Democratic Rights Are No Excuse for Airing Russian Perspectives in Europe

As the European public continues to turn against the fast-collapsing Project Ukraine, we’re seeing increasingly desperate attempts to blame Russian disinformation for the eroding support.

In Italy, spooks, media, and think tanks are warning that the crafty Russians are stealthily manipulating Italians. This isn’t unique to Italy, but bears watching as the public there has never been all that supportive of the Ukraine proxy war and larger economic war against Russia. There are a variety of reasons for that, including the fact that Europe’s second largest manufacturing base (behind Germany) with longstanding strong economic ties to Russia had a lot to lose.

Heretics and Hysteria

In January, the city of Modena blocked the use of a public hall to host a private event focused on the reconstruction of the Ukrainian city of Mariupol. Speakers at the conference-exhibition were set to include Luca Rossi, president of the Russia Emilia-Romagna Cultural Association, which organized the event; Dmitry Shtodin, Russian Consul-General; Eliseo Bertolasi, Italian representative of the International Russophile Movement; and Andrea Lucidi, a freelance journalist active in the Donbas.

It’s worth noting that the event was going to take place in Modena – a manufacturing capital in the manufacturing region of Emiglia Romagna. According to the Università degli Studi di Modena e Reggio Emilia, the region hosts 20,000 manufacturing firms with a heavy focus on farm machinery and earth-moving equipment, automated industrial equipment, geared motors, precision components, pumps and valves. According to Coldiretti (Italian Farmers’ Association), the EU’s economic war against Russia has hammered Italy’s agricultural sector with small and medium enterprises taking the biggest losses.

Nonetheless, Italian intelligence agencies are now sounding the alarm that “pro-Kremlin” people are attempting to connect farmer protests to the thirteen sanctions packages the EU has imposed against Russia.

Of course, it’s not just the Italian agriculture industry that has been hurt; all Italian industry has been hit hard by the economic war against Russia and the ensuing energy crisis, which has made Italian manufacturing uncompetitive. The country’s manufacturing continued its nosedive with December marking the ninth-straight month of declines in output and new orders, and a Hamburg Commercial Bank analysis notes that the purchasing managers’ index “fails to convey any signals of hope.”

While the Hamburg Commercial Bank analysis deals with the financial side of the ledger, the canceling of the Modena event displays the bleak outlook on another front. Any viewpoints that stray from the Project Ukraine party line continue to be censored.

In the Tuscan town of Lucca, home to Italy’s energy-intensive pulp and paper industry, the Best Western Italia canceled the reservation of a conference room where the event “Towards a New Multipolar World” was set to feature controversial Russian philosopher Aleksandr Dugin.

Also canceled was a showing of a Russian drama film about the war in Ukraine, “The Witness.” The film was going to be screened in Emilia-Romagna’s capital of Bologna on Jan. 27. Let’s not forget, too, that the Russian news sites RT and Sputnik are still banned in Europe.

What does it say about the backers of Project Ukraine that they are too scared to allow opposing viewpoints? Italian lawmaker Lia Quartapelle, of the neoliberal Democratic Party, was one of those demanding that the events be canceled. “Italy is on the side of Ukraine’s freedom,” she wrote on X.

What type of freedom is this? Whatever it is, Italians are increasingly opposed. The European Council on Foreign Relation’s (ECFR) January polling shows Italians want peace with Russia:

The ECFR’s takeaway two years into the conflict: “But it is also possible that many Europeans simply need to be convinced that the EU is capable of supporting Ukraine and helping it win the war.”

December polls from La Repubblica showed those against continuing to send military aid is now at 57 percent. Those in favor has dropped from 50 percent in April of 2022 to 47 percent in September of 2023 to 42 percent now. Other polls have found even less support.

What could be the cause of Italians’ declining support?

It could be that the economic war against Russia has hurt Europe (and especially Italy) much more than it has hurt Russia. While the IMF doubles Russia’s 2024 GDP growth forecast to 2.6 percent, real wages in Russia grew by 7.8 percent in 2023 and the economy grew 4.6 percent.

Meanwhile, the Bank of Italy estimates GDP growth will slow from 0.7 percent in 2023 to 0.6 percent this year. Istat reports that the slowdown was mainly due to “reduced pressure on energy prices,” which only climbed by 1.2 percent, but that’s on top of the 50.9 percent surge in 2022. In 2021, Russian imports accounted for 23 percent of Italian fuel consumption with gas depended on more heavily (about 40 percent of imports)

The effects from the loss of cheap and reliable Russian energy have been a disaster:

In 2022, 35.1 percent of Italian households experienced worsening financial conditions, according to the National Consumer Union (UNC). The numbers haven’t been released for 2023 yet, but similar highs wouldn’t be surprising. The president of the UNC said just last month that an increasing number of Italians are on “forced diets” while still spending more on food.

So, it could be that all the economic carnage and declining living standards are behind the declining support. But the spooks, think tanks, and media see a different culprit: Russian disinformation. Italy’s intelligence services said in their annual report to parliament on Feb. 28 that Russia is waging a “hybrid” war on Italy with disinformation, cyber attacks and the exploitation of migration in an attempt to influence the upcoming European elections.

Last week, the Financial Times came out with the big summary titled “Russia unleashes war propaganda offensive in Italy.” Some highlights include the fact that the film “The Witness” did screen in the small Umbrian town of Foligno to horrific results:

“I wanted to have a different perspective of the war,” said Roberta, a 49-year-old primary school teacher in the audience who declined to give her last name. “Mainstream channels — that is propaganda channels — provide the same explanations. I wanted to understand alternative views.”

FT mentions that the leader of the conservative League party, Matteo Salvini, urged Italians to withhold judgment on the death of Alexei Navalny until “Russian doctors and judges” established the truth (according to even Ukraine, Salvini was proved right in his restraint).

FT alleges that Russia is being aided by its network of Italian sympathisers in politics, media, academia and civil society. This includes anyone who does not swallow Project Ukraine hook, line, and sinker. Quartapelle, the politician mentioned above who has been a leader in efforts to censor any and all dissenting views, warns that sympathizers are “preparing the ground” for political forces on the right and the left that suggest “we can suspend our aid to Ukraine or condition it to some sort of peace process”. She adds, “They know what the Italian ear listens to; what we are sensitive to.”

