by John Helmer, Moscow
A stent is a contraption which cardiologists have invented for opening a blockage in an artery so that blood can flow normally. Without it, the blockage will eventually lead to failure of circulation – an explosion of blood, the destruction of the artery, death.
Angela Stent considers herself a contraption to save US policymaking towards Russia from defeat and destruction. Instead, however, the book she’s written illustrates the opposite. She’s not the saving surgeon, but the collapsing patient, whose failure to understand the basics of circulation makes effective repair impossible, and is bound to lead, if not to an explosion of blood, then to the accelerated demise of the command system Stent represents.
If the author’s name is a misnomer, so too is the title of her new book, “Putin’s World, Russia against the West and with the Rest” . Putin appears in recapitulation of his own public speeches and biographical episodes told already by American and British academics, think-tankers and warfighters. None of this is new. What is missing is an analysis of whether there is a world beyond Putin – how the system of contest and consent works to produce the policy decisions Putin ends up representing. In Stent’s version of Putin’s world, he’s the only one in it.
Curiously, there are no Russians, not in this version of Putin’s world, nor in Stent’s book. In the main text which runs to 362 pages, and in 711 footnotes inserted to source or substantiate something Stent claims to be true, she never reports talking to a single Russian government official, let alone one of Kremlin or ministerial or general rank, not even anonymously. An Armenian official in Moscow who is footnoted for telling Stent “this independence thing has not worked out that well”, doesn’t count. Nor a “senior Israeli official” who confides in conversation: “Russian policy in the Middle East is aggressive, flexible, and cognizant of its limits”.
Despite being paid with US Government funds through a variety of organisations and by the Kremlin information department’s Valdai Club to make “my frequent research trips to Moscow”, and preparing what she calls “the culmination of decades of thinking, writing, and teaching Russian foreign policy”, there’s not one Russian individual Stent says she’s learned anything from. The only Russian she thanks in her acknowledgements turns out to be an employee in the Moscow office of the US corporation IHS-Markit, where Stent’s husband, Daniel Yergin, has been a senior executive.
In the index of Stent’s book, as in her analysis of how and why Putin makes policy, there are passing mentions of Gazprom, Rosneft and Sberbank, but nothing on Russian Aluminium, Norilsk Nickel, Uralkali, SUEK, Alfa Bank, Severstal, Russian Technologies, Polyus Gold, Sovcomflot – and that’s only a partial list of the Russian corporations of state or commercial ownership which dominate both the domestic market, and also the international market for their products. Stent not only has interviewed no Russian businessman of consequence in the politics of the country. She appears to think they are of no consequence in Putin’s world except for what she reports from the US Treasury and the Office of Foreign Assets Control. Sanctions on them will grow if, as Stent thinks likely, “Russian interference [in US elections] continues through the 2018 midterm elections and beyond”. But then the sanctions “will make them more dependent on the Kremlin’s largesse…de facto nationalized”.
Stent quotes only one Russian businessman, “one of Russia’s most successful entrepreneurs”, who says: “the Chinese turned out to be very rational and very good businesspeople so they wouldn’t give money away for nothing.” But Stent didn’t meet the source herself. She was quoting second-hand from a book by Bobo Lo, an Australian of Chinese extraction who spent a brief period in the 1990s as a junior diplomat in the Australian Embassy in Moscow, before Putin came to Moscow. Since then Lo has been employed to write Russian warfighting scripts for some of the same Anglo-American think tanks which have also been paying Stent. In Stent’s listing of the books she’s read on Russia, her own are the most numerous to be listed in the bibliography, followed by Lo’s, her husband Yergin’s, and those of Fiona Hill , another Englishwoman and US patriot by conversion, who has risen to the command staff of the US warfighting bureaucracy in Washington through the patronage of US professors turned warfighters themselves.
Left to right: Bobo Lo; Fiona Hill; Madeleine Albright.
Stent can read Russian. But there are only a handful of Russian materials in the source notes – and they are uniformly from mainstream newspapers, never the kompromat. Stent also didn’t think of opening declassified US presidential library files; Russian, US and UK court records; the espionage literature; Wikileaks; the Hillary Clinton email archive; or the published memoirs of Russian veterans — except for two Yeltsin-period foreign ministers, Andrei Kozyrev and Yevgeny Primakov. Stent prefers Kozyrev; he is now employed in the US and publishes self-justifying tracts saying such things as: “moral principles still matter in American politics and policy. And the future still belongs to moral truth and to those who embrace it.” In Kozyrev’s future, there’s no Russia.
Stent concludes that “Putin’s Russia will perpetuate the historical pattern of projecting military might as the major source of its power and influence while it remains economically far behind many of its competitors”. To come to this Stent doesn’t mention, even by hearsay, a single Russian military officer; she and her research assistants aren’t aware of the large volume of open-access military news and analysis in Russian.
For her analysis Stent divides her book by geography – western Europe, Germany, and NATO; Ukraine; China; Japan; the Middle East; Washington pre-Trump and now. Stent makes a point of reminding her readers that she has done time at the State Department’s Office of Policy Planning (1999-2001) and the National Intelligence Council (2004-2006). Her patrons then were Madeleine Albright (Democrat) and Robert Hutchings (Republican); Albright has endorsed the book on its dust-jacket as a “brilliant exploration of Putin’s strategy and its disturbing implications for the West.”
