A madman on the bluff, on the brink

Ukraine


Fig. 1. “The atomic cloud over Nagasaki 1945.” Photograph from Office for Emergency Management. Office of War Information. Overseas Operations Branch, New York Office, News and Features Bureau, (12/17/1942 – 09/15/1945), by Charles Levy, August 9, 1945, public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

Russia said Saturday it has withdrawn its troops from the once-occupied city of Lyman [a key transportation hub, which had been an important site in the Russian front line for ground communications and logistics], as Ukraine’s eastern counteroffensive recaptures more territory.
Russia’s Tass and RIA news agencies, citing the Russian defense ministry, made the announcement.[1]

In a severe embarrassment for Vladimir Putin, Russia’s ministry of defence admitted its soldiers had retreated [from Lyman]. They had been “withdrawn to more advantageous lines”, the ministry said, following their encirclement by Ukrainian forces.

The debacle comes hours after Putin declared on Friday that the city, which is in the Donetsk region, was Russia’s “for ever”. In a ceremony in the Kremlin he announced the province’s annexation, together with the territories of Luhansk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia.[2]

Russia’s Defense Ministry said Saturday that its troops withdrew from the town of Lyman in eastern Ukraine, as Ukrainian forces surrounded it. The retreat marks a major embarrassment for Moscow, a day after it claimed swaths of eastern Ukraine as its own — in the face of widespread international condemnation.

It is also a strategic loss for Russia. Lyman is a key supply hub on the western edge of Ukraine’s Donbas region, where Russia has concentrated its military campaign for months. Russian forces have used it to supply operations to the east since capturing Lyman in the spring.

Ukrainian forces advanced on the city overnight even as Russia put on a grand ceremony and a pop concert in Moscow’s Red Square celebrating the annexation. The Ukrainian victory poses a test for [Vladimir] Putin, who has vowed to treat attacks in the annexed regions as attacks on Russia. . . .

Although the loss of Lyman presents “serious damage to the reputation of the Russian Federation,” wrote a prominent Russian military blogger who uses the pseudonym Rybar, the fact that the accession treaties have yet to be rubber-stamped and ratified by Russia’s parliament leaves the situation unclear. . . .

[Chechen leader Ramzan] Kadyrov’s call to use a nuclear weapon follows Russia’s illegal seizure of territories in Donbas, with the Russian parliament due to rubber-stamp so-called treaties formalizing annexation on Monday and Tuesday.

Putin has warned that from that point, the territories will be defended with “all military means” at Russia’s disposal, while the deputy head of the Russian Security Council, Dmitry Medvedev, has suggested Russia could use a nuclear weapon to that end.[3]

U.S. and Western officials say they still think it unlikely that [Vladimir] Putin will carry out his [nuclear] threats. Most probably, they say, he is hoping to deter the West from providing ever more sophisticated military assistance to Ukraine while the mobilization of an additional 300,000 troops allows Russia to reverse or at least halt its military setbacks on the battlefield.

But the threats appear only to have strengthened Western resolve to continue sending weapons to Ukraine and the Ukrainian military is continuing to advance into Russian-occupied territory. On Saturday, the Ukrainian army seized control of the eastern city of Lyman in an area ostensibly annexed by Russia on Saturday.

The collapse of another Russian front line was greeted by calls for nuclear strikes by some military bloggers and political figures in Russia, including the Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov, a close ally of Putin. “More drastic measures should be taken, up to the declaration of martial law in the border areas and the use of low-yield nuclear weapons,” Kadyrov wrote in a comment on his Telegram channel. . . .

The West had been hoping that Ukrainian successes would force Putin to back down, but instead he is doubling down. “Time and again we are seeing that Vladimir Putin sees this as a big existential war and he’s ready to up the stakes if he is losing on the battlefield,” [Alexander] Gabuev said.[4]

This is pretty close to precisely the scenario I have worried about nearly from the beginning of the most recent Russian incursion into Ukraine. If indeed Vladimir Putin sees victory in Ukraine as an existential necessity—the Russians have said so consistently—then the prospect of defeat compels the use of nuclear weapons.[5] The best reason for believing that Putin is bluffing is that he insists he is not,[6] which is to suggest that Putin is a very bad poker player, a conclusion one might also arrive at from the failure of the Russian invasion.

For his part, Ukraine president Volodymyr Zelenskiy expresses uncertainty as to whether Putin is bluffing[7] and the real problem now is that Ukraine and the West are calling Putin’s bluff. If it is a bluff, Putin will lose even more credibility than he already has, but given the state of his evident delusion, one might also wonder whether he will understand that this is the case.

