Russia and the West : The last two action-packed years

Tony Kevin, at the Independent Scholars Association of Australia, Canberra 11 September 2019

This presentation updates a talk I gave to ISAA just over two years ago, in August 2017, on the topic, ‘Western policy on Putin and a resurgent Russia’.

The previous three years 2014-17 had been momentous in Russia – West relations. The last two have been equally action-packed.


In 2014, we saw violent US-supported regime change and civil war in Ukraine. In February, after months of increasing tension from the anti-Russian protest movement’s sitdown strike in Kiev’s Maidan Square, there was a murderous clash between protesters and Ukrainian police, sparked off by hidden shooters (we now know that were expert Georgian snipers), aiming at police.

The elected government collapsed and President Yanukevich fled to Russia, pursued by murder squads.

The new Poroshenko government pledged harsh anti-Russian language laws. Rebels in two Russophone regions in Eastern Ukraine took local control, and appealed for Russian military help. In March, a referendum took place in Russian-speaking Crimea on leaving Ukraine, under Russian military protection. Crimeans voted overwhelmingly to join Russia, a request promptly granted by the Russian Parliament and President.

Crimea’s border with Ukraine was secured against saboteurs. Crimea is prospering under its pro-Russian government, with the economy kick-started by Russian transport infrastructure investment.

In April, Poroshenko ordered full military attack on the separatist provinces of Donetsk and Luhansk in Eastern Ukraine. A brutal civil war ensued, with aerial and artillery bombardment bringing massive civilian death and destruction to the separatist region. There was major refugee outflow into Russia and other parts of Ukraine. The shootdown of MH17 took place in July 2014.

By August 2015, according to UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs estimates, 13,000 people had been killed and 30,000 wounded.

1.4 million Ukrainians had been internally displaced, and 925,000 had fled to neighbouring countries, mostly Russia and to a lesser extent Poland.

There is now a military stalemate, under the stalled Minsk peace process. But random fatal clashes continue, with the Ukrainian Army mostly blamed by UN observers. The UN reported last month that the ongoing war has affected 5.2 million people, leaving 3.5 million of them in need of relief, including 500,000 children. Most Russians blame the West for fomenting Ukrainian enmity towards Russia.

This war brings back for older Russians horrible memories of the Nazi invasion in 1941. The Russia-Ukraine border is only 550 kilometres from Moscow.


Russian forces joined the civil war in Syria in September 2015, at the request of the Syrian Government, faltering under the attacks of Islamist extremist rebel forces reinforced by foreign fighters and advanced weapons.

With Russian air and ground support, the tide of war turned. Palmyra and Aleppo were recaptured in 2016. An alleged Syrian Government chemical attack at Khan Shaykhun in April 2017 resulted in a token US missile attack on a Syrian Government airbase: an early decision by President Trump.

NATO, the strategic balance, and sanctions

Tensions have risen in the Baltic as NATO moves ground forces and battlefield missiles up to the Baltic states’ borders with Russia. Both sides’ naval and air forces play dangerous brinksmanship games in the Baltic. US short-range, non-nuclear-armed anti-ballistic missiles were stationed in Poland and Romania, allegedly against threat of Iranian attack. They are easily convertible to nuclear-armed missiles aimed at nearby Russia.

Nuclear arms control talks have stalled. The INF intermediate nuclear forces treaty expired in 2019, after both sides accused the other of cheating. In March 2018, Putin announced that Russia has developed new types of intercontinental nuclear missiles using technologies that render US defence systems useless. The West has pretended to ignore this announcement, but we can be sure Western defence ministries have noted it.

Nuclear second-strike deterrence has returned, though most people in the West have forgotten what this means. Russians know exactly what it means.

Western economic sanctions against Russia continue to tighten after the 2014 events in Ukraine. The US is still trying to block the nearly completed Nordstream Baltic Sea underwater gas pipeline from Russia to Germany.

Sanctions are accelerating the division of the world into two trade and payments systems: the old NATO-led world, and the rest of the world led by China, with full Russian support and increasing interest from India, Japan, ROK and ASEAN.

Writing my book

In 2013, my children gave me an iPad. I began to spend several hours a day reading well beyond traditional mainstream Western sources: British and American dissident sites, writers like Craig Murray in UK and in the US Stephen Cohen, and some Russian sites – rt.com, Sputnik, TASS, and the official Foreign Ministry site mid.ru. in English.

In late 2015 I decided to visit Russia independently to write ‘Return to Moscow’, a literary travel memoir. I planned to compare my impressions of the Soviet Union, where I had lived and worked as an Australian diplomat in 1969-71, with Russia today.

I knew there had been huge changes. I wanted to experience ’Putin’s Russia’ for myself, to see how it felt to be there as an anonymous visitor in the quiet winter season. I wanted to break out of the familiar one-dimensional hostile political view of Russia that Western mainstream media offer: to take my readers with me on a cultural pilgrimage through the tragedy and grandeur and inspiration of Russian history.

As with my earlier book on Spain Walking the Camino, this was not intended to be a political book, and yet somehow it became one.

I was still uncommitted on contemporary Russian politics before going to Russia in January 2016. Using the metaphor of a seesaw, I was still sitting somewhere around the middle.

My book was written in late 2015 – early 2016, expertly edited by UWA Publishing. It was launched in March 2017. By this time my political opinions had moved decisively to the Russian end of the seesaw, on the basis of what I had seen in Russia, and what I had read and thought during the year.

I have been back again twice, in winter 2018 and 2019. My 2018 visit included Crimea, and I happened to see a Navalny-led Sunday demonstration in Moscow. I thoroughly enjoyed all three independent visits: in my opinion, they give my judgements on Russia some depth and authenticity.

Russophobia becomes entrenched in US and UK

Russia was a big talking point in the 2016 US presidential election. As the initially unlikely Republican candidate Donald Trump’s chances improved, anti-Putin and anti-Russian positions hardened in the outgoing Obama administration and in the Democratic Party establishment which backed candidate Hillary Clinton.

