Category Archives: Russia

India at BRICS Summit: Russia Hardly Isolated over Ukraine

As this blog has been pointing out–see posts noted at the bottom of this one–Bad Vlad is far from becoming an international pariah as a consequence of his invasion of Ukraine, despite what many in the West seem to believe. From Foreign Policy’s “Morning Brief”:

India’s BRICS Balancing Act

India has been pulled into the Quad (and now I2-U2), so can it continue playing nice with Russia and China, too?

By Colm Quinn, the newsletter writer at Foreign Policy.

The BRICS Summit Begins

The leaders of Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa meet virtually today for a summit of BRICS nations. As well as a chance to discuss economic strategies outside a Western-dominated system, the meeting once again shows that, although Russia is isolated from the West, for the rest of the world it is still very much open for business [emphasis added].

Russian President Vladimir Putin joins the gathering today at a time when his country has become China’s largest crude oil supplier—a position usually enjoyed by Saudi Arabia. He will hold talks with a group of leaders who have so far tempered any criticism of the war in Ukraine.

Indeed Xi Jinping, in his address to the BRICS Business forum on Wednesday, appeared to lay the blame on Ukraine for Russia’s invasion, calling it a “wake up call” and a reminder that “attempts to expand military alliances and seek one’s own security at the expense of others will only land oneself in a security dilemma.”

Addressing the same forum, Putin was bullish on the economic opportunities presented by the group, touting negotiations on opening Indian chain stores in Russia, increasing Chinese industrial imports and “reorienting trade flows” to BRICS nations. According to Putin, trade with the group increased by 38 percent in the first quarter of 2022.

He added that the BRICS group could soon go a step further by challenging the U.S. dollar, creating its own international reserve currency based on the “basket of currencies of our countries.”

India’s options. For India, also a member of the Quad—along with Australia, Japan, and the United States—it faces a challenge to keep up its balancing act between East and West [emphasis added].

“India lives in a rough neighborhood and has been able to stick by its non-aligned policy to ensure its strategic autonomy by essentially engaging with everybody, and they’ve done a pretty good job of that,” Derek Grossman, a senior defense analyst at the RAND Corporation, told Foreign Policy [see this post: “Russia vs Ukraine: India’s Strategic Autonomy (tous azimuts) in Action“]. “But as great power competition continues to heat up, not just between the U.S. and China, but now the U.S. and Russia, it’s going to be increasingly difficult and delicate to maintain that balance.”

Indian officials aren’t naïve about their position, and are reportedly working to block any attempts to insert anti-U.S. messaging into the BRICS joint statement as well as slow any attempts to expand the grouping.

That the BRICS grouping is not known as a particularly effective combination may work in India’s favor. “I think that India can make a gamble, which I think is pretty safe, and it can essentially, pledge full support for everything BRICS is doing to show that it’s a loyal member of the group, while at the same time betting on the strong likelihood that BRICS won’t be able to move the needle forward on a lot of the issues and plans that are discussed,” said Michael Kugelman, an Asia expert at the Wilson Center and author of FP’s South Asia Brief. “That would then spare India from having to make awkward decisions about how far to go and pursue policies within BRICS that could put it at odds with the West.”

India is in high demand in a busy few weeks for Prime Minister Narendra Modi. He travels to Germany over the weekend to attend the G-7 summit and in July he joins another new grouping (and acronym) I2-U2, with the leaders of Israel, the United Arab Emirates, and the United States [emphasis added]

In its own way India still seems to be sitting fairly pretty.

A video on start of BRICS summit:

Those earlier posts:

Russia’s War on Ukraine, or, What Stinking “Free World”?

Russia Invading Ukraine: Countries Standing Aside, Africa Section

Mark Collins

Twitter: @mark3ds

Enough Already with the Canadian “Arctic Sovereignty” Hoo-Hah, Underpants Section

(Photo at top of the post is of Russian nuclear icebreaker “Yamal”.)

