Historical origins of the Ukrainian conflict
March 2, 2022 2:38 PM   Subscribe

As the main post on the Ukrainian war is dedicated to discussion of current events, this post is an attempt to gather a variety of viewpoints on the origins and implications of the war. Please feel free to add more links in the comments, and please keep the discussion respectful.

The Euromaidan of 2013, which led to the Revolution of Dignity of 2014, has been described as a reaction to endemic corruption and as a turning in orientation from Russia to Europe. Discussions and explainers are available from Open Society Foundations, Brookings, and Wilson Center:
In terms of the larger picture, the significance of the Euromaidan, or generally the Maidan, of 2013-14 can hardly be overstated: it not only caps the period of hybrid post-Soviet existence initiated by independence in 1991, but also provides a kind of closure to the complex and drawn-out process of Ukrainian nation-formation that began in the 19th century.
The Council on Foreign Relations discussed the geopolitics of the Ukrainian conflict before the recent invasion.

Religion has played a complicated role in the conflict. Putin has "justified his invasion of Ukraine in part as a defense of the Moscow-oriented Orthodox church." A schism (if that's the right word) over the Ukrainian church between Moscow and Constantinople has resulted in divisions not only in Ukraine but also in East Africa. Ukrainian Catholics have always suffered during periods of Russian control and are especially worried about the invasion. President Zelinskyy, "who is Jewish, has not put the same emphasis on religious nationalism."

While condemning the Russian invasion as "a major war crime" with "no justification, no extenuation," Noam Chomsky reflects on the role that American expansionism since the end of the Cold War has played in creating the conflict.

A Freedom House report (PDF) from 2020 discusses the rise of far-right nationalism in Ukraine, particularly since the Russian invasion in 2014, among "a generation of
youth who have come of age in a new era of war patriotism."
posted by clawsoon (133 comments total) 54 users marked this as a favorite
I don't have any knowledge to add to this post but I wanted to thank you for making it. It's good to have background info and discussion.
posted by 8dot3 at 2:46 PM on March 2, 2022 [5 favorites]

Thanks clawsoon for setting this up and seeding it.

I don't know much about the underlying history (post WW II anyway) and have been trying to cobble info together and improve my understanding. I tripped across this from John Green last night, and thought it had some worthwhile content (provided the patented John Green Vlogging Freneticism doesn't make your teeth hurt).
posted by hearthpig at 2:46 PM on March 2, 2022

thanks clawsoon, at times it feels like the other/main discussion thread is best left for a running commentary of breaking news.. I appreciate this space to develop a deeper understanding of the conflict. and whether or not you've shared more "Chomsky chum" I think he has valid points.
posted by elkevelvet at 2:49 PM on March 2, 2022

As for implications.... The Impossible Suddenly Became Possible
posted by chavenet at 2:50 PM on March 2, 2022 [2 favorites]

The Atlantic:
Ukraine Is Redefining America’s Interests: If this conflict is a new cold war, it’s one that the autocracies have been pursuing energetically and the democracies have been loath to accept.
posted by CheesesOfBrazil at 3:08 PM on March 2, 2022 [2 favorites]

I found this Ezra Klein podcast to have a helpful set of information on the economic side of the conflict.
posted by meinvt at 3:18 PM on March 2, 2022 [1 favorite]

None of this started in 2014. The roots of Russian domination and brutality against Ukraine go back hundreds of years. The czars repeatedly conquered areas of Poland and Lithuania to expand their empire. They engaged in ethnic cleansing of Jewish and other populations. In the Soviet era there was the Holodomor where Stalin starved millions of them to death. There was also the expulsion of Tartars from Crimea.

IMO the relationship between the two countries is a bit like Irelands relationship with the UK. If the UK suddenly demanded that Ireland exit the EU and then send a huge military buildup to Northern Ireland and then launched a massive invasion — would you blame Ireland for daring to seek closer relationships and trade ties with the continent?
posted by interogative mood at 3:19 PM on March 2, 2022 [41 favorites]

Earlier this week I spent some time trying to understand the "why" of the invasion. Here are perspectives I found interesting from from five people who have spent a lot of time looking at this situation. I'm not qualified to comment on their expertise, so I've noted their apparent qualifications. All pieces are from shortly before the invasion.

"So it’s not about Russia. It’s about Putin. And it’s about this small circle of people around him who dominate this country. If you look at them, they are essentially the last gasp of Soviet elites, the people who didn’t just have their early childhood education in the Soviet times, but also their early career experiences. They were made. They thought they knew the way their life was going to be. And then all of a sudden the whole thing collapsed."
"A final point is we know that Putin is obsessed with his historical legacy. History is one of the few things he reads. When he meets historians, he asks them, “How are they going to be writing about me in 100 years time?” Which, first of all, what a deeply uncomfortable question to be asked by the despots of your country, a man who has people poisoned or put in prison! But secondly, it gives us a sense of where his head is at."

Mark Galeotti, UK-based lecturer on Russian security affairs, author of a biography on Putin.

"Instead, he was posted to the KGB office in Dresden, East Germany, where he endured the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 as a personal tragedy. As the world’s television screens blared out the news of the Cold War’s end, Putin and his KGB comrades in the doomed Soviet satellite state were frantically burning all of their files, making calls to Moscow that were never returned, fearing for their lives and their careers. For KGB operatives, this was not a time of rejoicing, but rather a lesson about the nature of street movements and the power of rhetoric: democratic rhetoric, antiauthoritarian rhetoric, anti-totalitarian rhetoric."
Anne Applebaum, The Atlantic, historian specializing in Central and Eastern Europe, author of "Twilight of Democracy: The Seductive Lure of Authoritarianism"

Radio New Zealand interview with David Marples, historian specializing in history and contemporary politics of Belarus, Russian and Ukraine, Author/Editor of "The War in Ukraine's Donbas". Starts with an overview of events from 2014 to 2022, briefly comments on nationalist accusations around 20:00, gets into Putin's motives around 22:30:

"As Putin sees it, only the threat of war can reopen a conversation that, to many in the West, has long felt like settled history: the expansion of nato eastward, the denial of a Russian veto on questions of regional security, and the underlying sense that Russia lost the Cold War. If Ukraine joins nato, or is drawn into a de-facto military alliance with it, then Putin’s project has failed; if Ukraine is kept from doing so, Putin has fulfilled his historical role."
Joshua Yaffa, Moscow Correspondent for The New Yorker, author of "Between Two Fires: Truth, Ambition, and Compromise in Putin's Russia"

A Russian/Kremlin perspective:
"If it (war) will happen, it will mean miserable failure of Russian strategy."
"Yes, this man is making decisions by himself... even those close to him don't know what the final decision will look like."
"Certainly the collapse of the Soviet Union was THE event that defined the consciousness and philosophy of people like Putin."
"Putin knows very well that he has entered the final stage of his rule. This stage might be very long... but he starts to think primarily about his legacy."

Interview with Fyodor Lukyanov, editor-in-chief of Russia in Global Affairs, Chairman of Russia's Council for Foreign & Defence Policy and a director in the Valdai Discussion Club which has very close ties to Putin:
posted by justkevin at 3:24 PM on March 2, 2022 [20 favorites]

Ukraine - The Country That Defied Vladimir Putin is a 40 minute video that engagingly covers 2013-now in Russian/Ukrainian relations.

The Animated History of Ukraine lightly covers some of the more ancient history between them.
posted by droomoord at 3:31 PM on March 2, 2022 [1 favorite]

Ukraine was the first of the 10 republics to secede from the old USSR in 1991. That's got to be one of the things that gets Putin's goat.

Incidentally, I've heard the the Chernobyl disaster was a key contributor in Ukraine's dissatisfaction with the Soviet Union. It contributed both to the political unhappiness as well as creating a huge financial strain on the Soviet Union.
posted by CheeseDigestsAll at 3:32 PM on March 2, 2022 [4 favorites]

I find this idea circulating in some of my social groups that the invasion can largely be attributed to the expansion of NATO borderline offensive. Its not dissimilar to blaming domestic violence on a spouse's decision to join a domestic violence support group.
posted by lemur at 3:54 PM on March 2, 2022 [39 favorites]

I find this idea circulating in some of my social groups that the invasion can largely be attributed to the expansion of NATO borderline offensive. Its not dissimilar to blaming domestic violence on a spouse's decision to join a domestic violence support group.

Same. It's like saying "if you wouldn't make so crazy I wouldn't have to hit you" is a legitimate reason for abuse. Like there's no means of maintaining cultural and diplomatic bonds beyond invading a country and killing its citizens? How is NATO/EU drawing former Bloc countries to its side? Why doesn't Russia try doing that instead?
posted by LionIndex at 4:01 PM on March 2, 2022 [19 favorites]

It’s hard to know whether this reflects anything real, but in recent pictures Putin looks about as healthy as a microwave dinner that spent 10 years hiding at the bottom of the freezer.

His 'legacy' may have assumed more urgency than we think.
posted by jamjam at 4:01 PM on March 2, 2022 [8 favorites]

lemur: "I find this idea circulating in some of my social groups that the invasion can largely be attributed to the expansion of NATO borderline offensive. Its not dissimilar to blaming domestic violence on a spouse's decision to join a domestic violence support group."

It's also literally Putin's "reason" for the invasion.
posted by chavenet at 4:05 PM on March 2, 2022 [3 favorites]

A one man Sampson Option in other words. Tear down the Temple and take it all with you.
posted by y2karl at 4:05 PM on March 2, 2022 [3 favorites]

The historical origins Russia's war on Ukraine go back to 10th century Kyivan-Rus', or actually, just a bit earlier.
In this 24 part post I will ...

Just kidding. But not. Just wanted to say that this is a looong and complicated relationship, with not many things that are black and white. Everything you read or learn will point back to some earlier complex history.

But I bring up medieval history because last year Putin presented his own "history" of Ukraine and Russia (On the Historical Unity of Russians and Ukrainians), and he went all the way back. I hesitate to link to it (indeed I could not do so directly; the Russian government website is down), since it's part of his justification for the attack on Ukraine. But the document remains an important part of history, even if it's a terrible retelling of history.

Putin is not a historian, it's clear. But I think some of the reactions by historians to this piece are a good place to start for anyone interest in the longer story.

Meduza asked three historians for their brief reactions.
Yale prof Timothy Snyder gave his take at the Kyiv Security Forum [video and text]. Snyder also touched on it during the Petryshyn Memorial Lecture in Ukrainian Studies at Harvard just a couple of weeks ago.

Going back to 2014, soon after the Revolution of Dignity and annexation of Crimea, Snyder gave a public lecture in Kyiv where he did a coles notes version of the history of Ukraine: "Not Even Past: Ukrainian Histories, Russian Politics, European Futures". Actuall that last link is maybe the best place to start.
posted by Kabanos at 4:05 PM on March 2, 2022 [22 favorites]

LionIndex: How is NATO/EU drawing former Bloc countries to its side? Why doesn't Russia try doing that instead?

I found this comparison of protest movements in Ukraine and Belarus and the Russian response to them somewhat useful in trying to wrap my head around that. The two nations have a fair amount of shared history - first part of Kievan Rus, then the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, then the Russian Empire, then the Soviet Union - but they have diverged since 2014.
posted by clawsoon at 4:14 PM on March 2, 2022

Politico interviewed a long-time Putin analyst about what he’s up to. She doesn’t paint a very hopeful picture.
posted by Thorzdad at 4:25 PM on March 2, 2022 [3 favorites]

For podcast fans: Black Diplomats host Terrell Starr talks to Ukrainian journalist Maksym Eristavi and Russian historian Alexander Etkind about Ukrainian history and the current situation in the context of Colonialism. (via this AskMe)
posted by Kabanos at 4:29 PM on March 2, 2022 [4 favorites]

It has been interesting to see the two different frames applied to the issue by different people, with very different results in how they think about the conflict. Some frame this as entirely a sovereignty issue, others as part of fight between empires. Certainly Putin looks at Ukraine in terms of the Russian empire, but there are plenty in the West who also see the conflict through the empire frame.

