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March 17, 2022


This is an excellent twitter thread on the war, originally recommended by Josh Marshall.

Of particular interest, this from Charles Lister:

Extraordinary -- #Russia's *visually confirmed* losses in #Ukraine, 3 weeks in:

- 233 tanks
- 474 armored vehicles
- 52 comms & engineering vehicles
- 69 air defense systems
- 94 artillery systems
- 13 fighter jets
- 32 helicopters
- 428 trucks & jeeps

Note that these are confirmed losses; actual losses are almost certainly higher.

Also note especially the air defense systems losses. No wonder Russia can't control the skies, between their losses there and all the Stingers the Ukrainians are making such good use of.

Back to old-fashioned high level bombing then.
At least I get that impression from the news.

Back to old-fashioned high level bombing then.

But is the quality of Russian high level bombers (and their crews) any better than that of their fighers? It seems likely that the crews have as little, likely less, training flight time each year. If the Stingers don't get them, the Ukrainian fighters may.

I'm thinking the Russians will end up sticking with artillery and tactical missles. Ineffective, not to mention vulnerable, as these too have been.

Speaking of Carlson, WTF is Greenwald doing going on Carlson’s show to lend his O2 to the bioweapons lab story? Greenwald is threading a very small needle of entertaining speculation that it could be true without claiming that it is true, but he has to know how his appearance will be used in the disinformation campaign.

Is Greenwald naïve or cynical? I really can’t tell.

Is Greenwald naïve or cynical? I really can’t tell.

Perhaps he has cash flow problems, and Carlson is paying well...? If the Russians are paying Carlson enough to replay his shows (hey, it's normal to pay to use copyrighted material, right?), he can easily afford to do so.


Headlined Only NATO can save Putin


Snyder is excellent.
I recommend his book “The Reconstruction of Nations”, which I’m reading.

Also worth a read is this guy’s Twitter threads.
Opinionated, but seems very knowledgeable about Russia.

Of particular interest, this from Charles Lister:

The source is here, updated daily.

Note this is the efforts of a couple of guys. Very thorough in their methods of confirming evidence and eliminating duplicated claims; they have reported quite a large backlog to process.

Wow, that's awesome Nigel. Thank you.

This is interesting as well.

Quick summary: Either Russia turns things around dramatically in the next few days, or Putin calls a general mobilization and settles in for a long war, or Russia negotiates an end.

  • There's no sign of the first. They've already committed 75% of their combat-ready forces, so no help there. And supplies are shrinking fast; maybe China picks up the slack there, but no bets.
  • The second inevitability reduces Russian forces abilities. They already have morale and effectiveness problems due to the conscripts mixed into existing units. Badly trained conscripts. More are of dubious benefit . . . except for straining Ukrainian capacity to deal with surrendered Russians. And the Mothers of St Petersburg will not be happy.
  • The third will be a political disaster for Putin. He'll spin like mad, of course. But there's limits to how well that will work with the elites who actually matter to his survival.

This, off the Russian Internet:
“We are now entering day 24 of the special military operation to take Kyiv in two days.”


The last journalists out of Mariupol.

The city which Putin is turning into another Aleppo or Grozny.

Quick summary

my guess, which is worth every cent you pay for it:

Putin won't back down. He'll drag this out until he has utterly shredded both Ukraine and his own military if need be.

When it finally becomes apparent to Putin that he's not going to be able to install a puppet regime in Kyiv, he'll claim whatever ground he's taken at that point and declare victory. Maybe. That ground will probably be some or most of the eastern provinces and a lot of the Black Sea coast.

So, maybe sort-of negotiating an end, but not until he's reduced significant bits of Ukraine to rubble. And stolen another few significant chunks for mother Russia. But he's going to punish Ukraine for all of this before he's done, no matter what else happens.

He won't leave without some kind of a win. He'll either see Ukraine reduced to cinders, or his own military bled to the point of exhaustion, or both, before he'll leave without a win.

The von Clausewitzian equation is based on a rational assessment of risks and potential up- and downsides. I don't think Putin is operating by those rules at this point. von Clausewitz was a general - a military strategist. Putin appears to be motivated by something other than that - something more like nostalgia for Russia as an important hegemonic superpower. It's seems more emotional than pragmatic.

If some opportunity for him to gain some ground and call it a win presents itself, maybe he'll settle for that. Short of that, I think he'll just burn shit down.

