A singer entertains new Russian conscripts moments before being shipped to Kherson Oblast that not one of them would be able to find on the map. Approximately half of them will be killed within a month, and another quarter wounded. There’re no medics, no blood transfusion, no bandages at the battlefront – many of them will just bleed to death.
In Russia, Squid Game plays you.
Enlistment centres have sent out millions of summons including to Dmitry Klyukvin, a Moscow resident born blind.
“Do they want me to be a sniper? At least they could’ve sent a summons in Braille,” jokes Dmitry.
Summons are cold calls for participation in Squid Game. There is no obligation to come to the enlistment centre, and the punishment is an administrative fine 3,000 rubles ($50).
It’s evolution in action, weeding out the dumbest and most docile who turn up at the enlistment centres anyways with HIMARS and howitzers waiting for blood harvest impatiently.
Sweet innocence of youth: high school students in Kurgan school at arts and craft lesson sew pagan sun god talismans to protect fighters from imminent death at the battle front. Orthodox Church redeems fighters of their sins if they die in Ukraine. Better be pagan in Russia.
Trans-Baikal deputy Andrei Gurulev drew the shortest straw to break the news that 1.5 million sets of uniforms have “disappeared” from MoD.
Translation: not a single set of uniform has been sewn as the money has been used to build country houses for the generals. The Squid Game volunteers are welcome to buy army uniform at the local flea market.
Governor of Omsk Oblast Alexander Burkov said the region is bankrupt with 13 billion rubles in the red, so there’re no funds to pay the new conscripts. Conscripts are required to buy their own uniform, their own first aid kit, stick their wives’ tampons into the gun wounds, feed and train themselves.
Then they get hastily dispatched in COVID-infected overcrowded trains and dumped at the border to fight Banderas, Ukronazis, NATO, Americans. Well, you know, nazis come in all kinds of forms. Putin wouldn’t lie.
35-year old conscript Alexander Koltun from Bratsk called his mom from the recruitment camp in Novosibirsk, “it’s total chaos here; they did’t give us any uniforms, don’t feed us, everyone’s drunk stumbling about.”
Next day, Alexander died. This was tenth proven death of a mobilised conscript in Russia. In the meantime, 1,600 new conscripts have already died or missing in action in Ukraine.
Governor of Belgorod Oblast also confessed that the region on the border with Ukraine has no money in the coffers to pay the conscripts because Putin bankrupted their agriculture and chicken coop business with his war (of course he didn’t say that since Kremlin appointed him for this job, and he answers to Kremlin, not to local residents). “Tell us about your family’s debts. We’ll do our best to pay them back.”
President’s spokesperson Dmitry Peskov was caught off guard with a tricky question, “Where’re Russia’s self-declared international borders are located?”
“You should ask people in Russia’s new territories,” Peskov answered.
Imagine Joe Biden at a press conference. “Mr. President, can you clarify where are the United States’ northern international borders at?”
“Don’t ask me. Ask people in Manitoba and Ontario of that fake country Canada that we’ve been trying to invade for seven months. They know better.”
FSB ordered propagandists to pile up pressure on army generals and blame them for failures in Ukraine. FSB’s talking head Strelkov-Girkin floods Internet with the conspiracy theory that Ukraine was a trap set by America. Translation: we provided excellent intel to the president, it’s the army generals who have screwed it up.
Russian conscripts use foot wraps like in World War Two.
To add insult to injury, Putin awarded Ramsan Kadyrov with the rank Colonel General (three stars). He received Lt. General just seven months ago. Ramsan Kadyrov fought only once, for the Chechens against Russian Army!
The Col. General rank is given to district, front and army commanders, deputy minister of defence, deputy head of the general staff. This is a calculated spit in the faces of the MoD top brass, to avoid their sworn enemy with the high rank in their armed forces.
Kadyrov has 30,000 bayonets of his private army that he deliberately has spared from fighting in Ukraine (they shot TikTok videos). The head of PMC Wagner Progozhin has been recruiting inmates from penal colonies and swore “to whack that f—- St. Petersburg governor” as he wants to have monopoly on the mobilised “meat.”
Their combined forces have over 100,000 bayonets of the private armies whose fighters swore to personally serve them. They might block what’s left of the 1st Taman Tank Division in Naro-Fominsk and try to grab power in Moscow and St. Petersburg after Putin’s dead.
“A land without people for a people without land.” At the turn of the 20th century, that slogan promoted Jewish migration to Palestine. It could be recycled today, justifying a Chinese takeover of Siberia. Of course, Russia’s Asian hinterland isn’t really empty (and neither was Palestine). But Siberia is as resource-rich and people-poor as China is the opposite. The weight of that logic scares the Kremlin.
Moscow recently restored the Imperial Arch in the Far Eastern frontier town of Blagoveshchensk, declaring: “The earth along the Amur was, is and always will be Russian.” But Russia’s title to all of the land is only about 150 years old. And the sprawl of highrises in Heihe, the Chinese boomtown on the south bank of the Amur, right across from Blagoveshchensk, casts doubt on the “always will be” part of the old czarist slogan.
Like love, a border is real only if both sides believe in it. And on both sides of the Sino-Russian border, that belief is wavering.
Siberia – the Asian part of Russia, east of the Ural Mountains – is immense. It takes up three-quarters of Russia’s land mass, the equivalent of the entire U.S. and India put together. It’s hard to imagine such a vast area changing hands. But like love, a border is real only if both sides believe in it. And on both sides of the Sino-Russian border, that belief is wavering.
The border, all 2,738 miles of it, is the legacy of the Convention of Peking of 1860 and other unequal pacts between a strong, expanding Russia and a weakened China after the Second Opium War. (Other European powers similarly encroached upon China, but from the south. Hence the former British foothold in Hong Kong, for example.)
The 1.35 billion Chinese people south of the border outnumber Russia’s 144 million almost 10 to 1. The discrepancy is even starker for Siberia on its own, home to barely 38 million people, and especially the border area, where only 6 million Russians face over 90 million Chinese. With intermarriage, trade and investment across that border, Siberians have realized that, for better or for worse, Beijing is a lot closer than Moscow.
The vast expanses of Siberia would provide not just room for China’s huddled masses, now squeezed into the coastal half of their country by the mountains and deserts of western China. The land is already providing China, “the factory of the world,” with much of its raw materials, especially oil, gas and timber. Increasingly, Chinese-owned factories in Siberia churn out finished goods, as if the region already were a part of the Middle Kingdom’s economy.
One day, China might want the globe to match the reality. In fact, Beijing could use Russia’s own strategy: hand out passports to sympathizers in contested areas, then move in militarily to “protect its citizens.” The Kremlin has tried that in Transnistria, Abkhazia, South Ossetia and most recently the Crimea, all formally part of other post-Soviet states, but controlled by Moscow. And if Beijing chose to take Siberia by force, the only way Moscow could stop would be using nuclear weapons.
There is another path: Under Vladimir Putin, Russia is increasingly looking east for its future – building a Eurasian Union even wider than the one inaugurated recently in Astana, the capital of Kazakhstan, a staunch Moscow ally. Perhaps two existing blocs – the Eurasian one encompassing Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization – could unite China, Russia and most of the ‘stans. Putin’s critics fear that this economic integration would reduce Russia, especially Siberia, to a raw materials exporter beholden to Greater China. And as the Chinese learned from the humiliation of 1860, facts on the ground can become lines on the map.
Why are America’s plutocrats funding efforts to weaken our democracy and replace it with plutocracy and oligarchy? Is it just about money? Or is there something much deeper that most Americans rarely even consider?
An extraordinary investigative report from documented.net tells how morbidly rich families, their companies, and their personal foundations are funding efforts to limit or restrict democracy across the United States.
In an article co-published with The Guardian, they noted:
“The advocacy arm of the Heritage Foundation, the powerful conservative think tank based in Washington, spent more than $5m on lobbying in 2021 as it worked to block federal voting rights legislation and advance an ambitious plan to spread its far-right agenda calling for aggressive voter suppression measures in battleground states.”
Their efforts have had substantial success, as you can read in Documented’s article.
