Russian dissent?

Ukraine

Justin Sherin, posing as Richard Nixon, tweets of Vladimir Putin’s speech:


Julia Ioffe writes,

Perhaps even more terrifying was the speech [Vladimir] Putin gave before he officially acknowledged the [Donetsk and Luhansk] republics’ independence. In a primetime address to the Russian nation, Putin said, without any hedging, that Ukraine is not a real country but rather a fictitious entity created by Vladimir Lenin, which received its independence from the Soviet Union for no good reason, and which amounted to a lopping off of a key, historically significant part of Russia. And though Putin claimed that this was “wholly and completely proven by archival documents,” it was mostly lies. It was also jarring to hear Putin say this all out loud, despite the fact that he has expressed variations of this sentiment in various forms over the years. It belied the idea that Putin’s beef was with NATO and showed, once again, that the issue was the terms of the U.S.S.R.’s surrender in 1991, which he has long been determined to renegotiate—or change by force.[2]

We are given to understand that Putin’s grasp on power in Russia is absolute, that he has crushed his opposition.[3] But, if we trust British intelligence, it appears some in the Russian military and intelligence services have doubts about any invasion of Ukraine,[4] and then there is another piece to what Sherin, posing as Nixon, tweeted:


One issue is the prospect of military success:

Any invasion of Ukraine would be fraught with risk, in what would be the largest war in Europe since the second world war. It would pit 150,000 Russian troops, plus another 30,000 separatists, against a regular Ukrainian army of 145,000 plus tens of thousands of paramilitaries, many of whom have military experience.[6]

That’s a roughly even match on strength of forces. I was dimly recalling that attacking forces should enjoy a three to one ratio in troop strength. That’s oversimplistic[7] but I’m suspicious that a Russian invasion of Ukraine might not be the march on Kyiv that so many seem to expect.

There may indeed be doubts about Putin’s strategy. David Ignatius’ account of the “televised command performance of Putin’s security council in the ornate Kremlin chamber” includes that:

Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Russia’s demands for security guarantees were “not an ultimatum,” and he seemed ready to meet Thursday with U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken for more talks. Lavrov also conceded NATO’s unity, advising Putin that at this past weekend’s Munich Security Conference, “every Western representative declared their absolute commitment to a unified approach,” which “confirmed that we need to negotiate with Washington.” . . .

But the big surprise came when Putin quizzed Sergei Naryshkin, head of the SVR, Russia’s foreign intelligence service. Naryshkin advised that threatening to recognize Donetsk and Luhansk would be useful leverage for implementing the 2015 Minsk agreements to settle the conflict in the eastern region. Russia has claimed to support Minsk, but Monday’s recognition of the two breakaway enclaves as independent will probably derail any chance for the agreement. In response to Naryshkin’s answers, Putin got antsy.

What followed was a rare Kremlin moment of quasi-dissent. “Speak clearly, do you support recognition?” demanded Putin. “I will,” answered his spy chief. “You will, or you do?” demanded Putin. When Naryshkin waffled and said he would support “bringing them into Russia,” Putin shot back, “That’s not what we are discussing. Do you support recognizing independence?” To which the vexed spymaster answered, “yes.”[8]

Ignatius describes other ministers’ responses as being dutifully on script.[9] Even here, one might harbor room for doubt: If you, a very powerful man, whom I have every reason to fear, indeed for my life, are plainly expecting me to assent to your previously chosen course of action on international television, how confident can you or that international audience really be that such assent is genuine? Jon Allsop notes that this performance may not have been so spontaneous:[10]

“This is happening spontaneously because I wanted to hear your opinions without any preliminary preparation,” [Vladimir] Putin said, as the officials got up, one by one, to agree with him. The meeting was broadcast on state TV and was ostensibly live, though if that was the case, the defense minister might want to check his watch since it appeared to be five hours behind the time.[11]

