More Storm Clouds over Ukraine
Putin speaks; People’s Daily series continues
Russian policy surrounding Ukraine does not seem headed in a positive direction, as Putin conducted an anti-satellite missile test and Lavrov released confidential diplomatic communications with France and Germany.
If Putin does intend to escalate in Ukraine, Belarus, or both, three key variables could influence his near-term calculations: Russia’s domestic COVID troubles, natural gas markets, and Orthodox Christmas. Russia’s COVID hospitalizations are leading to lockdowns, curtailing economic activity, and constraining Putin’s ability to escalate abroad. Putin may enjoy a freer hand later in the winter, however, assuming that Russia achieves sufficient levels of population immunity. On the other hand, European energy markets could incentivize Putin to move quickly, as his near-term energy/economic leverage over Europe will likely peak during the cold winter months, when natural gas demand is at its highest. Putin may hope that European states will limit or at least slow-walk sanctions until their energy supplies are more secure. Finally, Orthodox Christmas (Jan 7, 2022) is a major cultural event in Russia, Ukraine, and Belarus, and Putin may seek to avoid fighting around the holiday. Dangers surrounding Ukraine may therefore peak around mid-January, although Putin could escalate sooner, later, or not at all.
Last week, The Report wrote about how an odd, out-of-place article in the People’s Daily appeared to signal support for Putin in Ukraine. Well, the People’s Daily has now published eight articles attempting to discredit the US security community. The PD’s campaign could just happen to coincide with rising Western-Russia tensions over Ukraine. More likely, however, the People’s Daily is seeking to shape the informational, political, and perhaps even military battlespace prior to any confrontation. From last week’s Report:
First, the PD’s [Gulf of Tonkin] article is a deniable, nearly costless way for the PRC to signal support for Putin without committing Beijing to any specific action. Second, by suggesting support for Putin’s actions, Beijing may be hinting at some degree of coordination with Moscow, forcing Washington to divert military and political resources to the Indo-Pacific and degrading NATO’s ability to respond to Russian aggression. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, the article likely intends to influence discourse in security bureaucracies and policymaking processes, particularly in Europe. By preemptively undercutting US narrative reliability on military matters, the PRC may be attempting to undermine NATO/EU unity and sway opinion in third-party countries, should a confrontation or conflict occur. The article may intend to inject additional doubt and uncertainty in the first few hours and days of any confrontation or conflict, buying authoritarian forces precious time should a military incident in Europe AND/OR the Indo-Pacific occur in the coming weeks.
The PRC has still not apparently committed itself to any course of action, however, and during the crisis of 2014/2015 it largely complied with Western sanctions against Putin and his clique. The CCP may be willing to fight to the last Russian, but it may not be eager to offer material support to Putin during a confrontation or conflict.
Finally, Carnegie Moscow’s Alexander Gabuev dropped a bombshell today in the Financial Times, claiming that Moscow and Beijing are close to inking a Power of Siberia 2 natural gas pipeline agreement. The article is worth your time. I remain extremely skeptical that the two sides will agree to a new pipeline agreement: PoS 1 didn’t appear to create economic value for either side; the economics of PoS 2 are likely *much* more unfavorable amid rapid energy technology changes and PoS 2 could be obsolete in a decade or two; and, finally, there are few, if any, environmental benefits to switching from Inner Mongolian coal to Yamal natural gas, as Russian natural gas is extremely methane-intensive.
Table of Contents:
Putin Speaks to Foreign Ministry
The People’s Daily's Information Campaign
China-Russia and Europe
Pipeline of Siberia 2 back on?
1. Storm Clouds
Comment: RAND’s Samuel Charap makes the point that “the Kremlin could likely have postponed this [test] and chose not to do so.”
The publication of letters between Russia’s foreign minister and the top diplomats of France and Germany has debunked Western claims that Russia had declined to cooperate for a Normandy Format meeting on Ukraine, Russian Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said on Thursday.
