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Entries in Russia (71)

3:42PM

If you can keep your head when all about you ...

Reuters at WAPO

Great WAPO piece on US intell community surging a response to growing evidence of Kremlin-directed hacking of our election infrastructure.

The key bit of description:

U.S. intelligence officials described the covert influence campaign here as “ambitious” and said it is also designed to counter U.S. leadership and influence in international affairs.

Ambition to counter US leadership in the world ... Damn straight and we must get used to it - whether or not we continue with Obama's hands-off global leadership style.

Russia, like China, wants to reshape both global agendas and rules, having watched the US blithely dominate both since Cold War's end.

This is natural and thus to be expected, particularly as we have signaled to both that we prefer our old allies to accommodating them as our new and inevitable partners in managing this world (understanding that, if we take the long view, it's China first, then India, then Russia et al. in terms of combined economic-military heft and thus strategic importance).

But, for now, with both China and India still feeling their way toward superpower-dom, Putin is the cream of the leadership crop, arguably matched only by Merkel in savvy, boldness, and vision.

Why Trump scares me: he simply isn't smart enough to play at that level, as he is embarrassingly easy to manipulate. My God, would Putin enjoy abusing him for four years.

With Clinton, the fear has to be: will she be embroiled in controversy and scandal all the time (some real, mostly manufactured by her opponents - again a venue where Putin will find many useful American idiots)? Or does she prove to be Merkel's match?  We can only hope.

But back to the point here: this is exactly the sort of influence/agenda-setting/rule-setting-and-bending competition to which we must grow accustomed, not in the sense that we're new to it (we do it in our sleep - please), but that we haven't had any serious direct competitors for a long time (really, a solid quarter-century).

You will say, "But Russia is messing with our process in a manner that we would never dare to pursue with them."

Well, yes and no. 

It all depends on perceptions. America would never try anything that direct, but our indirect methods of supporting democratization are often interpreted by autocratic regimes like China and Russia as direct meddling. That is simply a reflection of the robustness of our political system and the brittleness of theirs. To autocrats, who fear their own people far more than outside forces, even the most indirect sort of pressuring in the direction of democratization comes off as a direct challenge to the rule. That's not to say that we shouldn't engage in such activities, because we most definitely should. Rather, it is to say that, when we do engage in such activities, we can't become upset when those regimes push back in similar - if asymmetric - ways. 

As always, the key is to remember that time is on the side of democracy - as is technology (Orwell continues to be wrong).

So what I really like about this article is the calm and matter-of-fact manner that our political system - for now - is displaying in its reactions to Putin's dirty tricks (putting aside Harry Reid's cited fear factor). In many ways, this is the cyber struggle of the future: not as a precursor to great power war or strategic conflict, but rather as a day-to-day tool of influencing other systems and shaping the international rules to one's own advantage. If we come to accept this as an inescapable reality, while avoiding the temptation for hyperbole and freaking out, then we'll continue to be just fine.

Do I think Clinton can manage that? Yes.

But Trump? Far too risky a proposition. He'd just be in way over his head.



Thomas P.M. Barnett
Sent from my iPhone

9:47PM

What Does Russia/Putin Seek?

Putin's Russia is becoming the Trump of international security: dominating the news cycle with a constant stream of bold moves (Syria, for example) and often outrageous affronts (Russian hackers just did what?!?!). Just like Clinton will win the White House while The Donald is named Time's Person of the Year (bet on it), Obama's "long game" (see Chollet's new book) may be sound, even as it's seemingly trumped (that word again) on every strategic front by Putin's nonstop shenanigans.

So what does Putin seek for Russia?

The obvious answer is: as much reconstruction of the old Soviet empire (however virtually achieved by various Finlandizations) as possible, combining that sometimes actual revanchism with a successful dismemberment of the EU and NATO, leaving Germany once again living in complete fear of its intentions (Russia has ALWAYS been just that into Germany).

Not by a long shot does that constitute an attempted overturning of the world order. It is far better described as a leapfrogging by a resurgent Russia over the faltering "West" (retreating US, freaking-out Europe, aging Japan [where adult-diaper sales now trump baby-diaper sales]) into the Trumpian position of Initiator-in-Chief (a role once clearly held - and abused - by the Bush Administration but clearly abandoned by Lead-From-Behind Obama).

So what does Putin seek for Russia? He wants Russia to be #1 on everybody's speed dial, search engine, and worry list.

And he's readily achieving it.

That's the thing about an essentially US-constructed (and typically led) world order: when we step back to stare at the horizon, others will step in. Ultimately those others will be China and India, but neither is ready for that now. India hasn't hit its demographic/industrialization inflection point yet and China is too obsessed with its front-yard "pond" (their strategic equivalent of staring at one's bellybutton and muttering, Mine! All mine!).  

So we get Russia, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey running the show in the Center (see map above), while America focuses more on home (and the West Hemisphere) and China looks to lock down the East.

In my old vernacular, the "Gap-shrinking" continues, it is just more obviously and geographically divvied up, with Asian great powers (China, India, Japan) nonetheless forced into some competitive thrusts into the Center (particularly Africa) for reasons both immediate (resource access) and long term (tomorrow's biggest cheap-labor - and consumer - pool).

America, secure in both its energy and food/water (and increasingly Latinized and Millennialized), continues to turn inward for a lengthy Progressive Era that it desperately needs.