This effort, of course, is not unique to the one think tank they called out. From Donald Trump all the way down to the lowest Republican county official, efforts to make it harder for what John Adams called “the rabble” to vote and otherwise participate in democracy are in full swing across America.
But why? Why are some wealthy people so opposed to expanding democracy in America?
Most Americans — and lots of editorial writers — are convinced it’s simply because rich folks want to influence legislation to benefit themselves and keep their regulations and taxes down. I proposed a motive like that in yesterday’s Daily Take.
And surely, for some, that’s the largest part of it. But that’s not the entire story.
I can’t claim (nor would I) to know the exact motives driving the various wealthy individuals funding efforts to reduce the Black, Hispanic, senior, and youth vote. But history does suggest that many are trying to “stabilize” America rather than just pillage her.
They are worried that America is suffering from too much democracy.
The modern-day backstory to this starts in the early 1950s when conservative thinker Russell Kirk proposed a startling hypothesis that would fundamentally change our nation and the world.
The American middle-class at that time was growing more rapidly than any middle-class had ever grown in the history of the world, both in terms of the number of people in the middle class, the income of those people, and the overall wealth that those people were accumulating.
The middle-class was growing in wealth and income back then, in fact, faster than were the top 1%.
Kirk and colleagues like William F. Buckley postulated that if the middle-class and minorities became too wealthy, they’d feel the safety and freedom to throw themselves actively into our political processes, as rich people had historically done.
That expansion of democracy, they believed, would produce an absolute collapse of our nation’s social order — producing chaos, riots, and possibly even the end of the republic.
The first chapter of Kirk’s 1951 book, The Conservative Mind, is devoted to Edmund Burke, the British conservative who Thomas Paine visited for two weeks in 1793 on his way to get arrested in the French revolution. Paine was so outraged by Burke’s arguments that he wrote an entire book rebutting them titled The Rights of Man. It’s still in print (as is Burke).
Burke was defending, among other things, Britain’s restrictions on democracy, including limits on who could vote or run for office, and the British maximum wage.
Burke and his contemporaries in the late 1700s believed that if working-class people made too much money, they’d have enough spare time to use democratic processes to challenge the social order and collapse the British kingdom.
Too much democracy, Burke believed, was a dangerous thing: deadly to nations and a violation of evolution and nature itself.
Summarizing his debate with Paine about the French Revolution, Burke wrote:
“The occupation of a hair-dresser, or of a working tallow-chandler [candle maker], cannot be a matter of honour to any person—to say nothing of a number of other more servile employments. Such descriptions of men ought not to suffer oppression from the state; but the state suffers oppression, if such as they, either individually or collectively are permitted to rule [by voting]. In this you think you are combating prejudice, but you are at war with nature.”
That was why Parliament passed a law making it illegal for employers to pay people over a certain amount, so as to keep wage-earners right at the edge of poverty throughout their lives.
It was explicitly to avoid too much democracy and preserve the stability of the kingdom. (For the outcome of this policy, read pretty much any Dickens novel.)
Picking up on this, Kirk’s followers argued that if the American middle-class became wealthy enough to have time for political activism, there would be similarly dire consequences.
Young people would cease to respect their elders, they warned. Women would stop respecting (and depending on) their husbands. Minorities would begin making outrageous demands and set the country on fire.
When Kirk laid this out in 1951, only a few conservative intellectuals took him seriously.
Skeptics of multiracial egalitarian democracy like William F. Buckley and Barry Goldwater were electrified by his writings and line of thinking, but Republicans like then-President Dwight Eisenhower said of people like Kirk and his wealthy supporters:
— In 1961, the birth control pill was legalized and by 1964 was in widespread use; this helped kick off the Women’s Liberation Movement, as women, now in control of their reproductive capacity, demanded equality in the workplace. Bra burning became a thing, at least in pop culture lore.
— By 1967, young people on college campuses were also in revolt; the object of their anger was an illegal war in Vietnam. Along with national protest, draft card burning was also a thing.
— The labor movement was feeling it’s oats: strikes spread across America throughout the 1960s from farm workers in California to steel workers in Pennsylvania. In the one year of 1970 alone, over 3 million workers walked out in 5,716 strikes.
— And throughout that decade African Americans were demanding an end to police violence and an expansion of Civil and Voting Rights. In response to several brutal and well-publicized instances of police violence against Black people in the late 1960s, riots broke out and several of our cities were on fire.
These four movements all hitting America at the same time got the attention of Republicans who had previously ignored or even ridiculed Kirk’s 1950s warnings about the dangers of the middle class and minorities embracing democracy.
Suddenly, he seemed like a prophet. And the GOP turned on a dime.
The Republican/Conservative “solution” to the “national crisis” these movements represented was put into place with the election of 1980: the project of the Reagan Revolution was to dial back democracy while taking the middle class down a peg, and thus end the protests and social instability.
Their goal was, at its core, to save America from itself.
The plan was to declare war on labor unions so wages could slide down or at least remain frozen for a few decades; end free college across the nation so students would study in fear rather than be willing to protest; and increase the penalties Nixon had already put on drugs so they could use those laws against hippy antiwar protesters and Black people demanding participation in democracy.
“You want to know what this was really all about? The Nixon campaign in 1968, and the Nixon White House after that, had two enemies: the antiwar left and Black people. Do you understand what I’m saying?
“We knew we couldn’t make it illegal to be either against the war or Black, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and Blacks with heroin and then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities.
“We could arrest their leaders, raid their homes, break up their meetings, and vilify them night after night on the evening news. Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course we did.”
While it looks from the outside like the singular mission of the Reagan Revolution was simply to help rich people and giant corporations get richer and more powerful (and that’s certainly been the effect), the ideologues driving the movement also thought they were restoring stability to the United States, both socially, economically, and — most important — politically.
The middle class was out of control by the late 1960s, they believed, and something had to be done. There was too much democracy, and it was tearing America apart.
Looking back at the “solutions” England used around the time of the American Revolution (and for 1000 years before) and advocated by Edmund Burke and other conservative thinkers throughout history, Republicans saw a remedy to the crisis. As a bonus, it had the side effect of helping their biggest donors and thus boosting their political war-chests.
If working people, women, minorities, and students were a bit more desperate about their economic situations, these conservative thinkers asserted, then they’d be less likely to organize, protest, strike, or even vote. The unevenness, the instability, the turbulence of democracy in the 1960s would be calmed.
— To accomplish this, Reagan massively cut taxes on rich people and raised taxes on working-class people 11 times.
— He put a tax on Social Security income and unemployment benefits and put in a mechanism to track and tax tips income, all of which had previously been tax-free but were exclusively needed and used by working-class people.
— He ended the deductibility of credit-card, car-loan and student-debt interest, overwhelmingly claimed by working-class people. At the same time, he cut the top tax bracket for millionaires and multimillionaires from 74% to 27%. (There were no billionaires in America then, in large part because of FDR’s previous tax policies; the modern explosion of billionaires followed Reagan’s massive tax cuts for the rich.)
— He declared war on labor unions, crushed PATCO in less than a week, and over the next decade the result of his war on labor was that union membership went from about a third of the American non-government workforce when he came into office to around 10% today.
— He brought a young lawyer named John Roberts into the White House to work out ways to overturn the 1973 Roe v Wade Supreme Court decision. His VP brought in his son, George W., to build bridges between the GOP and the most fanatical branches of evangelical Christianity, who opposed both women’s rights and the Civil Rights movement.
— He and Bush also husbanded the moribund 1947 General Agreement on Tariffs and Trades (GATT, which let Clinton help create the WTO) and NAFTA, which opened a floodgate for American companies to move manufacturing overseas, leaving American workers underemployed while cutting corporate donor’s labor costs and union membership.
And, sure enough, it worked.
— Reagan’s doubling-down on the War on Drugs shattered Black communities and our prison population became the largest in the world, both as a percentage of our population and in absolute numbers.
— His War on Labor cut average inflation-adjusted minimum and median wages by more over a couple of decades than anybody had seen since the Republican Great Depression of the 1930s.
— And his War on Students jacked up the cost of education so high that an entire generation is today so saddled with more than $1.7 trillion in student debt that many aren’t willing to jeopardize their future by “acting up” on campuses.
