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Samizdata quote of the day

I don’t want to take anything away from the Ukrainians, who have basically been a banner case of military transformation, but it also helps that the Russians are really, really bad at the whole “war that involves more than bombing hospitals” thing.

Adot Crawley

43 comments to Samizdata quote of the day

  • Paul Marks

    There was a chance to build a professional all volunteer Russian Army – but that chance was rejected at the end of the 1990s by a young Prime Minister.

    The name of that young Prime Minister at the end of the 1990s was Vladimer Putin.

    You reap what you sow Mr Putin.

  • You reap what you sow Mr Putin.

    To which the only response is ‘oh dear, how sad, never mind.’

  • Kirk

    [snort] I’m sorry, Paul, but I had to laugh hysterically when I read this:

    “There was a chance to build a professional all volunteer Russian Army – but that chance was rejected at the end of the 1990s by a young Prime Minister.”

    Here’s the thing… There wasn’t a chance, really. There was a moment there, when they might have actually made the attempt, but absent shutting the whole thing down, sending everyone home, and then starting over with entirely new people that had never, ever even heard the words “Russian Army”? It wasn’t going to happen. It won’t happen, either, until the Russians are finally and utterly defeated using their age-old methodologies that were always “just good enough” to achieve victory through mass. Usually with the implication that “mass” means “mass of our dead bodies burying the enemy”.

    The problem is that the former Soviet system was based on lies, mis-reporting, and a bunch of self-indulgent fantasies about the “proletarian revolution”. Putin might have made the attempt at reforming that cluster-f*ck of intersecting dysfunctions, but he’d have had to be a charismatic on the level of Jesus Christ to have gotten anyone to actually do anything about it all.

    Russia is fuxxored because they’ve built a culture of endemic criminality and corruption; none of the officers or civilians running their government or military see anything at all wrong with personal enrichment at the expense of the state. That’s the legacy of Communism, right there–Inescapable, when you get down to it. 1.5 million sets of uniforms, vanished into the night and darkness of the former Soviet system? Just an example. Were they sold to airsofters around the world, who wanted to cosplay as the vaunted Russian Army? Were they sold to actual Russians, as hunting clothes and for the parents of the troops themselves to buy their boys, to keep them warm? Were they ever even produced?

    You can’t even begin to process the depth and the level to which the former Soviet system was corrupted. A friend of mine was an Army officer who took part in the START inspections after the Wall came down. His description of what they found inside the former Soviet strategic weapons arsenals were disturbing at the time, darkly hysterical in terms of macabre humor, and frightening as hell in retrospect.

    They’d roll up on a Soviet facility, where there were supposed to be X number of bunkers storing Y number of warheads. With the paperwork they had from Moscow, the central registry for these things, they’d start looking. The local garrisons would be terrified, because they knew there were discrepancies galore. Entire storage bunkers recorded on the central records were simply non-existent; the warheads that were in them precisely the same. The strategic weapons complex in the Soviet Union was no different than the rest of their economy; you’d have endless cases of “storming the norms” and faking production data cooperatively, so that nobody got in trouble with Moscow. Materials would be diverted, and facilities never built that were supposed to be there.

    The state of things that he inspected were such that they eventually concluded that there was really no way to tell if they were being lied to, because the Soviets had been so thorough about lying to themselves that nobody had a damn clue at any level what ground truth actually was. Were there missing “backpack nukes”? Who knows? Facts were almost impossible to establish; even the records for production of fissionable materials were fudged and nobody really wanted to know, ‘cos if they did, they’d have to do something about it.

    That was the strategic arsenal. You extrapolate that out to everything else, and then imagine trying to “fix” it? I have to laugh; the Russians didn’t have a hope, not unless they started over entirely.

    Note well the things you see in the videos from Ukraine: There is no functioning low-level leadership. Those stupid bastards are basically like the Lost Boys, operating without any real adult supervision. Their positions are full of trash, there is no discipline about leaving tracks behind, and they’re totally inept about just day-to-day housekeeping in the field. I wager that the number of casualties they’re taking from simple things like a lack of field hygiene or discipline about keeping water and food safe are excessive, just like they’ve been everywhere the Soviets or Russians have fought. Come this winter, you’re going to see where that goes, and it won’t be anywhere any good.

    If someone like Putin wanted to reform the Russian Army, they’d better have some sort of disciplined ideology behind them, and be willing to do the work. As it was, as it is? No way, no how; ain’t happening. They’ve got nothing to build on and no idea even what they need to do. Were you to stick a hundred thousand NATO NCOs into the Russian military, you’d likely still fail, because there’s no underlying culture of discipline or care for subordinates.

    I worked with a couple of former Red Army guys, who’d wound up in the US Army. Enlightening, to say the least; both of them made a lot of the same points, independent of each other, and were totally derisive whenever they spoke about their time in the Soviet forces. The hardest thing they found to adapt to in the US Army was that a.) you could actually get in trouble for doing the things that were routine in the Soviet Army, and b.) that anyone really cared about them. One of them described to me how it brought him to tears one night in the field, when his leadership actually came around and checked on how he was doing in the cold. Entire time he was in the Soviet forces, nobody ever once did that. Instead, if anyone got frostbite, they were disciplined with draconian levels of punishment, even if the people doing the punishment were the ones that sent them off to do guard duty in summer uniforms and boots…

    Reforming the Russian Army? I think St. Michael himself would beg off, on that one. Putin isn’t even a minor saint, let alone an archangel.

