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How the West Could Destabilize Russia

by Denis Churilov

Russian March 2018 Presidential Elections are approaching. Putin has recently announced that he will run as a candidate. The global players who don’t want Putin to stay in power will likely do everything possible to get rid of him. Let’s explore some possible pressure points and try to predict the most unpleasant developments.

The measures to destabilize Russia amid the elections are most likely to be complex and could potentially include:

1. Exacerbating situation in Eastern Ukraine/Donetsk People’s Republic and Lugansk People’s Republic. A coordinated, big scale assault on break-away regions by the Kiev government and ultra-nationalist battalions, if successful, could be exploited informationally by evoking a public discourse inside Russia about Putin betraying the people of Donbass/Novorossia, or being incapable of helping them, which could potentially decrease his approval ratings domestically. There are reports of soldiers from the US National Guard, namely the New York’s 27th Infantry Brigade Combat Team (IBCT), being moved to Ukraine in late October 2017, so we might expect some dangerous provocations early next year. Also, as post-2014 history shows, any increase in military clashes between the Kiev government and Donbass rebels could as well be used internationally to demonise Russia and Putin personally (by blaming it on him directly), which could conveniently serve as a justification for tougher economic sanctions, thus enabling more intense economic warfare against the Russian Federation.

2. Direct US/NATO attack against the Syrian government. Similar to what happened on April 07, 2017, the United States government could use casus belli (manufactured by, say, the White Helmets) to launch a series of missile/airstrikes on the Syrian Arab Army forces, leaving Russia with very little choice but to leave its Syrian ally behind and surrender its geostrategic interests in the region in order to evade direct military confrontation with the United States government (the confrontation that could potentially escalate to a nuclear war). That would not only plummet Putin’s domestic approval ratings, but would also harm his reputation in the Muslim world and in Arabic speaking countries, compromising Russia’s foreign policy in the Middle East, Central Asia, Pakistan, as well as potentially spawning an anti-Putin sentiment in the Caucasus region. Such strategy would certainly be dangerous to play, because it, indeed, can lead the world to a Nuclear Apocalypse; yet, given the observed desperation and lack of wisdom among certain circles in the modern US elite, we can’t rule this scenario out completely.

3. Banning Russia from the 2018 Winter Olympic Games in Pyengchang and excluding Russian athletes and representatives from various international sports organisations. This has already happened. Russian track and field athletes were previously banned from participating in the 2016 Summer Olympic Games in Rio. Then the entire Russian Paralympic team got under a “blanket ban” followed by a WADA (World Anti-Doping Agency) report written by a Canadian lawyer Richard McLaren, who accused the Russian government of running a state-funded doping program. The report was based on unverifiable testimony given by the former head of Russia’s anti-doping agency (RUSADA) Gregory Rodchenkov. Rodchenkov’s sister Maria was accused of selling illicit substances by the Russian Federal Drug Control Service way back in 2011. Rodchenkov himself was also accused of being complicit in the illegal drug sale, but he managed to evade jail because he was diagnosed with Major Depressive Disorder (F32.3). Yet, the written testimony of a convicted drug dealer (convicted by the Russian government itself!) who also suffers from mental health issues was enough to play as key evidence in the case against the Russian government, which originally led to the ban of the entire Russian Paralympic team in 2016, and now also to the ban of the Russian Olympic team in 2018. It is noteworthy that Russian athletes are given an option to participate in the Games under the Neutral Flag, which further suggests the political nature of the ban, as opposed to doping and genuine concerns for fair competition. It is also noteworthy that banning athletes from Olympic Games based on their nationality (as opposed to individual bans, e. g. when a specific athlete shows positive doping test results) violates the Fundamental Principles of Olympism outlined in the official Olympic Charter. Competitive sports have always been a significant part of Russia’s culture, with the Olympic Games playing a vary important role in forming national pride. Humiliating Russian athletes in Pyengchang 2018 by not letting them perform under the national flag will certainly sow disappointment and dissatisfaction among Russian general public, which can potentially be harvested to destabilise the political situation amid the Presidential Elections in March.

