By John Helmer, Moscow
There ought to be a law, or at least a sanction – tenure cancelled, travel visa blocked – for American experts on Russia who claim to know from their reading of other American experts on Russia why Russia does things, and what will happen next.
Thane Gustafson, a Georgetown University professor publishing at the Harvard University Press, claimed very recently “it’s not too hard to reconstruct at this point what was likely going through Putin’s mind as he gave the order to attack…Putin was not nuts, not deranged, not isolated, etcetera. It was all a reasonable bet—by his strange lights—except that every one of the premises turned out to be wrong.” Gustafson is certain he knows this; how he doesn’t say.
But then Gustafson concedes: “All the cards are up in the air, and who knows how they will come down…I don’t know how this ends.”
There’s modest uncertainty for you — except that Gustafson is kidding. He wants you to know, he also says, that Russia is now a fascist state, and there’s really only one thing left he doesn’t know: because it’s such an effective fascist state, “the fact is that because of the regime’s control of information, we have very little idea of how Russians actually feel about the war, and how they will react to Putin’s apparent defeat.”
Gustafson didn’t notice he was squatting on the horns of a dilemma. If Russian regime control of information is so total(itarian), Gustafson’s information must come from the other side – American, Canadian, British, NATO headquarters in Brussels. The technical terms which professors usually apply to information emanating from one side of a two-sided war are misinformation, disinformation, propaganda, active measures, fake news, lies. Between these things and the information Gustafson says he’s sure of, he has trolled himself.
So, to repeat the question, what if Russians actually support the war and blame the US for starting it? What if they are as certain of this as Gustafson is certain Putin started it?
And what if the war ends in the US and NATO alliance retreat to Lvov; after which the Polish government will notify NATO HQ it is reviving its treaty claim to the Galician territory of the Ukraine; the chancellery in Berlin will then inform Brussels it requires the return of the ancient Danzig Corridor and Breslau, Polish territories currently called Gdansk, Wroclaw, and the Ziemie Odzyskane; and the Hungarian government will follow suit with the announcement of the recovery of historical Kárpátalja (Transcarpathia), the Zarkarpatska oblast of the Ukraine?
These were the spoils of the World War II settlement between the US and the Soviet Union in 1945-46. The territorial reversion claims aren’t new. What is new is that the US and the NATO alliance, plus the Galician regime still ruling between Kiev and Lvov, also in Ottawa, have aimed to change the terms of the post-war settlement by continuing the war eastward on to the territory of Russia itself, all the way to regime change in Moscow.
That is what Russia says it is fighting now to defend itself against. As Russian officials have been hinting in recent days, the foreign and defence ministries and the intelligence services are currently discussing in the Kremlin Security Council whether Russia’s long-term security on its western front may be best served by terms of a Ukrainian settlement in which the German, Polish, and Hungarian territorial claims are recognised.
So, if these are indeed the cards that are up in the air, as the professor in Washington, DC, acknowledges, he isn’t the only one who doesn’t know how they will come down.
In the meantime he and the Harvard printers want their new book to be a weapon in this war, targeted directly at President Vladimir Putin in the Kremlin. But what if the weapon misfires and they lose this war? Will Gustafson admit his ignorance or his mistake or his deception? Should he resign his professorship? Should Harvard pulp the new book? Or is the state in which Gustafson lives and lectures such an effective fascist state, losing the war against Russia to Germany, Poland and Hungary, minus the Ukraine, plus Russia, won’t matter to US officials any more than losing Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, and Syria?
Gustafson’s book is titled Klimat, Russia in the Age of Climate Change. This is climate change as a war weapon – not the science of global warning, but the idea that because of it, Russia in general, Putin in particular, are doomed to collapse. “Climate change is not the cause of these problems. It is a catalyst. Through the internal and external costs it will increasingly impose on Russia, it will precipitate the end of Russia’s hydrocarbon model, while denying it the revenues and resources it will need to bring about change.”