My own two cents is that this conflict represents a shift away from the world as empires and towards sovereignty of individual nations. I think what we see now in Europe is partly about self-defense and deterring Russia, but also a form of mutual aid between nations. The US looks less and less relevant. It will be interesting to see if this is a start of a shift that will change geopolitical realities in Latin America as well, for example.
posted by ssg at 4:32 PM on March 2, 2022 [4 favorites]

Ukraine was the first of the 10 republics to secede from the old USSR in 1991. That's got to be one of the things that gets Putin's goat.

Some clarification: the sentence on the wiki page actually reads "Ukraine was the first of 10 republics to secede from the Union between August and December". Scroll down to the Chronology of Declarations, to see that Ukraine was among 10 whose independence was recognized by the USSR in December 1991. However, secession of the 3 Baltics was recognized in August 1991.
posted by polecat at 4:33 PM on March 2, 2022 [5 favorites]

Chomsky: Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev’s reckless decision to provide Cuba with missiles was also an effort to slightly rectify the enormous U.S. preponderance of military force

Specifically, the US put Jupiter medium-range ballistic missiles in Italy and Turkey between 1959 and 1963 that could hit most of the western Soviet Union. The Cuban Missile Crisis was largely resolved by a secret deal between Kennedy and Khrushchev where the US would remove the Jupiter missiles in exchange for the Soviets removing their missiles from Cuba.
posted by kirkaracha at 5:17 PM on March 2, 2022 [7 favorites]

Thread from Alexey Navalny calling on Russians to rise up in civil disobedience

(Not sure how he wrote this from prison)
posted by Roach at 5:18 PM on March 2, 2022 [3 favorites]

The IR Realists that Chomsky quotes would of course give Putin props for doing what they argue is how nations conduct their affairs. (kinda an is/ought issue here!)

Chomsky's own words:

If we want to respond to the tragedy in ways that will help the victims, and avert still worse catastrophes that loom ahead, it is wise, and necessary, to learn as much as we can about what went wrong

The Japanese JET Program has its mantra for its placement of young EFL teachers in the Japanese education system: ESID: "Every Situation Is Different".

"What went wrong" in this particular case is we clearly have a monomaniacal Hitler on our hands now, conform to his will or be pounded to dust. [I guess from the Iraqi Baathist perspective they can look at "What went wrong" in 2001-2003 in their international diplomacy in fending off a similarly monomaniacal regime . . . but, ESID!]

(The parallels are apt I think; Hitler's life mission entering the 1930s was reversing the wrongs of Versailles -- the loss of the Danzig and Posen regions of East Prussia to the Polish people, and Hitler was willing to roll the dice to achieve these ends, and pushed his luck one roll too many in 1939. Putin apparently has similar revanchism wrt Russian Empire's Ukraine . . . I assume this doesn't extend to Russian America, but who knows! . . )

Inserting America's quite ugly history of intervention in other nations' affairs 1848 - 2003 or whenever (not to forget our brutal displacement of native peoples from their own homelands) is missing the import of last week I think -- Putin's autocratic regime was threatened by an independent, non-Moscow-aligned liberal slavic democracy willing to defend its sovereignty while also increasing serve as a neighboring example of what Putin's regime refuses to provide to its people.

The US fought four major wars last century to prevent such expansionism -- keeping Japan from brutally Iaponifying China proper (after seeing them take the Taiwanese, Koreans, and Manchurian Chinese into their colonial/cultural orbit) -- N Korea vs. S Korea, N Vietnam vs. S Vietnam, and Iraq vs. Kuwait [did I miss any??].

When I first wrote my thoughts on the first thread concerning 2/22 [we Americans have another date to go along with 12/7, 9/11, and 1/6 now] after the full escalation became clear:
"I am hopeful that the 2014-on unsatisfactory stalemate can now have an eventual resolution by Europe excluding Russia from its affairs until reversion to the pre-Crimea seizure status quo is achieved."
I was very unsure how far Europe was willing to go to stand up for Ukranian sovereignty when I wrote that, but so far I am quite heartened.

If Putin wants to become another Kim, so be it. Enjoy your rump empire of repression and nationalist gaslighting, just leave the free world out of it.

Chomsky via quoting someone:

"if the expansion had occurred in harmony with building a security structure in Europe that included Russia."

I can't join the correct synapses to have that statement make a lick of sense to me.
posted by Heywood Mogroot III at 6:10 PM on March 2, 2022 [4 favorites]

Here's a new YouTube seminar with the DiEM25, recorded and posted yesterday (March 1) with the political economic views of Varoufakis and others:
How to end the war in Ukraine: with Yanis Varoufakis, Volodymyr Ishchenko and more

The entire Chomsky series of interviews is truly valuable to read in full:
"US Military Escalation Against Russia Would Have No Victors" (March 1)
"US Push to “Reign Supreme” Stokes the Ukraine Conflict" (Feb 16)
"US Approach to Ukraine and Russia Has “Left the Domain of Rational Discourse" (Feb 4)
"Outdated US Cold War Policy Worsens Ongoing Russia-Ukraine Conflict" (Dec 23)

Here's a recent Zizek analyzing the post-Lacanian significance of Putin's special military operation. Plus a short piece he wrote today, What Does Defending Europe Mean?

I'm somewhat surprised not more of the usual leftist academic writers have said much yet on this crisis and disseminated their remarks online. For example Judith Butler has published last year her new book The Force of Nonviolence, so it would be helpful to hear her thoughts on this.
posted by polymodus at 6:12 PM on March 2, 2022 [4 favorites]

Two chef's kisses for the Žižek! Looks like he and I are on the same page completely.
posted by Heywood Mogroot III at 6:21 PM on March 2, 2022 [2 favorites]

I follow Ruth Ben-Ghiat. Here is a piece she published yesterday: Putin Miscalculated, But Entrenched Kleptocracy May Delay Regime Change
posted by No Robots at 6:21 PM on March 2, 2022 [3 favorites]

I read today that China asked Putin not to invade Ukraine during the olympics. Russia had all the security in the world as it was, but Putin's autocracy and oligarchy, did not. All around his western border the once vassal states of the USSR, became modern democratic nations, and they are not quiet about how the old ways were abusive, and they did not want a return to them. I imagine watching Chechen's "reeducation," was a clear reminder.

The free flow of information alone is threatening in the autocratic, alcoholic society. Remember, "The Alcoholic No Talk Rule," The oil industry, the drug industry, extraction industries, they are not paradigms of virtue, and only later will this prove out as the deliberate environmental damage becomes more clear. So they aren't the best of folks and I am not convinced they aren't also mass murderers, doing their worst in Africa, on reservations, wherever they can buy the resources out from under indigenous peoples. But Putin's war for pipeline paths, lithium, glory and pretense, even flipped the drillers and diggers out. He is far from finished with his puniary posturing and outright theft, in plain sight.
posted by Oyéah at 6:39 PM on March 2, 2022 [2 favorites]

A dumber, shorter-term explanation for the invasion: Putin got really popular in Russia after the takeover of Crimea, jumping in polls from 62% approval to 86%. In 2020 he reached his lowest approval ever at 59%; the buildup to the Ukraine invasion has got him back up to 69%.
posted by clawsoon at 6:48 PM on March 2, 2022 [4 favorites]

For some well-founded predictions of the economic fallout, I recommend Matt Stoller's Ukraine War Profiteering and the Shipping Cartel (TL;DR: if you thought inflation was bad NOW...) and Algebris Can we give up Russian gas? (TL;DR: not without a lot of hardship, but it could massively accelerate the switch to sustainable energy.)

A Finnish historian wrote a Twitter thread paralleling the invasion of Ukraine with the USSR invasion of Finland in 1939, and extrapolating what could happen next. I found it a very interesting read.
posted by rednikki at 6:53 PM on March 2, 2022 [6 favorites]

After reading and watching his interviews Chomsky has no solution and he doesn’t know what went wrong — he will reassure you that America and its policies are to blame. If that’s your starting point then there really isn’t much to discuss. Chomsky has an opinion that provides a kind of contrarian take; but as we’ve seen with this pandemic and with instances of Engineers disease — just because someone has a contrarian opinion doesn’t make it right, or mean that the product of their own research is any good, even if they are really smart and at the top of some other field.
posted by interogative mood at 7:22 PM on March 2, 2022 [38 favorites]

Actually Chomsky's solution is quite clear: things are grim and pessimistic now because a rubicon has been passed, but the average North American can realistically work on two fronts, firstly supporting the Ukrainian war movement by providing aid, and secondly by holding their own governments accountable for their own corruption and complicity.

His career as an activist aside, indeed Chomsky is also a scientist, so scientists have unique perspectives to offer, even on matters of political philosophy. If you consider that in a social conflict, there is no single reducible explanation only different parts and levels interacting in a complex dynamic, and thus that in a global society different actors may be accorded different responsibilities, then we can ethically say because US actions have mediated the aggression of Russia in this structural analysis, then both Putin has to be held accountable at the same time America and its dying hegemony through NATO must also be held accountable. The reasonable take is to address both, one that happens to be a current urgent crisis, and the other longer term (and as he says further down, deeply implicated with the crisis of global warming).

Chomsky has always sent a message of hope to grassroots movements, and his basic arguments haven't changed much in recent years. There's a lot of centrist bias out there that has historically cast and marginalized him as merely contrarian so you have to account for that when evaluating his ideas.
posted by polymodus at 7:37 PM on March 2, 2022 [10 favorites]

I thought the Chomsky interview were really complacent, I understand good interviews don't have to adversarial, but come on....

Noam Chomsky is internationally recognized as one of the most important intellectuals alive. His intellectual stature has been compared to that of Galileo, Newton and Descartes, .....

He's done good things in his field, but that's way too hagiographic for me.
posted by WaterAndPixels at 7:56 PM on March 2, 2022 [21 favorites]

The US has made a ton of mistakes and is certainly deserving of a lot of critics regarding the foreign policy, but not everything is their fault all the time.

If you talk to people from Eastern Europe, they want to be in Europe they want to escape from Russia's influence, because they're bullies and their kleptocratic leadership has nothing good to offer to common people. The fact that Russia is their neighbor doesn't grant Russia a right of influence on them. Russia could have built it's own alliance with those countries if it didn't want then in Europe or in NATO, but the reality is, at the moment Russia is not a country people want to ally with.

You can, and should, fight the corruption in the US/Europe because it's the right thing to do, for a better society. But I fail to see how that changes Putin's calculus, he's still gonna go in and indiscriminately kill a lot of Ukrainians because they wanted out of his so called sphere.
posted by WaterAndPixels at 8:07 PM on March 2, 2022 [30 favorites]

Chomsky's analysis makes the same mistake I've seen a number of other leftist analyses make: amidst all the long discussion of what America wants, and what Russia wants, and a few brief touches on what Europe wants, there's zero mention of what Ukraine wants. He takes it as a given that this conflict could've been avoided by having Ukraine remain "neutral" in the style of the Nordic nations or Austria during the could war (as if Russia was ever going to be satisfied with that) and that the inevitable cause of this invasion was the United States' foolish efforts to pressure the European powers and Ukraine into considering Ukraine's membership in NATO. But his entire analysis treats Ukraine like an object. Like it's a toy, that two children are fighting over, and the only questions are which child gets to have the toy. There's no suggestion that Ukraine should get to decide, for itself, what it wants to do, who it wants to have ties with, which "sphere of influence" it wants to be part of, whether it wants to be "neutral". He takes the imperialism of Russia as such a given fact that the idea of self-determination for Ukraine never even comes up anywhere in those interviews.

And basically, Chomsky entirely fails to address the question LionIndex asked upthread:

How is NATO/EU drawing former Bloc countries to its side? Why doesn't Russia try doing that instead?

I imagine that anybody who wants to keep beating the anti-American-Imperialism drum can raise the point that, given the 90s were basically a time of great prosperity for the US and economic disaster for Russia (some of it caused by, or at the very least not adequately prevented by, the US), the US had an "unfair advantage" peddling its influence because it was rich and Russia was ruined. But that explanation only gets you so far. Putin has never been good at making friends of other nations; one need only look at how completely deserted he was in today's UN vote. Or Germany's rapid reversal on its foreign policy stance towards Russia despite all of its present-day economic ties. His only reliable friends on the international stage have long been other authoritarian strongmen. The blame for that cannot be laid solely at the feet of NATO and the United States, no matter the economic picture. Dictators make uncomfortable bedfellows for nations interested in self-determination. But then, as I began with, Chomsky doesn't seem especially concerned with Ukraine's self-determination.

