Getting real on the US-NATO-Russia talks

18 Jan

No apologies for showing this map yet again. If corporate media were doing their ostensible as opposed to their real job – which is to say, if their business models and revenue requirements allowed them to serve truth rather than power on the things that matter – I wouldn’t have to.

Meanwhile, thanks to Dave Hansell for alerting me to this piece in The Saker on January 14.

The Not-Ultimatum

by Observer R for the Saker Blog


Documents issued by Russia in December (the so-called Not-Ultimatum) re modifications to the security architecture in Europe have created a sensation in the diplomatic and military worlds. Russia politely requested that NATO confine its activities to its location as of 1997, and keep out of the former Warsaw Pact territory. This was to abide by the promises that the United States made to the Soviet Union at the time that the Soviets agreed to disband the Warsaw Pact. Both the United States and NATO responded negatively to the initiative, but agreed to hold negotiations with Russia during the week of January 11-14, 2022.

During the negotiation period many commentators have opined that the intellectual quality of the US official statements and the US think-tank products could be improved. Perhaps all is not lost, however, as at least some US officials have grasped the changes in Russian weapons and the Russian economy that make it necessary to sit down and do serious talking. For example, the top US general has announced that the world has moved from a unipolar setup to a multipolar one, and that the US is now only one of the poles, the others being China and Russia. The US general has engaged in “deconfliction” talks with the top generals of China and Russia—presumably to try and ward off any mistakes that could wind up frying the world to a crisp. In addition, the head of the CIA has allowed the CIA Fact Book to be published publicly showing that China and Russia are much higher-ranked in GDP than most politicians and pundits in the US give them credit for. China is significantly out in front, and Russia is sixth and closing in on fifth place. Finally, a former First Lady and Secretary of State has written that the massive US aircraft carriers are to a large extent obsolete and that the F-35 fighter jet does not live up to expectations. There is a widespread feeling that the US is behind the Russians in hypersonic weapons, air defense, and probably electronic warfare also.

The talk in Congress, the output of various think-tanks, and the coverage in mainstream media fail to fully reflect these sweeping changes in the world power balance. This factor puts the current US Administration between a rock and a hard-place. It cannot acknowledge the need to update the security architecture in Europe because the US public has not been prepared for the change, but it cannot continue the status quo because the US has already lost the arms race and is constantly losing ground in the economic competition. The three-pole world has arrived, but the US appears to be unprepared for it and is at wits end in deciding what to do next. However, the appearance of unpreparedness is what shows in front of the curtain; what the deep, deep state behind the curtain is actually planning and preparing is opaque. Such planning may be going on in extreme secrecy, based on the likelihood that some very high US officials have quite a good grasp of reality.

Nevertheless, this week’s diplomatic negotiations have come and gone without any observable breakthroughs or positive steps. The post-meeting announcements indicate a stalemate, with both sides driving their proverbial stakes even further into the ground.

The United States Side

Whatever might or might not be going on in secret, there is no observable indication that the US is prepared to adjust to a three-pole world. Instead the US appears to be trying to eliminate the other two poles and remain the hegemon of the world. There are several methods that the US is pursuing. One is to continue to move weapons into the countries bordering Russia and attempting to set up bases in more of these locations. The US reportedly has been working to get approval for new bases in the Central Asian countries, so far without much success. Another tactic is to foment color revolutions around the periphery of Russia. This was successful in Ukraine, failed in Belarus, Kyrgyzstan, and, so far, in Syria and Kazakhstan, with muddled results in Armenia and Georgia. Transnistria appears next on the list, with others probably in the future. By now most governments have likely read up on the color revolution playbook, and developed appropriate counter measures. A third tactic is to institute sanctions on Russia in an attempt to slow down or prevent future positive development in that country. Some current proposed sanctions include those on smartphones, machine tools, aircraft parts, and what ever else is traded with Russia. Many experts, however, feel that these sanctions are a lost cause because Russia has already decoupled from the West to a great degree. Previous sanctions on aircraft parts and composite materials led Russia to develop its domestic industry to produce engines and composite wings for the the MC-21 passenger aircraft. Both of these efforts have been successful and the plane is on schedule to be delivered to Russian airlines. The plane will compete with the Boeing 737MAX of recent fame, and the Airbus A320 family. The MC-21 has a more modern and advanced design than either of the Western models.

