Zaporizhzhia Again

There’s been a flurry of news this past week about Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant.

It’s impossible to tell what is going on. Both Ukraine and Russia have raised alarms of various kinds since Russia occupied the plant, and most have not played out. It’s to both sides’ advantage to overplay the dangers.

That said, there are real dangers. I’ve written about them. This article is a good summary. And given Russia’s actions over the past six months, it’s hard to rule out any possibility, although so far their actions have been far less than their warnings.

My feeling about the current uproar is that it’s a Russian propaganda operation to distract from Ukraine’s ability to strike inside Crimea. That bodes ill for Russia – it opens another front while Ukraine is working on Kherson, and the uncertainty of how much Ukraine can do in Crimea has got to be stunning. Reports are that Russia has moved planes and helicopters back from the attacks, some of them to Russia.

So I’m not going to analyze (or even present) some of the tweets and claims that are out there. There’s too much, and it probably won’t all play out. If you want to share stuff in the comments, I’ll try to respond.

Cross-posted to Lawyers, Guns & Money

US Diplomacy In The Lead-Up To Russia’s War On Ukraine

In its excellent article on the lead-up to the war, the Washington Post describes some of the diplomatic contacts in the attempt to avert the war. The bottom line is that Russia wasn’t having any.

June 16, 2021: Biden meets with Putin. No indication that Putin plans a war, but two weeks later, his screed on Ukraine’s rightful place in the Russian Empire is released.

End of October: Biden meets leaders of Britain, France, and Germany at the side of the G20 meeting.

November 2: CIA Director William Burns meets with Putin, Yuri Ushakov, and Nikolai Patrushev (Putin advisors).

There seemed to be no room for meaningful engagement, and it left the CIA director to wonder if Putin and his tight circle of aides had formed their own echo chamber. Putin had not made an irreversible decision to go to war, but his views on Ukraine had hardened, his appetite for risk had grown, and the Russian leader believed his moment of opportunity would soon pass.

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Trump Had Classified Nuclear Documents

We know next to nothing from the Washington Post report.

Classified documents relating to nuclear weapons were among the items FBI agents sought in a search of former president Donald Trump’s Florida residence on Monday, according to people familiar with the investigation.

The people who described some of the material that agents were seeking spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss an ongoing investigation. They did not offer additional details about what type of information the agents were seeking, including whether it involved weapons belonging to the United States or some other nation. Nor did they say if such documents were recovered as part of the search. A Trump spokesman did not respond to a request for comment. The Justice Department and FBI declined to comment.

We do not know what kind of classified, what level of classified, or what those documents say about nuclear weapons – whether it is design information, where they are located, or even if they are about US nuclear weapons.

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Russia Continues To Put The Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Plant At Risk

The Russians are…shelling the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Plant?

This does not make sense, but neither do any of Russia’s actions toward the plant. They took the plant by shelling it and caused a fire that destroyed one of the administrative buildings. They are rumored to have mined the plant. The Ukrainian operators are effectively prisoners. The Russians regularly shell the nearby city where the operators’ families live.

There are a couple of possibilities, not mutually exclusive, for why the Russians took the plant. First, it would be consistent with a plan to grab all of Ukraine and install a puppet government, which seems to have been the initial Russian intent. Having control of power plants would be a good thing. The Russians seized Zaporizhzhia early, along with a couple of hydroelectric power plants. Second, it is a relatively safe military base because the Ukrainians have the good sense not to shell a nuclear plant. The district in which it is located, Zaporizhzhia, is one of the ones that Russia has said it plans to incorporate as it did Donetsk and Luhansk.

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Will Russia Break Up?

One speculation on the outcome of Russia’s war against Ukraine is that Russia will break up. Russia remains an empire, conquered over centuries. The breakup of the Soviet Union allowed 14 of its colonies to become independent. Those colonies had been given the status of Republics of the Soviet Union. Russia today contains several types of internal groupings: 46 oblasts, 21 republics, 9 krays, 4 autonomous okrugs, 2 cities of federal significance and 1 autonomous oblasts.

Many of these are ethnically distinct. All are supposed to be treated equally, but they are unequal in size and importance to Moscow. Many of the differences go back to how the groups were incorporated into the Russian Empire.