Nor is there a single word in any of the four interviews about the Budapest memoranda. If you can fit in mentions of nearly every shitty imperialist thing the US has done since 1945 you can spare a sentence to mention that Ukraine was a nuclear power at the end of the Cold War and voluntarily gave up those weapons in exchange for Russia's promise not to invade. (One might observe that if Ukraine already felt the need, in 1994, to get Russia to promise to respect its borders, in writing, that maybe there was and is more going on than just Russia being threatened by NATO's eastward expansion after NATO's intervention in Kosovo in 1998 or the acceptance of Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic into NATO in 1999.)

Anyways, I found it a very disappointing series of interviews. An interviewer who clearly already had a fully-formed narrative in mind and asked questions to match it, and no particular insights from Chomsky that others haven't already had as well.
posted by mstokes650 at 9:06 PM on March 2, 2022 [71 favorites]

I mean, look, Chomsky is a linguist by training, and I've read that when experts in political science, history, and other social sciences have criticized his scholarship when he ventures into their fields, his response is basically that their fields aren't as hard as they claim and his interpretations are as good as theirs. In my opinion this is the same thing as physicists telling biologists and chemists that their work isn't that complicated and they've got some back-of-the-envelope calculations that actually solve all the major problems in their fields. I don't think Chomsky is a fool (quite the contrary, his reputation in linguistics and cognitive science is well deserved), nor that he's necessarily wrong on any specific issues here, but just because he's an academic doesn't mean he's an expert in everything he chooses to talk about. I respect him as a clear thinker and communicator, I appreciate his achievements with his anti-war activism, and I'm broadly sympathetic to many aspects of his politics, but none of that means that his analysis is more insightful or valuable than that of people who have spent their careers specializing in international relations, Russian and Ukrainian history, etc. If you want to make the case for why we should pay particular attention to Chomsky, this is the thread to do it, but I'm definitely skeptical that he's the best person to listen to to understand what's happening in Ukraine right now.

I really appreciate the varied reading list here from a wide range of experts.
posted by biogeo at 9:52 PM on March 2, 2022 [28 favorites]

In the other thread, Roach linked to Why John Mearsheimer Blames the U.S. for the Crisis in Ukraine and a Twitter thread response to it by Mike Mazarr.

Mazarr criticizes the realism of Mearsheimer as "rationalist black-boxing." "He's trying to describe, in other words, a world that runs largely/solely according to fixed rules of great power goals and preferences... Its actors are trapped in a system that dictates actions."

It occurs to me that some of Chomsky's analysis shares that feature with Mearsheimer, and I see that I'm not the first to identify a strain of realism in Chomsky:
This article examines the assumptions that underlie Noam Chomsky's politics and argues that his analysis of US foreign policy since World War II may best be situated within the realist tradition in international relations.

Chomsky's left realism has not been adequately understood or addressed by IR scholars for both political and disciplinary reasons. In opposition to most classical realists, he has insisted that intellectuals should resist rather than serve national power interests.
I wonder if Mazarr's critique of realism as an analytical framework could be equally applied to Chomsky's analysis, even if Mearsheimer and Chomsky have very different political and ideological commitments.
posted by clawsoon at 10:25 PM on March 2, 2022 [10 favorites]

For a solid take in the history of Ukraine and the Region let me recommend (once again) the historian Timothy Snyder.
His interest in Ukraine is not recent but decades long, which is why i feel that he has a better overview than most.

From yesterday, 2 March:
Snyder speaking with Yuval Harari about
The War in Ukraine and the Future of the World
Moderator Anne Applebaum

Snyder's substack
Here he has six lessons in the history of Ukraine. And you also find very personal appeals and Info on how to support Ukraine.

Follow him in Twitter

His YouTube Channel has older lectures.

This lecture from 2017 gives an overview of Ukraine history from 1917 to 2017.
posted by 15L06 at 12:30 AM on March 3, 2022 [5 favorites]

I came across this Guardian article yesterday, published in 2020, which I found fascinating & provides a little context on Putin's use of the Orthodox church in selling his narrative to the Russian people.

Angels and artillery: a cathedral to Russia's new national identity

The imagery inside Russia’s vast Cathedral of the Armed Forces blends militarism, patriotism and Orthodox Christianity to breathtaking and highly controversial effect.
The cathedral is located at Patriot Park, a “military Disneyland” that was opened by Putin five years ago.
posted by joz at 12:30 AM on March 3, 2022 [3 favorites]

YouTube channel Task & Purpose on how understanding the Soviet Union's Red Army military doctrine provides context for understanding what the Russian Army is doing now
posted by otherchaz at 1:29 AM on March 3, 2022

One recent event, which is very relevant to the invasion of Ukraine and hasn’t been mentioned much, is Azerbaijan’s conquest of Nagorno-Karabakh from Armenia. Here’s a piece from this January by Eugene Chausovsky for the magazine Foreign Policy. Excerpt:
Moscow’s intervention in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict in 2020 was intended to stem the tide of territorial losses by Russia’s ally and fellow CSTO member Armenia at the hands of Azerbaijan, which was more independent and not an institutional ally. But the manner and timing of Russia’s intervention also had elements of self-interest, enabling Moscow to maintain ties with both Baku and Yerevan.

Stepping in was meant also to limit the influence of Turkey, whose security support for Azerbaijan via weaponry including TB2 drones proved pivotal in helping the country’s forces break through Armenian defenses. Thus, Russia intervened as a mediator to oversee a cease-fire and transfer of territory in and around Nagorno-Karabakh from Armenia to Azerbaijan, which was painful to accept for Yerevan but at the same time was much less than what Armenian forces would have otherwise likely lost on the battlefield. Armenia and Azerbaijan both agreed to the Moscow-brokered armistice, with its implementation consisting of the deployment of 2,000 Russian peacekeepers in November 2020.

The Nagorno-Karabakh conflict highlighted Russia’s regional power status and Moscow’s continued ability to shape events, but it also revealed that Moscow’s influence has limitations. After all, Russia’s preferred outcome would have been the prewar status quo, but Azerbaijan, along with its own ally in Turkey, was able to forcefully challenge this status quo. This challenge substantially raised the profile of Ankara in the region, with Moscow agreeing to a joint Russian-Turkish monitoring center to oversee the cease-fire implementation and Russia having no choice but to acknowledge the important regional power role played by Turkey.
In January of this year Olena Lennon wrote about Nagorno-Karabakh in the context of what was then still only Russian military build-up on the Ukrainian border. A lot of her analysis was overtaken by events, but it still has plenty of good information.

I posted this link in the main thread too, but James Meek goes into Nagorno-Karabakh a bit at the end in this podcast interview with Thomas Jones. The interview is, in general a good overview of the historical roots of the Russian invasion.
posted by Kattullus at 2:17 AM on March 3, 2022 [3 favorites]

Chomsky's analysis makes the same mistake I've seen a number of other leftist analyses make: amidst all the long discussion of what America wants, and what Russia wants, and a few brief touches on what Europe wants, there's zero mention of what Ukraine wants

Not to be about Chomsky, but I wonder whether part of the problem is that various people are so focused on opposing American imperialism, they ignore other imperialism, including from Russia, China (George Monbiot talks about this in today's Guardian). And this contributes to them missing that another way to combat imperialism is to actively support the sovereignty of smaller and poorer countries in the way we talk about conflicts between states. We do not have to fall within spheres of influence, it is possible for countries to collaborate (or not collaborate) even if they are not one of the "great powers".

On top of that, many things are primarily about what they appear to be about. Russia invading Ukraine is first and most importantly about Russia, a good bit about Ukraine, with everyone else secondary. But it's easier to focus on what it says about your own area of interest than to take in the whole picture at the right level of detail.
posted by plonkee at 2:26 AM on March 3, 2022 [9 favorites]

We don't have to fill this entire thread with Chomsky just because there is a tankie in this and previous threads who is stuck in the 1990s. Please stop relitigating the 1990s. Chomsky does not have a unique insight into the situation, no matter how many vague appeals to authority one stacks around him.
posted by Pyrogenesis at 2:39 AM on March 3, 2022 [40 favorites]

clawsoon, thank you for creating this thread. I think Mefites who are located in Ukraine's neighborhood appreciate that the detached, political discussion is separated from the current events -- I certainly do.

I'm going to share some links regarding Stepan Bandera and some misc. topics that are related to the historical background and complexities.

Before that, let me share some personal background. Due to my location and personal connections, I'm following Ukraine and the region's history for a long time. I'm currently helping refugees arriving at Budapest with food, with free rides to hotels/shelter and I volunteer for multiple relief orgs. My father's family was interned in a labor camp between 1951 and 1953 by the Hungarian communist regime. He was 2 years old when the internment started. I give you all this context so that I won't be attacked immediately as a Kremlin stooge spreading disinformation, or a useful idiot or a Soviet apologist. The fact is: the region's history is complex, there are no purely good guys and bad guys, and everything is viewed through Cold War lenses and current geopolitical interests. I hope the below specific examples will make this clear.

On Stepan Bandera:
  • Here is Radio Svoboda's program on Stepan Bandera giving a "balanced" view.

  • This "balanced view" is similar to the one pushed by the Atlantic Council
    Small wonder that growing numbers of Ukrainians admire the nationalists commonly known as Banderites, or followers of Stepan Bandera who fought Polish rule in 1921-39, Nazi rule in 1941-44, and Soviet rule in 1939-55. Western observers point to nationalist excesses and condemn them. But that’s missing the point, somewhat like saying that Thomas Jefferson and George Washington don’t deserve to be founding fathers because they had slaves. Ukrainians see strong-willed individuals who were willing to die for their ideals of independence and freedom. And, perhaps unsurprisingly, the contemporary Ukrainians who are most inclined to view the nationalists as symbols of resistance are the Russian-speaking easterners fighting Putin’s troops in the Donbas and dying for the cause. (Here’s Why More Ukrainians Admire Nationalists, and Why the West Shouldn’t Freak Out)

  • And indeed, polls show that Bandera is highly regarded, especially in the western part of ukraine: chart on twitter, Poll: Almost half of Ukrainians have negative attitude to Bandera
    Seventy-six percent of those who live in western Ukraine have a positive opinion towards Bandera, the poll indicates. Twelve percent of residents of western Ukraine have a negative attitude to Bandera and 12% are undecided. (Note the framing of the article vs. the data from the article body.)

  • So what is the problem with Bandera and his memory? According to Foreign Policy - The Historian Whitewashing Ukraine’s Past:
    Although events of 75 years ago may seem like settled history, they are very much a part of the information war raging between Russia and Ukraine.

    The revisionism focuses on two Ukrainian nationalist groups: the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN) and the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA), which fought to establish an independent Ukraine. During the war, these groups killed tens of thousands of Jews and carried out a brutal campaign of ethnic cleansing that killed as many as 100,000 Poles. Created in 1929 to free Ukraine from Soviet control, the OUN embraced the notion of an ethnically pure Ukrainian nation. When the Nazis invaded the Soviet Union in 1941, the OUN and its charismatic leader, Stepan Bandera, welcomed the invasion as a step toward Ukrainian independence. Its members carried out a pogrom in Lviv that killed 5,000 Jews, and OUN militias played a major role in violence against the Jewish population in western Ukraine that claimed the lives of up to 35,000 Jews.

  • To understand Bandera, one may start with Grzegorz Rossoliński-Liebe's biography of Bandera: Stepan Bandera: The Life and Afterlife of a Ukrainian Nationalist: Fascism, Genocide, and Cult. An excerpt from a book review shows the deeper, historical roots of the conflict in the region:
    What sent Bandera off in such a violent direction? Rossoliński-Liebe’s massive new study takes us through the times and the politics that captured Bandera’s imagination. Galicia had been part of Austro-Hungary prior to the war. But whereas the Polish-controlled western half was incorporated into the newly established Republic of Poland in 1918, the Ukrainian-dominated eastern portion, where Bandera was born in 1909, was not absorbed until 1921, following the Polish Soviet War and a brief period of independence.

