David Warsh: The other Russia story


It may seem like an odd time to bring up the other Russia story, this being the first anniversary of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s probe. But as it happens, there has been a break in this neglected case – or, rather, two of them.  


It was slightly more than a year ago that President Trump fired   FBI James Comey and, the next day, told Russian officials visiting the Oval Office that Comey was “crazy, a real nut job.” He continued, “I faced great pressure because of Russia. That’s taken off.” Two weeks later Mueller was appointed, and his Russia investigation has only escalated since then, sprawling into several unexpected corners.


The New York Times offered readers a helpful graphic last winter: “Most of the stories under the ‘Russia’ umbrella generally fall into one of three categories: Russian cyber attacks; links to Russian officials and intermediaries; alleged obstruction.”

There is, however, another aspect of the Russia story, a category altogether missing in the Times’ classification scheme, an obviously thorny topic that almost no one wants to discuss: the proverbial elephant in the room. 

It concerns the extensive background to the 2016 campaign – the relationship between the United States and Russia over the long arc of the 20th Century, and, especially, the years since the end of the Cold War. This aspect is complicated, involving all five U.S. administrations since the Soviet Union dissolved itself at the end of 1991. It is a difficult story to tell.

I backed into it slowly, having followed for many years the Harvard-Russia scandal of the 1990s. In 1993, the U.S. Agency for International Development, a semi-independent unit of the State Department, hired Harvard University’s Institute for International Development to provide technical economic assistance to the Russian government on its market reforms. Eight years later, the Justice Department sued Harvard for having let its team leaders go rogue.

Harvard economist Andrei Shleifer and his deputy, Jonathan Hay, were accused of investing in Russian securities, and of having established their wives at the head the line in the nascent Russian mutual-fund industry. The suit was settled in 2005. The government recovered most of the money it had spent. The incident played a part in Harvard University president Lawrence Summers’s resignation the following winter. As Shleifer’s friend and mentor, Summers had distanced himself via recusal.

After Boris Yeltsin had died, in 2007, I wrote a column about the failures of U.S. policies in the 1990s. Thereafter I followed developments with increasing interest and alarm, particularly after the Ukraine crisis of 2014. And in the summer of 2016, when it seemed likely that Hillary Clinton would be elected president, I set out to collect some of the columns I had written and to add some additional narrative material in order to call attention to the entanglements she and her advisers would bring to the job. That project was supposed to take one year. It took two. 

Because They Could: The Harvard Russia Scandal (and NATO Expansion) after Twenty-Five Years (CreateSpace) was finally published on Amazon last week – 300 pages and a relative bargain at $15. The book consists of three main parts. 


The first is a recap of the scandal as it appeared in the newspapers, from the front page of The Wall Street Journal, in August 1997; to Harvard’s decision, in March 2001, to try the case rather than settle the government suit; to September 2013, when Summers withdrew from the competition with Janet Yellen to head the Fed. These 29 columns, written as the story unfolded, introduce first-time readers to the scandal, and remind experts of what and when we knew and how we knew it.


The second part concerns the Portland, Maine, businessman whom the Harvard team leaders inveigled to start a mutual fund back-office firm in Russia, then forced out of its ownership. It turns out there was a second suit, overlooked for the most part because Harvard settled, paying an undisclosed sum in return for a non-disclosure agreement. This now-familiar tactic insured that John Keffer, whose Forum Financial at that point was one of the largest independently owned mutual fund administrators in the world, and a significant presence in Poland, would be unable to tell his story. Only his filings and the massive documentation of the government case remained.

The third consists of six short essays on aspects of the U.S. relationship with Russia since 1991. These relate a brief history of NATO expansion, which took place despite the administration of George H.W. Bush pledging in exchange for Russia agreeing to the reunification of Germany that the US would not further enlarge NATO; tell something of the U.S. press corps in Moscow during those 25 years; identify a key issue in Russian historiography; express some sympathy for ordinary Russians and even for Vladimir Putin himself; and seek to separate the accidental presidency of Donald Trump from all the rest, the better to understand why he has so little standing in in the matter. 

Also included is a short paean to the news values of The Wall Street Journal and two appendices. One is Shleifer’s letter to Harvard provost Albert Carnesale as the USAID investigation built to its climax. The other is the heavily-annotated business plan, drafted by Hay’s then-girlfriend, Elizabeth Hebert, later his wife, to make it appear to have been written by Hay, and backed financially by Shleifer’s wife, hedge-fund proprietor Nancy Zimmerman, offering control of Keffer’s company to Thomas Steyer, of Farallon Capital (who had been Ms. Zimmerman’s principal original backer), and Peter Aldrich, of AEW Capital Management, a director of the National Bureau of Economic Research.


Preparing to espouse these unpopular views has made me snap to attention on the rare occasions when they are expressed in the mainstream press – not on the op-ed pages, where they mostly represent reflexive ballast-balancing, but in the news pages, where some deeper form of institutional judgment is at work. That was the case last Sunday, when an 8,600-words article in the SundayNew York Times Magazine presented the case that the United States shared the blame for the current disorder. The Quiet Americans startled me (though not the designer, who illustrated it with a standard what-makes-Russia-tick? design). The dispatch itself was a significant advance in the other Russia story. 


Keith Gessen, 53, is a Russian-born American novelist (A Terrible Country: A Novel) and journalist, a translator of Nobel laureate Svetlana Alexievich (Voices from Chernobyl). He is coeditor ofn+1, a magazine of literature, politics, and culture based in New York City as well\ and an assistant professor of journalism at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. He is a younger brother of Masha Gessen, 61, author of The Future Is History: How Totalitarianism Reclaimed Russia(2017) and The Man without a Face: The Unlikely Rise of Vladimir Putin (2013); their parents emigrated, with four children, from the USSR to the US in 1981. (As an adult, Masha Gessen returned to Russia in 1991, leaving for a second time in 2013.)


In the article, Gessen writes that “behind the visible façade of changing presidents and changing policy statements and changing styles, [those who influenced U.S. policy toward Russia] were actually a small core of officials who not only executed policy but effectively determined it.” Getting out of the mess requires retracing the steps by which we got into it, he writes; that means starting with the small group of experts known as “the Russia hands.”


Gessen identifies and interviews many of the analysts who were in the vanguard of NATO expansion: Victoria Nuland, former NATO ambassador under Bush who became assistant secretary of state for Europe and Eurasia under President Obama; Daniel Fried, her predecessor under Bush; Stephen Sestanovich, ambassador to the Newly Independent States of the Former Soviet Union under President Clinton; Richard Kuglar, a strategist who co-wrote an influential  1994 RAND Corp. report advocating NATO expansion; and Strobe Talbott, deputy secretary of state for seven years under President Clinton, “the first-high level Russia hand of the post-Cold War.” 


Interleaved with their stories are those of their critics, analysts “deeply skeptical of the missionary impulse that has characterized Ameican policy toward Russia for so long”:” Thomas Graham, of Kissinger Associates; Michael Kimmage, of the Catholic University of America; Olga Oliker, of the Institute for Strategic Studies;Michael Kofman, of the Wilson Center; Samuel Charap, of RAND Corp.; Timothy Colton, of Harvard University; Angela Stent, of Georgetown University; and the former Brookings Institution duo of Clifford Gaddy, of Pennsylvania State University, and Fiona Hill, now serving as an advisor to President Trump. 


Conspicuously missing from Gessen’s account are veterans of the first Bush administration, Jack Matlock, ambassador to the USSR, in particular. Compensating for their absence are the anonymous quotations (in March) of a “senior official” of the Trump administration, “deeply knowledgeable and highly competent,'' which fits the description and the mindset of former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. For something of Gessen’s take on Putin, see his long article last year in The Guardian: Killer, kleptocrat, genius, spy: the many myths of Vladimir Putin,


Many of these names also appear in the second half of my book. The story is broadly the same: that bedizened by its “victory” in the Cold War, the United States has consistently overreached. But there is an important difference. Gessen concludes that the servants did it. I ascribe the blame mostly to the American presidents who hired the hands, to Bill Clinton in particular, who with his Oxford roommate Talbott and friend Richard Holbrooke began the process of NATO expansion over experts’ objections; George W. Bush, who continued and ramped it up with his “Freedom Agenda”; and Barack Obama, who may have been more concerned with the limits of American power than his first secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, but who continued the policies of his predecessors. 


On the central point, however, Gessen and I completely agree. We both think the U.S. debate is seriously out of kilter. He quotes the legendary George Kennan, from his “Long Telegram” of 1946, which framed the long-term strategy of containment: “Much depends on the health and vigor of our own society.” Gessen then concludes:


"[American] society now looks sick. The absence of nuance on the Russia question – the embrace of Russia as America’s new-old supervillain – is probably best understood as a symptom of that sickness. And even as both parties gnash their teeth over Russia, politicians and experts alike seem to be in denial about mistakes made in the past and the lessons to be learned from them.''


He might also have mentioned the mainstream press: The Washington Post, the WSJ, the Times itself, at least until last week. That’s why I depend on Johnson’s Russia List for my coverage of the topics. For instance, I admire Bloomberg News columnist Leonid Bershidsky. I might not otherwise have seen his account of the “Who Lost Russia” debate last week between historian Stephen Cohen and former Obama Ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul. Bershidsky is right when he states, “These days, Russia is merely a big football for Americans.” More revealing than the yardage between the opposing goalposts that are McFaul and Cohen is the scrimmage taking place somewhere in between, as, for instance, in the difference of opinion between Gessen and me. This other Russia story is just getting started. 

David Warsh is proprietor of, where this first ran.


The Green Party's Dr. Stein; the Russians, and Michael Flynn

Jill Stein, M.D.

Jill Stein, M.D.

From Robert Whitcomb's "Digital Diary,'' in

It was pleasant to read that the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee is investigating Jill Stein, M.D., the leader of the leftist Green Party and its 2016 presidential candidate, for possible “collusion’’ with Russia before the election last year.

Among other things, Dr. Stein, who lives in Lexington, Mass., attended a  December 2015 tenth anniversary dinner in honor of RT (formerly called in English Russia Today), the Kremlin’s international propaganda TV network. Intriguingly, at the same table that festive night was Michael Flynn, Trump’s former (very briefly) national security adviser, and none other than Vladimir Putin.

The whole thing makes one speculate on whether the Trump campaign, and the Russians, had anything to with propping up the campaign of  Stein, who took votes away from Hillary Clinton, who won the overall national popular vote by a substantial margin but lost it narrowly in three states that handed the Electoral College victory to Trump. In any event, Stein and Flynn should be ashamed of themselves for in effect honoring the murderous thug Putin and his most important international propaganda outlet. The GOP-controlled committee also is digging into reports that Clinton’s campaign paid for research in report with allegations about Trump’s behavior during a 2013 business trip to Moscow. That’s generally called “opposition research’’ and is virtually universal in American political campaigns for major offices.

The Kremlin.

The Kremlin.


David Warsh: U.S. Russia policy -- containment or cautious engagement?

The abrupt deterioration in U.S.-Russian relations that began in February 2014, when Ukraine President Viktor Yanukovych fled Kiev on the last day of the Sochi Olympics, just as Russia sought to show its best face to the world in an elaborate closing ceremony,  is the most serious crossroads in the relationship of the rival nations since the Cuban missile crisis.

The parallels are imprecise. This present episode is much more complicated than those famous thirteen days in October 1962 for having unfolded much more slowly, and for having affected the interpretation of a U.S. presidential election in the process.  Yet for all of that, it has the potential to be as dangerous as the Reagan buildup/Soviet collapse of the early 1980s, given the impetus it has imparted to a new race to manufacture easy-to-use nuclear weapons equipped with hair triggers.

It is important, therefore, to frame properly the events before and after. “Putting Putin in Perspective’’(revealingly retitled “The Putin Problem” by the editors), a useful contribution by two specially well-qualified authors, appeared in the Boston Review earlier this month.


Thomas Graham, a managing director at Kissinger Associates, was senior director for Russia on the US National Security Council 2004-07. Rajan Menon, a professor at the City University of New York, is author of The Conceit of Humanitarian Intervention (Oxford, 2016).

“At the core of Russian identity,” they argue, “is the deeply-held belief that Russia must be a great power and that it must be recognized as such. Ever since Peter the Great brought Russia into Europe at the beginning of the eighteenth century, the belief in Russia’s predestined role in the world has informed Russian thinking and actions.”