  • I knew a western accountant (brother of a friend) who worked at a high level in Russia just before and during Putin’s early years. He and his western colleagues produced the accounts that went to the western investors. A Russian accounting firm (with which my friend’s brother and his colleagues were careful to have nothing whatsoever to do), produced the accounts that the same company provided to the Russian tax and other authorities. One of the problems was that, with so much organised deception going on in parallel, such ability as there was to determine what was true tended to degrade.

  • Were they ever even produced?

    Almost certainly not, mostly likely they were a ledger entry, nothing more.

  • Paul Marks

    No Kirk – Mr Putin did not try and reform things, he reversed the reforms that had been made. And he prevented other reforms such as real trial of jury, and (yes) an end to conscription.

    There was an independent media in Russia – Mr Putin destroyed it.

    He also took over a lot of private business enterprises – sometimes forcing people out, sometimes just having them murdered.

    He also had a lot of other good Russians murdered.

    I am tired, very tired of this “first they smash your face in, and then they say you were always ugly” stuff.

    Russians are not genetically bad, and Russian culture is not all bad either. Russia was emerging from the long night of the Soviet Union, but two things destroyed hope.

    The first was Mr Putin – but the other was the terrible (utterly terrible) advice given by the West – especially the Clinton Administration.

    Credit money and bubble banking – that is the “capitalism” they gave Russia, vast inflation destroyed the incomes and savings of people.

    The Russian people thought this bankerism was “capitalism” – who was there to tell them any different? So “capitalism failed”.

    And Mr Putin took advantage of that – he offered a way out of the chaos, his way was poison, but people were desperate. And once he had taken out opposition television stations (and opposition media generally) it was too late to turn back.

    People in the West do not understand how poor and desperate Russians were when they made the fatal mistake of trusting Mr Putin – but people in the West are going to learn how poor and desperate the Russians people were, very soon.

    Because people in the West are going to be just as poor and just as desperate – for the same reasons that Russians became so poor and desperate under the last period of Boris Yeltsin. Boris Yeltsin meant well, he really did, but he let endless Credit Money loose on Russia – the monetary chaos that had helped put “Lenin” in control so many years before.

    Then people can all sneer about how Western culture was never any good, and how Westerners are genetically or culturally incapable of freedom. “First they smash your face in, then they say you were always ugly”.

    “Impossible”, “it will never happen”.

    Were the last couple of years a dream then?

    How about the decline of liberty (the rise of statism) over the last 150 years?

    The Western economies are going to crash – and Western societies (Western culture itself) is not in good shape either.

  • Steven R

    “People in the West do not understand how poor and desperate Russians were when they made the fatal mistake of trusting Mr Putin – but people in the West are going to learn how poor and desperate the Russians people were, very soon.”

    You could say that about any of the people who ended up in charge in Russia since Nicky II got popped. Kerensky, Lenin, Stalin, all the way to Yeltsin, Medvedev, and Putin. It was the same story in Iran when they got rid of the Shah for Khomeini, it was the same story in Cuba when the locals turned to Castro, it was the same story when French peasants turned to Marat and Robespierre, It’s a story as old as the world. And it will be the same story a thousand years from now when some people who have had their necks stepped on by a tyrant for generations turn towards a savior who promises to fix the problems and becomes even worse than the guy he deposes and kills.

    “Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.”

  • Chester Draws

    And yet, Paul Marks, the other ex-Soviet countries didn’t all end up that way. Estonia’s economy is very different to Russia’s, yet it started from the same place and managed to survive the advice that you say ruined Russia. You are a stuck record, unprepared to see that similar economies managed to prosper with exactly the system you say is utterly ruinous. The modern monetary system, tied to free enterprise, has lifted much of Eastern Europe from dull peasantry to quite nice places in a generation.

    Two things ruined Russia’s attempt to move to capitalism.

    The mental attitude expertly out-lined by Kirk. Whereas the Poles, Czechs and Balts decided to repudiate anything that smacked of the Communist era, the Russians and Belarussians did not. So very different outcomes. Initially the Ukrainians were half-way there, struggling with corruption in particular, but I think that this war will end that — anything that is even remotely Russian in manner is going to be anathema now.

    The other thing that ruined Russia was staggering resource wealth. Putin didn’t need a free vibrant economy to become stupidly wealthy and throw Russia’s weight around. He just used the oil and gas money.

    In the long run, this war may be the making of Ukraine. Already we have seen that in 10 years they have transformed a useless Soviet-style army into a decent operation. Pace, Paul Marks, they listened to Western advice, and that turned out to be a very good thing for them.

  • Mark

    @Kirk

    Fascinating. Wonder if the chinese military is much better

  • John

    Chester,

    Was it western advice or the astronomic sums of western money, weaponry and equipment which were responsible for this transformation of, in your words, a useless soviet-style army and its resultant success against a larger foe.

    As far as it being the making of Ukraine how much ongoing support will be needed to maintain the situation and is the west willing or able to provide it.

    Will Ukraine be fortunate enough not to be added to the list of countries devastated following western, effectively US, intervention.

  • Mr Ed

    Does anyone actually want a professional, competent army in Russia?

  • Whereas the Poles, Czechs and Balts decided to repudiate anything that smacked of the Communist era, the Russians and Belarussians did not.

