A funny pattern emerging from Russia
Russia has been engulfed in a sludge of news stories about supposed collusion with the Donald Trump presidential election campaign, none of which is holding water. In fact, the unpleasant sense is emerging that the Federal Bureau of Investigation might have cooked the fiction up as a pretext to Get Trump. It's unfortunate, because President Trump's desire for good relations with Russia was one of the better reasons for voting for him and it's obvious domestic politics is blocking that.
But beyond that, another Russia is emerging, one redolent with the winds of war, which Russia-watchers should pay attention to.
A short summary of a few recent long pieces paints a less optimistic picture, possibly due to Russia's domestic politics, Russia's own military buildup and desire to regain its former superpower status, and/or the U.S.'s and NATO's recent heavy-handed actions. I recommend four pieces worth reading:
First, Julia Ioffe's cover story in the latest issue of The Atlantic, titled "What Putin Wants." Yes, Ioffe has a left-wing bias and has been caught saying stupid things on Twitter in the past, but this was real reporting, including interviews with important people inside Russia. The magazine apparently sent her there to ask questions instead of opine, and the picture she puts together of Putin from it is fascinating. She depicts Putin not as a chess-player, but as a high-stakes gambler – one who, as elections approach, needs a fait accompli – and might try something. I've read every major Putin book out there, and this is fresh information.
Second, a must-read is Zac Dorfman's long piece in Foreign Policy called "The Secret History of the Russian Consulate in San Francisco." We've all known for years that the Green Street Gang near San Francisco's tony Union Street was up to no good, but this piece tells much more. The author interviews a long string of former intelligence officers who worked the San Francisco Russian consulate beat and probably was put together by contacting local members of the Association of Former Intelligence Officers. It really describes what the Russians have been up to and why their consulate was rather surprisingly shut down last summer. The author has some left-wing bias, but it's clear from his interviews that the Russian game has been stepped up well beyond what went on during the Cold War, and the Russians have been targeting fiber-optic cables that control communications for the entire West Coast – and possibly undersea cables that control U.S. naval activity in the Pacific. It's things you've never heard of in the press.
Third, Michael Birnbaum's long piece in the Washington Post, which is currently linked on Drudge Report, titled "Russian submarines are prowling around vital undersea cables. It's making NATO nervous." Again, the writer describes a new wave of Russian activity, this time in the north Atlantic, with submarine activity stepped up exponentially and the target undersea cables, similar to the Foreign Policy piece. He says NATO is getting nervous about this new activity, which seems to be coming again after communication lines.
The two pieces mesh interestingly because it shows a Russian obsession with Western communications. Russia's recent experiment in media, RT News (which sometimes is pretty good, regardless of its propaganda reputation), is also communications, and intelligence officials have often said its aim is to sow confusion. One wonders if that era is over now given that the bigger projects seem to be focused on fiber-optics and undersea communications cables.
Fourth, the BBC's piece, titled "Goodbye Russia: A generation packs its bags." We have known about the youth exodus from Russia for years, and the BBC hauls out a couple of old chestnuts on the dissident front: billionaire Mikhail Khodorkhovsky (who has plenty of skeletons in his closet) and the arrogant punk chicks from Pussy Riot (who desecrated a Divine Liturgy and then whined about the result). But it features other young people who aren't appalling, who have had negative experiences targeting the government and how some have had to leave the country. It paints a picture of an increasingly oppressive and unbearable Russia, which may also correspond to winds of war.
Forewarned is forearmed.