Ukraine and the Apocalyptic Risk of Propagandized Ignorance
I'm not sure if there's been a better written book published yet this year than Ukraine: Zbig's Grand Chessboard and How the West Was Checkmated, but I'm confident there's not been a more important one. With some 17,000 nuclear bombs in the world, the United States and Russia have about 16,000 of them. The United States is aggressively flirting with World War III, the people of the United States have not the foggiest notion of how or why, and authors Natylie Baldwin and Kermit Heartsong explain it all quite clearly. Go ahead and tell me there's nothing you're now spending your time on that's less important than this.
This book may very well be the best written one I've read this year. It puts all the relevant facts -- those I knew and many I didn't -- together concisely and with perfect organization. It does it with an informed worldview. It leaves me nothing to complain about at all, which is almost unheard of in my book reviews. I find it refreshing to encounter writers so well-informed who also grasp the significance of their information.
Nearly half the book is used to set the context for recent events in Ukraine. It's useful to understand the end of the cold war, the irrational hatred of Russia that pervades elite U.S. thinking, and the patterns of behavior that are replaying themselves now at higher volume. Stirring up fanatical fighters in Afghanistan and Chechnya and Georgia, and targeting Ukraine for similar use: this is a context CNN won't provide. The partnership of the neocons (in arming and provoking violence in Libya) with the humanitarian warriors (in riding to the rescue for regime change): this is a precedent and a model that NPR won't mention. The U.S. promise not to expand NATO, the U.S. expansion of NATO to 12 new countries right up to the border of Russia, the U.S. withdrawal from the ABM Treaty and pursuit of "missile defense" -- this is background that Fox News would never deem significant. U.S. support for the rule of criminal oligarchs willing to sell off Russian resources, and Russian resistance to those schemes -- such accounts are almost incomprehensible if you've consumed too much U.S. "news," but are explained and documented well by Baldwin and Heartsong.
This book includes excellent background on the use and abuse of Gene Sharp and the color revolutions instigated by the U.S. government. A silver lining may be found, I think, in the value of nonviolent action recognized by all involved -- whether for good or ill. The same lesson can be found (for good this time) in the civilian resistance to Ukrainian troops in the spring of 2014, and the refusal of (some) troops to attack civilians.
The Orange Revolution in Ukraine in 2004, the Rose Revolution in Georgia in 2003, and Ukraine II in 2013-2014 are recounted well, including detailed chronology. It's truly remarkable how much has been publicly reported that remains buried. Western leaders met repeatedly in 2012 and 2013 to plot the fate of Ukraine. Neo-Nazis from Ukraine were sent to Poland to train for a coup. NGOs operating out of the U.S. Embassy in Kiev organized trainings for coup participants. On November 24, 2013, three days after Ukraine refused an IMF deal, including refusing to sever ties to Russia, protesters in Kiev began to clash with police. The protesters used violence, destroying buildings and monuments, and tossing Molotov cocktails, but President Obama warned the Ukrainian government not to respond with force. (Contrast that with the treatment of the Occupy movement, or the shooting on Capitol Hill of the woman who made an unacceptable U-turn in her car with her baby.)
U.S.-funded groups organized a Ukrainian opposition, funded a new TV channel, and promoted regime change. The U.S. State Department spent some $5 billion. The U.S. Assistant Secretary of State who handpicked the new leaders, openly brought cookies to protesters. When those protesters violently overthrew the government in February 2014, the United States immediately declared the coup government legitimate. That new government banned major political parties, and attacked, tortured, and murdered their members. The new government included neo-Nazis and would soon include officials imported from the United States. The new government banned the Russian language -- the first language of many Ukrainian citizens. Russian war memorials were destroyed. Russian-speaking populations were attacked and murdered.
Crimea, an autonomous region of Ukraine, had its own parliament, had been part of Russia from 1783 until 1954, had publicly voted for close ties to Russia in 1991, 1994, and 2008, and its parliament had voted to rejoin Russia in 2008. On March 16, 2014, 82% of Crimeans took part in a referendum, and 96% of them voted to rejoin Russia. This nonviolent, bloodless, democratic, and legal action, in no violation of a Ukrainian constitution that had been shredded by a violent coup, was immediately denounced in the West as a Russian "invasion" of Crimea.
