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Yves here. It is hard to anticipate what the so-called Collective West will do when an undeniable proof of Russian success against Ukraine comes, such as Russia moving across largely open fields to the west bank of the Dnieper after crossing the final line of Ukraine defenses in the Donbass.
The need to forestall that event may be why, as Alexander Mercouris has described, that Ukraine has apparently committed more resources to trying to retake Bakhmut (on the second to last fortified line in the Donbass, but by all accounts more defensible that the final one) than to its much-publicized and almost completely unsuccessful counter-offensive in Zaporzhizhia, which has now entered its fourth month. The US/NATO disinformation has become shameless, with Ukraine still not have succeeded in taking the tiny town of Robotyne as tantamount to “piercing” the Russian first line of defense. Until the need to portray Ukraine as making progress became desperate, that first line of defense had always been described at the very heavily fortified, so-called Surovikin line, no a place in the crumple zone where Russia dug some trenches and laid a lot of mines.
I hope you will read John Helmer’s ruthless takedown of a new book about the Ukraine war Overreach by Owen Matthews, in full. It includes a delicious section suggesting the author is plenty spooky, since his pricey lifestyle is wildly out of line with what he could conceivably have earned from his claim to be a mere journalist, as well as dissecting Matthews’ sourcing.
But given this book as yet another example of wild distortions to serve Project Ukraine, what happens when the propaganda edifice finally falls down? The west might resort to tactical nukes, which as Scott Ritter has repeatedly warned, out, equals the end of the world as we know it. But before, and hopefully instead, we are also likely to see even more extreme denialism than US officials and the press flagrantly moving goalposts to depict a failed Ukraine offensive as finally making progress (it was none other than the outgoing chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Mark Milley, who set off this disinformation campaign).
Lambert and I discussed how it’s disconcerting to be left with no explanations for persistent dysfuntional behavior other than psychologize or worse pathologize behavior among the elites. Nevertheless, we’ve seen troubling case examples in the comments section of Naked Capitalism, with formerly sound readers going completely off the rails on a topic where evidence has piled up contradicting their belief, and they simply can’t accept that, and lash out instead. I hope there are some sane people in the room when this starts happening on the geopolitical level.
By John Helmer, the longest continuously serving foreign correspondent in Russia, and the only western journalist to direct his own bureau independent of single national or commercial ties. Helmer has also been a professor of political science, and an advisor to government heads in Greece, the United States, and Asia. He is the first and only member of a US presidential administration (Jimmy Carter) to establish himself in Russia. Originally published at Dances with Bears
Doctors in hospitals for the criminally insane have reported that the sharpest pain patients with superiority complexes suffer is the belief there are others who are more superior than they are. Unless they are stopped, they kill to cure.
US exceptionalism is a disease of this type. The American exceptionalists believe that if the US isn’t conquering and victorious — great again as in MAGA — it is defeating itself because, they think, the US can never be beaten by a foreign adversary on the field — not on the battlefield, nor in the marketplace, nor in the mind and on the page. So this is where the whitecoats arrive today: the Russian General Staff and the Stavka are defeating the Americans on every front, weapon system, intelligence summary, and mind. This has never happened before. Failing to see and understand this is delusional; those who kill to cure this aren’t all hospitalised.
A book repeating the US, NATO and Ukrainian version of how and why Russia’s Ukrainian battlefield campaign began on February 23, 2022, is symptomatic, nothing new. “We have no idea of exactly how the conflict will end”, concludes Owen Matthews (aka Bibikov) in a fresh publication from the state-subsidised printing press of Rupert Murdoch. But “we already know how it will not end. There will be no complete victory for either Russia or Ukraine. NATO is too invested to allow Kyiv to fall to the Russian army… this war will eventually end — with a negotiated peace.”*
Incomprehensible to Matthews is that the terms of the negotiated peace will be those of the Russian non-aggression treaties for the US and for NATO of December 17, 2021, and they will be dictated at the end of the war by the force which prevails. They will be as definitive as the German terms signed by the French in the Compiègne Wagon on June 22, 1940; and the American terms signed by the Japanese on the USS Missouri on September 2, 1945.
