«Russian military intervention in Ukraine»: The Shadow of Think Tanks

Scale of Russian military intervention in Ukraine revealed, says report’ Headline in Guardian Newspaper, 11/03/15 (later edited)

Startling revelations in the Guardian Newspaper today helped to uncover the Government’s current domestic and foreign policy concerns.

The report in question was produced by Royal United Services Institute (RUSI), an apparently independent `think tank’ similar in many ways to the Washington `think tanks’ that have produced many enlightening reports in recent times. In case we forget the pivotal role that such think tanks and lobby groups play in shaping not only public and political party’s own perceptions and attitudes towards world events, but crucially also government policy, we should consider a couple of important examples.

`Project for New American Century’ may sound inviting but it was in fact a neo-conservative [1][2][3] think tank based in Washington, D.C. that focused on United States foreign policy. It was established as a non-profit educational organization in 1997, and the PNAC’s stated goal was «to promote American global leadership». [4] Already we can see that the primary goal was to protect American global hegemony rather than to promote the well-being of the nation. This is an important distinction to make.  To use a rather simple analogy, it is the same as saying that` this year I will make sure my car appears to be the most attractive car on the street’. Compare this with a stated goal of saying that `this year I will make sure that my car is well maintained and has optimal performance.’

So this organization advocated the view that «American leadership is good both for America and for the world,» and sought to build support for «a Reaganite policy of military strength and moral clarity».[5] Of the twenty-five people who signed the PNAC’s founding statement of principles, ten went on to serve in the administration of U.S. President George W. Bush, including Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, and Paul Wolfowitz.[6][7][8][9] Some observers have suggested that the PNAC played a key role in shaping the foreign policy of the Bush Administration, particularly in building support for the Iraq War. [10][11] The military-industrial complex has an academic face, and the individuals who stand to make millions if not billions of dollars from war and the rebuilding potential implicit in regime change know only too well how to present their ideology in a pseudo-academic context.

The next example is something of a phenomenon, not only in terms of US politics but in the wider context of international politics and relations. The relationship between US and Israel may appear to be experiencing some difficulties at present, but the influence that the pro-Israel lobby groups have had (and continue to have) on US foreign policy cannot be understated. The American Israeli Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) describes itself as «America’s Pro-Israel Lobby»,[12] and has more than 100,000 members,[13] seventeen regional offices, and «a vast pool of donors.»[14] It has been called «the most important organization affecting America’s relationship with Israel,»[15] and one of the most powerful lobbying groups in the United States.[14] The group does not raise funds for political candidates itself, but helps organize the channeling of money to candidates.[14]  There are many other formal pro-Israel lobby groups that seek to suppress any anti-Israel coverage or media content, and they influence voting behaviour as Jeffrey S. Helmreich of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs explains:

«The most important fact about the Jewish vote in America lies in the fact that it is a uniquely swayable bloc. […] The issue of support for Israel [by a candidate] has proven capable of spurring a sizable portion of Jews to switch parties—in large enough numbers to tip the scales in national or statewide elections. Moreover, the «Israel swing vote» is especially open to political courtship because, unlike the interests of other minority groups, support for Israel has long been compatible with traditional Republican and Democratic agendas. … On the other hand, being distinctively unsupportive of Israel can significantly hurt a candidate’s chances.»[16][17]

In addition to the campaign donations that are channeled to supportive individuals, there is also support for numerous influential think tanks, [18][19][20][21] media manipulation [22][23][24], college activism [25][26][27] and even, in the case of AIPAC, containing members linked to spying for Israel[28][29] .

Joining the Dots

The relationship between the think tanks and lobby groups is often complex, but in the case of the pro-Israel lobby groups we are provided with an insight into how Washington functions at a practical level. In 2002, the Brookings Institution founded the Saban Center for Middle East Policy, named after Haim Saban, an Israeli-American media proprietor, who donated $13 million toward its establishment.[30] Saban has stated of himself, “I’m a one issue guy, and my issue is Israel”,[20] and was described by the New York Times as a “tireless cheerleader for Israel.”[20] The Centre is directed by AIPAC’s former deputy director of research, Martin Indyk.

