Can the US bankrupt Russia?

The US wield an enormous global power through sanctions. Ronald Reagan allegedly won the Cold War by bankrupting the USSR with depressed oil prices. Can America do the trick again?

Raw commodities make the bulk of Russia’s exports and budget proceeds. Theoretically, the US can mess up our state finances by suppressing their prices.

Disparity in the economic size also provides a possibility to ruin Russia’s economy in an arms race. President Trump’s 2019 budget provides more than $6.3 billion for the Pentagon’s European Deterrence Initiative (EDI) in order “to better counter Russian coercion and deter Russian aggression .” This reminds of the American Strategic Defense Initiative from the 1980s that forces the USSR to overspend on military programs.

However, they are very unlikely to do that, for several reasons:

  • Bankrupting Russia won’t solve any of American most pressing problems, such as the budget deficit, trade deficit, social inequality and suchlike.
  • Taking down Putin would destabilize Russia, bringing forth the problem of nuclear proliferation and nuclear threat to the US, which would far outweigh any annoyance Putin currently may be causing.
  • Bankrupting Russia could lead to fracturing the country into smaller segments, where China is likely to be a dominating force (Siberia, Far East, the Ural region). Such a strengthening of China’s hand is not in America’s interest.
  • In a longer term, Russia could provide to the US a useful counterweight against the growing Chinese influence in the world—much like China was a counterweight to the USSR in the 1970s and 1980s. No sense in dumping this card.
  • Bankrupting such a large country with such a vast war chest (edging toward $500 billion) is a costly project, and is worth it only if Russia is deemed a clear and present threat to the US. Which the modern oligarchical Russia is seemingly not.

“Defense initiatives” never been the Kremlin’s game

The Kremlin has no history of “defense initiatives” and is traditionally suspicious when others do that.

I worked in propaganda in the heyday of the anti-Pershing II campaigns, SALT/START negotiations and the “Star Wars” scare. I recognize much of the same logic in the Russian response nowadays.

Tip of the iceberg

First of all, whatever NATO does, it always finds both staunch opponents and gleeful challengers (“oh yeah, let’s beat these Yankees in their own game!”) among our generals and heavyweights in the military-industrial complex. The policy-makers always voice whatever gives them most leverage, or complaint points, at the negotiation table. Which means, the objections may disappear the moment we get something in return for our grievances.

Catch-up game

Second, strategic anti-missile systems have never been the field where our side was eager to compete. It was considered a high-tech stuff where the West seemed to have an unfair advantage because of the sheer size of resources they could throw at it. This is why the range of suggested reactions to President Reagans “Strategic Defense Initiative” among the Soviet decision-makers varied wildly between panicked red-level strategic deployment around the time of KAL-007 shoot-down to the “let’s sit down and talk” moves that came to fruition during Mikhail Gorbachev’s Perestroika.

Brute force

We always found most reassurance in the brute force of MAD counterbalancing. Since the defeat of Tatars, no one could ever beat us when brute force decided the outcome. Anything that circumvents brute force is therefore in our books a trickery, a ruse, a threat.

The level of distress caused by the US Strategic defense initiative spawned an entire sub-genre of visual propaganda. anti-anti-missile posters. The space shuttle program was believed to be a crucial part of the anti-missile system. Therefore: “No!” to space shuttles.

“Strategic defense initiative – life danger!”

“Stop the militarization of the outer space!”

“Peace to the outer space! SDI is dangerous insanity”

“SDI: the final rain of gold!”

“Another turn”

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a rough gem of propaganda

Irrespective of AOC’s political views and the public persona, we need to recognize her unique PR talent.

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is a rare gem. She has the full potential to become a shining star of propaganda of Donald Trump’s caliber. No wonder anyone slightly more moderate than Bernie Sanders runs around scared.

Irrespective of her political views and the public persona, we need to recognize AOC’s unique PR talent.

