Posts Tagged ‘Russia’

Good news: Nord Stream could be repairable

October 4, 2022

[Update 10/05/2022].  Russian authorities reported that one of the two lines of Nord Stream 2 was undamaged, and Gazprom can resume supplying gas to customers as soon as it is inspected to make sure it is working properly.  

“Resume” is the wrong word, because Germany hAS refused to accept gas from that source.  And the remaining line will not be a complete replacement for the previously operating four lines.  Still, this is potentially good news.  (Note to self: Follow Russian news media more closely.)

###

MOSCOW, October 2. /TASS/. It is technically possible to repair Nord Stream 1 and Nord Stream 2 pipelines, though much time and funds will be needed, Russian Deputy Prime Minister Alexander Novak said in an interview with the host of the “Moscow. Kremlin. Putin” show Pavel Zarubin.

“No such incidents have occurred yet. Obviously, technically it is possible to restore infrastructure, though it requires time and respective funds. I am confident such possibilities will be found,” he said in the program aired on Sunday.

“As of today, we assume it is first of all necessary to find out who did it, and we are confident countries that previously expressed certain views are interested in it.  Both the US, and Ukraine, and Poland said at some point that ‘this infrastructure will not work, and they would do everything for that,” which is why it is surely necessary to find it out,” Novak said.

###

This is good news indeed.  A permanent loss of access to Russian natural gas would be catastrophic to the European economy.  No other pipeline serving Europe has the same capacity as Nord Stream 1 and 2.

But a number of things would have to happen before repairs could take place.

The Russians would need assurance that the pipelines would not be sabotaged again a second time.  They have demanded the saboteurs be identified.   And they would need the lifting of economic sanctions that interfere with access to repair equipment. 

Furthermore it’s estimated that repairs would take six months or more.  Russian gas would not be available to help Europeans get through the winter.

And there is a limited window of opportunity to start the repairs.  German experts say that in a few months, sea water will corrode the broken pipes and make repairs impossible.

The U.S. press is almost unanimous in claiming the Russians destroyed their own pipelines.  This is ridiculous.  

The Russians spent years and billions of dollars to construct these pipelines.  They give Russia an importance source of revenue and a powerful lever of power.  

Why would the Russians throw these advantages away?  If they had wanted to cut off Europe’s supply of gas, they could have done this with the turn of a valve.

Suspicion logically falls on the United States government, which has objected to construction of the pipeline and used economic sanctions to try to prevent the pipelines from being built or use.  President Biden in a press conference in February said that if Russia invaded Ukraine, the Nord Stream 2 pipeline would not go into operation.

(more…)

The passing scene: Links & comments 9/13/2022

September 13, 2022

Asia’s Future takes shape in Vladivostok, the Russian Pacific by Pepe Escobar for The Cradle.  (Hat tip to Bill Harvey)

Putin in Vladivostok

Pepe Escobar, reporting last week on the Russia-hosted Eastern Economic Forum in Vladivostok, says the world’s center of economic gravity is shifting to Asia, with China as leader and Russia and India as its main partners.

 I have my doubts that the Chinese-led new order will be as utopian as Escobar predicts, but the Chinese magnetic pole is a more powerful attractor than the U.S. pole.

The Shanghai Cooperation Organization, led by China, now includes China, Russia, the Central Asian republics, India, Pakistan and Iran, while 11 more nations, including Turkey, seeking to join.  

The reason is not hard to see.  China promises benefits to its economic partners; the NATO alliance demands sacrifices.  As the old saying goes, you can catch more flies with honey than you can with vinegar.

The Specter of Germany Is Rising by Diana Johnstone for Consortium News.  (Hat tip to Bill Harvey)

Scholz meets Zelensky

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz advocates an expanded, militarized European Union with Germany as the dominant force.  

It would include all of Eastern Europe and the Balkans, plus Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia.  It would have a common foreign policy, consisting of a permanent Cold War against Russia, and make decisions by majority vote, not by consensus as now.

Germany dominates the smaller Eastern European countries economically.  The further east the European Union goes, the greater the influence of Germany, the less the influence of France and the stronger the possibility of a war policy being adopted over French objections.

(more…)

Book note: The Brothers Karamazov

September 6, 2022

THE BROTHERS KARAMAZOV: A novel in four parts with epilogue by Feodor Dostoyevsky (1880) translated and annotated by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky (1990)

The Brothers Karamazov is one of the two or three greatest novels by a Russian, possibly one of the two or three greatest novels by anyone.  It will live as an example of the greatness of Russian culture long after current conflicts are forgotten.    

Dostoyevsky states in the first paragraph that the hero of the novel is Aloysha Karamazov, the youngest of the three legitimate sons of the depraved Feodor Karamazov.

He is a monk of the Russian Orthodox Church who tries to live by the literal teachings of Jesus—something that is unfamiliar to almost all respectable people, both now (myself included) and back then.

Aloysha forgives his enemies.  In fact, he doesn’t recognize the concept of enemy. He returns good for evil.  He thinks always of others and never of himself.  He cares nothing for success, possessions or personal gain.  He never argues and hardly ever criticizes, although he always states the truth as he sees it when asked.

He has been like this since his earliest youth.  No explanation is given of how he came to be this way.

He is very different not only from his elder brothers, the brilliant anti-religious intellectual Ivan and the passionate sensualist Dmitri, and from his depraved father, Feodor.

Feodor is as obnoxious as it is possible for a human being to be.  He is greedy, dishonest and malicious.  He openly embraces all the vices, and goes out of his way to be as offensive to others as possible, especially those with a claim to be virtuous.    

He despises his other two sons.  They in turn hate him and don’t like or trust each other.  Yet he trusts and confides in Aloysha.  Ivan and Dmitri, who despise their father and dislike each other, also trust Aloysha.

One day Ivan seeks out Aloysha, invites him to dinner and tries to probe the nature of his faith.

Ivan is an unbeliever, but not exactly an atheist.  “I long ago decided not to think about whether man created God or God created man,” he says.  “I declare that I accept God pure and simple.”  This is probably meant ironically or hypothetically.  But Ivan is full of rage at God, or at least the idea of God, whether or not God actually exists.  

He confronts Aloysha with horrifying accounts of savage cruelty to innocent children, in history and his present day, all based on fact.  He cannot worship the Creator of a world in which innocent children are tortured, and denounces Christian churches for justifying such a deity.  Nor can he apply the Christian idea of forgiveness to torturers of children.

He said he loves life, but he can’t endure the meaninglessness of life.  If he can’t find answers to his questions by the time he is 30 (he is 24 and Aloysha is 20), he will “return his ticket.”  

(more…)

These may be the last days of NATO

August 9, 2022

We still cannot break the advantage of the Russian army in artillery and in manpower, and this is very felt in the battles, especially in the Donbass – Peski, Avdiivka, and other directions. It’s just hell. It can’t even be described in words.   ==Volodymyr Zelensky.