The problem for the US is that all these tactics appear now to be more or less blocked or offset by Russia. What worked even five years ago, does not have the same effectiveness in the current situation. Whereas the color revolution was successful in Ukraine, the current attempted color revolution in Kazakhstan has so far been a fiasco. The US is spending too much money for too little result. It is the US that is stuck in too many quagmires, not Russia. Furthermore, the US has not perfected the art of successful withdrawal from quagmires so that retreats can be spun as glorious victories. The US withdrawal from Afghanistan is a vivid illustration of this failure. The folks behind the curtain need to concentrate on this problem because many more retreats are coming in the future. The US bases in West Asia are not particularly viable in the event of a really nasty shooting war. The Iranians already showed that fact when they sent a missile straight into the large US base in Iraq and even notified the Americans ahead of time. The US forces were not able to intercept the missile. The US bases in the GCC countries are just as vulnerable, and the American soldiers there could be viewed as almost de facto hostages if the shooting starts. It is a rather sad delusion when the US sends aircraft carriers near Iran or China as a show of force, when it is clear that the range of the aircraft onboard the carriers is inferior to the range of the Iranian and Chinese anti-ship missiles.

The deep state is facing even more problems in West Asia (formerly “Middle East”). The major oil customer for both Iran and Saudi Arabia happens to be China. This calls into question the viability of the petrodollar, since now there is always the danger that it might become the petroyuan. China is also spreading the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) to include Iran, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and other countries in the area. The recent addition of Syria on January 12, shows the New Silk Road’s continuing extension towards the Mediterranean. China also signed a massive economic development agreement with Iran and is planning to provide Saudi Arabia with assistance in developing ballistic missiles. In Iraq, the US has agreed to withdraw combat troops, while leaving training troops. Many folks in Iraq want all the US troops to leave and are blowing up US logistics convoys to make their point. In the meanwhile, the US is building a refinery in Syria to process illegally appropriated oil. All these developments do not seem like a viable long-term arrangement to benefit the US.

The Russian Side

The major occupation of foreign policy analysts and pundits for the last month has been to attempt to forecast what Russia will do once the negotiations over the Not-Utimatum had deadlocked. They all expected a deadlock, but differed widely on what might happen next. One group thought that the Russian position, as well as the US position, was just a maximal demand issued for negotiation purposes, and that both sides would end up compromising somewhere in-between the extremes. Another forecast was that Russia had bitten off more than it could chew, and that the US was giving Russia a path to climb down off its high-horse without losing too much face. A third forecast was that Russia would be forced to do some kinetic action to wake up the US to the seriousness of Russian demands. Many different locations were suggested as possible points that might be blown up. A fourth forecast was that Russia would reply in-kind by moving Russian missiles closer to the US border. There did not appear to be any forecasts for Russia to place onerous sanctions on the US (no more specialized oil supplies or heavy rocket engines, for example). Sanctions appear to center on the gas pipelines from Russia to Europe, where the analysts cannot agree on who would be most disadvantaged if the gas stopped flowing. Neither were there forecasts that Russia would institute a wave of color revolutions in the US vassal states. In fact, the latter appears to be a major difference in the Russian and American approaches to foreign relations. It does seem on the surface that Russia is fighting with one hand behind its back, but the advantage for the US in color revolutions may dissipate in the mists of time.

