The horizon is not so far as we can see, but as far as we can imagine

Machiavelli On Putin

Back in 2014 I wrote an article which started from the problems that Russia was happening at the Sochi Winter Olympics. It wasn’t running smoothly, and that was interesting and a warning of the limits of what Putin had done in Russia. The Beijing Olympics ran almost like clockwork, the 1980 Moscow Olympics worked relatively well, but not Sochi.

Russia’s got problem, big ones, and Sochi has highlighted them. Putin has failed to transition the economy from resources, and he has not kept corruption under limits: corruption is one thing, that the system can’t be made to work in high profile circumstances like Sochi, is another.

I call it “putting your fingers down.” Maybe some things in your society or organization don’t work, but wherever leadership is putting their firm attention does. Even in 1980, as the Soviet Union was rotting, the leadership could still “put its fingers down.”

Putin, at Sochi, could not.

People tend to lump China and Russia together, but they are two very different countries, with very different systems and leadership. China has had one of the world’s best performances against Covid, after some initial fumbling and Russia some of the worst.

This is interesting because Russia is already in the middle of a demographic disaster: they can’t afford to lose a couple million people, they’re desperate for people.

Some nations may want less population: Russia is NOT one of them.

What enabled China to handle Covid, other than wanting to, is that they have vast administrative resources right down to the ward level and while those resources are somewhat corrupt, they are expected to produce results and Communist Party members are judged based on results. You can have some corruption IF you produce results, which includes reducing poverty.

In Russia this isn’t the case, administrative capacity is weak and riven with corruption and you don’t have to be competent at the actual running of your area.

So when Covid hit, the capacity just wasn’t available and Putin couldn’t “put his fingers down.” China had the capacity and could put its fingers down in addition.

Putin’s recovery, post-Yeltsin was based on the fundamental insight that resources were scarce or going to get scarcer and that Russia had a lot of resources. But instead of sequestering that money Norway style, Putin allowed quite a bit of corruption, probably in part because that corruption bought him a lot of cooperation from various elites. But when you don’t isolate resource money from other sectors and when you allow corruption, it rots the muscles of the rest of society.

And when it matters, you lack admin capacity and corruption is so severe it threatens non-resource core interests.

So Putin’s Russia was run on a fairly narrow basis, with a lot of corruption and no serious development of administrative capacity.

The 2nd Chechen war was fought essentially the same way that Putin tried to run the Ukraine war, except with a lot more willingness to commit mass murder. There was no general mobilization, because after Afghanistan and the first Chechen war, Russians hated mass mobilization, just as Americans had after Vietnam. Part of what made Putin popular, beyond improving the economy (vastly important) and reversing the demographic birth and death trends, was that he fought the war and won without mobilization, and the war was sold as an anti-terrorist operation.

Now Putin has had two crises, Covid and Ukraine, where his standard playbook; where what made him powerful and popular, doesn’t work.

One of Machavelli’s dictums is that most leaders don’t change with the times and challenges. Certain strategies and tactics got them into power and kept them there, and those strategies genuinely worked. Then times and challenges change and the leaders keep doing what they always did, which is no longer appropriate.

Putin has looked pretty competent for the past 20 years, but his competence was a matter of specific strategies in specific circumstances. The world has changed and the challenges have changed. He failed at dealing with Covid, and he tried to win the Ukraine war with a 1:3 force structure against a NATO trained army with strong NATO support and lots of foreign volunteers. (Or perhaps, “volunteers”. There are some reports that volunteers spearheaded the last Ukrainian counter-offensive and NATO military staffs are likely doing most of the planning.)

The strategies that worked in Chechnya, which didn’t have NATO support or a NATO trained army or massive supplies from NATO, are questionable in Ukraine, at best. The policies that created Russia’s largely resource based economy, didn’t work when Covid hit, there was not enough administrative capacity.

So, Putin’s been mostly competent for two decades. But the question now is if he can adapt; if he can change. Winter will be a key period in the Ukraine war and may decide it: the ground will be hard, many rivers are likely to be frozen and movement will be fast on both sides. Putin has about 2 1/2 months to get his army ready.

