Monthly Archives: March 2022


LOGIC FROM A MAN WITH A TARGET ON HIS BACK: re: the Russian “Special operation” in Ukraine

Thanks to Mischa Firer, via Quora 2022

Silver-haired Red Army general Leonid Ivashov, “Out of fifteen republics of the USSR, Ukraine had given us more headache than any other.”

Retired Colonel-General Leonid Ivashov spoke out vocally against hypothetical Russia’s war with Ukraine. As the chairman of the All-Russian Officers’ Assembly, the general who’s known for his pro-Soviet and patriotic views, had written and signed an open letter addressed to president Putin and citizens of Russia.

He sat down for an interview with a host of the liberal radio station Echo of Moscow to assess risks and consequences of a military invasion, blamed the escalation on President Putin, and demanded his resignation.

I’m posting highlights from the interview with the focus on the military aspects below.

“My open letter was an anti-war statement. It expressed collective opinion of the retired army officers and generals, members of All-Russian Officers’ Assembly, and after our discussion, as the chairman, I signed the letter.

“We at the Assembly have received a wealth of military experience and first class military higher education.

“We acknowledge that preparations for a war with Ukraine have been well under way including diplomatic negotiations, with groupings of troops massed on the border. In such conditions, one gun shot might provoke a conflict with ensuing dire consequences. If extensive military actions begin, tens of thousands of young men will die.

“I served as a military diplomat and sat behind the table with Nato and European top brass, and I can tell you that people who want a war the least are generals, while politicians can easily start it over for the sake of for example winning re-elections. Politicians don’t hold any responsibility and shift all the blame on to the military. And when there’s a victory, politicians own it.”

“In the 1990s, we observed Nato’s planned military exercises and reacted by conducting our own planned military exercises, manoeuvres, missile lunches, etc.

“All that didn’t pose any critical dangers. Our military and civil leadership should have been taking initiative into their own hands, and without any hysterical ultimatum like “give us answer tomorrow. Fulfil our demands right away.”

“As the head of International Military Cooperation Department, I persuaded Minister of Defence to prepare a collective plan of European Security. It was well received although Americans and the English blocked it.

“Nonetheless, we pressed on, step by step, to deescalate the level of tensions. Our European colleagues always responded well to our suggestions and we found solutions to problems together. War is, as they say, the last resort.

“We have discussed at the assembly why Putin is triggering the last resort and arrived at the only plausible conclusion: Russia is going through a systemic crises that the leadership cannot put a check on. In every sphere of economy – healthcare, culture, education, etc – everywhere is degradation and collapse.

“My personal impression is that Putin is tired of Russia. And he wants to be finished with it, because a large-scale war would result in the disappearance of Russia as an integral, big country.

“As a civilisation it was over for us after the disintegration of the Soviet Union. After this escapade, we’ll be finished as a country.

“It won’t be a blitzkrieg, a walk in the park. This will be a mass-scale war with tens of thousands of killed and maimed soldiers on both sides.

“Even if we conquer Kiev, we’ll have to dig in and build garrisons and fight partisan movements. We’ll have to use our entire nation’s energies and resources to keep some semblance of order in Ukraine. It is savagery. Absolute savagery.

“And what for? For the sake of decades of military confrontation? Of course, some parties in the West would feel joyful. Gas won’t flow from Russia, and it will never be a competitor again. It will be an awful geopolitical catastrophe. And that’s the reason why we took a stand against it.

“I repeat, there’s no critical situation. I can’t name a single European country that wants a war between Russia and Ukraine. And even Americans who wouldn’t find Ukraine on the map will protest and there will be a public resonance if just a dozen American soldiers die in this war. So I don’t see anyone who actively wants this war.

“To me the West has always been an opponent and a rival, but I was surprised how they reacted to our ultimatum. They didn’t escalate the situation, but offered a negotiating process.

“Instead, our ultimatum has united the entire Western world against us. And not only the West. India has just rejected to purchase 1700 Russian tanks, which will spell the end of our tank industry exports.

“There’s an easy way to stop it. Putin calls Zelensky and offers to meet in a neutral country and talk. The other option that can stop the war is public outcry.

