Situation Report: Things Fall Apart, Part 2
Adjust Your OODA Loop
In air combat and 4th generation warfare there is a concept called the “OODA Loop,” which stands for “Observe, Orient, Decide, and Act.” In modern information war, the goal is to outstrip one’s ability to perform these functions— to deplete your cognitive capacity. This has been a problem for several years now, but now the time window is tightening. There will be more happening, faster than we can make sense of it (observe, orient), than ever before. And we’ll be even less able to decide and act. It’s crucial to zoom out, look at the big picture, and not be pulled into minutiae. We need to breathe and ground ourselves in truth, especially these next few weeks. We’ll continue with our analysis from yesterday, where we covered the emerging global Truck Convoy situation.
Ukraine: Worse Than War?
Ivan Krastev, a permanent fellow at the Institute for Human Sciences, wrote this week that Putin is aiming towards something “worse than war”—creating a context for destabilization of Europe. He’s got the right idea:
America and Europe aren’t divided on what Mr. Putin wants. For all the speculation about motives, that much is clear: The Kremlin wants a symbolic break from the 1990s, burying the post-Cold War order. That would take the form of a new European security architecture that recognizes Russia’s sphere of influence in the post-Soviet space and rejects the universality of Western values. Rather than the restoration of the Soviet Union, the goal is the recovery of what Mr. Putin regards as historic Russia.
In Washington and Brussels, the message has gotten through. There’s a general agreement on both sides of the Atlantic that the Kremlin, whatever it might do next, won’t stay still. Russia will not simply step back. But while Americans tend to believe that Mr. Putin needs a hot war in Ukraine to realize his grand ambitions, Europeans and presumably Ukrainians believe that a hybrid strategy — involving military presence on the border, weaponization of energy flows and cyberattacks — will serve him better.
The liminal state of being at war and not-yet at war seems to be something of a sweet-spot for Putin: a zone where reality bends but doesn’t quite break, and where fence-sitter rats scurry to take sides. Ultimately Americans and Europeans both have valid perspectives on this situation; however, at some point the Russian troops, their morale, and the mud on which they are resting will need to be addressed.
This appears to be the current timeline:
- February 7: Trucker Convoys converge on European Capitals
- February 12: Polish Trucker Convoy converges in Warsaw
- February 13: Los Angeles/Superbowl Trucker Convoy
- February 14: EU Trucker Convoys Converge on Brussels
- February 16: US Trucker Convoys Converge on Washington, D.C.
- February 20: Olympics end, “Allied Resolve” ends, Maidan 2014 anniversary
Note that the European convoy timelines have been shifting a bit, initially targeting the 7th for Brussels, which has now been pushed back to the 14th, presumably to build momentum in country capitals for the week before. This is all, of course, being heavily promoted by Russian state media also.
Following my report yesterday I heard about concerns developing in Ottawa that some trucks there may be carrying explosives and fuel. I cannot speak to the veracity of this concern, but it is definitely worth keeping in mind that with so many large vehicles moving around and a wide range of participants, we cannot rule out an admixture of coordinated terrorist activity lent cover by organically-motivated civilians — exactly as we saw on January 6th.
There are legitimate concerns that some of the trucks are connected to gardening companies that may have legal access to fertilizer. There are also apparent connections between at least one firm, Ravensbergen, and the “Warrenton Declaration,” a Christian anti-mandate pledge which many right-wing and separatist groups have supported. The Ottawa police chief, Peter Sloly, has donated to Conservative candidate Ghada Melek who has been supportive of the truckers. Sloly told CBC news that he didn’t have enough resources to contain the situation in Ottawa, and that there is no end in sight. Meanwhile activity has spread to other major Canadian cities including Edmonton, Toronto, and Vancouver.
Many people associated with this effort are now promoting both Bitcoin and Pierre Poilievre as a candidate for Canadian Prime Minister (to run against Trudeau), but he hasn’t even secured his own party’s leadership yet. Something is very bizarre and very hybrid about all this warfare.
