You would have thought armed conflict with Russia would be a bigger story

by on February 23, 2018 at 10:26 am in Current Affairs, History, Political Science, Uncategorized | Permalink

That is the topic of my latest Bloomberg column, here is one excerpt:

The relative lack of attention being paid to the news that U.S.-backed forces killed 200 to 300 Russian mercenary soldiers this month in Syria seems like a non-barking dog to me.

In many years, this might have been the most disruptive story, holding the headlines for weeks or maybe months. Circa February 2018, it didn’t command a single major news cycle.

What outsiders know about the event is still fragmentary, but it sounds pretty ominous. One Bloomberg account notes: “More than 200 contract soldiers, mostly Russians fighting on behalf of Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad, died in a failed attack on a base held by U.S. and mainly Kurdish forces in the oil-rich Deir Ezzor region.” It is described as the biggest clash between U.S. and Russian forces since the Cold War. It seems that the Russian mercenaries are pretty closely tied to the Russian government.


One Russian commentator called this event “a big scandal and a reason for an acute international crisis.” American foreign policy expert Ian Bremmer noted, “At some level, it’s startling that isn’t the biggest news of the year.” Yet I have found that I know plenty of well-educated people, with graduate degrees and living in and near Washington, who aren’t even aware this occurred. The story has fallen into a memory hole, in part because neither the Americans nor the Russians wish to escalate the conflict.

Is this unusual affair a one-off, or an indication of a more basic shift in the world? I am starting to believe the latter.

Finally, do solve for the equilibrium:

As the tolerance for particular instances of conflict rises, the temptation to allow or initiate such conflicts rises, if only because the penalties won’t be so large. Eventually more parties will experiment with violent sorties.

Here is further coverage from The Washington Post, from today, the most detailed article to date, but it is already way down on their front page.

1 Edward Burke February 23, 2018 at 10:31 am

The retreat of our effete elites continues apace: “store? what store? minding? what minding?”

Otherwise, a lot of infantilization is going around this season, arguably worse than the flu.


2 Jenson February 23, 2018 at 10:37 am



3 Edward Burke February 23, 2018 at 11:41 am

Our cognitive elites are coming up short across entire industries and institutions of late: used to be just Wall Street and DC, now it’s the entire Media Establishment from coast to coast (the entertainment value in the spectacle of cults of celebrity biting and gouging each other in public now rivals the takedown of prominent feminist cheerleaders), our post-secondary institutions corrupted as they are by commercial corporate interests, the commercial incursions of our corrupt and corrupting Media Establishment, and the academic threats posed by our corrupt NCAA (and the corrupt US Olympic Cmte. to whatever extent) . . . then our corrupted post-secondary institutions themselves help corrupt public education, et cetera.


4 Mike February 23, 2018 at 3:25 pm

your original comment and your follow up are such non sequesters that it’s almost like you are actively attempting to derail the conversation regarding a catastrophe of military incompetence on the part of the Russians.


5 chuck martel February 23, 2018 at 3:42 pm

What’s a “non sequester”?

6 JWatts February 23, 2018 at 5:20 pm

That’s like when Congress promises to pass a budget and puts an automatic law in that will keep spending the same or less if they fail to pass a balanced budget. … But then they just override the “automatic” law on a “temporary” basis.

7 A clockwork orange February 23, 2018 at 7:46 pm
8 ʕ •ᴥ•ʔ February 23, 2018 at 10:33 am

I did see these stories come through, and I have to admit that I haven’t made them my focus. Maybe my reasons are not that unique. I think our “forever war” is unsolvable, and needs to be would down.

But the only way to get there from here is to get an administration that will do it.



9 ʕ •ᴥ•ʔ February 23, 2018 at 10:34 am

“wound down”


10 TheRiver February 23, 2018 at 12:45 pm

You mean give up? Who is running for office that wants to give up?


11 ʕ •ᴥ•ʔ February 23, 2018 at 12:55 pm

Give up what? Is every drone strike of a mud hut a victory vital to our survival?


12 TheRiver February 23, 2018 at 8:53 pm

Is every drone strike to a mud hut? Is our effectiveness zero? Should we instead cower in the darkness and allow the rapists torturers and terrorists to kill?

13 Butler T. Reynolds February 23, 2018 at 10:49 am

Despite some rhetoric, we didn’t get it in 2008, 2012, or 2016. Don’t hope for much change in 2020.


14 Nick February 23, 2018 at 12:43 pm

I found this to be an odd statement:

“The story has fallen into a memory hole, in part because neither the Americans nor the Russians wish to escalate the conflict.”

It’s not really the Russian or American governments’ decision to put momentum behind a story that’s already broke. If CNN, NYT, etc. felt it would move eyeballs to their medium, they’d make it front page news.

The problem is we don’t care enough.


15 BC February 23, 2018 at 1:27 pm

And, the reason that it’s not news or that “we don’t care enough” is that no one has figured out how this event can advance their domestic political agenda. That is probably the “more basic shift in the world” — “world” here means American culture — that news can only be viewed through the lens of domestic politics.

