Vladimir Putin & Russia 2021-April 2022

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Cracks emerge in Russian elite as tycoons start to bemoan invasion
Oligarchs and financial officials are alarmed over the economic toll it’s taking and feel powerless to influence Putin
(WaPo) In interviews, several Russian billionaires, senior bankers, a senior official and former officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity for fear of retribution, described how they and others had been blindsided by their increasingly isolated president and feel largely impotent to influence him because his inner circle is dominated by a handful of hard-line security officials.

27 April
Nina L. Khrushcheva: The Origins of Putin’s Totalitarianism
The war in Ukraine amounts to a final repudiation of the power of the security-service figures, the siloviki, who gained power during Vladimir Putin’s early years. They have been replaced by faceless security technocrats – the real heirs to the KGB.
(Project Syndicate) Alexei Navalny, the imprisoned anti-corruption lawyer and opposition leader, believes that the Kremlin’s primary goal in invading Ukraine was to distract Russians from declining living standards and trigger a rally-around-the-flag effect. More fundamentally, however, the war amounts to a final repudiation of the FSB figures who gained power during Mr. Putin’s early years, and confirmation of the dominance of Russia’s nameless security technocrats – the real heirs to the KGB. Mr. Putin, of course, remains at the top; the new system requires as much.
The chilling implications of this shift are currently on display across Russia. Since Mr. Putin launched his “special military operation” in Ukraine, more than 15,000 anti-war protesters, including more than 400 minors, have been detained. Independent media outlets have been blocked or disbanded, with foreign media having little choice but to leave the country. Sharing anything other than the official Ministry of Defence war narrative is punishable by up to 15 years in prison.
In this atmosphere of total repression – now likened to the Stalin era – Russians who have not fled are falling in line. Some 80 per cent of Russians now report that they support the “operation” in Ukraine. That is not surprising. The faceless hangman reigns again in Russia.

22-24 April
Putin’s Generation Z: Kremlin pro-war propaganda targets young Russians
(Atlantic Council) As the Russian military begins a new offensive in eastern Ukraine, the Kremlin is accelerating efforts to indoctrinate young Russians and consolidate the pro-war consensus on the domestic front for a further generation.
Videos and pictures are currently appearing across the country of young Russians showing their support for the invasion of Ukraine. Many of the children and teens featured in this pro-war content display the “Z” symbol that has become emblematic of the war following its adoption as a marker by Russia’s invasion force.
This emphasis on youth is no accident. It reflects concerns within the Kremlin that internet-savvy younger Russians are more resistant to state propaganda and have the knowledge to access censored information online. The emerging generation is also more likely to hold favorable views of Europe and the United States than older Russians who continue to get most of their information from Putin’s propaganda networks.
This caution is easy to understand, especially given the prominence of students and teens during a wave of protests that took place during the first weeks of the invasion.

Russians are told they have two choices: Win this war or be destroyed
They justify Putin’s fratricide because the West, and ‘internal Ukrainians,’ present an existential threat
By Leonid Ragozin, freelance journalist based in Latvia.
(WaPo) The available evidence shows significant support for the war, as well as a surge in patriotism. According to the Levada Center, a respected independent pollster, the number of Russians who thought the country was going in the right direction rose from 52 percent before the invasion to 69 percent after, and Putin’s personal approval rating soared to a whopping 83 percent. But these figures come with a major caveat. New legislation makes “discrediting the armed forces” a crime punishable by up to 15 years in prison, and that can encompass all sorts of things, including calling the war a war — circumstances that cast doubt on whether the polls are representative or the answers truthful. As an experiment staged by researchers at the London School of Economics showed, support for the war goes down by 15 percentage points when people are encouraged to speak their mind.

21 April
Putin’s Health Questioned After Video of Him Gripping Table Circulates
(Newsweek) Video clips and still images of Putin’s conference with Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu have been making the rounds on social media…. In the images, Putin can be seen gripping the table between him and Shoigu, as well as slouching down in his chair. Speculation soon spread that he could be in bad health, though rumors have previously surfaced in recent months that the leader could be suffering from an illness.
Louise Mensch: Yes, Vladimir Putin Has Parkinson’s Disease
And his paranoia is at record high levels. The Russians must remove him. (13 March)

20 April
Ian Bremmer: The price of Russian defeat
Unpalatable as it may be, the desire to beat Putin thoroughly must be weighed against the dangers of pushing him to escalate further.
…even if we get to the point where it looks like Putin could be prevented from achieving an outcome that he can sell as a “win” at home, would Putin be prepared to accept defeat? I’m afraid that the answer is no, he’s not going to capitulate. Instead, when backed into a corner, he’s going to escalate, using any means he deems necessary.

13 April
Ukraine’s detention of oligarch close to Putin angers Moscow
(AP) — Ukraine’s detention of fugitive Ukrainian oligarch Viktor Medvedchuk, the former leader of a pro-Russian opposition party and a close associate of Russian President Vladimir Putin, has been met with enthusiasm in Kyiv and irritation in Moscow.
Analysts saying Medvedchuk will become a valuable pawn in the Russia-Ukraine talks to end the devastating war that the Kremlin has unleashed on its ex-Soviet neighbor.
Medvedchuk was detained on Tuesday in a special operation carried out by Ukraine’s state security service, or the SBU. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has proposed that Russia could win Medvedchuk’s freedom by trading Ukrainians now held captive by the Russians.

Putin’s Secret Family Life And Mystery Children
(NDTV) The Russian public doesn’t know much about Putin’s family or his private life. The daughters, who are in their 30s, have been shielded from public glare for the most part. So, what do we know about them and about Putin’s private life?

12 April
Moscow’s most wanted man, Bill Browder, reveals what makes the Russian president tick in his new book, “Freezing Order.”
(Daily Beast) … Browder, a financier who had once been the largest foreign investor in Russia, had long been a thorn in Moscow’s side before he was detained that day in May 2018. Years earlier, Browder had discovered that many of the companies he had invested in were being robbed by oligarchs and corrupt officials. Unwilling to let this fraud go unchallenged, Browder, as detailed in his 2015 bestseller Red Notice, decided to fight back. He hired a local lawyer named Sergei Magnitsky, who helped Browder uncover a multi-million dollar tax fraud involving Russian officials that went all the way up to President Vladimir Putin. Angered by the revelations, the Kremlin accused Magnitsky of fraud himself. He was detained and ultimately murdered in prison in 2009.
Freezing Order is scarier than any Stephen King novel. It’s a devastating primer on state criminality and its effect on one human. Browder’s book piles on detail upon detail about illegal Russian state activity—not just financial crimes, but the numerous murders and poisonings of its critics. It also pursues a number of other storylines: how Browder has managed to survive all these years without being murdered; how bankers and lawyers in the West enable Russian crimes by laundering money and setting up offshore accounts; and the seemingly never-ending corruption of the Russian government which has only gotten worse under Putin.
Freezing Order by Bill Browder review – life as a target of Putin
See also Ukraine small taste of what’s to come from Putin: Bill Browder (video)
Bill Browder talks with Financial Post’s Larysa Harapyn about his new book Freezing Order and how Ukraine is just a small taste of what’s to come from Russia’s Vladimir Putin.

