useful for repressing mass protests in Russia
6 Yet by removing the possible use of the regular army for repression at home, Rosgvardia does help reduce some of the motivations for coups. In comparative perspective, we know militaries really dislike being used for domestic repression and it has motivated coups
7 Third, Russia has the FSB. The FSB is not only large, with its own security troops, but it has one key mechanism to prevent a military coup in Russia: the military counterintelligence department (Департамента военной контрразведки ФСБ)
8 The Soviet system had essentially three components to prevent a military coup: 1) party membership for officers/soldiers; 2) political commissars; 3) embedded secret police (‘special departments’). This was coup prevention through the penetration of the army by monitoring agents
9 Contemporary Russia has 1 of those 3 mechanisms. Officers are not generally members of the ruling party (United Russia) and when active duty officers have run for office (like Gen. Kartapolov last year) it was unusual. He also retired his commission
10 Commissars are also absent. There is technically a successor to the main political administration (the org responsible for managing the commissars) but it does not function in the same way as during the USSR)
11 The only major part of the Soviet system present is the military counterintelligence department of the FSB. This department monitors the military. It was strengthened considerably a couple months after Putin came into office. He once described the department as a “mini-FSB”
12 The FSB is much more autonomous than the Soviet KGB (it is not under any central party control), it is also engaged far more in corruption than the Soviet service. Corruption of course was (especially later on) a problem in the KGB, but in the FSB it is more pronounced
13 In short, there are a lot of mechanisms to prevent a coup in Russia. Yet in other ways Russia also doesn’t have a typically ‘coup proofed’ military. His nephew doesn’t run the 1st armored division in Moscow or anything like that. It has a professional officer corps
14 Instead, the Russian military’s loyalty to the system is generally sought through autonomy and insulation from politics, and of course the watchful gaze of the FSB military counterintelligence department.
15 In part for these reasons, I think the most likely scenario for actually ousting Putin is elite defection rather than a coup. It is really hard to coordinate a coup even against a hated dictator, especially with a security apparatus as extensive as Putin’s
16 But it might be more likely for elites to defect from the regime rather than use extensive repression to save Putin. This too is perhaps unlikely, but the costs of defection can be less than the costs of a failed coup (jail, exile, death). /end

There are so many moving parts watching other moving parts it’s a wonder anything constructive has ever been done — and perhaps there hasn’t. Each function must be constantly looking over their shoulder making straight feedback difficult. Benevolence as The Art of War calls it, or the lack thereof, expressed in suspicion inhibits productivity.

When the apparatus spends so much time looking inward, constantly second guessing what the leader wants to hear while working under pressure from kleptocratic forces, it’s irrational to expect lucid, honest intelligence. Straightforwardness in reporting is a casualty.

~ ~ ~

The quality of Russian intelligence is not the only loss; nine Russian generals are reported to have died since the invasion of Ukraine began.

I used the passive voice there because Russia and its predecessor the USSR have an unfortunate history when it comes to losing generals.

Materiel losses continue to mount…

…along with personnel losses.


There can’t be much regular army to call up to replace those killed, injured, or surrendered if Putin is calling for volunteers from elsewhere like Syria.


Wagner Group personnel were detailed as part of a hit squad to decapitate Ukraine’s government, but now there appears to be wider recruitment. Again, this also suggests limited regular army for deployment to Ukraine.


Contractors don’t have the same motivations as regular army; they may not accept getting paid in rubles which makes sanctions even more important to deterring mercenaries. They’re not loyal to a nationalist cause if they’re not Russian, which may make them harder to command and control.

How will the Russian army respond if it feels it’s not only been set up to fail, its efforts potentially undermined by contractors while it suffers for lack of adequate support? We’ve seen enough anecdotes about Russian troops who had inadequate food and water from day one; they may have been given permission to loot. What happens when remaining Russian military leadership feels the weight of  condemnation and ridicule directed at their mission, let alone its futility?

None of this suggests the kind of discipline necessary to prevent a coup.

~ ~ ~

Outside the “coercive apparatus,” the Russian government, and the shuttered social and independent media, the truth about Russia’s illegal and misbegotten invasion of Ukraine has begun to leak through to the public. Protests have made it onto television:

Vladimir Soloviyev, usually one of the Kremlin’s most reliable chief propagandists, had to interrupt guests on his prime time television talk show to stop their criticism of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Speaking during a broadcast on Russia 1, Karen Shakhnazarov, a filmmaker and state pundit, said the conflict in Ukraine risked isolating Russia.

He told Mr Soloviyev: “I have a hard time imagining taking cities such as Kyiv. I can’t imagine how that would look.”

He went on to call for the conflict to be brought to an end, saying: “If this picture starts to transform into an absolute humanitarian disaster, even our close allies like China and India will be forced to distance themselves from us.

This is an interesting sleight of hand. Soloviyev has been sanctioned by the European Union, his Italian villa seized. He stopped the protest against the invasion on his program featured on Russia 1 network, but he could have prevented the content from being broadcast if he really wanted to keep it off the air.

Similarly, a protest by a military officer also leaked through a talk show on Zvezda, the Russian ministry of defense’s network. The officer wanted the deaths of his comrades honored thought the program host asked him to stop his line of commentary. It was another subtle method of telling the public there are many military deaths in Ukraine to be acknowledged by the government and the public.

The invasion began only 17 days ago and it’s already been likened to “Afghanistan, but even worse” on Russian television.

One doesn’t need to be a trained intelligence analyst to understand what this means in a country which does not allow much free speech.

~ ~ ~

In the first chapter of The Art of War it is written, “All warfare is based on deception.”

Deceiving one’s own country about warfare treats them like the enemy. After a while it becomes difficult to know who the enemy really is. We might wonder if Russia’s FSB has come to the same conclusion.

The Pointy End of Attrition’s Stick

[NB: check the byline as usual, thanks. /~Rayne]

Russia continued bombing Ukraine this weekend, as you’re no doubt well aware.


On Friday I wrote about a world war of attrition, in which Russia’s economy appears fucked in tandem with Russia’s Aleppo-style attack on Ukrainian cities.

It’s not clear whether a majority of the Russian public knows what’s going on and how badly they will be affected by economic sanctions, thanks to Putin’s stranglehold on independent news media and social media. We’ve seen brave protesters in large numbers in Moscow, St. Petersburg, and several other cities but the sentiment of Russians outside urban centers isn’t readily accessible.

While Putin continues his steady genocidal obliteration of Ukraine’s cities, the pointy end of this war of attrition is coming around toward Russia.

~ ~ ~

I want to share and discuss something published on Twitter and shared in Pastebin which may shed light on the how, what, and why of the Russian invasion.

MASSIVE CAVEAT: The letter which follows is believed to be the assessment of a current FSB employee. Christo Grosev, executive director of Bellingcat, sought validation of the letter’s origins.

This is not an assurance on my part of the letter’s source or its contents. Grosev’s investigation, though, allows readers to weight the authenticity of the letter and and its content. Team Bellingcat has been extremely reliable in its open source intelligence. /END CAVEAT

If this letter is a very good psyop — one which Grosev and his FSB contacts couldn’t detect easily — and is instead the work of a Russian active measure intended to influence the west, how would Putin expect it work on us, especially if the best, most effective influence operations contain truth mixed with disinformation?

Which portions of this are more likely to be true than not if it is a psyop? What indicators would validate those portions which might be true?

If this letter and its assessment is wholly true, what are the likely next failures we’ll see in Russia?