Still, we have to play both the Home and Away games, and here is where it gets particularly challenging for the West: imagine Hillary, May (UK), and Merkel (Germany( leading the West's pushback against Putin's many international micro-aggressions. You just know that that macho Vlad will assume he's got the upper hand. One can almost see the misogynystic cartoon: Vlad, in wife-beater shirt, daring  the cowering women to take in the "gun show" (hat tip, Ron Burgundy) as he holds his backhand above his head, poised in bitch-slap-delivery mode.

So yes, expect Vlad to keep pushing things until the West (and specifically America) pushes back, and expect him to continuously elevate his game with little fear of long-term cost.

Putin has seen enough of Obama's "long game" (where America often punted on early downs) to know that, absent a serious course change, the Center field (Europe-writ large, Muddle East, Africa) is his for the reshaping right now (much as Xi Jinping views the East).

This is why any President-Elect Clinton needs to move fast and project an image of a serious housecleaning both internally and - eventually abroad.

But again, none of this signals an existential threat to the system, because, quite frankly, all our great power competitors (not enemies) find it all too much to their liking.

Was this phase of globalization inevitable?

Yes. Nothing moves ever upward in a straight line. It's more Dora's bit about just keep swimming.

America built something so amazing, transformative, beneficial, and enriching that there was zero chance we could control globalization ad nauseum - anymore than we could rule the Internet forever.

Remember: globalization comes with rules but no ruler (a wise man once wrote that).

A dozen years ago I penned a piece for WAPO stating that America's prime partners of tomorrow would be China, Russia, and India (Turkey also mentioned), and that, yes, we'd end up uncomfortably accommodating each in that pathway.  [I soon after added Iran to that group.]  My goal in that piece was simply to signal that the days of America, Europe and Japan constituting a quorum of great powers was over.

At that time, the notion was laughed off.

Not so funny now, is it? I mean, look who's running the Middle East?  China and India are the biggest buyers, while Turkey, Iran, and Russia have all ascended as security actors. I never said we'd be close with any of them, just that we'd have to work with all of them.

Having said all this (again), we need to avoid our usual freak-out response pattern regarding all these powers. Yes, America enjoyed and exploited its post-Cold War unipolar moment to ram globalization down everyone's throats (I approved whole-heartedly), triggering the best set of problems the world has ever known. But that thrust, while an amazing gift to humanity (all that wealth creation, hundreds of millions lifted out of poverty, percentage of extreme poverty less than 10% of human population for first time in history, and a majority global middle class for the first time in history) was unsustainable for the US (or, more accurately, the US consumer and all the personal debt we took one).

Now we move dumbfoundedly into the period where the world's most dynamic great powers seek to consolidate rule-set spheres of influence ("This is how things work around here!"). This period was always inevitable, but keep in mind that we are not looking at the resurrection of great power war (no matter how many hard-talking security types sell you that every night on the news). MAD remains in force with no "offset" required.

What we face now is an extended clash not of civilizations but of great-power rule-sets.

What should America do?

We should persistently and pointedly defend our national interests while not pushing our norms as the only acceptable answer. We tend toward the opposite tack - a habit long ingrained by our "global cop" burden. But that burden has been overtaken by events and developments that we have long sought - a genuine multi-polarity that respects the international structure we've created even as each great power seeks to rule its individual roost (to expect otherwise is naive in the worst way).

So we should stay calm and carry on with our necessarily transformative regrading of our political (less distance between leaders and led) and economic (less tilted toward rich) landscapes. In short, we need to proceed with the next great progressive American era that redefines 21st century capitalism in light of globalization's swift conquering of the planet - finally (with a hat tip to K. Marx) but only under America's tutelage (none of those thieving European empires came even close).

Again, these are the best problems humanity has ever faced - problems of success and not failure.

So, chin up as this US election gets even nastier and more weird - and as daily revelations emerge concerning Moscow's (or Beijing's or Tehran's or Ankara's) latest transgression.

The world system we built remains secure, even as virtually every state now faces very hard choices between open and closed, connected or disconnected, or drawbridges up or down (per the Economist). These are natural reactions and we were all certain to confront these as a result of the Great Recession. What matters now is what we as Americans choose and how we lead - as always - by example.

Make no mistake: I'd gladly take our path and our fundamentals and our challenges over those of any other great power out there - yet another reason to keep all such frenemies in perspective. Neither they nor our true enemies (violent extremist organizations, plus those just-plain-nutty North Koreans) pose any existential threat to either us or our amazingly sturdy world order.

Simply put, don't believe the hype, even as we keep an eye on Russia's Trump.

3:20PM

Western Hemisphere's Shale Men as Oil Industry's New "World Swing Producers"?

 

FASCINATING BRIEFING IN A RECENT ECONOMIST (23 JAN 16) ADDS A NEW TWIST TO AN ARGUMENT I'VE BEEN RECENTLY ADVANCING ON HOW NORTH AMERICA'S EMERGING ENERGY INDEPENDENCE DRAMATICALLY REDEFINES ITS OWN SENSE OF ECONOMIC RESILIENCE AND – ULTIMATELY – AMERICA'S GLOBAL SECURITY PERSPECTIVE. Think of the future as mostly about energy and water, with the latter accounting for food production. Any country seeking to ensure its economic resilience going forward wants to be either rich in both, or rich in secure access to both. This is essentially where China is weakest now and in coming decades (hence the aggressive military behavior on display off its coast), because it must import both food and energy in ever increasingly amounts (and overwhelmingly via seaborne trade). This is also where America (and North America in general) is strongest now and in coming decades, relative to just about every great power out there – save perhaps Russia. But even there, America has little reason to unduly worry about the widely-perceived renewal of strategic rivalry with Moscow, which invariably becomes China's economic vassal on that basis:

China, please meet Russia, an energy-business-masquerading-as-a-government, which is incredibly vulnerable on the subject of lower energy prices but stands as the world's largest exporter of energy.