Gustafson issued an update of his assessment in an interview with a former PhD student of his in The Atlantic in April: “At the time I wrote the book—and even as recently as two months ago—it looked as though the Russian ‘gas bridge’ to Europe would still survive for another decade, but would then gradually decline, and that applies to oil and coal as well as gas. But now the future of Russian gas in Europe suddenly looks doomed.”
Putin is to blame, Gustafson claims, because he has invested in military spending but “has not yet succeeded in developing a world-class new generation of weapons and space vehicles, except mainly as prototypes for display in parades…. Military power ultimately depends on economic and technological strength. In these respects, Russia is already a declining power.”
Gustafson’s explanation for Russia’s fate is that Putin refuses to “empower this new generation” – that’s the one which Gustafson says “reformers never tire of speaking of”.
Russian oil has no future, the book reports. “Russia is squeezed between the threat of lower production and higher costs at home, and the prospect of lower oil demand and lower prices abroad. The first has little to do with climate change; the second is increasingly driven by it as the developed world moves toward decarbonisation”.
Accelerating “decarbonisation”, and depriving Russia of what Gustafson calls the “third narrative – slower [decarbonisation] for longer” by US sanctions, will prevent Russian deep-water exploration for oil and other advanced technologies. Embargoing Russia’s oil and gas cargoes, the export pipelines and tankers from delivering to the European market, Gustafson implies, will be doing Mother Nature’s work for Russia faster than She can manage – and incidentally boosting the “reformers” in their campaign to change the regime and replace Putin.
In passing, Gustafson refers to US economic warfare against Russia; he doesn’t mention the US campaign to stop the Nord Stream-2 gas pipeline at all.
He concedes that if Russian oil revenues can be made to shrink by the combination of Mother Nature and the Office for Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) at the US Treasury, the offsetting growth of gas production and exports to Asia “will face growing competition from rival suppliers and ultimately from renewables. As a result, revenues from [Russia’s] exports to Asia will not be enough to offset the decline in Europe”. Encouraging or compelling both China and India to cut their oil and gas imports from Russia – in parallel with the European campaign – is also US war strategy; so is boosting substitute deliveries from US allies Australia and Qatar, and from the US itself. Gustafson keeps calling this “decarbonisation”.
In this war for “decarbonisation”, according to Gustafson’s plan, Russian coal and nuclear energy exports will also be defeated. “Russian coal strategy faces two opposing prospects over the next decade: on the one hand, the inexorable shrinkage of the European market…combined with stagnation at home; and on the other, the rapid but temporary growth of the Asian market, followed by a slow but terminal decline.” As for the prospects for Russia’s nuclear power trade – exports of reactor technology, of enriched uranium fuel, etc. – Gustafson acknowledges “the real question is whether Russia will be able to compete with China’s increasingly aggressive export policy.” Killing Rosatom’s international trade by sanctions hasn’t been decided yet, neither in Washington nor in Brussels, but it is coming; it is already policy in Sweden and Finland.
Inexorable is the Gustafson word, and he repeats it in his book; it means a process that cannot be stopped or changed, more relentless than Mother Nature even. But Gustafson’s book is an expurgated version of the US and NATO war plan against Russia. This war isn’t inexorable; it can be defended against; the plan can also be defeated; likewise, sanctions as a weapon of this war aren’t inexorable. In Gustafson’s book the way to make sure Russia can’t defend itself in war is to replace Putin by what Gustafson calls “the reformers”. In his book, as in the war plan, climate change is a euphemism for regime change by other means.
Gustafson’s book has been endorsed by the New York Review of Books as the justification for the US-led embargo on Russian exports of oil and gas. “If one views the Russo-Ukrainian war as a matter of energy politics,” the review admits, “there are clear material as well as historical, political, and cultural reasons for Ukraine’s victimization… Gustafson [gives] a dry but persuasive marshaling of facts that in the redistribution of wealth and power that will result from climate change, Russia is doomed. After reading Klimat, Russia’s attack on Ukraine begins to look like the convulsion of a dying state… The scientists, activists, and businesspeople who might help Russia cope with climate change are also among those likely to emigrate. Klimat’s time horizon of 2050 is short, but Putin’s is even shorter: he is now almost seventy years old. After him will come the deluge, the wildfires, the droughts, the collapse.”
