Friday, March 21, 2014

The lowdown on Russia and the Crimea

I am not claiming to be an expert on Russia or even of the former Soviet Union. I’ve never liked the word expert since there is no clear definition as to the level of competence or wealth of knowledge a person needs to qualify.  Some people reach a state of recognition in their chosen field where such a declaration seems obvious enough to all concerned that there is no argument, but those people rarely refer to themselves as experts. Usually it is the people the are envious of those established professionals and are attempting to imbue themselves with such recognition to that point in time is not self evident, much to their dissatisfaction.

Russia is not my current field so I’m not placed anywhere on this scale. My chosen field is Security, and I have spent all my adult life in its service starting in the Army and working to a place in upper management responsible for corporate security. Through interest and I dare say aptitude, I transferred to IT Security, finding it more rewarding and discovering that my past experience dealing with questions of Risk Management and creating regulatory compliant programs gave me a unique perspective in the field of IT Security. One shared by few and therefore valuable to whomever employs me.

But Security didn’t start out as my career of choice. When I was young, I wanted to be a stunt man. Unfortunately, I had no desire to live in California and there is precious little work for a stuntman in Bemidji Minnesota, though I made of for that by doing stunts pro bono. Next I thought I would follow in my father’s footsteps, not in practicality but in ambition and become a helicopter pilot in the Army. He’d been an electrician in both the Air Force and Coast Guard, and in the latter was able to test fly the aircraft he repaired. He had time in all manner of fixed wing and even rotary aircraft, but lacking a degree, he was never able to do it full time.

My eyes betrayed me, but in retrospect I’m glad for it, since had they been as perfect as my father’s vision, I would have been forced to face the truth that my poor performance in High School would have served as a backup to sabotage that dream. I joined the Army and that is a long tail and told elsewhere, but the main reason for my service was to escape my hometown and pay with my time for a chance to attend college.

When I hatched this plan at seventeen, it seemed like a fairytale. Four years was a long time and my goal was poorly defined. It was simply put the quest for a degree. The nature of the degree never occurred to me. But as fate would have it, I found myself at the end of my four-year tour and when faced with the choice of re-enlisting, I stuck to my plan and returned to Minnesota in search of the mythical degree. I spent my first two years in school blissfully unaware how I would declare, sure that when the time came, I would be struck by inspiration. And so it happened and I once again had the Army to thank. On active duty, I served as an Explosive Ordnance Disposal technician. That job didn’t exist in the Army Reserve at the time and eventually when it did, wasn’t located in Minnesota. The first job I took was as an Intelligence Analyst. I worked in that capacity one weekend a month and two weeks a year in an OJT status. My region was selected for me and was Eastern Europe. My first contract ended after six years and I became a civilian. I enjoyed being able to grow my hair out and lamented my inability to grow a decent looking beard. It came in black at that time, what little of it there was, and since the hair on my head was blond, people assumed I died one or the other. This isn’t true I just have weird hair.

I was in my second year of college and the pressure was building to choose a major. Luckily Desert Storm intervened and I felt compelled to sign a new eight-year Army Reserve contract. I was still in my heart and mind a soldier and the idea of sitting safely at home while my brothers and sisters were put in harms way was more than I could stand. I signed up with the 13th Psychological Operations Battalion and took the only Interrogator slot in the 19th PSYOP Company. After getting back into the system, I eagerly waited to be deployed, either as an EOD tech again or with my PSYOP unit. Neither happened because despite the fact that Iraqis speak Arabic and we had no Iraqi interrogators, that spoke Iraqi, I couldn’t go because I lacked a language.

The ground war was over in about 100 hours and I never saw a minute of it. Instead, in early 1991, I was sent to the Defense Language Institute to learn Russian. The Soviet Union was still a thing back then, at least for half the time I was at language school. Over Christmas break in died to be replaced by The Commonwealth of Independent States, and you all know how well that did.

