Not a step back!

Not a step back!

December 29, 2020

Not a step back![1]

By Ken Leslie for the Saker Blog

1. A tale of two kingdoms

Given the precarious geopolitical situation, some Russia supporters might feel that the worst thing now for Russia would be to rock the boat and enrage the West by retaliating against the hybrid war waged against it. In my view, the worst is the Baghdad Bob-like complacency and refusal to understand how serious the things are. For make no mistake, no anxious giggling or bravado (or Russian love of affectionate nicknames) can hide the severity of the current situation. If you are of a weaker disposition, skip the next several paragraphs and land on the juicy, positive bits.

I cannot (and am not trying to) offer an in-depth geopolitical analysis of the current situation in the manner of the Saker. What I can do is produce a parable (or is it allegory?) on how a determined and resourceful victim of constant and total attack must respond in order to save itself and make its enemies pay for all the inflicted pain and suffering—with interest (for after all that is what the bully likes more than anything else). What follows is a completely fictional account of a life-and-death conflict between cultures and religions and any similarities with real countries and characters are purely incidental.

Some 30 years ago, a new era in world history was loudly announced by the supposed victors of a protracted war against a large, semi-pagan people that inhabited large swaths of the continent of Sunlandia. Their vast land was called Dayland. Once they had had a large land empire which crashed and burned in the fires of a revolution fomented by its mortal enemies after having survived countless invasions by sundry power-crazed maniacs and constant enmity by the inhabitants of the lands in which the sun sets (to be called Nightland). But, no, not even the destruction of the empire and its religious importance was not enough to satisfy the haters. The new communist state was immediately shunned by the Nightlanders and retained its pariah status for all its 73 years of existence. Not only that, during its incarnation as a land of workers and peasants (nothing wrong with that), it experienced the most horrible holocaust in modern history (another great country assailed from the East, let’s call it “Mornland” suffered at least to the same extent from a different fascist tyrant). An all too brief interlude of hope and glory (apologies to John Boorman) was immediately replaced by the next phase of the never-ending conflict—isolation and attrition, nuclear threats, sanctions and sabotage, proxy wars, intelligence, economic and cultural battles, the list goes on.

Although exsanguinated by the horrors of the holocide by a semi-formal union of the countries to the West of it and exhausted by external pressures, the great county went on to achieve miracles in improving the living standards and literacy rates of its population to the extent unheard of until then. Other miracles were performed by the country in various fields of science and technology and the example set by its heroic struggle inspired countless anti-colonial and anti-imperialist movements which resulted in a fundamental reshaping of the World’s political map. Alas, it was not to last. In spite of great achievements and its crucial role as the bringer of balance to the world affairs, the great (in all senses) country broke up tragically if relatively peacefully. With its demise, the darkening cumulus cloud that had hovered over my head for at least a decade, turned into a giant fat cumulonimbus ready to explode with thunder and lightning.

Although for many people those early years of the new order were the years of hope, soon, the hope was cruelly quashed. Instead of learning the lessons of the “war in all-but-name”, the victors were blinded by their greed and unearned sense of superiority. Instead of healing the wounds of the past, they set out to deepen them by restoring the platform from which most wars of destruction had come. By breaking up federations of the heathen sub-humans, co-opting them into a new feudal system, building a power block around the genocidal transgressor and bleeding the defeated country dry, the Nightland was demonstrating for all to see that its intent was never peaceful.

The first clear inkling of things to come was a beastly aggression committed on a brave and innocent people whose only crime was to have resisted the renewed push towards the East. Conveniently forgotten and explained away by the evil masterminds as a charitable intervention, the war signalled the new phase in the war against Dayland. The border between Nightland and Dayland was pushed about 1500 km eastward. Dayland’s former allies were turned into its worst and most belligerent enemies. With every step to the right, Nightland was gaining and Dayland was losing—friends, trade and influence. Like many times before in its extraordinary history, the country was fortunate in one respect. An exceptional man appeared from nowhere to pull Dayland out of the quagmire and set it on the path of resurgence and renewed greatness. Well, this was the straw that broke the camel’s back.