This is particularly true of the last three Russian leaders, they say – Mikhail Gorbachev, Boris Yeltsin and Putin, explaining that Dimitri Medvedev, president from 2008-12, never escaped Putin’s shadow. “All three were – or are – consumed by Russia’s future as a great power.”

The article is the best-informed and most persuasive narrative of the last 35 years of U.S.-Russian relations that I have seen. It bears reading by anyone seriously interested in the situation today because, as the authors note, their argument is almost completely at odds with “mainstream thinking” in the U.S., as reflected in political debate and much press coverage: to wit, the conviction that all the blame belongs on Putin.

For purposes of a column I will condense their argument to two main themes – Russian humiliation since the collapse of the USSR in 1991; and U.S. top-loftiness, especially in the form of NATO enlargement since 1995. I compress in order to emphasize an important inflection point in the relationship that Graham and Menon add to a standard list of five others since 1999.  Each of these accounts Russia gave of itself was little noted and much less widely understood. (One was somewhat indirect.) They should have been plain for all to see, since, in each case, Putin was addressing and seeking to persuade a global audience.

·       Putin’s broadside, “Russia at the Turn of the Millennium,” issued in 1999, just as he took the reins of government, in which he sounded an alarm: “Russia is in the midst of one of the most difficult periods in its history. For the first time in the past 200-300 years, it is facing a real threat of sliding to the second, and possibly even third echelon of states in the world. We are running out of time for removing this threat.”

·       Putin’s Munich speech, in February 2007, when, with Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham in the audience, he excoriated the United States for having invaded Iraq without winning widespread consent; threatening Russia with NATO expansion; encouraging nuclear proliferation by behaving lawlessly; and for touching off a missile defense arms race.

·       The first hack – when Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland’s famous “fuck the EU” cell-phone conversation with the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine was recorded by Russian security officials during a street demonstration in Kiev, and posted on the Web in an appeal to world opinion via YouTube.

·       Putin’s speech in March 2014 to a room full of dignitaries in Moscow explaining the decision to annex the Crimean peninsula after what he described as a coup in Ukraine. “If you compress the spring, it will snap back hard,” he said.

·       Putin’s March 2017 private offer to President Trump via diplomatic channels of an extensive re-set, disclosed to BuzzFeed earlier this month, presumably by the Russians, conceivably by the Americans, quickly confirmed by both sides, and reported by CNN, the WSJ, and Economic Principals last week. The offer seemed to demonstrate how little the Russian understood the situation as it had developed in the United States.

The sixth inflection point, the one that Graham and Menon added to the standard list, may be the most important.  It has been much less hashed over because Putin spoke to a Russian audience about one episode and on the eve of another.

·       “The turning point,” they write, “came in Fall 2004, with the September terrorist attack in Beslan in the Caucasus and Ukraine’s Orange Revolution, which started in November.” To that point the U.S. and Russia had cooperated successfully in dealing with Islamic extremists. Putin was the first to reach out to the U.S. after 9/11, and Russia provided valuable support in the early stages of the U.S. war in Afghanistan.

That autumn Chechen terrorists seized a school in Beslan, in the Caucasus, and held it until negotiations broke down. Nearly 400 persons were killed, most of them children, in the rescue attempt. The U.S. had refused to work closely with Russia against the Chechen rebels, some of whom were moderates in Washington’s eyes, their secessionist grievances legitimate. Not long after the tragedy, Putin spoke obliquely to a television audience about the U.S. and what he considered its goals:

“Some want to tear off a big chunk of our country. Others help them do it. They help because they think that Russia, one of the greatest nuclear powers of the world, is still a threat, and this threat has to be eliminated. And terrorism is only an instrument to achieve these goals.’’

A month later, the Orange Revolution began in Ukraine. In Moscow’s reading, the United States had master-minded the protests and streets scenes in order to install a pro-Western figure as president instead of Yanukovych, the candidate Putin had endorsed. He soon came to view it as a dress rehearsal for regime change in Russia itself. (The authors don’t mention it, but this was the very zenith of George W. Bush’s “Freedom Agenda”: having taken Baghdad, the administration was being urged by neoconservative strategists to drive on to Teheran.) Soon after Viktor Yushchenko was installed, Putin warned,

“It is extremely dangerous to attempt to rebuild modern civilization, which God had created to be diverse and multifaceted, according to the barracks principles of a unipolar world.’’

So it has proved to be.  Around the corner, in 2008, were the short war with Georgia, on behalf of a couple of small self-proclaimed republics (South Ossetia wanting to remain within the Russian sphere, Abkhazia simply wishing to be free of Georgia);  and, in 2011, the beginning of the Arab Spring. Russia developed two policies to resist the United States abroad, Graham and Menon observe: preserving Russian preeminence in much of the former Soviet space; and supporting alternative global institutions.

Domestically Putin cracked down, especially after winning election to a third term, in 2012. He blamed former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for encouraging protests beforehand. Opposition leaders were arrested; Western-funded non-governmental organizations were shut down; laws were passed narrowing the scope for political debate. Putin then embarked on “a wide-ranging cyber and disinformation campaign in the West to tarnish the image of Western democracy and sow domestic discord, of which the interference in last year’s presidential election is only the most prominent example,” the authors say.  Nearly everyone in the West agrees the Russians went too far with their cyber-measures, it seems to me, but no such rough consensus has yet emerged as to the intent, scope, tenor and effect of the campaign.

What’s next? The authors list three options:  treat Russia as an adversary and pursue containment; return to the minimalism by which the U.S, dealt with Moscow from 1920 to 1933  during which time it didn’t even have diplomatic relations with Russia; or undertake what Graham and Menon call engagement leavened by realism. Pretending that Russia doesn’t exist is no longer an option in the modern world, so the choice is basically between containment, with the risk of confrontation, and cautious cooperation. The authors warn of the risks of the former:

“[of] a future of freewheeling rivalry punctuated by intermittent crises, which will have to be managed in an atmosphere of mutual mistrust, even hostility. Moreover, they could spiral into a confrontation. The breakdown in communication and bellicose back-and-forth rhetoric would increase the probability of misperception and miscalculation during dangerous episodes. Given the conventional military power Russia now wields – to say nothing of its nuclear weapons and cyber capabilities – the dangers should be obvious and are already presaged by the hair-raising encounters in the Baltic Sea and the Black Sea between U.S. ships and aircraft and Russian warplanes.’’

Engagement leavened with realism would, they say:

“{W}elcome the emergence of democracy in Russia but wouldn’t allow quotidian policy to be shaped by the attendant hope. It would assume that the internal differences between Russia and the United States and the dissimilar geopolitical circumstances each faces would inevitably produce divergent interpretations of, and responses to, events – the wars in Ukraine and Syria being examples. It would expect Russia to regard itself as a great power, defend its interests as defined by its leadership, and, even in times of weakness, act on the premise that recovery and resurgence are inevitable.’’

Crises would continue to erupt, but with the expectation that they could be resolved. Meanwhile, they say, shared interests would accumulate and opportunities accrue.

Consider, for instance, advancing arms control and nuclear non-proliferation; averting war on the Korean peninsula or unregulated rivalry in the Arctic, the thawing of which has made it a maritime passageway as well as a new energy frontier; coordinating policies against terrorism and climate change; avoiding accidental military clashes; stabilizing Syria; and preventing bilateral crises from escalating into armed, especially nuclear, confrontations.

Now, if only we had a president capable of saying as much in his own words – or even persuasively reading speeches written by others! Their prescription is, the authors point out, not very different than how the United States and the USSR dealt with one another (and China) during much of the Cold War – an approach that produced notably soft landings. It may even be Donald Trump’s instinctive response to the situation, but it has been quite beyond him to deliver.

To refresh my memory of the Cuban missile crisis, I went back to Graham Allison’s famous book: Essence of Decision: Explaining the Cuban Missile Crisis (1971). It’s as good as I remember it, with its overlay of what modern political scientists had to say, mostly then new-fangled rational-actor theory, superimposed on a commonsense interpretation, with a substrate devoted to comparing the two accounts (those of “scientists” with “artists”) and fashioning a third model, in search of a satisfying explanation. Allison’s analysis had its good effect, none greater than when he emphasized the gospel of his mentor, Nobel laureate Thomas Schelling:  It helps to regularly put yourself in the other person’s shoes before acting.


Most distressing at the present moment, however, is the role of two leading U.S. newspapers, The New York Times and The Washington Post, in preferring condemnation and confrontation at every turn (The Times throughout the paper, The Post mainly on its editorial pages).  Granted, the situation has been further confused by Donald Trump’s election as president. 


But long before that, the coverage of Putin reminded me of the demonizing of Saddam Hussein in the build-up to Iraq (or, for that matter, The Times’s initial cheerleading for the Vietnam War, 40 years before). Truth-seeking, in the form of listening to the other side, is often severely wounded before the war begins.


Certainly it is not auspicious that The Times abolished the position of public editor, its in-house critic, just as the controversy heated up.  “Our followers on social media and our readers across the internet have come together to serve as a modern watchdog, more vigilant and forceful that one person could ever be,” wrote publisher Arthur Sulzberger, Jr., explaining the decision.  


In her final column, public editor Liz Spayd replied:

“It’s not really about how many critics there are, or where they’re positioned, or what Times editor can be rounded up to produce answers. It’s about having an institution that is willing to seriously listen to that criticism, willing to doubt its impulses and challenge the wisdom of the inner sanctum. Having the role was a sign of institutional integrity, and losing it sends an ambiguous signal: Is the leadership growing weary of such advice or simply searching for a new model?’’

We’ll find out soon enough.

Incidentally, I wouldn’t have known about either of these articles, the BuzzFeed scoop and the Boston Review narrative, but for Johnson’s Russia List, the compendium of Russian and Western news reports prepared almost daily by the independently minded scholar David Johnson.

When the history of the Ukraine crisis is finally written, Quaker-raised Johnson will, I think, be a major hero of the story. Neither The Times nor The Post – nor, for that matter, The Wall Street Journal– has yet cast light on his long and invaluable reconnaissance throughout the borderlands of democracy.

David Warsh, a veteran columnist and economic historian, is proprietor of Boston-area-based, where this first ran.

David Warsh: On Russia, Trump hoisted on the Democrats' petard

A few months after Russia’s annexation of the Crimean peninsula, in 2014, Foreign Affairs conducted an illuminating exchange of views. It is as good a place as any to begin to retrace the steps that brought us to the present day “Russia crisis.” It is always a good idea to go back to the beginning when you are lost.

John Mearsheimer, of the University of Chicago, wrote “Why the Ukraine Crisis Is the West’s Fault: The Liberal Delusions that Provoked Putin.  Michael McFaul, advisor to President Barack Obama, back at Stanford after a two-year stint as ambassador to Moscow, argued that the takeover had been “Moscow’s Choice: Who Started the Ukraine Crisis.”  Alexander Lukin, vice president of the Diplomatic Academy of the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, described “What the Kremlin Is Thinking: Putin’s Vision for Eurasia.” (Foreign Affairs allows non-subscribers only one free article a month, so choose your link carefully.)

Mearsheimer, 69, the leading expositor (after Henry Kissinger, 94) of what is commonly called the realist view in international affairs, described a triple package of encroachment:  NATO enlargement, European Union expansion, and aggressive democracy promotion.  Of these, NATO was the “taproot” of the trouble. Putin’s actions should be easy to comprehend, he wrote, especially for those who remembered Russian experiences with Napoleonic France (in 1812), imperial Germany (in World War I) and Nazi Germany (in World War II). He continued,

No Russian leader would tolerate [NATO], a military alliance that was Moscow’s mortal enemy until recently, moving into Ukraine. Nor would any Russian leader stand idly by while the West helped install a government there that was determined to integrate Ukraine into the West…. After all, the United States does not tolerate distant great powers deploying military forces anywhere in the Western hemisphere, much less on its borders. Imagine the outrage in Washington if China built an impressive military alliance and tried to include Canada and Mexico in it.''

McFaul, 53, an expositor of the liberal view of foreign affairs, responded in the next issue. If Russia was really opposed to NATO expansion, why didn’t it raise  a stink after 1999, when NATO expansion began?  Hadn’t Russian president Dimitri Mededev permitted the U.S. to continue to operate its airbase in Kyrgyzstan?  Hadn’t he tacitly acquiesced to NATO intervention in Libya?