The kinetic action option is often described using Ukraine as the probable location. That tinder-box is constantly in the news, but may not see action unless Kiev seriously attacks the Separatists or tries to take back Crimea or some such fantasy. Other possibilities could be the forceable removal of hostile weapon systems near Russian borders, or for Russia to give a green light to anti-US fighters in Syria or Iraq to remove the Americans by force. At one point the Russians were bombing the oil tankers stealing oil in Iraq, so there is already a precedent for action in that area.

The in-kind option is the one mentioned by a Russian high official when he pointed out the danger of a second Cuban Missile Crisis. News media have already begun speculation that Russia might station missiles in Cuba or Venezuela, after flight tracking showed a Russian passenger plane reputed to be used by the FSB visiting both those countries recently. Other options noted are to station Russian submarines with Posideon missiles offshore the US, which, if used, could unleash tsunamis against the coastal areas. Since the first Cuban crisis began when the US moved missiles into Turkey and Italy and the Soviet Union responded by moving missiles toward emplacement in Cuba, the same thing could happen again.

Russia is also showing off its new and improved armaments to lend gravitas to the Not-Ultimatum. The new hypersonic Zircon missile is now in service and the vastly updated and modernized TU-160M supersonic bomber just made its first test flight. Many other advanced Russian weapons, ships, missiles, submarines, and planes have been put on display for the edification of military analysts and military attaches. Russia is also building super icebreakers for the Arctic and setting up a transport route across the top of the world.

Decision Time

A chief problem in trying to analyze the Not-Ultimatum crisis is not knowing who or what is pulling the strings behind the US curtain. A consensus holds that the ones in front, such as the President and Vice President, do not exhibit much authority and their speeches indicate a vast amount of magical thinking. On the other hand, there are top level officials in the US who talk in different terms and indicate that at least some powers behind the curtain have a more objective view of reality and the relevant facts. Some of these facts are 1) that the US has lost the arms race, 2) the US government debt is out of control, 3) the US has the worst inflation in 37 years, 4) the US budget deficit is out of control, 5) the US economy is no longer the largest in the world, 6) the US continues to pour money into obsolete weapons systems, 7) The US social, racial, education, and health policies are disasters. Russia, on the other hand, is doing reasonably well on these factors. All the analysts at Langley and the Pentagon cannot be blind to these facts. Therefore, it is hard to believe that there are not secret groups somewhere in the bowels of the bureaucracies trying to figure out how to keep the ship of state from running into the proverbial iceberg. The key manifestation of such effort will be if new ideas begin to appear in the mainstream media and the more adept politicians begin to tack in a different direction. If this does not happen, then the American Empire will move ever faster toward sunset and follow all the previous empires to the same fate.

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8 Replies to “Getting real on the US-NATO-Russia talks

  1. It is interesting that despite its massive defence spending the US appears to have lost the technical edge in the arms race. Is it because the cost of trying to defend its imperialist hegemony through wars in Iraq, Lybia. Syria etc has diverted funding from arms development or is it simply a matter of ‘taking the eye off the ball?’

    Ironically, during the 60s and 70s the myth of Soviet arms superiority was used to frighten us in the West – now that this might be true it is being hidden!

    • I’m sure you right on overextending – that is the fate of all empires. But I see two other factors. One, the superordinate goal of America’s bloated military industrial complex is not to make weapons but profits – see footnote 2 of this post. Two, sanctions piled on Russia once Putin took the reins, after the pliantly drunken buffoon Yeltsin, have been counterproductive in obliging a self sufficiency which has seen Russia forge ahead in the crucial arena of hypersonic missiles. A threat hanging over Russia – of a first strike taking out most of her nuclear capacity, leaving star wars technologies to down the few remaining missiles she could fire back – has been nullified. The Pentagon has no way of taking out US-bound missiles coming at Mach 10 or even 20.

      • PS – since Iran keeps coming up in such discussions, we should note that despite her economic and other problems, and despite not being a nuclear power, she is feared by the West at large, and by its two Middle East allies in particular. Israel wants Iran taken out, while the missile attacks on Saudi oil installations showed her capacity to threaten an ally some – Michael Hudson for one – deem more important even than Israel in maintaining US hegemony in the region.