1 One of the insiders from the Russian special services, I will publish without edits or censorship, because it’s hell: “I’ll be honest: I almost did not sleep all these days, almost all the time at work, my head is a bit floating, like in a fog. And from overwork sometimes already catching states, as if it’s all not real.
2 Frankly speaking, Pandora’s Box is open – by summer a real horror of world scale will start – global famine is inevitable (Russia and Ukraine were the main grain suppliers in the world, this year’s harvest will be smaller, and logistical problems will bring the disaster to its peak).
3 I cannot tell you what guided the decision to operate, but now all the dogs are methodically brought down on us (the Service). We are scolded for being analytical – this is very much in my line of work, so I will explain what is wrong.
4 We have been under increasing pressure lately to adjust reports to the requirements of management – I once touched on this subject. All these political consultants, politicians and their entourage, influence teams – it’s all been creating chaos. A lot of it.
5 Most importantly, no one knew that there would be such a war, it was hidden from everyone. And here is an example: You are asked (conventionally) to calculate the possibility of human rights in different conditions, including a prison attack by meteorites. You specify the meteorites, and you are told that this is just a reinsurance for calculations, there will be nothing like that. You understand that the report will be only for a tick, but it must be written in a victorious style, so that there would be no questions, saying, why do you have so many problems, did you not work well? In general, you write a report that in the fall of a meteorite, we have everything to eliminate the consequences, we are good, all is well. And you concentrate on the tasks that are real – we do not have enough strength. And then suddenly really throw meteorites and expect that everything will be on your analysis, which were written from the ball.
6 That’s why we have total fuck-ups – I don’t even want to choose another word. There is no defense against sanctions for the same reason: Nabiullina may well be found guilty of negligence (more likely the point men on her team), but what is their fault? No one knew that there would be such a war, so no one was prepared for such sanctions. This is the flip side of secrecy: since no one told anyone, who could have calculated what no one told?
7 Kadyrov’s going off the rails. There was almost a conflict with us, too: the Ukrainians may have planted the lie that we had given up the routes of Kadyrov’s special units in the first days of the operation. They were killed in the most horrific way, they hadn’t even begun to fight yet, and they were simply torn apart in some places. And so it went: the FSB leaked the routes to the Ukrainians. I do not have such information, I will leave 1-2% for the reliability (you can not completely exclude it either).
8 The blitz has failed. It is simply impossible to accomplish the task now: if in the first 1-3 days they had captured Zelensky and government officials, seized all the key buildings in Kiev, let them read the order to surrender – yes, the resistance would have subsided to a minimum. Theoretically. But then what? Even with this ideal scenario, there was an unsolvable problem: with whom to negotiate? If we tear down Zelensky, all right, with whom would we sign agreements? If with Zelensky, then these papers won’t be worth anything after his demolition. OPZJ refused to cooperate: Medvedchuk is a coward, he ran away. There is a second leader there – Boyko, but he refuses to work with us – even his own people won’t understand him. We wanted to bring Tsarev back, but even our pro-Russian ones have turned against us. Should we bring back Yanukovych? How can we do that? If we say that we can’t occupy him, then all our government will be killed 10 minutes after we leave. Occupy? And where are we going to get so many people? Commandant’s office, military police, counterintelligence, guards – even with the minimum resistance from the locals we need 500 thousand or more people. Not counting the supply system. And there is a rule of thumb that by overriding quantity with poor management you only ruin everything. And that, I repeat, would be under an ideal scenario, which does not exist.
9 What about now? We can’t declare a mobilization for two reasons:
10 1) Large-scale mobilization would undermine the situation inside the country: political, economic, social.
11 2) Our logistics are already overstretched today. We will send a much larger contingent, and what will we get? Ukraine is a huge country in terms of territory. And now the level of hatred towards us is off the charts. Our roads simply can’t absorb such supply caravans – everything will come to a standstill. And we will not be able to manage it, because it is chaos.
12 And these two reasons are falling out at the same time, although even one is enough to break everything.
13 As for losses: I do not know how many. Nobody knows. The first two days there was still control, now no one knows what’s going on there. It is possible to lose large units from communication. They may be found, or they may be dispersed because they were attacked. And even their commanders may not know how many are running around, how many have died, how many have been taken prisoner. The death toll is definitely in the thousands. It can be 10 thousand, it can be 5, and it can be only 2. Even at headquarters they don’t know that for sure. But it should be closer to 10. And we are not counting the LNRD corps right now – they have their own count.
14 Now, even if we kill Zelensky and take him prisoner, nothing will change. Chechnya is there by the level of hatred towards us. And now even those who were loyal to us are against it. Because they were planning on above, because we were told that such an option will not happen, unless we are attacked. Because we were told that we must create the most credible threat in order to agree peacefully on the right terms. Because we initially prepared protests inside Ukraine against Zelensky. Without regard to our direct entry. An invasion, to put it simply.
15 Further, civilian losses will go exponentially – and resistance to us will only increase, too. We have already tried to enter the cities with infantry – out of twenty landing groups, only one was a tentative success. Remember the storming of Mosul – that was the rule in all countries, nothing new.
16 To keep it under siege? According to the experience of military conflicts in Europe in recent decades (Serbia is the largest testing ground here), cities can be under siege for years, and even function. It is only a matter of time before humanitarian convoys from Europe get there.
17 We have a conditional deadline of June. Conditional – because in June we have no economy, nothing left. By and large, next week will begin to turn to one side, simply because the situation cannot be in such overdrive. There is no analytics – you can’t calculate the chaos, no one can say anything for sure here. Acting on intuition, and even on emotion – but this is not poker. The stakes will be raised, hoping that suddenly some option will shoot through. The trouble is that we too can now miscalculate and lose everything in one move.
18 Basically, the country has no way out. There is simply no option for a possible victory, and if we lose – that’s it, we’re screwed. Then they decided to kick weak Japan and get a quick win, then it turned out that the army was a disaster. Then they started a war to the bitter end, then they took the Bolsheviks to “re-educate” them in the army – they were outcasts, nobody was interested in them in the masses. And then nobody really knew the Bolsheviks picked up anti-war slogans and they went crazy…
19 On the plus side: we did everything to prevent even a hint of mass sending of the “fine men” to the front line. Send there cons and “socially unreliable”, political (so they don’t muddy the water inside the country) – the morale of the army will simply go down the drain. And the enemy is motivated, motivated monstrously. They know how to fight, they have enough middle-ranking commanders. They have weapons. They have support. We will simply create a precedent for human losses in the world. That’s all.
20 What we fear the most: they are acting on the rule of overlapping an old problem with a new one. This was largely the reason for the start of Donbass in 2014 – it was necessary to draw the attention of Westerners away from the Russian spring in Crimea, so the Donbass crisis was supposed to draw all the attention to itself and become a bargaining chip. But even bigger problems started there. Then they decided to sell Erdogan on the four pipes of South Stream and went into Syria – this was after Suleimani gave deliberately false inputs to solve his problems. As a result, we failed to solve the problem with the Crimea, there are problems with Donbass too, South Stream has shrunk to 2 pipes, and Syria is another headache (if we go out, they will bring down Assad, which will make us look idiots, but it will be hard and useless to sit still).
21 I don’t know who came up with the “Ukrainian blitzkrieg.” If we were given real inputs, we would at the very least point out that the original plan is moot, that we need to double-check a lot of things. A lot of things. Now we are up to our necks in shit. And it’s not clear what to do. “Denazification” and “demilitarization” are not analytical categories, because they have no clearly formed parameters by which to determine the level of accomplishment or non-fulfillment of the assigned task.
22 Now all that remains is to wait for some fucked-up advisor to convince the upper echelons to start a conflict with Europe with a demand to lower some sanctions. Either they lower the sanctions or they go to war. And if they refuse? Now I don’t rule out that then we’ll get into a real international conflict like Hitler did in 1939. And we would then get our Z’s flattened with a swastika.
23 Is there a possibility of a local nuclear strike? Yes. Not for military purposes (it won’t do anything – it’s a defense breakthrough weapon), but to intimidate the rest. At the same time the ground is being prepared to turn everything over to Ukraine – Naryshkin and his SVR are now digging the ground to prove that they secretly created nuclear weapons there. They are hammering on what we have studied and analysed on bones long time ago: the proofs cannot be drawn up on a knee-high, and the availability of specialists and uranium (Ukraine is full of depleted isotope 238) is of no importance.
24 [blank space]
25 “And the fact that their old nuclear power plants can yield weapons-grade plutonium (plants like REB-1000 give it in minimal quantities as a “by-product” of the reaction) – so the Americans have introduced such controls there with the involvement of the IAEA that it is silly to discuss the topic.
26 Do you know what will start in a week? Well, even in two weeks. We’re going to be so caught up that we’re going to miss the hungry ’90s. While the auction was closed, Nabiullina seems to be making normal steps – but it’s like plugging a hole in the dam with a finger. It will still burst, and even stronger. Nothing will be solved in three, five or ten days.
27 Kadyrov doesn’t just hoof it for a reason – they have their own adventures there. He’s created an image of himself as the most powerful and invincible. And if he falls once, he’ll be brought down by his own people. He will no longer be the master of the victorious clan.
28 Let’s move on. Syria. “The guys will hold out, everything will be over in Ukraine – and there in Syria we will reinforce everything by positions again. And now at any moment they can wait there when the contingent runs out of resources – and such a heat will go… Turkey is blocking the straits – airlifting supplies there is like heating an oven with money.
29 Note – all this is happening at the same time, we do not even have time to put it all in one pile. Our situation is like Germany’s in ’43-’44. At the start all at once. Sometimes I am already lost in this overwork, sometimes it seems that everything was a dream, that everything is as it was before.
30 On prisons, by the way, it’s going to get worse. Now they’re going to tighten the screws until they bleed. Everywhere. To be honest, then purely technically it’s the only chance of containing the situation – we’re already in a total mobilization mode. But we can’t stay in such a mode for long, and our timetable is unclear, and it will only get worse. Mobilization always makes management lose its way. And just imagine: you can run a hundred meters in a sprint, but to go into a marathon race and run as hard as you can is bad. Here we are with the Ukrainian question rushed, as on a hundred meters, and fit into a cross-country marathon.
31 And that’s a very, very brief description of what’s going on.
32 The only cynical thing I can add is that I do not believe that VV Putin will press the red button to destroy the whole world.
33 First of all, there is not one person who makes the decision, at least someone will jump out. And there are many people there – there is no “single red button”.
34 Secondly, there are some doubts that everything successfully functions there. Experience shows that the higher the transparency and control, the easier it is to identify deficiencies. And where it is unclear who and how controls, but always bravura reports – everything is always wrong there. I am not sure that the red button system is functioning as declared. Besides, the plutonium charge has to be replaced every 10 years.
35 Thirdly, and most disgusting and sad, I personally do not believe in the willingness to sacrifice a man who does not let his closest representatives and ministers near him, nor the members of the Federation Council. Whether out of fear of coronavirus or attack, it doesn’t matter. If you are afraid to let your most trusted ones near you, how will you dare to destroy yourself and your loved ones inclusive?
36 Ask me anything, but I may not answer for days at a time. We’re in rush mode, and we’re getting more and more tasked.
37 On the whole, our reports are upbeat, but everything goes to hell.
38 Never before has this source Gulagu[.]net swear, wrote briefly and to the point. But now even he…