    It was a poor fit from the start. Bitter at being deprived of a state of their own, Ukrainian nationalists refused to recognize the takeover and, in 1922, responded with a campaign of arson attacks on some 2,200 Polish-owned farms. The government in Warsaw replied with repression and cultural warfare. It brought in Polish farmers, many of them war veterans, to settle the district and radically change the demographics of the countryside. It closed down Ukrainian schools and even tried to ban the term “Ukrainian,” insisting that students employ the somewhat more vague “Ruthenian” instead.

    When the OUN launched another arson and sabotage campaign in summer 1930, Warsaw resorted to mass arrest. By late 1938, as many as 30,000 Ukrainians were languishing in Polish jails. Soon, Polish politicians were talking about the “extermination” of the Ukrainians while a German journalist who traveled through eastern Galicia in early 1939 reported that local Ukrainians were calling for “Uncle Führer” to step in and impose a solution of his own on the Poles.

  • In 2012 Rossolinski-Liebe planned to give a lecture tour in Ukraine about his research. Then in the last minute the appointments were cancelled from the Ukranian side:
    Although it would easy to blame this ugly incident on Ukraine’s radical right political parties and organizations, a full explanation is not so simple. The very popular online historical journal Istorychna Pravda (or Historical Truth) first drew attention to the lecture series with the headline “The Germans are going to tell us about Bandera, the OUN, and the UPA.” (The website has since edited the posting to something more respectable without noting the change.) The journal, which sees itself as apolitical and moderate, knew precisely what it was doing with such a headline. This type of essentialist language that reduces scholarly exchange to a matter of ethnicity is always a clarion call to radicals that Ukraine will come under attack if a foreign scholar speaks in their country. The far right certainly has responded. Svoboda described Rossolinski-Liebe as a “liberal fascist” and said that he should not be allowed to speak in this country under any circumstances. Svoboda politician Andrii Illienko published a number of essentializing blog posts and articles at the Svoboda website, equating Germans with National Socialism and eugenics. In his quasi-open forum on his Facebook account Illienko stated, “In the past, the Germans told us that we are of inferior race, that our skulls are not the right shape. Now the Germans say that we are of inferior race (today that is called ‘not real Europeans’) because we honor our heroes and do not like pederasts. I suspect that the outcome will be as tearful as last time.” He also noted gleefully that “the ground was burning under [Rossolinski-Liebe’s] feet.” Others suggested that the Hamburg historian ought to be greeted by the football hooligans of Dynamo Kyiv. (Ukrainian Academic Freedom and Democracy Under Siege)

  • On a related note, still in Ukraine, To see what Ukraine's future may be, just look at Lviv's shameful past:
    I visited the Polish Consulate where an official named Wicenty Debicki did not directly answer my question about the investigation, but he gave a bit of personal biography. "I was born in Lviv," he said. "I remember as a small boy having to hide from Ukrainian nationalist groups with my father, in 1944, because we were Poles."

    A Ukrainian woman translating Mr Debicki's Polish interjected to ask in surprise: "But surely you were frightened of the Germans and Soviets as well?" After a long pause, he replied diplomatically that there was good reason to fear both.

  • But the problem of whitewashing Nazi history is not limited to just Ukraine. Here is an incident from Canada:
    A movement is afoot to claim that the Nazi collaborators and the SS units made up of Ukrainians, Latvians and other eastern Europeans, were actually nationalistic heroes and in no way associated with the Nazis. I have written a number of articles exposing the role of these collaborators in the Holocaust and their complicity in murdering tens of thousands of Jewish men, women and children. (Nazi whitewash gathers momentum as memory of the Holocaust fades)

  • So that's for Stepan Bandera. In addition to that, here are two links with adjacent topics:
  • A deep review of Timothy Snyder's oft referenced book, Bloodlands:
    The numbers are horrific, the language incandescent, and the logic murky. Snyder does not explain why this particular piece of terrain deserves the title “bloodlands” while others do not. Yugoslavia lost one-eighth of its population, the second highest proportion of any nation during World War II, yet for some reason does not merit inclusion. Neither does Greece, which lost one person in fourteen. If the bloodlands are “simply where Europe’s most murderous regimes did their most murderous work,” why are they out while countries such as Estonia, which suffered far less proportionally, are in?

    Yet another question involves timing. Periodization is always problematic, but Snyder’s demarcations seem especially arbitrary. Why 1933 to 1945? The border zone was the scene of mass carnage during World War I, while death estimates for the Russian civil war and famine run as high as ten million, many of them in Ukraine. So why start the clock running in 1933 as opposed to 1914 or 1918? (Timothy Snyder’s Lies)

  • Unfortunately, Europe was also profiting from the corrupt Yanukovich regime:
    Much of the massive illegal logging that is destroying Ukraine’s forests began under the term of exiled former President Viktor Yanukovych, who fled the country after being toppled in the 2014 EuroMaidan Revolution. (EU sawmill firms accused of colluding in destruction of Ukraine’s forest)

  • posted by kmt at 2:56 AM on March 3, 2022 [22 favorites]

    I really appreciate the links and info that have been posted in this thread - thank you.

    Neutral-tone request, please don't conflate NATO and the EU ; their history overlaps, but their distinct origins, purposes and expansions should be regarded in their own lights, and the relationship between them is a subject in its own right.

    For reference, NATO has 30 member states, the EU has 27. There are 21 states which are members of both.
    posted by protorp at 3:44 AM on March 3, 2022 [8 favorites]

    Hitler's Drang nach Osten plans to extend the autobahns to Theoderichshafen (fka Sevastopol) and pension off his Herrenvolk veterans on neofeudal latifundia in Ukraine after reducing the native population to the minimum required; education sufficient to have the surviving Ukrainians read the traffic signs so they wouldn't become pedestrian fatalities was the plan too.

    Stalin's Holodomor was recent history then, too.

    As for the Ukrainian collective checkered past, while on the Hitler thing: "If Hitler invaded Hell, I would make at least a favourable reference of the Devil in the House of Commons."
    posted by Heywood Mogroot III at 4:02 AM on March 3, 2022 [2 favorites]

    I don’t want to call out anyone in particular, but please check your comments with an eye for how MeFites in places like Finland or Poland (or Ukraine!) might feel reading them. It is very easy to project detachment and theory, which is not great for people who are negotiating imminent threat.
    posted by GenjiandProust at 4:14 AM on March 3, 2022 [12 favorites]

    kmt: On Stepan Bandera

    I'm curious to know: Does Nestor Makhno play any part in modern Ukrainian discourse? He looms large in the memory of some of the Mennonite side of my family as a reason for the reduction in ethnic diversity in Ukraine.

    Speaking of diversity, I've been trying for a couple of days now to find a map that described most of eastern Europe before WWI as (I think the phrase was) "zone of mixed language." It talked about all the bloodshed and forced migration that resulted when the western European ideal of the single-language nation-state was imported into areas of eastern Europe which were a well-mixed stew of Slavic, Germanic, Jewish and Romani. My impression - though I'm having trouble finding that map - is that Ukraine was part of that zone.
    posted by clawsoon at 4:50 AM on March 3, 2022 [2 favorites]

    I respect him as a clear thinker and communicator, I appreciate his achievements with his anti-war activism, and I'm broadly sympathetic to many aspects of his politics, but none of that means that his analysis is more insightful or valuable than that of people who have spent their careers specializing in international relations, Russian and Ukrainian history, etc.

    His recent interviews aren't academic works; they're political discourse in the tradition of European post-Marxist thinkers that others such as Varoufakis, Zizek, and Butler today keep alive. That in itself makes it valuable and irreducible to the work of specialists in academic fields, some with degrees of implicit political bias (in leftist history, specifically Econ departments and IR departments; see for example Chomsky's famous essay The Responsibility of Intellectuals). The implications of the Ukraine crisis ought to be open to political examination, and these thinkers are already participating voices in that. Further, as a leftist I think these are a lot better sources than the 180º kind of "leftist" that are effectively apologists for autocracy and oppression. I'd like to be reassured that it's okay to share these writings and talks without it becoming a debate on whether these public intellectuals are good enough to be in the conversation at all.
    posted by polymodus at 5:39 AM on March 3, 2022 [3 favorites]

    I think there's a very serious discussion to be had about how this dispassionate academic discourse can (adversely) change public perceptions when they're broadcast widely in the midst of a crisis.

    From a Socratic perspective, it's great for scientists and philosophers to ask pointed questions that challenge their foundational beliefs.

    On the other hand, I'd argue that it's immensely harmful when those discussions break into the news and public discourse.

    To draw from another recent analogy:

    GOOD: Scientists internally debating whether or not an mRNA vaccine candidate is effective against COVID-19. Science depends on scientists' willingness to challenge, examine, and debate even their most basic assumptions.

    BAD: Sound-bites from those debates making their way onto TV, inevitably being translated into "Scientists have doubts about vaccine"

    In one context, "Just asking questions" is essential, and in the other, it is runious.

    This isn't some abstract concern that's has no basis in history. We did quite a bit of this sort of academic hand-wringing in the 1930s, and I think you could make a very clear argument that it muddied the waters, and prevented the world from seriously considering Nazi Germany to be the threat that it was.
    posted by schmod at 6:02 AM on March 3, 2022 [16 favorites]

    Don't talk about the war, don't you know there's a war going on?
    posted by Space Coyote at 6:07 AM on March 3, 2022 [4 favorites]

    I'd like to be reassured that it's okay to share these writings and talks without it becoming a debate on whether these public intellectuals are good enough to be in the conversation at all.

    Jesus, nobody is about to censor you. It's just that your and Chomsky style analysis is obsolete, utterly out of date. Here is, once again, an article which has been posted several times about it.
    posted by Pyrogenesis at 7:02 AM on March 3, 2022 [13 favorites]

    Realism is not a moral posture. Kennedy took the planet to the literal brink of annihilation in 1963 and is seldom remembered as a madman or a monster. Does it matter whether the missiles in Cuba were for defensive or offensive purposes?
    posted by moorooka at 7:24 AM on March 3, 2022 [2 favorites]

    Pyrogenesis: Jesus, nobody is about to censor you.

    A bunch of Chomsky discussion was deleted in the other thread. I know the mods had good reason for it, and it's not censorship in any broader sense, but I can understand how that might lead to questions of, "Am I allowed to talk about this here?"

    It's just that your and Chomsky style analysis is obsolete, utterly out of date.

    Reading Chomsky's own justification for the analysis he does, it seems that he values a sort of personal bravery in going up against state power. From his point of view, it's easy and cheap for him to criticize non-American regimes, because he has nothing to fear from them; his responsibility as an American is to criticize American state power. He's not trying to create a complete template to understand the world, but rather an intellectual framework to justify fighting state power in his part of the world.

    From that point of view, for his analysis to go out of date would require the American state to either lose its interest in being a global hegemon or lose its competence to do so. A comment that I put in the other thread about jet engine production in Ukraine might be a useful subject for Chomskyan analysis: Ukraine is one of a handful of countries that can build military-grade jet engines; China wants to get that ability; the US stepped in to convince Ukraine not to sell its technology to China, even though Ukraine is struggling because it lost its main customer - Russia - in 2014, and could really use the Chinese money.

    Where Chomsky has failed, as your article points out, is in not providing much of his considerable intellectual power in the service of helping people around the world who are fighting anything other than American power. It's where his commitment to his take on personal bravery has done some harm, I'd suggest.
    posted by clawsoon at 7:42 AM on March 3, 2022 [10 favorites]

    > A bunch of Chomsky discussion was deleted in the other thread. I know the mods had good reason for it, and it's not censorship in any broader sense, but I can understand how that might lead to questions of, "Am I allowed to talk about this here?"

    Only if the people who are asking this question are incapable of understanding the difference between "this politically-charged tangent of the Ukraine topic, which touches on topics that MetaFilter has not handled well in the past, does not belong in the general purpose thread for discussing rapidly-unfolding events from an active war zone" and "this politically-charged tangent o the Ukraine topic cannot be discussed on MetaFilter at all."

