Reading the “traitors” – a good or a bad idea?


There are two names which often trigger a very strong and hostile reaction from many Russians: Alexander Solzhenitsyn and Vladimir Rezun aka “Viktor Suvorov”. The list of accusations against these two men usually includes:

  • Alexander Solzhenitsyn: he made up numbers about 66 million people killed by the Soviet regime, he spoke favorably of General Andrei Vlasov, he was a CIA stooge, he was an anti-Semite, a Russian nationalist and a monarchist. Finally, there is a popular saying in modern Russia: “show me an anti-Soviet activist(“антисовечик”) and I will show you a russophobe” (which makes Solzhenitsyn a russophobe).
  • Vladimir Rezun: he is a traitor, he is the creator of the theory that Hitler only preempted a Soviet attack which Stalin was about to launch, he is a MI-6 front to spread russophobic theories.

What I like to do when I hear these opinions is to ask a simple question: how many books by Solzhenitsyn and/or Rezun have you actually read?

The answer is typically rather nebulous. They mostly refer to either one or two books (at most) and a number of articles (often articles not even written by either author, but paraphrasing, often rather “creatively”).

This reminds me of an old Soviet joke: “a Party official comes to some factory or office to deliver a political lecture and absolutely tears into Solzhenitsyn’s famous “Gulag Archipelago” calling it an ugly collection of lies. One of the workers present asks the Party official whether he read the entire book to which the Party official replies “I don’t read such anti-Soviet filth!”

There is much truth to that as I have rarely encountered Solzhenitsyn-haters who actually read at least a few books by him.

Well, it just so happens that I discovered Solzhenitsyn when I was 16 and that I continued to study his writings for the rest of my life. Over the next years and decades, I read every single book and article Solzhenitsyn wrote several times (at least twice, if not more). As for Rezun, I read all his non-fiction books (I don’t like his fiction at all), so I want to chime in here and share with you, the reader, my strictly personal opinion about these two authors and men.

First, I will begin with a couple of general comments.

For one thing, both Solzhenitsyn and Rezun are terrific writers and it is a crying shame not to read them! Their styles are, however, dramatically different: Solzhenitsyn is often compared to Dostoevskii, and rightfully so, even if this applies more to contents and worldview than style. I would say that Solzhenitsyn’s style is unique and very uneven. His masterpiece is, at least in my opinion, the “Gulag Archipelago” (the worst being his poems). Yes, I know, this is a non-fiction book and not one of his purely literary masterpieces (say like “The Cancer Ward” or “In The First Circle“), but I personally happen to find the Gulag Archipelago his most powerful book not only on contents, but also on style and language. His other masterpiece is, again in my totally subjective opinion, his immense cycle “The Red Wheel“, especially “August 14” and “October 16“. On the other end of the spectrum, I also love his short stories (“Крохотки”). By any halfway objective measure, the man is a literary giant on par with Tolstoy or Dostoevskii.

Nobody would say that about Rezun. His style could be described as “pedestrian” if not outright “yellow” (in the meaning of “yellow journalism”). But that is not a problem. What Rezun lacks in elegance and academic rigor, he more than makes up for with a very lively and entertaining writing style, some really catchy ideas and a lot of “creative nonsense”. I have no problem with somebody hating Rezun as a person and traitor, or hating his vulgar style, but don’t tell me that he does not write well: millions of people read his books with immense fascination and appreciation. The man has undeniable talent.

The above is just to point out that those who say that they have not read these authors because they hate their style are most likely not being very honest and it is much more likely that they did not read these authors because of the contents of their books. That is what we shall look into next. Specifically, I will look at Alexander Solzhenitsyn first, he is the more complex one of the two, and then at Rezun.

Alexander Solzhenitsyn

Alexander Solzhenitsyn

The very first thing we need to remember is that Solzhenitsyn was born in 1918, which means that he was raised by a generation of Russians which remembered pre-1917 Russia. The second thing which we need to also keep in mind is that he was raised by a generation which remembered the chaos of the Kerenskii regime followed by the bloodbath of the Bolshevik coup which itself was following by the bloody orgy of the Russian civil war.

Why is that important?

Because his brand of anti-Sovietism was much more similar to what we would see in the White Guard or the First Generation Russian emigration (those roughly 2 million Russians who left Russia following the Bolshevik coup). For example, this is why Solzhenitsyn wrote so much about the role of Jews in the first Bolshevik governments: this is a topic which was central to the wordview of White Guard and First Generation Russian emigres.

It is also pretty clear that while Solzhenitsyn already had anti-Soviet feelings before he was arrested, it is nonetheless obvious that his incarceration first in a labor camp and, later, into a special jail for scientists exposed Solzhenitsyn to even more anti-Soviet individuals and ideas.

Of course, none of that excuses any false figures (or misguided political opinions) Solzhenitsyn might have had, but it does explain where they came from and why Solzhenitsyn deemed them as credible. Speaking personally, I was raised in exactly that “White Guard” and “First Emigration” political culture, and I can assure you that Solzhenitsyn’s views were really very much “mainstream” amongst those Russians who still remembered pre-revolutionary Russia.

Next, Solzhenitsyn himself described how he asked all his fellow prisoners (the “zeks” he speaks of in the Gulag Archipelago) to send him all the historical documents, memoirs, academic papers, etc. possible for him to write the history of the Gulag. Needless to say, the Soviet archives were not made open for this purpose, nor did the KGB offer to write an amicus brief to help Solzhenitsyn.

Thus, just to recap: what is important here were Solzhenitsyn’s sources of information:

  • Pre-1917 Russians who remembered the horrors of the revolution and civil war
  • White Guard & First Wave Emigre memoirs and articles
  • Exposure to those arrested for anti-Soviet activities (the famous Art 58), whether guilty or innocent, and who were incarcerated with Solzhenitsyn
  • Articles by western scholars, political figures, think tanks (aka “western propaganda”).

Is it a big surprise that Solzhenitsyn did get a lot of things wrong, especially when the Soviet state offered very little in terms of credible historical information?

Here I have to insert a rather lengthy side bar about the nature of the Soviet state. It is my opinion that over its history the Soviet regime changed rather often and rather dramatically. Personally, I would offer the following chronology:

  1. The early years: (1917-1922). The Bolshevik coup, then the civil war followed by the great Jewish terror of Iagoda, Frenkel, Ezhov, etc. the years of the so-called “war communism”, the NEP, and the collectivization, famine and “dekulakisation” (1932-1933). This period ended with the so-called “Stalin’s purges” (1936-1938).
  2. Stalin’s preparation for WWII: (1936-1941). During this period most of the Bolshevik “old guard” was either executed, or jailed or demoted and a completely new generation of commanders (“Stalin’s generals”), were put into all key military and civilian positions.
  3. The Great Patriotic War: (1941-1945). This dramatic period which saw the Russian nation fight for her very survival also saw a truly dramatic change in political culture: the former Bolshevik russophobia was replaced with praise for the heroic Russian nation, military ranks were fully reestablished (along with traditional Russian epaulets), churches were reopened and the repressions dramatically reduced.
  4. The post-war period and Stalin’s last years: 1945-1961. This period saw a quasi-miraculous rebirth of the Soviet Union from the ashes of WWII and a period of prosperity and stability. While Stalin was probably murdered by his entourage in 1953 and his main executioner (Lavrentii Beria) executed soon thereafter (also in 1953), their legacy of prosperity and stability lasted well beyond the 22nd CPSU Congress which saw Khrushchev make a 180 and suddenly denounce Stalin, the cult of his personality and the rehabilitation of millions of innocent Russians.
  5. The Great Betrayal (1961-1964): Khrushchev was the worst, most immoral, incompetent, hypocritical, inept and otherwise despicable Soviet leader ever (Eltsin was in the same league, imnsho). He was also a bloody tyrant. Yet, possibly to conceal his own incompetence and his rabid hatred for Stalin, he did liberalize the Soviet Union to a not-insignificant degree, yet just like in the case of Gorbachev’s “glastnost’” – his “new openness” did not help the Soviet Union, far from it. Eventually, Krushchev himself was overthrown by Brezhnev but by then it was already too late: while until 1961 most (or, at least, many) Russians did believe in the ideal of Marxism-Leninism and trusted their leaders, after the shock of the 22nd CPSU Party Congress a period of deep disillusionment gradually set in. (It would only really stop in 2000!).
  6. The slow-motion deconstruction of the Soviet state, followed by the inevitable collapse: 1964-1991. Most of us remember Brezhnev. Some probably also remember Andropov. Does anybody even remember Chernenko? Then came “Gorbi” and, for a few hours, Ianaev (of the GKChP 1991 coup) and then the Soviet Union was declared dead.

What is crucial to understand here is that each of these six periods generated a very different popular and political culture. Thus, while in the West you often would hear generalizations about “the Soviets”, the truth is that there never once was any one single monolithic Soviet culture. The perfect example of sharp contrast would be to compare the generation which went through the horrors of the Early Years period with the generation which defeated the Nazi war machine and then put the first man in space.

In the case of Solzhenitsyn he was very much a product of the Early Years and should be evaluated against this historical background and not under the kind of criteria a modern professional historian with full access to many preciously secret archives would have.

Next, we need to take a look at the accusation that Solzhenitsyn’s was an apologist for General Vlasov.

The short answer is that yes, Solzhenitsyn did justify General Vlasov’s betrayal of his oath by saying that the Soviet Union had betrayed Vlasov long before Vlasov betrayed the Soviet Union. Furthermore, there is no doubt that Solzhenitsyn did absolutely hate Stalin whom he considered as a vicious mass murderer. How could he not approve of somebody taking up arms against Stalin? Solzhenitsyn’s conclusion was that if the Russian people had not seized this opportunity to overthrow the Soviet regime, then they really would have proven to the world that they are passive slaves.

One of the goals Solzhenitsyn set for himself when he wrote the Gulag Archipelago was to debunk a popular western theory which goes something like this: “Russians have never known freedom and they don’t care about it. Russians have a slave mentality and all they want is some kind of dictator (Czar or Commissar – makes no difference to them) to rule over them with an iron fist“. One of the things which Solzhenitsyn set out to prove was that far from being passive or slave-like, the Russian people resisted the Bolshevik regime at least until 1946! What does he mean by that? He refers to the fact that between 1917 and 1941, the Soviet regime was constantly threatened by all sorts of enemies (from monarchists to Trotskysts) and that following the Nazi invasion of the USSR, the Russian people simply seized this opportunity to rise up again against the Bolsheviks. From this point of view, the entire Vlasov phenomenon is nothing else but a continuation of the civil war. To summarize, when western russophobos liked to gloat about Russians having a slave mentality (they did a lot of them, especially the so-called “Russian/Soviet area specialists” Solzhenitsyn’s intention was to debunk this calumny and reply “oh yes, we did resist, for all of 30 years! You (meaning the folks in the West), in contrast, not only presented very little resistance to the Nazis, most of you became faithful and obedient servants of Hitler! The reality is that we, Russians, are far more freedom loving than you are, this is why we cannot be occupied and why it is so hard to rule over us.

While I personally cannot justify Vlasov’s betrayal of his oath, I do fundamentally agree that the Soviet regime only achieved full power and security for itself after the end of the war.

Whatever may be the case, does that really surprise anybody that Solzhenitsyn had such views? Such views were, in fact, quite common amongst those who still remembered pre-1917 Russia. In many ways, Solzhenitsyn was a pure product of the political culture of the Early Years of the Soviet regime and I personally see him as culturally much closer to the pre-1917 Russians than to the Russians which were raised already under the Soviet regime.

That does not mean that Solzhenitsyn did not get some facts, even crucial ones, very wrong.

It is all well and fun to comfortably sit in our chairs and criticize those who have been wrong in their past, but fundamentally this is both logically wrong and morally hypocritical. The truth is that history, ALL history, very much including our recent history, is chock full with myths, generalizations, simplifications, rumors and, most of all, lies. We all know about 9/11, but that is hardly a unique example. Does anybody remember the “Timisoara massacre” or, even better, the “Srebrenica genocide”? Speaking of Srebrenica, how about the no less fake “massacres” in Markale or Racak? How about Colonel Gaddafi giving Viagra to his men to rape Libyan women? Or this innocent young nurse from Kuwait who reported about the Iraqis tossing babies out of incubators?

These were all lies.

And then, there are the much more serious cases, including the historical truth about the so-called “Holocaust”. Or, who carries the responsibility for starting WWII? How about the Nuremberg Trials which some hailed as a huge victory for civilized mankind, while many others called it a “kangaroo court” of victors. What about the Tribunal on the Former Yugoslavia? Do you feel that this was a superb example of justice, or a crude Serbian-nation bashing PR operation?

If we can’t even agree on our recent history, do you really expect people from very different time periods (as all Russians today are, depending on their age), to agree on history, even crucial history?

Of course not!

So what we need to do now is not “smoke out” this or that personality and accuse them of lying (that would be a typically *Soviet* thing to do: to denounce a supposed enemy and demand that he be punished and silenced). We first need to consider what this person knew and did not know at the time that he/she wrote/said what we now consider lies. To err is human, and is therefore excusable. To deliberately lie is something quite different.

In the case of Solzhenitsyn, there is absolutely no evidence of deliberate deception on his part. In fact, the 66 million number is not even his. As I already pointed out in the past:

Here is what he actually wrote in this famous Gulag Archipelago about Soviet terror:

According to estimates by exiled professor of statistics IA Kurganov, from 1917 to 1959, and excluding war losses, only from terrorist destruction, suppression, hunger, the high mortality in the camps, and including the subsequent low birth rate, cost us 66.7 million people” (” The Gulag Archipelago “, part 3, Chapter 1). And in an interview in 1976 Solzhenitsyn said: “Professor Kurganov indirectly calculated that from 1917 to 1959 only from the internal war of the Soviet regime against its own people, that is, the destruction of its famine, collectivization, peasant’s deportation to prisons, camps and simple executions – just from these causes we lost, together with our civil war, 66 million people”. These figures INCLUDE the bloody Civil War, the so-called “War Communism“, the numerous anti-Bolshevik insurrections (such as the one in Tambov), the deaths resulting from the so-called “Collectivization” and “Dekulakization“, the “pure” political repression under the infamous Article 58of the RSFSR Criminal Code and even the subsequent low birth rate. So we are talking about a “grand max” estimate.

The first thing we can note here is that while Prof Kurganov tried to arrive at a “grand max” figure, the Soviet archives (which show dramatically lower numbers of people arrested and/or executed) only dealt with the number of people actually sentenced under Soviet law and does not include the specific events Kurganov chose to include.