We, who care about Dayland are cursing the sheer gall and bloodthirst of the criminal aggressors. Some of us are asking—is this offensive ever going to stop? Most of us know the answer—never! As long as Dayland exists with its strange mix of peoples, faiths and worldviews, it must not live. All we have left is the hope that the leadership of Dayland will be able to deal with the oncoming peril. There is a creeping worry that without a more muscular response, the country will eventually succumb to a death by a thousand cuts. So, here is an overview of the principles that should guide Dayland’s fightback—before it becomes too late.

2. The problem

Before I can talk about means, I must address the causes. Despite its size and advanced society, Dayland has no overt allies and the slightly tepid embrace of Mornland is not sufficient to compensate for this. Note, I am saying overt—that means no partners who are committed to the joint defence and who would mobilise their forces if Dayland were to be attacked. It doesn’t even have potential allies as in countries that would eventually fight on Dayland’s side. Admittedly, some of this information is very secret and there might be exceptions. The one worrying aspect is that this has never been the case before. One does not need to be a historian to realise that whenever an attack came from the dark side, at least half of Nightland was either neutral or on Dayland’s side. Some people will interject: “Oh, they are divided, at odds, it’s an illusion maintained by the printing presses, they would get a bloody nose” etc.

All of these statements are questionable.[2] The currently dominant empire of the Nightland has pretty much absolute control over its minions. Minor disputes are normal within any military, political and economic union. Note that none of the predicted cataclysmic ruptures between the partners in crime ever happened. No great economic crisis that has been predicted since before the occupation of the Borderlands has taken place. If anything, the push towards the lands of the light has intensified—the two are not mutually exclusive. Briefly, things are not looking good for Dayland, not because it is not doing well, but because a large portion of the “developed” world is still allied against it and this in itself is unprecedented and must be dealt with pronto.

The “problem” of the title is that such a situation always calls for active steps and measures aimed at weakening, confusing and discouraging the attacking opponent. Of course, such steps should always be combined with defensive and diplomatic moves but to remove the threat, a serious aggressive pushback on the part of Dayland is needed as soon as possible. When I say “aggressive”, I don’t mean crudely so. What I mean is that a fundamental change of heart is necessary. Over a thousand years of defensive wars have conditioned Dayland’s soldiers and politicians to avoid conflict as long as possible. Whether this is because of deficiencies in forward planning or deep morality is moot—the pattern of procrastination and delaying the inevitable has characterised Dayland’s military, diplomatic and political strategies for a very long time. This would not be much of a problem if it didn’t result in significant (and avoidable) losses and casualties.

Actually, it has become something of a cliché, general Winter and all. Daylanders are supposed to suffer horribly and even if they wake up in the end and prevail, the destruction wrought on them will set them back several decades—enough to strengthen Nightland and ensure its supremacy for the foreseeable future. It is this point that was countered by the great statesman who is currently at the helm of Dayland. He’d promised his opponents that Dayland would never again fight a war on its territory. Recently he had announced a substantial change to the country’s nuclear doctrine which from now on will treat any incoming missiles as nuclear—no petty stuff. And yet, this is far from enough. How come, you’ll ask? Well, if the president’s warnings and veiled threats had been sufficient, the Big Bad Wolf would not be knocking on the last piggy’s door. Admittedly, this door is made of a sturdier stuff than the previous ones but nevertheless—the fact that he has come so far should alert everybody at how precarious the situation is. We are one semi-successful colour revolution away from the ultimate victory of Nightland.

No human kindness will dissuade the scum of the earth to desist and embrace the path of peace and co-operation. The Mephistophelian financiers, venal leeches in the media, talentless parasites infesting countless NGOs and “institutes”, petty bureaucrats tasked with pulling down monuments and places of worship, businessmen sabotaging their own companies for the sake of a hidden hand and moronic generals issuing bloodcurdling threats while installing their missiles ever closer to Dayland’s borders—all of these despicable people must be given a message that they will understand and hopefully rethink their course.