    Exactly correct at least re. Russia (Belarus not so much), which is why pretty much daily you see images and video of Russian units in Ukraine flying not just Russian flags but also Soviet flags. In the minds of a large number of Russians, the Soviet Union was not just a continuation of Imperial Russia, it was Russia-as-superpower, something to be nostalgic about.

  • Will Ukraine be fortunate enough not to be added to the list of countries devastated following western, effectively US, intervention.

    You mean like post-war Western Europe?

  • Patrick

    One thing this war has revealed is that the Soviet / Russian way of war is defunct. Moving kit and logistics to the front by rail, building large supply dumps near the railheads, and trucking stuff a short distance to the front used to be viable. Now it’s just asking for an Excalibur or MLRS strike. It’s also completely not workable where you lack air cover. They can’t supply the front. They also rely on absolutely everything being armoured. Every BTG is on tracked vehicles – tanks, APCs, IFVs, SPGs, air defence, the lot. But armour is looking a lot more like a nice juicy target than a protective shell these days. All manner of smart top attack munitions (Javelin, NLAW, Hellfire, Brimstone, DIY drones with DIY warheads, etc) have utterly wrecked the Russian vehicle inventory. Without a large and competent infantry and / or air cover their huge vehicle stocks are simply not the threat they think they are. Modern warfare is about real time excellent battlefield intel, real time precise targeting and strike at range capability, disciplined all arms integration. Quality in other words. And that requires a military culture that is different from what the Russians have.

  • The Pedant-General

    Kirk,

    “One of them described to me how it brought him to tears one night in the field, when his leadership actually came around and checked on how he was doing in the cold.”

    This. This is one of the fundamental differences between the armed forces of a functioning state and those of authoritarian regimes. Same was true in Iraq – see obit of Col Alistair Campbell who was the British Defence Attache in Iraq after the 2003 invasion. https://www.telegraph.co.uk/obituaries/2021/10/27/colonel-alastair-campbell-accomplished-arabist-soldier-served/

    “On a visit to the naval base at Umm Qasr, he came to a lonely outpost where he engaged the sentry in conversation in the same informal manner that he would have used with one of his soldiers. It turned out that the post had never been visited by an Iraqi officer. Campbell learned much about the morale and practices at the base.”

    The importance of this attitude is drummed into leaders right down to the most junior level. That and the overwhelming importance of integrity as a junior officer. Your troops will forgive some level of incompetence, but they will never forgive you if they suspect you are not absolutely trustworthy.

    The benefits in terms of the resilience and flexibility of the organisation are astonishing. Higher commanders communicate aims and worry less about insisting how their subordinates achieve those aims.

    Russia appears to have none of these things. At any level.

  • John

    You mean like post-war Western Europe?

    Yes although I doubt if Uncle Sam, particularly in the person of Biden46, will be as enthusiastic in enforcing payment for war debts as was the case with Western Europe and particularly the UK.

  • Kirk

    You can have a functional and effective army, if you’re a totalitarian state. North Korea comes to mind, in the early part of the Korean War. Thing is, such forces are horribly, horribly brittle: Inflict enough loss on them, they break and they usually don’t come back. Plus that, the ideological underpinnings for those forces are usually wasting assets, perhaps good for a generation or two, but will eventually be subsumed by the inherent contradictions and human nature itself. One generations all-conquering Janissary army is the next generations corrupt and useless Praetorian Guard, deciding who is going to be the next Caliph.

    No military culture really lasts more than a few generations at best. Cromwell’s New Model Army vanished into the maw of history, as did the Roman Republican legions, followed in turn by the Imperial versions. Basic principals remain, and if you manage to institutionalize those, well… You might do well.

    Every military is a reflection of the culture producing it. Russia, at the moment, is a corrupt pit of internecine advantage-seekers and criminals. The army it fields is going to reflect that, and as an expression of fundamental Russian dysfunction, it’d be hard to find a better example. It shows in ohsomanyways, primarily in the utter lack of low-level leadership and field discipline. The Russian “system”, if it can be dignified with the term, seems to believe that it can substitute schrecklichkeit for actual effectiveness and due care for its troops and civilians. The irony here is that the same sort of idiocy is what destroyed Hitler’s attempt at his Thousand-Year Reich; wise despots don’t start slaughtering and ethnic cleansing until after the war is won; you do it as you fight the war, all you’re doing is making it clear what your goals are, and serving to convince the enemy to fight harder.

    Hitler was a parvenu, same as Putin. They want the quick-and-easy Imperial Solution, and are unwilling to take the time to do it right. You want Ukraine back under your thumb, Russia? You have to do it “softly, softly, catchee monkey”, not with brutal force. I dare say that if Putin and his ilk had the wit and wisdom to “do it right”, and work slowly and effectively, they’d have met their goals in a generation or two. I mean, for God’s sake… Supposedly, the idea here was to counter NATO, right? So, when you wind up convincing everyone in NATO to increase their defense budgets and you get two new members on your immediate border, WTF? Is that working? And, instead of going “Wow, that blew up in our faces…” and cutting back on the stupid, we’re instead seeing a doubling- and tripling-down on the initial bad bet of taking over Eastern Europe again.

    Russia is led by idiots, at all levels. They can’t identify their own self-interest, or act in it. It’s going to be a real sh*t-show, watching them circle the toilet bowl before history finally finishes flushing the regime.