Gustafson’s weapon is even more powerful than Greta Thunberg (lead image) the New York Review declares. “Russia’s days of hydrocarbon-funded might are numbered. Unfortunately, the end of this era will not come soon enough for Ukrainians, or for the planet ”
This makes powerful reading. Where does the evidence come from?
According to the record Gustafson makes himself in 85 pages of his notes, references, and index – that’s 27% of his 312-page book – he has met and interviewed no senior executive from the Russian oil, gas and coal companies; none of them, and no official from the supervising government ministries, have talked to him.
Rosneft, LUKoil, Gazprom, Novatek, and the other publicly listed Russian energy companies have all identified more than a dozen analysts working for the leading investment banks in the world who have specialized in their coverage of the companies’ business; many of these banks are US corporations with offices a stone’s throw away from Gustafson. They communicate regularly with the Russian companies. Not one of them has been contacted by Gustafson; not one of their reports has been cited by him.
Like the banks, the US-based ratings companies – Moody, Standard & Poor, and Fitch – have regularly analysed and reported on the Russian energy sector and each one of the companies Gustafson claims to know, whose future he claims to be able to forecast. But Gustafson hasn’t read a single one of their reports; he doesn’t mention them. The Russian company prospectuses, the banks identified as financing them, and the international law firms which have represented them also appear to have been left in the dark by the professor — and they him.
It is the same black hole in Gustafson’s treatment of the Russian metals companies which consume the most energy in the domestic economy; emit the largest volumes of CO2 (plus other pollutants); and dominate the world markets for their exports. He explicitly mentions Norilsk Nickel and Rusal (Russian Aluminium); but again, he has talked to none of their executives or spokesmen, nor the international bank analysts who know their business plans and who make their living predicting their future financial results. Here are the big ten analysts of Nornickel; Rusal lists nineteen of them. Half of the Nornickel analysts also cover Rusal. Their telephone numbers and email addresses are publicly displayed. Gustafson didn’t make a call.
How does such ignorance — methodically footnoted and bibliographed — justify either the analyses of fact or the predictions of the future which Gustafson serves up?
One answer can be found in the telltale index. Counting pages per name, Putin comes first; next comes Anatoly Chubais, the Russian government official closest to the US Government; Gustafson introduces him in phrases from twenty-five years ago – “the best known of the Russian liberal reformers” and “the father of Russian privatization”.
Gustafson says he depends on Chubais for his understanding of Russian policy views on nuclear energy, renewable energy sources like solar and wind, and investment strategy for high technology modernization. More, he writes, “over the past forty years Chubais has been the most significant figure in the history of Russia’s post-Soviet transformation into a market economy…as the head of the Russian electricity monopoly, United Power Systems (UES), where he fought and largely won – a bitter decade-long battle for the radical restructuring of the power sector… he founded Rusnano, a visionary new state-sponsored start-up charged with developing next-generation nanotechnologies…Now in his mid-sixties, his innovative verve is undiminished, and he has lately reinvented himself yet again, as the would-be father of Russian sun and wind…Chubais has led the way for his view of Russia’s future.”
In mid-March Chubais hurriedly left Russia, flying first to Turkey, then to a villa on the Ligurian coast of Italy, then to Tel Aviv. This month he has been photographed with his wife and bodyguards in Limassol, Cyprus. The Rusnano grand larceny scheme for which Chubais is now under prosecutors’ investigation in Moscow involves over-valuation of the holding’s portfolio, boosted by bank loans beyond repayment capacity, and skimmed into salary, bonuses, personal real estate, and offshore bank accounts. The only Russian investigator not to have opened the Chubais corruption file is Alexei Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation (FBK).
