Geopolitical taboos: let's start with the "defeat" of Russia in war

(To David Rossi)
20/07/22

Summer has arrived: it's time to have fun using geopolitics, a "scientific" discipline and not a toy, mind you, for a new column: we will try to dispel some taboos that still affect our politicians, senior officials and commentators today in general. From today and throughout the summer we will face cases of which we believe we know everything, which are so obvious in appearance, that they can only be questioned by provocation but which, in fact, may not work as we think.

Let's start today with Russia: big, big and determined, is it really propaganda to call it beatable?

Let's start by saying that geopolitics - whether the simple David Rossi talks about it or whether Limes or Politico write about it - is not exactly an exact science: as in the whole sphere of social sciences, how many of us1 practicing this discipline cannot confirm or demolish a theory in the laboratory, but - at most - they are able to "deduce" from historical precedents, socio-economic statistical data or behavior - even in the laboratory - of small groups of animals or people, conclusions that are not neither reproducible nor falsifiable. This is also the case for disciplines that often, sinful of an excess of trust, we consider "scientific", such as economics, sociology, psychology, etc .: they are just as scientific as theology. This does not mean that they are emeritus nonsense: just think that theology gave the world the thought of Thomas Aquinas! However, geopolitics in its study of the relationships between physical geography, human geography and political action, often reserves - pass the term - pleasant surprises: there is no shortage of analysts who correct forecasts and studies in whole or in part.

In short, in the end we often meet scholars who are attentive to the relationship between detail and the whole, mentally flexible, serious in their judgments and conclusions, capable of analyzing according to science and conscience, but also and above all… lucky. Yes, do not be scandalized: even Napoleon claimed to prefer lucky generals to "only" good ones.

For this reason, in analyzing data, images and information coming from the war in Ukraine, we have often made use of the analysis of experts who are not only more authoritative than the writer - and it takes little - but above all have a long series of successes in predict the development of the conflict. This is the case, to give an example with a case we know well on Online Defense - of the American general Ben Hodges, about whom we have often written and whom we have also interviewed two months ago (see link).

To be believed you must first of all be credible: the fact of "seeing us along" is a clear sign of seriousness of judgment. Thus, we discover that he was right about the collapse of Russia on the northern fronts of Ukraine: in mid-March, he claimed that "The Russians are about ten days away from what is called the climax, when they simply no longer have the ammunition or personnel to support their assault" and therefore foretold its withdrawal from Kiev, Chenihiv and Sumy. Before the devastation scenes of Mariupol and Severodonetsk, we found him explaining that the Russian collapse did not mean they would not continue. "To kill innocent Ukrainians" (Editor's note) with raids from the sky and missile attacks neither to raze entire cities to the ground nor to hit the convoys of refugees, but they would no longer have "The ability to get your hands on Odessa" let alone, even by reorganizing, to take Kiev. How do you say "he did both" in English?

The general also anticipated the timing of the new Russian offensive, made possible by the delays in supplying Ukraine between April and May: at the end of April he had anticipated that the Russian forces, learning from their mistakes, would reorganize and acquire the capacity to grind the Ukrainian territory in the following two months. Bingo! Since we are not in the laboratory, having anticipated more than one event indicates that we are facing a credible analyst, even if not the only one.

I recalled Hodges: I could have cited other authoritative Anglo-Saxon military and analysts and beyond. Yes, because it is precisely in the Anglo-Saxon countries that Geopolitics experts have overcome a taboo and freely write that, according to their studies, Russia can be defeated in the war in Ukraine. In short, for them Russia is not a metaphysical entity whose military, moral and economic strength is declined only indefinitely: ultimately, it is a great country to be analyzed, not a country to be treated only with dogmas of faith.

This is not the case with us: it was enough that in recent months someone wrote that Russia could be defeated to unleash, in our little universe of geopolitics lovers, an effect equal to a stone in a chicken coop. It must be understood: often in good faith Russian leaders are listened to who, from Molotov onwards, like to affirm with great conviction that where Russian troops arrive, they no longer retreat. But this is not the case: from Afghanistan to the Kiev oblast, from Poland to Vienna, Russia has always behaved like all normal countries, not as a predestined and immutable entity.

Do not take this Russian attitude only as propaganda and threats as blatant: the Russians - as a communication and negotiation strategy - have always liked the harsh and threatening approach. On the battlefield as in negotiations at any level, for the Russians there is always a winner - who takes the stakes - and a loser, that is, a side that gives up or leaves the game. The Russians only know the force that is the force, not the moral suasion: we don't say it as an ethical judgment - God forbid, it's their culture as a young nation2, born in the sixteenth century and evolved in this sense - but as a factual observation, as an experience that anyone who deals with the Russians and not just at the state level can have.