Vladimir Putin Is Now Purging His Own Over War Failures (video)
(CNN) Russian President Vladimir Putin is reported to be conducting a ‘Stalinist’ mass purge of Russian secret intelligence, dismissing about 150 Federal Security Bureau officers, including some who have been arrested, according to a Times of London report.

10 April
Trump, Putin, and the Paradox of Propaganda When you set out to brainwash others, you end up brainwashing yourself.
By Jonathan Chait
(New York) The intent of propaganda, of course, is to contain the effect to the audience, who will be steered toward beliefs you find useful, and away from beliefs you find dangerous, regardless of whether either is true. But ultimately, the task of keeping mental double books becomes too difficult. The false world you create drives out the real one.
Vladimir Putin’s war on Ukraine is a vivid example of this dynamic. Putin, of course, was trained by the KGB and places enormous value on information as warfare: You hoard the truth for yourself by gathering secrets, and weaken your enemies with lies. But ultimately the lies escaped and infected their creator.
Putin sought to convince his people Ukraine was weak, corrupt, and lacking in any popular legitimacy. He wound up believing his own lies, launching a ruinous war premised on his expectation that Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s government would collapse immediately and that Ukrainians would welcome Russians as liberators.

6-7 April
Putin’s War on History – The Thousand-Year Struggle Over Ukraine
By Anna Reid
Putin’s argument that Ukraine has always been one and the same with Russia, and that it has been forcibly colonized by Western forces, has long been a defining part of his worldview.
(Foreign Affairs May/June) Putin’s obsession with Ukraine’s past can be traced to the trauma of the collapse of the Soviet Union. Until 1991, most of today’s Ukraine had been ruled by Russia for 300 years. … And with a population that is today nearly as large as Spain’s, Ukraine was by far the most significant Soviet republic besides Russia itself. … Russia today is still a vast multiethnic empire, taking in a 3,000-mile-wide slice of northern Asia and including more than a dozen Asian nationalities. But with the collapse of the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact, Moscow lost its West.
… Ukraine’s fierce self-defense today is a defense of values, not of ethnic identity or of some imagined glorious past. Putin’s obsession with history, in contrast, is a weakness. Although earlier in his presidency, banging the “gathering of the Russian world” drum boosted his approval ratings, it has now led him down what may turn out to be a fatal dead end. In terms of square mileage alone, Ukraine is the second-largest country in Europe, after Russia itself. … Occupying it permanently would be enormously costly in troops and treasure. Moreover, Putin’s war has unified Ukrainians as never before. And whether they are speaking Russian or Ukrainian, their sentiment is the same. Already, video clips have gone viral of babushkas telling Russian soldiers that they will leave their bones in Ukrainian soil and of Ukrainian soldiers swearing joyously as they fire bazookas at Russian tanks, all in the purest Russian. The war is likely to go on for a long time, and its final outcome is unknown. History, Putin may be learning, is only a guide when it’s the real sort.

A coup against Putin: wishful thinking or a real possibility?
By Oleg Sukhov
(Kyiv Independent) Ukrainian intelligence has claimed that a coup is being prepared against Russian dictator Vladimir Putin.
Although such intelligence claims may be dubious, analysts can assess the possibility of a coup d’etat by taking into account the economic and political situation in Russia.
Some of them argue that a coup is highly unlikely, while others say it is almost inevitable due to Putin’s decision to unleash unprecedented aggression against Ukraine.
Support is still high in Russia for Putin and his invasion of Ukraine, and the Western sanctions have not yet destroyed the Russian economy. There are not many people capable of overthrowing Putin or wishing to do it in his inner circle, and a coup is extremely risky.
However, the likelihood of a coup may increase if the war against Ukraine becomes unpopular in Russia and if the Kremlin suffers major defeats in Ukraine. Further deterioration in the economic situation may also contribute to this scenario.

5 April
Ukraine small taste of what’s to come from Putin: Interview with Bill Browder (video)
Bill Browder, CEO of Hermitage Capital, Head of Global Magnitsky Justice campaign and author, talks with Financial Post’s Larysa Harapyn about his new book ‘Freezing Order’ and how Ukraine is just a small taste of what’s to come from Russia’s Vladimir Putin.

3 April
The West must choose: Either arm Ukraine or enable Putin’s genocide
As Ukraine continues to liberate areas north of Kyiv, global audiences are being confronted by shocking photo and video evidence of crimes against humanity.
(Atlantic Council) Putin himself has repeatedly questioned Ukraine’s right to exist while frequently asserting that Ukrainians are merely misguided Russians who have been led astray and artificially separated from their motherland. Putin spelled out his denial of Ukrainian identity in a lengthy July 2021 essay that accused modern Ukraine of occupying historically Russian lands while bizarrely asserting that Ukrainian sovereignty could only be possible in partnership with Russia.
The Russian ruler’s personal fixation with Ukraine has intensified throughout his reign and reflects his burning resentment over the perceived injustices of the Soviet collapse. Putin regards the breakup of the USSR as the “demise of historical Russia” and views the subsequent spread of democracy as a Western plot against his country. The post-Soviet emergence of an independent and democratic Ukraine has come to embody these twin obsessions.
Details of Russia’s recent war crimes in the Kyiv region have provoked widespread international outrage. … While talk of holding Russia legally accountable is welcome, the current priority must be to protect the Ukrainian population from further crimes against humanity. This can only be achieved by urgently and dramatically expanding arms shipments to Ukraine.
Western military aid has already had a major impact on the conflict but most the weapons delivered to Ukraine thus far have been suited to an insurgency, whereas Kyiv now needs to win a conventional war. This will require more tanks, artillery, jets, helicopters, missile systems, and ammunition as well as ample additional stocks of the anti-tank and anti-aircraft weapons that have already proven so effective against Putin’s invading army.

2 April
Who has Putin’s ear? Inside the president’s inner circle
Western intelligence claim Russia’s leader is out of touch. But who has the upper hand in the Kremlin’s jostling factions – and is there a chance of a palace coup?
(The Guardian) Even for a leader as cloistered as Vladimir Putin, the torrent of bad news from Ukraine should be impossible to ignore.
The Russian army’s rapid retreat from Kyiv last week has made clear the scale of its failure, leaving behind the bodies of Russian soldiers and the burnt-out carcasses of hundreds of tanks and other military vehicles. The goal of a knockout blow against Kyiv has been abandoned and Russia is facing the toughest sanctions ever enacted against a superpower.
Was it misinformation from a cadre of yes-men that led the Russian leader down this path? That is what US and European intelligence argued last week, saying the Kremlin leader is now raging at his advisers, in particular the military leadership that got him into this mess. “His senior advisers are too afraid to tell him the truth,” said Kate Bedingfield, director of communications at the White House.
“It looks like neither the Department of State nor the Pentagon know what is really happening in the Kremlin,” said Dmitry Peskov, the Kremlin spokesman. “They simply do not understand what is going on. They do not understand President Putin. They do not understand the decision-making mechanism. They do not understand our working style.”