3. The solution

Clearly, this is a vast topic and I have only a couple of thousand words (which I’m wasting) to outline a strategy that might or might not be successful but certainly represents a viable departure from the current dilatory posture by Dayland’s government. I shall deliberately ignore some recent attempts at countering the offensive and focus on what’s possible. One of the common quandaries in situations of this kind is that 95% of modern warfare is conducted secretly, in ways that are not only unknown but unknowable by us mere mortals. This is a world of secret institutions with large budgets and no democratic oversight, sophisticated intelligence capabilities and covert action. Although this is probably true to some extent, it makes one susceptible to a fallacy that human agency has no place in a modern war. This is analogous to what I call “cryptographer’s fallacy” which states that a brute force increase in the complexity of a cypher renders it unbreakable. As long as there is a faintest trace of human activity buried under the layers of technological obfuscation, human origins of the cypher remain discernible and actionable. This is my reasoning behind writing this. However sophisticated the enemy might appear, they cannot completely camouflage their weak spots. Even if they don’t possess any, intelligent and creative approach to counter-terror must bear fruit. The key here is unpredictability—not of the kind espoused by Donald Trump but something much more elaborate and advanced—something worthy of Russia’s genius.

Here, let me list a few principles that Dayland should embrace in order to produce a combination of a pushback and payback that is so badly needed at this moment.

3.1. By delaying the pushback, you are only making things worse for yourself. The damage/time function is passed its crossing point. The time to act is now.

3.2. There is no need to be mindlessly aggressive in the manner of the USA. The knowledge that such offensive weapons are available and can be used is often enough to dissuade the opponent. But remember, they have to be able to cause real pain.

3.3. This proposal runs against everything you have been taught and made to believe is right. Targeting “non-military” assets is an important part of this. You will have to stoop to your enemy’s level in order to rise again free from existential threat. And this time you must be ruthless—as ruthless as they are. Those sweet voices telling you to be “better” than your enemy do not necessarily wish you well.

3.4. Aggression is necessary and important in all aspects of statecraft. This does not mean a crude unyielding attack against all and sundry (this is not possible at the moment anyway) but a targeted, co-ordinated yet sub-threshold campaign of: sabotage, political warfare, targeted elimination of external and internal threats, painful reciprocal punishments for every inimical gesture and a ramping up of the threat of armed retaliation.

3.5. For this to work, you must dispense with any hopes that you will ever be accepted as equals by the West. The destruction of two of your previous incarnations in a span of about 60 years and the total war against the current one should be sobering enough. You must work for a new world in which your and other peoples will exist free from the existential threat posed by the eternal vulture.

3.6. Your adversary is neither superior nor supreme. His power rests on the pillage of ancient cultures and peoples and his time as the ruler of the world is coming to an end. That makes him dangerous but also prone to errors. Act like the brave guerrillas of old. Avoid direct punches (set battles) but fight back as fiercely as you can. It is not so much about results but attitude. He must know that any inimical moves will be costly and painful for him and his lackeys.

3.7. Once you accept the above, a whole new arsenal of subtle weapons will become accessible. This includes a myriad of fine-grain activities and micro-scale operations which can achieve remarkable results if capably co-ordinated and efficiently carried out. If you succeed in putting these in motion, you will not need hypersonic weapons (although they do help).

4. The strategy

It is here that things become interesting and difficult. How can a strategy be designed that is so sophisticated that the enemy cannot parry it (while its implementation does not involve undue effort)? First, one has to recognise that the power differential means that there is little room for error. Even more important than this is a lack of predictability which confounds the adversary and transfers initiative to the defending camp. And although the defender has fewer means to retaliate, he can make up for it by leveraging his assets and using them to his maximum advantage. These are not always visible. For example, … oh hell, enough of this silly charade! The ongoing stereotype about Russia is “gas and hackers”.

