Saturday, August 26, 2023

Russia’s Group Wagner part 2 and 3 of Wallenstein’s trilogy: Wallenstein’s Death


Russia’s Group Wagner part 2 and 3 of Wallenstein’s trilogy: Wallenstein’s Death

 The drama surrounding Yevgeny Prigozhin, the Wagner Group’s owner, took 2 months to play out. We went through Friedrich Schiller’s trilogy as if the same script applied to Wallenstein and Prigozhin. 

First there was conflict and an open rebellion against the Czar. And the Czar got quite angry.

Episode 2 is the betrayal, and a fake pardon and the exile to Czar friendly Belarus. And Prigozhin’s review of loyalties among his troops in Africa and elsewhere. There probably were many Piccolominis shadowing him around the world.

In the epilogue Schiller’s Wallenstein is murdered in his bed. He couldn’t know about the end of the 2023 version. He didn’t know that in 2023 you could fall asleep on a flying machine called a plane and fall out of the sky. Otherwise, the similarities would be perfect. Perfect, sad, and worrisome.

Sunday, June 25, 2023

Russia’s Group Wagner Rebellion: Wallenstein’s Camp in Rostov-on-Don


Orchid Miss Calculation

Russia’s Group Wagner Rebellion: Wallenstein’s Camp in Rostov-on-Don

There is a compelling parallel between a medieval historic figure, Albrecht von Wallenstein, and Yevgeny Prigozhin, the owner of the private Russian mercenary army, Group Wagner.

In the early 17th century, during the Thirty Years’ War, Albrecht von Wallenstein had assembled a private army of twenty thousand and eventually forty thousand mercenaries to intervene in the various conflicts in the interest of Emperor Ferdinand II of the Holy Roman Empire. Wallenstein, who over time became very powerful, conspired against the emperor. He would soon be assassinated on the orders of the emperor.

The Wagner Group has its similarities with Wallenstein’s army of mercenaries. Yevgeny Prigozhin here is Wallenstein’s alter ego. Group Wagner is a sort of hybrid military force: not officially Russian, but no doubt activated by the Kremlin, beyond the margins of the Geneva conventions on war. The Group intervenes in undeclared wars or “special operations” in the Ukraine, in Syria, and in several African countries. If the Group has a military success, it is a Russian success. If not, the Kremlin has plausible denial that Russia is not involved and that the Group is a private security force.

But just as in medieval times, private armies could get a life of their own. And so it happened that the modern Russian interpretation of the medieval predecessor defied the emperor in Moscow. The mutiny ended up in a negotiated deal. Yevgeny Prigozhin goes into exile, and his men were forgiven their rebellion and treason charges. Prigozhin’s whereabouts are unknown.  

Miscalculations have their consequences. Wallenstein and Prigozhin know by now. About to learn is Vladimir Putin himself. The “Special Military Operation” in Ukraine has been a huge miscalculation that sooner or later will have lasting consequences. Putin believed in the standard military procedures as they were developed at the time of the Soviet Union. Here is how those procedures would have made a three dayaffair of the Russian aggression. NATO had to deal with the possibility that Soviet military planning could be accurate: a Soviet attack on Western Europe assumed Warsaw Pact forces reaching Western France in 8 days. Crossing Belarus would put Kyiv at 150 km. A 48-hour operation with a combined air assault. That’s what the old Soviet field manuals said. That’s also what the propaganda said.

Now we know NATO was over prepared at the time of the Soviet Union, Russian classical armed forces don’t match their calculations. Except for its nuclear arsenal, Russia no longer is a superpower. China has to re-evaluate its support. And if there is a second collapse down the road, some in Beijing might want to have a look at the Asian parts of Russia. I have met a prominent member of MSS, the Chinese equivalent of the CIA. He oversees septentrional Siberia. Start dreaming?

Wednesday, August 3, 2022

LuXXXembourg for Porn, LFP. As in Fleites vs Mindgeek and Visa.


LuXXXembourg for Porn, LFP. 

As in Fleites vs Mindgeek and Visa

Over the years Luxembourg has become a notorious player in the lucrative porn business. This blog reported as early as 2011 about Luxembourg’s dominant “position” in the worldwide porn business:

Mindgeek SARL, formerly known as Manwin is a Luxembourg SOPARFI, a sort of holding company owning shares in a multitude of porn sites such as Pornhub, Youporn, Brazzers, you name it. Visitors on those sites were 3,500,000,000 in 2019.

But like banking secrecy where you get accused of being an accessory to tax evasion and money laundering, porn may give you 3.5 billion “Likes”, but not only. Access for minors on those sites, revenge porn, sexual exploitation, outright slavery and human rights abuse are out of control in that world and seem to be voluntarily treated with benign neglect by various authorities.