"In the five years that I served in the Obama administration, I attended almost every meeting Obama held with Putin and Medvedev, and, for three of those years, while working at the While House, I listened in on every phone conversation, and I cannot remember NATO expansion ever coming up.''

The real reason for the annexation, McFaul wrote, had to do with internal Russian politics. Putin needed to cast the US as an enemy in order to discredit those who opposed his election to a third presidential term.  He feared a “color revolution,” like the “Orange Revolution” in Ukraine in 2004, might force him from power.

Mearsheimer wasn’t impressed:  And to argue that Russian opposition was based on “resentment,” as had former Bill Clinton adviser Stephen Sestanovich, 67, in a companion piece, “How the West Has Won,”  was to miss the point.  Russia was worried about its border.

"Great powers always worry about the balance of power in their neighborhoods and push back when other great powers march up to their doorstep. This is why the United States adopted the Monroe Doctrine in the early nineteenth century and why it has repeatedly used military force and covert action to shape political events in the Western Hemisphere.''

Meanwhile, Lukin, the Kremlin insider, had already reminded readers of the gauzy view of Russia that had taken hold in America after 1993.  Gradually Russia would embrace Western-style democracy at home and cease to pose a threat to the security of its former satellites. It would accept Western leadership in economic affairs.  And it would recognize that various tough treatment of its one-time allies – Serbia, Libya, Iraq, and Iran – was the legitimate exercise of Western leadership in global affairs. Lukin wrote:

"The ongoing crisis in Ukraine has finally put an end to this fantasy.   In annexing Crimea, Moscow decisively rejected the West’s rules and in the process shattered many flawed Western assumptions about its motivations.  US and European officials need a new paradigm for how to think about Russian foreign policy – and if they want to resolve the Ukraine crisis and prevent similar ones from occurring in the future, they need to get better at putting themselves in Moscow’s shoes.''

What Putin had in mind, Lukin wrote, was the formation of a Eurasian Union, similar to the European Union but not particularly a rival to it, linking the economies of Armenia, Belarus, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Tajikistan and Ukraine.

"The concept of a Eurasian space or identity first arose among Russian philosophers and historians who emigrated from communist Russia to Western Europe in  the 1920s. Like Russian Slavophiles before them, advocates of Eurasianism spoke of the special nature of Russian civilization and its differences from European society; but they gazed in a different direction. Whereas earlier Slavophiles emphasized Slavic unity and contrasted European individualism with the collectivism of Russian peasant communities, the Eurasians linked the Russian people to the Turkic-speaking people, or 'Turanians,' of the Central Asian Steppe.''

The differences of opinion had been clearly set out.

That was three years ago. You know the rest. Escalating sanctions on Russia from the West, especially the US.  From Russia, increasing bellicosity.

Since he was elected, Donald Trump has been hoist on a petard largely of the Democratic Party’s making, going back to Bill Clinton’s decision to press for NATO expansion in 1994. Enlargement was forcefully opposed by other Democrats in 1996, but to no avail.  Clinton went ahead. George W. Bush and Obama continued in the same groove.

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t mean to say a kind word about Trump.  He first came by his views of Russia from well-heeled Russian customers for his real estate developments.  And I am only mildly sympathetic to Putin’s problems.  We have enough of our own.

The good news is that Trump has appointed two sensible realists who know a thing or two about Russia:  Rex Tillerson Secretary of State and, the other week, Jon Huntsman as ambassador to Russia.  It is the beginning of a long journey back to common sense.

David Warsh is proprietor of, where this first ran. He is a long-time columnist and economic historian.

David Warsh: Disillusionment in America and the former Soviet Union


The economics and politics of disillusionment in two nations


Elaine Scarry, an essayist and literature professor, long ago suggested that, in counterpart to the ingenious system of government framed by the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, the United States also possessed a material constitution, consisting of the technological systems of the nation and no less remarkable than the political structure for being evolved in practice rather than written down.

Riffing on Scarry’s conception, historian of technology Thomas Hughes noted the tendency to take the latter for granted.  The intellectual historian Perry Miller had already observed, in The American Scholar,  how casually Americans “flung themselves into the technological torrent, how they shouted with glee in the midst of the cataract, and cried to each other as they went headlong down the chute, that here was their destiny….”

Now, Hughes wrote, with technological momentum accelerating, Americans needed to learn to see themselves as a nation of system builders as well as practitioners of their subtle arrangements of political democracy and free enterprise.  American Genesis: A Century of Invention and Technological Enthusiasm (Viking, 1990), Hughes’s classic study of the engineering of the key inventions of the century after 1870 – incandescent light, the telephone, the radio, the airplane, the automobile, electric power – was motivated by a concern for the overlooked burdens that technological enthusiasm frequently imposed. Forty years after the development of modern financial markets for corporate control, containerization, microprocessors, personal computers and the Internet, Hughes’s attentiveness to the sudden eruption of a culture of critique, seems especially prescient: “the organic instead of the mechanical; small and beautiful technology, not centralized systems; spontaneity instead of order; and compassion, not efficiency.”

For the last six months, I have been dipping into the burgeoning literature of disillusionment, trying to understand the Trump election:  Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City, by Matthew Desmond; Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis, by J. D Vance; Janesville: An American Story, by Amy Goldstein; Strangers in Their Own Land: Anger and Mourning on the American Right, by Arlie Russell Hochschild, and Doctored: The Disillusionment of an American Physician, by Sandeep Jauhar. The book I read all the way through was Glass House:  The 1% Economy and the Shattering of an American Town (St. Martin’s, 2017), by Brian Alexander.


Glass House is about Lancaster, Ohio, and the Anchor Hocking Glass Co., upon which the city’s fortunes were built – and then eventually dissipated by rich New Yorkers – over the course of the 20th Century. At a little more than 300 pages, you might think that Glass House is more than you want to know about a little city on the Hocking River, southwest of Columbus, in the foothills of the Allegheny Mountains.  But Alexander grew up in Lancaster in the 1970s, has stayed in touch (he lives in California now) and, as a highly capable magazine writer, he moves the story along with the force of a novel, interweaving the saga of the business itself with the lives of four friends.

It helps that his tale has plenty of colorful signposts along the way: the Ku Klux Klan in Lancaster in the 1920s; Malcolm Forbes in the early 1940s (his father bought him a newspaper there as a Princeton graduation present); Carl Icahn, (a key Donald Trump adviser today) who in 1983 put Anchor in play; Newell Corp., the vagabond manufacturing firm that in the 1980s rolled up Anchor into a giant conglomerate on the strength of a loan from an Arizona savings andloan association; Cerberus, the private-equity firm organized by Stephen Feinberg (another close Trump adviser today) that bankrupted Anchor; Sam Solomon, the African-American scion of North Carolina farmhands, who, as newly appointed CEO, seeks to save Anchor, now branded as EveryWare Global (Anchor survives, barely, Solomon is fired but becomes the hero of the book).

The leitmotif: at each step along the way, Alexander describes the succession of new drug products that began to plague Lancaster, starting in the 1970s: marijuana, cocaine, heroin, methamphetamine, Percocet, OxyContin, and Xanax. The greatest charm of Glass House is that its trajectory since the 1980s resembles that of almost any other Middle American manufacturing city you can think of.   

Between times, I have been reading Secondhand Time: The Last Days of the Soviets, An Oral History (Random House, 2016), by Svetlana Alexievich, the 69-year-old Belorussian author who was recognized with the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2015.  The book is not easy reading.  Like four other “documentary novels” that Alexievich has written over 30 years, chronicling the lives of ordinary citizens of the former Soviet Union since World War II, it consists of a series of collages composed of interviews (“snatches of street noise and kitchen conversations”) with hundreds of characters, some of whom appear and reappear as in any good Russian novel.

The differences between Secondhand Time and Glass House are instructive, the differences between literature and journalism. Secondhand Times begins with a timeline, six pages briefly describing events from the death of Josef Stalin, in 1953 to the Maidan protests, in Kiev, in 2014.  Then for 350 pages, consciousness swirls. Alexievich writes:

“The Soviet civilization…. I’m rushing to make impression of its traces, its familiar faces. …The myriad sundry details of a vanished way of life. It’s the only way to chase the catastrophe into the contours of the ordinary and try to tell a story.’’

The triumph of Secondhand Time is to make more understandable how many present-day Russians and others living in former Soviet jurisdictions can feel affection for a system that produced so much misery and permitted so little of the freedom that the Westerners take for granted. Consider the top-down coup that was the  Bolshevik Revolution, the Russian Civil War, the murderous collectivization of agriculture, famine, the purges, the Gulag and then the gradual discovery of the awful history that had been hidden.

“Despite the poverty, life was freer” in some respects under communism, Alexievich told Guy Chazan of the Financial Times over dinner last month in Berlin. “Friends would gather at each other’s houses, play the guitar, sing, talk, read poetry.”  When democracy came, she said, they expected that everyone would read Solzhenitsyn. Sure enough, with glasnost, Solzhenitsyn’s works were all published in the former Soviet Union, but no one any longer had time to read them. “Everyone just ran past them and headed for twenty different kinds of biscuits and ten varieties of sausage.” The book is about disillusionment plus – how great was the loss of the Great Idea.

I can’t read Alexievich, or any other source on Russian history, without experiencing an overwhelming sense of gratitude for having been born a citizen of the United States. But, as I read Johnson’s Russia List, the indispensable almost-daily chronicle of what the Russians are saying about themselves, it is clear that Russians are gradually coming to grips with their history (Alexievich being a prime example).

There’s no doubt that the government of Russia unwisely sought to underhandedly tamper with the machinery of American democracy in the 2016 election. They didn’t succeed. The Constitution of the United States, both the familiar version enshrined in law and the less-familiar material version, assure that America, for all its sorrows, continues to insure domestic tranquility – more reliably, perhaps, than you think.


David Warsh, a veteran economic historian and columnist on financial, political and historical affairs, is proprietor of, where this first ran.

David Warsh: The wellsprings of Russian hacking

This passage leapt out at me last week as I read Everyone Loses: The Ukraine Crisis and the Ruinous Contest for Post-Soviet Eurasia (Routledge, 2017), by Samuel Charnap and Timothy Colton, a slim and well-balanced recounting of events at the center of the present low state of U.S.-Russia relations.

“Unless Putin changes course, at some point in the not-too-distant future, the current nationalistic fever will break in Russia. When it does, it will give way to a sweaty and harsh realization of the economic costs. Then… Russia’s citizens will ask: What have we really achieved? Instead of funding schools, hospitals, science and prosperity at home in Russia, we have squandered our national wealth on adventurism, interventionism and the ambitions of a leader who cares more about empire than his own citizens.’’

The speaker is Victoria Nuland, assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian affairs in the Obama administration. She was testifying before the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations in May 2014, not long after Russia annexed the Crimea.

Many in the Russian elite took Nuland’s remark as “a de facto declaration of political war,” according to Sergei Karaganov, an adviser to Russian President Vladimir Putin, in a letter to the authors. A sanctions slugfest followed the Crimean takeover, intensifying after pro-Russian rebel or Russian forces in eastern Ukraine brought down a Malaysia Airlines passenger jet on July 17, 2014. “Regime change,” an objective of U.S. foreign policy in Iraq, Libya and Syria, the Russians concluded, apparently extended to their country as well.  

The Ukraine affair and its consequences seem worth remembering after a week when Putin, speaking to reporters at a meeting in St. Petersburg, conceded that private Russian hackers may well have been involved in probing U.S. polling machinery and leaking emails during our elections last year. So might others around the world have been involved.

“Hackers are free-spirited people, like artists,” said Putin. “If artists wake up in the morning in a good mood, they paint all day. Hackers are the same. If they wake up, read about something going on in relations between nations, and have patriotic leanings, they may try to add their contribution to the fight against those who speak badly about Russia.” His government hadn’t been doing the work, Putin asserted.  He doubted that any amount of hacking could much influence the electoral outcome in another country.

Andrew Higgins, of The New York Times, wrote from Moscow,

“The evolution of Russia’s position on possible meddling in the American election is similar to the way Mr. Putin repeatedly shifted his account of Russia’s role in the 2014 annexation of Crimea and in armed rebellions in eastern Ukraine.  He began by denying that Russian troops had taken part before acknowledging, months later, that the Russian military was ‘of course’ involved.’’