That became clear in the reaction to Russian propaganda efforts in the last election. Instead of being seen as the foreign policy issue that it is — that, on the spectrum between hostile adversary and friendly ally, we should update our assessment of Russia to be (even) farther towards the hostile adversary end — the focus has been almost entirely domestic. Instead of debating how or whether we should re-orient our Russia policies, we instead talk about internet companies’ censorship policies, collusion, or lack thereof. A Russia story, it turns out, is not about Russia.


16 Thomas February 23, 2018 at 2:40 pm

“And, the reason that it’s not news or that “we don’t care enough” is that no one has figured out how this event can advance their domestic political agenda. ”

The left doesn’t want to push this story as it directly harms their TrumpRussia narrative, and the right simply doesn’t care.


17 Butler T. Reynolds February 23, 2018 at 10:48 am

I’ve seen it repeated a number of times online lately that progressives don’t really see Trump as the next Hitler because if they did then they would not be calling for gun control. Ha! Maybe that’s a valid point.

Along that same line of thought: despite appearances, politicians on the left must not really think that Russia is that big of deal because otherwise they would be making a lot more noise about this skirmish right now.

It’s strange. I kind of puckered up when I first encountered the story, but figured it was nothing when I didn’t hear more. Maybe neither side could figure out how to cash in on the event and turn it in to another “babies are being tossed from incubators!” story.

Perhaps I should re-pucker?


18 Edward February 23, 2018 at 12:58 pm

…unless you think that gun control will take the guns away from the brown shirts.

US vs Russia armed conflict seems like a natural complement to the Russia undermines US elections story. The missing piece, of course, is that the armed conflict complicates the Trump-Russia story. Simple sells, especially to the choir. This would explain the so-called Left’s relative silence. Seems like a missed opportunity for Fox News et al though.


19 Adrian Ratnapala February 24, 2018 at 7:03 pm

Yes, and that fact makes me slightly increase my belief in (a) Trump being soft on Russia and (b) Fox being soft on Trump.


20 Miguel Madeira February 23, 2018 at 10:48 am

Perhaps the usual internal critiques of “US imperialism and agression” don’t have time to talk about that because they are too much busy accusing the president of being a Russian puppet?


21 ʕ •ᴥ•ʔ February 23, 2018 at 10:55 am

If you want to play this as a partisan game, what would be the reaction if Warmonger Hillary (Killery?) had killed a few hundred Russians?

Progressives may be busy attacking Trump, but conservatives may be busier defending him than they realize.


22 Moo cow February 23, 2018 at 11:06 am

If Hitlery had killed 200-300 russians would the russians themselves be yawning?


23 ʕ •ᴥ•ʔ February 23, 2018 at 11:08 am

Good point.


24 dearieme February 23, 2018 at 11:16 am

They’d treat it as a shakedown operation and just donate some money to the Clinton Foundation.


25 Moo cow February 23, 2018 at 11:27 am


26 Student February 23, 2018 at 12:35 pm

If you want to play the partisan game,..

Why aren’t Dems and liberal media sources talking about this? Because it does undermine the collusion argument.

Why aren’t the repubs and the conservative media talking about it is the more interesting question.

1.) they don’t want to highlight the perpetual conflict is widening/escalating.
2.) the Russians asked them not to and they went along.

The reasons why the Russians wouldn’t want to talk about it are obvious but…

1.) they got whipped.
2.) they are creating a modern privately funded east India like company waging war for profit.
3.) they don’t like disclosing the body count associated with those activities.

What possibilities are left out?


27 ʕ •ᴥ•ʔ February 23, 2018 at 12:52 pm

The collusion story, such as it is, is already full of right hands ignoring what left hands are doing.

And that might make sense if cooperation (formal and informal, legal and illegal) was between oligarchs and would-be oligarchs on both sides.

Maybe Syria is never going to be a strong profit center for oligarchs and would-be oligarchs.


28 Anonymous February 23, 2018 at 5:51 pm

It’s not particularly important? To make myself clear, I think the whole thing is stupid and a waste of money, and am disappointed in Trump for listening to the advice of his brain-dead generals. But all this is is Russian mercs(not Russian forces) fighting American-backed Kurdish forces.(not Americans) It’s the same proxy war stuff that’s been going on since the 1950s, first as a clash of ideologies, now as a source of jobs for both nations’ MICs.


29 Doc at the Radar Station February 23, 2018 at 9:10 pm


30 Anonymous February 23, 2018 at 5:47 pm

“what would be the reaction if Warmonger Hillary (Killery?) had killed a few hundred Russians”

Certainly it would be very different, as Hillary is not a Kurdish fighter defending herself against a Russian attack.


31 Thor February 23, 2018 at 10:48 am

I don’t know what Republicans think of this development (or event). Perhaps they see it as a one off, fog of war occurrence.

The Dems don’t care, because it doesn’t hurt Trump.