A step further and Quartapelle will be agreeing with Zelensky who recently told the Italian daily Corriera della Sera that Italy should expel all “Putin supporters.” What else can you do with people who “know what the Italian ear listens to”? More from FT:

Admiral Giuseppe Cavo Dragone, Italy’s chief of defence staff, warned last week of an “intensification” of Russian disinformation campaigns aimed at promoting the “image of a Russia eager for peace, and the picture of a war that is now pointless and whose outcome in Moscow’s favour was no longer in question”.

Is it still in question? And what is the evidence of these disinformation campaigns? FT gets to the damning stuff:

In one initiative, Vento dell’Est [a small Italian organization that seeks to counter Russophobia and re-establish friendship between Italy and Russia] video-linked a high school outside Rome with one in the Russian-occupied Donbas for an online “cultural exchange” under the auspices of a government initiative to connect Italian students with counterparts abroad.

Other alleged disinformation initiatives were the above-mentioned events that were canceled. That’s the extent of it. A few canceled events, a high school cultural exchange, a politician correctly urging caution before jumping to conclusions.

The spook-media-think tank alliance have been warning about Italians being duped by Russians for years. The ECFR was talking nearly a year ago about how Italian elites need to prepare the citizenry for the “long war”:

The government should invest more in monitoring disinformation trends, including by making the most of available EU funds. It should focus on strengthening citizens’ digital literacy, offering them training and equipping them with tools to recognise disinformation, and to train political representatives and civil servants.

They have also been shutting down even the hint that Project Ukraine is a bad idea. About a year ago, the late Silvio Berlusconi – a former prime minister and leader of one of the parties in Meloni’s coalition government – set off a firestorm with his mild suggestion that maybe, just maybe, this whole NATO proxy war against Russia is a complete catastrophe that deserves some more critical thought.

“If I were prime minister, I would never go talk to Zelenskyy,” Berlusconi said, adding, “We are assisting in the destruction of his country, the killing of his soldiers and civilians. All that was needed was for him to stop attacking the two autonomous republics in the Donbas, and this would never have happened.”

He also urged Washington to pressure Zelensky into a ceasefire by cutting off the supply of NATO weapons. That it was up to Berlusconi to be the voice of reason was strange enough, but the response was a full scale meltdown. Italian politicians and media attacked Berlusconi. Meloni quickly declared her unwavering support for Ukraine, NATO, and the US. According to Politico,  conservative “politicians from nine countries criticized the comments and several said they planned to boycott an upcoming gathering of conservatives in Naples, Italy, if Berlusconi attended.”

According to the Washington-based Center for European Policy Analysis, all of these instances are signs that Russia is waging an information war against Italy, and no one can be allowed to hide behind quaint ideas like freedom of speech:

Organizers of pro-Russian events meanwhile invoke democratic rights and freedom of speech in response to criticism…Allowing Kremlin disinformation agents to operate freely has nothing to do with freedom of speech.

Post-Conflict Positioning

Would it be wise for Italy to start positioning itself to rebuild ties with Russia once the conflict in Ukraine ultimately ends? As the FT noted, Putin himself wooed Italians recently, reminiscing about his past visits to the country. “Italy has always been close to us,” he told an Italian student at a forum in Moscow last week. “I remember when I came to Italy, how the people welcomed me. I felt completely at ease.”

Italy didn’t play a key role in stringing Russia along with the Minsk agreements the way Germany and France did, although former European Central Bank president, Goldman Sachs man, and unelected Italy Prime Minister Mario Draghi was an architect of the sanctions war against Russia. Current Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni, who built her reputation on her nationalist positions that questioned the EU and NATO, has seamlessly followed in Draghi’s footsteps.

There are deep roots between people and businesses in both countries, however.

After World War Two the strong Communist Party in Italy, which was the largest in Europe, was a natural ally to the USSR, and Italian companies were some of the biggest traders with Russia during Soviet times. Fiat built the USSR’s largest car factory in the town Stavropol Volzhsky, which was then renamed Togliatti after the Italian Communist leader Palmiro Togliatti.

Since the breakup of the USSR, Italy strongly supported the creation of the NATO–Russia Council in 2002 and was skeptical about NATO’s eastward expansion. Russia and Italy remained strong business partners until recent years, as well. For example, Italy shared manufacturing know-how, such as on civil aircraft and helicopter projects, as well as the modernization of rail transportation, and Russia had the energy. Many mid-sized Italian businesses were also eager to get into the emerging Russia market. They’re now doing what they can to stay there. Italian exports to Türkiye, for example, have jumped 87 percent over the last two years with much of that increase likely attributable to the effort to bypass sanctions. Additionally, as the Rev Kev pointed out recently:

Russia and Italy enjoyed such close ties that back in 2020 when the Coronavirus hit Italy pretty bad, the Russians sent ‘eight medical brigades and another 100 personnel include some of its most advanced nuclear, biological and chemical protection troops.’ I don’t think that they did this for any other EU country. Of course the Italians must have compared this to how the EU was letting them swing in the breeze while Trump was sending military cargo planes to swipe medial gear from Italy to bring back to the US.

The Center for European Policy Analysis of course labels Russian aid during the early days of the pandemic as a “Russian influence operation” and blames then-Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte for allowing it to happen.

All these examples of the decades-long strong ties mean Italy is, in the view of the New York Times, the “soft underbelly allowing Mr. Putin to break Europe’s liberal consensus.” And that is probably why there is such an outsized effort to demonize anyone in Italy who strays from the official line that Russia is evil. You can’t have people running around  invoking “democratic rights and freedom of speech” when the liberal consensus is at stake.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email


  1. JW

    I wonder if the ‘liberal consensus’ is so far down the rabbit hole, that they are now actively planning to lob conventional long range NATO weapons at Russian cities hoping they will lob some back on western cities so that the Orwellian world is fully engaged?
    Is this disinformation ‘reconstruction of the Ukrainian city of Mariupol’?
    Interesting article on the ongoing deindustrialisation of western Europe.

    1. Snailslime

      That is exactly what they are going to do and what they are banking on.

      But I don’t think even that will work.