∞∞∞

Back in December, Russia issued an ultimatum to the United States and NATO that consisted of the following demands:

  • No more NATO expansion towards Russia’s borders. Retraction of the 2008 NATO invitation to Ukraine and Georgia.
  • Legally binding guarantee that no strike systems which could target Moscow will be deployed in countries next to Russia.
  • No NATO or equivalent (UK, U.S., Pl.) ‘exercises’ near Russian borders.
  • NATO ships, planes to keep certain distances from Russian borders.
  • Regular military-to-military talks.
  • No intermediate-range nukes in Europe

At the time these were understood to be fighting words.  John Helmer has helpfully provided maps of NATO installations that are covered by the ultimatum.

NATO bases in Poland

NATO base near Kaliningrad

NATO installation in Rumania

The U.S. government can’t say it wasn’t warned.  Vladimir Putin had been complaining about the eastward expansion of NATO for decades, and his complaints were ignored.  

The result is that the Russian government is no longer interested in negotiating with the USA.   Putin is done complaining.  He has decided to impose his demands by force.

So far he is succeeding.  Ukraine is in retreat.  Its U.S.-trained and U.S.-equipped army is faring no better than U.S.-trained and U.S.-equipped armies in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and South Vietnam.

The Russian strategy is based on use of artillery.  Ukrainian forces, brave as they might be, are being annihilated by  constant bombardments.

The Russian army reportedly has fired more artillery shells than U.S. forces fired during the whole invasion and occupation of Iraq.  But Russians claim to be manufacturing them faster than they are being used up.

Russia is only using a fraction of its military manpower.  A rule of thumb is that an invading force suffers heavier casualties than a defending force, and needs a three to one advantage.  But the Russian force is only one-third the size of the Ukrainian force.  

The Russians are fighting and winning with, figuratively speaking, one hand tied behind their back.

This means Russia has forces in reserve to enforce the other parts of its ultimatum.  It also has the power to escalate if the U.S. steps up its support for Ukraine.

In the early stages of the conflict, President Biden expressed the hope that Russia’s might could be destroyed by sanctions.  But the sanctions war has backfired.  European nations now realize they need Russia’s oil and gas to get through the winter.  Even we in the USA see rising prices and empty store shelves (not all due to sanctions, to be sure).

We Americans face the possibility of a great national humiliation in Ukraine.  The longer the war goes on, the greater the humiliation will likely be.  The more the conflict expands, the greater the humiliation will be.

There is no honorable way out.  It is dishonorable to encourage Ukrainians, Poles and other allies to fight and then refuse to fight by their sides.  Abandonment is shameful.  Using allies as cannon fodder is shameful.  Directly fighting Russians in a ground war, aside from the danger of nuclear war, is something we Americans are not prepared to do.

Ukraine could have had peace up to the end of last year by agreeing to withdraw from NATO, accept Russian control of Crimea and recognize the autonomy of Luhansk and Donetsk.  Now the only agreement on offer is terms of surrender.

What comes after a Ukraine defeat?  Poland and Rumania may accept the ultimatum, or they may resist.  If they resist, there is no reason to think that the United States can do for them what it could not do for Ukraine.

Either way NATO will be shattered.  It may continue to exist, but its guarantees will have been shown to be meaningless.  

The whole point of joining NATO was to gain U.S. protection and deter invasion from Russia.  If NATO bases instead bring on an invasion, and the United States is helpless to protect you, what is the point?

I fear how my fellow Americans will react.  We’ve retreated before – from Vietnam and Afghanistan – but that was on a timetable of U.S. choosing after Americans had tired of carrying on these wars.  That’s different from being defeated on the battlefield.  In history, such defeats have been preludes to revolutions and coups.  I fear our morale and our political system are too weak to absorb  such a defeat.

(more…)

Graft, corruption and Vladimir Putin’s ex-wife

August 8, 2022

Alexei Navalny, the brave Russian truth-teller, is in prison, but the work of his Anti-Corruption Foundation goes on.  Its videos are great examples of investigative journalism, both in their detailed research and in their clear and interesting presentation.  

 Vladimir Putin and his inner circle are repeatedly exposed and mocked; I can understand why they hate the videos.  I especially enjoy presentations by Maria Pevchikh, with her sarcastic smile and the way she rolls her eyes when she brings out one more example of extreme corruption and hypocrisy. 

This latest video is about how Putin milked the Russian public sphere to provide millions of rubles in income for his ex-wife, Ludmilla, and her new husband—possibly out of affection, possibly to buy silence.  It’s a bit long, but you can get a lot out of it just by watching the first 10 minutes and the last 10 minutes.  It’s in Russian but with English subtitles.

Navalny left Russia for medical treatment after an attempt on his life, but voluntarily returned in order to show he was not intimidated.  He was promptly arrested and sentenced to nine years in prison for allegedly embezzling money from his own foundation, and may get an additional 15 years for alleged extremism.  Pevchikh and other members of his foundation are presumably operating from outside Russia.  

LINKS

Alexei Navalny’s YouTube videos.

Alexei Navalny Fast Facts by CNN.

Alexei Navalny Wikipedia page.

Anti-Corruption Foundation Wikipedia page.

Book note: Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina final version

July 7, 2022

I accidentally posted a version of this book note before it was finished.  This is the final version.

Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy (1877) translated from the Russian by Louise and Aylmer Maude (1918) Vintage Classics edition (2012)

Anna Karenina is the sad story of a beautiful, charming. intelligent and selfish woman who fails to find the love she needs from either her husband or her lover.

It also is the story of three marriages – the failed marriage of Anna to Alexei Karenin, and Anna’s seduction by Count Vronsky; the bad marriage of Anna’s brother, Stepan Oblonsky, to the former Dolly Scherbatsky; and the good marriage of Dolly’s sister Kitty to Konstantin Levin.

Neither Karenin nor Count Vronsky is a bad man.  Karenin is an honest civil servant, doing his best to make the world a better place.  He fulfills all the duties society expects of a husband, and thinks this should be enough.  But he feels neither empathy nor passion for his wife.  When his marriage falls apart, his conventional moral code provides him no guidance on what to do.

Vronsky has an aristocratic code of honor, which, however, allows for the seduction of a married woman.  He offers her the passion lacking in her marriage.  She succumbs after initial resistance.  As their relationship goes sour, his code of honor requires him to stand by her.  But he, too, finds this is not enough.

Anna is not a bad person, either—just narcissistic.  She is not malicious, and wishes people well rather than ill, but she has no code of conduct to guide her and no purpose in life beyond being loved and admired.  

When we meet her, her life revolves around being the center of attraction in balls, parties and other social events.   She happily lives the life of an American high school prom queen, carried on into adult life.  There is nothing to show she cares about her husband’s feelings, happiness or career.

