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Back in the (Great) Game: The Revenge of Eurasian Land Powers ICH By Pepe Escobar August 31, 2018

What is left roaming our wilderness of mirrors depends on the mood swings of the Goddess of the Market. No wonder an effect of Eurasia integration will be a death blow to Bretton Woods and “democratic” neoliberalism, says Pepe Escobar.

Get ready for a major geopolitical chessboard rumble: from now on, every butterfly fluttering its wings and setting off a tornado directly connects to the battle between Eurasia integration and Western sanctions as foreign policy.

It is the paradigm shift of China’s New Silk Roads versus America’s Our Way or the Highway. We used to be under the illusion that history had ended. How did it come to this?

Hop in for some essential time travel. For centuries the Ancient Silk Road, run by mobile nomads, established the competitiveness standard for land-based trade connectivity; a web of trade routes linking Eurasia to the – dominant – Chinese market.

In the early 15th century, based on the tributary system, China had already established a Maritime Silk Road along the Indian Ocean all the way to the east coast of Africa, led by the legendary Admiral Zheng He. Yet it didn’t take much for imperial Beijing to conclude that China was self-sufficient enough – and that emphasis should be placed on land-based operations.

Deprived of a trade connection via a land corridor between Europe and China, Europeans went all-out for their own maritime silk roads. We are all familiar with the spectacular result: half a millennium of Western dominance.

Until quite recently the latest chapters of this Brave New World were conceptualized by the Mahan, Mackinder and Spykman trio.

The Heartland of the World

Halford Mackinder’s 1904 Heartland Theory – a product of the imperial Russia-Britain New Great Game – codified the supreme Anglo, and then Anglo-American, fear of a new emerging land power able to reconnect Eurasia to the detriment of maritime powers.

Nicholas Spykman’s 1942 Rimland Theory advocated that mobile maritime powers, such as the UK and the U.S., should aim for strategic offshore balancing. The key was to control the maritime edges of Eurasia—that is, Western Europe, the Middle East and East Asia—against any possible Eurasia unifier. When you don’t need to maintain a large Eurasia land-based army, you exercise control by dominating trade routes along the Eurasian periphery.

Even before Mackinder and Spykman, U.S. Navy Admiral Alfred Thayer Mahan had come up in the 1890s with his "Influence of Sea Power Upon History" – whereby the “island” U.S. should establish itself as a seaworthy giant, modeled on the British empire, to maintain a balance of power in Europe and Asia.

It was all about containing the maritime edges of Eurasia.

In fact, we lived in a mix of Heartland and Rimland. In 1952, then Secretary of State John Foster Dulles adopted the concept of an “island chain” (then expanded to three chains) alongside Japan, Australia and the Philippines to encircle and contain both China and the USSR in the Pacific. (Note the Trump administration’s attempt at revival via the Quad–U.S., Japan, Australia and India).

George Kennan, the architect of containing the USSR, was drunk on Spykman, while, in a parallel track, as late as 1988, President Ronald Reagan’s speechwriters were still drunk on Mackinder. Referring to U.S. competitors as having a shot at dominating the Eurasian landmass, Reagan gave away the plot: “We fought two world wars to prevent this from occurring,” he said.

Eurasia integration and connectivity is taking on many forms. The China-driven New Silk Roads, also known as Belt and Road Initiative (BRI); the Russia-driven Eurasia Economic Union (EAEU); the Asia Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB); the International North-South Transportation Corridor (INSTC), and myriad other mechanisms, are now leading us to a whole new game.

How delightful that the very concept of Eurasian “connectivity” actually comes from a 2007 World Bank report about competitiveness in global supply chains.

Also delightful is how the late Zbigniew “Grand Chessboard” Brzezinski was “inspired” by Mackinder after the fall of the USSR – advocating the partition of a then weak Russia into three separate regions; European, Siberian and Far Eastern.

All Nodes Covered

At the height of the unipolar moment, history did seem to have “ended.” Both the western and eastern peripheries of Eurasia were under tight Western control – in Germany and Japan, the two critical nodes in Europe and East Asia. There was also that extra node in the southern periphery of Eurasia, namely the energy-wealthy Middle East.

Washington had encouraged the development of a multilateral European Union that might eventually rival the U.S. in some tech domains, but most of all would enable the U.S. to contain Russia by proxy.

China was only a delocalized, low-cost manufacture base for the expansion of Western capitalism. Japan was not only for all practical purposes still occupied, but also instrumentalized via the Asian Development Bank (ADB), whose message was: We fund your projects only if you are politically correct.

The primary aim, once again, was to prevent any possible convergence of European and East Asian powers as rivals to the US.