For Luxembourg, a recent member of the United Nations Human Rights Council, it is at least an embarrassment to be an accessory to this kind of trade. Though an unapologetic one: when the question of who regulates Mindgeek came up, both the Luxembourg Government and ALIA, the Luxembourg independent authority for audiovisual activities, enacted Pontius Pilatus: they claim, they are not in charge. But Cyprus is because Cyprus houses one executive entity of the porn empire, under the name of MG Freesites Ltd. However European legislators in France and elsewhere will certainly start pressure. In such an international debate, as it happened with banking secrecy, Luxembourg cannot not win the moral argument and eventually at least confront the lobby of local professionals who are also accessories to the scandal.

The most important threat to the porn industry and Luxembourg’s peace of mind about it may still be legal actions in the US. Variety reports about the recent rulings by US District Judge Cormac Carney of the US District Court of the Central District of California. In the case of Fleites vs Mindgeek, a case of a thirteen-year-old girl who was pressured into a sexually explicit video posted on Pornhub. The video was viewed probably millions of times.

The case extends beyond Mindgeek to Visa accused to have participated in sex trafficking ventures. As the case is getting to Mindgeek’s money flows, it gets to the ultimate owners of the porn sites that generate the revenue. Those matter to the Court, says the judge in the case.

With the judge’s focus on who gets the revenue and who is abetting those activities we may be millimeters away from a Luxembourg Soparfi saving taxes when collecting those revenues from its porn empire! And the Soparfi will be paying just a little tax to someone else who then obviously is also benefitting: the Luxembourg tax man!

I would advise, as I did for years with the tax evasion industry: rid that industry of the criminal problems infesting it now, or you will, after a couple of years of protracted maneuvering, have to make decisions under pressure. 

Sunday, May 22, 2022

Sacred Heart University Shuts Down Its Luxembourg Campus

Sunset for SHU Luxembourg


Sacred Heart University Shuts Down Its Luxembourg Campus

On March 14, 1990, while I was Consul General of Luxembourg in New York, I received two visitors: Dr Pete Fairbough and Dr Richard Farmer from Sacred Heart University, Fairfield, CT. They enquired about the possibility to establish an MBA Program in Luxembourg.

The Luxembourg Government’s official policy at the time was that Luxembourg didn't want a university on its territory. Forcing Luxembourg students to go study abroad was seen as a good thing promoting world openness and diverse sources of learning at the neighbors.

Knowing the hurdles, and to circumvent various oppositions, we went the extra mile to make it happen. Pete Fairbaugh wrote his dissertation in 1995 for his Degree of Doctor of Education on the development of the MBA program in Luxembourg. As expected, the project encountered some hostility, among others and surprisingly from the Ministry of Education headed by a Christian Social Minister, Marc Fischbach.

In the meantime, as a Trustee emeritus of Sacred Heart University, I’m surprised by the secrecy and suddenness of the decision, but even more by the decision at all. Secrecy and surprise are generally used if conflict can be expected. I take it that there was no unanimity at the Board. The decision by itself is on weak footing: the program was a success confirmed over 30 years. It had its European roots and flavors in one of the European capitals, and it allowed hundreds of students to graduate from a program that put students and faculty face to face. Attending online courses via SHU Fairfield CT doesn’t sound more exciting than attending an Ohio University or University of Phoenix MBA. Competing on price? The Luxembourg angle put Sacred Heart University in a unique position.

So why step back from a proven and unique model now? Access to the Luxembourg government, difficult in the early days, had become a privilege, now that so many of its members are Dr hc of Sacred Heart University. The question then remains, who took this decision and why? It doesn’t seem to measure up to a level of an MBA graduate.

And a final word: why didn’t SHU give a one-year notice of the shutdown, acknowledging some financial responsibility? It is certainly not fair to push the consequences on the students. SHU could have not accepted new first year students and allow for an orderly shut down next year when the last students graduate.

Egide Thein, Trustee emeritus of Sacred Heart University.

Monday, March 14, 2022

Ukraine: When Your Security is Guaranteed by the “Great Powers”.

Ukraine: When Your Security is Guaranteed by the “Great Powers”.


When “Great Powers” give you their solemn assurances that they will protect and defend you against an aggressor in exchange for giving up nuclear weapons still on your territory since Soviet times, be suspicious! One of the great powers might become an aggressor while the others will mostly stand by. Sorry Ukraine!

It so happened with my home country Luxembourg. The Treaty of London signed on May 11, 1867, declared the Grand-Duchy of Luxembourg eternally neutral. Therefore, Luxembourg also dismantled its enormous fortress. Then it was overrun twice by German forces in WW I and WW II.

The “Memorandum on security assurances in connection with Ukraine’s accession to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons. Budapest, 5 December 1994” bears so many common elements with the Treaty of London. The most important lesson is you only think you are protected. Which comes with a high price, because you are not.

