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Samizdata, derived from Samizdat /n. - a system of clandestine publication of banned literature in the USSR [Russ.,= self-publishing house]

“If he were killing a mouse, he would know how to make it seem like a dragon.”

I offer two bits of the anglosphere’s past to help us understand two bits of the Russian present.


“I should like to put it on record that I have never been able to dislike Hitler. … The fact is there is something deeply appealing about him.” (George Orwell, review of ‘Mein Kampf’)

Like the media travestying Trump’s remarks about Putin’s ‘genius move’ into sounding like Trump approved Putin’s invasion, I have used omission to near-invert Orwell’s point. Here it is again, with less omitted.

“I should like to put it on record that I have never been able to dislike Hitler. Ever since he came to power – till then, like nearly everyone, I had been deceived into thinking he did not matter – I have reflected that I would certainly kill him if I could get within reach of him, but that I could feel no personal animosity. The fact is there is something deeply appealing about him. One feels it again when one sees his photographs … It is a pathetic, doglike face, the face of a man suffering under intolerable wrongs … the martyr, the victim, Prometheus chained to the rock, the self-sacrifing hero who fights single-handedly against impossible odds. … If he were killing a mouse, he would know how to make it seem like a dragon.”

The last sentence is the point; before he finally awakened dragons he could not slay, Hitler spent years being the dragon, and the Jews were not the only victims who were about as much of a threat to him as mice – who only became even a bit dangerous to him because he left them no choice. But he knew how to make it look like the opposite. He knew in terms of conscious propaganda, but it was more than that: “there is little doubt that is how Hitler sees himself”, warns Orwell.

For months, up until ten days ago when he invaded, Putin (and western elites) thought the Ukraine was a mouse that Russian tanks would race through – Biden’s handlers had so written it off they had him invite (beg) Putin to take just a piece of it. But Putin’s propagandists knew their task was to make it look like a dragon. How to explain invading Crimea under Obama, and Ukraine under Biden, and nowhere under Trump, while claiming you’re doing it because you feel threatened – threatened not by Ukraine as such (bit of a hard sell, that) but by big bad America’s use of Ukraine? Luckily for them, Putin’s narrative has an ally – Biden’s narrative. How to explain Putin doing nothing under Trump, then invading after the U.S. flees Afghanistan, while locals who’d relied on them dropped from aircraft wings? Thus it is that the two insolent, imbecile narratives – Putin’s (that he’s invading because the US looks active, not because it looks pathetically weak) and Biden’s (that he causes Putin concern, not contempt) – acquire strange echoes and overlaps from their mutual need to write Trump out of the story, to explain away why it’s happening now, not then.

Secondly, that is not the whole story. You miss something central if you think this deflection is happening only in Putin’s conscious mind. The full story (that is, what I’m guessing is the full story) is rather odd to the western mind. I hope my next historical anecdote will make it more relatable.

The Americans had friends as well as foes in Britain’s parliament during their revolution – people as highly placed as former prime minister Pitt the elder, who were ready to defend the justice of the American case, to vote for them to have assurances, rights, no taxation without representation – but not independence. Edmund Burke, MP for Bristol, told his fellow MPs they

looked at the position in a wrong point of view, and talked of it as a mere matter of choice when, in fact, it was now become a matter of necessity. … It was incumbent on Great Britain to acknowledge it directly. On the day he [Burke] first heard of the American States having claimed independency, it made him sick at heart … because he saw it was a claim essentially injurious to this country and a claim Great Britain could never get rid of.

Burke felt as strongly as any other British MP how they all disliked the idea of the American colonies ceasing to be part of the British nation – and so worked hard to resolve tensions, to maintain or restore the “rights of Englishmen” for which the rebels first fought. At celebrations of the American revolution he therefore has a slightly equivocal place. His insightful explanations help establish the justice of the American Revolution – which he tried very hard to avert by removing its cause. Only

“When things had come to this pass (which no-one laboured to prevent more than I)”

did Burke tell his fellow British MPs that American independence, was no longer a matter of choice, no longer a debating chip to be traded away in negotiations – so Britain’s true interest was no longer to refuse a thing so “essentially injurious” to the mother country, but to limit the injury by parting on as friendly terms as could be managed.