Thus did the attribution problem finally turn into a question of military and industrial organization in Russia’s rapidly growing computer establishment, broadly defined. It seems a safe bet that many, perhaps most, of the hacks detected by U.S. intelligence services during 2016 were of Russian origin, though that doesn’t mean that Putin directed them or even authorized them with any precision. Clearly the level of Russian antipathy towards Clinton was high.     

Already in her first presidential campaign, in 2008, Clinton had scorned Putin.  George W. Bush might have claimed he had looked into Putin’s eyes and gotten “a sense of his soul,” but she knew better. “He was a KGB agent – he doesn’t have a soul,” she told a fund-raising crowd. As secretary of state, she harshly reproached Russia for fraud and intimidation after the parliamentary elections of 2012 – on the eve of Putin’s campaign for a third presidential term.

“Putin was livid,” wrote reporter Mark Lander, White House correspondent for The New York Times, in Alter Egos:  Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, and the Twilight Struggle over American Power. (Random House, 2016). Clinton had sent “a signal” to “some actors in our country,” Putin claimed. Protesters took to the streets in Russia’s first major demonstrations since the 1990s. U.S. cheerleaders hopefully dubbed it “the Snow Revolution.”

As it happened, Clinton’s spokesperson in those days was Nuland. Born in 1961, a 1983 graduate of Brown University, is daughter of surgeon-author Sherwin Nuland, wife of neoconservative commentator Robert Kagan. She entered government service as chief of staff to Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott during the Clinton administration.  She became Vice President Dick Cheney’s national-security adviser on the eve of the invasion of Iraq, and afterwards served four years as ambassador to NATO. Nuland faced sharp questions about her role as Clinton’s press aide in the wake of the Benghazi attack, but was confirmed as an assistant secretary of state in September 2013 – just in time for the Ukrainian crisis.

After she turned up passing out cookies to Ukrainian demonstrators in Kiev, Nuland was the victim of the very first notable Russia hack, recorded and posted on YouTube, discussing with U.S. Ambassador Geoffrey Pyatt who should serve in the Ukrainian leadership following the flight of president Viktor Yanukovych to Moscow. “Fuck the E.U.,” she famously said, referring to the suggestion that the European Union, rather than the United Nations, should serve as a mediator in Ukraine.

Nuland, and her former mentor Talbott, were high up in the plans for a Clinton administration in 2016.  Last week Albright Stonebridge Group, a strategy and commercial diplomacy firm, announced she would become a senior counselor. The Russians, like nearly everyone else, had been preparing for President Clinton. Instead they got President Trump.

Everyone Loses is an excellent summary of the mess that ensued after massive street protests drove a pro-Russian democratically elected president from office in February 2014.  Charap, a senior fellow at the International Institute for Strategic Studies, and Colton, professor of government at Harvard and author of Yeltsin: A Life (Basic, 2008), are eager to propose a set of precondition-free talks.

“The West needs to cease holding out for Russia to surrender and accept its terms. Russia must stop pining for the good old days of great-power politics, be it the Big Three of 1945  {the U.S., Soviet Union and Britain} or the Concert of Europe 1815-1914, and accept that its neighbors will have a say in any agreement that affects them.  The neighbors should stop seeking national salvation from without, and recognize that it will be up to them, first and foremost, to bring about their countries’ security and well-being.’’

But then Everyone Loses was written before the U.S. election.  In order to focus narrowly on the fate of the so-called In-Betweens (Belarus, Ukraine, Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan) and the Central Asian nations along the Russian periphery (Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan), the authors left everything out of their book that didn’t “bear directly” on the lose-lose situation that grew out of the crisis in Ukraine. That includes NATO expansion, divergences over Russia’s wars in Chechnya, matters of ballistic-missile defense, the U.S. occupation of Iraq, the civil war in Syria and U.S. intervention in Libya.  

That is, of course, no way to understand the larger situation.  The Russians are no angels.  But it is the U.S. that has been on a bender since 1989. A complicated rethinking of U.S.foreign policy is in store.  The largely accidental election of Donald Trump has confused the issue.  But that leaves plenty of time for the retracing of steps before the next election.

 David Warsh, an economic historian and veteran columnist on economic, political and media matters, is proprietor of, where this first ran.


Llewellyn King: Trump's foreign policy: Punish friends, reward enemies


The Great Rift Valley extends from Syria down through east Africa to Mozambique. It is a huge depression with volcanic action, lakes and steep-sided gorges. Think of the Grand Canyon and start multiplying.

When contemplating President Trump’s foreign policy, I think of the Great Rift Valley: the largest gash in the Earth’s surface.

The president, in the incoherence of his foreign policy, is creating great gashes between traditional allies that will leave scars down through history. He also appears to be set on empowering our putative enemies, Russia and China.

Many of us White House watchers think that  it is quite possible that some of those around the president had questionable relations with the Russians both during the campaign and after the election. Their motivation remains unclear. Also unclear is why Trump is so pro-Russian.

Russia’s motivation is known: It wants the United States to lift the sanctions imposed after Russia invaded Crimea and started a surrogate war in eastern Ukraine.

It is also clear that Russia has an interest in destabilizing Europe, whether it is by manipulating its energy supply or interfering in its elections, as it tried to do most recently in France. Russia has a policy and it is hostile to European and North American interests from the Arctic to the Balkan states.

Trump could end the whole Russian business very quickly by finding out — if he doesn’t already know — who in his immediate circle did what, why and when. He could tell us himself of his involvement.

China is another Trumpian riddle. He campaigned against China for job snatching, currency manipulation, the trade deficit and its incursions into the South China Sea.

In a classic East meets West scenario, Trump, the self-styled dealmaker, was going to sit opposite Chinese President Xi Jinping and negotiate. But when they met at the White House, all points of contention evaporated; even freedom-of-navigation operations by U.S. warships in international waters near contested reefs in the South China Sea were curtailed. Either there was no negotiation, or Trump folded.

There is a Potemkin village quality to Trump’s claims to have opened opportunities for U.S. firms in China. China has not abridged its local participation laws, so U.S. companies doing business there still have to have a Chinese partner, which must have equity control. It is a system the Chinese use to steal U.S. expertise and technology. As to Trump’s claim of Chinese currency manipulation, it has disappeared — maybe it was a dubious issue all along.

If all of this is in the hope that China might stop North Korea building nuclear weapons and delivery systems for them. Well, that has been a vain hope of other presidents. China has no interest in curbing Kim Jong-un for its own reasons and because of the leverage, paradoxically, it gives China with the United States.

But what history might judge as the more egregious Trumpian folly in Asia is his abandonment of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a carefully crafted deal to keep the economies of United States and 11 other Pacific nations growing without China, which would not have been a partner. Now the gap left by the United States is being filled by China, as are other gaps. Europe, deeply disturbed by U.S. softness to Russia, climate-change policies, protectionist rhetoric, and vitiation of past practices and agreements, is looking reluctantly to China for stability in a crumbling world order.

The goals of Trump’s foreign policy are obtuse, subject to stimuli known only to him — examples include his unexplained enthusiasm for Saudi Arabia, and his complete hostility to everything done by President  Obama, including the Cuba opening. The results, though, are not in doubt: gladness in Moscow and Beijing and sadness and confusion in London, Paris, Berlin and among our  other (former?) friends worldwide.

So far Trump’s exploits are not only capricious, but also very dangerous, slamming those countries that share U.S. values and encouraging those who oppose our interests. These rifts will not heal quickly. Once a nation is labeled untrustworthy, it is distrusted long after the creator of the distrust has left the field. The rifts remain, great gashes in global confidence.

Llewellyn King ( is executive producer and host of White House Chronicle, on PBS. 

David Warsh: A 'Red Diaper Baby's' clear-eyed reportage of Russia

Fred Weir, of The Christian Science Monitor, has long seemed to me the most dependable and best-informed North American correspondent in Moscow. His reporting stood out on the agglomeration site Johnson’s Russia List, even before David Johnson offered a collection of 50 of Weir’s dispatches, 1999-2016, as a subscription premium. 

Last week provided a striking example. The occasion was a Vladimir Putin press conference in Sochi, where the Italian prime minister was visiting.

The New York Times headlined:

“Putin Butts In To Claim There Were No Secrets And Says He’ll Prove it’’

“By Andrew Higgins

“MOSCOW – Asserting himself abroad with his customary disruptive panache, President Vladimir V. Putin on Wednesday jumped into the furor over President Trump’s disclosure of classified information to Russian diplomats, declaring that nothing secret had been revealed and that he could prove it.

“Mr. Putin, who has a long record of seizing on foreign crises to make Russia’s voice heard, announced during a news conference in Sochi, Russia, the Black Sea resort that has become his equivalent of Mr. Trump’s Mar-a-Lago, that he has a “record” of the American president’s meeting at the White House with two senior Russian officials and was ready to give it to Congress — so long as Mr. Trump does not object.’’

In contrast, the Monitor’s account tells a substantially different story:

“As controversy swirls around Trump, Russia watches helplessly’’

“Many in Russia had hoped that the new president could help smooth relations between Moscow and Washington. But as Russia-tied scandals paralyze Trump’s administration, now the Kremlin just want US-Russia diplomacy not to get worse’’

“By Fred Weir

“MOSCOW —When Russian President Vladimir Putin offered on Wednesday to provide Congress with a transcript of his foreign minister’s controversial meeting last week with President Trump in the Oval Office, it was not warmly received by US politicians.

“But debating the legitimacy of the offer – nominally to prove that no classified information changed hands – may be missing the point, Russian foreign-policy experts say.

“Rather, its greater significance may be as a sign of just how alarmed Mr. Putin and the Kremlin are becoming about what’s happening in Washington.

“Kremlin watchers say they feel like helpless observers amid the firestorm of the Russia-related scandals engulfing the Trump administration. While the Kremlin tries to advance what Russian observers say are sincere efforts to establish normal dialogue with a new US president, it is taken in Washington to be further evidence of political collusion between Mr. Trump and Russia.’’

There was no snappy language in Weir’s story, no sly equation of Sochi with Mar-a-Lago, no dwelling on Putin’s insulting diagnosis of the Washington outcry (“Either they don’t understand the damage they’re doing to their own country, in which case they are simply stupid, or they understand everything, in which case they are dangerous and corrupt”).

Instead, Weir reminded readers of the context of the discussion – a Russian airliner lost to an ISIS bomb over Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula in November 2015. He quoted at length several Russian sources on their general perplexity at American developments, including Fyodor Lukyanov, a senior Russian foreign-policy analyst:

“We are very confused and even a bit terrified by what we see unfolding in Washington. The name of Russia keeps coming up, but we don’t feel like we have anything to do with this. This level of paranoia is beyond rational, and the only way we can make sense of it is that there is an attempt by political forces to play the Russia card as a weapon to destroy Trump.  It’s not that we especially want to save Trump, but the growing fear is that any chance of improved US-Russia relations will be vaporized in this war against him.’’

A Canadian citizen, Weir moved to Moscow in 1986 as a correspondent for the Canadian Tribune, a now-defunct weekly newspaper published by Canada’s Communist Party. He was a third-generation “red diaper baby,” nephew of an influential Comintern agent, a member of the party himself. He had studied Russia as a graduate student but had not contemplated living in the Soviet Union. Now Gorbachev had come to power, the first general secretary born after the 1917 revolution. Weir wanted to see the situation close up.

He traveled widely in the late Eighties for the Tribune, as the Soviet empire began to come apart. He wrote a book on Gorbachev’s reforms, conducted two cross- country tours of Canada as well, promoting his work and sampling opinion He witnessed the optimism of perestroika, the enthusiasm for open elections, the surfacing of ancient ethnic hatreds, as the Soviet regime loosened its grip.

 By the Nineties, the economy was falling apart, all but the “cooperatives,” the private firms Gorbachev had permitted to be formed.  Weir’s friends, members of the educated elite, had begun complaining of “the theater of democracy.”