Russia, please meet China, which is the world's largest importer of energy and the stingiest, most aggressively demanding trade partner in the world.

Please go about you co-dependency with all the respect and friendship that you've each bestowed upon the other's culture and civilization over the years.

As I've pointed out, North America is already the world's de facto swing producer on grains, which gives us an enormous strategic advantage – and power – that we scarcely realize.

We are, in effect, the Saudi Arabia of grain. So, if, in our imagination, they have the world over an oil barrel, then we've got the world over a breadbasket.

Guess who cries "uncle" first?

And yes, we'll maintain that status in spite of climate change, because we're that clever and that resilient and that blessed by circumstances.

But here's where the Economist's analysis of the recent slide in oil prices is so intriguing: what if North America were to become the world's swing producer on energy – as well?

From the piece:

Now the fear for producers is of an excess of oil, rather than a shortage. The addition to global supply over the past five years of 4.2m barrels a day (b/d) from America’s shale producers, although only 5% of global production, has had an outsized impact on the market by raising the prospects of recovering vast amounts of resources formerly considered too hard to extract. On January 19th the International Energy Agency (IEA), a prominent energy forecaster, issued a stark warning: “The oil market could drown in oversupply.”

Amazing what the fracking revolution in North America has wrought, and don't – for a minute – discount how that sense of energy independence influenced President Obama's decision to see a Nixon-like detente with Iran, identified in the piece as "the most immediate cause of the bearishness."

[Iran] promises an immediate boost to production of 500,000 b/d, just when other members of OPEC such as Saudi Arabia and Iraq are pumping at record levels. Even if its target is over-optimistic, seething rivalry between the rulers in Tehran and Riyadh make it hard to imagine that the three producers could agree to the sort of production discipline that OPEC has used to attempt to rescue prices in the past.

But it gets even more disruptive – again, because of the fracking revolution in North America:

Even if OPEC tried to reassert its influence, the producers’ cartel would probably fail because the oil industry has changed in several ways. Shale-oil producers, using technology that is both cheaper and quicker to deploy than conventional oil rigs, have made the industry more entrepreneurial. Big depreciations against the dollar have helped beleaguered economies such as Russia, Brazil and Venezuela to maintain output, by increasing local-currency revenues relative to costs. And growing fears about action on climate change, coupled with the emergence of alternative-energy technologies, suggests to some producers that it is best to pump as hard as they can, while they can.

So we witness the Saudis – yet again – trying to shake out the market, not to mention its fierce regional rival, through an extended period of self-destructive over-production relative to market demand. It will definitely hinder Iran's re-entry into the world and its energy market, but in the US?

Yet there is also a reason for keeping the pumps working that is not as suicidal as it sounds. One of the remarkable features of last year’s oil market was the resilience of American shale producers in the face of falling prices. Since mid-2015 shale firms have cut more than 400,000 b/d from output in response to lower prices. Nevertheless, America still increased oil production more than any other country in the year as a whole, producing an additional 900,000 b/d, according to the IEA.

And here's where US technological resilience gets truly interesting:

During the year the number of drilling rigs used in America fell by over 60%. Normally that would be considered a strong indicator of lower output. Yet it is one thing to drill wells, another to conduct the hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) that gets the shale oil flowing out. Rystad Energy, a Norwegian consultancy, noted late last year that the “frack-count”, ie, the number of wells fracked, was still rising, explaining the resilience of oil production.

The roughnecks used other innovations to keep the oil gushing, such as injecting more sand into their wells to improve flow, using better data-gathering techniques and employing a skeleton staff to keep costs down. The money is no longer flowing in. America’s once-rowdy oil towns, where three years ago strippers could make hundreds of dollars a night from itinerant oilmen, are now full of abandoned trailer parks and boarded-up businesses. But the oil is still flowing out. Even some of the oldest shale fields, such as the Bakken in North Dakota, were still producing at the same level in November as more than a year before.

No, we don't want to overestimate the economic boost to the US economy from all this. Our economic restructuring challenges are significant – as evidenced by voter anger in this year's presidential race. But others have it far worse:

Unsurprisingly some of the biggest splashes of red ink in the IMF’s latest forecast revisions were reserved for countries where oil exploration and production has played a significant role in the economy: Brazil, Saudi Arabia, Russia (and some of its oil-producing neighbours) and Nigeria. Weaker demand in this group owes much to strains on their public finances.

Russia has said it will cut public spending by a further 10% in response to the latest drop in crude prices (see article).

So where do we go from here? The article discusses "peak demand," something I've long argued would naturally precede the much-feared "peak oil" moment, primarily due to efficiency and environmental concerns.

Then the Economist lays out the crown-jewel argument – from my perspective – of the piece:

More likely, the oil price will eventually find a bottom and, if this cycle is like previous ones, shoot sharply higher because of the level of underinvestment in reserves and natural depletion of existing wells. Yet the consequences will be different. Antoine Halff of Columbia University’s Centre on Global Energy Policy told American senators on January 19th that the shale-oil industry, with its unique cost structure and short business cycle, may undermine longer-term investment in high-cost traditional oilfields. The shalemen, rather than the Saudis, could well become the world’s swing producers, adding to volatility, perhaps, but within a relatively narrow range.

