Putin’s Balkan Offensive

On the weekend, the leader of Bosnia’s Serb Republic threatened secession if he did not get reforms, proposing to hold a referendum on leaving the country if his demands are not met by the end of 2017. Milorad Dodik, who has ruled over the Bosnian Serbs, on and off, for most of the twenty years since the United States forced a peace settlement to end Bosnia’s 1992-1995 war, has toyed with secession before, but his weekend announcement represents the most direct threat ever to the country’s postwar political system.

In fairness to Dodik and the Bosnian Serbs, almost nobody in Bosnia is happy with the current system, which when it was hashed out in Dayton, Ohio in the autumn of 1995, under Clinton administration pressure, was never intended to be more than a temporary political solution to Bosnia’s political conflicts, yet here we are two decades later, and that short-term solution has become a seriously flawed, long-lasting one.

Dayton Bosnia is a deeply dysfunctional polity, with a weak, state-level government in Sarajevo plus two “entity” governments: the Serb Republic in Banja Luka and the Muslim-Croat Federation, also in Sarajevo. Its defects are too many to list briefly but boil down to a decrepit economy that never recovered from the war two decades ago, staggeringly high unemployment (officially it approaches fifty percent, but that is an underestimate), plus corruption so pervasive that it cannot be rooted out without cashiering the country’s whole political class, regardless of party or ethnicity (Dodik himself being one of the country’s biggest pols-on-the-take). Anybody who can escape Bosnia does so, leaving the country of four million with a declining population and a serious brain-drain.

Poor and corrupt, the Serb Republic isn’t a viable place, but neither is the whole country, and nobody knows what to do about it. The Dayton Accords created an impoverished ward of the European Union that nobody knows what to do with, yet which festers with crime, corruption, and extremism. And it’s not only the Serbs who want out: Croats, too, are deeply dissatisfied with the Dayton arrangement, which left them without an entity of their own, but unhappy Bosnian Croats can at least escape easily to neighboring Croatia, which distributes its EU passports to any fellow Croats who want them.

The root of Bosnia’s turmoil is not difficult to grasp in its essentials, though the diplo-dialect used by Eurocrats and American overseers buries it under lots of legalese and Balkan jargon that is impenetrable to outsiders. Bosnian Muslims want a more centrally controlled state, which they as the country’s largest ethnic group will dominate, while the Serbs want more autonomy for their entity and have no desire to live in a Muslim-dominated Bosnia. This is the exact same dispute that Bosnia collapsed into war over back in 1992: nothing has changed except a hundred thousand people got killed and a beautiful country got wrecked.

To be fair to the Serbs, there has been anger and confusion over recognition of an independent Kosovo by most of NATO and the EU, including the United States, after that former Serbian province formally separated itself from Belgrade in 2008, nearly a decade after NATO went to war on its behalf. Nobody in Brussels or Washington, DC, has been able to plausibly explain why Serbia’s borders can be redrawn but Bosnia’s cannot.

For NATO and the EU, Bosnia’s territorial integrity has been sacrosanct, even though partition, as with Kosovo, represents the obvious long-term solution to a problem that nobody really has any other fixes for. Yet, as the Germans, Austrians, and Hungarians learned after World War One, when the Americans push “national self-determination” they mean it for some people, and not for others. Unsurprisingly, Bosnia’s Serbs have pushed back against this American and EU double standard for two decades, to no avail, and Dodik’s exasperation reached its breaking point on the weekend.

Banja Luka has hardly been its own best ally in its campaign to get more power for Bosnia’s Serbs, with their nationalist antics alienating even their friends at times, yet it should be noted that the Muslims have shown little willingness to even discuss Dodik’s demands. That is functionally impossible, since much of Sarajevo’s elite, to include the Muslim clerical establishment, has demonized the Serbs with constant charges of genocide during the 1992-95 war — notwithstanding that such claims are at best a partial truth about that ugly conflict — and who, after all, can be expected to parley with such monsters? This peculiar version of “Holocaust theology” among Bosnia’s Muslims does not bode well for reconciliation and harmony. Total political paralysis has been the logical outcome.

Although it needs to be made clear that Bosnians of all stripes are primarily responsible for their country’s dismal situation, thanks to their seemingly intractable inability to get along, the West bears ample blame for Bosnia’s deep dysfunction, and not merely for creating the Dayton situation. As in Afghanistan, throwing billions of dollars in reconstruction funds, while not watching closely where it goes, led to NATO being the cash-cow for Bosnian organized crime and corruption.

Above all, the existence of the Serb Republic today is due to American intervention, a strange case of Balkan blowback. In early August 1995, the Croatian military unleashed its victory offensive, Operation STORM, to regain the territory it lost to Serb rebels in 1991. Still the largest European military operation since 1945, STORM rapidly crushed the Serbs and, with American go-ahead, Zagreb continued Croatia’s march into Bosnia, with the help of Bosnian Croat and Muslim forces. Two months of offensives followed, backed by NATO airpower, the Atlantic Alliance’s first-ever military operation, and by early October the Croats were at the gates of Banja Luka, having taken the heights of Manjača, a strategic mountain fifteen miles south of the Bosnian Serb capital.

The complete defeat of the Bosnian Serbs was at hand, since without Banja Luka, the only real city the Bosnian Serbs possessed, their pseudo-state would simply not be viable. Yet, mysteriously, on the night of 11-12 October 1995, the Croats suddenly halted their offensive. It was an open secret that they would have been in Banja Luka within twenty-four hours, as the Bosnian Serb Army was in chaotic retreat. It was equally an open secret that a call from Washington, DC, had ordered the Croats to halt their victory march.

While it’s not completely clear why the Americans wanted the Croats to stop short of a strategic victory over the Bosnian Serbs, allowing Banja Luka to stay in Serbian hands twenty years ago set the troubled course Bosnia has been on ever since. Having permitted the Serb Republic to live in the autumn of 1995, the Americans constructed the ramshackle Dayton system that would leave nobody in Bosnia satisfied.

This Goldilocks approach to Bosnia, where nobody’s Balkan porridge is ever quite right, worked inadequately for nearly two decades, in its own dysfunctional way, yet over the last year the game has been changed by Vladimir Putin, and only now is the West taking notice. It’s not that the Kremlin has exactly been hiding its diplomatic offensive in the region. Suspicious numbers of Russian diplomats have been visiting Banja Luka, a tiny place by European standards, while last September Putin praised Dodik as “an experienced politician and manager” while the Bosnian Serb leader was in Moscow. In exchange, Dodik hailed Russia’s theft of Crimea from Ukraine, praising it as a model of self-determination that the Bosnian Serb leader made clear set an example for changing Bosnia’s borders too.

There is significant ideological harmony between Banja Luka and Moscow, based on an anti-Western ideology grounded in Orthodoxy and Slavic nationalism, all of which masks a great deal of corruption and personal profiteering. This ideological alliance has been cemented by Leonid Reshetnikov, a retired Russian intelligence general who makes regular trips to the Balkans to visit his “brother” Serbs. A Kremlin insider with strongly nationalist and religious views, Reshetnikov is a fierce advocate of what I term Putin’s Orthodox Jihad, and he heads a major Moscow think-tank that serves as an arm of Russian foreign policy.

Unsurprisingly, Reshetnikov has counseled the Bosnian Serbs they must stand up to the West, since Brussels and Washington, DC, are plotting against them, seeking to destroy the Serbian entity. Just as unsurprisingly, this hardline nationalist take has won Reshetnikov plaudits from the influential Serbian Orthodox Church, which has hosted several of his visits to the region and bestowed him with high honors

This Kremlin offensive, with Reshetnikov in the ideological lead, has led some to worry about the “Russification” of Serbia, and that is a valid concern. However, despite ominous signs such as Serbian participation in the forthcoming Victory Day parade in Moscow on 9 May, including by the Serbian military, public opinion in that country remains divided between those who want a more European orientation for Serbia and those who seek some sort of Orthodox Slavic alliance with Russia. The outcome of this important debate remains uncertain.

However, there is little debate that in Bosnia’s Serb Republic the Kremlin’s allies have already won. Banja Luka is broke and weak, and here Putin’s money goes a long way — and already has. Thanks to the flawed Dayton structure imposed by the West, Bosnia as-is cannot be a functional country, and Putin is now exploiting a weakness that Western overseers should have fixed years ago, yet did not. Here the Russians are reaping easy diplomatic gains thanks to NATO and EU mistakes and unwillingness to fix them.

Skeptics are noting that Dodik that is merely playing a game to win more concessions from Sarajevo and the West, implying that he has no intention of actually staging any independence referendum. Dodik is unquestionably a scheming Balkan wheeler-dealer from central casting. Yet these are the same hopeful sorts who, over a year ago, assured us that Putin didn’t “really” mean all his nationalist rhetoric, he would never dare to actually invade Crimea and Eastern Ukraine …

The fate of Yugoslavia in the 1990’s looms large in Putin’s imagination as an example of what happens when the Europeans and the Americans gang up to dismantle a Slavic state: it is a warning sign to the Kremlin, the sort of thing that a strong and resurgent Russia will not allow to happen again in Eastern Europe. While this narrative of Yugoslavia’s violent collapse is very different from how most in the West view it, it’s widely held in Moscow and informs current Russian discussions of Bosnia and all of Southeastern Europe.

Bosnia may muddle through just yet, and perhaps Dodik is all talk. Dayton has lasted for twenty years in its plodding, dysfunctional way, and perhaps it will last for twenty more. But Banja Luka, with Moscow’s backing, is now signalling that real changes may be afoot that constitute a direct challenge to the political and security architecture the West created for the Balkans in the 1990’s. This is nothing less than a strategic offensive in the region — for now it falls under the rubric of Special War in typical Kremlin fashion — of the kind I told you Putin would bring to Europe this year. However, given the stakes there is no room for Western complacence, particularly given how badly it worked out the last time the Russians went all-in with their support for the Serbs.

UPDATE (0730 EST, 28 APR): Yesterday’s jihadist terrorist attack on a police station in Zvornik, which killed a Serb policeman (get the details here), seems perfectly timed to coincide with Dodik’s pro-independence move. As if on cue, the Bosnian Serb leader has stated that Banja Luka may withdraw from Bosnian state-level security structures, which would be an important step towards dismantling the Dayton apparatus. Elsewhere in the Balkans, Russian diplomats are stoking the fires of Orthodox Slavic nationalism and some people are starting to notice.

Putin Turns Up His Special War Against Europe

Over the last year, since the Russian theft of Crimea, I’ve unambiguously warned that Vladimir Putin means what he says and he will not shy away from confrontation with the West, even at the risk of major war. Opportunities to deter this resurgent Russia, which I counseled many months ago, were punted on by the U.S. and NATO, so we now face a serious risk of war with Putin over his mounting hegemony in Eastern Europe. Ukraine is just the beginning.

As I’ve long made clear, Russia does not play by Western rules, and Putin and his Kremlin, being Chekists to their core, place great value on what I term Special War, meaning a shadowy amalgam of espionage, propaganda, and terrorism that Western states are poorly positioned to counter. At the end of the last year I predicted that the Kremlin’s Special War against the West was sure to rise, and so it has in the first quarter of this new year.

Last week I explained how Russian espionage against the Czech Republic — no congenital hater of the Russians like, say, Poland or the Baltics — had become so serious that Prague had expelled three Russian spies in recent months, amid warnings from Czech counterintelligence that at least a quarter of the outsized number of Russian diplomats in the country were actually spies posing as diplomats.

Over the last year I’ve explained in detail how Russian intelligence abroad, encompassing the Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR) and the military’s Main Intelligence Directorate (GRU), have increased the scope and intensity of their operations against many NATO countries, including France, Germany, Hungary, and Poland. Most of these operations are undertaken by SVR or GRU officers serving under what the Russians term Legal cover, meaning they are pretending to be diplomats, trade representatives, and whatnot.

But in recent years there has also been an uptick in operations by spies whom the Russians term Illegals, meaning intelligence officers who serve abroad without any official protection, often posing as third-country nationals. The massive 2010 round up of a whole network of SVR Illegals in the United States proved a serious blow to the Kremlin, and their espionage still exhibits weaknesses, as evidenced by the recent arrest of an SVR Illegal operating in New York, a second-rater who did not belong to the elite of Russian spies.

Such Kremlin activities extend beyond NATO as well, and now it’s Sweden’s turn. A neutral that’s prone to downplaying threats on political grounds, and is always careful not to needlessly aggravate the Russian bear looming across the Baltic Sea, Stockholm has nevertheless had enough of clandestine Russian shenanigans in their country. This week they have gone public with the extent of the Kremlin’s Special War being waged against Sweden.

According to the Swedish Security Service (Säpo), at least one-third of the Russian diplomats in the country are actually spies. Recent months have seen repeated incidents of Russian intelligence provocations — submarines off the coast, SVR and GRU ramping up clandestine in-country operations — and Stockholm is worried, particularly because Kremlin efforts to recruit spies inside Swedish military and political circles are increasingly obvious.

Gone are the bumbling, vodka-swilling Russian spies of the 1990’s, when the Soviet collapse curtailed much espionage abroad. Since 2006, SVR and GRU operations against the West have risen steadily, to the point that current activities are as intense in number and audacity as they were at the height of the Cold War. Sweden is no exception, and Säpo’s chief analyst noted that Russian spies today are “highly educated and often younger than during the Soviet era. They are driven, goal-oriented and socially competent.” Not to mention that this is only talking about Russian Legals, not Illegals, who can be assumed to add to the ranks of Kremlin spies in Sweden, perhaps considerably.