Thus, directly comparing Kurganov’s figures with official Soviet documents is a case of apples and oranges.

Still, Solzhenitsyn clearly loathed the Bolsheviks and the Soviet regime and that most likely made him willing to accept facts and figures which he should have checked much more carefully.

There is also a lot of evidence that, ideologically speaking, Solzhenitsyn was a monarchist in the general line of Fedor Dostoevskii, Lev Tikhomirov or Prof. Ivan Ilyin (whom Putin seems to also quote very often…) and that he had an intense dislike, not only for Marxism or Leninism, but even for “moderate” social democracy (which he saw as unable to stand up to the Soviet Union and its allies). We also know for sure that Solzhenitsyn had nothing good to say about western democracies or the capitalist worldview. However, Solzhenitsyn was hardly a typical “reactionary” since he had very little good to say about the pre-1917 Russia, including its last Czar. In truth, Solzhenitsyn was a typical Russian idealist who combined rather liberal, and even modernist, views about the Russian Orthodox Church with a rather strong dislike of the political system put in place by Peter I (often called “The Great” by westernizers). In fact, I would argue that there are at least three different “Solzhenitsyns” which need to be considered separately:

Solzhenitsyn the author: here it is a matter of personal taste. He did get a Nobel in literature, but we all understand that the Nobel Committee is just a front for the AngloZionist PR machine. Personally? He is one of my favorite Russian authors along with, in a totally different style, Sergei Lukianenko.

Solzhenitsyn the historian: here every single word he wrote needs to be revisited and carefully evaluated in light of what we now think that we know. This is especially true of his Gulag Archipelago which Solzhenitsyn referred to as an “An Experiment in Literary Investigation” thus clearly indicating that this was, by definition, a work in progress, an experiment, and an investigation. As I recently wrote, there is no worthwhile history which is not revisionist, and with Solzhenitsyn being both so famous and so wrong, it is only natural that his writings are the object of a concerted barrage of criticisms and reevaluation.

Solzhenitsyn the philosopher: yet again a case for personal taste. I would argue that Alexander Solzhenitsyn is a giant standing on the shoulders of other giants such as Khomiakov, Dostoevskii, IlIlyinyin, Solonevich, Leontiev, Tikhomirov, Rozanov and many others. Right now his philosophical legacy is completely obfuscated by the historical discussions, but that pendulum will eventually swing the other way, and then his moral philosophy will be studied on its merits.

Right now, these are not good times for “Solzhenitsyn studies”, to say the least. In the West he is hated as Great-Russian nationalist and an anti-Semitic monarchist while in Russia is hated like a russophobic CIA stooge who calumniated his own people and who defended a traitor like Vlasov. These beliefs are ingrained way too hard for me to even bother trying to discuss them here. That discussion will happen, but only once the stridently anti-Solzhenitsyn haters will give way to folks with a better personal knowledge of what Solzhenitsyn actually wrote and what he actually meant. Right now most of his detractors are busy simply flaming the man, everything he wrote and all those who read him.

While he was in exile in Cavendish, VT, Solzhenitsyn once told a visiting friend of mine the following: “right now, we don’t have our own country under our feet, this is why it is too early to write on this topic (he was referring to a then still secret book of his which he eventually published after his return to Russia under the title “200 Years Together“), but as soon as Russia recovers her freedom, I will publish this book“. I will paraphrase this by saying that I believe that as long as the former Soviet elites and their off-springs occupy most of the key positions in modern Russia, no serious discussion about Solzhenitsyn will be possible, the level of emotional involvement is simply too high. But that too shall pass. There is already a generation of young Russians out there which does not even remember the Soviet era or the Cold War. It is *their* kids, and even grand-kids, who will, one day, give a fair historical evaluation of this intellectual giant. Right now, modern Russia still lives “in the shadows” of the former Soviet Union. But, sooner or later, Russia will come out from this shadow – that is when Solzhenitsyn’s views will become front and center again.

There is one more thing about Solzhenitsyn I want to share with you: in his pamphlet “Our Pluralists” Solzhenitsyn concludes his essay against Russian “liberals” and “democrats” (in the Russian meaning of the word) by the following words: “we thought you were fresh, but you are still the same“. I often think of this sentence when I read the writings of the Solzhenitsyn haters. During the Soviet period the Solzhenitsyn haters liked to refer to him as “Solzhenitser” (hinting that he might be a Jew). Nowadays, Solzhenitsyn haters in Russia refer to him as SoLZHEnitsyn (the letters “lzhe” means “lie” in Russian, suggesting that he is a liar). That tells you all you need to know about the degree of sophistication these folks are capable of…

Now let’s look at our other traitor,

Vladimir Rezun aka “Viktor Suvorov”

Vladimir Rezun aka “Viktor Suvorov”

Vladimir Rezun, who writes under the pen name “Viktor Suvorov”, also wrote a lot of books, but that is where his similarity to Solzhenitsyn ends. For one thing, Rezun is from a much later generation, he was born 30 years after Solzhenitsyn, and his formative years were in the 1960s, during Khrushchev’s “Great Betrayal”. Obviously, Rezun did not live through the war, nor during the glorious post-war years. The other big difference between the two men is that while Alexander Solzhenitsyn was forcibly sent into exile, Rezun defected and that defection was officially voluntary (there are some indirect signs suggesting that he was kidnapped in Geneva by the British – I consider both versions equally credible). Then he became a typical defector, let me explain what I mean by that.

I have met quite a few defectors in my life (and quite a few potential defectors who eventually decided not to defect). Here is the typical chronology of what happens to defectors (and here is the reason why I always strongly advised all Soviets against defecting):

  1. First, you are a “hot potato”. Usually, nowhere nearly as hot as you like to pretend as defectors all need to “sell” themselves to their new masters (that is, indeed, what western officials become for them) so they almost always grossly over-state their opposition to the Soviet regime, how important they were before they defected and how useful they will be now. This does not work very long as western debriefers pretty rapidly can establish who and what the new defector really was in the past and what he/she really knows. After that, these defectors are typically provided with some means of living and typically forgotten.
  2. Next, you try to impress the general public. The best way to achieve that is for you to write a best seller. Then another one, then one more. That very rarely works for a simple reason: whatever of interest the defector had to say typically comes out in the first, rarely in a second book. After that, the “publicity shock value” imagination tank is empty and defectors typically begin to make up nonsense. That nonsense typically gets worse with each subsequent book. Except for a few diehard commie-haters nobody takes these silly books seriously and the once “hot potato” defector becomes a total nobody, forgotten by all (here I think of that SOB Kalugin for example).
  3. Eventually, defectors experience a mental collapse, followed by years of substance abuse and, very often, suicide. They realize that nobody needs or cares about them; they realize that their former bosses have long forgotten about them, as have their new bosses too. They have no friends, mostly deeply dysfunctional love affairs which end in disaster, their families often turn away from them and, last but not least, they miss the people and country which they have betrayed and left.

In the case of Rezun he wrote his first best-seller in 1982 entitled “Inside the Soviet Army” which was very entertaining (he had another book before that, “The Liberators” 1981, but it was not that successful). Then, in 1985, he wrote “The Aquarium“, a rather bad and sensationalist book about the Soviet military intelligence service, the GRU. Then came 1987 and one of Rezun’s worst books: Spetsnaz, a collection of nonsensical invented stories which was a flop. By then, Rezun clearly had a problem. But being a very intelligent man, Rezun came up with a brilliant idea.