This is so far removed from the evidence of the Russian abuse of power and fraud investigations; the London, New York, California court records; the US, Swiss and Cyprus money laundering and asset tracks; and now the prosecution of the grand larcenies of Rusnano, Gustafson’s assessment of Chubais has to be judged the subliminal message of the book – his endorsement for what Chubais has represented in Washington from the beginning, the US candidate for Kremlin regime change, camouflaged this time round by global warming science, solar panel arrays, and wind turbines. For the evidence on Chubais, start by clicking here.
Chubais’s well-known protégé and successor, Alexei Kudrin, is identified by Gustafson as the sole Russian official whom Gustafson credits for standing up against the oil and metals oligarchs. In the evidence file this is demonstrably false. Gustafson notwithstanding: “Kudrin restored Russia’s finances, which had disintegrated under Gorbachev and Yeltsin. He paid off Russia’s external debts, balanced the budget, reformed the tax system, and created a rainy-day fund to store Russia’s revenues. His resolutely conservative policy has been faithfully continued his successor as minister, Anton Siluanov, and under Putin’s new prime minister, Mikhail Mishustin…With one ear, Putin listens to the oil industry; with the other he listens to the Ministry of Finance.”
“Where do Putin’s ideas on climate change come from?” Gustafson asks at the start of his book. This is how he answers – and so confident is Gustafson, he and his Harvard publisher haven’t thought it appropriate to double-check with any of the obvious experts. Instead, Gustafson acknowledges his sources among Russia warfighters like Harley Balzer, Peter Reddaway, and Angela Stent. “The first full-length exploration of Russia both as a prime source and a victim of climate change. Anyone interested in…Russia’s future should read this data-rich and gracefully written book”, says Timothy Colton on the dust jacket blurb. Identified inside the book as Gustafson’s personal friend, Colton is a Harvard professor who has doubled as a US Navy spy.
After Chubais and Kudrin, the two Russian government officials whom Gustafson also endorses are Sergei Kirienko (left) whose appointment to run Rosatom Gustafson calls “an inspired move”; and Alexander Novak (right), whom Gustafson reports as “a reform-oriented financial expert…an able and experienced hand in a top spot”. Kirienko is now deputy chief of the Kremlin staff and the only senior member of that staff whom the US has not sanctioned. Novak is now the deputy prime minister for the energy sector and one of the few senior officials in the sector not sanctioned.
In place of the history of escalating US sanctions since 2014, Gustafson leaves a gaping hole. These are “climate-related”, he acknowledges. That they have materialized at all is by Russia’s fault, not by US and NATO plan. They were “imposed”, in Gustafson’s interpretation, “by the United States and the European Union in the wake of the 2014 seizure of Crimea and Russia’s role in eastern Ukraine”.
Sanctions are also inexorable – indeed, they must remain in place if the Russian oil and gas industries are to be deprived of the investment and technology required – Gustafson thinks – for the “slow transition scenario” for improving Siberian oilfield yields and opening the Arctic seabed oilfields. “The fast-transition scenario would clearly be highly unfavourable”, Gustafson concedes to be the strategic rationale for sanctions, but he avoids admitting it is part of his inexorable Klimat plan.
Inexorable in this new book means that Russia will be defeated and destroyed if the US plan succeeds. In the bowdlerized version of the plan, headlined this week in the Murdoch press, Mother Nature, the Green Party in Berlin, and Greta Thunberg are joining hands with NATO and on the battlefields of the Ukraine they will achieve “the inevitable result”.
If this is what Gustafson and the Harvard printers call inexorable, and the Times of London inevitable, is it any wonder that genuine climate science should be discredited in Russia first of all; China next; and then in the rest of the world?
NOTE: Gustafson makes a side living as a director of a commercial consulting business called Cambridge Energy Research Associates (CERA), which is owned by IHS Markit, a New York-listed conglomerate currently worth $4 billion. IHS has merged with S&P Global, owner of the Standard & Poor’s rating agency. CERA sells Gustafson’s material to a confidential list of clients including commercial energy companies, US government agencies, and NATO governments. It claims to have a Moscow office.