    I do not believe that anyone I've seen commenting on the topic from a leftist perspective is incapable of understanding this distinction.
    posted by tonycpsu at 8:08 AM on March 3, 2022 [12 favorites]

    I read the interviews with Chomsky, and the overly fawning intros aside, I thought they were interesting but not super relevant. The fact that verbal assurances might have been made and then broken about NATO expansion 30 years ago can't excuse imperialist invasion and domination today. The interviews are also filled with 'tu quoque' jabs and jokes about US imperialism that seem crass and gross to me in this context.

    Chomsky does state that the key thing now is to support Ukraine while trying to find a diplomatic solution but, I mean, that is a little obvious. I've found other sources like Fiona Hill more compelling in outlining what can be done to make an off-ramp for Russia that doesn't involve either the end of Ukraine or a massive escalation.
    posted by being_quiet at 8:31 AM on March 3, 2022 [3 favorites]

    being_quiet, would you have any Fiona Hill links or articles you'd recommend?
    posted by clawsoon at 9:01 AM on March 3, 2022

    Putin has indicated strong interest in the thought Nikolai Berdyaev.

    I have been studying the work of Berdyaev for a few years now. My interest in him is derived from my study of Mikhail Bulgakov’s novel, The Master and Margarita. I read a fascinating literary analysis of this work, Bulgakov's The Master and Margarita: The Text as Cipher, by Elena N. Mahlow (negative review). Mahlow’s work pointed to Nikolai Berdyaev as an inspiration for Bulgakov. I have read a significant amount of Berdyaev’s work. I would heartily recommend his The Origin of Russian Communism. I am currently trying to obtain a copy of "Nikolai Berdiaev and the Origin of Russian Messianism".
    posted by No Robots at 9:08 AM on March 3, 2022 [4 favorites]

    A reflection from Ukrainian journalist Angelina Kariakina from a zillion eons ago, February 11, on preparing for the apocalypse.
    Indeed, more than 14 thousand people have been killed over the past 8 years since Russia invaded Ukraine and occupied Crimea and the Donbas. Today, with so many eyes on Ukraine, it’s a good opportunity to recall this fact.

    More than 60 soldiers were killed just last year. The very day I wrote this text, 31 January 2022, over 200 violations of the ceasefire regime were reported by the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission. A report of a 69-year-old man wounded by a gunshot while fishing in Svitlodarsk, several kilometres from the frontline, didn’t make the news."

    Ukrainians have learned to live with an ongoing war by their side, and that’s the reality. Probably every Ukrainian household knows at least one person who has been to the frontline themselves, volunteered for the army, or was forced to leave their home because of the Russian occupation.
    By the way, that site Eurozine has great coverage on Ukraine and Russia (found via a link posted in the other thread).
    posted by spamandkimchi at 9:10 AM on March 3, 2022 [3 favorites]

    this one goes long and deep:

    What are the deeper religious and philosophical currents informing Vladimir Putin and the Russian invasion of Ukraine?

    It's a Rebel Wisdom discussion with Gary Lachman (aka Gary Valentine) who may have started playing bass for Blondie in the 1970s, but his travels have taken him far and wide since. One of his more recent books is The Return of Holy Russia: Apocalyptic History, Mystical Awakening, and the Struggle for the Soul of the World.

    It's something of a rambling discussion but it does cover a lot of ground and has certainly filled in a few blanks for me. And it's probably worth noting: Rebel Wisdom have been known to navigate in the same waters as the IDW (Intellectual Dark Web), though as far as I've seen, far more critically than most of their "fellow travellers".
    posted by philip-random at 9:40 AM on March 3, 2022 [3 favorites]

    clawsoon has graciously provided the link to the paper I wanted, "Nikolai Berdiaev and the Origin of Russian Messianism".

    A great read. Here is the concluding statement:
    The unquestioning acceptance of Russian messianism as an explanatory concept has important ramifications for the study of Russia. Phenomena that beg for international comparative analysis—Russian imperialism, Russian Marxism, Russian autocratic rule—are, under the theory of messianism, easily categorized as uniquely related to Russia’s history and Orthodox culture. Russian messianism has become, in Western scholarship in particular, one of the last “essentializing” paradigms to remain unchallenged. Revealing the historical origins of the paradigm will prevent its uncritical adoption.
    The paper mentions a book I read long ago, The Icon and the Axe: An Interpretive History of Russian Culture, by James H. Billington. Billington, by the way, served as the Librarian of Congress.
    posted by No Robots at 10:33 AM on March 3, 2022 [4 favorites]

    clawsoon: this is from before the invasion, so somewhat out of date but I think it's a pretty thorough run down. (brookings.edu) She has given a few on screen interviews since the invasion that are good but not very in depth.
    posted by being_quiet at 11:03 AM on March 3, 2022 [1 favorite]

    Garry Kasparov asks if it really matters to Putin that the west only supplies arms to Ukraine and not direct support: "If the calculation is about nuclear risk, it's no different over Estonia than Ukraine. Don't say "Putin would never". (Twitter thread).
    posted by ssg at 11:11 AM on March 3, 2022 [1 favorite]

    I want to signal boost that interview with Mearsheimer, because the interviewer does a really good job pushing and pulling to draw out the core of Mearsheimer's arguments, presenting counterarguments that focus on Ukraine's agency, and pushing him to consider and answer those questions.

    Why John Mearsheimer Blames the U.S. for the Crisis in Ukraine

    It sounds like Mearsheimer's take is that Russia's practical war aims are simply to get a pro-Russian government in Kyiv (and take some territory on the side), and that's an understandable thing for them to want, and we treat the whole Western Hemisphere basically the same way. Which is a fair point - if Mexico was entertaining a military alliance with China, uh, it's hard to overstate how the US would react.

    So his prescription for foreign policy would be for the US to just stop trying to influence eastern Europe and let Russia call the shots there, the same way we call the shots on our side of the world.

    The thing is, Ukraine HAD a pro-Russian government until 2013 and the Maidan revolution. Putin has said that the whole Maidan thing was an American-backed coup. It's plausible that Americans were doing something to shape the outcome, and certainly lent the protestors moral support; but it is not plausible that the US astroturfed 3 months of protest in the dead of winter. (Wikipedia claims between 400 and 800 thousand people in Kyiv alone.) Ukrainian people made that choice, and they did so because Yanukovych had turned down connections to Europe. Not America.

    Since then Ukraine has had several competitive democratic elections; I'd believe a lot about meddling in elections, but it is again not plausible that they were rigged by the US. (If Russia couldn't rig them from right next door, with the advantage of native language speakers and deep cultural fluency, how could anyone else?)

    If Putin's primary goal is regime change, his issue is with the choices of Ukrainians. Ukrainians have been choosing their own government.

    If America did pivot to China, pretend Ukraine was a satellite state, and stop returning their phone calls - which we certainly could do, and frankly we may well have done that while Trump was in office - Europe would still be there, and Ukrainians would still be there making their choices.
    posted by Rainbo Vagrant at 11:13 AM on March 3, 2022 [14 favorites]

    I mean, America would probably say so. I think his point is that Mexico knows we would do that, so they don't do it.

    But Ukrainians did.

    It's good for Americans to think about their actions and consequences; it's also good to recognize the limits of those, and recognize when a conflict actually isn't about us.
    posted by Rainbo Vagrant at 11:32 AM on March 3, 2022 [1 favorite]

    Speaking of diversity, I've been trying for a couple of days now to find a map that described most of eastern Europe before WWI as (I think the phrase was) "zone of mixed language."

    So the thread has moved on, and I couldn't find a map, but I thought this was an interesting question. Wikipedia has a page about the ethnic and linguistic diversity of the Austro-Hungarian Empire based on their 1911 census. This includes what is now the west of Ukraine (eg Lviv) where the language seems split fairly evenly between Polish and Ukrainian (then described as Ruthenian). There would also have been Yiddish speakers, and German speakers in this area as well as other linguistic minorities.
    posted by plonkee at 11:38 AM on March 3, 2022 [2 favorites]

    It's plausible that Americans were doing something to shape the outcome...


    Maidan was the violent overthrew of an elected government (albeit a corrupt one, like all Ukrainian governments) in country very evenly split between supporters and opponents. Many Ukrainians viewed it the same way you might have viewed the January 6 capitol riot if it had succeeded.
    posted by moorooka at 11:39 AM on March 3, 2022 [3 favorites]

    I mean, America would probably say so. I think his point is that Mexico knows we would do that, so they don't do it.

    But Ukrainians did.

    Right, I think in fact the US has effectively already done that numerous times with its meddling in Latin American governments, overthrowing leftist regimes to install right-wing puppets. It just seems like Mearsheimer (and maybe Chomsky) are retroactively justifying that by blaming the US for the Ukraine invasion.
    posted by LionIndex at 11:41 AM on March 3, 2022 [2 favorites]

    clawsoon has graciously provided the link to the paper I wanted

    A bit of a derail, but JSTOR lets people have 100 free access a month, without having to go to the dodgy world of sci-hub or Research Gate. (I can't guarantee that it isn't geo-locked in some way, but it's worth a try. You do have to create an account, which I have not, since I access it through work, but I have suggested it to other outside researches in the US, and they've never come back to complain, which is at least somewhat encouraging.
    posted by GenjiandProust at 11:43 AM on March 3, 2022 [4 favorites]

    This is somewhat trivial, but the Kremlin response to abusive coaching in Russian figure skating was reportedly, "The harshness of a coach in high-level sport is key for their athletes to achieve victories."

    I can't help but think that some of Putin's own self-image is tied up in that statement: He is harsh, but that is key for Russian greatness.
    posted by clawsoon at 12:48 PM on March 3, 2022

    I recommend Not One Inch by M. E. Sarotte, Yale University Press, 2021.

    Marketing pull quote: "Vladimir Putin swears that Washington betrayed a promise that NATO would move “not one inch” eastward and justifies renewed confrontation as a necessary response to the alliance’s illegitimate “deployment of military infrastructure to our borders.” But the United States insists that neither President George H.W. Bush nor any other leader made such a promise."
    posted by mfoight at 12:55 PM on March 3, 2022

    I don’t think the Mexico analogy is apt, because it isn’t sandwiched directly between two superpowers.

    Also… this line of questioning is veering dangerously close to blaming the Ukranian people for being victim of an unprovoked and unjustified invasion.
    posted by schmod at 1:08 PM on March 3, 2022 [9 favorites]

    Sorry, back with more on JSTOR. Some of their content is available for free download with registration (100/month, up from 50 before COVID). Most is available with a subscription, which is $20/month or $200/year for 10 downloads/month and unlimited reading. You can also pay for each article seperately, but, at that point, you'd be better off looking into local ILL options (your public library can probably request them; there may be a fee or not). Not sure about geographical limitations. If you are interested in learning more about the process, memail me and I'll send you more directions (they are not as user friendly as I would like, honestly).
    posted by GenjiandProust at 1:52 PM on March 3, 2022

    I think we can agree that the Ukrainian people have an absolute right to self-determination, while also accepting that the political reality of how empires (like Russia, but also the US) act does not allow less powerful countries that right to self-determination. Acknowledging the reality that geopolitical machinations are pretty ugly is sometimes necessary. We should, of course, strive to transcend that ugliness, but we also can't be surprised when Russia acts quite similarly to the way the US has acted for many years.

    Discussing events in these terms is just studying the world as it is, rather than how we'd like it to be. You can say someone's analysis is wrong because you think they have analyzed incorrectly or haven't understood the situation correctly, but there's no point in arguing against an analysis because it doesn't include the world as you'd like it to be.
    posted by ssg at 3:05 PM on March 3, 2022 [5 favorites]

    we also can't be surprised when Russia acts quite similarly to the way the US has acted for many years.

    Ok, I’ve put my surprised-face away. What actionable insight are we supposed to be gleaning from this analogy?
    posted by a box and a stick and a string and a bear at 3:34 PM on March 3, 2022 [1 favorite]

    We should, of course, strive to transcend that ugliness, but we also can't be surprised when Russia acts quite similarly to the way the US has acted for many years.

