The rats are fleeing the ship
and there are few places left to hide
Today Reuters published a piece on a massive Russian yacht, belonging to one of Putin’s oligarch buddies, is booted out of Hong Kong. Apparently, even Xi sees Putin as a risk unworthy of going to bat for.
Russia’s surviving oligarchs and other organized crime supports of Putin are running out of places to hide their ill-gotten gains. In other words, when these, “rats abandon ship,” the life raft will be very small.
Oligarchs, somewhat synonymous with Russian organized crime, have long been a tool of Putin’s for influence, associated access to the rich and powerful and part of his money laundering network. Though many global 1%ers have sought to break or estrange ties to Putin, they have usually ended up dying of mysterious causes since the beginning of the war in Ukraine and international sanctions. It takes time for authorities to track and make a case for seizing property and finances. Loopholes are closing now, and those little stashes of illicit finances are coming to light along with the shoeboxes they’ve been hiding in.
Hong Kong, as in the AP article, now under Chinese rule and increasingly oppressed by Xi, is now beginning to shed its role as a safe haven. China, Hungary, India and many others have not fared well under the scrutiny of the world supporting Ukraine’s victory over occupiers. In fact, well-deserved public attention is even working against recalcitrant actors like Modi, Orban, Bolsonaro and even Xi. They may still bluster but a close inspection of their actions shows a different and lesser commitment to supporting Putin’s cultural and actual genocide against Ukraine.
Our current NSS, National Security Strategy, the NSSIG, Interim Guidance has shown itself to be one of the better NSS documents of the last few decades. Its primary narrative is unity of the rules-based, international order to mitigate the evil of despots, populists and other immoral authoritarians.
We can listen to rabid, nationalists whine about globalization, but it’s here to stay. Just like breaking your leg, you are forced to deal with the reality of the situation. The March 2021 NSSIG rises to the occasion and at just the right time. Of course, improvements can be made but with the interim version in hand and hopes of some refinements for the finished, yet to be delivered version, we’re in good hands, if the US national security community can and will act on it.
The primary tool required tool of the NSS is ethical influence. It’s required so that the US can lead with. So far, while there are star players, the USG’s natsec team is still a D-, at best on campaigning in influence. We are better than this but seemingly, DoD and much of the rest of the USG/ IA, Interagency seems to have little interest. With all of the tools, players and resources at hand, we are capable of leading far better. We cannot leave it exclusively up to the WH, State and a handful of others. The entire USG has a role to play, if only someone understood this and was capable of acting on it. State is understaffed and under-funded. DoD is still playing with 1990s concepts and patting themselves on the back for changing a few words around in their new, JP 3-04. There is no “silver bullet” solution in CYBER despite it having plenty of great supporting tools. We are unarmed on the battlefield of influence.
Until we start actually trying to professionalize influence again, at least primary players are stepping up. This is a Band-Aid though on a massive wound. It may hold for a little while but when it fails, we either need to be ready with a newer and improved version or call the hearse. Based on a read of the new DoD doctrine and the performance of the USG for the past 40 years, the hearse may be the only realistic option.
This is the way of the future as well, not just for Ukraine. A true understanding of ethical influence would show sanctions and how those sanctions are understood by global communities is a powerful tool of influence. So far today, not a word from the USG on this. Generically speaking, influence operations for a nation state, involve undermining opponents and empowering/ enabling allies. Imposing and enforcing sanctions, is both.
I imagine y’all are relieved that today is a shorter article. Frankly, after waiting on a phone line or two, waiting to talk with a variety of bureaucrats, I needed a shorter day too. On a lighter side, seeing Russian oligarchs running away from sanctuaries, like Russian troops from the draft, is pretty good news.