Further to this post,

NORAD, or, Enough Already with the Canadian “Arctic Sovereignty” Hoo-Hah

…In fact the major defence concern in the Arctic is that its airspace offers an avenue of approach to attack the rest of North America. Nothing to do with any threats to our sovereignty up there. And airspace over Labrador also offers an avenue of approach to attack the rest of North America . But nobody is wringing their hands over protecting Canada’s “Labrador sovereignty”. Go figure. One might almost think Canadians were neurotic about the Arctic…

now, via the estimable Andrea Charron, by Prof. Adam Lajeunesse (website here, tweets here) with the title of the year so far:

JUNE 18, 2022 [at the “Quick Impact” webpage of the North American and Arctic Defence and Security Network (NAADSN/RDSNAA, tweets here)]

The Underpants Gnomes of Arctic Sovereignty

Adam Lajeunesse
St. Francis Xavier University

This week the National Post published a sweeping editorial on Canadian Arctic sovereignty. Warning of the growing threats from great power competitors and the fragile state of our northern defences, the Post ’s editorial board painted a grim picture of Canada’s ability to keep the North both strong and free. Russia is building a powerful icebreaker fleet and renovating its Arctic bases; China, meanwhile, has labelled itself a ‘Near-Arctic State.’ From this, the Post extrapolates considerable danger. It is superficially threatening to be sure.

This may instill fits of polar peril in some, but to this scholar it brings to mind tiny cartoon characters: the Underpants Gnomes, from that irreverent cartoon South Park. Notorious thieves who steal underpants in the night, these creatures were asked why they do it. Step one is stealing underpants they declare. Step three: profit! When pressed to elaborate on step two, they draw a blank.

The National Post has offered us Underpants Gnome logic. Step one, they declare is an expanding Russian icebreaker fleet or growing Chinese Arctic interests; step three is a loss of Canadian sovereignty. Step one is more Canadian military capacity; step three is more sovereignty. Like their gnomish counterparts, there is a gaping hole in the argument. I would challenge the Post to fill in the blanks and answer the obvious question: what is step two?

The notion that growing Russian power in the Arctic naturally threatens to strip Canada of its “status as a northern power” or may lead to us “ceding great swaths of territory to hostile and autocratic regimes” is a big prediction not even remotely explained. Precisely which territories will Russia conquer? How and why would Russia invade a NATO power to steal Arctic territory thousands of kilometres from its own coast? The Post is correct that Russia has a growing icebreaker fleet, but how is this a threat to Canada? These ships are slow and unarmed. They are not designed nor suited for any offensive operations. If Russia would like to use them to deploy soldiers to Ellesmere Island, I suspect that Canada would be inconvenienced by – as former chief of the defence staff General WalterNatynczyk once quipped – having to go and rescue them [I fear that these days the federal government would in fact be very hard pressed doing that].

Russia has also expanded its military bases across northern Siberia. “In the past 16 years, Russia has refurbished 13 Soviet-era Arctic bases and numerous other smaller ports” warns the National Post.

Again, this is taken as a threat without question. Why? Across these bases, Russia has deployed an array of ant-shipping and air-defence missile like the high-end S-400 and Bastion systems. None of these can reach Canada and, even if they could, how does that invalidate Canadian sovereignty? NATO has weapons that can reach Russia, and yet Russia retains its sovereignty. Russia’s militarization of the Arctic is not a threat; it is evidence of Moscow’s own insecurity in the region. And, if the Russian military chooses to send critical weapons systems to Siberia, NATO should applaud that. Better there then in Kaliningrad or Ukraine [in any event the main Arctic military/naval action relates to Russia’s northwestern High North in Europe–see first post noted at bottom of this one].

China is, likewise, held up as a threat to Canadian sovereignty. That country certainly has shown a greater interest in the North over the past ten years and has been expanding its capabilities. Despite this, declaring China a threat requires elaborating on connections that the Post leaves implied. In recent years Chinese companies have been steadily losing favour across the circumpolar North. Confucius Institutes are closing, strategic investment reviews are being strengthened, and China’s soft power has been crumbling in the face of its human rights violations and “wolf warrior” diplomacy. Missing from the Post’s logic is that crucial step which explains where exactly that threat is going to come from.

The Post also laments that Canada has failed to “beef up its Arctic naval fleet in order to project power in the North.” We must buttress Arctic combat capability, says the editorial board, so that the Canadian Armed Forces have the “resources it needs to defend our sovereignty in the Far North.” Step one combat power, step three sovereignty.

The question of sovereignty in the Canadian Arctic relates to the legal status of the Northwest Passage and differing interpretations of international law; Canada calls the waters of the Arctic Archipelago internal while the US [along with quite a few other countries] believes that an international strait runs through the region. Canada’s diplomats and military leaders have known for generations that no amount of combat power will fundamentally shift that legal dispute. The notion that more defence capability magically translates into sovereignty cries out for elaboration.

