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The Swarm Attack That Wasn’t

The swarm attack against Russia has turned out to be a psyop against the US.

This month, an overlooked study from researchers at the University of St. Gallen and the IMD institute in Lausanne, Switzerland, found that only 8.5% of EU and G7 companies have divested from Russia. That’s an astounding bit of information. Only 18% of US corporations have left.

For a year, we’ve been told these crippling sanctions would bring Russia to its knees. How could they continue the fight without Netflix, Starbucks, or McDonald’s? It seems these corporations saw Nissan lose $687 million and decided to reevaluate. 

Instead of actual economic boycotts, the West has focused on softer targets like pianists, ballerinas, and tennis players. It’s worth noting even during the height of the Cold War, there never was a cultural boycott. Despite the lack of access to Disney+, 80% of Russians haven’t been seriously affected by the sanctions, according to a study conducted by The Chicago Council on Global Affairs:

Courtesy of The Chicago Council on Global Affairs

I emailed Emily Sullivan, one of the authors of this study to understand how these sanctions are affecting the average Russian. She was unsurprised with the results because they reflect other studies showing a low level of concern among the population.

“While a sizable minority of the Russian public is concerned about these sanctions to some degree, few are facing material hardships in their day–to–day lives as a result of the policies. … The sanctions do not appear to have brought about economic pressures on the public that might trigger political backlash,” Ms. Sullivan explains.

Commodity conundrum 

You might say, “yes, but Russia is a commodities-based economy; the disruption of their oil and natural gas sales will bankrupt them in the long run.” That’s a fair assumption, but the realities on the ground have painted a more complicated picture. 

India, Iran, Israel, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, China, and most of Africa and South America never stopped buying energy and wheat from Russia. Despite Western myopia, there’s a larger world more concerned with keeping their population warm and fed than the goings on in Donetsk. Russia has capitalized on this fact by offering discounts on various commodities.

The answer to what’s happening with the Russian oil market may have been solved by articles from NPR and Bloomberg this week. They’re both worth a read, but to sum up, Russia has surreptitiously employed a fleet of ships to sell their oil on the open market. Hundreds of these shadow ships operate by landing in a neutral port, changing the name and ownership records, and sailing onto a different port. Once there, they can sell the rebranded “clean oil” and avoid the US-imposed sanctions. It’s a nifty maneuver that is nearly impossible to stop. 

So if the sanctions have mainly been a mirage of virtue signaling and Russia still can sell oil, where does that leave the war? The economic boycotts were supposed to be the silver bullet that would cause Russia’s downfall. Unfortunately, there’s little hard evidence they’ve succeeded. 

Swarm warfare

A network swarm is a modern tactic emerging from the information age. Once called into action, it mobilizes individuals, networks, companies, and governments in a digital hive mind to take down a target. Free of geographical and bureaucratic constraints, this decentralized organizational structure is a fearsome weapon. It promised the ability to confront and defeat a nuclear power without getting our hands dirty. 

The cultural, financial, military, journalistic, and academic elite all arrived at the same conclusion instantaneously: DEFEAT RUSSIA.

There were some comedic moments, as well. If Jon Stewart giving an award to an Azov soldier with a visible Nazi tattoo in Disney World isn’t peak cultural hegemony, I don’t know what is. 

In short, it looked to many of us that a crippling network swarm attack had taken place against Russia, but it seems there was less attacking going on than we initially thought. At the risk of mixing metaphors, the history of swarms taking on bears has mixed results

The mainstream pundits were wrong, again 

We were assured that all the plucky Ukrainians needed was financial embargoes, commodities boycotts, and tens of billions of weapons from the US and EU. Russia would collapse like a paper Siberian Tiger. Democracy will triumph. 

Writing in The Atlantic in March, Derek Thompson said, “In the past few days, the United States and several major European countries have declared a series of financial penalties and sanctions against Russia that are without modern precedent for a major economy. These policies are triggering a financial catastrophe in Russia.” Today, the Ruble to the Dollar exchange rate is only 7% off what it was pre-invasion. 

Noted humanitarian, geopolitical strategist, and occasional actor Sean Penn opined when Sean Hannity on Fox News asked what should happen to the Russians, “if there is a god, there will be vengeance beyond all comprehension.” Apparently, he’s changed his views on capital punishment. 

Francis Fukuyama prognosticated imminent defeat. “The collapse of their position could be sudden and catastrophic rather than happening slowly through a war of attrition. The army in the field will reach a point where it can neither be supplied nor withdrawn, and morale will vaporize,” he writes. 

“A Russian defeat will make possible a ‘new birth of freedom,’ and get us out of our funk about the declining state of global democracy,” he gleefully adds at the end. Nothing like a humiliated, balkanized Russia with 6,000 nuclear warheads to shake off the Neoliberal doldrums.  

Sadly, as the cold has set in, we’ve been witnessing a bloody stalemate reminiscent of Verdun. And despite round after round after round of aid, the conflict doesn’t seem any closer to ending. 

When the war broke out in a flurry of missiles and tweets, I counted 23 townhouses on my tree-lined block, proudly waving their blue and yellow allegiances. Slowly the flags faded and started to come down. As I write this in a freezing January in Colorado, I only count two still languidly waving.

The end of history is just getting started

Tragically, this conflict will continue for the foreseeable future. The price of energy will keep skyrocketing, tens of thousands of Russian and Ukrainian soldiers will die in the steppes, and Ukrainian civilians will suffer horrifically. 

While this swarm warfare tactic isn’t yielding the desired results, it doesn’t mean it won’t regroup and try other attack vectors. The advantage of a swarm is its ability to be constantly prodding, searching for weaknesses like a virus. It may discover new pressure points to disrupt Russia. The appetite for wielding this swarm is alluring for those in power. Doomsday is if these escalations lead to a nuclear exchange. 

Lindsay Graham and the other armchair generals seemed determined to fight to the last Ukrainian. However, it might be wise to look to Russian history. Whether they’re fighting the Wehrmacht, Charles XII, Lundendorff, or Napoleon, Russian wars have followed a pattern. Horrific logistical disasters resulting in catastrophic casualties in the first year, followed by an overwhelming counter-attack of men and artillery. Russia just announced a new draft to expand to 1.5 million soldiers

As Stalin once quipped, “Quantity has a quality all its own.”

Lots more where that came from.