The confluence between communism and the Cold War had been essential to prevent Eurasia integration. Washington configured a sort of benign tributary system – borrowing from imperial China – designed to ensure perpetual unipolarity. It was duly maintained by a formidable military, diplomatic, economic, and covert apparatus, with a star role for the Chalmers Johnson-defined Empire of Bases encircling, containing and dominating Eurasia.

Compare this recent idyllic past with Brzezinski’s – and Henry Kissinger’s – worst nightmare: what could be defined today as the “revenge of history”.

That features the Russia-China strategic partnership, from energy to trade: interpolating Russia-China geo-economics; the concerted drive to bypass the U.S. dollar; the AIIB and the BRICS’s New Development Bank involved in infrastructure financing; the tech upgrade inbuilt in Made in China 2025; the push towards an alternative banking clearance mechanism (a new SWIFT); massive stockpiling of gold reserves; and the expanded politico-economic role of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO).

As Glenn Diesen formulates in his brilliant book, Russia’s Geo-economic Strategy for a Greater Eurasia, “the foundations of an Eurasian core can create a gravitational pull to draw the rimland towards the centre.”

If the complex, long-term, multi-vector process of Eurasia integration could be resumed by just one formula, it would be something like this: the heartland progressively integrating; the rimlands mired in myriad battlefields and the power of the hegemon irretrievably dissolving. Mahan, Mackinder and Spykman to the rescue? It’s not enough.

Divide and Rule, Revisited

The same applies for the preeminent post-mod Delphic Oracle, also known as Henry Kissinger, simultaneously adorned by hagiography gold and despised as a war criminal.

Before the Trump inauguration, there was much debate in Washington about how Kissinger might engineer – for Trump – a “pivot to Russia” that he had envisioned 45 years ago. This is how I framed the shadow play at the time.

In the end, it’s always about variations of Divide and Rule – as in splitting Russia from China and vice-versa. In theory, Kissinger advised Trump to “rebalance” towards Russia to oppose the irresistible Chinese ascension. It won’t happen, not only because of the strength of the Russia-China strategic partnership, but because across the Beltway, neocons and humanitarian imperialists ganged up to veto it.

Brzezinski’s perpetual Cold War mindset still lords over a fuzzy mix of the Wolfowitz Doctrine and the Clash of Civilizations. The Russophobic Wolfowitz Doctrine – still fully classified – is code for Russia as the perennial top existential threat to the U.S. The Clash, for its part, codifies another variant of Cold War 2.0: East (as in China) vs. West.

Kissinger is trying some rebalancing/hedging himself, noting that the mistake the West (and NATO) is making “is to think that there is a sort of historic evolution that will march across Eurasia – and not to understand that somewhere on that march it will encounter something very different to a Westphalian entity.”

Both Eurasianist Russia and civilization-state China are already on post-Westphalian mode. The redesign goes deep. It includes a key treaty signed in 2001, only a few weeks before 9/11, stressing that both nations renounce any territorial designs on one another’s territory. This happens to concern, crucially, the Primorsky Territory in the Russian Far East along the Amur River, which was ruled by the Ming and Qing empires.

Moreover, Russia and China commit never to do deals with any third party, or allow a third country to use its territory to harm the other’s sovereignty, security and territorial integrity.

So much for turning Russia against China. Instead, what will develop 24/7 are variations of U.S. military and economic containment against Russia, China and Iran – the key nodes of Eurasia integration – in a geo-strategic spectrum. It will include intersections of heartland and rimland across Syria, Ukraine, Afghanistan and the South China Sea. That will proceed in parallel to the Fed weaponizing the U.S. dollar at will.

Heraclitus Defies Voltaire

Alastair Crooke took a great shot at deconstructing why Western global elites are terrified of the Russian conceptualization of Eurasia. It’s because “they ‘scent’…a stealth reversion to the old, pre-Socratic values: for the Ancients … the very notion of ‘man’, in that way, did not exist. There were only men: Greeks, Romans, barbarians, Syrians, and so on. This stands in obvious opposition to universal, cosmopolitan ‘man’.”

So it’s Heraclitus versus Voltaire – even as “humanism” as we inherited it from the Enlightenment, is de facto over. Whatever is left roaming our wilderness of mirrors depends on the irascible mood swings of the Goddess of the Market. No wonder one of the side effects of progressive Eurasia integration will be not only a death blow to Bretton Woods but also to “democratic” neoliberalism.

What we have now is also a remastered version of sea power versus land powers. Relentless Russophobia is paired with supreme fear of a Russia-Germany rapprochement – as Bismarck wanted, and as Putin and Merkel recently hinted at. The supreme nightmare for the U.S. is in fact a truly Eurasian Beijing-Berlin-Moscow partnership.

The Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) has not even begun; according to the official Beijing timetable, we’re still in the planning phase. Implementation starts next year. The horizon is 2039.

This is China playing a long-distance game of GO on steroids, incrementally making the best strategic decisions (allowing for margins of error, of course) to render the opponent powerless as he does not even realize he is under attack.

The New Silk Roads were launched by Xi Jinping five years ago, in Astana (the Silk Road Economic Belt) and Jakarta (the Maritime Silk Road). It took Washington almost half a decade to come up with a response. And that amounts to an avalanche of sanctions and tariffs. Not good enough.

Russia for its part was forced to publicly announce a show of mesmerizing weaponry to dissuade the proverbial War Party adventurers probably for good – while heralding Moscow’s role as co-driver of a brand new game.

On sprawling, superimposed levels, the Russia-China partnership is on a roll; recent examples include summits in Singapore, Astana and St. Petersburg; the SCO summit in Qingdao; and the BRICS Plus summit.

Were the European peninsula of Asia to fully integrate before mid-century – via high-speed rail, fiber optics, pipelines – into the heart of massive, sprawling Eurasia, it’s game over. No wonder Exceptionalistan elites are starting to get the feeling of a silk rope drawn ever so softly, squeezing their gentle throats.

Pepe Escobar is the correspondent-at-large for Hong Kong-based Asia Times. His latest book is 2030.

Russia had every reason to hack the US election With President Obama saying the United States will retaliate against Russia for meddling in the 2016 presidential election, the White House must make public “conclusive evidence in a form that can be independently analyzed,” as a leading technology website argues.

Until then, claims that Russia hacked Democratic Party emails remain unverified allegations based on anonymous sources. And that is extremely shaky ground to ratchet up a conflict with the most heavily armed nuclear power in the world given how the Vietnam War and Iraq War began as lies fomented by previous presidents.

But lost in the shadows of cyberwarfare and espionage is another critical debate: What would Russia’s motive be in undermining the U.S. electoral system and by extension its legitimacy, power, and global standing?

Hillary Clinton says it’s because Russian President Vladimir Putin “has a personal beef against me.”

This tale of comic-book villainy papers over a complicated history, however. With protesters in the streets, Putin likely feared he would be the latest regional strongman toppled by a U.S.-backed uprising. There was the 2003 Rose Revolution in Georgia, the 2004 Orange Revolution in the Ukraine, and the Tulip Revolution in Kyrgyzstan in 2005—all promoted by the United States and West Europe. The color-coded revolutions fit into a pattern of U.S.-engineered regime change around the world. This goes back to the emergence of America as a global power by the early 1900s, with its most recent incarnation being the “war on terror” under the Bush and Obama administrations.

The Western outcry against Russia’s 2011 elections, which some observers say was not unusually fraudulent, sent U.S.-Russia relations into a nosedive. Two analysts write in the Washington Quarterly, “The U.S. administration cut off talks with the Russians on missile defense, did not invite Putin to the 2012 NATO summit, eventually stopped pursuing arms control, signed into law the Magnitsky Act (even though the Obama administration had initially objected to this law; it was designed to punish Russian officials for the death in prison of Russian lawyer Sergei Magnitsky), cancelled a two-day summit planned in Moscow in September 2013, met with human rights activists on the sidelines of Putin’s G20 summit in St. Petersburg in 2013 (the only head of state to do so), and then sent a White House delegation to the Sochi Olympics in February 2014 with a strong message of support for LGBT rights in response to Russia’s ‘anti-gay propaganda’ law.”

Now, this is just a brief overview of why Russia might feel just a bit paranoid. A fuller picture would note NATO was founded as an anti-Soviet military alliance in 1949, a full six years before the Soviet-formed Warsaw Pact was established. Despite losing its reason for being with the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, NATO has expanded eastward for more than 20 years over vociferous Russian protests. High-level Western officials are well aware their policies are viewed as belligerent. Last year the UK foreign secretary admitted “we have to recognise that the Russians do have a sense of being surrounded and under attack.”

Then there is the U.S.-designed “shock therapy” in the 1990s, which battered Russia. In a three-year period, as the economy was privatized, unemployment soared, and the safety net shredded, the life expectancy of Russian men plunged a staggering five years, and resulted in millions of excess deaths according to a Lancet study from 2009.

This is the missing background to the hacked U.S. election. It shows Russia has every reason to take the United States down a few notches. It’s important to emphasize none of it proves the hacking was tied to Russia, much less Putin himself as Washington now alleges.