Twitter thread from the excellent Nataliya Gumenyuk:

The most important @ZelenskyyUa interview for the European Public Broadcasters.The key for me:”We need to show our strength,but while defending the country - show humanity even in the way we treat the enemy”. See the thread with my rough translation…

… I don’t like loud words,ultimatums. But we should understand the people won’t give away Kharkiv, Mariupol,I as a president won’t give it away,and people won’t let.That [Russian] ultimatum could be fulfilled if they destroy, if they kill all of us. It’s a path to a genocide….

He won't leave without some kind of a win. He'll either see Ukraine reduced to cinders, or his own military bled to the point of exhaustion, or both, before he'll leave without a win.

Likely true. (Next most likely: both.)

At this point the collapse of the Russian Army (it appears that the Air Force already has) looks like the most probable. The question in my mind is, after he's rolled out the chemical and/or biological weapons, in a probably vain attempt to avert it, will he try nuking Kyiv (and perhaps one of two others) as well? As you say, rational calculation appears to have gone by the boards on this.

And yet when the invasion started, many (most ?) we're ready to write off Ukraine's chances, and regarded a rapid Russian victory - probably followed by years of painful and futile occupation - as an inevitability.

I am very much inclined to agree with this view, that he cannot be allowed to win now.

Though I acknowledge the risks are enormous, I don't think there's any real safer alternative.

And yet when the invasion started, many (most ?) we're ready to write off Ukraine's chances, and regarded a rapid Russian victory - probably followed by years of painful and futile occupation - as an inevitability.

I think there were two factors here. First, pretty much everybody had a way over blown take on the capability of Russia's military. In the event, Afghanistan was a better indicator than Syria or Chechnya. Although even there, Russia did better than they are currently. And the logistical ineptitude has been really astounding, especially given the proximity of the front to Russian territory. Putin has some reason to be irked with his generals.

Second, the previous Russian invasion of Donbas had given an inaccurate view of how welcoming the Russian-speaking population would be. That fooled Putin, too -- probably the main reason to fire the intelligence chiefs. (Even though they couldn't have told him the truth, if they knew it, without getting fired earlier.)

Not sure how significant, compared to Donbas, the last year's influx of military hardware from the West has been. But without that, especially the anti-tank missiles, things would have been worse for Ukraine. Lucky for them, we had a change of administration to someone less of a fan of Putin.

It appears that Russian forces now shelling Mariupol from the sea

Seems like it's time to put some of those anti-ship missiles to use. After all, why should the Russian Army be the only force to have it's shortcomings highlighted?

Hard to see how Ukraine would get the anti-ship missiles to Mariupol for their use, considering that delivering such things as food and medicine seems to be impossible at the moment.

Hack the Russian C&C systems so that their Army and Navy shell each other?

Worth a try.

Hard to see how Ukraine would get the anti-ship missiles to Mariupol for their use,

Might be worth some extra effort to get a handful in. Submaribe drone, perhaps? Wouldn't take but a couple of hits to teach the Russian navy some respect.

Russian TV pundits threatening nuclear war.

Remember that this talk can only be officially sanctioned.

Who is actually fighting Putin’s war ?
Another excellent thread from Kamil Galeev.

The minority factor in Russian army is vastly underrated when discussing the course of Ukrainian war. Firstly, ethnic minorities are not so much a minority there. Judging from the casualty lists, minorities are wildly overrepresented on the battlefields as the cannon fodder…

The parallels with Vietnam (apparent in other ways, too), are interesting.

Thanks Nigel. One interesting difference about the USSR is the role of language, this survey by Pavlenko (2013). Language Management in the Russian Empire, Soviet Union, and Post-Soviet Countries gives a broad overview.  


Lots of interesting observations in the article, like why Belarus is connected at the hip to Russia
The most spectacular failure of the de-russification process occurred in Belarus, where a popular vote in the 1995 national referendum made Russian the second state language.This vote showed that the extent of russification among Belarusians has been underrepresented in the Soviet Census data. The 1999 Belarusian Census revealed that Russian was the main language of 62.8 percent of ethnic Belarusians(www.belstat.gov.by) (see also Brown 2005). At present, Russian functions as the de facto main language in Belarus across all domains, from media to education, while Belarusian plays a symbolic function indexing the nation in official documents and public spaces(Brown 2005, 2007; Giger & Sloboda 2008). From a historic standpoint this outcome is not surprising: previous waves of Belorussian national revival were equally weak. The nineteenth century national movement lacked an urban base and support from abroad(Snyder 2003; Thaden & Thaden 1984), while belorussification of the 1920s was directly opposed by many russified Belorussians who saw the Belorussian republic as an artificial Soviet creation that cultivated a nonexistent titular nation (Hirsch2005: 149–155).