  • JohnK

    Kirk:

    Welcome aboard, your insights are very interesting. You make a valid point, why should a dysfunctional and corrupt country such as Russia not have a dysfunctional and corrupt military? We have to hope that Putin does not decide that a tactical nuke is his way out, or at least, if he does, it turns out not to work.

  • TomJ

    Was it western advice or the astronomic sums of western money, weaponry and equipment which were responsible for this transformation of, in your words, a useless soviet-style army and its resultant success against a larger foe.

    I’m going to say the former, or at least being willing to listen to the former. The Afghan Nation Security Forces were given astronomic sums of weapons and kit and folded before the Taliban when allied forces withdrew. Partly this was because the contractor logistic support their air and aviation assets relied upon was withdrawn at the same time, with minimal warning, so it’s a somewhat invidious comparison, but I think the Ukranians absolutely absorbed the importance of identifying enemy strategic centres of gravity, of manoeuvre and of mission command. I suspect their decentralised fire control has taken the latter to new heights.

  • Kirk

    Key differences between Ukraine and Afghanistan really came down to two main reasons: One, Ukraine is a civilized country with a majority culture, while Afghanistan is an uncivilized twilight zone with multiple divisive internal cultures. Two, the Ukrainians actually want things that are in alignment with the military advice and support they were given. Afghanistan, not so much. It could be argued that the Afghanis don’t even want to be in the 19th Century, let alone the early 21st.

    Along with those two differences comes the other issue, which is that the US is absolute shiite at cultural things like working out that the Afghanis aren’t white-bread Midwestern Americans. You could probably build a decent Afghan military force, but it ain’t going to look like the US Army. At. All.

    You’re also not going to like what it does, either. Because, if you were to build an Afghan Army that would actually, y’know… Work, then you’re basically building a 7th or 12th Century force that’s going to be going very heavy on the atrocity thing. Not to mention the Bachi-Bazi “thing”.

    If you look back over the last century of US efforts at “building foreign military forces”, you’re going to see some very spotty performances. Now, see if you can spot the actual, like, reasons: Philippines Mk I, II, and III. First iteration, during the Spanish-American post-war period? Failure. Second iteration, pre-WWII. Mostly a failure, although the wartime guerrilla forces could be argued as successful. Post-WWII era, working with Magsaysay? Success. Then, we have South Korea: Pre-Korean War? Failure. Wartime and after? Success, so long as you’re not worried about democracy or humanitarian issues. Vietnam? Mostly failure, in that the ARVN was mostly a joke throughout the period of heaviest US involvement. Only after the US left did they get their act together, only to have the US Congress pull the carpet out from under. Greece, working with the UK? Mostly a success, although aiding and abetting the dictators didn’t work out, long-term. Then, there are the various efforts in South America, which successfully countered Cuban/Soviet activity, managing to kill good ol’ Che himself. Cuba was a bit of a dog’s breakfast due to politics. Then, in the more current environment, we have Iraq and Afghanistan. Iraq mostly failed due to the machinations of the Obama administration, in that the Iraqi Army that we trained had mostly gone home due to lack of pay stemming from the corruption enabled by Obama cutting the mentoring force and oversight deployments as soon as he got into office. By the time ISIS was engaging the Iraqi Army, the one we trained had evaporated. Calling that one…? Hard to say; I think it could have worked, had they not cut those deployments and the US military stayed engaged with the anti-corruption efforts. You’d have also needed steady and firm State Department involvement in the Iraqi government, working against the corruption. Overall, as it played out? Failure. Same-same with Afghanistan; utter failure.

    What were the common features, there? Mostly this: The cultures were entirely alien to the US, in very basic terms. The Philippines were initially a failure during the early days because the US didn’t understand the people or the culture. Nor did they understand the US… After enough cross-cultural contamination, things worked out differently, mostly because the two cultures learned each other’s features and foibles, and didn’t find all that much to object to.

    Korea worked out similarly; during and after the Korean War, there was enough forced interaction that the Koreans and Americans mostly understood each other, and the Koreans were from a culture that could accept the grafting-on of American military values and virtues.

    Vietnam, kinda the same: Initial lack of understanding in both directions, followed by kinda a success, up until we cut the resources off that they’d been trained to expect.

    Iraq? Hard to say; I think that we got through to enough Shia and Sunni that things could have worked out, given enough time and effort expended on mentoring. Thanks to Obama et al, all that got pissed away. So, we’ll never know.

    Afghanistan? Oh, dear God… Look, guys: You are not going to walk into a country that’s still technologically pre-industrial with all that implies, and somehow upgrade them to something resembling “modern” in anything less than about two or three generations. Ain’t. Happening. To even attempt it? Purest delusion.

    I honestly think that Afghanistan was more a money-laundering scheme than anything else. Looking back, it had to be: What is very nearly the first thing they tell you in “Counterinsurgency 101”? Why, you deny the insurgents access to any aid or safe harbor. Isolate the battlefield. And, what did we do in Afghanistan? We not only tolerated Pakistan, a supposed ally, providing the Taliban with money, weapons, and safe harbors, we actually went one better: We paid them to do it. Utter insanity, and why I really think that the whole thing was meant to launder money for the American political class. A forensic accountant would likely lose their minds, going over that whole corrupt cluster-fark. It never should have been allowed, and the fact that none of our supposed “professional” military leaders ever fell on their swords over the waste of human lives they were entrusted with? Telling.