    Eh, I think this is kind of circular and useless. Where do you think the US learned its behavior? From watching Spain, France, the British, and Russia, among others. They learned it from the Ottomans, who learned it from Byzantium, Persia, and maybe India. They learned it from Rome, China, etc. If it's going to stop, maybe it shoud stop here.
    posted by GenjiandProust at 3:35 PM on March 3, 2022 [5 favorites]

    Discussing events in these terms is just studying the world as it is, rather than how we'd like it to be.

    Mearsheimer specifically is *not* describing the world as it is; he's arguing for what he thinks the US *should* do or have done.
    posted by GCU Sweet and Full of Grace at 3:47 PM on March 3, 2022 [1 favorite]

    No Robots: Putin has indicated strong interest in the thought Nikolai Berdyaev.

    It's interesting how much Putin says about how critical it is to respect sovereign nations.
    posted by clawsoon at 3:49 PM on March 3, 2022

    If it's going to stop, maybe it should stop here.

    I mean, I'm with you, but I have no idea how to change the geopolitical reality of the world. I'm kind of hopeful that what's happening in Ukraine and specifically the actions of other European Nations does represent a shift for the better. But I guess we'll know more about that in a few years.

    In the meantime, I do think there's room for analyses that go beyond simplistic pictures of the world as we'd like it to be.
    posted by ssg at 3:49 PM on March 3, 2022 [1 favorite]

    Following some links led me to Fact Sheet – U.S.-Ukraine Strategic Defense Framework - Aug. 31, 2021 [PDF]. What I find interesting about it is that one goal of the agreement is de facto NATO integration - "progress toward NATO interoperability", "implementing defense sector reforms in line with NATO principles and standards" - whether or not formal NATO acceptance happens.
    posted by clawsoon at 4:12 PM on March 3, 2022 [3 favorites]

    I mean, I'm with you, but I have no idea how to change the geopolitical reality of the world.

    If that’s the case, Don’t genuflect to despair, stay silent. Not taking issomething you can do, and is often the best course.
    posted by GenjiandProust at 6:23 PM on March 3, 2022 [2 favorites]

    Discussing events in these terms is just studying the world as it is, rather than how we'd like it to be. You can say someone's analysis is wrong because you think they have analyzed incorrectly or haven't understood the situation correctly, but there's no point in arguing against an analysis because it doesn't include the world as you'd like it to be.

    Okay, but can I argue against someone's analysis because it freely veers back-and-forth from discussing the reality of Russia as it is, vs. the United States as we'd like it to be, in the same analysis?

    Pick a lane, basically. If we're going for the moral analysis and are going to take the position that imperialism should be resisted and condemned, we should be consistent about that regardless of the nation behaving imperialistically. If on the other hand, we're just looking at the realpolitik analysis in which imperialism is a grim reality that we should all just expect and assume and prepare for and not be surprised by, then it seems to me we should be consistent with that perspective from nation to nation as well. Instead we get "Well OF COURSE Russia would try to control Ukraine! What else could the United States expect?!? That's just how great powers behave." but the folks putting forth that reaction never seem to also go "Well OF COURSE the United States would try to expand NATO, what else could Russia expect?!? That's just how great powers behave.", instead they're shocked and appalled and dismayed that the United States behaved exactly how you'd expect a global superpower to behave. Realpolitik analyses are all well and good, but you've gotta be consistent about it. And if you're not going to be consistent, well, this exact moment in history seems like a particularly tone-deaf one to decide to hold the United States to a higher standard while accepting Russian imperialism as simply a fact on the ground.
    posted by mstokes650 at 7:42 PM on March 3, 2022 [20 favorites]

    Chomsky has actually addressed this exact point in a way that I find compelling. His argument is basically that you should of course hold your own country to a high ethical standard and do what you can to push your country to do better. Criticizing your own country can be helpful, especially in a democratic country. His (and most of our) ability to change Russian actions is far less, so ethical critique is a lot less useful. The situation is simply not the same. We all agree that the Russians should not invade Ukraine, but it is happening.

    I find it strange that people want to claim that we can't hold two thoughts in our heads at the same time. Of course we can think about what the USA should do ethically, what Russia should do ethically, and so on. At the same time, we can think about what Russia or others are likely to actually do and how that can inform choices on the other side.

    It wouldn't be reasonable to act only based on what we think our opponents ought to do.
    posted by ssg at 8:10 PM on March 3, 2022 [4 favorites]

    Chomsky has actually addressed this exact point in a way that I find compelling.

    But that is not addressing the point, it's just a recommendation what to do. Which is great! But the problem I have is the neat little morality tale the tankie-adjacent Russian apologists are telling, where there are only two actors, the active US/NATO doing all the bad things and the passive Russia who only reacts. Here are some basically deceptive things you must do to uphold that narrative:

    - depict NATO as somehow just expanding on its own, and not mention that countries have to apply to be members and then vote for it and so on. NATO expanded because these countries wanted to avoid exactly the situation happening now. This downplays the agency of these individual countries and basically amounts to the denial of their right to self-determination.
    - present as the true, ultimate explanation the promise not to expand NATO, which was a verbal promise, never put in writing, and which half the participants deny even happened (no doubt for their own political reasons).
    - downplay or ignore the actually written down Budapest memoranda.

    It's easy to see how deliberately ideological the "NATO did it" narrative is.
    posted by Pyrogenesis at 8:59 PM on March 3, 2022 [21 favorites]

    Could NATO have caused a Russian invasion of Ukraine by showing signs that they were about to accept Ukraine as a member? Absolutely.

    But that isn't what happened. There are no indications that Ukraine had a realistic prospect of NATO membership. If there were any evidence of Ukraine possibly joining NATO at all the Russian talking points justifying this invasion would be very explicit instead of vague allusions to broken verbal commitments from decades ago.

    The people insisting this was even partly the responsibility of NATO are just revealing they have Glenn Greenwald levels of theory poisoning.
    posted by zymil at 9:05 PM on March 3, 2022 [13 favorites]

    I don't think anyone here is putting forward a "NATO did it" narrative. I'm certainly not. I don't have all the answers. It's clear that some folks think they do have all the answers and aren't interested in discussing anything that isn't exactly what they already think. So OK.
    posted by ssg at 9:31 PM on March 3, 2022 [3 favorites]

    I don't think anyone here is putting forward a "NATO did it" narrative.

    Maybe not in this thread. But I'm not saying all that just randomly out of the blue. People are absolutely putting forward this narrative, including in previous threads here in the blue.
    posted by Pyrogenesis at 9:47 PM on March 3, 2022 [7 favorites]

    ...vague allusions to broken verbal commitments from decades ago

    From the official text of the 2008 Bucharest Summit Declaration:

    NATO welcomes Ukraine’s and Georgia’s Euro-Atlantic aspirations for membership in NATO. We agreed today that these countries will become members of NATO.
    posted by moorooka at 10:37 PM on March 3, 2022 [2 favorites]

    It is sometimes claimed that NATO membership increases security for Poland and others. A much stronger case can be made that NATO membership threatens their security by heightening tensions. Historian Richard Sakwa, a specialist on East Europe, observed that “NATO’s existence became justified by the need to manage threats provoked by its enlargement” — a plausible judgment.

    This paragraph seems to offer a resource that might address the NATO causality controversy that I'm imagining is going around as a talking point in the media; I don't have time but maybe checking out Sakwa will help readers clear up Chomsky's thought process on this and how much of that makes sense.
    posted by polymodus at 1:57 AM on March 4, 2022 [1 favorite]

    I think it's fair to say that Russia is fully responsible for the invasion, and also that NATO including Ukraine in military exercises may have played a role in the timing of Russia's decision to invade. I learned about this from the Fiona Hill link that being_quiet posted above:
    Russia’s latest preparation for what now seems like a potential large-scale invasion of Ukraine was in part sparked by the current Ukrainian government inviting American and NATO forces to conduct joint exercises and engage in other military cooperation to boost Ukraine’s defensive capabilities against further Russian aggression.
    I can envision Putin making the cynical decision that an invasion right now would be cheaper and easier than it would be after Ukraine's defensive capabilities are further boosted by NATO.

    Has the US also made some cynical attempts to turn Ukrainian public opinion against Russia? The link from moorooka above suggests that it has, though it seems that those attempts had a pretty minor impact compared to the turning-against-Russia produced by Putin's 2014 invasion and seizure of territory. To paraphrase noted international relations scholar DJ Khaled, Putin appears to have played himself.

    (Or maybe he didn't play himself. Maybe, in the style of Machiavelli, he prefers to rule over populations that fear him rather than love him. His ideal setup, seen in multiple Russian satellites, seems to be a harsh dictator who is friendly to Putin and feared by his people.)
    posted by clawsoon at 5:38 AM on March 4, 2022 [1 favorite]

    I would also be surprised if "Ukrainian government inviting American and NATO forces" didn't involve some monetary inducements to prompt the invitation. You could look at that cynically, as the Americans bribing Ukraine, or you could look at it as Ukraine demanding concrete assistance and reassurance before it changes partners in a way that it knows will draw retaliation from Russia.

    On a quick Google: No surprise. $2.5 billion in military assistance to Ukraine from the US since 2014. All parties seem to be operating on the (warranted) assumption that there's no such thing as a truly independent Ukraine which is free to make its decisions with no Great Power interference. Ukraine says, "We can't separate from Russia without a whole lot of money from you," and everybody involved knows that it's true.
    posted by clawsoon at 6:02 AM on March 4, 2022 [2 favorites]

    NATO is HATO in Cyrillic
    posted by Heywood Mogroot III at 6:39 AM on March 4, 2022

    It seems like most people can accept that NATO expansion was viewed as provocative by Russia. But does that really make it the wrong thing to have done? Is anyone in the Baltics or Poland right now thinking "Gee, I wish we hadn't provoked Russia by joining NATO?" Is the Ukrainian army wishing today that they hadn't accepted so much military aid over the last few years? I don't think so.

    Putin did the calculus that a critical(to him) client state was on the verge of escaping Russia's orbit, political interference was not getting results after EuroMaiden, and soon military options would be off the table with further NATO cooperation or even membership. The result is what we have now. It appears that US intelligence did the same calculus and saw it coming when most others did not.

    Chomsky and others write that an Austrian model of neutrality for Ukraine could have prevented this war but I'm not so sure. Ukraine would certainly have to accept losing Crimea and maybe more territory, also continuing political and economic interference from Russia(as Austria gave up territory in 1955 and today has major parties explicitly aligned with Putin). Putin would have to accept the example of a more democratic, European aligned state with strong cultural ties to Russians. A state that currently controls the taps for a large part of its gas exports to Europe. Also as more investment arrives, Ukraine's large oil and gas reserves would start to be mined hurting Russia's economy significantly. I don't see much to show that either party would accept that situation long term.
    posted by being_quiet at 8:21 AM on March 4, 2022 [8 favorites]

    Historian Richard Sakwa, a specialist on East Europe, (...)
    Professor Sakwa said on February 10th, "I don't think there'll be an invasion, that was never on the cards."

    His knowledge of Ukraine has been sharply criticised by other academics as an uncritical repetition of the Kremlin's position. (And, less directly relevant to the current crisis, he also wrote a book attacking investigations into Russian interference in the 2016 US election as unnecessary and bad for US-Russian relations.)

    He's a curious person for Chomsky to use to buttress his arguments.
    posted by Busy Old Fool at 9:33 AM on March 4, 2022 [11 favorites]

    Metafilter: "A way for Americans to recenter the conversation on themselves and their concerns, while claiming to denounce that"
    posted by riverlife at 12:14 PM on March 4, 2022 [6 favorites]

    The Ukrainian Conflict and the Imperial World System.
    Vladimir Putin’s attack on Ukraine is undoubtedly illegal and immoral. From the point of view of Russian interests, it is also likely to prove a costly mistake. The primary question now, however, is what to do about this, and the answers presented thus far by those outraged by the invasion are dangerously counterproductive.
    posted by adamvasco at 12:21 PM on March 4, 2022 [1 favorite]

    Yeah, that article purports to be about structures, but then proposes no structures to solve the issue?

    What were/are the structures that create the situation whereby European countries request to be part of NATO?