26 March
Roger Cohen: The Making of Vladimir Putin
Tracing Putin’s 22-year slide from statesman to tyrant.
The 22-year arc of Mr. Putin’s exercise of power is in many ways a study of growing audacity. Intent at first at restoring order in Russia and gaining international respect — especially in the West — he became convinced that a Russia rich in oil revenue and new high-tech weaponry could strut the world, deploy military force and meet scant resistance.
The more assured he grew in his power, the more Mr. Putin appears to have reverted to the hostility toward the United States in which he was formed. The NATO bombing of Belgrade in 1999 during the Kosovo War, and the United States invasion of Iraq in 2003, had already given him a healthy distrust of American invocations of the United Nations Charter and international law. Convinced of the exceptionalism of Russia, its inevitable fate to be a great power, he could not abide American exceptionalism, the perception of America throwing its power around in the name of some unique destiny, an inherent mission to spread freedom in a world where the United States was the sole hegemon.
In the isolation of Covid-19, apparently redoubled by the germaphobia that has led the Russian leader to impose what Mr. Bagger called “extraordinary arrangements” for anyone meeting him, all Mr. Putin’s obsessions about the 25 million Russians lost to their motherland at the breakup of the Soviet Union seem to have coagulated.
After President Emmanuel Macron of France met with Putin at opposite ends of a 20-foot table last month, he told journalists on his plane that he found him more stiff, isolated and ideologically unyielding than at their previous meeting in 2019.
… With his assault on independent media completed, his insistence that the invasion is not a “war,” and his liquidation of Memorial International, the leading human rights organization chronicling Stalin-era persecution, Mr. Putin has circled back to his roots in a totalitarian country.
… It is as if, after a flirtation with a new idea — a Russia integrated with the West — Mr. Putin, who will be 70 this year, reverted to something deeper in his psyche: the world of his childhood after The Great Patriotic War had been won, with Russia in his head again liberating Ukrainians from Nazism, and Stalin restored to heroic stature.

24 March
Putin Doesn’t Realize How Much Warfare Has Changed
The Russian president’s obsession with World War II is hindering his invasion of Ukraine.
By Antony Beevor
The 2008 invasion of Georgia, which dealt a setback to the small former Soviet republic but revealed incompetence and weakness on Russia’s part, led to plans to reequip and reform Putin’s armed forces. Those efforts have manifestly failed. This says a good deal about the lack of idealism, probity, and sense of duty within his regime. How this can change at such a late and crucial stage in the Ukraine invasion is very hard to see.
At Stalingrad in late 1942, the Red Army surprised itself and the world with a sudden turnaround, and there are indications that Putin’s forces are adjusting their tactics and preparing two major strategic envelopments, around Kyiv and in eastern Ukraine. An almost Stalinist determination to right the Russian military—backed by the execution of deserters and failing officers—could well extend the conflict in a bloodbath of relentless, grinding destruction.
Against all prewar expectations, though, a Russian military collapse also looks possible. A complete disintegration of morale could lead to a humiliating withdrawal, a potentially devastating result of Putin’s inability to part with the Soviet past.
Want to hurt Putin? Back a brain drain from Russia.
A low-cost policy option with a high impact on Russia, welcoming high-skill immigrants would dent Russia’s economy and stifle its burgeoning technology and defense industries. It would also allow receiving countries to benefit from an influx of skills and expertise, as well as undermine Putin’s propaganda demonizing the West
(Atlantic Council) the United States can leverage that weakness to punish President Vladimir Putin for his war in Ukraine—by granting asylum to highly educated Russians.
Since the invasion, emigration from Russia has significantly ticked up—with some two hundred thousand people, many of them highly educated and hailing from the tech sector, having fled amid a terrifying new crackdown on dissent. One Russian trade group estimates that as much as one hundred thousand tech workers could leave in April (in addition to to seventy thousand that have already fled).

23 March
Putin: the psychology behind his destructive leadership – and how best to tackle it according to science
Autocratic political leaders pose a threat to international stability. We are unlikely to be able to stop them from emerging – but we can use our knowledge of their functioning to limit their disruptive power.
By Magnus Linden, Senior Lecturer in Psychology, Lund University and George R. Wilkes, Director, Relwar Project, King’s College London
(The Conversation) While we are not in a position to “diagnose” political leaders without asking them to take a personality test, psychologists can evaluate them through behavioural observations. For example, we can look at speeches, decision-making or interviews over time. This isn’t necessarily a bad approach – some people lie on personality tests.
Putin is an autocratic and authoritarian political leader. Decades of studies in the field of organisational psychology show that such leaders are more prone to take important decisions themselves. They also tend to be more task-oriented than interested in the general welfare of their people. Another telling sign is that they maintain a distance between themselves and others – partly through the use of punishments and threats.
… With Putin, we need to take the signs of dark personality traits seriously. It should not be assumed that conventional approaches to diplomacy or negotiations will work. Autocratic leaders with dark personalities often refuse to believe they need to listen to others or engage in conflict resolution. Instead, displays of power may work better.
Research on narcissistic leadership also suggests that giving honest feedback on behaviour – such as calling out lying – can help to keep such leaders under control. But this should not evolve into a public humiliation, which could easily make matters worse.
Naming and shaming bad actions can also help make it clear that Putin will face international condemnation for his domestic and international human rights violations. While it might seem that this would not affect an autocrat, research suggests political leaders in pure autocracies may be more sensitive to such criticism than leaders in democracies or hybrid regimes. This may be because they ultimately care more about their public image.
Putin plans to attend G-20 summit despite calls to exclude him
(WaPo) Russian President Vladimir Putin plans to attend the Group of 20 summit that is being hosted by Indonesia this year, Russia’s ambassador to the Southeast Asian country said Wednesday. Western nations are reportedly trying to exclude Moscow from the G-20, an assembly of the world’s largest economies.
The G-20 forum in Bali in October will focus on economic issues and not on the war in Ukraine, said Ambassador Lyudmila Vorobieva, adding that she was aware of attempts to expel Russia from the global economic club.

Who is Anatoly Chubais, the highest official to cut Kremlin ties since Ukraine invasion?
Anatoly Chubais, one of the economic reformers in the years after the Soviet Union and author of Russia’s unpopular privatization program, quit as presidential envoy on sustainable development, the Kremlin confirmed Wednesday, after reports he left the country because of his opposition to Russia’s war on Ukraine. … Chubais was not a member of Putin’s dwindling inner circle of hard-line security and military chiefs, known as the siloviki, or men of power. But his departure underscores the alarm felt by many in Russia’s comfortable urban classes at Putin’s war and his mounting witch-hunt for traitors and “fifth columnists.”