And as I’ve said before, I don’t believe Putin can political survive being seen to lose the Ukraine war by the Russian public. He may not be able to physically survive losing it. Those who will replace him are on the right, much more willing to use force than Putin, who has been (though most in the West won’t acknowledge it) rather restrained compared to Chechnya or Iraq.

Can Putin change? Can he learn? Most leaders can’t. We’ll know soon.



Week-end Wrap – Political Economy – September 18, 2022


Effects of the 300K Russian Mobilization


  1. VietnamVet

    The strange parallel is that Joe Biden is on the same tenterhooks as Vladimir Putin.

    Oligarchical rule has exploited the West as much as Russia. The birth and death chart is clear on the disaster that the 1990s was in Russia. Then in 2016 births started falling again and deaths skyrocketed from Coronavirus. This is just more extreme than in the West. In the USA the birthrate started falling in 1990 and life expectancy started declining in 2014. These are not coincidences. This parallels the triumph of the wealthy plutocracy and the dismantling of governmental public services.

    All the crap corporate propaganda is intended to hide this. Nothing is more sickening than the smearing of the zero-Covid public health programs that are working to save lives and prevent illness in China.

    Will the “missing millions” ever be acknowledged and basic governmental services restored? Or will the world be overwhelmed by war, famine, pestilence and natural disasters, instead.

  2. Z

    I’m rootin’ for Putin. Someone has to stand up to the psychopaths who rule us and are willing to risk all life on earth so that they can have their way and maintain their power over us. They are the ones who started this and who’ve pushed it to this point.

    The world is also better off with a stronger Russia than a stronger U.S. and so are the prospects of most U.S.ers. Our rulers gaining more power and wealth over the past three decades hasn’t benefited the majority of the U.S. working class and certainly not the poor .


  3. Art

    I think Putin’s Russia was/is much weaker militarily than most estimates.

    Losses in Ukraine haven’t helped. Losses to VDV, Naval infantry, and Russian special forces, the best they have, are irreplaceable in the short term. Figure a decade, at least.

    The conversion of training units to combat units is going to hobble replacements for the regular army, in both quantity and quality, for years.

    The tendency to overestimate has to do with mental habits developed over 50 years of looking of looking over the line and expecting to see tanks horizon to horizon. Many westerners seemed to discount exactly how far Russia fell when the USSR fell apart. IMHO Putin is still caught up in visions of a state that was.

    Thanks to global warming those rivers may not freeze solid enough for tanks. Mud, OTOH, is guaranteed and it is getting longer every fall and spring.

    Domestically I don’t think it is really possible to overestimate how powerful Putin is within Russia. As one observer pointed out: ‘It took only one year for the majority of the GOP to believe Trump’s lie that he won the 2020 election. And we have an opposition party and a ‘free’ press.’ Putin has complete control over all media in Russia. There is no opposition party or anything close to a free press. He can spin this any way he wants. Flood the zone with BS, blame NATO, or space aliens. Anyone that says otherwise gets a long walk on a short balcony.

    Perhaps he will retire. If he steps down it will be by choice. In theory there are those that might object but he sits astride Russia and has total control.

    I also think Putin won’t go with nukes:
    Likely he doesn’t know if any/some/all will work. It has to do with Putin knowing that every official report is pretty much automatically CCed to western intelligence. We don’t know because he doesn’t know. His asking just announces his not knowing.

    The mythology is that nuclear forces are special and beyond the reach of corruption and incompetence.

    So far the Russian army, navy, and air force have failed to live up to their billing. The failure of the nuclear arm would complete the set. Even if finding out gets lost in a nuclear war and years of global winter.

    On the other side, failing to use nuclear weapons does provide a fig leaf of dignity. Yes, we are still a nation to be admired. We have shown restraint. And we still have nukes.

  4. Astrid

    This analysis is based off of such an alien fact set that I will not bother disputing it. Perhaps you should put your mind out of how Americans would have conducted this war and think about what Russia wants and the best way to achieve it. Also that if one doesn’t have, as Ukraine and USA and Israel does, a compliant media that will amplify every lie…then one must carefully build consensus amongst would be allies and partners and populace.