In an October 29 message to French and German foreign ministers, Lavrov emphasized the importance of continued mediation efforts as part of the Normandy Format but said a potential ministerial meeting "should be well prepared," including the development of a joint statement "with specific recommendations" for Ukraine and the self-proclaimed republics as the parties to the conflict. The Russian foreign minister sent a Russian proposal for the statement to his counterparts and suggested that the time and place for the talks could be set following a discussion of the document.
2. Putin Speaks to Foreign Ministry
Putin: I have two points to make. First, it is important for them to remain in this state [Comment: of elevated tensions] for as long as possible, so that it does not occur to them to stage some kind of conflict on our western borders which we do not need, we do not need a new conflict. Second, Mr Lavrov, it is imperative to push for serious long-term guarantees that ensure Russia’s security in this area, because Russia cannot constantly be thinking about what could happen there tomorrow.
Clearly, and I can see this despite the fact that many people are wearing face masks, but I can tell by their eyes that there are sceptical smiles with regard to whether we can count on and hope for serious agreements in this area, keeping in mind that, after all, we are dealing with, to put it mildly, not very reliable partners who can easily backtrack on any previous agreement. Nevertheless, as difficult as it may be, we need to work on this, and I want you to keep that in mind.
Comment: Unclear what “long-term guarantees” Putin is seeking. Also, according to his own comments above, many in the Russian foreign policy community wouldn’t find those guarantees reliable.
It is also impossible to ignore that Western countries are using the migration crisis on Belarus-Poland border as a new reason for tension in a region close to us, for putting pressure on Minsk, while at the same time forgetting their own humanitarian commitments. Just look how the Polish security forces are behaving at the border – you can watch it on the internet or on television. The first thing that comes to mind is those poor children, there are small children there. And they are shooting water and tear gas at the crowd, throwing grenades. At night, helicopters fly along the border, sirens are howling.
We have repeatedly noted the centre of gravity of the world’s politics and economy steadily shift from the Euro-Atlantic to the Asia-Pacific. So, we should continue vigorously developing relations with the states of the Asia-Pacific Region, being guided by our ambitious initiative to create the Greater Eurasian Partnership as a common, broad and open space of security, mutually beneficial economic and humanitarian cooperation.
We will continue strengthening ties with our good neighbours and friends in the People’s Republic of China. Our bilateral ties have now reached the highest level in history and amount to a comprehensive strategic partnership. It is possible to say that they are a model for effective interstate cooperation in the 21st century.
Naturally, this is not to the liking of everyone. Some of our Western partners are openly trying to drive a wedge between Moscow and Beijing. We are well aware of this. Together with our Chinese friends, we will continue responding to such attempts by expanding our political, economic and other cooperation, and coordinating steps in the world arena.
Russia has a similar approach in relations with India, our specially privileged strategic partner. We intend to build up our truly multifaceted bilateral cooperation. We regard India as an independent, strong centre of the multipolar world. We have a similar foreign policy philosophy and priorities.
3. The People’s Daily Fall Information Campaign
During the Cold War, the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) launched its Operation Mockingbird, which aimed to collect intelligence by bribing journalists and institutions around the world and affecting public opinion by manipulating news media.
Carl Bernstein, a famous American investigative journalist who unveiled the scandal in 1977, said that according to the plan, the CIA recruited journalists that were put on a payroll by the CIA and instructed to write "fake stories". The CIA admitted that at least 400 journalists and 25 large organizations around the world had secretly carried out assignments for the agency.
To this day, the CIA still attempts to monitor and manipulate public opinion through this despicable practice. The so-called truth that underpins a news story, from the perspective of the U.S. government, is not worth mentioning at all, with news media just being used as a tool to safeguard the country’s hegemony in the world.
Operation Northwoods was exposed in 1997, a covert U.S. military scheme whose core content included draft plans to carry out a series of false flag "terrorist attacks" against its own military forces and civilian population, which would be used to frame the Cuban government, thus laying the groundwork for the eventual U.S. invasion of Cuba.