As always, these spies are recruiting sources, disseminating disinformation, and fomenting dissent in the host country, per longstanding Russian espionage practice. This has become so serious that Stockholm now considers Russia to be the top threat to Swedish national security. The Säpo analyst bluntly explained, “There are hundreds of Russian intelligence officers around Europe and the West. They violate our territory every day … We see Russian intelligence operations in Sweden—we can’t interpret this in any other way—as preparation for military operations against Sweden.”

There’s the rub. Every week of late, Putin turns up the heat on NATO and the West: diplomatic threats, aggressive maneuvers with combat aircraft, the movement of late–model missiles to Kaliningrad, putting Stockholm, Warsaw, and Berlin within easy range of Russian tactical nuclear weapons. Now, Putin either wants open war against the West — not just the clandestine games of Special War — or we wants us to think he does: in either case, this is a terrifying situation.

Many believe that Putin thinks he can use the threat of nuclear blackmail to gain a free hand for Russian aggression in Eastern Europe, and they may be right. Certainly there is little in NATO reactions to Russian aggression to date that suggests a backbone is forming in Berlin, Paris, or Washington, DC. Whether or not the Kremlin wants major war is known only to Putin and the tiny circle of advisors, all hard-edged Chekists like himself, whom the Russian leader listens to.

For now, Special War will continue to achieve Kremlin aims, possibly without major war, while laying the intelligence groundwork for that bigger conflict, should that happen. Today’s news brings word that Polish counterintelligence has detected an air force officer spying for Moscow. He is reported to have passed classified information about Poland’s wing of F-16 fighters, the backbone of Polish defense against the Russians, in what may constitute a serious blow to NATO readiness on the Alliance’s exposed eastern frontier.

Another day, another Russian spy in the West detected. You can expect more of this. If we’re lucky, our conflict with Putin, which is being orchestrated by the Kremlin, will remain confined to SpyWar. Yet how robustly the West confronts Russian Special War — which is ultimately a question of politics, not counterespionage — is a good benchmark for how effectively we can deter a major, and possibly nuclear, war. Without political will, all the West’s acumen in military and intelligence affairs will matter little compared to the robust will shown by Vladimir Putin, who is playing for keeps, and intends to win.

Yugoslavia’s Warning to America

That America is in trouble, and headed for more of it, is becoming received wisdom across the political aisle. For many on the Right, the Obama presidency heralds a new political age which they don’t like, just as many on the Left believed that the presidency of George W. Bush indicated that the end of the American experiment was nigh.

While the right-wing media regularly includes warnings that Obama has ushered in politico-economic trends that bode ill for America’s future, their counterparts on the Left are beginning to admit their doubts about our whole enterprise. Today, over at Vox, Matt Yglesias confesses that American democracy may well be doomed after all.

Yglesias is hardly a fringe character, rather an embodiment of Millennial liberalism. Once a mover and shaker over at the influential (and notorious to conservatives) JournoList, Yglesias has undeniable cachet among Beltway influencers, so when he says the country is pretty much cooked, it matters.

As usual over at Vox, his argument has a lot of flashcard-friendly facts and figures to back it up, and his conclusion — that political paralysis rooted in deep partisanship is only getting worse and threatens America’s constitutional democracy — is difficult to refute entirely. That said, Yglesias’ prognostications about America’s future course, including that the United States may turn into a gigantic, nuclear-armed Honduras, seem far-fetched, notwithstanding the apparent desire of Vox writers and readers to invite all of Central America to live in this country.

Yglesias gives short shrift to notions of a military coup or even a second American Civil War, and I don’t think he’s correct here. While it is difficult for anybody who knows the Pentagon well to imagine American generals and admirals getting together to overthrow the civilian government — that would require obscene amounts of PowerPoint and might endanger top brass golden parachutes with Beltway Bandits — the notion of a Civil War 2.0, however terrifying it may be, needs to be faced squarely, if we wish to avoid that awful fate.

America in the 21st century runs little risk of becoming Honduras Grande, but if current politico-economic trends continue much longer, we might well wind up a lot like Yugoslavia. That statement is sure to be controversial, since few Americans, citizens of the global hegemon and to many of them a most exceptional country, like to be compared with a relatively small Balkan federation that collapsed into wars and genocide a generation ago.

Yet the collapse of Yugoslavia offers several cautionary tales to Americans today, and if they are wise they will heed them and set the United States on a correction course before it is too late. As one who witnessed the dreadful collapse of Yugoslavia and its terrible aftermaths — including the seemingly permanent impoverishment of Southeastern Europe, mired in crime, corruption, and extremism — I would very much like America to discover a far happier fate.

However, some of the parallels are eerie and troubling. The differences must be explained up-front. Yugoslavia at its collapse had less than one-tenth of America’s population now, and its system of government was a socialist dictatorship, albeit one of a relatively enlightened kind. Notwithstanding a very nasty secret police force, Yugoslavia as nurtured under the charismatic Tito was a good deal more pleasant place to live than anywhere in the Soviet Bloc. Yugoslavs were free to travel abroad and, after the early 1950s, the repressive state apparatus didn’t have to throw many dissidents in prison, as public shaming, including threats of unemployment and loss of housing, cowed most would-be complainers into towing the party line, at least in public.

The root of Yugoslavia’s collapse was economic, particularly its parlous state finances. During the Cold War, Tito, who broke with Stalin in 1948 and thereby shattered Communist unity in Eastern Europe, was able to get big Western loans, since NATO viewed Yugoslavia as a necessary anti-Soviet bulwark in Europe, and with these billions of dollars, at low interest rates, the country developed a wide array of industries under its unique market socialist model.

Unfortunately, the oil shocks of 1973 ultimately undid this Balkan ponzi scheme, and as the cost of borrowing foreign money became prohibitive, Yugoslavia’s economy began to creak. At root, the country’s current operations, including funding the bloated state sector, depended on borrowed foreign money that Yugoslavia could no longer afford.

After Tito’s death in 1980, amid Western fears that Yugoslavia might implode to Moscow’s benefit, NATO signaled to Belgrade that, if they got their fiscal house in order, the money might keep flowing. In response, the Communist Party ordered Sergej Krajgher, a party stalwart from Slovenia, to see what had to be done to repair the country’s mounting socio-economic mess.

After two years of study, Krajgher’s commission in 1983 released its report, which correctly assessed that Yugoslavia needed to get its economic house in order to avoid financial, and then political, collapse. Specifically, Krajgher recommended the sell-off of unprofitable state enterprises, allowing more market forces to work, and above all comprehensive fiscal reform to get Yugoslavia off the drug of foreign loans. This was all excellent advice.

Its effect, however, was zero. The report was ignored, and Communist officials never made any effort to seriously implement any of Krajgher’s solid recommendations. It was too politically painful to make cuts, so the government pretended there was no problem. Until it was too late.

Comparisons to Obama are unavoidable. Early in his first term, he empowered a bi-partisan board, known colloquially as the Simpson-Bowles commission, to investigate improving the long-term condition of America’s state finances. The commission’s findings were thorough and persuasive, and they offered a way out of the country’s fiscal morass. At a minimum, Simpson-Bowles set the terms for a necessary debate. But Obama inexplicably pretended that his own commission ever existed. No debate ensued, since discussing cuts of government benefits to voters is electorally toxic — Republicans are no more eager to talk about this pain than Democrats — and nothing happened.

America, possessing the global reserve currency, has a margin for fiscal error enjoyed by no other country, but at some point the game of borrowing vast amounts of foreign money to fund our government will end, and end badly. The U.S. national debt now exceeds $18 trillion, which given the fact that only a little more than 120 million Americans actually pay federal taxes, amounts to almost $150,000 of debt per taxpayer. To say nothing of ballooning state and local government indebtedness. Rhode Island, where I lived for many years, witnessing its love of other people’s money to pay for an unsustainable welfare state, is so deeply in debt that it’s as bad off as Greece, as even the mainstream media admits.

There is no reason to think this will end pleasantly, given the track record of every other country that has gotten itself deeply into long-term debt and dependency on borrowed foreign money to pay for current liabilities. Once doubts of any sort emerge about the U.S. dollar’s status as the global reserve currency, the rot will emerge rapidly and America’s fiscal nightmare will be here, with a vengeance. That reckoning can be delayed for years, even decades, but when it comes, as it eventually will, it will come suddenly, at which point there will be no palatable remedy.

Possessing only the weak dinar, Yugoslavia had no such margin for error or avoidance, and the party’s punting on economic reform meant that the fiscal collapse would come sooner than later. By the late 1980s, interest rates and unemployment were both sky-high and Belgrade was running out of hard (i.e. real) money. Repeated devaluations of the dinar did little good, and even a belated IMF effort in 1988 to float Yugoslavia a bit longer, in exchange for promises of real market reforms, could not stave off disaster. It was too late. Political dysfunction had become fatal, making economic reform impossible.

Worse, economic problems, including unemployment and inflation that impoverished Yugoslavs rapidly — by the time the country went over the cliff in 1991, real incomes were half what they had been a generation before — exacerbated the country’s serious ethnic grievances. When combined with economic emergency, Yugoslavia’s ethnic politics proved a lethal combination that led directly to wars and genocide.

Yugoslavia was a very diverse country, ethnically and religiously, and the divisions between groups were real and serious. Unlike 21st century Americans, Yugoslavs were under no illusions that “diversity is our greatest strength” — they knew the opposite was the truth — and the Communists went to great lengths to keep ethnic peace by banning what we would term “hate speech” while mandating that the official doctrine that Yugoslavia’s diverse peoples really loved each other deeply be placed at the level of quasi-religious dogma.

Rewriting history, to show certain ethnic groups as victims and others as perpetrators of race-based crimes, took its toll, since Yugoslavs knew this was too simple, and was being used as a political weapon by the authorities. Aggressive “affirmative action” in education and employment — Belgrade termed it the “ethnic key” — was another perennial sore-spot for many citizens, since ethnic status and ties often mattered more than competence. Needless to add, this hardly helped the economy either.

Perhaps worst of all, by preventing any honest discussion of ethnic matters, the Communists had a perverse knack of making each of Yugoslavia’s many ethnic groups feel that it was uniquely aggrieved. Thus any Serb or Croat or Albanian or Bosnian Muslim, could look at similar events and quietly determine that his group was really the persecuted one in the Communist-mandated racial games that were enforced by the authorities.

When the Communist monopoly on power began to wane in the mid-1980s, as across Eastern Europe, and the Yugoslav media began taking on taboo topics, nothing was more discussed than ethnic politics and their messy history. It quickly became a firestorm. To cite the most damaging example, around 1985 the Serbian media began reporting violent crimes committed against Serbs by Albanians in Kosovo, which was a majority-Albanian province that enjoyed self-government under Tito’s system.

While Albanians did commit crimes against Serbs, the opposite was also true, yet the Belgrade media focused on the former while ignoring the latter. Accounts of rapes of Serbian women — some real, many imagined  — served to whip up nationalist fervor. The press, with Serbia’s Communist Party increasingly behind them, since they realized that nationalism was a powerful motivator for potential voters, indulged in regular accounts of lurid Albanian crimes against Serbs.

A classic case was that of Djordje Martinović, a Serb in Kosovo who in 1986 claimed he had been brutalized by Albanian thugs, including being anally raped with a bottle, in a horrible hate crime. The Serbian media went wild with the story, which inflamed rising nationalist passions. Albanian protests that the media was wrong made no headway with Serbs, who preferred what I have elsewhere termed The Narrative over facts. The subsequent revelation that Martinović had faked his attack, having injured himself in an act of self-pleasuring gone seriously wrong, got a lot less media attention than the initial story.

By then the damage was done, as anybody familiar with Yugoslavia’s tragic demise knows. A colorless Communist functionary on the make, Slobodan Milošević, realized that nationalism was the ticket to political success as Communism waned. He made the fate of Serbs in Kosovo, real and imagined, his major plank, and he exploited this toxic environment created by the media to whip up a frenzy that he could exploit, and he did.

By 1989, Milošević was the master of Serbia, and he promptly cancelled Kosovo’s autonomy, reducing the Albanians there to second-class status under the Serbs. This was payback for all the crimes perpetrated by Albanians against innocent Serbs. Of course, radicalization inevitably begets counter-radicalization, and before long Croats, Albanians, and all the non-Serbian groups in Yugoslavia were digging up their own nationalist grievances and skewed history to counter the Serbs. War and genocide were soon to follow, in a tragedy that was especially poignant because it was eminently avoidable.

Playing political games with race and ethnicity in any multinational society is a dangerous thing. Obama, by promising that he wanted to be president of all Americans, then governing as a highly partisan Democrat, has laid the groundwork for a hazardous future for the United States, hardly helped by his public indulging of black nationalism, particularly his incautious discussion of crimes both real and imagined against African Americans. However verboten discussion of white nationalism is at present among polite Americans, it is unavoidable that this will become an issue in the future, with potentially explosive consequences — to say nothing of the rise of Hispanic and Asian nationalisms too, as the United States becomes even more diverse than Yugoslavia was.

Managing this increasingly fissiparous country as economic prospects diminish will challenge the most gifted politicians. Indulging in ethnic resentments as a substitute for solutions to vexing politico-economic problems only makes things go from bad to worse, sometimes rapidly and painfully. With both our parties increasingly beholden to Wall Street at the expense of Main Street, average Americans of all backgrounds will not be happy that they are bequeathing a life of less affluence and opportunity to their children. In such a time of troubles, playing ethno-racial political games as a substitute for reform is deeply irresponsible.