    On Covid. At the beginning, I thought it would be relatively easy as the public health steps are well understood and had been properly implemented many times in the past. 3 years in, I think it’s almost impossible. Even Singapore, Taiwan, Australia, New Zealand, and South Korea have given up, even though each may was ahead of China earlier on. The pressure to open up is likely irresistible and China only managed so far because it had a combination of political will and economic mass to weather it. This isn’t to excuse authorities for their lies and half measures, but Russia’s failure is par for the course and China is the extreme outlier. And there are plenty inside and outside CPC who wants to pretend Covid is gone and predict that things will loosen up after the October party congress.

    Also, Machevelli was not exactly a great political scientist. His analysis of contemporary Italian politics was completely wrong.

  5. NL

    A partial mobilization in Russia is ON! Soon it will be complete mobilization…

    The grand war between the West and the East to the last Ukrainian and the last Russian in the steppes of Eastern Europe is ON!

    Better to battle the West in Eastern Europe than in South China Sea. Did Xi Jinping encourage Putin to escalate during the recent meeting in person? Certainly, meeting Putin was so important to Xi that he left China for the first time since the onset of the pandemic. Russia’s ‘human capital’ and China’s industrial power… what a sight… wow

    Also agree with Art that Russia is very weak, and the reason for the weakness is very simple – Roman Abramovich and his oligarchic colleagues have taken all the money abroad to build ginormous yachts, buy up London real estate and sustain their free-spending way of life, instead of re-investing these money in Russia. Of course, we all were watching the bare-chested man ride a bear and did not notice.

  6. Paul

    Putin is now shifting position to win this war.

    See this analysis.

    It’s early days so don’t rule out Russia winning.

  7. StewartM

    I agree with your post, Ian.

    To me, Putin is Russia’s Trump, a Trump who succeeded into turning his country into a mere facade of democracy. Trump was America’s wannabe Putin.

    Just like Trump detested oligarchs (like Bezos) who wouldn’t play along, and would have done more to hurt Bezos if he could have, that doesn’t mean Trump was anti-oligarch. Far from it. Oligarchs who played along with Trump’s administrated got rewarded. His tax cuts of 2017 was to reward them. Likewise, his infrastructure plan (if it had been passed) would have been a looting opportunity for them to suck at the government teats while building very little real infrastructure. Putin, like a European king of old, while he may move against a noble who opposes him, needs his nobles as a class.

    For all its bad reputation, the old Soviet state was far, far more efficient and less corrupt than Putin’s regime. An article I read a few months ago comparing the two said of the USSR’s leadership class that they compared themselves and their situation versus that of ordinary Soviet people, and were content with what Westerners would call an upper-middle class lifestyle. They didn’t need super-yachts, they didn’t need multiple vacation homes scattered across the globe, they didn’t need compete with other billionaires for status.

    The oligarchs, the uber-capitalists that they are, cannot build. They cannot create. They cannot invent. All they can do is to loot, to eat up what past generations created. This is true worldwide, not just in Russia, but Putin’s Russia gives us the image of the future they have planned for us. I’ve seen pictures from Russia where the bridges have holes in them, holes big enough for a car wheel to fall into. College students in Russia pay like 20 % of their monthly stipend for cafeteria meals that used to be *FREE* under the old Soviet state. Covid was just another example of Putin’s failure. The Ukraine war appears to be also now (yes, I agree, Russia moved in accepting a 3-1 personnel disadvantage, fighting a NATO-trained opposition, and Putin should have banked on the West supporting the Ukraine (the prudent thing to anticipate), but these are all reasons why he should have used a sledgehammer from the get-go….Putin made the same mistakes in using too few “boots on the ground” and the smallest force thought needed in the Ukraine that Bush-Cheney made in Iraq/Afghanistan, save that with the US occupation of Iraq/Afghanistan there was no comparable scale of outsider assistance pouring in to help the anti-US resistance that Ukraine got. Even if he manages to turn this around, this is all on him).

