Thursday, March 12, 2009

Sorting Out the Russian (Dis)Information: Part IV

Part IV: Igor Panarin
Russian Scholar Says U.S. Will Collapse Next Year
"There is a high probability that the collapse of the United States will occur by 2010," Panarin told dozens of students, professors and diplomats Tuesday at the Diplomatic Academy — a lecture the ministry pointedly invited The Associated Press and other foreign media to attend.
Worthy of seriousness? We'll see.

First, it should be obvious that "a dean at the Foreign Ministry's school for future diplomats and a regular on Russia's state-guided TV channels" is not going to be saying something like this unless he is asked to do so. That is my basic assumption and one that I think is irreproachable. The idea that such a prediction or sentiment would be expressed by such a figure without prior approval and planning-- as well as a specific purpose-- is simply indefensible when one considers the current nature of the Russian government in conjunction with its long and successful history of controlling what ideas are heard when and by whom. This is clear enough: foreign press were "pointedly invited" to attend this lecture.

As reported by Novosti, Panarin made similar remarks back in November 2008:
He predicted that the U.S. will break up into six parts - the Pacific coast, with its growing Chinese population; the South, with its Hispanics; Texas, where independence movements are on the rise; the Atlantic coast, with its distinct and separate mentality; five of the poorer central states with their large Native American populations; and the northern states, where the influence from Canada is strong.
So what's the purpose? First, one should note that many of these predictions are patently ridiculous. It is highly unlikely, for example, that "large Native American populations" would have anything to do with any future division of the United States. So presumably the Western population is to take away from this that the Russians are incredibly deluded in their strategic notions, and thus not to be taken seriously. Another example from the later piece:
Panarin argued that Americans are in moral decline, saying their great psychological stress is evident from school shootings, the size of the prison population and the number of gay men.
This brings to our attention a second possible prospect of such remarks: to tie the (presumably homophobic) American right-wing and some of its more colorful conspiracy theories in with the aforementioned Russian delusion:
On the fate of the U.S. dollar, he said: "In 2006 a secret agreement was reached between Canada, Mexico and the U.S. on a common Amero currency as a new monetary unit. This could signal preparations to replace the dollar. The one-hundred dollar bills that have flooded the world could be simply frozen. Under the pretext, let's say, that terrorists are forging them and they need to be checked."
He iterates something similar in his later remarks:
Panarin insisted he didn't wish for a U.S. collapse, but he predicted Russia and China would emerge from the economic turmoil stronger and said the two nations should work together, even to create a new currency to replace the U.S. dollar.
Thus we are to connect the notion of Russian desire for global hegemony, which is real, with wilder theories about new regional currencies or even NWO-type flights of fancy.

A third possibility is a very old one: the confusion of Western audiences about differing voices of Russia, creating the impression that official Russian opinion on these topics is far from monolithic:
But Alexei Malashenko, a scholar-in-residence at the Carnegie Moscow Center who did not attend the lecture, sided with the skeptical instructor, saying Russia is the country that is on the verge of disintegration.

"I can't imagine at all how the United States could ever fall apart," Malashenko told the AP.
Of course, such a purpose would be rote and secondary to such a strange piece of disinformation.

The most important purposes, I think, would be to feel out Western opinions about such a possibility, preparing the Russian people psychologically, and finally to cover any future Russian or joint Russian/Chinese action against the sovereignty and security of the United States by cloaking their actions in the demise of the American and Western financial system. Russia had to act because of the weakness and insecurity of the United States, they would say. In other words, their action would be toward normalization.

