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Russia's strategy of cognitive dissonance & what will Putin & NATO do next? - with Shmuel Bar

This is a rough transcript of our podcast episode from April 8th 2022 with Shmuel Bar

What is surprising about the Russian aggression toward Ukraine?

The rationality of Putin. Just because he did something we didn’t expect doesn’t mean he’s irrational. That’s an easy way out for our predictions that ended up being wrong. We don't know what the dataset Putin got was.

Is it possible Putin didn’t have contingency plans for partial or total failure?

It’s about the Russian doctrine of power and success. He received reports from the FSB that this is going to be an Anschluss. He was told that 85% of the Ukrainians are just waiting to reunite with mother Russia. So the price was going to be minimal. The Ukrainians want him. Sanctions will be limited because once it's over, the whole world will retreat. Had we known that the intelligence picture he was receiving was so radically different from reality, we would have said it was a win-win situation. Also, Biden appeared many times and in each appearance said “we will not fight Russia, we will not send forces to Ukraine. We will defend the borders of NATO”. So they needed to move fast in case Ukraine becomes part of NATO. So this combination put a timeframe on Putin's activities and decision-making.

Did the Russian intelligence community really get it wrong or did they try to please Putin with their assessment?

This is the mentality of autocratic regimes and the mindset of the soviet era. You juggle two world views at the same time. It's a problem of cognitive dissonance.

What will be the biggest challenge now for Ukraine and the Western allies?

They realise they are stuck. They’re looking for a way to have a tactical cease-fire. With maintaining the level of fighting so you can always restart the conflict at will when you feel you have the capability. The Russian reserve system, which they revamped in 2021 is broken. The system is based on filling up the regular units and most of the reserves they can call up have never been trained.

The Russian army knows that they cannot ammas the type of forces, and meanwhile the Ukraine army will reorganise. So they want a ceasefire. But for that, you need some level of constant conflict. A war of attrition in which at one point the Ukrainian army will need supplies from the frontline states (Poland, Slovakia,..), Russia has said that this will be considered aggression against Russia. What happens if the Ukrainian military or resistance goes back and forth through Moldova and Poland and the other border states? Will Russia ignore them or wage war on the borders of those countries? What will NATO do? What triggers Article 5? Does anything? What will its worth be for countries in Europe if NATO doesn’t react? What will happen?

Is there development in the Ukrainian public opinion? Greater resilience or exhaustion?

These are the code names for Russia: European Russians are called Orcs, like from Lord of the Rings, and all those from Asian Russia are called Borats, from the movie Borat. Their animosity is so great and what we don't see is an erosion of the Ukrainian resistance sentiment. They feel the pain dearly but they feel they are standing up to and defeating an empire. Which is something very powerful.

Think: What did people feel in the Spring of Prague? You take that and amplify it. The level of sacrifice is a factor that amplifies satisfaction. It's human nature.

What are the unlikely developments? What is inevitable?

There was no effort to deter Russia by the United States, that must be said. He wants to invade Ukraine because he wants to be Vladimir the Great, and reunify Russia, that's the benefit, the cost was going to be sanctions because Putin is not threatening Biden with military actions. There was no attempt to deter. Biden at a press conference said “we didn't try to deter Putin” - we wanted to tell him there will be a price for his actions. So now all the countries under the umbrella of the USA, like Middle East countries, think: “well certainly they won't come to protect us against Iran”. Secondly, they’ll think: “the Ukrainians gave up nuclear weapons, that's why this could happen! We also have to acquire Nuclear weapons. Look at North Korea, the Americans are a paper tiger.” Putin also wants to prove the US is a paper tiger.

What can we expect?

We can expect a destabilisation of the non-proliferation regime and further weakening of the expectation that the United States or NATO will intervene. This will exacerbate and escalate the moment we have a situation where Russia does attack a NATO country. The moment that happens, the entire myth that NATO countries will protect themselves will fall apart.

One possibility is a disintegration of NATO into sub-NATO countries. To face a situation with separate agreements with NATO. He will feel the waters on the borders - “how far can I go without precipitating a conflict with NATO? The further I can go, the further I prove that NATO is a paper tiger.” (Putin)

In the long run, we are seeing the de-Europisation of Russia, the disintegration of NATO deterrents, further decline or fading of the USA's role in defense of other countries, and the image of the US as a deterrent.

There are a lot of structural conditions that point to a strong possibility that there will be further decoupling and deglobalisation. Will there be a breaking point?