It is now impossible to evaluate the Ukraine situation separately from this emerging networked right-wing insurgency, and undoubtedly this is exactly what Putin and his dedicated global fifth column, especially people like Mike Flynn, want and have planned. The Ukraine conflict is now, necessarily, becoming a world war because the scope is factually already global.
Will He or Won’t He?
At this point we’re really solidly past the debate phase of this and have moved on to contingency planning. Still, for a bit of last-minute indulgence in psychoanalysis, there are some good pieces worth reading:
- Anne Applebaum, on why Putin would risk war
- Richard Haass, on why Putin doesn’t really have the upper hand
- Edward Lucas, on bolstering NATO’s presence in the Baltic states
- David Ignatius, on how Biden and NATO are standing up to Russia
I also want to specifically call out Graham Allison’s analysis of the growing bonds between Russia and China. It’s a good nuts-and-bolts overview of the current state of alignment between the two countries. I’ve had a chance to talk extensively with him in the past and think he gets this right. Of course, Putin met with Xi on Thursday as part of his attendance at the Beijing Olympics. Trump also underlined the post-olympic timing at a rally this week and suggested that Taiwan would be in play also. (How does he know this, or more importantly, why is he saying it?)
Michael Kofman makes a very good set of observations in this thread, namely that Russia has nearly entirely de-militarized its interface with China, suggesting a kind of modern non-aggression pact between Putin and Xi. This suggests that Xi may also make moves on Taiwan in coordination with Putin’s moves in Ukraine and elsewhere. Elsewhere? Well, it does seem as though Russian state media is trial ballooning taking action in the Baltic states too via the venerable Suwalki Gap between Belarus and Poland, onward to Kaliningrad—or as I prefer to call it, Königsberg.
On False Flags
US intelligence this week released intelligence suggesting that Russia was in the process of creating a staged, filmed attack, complete with actors and props and sets, to insinuate a casus belli for its planned invasion of Ukraine. They’ve done this sort of thing many times before, in Chechnya, Georgia, and Estonia.
Kate Starbird reminds us that claims of “false flags” are persistent in the conspiracy community because they help create doubt about what’s real and what’s not, and in a classic use of projection, make it possible for such attacks to be utilized with plausible deniability. Bottom line is that Russia is and will be using false pretenses to advance their objectives and we should just expect it, even though they will try to make it sound kinda crazy.
What May Happen Next
We’ll start to see rapid context shifts that will be difficult to parse in real time. Here’s some of what’s being anticipated:
- Russia will need a way to pay its troops even in the event of major communications disruptions. Such a system was recently tested in the context of Russian-Belarusian military exercises.
- Russia will need a way to survive the imposition of sanctions. They have been working on this for a number of years, as described here in the NY Times.
- Russia may wish to disconnect completely from the internet to shield itself from cyberattacks. They have been working on testing that scenario for a number of years.
- The Financial Times reports that Russia plans to host a “nuclear exercise to warn the west over Ukraine” this month. The exact timing is not yet certain.
- US intelligence assesses a large death toll for Ukraine and Russia in the event of a full-blown invasion, one that would send thousands of refugees into Europe, likely strengthening Putin’s fifth column parties.
- Expect massive amounts of online chatter (or FUD, really) aiming to push western investors into cryptocurrency assets during possible financial turmoil. This is designed to destabilize us and functions in the exact opposite manner of “war bonds.” A good response would be to disallow transactions of dollars into crypto assets.
- Expect Russian assets in London and other western playgrounds to be targeted for seizure. This is an effective deterrence as the only point of making money in Putin’s Russia is to be able to spend it elsewhere.
- Expect ongoing cognitive assault. We are going through now what people in Ukraine went through in 2014. One of Putin’s principal information warfare and propaganda masters is Vladislav Surkov. I recommend everyone read this short story he wrote, “Without Sky,” and understand that this warfare is immersive, theatrical, and without limit. It will move faster than we can react, it will be extra-institutional, it will be personal, and your brain is a primary target. No society can be motivated towards any goals if its people are divided, confused, angry, and scared. Expect all of that and more. Slow down, breathe, sleep, and ground yourself in truth. We can get through this. From Without Sky:
This was the first non-linear war. In the primitive wars of the nineteenth, twentieth, and other middle centuries, the fight was usually between two sides: two nations or two temporary alliances. But now, four coalitions collided, and it wasn’t two against two, or three against one. It was all against all.