    Many analyses like this seem to overstate the importance of the US
    posted by eustatic at 1:38 PM on March 4, 2022

    From Busy Old Fool's link (which is not just a critique of Sakwa's book, but a useful overview of some of the history). I appreciated the short discussion of how language is political.
    Russian speakers in Ukraine can be divided into those who accept Ukrainian as a language and those who view it as a dialect. The latter clings to a Soviet identity and continues to view Russian as the language to be used by the three branches of the Russkii narod (Russian people) – Great, Little and White Russians.
    posted by spamandkimchi at 3:12 PM on March 4, 2022 [1 favorite]

    The SWIFT sanctions are carefully designed to allow the Europeans to continue using, and paying for, Russian natural gas. Much of which flows through pipelines across Ukrainian territory. The Ukrainians could probably blow all these pipelines up, but don't. They cannot hurt their 'enemy' that way without also hurting their 'friends'. And they know that their 'friends' solidarity would quickly wear thin in the freezing cold and skyrocketing inflation that would result from losing access to Russian gas. How do they know this? Because the Europeans are still buying, and paying for, Russian gas, despite all of these other sanctions. Along with the 'neutrality' of China, India, Latin America, Africa and the Middle East, this means that Russia is not quite the international pariah as currently being portrayed in the English-speaking press. Ukrainians have been deliberately used as bait to halt the further integration of Russia with Europe and to prompt a rearmament of Europe with US arms exports.
    posted by moorooka at 3:16 PM on March 4, 2022 [3 favorites]

    Putin Taps Into Russia’s Centuries of Paranoid Aggression
    George Frost Kennan, father of the ingenious strategy of containment that prevailed in Cold War I, had an absolutely uncanny ability to peer into the heart of Russian history and politics. Much of what he saw about Russian civilization he admired, but he also saw that for centuries the nation’s leaders had displayed a deep sense of insecurity over relations with foreign powers, leading them to mount recurring drives to expand Moscow’s power at the expense of all potential rivals and neighbors. Interestingly, Kennan was also one of the most articulate critics of the West’s strategies for dealing with the Kremlin, both during the Cold War and after it ended with the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991.
    Deep-rooted Russian fear of the West has fuelled Putin’s invasion of Ukraine
    If Russia were a human being, then it would have an almost pathological fear of threats to its person. As is often the case with fear, it has a kernel of grounding in reality, but has grown completely out of proportion under President Vladimir Putin.

    Few people, including me, regard these fears as anything close to sufficient justification for Putin’s invasion of Ukraine. The West has not presented even an abstract military threat to Russia since the end of the Cold War.

    There is no doubt, however, that the expansion of western influence eastwards through NATO and the European Union does present an existential threat of sorts to Putin’s notion of Russia.
    The author of the second article cites the invasions of Russia/the Soviet Union by Napoleon and Hitler, and foreign countries' other military actions against them, including the Crimean War.

    During the Russian Civil War, Great Britain, the United States, France, Japan, and Canada all sent combat troops to Russia to fight against the Bolsheviks. Japan sent 70,000 soldiers, the British sent over 40,000, the French sent over 15,000, and the US sent 13,000. (Given that Bugs Bunny was making anti-Hessian cartoons 175 years after the American Revolution, it seems safe to assume that Russians may have a similar reaction to foreign countries trying to crush their new country.)

    Germany occupied most of Eastern Europe either through conquest or via alliances. Croatia, Bulgaria , Romania, Hungary, and Slovakia were all allied with Germany. (Fun fact: the last time the United States officially declared war was on June 5, 1942, against Bulgaria, Hungary, and Romania.)

    The Soviet Union took most of Eastern Europe from the Nazis during 1944 and 1945. When World War II ended and the Cold War began the Soviets forced the Eastern European countries into becoming puppet states with imposed Communist governments as a buffer zone.

    (They essentially just stopped where their armies were at the end of the war. The same thing happened in Korea and led to an artificial division of the country and the Korean War.)

    None of this excuses Russia's invasion of Ukraine.
    posted by kirkaracha at 3:52 PM on March 4, 2022 [1 favorite]

    None of this excuses Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

    Indeed; if Russia feels anxious based on a history of centuries of invasions, imagine how Ukraine feels based on its history...
    posted by clawsoon at 4:05 PM on March 4, 2022 [4 favorites]

    The problem with Mearsheimer, is that as a realist he should know that how Russia feels about something isn't he basis of a realist foreign policy. Russia can't base troops in Mexico because America is a superpower and has a relationship with Mexico that prevents that from being a possibility. If Russia or China could base troops in Mexico they would and how America felt about it would not matter at all. Russia isn't a super power anymore and there is no point in pretending. The root of the problem is Russia's desire to re-establish itself as a superpower as it was in the Soviet Era. If NATO hadn't expanded they would just have different excuses for trying to dominate Eastern Europe and reconquer these countries -- perhaps they might have succeeded. From the realist perspective having the Russians return to superpower status seems contrary to the vital US National interests. It is also contrary to the interests of numerous sovereign states who were previously satellites of Russia. It is natural for those countries to ally with each other to prevent that from happening.
    posted by interogative mood at 4:38 PM on March 4, 2022 [2 favorites]

    Right. The stuff about "imagine if China was putting military bases in Mexico" misses the mark. It's more like imagine if China had had military bases in Mexico for the last sixty years, and then thirty years ago the US collapsed and now China was going to move bases into the breakaway nation of California... and this happening after forty million Americans had died in a Chinese-Mexican invasion through California within living memory... and this had been the third such invasion occurring in two centuries.
    posted by moorooka at 4:41 PM on March 4, 2022

    Chomsky has actually addressed this exact point in a way that I find compelling. His argument is basically that you should of course hold your own country to a high ethical standard and do what you can to push your country to do better. Criticizing your own country can be helpful, especially in a democratic country. His (and most of our) ability to change Russian actions is far less, so ethical critique is a lot less useful. (emphasis mine)

    I feel there's some sleight-of-hand going on with Chomsky's argument here. Certainly we have more ability to influence our own countries and so our political campaigning should be focused in that direction. However, that does not necessarily entail holding our own countries to different standards.

    There are valid reasons to hold countries to different standards in some regards. There is no excuse for a rich nation to fail to ensure its people are fed, educated and have healthcare. A country with decades of stability behind it should have relatively little corruption. We can understand why other countries without those advantages can't easily achieve these standards. Imperialism is different. Finding justifications for invading other countries sidelines the victim of that invasion.

    Chomsky and the rest of us do have some leverage over the Russian government, in that we can influence own governments' response to the invasion. German public opinion on its foreign policy towards Russia has seen a 40% shift in the past week. And public figures should be aware that Russian TV is gleefully showing clips of supportive Western commentators, such as Tucker Carlson, to help shore up Russian public support for Putin's invasion.
    posted by Busy Old Fool at 4:52 PM on March 4, 2022 [7 favorites]

    moorooka half those 40 million Americans in your scenario would have been Californians and of course another 10 million Californians would have perished in a famine brought about by an American dictator’s policies.
    In any case it wouldn’t matter because as I said feelings of former Empires and adversaries don’t matter in Real Politick based foreign policies. Countries seek to maximize things in their vital national interest balanced by their national values.
    posted by interogative mood at 5:18 PM on March 4, 2022

    I'm not sure what it means to say that "it wouldn't matter". Countries seek to maximize things in their vital national interest and if Russia didn't perceive NATO missiles stationed seven minutes from Moscow as a "vital national interest" then this wouldn't matter.
    posted by moorooka at 6:04 PM on March 4, 2022

    What's Ukraine's "vital national interest" in this situation?
    posted by clawsoon at 6:12 PM on March 4, 2022 [1 favorite]

    What was Cuba's vital national interest when Kennedy was threatening to blow up the world?
    posted by moorooka at 6:17 PM on March 4, 2022

    Good question. I'll admit to being somewhat cynical about "vital national interests"; in practise they tend to be about specific regimes doing what they need to do to preserve themselves, like the American state invading the Middle East or imperial Japan invading the Dutch East Indies, rather than a "nation" of people preventing itself from being genocided. In this case, the current Ukrainian regime is likely to be wiped out if the war against Russia is lost, so its "vital national interest" is probably to get NATO and the EU as involved in the conflict as possible in order to minimize the chance of that outcome.

    But I'm just spitballing here, and I'd be happy to hear other perspectives.
    posted by clawsoon at 6:28 PM on March 4, 2022

    Oh, I guess I answered my question instead of yours, lol. But I suspect my answer to your question would be similar.
    posted by clawsoon at 6:30 PM on March 4, 2022

    War on the Rocks have curated a list of articles and podcasts to help you gain a deeper understanding of the history, drivers, background, and events of Russia’s massive assault on Ukraine.
    posted by adamvasco at 6:32 PM on March 4, 2022 [1 favorite]

    The Ukrainian regime would surely like NATO involvement, but since that would probably mean nuclear war, it is very unlikely to happen. The Europeans won't even forfeit Russia's gas supply for Ukraine's sake. They're not about to turn their cities into irradiated ruins over this.

    Crimea is perceived as a vital national security interest for both Ukraine and Russia and it's hard to see either country ever recognizing the other's sovereignty there. One could poll the population of Crimea on what country they would prefer to belong to but I don't think that really enters into it.
    posted by moorooka at 7:18 PM on March 4, 2022

    @VinzenzHediger: "This video showing a Russian father hammering an iPad to pieces in company of his son to protest apple's boycott of Russia and @ThreshedThought's comment point to an important source of Putin's territorial expansionism. At the end of the Cold War Russia did not just lose an empire. It set itself on a path to become the biggest loser of the second wave of globalization..."
    Which brings us back to Putin. In a world in which power lies in the control of brands, he seeks power through the acquisition of lands – a 19th century imperialist stuck in the mindset of Harold Mackinder’s concept of geopolitics, which suggests that control of the Eurasian landmass will be the source of future world power, and which so impressed Putin’s chief ideologist Alexander Dugin.

    But the geopolitics of the 21st century is not the geopolitics of land. It is the geopolitics of brands. Putin’s problem is that he has nothing to sell that the world wants, unless you are a fellow tyrant like Assad looking for someone to incompetently and indiscriminately administer organized violence to your people for you.

    This is why the father smashing an iPad with a hammer to teach his son and the world a lesson but needing an iPhone and twitter to get his point across is the perfect image of Putin and the Russia he built, and the Russia we see in action now in Ukraine.
    • @Billbrowder: "This is really funny. Now that Apple has left Russia, Apple Maps has put Crimea back in Ukraine."
    • @Gserrano27: "Heres a funny story, after reddit banned Russia, the r/WayOfTheBern subreddit and other various conspiratorial or populist subreddits have gone quiet."
    • @markhachman: "If you were wondering about whether the Russians really influence our social media, compare the list of top Facebook posts from a few weeks ago to this week, when Russia couldn't access its foreign cash reserves. Rather telling."
    @Noahpinion: "The thing about Putin is that he doesn't really have any source of legitimacy or appeal beyond a perception of strength. His whole narrative is just 'Putin is strong so you better be on his side'. Once that goes, he has nothing; no one really *wants* what he has to offer."*

    @Noahpinion: "This suggests that almost every Russian vehicle lost in Ukraine is now irreplaceable, unless Russia can purchase arms from China or something."

    Analysis: China can't do much to help Russia's sanction-hit economy
    While Russia needs China for trade, Beijing has other priorities. The world's second largest economy is Russia's No. 1 trading partner, accounting for 16% of the value of its foreign trade, according to CNN Business' calculations based on 2020 figures from the World Trade Organization and Chinese customs data. But for China, Russia matters a lot less: Trade between the two countries made up just 2% of China's total trade volume. The European Union and the United States have much larger shares.

    Chinese banks and companies also fear secondary sanctions if they deal with Russian counterparts. "Most Chinese banks cannot afford to lose access to US dollars and many Chinese industries cannot afford to lose access to US technology," said Thomas...

    Some commentators have suggested that China's CIPS could be used as an alternative by Russia, now that seven Russian banks have been removed from SWIFT. But CIPS is much smaller in size. It has only 75 direct participating banks, compared with more than 11,000 member institutions in SWIFT. About 300 Russian financial institutions are in SWIFT, while only two dozen Russian banks are connected to CIPS.