      Not least because the russian retaliation will not hit civilian targets.

      I don’t think Russia hitting some NATO and european military headquarters, arms depots or missile factories will have the galvanizing effect that they are hoping for outside those sections of the populace that are already galvanised.

      There is no sort of positive identification with the state and it’s goals anymore in much of Europe, much less still with NATO and the bureaucratic monstrosity that is the EU.

      And much of what nationalists are there hate the current euro governments and technocrats much more than they ever will hate Russia.

      A lot also would be quite easy to intimidate and would react much more in a “See? That’s what this BS got us, let’s stop before even worse things happen!” way.

      Most of the people who aren’t already convinced that Russia is Mordor and that the Shadow from the East is going to devour them all will first and foremost blame euro politicians for whatever escalation materialises.

      Most will remain passive as they always have been, of course, but the idea that Russia striking some purely military targets in Europe AFTER the world has seen european countries bomb russian cities would lead to, I don’t even know what they really hope for, tens or hundreds of thousands of dudes voluntarily joining the military to defend the motherland and storm Moscow (aside from the fact that nobody would even know what to do with such volunteers even if they existed), well, I very much doubt that would work out.

      Without equivalents to systematic mass spread of banderite ideology with it’s “warrior culture”, it’s “ethos” of ultraviolence, over many years, I don’t see any chance of this working out.

      This ain’t The Great War aka world war number one, jingoistic patriotism and ideas of heroism on the battlefield, of duty, loyalty, sacrifice, obedience, bravery, acceptance of hardship were commonplace in a way that is unimaginable today.

      It will work in countries like Estonia, with more hatred than sense and their own equivalent to the Banderites, but not in Italy, Germany or France.

      Western european populations are every bit as indoctrinated, but for passivity and consumerism.

      You won’t be able to just conjure up the kind of selfsacrificing, longsuffering, patriotic subject willing to go and die for King/Emperor and Country, not even when war actually does break out.

      I bet the german “elites” regret their constant flooding of the airwaves with Guido Knopp documentaries right now.

    2. Rip Van Winkle

      And 10 minutes later London will be turned into a glowing Wisconsin Dells water park.

      1. redleg

        Any missiles launched from NATO targeting Russia will elicit a nuclear nuclear response because the only way to know whether or not the incoming missiles have conventional warheads is to wait for them to detonate. In addition, the US has a first use doctrine. Russia does not.
        Anyone who thinks that launching missiles at Russia is is a good idea is batshit crazy and a danger to the whole of humanity.

    3. ilsm

      When the other side says nuclear response, LISTEN.

      Project Ukraine from 2014 has tempted nuclear war.

  2. Robert Gray

    Thank you, Conor.

    > … no one can be allowed to hide behind quaint ideas like freedom of speech:

    Organizers of pro-Russian events meanwhile invoke democratic rights and freedom of speech in response to criticism…Allowing Kremlin disinformation agents to operate freely has nothing to do with freedom of speech.

    > Got that?

    We have truly crossed over into the Twilight Zone. War is Peace; Freedom is Slavery; Ignorance is Strength.

  3. The Rev Kev

    It seems that the Neoliberal consensus must be a very brittle construct. Right from the start of the war you had European countries censoring RT and Sputnik so that their citizens would have no common access to what the Russians were thinking and saying. Yeah, everybody was running around with a Ukrainian flag and putting the same in their social media accounts but that has waned as the true cost of supporting this war has sunk in for those same European countries. This effect may have been compounded by how Ukrainian refugees arriving in their countries were given “golden passes” while the actual population was left to rot. And it is not like the Ukrainians have a reputation for gratitude. Point remains that as Project Ukraine goes down the gurgler, that the governments of each country are getting frantic in their efforts to crack down on dissidents. And here a dissident is anybody that does not follow the government line. Italy had good relations with Russia going back centuries but the Meloni government cracking down on ordinary Italians for not going with the consensus against Russia is not a situation that is sustainable, especially when there is talk about curtailing human rights by the government to maintain the consensus. Of course if the Ukraine collapses, it will be interesting to see how the Meloni government reacts – or should that be overreacts.

    1. Pym of Nantucket

      You said it Rev Kev. Pull the camera back and many other control issues align with the scrambling efforts by brittle governments (or even systems) to hold the line on narrative. This isn’t about winning this conflict, it is about maintaining information control. The conflict is a guaranteed loss for anybody with a shred of objective information about it.
      Their problem is a sunk cost fallacy problem. When it comes to political parties, the sunk cost fallacy lesson does not apply (it can be a viable strategy for a political party to double down on failed policies because they don’t pursue true gain, rather they pursue their own gain). In other words, people in power can pursue a failing strategy with success if they are able to create narrative to externalize the source of the losses. In the Vietnam war, what seemed so obviously an immoral endeavour based on false starting assumptions was pursued far longer than what seemed logical because it served a subset of decision makers.
      For me the most important learning experience is seeing what other core elements on the narrative menu tend to be bundled with the failing Russia cause, and by whom. This has been the most important observation I have made and it has disrupted my understanding of what the world perceives to be the left-right 1D political spectrum. In a nutshell, it seems to be agnostic about class, culture, religion, identity issues or environmental issues, and just comes down to big money and influence. The decorative issues are just used to manipulate buy-in.

  4. JohnA

    It does not surprise me in the least that Sweden headed the poll of being pro-Ukraine. Swedish media are namely hysterically anti-Russia. Last time I was in Stockholm talking to friends, they were horrified when I did not concur with their damnation of Putin. They were blind and deaf to any suggestion that Putin was not the devil incarnate, determined to invade Gotland en route to the whole of Scandinavia and the rest of Europe.

      1. ambrit

        Well, the city of Poltava is in the Ukraine today. So, there is that doubleplusgood historical analogy.

      2. Feral Finster

        No, sweden is very much a consensus culture, even by european standards.

        You do the done thing and anyone who bucks the group narrative is suspicious and to be shunned.

    1. Eclair

      Does not surprise me either, JohnA. We have cousins in Sweden, a couple of whom we are fairly close to. I was emailing them back in January about the political situation here in the US, and suggested, only half in jest, that Sweden, being a small country, might be better off hitching their wagon to Russia, rather than to the US.