It would be nice if Democrats and Republicans played better together, particularly on the budget and borrowing money. It would be especially nice if they seriously addressed issues of rising economic inequality and diminishing opportunities for average Americans.  But it is imperative that they not fan the flames of ethnic and racial resentments if they wish to avoid a terrible outcome for our country.

The fate of Yugoslavia was anything but preordained. The United States, whatever its problems, is a far richer and better-run state than anything created by Tito. But the same threats lurk, particularly those of economic degradation caused by debt and made impossible to fix thanks to toxic racial politics. America need not become a vast Balkan horror show — I think it’s more likely in coming decades to become a huge nuclear-armed Brazil, with entrenched economic inequality, often among racial lines, that I find noxious and unworthy of our country — but the fate of Yugoslavia must be avoided at all costs. Our next Civil War would be much more vicious and protracted than the last one, have no illusions.

Why the West is Losing

That the West is quaking down to its foundations at present seems broadly understood by many Westerners, based on numerous opinion polls. The population of the West, despite its vast wealth, is mired in self-doubt and worries about its future. Recent events in Ukraine and the Middle East are part of this concern. Resurgent Russia, led by the boastfully confident Vladimir Putin, is openly mocking ceasefires in Ukraine, which he agreed to with major NATO members, while the ink remains less than fully dry. Meanwhile, the Islamic State continues its murderous march across Iraq and Syria, undeterred by intermittent U.S.-led airstrikes, butchering and decapitating for the cameras now on the Mediterranean shore. Rome is preparing for war on Libya, a troubled state pushed past the point of coherence by botched NATO intervention in 2011, so grave does the threat appear to Italian eyes.

In contrast, President Obama sees little threat at all, or at least nothing that can be termed “Islamic.” Recent comments from the White House do not inspire confidence that Obama and his national security staff have taken the full measure of the threat emanating from the advancing Islamic State, ISIS for short. The mainstream media has come around to an understanding that ISIS, as its name implies, is grounded in a vehement ideology wrapped up in a literalist and extreme version of Sunni Islam. They are unquestionably violent extremists, as the White House has noted, but of a particular kind which is identifiably Islamic. That the Islamic State has nothing to do with “real” Islam is a epiphany that only overeducated Westerners can witness. This is more evidence that, to paraphrase Orwell, some ideas are so silly that you have to be an intellectual to believe them.

ISIS is so absurdly, sick-cartoonishly violent that they surpass the ability of post-modern Westerners, what I have referred to as the WEIRD contingent, to comprehend what’s going on. Having never been taught about the West’s long, often unpleasant history with Islam, except to emphasize Western misdeeds, grasping that ISIS is tapping into a virulent and violent strain of Islam that has deep historical roots is impossible. WEIRDos, led by Obama, know all about the Crusades, or at least think they do, but have never pondered Tours 732, Kosovo 1389, Constantinople 1453, much less Vienna 1527 and 1683. Does even one American in a thousand know how the “shores of Tripoli” wound up in the Marines’ Hymn?

Moreover, the testosterone-laden appeal of the bloody and hateful ISIS message to a disturbing number of young men (and women), including thousands of Westerners accustomed to comfort, is incomprehensible to WEIRDos. White House messaging that employment opportunities will fix this problem is not only untrue, it’s the opposite of the truth. Teenaged fanatics, many of them far from pious in their faith, are seeking to join ISIS precisely to reject the softness and decadence of the Western post-modern way of life, which they despise and quite literally wish to kill. To date, this warrior’s call to adventure appeals mainly to losers, criminals, and the psychologically unbalanced, but it may not remain confined to such déclassé elements.

Yet ISIS represents a second-tier threat to the West at present. If Obama should find the backbone to issue orders, U.S. airpower and special operations forces can decapitate the Islamic State in its heartland in a few months. While ISIS-inspired jihadists will create mayhem in Europe, and eventually America too, these will mostly be low-level attacks of the sort recently witnessed in Paris and Copenhagen: evil but limited. In the West to date, ISIS-inspired jihadists, many of them merely wannabes, are incapable of pulling off “big weddings” that will kill hundreds of innocents. Periodic incidents of homegrown terrorism may become simply “how we live now” in the West, something that will change lives and lifestyles but will not overturn civilization. There is no security solution to this challenge and a political fix seems impossible, since real issues cannot be discussed honestly, so increasing violent extremism in our midst looks like the West’s new normal.

Russia, however, is a different matter. The world’s biggest country, possessing thousands of nuclear weapons, and led by a man seething with hatred and resentment against the West, represents a potentially existential threat to the Western way of life — and countless lives. While Vladimir Putin does not seek a nuclear war, he is willing to gamble with hard power, with all its attendant risks, in a fashion no Western leader has countenanced in decades. In recent months, Putin’s embrace of duplicitous diplomacy backed by Special War and periodic outbursts of conventional combat, most recently at Debaltseve, another stinging — because needless — defeat for Ukraine, have delivered victory after victory for the Kremlin.

Strategically speaking, none of this should be happening. Notwithstanding that Ukraine’s deeply flawed leadership, which has refrained from real mobilization much less reality-based war planning, has been a highly cooperative adversary for the Kremlin, Putin has been winning round after round of poker with Kyiv and NATO despite holding mediocre cards. Putin’s Russia, hobbled by sanctions and the collapse in oil prices, is no Soviet Union: in economic terms, it’s dwarfed by the European Union, while militarily, anything resembling a European war would be a disaster for Russia. Americans are advised to think of Putin’s Russia (143 million citizens with a per capita GDP of USD 14K) as basically Mexico (114 million citizens with a per capita GDP of USD 11K) with thousands of nukes and fiercely anti-Western leadership.

Yet Putin’s streak of wins cannot be construed as anything but impressive, particularly considering how weak his cards really are. With his recent Minsk escapade, where he got terrified German and French leaders to sign off on a “ceasefire” in eastern Ukraine which Russian-backed fighters never honored at all, instead opting to push harder — with weapons, ammunition, intelligence, and skilled commanders coming from Russia, mind you — Putin demonstrated his contempt for the West, as well as how he plans to establish Russian hegemony over Eastern Europe, breaking NATO in the process, preferably without major war.

How important Putin’s grand strategic goal is to the Kremlin should not be underestimated. He aims to achieve what the mighty Soviet Union never could, winning Moscow’s control over Eastern Europe — and thereby pushing America out of Europe, at least de facto — without major war and extended occupation. Whether he can actually pull this off remains to be seen, but it’s not difficult to see why, surveying the last twelve months, Putin is brimming with self-confidence, while viewing the West with sneering contempt.

The risk to world peace at present, since Putin’s continuing to gamble with high stakes is now a given, is that Russia will eventually cross a NATO “redline.” It’s impossible to know if the Atlantic Alliance would really go to war over an aggressive Kremlin provocation against a Baltic republic, which is clearly an attractive option for Moscow now. If the West has a redline in Eastern Europe, where exactly it is seems to be unknown to Western leaders, except in a highly formal (and therefore meaningless) sense. Given Obama’s shaky track record with redlines, we should expect the Russians to keep pushing, and in so doing, they may go too far, causing the Third World War.

Or perhaps not. Given the dismal conduct of Western diplomacy over Ukraine, with bouts of weakness amidst bursts of sheer panic, it’s worth pondering if there is anything Europeans in 2015 will fight for, even their own homelands. Over the last generation, Europeans have become accustomed to their comfortable, post-modern lifestyle, with ample state support, where war is impossible, so defense budgets can be cut down to nearly nothing. This is indeed a lovely life — which is why I spend as many months of the year in my rustico, high in the Alps, as possible — yet it cannot last much longer without major changes. Demographics alone will undermine the post-modern European project, as too few children are being born to sustain such generous welfare states and their attendant dolce vita.

Even before demographic demise, the Russians are coming. The Kremlin, which is winning every diplomatic fight and battle in Ukraine, sees no reason to stop now. As Western sanctions inflict pain, doubling-down by Moscow seems a rational choice, as was evident months ago. Putin represents a drastically different vision of Europe’s future than what passes for received wisdom among Europe’s elites. Mired in old-think, including a downright nineteenth century take on force, war, and diplomacy, Putin represents an atavism, a crude, outmoded version of ourselves — the angry white male of liberal nightmares — that Western progressives believed had been killed off by the gender and social revolutions of the 1960’s.

Putin, a staunch traditionalist in matters of belief and social order, oozes contempt for the post-modern West, viewing it as feeble, feminine, and dying. He rejects the European post-Cold War consensus in toto, and seeks to remake the continent along Russian lines. He has promised Russians glory and order, not comfort and decadence. While he cannot succeed in the long run, for reasons I’ve already elaborated, he can create enormous damage along the way, as well as creating conditions which will mandate a return to traditional values in any countries that wish to survive in a Russian-dominated Europe.

Analogies to Adolf Hitler are hazardous, but some appear obvious in the case of Vladimir Putin. In the first place, Hitler was shaped profoundly by the collapse of Imperial Germany in 1918, just as Putin was by the demise of the USSR in 1991. Both men viewed the state they served ambivalently — Hitler wasn’t much of a monarchist and Putin wasn’t a diehard Marxist either — but defeat was a life-changing ordeal that created new political and social realities which, in time, Hitler and Putin exploited masterfully.

From 1918, Hitler took the lesson that Germany needed moral rearmament more than anything else since, in Nazi telling, collapse at the end of the Great War was caused by moral shortcomings more than military defeats. Thus Hitler’s famous line that, though he was a socialist, he had no need to nationalize German factories because “I shall nationalize the people.” Similarly, Putin considers that the sudden implosion of the USSR was not due to economic or military weakness, rather to loss of faith in the Soviet system. Such a withering away of national morale, and therefore of the state itself, is something Putin will not have happen on his watch. Hence the emphasis on nationalism, unity, propaganda, and religious imagery to bind citizens to the state — which makes a better motivator of average Russians than Marxism-Leninism ever was — as in venerable Muscovite tradition.

Also like Hitler did in the mid-1930’s, Putin in a few months has managed to overturn European diplomacy, through clever and cautious use of force, remaking it in his own, tough image (though Berlin, Paris, and Washington, DC, haven’t quite realized this yet). By re-writing the rule-book of international relations, recasting it in terms of force and will, Hitler and Putin alike created a new diplomatic reality, despite their own weakness, that bears little resemblance to the happy never-never-land of conferences, summits, heated debates over beef subsidies, and cocktail parties that polite Europeans thought constituted statecraft. That naive vision has been steamrolled by the Kremlin over the past year, as surely as Ukrainian volunteers have been crushed under Russian tank treads.

At a certain level, what Putin represents to Western post-moderns is so terrifying that they simply deny reality, individually and collectively. Of course, continuing to deny what Putin is, and what his Russia wants, and is willing to kill and die for, will only encourage more Kremlin aggression and game-playing with nuclear weapons, so a strong dose of reality would be welcome in NATO capitals, and soon, if we wish to deter Putin while he still can be deterred.

However, I am decreasingly optimistic that Western leaders will rise to the occasion in time. I have been sharply critical of Petro Poroshenko, Ukraine’s candy entrepreneur turned war president, for his diffident leadership as Putin devours his country, one bite at a time. In good post-modern European fashion, Poroshenko has emphasized hashtags, peace vigils, and tough talk (not action), rather than national mobilization and coherent strategy-making, which is why Ukraine is losing badly. Yet NATO deserves sharper criticism still, since their military and economic power dwarfs Ukraine’s, while Western leaders seem every bit as mired in fantasy thinking and hope-as-strategy when it comes to Putin as anybody in Kyiv.

The essential incomprehensibility of Putin’s Russia, which after 1991 was supposed to have become “like us” in matters economic, political, social and sexual, albeit at a languid Russian pace, looms large in the minds of Westerners today, who utter nervous laughter about Putin and his shirtless photo-ops with dangerous animals, rather than pondering what this says about Russia. Some are slowly noticing that twenty-first century Russia has embraced values which are not merely unlike ours, they are the actually the opposite of them.

The WEIRD take on Putin has been perfectly captured by a piece in The New York Times Magazine, authored by just the self-absorbed, nebbishy sort who both writes and reads the Grey Lady. The author, a Russian Jew who came to America as a child, covers his subject with roughly the same dispassion as a Palestinian would write about Israelis. To learn what makes Putin’s Russia tick, the author submitted himself to a week of non-stop Russian TV, while holed up in a swanky Manhattan hotel, fed with room service finery to counteract all the Kremlin agitprop.

Lots Seinfeld-y inside jokes about calling therapists ensue, amidst constant jibes about how latently homosexual Putin and his testosterone-driven Russia really are. What comes through clearly, however, is that popular culture under Putin has created a mindset that is nationalist and firmly anti-Western in virtually every way; at times, it drips with hatred towards the West, seeing nefarious plots against Russia everywhere. That Russians are a bunch of uncouth idiots is made obvious. But the crux of the matter, as revealed in the piece’s title, “Out of My Mouth Comes Unimpeachable Manly Truth,” is that Russia has simply opted out of the post-modern Western way of life, emphasizing outmoded values such as masculinity, faith, plus traditional sex and gender roles, in a thoroughly atavistic manner.

Anybody who has met actual Russians knows how little they, even the cultured ones, have been touched by post-modern Western mores on race, gender, and sexuality. They remain comfortable with the tough, ugly, dog-eat-dog world we have. I have tried on multiple occasions to explain “trigger warnings” to educated Russians, but they never believe me and burst out laughing. What causes this — Communism? Byzantinism? Tsarism? something in Russian water and/or DNA? — is debatable but that Russians simply live in a different mental universe than twenty-first century Westerners do is not.

