BRANDON J. WEICHERT | THE WEICHERT REPORT
The folks over at RT go to great lengths to prove that they are not a propaganda arm of the Russian government. But, when the network is owned by a handpicked Putin crony (one of the last acceptable oligarchs in Russia) and it very often parrots Kremlin talking points, methinks the network doth protest too much. Regardless, I do watch the network from time-to-time as I do enjoy some of their interviews (never forgetting about the obvious bias–then again, America’s democratic globalist media isn’t that far removed from RT in this manner).
While looking for a YouTube clip of Stannis Baratheon from Game of Thrones (don’t ask), one of the videos listed in the sidebar of suggested videos that YouTube pieces together was from a recent episode of News with Rick Sanchez in which the Washington, D.C.-based anchor had to supposedly “convince” his editorial to playa recent interview that the Russian President Vladimir Putin gave (cue the eyerolls). Sanchez insisted that the clip was worth playing because “the questions that [Putin] is raising about nuclear proliferation may be paramount to our survival.”
No, Mr. Sanchez, Vladimir Putin will not be our de-nuclearizing savior.
Here is the recent clip from RT:
Say what you will about Russia and Vladimir Putin, but the notion that he is somehow a true believer in nuclear disarmament strikes me as somewhat fantastical. He is, after all, a former KGB counterintelligence agent who has repeatedly lamented the collapse of the Soviet Union (although he is not a communist). What’s more, Vladimir Putin and the cadre surrounding him (what’s known as the siloviki) are staunch Russian conservative nationalist imperialists who dream of returning Russia to its former glory.
Toward that end, Putin views his possession of a robust nuclear arsenal as key component of this restoration program. What’s more, like the Soviet leaders before him, Putin does not share the apocalyptic view of nuclear weapons that many American leaders have demonstrated since the heady days of the Cold War.
In fact, since Putin is a conservative nationalist imperialist he is also a practitioner of realpolitik, with a long history of transactional foreign policy preferences. For a supporter of realpolitik, nuclear weapons are a strategic asset to be used to further one’s interests–not necessarily in terms of using such weapons, but in terms of implying their use should one’s opponents refuse to give in to Russian demands.
Dictators, Double-Standards, and Doublespeak
At the outset of the RT clip, then, we are given a false impression of Vladimir Putin. It is unlikely that he desires to go headlong into war against the United States. But, it is equally unlikely that he a) wants to embrace de-nuclearization or b) that he would stand down from fighting the West if he believed it was in his interests (as he has done in Georgia in 2008, Ukraine in 2014, Syria, Venezuela, the Central African Republic, etc).
For Vladimir Putin, a master spy and a man obsessed with using information warfare to achieve his strategic objectives when facing off against the West, it is important to understand the idea of doublespeak and its pivotal role in Russian propaganda.
According to Merriam-Webster, doublespeak is defined as:
Language used to deceive usually through concealment or misrepresentation of truth.
Doublespeak is synonymous with a trend in propaganda, known as “newspeak,” first defined by George Orwell in his epic work, 1984, which is defined as:
Propagandistic language marked by euphemism, circumlocution, and the inversion of customary meanings.
Not only did Orwell create a beautiful illustration of Newspeak (a.k.a doublespeak in 1984) but, at the time, communist leaders around the world and their vicious movements were creating real methods for employing such rhetoric. The aim of the rhetoric was to manage perceptions both at home and abroad and, boy, did the Soviets master the art of doublespeak.
Vladimir Putin came from that world of Soviet disinformatziya and he continues to use it with élan in his current strategic endeavors. In these circumstances, it’s often best to assume that when he speaks about his fears surrounding the bomb and America’s current nuclear warfare policies and our supposed intention to weaponize space, he is, in fact, projecting what he is planning to do.
As you saw in the clip, Vladimir Putin was hosting one of his infamous round table chats at what looked like the Kremlin in which he stated:
If we do not keep this fiery serpent [nuclear weapons] under control, if we let it out of the bottle, God forbid, this could lead to a global catastrophe.
This is a strange call for what I’m assuming is a return to what Putin views as the more preferable paradigm of Cold War-style arms control agreements that a succession of U.S. presidents have pulled out of (George W. Bush with the Antiballistic Missile Treaty in 2001 and Donald J. Trump with the termination of the Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces Agreement last year). Such calls appear reasonable. Certainly, both American and Russian leaders have a long history of moving toward such agreements as a means of mitigating wider conflict involving nuclear weapons (the “global catastrophe” that Putin warned about).
Yet, the context is inaccurate. After all, the United States has a long history of entering into arms control agreements with Russia over the decades wherein Washington fully complies with those agreements–thereby harming U.S. national security interests–and where Moscow pays lip-service to honoring the agreement but secretly works to build the weapons that were supposedly banned. In essence, as Derek Leebaert (among many others) has pointed out: Moscow routinely cheats on the arms control agreements they enter into.
