Breaking News: “Russia is Isolated”


This week’s State of the Union Address by President Obama gives us another opportunity to peek into how America’s propaganda system works. While there are many places to observe this — foreign policy, the economy and employment — it is the constant isolationist drumbeat driving our country into a renewed Cold War with Russia that I’m going to focus on today.

Undoubtedly there will be those who will pooh-pooh me for a variety of reasons, but so be it. While our domestic situation with the economy, employment and debt is dire, I think that it is the specter of what the new Cold War brings that is paramount. So it is with interest when I hear that Barack Obama proclaims that Russia is isolated, and Congress and the American people cheer.

Except that it ain’t necessarily so. Thursday brought headlines that would surprise even the most ardent Russian isolationist:

“China, Russia Plan $242 Billion Beijing-Moscow Rail Link”


Yes, we have isolated Russia so well, that it entered into an agreement with China to build a 7,000km high speed rail linking Moscow with Beijing, and augmenting a major section of the Trans-Siberian Railway. Yep, Moscow to Beijing in 30 hours. That would be the equivalent of getting on a high speed rail in San Francisco, going to Seattle, and then cross country to Washington D.C. in 30 hours. Oh, well, we’ve still got Amtrak, America’s version of the old Trans-Siberian Railway. And it carried a “record” 31.6 million riders in fiscal 2013.

The story is remarkable enough in its technical achievement. It will be the longest, largest high-speed rail system in the world, carrying over 200 million passengers a year. And the cost is phenomena, $242 billion dollars. Imagine what our country could do if it were to invest a like sum in 4,000 miles of high-speed rail! Montreal to D.C. to San Francisco and L.A. and down to Mexico City.

Sound like a country that is isolated? While Obama drives wedges between Russia and the west for failing to submit to American hegemony, Russia is furiously building relationships with the rest of the world: BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa); Turkey (oil pipeline deal to replace SouthStream through Bulgaria); SCO (Shanghai Cooperative Organization), Eurasian Economic Union, etc.

Russia and China are currently working out a deal to replace SWIFT, the western bank system for working out trade payments between countries and businesses. The petrodollar is moving to the petro-yuan/ruble. So sure, we’re succeeding in isolating Russia, but just from the west: Europe and the Five Eyes (Canada, U.S., New Zealand, Australia, U.K.).

Russia has already declared in many, many ways that it will not submit to western sanctions. So while the sanctions may work to create the appearance of isolationism in the west, it only serves to drive Russia into alliances more quickly with the rest of the world. We are assisting in the creation of an economic and military union between Russia and China that will most effectively counter the military of the U.S. and its allies.

[Russian Foreign Mister Sergei] Lavrov also opined that he considered the United States’ approach to international relations “outdated” and “not a proper thing for a great power.”

“I should like that all countries choose the path of cooperation, not the path of diktat disguised in some diplomatic form,” he said, adding the charge that the U.S. was actually too weak to go it alone – which is why it tries to form coalitions, as in Iraq.

Lavrov also expressed more doubts than hope that the United States’ approach would change anytime soon.

“It’s in their blood and flesh, they believe they are first, and this philosophy, this genetic code, is very hard to change,” Lavrov said, before expressing faint confidence that “the logic of partnership” between the United States and Russia would ultimately prevail.

While there are those “isolationists” who believe that what we are doing will suffice to intimidate Russia sufficiently so that we and NATO can consolidate Europe into one solid block to work to break Russia up and/or change its leadership, others more keenly tuned into Russian sentiment disagree. Unfortunately, the average American has little knowledge of Russia by which to gauge the effectiveness or appropriateness of such a strategy.

Dimitri Orlov recently wrote an excellent piece for the westerner to get a realistic look at how Russia views western expansionism and hegemony:

Recent events, such as the overthrow of the government in Ukraine, the secession of Crimea and its decision to join the Russian Federation, the subsequent military campaign against civilians in Eastern Ukraine, western sanctions against Russia, and, most recently, the attack on the ruble, have caused a certain phase transition to occur within Russian society, which, I believe, is very poorly, if at all, understood in the west. This lack of understanding puts Europe at a significant disadvantage in being able to negotiate an end to this crisis.

Whereas prior to these events the Russians were rather content to consider themselves “just another European country,” they have now remembered that they are a distinct civilization, with different civilizational roots (Byzantium rather than Rome)—one that has been subject to concerted western efforts to destroy it once or twice a century, be it by Sweden, Poland, France, Germany, or some combination of the above. This has conditioned the Russian character in a specific set of ways which, if not adequately understood, is likely to lead to disaster for Europe and the world.