Besides, Russia’s return to atavism is more disturbing to Westerners than any ISIS madness. At a deep, if unstated level, Muslims acting like barbarians has been part of our script for so long that it fails to stir our fears except when it comes close, as in Paris recently. The only thing that’s shocking is how the madmen are capturing it all on YouTube now. But Russians are Europeans of a sort, they look rather like us, but they certainly don’t think and act like us, and this is disconcerting to Europeans, and many Americans, at a level that cannot be easily expressed. The white caveman of progressive nightmares is back, and his name is Vladimir Putin.

A big part of why the West cannot seem to grapple meaningfully with the Russian threat, despite the fact that in any strategic sense NATO is holding most of the cards in this high-stakes game, is because he challenges not just what we have, but who we are. Putin and Putinism represent a direct challenge to the post-modern way of life that has become normative, especially among educated Westerners since the 1960’s. A worldview that prefers soft, feminine values to tougher masculine ones, that finds patriotism risible, that believes there is nothing worth dying for, has little to say when the monsters we firmly believed were safely behind the fortress walls, lurking hungrily, turn out to be on our doorstep, and the front door is unlocked.

Europeans who wish to resist Putinism will need to become a bit like the Russians, reemphasizing the utility of force in international affairs, and that reassessment brings social and gender implications that post-moderns will find uncomfortable. It should not be excluded that some Europeans actively prefer Moscow’s vision of the future, even if they don’t like Russians, to what Brussels can offer now. Greece may only be the beginning of a disturbing trend. Small, if ardent, numbers of Europeans will be enticed by the mad jihad offered by ISIS, but far larger numbers of disaffected Westerners may find Putin’s worldview enticing, particularly as he moves from victory to victory.

The moral outweighs the physical in war, as sages have counseled for millennia, and today Putin is drinking the elixir of easy triumphs over his feeble foes. This aura is intoxicating to many even outside Russia. If the West wishes to deter Putin before he unleashes continental war, by accident or by design, it needs to examine what it has become and how it can realistically defend its way of life. Only then will it be sensible to discuss strategies to deter and, if necessary, defeat this resurgent Russia.

Is This the End of NATO?

The last few days have brought depressing developments for those who care about European freedom. Angela Merkel and Francois Hollande went to Moscow to present a Ukraine “peace plan” that actually had been suggested to them by Vladimir Putin. Unsurprisingly, this went nowhere and Merkel has already pronounced that there is no military solution to the Russo-Ukrainian War, a message that was amplified by the Munich Security Conference, Bavaria’s best-catered talkshop, where the lack of Western resolve to confront Russian aggression was made abundantly clear. In Munich, Estonian President Toomas Hendrik Ilves, a rare European NATO leader who has a clear picture of events, told Merkel that the choice was “surrender or arm Ukraine” — to no effect.

To be fair to Europe, Washington, DC, has hardly been telegraphing resolve either. My proposal to send Ukraine defensive weaponry, which looked like it might be in the offing, by this weekend looked dead, though this White House sends so many mixed messages one can never be exactly sure. Late this week, the Obama administration unveiled its new National Security Strategy, amid less than fanfare, with the execrable Susan Rice explaining in “remain calm, all is well!” fashion that things are really much better globally than they look. This White House’s new foreign policy mantra is Strategic Patience, which seems to be the been-to-grad-school version of “don’t do stupid shit.”  Since nobody inside the Beltway is taking this eleventh-hour effort to articulate Obama’s security strategy seriously, it’s doubtful anyone abroad, much less in Moscow, will either.

It’s therefore unsurprising that European leaders are in full-panic mode about what Putin will do next. The serious possibility that the Chekist-in-Charge in the Kremlin will seek more provocations, and possibly a major war, to achieve his strategic aim of establishing Russian control over the former Soviet space and therefore dominance over Eastern Europe, is reducing weak-willed Western leaders like Merkel and Hollande to political incoherence.

It seems to have never occurred to them, nor Obama and his national security staff either, that crushing the Russian economy with sanctions might bring more, not less, aggression from Putin, even though that was an obvious possibility. Jaws dropped this week when Anders Fogh Rasmussen, who until recently was NATO’s civilian head, stated that it is highly likely that Russia will soon stage a violent provocation against a Baltic state, which being NATO countries, will cause a crisis over the Alliance’s Article 5 provision for collective self-defense. Rasmussen merely said what all defense experts who understand Putin already know, but this was not the sort of reality-based assessment that Western politicians are used to hearing.

There are two core reasons for Western collapse of will before Putin’s decidedly modest aggression in Ukraine. The first is that Western and Central Europe have so substantially disarmed since the end of the Cold War. Hardly any European NATO countries spend the “required” two percent of GDP on defense, and no amount of American scolding about it seems to make any difference. As a result, European NATO militaries, with few exceptions, possess a mere shadow of the combat power they had two decades ago. Several of them have abandoned tanks altogether, while even Germany has so cut back its combat power that there are only four battalions each of armor and artillery in the whole Bundeswehr.

Not all the fault for this sorry state of affairs lies in Europe. Here America has played an insidious role too, encouraging spending on niche missions for the Alliance at the expense of traditional defense. Hence the fact that Baltic navies have considerable counter-mine capabilities — this being an unsexy mission that the U.S. Navy hates to do — yet hardly any ability to police their maritime borders against intruding Russians. To make matters worse, since 2001 the Americans have encouraged NATO partners to spend considerable amounts of their limited defense budgets on America’s losing war in Afghanistan.

But the moral collapse of Europe is even worse than the military collapse. All the armaments in the world do no good when the will to use them is absent. Since the Cold War’s end, Western Europeans have convinced themselves of many things that simply are not true. Their optimistic worldview, which really is the highest form of the WEIRD Weltanschauung, abandoned any notion that monsters might still exist, and many Europeans, including most of their leaders, seem unable to accept the new reality that Vladimir Putin has forced upon them. Yet denying that Russia aims to change the European order, and will use force to do so, will not stop Kremlin misdeeds, actually it will only encourage more Russian aggression.

To be blunt, I see little evidence to date that major European leaders are willing to wake up to this new reality. In the event of Russian provocation against NATO, which is highly likely soon, it’s very possible that the Atlantic Alliance will unravel completely. Putin may achieve his strategic victory with hardly a shot fired. In such an event, I have no idea how Obama, or any American president, could send U.S. troops to die to defend a Europe that is so flagrantly unwilling to defend itself.

Two-and-a-half millennia ago, the Chinese sage Sun Tzu counseled that “the best military policy is to attack strategies; the next to attack alliances; the next to attack soldiers,” and Putin is doing exactly this. He has no need to undermine NATO strategy, since none exists in reality, while he continues to hack away at the foundations of the Western Alliance through Special War, particularly espionage and subversion.

It’s significant that, just after Greece elected an openly pro-Russian government, whose defense and foreign ministers are major Putin fans, the rising left wing in Spain announces that, should it come to power, it will take Madrid out of NATO altogetherCyprus’s announcement on Friday that it will offer its military bases to Russia should be seen in proper strategic context. If this chipping away at the foundations of European security by the Kremlin continues, there may be no big war for Russia to have to win.

Which is good news for Putin, since what makes craven European conduct towards Moscow so appalling is the fact that Russia is winning from a position of profound political, economic, and especially military weakness. In military terms, despite the shortcomings of European NATO, Russia lacks the ability to win any major war against the West. Moscow frankly would have a tough time subduing Ukraine quickly, much less marching westward with haste.

Outside the nuclear realm, where the Kremlin likes to rattle radioactive sabers, terrifying Europeans, Russian military strength is not especially impressive. Moscow is in the middle of a big military modernization program that will not be complete until the early 2020’s, and at the moment its ground, air, and naval forces can be assessed as far from ready to win any major war in Europe.

A look at Russia’s ground forces is revealing. Far-reaching reforms of the whole bloated army, which spent nearly two decades languishing in semi-Soviet mode — from organization to training to manning, everything — that commenced in 2007-09 are bearing fruit, but significant challenges remain. On paper, the active Russian army looks impressive, with slightly over forty maneuver brigades, many with modern weapons. But many of those brigades consist of conscripts who are not trained to NATO standards, and this army must face not just Ukraine and the West, but guard the vast border with China, while keeping a lid on the Caucasus and providing post-imperial order in parts of Central Asia.

In other words, Putin cannot engage in a major war without a substantial recall of reservists to flesh out the order of battle, and that may not be popular. The Russian population has endured the economic downturn, blaming the West rather than Putin for the collapse of their currency and much of the economy, and the Kremlin’s anti-Western stance is supported by most Russians. Yet this has something to do with the fact that Putin has kept truly painful costs low so far. Soldiers killed in Russia’s not-very-secret war in Ukraine are professionals. If bigger numbers of teenaged conscripts and thirty-something reservists start dying, Putin may find his war of choice is suddenly less popular.

For all the Alliance’s military shortcomings, NATO can deter Putin’s aggression until 2020 at least, with current forces. However, deterring the Kremlin’s Special War, which I have long counseled the West to get serious about, may prove a more serious challenge. The West has the ability to keep a rampaging Russia restrained. Sending defensive weaponry to Ukraine would be a wise start, while so is bolstering NATO forces on the Alliance’s vulnerable frontier, well beyond the modest efforts now, finally, being undertaken. What no defense budget or military strategist can provide, however, is political will. If Europe cannot regain enough self-confidence to resist Putin, it will lose everything, sooner than you think.

Gotham in the Russian-American SpyWar

Yesterday brought front-page news of the FBI’s arrest of a Russian businessman in the Bronx who, according to the information released by the Department of Justice, had been operating as an agent of Russian intelligence for several years, collecting mainly economic information in the United States.

The man in custody is Evgeny Buryakov (39), AKA Zhenya, while his co-conspirators, who have already left the United States, are named as Igor Sporyshev (40) and Victor Podobnyy (27), also Russian nationals. While living in New York, Sporyshev was serving with the Russian trade mission there, while Podobnyy was an attaché with the Russian Mission to the United Nations.

All three were in actuality officers of the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR). Sporyshev and Podobnyy were serving in “official” cover positions of the kind used by the SVR and its KGB predecessor for nearly a century, while Buryakov was serving in a “non-official cover” position, to use the verbiage cited by the FBI. That is, Buryakov enjoyed no diplomatic immunity, which is why he is in custody now; had the FBI managed to catch up with Sporyshev and Podobnyy there was not much they really could have done since those men enjoyed diplomatic protection. At worst, they would have been expelled from the United States — PNG’d in spy-speak (from being declared persona non grata).

To use proper Russian terminology, Sporyshev and Podobnyy were “Legals” while Buryakov was an “Illegal.” Such spies without official cover have long been the elite of the Kremlin’s espionage arm, a select cadre. During the Cold War they were legendary, not least because while Legals are relatively easy for the FBI, or any competent counterintelligence service, to detect — the odds of a Legal SVR officer being noticed as actually a spy during his or her tour as a “diplomat” in any Western country are high — Illegals are much more difficult to detect and neutralize.

Or rather, they were. During the Cold War, the KGB was careful to not “cross the streams” between their Legal and Illegal networks in the West much, if at all: associating with a Legal, who may be under surveillance, is a good way for an Illegal to wind up on the radar of the local security service. The massive roll-up of the SVR’s Illegals Network in 2010, which was a debacle for the Kremlin, was noticed by the media and the public mainly for the fetching Anna Chapman, red-headed Russian temptress extraordinaire, but represented a historic counterintelligence win for the FBI and the Intelligence Community.

Although the media had a good laugh at the Illegals Network, not seeing much important going on there, the reality was different. While it seems indisputable that several of the Illegals caught in 2010 were not up to the caliber of their predecessors of hoary Chekist legend, this has something to do with the fact that the SVR had to rebuild their networks abroad, which went to pieces after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Over the last fifteen years, Russian intelligence has rebuilt their spy networks worldwide, and sometimes getting spies in the field inadequately prepared, backed by flimsy covers, has been a problem, as the Kremlin values quantity as well as quality. It should be noted that Russian military intelligence (GRU) also has networks of Legals and Illegals around the world, separate from SVR espionage.

As a former counterintelligence officer obsessed with espionage against the West, Putin has pushed hard for SVR and GRU to “get in the game” and they have. Today, Russian espionage against the West, including numbers of operatives and the tempo of their operations, equals its highest levels during the Cold War. Not every operation is a win, as the Chekist-in-Charge is well aware. The sudden loss of the Illegals Network in 2010 was a major disruption and to fill the gap the SVR sent less-able officers like Buryakov to America, perhaps too hastily.

Our counterintelligence was on to him almost immediately. Many leads emerged from the Illegals Network takedown, in multiple countries, and many tantalizing hints, considering subsequent developments, remain officially unresolved. Buryakov did not help himself by meeting with Sporyshev and Podobnyy, but otherwise he had limited ability to communicate with Moscow Center, i.e. SVR headquarters.

The story of his work is standard spy stuff: covert communications, dead-drops, brush-passes, sometimes fumbling efforts to recruit American businesspeople and students. The main target of this SVR network in New York was economic espionage, particularly regarding the financial sector. They seem to have landed no big fish, but it needs to be kept in mind that the DOJ account of the Buryakov ring released yesterday is the unclassified version of the case which always omits much important detail. Russian espionage operations are seldom straightforward, while some defy real understanding for years, even decades.

