Category Archive 'Vladimir Putin'
11 Oct 2022
Victor Vasnetsov, Baptism of Prince Vladimir, 1885-1893.
Tim Snyder explains that Vladimir Putin’s view of History, and territorial claims based thereon, are utter and complete nonsense.
Crimea is a district of Ukraine, as recognized by international law, and by treaties between Ukraine and the Russian Federation. Putin, however, has taken the view, for more than a decade now, that international law must yield to what he calls “civilization,” meaning his eccentric understanding of the past. The annoying features of the world that do not fit his scheme of the past are classified as alien, and illegitimate, and subject to destruction (Ukraine, for example).
The example of Crimea lays bare a problem within Putin’s thinking. The idea that there is some sort of immutable “civilization,” outside of time and human agency, always turns out to be based upon nothing. In the case of Crimea, Putin’s notion that the peninsula was “always” Russia is absurd, in almost more ways than one can count.
The Crimean Peninsula has been around for quite a long time, and Russia is a recent creation. What Putin has in mind when he speaks of eternity and is the baptism of a ruler of Kyiv, Valdimar, in 988. From this moment of purity, we are to understand, arose a timeless reality of Russian Crimea (and a Russian Ukraine). which we all must accept or be subject to violence. Crimea becomes “holy.”
It takes time to recount even a small portion of the ways in which this is nonsensical. First of all, the historical event itself is not at all clear. One source says that Valdimar was baptized in Crimea, as Putin likes to say; others that he was baptized in Kyiv. None of the sources date from the period itself, and so we cannot be certain that it took place at all, let alone of the locale. (If Valdimar was indeed baptized in Crimea, Putin’s logic would seem to suggest that the peninsula belongs to modern Greece, since the presumed site was part of Byzantium at the time.)
Valdimar was, to put it gently, not a Russian. There were no Russians at the time. He was the leader of a clan of Scandinavian warlords who had established a state in Kyiv, having wrenched the city from the control of Khazars. His clan was settling down, and the conversion to Christianity was part of the effort to build a state. It was called “Rus,” apparently from a Finnish word for the slavetrading company that brought the Vikings to Kyiv in the first place. It was not called “Rus” because of anything to do with today’s Russia — nor could it have been, since there was no Russia then, and no state would bear that name for another seven hundred years. Moscow, the city, did not exist at the time.
Baptism, whatever its other merits, does not create some kind of timeless continuum of power over whatever range of territory some later figure chooses to designate. If it did, international relations would certainly look very different. When Emperor Constantine converted to Christianity, the Roman Empire controlled what is now Portugal, Spain, France, the Balkans, Israel, Turkey, North Africa… But we would be very surprised to hear an Italian leader (even now) cite Constantine’s baptism to claim all of these countries.
To take an example of another east European baptism: at the moment when the Lithuanian grand duke converted to Christianity, he ruled not only today’s Lithuania, but also what is now Belarus, most of what is now Ukraine, and a portion of what is now Russia. By way of baptism in 1386 he was able to marry the Polish king (who was a girl) and take the Polish crown. The Lithuanians at the time were also deeply engaged in Crimea, fighting the Crimean Khanate. Taking advantage of fractures and power struggles, the Lithuanians integrated sizable numbers of Crimean Tatars into their own armed forces, and allowed them and their descendants to settle in Lithuania, to enter commercial trades (such as tanning), to build mosques, and to print holy books.
In 1410, when the Lithuanian Grand Duke defeated the Teutonic Knights in the famous battle of Grünwald, some of his fighters were Crimean Tatars. Ostroh, in what is now Ukraine, is known as the place where the first slavonic bible was published, but it was also the site of a mosque for Crimean Tatars. Navahrudak, in what is now Belarus, is the birthplace of the famous Polish Romantic poet Adam Mickiewicz; it too was the site of a mosque for Crimean Tatars. In my office I have a printed edition of a kitab, a Crimean Tatar prayer book from the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, using Arabic script, but in a Polish-Belarusian language with Turkish phrases. Its first words, enticingly, are “This is the key to heaven.” It bespeaks a coherent Crimean Tatar culture that endured for centuries extended well beyond the borders of the Crimean Khanate itself.
I like to think that this Lithuanian-Polish-Belarusian-Ukrainian-Crimean history is worth knowing — I am busily teaching it — but if the Lithuanian president were to proclaim today that Jogaila’s baptism in 1386 somehow gave him the right to rule Poland, Belarus, Ukraine and its Crimean province, we would be puzzled.