22 March
The man known as ‘Putin’s brain’ envisions the splitting of Europe — and the fall of China
(WaPo) On the eve of his murderous invasion, Russian President Vladimir Putin delivered a long and rambling discourse denying the existence of Ukraine and Ukrainians, a speech many Western analysts found strange and untethered. Strange, yes. Untethered, no. The analysis came directly from the works of a fascist prophet of maximal Russian empire named Aleksandr Dugin.
Aleksandr Dugin’s intellectual influence over the Russian leader is well known to close students of the post-Soviet period, among whom Dugin, 60, is sometimes referred to as “Putin’s brain.”
A month into war, Putin’s mind-set is complex — and dangerous
By David Ignatius
(WaPo) As the Ukraine war nears a month of brutal fighting, Vladimir Putin is obsessed with Ukraine, angry at his generals, paranoid about enemies at home and abroad, and wrapping his bloody deeds in spiritual language almost mystical in its vision of Russia’s past and future.
Penetrating the riddle of Putin’s psyche is a life-or-death matter these days, as the Ukraine war grinds on and the world worries about the danger that Putin will escalate with chemical or even nuclear weapons. Experts say Putin isn’t irrational in the usual clinical sense. But he has entered a realm where his decisions are driven by a grandiose sense of his place in Russian history. In his own mind, his mission is transcendent.
The man known as ‘Putin’s brain’ envisions the splitting of Europe — and the fall of China
By David Von Drehle
Aleksandr Dugin’s intellectual influence over the Russian leader is well known to close students of the post-Soviet period, among whom Dugin, 60, is sometimes referred to as “Putin’s brain.” His work is also familiar to Europe’s “new right,” of which Dugin has been a leading figure for nearly three decades, and to America’s “alt-right.”
But as the world watches with horror and disgust the indiscriminate bombing of Ukraine, a broader understanding is needed of Dugin’s deadly ideas. Russia has been running his playbook for the past 20 years, and it has brought us here, to the brink of another world war.

Putin foe Navalny gets 9 more years in Russian prison
(AP) — A Russian court on Tuesday convicted top opposition leader Alexei Navalny of fraud and contempt of court, sentencing him to nine more years in prison in a move that was seen as an attempt to keep President Vladimir Putin’s biggest foe behind bars for as long as possible.
The new sentence follows a year-long crackdown by Putin on Navalny’s supporters, other opposition activists and independent journalists in which authorities appear eager to stifle all dissent.
Navalny’s close associates have faced criminal charges and left the country, and his group’s political infrastructure — an anti-corruption foundation and a nationwide network of regional offices — has been destroyed after being labeled an extremist organization.

20 March
Thomas Friedman: It’s Now Putin’s Plan B in Ukraine vs. Biden’s and Zelensky’s Plan A
…it seems obvious to me that Putin, having realized that his plan A has failed — his expectation that the Russian Army would march into Ukraine, decapitate its “Nazi” leadership and then just wait as the whole country fell peacefully into Russia’s arms — has shifted to his plan B.
Plan B is that the Russian Army deliberately fires upon Ukrainian civilians, apartment blocks, hospitals, businesses and even bomb shelters — all of which has happened in the past few weeks — for the purpose of encouraging Ukrainians to flee their homes, creating a massive refugee crisis inside Ukraine and, even more important, a massive refugee crisis inside nearby NATO nations.

Truth Is Another Front in Putin’s War
The Kremlin has used a barrage of increasingly outlandish falsehoods to prop up its overarching claim that the invasion of Ukraine is justified.
Disinformation in wartime is as old as war itself, but today war unfolds in the age of social media and digital diplomacy. That has given Russia — and its allies in China and elsewhere — powerful means to prop up the claim that the invasion is justified, exploiting disinformation to rally its citizens at home and to discredit its enemies abroad. Truth has simply become another front in Russia’s war.

17 March
My dinner with Putin: What a Canadian learned from strange encounter with Russia’s president
…she was summoned to sit next to Putin and discuss her specialty, byzantine religious art.
The [art historian] was taken aback by his knowledge of the rarefied topic and by his chauvinistic, competitive attitude generally toward Russia’s artistic tradition.
McDonald is convinced the Kremlin is already looting Ukraine of art treasures tied to the Russian heritage Putin extolled that night. And she believes his forces aim to simply destroy more uniquely Ukrainian works, part of a bid to erase his neighbours’ identity overall. As evidence, she cites the mass removal of artifacts from Crimea after Moscow “annexed” it in 2014, and the recent destruction of a gallery devoted to a renowned Ukrainian folk artist.
Art historians like McDonald are the first to note that the greatest tragedy of this war, like any other, is the immense human suffering. In Ukraine’s case that includes a death toll among civilians in the thousands, the pitiless siege of cities like Mariupol and the exodus of more than three million refugees.
But she’s not alone in also fearing for Ukraine’s rich trove of art and architecture as Russian troops increasingly bombard cities with artillery, missiles and aerial bombing.

16 March
Punish Putin for past and present crimes
(Atlantic Council) For decades, the idea of holding the Russian state accountable for atrocity crimes in a court of law was unthinkable.
The country’s status as a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council, as well as its refusal to join the International Criminal Court (ICC), have allowed those Russians responsible for war crimes and crimes against humanity—against Chechens, Georgians, and Syrians—to escape prosecution. Moscow has also benefited from a lack of political will from other states worried about disturbing the global world order.
But that status quo of impunity has dramatically changed since Russian President Vladimir Putin invaded Ukraine on February 24. In just the first two weeks of his murderous campaign, the UN Human Rights Council and the ICC announced they would open an inquiry and an official investigation, respectively, into alleged atrocities committed as his armies pounded civilian infrastructure and residences in cities like Kharkiv and Mariupol.
But justice will remain incomplete if these inquiries don’t connect the dots with Putin’s crimes in Chechnya, Syria, and elsewhere. If he had been stopped after Grozny, would he have unleashed brutal force in Aleppo? And had the world collectively held Putin accountable for his military’s abuses in Syria, would he have felt emboldened enough to bomb Ukrainian cities?
Putin warns Russia against pro-Western ‘traitors’ and scum
(Reuters) Putin says West wants to destroy Russia
Says Russians will quickly spot traitors among them
Kremlin critics fear intensification of clampdown
(Reuters) President Vladimir Putin issued a venomous warning to “traitors” on Wednesday, saying the West would try to use them as a fifth column to destroy Russia, but that Russians would be quickly able to tell the “patriots from the scum”.
Do reported Russian ‘whistleblower’ accounts indicate a crack in Putin’s power?
(The Hill) There is relative global unanimity that Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine has not gone according to plan. Instead of a three-day blitzkrieg ending with Russian troops marching triumphantly into Kyiv’s Maidan Square, greeted by cheering crowds, Russia’s assault has bogged down as casualties of conscripts reportedly mount and harsh international economic sanctions deprive Putin of his war chest. The deadline for completing operations has been moved to a distant June.
According to U.S. and foreign sources, the purge of those responsible for the disaster — other than Putin himself — has already begun. Some generals reportedly are being relieved of command and top intelligence officers placed under house arrest. This is just the start; more purges are almost certain to come, and those at risk know it.

