Saturday, September 24, 2022

Russia has a Long History of Losing Wars, Often Not Because of Its Relative Power but Because of Its Mistaken Goals, Grankin Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, Sept. 23 – One might not know it from Vladimir Putin’s celebratory treatment of his country’s history, but Rosbalt columnist Vitaly Grankin says that “Russia has suffered military failures more often than most people think,” adding in words that many may find especially worrisome that “typically, the case was not weakness but incorrect priorities.”

            He lists 12 in modern times, including the Persian campaign (1772-1723), the war with Turkey (1735-1739), the Seven Years’ War (1756-1762), the war with Sweden (1788-1790), participation in the Second Anti-French coalition, participation in the third and fourth anti-French coalition (1805-1807), the Crimean War (1853-1856), the Japanese war (1904-1905), World War I (11914-1918), the war with Poland (1919-1921), the Korean War (1950-1953), and the Afghan war (1979-1989) (

            In addition to these wars with foreign powers, many would add additional defeats at the hands of peoples within the borders of its imperial domain, most recently in the first post-Soviet Chechen war. In all the cases Grankin lists, Russia suffered either a clear defeat or a long dragged-out conflict which inflicted severe damage on Russia itself.

            Two things about Grankin’s argument are especially important. On the one hand, he says that Russia has often lost to powers it was militarily stronger than because its goals were the wrong ones. And on the other, he notes that these losses have played as great a role as victories in how Russians view the world.

            Indeed, it may be the fear of losing more than the expectation of victory that drives Russian thinking about conflicts, including the current Russian aggression against Ukraine. 

As 1991 Demonstrated, A Nuclear Power Can Lose and Fall Apart, Shtepa Reminds

Paul Goble

            Staunton, Sept. 23 – In 1991, many of the most thoughtful specialists on the Soviet Union and international relations failed to see the approaching end of the USSR because they were blinded by the widely shared belief that a nuclear power cannot possibly lose and then disintegrate, Vadim Shtepa says.

            But despite that conviction, the USSR did lose the Cold War and did fall apart, the editor of the Tallinn-based Region.Expert portal says; and that history is important to remember not because the Russian Federation is going to lose and fall apart in the same way but because those possibilities are despite nukes entirely real (

            The Russian Federation despite its nuclear arsenal is on its way to losing its war of aggression in Ukraine not only because it faces a better armed, better led and more motivated opponent but also because it is constrained from using its nuclear weapons however much it threatens to do so.

            And at the same time, the Russian Federation is riven by the kind of internal divisions both ethnic and regional that nuclear weapons can do little to address. Using such weapons within the current borders of that country or even in its neighbors would destroy as many Russians as anyone else and lead to an unravelling of the country.

            All that must be kept in mind, he argues, because “Russia’s defeat in its war in Ukraine certainly will give rise to a geopolitical revolution of the same size which at one time the fall of the Berlin Wall did. Only this time, this event will be ‘the fall of the Kremlin wall,’ the historical liquidation of the Muscovite empire and a voluntary treaty of the post-Russian countries.”

            But because many have forgotten 1991 and still believe that a nuclear power can’t lose and can’t fall apart, what appears to be ahead will be “a great surprise,” just as the loss and coming apart of the USSR was three decades ago. 


Most Russians Back Annexation of Ukrainian Territory But Largely Because Putin Seeks It, Levinson Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, Sept. 22 – There are no polls yet about the reaction of the Russian people to the referendums Vladimir Putin has organized in four Ukrainian regions, but Aleksey Levinson says most will support the move because Putin is pushing it and they don’t question what the Kremlin leader wants.

            That of course means, although the Levada Center sociologist does not say so, that if Putin were to change his mind and agree that these areas are Ukrainian or if he were to be replaced by another leader who accepted that reality, then a majority of Russians would likely support that as well.

            In an interview with The Bell, Levinson says that the annexation s “will be supported but not because everyone in the Russian Federation has always though that Kherson Oblast should be part of Russia” (

            “Of course,” he continues, there are some who think that “all of Ukraine is part of Russia” and became a separate country only because it was “torn away” in 1991. For them, the return of any territory by any means is something they support.