Bingo!

Please keep that in mind when all the politicians and national security experts are trying to scare you to death during our ongoing transition from one president to the next: when it comes to food/water and energy, North America – and America in particular – is sitting pretty.

Why?

Because our national resilience on both continues to contradict the pessimists while amazing even the optimists like me!

 

3:44PM

A World In Which China’s Economic Resilience Seems As Important To The World As America’s

AP photo, used in WAPO citationIT MAY SEEM AN OBVIOUS - ALMOST TRITE - OBSERVATION AT THIS POINT IN HISTORY, BUT YOU WOULDN'T KNOW IT FROM THE WAY WASHINGTON, THE PENTAGON, AND OUR CURRENT SLATE OF PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATES SPEAK ABOUT CHINA.  That fundamental disconnect is somewhat scary to, as well as dangerous for, the rest of the world. And no, I don't note that as some subtle plea for better and less contentious relations with China, because it will always take two to tango. I do, however, note it as a continuing negative trend when it comes to these two nations' co-management of global economic stability.

A couple of Reuters' pieces today remind us of just how important China has become to global markets and their expectations.  First, any new economic forecast figures from China are momentous enough to shift IMF calculations for future global economic growth:

The International Monetary Fund cut its global growth forecasts for the third time in less than a year on Tuesday, as new figures from Beijing showed that the Chinese economy grew at its slowest rate in a quarter of a century in 2015.

To back its forecasts, the IMF cited a sharp slowdown in China trade and weak commodity prices that are hammering Brazil and other emerging markets.

The Fund forecast that the world economy would grow at 3.4 percent in 2016 and 3.6 percent in 2017, both years down 0.2 percentage point from the previous estimates made last October. It said policymakers should consider ways to bolster short-term demand. [emphasis mine]

Unsurprisingly, the Reuters pieces notes that "concerns about Beijing's grip on economic policy have shot to the top of global investors' risk list for 2016 after falls in its stock markets and the yuan stoked worries that the economy may be rapidly deteriorating."  So, it's not just a matter of China's economic health but what Beijing intends to do about it.  Frankly, until very recently in history, the only countries that registers at that level of impact has been the United States, Japan, and the EU as a collective.  But come back with me to review the stimulus spending that unfolded in response to the global financial distress of 2008-09, and the numbers there previewed just how central China had become:

  • US - 800 billion USD
  • China - 600 billion USD
  • EU - 220 billion USD
  • Japan - 150 billion USD.

In other words, when push came to shove and big economies needed to pony up the money to shore up global economic demand, China outperformed the EU and Japan put together by making an effort bested only by the US.

This is why, per the second Reuters citation, just as many eyes are on Beijing as Washington right now:

Global equity markets on Tuesday snapped back from a rout at the start of the year after data showing weak economic growth in China prompted speculation Beijing would boost stimulus efforts, but a renewed drop in U.S. oil prices raised a cautionary flag.

China's rise from being a detached corner of the global economy - just four decades ago - to its status as second-most important pillar is akin to America's stunning, turn-of-the-20th-century rise to global prominence following our Civil War. And yes, the US of that era scared a lot of the world with its ambition, arrogance, and self-centeredness - just like China does today.

But we lucked out and picked up a mentor in the British, who, over time, had no choice but to encourage our rise as central to their own continued prosperity, security, and even national survival. The truth is, with all the world has on its plate right now with climate change, terrorism, technological leaps, and so on, the US is as likely to become as entirely co-dependent on China's national resilience in the 21st century as the British once became on US resilience in the 20th century.

Do I see any such recognition among our political and military leaders on this score?  No I do not.  And that worries me.

Do I see it across this country?  It depends on your age, as in, the older you are, the more you tend to fear China.  You also tend to fear China more if you are located in the interior and east of the US versus the Pacific-minded US West.

But I do see a different mindset among the Millennials, which, by all polling, appear to view China more as an ally in co-managing this world than an antagonist. And, based on my time in China, I spot enough of the same among China's youth to suggest that this co-dependent relationship will ultimate work out just fine.

What worries me most is getting from now to then.

The US spent decades after WWII working to spread and sustain an international liberal trade order that we now dub "globalization."  We were enormously successful in this endeavor, triggering the greatest reduction in global poverty and the greatest upsurge in global development that the world has ever seen.  But, in doing so, we created a host of economic "challengers" whom we must eventually come to accept as co-enablers of our own national resilience, as well as the resilience of the planet.

The hardest part for Americans seems to be this supposition that, if a foreign civilization joins this global trade order (as China has) and becomes highly capitalistic (as China has), it must rather rapidly become highly American as well (raucously pluralistic in politics).  However, to our continuing bafflement, almost half a century after Nixon went to China, the Chinese are still Chinese.

I know, right?  How dare they!

And that seems to upset a great deal of Americans to no end - but particularly older Americans, many of whom now seem to see, in China, a monster of our/globalization's making - a Frankenstein who cannot possibly be tamed (much less told what to do).

As suggested earlier, I expect generational change in both countries to solve this trust-divide that currently keeps the world's two greatest economies (and militaries) from realizing the full extent of their co-dependencies.  For now, it's important enough for players - and citizens - on both sides to realize just how much we collectively rely on one another's national capacities for resilience in face of common threats and challenges, AND to remember just how different this relationship is from the one we once endured with the Soviet Union - an empire that was bound to our national survival in terms of its nuclear weaponry but not to our economic resilience to any appreciable degree.

