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Tuesday, September 10th, 2013

[A conversation Lynn C. Rees had once with his oldest niece]

Crazy Uncle: Do you know what a good cat name would be?

Teenage Niece (impatient): What?

Crazy Uncle: Chairman Meow

Teenage Niece (bewildered): What?

Crazy Uncle: Do you know who Chairman Mau is? Mau DzeDung?

Teenage Niece (with half-eye roll): No.

Crazy Uncle: He ruled China. He killed 100 million people.

Teenage Niece (incredulous): Really? Did he get punished?

Crazy Uncle: No, he died in his bed, of old age.

Teenage Niece (still incredulous): Really? That sucks.

Crazy Uncle: Yes it does. Do they teach you, um, history or whatnot in school?

Teenage Niece (authoritatively): No. My history teachers suck.

Good news for the niece: Justice may have happened after all.

The World’s Most Dangerous Man™, Edward M. Luttwak, has revealed he was in Peiping when Mau died. Coincidence? Never: with Luttwak, paradoxically, there is no coincidence, only the Romanian Death Cuff. Watch and gape below at a man who’s killed ninjas while armed only with a paperback edition of The Grand Strategy of the Roman Empire (Johns Hopkins University Press, January 1, 1979).

Pipes on Russia, Barnett on Pipes

Tuesday, September 8th, 2009

Professor Richard Pipes, the Harvard University political scientist, is a seminal figure among sovietologists, historians and scholars of Soviet Studies. I highly recommend his trilogy, Russia under the Old Regime, The Russian Revolution and Russia Under the Bolshevik Regime ( I would pair the first with W.Bruce Lincoln’s The Romanovs Autocrats of All the Russias to see the differences between the way eminent historians and political scientists handle the same topic). Dr. Pipes has written an op-ed for WSJ.com and it was reviewed by his former student, Dr. Thomas P.M. Barnett.

First the Pipes op-ed, then Tom’s assessment and then my comments:

Pride and Power: Russia is caught between continents and haunted by its past,”

One unfortunate consequence of the obsession with “great power” status is that it leads Russians to neglect the internal conditions in their country. And here there is much to be done. To begin with: the economy. The Russian aggression against Georgia has cost it dearly in terms of capital flight. Due to the decline in the global prices of energy, which constitute around 70% of Russian exports, exports in the first half of 2009 have fallen by 47%. The stock market, which suffered a disastrous decline in 2008, has recovered, and the ruble has held steady, but the hard currency reserves are melting and the future does not look promising: The latest statistics indicate that Russia’s GDP this year will fall by 7%. It is this that has prompted President Dmitry Medvedev recently to demand that Russia carry out a major restructuring of her economy and end her heavy reliance on energy exports. “Russia needs to move forward,” he told a gathering of parliamentary party leaders, “and this movement so far does not exist. We are marking time and this was clearly demonstrated by the crisis… as soon as the crisis occurred, we collapsed. And we collapsed more than many other countries.”

….Today’s Russians are disoriented: they do not quite know who they are and where they belong. They are not European: This is attested to by Russian citizens who, when asked. “Do you feel European?” by a majority of 56% to 12% respond “practically never.” Since they are clearly not Asian either, they find themselves in a psychological limbo, isolated from the rest of the world and uncertain what model to adopt for themselves. They try to make up for this confusion with tough talk and tough actions. For this reason, it is incumbent on the Western powers patiently to convince Russians that they belong to the West and should adopt Western institutions and values: democracy, multi-party system, rule of law, freedom of speech and press, respect for private property. This will be a painful process, especially if the Russian government refuses to cooperate. But, in the long run, it is the only way to curb Russia’s aggressiveness and integrate her into the global community.

Read the rest here.

Now, Tom on Pipes:

Pipes the Elder on Biden comments: so impolite because they are so true

The biggest issue, like with China, is official corruption. The second is the pervasive depoliticization of the populace: they’ve never really had any experience picking their own leaders over the past 1,000 years. That fend-for-yourself mentality pervades the political system and its foreign policy. All citizens want from the state is order, and what they miss most about the Soviet past was that it preserved Russia’s contiguous empire beyond that of any in Europe or Asia.