Russia and Putin became caught up in the Democratic Party’s increasingly obsessive rage and hatred against the victorious Trump. Russophobia became entrenched in Washington and London US and UK political and strategic elites, especially in intelligence circles: think of Pompeo, Brennan, Comey and Clapper.

All sense of international protocol and diplomatic propriety towards Russia and its President was abandoned, as this appalling Economist cover from October 2016 shows.

My experience of undeclared political censorship in Australia since four months after publication of ‘Return to Moscow’ supports the thesis that:

We are now in the thick of a ruthless but mostly covert Anglo-American alliance information war against Russia. In this war, individuals who speak up publicly in the cause of detente with Russia will be discouraged from public discourse.

When I spoke to you two years ago, I had no idea how far-reaching and ruthless this information war is becoming. I knew that a false negative image of Russia was taking hold in the West, even as Russia was becoming a more admirable and self-confident civil society, moving forward towards greater democracy and higher living standards, while maintaining essential national security.

I did not then know why, or how.

I had just had time to add a few final paragraphs in my book about the possible consequences for Russia-West relations of Trump’s surprise election victory in November 2016.

I was right to be cautious, because since Trump’s inauguration we have seen the step-by-step elimination of any serious pro-detente voices in Washington, and the reassertion of control over this haphazard president by the bipartisan imperial US deep state, as personified from April 2018 by Secretary of State Pompeo and National Security Adviser Bolton. Bolton has now been thrown from the sleigh as decoy for the wolves: under the smooth-talking Pompeo, the imperial policies remain.

Truth, trust and false narratives

Let me now turn to some theory about political reality and perception, and how national communities are persuaded to accept false narratives. Let me acknowledge my debt to the fearless and brilliant Australian independent online journalist, Caitlin Johnstone.

Caitlin Johnstone

Behavioural scientists have worked in the field of what used to be called propaganda since WW1. England has always excelled in this field. Modern wars are won or lost not just on the battlefield, but in people’s minds.

Propaganda, or as we now call it information warfare, is as much about influencing people’s beliefs within your own national community as it is about trying to demoralise and subvert the enemy population.

The IT revolution of the past few years has exponentially magnified the effectiveness of information warfare. Already in the 1940s, George Orwell understood how easily governments are able to control and shape public perceptions of reality and to suppress dissent.

His brilliant books 1984 and Animal Farm are still instruction manuals in principles of information warfare. Their plots tell of the creation by the state of false narratives, with which to control their gullible populations.

The disillusioned Orwell wrote from his experience of real politics. As a volunteer fighter in the Spanish Civil War, he saw how both Spanish sides used false news and propaganda narratives to demonise the enemy.

He also saw how the Nazi and Stalinist systems in Germany and Russia used propaganda to support show trials and purges, the concentration camps and the Gulag, anti-Semitism and the Holocaust, German master race and Stalinist class enemy ideologies; and hows dissident thought was suppressed in these controlled societies.

Orwell tried to warn his readers: all this could happen here too, in our familiar old England. But because the good guys won the war against fascism, his warnings were ignored.

We are now in Britain, US and Australia actually living in an information warfare world that has disturbing echoes of the world that Orwell wrote about. The essence of information control is the effective state management of two elements, trust and fear, to generate and uphold a particular view of truth. Truth, trust and fear: these are the three key elements, now as 100 years ago in WW1 Britain.

People who work or have worked close to government – in departments, politics, the armed forces, or top universities – mostly accept whatever they understand at the time to be ‘the government view’ of truth.

Whether for reasons of organisational loyalty, career prudence or intellectual inertia, it is usually this way around governments. It is why moral issues like the Vietnam War and the US-led 2003 invasion of Iraq were so distressing for people of conscience working in or close to government and military jobs in Canberra. They were expected to engage in ‘doublethink’ as Orwell had described it:

Winston’s mind slid away into the labyrinthine world of doublethink. To know and not to know, to be conscious of complete truthfulness while telling carefully-constructed lies, to hold simultaneously two opinions which cancelled out, knowing them to be contradictory and believing in both of them; to use logic against logic, to repudiate morality while laying claim to it, to believe that democracy was impossible and that the Party was the guardian of democracy; to forget whatever it was necessary to forget, then to draw it back into memory again at the moment when it was needed, and then promptly to forget it again: and above all, to apply the same process to the process itself.

That was the ultimate subtlety: consciously to induce unconsciousness, and then, once again, to become unconscious of the act of hypnosis one had just performed. Even to understand the word ‘doublethink’ involved the use of doublethink.”
George Orwell, 1984

Even in Winston’s nightmare world, there were still choices – to retreat into the non-political world of the proles, or to think forbidden thoughts and read forbidden books. These choices involved large risks and punishments. It was easier and safer for most people to acquiesce in the fake news they were fed by state-controlled media.

Fairfax journalist Andrew Clark, in the Australian Financial Review, in an essay optimistically titled ‘Not fake news: Why truth and trust are still in good shape in Australia’, (AFR 22 December 2018), cited Professor William Davies thus:

Most of the time, the edifice that we refer to as “truth” is really an investment of trust in our structures of politics and public life’ … ‘When trust sinks below a certain point, many people come to view the entire spectacle of politics and public life as a sham’.

Here is my main point: Effective information warfare requires the creation of enough public trust to make the public believe that state-supported lies are true.

The key tools are repetition of messages, and diversification of trusted voices. Once a critical mass is created of people believing a false narrative, the lie locks in: its dissemination becomes self-sustaining.

Caitlin Johnstone a few days ago put it this way:

Power is being able to control what happens. Absolute power is being able to control what people think about what happens. If you can control what happens, you can have power until the public gets sick of your BS and tosses you out on your ass. If you can control what people think about what happens, you can have power forever. As long as you can control how people are interpreting circumstances and events, there’s no limit to the evils you can get away with.’

The Internet has made propaganda campaigns that used to take weeks or months a matter of hours or even minutes to accomplish. It is about getting in quickly, using large enough clusters of trusted and diverse sources, in order to cement lies in place, to make the lies seem true, to magnify them through social messaging: in other words, to create credible false narratives that will quickly get into the public’s bloodstream.

