BALANCE. The first successful test of the Avangard hypersonic vehicle is announced. Super fast (Mach 27 they say) and highly manoeuvrable, development began when Washington withdrew from the ABM Treaty. Putin promised that Russia would "act independently", it did and here we are today. Avangard nullifies the entire US ballistic missile defence effort: "We don’t have any defense". Impossible to shoot down: there's only about 20 minutes from launch to anywhere and it can be coming in from any direction. Putin, in his presser, said Avangard "maintains the balance". It's important to understand Moscow's point of view and not respond with petulance. Because, here as elsewhere, Moscow has got it right: the danger of ballistic missile defence development is that one side might come to believe that its defence is good enough to save it from a response and might be tempted to do a first strike. (Who's stupid enough? Well, that's what all this stuff is about: removing the possibilities). The ABM Treaty preserved the crazy, but stable, balance of mutual assured destruction. It was stable because, each side knew that, whatever the start state, whatever happened in between, the end state would always be the same: destruction of both. But Washington, convinced it would be supreme forever, tossed the Treaty in 2001. Russia now has a weapon that cannot be stopped; therefore there is no possible way to stop a retaliatory strike and so no first strike is conceivable. We're back to the crazy stability of mutual assured destruction. This is rebalancing. But it would have been much easier, cheaper and safer to have kept the original Treaty.
RUSSIA INC. From Putin's presser. 2018 numbers so far. GDP up 1.7%, industrial output up 2.9%; fixed capital investment up 1.4%; real incomes showing small growth of 0.5%; expect to hit inflation estimate of 4%; unemployment down to just under 5%; trade surplus on track to be about $190 billion; gold and foreign currency reserves $464 billion. There will be a small budget surplus (first since 2011) and the National Welfare Fund has grown about 22%. Life expectancy up a bit to 72.9 years. The Energy Minister estimates Russia earned an extra $120 billion in two years of oil production cuts. Russia is surviving the West's sanctions. Putin later added that Russia produces about 80% of "vital medications".
PUTIN ON SOCIALISM. See this. Still a тупик (Russian slang for dead end).
THE COUNTRY THAT MAKES NOTHING. Moscow opens the 17th Metro station built this year. A 60-kilometre fence along the Crimea-Ukraine border is completed. The modernised Tu-22M3M has taken its first flight. 3 1/2 million cars have travelled the Crimea Bridge. (Winter bonus picture: Russia's, and the world's, second largest icebreaker at the North Pole).
RECIPROCITY? The FSB has arrested an American on espionage charges. It is possible that this is retaliation for the disgusting treatment of the wretched Maria Butina but if so, we may be sure that Moscow will be scrupulous in playing by the rules. If for no other reason than to make the point.
SYRIA. Predictable results from Trump's withdrawal decision. Ankara holds back on its attack on the Kurds but continues threatening. Syrian Army took over a key town with Kurdish agreement. Moscow is the place to be: Kurds are there and so are Turks. The likely result will be Kurds and Damascus making an agreement that allows Damascus to control the territory and Ankara's concerns taken into account. Recognising reality, Arab states re-establish relations with Damascus. The soldiers of Washington and its minions were the obstacle to peace. More to come apparently: Trump has ordered a big withdrawal from Afghanistan and that plans for full withdrawal be drawn up. Pat Buchanan sums up the complete failure of Washington's wars in the MENA. Good analysis by Elijah Magnier.
SKRIPALMANIA. Putin: "Without the Skripal case, they would have come up with something else. This is quite obvious to me. Their only goal is to contain Russia and prevent it from emerging as a potential competitor." Sochi toilets; MH17; doping; "invasion of Crimea"; election whatever-the-story-is-now; Masha and the Bear and on and on. Always something. (But I don't think Russia is losing this, do you?)
AMERICA-HYSTERICA. This headline sums up the latest stage of nonsense: "Firm Who Warned America of ‘Russian Meddling’ Caught Running Fake Russia Bot Campaign. And yet the idiocy continues and can only get worse when this guy, who thinks Putin has a man follow Medvedev around threatening to smother him, is in charge of investigations. We're finding out how stupid stupid can become. It would be funny if there was anything to laugh about taunting a nuclear superpower.
UKRAINE. Informative exchange between Putin and a Ukrainian reporter. To read it, search here for Roman Tsymbalyuk.
© Patrick Armstrong Analysis, Canada Russia Observer