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by John Helmer, Moscow 

In war, exaggeration is a killer. In the media, exaggeration is a bestseller. In the current war there is a dearth of military and political analysts who for truth or money will tell the difference.

Instead, when the mentality of the war fighters is a combination of racial superiority and spetsnaz derring-do, what you get is the conviction that with one more brilliant operation and one more super-weapon, victory can be snatched from every indicator of defeat because the adversary will be persuaded to accept negotiations as he loses his nerve.

This is the meaning of the Anglo-American publicity which burst over the long Bank Holiday and Memorial Day weekend, as summer campaigning began in earnest for the July and November elections in the UK and US — with the incumbent in the former running 21 points behind,  and the incumbent in the latter trailing on an approval margin of minus-16 points.  

The Reuters propaganda agency, based in New York, is claiming to have found four Russians from “a senior level in the political and business worlds” to be talkative about what they say they know of the Kremlin’s end-of-war plans. “[President Vladimir] Putin can fight for as long as it takes, but Putin is also ready for a ceasefire – to freeze the war… Putin would, however, be ready to settle for what land he has now and freeze the conflict at the current front lines, four of the sources said. ‘Putin will say that we won, that NATO attacked us and we kept our sovereignty, that we have a land corridor to Crimea, which is true,’ one of them said, giving their own analysis.”

With just one more successful push from the Ukrainian side, Reuters and its four Russians believe, Putin will agree to give up his war.  This push,  which the western media have been amplifying this week,  is the drone attacks on Russian radar stations for early warning of nuclear missile attack at Armavir, Krasnodar, and Orsk, Orenburg.

  Although Russian military sources claim these attacks were pinpricks, and the second of them was shot out of the sky before detonation, western media are reporting that it is now the battle strategy of the US, the British, and the Ukrainians to provoke Putin into retaliation, crossing the red line of tactical nuclear warfare. That’s a red line, the allies are calculating, which Putin would rather negotiate end-of-war terms than cross.

A retired Moscow military analyst warns against the exaggeration, not of the attacks themselves, but of Putin’s power to decide end-of-war terms over the opposition of the General Staff and the new Defense Ministry. “It is obvious the Ukrainians have had a string of successful breakthroughs,” the source acknowledges, “– against ships, airfields, refineries, and now this radar site. We also understand it is not the Ukrainians: all target selection, identification, guidance, and the hardware are American or European. Where the command control of these launch sites is, we do not know but it might well not be in Ukraine.”

“But the Russian response will not be nuclear. That is impossible. There are a thousand options between doing nothing and going nuclear, and we can be sure the General Staff are working on all of them. So when people say this is provocation for a nuclear strike and that [Ukrainian President Vladimir] Zelensky is provoking it, we understand that, first, NATO planners know Putin will not go nuclear because he and his generals are too rational and sane. And second, Zelensky is not the one making the provocations. So the real red line now is not the nuclear arms provocations from the NATO side. That’s a fantasy of theirs. Just so, in response, I think it’s time Putin stops making threats and strikes at the source of these operations.”

When desperate weakness triggers battlefield fantasies, call this the Popski Syndrome.

Popski was the call sign and unit nickname assigned by the British Army headquarters in Cairo to a tiny unit of behind-the-lines special forces operating against the Italian and German armies in the Libyan deserts from late in 1941 until September 1943, when the war moved on to Italy, taking Popski with it. Popski’s unit numbered 24 men to start in Libya; in Italy, by the war’s end, it had reached 80.  

Vladimir Peniakoff was Popski, born to wealthy Jewish Russians who fled the Revolution to install their aluminium business and themselves in Belgium, then the UK.  With London publisher Jonathan Cape, Peniakoff imagined he could turn his small guerrilla war in the Libyan and Tunisian deserts into something approaching the bestsellerdom of the Seven Pillars of Wisdom, T.E.Lawrence’s story of the war of the Arabian peninsula tribes against the Turks between 1916 and 1918; first published in 1926.

Only Peniakoff’s wisdom turned out to be a combination of cynical racism towards his Arab allies; fondness for his German enemies; and exaggerated self-importance in commando or special forces operations, whose strategic rationale Peniakoff accepted enthusiastically without a second thought. But that thought does appear in the very last lines of the book after “Popski’s Private Army” — as it was called at the time,  and on the book jacket  — had manipulated, then betrayed the Libyan Arab and Berber tribes; promoted General Bernard Montgomery’s reputation for military genius;  and drew the tender ministrations of New Zealand and Canadian girls working in the rear casualty hospitals where Peniakoff lost first a finger and then his left hand.