Another commentary on Panarin's recent predictions: "As if Things Weren't Bad Enough, Russian Professor Predicts End of U.S." (by Andrew Osborn, Wall Street Journal, 12/29/08). Osborn notes that "for a decade, Russian academic Igor Panarin has been predicting the U.S. will fall apart in 2010" and that Panarin is "a former KGB analyst" and that he "publishes books." It might interest the reader to know that Panarin's books are about "information warfare." Osborn calls this study "the use of data to get an edge over a rival," which hardly begins to describe it. He says that "his bleak forecast for the U.S... is music to the ears of the Kremlin," failing to note that the cause-and-effect of that relationship, between an "ex-KGB analyst" and the Kremlin would almost certainly be the other way around; the Kremlin almost certainly ordered Panarin to produce this "music." There is no such thing as an "ex-KGB" who also works openly for the state. If one is truly "ex-KGB," then he does not work for the Russian Foreign Ministry and appear on state-controlled TV. Osborn:
Mr. Panarin's apocalyptic vision "reflects a very pronounced degree of anti-Americanism in Russia today," says Vladimir Pozner, a prominent TV journalist in Russia. "It's much stronger than it was in the Soviet Union."
Vladimir Pozner is still alive and giving "his" opinions, it seems. You might remember him from Bezmenov's LA series (@ 6:10):
But then, my former colleague, Vladimir Pozner, appears on Nightline, and Ted Koppel asks him, “Well, Vladimir, what do think about this?” What can he think? He is an instrument of propaganda! He thinks what Comrade Andropov tell[s] him to think. He is just a nice, articulate mouthpiece of the Soviet subversion system. And Ted Koppel makes you believe that my friend Vladimir Pozner thinks?
Here he "poses" as the moderate counterpoint to Panarin's "apocalyptic vision," serving to give the appearance of healthy and varied debate among Soviet academics and journalists. To the extent that such a debate genuinely exists in Russia, it is reported in state-controlled media only when it helps the propaganda line. However, considering the backgrounds of both Panarin and Pozner, it is likely that both are willing instruments of deception, playing the roles they have been given.

Finally, here's an interview with Panarin from Russia Today. It's worth reading and I will use some of Panarin's language there in what follows.

My final (but tentative) analysis is that some of what Panarin says is sensible, but it is mixed with some complete rubbish. For instance, the collapse of the U.S. financial system does make the country vulnerable, but Panarin's fault lines are absurd. There are critical divisions in American society but they are not "globalists" and "statists" as Panarin claims. In fact, what Panarin projects into U.S. politics is actually the false conception of Russian politics that they want Americans to have, if that makes any sense, namely that there is a constant struggle in Russia between self-interested rationalists ("want prosperity for their country") and internationalist ideologues ("it’s not Russia that we need, but a world revolution.") This has been the false picture presented by Russia of Russia for many decades now. At the high levels of government, it's doubtful that such a conflict really exists.

Just to highlight the absurdity of Panarin's remarks: He calls "statists" "the armed forces, special services and military and industrial complex." They "want prosperity for their country" and not "world revolution," and they "were the key players who had enabled Obama to win." Meanwhile the "globalists" are "mainly the financial elite" and are led by Condoleeza Rice and Dick Cheney. Uh-huh. Make sense of that.

Though this interview was translated into English, it's likely that it was meant for a Russian audience. This would explain the completely ridiculous characterization of disagreements in the American government and the types of leaders he singled out for leadership of the movements: Defense & State Secretaries, intelligence chiefs, and the Vice President, positions that are far more ancillary in the U.S. than in Russia.

To conclude, this is certainly a manufactured narrative of some kind, but what purpose it serves isn't clear. Perhaps it is just to amuse us?

Update: Here is Jeff Nyquist's take on the story. Jeff is correct to focus on the truth in what Panarin says, that the United States could collapse and we could find ourselves in a situation where all or part of the country has lost its sovereignty and is ruled, directly or indirectly, by a foreign power. Influential Americans and political commentators always dismiss this possibility, if it is brought up at all.

Nyquist responds to my remarks by raising a simple point: the purpose is to show that America is weak and put it in people's minds that perhaps it is time to start thinking about joining the winning team. The idea that capitalism immiserates the poor and readies the developed world for socialist revolution is an inherent part of Marxist-Leninism, and thus the Panarin prediction is merely a petty example of Communist propaganda to the West: when your institutions build on greed and bourgeois desires crumble to the ground as they inevitably will, the non-capitalist (or less capitalist) world is ready to take their place.

It's a good point. Still, in some sense I think Nyquist plays into their hands by discussing such a report so uncritically. It is my opinion that this particular piece of disinformation combines very sensible and real things with very ridiculous and silly things. Thus if we do not separate the wheat from the chaff, we will be discarded with the chaff.