In fact coupled with the fact that after a pause we are selling minor weapons to Ukraine again, and the fact that Trump has done nothing to lift sanctions against Russian individuals, it seems it’s pretty much business as usual with respect to Russia. But that is at odds with the hope that there was collusion.

Perhaps Trump is playing a long game, and he will cunningly appease his Russian masters (slash blackmailers) in the future, but do YOU see a lot of evidence that Trump can play a long game? Me neither.


32 P Burgos February 23, 2018 at 11:11 am

I am kind of surprised that no one in the US seems to be trumpeting the news. US soldiers and their allies just killed 200-300 Russians on a field of battle? Isn’t their any national pride in having a military that can so thoroughly rout its enemies in combat? I would think that the major conclusion from the Russian side is that their mercenary auxiliaries are no match for a Western nation’s regular forces, and that therefore Russians are somewhat limited in using those auxiliary forces when there are Western forces in a particular area.


33 Bob from Ohio February 23, 2018 at 12:01 pm

“I would think that the major conclusion from the Russian side is that their mercenary auxiliaries are no match for a Western nation’s regular forces”

They knew that already. The mercs probably expected no US response.

Regular Russian forces [in fact any regular forces in the world] are no match for the US in the open field. Killing lightly armed mercs is nothing.


34 Borjigid February 23, 2018 at 12:57 pm



35 JWatts February 23, 2018 at 2:25 pm

The US forces did completely kick their Russki asses.


36 Harun February 23, 2018 at 3:21 pm

Talk softly but carry a big stick.


37 apoptosis February 23, 2018 at 9:09 pm

From the linked article:

““Coalition officials were in regular communication with Russian counterparts before, during and after the thwarted, unprovoked attack,” Veale said. ”

If this is true, there’s too much projecting and reading into events going on here. Russia didn’t even know it was their people (apparently many Ukrainian’s involved also).


38 Joël February 23, 2018 at 11:03 am

Tyler makes a very very good point with this post.


39 Ray Lopez February 23, 2018 at 11:24 am

Yawn. Not really. I saw this story and was so bored by it that I did not even bother to forward it to anybody. First off, it’s well known that whenever the super-powers fight one another, either directly (Korean war) or indirectly (Vietnam war, Afghanistan) they downplay it. The first reference to the Korean war is the well-known to historians incidents where the USSR lent planes and pilots to fight the UN/US forces in the Korean war, and even scored some kills against the US. Second off, the Russian solders were mercs, which by definition do not owe allegiance to any country. Third off (is that a phrase?), the Russians don’t want to admit their mercs are allied to Russia, for obvious reasons for world opinion. This shows that Russia will sacrifice their own people for what they perceive as the greater good. This is very typical of Russia throughout its history.

Bonus trivia: the biggest story of Syria is how at times the USA and Russia end up backing the same people, and how the ‘official’ US proxy forces are nothing but a handful–I saw one report that said a couple of dozen–of irrelevant fighters. Turkey, Kurds, Syria, Iran, Iraq, RU, USA, did I leave somebody out? What a theatre of the absurd. Is the UK in it? Tony Blair would be proud and leading the charge I guess. France should be in it, as Syria was a colony of theirs back in the day.


40 Scott H. February 23, 2018 at 8:05 pm

It seemed llike none of your three “offs” were relevant to the story being boring.


41 The Anti-Gnostic February 23, 2018 at 11:07 am

This seems to be the heart of it:

The intercepted communications show not only that Prigozhin was personally involved in planning the attack but that he had discussed it with senior Syrian officials, including Minister of Presidential Affairs Mansour Fadlallah Azzam.

In a Jan. 24 exchange, Prigozhin said he had secured permission from an unspecified Russian minister the day before to move forward with a “fast and strong” initiative and was awaiting a decision by the Syrian government.

On Jan. 30, Prigozhin “indicated he had a ‘good surprise’ ” for Assad “that would come between 6 and 9 February.” According to one intelligence report, he also was assured by Azzam that he would be paid for his work.

So maybe it really is what it seems: a corrupt, not-very-competent Russian billionaire with a ragtag merc company, blundering around in Syria trying to curry favor with what seems to be the winning (and corrupt and not-very-competent in its own right) team. More competent heads seem to have prevailed.

Any way, what exactly is the goal or endgame of a US presence in Syria? Who are we supporting, and why?


42 dearieme February 23, 2018 at 11:18 am

Well, what was the goal when the US originally fomented this war? Is there any reason to suppose it’s changed?


43 The Anti-Gnostic February 23, 2018 at 11:22 am

Helping the low-trust, clannish Syrian find his inner, Occidental social democrat? I don’t know. We certainly don’t have enough troops in Syria to do that.


44 Art Deco February 23, 2018 at 11:53 am

Well, what was the goal when the US originally fomented this war?

We didn’t.


45 kerwinT February 23, 2018 at 12:30 pm

….correct, it started as an internal civil war.

The brilliant Hillary Clinton instigated U.S. involvement by funneling large arms shipments to favored insurgents.

