Ruminations on the Russians

I’ve been reading a little bit about The Great War, when time permits. The 100th anniversary has unleashed a lot of good books, articles and even a podcast on the subject. Dan Carlin’s series on the war is excellent if you’re into podcasts. I have a dozen books on my list, that have come out in the last few years, unread on my shelf, but I’m hoping to knock them out in the fall.

The Great War is on that list of things you have to know about in order to be an educated man. The 100 Years War, the Thirty Years War, The English Civil War, the American Civil War and the Great War are events you simply have to know in order to know the modern age. You don’t have to be an expert, but you need the basics. In the case of the Great War, I don’t know if you can be an expert. The Battle of the Marne is enough to keep a first rate mind busy for a lifetime.

What has always intrigued me about this war is two things. One is everyone went into it, even the German military, with out of date notions on warfare. Some of their attitudes were pre-Napoleonic, in regards to the rules of war. The biggest error was in not understanding how the changing technology would change war fighting. They could not imagine it. Instead, they learned it in a massive bloodbath.

This is not a post about that war, but about our next one. At the start of the last century, lots of smart people thought war was no longer a possibility. Globalization, trade, “smart” managers and technocrats had made territorial expansion unprofitable and counter productive. Norman Angell wrote a very influential pamphlet arguing that the integration of the economies of European countries had grown to such a degree that war between them would be entirely futile, making war obsolete.

We hear the same arguments today. The addition now is that American military hegemony, along with the nuclear stockpiles of China, Russia and the US, makes war an impossibility. No one would risk it. What everyone hangs their hats on is the global capital markets. War at any scale would make the global elite poor and that means there will never be another war of any scale.

Just because these claims echo those of 100 years ago does not make them invalid. They may be right, as it seems unlikely that we will see tanks racing across Germany again, but that’s not the way to bet. Great economic upheavals have always ended in great wars so this great economic upheaval is probably going to end in a great war. The question is what will it be like?

I think the place to start is with the Russians. Again, hailing back to the Great War, Russia, like the Germans 100 years ago, is the country trying to get a place at the table, but is instead being ignored. France and Britain controlled 70% of the globe a century ago. Today, the West controls 100% of the world economy. Finland gets more respect from Western powers than Russia. They have a lot of reasons to cause trouble.

The way the Russians handled Crimea and Ukraine should be one of those things that keeps western planners up at night. It was asymmetric warfare at a level no one thought the Russians possessed. It’s not just that they have evolved their military strategies; its that they have clearly learned a lot about how Western strategies have evolved. Those “little green men” who popped out of nowhere did not pop out of nowhere. That was well planned and well executed.

What the Russians clearly learned is that the old rule of war is still true. The side that gets there firstest with the mostest usually wins. In the case of Crimea, the Russian got their forces in control of the ground before the West knew what was happening. Instead of tanks and infantry units, the Russians used irregulars in anonymous uniforms, mixed in with local elements sympathetic to the Russians

Now we see the Russians, to everyone’s surprise, are putting boots on the ground in Syria. They have tanks guarding an airfield that they appear to be building up, presumably for the purpose of basing fighter planes. Coincidentally, there are a million Syrians heading to Europe as refugees. Those refugees will certainly maintain links back to the home country. Inevitably, Russian intelligence will be working with Syrians in the region, developing lots of contacts that could be used later.

This may sound far fetched, but consider another example from the Great War. The guy who assassinated Archduke Franz Ferdinand was a guy named Gavrilo Princip. He was part of a conspiracy run by a member of the Black Hand. Their leader was a man named Danilo Ilić, who was controlled by Serbian intelligence. The people who poisoned Alexander Litvinenko with polonium are not going to fret about running Syrian terrorists in the heart of Europe.

This partnering with locals the Russians are doing has another benefit. It lets them cheaply extend their influence to weak spots of the West. Setting up camp in Syria means they can create mischief through the Middle East and North Africa. They are, in effect, extending the front lines north to the Baltics and south into the Mediterranean. Instead of being surrounded by the West, Russia and its partners is now surrounding the West.

The Industrial Revolution ended with two massive wars that nearly obliterated civilization. If not for the Anglosphere, civilization would have ended. maybe the technological revolution ends with something less dramatic. Maybe the next great war is a low grade affair between irregulars. I don’t know, but it seems like the folks to watch are the Russians.

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Steve C.
Steve C.
5 years ago

We learn nothing and forget nothing. Crimea was the Rhineland. Putin wagered that Ukraine would only respond with force if the government believed it would have the full support of the west, up to and including military force. As the French dithered over the occupation of the Rhineland by three battalions of the Heer, so the Ukranians were stumped by the appearance of Russian regular irregulars.

UKer
UKer
5 years ago

To me, the key aspect about war is that it is often expected in some form, but not in the way it comes. In the Great Warm the Schlieffen Plan had been drawn up at least nine years before and wasn’t as such a surprise to the rest of Europe who had watched the growing might of Germany, but what was a surprise was how quickly after Archduke Ferdinand was shot it got to be employed. One might say the same with Pearl Harbor; America pretty much expected armed confrontation with Japan but not the nature of it arriving. On… Read more »

UKer
UKer
5 years ago

“The great Warm” was a typo, doh. If anything it was a great heat.

Doug
Doug
5 years ago

That is really well written, well said.
One things for sure, none of this is going to end well. Seems like an inflection point has passed, and the various states, because states do what states do, can’t or will not pull back from the brink.
Lord, what the psychopaths running things do is getting old.
People say the idea of stateless society isn’t possible. The ideal sure is looking better each day.