This is tautological – a revolving door, intellectually speaking – because the only sources for Stent’s analysis of Putin policymaking in each region are the same US officials, academics, and consultants who have been making their livings alongside Stent all their lives, and who, like her, are hoping still for their comeback. The names of these wannabes are in the acknowledgements section inside the book; among the blurbs on the dust-jacket; and in Stent’s personal advertising . Stent cuts and pastes what they think they’ve done towards Russia; what they leaked on background to the predominantly US newspapers she relies on for her evidence of what has happened; they endorse what she reports as her own work.
The tiniest details of her composition reveal this telltale circular track. The notorious dog story of 2007, for example, when Putin is alleged to have deliberately launched his labrador Konni at Angela Merkel, knowing she had once been bitten and afraid of dogs ever since. Stent reports the “fact that surely had not been lost on her ex-KGB host”. The innuendo and the pleading adverb are the giveaway. Stent didn’t get this from Merkel. She read it in a New Yorker profile of December 2014  by an American reporter called George Packer, a protégé of several Clinton State Department officials. But Packer didn’t hear it himself. He was retelling the story from a reporter who wasn’t present but was told by somebody else.
Left to right: Chancellor Merkel, Konni; President Putin in Sochi, January 21, 2007 . “Did you know that the Chancellor is a bit frightened of dogs, so that this would be quite unpleasant for her? Putin: No, I did not know that. I wanted to make her happy. When I learned that she does not like dogs, I apologized, of course.”
In this scheme there can be no surprises in what Stent writes or how she came to know it. Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 was shot down by the Russians in 2014; the Russians ran a “multifaceted cyber and social media campaign” in a “complex web of Russian interference” in the presidential election of 2016; Sergei Skripal was poisoned by the Russians in 2018. The source identified in Stent’s small print for the conclusion in quotes was one of the very rare interviews Stent admits to have carried out for the book; that was with “[a] senior intelligence official in conversation with the author”, no date.
Similarly, Stent retells the claims of Christopher Steele’s Golden Showers dossier on Trump’s Russian ties as “ring[ing] true, according to “some former intelligence officers”. For that Stent cribbed from John Sipher writing in a publication funded by ex-lawyers from the State and Defence Departments . Sipher reports about himself that he retired in 2014 after a 28-year career in the CIA’s National Clandestine Service, which included serving in Moscow and running the CIA’s Russia operations from headquarters . In other words, Sipher was running Russian clandestine agents, influencers and provocateurs at the same time as Steele was running them at the Moscow station of MI6, and then from London after Steele was expelled. When Stent was the National Intelligence Officer (NIO) for Russia between 2004 and 2006, the material she read at her desk, and believed then, came from Sipher.
When Stent claims to know that between Putin and the Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan there are “good personal relations”, Stent has no Turkish or Russian evidence. Instead, she cites her successor as NIO Russia, Fiona Hill.
When Stent gets even closer to Putin’s thinking about Hillary Clinton, she reports “his hostility”. She explains and dates it, too. “He blamed her for the 2001 protests in Moscow – and indirectly for interfering in Russia’s 2012 election.” Stent’s source for this was the American filmmaker, Oliver Stone. In fact, Putin detests Hillary Clinton for being a corrupt liar of the type who takes the bribe and then betrays the promise and the quid pro quo. Putin came to that judgement years before; he made it personally vivid in 2009 when Clinton reneged on the deal to sell General Motors’ Opel division to the Russian consortium of Oleg Deripaska and Sberbank. That story can be read at chapter 6 of the book . One of Clinton’s State Department accomplices in that operation is thanked in Stent’s acknowledgements; another is on the dust-jacket claiming Stent had written “the definitive guide to understanding the tangled history of post-Cold War Russia”.
There is some truth in that remark by ex-Deputy Secretary of State William Burns (right), now running to be SecState if Joe Biden wins the
presidential election in November. But the understanding, to which Stent, like Burns, provides the definitive guide, is the history of their failures at regime change in Russia; their corruption of Russian business, civil society, the press, the Church; and their defeat by the Russian side on the battlefronts of Donbass, Syria, Iraq, etc. In Stent’s understanding of this history, to use the slang of the male sex business, she thinks the Russians have always played top, the Americans bottom.
Stent’s remedy and her recommendations for the next administration, are — to continue in the same slang — versatility. “The challenge for the US and Europe is to remain united”; “the US and Europe should prioritize maintaining a strong, effective alliance in the face of Russian attempts to divide NATO”; “the West’s task for the rest of Putin’s tenure is to exercise strategic patience”; “be prepared to be more forward-looking if Russia moderates its behaviour. It is also important to remember that the Kremlin does not speak for all Russian citizens. The West should encourage a wider dialogue with Russians wherever possible.” A combination of such fatuities and clichés can be written by sophomores at Harvard and Yale. For their professors like Stent, however, they mask an ulterior motive. That’s the money shot – another shot at power.
What can Stent possibly mean by this “wider dialogue with Russians” when she has not engaged in one herself? Answer: she’s for Kremlin regime change, and for every one of the Deep State operations against Russia which have failed to date. Stent is speaking for the faction of Washington know-it-all exceptionalists who have learned nothing. Putting their views of “Putin’s world” together, as Stent has done, this is the bill board she and they are hanging out for the Democratic Party candidate to win the presidency.