Frontline, an Indian current affairs magazine, asked rhetorically why the administration of George W Bush that seemed «so eager to please [Bush’s] Gulf allies, particularly the Saudis, go out of its way to take the side of Ariel Sharon’s Israel? Two public policy organizations give us a sense of an answer: the Washington Institute for Near East Policy (WINEP) and the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs (JINSA).» [21] Frontline reported that «WINEP tended to toe the line of whatever party came to power in Israel» while «JINSA was the U.S. offshoot of the right-wing Likud Party.» [21] According to Frontline, JINSA had close ties to the administration of George W Bush in that it «draws from the most conservative hawks in the U.S. establishment for its board of directors» [21] including Vice-President Richard Cheney, and Bush administration appointees John Bolton, Douglas Feith, Paul Wolfowitz, Lewis Libby, Zalmay Khalilzad, Richard Armitage and Elliott Abrams. Jason Vest, writing in the The Nation,[31] alleges that both the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs and the Center for Security Policy think tanks are «underwritten by far-right American Zionists» and that they both «effectively hold there is no difference between US and Israeli national security interests, and that the only way to assure continued safety and prosperity for both countries is through hegemony in the Middle East – a hegemony achieved with the traditional cold war recipe of feints, force, clientism and covert action.»

Mearsheimer and Walt state that “pro-Israel figures have established a commanding presence at the American Enterprise Institute, the Center for Security Policy, the Foreign Policy Research Institute, the Heritage Foundation, the Hudson Institute, the Institute for Foreign Policy Analysis, and the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs. These think tanks are all decidedly pro-Israel and include few, if any, critics of US support for the Jewish state.”[18]

As Philip Butler points out in his inspiring article on think tanks for RT (http://rt.com/op-edge/235327-american-think-tank-policy-people/), ` the policy forgers in America, are nothing like the rest of us.’ As he demonstrates in his article, and as we can see by looking at the examples of the pro-Israel lobby groups and neo-conservative think tanks; when such concentrated and specific interests are so disproportionately represented in a country, then the resulting policies of that country do not represent (and are in fact very likely to work against) the interests of the majority of the population. Whilst most people in US would almost certainly say that they are against further war and foreign intervention, the incomprehensibly powerful hawks are pro- war, and to be blunt they need war in order to protect and further their bank accounts and of course US hegemony and global domination in the face of perceived economic threats from a stronger China and emerging economies in the East. This would include the strategically vital partners of China including India and Russia; even if Russia is for now hampered by the sanctions engineered by US assertions.

So here we have an insight into the intoxicating mix of supportive ideology for foreign intervention in terms of supposed Western values of freedom and democracy, combined with a besieged mentality propagated since 9/11, combined also with the short-term economic benefits for the industrial-military complex and the privileged individuals with controlling interests in these corporations. In addition there is also the strategic alliance of powerful lobby groups ostensibly representing the interests of foreign allies. They need one actuality in order to sure up their foundations and ensure continued `success’, and the situation in Ukraine seems to present just such an opportunity at a safe distance.

The British Dimension

Back to the article in question, and against this background of powerful lobby groups and think tanks, and the collective influence they have on government policy, we should examine the Royal United Services Institute. They purport to be `An independent think tank engaged in cutting edge defence and security research. A unique institution, founded in 1831 by the Duke of Wellington, RUSI embodies nearly two centuries of forward thinking, free discussion and careful reflection on defence and security matters.’ They boast of  `rigorous, expert and objective analysis’ (https://www.rusi.org/about), and they have received commendations from the Queen, the current Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister, the Foreign Secretary, the Defense Secretary, the Home Secretary, Tony Blair and King of Jordan. This honorific list, including serving members of the Government at the highest level, is enough to make one question the impartiality of this think tank, especially given the UK’s support for the invasion of Iraq that was predicated on a lie, [32][33] and the UK’s current support for the Poroshenko regime in Ukraine. [34][35] If RUSI was in the least objective then David Petraeus (Senior Vice-president of RUSI) and Tony Blair would most likely have had their names removed from the list. Now compare these two FAQs (https://www.rusi.org/faqs/):

Is RUSI independent?