The plans devised for Operation Northwoods included hijacking and shooting down American planes, blowing up American ships and planning violent terrorist-like activities in American cities. Fortunately, none of these devious plans were approved and carried out.
In order to maintain its hegemony, the U.S. has not hesitated to formulate "terrorist attack" plans to be orchestrated against itself so as to win the national support needed to wage war against targeted foreign countries. Perhaps only an American government could cook up such "ruthless" and extreme ideas.
In October 1990, US intelligence agencies fabricated the “baby incubator” story, which incited anger among US citizens and eventually led to the aggravation of the Gulf War.
Clearly, the “baby incubator” story was nothing but a farcical show staged by US politicians and US mainstream media. The real intention and machinations of the powers that be in the US were to take aim at achieving their own political ends by stirring up public sentiment through the direct manipulation of public opinion.
Comment: The People’s Daily began listing these articles in sequence on the 12th under a “related” hyperlink.
In 1993, the U.S. government launched its notorious Yinhe Incident -- it claimed that there was "conclusive evidence" indicating that the China-based container ship named Yinhe was carrying "chemical weapons materials" destined for Iran.
... However, the U.S. still relentlessly pushed its claims that its intelligence was absolutely accurate and insisted on inspecting the Yinhe. A joint investigation involving a third party finally concluded that there were no chemical weapons materials onboard the Yinhe.
Failing to obtain the results of the investigation it wanted, the U.S. eventually stated that it had acted in good faith on intelligence from a number of sources, all of which proved to be wrong.
After the 9/11 terror attacks in 2001, the United States Department of Defense (DOD) set up its Office of Strategic Influence, a department responsible for promoting propaganda overseas, spreading disinformation and encouraging a whitewashing of the so-called U.S.-led “War on Terror.”
The office passed along information to foreign news media organizations via third parties with ties to the Pentagon that were not outwardly apparent, having sent out e-mail messages to foreign journalists and leaders that promoted American viewpoints or attacked unfriendly foreign governments.
Soon thereafter, American media outlets revealed that the Pentagon had disseminated false information overseas via these channels, including to both its allies and hostile foreign countries.
On May 1, 2005, British newspaper the Sunday Times published the “Downing Street memo,” a secret document about an internal meeting of the British government, which revealed the inside story on how the U.S.-led Iraq War broke out.
According to an article published by the New York Times in 2013, the outbreak of the Iraq War “was a deliberate misrepresentation.” “There is no better evidence of that than the 10 Downing Street memo,” the article stated. “As it turned out, Saddam Hussein had no weapons of mass destruction, nor was he involved with 9/11.”
However, the U.S. still went ahead and launched the Iraq War anyhow based on the fabricated lies that Saddam Hussein’s regime had possessed weapons of mass destruction, even though there was in fact no convincing evidence to back up this accusatory claim.
Hard facts have revealed that America’s intention in seeking worldwide hegemony by means of war is based on nothing more than the fabrication of lies.
In 2003, the US launched its second war against Iraq on the pretext that the latter was in possession of “weapons of mass destruction” and was secretly aiding and abetting terrorist groups.
On Feb. 5, 2003, in a notorious UN Security Council meeting on Iraq, then US Secretary of State Colin Powell presented a test tube containing white powder, claiming that it was somehow evidence corroborating that Iraq was developing chemical weapons.
In 2014, Russian President Vladimir Putin said that it (the white powder) would have been washing powder. [Bolded by The Report]
"I'm the one who presented it on behalf of the United States to the world, and it will always be a part of my record. It was painful. It's painful now,” Powell later said in an interview with a US media outlet.
Based on the unfounded charges thrown at the Middle Eastern country, the US, together with its allies, went on to invade Iraq without receiving the authorization of the UN. The unprovoked war plunged Iraq into a state of chaos and reportedly led to around 200,000 to 250,000 civilian deaths.