Russia and China are obvious international security threats to Canada and its allies. Both authoritarian states pose an existential risk to the rules based international order and to Canadians’ safety and way of life. Meeting those threats, however, requires a nuanced understanding of where those risks are most acute, not an exaggerated or alarmist panic. A healthy debate on the many risks to Arctic security is important but unsupported implications and insinuation don’t help. I would love to ask the National Post’s editorial board what their ‘step two’ really is, to see if they can do better than the Underpants Gnomes.

Related posts:

Russia, The US, NATO and the High North–The Far West of the Bear’s own Arctic, that is [April 2021]

No Need for Hoo Hah over Under-Ice Dragons in the Arctic [May 2022, Prof. Lajeunesse a co-author]

Mark Collins

Twitter: @Mark3ds

Enfin, PM Trudeau’s Government Commits Money to Several Aspects of NORAD Modernization

Further to this recent post on US pressure on Canada over NORAD,

US Air Force Chief of Staff Visits Ottawa: What’s Missing in This Story?

the Canadian minister on national defence made the Big Reveal June 20, likely with the June 29-30 NATO Madrid summit in mind (to show allies we are Doing Something on defence) as well as trying to placate the Biden administration.

It is clear the announcement at Trenton air base was rushed–a two tweets:

The news release is here. There is still no “Backgrounder”–customary with such major announcements–giving details about, and projected timelines and costings for, the individual projects mentioned.

Some key points:

1) The initial C$ 4.9 billion over six years (i.e. just over $800 million per year) for NORAD modernization is not new money; it was already included in the government’s April 22 budget; there are no details about what the promised $40 billion over 20 years is for;

2) All the major projects are related to detecting threats and processing the relevant information; only two projects relate to acquiring new kinetic defence capabilities. There are also some upgrades for existing NORAD-related facilities;

3) There is no indication of how these specifically Canadian initiatives relate to US plans to modernize NORAD (some of which may not fit in with this government’s thinking–see “left of launch” post below);

4) Canada is still staying out of the US’ GMD ballistic missile defence system;

5) Minister Anand, for some odd reason, did not name either Russia (main threat now) or China as the adversaries involved.

To begin with, an excerpt from an article last year in Aviation Week and Space Technology:

…the radars of the U.S.-Canadian North Warning System (NWS) are still functioning, although their days seem numbered…

The early-warning system lacks the range to detect Russia’s Tupolev Tu-160 bombers [or Tu-95 ones] before they can launch cruise missiles and the resolution to track the latest Russian cruise missiles, particularly the stealthy nuclear Kh-102, after they are launched.

In other words, right now the capacity to intercept the bomber “archers” before they can launch their missile “arrows” at quite some distance from North American does not exist. And tracking those missiles on their courses to targets inside North America is exceedingly problematic. So it would now appear the main future challenge will be tracking and then shooting down the cruise missiles, not the bombers themselves (which may well have fighter escorts in any event–see this 2015 post: “NORAD to Face Escorted Cruise Missile-Carrying Russian Bombers?“).

Here are extracts from a Globe and Mail story:

Canada commits $4.9-billion over six years to modernize NORAD defences

Steven Chase Senior parliamentary reporter

Patrick Brethour Tax and Fiscal Policy Reporter

Defence experts told The Globe and Mail the spending commitment, nine days before a NATO Leaders’ Summit in Madrid, seems to be an effort to create the appearance that Canada is devoting more money to the military. Canada has come under pressure from allies, the U.S. in particular, to raise its military spending to meet NATO’s target level for each of its members: the equivalent of 2 per cent of annual economic output. Canada’s current defence spending amounts to 1.33 per cent…

“As autocratic regimes [Russia? China?] threaten the rules-based order that has protected us for decades and as our competitors develop new technologies…there is a pressing need to modernize NORAD capabilities,” Ms. Anand told reporters…

The new setup will have several components, according to Ms. Anand. “Arctic Over-the-Horizon Radar” will provide early-warning radar coverage and threat tracking from the Canada-U.S. border to the Arctic Circle [clearly to track cruise missiles through Canadian air space after they have been launched].

The second component will be a “Polar Over-the-Horizon Radar” system to provide the same coverage and tracking over and beyond the northernmost approaches to North America, including Canada’s Arctic archipelago [clearly to track cruise missiles immediately after launch from Russian bombers well away from North American airspace–and perhaps track the bombers themselves–and not vulnerable to interception and attack by NORAD fighters].