  • She has the drive and energy of a firebrand leader of peasant uprising. Bleach her hair and give her turquoise contact lenses-and send her to audition to any Jeanne d’Arc role she wants.
  • She combines the vocabulary and panache of an Ivy League graduate with the decibel level, hand-flailing and obnoxiousness of a Middle-Eastern bazaar lady.
  • Like President Trump, she speaks in short, strongly modulated sentences that just stick to the listener’s brains. But unlike Trump, she also knows grammar. Which allows her to reach out to simple folks and angry intellectuals at the same time.
  • AOC uses President Trump’s technique of shortcutting logic by stringing sentences by association. Like him, she picks short, simple, emotionally charged words, and never shirks from repeating them, hammering them down throughout the speech.
  • Like Trump, she is preternaturally attuned to the media reality where no one wants to hear speeches longer than three sentences.

The concept art below expresses my thrill when I imagine a public debate between President Trump and AOC sometime. “Alien vs Predator of Propaganda” would be a show of the century.

Battle of propaganda titans

Pictures that describe the difference between Communist and Capitalist ideology

Posters and propaganda art give a clear idea of the core values behind their ideologies. Communism versus Capitalism illustrate this clearly.

Art celebrating state power is interesting to compare and contrast between Socialist and Capitalist societies.

Soviet Union

The poster below was printed for the 22nd Party Congress. This was in 1961, when NikitaKhrushchev promised the nation to build Communism by 1980. It shows a procession of Soviet people marching toward a bright future of social justice, spiritual perfection and material cornucopia.

The decisions of the 22nd party congress will be fulfilled
Poster “The decisions of the 22nd party congress will be fulfilled!”

What makes it uniquely pertaining to Real Socialism?

  • The dominating presence of a sanctified person who is not a religious saint or an immortal being (Lenin)
  • The importance of industrial scenery in the bottom right corner. Under Socialism, it’s a reassuring symbol of progressivist development, self-reliance, security and future wealth.
  • In the center, a peasant is tasked with carrying around a sheaf of wheat, in plain sight for everyone. The Soviet Union experienced at least four famines during the first 30 years of its existence. I belong to the first generation of Soviet citizens who were not a “hungry generation”. It’s important that food here is presented in its basic form, as grain. Socialism acknowledges people’s need not to go hungry but frowns on foodies and drink connoisseurs.
  • People walk in a very determined way in one direction, but have no map. Instead of a map, they use a Program of the Communist Party printed on an oversized sheet of paper. The only person who seems to have an item useful for orientation and measurements is the land surveyor with a theodolite to the right. But even he is looking for directions at the metal worker and harvester operator who are holding the Party Program.
  • The journey to Communism is expected to be short. The welder didn’t even take off his headgear. Some wear their Sunday clothes. Women especially don’t want to be caught out with bad hair and in ugly dresses at the destination.
  • One of the kids is bringing cut flowers for the big occasion. The other is carrying a huge model of a nuclear-propelled ice breaker he likely made himself. The little girl in her mother’s arms is preparing to cheer and wave her hands in excitement. Real Socialism is not a place for useless people. “He who doesn’t work, shall not eat.”
  • Apart from the Scientist, no 2 from the right, no one seems to be older than 30. This is no land for old people.

United States

Below, the painting “You are not forgotten”, by Jon McNaughton, from “The Empowered Man” series.

You are not forgotten by Jon McNaughton

“You are not forgotten”, by Jon McNaughton
  • The congregation is static. Under Capitalism, everyone is free to walk, run and crawl in any direction they want. The only way to achieve synchronicity is for everyone to stop.
  • The nation’s leader does not need to physically show a direction. Holding speeches and showing up at ceremonies is most often enough to show leadership.
  • President Trump is trampling a serpent of liberal treason. This is unusual for socialist-themed motifs in the USSR. In our place, the secret police were required to take care of traitors and enemies of the people well before the patriotic crowds entered the scene.
  • There are many seniors in the picture. Under Socialism, if you are old, you are not allowed to enter such an artistic motif, even if you are the highest-ranking government official. (To depict Lenin, Stalin, Khrushchev, and Brezhnev, painters needed special permission.) Even more surprising is the wheel-chaired veteran in front of the public. There was not a single piece of patriotic art in the USSR where you could see someone with a disability.
  • The gathering stands on bone-dry earth. This is strange. Under Real Socialism, even in devastated surroundings, the soil always remained full of energy, ready to rebound in a sudden burst of vegetation. It symbolized the bottomless creative force of workers and peasants—none of whom seem to be present here outside the White House.
  • The family of three, front and center, are too melancholic—as is the President. It’s as if they are not sure if the tiny green plant they are watering is going to survive. Only the two police officers are applauding, the rest look like there is a burial going on. This lack of faith and enthusiasm is what always puzzled Soviet people about Capitalist ideologies.
  • Apart from a few government persons, there doesn’t seem to be anyone with a college education. There are no signs of American industrial and technological might in the picture. An alien who doesn’t know anything about the country might deduce from this piece of art that America is a pastoral, not too educated country that mainly consists of the military, firefighters, police officers, elderly politicians, and silver-haired bikers.