In an autobiographical account that he wrote in 2009 (“A Red Diaper baby in Russia witnesses the Rise of Vladimir Putin,” unfortunately no longer online), Weir wrote,

“Sometime in the spring of 1991, I realized how far they had taken this.  I was invited to a garden party at the country home, of Andrei Brezhnev, nephew of former Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev, in Zhukovna, an elite dacha settlement outside of Moscow. One of the guests, whom I had known for years as a functionary of the Komsomol (the Young Communist League) rolled up in a shiny white Volvo and told me he was now president of an export-import firm. Another, whom I’d often dealt with as an official of the Tribune’s fraternal newspaper, the Soviet Communist Party organ Pravda, boasted that he’d just been hired at a private bank. A third, even more surprising because he was the son of renowned Soviet dissident Andrei Sakharov, leaned over the table and handed me a card that announced him as an “international business consultant.”


Over the next few years after that gathering], Weir worked on a book with David Kotz, a professor of economics at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst,  Revolution from Above: The Demise of the Soviet System and the New Russia (Routledge 1997), was revised and reissued in 2007 as Russia’s Path from Gorbachev to Putin.  The authors’ thesis – that the Soviet system had been overthrown by its own ruling elite – was novel and controversial when first proposed, but has come to be more widely accepted for having been borne out by events. Kotz’s own book about the United States, The Rise and Fall of Neoliberal Capitalism (Harvard, 2015) has fared less well, though perhaps it is too soon to tell. (“The analysis offered in this book suggests that capitalism is not only in a period of structural crisis at this time but in a structural crisis that has no easy path to desirable resolution.  This historical turning point may indeed be a turning point for humanity.”)

Instead of morphing into a businessman like his friends, Weir became a mainstream journalist. He pieced together a living writing for the Hindustan Times; The Independent, of London; South China Morning Post; and, since 1998, as the Monitor’s correspondent.   (The venerable Boston-based daily discontinued its print editions in 2008, but maintains a string of excellent correspondents around the world for its digital operations;  its Moscow correspondents over the years — Edmund Stevens, Charlotte Saikowski, Ned Temko, and Paul Quinn-Judge — have been especially admired.)

Married, with two children, Weir lives in a small village near Moscow. He is a latter-day John Reed who has lived to tell the story.  To read through his Monitor clips over the years is to glimpse the present day in the making.

It seems clear, not just from Weir’s reporting, that the Russian president doesn’t understand the situation that has developed in the United States.  Nor have Putin and his counselors taken public account of their own part in making matters worse, by encouraging hacking of e-mail and servers during the campaign.

 It’s true that Democrats are using Trump’s longstanding and extensive conflicts of interest in Russia to attack the American president. Yet there were legitimate questions about various relationships during the campaign that led to the appointment last week of former FBI Director Robert Mueller to oversee the Department of Justice investigation.

The fracas has to do mainly with Trump’s unsuitability to the job he sought and won – the dog who chased and  caught the car. As Slate’s Jacob Weisberg wrote yesterday, in the Financial Times, “The US president violates democratic norms and expectations around presidential conduct. And with each fresh outrage, the American system’s ultimate political sanction [impeachment] becomes more thinkable.” Trump has no powerful friends in Washington – only allies whose loyalty is tested with each new gaffe. It will take time, but, as of this week, a Pence administration seems almost inevitable.

David Warsh is a veteran business, media and political columnist, economic historian and proprietor of, where this first ran.



In Trump's collusion with Putin, 'follow the dead bodies'

The Kremlin.

The Kremlin.

“U.S. senators probing possible links between Russia and the Trump team have been told to ‘follow the dead bodies’ as they hunt for evidence of the Kremlin’s involvement in last year’s presidential election.

‘’Appearing before the Senate Intelligence Committee, national security expert {and former FBI special agent} Clint Watts said several Russians linked to the investigation into Kremlin disinformation activities have been killed in the past three months.

‘’The alleged murders were carried out not only in Russia, but in Western countries as well, Mr. Watts said.

‘’He also accused Donald Trump of using the same techniques employed by Russian operatives against his own political opponents.

‘’Asked by Republican Sen. James Lankford (R.-Okla.) why Vladimir Putin’s supposed tactics of attempting to influence the U.S. election were ‘much more engaging this time in our election,’ Mr Watts replied: 'I think this answer is very simple and is what no one is really saying in this room.

“'The reason active measures have worked in this U.S. election is because the commander-in-chief has used Russian active measures at times against his opponents.'''

‘’’Active measures’ is a term used during the Cold War to describe political warfare carried out by the Russian security services to undermine a rival power.’’

-- From The Independent newspaper, London

To read The Independent's story, hit this link:

Hit this link to listen to Mr. Watts on radio:

David Warsh: Standoff with Russian more perilous than you think


Hanging over Donald Trump’s meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping last week was the warning of Graham Allison’s book Destined for War, Can America and China Avoid The Thucydides’ Trap? (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2017).  The book won’t be in stores for another month, but as long ago as 2013 Xi was talking about the metaphor, well before an early version of the Harvard government professor’s argument appeared in The Atlantic.

What has happened historically when a rising power threatens a ruling one? “It was the rise of Athens and the fear that this instilled in Sparta that made war inevitable,” Thucydides wrote in his History of the Peloponnesian War. In the 2,400 years since, Allison has found, 12 of 16 such cases have ended in war.

After boasting to the Financial Times, “If China is not going to solve North Korea, we will,” Trump reinforced the message by striking a Syrian airfield while Xi visited him in Florida.  Do you wonder why Bashar Assad chose last week to attack a rebellious village with nerve gas?   A senior White House official told The Wall Street Journal that the gesture was “bigger than Syria” – representative of how the American president wants to be seen by other leaders. “It is important that people understand this is a different administration [from that of Barack Obama].”

(Different in more ways than one, the spokesman might have added. Trump sought last week to reduce quarrelling among his most senior advisers. How must the president’s record-low favorability rankings in opinion polls complicate the way he is seen by other leaders?)

The defect in The Thucydides Trap is the faulty map it generates. The U.S. is facing not just a single rising power on the world stage, but a diminished and angry giant as well in the form of still-powerful Russia. It has become the habit of much of the U.S. media to tune out Russian President Vladimir Putin on grounds that he does not play by American rules.  He murders journalists and opponents, it is said, conducts wars against his neighbors, controls the media, games elections, and has become “President for Life.”  Just last week, a Russian court banned as “extremist” an image of the Russian president wearing lipstick, eye-shadow, and false eyelashes, The New York Times reported.

Why not also view Putin as a serious political leader with serious issues governing a nation seeking a new role in the world?  One set of these has to do with shaping norms and rules of post-communist civil society.  Another set concerns the nation’s economic prospects.  Perhaps the most serious of all has to do with the maintenance of Russian’s defense policy – its nuclear deterrent force, in particular. In this respect, The Thucydides Trap misses the point pretty badly.

It’s been 30 years since I consulted an issue of Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists.  The magazine was familiar reading in my youth, when the minute hand on its iconic doomsday clock was set a few minutes before midnight – two, or three, or seven, depending on the circumstances.

For a few years after 1991, when the Soviet Union dissolved into 15 independent states, the clock showed a comforting 17 minutes before the hour.  The peril has been growing ever since. Earlier this year the editors moved the interval to two-and-a-half minutes – the most alarming warning since the high-peril year of 1984.

Last month, BAS authors Hans Kristensen, Matthew McKinzie, and Theodore Postol explained, The U.S. nuclear forces modernization program underway for 20 years has routinely been explained to the public as a means to preserve the safety and reliability of missile warheads.  In fact, the program has included an adjustment that makes each refurbished warhead much more likely to destroy its target.

A new device, a “super-fuze,” has been quietly incorporated since 2009 into the Navy’s submarine–based missile warheads as part of a “life-extension” program.  These “burst-height compensating” detonators make it up to three times more likely that its blast will destroy its target than their old “fixed–height” triggers.

Because the innovations in the super-fuze appear, to the non-technical eye, to be minor, policymakers outside of the U.S. government (and probably inside the government as well) have completely missed its revolutionary impact on military capabilities and its important implications for global security.

The result, the BAS authors estimated, is that the US today possesses something close to a first-strike capability. Already US nuclear submarines probably patrol with three times the number of enhanced warheads that would be required to destroy the entire fleet of Russian land-based missiles before they could be launched.  Yes, the Russians have submarine-based missiles, too.  And they are understood to be developing ultra-high-speed underwater missiles that could destroy American harbors.

But the very existence of the possibility of a pre-emptive strike will surely make Russian strategists jumpy, the BAS authors say. And since Russian commanders lack the same system of space-based infrared early-warning satellites as the U.S., they could expect only half as much time as the Americans have in which to decide whether or not they are facing a false alarm – fifteen minutes as opposed to half an hour. A slim margin for error in judgement has become much thinner.

When Science magazine polled experts about the BAS story, two of the most prominent judged the report to be “solid” or “true.” Thomas Karako, of the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, was unpersuaded. He derided the “breathless exposé language” and dismissed the authors’ concerns about Russia’s discomfiture. You can make an early acquaintance with the March 1 BAS story here, if you like. A wider, fuller examination of the latest chapter in the story of the doomsday clock has only just begun.

David Warsh, a veteran journalist focusing on economic and political matters and an economic historian, is proprietor of, where this piece first ran.  

Why Trump sucks up to Putin?

Donald Trump, unlike other presidents is the past 40 years, refuses to release his tax returns or other data related to his conflicts of interest, The information below suggests some reasons why:

Why did Putin order hacking to help Trump get elected?   Stacey W. Porter posted to Facebook as follows:

1) Trump owes Blackstone/ Bayrock group $560 million (one of his largest debtors and the primary reason he won't reveal his tax returns)

2) Blackstone is owned wholly by Russian billionaires, who owe their position to Putin and have made billions from their work with the Russian government.

3) Other companies that have borrowed from Blackstone have claimed that owing money to them is like owing to the Russian mob and while you owe them, they own you for many favors.

4) The Russian economy is badly faltering under the weight of its over-dependence on raw materials which as you know have plummeted in the last 2 years leaving the Russian economy scrambling to pay its debts.

5) Russia has an impetus to influence our election to ensure the per barrel oil prices are above $65 ( they are currently hovering around $50)

6) Russia can't affordably get at 80% of its oil reserves and reduce its per barrel cost to compete with America at $45 or Saudi Arabia at $39. With Iranian sanctions being lifted Russia will find another inexpensive competitor increasing production and pushing Russia further down the list of suppliers.
As for Iranian sanctions, the 6 countries lifting them allowing Iran to collect on the billions it is owed for pumping oil but not being paid for it. These billions Iran can only get if the Iranian nuclear deal is signed. Trump spoke of ending the deals which would cause oil sales sanctions to be reimposed, which would make Russian oil more competitive.

7) Rex Tillerson (Trump's pick for Secretary of State) is the head of ExxonMobil, which is in possession of patented technology that could help Putin extract 45% more oil at a significant cost savings to Russia, helping Putin put money in the Russian coffers to help reconstitute its military and finally afford to mass produce the new and improved systems that it had invented before the Russian economy had slowed so much.

8) Putin cannot get access to these new cost saving technologies OR outside oil field development money, due to US sanctions on Russia, because of its involvement in Ukrainian civil war.

9) Look for Trump to end sanctions on Russia and to back out of the Iranian nuclear deal, to help Russia rebuild its economy, strengthen Putin and make Tillerson and Trump even richer, thus allowing Trump to satisfy his creditors at Blackstone.

10) With Trump's fabricated hatred of NATO and the U.N., the Russian military reconstituted, the threat to the Baltic states is real. Russia retaking their access to the Baltic Sea from Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia and threatening the shipping of millions of cubic feet of natural gas to lower Europe from Scandinavia, would allow Russia to make a good case for its oil and gas being piped into eastern Europe.

Sources: Time Magazine, NY Times, The Atlantic, The Guardian UK.

Sent from my iPhone




Peter Certo: CIA is well practiced in subverting elections


Even in an election year as shot through with conspiracy theories as this one, it would have been hard to imagine a bigger bombshell than Russia intervening to help Donald Trump. But that’s exactly what the CIA believes happened, or so unnamed “officials brief on the matter” told The Washington Post.

While Russia had long been blamed for hacking e-mail accounts linked to the Clinton campaign, its motives had been shrouded in mystery. According to The Post, though, CIA officials recently presented Congress with a “a growing body of intelligence from multiple sources” that “electing Trump was Russia’s goal.”

Now, the CIA hasn’t made any of its evidence public, and the CIA and FBI are reportedly divided on the subject. Though it’s too soon to draw conclusions, the charges warrant a serious public investigation.