In one respect, though, our imaginary Italian or Lithuanian claims are less nonsensical than the Russian one. Even if we were to accept every other Putinesque oddity, including the profound fallacy of the legitimation of present borders by ancient baptisms, we would be brought to a halt by geography. Putin’s mythical structure is based upon the restoration of Rus, an east European entity centered in Kyiv whose high point was a thousand years ago. The Lithuanian and Italian governments are based in Vilnius and Rome, which were also the ancient capitals. Putin is talking about a state that is distant not only in time but in space. Moscow was not the capital of Rus; it did not exist when Valdimar was baptized.
Really, it’s the other way around. If we are going by History, Ukraine belongs to Poland (or Lithuania), and “Russia” (i.e. Moscow) belongs to Kiev (i.e. Ukraine).
27 Sep 2022
Will Putin resort to nuclear weapons now that it is becoming increasingly clear, from the many, many posts that I have read on Quora, that he has little or no chance of being victorious in Ukraine by means of conventional war?
and John Mark McDonald dispels the bunkum.
As someone who has studied nuclear war for close to forty years now, I am going to give you an answer that will blow your mind. Even if the entire Russian nuclear arsenal were used against Ukraine, it wouldn’t substantially change the course of the war. How could I possibly say that? Because, the power of nuclear weapons has been used as a boogeyman for so long that the actual power of a nuclear detonation has almost no relation to their actual destructive power. No nuclear power can afford to actually use one in combat because it would expose the mythical nature of nuclear weapons.
Nuclear weapons are hyped to the point that no one contradicts it when a media outlet publishes a statement indicating that even a single nuclear device will destroy the world. This is a blatantly, stupidly, obviously untrue, but never corrected. After all, two were used in WWII. BUT that is just the tip of the iceburg. I thought there had been a couple of hundred nuclear test that prove this point. I was off by over an order of magnitude. There have been nearly THREE THOUSAND NUCLEAR DETONATIONS ALREADY, that are either known or suspected and this has not effected the survivability of life on Earth even slightly.
Well then, how dangerous are nuclear weapons? Nuclear weapons, if they weren’t their own catagory, would be classified as incendiary weapons. They set stuff on fire. They set a lot of stuff on fire. In fact they can set things on fire as far as two miles away from the actual detonation. Besides this, nuclear detonation are very bright, capable of blinding people 20–30 miles away. This is only constrained by the curvature of the earth. They also create hurricane force winds as the air around the detonation expands and contracts. If you are outside and unshielded and within a mile of a nuclear detonation, you are going to die.
The problem here is that Ukraine is really big. I mean the size of Texas big. Cities there tend to be spread out in modern times and their larger ones cover over a hundred square miles. The average nuclear detonation are only burn 2–3 square miles of territory. A city the size of Kiev would take on the order of 200 warheads to cover the whole thing.
Which brings us to our next point. Modern cities are just not that vulnerable to incendiaries. Modern city centers and industrial areas are made of concrete and steel. Most of the damage in Hiroshima and Nagasaki was done because almost all the buildings were made of wood and paper. The initial blast set the city centers on fire which spread and ended up burning down most of the city. Modern cities are just not that vulnerable. In Ukraine, despite millions of rounds of being poured into their cities, not one of them caught fire and burned to the ground like the Great Chicago or Great London Fires in the 19th century or the fire storms of WWII. In the Japanese nuclear detonations, the brick buildings were still standing, despite being much less sturdy than modern buildings. This leads to the most surprising revelation about nuclear detonations: If you are not outside, you stand a good chance of surviving even within the blast zone. Nuclear blasts are mainly line of sight killers. The vast majority of “radiation” created by an nuclear detonation is infrared radiation, or heat the same as a gas stove or fireplace makes. Unless the building you are in is collapsed by the wind or you fail to leave if it catches on fire or you happen to be in front of a window with a direct line of sight to the detonation, you are probably going to be fine.
Thus we get to the real reason why Putin will not use nuclear weapons: they’re just not all that effective compared to the boogeyman that is in our collective imaginations. Were a nuclear missile to detonate over central Kiev, no one would believe that it was an actual nuclear blast because the city is still there and all the major buildings are still standing.