The key to selling all this to the American people was the idea that the US shouldn’t protect the rights of workers, subsidize education, or enforce Civil Rights laws because, Republicans said, government itself is a remote, dangerous and incompetent power that can legally use guns to enforce its will.
As Reagan told us in his first inaugural, democracy was not the solution to our problems, but democracy — government — instead was the problem itself.
He ridiculed the once-noble idea of service to one’s country and joked that there were really no good people left in government because if they were smart or competent they’d be working in the private sector for a lot more money.
He told us that the nine most frightening words in the English language were:
“I’m from the government, and I’m here to help.”
Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, wealthy people associated with Kirk’s and Reagan’s Republicans built a massive infrastructure of think tanks and media outlets to promote and amplify this message about the dangers of too much democracy.
As the reporting from documented.net indicates, they’re working at it with as much enthusiasm today as ever.
It so completely swept America that by the 1990s even President Bill Clinton was repeating things like, “The era of big government is over,” and “This is the end of welfare as we know it.” Limbaugh, Hannity and other right-wing radio talkers were getting millions a year in subsidies from groups like the Heritage Foundation, the group documented.net wrote about yesterday.
Fox News today carries on the tradition, warning almost daily about the danger of “people in the streets” or political movements like anti-fascism and BLM.
When you look at the long arc of post-Agricultural Revolution human history you discover that Burke was right when he claimed that oligarchy — rule by the rich — has been the norm, not the exception.
And it’s generally provided at least a modicum of stability: feudal Europe changed so little for over a thousand years that we simply refer to that era as the Dark Ages followed by the Middle Ages without detail. It’s all kind of black-and-white fuzzy in our mind’s eye.
Popes, kings, queens, pharaohs, emperors: none allowed democracy because all knew it was both a threat to their wealth and power but also because, they asserted, it would render their nations unstable.
These historic leaders — and their modern day “strongman” versions emerging in former democracies like Hungary, Poland, Turkey, Egypt, The Philippines, and Russia — are the model for many of today’s conservatives. And not just because they were rich.
Understanding this history gives us clues to how we can revive democracy in America. Step one is to help people realize that instability, like labor pains before birth, is not a bad thing for a democracy but most frequently is a sign of emerging and positive political and social advances.
Hopefully one day soon our vision of an all-inclusive democracy — the original promise of America, to quote historian Harvey Kaye — will be realized. But first we’re going to have to get past the millions of dollars mobilized by democracy’s skeptics.
I believe it’s possible. But it’s going to take all of us getting involved to make it happen. As both Bernie Sanders and Barack Obama were fond of saying: “Democracy is not a spectator sport.”
Russian President Vladimir Putin’s war in Ukraine was meant to be his crowning achievement, a demonstration of how far Russia had come since the collapse of the Soviet empire in 1991. Annexing Ukraine was supposed to be a first step in reconstructing a Russian empire. Putin intended to expose the United States as a paper tiger outside Western Europe and to demonstrate that Russia, along with China, was destined for a leadership role in a new, multipolar international order.
It hasn’t turned out that way. Kyiv held strong, and the Ukrainian military has been transformed into a juggernaut, thanks in part to a close partnership with the United States and Western allies. The Russian military, in contrast, has demonstrated poor strategic thinking and organization. The political system behind it has proved unable to learn from its mistakes. With little prospect of dictating Putin’s actions, the West will have to prepare for the next stage of Russia’s disastrous war of choice.
War is inherently unpredictable. Indeed, the course of the conflict has served to invalidate widespread early prognostications that Ukraine would quickly fall; a reversal of fortunes is impossible to discount. It nevertheless appears that Russia is headed for defeat. Less certain is what form this defeat will take. Three basic scenarios exist, and each one would have different ramifications for policymakers in the West and Ukraine.
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The first and least likely scenario is that Russia will agree to its defeat by accepting a negotiated settlement on Ukraine’s terms. A great deal would have to change for this scenario to materialize because any semblance of diplomatic dialogue among Russia, Ukraine, and the West has vanished. The scope of Russian aggression and the extent of Russian war crimes would make it difficult for Ukraine to accept any diplomatic settlement that amounted to anything less than a total Russian surrender.
That said, a Russian government—under Putin or a successor—could try to retain Crimea and sue for peace elsewhere. To save face domestically, the Kremlin could claim it is preparing for the long game in Ukraine, leaving open the possibility of additional military incursions. It could blame its underperformance on NATO, arguing that the alliance’s weapon deliveries, not Ukraine’s strength, impeded a Russian victory. For this approach to pass muster within the regime, hard-liners—possibly including Putin himself—would have to be marginalized. This would be difficult but not impossible. Still, under Putin this outcome is highly improbable, given that his approach to the war has been maximalist from the beginning.
A second scenario for Russian defeat would involve failure amid escalation. The Kremlin would nihilistically seek to prolong the war in Ukraine while launching a campaign of unacknowledged acts of sabotage in countries that support Kyiv and in Ukraine itself. In the worst case, Russia could opt for a nuclear attack on Ukraine. The war would then edge toward a direct military confrontation between NATO and Russia. Russia would transform from a revisionist state into a rogue one, a transition that is already underway, and that would harden the West’s conviction that Russia poses a unique and unacceptable threat. Crossing the nuclear threshold could lead to NATO’s conventional involvement in the war, accelerating Russia’s defeat on the ground.
The final scenario for the war’s end would be defeat through regime collapse, with the decisive battles taking place not in Ukraine but rather in the halls of the Kremlin or in the streets of Moscow. Putin has concentrated power rigidly in his own hands, and his obstinacy in pursuing a losing war has placed his regime on shaky ground. Russians will continue marching behind their inept tsar only to a certain point. Although Putin has brought political stability to Russia—a prized state of affairs given the ruptures of the post-Soviet years—his citizens could turn on him if the war leads to general privation. The collapse of his regime could mean an immediate end to the war, which Russia would be unable to wage amid the ensuing domestic chaos. A coup d’état followed by civil war would echo what happened after the Bolshevik takeover in 1917, which precipitated Russia’s withdrawal from World War I.
No matter how it comes about, a Russian defeat would of course be welcomed. It would free Ukraine from the terrors it has suffered since the invasion. It would reinforce the principle that an attack on another country cannot go unpunished. It might open up new opportunities for Belarus, Georgia, and Moldova, and for the West to finish ordering Europe in its image. For Belarus, a path could emerge toward the end of dictatorship and toward free and fair elections. Georgia, Moldova, and Ukraine could strive together for eventual integration into the European Union and possibly NATO, following the model of Central and Eastern European governments after the fall of the Soviet Union.
Though Russia’s defeat would have many benefits, the United States and Europe should prepare for the regional and global disorder it would produce. Since 2008, Russia has been a revisionist power. It has redrawn borders, annexed territory, meddled in elections, inserted itself into various African conflicts, and altered the geopolitical dynamic of the Middle East by propping up Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Were Russia to pursue radical escalation or splinter into chaos instead of accepting a defeat through negotiation, the repercussions would be felt in Asia, Europe, and the Middle East. Disorder could take the form of separatism and renewed conflicts in and around Russia, the world’s largest country in landmass. The transformation of Russia into a failed state riven by civil war would revive questions that Western policymakers had to grapple with in 1991: for example, who would gain control of Russia’s nuclear weapons? A disorderly Russian defeat would leave a dangerous hole in the international system.
CAN’T TALK YOUR WAY OUT
Trying to sell Putin on defeat through negotiation would be difficult, perhaps impossible. (It would be much likelier under a successor.) Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky would demand that Moscow abandon its claim on the nominally Russian-controlled territories in Donetsk, Kherson, Luhansk, and Zaporizhzhia. Putin has already celebrated the annexation of these areas with pomp and circumstance. It is doubtful he would do an about-face after this patriotic display despite Russia’s tenuous hold on this territory. Any Russian leader, whether Putin or someone else, would resist relinquishing Crimea, the part of Ukraine that Russia annexed in 2014.