Hillary was still tidying up her war with Libya, which provided a big source of arms for her Syrian adventures. The whole Benghazi scanda was fundamentally about Hillary’s illicit arms flow to Syria,

US Congress is ultimately at fault for permitting the Executive Branch to literally run amok in worldwide military conflicts.
The Constitution is a joke.


46 Borjigid February 23, 2018 at 12:57 pm



47 ʕ •ᴥ•ʔ February 23, 2018 at 12:02 pm

dearieme, where do you come from and what is your purpose here? Fomented?

The unrest in Syria, part of a wider wave of 2011 Arab Spring protests, grew out of discontent with the Assad government and escalated to an armed conflict after protests calling for his removal were violently suppressed.[104] The war is being fought by several factions: the Syrian government and its allies, a loose alliance of Sunni Arab rebel groups (including the Free Syrian Army), the majority-Kurdish Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), Salafi jihadist groups (including al-Nusra Front) and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), with a number of countries in the region and beyond being either directly involved, or rendering support to one or another faction.

It was actually a big debate in the west whether and how to assist the Arab Spring. Remember?


48 The Centrist February 23, 2018 at 1:12 pm

Dearime? Simples. He’s one of those older Poms who really hates Yanks.


49 jmb February 23, 2018 at 10:50 pm

He’s an old Scot. (Do they count as Poms?) Very proud of his wit, classical education, and ability to see through the nonsense that passes for serious thought nowadays. Good Colonel Blimp routine. Respectable entertainment per word ratio.

50 Anonymous February 23, 2018 at 5:55 pm

If you had bothered to read what you posted you’d notice the part where America provided aid to the rebels.


51 Anonymous February 23, 2018 at 8:25 pm

Timelines matter.

If X comes after Y, X probably did not foment Y.

And I mean geez, read to the end. “It was actually a big debate in the west whether and how to assist the Arab Spring. Remember?”

52 Mark February 23, 2018 at 1:27 pm

Obviously dearieme is a Russian sock puppet.


53 dearieme February 23, 2018 at 6:44 pm



54 Joël February 23, 2018 at 11:11 am

“It is described as the biggest clash between U.S. and Russian forces since the Cold War.”

Certainly. And even during the cold war, the instances of armed clash between U.S. and Russians soldiers (as opposed as proxies) were very rare. When was the last time a clash of this type happened?


55 The Anti-Gnostic February 23, 2018 at 11:18 am

“Russian forces” is imprecise. They were apparently mercs who were Russian nationals.


56 Ray Lopez February 23, 2018 at 11:25 am

@Joel – “Certainly. And even during the cold war, the instances of armed clash between U.S. and Russians soldiers (as opposed as proxies) were very rare. When was the last time a clash of this type happened?” – Korean war.


57 clockwork_prior February 23, 2018 at 12:24 pm

Central America, at least according to a Puerto Rican special forces soldier back in the mid-80s. Who also said that Russian helicopters in hush mode are really, really quiet.

And in relation to that language thread, the differences within a language are relevant too – everyone knew the second he opened his mouth that he was not a local mother tongue Spanish speaker, and that he had difficulties at time with dialect – for example, the use of ‘chica’ was quite different.


58 clockwork_prior February 23, 2018 at 12:25 pm

Not on this scale, though, more like squad sized


59 Chip February 23, 2018 at 11:17 am

I read about this days ago via Michael Totten. My first pass interpretation is that the media is heavily (and hysterically) invested in a narrative that Trump colluded with Russia to steal the election.

Stories about the US killing hundreds of Russians muddies the message.


60 dearieme February 23, 2018 at 11:19 am

Aye, they’d rather cover what is undoubtedly fiction rather than something that might be fact.


61 Sam P February 23, 2018 at 6:26 pm

Totten also points out that the claim that the Russians were private contractors (“mercenaries”) unaffiliated with the Russian government is a nearly transparent cover story, as the company which employs them is contracted to the Russian Ministry of Defense and the casualties were airlifted to MoD hospitals in Moscow and St. Petersburg.


62 regularjoeski February 23, 2018 at 11:21 am
63 The Anti-Gnostic February 23, 2018 at 11:29 am

Pretty good. And yes, counter to the narrative.


64 apoptosis February 24, 2018 at 12:45 am

yes, interesting link.


65 DanC February 23, 2018 at 11:25 am

When I read more about the story I was reminded of the movie Kelly’s Heroes. Publically available information claims that the Russian mercenaries, and their direct employer, had financial motives to attack the oil field. Reports are that the attackers could potentially earn 25% of oil revenues from capturing the field. With Kurds distracted by fighting elsewhere, it may have looked like an easy way to make some cash.

Some think that the Russian government may not have approved the attack and that normal communications between the Russians and Americans broke down during the attack.

The mercenaries employer has links to the Russian oil industry. Like Catch 22 this could have been a privatization of the war effort.