Legend:

the Service — the Federal Security Service of the Russian Federation or FSB, successor counterintelligence and security agency to USSR’s KGB

Nabiullina — Elvira Nabiullina, chair of Bank of Russia (since 2013, before Euromaidan and subsequent incursion into Donetsk and Luhansk regions in eastern Ukraine).

Kadyrov — Ramzan Kadyrov, head of the Chechen Republic (since 2007); also a member of the Advisory Commission of the State Council of the Russian Federation.

blitz — slang for Blitzkrieg

Medvedchuk — Viktor Medvedchuk, People’s Deputy of Ukraine (since August 2019), chair of pro-Russian entity Ukrainian Choice; an oligarch who calls Putin a “personal friend”; Putin is godfather to Medvedchuk’s daughter Daryna. Currently under house arrest for “treason and attempted looting of national resources.”

OZPH — Opposition Platform for Life, the party to which Medvedchuk belongs.

Boyko — Yuriy Boyko, former Vice Minister of Ukraine (2012-2014).

Tsarev — Oleg Tsaryov, former People’s Deputy of Ukraine representing pro-Russian Party of Regions; Speaker of the Unity Parliament for Donetsk and Luhansk regions in eastern Ukraine.

Yanukovych — Viktor Yanukovych, pro-Russian fourth president of Ukraine from 2010 until removal during 2014 Maidan Revolution.

LNRD corps — component of Russian ground forces, believe this is personnel in Luhansk and Donetsk regions (TBD, subject to revision).

storming of Mosul — believed to refer to 2017 Battle of Mosul against ISIS consisting of urban warfare in a dense urban environment. (Two US military “lessons learned” papers on Battle of Mosul: The Mosul Study Group and the Lessons of the Battle of Mosul (longer);  Five Operational Lessons (shorter).)

Donbass — Donbas, the Donetsk and Luhansk regions of eastern Ukraine, Russian occupied since 2014.

Crimea — Peninsular region of southern Ukraine illegally annexed by Russia in 2014.

Suleimani — Qasem Soleimani, major general of Iran’s army, assassinated in 2020 on order of Donald Trump.

South Stream — Natural gas pipeline project which was to run west from Russia through the Black Sea to Europe, canceled in 2014.

Naryshkin — Sergey Naryshkin, director of the SVR since 2016.

SVR — Foreign Intelligence Service of the Russian Federation, Russia’s intelligence agency.

depleted isotope 238 — Depleted uranium, the product of processing natural uranium for nuclear power plant fuel and nuclear weapons.

REB-1000 — unclear, likely a reference to the Chernobyl nuclear power plant.

Federation Council — Senat of the Federal Assembly, Russia’s legislative body.

Gulagu(.)net — Human rights NGO focused on prisoners’ rights and prison abuses in Russia, founded by Vladimir Osechkin. (See Oct 2021 article regarding this organization and a key conflict with Russian government.)

~ ~ ~

The letter supports other indicators Russia’s invasion of Ukraine was a tightly-held secret. There have been anecdotes of conscripts and non-military personnel who were told they were going on an exercise only to find themselves ordered to invade Ukraine. This may have been a key reason why the Russians deployed had no cell phones — not merely for operations security to protect the deployment mission, but to prevent any discussion between different factions of the Russian Federation’s military and government personnel as well as the Russian public.

The author doesn’t appear to know there were supply problems from the start for the deployed personnel though they know the first echelon aren’t the best part of the regular army. The understanding of the difference in passion between the front line Russians and the Ukrainians fighting to preserve their country acknowledges a critical failing in other Russian operations like Chechnya. There’s also recognition that logistics limited the launch and expansion of the invasion, and will play a role in the economic crash to come as military personnel and resources along with commodities will hurt for the loss of ports and equipment.

