New Book (3): Russian Political War: moving beyond the hybrid

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The third of my crop of books out this month is Russian Political War: moving beyond the hybrid from Routledge, a study of what I think we should be talking about instead of ‘hybrid war’ (let alone the mythical ‘Gerasimov Doctrine‘). It builds off my earlier report, Hybrid War or Gibridnaya Voina? to argue that while the Russian military – like everyone else – is looking at the opportunities in non-kinetic means to prepare the battlefield (after all, has any war not been ‘hybrid’?), the real challenge the West faces is different. The current campaign being waged against the West is not a preparation for eventual military conflict, but rather a wholly non-military campaign that echoes ‘political war’ as described by George Kennan at the start of the Cold War, and which has its spiritual home and command and control centre within the Presidential Administration and Russia’s civilian national security elites.

New Book (2): Kulikovo 1380: the battle that made Russia

IMG_20190129_212026The second of the three books of mine coming out in February is in the Osprey ‘Campaign’ series. CAM 332, Kulikovo 1380: the battle that made Russia looks at this battle that was a genuine triumph for Muscovite Prince Dmitri Donskoi, but was turned into a much more decisive victory over the ‘Golden Horde’ through centuries of successive myth-making, as it became used first to launder Moscow’s reputation – from the Mongols’ prime agents to paladins of a new Russia – and then to claim credit by the Orthodox Church and to create a story of national military glories.

That mythology made writing the book all the more of a challenge, as so much of the received wisdom about the battle, from the clash of champions at the beginning onwards, is questionable, the accumulations of generations of chronicles embellishing the last. But that is also one of the things that made it a fun exercise in historical detective work. The irony is that the battle doesn’t need much titivation, as it’s a fascinating story of political opportunism, tactical cunning and brutal butchery, of ambush and subterfuge, Armenian archers and Genoese mercenaries, Lithuanian exiles and Mongol-Tatar horsemen, Russian boyars and militias, sacrifice and plunder…

New Book (1): We Need To Talk About Putin

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Is it money that drives him? Power? Ego? Spookness?

Thanks to the vagaries of different production schedules, I have three books coming out in February, so over the next week or so I’ll flag each one up. Given that yesterday I came home from a very picturesque and productive trip to Lithuania and Latvia (more on that later, too) to an advance copy of We Need To Talk About Putin, let me start with that. It is, I should stress, written for a lay audience (although I hope scholars and policy wonks will find it of use and interest, too), so don’t expect footnotes, and do expect anecdotes, some humour, and unapologetically opinionated takes on the key myths that too often seem to shape perceptions of Putin and thus modern Russia. Is it really all about the money? Can one understand him simply through the prism of his KGB experience? Is he really the devil-may-care risk-taker the bare-chested macho theatrics would suggest? How far is this really “Putin’s Russia”? All that, and more…

I had fun writing it, and I hope people have as much fun reading it, but also find it of value. It will be published in paperback and ebook formats by Ebury, an imprint of Penguin Random House:

Penguin site: https://www.penguin.co.uk/books/111/1117583/we-need-to-talk-about-putin/9781529103595.html

or:

https://www.amazon.co.uk/We-Need-Talk-About-Putin/dp/1529103592 (Amazon.co.uk)

https://www.amazon.com/We-Need-Talk-About-Putin/dp/1529103592 (Amazon.com)

https://www.amazon.de/We-Need-Talk-About-Putin/dp/1529103592/ (Amazon.de)

 

Launch events in London for ‘The Vory’

Screen Shot 2018-03-10 at 14.09So, although alas it will be be weeks before I get to see the final version myself, the advance copies of my new book, The Vory: Russia’s super mafia (Yale University Press) are here, and the count-down to its release begins. It will be published on 10 April in the UK, and 22 May in the US. Meanwhile, I just wanted to flag up some launch events in London next month.

The actual launch will be at Pushkin House at 7pm on Monday 16 April, at which I’ll be talking about the writing of the book and, especially, the historical and cultural evolution of this organised crime subculture, and how far it has come to permeate Russia today.

Then, at Waterstones Gower Street on 6:30pm on Tuesday 17 April I’ll be in conversation with Matt Potter, author of the excellent Outlaws, Inc. (on Russian arms-and-everything-else air smugglers) on gangsters, Russia, and writing about these shadowy topics. Note that the price of a ticket includes a copy of The Vory and a drink – a bargain!

There will then be a closed session at Chatham House on Wednesday 18 April, which will soon be up on their events schedule, discussing the current Russian organised crime situation. I’ll update with a link when it is available.

***PLEASE NOTE – MY US TRIP HAS ALAS HAD TO BE CANCELLED, AND THESE EVENTS WITH THEM. For those of you in the States, I would also parenthetically mention that I’ll be giving a book talk at the NYU Jordan Centre on the Advanced Study of Russia at 12:30 on 4 April, and another talk on Russian organised crime at Colgate University on 2 April at 4:30pm.***

Beyond that, there are one or two other possibilities still under discussion, and again I will update this post if, as, and when they firm up. You can also keep up to date by following me on twitter (@MarkGaleotti) or on my Facebook page Mark Galeotti on Russia.

