[This column was written for the Unz Review]
There is nothing new about empires taking hostages and using them to put pressure on whatever rebel group needs to reminded “who is boss”. The recent arrest in Italy of Alexander Korshunov, the director for business development at Russia’s United Engine Corporation (UEC), is really nothing new but just the latest in a long string of kidnappings. And, as I already mentioned in distant 2017, that kind of thuggery is not a sign of strength but, in fact, a sign of weakness. Remember Michael Ledeen’s immortal words about how “”Every ten years or so, the United States needs to pick up some small crappy little country and throw it against the wall, just to show the world we mean business“? Well, you could say that this latest spat of kidnappings is indicative of the same mindset and goal, just on a much smaller, individual, scale. And, finally, it ain’t just Russia, we all know about the kidnapping of Huawei’s CFO Meng Wanzhou by the Canadian authorities.
By the way, you might wonder how can I speak of “kidnapping” when, in reality, these were legal arrests made by the legitimate authorities of the countries in which these arrests were made? Simple! As I mentioned last week, words matter and to speak of an “arrest” in this case wrongly suggest that 1) some crime was committed (when in reality there is ZERO evidence of that, hence the talk of “conspiracy” to do something illegal) 2) that this crime was investigated and that the authorities have gathered enough evidence to justify an arrest and 3) that the accused will have a fair trial. None of that applies to the cases of Viktor Bout, Konstantin Iaroshenko, Marina Butina or, for that matter, Meng Wanzhou or Wang Weijing. The truth is that these so-called “arrests” are simple kidnappings, the goal is hostage taking with the goal to either 1) try to force Russia (and China) to yield to US demands or 2) try to “get back” at Russia (and China) following some humiliating climb down by the US Administration (this was also the real reason behind the uncivilized seizure of Russian diplomatic buildings in the USA).
This is not unlike what the Gestapo and the SS liked to do during WWII and their kidnapping of hostages was also called “arrest” by the then state propaganda machine. By the way, the Bolsheviks also did a lot of that during the civil war, but on a much larger scale. In reality, both in the case of the Nazi authorities and in the case of the imperial USA, as soon as a person is arrested he/she is subjected to solitary confinement and other forms of psychological torture (Manning or Assange anybody?!) in order to either make them break or to at least show Russia and China that the US, being the World Hegemon gets to seize anybody worldwide, be it by a CIA kidnapping team or by using local colonial law enforcement authorities (aka local police forces).
US politicians love to “send messages” and this metaphor is used on a daily basis by US officials in all sorts of circumstances. Here the message is simple: we can do whatever the hell we want, and there ain’t nothing you can do about it!
But is that last statement really true?
Well, in order to reply to this we should look at the basic options available to Russia (this also applies to China, but here I want to focus on the Russian side of the issue). I guess the basic list of options is pretty straightforward:
- Use official and confidential diplomatic channels to protest and demand a release
- Publicly protest and denounce these kidnappings as completely illegal (and immoral to boot!)
- Retaliate by using legal means (sanctions, cancellation of agreements, etc.)
- Retaliate by using extra-legal means (counter-kidnappings, not unlike what China allegedly decided to do in the case of Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor)
Frankly, in the case of the USA, options one and two are useless: the AngloZionist leaders have long given up any hope of not being hated and despised by 99% of mankind and they have long dropped any pretense of legality, nevermind morality: they don’t give a damn what anybody thinks. Their main concern is to conceal their immense weakness, but they fail to do so time and time again. Truly, when wannabe “empires” can’t even bring an extremely weakened country such as Venezuela to heel, there ain’t much they can do to boot their credibility. If anything, this thuggery is nothing more than the evidence of a mind-blowing weakness of the Empire.
But that weakness in no way implies that Russia and China have good options. Sadly, they don’t.