Conditions on the ground in Russia would have to be conducive to compromise. A new Russian leadership would have to contend with a demoralized military and gamble on a complacent public acceding to capitulation. Russians could eventually become indifferent if the war grinds on with no clear resolution. But fighting would likely continue in parts of eastern Ukraine, and tensions between the two countries would remain high.
Still, an agreement with Ukraine could bring normalization of relations with the West. That would be a powerful incentive for a less militaristic Russian leader than Putin, and it would appeal to many Russians. Western leaders could also be enticed to push for negotiations in the interest of ending the war. The hitch here is timing. In the first two months after the February 2022 invasion, Russia had the chance to negotiate with Zelensky and capitalize on its battlefield leverage. After Ukraine’s successful counteroffensives, however, Kyiv has little reason to concede anything at all. Since invading, Russia has upped the ante and escalated hostilities instead of showing a willingness to compromise. A less intransigent leader than Putin might lead Ukraine to consider negotiating. In the face of defeat, Putin could resort to lashing out on the global stage. He has steadily expanded his framing of the war, claiming that the West is waging a proxy battle against Russia with the goal of destroying the country. His 2022 speeches were more megalomaniacal versions of his address at the Munich Security Conference 15 years earlier, in which he denounced American exceptionalism, arguing that the United States “has overstepped its national borders in every way.”
Part bluster, part nonsense, part trial balloon, Putin’s rhetoric is meant to mobilize Russians emotionally. But there is also a tactical logic behind it: although expanding the war beyond Ukraine will obviously not win Putin the territory he craves, it could prevent Ukraine and the West from winning the conflict. His bellicose language is laying the groundwork for escalation and a twenty-first-century confrontation with the West in which Russia would seek to exploit its asymmetric advantages as a rogue or terrorist state.
The consequences of a Russian nuclear attack would be catastrophic, and not just for Ukraine.
Russia’s tools for confrontation could include the use of chemical or biological weapons in or outside Ukraine. Putin could destroy energy pipelines or seabed infrastructure or mount cyberattacks on the West’s financial institutions. The use of tactical nuclear weapons could be his last resort. In a speech on September 30, Putin brought up Hiroshima and Nagasaki, offering jumbled interpretations of World War II’s end phase. The analogy is imperfect, to put it mildly. If Russia were to use a tactical nuclear weapon in Ukraine, Kyiv would not surrender. For one thing, Ukrainians know that Russian occupation would equal the extinction of their country, which was not the case for Japan in 1945. In addition, Japan was losing the war at the time. As of late 2022, it was Russia, the nuclear power, that was losing.
The consequences of a nuclear attack would be catastrophic, and not just for the Ukrainian population. Yet war would go on, and nuclear weapons would not do much to assist Russian soldiers on the ground. Instead, Russia would face international outrage. For now, Brazil, China, and India have not condemned Russia’s invasion, but no country is truly supporting Moscow in its horrific war, and none would support the use of nuclear weapons. Chinese President Xi Jinping made this publicly explicit in November: after he met with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, he issued a statement declaring that the leaders “jointly oppose the use or threat of the use of nuclear weapons.” If Putin did defy this warning, he would be an isolated pariah, punished economically and perhaps militarily by a global coalition.
For Russia, then, threatening to use nuclear weapons is of greater utility than actually doing so. But Putin may still go down this path: after all, launching the invasion was a spectacularly ill-conceived move, and yet he did it. If he does opt for breaking the nuclear taboo, NATO is unlikely to respond in kind, so as to avoid risking an apocalyptic nuclear exchange. The alliance, however, would in all likelihood respond with conventional force to weaken Russia’s military and to prevent further nuclear attacks, risking an escalatory spiral should Russia launch conventional attacks on NATO in return.
Even if this scenario could be avoided, a Russian defeat after nuclear use would still have dangerous repercussions. It would create a world without the imperfect nuclear equilibrium of the Cold War and the 30-year post–Cold War era. It would encourage leaders around the globe to go nuclear because it would appear that their safety could only be assured by acquiring nuclear weapons and showing a willingness to use them. A helter-skelter age of proliferation would ensue, to the immense detriment of global security.
HEAVY IS THE HEAD
At this point, the Russian public has not risen up to oppose the war. Russians may be skeptical of Putin and may not trust his government. But they also do not want their sons, fathers, and brothers in uniform to lose on the battlefield. Accustomed to Russia’s great-power status through the centuries and isolated from the West, most Russians would not want their country to be without any power and influence in Europe. That would be a natural consequence of a Russian defeat in Ukraine.
Still, a long war would commit Russians to a bleak future and would probably spark a revolutionary flame in the country. Russian casualties have been high, and as the Ukrainian military grows in strength, it can inflict still greater losses. The exodus of hundreds of thousands of young Russians, many of them highly skilled, has been astonishing. Over time, the combination of war, sanctions, and brain drain will take a massive toll—and Russians may eventually blame Putin, who began his presidential career as a self-proclaimed modernizer. Most Russians were insulated from his previous wars because they generally occurred far from the home front and didn’t require a mass mobilization to replenish troops. That’s not the case with the war in Ukraine.
Russia has a history of regime change in the aftermath of unsuccessful wars. The Russo-Japanese War of 1904–5 and World War I helped lead to the Bolshevik Revolution. The collapse of the Soviet Union, in 1991, came two years after the end of the Soviet military’s misadventure in Afghanistan. Revolutions have occurred in Russia when the government has failed in its economic and political objectives and has been unresponsive to crises. Generally, the coup de grâce has been the puncturing of the government’s underlying ideology, such as the loss of legitimacy of Russia’s monarchy and tsardom in the midst of hunger, poverty, and a faltering war effort in 1917.
Putin is at risk in all these categories. His management of the war has been awful, and the Russian economy is contracting. In the face of these dismal trends, Putin has doubled down on his errors, all the while insisting that the war is going “according to plan.” Repression can solve some of his problems: the arrest and prosecution of dissidents can quell protest at first. But Putin’s heavy hand also runs the risk of spurring more dissatisfaction.
If Putin were deposed, it is unclear who would succeed him. For the first time since coming to power in 1999, Putin’s “power vertical”—a highly centralized government hierarchy based on loyalty to the Russian president—has been losing a degree of its verticality. Two possible contenders outside the traditional elite structures are Yevgeny Prigozhin, head of the Wagner Group, a private military contractor that has furnished mercenaries for the war on Ukraine, and Ramzan Kadyrov, the leader of the Chechen Republic. They might be tempted to chip away at the remains of Putin’s power vertical, encouraging infighting in the regime in hopes of securing a position in the center of Russia’s new power structure after Putin’s departure. They could also try to claim power themselves. They have already put pressure on the leadership of the Russian army and the Defense Ministry in response to failures in the war and attempted to broaden their own power bases with the backing of loyal paramilitary forces. Other contenders could come from traditional elite circles, such as the presidential administration, the cabinet, or military and security forces. To suppress palace intrigue, Putin has surrounded himself with mediocrities for the past 20 years. But his unsuccessful war threatens his hold on power. If he truly believes his recent speeches, he may have convinced his subordinates that he is living in a fantasy world.
The chances that a pro-Western democrat would become Russia’s next president are vanishingly small. Far more likely is an authoritarian leader in the Putinist mold. A leader from outside the power vertical could end the war and contemplate better relations with the West. But a leader who comes from within Putin’s Kremlin would not have this option because he would be trailed by a public record of supporting the war. The challenge of being a Putinist after Putin would be formidable.
One challenge would be the war, which would be no easier to manage for a successor, especially one who shared Putin’s dream of restoring Russia’s great-power status. Another challenge would be building legitimacy in a political system without any of its traditional sources. Russia has no constitution to speak of and no monarchy. Anyone who followed Putin would lack popular support and find it difficult to personify the neo-Soviet, neoimperial ideology that Putin has come to embody.
In the worst case, Putin’s fall could translate into civil war and Russia’s disintegration. Power would be contested at the top, and state control would fragment throughout the country. This period could be an echo of the Time of Troubles, or smuta, a 15-year crisis of succession in the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries marked by rebellion, lawlessness, and foreign invasion. Russians regard that era as a period of humiliation to be avoided at all costs. Russia’s twenty-first-century troubles could see the emergence of warlords from the security services and violent separatists in the country’s economically distressed regions, many of which are home to large numbers of ethnic minorities. Although a Russia in turmoil might not formally end the war in Ukraine, it might simply be unable to conduct it, in which case Ukraine would have regained its peace and independence while Russia descended into anarchy.