Trump’s presidency and its epic footprint

President Trump proves that the recipe for success in Russian politics is equally applicable for American democracy.

Trump’s presidency—along with Brexit and the rise of the far right in Europe—has vindicated the visceral knowledge that we in Russia had possessed long before the man won the White House. His rulebook is profoundly tested in post-Soviet Russia. No wonder he gets results.

Below is the image that reveals the deep wisdom of Donald Trump hidden beneath the Fibonacci pattern of his hairstyle. I believe it’ll take years and even decades for us to fully grasp the enormity of new insights we got thanks to the man

Donald Trump hair Fibonacci Golden Rate
President Trump’s hair almost perfectly follows the Fibonacci curve with its underlying Golden Ratio pattern

What put Putin on a collision course with the West?

When Yeltsin and his circle of aides and oligarchs picked Vladimir Putin as his crown prince, Putin looked like a perfect man for building bridges between Russia and the West.

One of considerations (probably not the main one, though) on the part of oligarchs who put Putin on the throne in 1999, was his image of a “KGB liberal”.

“KGB liberal”

Putin came into politics as a fixer for the liberal mayor of St. Petersburg. He worked superbly with Western investors in the city. He spent some time in Europe. He was a known Germanofil, and built a decent international business network in the 1990s. He had never been known for xenophobia, or anti-Semitism. Besides, KGB traditionally had an image of people who know how to see eye-to-eye with Western bourgeois guys, when necessary.


Therefore, his explicit mandate included finding a way to get Western recognition for Russian oligarchical fortunes, irrespective of their provenance (Project Londongrad). Oligarchs held in the 1990s their part of the bargain, preventing Communists from re-taking power and aligning with the West on global issues. Now, they wanted the West to acknowledge their effort. They required an equal place at the G-8 table of global power.

Let’s be friends!

This is where Putin’s inquiry about the NATO membership in 2000 came from, as well as several hints from his aides at joining the EU. This is also why he was the first to call Bush and offered him help after 9/11. This is also why he agreed to the NATO military logistics bases not only in the Central Asia, but also in Ulyanovsk in Russia (“American military boots trampling the Russian soil!” was the line from our radical nationalists at the time).

Cold shoulder

Then, the following happened:

  • NATO accepted the Baltics as new members
  • USA withdrew from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treat and revealed an intent of deploying new ABM systems in Central Europe
  • USA invaded Iraq, in spite of Putin’s vehement objections
  • Pro-Western Rose revolution happened in Georgia in 2003
  • Orange Revolution happened in Ukraine in 2005 and prevented a pro-Russian president from taking office
  • Oil price skyrocketed and filled the Russian state budget to a degree unprecedented in our history, see the graph below

From which Putin made the following conclusions:

Slow decay

  1. It doesn’t pay to be nice with the US and NATO
  2. The US and NATO try to find a way to get rid of him
  3. He needs to set up a watertight perimeter preventing outside forces from “color revolutions” against him
  4. Everything is happening because no one cared to formalize the terms of the Soviet surrender in 1991. The good news is that it opens for renegotiating the outcome of the Cold war!
  5. Russia has money to stand up against the West and push forward a revision of the Cold war’s outcome.
  6. The West must accept a New Yalta deal with Putin—not in exchange for some new favors from Putin, but as a compensation for Russia’s past favors in 1990–2005.
Global oil price 1970-2014

Graph: Global oil price 1970-2014 (USD/barrel)

Any chances that Russia extradites Edward Snowden?