RUSI is an independent think tank that operates with no political affiliation. RUSI’s mission is to inform, influence and improve public debate about defence and security matters. RUSI does not receive any statutory government funding and is not a government organisation, although some government departments are corporate members of RUSI and may fund specific projects.

How is RUSI financed?

RUSI is a Registered Charity (No. 210639). It relies on membership subscriptions; income from conferences including sponsorship; research contracts; room hire; and donations from foundations and individuals for its income. RUSI receives no core funding from government.

So, the organization relies on donations and sponsorship (including UK Government departments that are corporate members of RUSI and may fund specific projects) as well as research contracts. Of course the list of donations and donors is not in the public domain. But taking Occam’s Razor as a guiding principle, and looking at this case in the most simple of dimensions, it is not difficult to deduce the identity of those behind this Government backed, Petraeus-led, Whitehall housed, UK and US foreign-policy friendly organization.

Let us turn then to the author of this report. Perhaps he is a reputable academic that abides by the stiff criteria of `rigorous, expert and objective analysis’? Well, not quite. He does have a background in Russian military matters and by popularising a report in his name no doubt RUSI sought to play upon this fact. However, he is in fact a convicted criminal. His crime is certainly relevant to this report as he was convicted of spying for US against Russia, and the US tacitly accepted this by agreeing to include him in a spy-swap. Igor Sutyagin acknowledged working with London-based firm Alternative Futures but he said that all the information about nuclear submarines he disclosed was based on material in open literature and that not having a security clearance; he never had access to classified sources.

In 2004, after a trial, a jury in Moscow unanimously found Sutyagin guilty of espionage. The jury found that Sutyagin had disclosed secret information to Defense Intelligence Agency officers Shaun Kidd and Nadya Lokk, and that Sutyagin was paid for this. The court sentenced Sutyagin to 15 years of imprisonment. [36][37][38]

So, here we have a convicted US spy guilty of treason (no possible confusion here between being a critic of the government and a traitor) writing an `objective’ analysis on the presence of Russian troops in Ukraine.  We should be mindful of another dimension to this story, and one which is instantly familiar to many readers of spy novels the world over but which also happens to be based on fact: that the US and UK cooperated closely and worked together against the interests of the USSR in areas of defense and intelligence during the Cold War [39][40] . Some twenty-five years later a man whose espionage activities were very much a product of this co-operation has penned a report that is being used to validate the fiery anti-Russian rhetoric of those in power; speech and actions which are quickly leading UK into a new Cold War.

As for the report itself, it certainly falls short of the esteemed principles of rigorous and expert analysis. The author begins by parroting the claims of NATO leaders that there are Russian troops in Eastern Ukraine, and then goes on to list battalions and groups that he asserts are in Ukraine. His prove is the same as all the politicians of the West, their analysts and their media supporters: he has none. Sutyagin uses the names of the battalions and lists them as if their presence in Ukraine has been proved. Of course there is no such proof and yet in doing so he is deliberately producing a fanciful and misleading report in much the same way as the Iraqi defector Rafid Ahmed Alwan al-Janabi lied about WMDs in Iraq. [41] Sutyagin claims there were as many as 9,000 troops in Ukraine by the end of February, and he spends the rest of the article musing on whether such levels of deployment are sustainable or what might be done with `unwitting conscripts’. The conclusion is completely baffling to anyone reading to find objective proof of Russian troops in Ukraine:


There is evidence of Russian troops present in eastern Ukraine – not only in a command role and to operate advanced equipment, but as coherent fighting formations too. Those forces deployed to Ukraine, on or near the border, and in Crimea represent a serious and direct threat to Ukraine. That is due to the numbers of these Russian forces, which nearly matches that of all of Kiev’s available combat forces. Further, rebel forces more or less under Russian control number half the total of Russian troops. Hence, Kiev cannot generate or count on numerical superiority.