AGENT OF CHAOS
Putin’s invasion of Ukraine as a first step in refashioning a Russian empire has had the opposite effect. The war has diminished his ability to strong-arm Russia’s neighbors. When Azerbaijan fought a border skirmish with Armenia last year, Russia refused to intervene on Armenia’s behalf, even though it is Armenia’s formal ally.
A similar dynamic is at play in Kazakhstan. Had Kyiv capitulated, Putin might have decided to invade Kazakhstan next: the former Soviet republic has a large ethnic Russian population, and Putin has no respect for international borders. A different possibility now looms: if the Kremlin were to undergo regime change, it might free Kazakhstan from Russia’s grasp entirely, allowing the country to serve as a safe haven for Russians in exile. That would be far from the only change in the region. In the South Caucasus and in Moldova, old conflicts could revive and intensify. Ankara could continue to support its partner Azerbaijan against Armenia. Were Turkey to lose its fear of Russian opprobrium, it might urge Azerbaijan to press forward with further attacks on Armenia. In Syria, Turkey would have reason to step up its military presence if Russia were to fall back.
If Russia descended into chaos, Georgia could operate with greater latitude. The shadow of Russia’s military force, which has loomed over the country since the Russian-Georgian war in 2008, would be removed. Georgia could continue its quest to eventually become a member of the European Union, although it was bypassed as a candidate last year because of inner turmoil and a lack of domestic reforms. If the Russian military were to withdraw from the region, conflicts might again break out between Georgia and South Ossetia on the one hand and between Georgia and Abkhazia on the other. That dynamic could also emerge in Moldova and its breakaway region Transnistria, where Russian soldiers have been stationed since 1992. Moldova’s candidacy for European Union membership, announced in June 2022, might be its escape from this long-standing conflict. The European Union would surely be willing to help Moldova with conflict resolution.
Putin’s fall could translate into civil war and Russia’s disintegration.
Leadership changes in Russia would shake Belarus, where the dictator Alexander Lukashenko is propped up by Russian money and military might. Were Putin to fall, Lukashenko would in all likelihood be next. A Belarusian government in exile already exists: Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, who lives in Lithuania, became the country’s opposition leader in 2020 after her husband was jailed for trying to run against Lukashenko. Free and fair elections could be held, allowing the country to rescue itself from dictatorship, if it managed to insulate itself from Russia. If Belarus could not secure its independence, Russia’s potential internal strife could spill over there, which would in turn affect neighbors such as Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, and Ukraine.
If Russia were to truly disintegrate and lose its influence in Eurasia, other actors, such as China, would move in. Before the war, China mostly exerted economic rather than military influence in the region. That is changing. China is on the advance in Central Asia. The South Caucasus and the Middle East could be its next areas of encroachment.
A defeated and internally destabilized Russia would demand a new paradigm of global order. The reigning liberal international order revolves around the legal management of power. It emphasizes rules and multilateral institutions. The great-power-competition model, a favorite of former U.S. President Donald Trump, was about the balance of power, tacitly or explicitly viewing spheres of influence as the source of international order. If Russia were to suffer a defeat in Ukraine, policymakers would have to take into account the presence and the absence of power, in particular the absence or severe decline of Russian power. A diminished Russia would have an impact on conflicts around the globe, including those in Africa and the Middle East, not to mention in Europe. Yet a reduced or broken Russia would not necessarily usher in a golden age of order and stability.
A defeated Russia would mark a change from the past two decades, when the country was an ascendant power. Throughout the 1990s and into the first decade of this century, Russia haphazardly aspired to integrate into Europe and partner with the United States. Russia joined the G-8 and the World Trade Organization. It assisted with U.S. war efforts in Afghanistan. In the four years when Dmitry Medvedev was Russia’s president, from 2008 to 2012, Russia appeared to be playing along with the rules-based international order, if one did not look too closely behind the curtain.
A Russia amenable to peaceful coexistence with the West may have been an illusion from the beginning. Putin projected a conciliatory air early in his presidency, although he may have harbored hatred of the West, contempt for the rules-based order, and an eagerness to dominate Ukraine all along. In any case, once he retook the presidency in 2012, Russia dropped out of the rules-based order. Putin derided the system as nothing more than camouflage for a domineering United States. Russia violently encroached on Ukraine’s sovereignty by annexing Crimea, reinserted itself in the Middle East by supporting Assad in Syria’s civil war, and erected networks of Russian military and security influence in Africa. An assertive Russia and an ascendant China contributed to a paradigm of great-power competition in Beijing, Moscow, and even a post-Trump Washington.
If Russia were to disintegrate and lose its influence in Eurasia, China would move in.
Despite its acts of aggression and its substantial nuclear arsenal, Russia is in no way a peer competitor of China or the United States. Putin’s overreach in Ukraine suggests that he has not grasped this important point. But because Putin has intervened in regions around the world, a defeat in Ukraine that tore apart Russia would be a resounding shock to the international system.
The defeat could, to be sure, have positive consequences for many countries in Russia’s neighborhood. Look no further than the end of the Cold War, when the demise of the Soviet Union allowed for the emergence of more than a dozen free and prosperous countries in Europe. A Russia turned inward might help foster a “Europe whole and free,” to borrow the phrase used by U.S. President George H. W. Bush to describe American ambitions for the continent after the Cold War ended. At the same time, disarray in Russia could create a vortex of instability: less great-power competition than great-power anarchy, leading to a cascade of regional wars, migrant flows, and economic uncertainty.
Russia’s collapse could also be contagious or the start of a chain reaction, in which case neither the United States nor China would profit because both would struggle to contain the fallout. In that case, the West would need to establish strategic priorities. It would be impossible to try to fill the vacuum that a disorderly Russian defeat might leave. In Central Asia and the South Caucasus, the United States and Europe would have little chance of preventing China and Turkey from moving into the void. Instead of attempting to shut them out, a more realistic U.S. strategy would be to attempt to restrain their influence and offer an alternative, especially to China’s dominance.
Whatever form Russia’s defeat took, stabilizing eastern and southeastern Europe, including the Balkans, would be a herculean task. Across Europe, the West would have to find a creative answer to the questions that were never resolved after 1991: Is Russia a part of Europe? If not, how high should the wall between Russia and Europe be, and around which countries should it run? If Russia is a part of Europe, where and how does it fit in? Where does Europe itself start and end? The incorporation of Finland and Sweden into NATO would be only the beginning of this project. Belarus and Ukraine demonstrate the difficulties of protecting Europe’s eastern flank: those countries are the last place where Russia would give up on its great-power aspirations. And even a ruined Russia would not lose all its nuclear and conventional military capacity.
Twice in the last 106 years—in 1917 and in 1991—versions of Russia have broken apart. Twice, versions of Russia have reconstituted themselves. If Russian power recedes, the West should capitalize on that opportunity to shape an environment in Europe that serves to protect NATO members, allies, and partners. A Russian defeat would furnish many opportunities and many temptations. One of these temptations would be to expect that a defeated Russia would essentially disappear from Europe. But a defeated Russia will one day reassert itself and pursue its interests on its terms. The West should be politically and intellectually equipped both for Russia’s defeat and for Russia’s return.
MICHAEL KIMMAGE is Professor of History at the Catholic University of America and a Senior Associate at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. From 2014 to 2016, he served on the Policy Planning Staff at the U.S. Department of State.
Sometime in the fourth century B.C.E, an Athenian woman by the name of Agnodice was brought before a jury full of incredibly angry men—and she responded by calmly taking off her clothes.
Before I make it seem as if this is an article about ancient prostitution (or plain mental instability) let me clarify: Agnodice had been dressed as a man, and was brought before the jury under charges of having seduced the women of Athens—in taking off her clothing she not only proved her true gender and the charges false, but also made medical and gynecological history.