Novorossiyans, too, sought independence and were attacked by the new Ukrainian military the day after John Brennan visited Kiev and ordered that crime. I know that the Fairfax County Police who have kept me and my friends away from John Brennan's house in Virginia have had no clue what hell he was unleashing on helpless people thousands of miles away. But that ignorance is at least as disturbing as informed malice would be. Civilians were attacked by jets and helicopters for months in the worst killing in Europe since World War II. Russian President Putin repeatedly pressed for peace, a ceasefire, negotiations. A ceasefire finally came on September 5, 2014.
Remarkably, contrary to what we've all been told, Russia didn't invade Ukraine any of the numerous times we were told that it had just done so. We've graduated from mythical weapons of mass destruction, through mythical threats to Libyan civilians, and false accusation of chemical weapons use in Syria, to false accusations of launching invasions that were never launched. The "evidence" of the invasion(s) was carefully left devoid of location or any verifiable detail, but has all been decidedly debunked anyway.
The downing of the MH17 airplane was blamed on Russia with no evidence. The U.S. has information on what happened but won't release it. Russia released what it had, and the evidence, in agreement with eye-witnesses on the ground, and in agreement with an air-traffic controller at the time, is that the plane was shot down by one or more other planes. "Evidence" that Russia shot the plane down with a missile has been exposed as sloppy forgeries. The vapor trail that a missile would have left was reported by not a single witness.
Baldwin and Heartsong close with the case that U.S. actions have backfired, that in fact whether the people of the United States have any idea what is going on or not, the power brokers in Washington have Second Amendmented themselves in the foot. Sanctions against Russia have made Putin as popular at home as George W. Bush was after he'd managed to exist as president while planes were flown into the World Trade Center. The same sanctions have strengthened Russia by turning it toward its own production and toward alliances with non-Western nations. Ukraine has suffered, and Europe suffers from a cut-off of Russian gas, while Russia makes deals with Turkey, Iran, and China. Evicting a Russian base from Crimea seems more hopeless now than before this madness began. Russia is leading the way as more nations abandon the U.S. dollar. Retaliatory sanctions from Russia are hurting the West. Far from isolated, Russia is working with the BRICS nations, the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, and other alliances. Far from impoverished, Russia is buying up gold while the U.S. sinks into debt and is increasingly viewed by the world as a rogue player, and resented by Europe for depriving Europe of Russian trade.
This story begins in the irrationality of collective trauma coming out of the holocaust of World War II and of blind hatred for Russia. It must end with the same irrationality. If U.S. desperation leads to war with Russia in Ukraine or elsewhere along the Russian border where NATO is engaging in various war games and exercises, there may be no more human stories ever told or heard.
As global conflict increases qualitatively and quantitatively, it is important to understand the new methods of warfare in which the conflict in Ukraine serves as an excellent case study. Understanding these methods, in combination with a syncretic approach to various competing schools and across several otherwise or previously unrelated fields, has been the key to our ability to accurately forecast any number of events and dynamics in the situation in Ukraine.
The struggle between the Atlanticist and Eurasianist spheres not only acquires forms in the traditional areas of diplomacy, trade, intelligence, and military strength – but also in the increasingly dominating realm of synthetic, manufactured hyper-reality. These are important elements of fourth generation warfare (4GW) in the realm of information war and also what is termed ‘hybrid warfare’ – a feature of 4GW which blurs the lines between civilian and military groups, and allows power groups to dissemble the reality of their role in support. This creates the element of plausible deniability, that power groups are not involved when in fact they are.
Following the various media reports and statements from the various official spokespeople of the groups involved in the Ukrainian conflict, it is problematic to take these at face value and equate statements about their role or position as being the actual role or position.
In a manner similar to ISIS or Al Qaeda – which are largely US-Saudi-Israeli joint projects, it is typical to hear statements from the Pravy Sektor that they oppose NATO, imperialism (whether US or Russian), and propose instead other elements of platform which confuse the discourse and disguise their actual supporters. Of course, like with ISIS and the like, most all of the commanders and all of the rank and file supporters and fighters completely believe they are opposed to the very power groups which support them. It only requires one or two decision makers at the very top to align the actual activities with US control or influence.