    In the end, the root problem is culture. When the US does “build-a-bear” military forces, they don’t do too badly when there is enough shared culture. Not enough? Failure. You aren’t ever going to find an American equivalent to the Gurkhas or Arab Legion; we do not have the cross-cultural nous for that, nor does our military tolerate the sort of nutbar iconoclasts that succeeded in either of those cases. You’ll find plenty of examples where equally nutty Americans managed the feat, but those cases were well outside the mainstream norm of the US formal services. Ones like Frederick Townsend Ward, for example. Men like that don’t get anywhere in the US military, while the UK tends to quietly tolerate the eccentrics like Charles George Gordon. This is one reason that the US history with “build-a-bear” military efforts is so damn spotty…

    Or, so I speculate. Your mileage may vary, and I could be entirely wrong.

  • Jacob

    Speaking of the culture thing: I don’t see how the “culture” of Ukraine is any different from that of Russia.
    (Maybe that is just me. I do not claim to have detailed knowledge of any of them).
    The only difference is maybe motivation – “fighting for your home”. The Ukrainians are fighting for theirs, while the Russians are not.

  • I don’t see how the “culture” of Ukraine is any different from that of Russia.

    But it is. Much less deferential to authority, more cynical than fatalistic, more fractious & multipolar like a ‘western’ culture in that respect, at least to a point (it is very much it’s own thing though).

  • bobby b

    “What were the common features, there?”

    In almost every instance, the US only funded and manned the operations enough to cause stalemate. We never tried to fund for victory. We are always stymied by the need to cause as little political furor at home as possible.

    If there is ever a good reason to fail to fully engage in war, it’s probably that much of your population won’t support such an effort. So, we always get, at best, lukewarm successes because we have lukewarm support for successes among the citizenry.

    Perhaps we’d win more wars if we had a dictatorship that could self-sustain enthusiasm and engagement. Personally, I’d rather we didn’t.

  • Snorri Godhi

    WRT Perry’s comment about Ukrainian culture (compared to Russian culture):

    Much less deferential to authority, more cynical than fatalistic, more fractious & multipolar like a ‘western’ culture in that respect, at least to a point (it is very much it’s own thing though).

    I’d like to ask how far back this divergence goes, in Perry’s opinion.

    If anybody here knows more about Bulgarian culture than i do, i’d also like to know whether they share my discomfort with the deference to (state) authority that i observed in a junior Bulgarian colleague with whom i shared an office for a while.
    Do we have a fifth column inside the EU?

  • Kirk

    I’m not going to claim expertise on the matter, but the Ukrainians and Russians are highly divergent, and have been since early days. Not least because the Ukrainians were targeted by the Tsars and the Commissars for elimination and slavery…

    Anyone wanting more of an education on the whys and wherefores would do well to look up one Kamil Galeev on Twitter, and go through his voluminous Thread Reader oeuvre. I’ve yet to find anything factually wrong with his statements or references; his inferences and opinions are yours to evaluate.

    It’s a simple enough thing to tell, however: Both the Russians and the Ukrainians were always prone to punching people for mistaking the one for another. That’s kinda my test for whether or not someone belongs to a semi-legit ethnic group or nationality: Are you willing to fight for it? And, how far will you go in that fight?

    Russia has, in my humble opinion, made the fatal error of pushing the Ukrainians hard enough that even if there wasn’t a real Ukrainian identity before 2014, there sure as hell is now. And, it’s not going to go “quietly into that good night”, not for the next few generations. Irony is, it’s the same mistake the Arabs made with turning the Jews into Israelis. With a somewhat different approach, what is now Israel might have been a very prosperous multi-ethnic, multi-religion region of Jordan. Instead, what’d they get for their genocidal ambitions…? A permanent Jewish stone-in-the-throat presence. Historically, it was a huge ‘effin mistake–Imagine the Arab world with the Jewish diaspora coming home, cast out from Europe, coupled with all that oil wealth…? I don’t think it would have been too hard for that polity to have become a major world power by now.

    Fools, all of them.

  • Widmerpool

    The West generally, and the comments here, have completely missed the point on the Russian army. It’s really difficult to make people go and fight a war that they don’t want to fight. The only chance Putin ever had to sell the invasion was if the Ukrainians really had rolled over, surrendered Zelensky and welcomed the Russians like his delusions told him they would.

    Russian soldiers in Ukraine looked confused and lost from day one. They’ve been abandoning equipment and deserting the whole time. Entire units, sometimes hundreds of people, have just gone home and refused to serve. There are hundreds of cases in court of people suing over illegal deployment. Recruitment centres are set on fire all over Russia every day. People refuse to enlist no matter how much money they are offered – many multiples over what they get at work. Hundreds of thousands have left the country. No one turns up at the pro-war public events unless they are forced to. There’s antiwar graffiti on every other building. They had to stop putting big Z’s in the town squares because people kept smashing them.

    You just can’t go to war if you haven’t got an army willing to fight for whatever reason you are giving them.

    No one should count on this saying anything about how a Chinese invasion of Taiwan might go down.

  • Kirk

    Different nations; different cultures. Taking a template from how well the Russians are doing in Ukraine will not necessarily transpose very well onto the Chinese situation.