David L. Stern and Robyn Dixon, “With Kalashnikov rifles, Russia drives the staged vote in Ukraine,” Washington Post, September 24, 2022, https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/2022/09/24/ukraine-putin-referendums/

Robyn Dixon et al., “Russian mobilization prompts backlash as Ukraine annexation effort plows ahead,” Washington Post, September 25, 2022, https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/2022/09/25/russia-ukraine-mobilization-referendums/

Edward Helmore, “Jake Sullivan: US will act ‘decisively’ if Russia uses nuclear weapons in Ukraine,” Guardian, September 25, 2022, https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2022/sep/25/us-russia-ukraine-war-nuclear-weapons-jake-sullivan

Yaroslav Trofimov, “Pushing East of Kupyansk, Ukrainian Forces Expand Offensive,” Wall Street Journal, September 25, 2022, https://www.wsj.com/articles/pushing-east-of-kupyansk-ukrainian-forces-expand-offensive-11664111037

Ishaan Tharoor, “The right-wing turn against Ukraine may be around the corner,” Washington Post, September 26, 2022, https://www.washingtonpost.com//world/2022/09/26/ukraine-west-right-wing-fatigue-italy/

Michael Horovitz, “Medvedev asserts Russia’s ‘right’ to use nukes to defend its territory,” Times of Israel, September 27, 2022, https://www.timesofisrael.com/medvedev-affirms-russias-right-to-use-nukes-to-defend-its-territory/

Julia Ioffe, “Putin’s Male Fragility,” Puck News, September 27, 2022, https://puck.news/putins-male-fragility/

Anatol Lieven, “Putin’s regime may fall – but what would come next?” Guardian, September 27, 2022, https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2022/sep/27/putin-regime-fall-ukraine-west-negotiate

Agence France-Presse, “‘Full chaos’: Over 100,000 Russians flood neighboring countries to flee army call-up,” Times of Israel, September 28, 2022, https://www.timesofisrael.com/full-chaos-over-100000-russians-flood-neighboring-countries-to-flee-army/

Bloomberg, “Putin Raises Gas-Cutoff Threat as He Moves to Annex Ukraine Regions,” September 28, 2022, https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2022-09-27/putin-raises-gas-pressure-as-he-moves-to-annex-ukraine-regions

Jennifer Hansler, “US Embassy warns Americans to leave Russia,” Cable News Network, September 28, 2022, https://www.cnn.com/2022/09/28/politics/us-embassy-russia-warns-americans-leave/index.html

Meg Kelly and Michael Birnbaum, “E.U. warns of ‘robust’ response against sabotage after Nord Stream blasts,” Washington Post, September 28, 2022, https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/2022/09/28/nord-stream-russia-methane-leak-baltic-sea/

Times of Israel, “Suspecting Nord Stream sabotage, EU vows ‘robust’ response to energy network attacks,” September 28, 2022, https://www.timesofisrael.com/suspecting-nord-stream-sabotage-eu-vows-robust-response-to-energy-network-attacks/

Sarah Cahlan et al., “Russians rebel as Putin drafts more people in battle for Ukraine,” Washington Post, September 29, 2022, https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/2022/09/29/russia-putin-mobilization-protests-fury/

Drew Hinshaw, Matthew Dalton, and Laurence Norman, “NATO Formally Blames Sabotage for Nord Stream Pipeline Damage,” Wall Street Journal, September 29, 2022, https://www.wsj.com/articles/nato-formally-blames-sabotage-for-nord-stream-pipeline-damage-11664449396

CNN, “The turning points in Russia’s invasion of Ukraine,” September 30, 2022, https://www.cnn.com/interactive/2022/09/europe/russia-territory-control-ukraine-shift-dg/

Ann M. Simmons and Yuliya Chernova, “Russia Announces Annexation of Four Regions of Ukraine,” Wall Street Journal, September 30, 2022, https://www.wsj.com/articles/russia-prepares-treaties-to-annex-ukrainian-land-11664536196

Eli Stokols, “U.S. sanctions Russia after Putin annexes parts of Ukraine,” Los Angeles Times, September 30, 2022, https://www.latimes.com/politics/story/2022-09-30/u-s-sanctions-russia-after-putin-annexes-ukraine

John Gambrell and Adam Schreck, “Russia withdraws troops from once-occupied Lyman as Ukraine recaptures more territory,” Los Angeles Times, October 1, 2022, https://www.latimes.com/world-nation/story/2022-10-01/ukraine-encircles-strategic-eastern-city-of-lyman-in-counteroffensive-against-russia

Luke Harding, “Humiliation for Vladimir Putin as Ukrainians liberate key city of Lyman,” Guardian, October 1, 2022, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2022/oct/01/humiliation-for-vladimir-putin-as-ukrainians-liberate-key-city-of-lyman

Isabelle Khurshudyan et al., “Russian troops withdraw from Lyman, a day after annexation claims,” Washington Post, October 1, 2022, https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/2022/10/01/ukaine-russia-lyman-donetsk-annexation/

Liz Sly, “Russia’s annexation puts world ‘two or three steps away’ from nuclear war,” Washington Post, October 1, 2022, https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/2022/10/01/europe-putin-nuclear-threats/


Pennsylvania

2022 election


Fig. 2. There’s much too much of this kind of thing to be seen around Pittsburgh. Photograph taken by author through his windshield, May 17, 2022, just outside Braddock, Pennsylvania.