Think about it: during the 1970s, after the Soviet Union had signed the Outer Space Treaty which banned the weaponization of space, the Soviet Union (unbeknownst to the West at the time) was working on a military space station known as the Almaz program. This program was embedded within a Soviet “civilian” space station program called the Salyut program. This was a classic Soviet maneuver: make agreements with the United States that Washington would fully comport with and then hide their strategic ambitions behind a dual-use civilian program.
Putin goes on to praise anthropogenic climate change activists, saying that children and teenagers are engaged in this most important global fight. Off the bat, let’s get one thing clear: Vladimir Putin could care less about climate change and its destructive effects (if he even believes in it at all). These are underhanded comments. They appear to be complimenting global Left-wing movements but, in fact, he’s making fun of the West. He’s highlighting an unserious disposition on the part of Western society and he’s having a little laugh about it.
Here’s rhetorical pivot that I believe proves he’s poking Westerners:
But, they do not realize, these young people, especially teenagers and children, they are not aware of the global threat and serious challenge posed by possible global conflicts. This is something adult men and women should think about. However, I get the impression that these issues have somehow become commonplace, and have kind of been shifted to the background.
So, we in the West are akin to children and teenagers. Ok. People on the Right have made such complaints against the generally naïve Leftists in our midst. Yet, Putin was elevating himself rhetorically. What’s more, he was signaling with these comments not that he was trying to avert “global conflicts,” but instead that he was willing to entertain notions of great power conflict. I believe he was signaling his intention to escalate in the ongoing (and totally unnecessary) conflict with the West.
Consider this: Putin implied that we children of the West were not paying attention to the risk of global conflict whereas he, the only adult left, was.
And, in this way, Putin is correct.
The Only One Thinking of Armageddon
For years under Vladimir Putin’s reign, Russia has closed the strategic gaps between the United States and itself in critical areas. When the global price of oil was at historic highs, Russia rode the crest of that economic wave and went on a modernization spree in its Armed Forces. While incomplete, Russia was able to employ guile combined with brute force to achieve several strategic objectives: to weaken what it perceives as the NATO and European Union encirclement of Russia. He invaded weak Georgia in 2008 and effectively ended the perceived threat that democratic Georgia posed Russia.
He then laid low and managed to get the Obama Administration to sign the terrible New START treaty. This allowed for the Russian Federation to expand and modernize its intermediate range ballistic missile arsenal (IRBM). These non-strategic nuclear weapons are vital components of the Russian military doctrine directed against their Western neighbors.
Going back to the early Cold War days, these weapons were designed to “soften up” NATO defensive lines allowing for the overwhelming numbers of Russian heavy infantry to roll into Europe with relative ease. Of course, times have changed and Russian capabilities have drastically decreased. Yet, the threat that their IRBM arsenal poses Western forces is real.
What’s more, when the Obama Administration signed the 2011 deal with Russia, it did so at a time when America’s nuclear arsenal was already withering on-the-vine. No longer the premier assignment it once was, U.S. forces serving in America’s nuclear forces tended to be second-rate. A cavalcade of controversies arose within the ranks of American nuclear forces, particularly during the Obama years indicating that the force’s readiness was weak.
Meanwhile, after 20 years of relative peace between the nuclear powers, the United States did an increasingly poor job of maintaining its once-robust nuclear arsenal whereas under Vladimir Putin Russia spent much time and effort maintaining–and expanding–their own nuclear arsenal.
In fact, under the Obama Administration, the United States led the way in a renewed push for the utopian “global zero” movement that was once the brainchild of Yuri Andropov and the Soviet Union in the 1980s during the Cold War. Putin often parroted Obama’s rhetorical flourishes regarding reducing nuclear arsenals, yet his actions undercut such stances.
Thomas C. Reed, a nuclear scientist and one of former President Ronald Reagan’s closest advisers, cautioned audiences at a closed event in Washington, D.C. in 2015 that, in his estimation, as much as one-third of the United States’ nuclear arsenal was in dire disrepair. Reductions in funding and in test detonations has allowed for the force’s readiness to be eroded at a time when Russia was going in the opposite direction…and a succession of U.S. leaders let them.
At the same time, Paul Bracken feared that America’s neglect of its nuclear armed forces as well as its unwillingness to focus on maintaining a reliable nuclear warfare doctrine was actually inviting greater challenge from other nuclear weapons states.
Consider this: at precisely the moment that the Obama Administration began its much-ballyhooed cuts of U.S. nuclear forces, the Russians and Chinese both began expanding their own forces in an apparent attempt to “balance” their arsenals with America’s. As that occurred, North Korea and Iran also enhanced their own nascent nuclear weapons capabilities.