The tight silos and narrative constraints placed on models the Bank of Russia used as well as the FSB suggests each branch of Russia’s government and military will experience failures earlier rather than later because they have been modeling and operating on flawed and incomplete understandings of their country’s mission.

Imagine if the Bank of Russia and Finance Ministry as well as Energy and Agriculture were tasked with modeling to the same flimsy “prison attack by meteorites” scenario the letter’s author uses as an example. How deeply flawed would their assumptions be? How could their functions integrate with other ministries to mitigate risks to Russia and in an extremely tight timeline with constraints they hadn’t planned on in the given scenario?

“Kadyrov’s going off the rails” suggests increased tensions between the Chechen leader and Russian leadership after what is perceived as a possible betrayal by FSB. The letter writer doesn’t appear to know that the Chechen national guard itself leaked badly ahead of the invasion’s launch because of poor operation security on their part; there’s no inkling the decimation of Chechen forces may have been blamed on FSB by Ukraine (or others) in order to manipulate and fragment the Russian-Chechen relationship.

An invasion driven in no small part by Russian Orthodox faith was already very much at risk if it relied on an ethnic Muslim state to perform its decapitation of a popular democratically-elected Jewish president to obtain control over a majority Ukrainian Orthodox state. The hatred mentioned explains anecdotes of Chechens who’ve switched loyalties (if they had any to Russia) to Ukraine; the annexation of Muslim-majority Crimea may also fuel fighters’ flips.

Yet another challenge not fully addressed is the possibility of a country-wide power vacuum if Zelenskyy were removed from Ukraine’s presidency. Who of any of the candidates mentioned would be up to leading a deeply-angry occupied population? The letter writer acknowledges Russia simply doesn’t have an adequate number of people who can step into governmental roles across Ukraine; at least one mayor in Russia had mentioned this same problem the week the invasion began, so it’s obvious outside FSB an occupation is already problematic.

The discussion of the use of the 2014 Donetsk and Luhansk conflict to mask the annexation of Crimea brings up another question: did Russia not only provide pro-Russian rebel forces with a Buk 9M83 surface-to-air missile launcher, but loosely encourage their sloppiness which shot down civilian aircraft Malaysia Air MH17 in order to draw the west’s attention away from Crimea?

Manufacturing evidence of nuclear weapons production as an ex postfacto casus belli is also acknowledged and likely explains why Chernobyl was such an early target of Russian forces in spite of its location away from Kyiv. An active disinformation campaign has already been noted on the internet to bolster this false claim.

The letter both assures and scares when it comes to the use of nuclear weapons. They could be used but the author doesn’t think Putin will push the button, and further assumes the Russian system will likely bottleneck their use even if approved, and the equipment itself may not be adequate because of implied maintenance lapses. The problem, though, is whether the assumptions in this letter are damaged in the same way the FSB’s assessments were by siloed information.

One surprising issue to arise from this letter is the possible fall of Syria if Russia can’t continue its military action in service to Bashar al-Assad’s continued leadership. Not mentioned in this letter is that Russia deployed jets with missile launch capability to Syria a week or two ahead of the invasion. What drove that deployment?

The one point which is most problematic in this letter is the assumption that “We have a conditional deadline of June. ” No — Russia’s economy has weeks, not months. The speed of the downturn could accelerate if more economic sanctions are brought to bear; the UK hasn’t made much if any genuine effort to constrain the Russian oligarchs which own Boris Johnson and the Conservative Party.

~ ~ ~

Economic attrition has begun its march on Russia. Another caveat on the following tweet and video — the sourcing is seen as credible by other credible sources, and yet we’re three or more degrees away from the origin. It’s still important to note the event documented, and the lack of any published pushback by the company where this took place.

Workers at a factory in Tatarstan stopped work Saturday because their wages weren’t protected from decreases in currency valuation.


Gemont is a subsidiary of a Turkish transnational construction company which appears to compete with firms like KBR, Bechtel, or Fluor Corporation. It’s had a contract to produce and operate a turnkey polyethylene production plant in Nizhnekamsk, Tatarstan for Russian chemical company Nizhnekamskneftekhim. Radio Free Europe reported the workers received a higher wage after negotiation, but this may not last.

An additional wrinkle: the workers may also be Turkish, not Russian. Will they be allowed to leave Russia if they are dissatisfied with their workplace and economic conditions as sanctions affect their targets more deeply?

Imagine this same scenario playing out repeatedly across Russia, resulting in longer walk-outs when a higher wage isn’t available to offset decreases in currency valuation, and when paychecks aren’t available at all due to lack of banking and access to cash.

Russia doesn’t have until June at this rate — it has weeks, not months.

A World War of Economic Attrition

[NB: check the byline as usual, thanks. /~Rayne]

We’ve discussed in comments this past week the possibility Russia’s invasion of Ukraine will deeply affect the global wheat market. It’s already affected wheat futures pricing dramatically.

Graph: Wheat futures, 2005-current via Macrotrends

But wheat futures are only the tip of the iceberg. We are looking at the unfolding of a world war aimed at economic attrition; its effects need to be gamed out.

An important if informal assessment by Maxim Mironov, professor at IE Business School—Madrid (Instituto de Empresa, S.L.), was shared in a Twitter thread (translated here from original Russian into English):

Many people ask me to comment on the sanctions.
In short, my scientific conclusion as a professor of finance, doctor of the University of Chicago is FUCKED.

And double fucked up that the inhabitants of Russia, even the educated, for the most part do not understand what awaits them.
I explain on…

.. fingers.

Very soon, the Russians will face a shortage of basic products. I’m not talking about all kinds of iPhones, the import of which has already been banned, but about food, clothes, cars, household appliances, etc.

Russia is very strongly integrated into world trade. And already the largest operators refuse …

…send containers to Russia. But even if a miracle happens and Russia finds someone who is ready to send containers to Russia for three meters, the question is how to pay for it? Export earnings will decrease significantly, as all buyers will try to abandon Russian …

..goods. We see that even non-sanctioned oil companies cannot find buyers for their oil. Gazprom, the main exporter of gas, is already under sanctions, that is, it is generally unclear how it will receive foreign exchange earnings.
The Russian Central Bank has accumulated a huge money-box, 650 billion …

.. dollars. Only more than half of these reserves have already been arrested, and what to do with gold is also not very clear. Few banks in the world will want to buy it from the Russian Central Bank, so as not to fall under sanctions or huge fines themselves.
Many people think that Russia over the past years …

.. built a bunch of factories, only all these factories – automobile, aviation, household appliances, etc. actively use imported components. That is, in the coming months, we will face the shutdown of entire industries with all the ensuing consequences – a shortage of goods, mass…

… unemployment, respectively, a fall in tax collection and, as a result, problems with the payment of salaries to state employees.

Planes even within Russia will also soon stop flying. After all, almost all of them are imported, and the West has already been banned from supplying spare parts. Therefore, we will soon see a massive…

.. decommissioning of aircraft.
The Internet as we knew it will also be shut down. They have already blocked a bunch of information sites, one of these days they are going to block Wikipedia. Twitter and Facebook are already slowing down. Going to shut down YouTube.
About agriculture. Are you aware that..

..in Russia, the share of imported seeds is almost 40%? And for potatoes, the share of imported seeds is 90%? That is, of course, farmers will come up with something over time, but at least in the short term, we should expect a shortage of basic agricultural products and a sharp rise in prices. And that’s not all either..

..Everyone who can leave the country will start to leave. Already actively felled. The government understands this, which is why they introduced a bunch of measures today to keep IT people. Only they won’t work. Therefore, it is very likely that exit visas will soon be introduced for certain categories or completely …

… will close the country.