    The truth is, we’re not that far behind. I made myself less-than-popular on DKos by saying “our military isn’t that much more competent than Russia’s”. While we too spend astronomical amounts on our military (within spitting distance of WWII spending using inflation-corrected dollars) we get a fraction of the hardware and actual capability for it. That’s because our military gets overcharged at least multiples, if not orders of magnitude, for the actual cost of things. A few years ago a coworker of mine purchased a simple black metal box for housing a laser, a box which contained an electrical on/off switch, a relatively simple thing. The price the vendor charged for this simple contraption, intended for sale to DoD, was (recalling from memory) $20,000!! My coworker talked them down to $1500 over the phone. I’m sure they still made plenty of profit for $1500.

    DoD is the most obviously place this rape of the US Treasury occurs, but it happens elsewhere (which is why we get so little ‘bang’ for our ‘buck’ in government spending, this is not the fault of ‘the government’ per se, but of a government captured by the capitalist class). In Russia, I’ve heard stories that the oligarchs go even beyond that, raiding equipment from military stores where they can and selling it off.

  8. Willy

    A wise man once told me that solutions to complex problems always creates more problems. That’s why one has to leave emotions out of the decision making, especially hope and fear. He also said that the problems caused by those solutions are often seen as opportunities by power elites, and so they’ll try to steer the “solutions” into those directions.

    That said, the results to date haven’t been very good for Putin. Way more problems than solutions. But who knows, maybe his reservists will “fight for mother Russia!” as in days of old. Or maybe winter shall be Russia’s ally once again. And money for the poor shall soon be shooting out Bidens butt.

  9. Dan Lynch

    People and countries have different sorts of competencies. As I understand it, the USSR and now Russia have never been very good at health care. Male life expectancy in Russia is short. Russians drink, smoke, deny climate change, have a socially conservative and macho culture, and they are even more anti-vax than the idiots in America. Putin is very much part of that socially conservative culture, which I mostly don’t care for.

    But you know what Russia excels at? Defensive war. Russians are skeptical of foreign wars, and rightfully so. But if Eastern Ukraine is democratically admitted to the Russian Federation, then Ukraine becomes a defensive war for Russia, and it’s a sure thing that Russia will prevail.

    Once the Ukraine conflict is resolved, then we’ll still be stuck with an out-of-control virus and out-of-control climate change.

    As for the population issue, I do not subscribe to the philosophy that a declining population is a bad thing. Bad for who? Bad for corporations, maybe, because fewer fewer customers = lower stock price. But that’s not my problem.

  10. Astrid

    Dan Lynch,

    It will be far worse than that for the West. We’re also looking at permanently cutting ourselves off from Russian resources and Chinese manufacturing, and the end of the petrodollar. While these are peanuts compared to climate change and generational plague, it’s going to completely blow up our economy. The rest of the world can only hope that this weakens the West (well, really just US and maybe it’s Anglo appendages) more than it further deranges it.

  11. NR

    I’ve refrained from commenting on the Ukraine war because, unlike the armchair generals here who have been insisting that the war would be over in 2 to 3 weeks for six months now, I freely admit that I don’t know what’s going on. However, I do have to call attention to a statement by Sergey Shoigu, Russia’s Defense Minister. He said that Russia’s losses in the Ukraine war are less than 6,000 soldiers, while Ukraine’s losses are over 100,000 (killed and wounded combined).

    This statement is simply ridiculous on its face. According to Shoigu, Russia has killed over half of Ukraine’s soldiers while barely losing anyone themselves, and yet for some reason they need to call up 300,000 more soldiers? That simply doesn’t pass the smell test, as anyone with any modicum of critical thinking skills should be able to figure out.

    It’s sad that there are people out there who will still swallow this propaganda, though.

  12. NL

    Shoigu’s number for Russia does not include losses by private companies like Wagner, volunteer forces from DNR, LNR, Chechens and Cossacks, military police, national guard, etc. Shoigu’s number is only for the professional army, of which very little is involved in the war at this point but which will expand after the partial mobilization. So, it sort of makes sense considering the above…

  13. NR

    NL: Ah, so it’s the standard “figures don’t lie, but liars will figure” political speak. Of course the 6,000 number may be wrong as well, but there’s no way to know.