It's a mistake to equate China-West relations with Russia-China relations. Most Russians don't purchase western goods, they don't have the money for it. China lives off its export in enormous amounts of areas to the west. Globalisation is the essence of the existence of the Chinese economy. Certainly, they're not going to risk their economy and well-being for Russia. They’ve leaked public opinion polls that 85% of the Chinese think that Russia poses the greatest security threat to China, not America.

China has seen how quick it was to isolate large parts of the Russian economy. China doesn’t really have the ability to adapt anything more than slight modifications in their economy - they don't have many margins to do that. If they stop exporting to the west, they stop that track of money. Globalisation is a two-way street.

Russia is different because Putin actually wants to return Russia to an isolationist approach to the world.

What are the 3 things to watch in the next few weeks in the conflict between Russia and Ukraine?

1. Use of chemical weapons by Russia won’t make any difference to NATO - it didn’t in Syria.

2. The Russians won't use a tactical nuclear weapon at this stage. They want to maintain a tactical war of attrition. Nuclear Weapons are not the sort of things you’d use in that.

3. Putin wants to reach some sort of victory by the 9th of May. The question is what can constitute a victory? - Maybe a Russian defeat of Donbas - a mass leveling of Ukrainian cities at a much greater level than now, which can precipitate a reaction of other countries to give some air defense to Ukraine, and intercept Russian aircraft from neighboring countries.

4. Another possibility for a shift, would be a situation in Moscow where somebody will suggest to Putin to change course, and instability in the Kremlin would have a lot of impacts. But destabilization within the Kremlin will pressure Putin to take more drastic action, to achieve victory at any cost. That is where tactical nuclear weapons will come in. The US will have to raise the nuclear alert.

Additional reflections from Shmuel

Just some afterthoughts

The voices coming out of Putin’s puppets and parrots in the Kremlin are disconcerting to say the least. Things like “a final solution to the Ukraine problem”.. A post by Alexander Dugin (a "strategic philosopher" and devotee of Putin who is considered close to him)… "Ukraine is not a subject, but an object, where the Zelensky regime is not an actor, but a tool.

Therefore, it is necessary to take into account the intentions of the enemy and use the period of the military phase of the operation to continue the methodical destruction of the military infrastructure of Ukraine, and taking into account NATO’s course of prolonging the conflict, it is advisable to consider moving on to the destruction of industrial facilities in the territories of Ukraine that lie outside our interests, especially paying attention to those objects that Ukraine, for obvious reasons, will not be able to restore. Later, such a convenient opportunity to complete the deindustrialization of Ukraine may not present itself."

Or Timofey Sergeytsev:

"Denazification can only be carried out by the winner, which implies (1) his absolute control over the denazification process and (2) the power to ensure such control. In this respect, a de-Nazified country cannot be sovereign. The de-Nazifying state - Russia - cannot proceed from a liberal approach regarding denazification. The ideology of the de-Nazifier cannot be disputed by the guilty party subjected to denazification. ...The terms of denazification can in no way be less than one generation, which must be born, grow up and reach maturity under the conditions of denazification. The Nazification of Ukraine continued for more than 30 years, beginning at least in 1989 when Ukrainian nationalism received legal and legitimate forms of political expression and led the movement for "independence" towards Nazism."

And with the reactions of the West - we are somewhere in 1938…

And also…

If you wanted to really understand why we can't reach a peace agreement with the Palestinians (Abu Mazen & co), his "condemnation" of the attack in Tel Aviv last night was as follows:

Ramallah, 4/8-2022 WAFA - The President of the State of Palestine, Mahmoud Abbas, expressed his condemnation of the killing of Israeli civilians yesterday evening, Thursday, in a shooting operation in the centre of Tel Aviv, and stressed that the killing of Palestinian and Israeli civilians only leads to a further deterioration of the situation, as we seek We all aim to achieve stability, especially during the holy month of Ramadan and the upcoming Christian and Jewish holidays. President Abbas stressed the danger of the continuation of the repeated incursions into Al-Aqsa Mosque and the provocative actions of extremist settlers everywhere. President Abbas warned against exploiting this condemned incident to carry out attacks and reactions against our Palestinian people by settlers and others. His Excellency pointed out that the cycle of violence confirms that permanent, comprehensive and just peace is the shortest and correct way to provide security and stability for the Palestinian and Israeli peoples and the peoples of the region.

In other words - it is not a terrorist attack but a "shooting operation" (in Arabic it has a positive connotation as a heroic "military" operation)... and Mahmoud Abbas' own Fatah praised the attack...

We should have chosen our enemies better - Swiss or Swedes...

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