4. Expanding and intensifying economic sanctions on Russian businessmen and oligarchs in order to mobilise them against Putin and his strategic course. Back in April 2017, following the US Tomahawk missile attack on Syrian Shayrat airbase, US State Secretary, Rex Tillerson stated that Russia must choose between Assad and the United States. Tillerson knew about Syria’s strategic importance to Russia and that Putin isn’t going to give it up easily, so it could be speculated that his message was addressed not to Putin but to Russian oligarchs and those segments of the Russian political elite who are oriented towards the economic integration with the Western world (principally the neo-liberal “reformers” from the 1990s Yeltsin era). Essentially, the Russian elites were told that if they don’t oust Putin, they are going to lose their personal wealth and power (and many Russian oligarchs and businessmen are known to keep their finances offshore). So we might expect certain segments of Russian elites mobilising their political, organisational and media resources amid the March 2018 election in an effort to destabilise the political climate and prevent Putin from being re-elected.

5. Expanding and intensifying sanctions against Russia in the energy sector in an effort to decrease Russia’s economic security. Nowadays, Russia is heavily dependant on oil and natural gas sales to the European Union countries. Since the fall of the Soviet Union, a significant portion of all the replaceable parts in the Russian oil and natural gas mining equipment has been imported from the West. The United States already implemented sanctions that forbid Western companies to trade and cooperate with Russia in spheres such as oil mining, oil refinery and oil transportation back in August 2017. If sanctions intensified and/or expanded, the Russian companies would have to invest time and resources into developing and implementing technologies that would allow Russians to replace sanctioned items. Such investment could potentially cripple the entire Russian natural resource mining industry for an indefinite period (especially given that, before the sanctioned items are replaced, the industry wouldn’t be able to function at an optimal level). The economic consequences would be felt by the public, decreasing people’s financial security and overall quality of life. The resulted dissatisfaction could potentially be utilised for social and political destabilisation amid the Presidential Elections.

6. Targeting the construction of Turkish Stream and Nord Stream 2 pipeline projects to decrease Russia’s economic security. Since the start of the Ukrainian Crisis in 2014, and due to increased risks of gas supply interruptions, Russia has been working on two major natural gas pipeline projects to create alternatives to the old pipeline routes that go through Ukraine. One route is being constructed to supply gas to Turkey and South Europe through the Black Sea (Turkish Stream) and the other one is being built to supply  EU countries with natural gas through the Baltic Sea (Nord Stream 2). Before Turkish Stream, Russia was working on the South Stream project, with original plan of supplying gas to Europe through Bulgaria, but the European Parliament forced the Bulgarian government to freeze the construction works in 2014 due to increased tensions with Russia over Crimea, so the original project had to be cancelled and all efforts refocused on the alternative route through Turkey. The Nord Stream 2 has also been repeatedly met with attempts to sabotage the project by the pro-Transatlantic elites in an effort to minimise the EU-Russian trade and to make the EU switch to the American gas imports instead.  So, for example, the US senator John McCain (a huge “friend” of Russia) was sending letters to European Commission in 2016, accusing Russia of trying to make EU more dependant and urging European officials to cancel the project. Recently, on 29 November 2017, John McCarrick, Deputy Assistant Secretary of the US Bureau of Energy Resources Department, made a statement asserting that Nord Stream 2 will not happen. It is evident that there are certain political forces within the US establishment who are interested in disrupting the EU-Russian gas and oil trade, and that they have been working systematically to actualise their interests. Compromising Russia’s economic security by torpedoing major gas pipeline projects amid the March 2018 elections could play into the hand of those who want Putin gone.

7. Assassinating opposition figures to provoke organised uprising. Killing political activists, journalists and prominent Putin critics would most certainly consolidate the “liberal” opposition inside Russia, sow hysteria and provide grounds for further system destabilisation. The socio-political algorithms could be employed as follows: first, a marginal opposition figure/Putin critic is assassinated, Putin and his security services are blamed immediately. Social media is then used to spread alarmist views and hysteria, making opposition feel threatened, most likely leading to unification and consolidation among its members, as well as attracting new people to the movement. The assassinated figure is iconised and turned into a symbol of a newly formed “resistance”. Shortly after, people flood the streets to commemorate the dead and to protest the regime. From there, further provocations (ranging from police clashes to unseen snipers) and escalations become possible. The history of “colour revolutions” (e. g. the “Arab Spring” or the recent Euromaidan events in Kiev) provide multiple examples of how street protests can be exacerbated into riots that eventually lead to social polarisation, political destabilisation and regime change. Given its effectiveness and well-developed algorithms, this particular option is likely to be considered by the forces who want to see Putin gone. The role of the “sacrificial victim”, in such a case, could be played by marginal political activists who are known to public yet who don’t have any real political and/or legal potential (thus rendering them “expendable”). Potential candidates could be people like Alexey Navalny (who can’t legally run for president due to his criminal record and yet is popular among teenagers and young adults as a “corruption fighter”), Ilya Yashin, or Mark Feygin, for instance. Assassination of Russian opposition figures would also allow the Western mainstream media to further demonise Putin, with Western politicians potentially using it as a justification for further economic sanctions.