In addition to the union republics, most of these groups existed at the time the Soviet Union but did not seek independence, partly because their governmental organization was not strong enough to stand independently. All of the union republics had legislative bodies (supreme soviets) and an executive, some stronger and more prepared for independence than others.

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The White Guy’s Playbook For Discounting Women

This article is a superb example of how women are excluded from, well, anything important. I’ve seen a number of similar examples lately. The actions are so similar that I’ve wondered if there’s a playbook that white guys are sharing around.

1. Start with an impossible goal. Dwight Eisenhower sent Dick Nixon on a 68-day around-the-world tour. The author recognizes that this would be impossible for any president and vice president today, but it’s too bad that Kamala Harris can’t get an education like this.

2. Minimize what she is doing. Here’s the minimization:

Vice President Kamala Harris, who was a first-term senator from California before entering the White House, hasn’t been given the sort of immersive experiences or sustained, high-profile tasks that would deepen and broaden her expertise in ways Americans could see and appreciate. 

Here’s the experience, in the same paragraph, with required and evidenceless minimization. The author does this with a straight face.

But over the last 18 months, her on-the-job training in governing has largely involved intractable issues like migration and voting rights where she has not shown demonstrable growth in leadership, and hit-or-miss trips overseas like the troubled foray in Central America a year ago and the more successful delegation to meet with the United Arab Emirates’ new president, leading a team that included Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin.

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Time For Some Debunking

From South China Morning Post, attributed to Twitter

Looks like nuclear misinformation is flaring up again in the news stream. I can’t debunk it all – much of it contains too little fact for that. But I can say why I think some of these things are improbable.

The big story is in the South China Morning Post: Chinese scientists plan ‘disposable’ nuclear reactor for long-range torpedo.

Let me say that the idea of a disposable nuclear reactor, even with quote marks, strikes me as improbable.

The Chinese researchers are proposing a mini version of the Russian Poseidon unmanned submarine – the world’s first known underwater drone powered by nuclear energy.

Ah, okay! Vaporware!

We have not yet seen a prototype of the fearsome Poseidon, touted by Vladimir Putin as being able to cause a radioactive tidal wave along the entire US East Coast. Nor any signs of its development. I have long been dubious of this and the nuclear-powered Burevestnik cruise missile, which was at least tested and killed a number of its developers.

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Jaan Kross

Jaan Kross is one of my favorite writers.

He lived in Estonia under Nazi and Soviet occupation. He survived six years in the Soviet Gulag.

He wrote his novels under the Soviet occupation. They are historical novels with more relevance to today than I ever expected during the times I walked by his apartment in Tallinn.

Elizabeth Braw writes about his life and novels.

In The Czar’s Madman, which was published in 1978 and has become Kross’s most famous novel, he tells the story of Timotheus von Bock, a Livonian (early Estonian) nobleman who is a friend of the czar and has promised to always tell him the truth. The czar, alas, can’t stand to hear the truth and throws von Bock in prison. By feigning madness, von Bock manages to get released and has to spend the rest of his life pretending to be mad. Even so, he manages to compose a manifesto addressed to the nobility, calling for an overhaul of the country’s governance. The czar’s agents have an inkling of what he’s up to and constantly hunt the manuscript. 

His novels criticized the Soviet occupation without ever referring to it directly. People live their lives under dictatorships rather normally unless they anger the regime. Kross pushed the limits and remained safe.

But Kross never forgot how dangerous it was to say the things he did, albeit it in the disguise of historical fiction. After a relatively free period in the 1960s, Soviet repression in Estonia worsened again, and Kross was once more overcome by the urge to defect. ‘At one point, he was supposed to give a speech at the writers’ union congress in Tallinn,’ Eerik recalled. ‘He was seriously contemplating standing up and, rather than giving a speech, asking for permission, there on the stage, to leave the Soviet Union with his family.’ But, once again, he decided against it. In The Czar’s Madman, after making the same decision, Timotheus von Bock explains that, ‘I want to be a nail in the body of the empire’. But, as ever, the Soviet censors missed the clues.

I suspect they missed the clues because the novels were written in Estonian. Both Russians and Estonians believe that Estonian is the most difficult language in the world.

Read the whole thing. It’s a lovely tribute to a man who did his best.

Credit: Sueddeutsche Zeitung Photo / Alamy Stock Photo.

Cross-posted to Lawyers, Guns & Money