Which contrasts with Ukraine
Ukraine so far has preserved a single state language, but in August of 2012 the Ukrainian government passed a language law that enables adoption of Russian as a regional language by individual cities and regions. As in the other three countries, Soviet censuses under-represented the degree of russification of Ukrainians because many titulars indicated Ukrainian as their native language yet spoke Russian on the daily basis(Besters-Dilger 2009; Bilaniuk 2005; Kulyk 2010; Pavlenko, 2011b). The shift to L1 Russian has continued in the post-Soviet era (table 32.3), suggesting that, similar to Belarus, russification in Ukraine is a bottom-up process. Unlike Belarus, however,Ukraine also has a strong nationalist movement, centered in Western Ukraine and supported by the Ukrainian diaspora. As a result, the country is split along linguistic lines, with Ukrainian-dominant West favoring the idea of monolingual Ukraine, and Russian-speaking East and South pushing for a bilingual solution (Besters-Dilger 2009; Bilaniuk 2005; Bilaniuk & Melnyk 2008; Kulyk 2010). In the past two decades, the authorities have succeeded in making Ukrainian the main language of the administration,documentation, and education. This spread, however, has been achieved throughlegislative measures that were often less than democratic: in some contexts, for instance, the authorities determined the numbers of schools operating in particular languages on the basis of the ethnic composition of the population, ignoring the preferences of Russophone Ukrainians, and in others, most notably in the capital Kyiv, Russian-medium schools were transformed into Ukrainian-medium schools without any recourse to demographics or parental preferences (Pavlenko, 2011b). Protests were also elicited bylaws that required the dubbing of Russian-language movies and TV shows (Besters-Dilger 2009).

The minority factor in Russian army is vastly underrated when discussing the course of Ukrainian war. Firstly, ethnic minorities are not so much a minority there. Judging from the casualty lists, minorities are wildly overrepresented on the battlefields as the cannon fodder…

Hmmmm. The reports I have seen indicate that the Ukrainians are (successfully) targeting Russian elite special forces. For example
https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/a-dozen-elite-russian-soldiers-have-been-killed-by-ukrainians-in-fight-for-mariupol-2mw3rnnxj **

Perhaps those special forces are a small enough part of the invasion force that they don't impact the overall casualty figures. But if so, if they are that few, that makes it even worse for the Russians.

** Sorry about the paywall. But it was the written (as opposed to TV news) article I could google up quickly.

There is smoke rising from the Russian Embassy in Poland, just as smoke rose from the Russian Embassy in Kiev a short while ago.

Meanwhile, a high Russian official speaks of nuclear holocaust.

Maybe the coming nuclear mushroom clouds will be no more harmful than the McDonald's in Moscow removing the Portobello and Swiss sandwich from its menu to demonstrate Koch-sucking capitalist displeasure at the world's demise.

Dreher, the sainted Trump dupe twit, is in Europe casting lies and orthodox horseshit back at his country, in solidarity with Russian Orthodox murderers of all LGBT human beings on every continent. May his head be a guidance system attraction for Russian nukes, like Slothrup's in "Gravity's Rainbow".

Meanwhile, Putin's fifth column in America, capitalizing every damn thing to their fascist benefit .... the racist, homophobic, anti-semitic, torture-loving, misogynist incel, global climate change fandom and genocidal, christian orthodox, pandemic-loving death cult puke funnels and killers of all things liberal on Earth beshit themselves and this conservative shit hole of a country in Congressional hearings to ruin a human being and once again prove they will misgovern and destroy our government and subjugate this country in ignorant darkness whether they are illegally in the majority or legally in the minority.

"In my beginning is my end. In succession
Houses rise and fall, crumble, are extended,
Are removed, destroyed, restored, or in their place
Is an open field, or a factory, or a by-pass.
Old stone to new building, old timber to new fires,
Old fires to ashes, and ashes to the earth
Which is already flesh, fur and faeces,
Bone of man and beast, cornstalk and leaf.
Houses live and die: there is a time for building
And a time for living and for generation
And a time for the wind to break the loosened pane
And to shake the wainscot where the field-mouse trots
And to shake the tattered arras woven with a silent motto."


" The houses are all gone under the sea.

The dancers are all gone under the hill.