    I still don’t buy the 100,000 number though. Putin would never have done this call-up if he’d already killed more than half of Ukraine’s soldiers.

  14. Mark Level

    Thank you to Dan Lynch for well-informed & intelligent analysis, & additionally to NL for correcting NR’s poorly informed claims regarding what Shoigu said. Alexander Mercouris, in the depths of a bad cold shared exactly what Shoigu said, that in fact his reference to Russian casualties were ONLY to official Russian military, not to the Donetsk– Lugansk local militias who have been subject to heavy bombing (etc.) from the Nazi-supported Ukrainian forces in the East (but aren’t dying alongside civilians, presumably at the same rates as the 14-16,000 dead generally estimated in the area since Nuland’s 2014 coup & the “republics” breaking away), nor the deaths of the Wagner Group (highly trained non-official), Chechen regiments, and other “irregulars”– the dumbest, most facile comment in the whole stream compares Putin to Trump– an uninformed blabber-mouth like Trump couldn’t have served any competent spy service (KGB has its faults & certainly its history is no less grisly than the CIA’s MK-Ultra, failed attacks on Cuba & Castro and other ludicrous shenanigans, it evidently doesn’t do the politicized shilling the US Intell services do, e.g. the claim that Iraq had WMD’s was a “slam dunk” by G. Tenet, etc.) . . . I think many of Ian’s claims of recent errors by Putin (the habitual error of fighting the last war) have some truth, some do not. But it is ridiculous to “personalize” every issue as Trump does (as wanna-be but bloated and too stupid and historically ill-informed, myopic to be an actual Strongman– like coke-head Zelensky his background is in the entertainment industry and additionally in grifting the monumentally stupid with his “success” as a “businessman”) . . . Russia clearly followed an overly conservative course early on, time passed and they got dragged and slowed down, but the ludicrous recent Ukro-“success” (all smoke and mirrors strategically speaking), & are now readjusting. And this is not the Czar Putin calling all the shots, it is a team effort. . . Recently I’ve been reading an interesting book called “Blitzed: Drugs in the 3rd Reich” that replays much of WW II lead-up and history. The Germans were monsters in Ukraine (city of Kharkhov, then USSR’s 4th largest, depopulated from 1 million to 190K by the Reich, all the Jews, gays, Roma etc. murdered and the Slavic populace sent to Germany as slave labor if not publicly murdered), Hitler’s bizarre “Werewolf” HQ bunker was in Ukraine, etc. It is pathetic that the Ukranians would ever ally with the Germans (who imho have changed little since they weren’t punished for WW II as so badly backfired with WWI) given the actual history. In any case, I agree that one thing the Russians actually know how to do since Stalin’s day is ground warfare. We’re maybe in the 3rd inning of this war, but in the long term, the West/NATO is all a sham, over-extended and with a denuded industrial base. The struggle for Russia is existential– to control the area or to be dismembered and enslaved by the west. It evidently is a conservative and macho culture which I largely don’t support or respect (I never took root in Mexico despite living there for long periods of time when young, for similar reasons), but the West is falling apart, clearly, it’s as much a shambling dead man in international affairs as Austria-Hungary was before WW I and Biden symbolically is currently. There will be a multi-polar world someday soon, the US loot, smash and burn it down model is on its last legs, & stupid and ahistorical as the US plebes are, there is a widespread recognition that the US is living on “borrowed time” as our Elites burn it all down and fantasize about escape to their guarded castles.

  15. mago

    It’s truly amazing, astounding even the level of expertise exhibited by the commentariat here. snarc
    However, it might behoove a few to get out a little more and broaden their perspectives beyond the echo chambers they inhabit. Perhaps even adopt objectivity to better analyze complex issues free from ego fixated emotions and preconceptions.
    Or not.
    The wind’s going to blow however it blows no matter what you think about it.

  16. Soredemos


    I guess I’ll be the one to point out that there is in fact zero evidence for any of these supposed massive Russian losses.

  17. StewartM

    Mark Level

    It is pathetic that the Ukranians would ever ally with the Germans

    Sad to say, this is a very non-Russian Eastern European habit. Forget or gloss over German WWII atrocities while over-hyping Russian misdeeds.