Surely the conclusion should not be based on an introductory statement that is then not supported in any way by the body of the report? Also it is worth noting that the language used throughout the report is unclear and given that there are no facts to support the assertions made, it appears deliberately so (https://www.rusi.org/downloads/assets/201503_BP_Russian_Forces_in_Ukraine_FINAL.pdf).


In conclusion then, this convicted traitor exiled from Russia has listed some battalions and regiments in the Russian army and asserted that Russia is directly involved in the fighting in Eastern Ukraine. This is flawed logic as there is no proof supplied to place these soldiers in Ukraine. He even takes the time to ponder over Russia’s ability to sustain this fighting. Sutyagin’s report could be dismissed as another anti-Putin, anti-Russia voice in a cacophony of hysterical cries of `Wolf!’ from the West. It could be dismissed in such a way were it not for the fact that this report is effectively endorsed by Her Majesty the Queen, Prime Minister, Deputy Prime Minister, Leader of the Opposition, Home Secretary, Foreign Secretary, and many other high ranking cabinet members (and David Petraeus).


Such weight does this single spurious report, from an author who is anything but objective, hold that it leads to the headline given in the title. This headline was not found in the Daily Mail or The Star but rather in the Guardian (Winner of the Pulitzer Prize), a mainstream newspaper that is highly regarded and has a large readership both in print and on the internet. [42]


Once newspapers such as the Guardian are willing to routinely write headlines similar to the ones usually reserved for the `less academic’ papers, then from the government’s perspective their mission to turn the media against Russia will be complete.


But why is there constant pressure in the British media against President Putin and Russia? Why are the UK Government so steadfast in their support of the Kiev regime, even when there is blatant and frequent evidence of Nazism within their ranks, [43] chaos in their government, [44] economic collapse [45], and over 6,000 dead bodies to account for? [46] To answer this question we must look at the situation from a holistic perspective and not look for quick answers or revert to conspiracy theories.


If we accept the premise that the US government does not represent the interests of the majority of the population, then the key issue here is foreign policy. Whilst there are always those with money and influence and those without in every country, those in powerful and influential positions in US (seats in think tanks, company directors and chairpersons, academic tenures, places in the Senate and Congress) who stand to benefit from war and disorder, the huge corporations that channel finance to election campaigns, the special interest lobby groups that can decide elections, the hawkish organisations that exert real influence on foreign policy: these people and the policies they create are not representative of the interests of US. This is why there is support in US Government for the Kiev government despite its ineptitude and falsities (remember previous proofs offered for Russian troops in Ukraine?). [47][48]


In terms of foreign policy, UK is a scaled down and reactionary model based on the US. UK has backed US in every major conflict for decades, and as US seeks to strengthen its global hegemony, the UK seeks to vicariously benefit from their close relationship with the dominant world power. The UK government backs the US foreign policy in Ukraine at the cost of thousands of lives, a new Cold War, and the increasing likelihood of global conflict. They speak of Russian aggression and compare Putin to Hitler, [49] yet when the US floods the Baltic States with arms whilst already holding strategic military bases throughout Europe and indeed the entire world, this is seen as a pragmatic step to ensure NATO security. [50 ][51][52][53][54][55][56][57]Here we are getting to the crux of the problem, and the escalation of an arms race that was most evident in the last Cold War, the one that came very close to ending human life on earth.[58][59][60]

 Perhaps most telling are the headlines from the last few days regarding military expenditure. A BBC headline read: `US diplomat warns Europe of `dangerous’ defence spending cuts’. [61] This includes the UK as the US has made very clear. [62] Currently there is talk of all EU member states finding ways to ensure the minimum 2% budget expenditure on the military, and this does not include free equipment or US military presence. [63][64] The UK Government then follows the foreign policies of US like pet dogs sitting at the master’s table hoping for scraps, whilst the US government itself has foreign policy prescribed by those who see war and chaos as a means to an end, those who hold US global dominance and hegemony  above all else.