From a friend of a friend – both are western journalists with extensive experience in reporting from Russia.
Quick analysis: 2100 Moscow time Russian State TV broadcast 06 March 2022. Main themes:
1. Entire hour was dedicated to the “special operation” – (war). 2. Frequently employed themes: “”Fighting the Nazis”.
2. All information is actually controlled by a US “cabal” which gives orders to Ukrainian underlings.
3. “Nazis”
4. Putin, interestingly, meeting with only female with model-like looks (over-compensation?) heads of Russian air companies, which are suspending their international operations tomorrow (whose planes are largely leased Boeings and Airbus craft).
5. Notable: Putin is usually a forceful orator and speaker, but was clearly nervous and losing certain words, including at least one major grammatical mistake in Russian.
6. He was not steady, and as has been the case recently, seated except for a few very staged standing moments in other places (likely file footage).
7. Hands were tightly grasped, especially right side, and he appeared to not have full use of it.
8. He keep doodling – these were not notes, just scribbling.
9. NO government ministers or security council officials in attendance. Just the airline officials, all of whom looked extremely uncomfortable.
10. Repeated pseudo-analysis of Zelensky, in which two previously unknown “experts” claimed the Jewish “Nazi” was being plied with cocaine.
11. (important) return to seated and clearly unsettled Putin, who claimed Ukraine has been developing nuclear weapons (new justification).
12. That specifically, this includes use of a “dirty bomb” . (i.e. radioactive waste from reactors) – notable as the main targets from day 1 have been nuclear power plants which Putin’s army is under control of effectively at gunpoint. (Chernobyl (decommissioned but with large reserves of nuclear waste) Zaporozhiya (largest in Europe), captured 2 days ago).
{Note: Reports broadly indicate Putin’s troops are headed to the “South Ukraine” AES (Atomic Energy Station).
13. There was also a long section devoted to major Russian military figures who have been killed so far, almost all of significant rank. There was a very interesting element: Many of those illustrated were from Dagestan, Chechnya, or were Russian officers of Azeri origin. (possible tactic to sow fear in the Caucasus. CONCLUSION: This was a very shaky performance by State TV reflecting nervousness, rather laughable claims, and shed light on Putin’s state -almost always seated, and agitated either out of extreme nervousness or inability to control certain muscular movements.

7 March
Opinion: Putin needs to watch his back
Every day that Ukraine holds out erodes Putin’s regime. The consequences could be far-reaching.
By Leon Aron, author of “Yeltsin,” a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and is writing a book about Vladimir Putin’s road to Ukraine and beyond.
(WaPo) No matter what the outcome, Vladimir Putin’s war on Ukraine spells bad news for his regime. Neither taking Kyiv and declaring victory nor beginning peace negotiations will save the Russian president from the serious, if not fatal, domestic repercussions of this war.
As the war drags on, the danger to Putin’s reign will come chiefly from three quarters: the oligarchs, the military and those whom we call “ordinary Russians.” The oligarchs, who stand to lose the most from the West’s sanctions, have been publicly cautious, whatever their true sentiments may be. …
Throughout Russian history, the military has generally stayed away from politics (with the notable exception of the hapless Decembrist revolt in 1825). Like other autocrats, Putin has had ample opportunity to choose his top officers for loyalty rather than capability. His minister of defense, Sergei Shoigu, has no military background at all: He is a civil engineer who was minister of emergency situations when Putin put him in charge of the country’s armed forces.

3 March
As the Ukraine war drags on, how secure will Putin’s hold on power remain?
Stephen Fortescue, Associate Professor, UNSW Sydney
(The Conversation) …there is no sign these worried and humiliated members of the security elite are so discontented as to take action against Putin. And the technocratic elite claims to be loyally taking on the task of preparing the nation for crippling sanctions.
That leaves the economic elite. And here, there are signs of discontent, particularly the Yeltsin-era oligarchs.
… There have been people on the streets countless times over the years, but they have never been able to maintain momentum, fading away before policy brutality, arrests and imprisonment. … Those in the middle will put off taking sides for as long as possible. For many, the measure of serious economic pain is the severe hardships of the 1990s, which led many Russians to reject the Western model.
There is no reason to believe a new plumbing of the depths will produce a different response.

1 March
Reading Putin: Unbalanced or cagily preying on West’s fears?
(AP) — For two decades, Vladimir Putin has struck rivals as reckless, impulsive. But his behavior in ordering an invasion of Ukraine — and now putting Russia’s nuclear forces on high alert — has some in the West questioning whether the Russian president has become dangerously unstable.
In recent days, Putin has rambled on television about Ukraine, repeated conspiracy theories about neo-Nazism and Western aggression, berated his own foreign intelligence chief on camera from the other side of a high-domed Kremlin hall where he sat alone. Now, with the West’s sanctions threatening to cripple Russia’s already hobbled economy, Putin has ordered the higher state of readiness for nuclear weapons, blaming the sanctions and what he called “aggressive statements against our country.”
Putin’s perceived self-insulation was highlighted in recent official meetings broadcast by state television. He faced foreign leaders and close aides from the opposite end of a long table. No Russian official who spoke gave a dissenting view.
See also Jeremy Kinsman & Larry Haas on CTV Diplomatic Community

28 February
Russia’s War of Self-Destruction From Ukraine’s fierce resistance to the unified global backlash, Putin’s adventure is blowing up in his face.
By Jonah Shepp
(New York) After attacking Ukraine on multiple fronts in a blitzkrieg meant to quickly neutralize resistance, capture the capital Kyiv, and (perhaps literally) decapitate the Ukrainian government, the Russian army has gotten bogged down in a much tougher slog than it seemed to have been ready for. The Russians have not established air superiority, taken control of any major population centers, or successfully demoralized the Ukrainians, even as the invasion has displaced millions and sent hundreds of thousands of refugees pouring over Ukraine’s western borders. Russian forces, who have allegedly begun launching indiscriminate attacks on civilian areas, are continuing to close in around Kyiv, but the slow progress has come at great cost.
The Ukrainian foreign ministry claimed Sunday that Russia had already lost 4,300 military personnel (killed or wounded), 156 tanks, and dozens of planes and helicopters. These numbers are impossible to confirm and may be exaggerated, but what does seem clear is that if Putin was expecting a cakewalk into Kyiv, he didn’t get what he wanted

24-25 February
Putin’s Imperial Delirium
Carl Bildt
When the history of this period is written, Russian President Vladimir Putin will be seen as an unwitting creator of the Ukrainian nation that he wanted so much to destroy. Whether in exile or at home, Ukrainian nationalism is likely to grow even stronger in the long run as a result of Putin’s effort to extinguish it.
(Project Syndicate) The martial drumbeat had been growing louder for months. But on February 21, Putin staged a remarkable puppet show in the Kremlin. Forcing his entire security council into submission, he delivered a rambling, hour-long televised speech in which he showed himself to be a man consumed by nationalist myths and imperial nostalgia, bent on extinguishing an independent Ukraine. …we need to revisit the build-up to his war.
… Putin is now trying to conquer Ukraine and decapitate its government, removing its current leaders by whatever means and installing a puppet regime. With that, Ukrainian independence will be extinguished, as Putin has desired all along.But Putin cannot extinguish the Ukrainian nation. Whether in exile or at home, Ukraine is likely to grow even stronger in the long run. And when the history of this period is written, Putin will be seen as an unwitting creator of the Ukrainian nation that he wanted so much to destroy. He has united Ukrainians in hatred for the Russia that he represents.History hasn’t ended. It has entered a new, dangerous phase, in which the future of the current regime in the Kremlin also will be at stake.