When Dolly catches Stepan having sex with a family governess and decides to leave him, he calls on his sister Anna to salvage the situation.  Anna talks Dolly into changing her mind.  She assures her that Stepan is deeply sorry for what he has done, and won’t do it again.

All this is a lie.  Stepan is not sorry for what he did, only about the consequences.  Anna does not ask him to change his ways, and he doesn’t.  The result is that he lives a life of pleasure while Dolly’s life consists of a long succession of pregnancies and the struggle to care for her large brood of children.

Almost all the characters live by lies.  They lie to themselves about the reality of their lives, and lie to others about the reality of their feelings—what the existentialist philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre called bad faith.  This is a major theme of the novel.

(more…)

Book note: Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina

July 6, 2022

Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy (1877) translated from the Russian by Louise and Aylmer Maude (1918) Vintage Classics edition (2012)

Anna Karenina is the sad story of a beautiful, charming. intelligent and selfish woman who fails to find the love she needs from either her husband or her lover.

It also is the story of three marriages – the failed marriage of Anna to Alexei Karenin, and Anna’s seduction by Count Vronsky; the bad marriage of Anna’s brother, Stepan Oblonsky, to the former Dolly Scherbatsky; and the good marriage of Dolly’s sister Kitty to Konstantin Levin.

Neither Karenin nor Count Vronsky is a bad man.  Karenin is an honest civil servant, doing his best to make the world a better place.  He fulfills all the duties society expects of a husband, and thinks this should be enough.  But he feels neither empathy nor passion for his wife.  When his marriage falls apart, his conventional moral code provides him no guidance on what to do.

Vronsky has an aristocratic code of honor, which, however, allows for the seduction of a married woman.  He offers her the passion lacking in her marriage.  She succumbs after initial resistance.  As their relationship goes sour, his code of honor requires him to stand by her.  But he, too, finds this is not enough.

Anna is not a bad person, either—just narcissistic.  She is not malicious, and wishes people well rather than ill, but she has no code of conduct to guide her and no purpose in life beyond being loved and admired.  

When we meet her, her life revolves around being the center of attraction in balls, parties and other social events.   She lives the life of an American high school prom queen, carried on into adult life.  There is nothing to show she cares about her husband’s feelings, happiness or career.

When she takes up with Vronsky, she feigns interest in his activities.  She participates in high-level intellectual conversations on art or architecture, which would have been beyond Dolly and Kitty.  But she has no interest in these topics for their own sake.  Her obsession is with whether Vronsky still cares about her as before.

When she separates from Karenin, she misses her little boy, Seroyzha.  She needs his love, and plots a reunion with him.   But she always outsourced responsibility for his care and education to nurses, governesses and tutors.

I didn’t grasp Anna’s narcissism on my first reading of the novel because Tolstoy shows her suffering so powerfully.  Her suffering is real.  But it is pitiful, not tragic.

The novel begins with Dolly deciding to leave Stepan Oblonsky after she discovers he is having sex with the family’s governess.  He calls on his sister Anna to salvage the situation.  Anna talks Dolly into changing her mind.  She assures her that Stepan is deeply sorry for what he has done, and won’t do it again.

All this is a lie.  Stepan is not sorry for what he did, only about the consequences.  Anna does not ask him to change his ways, and he doesn’t.

The result is that Stepan is able to live a life of pleasure, and Dolly lives a life of misery.  Her life consists of a succession of pregnancies. 

Note:  I accidentally posted this before I completed it.  My next post is the final version.

Book note: Tolstoy’s War and Peace

June 29, 2022

WAR AND PEACE by Leo Tolstoy (1865-1869) translated by Almayer and Louise Maude (1923) edited and with an introduction by Henry Gifford (1983)

War and Peace is the best novel I have ever read.  Each time I read it, it seems new to me, and I notice things it it that I missed before.

It is the story of two very different friends, Prince Andrei Bolkonsky and Pierre Bezukhov, and the woman they both love, Natasha Rostov.  It is also a war novel, a historical novel and a comedy of manners, full of subplots, great descriptive writing and interesting, believable characters.

Andrei is the ideal Russian nobleman and military officer.  He is dashing, handsome, and rich, and occupies a high social rank.  He is a respected commander and staff officer, well able to cope with enemies on the battlefield and intrigues at headquarters.  Everything he does, he does competently.  His manners are impeccable, although some find him arrogant. 

His friend  Pierre is the opposite.  He is fat and clumsy, naive and foolish.  He is the bastard son of a nobleman, a marginal person in society until he unexpectedly inherits great wealth from his father, and then is taken advantage of by all.

What binds these two unlikely friends together?  Both question whether life has meaning.  Both want something deeper than the conventional values of society.  Andrei’s answer is to play the social game by its meaningless rules as best he can; Pierre’s is to search for meaning, in his blundering way, in freemasonry and other schools of thought.

The two friends differ in their opinions, and have interesting arguments.  Pierre is a would-be humanitarian reformer.  Andrei is a cynical conservative.

Both lack emotional intelligence.  Pierre is easily exploited, especially by his new, gold-digging wife, Helene.  Andrei is unable to form close relationships.  He enlists in the military partly to avoid his wife, who loves him deeply but whom Andrei cannot love in return.

Neither had a loving father and mother to set an example.  Pierre’s father apparently disowned him, until the very end; Andrei’s father was a harsh and distant widower, who didn’t like women.

Andrei does have a spiritual awakening of sorts when he is wounded in the Battle of Austerlitz and near death.  He comes to realize the futility of the quest for military glory, but otherwise is not permanently changed.

He spends years in isolation after the death of his wife in childbirth.  His capacity for affection is awakened by an encounter with the sweet, charming 16-year-old Natasha Rostov.

The Rostovs are everything that the Bolkonskys are not.  Natasha’s father is an irresponsible spendthrift; her mother is a foolish society lady.  But they are a loving couple, and their children, including brothers Nicholas and Petya, are affectionate and joyful, and have good values.

Andrei and Natasha are each fulfillments of the other’s ideal fantasy.  Andrei is a handsome, dashing prince; Natasha is a lovely, pure young maiden.  When they dance at a ball, they are smitten with each other, and soon decide to marry.

But the elder Bolkonsky intervenes.  He tells Andrei that he will give his consent to the marriage only if he and Natasha separate for a year and still want to marry at the end.

(more…)

Book note: Crime and Punishment

June 24, 2022

CRIME AND PUNISHMENT by Feodor Dostoyevsky (1866) translated from the Russian by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky (1992) with an introduction by W.J. Leatherbarrow (1993)

Dostoyevsky’s great novel is about how a young man with basically decent and humane feeling puts himself into a psychological state in which he commits a cold-blooded murder.

