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.. 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.

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.

Three Things: Ukraine, Ukraine, Ukraine

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

Because community members are posting Ukraine content in the Durham-Sussman thread, I’m putting up a fresh post here to capture Ukraine related comments.

~ 3 ~

Look, we all should have and could have seen the current situation coming. Think about it.

— The annexation of Crimea by Russia in 2014 and the incursion into eastern Ukraine along with the shooting down of Malaysia Air MH-17;

— Paul Manafort, former consultant and lobbyist for pro-Russian former President of Ukraine Viktor Yanukovych, was Trump’s campaign manager in 2016  during which the GOP’s platform was tweaked in favor of Russia over Ukraine;

Sanctions placed on Russia at the end of the Obama administration for election hacking tweaked Putin;

— Trump was in Russia’s pocket before and after his inauguration, from his real estate and golf course development to his first visit by Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov in the White House in May 2017 and beyond;

Cyberattacks in 2017 which appeared to target Ukraine;

— The GOP’s failure to establish a new platform in 2018 and in 2020 besides the one created in 2016, leaving their position frozen in place;

— The laying of Nordstream 2 natural gas pipeline to Germany from Russia;

— The threat by Lavrov in 2019 about Georgia becoming a NATO member;

— Trump’s gross abuse of office over the Ukraine quid pro quo for which he was impeached by a Democratic-majority House but not convicted by a GOP-majority Senate in 2020;

— The change in leadership in Germany and the increasingly white nationalist fascist positions of European countries like Hungary;

— The questionable election in Belarus as a soft annexation by Russia.

I’m sure there’s much, much more to this list of predicate events and conditions but I want to get this post up and not write a book. I’ve already published a lengthy piece back in 2019 with a timeline documenting many points of conflict since WWII between Ukraine and Russia spelling out generations’ worth of tension.

We shouldn’t be surprised at all by the current situation. If anything we should be surprised this hadn’t ramped up more quickly last January-February while Biden was still getting his sea legs in office during a pandemic.

Of course now, during winter when natural gas supplies offer increased leverage on the EU, when it’s easier to move heavy equipment over frozen ground, when soldiers are more likely to want to wear masks so their faces don’t freeze off. There are a lot of not so obvious reasons why now.

One of them may be the possibility that 2022 is up in the air — the hold on Congress may be thin, and a lot of negative sentiment one way or the other can build up over the next 9 months. It may be too close to call.

The other may be that destabilization is at its maximum considering the majority of this country voted for Biden and GOP voters are killing themselves with COVID. A key ally, the United Kingdom, has nearly had enough of destabilization by Brexit and Boris Johnson, and may soon be angry enough to reject one if not both.

And then there’s time. Putin is 69 years old. The average life expectancy for men in Russia is a little over 73 years. Granted, Putin will have access to better care than the overwhelming majority of his countrymen. But time doesn’t care, and the pandemic has reduced access to quality health care for everyone by some degree everywhere. He doesn’t have long to do whatever it is he wants to do for his own ego trip and for his legacy.

Don’t need a clock to hear that tick-tock.

~ 2 ~

Here’s Michael McFaul about the increased tensions over Ukraine:

McFaul’s had a lot of experience dealing with Russia. A key point his expressed position doesn’t communicate is that Putin isn’t a legitimate leader with authority conferred upon him by a free citizenry — just ask Alexei Navalny. Oops, you really can’t do that freely.

What we are dealing with is another flavor of narcissist, this time one who is far more ruthless and clever than Trump, retaining power with an iron grip and a lot of defenestrations and dead journalists. We are dealing with a mob boss of mob bosses who wants to protect his turf absolutely and wants to add yet more turf.

We are constrained by being a democracy and the needs of our NATO allies and the people of Ukraine.

We’re somehow going to have to navigate that difference to protect Ukraine and NATO.

~ 1 ~

But why are we bothering at all? Why don’t we let fishstick heir and now Russian asset Tucker Carlson persuade us that Russia is merely protecting its interests with those +100,000 Russian troops sitting at the Ukraine-Russia border?

The U.S. is party to the 1994 Budapest Memorandum on Security Assurances — as is Russia and the UK — in which it was agreed that the parties would “respect the independence and sovereignty and the existing borders of Ukraine” and “refrain from the threat or use of force” against Ukraine.

Russia is and has been in violation of this agreement since 2014.