I would not expect such performances to be anything more than performances. I do not expect honest answers in such a setting. I expect compliance. But the script is unknown to us: Was that “rare Kremlin moment of quasi-dissent”[12] merely a bit of drama for whatever persuasive effect it might offer? We don’t know, its mere existence tantalizes, but that discrepancy on the defense minister’s watch[13] suggests it may well have been. Allsop again:

It appeared to have been choreographed and scripted, with officials parroting the same apocalyptic and fantastical talking points that have blanketed state media recently to justify recognizing the independence of Donetsk and Luhansk, two eastern Ukrainian provinces claimed by Russia-backed separatists. (The separatists already control around a third of the territory in the two provinces, all of it abutting Russia.) As The Guardian’s Shaun Walker and others noted, some of the officials seemed visibly to squirm as they made their support for recognition a matter of very public record, not least Putin’s spy chief, who wore a “genuinely flustered expression” as Putin admonished him to speak more clearly, then shut down his support for a full annexation of Donetsk and Luhansk; others suggested, though, that this, too, may have been staged, to show Putin in the act of rejecting a possible option (for now).[14]

Ioffe on this:

In the security council meeting, Putin called up Russia’s highest ranking officials one by one, and one by one each took the microphone and obediently supported Putin’s decision, trying to outdo each other in their fervor. Whether they privately disagreed or were in sincere agreement with Putin, it didn’t really matter: they knew that to keep their jobs, their money, and their freedom, they had to bow and scrape and agree.[15]

Still, if you grasp something too firmly, it may crumble. I am wondering if that may apply as well to the power that Putin has grasped. And if that is indeed the case, while Russian diplomatic, military, and intelligence service doubts[16] may fail to impede an invasion of Ukraine,[17] this could backfire rather spectacularly on Putin.

When there is no one to tell Putin that a war with Ukraine would be a disaster, when he can afford not to care what anyone at home thinks, this is what we get: a furious and clearly deranged old man, threatening to drag us all into World War III.[18]

I can’t quite imagine that Putin’s monolith is Russia’s reality. If a Ukraine invasion sours, something else may happen. Ioffe here remembers Czar Nicholas II:

Nicholas II joined World War I and ended up losing the war, his kingdom, and his life. And yet, compared to the nearly 50 million Soviet citizens who would follow him to a violent death in the decades after he abdicated the throne, Nicholas got off easy. Doubtless, he could not have imagined that when facing his Bolshevik executioners in a Siberian basement.[19]

Those of us who do not know—that’s just about everybody—might do best to sit back, shut the fuck up, and pay some fucking attention. Because all this might, only might, go in an entirely unexpected direction. As Ioffe notes, “Wars have a way of getting out of hand, of getting swept up in their own momentum and sparking unpredictable chains of events.” For now, however, Ioffe points out that Putin has untied Volodymyr Zelensky’s hands in relinquishing breakaway regions which the Minsk Accords required Ukraine to reintegrate—a “poison pill.”[20] Zelensky can be aggrieved even as Putin has solved one of this problems. The bad news, however, is

At an evening press conference at the Kremlin today, Putin confirmed that he recognized the LPR [Luhansk People’s Republic] and DPR [Donetsk People’s Republic] as falling within “the borders of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions when they were still part of Ukraine.” That means Putin believes that two-thirds of Donetsk and Luhansk—including the city of Mariupol, a strategic port city on the Sea of Azov—should also belong to the separatists. Does that mean that he will send Russian troops further into these provinces—and into sovereign Ukrainian territory? If he does, that would be an undeniable war, not just an escalation.[21]

Whatever it is, and Ioffe too[22] contemplates the possibility of a wider war,[23] it has begun.