A third piece will be a new network called Crossbow, which will be made up of sensors with what Ms. Anand called “classified capabilities.” They will be located throughout Northern Canada, where they will provide another layer of detection.

A final component will be a space-based surveillance system, which will use satellites to collect intelligence and track threats, she told reporters.

…She did not provide a breakdown of how the $4.9-billion would be spent, and did not offer any estimate of when the new surveillance equipment would be up and running. She said Canada will spend a total of $40-billion over 20 years for NORAD modernization under the plan [emphasis added]

Andrea Charron, director of the Centre for Defence and Security Studies at the University of Manitoba [a professor who really knows her NORAD and defence stuff], said it’s important that Canada is “thinking about and working on the joint defence of North America.”

But, she added, she thinks Monday’s announcement was aimed first and foremost at Canada’s NATO allies.

“There is incredible pressure that Canada spend more on defence, so they can go to NATO and say, ‘Look, we are spending more,’ ” Prof. Charron said. “At least they are going to the table with something.”..

Asked when Ottawa would reach its 2-per-cent commitment [to NATO], Ms. Anand pointed to Canada’s “upward trajectory” in defence spending….

With the $4.9-billion for NORAD, she said, “our defence spending is now on an even sharper upward trajectory.” However, that $4.9-billion is part of the $8-billion announced in the budget [emphasis added].

But Ms. Anand declined to provide a precise defence-spending target, or to explicitly pledge that Canada would reach the 2-per-cent threshold…

Prof. Charron said the new radar and surveillance projects will take “years and years” to build [emphasis added]

And from a CBC story:

The new network will monitor not only the Arctic — NORAD’s traditional domain — but also Pacific and Atlantic approaches to the continent [see the “Worries” post noted at bottom of this one”–our two fighter bases are well to the interior at Cold Lake, Alberta and Bagotville, Quebec and ill-placed to deal with threats approaching from those oceans; might we start rotating fighters through east and west coast bases as thought needed?]

Canadian Lt.-Gen. Alain Pelletier, the deputy commander at NORAD, said he and other top military officials have been taking notes on Moscow’s air campaign [vs Ukraine].

“Some of that assessment is classified, but I can tell you that we’re seeing the usage of cruise missiles in that theater, like we were expecting it, and like we expect that that cruise missile may be used in the future, against potential … critical infrastructure in North America [emphasis added],” Pelletier told CBC News in an interview following the minister’s statement.

Asked whether Canada will end its prohibition on participating in the U.S. ballistic missile system (BMD), Anand said the government will maintain the current policy of non-involvement [emphasis added]

As for those new kinetic capabilities:

Canada will also acquire new air-to-air missiles [the new AIM-260 the US is developing?] that will be compatible with the 88 F-35 fighter planes from the American manufacturer Lockheed Martin, which will replace the aging F-18s of the Canadian military aviation in the coming years.

We will also work to develop options for a Canadian ground-based air defense capability” added the minister, remaining stingy with details…

Presumably that ground-based air defence capability will be missiles capable of intercepting cruise missiles closing on their targets. Will they be placed to defend our fighter bases at Cold Lake, Alberta and Bagotville, Quebec? Critical infrastructure such as ports? Nuclear power plants? Major cities in case of a possible demonstration nuclear attack (a 2016 post: “NORAD and Russian Cruise Nukes: “de-escalation”? Part 2“)?

Just for comparison’s sake, the current cost for the Stage 2 expansion of the Ottawa’s (pop. some one million) new Light Rail Transit system is $4.6 billion.

Here’s a video of Ms Anand’s announcement and news conference:

Those posts noted above:

NORAD Chief Wants Defence (of what sort?) “Left of Launch” Focus, Russian Cruise Missiles (air- and sub-launched) Big Threat

What Worries the NORTHCOM/NORAD COMMANDER? What Worries PM Trudeau’s Government about Continental Defence? Note UPDATE

Mark Collins

Twitter: @Mark3ds

Russia vs Ukraine, or, the US and War Crimes

(Caption for photo at top of the post: “Town council leader and lawyer Khalid Salman by the graves of his sister and her children, who were among the twenty-four Iraqi civilians killed by US Marines in the 2005 Haditha massacre, Haditha, Iraq, 2011”.)