Orlov’s piece is a great primer for any westerner that wants to get some context about U.S.-Russian relationships outside of Obama’s isolationist propaganda. It is this sort of propaganda that Obaba is advancing that jeopardizes world safety by falsely implying that his overt foreign policy of sanctions is succeeding, and eggs on neocons and Congress to double down.

It will be a continuation and expansion of these policies that will further drive Russia from any sort of meaningful engagement with the west, and into the solidification of alliances with China and India that will pit nearly half the world’s population and economy against the U.S. and Europe’s. Is this what we and the world really need?

And lastly, after beginning this piece talking about the newly approved high-speed rail link between Moscow and Beijing, and all of the symbolism it encompasses, I would be remiss in not mentioning how it all will be financed. After all $242 billion dollars is nothing to sneeze at.

First off, the new railway alliance has dumped the French contractor it had agreed to work with last year on developing the system. It isn’t hard to see that when the U.S. forces France into doing things like breaking its contracts to build and deliver two helicopter-carrying Mistral naval vessels, there would be some blowback.

So instead of paying France’s Alstrom around $40 billion for it’s part in the project (utilizing conventional wheeled high-speed rail), they awarded the contract to CRH (China Railway High-speed) and added on another 100 billion dollars to use state-of-the-art maglev technology to increase safety and speed.

But the coup de grâce appears to be that Obama’s “isolated” Russia is a little less isolated than it might seem in other areas:

Gennady Timchenko, a well-connected billionaire who after appearing on Western sanctions lists earlier this year was appointed head of the Russian-Chinese Business Council, told reporters on Thursday that he was optimistic that China would provide financial support for the project, which he said could carry more than 200 million passengers a year. 

China holds over $2 trillion in U.S. Treasury bills that offer no real returns, but “investment in the railway would pay for itself,” Timchenko said. “Maybe not overnight, but we would create infrastructure connecting Asia with Europe for future generations.”

Yes, Russia and China are going to use China’s U.S. T-bond holdings to finance the railway. That’s some real isolationism for ya. Way to go, Obama!

  1. Glad to see this essay. I too highly recommend Orlov’s piece on what it means to be Russian and how they have handled hundreds of years of invasions and sanctions. According to Orlov, Russia is a huge country (9 Time Zones!) that has always found it easier to trade than to plunder. And when it is invaded they are willing to burn their homes and their crops to keep them out of their invaders hands. We should try to get along with these people. They got guts.
    I think it’s Orlov also that makes the point that Europe is a made up continent. It is part of Asia. So it would make more sense to embrace the East than the West. Food for thought.
    A good essayist has honest doubt rather than being a know-it-all. It’s hard to buck conventional wisdom, so I applaud your willingness to try.

  2. There was a terrorist attack on a bus loaded with civilians in Eastern Ukraine last week or the week before, and that coupled with Charlie Hebdo served to cause cancellation of a summit between the leaders of Russian, France, Germany, and putsch Ukraine.

    Tarpley says such attacks, which have been going on regularly for decades, are merely NATO’s way of disciplining its members, and he reminded us that after Charles De Gaulle dissed NATO, there were like 30 attacks on his life. NATO is portrayed has having a kindly face here in the west, but is known, Operation Gladio terror attacks and the assassination of Aldo Moro in 1978, to be an attack dog outside this country.

  3. Rail travel is much safer. Even a high speed derailment increases your chances of survival.

    Commuter air travel has a higher percentage of going down in flames from some rebels missile or a CIA’s briefcase stinger.

  4. Eric

    I saw some excerpts from Obamas talk, and I kept wondering if he truly believes he’s talking about the same world we’re living in, or if he is isolated from reality and fed information only by his handlers.

    • Well said, sir. Such skepticism is highly useful and should be applied evenly to all leaders of “both” parties and all talking heads on the media and yammering voices on radio.

      Don’t stop just yet.

  5. Abe Froman

    You are coming off sounding like a cheerleader for Russia / China and just looking for reasons to bash the US. I don’t see how you can claim the economic attacks against Russia are not working. I would think they seem to be working quite well. Not that I agree its a good idea .. it seems very dangerous to me. Im a bit of a conspiracy theorist myself and I have no data to base it on but I don’t see it at as any coincidence that the price of oil bottoms out just when western powers are seeking to drive Russia into the ground. You also seem to be misreading the last article you linked to. They aren’t using US Treasury bills to invest in that railroad (that isn’t how treasury bills work), the Russian quoted was referring to his belief that the Chinese should invest in the railroad because he thinks it would offer a better return than the treasury bills. The article seems to state that they actually haven’t any Chinese investors at all they seem to be in the process of trying to hustle them up.

