Wednesday, September 28, 2022

28: Russia

Russians Are Terrified and Have Nowhere to Turn “Hello, I have a pregnant wife and a mortgage. My wife is panicking, and I have no money to go abroad. How can I escape the draft?” ........ The Russian government was not interested in who will pay the mortgage or take care of his pregnant wife. It simply wanted more fodder for its war. ......... In the face of a monstrous regime hellbent on war and widespread international isolation, Russians are caught in a disaster. And judging from the response so far, they are terrified. ....... There are, tellingly, very few people eager to go to war — something made viscerally clear by the shooting of a recruitment officer in Siberia on Monday. Enthusiasm is thin on the ground: Yevgeny Prigozhin, the head of a private military company and a businessman close to Mr. Putin, has resorted to recruiting from prisons. ........

For regular citizens who want to escape that hellish fate, there simply aren’t many options.

........ What remains open is Georgia, where the queue at the border crossing is more than 24 hours long and people are occasionally denied entry without any obvious reason. There are also destinations as far-flung as Norway, Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan and Mongolia. Getting to any, by foot, bike or car, is a daunting undertaking with no assurance of success. ........ You want to fly to neighboring Kazakhstan? Here’s a ticket, with two layovers, for $20,000. Want to go to Armenia? No tickets left. Or to Georgia? Russia used to have daily direct flights to Tbilisi before the conflict in 2008, but now you cannot fly there, either. ..........

Russians have become outcasts.

........ Some regional military authorities have already issued orders forbidding men who are subject to mobilization — that is, nearly all men — to leave their towns and cities. ......... Why don’t Russians protest? Well, many are. The first evening after the announcement was made, the Russian police detained over a thousand demonstrators in more than 30 cities across the country. Some protesters were severely beaten up. This is bravery beyond the imagining of those who have never experienced life in a dictatorship. ........... The main opposition politician, Aleksei Navalny, is behind bars; protest is effectively outlawed; and even mild antiwar statements can land Russians in prison with a hefty sentence. I, for one, am facing criminal charges for writing on Instagram that the massacre in Bucha, Ukraine, was perpetrated by the Russian Army. For Russians, there is no visible route to a better future. ......... Thwarted by Ukraine’s resistance, he chose to punish Russian citizens for his failure. Capital punishment may be forbidden in Russia. But for Mr. Putin’s decision, many people will pay with their lives.

How Seriously Should We Take Putin’s Nuclear Threat in Ukraine? Across almost eight decades the possibility of nuclear war has been linked to complex strategic calculations, embedded in command-and-control systems, subject to exhaustive war games. Yet every analysis comes down to unknowable human elements as well: Come the crisis, the awful moment, how does a decisive human actor choose? ......... This problem is worth pondering because

the world is probably now closer to the use of nuclear weapons than at any point in decades — and just how close may depend on the unknowable mental states of the Russian dictator

. ........... At best, the mobilization may help Russia hold on to its limited, too-costly conquests; at worst it will just feed miserable conscripts into a collapsing front. ......... we have an active conflict, a hot war, where a non-nuclear power is trying to win a victory with conventional forces and the other side is attempting to draw a red line past which nukes will be deployed — meaning that if the war continues on its current trajectory, that side’s bluff will be called, and it will face an immediate choice between the nuclear option and defeat. ......... The closest Cold War parallels might be Fidel Castro’s desire for Soviet nukes to defend his regime against invasion, or Douglas MacArthur’s request for permission to use nuclear weapons to forestall outright defeat in the Korean War. Both were cases like the current one, where the contemplated use was not an overwhelming Strangelovian exchange but a tactical intervention to prevent a conventional defeat. .......... Except with the added twist in this case that the key decision makers, Putin and his inner circle, are more immediately threatened — in the sense of a danger to their hold on power and ultimately their very lives — by the prospect of conventional defeat in the Ukraine War ......... The world-historical recklessness of such a decision would carry its own potentially regime-destroying consequences — the possibility of escalation to outright war with NATO, the total abandonment of Russia by its remaining quasi-friends and the full collapse of its economy. It’s a reasonable-enough bet that even facing defeat, he or his regime would blink. .......... — the point where the Ukrainians want to go all the way, and we require negotiation and restraint.

My Family Knows That Putin Will Get Whatever Result He Wants Starting this weekend, people in four occupied regions of Ukraine will “vote” on whether to join Russia. For many people, including my aunt and uncle, in Donetsk, what that really means is they will be forcibly absorbed into a country they do not want to be a part of. ........ Ever since 2014, when Russia-backed separatists took control of Donetsk, one of the biggest cities in Ukraine, and declared it the “Donetsk People’s Republic,” talk of joining Russia has come in waves. Many residents have left, but those who didn’t — many of them older people who had nowhere to go — knew that living in a republic that was recognized by only Russia, North Korea and Syria, and under constant shelling, was unsustainable. Views on whether the city should become part of Russia, however, varied widely. Some coveted Russian citizenship because they saw Russia as a stronger, richer country with better jobs and higher pensions. Others, like my aunt and uncle, who have lived in Donetsk their whole lives, wanted the region to go back to Ukraine. ........... The Donbas is not like Crimea, a pretty and popular resort destination on the Black Sea ......... “This referendum is a sham,” my aunt said in a message over Telegram, the only remaining mode of communication we have since phone and other messaging apps were shut off. “They will get whatever result that they want.” ............ “I don’t know anyone who is planning to vote, unless they come to our houses and force us at gunpoint,” she told me. .......