But I was not deterred. Oh, quite the opposite. You see, the Soviet Union had been the big bad for all of my life and there was no way that would even change. When I cam back from my year of submersion into the Russian language, graduating in the lower part of the lower third of my class, I forgot about 1 vocabulary word a mile as I drove my Camero back to Minnesota. Of the eight grammatical cases that those twisted Ottoman monks devised to enslave and torture the primitive Russian people, I barely retained Nominative a year after my return.

Armed with the ability to order beer and ask the location of the bathroom, I majored in Russian Area Studies with a minor in Russian Language and Literature. I have the rare distinction of being one of the few people besides Tolstoy to have read War and Peace. It was one whole class and I think I got a B.

I knew my path would be paved in gold. After all, I had a degree designed for Intelligence Analysts for the most important country besides our own in the world and graduated in June 1995. I went home to wait for the job offers to roll in sure I would need to order an unlisted number so that I could get some sleep at night and perhaps a new wheelbarrow to get the mail.

Who could have predicted that for nearly twenty years, no one either in our government or in private industry would give a damn about Russia? No seriously, I want to know who the bastard was and why he/she didn’t tell me. But never mind them, they were in the minority if they existed at all. Most of them shared my view that the government would always be interested in Russia and that private industry would boom. There were billions to be made in this newly formed free market, except there weren’t. A few companies rushed in and were soon after the struggling Russian government seized them and companies lost millions. The US government had other issues in other lands and arrogantly considered the matter of the Soviet Union closed. We had won, and no one that had an opposing viewpoint was taken seriously. There were hundreds of articles and books discussing the shift from a bi polar political landscape to a multi polar model. There were a slew of predictions about the new unstable landscape and some of them even came true, but neither the government nor private industry cared enough about Russia to invest much time and effort into it. Those that did had a huge pool of radically more knowledgeable and experienced people to choose from. It has been this way with few exceptions for over twenty years.

Don’t shed any tears for me, it all worked out for the best. I’m now an executive in the IT security field and not only do I enjoy the work, but it pays the bills.

While I’m not an expert on Russian affairs, I did get an A on my thesis, so suck it. I even paid attention after I graduated and watched Russia and it’s former states change over time and become a Democr….Sorry, I tried to type if but was over taken by a laughing fit. I also realize I’ve made you wait long enough for my in depth analysis of the current situation with Russia and the Annexation of Crimea from Ukraine. So without further ado:

Putin is batshit crazy.

There you have it folks, the former head of the KGB, now perpetual President of Russia (who never had to read War and Peace cover to cover I guarandamntee you) is batshit crazy.

Or if you prefer a more detailed analysis, please read the following response to an FB post where even pacifists were wondering if perhaps militaries had uses after all.

Anyone sane is antiwar, especially soldiers. A soldier hopes their country is right and just in the use of force.

This is a case of a bully using force to take what he wants from a weaker nation. The United States has been the week nation in need of help and the stronger nation offering help.

We have entered into wars for terrible reasons and refused to offer assistance where it was desperately needed. I think we need to offer our assistance in conjunction with NATO. This is not some ambiguous terrorist threat that is hard to describe and debate in terms of borders, but a nation state attacking another nation state.

This could be Putin's Poland. Forget the old domino argument between the USA and USSR that polarized people for or against action in other countries like Vietnam, where the USSR's influence was up for debate, this is a probe from Putin to see how much resistance there will be in his attempt to regain all the former Soviet territories.

Lack of action now from the International community will embolden Putin and endanger former Soviet countries.

There you have it, my opinion about Putin’s motives and the price of doing nothing but watching Russia steal the Crimea from Ukraine. Like that perky little kid on Pokemon Putin’s ‘gotta to catch em all’ or die trying. The question we have to answer for ourselves is do we care? Do we care when a stronger country picks on a weaker country and no one does anything because they are afraid of the consequences? Should we care and if so at what point should we care? Who knows, maybe if we let Putin take Crimea, he’ll go away and leave Ukraine alone. Maybe he won’t do anything else. Throw a few sanctions on him, it’s clear sanctions work, just look at North Korea.