66 Ray Lopez February 23, 2018 at 11:39 am

Good point. And this “Some think that the Russian government may not have approved the attack and that normal communications between the Russians and Americans broke down during the attack.” – very true, since during bombing runs that are official, the US military routinely warns the Russians to vacate the bombing target in a few minutes (or just enough time), in numerous previous incidents I’ve read about.


67 Tom T. February 23, 2018 at 2:01 pm

At the very least, it’s in everybody’s interest to act as if the Russian government had not approved the actions of these forces.


68 Anonymous February 23, 2018 at 3:13 pm

U.S. had contact with the Russians during the event. The Russians told them “There are no Russians” on the battlefield. Oops!


69 Tom Murin February 24, 2018 at 1:57 am

I was wondering when this was going to be pointed out. My understanding is that US forces contacted the Russians via the proper channel and they stated they had no forces in the area. The US forces went forward based on what the Russians told them.


70 DanC February 23, 2018 at 11:53 am

The linked Washington Post has most of this information. They just seem to discount that the incentives to take oil fields may have created incentives that are not in the long-term best interest of Russian American relationships. The Russian government often looks like a crime syndicate, they are a criminal enterprise first, a government second. Like in a criminal enterprise, maintaining control of underlings who are motivated by cash above all, underlings are incentivized for rogue operations from time to time. Somebody who told the Kremlin that they had found a way to turn a profit in the Syrian war, may not have fully thought out the risks. Little details like Americans in the way may not have been fully thought out or fully explained in the planning.

Look at street gangs in America. It is often in the best interest of the gang leadership to avoid unnecessary violence. Yet lower level members of the gang have incentives to use violence to increase profits.


71 Thor February 23, 2018 at 1:24 pm

This could be a good way for Putin and the comparatively underpaid Russian military to have a laugh at the comparatively overpaid contractors hired by Wagner.


72 stephan February 23, 2018 at 11:26 am

Assad and Russia don’t want a US presence in Syria. How best to nudge the US out? Stage an attack with a shadowy mercenary force. It can be identified as Russian but cannot readily be associated with the Russian army. This gives the message that the honeymoon with US forces is over and that the US has overstayed its welcome. Probably they expected a weaker US response and a reexamination of US goals in Syria. This didn’t happen. The US didn’t budge and reacted very strongly.

The Russian and US side have no interest in publicizing the story. The Russians don’t want to make public how many of them are dying in Syria. The US that the Syria presence (now that IS is defeated) has lost its strong purpose and puts them dangerously close to a conflict with Russia.


73 Thor February 23, 2018 at 1:26 pm

Possibly you are correct. For at least one good reason. There is one constant: America is widely perceived as being unable to tolerate the loss of lives in combat.


74 A.G.McDowell February 23, 2018 at 11:30 am

The telling quote for me came from – “The ChVK Vagner force demonstrated rare incompetence by cavaliering into a night assault against a US-backed force, apparently ignorant of the fact that the US military has, for some time, preferred to fight in the dark to utilize night-vision superiority” The Russian official military and government aren’t stupid enough to order this. Russia certainly hasn’t benefited from this – in fact the damage to its reputation as a smoothly lethal master of modern kinetic and psychological warfare is probably sufficient to have it attempting to make sure that something like this never happens again. This can safely be filed under “cock-up” not “conspiracy”.


75 Transnational Pants Machine February 23, 2018 at 11:42 am

CNN spends 18 months hyping the narrative that Trump is secretly a Russian agent, and you wonder why CNN isn’t reporting that Trump just killed 300 Russians?

What is your problem?


76 ʕ •ᴥ•ʔ February 23, 2018 at 12:06 pm

You could write the same story about US troops in Niger.


77 Harun February 23, 2018 at 4:01 pm

Yes, a few trainers patrolling with local troops is the same as…massive aerial attacks.

Remember how dumb several senators looked when they claimed they didn’t even know we had guys in Niger, but it turned out they were all briefed.

Or, maybe they are not dumb and just play dumb.


78 ʕ •ᴥ•ʔ February 23, 2018 at 4:19 pm

Are you trying to minimize the war on Boko Haram and the Islamic State in West Africa?

When I say “you could write the same story” I mean that US deployment, and US combat deaths, went down the memory hole pretty fast. Is it because the nation, Republicans included, does accept the “forever war?”


79 Andre February 23, 2018 at 1:55 pm

if you were to ask Donald Trump this morning what he thought about the incident do you think he could give a coherent answer? Do you really believe he is even aware that it happened?


80 JWatts February 23, 2018 at 2:37 pm

Yes, of course he’s aware of what happened. One of the reasons Trump beat Hillary is that so many people are fundamentally incapable of believing that someone who doesn’t act in a manner they consider ‘smart’, can actually be intelligent. You act as if Trump is oblivious to current events, when it reality, one of Trump’s largest flaws is that he watches current events too closely and doesn’t wait to comment or respond.


81 Nigel February 23, 2018 at 12:01 pm

is this unusual affair a one-off, or an indication of a more basic shift in the world? I am starting to believe the latter…

Were it to happen again, I seriously doubt the response would be quite so benign.