“And I don’t mean those so-called experts on TV who talk about taking over Ukraine in ten days, or a few hours. I suggest that the senior leadership’s, bankers’ and business elite’s and talk shows hosts’ children take assault rifles in their own hands and join the front chain of the attack. Only then those people would play an active role in stopping this war not to get their children in body bags.

“Mass media shouldn’t be the instrument of war, the role they have performed since 2014 when instead of using kindness to resolve our differences with Ukraine, they engaged in aggression to widen that chasm between us and anger each other. That spilled blood will separate us forever into enemies’ camps.

“Once we cross into Ukrainian territory, they will receive all the weapons that they need, and thousands of volunteers will join the army to fight.

“76.6% per center of our members, which includes retired police officers and special forces, share this opinion. Bottom line, our goal is to stop this bloody tragedy from happening.

“Assault troops are still massed on the border with Ukraine and Putin after his return from Beijing didn’t order to pull them back. That means that hostilities can start at any moment.

“Resignation of Putin will give Russia a small chance to keep Russia’s statehood going. It’s what we’re counting on.

“You have to understand one thing. When Putin was propelled to this scale of of power, he knew nothing. It’s only with time that he learned and was exploited by all sorts of individuals.

“Any man with regional managerial experience that will take his place, the first thing he’ll do is hire professionals. PROFESSIONALS. Professionals with proper education and experience. Yes, in a way that will be a ‘technical’ president, but he will surround himself with people who have professional knowledge.

“At this time, much depends on Putin. There needs to be a clear-minded person in his circle who will give it to him straight – ‘as a commander in chief and a mastermind of this war, you will carry full responsibility and go on international trial like those war criminals in Nuremberg.’

“We have to stop this absolutely unnecessary war.”

Profile photo for Amy Renfrew

Amy Renfrew · February 10

Mischa your insight as “a person on the ground” is much appreciated. I am a Army officer in the Canadian Armed Forces, and what you are bringing to light in your writing is what we have been positing since we were caught completely flat footed in 2014 and have since devoted much attention to the Ukrainian question. I most sincerely wish it weren’t so.

I can attest hand to heart, the West does not want a war with Russia but if our hands are forced by an invasion the response will be swift and devastating. Crippling economic sanctions and arming the Ukrainians will be step one. This will be done in an attempt to subvert a protracted armed conflict between nuclear/super powers. If that does not cause the cessation of Russian forces in Ukraine it will turn into full war along the entirety of Russia’s Western border and any other number of proxy fronts. This will be a war on the scale we have not seen since WWII. It will indeed be a global conflict. Lots of soldiers will die and be injured on both sides, but more devastating will be the loss of life and mass displacement of civilians. This may well be on the magnitude of tens of millions

Do take care of yourself. I do have concerns for your safety, and I assume you do too, even if you are able to joke about it.

Misha Firer

Thank you, Amy.

Profile photo for Piotr Szafranski

Piotr Szafranski · 

In 1938/9, the only real barrier between the madman, and the world war and eventual destruction of Germany, were German General Staff generals. In 1938, the madman managed to sucker punch the most senior generals, and to bribe the rest, bribe into actions which eventually meant grinding Germany to rubble and rape of some 3M German women.

German generals, who in 1938 opposed the madman, were not that touchy-feely. They would execute, I guess with a professional pleasure, any war which made sense for Germany. They opposed the madman not because they disliked war, but because they could, better than most, predict the war outcome.

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The Mongol invasion was the reason Russia was formed

JUNE 14 2020


A still from "The Mongol," 2007

A still from “The Mongol,” 2007Sergey Bodrov Sn./STV production, 2007

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It is wrong to think that Mongol-Tatars invaded Russia as a single state, because the state actually formed as a response to the invasion, to resist and overthrow it. It was Peter the Great who formally ended Russia’s tributes to the Khans.

Knyaz’ Yaroslav II of Vladimir was poisoned by Güyük Khan’s wife. At the age of 67, Knyaz’ Mikhail of Chernigov was executed in the capital of the Golden Horde (Mongol khaganate) for refusing to worship Mongol idols. Knyaz’ Mikhail of Tver had his heart ripped out in the same capital, the chronicle says. The Russian population was forced to pay substantial tributes, and Russian princes were only allowed to rule their duchies by the permission of the Khan of the Golden Horde. That’s how it was under the Mongol rule, or, as we call it in Russia, the Tatar-Mongol Igo (Yoke).