When we meet the young man, Raskolnikov, he is hungry, exhausted, and in ill health.  He is full of guilt for sponging off his needy mother and sister.  He is deeply in debt to a pawnbroker, a greedy old woman who has an abused half-sister.

We later learn that he wasn’t always like this.  A fairly short time before the action of the novel begins, when he was solvent and healthy, he was compassionate and responsible, keeping his own life in order and going out of this way to constructively help others.

But now he is in a state where his mind is on automatic pilot—acting on impulse rather than conscious decision.  Some of his impulses are generous and kind, some are bad, but none are the result of conscious decision.

This state has been well described by 20th century psychologists, starting with Sigmund Freud.  The conscious mind is not necessarily master in its own house.  It thinks it is the CEO of the human personality, but often it is just the PR department.  

Dostoyevsky understood through introspection and observation what Freud and others later figured out through scientific study and clinical experience.

Raskonnikov’s main source of self-esteem is an article he wrote about how the end justifies the means, and how a truly great person, such as Napoleon, pursues his goal by all means necessary, without concern for moral rules.

Napoleon knowingly caused the deaths of many thousands of innocent people, but he was regarded as a great man because he was a force for progress, Raskolnikov wrote; a Napoleon on the individual level, who acquired money through a crime, but used the money to do good, would also be great.  In fact, it could be your duty to overcome qualms of conscience to accomplish a great goal.

He begins to fantasize about killing the pawnbroker and using her money to help his mother and sister, canceling out the criminal act by the good deed.  But there is no point in the narrative at which he comes to a conscious decision to commit the murder.

One day he overhears a student arguing with a military officer about that very thing.  The student says that killing and robbing the pawnbroker would be justified if the money was used to accomplish a greater good, because the pawnbroker contributes nothing to society.  Ah, replies the officer, but would you really do it?  No, the student admits.

This is what the experimental psychologist Daniel Kahneman called priming or anchoring—one of the subtle things that influence human action below the level of consciousness.

Raskolnikov goes ahead and commits the murder.  He kills the greedy pawnbroker and then her innocent half-sister.  All the while he acts more on impulse and instinct more than rational judgement.  It is as if he is a spectator to his own actions.

I myself have experienced being in such a mental state.  I have done things with my mind on automatic pilot, sometimes to my great regret, and then wonder why I did them.

Raskolnikov flees the murder scene and gets away with loot, but not as much as if he had been able to act calmly, rationally and decisively.  

Later he reproaches himself, not for committing the murder, but for not being Napoleon-like character he imagined himself to be.   But his sense of guilt is too great and he eventually confesses.  Even so, he is still tortured by the conflict between his conscience and his philosophy.

Raskolnikov’s inability to overcome his basic human decency is not, as he saw it, a fatal flaw, but a saving grace

(more…)

Dostoyevsky, Tolstoy and Russianness

June 22, 2022

I’m re-reading Feodor Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment and The Brothers Karamazov, and Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace and Anna Karenina.  I’ve read them before, but somehow they seem as fresh and new as if I was reading them the first time.

My reason for re-reading them is partly to get some idea of what’s Russian about Russia.

No question, Dostoyevsky and Tolstoy are distinctively Russian.  They are polar opposites in many ways, but opposite sides of the same coin.

Dostoyevsky was a troubled soul who suffered prison, exile, poverty, the loss of children and gambling addiction.  Tolstoy was a wealthy aristocrat who went from success to success, yet in the end found his successes spiritually empty.

Dostoyevsky plumbed the depths of human evil.  Tolstoy explored the possibility of human enlightenment.

Both found modern European civilization spiritually shallow.  Both rejected secular humanism, utilitarianism, materialism, progressive reform and revolutionary socialism.  Dostoyevsky saw these ideas as evil; Tolstoy, as foolish.

Both were Christian believers.  Dostoyevsky was a champion of Eastern Orthodox Christianity and an opponent of Catholicism.  One of his heroes, Aloysha Karamazov, was a Russian monk.

Tolstoy preached a more universalist version of Christianity, which caused him to be expelled from the Russian Orthodox Church.  His ideas  influenced Gandhi and Martin Luther King. 

Dostoyevsky was one of the few writers of his era to make poor people in cities his viewpoint characters.  He neither idealized or ridiculed them, because he shared their experiences.  In his novels, they could mess up their lives just like anybody else.

Tolstoy idealized workmen and peasants.   But in his novels, they were what’s called non-player characters.  He didn’t try to enter into their minds. His characters were all members of the upper crust—landowners, judges, army officers, educated intellectuals.  His ideal was the land-owning aristocrat who took responsibility for the people who depend on him.

Even so, he had such a wide-ranging knowledge of society and human character that his greatest novel, War and Peace, gave me an impression of a summing up all of human life.  

Also, unlike Dostoyevsky, Tolstoy was able to enter into the minds of his women characters.  Grushenka in The Brothers Karamazov is one of the most fascinating characters in literature, but we see her only from the outside.  The inner workings of her mind remain a mystery.  

Dostoyevsky and Tolstoy are both known for their writings about the quest for spiritual and philosophical truth.  The debates among the characters are like Plato’s Socratic dialogues.  But their novels can also be read as social commentary and even comedies of manners. 

What’s Russian about them is rejection of modern Western ideals of freedom, reason and tolerance as supreme values.  Both believed it takes something deeper to make a civilization.

∞∞∞

Dostoyevsky and Tolstoy were contemporaries, and read each others’ books.  Dostoyevsky reviewed War and PeaceTolstoy reviewed  Crime and Punishment.  Each thought the other was okay, but not great.  They never met face to face.

One difference between the two was their handling of the Napoleon legend.  In Crime and Punishment, Raskolnikov was fascinated by the idea of Napoleon as a man of destiny, whose greatness was manifested in his willingness to commit crimes to accomplish great deeds.

Napoleon is a character in War and Peace, which came out about the same time.  Tolstoy depicts him as shallow and empty,  unworthy of his reputation.

Pierre Bezukhov, in the opening chapters, defends Napoleon’s crimes to shocked aristocratic party-goers.  Later he tries to be a man of destiny himself, by remaining in Moscow during the French invasion in order to assassinate Napoleon.  But the kind-hearted, indecisive Pierre can’t bring himself to pull the trigger.  Raskolnikov would have thought him a weakling.

Tolstoy thought most peoples’ stated philosophies had little or nothing to do with their actual conduct—which, considering what some people believed, was a good thing.   Dostoyevsky, on the other hand, believed ideas have consequences, and bad ideas have disastrous consequences.

Although Tolstoy had a point, the history of the 20th century, especially 20th century Russia, supports Dostoyevsky.  Ideas that, in Dostoyevsky’s time, were being kicked around in small, isolated discussion groups, were to become official doctrines imposed at gunpoint.