Even some Republicans who backed Trump seem to agree. “The Russians are not our friends,” said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, announcing his support for a congressional probe. It’s “warfare,” added Sen.  John McCain.

There’s a grim irony to this. The CIA is accusing Russia of interfering in our free and fair elections to install a right-wing candidate it deemed more favorable to its interests. Yet during the Cold War, that’s exactly what the CIA did to the rest of the world.

Most Americans probably don’t know that history. But in much of the world it’s a crucial part of how Washington is viewed even today.

In the post-World War II years, as Moscow and Washington jockeyed for global influence, the two capitals tried to game every foreign election they could get their hands on.

From Europe to Vietnam and Chile to the Philippines, American agents delivered briefcases of cash to hand-picked politicians, launched smear campaigns against their left-leaning rivals, and spread hysterical “fake news” stories like the ones some now accuse Russia of spreading here.

Together, political scientist Dov Levin estimates, Russia and the U.S. interfered in 117 elections this way in the second half the 20th Century. Even worse is what happened when the CIA’s chosen candidates lost.

In Iran, when elected leader Mohammad Mossadegh tried to nationalize the country’s BP-held oil reserves, CIA agent Kermit Roosevelt led an operation to oust Mossadegh in favor of Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi. The shah’s secret police tortured dissidents by the thousands, leading directly to the Islamic Revolution in 1979.

In Guatemala, when the democratically elected Jacobo Arbez tried to loosen the U.S.-based United Fruit Co.’s grip on Guatemalan land, the CIA backed a coup against him. In the decades of civil war that followed, U.S.-backed security forces were accused of carrying out a genocide against indigenous Guatemalans.

In Chile, after voters elected the socialist Salvador Allende, the CIA spearheaded a bloody coup to install the right-wing dictator Augusto Pinochet, who went on to torture and kill thousands of Chileans.

“I don’t see why we need to stand by and watch a country go communist due to the irresponsibility of its own people,” U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger purportedly said about the coup he helped orchestrate there.

And those are only the most well-known examples.

I don’t raise any of this history to excuse Russia’s alleged meddling in our election — which, if true, is outrageous. Only to suggest that now, maybe, we know how it feels. We should remember that feeling as Trump, who’s spoken fondly of authoritarian rulers from Russia to Egypt to the Philippines and beyond, comes into office.

Meanwhile, much of the world must be relieved to see the CIA take a break from subverting democracy abroad to protect it at home.

Peter Certo is the editorial manager of the Institute for Policy Studies and the editor of 


Don Pesci: The CIA, Trump and an unhinged Democrat


U.S. Rep. Jim Himes,  a Democrat who just won re-election to office, has been pushed over the edge by Donald Trump,  according to a story in the New York Post.

“What finally pushed me over the edge, Himes said in an interview on CNN’s New Day, “was when the president-elect of the United States criticized the CIA and the intelligence community. Can you imagine what the leaders in Beijing and Moscow and Tehran are thinking as they watch the next president of the United States delegitimize and criticize his own intelligence community and stand up for the defense of Russia, one of our prime adversaries.”

Mr. Himes must have been standing very close to the edge, because he believes that Mr. Trump’s remarks on the CIA report show that the President-Elect is unhinged: “We’re five weeks from inauguration and the president-elect is completely unhinged.” In plain-speak, “completely unhinged” means  that he’s  nuts.

Among Democratic politicians still suffering from painful election losses – Republicans, this election season won the House, Senate and White House, a trifecta – the expression may indicate a general unease with the results of the election, rather than a serious appraisal of Mr. Trump’s mental health. Wounded politicians under stress are occasionally subject to hissy fits.

We should be thankful that the CIA, unlike Caesar’s wife, is not yet above criticism. Mr. Himes failed to note in his press response that reports issuing from the CIA and the FBI were in conflict. The FBI’s investigation found no unimpeachable evidence that Russian intelligence services – which, like their counterparts at the CIA, engage in hacking – had materially affected the U.S. elections. The CIA instructed members of Congress that Russian intelligence services did engage in hacking, perhaps through intermediaries, but hard evidence supporting the charge has not, and probably will not, be made public, principally because the CIA as a rule safeguards top-secret information more diligently than did former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, whose loss to Mr. Trump has unhinged many a Democrat. 

Mr. Himes will appreciate the distinction between spying, which may include acquiring data by hacking, and election interference through the manipulation of voting data. In fact, it would be nearly impossible for Russian spooks to manipulate election votes, because polling machines carry separate computer chips. Mr. Himes has not charged Russians with manipulating voter data, to be sure, but the charge he does make is broad and amorphous enough to leave in the public mind the notion that foreign entities have tampered with our near sacred voting process.

 “The leaders in Beijing and Moscow and Tehran,” we know, are all expert in the fine art of hacking, as is the CIA -- one hopes. China in particular has masterfully exploiting data it illicitly gathered from American businesses, which permits it to produce products – cheap drone knockoffs, for instance – it then underprices and sells to countries such as North Korea, Iran and Syria, all announced enemies of the United States, a continuing practice that really should push American politicians over the tolerance edge.

Some Republicans and many Democrats have urged that a special prosecutor should be appointed to examine hacking by foreign entities and their bearing, if any, on elections. Mr. Himes is not new to investigatory work; he serves on The Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, which conducts oversight of the U.S. Intelligence Community. He must know that the proper venue for the investigation of possible voter interference by foreign entities lies within the political jurisdiction of appropriate Senate committees.

Timorously peeking out of Mr. Himes’s campaign hoopla is a serious point. Mr. Trump should be more concerned than he appears to be with Vladimir Putin’s ambitions affecting Russia, Ukraine, the Baltic States and his bosom buddies in the Middle East, which include Bashir Assad, Syria’s mass murderer, and the ayatollahs in Iran who, despite Mr. Obama’s velvet-glove treatment, continue to finance terrorist organizations with the planeloads of cash given to them by Mr. Obama as a side agreement to a deal struck between Mr. Obama and the Iranian regime; suspiciously, the dark deal arranged between Iran and the United States was never referred to the Congress for its advice and consent.

Neither Mr. Himes nor any of the six other members of Connecticut’s all Democratic U.S. congressional delegation were advised by Mr. Obama that planeloads of hard cash, easily transferable to Hamas, a militant organization that grew out of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood movement in the 1990s and the early 2000s, were in the dead of night delivered to terrorists that had conducted numerous suicide bombings and other attacks against Israel. U.S. Sen. Dick Blumenthal's silence on matters affecting Israel in particular is crushing. Mr. Blumenthal is Jewish.  Had Mr. Himes been advised that American taxpayers were clandestinely supporting a heavily armed anti-Israeli terrorist group, presumably he might rightly have been pushed over the edge.

Don Pesci ( is apolitical writer who lives in Vernon, Conn.

David Warsh: Putin, doping at the Olympics and history

When a co-founder of the Russian Anti-Doping Agency died unexpectedly, in February,  a couple of months after the world anti-doping authority accused Russia of widespread state-sponsored cheating and corruption, it didn’t make the news. When his 52-year-old successor died two weeks later, of a heart attack, after cross -country skiing, it did.

When the agency’s former laboratory chief fled Russia for Los Angeles in May, it made the front page of The New York Times.  Grigory Rodchenkov described an elaborate state-run doping program at the Sochi Winter Olympic Games, in which at least 15 Russian medal-winners participated.  Anti-doping experts and members of a Russian intelligence service worked nights, passing supposedly tamper-proof bottles of urine back and forth through a hand-sized hole in the wall, in order for samples to be ready for testing the next day.

No sensible person doubts that the Russian government has been cheating on its doping tests – or that ultimate responsibility lies with Sports Minister Vitaly Mutko, a Vladimir Putin ally since the early ’90s, and with Putin himself.

What was there to be gained?  Medals, obviously. In the Winter Games in Vancouver, in 2010, Russia won 3 gold medals and 15 altogether. Four years later, as the host in Sochi, Russia dominated the games, winning 13 gold medals and 33 overall. The comeback served to burnish the narrative of turnaround under Putin, at least for domestic consumption

But what about larger question, of Russia going forward as member of the community of nations? What does the doping scandal tell us about what Putin is trying to accomplish? To glimpse the outlines of a satisfying answer to that question, you have to take a longer view – much longer.  You have to start with the Cold War, and with the former Soviet Union.

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Next year will mark the hundredth anniversary of the Bolshevik Revolution.  Get ready for an avalanche of commemoration. For a concise statement of what that was all about, it’s hard to beat the opening sentences of Jonathan Haslam’s Russia’s Cold War: From the October Revolution to the Fall of the Wall (Yale, 2011):

“On the grand scale of history, the Cold War stemmed directly from a thoroughgoing revolt against Western values established since the Enlightenment, a wholesale rejection of an entire way of life and its economic underpinnings increasingly dominant since the seventeenth century, and the substitution of something new and entirely alien in term of culture and experience. That revolt began with the October Revolution in 1917.’’

A longtime professor of history at Cambridge University, Haslam today is serving a six-year term as the George F. Kennan Professor at the Institute for Advanced Study, in Princeton. Russia’s Cold War is utterly absorbing, as helpful as anything I have seen for understanding the course of developments after World War II, thanks to the simple expedient of tracking the course of the Soviet experiment largely through Russian eyes.

For our purposes, let’s fast forward to 1980, when the Summer Olympics were held in Moscow, and the U.S. stayed away, in protest of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.  Barely noticed at the time was China’s return to the Olympics after an absence of 24 years, four years after the death of Mao Zedong. The Chinese skipped the Moscow session that year, but sent 24 athletes to the winter games, at Lake Placid.

By 1980, the Soviet Union was already in crisis, Haslam notes. Soviet growth, which averaged 3.4 percent from 1961 to 1975, had slowed to 1.1 percent a year from 1976-1990, even as population was increasing 14 percent.  Oil and gas exports had soared during the 1970s, but the proceeds had been spent on the military-industrial complex, Third World aid and agricultural imports instead invested of new enterprises.  Grain imports had tripled since 1973. Now energy prices had peaked. Real oil prices would fall 90 percent during the decade.

By 1983, Ronald Reagan and European NATO allies, especially France, were turning up the pressure. The Soviets were technologically weak; Reagan proposed the Strategic Defense Initiative, or “Star Wars” defense, as it became known. Arms limitation talks were called off. Espionage became more brutal on both sides. The next four years or so, as described by former Washington Post reporter David Hoffman in The Dead Hand: The Untold Story of the Cold War Arms Race and Its Dangerous Legacy (Doubleday, 2009), were genuinely scary.  After the Reykjavik summit, in October 1986, at which Mikhail Gorbachev surprised everyone by proposing a 50 percent cut in strategic weapons in exchange for the West agreeing to not deploy SDI weapons, tensions slowly abated


“[W]hether one likes to admit it or not, the Carter-Reagan build-up in counterforce systems, the anticommunist zeal within Reagan’s administration, and the obsession with space-based defense played a key role in the unraveling of Soviet security policy across the board… Thatcher’s endless berating of Gorbachev, untiring pressure from Kohl, and the hard line of the Bush administration when faced with requests for financial aid all played their part in forcing the Soviet leadership to reconsider past policy and move to ever more radical change so as to enable perestroika to advance at home.’’

Let’s skip over the decline of Gorbachev and the rise of Boris Yeltsin, fascinating though that story is, described in Autopsy on an Empire: The American Ambassador’s Account of the Collapse of the Soviet Union (Random House, 1995), by Jack Matlock.  Let’s skip over, too, the wild and wooly ’90s, which are well-covered in Yeltsin: A Life (Basic Books, 2008), by Timothy Colton.  This is a Sunday morning column, after all. And as for China’s explosive growth after 1978, let’s simply mention Ezra Vogel’s Deng Xiaoping and the Transformation of China (Harvard, 2011), with its matter-of-fact account of Deng’s suppression of student demonstrations in the “Beijing Spring” of 1989.

 Thus we arrive at 1999, when, for reasons that are made clear in The New Tsar: The Rise and Reign of Vladimir Putin (Knopf, 2015), by Steven Lee Myers, Yeltsin, having maneuvered Putin into office as prime minister, resigned abruptly in his favor on the last day of 1999. Myers has written a remarkably good book. I am going to skip over most of that, too.