      Well, I got a return email, totally aghast that I would even think such an abomination, Russia having invaded, well, not Sweden, but Finland, which was once a ‘part’ of Sweden. But Sweden had apparently not ‘invaded’ Finland, merely ‘colonized’ it, a couple of centuries ago. There are all those Swedish-speaking Finns. It’s a complicated situation, which I cannot pretend to comprehend. But, definitely, Swedes seem to hate Russia; Germany, nah.

      A few years ago, I was fascinated by the Netflix series, Occupy, a Swedish production. I wondered about the role of the evil Russian ambassador and the portrayal of Russia as adversary. But, now it makes sense.

        1. Eclair

          That’s the one, digi-owl. I got the title and the country wrong, but other than that ….. And Norway was in a ‘union’ with Sweden, after it broke from Denmark, until 1905.

          Thanks for the reminder! Always check one’s sources.

    2. digi_owl

      Meanwhile in Norway the story is a bit mixed. Down south there is borderline cold war hysteria, while up north they are more frustrated with how government decrees etc complicates cross border matters.

  5. Tom67

    The only major German politician to visit the embassy and congratulate Russia on its 9th of May holiday (victory in WWII) was Tino Chruppalla, the co-chairman of the AFD. Last autumn during a campaign stop a stranger approached and pricked him with something that made him faint and resulted in two short stays in hospital. Before the news were buried again the occurence was briefly mentioned in main stream media. There was a camera team there of the ZDF, one of the main German TV channels. When they handed in their footage it was without the moment when this had happened. The perpetrators have not been found and people in Germany who only consume main stream media don´t know this happened. Only alternative media have continued to report about this. Now the government wants to enact a new censorship law that will prevent such things becoming known anymore. They are shitting their pants that the AFD and the new party of Wagenknecht will win the elections in the East this autumn and start to ask tough questions about the war. Questions that you cannot ignore anymore if they are posed by the heads of state goverments. My prediction is that they will increase the pressure on the opposition and hold the dam a bit longer. But not forever. Nordstream is to big to ignore forever.

    1. Ignacio

      Thank you Tom67. the DW mention a “violent incident” exactly like that, with colons. The police, always according to DW, were looking for the “possible involvement of a third party” (this time colons are mine for quoting purposes). Then Andreas Aichele, a spokesman for the Upper Bavarian Police Department, said it remained unclear whether the politician had been attacked, fallen, or simply wasn’t feeling well. How open minded the spokesman. This very much looks like it is going to end like the investigation of the very same Nordstream event you mention.

    2. caucus99percenter

      Reportedly, in Leipzig someone targeted the mother of an AfD city councilman, setting her car on fire and destroying it. In a previous incident she had her tires slashed. So far I see only right-wing populist media covering this; as is typical, when politically-motivated violence is directed at the AfD everyone else on the party spectrum is like, tsk-tsk (nudge-nudge wink-wink) if they deign to take notice at all.

  6. Ignacio

    Just new attempts to divert the attention of the public and keep the russophobia as high as possible. For me this is the key take from this article: So, “it could be that all the economic carnage and declining living standards are behind the declining support.” But now the russiahaters in charge want to tell every one that loosing your salary or purchasing power is “Russian disinformation”. IMO this is not going to work.

  7. DJG, Reality Czar

    Thanks, Conor Gallagher. On the mark, as always.

    It is important to note two things: The Italians hardly supported the proxy war in Ukraine when it started, and support has declined in these past two years. The polls that Conor quotes strike me as optimistic. Support for wars here is thin, indeed, and the Italian constitution, in its article 11, doesn’t allow war.

    L’Italia ripudia la guerra come strumento di offesa alla libertà degli altri popoli e come mezzo di risoluzione delle controversie internazionali; consente, in condizioni di parità con gli altri Stati, alle limitazioni di sovranità necessarie ad un ordinamento che assicuri la pace e la giustizia fra le Nazioni; promuove e favorisce le organizzazioni internazionali rivolte a tale scopo.

    In general, this article still seems to have considerable weight, and I am seeing references to it often.

    Of course, that doesn’t stop lightweights / panic-sowers like Anna Zafesova and Nathalie Tocci from writing endless articles in La Stampa about toilet paper in Moscow, looting washing machines for chips, and those Asian hordes. Yes, La Stampa even had its “Asian hordes” article.

    Many of the incidents Conor describes, though, haven’t been buried. The attempt to eliminate the film in Bologna caused a national scandal. Other, similar attempts, such as the ham-handed whining from the Ukrainian consulate about playing Russian music at La Scala, elicited derision.

    The discourse here also bumps much too often (deliberately, pointedly) into embarrassing NATO “triumphs” like the dismantling of Yugoslavia and the continuing wreckage of Libya. Both events had adverse effects on Italy. Geography matters. The Italians notice.

    That “soft underbelly” stuff (mentioned at the end) is the usual casual U.S. racism, not so far from Hillary Clinton and Co. insisting Hamas is Mandingo escaped from the plantation.

    Yes, we are the Soft Underbelly! Pass the meatballs! We’re irrational and excitable! Italian is a dialect of Mexican, arriba!

    1. Ignacio

      This is not a topic it is possible to argue about openly with people around. That must be one of the Western values we defend so fiercely to the last Ukrainian. Yet when I have spoken with someone on the matter, apart from the usual Putin haters, because we have been imprinted on evil Putin for so long, I have found some many not buying the narrative and none of them mention the economic situation as a reason.

  8. KD

    1.) Project Ukraine as a policy has chiefly been sold on emotional appeals, both demonization of Putin as well as presenting Ukraine as some kind of plucky democracy.

    2.) While the military people (for example, the 2019 Rand Corp report on how to antagonize Russia) have consistently stated that it would be mistake to escalate tension to the level of a Russian-Ukraine War, the politicians are clearly morons. By the numbers, the cause of Ukraine winning by taking back territories and forcing the Russians into a peace deal which preserves the 1991 borders is extremely improbable. However, the politicians insist it will be done if Ukraine gets some magical Western weapons and sanctions were imposed.