The US is guilty of confounding white with black and making ill-founded accusations against Iraq, behavior that has exposed the evil nature of American intentions. Such reprehensible conduct by the Americans has not only destroyed the lives of innocent people, but has also revealed that the export of US-style “human rights,” which serve the interests of the US and the US only, have become the laughing stock of the international community of nations.
4. China-Russia and Europe
The European Commission issued a report on the economic forecast for the fall of 2021 on the 11th, stating that the EU economy is recovering from COVID faster than expected, but the uncertainty and risk of economic growth prospects are still high.
The Foreign Security Commissioner of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Cheng Guoping Meets with Russian Ambassador to China Denisov – Foreign Ministry of the People’s Republic of China [Chinese-language]
On November 10, 2021, the Foreign Security Commissioner of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Cheng Guoping met with Russian Ambassador to China Denisov and exchanged in-depth views on Sino-Russian relations, bilateral anti-terrorism security cooperation, and related international and regional issues.
Cheng Guoping said that the current China-Russia comprehensive strategic partnership of cooperation in the new era is at the best period in history and continues to move to a higher level. Dialogue, exchanges and cooperation in various fields have achieved fruitful results. China is willing to work with Russia to fully implement the important consensus of the two heads of state, deepen strategic communication and pragmatic cooperation in areas such as counter-terrorism and security, and closely coordinate and cooperate in international and regional affairs to jointly maintain world peace and stability.
Denisov said that high-level exchanges between Russia and China are frequent. The two heads of state have held video meetings or phone calls many times this year, providing strategic guidance for the strategic cooperation and all-round cooperation between the two sides. Russia is willing to maintain high-level and all-level exchanges with China, deepen coordination and cooperation in areas such as counter-terrorism and security, and work together to respond to regional and global security challenges.
Hearing the news of Ou Fuqin's [editor’s note: Vsevolod Ovchinnikov] death, I felt very sad. He is an old friend of the Chinese people, a well-known Russian journalist, and a well-known sinologist. He has devoted his life to enhancing mutual understanding between the two peoples and promoting the development of friendship between the two countries. I got acquainted with Ou Fuqin during the selection of the Russian News Reporting Awards for the "Year of China" in Russia.
Comment: Ovchinnikov left China in 1962, before the Cultural Revolution. He returned many years later.
Vladimir Putin sent condolences to the family and friends of Vsevolod Ovchinnikov on his passing.
The message reads, in part: “Vsevolod Ovchinnikov, a man of brilliant and multi-faceted talent and a real legend of Russian international journalism and Oriental studies, has passed away. His demise is an irreparable loss for his family, colleagues, and the entire professional community. However, Vsevolod Ovchinnikov’s rich creative legacy will remain with us forever, as will his cherished memory.” Vsevolod Ovchinnikov died on August 30 aged 94.
Comment: Former KGB officer? Also, why did the People’s Daily publish its article almost three months after Ovchinnikov passed away?
5. Pipeline of Siberia 2 back on?
Comment: Explosive claim that Gazprom may finalize the PoS 2 by early next year.
A meeting of the joint working group of Gazprom and the Government of Mongolia on the implementation of the Memorandum of Understanding regarding the project for pipeline gas supplies from Russia to China across Mongolia took place today in Ulan-Bator, Mongolia.
The parties discussed the progress of the feasibility study for the Soyuz Vostok gas pipeline project and heard a briefing on its preliminary results. It was noted that the Government of Mongolia has already taken a number of measures to provide the project with state support. These include quotas for the hiring of foreign labor by the Gazoprovod Soyuz Vostok special-purpose vehicle, as well as the possibilities of using the regulatory frameworks of Russia and Gazprom during design and construction. In addition, the Mongolian Government has made a decision in principle to reserve land plots for the facilities of the gas pipeline.
The China-Russia Report is an independent, nonpartisan newsletter covering political, economic, and security affairs within and between China and Russia. All articles, comments, op-eds, etc represent only the personal opinion of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the position(s) of The China-Russia Report.