Dr. Mabuse
Dr. Mabuse
Reply to  Doug
5 years ago

I think you’re right about an inflection point having been passed. I’m not sure just when the moment was, but at some point the Europeans stopped waiting for America to get its act together and do something. Others have done the same: Israel and Saudi Arabia come to mind, but I just feel that people who count are now longer scanning the horizon for America anymore. It’s like a seacoast that’s faded into the mist, and now the rest of the world really is out on the open ocean, with no thought of being able to turn back.

Doug
Doug
5 years ago

Me thinks the Russians are far ahead in this theater of who controls the Qatari pipeline corridor. Remember back when Bush was occupying the white house couple of crooks from the senate visited Syria? It was at the time a bit out of character with the regime of the day narrative. I’d bet a lot there are no unrelated events in the Levant going back for at least a decade with that pipeline. Maybe even before 911. Always figured there had to be an underlying motive for invading Iraq which had nothing to do with Saudi based terrorists flying planes… Read more »

Dutch
Dutch
Reply to  Doug
5 years ago

To build on Doug’s mention of the Qatari pipeline corridor, it has been long said that control of the area will either facilitate or block the proposed pipeline. The Sunni Arab nations and the West would build the pipeline, but Iran and Russia would not, as oil flowing through the pipeline would lower the oil price and make Russian and Iranian shipments relatively difficult. If the pipeline issue is the real issue here, it puts the Iraqi takedown by the U.S. and the current Syrian showdown in a different light. It is not about the spread of democracy or nation… Read more »

Doug
Doug
Reply to  Dutch
5 years ago

I’m going to throw a real outlier down. This kind of shit where people are slaughtered by the hundreds of thousands, and entire cultures and civilizations are destroyed, it is the shit only nation sates/banksters/corporate cronyism perpetrate, (maybe I just repeated myself). Little people don’t create diaspora and pogrom. That is the preview of genocidal psychopaths running things. But here is the outlier, there are no unrelated independent isolated unintended consequences on the scale of what’s going down in the Levant. I’m saying it began long time ago, maybe with Bush 1 and Iraq. They couldn’t get rid of Saddam… Read more »

Olddog
Olddog
5 years ago

Along with the Russian/Iranian supported Muslim invasion of Europe, there is the issue of China claiming natural and newly created islands in the western Pacific while Japan and the Philippines stand there watching, doing nothing.

JohnTyler
JohnTyler
5 years ago

Russia has been seeking a “seat at the table” since Peter the Great ruled Russia in the 1720s. There must be something about the Russian psyche, some sort of need to be macho and aggressive. Just look at the photo ops of Putin, shirtless, engaging in “manly” activities. Or recall his comment to then President George Bush about Bush’s pet dog (small, cute, girly-dog) and Putin comparing it to his own (killer, man eating, huge, vicious , “real” dog). These are the kind of remarks and actions one associates with a middle school bully. As to the next war, well,… Read more »

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5 years ago

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Roy Lofquist
Member
5 years ago

Mostly I think that western concerns about Russia’s moves in the Middle East are off base. It’s a common blindness: “It’s all about me”. Russia is surrounded by Islamic states. They have suffered losses to terrorism that far exceed 9/11 and other incidents in the west. “Estimates of casualties in the Second Chechen War (1999-2008) vary wildly, from 25,000 to 200,000 civilian dead plus 8,000 to 40,000 Russian military.” You might recall the dust up in Afghanistan. That was not a war of conquest. The Afghans were causing a lot of trouble in Tajikistan and Turkmenistan. The terrorism and minor… Read more »

jfmoris
jfmoris
5 years ago

“War at any scale would make the global elite poor and that means there will never be another war of any scale.” The global elite include the “trillionaires” – the governing elite. They have let their masks slip and can no longer feign concern for working people, and the well being of ordinary citizens(except for those whose votes are bought with freebies). They face revolution, and they think the world would be better with far less peasants. Remember the talk about how we needed war, or even alien invasion, so that we’d all fall in line with Obama’s agenda? Notice… Read more »

FeFe
FeFe
5 years ago

For what shall it profit “a lot of smart people deciding that the policies that had worked for so long had to be thrown out and replaced with stuff they learned in college” State Department, if still fighting the last war shadow government shall gain the whole (Ukraine) window display of the retail network supply chain to a western financial services world via stable multinational corporation management teams and stable global influence government bureaucracy, and lose Government By And For The People’s own Constitutional soul, and punish the peoples of the world to the tribal consumerist treadmill of One Worldly… Read more »

FeFe
FeFe
5 years ago

Contemplate the “balance” of our military positioning U.S. interests in needing a third member of the Bush clan as president. Now name all actors on the battlefield and who they are aligned with. The House of Saud has been collecting rent from USA, INC long enough to have also purchased Tenant Court too. What is our leverage? Without the South American jungle cover, I keep tripping over Middle East U.S. advisers as boots-on-the-ground no one reports or talks about. To what end? If NPR can promote day tripping Firestone “plantations,” in every sense of the historic word as a global… Read more »

Captain Tripps
Captain Tripps
5 years ago

Good to see you give a shout out to Dan Carlin. Probably the best history podcaster, if not among the best podcasters in general. Keep up the good work! I always read/lurk, only occasionally comment.

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[…] year I wrote a post about the Russians and predicted that they would exploit the Million Muslim March that was just getting started at the […]

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