        (By the way, I see from both The Saker and a Tim Anderson piece last year that we are to drop “Middle East” in favour of “West Asia”.)

        Iran is highly invested – one sign being the effectiveness of Hezbollah – in the means of waging asymmetric war.

    • The other side of that defence spend cost for the US is the bangs for bucks ratio. The budget is so large because everything from a screwdriver to a missile system to a carrier group is just so sodding expensive compared to the same costs for everyone else.

      Just look at the F-35 fighter.

      For sure, in large part yes, there is the system costs of US pork barrel politics; the fact that the US economy is entirely run on security state militarisation; and the moral hazard of no cost restraints arising from having the dollar as the reserve currency and all those recycled petro-dollars swilling around the system.

      However, the elephant in the room is the mindset which makes it a matter of faith based dogma that everything is based on Cartesian reductionism. They don’t do systems thinking over there because that’s classed as anti and non American. Communism in fact.

      This piece from a few years back from the Yorkshire Ranter blog explains the point better than I can:

      In regards to the potential existence of any grown ups with any clout on the US side this piece from the Gilbert Doctorow blog, dated January 16, and the link to the article it highlights in the publication ‘National Interest’, is well worth consideration to the ongoing debate and analysis:

        • More seriously, now I’ve read the Gilbert Doctorow piece of January 16 (see below for my response to his piece of January 18) a few things strike me. Of which I’ll offer just one.

          Mr Doctorow makes a point, re what I call philistinism on the Beltway, made many times by the late Stephen Cohen: few US intellectuals learn Russian (or pretty much any other non English language) anymore:

          … language is key [but] US foreign policy lacks competence in Russian … in 2010-11 The Harriman Institute had dropped all language requirements for their master’s in regional studies of Russia and Eurasia. Instead, they wanted numeric skills, more useful for jobs in banks and international organizations. Columbia was not at all alone in this.

          So journalists who report today on the ongoing crisis between the US and Russia rely on State Department/Pentagon handouts, i.e. on propaganda they can’t interpret critically so pass on to their readers without comment.

          But there is a bigger issue than starting up language courses: education unwillingness to listen to our adversaries and try to understand the logic underlying their behavior. Anyone presenting the Russian side of things is seen as a ‘stooge of Putin’.

          Now the Russians are saying “move or we will move you,” which they can back up with superior tactical and strategic military hardware. There is a price to pay for ignorance.


          I draw an analogy here with a point raised in my reply to Bryan, above. Market logic weakens not just the arms sector of a nation which above all others worships at the shrine of Capital. The same logic (which has also seen UK universities drop science and languages, as less appealing to fee paying students, in favour of media studies and intersectionality) is sapping the minds of its intelligentsia.

  2. Latest from Gilbert Docterow. Today Jan.18:

    Leaving aside the belligerent tone of the guests in the broadcast being analysed – obviously the Americans and the Brits don’t have a monopoly on bellicose rhetoric – one the key themes here, as with so much other analysis, concerns the quality – in terms of expertise, experience, knowledge etc – of those on the US and European side of the negotiating team.

    In essence this boils down to the observation that there are no grown up’s to be found in the West.

    An unsurprising observation for anyone who has been paying attention to what passes for Western culture over the past four decades or more. A culture where qualities such as experience, expertise, knowledge and, yes, quality itself have long been expunged from everyday life – the workplace, academia, politics, art*, sport, and everything in-between in the pursuit of the kerching of the lowest common denominator.

    * This piece is almost two decades old:

    • The Gilbert Doctorow piece referenced in this comment – I’ve yet to read the one cited in the previous – is riveting. I recommend it to all reading these exchanges.

      I saw Grayson Perry recently. I’d never heard of the guy but a friend had tickets and couldn’t make it. I went instead. He impressed and entertained me.

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