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By John Helmer, Moscow 

When General Valery Gerasimov, Chief of the Russian General Staff, sat down at the presidential summit table in Geneva last week, there was nobody on the US side to match him. This has never happened at a head of state meeting between the US and Russian sides.

It was the occasion which armchair generals and Chinese military observers like to attribute to their ancient and most famous general, Sun Tzu. “To win one hundred victories in one hundred battles,” he wrote down, “is not the supreme of excellence. To subdue the enemy without fighting is the supreme of excellence.”

By how many degrees of improbability then,  is the outcome that President Joseph Biden, his national security advisor Jacob Sullivan, and the Blin-Noodle Gang  (Secretary  of State Antony Blinken, Deputy Secretary Victoria Nuland)  failed to put up a fight, and the entire US press corps failed to see?


The first public disclosure that General Gerasimov was part of President Putin’s delegation and would sit at the table for the plenary session of the summit was made early on the morning of the day before.

At 09:06 on June 15 the state news agency Tass reported  Yury Ushakov, the Kremlin’s foreign affairs aide as announcing that “in addition to [General Anatoly] Antonov and Ushakov himself, the Russian delegation, according to the presidential aide, will include Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and his deputy Sergei Ryabkov, Deputy head of the Kremlin administration-Presidential Press Secretary Dmitry Peskov and Chief of the General Staff of the Russian Armed Forces Valery Gerasimov. In addition, Deputy head of the presidential administration Dmitry Kozak and Special representative of the Russian President for the Syrian settlement Alexander Lavrentiev were also invited to discuss various issues on regional issues, Ushakov said.”

Source: https://tass.ru/politika/11649343 

The news was syndicated by the Russian internet platform Yandex and by the American one, Google. Tass didn’t republish the news in English translation for another 24 hours — until  07:23 on  June 16.  But other Russian media started headlining Gerasimov’s presence at the summit within an hour:

Source: https://lenta.ru/
Published by Lenta.ru at 09:55 on June 15, the headline says: “The head of the General Staff of the Russian Armed Forces will take part in Putin's talks with Biden”.

It is possible that Ushakov was revealing to the White House, State Department, Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), and Defense Department what they didn’t know and hadn’t suspected before that morning. It is possible that Gerasimov’s name had not been included in the list of the Russian delegation provided to the Swiss border and summit security officials. This is improbable in the first degree.


When the coordinators of the summit preparations at the National Security Council (NSC) in Washington learned that the head of the Russian armed forces would be at the table, it is certain that his Pentagon counterpart, General Mark Milley, and his superior, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, both of them army generals, discussed the importance of matching Gerasimov and  Milley with NSC advisor Sullivan, Blinken,  and Nuland. CIA chief William Burns, a former deputy secretary of state and US ambassador to Moscow, would have been involved. Depending on how much advance time they had for the discussion, options papers would have been exchanged, or telephone calls, or a face to face meeting at the White House Situation Room. Austin was with Biden at the NATO summit meeting in Brussels on June 15; Milley had “no public or media events on his schedule” for that day, which meant he was in Washington working in his office.  He and Austin were both in Washington on June 16 with no public or media events on their schedules.  

The outcome of the US decision was that there was no US soldier on Biden’s side at the summit. In inter-agency and political terms the probability is that the civilians – Sullivan, Blinken, Nuland – said no to the Pentagon proposal for Milley to attend the summit. This unprecedented decision was classified TOP SECRET NOFORN. The British were not informed.


It is possible that the Kremlin kept Gerasimov secret until Ushakov spoke to Tass on the morning of June 15. That was one o’clock in the morning in Washington; Milley was asleep. In Brussels, Austin was eating his breakfast. Can they have been taken by surprise when it was too late for Milley to climb out of bed, get dressed, and fly through the dawn hours to reach Geneva?  Flying time between Washington and Geneva is ten hours. For Milley there was time enough.


Several dozen American reporters were accredited to attend the summit meeting, report from the Villa La Grange, and then attend Biden’s press conference at his hotel. The Americans fought with Russian security guards and with Russian reporters at the entrance to the villa, after the ceremonial handshake between the presidents started proceedings.

Gerasimov’s presence at the Russian delegation’s hotel had been filmed and broadcast by the Russian state Ruptly organisation in the morning, as he and the other Russian officials left for the villa. His arrival there a few minutes later was also  recorded and broadcast on Telegram.

Left: Gen Gerasimov leaves the delegation hotel with Dmitri Kozak, deputy chief of the Kremlin staff and the principal negotiator on the Ukraine,  broadcast by Ruptly at 13:46 Geneva time.  Right: Gerasimov arrives at Villa La Grange 12 minutes later.  

His presence was visible with the delegation at Putin’s right, during the press conference which the Russians opened to US and British reporters. A Voice of America report published a picture of Gerasimov which it credited to the Associated Press. That was at 12:42 Eastern Standard Time – before Putin had ended his press conference and Biden had started his.