Others lacked such insight. Years later, America’s friends in parliament yielded to military necessity what they were slow to yield to Burke’s ‘necessity’.

It was a useful lesson. The better part of two centuries elapsed before the British empire had “its finest hour”, soon followed by its last (of existing on the scale that had once seen it not just a world power but the world power). Parting on good terms was now accepted as the goal – which left the UK still ready and able to punch a bit above its weight in coalitions with its friends.

Like Britain, Russia could be a great power with its empire – and a prosperous, safe, happy power without it, but not a great power bestriding the world in splendid isolation. Russia has no need to rule the Ukraine – but Imperial Russia does, and that in turn needs the Ukraine to be not a real country, not a thing innate and of itself. Putin doesn’t just lie about the Ukraine existing only as a US puppet. He has to confabulate that it is, because, in his imperial vision of Russia, the Ukraine can’t be real.

– The Ukraine isn’t a real country, so obviously the Ukraine cannot be seeking ties with NATO because Putin has been saying for years that it never really existed and must cease to exist; that’s unimaginable as the cause. So clearly, those wicked Americans have corrupted the Ukrainian government into acting against its own interests. (When the wicked American is Joe Biden, it helps that the part about causing corruption in the Ukraine is no lie.)

– The Ukraine isn’t a real country so it cannot matter that Russian rule of the Ukraine began in a word translatable as ‘serf’ or as ‘slave’, and in living memory meant Stalin, famine and purge on a scale meeting the UN definition of genocide. Russia had serfs and Stalin too, and the Ukraine, not being a separate country, cannot be acting out of a distinct, grimmer, historical memory.

Thus Putin is not simply lying when his actions show he knows the U.S. has never been weaker, yet he insists America is driving events in Ukraine. The Ukraine cannot be acting autonomously, still less from fear of the man who has so clearly explained that it’s not a real country – because the Ukraine is not a real country.

And it is by this that he has been punished. Ten days ago, he had everything whose existence he believed in sewn up: a self-prostrated US; a Europe that had chosen to be dependent on his energy; woke weakness everywhere in the west. It was the perfect time to act. What could go wrong?

In the west, we’ve said Mr Putin is wicked, we’ve renamed Chicken Kievs “Chicken Kvivs” in the shops, we’ve even expelled Russia from the Eurovision Song Contest. While cancel culture crazies loudly retarget their usual techniques to ban Dostoevsky (university of Milan), to withdraw the film Anastasia (Disney), and to clear the shelves of bottles of Smirnoff (actually made in Latvia), the World Economic Forum has very quietly scrubbed Putin from their website.

Less uselessly, we’re rethinking buying so much of our energy from him. Some NATO members are talking about meeting their treaty obligations. We’ve banned Russia from the SWIFT system. Zelensky having refused Biden’s proffered ride out (“thou thought I was even such a one as thyself”), the ammunition he demanded instead is now being supplied – and the weapons that Trump was giving them are now flowing again (from Britain and Poland – and Sweden). If you volunteer to fight for the Ukrainians, the west will let you go (and stay behind).

And we wouldn’t have done any of these things if Putin had raced through the Ukraine as fast as he, and the western smart set, thought he would. The west driving events in Ukraine? No, for the last ten days, events in the Ukraine have driven the west. Putin ramps up his narrative; Biden’s handlers scramble to reorient his; the unanticipated reality of the Ukraine drives events.

Which, alas, is dangerous to the Ukraine that Putin now dimly knows exists, since the obvious way for him to deal with this unexpected development is to decide it’s not too late to kill it. He expected to look like Hitler racing through Austria. Today, he looks more like Stalin invading Finland. He fears looking like Mussolini invading Greece. Putin will endure much before he lets that happen; so may the Ukraine.

18 comments to “If he were killing a mouse, he would know how to make it seem like a dragon.”

  • Nessimmersion

    For an expert and much more nuanced opinion on the matter, this interview with Scott Ritter (who was the UN weapons inspector in Iraq who eventually resigned in protest) is worth listening to all the way through.

  • Nicholas (Unlicensed Joker) Gray

    But will the Ukrainians be able to hold out, and even defeat the Russians? I think that Russia will slowly grind down the country until it is occupied, but will need to stay there to encourage the natives to accept their lot. If no western nation will counter-attack, then Putin’s war will be a long one.