    I will say that there are probably just as many issues for the Chinese as there are for the Russians, in that both nations have the same sort of semi-delusional totalitarianism going on. Nobody wants to tell Xi the real truth about anything, and if they do, they’re likely going to wind up disappeared. This means that Xi can’t trust a damn thing he’s told, and won’t. If he is smart and self-aware enough to realize that fact.

    China has a historic habit of going down the totalitarian rat-hole. They did it during the years before the Age of Exploration, and if they’d have been semi-sane rather than massively arrogant and self-assured that there was nothing worth having outside the Middle Kingdom, the Europeans would have found the Indian Ocean to be a Chinese lake from Burma to the African coast. Zheng He should have been the catalyst that propelled China to the forefront of the world’s powers, but he was forgotten and all of his ships mothballed.

    That’s China’s number-one flaw: A fondness for centralized authoritarianism, which has not served them well. It won’t, either, for this next turn of the wheel.

    I project that if China goes after Taiwan, it’s going to do more damage to China than they realize. For one thing, with the way their demographics are going, they’re going to need every bit of edge that they can get, and killing the Golden Goose of Taiwan and its varied high technology industries coupled with the probable sanctions an invasion would earn…? Yikes. No idea. China is dependent on imported food and exported trade goods; cut that off, and they’re in for a very, very hard time. They might sink most of America’s white elephant aircraft carriers, but the US sub attack sub fleet is another question entirely. I would suspect that China’s entire merchant navy goes “boom” not long after the first carrier sinks, and there won’t be a damn thing they can do about it. Followed shortly thereafter by starvation and massive unrest.

    The smart thing to do is just sit back and make some damn money, living well being the best revenge. Why the hell they would want Taiwan and all the trouble, when they can just avoid the stupidity and live well?

    Of course, that’s never the way these idiots think, is it? Just like Hitler, who could have parlayed German industrial know-how into a decent trade-based thing in Eastern Europe, they’d do better by eschewing empire and going for business.

    Rationality has a very finite range, sadly.

  • bobby b

    I’d guess China just keeps on dealing with Taiwan as it has been doing for some time, and eventually we’ll realize one day that it’s now theirs and it all still functions*. It seems to have been running on a slow one-way ratchet for a while.

    (* – I mean, as well as it can ever function once China is in charge, but the industries will still exist – which is the way China needs it to be.)

  • Russia has, in my humble opinion, made the fatal error of pushing the Ukrainians hard enough that even if there wasn’t a real Ukrainian identity before 2014, there sure as hell is now.

    Konstantin Kisin made a similar point a few months ago. Ukrainian identity was muddy & indistinct in many people’s minds, heirs of fractious Cossack Hetmans rather than a absolute Tsar in remote Moscow. But when looking at voting patterns since 1991, that has progressively changed; what was indistinct is now razor sharp. As Kisin observed, the “pro-Russian” vote gradually withered away in the Russian speaking areas of Ukraine. Kremlin political interference, then finally Russian military pressure (starting in 2014) forced Ukrainian opinions into stark focus.

    Fair to say whilst Ukrainian identity traces back to the 9th century, the current iteration has many mothers but only one father: Vladimir Putin. The more he intruded into Ukrainian affairs, the more they hated him, yielding a generation who know who they want to be by contrasting it with what they don’t want to be.

    The most perfect expression of that was the remarks of Zelenskyy himself on 12 Sept 2022:

    “Do you still think that we are ‘one nation?’ Do you still think that you can scare us, break us, make us make concessions?”

    Have you truly not understood anything? Can’t you understand who we are? What are we fighting for? And why?

    “Read my lips: Without gas or without you? Without you. Without light or without you? Without you. Without water or without you? Without you. Without food or without you? Without you,”

    “Cold, hunger, darkness and thirst are not as scary and deadly for us as your ‘friendship and brotherhood’.

    “But history will put everything in its place. And we will be with gas, light, water and food… and without you!”

    They want nothing to do with the Russkiy Mir, the ‘Russian World’.

  • Snorri Godhi

    Without gas or without you?

    Shouldn’t that be:
    With you or without gas?

    (Similarly for light, water, and food.)

  • Kirk

    I think that was piss-poor translation, and that Zelensky was using a common Ukrainian idiom which doesn’t go directly from Ukrainian to English very well.

    Could be wrong. I only understand enough slavic language to be able to broadly get the (very…) general thrust of what’s being said. You want good nuanced translation, you really need an actual translator.

  • Plamus

    I’d like to ask how far back this divergence goes, in Perry’s opinion.

    Hard to pinpoint, but during the 14th century Poland and Lithuania slowly pushed the Mongols back from Ukraine, and the Ukrainians prospered for a while in what was de facto a Lithuanian-Ukrainian state. Parts of Ukraine fell under Poland, which was less lenient, but they still lived under well-established and more-or-less competently run monarchy where the nobles had influence and were heard.

    Russia’s de facto start was in the 13th century, but Muscovy was very much a post-Mongol state and very quickly turned colonial on steroids. They obtained the right to collect tribute for the Mongols, and (being good horseback fighters in the Mongol tradition) went on a rampage. Power transition was more-or-less “whoever can collect tribute rules”, nobles were mostly voiceless, and regular peasants were increasing turned into serfs.

    In short, IMHO, you already had fairly distinct cultures in the 14th century.