∞∞∞

All four of these novels are great, and worth reading for their own sake.  If there is anything greater in the Western literary canon, I haven’t read it.  I didn’t find anything in these four novels, or my (admittedly incomplete) reading of the writers’ other works, to indicate what they would have thought about the current Ukraine war.  But others have.

LINKS

How should Dostoyevsky and Tolstoy be read during Russia’s war against Ukraine? by Ani Kokobobo for The Conversation.

Can Russian literature make sense of Russia’s war on Ukraine? by Tim Brinkhof for Big Think.  

Tolstoy or Dostoevsky? Eight Experts on Who’s Greater by Kevin Hartnett for The Millions.  [Added 06/25/2022}

The so-called “Russian world”: links

May 11, 2022

It is hard to find information about Russia or the Russian invasion of Ukraine that’s not propaganda for one side or the other.  The only way to get at a semblance of the truth is to look at the situation from multiple points of view.

Here are web sites I check regularly.  If this is a topic of special concern to you, you may want to bookmark this page.  Also, if there are good sources I’m missing, please tell me in the comments.

The Vineyard of the Saker.  An eloquent Russian nationalist.  A viewpoint that is important for Americans to understand, whether they agree with it or not.

Russian Dissent.  A forum for Russians silenced in their own country.

Meduza – the Real Russia Today.  An independent news service.

Gilbert Doctorow.  An independent scholar.

Dances With Bears by John Helmer.  An independent reporter.

Videos from Alexei Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation.  Or click on thisthis, this or this.  Navalny, the brave truth-teller, is in prison, but his Anti-Corruption Foundation is still publishing investigative reports on YouTube.

(more…)

Book note: A journey around Russia

April 13, 2022

THE BORDER: A JOURNEY AROUND RUSSIA through North Korea, China, Mongolia, Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Ukraine, Belarus, Lithuania, Poland, Latvia, Estonia, Finland, Norway and the Northeast Passage by Erika Fatland (2017) translated from the Norwegian by Kari Dickson (2020)

Russia is the largest country in the world, and has the largest border.  The circumference of Russia is half again as large as the circumference of the globe itself.

A young Norwegian woman named Erika Fatland circumnavigated Russia, which is no small feat, and wrote this book about it.

She visited every country on Russia’s southern and western borders. She saw the sights in each country, talked to some of the locals and brushed up on the history of its relations with Russia.  

Every one except Norway bore the scars of having been attacked or occupied by Russia at some point in its history, most of them in the 20th century.

The implication is that there is something about Russians that makes them a standing threat to their neighbors, no matter whether they are ruled by Tzars, Communists or Vladimir Putin.

I don’t agree with this framing.  Russia itself has been attacked and invaded many times.  And, like the 18th century conservative Edmund Burke, I know not the method of drawing up an indictment against a whole people.  

Even so, I found the book worth reading.  I learned interesting things from it.  I thank my friend Judith Judson for recommending it.

 It is too big to summarize.  I’ll hit some high points.

Fatland’s first stop was North Korea, whose existence is a reminder that totalitarianism is real.  People there have less freedom than an American or Briton in prison, yet they think they are free.  They are poor and backward, yet they think they live in the most advanced nation in the world.  

Or so they said.  But maybe the system of surveillance is so complete that many or most North Koreans inwardly have doubts, but don’t dare to say so.  The result is the same.

Back in the 1950s, many of us liberals feared that totalitarian governments could come to dominate the world and establish a complete system of thought control.  North Korea shows that danger wasn’t altogether imaginary.

I found Fatland’s account of Mongolia was the most interesting section of the book.  Mongolia adopted Tibetan Buddhism in 1586 and their spiritual leaders came from Tibet.  But the prediction is the next Mongolian lama will be incarnated in Mongolia.   Fatland heard a Mongolian throat singer, who’d mastered the art of singing in two tones.  

She interviewed reindeer herders in Tuva, the remotest part of this remote country.  She talked to “ninja miners,” individuals who prospect for gold and other minerals in this mineral-rich country.

Kazakhstan is a prime example of Soviet and Russian imperialism.  Along with the other Central Asian nations, its government is a continuation of the Soviet government and it is under the thumb of Russia.  An uprising a few months ago was quashed with the help of Russian troops.

(more…)

What is Russian exceptionalism?

April 6, 2022

LOST KINGDOM: The Quest for Empire and the Making of the Russian Nation from 1470 to the Present by Serhii Plokhy (2017)

Serhii Plokhy is professor of Ukrainian history and director of the Ukrainian Research Institute at Harvard University.  His book,  Lost Kingdom, is about Russian exceptionalism—that is, Russia’s historic claim to lead and rule the eastern Slavic peoples and the pushback from Ukrainians and Belarusians.  

Kievan Rus’

It is an important and complicated story—full of ironies, zigzags and contradictions, and historical turning points that could have turned out differently from what they did.  It provides interesting background to the current war in Ukraine, although I do not think it is the final word on that topic.

Russia, Ukraine and Belarus all trace their origins to the culture Kievan Rus’ and the conversion of Prince Vladimir of Kiev to Christianity in 987.  The Kievan Rus’ lands stretched from the Black Sea to the Gulf of Finland and were regarded as a unity.  But most of them were overrun by the Mongol-Tatar Golden Horde in 1237-1239.  

The book’s story begins when Prince Ivan III of Muscovy, a vassal of the Golden Horde, married Sophia Palaiologos, a princess of the Byzantine Empire, which  had fallen to the Ottoman Turks in 1453.  

Ivan claimed his marriage made Muscovy “the Third Rome,” the successor of the Byzantine and Roman empires.  This was bold talk for the ruler of a relatively small principality.   

Europe in 1470.

Muscovy expanded, step by step, although with a lot of back and forth struggle.  Its rulers adopted the title of Tsar, which is Russian for Caesar.  Muscovy conquered the independent Republic of Novgorod and warred against Tartars, Ottomans and the great and powerful Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth.  

On the vast Eurasian plain, there were few obstacles to conquest, but also few barriers against invasion.  A Polish army occupied Moscow in 1610-1612 and a Swedish army occupied Ukraine in 1706.   Later on a French army reached Moscow in 1812, and German armies occupied Ukraine in 1918 and 1941.  It’s easy to understand why questions of allegiance and national unity were life-and-death issue.

Plokhy wrote that from earliest days, there was a recognized difference between the Great Russians, Little Russians (Ukrainians) and White Russians (Belarusians).  I recall that the Tsars claimed to be rulers of “all the Russias”—implying that there was more than one.

One turning point was the reign of Catherine the Great (1762-1796).  She was of German origin, and came to the throne after the murder of his husband, so her legitimacy was questionable.  Although she toyed with the ideas of the European Enlightenment, she doubled down on promoting Great Russian national identity and Eastern Orthodox religion.  

She joined the rulers of Austria and Prussia in partitioning Russia’s old enemy, Poland.  Russia got more than half of Poland, including its capital, Warsaw.  