Putin will extradite Snowden only as a part of some exceptional grand deal with the US. Snowden has done so much damage to America that simple sense of fairness would stop Putin from hurting the rogue agent

Chances that Russia extradites the American whistle-blower Edward Snowden Pretty unlikely as long as Putin’s calling the shots. Putin has a very strong sense of justice, in his particular Godfather way.

Putin hates the US. Snowden did a great lot of damage to Americans. He didn’t harm Russia in any way. Why would Putin do any harm to him? And what kind of signal would it send to enemies of America and friends of Russia?

I can envision only one scenario where Putin makes a sacrifice of Snowden. Think some very high-level strategic transaction, something like Russia joining NATO, or a Russia-US Treaty of Friendship and Cooperation. Pure alternative history, so far.

Most likely, everyone right now are happy with Snowden stuck where he is until he decides he’s better off facing American justice than rotting in Moscow.

Edward Snowden is safe in Russia, so far

Snowden’s extradition is a trump card Putin will hold off for some serious package deal in a very distant future. Such a deal seems very unlikely.

American whistleblower Edward Snowden is stuck in Russia. It’s pretty unlikely he will be extradited as long as President Putin is calling the shots. Snowden’s extradition is a trump card Putin will hold off for some serious package deal in a very distant future. Which possibly never comes.

Firstly, Putin has a very strong sense of justice, in his particular Godfather way. Snowden struck a formidable blow to Putin’s enemies. Even if he’s not a spy, it’s only fair to keep the man out of harm’s way. What kind of signal would the extradition send to the enemies of America and friends of Russia?

I can only envision one purely theoretical scenario where Putin makes a sacrifice of Snowden. Think of some very high-level strategic transaction, something like President Trump ordering the withdrawal of American bases from Europe. How about a Russia-US Treaty of Friendship and Cooperation? So far, anything like this is pure alternative history.

It seems like everyone right now is comfortable with Snowden stuck where he is. It’s up to the defector to decide if he’s better off facing American justice than holed up in Moscow.

How did WW2 contribute to the fall of the Soviet Union?

After the war, despite all the efforts, the USSR never managed to regain this level of strategic advantage over the West.

As a result of WW2, the Soviet Union lost the military supremacy we had built up on the eve of the war against Germany:

After the war, despite all the efforts, we have never since managed to regain this level of strategic advantage over the West.

As a result of WW2, the traditional American isolationism ended. The US took global leadership in preserving the new world order. The old Leninist strategy of “let them fight each other for us to pick the spoils” would no longer work. The USSR faced NATO, a global coalition of democratic countries possessing an economic and military muscle that we, in the long run, could not match. It was now the turn for our new Chinese friends to push for a nuclear US vs. USSR showdown in the hope of picking up the spoils in the after-war rubble.

History gave the USSR no new chance of running over Western Europe. Eventually, the Cold War bankrupted us.


What would a war between NATO and Russia look like after the first nuclear strike?

A war between NATO and Russia.

With the capacity for Mutually Assured Destruction still present on both sides, the likelihood of an all-out nuclear strike from either side is rather small. Whatever propaganda on either side is saying, there are hardly any issues between Russia and the US/NATO that can’t be sorted out in a considerably less costly way, through negotiations or conventional proxy conflicts.

But if, against odds, Black Swans arrive and the nuclear option comes to table, we’ll most likely see a carefully scaled conflict. The first shots would be delivering tactical nuclear munitions, in order to measure public and military response from the other side.

Right now, the most likely area for such an exchange seems to be the Baltic Sea nations and the Ukraine. The rationale for that might be Putin testing NATO’s resolve to invoke Article 5 in the face of the imminent threat of nuclear escalation. “Is President Trump willing to sacrifice Pittsburgh for Pärnu?” Most likely, Trump and the Germans would stand down, NATO would collapse, and the prospect of global nuclear war would blow over.

Missile ready to launch