    I have seen this behavior in several instances on other internet forums. One guy claimed that Stalin ordered Russian soldiers to rape Polish and German women in WWII (actually, the Soviet government tried to rein this in, and some 4,000 Soviet officers plus a significant number of ordinary soldiers were arrested and punished for rapes, with punishments including execution…this is backed up by of all people Solzhenitsyn, who upon his arrest by SMERSH was put into a cell with a tank crew who were being jailed for rape). A Finlander complained of his ‘poor country having no good choice’ in WWII after which I told him that if Finland had just agreed to the exchange of territory in 1939 (yes, the Soviet “demands”on poor Finland was actually an offer to swap territory, in exchange for a land buffer for the city of Leningrad, they offered Finland twice as much territory in Eastern Karelia). If Finland had agreed to this, (maybe counter-proposing a lease to be reviewed in the future, perhaps?) then there would have been no Winter War and indeed Finland would have come out of WWII un-bloodied and if anything, larger than before. I also challenged him “well, no one forced you guys to join the Nazis in Barbarossa in 1941, that was clearly a choice on your part” to which he had no answer.

    But the Poles probably are the champions at this game. One internet Pole wailing away about Soviet tyranny and, then, when challenged, tried excuse *Poland’s initial pact with Nazi Germany* in 1934, then *Poland joining Hitler at Munich to carve up Czechoslovakia in 1938* (Churchill: Poland “with the greed of a hyena took part in the robbery and destruction of the Czechoslovak state.”). Also never mind the Polish invasion of the Ukraine in 1919-20 (yes you read that correctly, *Poland invaded Russia*), and the Polish threats to invade Lithuania with Hitler’s approval in 1938 (paradoxically it was the Soviets who made the Poles back down and preserved Lithuanian autonomy). No, the Poles were just always the innocent victims.

    Grudgingly he admitted to German guilt. But he then wen t on to claim that the Soviets/Russians were equally bad. (Kaytn Forest!! The massacre of 65,000 Polish officers by the NKVD!!). But he neglected to say that the Germans too, murdered some 300,000 Polish officers (five times more?)–and moreover, how upwards of 2.8 million non-Jewish Poles were killed by the Germans during Nazi occupation. By contrast, how many Poles were killed during all the communist era from 1949 to 1989? The highest figure I have seen in 54,000 executions over almost 45 years–a figure that includes ordinary criminals.

    Trust me, if the Nazis had ruled Poland for 45 years, there would have been no Poland, no Polish people, no Polish language, and no Polish culture in the end. Eradicating the Poles and other “untermensch” was their stated goal. Whatever you can say about communist rule, and yes, they did bad things, it was in no way comparable to the level of evil planned and perpetrated by the Nazis.

    So why are the Russians always the bad guys to these types? All I can figure out is that many in Eastern Europe have a West fetish. To be considered to be Western is to be noble, good, and “civilized”, while to be lumped with the Russians is to be brutish and backward. Insofar as I can see, it’s not based on any objective assessment of history. Sure, Russia like any other hegemonic power has had its history of crimes, but their crimes are at least no worse than others and in fact they might not be as bad as some.

    I am reminded how the estimate of Ukrainian civilian dead by the UN is now stands at 5,587, for which Putin is called a war criminal. Contrast that to the total of Japanese civilian deaths to the US night bombing of Japan, an action largely unnecessary and very possibly militarily counter-productive, where estimates range upwards of 900,000 total dead, with an estimated 100,000 perishing in a single Tokyo raid alone. That’s not a war crime?

  18. Art

    I’m hearing a lot of noise about ‘Wait until the Russians go after infrastructure. Then the Ukrainians are finished.’

    It doesn’t impress me. In part because one of the main beneficiaries are the Russian troops. Stay with me on this. I’ll focus on one aspect: water. Anyone reading about the summer fights in Ukraine during WW2 is going to see many accounts of troops, on all sides, being short on water in wide swaths of Ukraine. Back then water could be scarce.

    Not so much now. The difference is electricity. Say your in a Russian unit. Your running short of water. Easy, you pull into any house or farm and they have water on-tap and in generous supply. All by virtue of wells and electricity. Isn’t the modern world wonderful.