8. Terrorist attacks. Terrorist plots that target civilian infrastructures to sow fear and a sense that the government can’t protect its people can potentially be used in an effort to discredit Putin in his presidential campaign. This particular strategy is less likely to be employed because, among all, it is most likely to cause the opposite effect, e. g. Russian people consolidating around their leader in the face of terrorist threat. But, again, given the intellectual and organizational degradation of the US elites we’ve been observing in the last few decades, this scenario can’t be ruled out completely. It is noteworthy that Russia has been a target of terrorist attacks regularly in the past, starting from the times of two Chechen Wars in the 1990s and the early 2000s, as well as the terrorist attacks in more recent years, most prominently the bus stop bombing in Volgograd in late 2013 amid Sochi Winter Olympic Games and the April 2017 Saint-Petersburg metro bombing (coinciding with Putin’s meeting Belarusian president Lukashenko in the city on that day).

***

The destabilising measures listed above are most likely to be employed simultaneously, in a complex and systematic manner. Russia might see itself being attacked from all the fronts in the early 2018: pro-Russian rebels and pro-Russian authorities being slaughtered in a massive attack in Donbass, Russia losing face in the Middle East while its allies in Syria are being extensively bombed by American warplanes, Russia’s strategic pipeline projects being cancelled, all while Russian athletes are being humiliated by IOC authorities under a neutral flag in South Korea, bombs are going off in airports and at train stations, and there are violent teenage riots in Moscow, Saint-Petersburg and Ekaterinburg, with people being murdered on the streets by unseen snipers. And, just to finish it all off, outraged by Western economic sanctions, Russian oligarchs and some influential people in the Kremlin are turning against Putin amid the March Presidential Elections. To say that the Russian leader would be in a difficult situation in such a case would be an understatement.

Further, president Donald Trump, while facing impeachment threats at home, would be relatively easy to manipulate into obnoxious military actions against Russia’s allies in Syria and Eastern Ukraine/Donbass, so that he could prove to the neoconservatives and to the domestic CNN- and MSNBC-watching populace that he is not an agent of Putin and that he can be a “true American leader” who “stands up to the bullies”. Note that launching Tomahawk missiles against a Syrian airbase in April 2017 has been Trump’s  only mainstream media “superstar moment” so far, with all American major news channels praising him for his actions. So there is no guarantee that he will not resort to it again while facing extreme political pressure by those who want Putin gone.

And there are many segments among the Western/Transatlantic elites who want to see Putin gone. He (and Russia as whole) has been an obstacle to their global hegemony, starting from the 2007 Munich speech, in which Putin condemned the current unipolar world order, stating that the US “has overstepped its national borders in every sense”. He further consolidated his “evil dictator” status when he prevented Obama from invading Syria in 2013, and then again in 2014 when he ruined the US and NATO plans of installing military bases in Crimea, thus preventing their dominance in the Black Sea region.

So, there are plenty of reasons for the Western elites to try to prevent Putin from being re-elected in March 2018, and they will do everything in their power to bury him from the international scene. The question of whether or not they will be able to execute all their plans (and whether their actions will actually lead to the desired outcomes) remains open. Putin himself isn’t novel to strategic and political games, after all. Besides, most Russian people have lived through Perestroika and they still remember the 1990s, so one should never underestimate the power of Russian cynicism while trying to manipulate the Russian public with socio-political technologies from outside.

Better be prepared for anything than sorry, though.

 

14 Comments

  1. Three months is a short timeframe and though it may be argued the year or so of ramped up anti-Russian hysteria has set the scene, every effort on the part of westerñ hegemony has not only failed to dent Putin’s reputation it has revealed him as a master tactician of unparalleled ability. Putin’s re-election is as certain as the sunrise. I imagine there will be little effort made to interfere in the political process any more than we already see. The real threat is assasination. Something I believe Putin himself is acutely aware of.

  2. vexarb says

    Wasn’t the US limitation of the presidential term a reaction to Capitalist horror at the way FDR — the only Socialist POTUS — seemed to go on forever? Death alone could prevent Roosevelt being re-elected.

    I fear for Russia when Putin dies; it may revert to the Yeltsin years, and fall prey to Anglo-Capitalism once more; with mass starvation, 5% fall in life expectancy, and Natasha the Turkish slang for prostitute.

