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.


Friday, September 23, 2022

A Liberal Russian Empire is a Contradiction in Terms, Shtepa Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, Aug. 24 – Anatoly Chubais introduced the concept of “a liberal empire” in the Russian political lexicon in 2003, and it has since spread to many commentators who see it as an entirely reasonable model for Russian development. But a liberal empire is a contradiction in terms, Vadim Shtepa says. Russia will either be liberal or an empire but it cannot be both.

            As outlined by Chubais (, a liberal Russian empire would be formed over the next three to five decades and consist of a common economic space including Russia, Ukraine, Belarus and Kazakhstan with Moscow retaining its status as “the imperial metropolis.”

            But in the intervening period, the imperial component of this term has “completely defeated the liberal one,” the Russian regionalist says, with Chubais being pushed first out of the government and more recently out of the government, and those who want an empire that would be anything but liberal triumphing (

            But the supporters of the idea of a liberal Russian empire remain widespread in the anti-Putin Russian emigration, who admittedly have reduced the concept to the Russian Federation rather than to the former Soviet space as a whole. But they have kept the idea that Moscow must be the center and in control of what they define as the entire Russian space.

            One of their number, Dmitry Nekrasov, a former Medvedev-era official now in emigration, has provided perhaps the clearest restatement of the liberal Russian empire idea n a revelatory Facebook post, Shtepa continues (

            According to Nekrasnov, the editor of the Tallinn-based Region.Expert portal writes, “in most regions nothing useful is produced and never will be. Moreover, the blame for this lies not with the center but with the backwardness of these regions and their uselessness to the world economy. They are doomed to degradation and handouts.

            “Only ‘we’ Moscow officials can manage this wild space,” Shtepa summarized Nekrasov’s words, “can manage this wild space; otherwise, it will fall into complete desolation,” a view that is completely indistinguishable from that of the Kremlin. Despite that, Nekrasov like others in his camp think that their coming to power “will change something.”

            To be sure, Nekrasov is not talking about adding to the number of provinces the way Putin and company are, but his adoption of the same vocabulary about current Russian “provinces” means that if he and his ideological supporters do come to power, there will be little to prevent someone from eventually reviving Putin-style aggression toward Russia’s neighbors.

Six Months of Anti-War Actions East of the Urals: Statistics from the Courts

Paul Goble

            Staunton, Aug. 24 – Most reporting about anti-war protests and cases brought against participants are either about particular or about the Russian Federation as a whole, but the Sibir.Realii portal has assembled data from courts on these things for Russia east of the Urals during the first six months of Putin’s war in Ukraine.

            The seven key findings of this research ( are the following:

·       Courts in this region dealt with a minimum of 1043 administrative law cases concerning protesters.

·       The most active regions were Krasnoyarsk Kray, Novosibirks Oblast, and the Sakha Republic.

·       More than 19.3 million rubles (300,000 US dollars) in fines were levied in these cases

·       Most of the cases involved charges that the individuals involved had discredited the military, although different courts defined that term differently and little effort appears to have been made to provide a common standard.

·       The cases against protesters peaked in March but then declined in the summer.

·       Seventy percent of those charged and convicted were men, an intriguing finding given that in Siberia and the Far East women have taken a leading role in organizing anti-war actions.

·       More than 40 people east of the Urals were charged with crimes for anti-war views.

Thursday, September 22, 2022

Putin System’s Collapse May Not be Territorial Like USSR’s but Feudal like the War of the Roses and Remain Nominally within a Single State, El Murid Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, Sept. 22 – Many analysts are now talking about what the demise of the Putin regime with many of them suggesting that it will lead as did the demise of the Soviet leadership to the territorial disintegration of the Russian Federation. But that is far from the only possibility, according to Anatoly Nesmiyan who blogs under the screen name El Murid.

            He says that another possibility is that the territory of the current Russian Federation may dissolve into a feudal conflict among various groups, only some territorially based while others are not or it may take assume some other form entirely. But the essence of all these outcomes is the same (

            As the Kremlin’s mishandling of the covid pandemic and now of the war in Ukraine show, El Murid continues, the regime regularly faces a choice of whether to increase repression which saps its resources or change the fundamental approach of the regime including the replacement of its top leader.