In the ensuring years, the Polish nobility, remembering their former power and greatness, resisted Russian rule as best they could, while the Russian government tried to Russianize the Poles.

The Russian government began to look on Ukrainian language and culture in a new way, as a possible source of Polish-like nationalism.  This wasn’t altogether wrong.  

As with other subjugated and divided peoples in 19th century Europe, Ukrainian intellectuals began to study their cultural and national roots and think about independence and unification.    Academic studies of linguistics and ethnography in one generation became nationalistic intellectual weapons in later decades.  I think this was the real origin of Ukrainian and Belarusian nationalism.

(more…)

Many Russians open to use of N-weapons

March 21, 2022

A Ukrainian company conducted a public opinion poll of Russians about the Ukraine invasion.  The poll found that 40.3 percent of those answering think the Russian government would use nuclear weapons to protect its interests, and only 25.5 percent would not.  The rest were unsure.

I think the poll should be interpreted with caution.  If I were a Russian, I probably wouldn’t give my honest opinion to an anonymous pollster.  I suspect a lot of the non-committal answers were from people who had doubts about their government’s actions.

A recent Pew Research poll indicated that 35.5 percent of Americans are willing to take military action against Russia even at the risk of nuclear war.  

[I should have noted that there is an important difference between being willing to risk nuclear war and being willing to initiate nuclear war.]

None of this indicates Russians or Americans as a whole favor nuclear war.   It does indicate that a large fraction of both do not find nuclear war unthinkable.  This is disturbing.

Here are the rest of the Russian poll results.

(more…)

Examples of sanity in a mad world

March 18, 2022

Sister Cities of Rochester responds to war in Ukraine by Peter Lovenheim for the Rochester (N.Y.) Beacon.

Russia and Wrath by Rod Dreher for The American Conservative.

Who’s winning in Ukraine?

March 14, 2022

Not Ukraine.

Ukrainian forces are outnumbered and outgunned.  President Zelensky is arming untrained civilians, including convicts, and calling for volunteers to come help, including anti-Russian jihadists from Syria.  This is evidence of desperation, like the German arming of teenagers and the elderly during the last days of World War Two.

Until now, Russians have held back, in the false hope they could accomplish a relatively—I said, relatively—bloodless conquest and reconcile Ukrainians to defeat.  Military analyst Scott Ritter said the Russians wanted to give Ukrainians one last chance to surrender.  If that fails, Russians will wage war as they did in Afghanistan and Chechnya, which, as he said, will turn Ukraine into “hell on Earth.”

Not Russia

Hardly anybody expected a full-fledged invasion of Ukraine, because hardly anybody outside President Putin’s circle thought it would make sense.  Evidently Putin expected a weak resistance, after which the Ukrainian government would surrender and agree to stay out of NATO, recognize the independence of the Donbas republics, and accept Russian rule of Crimea.

This didn’t happen.  Putin is using Chechen and even Syrian fighters against his supposed Ukrainian brothers.  So much for Russian-Ukrainian brotherhood!  This is a sign of lack of Russian enthusiasm for the war.

Probably Russia will defeat the Ukrainian forces in the end.  Then Russians will face a protracted resistance movement in Ukraine, supported by the Western powers, and a long period of economic warfare that will strain Russian society to the limit.

Not the USA

The clash between Russia and the USA involves much more than Ukraine.  Russia’s aim is to challenge the military security structure that makes the U.S. the world’s dominant military power, and the financial structure which makes the U.S. the world’s dominant financial power.  The present conflict may stretch that power to its limit.

No nation in Latin America, Africa or Asia, with the exceptions of Japan and South Korea, has been willing to join the United States is imposing economic sanctions against Russia.  Russia can count on the support of China, the world’s most powerful manufacturing nation, and others who’ve been alienated from the U.S. system.

Russia has been planning for years on how to withstand a siege.  The USA is unprepared.  President Biden has swallowed his pride and asked for help from Iran and Venezuela, two nations he and his predecessors have literally been trying to destroy with economic sanctions.  What will we Americans do a year or so from now, if gasoline costs double or triple or ten times what it does now?

###

One side or another may claim victory, by some criterion.  But all will be worse off than they are now.

“A strange game,” said the machine intelligence in the movie, War Games.  “The only way to win is not to play.”

(more…)

War in Ukraine: Links & comments 2022/3/7

March 7, 2022

The American Empire self-destructs by MIchael Hudson.

The economist MIchael Hudson thinks Russia will benefit from the coming economic war..

What it will do is to force Russia to become more Wself-sufficient than it already is and to detach itself from the U.S.-dominated world financial system, and also to make neutral countries more wary.

Any country who gets on the bad side of the United States is subject to having its national assets confiscated, to the degree that they are in banks in the United States, the United Kingdom or other countries subject to U.S. influence.

This happened to Iran, to Venezuela and many other countries, and now it is happening to Russia.  The U.K. also is confiscating savings and investments owned by Russian individuals.

In the long run, he wrote, this will force not only Russia and its allies, but any nation that doesn’t want to be under the thumb of the United States, to find an alternative financial system, which the Chinese will be glad to provide.  London will cease to be the money-laundering capital of the world.

He said it also will force Russia to invest its revenues from oil, gas and other export industries into building up the nation’s industrial strength, instead of going into the pockets of wealthy oligarchs.

History shows that given a choice between destruction and reform, ruling elites do not necessarily choose reform.

Efforts to decimate Russian economy may boomerang by Sylvan Lane for The Hill.

Economic warfare is mutual destruction.  The United States and its NATO allies are in a position greatly damage the Russian economy, despite the Russians’ decade of trying to build up their defenses against economic warfare.

But the United States and its NATO allies also will pay a price.  Russia is an important exporter of food and fossil fuels.  The first result of an embargo will be big increases in the cost of food, gasoline and natural gas.

Russia’s new foreign policy: the Putin doctrine by Prof. Sergei Karaganov, academic supervisor of the School of International Economics and Foreign Affairs in Moscow.

This is a voice of the Russian academic establishment.

Prof. Karaganov said Vladimir Putin’s policies are the result of a long-term plan to break up the present U.S.-dominated geopolitical order and replace it with one in which the Russian nation and culture are safe.  The war in Ukraine is part of this, but only party.

He said Western society is in the process of self-destruction—economically, politically and morally.  It also is eager to start a new Cold War with Russia.

(more…)

Is this 1914 all over again?

February 28, 2022

[Updated 2022/3/1]

As I look around, I’m surprised at how everyone in the West seems almost to welcome war with Russia.  And I assume the feeling is much the same in Russia, although, unlike in the West, there have been peace protests, which have ruthlessly been put down.

Those of us distant from the battlefield don’t expect to fight ourselves.  But economic war, covert war and propaganda war are real forms of war, and we will pay a price for submitting to them.  It means we will be expected to accept austerity, authoritarianism and lies.