    3.) There has been almost zero public debate around the merits of the Ukraine intervention, and it makes perfect sense that any debate would be suppressed because the case for Ukrainian victory is not rationally defensible, and to the extent that it is, it is based on wholly unrealistic assumptions (for example, Ukraine has only suffered 31,000 KIA during the conflict which if true, might give cause to believe a Ukrainian victory is possible). If you cannot make a rational case for your position, then your only rhetorical tactic is ad hominem attack and emotional appeals. The oft repeated lie is that Putin is hell bent on conquering Ukraine, and will start on Eastern Europe next. This claim is completely unsupported by any diplomatic “ask” made by the RF either before or after the SMO started or Russia’s realistic military capabilities.

    4.) The Western enablers of this war are now faced with a set of horrible outcomes. Left to itself, the Russians will probably eat 40% of Ukraine and install a Pro-Russian puppet government to replace the Pro-US Deep State puppet currently occupying Ukraine. This would be a disaster politically, especially in Europe.

    5.) Europe has no serious ground army, and the US army is not set up to fight a protracted campaign against a peer competitor, and if there is a direct NATO-RF conflict, NATO will struggle conventionally. You cannot restructure your arm forces on a dime, it takes decades. When it becomes clear to Russia that NATO seeks to initiate a direct conflict, Russia will probably respond by nuking Western Ukraine. This will probably re-establish nuclear deterrence, and NATO will likely talk tough but citizens will realize the real stake and support with wane. However, if there is a direct conflict, even if it doesn’t end in a nuclear exchange, there will be millions of casualties and trillions in property damage. Putin will get his 5 minutes of hate, but it will be a total disaster in the West. Ukraine only makes sense as a value proposition if Ukraine is the country doing the fighting and the dying.

    6.) NATO has no objectives. To the extent NATO has any objective (e.g. restoring the 1991 borders), they lack any feasible means of accomplishing those objectives. They don’t know what they are fighting for in terms of a real objective, and so they have no plan, its all improv. The further they go, the greater the negative consequences.

    7.) Its much like the fate of Enron–you have an ongoing fraud and you are trying to go forward as evidence begins to accumulate that you are fraudsters. You try to suppress and deny the fraud and keep the charade going as long as possible.

    8.) At some point, the war will end when Russia stops. They stop advancing, put up fortifications, and bomb any offensive military equipment that rolls into rump Ukraine. Ukraine becomes a de-militarized zone and an economic basket case, and the conflict is frozen. Ukraine cannot enter NATO because it is in a state of war officially. Who knows what happens as far as their government, but they will preside over a failed state.

    1. hk

      I agree with most of these points except one thing. I fully expect that, if Russia does go nuclear, it will be Brussels or Ottawa, not Western Ukraine that will be nuked. I don’t think Russians will go for something that can be dismissed. It will be the capital of a non-nuclear NATO member far from Russia itself, preferably one that has been too loudly aggressive. Nukes are too big a stick to waste on something that the West can ignore, and nobody in the West really cares what happens in Ukraine.

      1. Yves Smith

        Colonel Wiklerson has said repeatedly that it is the US that would launch any nuclear war.

        Russia does not need to use nukes in a first strike. It can take out pretty much anything with hypersonic missiles. It just takes more than with a nuke.

        1. KD

          There are two scenarios:

          1.) France/Canada committing to putting ground forces into Ukraine. If Russia were to nuke Lviv in response, first, Ukraine is not in NATO and Ukraine has no capacity to retaliate. Would NATO want to respond with nukes–well, they already said they wouldn’t. I think a Nagasaki/Hiroshima demonstration would wake a lot of people up and put a lot of pressure on Western Governments, not to mention Kiev and the Ukrainian people..

          I am drawing a blank but a scholar in Russia that got a lot of press in calling for a revision of Russian First Strike doctrine. I saw an interview with him, and he claimed that it had already changed unofficially, and it would change officially. There has been a consistent underestimation of Russia’s capacities and its willingness to use them in the West. I think a nuclear strike on Ukraine is a distinct possibility and makes a certain amount of sense. On the other hand, I have zero in the way of special information.

          2.) NATO/RF war–its hard to say who would go first, or if it would even go nuclear. Certainly, Wilkerson’s point is taken. I tend to think Russia is at high risk to go nuclear because they are fighting in their back yard, the same way the US was willing to go nuclear over Cuba. The Americans and the Europeans are bluffing and playing a game of chicken, but the problem is, even if they intend to pull away before its too late, if they make a mistake we will all be incinerated. Yes, this assumes they are just stupid and not mad to boot.

          1. Snailslime

            I assume you meant Prof.Sergey Karaganov, founder of the Valdai Forum.

            Interesting guy indeed.

            He thinks, and on this one point he actually kinda agrees with the Neocons (and Paul Craig Roberts) that it is possible both to have a limited nuclear war and to win it.

            Otherwise he doesn’t seem to have any of the frozing at the mouth craziness of the neocons though.

            1. chris

              The problem with a limited nuclear exchange is that it’s also possible that the entire world loses even if one of the two initiating parties “wins”.

              What a mad world we live that such things even need to be discussed.

              1. digi_owl

                If one want to be truly mad, one could conceive of nuclear winter as a solution to global warming.

                Pop some nukes and as the dust settles in the upper atmosphere the planet cools.

              2. KD

                If Russia were to nuke Ukraine, there would not be an exchange. Ukraine has no nukes. Ukraine would get nuked. Further, as a pre-emptive sign of displeasure about NATO’s direct involvement, NATO would understand the seriousness of Russia’s resolve (they are on record stating they would not respond with nukes) and unless NATO was insane, that would end the issue of NATO putting ground forces into Ukraine. If France went ahead away, then Paris gets incinerated, and anyone who follows the French example, and probably even Macron isn’t that stupid.

          2. hk

            I think Wilkerson’s argument is exactly why there is a significant risk that Russia may go first–because they think US is about to do something and they don’t have time to consider things carefully, or that they think US is sufficiently crazy that it would take something “serious” to wake us up. Western Ukraine won’t be “serious” enough, I think. New York or London might be, but they are more likely to trigger full scale nuclear war. I was going through list of cities that are important enough to “shock,” but not important enough to trigger thoughtless knee jerk reaction. I ruled out Berlin because I think Russia still has some plans for Germany in the long run. I don’t think Russia cares what happens in North America or “Western” Europe (west of the Rhein), so somewhere in Canada or the Low Countries would be my guess. Of course, this is predicated on Russia going nuclear in the first place, which, I think, is still a quite low probability event per Yves’ point. BUT I think we need to consider the possibility more carefully, given that Putin has explicitly warned of a big retaliation (which I think is not unlikely to involve nuclear weapons) if things get crazier.