The only plus from this story is that those who are nostalgic for the USSR will be able to feel all its delights in their own skin. And it will not be a relatively herbivorous USSR like Khrushchev-Brezhnev-Gorbachev, but a USSR headed by a crazy dictator.

P.S.
Here is today’s news, illustrating the scenario described in the thread. Avtovaz has already stopped. And it seemed that it should not depend on imports at all

Avtovaz will suspend the assembly of cars due to a shortage of electronic components. Work was stopped for four days

(link to news article at https :// tass. ru/ekonomika/13943115 embedded)

Fucked. Double fucked. That’s Russia’s economy.

A wide swath of Russians have no idea how big and bad this fucking will be thanks to Putin’s suffocating grip on media which has only tightened in the last two weeks.

However early assessments tell us failures will begin in another week or two — airlines are a good example:


.


.


.


All this inside a couple of days. Other businesses will similarly experience problems with payments, acquiring other goods and services, disruptions in supply chain far worse than COVID created.

What happens when reality finally catches up with the average Russian who may already have experienced problems with banking and travel? What happens when pay for government employees is disrupted, when unemployment cascades out to successive failing businesses and industries?

~ ~ ~

Let’s go back to wheat futures. What Mironov wrote is challenging enough — from where will Russia buy the wheat seed needed? (Depending on source, there’s a disparity in what percentage of wheat seed Russia imports, but it’s between 18-40% depending on spring, hard wheat, or other type.) Will it buy from China and India, leaving Russia more vulnerable to influence of these two countries? Are these two countries willing to accept rubles? Or will they expect something else in trade, like fossil fuels?

That’s all well and good, but will this happen inside the next several weeks? Because the planting season can begin as early as April in the southernmost areas growing wheat.

With wheat futures rising so rapidly, will the price of wheat seed also reflect this increase? Will Russia be able to keep up with this considering their markets have crashed?

What happens to other crops like potatoes? Russia had already forecast a shortage this year because of drought last year which will now be exacerbated by sanctions.

Expand mental modeling across all of Russia’s crops — time is already eating away at the 2022 growing season even though there’s still snow cover.

(I’m not even going to explore the challenges of tractor and other farm equipment maintenance due to sanctions. The problems will mirror that of the Russian military.)

~ ~ ~

I wrote “world war of economic attrition” because the impending challenge to Russia’s wheat crop and wheat futures doesn’t stop at Russia’s border.

Ukraine, the fifth largest wheat producer, will likely have problems putting in its crop due to military action. If we assume Putin does his worst, we can expect farmers in tractors chased down by aircraft.

The countries which buy wheat from both Ukraine and Russia will suffer for any decrease in availability and increase in price — more so for those which import from Ukraine since it ships as much as 80% of its wheat. Two articles worth reading and in this order:

Reuters: Concerns rise over Black Sea spring crops amid Russia-Ukraine war – March 1, 2022

Al Jazeera: MENA faces a crisis as the world’s key wheat producers are at war – March 1, 2022

Reuters looks at the wheat market, Al Jazeera looks at more closely at the consumption end. Neither paint a pretty picture; the drought in parts of north Africa add substantial risk of increased geopolitical instability which would likely spread through the Middle East.

Nor will the risks stop in the eastern hemisphere. Brazil imports wheat because it can’t grow enough for its own consumption. It dedicated more land to soybean production after Trump’s misbegotten trade war with China cut substantially into US soybean sales to the same. Brazil might try to increase more acreage to wheat but any more new Brazilian acreage comes at the expense of climate which we will all feel. How will the change in wheat futures affect Brazil politically when it’s sure to result in inflation?

~ ~ ~

Game out the simulation even further: how will sanctions affect the rest of Russia, and why should Putin’s leadership of Russia survive even another quarter? We may worry about Ukraine’s ability to bear up under a kinetic war of attrition, but how long will Russians suffer under the corresponding economic war of attrition?

Why should the rest of the world have to suffer the ensuing fallout and forbear Putin’s inability to sell Ukrainians on the idea they are part of Russia without the use of force?

The sanctions imposed on Russia because of his personal beliefs about Ukraine are the equivalent of a economic nuclear weapon, the fallout from which will reach the rest of the world.

It needs to be clear to every global citizen touched this fallout the sole reason any sanctions have been levied is Putin and his screwed-up genocidal beliefs that Ukraine is not a country, that only Ukrainians he accepts as good Russians should survive.

Fucked. Double fucked. This may be Russia’s economy in the very near term and the world’s bread basket over the course of the the next year, but this should be Putin’s epitaph.

Putin the Double Fucked.

Three Things: Part 3 — Putin’s Particular Peculiarities

[NB: check the byline as usual, thanks. /~Rayne]

In spite of Anna Colin Lebedev’s persuasive tweet thread encouraging us to focus on the internal rationality of Putin’s goals and how Putin may achieve those aims, it’s difficult not to ask what’s going on with Putin.

The images we’ve seen of him recently show him at more than 10-12 feet away from others though he is uniformly unmasked.

The big long meeting table with France’s President Emmanuel Macron:

The February 21 meeting with his security council:


Another big long meeting table with Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov:

His statements to media are staged as always; it’s hard to tell how far he is from the production team behind the camera.

There’s some logic to this; media have been told it’s because of COVID, and in the case of Macron as well as Germany’s Chancellor Olaf Scholz it was because they refused Russian PCR tests for security reasons.

He doesn’t look well, either. A few years ago he had been using Botox for which he was and still is frequently mocked; he appears to have stopped using it.

But now his skin looks unhealthy; his face appears puffy, as if he’s been using steroids. Was he sick with COVID recently? If so is he dealing with neurological challenges?

Some have said he’s had a back problem for which he’s taking steroids; long-term of steroids can cause cognitive dysfunction along with psychiatric symptoms like increased aggression.

We’ve heard he’s paranoid and pandemic isolation may have made this isolation worse. Could this explain his decision-making?

Or as Colin Lebedev said, it doesn’t matter what’s going with Putin; we must assume the most radical, worst case scenario no matter Putin’s condition.

This is not just about Ukraine to his immediate west. It’s about the entire west and the U.S.

And he’s already proven he can reach out and touch us, even occupying the White House with a useful idiot.

~ ~ ~

In Part 1, I looked at the role of cognitive dissonance in our laggy response to Russia’s invasion and the warning that Putin will do worse than our denialism has accepted.

In Part 2, I looked at the problems visible in Russia’s first echelon campaign this first week of the invasion, and the possible causes.

In this Part 3, I looked at what visual cues tell us about Putin himself, suggesting we’re dealing with an unhealthy individual.

We need to continue to shed our cognitive dissonance. We can’t accept the failures of the Russian army’s first echelon as an example of how this war will continue, because multiple sources assure us he is likely to do far worse than we’ve imagined until now. And if he is truly unwell, more paranoid and aggressive because of COVID, and/or pandemic isolation, and/or long-term steroid use, and/or excess cortisol, we should prepare ourselves for the truly awful ahead.

What are the next options available to us to aid Ukraine should Putin do far worse?

Three Things: Part 2 — Russia’s Idiosyncratic Military Deployment [UPDATE-1]

[NB: check the byline as usual, thanks. Updates will appear at the bottom of this post. /~Rayne]

There are so many quirks to Russia’s military deployment in its invasion of Ukraine that it’s obvious to non-military observers this has not been an effective mission or missions.

Let’s say you’re the average event planner without any military background who must organize a very large family gathering with many family members in fleets of gas-sucking vehicles. Would you send them out on the road without ensuring there were fueling locations or respite points for water and food?