            But as it is unwilling to do the latter and as it is rapidly running out of resources to manage at the same or even a higher level of repression, the Russian blogger says, the intervals between crisis points where this choice becomes sharper grow shorter and shorter – and at some point, the system will fall apart, territorially perhaps or some other way possibly.

The coming collapse of the Putin system thus could be but is not necessarily likely to be a relatively simple territorial one like that of the USSR in 1991 or it may be far more complex and bloody and feudal like the War of the Roses in late medieval England -- or it may take some other form as well, Anatoly Nesmiyan, who blogs under the screen name El Murid says.

            But what matters, he says, is that the reasons for this collapse are the same: the system will run out of resources to enforce its will by increased terror or to make the choice to change the model of rule and the senior leadership as well so as to be able to survive with the resources it does have (

            El Murid’s commentary is important because he roots all these outcomes in the choice the regime increasingly has to make with ever fewer resources, precisely the kind of choice the Soviet leadership faced in 1991, and because unlike almost all other analysts, he is open to a collapse that will not correspond precisely to existing or newly formed territorial units.

            Both of these ideas should be kept in mind by all who are now speculating about what a post-Russia future could be like, regardless of whether they favor or oppose the specific outcomes being discussed. As El Murid suggests, the possibilities are far greater than a simple repeat of 1991; and both defenders and opponents of the current system must keep that in mind.


Calling Regional Units Battalions Vastly Overstates Their Size and Utility, Russian Observers Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, Aug. 24 – Despite media hype and massive subsidies to those who join up, few of the 40 regions and republics that promised to create volunteer battalions to fight in Ukraine have done so; and those few have succeeded only by promising enormous sums, often never paid, and then attracted few if any volunteers.

            As a result, observers surveyed by Kazan’s Business-Gazeta say, few of these units have made a significant contribution. There are only two exceptions to this failure, they continue. On the one hand, these units, whose men are selected by their commanders, display far more unit cohesion than does the regular army (

            And on the other and perhaps more important, those units formed by non-Russian republics often use their own languages which these Russian observers say, Ukrainians can’t understand, much like the Soviets used Tatars and other non-Russians during World War II to confuse the Germans. But even these positive contributions have not convinced the General Staff of the utility of such forces.

            Consequently, writing now in the wake of Putin’s decision to declare a partial mobilization, it is clear that these units from Moscow’s perspective may have been useful as propaganda tools but have never played the role that the Kremlin and the defense ministry hopes for and likely will be phased out, the Tatarstan news outlet suggests.

            The Business-Gazeta report provides one of the fullest accounts of what is known about which federal subjects actually formed such units as compared to the larger number who promised to do so, how much they had to pay or otherwise promise to attract volunteers, and why more senior commanders viewed these units, often understrength and with little training, with disdain.

Putin’s War in Ukraine Will Now Touch Every Russian Family, ‘Forbidden Opinion’ Telegram Channel Says

 Paul Goble

            Staunton, Sept. 22 – Putin counted on being able to defeat Ukraine with limited numbers of troops and thus avoid unsettling Russian society or provoking protests, the “Forbidden Opinion” telegram channel says. Now, he has opened the way to full mobilization and thus will touch every single Russian family.

            The Kremlin leader has not changed the name of his “special military operation,” but he has changed its nature to one of a full-scale war. Russians have thus been put on notice that “there won’t be any normal life anymore” and are likely to react extremely negatively to this invasion of their lives (

            By his actions, Putin has de facto acknowledged that his past approach hasn’t worked and that Russia is not winning. But he clearly assumes that sending masses of cannon fodder, poorly trained and far less well-armed and well-motivated than the Ukrainians his army faces. In this, the channel suggests, he is almost certainly wrong.

            What this means is that there will be more casualties and thus more funerals across the Russian Federation. For those who will lose a loved one, it won’t matter very much what Putin calls the conflict or how much he blames the West. For them, their sons, fathers, brothers and friends will have died. And they will remember that.

            Consequently, while Putin is calling this a limited mobilization, there can be little doubt that after new defeats, it will become a full-scale war, however much Putin and those around him can’t bring themselves to use that term. The Russian people know; they have seen this before; and they will react accordingly, some with enthusiasm and others with opposition.