Significantly, U.S. counterintelligence had an excellent look into this trio’s activities, due mainly to good SIGINT — since the greatest weakness of any spy is the need to communicate. Thanks to this, eventually the banker/spy Buryakov fell prey to a ruse when a slightly-too-good-to-be-true source emerged and he took a gamble that a savvier officer might have demurred from. But the source promised classified U.S. Government information, as well as casino goodies; of course, this source was actually under FBI control, a dangle.

As with the Illegals Network in 2010, journalists and commentators who are ignorant of Russian espionage tradecraft are blowing this story off as being of little consequence, even comedic. There is, however, nothing funny about this case. In the first place, it shows that the Kremlin continues to collect economic intelligence in the West, using various covers to steal information of many sorts. This is a big win for the FBI and U.S. counterintelligence, but luck was on our side here, and that cannot be counted on.

Moreover, Illegals have many purposes, including functioning as long-term sources to maintain agent networks in the event of war, when diplomatic facilities close and Legals get pulled home. Given the parlous state of relations between the West and Russia now, this is not a theoretical concern. The Kremlin, unlike most Western intelligence services, tends towards the long-view and worst-case planning with utmost seriousness.

Ominously, among the things Buryakov was looking to steal included very sensitive information regarding high-speed Wall Street trading, automated trading algorithms, and “destabilization of markets.” If that thought doesn’t worry you, you’re not paying attention. There is a bona fide financial and economic war being waged now between Russia and the West, and Moscow intends to win. The potential threat to remove Russia from SWIFT, the international banking information-sharing mechanism, has reduced the Kremlin to fits. Today Prime Minister Dmitri Medvedev promised that his government’s reaction to booting Russia from SWIFT, which would be tantamount to total financial isolation for Moscow, would be “unlimited” and not merely economic in nature. Western pundits are chuckling at the SVR’s missteps in New York today, but it may be Putin and his spies who get the last laugh here.

UPDATEOver at CrossingWallStreet, Eddy Elfenbein — whom you should be following if you care about your financial future — has added his thoughts on the Wall Street side of this case, a must read.

The West, Islam, and the Last Stand of the WEIRD

Yet again, Pope Francis has stirred up the Western commentariat by addressing social issues, this time contraception and having babies. Every time this pope talks about matters sexual there are gasps from enlightened Western post-moderns, who seem shocked that Francis is actually a Catholic. They are so accustomed to the laid-back, non-judgmental “cafeteria Catholicism” around them that a Catholic cleric, much less the Pope of Rome, publicly endorsing what the church actually teaches on such issues, however gently, leads to dropped jaws.

After all, Francis seems so nice and progressive, with his outreach to the poor and welcoming things stated about gays and whatnot — these having been the source of consternation among some Catholic traditionalists — and then he turns out to be another old white guy with a lot of “sexual issues.” I am not a Catholic, but it never ceases to amaze me how educated Western post-moderns cannot seem to fathom that no pope is going to ditch centuries of social teaching just to get a nice write-up in Salon or Vox. Francis is a compassionate man, but as the head of the Catholic Church he advocates positions on matters sexual that seem profoundly outdated and literally unthinkable to many in the West today.

Unthinkability is the issue here. The WEIRD demographic, as I’ve explained before, standing for Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich, and Democratic, is wholly dominant among our media elites that play a huge role in forming opinions and judging the acceptability of the same. Over the last half-century the WEIRD vanguard has taken over the academy, the media, and the entertainment world; one of its better-known members is in the White House right now. Obama’s castigation in 2008 of “bitter” Americans who cling to guns and religion was a perfect one-sentence explanation of how WEIRDos view less educated and enlightened fellow citizens, which is no doubt why his opponents will cite it forever.

There is no tyranny as offensive as a cultural tyranny, of course, and just as affluent, educated post-moderns view their lessers with undisguised contempt, the guns-and-bibles brigade returns that contempt with interest. This goes some way to explaining why American politics has become so bitter in recent years: both sides simply hate each other and bother less and less to mask it.

The WEIRD contingent has had an impressive string of victories since the 1960’s, especially in America. Their record of wins, fast, may have no precedent in history, since culture tends to shift slowly, sometimes glacially. The culture war has been won, and the victory for the WEIRD side is essentially total. In the last fifty years, racial relations have been so dramatically transformed by government and culture, hand in hand, that racism, once casual among many whites, is totally unacceptable in anything resembling polite society. It speaks volumes that Jeffrey Dahmer, who murdered, dismembered and ate seventeen young men, many of them black and Hispanic, was at pains to make clear that, though he was a cannibalistic serial killer, he wasn’t racist: that fact he deemed important.

Even more transformational have been shifts in gender relations since the 1960’s, with American young women today being better educated than their male counterparts, with access to opportunities personal, professional, and sexual that their grandmothers could only have dreamed of. Some feminists now ask what good men are actually for, not in jest. Young men have noticed this seismic shift and numbers of them are dropping out of the race — professional and sexual — in a way their dads and granddads could not possibly comprehend. In Japan, this has become an official problem, and has a good deal to do with Japan’s staggering demographic crisis. As with race, feminism has triumphed so totally in just a couple generations that we have NGOs plus governmental bureaucracies hunting for evidence of racism or sexism, however fragmentary, to prove the need for more transformation. When young men lose interest in sex, as has occurred in Japan and is spreading in the West, something big is happening.

While race is of interest to the WEIRD demographic, sex is more central to their worldview. Catfights among progressives about determining who has more sexual privilege are fun to watch yet challenging for normals to comprehend. Here the LGBT issue has played a major role. Simply put, less than twenty-five years ago, gay issues were peripheral politically, confined to America’s far-Left fringe, while topics like gay marriage were never discussed by mainstream figures. Thanks to media and government action, now LGBT issues are given a place of importance in all discussions of social issues, while soon the Supreme Court will take up gay marriage, which may prove its most hot-button case since Roe v. Wade.

Regardless of what the Supreme Court decides, LGBT issues are another area where the culture war has turned out to be one-sided in the end. Opposition to gay marriage is fading fast, while it barely exists among younger Americans. However, just as with race and gender issues, LGBT advocates are showing minimal magnanimity in victory, preferring to double-down on public dissenters. Even the powerful are being driven from jobs and public life over their opposition, even when quiet, to gay marriage. There is more than a whiff of the Social Justice Warrior (SJW) mob about all this, and the idea of live-and-let live does not seem to be in fashion among the Cultural Marxist Left. It’s difficult to see how America avoids a serious clash between progressives and tradition-minded religious groups over all this.

Notwithstanding the fact that the Cultural Marxists have won fast, and their transformation of the post-modern West has been very quick by any historical standards, the Left is brimming with confidence that their revolution is final. Hence the rhetoric about their enemies being on “the wrong side of history,” heard regularly, even from Obama. But any historian will tell you that history is not read that simply, and is seldom quite so linear: ask Erich Honecker how that March of History worked out.

It’s tough to miss that the post-modern Western Left is immersed in WEIRD narratives so deeply that it is unable to recognize, much less tolerate, alternative viewpoints. We have come a long way from the Bolshevism of the last century, which after a brief period of Leninist experimentation in social matters, turned towards an aggressive traditionalism; Stalin and his Red minions had views on abortion, gender, and sexual minorities that would make FoxNews blush. The revolution needed soldiers and workers, meaning hard men, and what were women for if not to make them?

Today’s social revolutionaries have created a post-modern WEIRD paradise that does not seem to know what it wants save permanent revolution. How this new society can be maintained for long without enough children of its own is the great imponderable, since the signature achievement of the sexual revolution that began in the 1960’s, from any big-picture historical perspective, is the amazing decline in fecundity in any society it touches.

Mass immigration is the preferred solution for WEIRDos, because it gets them off the hook for reproducing while providing interesting ethnic restaurants, plus ample cheap labor to do the household chores that affluent progressives don’t seek to do  themselves (until recently many of these domestic tasks — cleaning, fixing, lawn-cutting — were assigned to a family’s children, who no longer exist in numbers).

In the United States, mass immigration, heavily from Latin America, is causing discontent but is seen as a nuisance, at most, by WEIRDos, who seldom know the working-class Americans who do see this as a serious threat to their economic and social well-being. In Europe, however, the influx comes heavily from Africa and Asia, and is mainly Muslim, leading to all kinds of problems, the most visible of them being terrorism.

The recent attacks around Paris have caused another outburst of introspection of a highly limited sort in the West. The Usual Suspects are, of course, explaining that all this unpleasantness has nothing to do with Islam. I’ve castigated this progressive myth-making already, as well as those on the other side, who seem to want a permanent war on Islam, which has more than a billion-and-a-half adherents.

Finding a middle path on discussing this problem is tricky but here we go. I have a Ph.D. in history, not Islamic Studies, which Islamist apologists insist you must if you discuss Islamic anything, but I’ve studied the subject in detail, I know Islam’s history and theology. Just as important, I’ve spent time in Muslim countries in many places, I’ve gotten to know many Muslims of diverse backgrounds: some remain my dear friends, some have been lovers (I came close to marrying a Muslim woman: that’s another story). Without further delay I shall engage in what SJWs call stereotyping and normals term analysis.

Issues of culture and development cannot be decoupled from discussions about the Muslim diaspora in the West. Pakistanis in America — many well educated professionals, nearly all speaking English — are frequently successful immigrants, many are notably patriotic and see no contradiction between their faith and their Americanism. Yet their illiterate co-nationals who come to Britain from the most backwards part of Pakistan — they bring their redneck habits, including cousin-marriage, to Yorkshire — are a breeding ground for crime and extremism. This is not all about Islam, other factors matter too, but we must be able to discuss Islam to understand what is going on.

France, which is home to a quarter of the twenty million Muslims living in Western Europe, likewise presents a complex picture that defies thumbnail assessment. The Parisian concept of laïcité, which was defended staunchly by Marine Le Pen in her New York Times op-ed demanding that France talk about Islamic extremism now, has been a success with more Muslim immigrants than many realize. There are millions of French Muslims, mainly of North African extraction, who have assimilated rather well to life on the other side of the Mediterranean, and many are well adjusted French patriots; some are even supporters of Le Pen’s Front national.

Westerners have a tough time understanding how Islam is actually lived by believers, while WEIRDos, thanks to their biases, seem incapable of grasping the essentials. In the first place, it must be understood that Islam is less a religion than a culture and a complete way of life. It has nothing to do with “religion” as defined by the post-Enlightenment West, which is comfortable with faiths that can be safely placed in a box ninety-five percent of the time, locked away when not in church, temple, or mosque.

Islam, being a programmatic faith not confined to the mosque, provides detailed commentary and rules on daily life, including matters sexual that invariably seem strange to post-modern Westerners, who view any infringement on personal sexuality as oppressive. This is a subject of regular mocking in parts of the Western press. Few care to note that Islam is very like Orthodox or Conservative Judaism in such matters.

Islam as actually lived by its adherents easily breaks down into three basic groups that are replicated everywhere there is Islam. Seeing how people live their faith, day in and day out, is illuminating. There is a genuinely radical element — perhaps ten percent, rather more in the West — that advocates Islamism, that is applying Islam in politics, by force if necessary. The aggressively pious vanguard of this sort pushes violence, even murderous barbarism, to further its aims. It has no sympathy for the West and seeks confrontation and victory, not dialogue. Its loudest adherents are usually dysfunctional sorts with a criminal past.

On the other side, maybe another ten percent, there are Muslims who actually reject the faith, de facto, but if they’re living in a Muslim country they keep relatively quiet about it, lest they be denounced as “apostates.” Many are well educated. Such atheists, or at least serious Islam-skeptics, are frequently encountered in the West; it’s seldom noted that many such people emigrate to freer countries precisely to be able to live their skepticism openly.

But the vast majority of Muslims fall into a big group that lives the faith as best they can, without questioning its essentials. They try, they fail, they keep trying. They usually make an effort during Ramadan, at least, and if a life crisis appears, they will pray and seek the comfort of the mosque; the rest of the time their lived faith is rather hit-or-miss. In other words, they are completely normal human beings.

It needs to be clear that these majoritarians do not question Islam: if pressed, they will state the problem, the failing, is with them, not the faith. It should be obvious that the group wholly absent from this division-into-threes is the post-modern Western skeptic, the nominal mainline Protestant, or perhaps a very Reform Jew, who’s down with gay marriage since it’s been “reinterpreted” in recent decades. Hipster Jesus — into you with your sins, cool with your ironic vibe — does not have a corollary in Islam. The hardest thing for WEIRDos, who view all religion as odd, and perhaps risible, when not dangerous, to grasp is — Muslims actually believe this stuff.

Not having been touched by the Enlightenment, much less post-modernism, Muslims are on a different planet, intellectually speaking, than WEIRDos. At best, they talk past each other. As someone who has advocated a tough approach to Muslim immigrants who do not seek to assimilate to Western norms, particularly if they have extreme views, some sympathy for them nevertheless is in order here.

It must be deeply confusing to any Muslim newcomer to France to encounter a place of such unbelief and debauchery as Paris, where raw sexuality is everywhere, women run free in every sense, and faiths of all kinds are mocked openly. Free speech is not a French priority, and certain kinds of speech are protected, while others are not. Since I cannot rationally explain why French law protects certain speech, and not others, I don’t expect an unlettered immigrant from West Africa to make sense of it all either.

The list of things that can get you thrown in a French jail for saying is long, including “offensive” speech against various racial, religious, and sexual minorities, but it must be mysterious to Muslims why gross public indecencies against the Prophet are tolerated when denial of the Holocaust, a purely human affair, is not. When a founder of Charlie Hebdo, the publication whose profane cartoons provoked mass murder, says that its editor, Stephane “Charb” Charbonnier, was a provocateur/jerk-off whose offensiveness got everybody killed, we can imagine what less sympathetic Muslims might feel about this case. Not least because Charb was no free speech advocate, rather a far-Left agitator who tried hard to get his political opponents banned while offending every traditionalist, of every stripe, he could.