    OTOH lets say the power lines are down because of a campaign against infrastructure. No power. The wells don’t work. There may be manual, hand pumped wells, but fewer and they take time and effort.

    But Art, militaries have long known how to handle these situations. The units carry their own water. Using trucks. Trucks that are in very short supply. Every truck hauling water is a truck that can’t deliver ammunition, or fuel, or food. But sure, make those Ukrainians suffer by taking down the power lines. The locals can get water enough to stay alive the traditional way: shovel, hole, bucket.

    What other “infrastructure” are you going to go after? Maybe you blow up roads and highways. In another couple of weeks we get into ‘mud season’ so that might be interesting. One of the weaknesses of the attack on Kiev was the need for the Russians to stick to the roads. Russians love their heavy vehicles. Ukrainian light infantry is much less confined by mud.

    I know, they go after railroads, Russians also love railroads. Fact is most of the advances on the ground are where they can offload supplies from rail near the front. Blowing up railroads seems obviously counter productive.

    Maybe gas lines? Not a great idea because while there are gas lines most of those are large pipelines suitable for international delivery of gas they aren’t serving the local population. Many use wood.

    Perhaps there are forms of infrastructure I’m forgetting. Perhaps even one that can be interdicted and cause more hardship for Ukrainians than Russians but, for the time being, this particular form evades me. Enlighten me.

  19. rkka

    In the early years of the American republic, US-Russian relations were cordial. Several US presidents served as US minister in St. Petersburg, and during our Civil War, the only friend Abraham Lincoln had in Europe was Emperor Alexander II, Autocrat of All the Russias. In 1863, said Autocrat sent frigate squadrons yo visit New York & San Fransisco as a show of military support, and there was a massive outpouring of relief & gratitude. Society matrons organized glittering dinners & balls, during which they paraded their daughters before Russian naval officers.

    By the mid-1880s, all that had changed. The US had undertaken the construction of a new steel navy to replace the rotting wooden navy built for the Civil War, with the intention of becoming a globally dominant naval power. In this process, we transitioned Russia from “Distant but occasionally helpful friend” to “Blot upon the conscience of Humanity, to be contained, punished, made to look like us, and made to accept our leadership.” Some US Empire building politicians cast their eyes on the Russian sphere of influence in Manchuria as a new “Wild West” for the US to make money developing, and in 1900, Alfred Thayer Mahan, our seapower guru, proposed alliance between the US, the British Empire, the German Empire, and the Japanese Empire, to contain Russia until collapse.

    Since then, the only Russian governments the US government has actually liked were the defeated, collapsed, helpless, bankrupt, compliant Russia of Alexander Kerensky for a few months in 1917, and the defeated, collapsed, helpless, bankrupt, compliant Russia of Boris Yeltsin.

    Even FDR’s policy of Lend-Lease to the Russia was bitterly opposed by both the State and War Departments. The bureaucratic foot-dragging on Lend-lease at Embassy Moscow got so bad that FDR cut them out of the process completely, appointing Brigadier General Phillip Faymonville as his personal representative in Moscow for the coordination of Lend-Lease. Embassy Moscow responded with what would become the standard McCarthyite accusations against Faymonville; that he was a Soviet spy… that he was a closet homosexual being blackmailed by the Soviets, the whole nine yards. The FBI sent an agent to Moscow to investigate him, and investigated his background in California, finding the accusations unsubstantiated. The controversy still cost Faymonville his career.

    At best, Embassy Moscow wished to exploit Adolf’s war of racial extermination against subhumans (Poles, Belarus’ Ukrainians, even Baltics very much included (Generalplan Ost called for half the population of the Baltics to be exterminated, the other half deported from their lands, scattered throughout the East, & Germanized, their languages & cultures destroyed) to meter out Lend-Lease in return for a much diminished Russia submissive to US will postwar. At worst, others at Embassy Moscow wished Lend-Lease to be denied entirely, on shifting grounds… that the Germans would be to Irkutsk (near Lake Baikal) in a matter of a couple of months, & that anything sent would be captured by the Germans; that the Russians had exhausted their offensive potential in the Battle of Moscow, thus wasting Lend-Lease; that Russia was a menace to the globe, worse than Nazi Germany.