It all began with a short 1985 article followed, in 1988, by the Russian edition of his most famous book, “Icebreaker” (“Ледокол”) in which Rezun, writing as “Viktor Suvorov” claimed he has had evidence that Stalin was about to attack Nazi Germany and that Hitler had no choice but to strike first. His evidence? Lots of things, hundreds of claims, ranging from the somewhat credible to the outright silly. I won’t go into all of them here (lots of excellent historians have already done that – I think of Col. Ret David Glantz’s superb books). I will just mention one which I find particularly galling: Rezun claims that the Soviet military had plans to attack Germany and that various Russian units had even received special glossaries to allow them to speak to the folks they were planning on attacking: the Germans.

I am quite sure that the Soviets had plans to attack Germany. In fact, I am also sure that the Soviets had plans to attack most, if not all, of their neighbors. If not, the entire Soviet General Staff ought to have to been shot (again!). Why? Because that is what the military does in peacetime: prepare for war: including both defensive and offensive operations. Think for yourself: what if you were a Soviet general and you were suddenly summoned to Stalin’s late night working sessions and Stalin asked you “what are our plans to liberate the German workers and peasants from the Nazi regime and how long would such a war last if we attack first?“. Can you imagine yourself replying, “C omrade Stalin, we have no such plans!“? I think that you would die of shame, and possibly fear, even before meeting “your” firing squad. Remember the Soviet-Polish war of 1919-1920 or the Soviet-Finnish war of 1939-1940? They are not exactly known for being stunning successes (though Rezun does have some very interesting views on the latter, but they are not within the scope of this article). So, OF COURSE, the Soviets did have plans for war against Germany, just as Russia today has a plan to destroy the US (which also has such a plan of its own!). The existence of such plans does most emphatically NOT prove that the leaders of Russia or the US have the actual intention to attack each other! As for “Russian-German” pocket glossaires, that is just what military linguists mostly do when not at war. Trust me, I used to be one such a linguist – a Sprachspezialist in German – and I even saw “German-Chinese” glossaries! Yet these hardly indicate that Switzerland was planning to invade China, right?!

Did Rezun successfully prove his case? Depends whom you ask, of course. I am not a military historian and I think that this issue should be researched by professional historians, not amateurs like myself. What I do emphatically state is that I think that Rezun’s books should be read and discussed. What I find plain stupid, is what a few Russian TV news shows have done: first, they denounce Rezun as a traitor which he probably was (unless he was kidnapped, of course), but which is also a total non-sequitur. Then they interview his former colleagues who describe his horrible personal character (incompetent, alcoholic, generally disliked) but they fail to explain how such a terrible person, and an incompetent one to boot, managed to get a position in one of the most prestigious GRU “rezidenturas” in the West (the Soviets also did exactly the same with Oleg Kalugin who was assigned to the KGB rezidentura in Washington, DC, no less!). Then, in what they probably imagine as a coup de grâce, they get on a soapbox and proclaim that Rezun’s views are extremely offensive and that he must be a MI6 agent which, whether true or not, is also entirely irrelevant as a book or a historical theory ought be judged on its intrinsic merits, or lack thereof, not on the character of its author.

This is especially true of Rezun for another, special, reason. Long AFTER he wrote his books about how Stalin wanted to attack Germany, Rezun wrote an absolutely amazing historical book entitled “The Purification” (“Очищение”) in which he not only revisits Stalin’s purges but in which he brilliantly defends them. If you understand Russian I urge you to read the book (you can download it in Russian and for free here). The key thesis of the book is as follows: Stalin understood that the first generation of Bolsheviks were superbly skilled at massacring innocent civilians in huge numbers, but as military commanders they were big fat ZEROs (including Marshal Tukhachevskii whom folks in the West always present as some kind of military genius – which he sure was not!). Furthermore, by the mid-1930s Soviet Russia was really cracking and almost collapsing due the hatred most Russians have for their persecutors and torturers, thus while the bloody purge of the Secret Police and Party was seen by these elites (and their Trotskyst supporters abroad) as a “horrible purge”, for most common people this purge must have looked like a liberation and justified execution of the worst of the worst of the Bolshevik monsters. Furthermore, Rezun makes very interesting comparisons between Stalin’s generals and Hitler’s – and he concludes that Stalin had a much better lot (towards the end of the war, Hitler agreed, by the way). I find that thesis very compelling and I hope that one day “The Purification” will be translated into English.

None of the above should be interpreted as a defense of Rezun or, for that matter, Stalin. In the case of Rezun, I am not defending him at all, I am only deploring that he is vilified and dismissed, rather than critically read. As for Stalin himself, I described my personal feelings about the man in my essay “The Controversy About Stalin – a “basket” of Preliminary Considerations“, so I don’t need to repeat myself here.

Conclusion: Vladimir Putin as an example to emulate?

Vladimir Putin is often accused of being nostalgic of the Soviet Union and of wanting to recreate it.

Nothing could be further from the truth!

It is true that Putin declared several times that the collapse of the Soviet Union was “the biggest geopolitical catastrophe of the century” (“крупнейшая геополитическая катастрофа века”). What Putin was referring to was not some kind of nostalgia for the Soviet Union, but an acute realization of the unspeakable suffering the collapse of the Soviet Union meant for millions of people.

In fact, Putin has exactly *zero* nostalgia for the bad old USSR and he is not shy about speaking his mind about it, especially when he is confronted by those who now idealize the Soviet era. Not only that, but Putin has very publicly shown his immense respect for Solzhenitsyn. And the feeling was very mutual as we can tell from this photo:

Contrast this with Putin’s often publicly expressed disgust with defectors!

See, for example, what Putin declared during an interview with the British Financial Times: (emphasis added)

As a matter of fact, treason is the gravest crime possible and traitors must be punished. I am not saying that the Salisbury incident is the way to do it. Not at all. But traitors must be punished. This gentleman, Skripal, had already been punished. He was arrested, sentenced and then served time in prison. He received his punishment. For that matter, he was off the radar. Why would anybody be interested in him? He got punished. He was detained, arrested, sentenced and then spent five years in prison. Then he was released and that was it. As concerns treason, of course, it must be punishable. It is the most despicable crime that one can imagine.

By the way, this suggests that Putin does not share Solzhenitsyn’s sympathy for General Vlasov proving, yet again, that a critical mind can always separate the chaff from the wheat.

Vladimir Putin lays flowers on the grave of Ivan Illyin

Vladimir Putin lays flowers on the grave of Ivan Illyin

Then there is the way Putin likes to mention Ivan Ilyin in his speeches. It is pretty obvious to me that in terms of his personal views on history and politics, Putin is clearly an avid reader of both Ilyin and Solzhenitsyn (which creates a cognitive dissonance amongst Solzhenitsyn-haters who support Putin). However, that in no way implies that Putin endorses or agrees with everything Solzhenitsyn or Ilyin wrote or said. But it does show that not all minds in Russia are still “under the shadow of the Soviet Union”.

But change is inevitable.

First, the pendulum of history will swing the other way, and a lot of ideas which seem popular today are bound to gradually fade out, replaced by hopefully a much more careful evaluation of historical figures like Solzhenitsyn. Second, a lot of people who were raised in a blind hatred of “traitors” will simply pass away, while their descendants will not have the same knee-jerk reactions. Last, but most definitely not least, the future Russia will have to rediscover her historical, philosophical, spiritual and cultural roots, at which point the ideas of philosophers like Solzhenitsyn or Ilyin will automatically get center stage once again (though not necessarily be uncritically endorsed).← Understanding Why They Lie and Why They…



The Turkish Ministry of National Defense announced on February 22 that another service member was killed in Syria’s Greater Idlib.

