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Ukraine and the NGO Archipelago
Western oligarchs funded an ecosystem of influence in order to pull Ukraine into Europe, setting it on a collision course with Russia. Plus: Epic shredding from McLaughlin, DiMeola and DeLucia.
I’ve half-written several pieces on the unfolding Ukraine crisis—mostly as I see things through the lens of the information warfare business in the West—but my posts on Twitter might be the best place to get quick analysis on it, alongside everything else. The effectiveness of writing think-pieces at all about fast-developing stories is now an open question; the old TLDR (“Too Long, Didn’t Read”) dynamic seems to’ve been replaced by, simply, DR.
Even for Americans who, rightly, are opposed to US government involvement in the conflict, the Ukraine issue is massive knot of nearly every important concern: energy, economy, foreign policy, communications and censorship, the end of American hegemony, the Deep State, the limits of knowing, etc. All those intersections are fertile ground for pundits and analysts and citizens to consider.
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Most of all, I’ve been alarmed at the predictable onslaught of one-sided propaganda and over-the-top lies coming from Western outlets, and the totalizing moral panic that discourages sober thought about the conflict. Putin’s Russia was certainly the aggressor—but American media from Fox to CNN and NBC supply an airbrushed narrative, a black-and-white morality tale. Not only is the truth in this conflict a shade of gray—but the implications are, as well.
Like BLM, Covid, and other the media and politicians of both parties have locked arms around a consensus. Allegiance to the the narrative must come before independent thought, which brings with it the possibility of questioning that narrative. Dissenters—heck, even questioners—have been shouted down and called, “traitors.”
The agitprop is so thick because Ukraine is ground zero for an ecosystem of influence that, for about a decade, has been able to wield tremendous consensus-making power within the American and western foreign policy community. Influencing the public and policy debate on Ukraine and Russia is precisely what this ecosystem was built to do.
Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, Ukraine has been a cash machine for western oligarchs. With a very low standard of living and rampant corruption, the country was the perfect place for the very wealthy to make a buck. Unlike Eastern Europe, which had gotten far more expensive by then, Ukraine was a relative badland; pennies-on-the dollar investments in Ukrainian business and infrastructure would produce a windfall if the country moved towards NATO and the European Union.
In 2014, the western-backed Maiden uprising was a Color Revolution regime change effort in order to ensure this glide-path toward NATO and the EU would continue. But that’s only half the battle; the effort required the commitment of American policymakers who would push it aggressively from within the world’s most powerful government, as well.
Western oligarchs invested in Ukraine funded a massive infrastructure of information and influence operations I often refer to as the “NGO Archipelago.” These non-governmental organizations serve many functions in an information war: as a network of experts who interface and consult with governments or media, influencers, academics, lobbyists, muckraking journalists, and both originators or disseminators of propaganda.
Over time, this ecosystem expanded to envelop the entire cadre of decision-makers of both parties in Washington—not just professional staff at the Pentagon and State Department (like Alexander Vindeman), but political appointees (like Fiona Hill and John Bolton), as well.
A constellation of people orbited in and out of the same circles, changing jobs or parties along the way. In my book, Qatar’s Shadow War, I wrote about this kind of information infrastructure in service of the Islamist Emirate. It’s important to understand that this kind of ecosystem is not a conspiracy; there’s no command-and-control, and almost nobody views their contribution to the effort as transactional. It’s a whole lot of people with interlocking social and professional lives who all think pretty much the same thing.
The insularity of this world of senior fellows, congressional staffers, reporters and editors, etc. led quickly to a consensus that Russia and its leader were not just competitors or adversaries but enemies capable of boundless evil. Just about every “serious” expert on Russia inside the Beltway is funded by either George Soros or Paul Singer, and is a fanatical anti-Putin partisan. They were united in their commitment to (1) Ukraine’s move toward the West, and (2) to adversarial relationship with Russia, which they took for granted was an aggressive, anti-gay, neo-Soviet bastion of authoritarianism and expansionist awfulness.
Seen through this lens, Russia had no legitimate security concerns or interests; the West could expand NATO and cut into the Russian sphere of influence with impunity. NSC staffers and State Department officials—think Nuland, Vindeman, Hill—often were more hawkish with Russia than their Ukrainian counterparts, pressing Kiev to escalate its conflict with Moscow by yanking it further westward. Dissenting voices (like John Mearsheimer’s) were quickly shouted down. If you were a Congressional staffer, academic, or journalist who questioned the orthodoxy on Russia, you quickly found yourself without friends, allies, or even a job.
Crucially, they all seemed to make the same deadly analytical mistake, born of unchecked hostility: because their enemy is personified evil, any evil thing they can imagine their enemy doing is both probable and likely. Once they’ve gotten themselves into this trap, their very active imaginations become obstacles to dispassionate analysis—and they’re no longer much use in predicting their enemy’s actions and combatting them.
Unsurprisingly, these same people were the targets—the very easiest of marks—when the Clinton campaign launched its RussiaGate conspiracy theory narrative in the summer of 2016. They hated Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin both with such fury, they ate up the most fanciful tales of collaboration. It’s not an accident that the most degenerate of Russia fabulists are now in the news again, as if they hadn’t corrupted their analysis and betrayed the trust of their audiences.
The Ukraine issue is complicated, and it’s easy to get lost in the hall-of-mirrors. Being able to identify and weigh the propaganda emerging from the NGO Archipelago is crucial. These people all fell for an obvious hoax; they have no legitimate claim to expertise on Russia. They deserve nothing but your contempt.
On the Turntable
After talking to my buddy Rick Beato last week about Al DiMeola, I went back and listened again to some classic fusion records I once loved. I’d forgotten that I’d never really heard the classic, acoustic shred-fest with DiMeola, John McLaughlin and Paco DeLucia, Friday Night in San Francisco. This is one of those records I’ve seen around for decades but always passed by. I should’ve given it a chance, as it’s a very very enjoyable set. It takes place where flamenco and jazz meet, and the fast, unison arpeggios are flying at death-defying speeds. Sometimes shredding is fun for its own sake, but here it’s also musically exhilarating.