Instead, Matthews dismisses the treaties in two paragraphs, based on what Matthews says an anonymous British Foreign Office official told him in March 2022 was “fantastical…[they] simply did make any sense…there was nothing in it that NATO could possibly agree to.”
What preceded, and also what followed those treaties, was the doing, in Matthews’s psychopathological terminology, of “fantasies about anti-Russian fascists coming to power in Kyiv”; “paranoia over Western attempts to subvert and undermine Russia”; and other “lies and eschatological fantasies”. At the centre of this madness, according to Matthews, is the single figure of Vladimir Putin, advised by “Soviet-era fantasists and paranoiacs”; “on the point of paranoia about the [corona] virus”; “secluded and inaccessible in his Covid bunker”; obsessed by pseudo-historical revenge and “a kind of death cult”; surrounded by “the most deluded and most ideologically driven members of Putin’s entourage”; and speechifying “a set of unbelievably illiterate conspiracy clichés…especially when the former Marxists in the Kremlin sincerely believed that inexorable historical forces were on their side.”
There is no question in Matthews’s diagnosis of who is in the madhouse, and who is superior. “By the time I met [Vladimir] Zelensky in Kyiv in July  he cut a profoundly impressive figure – hard-eyed, emphatic in his speech.”
With unintended irony — the reader won’t take long to detect it — the book is titled “Overreach”.
Left to right: the book; the author; his wife, Zhenia Kravchenko, self-portrait; grandfather Alexei Kravchenko, an early 20th century Moscow painter whose Russian homes Matthews lives in when he is Russia.
For an earlier version of Matthews’s misrepresentation of Russia’s World War II history, read this.
This time round Matthews wants readers to know how important he is himself. So important in fact that the Kremlin spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, once invited him to lunch, and the then-US Ambassador, now CIA director William Burns was “a frequent guest” at his wife’s summer dacha where he told Matthews that “Putin’s chief character traits were a mixture of insecurity and grievance”. Matthews’s wife, Zhenia Kravchenko, is a little-known painter compared to her grandfather, Alexei Kravchenko, It is his apartment on Povarsky Street in the Khamovniki quarter of the old city of Moscow, and his dacha which are Matthews’s admission tickets to the upper-class Moscow world he displays in the book for the tusovka (in-crowd). This is upper class in the pre-Revolutionary fashion in which the members of the intelligentsia used to think of themselves – and Mr and Mrs Matthews still do.
In his pitch for promotion in the New York book market**, Matthews also trots out his Jewish credentials which, combined with tsarist military officers and Jewish money, ran down the babushka line. “There were to be 11 generals in the immediate [Bibikov] family between 1760 and 1942…It is with my grandfather, Boris Lvovich Bibikov, that my family’s involvement with Ukraine comes into sharp, personal focus. His father Lev had scandalised his anti-Semitic family by marrying Sofia Naumovna, a wealthy heiress to a Crimean flour-milling fortune whose parents had, like many Ukrainian Jews, converted to Orthodoxy to further their social ambitions.” Matthews omits to say if he has taken advantage of the Russian and Israeli passports for which these antecedents qualify him.
Propaganda doesn’t grow on trees. It is cultivated and is paid for. Who has paid Matthews? He’s not on the list of British government agents in the Integrity Initiative scheme although some of them endorse his books. He lists himself as a working journalist: “Since 2006 he has combined the jobs of Newsweek’s Moscow bureau chief and Istanbul correspondent… He currently contributes regularly to Foreign Policy, Spectator, Daily Mail, Telegraph and The Critic.” Where Newsweek’s money comes from, and how much of it shares with Matthews, are unclear. Newsweek doesn’t list Matthews as its correspondent in Istanbul. The Istanbul files for Newsweek do not reveal a single article by Mathews since 2006. The Newsweek Moscow archives has no article of Matthews since the start of the special military operation, or before it. Instead, the bylines are those of individuals based either in New York or Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. According to Newsweek, Matthews appeared intermittently between 1997 and 2018 and was never bylined from either Moscow or Istanbul. There has been no appearance in Newsweek by Matthews since September 2018.
The other publications Matthews claims to have been writing for as a freelancer were not paying enough to support at least three homes, international travel, children’s school bills, expenses, and the lifestyle of Matthews’ membership of the Khamovniki upper class.