And that is what makes China entirely different.

10:37AM

YouTubes of 2015 Washington DC speech

Video segments of September 2015 briefing to an international military audience in the Washington DC area.

 

 

Part 1: Introductions and US grand strategy

 

 Part 2: America's looming energy self-sufficiency

 

Part 3: Climate Change and its impact on food & water

 

Part 4: The aging of great powers

 

Past 5: Millennials & Latinization of U.S.

 

Part 6: Evolution of US Military under Obama

 

Part 7: Dangers of a "splendid little war" with China

 

Part 8: Middle East without a Leviathan

 

Part 9: Answers to audience questions

2:37PM

Ukraine's Electrical Grid Gets Knocked Down, But It Gets Up Again … In a Sign of Threats to Come

RUSSIA IS OFTEN CREDITED WITH EXPLORING THE SUB-THRESHOLDS OF TRADITIONAL STATE-ON-STATE WARFARE, OR WHAT ONE DEFENSE ACADEMIC HAS DUBBED "GREY-ZONE CONFLICTS."  In some ways, Moscow's experiments in interstate aggression represent a continuing acknowledgment of the overarching strategic reality of mutually assured destruction created by the still-formidable nuclear arsenals of the world's major military powers - i.e., Russia knows not to go there.  But great powers still want to act like great powers, so they meddle, they intervene, they topple governments, they support proxies in civil wars, they build artificial islands and militarize them, they insert computer viruses into other states' networks . . . and sometimes they merely send a signal like I can turn off your lights whenever I want.

 

Vladimir Putin's regime has an established reputation for this sort of international cyber-bullying, launching somewhat impressive online attacks against Estonia in 2007, Georgia in 2008 (as part of its land grab there), and more recently against Ukraine in 2014.  Western security reviews of such incidents typically find little-to-no evidence of official government involvement, and this is the central characteristic of the maskirovka approach (an old Soviet-era term that equates to covert military operations - i.e., masked).  So yeah, the whole point of such shenanigans is to be hide your tracks even as you are rather overtly signaling both capability and intent.

As we used to say about the Soviets during the Cold War, they will try every door and every window until they find one that's unlocked.

Thus, the world is meant to take notice of what recently happened in Ukraine, per WAPO:

Hackers caused a power outage in Ukraine during holiday season, researchers say, signalling a potentially troubling new escalation in digital attacks.

"This is the first incident we know of where an attack caused a blackout," said John Hultquist, head of iSIGHT Partner's cyberespionage intelligence practice. "It's always been the scenario we've been worried about for years because it has ramifications across broad sectors."

Indeed, the hackers-taking-down-electrical-grids is the sine qua non of the "cyber Pearl Harbor" or cybergeddon attack scenario that worries owners and operators of critical infrastructures around the world - but particularly in the US, where 88% of them are private-sector firms.

More details ...

Half of the homes in Ukraine's Ivano-Frankivsk region were left without power for several hours on December 23rd, according to a local report that attributed the blackout to a virus that disconnected electrical substations from the grid. Researchers at iSight on Monday said their analysis of malware found on the systems of at least three regional electrical operators confirmed that a "destructive" cyberattack led to the power outage.

Impression made ...

Why it matters for critical infrastructure writ large:

Electrical outages can lead to ripple effects that leave communities struggling with things like transportation and communication, according to security experts who have long warned about the potential for cyberattacks on the power grid.

Here the attack almost veers into clandestine mode, meaning the actor in question doesn't worry all that much about its identity being revealed:

In this case, the attackers used a kind of malware that wiped files off computer systems, shutting them down and resulting in the blackout, Hultquist said. At least one of the power systems was also infected with a type of malware known as BlackEnergy. A similar combination was used against some Ukrainian media organizations during local elections last year, he said.

So just imagine who was messing with Ukrainian media during local elections last year, and then realize that that same actor didn't bother changing up his cyber pitch this time around because . . . hey, that's not the point here.

Here we get to the true signaling:

While [cybersecurity company] ESET's analysis showed the destructive element was "theoretically capable of shutting down critical systems," it said BlackEnergy malware's ability to take control of a system would give attackers enough access to take down the computers. In that case, the destructive element may have been a way to make it harder to get the systems up and running again, according to ESET. (bolding mine)

That is what should grab the attention of any nation's critical infrastructure operators - not just the takedown capability but the suggested keepdown capacity.

Yes, the fingerpointing is eastward . . .

Hultquist believes the attacks that caused the blackout were the work of a group iSight dubs "Sandworm" that the company previously observed using BlackEnergy. In a 2014 report, iSight said the group was targeting NATO, energy sector firms and U.S. academic institutions as well as government organizations in Ukraine, Poland  and Western Europe.

"Operators who have previously targeted American and European sensitive systems look to have actually carried out a successful attack that turned the lights out," Hultquist said.

He described the group as "Russian," but declined to connect it to a specific government or group . . .

Such is the nature of maskirovka, remembering, of course, that Putin began his career in the KGB.

Now the part that most clearly matters to us here at Resilient Corporation:

The picture can often become clearer as more information trickles out, but the public and even some of those investigating may not be operating with all the facts, according to Cross.

"When a plane crashes, the FAA publishes all of the details about the incident. That makes sense because we pilots want to know what to do to avoid the next crash," he said. "In our industry, when something like this  happens, some information comes out and some doesn't."

Great analogy, suggesting that the lack of industry transparency here can cost us in the long run.  One doesn't counter maskirovka with "proprietary" concealment but with information-sharing.