    The yuan is also not freely convertible, and is used less frequently than other major currencies in international trade. It accounted for 3% of payments globally in January, compared with 40% in the dollar, according to SWIFT. Even China-Russia trade has been dominated by the dollar and euro.
    @Noahpinion: "Remember, Russia imports much of it's medicine from Europe. It needs euros to pay for that medicine. Now it can't get the euros."

    @Blake_Allen13: "This war has shown the Russia is little more than a regional power who happens to have nukes. Their economy is non-dynamic, a petrostate whose days of economic power are as limited as the transition away from fossil fuels goes on. Their government, scared of their own people."

    @kamilkazani: "Russian economy is super fragile. It's critically dependent upon the: 1. Export of natural resources. 2. Technological import. It has always been so. That's why Russia could never win a major war without massive economic help of the West. Without Western allies Russia's doomed..."

    @sbg1: John Bolton tells ⁦@washingtonpost Trump was just waiting for 2nd term before pulling out of NATO and destroying the alliance now trying to counter Putin's war..."

    also btw...
    @ProfPaulPoast: "To help provide context and analysis of the 🇺🇦-🇷🇺 War that is grounded in international relations scholarship, here is an updated 🧵of the threads I've written over the past few months (and years) offering perspective on the 🇺🇦-🇷🇺 relationship and conflict."

    @kamilkazani: "Thread of threads. This is a brief guide for selected threads. It will include materials on the current war and briefs useful for prognosing the future of the region once the war is over."
    posted by kliuless at 1:56 AM on March 5, 2022 [6 favorites]

    As this invasion continues and becomes more and more brutal — many of the historical analogies and political justifications for Russia/Putin's actions are intellectually ... fraudulent. Even or especially as a scholarly endeavor.

    To give some analogies of my own: Surely those in favor of Apartheid had their "reasons", and Lebensraum was a concept that "made sense" to the people propagating those evil politics. Do we frivolously repeat those reasons in papers and articles without placing them in their respective contexts of brutality and pain? I hope not.

    It's like a Martian telling an Earthling to stare at the sun so they don't get blinded by the moon. Come down to Earth and look for yourself, Chomsky.
    posted by UN at 2:03 AM on March 5, 2022 [11 favorites]

    Thanks for the collection of links, kliuless. (When I was putting this post together I was actually thinking, "This post would be much better if kliuless was making it...")

    I'll disagree with one of the perspectives you included, which appears to originally be from here:
    But the geopolitics of the 21st century is not the geopolitics of land. It is the geopolitics of brands.
    The American military seems to disagree, given its hundreds of military bases in dozens of countries, its repeated willingness to go to war to protect land, particularly oil-producing land, and its sales of arms to, and military exercises with, allies who control even more land.

    Reading the full article, the core of my disagreement would be with this part:
    The distribution of value creation along global value chains represents a U-shaped curve: Most value is created at the point of design and development, i.e. for the owners of patents and brands, comparatively little is created in manufacturing, and again a lot at the point of sale.
    I think this is a classic example of "knowing the price of everything and the value of nothing." I'd suggest that the value captured (rather than created) by IP owners and rich-country sales depends to a large degree on the global hegemony of America and its allies. The value is created by all three groups working together; how much is captured by each group is a matter of power.

    I found the rest of the article, which argues that Russia has failed to preserve a significant role in any part of that value chain, more interesting.
    posted by clawsoon at 4:20 AM on March 5, 2022 [2 favorites]

    From Katie Kelaidis, "a writer and historian whose work focuses on early Medieval Christianity and contemporary Orthodox identity in non-traditionally Orthodox countries": A twisted love story: How American Evangelicals helped make Putin’s Russia and how Russia became the darling of the American right
    posted by clawsoon at 5:37 AM on March 5, 2022 [4 favorites]

    Professor of international relations Paul Poast counters Mearsheimer’s explanation of events by using Mearsheimer’s own theories in a fairly long Twitter thread.
    posted by Kattullus at 6:42 AM on March 5, 2022 [1 favorite]

    > I'd suggest that the value captured (rather than created) by IP owners and rich-country sales depends to a large degree on the global hegemony of America and its allies.

    -Vertical Integration Is Making a Comeback at U.S. Companies
    -Vertical integration: industries are stacking up in the face of supply chain disruptions
    posted by kliuless at 8:44 AM on March 5, 2022

    I remember as a nerdy teenager with an unhealthy interest in international affairs stumbling across Stratfor and their analysis of the then current US air campaign against Serbia in response to that country's actions in Kosovo. My understanding was pretty shallow at the time, but I got the idea they thought the US largely ignoring Russian concerns was another in a long list of actions that was going to lead Russia to turn away from the West. If I had to place money on it, I'd bet that the historical hinge point happened when Russian leadership grew disillusioned with the west and with United States in particular in the period between 1998 (the Russian financial crisis, the Kosovo War) and 2003 (the Iraq War). Once the Russian leadership, in particular of course Putin, decided that they didn't want to or couldn't integrate with the West, then I fear the path to this conflict was already set as they set out to create their own sphere of influence in territories formerly dominated by the Soviet Union and before that Tsarist Russia. That was naturally going to come into conflict with the desires of newly independent countries to assert their own sovereignty, as well as western and global norms of national sovereignty and democratic self determination.

    Of course, that doesn't excuse Putin's actions. The entire episode reminds me of historical accounts of the impact of the post WW 1 terms imposed on Germany on the eventual rise of Nazism and Hitler. Acknowledging the roots of WW2 in the aftermath of WW1 clearly didn't excuse the Nazis, but it did inform the plans of Western allies, particularly the US, after WW2 (e.g., the Marshall Plan, the creation of the European Common Market, and even the creation of NATO).

    I'm not sure what can come of this monstrous series of events given the specter of nuclear war, though. Putin's invasion united the entire Western world against him, along with the entire population of Ukraine, even those previously sympathetic to politicians friendly to Russia. Putin just turned his country into a pariah state far weaker than the USSR was and dependent upon China economically.

    We shouldn't underestimate the cost of cutting Russia off from the world, though. Combined, Russia and Ukraine produce about a quarter of the world's wheat and export a good portion of the raw materials used in global manufacturing. Where the United States, Western Europe, and Northeast Asia might merely be inconvenienced or politically destabilized, the impact to basic food security across the middle east and global south threatens to be severe. Putin might be betting on this in the long run.
    posted by eagles123 at 10:23 PM on March 6, 2022

    The entire episode reminds me of historical accounts of the impact of the post WW 1 terms imposed on Germany on the eventual rise of Nazism and Hitler. Acknowledging the roots of WW2 in the aftermath of WW1 clearly didn't excuse the Nazis, but it did inform the plans of Western allies, particularly the US, after WW2 (e.g., the Marshall Plan, the creation of the European Common Market, and even the creation of NATO).

    @Noahpinion: "If we want to end this conflict quickly, we need to give Russia an off-ramp, beyond just the hope that sanctions will be cancelled. If they get rid of Putin and make a durable peace with Ukraine, we should implement a Marshall plan for Russia."

    @Noahpinion: "Vladimir Putin is reminding us of why we need a strong and active state to defend our fundamental liberties..."[1,2,3]
    posted by kliuless at 11:56 PM on March 6, 2022

    'Capable of anything': How the '99 apartment bombings explain Putin's rise and regime
    In all, more than 300 people died in the apartment bombings, a tragedy that many believe changed the course of Russia, putting it on a trajectory toward authoritarianism and aggression...

    Putin has always denied any involvement in or knowledge of the apartment bombings, but two decades have only deepened suspicions about his involvement, as evidence of his disregard for either human life or the rule of law has mounted...

    Russian investigators and journalists who tried to investigate the bombings often ended up dead. Among them was Anna Politkovskaya, a fearless critic of Putin who worked for Novaya Gazeta, one of the last remaining left-leaning outlets in Moscow today. She aggressively covered the Second Chechen War; in 2006, Politkovskaya was assassinated in her apartment building’s elevator.

    Two years later, the FSB agent turned defector Alexander Litvinenko was assassinated in London, where agents slipped a radioactive poison into his tea. He had worked with Politkovskaya on trying to investigate the Moscow apartment bombings, which he believed were carried out by the FSB.

    Still, suspicions festered that something was amiss, even as Putin’s power grew. “They say it was the Chechens who did this, but that is a lie. It was Putin's people. Everyone knows that. No one wants to talk about it, but everyone knows that," a Muscovite who lost family in one of the apartment bombings told GQ in 2009 for an article that the magazine’s American publisher, Condé Nast, was too afraid to run in Russia...
    posted by clawsoon at 4:24 AM on March 7, 2022 [2 favorites]

    Central European University Press is providing free access to ten of its titles on Ukraine and its neighbours.
    • The Ukrainian Question by Alexei Miller
    • Along Ukraine’s River by Roman Adrian Cybriwsky
    • A Laboratory of Transnational History: Ukraine and Recent Ukrainian Historiography, edited by Georgiy Kasianov and Philipp Ther
    • Heroes and Villains by David Marples
    • The Moulding of Ukraine by Katarzyna Wolczuk
    • State-Building: A Comparative Study of Ukraine, Lithuania, Belarus, and Russia by Verena Fritz
    • Regionalism without Regions: Reconceptualizing Ukraine's Heterogeneity, edited by Oksana Myshlovska and Ulrich Schmid
    • Where Currents Meet: Frontiers of Memory in Post-Soviet Fiction of Kharkiv, Ukraine by Tanya Zaharchenko
    • Memory Crash by Georgiy Kasianov
    • The War in Ukraine’s Donbas, edited by David Marples
    posted by Kabanos at 3:17 PM on March 8, 2022 [7 favorites]

    Umair Haque: Why Putin’s Russia is Becoming This Era’s Nazi Germany.
    How Putin’s Russia Went From Failed State to Fascist State
    posted by adamvasco at 5:23 PM on March 22, 2022

    letter in Financial Times, UK from Carl Scott the former UK defence attaché at Moscow embassy - ''we warned you about Putin but you listened to the City instead''.
    posted by adamvasco at 9:13 AM on March 23, 2022 [3 favorites]

    Not Ukraine only but Russia Backs Europe’s Far Right
    Emails and documents show just how closely Italian, French, German and Austrian politicians coordinate with Moscow.
    And a November thread with talking points that boil down to Give Russia what it Wants and the steps Russia takes to help these arguments enter the mainstream.
    posted by adamvasco at 9:12 AM on March 24, 2022 [2 favorites]

    Otto English explores the Russian President’s warped justifications for the invasion of Ukraine that should terrify us all.
    Throughout history leaders have sought ‘just cause’ to kill people in pursuit of their ambitions. And, as far back as Augustine of Hippo in the 4th Century CE, there have been academics, theologians and useful idiots who are only too willing to lend this credence.
    posted by adamvasco at 6:48 AM on March 26, 2022 [1 favorite]

    Lia Dostlieva & Andrii Dostliev: Not all criticism is Russophobic: on decolonial approach to Russian culture.

    The authors paint with a big brush, but I think there's an important point to be made about how the cultures (and politics) of nations adjacent to Russia have not been thoroughly understood by the West yet, outside of a Russian colonial framework.
    "But if Western colonialism and entitlement have been thoroughly analyzed and described over the last forty years, and the necessity of applying decolonial approaches when discussing relationships with the so-called West is no longer perceived as controversial, the understanding of Russian culture as imperialistic and colonial in its nature still remains a rather marginal line of thought."
    posted by Kabanos at 3:26 PM on March 31, 2022 [1 favorite]

    I think there's an important point to be made about how the cultures (and politics) of nations adjacent to Russia have not been thoroughly understood by the West yet, outside of a Russian colonial framework.

    re: decolonial approaches...
    @ianbremmer: "ethnic russians, dominant nationality in the ussr, became minority populations in post-soviet independent states. the question: do they or do they not clash on the basis of civilizational divide? my phd research from way back: no..."

    @kamilkazani: "While discussing the prospect of National Divorce, analysts overconcentrate on ethnic tensions. And yet, tensions go far beyond the ethnic dimension. The problem of Locals vs Varyangs which is parallel to Creoles vs Peninsulares problem in Spanish America is at least as important..."
    posted by kliuless at 10:49 PM on April 1, 2022

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