Prince Alexander Nevsky begging Batu Khan for mercy for Russia, End of the 19th century. Found in the collection of Russian State Library, Moscow

Prince Alexander Nevsky begging Batu Khan for mercy for Russia, End of the 19th century. Found in the collection of Russian State Library, MoscowGetty Images

It’s hard to believe that events such as these were instrumental in the formation of the Russian state. But it was opposition to these actions that united the Russian princes – unfortunately, not with friendship, but under the iron fist of the strongest of them. “Moscow owes its greatness to the Khans,” wrote the great Russian historian Nikolay Karamzin (1766-1826).

At the time of the Mongol invasion of Rus’, the Mongols were advanced both in the military and in the systems of governance. Only unity could help the Russians to overthrow Mongol rule. How did it begin in the first place?

1. What prompted the Mongol Invasion?

Genghis Khan

Genghis KhanPublic domain

It all started when Genghis Khan (1155-1227), the founder of the Mongol Empire, sent his son Jochi (1182-1227) to conquer the lands of what is now Siberia, Central Russia, and Eastern Europe. Giant armies of Mongol warriors (clearly over 100,000, an enormous number in the 13th century) easily defeated the weak and ill-numbered forces of the Russian princes, who were at war with each other before the invasion.

In 1237, the Mongols, led by Batu Khan, invaded Rus’. They took, ravaged and burned Ryazan’, Kolomna, Moscow, Vladimir, Tver – all the main Russian cities. The invasion continued until 1242 and was a terrible blow for the Russian lands – it took almost 100 years to fully recover from the damage the Mongol army did. Also, the lands and cities of the South – Kiev, Chernigov, Halych were burned to the ground. The North-Eastern lands, most notably Tver, Moscow, Vladimir, and Suzdal became the main cities after the invasion.

However, the Mongols didn’t want to conquer the land fully – they just wanted stable tributes. And they knew how to get what they wanted.

2. How did Mongol rule work?

Batu Khan as seen on a Middle Ages Chinese etching

Batu Khan as seen on a Middle Ages Chinese etchingPublic domain

In 1243, Yaroslav II of Vladimir (1191-1246) was the first Russian prince to receive permission to rule – he was summoned to Batu Khan, swore his allegiance to him and was named the “biggest knyaz’ of all Russians.”

The ceremony of swearing allegiance to Mongols was very similar to the French ceremony of homage, where the liege kneeled on one knee at the feet of his seated sovereign. But in the Horde’s capital Saray, Russian princes were sometimes forced to walk on their knees to the Khan’s throne and overall treated like inferiors. It was this same Yaroslav II, by the way, who received the first jarlik and later was poisoned.

Jarlik (a shout-out, an announcement in the ancient Mongol language) was how Mongols called diplomatic credentials – protective charters they wrote and handed over to the Russian princes and priests. The important part of the Mongols’ policy was that they protected the Russian Orthodox churches, never ravaged them, and kept the clergy safe. For protection, the church was obliged to preach allegiance to the Mongol Tatars to their parishioners.

A typical Mongol jarlik dating back to 1397

A typical Mongol jarlik dating back to 1397Лапоть (CC0 1.0)

The tributes were controlled and collected at first by the baskaks, the Mongol taxmen, who lived in Russian cities with their suite and security guards. To collect the tributes, the Mongols performed a census of the population of the subdued duchies. The tributes went to the Mongol Empire, and after 1266, when the Tatar-Mongol state of Golden Horde divided itself from the Mongols, tributes went to the Golden Horde’s capital Saray. Later, after multiple local revolts and following the Russian princes’ pleas, the tribute collection was handed over to the princes themselves. Otherwise, the Russians were left to live their life.

3. How did the Russians USE the Mongols to their benefit?

“The Baskaks”Sergey Ivanov

There was never any constant military presence of the Mongols, but if the Russians revolted against their rule, they could send armies. However, the cunning and politically sophisticated Mongol khans manipulated Russians, incited hatred and wars among them to better control the weak, divided states. Soon, the princes learned this tactic and started applying it against the Mongols.