Not everyone necessarily has an interest in fully disclosing the attacks because it might embarrass them or give new information to attackers, Cross said. But he argues that the more people  know the details about the attack, the better the security industry can prepare for the next one.

"People should operate with an abundance of caution and assume the threat  is real while demanding technical detail and evidence," he said.

Bingo!

As for Ukraine, the final bit of news was heartening:

Assuming that the hackers did take out the power in Ukraine, there was a silver lining, according to Cross: The grid seems to have rebounded quickly.

"The world didn't end here - they did get power back up," Cross said.

This time, yes.  But this scenario will grow less exotic over time, and that's why our resilience still-set must keep pace .

12:23PM

The four stages of Putinism

 Wikistrat is currently running a simulation on "When Putin Falls."  It's not a prediction, per se, but an exploration of a pathway in which Putin does not finish out his current six-year term.

With that in mind, check out "The four stages of Putinism," by Andrei Piontkovsky at the Hudson Institute.

They are:

 

  1. Creating the legitimizing myth
  2. Period of storms and stresses
  3. Heroic triumph
  4. Ideological exhaustion and death

 

In  my mind, Putinism was an inevitable rightist-surge following the opening-up under Yelstin (too chaotic).  It set the ship of state on a steadier course but it has not knowledge of how to rule - only how to build and consolidate rule (the siloviki).

What is hopefully next is the permanent normalization of politics post-Putin.  He can facilitate that in a graceful way, but one is tempted to say that's unlikely.

Anyway, already any number of interesting scenarios posted on the sim's wiki.

If you are interested in joining Wikistrat's Analytic Community (now about 600 analysts worldwide), contact me at thomaspmbarnett@wikistrat.com.

10:06AM

The adaptability of people is consistently under-estimated by experts

Pair of NYT stories from earlier in the month.  Both speak to the realities and myths of people's adaptability.

First one is about how Latvia (a place I very briefly visited back in the 1980s when it was still back in the USSR) and it talks about how, during the Great Recession, Latvians were able to handle the harsh austerity (sort of crew cut instead of the usual haircut).  

Second one is about how Russians are already mall fanatics. I remember Zbig Brzezinski saying, when the Wall fell, that it would be decades and generations before Russians figured out markets, etc.  It was all so godawfully patronizing (as only a Pole or Ukrainian might be WRT Russians).

My point in citing them together:  people are amazingly adaptable.  Latvians remember worse days (like your Great Depression parents or grandparents) and so they are unfazed, but Russians have no trouble slipping right into being material boys and girls (as did the Latvians for a while there and as they will again soon).

Americans have this tendency to believe we're the only adaptable people in the world, and it's true on some points:  on religion and "sacred soil," we are freakishly flexible.  If they declared that the US was being moved to Canada next week, most of us would pack up and go, because it's the freedom rule-set that we're most addicted to, with darn near everything else being negotiable.

Yes, the world is still full of traditional cultures wedded to sacred soil and religious identities (like . . . fuh-ever!), but given even the slightest chance, man, will they ever break out of their shells - and I mean everybody.  Sure, it's the kids who always lead the way, but guess what?  Traditional societies are youth-skewed (all that baby cranking) and they often feel the huge need to BE traditional precisely because there are all those young minds that need bending.  And yes, when the change comes, it does seem like the "end of X civilization," just like when Elvis and The Beatles and Stones showed up. And yes, many prices will be paid and much of the culture transformed and made that much harsher by all that individualism (to include the freedom to be miserable), but people really are the same all over - when given the chance.  No, that expression doesn't come in some archetypal "American" way.  At the end of the day, Russians are still Russians and Chinese are still Chinese (go figure!), so the applications are always different. 

It's just that the freedom impulse (far more economic in nature than political) is the basically the same:  I get to do what I want, when I want, how I want, buying what I want, etc.

So no, no 50-year transformations required on the economics.  It's the politics (single-party states in particular) that go slow.

That's what the military and intell people NEVER understand.  They think the politics (aka, intentions) can go like "SNAP!" while the economics will never change (or capabilities change slowly).  

Truth is, it's entirely the other way around. And all that economic freedom is what drives the super-fast technology adaptations (meaning HOW people use tech is nearly always more revolutionary than the tech itself).

Just my 2 cents .....

12:31PM

Civilization = bad connectivity principle, but dream = good

Trio of stories (2 FT and 1 NYT) on evolving ideologies of Russia (old leader), Egypt (new leader) and China (new leader).

Putin is floating a unique Russian civilization idea - likely as his legacy signature concept in governance.  The purpose is setting the long-term course of how Moscow handles the federation's many nationalities.  For now, a trial balloon, but already the blowback is sensed and it's building.  These nationalities naturally feel like they're being told to assimilate or find themselves a bit lost in Russia's future - as defined by Putin et al.

Morsi in Egypt is now revealing a similar bias on his effort with the constitution.  He wants to make it so Islamist that Egypt's many minorities are reacting badly, seeing no good space for themselves in Egypt's future on this basis.

My point in raising both issues:  when you argue civilization and, on that basis, identity (typically tied to religion), then you're saying, "This is how we're going to run this place and this is how we're going organize our connectivity with the outside world - by requiring this sort of homogeniety at home."

Problem is, the self-limiting nature.  If you want connectivity, you want to promote diversity.   That attracts the bodies and minds and the money.  This is an old concept, as in back to Amsterdam and the Dutch when they built up their global nets.  England picks up this vibe and does similarly.  The US gets the DNA via New Amsterdam-cum-New-York.