Putin’s miscalculation
The president has misread not only Ukrainians, but also Russians.
By Zoya Sheftalovich
(Politico Eu opinion) Perhaps Putin thought he’d roll into Kyiv the way the Taliban rolled into Kabul, meeting scant resistance from Ukrainians. He seems to have expected to be welcomed in by Russian-speaking Ukrainians as nostalgic for the Soviet heydays as he is. It seems Putin expected Ukrainians to lay down their arms, and for their pro-Western and NATO President Volodymyr Zelenskiy to flee, making space for one of Moscow’s allies. The Kremlin could roll its tanks back to Russia, taking a sizeable chunk of Ukraine with them, and Putin could declare his bogus “peacekeeping” mission over after a few days. He would take some limited casualties, some painful but not devastating sanctions, and then it would be back to business as usual.
And perhaps if Putin had tried this maneuver during the Ukrainian presidencies of his ally Viktor Yanukovych, or of “chocolate king” billionaire Petro Poroshenko, he might have been able to roll into Kyiv the way the Taliban took Kabul last year.

24 February
Putin’s Fateful War of Choice
On behalf of the world, the Secretary-General of the UN said February 23 on the eve of Russia’s all-out assault: “President Putin, stop your troops from attacking Ukraine. Give peace a chance. Too many people have already died.” He went ahead, with implications unknown at time of writing. The narrative informing events between Russia and Ukraine, Russia and the West and Vladimir Putin and Joe Biden dates back to post-Cold War loose ends of the 1990s. Longtime senior diplomat and former Ambassador to Moscow Jeremy Kinsman, who was there, explains.
(Policy) Putin wanted Ukraine to fail. A successful democratic Ukraine could be mortally contagious to his corrupt autocracy. He is a cynical and highly competitive man who sees democracy idealists as hypocritical, phony US stooges. He prefers believing that a Ukraine subordinate to Putin retain operational features just like Russia’s, where corrupt oligarchs call the shots.
His choice of invading Ukraine, inviting death and destruction, and real costs to his own country, raise issues of the Russian leader’s grasp of reality and certainly of morality.

‘We have to fight [Putin] with the banks instead of with the tanks’ (video)
Bill Browder, head of the Global Magnitsky Justice Campaign, joins Power & Politics to discuss Canada’s sanctions on Russia.

More than 1,700 people detained in widespread Russian protests against Ukraine invasion
Protests decrying invasion of Ukraine took place in 54 Russian cities and around the world

20 February
Blitzkrieg or Minor Incursion? Putin’s Choice Could Determine World Reaction.
President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia may be looking for fissures in the Western alliance, which so far has been united against him
By David E. Sanger
(NYT) If he strikes to take the whole country in a single blow — the approach that senior American military and intelligence officials and many outside analysts now think is the most likely — it could provoke the largest, most violent battle for European territory since the Nazi surrender in 1945.

15 February
John Cassidy: Why the Threat of More Economic Sanctions May Not Deter Vladimir Putin
The sanctions under consideration by the U.S. and Europe don’t appear to include two measures that could cause real financial pain for the Russian leader and his associates.
(The New Yorker) The one thing that could do real harm to Russia would be an embargo on its energy exports. With its vast stock of crude oil, natural gas, and other natural resources, the country in some ways resembles a Middle Eastern petro-state. “The fuel and energy sector provides over 25% of GDP and almost 30% of the country’s consolidated budget, two-thirds of foreign exchange earnings from exports, and a quarter of total investment in the national economy,” researchers at the Energy Research Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences noted in 2014, the year Putin seized Crimea. If the West were to blockade Russia’s energy industry, cutting off its exports of oil and natural gas, all of these revenues would be threatened. But, even though President Biden told Putin this weekend that an invasion would lead to “swift and severe costs” for Russia, blanket sanctions on the Russian energy sector aren’t among the retaliatory measures under consideration.
… In the face of European resistance to targeting Russia’s energy exports, the furthest Biden has gone is to threaten to stop the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline, which Gazprom, the giant Russian energy company, has built under the Baltic Sea from Vyborg, Russia, to Lubmin, Germany. Blocking the pipeline permanently would deal a heavy blow to Gazprom, which has invested billions of dollars in the project. But the pipeline isn’t operating yet, and preventing it from going into operation wouldn’t necessarily affect Russia’s current gas exports.
Another sanction that could conceivably have a major impact would be severely restricting Russia’s access to the international banking system

12 February
U.S. Battles Putin by Disclosing His Next Possible Moves
The United States hopes that disclosing the plans of President Putin regarding Ukraine will disrupt them, perhaps delaying an invasion and buying more time for diplomacy.
(NYT) After decades of getting schooled in information warfare by President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia, the United States is trying to beat the master at his own game.
In recent weeks, the Biden administration has detailed the movement of Russian special operation forces to Ukraine’s borders, exposed a Russian plan to create a video of a faked atrocity as a pretext for an invasion, outlined Moscow’s war plans, warned that an invasion would result in possibly thousands of deaths and hinted that Russian officers had doubts about Mr. Putin.
Then, on Friday, Jake Sullivan, President Biden’s national security adviser, told reporters at the White House that the United States was seeing signs of Russian escalation and that there was a “credible prospect” of immediate military action. Other officials said the announcement was prompted by new intelligence that signaled an invasion could begin as soon as Wednesday.

7 February
Robin Wright: Russia and China Unveil a Pact Against America and the West
In a sweeping long-term agreement, Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping, the two most powerful autocrats, challenge the current political and military order.

3 February
The Reason Putin Would Risk War
He is threatening to invade Ukraine because he wants democracy to fail—and not just in that country.
By Anne Applebaum
(The Atlantic) Why would Russia’s president, Vladimir Putin, attack a neighboring country that has not provoked him? Why would he risk the blood of his own soldiers? Why would he risk sanctions, and perhaps an economic crisis, as a result? And if he is not really willing to risk these things, then why is he playing this elaborate game?
… he was posted to the KGB office in Dresden, East Germany, where he endured the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 as a personal tragedy. As the world’s television screens blared out the news of the Cold War’s end, Putin and his KGB comrades in the doomed Soviet satellite state were frantically burning all of their files, making calls to Moscow that were never returned, fearing for their lives and their careers. For KGB operatives, this was not a time of rejoicing, but rather a lesson about the nature of street movements and the power of rhetoric: democratic rhetoric, anti-authoritarian rhetoric, anti-totalitarian rhetoric. Putin, like his role model Yuri Andropov, who was the Soviet ambassador to Hungary during the 1956 revolution there, concluded from that period that spontaneity is dangerous. Protest is dangerous. Talk of democracy and political change is dangerous. To keep them from spreading, Russia’s rulers must maintain careful control over the life of the nation. Markets cannot be genuinely open; elections cannot be unpredictable; dissent must be carefully “managed” through legal pressure, public propaganda, and, if necessary, targeted violence.

2-3 February
Putin heads to China to bolster ties amid Ukraine tensions
(AP) Putin’s talks with Chinese President Xi Jinping on Friday will mark their first in-person meeting since 2019 and are intended to help strengthen Moscow’s ties with China and coordinate their policies in the face of Western pressure.
In an article published Thursday by the Chinese news agency Xinhua, Putin wrote that Moscow and Beijing play an “important stabilizing role” in global affairs and help make international affairs “more equitable and inclusive.”
Why Putin’s upcoming visit with Xi is the main story of the Olympics so far
“Putin is very busy now. He is here because he has to be,” said Shi Yinhong, an international relations professor at Beijing’s Renmin University. “Putin knows China is indispensable for Russia, just as Russia is indispensable for China.”
Putin, who on Tuesday accused the West of luring Russia into war, has not said whether he will meet other world leaders while in Beijing.
His talks with Xi, however, will be closely watched for signs of increasing cooperation between China and Russia, which have grown closer as both of their ties with the West have soured.
The Kremlin has said that Putin and Xi would spend a “lot of time” discussing security in Europe and the demands Russia has made of the West, and that Putin would certainly brief his Chinese counterpart about Russia’s talks with NATO.