Would you stage them so that they didn’t overwhelm any system they needed for travel, refueling, and rest?

Would you allow the family to head out on the road with which they may not be familiar, without ensuring a couple different methods of communications?

Would you brief everyone before they left on Plan A, providing a Plan B and C in case there were problems along the way?

This is a hyper simplification of the scenario, but in essence this is what should have been considered long before gathering more than 150,000 troops at the Russian-Ukraine border, before deploying them to invade Ukraine.

These extremely basic issues appear not to have been addressed in any invasion plan.

Some of these challenges to Russian troop and equipment deployment have only exacerbated the cognitive dissonance of observers.

Can this really be an invasion by the Russians? Has their military’s vaunted capability been hyperbole, or are we supposed to believe there’s more and better coming? Should other countries scramble to throw troops and materiel at this situation when it’s not at all clear what happened to this initial offensive?

~ ~ ~

On February 27 a few days after the invasion began I retweeted this thread by Kamil Galeev, fellow at the Woodrow Wilson Center. I still believe this is a must-read.

The shift inside Russian defense from efficiency-maximization to court politics-maximization is a valuable insight and explains some of what we see — not a top-notch well-equipped ground force but one using off-the-shelf Chinese-made walkie-talkies to communicate insecurely.

Ditto the discussion on land-maxing versus PR-maxing, and by PR-maxing it is meant a tradeoff between land-force investment and naval force (stick a pin in this point for later[1]). Again, this could explain why we see less-than-optimal equipment and troops in the first echelon deployed.

And no obvious signs of a second echelon to follow, let alone a third.

Also extremely important is the perspective on Putin’s reliance on special operations versus a true war strategy — literally employing tactics not strategy. But it’s likely what got Putin elected as president in 2000 by way of covert democidal bombings and kept him in office as he continued to use special operations on Crimea, south Georgian, and eastern Ukraine territory.

Amassing an invasion force of more than 150,000 troops and equipment is not a special operation, just as for an event planner an intimate picnic isn’t a wedding banquet.

Lousy logistics and tactics not strategy appear on the face of it to be Russia’s fundamental problem, with inadequate equipment making things worse.

None of these observations and assessments explain this:

Or this — one of several videos showing Russian tanks and other equipment being towed by Ukrainian tractors.

Perhaps much of this explains the rise of Wagner Group and its service for Russian objectives. It not only provides deniability, but it bypasses the court politics, provides its own better equipment, and it serves Putin’s propensity to use special operations tactics instead of strategy.

~ ~ ~

None of the politics and logistics fail, though can explain why Russian national guard units knew about the invasion long before deployed units did — in particular the Chechen National Guard.

Why are Chechens being deployed instead of regular Russian troops? Was this another end run around Russia’s internal politics? (Stick another pin here, too.[2])

This may explain in part why U.S. intelligence has been of high quality — the Chechen security force was sloppy in its operations security and easily monitored.

But the intelligence we’ve seen so far doesn’t explain why the Chechens were needed at all.

A key group of Chechens tasked with a special operation to assassinate Zelenskyy was “eliminated” according to Ukraine’s National Security and Defense Council’s Secretary in a live broadcast. Sources within Russia’s FSB allegedly tipped off Ukraine about the hit team because the sources didn’t support the war.

One might wonder, though, if there were other reasons behind the tip; were the Russian sources unhappy with the deployment of Chechens instead of Russian military?

~ ~ ~

A few hours ago this tweet thread examined a issue affecting many of the Russian invasion vehicles.


The thread’s author believes it’s corruption in the Russian military system which has undermined essential maintenance rendering many vehicles unusable in the areas most affected by mud, while suggesting there aren’t enough tires in Russia’s military stores to replace those that fail in the field. It’s not just tire maintenance alone at issue, but inadequate tire care across the Russian vehicles deployed so far is daunting on its own.

All perfectly good points made in the thread, aligning with the corruption likely resulting from a military run under court politics and PR-maximization rather than effectiveness.

But there’s one more factor which hasn’t been raised across military analyses offered so far on Russia’s invasion.

Russia may have lost a substantial number of its military to COVID. The country’s all-cause death rate far exceeds that of the US, and we all know how badly the US has responded to the pandemic in no small part because of active measures by Russia encouraging anti-mask/anti-vax/anti-mandate/anti-lockdown/anti-science positions.

We can see anecdotally how many people are missing in our own workforce, in spite of the availability of highly-effective mRNA vaccines and one-shot adenovirus-vector vaccine and boosters.

Russia’s own vaccine, Sputnik V, has had difficulties beginning with acceptance from the vaccine research community, problems with manufacturing scale-up, and resistance within Russia itself. Assuming the numbers reported are accurate, less than 50% of Russians are vaccinated to date.

Is it possible what looks like poor maintenance isn’t merely the result of corruption, but the loss of personnel due to illness, hospitalization, deaths, and long COVID?

This challenge won’t be exclusive to Russia; Ukraine’s vaccination rate is bad or worse than Russia’s. But Ukraine isn’t having the same problems with equipment failures in the field, though Ukraine, too, has had its own problems with corruption.

Let’s hope we learn sooner rather than later just how much COVID affects a nation’s security.

~ ~ ~

And now for the two items pinned above:

[1]  Russia may have opted for naval maximization because it has a massive arctic coastline and the coast along Alaska it must patrol as well that near Japan. The arctic and Alaskan coasts are nearest to newer oil and gas development and pipelines like the Eastern Siberia Pacific Ocean I and II which serve Japan, China, and Korea. Much of Ukraine can be “reached” by missiles launched from vessels in the Black Sea, too.

But there may still be a problem if the video here is features a Russian naval vessel asking for fuel (it’s not clear what kind of Russian ship is involved here, it may be commercial).

If this is a Russian commercial vessel, how will the Russian navy handle these situations as access to supplies becomes more challenging?

[2] Doesn’t strike anyone as odd that Putin is relying on Muslim Chechen forces now when he’s launched so many attacks on Muslims through out his career? He’s been walking a fine line the relationship between what he perceives as the needs of Russia and biases which are barely restrained, like the support for Orthodox Serbs over Muslim Bosniaks, or the bombings of Syrians, or the blame placed on Muslim Chechens for the false flag Russian apartment bombings in 1999 which resulted in Putin’s election to the presidency.

~ ~ ~

UPDATE-1 — 11:30 PM ET —

Oh my. Somebody’s going to lose their job at a minimum.


Do look for more of Karl Muth’s replies after that tweet. We can’t tell if this is a budget problem, a corruption problem, or lax military standards, but whatever it is it’s not good for Russia.

Chinese-made radios, Chinese-made tires…what else is Chinese sourced in Russia’s invasion?

Three Things: Part 1 — Cognitive Dissonance and Ukraine

[NB: check the byline as usual, thanks./~Rayne]

I was stitching together three somewhat disparate bits into a narrative only to realize the post was huge and unwieldy. I’ve broken it out into three parts under the Three Things theme. The other two should be done soon.

~ ~ ~

Though NATO and the EU have become more resolved and responsive since active military action began, there’s been anger and frustration expressed about the lack of immediate aid by allies of Ukraine in response to Russia’s invasion.

We have to admit that cognitive dissonance played a role in the lag.

Cognitive dissonance may have been to blame for the low key response to Russia’s previous incursions against Georgia, Crimea, and the quasi-coup of Belarus with Alexander Lukashenko’s sketchy presidential election, as well as the 2014 occupation of Donetsk and Luhansk areas in eastern Ukraine.