Over the past two years, I have seen this work many times: on issues like framing Russia for the MH17 tragedy; with false allegations of Assad mounting poison gas attacks in Syria; with false allegations of Russian agents using lethal Novichok to try to kill the Skripals in Salisbury; and with the multiple lies of Russiagate.

It is the mind-numbing effect of constant repetition of disinformation by many eminent people and agencies, in hitherto trusted channels like the BBC or ABC or liberal Anglophone print media that gives the system its power to persuade the credulous.

For if so many diverse and reputable people repeatedly report such negative news and express such negative judgements about Russia or China or Iran or Syria, surely they must be right?

We have become used to reading in our quality newspapers and hearing on the BBC and ABC and SBS gross assaults on truth, calmly presented as accepted facts. There is no real public debate on important facts in contention any more. There are no venues for dissent outside contrarian social media sites.

Sometimes, false narratives inter-connect. Often a disinformation narrative in one area is used to influence perceptions in other areas. For example, the false Skripals poisoning story was launched by British intelligence in March 2018, just in time to frame Syrian President Assad as the guilty party in a faked chemical weapons attack in Douma the following month.

The Skripals gambit was also a failed British attempt to blight the Russia –hosted Football World Cup in June 2018. In the event, hundreds of thousands of Western sports fans returned home with the warmest memories of Russian good sportsmanship and hospitality.

How do I know the British Skripals narrative is false? For a start, it is illogical, incoherent, and constantly changes. Allegedly, two visiting Russian FSB agents in March 2018 sprayed or smeared Novichok, a deadly toxin instantly lethal in the most microscopic quantities, on the Skripals’ house front doorknob.

There is no video footage of the Skripals at their front door on the day. We are told they were found slumped on a park bench, and that is maybe where they had been sprayed with nerve gas? Shortly afterwards, Britain’s Head of Army Nursing who happened to be passing by found them, and supervised their hospitalisation and emergency treatment.

Allegedly, much of Salisbury was contaminated by Novichok, and one unfortunate woman mysteriously died weeks later, yet the Skripals somehow did not die, as we are told. But where are they now? We saw a healthy Yulia in a carefully scripted video interview released in May 2018, after an alleged ‘one in a million’ recovery. We were assured her father had recovered too, but nobody has seen him at all. The Skripals have simply disappeared from sight since 16 months ago.

Are they now alive or dead? Are they in voluntary or involuntary British custody?

A month after the poisoning, the UK Government sent biological samples from the Skripals to the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons , for testing. The OPCW sent the samples to a trusted OPCW laboratory in Spiez, Switzerland.

A few days later, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov dramatically announced in Moscow that the Spiez lab had found in the samples a temporary-effect nerve agent BZ, used by US and UK but not by Russia, that would have disabled the Skripals for a few days without killing them. He also revealed the Spiez lab had found that the Skripal samples had been twice tampered with while still in UK custody: first soon after the poisoning, and again shortly before passing them to the OPCW.

He said the Spiez lab had found a high concentration of Novichok, which he called A- 234, in its original form. This was extremely suspicious as A-234 has high volatility and could not have retained its purity over a two weeks period. The dosage the Spiez lab found in the samples would have surely killed the Skripals. The OPCW under British pressure rejected Lavrov’s claim, and suppressed the Spiez lab report.

Let’s look finally at the alleged assassins.

These two FSB operatives who visited Salisbury under the false identities of ‘Boshirov’ and ‘Petrov’ did not look or behave like credible assassins. It is more likely that they were sent to negotiate with Sergey Skripal about his rumoured interest in returning to Russia.

They needed to apply for UK visas a month in advance of travel: ample time for the British agencies to identify them as FSB operatives, and to construct a false attempted assassination narrative around their visit. This false narrative repeatedly trips over its own lies and contradictions.

British social media are full of alternative theories and rebuttals. Russians find the whole British Government Skripal narrative laughable. They have invented comedy skits and video games based on it. Yet it had major impact on Russia-West relations.

The Douma false narrative

I turn now to the claimed Assad chemical weapons attack in Douma in April 2018. This falsely alleged attack triggered a major NATO air attack on Syrian targets, ordered by Trump. We came close to WW3 in these dangerous days. Thanks to the restraint of the then Secretary of Defence James Mattis and his Russian counterparts, the risk was contained.

The allegation that Syrian President Assad had used outlawed chemical weapons against his own people was based solely on the evidence of faked video images of child victims, made by the discredited White Helmets, a UK-sponsored rebel-linked ‘humanitarian’ propaganda organisation with much blood on its hands. Founded in 2013 by a British private security specialist of intelligence background, James Le Mesurier (above), the White Helmets specialised in making fake videos of alleged Assad regime war crimes against Syrian civilians.

It is by now a thoroughly discredited organisation that was prepared to kill its prisoners and then film their bodies as alleged victims of government chemical attacks.

As the town of Douma was about to fall to advancing Syrian Government forces, the White Helmets filled a room with stacked corpses of murdered prisoners, and photographed them as alleged victims of aerial gas attack. They also made a video alleging child victims of this attack being hosed down by White Helmets. A video of a child named Hassan Diab went viral all over the Western world.

Hasan Diab

Hassan Diab later testified publicly in the Hague that he had been dragged terrified from his family by force, smeared with some sort of grease, and hosed down with water as part of a fake video. He went from hero to zero overnight, as Western governments and media rejected his testimony as Russian and Syrian propaganda.

In a late development, there is proof that the OPCW suppressed its own engineers’ report from Douma that the alleged poison gas cylinders could not have possibly been dropped from the air through the roof of the house where one was found, resting on a bed under a convenient hole in the roof.

I could go on discussing the detail of such false narratives all day. No matter how often they are exposed by critics, our politicians and mainstream media go on referencing them as if they are true. Once people have come to believe false narratives, it is hard to refute them.

So it is with the false narrative that Russian internet interference enabled Trump win the 2016 US presidential elections: a thesis for which no evidence was found by Mueller, yet continues to be cited by many US liberal Democratic media as if it were true. So, even, with MH17.