I’ve read a lot of critical stories over the last decade about how the United States is trying to build an Empire. I could go on for several pages about how that is bullshit, but I don’t need to. The United Kingdom was an empire. The Soviet Union was an empire. If the US is really trying to be an empire, we’ve been going about it the wrong way. We sure as hell wouldn’t care what anyone else said in the international arena and we wouldn’t struggle about what to do when any of our interests were threatened. Accusations of Empire are an old chestnut that is trotted out any time we engage in any military action.

But despite being the most incompetent empire of all time, we have engaged in wars that we shouldn’t and our war fighters suffered the most. They join for many reasons, but they depend on our government to use them wisely. Most times that means not using them at all, just making sure they are the best equipped and trained force on the planet. Other times that means using them in such a way that their objectives are clear and achievable. We’re still waiting for the later to occur, but I have hope.

Do we use them against Russia? That’s the wrong question. Is the cause just? That is the right question. Few became and remained a country for many years because other stronger countries wanted us to. Forget the propaganda, the reality is that without help from France and Spain, we wouldn’t have made it. Even with their significant help, we shouldn’t have made it. The revolutionary war is barely covered in public schools. You can learn more about it from the old Schoolhouse Rock programs than in a school today. Unless you get a degree in American History, you aren’t likely to learn much more in college. If we are to believe the hype, it was a slam-dunk. Washington crossed the Delaware River in the winter and kicked some British ass. Done deal. End of story. Oh and it was cold and most of the soldiers didn’t have boots and stuff. Wow, it’s all flooding back. Couldn’t have taken more that a year or two. I saw that Patriot movie and I didn’t see the seasons change more than once or twice and that little girl never aged so the war couldn’t have take that long.

England wanted us to remain as part of their empire but luckily France and Spain lent us a hand. FRANCE, for fuck sakes. We would have lost our ass and been part of the British Empire to this day except for France. How fucked were we? Pretty fucked. There was no reason for anyone to believe that we could actually win our independence from Britain. Technically we didn’t win in that we didn’t concourse them or destroy them, but we did make it too expensive for them to make it worthwhile and they quit. In 1812, Canada almost put an end the American experiment. CANADA!!! We were not quite the super power we would eventually grow into, but we had allies. In WWI, we hesitated far too long but eventually assisted our allies to include England. Most of our bragging rights revolve around WWII and while fighting two wars simultaneously was an impressive feat, we never face the full might of the German Army. Russian had that distinction and they lost millions of people.

Now we’re stronger. It isn’t likely that we need to worry about defending our soil from Canada again any time soon. We might be safe from China and even Russia, despite its proximity to Alaska (insert Palin joke). Other countries aren’t so lucky. We are now the big strong country that is able to assist others. Do we use that military only in retaliation when we are attacked? Does we have to wait until their is another global conflict that directly impacts our bottom line?

There are many dubious excuses for past use of military might. Our liberal elite have ridiculed most of these and they were right to do just that. What though do we do when there is a legitimate need from a country too weak to defend itself from a bully like Putin? Make statements that we can’t be the world’s police? I agree, we can’t. The UN can, it’s kind of in their job description, and we can assist the UN. Action should be debated within a reasonable time and taken by a unified force. We have a part to play in an action deemed justified. Not just by one of the political parties for political gain, but of the free nations of the world, for they are ever mindful of the fact that they could be next.


  1. Putin is an asshole.

  2. Scott, I always like reading your thoughts. You give plenty to think about. I also appreciate the props given to France and Spain. I tend to get an inordinate amount of joy from telling people who say the French would be speaking German without us that we would still be having Tea and Crumpets if not for them.

    Good stuff. Thank you.