Anne Applebaum, “There Are No Chamberlains in This Story,” Atlantic, February 20, 2022, https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2022/02/munich-security-conference-chamberlain/622872/

John Hudson and Missy Ryan, “U.S. claims Russia has list of Ukrainians ‘to be killed or sent to camps’ following a military occupation,” Washington Post, February 20, 2022, https://www.washingtonpost.com/national-security/2022/02/20/ukraine-russia-human-rights/

David Ignatius, “Surprising cracks, if small ones, appear in Kremlin support for Putin on Ukraine,” Washington Post, February 21, 2022, https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2022/02/21/putin-ukraine-invasion-kremlin-support/

Dan Sabbagh and Rowena Mason, “UK says ‘serious doubts’ exist within Russian military about invading Ukraine,” Guardian, February 21, 2022, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2022/feb/21/uk-says-serious-doubts-exist-within-russian-military-about-invading-ukraine

Ann M. Simmons, Yaroslav Trofimov, and Matthew Luxmoore, “Putin Orders Deployment of Troops to Breakaway Regions in Ukraine,” Wall Street Journal, February 21, 2022, https://www.wsj.com/articles/russia-alleges-ukrainian-incursion-kyiv-says-moscow-makes-up-fake-incidents-11645453512

Jon Allsop, “The weight of words in the Russia-Ukraine story,” Columbia Journalism Review, February 22, 2022, https://www.cjr.org/the_media_today/russia_putin_recognition_ukraine.php

Philip Bump, “‘Genius,’ ‘Savvy’: Trump reacts to Putin’s moves on Ukraine exactly as you’d expect,” Washington Post, February 22, 2022, https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/2022/02/22/trump-reacts-putins-invasion-ukraine-exactly-youd-expect/

Julia Ioffe, “Will Putin Get His World War III?” Puck News, February 22, 2022, https://puck.news/will-putin-get-his-world-war-iii/

Frank Jordans, “Ukraine-Russia: Germany suspends Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline,” Associated Press, February 22, 2022, https://apnews.com/article/russia-ukraine-business-germany-europe-berlin-79e3dafb0d231f6a033613b7dab78cdf

Andrew Restuccia and Tarini Parti, “White House Calls Russian Moves an Invasion After Initially Refraining From Using Term,” Wall Street Journal, February 22, 2022, https://www.wsj.com/articles/white-house-calls-russian-moves-an-invasion-after-initially-refraining-from-using-term-11645549648

Eli Stokols and Tracy Wilkinson, “Biden announces sanctions against Russia for invasion of Ukraine,” Los Angeles Times, February 22, 2022, https://www.latimes.com/politics/story/2022-02-22/biden-allies-taking-calibrated-approach-in-response-to-putin-as-russian-tanks-invade-ukraine


COVID-19 Pandemic

Doctors and charlatans

Melody Schreiber, “Why Is This Group of Doctors So Intent on Unmasking Kids?” New Republic, February 22, 2022, https://newrepublic.com/article/165413/mask-mandates-kids-back-to-normal