So, if you have in mind - as a perspective of relations between Moscow and Kiev as well as between Moscow and Washington - the search for what the Anglo-Saxons call a win win situation, which is a non-zero-sum game in which all participants benefit, get it out of your head right away. Russia does not negotiate: as any entrepreneur can testify, the Russians do not even discuss the price because it would be a manifestation of weakness for them; either you can afford it or you give it up. It is obvious that they do not go around saying that they can be beaten: it is less obvious that in the West we must necessarily believe - without question - in this position and that those who say the opposite become a propagandist.

Therefore, a geopolitics analyst should not ask for permission nor should he be accused of propaganda if he argues, arguing and seriously - in science and conscience, as they say - that "Ukraine could push Russian forces back to its pre-war borders by 2023, wiping out the Russian occupation forces from its territory, because President Vladimir Putin's troops are exhausted". Yes, these are again General Hodges' words. Thus, the contrary opinion is legitimate, but it must equally be supported by reasons, not just by statements of principle. Nor is it enough to say that a state is so big (and large) that it is unparalleled: ask the Afghans what happened to the British, Soviet and American empires when they set foot there ...

I borrow an article from The National Interest, an American magazine certainly not hostile to the Kremlin, to point out that many forecasts of many commentators - so to speak, not accountable for being Ukrainian propagandists - published around the world before February 24, have proved, in the last five months , to say the least risky, precisely because they are based on judgments conditioned by… prejudices. With respect for the author and summarizing them without changing their meaning, I quote some of them by adding a brief personal comment:

  • "Russia is encouraged by America's growing inferiority in risking war with the United States and NATO in Eastern Europe": It is true that Moscow is still mired in Ukraine and the Baltic Sea has become a lake of the Atlantic Alliance.

  • "The goal of a Russian invasion is the rapid capitulation of the Ukrainian government and its military forces": objective missed and here it is better to keep quiet for the sake of peace.

  • "Before launching an invasion, Russia will likely engage in a massive cyber attack that will knock out the command, control and communications (C3) system and quickly turn Ukraine into a failed state": objective missed also because Elon Musk's satellites were enough to remedy everything apparently.

  • "Russian aerial bombardments and anti-ship missile units will consolidate Russian air and naval supremacy": not received, as Ukraine still manages to neutralize Russian aircraft, missiles and ships.

  • "Any US military intervention on behalf of Ukraine or elsewhere in Eastern Europe could spark Russian nuclear retaliation": Washington and London did not stop for this threat and Moscow did not consider destroying the world for Kiev.

  • "Western determination is unlikely to survive the images of the devastating damage inflicted by Russian forces"Conversely, the images of Bucha and Mariupol have increased the willingness to supply arms and train Ukrainians.

  • "Advanced technologies that the United States and Europe could deprive Russia of are ready to replace": on the contrary, even People's China has been careful not to guarantee supplies to the Russians.

Was the National Interest propaganda? No! This - like others of that period - was a valuable analysis, written with good pen, but a victim of the metaphysical certainty of Russia's invincibility and of Ukraine's status as a “minor habens” compared to its cluttered neighbor. Certain claims - at least until the war escalates and definitively transforms the Russians into enemies - are legitimate, but that doesn't mean they can be held up as the only true ones without trying to put in at least a wedge of support.

This is not the only prejudice about "unbeatable Russia" that we carry with us and often do not support with factual evidence. Let's think about sanctions: how many of us are sure that Western sanctions on Russia are nothing short of ineffective or only harmful to us? Yet, the same non-independent Russian media report every day news of plants stopped due to the lack of components, of entire industrial sectors that have been blocked because supplies are no longer arriving and of productions subject to a real qualitative aging to produce something instead of nothing. Thus, in Russia at least 95% of mechanical and electronic production is stopped. What about the fact that Russia has hundreds of billions of hard currency reserves protecting it? They are now unusable. Is it not by chance that we are not even looking for the effects of sanctions, convinced as we are that they are useless?

In short, let's try to clear the field of prejudices and recognize the beneficial effect of diversity of thought3 if we want to analyze reality as objectively as possible, albeit without claiming the monopoly of science - and of the last word - and remembering that in the geopolitical field, in the end, the luck - or lack of luck - of those who make a analyses.

(Next week we will open another dossier: the People's Republic of China, why define it only as an economic power and not as an aggressive political-military giant?)

1 Sorry if I speak in the plural, but I studied geopolitics in a couple of primary European universities, not at the university of life, let alone starting from sociology or psychology.

2 Young, yes: the Russian state is 229 years before the American Declaration of Independence. The Kingdom of France and the Kingdom of England are 6-7 centuries older.

3 As head of the geopolitical editorial staff, I have always left the door open to pluralism: on Online Defense there are numerous “geopolitical” articles by authors who think diametrically opposite to me.

Photo: Russian Federation MoD

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