Naturally like ISIS, Pravy Sektor and similar are also developed to be self-sustaining projects to a large extent, can subsist for long periods of time using the standard methods of apparent self-funding, including organized crime or the seizure of businesses and enterprises. They can also, as we have written previously, be used and swayed by other actors not including the US, and in certain moments may act – willingly or unwillingly – against the US’s actual interests (not just stated interests). This may occur for reasons which are complex but imaginable.
US and Russian approaches to the conflict in Ukraine are based in discernible desired positions, but the strategies change in various stages based upon real-world changes and results, push-back, and the actions of the other players. Thus, strategies are employed in relation to changes, and tactics evolve in real-time. This is why many contingency plans are built into general planning. Indeed, the various and even contradictory contingencies themselves should be considered ‘the plan’.
The US exerts degrees of control and influence upon several distinct power groups in Ukraine, such as various volunteer battalions, the government itself, mainstreamed opposition to that government, and Pravy Sektor related groups up to and including Yarosh himself. These wane and wax in relation either to the US’s need or to the US’s ability to exert its power. These are not unidirectional; US attempts to exert influence or control do not necessarily result in a success in that endeavor: the targets of influence and control may be compelled to act – either in an instance or in a general pivot – contrary to the needs of the US for reasons of their own survival, and/or as a result of Russian successes to exert influence and control.
Difficulties in assessing the situation then arise from this: an established method in 4GW as it works through media and new-media (information war) is to dissemble actual reality, and to manufacture a new reality. The US can exert fluctuating degrees of influence and control over its proxies.
It is difficult to use language to describe reality because words have definitions which often exclude that which they are contrasted with. Reality on the other hand is fluid and real situations can be simultaneously described by more than one word, even if such words when counterpoised to each other may seem to have opposite meanings. Reality can morph into conditions that are better described by some words, only to shift at any time later into a condition which is better described otherwise. Thus, without special care, a syllogistic or axiomatic approach will usually fail.
In October of 2014, we wrote:
“From the syncretic work we have produced on this subject, drawing from numerous schools such as Baudrillard’s post-structuralism and Kuhn’s theory of the structure of scientific revolutions […] we have attempted to explain both some features of the information war and how the present schema or paradigm is constructed, and how that construct contains certain features which can be manipulated and exploited through the use of simulacrum and hyper-reality.”
“More to the point, we have based much of our understanding on the premise that societies composed of managers and the managed must create a paradigm which has exploitable features for the purpose of social control. The Ukraine civil war is the first war in history in which both actual sides (US and Russia) struggle for supremacy using similarly derived theories of new media and their connection to 4GW. While the use of proxies has long been a feature of war, that both sides use proxies in the sense of 4GW doctrines, and that the ‘stories’ being told extend from new media, is a new phenomenon.”
“There are some problems, however, for both the US and Russian information and reality managers. Being able to create hyper-reality does not, in the first place, require having a solid footing in the actual reality. In many ways, ‘actual reality’ may be an ever-elusive thing which can never fully be grasped. We are, as human beings, a species which is already born into a reality comprised of the previous generation’s interwoven combination of actual reality and hyper-reality.”
“Our society, a social construct, is an outgrowth of our genetic potential. The creation of various primitive forms of hyper-reality is as natural to humanity as the bird constructing its nest. But just as the invention of the train or automobile changed forever our relationship with distance, and even the relative size of the earth, the invention of new media has changed our relationship with actual reality and the kinds of reality and hyper-reality we construct. ”
“It is not difficult, then, for even the agent of social control, working at the think tank, to lose sight of reality itself. What was that individual’s origin point? Everyone working today on these projects was already born into a world of machines, production of the means of creation and destruction, automated wars, electricity, and mass media.”
“From an analytic point of view, this creates a conundrum. Analysis, discourse, map-drawing etc. are themselves a form of hyper-reality creation. Analysis is done in the mind of the analyst, and is drawn from, at best primary sources, but are generally not the primary source itself. It must go through the medium of language and contrived/presented imagery (photos, etc.) before it gets to the analyst. Additionally, even when the analyst is the witness percipient, their interpretations and written or spoken analysis reflect their prior biases, beliefs, prejudices, and thought processes; which in short can be described as defective by way of their subjectivity.”
“Thus from the analyst: all words, language; things signifying and signified; which pertain to actual reality, are themselves indistinguishable from hyper-reality. Analysis based on interpreting actual reality and analysis based in interpreting the simulacrum are both, in many ways, hyper-real presentations. The map is not the terrain.”