O dark dark dark. They all go into the dark,
The vacant interstellar spaces, the vacant into the vacant,
The captains, merchant bankers, eminent men of letters,
The generous patrons of art, the statesmen and the rulers,
Distinguished civil servants, chairmen of many committees,
Industrial lords and petty contractors, all go into the dark,
And dark the Sun and Moon, and the Almanach de Gotha
And the Stock Exchange Gazette, the Directory of Directors,
And cold the sense and lost the motive of action.
And we all go with them, into the silent funeral,
Nobody's funeral, for there is no one to bury.
I said to my soul, be still, and let the dark come upon you
Which shall be the darkness of God. As, in a theatre,
The lights are extinguished, for the scene to be changed
With a hollow rumble of wings, with a movement of darkness on darkness,
And we know that the hills and the trees, the distant panorama
And the bold imposing facade are all being rolled away—
Or as, when an underground train, in the tube, stops too long between stations
And the conversation rises and slowly fades into silence
And you see behind every face the mental emptiness deepen
Leaving only the growing terror of nothing to think about;
Or when, under ether, the mind is conscious but conscious of nothing—
I said to my soul, be still, and wait without hope
For hope would be hope for the wrong thing; wait without love,
For love would be love of the wrong thing; there is yet faith
But the faith and the love and the hope are all in the waiting.

Verses from T.S. Eliot's East Coker, #2 of the Four Quartets.

The worldwide malignant conservative movement's goal of eliminating abortion rights will be successfully met by their ultimate goal of eliminating eight billion living born human beings on Earth, one way or the other.

You can't make this stuff up.

Manafort Removed From Miami Plane Bound For Dubai

Well, there's still flights from Dubai to Moscow. And Putin could doubtless use some political consulting advice -- sounds like a match made in heaven (or perhaps a case of his boss calling him back to HQ...).

Somehow, I had missed this. Perhaps because it's in Russian.

What is it? It is Putin's declaration of victory in Ukraine. Published (oops!), very briefly, on Feb 26. How inconvenient that it got archived.

Something to think about, the next time someone worries about Putin saying, repeatedly, that everything is "going according to plan."

wj. did you manage to translate it to English? I tried pasting the Wayback link into Google Translate but it still came out in Russian.

[wow, I pasted just 1 paragraph and it could have come directly from Pravda!]

English translation here

Thank you, Pro Bono!

It’s hard for me to read that. Between the rolling and glazing over, my eyes don’t work so well.

Think of it as part of a work of fiction from an alternate universe.

How did we wind up in this time line?

Putin won't back down. He'll drag this out until he has utterly shredded both Ukraine and his own military if need be.

Once it becomes even more apparent that he's perfectly willing to break the military, I expect some number of generals to arrest/kill Putin. Ask for an immediate ceasefire in place so that they can begin retreating out of Ukraine. Offer to seize the oligarchs assets to pay reparations. They may not be able to take Ukraine, but they can darned well take Putin and his mafia.

If they haven't talked about it in private, I'll bet that a lot of them have started thinking about it.

I've mostly been staying out of the Ukraine doomscrolling for the last couple days as I'm cramming to prep my Children In Armed Conflict research class. Currently watching For Sama on PBS Frontline and trying to decide if it is too much for the purposes of an advocacy research class.

It is worth every minute of its run time so far, and I got chills hearing them talking about being bombed by Russian helicopters. I think it's essential viewing, but the question is whether or not it serves the needs of the class when I also have Children of Syria on hand that highlights a broader list of concerns even if it is not quite so raw a journey.

I struggle a lot with trying to balance the requirements and outcomes of the course descriptions and what I think the students really need to lead the publicly engaged lives that we are trying to model for them. For Sama could well be their lives. The filmmaker was a college student when she began filming it. I know it would hit hard and deep and teach true things about our world that we usually choose not to engage with when we are focused on building a better future for ourselves. But Children of Syria already seems to them to hit pretty hard.

I'll probably stay with the latter for course goals, but the focus on prep for shiny professional lives when the future is already on fire often feels like selling them short.

I'm not sure whose future we are trying to prepare them for, sometimes. It seems badly aligned with our current trajectory and the parallax is getting to me.

Hard to see how Ukraine would get the anti-ship missiles to Mariupol for their use, considering that delivering such things as food and medicine seems to be impossible at the moment.

I would be the military industrial complex's worst nightmare. If I were in the appropriate position on Biden's staff, I would have weeks ago, when Russia started sniffing around, been asking (among many other things), "Which software load on which cruise missile gives us anti-ship capability from well-inland launches, using optics and other emissions guidance, to strike ships used as artillery platforms? That work with GPS unavailable? That people can be trained up on quickly?" And if the answer I got was none, then I'd tell them that once things settled down there would be very embarrassing questions asked in public.



Probably behind firewall, so:

The risk of coup by the Federal Security Service (FSB) against President Putin is growing every week that the war in Ukraine continues, a whistleblower at the heart of Russian intelligence has said.