  • Steve

    Yeah, look at these incompetent Russians with their stable currency and falling prices. Sure would hate to be them. I’ve heard you can’t even get a decent mastectomy for your 12 year old over there. In fact I think they’re pretty much destined to lose if the Bank of England keeps printing money like this, debasing your currency has been such a key predictor for success throughout history so far. How could anyone would have even the mildest doubt? Not to mention the manufacturing base that won us WW2. Lucky we’ve got that on our side. Right guyz? Right? And then there’s our leadership! Liz Truss! Joe Biden! Kamala Harris! and Horseyface woman from New Zealand! They’ll get you banned from twitter in a heartbeat. Probably even have a nudge unit spread nasty rumors in the newspaper. I’ll bet some of them even have Ukraine flag in bio next to their pronouns. You don’t mess with that. I heard they almost beat the Taliban once. And the phrase ‘well oiled machine”…., when I think of the bureaucracy that undergirds these stellar leaders. You don’t get the rising light of western democracies without that kind of backing. I mean what’s a few barnacles on the hull when the ship of state is just so magnificent? Who needs to turn when we can just plow through icebergs and stuff more government bonds into the holes afterwards!

    I can see it now, a glorious sunset, Liz on the prow while Joe clasps her from behind, sniffing her hair, and Celine Dion rouses all us plebs to rapture as HMS Titanic Stupidity steams into Vladivostok to liberate Crimea.

    Foregone conclusion really, can’t believe old Vlad is even bothering. Everyone on this site can see the writing on the wall and we’re much smarter than he is, just go and read literally anyone who agrees with us and they’ll tell you.

  • Yeah, look at these incompetent Russians with their stable currency and falling prices. Sure would hate to be them.

    You are delusional if you really think the Russian economy is not in terrible shape.

    They’ll get you banned from twitter in a heartbeat.

    Whereas saying something the Russian government doesn’t like can get you killed or drafted & sent to Ukraine, which is much the same. Idiot.

  • Chester Draws

    Will Ukraine be fortunate enough not to be added to the list of countries devastated following western, effectively US, intervention.

    The way South Korea was devastated? For a while, yes, but it sure beats not having Western Intervention.

    I’ve mentioned this before here, but the West has near complete amnesia when it comes to our successful interventions.

    We remember Vietnam, but forget Malaysia.

    We remember Bay of Pigs, but forget Greece in 1946.

    We remember Saddam and Iraq, but forget Saddam and Kuwait. I doubt they do.

    The leftists still rail about the US supporting Pinochet over Allende. But imagine how Allende would have trashed Chile, in the way his fellow-travellers have trashed Cuba, Nicaragua, Venezuela etc.

    The problem is not Western intervention. It is half-hearted support for local movements that aren’t culturally on board with what we provide and just want the money/arms. Full on support for countries that want to be on “our” side have quite a good history, all things considered.

  • Kirk

    Chester… You leave out the outright sabotage conducted by various left-wing fellow travelers involved in the efforts in those examples of failure.

    South Vietnam would be a nation today, had Teddy Kennedy and his claque of like-minded scum not blown our treaty obligations that they’d signed off on with the South Vietnamese. 1975 would have been a replay of 1973, if the South Vietnamese government had gotten the military aid and support we were obligated to provide.

    As well, the other examples of failure are full of situations and incidents of institutional self-sabotage: Iraq? Don’t get me started on State Department BS that I witnessed. Same with Afghanistan–I mean, for the love of God, they were running seminars on feminism and transgenderism there, right up until the end.

    Malign influence of the transnational leftist elite has a lot to do with why those highlighted efforts failed. You go digging into things, and it’s pretty damn obvious that our own authorities were either stunningly incompetent or actually working against the stated goals of the efforts in question.

    I think we could have even turned Afghanistan around, but it would have meant creating a very different Afghani government and military force. Attempting to create clones of modern Western institutions…? It is to laugh, and laugh hard.

  • Jacob

    “Not least because the Ukrainians were targeted by the Tsars and the Commissars for elimination and slavery…”
    Everyone was so targeted, not only Ukrainians…

  • Jacob

    The Ukraine is a mixture of different people, inhabiting a fluid territory (with changing borders) that was ruled by many empires, but never by Ukrainians. The famous Cossacks are a people of Asiatic origin, whence they came centuries ago, they inhabit part of Ukraine, but mostly the more Eastern region of the Don and Kuban – which are now in Russia. The Cossacks are renown for serving in the Tsar’s army as professional soldiers and oppressing’s everyone in his name, for which they enjoyed some special privileges… that is – they fight for the one which is powerful and pays best.
    The Western part of Ukraine had a big Polish minority, while Crimea has (or had…) a big Tatar population…(another Asiatic Muslim people)
    Things are complicated, and the few people Perry met in Kiev might not be the whole story.
    It is also possible that for the moment most people (of different ethnic groups) living in Ukrainian territory prefer to be ruled from Kiev rather than from Moscow. That might also change in the future.

  • Kirk

    The thing that Jacob leaves out is that a considerable input into Cossack culture came from men who fled the Russian Boyar’s trying to make them serfs. For a very long time, the Ukrainian Cossacks were where you went when you were unwilling to be someone’s landbound slave. This has likely fed into the culture and even what behavioral genes are prevalent in their descendants. Sort of the way that most Americans are descended from the world’s malcontents and rebels, men and women who were not satisfied to bend the knee before the men who wanted to be their masters in their homelands.