For a number of reasons depending on the individuals’ and nation-states’ situations, EU and NATO were uncomfortable confronting the possibility Putin was engaging in colonial expansion.

It didn’t sink into our collective consciousness over more than a decade what Putin was doing with his steady acquisition of control over areas formerly part of the USSR.

Did it take our impeaching a US president because he attempted to extort performance from Ukraine in exchange for military aid? No — that still wasn’t enough for many to see what’s been in front of them for years.

We’re steadily awakening to the challenge Putin has posed but denial clings to us, our eyes resist opening.

It shouldn’t have taken Ukraine’s president Zelenskyy making an impassioned speech to break the torpor, reminding the EU and thereby its NATO members that Ukraine was defending democratic values on Europe’s eastern flank, and that his plea might be the last time they saw him alive.

The implication was not only that Putin wants Zelenskyy dead, but there could be far worse ahead without immediate assistance from the EU neighborhood.

~ ~ ~

Let me share a translation of a tweet thread by Anna Colin Lebedev, lecturer at University of Paris-Nanterre, a specialist in post-Soviet societies. She shared these remarks on February 24 when the invasion began, in which she addresses the drag of cognitive dissonance. (Forgive the wonky formatting, it is as it was entered in Twitter.)

I see on this day at the start of the war that many of us cling to familiar categories. Reassuring, but misleading. We need to shift our interpretive schemas, because the situation requires it. A few quick remarks. 1/11

1. “Putin is crazy.”
Maybe, but it doesn’t matter, because above all we need to understand the internal rationality of his action. We need to understand the extent of his project, to see his salient points (Ukraine, and beyond, the United States, the West) 2/11

We need to realize that the ambition of the project is global, beyond Ukraine.

2. “Isn’t he okay?…”
What the massive attack on Ukraine teaches us is that the most radical scenario, the most improbable, the one we refuse to see… 3/11

… is the one that is likely to be implemented.
Our political cultures have an aversion to radicalism. We don’t believe the worst is possible. On another continent, perhaps, but not here.
Russia still won’t attack US? 4/11

The current Russian power does not reason in terms of costs and benefits. He reasons in terms of a major mission. Even an ultimate mission. Mission requires sacrifice. Even a self-sacrifice. Attacking a NATO country would be suicidal for Putin? 5/11

Let’s not rule it out though. The suicide mission is part of the mental universe of this former KGB officer. Once again: so far, our most doomsday scenarios have come true. 6/11

3. “Attachment to Ukraine”; “Soviet nostalgia”; “willingness to rebuild the USSR”
Warning: smoke screens. Political science teaches us that by using history, we speak above all about the present. To say “Putin wants to rebuild the USSR” is to be reassured. 7/11

Why? Because we imply: “Once the USSR is rebuilt, it will stop. We will be quiet behind our iron curtain. He wants Ukraine? calm.”
You have to listen to Putin. It’s pretty self-explanatory. 8/11

In his speeches he talks about Ukraine, yes. But he talks a lot, a lot, a lot about us. The West. United States. And the European Union, this little subservient to the USA, this little one that doesn’t count and which is a NATO base. The USA is the main adversary. 9/11

But we are the target.
You’re going to say to me: “wait, he’s still not okay?…”
I refer you to point 2.
It is not catastrophic today to consider the worst. It’s realistic. And I say it all the better because I was one of those who temporized. 10/11

There’s a scary little taste of “don’t look up” in the interviews I was able to do today. That explains this thread.
I will return to my job and continue to do what I have done until now: explain, detail, show other angles. 11/11, end

The bit about “don’t look up” will be familiar to those of us who watched the Netflix movie, “Don’t Look Up,” in which experts try to warn the public of an extinction level event but multiple layers of opportunistic predatory delay and denialist disbelief thwart a rational response to save humanity.

One might think this a little throwaway line, “a scary little taste of ‘don’t look up’,” but it should give us pause if Lebedev’s repeated attempts fail to get through to us the ruthlessness of Putin’s decision-making. What are the risks posed by lingering delay, denial, and disbelief?

In short, we should expect Putin to remain singularly focused on his mission.

We should be equally focused on stopping him, and look the up at the bigger picture.

Americans should also snap the fuck out of their somnolent navel gazing and confront Colin Lebedev’s question, “Russia still won’t attack US?”

The truth is that Russia already has attacked the U.S. as well as NATO, repeatedly.

The truth is that we’re still wallowing in cognitive dissonance, unable and/or unwilling to accept what has been limned before us:

2009 — Russian cyberattack on Kyrgyzstan in an attempt to force the country to evict an American military base;

2009-2010 — a program of spies embedded in our population in the event of societal breakdown, which we’ve blown off and normalized as premium cable TV series content, The Americans and “red sparrow” Anna Chapman; Russian hackers attacked Twitter and Facebook in Georgia to celebrate the anniversary of Russia’s annexation of Georgian territory;

2011-2012 — Funding of Russian-sympathetic GOP candidates and electeds by laundered cash donations throught the National Rifle Association, with assistance by Russians Aleksandr Torshin and “red sparrow” Maria Butina.

2012-2015 — Evgeny Buryakov and two other Russian spies gathered intelligence which included information on U.S. sanctions and alternative energy.

2014 — Russian hackers attacked the State Department and White House as well as NATO.

2015 — Russian hackers attacked the Defense Department.

2016 — Russian hackers attacked the Democratic National Committee as part of a program of active measures to subvert the presidential election in favor of Donald Trump. Active measures also included divisive tactics on social media at least as early as 2014 intended to increase societal friction based on race and gender.

There are are far more efforts to harass, attack, and manipulate the US and NATO not listed here, including the entirety of Donald Trump’s term in office, and the Brexit referendum resulting in the steady destruction of the UK’s economy along with a breach in EU nations.

Other persons and events which don’t appear to have a direct role but likely fit in some way, like the presence of Leonard Teyf and his wife in North Carolina, should be included in the list, along with the hacking of the RNC’s email which has never been fully accounted for.

In these efforts there’s a pattern here of increasing intensity, scale, and severity.

If Putin managed to ensure his useful idiot occupied the White House for four years, he surely feels more is within his capability. We would be absolutely blind and foolish to ignore the likelihood Putin will attempt far more against the US, NATO, and other democratic allies.

~ ~ ~

Since I began writing this post, Politico published an interview with former Trump administration Senior Director for Europe and Russia of the National Security Council Fiona Hill. It’s a must-read piece. An expert on Putin, her perspective mirrors Colin Lebedev:

Reynolds: The more we talk, the more we’re using World War II analogies. There are people who are saying we’re on the brink of a World War III.

Hill: We’re already in it. We have been for some time. We keep thinking of World War I, World War II as these huge great big set pieces, but World War II was a consequence of World War I. And we had an interwar period between them. And in a way, we had that again after the Cold War. Many of the things that we’re talking about here have their roots in the carving up of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and the Russian Empire at the end of World War I. At the end of World War II, we had another reconfiguration and some of the issues that we have been dealing with recently go back to that immediate post-war period. We’ve had war in Syria, which is in part the consequence of the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, same with Iraq and Kuwait.

All of the conflicts that we’re seeing have roots in those earlier conflicts. We are already in a hot war over Ukraine, which started in 2014. People shouldn’t delude themselves into thinking that we’re just on the brink of something. We’ve been well and truly in it for quite a long period of time.

We have been sleep walking for too long, and now innocents are paying for it with life and limb, facing the monster who blew up apartment buildings killing hundreds of his own countrymen to ensure he was elected to office, who has used both radioactive material and nerve agent to poison foes.