What surprises me is how eager some of our European allies have been to jump into the fray.  Don’t they realize the economic war will hurt them much more than it does Russia or us Americans?

It reminds me of what I read about the outbreak of the First World War.  Almost everyone thought it would end quickly.  Many thought it would be a glorious adventure.

In the years prior to World War One, just as at present, it had been a long time since there was a major war in Europe.   I think there are many leading frustrating lives who think war is a force that gives life meaning.

Both wars began with a large country (Austria, Russia) attacking a troublesome small neighboring country (Serbia, Ukraine) with a powerful sponsor (Russia, USA) in order to settle a problem for once and for all.  

They also began with the leaders of one country (Germany, Russia) feeling that they were being encircled, and had to fight to break out, and the leaders of the most powerful country (UK, USA) feeling their power was being threatened.

If the leaders had known what they were in for, they’d have found a way to compromise.  But once war began, compromise became impossible.  Too much had been sacrificed to settle for anything less than victory.

I don’t want to push the comparison too far.  To reverse something Mark Twain may have said, history rhymes, but it doesn’t repeat.

If we in the USA and UK are lucky, the actual fighting will be confined to what historian Timothy Snyder called the Bloodlands—Ukraine, Belarus, Poland, Russia and the other killing fields of the 1930s and 1940s.  

But our economy, our government and our fundamental rights will be subordinated to the priority of winning the war.  And not just us Americans.   All the countries who are drawn into this war will be losers, including the nominal winners.

Our leaders in the USA will have an excuse to ignore the need to rebuild our manufacturing industry, to fix our dysfunctional government, to deal with the coming climate catastrophes, and we’ll take it.  National bankruptcy will be one of the bad possibilities.  Civilization-ending nuclear war is the worst.

(more…)

Shock and awe in Ukraine

February 25, 2022

Kiev early this morning.

At this point in time, the Russian invasion of Kiev reminds me of the initial phase of the U.S. invasion of Iraq—except that the Russians so far seem to be doing their best to avoid civilian casualties and refraining from destroying the electrical grid, water and sewerage systems and other vital infrastructure.

Looked at purely as a military operation, it looks like a brilliant success.  Of course so did the U.S. invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan in their initial phase.

What made these wars disasters for the United States were the failed occupations and the unsuccessful attempts to establish friendly, self-sustaining governments.

President Vladimir Putin’s rule began with a bloody war to pacify the rebellious Chechen region.  Since then  Russia’s military occupations have been short and decisive.

Putin has stated he does not plan a permanent occupation of Ukraine.  He also says he plans to demilitarize and denazify Ukraine and to bring to justice all those who committed atrocities against Ukraine’s Russian minority.  Taking him at his word, is this possible without a long-term occupation?

The ideal outcome, from the Russian point of view, would be for the Ukrainian government to quickly surrender and agree to Russia’s terms.

What terms of surrender would Russia accept?  Would Ukraine be forced to become a puppet of Russia, like Poland during the Cold War era or the Central Asian countries today?  Or would Russia be willing to settle for neutrality, like Finland and Austria during the Cold War.

The least Russia would demand would be purging of Nazis from the Ukrainian government and armed forces, and turning over accused war criminals to Russia or to international tribunals.

This also would be the best outcome from the point of view of minimizing human suffering.  But it would leave Russia as the strongest—because most feared—power in Europe.

The risk Russia has taken is the possibility of getting bogged down in a long quagmire war, as the Soviet Union did in Afghanistan.

(more…)

Why couldn’t the USA and Russia be friends?

February 25, 2022

The video is a 2015 lecture by political scientist John J. Mearsheimer.

After the Reagan-Gorbachev summit meetings, I thought the Cold War had ended for good, and the USA and post-Communist Russia would be partners.  A lot of other people, in the USA and in Russia, too, expected the same thing.  Why didn’t it happen?

The answer is in the Wolfowitz Doctrine, which was a 1992 policy document prepared by Undersecretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz.  The document said that the way to keep the United States safe was to maintain the U.S. position as top nation and to prevent any other nation from becoming equal in power.

Our first objective is to prevent the re-emergence of a new rival, either on the territory of the former Soviet Union or elsewhere, that poses a threat on the order of that posed formerly by the Soviet Union.  

This is a dominant consideration underlying the new regional defense strategy and requires that we endeavor to prevent any hostile power from dominating a region whose resources would, under consolidated control, be sufficient to generate global power.  [snip]

The U.S. must show the leadership necessary to establish and protect a new order that holds the promise of convincing potential competitors that they need not aspire to a greater role or pursue a more aggressive posture to protect their legitimate interests.  

In non-defense areas, we must account sufficiently for the interests of the advanced industrial nations to discourage them from challenging our leadership or seeking to overturn the established political and economic order.  We must maintain the mechanism for deterring potential competitors from even aspiring to a larger regional or global role.

This is the rationale for transforming NATO from an anti-Soviet alliance into an anti-Russian alliance.  The threat of Russia in the 1990s was not that it was hostile, but that it was potentially powerful.  

Here’s what George F. Kennan, said to New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman in 1998 about enlarging NATO.

“I think it is the beginning of a new cold war,” said Mr. Kennan from his Princeton home. ”I think the Russians will gradually react quite adversely and it will affect their policies.  I think it is a tragic mistake. There was no reason for this whatsoever. No one was threatening anybody else. This expansion would make the Founding Fathers of this country turn over in their graves.

“We have signed up to protect a whole series of countries, even though we have neither the resources nor the intention to do so in any serious way. [NATO expansion] was simply a light-hearted action by a Senate that has no real interest in foreign affairs.”

(more…)

Texts of Putin’s and Biden’s talks

February 22, 2022

Address by the President of the Russian Federation.  Feb. 21, 2022.

Remarks by President Biden Announcing Response to Russian Actions in Ukraine.  Feb 22, 2022.

§§§

Some reactions to the speeches [Added 2022/2/23]

Putin recognizes Donbass republics: what comes next? by Gilbert Doctorow.

The body language of the speech – Putin has repudiated Lenin, Stalin, Gorbachev, Yeltsin & mobilized Russian defense against US attack as never before by John Helmer for Dances With Bears.

Putin’s Century of Betrayal Speech by Branko Milanovic.  [The demon spell-check keeps changing Branko, the author’s first name, to “Frank.”]

Biden gives ’em heck & big promises by the Boston Herald editorial page.

§§§

[Added 2022/2/26]  I have trouble linking to official statements on the Russian government web site.  You can find most of these on The Vineyard of the Saker web site, which is maintained by an expatriate Russian living in the USA.

Incapable of making either war or peace?

February 22, 2022

A nation or individual should be capable of fighting if they must and making peace when they can.

The U.S. governing class, at this point in our history, seems incapable of doing either.