To illustrate how complex this all actually is, allow me to sketch my good friend A., whom I’ve known for years, a highly assimilated French Muslim. His grandfather came from Algeria after a long career as a decorated French colonial soldier, one of the lucky harkis to escape the bloodbath after Algerian independence, when deGaulle condemned so many who had fought for France to an evil fate. A. has filled those shoes well as a soldier and then a career intelligence officer. His French patriotism is sincere and deep; he has visited Algeria a couple times, his command of Arabic being no greater than mine, and didn’t like it. France is his home, his patrie.

In matters of faith, A. is privately a modest skeptic, but he makes an effort during Ramadan, mostly to appease his father, a kind old gentleman who, like many do, turned to faith in an old age marked by illness and loneliness.  The rest of the year, A. regularly goes boozing and whoring like any counterintelligencer worth his salt. His ceaseless quest for the “right beurette” continues, unfulfilled. He is a Muslim and proud of it, but sincerely hates extremists and admits to feeling more than a little sympathy for the Front national, for its willingness to “stand up for France” (while A. is purely Algerian by background, he possesses a dislike of Germans to match anyone in France).

Yet A.’s views on many matters would distress WEIRDos. He thinks outright atheists are contemptible and views liberals with undisguised distaste, especially if they are Jewish and/or gay, and he is no fan of Israel. It should be noted that A. is no fonder of  newer Muslim immigrants who freeload on welfare. Yet his anti-Semitism is far from deep or uniform, and he reveres Éric Zemmour, a fellow Frenchman of (Jewish) Algerian descent, as someone “who says the truth.” A. wants Muslims to be respected yet thinks it would be best if jihadists were taken out over the ocean in helicopters, Argentinian junta style, and dropped into the deep from 5,000 feet.

What to make of all this? My friend represents a best-case scenario for Europe, a Muslim whose faith is modest, entirely private, and who feels sincerely at home in Europe, but I know his views on many issues would not pass progressive muster. Survey after survey demonstrates that Muslims in Europe broadly possess views that would be shocking to the WEIRD demographic. Significant portions of Europe’s Muslim community, particularly among more recent arrivals, espouse attitudes that are, at best, conditional in their condemnation of violence, i.e. jihad, while their views on Israel and Jews are implacably hostile.

Short of a coercive reeducation program worthy of Mao’s Cultural Revolution I’m not sure what can be done about all this in 2015. Even if Muslim immigration were halted tomorrow — which is surely not on the table yet — Western Europe will still possess twenty million Muslims, many quite unassimilated, who are reproducing at a rate far beyond the native population. It’s difficult to see how this can end well — or peacefully.

The tragedy is that European powers were, until recently, able to inspire loyalty from their Muslims. France got millions of African Muslims, like A.’s grandfather, to fight for their empire in both World Wars, and Britain managed the same. The Ottoman Empire’s pompous declaration of jihad in 1914, on behalf of the Central Powers, went nowhere as Muslim soldiers of the Indian Army turned out to be loyal to the British Empire, the world’s biggest Muslim power, even in battle against fellow Muslims.

Muslims in Russia proved equally faithful to the Tsar during World War I, that country’s aggressive Orthodox Christianity notwithstanding, while Austria-Hungary found that their Bosnian Muslim subjects were their most loyal and combative soldiers. In the Habsburgs’ last war, the 2nd Bosnian Regiment, the legendary Zweier Bosniaken, won more valor decorations than any other of the emperor’s regiments, while Bosnian Muslims died at the front at the highest rate of any of Vienna’s many ethnic groups.

Such tenacious loyalty to an “infidel” empire seems difficult to imagine a century later, but was understandable at the time, for the simple reason that Western colonial powers protected Islam and ensured Muslims could keep their faith and traditions even under an explicitly Christian occupier. Austria-Hungary’s 1878 invasion of Bosnia met stiff resistance from Muslims, but they were soon bought off with generous allowances for sharia, Islamic law, and Muslim conscripts in the Habsburg Army were led in prayer by imams in Austro-Hungarian uniform with a rigor many had never practiced in civilian life. The slogan, “On the path of Allah, for our Austrian homeland,” was cited by Bosnian troops headed to battle in 1914-1918, and it was no lie, for the Habsburgs protected Islam, and for any pious Muslim, Austria-Hungary counted as dar al-Islam.

How, then, are European countries today doing such a terrible job of assimilating Muslim immigrants? In the first place, Christianity has been replaced by secularism, often of an aggressive kind. We have changed; Muslims have not. The sort of in-your-face secularism that’s commonplace in Europe now is difficult for Muslims to relate to, having no resonance with their historical experience, and is viewed with contempt by many of them. Bonds of tribe and kin that have frayed in the West remain powerful among Muslims. Post-modern permissiveness in sexual matters is likewise met with bemused anger by many Muslims, some of whom gleefully rape European women they view as whores.

Crime is one of the great unmentionables in all this, preventing honest dialogue. In 2010, Éric Zemmour was convicted of racial incitement for stating that Muslim immigrants were grossly overrepresented among France’s violent criminals, though few could plausibly state he was wrong on the numbers. Over the last generation, France has created a serious problem in the suburbs of Paris, among other major cities, where Muslim ghettos are crowded with young people who seldom if ever work, living on welfare while plotting crimes of various sorts, while seething with resentment and hate for “infidels” around them. For some, this path of hatred leads to jihad. Here the Paris killers, with their obsession with angry American rap music, were a walking, vapid, and murderous cliche.

Many are now worried about low-grade warfare erupting across Western Europe, as jihadist cells go active and plant bombs and open fire. All over the European Union, in the aftermath of the Paris attacks, police and spies are watching would-be killers closely. Although there is no enduring security fix to this daunting problem, as I’ve explained before, consistent police and intelligence pressure on Salafi radicals can reduce terrorism, if the will exists to sustain such aggressive operations by the security services.

While more terrorism seems likely, it may not be anything as dramatic as alarmists and thrillers would promise. France already faces an Islamic insurgency of a low-grade kind — it is habitually downplayed by the authorities as “isolated incidents” that happen “at random” when shootings and driving cars into people is anything but random — that may continue on low-boil for years, claiming a few victims at a time, not dozens, much less hundreds. French inner cities may come to resemble shambolic American inner cities like Detroit or Chicago, where war-like casualty rates among civilians are similarly dismissed as “street crime,” with the difference that France’s troublemakers will be inspired by Salafi jihadism while being shockingly well armed. Needless to add, more militarization of police and society will follow.

It’s all too soon to tell. All-out civil war — think more Mad Max than Gettysburg — cannot be ruled out at this juncture. What is clear, however, is that Europe has no idea how to respond to this mounting crisis in any politically coherent fashion. Pushing Marine Le Pen, who heads the most popular political party in France, to the margins of the national dialogue about domestic extremism seems certain to increase political polarization when it needs to be reduced. As I’ve stated many times, unless Europe’s mainstream parties find a way to engage alienated voters of the sort to whom the FN and Germany’s PEGIDA appeal, they are surrendering this vital and politically explosive issue — which is only continuing to grow, especially among the young — to the friends of Vladimir Putin, whose commitment to democracy may be less than sincere.

In his professorial way, President Obama has told Europeans that they must assimilate immigrants better, in order to defeat terrorism, without explaining how this might be done. This lecturing has gone down as well in Europe as does European pontificating at Americans how we need to be nicer to blacks: cheap posturing is not a policy, anywhere. Moreover, Obama’s unhelpful hint leaves out the critical question of how many Muslims in Europe actually want to assimilate to a society that many of them openly loathe. (Neither does it help matters when major NATO leaders tell Muslim immigrants that under no circumstances should they assimilate to European ways.) Ample, if anecdotal, evidence suggests that Muslims in Europe who actually want to adopt European values are doing so, at their own pace, while Muslims who want no part of WEIRD anything are rejecting our post-modernism — some of them with violence.

None of this mess, which has been decades in the making, is conducive to easy solutions. There is no European-wide fix available; individual countries will need to fashion bespoke responses, based on the unique circumstances of their own Muslim populations. But a start to getting on the road to societal health would be making clear that immigrants who have no intention of accepting European political values should not enter Europe. In this vein, Ahmed Aboutaleb, the Moroccan-born mayor of Rotterdam, which possesses a large Muslim population, told co-religionists who are uncomfortable with European freedoms that they simply need to “f*** off.”

Such very free speech aside, institutionalized escapism continues to dominate Western debates on this issue. FoxNews recently caused a ruckus on both sides of the Atlantic with a discussion of Muslim “no-go” areas in Europe. The speaker overstated his case, as he tends to do, leading to hysteria among those eager to dismiss any notion that such areas, reminiscent of parts of North Ireland in the 1970’s where British security forces dared not operate, actually exist. The subsequent pontification has been strong, notwithstanding the fact that such no-go areas do exist in some parts of Europe, as any serious analysis would reveal. A brief discussion with any European cop or spook working operational counterterrorism would bring wisdom that would be discomforting to progressives.

The truth about Islam is that it approaches other religions from a triumphalist position, and always has. By default, it anticipates submission, not co-existence in any sense recognizable to the post-Enlightenment West. While its history is hardly all jihad, Islam’s “bloody borders” are a matter of record, not opinion. The last Ottoman effort to subdue Europe — one of many Islamic invasion efforts over the centuries — came in 1683, and was stopped, just barely, at Vienna. That sounds like a long time ago, but when King John Sobieski’s Polish cavalry appeared from the north to cut the Ottoman siege short, Harvard had been open for nearly a half-century, America’s coastal colonies were thickly settled, and Ben Franklin’s birth was barely two decades off. This was over three centuries ago, but hardly ancient history.

Many progressives fall prey to an argument, composed of equal parts narcissism and masochism, whereby jihadism and Muslim anger are really the West’s fault. The source of all this rage, you see, is to be found in recent Western “colonial blunders,” and certainly has nothing to with Islam. Colonialism has caused all sorts of bad issues — it’s difficult to see how France or Britain would have their big problems with Muslim immigrants without their former empires in the closet — but if it’s fair to point the finger at Western colonialism, it’s equally fair to cite all the centuries of examples when Muslim countries tried to overrun Europe at sword-point, killing, raping, and taking slaves all the way.

History matters and we must understand Muslim narratives about the past. This does not mean the West should agree with those, and we must not allow historical grievances, real or imagined, to be employed in defense of terrorism and murder. Above all, Muslims are people like all the others, and the average Muslim obsesses about such matters no more than the average American seethes about the Alamo. Muslims, on close inspection, turn out to have all the usual human frailties and complexes, not all of them conducive to peaceful coexistence.

The number of Muslims actually eager to wage jihad is small, but to deny that such sorts exist, and that they are motivated by a toxic brew of nihilism and aggression, in the name of Islam, is to perpetuate a dangerous lie. Moreover, opinion polling among Muslims, including in the West, quickly reveals that many of them strongly dislike lots of things about us, including Western sexual mores and Jews. There is nothing to be done about the issue of anti-Semitism at this point — the desire of some French Jews now to simply escape is sadly understandable — while Muslim discomfort about our post-modern ways is intractable unless we are willing to change who we are to appease relatively small, if vocal, numbers of newcomers. That matter will be left to voters, most of whom I doubt will be inclined to abandon their comfortable lifestyles to please angry foreigners on welfare who are responsible for a lot of street crime.

To sum up, the triumph of the WEIRD demographic in the West over the last half-century, so such post-moderns now dominate our scholarly, media and political elites, means that having a genuine discussion with Muslims appears impossible. While Christian Europe of the last century still had some common ground with believing Muslims, the gap today between our societal values and those of most Muslims is vast and cannot be overcome without huge changes, perhaps on both sides, that seem unlikely to happen without bloodshed.

To make matters worse, the only European country that is making an effort to appeal to normal people of faith in dangerous times is Vladimir Putin’s Russia. In the aftermath of the Paris attacks, the Kremlin, speaking through its religious mouthpieces, has staked out a clear position that terrorism is unacceptable, but so is intentionally offending religious people with blasphemy. In this formulation, Russia — and Russia alone — offers a welcoming home to Christians and Muslims alike, while driving extremists of all sorts, whether they be jihadists or Communist cartoonists, out of the public square. Religion is not the problem, Russia makes clear, and its support for traditional religions here is consistent — extremism is.

WEIRDos in the West naturally find all this a tad comedic, and they were mightily surprised when Pope Francis (“One cannot provoke; one cannot insult other people’s faith; one cannot make fun of faith”) came alarmingly close to towing the Kremlin line about Charlie Hebdo. Yet again, post-moderns were distressed to discover that the Pope of Rome is actually a Catholic. You have to be part of the WEIRD demographic to find it “shocking” when traditional religion stands up against aggressive blasphemy.

Europe is in real danger here. The possibility of mass violence, caused by jihadist insurgents who are painted as “criminals” by the political and media elite, is serious and the gross decline in European military strength since the end of the Cold War does not provide assurance that such messiness could be brought under control quickly. In that case, radicalization will beget counter-radicalization and grave violence between Muslims and native Europeans should be expected. In that case, madmen like Anders Breivik will turn out to be trendsetters of an odious kind. Here the progressive need to find Islamophobia, which seems to concern many on the Left more than armed jihadism, does not promote stability.