When you don't care about identity/religion on this level, you take on all comers, meaning you're open for business with everyone.  That's how you succeed.

Third cite:  Xi Jinping in China resurrecting "Chinese dream" notion as part of his reform/progressive agenda.

That "dream" apes the US version, which is centered on success and the pursuit of happiness.  

Why good?  It says your identity is more about success than comformity and homogeniety.  You'll work with anybody, because the dream trumps the exclusionary identity.

So, my point:  if you go the civilization/religious identity route, you scare off connectivity and globalization (or certainly retard it), but if you go the "dream" route, you choose pragmatism over such identity.  Your identity is simply your culture of success.

I think both Russia and Egypt will learn the limits of this approach, and it will be a painful process. But these are natural growth patterns.

China, I think, risks the other pathway:  the cult of success makes it harder to promote morality.

So it's the old choice:  preserve the identity and the attached morality, or risk both by opening up and prioritizing success.

Why I always advocate the latter:  It simply works better on raising income, and when you raise income, it's a virtuous cycle, as the people become even more tolerant and open, seeing the value in this path.

Meanwhile, if you choose identity over success, you makes less money and achieve less, and you tend to trigger a vicious cycle, as the outside world becomes more evil in your eyes ("Why won't they do business with us on our terms?")

But this is why China succeeds where Russia (and I fear Egypt) will not.

12:16PM

Impact of the drought is multivariable

First, the good news: the "margin squeeze" due to rising corn prices/futures is killing corn ethanol - still the stupidest idea on the planet (outside of Washington-subsidized Iowa).

Then the worse news: Russia/Black Sea region is undergoing another bad drought, raising the specter of another export ban. US is biggest exporter of wheat but the Black Sea trio (Russia, Kazakhstan and Ukraine) account for one-quarter of global exports and are traditionally key suppliers to north Africa and the Middle East.

10:57AM

Chart of the day: Economist's listing of top 15 natural gas resources

On the unconvential (shale): the usual list that I work with, with the addition of Russia as #3 in world.  Most experts don't talk all that much about Russia because, with all their conventional gas, there's not a great need to exploit.

But the real kicker for me in the charts is the bottom right one, which is a stunner: by 2030 the projection that gas, coal and oil all converge in the high 20s as basically equal shares in world primary energy usage.  Several stories here:

 

  • Gas displacing coal (not surprising)
  • Long slow increase in nat gas production/use
  • And then the true stunner of such a huge drop in oil (about 45% in 1970 to high 20s in 2030).

 

Fascinating stuff.

9:45AM

Time's Battleland: SYRIA When Military Intervention Makes Sense

Gideon Rachman at the Financial Times says that “diplomacy is still better than bombs” and that “moral outrage is just the starting point for a decision to intervene.”  He then goes through all the major powers in his piece Tuesday and cites reasons why each one is either holding back or holding things up. It’s one of those great ass-covering op-eds that’s supposed to make you look smart when the intervention does comes and it — gasp! — leads to more death and destruction.

Let me tell you why great powers intervene:  they don’t care about moral outrage and they don’t care about stopping the killing.  Moral outrage is a headline and nothing more, while the killing is either made faster or slower but never really “prevented.”

Great powers intervene when they can.  It’s as simple as that.  Good and bad don’t play into it.

Read the entire post at Time's Battleland blog.

12:02PM

The geo-pol argument on Russian-Iranian bond

Nifty oped in WSJ Monday on Russia's "stake in Syria and Iran" by Melik Kaylan, a "writer in New York."

Usual case made on the old Sov-era naval base in Syria (snore), but more vigorous one made on Iran being sort of geo-strategic southern plug that keeps Russian influence substantial in the Central Asian republics - as in, lose Iran and the CA Reps "escape" with all their oil and gas ("southern bottleneck"), thus loosening Russia's energy grip on Europe, etc.:

Why is Iran so central to Mr. Putin's global pretensions? Take a look at the Caspian Sea are map and the strategic equations come into relief. Iran acts as a southern bottleneck to the geography of Central Asia. It could offer the West access to the region's resources that would bypass Russia. If Iran reverted to pro-Western alignment, the huge reserves of oil and gas landlocked in Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan and the like could flow directly out to the world without a veto from Moscow . . .

At stake here is not merely the liberation of a vast landmass from the Kremlin's yoke. The damage to Russian leverage would amount to a seismic shift in the global balance of power equal to the collapse of the Warsaw Pact.

Hmm.  Had me going right up to that bit, but the argument is certainly compelling enough when you see just how much the emerging reality and future prospect of North America's energy export boom is already redrawing certain global energy market landscapes.

8:55AM

WPR's The New Rules: Assad's Ouster Best Chance to Stave off Israel-Iran Conflict

The debate among U.S. foreign policy analysts over the wisdom of an Israeli attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities -- and whether or not America should allow itself to be drawn into an ensuing conflict with Iran should Israel strike -- has largely taken place parallel to the debate over whether to pursue an R2P, or responsibility to protect, intervention in Syria. It bears noting, however, that forcing Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s departure may be the best near-term policy for the U.S. to avoid being sucked into an Israeli-Iranian war.

Read the entire column at World Politics Review.

4:38PM

Wikistrat post @ CNN-GPS: What Putin 2.0 will mean

Editor’s Note: The following piece, exclusive to GPS, comes from Wikistrat, the world's first massively multiplayer online consultancy.  It leverages a global network of subject-matter experts via a crowd-sourcing methodology to provide unique insights.

