Masks and Maskirovka -- Don't Inhale Putin's Virus.

There is more to Russia's shipments of medical supplies (mostly useless) to purportedly fight COVID-19 than meets the eye. In Italy, NATO's gates are opened by one of its own members to Russian intelligence operatives as part of the shipments, with General Sergey Kikot, deputy commanding officer of Russia's radiation, chemical and biological defense troops, riding the Trojan Horse. He's the gentleman who sniffed indignantly at international alarm over the use by Russia's paladin, Syria's Assad, of chemical weapons in Douma province in 2018, weapons and training provided by Russia, writes Victor Rud.

The shipment to the US, however, provides Putin with infinitely greater return on investment. It's more than the immediate propaganda coup--a tyranny providing humanitarian aid to the most powerful democracy in the world. Let's stop all the prattle and simply acknowledge that Russia is superior to America. The problem is that this was not "aid" but a purchase by the US . . . but that fact is simply overwhelmed by the swarm of Russian dezinform and the optics.

The shipment also lends support to Moscow's line that the pandemic effect in Russia is de minimus. How otherwise could Russia afford to ship anything to anyone, despite the officially unreported but exploding death rate? It reminds, in part, of Stalin's starvation of Ukraine in 1932-33. Foodstuffs that Moscow stripped from Ukraine were dumped on world markets to raise hard currency and to mask the genocide.

It worked--how could there possibly be any starvation when the regime is exporting hundreds of thousands of tons of Ukrainian foodstuffs, depressing prices? (Putin's US shipment was also sold at below market price.) And the starvation was engineered? Who would ever do that?

Concurrently, the word "famine" was outlawed, as was recording starvation as the cause of death until the corpses overwhelmed the bourgeois practice of identifying cause. And for how long did Moscow categorically deny explosion of the Chornobyl atomic power station in Ukraine, with recordation of radiation deaths also prohibited?

Putin's coup is also not to be measured by the fact that he selected as the manufacturer of the ventilators a sub-unit of Rostec, a Russian state conglomerate under US sanctions for Russia's war against Ukraine, now in its sixth year. A poke in Washington's eye.

Nor does the value of coup primarily lie in the corollary: the pressure on the US to lift, not just waive, sanctions against Russia for its malign activities. In addition to Putin's invasion and annexation of Ukrainian territory, the checklist includes weapons proliferation, chemical attack on Sergei Skripal, cyber-attacks, human rights abuses, and North Korean, Syrian, Iranian and Venezuelan-related malign activities. Yet Putin's Foreign Ministry hysterically condemns the “immorality of anti-Russian economic sanctions in the light of COVID-19.” A win-win for Putin--if sanctions aren't lifted, then the US is "inhumane."

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However, Putin's return on investment is much more consequential. The sign off by the State Department, "This is a time to work together to overcome a common enemy that threatens the lives of all of us" meshes perfectly with Putin's spokesman, Dmitry Peskov "Now, when the current situation affects each and every one and can be characterized as global, there is no alternative to working together in the spirit of partnership and mutual help." In collapsing nations from within, what better way than to shatter the sequencing of fact–information–knowledge–understanding–judgement–decision–action/inaction? Present matters other than as they are, whatever they are. Mask them, as in "We're all in this together." Maskirovka. It's part of Russia's repertoire, together with provokatsia, kompromat, dezinformatsia, agitatsia.

A group hug with China would at least give us pause, given the apparent geographic--though to this day still not explained "how"-- origin of the virus. And with any normal country, this would be instinctively, humanly welcome. But Russia is not a normal country, regardless of the parameters of "normal."

How do we assess "common cause" against the background of today's pandemic? Putin's exploitation of the crisis has gone into overdrive, his goal as ever being to subvert the West and to create a new world order. From Putin's fascist ideologue, Aleksandr Dugin: "The world order itself is falling. We are living in the period of the end of liberalism . . . no more dollar-imperialism, no more free market spells, no more Fed dictatorship or global stock changes." And from another source, “It is obvious that the pandemic is a shock to democracy and a strong support for authoritarianism and nationalism.”

COVID-19 is Russia's latest WMD, not in its biological sense, but in its use by Putin to prevent an effective response to the pandemic and to shake the foundations of entire governments. Russia, intentionally and malevolently, impedes measures against the pandemic, generates panic, sows distrust, and worsens the awful toll. Russia's dezinform trumpets the necessary closing of borders between most E.U. nations as the implosion of the E.U. Schengen area, and the harbinger of the collapse of the European unity. COVID-19 is a weapon to dissolve solidarity within and between Europe and the US. The same, time-tested tools are in overdrive: trolls, bots, fake news outlets, pseudo-scientists and Russians living in the West.

The campaign is malicious and insidious. It's also inventive: the coronavirus was created by the US and NATO; the outbreak was caused by migrants; it’s a ploy to benefit US pharmaceutical companies; Bill Gates started it all; the whole thing is a complete hoax.