As Europe descends into chaos and violence, a dystopian future wanted by no sane person, who will be there to stave of total collapse? Some are already planning for this, quietly, but most of Europe is not — how can governments plan for something they dare not even name? — and we can expect NATO to be unready for what may be coming. Having participated in many defense exercises with NATO, I can state confidently that the very last thing the U.S. military wants to get caught up in is European chaos. If the German military, far too small to contain mass violence, appeals to Stuttgart, where the U.S. European Command is headquartered, for assistance, somehow emails will be lost and calls will be “missed.” It’s impossible to imagine Obama committing American troops to putting down Muslim riots and worse in Europe.

However, Vladimir Putin will be waiting by the phone, eager to “help” Europe in its time of troubles. Not to mention that Putin comes from the Russian secret police tradition, where you create problems in order to solve them. Kremlin wags are eager to remind everyone how many times Holy Russia has selflessly saved the continent from Western European madness, in 1814 and in 1945 in particular, and suddenly the man in Moscow will appear as a savior, a warrior of faith himself — not at all like Europe and America’s weak-willed elites — who can appeal to moderates of all sorts, Christian and Muslim alike, to reject violence and extremism. This scenario is fanciful only if you are blind to what Putin wants, and how bad the situation in Europe actually is. When a drowning Europe needs Putin’s urgent assistance, our WEIRD demographic may find out that history did not turn out quite as they had been promised.

Snowden and Russian Intelligence: An Update

Now that Ed Snowden has been in Russia for more than eighteen months, having settled into a cosy domestic arrangement with his stripper dancer girlfriend, his long-term presence in Putinistan has become a bit of an embarrassment to Ed’s admirers who possess any sense of honesty and/or decency. His sponsor and protector is a KGB thug who does smash-and-grabs against other countries, and for normals this is a tad incongruous with Snowden’s saintly status as a “human rights activist” without par.

However, rather than moderate their claims, the Snowden Operation has chosen to double-down. In a recent interview, the most famous of all NSA defectors stated, “They talk about Russia like it’s the worst place on earth. Russia’s great,” without clarifying who exactly “they” might be. Ed was at pains to make clear that he has not yet wound up the vodka-swilling basket-case that most Western defectors to Moscow become if they stay for very long.

Now we have one of the members of the Snowden Operation inner circle explaining that Russian intelligence did, in fact, attempt to recruit Ed to work for them, but he declined. According to Sarah Harrison, the pitch came in mid-2013 when Ed was stuck at Sheremetyevo airport for six weeks, but the defector “didn’t give anything to the Russians at all,” and the FSB never tried to recruit Ed again, giving him asylum without anything in return.

Sarah Harrison, of course, is the Wikileaks stalwart who was dispatched by Julian Assange, her collaborator/lover/whatever, to Hong Kong to escort Ed on his fateful trip to Moscow. I’ve pointed to Wikileaks, in particular its transparent ties to Russian intelligence, as a key aspect of the Snowden Operation, and now that Assange’s operation is parroting the latest Kremlin-approved USA-did-it disinformation about the recent Paris terrorist attacks (which today was repeated by none other than Sergey Lavrov, Russia’s foreign minister), this issue needs to be explored more than ever — not to mention that it was Wikileaks that told Ed to go to Russia and stay there.

Moreover, the notion that Ed was not approached by Russian intelligence until he reached Moscow is transparently laughable to anybody even marginally acquainted with the real-world of espionage, as I explained many months ago. To repeat myself:

What can be dismissed out of hand is the notion that, while staying in Hong Kong a year ago, Ed met with Russian spies – sorry, “diplomats” – at their consulate there and, all of a sudden, decided to hop a flight to Moscow. Espionage simply does not work that way, folks. We can only guess at what was on Ed’s mind, but those who know the Russian “special services” understand that such a scenario is so implausible that it can be ruled out altogether. The Russian Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR) simply does not allow American intelligence personnel they’ve just met to jump on a flight to Mother Russia. That never happens.

We also have the expert testimony, last May, of Oleg Kalugin, a retired KGB general, that “of course” Snowden is working for Russian intelligence. Kalugin “made his bones” heading Line KR, the legendary foreign counterintelligence arm of the KGB’s elite First Chief Directorate: in other words, his job was recruiting and running agents just like Ed Snowden. Unless you happen to know more about Line KR operations than MajGen Kalugin, I recommend you take his word on this one.

Sarah Harrison, after more than eighteen months of flat-out denials that Russian intelligence had anything to do with her client/buddy Ed, now concedes that the FSB did have a chat with the defector. However, she maintains:

1. Ed said no and gave the Russians nothing, ever.

2. The FSB never asked Ed again to cooperate.

3. The Kremlin was fine with this and allowed Ed to stay in Russia indefinitely despite his non-cooperation.

If you believe any of these assertions, much less all of them, please do not discuss important matters like intelligence when adults are present, since you appear a fool and Putin patsy.

As the wheels long ago came off the Snowden show as anything other than a Russian disinformation operation, Ed and his circle of helpers are now resorting to lies so laughable that you wonder how dumb they think the Western public actually is. To be fair to Putin, if Westerners can believe Ed Snowden is a “human rights hero,” despite mountains of contrary evidence, why wouldn’t they also believe that the Obama administration is “really” behind terrorism in France?

After Paris: The Kremlin’s New Message

Today, before the terrorists believed responsible have even been caught, the mainstream Russian media ran an interview in which a noted political commentator explicitly blamed U.S. intelligence for yesterday’s murderous attack on Charlie Hebdo‘s Paris office.

The extended interview with Alexey Martynov was carried on LifeNews.ru, which is not state-run but which follows the Kremlin line on most issues and has a very large audience: this is anything but a fringe network in Putin’s Russia. Martynov’s novel theory is that American intelligence was behind the attack in order to force Europe, particularly France, into closer cooperation with the United States in the name of “counterterrorism.” As for proof for this hypothesis, there is none, but Martynov claims that since the Americans are really behind the whole Islamic State thing, of course the Paris attack was really the work of the CIA … or something. This is Alex Jones-level stuff, carried on a major network with millions of viewers.

And who is Alexey Martynov? He bills himself as a political scientist and “human rights activist” — which is another of those terms that, when used in Putin’s Russia, doesn’t mean what you think it means. Martynov heads the oddly named International Institute for New States (MING, in Russian), a Moscow-based think tank that dispenses Putin-friendly propaganda posing as analysis. Before MING was founded in 2008, he headed an NGO called “For Democracy and Human Rights” which actually pushes pro-Putin messages under the “human rights” banner. He regularly gets cited in regime media for his consistently Kremlin-line take on, well, everything.

Martynov’s op-eds run the gamut of pro-Putin ramblings, mostly about the former Soviet space, but his anti-Americanism is clear; his frequent denunciations of U.S. “imperialism” and “neo-liberalism” seem to be why The Nation considers him a friendly voice. To cite only some of Martynov’s more recent rants, he praised NSA defector Edward Snowden as “a symbol of resistance to American neo-imperialism,” while talking a great deal about Ukraine which Martynov, a native of Crimea, considers to not really be an independent country but, to the extent that it is, it’s under the control of Nazis and/or Islamic extremists. Sound familiar?

Martynov’s core belief is that Russia is constantly under threat from U.S.-led “color revolutions” and, in that sense, Kremlin aggression in Ukraine isn’t aggression at all, but a legitimate and defensive act. Like jihadists, pro-Putin propagandists see their cause as under colossal, indeed existential Western threat, so any aggression they perpetrate is, cosmically speaking, defensive in nature. This is really Oliver Stone stuff, in Russian, with a faux-academic gloss.

Who is behind MING, Martynov’s think tank, isn’t exactly clear (“Funding is provided by contributions from the founders, private donations and grants”) but it proudly states, in bold, that it takes no funds from “foreign agents” — this being Putin-speak for its status as a “patriotic” outfit that’s not in bed with U.S. “neo-imperialism.” MING’s take on events can be fairly assessed as rabidly pro-Kremlin, when not slavishly so.

Martynov’s public bio is sketchy about his activities before 2007 — perhaps not coincidentally, the year Putin publicly threw down the gauntlet at America about its alleged aggressions against Russia — leading to speculation that he is a former officer of the Russian special services: of course, there is no such thing as “a former Chekist,” as Russia’s president himself has stated. Regardless of Martynov’s possible affiliations, past or present, with Russian security agencies, it’s fair to say that if the FSB were running a think tank, it would look and act a lot like MING, and it’s understood by all seasoned Kremlin-watchers that most of Russia’s “independent” pro-regime institutes actually aren’t all that independent when you examine their funding and personnel.

Yet the most interesting part of Martynov’s rant about the Paris atrocity isn’t actually his fact-free pinning it on American intelligence. He revealed what the Kremlin’s real agenda now is. He hailed Europe’s “voice of common sense, calling for the restoration of cooperation with Russia” in the face of terrorism — this being exactly what pro-Putin politicians in France like Marine Le Pen have called for — while asserting that nefarious U.S.-backed terrorism will have the opposite effect of pushing “Russia and Europe closer together in the face of common threats — terrorism and the hegemony of the United States.”

That is a perfect explanation of Moscow’s strategic aim in Europe today, as has been evident for some time to anyone with open eyes, and now Kremlin mouthpieces are saying it openly. As someone who has repeatedly warned Europeans that their rising right-wing is being co-opted by Moscow against NATO and the West, it’s an unpleasant surprise when the Russians are this unsubtle about it. Clearly Putin is feeling confident despite Russia’s dire economic predicament. Watch Paris and Madame Le Pen for the next move.

Putin’s Orthodox Jihad

Yesterday Russia announced a revised military doctrine, signed by President Vladimir Putin, that names NATO as the Kremlin’s main adversary and clarifies that Russia’s military reserves the right to respond to conventional threats with both nuclear and conventional weapons. This is no big change, since it only amplifies existing doctrine, but its explicit emphasis on NATO as the primary threat to Russia’s security has raised Western eyebrows, as intended. Anyone who thought the West, led by the United States, could lay waste to Russia’s economy through sanctions brought about by Russia’s aggression in Ukraine, without significant pushback from Moscow, is too naive to deal in such important affairs. The new year promises to be a busy one, with myriad forms of retaliation emanating from Moscow, some possibly very unpleasant, as I recently explained.

My explanation back in March, on the heels of Russia’s theft of Crimea, that we are in Cold War 2.0, whether we like it or not, was dismissed as alarmist by those not well acquainted with Putin and his system, but has been borne out by events over the last nine months. One reason oft-cited by skeptics regarding the state of relations between Russia and the West is the supposed absence of an ideological component to the rivalry, which is a necessary precondition for any reborn Cold War. President Barack Obama has been one of the leading proponents of this hopeful view, stating: “This is not another Cold War that we’re entering into. After all, unlike the Soviet Union, Russia leads no bloc of nations. No global ideology. The United States and NATO do not seek any conflict with Russia.”

As I explained back in April, this view is wrong, and has only gotten wronger over the last several months. In fact, Putin should be seen as the leader of what I termed the Anti-WEIRD Coalition, the vanguard of the diverse movement that is opposed to Western post-modernism in its political and social forms — and particularly to its spread by governments, corporations, NGOs, or the bayonets of the U.S. military. While this should not be seen as any formal alliance, nor is it likely to become one, there exists an agglomeration of countries that are opposed to what the West, and especially America, represent on the world stage, and this was the year that Putin unambiguously took its helm.

What motivates this is a complex question. Putin is a complex character himself, with his worldview being profoundly shaped by his long service as a Soviet secret policeman; he exudes what Russians term Chekism — conspiracy-based thinking that sees plots abounding and is reflexively anti-Western, with heavy doses of machismo and KGB tough-talk. Hence persistent Western efforts to view Putin as any Western sort of democratic politician, albeit one with a strange affectation for judo and odd bare-chested photo-ops with scary wild animals, invariably miss the mark.

This year ending also saw the mask drop regarding Putin’s ideology beyond his bone-deep Chekism. In his fire-breathing speech to the Duma in March when he announced Russia’s annexation of Crimea, Putin included not just venerable KGB classics like warnings about the Western Fifth Column and “national traitors,” but also paeans to explicit Russian ethnic nationalism buttressed by Orthodox mysticism, with citations of saints from millennia past. This was the culmination of years of increasingly unsubtle hints from Putin and his inner circle that what ideologically motivates this Kremlin is the KGB cult unified with Russian Orthodoxy. Behind the Chekist sword and shield lurks the Third Rome, forming a potent and, to many Russians, plausible worldview. That this take on the planet and its politics is intensely anti-Western needs to be stated clearly.

But what of Putin’s actual beliefs? This knotty question is, strictly speaking, unanswerable, since only he knows his own soul. Putin’s powerful Chekism is beyond doubt, while many Westerners are skeptical that he is any sort of Orthodox believer. According to his own account, Putin’s father was a militant Communist while his mother was a faithful, if quiet, Orthodox believer; one wonders what holidays were like in the Putin household. He was baptized in secret as a child but was not any sort of engaged believer during his KGB service — that would have been impossible, not least due to the KGB’s role in persecuting religion — but by his own account, late in the Soviet period, Putin reconciled his Chekism with his faith by making the sign of the cross over his KGB credentials. By the late 1990’s, Putin was wearing his baptismal cross openly, for all bare-chested photo ops.

The turn to faith in middle-age, after some sort of life crisis, is a staple of conversion and reversion stories. In his last years in power, Saddam Hussein began talking a lot about Islam openly, which was dismissed as political theater in the West, but in retrospect seems to have been at least somewhat sincere. Did Putin opt for Orthodoxy after a mid-life crisis? I am an Orthodox believer myself and, having carefully watched many video clips of Putin in church and at religious events, I can state without reservation that Putin knows what to do. His religious act — kissing icons, lighting candles, interacting with clerics — is flawless, so Putin is either a sincere Orthodox or he has devoted serious study to looking and acting like one.

