For the last several weeks I’ve been consumed with an extensive research and writing project, which I’m looking forward to sharing soon. But I’ve also been relatively quiet because there hasn’t been much to add: the war in Ukraine lumbers on and along the same basic trajectory. Russia continues to expend resources in a war of attrition that stands to destabilize the country.
But with May 9th approaching tomorrow, I wanted to offer an update. Many have speculated that Russia may announce a full-blown war on Ukraine tomorrow, a move which could escalate violence and pull in conscripts from across Russia and its client states. The conflict may also escalate to include so-called “nazis” globally, including within NATO countries. And it’s true, some kind of escalation feels inevitable; Putin’s current approach simply isn’t sustainable. Today, US first lady Jill Biden and the band U2 are visiting Kyiv, which feels almost like a provocation to Russia. Recent reports that US intelligence has been feeding targeting data to Ukraine have made headlines, which serve to further taunt Putin. While these actions serve to diminish Russian morale, we should also expect they may enrage Putin and his inner circle.
U.S. Intelligence Helped Ukraine Strike Russian Flagship, Officials Say
May 5, 2022, 6:49 p.m. ET WASHINGTON - The United States provided intelligence that helped Ukrainian forces locate and…
Russia celebrates May 9th, the anniversary of the date on which the Red Army helped to defeat the Nazis in Berlin, annually, with a massive military parade. Of course, the celebration is based on a lie: World War II (or “The Great Patriotic War” as it has been known in Russia) was co-authored by Stalin, the victory over the Nazis was a result of the efforts of the Allies, and the Red Army notoriously raped its way across Berlin before Hitler finally shot himself on April 30, 1945. Regardless, Putin will celebrate “Victory Day” tomorrow with a massive parade and show of equipment — even if it’s just cardboard cutouts. It’s unclear what gear Russia’s military can afford to withhold from its Ukraine campaign, beset as it is with equipment and materiel shortages and ongoing destruction and sabotage of its supply chain.
What We Might Expect
Russia has ramped up its nuclear rhetoric to unprecedented levels. It has threatened to drown Britain in a radioactive tsunami set off by a nuclear warhead delivered via drone. Margarita Simonyan (or as I call her, Marge) has offered that Russia has two options: losing its Ukraine war, or embarking on “World War III.” Of the two, she sees the latter as more likely. “We’re all going to do die someday,” she offered, comfortingly.
More recently, Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Alexei Zaitsev said that recent rhetoric is overblown and that Russia will not use nuclear weapons in Ukraine, and that “there can be no winners in a nuclear war.”
The only North Star when dealing with Russia is that they can never be counted on to tell the truth, but they often give hints about what they may do. My opinion is that neither NATO or Russia wants to invoke so-called Mutually Assured Destruction, or a full global thermonuclear escalation that would end life on earth. Therefore, that will not and cannot happen. Accordingly, that possibility is of limited utility as a deterrence against Russia.
Likewise, Russia’s war isn’t just about Ukraine, it’s about creating a multi-polar world. Aleksandr Dugin, who seems to be the closest thing to the author of this war anyone can find despite protestations to the contrary, suggested today that its alliance with China is both important and mutual, and that China needs a sovereign Russia to survive. Whether this is fantasy or not doesn’t matter; if it’s informing Russian reality then it’s important to consider.
As I have said repeatedly, expect Russia to attack NATO by pulling it into a conflict space that will, from Putin’s perspective, reveal its impotence and hypocrisy — a nuclear strike on a convoy crossing the Polish border; or a conventional strike on a high-value Western target; or some other kind of cyber or infrastructure attack through a proxy like Iran or North Korea. Everything is on the table, and if Putin formally declares war tomorrow, it would be reasonable to expect more of the kinds of chaos-making many of us, myself included, expected to see accompany the February invasion but which has largely failed to materialize.
That escalation could come as soon as tomorrow, or immediately before, or some days after — it is impossible to predict. But if Putin does fail to achieve a kind of strategic “reset” for this war effort, he will certainly be facing a continuous drain of resources and a gradual slide into oblivion. Western allies are resolved in continuing to supply Ukraine with weapons and information, and that seems unlikely to change.
However they may use weapons of mass destruction, or find other ways to terrorize the West, and “shock” populations into an “anti-war” stance, led by Russia’s substantial but not overwhelming Chomskyite Fifth Column.
The US Information War
US disinfo channels suggested big shocks this week (“May 2–5”), such as the restoration of Donald Trump to the presidency. While that’s clear nonsense, the amount of chatter suggesting shocks this week in the lead up to May 9 has increased.