How squeaky must a country itself be? Extracts from an article by the indispensable Fintan O’Toole at the NY Review of Books–very much my own line of thinking, far too many Americans are incapable of recognizing the frequent hypocrisy of their “exceptionalism” in the eyes of much of the rest of the world:

Our Hypocrisy on War Crimes

Fintan O’Toole

The US’s history of moral evasiveness around wartime atrocities undermines the very institution that might eventually bring Putin and his subordinates to justice: the International Criminal Court.

There is the war, and then there is the war about the war. Vladimir Putin’s assault on Ukraine is being fought in fields and cities, in the air and at sea. It is also, however, being contested through language. Is it a war or a “special military operation”? Is it an unprovoked invasion or a human rights intervention to prevent the genocide of Russian speakers by Ukrainian Nazis? Putin’s great weakness in this linguistic struggle is the unsubtle absurdity of his claims—if he wanted his lies to be believed, he should have established some baseline of credibility. But the weakness of the West, and especially of the United States, lies in what ought to be the biggest strength of its case against Putin: the idea of war crimes. It is this concept that gives legal and moral shape to instinctive revulsion. For the sake both of basic justice and of mobilizing world opinion, it has to be sustained with absolute moral clarity.

The appalling evidence of extrajudicial executions, torture, and indiscriminate shelling of homes, apartment buildings, hospitals, and shelters that has emerged from the Kyiv suburb of Bucha and from the outskirts of Chernihiv, Kharkiv, and Sumy gives weight and urgency to the accusation that Putin is a war criminal.

By late April, the UN human rights office had received reports of more than three hundred executions of civilians. There have also been credible reports of sexual violence by Russian troops and of abductions and deportations of civilians. According to Iryna Venediktova, Ukraine’s prosecutor general, by April 21 Russia had committed more than 7,600 recorded war crimes.

Yet the US has been, for far too long, fatally ambivalent about war crimes. Its own history of moral evasiveness threatens to make the accusation that Putin and his forces have committed them systematically in Ukraine seem more like a useful weapon against an enemy than an assertion of universal principle [emphasis added]. It also undermines the very institution that might eventually bring Putin and his subordinates to justice: the International Criminal Court (ICC).

There have long been two ways of thinking about the prosecution of war crimes. One is that it is a universal duty. Since human beings have equal rights, violations of those rights must be prosecuted regardless of the nationality or political persuasion of the perpetrators. The other is that the right to identify individuals as war criminals and punish them for their deeds is really just one of the spoils of victory. It is the winner’s prerogative—a political choice rather than a moral imperative…

It is hard to overstate how important it is that the war crimes that have undoubtedly been committed already in Ukraine—and the ones that are grimly certain to be inflicted on innocent people in the coming weeks and months—not be understood as “a flexible instrument in the hands of politicians.”

…If accusations of Russian war crimes are seen to be instrumental rather than principled, they will dissolve into “whataboutism”: Yes, Putin is terrible, but what about… Instead of seeing a clean distinction between the Western democracies and Russia, much of the world will take refuge in a comfortable relativism. If war crimes are not universal violations, they are merely fingers that can point only in one direction—at whomever we happen to be in conflict with right now. And never, of course, at ourselves.

Even before Putin launched his invasion on February 24, the Biden administration seems to have had a plan to use Russian atrocities as a rallying cry for the democratic world.

…on April 4 he went beyond deeming Putin a criminal by calling specifically for him to face a “war crime trial.” Then on April 12 he pressed the nuclear button of atrocity accusations: genocide. “We’ll let the lawyers decide, internationally, whether or not it qualifies [as genocide], but it sure seems that way to me.” He also referred to an unfolding “genocide half a world away,” clearly meaning in Ukraine.

…When asked about genocide on April 22, a spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights said, “No, we have not documented patterns that could amount to that.” Biden’s careless use of the term is all the more damaging because, however inadvertently, it echoes Putin’s grotesque claim that Ukraine has been committing genocide against Russian speakers in Donbas.

The problem with all of this is not that Biden is wrong but that it distracts from the ways in which he is right. This overstatement makes it far too easy for those who wish to ignore or justify what the Russians are doing to dismiss the mounting evidence of terrible crimes in Ukraine as exaggerated or as just another battleground in the information war. In appearing overanxious to inject “war criminal” into the international discourse about Putin and making it seem like a predetermined narrative, the US risked undermining the very stark evidence for that conclusion. By inflating that charge into genocide, it substituted rhetoric for rigor and effectively made it impossible for the US to endorse any negotiated settlement for Ukraine that leaves Putin in power: How can you make peace with a perpetrator of genocide [emphasis added; easy these days, talking point it away]?..

