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Archive for September, 2022

Putin’s war – VII

[update below] [2nd update below] [3rd update below] [4th update below]

And this.

At the seven month mark of Russia’s war on Ukraine, plus a few days, one thing is quasi certain: Russia is not going to win it. Not a chance. As political scientist Olga Chyzh trenchantly asserted, Vladimir Putin will need “nothing short of a miracle to avoid a devastating defeat.” While a few hundred thousand draft-eligible men may succeed in fleeing the country, the Russian army will nonetheless be able to pressgang the quantity of human cannon-fodder it deems necessary to throw at the Ukrainians, but it won’t turn the tide of the war. This will be so as it has become clear since the exhilarating Ukrainian counter-offensive this month that Russia has a terrible army. As Ilya Lozovsky of the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project aptly put it:

On the pathetic state of the Russian armed forces—and the far better state of its Ukrainian counterpart—do read the article in The Bulwark from last April (which I missed at the time) by Lt. Gen. Mark Hertling (Ret.), “I commanded U.S. Army Europe. Here’s what I saw in the Russian and Ukrainian armies: The two armies at war today couldn’t be more different.”

Lt. Gen. Hertling, who has been to Russia numerous times and had extensive interactions with his Russian counterparts, is highly informative on the subject. E.g., listen to his Sep. 14th Bulwark podcast discussion on “Russia’s awful army” and see his Twitter threads of Feb. 25, Sep. 21, and Sep. 27, plus his Sep. 27 Washington Post op-ed, “Putin’s recruits are heading for slaughter.”

Hertling’s WaPo op-ed concludes with this:

Which brings us back to how Putin’s 300,000 “reservists” will fare against Ukraine’s NATO-trained army. It is likely those recruits will join units that have recently been traumatized after seven months of combat and already suffer from poor morale. It won’t help that those units have recently been reinforced with prison parolees, ragtag militias from false “peoples’ republics,” and recruited guns from private armies.

The results will be predictable. Putin might continue to send unwilling Russian men to an ill-conceived and illegal invasion for which they are not trained or prepared. But it’s not warfare. It’s just more murder — this time of his own citizens.

The Russian army is terrible in so many ways, not the least in the way it treats its foot soldiers, notably in the violent hazing of conscripts, the general brutality of the Russian military experience, and disregard displayed toward its men.

One doesn’t win wars with armies like this. Thus the Russians’ heavy dependence on massive artillery barrages, reducing cities to rubble, waging mass terror campaigns against civilians, and greenlighting its soldiers to rape, loot, and pillage.

The Russian army has, in point of fact, always been awful, as we are usefully reminded by US military veteran and history buff Thomas M. Gregg, in an essay in The Cosmopolitan Globalist on the August 1914 Battle of Tannenberg, where the Tsar’s army suffered a catastrophic defeat at the hands of the Germans. During the Great Patriotic War, when the USSR was attacked by an enemy even worse than they—in the bloodiest military campaign in the history of warfare, when the Hague and Geneva Conventions went out the window—the Red Army sent human waves of prisoners from the Gulag to clear mine fields, who were followed by waves of regular soldiers and with armed NKVD units in the rear, who were there to open fire on soldiers who tried to retreat—a practice that was initiated by the Red Army during the 1918-20 civil war (and when the loyalty of requisitioned tsarist-era officers was insured by holding their families hostage). Whether or not all this was necessary to defeat the enemy, one notes that not even the Wehrmacht treated its own men thusly when the Allies penetrated the German heartland in 1945.