The ministry said the service member, Mecit Demir, was killed in a strike carried out by the Syrian Arab Army (SAA). The ministry claimed that its forces responded by shelling 21 Syrian military positions. However, field sources didn’t report any significant strikes by Turkish forces.

Demir, a tank crewman, may have been killed in a series of Syrian and Russian airstrikes, which targeted southern Idlib late on February 21. The airstrikes reportedly destroyed nine vehicles, including battle tanks, of Turkish forces and their local forces.

Click to see full-size image

Two days ago, two Turkish service members were killed and five others were injured in a failed attack by Turkish forces and their proxies on SAA positions in southern Idlib. The SAA, supported by the Russian Aerospace Forces, repelled the attack within a few hours. Four battle tanks of the Turkish Armed Forces were destroyed.

The Turkish military lost 17 service members in Greater Idlib in the last few weeks. Despite this, Ankara appears to be still determined to support its proxies there.

Syrian Army Warns Against Any Violation Of Country’s Airspace

The General Command of the Syrian Arab Army (SAA) warned on February 22 that any violation of the country’s airspace will be dealt with as a “foreign military aggression.”

In an official statement, the army’s command said that orders have been given to the Syrian Arab Air Force (SyAAF) and the Syrian Arab Air Defense Forces (SyAADF) to repel any such aggression.

“Any aircraft that violates the Syrian airspace will be treated as a hostile military target that will not be allowed to fly over our airspace, it will be tracked at the moment of its discovery and we will work to destroy it once it penetrates our airspace,” the statement reads.

The SAA’s warning appears to be directed against Turkey, whose forces are amassing in the northwestern Syrian region of Greater Idlib.

Two days ago, Turkey and its proxies, including al-Qaeda-affiliated Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) launched a joint attack on SAA positions in southern Idlib. The army, supported by the Russian Aerospace Forces (VKS), repelled the attack within a few hours.

Despite sustaining catastrophic losses in their attack, Turkey and its proxies are now apparently preparing to launch an even larger attack. This time, however, Ankara may attempt to use its air force.

The Turkish Air Force (TAF) operates dozens of advanced f-16 fighter jets. However, the SyAADF maintains a tight grip over northwest Syria thanks to a network of air-defense systems around the region, including at least one S-300PMU2 battery deployed in Hama. The SyAAF could also provide support with its upgraded MiG-29SM warplanes.

A Turkish aerial attack on SAA positions in northwest Syria could provide Ankara’s proxies with the support they need to advance again. However, such a move will for sure come with a very high risk. A battle in the sky could ignite a full-scale war between Turkey and Syria.

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لماذا تدهورت العلاقات الروسيّة التركيّة؟

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خلال الشهر الماضي كان كل شيء يبدو مستقراً في العلاقات الروسية التركية، فموسكو تنجح بترتيب أول لقاء رسمي علني على مستوى أمني رفيع بين سورية وتركيا جَمَع في موسكو، اللواء علي مملوك رئيس مجلس الأمن الوطني في سورية مع الجنرال حقان فيدان رئيس المخابرات التركية، تم خلاله التوصل لتفاهم على خريطة تضمن فتح الطريقين الدوليين بين حلب ودمشق وحلب واللاذقية بتنسيق تركي روسي سوري أمني وعسكري يُنهي دور الجماعات الإرهابية شمال سورية. وكانت تركيا بعد تموضعها في لبييا تفتح الباب لرعاية روسية تركية لدعوة رئيس الحكومة المدعومة من تركيا فايز السراج وقائد الجيش الليبي الجنرال خليفة حفتر إلى موسكو لحوار من أجل وقف الحرب.

التدهور الحاصل اليوم في العلاقات التركية الروسية، والذي بلغ حافّة الحرب، بعدما لعب الرئيس التركي أوراق ضغط في ساحات محرّمة، كزيارته لأوكرانيا وما رافقها من كلام تلويحاً بالانقلاب على علاقته بروسيا، أو إعادة تشغيل خط معلن لتعاون تركي أميركي في سورية بعد طول انقطاع، وبالمقابل انتقال روسيا من حصر غاراتها الجوية بالجماعات المسلحة المدعومة من تركيا إلى قصف مؤلم يستهدف القوات التركية مباشرة داخل الأراضي السورية، وحديث روسي علني بلغة التحذير عن الدعم الكامل للجيش السوري في حال تعرّضه لأي استهداف تركي، إشارات تعني أن العلاقة تدهورت إلى ما يوازي لحظة إسقاط أردوغان للطائرة الروسية عام 2015.

تقول مصادر روسية إن الرئيس التركي رجب أردوغان، تلاعب بالتفاهمات التي تمّت بينه وبين الرئيس الروسي فلاديمير بوتين حول سورية وليبيا، وقام بتحويلها إلى أوراق اعتماد لاستدراج عروض أميركية أوروبية حول سورية وليبيا طمعاً بالمزيد، وقد تلاعب به الأميركيون فتورط في ارتكاب خطأ لا يُغتفر، وهو المراوغة والخداع واللعب من وراء ظهر الرئيس بوتين، وبعدما كان أردوغان قد حصل من الرئيس الروسي على ضمان الحفاظ على دور تركي في العملية السياسية في كل من سورية وليبيا، شرط التزام حدود الدور العسكري بالحد الأدنى في ليبيا لزوم هذا الدور، والاستعداد للعودة إلى اتفاق أضنة تحت سقف سيادة الدولة، بالنسبة لسورية، حصل على إغراء أميركي للانقلاب على التفاهم، واستعمال الوقت لنقل الآلاف من المقاتلين السوريين إلى ليبيا، وتسليم مواقعهم لجبهة النصرة، التي يُفترض إخراجها من مناطق سيطرتها وليس توسيع هذه المناطق. والوعود الأميركية هي تقديم الدعم لتشكيل إطار دولي إقليمي للحل السياسي في سورية وليبيا، تكون لتركيا كلمة حاسمة فيه، وما يستدعيه ذلك من إسقاط صيغة أستانة بالنسبة لسورية. وهذا مطلوب من أردوغان، وضمان نقل القضيتين السورية والليبية إلى مجلس الأمن. وهذا ما ستفعله أميركا وأوروبا عندما يؤدي أردوغان ما عليه.

جاء الردّ الروسي السوري الاستباقي بالعملية العسكرية في محافظتي إدلب وحلب ليُجهض كل ألاعيب أردوغان، ويضعه مرة أخرى بين خيارين لا ثالث لهما، التموضع في قلب مسار استانة والرعاية الروسية والتأقلم مع خسارة الرهان على التلاعب بالجغرافيا السورية، والعودة للانضباط بالتفاهمات بخصوص ليبيا، أو البديل الثاني وهو التموضع مع الجماعات الإرهابيّة وخوض الحرب بجانبها أو بالنيابة عنها. وهذا سيعني تموضعاً روسياً حاسماً في ليبيا إلى جانب الجنرال حفتر وتقديم كل الدعم اللازم لتقدّمه العسكري، ومواصلة شرسة للمواجهة في سورية من دون أي مراعاة للوضعية التركية، وجعل أردوغان الخاسر الأكبر في الحربين.