The whistleblower has told Vladimir Osechkin, who is on Russia’s most-wanted list for his work in exposing abuse in prisons, in letters that chaos and discontent have engulfed the security services after the botched invasion of Ukraine.

Osechkin has published almost a dozen of the letters. He told The Times that the risk taken by intelligence agents in speaking out was a sign of their growing anger towards Putin, who has reportedly blamed them for the failure of Russia’s attempt to topple the government in Kyiv.

Much of this unhappiness, Osechkin said, stemmed from the effect that sanctions have had on FSB officers — who are often referred to as the “new nobility” in Russia — and who will no longer be able to “go on holidays to their villas in Italy and take their kids to Disneyland Paris”.

Employees of the FSB, Russia’s domestic spy agency of which Putin was director from 1998 to 1999, command far higher salaries than ordinary citizens, on top of an apartment they are given by the state.

Speaking from his home in France, where he has lived in exile since 2015, Osechkin, 40, said: “For 20 years Putin created stability in Russia. FSB officers, policemen, state prosecutors — those people inside the system — were able to live good lives.

“But now that has all gone. They recognise that this war is a catastrophe for the economy, for humanity. They don’t want to go back to the Soviet Union.”

He said they were willing to challenge the system if necessary.

“For every week and every month that this war continues, the possibility of a rebellion by those in the security services increases,” he added.

Osechkin, who is the founder of the human rights group Gulagu.net, revealed that the whistleblower is in charge of a small analytics department within the FSB.

He communicates with Osechkin by email using the handle “wearenotallsadists”.

The insider first got in touch with Osechkin in October 2021, after Gulagu.net’s publication of videos showing inmates at a prison in Saratov, southwestern Russia, being tortured at the hands of FSB officers.

The pair remained in contact. On February 19, 2022, two days before the invasion, the insider alerted Osechkin to the fact that FSB officers were seeking to foment unrest within Ukrainian prisons by encouraging inmates to riot.

On March 4, the whistleblower wrote a 2,000-word email in which he described the war as a “total failure” that could be compared only to the collapse of Nazi Germany.

It was the first letter that Osechkin published and it was read by more than 28 million people.

The text was considered authentic by several experts on Russian security services, including Christo Grozev, who reported the identities of the Salisbury poisoners with the investigative website Bellingcat in 2018, and Andrei Soldatov, co-founder and editor of Agentura, a investigative website that has monitored the FSB for more than 20 years.

The most recent letter, the 11th, published this week, warned that the Kremlin was plotting to unleash a “great terror” on the city of Kherson in Ukraine by kidnapping residents and taking them across the Russian border.

Osechkin said that the insider was taking “a very big risk” in sending each letter, and Gulagu.net is drawing up an evacuation plan for him.

On March 11, two senior FSB chiefs were put under house arrest and the homes of 20 others were searched. The whistleblower was not affected and “asked to send his greetings to everyone”, Osechkin said.

From their lips to God's ear, on all counts.

And if the answer I got was none, then I'd tell them that once things settled down there would be very embarrassing questions asked in public.

Said questions would start with, "David Weber's Honorverse series has been doing your cruise missile software spec work for 30 years now. Do your idea people not even read military fiction?"

"Our source is super-close and trusted by Putin; they'll never be suspected"

should be (quietly) put out. If it hasn't, it's because the source IS super-close and trusted by Putin.

Can't help thinking it might have been disinformation, intended to disrupt and cause more confusion, unrest etc. Which has its own (terrible) dangers, of course. Boy, this is a high stakes game.

And, it goes without saying, no game at all for Ukraine, or Poland, or the Baltic states.

For wj:

"Ukrainians claim to have destroyed large Russian warship in Berdyansk"


Ukrainians claim to have destroyed large Russian warship in Berdyansk

Possibly relevant to this, and certainly to my own questions, Ukraine started taking delivery of their own Neptune anti-ship cruise missile last year. The Neptune is an improvement from a Russian missile. Range is 300 km, and a land-launch capability has been demonstrated. Base targeting information can be loaded before launch or while in flight. Active radar homing capability for final attack phase.

Ukraine started taking delivery of their own Neptune anti-ship cruise missile last year.

Then it's just a matter of getting them to the right spot to launch. Which, given the limited extent of Russian territorial control so far, is probably not impossible. With a 300 km range, even the waters near Mariupol are not out of reach.

(Michael Cain: further to your Honorverse comment, and not to do with Ukraine so OT, I am currently reading the Expanse with reasonable enjoyment, and as you know I enjoyed the Alex Verus books. Any other recommendations? It's not the hardware or the military tactics etc in SciFi, even in the Honorverse, it's the characters, the team spirit, and the thought experiments. From me to you: Joe Abercrombie World of the First Law, about 9 books, and Becky Chambers Wayfarers Quartet.)

