Context is very important in understanding the Russian connections to the Trump administration – which of course was preceded by the Trump business network, its foreign business dealings and at one point its major need for foreign financial investment – and remember the Trump motto, never use your own money, use someone else’s.

One of the most important pieces of that context is Vladimir Putin. At present, understanding Putin and understanding contemporary Russian actions around the globe means appreciating that Putin is not an ideologue but that he is naturally tactician. For him strategy is simply control and power….it’s a survival mechanism bred within the Soviet leadership structure and especially within the KGB. On the other hand, tactics are how he operates day to day, week to week and year to year and those evolve – a tactician probes, measures responses and resets. In confronting an enemy a tactician also attempts to create as much chaos as possible since that exposes opportunities while keeping the target off balance.

Putin comes out of the operational side of the KGB, not the collections or analysis areas.  Which means his experience was in seeking operational advantages for political action and psychological warfare – experience which translates directly to how he is conducting contemporary Russian foreign affairs.

To elaborate on that, at its most basic a practice called “shaping” comes into play.  In combat it’s referred to as “battlespace shaping” and in sales it’s sometimes called “battleground shaping”. If you have ever been in a good sales war room, and I have, it often sounds like warfare and the terms can be used in much the same way when you are talking about competitors – or sometimes actually about potential customers.

In the military context shaping involves maneuvers to keep the enemy off balance, continually posing new problems for them. It sets the stage to gain operational advantage and hopefully makes any responses ineffective.

In sales – and in political action / psychological warfare – shaping is a matter of building relationships, establishing trust, creating a presence that makes you the one to listen to when your target begins to make decisions. These days there is a lot of talk about people listening only the news they want to hear – which means that in regard to psychological warfare, it’s very important to ensure you can penetrate the media for your target population – you need to become skilled in feeding information and disinformation through the correct channels to perform effective shaping.

All of which is pretty esoteric so back to Putin and context. Putin went through several stages to get where he is today.  Initially in his first Russian Federation presidency he made sure to focus all the state’s resources, including its intelligence and security services, behind Russia’s energy companies – the obvious place to secure massive financial resources. In a way it was relationship building not totally unlike the CIAs early associations with major international American corporations. Of course for Putin it was also more personally rewarding.

Then in his second presidency he began to take positive control, if you played ball you kept your energy company and if not you went to jail and his associates took over your company. Following that, using the huge pool of money he created through such actions, he put selected cadre, including security service personnel, in charge of the banks and financial companies which were going to place it overseas.  Good business but also in intelligence terms a type of “honey trap”. Given that the investment targets were in Europe and America, well you can begin to see the sort of political action shaping I introduced above.  First you get bait, then you hook the little fish and then you go to the ocean and use the little fish for bait the really big fish.

Putin needed no long term geopolitical strategy, he certainly didn’t need to have a plan to put Trump in the Presidency. What he needed was to shape a positive financial relationship with western businessmen and in Europe set leverage by controlling eighty percent of their energy imports. With the shaping in place and in his second presidency, he could begin to get tactical, probing, testing, looking at the response, and maneuvering. The first test was in Georgia…

But for the moment, before we continue, don’t think “collusion” (that is really bad intelligence and political action tradecraft), instead think shaping, manipulation and deniability (it was only a business meeting, we just want positive relationships, check the tape).

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About Larry Hancock

Larry Hancock is a leading historian-researcher in the JFK assassination. Co-author with Connie Kritzberg of November Patriots and author of the 2003 research analysis publication titled also Someone Would Have Talked. In addition, Hancock has published several document collections addressing the 112th Army Intelligence Group, John Martino, and Richard Case Nagell. In 2000, Hancock received the prestigious Mary Ferrell New Frontier Award for the contribution of new evidence in the Kennedy assassination case. In 2001, he was also awarded the Mary Ferrell Legacy Award for his contributions of documents released under the JFK Act.

7 responses »

  1. Marv Kramer says:

    It would be nice if our President was capable of BATTLEGROUND SHAPING in more than just entertainment and real estate. Trump vs. Putin…what a match up for disaster for the U.S.

    • Well yes it would Marv..sigh. But to do that he would have to truly understand the battleground and be able to identify tactical moves from those whose interest is in increased chaos. Problem is that his experience in sales and entertainment has shown him that adding chaos brings advantages to closing deals where you hold leverage and improves your reality TV show ratings. And of course Putin has analysts and profilers who are very adept at characterizing Trump (OK, so that’s not immensely challenging, still those guys are professionals).

      He is possibly the least experienced President to come up against the tactical skills of a pro like Putin but having said that he has experienced professionals of his own at his beck and call. But the most obvious example of how well Putin was shaping the engagement, acting well ahead of Trumps learning curve, was that he managed to virtually disconnect Trump from the people who could most help him even as he was taking office. Perhaps someone close to him can wake him up to how he is being played…I surely hope so.

      • Marv Kramer says:

        Bannon is too powerful for someone close to Trump to wake him up. Trump’s son-in-law surely is not capable of doing that.

      • Certainly true, but he does have some national security folks who should know the score and are certainly more willing to listen to professionals. It looks like they may be having at least some impact on Trump at the NSC level. The problem appears to be that he really is primarily influenced by personal, one on one exchanges – which is why Ivanka and her husband have so much impact. I’m unsure if any of his capable advisors, and he does have some, can ever get that close – or more importantly get in between his tendency to act impetuously. That is probably the gravest risk in terms of actual military conflict, while his being manipulated by Putin is dangerous but presumably only beneficial to Putin and his clique and not fatal to us or our military personnel.

  2. Marv Kramer says:

    Good point about the NSC level. At least there is some place for rational input.

    • A wonderful article, thanks Matt. I’ve been slow in posting lately and will be for a bit because I’m doing a deep dive into Russian practices, especially in the area of “Active Measures”. In terms of practices and tradecraft there are a host of similarities between Russian actions and those of the CIA’s P/P group. On the other hand there are many differences in the delivery vehicles used and neither were very successful during the Cold War.

      But starting with Putin’s second presidency there was a total role reversal…long story there but the agonizing part of it is that the same Cold War era practices are now so much more effective for Putin’s agents given free trade, deep business and investment relationships and of course social media. I suspect our intel folks saw it coming, actually there are plenty of signs they did. But what may not have been anticipated was how naive (or just greedy) so many American businessmen were and how incredibly effective the Cold War practices would be with a variety of internet and social media vehicles. The quote from that article says it all and is truly frightening: “As Director-General Arnold Sinisalu puts it in his introduction to the 2016 review, “Perhaps it would be more correct to say that the growth of social media has not resulted in a post-truth world, but in the onslaught of stupidity,” a sentence that should be hung on a shingle outside Steve Bannon’s office in the White House, so long as he still has one.”

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