مشروع أردوغان للقمة الرباعية التي تضمّه مع الرئيس بوتين والرئيس الفرنسي والمستشارة الألمانيّة مواصلة للعبة المراوغة، بينما تجاهله لدعوة إيران لقمّة ثلاثية روسية تركية إيرانية في طهران ضمن مسار أستانة، إعلان استمرار في اللعب على حافة الهاوية، ولذلك سيستمرّ العقاب حتى يعود أردوغان إلى بيت الطاعة الروسي في سوتشي، أو يدفع الثمن الأكبر، بعدما تكشّفت له الوعود الأميركية أنها مجرد أوراق مخادعة، فقد ترك وحيداً كما حصل معه من قبل مرتين، مرة بعد إسقاط الطائرة الروسية ومرة بعد بدء معركة حلب الأولى، ولم يحصل من واشنطن إلا على الكلام والبيانات، عساه يؤخر نهاية الجماعات الإرهابية فتشتري واشنطن الوقت بواسطته لترتيب انسحاب هادئ بلا هزيمة مدوّية، من شرق سورية.

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هل يرتكب أردوغان الحماقة؟

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خلال السنوات التي أعقبت إسقاط الطائرة الروسيّة بنيران الجيش التركيّ لا يبدو أن الرئيس التركي رجب أردوغان قد استوعب القواعد التي تحكم مناورته في سورية، فهو مقيّد بحدّين لا يمكن التلاعب بهما ولا تغييرهما سواء بالعناد والتبجح والتهديد أو بالإنبطاح والتزلف، وهما: أن واشنطن غير مستعدّة هي وحلفائها في الناتو لمشاركته حرباً تكون روسيا طرفها الثاني، والثاني أن روسيا مستعدة لخوض غمار المواجهة إذا قرّر أردوغان شنّ هجمات على الجيش السوري. وهذا الحدّان دفعا بأردوغان في معركة حلب الأولى قبل أعوام، للتموضع سياسياً وأمنياً ضمن مسار أستانة، تجنباً لمواجهة يدرك عواقبها ويدرك أنه لا يستطيع الفوز بنتائجها، كما يدرك قبل كل شيء أن الشعب والجيش في تركيا لا يملكان أسباباً لمجاراته في التورّط فيها إن أراد.

حاول أردوغان استنفاد سنوات ما بعد أستانة، بالرهان على استئخار القرار الحاسم، والاحتفاظ بإدلب وأرياف حلب واللاذقية، مرة عبر فرضية صمود داعش طويلاً، ومرة بفرضية تجنب روسيا مساندة الجيش السوري في تحرير الجنوب ومخاطر التصادم مع الأميركي والإسرائيلي. ولما باءت رهاناته بالفشل وبدأت معركة إدلب وتوّجت بالانتصار الكبير الذي تعيشه سورية، كان يدرك سقوط رهان ثالث وهو صمود الجماعات الإرهابيّة التي زوّدها بالسلاح والعتاد، ودفع بجيشه إلى جانبها ليمنحها المعنويات، أملاً بصمود لم يتحقق.

مع تساقط مواقع جماعاته وتحقيق الانتصارات السوريّة، صار وجه أردوغان إلى الجدار، فراهن على ثنائية العناد والانبطاح. العناد بوجه روسيا والانبطاح لواشنطن، أملاً بتغيير الحدّين الثابتين اللذين حكما معركة حلب الأولى، آملاً بأن يردع عناده روسيا عن تقديم الإسناد اللازم للجيش السوري إذا تعرّض لهجوم تركي، وبأن يُغري الانبطاح واشنطن فتعلن استعدادها لمشاركته المعركة، تفادياً لخوضها دفاعاً عن قواتها التي سيأتي موعد مطالبتها بالانسحاب إذا فرض مثله على القوات التركيّة، فذهب يرفع سقوف التهديد والتحدي بوجه روسيا من جهة، ويقدّم التنازلات والإغراءات لواشنطن من جهة موازية. وجاءت الحصيلة واضحة، مزيداً من الثبات الروسي على خيار المواجهة، ومزيداً من التحفظ الأميركي تجاه أي تورط بمغامرة عسكرية.

المعادلة اليوم شديدة الوضوح وعلى أردوغان أن يقرّر، فترجمة التهديد بعملية عسكرية تستهدف الجيش السوري تهدّد بإشعال حرب سيكون الجيش السوري خلالها مستعداً لتقديم التضحيات الجسام دفاعاً عن سيادته الوطنية، وأظهرت التظاهرات العفوية ورشق الجنود الأتراك بالحجارة في مناطق السيطرة التركية حجم التعبئة النفسية التي يعيشها السوريون وصولاً للاستعداد للتضحية لمنع الاحتلال التركي من البقاء فوق أراضيهم، وسيكون حلفاء سورية بصور متنوّعة معها في هذه المواجهة، بين شراكة قوى المقاومة في الميدان، والدعم الإيراني من جهة، والدعم الروسي الناري من جهة مقابلة، وسيكون على أردوغان أن يتحمّل أمام جيشه وشعبه مسؤولية خراب كبير، قد يصل إلى تساقط الصواريخ في العمق التركي إذا تجاوز أردوغان الخطوط الحمراء لموضعيّة الاشتباك المفترض، والتزامه موضعيّة الاشتباك سيعني خسارته المحتّمة، حيث الجو سيكون روسياً، والأرض ستكون سوريّة.

أردوغان يرفع السقوف، ويفتح الباب موارباً للتفاهم آملاً الحصول على بعض المكاسب التي يستطيع تصويرها نصراً، خصوصاً لجهة ربط مصير مدينة إدلب بالحل السياسي، فيتحدث وزير دفاعه عن مناشدة الروس الحياد من المعركة التي يريد خوضها مع الجيش السوري لأنه لا يريد مواجهة معهم، ووزير خارجيّته يتحدّث عن الاتصالات المستمرّة بحثاً عن حل سياسي، والرئاسة تقول إنها لا تزال تدرس مشروع القمة الثلاثيّة التي دعت إليها طهران مع تركيا وروسيا.

أردوغان بين خيارين الآن، أن يرتضي تحوّل كلماته فقاعات، فيتراجع، أو أن يصير هو فقاعة تنفجر في تركيا بحماقة تنتهي بهزيمة محققة، وإن تحوّلت حرباً ستنهي حياته السياسية، وتاريخ أردوغان يقول إنه مراوغ، لكنه جبان.

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Turkey closed its airspace in the face of Russian military planes following the recent tension in Syria’s Greater Idlib, Russia’s Nezavisimaya Gazeta reported on February 21.

According to the newspaper, four planes, including a Tu-154 and two Su-24M of the Russian Aerospace Forces (VKS), were banned from entering Turkey’s airspace.

The four Russian planes were forced to travel through Iran, then Iraq. The unusual trip, which took place on February 20, was noticed by aviation observers.Sukhoi Su-57 Felon @I30mki

Replenishment of the fleet of military aircraft at the air base in Syria. Tu-154 #Russian Defense Ministry RA85042 board as escort aircraft (leader) for the Su-24M Volga route 🇷🇺 —-> 🇸🇾 Latakia (#Syria) #RA85042 #RuAF

RS A group of aircraft entered SAR through airspace of Iran

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In the first years of its operations in Syria, Russia used Iran and Iraq skies to ship equipment and send troops to the war-torn country. Later, Russian military planes began taking a shorter route through Turkey’s airspace. This was the result of the improvement in relations between Moscow and Ankara.