(Many apologies for the OTness, but of course: anybody else feel free to chime in with recommendations as well!)

GftNC, If you like space opera, I strongly recommend the Liaden series by Sharon Lee and Steve Miller. Great writing, lots of books, and a complete universe with many arcs and lots of character development.

The start of the time line, Crystal Soldier was written years after the first published book and is the right way to start in my opinion.

I've read them, ral, but thanks. I like nothing better than a long series - the Vorkosigans were some of the best, and I came to them via an ObWi recommendation too. FYI, Joe Abercrombie is not SciFi, it's fantasy, but of a tough, cool type.

A number of the Honorverse and other books can be read for free at the Baen Free Library.

I remember seeing the flap over N. K. Jemisin here in ObWi, but I hadn't read (well, to be honest, listened to) her work until a couple of years ago. She deserves all the recognition she has received and then some.

I am an ex-New Yorker so I identified with the City We Became. Perhaps it is not for everyone but I loved it.

Military SF - Planetside by Michael Mammay and its sequels. Col. Carl Butler is a good character and the books are more SF Noir with a military setting than they are Military SF.

And hey, my wife is one of the authors blurbing his latest, The Misfit Soldier on the inside cover, so you know it's good.

I'm still a couple books back, though, and I have a bunch of Murderbot stories to catch up on as well.

This is interesting and rather worrying (I know there's a war going on, but still):

Ukrainian Film Academy explains decision to expel director Sergei Loznitsa


Interview with Loznitsa here:


OK, ok! A book rec post coming up!!

Further to novokant's post, I'd also note that Ukraine has suspended several pro-Russian parties.
Yes, there's a war on, but something to watch.

Atlantic article from 5th January, 2020

Also, given Putin's repeatedly expressed intention to undo the existence of the independent state of Ukraine..

Article II
In the present Convention, genocide means any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such:
(a) Killing members of the group;
(b) Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;
(c) Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;
(d) Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group; (e) Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.

GftNC, thank you for the suggestions. I read the original First Law trilogy some time back. I'm trying hard to write more and read less fiction these days. My wife's situation reminds me that my own time may be limited, so best get on with the things I still want to do.

Nigel, thank you for that Atlantic piece from January 2020. Yeah, Anne Applebaum that warmonger, not worth listening to:

Some think that all this history talk may have other purposes. If Russia wasn’t a perpetrator of the war, after all, then perhaps it was a victim. And victims deserve compensation, surely. Perhaps Russia will now use some leftover historical arguments to claim that it is owed more land in Ukraine. Perhaps Russia, which has had its eye on Belarus for a long time, will use similar arguments to finally make that country, already a dependent state, into a full-fledged province. Only hours after the assassination of General Qassem Soleiman, Russia quietly cut off oil supplies to Belarus as economic talks collapsed, a move that went almost entirely unremarked. And, of course, many in the Baltic states are also deeply unnerved by the new Russian enthusiasm for the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, whose secret protocol robbed them of their independence for nearly half a century. Could this be a prelude to another attack on their sovereignty? Or some other atrocity? Lies about the origins of the war have a way of leading to much worse things.

Yet it is just as likely that Putin’s primary aim really is what it seems to be: the undermining of the status and position of Poland itself. It is the largest and most important of the Eastern European NATO members, with the biggest army and the most serious economy; the country that originally proposed the European trade treaty with Ukraine—the treaty that led to protests, and the pro-Russian president’s abdication, in Ukraine in 2014; the country that argued for more than a decade against the Nord Stream 2 Russian-German pipeline, now stopped by U.S. sanctions. Why wouldn’t Putin want to undermine and destabilize Poland’s position? By doing so, he undermines and destabilizes the whole post–Cold War settlement. And that, of course, has been the central goal of his foreign policy for two decades.

Michael Cain: I'll reply on the new book thread.

From a piece in the NYT today about why believing the oligarchs will be able to influence Putin is a mistake, along with other interesting observations:

The only people who can truly sway Mr. Putin are ideologues who share his views, the so-called siloviki. The word literally means people with force — the power that comes from being in the security forces or military. These insiders have been with Mr. Putin since his days in the K.G.B. or in the St. Petersburg municipal government, and they see themselves as protectors of Russia’s power and prestige. They have kept their money mostly inside Russia and out of reach of sanctions. And like Mr. Putin, they see the dissolution of the Soviet Union as the greatest catastrophe of the 20th century, and believe this fight is for Russia’s “sovereignty and the future of our children.”