This is nothing new. Through the generations, Moscow has accused the US of spreading malaria, dengue fever, syphilis and other maladies. The KGB's Operation Infektion blamed the CIA for inventing and spreading HIV/AIDS, cleverly planting a below the radar story in an obscure Indian journal that by the end of the 1980s had been printed or broadcast in over 25 languages. And more recently, bot and troll accounts of Russia's benignly titled "Internet Research Agency" turned American public discussion about vaccination on its head with lies, rumors and prevarication. Why do that other than to implant the precedent for mass confusion and distrust when it comes to vaccination in connection with a future pandemic? President Trump however proclaimed last week: “I’m not concerned about Russian propaganda. Not even a little bit.”

"We're all in this together" is thus a diversion from a history of mendacity and deceit. Moscow revels in unparalleled biological and chemical warfare capability and capacity. It raced development forward, off the screen, as we remained pre-occupied with Moscow's nuclear threat. Even then, as we sprinted toward the Klieg lights our infatuation with "doing the deal" powered Moscow to nuclear superiority during the Cold War. Similarly, Moscow used the 1972 Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention to delude the West, all the while accelerating the scale and sophistication of its biological warfare program, launching a grisly second-generation program including enhanced and weaponized strains of pathogens such as Ebola. With only a hiccup in the early 1990's, Russia's program continued as before, if not more intensely.


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More than two years ago I warned about Western naivete after the dissolution of the USSR:

"Why were we so passive? Because, again, we simply “hoped” that things would change. How, why? What, exactly, did we think the millions in the KGB, in the nomenklatura, would do, where would they go? They would somehow become democrats overnight? Why? How? What about the secret people making secret poisons in secret laboratories in secret cities? How could we possible consider that that vast repressive system, with such a bloody history, would simply suddenly change?"

Four months later, Sergei Skripal and his daughter were poisoned in Salisbury, England

Indeed, in a non-existent galaxy and dimension Russia could be an asset. Its expertise in all that kills, like its expertise in reconfiguring the psycho sphere, has no peer. From the very first days of the Soviet Union, its ultra-secret laboratory, the Kamera (sometimes later called "Laboratory 12"), was an integral part of Lenin's Cheka secret police and then its legatees. Mass applications of heinous substances were tested on thousands of souls in the vast expanses of the Gulag.

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Individual testing was done on prisoners who were guilty of nothing (and therefore guilty of everything), and the results used in assassinations at home and abroad. Stalin’s heir offers a menu of polonium 210 (tea), carfentanyl, gelsemium elegans, sarin (umbrella tip), ricin, curare, cadmium, cyanide (aerosol gun), irradiated thallium (coffee), dioxin ("bad sushi") or novichok (door handle). The list continues, but you don’t get a choice. Known chemical and biological agents are re-engineered or combined with others, radically modifying their impact and thus their traceability. For varied dramatic effect, however, a slit throat and dozens of stab wounds still works.

None of this bodes well for "working toward a common goal" with Russia, whether on the current pandemic, or otherwise. For Russia, exploiting this emotion has always been the equivalent of getting a pawn to the other end of the chess board. We see the visceral imperative played with Putin's overtures for the US--and, stunningly, from Washington--to join with Russia in a common effort against "terrorism." A laudable enough goal in a vacuum, but not when you're dealing with a person who celebrates the Soviet Union as the quintessential terrorist state, never merely a “state sponsor” of terrorism. Its terror was organized, methodical and above all hyperbolic, eclipsing anything that ISIS can engineer. The very reason for it all was to establish the structure that would destroy the West, more specifically the greatest Satan of them all, the United States. Carlos the Jackal and infinite others were the proud alumni of the KGB trainingcamps.

Putin is Stalin's next-of-kin and eulogizes the sadistic secret police. He is a murderer, an assassin, an international terrorist and a war criminal in multiple wars. "Internal bestiality” is one biographer’s take on Putin. Every year he is propelled ever more by Western incompetence, hypocrisy, naivete, corruption and hallucinogenic rapture. When President Trump applauds Putin's shipment as "very nice," and Putin as a "great guy" and "terrific person," maskirovka works.

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Victor Rud

Victor Rud

Victor Rud has practiced international law for 35 years, and before the fall of the Soviet Union represented, in the West, political prisoners persecuted by the KGB. He also served as Special Counsel to a member of the US Delegation to the Madrid Review Conference on Security & Cooperation in Europe ("Helsinki Accords").

His commentary has been carried, among others, by Forbes, Kyiv Post, Foreign Policy Association, Defense Report, Atlantic Council, Centre for Global Strategy, and EuromaidanPress.

Victor is Senior Advisor to Open Court, an NGO in Ukraine, and was the keynote speaker at the first L'viv Security Forum.

He is a founder and past Chairman of the Ukrainian American Bar Association, and currently chairs its Committee on Foreign Affairs. He received his undergraduate degree in international relations from Harvard College, and his law degree from Duke University.

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