  • For an expert and much more nuanced opinion on the matter, this interview with Scott Ritter…

    Er, Scott Ritter is just accepting Russian claims that Ukraine is a Nazi state with its ideological core in Lviv. The guy is a nutjob.

  • Patrick Crozier

    How do we know that things aren’t going according to Putin’s plan? It’s not like the Western Front in 1914. There’s no great rush so there’s no particular reason to think there’s a detailed timetable involved. I believe things didn’t go entirely according to plan for the Allies in Normandy but they won easily enough.

  • Alsadius

    FWIW, the Anastasia thing was just coincidence. They had a contract to move it over to a different streaming service for a time (I believe it was some of the knock-on effects of Disney buying Fox), and that contract was signed before the invasion.

    But yeah, agreed with almost all the rest. I’ve taken to calling this Winter War 2, though I hope the outcome is a bit happier this time.

    (And for anyone who wants to do more to help than changing names on menus, the Ukrainian Army takes donations by Google Pay now, so it’s really easy to chip in. https://bank.gov.ua/en/news/all/natsionalniy-bank-vidkriv-spetsrahunok-dlya-zboru-koshtiv-na-potrebi-armiyi)

  • Martin

    So you can still use Russian oil and gas and not be accused of being a putinite, but reading Dostoevsky and Solzhenitsyn is a sign of dangerous pro-Russian sentiments?

  • So you can still use Russian oil and gas and not be accused of being a putinite…

    I’ve long said many top members of the German & other European political elites were in Putin’s pocket based on their energy policy decisions. Been saying that for more than 10 years.

  • bob sykes

    People apparently think that Russia has been defeated, and is in retreat.

    In 2003, it took a month for the US/UK blitzkrieg to take Baghdad, and the US never achieved stable control over Iraq. The tanks moved about 15 to 20 miles per day, which is actually quite fast. By comparison, the Russia advance in Ukraine is faster than that, and today they control some 30 to 40% of Ukraine, which is an area about equal to the UK.

    Putin has repeatedly said that Russia will not occupy Ukraine. Its goal is Ukrainian neutrality, demilitarization, and denazification. Any insurgency will be a problem for the Zelensky government, and all those Javelins and Stingers will make life Hell for him.

    The sanctions are a farce. The most important Russian exports are fuels, and they are exempt. China, India and other non-Western countries are ignoring the sanctions. And now Russia has tied the sanction regime to renewal of JCPOA. A number of American commentators are surprised to learn that Russia is a signatory to the pact, and that it is incorporated in a UN Security Council resolution.

    The actual outcome of the Ukrainian-Russian war will not be known until early April, and then the serious negotiations will begin. Almost all Western commentary has been delusional in the extreme.

    PS. Russia attacked Finland twice in WW II. The first attack occurred after Stalin’s purge of his generals, and it failed. The second attack succeeded and Finland was crushed.

  • Martin

    I’ve long said many top members of the German & other European political elites were in Putin’s pocket based on their energy policy decisions. Been saying that for more than 10 years.

    As a teenager at university watching the Iraq war descend into farce, despite not knowing much about economics or the wider history of the Middle East, I do remember thinking it was pretty insane to rely on one area of the world so much for energy. Obviously at the time one was thinking of the Middle East, but the same applies to Russia. Ironically back at the time of the Iraq war, apparently the EU was an overall net energy exporter. Now it clearly isn’t. But apparently the globalist class thinks the biggest offender for this behaviour is a model for a ‘grown up country’.

    As an aside, that a lot of the missiles Germany is sending to Ukraine, are broken because they’re ancient (ex-GDR stock!) speaks volumes.

  • Paul Marks

    The Economist magazine also took the opportunity to lie about President Trump, but then it has been lying about Donald John Trump since at last 2016.

    This time it was a cartoon of President Trump hugging Mr Putin – the pretence being that President Trump loves Mr Putin. In reality, as the lying scum of the Economist magazine know perfectly well, President Trump took a much more anti Putin line than President Obama or Mr Biden – both President Obama and Mr Biden following the anti American hydrocarbons policy that plays into Mr Putin’s hands. Mr Putin attacked Ukraine under President Obama and it attacked Ukraine under Mr Biden – Mr Putin did not attack Ukraine under President Trump.