“To problematize ‘objective’ reporting and analysis, is really to lay-out the problems with the concept of objectivity, which leaves us with only a remaining intersubjective agreement . Therefore we can see the power of new-media (which is based on the echoing of information through many subjects, peer to peer), and the transformation of the simulacrum from being a distinct hyper-reality unto itself, into a totalizing entity which subsumes, devours, and overtakes reality into itself. It becomes, then, within the liberal, emotional state, of the Popperian ‘critical rationalist’ paradigm, most appropriate and ‘reasonable’ to uphold the hyper-reality as the actual reality . “
In conclusion, we might imagine a ‘nuclear war’ of information. The fall-out also contaminates information managers and builders. In an increasing way, even the reality and information managers themselves are suffering from the ‘radiation poisoning’ of information war; they can no longer distinguish between the reality they are creating, or that was created by their opponent, from the reality which they began to work from. It increasingly becomes one and the same.
If this is true for them, who have access to much more real information than we do, then it is even more true for us; we who have all along been working largely with information which by definition is manufactured and itself is a social construct.
Understanding the world then becomes increasingly difficult and creates very real epistemic problems.
Liberalism and its sub-ideology of pragmatism is steeped in anti-intellectualism and a misuse of Ockham’s razor or lex parsimoniae (law of parsimony). It is wrongly used as an arbiter between two theories, in which the simplest theory is viewed as more accurate even when not accounting for all the information, as opposed to a heuristic technique in the development of a model.
It is an attractive idea that the complexities of war and strategy can be explained away as being the product of random accidents; that the divergence between stated aims and actual results are a product of blunder and incompetence and not intrigue and dissemblance.
Analyzing the motives of conscious actors is not like observing other phenomena in a few important ways; conscious actors may have a strong motivation to conceal their real aims or methods, whereas basic physical, chemical, or biological processes can be observed empirically and claims made about these are falsifiable.
Rather, we must look at circumstantial and other non-physical evidence; known theories, past practice, the body of scholarly work on the subject, and instead approach the questions from a prosecutorial perspective.
To understand one epistemic dilemma in the use of Ockham’s Razor to describe phenomena, let us look at these well known quotes about this heuristic tool.
“Entities should not be multiplied without necessity.” (William of Ockham)
“Nature operates in the shortest way possible.” (Aristotle)
“Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler.” (Albert Einstein)
Warfare does not generally operate on the basis of ‘nature’ in the sense that Aristotle describes – as there are consciously acting players being observed who do not want to be accurately observed, nor upon the economy of modeling that Ockham proposes.
In warfare, most entities should be multiplied and made as complex as possible for a number of reasons. One radar tower may cover an entire area, but many radar towers for a single area are preferable because then radar coverage is not lost when the opponent successfully neutralizes one of them.
Likewise in strategy: a simple strategy may at first seem preferable in terms of viability and execution, but in the context of a conscious opponent, the complexity of a strategy will aid tremendously in keeping it from being understood and unraveled. In that sense, as with the radar example, more layers are better.
The science of economy and efficiency takes on entirely different applications in the context of a struggle between strategic players. One aspect of victory in a war is production, but not only physical production of soldiers and hardware, but in the production of complex strategy, relying on more virtual resources, theories, etc. The side which can afford more inefficiencies has a strategic advantage in any number of scenarios.
We must not approach reality at face value, but as a consciously created illusion itself which is constructed specifically with the aim of pursuing a long-term strategic objective, one that includes both the accidental and intentional creation of a false, distorted, manufactured hyper-reality built upon layers of both real and hyper-real foundations.
Joaquin Flores is a Mexican-American expat based in Belgrade. He is a full-time analyst and director at the Center for Syncretic Studies, a public geostrategic think-tank and consultancy firm, as well as the co-editor of Fort Russ news service, and President of the Berlin based Independent Journalist Association for Peace. His expertise encompasses Eastern Europe, Eurasia, and he has a strong proficiency in Middle East affairs. Flores is particularly adept at analyzing ideology and the role of mass psychology, as well as the methods of the information war in the context of 4GW and New Media. He is a political scientist educated at California State University. In the US, he worked for a number of years as a labor union organizer, chief negotiator, and strategist for a major trade union federation.