82 Bob from Ohio February 23, 2018 at 12:04 pm

“I seriously doubt the response would be quite so benign”

Whose response?


83 triclops February 23, 2018 at 12:23 pm

My prediction is that it has only remained a non-story here in the US because the donkeys and elephants are still working on the best way to spin this for another example of how the other party is screwing everything up and will probably destroy the world. The twist for both is that they have to do it in a way that mitigates the appearance of hypocrisy. Hard to call Trump a Russian colluder when the US just killed a hundreds of Russian militants. Hard to say donkeys are exaggerating the Russia threat when the US just killed hundreds of Russian militants. But I have faith that, behind the scenes, the are doing their best to!


84 Ivan February 23, 2018 at 12:32 pm

I am a Russian. Reading all these comments here is rather amusing. Same goes for Washington Post and Bloomberg articles or any other piece of “journalism” in Western media about the incident.

200 Russian killed? It’s an over-exaggeration, in Russia we talk about 20 KIA at most. It’s still a huge number, but not hundreds. So it’s not such a big story. All the other guys that probably were killed are Iranian mercs and Syrian guys.

They are mercs, not official soldiers. In Russia there is a strong public negative feeling towards any mercs because of America born image of Blackwater dudes with blazing guns killing innocent people. In Russia we don’t like mercs of any sort and nationality and even Russian mercs are disrespected. So no one really cares if they die.

Among mercs that were killed that day not all are even Russian citizens. Some of them are from CIS countries. Who cares in Russia about mercs from CIS? Nobody.

In Russia it’ not a big story because it’s really not a big story and not because Russia is holding its breath and doesn’t want to escalate the conflict. We just don’t care about those losses suffered on behalf of some private stupid initiative.

We have presidential elections coming up. Syria is not much of interest here anymore.

It’s all that simple. Tyler is being an adept of conspiracy theories here ))


85 stasi February 23, 2018 at 12:46 pm

thanks Ivan, this is plausible.

I still think Tyler has a good point though, which is: the Western media has chosen not to make a big story, but they could have. Surely this is a bigger story than some rumour about Trump, but apparently not.


86 Ivan February 23, 2018 at 12:57 pm

Well, for us here reading Western media reports and opinions it sounds that it is actually making a big deal of it chewing over the “hundreds of Russians” killed and making statements that US “taught them a lesson not to mess with us”. What would a bigger story sound like?


87 War Expert, PhD February 23, 2018 at 2:19 pm

>Western media has chosen not to make a big story

Tyler Cowen:

>For a variety of reasons, which of course may include state control, the >news media in both countries have gone along with this decision.

Explain intel community’s leaking of Prigozhin’s intercept to the WaPo then. This does not seem like attempt to bury the story.

Also, Ivan’s right about 200-300 figure being nonsense. Dozens of Russian citizens at best. And I’m saying that as an avid Putin disliker.

Ivan’s also right about Russian public not giving a care about mercenaries. Google “rostov + cemetery + donbass”, go to pictures and see for yourself how some of them are treated after death.


88 Andao February 23, 2018 at 9:33 pm

“dozens of Russian citizens at best”

Evidence? Unless you were there, I’m not buying it.

Russia has every incentive to downplay both official involvement and deaths. Why should we take their word for it?


89 Adrian Ratnapala February 24, 2018 at 10:06 pm

Equally you could ask for evidence for the 200 number.

The evidence trail that I know of is that I read a web-site of an American publication claiming that there are claims in the Russian media of 200 or so. Given that media in all countries have incentives to cherry-pick and inflate such numbers, my instinct is to divide the headline figure by 2 * pi until further evidence appears.

90 Bob from Ohio February 23, 2018 at 12:57 pm

“We have presidential elections coming up. ”

Election? LOL

Saddam and Mugabe, among other dictators, had “elections” too.

And how could you possibly know the number and identity of the mercs? Not from the government controlled media certainly.


91 JWatts February 23, 2018 at 4:12 pm

Russia cares enough to deploy some of its most advanced aircraft this week.


92 Axa February 24, 2018 at 2:57 am

Ivan, read any history book.

The “nationality” of mercenaries is defined by the country where the money is coming from. People talk about Russian mercenaries in the same way as the French Foreign Legion.


93 Brad F February 23, 2018 at 12:37 pm

Everyone who is trying to fit this into “Democrats vs Republicans” is severely missing the point. During the Cold War the 2 superpowers were very careful not engage each other directly for fear of what might follow. So it is really good news that a clash like this can occur and we aren’t all cowering under our desks waiting for nuclear annihilation. But it is also really bad news that a clash like this can happen… and nobody cares.