Secondly, he doesn’t have very many of them. The numbers given for the Russian nuclear arsenal are an outright farce. You get that number by taking of bombs that the USSR claimed to have built, and subtract the number used in their testing program. This leaves you with about 9,000 warheads. First of all, Russia doesn’t have nearly enough delivery systems to put those warheads on. The second problem here is that nuclear warheads have a very short shelf life. Nuclear warheads require a detonator made of conventional expolsives. These detonators are some of the most precision pieces of engineering in the history of mankind. A series of explosives has to go off in such a way that the core is hit by the same amount of pressure from all directions simultaneously. If any of those explosives are even slightly off, the nuclear warhead will not go off. You now have an extremely precise machine sitting around a core of material emiting hard radiation. Hard radiation is not friendly to machines. Nuclear warheads need to be rebuilt a least every five years and maintained a lot more often than that. Even with that, a twenty year old warhead is a piece of junk. It’s been more than twenty years since the Putin kleptocracy came to power. I’m sure that Russia has a number of Potemkin warheads that are kept in top shape for inspectors, but given the current Russian system, the Russian nuclear arsenal most likely resembles the Russian tank reserves: the bare minimum kept in service while the rest is a scrap pile.
Currently, the spectre of the vast Russian nuclear arsenal is the last card he has in his hand. If he were to actually use it, it would expose that he never had anything but a junk hand and bluffing to back it up.
I can recall reading a scientific calculation that contended that if you took all the nuclear weapons in existence, put them into a great big pile and fired them off, you would not get a hole as large and deep as the Grand Canyon.
30 Mar 2022
Western onlookers have marveled at plucky little Ukraine’s ability to hold at bay the Russian Military juggernaut and as the Russian advance has continued to stall and Russian casualties mount, we’ve come to suspect that Ukraine may actually be winning and we cannot avoid thinking that Vladimir Putin made a very serious mistake in overestimating Russian capabilities and launching a failed attempt to conquer all of Ukraine.
DNYUZ, however, proposes a completely different view of Putin’s goals and strategy, in the light of which, he comes off not as an incompetent loser, but as the superior player of the Great Game.
[W]hat if the conventional wisdom is wrong? What if the West is only playing into Putin’s hands once again?
The possibility is suggested in a powerful reminiscence from The Times’s Carlotta Gall of her experience covering Russia’s siege of Grozny, during the first Chechen war in the mid-1990s. In the early phases of the war, motivated Chechen fighters wiped out a Russian armored brigade, stunning Moscow. The Russians regrouped and wiped out Grozny from afar, using artillery and air power.
Russia’s operating from the same playbook today. When Western military analysts argue that Putin can’t win militarily in Ukraine, what they really mean is that he can’t win clean. Since when has Putin ever played clean?
“There is a whole next stage to the Putin playbook, which is well known to the Chechens,” Gall writes. “As Russian troops gained control on the ground in Chechnya, they crushed any further dissent with arrests and filtration camps and by turning and empowering local protégés and collaborators.”
Suppose for a moment that Putin never intended to conquer all of Ukraine: that, from the beginning, his real targets were the energy riches of Ukraine’s east, which contain Europe’s second-largest known reserves of natural gas (after Norway’s).
Combine that with Russia’s previous territorial seizures in Crimea (which has huge offshore energy fields) and the eastern provinces of Luhansk and Donetsk (which contain part of an enormous shale-gas field), as well as Putin’s bid to control most or all of Ukraine’s coastline, and the shape of Putin’s ambitions become clear. He’s less interested in reuniting the Russian-speaking world than he is in securing Russia’s energy dominance.
“Under the guise of an invasion, Putin is executing an enormous heist,” said Canadian energy expert David Knight Legg. As for what’s left of a mostly landlocked Ukraine, it will likely become a welfare case for the West, which will help pick up the tab for resettling Ukraine’s refugees to new homes outside of Russian control. In time, a Viktor Orban-like figure could take Ukraine’s presidency, imitating the strongman-style of politics that Putin prefers in his neighbors.
If this analysis is right, then Putin doesn’t seem like the miscalculating loser his critics make him out to be.
It also makes sense of his strategy of targeting civilians. More than simply a way of compensating for the incompetence of Russian troops, the mass killing of civilians puts immense pressure on Zelensky to agree to the very things Putin has demanded all along: territorial concessions and Ukrainian neutrality. The West will also look for any opportunity to de-escalate, especially as we convince ourselves that a mentally unstable Putin is prepared to use nuclear weapons.