28 January
Jeremy Kinsman: will Russia invade? I don’t think Russia is going to attack Ukraine in any conventional military way. Putin wants your attention. I think he’s getting it.
Putin’s case for invading Ukraine rests on phony grievances and ancient myths
The Russian leader doesn’t want to believe Ukraine exists. But that’s not how modern nations work.
By Timothy Snyder
(WaPo) Last July, Vladimir Putin supplied the mythical basis for Russian war propaganda in an essay titled “On the Historical Unity of Russians and Ukrainians.” The essential idea is that Russia has the right to Ukraine because of things that happened a thousand years ago in Kyiv. At the time, the city was a trading hub of Viking slavers who were gaining dominance over local Khazars. It takes some fanciful thinking to see here a reason for Russia to invade Ukraine in the 21st century, as it seems prepared to do. The absurd particulars, though, are less important than the principle. If countries can claim other countries on the grounds of millennial myths, the modern state system ceases to exist.

26-27 January
The Putin Doctrine
A Move on Ukraine Has Always Been Part of the Plan
By Angela Stent, a Nonresident Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution and a former U.S. National Intelligence Officer for Russia and Eurasia. She is the author of Putin’s World: Russia Against the West and With the Rest.
(Foreign Affairs) Putin may still decide not to invade. But whether he does or not, the Russian president’s behavior is being driven by an interlocking set of foreign policy principles that suggest Moscow will be disruptive in the years to come. Call it “the Putin doctrine.” The core element of this doctrine is getting the West to treat Russia as if it were the Soviet Union, a power to be respected and feared, with special rights in its neighborhood and a voice in every serious international matter. The doctrine holds that only a few states should have this kind of authority, along with complete sovereignty, and that others must bow to their wishes. It entails defending incumbent authoritarian regimes and undermining democracies. And the doctrine is tied together by Putin’s overarching aim: reversing the consequences of the Soviet collapse, splitting the transatlantic alliance, and renegotiating the geographic settlement that ended the Cold War.
Ukraine: The West’s worst fears
As tensions over Ukraine reach a fever pitch, experts warn of heavy casualties, thousands of refugees, a fractured country — and an unstable Continent.
By Matthew Karnitschnig, POLITICO’s chief Europe correspondent
(Politico Eu) After amassing more than 100,000 troops and military equipment along Ukraine’s border at strategic points from Belarus to Crimea, Putin has put Russia in a position to attack and occupy its southern neighbor within weeks. Ukraine’s armed forces, however determined, would be no match for Russia’s well-equipped and battle-tested military. The question is not whether Ukraine could repel an attack, but rather how long it could keep the Russians at bay — and what happens next.
…  Moscow’s conditions for pulling back — a ban on further NATO expansion, the end of cooperation between the alliance and nonmembers and a halt to NATO activity on the territory of its Central and Eastern European members — were obvious nonstarters. One theory is that with his unrealistic wish list, the Russian leader was simply trying to create a fig leaf for the history books, in the hope that he won’t be the only one blamed for what comes next.
For Putin, a keen student of history who loves symbolic flourish, 2022, the centenary of the founding of the Soviet Union, would be the perfect time to move against Ukraine.
Explainer: Why is Russia’s Putin drawing “red lines” over Ukraine?
(Reuters) Here are some of the reasons why Russian President Vladimir Putin is so preoccupied with Ukraine and why he has chosen to bring the crisis to a head now.
Since the Cold War ended, NATO has expanded eastwards by taking in 14 new countries, including the states of the former Warsaw Pact and the three Baltic nations that were once in the Soviet Union. Russia saw this as a threatening encroachment towards its borders and continues to say it was a betrayal of Western promises at the start of the 1990s – something the United States and its allies deny.
Ukraine is not a NATO member but has a promise dating from 2008 that it will eventually get to join. Since toppling a pro-Russian president in 2014, it has become closer politically to the West, staged joint military exercises with NATO and taken delivery of weapons including U.S. Javelin anti-tank missiles and Turkish drones. Kyiv and Washington see these as legitimate moves to bolster Ukraine’s defence after Russia seized the Crimea region in 2014 and provided backing to separatists who are still fighting government forces in eastern Ukraine. Putin says Ukraine’s growing ties with the alliance could make it a launchpad for NATO missiles targeted at Russia. He says Russia needs to lay down “red lines” to prevent that.
Geography & Resources
Ukraine is the second biggest country in Europe after Russia itself, has major ports on the Black Sea and shares borders with four NATO countries. It is a major exporter of corn and wheat. Europe depends on Russia for about one third of its natural gas – providing leverage for Putin in any dispute with the West – and one of the main pipelines passes through Ukraine. Controlling the Ukrainian territory that it crosses would enhance Russia’s pipeline security and protect its ability to “weaponise” energy supplies. Most analysts, though, consider it unlikely that Russia would attempt to seize and defend large swathes of Ukrainian territory because the military cost would be too high.
With the 1991 break-up of the Soviet Union, Russia lost control of 14 former republics it had previously dominated, but the loss of Ukraine was the most painful. The two had been linked since the 9th century when Kyiv became the capital of the ancient state of Rus; in 988 its ruler, Grand Prince Vladimir, introduced Orthodox Christianity. From 1654, Russia and Ukraine were united by treaty under the rule of the Russian tsar.
Will There Be a War Over Ukraine? 13 Putin Watchers Weigh In
Here’s what Biden needs to know about the famously unpredictable Russian president — and Washington’s best next moves.
(Politico) At the center of it all is Putin, an enigmatic leader with a quest for power and a deep resentment of the West. With the world watching for a possible war, we reached out to the smartest Russia and Putin watchers we know to ask what might be next — and what the U.S. should do.

24 January
Analysis: Crisis in Ukraine a showdown of two world views
(AP) Since coming to power in 2000, Russian President Vladimir Putin has worked steadily and systematically to reverse what he views as the humiliating breakup of the Soviet Union 30 years ago.
While massing troops along Ukraine’s border and holding war games in Belarus, close to the borders of NATO members Poland and Lithuania, Putin is demanding that Ukraine be permanently barred from exercising its sovereign right to join the Western alliance, and that other NATO actions, such as stationing troops in former Soviet bloc countries, be curtailed.
NATO has said the demands are unacceptable and that joining the alliance is a right of any country and does not threaten Russia. Putin’s critics argue that what he really fears is not NATO, but the emergence of a democratic, prospering Ukraine that could offer an alternative to Putin’s increasingly autocratic rule, which Russians might find appealing.