How it works

This mounting climate of Western Russophobia is not accidental: it is strategically directed, and it is nourished with regular maintenance doses of fresh lies. Each round of lies provides a credible platform for the next round somewhere else. The common thread is a claimed malign Russian origin for whatever goes wrong.

So where is all this disinformation originating? Information technology firms in Washington and London that are closely networked into government elites, often through attending the same establishment schools or colleges like Eton and Yale, have closely studied and tested the science of influencing crowd opinions through mainstream media and online.

They know, in a way that Orwell or Goebbels could hardly have dreamt, how to put out and repeat desired media messages. They know what sizes of ‘internet attraction nodes’ need to be established online, in order to create diverse critical masses of credible Russophobic messaging, which then attracts enough credulous and loyal followers to become self-propagating.

Firms like the SCL Group (formerly Strategic Communication Laboratories) and the now defunct Cambridge Analytica pioneered such work in the UK. There are many similar firms in Washington, all in the business of monitoring, generating and managing mass opinion. It is big business, and it works closely with the national security state.

Starting in November 2018, an enterprising group of unknown hackers in the UK , who go by the name ‘Anonymous’ , opened a remarkable window into this secret world. Over a few weeks, they hacked and dumped online a huge volume of original documents issued by and detailing the activities of the Institute for Statecraft (IfS) and the Integrity initiative (II). Here is the first page of one of their dumps, exposing propaganda against Jeremy Corbyn.

We know from this material that the IfS and II are two secret British disinformation networks operating at arms’ length from but funded by the UK security services and broader UK government establishment. They bring together high-ranking military and intelligence personnel, often nominally retired, journalists and academics, to produce and disseminate propaganda that serves the agendas of the UK and its allies.

Stung by these massive leaks, Chris Donnelly, a key figure in IfS and II and a former British Army intelligence officer, made a now famous seven-minute Youtube video in December 2018, artfully filmed in a London kitchen, defending their work.

He argued – quite unconvincingly in my opinion – that IfS and II are simply defending Western societies against disinformation and malign influence, primarily from Russia. He boasted how they have set up in numerous targeted European countries, claimed to be under attack from Russian disinformation, what he called ’clusters of influence’ , to ‘educate’ public opinion and decision-makers in pro-NATO and anti-Russian directions.

Donnelly spoke frankly on how the West is already at war with Russia, a ‘new kind of warfare’, in which he said ‘everything becomes a weapon’. He said that ‘disinformation is the issue which unites all the other weapons in this conflict and gives them a third dimension’.

He said the West has to fight back, if it is to defend itself and to prevail.

We can confirm from the Anonymous leaked files the names of many people in Europe being recruited into these clusters of influence. They tend to be significant people in journalism, publishing, universities and foreign policy think-tanks: opinion-shapers. The leaked documents suggest how ideologically suitable candidates are identified: approached for initial screening interviews; and, if invited to join a cluster of influence, sworn to secrecy.

Remarkably, neither the “Anonymous” disclosures nor the Donnelly response have ever been reported in Australian media. Even in Britain – where evidence that Integrity Initiative was mounting a campaign against Jeremy Corbyn provoked brief media interest – the story quickly disappeared from mainstream media and the BBC.

A British Under-Foreign Secretary admitted in Parliamentary Estimates that the UK Foreign Office subsidises the Institute of Statecraft to the tune of nearly 3 million pounds per year. It also gives various other kinds of non-monetary assistance e.g. providing personnel and office support in Britain’s overseas embassies.

This is not about traditional spying or seeking agents of influence close to governments. It is about generating mass disinformation, in order to create mass climates of belief.

In my opinion, such British and American disinformation efforts, using undeclared clusters of influence, through Five Eyes intelligence-sharing, and possibly with the help of British and American diplomatic missions, may have been in operation in Australia for many years.

Such networks may have been used against me since around mid-2017, to limit the commercial outreach of my book and the impact of its dangerous ideas on the need for East-West detente; and efficiently to suppress my voice in Australian public discourse about Russia and the West.

Do i have evidence for this? Yes.

It is not coincidence that the Melbourne Writers Festival in August 2017 somehow lost all my sign-and-sell books from my sold-out scheduled speaking event; that a major debate with Bobo Lo at the Wheeler Centre in Melbourne was cancelled by his Australian sponsor, the Lowy institute, two weeks before the advertised date; that my last invitation to any writers festival was 15 months ago, in May 2018; that ‘Return to Moscow’ was not shortlisted for any Australian book prize, though I entered it in all of them; that since my book’s early promotion ended in around August 2017, I have not been invited to join any ABC discussion panels, or to give any talks on Russia in any universities or institutes, apart from the admirable Australian Institute of International Affairs and the ISAA.

My articles and shorter opinion commentaries on Russia and the West have not been published in mainstream media or in reputable online journals like Eureka Street, The Conversation, Inside Story or Australian Book Review. [But they can all be found here – Ed.]

Despite being an ANU Emeritus Fellow, I have not been invited to give a public talk or join any panel in ANU or any Canberra think tank. In early 2018, I was invited to give a private briefing to a group of senior students travelling on an immersion course to Russia. I was not invited back in 2019, after high-level private advice within ANU that I was regarded as too pro-Putin.

In all these ways – none overt or acknowledged – my voice as an open-minded writer and speaker on Russia-West relations seems to have been quietly but effectively suppressed in Australia. I would like to be proved wrong on this, but the evidence is there.

This may be about’ velvet-glove deterrence’ of my Russia-sympathetic voice and pen, in order to discourage others, especially those working in or close to government. Nobody is going to put me in jail, unless I am stupid enough to violate Australia’s now strict foreign influence laws.

This deterrence is about generating fear of consequences for people still in their careers, paying their mortgages, putting kids through school. Nobody wants to miss their next promotion.

There are other indications that Australian national security elite opinion has been indoctrinated prudently to fear and avoid any kind of public discussion of positive engagement with Russia (or indeed, with China).

There are only two kinds of news about Russia now permitted in our mainstream media, including the ABC and SBS: negative news and comment, or silence. Unless a story can be given an anti-Russian sting, it will not be carried at all. Important stories are simply spiked, like last week’s Eastern Economic Forum in Vladivistok, chaired by President Putin and attended by Prime Ministers Abe, Mahathir and Modi, among 8500 participants from 65 countries.