The Roe leak was possibly known in advance and part of an effort to destabilize; the truckers are also back, and inbound to DC. That could be a recipe for disaster.
We can probably also expect at least some effort to intimidate western populations into ending support for sending arms and supplies to Ukraine. I believe Russia overestimates this “anti-war” sentiment in the West and believes they can effectuate a “win” by cowing democracies into submission — somehow. It doesn’t matter whether that can actually work; what matters is what they think they are doing and the harm that could be wrought in the process.
We should expect kinetic activity to follow information warfare, which is advancing.
The Four Fronts of The Global Hybrid War
The war in Ukraine is a global hybrid war, and the theater of warfare spans the globe to include the US and Europe. It is a war along four fronts: traditionalism, currency, nationalism, and energy.
The current attack on ‘Roe’ advances the traditionalist front and an agenda that’s already well-underway from the Russian Orthodox Church and its allies; the World Congress of Families laid the groundwork for this with US conservatives fueling anti-abortion and anti-LGBT agendas over the last 27 years or so.
There is full frontal attack on central banks being waged in the form of gold revanchism and cryptocurrencies; I have a lengthy piece coming out on that very soon (going through final editing now.) We’re now seeing the merger of crypto fanaticism with fashwave aesthetics.
Nationalism, in opposition to globalism, is also a key front, with focus on xenophobia, borders, patriotism, and national/military identity.
And of course the future of energy is uniquely important, and we have found that much disinformation (from climate to COVID denialism) is rooted in the oil and gas industry and its tendency towards libertarian anarchocapitalism; they desire to limit regulation, taxes, any MMT-backed funding of renewables, and they aim to do it via capture of regulators and politicians.
For more understanding of the strategic underpinnings, it’s worth reading fascist theorists such as Francis Parker Yockey (Imperium), Dugin, Ilyin, Evola, Bannon, Protocols of the Elders of Zion, Griffin (The Creature from Jekyll Island), and Ron Paul (End the Fed).
These ideas are seeing their full expression in the US through the Council for National Policy, which is heir to predecessors that include the National Association of Manufacturers, the American Legion, the American Liberty League, the John Birch Society, the World Anti-Communist League, and Willis Carto’s Liberty Lobby.
On Disinformation, and What to Do About It
The Department of Homeland Security recently launched its “Disinformation Governance Board,” which is horribly named, and the rollout has been botched. While Nina Jankowicz is a qualified professional acting in good faith, she has sometimes been unnecessarily controversial. Overall though I don’t think the problem here is her, specifically, but rather how this was conceived and executed.
From my perspective this might have been better framed in several other ways, including as a matter of cognitive security, and perhaps placed directly inside CISA, and more quietly and less explicitly political-seeming. Likewise, it would have been potentially smart to involve FBI and the State Department’s Global Engagement Center as they already are doing some of this.
And ultimately, disinformation is as much a counterintelligence issue as it is a matter of digital artifacts. Arguably we have not done enough to study the sources, motives, and funding of those pushing disinformation, and because its producers do so along a Power Law curve, raising costs of specific networks of bad actors can have dramatic effects on limiting the invention and amplification of bad faith narratives.
No one should seek to limit information spread in good faith, but spreading information in bad faith with the intentions of harming society as a whole should be both hard and expensive. One valid concern that’s been raised is what happens with this Board under a far-right leaning administration, and what its tasking is even in the current context. For these reasons I think it would have been better to make this a professional counterintelligence function.
Focusing on disinformation artifacts instead of their effects on social ties and radicalization continues to be a key blindspot. We need to redirect our understanding of these phenomena in terms of how they function to erode society and make us more cultish and unruly — qualities incompatible with democracy. I have a whitepaper on that here.
Why Elon’s Buying Twitter
Elon Musk seems to be engaged in a no-holds-barred effort to try to acquire Twitter for the purposes of bending reality, to serve his mission to go to Mars; it appears that to do that he believes he needs to dismantle consensus reality and as much of USG as possible.
He and Peter Thiel, longtime “frenemies” have become increasingly close and have united around the mission of “Ad Astra Per Aspera,” where the “Per Aspera” (through hardships) part seems to be to capture the USG. Thiel’s dark money PAC that funded JD Vance’s victory yesterday is called “Per Aspera Policy.” The phrase, also the state motto of Kansas, was also likely chosen because “Per Aspera Policy” had originally been backed by Thiel to support Kris Kobach’s failed 2018 bid for Kansas governor.