Although corny and offensive, the stereotype holds a grain of truth. For years, analysts have been speculating on the importance of gas pipelines as an appropriate deterrent. However, after five years of toing and froing on the gas front, it is becoming clear that this kind of weapon is very ineffective. The reasons are: a) it can be easily neutralised or bypassed and b) even if it’s not, it always leads to an eventual loss of influence (workings of the market, anti-Russian Western courts etc.). While it may be useful to have somewhere in the arsenal, history tells us that Russia would never use petrochemicals as a weapon even against its worst enemies. By contrast, the relentless “meddling” campaign in the West reminds us that Russia’s programmers and computer scientists are its top asset and I hope they are sufficiently incentivised to stay in Russia and protect her from the perennial aggressor. The future wars will be largely electronic.

In order to deprive Russia of freedom of action and oxygen of public sympathy, the West has embarked on an unprecedented coordinated campaign of demonisation of Russia as well as persecution, expulsion, arrest and assassination of its citizens. The degree of agreement in public opinion achieved by the new Nazis is mindboggling and I am not using this word lightly. All across the Western world Russian diplomatic property is being confiscated, ambassadors are being killed and diplomats expelled in their hundreds. The very mention of “Russia” is sufficient to trigger adverse associations in the majority of Westerners. Sanction after sanction is fired at the Russian state and its functionaries and capital projects are sabotaged without impunity.

What has been very surprising all the way through this escalating crisis is the apparent meekness of the Russian response to the enemy’s blows. By this I don’t mean complete inaction, but the belief that things are not irretrievably bad, that one event or another (e.g. election) could turn this crusade around and allow the Russians to breathe freely. Unfortunately, highly nuanced diplomatic warnings, allusions to possible outcomes, the tactic of always leaving an escape hatch ajar so that the partnyor doesn’t for one moment have to consider the consequences of his transgressions—are less than ineffective. For the adversary assumes that Russia is more afraid of an escalation (which is happening anyway) than offending or angering the evil behemoth (which is happening anyway).[3]

While going through the motions, the Americans are tightening the screws as we speak. Even the criminal geopolitical reprobate—Germany—dares threaten Russia openly without any meaningful response (Navalny, Byelorussia, Moldova, Ukraine etc.). In a word, Russia’s posture is dangerously passive. Although useful once, when a parity existed in the deadly power between the West and the East, this posture has long outlived its usefulness. It appears as a timorous, peace-at-all costs-seeking response to serious aggressive moves. The aggressor knows that Russian benevolence is not a consequence of power because this is only shown rarely and in exceptional circumstances (like the Americans who occasionally but very rarely give Russia a pat on the back). Rather, in Russia’s case it’s becoming a trope, a cliched modus operandi which hopes to appease the enemy and stay his merciless hand. But his hand won’t be stayed. He has ignored Russia’s pleading and president Putin’s warnings and is marching on. I am convinced that a change of tack is sorely needed. Judo might appear defensive but its ultimate aim is slamming an opponent against the tatami—and worse.

The three requirements that should guide a successful response strategy by Russia are:

4a. A deep change of heart

This point is perhaps the most important because it requires the most extensive social and psychological intervention. What do I mean by a “DCH”? In order to remove the curse of the West from its borders, first Russia needs to remove the West from its hearts. None of the super advanced hypersonic weapons will be worth a dime if those who are supposed to fire them idolise Hollywood and rap and fantasise about living in California or Bavaria (e. g. Gorbachev). I know that this sounds over the top but we are in an over-the-top situation where no rational dialogue is possible. We are dealing with an opponent who understands only brute force and considers Russians nothing more than dangerous semi-humans. I know, you’ll hear Americans say—oh, I’ve had Russian neighbours and they are lovely people, hard-working, keeping themselves to themselves blah blah. Aren’t you tired of that ….? The future for Russia will be very grim unless it breaks off its dependence on the West as an eternal magnetic pole of virtue and civilisation. Shakespeare, Dante, Goethe and Molière are dead and nothing will bring them back. Moreover, they have nothing to do with the unthinking racist, fascist, imperialist and chauvinist West as it is now.