    • Steve W

      I’m a cheerleader for high speed rail. Russia is just like Canada, a foreign country. I cheered for Canada with the Olympics and I cheer for Russia and Beijing about high speed rail.

      I’m jealous of Russia. They got our high speed rail. At least Boston got the Olympics.

      We are an Empire so we should expect that people will relate to us as an empire. Ever see Star Wars?

      I’d much rather go back to being a big rich democratic Representative Republic. And to get a high speed rail.

      War is a racket, a lie, and the way we screw ourselves over real good.

      The mayor of Beijing says the rail line is a done deal as far as the planning and financing. All aboard!

    • JC

      Abe, I understand how the T-bond market works. China would sell off however many bonds that it needs to invest in Russia and the high speed railway. You tell me what that means to you in the global marketplace. It sure doesn’t mean that China believes that investing in the U.S. economy will bring the returns that investing in the Russian economy will.

      And I don’t need to look for reasons to bash the U.S.. As my post examines, U.S. propaganda is reason enough.

      How can you claim that the sanctions against Russia “seem to be working quite well”? What are they accomplishing? Absolutely no change in Russia’s foreign policy, as far as I can tell. Nor are there any indications that Russia is going to change its foreign policy as Orlov and Lavrov’s pieces suggest.

      Russia is far from isolated in the world, outside of Washington D.C.’s fishbowl.

  6. Excellent comment by Mrjest.

    “Rail – high speed or not – is a failing proposition for two reasons:

    1) It is obsolete technology already surpassed by air travel, for almost a century now. The reason rails lost out to air is not because of lobbyists, but because it’s grossly inefficient and slow compared to aircraft – this is simple physics and economics.

    Attempting to resuscitate rail (as they have been doing for the past 50 years or so; this is just the latest of attempts) is yet another proof that so-called “progressives” are in fact astonishingly regressive and reactionary.

    2) Related to the above regression of the “progressives”, another – and it can be argued the PRIMARY – reason rail faile is that it does not offer freedom of movement. Rail (and yes, air travel too – mostly … but you can have a private aircraft and avoid most all of that; never a private rail engine, not these days), by necessity, requires people be cataloged, ID’d, stamped, and recorded as moving from place A to place B.

    Americans don’t want that; we’ve evolved beyond such petty control – we want, need, MUST be able to move about freely without Official Oversight. We must be able to drift “under the radar” at will, and leave even the confines of the automotive roadway to go “off-grid”, away from anyone else, free and independent.

    This vital desire of the American people is our very strength, even if seldom acted upon – if you make such a possibility forbidden (as majority-rail-travel does), then people balk, reject, and protest.

    It’s not about efficiency of travel – it’s about ANONYMITY of travel. For those who don’t care about anonymity but want high speed, we have faster, more efficient, cheaper aircraft. For those who do, we have private aircraft, private road cars and private off-road vehicles. Again, there is no such thing as a private, personalized rail transport.

    Rail is not needed, not wanted, and by no means necessary. For any reason – except the worst and most anti-American of reasons; to further Government control over the population.”

    • Steve W

      People own private rail engines so I’m not sure what the heck you are talking about, Swede.

      Same as it ever was…

    • JC

      “it’s about ANONYMITY of travel”

      Hilarious, Swede. I guess Mrjest is pulling a laugher on us, as he’s obviously never heard of the TSA. Anybody who travels by air in the U.S. has a dossier in TSA’s files about a whole lot more than just where they travel.

      And private planes? You’ve got to file a flight plan with the U.S. government in order to go anywhere.

      I suppose the libertarian nirvana is for everybody to have a private plane and fly it anywhere they want without any sort of flight plans or coordination. And of course, the taxpayer will fund the airports for them, cause… well some people think they deserve a free lunch.

  7. “Russia is isolated?”

    I wouldn’t feel so sorry for them. Somehow I’m thinking he’ll come out on top eventually. High speed rail or not.

    • This is just confirmation bias, your specialty, two men stroking one another away from serious critics. I recognized charlatans right off the bat with the “question” they asked themselves. They would not survive in an open and honest forum.

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