 

 

In last year’s parliamentary (Duma) elections, current Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin’s United Russia party had to stuff ballot boxes just to avoid falling too far below the 50 percent mark.  Now, as Putin presents himself to voters this Sunday as the once-and-future president, there’s clearly a bottom-up backlash brewing among the urban young and middle-class.  Will it prevent a Putin win?  Hardly.  The only uncertainty here is how far Putin’s United Russia party will have to go to ensure a respectable victory margin. Whether anyone - at home or abroad - will actually respect the process is another thing.

So, stipulating that Putin 2.0 is a given, here’s Wikistrat's weekly crowd-sourced examination of what all this may mean for Russia and the world at large.

Read the entire post at CNN's GPS blog.

10:22AM

WPR's The New Rules: A Positive Narrative for U.S. Foreign Policy

Where is the positive vision for U.S. foreign policy in this election? President Barack Obama and on-again, off-again “presumptive” GOP nominee Mitt Romney now duel over who is more anti-declinist when it comes to America’s power trajectory, with both slyly attaching their candidacies to the notion that “the worst” is now behind us. On that score, Obama implicitly tags predecessor George W. Bush, while Romney promises a swift end to all things Obama. 

Halftime in America? Indeed.

Read the entire column at World Politics Review.

9:11AM

WPR's The New Rules: The Coming War With Iran

While the debate over whether Israel will strike Iran ebbs and flows on an almost weekly basis now, a larger collision-course trajectory is undeniably emerging. To put it most succinctly, Iran won't back down, while Israel won't back off, and America will back up its two regional allies -- Israel and Saudi Arabia -- when the shooting finally starts. There are no other credible paths in sight: There will be no diplomatic miracles, and Iran will not be permitted to achieve a genuine nuclear deterrence. But let us also be clear about what this coming war will ultimately target: regime change in Tehran, because that is the only plausible solution.

Read the entire column at World Politics Review.

9:44AM

Wikistrat post @ CNN/GPS: What Comes After Chavez?

Editor’s Note: The following piece, exclusive to GPS, comes from Wikistrat, the world's first massively multiplayer online consultancy.  It leverages a global network of subject-matter experts via a crowd-sourcing methodology to provide unique insights.


This Sunday, the historically disorganized Venezuelan opposition movement is holding its first-ever presidential primary to decide upon a single candidate to challenge long-time strongman Hugo Chavez. With regional governor Henrique Capriles expected to prevail, the aging Chavez faces a younger version of himself: namely, a dynamic rising star promising to transform the political landscape. This time, however, the figure is moving it away from the heavy-handed populism initiated by Chavez after he swept into office in 1998.

Over the course of his tenure, Chavez’s pursuit of “21st century socialism” in Venezuela has propelled him to self-declared “president for life” status. Among his accomplishments are the systematic and brutal persecution of political opponents and critical journalists, the stacking of parliament with his supporters, various cash-payment programs to the voting poor to ensure his popularity, and - in a related dynamic - the general undermining (aka, looting) of the country’s primary economic engine, the national oil company known as PDVSA. Chavez has also turned Venezuela into one of the most crime-ridden nations in the world with the annual inflation averaging close to 30 percent.

Still, El Comandante has inspired copycat Chavista leaders in Bolivia, Ecuador and Nicaragua, and has reinvigorated Cuba’s communist dictatorship - all the best friends that money can buy.

But with the de facto dictator mysteriously seeking cancer care in Havana last year, widespread talk has surfaced that this election may well be Chavez’s last. Taking that hypothetical as our starting point, this week’s Wikistrat crowd-sourced analysis looks at what just might lie ahead for a post-Chavez Venezuela.  Here are five pathways to consider.

Read the entire post at CNN's GPS blog.

11:53AM

Wikistrat's chief analyst quoted in Reuters piece on cyber struggle landscape

Disagreements on cyber risk East-West "Cold War"

Fri Feb 3, 2012 11:32pm IST

LONDON - With worries growing over computer hacking, data theft and the risk of digital attacks destroying essential systems, western states and their allies are co-operating closer than ever on cyber security . . . 

But many Western security specialists say the evidence against both nations -- particularly China -- has become increasingly compelling.

"China is currently engaged in a maximal industrial espionage effort that it justifies internally in terms of a catch up strategy (with the West)," says Thomas Barnett, chief analyst at political risk consultancy Wikistrat and a former strategist for the U.S. Navy. "The key question here is: can China assume the mantle of intellectual property rights respect fast enough to avoid triggering economic warfare of the West... If it can't, then this is likely to get ugly."

Read the entire column at Reuters.

12:12PM

Wikistrat post @ CNN/GPS: How Will It End in Syria?

Editor’s Note: The following piece, exclusive to GPS, comes from Wikistrat, the world's first massively multiplayer online consultancy.  It leverages a global network of subject-matter experts via a crowd-sourcing methodology to provide unique insights.

It’s hard to gauge just how strong the Free Syrian Army really is.  It’s clearly growing in size and in its ability to control ever-widening swaths of territory.  But at the same time, Russian and Iranian guns pour into Bashar al-Assad’s government.  And Bashar al-Assad has a steely will to power.

Given the mounting tension, it’s worth thinking through exactly how regime change may unfold and what it’s consequences would mean for the region.

Wikistrat, the world’s first massively multiplayer online consultancy ran an online simulation on what could go down in Syria. Here are the results:

Read the entire post at CNN's GPS blog.