  1. [1]Richard Nixon [Justin Sherin], Twitter, February 22, 2022, https://twitter.com/dick_nixon/status/1495931903219834880
  2. [2]Julia Ioffe, “Will Putin Get His World War III?” Puck News, February 22, 2022, https://puck.news/will-putin-get-his-world-war-iii/
  3. [3]Fiona Hill, “Putin Has the U.S. Right Where He Wants It,” New York Times, January 24, 2022, https://www.nytimes.com/2022/01/24/opinion/russia-ukraine-putin-biden.html; Eugene Rumer and Andrew S. Weiss, “Ukraine: Putin’s Unfinished Business,” Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, November 12, 2021, https://carnegieendowment.org/2021/11/12/ukraine-putin-s-unfinished-business-pub-85771
  4. [4]Dan Sabbagh and Rowena Mason, “UK says ‘serious doubts’ exist within Russian military about invading Ukraine,” Guardian, February 21, 2022, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2022/feb/21/uk-says-serious-doubts-exist-within-russian-military-about-invading-ukraine
  5. [5]Richard Nixon [Justin Sherin], Twitter, February 22, 2022, https://twitter.com/dick_nixon/status/1495932858497748992
  6. [6]David Ignatius, “Surprising cracks, if small ones, appear in Kremlin support for Putin on Ukraine,” Washington Post, February 21, 2022, https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2022/02/21/putin-ukraine-invasion-kremlin-support/; Dan Sabbagh and Rowena Mason, “UK says ‘serious doubts’ exist within Russian military about invading Ukraine,” Guardian, February 21, 2022, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2022/feb/21/uk-says-serious-doubts-exist-within-russian-military-about-invading-ukraine
  7. [7]Paul K. Davis, “Aggregation, Disaggregation, and the 3:1 Rule in Ground Combat,” National Defense Research Institute, 1995, https://apps.dtic.mil/sti/pdfs/ADA302819.pdf
  8. [8]David Ignatius, “Surprising cracks, if small ones, appear in Kremlin support for Putin on Ukraine,” Washington Post, February 21, 2022, https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2022/02/21/putin-ukraine-invasion-kremlin-support/
  9. [9]David Ignatius, “Surprising cracks, if small ones, appear in Kremlin support for Putin on Ukraine,” Washington Post, February 21, 2022, https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2022/02/21/putin-ukraine-invasion-kremlin-support/
  10. [10]Jon Allsop, “The weight of words in the Russia-Ukraine story,” Columbia Journalism Review, February 22, 2022, https://www.cjr.org/the_media_today/russia_putin_recognition_ukraine.php
  11. [11]Jon Allsop, “The weight of words in the Russia-Ukraine story,” Columbia Journalism Review, February 22, 2022, https://www.cjr.org/the_media_today/russia_putin_recognition_ukraine.php
  12. [12]David Ignatius, “Surprising cracks, if small ones, appear in Kremlin support for Putin on Ukraine,” Washington Post, February 21, 2022, https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2022/02/21/putin-ukraine-invasion-kremlin-support/
  13. [13]Jon Allsop, “The weight of words in the Russia-Ukraine story,” Columbia Journalism Review, February 22, 2022, https://www.cjr.org/the_media_today/russia_putin_recognition_ukraine.php
  14. [14]Jon Allsop, “The weight of words in the Russia-Ukraine story,” Columbia Journalism Review, February 22, 2022, https://www.cjr.org/the_media_today/russia_putin_recognition_ukraine.php
  15. [15]Julia Ioffe, “Will Putin Get His World War III?” Puck News, February 22, 2022, https://puck.news/will-putin-get-his-world-war-iii/
  16. [16]David Ignatius, “Surprising cracks, if small ones, appear in Kremlin support for Putin on Ukraine,” Washington Post, February 21, 2022, https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2022/02/21/putin-ukraine-invasion-kremlin-support/; Dan Sabbagh and Rowena Mason, “UK says ‘serious doubts’ exist within Russian military about invading Ukraine,” Guardian, February 21, 2022, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2022/feb/21/uk-says-serious-doubts-exist-within-russian-military-about-invading-ukraine
  17. [17]Dan Sabbagh and Rowena Mason, “UK says ‘serious doubts’ exist within Russian military about invading Ukraine,” Guardian, February 21, 2022, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2022/feb/21/uk-says-serious-doubts-exist-within-russian-military-about-invading-ukraine
  18. [18]Julia Ioffe, “Will Putin Get His World War III?” Puck News, February 22, 2022, https://puck.news/will-putin-get-his-world-war-iii/
  19. [19]Julia Ioffe, “Will Putin Get His World War III?” Puck News, February 22, 2022, https://puck.news/will-putin-get-his-world-war-iii/
  20. [20]Julia Ioffe, “Will Putin Get His World War III?” Puck News, February 22, 2022, https://puck.news/will-putin-get-his-world-war-iii/
  21. [21]Julia Ioffe, “Will Putin Get His World War III?” Puck News, February 22, 2022, https://puck.news/will-putin-get-his-world-war-iii/
  22. [22]Julia Ioffe, “Will Putin Get His World War III?” Puck News, February 22, 2022, https://puck.news/will-putin-get-his-world-war-iii/
  23. [23]Jake Epstein and John Haltiwanger, “Ukraine’s president warns a Russian invasion would spark a ‘fully-fledged’ European war,” Business Insider, February 1, 2022, https://www.businessinsider.com/ukraine-president-warns-russia-invasion-could-spark-european-war-2022-2

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