15 January
How serious is Vladimir Putin about launching a major Ukraine offensive?
Though western officials are unsure whether Russia has decided on a renewed invasion, Putin may never have a better time to do so. These are the key reasons why.
Ukraine has always been central to Putin’s fear that the west wants to undermine Russian sovereignty.
Putin has nurtured grievances against Nato for years — particularly over Ukraine.
Early in his presidency, Putin wanted to align Russia more closely with the west: in one interview, he even claimed to have floated the idea of Moscow joining the alliance in the early 2000s.
… The Kremlin saw Ukraine’s 2004/05 Orange Revolution, when huge crowds in Kyiv helped a pro-western leader overturn a disputed electoral win for Moscow’s candidate, as a dress rehearsal for US-backed regime change in Russia.
Then Ukraine and fellow Soviet state Georgia pushed to be admitted to Nato. Putin saw this as an existential threat. In 2008, he told Bush: “You don’t understand, George, that Ukraine isn’t even a country!”
Months later, Russia invaded Georgia and seized two breakaway territories in a devastating four-day war. The invasion essentially ended Georgia’s hopes of joining Nato. It also seemed to ring a death knell for Ukraine’s aspirations.


29 December
Debunking the myth of a divided Ukraine
By Peter Dickinson
(The Atlantic Council) Historically by far the largest captive nation in Europe, Ukraine has for centuries been the target of deliberate distortions and imperial propaganda aimed at diminishing the country’s claims to statehood.
The legacy of this era has helped make modern Ukraine arguably Europe’s most misunderstood nation. It has also left the country uniquely vulnerable to Russian information warfare, with poorly informed outside audiences seemingly willing to accept all manner of fraudulent narratives.
One of the most commonly encountered myths about today’s Ukraine is the notion that it is an artificially engineered and irrevocably divided state. For obvious reasons, this has long been a central theme of Kremlin propaganda, with Russian President Vladimir Putin a particularly prominent proponent.

10 December
Putin Is Taking a Huge Gamble
His decision to assemble an invasion force along Russia’s border with Ukraine suggests that we are about to enter a dangerous new phase of international relations.
By Thomas Wright
(The Atlantic) When states push back against other states that they see as threatening or powerful, political scientists call this behavior “balancing.”
… Today, however, balancing is most certainly back—and is popularly described with the rather imperfect and amorphous phrase great-power competition. Russia annexed Crimea in 2014, intervened militarily in Syria, and interfered in the U.S.’s 2016 presidential election. … Russia and China began to balance as they became stronger but also because Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping worried that if Western liberalism succeeded globally, it could pose an existential threat to their regimes.

4 December
Fiona Hill: The Kremlin’s Strange Victory
How Putin Exploits American Dysfunction and Fuels American Decline
(Foreign Affairs November/December) Putin sits at the apex of a personalized and semi-privatized kleptocratic system that straddles the Russian state and its institutions and population. He has embedded loyalists in every important Russian institution, enterprise, and industry. If Putin wants to retain the presidency until 2036—by which time he will be 84 years old and will have become the longest-serving modern Russian ruler—he will have to maintain this level of control or even increase it, since any slippage might be perceived as weakness. To do so, Putin has to deter or defeat any opponents, foreign or domestic, who have the capacity to undermine his regime. His hope is that leaders in the United States will get so bogged down with problems at home that they will cease criticizing his personalization of power and will eschew any efforts to transform Russia similar to those the U.S. government carried out in the 1990s.

15 July
Putin’s new Ukraine essay reveals imperial ambitions
By Peter Dickinson, Editor, UkraineAlert, Chief Editor, Business Ukraine Magazine
(The Atlantic Council) Russian President Vladimir Putin has outlined the historical basis for his claims against Ukraine in a controversial new essay that has been likened in some quarters to a declaration of war. The 5,000-word article, entitled “On the Historical Unity of Russians and Ukrainians,” was published on July 12 and features many of talking points favored by Putin throughout the past seven years of undeclared war between Russia and Ukraine.
The Russian leader uses the essay to reiterate his frequently voiced conviction that Russians and Ukrainians are “one people,” while blaming the current collapse in bilateral ties on foreign plots and anti-Russian conspiracies.
In one particularly ominous passage, he openly questions the legitimacy of Ukraine’s borders and argues that much of modern-day Ukraine occupies historically Russian lands, before stating matter of factly, “Russia was robbed.” Elsewhere, he hints at a fresh annexation of Ukrainian territory, claiming, “I am becoming more and more convinced of this: Kyiv simply does not need Donbas.”

12 July
Article by Vladimir Putin ”On the Historical Unity of Russians and Ukrainians“
During the recent Direct Line, when I was asked about Russian-Ukrainian relations, I said that Russians and Ukrainians were one people – a single whole. These words were not driven by some short-term considerations or prompted by the current political context. It is what I have said on numerous occasions and what I firmly believe. I therefore feel it necessary to explain my position in detail and share my assessments of today’s situation.
First of all, I would like to emphasize that the wall that has emerged in recent years between Russia and Ukraine, between the parts of what is essentially the same historical and spiritual space, to my mind is our great common misfortune and tragedy. These are, first and foremost, the consequences of our own mistakes made at different periods of time. But these are also the result of deliberate efforts by those forces that have always sought to undermine our unity. The formula they apply has been known from time immemorial – divide and rule. There is nothing new here.

Russia’s Weak Strongman
The Perilous Bargains That Keep Putin in Power
(Foreign Affairs May/June) …if Putin is unrivaled at home, he is not omnipotent. Like all autocrats, he faces the dual threats of a coup from elites around him and a popular revolt from below. And because of the compromises he has had to make to consolidate his personal control over the state, Putin’s tools for balancing the competing goals of rewarding elites who might otherwise conspire against him and appeasing the public are becoming less and less effective. He has weakened institutions such as courts, bureaucracies, elections, parties, and legislatures so that they cannot constrain him, meaning that he cannot rely on them to generate economic growth, resolve social conflicts, or even facilitate his peaceful exit from office. This leaves Putin dependent on the fleeting commodity of personal popularity and the hazardous methods of repression and propaganda

31 March
Soft annexation: Inside the Russian takeover of Belarus
We are unlikely to witness a formal unification of Russia and its smaller western neighbor; nor will we see a full merger of their militaries. We won’t have to. The Kremlin’s strategy is much more subtle than that, and it is succeeding.
The Russian takeover of Belarus will not be a spectacular event like the 2014 annexation of Crimea, nor will it be a “hybrid” operation like the “little green men” intervention in eastern Ukraine’s Donbas region.
It will also not be a shock-and-awe spectacle like the 2008 invasion of Georgia. Instead, we should be prepared for a slow, stealthy, and methodical operation that will be over before most people even know it is happening. It will be an annexation hiding in plain sight. Think of the old metaphor of a frog in boiling water.

wishful thinking
24 February
Russia after Putin: How to rebuild the state
By Anders Åslund and Leonid Gozman
(Atlantic Council) We do not know when and how Russian President Vladimir Putin’s regime will end, but there are signs that it is struggling and the end could come in the foreseeable future. This final stage may last years, but we need to start discussing now how a new state should be built on the ruins of the old system.1
The new government’s first action should be to release all political prisoners and to establish all elementary freedoms of speech, media, assembly, organization, and religion.
It should dissolve the Federal Security Service (FSB), the principal security agency of Russia, and dismiss all its employees and form a new judicial system, courts, as well as the general prosecutor’s office.
Russia should abandon its presidential system and hold early founding elections at all levels soon after a democratic breakthrough.

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