Russia can engage in various types of sanctions, ranging from the petty bureaucratic harassment of US representations, diplomats, businessmen and the like to economic and political retaliations. But let’s not kid ourselves, there is very little Russia can do to seriously hurt the USA with such retaliations. Many would advocate retaliation in kind, but that poses a double problem for the Kremlin:
- Once a country has gone down the road of illegal brute force, there is no way back. The examples of the US, Israel or, for that matter, the Ukraine show that once primitive thuggery becomes part of your political arsenal you will forever remain a thug and everybody will see this (whether everybody will have the courage to openly state this is a different issue altogether).
- The reality is that double and triple standards have long become the essential key feature of all western ideological systems, from the Papacy to modern capitalism. The Kremlin fully understands that in the AngloZionist Empire “some are more equal than others” and that that which is “allowed” to the World Hegemon is categorically forbidden to everybody else. Thus if Russia retaliates in kind, there will be an explosion of hysterical protests not only by the western legacy corporate and state ziomedia, but also from the 5th columnist in the Russian “liberal” press.
And yes, unlike the USA, Russia does have a vibrant, diverse and pluralistic media and each time when Putin agrees to a press conference (especially one several hours long) he knows that he will be asked the tough, unpleasant, questions. But since he, unlike most western leaders, can intelligently answer them he does not fear them. As for Dmitrii Peskov and Maria Zakharova, they have heard it all a gazillion during the past years, including often the most ridiculously biased, mis-informed and outright ridiculous “questions” (accusations, really) from the western presstitute corps in Russia.
So yes, Russia could, in theory, retaliate by arresting US citizens in Russia (or by staging Cold War type provocations) or by kidnapping them abroad (Russia does have special forces trained for this kind of operation). But this is most unlikely to yield any meaningful results and it would create a PR nightmare for the Kremlin.
The truth is that in most of these cases we always come down to the fundamental dichotomy: on one hand we have a rogue state gone bonkers with imperial hubris, arrogance and crass ignorance (say, the USA and/or Israel) while on the other we have states which try to uphold a civilized international order (Russia, China, Iran, etc.). This is by logical necessity a lop-sided struggle in which the thugs will almost always have the advantage.
[Sidebar: here I want to address a logical fallacy which I regularly hear in the West: when one political system proves stronger, or more capable of survival, than another one, this supposedly proves that the stronger state is also somehow “superior”. This is the argument used by those who claim that the Soviet Union “lost the Cold War” and that “Capitalism has proven much more sustainable/efficient than Communism”. This is utter nonsense for at least two reasons: first, the USSR did not “lose” the Cold War – the CPSU and the Soviet ruling Nomenklatura decided to break-up the USSR (against the will of the people!) and, second, the fact is that the Soviet Union was squandering its wealth all over the planet while the USA was robbing the entire planet blind. How can we compare the two? Finally, allow me this metaphor to make my point: if we would lock up a human being and a hyena in a small empty cell to see who will survive we can be pretty darn sure that the hyena will immediately and very “effectively” kill the human and eat him. Does that “victory” somehow prove the hyena’s “superiority”? Of course not! For one thing, capitalism implies infinite growth in a finite environment, which is exactly what a malignant tumor does for a living and which is self-evidently non-sustainable. So are we going to compare one political system – Communism – which does not rely on growth and which is therefore sustainable, and which spread its wealth all over the planet with one based on (international) “highway robbery” (don’t take my word for it, take it from Paul Craig Roberts himself who unambiguously stated recently that “American Capitalism is Based on Plunder”). Yes, the Soviet system was fundamentally rotten, profoundly dysfunctional and ineffective (only imbeciles or ignoramuses would deny that!), but it was not in any way “defeated” by the West nor is Capitalism any “better” or “superior” (whatever you want that to mean) than Communism (more on this here if you are interested).]