Their aims are simply incompatible with harmony and peace. Whilst the media dutifully prints unverified and presumptive articles to convince the public that their government is right in supporting the Kiev regime and their fascist armies, they portray Russians and all things `Russian’ in a negative light [65][66][67] just as Germans were portrayed as sub-human in WWII . [68][69] Cameron is facing a tough election this year and it would be even tougher if his opposite number were not equally inept. [70][71][72] Still, for Cameron and his government to have such an archetypal nemesis as Putin (dressed as he is by the media and UK government rhetoric in Stalin’s clothes and Hitler’s own boots) is a potential Godsend. A country never rallies around its leaders as closely as during times of common cause against an aggressive dictator. [73][74][75]


Meanwhile, Putin remains in command of the world’s second most powerful military, concentrated in Russia. [76][77] The NATO allies of the US are being urged to take part in an arms race and create a united front against Russia. By placing pressure on EU and NATO allies to militarise, the US is seeking to ensure that should Russia be forced into combating US provocations and the Ukraine conflict were to escalate, then US losses would be minimised and NATO assured of victory. Make no mistake, the EU allies would suffer the most as their armies would be called upon to engage directly with Russia, whilst the US military-industrial complex would profit from the proceedings with very little risk of US civilian casualties.


This all presupposes that the war would be a conventional one, based on the idea of mutually assured destruction (MAD). [78][79] Yet this was never an exact science in the Cold War, for all the permutations and game theory that can be applied, it must not be forgotten that this really is a very dangerous strategy for the US Government to pursue. Not to mention the moral and ethical implications of deliberately instigating such a bloody crisis for their own gain.


The situation is bleak not least because the current slide towards Cold War is met with a dispassionate and dissociative level of apathy in the West. The average person is jaded by media saturation reporting on conflicts and especially US interventionism that has seen continuous US military engagement since the Iraq invasion of 2003, since which time the Middle East and North Africa have been gradually turning into a kill zone.  Some no doubt agonise over how their government (which was perceived by previous generations as defenders of the nation) could in fact have become a tool in the hands of people who care nothing for human life but only for profit. The faults of the financial sector have been laid bare very publically with increased media coverage and a recent global market crash that emanated from the US. Most are resigned to taking what they can from a materialistic and capricious system, punctuated by the fleeting pursuit of entertainment whilst any guiding principles have long since vanished. They understand somewhere in their psyche that their government is not `good’ in the sense of morality, truth, or trust, but they reason that figures such as Putin (if not Russians in general) must be worse and present a greater danger to world peace. `After all, they took over Crimea by force, they shot down that plane, and they are invading Ukraine, aren’t they? Let’s turn on Fox news to check’…or read the headlines of the Daily Mail over breakfast in UK, maybe even the Guardian as they take the Tube to their office where they will work for a faceless corporation in a mind-numbingly repetitive and unfulfilling role, where their colleagues will recite what they have been fed by the media if current affairs are mentioned, but mostly hour after hour is spent chatting about trivialities, all so they can pay the bills and save for the latest technological device with its implicit promise of friendships and popularity; until the weekend when they drink themselves into oblivion and experience the euphoria of a temporary relief from mental and physical servitude. Until it is Monday again, and maybe ICBMs will be flying overhead this time, but, well, what could I have done?

Nik Nak (Compiled from open-source online media but composed, opined and edited by Nik Nak)


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