            1. Yves Smith

              Wilkerson was a direct report to the head of the Joint Chiefs and was also at the State Dept. He know many of the current key players personally. You don’t have a good basis for second guessing him.

              Russia is very clear that they will attack the West only if attacked first. That is already proven by the restraint it has shown so far with the West openly arming Ukraine and having to have its forces sheep-dipped to run some of the equipment.

              Putin has said Russia has weapons that can make long-range strikes, including nukes. Russia’s doctrine is that it will use nukes only if the survival of the state is at risk. Hits on the Kerch Bridge or Rostov on Don won’t amount to that.

              But Russia would have to hit a Western target, likely a decision center. The West would then launch nukes.

              1. hk

                My suspicion is based on two premises involving events which I think are rapidly approaching.

                First, I think we will certainly see NATO troops operating openly in Ukraine soon enough. The Duran folks were discussing the other day that the effect of Macron’s talk, even if other NATO leaders might disavow it quickly at this time, is to normalize the idea. There may be dithering and denials in the immediate future, but I think it is likely that there will be overt NATO contingents showing up in Ukraine without bothering with a disguise, basically daring the Russians to do something. It would be silly if Russians don’t respond–although that needs not go outside Ukraine.

                The more overt behavior that will trigger an extreme reaction that I expect to take place is that there will be NATO attacks (that may or may not involve Ukrainian insignia) from NATO territories on Russia soon enough. I speculated in the past that this is the real :game changer that would take place when F-16s are allegedly “handed off to Ukraine,” which, in practice, would mean that NATO pilots in F-16s painted with Ukrainian insignia will take off from NATO bases (likely nowhere near Ukraine) and attack Russian sites allegedly involved in the Ukrainian War, but far away, if only because F-16s are useless in actual Ukrainian hands on Ukrainian airstrips. That, obviously, is an open act of war (but it’s not the first time that the Anglo-French leaders thought about this–during the Phoney War, in 1939-40, they came up with various plans for attacking USSR since they reasoned that the Soviets were aiding the Germans, although they never did anything about them back then, admittedly–there being more immediate problems on hand.) but I have the hunch that the Western leaders may not think that far. I think this is the scenario (more generic than what I suggested–F-16s are not the only means for badly disguised direct NATO attack on Russia) that Putin was warning against in his recent speech (and, apparently, public displays of TELs with ICBMs on them) and, even if these attacks, if they do take place, use only conventional weapons, Russians will respond with nuclear weapons–even if not a full scale response.

                I wonder if Wilkerson is worried (in his talk about how the West might go nuclear first) about something closely related, but slightly different: (and much more worrying) scenario: that the “F-16 type” attack I described (that may not involve literal F-16s) might actually involve nuclear rather than conventional weapons. Well, if that is the case, God help us.

                1. JohnA

                  Yves is correct, Russia does not need to use nukes, its conventional weapons are deadly enough. Russia would only use them in retaliation to a first strike from a desperate Nato.

                  To anyone that says Nato has no purpose, this is incorrect. The purpose of Nato is to sell US arms and materiel to its members. Hence the need to bring more members into the club. When the Warsaw Pact dissolved, American MIC salespeople immediately headed straight across the Atlantic with their weapons catalogues to visit Prague, Budapest, Bucharest, Warsaw, Talin etc., etc.

      2. redleg

        The US will be the first to launch, not Russia. Any nuclear provocation or weapon use will be by the US (or Israel, which might as well be the US). The spirit of Curtis LeMay is unfortunately thriving in the US elites.

    2. Steve M

      I can’t believe that anyone in Russia’s ruling echelons are even contemplating firing nukes into western Ukraine for the same reason that the United States would not nuke Mexico even if it turned into a hostile state determined to destroy the USA. It’s right freakin’ next door.

      Borders and visas don’t apply to nuclear fallout. Chernobyl fallout spanned 1,000 kilometers they say. So the deadly radioactive fallout from hitting western Ukraine would reach Moscow itself! Makes no sense.

      I’d like to believe that if the US ordered a nuclear strike on Tijuana for a horrendous terrorist attack upon American soil launched from there, the huge military establishment in San Diego would revolt.

      But maybe that’s just the bourbon speaking.

  9. NotThePilot

    Not the main subject of the article, but I noticed that Greece is ahead of even Italy and only behind Hungary in the proportion calling for a peace-treaty. I saw polls from last year that a lot of Greeks had anti-Russian sentiments, but they never really passed the smell test for me. If there are any overwhelmingly positive and genuinely ancient relationships in geopolitics, I’m pretty sure the Greek-Russian one qualifies.

    I’ve also noticed, both in personal conversations and in the media (e.g. NY Times), that very pro-NATO people have some really out-there positive views of the current Greek system. The underlying thought process seems very similar to what you see the Democrats doing too. For example, the GDP going up is immediately read as “the economy is great, people should be ecstatic,” when it’s really just a few PE firms buying up and wash-trading everything. Literal train crashes seem to be a common theme too.

    Don’t know if you have the contacts to dig into that, Conor, but if you did a piece on Greece, I’m sure you’d find some interesting things. At least reading between the lines from back here in the American bubble, it seems like there’s an almost psychotic break between the narrative vs. the average Greek’s lived experience.

    1. schmoe

      “I’ve also noticed, both in personal conversations and in the media (e.g. NY Times), that very pro-NATO people have some really out-there positive views of the current Greek system. ”

      – Strikingly similar to the favorable press Russia had in US MSM in the late ’90s and early ’00s as US-backed oligarchs picked the carcass clean (despite the war in Chechnya). Once Putin cracked down on the looting he was our arch-enemy. It almost like the people in Wall Street and the City of London have a lot of ties to people in MSM.