My family is not being liberated. It is about to be subjugated.


Three Paths Toward an Endgame for Putin’s War Ukraine and its allies had just forced Russian invaders into a chaotic retreat from a big chunk of territory, while the leaders of China and India had seemed to make clear to Vladimir Putin that the food and energy inflation his war has stoked was hurting their 2.7 billion people. On top of all that, one of Russia’s iconic pop stars told her 3.4 million followers on Instagram that the war was “turning our country into a pariah and worsening the lives of our citizens.” .........

it was Putin’s worst week since he invaded Ukraine — without wisdom, justice, mercy or a Plan B.

.......... How does this war end with a stable result? ......... all coming with complicated and unpredictable side effects ........... You may not be interested in the Ukraine war, but the Ukraine war will be interested in you, in your energy and food prices, and, most important, in your humanity, as even the “neutrals” — China and India — have discovered. ........ “How do you ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake?” ........ I sure hope the C.I.A. has a covert plan to interrupt Putin’s chain of command so no one would push the button. ......... The goal of Ukraine is to win, he said. The goal of the European Union is a bit different. It is to have peace ........ some like the Baltic countries will 100 percent support Zelensky. But others will not care about freezing for Donetsk or Luhansk ........ and signaling to Kyiv, America and the E.U.: “I’ve still got lots of rockets and no conscience. If you don’t give me some face-saving slice so I can justify this war to my people, I will really destroy this place. Remember Grozny and Aleppo.” ...... “We suffered some 70,000 casualties, lost thousands of tanks and armored vehicles and experienced terrible economic sanctions — and I got you nothing.” ........ Putin would probably have to be ousted by a popular mass protest movement, or by a palace coup ........ This was always Putin’s war. It was never the Russian people’s war....... When the fighting stops and the world demands that Russia’s foreign reserves now frozen in Western banks — some $300 billion — be diverted to Ukraine to rebuild its hospitals and bridges and schools destroyed by the Russian Army, the Russian people will start to understand that this war was not free. ......... Or, Putin could be replaced by a power vacuum and disorder — in a country with thousands of nuclear warheads. ........ “Russia’s defining 20th-century pop star, Alla Pugacheva, declared her opposition to the invasion of Ukraine on Sunday, emerging as the most significant celebrity to come out against the war as President Vladimir V. Putin faces growing challenges on and off the battlefield. Ms. Pugacheva, who is 73, wrote in a post on Instagram, where she has 3.4 million followers, that Russians were dying in Ukraine for ‘illusory goals.’”

The Myths That Made, and Still Make, Russia In a new book, the historian Orlando Figes argues that the war on Ukraine is only the latest instance of a nation twisting the past to justify its future. ......... When Soviet forensic scientists exhumed the remains of Ivan the Terrible in the early 1960s, they were surprised to find them saturated with mercury. Used as a painkiller in the 16th century, the highly toxic substance was probably administered to relieve symptoms of a debilitating arthritic disease that had fused parts of the czar’s vertebrae. The main significance of the discovery to us now is that most, if not all, stories about Ivan — describing diabolical rages and throwing cats off Kremlin walls — could not have physically been possible. They’re the stuff of myth. ............ Few observers of President Vladimir Putin’s Kremlin today question its predilection for passing off total fiction as official truth ......... how the president has deeply tapped into central tropes of Russia’s traditional political culture to pose as his country’s sole savior. ......... a characterization of Russian autocracy as “patrimonial” — the state as the personal domain of the czar ......... Vladimir — Volodymyr in Ukrainian — prompted Rus’s conversion to Orthodox Christianity, imported from Byzantium near the end of the 10th century. ......... Ukrainians see him as central to their culture and independence from Russian and Soviet rule. Russians, for their part, claim Rus as the birthplace of their own culture, the foundation of a larger Slav civilization with Moscow at its center. “What we have in the conflict over Volodymyr/Vladimir,” Figes writes, “is not a genuine historical dispute, but two incompatible foundation myths.” ............ Russia has relied on its version during the last few centuries to not only legitimize its expansion, especially into parts of today’s Ukraine, but also lay claim to the mantle of truest defender of Christianity. Hence Moscow’s claim to be the “Third Rome,” inheritor of Christian Orthodoxy following the fall of the second Rome, Constantinople. “These myths,” Figes explains, “became fundamental to the Russians’ understanding of their history and national character.” ............ The early rulers of Muscovy — the medieval state that would become Russia — looked to Europe for models for their court culture soon after they began consolidating power in the 15th century. Emulating Western culture and practices would prompt admiration and antagonism; Russians have defined their culture in imitation and opposition ever since. ........... how the challenges of geography and climate have reinforced a long-held perception about the need for collective responsibility and strong autocratic leadership. He explains the importance of stability to the burgeoning new Muscovite state, founded on the central role of the czar as arbiter between ruling clans. ............ In an important distinction from Western practice, the boyars — Moscow’s version of nobility — held status and property solely at the czar’s pleasure, with no rights of private ownership. “It was a system of dependency upon the ruler that has lasted to this day,” Figes writes.