The Turkish decision to close its airspace will not likely affect Russian operations in Syria. However, it may damage Russian-Turkish relations.

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Russian naval presence in Indian Ocean

By Nat South for The Saker Blog

I am interested in the way that narratives that shape individual events are crafted, curated and disseminated, because ultimately there is a tendency to focus mostly on specific events and ignore the wider context. Ultimately, we end up with being presented with a series of disjointed events, not really understanding the history or the detailed framing of these events. One such example would be “Russian ships are prowling around undersea cables”, in the tenor of overstating the Russian threat. Often, the complexity and background of the issue is left completely blank and important facets are blurred. At worst, we are simply presented with a series of ‘soundbites’ such as this stark example: “Russia invaded Crimea”.

The starting point for this naval oriented briefing is the widely reported incident between a U.S. Navy destroyer and a lightly armed Russian navy intelligence reconnaissance ship somewhere in “northern Arabian Sea”. The U.S. Fifth Fleet alleged that on January 9, a Russian Navy ship ‘Ivan Khurs’ (AGI),“aggressively approached” USS Farragut, an Arleigh Burke DDG (guided missile destroyer), “conducting routine operations in the North Arabian Sea”, (in the words of the U.S. Navy press release). Subsequently, Moscow dismissed Washington’s claims.

Note the tone of stating “aggressively approached”, not really a nuanced interpretation of events. What wasn’t mentioned the likelihood that this took place not far from the carrier, ‘USS Harry S. Truman’. No context whatsoever was provided by authorities on this incident. A classic example of a specific event being framed without any further details as to why and how it happened. Nothing mentioned on what took place before the video snippets that don’t make much sense. What is the wider context to this incident? (More on this specific incident later on in this article).

Without getting into details on the well-publicised Iran / U.S. tensions and U.S. naval deployment to the region, I would like to turn to other broader aspects touching upon the Russian naval presence in the region. In January, a series of articles appeared on the geopolitical aspects of the Indian Ocean, such as this on China’s increased presence , “the Russians are coming”, and this that gives an all-round Indian focused overview. Taking an excerpt from the latter:

During the unipolar moment from 1991 till 2010s, Washington still felt comfortable in its position; however, over the last few years, the situation has changed dramatically.”

The most recent element in the turning point that shows the dramatic change would certainly be the late December trilateral naval exercise between Russia, Iran & China. The high-profile, three-day naval exercise took place in the Indian Ocean and Gulf of Oman and Arabian Sea. Although not a major strategic exercise, the naval drills conveyed a slight political undertone, particularly with the presence of the Chinese Navy. China’s regional policy remains the same, to engage with all countries in a cautious and balanced manner. This is reflected by the fact the PLAN also held joint naval exercises with Saudi Arabia in November 2019, with the practically the same theme of enhancing maritime security.

The Pentagon’s plan for continued domination of the sea lanes of the Indian Ocean as per Mahan Doctrine in a unipolar world, is started to be eroded by the presence of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army Navy, (PLAN). On paper, the numbers involved is very small compared to the overall U.S. Navy presence in the region. Yet, Chinese encroachment into a space seen by Washington as their turf is already enough of an issue to warrant increased attention in recent years. So far, this has resulted in the creation of dedicated military structures, namely the Indo-Pacific Command, (USINDOPACOM) in 2018 and the release in June 2019 of a US military strategy report specifically on the region.

On top of all of Washington’s angst, is also the presence of the Russian Navy in the region. So, are the Russians just coming to the region now? No. The only noticeable change of recent is the taking part in multi-national exercises, (in Iran and South Africa) jointly with the Chinese.

The Russian Navy has been an occasional visitor for two decades, limited to one combat ship with two support deploying to either bilateral exercises or simply showing the flag as part of naval diplomacy. Take for example the annual bilateral exercises between Russia with India since 2003, (INDRA), with Pakistan since 2014, (Exercise Arabian Monsoon). Both of which are aimed at: “increasing inter-operability amongst the two navies, developing common understanding and procedures for maritime security operations.” Both activities clearly underline the “naval diplomacy” being used by Russia, striking a balance between two significant opposing countries.

What is changing is the nature and format of other newer joint or multilateral exercises. A glimpse of this is the Army International Games “Depth-2019”, competition in July 2017 in Iran. The Black Sea Fleet based rescue tug “Professor Nikolai Muru”, (Project 22870), made a first-ever passage to the Gulf to participate in the event. Insignificant, in the greater scheme of things, probably yes, but interesting the Russian Navy did this.

Lastly let’s not forget that the Russian Navy had infrequently participated in the Horn of Africa anti-piracy missions, probably best remembered by an epic video of the Russian Navy dealing with a pirate boat. Conversely, the PLAN has been a more consistent participant of these types of missions for almost two decades. Nevertheless, as I write this, the Baltic Fleet based ‘Yaroslav Mudry’ is out in the region having recently called in to the Omani port of Salalah. It is in the Gulf of Aden as part of the latest Russian anti-piracy deployment to the Indian Ocean.

A first in the Southern Hemisphere took place in late November 2019 in Cape Town, when Russia and China held their first trilateral naval exercise with South Africa. Exercise ‘Mosi’ was the first time that three countries belonging to BRICS exercised together. Participants included a type 054A frigate Weifang (550) and Slava-class Project 1164 cruiser Marshal Ustinov (055) and the South African Valour class frigate ‘Amatola’.

9th January 2020

Back to the 9th January incident, reminiscent of the era of the Soviet Navy, when there were numerous ‘interactions’ of this kind on and below the waves. Any naval Cold War veteran is able to attest to this. An example of maybe hundreds of incidents and accidents is when the Soviet destroyer ‘Bravyy’ on 9th November 1970, while observing a NATO exercise, collided with the British aircraft-carrier HMS Ark Royal. Other notable incidents were the Black Sea “bumping incidents”, although the context for this was slightly different, taking place in home waters, involving both the USS Caron and the ‘USS Yorktown’, under the activity of “innocent passage and freedom of navigation”. An issue that still provokes intense debate and U.S. FONOP activities, (notably in the South China Sea) as mentioned in a previous article on the Arctic. A snapshot of this rationale for carrying out freedom of navigation voyages can be found in the introduction of a paper presented here.

I had a deja-vu feeling when I heard about this incident. It seems to me practically a re-run of the ‘USS Chancellorsville’ & ‘Admiral Vinogradrov’ incident back in June 2019. I see that many instant experts on Rule 15 have suddenly popped up on social media, hence this specific commentary.  Essentially several things could have done been done to avert this close call situation. The U.S. ship could have speeded up considerably to give the Russian ship more sea room to cross astern with plenty of space. There’s a lot more to this incident than just the videos extracts released by the U.S. Navy. However, this and the June 2019 incident needed to be contrasted with the shenanigans done in 60, 70s and also the 1988 Black Sea bumping incidents. Personally, this is pretty tame stuff in comparison.

The question is why this happens in this manner, (maybe due to saving face or not backing down). The carefully selected excerpts of videos, showing a fraction of the incident in question don’t help to understand the length, context or extent of the incident. The tetchy moments on who had ‘right of way’ (the nautical version of the Road Code – known as COLREGS) regarding the ‘Ivan Khurs’ close encounter with ‘USS Farragut’ can be regarded as just a “braggadocio” event aimed at media sensationalism. Well, not quite. There’s more the story than what it first seems.