Following the money trail is one guide to the source of Matthews’s propaganda. Another is his use of the credibility by association technique. For example, in the back-of-book acknowledgements Matthews wants it to be known that he has been having dinner, other “hospitality”, and fifteen minutes of celebrity with Peskov, the Kremlin spokesman; the late Boris Nemtsov and his daughter Anna Nemtsova; dacha neighbour and filmmaker Nikita Mikhalkov; the ex-Polish foreign minister Radoslaw Sikorski, and the Alfa group’s London exiles Peter Aven and Mikhail Fridman.
Matthews has also extended the blind attribution method for sourcing pioneered by Bloomberg and the Financial Times in stockmarket promotions. What Matthews has done is to identify 143 anonymous sources – one for every three pages — whom he footnotes and lists in the reference section of the book as “interview with the author”, with place, month and year. The places range from Przemysl, Poland, to Istanbul, Kiev, Donetsk, London, Rome, and Moscow; not one of the 143 is identified as a US official or an American. Matthews and the Murdoch printing house have omitted an index from the print edition, which makes unravelling what Matthews has done, and with whom, difficult.
From this known background and the unknown money supply, Matthews has distilled many more than the 107 standard lies in the Anglo-Ukro-American inventory itemised last month by Moon of Alabama commentator Arch Bungle Matthews has repeatedevery one of them.
There are some novelties. He cites the Ukrainian Secret Service (SBU) as his source for several major findings without revealing how Matthews himself came by them; for example, he sources an SBU report for the claim that there were Russian military special forces shooting at protesters on the Maidan in January and February of 2014. The Odessa House of Unions fire of May 2, 2014, which killed at least 46, was provoked by “a radical group of anti-Maidan protesters” who had been taking directions from Sergei Glazyev, then a Kremlin adviser. The downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 over the Donbass on July 17, 2014, occurred “one day the Buk [anti-aircraft missile] had successfully downed a Ukrainian transport plane” – a combination of missile firings explicitly ruled out by Dutch military intelligence reports and unsubstantiated by US military satellites; Matthews doesn’t identify his Buk firing source and ignores the Dutch and US evidence.
Unreferenced Ukrainian military intelligence is also Matthews’s standby source for such fabricated factoids as Russian Kalibr and Kinzhal missiles in their final descent on to Ukrainian targets “light up the sky with their tail-flames”; and that following US sanctions in March 2022 Russian factory production of T-72 tanks had to be suspended “due to lack of processors”.
There is another novelty in Matthews’s method; he calls it the “shat cat.” After all 414 pages of Matthews’s Westminster School and Oxford University- educated English, it is odd that he doesn’t appear to know the verb in English for defecation, or its past tense. Instead, when describing in unusual SBU-sourced detail the state of the Kiev residence of the deposed president, Victor Yanukovich, Matthews reports that a pedigree pet cat had been left behind when Yanukovich left “which had shat on the carpets and upholstery after it was locked in the room.”
The book unlocks the Ukrainian room into which Matthews has firmly locked himself, revealing many such sphincter-type mistakes. The droppings include the report that Sergei Glazyev had been influential with Putin – “rising esteem and ideological closeness” — and that he had been “promoted” out of the Kremlin and into a post at the Eurasian Economic Union; in fact, Glazyev had been sacked by Peskov and other Kremlin staff; his new post was a demotion and banishment to political oblivion.
The Nord Stream pipelines had been blown up on September 26, 2022, “almost certainly by Russia itself”, according to Matthews on page 129. But five pages later he wasn’t so sure, claiming they had been “mysteriously blown up”. Then after another 150 pages, Matthews claims the “mystery” had been solved “according to Swedish, Danish and UN investigators.” It had been Russian saboteurs, he wrote, who carried out the operation in “one of the most extraordinary acts of self-harm in the history of warfare”. Matthews forgot to identify the Swedish, Danish and “UN” sources for this. That’s what creatures with pedigrees do when locked into rooms.