            “But the majority in general doesn’t think about political issues; they are a priori loyal to any decision of the Russian powers that be or specifically to Putin. These people delegate things to him” and to those above them the power to make decisions about everything, “including those which concern their own lives.”

As far as Ukraine is concerned, they tend to view the conflict like a sports event. If Putin can take them back and the West can do nothing about it, then for them, Levinson says, that is a win for Putin and thus for themselves. They simply don’t think about the consequences for the thousands of people involved or indeed even for themselves.

At the same time, the sociologist argues that there are other Russians who are convinced that “all this is a violation of international law and the human rights of those who live on these territories.” Some of them have already expressed their lack of trust in these referendums. But “undoubtedly, they form a minority in Russia.”

“Whether their voices will be heard in Ukraine or Europe,” Levinson says, is something he personally simply doesn’t know given that in many places, Russians are mistakenly viewed as a monolithic whole that supports Putin no matter what.


Kyiv Won’t Wait Until Putin Deploys New Forces, Making the Immediate Future Dangerously Unpredictable, Inozemtsev Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, Sept. 22 – There is going to be a gap in time between Putin’s announcement of a partial mobilization and the deployment of additional Russian troops in Ukraine, Vladislav Inozemtsev says. And Kyiv certainly won’t wait until these forces arrive before taking new actions on its own.

            As a result, the Russian commentator says, the coming days are becoming unpredictable in ways that may bring new dangers to the Russian troops already there, something Moscow may try to hide but almost certainly won’t succeed in doing so (

            Another Ukrainian offensive, especially if it is as successful as the last one, not only will compound Moscow’s difficulties in rounding up the reservists it wants to deploy there but also will lead more Russians in the elite to ask questions about the war and Putin’s fitful and anything but successful stewardship of it.

            At the very least, Inozemtsev continues, “for at least the entire month of October, the positions of Russian troops in Ukraine which will overnight turn into the state borers of the Russian Federation [at least in Moscow’s imagination] will be guarded by an exhausted army along a front more than 1000 kilometers long.”

            That means that in the coming weeks, Putin will ever more often threaten Ukraine with a nuclear strike, especially since he will argue that any Ukrainian offensive now constitutes “an existential threat to Russia” in its new borders.

            Meanwhile, the analyst says, “the Ukrainian command won’t wait for Russian reserves to be brought up and therefore that we are entering a period when the situation may develop in unpredictable ways, all the more so since it is now obvious Putin doesn’t care how many tens or hundreds of thousands must die for him to remain in the Kremlin for a few more months.”

            According to Inozemtsev, Putin’s time horizon has shortened and he can no longer be realistically thinking anymore that he will be there for years.

One Muscovite in Ten has a Shengen Visa but Only 29 Percent of All Russians have a Passport

Paul Goble

            Staunton, Sept. 23 – Moscow and the rest of Russia are divided by many things with the ring road about the capital a more profound divide than between many countries. One measure of this, now likely to become increasingly important as Russians try to flee abroad from Putin’s dictatorship, is the possession of passports and multiple entry visas.

            According to a new VTsIOM poll, ten percent of Muscovites have Shengen visas which in the past have allowed to go to EU countries more or less unimpeded. Almost no other Russian outside of the city has that opportunity. Indeed, more than 70 percent of all Russians do not even have a passport needed to travel abroad (

            That divide, one perhaps even more profound in Russia today than the differences in wealth and power between those in the Russian capital and those in the oblasts, krays, and republics beyond the city’s borders are likely to contribute to a further growth of regionalism and separatism, as places Muscovites call “the provinces” see what those in the capital are doing.

With Putin’s Mobilization, Russians Must Now Ask Whether Russia Can Survive if Putin Remains, Portnikov Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, Sept. 22 – Even though the Kremlin still refuses to call what it is doing in Ukraine a war, Vitaly Portnikov says, by declaring a mobilization, Putin has transformed the conflict there for Russians from a “tv war” into a real one that will now touch every family in the Russian Federation.