Source: https://www.voanews.com/

Not one of the American reporters in Geneva noticed Gerasimov’s presence. The BBC correspondent from Moscow, Steven Rosenberg, whom Putin allowed to ask a question, failed to see Gerasimov seven metres to his left. Not one of the Pulitzer Prize-winning journalists on the national security and Pentagon staffs of the New York Times, Washington Post, or Wall Street Journal  learned from their Washington sources that the US Government had made its Milley-Gerasimov decision, or the reasons why.

Can the entire US press corps have been kept in the dark as dark as this?


The British General Staff and MI6 think the answer is yes.

Late on the following day, June 17, in London, the Daily Mail published several photographs of Gerasimov at the summit meeting under the headline, “Outgunned in Geneva”.

Source: https://www.dailymail.co.uk/
The publication times shown on the dateline are Australian; the corresponding London time is seven hours earlier – roughly 24 hours after the summit had concluded and the presidents flown home. Tass provided the photographs which the Daily Mail published. None of them has been published by the Russian media.

The Daily Mail identified an unnamed “former U.S. government official” and Sir Adam Thompson, “a former British diplomat who is Director of the European Leadership Network” as sources for comment. They were not the sources of the original information. Thompson was the UK’s NATO ambassador between 2014 and 2016, at the time of the Kiev putsch and the shootdown of MH17. The British official, not the American, appears to have been a relay authorised by the British services to leak.  He told the newspaper for public notice: “‘Gerasimov’s presence was striking and unexplained, but on the whole, I take it as a positive signal.” By unexplained, Thompson meant US officials had not explained themselves to their British counterparts who had been asking them for forty-eight hours.  

The US official was reported as saying: “In my experience, these things are carefully managed – no way it was a surprise”. He also described communication between Milley and Gerasimov as “one of the only bilateral channels that works still.”

The Mail reported its own investigation at the White House. “The White House only provided the full list of attendees to reporters Wednesday night [June 16], after the summit was over, with no further discussion. It did not respond to requests for comment about the general’s attendance or any asymmetry.”

The newspaper report – which has had no follow-up in the US or British media – reinforces the improbability that Gerasimov’s presence took US officials by surprise. However, the official briefing of the Mail to run the story indicates that the British security services fear the “asymmetry” was an American decision — and a strategic mistake to boot.  

What then is the probability that the story of the”asymmetry” and the “outgunning” will remain a US media secret?

It is not a Russian media secret.  According to press and television reporting in Moscow after Putin’s return to Moscow, there had been a “Gerasimov effect” on Biden at the summit. “The presence of the head of the Russian General Staff Valery Gerasimov at the summit in Geneva changed the attitude of the United States to a possible war with Russia” reported one state media source.

This was followed by Gerasimov himself. He told an interviewer on Channel One TV on June 20: “We felt the constructive stance. It seems to me that both our countries will embark on this course.”  

Source: https://riafan.ru/

Source: https://tass.com/defense/1305029 

Gerasimov was repeating the term he used in a one-word response he had given Tsargrad TV in the press conference room in Geneva.

A day later, Putin played foil in order to leave no probability of misunderstanding Russia’s position towards US warfighting. Putin was answering a question at the graduation session of the presidential public administration academy in Moscow.  Asked to comment on his meeting with  Biden, and in particular reports of Biden’s ill-health, Putin said:   “With regard to yesterday’s meeting and whether something bothered me in my conversation with President Biden or not – you know, I want to say that the image of President Biden as portrayed by our and even the US media has nothing to do with reality. He had a long flight coming from overseas, and there is jet lag. Flying is unsettling even for me too. But he still looks cheerful. We talked face to face for two hours, maybe a little more. He is completely knowledgeable on all issues; he peeked at his notes from time to time – we all do that. And the image that the media present may even be misleading and prompt one to relax concentration, but there is no reason to do this whatsoever. Mr Biden is a professional, and you need to be very careful when working with him so as not to miss something. He himself does not miss a thing, I assure you, and this was absolutely clear to me.”

“The fact that he sometimes gets confused… His press secretary is a young, educated and beautiful woman, and she gets things confused all the time herself. This is not because of her education or poor memory. It is just, you know, when people think that some things are of secondary importance, they do not really focus on them. The Americans believe that nothing is more important than them – this is their style. So, there is nothing unusual about that. Let me say it again: he is focused, he knows what he wants to achieve and does it very skilfully, and you can instantly sense it. The atmosphere was quite friendly, and I think, we understood each other and where we stand on key issues. We do not see eye-to-eye on many of them, and we have pinpointed these differences, but at the same time we have identified the areas or the points that we can discuss and work towards achieving more converging positions in the future.”

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