22 April 2021 — Moon of Alabama
Some two month ago we discussed how the U.S. focus on narratives will let it collide with reality. It is certainly not only the U.S. government that creates narratives, comes to believe in them, and then fails when it is confronted with reality. Carried by think tanks and media the narrative mold has grown throughout the wider ‘western’ world.
On the danger of this development the above piece quoted Alastair Crooke who wrote:
[B]eing so invested, so immersed, in one particular ‘reality’, others’ ‘truths’ then will not – cannot – be heard. They do not stand out proud above the endless flat plain of consensual discourse. They cannot penetrate the hardened shell of a prevailing narrative bubble, or claim the attention of élites so invested in managing their own version of reality.
The ‘Big Weakness’? The élites come to believe their own narratives – forgetting that the narrative was conceived as an illusion, one among others, created to capture the imagination within their society (not others’).
They lose the ability to stand apart, and see themselves – as others see them. They become so enraptured by the virtue of their version of the world, that they lose all ability to empathise or accept others’ truths. They cannot hear the signals. The point here, is that in that talking past (and not listening) to other states, the latters’ motives and intentions will be mis-construed – sometimes tragically so.
Over the last weeks we passed through a crisis that easily could have had a tragic ending.
Since February the Ukraine built up a force to retake the renegade Donbas region in east-Ukraine by military force. After waiting several week to see the situation more clearly Russia started to assemble a counterforce backed up by statements that were sufficiently strong to deter the Ukraine from continuing its plans. The danger of a Ukrainian assault has now receded.
Today the Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu gave orders for the troops to return to their bases. Much of the equipment though will stay on training grounds near Ukraine until the regular fall maneuvers later this year take place. That minimizes transport costs and gives a little time advantage should someone in the Ukraine again have silly ideas.
Russia has clearly won this round.
But that is not how it looks when seen from the ‘western’ narrative. In that version the Ukrainian plans and its assembling of heavy weapons and troops near the Donbas border never happened. The narrative says that the whole incident started as a ‘Russian aggression’ when Russia very publicly showed its potential force.
Only a few analysts on the ‘western’ side have rejected that narrative and stuck to reality. Dmitri Trenin of Carnegie’s Moscow Center is one who got it right:
In February, Zelensky ordered troops (as part of the rotation process) and heavy weapons (as a show of force) to go near to the conflict zone in Donbas.
He did not venture out as far as Poroshenko, who dispatched small Ukrainian naval vessels through the Russian-controlled waters near the Kerch Strait in late 2018, but it was enough to get him noticed in Moscow. The fact of the matter is that even if Ukraine cannot seriously hope to win the war in Donbas, it can successfully provoke Russia into action. This, in turn, would produce a knee-jerk reaction from Ukraine’s Western supporters and further aggravate Moscow’s relations, particularly with Europe. One way or another, the fate of Nord Stream II will directly affect Ukraine’s interests. Being seen as a victim of Russian aggression and presenting itself as a frontline state checking Russia’s further advance toward Europe is a major asset of Kyiv’s foreign policy.
Russia intentionally over reacted to Kiev’s opening move. It demonstrated its overkill capability and made it clear to Zelensky’s western sponsors that any further provocations would have extremely harsh consequences.
As Putin said yesterday:
Those behind provocations that threaten the core interests of our security will regret what they have done in a way they have not regretted anything for a long time.
Zelensky’s plan did not work out. While he did get verbal statements of support from Biden and NATO everyone knew that those were empty promises.
But for people who have fallen for the false narrative the situation looks different.
Consider this reaction to Shoigu’s return-to-barracks order today from a member of the European Council On Foreign Relations (a U.S. lobby shop in Europe):
Gustav C. Gressel @GresselGustav –13:15 UTC · Apr 22, 2021
I have to congratulate (Flag of United States) @JoeBiden to deterence success and crisis management. The right warnings were sent to Moscow, the right intelligence to Ukraine. (Flag of Russia) could not extort concessions, could not provoke. Let’s see w. these forces aren’t just redeployed to (Flag of Belarus).
Indeed Biden’s order last week to pull back two war ships that were supposed to go into the Black Sea to support Ukraine was really great deterrence. But that was not a warning to Moscow. It did not deter Russia from doing anything. But it did end Zelensky’s illusions of U.S. support.
But for Gressel, who like others is stuck to the ‘western’ narrative, the sense is different. He really seems to believe that the U.S. deterred Russia from some nefarious plans which it never had. He ignores that Russia reacted to a Ukrainian provocation in a way that, in the end, has made NATO and the U.S. look weak.
The danger is that Gressel, and other ‘political scientists’ like him, may once take up government positions and use their learned illusions to handle the next crisis. Stuck in the idea that Russia will retreat if only ‘deterred’ enough they will lean to measures that are outright hostile to Russia and may have indeed very tragic consequences. To repeat Crooke’s warning:
The point here, is that in that talking past (and not listening) to other states, the latters’ motives and intentions will be mis-construed – sometimes tragically so.