In the 20th century everyone in the first and second worlds lived under governments that closely controlled our lives so much that we were all deeply invested in what those governments did. After all our individual fates hung in the balance. Now it seems that the governments that so closely controlled us – while not collapsing – are nonetheless “dissolving”. Well good, say I. But there are 2 problems (at least). One is that the states are fighting back. I regard Brexit; Trump’s wall; and Bill 148 ($15 minimum wage) here in Ontario, Canada to be attempts by states to reassert the control they once enjoyed. Even if they fail they won’t fail without causing a lot of damage. The other problem is that as states dissolve their ability to monopolize and control violence is also dissolving. It is dissolving because as one sub-branch of state power is busy waging war, other sub-branches are cheerfully facilitating trade, air links, tourism, banking, etc. No-one has an incentive to stop the warring until it becomes a local problem. So it will.


94 rayward February 23, 2018 at 12:39 pm

First, define the enemy in Syria. Is it Assad? Or ISIS? Or the Sunni insurgents? Or the Turks? Or the Russians? Or Iran? Here’s what we know: Sunni Muslims from Saudi Arabia attacked America on 9/11, Sunni Muslim insurgents killed and maimed thousands of American soldiers in Iraq, and Sunni Muslim extremists (including ISIS) have been committing unspeakable acts of violence in Syria and Iraq against Shiite Muslims, Kurds, and Christians. How opaque is it? Cowen: “U.S.-backed forces” (who?), “Russian mercenaries . . . pretty closely tied to the Russian government” (what?), “[w]hat outsiders know about the event is still fragmentary” (really?). Turkey, our nominal ally, is at war with the Kurds, our nominal ally. Russia, our nominal enemy, is at war with ISIS, our enemy. Sunni insurgents, our enemies on 9/11 and in Iraq, are at war with Assad, our enemy. Iran, our nominal enemy, is at war with ISIS (our enemy) and the Sunni insurgents (our sometime enemy). Who’s on first?


95 Scott Mauldin February 23, 2018 at 12:45 pm

“indication of a more basic shift in the world”

I think this has been the case since the Ukraine conflict started. Armed conflict between nation states or their proxy mercenaries or partisans is increasingly seen as a legitimate and necessary foreign policy tool.


96 FE February 23, 2018 at 12:53 pm

Location, location, location. Obama policy was to ignore Syria (perhaps a sound policy) and the American media took its cues from him. Too late now to treat Syria otherwise. If this clash had happened elsewhere, it would have been news.


97 lbc February 23, 2018 at 1:05 pm

the reason the American public is not worried about American soldiers killing Russian soldiers (and vice versa) in Syria is because the much bigger problem much closer to home is Putin’s influence in the White House and in the GOP.


98 jk February 23, 2018 at 1:31 pm

Yeah, so why is the US bombing anything that moves in Syria again? What’s the end state again and what John McCain blessed off expat in N. Virginia or London does the US want to put in charge?

Also, lack of news on the blockade and virtual genocide of Yemen by KSA or how the US facilitated a protected retreat of ISIS fighters from Raqqa or how “Syrian Rebels” managed to program commercial off the shelf drones to fly below radar range and conduct a mass attack on a Russian Airbase in Syria.

Yes indeed, lots of under-reported news.



99 Potato February 23, 2018 at 6:35 pm

The unhinged have arrived.

Yemen is not a genocide. The holocaust was a genocide.

Yemen is in the middle of a civil war. Iranian backed Shia militias are causing death and famine. Arabs have their own interests in Yemen, mostly keeping Iranian influence out of the peninsula.

There’s certainly no Thomas Jefferson there that should deserve our backing. However, if it comes down to Iranian armed militias/AQAP/ISIS and KSA and Emirate Alliance I would choose the alliance.

It’s fun to moralize for both the left and the right. Moral indignation seems to be “the feel” for 2018. But it leads to stasis and paralysis.


100 Warren February 23, 2018 at 1:57 pm

They’re mercs, who cares?

That’s one of the great values of using mercenaries, if they get killed it doesn’t cost anyone any political capital. And it doesn’t cost any political capital to kill them either.


101 RPLong February 23, 2018 at 2:37 pm

Reading these comments is like traveling back in time to the actual Cold War. I hadn’t realized how glad I was that it’s over until just now.


102 The Anti-Gnostic February 23, 2018 at 3:01 pm

The Left will never forgive Russia for kicking out the Bolsheviks.


103 carlospln February 24, 2018 at 3:16 pm

” Reading these comments is like traveling back in time to the actual Cold War”

[12 months on from the US election]:

From the desk of a denizen of the Deep State, on its instructions to the newly inaugurated US President

“You have two options.”

“1- Follow the path we have laid out for Clinton. Drop this nonsense about an accord with the Russians. We spent decades conditioning the public to hate and fear them at great profit to ourselves, and have no intention of losing such a perfect enemy. Reviving the Cold War has far greater profit potential than pretending to fight a few thousand rag heads hidden in caves. Leave it to us– we will provide all the necessary news disinformation and stage any false flags needed to keep things moving along properly.

2- Continue as you promised during the election and we will continue to paralyze your administration with the kind of fabricated attacks that are now happening. You needn’t worry about being impeached—you will simply be assassinated when the discord reaches its peak.”