And then there’s the wretchedness of public discourse in Russia, of its utter depravity, with this being an entirely representative example:

As for Putin’s psychotic rantings on going nuclear and other blood-curdling threats, these do have to be taken seriously, because he’s Putin and, as I have already asserted, Putin=Hitler, but IMHO and FWIW, it’s extremely unlikely. Putin says he’s not bluffing, except that he is. He cannot decide on one fine day to launch a tactical nuclear weapon strike out of the blue and by simply pressing a button. Such nukes have to be physically moved and with protocols followed, and with many persons involved, including generals who are in contact with their American counterparts. The Americans would know what Putin is up to well ahead of time and, as Biden has already made clear, the US response would be commensurate with the Russian action. If it looked like Putin were literally on the verge of going nuclear, Xi Jinping, Narendra Modi, RT Erdoğan, and even Abdelmadjid Tebboune would get on the phone with Putin and warn him not to do it. If he did it anyway, he would be abandoned by the entire planet save Aleksandr Lukashenko, Bashar al-Assad, and Kim Jong-un. And that would be for starters. IMHO and FWIW, Putin would step back from the brink, even if the Ukrainians were to liberate territory the Russians have just annexed.

Putin will also step back from the brink as he has numerous other weapons at his disposal (conventional and asymmetric) to wreak even greater death and destruction on Ukraine, as well as inflict potentially serious economic damage on Europe (the Nord Stream attack being a taste of what is likely to come). And one may be sure that Putin will do these things and then some.

The bottom line: Russia is a terrorist state that must be punished. The only possible stance of the West is that spelled out by Nicolas Tenzer in this Twitter thread.

C’est tout.

UPDATE: Two articles on different aspects of the demographic question: “The demographic impact of Russian mobilization,” posted in The Cosmopolitan Globalist, from Monique Camarra’s EuroFile; and “Why Ukraine matters to Russia: The demographic factor,” by Bruno Tertrais, posted last February on the Institut Montaigne website.

2nd UPDATE: Four articles in Foreign Affairs: “All the Tsar’s Men: Why mobilization can’t save Putin’s war,” by Lawrence Freedman (Sep. 23); “Putin’s Roulette: Sacrificing his core supporters in a race against defeat,” by Andrei Kolesnikov (Sep. 30); and, in the September-October issue, “Ukraine Holds the Future: The war between democracy and nihilism,” by Timothy Snyder; “The World Putin Wants: How distortions about the past feed delusions about the future,” by Fiona Hill and Angela Stent.

3rd UPDATE: The National Interest has a piece dated April 22 by Graham Allison, the Douglas Dillon Professor of Government at the Harvard Kennedy School, which merits reading because of the identity of the author, “Would Putin’s Russia Really Nuke Ukraine? If a nuclear strike killed 10,000 or 20,000 innocent Ukrainians, how would the United States or NATO respond?”

4th UPDATE: The Moscow Times has a must-read report (Sep. 30) by journalists Farida Rustamova and Maxim Tovkaylo, “Putin Always Chooses Escalation.” And JAMnews has a remarkable reportage (Sep. 27) on Russia’s Fourth World corruption, “‘The letter Z is on every third car’ – how a Russian traveled from Moscow to Tbilisi.”

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Queen Elizabeth II, R.I.P.

Credit: BBC

She was the queen of England during my entire lifetime—and as a mid-Boomer, I’m not young—so how can I not have an R.I.P. post on her? Not being British or having ever lived in the UK, I did not have particular feelings one way or the other toward her or the royal family, and paid little attention to the scandals and tabloid stories over the years regarding members of the latter (Margaret, Charles & Diana, their sons et al). But while I never lived there, I’ve visited England some twenty-five times in my life (always staying with relatives or friends), know the history and politics, love London, and cannot imagine the place without the monarchy. If there were a referendum on abolishing the monarchy and I could vote in it, I would vote against. In this regard, I’ve been somewhat irritated by the torrent of negativity, if not invective, on social media since Thursday by non-Brits—mainly lefties, though not all—toward the queen and British monarchy, including by academics whom I otherwise respect. Qu’est-ce qu’ils en ont à foutre?