To influence them, the West must prioritize the things that they believe give Russia its superpower status: its oil and its military.

The author, Eileen O'Connor, is a former journalist who also worked as an attorney in Russia and Ukraine.


...the country that originally proposed the European trade treaty with Ukraine—the treaty that led to protests, and the pro-Russian president’s abdication, in Ukraine in 2014;

"Abdication." A better description might be "absconding."

For a front-row view of what Ukraine was like under Yanukovich I strongly recommend Oliver Bullough's Moneyland. It is not solely directed at Ukraine but chapter 7, Cancer tells you all you need to know about why the 2014 revolution occurred.

Hedging? Saving face?


In an announcement that appeared to indicate more limited goals, the Russian Defence Ministry said a first phase of its operation was mostly complete and it would now focus on "liberating" the breakaway eastern Donbass region.

"The combat potential of the Armed Forces of Ukraine has been considerably reduced, which ... makes it possible to focus our core efforts on achieving the main goal, the liberation of Donbass," said Sergei Rudskoi, head of the Russian General Staff's Main Operational Directorate.

Yeah, that was the goal all along.

By the way, I apologise for my previous Applebaum jibe, it was unworthy. I should have just said, as I have before, that no matter how much you disagree with her FP recommendations, her analysis is very knowledgeable and seriously worh paying attention to.

Hedging? Saving face?
Yeah, that [Donbas] was the goal all along.

If it's critical that you "win," or at least not visibly lose, redefining objectives becomes a survival strategy.

There is the detail that, on current trends, Russia may soon be in no shape to hold on to Donbas. (Or Crimea either.) But the Russian leadership (especially the military and intelligence leadership) is quite possibly on one-day-at-a-time mode.

Putin compared the treatment of Russia to that meted out to J K Rowling. As a comedian on TV has just said:

"Dude, you are trying to cancel a whole country. Stop making out you're the victims here."

Rowling was pretty caustic in rejecting the comparison as well.

Nobody (OK, nobody but Trump) wants any association, at all, with Putin.

The Arab media reaction to Ukraine—


This of course is about how the various Arab governments want to position themselves.

I thought this discussion of the roots of Putin's view of the west, of Occidentalism and more, gave a lot of context and was pretty interesting. I'm guessing some of you here will think so too.


Interview with Alexander Vindman in today's WaPo. For anybody who can't get behind the paywall by going incognito or something, post here and I will cut and paste.


I think Vindman may be a bit optimistic when he takes Putin's distancing himself from others to avoid infection and extrapolates that to argue that Putin wouldn't react to Western escalation in Ukraine with nuclear weapons "because he isn't suicidal." Even though he isn't suicidal, I can see him resorting to at least tactical nukes against Ukrainian targets. Believing that, because the West isn't suicidal, he can get away with it.

It comes down to, how invested is Putin in his own narrative that the West is weak, and not just in the physical sense? Since the West being weak is a critical part of his effort to, as he sees it, restore Russia's greatness, I think he may be very much invested in it. Any evidence to the contrary notwithstanding. So if he can't win any other way, I think he might well decide to nuke, maybe not Kviv, but some lesser city by way of example. The question then becomes, would the Russian military follow those orders, or decide that it's better to take out Putin instead?

One good point Vindman did make is this. What happens when the security service folks don't get paid? They, and their willingness to back him, are really the rock on which Putin rests. But working for free isn't going to fly. Bad enough that they are losing the Western luxuries that they have become accustomed to.

From today's Times, by India Knight, on the power of futile gestures, and I think, of music:

On assignment for The Sunday Times, the photographer Richard Pohle made his way to the Polish border. He’d been photographing the “endless flow of refugees” crossing over from Ukraine and waiting to board buses, when music started playing. “A battered and dust-covered piano had been placed on waste ground next to the row of coaches, and a young man leant over the keys, beautifully playing a classical music number,” Pohle recalled last week. The pianist kept on playing as refugees trudged past. Among the wretchedness and desolation, the aid workers and empty-eyed children clutching grubby teddies, he played Piano Man by Billy Joel and Imagine by John Lennon, at which point Pohle, presumably a fairly hardened person, found himself weeping.

The pianist is called Davide Martello. He is from Germany but had been at the border for a couple of weeks. “I’m doing this for them,” he replied when an American journalist asked what he was doing there. Pohle said the refugees were so numbed and traumatised that they gave no indication of registering the music, or the sweets the aid workers doled out to the children, or the food and blankets. But still Martello played on, pausing only to blow on his half-frozen hands.