Before we can really dive into Agnodice’s story however, it’s important to point out that it is one of those tales which has always been, and will probably always be, a historical mystery. Some scholars adamantly believe that it is historical fact, while others place it in the realm of myth and legend. We may never know the real answer—but it is, without a doubt, a good story.
According to legend, Agnodice, also called Agnodike, was born into a wealthy Athenian family around the fourth century B.C.E. As she grew up, Agnodice was appalled by the high mortality rate of infants and mothers during childbirth, a traumatizing factor of female life that inspired Agnodice to study medicine—or at least to desire it. She had unfortunately been born into a time during which women were prohibited from studying or practicing any form of medicine, especially gynecology—in fact, it was considered a crime punishable by death.
Ironically, not long before Agnodice was born, women had had something of a monopoly on female medical treatment. Before the advent of Hippocratic medicine, childbirth was overseen by close female relatives or friends of the expectant mother, all of whom would have undergone labor themselves, and could therefore draw from their own experience as they coached other women through the process. Women who had a particular knack for this position slowly came to be known as maia, or midwives.
This practice was widely accepted for several years, and over time it truly began to flourish. Midwives began to accumulate an impressive breadth of lore and talent, learning enough to perform abortions, teach women about contraception and supposedly (though this is more unlikely) help women practice gender determination when attempting to become pregnant.
As men began to realize the capabilities of midwives, however, they began to feel extremely uncomfortable—even intimidated. In a world in which anxiety over lineage and heirs dominated much of the culture, the sheer amount of sexual independence offered to women by midwives and their reproductive knowledge posed a seemingly enormous threat. Men no longer wanted midwives to practice their medicine. Instead, they themselves attempted to dominate the medical field—a goal that, by the end of the fifth century B.C.E, was made more attainable with the help of Hippocrates (known today as the “Father of Medicine”) and his teaching facilities, which only admitted men. It is at this point that midwifery became punishable by death.
This proved to be a terrible blow to women—not just the women who suddenly had to give up their livelihoods, but also to the women whose labors and deliveries, without the guidance of a midwife, often ended in disaster. If you’re wondering why male doctors didn’t just take over and prevent these deadly deliveries, they certainly tried; but, in a society that highly valued female modesty, the transition from female midwives to male doctors did not prove easy.
Despite the advances of medicine ushered in by Hippocrates, and despite the willingness of newly trained men to take over the gynecological profession, women adamantly refused to let male physicians perform examinations or help with deliveries. This shyness earned women an extremely poor reputation with doctors, who began to see women as stubborn creatures with no interest in their own treatment or health. Many Hippocratic treatises that survive today describe this problem, though none admit that it could have been avoided if men had not outlawed midwifery.
Worse still than this unnecessarily poor reputation was the skyrocketing number of deaths related to childbirth.
Enter Agnodice. Determined to do something about the deaths and excruciatingly difficult deliveries that so appalled her, but legally prohibited from helping, Agnodice cut off all her hair, dressed in male clothing, and traveled to Alexandria to study medicine under Herophilos of Chalcedon (335-280 B.C.E.).
Under Herophilos, who was a follower of Hippocrates and a co-founder of the famous medical school at Alexandria, Agnodice—always in the guise of a man—learned a great deal of medicine. She then traveled back to her native Athens, where, legend has it, she heard the agonized screams of a woman in labor as she walked down the street. When she rushed in to help—still looking like a man—the mistrustful women in the room tried to force Agnodice out. Frustrated, Agnodice pulled aside her robes and revealed herself as a woman. The amazed and relieved expectant mother then accepted help from Agnodice, whose medical knowledge resulted in a safe delivery.
After this first success, news of Agnodice—who continued to dress as a man in order to practice medicine—spread throughout the female community. Suddenly, it seemed as if the services of a “male” doctor were constantly in demand.
This was immediately suspicious to the men of Athens, who believed that Agnodice was somehow seducing their wives, sisters, and daughters. Some men even claimed that the women of Athens were faking illnesses in order to be seen by Agnodice. It is because of these accusations that she was first brought before a jury.
Clearly, Agnodice could do nothing to disprove these charges other than to display the most obvious (and perhaps most scandalous) proof: and so, the legend goes, without hesitation she pulled open her robes and exposed herself to the jury.
This, of course, only made things worse for Agnodice. The revelation of her secret pushed the men of the jury from angry to livid. Furious that a woman had been practicing medicine openly, right under their noses, they immediately sentenced Agnodice to death and set a date for her execution.
Things were not looking good for this courageous cross-dresser—that is, until her patients realized what had happened.
A massive group of Athenian women (including a few very highborn wives of the men who wanted Agnodice dead) stormed the assembly, demanding that Agnodice be released. “You men are not spouses,” they said, “but enemies, since you are condemning her who discovered health for us.”
Faced with the wrath of their wives, the men relented and—amazingly—decided to change the law. Thanks to Agnodice, freeborn women could legally study and practice medicine, as long as they treated only female patients.
Agnodice’s story has earned her the title of “first female physician” or “first female gynecologist” in many circles, particularly in the medical world, and she herself has become a symbol of female equality, determination, and ingenuity. The big question here is, of course, did she really exist?
The only surviving record of Agnodice’s story is attributed to a Latin author named Gaius Julius Hyginus (64 B.C.E.—C.E. 17), most of whose many treatises have been lost. What now survives are two abbreviated texts—Fabulae and Poetical Astronomy—which are so poorly written that most scholars believe them to be a novice schoolboy’s notes on Hyginus’ treatises. The story of Agnodice’s cross-dressing and medical practice can be found in Fabulae, and comprises no more than a single paragraph in a section called “Inventors and their Inventions” (Section CCLXXIV).
While some scholars believe that this short record represents historical fact, or at least a legend built up around a real, historical personage, there are many factors that would seem to disprove this theory.
For example, Agnodice’s story contains key tropes which were often present in ancient legends and stories. Her bold decision to remove her garments in order to display her true gender, for instance, is a relatively frequent occurrence in ancient myths—so much so that archeologists have unearthed a number of terracotta figures which appear to be dramatically disrobing.
Agnodice’s name itself also makes her story seem less realistic. When literally translated, the name means “chaste before justice.” This practice of endowing a character with a name that points to some aspect of their story was very common in Greek myth and literature.
And, of course, there is the fact that her story appears at all in Hyginus’ Fabulae. After all, “fabulae” means “stories”—the text describes close to three hundred myths and divine blood lines, many of them extremely recognizable. It is essentially a collection of the Greek myths that any well-bred and cultured Roman student was expected to know. The very fact that Agnodice’s tale is included in such a text places her more in the realm of legend than of fact.
Myth or not, however, there is a lot to be learned from a story like Agnodice’s. In the end, Agnodice not only represents the (to this day slightly contentious) desire for women to control their own bodies, but also the underdog’s determination in the face of impossible odds or deadly threats. Her story also teaches us the importance of banding together as a community. Agnodice alone could never have changed the law in Athens—it was only with the help and support of her community that she was able to really effect any change. It is for these reasons that she remains an inspiration to women and men alike today.
Christine Granville, ripped from her country by the Nazis, an avenging angel–weighed down by medals and honors after WWII, but unable to adapt to a postwar world. 3 videos:https://vimeo.com/78836231 and a summary of her career below–
The most incredible spy of the war was a woman called Krystyna Skarbek. She was the inspiration for Ian Fleming’s female spy, Vesper Lynd. However, Skarbek’s exploits were even more incredible than any Bond story.
An aristocratic Pole with a Jewish mother, she later took on the name Christine Granville. As well as being a beauty queen, Skarbek was a champion skier. She used her prowess in skiing to cross the snow covered Tatra mountains with information for the Allies from the Polish underground about the Nazis. She was credited with passing on the first piece of intelligence about the impending German invasion of the Soviet Union.
Skarbek was cool and calm under pressure. On one occasion when her false papers were discovered by the Germans at a checkpoint, she broke the thread connecting her glass necklace together. As the glass pieces fell to the floor, she cried out ‘my diamonds, my diamonds!’ While the guards dived for the fake jewellery she and her partner quickly ran for the trees and escaped.