The ABC idea of a balanced panel to discuss any Russian political topic was exemplified in an ABC Sunday Extra Roundtable panel chaired by Eleanor Hall on 22 July 2018, soon after the Trump-Putin Summit in Helsinki.

The panel – a former ONA Russia analyst, a professor of Soviet and Russian History at Melbourne University, and a Russian émigré dissident journalist introduced as the ‘Washington correspondent for Echo of Moscow radio’ spent most of their time sneering at Putin and Trump. There were no other views.

A powerful anti-Russian news narrative is now firmly in place in Australia, on every topic in contention: Ukraine, MH17, Crimea, Syria, the Skripals, Navalny and public protest in Russia.

There is ill-informed criticism of Russia, or silence, on the crucial issues of arms control and Russia-China strategic and economic relations as they affect Australia’s national security or economy. There is no analysis of the negative impact on Australia of economic sanctions against Russia.

There is almost no discussion of how improved relations with China and Russia might contribute to Australia’s national security and economic welfare, as American influence in the world and our region declines, and as American reliability as an ally comes more into question. Silence on inconvenient truths is an important part of the disinformation tool kit.

I see two overall conflicting narratives – the prevailing Anglo-American false narrative; and valiant efforts by small groups of dissenters, drawing on sources outside the Anglo-American official narrative, to present another narrative much closer to truth. And this is how most Russians now see it too.

The Trump-Putin summit in Helsinki in July 2018 was damaged by the Skripal and Syria fabrications. Trump left that summit friendless, frightened and humiliated. He soon surrendered to the power of the US imperial state as then represented by Pompeo and Bolton, who had both been appointed as Secretary of State and National Security Adviser in April 2018 and who really got into their stride after the Helsinki Summit. Pompeo now smoothly dominates Trump’s foreign policy.

Self-inflicted wounds

Finally, let me review the American political casualties over the past two years – self-inflicted wounds – arising from this secret information war against Russia. Let me list them without prejudging guilt or innocence.

  • MICHAEL FLYNN – lasted 3 weeks, in jail
  • H R MCMASTER – 13 months
  • REX TILLERSON – 14 months 
  • STEVE BANNON – 7 months 
  • PAUL MANAFORT – in jail 
  • JAMES MATTIS – 2 years 
  • JON HUNTSMAN – 2 years 
  • JOHN KELLY – 18 months
  • GEORGE PAPADOPOULOS – jailed 12 days Oct 2018, now on parole until Oct 2019 
  • MICHAEL COHEN – sacked May 2018, in jail since Dec 2018 
  • JULIAN ASSANGE – in jail (UK) 
  • CHELSEA MANNING – in jail (US) 
  • MARIA BUTINA – in jail (US)
  • SERGEY AND YULIA SKRIPAL – whereabouts unknown

Trump’s first National Security Adviser, the highly decorated Michael Flynn lost his job after only three weeks, and soon went to jail. His successor H R McMaster lasted 13 months until replaced by John Bolton.

Trump’s first Secretary of State Rex Tillerson lasted just 14 months until his replacement by Trump’s appointed CIA chief (in January 2017) Mike Pompeo. Trump’s chief strategist Steve Bannon lasted only seven months. Trump’s former campaign chairman Paul Manafort is now in jail.

Defence Secretary James Mattis lasted nearly two years as Secretary of Defence, and was an invaluable source of strategic stability. He resigned in December 2018. The highly capable Ambassador to Russia Jon Huntsman lasted just two years: he is resigning next month. John Kelly lasted 18 months as White House Chief of Staff. Less senior figures like George Papadopoulos and Trump’s former lawyer Michael Cohen both served jail time.

The pattern I see here is that people who may have been trying responsibly as senior US officials to advance Trump’s initial wish to explore possibilities for detente with Russia – policies that he had advocated as a candidate – were progressively purged, one after another. The anti-Russian US bipartisan imperial state is now firmly back in control. Trump is safely contained as far as Russia is concerned.

Russians do not believe that any serious detente or arms control negotiations can get under way while cold warriors like Pompeo continue effectively to control Trump.

There have been other casualties over the past two years of tightening American Russophobia. Julian Assange and Chelsea Manning come to mind. The naive Maria Butina is a pathetic victim of American judicial rigidity and deep state vindictiveness.

False anti-Russian Government narratives emanating from London and Washington may be laughed at in Moscow , but they are unquestioningly accepted in Canberra. We are the most gullible of audiences. There is no critical review. Important contrary factual information and analysis from and about Russia just does not reach Australian news reporting and commentary, nor – I fear – Australian intelligence assessment. We are prisoners of the false narratives fed to us by our senior Five Eyes partners US and UK.

To conclude: Some people may find what I am saying today difficult to accept. I understand this. I now work off open-source information about Russia with which many people here are unfamiliar, because they prefer not to read the diverse online information sources that I choose to read. The seesaw has tilted for me: I have clearly moved a long way from mainstream Western perceptions on Russia-West relations.

Under Trump and Pompeo, as the Syria and Iran crises show, the present risk of global nuclear war by accident or incompetent Western decision-making is as high as it ever was in the Cold War.

The West needs to learn again how to dialogue usefully and in mutually respectful ways with Russia and China. This expert knowledge is dying with our older and wiser former public servants and ex-military chiefs.

Tony Kevin is a former Australian senior diplomat, independent writer and author of Return to Moscow, University of Western Australia Publishing, March 2017.


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Petra Liverani
Petra Liverani
Oct 1, 2019 2:14 PM

Just cos they tell us people in jail don’t mean they are – they lie you know about so very many things. Maria Butina and Chelsea Manning are intelligence assets. We can all tell that Julian Assange is definitely in jail. I don’t know about the others.

Sep 23, 2019 9:09 PM

Why yes, Eddie, although your post has disappeared, $3 million for a frontier fence to protect Crimea does seem quite frugal..
Yulia the Gas Princess spends that much on shoes ! BTW, where is she? General Porkchop freed her from prison, after the Coup, and she was the saviour of freedom & democracy for UA, according to the CIA, but her big mouth seems to have fallen silent.. Did they kill her?