  3. Adrian E. says

    Sanctions have already been tried. US sanctions don’t have much of an effect because Russia and the US are not really important trading partners for each other (the US needs Russia to get their astronauts to space, so they made an exemption in the sanctions law, but that’s a detail). EU sanctions are potentially significant, but it seems that so far, the sanctions and countersanctions have a stronger negative effect on EU countries than on Russia, and the sanctions and countersanctions were used quite skillfully as a temporary protectionist measure for helping the development of the Russian food industry. The US alone cannot introduce extreme sanctions of a kind that would be problematic for Russia, and while the US might want EU countries to do so, they will hardly do so because it would be against their own self-interest.

    Russia has so far avoided deep involvement in Donbass – though extremist measures from the Ukrainian side, such as a blockade against Donbass, have naturally led to closer contacts between Donbass and Russia. The idea that Russia is allegedly responsible for the Ukrainian army and Ukrainian far-right militias attacking a part of the population of Eastern Ukraine is so absurd that I doubt many people still believe it, even though many Western media outlets subserviently report it that way. I doubt that this is really such a big problem for Russia. It is, of course, a big problem for people in Donbass who suffer under the attacks of the Ukrainian army and the likes of the Azov battalion. But Donetsk and Luhansk can probably defend themselves relatively well. In the worst case, Russia might step in to protect the inhabitants of Donbass from slaughter. Of course, Russia would prefer not to do so. But obviously, after all that Western and Ukrainian propaganda that allegedly Donbass is already Russian-occupied, if after massive attacks on Donbass, the Russian army would really move into Donbass to protect the population and to deter further attack, Western attempts to condemn such an “invasion” would be ridiculous because it had falsely been claimed that there were Russian troops for a long time. I think many people in Western countries are aware of these problems and therefore, I think it is more likely that the war in Donbass will just be kept simmering.

    There are, of course, many people in the US foreign policy elite (mostly neocons) who would still want a “regime change” in Syria. Obviously, the consequences for Syrians would probably be horrifying, as they were in Libya. Until recently, massive bombardments of the Syrian government (in case Russia would not prevent this), would have meant an inevitable victory of ISIS/Daesh and Al Qaeda, and an ensuing bloodbath among religious minorities in Syria and a further destabilization of neighboring parts of the Middle East. Now, ISIS/Daesh is almost gone, but Al Qaeda (Al Nusra, Jabhat Fatah al-Sham) is still the strongest force apart from the Syrian army and the Kurdish forces. Attempting regime change and thereby sinking Syria into chaos would, of course, be a terrible crime. While the neocons are still very influential in the US, such inhumane actions would hardly have unified support in Western countries, not even in the Western establishment; therefore, I suppose that Russia would probably be able to stop such a lunacy with a relatively small military presence – only if the necocons are not opposed, at all, as when they destroyed Libya, can they proceed. Any serious challenge would probably lead people to think about the record of the neocons’ bloody actions and whether it is worth starting a war for them.

  4. Frank says

    The policies to unseat Putin which you have described are not new and not only have they failed to unseat him in the past, but they have rallied support for the Russian leader, not just in Russia but worldwide. Moreover, the US-NATO are playing a high-risk game where the outcome is more likely to favour Russia than the Anglo-zionist empire. A large-scale offensive by the Ukie Army is – judging by past performances at Ilovaisk and Debaltsevo- a very dubious gamble, with the possibility of yet another humiliating defeat leading to its disintegration and the fall of the fragile Poroshenko regime. Yes, I know the Ukie army has been trained by the US, Canadian and UK forces, but then so were the Army of South Vietnam (ARVN) and Georgia both of whom hardly covered themselves with glory. Moreover, Putin has gone on record on more than one occasion as saying that he will not countenance a Ukrainian military success genocide in the Donbass. One also has to ask do Ukrainian soldiers really want to die for the tawdry little regime in Kiev?

    Secondly, Sanctions imposed against Russia have resulted in an economic policy of import substitution and less reliance on raw material exports. This was always going to be a necessity giving economic self-sufficiency and less import reliance on the west. In fact, the sanctions hurt the EU much more than Russia. And this could pose another problem for the Atlantic alliance. American insistence that the EU vassals stop using Russian gas and switch to more expensive and less reliable US LNG, has resulted in very real tensions within the alliance. Germany and Austria have reacted furiously to any suggestion that they buy US LNG rather than Russian gas which is both cheaper and more reliable. Indeed across the whole EU business class, there is an overwhelming desire to end the sanctions. It should also be borne in mind that switching from Russian gas cannot be achieved overnight even if the Europeans wanted it.