The U.S. is a proponent of democracy, and Ukraine is a democracy. If Ukraine asks our assistance to protect its democracy and enforce the 1994 Budapest Memorandum, we should provide aid.

The U.S. is a NATO member; under Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty, any attack on a NATO member is an attack on all of NATO. NATO’s EU members rely heavily on natural gas supplied through Ukrainian pipelines; any effort to cut off natural gas to and through Ukraine poses an economic attack — hybrid warfare, in other words. Cyber attacks on Ukraine which affect NATO members may also constitute hybrid warfare. We may be engaged just as we were in 2017 when Ukraine was attacked with NotPetya since U.S. business interests were affected.

~ 0 ~

Let’s confine comments on Ukraine-Russia to posts about Ukraine, please. Marcy may have a Ukraine-related post soon as well. Leave the January 6-related comments under those posts.

Minority Report: Putin’s Programma Destabilizatsii Began Much Earlier

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

By now you should have read Marcy’s post, The Guardian “Scoop” Would Shift the Timeline and Bureaucracy of the Known 2016 Russian Operation which compares much of The Guardian’s article to known details leading up and into 2016 election.

The primary problem with the material journalists Harding, Borger and Sabbagh obtained is the new timeline it offers as well as its attempt to limit Russian interference in the election to a narrow window. In my opinion there are at least two more critical problem.

The reported description of Trump as “impulsive, mentally unstable and unbalanced individual who suffers from an inferiority complex” is problematic. This implies with treatment — like ADD medications and psychotherapy — Trump might be able overcome this challenge. But far too many professionals in psychology and psychiatry have already indicated Trump is a narcissist; this is not a treatable mental illness but a personality disorder. There’s limited treatment for this which may or may not work, including talk therapy. Such therapy poses an inherent national security risk.

Should Trump suffer from dementia worsening with age, his disorder will only worsen, his increasing boldness, meanness, and disinhibition making him even more unfit for any public office. He should never have access to the power of the executive office again.

But that’s one reason why the subtle disinformation has been planted. If Putin’s goal is to destabilize the U.S. and make it both ungovernable and unable to focus its collective will, encouraging the U.S.’s right-wing to reseat Trump under the misguided belief he will improve over time serves his purpose.

The second problem with The Guardian’s report and the underlying materials is that it treats the 2016 election interference to seat Trump as discrete, an end in itself, when the truth is that it was a single project inside a larger framework — a program of destabilization which predates Trump’s candidacy for presidency in 2015.

You’ll recall the case of three Russian spies arrested in January 2015, a date which in itself may not suggest there was a longer destabilization program, only spying. Even the role of former Trump campaign foreign policy adviser Carter Page in the three spies case is not a solid indicator of a longer program.

In the indictment of the spies, however, there was a bit of recorded conversation which has troubled me since I first read it, which I noted in early 2017 when revisiting the three spies case:

“And then Putin even tried to justify that they weren’t even tasked to work, they were sleeper cells in case of martial law,” Victor Podobnyy remarked in a conversation about the Illegals Program sleeper cells. What did he mean by, “in case of martial law”? Is this a continuing concern with regard to any remaining undetected sleeper cells?

Emphasis mine, and on the part which has haunted me.

Was the January 6 insurrection always part of the end goal along with the continuing obstruction by the now thoroughly compromised Republican Party? Was Trump supposed to have invoked the Insurrection Act and martial law with it as part of a longer destabilization program?

That same program, then, would have extended beyond 2015, before the FBI began surveillance of the three spies, before one of the three spies, Evgeny Buryakov, began work in New York City.

The program would have predated the expulsion of the identified Illegals Program sleeper cells in June 2010, if the intent was to use them during civil strife in the U.S. resulting in martial law.

The presence of some of the Illegals Program spies pre-dated Putin’s ascension to Russia’s presidency in December 1999 and his role as Director of the Federal Security Service from 1998-1999, but it’s not clear whether Putin co-opted the program to plan for destabilization, or if the program had always been intended for destabilization but thwarted in 2010.

What’s clear, though, is that the U.S. paid little heed to Putin’s preparedness for conditions in the U.S. leading to martial law, going back at least as far as 2010.

The Illegals Program revealed to the American public the presence of sleeper cells. The general public has assumed all sleeper cells were rolled up in 2010; the use of the program as fiction fodder in cable network series The Americans marginalizes sleeper cells as entertainment. There’s nowhere near the level of concern about white persons with Russian accents as there is about Asian Americans of any heritage, the latter becoming the subject of hate crimes while the presence of Russians and Russian Americans is treated as no big deal. How would Florida’s Sunny Isles municipality function without the presence of Russian and Russian Americans’ money, after all?