Sep 23, 2019 8:38 PM

The fine new frontier fence separating the Russian Federation from neo-nazi UA; 60 km at a cost of $3 million. That is all it took to block interior minister Avakov & his fascist goons from ever attacking Crimea again. By today’s inflated fiscal standards, it sounds like pocket change..

Jihadi Colin
Jihadi Colin
Sep 23, 2019 4:11 AM

Australia was always a snivelling, slavish, grovellingly servile vassal by choice – first to the Brutish Empire, and when that ended, to the Imperialist States of Amerikastan. For instance it joined in the Vietnam war, one that even the abject Amerikastani colony of Brutain sat out. It requires no sophisticated propaganda to compel Australians to follow the imperialist criminal line: Australians are slaves by choice.

Sep 24, 2019 7:54 AM
Reply to  Jihadi Colin

Yes and no. There are many people who wish to change our vassal status but the Colluding Class is on autopilot. Remember Julia Gillard not lifting a finger for Assange?

We have a two party system which is not fit to meet the needs of the population. For the Vietnam War, Rupert Murdoch founded The Australian to soften people up for conscription and then sending them to Vietnam. The war came about through preventing the 1956 elections in Vietnam, agreed on in Geneva in 1954. Check the dates of The Australian and conscription – very logical.

If Australia was a democracy and we would be asked ….. things would not be as they are. The election campaign of May 2019 did not contain ONE word of foreign policy. And now Morrison meddles in foreign policy for which he has absolutely no mandate.

Los Alamos Lodge
Los Alamos Lodge
Sep 22, 2019 10:45 PM

What amazes me is that if someone overdoses on Fentanyl the MSM will blame Putin but reminding people that Governments will bomb their own people for political ends by mentioning the 1999 apartment bombings is off the table. Even the Reichstag fire is rarely mentioned. If Putin is so dangerous to the world order why hasn’t he brought up the 9/11 false flag? A little existential threat goes a long way.

Sep 22, 2019 4:00 PM

Amazing piece about Oz’s neighbour, western Papua, being pillaged and terrorized in a Muslim orgy of Indonesian neocolonialism.
Grasberg set to profit from gold’s rise!

Sep 22, 2019 10:04 AM

We have been lied to. and lied to, and lied to again, by Governments, their front organisations, military and intelligence agencies, and their servile MSM. Examples of this are legion, like the Skripal, Douma. MH17, Russiagate cases given above. Obviously you could add to this Iraq WMD, Iraq Incubator Babies. Gladio, Operation Northwoods, Tonkin Gulf, USS Liberty, countless bogus terrorist attacks. It would take several pages to list even the more recent examples. In a sense, this is nothing new. You can go back to the Bayonetted Belgian Babies, Raped Belgian Nuns, Crucified Canadian Prisoners, Human Bodies Turned Into Soap of WW1. Or the Human Bodies Turned Into Soap And Lamp Shades of WW2. Again, the list is endless. These bodies have long since forfeited all trust and credibility. The default position has to be that every word they speak or publish is almost certainly a lie. If they announce… Read more »

Sep 22, 2019 6:47 AM

Our then group Adelaide Junior Balalaikas participated in the 2017 Sevastopol Festival and won a prize. All reports were talking about things being ‘normal’.

In one sense, the separate development of Russia and the Anglosphere is good – because not everything is good in the Anglosphere. Having experienced excessive digitisation in even vital areas in Australia we are completely at a mercy that the US, companies and government, do not pull the plug and send us into a 404 world.

Our alliance with the US is getting more expensive by the day, and PM Morrison does NOT have a mandate for 100 years. America needs enemies for their weapons production and Russia (China) are these enemies. They are also the enemies of a US power monopoly.

Should Turkey decide to finally leave NATO, maybe things will improve.

Sep 22, 2019 6:07 AM

Mailman here. Constructive speech by Russian foreign minister at UN. Builders versus destroyers:


“Consistent movement towards this constructive goal will allow us not only to keep up the development of national economies and to remove obstacles to the movement of goods, capital, labor and services, but it will also create a solid foundation of security and stability throughout the vast region from Lisbon to Jakarta.”

[The EU used to be like that. When a fish decays, it begins to stink from the head]

Sep 22, 2019 4:55 AM

Its good to see some intelligence independent thinkers still exist in Australia apart from myself! Censorship of free thinkers is rife in Australia fakebook and the media have increased there surveillance and censorship 24/7! I cant comment on 9news mediafeed! 30 accounts disabled no 1 day block 3 5 or 30!
Instant disabling about free thought! Telling me my phone numbers and emails are invalid etc! Its a joke we are fast becoming a financially facist totalitarian country! Australia aint no democracy its a hypocrisy! The US Uk Israel are the axis of evil in the world with nothing but imperialist ambitions!

Sep 22, 2019 2:53 AM

How to “toss them out on their ass” when the entire system is setup by those people to protect those people and benefit those people? Elections/Referendums won’t do it.

Sep 22, 2019 4:20 AM
Reply to  Igor

That, in a nutshell, is, frankly, all we need to discuss.
The crux.
The core.
The problem:
What to do when elections/referendums won’t preserve common decency and keep pestilence out.

Sep 22, 2019 6:28 AM
Reply to  wardropper

Sometimes nothing can be done. The classic example is the self-destruction of the Athenian democracy, as documented by Thucydedes and commented by Plato: “filling Athens with gold and ivory when they ought to have been filling the city with justice and temperance.”

Sometimes something can be done. The contemporary example is the way Russia rescued itself from the clutches of Anglo Zio Capitalism in the 1990s. Equally remarkable is the way Putin went on to help other countries rescue themselves: S.Ossetia, Crimea, W.Ukraina, Syria and Iran — with Russian help all these countries successfully resisted a NATZO onslaught.