NATO & Russia 2017

The NATO alliance was formed to defend the western European nations against a possible Soviet invasion. Each member pledged to come to the aid of any other member that was attacked.

At the height of NATO’s power, there were hundreds of thousands of Americans stationed in Europe who were trained and prepared to fight the Red Army, if necessary.

The United States in the Cold War era was prepared for war, but also capable of negotiating the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty and the Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, which reduced the possibility of nuclear war between the great powers.

During the past 20 years, the U.S. government has grown increasingly belligerent toward Russia.  It canceled the ABM and IRNF treaties.  At the same time it has reduced its war-fighting capabilities in Europe, and we the American people have grown weary of military interventions.

After the 9/11 attacks, NATO allies, including France, sent troops to fight in Afghanistan in fulfillment of the self-defense pledge.  France did not follow the U.S. into Iraq, but some allies did.  Since then NATO allies have been less and less willing to support U.S. wars of choice.

So here we are.  Our government is unwilling to negotiate in any meaningful way with President Putin, but also unwilling to fight, except at arms length, through economic sanctions and shipments of arms.

I don’t justify everything the U.S. government did in the Cold War era.  That’s a topic for another time.  And I’m not a war hawk.  Far from it.  But there was a time when we Americans were capable of waging war, and also capable of negotiating treaties and abiding by them, and this is no longer so.

There are two ways of inviting trouble.  One is being too weak to defend yourself.  The other is going around starting fights.  I think we Americans would be willing and able to defend our homeland, but I don’t think the U.S. is capable of forcing our new “rules-based international order” on the world and I for one do not support it.

(more…)

Putin makes his move in Ukraine

February 21, 2022

Well, it didn’t take long for my previous post to be overtaken by events.

Russia has recognized the independence of the Luhansk and Donetsk republics.  This almost certainly means that Russian forces will intervene to protect the separatists from Ukrainian forces.  It probably means that Russians will fight to drive Ukrainian forces back to the original borders of Luhansk and Donetsk.

Hopefully, the fighting will be confined to the Donbas region.

The U.S. government is in an embarrassing position, having whipped up war fever while being admittedly unwilling and unable to fight itself.

President Biden said that American troops would not fight in Ukraine because a direct American-Russian clash could escalate into World War Three.

This is true. The other reason is that American troops would be hopelessly outnumbered, and also unprepared to fight in unfamiliar country. This also applies to troops being rushed to Poland and Rumania.

Although this is embarrassing, I think Biden was right to not sacrifice the lives of American troops, just as a gesture.

This leaves the U.S. with only two ways to continue the fight: (1) Arm the Ukrainians and give them moral and economic support.  (2) Impose new economic sanctions on Russia.

The first means encouraging Ukrainians to fight and die in a war in which they are outmanned and outgunned.  The second means asking western Europeans to make serious economic sacrifices.  They might well ask: Why should we be the ones to expend blood and treasure?

(more…)

War threat’s purpose is to keep U.S. allies in line

February 7, 2022

Click to enlarge.

U.S. policy for the past 10 or so years has been hard for me to understand. Our government has driven Russia, the world’s largest nuclear weapons power, into the arms of China, the world’s largest or second largest industrial power.

Since 2014, our leaders have talked about the threat of a Russian invasion of Ukraine, but, as Scott Ritter has pointed out, they never tried to create a military force in or near Ukraine capable of resisting a Russian invasion.

The economist Michael Hudson has an answer.  U.S. war policy is not primarily about Ukraine or Russia.  Rather it is about the need for a war threat to keep U.S. allies in line.

Economic sanctions are not being imposed for strategic reasons, Hudson wrote recently. Rather the geopolitical struggle is an excuse for cutting off U.S. allies from trade with Russia, China and other designated U.S. enemies.

The U.S. is not pressuring Germany to stop Nord Stream 2 in order to block Russia in Ukraine.  It is whipping up war fever over Ukraine in order to block Nord Stream 2.

Here’s how he put it:

What worries American diplomats is that Germany, other NATO nations and countries along the Belt and Road route understand the gains that can be made by opening up peaceful trade and investment.

If there is no Russian or Chinese plan to invade or bomb them, what is the need for NATO?  And if there is no inherently adversarial relationship, why do foreign countries need to sacrifice their own trade and financial interests by relying exclusively on U.S. exporters and investors?

These are the concerns that have prompted French Prime Minister Macron to call forth the ghost of Charles de Gaulle and urge Europe to turn away from what he calls NATO’s “brain-dead” Cold War and beak with the pro-U.S. trade arrangements that are imposing rising costs on Europe while denying it potential gains from trade with Eurasia.

Even Germany is balking at demands that it freeze by this coming March by going without Russian gas.

Instead of a real military threat from Russia and China, the problem for American strategists is the absence of such a threat.

All countries have come to realize that the world has reached a point at which no industrial economy has the manpower and political ability to mobilize a standing army of the size that would be needed to invade or even wage a major battle with a significant adversary.

That political cost makes it uneconomic for Russia to retaliate against NATO adventurism prodding at its western border trying to incite a military response. It’s just not worth taking over Ukraine.

(more…)

Human rights and the impending crisis

January 28, 2022

Vladimir Putin in Western eyes.

The USA in Russian eyes

The U.S. government depicts its current clashes with Russia and China as a struggle of freedom vs. despotism.  

This is a half-truth.  

Russia and China do not accept historic Western ideals of human rights and limited government.  

In Russia, President Vladimir Putin lives in a billion-dollar palace built with embezzled funds.  The man who revealed this was poisoned and then imprisoned.

In China, President Xi Jinping is introducing a new “social credit” system that is intended to monitor the actions of every Chinese and reward or punish them for what they do.  It is a model for authoritarian governments all over the world.

But the USA cannot claim to be a defender of human rights.  It prosecutes Julian Assange and other truth-tellers for revealing war crimes, occupies Iraq against the expressed will of its government, uses economic sanctions to starve opposing nations into submission, etc. 

Instead the U.S. government has adopted a new concept of human rights based on racial and sexual identity and the sexual revolution.

I of course believe that everyone is entitled to equal justice under law, and no-one should be persecuted or prosecuted for being what they are, so long as they don’t harm third parties and so long as they recognize my right to be what I am.

But reasonable people can differ questions of kindergarten sex education, eligibility for men’s and women’s sports teams, male and female bathrooms, etc.  These are not human rights issues.

Leaders of many nations, not just Russia and China, reject U.S. cultural influence, and with reason.  They think U.S. influence means more pornography, consumerism (the idea that increase of material possessions means happiness) and an undermining of the traditional family.

Again, reasonable people can differ about these things.  But it behooves us Americans to have some sensitivity to other cultures, and accept the fact that we’re not in charge of the world.

The best way for us Americans to champion human rights is to set a good example.

(more…)