Left. Vladimir Peniakoff’s book;    Right: Peniakoff (front) in action. At first establishment in March 1942 Peniakoff’s Popski’s Private Army (PPA) comprised 24 men, including Peniakoff. Most of the troops were Libyan Arabs. According to Peniakoff, he told a conference of sheikhs of the Obaidi tribe: “My Government wants your help, and they want to help you…I told them that my Government had solemnly undertaken never  to let their country come again under Italian rule  after the victorious  conclusion of the war.” This was a cynical lie. At the Potsdam Conference of the US, UK, and Soviet leaders in July 1945, the British and Americans were so nervous at the rise of the Communist Party in Italy, and of the parallel rise of Arab nationalism in Libya, Tunisia and Algeria, they offered to restore Italy’s colonial administration in Libya until Stalin insisted on a Soviet trusteeship of the territory to prepare the Libyans for independence. This story has been told in The Jackals’ Wedding, American Power, Arab Revolt – Chapter 7.  A new history of Libya based on the records of the Obaidi tribe is being prepared. Popski’s betrayal of the Obaidi was the common Anglo-American policy in Libya until Muammar Qaddafi’s revolution of September 1, 1969.

Peniakoff’s last lines describe himself in his jeep in the train of a British cavalry unit on an Austrian alpine road crowded with German troops begging to surrender before the Russian Army, advancing a few kilometres away,  caught up with them. Peniakoff, who could also speak fluent Russian, Arabic, French, Italian, and German,   was stopped in the road by “the mass of a tank ahead of me, covered with a red Soviet flag.” According to Peniakoff, the tank commander “delivered a speech. He ended: ‘There is nothing that can destroy our solidarity’.”

Peniakoff doesn’t report what he told the Russian in reply at the time. Instead, he concludes his book with this rumination and threat. “‘The war was over’, I thought, ‘I might now well see to that’.”  This was Peniakoff’s personal fantasy of continuing his war-fighting. But there was no role for him, or the 80 men his unit had grown to in Italy, to play as lightly armed demolition raiders against the Red Army.  

It didn’t occur to him that in his three years of fighting in Arab North Africa, then Italy, he had betrayed, not only the Obaidi tribesmen of Libya, but also the Italian Communist and Socialist partisans who had fought with him, also on his post-war promises. Turning his back on them, Peniakoff was ready to go to war with Moscow until a brain tumour stopped him in 1951, the year after he had published his story.

But the Anglo-American idea of war with Russia is alive and kicking this week, as it’s the Ukrainian troops who are running away from the advance of the Russian Army.

The idea of Popski’s Private Army against Russia which Peniakoff was gung-ho to fight is now on the edge of nuclear attacks – first by Ukrainian artillery on the Zaporozhye nuclear power plant, and since that has failed to generate a radioactive explosion,   drone attacks on Russian radar stations at Armavir and Orsk whose job it is to detect nuclear armed missile launches and trigger Russian nuclear retaliation.

Post-attack pictures of the damage at the Armavir radar station in Krasnodar.  Russian military assessment of the drone attack is in marked contrast to the hype of western reporting. "We may be talking about partial shrapnel damage to the high-voltage power lines of the transceiver modules. At the same time, the blocks of transceiver modules themselves (together with amplifiers, phase shifters and cooling circuits) could receive minimal damage, as indicated by the absence of traces of direct hits from drones into active antenna arrays. Considering the modular design of Voronezh-DM (and all stations of this type), we can expect a prompt restoration of the complex and its return to combat duty… The station serves as a means of monitoring ballistic missile launches at a distance of 6 thousand km and also detects high-altitude hypersonic aerodynamic means of aerospace attack. What kind of drone could be used to attack the radar? Initially, it was believed that for the strike on Voronezh-DM, the Main Intelligence Directorate simulated a complex low-altitude flight route for drones of the Lyuty or UJ-26 Beaver type, skirting the radar viewing sectors of the Russian Aerospace Forces anti-aircraft missile systems. However, later information appeared that British-Portuguese Tekever AR3 drones were used for the strike. Interestingly, this drone is designed using VTOL (vertical take-off) technology and could be deployed near the radar, probably several kilometres away. However, launch from the territory of Ukraine is not excluded. To build routes bypassing air defence systems, reconnaissance information from the US Air Force RQ-4 Global Hawk drone could be used. Let us recall that for several months now the focus of attention of the US Air Force RQ-4B data has been shifted specifically to the Krasnodar Territory, as can be seen from the flight route. What conclusion can be drawn? The strike on the Armavir station (and a likely attempt to hit another Voronezh-type radar 25 km from Orsk) may be part of a single operation to inflict painful media attacks. The use of British-Portuguese drones in this case may be the fundamental point since it is the British who are considered the ‘architects’ of many GUR [Ukrainian military intelligence] actions: attempts to land in Crimea and other campaigns in which the planned result was never achieved.”  

A veteran US military observer is not sanguine about the rationality of the US and British officers directing Ukrainian operations. He warns that the British, and also the CIA, have an inordinate faith in special operations to turn the tide, and in their own cleverness to think them up. “What we’re seeing — with Israel, too,” according to this source, “is years of impunity resulting in an epic, murderous tantrum that’s having the opposite of its intended effect. It’s certainly not beyond either of them to play nuclear chicken. Most people would say that if you do that, you’re insane. But they think a special operation playing nuclear chicken with the Russians is clever, potentially effective.”

“And so I think there’s going to be a nuclear war. The people who run things in the West have made up their minds that if they can’t rule, there will be nothing to rule. I guess we must figure now whether British and Ukrainian madness will prevail over US cowardice.”

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