    I think it does make a difference, and has import. Some component of human behavior comes from things rooted in biology, whether genetic, epigenetic, or whatever. It’s an observable fact of life. Now, what is in question with that whole thing is how much of that component there is, and whether it represents predisposition or predestination… Myself, I lean towards predisposition; based on that, I’d say that the Ukrainian rootstock is not a good bet for Russian enserfment, and it won’t be pretty going forward, now that they have both an identity and some source of outside support.

    Ethnism is more than a double-edged blade; it’s more like one of those African Hunga-munga deals from Central Africa, with sharp edges sticking out everywhere. Some of those cut for good, some for ill…

  • Actually the Cossacks they were from the western steppes of Russia and Ukraine and were not a single ethnic group, so whilst some were Asiatic, most were not.

    Things are complicated, and the few people Perry met in Kiev might not be the whole story.

    I know a bit more about the region than just what I learned in the cocktail bars of Kyiv, although I did indeed learn really a lot about the Maidan rebellion there 😀

    It is also possible that for the moment most people (of different ethnic groups) living in Ukrainian territory prefer to be ruled from Kiev rather than from Moscow.

    Possible? I know, lets hold an election to find out! Green is Zelenskyy’s party in the 2019 election.

    2019 election map of Ukraine

  • Chester Draws

    The Ukraine is a mixture of different people, inhabiting a fluid territory (with changing borders) that was ruled by many empires, but never by Ukrainians. The famous Cossacks are a people of Asiatic origin, whence they came centuries ago,

    Nope. You only have to look at them to know this is not true. Plenty of Russians show clear Asiatic traits. Way fewer Ukrainians.

    The Ukrainians Cossacks were Slavs moving south, escaping serfdom, and opposing the Mongols and Turks. A good hint is that they are Christian, while their opponents were not.

    they inhabit part of Ukraine, but mostly the more Eastern region of the Don and Kuban – which are now in Russia. The Cossacks are renown for serving in the Tsar’s army as professional soldiers and oppressing’s everyone in his name, for which they enjoyed some special privileges… that is – they fight for the one which is powerful and pays best.

    Different Cossacks. There were no Cossacks from the Ukraine (unless you count the Kuban as Ukraine) in the period in which the Cossacks oppressed the Russian people. To the contrary, those Cossacks were happily working for the Tsar to oppress Ukraine.

    Cossack is a legal status, not a people. And the legal status of Russian Cossacks after conquest is quite different from that of Ukrainian Cossacks, before conquest. They really are two entirely different groups.

    The Western part of Ukraine had a big Polish minority,

    Small minority, but wealthy and powerful. The only part to have a decent Polish group was L’viv.

    Lots of Western Ukrainians spoke Polish, because they wanted to earn good money, but that didn’t make them Poles, despite what the Poles of the time insisted. (My wife speaks English, but that really, really doesn’t make her English in any sense at all.)

    In 1919 the UHA was over-whelmed by the Poles, but it was clear that (other than L’viv) that the bulk preferred independence as Ukraine.

    while Crimea has (or had…) a big Tatar population…(another Asiatic Muslim people)

    What do you mean “another”. If the Ukrainians are Asiatic but not Tatar, what do you think they are?

    Also not a big minority. Some. It would have been more, of course, but for Stalin.

    Things are complicated, and the few people Perry met in Kiev might not be the whole story.

    It is complicated, and I have spent decades on it and have lots to learn yet.

    It is also possible that for the moment most people (of different ethnic groups) living in Ukrainian territory prefer to be ruled from Kiev rather than from Moscow. That might also change in the future.

    Stop it. The issue is one of culture, not race. Ukrainians are ethnically barely different from western Russians. (Russia has way more different ethnic groups, what with Buryats, Kazakhs, Karelians, Kalmycks etc, even in western Russia.)

    The western Ukraine has been influenced much more than Moscow by Poland and Lithuania in particular. Austria in bits. They tend to be Uniate and Catholic, rather than Orthodox. They have little interest in the whole “sacred role of Russia”. They have historical beefs regarding their subjection.

    The result is that they don’t fear and hate the West. Everything else stems from that.

    The Czech vs Slovak split is quite similar. Different historical paths have resulted in long-standing grievances. But they speak almost exactly the same language and are ethnically identical. See also Norwegians and Danes.

  • The result is that they don’t fear and hate the West. Everything else stems from that.

    Indeed, that really is the root of the difference.

  • For a very long time, the Ukrainian Cossacks were where you went when you were unwilling to be someone’s landbound slave. (Kirk
    October 6, 2022 at 10:24 pm)

    Correct, with the important addition that to the south were the moslems, who were eager to make you a slave, not just a serf (noting that being a serf was de jure and de facto much nearer to being a slave there than it was in the west – indeed IIUC, one of the Russian words used for Ukrainian serfs – ‘raab’ IIRC – can be translated simply as ‘slave’). ‘The Ukraine’ means ‘The border’ or ‘The borderland’ – the area where you could hope to preserve a precarious and imperfect freedom between two empires who’d be happy to take it from you. The Ukrainians spent some formative centuries caught between a rock and a hard place.

    One may contrast the situation in the parallel with North America that Kirk makes. English immigrants to the colonies could be enslaved by raiding native American tribes – thousands were – but in general the immigrants were the stronger from the start, and while pirates could raid from the sea, they too were not strong relative to their targets (also enslaving was not embedded in their originating culture).

    As part of conquering the Ukraine in the 1700s, the Russians imposed a harsh form of serfdom on it.

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