Matthews’s account of how and why Petro Poroshenko lost the Ukrainian presidential election of 2019 is more of the shat cat effect. “Perhaps Poroshenko told the wrong lies, or failed to sell them convincingly enough. Or more likely Ukrainians were tired of years of war and confrontation with Moscow and preferred Zelensky’s promises to bring peace to Donbas and reverse discrimination against Ukraine’s Russian speakers.” At this point Matthews happened on the truth – but he then forgot what had been Zelensky’s election mandate when in secret he was arming for a Ukrainian offensive against Russia and the Donbass territories – as ex-German Chancellor Angela Merkel and ex-French president Francois Hollande have admitted publicly to have been their NATO strategy.
Matthews’s explanation instead for Zelensky’s reversal of the Ukrainian vote is Putin’s “bullying” (page 147), “hectoring” (page 149), and “most fatefully, Zelensky also began strengthening Ukraine’s ties to NATO and accelerating its path to membership. To the Kremlin, it was further proof that Zelensky was Washington’s puppet” (page 150). In Matthews’s locked room, these were Russian “fantasies”, “paranoia”, plus shat cat – “a confluence of Western weakness in the aftermath of the humiliating withdrawal from Afghanistan, the retirement of Angela Merkel as Europe’s senior statesperson, the electoral weakness of Zelensky and a revamped Russian army seemed to present a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity[to] an elderly Russia over a young one, of paranoid Soviet-minded conspiracy theorists over a generation of post-Soviet, postmodern practical capitalists” (page 158).
After the special military operation commenced, Matthews was embedded on the Ukrainian side during the first days and weeks; his sources for what happened were either his interviews with anonymous Ukrainians, or the BBC, or the New Yorker.
Central to the book’s argument is that the one-day Battle of Antonov Airport at Hostomel, near Kiev, between Russian special forces and paratroopers and Ukrainian defenders on February 24-25, 2022, was more than a costly tactical defeat for the Russians. The Russian failure “to establish air superiority was fatal to their assault on Hostomel – and would become a serious strategic weakness as the war progressed.”
Matthews claims to have Chinese and British military sources for his idea that there has been a strategic defeat of the Russian war aims, and this triggered a warning by Chinese generals to their counterparts on the Russian General Staff not to use nuclear weapons. This, plus a glimpse inside a secret Sino-Russian security treaty, Matthews claims have heard tell by a “source who has regular personal contact with the leaders of the People’s Liberation Army.” Matthews footnotes this source in an interview he says he held in London less than a month after the special military operation had begun. The internal evidence is that this source is British, not Chinese. He may be the “Downing Street official with direct knowledge” whom Matthews identified two paragraphs earlier in his text, and also footnoted as having been interviewed in London at the same time.
Alternatively, the source might be the chop suey delivery man to the Chinese military attaché office on Portland Place in London. In Matthews’s locked room there is no telling which, and no reason in evidence for believing either.
He also reports a British Army source as telling him that Russian forces weren’t nearly so numerous on the Ukrainian border before their February 24 move as the US had been claiming its intelligence revealed, and the Anglo-American media had been broadcasting for weeks. Instead, according to Matthews and the British Army, Russian forces were operating at 60% of their official manpower levels, and had too few men to operate their machines. This is another of the reasons, according to Matthews, that the Ukrainians have been winning the war. The numbers of casualties on the Russian side Matthews exaggerates; he minimizes or ignores the losses on the Ukrainian side.
Then he reports the US conversion of Russian battlefield defeat and positional stalemate into its opposite — Ukrainian victory. “The stalemate on the ground,” Matthews claimed for May-June 2022, “was about to be broken by an intervention by the United States not of men, but of game-changing military materiel”. Matthews was talking about American M777 howitzers and HIMARS rockets which began to be shipped to Kiev. He also claims “a UK source” for his report that US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin had spoken to Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu by telephone to “reassure Shoigu that the US was not about to enter the war and that aid should not be construed as a military attack on Russia”.
Russian military drone video showing identification of Ukrainian M777 howitzer and its destruction.
The footnote says “interview with the author, London, June 2022.” Matthews appears not only to believe that Austin’s “reassurance” was the truth, but also that Shoigu should have believed the American to be telling the truth. Matthews omits to say why the reader should judge Shoigu to be as gullible towards Americans as Matthews himself — unless Matthews also believes that a man like himself who has had eleven Tsarist generals in his family since they lost the Crimean War to the British and French in 1856 is made of genetically superior material.