“Putin’s oligarchs are totally dependent on his will.”


Russia never experienced its own version of European feudalism, or a Renaissance or Enlightenment.

........ the Bolshevik Revolution in 1917 was the result of not only bungling by the reactionary Czar Nicholas II but also dumb luck and German support — the ensuing civil war could have gone either way. Even more nuance is missing from later Soviet history, including the paradoxical figure of the reformer Nikita Khrushchev. .......... Popular disenchantment with the West had more to do with vastly unrealistic expectations, the widespread belief that the communist collapse would bring quick integration with the liberal democratic world and a BMW in every garage, instead of inevitable economic catastrophe. ............. why the return to a traditional political culture has been so effective for maintaining his 22-year kleptocracy . ............. if and when Putinism collapses, we would do well to learn from the past and not treat the country simply as a blank canvas on which to project Western-style democracy.

Why Russia Is Losing Steam and Ukraine Is Gaining Ground A national security expert takes stock of what the United States got wrong about Putin — and how Ukraine is gaining momentum, seven months in. ....... Russia invaded Ukraine on Thursday, Feb. 24. And everything we know about that invasion at its launch implies that Vladimir Putin expected a lightning victory. That’s what the battle plans seemed to be built for. And to be fair, that’s what many of the world’s intelligence agencies and military analysts thought that he would get .......... Sept. 19. We talked, as you’ll hear, about Putin’s clear reluctance to expand his army through conscription, but the fact that he might need to do it anyway. ........ Russia is struggling in this war, and that’s forcing Putin to make more and more desperate and politically dangerous — for him — decisions. ........ the trajectory of the war is now working in Ukraine’s favor, that they will eventually win this war. ........ Kyiv. There’s traffic, shops are open, and people are out at restaurants. And I think I understood that at an intellectual level — I know if you look at the polling, it’s something like 97 percent of Ukrainians believe they will win the war . .......... Ukraine as a society is prepared to weather this ...... said that Putin’s use of a nuclear weapon will not change the outcome of the war, nor how Ukraine fights the war, that it will only increase the cost that they’re going to have to incur to get there ....... Ukraine has the backing of the international community. Weapons continue to flow in. .......... Russia came in saying that they were going to basically de-Nazify Ukraine, that they were going to take over the entire country, to erase Ukraine as an idea. They were looking for the full thing. ........... Zelensky now talks in much bolder, grander terms. He is talking about very seriously restoring all of Ukraine’s territorial integrity, including Crimea, and including taking back the territory that Russia has illegally held in the east of the country. .......... President Zelensky’s definition of victory is that he will restore Ukraine’s borders to where they were prior to 2014. I think that is the vision of victory that he has in mind. ......... President Zelensky himself has really been pushing for this, because he’s been very worried about his ability to sustain Western support for the war, given that we’re going into a very long, cold winter. .......... his theory of the case was that if he could show that, then he assumed that Western support would be more robust. And I think so far, he’s right. ........... They achieved surprise, which is key. They broke through, and they routed these Russian forces. A lot of them fled. .......... The territory that they took breaks up Russian supply lines that will make it harder for Russia to resupply other parts of the battlefield. ......... the shift in perspective really is energizing military and economic support for Ukraine. ....... and it has seemed, actually, throughout the war, that Russia’s information isn’t very good. ......... the reconnaissance on the Russian side has been extremely poor. I don’t know why that is. I mean, there are so many things that have been surprising about this war. ........ not only have they done a poor job with the intelligence and reconnaissance, but there has been an inability on the Russian side to exploit opportunities as they’ve arisen. And so I think a lot of this has to do with the command and control, and the culture of the two militaries. ........ they empower them to make decisions on the spot, which allows the Ukrainian side to be much more nimble and agile, and take advantage of opportunities as they arise. The opposite is true for the Russians. It’s extremely rigid. They don’t have good command and control. They don’t delegate responsibility down. They don’t trust their subordinates. ............ it’s clear now that the U.S. understood that Russia was going to do this invasion before really anybody else. ......... The Europeans were skeptical. Ukraine was very skeptical ........ the key success was that it enabled the United States and Europe to be prepared. So before Putin went in, a lot of the sanctions work, the sanctions packages had already been drawn up. And it’s one of the factors why we’ve seen such a cohesive Western response to what Russia did, is because we were prepared. We weren’t surprised. ............ the United States has played a really important role not just with the provision of weapons, but also with the provision of intelligence .

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