On another occasion she was arrested and imprisoned by the Germans. She bit her tongue so hard that it bled and then started to cough up the blood. The guards, terrified of catching TB, transferred her to the infirmary where again she escaped. She eventually made her way to Britain via the Middle East. As a fluent French speaker she was quickly recruited by Special operations Executive (SOE), the secret organisation tasked by Churchill with ‘setting occupied Europe ablaze’ .
She became the first woman to win her parachute wings and was dropped into France to join the Jockey network to work with another British SOE agent, Francis Cammaerts.
I met Francis Cammaerts. He was the Principal of the College I attended and was a brilliant man. He began the war as a pacifist but had a change of heart when his RAF pilot brother was shot down and killed. While in France, Cammaerts and Skarbek became lovers. They both took part in the ill-fated attempt by the Maquis, a French resistance group, to liberate the whole of the Vercor Plateau. The uprising was crushed when German paratroopers landed on the Massif and the Maquis were decimated. Fortunately both Skarbek and Cammaerts managed to break out of the encirclement and got away.
However by August 1944 Cammaerts’ luck ran out. He was arrested by the Gestapo at a checkpoint when they discovered the money he was carrying all had consecutive serial numbers.
Skarbek was distraught. She first tried to persuade the British to launch an air attack on Gestapo headquarters. She then tried to talk the French Maquis into launching a ground assault on the building. Neither would come to her aid. However Skarbek was a force to be reckoned with. Taking matters into her own hands she just walked into Gestapo headquarters armed only with a suitcase stuffed full of cash and claimed to be General Montgomery’s niece. Using her infinite charm she offered even more money and the written guarantee of a pardon for any war crimes committed if Cammaerts was freed.
Amazingly her bravado and nerve paid off and Cammaerts was released.
There is much more to this story, so I won’t spoil it all by telling you how it ends. Much of what I have written here comes from Clare Mulley’s brilliant biography of Skarbek called “The Spy who Loved”. The story of the Gestapo headquarters I heard directly from Francis Cammaerts.
Jailed municipal deputy Alexei Gorinov holds placard “I’m against war” in a courthouse in Moscow.
The Meshchansky District Court of Moscow sentenced Alexei Gorinov, a municipal deputy of the Krasnoselsky District, to 7 years in penal colony. He is also deprived of the right to hold positions in state bodies and local governments.
Mr. Gorinov was found guilty of disseminating deliberately false information about the actions of the Russian armed forces.
The reason for starting the criminal prosecution of the deputy was his public speech at a meeting of deputies on March 15, 2022 when he said that the organisation of leisure for Muscovites is unacceptable when “military operations are being conducted on the territory of a neighboring sovereign state.”
Alexei Gorinov’s last words at the trial on July 7, 2022 were about “unlearned lessons of history.” Below is the full text in English:
“I think, or it always seemed to me, that our country’s common past teaches us several important lessons.
My father returned from World War II disabled. As did his brother. They were the lucky ones. His sacred duty was to protect the Fatherland from the enemy.
I also remember Moscow in the 1960s: WW2 veterans without arms, without legs, blind. There were many of those in our home. I grew up among them.
The survivors of that war were tongue-tied with stories about it. As I got older, I understood why. Because war in itself, as a human occupation, no matter what synonym you call it, is the most vile and dirty thing. A matter unworthy of the title of a person who is entrusted by the Universe and evolution with the care of preserving and increasing all life on our planet.
I am convinced of this: war is the fastest means of dehumanization, when the line between good and evil is blurred. War is always violence and blood, torn bodies and severed limbs. It is always death. I don’t accept it and reject it.
Our common past taught me this. And, probably, not only me – in the Criminal Code of Russia there are articles 353 and 354, which provide for severe punishment for the preparation, conduct and propaganda of an aggressive war. And I erroneously believed that Russia exhausted its limit on wars back in the twentieth century.
However, our present condition is Bucha, Irpen, Gostomel… Do the names of these cities tell you anything? Find out what happened there. And don’t say later that you didn’t know anything.
For five months, Russia has been conducting hostilities on the territory of a neighboring state, bashfully calling it ‘special military operation.’
We are promised victory and glory. Why, then, do so many of my fellow citizens feel shame and guilt? Why did many people leave Russia and continue to leave? And why did our country suddenly have so many enemies?
Maybe there is something wrong with us? Let’s think! Give us a chance to at least talk about what’s going on. Let us exchange opinions. This is, after all, our constitutional right!
In fact this is what I did it. At a meeting of the municipal council, I expressed my opinion, my human attitude to that subject. I based this opinion, this attitude, on my convictions. And I was supported by the majority of those present!
And now I’m in court.
It seems, this is another unlearned lesson lesson from our past. Persecution for the spoken and written word, fabricated cases, a speedy trial, a belated insight: ‘How could it be? We didn’t know!’
During the years of Stalinist terror, my grandfather was accused of calling for the overthrow of the Soviet system, in the creation and strengthening of which he participated in the most direct way. Grandfather lived to see see his rehabilitation, after half a century.
I hope my rehabilitation will take much less time.
But for now, I’m here in the courtroom.
My criminal case is one of the first to be heard, but hundreds of such criminal cases have been initiated in Russia against my fellow citizens who think and speak out about what is happening. You destroy families. You break the young people’s lives.
And being here first, I speak for all of them who have not yet been brought to justice.
Several phrases I uttered at an everyday meeting of the Council of Deputies were examined under a microscope.
An investigative group of nine investigators has been formed, six of which are of ‘particularly important cases.’ The five experts are linguists and psychologists. They delved into my thoughts, trying to understand: what is really behind the opinion expressed by me to my fellow deputies on one of the issues on the agenda of the meeting. What was my secret meaning and hidden message? What is really behind these phrases of mine? They have compiled 120 pages of examinations.
Meanwhile, Article 29 of the Russian Constitution guarantees everyone the freedom of thought and speech – if we are not talking about the propaganda of hatred, enmity, superiority. Everyone has the right to freely seek, receive, transmit, produce and distribute information in any lawful manner. Freedom of the media is guaranteed. Censorship is prohibited. By Constitution.
In the days of the August putsch in 1991, I was also a councillor.
Together with other defenders, I was at the building of the Supreme Council of the Republic, the “White House”. We protected our future. Our right to live freely – which means to speak freely, to express our thoughts, to collect information and share it.
If they had said then that in thirty years I would be tried by a criminal court for my words, for my opinion, I would not have believed it.
The reasons for such a sad outcome, to which our society has succumbed, will require careful study and reflection by historians. They will require not only reflection, but also conclusions. It won’t be easy, but we will have to accept that war is war. We must rehabilitate the victims and try the perpetrators. We must restore the good name of our people, our country.
In the meantime, I wish our government prudence.
Wisdom to judges.
To all who are subjected to a new wave of repression: steadfastness, as well as to the Ukrainian people.
To myself, to become in the future Russian ambassador to Ukraine.
To everyone who supported me directly or at a distance, do not lose heart! I’m with you!”
Russia is said to have built a new 100-megaton underwater nuclear doomsday device, and it has threatened the US with it.
The device goes beyond traditional ideas of nuclear warfighting and poses a direct threat to the future of humanity or life on Earth.
Nobody has ever built a weapon like this before, because there’s almost no military utility in so badly destroying the world.
But an expert on nuclear strategy told Business Insider the weapon might have a larger role in helping Russian President Vladimir Putin break down NATO with the threat of nuclear destruction.
Since 2015, when images of a Russian nuclear torpedo first leaked on state television, the world has asked itself why Moscow would build a weapon that could end all life on Earth.
While all nuclear weapons can kill thousands in the blink of an eye and leave radiation poisoning the environment for years to come, Russia’s new doomsday device, called “Poseidon,” takes steps to maximize this effect.
If the US fired one of its Minutemen III nuclear weapons at a target, it would detonate in the air above the target and rely on the blast’s incredible downward pressure to crush it. The fireball from the nuke may not even touch the ground, and the only radiation would come from the bomb itself and any dust particles swept up in the explosion, Stephen Schwartz, the author of “Atomic Audit,” previously told Business Insider.