Sep 22, 2019 4:54 PM
Reply to  vexarb

That’s certainly the truth. Somewhere recently I saw a Chinese proverb which went something like this: “If nothing can be done, it is often best to do nothing”… and I take that to mean that when nothing can be done, if you do something anyway, it might be a very bad idea… But there is also a spiritual teaching which urges people who care about such things to distinguish between the essential and the non-essential, which is a valuable pointer to knowing whether or not something can be done – more specifically, whether or not I, personally, can do something. When really nothing can be done, it obviously pays to be philosophical about it and try to understand where our limitations lie. But where confusion arises is when, for exampe, lazy people assume that nothing can be done because it is more comfortable to do nothing. Modern western society has… Read more »

Sep 22, 2019 1:53 AM

I fully believe what you are stating, Mr. Kevin. I live in Canada and the same tripe against the Russian Federation is peddled here too with no critical investigative journalists ever questioning the narrative or screed of rhetoric, ever. Our state broadcaster is staffed to the roof with highly qualified journalists that mere write pap for the masses that the government oversees. No critical assessment is manifesting in Ottawa Canada which is our nation’s capital city and home to Canada’s Parliament. What you need to realize is that the United States of America is frightened out of their wits over the fact that they have completely lost hegemon status and that the Russian Federation & China are forming far too strong of a business partnership and currency exchange trading platform that is threatening USA hegemony even more. The entire population of the United States of America is currently running through… Read more »

Fair dinkum
Fair dinkum
Sep 21, 2019 11:43 PM

We are at the cusp of total chaos as ‘things fall apart’
Driven by psychopathic behaviour and blind incompetence.

Sep 22, 2019 4:23 AM
Reply to  Fair dinkum

and all enthusiastically cheered on by our “media”.
If only there was some kind of moral filter to challenge all those who seek employment there…

Tim Owen
Tim Owen
Sep 21, 2019 10:35 PM

Outstanding piece. Hard to come up with something to add without distracting from or diluting your main argument.

Perhaps best is my attempt to boil it down when confronted with the jaw dropping narcissism of “Western values”:

“The dark joke of course: We’re supporting genocidal Salafist terrorists in MENA, neo-Nazi militias in Ukraine and fascist golpistas in South America. Russia is, quite rightly, opposing us on all these fronts. We should be so lucky as to be under some Russian influence.”

Sep 21, 2019 10:22 PM

In his post, Tony Kevin mentioned the Melbourne Writers Festival and the runaround its organisers subjected him to. That example and some others he gave highlight how 5-Eyes disinformation has penetrated culture and the artistic community, even at a level most people would not regard as very political or directly affecting their own lives, in Australia. It is surely no coincidence that at the same time that academia and artists are being slowly throttled in what they can or can’t say and do, and where and how they can do the little they’re allowed, their working conditions and pay are also being gutted. Already to my knowledge, the academic Tim Anderson has been sacked from Sydney University for deviating from the MSM narrative on Syria. News that academics and other university staff are being forced to work on a contract basis is common. There have been reports that most Australian… Read more »

Sep 21, 2019 9:58 PM

In relevance to nothing, and connecting no dots, old man Skripal is / was Ukranian, not Russian, born in Kiev..

Sep 21, 2019 8:05 PM

Twas ever thus. To the Anglo Zio Capitalist Empire t the dawn of the 21st century, Russia, Putin and the ME oilfields are what Germany, the Kaiser and the ME oilfields were at the dawn of the 20th century. The same lies, the same character assassination, the same relentless drive toward resource wars. With the interesting difference that the Empire looks weaker in 2019 than it did in 1919; or, as the author says here, looking less credible. The Russians foresee a Multipolar World, not more Dominions of the AZC like Australia, New Zealand and Canada.

Sep 21, 2019 7:08 PM

Very good article!
Just a few notes

1. “career prudence or intellectual inertia”: In “ancient” times these were called pusillanimity and intellectual cowardice.

2. “It was easier and safer for most people to acquiesce in the fake news they were fed by state-controlled media.” = foolishness/stupidity: choosing short-sighted “best” options that will eventually kill us all.Usually, closely related to #1.

3. “Some people may find what I am saying today difficult to accept.” : Welcome to the club!

The crux of the matter:
“consciously to induce unconsciousness, and then, once again, to become unconscious of the act of hypnosis one had just performed.” = Human’s delusional state

Rhys Jaggar
Rhys Jaggar
Sep 21, 2019 6:00 PM

Mr Kevin needs to eliminate the term ‘quality newspaper’ from his Weltanschauung. They are no quality newspapers and the BBC is an MI6 rabbit warren totally unanswerable for its despicable behaviour to rhose who fund it. Quality newspapers would: 1. Confront the establishment with unpalatable truths. The worse the truth, the more unpalatable the mode of confrontation. 2. Tell the truth rather than print uncritical lies spouted by uncritical Establishment wastrels. 3. Never allow evil to flourish through turning a blind eye to behaviour by their Establishment masters. What we actually have are organs almost universally owned by very rich, very white/Jewish, very old, very right wing men. They are propaganda organs, they provide smokescreens for appalling acts, they ruthlessly censor honest comment, and they have presstitute wordsmiths who have no clue what journalism means because they have never practiced it. I barely touch the MSM any more and never… Read more »

Sep 22, 2019 2:14 AM
Reply to  Rhys Jaggar

My Government of Canada currently offers major subsidy to the lion’s share of major news outlets throughout the country due to major losses on the books of corporate news outlets that they are dependent upon for impression management & propaganda purposes. And by propaganda purposes I mean…”Russian Federation BAD” “China BAD” but “RAPE & PILLAGE America GOOD”. Right wing newspapers in Canada write “Trump GOOD” “Obama BAD” & the left wing newspapers write “Trump BAD” “Obama GOOD” just like they do everywhere else too. The whole world has gone nuts & lost critical assessment and true journalistic integrity in the process. Now journalism in Canada is just contractual propaganda for wage slaves & the indentured into servitude to bank & employer. Ottawa is a company town with one newspaper run by essentially the government. We do have two radio stations but the government owns one and private corporations own the… Read more »

Sep 21, 2019 5:48 PM

Tony, we are ruled by psychopaths (and you can take the Pentagon’s missing trillions as a starting point for that).