As with the June 2019 incident, the U.S. ship was on the port side of the Russian vessel, considered to be a “Constant bearing, decreasing range” (CBDR) situation. Many arguments happened over whether the Ivan Khurs was in crossing situation or overtaking one, (was it 22.5 / 30 degrees angle? Essentially that’s a redundant point given the closeness and the continued CBDR situation, running out of safe sea space). A grey area well-known to mariners, hence the need to be quite clear in intentions from the outset. The video excerpts are equally unhelpful in determining the situation since some time must have passed between the video snippets.

The question that no one asked was why did both sides act early enough to avoid such close approach in the first place. It seems to me, in general one side was blatantly ignoring the CBDR situation and the finer points of Rule 15 or 17 COLREG, while the other won’t try or consider slowing down or bearing away from US ship. Essentially, a total farce where both sides seem to wind each up until the last minute, when finally, the U.S. destroyer actually opens up a bit the throttle. Given that it is a DDG, I’m sure that the USS Farragut has a higher speed than the ‘Ivan Khurs’, so the Russian ship can cross astern safely. Seemingly, neither budged and importantly both sides were basically ignoring parts of Rule 8 which sets out good seamanship practice, well before the Rule 15/17 situation arose, as both had each other on radar and visually for many nautical miles.

The other question is why did this incident occur? Essentially, eyeing each other for intel gathering. Scenario 1: I suspect it is the U.S. ship taking a keen interest, given the ‘Ivan Khurs’ is a probable newcomer to the waters, but was this was close to the area of the U.S. carrier operations. Scenario 2: Possibility of the USS Farragut either wanting to keep the Russian ship away from the U.S. carrier or maybe possibly deploying ASW array.

Of interest to note is the ad hoc presence of Russian AGIs and intelligence reconnaissance ships in the vicinity of U.S. carrier groups. This has been the case elsewhere, in the Eastern Mediterranean particularly, but seemingly a first for the Arabian Sea, (in many decades).


The Russian Navy is not the Soviet Navy in scope or numbers. As such the remaining current cold war era CCGs & DDGs that visit the region will gradually fade away, to be replaced by a smaller fleet of FFGs & corvettes; yet it will continue to visit the Indian Ocean. Although many pundits see this as a growing Russia’s return to the Indian Ocean as being relatively recent, when in fact it isn’t. So, the muted outcry by Washington of “the Russians are coming” is rather feeble and reveals a deep level of geopolitical insecurity. To paraphrase the Chinese delegate’s question at the Munich Security Conference recently, (see here):

“Do you really think the U.S. Navy presence in the Indian Ocean is so fragile it could be threatened by the occasional visit of Russian and Chinese warships?”

Seemingly yes.

Russia has a new limited strategic presence in the Middle East and Africa and the naval visits are part of the bigger picture. Russian presence will continue given the backdrop of the U.S. public wish for an expansion of a NATO footprint into Gulf & Iraq, adding to the ongoing presence in Afghanistan since 2001.

Russia also has defence-cooperation agreements with about 15 African countries. This is somewhat reflected in the port call make by the ‘Marshal Ustinov’, (en route to South Africa, including Egypt & Algeria, Equatorial Guinea and Cape Verde.

NB:The ‘Marshal Ustinov’ also called into Greece, Cyprus, Turkey (some are NATO countries).

By looking at the Russian Navy’s timid visits, the Indian Ocean is not a high priority regarding Russian maritime presence. Nevertheless, Russia has certainly stepped up its naval diplomacy in the region in different ways, making infrequent regular yearly visits to ports in the region, such as Pakistan, India and Sri Lanka and high-level working visits by heads of navies. Russia is also attentive to maintaining special relationships that it already has with countries like India and Pakistan.

Lastly, I cannot compare the minuscule presence of Russian Navy in region with that of the PLAN which is quickly building a larger force projection capability than the Russian VMF can realistically hope for these days. Let’s be frank, the Chinese PLAN is expanding considerably each year. 2019 alone saw another: 1 aircraft carrier, 1 LDP, 1 LHD & eight 7000t & two 13000t destroyers commissioned) plus 17 corvettes in one year!) The new tonnage must eye watering hard for the West to contemplate.

Further Reading

See this detailed article below I entirely agree with the author, as a civilian ex-mariner.

Who provokes whom and with which goal?

Extra information on the geopolitics of the Indian Ocean:

Indian Ocean: strategic hub or zone of competition?

An visual overview of both recent Chinese and Russian naval port visits in the Indian Ocean is presented on the blog

Nat South’s sideline is occasionally commenting on maritime & naval related subjects ,with a special interest in the polar regions.


South Front

On February 20, the 2nd Army of NATO and its proxy forces once again failed to capture the village of Nayrab, eastern Idlib, from the Syrian Army. The Turkish attack involved 2 dozens of military equipment pieces, including battle tanks and artillery, over 200 Turkish soldiers and approximately 300 members of Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (formerly the Syrian branch of al-Qaeda) and other Turkish-backed groups.

The Turkish attack started at approximately 13:00 local time under jeers of mainstream media regarding the nearing collapse of the Syrian defense and the Assad government under powerful strikes of the Turkish Army. By 14:00 local time, some Turkish supporters in twitter already concurred Aleppo city and were preparing to advance on Damascus.

However, by 17:00 it appeared that the attack died out despite the massive rocket and artillery strikes and the participation of Turkish troops united their efforts against the Syrians with al-Qaeda. Turkish-led forces, supposedly Turkish troops, even launched a MANPAD at a Russian Su-24 warplane that came to provide a close-air-support to Syrian troops. After this, the Turkish Defense Ministry reported that 2 Turkish soldiers were killed and 5 others were injured in an airstrike.

In keeping with the best traditions, the Turkish Defense Ministry a victorious statement claiming that 50 ‘Assad troops’ were killed, 2 Syrian battle tanks, 2 armoured vehicles, 2 armed pickups and a howitzer were destroyed. However, all what the Turkish side was able to demonstrate to confirm these claims were a few Hayat Tahrir al-Sham selfies from the vicinity of Nayrab. Turkish state media immediately declared that Turkish forces did not want to capture the village and just sent a message to the oppressive Assad regime.

After this, the mighty Turkish Army requested Patriots systems from the United States in order to deter the Assad aggression in Idlib. There are two explanations:

  • Ankara apparently missed news that Patriots deployed at in Saudi Arabia had repeatedly failed to protect its military infrastructure from missile and drone strikes by the Yemeni Houthis.
  • The Erdogan government would like to see troops of the United States in Idlib alongside their Turkish and al-Qaeda counterparts.

The Russian side officially confirmed that its warplanes supported the Syrian Army striking targets in Idlib. According  to it, a battle tank, 6 armoured vehicles and 5 armed pickups were destroyed. Moscow says that Turkish artillery strikes injured 4 Syrian soldiers.

February is coming to its end and the Turkish ultimatum demanding the Syrians to withdraw from the liberated areas is expiring. The inability of Turkish forces to recapture even a single village from the Syrian Army already became a powerful blow to the public image of the Erdogan government. Therefore, it’s likely that the Turkish Army will continue their attacks in Idlib paying with own blood for neo-ottoman dreams of Erdogan and its inner circle.

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