But Russia’s Poseidon is said to use a warhead many times as strong, perhaps even as strong as the largest bomb ever detonated. Additionally, it’s designed to come into direct contact with water, marine animals, and the ocean floor, kicking up a radioactive tsunami that could spread deadly radiation over hundreds of thousands of miles of land and sea and render it uninhabitable for decades.
In short, while most nuclear weapons can end a city, Russia’s Poseidon could end a continent.
Even in the mania at the height of the Cold War, nobody took seriously the idea of building such a world-ender, Malcolm Davis, a senior analyst at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, told Business Insider.
So why build one now?
Davis called the Poseidon a “third-strike vengeance weapon” — meaning Russia would attack a NATO member, the US would respond, and a devastated Russia would flip the switch on a hidden nuke that would lay waste to an entire US seaboard.
According to Davis, the Poseidon would give Russia a “coercive power” to discourage a NATO response to a Russian first strike.
Russia here would seek to not only reoccupy Eastern Europe “but coerce NATO to not act upon an Article 5 declaration and thus lose credibility,” he said, referring to the alliance’s key clause that guarantees a collective response to an attack on a member state.
Russian President Vladimir Putin “has made it clear he seeks the collapse of NATO,” Davis continued. “If NATO doesn’t come to the aid of a member state, it’s pretty much finished as a defense alliance.”
Essentially, Russia could use the Poseidon as an insurance policy while it picks apart NATO. The US, for fear that its coastlines could become irradiated for decades by a stealthy underwater torpedo it has no defenses against, might seriously question how badly it needs to save Estonia from Moscow’s clutches.
“Putin may calculate that NATO will blink first rather than risk escalation to a nuclear exchange,” Davis said. “Poseidon accentuates the risks to NATO in responding to any Russian threat greatly, dramatically increasing Russia’s coercive power.”
Davis also suggested the Poseidon would make a capable but heavy-handed naval weapon, which he said could most likely take out an entire carrier strike group in one shot.
But Russia has frequently engaged in nuclear saber-rattling when it feels encircled by NATO forces, and so far it has steered clear of confronting NATO with kinetic forces.
“Whether that will involve actual use or just the threat of use is the uncertainty,” Davis said.
While it’s hard to imagine a good reason for laying the kind of destruction the Poseidon promises, Davis warned that we shouldn’t assume the Russians think about nuclear warfare the same way the US does.
Written by Averett Jones Bonhoeffer was hanged by Adolf Hitler in 1945.)Taken from a circular letter, addressing many topics, written to three friends and co-workers in the conspiracy against Hitler, on the tenth anniversary of Hitler’s accession to the chancellorship of Germany…
‘Stupidity is a more dangerous enemy of the good than malice. One may protest against evil; it can be exposed and, if need be, prevented by use of force. Evil always carries within itself the germ of its own subversion in that it leaves behind in human beings at least a sense of unease. Against stupidity we are defenseless. Neither protests nor the use of force accomplish anything here; reasons fall on deaf ears; facts that contradict one’s prejudgment simply need not be believed- in such moments the stupid person even becomes critical – and when facts are irrefutable they are just pushed aside as inconsequential, as incidental. In all this the stupid person, in contrast to the malicious one, is utterly self-satisfied and, being easily irritated, becomes dangerous by going on the attack. For that reason, greater caution is called for than with a malicious one. Never again will we try to persuade the stupid person with reasons, for it is senseless and dangerous.‘If we want to know how to get the better of stupidity, we must seek to understand its nature. This much is certain, that it is in essence not an intellectual defect but a human one. There are human beings who are of remarkably agile intellect yet stupid, and others who are intellectually quite dull yet anything but stupid. We discover this to our surprise in particular situations. The impression one gains is not so much that stupidity is a congenital defect, but that, under certain circumstances, people are made stupid or that they allow this to happen to them. We note further that people who have isolated themselves from others or who live in solitude manifest this defect less frequently than individuals or groups of people inclined or condemned to sociability. And so it would seem that stupidity is perhaps less a psychological than a sociological problem. It is a particular form of the impact of historical circumstances on human beings, a psychological concomitant of certain external conditions. Upon closer observation, it becomes apparent that every strong upsurge of power in the public sphere, be it of a political or of a religious nature, infects a large part of humankind with stupidity. It would even seem that this is virtually a sociological-psychological law. The power of the one needs the stupidity of the other. The process at work here is not that particular human capacities, for instance, the intellect, suddenly atrophy or fail. Instead, it seems that under the overwhelming impact of rising power, humans are deprived of their inner independence, and, more or less consciously, give up establishing an autonomous position toward the emerging circumstances. The fact that the stupid person is often stubborn must not blind us to the fact that he is not independent. In conversation with him, one virtually feels that one is dealing not at all with a person, but with slogans, catchwords and the like that have taken possession of him. He is under a spell, blinded, misused, and abused in his very being. Having thus become a mindless tool, the stupid person will also be capable of any evil and at the same time incapable of seeing that it is evil. This is where the danger of diabolical misuse lurks, for it is this that can once and for all destroy human beings.‘Yet at this very point it becomes quite clear that only an act of liberation, not instruction, can overcome stupidity. Here we must come to terms with the fact that in most cases a genuine internal liberation becomes possible only when external liberation has preceded it. Until then we must abandon all attempts to convince the stupid person. This state of affairs explains why in such circumstances our attempts to know what ‘the people’ really think are in vain and why, under these circumstances, this question is so irrelevant for the person who is thinking and acting responsibly. The word of the Bible that the fear of God is the beginning of wisdom declares that the internal liberation of human beings to live the responsible life before God is the only genuine way to overcome stupidity.‘But these thoughts about stupidity also offer consolation in that they utterly forbid us to consider the majority of people to be stupid in every circumstance. It really will depend on whether those in power expect more from people’s stupidity than from their inner independence and wisdom.
’-Dietrich Bonhoeffer, from ‘After Ten Years’ in Letters and Papers from Prison (Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works/English, vol. 8) Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2010.
A still from “The Mongol,” 2007Sergey Bodrov Sn./STV production, 2007
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, 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 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 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 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 chroniclePublic domain
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 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.
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 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.
Interesting, but after applying Occam’s Razor (the simplest explanation is very probably the correct one) I’m inclined to stick wth my OWN theory, that Russia and many of its people are as they are thanks to conquest by the Mongols. The Mongol invaders treated their enemies with abolutely no mercy, and the penalty for defiance was extermination. The wisest course of action when it even LOOKED like you might be attacked was…. Immediate surrender. And the Mongols, curously, didn’t even bother to leave behind a garrison in their conquests, which remained free to administer themselves. BUT, as a conquered posession, the man task of that admniistration was to gather “tribute” to send to the Khanate. Fail to deliver, and… they’d be back – and you would be dead. So would your family, your friends, your neighbours, your livestock and your pets… So you DIDN’T provoke them. And faced with collective punishment, you didn’t allow anyone else to do so. And the level of “tribute” demanded left the starving people in absolute poverty. Not very different from being a prisoner in Auschwitz. Except Russia’s experience of being prisoners in their OWN COUNTRY lasted for generations. No surprise that it influenced the culture at a VERY basic level. And what makes that “character change” plausible is what happened when the Mongol Empire imploded… Which is basically… NOTHING. Generations of children who had been carefully taught by their parents how to avoid getting the whole family killed had in turn taught THEIR children, who taught their children lessons on how to behave in a totally warped reality. It had become their “Normal”.And the laws that they passed in their newly freed country reflected that. “Just keep on doing what you’ve been doing, and your parents did, and their parents and grandparents…” The rationale for the behaviour was lost. You no longer behaved like that BECAUSE “otherwise the Mongols will come back and kill us all”, but because NOW it had just become the NORMAL way to behave. And for things to become as warped a THAT takes many generations.. ALL of the peculiarities listed above are explained by that MUCH simpler cause. When a tiger, or a lion is kept in caged captivity or long enough, pacing the limits of their cage… when the physical bars are taken away, the tiger may continue to pace the limits of a cage that exist only in its mind. Same basic idea. A Russian named Trofim Lysenko managed to convince the leaders (under Stalin) that it is possible, through controling the environment, to bring about permanent genetic changes. Complete BS of course.That’s NOT how genetics works!!