It’s beyond time to wake up.

How Not to Lose a World War between Authoritarianism and Democracy

Joe Biden just announced a second round of sanctions retaliating against Russia for its invasion of Ukraine. To understand what he said, it helps to think of the challenge facing Biden: how to avoid losing a World War between authoritarianism and democracy.

Vladimir Putin not only wants to reassert a Russian empire, he wants to do so as a dictator. This is about far more than preventing a democratic Ukraine on his border. Rather, he has been working to discredit the liberal order — both its real hypocrisy, and its claim to work better than authoritarianism — for decades. To do so, he needs to break up US hegemony, split the western alliance, and hopefully, dismantle democracy in the United States. He needs to do so while sustaining his own rock solid hold on power in Russia.

As noted, I think he believed he would have easier early success than he had. I think he believed he could peel off allies (on top of Hungary) within both NATO and Europe, as well politicians and the public within alliance countries. I’m sure he still believes he can use gas supplies and inflation as a weapon to chip away at democracy over time. But thus far, I believe that Biden’s success at undercutting Russia’s efforts to create a casus belli and his ability to achieve some unity thus far made Putin’s gambit far riskier.

Biden emphasized his success in making it clear that Russia was the unjustified aggressor that at the beginning of his presser.

So here’s how to think of Biden’s presser as an effort to not lose a world war between authoritarianism versus democracy.

1. Don’t let it become a world war between authoritarianism versus democracy

As Russia launched its attack last night/this morning, China clearly didn’t know what the party line was yet.

Statements this morning seemed to indicate fairly broad support for Russia’s efforts, with China’s foreign minister expressing support for “Russia’s legitimate concerns on security issues.” Later in the day, while still refusing to call Russia’s attack an invasion, China’s Deputy Foreign Minister declared that, “China is closely following the development of the situation. What you are seeing today is not what we have wished to see,” Hua [Chunying] said. “We hope all parties can go back to dialogue and negotiation.”

China is going to — and clearly had already committed to — help Russia mitigate the economic impact of the response to its action. China shares Russia’s belief it should be able to impose military domination over its sphere of influence (in their case, Taiwan and the South China Sea).

But China has far more to lose from an economic crash and a total split of the world than Russia.

Biden’s not going to persuade China to help isolate Russia. But if he can prevent China from fully backing Russia, he will stave off the worst possible outcome: a world war pitting authoritarianism against democracy.

When he was asked if China would back sanctions on Russia, Biden could have said, “no,” because I’m sure they’re not doing so. But by stating that, he would have incited cries to crack down on China, which is the last thing the US wants right now.

He didn’t answer because it’s not the right question to ask.

Update: The NYT reports on the unsuccessful US effort to get China to stave off this war. It will be interesting to see if China felt they were misled by Putin.

Over three months, senior Biden administration officials held half a dozen urgent meetings with top Chinese officials in which the Americans presented intelligence showing Russia’s troop buildup around Ukraine and beseeched the Chinese to tell Russia not to invade, according to U.S. officials.

Each time, the Chinese officials, including the foreign minister and the ambassador to the United States, rebuffed the Americans, saying they did not think an invasion was in the works. After one diplomatic exchange in December, U.S. officials got intelligence showing Beijing had shared the information with Moscow, telling the Russians that the United States was trying to sow discord — and that China would not try to impede Russian plans and actions, the officials said.

2. Retain the tools of hegemonic power

The US has gotten far weaker in the last two decades. But it still retains the tools of global financial hegemony, which is what it uses to impose its will, and which Russia has been aggressively targeting since at least 2006. Russia made exposing America’s abuses of its access to the SWIFT financial messaging system a priority in its efforts to delegitimize US power, most notably with Shadow Brokers releases but also, to the extent it could control such things, the Snowden leaks. And since 2014, Russia and China have put the framework in place to roll out their own financial messaging system to bypass SWIFT.

That system would not replace SWIFT anytime soon. But if it were up and running it could provide an alternative to SWIFT for toxic regimes, undercutting America’s ability to use SWIFT to make human rights demands.

I suspect that’s one of many reasons why Biden did not announce SWIFT sanctions yet. He claimed (and I’ve seen experts on Iran sanctions say the same) that the other bank sanctions (in part, limiting Russia’s ability to bank in Dollars, Pounds, Euros, and Yens) he imposed are just as strong. But one reason to impose financial sanctions via US and UK banking systems rather than SWIFT is because US and UK banking systems remain a lot more irreplaceable right now than SWIFT.

3. Don’t antagonize your allies

The bigger reason why Biden didn’t kick Russia out of SWIFT yet is because key allies — Italy, Germany, and Cyprus — aren’t willing to do that yet. Part of this has to do with buying Russian natural gas. Part of it has to do with their trade with Russia.

All three countries have lagged other allies but are coming around (and as noted in this post, a new coalition government in Germany is still getting its feet wet).

So in the meantime, the US and UK can accomplish much of the same goals by expelling Russia from their own financial systems.

In the meantime, Finland and Sweden look much closer to joining NATO than they ever have before (and will attend a NATO summit tomorrow). In other words, Putin’s insanity may lead to the expansion of NATO, not its fracture.

4. Keep the public happy

Underlying the SWIFT decision and others, of course, is minimizing the impact of inflation, especially spiking gas prices.

Europe is not prepared to forgo Russian gas yet, and won’t be until temperatures get far warmer (and fall-back measures involving gas from Qatar and other sources have been proven).

The need to mitigate the impact of this war on consumers is something democracies have to deal with and why Putin thinks authoritarian government is better! But it’s a key reason why European countries cannot entire isolate Russia, at least not yet.

Update: See Adam Tooze on the exceptions to the sanctions that largely undercut them.

5. Increase Putin’s volatility

When Putin first planned this (as I keep saying) I imagine he thought it’d be easy to manufacture a casus belli that would make it easier to achieve his goals both domestically and internationally.

That failed.

That will make it far easier to isolate Putin internationally.

It will raise the cost of the operation, which seems to have contributed to real apprehensions among Putin’s closest advisors (both his intelligence chiefs and some of the Oligarchs, and even some military officials).

It has also led a significant number of Russians to protest, an unbelievably courageous step. Thousands of Russians have already been arrested, yet more are coming out to protest the invasion.

Perhaps Putin believed he would be hailed as a hero, like he was when he annexed Crimea. Instead, cousins are being sent to kill cousins and a brave handful of Russians are objecting to the barbaric act Russia has taken on.

As it happened, Biden announced a ton of sanctions on Russia’s top banks and some of Putin’s top flunkies. But not on Putin himself. He simply didn’t answer a question about whether the US was doing that.

I’m not entirely sure why that’s the case. Partly, Putin’s wealth is a lot harder to pin down (and some is held by others, who may have been sanctioned).

Whatever the reason, though, the very best kind of political pressure one can put on Putin is via his Oligarchs. Without their consent, his own power would be far more tenuous.

So while I doubt that’s the reason the US sanctioned a bunch of oligarchs but not Putin, it might have the effect of exacerbating whatever discomfort his closest allies have with this action.

Vladimir Putin prefers authoritarianism because its easier to coerce legitimacy than negotiating it. That’s true. It would be far easier if Biden could order China to stay out, if Biden could order Germany to buy off on greater financial sanctions, if Biden could ignore right wing efforts to use financial stress to undermine his Administration.

He can’t. That’s what makes defending democracy all that more difficult. That’s why the sanctions weren’t what the public expected.

Remarkably, however, Biden has done a better job at persuading allies than Putin has at coercing them.