For all these reasons, there is really nothing much Russia (or China) can do about this situation besides publishing an official warning to the Russian people saying that if they travel abroad they should realize that “US intelligence agencies continue their current hunt for Russians around the world”. They also made public the list of countries which have extradition treaties with the USA: Australia, Austria, Albania, Antigua and Barbuda, Argentina, Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Belgium, Bulgaria, Bolivia, Brazil, United Kingdom, Hungary, Canada, Colombia, Congo, Costa Rica, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Denmark, Dominican Republic, Egypt, Dominica, Greece, Guyana, Haiti, Guatemala, Germany, Honduras, Greece, Israel, India, Jordan, Iraq, Ireland, Iceland, Italy, Kenya, Latvia, Lesotho, Liberia, Lithuania, Venezuela, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Malawi, Malaysia, Malta, Mauritius, Marshall Islands, Mexico, Micronesia, Monaco, Myanmar, Nauru, Nigeria, Netherlands, Nicaragua, new Zealand, Norway, Pakistan, Palau, Panama, Papua New Guinea, Paraguay, Peru, Poland, Portugal, Romania, El Salvador, San Marino, Swaziland, Seychelles, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Saint Lucia, Singapore, Slovakia, Slovenia, Solomon Islands, Suriname, Sierra Leone, Thailand, Tanzania, Tonga, Trinidad and Tobago, Tuvalu, Turkey, Uruguay, Philippines, Finland, France, Czech Republic, Chile, Switzerland, Sweden, Sri Lanka, Ecuador, Estonia, South Africa, South Korea, Jamaica and Japan.
The MoFA concluded by warning that “The Russian foreign Ministry strongly urges all Russian citizens planning trips abroad to carefully weigh all the risks, especially if there is reason to assume the possibility of claims against them by American law enforcement agencies”.
Some caveat emptor before buying your airline ticket, right?!
Conclusion: it will get a lot worse before it gets better
First, we need to always remember that kidnappings are just the latest manifestation of an overall pattern of thuggery by the USA. The attitude is pervasive, and US citizens are not free of this climate of thuggery. Another good example are the outright bribes offered to the ships captains of Iran, to sail their crude carriers to somewhere were the US can literally pirate the carrier. Remember the amazing confession by Pompeo himself: “We lied, we cheated, we stole…. it reminds you of the glory of the American experiment”?
Then here is a quick refresher:
It can almost be rewritten and expanded like this: We lie, we cheat, we steal, we kidnap, we bribe, we extort, we pirate, then we threaten, and then we tell everyone how exceptionally morally superior we are.
Yet a certain limit has been crossed. It is as if their own belief in their own moral superiority has inverted to the extent that their own moral superiority is so big, and so certain, that any small actions of thuggery is allowed to them. This will not change any time soon and even the most innocent traveler must have awareness of this. This is why the Chinese are now openly wondering if sending Chinese students to the USA is such a good idea after all.
So the first thing we have to accept is that this pattern of thuggery will not stop, if anything – it will expand.
Second, we have to also realize that there are no good options for the Russians or the Chinese. In fact, this is normal: civilized actors often find themselves “out-gunned”, so to speak, by thugs, sociopaths and criminals. Over time, however, thuggery is always self-defeating because it is inevitably linked to a delusion of impunity. As for civilized states, while it is true that they are at a fundamental disadvantage when faced by uncivilized thugs but, again, over time they eventually prevail if only because everybody always ends up fed up and disgusted with the thugs. Finally, while thuggery can seem attractive to people with sociopathic inclinations, most human beings need a higher ideal than just unbridled consumption to inspire them. Communism had (and I would argue, still has) this ability. Capitalism does not.
For the foreseeable future, however, we can only expect more of the same. Thanks to the ceaseless efforts of Obama and Trump the Empire is collapsing even faster than it normally would and we can expect that the current sequence of humiliating defeats for the USA (and, of course, Israel which has its own humiliating wounds to lick!) will continue and that the USA (and, of course, Israel!) will have to find more small targets (be it kidnapped Russian nationals or empty buildings in Syria) to kidnap or destroy and feel powerful again.
This will be revolting, disgusting and simply plain stupid.
But there is nothing Russia (or China) can do to stop it, at least not for the foreseeable future.