The left-wing political scientist Philippe Marlière, who teaches at University College London, had a pertinent Twitter thread yesterday that I have taken the liberty of translating into English (via DeepL; original French here):

I came to the United Kingdom with a very French and ideological view of the British monarchy: it was the absolute evil, or almost. I have since nuanced this point of view. 1/

The monarchy is not a regime I support. I am a socialist (in the generic sense of the term). Monarchy is based on notions that I reject: privilege, heredity, expensive pomp and the maintenance of a conservative order. 2/

But with time, I realized that monarchy is, from a political point of view, a regime that is certainly not worse than the French republican monarchy where an elected individual has exorbitant powers. The 5th Republic is undemocratic and dangerous. 3/

The British monarch has political powers, but they are limited. The tradition is that the monarch is politically neutral, above the fray. The power is in the government, which itself depends on parliament. 4/

Queen Elizabeth, 96, who reigned for 70 years, is a product of this conservative elite, but she has performed her role as head of state with dedication and without making waves. No one knows what the Queen’s political views are. 5/

Elizabeth II is a moral conscience who keeps quiet and lets elected politicians govern. Her role is to hold the nation and the Commonwealth together and to symbolically represent the country abroad. 6/

This is why monarchists love her, and non-monarchists (including myself) respect her and even feel a form of empathy for her action. 7/

The Queen has sometimes appeared brittle and distant (Diana), but at other times, she has found the words and gestures to bring the British people together. Her Christmas messages were surprisingly modern, inclusive and multicultural! 8/

Her successor, Charles, 73, has no such aura. Like his father, Philip, he is a gaffer and has eccentric views. He will probably try to use his little constitutional power to intervene in political debates. 9/

For this reason, he will polarize, outdo everyone and may undermine the institution of monarchy. The monarchy is indeed tolerated as long as the monarch lets the government govern and leaves the British people alone! 10/

This is why the disappearance of the Queen worries here and creates a very uncertain situation from a constitutional point of view. Charles will never be respected and loved as his mother was. 11/

Très bien.

On the question of constitutional monarchy vs. republic, European states that have the former—in addition to the UK: Belgium, Denmark, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Norway, Spain, Sweden—are hardly less democratic or more inegalitarian than those that are republics. As for the cost of monarchy (constitutional)—the most valid argument against it—I learned from a commentator today that financially supporting the monarchy costs British taxpayers £88 million a year but that the monarchy yields the British treasury some £2 billion annually, via tourism and other receipts. Dont acte.

My view, not to mention knowledge, of Elizabeth and the royal family evolved after watching the Netflix series The Crown, the subject of which—if one has been living in some remote corner of the globe with no streaming or internet and has thus not heard of it—is the life and times of Elizabeth and the royals, from Elizabeth’s childhood years to (so far) the early 1990s. I’d been hearing about the series since its first season in 2016 but wasn’t much interested in it until the pandemic and successive lockdowns, when, after yet another recommendation—there was a lot of series-watching in those far-off days—I decided to check it out. And lo and behold, I binge-watched all four seasons. It is a terrific series—one of the best I’ve seen—and that I wholeheartedly recommend to everyone.

I’ll make just three brief comments about it. First, the acting is superb and with the change in the casting of the main characters beginning in season 3 (notably Claire Foy to Olivia Colman for Elizabeth), which is initially jarring, working well (and making obvious sense). Second, the depiction of the royals as a borderline dysfunctional family, whose members, all playing roles assigned to them, are dissatisfied with their lives, if not deeply unhappy: not being a royals-watcher, I had no idea, at least not the extent of it. They’re just people, like everyone else. Third, and above all, the series is a saga not only of the royal family but also of Great Britain and the world beyond in the latter half of the twentieth century—of a changing society and how the royals changed with it. For this alone, ‘The Crown’ is well worth watching.

There have been remarks and criticisms of historical inaccuracies here and there, though which are inevitable in a dramatization of the sort. E.g. while the queen did dance the foxtrot with Kwame Nkrumah during her 1961 state visit to Ghana, it did not arrest that country’s increasing embrace of the Soviet bloc. And though the limerick contest at the 1965 White House state dinner for Princess Margaret, hosted by LBJ, certainly didn’t happen, it’s a priceless scene nonetheless.

Season 5 will be released in November. I’ll no doubt binge watch.

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