04 Mar 2022
It’s like what the folks in Savannah said, when they heard that Sherman burned Atlanta: “It just shows there’s good in everyone.”
Russia is reportedly blocking Twitter, Facebook, various news sites, and major app stores, according to a German journalist.
The move comes after the Russian government announced last week that it was partially restricting access to Facebook in retaliation for the company applying fact-checking labels to posts from state-controlled media outlets.
01 Mar 2022
What does Putin think he’s doing?
Red State found an article that appeared in three different Russian regime outlets on February 27th (since withdrawn, probably because the Invasion of Ukraine, contrary to Kremlin expectation, did not quickly topple the pro-Western Government and lead to a quick surrender and occupation).
A new world is being born before our eyes. Russia’s military operation in Ukraine has ushered in a new era – and in three dimensions at once. And of course, in the fourth, internal Russian. Here begins a new period both in ideology and in the very model of our socio-economic system – but this is worth talking about separately a little later.
Russia is restoring its unity – the tragedy of 1991, this terrible catastrophe in our history, its unnatural dislocation, has been overcome. Yes, at a great cost, yes, through the tragic events of a virtual civil war, because now brothers, separated by belonging to the Russian and Ukrainian armies, are still shooting at each other, but there will be no more Ukraine as anti-Russia. Russia is restoring its historical fullness, gathering the Russian world, the Russian people together – in its entirety of Great Russians, Belarusians and Little Russians. If we had abandoned this, if we had allowed the temporary division to take hold for centuries, then we would not only betray the memory of our ancestors, but would also be cursed by our descendants for allowing the disintegration of the Russian land.
Now this problem is gone – Ukraine has returned to Russia. This does not mean that its statehood will be liquidated, but it will be reorganized, re-established and returned to its natural state of part of the Russian world. In what borders, in what form will the alliance with Russia be fixed (through the CSTO and the Eurasian Union or the Union State of Russia and Belarus )? This will be decided after the end is put in the history of Ukraine as anti-Russia. In any case, the period of the split of the Russian people is coming to an end.
And here begins the second dimension of the coming new era – it concerns Russia’s relations with the West. Not even Russia, but the Russian world, that is, three states, Russia, Belarus and Ukraine, acting in geopolitical terms as a single whole. These relations have entered a new stage – the West sees the return of Russia to its historical borders in Europe . And he is loudly indignant at this, although in the depths of his soul he must admit to himself that it could not be otherwise.
Because the construction of a new world order – and this is the third dimension of current events – is accelerating, and its contours are more and more clearly visible through the spreading cover of Anglo-Saxon globalization. A multipolar world has finally become a reality – the operation in Ukraine is not capable of rallying anyone but the West against Russia. Because the rest of the world sees and understands perfectly well – this is a conflict between Russia and the West, this is a response to the geopolitical expansion of the Atlanticists, this is Russia’s return of its historical space and its place in the world.
This makes perfect sense. Vladimir Putin subscribes to the traditional claim of the despotic ruler of the duchy of Moscow to be the inheritor of Kievian Rus and the new Caesar presiding over the Third Rome.
Invading, subjugating, and occupying neighboring states is just the perfectly legitimate and obligatory task of “gathering the Russian lands,” i.e. gaining control over White, Black, and Little Russia and ruling all Eastern Slavic language speakers. Norman Davies, in God’s Playground, a History of Poland, compares this insolent pretention to some minor duke in Brittany asserting a claimed right to gather and rule all the Celtic lands.
Of course, the duke of Moscow traditionally not only claimed a right to possession of “all the Russian lands.” He additionally claimed a vital state interest in possessing an additional cordon sanitaire of puppet states surrounding Russia’s Western borders, purely to protect the Motherland from the constant, frightful threat of attack from Western Europe!
24 Feb 2022
April 1945. Once the conqueror of Europe, the Bohemian corporal who rose from the slums of Munich and Vienna to perform a spontaneous little dance of joy outside the railroad carriage in which the Armistice of 1918 was signed, having just compelled the proud French to dine on the same unappetizing meal of humiliation and surrender previously served up to Germany, is now trapped like a rat in the catacombs beneath the Reichs Chancellery, listening to the nearby fighting and the shells falling outside his bunker while enemy forces draw closer and closer, with a cyanide capsule and a Walther pistol as his best remaining choice.