    Indeed the Economist magazine has supported the same anti American hydrocarbons policy – so it should really have a cartoon of ITSELF hugging Mr Putin.

  • Paul Marks

    Martin which Iraq War “descended into farce”?

    The Iraq campaign my “Uncle Bill” (family friend – not biological uncle) served in was successful – in that Iraq remained under pro Western governance in the 1930s and 1940s, indeed right up to 1958 (the retreat in Suez in 1956 led to a chain of anti Western coups in the Middle East).

    The 1991 campaign was also successful – Iraq was kicked out of its invasion of Kuwait. Saddam was NOT overthrown – but that was not the objective of the campaign.

    The 2003 campaign I did not support – however, it did achieve its objective of removing Saddam and installing a government elected by the Iraqi people.

    In practice that means a Shia government rather than a Sunni government – as most Iraqis are Shia.

    I never quite understood the point of this campaign (WHY it was a good thing to replace a Sunni government with a Shia government) – but it achieved its objective.

    Certainly there has been no overthrow of the Shia government in Iraq (although Islamic State came close to that – and President Trump stopped them) – so there has been no “farce”.

    It could be argued that AFGHANISTAN descended into farce – but that was in 2021 due to the withdrawal of troops by Mr Biden.

    It was always clear that as soon as American military forces were withdrawn the Taliban would come back to power – as the Pew Research Centre showed, the great majority of Afghans (not “Afghanis” please) support ISLAMIC LAW – and that is what the Taliban stands for, a government of Afghanistan that did not subjugate women, persecute homosexuals, kill people who left Islam (and so on) would obviously only last whilst Western military forces were there to support it.

    “They could not stay there for ever” – well yes indeed, so eventually the Taliban (or another movement out to enforce Islamic Law) would return to power.

  • I’ve long said many top members of the German & other European political elites were in Putin’s pocket based on their energy policy decisions. Been saying that for more than 10 years.

    …and finally those chickens are coming home to roost and they are not just German chickens (although that flock may be largest), the UK has its share too.

    For years, both here and elsewhere I have argued that energy INSECURITY was probably the most dangerous aspect of the whole Warble Gloaming mass hysteria. That we’ve managed to get this far down the road WITHOUT the UK being without power for days-to-weeks is a miracle of biblical proportions. The Netzero fantasy of the warming globalists (while preventing both the development of nuclear and fracking) is not an oversight, it is a deliberate weakening of this country’s energy security and although the aim may not have been to put us at the mercy of Putin and his crony oligarchs, the net effect of blocking other efforts at guaranteeing domestic supply certainly have.

    So here we are. Maybe not where we expected to be, but certainly where we deserved to be, with our energy security being used against us by Putin, like a heroin dealer threatening to cut off our supply and with no meaningful alternatives to fall back on because the petrels of Muscovy have been screaming their vain cries about Flipper being boiled in the dregs of the last ice floe for the last few decades.

    The only meaningful answer is widespread repeal of legislation that undermines our energy security. This DOES NOT mean reopening the coal mines and burning our way out of the problem, since that would be as problematic as doing nothing, but certainly all of the Net Zero nonsense needs to be repealed along with the removal of barriers to the construction of nuclear power as a replacement.

    Far better to have that the electrical base load is provided by nuclear and the peak load is delivered through domestically fracked gas and our rather unreliable renewables than to be dependent upon foreign countries for our energy supplies, irrespective of whether that supply is Norway or Russia. Time and again, we’ve been shown the consequence of such dependance. It was a factor in the Suez Crisis, the Arab Oil Crisis of the early 1970’s and today.

    Time for lessons to be ACTUALLY LEARNED once and for all.

  • Paul Marks

    Niall – as you know, Mr Putin is NOT the man both his enemies and his apologists think he is.

    Had he been this “Strong Man” – Mr Putin would not have had a Covid lockdown in Russia, his fellow dictator in Belarus did NOT have a Covid lockdown, and even Sweden did NOT. But Mr Putin did – because it was the fashion of the “international community” – and (although they have scrubbed their website to remove his name), Mr Putin is just as much a “trained bitch” of the World Economic Forum as Mr Trudeau of Canada is (before anyone mentions it – I know that President Z. of the Ukraine is not really different in this matter).