This is part of the same umbrella program of destabilization: Putin knows the U.S. has a deep schism which goes to its foundation and he’s placed pressure on it to force it to open more widely. We know this from the documented efforts of Russia’s Internet Research Agency in 2016. Racist Americans have been encouraged to focus on an “Other” with the help of Trump whose repeated remarks about the “China flu.” With this redirection of attention, it’s too easy for any other remaining or new sleeper cells to be created undetected.

Some of these cells may not need to be Russians any longer. They can be loosely organized anarchic groups which are united by their preference for white supremacy and theocratic government. They could include peripherally-connected but influential individuals like David Duke who moved to Russia and lived there for a handful of years, to return to the U.S. to foment more racist tension.

Duke moved to Moscow in 1999 — the same year Putin was FSB Director. Did Duke have an invitation?

Does Putin’s Programma destabilizatsii go back that far?

I won’t even go into the much larger possibility that the umbrella destabilization program was meant to end NATO — which may mean Brexit was not a proof-of-concept linked to the interference in the 2016 election by the use of Cambridge Analytica/SCL, but wholly meant to work hand-in-glove to sustain an attack on NATO.

If this is the case, of course Putin would want to wall off interference into the 2016 election as a discrete, isolated event. Why would NATO continue to tolerate multiple sustained attacks using hybrid warfare on its member nations jointly and separately and not invoke Article 5?

Peter Strzok Subpoenas Trump’s Soccer Ball from Putin

On December 11, Peter Strzok served a subpoena on the Trump for President with a deadline of December 30. Trump blew it off. Yesterday, Strzok filed a motion to show cause, arguing that Trump should be held in contempt for blowing off the subpoena and asking for a preservation order.

None of that is surprising.

What I’m a bit more intrigued by is one paragraph of the subpoena.

The subpoena asks for some things closely related to Strzok’s lawsuit, which argues DOJ released his text messages to Lisa Page in violation of his First Amendment rights and the Privacy Act, which in turn led to his termination. For example, it asks for all communications about those texts. It asks for all communications pertaining to Trump’s wish to have Strzok fired. It even asks for all documents,

concerning any wishes, desires, contemplations, plans, or efforts by Donald Trump, members of the Trump administration, or You to discredit the FBI, Mr. Strzok, Ms. Page, or the Mueller investigation.

If that request is broadly interpreted (and, again, Trump blew off his opportunity to object to the scope of the request), it’ll cover Trump actions right through the last moments of his Administration, when Trump attempted to declassify sensitive documents pertaining to the Crossfire Hurricane investigation.

But the request I’m most interested in asks for all documents “concerning links” between Trump, Putin, Russian oligarchs or banks, as well as any fear that such links might be discovered.

All documents concerning links between (a) Donald Trump, any immediate family member of Donald Trump, The Trump Organization, Jared Kushner, or You and (b) Vladimir Putin, agents of the Moscow Kremlin, Russian oligarchs, or any Russian banks or business enterprises; or document concerning fear that such connections would be uncovered by the Mueller investigation, the FBI, or any other agency or apparatus of the United States government.

While I was being somewhat facetious in this post’s headline about the subpoena including the soccer ball Putin gave Trump on July 16, 2018 — the soccer ball is not known to be a document, even as described broadly by the subpoena, though even Lindsey Graham suggested it might be more than a soccer ball — the request could be read to include a number of other things Trump has tried to suppress. Several examples include:

  • Any documented discussion that ties Trump’s refusal to release his tax returns to Russian funding
  • Any notes held by Trump Organization (as opposed to the Office of the President) recording discussions with Putin
  • The two gifts Aras Agalarov sent during the campaign, a $100,000 triptych painting and a book, both of which purportedly arrived on the same day as stolen emails were released; the communications around these gifts emphasize Agalarov’s concern with the timing of their delivery and in the second case make policy proposals
  • A January 2017 memo from Robert Foresman adapted from one an unnamed oligarch did, laying out Russia’s plans for better relations with Trump; Trump’s White House had tried to claim Executive Privilege over this document in document productions to SSCI
  • Emails from Russia’s Deputy Prime Minister, Sergei Prikhodko, inviting Trump to the June 2016 St. Petersburg International Economic Forum; there’s no formal record that Trump ever declined the invite and Foresman followed up on the invitation shortly thereafter

Strzok could make ample use of earlier documentation of Trump’s efforts to withhold documents from investigators to prove Trump for President is withholding responsive documents.