.                           xxx

On the eve of taking over, Putin produced a blueprint to accompany his 2000 campaign for the presidency. In fact, “Russia at the Turn of the Millennium’’ had been prepared by German Gref, another member of the circle that had launched his career back when St. Petersburg was still known as Leningrad, but Putin had carefully read and annotated the document and it was fundamentally his. Posted on the government Web site on Dec. 28, it was a new kind of campaign document, at least for Russia.

The dramatic turn in global development of the previous 20 or 30 years had caught the Soviet Union mostly unaware, Putin wrote.  The Russian empire had been powerful, but it hadn’t been rich. Its GDP had halved in the ’90s; its GNP was a tenth of that of the U.S. and a fifth of China.  For the first time in centuries, Russia was in danger of slipping into the second or even third rank of nations.

The reason why was not in question.  Putin:

“For three-quarters of the twentieth century Russia was dominated by the attempt to implement communist doctrine. It would be a mistake not to recognize, and even more to deny the unquestionable achievements of those times.  But it would be an even bigger mistake not to realize the outrageous price our country and its people had to pay for the social experiment…. The experience of the 1990s vividly demonstrates that our country’s genuine renewal without excessive costs cannot be achieved by merely experimenting with abstract models and schemes taken from foreign textbooks. The mechanical copying of other nations’ experience will not guarantee success either.’’


“Russia is completing the first, transition stage of economic and political reforms. Despites problems and mistakes, we have entered the main highway of human development. World experience convincingly shows that only this path offers the possibility of dynamic economic growth and higher living standards.  There is no alternative.…’’


“Russia was and will remain a great power…. It will not happen soon, if ever, that Russia will become the second edition of, say, the U.S. or Britain in which liberal values have deep historic roots.  Our state and its institutions and structures have always played an exceptionally important role in the life of the country and its people.  For Russians a strong state is not an anomaly to be discarded.  Quite the contrary, they see it as the source and guarantee of order, and the initiator and main driving force of change.’’ (The document wasn’t originally posted in English; this is from a translation by Richard Sakwa, of University of Kent.)

Myers divides the saga of Putin’s life into five parts:  his youth and service as a young officer in the KGB, perhaps the least corrupt and best-informed agency in the dying empire; his rise to power in the ’90s as a member of the circle that gathered around reform Leningrad Mayor Anatoly Sobchak, a law professor, and Putin’s subsequent move to Moscow as a mid-level appointee in the second Yeltsin administration; his first eight years as Russian president, 2000-2008; Putin’s service as “prime minister” under President Dimitri Medvedev when law prevented him from running for re-election; and his return to the top job in 2012. Medvedev and Putin announced a few weeks before the election that they would again switch places. Not everyone was surprised:  a few months earlier after Medvedev had created a storm in Russian government circles when he failed to order a veto of a U.N. resolution that preceded the U.S.-led NATO bombing that overthrew the Qaddafi regime.

Myers sees “no clear purpose” in Putin’s return in 2012, other than “the exercise of power for its own sake.”  The Russian president had restored neither the Soviet Union nor the czarist empire over the course of a dozen years, Myers writes.  Instead Putin had created “a new Russia, with the characteristics and instincts of both. Brief and fragile in the ’90s, democracy has vanished.  Putin had made himself the indispensable leader. He would not encounter much opposition if he chose to run for re-election in 2018.  He would be only 72 years old after leaving office in 2024.’’

I am more inclined to take Putin at his word. The expansion of NATO membership that began with Bill Clinton over Yeltsin’s objections, and which continued under George W. Bush and Barack Obama, seems to me one of the central themes in understanding the course of events in Russia since 1992.  Putin gave a clear account of Russian objections in a speech in Munich in February 2007, and warned against further expansion. In August 2008 Medvedev waged and won a short war with neighboring Georgia after the would-be NATO member sought to annex South Ossetia. Then came the events in Ukraine in 2014, when Russia seized Crimea from Ukraine after a change of government in Kiev. Putin defended his right to do so in a vigorous speech, “The Spring Snaps Back.” Sanctions followed; the Russian economy has since tumbled into recession. The events in Ukraine represented a “fundamental break,” Myers writes. Putin no longer cared how the West would respond.

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So where does Olympic cheating fit in?  I don’t know the Russian psyche well enough to expound with any conviction on the intricate system of relevancies surrounding the issue. Why Russians Like Vladimir Putin, by state-funded Russia Today television commentator Peter Lavelle, is probably representative of what many ordinary Russians say to themselves. What ordinary Russians think about the deaths of anti-doping officials – or runaway oligarchs, journalists, and turncoat spies – is not part of his story.

I do know that, like all the rest of us — all other thinking citizens, not just those of us in the West – Putin has been pondering the outcomes of a series of epic natural experiments performed over the last hundred years. The attempt to radically transform human nature under communism failed.  Markets work, and the combination of international trade and technical change make most people richer, though inevitably some are made worse off. During the ’80s, U.S.  and NATO spending contributed to the Soviet collapse.  China after 1978 retained its apparatus of political control and boomed; Russia after 1989 abandoned its apparatus of control and fared much less well.

Finally, as columnist Michael Powell  just reminded us yesterday in The New York Times, Putin knows that the U.S. had a considerable Olympic doping scandal of its own during its strenuous contest for supremacy with the Soviet Union, especially after the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics amid Ronald Reagan’s “Morning in America” re-election campaign.  Under a headline that began, “Lest We Forget …,” Powell wrote:

“For much of the 1980s and 1990s, the United States had a pervasive doping problem in Olympic Sports that was enabled by the USOC {U.S. Olympic Committee}. Test results disappeared, doped-up athletes ran and jumped and swam their way to medals, and complicit coaches prospered. Our Olympic leaders and corporate sponsors and many of us in the news media placed hands over eyes and blocked ears at talk of American doping.

   “So the doping scandal probably doesn’t tell us very much about Putin’s larger designs and ambition.  It may gain him something domestically; internationally, IT probably doesn’t cost him very much.  The Western press doesn’t like him very much, anyway. See David Remnick, "Trump and Putin: A Love Story,'' if you doubt it.  Remnick is a distinguished journalist, author of Lenin’s Tomb: The Last Days of the Soviet Empire (Random House 1993) and Resurrection: The Struggle for a New Russia (Random House 1997). Since 1998, he has edited The New Yorker. But, having been a correspondent in Moscow for four years, he is also a charter member of what I have called “the Generation of ’91” – idealists in government and policy circles caught up in the fervent hope that Russia would become more like the US.  It already has.  It may become yet more so.’’

Perhaps that is the moral of the doping scandal. Both nations cheated in hopes whipping up patriotism, in the throes of risky attempts to improve their positions.  In the U.S., the government never was directly involved, and no one was killed, though guilty officials were promoted to senior positions. In Russia not everyone was involved: 271 athletes were cleared to compete, 118 fewer than had been entered. Unattractive as the Russian approach may have been over the decades to American values, in general the Russians have increasingly, slowly, come to play by shared rules.

David Warsh is a long-time financial journalist and economic historian and proprietor of, where this first ran.


Gregory N. Hicks: U.S. must stay at the trade table

  The Boston Tea Party remains one of the seminal events in American history, and it continues to resonate among political elites, because most Americans believe that the “Tea Party” was a protest about taxation without representation.

It really wasn’t. It was actually about the setting of rules for international commerce without representation. John Hancock, a signer of the Declaration of Independence, merchant, ship owner and one of wealthiest men in the colonies, along with the Sons of Liberty, instigated the Boston Tea Party because the British government had given the British East India Company a monopoly to transport tea to the colonies and sell it there, effectively excluding American merchants from competing in a trade in which they had been profitably engaged. From the very beginnings of our republic, Americans have demanded the opportunity to compete internationally on a level playing field.

Two thousand years ago, Roman Senator Marcus Tullius Cicero said “the sinews of power are money, money, and more money.” This observation is as true for the 21st Century as it was in the First Century BCE. National power comes from national prosperity.

Fifteen years into the 21st Century, it is clear that the international economy has entered a transition period similar to the change that occurred a century ago, when the United States emerged as the world’s leading economic power. When that occurred, the United States did not use its economic power to influence global events, instead adopting a foreign policy of isolationism and international disarmament.

“The business of America is business,”  said President Coolidge, and America’s insistence on repayment of World War I debts contributed to economic instability in Europe. Isolationism led to the Smoot-Hawley Tariff, the Great Depression and World War II.

Fully cognizant of this history as well as the necessity of rebuilding the world’s economy after World War II, the U.S. government  leveraged America’s overwhelming post-war economic superiority to establish the dollar as the dominant currency of international finance and trade and to found the multilateral institutions that are the girders of today’s rules-based international economic system. The relatively level playing field for international commerce that was created has led to 70  years of economic growth and prosperity that has lifted millions from poverty.

Economies rose from the ashes of World War II by adopting key aspects of the American economic model, but in 1990, the United States was still the world’s largest economy. Our nearest competitor, Japan, had a GDP only 40 percent the size of America’s; China’s GDP was less than one-sixth the size of ours.

Today, the United States is no longer the world’s largest economy; that status belongs to the European Union. Most economists project that China will soon overtake the United States as the world’s largest national economy, although some argue that milestone has already been passed. Meanwhile, India’s economy is not too far behind.

Despite the emergence of multiple global economic competitors, the United States remains the acknowledged leader and fulcrum of the international economy. Five major trends in the global economy – the internet impact on international commerce, the emergence of global value chains, the oil exploration technology revolution, the rebound in U.S. manufacturing, and the resilience of the dollar after the 2008 financial crisis – illustrate the centrality of the United States to both the international economy and international relations.

We’re all familiar with the Internet’s impact on our daily lives, and at work, we experience the internet’s effects on productivity, but on a larger scale, it is also transforming international trade opportunities. For instance, E-bay and Amazon are fostering an Internet-based international retail revolution. The first company makes it possible for any individual to engage in an international commercial transaction. Any American who offers a good on E-bay could find that it has been purchased by someone from Ghana or Fiji; and the reverse transaction is equally possible. For its part, Amazon, based on its global warehouse network and relationships with modern logistical companies, has built a virtual mall in which customers can buy almost anything and have it delivered to their doorstep within a few days.

Internet communication has also made cross-border vertical integration of production, or global value chains, possible. Pioneered by Nike and improved by Apple, the process is perhaps epitomized today by Gilead, a San Francisco-based pharmaceutical company that is saving thousands of lives by developing and lowering consumer drug prices through innovative production arrangements with pharmaceutical producers in a number of developing countries.

Global value chains are inducing a reconsideration of the statistical analysis of international trade, which is changing perspectives on international economic policy. Analysts are grasping the importance of trade in intermediate goods, i.e., components or partially finished goods that are moving across borders through vertically integrated production processes. For the United States, one-third of exports and three-fifths of imports are intra-firm trade in intermediate goods.

A recent International Monetary Fund study looked at the major economic powers from the standpoint of domestic value-added (DVA) and foreign value-added (FVA) in their national output. The study found that China’s economy is the most dependent on foreign value-added content of any of the major economies, while the United States is the least dependent. The study also suggested that if China let its currency, the Yuan, appreciate, it would both move up the value chain and reduce the dependence of its economy on foreign inputs. Perhaps tellingly, China’s leaders have been allowing the Yuan to appreciate steadily over the past decade.

“Fracking,” that uniquely American technological innovation, is also changing the international policy landscape, and if the U.S. resumes exporting oil and natural gas, could have an even greater impact. The current policies of Arab oil-producing states clearly reflect their unease with growing American energy independence, while Europe, through employing fracking to develop its own energy resources or importing American oil and gas, has the potential to reduce its energy dependence on Russia by substantial amounts.

The manufacturing sector provides the tools of national power, and a newly released Congressional Research Service study suggests that all the talk of the demise of U.S. manufacturing is premature. While China became the world’s top manufacturing country in 2010, the United States remains second by a wide margin. In addition, U.S. manufacturing output grew between 2005 and 2013 by 5 percent, despite the Great Recession. Much of this growth was powered by inward foreign direct investment, 39 percent of which has been landing in the manufacturing sector.

Despite setbacks to the dollar’s reputation arising from the international financial crisis, the dollar continues to symbolize American economic strength and prowess. The dollar’s central role in international finance and trade provides unique avenues for the United States to use economic power in lieu of military intervention or other forms of pressure to resolve international problems. Yet that unique role is under competitive pressure as China, the European Union, Japan, Russia, India and Brazil all seek to put their currencies on an equal footing with the dollar.