            What is happening, the Ukrainian commentator says, is something that could easily have been predicted when Putin began this war: “Russia is being transformed into a country of graves. Putin thinks he is conducting this war until Ukraine is exhausted but he is at the same time exhausting his own country” (

            Because of Putin’s actions, Portnikov continues, “soon there will be villages without men, orphans and young widows. Soon on the streets of all Russian cities, the disabled will be begging for alms just as they did after World War II.” And that is the most obvious way in which Putin’s war is not only destroying Ukraine but destroying his own country as well.

            At present, there is a big difference between the two nations. “Ukrainians are trying to stop the Russian dictator while Russians live in fear of him or indifference about what is happening. But now fear and indifference both lead t the murder not only of the people of a neighboring country but to national suicide.”

            Moreover, Portnikov continues, “if Putin decides to use nuclear weapons, then the future of Russia and the Russian people will come to an end.” In a world where the death of millions of others, Russians are unlikely to find any “consolidation” given that they too will be dead as well.  And ever more of them are likely to begin to ask whether this is worth it.

            This isn’t an idle question, he says; it is one Russians should be asking, not about Ukrainians but about themselves. “Will Russia survive if Putin remains in power? Will my family, my wife, my children and myself survive” if that is the case?

According to the Ukrainian commentator, the answer is “obvious. If Putin remains, there will be no Russia,” and that conclusion is taking on new meaning now that the Kremlin leader is arming his own people. “As Russian history has repeatedly demonstrated, an armed population can become a final judgment” even on a regime as awful as Putin’s.

The Russian dictator “can’t defeat the Ukrainians, but that is not Putin’s main problem: At the end of this terrible spectacle, he may face armed Russians” who will want to know why he is destroying Russians as well. “I don’t wish this even on my enemy,” Portnikov says; “but I wish it for Putin with a completely clear conscience.”


Moscow’s Admission that Russia has Shortage of Diesel Fuel Recalls Classic Soviet Anecdote about Saudi Arabia and Sand

Paul Goble

            Staunton, Sept. 19 – Yevgeny Arkusha, head of the Russian Fuel Union, says that Russia faces a shortage of diesel fuel this winter, a remarkable situation given the Kremlin’s constant claim that the country is an energy superpower but and that has led some Russians to recall an anecdote from Soviet times.

            Then, it was said, that if communism triumphed in Saudi Arabia, within a few years, Riyadh would be importing sand. Now, with the triumph of Vladimir Putin, the same thing can be said about petroleum products, a truly unexpected outcome and a damning judgment about his regime.

            That is just one of the anecdotes Moscow journalist Tatyana Pushkaryova offers in her latest collection ( Among the best of the rest are the following:

·       Wagner head Yevgeny Prigozhin’s claim that anyone who opposes criminals being used to fight Ukraine should be prepared to send their children to the front has led many to conclude that for the foreseeable future, Russians can expect to be used as cannon fodder and nothing else.

·       The Kremlin has prohibited so many things that the line between what is permitted and what is not has been blurred to the point that anyone can be arrested for anything.

·       Putin’s claim that he is committed to peace and that Ukraine is the aggressor resembles the argument of a man who breaks into his neighbor’s house and beats his neighbor’s wife – and then complains that she is to blame because she cries too much.

·       Heavy drinking among Putin’s top aides is entirely rational. It helps them keep doing what he wants them to do or not to notice so much if they are pushed out of a window.

·       When Peskov refuses to answer questions about the Kremlin’s possible use of nuclear weapons, it’s obvious he doesn’t know what his boss is thinking. But it is also possible that his boss, Vladimir Putin, doesn’t know either.

·       Alla Pugacheva’s request to be listed as a foreign agent because she loves Russia and doesn’t want it to be engaged in a war where its sons are lost and it has become an international outcast shows that she doesn’t understand that real Russian patriots are only those who favor war and that those who oppose war aren’t real Russian patriots at all.

·       Russians are now noticing that the loudest calls for belt tightening come from those who have never had to do that.