When Peter Strzok appeared on Meet the Press to pitch his book, Compromised, Todd asked him an uncharacteristically pointed question.

Todd: Given what happened to you, in this episode, um, do you look at what happened and say to yourself, I put myself in a compromising position, I shouldn’t have done that. And that’s on me. Or do you believe you were unfairly singled out?

Strzok: Well, Chuck, I understand that people would ask that question. I certainly regret sending the text messages that were absolutely weaponized and used to bludgeon the work of the FBI, the work of the Special Counsel. I’ll always regret that. But at the same time, the way that those were weaponized was unprecedented. And it is certainly part of a pattern of activity where this Administration has gone to lengths that no other Administration has ever done — that anybody who dares speak the truth or speak out, whether it is in the impeachment hearings with regard to Ukraine, the whistleblower, or anybody in any number of government agencies, if somebody dares speak the truth about this Administration, this Administration has shown no boundaries in going after people in ways that, frankly, is shocking, shocking and inappropriate.

Todd: Well,  and are you still confident the FBI’s immune from this? That you’re not used as this, okay, we sent the message, back off.

Strzok: I think the women and men that I know in the FBI, they’re brave and they’re fearless and they’re dedicated to doing the job and getting to the bottom of whatever lies in front of them. I can’t help though, but think that under an Attorney General who is sitting there day after day saying that there was no basis to launch these investigations in 2016, which is clearly, demonstrably ludicrous. There’s no way that doesn’t have a chilling effect on, not only the FBI, but all the branches and departments of the govern–the Executive Branch of the government. I think the FBI, the people that I know and knew, are holding. I am deeply concerned though what another four years of President Trump will to destroy the traditional independence and objectivity of our government.

Todd asked Strzok whether his texts with Page had been precisely what he warned against for so many years in government, saying or doing anything to make himself and — in this case — the FBI more vulnerable to being coerced into taking actions, or not, that undermined the good of the institution.

Strzok filibustered rather than admit it. But of course the texts did. And as Strzok suggested, it was just the first of many steps Trump took that affirmatively made the US less safe against Russian aggression, which all led up to the SolarWinds hack.

While it’s unclear whether Strzok will succeed in this effort, what he appears to be doing with his lawsuit is more than just obtaining recourse for the damage to his career and his reputation done by Trump’s attention. Rather, he seems intent on unpacking how and why Trump used his texts to compromise the US government.

Update: Corrected to note that this subpoena was served on Trump for President, not Trump Organization.

DOJ submitted a filing noting that while they had no objection to the filing of this motion they,

do not endorse the arguments made in support of Plaintiff’s motion regarding alleged motivations behind Plaintiff’s removal or the disclosure of text messages, or otherwise share in Plaintiff’s theory as to the relevance of the subpoenaed materials to Plaintiff’s case.

Poor Donald Trump Got Dumped

h/t rocksunderwater (public domain)

Poor Donald Trump.

He’s been having a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day, every day for about the last six weeks. He lost the election, then in his battle to overturn things in court he lost and lost and lost and lost some more, each time more bigly than that last. But the worst day, the most terrible horrible no good very bad day of them all, had to be last Sunday, when the Russian electronic spying operation using Solar Wind to hack into highly sensitive government and corporate networks became public.

There has been a lot written about the potential damage of the Solar Wind mess, both in terms of national security and corporate secrets, most of which is speculation. But there is one bit of enormous damage that is obvious, not at all speculative, but is getting no attention at all from anyone.

Along with the rest of the world, Donald Trump just learned that he got dumped by Vladimir Putin.

We almost made it up where they are
But losing your love
Brought me down hard
Now I’m just hanging, just getting by
Where expectations aren’t that high, but

Here on cloud 8
A lotta nothing’s going on
I’m just drifting day to day
Out here on my own
While up on cloud 9
I hear ’em party all the time
They don’t hear my heart break
Down here on cloud 8

Poor Donald. He just learned that Putin has been doing stuff behind his back, all while Putin has been telling him that he’s Putin’s BFF. It’s been almost a week, and poor Donald still can’t come to grips with it.