For a century, there were innumerable military campaigns between Mongols and Russians. In 1328, Tver duchy revolted against the Mongols, killing the Uzbek Khan’s cousin. Tver was burned and destroyed by the Horde, and Moscow and Suzdal princes helped the Mongols. Why? How could they?

In a war between the duchies, the Moscow princes understood that somebody has to take the lead against the Mongols by subduing others to his rule. After Tver’s demise, Ivan I “Kalita” of Moscow became the first prince to collect the tributes from the Russian lands instead of the baskaks – that’s what he got for helping the Mongols to murder his compatriots – and at the same time, his enemies. However, this helped bring the famous “40-year peace” when Mongols didn’t attack the lands of Moscow (but ravaged other duchies). Meanwhile, Moscow used the defeats of other princes for their own means.

The sacking of Suzdal by Batu Khan in February 1238. Mongol Invasion of Russia. A miniature from the sixteenth-century chronicle

The sacking of Suzdal by Batu Khan in February 1238. Mongol Invasion of Russia. A miniature from the sixteenth-century chroniclePublic domain

READ MORE:Lessons in warfare Russians learned from the Golden Horde

Russians also quickly learned from the Mongols to use written contracts, sign acts, enact laws; Russians used the system of yams – road stations, employed first by Genghis Khan for multiple purposes: shelter for travelers, places to hold spare horses for army messengers, and so on. This system was installed in the Russian lands by the Mongols for their purposes but eventually started being used by Russians for their own good – to connect their lands.

4. How did the Mongol rule end?  

The Tver uprising of 1328 as seen in a Russian chronicle of the 16th century

The Tver uprising of 1328 as seen in a Russian chronicle of the 16th centuryPublic domain

What Moscow princes learned from the ruthless Mongols was that you either kill your enemy or disable him so he can’t take revenge. Simultaneously with the strengthening of Moscow princes, the Golden Horde fell into a political crisis. In 1378, Dmitry of Moscow, known as Donskoy (1350-1389) for the first time in a long while, crushed one of the Horde’s armies.

In 1380, Dmitry Donskoy, who had earlier stopped paying tributes to the Horde, defeated the 60,000-110,000-strong army of Khan Mamay in the Battle of Kulikovo, a great moment of high spirits for all the Russian lands. However, in 1382, Moscow was burned by Tokhtamysh, a Khan of another part of the dismantled Horde.

For the next hundred years or so, Russian lands on and off paid tributes to different Khans of the Horde, but in 1472, Ivan the Great of Moscow (1440-1505) refused again to pay tributes to the Tatar Mongols. This time, the Great Duchy of Moscow was really great. Ivan and his father Vasily II the Blind had collected lands and princes and subdued them to Moscow.

READ MORE: How a 15th-century strange battle put Russia on the map

Ahmed bin Küchük, Khan of the Golden Horde, tried to wage war against Ivan, but after the famous standoff at the Ugra river in 1480, he returned home. This battle marked the end of the Mongol rule and control – but not the tributes. Russia continued sending money and valuable goods to different parts of the Horde just to make peace with militant Tatars. This was called “pominki” (appr. ‘memorables’) in Russian.

Dmitry Donskoy, an image from a Russian chronicle

Dmitry Donskoy, an image from a Russian chroniclePublic domain

Russia paid pominki to different former Horde dynasties until 1685. Formally, the tributes were banned by Peter the Great only in 1700, according to the Treaty of Constantinople between the Russian Tsardom and the Ottoman Empire. The Khan of Crimea, one of the last of the Khans at the time, and the Ottoman Empire’s vassal, was also the last to whom Russia paid. The treaty said:

“…Because the State of Moscow is autonomous and free – the tribute that annually was given to the Crimean Khans until now, henceforward shall not be given from His Holy Greatness of the Tsar of Moscow, nor from his descendants…”

It is very symbolic that Peter, the last great tsar of Moscow and the future first Emperor of Russia, signed this treaty in 1700, the first year that began in Russia not from the 1st of September, like in ancient Russia, but from January 1st – just like in Europe.

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