Whether this faith is genuine or a well-honed pose, Putin’s potent fusion of KGB values and Orthodoxy has been building for years, though few Westerners have noticed. Early in Putin’s years in the Kremlin, the younger generation of Federal Security Service (FSB) officers embraced a nascent ideology they termed “the system” (sistema), which was a sort of elitist Chekism — toughness free of corruption and based in patriotism — updated for the new 21st century. However, this could have limited appeal to the masses, so its place was gradually taken by a doctrine termed “spiritual security.” This involved the ideological fusion of the FSB and the Russian Orthodox Church (ROC), culminating in the 2002 dedication of an Orthodox church at the Lubyanka, the FSB — and former KGB’s — notorious Moscow headquarters. It suddenly became fashionable for senior FSB officers to have conversion experiences, while “spiritual security” offered Putin’s Russia a way to defend itself against what it has long seen as the encroachment of decadent post-modern Western values. Just how seriously Putin took all this was his statement that Russia’s “spiritual shield” was as important to her security as her nuclear shield.

Nearly all Western experts, being mostly secularists when not atheists, paid no attention to these clear indications of where Putin was taking Russia, while the view of the few who did notice was colored by the perception that this simply had to be a put-up job by the Kremlin. But what if it is not? Skeptics are correct to note that Chekists have had a toxic and convoluted relationship with the ROC ever since Stalin, that failed Orthodox seminarian, resurrected the remnants of the Church, what little had survived vicious Bolshevik persecution, during the darkest days of the Great Patriotic War to buttress the regime with faith and patriotism — all tightly controlled by the secret police. There was the rub. Under the Soviets, all senior ROC appointments were subject to Chekist review, while nobody became a bishop without the KGB having some kompromat on him. This was understood by all, including the fact that a distressing number of ROC senior clerics were actual KGB agents. It’s not surprising that Putin omits from his CV that he worked for a time in the KGB’s Fifth Directorate, which supervised religious bodies, leading some to speculate that Putin’s relationship with certain ROC bishops extends deep into the late Soviet period.

The ROC is not Russia’s state religion, as Putin and top bishops have been at pains to state, but it cannot be denied that the Moscow Patriarchate’s close ties to the Kremlin grant it a very special relationship with Putinism. Whether this actually is symphonia, meaning the Byzantine-style unity of state and church which is something of an Orthodox ideal, in stark contrast to American notions of separation of church and state, remains to be seen, but Orthodoxy has become the close political and ideological partner of the Kremlin in recent years, a preferred vehicle for explicit anti-Western propaganda.

ROC agitprop, which has Kremlin endorsement, depicts a West that is declining down to its death at the hands of decadence and sin, mired in confused unbelief, bored and failing to even reproduce itself. Patriarch Kirill, head of the church, recently explained that the “main threat” to Russia is “the loss of faith” in the Western style, while ROC spokesmen constantly denounce feminism and the LGBT movement as Satanic creations of the West that aim to destroy faith, family, and nation. It is in this context that Putin’s comments at last year’s Valdai Club event ought to be seen:

Another serious challenge to Russia’s identity is linked to events taking place in the world. Here there are both foreign policy and moral aspects. We can see how many of the Euro-Atlantic countries are actually rejecting their roots, including the Christian values that constitute the basis of Western civilization. They are denying moral principles and all traditional identities: national, cultural, religious and even sexual. They are implementing policies that equate large families with same-sex partnerships, belief in God with the belief in Satan.

The excesses of political correctness have reached the point where people are seriously talking about registering political parties whose aim is to promote pedophilia. People in many European countries are embarrassed or afraid to talk about their religious affiliations. Holidays are abolished or even called something different; their essence is hidden away, as is their moral foundation. And people are aggressively trying to export this model all over the world. I am convinced that this opens a direct path to degradation and primitivism, resulting in a profound demographic and moral crisis.

This week the ideological ante was upped by the Kremlin with the comments of Fr. Vsevolod Chaplin, a media gadfly cleric, who gave a very long newspaper interview in which he castigated, among other things, radical Islam, usury, and the West generally, but it was his comments on the current conflict with America that got all the attention. Chaplin minced no words, proclaiming that Russia’s God-given goal today is halting the global “American project.” As he explained:

It is no coincidence that we have often, at the price of our own lives … stopped all global projects that disagreed with our conscience, with our vision of history and, I would say, with God’s own truth .. Such was Napoleon’s project, such was Hitler’s project. We will stop the American project too.”

Chaplin added the usual tropes about Western decadence compared to Russian spiritual strength, waxing nationalist and Orthodox in a manner much like Putin has done many times. This interview was viewed as strange by most Westerners, but it must be realized that Chaplin, for all his inflammatory statements, is hardly some lone cleric talking crazy. He is the official spokesman of the Moscow Patriarchate who has a very close relationship with Patriarch Kirill; he appears in the media regularly and has received a raft of decorations from the ROC and the Russian state.

The forty-six year old Chaplin regularly makes statements that reflect a patriotic and religiously hardline stance on, well, everything. To cite only a few of his utterances to the media, Chaplin recently denounced a Hobbit movie promotion in Moscow as a Satanic symbol that would bring evil to the city; he stated that the Pussy Riot case was proof that “The West gives its support to divide the people of Russia”; he advocated a national dress code for Russia, citing rising immorality (“It is wrong to think that women should decide themselves what they can wear in public places or at work … If a woman dresses like a prostitute, her colleagues must have the right to tell her that.”); and he has been particularly vocal in his opposition to Western-backed homosexuality: “it is one of the gravest sins because it changes people’s mental state, makes the creation of a normal family impossible, and corrupts the younger generation. By the way, it is no accident that the propaganda of this sin is targeted at young people and sometimes at children. It deprives people of eternal bliss.”

Chaplin’s biggest theme is that the decadent, post-modern West, led by the frankly Satanic United States — whose separation of church and state, per Chaplin, constitutes “a monstrous phenomenon that has occurred only in Western civilization and will kill the West, both politically and morally” — has no future. According to the ROC, speaking through its spokesman, the triumph of same-sex marriage means that the West doesn’t even have fifty years left before its collapse, and it will be up to Russia then to save what can be saved, to “make Europe Christian again, that is, go back to the ideals that once made Europe.”

While it is tempting to dismiss such talk as ravings, even when they come from the official spokesman of Putin’s own church, they have deep resonance with more serious thinkers whom Putin admires. Ivan Ilyin, a Russian philosopher who fled the Bolsheviks and died in Swiss exile, was reburied at Moscow’s famous Donskoy monastery in 2005 with public fanfare; Putin personally paid for Ilyin’s new headstone. Despite the fact that even Kremlin outlets note the importance of Ilyin to Putin’s worldview, not enough Westerners have paid attention.

They should. A devout Orthodox, Ilyin espoused a unique vision, a Slavophile take on modernity and Russia’s predicament under the militant atheists. He espoused ethnic-religious neo-traditionalism, amidst much talk about a unique “Russian soul.” Of greatest relevance today, he believed that Russia would recover from the Bolshevik nightmare and rediscover itself, first spiritually then politically, thereby saving the world. Ilyin’s take on responsibility for Bolshevism — and its cure — merits examination, as he explained:

The West exported this anti-Christian virus to Russia … Having lost our bond with God and the Christian Tradition, mankind has been morally blinded, gripped by materialism, irrationalism and nihilism … In order to overcome the global moral crisis, we have to return to eternal moral values, that is faith, love, freedom, conscience, family, motherland and nation, but above all faith and love.

Although Ilyin died sixty years ago, he remains to his admirers “the prophet of the new Orthodox Russia which is being born and which alone can give the contemporary world a viable future, providing that it is given time to grow to fruition in contemporary Russia.” As Ilyin wrote to a friend near the end of his life, when the fall of Communism was still decades off:

What are we to do, squeezed between Catholics, Freemasons and Bolsheviks? I answer: Stand firm, standing up with your left hand, which goes from the heart, for Christ the Lord, for His undivided tunic, and, with your right hand, fight to the end for Orthodoxy and Orthodox Russia. And, above all, vigilantly watch those groups which are preparing for Antichrist. All of this – even if we are threatened by apparent complete powerlessness and total solitude.

The sort of uncompromising faith Ilyin stood for, which bears little similarity to Western Christianity much less to post-modern notions of “tolerance,” is made abundantly clear in his numerous writings and speeches. Of particular interest is a speech Ilyin gave in 1925, extolling Lavr Kornilov, a White Russian general who fell in the struggle against Bolshevism (and, not coincidentally, exactly the sort of Orthodox-believing yet non-noble White counter-revolutionary figure much admired by Putin). Ilyin defined what Russia and Orthodoxy now needed: “This idea is more than a single man, more than a feat of one hero. This idea is great as Russia and the sacred as her religion. This is the idea of the Orthodox sword.” He cited the fatal shortcomings of pre-revolutionary Russia as “limp sentimentality, spiritual nihilism and moral pedantry,” and to counter those Russia needed a strong dose of fighting faith. As Ilyin explained:

In calling to love our enemies, Christ had in mind personal enemies of man, not God’s enemies, and not blaspheming molesters, for them drowning with a millstone around their neck was recommended. Urging to forgive injuries, Christ was referring to personal insults to a person, not all possible crimes; no one has the right to forgive the offenses suffered by others or provide for the villains to offend the weak, corrupt children, desecrate churches and destroy the Fatherland. So therefore a Christian is called not only to forgive offenses, but to fight the enemies of God’s work on earth. The evangelical commandment of “non-resistance to evil” teaches humility and generosity in personal matters, and not limpness of will, not cowardice, not treachery and not obedience to evildoers.

This is the vision — uncompromising faith and patriotism, without any sentimentality or weakness — that animates Russia’s holy warriors today, from Fr. Chaplin, and perhaps Vladimir Putin too, on down. Russian Orthodoxy’s church militant is a special breed that tends to mystify Westerners. Certainly the West finds the motley crew of Kremlin-backed Orthodox adventurers and mercenaries battling in the Donbass to be equal parts comical and sinister, yet they have an ideology which they hardly hide. As an Orthodox priest ministering to Russian fighters in Donetsk explained a few months ago — a bearded cleric and tough veteran of the Soviet Afghan war, he is a creature straight out of Ilyin’s dreams — what they are battling against is not the Ukrainian government, nor American neoconservatives, rather the Devil himself. The goal of Moscow’s enemy, as he elaborated, is perfectly clear to the eyes of faith:

The establishment of planetary Satanic rule. What’s occurring here is the very beginning of a global war. Not for resources or territory, that’s secondary. This is a war for the destruction of true Christianity, Orthodoxy. The worldview of the wealthiest men who own almost all the material goods in the world is Satanism. Having summoned the elements of the First and Second World Wars and a Third Information War, and having laid hundreds of millions of the slain at the altar of their father, Satan, they have initiated the Fourth World War. They are intentionally hastening the reign of Antichrist.

As with Vsevolod Chaplin, it’s tempting to dismiss all this as the ravings of a lone nut, but these are no longer fringe views in Putin’s Russia.  Jihad is not a word to be used lightly, given its sinister connotations to the West after 9/11, but this bears more than a little resemblance to Holy War in a Russian and Orthodox variant. Whether Putin really believes all this may be immaterial, since his regime has created and nurtured a virulent ideology, an explosive amalgam of xenophobia, Chekism and militant Orthodoxy which justifies the Kremlin’s actions and explains why the West must be opposed at all costs. Given the economic crisis that Russia now finds itself in, thanks to Western sanctions, during the long and cold winter now starting, we ought to expect more, not fewer, Russians turning to this worldview which resonates with their nation’s history and explains the root of their suffering.

We perhaps should be grateful that the Orthodox Jihad rejects suicide bombings. In the 1930’s, Romania’s fascist Legionary Movement, led by the charismatic Orthodox revolutionary Corneliu Zelea Codreanu, toyed with what terrorism mavens today might term “martyrdom operations,” but these never really caught on. Orthodoxy frowns on suicide, even in a just cause. That, at least, is the good news.

The bad news, however, is that Putin’s uncompromising worldview has more than a few admirers in the West, far beyond the Orthodox realm. Many who reject Moscow’s quasi-religious mysticism nevertheless admire its willingness to take on America directly and offer a counterpoint to armed post-modernism in world affairs. As I’ve previously explained, many European far-right parties have quite a crush on the man in the Kremlin, perhaps due to the money he gives them, but the sincerity of some of the admiration is not in question. In France, Marine Le Pen is leading her National Front to ever-greater heights of political power, and her affection for Putin is unconcealed. “In Russia today there is a mix of exalting nationalism, exalting the church and Christian values,” explained a French politico: “They are now replacing the red star with the cross, and they are representing themselves as the ultimate barrier against the Islamization of the continent.” Since it is far from impossible that Le Pen will be president of France someday, the implications of all this for NATO and the West merit serious consideration.

It would be supremely ironic if the last defender of Europe and European values comes from the East, from a Kremlin controlled by a former KGB officer who mourns the collapse of the Soviet Union yet has rediscovered traditional faith and family values. As discontentment with American-led Europe spreads, the Russian option may look plausible to more Europeans, worried about immigration, identity, and the collapse of their values and economies, than Americans might imagine. Ivan Ilyin, however, might not be surprised by this strange turn of events in the slightest.