What makes these mistakes by Biden truly detrimental, however, is that the moral standing of the US on war crimes is already so profoundly compromised. The test for anyone insisting on the application of a set of rules is whether they apply those rules to themselves. It matters deeply to the struggle against Putin that the US face its record of having consistently failed to do this.

On November 19, 2005, in the Iraqi town of Haditha, members of the First Division of the US Marines massacred twenty-four Iraqi civilians, including women, children, and elderly people. After a roadside bomb killed one US soldier and badly injured two others, marines took five men from a taxi and executed them in the street. One marine sergeant, Sanick Dela Cruz, later testified that he urinated on one of the bodies. The marines then entered nearby houses and killed the occupants—nine men, three women, and seven children. Most of the victims were murdered by well-aimed shots fired at close range.

The official US press release then falsely claimed that fifteen of the civilians had been killed by the roadside bomb and that the marines and their Iraqi allies had also shot eight “insurgents” who opened fire on them. These claims were shown to be lies four months later, when Tim McGirk published an investigation in Time magazine…

In his memoir Call Sign Chaos (2019) the former general James Mattis, who took over as commander of the First Marine Division shortly after this massacre and later served as Donald Trump’s secretary of defense, calls what happened at Haditha a “tragic incident.” It’s clear that Mattis believed that at least some of the marines had run amok…

Mattis nowhere uses phrases or words like “war crime,” “massacre,” “atrocity,” or “cover-up.” He was determined, too, to exonerate the lower-ranking soldiers who participated in the violence at Haditha that day [emphasis added]

…One of the most prestigious arms of the US military carried out an atrocity in a country invaded by the US in a war of choice. No one in a position of authority did anything about it until Time reported on it. No one at any level of the chain of command, from senior leaders down to the soldiers who did the killings, was held accountable. And such minor punishments as were imposed seem to have had no deterrent effect. In March 2007 marines killed nineteen unarmed civilians and wounded fifty near Jalalabad, in Afghanistan, in an incident that, as The New York Times reported at the time, “bore some striking similarities to the Haditha killings.” Again, none of the marines involved or their commanders received any serious punishment.

…When bad things are done by American armed forces, they are entirely untypical and momentary responses to the terrible stresses of war. The conditioning that helps make them possible, the deep-seated instinct to cover them up, and the repeated failure to bring perpetrators to justice are not to be understood as systemic problems. Nowhere is American exceptionalism more evident or more troubling than in this compartmentalizing of military atrocities [emphasis added].

The brutal truth is that the US abandoned its commitment to the ICC not for reasons of legal principle but from the same motive that animated Putin. It was engaged in aggressive wars and did not want to risk the possibility that any of its military or political leaders would be prosecuted for crimes that might be committed in the course of fighting them…expediency rather than principle was guiding US attitudes…

…the US has alternately endorsed the legitimacy of the ICC in prosecuting Africans and called the same court corrupt and out of control when it explores the possibility of investigating war crimes committed by Americans.

…A yawning gap has opened between Biden’s grandiloquent rhetoric about Putin’s criminality on the one side and the deep reluctance of the US to lend its weight to the institution created by the international community to prosecute such transgressions of moral and legal order [emphasis added]. It is a chasm in which all kinds of relativism and equivocation can lodge and grow. The longer the US practices evasion and prevarication, the easier it is for Putin to dismiss Western outrage as theatrical and hypocritical, and the more inclined other countries will be to cynicism…

—April 28, 2022

Other posts based on Mr O’Toole are here.

Mark Collins

Twitter: @mark3ds

The Bookish Butcher Vozhd, or, Stalin the Literary Man

(Image at top of the post is from a cover of the excellent novel by Josef Škvorecký, the Czech writer who came to Canada after the 1968 Soviet invasion of his country.)

The many-faceted monster. The first part of a review at the New Criterion–pity about the book under review (see final para of quote):

Stalin: his own avatar

by Gary Saul Morson

On Stalin’s Library: A Dictator and His Books by Geoffrey Roberts [website here].

When the novelist Mikhail Sholokhov, who later won the Nobel Prize for literature, had trouble getting the third part of The Quiet Don approved for publication, he appealed to Maxim Gorky, then the supreme authority in Soviet literary affairs. Gorky invited him to his mansion, which had been a gift from Stalin to lure Gorky home from self-imposed exile. When Sholokhov arrived, he discovered that Gorky had company: Stalin himself.