This difference between fact and fabrication, truth and falsehood Matthews explains himself as the difference between the Russian and the Ukrainian sides, and between Matthews and everybody else. “The truth doesn’t make you free if you don’t want to hear it” (page 253) he says about the large majority of Russians who support the war and its aims. Any evidence to the contrary, Matthews excuses, comes from “polling in a totalitarian state”; also from Russian “fantasies” and “paranoia”.
Matthews has confused a genuine point of difference between the two sides. Since the Battle of Antonov Airport, the Russians have learned from their tactical mistakes and errors, and adjusted their operational strategy accordingly. The Ukrainians and their US and NATO advisers have not. This is such a crucial issue for analysing how the war has been lost by the Americans first of all, it deserves a book. But Matthews cannot write it; Murdoch cannot print it; there is no bookstore in London or New York which will sell it. “Overreach” might even be its title, though without the irony.
Matthews also misses who on the Russian intelligence and political side in Moscow made the miscalculations leading to the Hostomel failure; and what role the Russian General Staff has played since then to change the dynamics of the decision-making in the Stavka, subordinating President Putin, as he himself has conceded publicly. But to comprehend that this is what has happened, and that the Russian military success has followed, not from Putin’s personal direction but from his subordination to the collective decision-making of the General Staff and Stavka — this is a truth flying in the face of everything Matthews and his paymaster wish to believe, publish, pay for.
In his final pages Matthews quotes an anonymous “senior UK military official based in Kiev, as declaring in July 2022 that the war has achieved the “exact opposite” of Putin’s war aims: “the country’s [Ukraine] real military capabilities were bigger by a factor of ten than they were at the beginning of the war. Ukraine had a million men and women under arms, with thousands being trained in Poland, the UK and US in the use of NATO’s most sophisticated weaponry.” The British military advisor added: “That’s not propaganda, by the way.”
When one side fails to learn, and characterises the thinking of the other side as mad, there cannot be argumentation in good faith. There can be no evidence-based research. This is the political point of book, although it’s not a reason to give Matthews or Murdoch’s publishing company money for it. The point, simply, is that in this war between the US and NATO against Russia, there is no longer any method for proving facts, the truth, either beyond reasonable doubt – the criminal homicide standard in an Anglo-American court of law – or on the balance of probabilities – the civil fraud standard. In this war we are beyond the truth.
Are we, though, beyond the point of peace? That is going to be the outcome of this war. If that peace is inconceivable to the likes of Matthews and the exceptionalists, it will be achieved without them.
[*] In June 2023, seven months after Matthews had finalised his book manuscript, he told Pushkin House, which had just awarded him a $10,000 prize for Best Book of the Year: “The most likely outcome [of the war] is a Korean scenario with a line of control and a barbed wire fence.” Where the line and the fence would be drawn Matthews omitted to say. He also omitted to acknowledge that the US and NATO are now fighting to prevent the line and the barbed wire being drawn along the Dnieper River, between Kiev and the Polish border. On the west side of the line is where the American exceptionalists and those with uncured NATO superiority complex will live.
[**] In New York Matthews has been ignored by the New Yorker, and trumped by the Russia war-fighting faction whose Moscow apartments are in quarters as upper-class as Matthews’s, and whose Jewish credentials are unembarrassed by Orthodox conversions and by tsarist army officers. Keith (aka Konstanin) Gessen also trumps Matthews as a Russia war-fighter by being American and Harvard-educated. He signals the strategic realisation that the US should commence armistice negotiations with Russia for a “better outcome… because, bad as it’s been, it could get much, much worse”. As the line of the coming Russian winter offensive points across the Dnieper towards Lvov, the New Yorker is making a case for a Korean War partition and demilitarised zone, “freezing the conflict in place, and working to secure and rebuild the large part of Ukraine that is not under Russian occupation.” The timing is Christmas, when the Ukrainian Army will have lost all its strategic reserves, and before the Russian offensive begins. In the meantime, “let the Ukrainian counter-offensive play out. But at the end of this year, or maybe early in 2024, [the US] will have to talk with Zelensky about negotiations.” By Christmas, Gessen is signalling, Matthews’s book will have overreached itself and been consigned to the remainder table.