WSJ reported last week that the Twitter bid was coordinated by Musk, Thiel, David O. Sacks, and Jack Dorsey, who has also adopted “to the stars” language. This is all rooted in reactionary libertarianism and longtermism, as championed by Nick Bostrom, a Musk-Thiel pal. It posits that what happens to people today is less important than the fates of all of those (including AI’s) that may come after us. Phil Torres has written two good articles on Longtermism that illustrate what Musk and Thiel seem to be up to. (Aeon; Salon)
There is little other legitimate business case for actually buying Twitter, though he may be able to effectuate a positive financial outcome that could de-risk it for him.
Fighting Tyranny Book Club, with me and Kim Scott
Last month I happened to meet New York Times bestselling author Kim Scott (Radical Candor; Just Work) and we’re excited to be teaming up to co-host the “Fighting Tyranny Book Club.” Our first book is “The Future is History: How Totalitarianism Claimed Russia” by Masha Gessen.
The Future Is History
This is an important book. Its purpose is to explain how, and why, Russia returned to a state of totalitarianism…
We’ll read the book using an e-reader app called Fable (it works on most devices), which allows participants to mark up and ask questions on an e-book, and then share an in-depth discussion via Zoom in a few weeks (timing TBA). You can join in here!
Fighting Tyranny Book Club - Fable | Stories for everyone
Featured Clubs are Book Clubs that are open to any Fable member. These are specially curated by well-known readers…
Recent Media Programs
The last few weeks have been a whirlwind. Here’s some of what’s been happening.
- Journalist Fred Clarkson joined me for an interview on my podcast, “Dave Troy Presents…” The term “Christian Nationalism” has been used to describe a broad range of religious and political belief systems in America, but we lack a detailed understanding of their belief systems and motivations. Journalist Frederick Clarkson has been bringing both nuance and clarity to the study of the interface of religion and politics in American culture. In this episode, Dave and Fred have a wide-ranging discussion about everything from the origins of the term “Christian Nationalism,” how it interfaces with concepts like Dominionism and white supremacy, and its connection to the ongoing war in Ukraine.
Dave Troy Presents: Christian Nationalism and Religion in American Politics with Fred Clarkson on…
The term "Christian Nationalism" has been used to describe a broad range of religious and political belief systems in…
- TEDxMidAtlantic hosted two programs about the situation in Ukraine. On April 6th, we were joined by noted psychology experts Bandy X. Lee, Nick Carmody, and Steve Hassan for “The Psychology of Dictatorship.” On April 7th, we hosted nuclear weapons experts Emma Belcher and Sarah Bidgood for “Nuclear Weapons and the War in Ukraine.”
The current war in Ukraine has raised critical questions about the mindset of Vladimir Putin. Many believed him to be a cold rationalist, calculating for concessions from the west. But his actions say something different — about his actual motivations, mindset, and ultimate goals. As he appears to become increasingly isolated, what do science and history tell us about how to gauge his mindset, and how he may behave? And how might insights into Putin’s mindset inform our understanding of so-called authoritarian “strongmen” more broadly? Please join us as three leading experts offer their points of view on this complicated set of topics, and we discuss your questions.
Vladimir Putin’s illegal war in Ukraine has raised the spectre of whether and how nuclear weapons might be deployed. While the use of nuclear weapons is widely considered to be “unthinkable,” and may lead to unpredictable escalation and even mutually assured destruction, we are now faced with the possibility that new, smaller tactical weapons may be used as part of a strategy to “escalate to de-escalate.” We’ll hear from nuclear weapons experts Emma Belcher and Sarah Bidgood about what’s real, what’s not, and most importantly how we can maximize the probability that nuclear weapons are never deployed.
Please Support World Central Kitchen
As mentioned above, I am co-curator and host of TEDxMidAtlantic. My partner in that endeavor is Nate Mook, who also serves as the CEO of World Central Kitchen, Chef José Andrés’ unstoppable non-profit which has gone to incredible lengths to feed people in Ukraine and throughout the region. They have repeatedly put themselves in danger (while also taking precautions) to serve others. It’s hard to imagine more heroic service.
If you would like to support Nate and his work, please consider donating to World Central Kitchen. You can also support our work on TEDxMidAtlantic (which we expect to accelerate this year to respond to the world situation), and we invited you to do so here.
We’re interested in the major historical trends that shape current events. Tips? Ideas? Drop us a line via email or Twitter DM. 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 other writing here on Medium, and my podcast series, “Dave Troy Presents,” wherever you get your podcasts.