‘The Death of Stalin’ – arguably all the more accurate and honest for not pretending to be either

DeathOfStalinA few people have asked me to give my take on the film The Death of Stalin, so here are my thoughts, in no great depth or particular order. First of all, at its most basic, I thought it a very good film, extremely funny, but even darker in its humour than I had anticipated. Jason Isaacs is a wonderful genially thuggish Zhukov, but the real star, if that’s the appropriate term, was Simon Russel Beale’s mesmerizingly ruthless Beria who is also, in a way, one of the most honest figures around. The corrupting influence of terror is evident throughout. Frankly, it takes someone like Armando Ianucci, whose humour so often is based on tiptoeing up to the limits of taste and then deliberately stepping over that line, to write this.

Of course, it is not a biopic and doesn’t pretend to be a documentary. The timeline is compressed to fit months of scheming into a week or so leading up to and right after Stalin’s funeral. Stalin’s daughter was not whisked out afterwards by Khrushchev. And so on: there are all kinds of concessions made in the name of the story. Personally, though, I don’t think that is at all a problem: quite the opposite. First of all, and this is something Simon Jenkins has recently written about in the Guardian, much pseudo-historical film is really just as much in the myth-making business, simply with more pretension and less honesty. He especially talks about All the Money in the World, based on the kidnap of John Paul Getty III, Darkest Hour on Churchill, and The Crown on Queen Elizabeth II, but there are so many more examples. However much we – rightly – decry the new bombastically nationalist and propagandistic turn in Russian film making with such ‘epics’ as Crimea (Romeo-and-Juliet-meets-annexation) and Panfilov’s 28 (fictional-Soviet-diehards-hold-off-nasty-Nazis) – let us not forget the extent to which American audiences have for generations been told how they pretty much won WW2 by themselves, Brits have been fed a sugar-coated image of ‘Blitz spirit’, and so forth. Fictionalising history is more honest: it makes no claims to an accuracy very few films really embody.

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“”Shoot her before him, but make sure he sees it.”

But also I felt that through the fiction, The Death of Stalin did a first-rate job of conveying the macabre spirit, the feel of the times. The terrified paranoia, the constant scheming, the degree to which everyone was vulnerable, the easy re-invention of history. One of the of the brilliant aspects of the film’s Beria is precisely the way he uses yet also mocks the self-justificatory compromises of the others. He is a ruthless cynic and knows it, owns it; the others are (while less personally repugnant) willing to work within that system , all the while pretending to some higher moral or political cause. There is an interesting moment when Svetlana, assailed on all sides by politicians trying to use her for their own purposes, asks Beria why she should trust him, and he says she shouldn’t, that she should ‘trust nobody” – but adds that she should remember that at least he told her that. Maybe this is the highest level of honour in such a toxic environment…

It’s macabre, sometimes a little slapstick, always sharply written and observed – very well worth watching. And roll on the day Ianucci writes the film of the Putin years…

Book Review: Open Participatory Security, by Jesse Paul Lehrke

9781538105290Open Participatory Security: unifying technology, citizens and the state by Jesse Paul Lehrke. Rowman & Littlefield, 2017

According to Federica Mogherini, EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, “No society is strong if it is not […] an open society, a participatory society.” Fair enough, although as usual with statements emanating from the EEAS, it is hard to see any sharp-edges of policy behind the billowing clouds of comfortable rhetoric. This is one of the problems; especially in the age of so-called, if much-misunderstood ‘hybrid war’ – which I could characterise as political warfare fought in the field of governance, with the aim of reducing the enemy’s capacity or will to resist – then the need to defend ourselves on a societal level is evident.

At the same time, though, experts want to retain their arcane authority, the military still want their tanks and missiles, and too often the debate gets rendered down into banal platitudes about not listening to ‘fake news’ and having good online passwords. In this respect, ‘participation’ becomes a call for citizens to do their duty, as defined by the experts and the government, not really engagement, and hardly especially ‘open.’

In his Open Participatory Security: unifying technology, citizens and the state, Dr Jesse Paul Lehrke of the Deutsches Forschungsinstitut für öffentliche Verwaltung (you can also follow him on twitter here), starts from the usual empty language of participation, and has written an imaginative, even daring book about just what security means in a future of global communications, multiple threats, and weak political ties. To put it another way, how security can be furthered not thanks to, but in spite of those aged, hide-bound, elephantine beasts we call states.

This is in part a cybersecurity question, or at least many of the basic premises emerge from the cybersecurity debate, but what makes this book important is the points it makes about taking those lessons and applying them to wider questions of security. About gamifying security awareness within the population, about democratising information gathering, about emphasising the transitory and uncertain nature of security. In other words, that no security is guaranteed, and that it will always be in what technical types call a ‘perpetual beta’ state – in other words, always being revised and improved as new threats and fixes emerge.

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Here’s a diagram inexpertly snapped from the book that neatly encapsulates his thesis, that we face a world of complex insecurity, marked by a lack of trust and also constant technological but also methodological innovation. The response is not trust in the state itself, so much as that this is a by-product of a series of necessary responses including, and this is crucial, the state’s trust in society. That is, in my opinion, a crucial point; in many ways the complexity of the modern threat picture has led to a pernicious combination of the sort of vaporous platitudes Ms Mogherini deploys along with a retreat, behind that smokescreen, of security into the hands of political, technical and intellectual elites. And that’s bad for society, and bad for security.

This is not always the easiest read, although Lehrke does a commendable job of tempering it with humour, but it is an important one. As with recent initiatives such as the Prague Insecurity Conference, there is something of a backlash against the securitised and secretised consensus that sees security as too important to leave in the hands of outsiders, and this is an important step forward in crafting a new concept of security – imperfect, unstable, democratic – for the emerging world.

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