The Russian aggression themed “special operation” is in its 19th day. It wasn’t supposed to last that long, and slowly Russian generals must bring the bad news to the Kremlin.

It can be assumed that Russian military engagements and tactics are directly derived from Soviet ones. Those are characterized by massive use of artillery, the occasional more creative drop of airborne troops far behind enemy lines to secure an area to be joined by ground troops. Based on those tactics, a Warsaw Pact attack on NATO in Western Europe aimed at reaching the Atlantic in France after 8 days of operations. Taking Kyiv based on those plans would have been possible in 48-72 hours. It did not happen. There are only three possible reasons:

·        The Ukrainian Armed Forces and the population fight a heroic battle.

·        The Russian forces are not what propaganda wants them to be. It is bad planning and bad execution.

·        The slow move of the “special operation” is done on purpose, to test Western reaction and resolve. One outrageous next step after another, crossing another line.

No doubt, Ukrainians put up a fight of historic resonance. To the point that a more logical adversary would concede that the war was lost and break contact. Putin is still too vengeful. Revenge is a bad advisor.

Military threats remain credible until they are tested. Military adventurism is a sort of Russian roulette: if it fails, you expose your unexpected weakness to the world. The only remedy that is left is a bigger gun. Nukes. But that could be the last shot you fired. Hate is a bad advisor.

So why does the Russian military underperform, way below where official propaganda put it? Putin is a trained spy, conspiring to acquire Western technologies. His style is conspiring. Military operations however are clearly designed plans. The Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces is not a trained military. But as a military chief he became rich. If the Soviet style Command and Control structures are still in place, that leaves very little initiative to lower echelons, to the squad commander, Platoon, Company and Battalion commanders. Opposed to Western counterparts who are encouraged to take initiatives within any given battle procedures, Russians are bound to a rigid chain of command. Even a lay person watching TV could wonder what the purpose of 40 miles long bumper to bumper column of armored vehicles was, staying parked on roads. Even basic training would teach that in such a setup, you can get shot like fish in a barrel. It would have happened had the Ukrainian Air Force received additional aircraft. As by now some Russian leaders, such as National Guard Chief Viktor Zolotov, dare to speak out, conceding that the “special operation” is not going too well. The lack of training and incompetence in the upper echelons are surprisingly overwhelming. Those troops are not combat-ready. They also lack basic humanitarian principles.

One could have surmised that the slow progress was a calculated one: testing Western resolve, crossing a line, testing another line until achieving the goals without risking a military response. This would have fitted the profile of a scheming KGB/FSB man. However, those salami tactics violate the principles of war for an effective use of force.

On day 19 Russian operations continue, violating Geneva Conventions, and incidences of war crimes are multiplying. Western response has been mitigated, mostly because of Putin’s nuclear bluff. He has crossed multiple red lines since the Chechnian war, or Georgian invasion or the annexation of Crimea. All episodes exposed Western weakness. The performance of the US, NATO and its individual members is weak. There was no show of unity and resolve in 2014 in the Crimean case. It has become the template for all further “special operations”. It has become the template also for Taiwan. Because from the sidelines are watching China, Iran, and North Korea. And China may one day be in a position, where Russia weakened through senseless wars, will lose Siberia to China. For now China is already winning every day.

From the sidelines is also Trump heckling the performance of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris. It will impact the 2022 and maybe the 2024 US elections.

It should be convenient here to show that all this is going on with players who signed a guarantee agreement with Ukraine called “Memorandum on security assurances” on December 5, 1994. Here follows the agreement. It has so many implications for the credibility of the United Nations and the three “great powers” that are signatories, that it speaks dramatically for itself.


Wednesday, February 23, 2022

Ukraine: From Sitzkrieg to Blitzkrieg, or from Phony War to WW III?

My Orchids: Russian Dancer


From Sitzkrieg to Blitzkrieg, or from Phony War to WW III?


In the Ukraine, history repeats itself. The parallels to the European 1930ies are staggering. Russia plays the old German handbook today. Or Putin plays Hitler. Here it goes, stroke after stroke and side by side:

1.     At the beginning are two historical events. The Treaty of Versailles of 1919 ended up being resented by German public opinion as a Diktat, politicized by Adolf Hitler. The collapse of the Soviet Union finalized in 1991 left many nostalgic about the lost empire, among them Vladimir Putin. Both men determined that their destiny was to correct their national catastrophic events.

2.     Both men grabbed and consolidated absolute power.

3.     Both men strengthened their military and started exerting power on neighboring “previously lost” territories.

4.     After getting the world used to their threatening rhetoric, comes the next phase of an undeclared war: Hitler intervened in the Spanish Civil War, annexed the Sudetenland from Czechoslovakia in 1938, and the Austrian “Anschluss”. Putin’s biography includes the Chechen war, the war with Georgia in 2008, and the annexation of Crimea in 2015.