    Mr Putin (if he really has been the “alternative” to the World Economic Forum and United Nations Corporate State – that his allies claim he is) could also have had a GOLD CURRENCY – Russia has lots of gold and Mr Putin has had more than TWENTY YEARS to set up a gold currency.

    But NO – Mr Putin relied on the fiat money “Ruble” and his so called “War Chest” of hundreds of billions of “Foreign Currency Reserves”.

    “Foreign Currency Reserves” of FIAT MONEY – which a few clicks of a computer keyboard has not “made worthless” so much as revealed that it always-was-worthless.

    Deep down Mr Putin is not an “alternative” at all – he is trapped in the same Big Government Interventionist assumptions as Mr Trudeau and all the rest. National Collectivism rather than International Collectivism is still COLLECTIVISM – still despotism.

  • Martin

    Martin which Iraq War “descended into farce”?

    The one from 2003. I suppose one can make some argument it wasn’t a complete disaster. Admittedly the ‘good war’ of Afghanistan turned out over a longer-term period to be even more of a failure in many ways. But I doubt there’d have been anywhere near as much support for it in 2003 if its advocates had said they’d find no WMD, that there would be a long and costly insurgency that would leave several thousand soldiers dead and cost a few trillion dollars, and that the main beneficiary of the war would be Iran. Note for example that Iraq, alongside Iran, abstained on the UN resolution regarding Ukraine this past week, which I think highlights the country’s own priorities. I think to class the war there as an American success requires a generous definition of the term. I think Trump was a lot more on the money when he called it a ‘big fat mistake’.

    Ultimately when a country considers invading another country (or getting involved in another state’s civil war for that matter), regardless of the reason, one ought to be wary of buying into your own propaganda that the other country’s citizens will welcome you as a liberator. There may be justified reasons to still proceed with such a war, but I would still stress huge caution ever thinking the local population will welcome you, at least for long.

    I know that even if Britain had a shitty government and it was invaded by supposedly more ‘enlightened’ foreign ‘liberators’, I’d fight the ‘liberators’ to the death, because ultimately they’d be uninvited foreigners who have no business being in Britain.

  • rosenquist

    People are saying that Russia would not have invaded Ukraine because Putin feared Trump and does not fear Biden. They may be right that Russia would not have invaded Ukraine under Trump but it has nothing to do with Putin fearing Trump (I do not think Putin ‘fears’ anyone)

    Trump ran on having better relations with Russia, and he questioned the wisdom of letting every country in Europe into NATO (indeed Trump was close to pulling the US out of NATO altogether)- so yes Trump may well have been able prevent what is happening now.
    The reality is that as soon as the deep state colluded with the democrats to steal the election in 2020 a Russian invasion of Ukraine became a fait accompli.

  • JackOkie

    Let’s be clear about Iraq:
    1) Saddam agreed to follow the UN protocol to divest Iraq of WMD as a condition to ending hostilities in Gulf War 1. South Africa had earlier followed that protocol with no problems. Saddam was not cooperating – the protocol does not contemplate inspectors engaging in a country-wide snipe hunt – while many UN apparatchiks and others enriched themselves through the “Oil for Food” hustle.
    2) Subsequent events showed Scott Ritter’s sudden reversal was likely due to an Iraqi underage honey trap.
    3) GWB and his advisors faced the choice of allowing the UN’s credibility to continue to erode in the face of Saddam’s brazen defiance, which threatened regional stability, or solving the problem through force of arms. The Bush administration apparently thought invasion was the lesser of two poor choices.

  • People are saying that Russia would not have invaded Ukraine because Putin feared Trump and does not fear Biden.

    We will never know, and to be fair, I think Putin invading Ukraine was a matter of when rather than if. Putin has been in power a long time, which gives him a different perspective to the transient leaders of what passes for normal nations. If Trump was POTUS, Putin might just take the view he can wait for a less scary POTUS because he, unlike the POTUS, will still be there in 4 or 8 years.

    But all we can say with certainty is he did not do this when Trump was in office, he attacked when Obama (Crimea) and Biden were in office.

  • […] here as elsewhere, the pro-Biden narrative and the pro-Putin narrative overlap. It was a Putin shill or dupe […]