Video: A Day in The Life of a Dictator (portrait of craziness in power) - Documentary Stalin, Edie Amin, Kadafi. How does a dictator live? What is daily life like for a monster in power? From when he wakes up to when he sleeps, what goes on in the life of someone who will decide the fate of millions of people? What are the mechanisms that lead an ambitious individual to a spiral of cruelty and excess?

"Capital flight from Russia is heading towards levels not seen since just before the financial crisis in 1998. About $33bn was moved abroad last year" ("News in Brief." Guardian Weekly, June 17, 2005: 16).


"More than $300bn will be paid in bribes in Russia this year, almost 10 times as much as in 2001, according to a survey. The average bribe paid to corrupt bureaucrats is 13 times what it was four years ago...

"Bribes are most commonly paid to avoid army conscription, secure a place in a school or university, buy up a judge or get better medical treatment. President Vladimir Putin admitted the scale of the problem in a recent speech, calling bureaucrats a "closed and sometimes simply arrogant caste that sees state service as a kind of business." Yet, according to official figures, their number has doubled to 1,25 million since 1990" ("Cost of bribing officials soars." Guardian Weekly, Aug.4, 2005: 9).


"Contrary to established opinion, the gravest threats to America's national security are still in Russia. They derive from an unprecedented development that most US policy makers have recklessly disregarded, as evidenced by the undeclared cold war Washington has waged, under both parties, against post-communist Russia during the past fifteen years.

"As a result of the Soviet brakup in 1991, Russia, a state bearing every nuclear and other device of mass destruction, virtually collapsed. During the 1990s its essential infrastructures--political, economic and social--disintegrated...

"The stability of the political regime atop this bleak post-Soviet landscape rests havily, if not entirely, on the personal popularity and authority of one man, President Vladimir Putin, who admits the state "is not yet completely stable." While Putin's ratings are an extraordinary 70 to 75 percent positive, political institutions and would-be leaders below him have almost no public support...

"...another, perhaps more likely, possibility: Petro-dollars may bring Russia long-term stability, but on the basis of growing authoritarianism and xenophobic nationalism. Those ominous factors derive primarily not from Russia's lost super-power status (or Putin's KGB background), as the US press regularly misinforms readers, but from so many lost and damaged lives at home since 1991. Often called the "Weimar scenario", this outcome probably would not be truly fascist, but it would be a Russia possessing weapons of mass destruction and large proportions of the world's oil and natural gas, even more hostile to the West than was its soviet predecesor...

"Since the early 1990s Washington has simultaneously conducted, under Democrats and Republicans, two fundamentally different policies toward post-Soviet Russia--one decorative and outwardly reassuring, the other real and exceedingly reckless...

"The real US policy has been very different--a relentless winner-take-all exploitation of Russia's post-1991 weakness. Accompanied by broken American promises, condescending lectures and demands for unilateral concessions, it has been even more aggressive and uncomprimising than was Washington's approach to Soviet Communist Russia...

"That interventionary impulse has now grown even into suggestions that Putin be overthrown by the kind of US-backed "color revolutions" carried out since 2003 in Georgia, Ukraine and Kyrgyzstan, and attempted this year in Belarus....

"Underpinning these components of the real US policy are familiar cold war double standards condemning Moscow for doing what Washington does.....

"When Washington meddles in the politics of Georgia and Ukraine, it is "promoting democracy"; when the Kremin dow so, it is "neoimperialism"...

"The cold war ended in Moscow, but not in Washington"...

"Military encirclement, the Bush Administration's striving for nuclear supremacy and today's renewed US intrusions into Russian politics are having even worse consequences. They have provoked the Kremlin into undertaking its own conventional and nuclear buildup... while continuing to invest miserly sums in the country's decaying economic base and human resources....

"Meanwhile, Moscow is forming a political, economic and military "strategic partnership" with China, lending support to Iran and other anti-American governments in the Middle East and already putting surface-to-air missiles back in Belarus, in effect Russia's western border with NATO...

"Bush's National Security Council is contemptuous of arms control as "baggage from the cold war." In short, as dangers posed by nuclear weapons have grown and a new arms race unfolds, efforts to curtail or even discuss them have ended...

"...once robust pro-detente public groups, particularly anti-arms-race movements, have been largely demobilized by official, media and academic myths that "the cold war is over" and we have been "liberated" from nuclear and other dangers in Russia...

"The Kremlin's strong preference "not to return to the cold war era," as Putin stated May 13 in response to Cheney's inflammatory charges, has been mainly responsible for preventing such fantasies from becoming reality. "Someone is still fighting the cold war," a British academic recently wrote, "but it isn't Russia." (Stephen F. Cohen. "The New American Cold WarThe Nation July 10, 2006: 9-17).


Colby Glass, MLIS