    The US gvt has long been disappointed that Putin turned out to be different from the “sober Yeltsin” of their dreams in the early 2000s, and seem to have been outraged that Putin would dare move against the likes of Berezovsky & Khodorkovsky. The US gvt now seem to believe that their long-dreamed defeated, collapsed, helpless, bankrupt, diminished, compliant Russia is now possibly within their grasp.

  20. Willy

    But can you sell all that to the regular working American who just wants to defend his own?

    I’m too young to remember any Americans rooting for the Viet Cong against the USA. But I do recall the tales of Hanoi Jane. And I‘m familiar with those Hollywood scenes of village schoolteachers racing their students to safety as a fleet of helicopters blaring Wagner starts shooting up their place.

    IOW, one could be given a pass for rooting for the poor little Vietnamese commoner who’s just trying to defend their water buffalo against massive corporate machines, while also being criticized as a “Hanoi Jane” for helping yet another domino fall against “freedom” towards totalitarianism.

    But I’m at a loss to understand how any cheering for Putin is supposed to gain “the left” converts against… what, exactly?

    A neoliberal system defended by NATO? Sure, works for me. But shouldn’t we have a few scenes of brave native villagers defending their students and water buffalos from capitalistic might by now?

    Maybe it’s just me, but the optics in Ukraine are just plain bad. Maybe there really are independent reporters making film of Ukrainians and Russians doing the kazotsky together, but I’m not seeing it. This thing has only ever just looked like a mindless totalitarian vanity project to me. One power against another with civilians as pawns. And I don’t think that’s a direction in which most folks are willing to go, yet.

  21. StewartM


    Your assessment of the opinion of many in the US State department is spot-on. However, not only FDR, but the US military brass, knew that they needed the Soviets to win WWII in Europe. George Marshall was of the opinion it would be the worst military mistake in world history to let an ally with an eight million man army go down to defeat without doing the utmost to save it. The US brass actually wanted D-Day to be in 1942 if possible, or 1943 at the latest (it was the British who dragged their feet out to 1944).

    By June 1944, the Soviets were going to win anyways, even without us.

  22. StewartM


    Having been to Vietnam a few times, I think that “Hanoi Jane” was more right than wrong. Maybe the victory of Hanoi and the VC wasn’t the ideal result, but it was maybe the best one possible.

    All you have to do is to compare Vietnam today versus the many developing countries in Central and South America and elsewhere their leadership did it “our way”. They usually are just as autocratic as Vietnam (if not more) and lack the concern that Vietnam’s government appears genuinely to have over the welfare of its people.

  23. rkka


    “George Marshall was of the opinion it would be the worst military mistake in world history to let an ally with an eight million man army go down to defeat without doing the utmost to save it.”

    The real resistance to Roosevelt’s Russia policy was deep in the permanent bureaucracy of both the State and War Departments, who let themselves be blinded to the plain military facts noted by Marshall above, mostly by ideological hatred of communism, or the general US cultural scorn of Russia. They were able to throw sand in the gears of policy execution until Roosevelt’s death, whereapon they found a ready listening ear on President Truman.

    These American predispositions influenced the grudging, miserly US response to Gorbachev, the eager & enthusiastic embrace of the abjectly compliant Yeltsin, and the hostile response to Putin once he showed in 2003 that he was more than “a sober Yeltsin.”

    This unremitting American drive for the return of a compliant Russia, and VVP’s refusal to submit to it, is at the heart of the present war.

  24. Trinity

    “The oligarchs, the uber-capitalists that they are, cannot build. They cannot create. They cannot invent. All they can do is to loot, to eat up what past generations created. ”

    This is so true.

    Willy, it’s not so much that the solutions don’t fix the problem, it’s that the solutions don’t account for or plan for the reality of the inherent complexity underlying the problem space. Without a basis rooted in complexity (understanding complex systems), any “solution” merely creates more problems. The non-complex solutions add even more layers of complexity, making the system even more fragile and even more incomprehensible.

    At least, this is my understanding.

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