I was thinking about that story, and Pohle’s photographs of it, all week — about the power and beauty of the apparently futile gesture, about its emotional heft and about the way it cuts through to your heart. I was reminded of Lord Lovat’s piper, Bill Millin, during the D-Day landings at Sword Beach. Brigadier Simon Fraser, the 15th Lord Lovat, had a private piper, whom he instructed to play, at first as the Allied boats sailed up the Solent. When they reached the beach, Millin disembarked — he was 21 years old, wearing the kilt his father had worn during the First World War and unarmed apart from the traditional Highlander’s knife — and started to play Highland Laddie as he waded ashore through the waist-high, already bloodied water. The soldier wading ashore alongside him was shot in the face, but Millin played on. He played Road to the Isles, slowly walking up and down the beach, as hell was unleashed all around him and thousands of men were killed in one of the bloodiest battles of the Second World War.

Eventually the 1st Special Service Brigade commandos, headed by Lovat, advanced inland towards the Pegasus bridge and came under sniper fire on the road. Lovat shot the sniper, turned to Millin and said, “Piper, start the pipes again.” So he did. He piped them through a village — the situation was so perilous that he had to do this while running — and finally piped them over Pegasus bridge, playing Blue Bonnets over the Border under sniper fire. Twelve commandos were fatally shot during the crossing. Millin, who later retrained as a psychiatric nurse, died in 2010; there is a statue of him at Sword Beach in recognition of his gallantry, and his pipes are in Dawlish Museum in Devon.

Millin’s is a story of heroism that was unexceptional then. Can you imagine nowadays? “Piper, start piping.” “Sorry, can’t. Urgently need a safe space — my anxiety is off the scale.” But men who saw and heard Millin piping never forgot it: a commando called Roy Cadman later said, “I’d seen some very tough lads there — the tears were running down their face.” Another, Tom Duncan, said, “I shall never forget hearing the skirl of Bill Millin’s pipes. It is hard to describe the impact it had. It gave us a great lift and increased our determination.”

Martello is not risking his life several times over by playing the piano, and he is not witnessing his comrades being slaughtered. But he is not sitting safely at home on his bottom, either. He is not wringing his hands on his sofa in a state of omnipresent dread while wearing a blue and yellow pin, like me. His keyboard is not on a laptop. What is so moving about his piano-playing is the littleness, the pathos, of the gesture, and the affirmation of something beautiful in the midst of great horror.

We live in the age of futile gestures. They usually involve parroting approved opinions without thinking them through, and they carry zero personal risk. They are often performative, too, the aim being to catapult a person into what passes for fame on social media.

Perhaps the pianist at the Polish border longs to go viral, or perhaps he doesn’t — who knows? It doesn’t really matter. The power of his futile gesture is in its humanity, and if its intended beneficiaries are too dazed at present to notice that there was music as they boarded the coaches that were taking them away from their homes and their whole lives, that won’t always be the case. One day, when this is over, they will remember their exodus. They will turn to one another and say, “Am I making this up, or was there a piano?”

Not everyone gets the emotional depth of the apparently futile gesture. You can imagine someone saying to Martello, “For God’s sake, don’t you know there’s a war on?” and listing the countless practical ways in which he could make himself more useful, instead of poncing about going plinky-plonky on a battered old piano. But, like Bill Millin, he plays on. It is almost absurd. It means nothing at all, and it also means everything.

Beautiful story, GftNC. Thank you.

Putin's view of the west, of Occidentalism

The photo at the top of the article shows Putin wearing a £10,000 Loro Piana jacket and a £2,400 Kiton sweater ...

Normally I'm not in favour of such gotchas, but Putin trying to invoke some sort of austere, anti-western Russian national identity is completely ridiculous - he's just a thug, Tony Soprano without the charm.

Btw, a similar dynamic can be seen going on with Iran's leadership, they are extremely rich, using religion as a tool to control the masses.

a similar dynamic can be seen going on with Iran's leadership, they are extremely rich, using religion as a tool to control the masses.

The first generation of Iran's post-Shah leadership mostly were sincerely austere fundamentalists. But, as so often, a couple generations on the authoritarians actually in power are mostly light on ideology and much more about power and wealth.

But, as so often, a couple generations on the authoritarians actually in power are mostly light on ideology and much more about power and wealth.

Two things keep authoritarians in power. Ideology and/or corruption. Without at least one or the other, they lose it all.

Two things keep authoritarians in power. Ideology and/or corruption.

I'd amend that to "Ideology (or simulation of ideology) and/or corruption." Just to be clear that they don't have to actually believe in the ideology themselves. And, in the case of Iran, my take is that, by now, there is rather more simulation that real belief.

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