    Russia has recovered from its embattled position of 2014, growth has been restored, oil prices have been stabilised, western-funded jihadism has been routed in Syria and Iraq. Putin’s pivot to the East has been instrumental in this. Together with China, the central Asian republics, the EEU, the SCO, Iran and the BRICS the US-EU-NATO is being pushed out of Eurasia. Throw into the mix the policy of de-dollarization and you have all the pieces of a new geopolitical configuration rivalling the Atlantic bloc coming into existence. At the end of the first cold war, Russia was offered a Versailles Treaty, and its efforts to join the Atlantic community subject to humiliating conditionalities. Faced with the enlargement of NATO and its increasing presence on Russia’s borders, Putin finally gave up the ghost around 2007. He built new alliances and found new markets in the East.

    ”A disparate but nevertheless strengthening tide of anti-hegemonic arrangements and organization has begun to emerge … the dangers of unipolarism were clear, accompanied by wars of choice. The creeping universalization of American law and practises of universal jurisdiction represented a new type of power that threatened the sovereignty of states everywhere. In response, counter-hegemonic movements gained vitality and dynamism.” (Richard Sakwa – Russia Against the Rest)

    So it would appear that having weathered the storm Russia is now in a much stronger position vis-a-vis the US-NATO bloc than it was in 2014

  5. Alan guest says

    Regarding the oligarchs I have a question

    Could the Russians just nationalise their business and take them into state control if they start getting political?

    • Putin has already done that and gone after them quite cleverly forcing them to pay their back taxes or else.

      • As I remember it, at the beginning of his first presidency, Putin told the oligarch that they could either keep their assets, pay taxes like everyone else but never get involved in politics, or leave Russia. Those who disagreed left Russia. Mikhail Borisovich Khodorkovsky didn’t comply and was jailed. When Putin reduced his sentenced and let him leave prison, he fled to Switzerland whence he did begin to get involved in Russian politics, financing the fifth-column and Navalny, for example.

  6. BigB says

    I don’t know all the intricacies: but re: 5 – expanding sanctions …I thought the sanctions were an epic fail: costing the EU more than they cost Russia? So the UN Special Rapporteur’s report details …$55bn loss to the Russian economy versus $100bn EU loss. The import substitutions and alternative suppliers are well established – particularly in the agricultural sector where Russia is now a non-GMO (and organic ) world leading producer. The first round of sanctions targeted the oil industry – to which the Russians countered by inventing their own fracking technology (or at least, so they claim). To keep the pipelines going: Russia bought the specialist boat and set up their own underwater pipe laying company. The most stupid thing the US did was Kerry ‘s “oil shock in reverse” deal with King Abdullah to flood the market with oil – that (still might) liquidate the US shale economy …and has gutted KSA’s economy – causing Salman to go running to Putin to ask him to help fix it! Are they running an idiotocracy???

    Anyway, I’m sure Putin says bring on the next round of sanctions – they are rather good for business?

  7. The US Power Elite will surely try a number of the named steps, but the title should better be “How the West could try to destabilze Russia”, since hopefully they´ll not be able to achieve that aim. They try everything to get rid of the one who is one of the leaders of the necesary resistance to their world Domination. Let me also remind you of this:
    „Russian Plane Crash: 92 People Dead, Including Many Members of Famous Russian Army Choir!“:
    https://wipokuli.wordpress.com/2016/12/26/russian-plane-crash-92-people-dead-including-many-members-of-famous-russian-army-choir/
    regards

  8. This is all well and good, and I agree that Russia should be prepared. But:

    1) The Empire of Stupid has been screaming “Evil Rooskies!” and “Vladbad the Bad!” for two decades now. A few more screams will make no difference. Anybody with more than two functional brain cells knows it’s all bollocks anyway.
    2) Putin has been running rings round the western dopes for a decade. Unless something happens to him personally, this won’t change. Trump’s generals already do pretty much what they like, May lacks even a sheep’s instinct to bleat, Merkel’s distracted, the rest are bankers whose fingers are in multiple pies and won’t risk jeopardizing that.
    3) I’d back Russian IT to prevail in any cyber war, and for one simple reason: they know they’re locked in an existential struggle and dare not lose. Western IT puts profits before all and thus is riddled with back doors, flaws, malware, and what-all.

    Oops, gotta go. Putinbot needs oiling.

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