Russians have no idea who they are today: they don’t feel either European or Asian. Eventually, they’ll come to some conclusion about what sitting between those civilizations means in terms of identity.

So patience and care is required.

Very nice piece by Pipes.

Read the rest here.

Russia has had repeated bouts of historical, “geographic schizophrenia”: the long Tatar Yoke, the age-old conflict between Petrine westernization and Orthodox slavophilism, the iron Soviet dictatorship, especially Stalin’s democidal rule. Russia has neither joined the West nor considered itself to be fully Asiatic. Instead, the Russians inherited a “Third Rome” complex from Byzantium that has helped keep them isolated from their own best opportunities as a great power. Fringe groups of ideologues promoting nutty “neo-Eurasianism” in Russia play upon this historical legacy.

To the extent that the cold-blooded Vladimir Putin and the Siloviki clan have made their nation into “Russia, Inc.” – a gas and energy monopoly in the tattered rags of a nation- state, the long term trend will be accepting globalization and integration, regardless of any deep cultural angst and Ivan Q. Public Great Russian nationalist-chauvinism along the way.


The Western View of Russia” by George Friedman

I have a mixed opinion on STRATFOR’s analytical products but Friedman is playing to his strengths here in a piece that is measured and thoughtful. Hat tip to Lexington Green.

Forget Me Not. Obama’s Russian “Reset” Risks Alienating Eastern European Allies by Mike Wussow

Adds some regional context to Friedman’s post .

“I will Make Georgia Howl”

Tuesday, August 12th, 2008

Perusing the latest news on the Russo-Georgian War via the always excellent SWJ Blog, I fear some of my analysis from the other day will come to pass, simply because the only restraint on Putin’s disposition to use force against Georgia thus far is Putin’s self-restraint. Of which I’m not seeing much.  If something constructive in terms of statesmanship is to be done to end the crisis, we ought to move toward doing it while the Georgian Army is still intact.

 Western bluster is not going to help Saakashvili as much as would quietly putting the squeeze on the far-flung economic interests of the siloviki clique in Putin’s inner circle, or of the Russian state itself. That would be a practical and proportionately useful response to signal displeasure with Moscow’s actions. Far moreso than invoking comparisons with Hitler or Saddam Hussein or other rhetorical nonsense by folks who know better.  But doing that would require that the Europeans – the nations that wanted the BTC pipeline, after all – rapidly act as a diplomatic united front with Washington and accept some risk of retaliation – say, a 100 % increase of gas prices by Gazprom.

Kudos to President Sarkozy ‘s efforts but I’m not holding my breath on that one.

Adam Elkus suggested that we may be seeing an example of military theorist Frank Hoffman’s hybrid war in action. Possibly. Or we may see a combined arms version of an EBO attack by Moscow against the Georgian state. The critical variable will be if the Russians try for an occupation of Georgia proper, which will likely result in an open-source insurgency, or if they are engaged in what used to be called a “punitive expedition” and intend a prompt departure while they are still ahead.


In addition to linking to me ( gracias!) Galrahn is chasing down some very interesting rumors regarding Israelis and also of threatened executions of POWs. 

Addendum II.

Discussion at Small Wars Council rises to the occasion.

Addendum III.

Registan has a series of informative posts and lively commenters (some anti-Barnett mania as well). Dr. Dan Nexon has a good post up at Duck of Minerva with a priceless quote:

“We don’t look very good,” said a former Pentagon official long involved in Georgia. “We’ve been working on [Georgia] for four years and we’ve failed. Everyone’s guilty. But Putin is playing his cards brilliantly. He knows exactly what he’s doing and the consequences are all negative.”

That kind of truth telling is good. The fact is that if you look at Georgia and the U.S. backed Ethiopian intervention, there seems to be a systemic failure to anticipate and plan a response for the likely eventualities when carrying out proxy operations. It’s almost as if there’s a rule somewhere forbidding the raising of “What if ”  questions during the interagency process.