Mariana Alfaro and Annabelle Timsit, “GOP governor nominee once urged murder charges for women getting abortions,” Washington Post, September 28, 2022, https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/2022/09/28/doug-mastriano-abortion/

William Bender and Jonathan Tamari, “As campaign struggles, Doug Mastriano plans ‘40 days of fasting and prayer,’” Philadelphia Inquirer, September 28, 2022, https://www.inquirer.com/news/doug-mastriano-fasting-prayer-campaign-rally-struggling-20220928.html

Julia Terruso and Jonathan Lai, “Pa. Republicans are gaining on Democrats in registered voters. We look at what that really means,” Philadelphia Inquirer, September 28, 2022, https://www.inquirer.com/politics/election/pennsylvania-voter-registration-data-democrats-republicans-20220928.html

Gillian McGoldrick, “Fetterman’s lead in U.S. Senate race is shrinking as Oz wins over GOP voters, latest poll shows,” Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, September 29, 2022, https://www.post-gazette.com/news/election2022/2022/09/29/fetterman-vs-oz-poll-franklin-marshall-college-republican-support-pa-senate-race-mastriano-vs-shapiro/stories/202209290087

Julia Terruso and Marina Affo, “Doug Mastriano says ‘lawlessness is killing Philadelphia,’ as protesters outside call him ‘extremist,’” Philadelphia Inquirer, September 30, 2022, https://www.inquirer.com/news/mastriano-hispanic-latino-town-hall-protests-20220930.html

Ryan Deto, “Fetterman addresses stroke recovery, defends record on crime at Pittsburgh rally,” Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, October 1, 2022, https://triblive.com/news/pennsylvania/fetterman-addresses-stroke-recoverydefends-record-on-crime-at-pittsburgh-rally/


Gilead

Donald Trump

Coup attempt


Fig. 3. Department of Justice photograph of seized materials, reportedly partially redacted, via the Washington Post, August 31, 2022, public domain.[8]

Siobhan Hughes, “National Archives Says Some Trump Administration Records Are Still Missing,” Wall Street Journal, October 1, 2022, https://www.wsj.com/articles/national-archives-says-some-trump-administration-records-are-still-missing-11664650806


  1. [1]John Gambrell and Adam Schreck, “Russia withdraws troops from once-occupied Lyman as Ukraine recaptures more territory,” Los Angeles Times, October 1, 2022, https://www.latimes.com/world-nation/story/2022-10-01/ukraine-encircles-strategic-eastern-city-of-lyman-in-counteroffensive-against-russia
  2. [2]Luke Harding, “Humiliation for Vladimir Putin as Ukrainians liberate key city of Lyman,” Guardian, October 1, 2022, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2022/oct/01/humiliation-for-vladimir-putin-as-ukrainians-liberate-key-city-of-lyman
  3. [3]Isabelle Khurshudyan et al., “Russian troops withdraw from Lyman, a day after annexation claims,” Washington Post, October 1, 2022, https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/2022/10/01/ukaine-russia-lyman-donetsk-annexation/
  4. [4]Liz Sly, “Russia’s annexation puts world ‘two or three steps away’ from nuclear war,” Washington Post, October 1, 2022, https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/2022/10/01/europe-putin-nuclear-threats/
  5. [5]David Benfell, “Nuclear survival,” Not Housebroken, September 28, 2022, https://disunitedstates.org/2022/03/13/nuclear-survival/
  6. [6]Şebnem Arsu et al., “Putin Bets It All in Ukraine,” Spiegel, September 23, 2022, https://www.spiegel.de/international/world/no-more-illusions-putin-bets-it-all-in-ukraine-a-a94b78fd-a99b-4196-a0a6-0332057337ea; Robyn Dixon, “Russia moves toward annexing Ukraine regions in a major escalation,” Washington Post, September 20, 2022, https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/2022/09/20/russia-referendum-annexation-luhansk-donetsk-kherson-ukraine/; Zoya Sheftalovich, “Putin calls up 300,000 reservists, makes nuclear threat,” Politico, September 21, 2022, https://www.politico.eu/article/putin-announces-partial-mobilization-russian-reservists-nuclear-threat-conscription-ukraine/
  7. [7]Edward Helmore, “Jake Sullivan: US will act ‘decisively’ if Russia uses nuclear weapons in Ukraine,” Guardian, September 25, 2022, https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2022/sep/25/us-russia-ukraine-war-nuclear-weapons-jake-sullivan
  8. [8]Devlin Barrett, “Justice Dept. says Trump team may have hidden, moved classified papers,” Washington Post, August 31, 2022, https://www.washingtonpost.com/national-security/2022/08/31/trump-documents-removed-storage-room/

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