Stalin interrogated Sholokhov about ideologically problematic passages but agreed to the book’s publication on condition that Sholokhov also write a novel glorifying the Soviet collectivization of agriculture. Still more important, he gave Sholokhov a piece of paper explaining how to contact Stalin’s personal secretary, Aleksandr Poskrebyshev, and providing the number of his direct phone line.

Sholokhov’s collectivization novel also ran into trouble with officials too scared of its descriptions of Soviet ruthlessness. Dialing the sacred phone number, the novelist reached Poskrebyshev, who summoned him to a meeting with the vozhd’ (meaning “leader,” a term reserved for Stalin alone). Stalin spent three nights reading the manuscript. When Sholokhov arrived, he found, in addition to Stalin, Lev Mekhilis, the editor of the Communist Party newspaper Pravda; Sergo Ordzhonokidze, who was in charge of the economy; and Kliment Voroshilov, People’s Commissar for Military and Naval Affairs. Stalin approved the novel’s publication but “suggested” a new title.

Could one imagine a president of the United States deeming a novel so important that he would spend three days reading it and give his verdict in the presence of officials in charge of the economy and the army [emphasis added]? But in Russia literature is more important than anywhere else. The poet Osip Mandelstam famously remarked that only in Russia are poems important enough for people to be shot for them.

Even if an American president should deem a novel to be that significant, would he trust his own unaided literary judgment, as Stalin evidently trusted his? Americans usually presume that Stalin, as a mass murderer, must have been a semi-literate thug, as if intellectuals are somehow less capable of brutality. At best, they figure that Stalin, as his enemy Trotsky asserted, was a consummate intellectual mediocrity. In fact, Stalin was not only highly intelligent but also supremely well-read [emphasis added]. When the Soviet archives were opened after the fall of the USSR, it turned out that Stalin had accumulated a personal library of twenty-five thousand volumes. He had selected the books himself and even devised his own classification system for his personal librarian to follow. In over four hundred volumes he left extensive pometki, marginal notes. What was in that library? What did those notes say?

After the Party leader Nikita Khrushchev denounced Stalin in his 1956 “Secret Speech,” most of Stalin’s books were dispersed to various libraries—over the strenuous objections, it should be added, of his daughter, Svetlana, who claimed her father’s collection as her own. But the four hundred annotated books found their way into the Stalin lichnyi fond, or personal archive.

At the end of his riveting book Inside the Stalin Archives (2008) [2009 review here before peak Putin], Jonathan Brent describes the thrill of discovering these volumes. As the editorial director of Yale University Press, Brent was editing sixteen volumes of important documents from the (briefly open) Soviet archives. Having inquired about Stalin’s library on an earlier visit, he had no idea what he would find in Fond (“file”) 588, Opus 3, the designation for books and manuscripts discovered in Stalin’s personal library after his death. “I had not realized what an avid and comprehensive reader Stalin was,” Brent recalled, but the archive soon revealed to him something even more interesting: Stalin “saw the nation as a set of ideas as much as a set of economic or material facts. As I looked at page after page of Stalin’s corrections, annotations, and commentary,” Brent explained,

I realized that while he professed a worldview set radically against metaphysics and Kantian idealism, Stalin was an idealist in the sense that he believed completely in the primacy of ideas. This represents a radical . . . reorientation and revision of Marx’s philosophy and is the key to understanding Stalin’s threat to “mercilessly destroy anyone who, by his deeds or his thoughts—yes, by his thoughts—threatens the unity of the socialist state.”

Brent was right: Stalin was a man of ideas, to the point where he thought that by changing the ideas to which people are exposed he could redesign human nature itself [emphasis added]. The Bolshevik leader Nikolai Bukharin, his onetime ally and later victim, put the point memorably:

“If we examine each individual in his development, we shall find that at bottom he is filled with [nothing but] the influences of his environment, as the skin of a sausage is filled with sausage-meat. . . . The individual himself is a collection of concentrated social influences, united in a small unit,”

and, for unwavering Bolsheviks, nothing more.

