My critique of Paul Craig Roberts’ critique of Putin
by Don Hank
Recently, Paul Craig Roberts wrote an article criticizing Putin for thinking he can partner with the US. Roberts thinks this is naive, and indeed it would be naive if Putin really thought that way. But he doesn’t (I make it a point to read all of Putin’s speeches and interviews in the original Russian, much of which is not reported in the West, which picks and chooses the items that, out of context, make Putin look worse. In fact, Putin is a gifted statesman and has crafted a winning strategy that most Westerners, and even many Russian analysts, fail to grasp).
Almost any Western analyst is going to fail when writing about Russia because Western thinking is not applicable to Russia or China and few can grasp Eurasian thinking unless they have lived in Asia, studied the cultures and can read the languages.
Westerners have been conditioned for years into believing that the world needs, and will always have, a hegemon who can simply punish countries that “misbehave” and straighten them out at its whim. It doesn’t have to be polite or apply time-tested standards of fairness, because the hegemon defines fairness as it goes. Thus the Western way that the US has modeled for the world is to simply boss other nations around in the crudest and rudest way — as Victoria Nuland did when she was interacting with some top level Russian diplomats, sneering that they had “lost” (referring to the Cold War), implying they must now come to heel and obey their masters. Putin, by contrast, is modeling a mature and professional approach that has a universal appeal.
Eurasians no longer believe in the hegemon fairy tale. They are busy reinventing mutual respect and sovereignty of nations and are in turn garnering the respect of the rest of the world. This fact is crucial to interpreting the actions of China and Russia. Heavy handed Western writers have been trying for years to drive a wedge between Russia and China by suggesting that one or the other will eventually try to gain the upper hand and become king of the world. Yet the harder these propagandists try, the closer they drive the two countries together — to the extent that they are nearly inseparable at this point. And by that I mean economically/financially as well as militarily. The US government still believes in the cave man approach but the Eurasians have discovered that treating people with respect garners respect for them. Why would they abandon this approach as long as it works?
So why does Putin keep trying to negotiate politely with the evil Washington government as though he were dealing with peers, and why does he not use his enormous military power in Ukraine as Roberts (and, BTW, a lot of Russians) thinks he should?
Simply put, he is buying time, getting his last ducks in a row. (Note that each of Putin’s speeches gets a little bit stronger as he and his Eurasian partners gain strength).
Although Roberts was once assistant secretary of the treasury for economic policy, oddly, he does not enter into economics and finance in his analysis, and yet, for Putin, the long term strategy is all about economics and finance.
Here is why I say Putin is buying time.
Russia and China are working feverishly to accomplish at least 2 goals behind the scenes:
1–Establish the RMB as the new world reserve currency.
2–set up a parallel SWIFT-like system of international money transfers, initially between the BRICS countries but later the world. See this, for example.
Why must the Eurasians do this?
Because even if they are superior to the US militarily, they need to become financially independent to prevent a lot of useless bloodshed. The US uses the dollar as a weapon, punishing its perceived enemies by freezing accounts, preventing transfers, imposing economic sanctions, seizing bank accounts (incl those of non-Americans living abroad) and generally seeking to paralyze them financially. Examples include the US-imposed record fine of $8 billion against French bank BNP Paribas in retaliation for that bank’s having made a dollar-denominated transfer to Iran (which was not illegal in France; the US’s rationale: since the transaction was denominated in dollars, it was illegal because the US is the legal owner of all dollars, the world reserve currency under the Bretton Woods agreement); and, on a smaller scale, seizure of foreigners’ cash, as with the IRS’s seizure of $8000 from the bank account of a Venezuelan man residing in Panama who had once lived in the US (not reported in the media. My banker told me the story).
As for the plan to make the RMB the fall-back reserve currency, that project is well underway, as shown in my translation and analysis here.
But one crucial step remains and that is to create and test the new Eurasian cash transfer system designed to bypass the US-controlled SWIFT system. Before this is accomplished, Russia and its Eurasian partners are still vulnerable to one last Western ace in the hole, and that is the freezing of money transfers anywhere in the world, as outlined here.
Reports on the target date for the new interbank transfer system differ widely but I think we can assume, based on Putin’s mild mannered behavior, that this is not yet accomplished.
Now just imagine if Putin had long ago played the military card in Ukraine and simply defeated the Ukrainian army that bombs its own citizens. Would US allies have rushed to join the Eurasian bank AIIB? They may have thought better of it knowing that Eurasia includes Russia. But Russia played the nice guy, bided its time, and these countries saw the AIIB as an opportunity to get out from under the obsolescent World Bank and IMF. The only main US allies who have not yet joined are Canada and Japan, and even that could change.
Putin plays a long game, a strategy virtually unknown in the West and not well understood even by the best American minds.
But not to fear: we will see it in action (non-military to be sure) soon enough.
So should we be worried?
Once the last piece in the Eurasian strategy is in place, I think we will see that Putin was not kidding when he talked about mutual respect. While the US has consistently sought to lord it over its trading partners, both militarily and economically, and has actually sought to bankrupt them via World Bank loans (see the book “Confessions of an Economic Hit Man” by John Perkins), the Eurasians focus on garnering and keeping the trust of all their partners. Unlike US elites, they are keenly aware of a key fact: The only way to get rich and stay rich is to trade with partners in ways that benefit both parties so that even poor partners become richer, boosting sales and loan transactions. And the best way to expand trade is to treat existing partners fairly and with respect. Making even one partner poor or showing a lack of respect undermines the trust that the rest have invested in you.
Now why didn’t we think of that?