He’s tweeted about getting the COVID-19 vaccines out (“Yay Me!”) He’s tweeted about the “fact” that he actually won the election and condemned everyone who has failed to have his back (Brian Kemp, he’s looking at you). He’s tweeted about bizarre public health theories (“masks and lockdowns don’t work!”). He’s tweeted about vetoing the defense bill in order to defend 19th century traitors. He’s tweeted about Senator-to-be Tommy Tuberville, on whom he’s pinning his hopes of overturning the election when the electoral college vote gets to Congress. He’s tweeted against Mitch McConnell for arguing against this. But despite this flood of tweets, the one thing he can’t bear to tweet about is being dumped.

And it’s not just that he got dumped. It’s that Putin cheated on him.

He cheated on Trump for months, privately whispering sweet nothings in his ear in their special phone calls, while working behind Trump’s back. Worst of all, in Trump’s mind the hack tells Trump that Putin believed that Trump would lose, and Putin needed to take advantage of Trump’s blindness while he could.

And it’s not just that Putin cheated on him and didn’t believe in him. It’s that everyone knows that Putin cheated on him

Angela Merkel knows. Boris Johnson knows. Emmanuel Macron knows. Justin Trudeau knows. Xi Jinping knows. Kim Jong Un knows. Jacinda Ardern knows. Even Andrés Manuel López Obrador knows about it, and Trump is sure that everyone in Mexico is laughing at him. Even the nobodies who rule those shithole countries know, and they’re laughing too. Putin made him look like a fool in front of everyone in the whole cafeteria world, and they’re all laughing at him.

And it’s not just that Putin made him look like a fool. It’s that there’s not a damn thing that Trump can do about it.

Everyone knows that Trump has been played, bigly. Trump can’t run a PR operation to deflect things. He can’t deny that it ever happened. He can’t say that he dumped Putin and not the other way around. He can’t pretend it doesn’t hurt. And he can’t keep everyone in the whole damn world from talking about it, and from laughing about him behind his back.

While up on cloud 9
I hear ’em party all the time
They don’t hear my heart break
Down here on cloud 8
They don’t hear my heart break
Down here on cloud 8

And before you think this is all a good laugh, and that Trump got what’s been coming to him, I’ve got two words for you: John Hinckley. Something tells me that Trump does not take well to being dumped, being cheated on, and being held up before the world as a fool.

And that scares me.

Trump’s Enablers Are Mistaking an Insurgency for an Off-Ramp

Jake Tapper tweeted that Jared Kushner and Rudy (both of whom have criminal exposure that Trump’s loss might make imminent), along with Jason Miller, are entertaining Trump’s demand that they hold rallies delegitimizing the election results. David Bossie (whom Jared reportedly brought in to play the role of respected elder, like Jim Baker played in the 2000 recount, which by itself is hilarious) and Mark Meadows are pushing Trump to concede.

The AP reports that anonymous senior officials are telling themselves that helping Trump to delegitimize the results is really just a way to give the Narcissist-in-Chief an “off-ramp” to accept the loss that he can’t grasp.

But senior officials, campaign aides and allies told The Associated Press that overwhelming evidence of fraud isn’t really the point.

The strategy to wage a legal fight against the votes tallied for Biden in Pennsylvania and other places is more to provide Trump with an off-ramp for a loss he can’t quite grasp and less about changing the election’s outcome, the officials said. They spoke to AP on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal strategy.

Trump aides and allies also acknowledged privately the legal fights would — at best — forestall the inevitable, and some had deep reservations about the president’s attempts to undermine faith in the vote. But they said Trump and a core group of loyalists were aiming to keep his base of supporters on his side even in defeat.

Meanwhile, Vladimir Putin is one of the few world leaders who has not congratulated President-Elect Biden, because — his spox says — there are still ongoing legal challenges. Thus, it is official policy of Russia to follow the strategy that Russia and its assets had planned in the eventuality of a 2016 loss, to discredit the outcome.

I get that Trump’s closest advisors are calculating the best way for him to remain kingmaker. Ensuring that his frothers remain frothy even after Trump is exposed as a weak man that even Georgia rejected is a one way to do that.

But kidding themselves that this is about getting Trump to come to grips with his loss is a dangerous game. Whatever these rallies would do for Trump’s damaged ego, they will serve to create a potentially violent insurgency, members of which have already tried, on repeated occasion, to engage in political violence in Trump’s name.

No one should treat these excuses for discrediting a clearcut democratic result as serious. They’re just rationalizations to repackage anti-American actions as something else.