And what coalitions they were! Not like the earlier ones. It was a rare state that entered the coalition intact. What happened was some provinces took one side, some took the other, and some individual city, or generation, or sex, or professional society of the same state — took a third side. And then they could switch places, cross into any camp you like, sometimes during battle.
- Western intelligence is starting to move faster to expose operations before they happen, or as Gen. Breedlove has said, “at threat speed.” This is incredibly important. The more things can be exposed and detailed before we’re reacting to them (pull them inside our OODA loops), the better. It saves cognitive capacity for more important activity we don’t yet know about.
- Politicians (and brands and celebrities) will all be taking sides. We’ve seen that AOC and Ben & Jerry’s have come out in favor of “Appease-mint,” as it were. Some of these people are Putin fifth columnists, some are just useful idiots. We don’t know right now, necessarily. Either way, call them out. Deterrence is not bellicose. Deterrence is peace. Always remember it.
- Expect symmetry in hybrid warfare between Ukraine, Russia, and the west. If there are bomb threats in Russia, expect bomb threats here at HBCUs and elsewhere. The entire world is now part of the war theater, so don’t expect war activity to be confined to war territory.
Around the Web
- Monday February 7 at 6–8pm ET: Monique Camarra will host a Twitter Spaces session on the current situation. I’m going to try to stop in and say hi too. Please join us!
- Tuesday February 8 at 12pm ET: Join Terrell Jermaine Starr in conversation with Bill Browder about Ukraine, Russia and the Magnitsky Act, via Twitter Spaces.
- The Atlantic Council hosted a good session with Gen. Wesley Clark and Gen. Phil Breedlove, both former supreme commanders of NATO, last week that is well worth watching. I recommend checking it out!
- A shout out to my good friends Nate Mook and José Andrés of World Central Kitchen, who have been doing amazing work this week in Tonga helping to feed people in need after the volcanic eruption there. If you can spare a few dollars for a donation, please consider sending one their way.
- Lastly, pour one out for Maj. Gen. Jack Singlaub, who died this week aged 100. One of the original Jedburgh OSS soldiers, he went on to both fame and infamy for his roles in founding the CIA, his eventual recall by Jimmy Carter, and his enthusiastic mentoring of the world’s most execrable living traitor, Lt. Gen. Michael T. Flynn. It’s hard to say when Singlaub’s brain broke, but he has not been a good influence on current affairs for quite some time.
Michael Flynn Is Still at War
The general tried to persuade Donald Trump to use the military to overturn the 2020 election. A year later, he and his…
- And speaking of Michael Flynn, do check out the extensive profile by Robert Draper in this weekend’s New York Times Magazine, which includes this peerless sentence:
All of this is bewildering to some of those who knew Flynn in his former life, as a celebrated intelligence officer in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, and watched his spectacular fall from grace with bafflement and regret. It is as if Flynn has managed to burrow his way from a Beltway graveyard into a subterranean afterlife, where he has been welcomed by a Trumpian demimonde that deified him at first sight.
On that note, I’m out for now; there’s plenty more where that came from but we’ll save it for next time. Stay strong, stay away from crypto, support your community and your country. We’ll get through this. And credit to Chinua Achebe, from whom I borrowed this week’s theme. (And yeah, he was quoting Yeats, whom I also quoted a few weeks back. Everybody gets a turn. 😊)
We’re interested in the major historical trends that shape current events. Tips? Ideas? Drop us a line via email or Twitter DM. Please note: this analysis is historical and political in nature; it is not intended as financial advice and should not be taken as such. If you enjoy my work, please consider making a donation to World Central Kitchen, to support their work feeding people in times of need.
For an even deeper dive, check out my series, The Big History Behind January 6th and my audio series Oil, Gold, Crypto, and Fascism: How We Got Here and How to Fix It.