What Is Putin Thinking?

Vladmir Putin started this war, and he could stop it today if he chose. What he thinks is important. He’s told us what he thinks. The way Russia is conducting the war supports what he’s said.

It’s easy to dismiss Putin’s screeds as historically inaccurate and a bizarre reading of current events. They are. But listing how they’re incorrect misses the point, which is that Putin believes these things: Ukraine was never a separate entity from Russia. Lenin and others made mistakes that separated Ukraine from its appropriate place in the scheme of things. Russia and Ukraine can never fulfil their true destiny apart from each other. Those are the central points.

Also in his belief system is that NATO, the United States, and the EU, which are lumped together as “the West,” are dedicated to undermining Russia’s proper place in the world. It’s less clear that he buys the whole long-standing Pan-Slavic myth that Russia has been specially designated by God to redeem the world. But at least Russia is a superpower that the rest of the world must recognize as such.

Read More

Reading Material On Putin’s War

There are a lot of bad takes coming out on the war. Two documents provide the background necessary to evaluate them.

Masha Gessen talks about how authoritarianism works in Russia in this extended interview by Anand Giridharadas. Gessen has experienced that authoritarianism first hand and now lives in the United States.

What Putin has been doing for many, many years is building up to a big war. At a certain point, I felt crazy for saying it because the big war kept not starting. But the logic of his rhetoric, the logic of his actions, the logic of totalitarianism in general — all of these things required a big war. Since his Munich speech in 2007, there has been a constant and open insistence on re-establishing Russia as a great power and a refusal to recognize what’s referred to as the world order.

Read More

Vladimir Putin’s Words

I have not paid enough attention to Vladimir Putin’s writings and speeches. Recent ones seemed extreme, but that could be attributed to propaganda, and I discounted them out of a habit of discounting Soviet propaganda. But I watched his speech on February 21 and changed my mind. Putin displayed extreme emotion during that speech. It was clear that he meant what he was saying.

There’s much speculation about Putin’s mindset and a fair bit of quoting pieces of Putin’s recent speeches. I wanted to see those quotes in context. We can’t know Putin’s mindset. His speeches and an essay are all we have. In this post, I look at Putin’s speech at the Munich Defense Conference in 2007, his 2021 essay “On the Historical Unity of Russians and Ukrainians,” the February 21 speech, his speech of February 24 declaring war on Ukraine, and the victory announcement that briefly appeared on Russian news websites on February 28. (The Russian Presidential website is currently unreachable.) There are several continuing themes, and the emotional tone increases with time.

My main goal in this post is to summarize major themes in those documents, particularly recurring themes. My attempts at analysis will be minimal.

Read More

The Biden-Putin Summit

What can we expect from the summit meeting between Joe Biden and Vladimir Putin?

Nothing.

That is the expectation that Biden is setting. There will be no grand pronouncements, no reset, maybe not even a perfunctory statement of agreement on a minor point. That is part of the reason that Biden plans to hold a press conference by himself. The other part, of course, is in contrast with Donald Trump’s disastrous showing at Helsinki.

But the meeting is necessary and important. Russia is a major country, with a nuclear arsenal equivalent to America’s. Russia is adjacent to our allies in Europe and supplies energy to many of them. It has a long land border across which untoward things can happen. Those are reason enough for the leaders to meet.

Read More

Russian News

This is a compilation of Russian news you might not have heard. There’s a lot going on in Russia. President Vladimir Putin’s popularity is flagging, so much so that his United Russia Party had to resort to shady dealings in recent elections in Russia’s Far East. The retirement age for pensions has been raised, and people are not happy. They’ve just mounted a big military exercise, but probably not as big as they claim. The Ukrainian Orthodox Church will probably split organizationally from the Russian Orthodox Church.

Paul Goble worked in the State Department during the breakup of the Soviet Union. He retired some time ago and has taught in universities in Estonia. He speaks Russian and Estonian. He maintains a blog, Window on Eurasia, where he summarizes news and opinion from Russia and its neighbors in English. I’ll draw on his posts and a few other sources to note recent developments in Russia. This is far from exhaustive, and probably not even indicative of larger trends. Just things that are happening. Read More

A Russian Nuclear Cruise Missile?

Back in March, Vladimir Putin unveiled a number of new nuclear weapons. But they’re not operational, and, in my opinion, are unlikely ever to be.

One was the Poiseidon (Status-6) underwater drone, supposedly designed to hit the east coast of the United States with a radioactive tsunami. Oh, and did I say that it’s undetectable? Read More

Trump and Putin: Some 1980s Background

What do interviews in the 1980s and 1990s with Donald Trump tell us about his attitudes toward Russia and nuclear weapons?

The interviews are oblivious to world events taking place at that time. They are basically gossip columns by Lois Romano and William E. Geist, 1984; Ron Rosenbaum, 1987; Mark Singer, 1997. Descriptions of Trump’s lavish quarters and sycophantic workers, his expensive clothes, and his ease in getting a table at a restaurant figure prominently in the introductory paragraphs. Read More

Links – June 3, 2017

Every Russia story Donald Trump said was a hoax by Democrats: A timeline.

Watch what he does, not what he says: Trump’s words and budget for NATO.

A devastating portrait of Donald Trump.

Everyone at Vladimir Putin’s table at that RT dinner with Michael Flynn and Jill Stein, identified.

Long read on phishing and faking emails.  When emails are released, consider that some of them may be faked or modified.

What does Russia want? Basically, a sphere of control and for the West to come to its senses. Very much a case of two parties talking past each other.

The historic B-52 bomber no longer carries nuclear gravity bombs. Cruise missiles, yes. Photo from here. Read More

A Small Russian Overture

Donald Trump denounced the New START Treaty in his first phonecall with Vladimir Putin. Putin brought up the treaty, which is coming up for renewal in 2021, so talks should be starting soon. The treaty limits the numbers of nuclear weapons for Russia and the United States, preventing an arms race. But the treaty was negotiated under Barack Obama, so in Trump’s mind, it is a bad treaty. Read More