104 Abelard Lindsey February 23, 2018 at 3:02 pm

The fundamental question not even being asked is why we are even involved in this mess of a region called the Middle-east. How does our involvement in the Middle-east, and the interventionist foreign policy in general, benefit the American citizen and tax payer? Why are people not even asking this fundamental question? That is the stupidity that has consumed everyone in Washington and the Beltway and turned them into idiots.

The shale revolution has made us not only energy independent, but an energy exporter. Call us Saudi America. Check out Peter Zeihan’s site ( and read his books for the details. The shale revolution is the geopolitical game changer of our time.

Again, the question remain, how do you and I as citizens and tax payers benefit from involvement in the Middle-east?


105 Potato February 23, 2018 at 6:40 pm

If we want to be a post modern European relative ethics nation then yes, we should withdraw from the world stage.

I don’t necessarily disagree. The gain to the taxpayer is minimal. There’s an argument to be made that totalitarianism is better than chaos and war. Better to be in North Korea than Syria. Mohammed said “better 70 years of tyranny than 7 years of strife.”


106 zztop February 23, 2018 at 3:12 pm

What’s really interesting is that Putin is so quiet about it.

There’s some Syriana stuff goin’ on with this Trump/Putin stuff.


107 Sigivald February 23, 2018 at 4:00 pm

Mercenaries are deniable.

For Russia to be officially upset about it, they’d have to officially admit they were there.

And that leads to awkward questions about how “mercenary” they really are, etc.


108 Bill February 23, 2018 at 4:14 pm

Administration policy re Russian Syrian attack

Is it Colonel Klenk (“I see nothing”)

Or is it

Alfred E. Neuman (What, me worry?)


109 JWatts February 23, 2018 at 5:41 pm

Well if you read the actual reports on the battle, it’s pretty much a:

Teddy Roosevelt (“Speak softly, and carry a big stick.”)


110 Bill February 23, 2018 at 6:07 pm

Who is the Teddy Rosevelt: Putin or Trump.

But, don’t worry, Jared has been assigned to work on this too.


111 Joe In Morgantown February 23, 2018 at 4:20 pm

To say the FrancoPrussian war was caused by “a minor diplomatic slight” is misleading at best. Both sides were more than willing to fight.

No diplomatic slight occurred, at least not in person: there was a difference of opinion between the French ambassador and the Kaiser. Bismarck spun it to the press as a rudeness in a successful attempt to get the French to start a war.


112 Tyler Fan February 23, 2018 at 4:27 pm

It wasn’t one “event”/battle At least two battles have become public knowledge One about a week ago and a larger one earlier this month over a former Conoco Phillips oilfield


113 Anonymous February 23, 2018 at 8:26 pm

This Manafort news is the bomb.

Manafort had a pattern of running western politicians for the eastern oligarchs.


114 JimG February 23, 2018 at 9:24 pm

The “battle” with the Russians should be news in the same way that the NK antics should be news: the puppets are eleciting carefully monitored reactions. Putin would be backhanded into the Black Sea if Uncle decided to control supply lines to future European or Mediterranean fronts without a gang of corruptocrats slowing things down.


115 Jacoby Wyatt February 23, 2018 at 11:54 pm

Putin has to have buyers remorse now (yes I realize Russian influence was at best ‘marginal’); no way Obama would have given the ok to spill Russian blood even if they were contractors. He’d be toasting his new oil and gas field tonight.

Putin spent about 10 years probing and seeing USA back down, and then probing again when the news cycle changes and elites stop whining. Now he is trying to explain to 200 hundred mother’s that their son was one of the 5 that died.


116 TMC February 24, 2018 at 10:24 am

“Putin has to have buyers remorse now” Hillary had nothing to do with this.


117 Dan Hanson February 24, 2018 at 5:10 pm

My first thought when hearing about this is that we should all be thankful that the attack didn’t work and a bunch of Americans weren’t killed. Not just for the sake of them and their families, but because an attack that left a couple of dozen American soldiers dead would have been a huge deal, and in the current political environment could have led to a massive reaction that would escalate the war. It would be Benghazi all over again, except with Russia in the mix and Trump having something to prove because of all the collusion allegations. We dodged a bullet.

On the other hand, another bullet seems to be coming in the form of Turkey and its likely plan to attack Kurdish forces who are allied with the U.S. Having a fellow NATO member on the wrong side of a conflict with the U.S. is very destabilizing.


118 collin February 25, 2018 at 3:23 pm

The worst aspect of the Syria Civil War is I have to imagine that all outside countries stayed out of it since 2011, the war would have ended 2 years ago or something. It is an awful Civil War and like some California forest fires, I think it is best to contain it, protect lives and let it burn out. (I think Obama came close to this conclusion but Putin had to send troops to improve Assad chances at winning.)

Now we have all kinds of international forces with the sole task of not losing the war so it is giant F****** stalemate that won’t end.


119 Philip Ebersole March 5, 2018 at 8:25 am

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