  10. Carolinian

    Thanks for the report. This Europe wide return to authoritarian control if not outright fascism seems very strange given that the rocket fuel of the same impulse in the 20th–nationalism–has been deliberately suppressed in reaction to those past World Wars. You wonder who or what is driving it all.

    Meanwhile Russia–very old school and nationalist indeed–is making the feeble would be militarists of the EU look like fools. It’s almost as though the Europeans, like the Americans, thought a bankers’ war and sanctions would easily conquer the Russians and now they don’t know which way to turn. They have the media–which they own–on their side but the public increasingly opposed.

    1. hk

      I always wondered how “nationalist” the original Fascists were when it came to anti-Bolshevism/anti-Russianism. Besides half a dozen countries contributing troops officially, there were also volunteers from several dozen countries–practically all of Europe–that joined SS to fight the Russians–a very much international movement, in other words. Some of the same sentiments as today come up in the recruiting slogans and what these SS volunteers said about why they signed up, and these are stories that rather few people in the West want to talk about or are even aware of.

      1. Carolinian

        Fair point although the war against the Bolshies came at the end of WW1 which had been totally about nationalistic competition. It could be there were two different wars going on and the ideological one against communism then carried on for the rest of the century.

        One could get even fancier and suggest the 20th century wars were a hangover from those of the 19th even as ours are a hangover from the 20th.

        1. VietnamVet


          The reestablishment of the current oligarchy (e.g. the EU) resurrected the WWI era aristocracy. This restarted the Great Game — the thousand-year history of three major invasions of Russia and hundreds of borderland wars — history rhyming. Except the use of tactical nuclear weapons to avoid defeat on either side is guaranteed to launch the opponents ICBMs before the first strike destroys them, and the submarine launched missiles will afterwards radiate the rubble of an exterminated human civilization. The “On the Beach” script will become reality if armistices are not signed and if no DMZs are built between adversaries in Europe and the Middle East like 1953 in Korea.

          Right now, peace is not being given a chance.

  11. Alena Shahadat

    “It should focus on strengthening citizens’ digital literacy, offering them training and equipping them with tools to recognise disinformation, and to train political representatives and civil servants.”

    It looks like a dictatorship with all the trappings. The “enemy” and the “training” of the population to recognise the enemy. They need to open a “political bureau” and a “bureau of propaganda” to take care of this.

  12. Eclair

    No ‘disinformation’ here in the US of A, no indeedy. Or propagation of skewed versions of reality.

    NYT headline this morning, on my on-line version: Lives Ended in Gaza.

  13. flora

    I read and hear more and more “important” people dismissing democratic constitutional rights as “so last century”, or something like that. Going out on a thought limb here…. my understanding may be wrong, never-the-less…

    I understand that capitalism rose up in prominence against the old feudalism arrangements of economy, rights, duties, ownerships, power relations, etc.
    I understand that democracy grew out of both the replacement of feudalism’s power claims and the need for a state’s governing charter – a constitution – that would protect capitalists and citizens alike from arbritrary and capricious power.

    But now, with the rise of the tech platforms, Vanis Varoufakis says capitalism has destroyed itself. If that is true, then the really big money in no longer in capitalist enterprises but in something else Varoufakis describes. If that is true, the the ‘cloudalists’ as he calls them have no need of democracy at all. (And the neoliberals have had 40 years to neuter democracy in the West in the name of the ‘Market’ machine. However, now even the Market is gone. Only the Machine is left…collecting rents.)

    Vanis short explanation of cloudalism and technofeudalism. utube, ~17+ minutes.

    1. Carolinian

      How many divisions do the cloudalists have? If our cyber age has shown us anything it is that the fantasies of the techno futurists–self driving cars, drone deliveries etc–often lack practical basis. They are sustained by all that money sloshing around in the stock markets as opposed to the pockets of the now despised working class. Capitalism has indeed “jumped the shark.”

      Just a theory.

      1. hk

        This is an important point: the precondition for medieval feiudalism was that feudal lords had armies–not a whole lot, but since the central state has fallen apart, local warlords with several hundred men could offer “protection” (in gangster like sense) to the locals. I thought Varukis was spot on with his “technofeudalism” characterization, but he does ignore the “military” foundation of feudalism: Elon Musk does not have a private army to offer “protection”: the ability of the new barons to extract rents is predicated on the existing legal-political institutions being preserved–just warped to serve their interests. That makes them more like late Roman oligarchs, who’d simultaneously presupposed Pax Romana long after it was over and thought it enough to capture the Roman state while they were busy destroying its foundations, rather than the warlords who really started the Feudal Age.

        1. digi_owl

          That said though, a lord’s standing army came up short if the peasantry banded together and brought their farming implements. A timber axe will crack skulls just as well as it cracks logs.

          And the same peasantry could hunker down and wait things out, as they were already living off the land. Thus all cultures that implemented feudalism developed some kind of noblesse oblige long term (supposedly some remnant of the Japanese one can be seen in their “odd” business behavior).

          What we have now is that the nebulous PMC/middle class has developed into a kind of extended affinity or retinue. Completely dependent on their “lord’s” (corporation’s) favor in order to survive, as they do not have any land or similar to fall back on.

          1. hk

            Their “survival” depends on the society (with its economic-social-technological foundations) staying as they are, though. If the electricity goes away tomorrow, say, the requisites for survival are not what tech barons can provide–but, in principle, what the lord’s men-at-arms could, partly–we’d still have to grow our own food, but they’d keep the (roving) bandits away, for a somewhat smaller share of crops than what the bandits could, and they’d do so because the warlords would be in for a long haul, while the bandits may well wander away. Tech barons don’t have that sense of long term commitment–they are more like the (roving) bandits in their attitude. (The distinction between stationary bandits, i.e. the feudal lords and their successors, and the roving bandits was made by Mancur Olson originally.)

        2. JBird4049

          >>>I understand that democracy grew out of both the replacement of feudalism’s power claims and the need for a state’s governing charter – a constitution – that would protect capitalists and citizens alike from arbritrary and capricious power.

          This is where you learn why the American Founders put in all those protections in the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, as well as explaining their reasoning in the Declaration of Independence. No matter if you are part of the ruling class, which the signatories generally were, what is the point if armed conflict, dictatorships or mob rule, becomes the norm? The whole country went through two decades of increasing militarized policing, violent civil war, and a confederate government that was too weak to do anything, which almost degenerated into another civil war.