International economic policy offers the U.S. government a range of tools to advance U.S. foreign policy and commercial interests in an increasingly competitive, multipolar environment. Among those tools, preferential trade and investment agreements positively affect more aspects of economies than any other. Not only do trade agreements lock-in existing trading and investment patterns, they create new links by eliminating trade barriers through reducing taxes and writing new trade and investment rules that go beyond those found in the 1994 World Trade Organization agreement.

In  national power, trade agreements not only generate economic growth, jobs, and tax revenue, but they also create economic interdependence among agreement parties. The voluntary acceptance of that interdependence is an unambiguous symbolic foreign-policy statement. In a multipolar world, such agreements are essential to economic competitiveness and peaceful coexistence.

Our competitors understand these characteristics very well, including the axiom, illustrated by the 1773 Tea Act that sparked the Boston Tea Party: “He who writes the rules, wins.” They are aggressively negotiating trade pacts around the world, changing the terms and rules of trade in their favor. Currently, the European Union, formed itself by a trade agreement, has 32 preferential trade agreements in place with 88 countries, and it is currently negotiating 12 agreements covering an additional 36 countries. India’s existing preferential trade network includes 26 countries via 14 agreements, and it is negotiating four new agreements covering 37 additional nations. Japan has implemented 14 agreements with 16 countries, and is negotiating three trade agreements covering 35 nations. China has 12 preferential trade pacts in force with 21 countries, and is negotiating three more agreements that would cover 14 additional states.

Completing both the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) negotiations would expand the U.S. preferential trade network consisting of 14 agreements covering 20 countries to an additional 33 nations. TPP and TTIP involve three of the world’s top four economies and cover a majority of the world’s existing trade.

Moreover, they seek to write new trade rules that facilitate the growth of 21st Century international trading patterns such as e-commerce, global value chains, and foreign investment, among others. As importantly, they revitalize longstanding strategic relationships with our Asian and European allies, an important signal to both China and Russia that the United States intends to remain a competitive actor in Asia and Europe. Conversely, failure to complete these agreements would be an act of unilateral economic-policy disarmament with long term consequences for U.S. economic growth and national power.

In a 21st Century world that is more multipolar, more complex, more integrated and more competitive than the United States has ever experienced in its history, U.S. competitors and strategic allies alike – Brazil, China, the European Union, Japan, India, and Russia – are seeking to amass economic power and to deploy it as a leading element of their foreign policies. In many cases, they seek  strategic advantages through these efforts, often at the expense of U.S. interests.

International economic-policy tools such as trade negotiations provide an effective, peaceful means to compete with these challenges.   If we do not participate in making the rules for international trade, others will write our companies out of the competition, many jobs will be lost and many more never created, and our national prosperity and national power will decline. If they were alive today, John Hancock and the Sons of Liberty would support the negotiation of TPP and TTIP. We should too.

Gregory N. Hicks is State Department Visiting Fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, in Washington; an economist and a veteran U.S. diplomat. The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the U.S. Department of State or the U.S. government.  This piece stems from Mr. Hicks's remarks at the June 9 meeting of the Providence Committee on Foreign Relations (



Miriam Pemberton: Russian collapse a lesson in need for diversification

After months of whispered warnings, Russia’s economic troubles made global headlines when its currency collapsed halfway through December.Amid the tumbling price of oil, the ruble has fallen to record lows, bringing the country to its most serious economic crisis since the late 1990s.

Topping most lists of reasons for the collapse is Russia’s failure to diversify its economy. At least some of the flaws in its strategy of putting all those eggs in that one oil-and-gas basket are now in full view.

Once upon a time, Russia did actually try some diversification — back before the oil and gas “solution” came to seem like such a good idea.

It was during those tumultuous years when history was pushing the Soviet Union into its grave. Central planners began scrambling to convert portions of the vast state enterprise of military production — the enterprise that had so bankrupted the empire — to produce the consumer goods that Soviet citizens had long gone without.

One day the managers of a Soviet tank plant, for example, received a directive to convert their production lines to produce shoes. The timetable was: do it today. They didn’t succeed.

Economic development experts agree that the time to diversify is not after an economic shock, but before it. Scrambling is no way to manage a transition to new economic activity. Since the bloodless end to the Cold War was foreseen by almost nobody, significant planning for an economic transition in advance wasn’t really in the cards.

But now, in the United States at least, it is. Currently the country is in the first stage of a modest military downsizing. We’re about a third of the way through the 10-year framework of defense cuts mandated by the Budget Control Act of 2011.

Assuming that Congress doesn’t scale back this plan or even dismantle it altogether, the resulting downsizing will still be the shallowest in U.S. history.

It’s a downsizing of the post-9/11 surge, during which Pentagon spending nearly doubled. So the cuts will still leave a U.S. military budget higher, adjusting for inflation, than it was during nearly every year of the Cold War — back when we had an actual adversary that was trying to match us dollar for military dollar.

Now, no such adversary exists. Thinking of China? Not even close: The United States spends about six times as much on its military as Beijing.

Even so, the U.S. defense industry’s modest contraction is being felt in communities across the country. By the end of the ten-year cuts, many more communities will be affected.

This is the time for those communities that are dependent on Pentagon contracts to work on strategies to reduce this vulnerability. To get ahead of the curve.

There is actually Pentagon money available for this purpose. Its Office of Economic Adjustment exists to give planning grants and technical assistance to communities recognizing the need to diversify.

As we in the United States struggle to understand what’s going on in Russia and how to respond to it, at least one thing is clear: Moscow’s failure to move beyond economic structures dominated first by military production, and now by fossil fuels, can serve as a cautionary tale and call to action.

Diversified economies are stronger. They take time and planning. Wait to diversify until the bottom falls out of your existing economic base, and your chances for a smooth transition decline precipitously.

Turning an economy based on making tanks into one that makes shoes can’t be done in a day.

Miriam Pemberton directs the Peace Economy Transitions Project at the Institute for Policy Studies. This piece, distributed via, was cross-posted from Foreign Policy In Focus.

Giving the dictatorships a pass

Why do people defending Edward Snowden and denouncing the National Security Agency seem to have nary a word about the cyber-attacks  and physical threats by the murderous North Korean regime meant to disrupt the showing of a  Sony movie about depraved dictator Kim Jong-un? And why do they say nothing about the cyber-attacks and Internet spying by the milder but  very corrupt and bigger dictatorships Russia and China?


Maybe it's because these hypocrites fear North Korea, China and Russia but don't fear a democratic and infinitely more humane nation like the United States. The double standard remains staggering.


-- Robert Whitcomb




Promises, promises

  In 1997 the Communist dictatorship in Bejing promised the people of Hong Kong that they'd have local autonomy, including electing their own officials, after the British colony was forced to rejoin China. In 1994, Russia, then a corrupt democracy and now a corrupt dictatorship, promised not to use force or threaten to use force against Ukraine in return for Ukraine giving up its nuclear weapons.

We know how both these promises worked out. You can bet that no country is going to give up its nuclear weapons. any time soon. And Taiwan is even more unlikely than before to join  China on the basis of the promise that Beijing would allow the people of Taiwan their own democracy.

Dictators think promises are a joke.



Tripartite march of the thugs

While the U.S.  focuses on confronting the perverts of the Islamic State, the fascist dictatorship in Russia continues to try to eat away at adjacent states and the other big fascist dictatorship, China, continues its attempt to take over the entire South China Sea. Their  neighbors waver between appeasement and something a bit braver as the thuggery gets worse.

Francis Fukuyama's idea in the '90s of the inevitable triumph of liberal democracy seems more frayed than usual this year.



Blame Russia for Russian aggression


Some denounce the United States for Russia’s reversion to brutal expansionism into its “Near Abroad” because we encouraged certain Central and Eastern European countries to join the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. The argument is that NATO’s expansion led “Holy Russia” to fear that it was being “encircled.” (A brief look at a map of Eurasia would suggest the imprecision of that word.)

In other words, it’s all our fault. If we had just kept the aforementioned victims of past Russian and Soviet expansionism out of the Western Alliance, Russia wouldn’t have, for example, attacked Georgia and Ukraine. If only everyone had looked into Vladimir Putin’s eyes and decided to trust him.

Really? Russia has had authoritarian or totalitarian expansionist regimes for hundreds of years, with only a few years’ break. How could we have necessarily done anything to end this tradition for all time after the collapse of the Soviet iteration of Russian imperialism? And should we blame Russia’s closest European neighbors for trying to protect themselves from being menaced again by their gigantic and traditionally aggressive neighbor to the east? Russia, an oriental despotism, is the author of current Russian imperialism.

Some of the Blame America rhetoric in the U.S. in the Ukraine crisis can be attributed to U.S. narcissism: the idea that everything that happens in the world is because of us. But Earth is a big, messy place with nations and cultures whose actions stem from deep history and habits that have little or nothing to do with big, self-absorbed, inward-looking America and its 5 percent of the world population. Americans' ignorance about the rest of the planet -- even about Canada! -- is staggering, especially for a "developed nation''.

And we tend to think that “personal diplomacy” and American enthusiasm and friendliness can persuade foreign leaders to be nice. Thus Franklin Roosevelt thought that he could handle “Joe Stalin” and George W. Bush could be pals with another dictator (albeit much milder) Vladimir Putin. They would, our leaders thought, be brought around by our goodwill (real or feigned).

But as a friend used to say when friends told him to “have a nice day”: “I have other plans.”

With the fall of the Soviet Empire, there was wishful thinking that the Russian Empire (of which the Soviet Empire was a version with more globalist aims) would not reappear. But Russian xenophobia, autocracy, anger and aggressiveness never went away.

Other than occupying Russia, as we did Japan and Western Germany after World War II, there wasn’t much we could do to make Russia overcome its worst impulses. (And Germany, and even Japan, had far more experience with parliamentary democracy than Russia had.) The empire ruled from the Kremlin is too big, too old, too culturally reactionary and too insular to be changed quickly into a peaceable and permanent democracy. (Yes, America is insular, too, but in different ways.)

There’s also that old American “can-do” impatience — the idea that every problem is amenable to a quick solution. For some reason, I well remember that two days after Hurricane Andrew blew through Dade County, Fla., in 1992, complaints rose to a chorus that President George H.W. Bush had not yet cleaned up most of the mess. How American!

And of course, we’re all in the centers of our own universes. Consider public speaking, which terrifies many people. We can bring to it extreme self-consciousness. But as a TV colleague once reminded me, most of the people in the audience are not fixated on you the speaker but on their own thoughts, such as on what to have for dinner that night. “And the only thing they might remember about you is the color of the tie you’re wearing.”

We Americans could use a little more fatalism about other countries.


James V. Wyman, a retired executive editor of The Providence Journal, was, except for his relentless devotion to getting good stories into the newspaper, the opposite of the hard-bitten newspaper editor portrayed in movies, usually barking out orders to terrified young reporters. Rather he was a kindly, thoughtful and soft-spoken (except for a booming laugh) gentleman with a capacious work ethic and powerful memory.

He died Friday at 90, another loss for the "legacy news media.''


My friend and former colleague George Borts died last weekend. He was a model professor — intellectually rigorous, kindly and accessible. As an economist at Brown University for 63 years (!) and as managing editor of the American Economic Review, he brought memorable scholarship and an often entertaining skepticism to his work. And he was a droll expert on the law of unintended consequences.

George wasn’t a cosseted citizen of an ivory tower. He did a lot of consulting for businesses, especially using his huge knowledge of, among other things, transportation and regulatory economics, and wrote widely for a general audience through frequent op-ed pieces. He was the sort of (unpretentious) “public intellectual” that we could use a lot more of.


I just read Philip K. Howard’s “The Rule of Nobody: Saving America From Dead Laws and Broken Government.” I urge all citizens to read this mortifying, entertaining and prescriptive book about how our extreme legalism and bureaucracy imperil our future. I’ll write more about the book in this space.

Robert Whitcomb (, a former editor of The Providence Journal's editorial pages, is a Providence-based writer and editor, former finance editor of the International Herald Tribune and a partner and senior adviser at Cambridge Management Group (, a consultancy for health systems, and a fellow of the Pell Center for International Relations and Public Policy.

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