How did it come to this?
Hitler destroyed himself and his short-lived Reich by pushing his luck too far, intoxicated by the phantom allure of a terribly bad idea which was both impractically unattainable and of no real relevance to reality.
Hitler’s ideology was, at root, a sort of political patent medicine combining German Romanticism with Populism and technological Futurism. That mixture had considerable appeal, outmarketing thuggish and divisive Bolshevism as well as milk-and-water Social Democracy. But Hitler was only an autodidact café intellectual and putting him in charge of a major country was a very bad idea.
Hitler’s big idea in the realm of Foreign Policy simply amounted to reversing German losses consequent to WWI and the Treaty of Versailles, then proceeding to implement a humongous modern revival of the Teutonic Drang nach Osten that would enserf (or alternatively eliminate) Slavic populations to the East and take over their lands giving the German people (supposedly vital) Lebensraum and control of natural resources, particularly coal and petroleum.
This sort of stuff sounded great to German Nationalists, living mentally in the 19th Century, but all the racialist nonsense motivating and justifying this kind of barbarous piratical policy was nonsense. Germans and Slavs differed in linguistic traditions, but had lived as neighbors, immemorially, for countless centuries, intermarrying and mixing economically and culturally and politically. A “Hitler” is a Hüttler (also spelled Huettler), meaning “one who lives in a hut”, from Hütte (“hut”) and most probably of Slavic origin.
Even the Germans noticed the ironies of those racialist theories, and commonly joked that “the ideal Nazi was someone as tall as Goebbels, as slim as Goering, and as blond as Hitler.”
And a “Drang nach Osten” that required 52 million Germans to defeat 170.5 million Russian, 131 million Americans, 545 million from the British Commonwealth, &c., &c. that pitted the German economy as well against the US economy, the British economy, that effectively pitted Germany and Italy, and Japan against most of the rest of the world was never going to work out successfully.
Karl Marx said that history repeats itself, first as tragedy, then as farce, and he might very well have been speaking of WWII followed by Vladimir Putin’s newly implemented war to restore the Soviet Empire and to reverse the result of the Cold War. Read the rest of this entry »
29 Jun 2018
He stood in the rain for wreath-laying ceremonies on the Russian Day of Memory commemorating the start of WWII, and when questioned by the Press, responded:
â€œI didnâ€™t even think of getting under an umbrella as the wreath was being laid,â€ Putin said, adding, that Russian soldiers fought day and night in any weather during the World War II. â€œPeople lived there and died there. Thatâ€™s such a horrible situation.â€
â€œItâ€™s not that I had thought of something or not, or had made a decision. It didnâ€™t cross my mind that I shouldâ€™ve acted differently. I think itâ€™s normal. We arenâ€™t made of sugar, we wonâ€™t melt.â€
Putin is 65 years old.
14 Dec 2016
The CIA has concluded in a secret assessment that Russia intervened in killing Harambe the gorilla, according to officials briefed on the matter.
Intelligence agencies have identified individuals with connections to the Russian government who provided WikiLeaks with thousands of hacked emails from the Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden and others, including Harambeâ€™s own caretaker, according to U.S. officials. Those officials described the individuals as actors known to the intelligence community and part of a wider Russian operation to boost the nearby Columbus Zoo and Aquariumâ€™s profits.
â€œIt is the assessment of the intelligence community that Russiaâ€™s goal here was to favor one zoo over the other,â€ said a senior U.S. official briefed on an intelligence presentation made to U.S. senators. â€œThatâ€™s the consensus view.â€
The Obama administration has been debating for months how to respond to the alleged Russian intrusions, with White House officials concerned about escalating tensions with Moscow and being accused of trying to boost Columbus Zooâ€™s revenues.
The Trump transition team dismissed the findings in a short statement issued Friday evening. â€œThese are the same people that said Cecil the Lion had teeth of mass destruction. Itâ€™s now time to move on and â€˜Make Columbus Zoo Great Again,â€™â€‰â€ the statement read.
Trump has consistently dismissed the intelligence communityâ€™s findings about Russia.
â€œI donâ€™t believe they interferedâ€ in the killing of Harambe, he told Time magazine this week. The killing, he said, â€œcould be Russia. And it could be China. And it could be some guy in his home in New Jersey.â€
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