Putin’s Siloviki Regime at Center but Weimar Russia on the Fringe

Sunday, February 24th, 2008

Vladimir Putin occupies so much political space in Russia than healthy, democratic, political competitors cannot take root. Like a great tree, Putin shades out lesser saplings. Unfortunately, poisonous weeds are creeping in the place of normal political fauna. The latest piece at HNN from Dr. Andreas Umland:

The Great Danger If Russia Stays on the Path It’s On

The roots of Russia’s currently rising nationalism are threefold: pre-Soviet, Soviet and post-Soviet. The idea of Moscow as the “Third Rome,” i.e. of a special Russian mission in world history, goes back several centuries. Russian nationalism had been – contrary to what many in the West believed – an important element of Soviet ideology ever since the 1930s. Like in the early 19th century when Moscow’s so-called Slavophiles applied German nativist thought to Russian conditions, ideas of various Russian nationalist movements today are often imported from the West.

….The main difference between Russian and Western forms of nationalism is that, in the contemporary West, the intellectual and political mainstream of a given country usually more or less clearly distances itself from that country’s – sometimes, also rather strong – nationalist movement. While the Russian mainstream is quick to condemn racist violence, its relationship to the world view standing behind such violence is, in contrast, more ambivalent. Thus, authors who, in the West, would be regarded as being far beyond the pale of permissible discourse, such as the ultra-nationalist publicist Aleksandr Prokhanov or ideologue of fascism Aleksandr Dugin, are esteemed participants in political and intellectual debates at prime-time TV shows. The bizarre, pseudo-scientific ideas of the late neo-racist theoretician Lev Gumilev are required reading in Russia’s middle and higher schools. Gumilev teaches that world history is defined by the rise and fall of ethnic groups that are biological units under the influence, moreover, of cosmic emissions.

Russia has always had a deep streak of xenophobic, romantic, mysticism as part of it’s character; a part that comes from it’s Pre-Petrine heritage but one that  has continued to resurface despite the best efforts of Westernizing modernizers or Soviet commissars to extinguish it. This latest resurgence is reminiscient of the wildest rhetoric from the racial lunacy of the 1920’s Volkish far Right in Weimar Germany in which the nascent Nazi Party incubated amidst Freikorps paramilitaries, Bavarian separatists and ultranationalist conspiracies.

In comparison, the siloviki do not look too bad.

Sunday, February 25th, 2007


President Vladimir Putin of Russia is under increasingly critical western scrutiny these days. Drum roll please….:

Post-Putin” By Steven Lee MyersNYT Magazine

The Putin Era in Historical Perspective” (PDF) –National Intelligence Council report

“Kremlin Inc. Why are Vladimir Putin’s opponents dying?” Michael Specter, The New Yorker

“Who’s killing Putin’s enemies? -Part I” and “Part II”Michael Specter, The Guardian Observer Magazine

“Seven Questions: Russia’s Cloaks and Daggers ” –Foreign Policy

Europe wary after Putin tirade” – The Daily Telegraph

Russia’s Managed Democracy” by Perry AndersonLondon Review of Books

The Russians have expressed some concern on how Putin’s recent speech in Munich has been portrayed:

“One Cold War Was Enough” – Foreign Minister Sergei LavrovWashington Post

They should be concerned.

Russia’s siloviki political system is a carrot and stick machine for quiet, minimalist, authoritarianism that seeks to keep the masses of the Russian public complacently supportive while neutralizing intelligentsia critics (unpopular with the masses anyway), neutering the free press and preventing the emergence of any serious (or semi-serious) power blocs or public figures who might challenge the interests of the regime.

Normally, Russian hamfisted behavior at home and abroad raises more hackles than this but at the moment, much of the world’s intellectuals and political literati are obssessed with George W. Bush. The Bush administration soaks up a great deal of negative rhetoric and political energy both here at home and overseas. But as Bush’s term wears on and certainly by the time he leaves office, this enormous global resentment and capacity for selective outrage will begin casting about for new “villains”. This is not to say Putin’s regime is a good one or that Russia can be regarded as a democracy; it can’t. These are real issues to be addressed and not swept under the rug. But if you become highly exercised over Vladimir Putin, while being conspicuously silent over Robert Mugabe or Dar Fur, your moral calculus is in disarray

Putin will clearly be in that bulls-eye at that time and there will be a media stampede to push the already poor state of U.S.-Russian and EU-Russian relations over a cliff.

Hat tips to Dr. Diane Labrosse of H-Diplo and Stan Reber of the SWC

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