Then, there was the matter of the Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty that Putin recently lambasted President Trump for abrogating. Yet, few recognized that the Cold War-era agreement did not include China and the Chinese had spent the last several decades quietly expanding their IRBM capability that was meant to threaten American forces operating in the Asia-Pacific.
The Russians were also given a reprieve from the limitations that the Reagan-era agreement had imposed on their own IRBM development due to the aforementioned Obama-era New START regime. Even with the limitations, Putin would ultimately shirk his responsibilities to that treaty when he began testing weapons two years ago that were in direct contravention of those agreements.
Even today, when there are more serious players in power in Washington, D.C. under President Trump, the United States continues to appear childish and undisciplined compared to its rivals, such as those in Moscow. We are short-sighted and unfocused whereas Putin is not. We have greater military and economic strength than Russia, but Russia has greater concentration and will to do whatever it must to achieve Putin’s aims (which is nothing less than the restoration of Russia’s past imperial glory).
It’s important to note also that, historically, Russian leaders have not viewed nuclear warfare in the same apocalyptic terms as American leaders have. This is exemplified in the writings of the old (now deceased) Red marshal V.D. Sokolovsky, who advocated for the Soviet Union’s embrace of a preemptive nuclear warfare doctrine.
Fact is, the Soviets believed that, fundamentally, nuclear warfare was, on some level, a survivable proposition if only they could possess the initiative and dictate terms in such an engagement. Fortunately, the world never had to discover whether these theories were correct. Unfortunately, we may soon be in store for a live demonstration of the old Russian nuclear warfare doctrines.
When You Say One Thing, But You Do Something Else
In the video, Putin then calls for START-3–yet another arms control agreement meant to weaken the United States and allow for Russia to continue to enhance its own capabilities. These are classic patterns the Soviet Union had employed against the West in the Cold War to great effect. Putin laments the fact that there are no more instruments to allow for arms control negotiations. Yet, an arms race is something that the United States could easily win.
What’s more, Putin has been steadily enhancing his own weapons of mass destruction even as he calls for greater arms control. It has been the United States that, for decades, has stayed its hand in this area. Putin insists he wants to make a deal yet no one in Washington will reach out to him. This much is true. But, on the matter of arms control, no one in power right now–including President Trump–campaigned on limiting American power (nor should we).
Putin then brings up the matter of space weaponization and insists that the Americans are not thinking things through. He badgers the press by claiming “Do you understand what this means or not? Ask the experts. It means that each of us, say under a nuclear weapon. Permanently!” His passion on the matter of keeping space as a weapons-free sanctuary is undercut by his actions. Because, as we speak, the Russians, I believe, have placed offensive satellites in orbit known as “space stalkers” meant to target critical American satellites in orbit and destroy them, in order to render U.S. military forces operating throughout the world deaf, dumb, and blind.
Putin arrogates that, “We are doing this [weaponizing space] and doing it quickly.” This is old school Soviet-type propaganda.
Another thing that Putin brings up is his purported concern for nuclear proliferation. Yet, Russia (along with China and Pakistan) have been key members of what I’ve referred to as the “Nuclear Nexus” of states proliferating nuclear capabilities to the highest-bidder–this includes to rogue states, such as Iran and North Korea. For him to now worry about nuclear proliferation is hilarious. And, it is likely a response to calls in certain Western corners (such as from myself) to allow for nuclear arms to be given to countries along Russia’s border, notably Poland. You see, it’s okay for Putin to do these things with American rivals. But, God forbid, the Americans do the exact same thing for Russian rivals.
Vladimir Putin then makes references to Russia’s new coterie of advanced hypersonic missiles. These were initially showcased last year in a hilarious video that Putin premiered to the world of one of his hypersonic missiles floating above the Earth and navigating around the air defenses of other countries–notably the United States–and landing on their targets unimpeded. Of course, technical experts have since assessed that the Russian weapons are probably junk; a giant bluff. Still, calling for peace as you’re racing to beat the Americans in weapons development is more doublespeak.
Here is a video of Putin’s announcement threatening the West with hypersonic weapons from last year:
Don’t fall for it.
Yes, the United States and Russia need to mend proverbial fences. Our two states share much in common and should work to build off those commonalities. But, Putin is not interested in the things that his supporters in the West believe he is. Vladimir Putin is a master of deception and it shows in his recent comments. The only way the United States will get the deal it seeks with Russia will be to show strength while offering Russia meaningful deals over shared concerns at the geostrategic level.
Despite his lofty rhetoric, Putin has long prepared Russia for aggressive action against the West–and he is more than willing to employ such force to get what he wants. Understanding the nature of Russian propaganda and the way that Putin employs it to confuse foreign audiences is essential when assessing Russian capabilities and intentions. It will also allow for the West to better resist Russian information operations while at the same time prompt Russia to deal with the West more fairly.