5.     Hitler signed a “non-aggression pact” with Stalin, securing his Eastern border. Putin engineered unprecedented friendship with Xi’s China, securing and aligning interests with China’s.

6.     European powers tried to appease Hitler. Noteworthy is the British Prime Minister’s speech in 1938 returning from a meeting in Munich where he was lured by Adolf Hitler. Neville Chamberlain declared that he was bringing back “Peace for our time”. And “go home and get a nice sleep.” These days Western powers, most notably Presidents Biden and Macron multiplied attempts to rein in Vladimir Putin, threatening him with sanctions. Their appeasement efforts didn’t even yield a phony agreement. Putin crossed a line on February 22nd by ordering Russian troops into dissident Ukrainian provinces.

This side-by-side comparison looks like a copy and paste calendar on the way to World War III. By disclosing and defining the West’s anticipated reaction upon an invasion of Ukraine as being “sanctions”, a western military option was taken off the table. Maybe not explicitly, but Putin just tested the West by moving troops beyond the status quo line into the repurposed Ukraine territories of “Donetsk People’s Republic and “Luhansk People’s Republic”. And he sees no military reaction of the West. Proof that the only consequences will be limited to sanctions. Which will be a little annoying only for those sanctioned, but widely cancelled out through Russian-Chinese friendship and commercial ties.

In geopolitics and military strategies, it is vain to gauge an adversary’s intentions. Instead, all that counts are his possibilities and those should be analyzed. Is an invasion of the rest of Ukraine coming? It is a possibility. Militarily, Ukraine stands alone, as the West has no appetite for war. Putin sees US and European leadership as weak. Worse, how much Kompromat does he have about western leaders? And he is the solution to Europe’s partly self-inflicted energy crisis. China wouldn’t stand in his way and might use the crisis and perceived weaknesses to its own advantage regarding Taiwan. If the annexation of Ukraine is in his plans, as his past actions seem to show, his moment is now: a weak West, Europe with no political will to call to arms and with no military aspirations, a sympathetic China, and an overwhelming combat ready Russian force with air superiority. Not mentioning the nuclear weapon.

Given this unique alignment of the stars in Russia’s favor, an assault on the Ukraine is a real possibility. The Ukraine Government just mobilized reserve units. Signs point towards war.

We’ll then see a classical script unfold. Ironically there seems to emerge another similarity with 1940, the von Schlieffen Plan. The Russian built-up at the border is complemented by another built-up in Belarus where combined exercises included the use of airborne forces. The setup on the ground indicates a possible plan copied from the German von Schlieffen plan, throwing German forces through Luxembourg, Belgium and the Netherlands, in this case through Belarus.

Having already stressed the importance of viewing possibilities over intentions, let’s allow us to speculate on the intentions by suggesting the following scenario:

We’ll know that day J and hour H have arrived when cyber and physical attacks occur on Ukrainian Command and Control centers. This is the prelude to an imminent ground attack. Ukrainian defense forces will be targeted by intense artillery “preparation”, including the well-known Stalin’s organs. The Belarus exercises showed the presence of airborne forces. The Russian plan would be typical if it used an airborne division to be dropped in the vicinity of a key objective, maybe Kyiv. Ground forces from Belarus would in priority fight their way, less than 100 miles, to that dropping zone to join forces at the throat of Ukrainian decision makers. A very concerning possibility that would within hours put the world facing a “fait accompli”.

Besides Putin another winner is President Xi. Doors are open to deal with Taiwan. History there will repeat itself too.


Monday, February 7, 2022

Xi meets Grand Duke Henri of Luxembourg on deepening ties

Chinese President Xi Jinping meets with Grand Duke Henri of Luxembourg, who came to China for the opening ceremony of the Beijing 2022 Olympic Winter Games, at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, capital of China, Feb. 6, 2022. (Xinhua/Ding Lin)

BEIJING, Feb. 6 (Xinhua) -- Chinese President Xi Jinping on Sunday met with Grand Duke Henri of Luxembourg, who came to China for the opening ceremony of the Beijing 2022 Olympic Winter Games.

Xi said that China appreciates the support of Grand Duke Henri of Luxembourg for China's bidding and preparation for the 2008 Summer Olympics and the 2022 Winter Olympics. He also thanked Luxembourg's royal family for firmly supporting and actively promoting the friendship between China and Luxembourg.

Chinese President Xi Jinping meets with Grand Duke Henri of Luxembourg, who came to China for the opening ceremony of the Beijing 2022 Olympic Winter Games, at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, capital of China, Feb. 6, 2022. (Xinhua/Liu Weibing)