The West is not a Nirvana of tolerance, gentility and democracy. It’s an artificial predatory organism whose genocidal hunger grows in proportion to the number of innocent lives it has snuffed out. It can sustain social peace at home as long as it is allowed to rob, steal and traduce abroad. Its long-term prospects being bleak, it is intent on dragging the world into the abyss not unlike what a dying Balrog did to Gandalf the Grey (damn that British propaganda). I am not advocating a total break with the West but a watchful, vary mistrust inspired by the awareness of West’s true intentions towards Russia. While it is difficult if not impossible to control the feelings of the millions of ordinary Russians, the example must come from the top. Credit where credit’s due—I am seeing a belated attempt to disrupt the activity of enemy agents inside Russia. I’ll quote Colonel Cassad: “Better late than never”.

4b. Aggressive forward posture

Emotionally, the hardest part for anybody who understands the underlying dynamics of the “European” imperialism and cares about Russia is the reactive posture of the Russian governing structures in the face of dehumanising treatment by the West. The cliches such as “open doors”, “international law”, “peaceful coexistence” and “always ready” etc. only embolden the enemy and show up Russian policy as weak, dilatory and unprepared to respond in kind (even if it Russia’s true strength is much greater).[4] This needs to change very soon if Russia is to stand any chance of regaining initiative in international relations. At the same time, the avalanche of slander and sabotage was so vast that waiting for it to rumble its way down the mountainside might have seemed like a good strategy.

Examples abound, for instance the humiliating treatment of Russia by the Bulgarians (South Stream, diplomat expulsions etc.). What should have been done was to expose Bulgaria to the maximum pressure especially economic and diplomatic. Subtle co-ordinated campaign of harassment of Bulgarian diplomats, businessmen and spies should have been par for the course. A concerted effort to harm Bulgaria might not have destroyed the country but could have contributed to a change in policy. If large gestures were out of question, an accumulation of small steps would have more than sufficed. But nothing ever came of it. The Bulgarians harassed Russian diplomats instead and the whole messy saga was forgotten. What hasn’t changed is the inimical posture by the country which owes its birth and survival to Russia. A more recent insulting treatment of Sergei Lavrov by the Croatian and “Bosnian” apparatchiks stick in one’s craw and reinforce the impression of severe weakness of the Russian foreign policy.

The recent shameful pronouncements by a Jewish president of the Ukraine whose grandfather had fought in the Red Army to the effect that Russia was guilty of starting WWII has been met by a mild rebuke from the Russian foreign ministry. A similar non-response was given following the threat by a Vukro-Nazi to deprive the population of Crimea of running water. Where are all the GRU illegals, Spetznaz snipers and sappers? What about the monuments to the heroes of the Great Patriotic War?

Every insult or threat directed at a Russian citizen (or symbol) irrespective of their status needs to be answered in kind. Let me give you a broad-brush example. For every Russian arrested abroad without a clear criminal case, a national of the offending country should be held in custody until the Russian has been released. If this is not possible, a company belonging to the offending country should be closed down and its property nationalised. For every Russian diplomat dying under less than completely innocent circumstances or being expelled, a foreign diplomat should be expelled in turn or a consulate closed down. This might be costly in the short term but would soon disabuse the barbarians of the notion that Russians are a meek and forgiving sort. Of course, these crude examples should be elaborated in order to confuse the enemy.

Sanctions are a matter of state policy but under no circumstances should they (or counter-sanctions) be applied half-heartedly. All sanctions must be treated as weapons of war. Consequently, they must never be used as a “warning” or a “slap”. Why? Because this kind of response must have been factored in by the enemy at the planning stage. Either they should be aimed at seriously harming the opponent or should be left in the rifle locker. I have the impression that Russia has been applying all of its economic weapons half-heartedly and very reluctantly.