          Unfortunately, the Constitution almost presumes a George Washington being the President. But in other ways, it also presumes the use of the ballots instead of bullets, free speech instead of armed conflict, and the understanding that losing (or winning) today does not mean doing so tomorrow, but that there will be another chance to do so and without imprisoning, exiling, or murdering anyone. Also, using the military or the police as a political tool is not a good thing. If nothing else, it is likely to be used on you and will lead to a (corrupt) dictatorship or oligarchy, which is something that the American colonists got a taste of.

          People can argue about the specifics of liberalism, democracy, or the various protections and strictures of Constitution and Bill of Rights, but they were all created with good cause. Wars, absolute rule using the military and police, arbitrary laws including torture, enforced beliefs were the norm four centuries ago. It seems that our ruling class, whoever they are, along with their pet politicians, the nomenklatura, apparatchiks, intelligentsia, glitterati, paparazzi, and the auxiliary NGOs or Non Governmental Organization, [which need a better term that rhymes with the others. (Saying N-G-O repeatedly does not work. Nonglerati? Nongoti? N-goes? Any suggestions?)] are all determined to bring that back, but without any of the education, competence, or skills of past five centuries. All European states required and had a core of competent leaders and bureaucracy, however ever small from the ditch digger guide, the local priest, to the king; it is something that they all had even fifty years ago. And you would say the same with all the other major civilizations, but all the current ones except the West do have. The closer to the core Western-European states, the greater the emptiness and mass incompetence.

          Hell, I can just look at my state of California, which is the creation of over a century of steady work, but since the 1980s, if not 70s, has been in constant hollowing out. A century or more of construction, followed by fifty years of destruction. It is a disconcerting thing to compare my own memories and the experiences of my parents and grandparents generations to now. Love or hate this recent past, it has a solidity and complexity now lacking.

          1. flora

            About free speech from US Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis :

            ” If there be time to expose through discussion the falsehood and fallacies, to avert the evil by the processes of education, the remedy to be applied is more speech, not enforced silence.”

            Louis D. Brandeis

    2. digi_owl

      Keep in mind that in those post-enlightenment “democracies” only the wealthy could vote. Only when faced with popular uprisings (in particular from the growing industrial working class) did they begrudgingly extend the “franchise” to the masses.

      And primarily it was about checking the king’s ability to nullify debt, as that was how the merchantile class was growing their wealth and power.

  14. Bill Malcolm

    A good article on “right-think” in Italy. Same here in poutine country. Meloni and Trudeau ran into a spot of bother in Toronto last night, as. protestors stopped them attending a meeting/rant on the Gaza situation, and the cops couldn’t really handle the crowds of pro-Palestinians, The event was cancelled for “security” reasons

    Modena – a manufacturing capitol“, you say. That should unambiguously be “capital“. A capitol is by definition:
    1.A building or complex of buildings in which a state legislature meets.2.The building in Washington, DC, where the Congress of the United States meets.

    Since US neoconism is essentially the driving force behind the dystopia we find ourselves in in the West, using capital correctly is one small way to avoid creeping incorrect Americanisms.

  15. ChrisPacific

    The ECFR’s takeaway two years into the conflict: “But it is also possible that many Europeans simply need to be convinced that the EU is capable of supporting Ukraine and helping it win the war.”

    Remarkably tone deaf. We have two years’ worth of evidence to look at on this front already, and I think many Europeans have drawn the obvious conclusions. But sure – maybe better words will fix it.

    1. eg

      The ECFR is nothing if not entertaining. I listen to their “Mark Leonard’s World in 30 Minutes” podcast weekly, and it’s always good for a laugh if you don’t take their “analysis” too seriously.

  16. samm

    Translation: the dogs won’t eat the dog food, and training them to so is a long term proposition — whatever it costs, however long it takes.

  17. Victor Sciamarelli

    There is a war going on but it’s not about Ukraine and Russia. Rather, it’s about elites maintaining political and economic power in the US regardless what the public wants. Undoubtedly, this has spread to Europe as Conor Gallagher’s excellent post explains.
    Ordinarily, the defeat of HRC in 2016 would spell the end of her and the DP’s neolib policies, such that, her supporters, donors, and the DP leadership, would be forced to step aside to make room for a new crop of leaders with better ideas.
    That was not to be. Though the Clinton campaign accepted electoral defeat in 2016, Russiagate and the Putin derangement syndrome were created in order to deny that the public rejected her policies; Instead, Trump’s connection to Putin was the cause. Thus, the aging Dems were entitled to remain in control of the DP. And it’s how Biden was nominated in 2020.
    The ruling elites might be self serving and corrupt but they’re not stupid. They realize they are losing legitimacy. Nancy Pelosi recently remarked, without evidence, that she suspected pro-Palestinian demonstrators were supported by Putin and that the FBI should investigate their source of financing. This is an elite class desperate to preserve themselves and hold on to power, even if it means defending genocide in Gaza and undermining the entire liberal democratic structure.

  18. BillC

    “Public hall” in Modena?

    I sit less than 1/2 mile from the “public hall to host a private event” noted in the opening of this story. Said site is a city-sponsored meeting room appended to a neighborhood shopping center/high-rise apartment building that’s regularly used for youth meetings, social events, after-school tutoring, and other such neighborhood functions.

    It might accommodate 150 people … if they were all standing. Otherwise, maybe 75 if they’re real friendly. It’s in a place that anyone who doesn’t live in the neighborhood would find challenging to locate and far enough from the city center that it’s unlikely to attract a large crowd for even a well-publicized event, which this wasn’t — until the anti’s raised enough ruckus to get it canceled. The site is virtually surrounded by a grassy, partly-wooded public park (ironically enough, “Victims of the Holocaust Park”), hardly the kind of closed-in downtown commercial area that might pose a security concern.

    To forbid use of this space to a group organizing a meeting promoted with a positive spin (rapid progress in rebuilding Mariupol; no explicit pitch actively opposing Italian-provided war funding and weapons) and in compliance with the rules for reserving this space for an event seems an odd implementation of the “western values” of democratic free expression.

Comments are closed.