Has anyone followed what’s gone on in France today, and the way it’s been reported (on the rare occasions that it has been reported) by the presstitutes?

Sep 22, 2019 1:37 AM
Reply to  RobG

The Guardian yesterday, 21 September, published a “news” item headlined “Paris on high alert as protesters try to revive gilets jaunes movement”. Note the implication that the movement is dead. The closing line of the piece was “The gilets jaunes movement that emerged ten months ago petered out this summer.”
I was too late to catch a screenshot of this blatant and conscious lie – I left the Guardian site to check that photos of this month’s burning cars etc in regional France were still clearly online, to be absolutely certain that the writers knew what they were doing. However the whole story can be found in a news aggregator here:

(For added irony, the news aggregator labels the Guardian as “trusted”.)

Sep 22, 2019 2:03 AM
Reply to  Hope

It’s even more interesting to note that the story has been “disappeared” from the Guardian online. An online search for the words of the closing sentence does give a link to the article, but clicking on that link directs to a different and updated article, with that sentence scrubbed.

The Guardian has been studiously blanking out the whole of the gilets jaunes actions, while steadily drip-feeding the approved line on the Hong Kong events – the contrast is surely too much even for them – hence the guilty “disappearing” of the “news” piece.

Sep 22, 2019 8:12 PM
Reply to  Hope

Hope, there’s been many surreal moments over the last 10 months. My favourite took place last Christmas, when the police started closing down the roadside protests (the French military police took a large part in this, because many local Gendarmes didn’t want to do it). The following took place in the small town of Margencel in southeastern France, where the gilets jaunes danced to the strains of Piaf’s La foule, shortly before the police demolished their encampment.

Forgive the indulgence, because I’m going to see if I can embed a Tweet in this comment section. If it doesn’t work the original Tweet is here:

À #Margencel les #GiletsJaunes qui se font déloger ce matin dansent devant les forces de l’ordre sur un air d’Edith Piaf #HauteSavoie Vidéo de @vivionr pic.twitter.com/n27WBmDOiU

— France Bleu Pays de Savoie (@bleusavoie) December 19, 2018


Sep 22, 2019 9:27 PM
Reply to  RobG

Nope, embedding Tweets doesn’t work in the comments section. Here’s the direct link again, because it’s well worth watching…


Sep 23, 2019 10:43 AM
Reply to  RobG


La Foule plus English translation. From the fifties. I heard the true voice of La Foule again in a small French town in the 90s, but am still waiting to hear it from Paris in this century.

Sep 22, 2019 7:55 PM
Reply to  Hope

Many thanks for that, Hope; much appreciated. The way that Guardian article changed over the course of events yesterday was positively Orwellian.

Sep 23, 2019 9:38 AM
Reply to  RobG

Glad to be sharing, RobG, and thanks from me to you, for posting that link showing the uncrushable spirit of French resistance to plutocracy.
With so much of the mainstream media outright purveyors of lies and propaganda, we’re all going to have to work on establishing networks to share info.

Sep 23, 2019 5:32 PM
Reply to  Hope

Hope, methinks you’ve probably already done this, but if you click on my name you’ll be able to find out everything you probably didn’t want to know about me, including an e-mail contact.

Sep 23, 2019 10:32 AM
Reply to  RobG

Latest from Paris by one of the few journalists reporting on Les Gilets Jaunes; an Islamic Communist, Ramin Mazaheri, of Iranian PressTV:


“Smells like Liberte, Austerite, Cyanide”

Ramin also reports on the rival Soros Childrens Climate Crusade, a much bigger affair with many reporters but also receiving their “whiff of Gaz Lachrymogene”. That symptoms of some Lachrymogene victims resemble mild cyanide poisoning is not unlikely: cyanide binds to haemoglobin hence causes insufficient oxygen uptake which might resemble some of the symptoms of oxygen starvation due to difficulty in breathing tear gas.

Sep 23, 2019 5:39 PM
Reply to  vexarb

vexarb, thanks for the very interesting link. What I found notable about last Saturday was that the CRS and their agents steamed in straight away in Paris, in the morning! As far as I’m aware they’ve never done this before; despite the fact that the number of protestors is now well down on what it was during the first six months of these demonstrations (because people are now so afraid).

We live in very crazy times.

Sep 21, 2019 5:28 PM

“Propaganda, or as we now call it information warfare, is as much about influencing people’s beliefs within your own national community as it is about trying to demoralise and subvert the enemy population.” This is central to the principle of “Engineering Mass Consensus” a technique which has been employed for a long time now, however, slowly it is beginning to fail. . . .

Sep 21, 2019 5:09 PM


Sep 22, 2019 7:25 PM
Reply to  crispy

Not off topic just widening it. I like the distinction between inaction due to apathy and inaction due to stojcism.

Mike Nagel
Mike Nagel
Sep 22, 2019 10:49 PM
Reply to  Vexarb

I would like to state that I am in agreement with what Mr. Kevin has posted here. I am a trucker, and have been for four decades. In that capacity, I have the opportunity to speak on a regular basis with hundreds of different people from all economic levels and political views. For some reason they are interested in my views of current events. Perhaps it is because I am also interested in their opinions. Unfortunately, I would have to say that most folks believe what the main stream media claims. The great engine of propaganda has had many years to fine tune the black arts first displayed by Edward Bernays and Dr. Joseph Goebbels and others. But then, these matters for most folks, hold about as much interest as a report about some sporting team they do not follow. To be somewhat off topic here… I reside in Canada.… Read more »

Sep 23, 2019 7:05 AM
Reply to  Mike Nagel

Mike Nagel: “I reside in Canada. Undoubtedly anyone [everyone?] here has heard of Prime Minister Trudeau’s travails….”

Nice to see Canada still excited over the travails of Prime Minister Trudeau. When we visited Montreal in the 70s people there threatened to emigrate to Toronto if Pierre Trudeau were elected because Pierre was a French Nationalist and a tool of Communist China. Here’s to the grand children of my Canadian in-laws getting excited over foreign powers interfering in the election of a grand child of the present Pres.Trudeau.

In the forest a bird sings, O sweet Canada, Canada, Canada!