Immediate and painful retaliation must follow any attack on Russia’s interests. Why? Because the cliché about “best served cold” is often just an excuse of the powerless. If the retaliation is not contingent on and contiguous with the original crime, it loses its meaning and its potency. Let me return to the South Stream—Russian pipeline that should have solved the problems of gas supply for the whole of Southern and Central Europe—was cancelled after a single visit to the quisling Bulgarian regime by a rabidly Russophobe US senator. After all the billions of roubles spent and thousands of hours of political, diplomatic and engineering work invested in the project, Russia’s only link with the Balkans was closed down irreversibly in a day. Russia’s response? Zilch, nada. Can this go on?

4c. Unpredictability/flexibility

If response in kind is not possible (I refuse to believe this), then small-scale but unpredictable retaliatory steps are the order of the day. One could argue that Russia’s responses are highly predictable. To illustrate—ever since say 2007, has Russia ONCE made a pro-active move that would inflict pain on its adversaries BEFORE they’d struck Russia? One can drown in excuses—Russians are trying to prevent a war (why is it their duty to do so?), they are polite (typical patronising Western head-patting) and a million others. A great deal has been made of President Putin’s stealthy moves in the Crimea and Syria. YES, that is the right way to go about things in foreign policy but at ALL LEVELS and most of the time (and often in advance of the enemy’s move). Instead of the Duma deliberating at how and when to respond (which leaves Russia an open book to its adversaries), a semi-clandestine organisation within the Ministry of Foreign Affairs needs to be formed which would work out strategies and scheduling of retaliatory responses in advance. This should be based on pseudo-random schedules where the timing and content of individual steps are not easily predicted. Furthermore, such steps should be individually intractable and only understandable when viewed as parts of a higher-level whole.

There is no reason why such strategies cannot be tweaked and adapted to real-life scenarios very quickly. The point is that the enemy reads Russia’s responses as a kind of simple code that is easy to break. “We shall respond symmetrically!” Who cares—the enemy knows this already. You should confound them by responding in a manner that gives your response maximum power. This is particularly important for a country that can compete with the West in terms of intellect but not money. In other words, I am asking for a wholesale change in strategy—from nuclear bombers to mini drone swarms (each element is insignificant but coordinated, large numbers of weak elements are capable of causing substantial damage).

I need to reiterate in conclusion that some of what I described above is starting to percolate into the official pronouncements and actions of the Russian government. They have changed Russia’s nuclear posture, restricted the space for activities of various foreign organisations and possibly social media. Further, the tone of Russian diplomacy has changed considerably in the last six to 12 months (although not perhaps as much as I would wish). This of course is very welcome but again predictable and easily ignored.[5] So in the spirit of the great victory of the Soviet people, I humbly propose: Not a step back!


  1. This is an informal title of the Order 227 issued on 28th July 1942 by Joseph Stalin with the aim of stopping the seemingly unceasing advance by the Germans and their allies. This essay is a polemic and not an attempt at objective analysis. 
  2. As I am finishing this piece, I read that Britain has exited the EU. I consider this a positive sign—the idea of a “united West” (a complete abomination and a death sentence for Russia) has gone for good. Furthermore, the Russian government has undertaken a number of positive and necessary steps aimed at reversing the enemy’s advance. 
  3. I have studied this weakness of Russian statecraft in some depth. A very similar thing occurred in the years preceding WWI when Germany decided to assert its dominance in the Balkans. Russians tried to accommodate the brazen and insulting German demands until the very last moment. To those who disagree—if I am wrong, why is the West continuing with its aggressive plans despite all the warnings by Russia? 
  4. Here we encounter an interesting problem. Constantly underplaying one’s strength is as dangerous as the opposite. For this reason alone, a more aggressive posture by Russia is called for. 
  5. This is another danger of predictable behaviour. The enemy is incentivised to ignore it until it’s too late. By the way, public deliberation is fine as long as it has the potential of producing unexpected outcomes. 
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