At a famous meeting with writers held in Gorky’s apartment in 1932, Stalin explained how they should view their efforts:

“There are different products: artillery, automobiles, machines. You also produce “commodities,” “works,” ”products.” Very important things. Interesting things. . . . You [writers] are engineers of human souls. . . . Production of souls is more important than the production of tanks. . . . That is why I propose a toast to writers, to the engineers of human souls [emphasis added]”

No wonder that Stalin took such a keen interest in literature and ideas. Svetlana pointed out that in her father’s Kremlin apartment “there was no room for pictures on the walls—they were lined with books.” Stalin’s adopted son Artem Sergeev recalled that at every encounter his father asked him what he had been reading and what he thought about it. The son of the secret police chief Lavrenty Beria claimed that when Stalin visited someone from his inner circle, “he went to the man’s library and even opened the books to check whether they had been read.” Although he was always ordering books, Stalin borrowed from others as well. The poet Demyan Bedny was foolish enough to complain that he hated to lend his books to Stalin because they were returned covered with greasy fingermarks. That was the last Bedny saw of his luxurious apartment.

It is hardly surprising that Stalin read and reread Machiavelli’s The Prince. Neither is it strange that he knew well the works of his Bolshevik rivals Trotsky, Bukharin, Zinoviev, and Kamenev, or that he underlined key passages in Hitler’s Mein Kampf. But he also read a lot of Russian and world literature, apparently cherishing Pushkin as well as satirists and social critics including Gogol, Saltykov-Shchedrin, and Zola.

I expected to learn a great deal from the first comprehensive account of Stalin’s annotations, Stalin’s Library, by Geoffrey Roberts.1 A professor emeritus at University College Cork…

Alas, this book offers no significant discoveries, intimate or otherwise. It meanders pointlessly from topic to topic unrelated…

As I said, pity. And from a review at the Guardian:

Roberts is startlingly forgiving towards Stalin, noting: “Given the scale of his misdeeds as Soviet ruler, it is natural to imagine him as a monster, to see him in the mind’s eye furiously denouncing opponents.” Instead he concludes that Stalin was “a dedicated idealist”, “no psychopath but an emotionally intelligent and feeling intellectual”…


Related tweets:

Mark Collins

Twitter: @mark3ds

Russia vs Ukraine, or, the Perils of Overdoing Historical Analogies

A hard-nosed piece by Edward Lucas at the Center for European Policy Analysis, Washington, D.C.:

History Matters

But not as much as you think

Are we living in 1914 or 1939? Or 1918? These seemingly abstruse questions are at the heart of European countries’ policy (or lack of it) towards Ukraine. For some German thinkers, the danger is of “sleepwalking” into a big war, just as European leaders did, supposedly, in 1914. Nobody actually wanted a conflagration that would destroy prosperity, order, and security. But the decisions made in Berlin, Moscow, Vienna, and Paris made it inevitable.

This thesis is advanced in a thought-provoking book called “The Sleepwalkers”, published in 2012, by the Australian historian Christopher Clark [excellent book, he’s a professor at Cambridge–an earlier post: “The Start of the Great War, or, Sh.. Happens“]. Angela Merkel was a big fan. As my friend from the New Statesman, Jeremy Cliffe, notes in his latest column, so are many of her successors. Chancellor Olaf Scholz exclaimed in a recent meeting “I am not Kaiser Wilhelm”. What he meant was that he was not going to lead Germany into war by accident. He also fears the disruptive consequences of a protracted conflict.

Another common historical frame of reference is 1918, and the specter of the Versailles peace treaty. Its punitive treatment of defeated Germany sowed the seeds of the next conflict. Some people, such as the Moscow-based foreign-policy pundit Sergei Karaganov, believe that Russia already experienced a Versailles-style humiliation in the aftermath of the Soviet collapse. Others, such as French President Emmanuel Macron, believe that it is vital to avoid such an outcome when the Russia-Ukraine war ends. Either way, the lesson is clear: treat Russia better if you want good behavior in the future [emphasis added].

Another school of thought sees 1939 as the reference point. The West’s failure to stand up to Mussolini over Abyssinia in 1935, and to Hitler when he marched into the Rhineland in 1936, and took over Austria and the Sudetenland in 1938, paved the way for the attack on Poland in 1939. This is, seemingly, mirrored by more recent appeasement of Kremlin aggression against Estonia, Georgia, and other countries.

History is a useful stimulus to thought. But it is a poor guide to the present. The “Sleepwalker” thesis is flawed: it lets off bellicose Prussian militarism too lightly [see “PREDATE” tweet at bottom of the post; on the other hand see this post using a review by Prof. Clark: “Wilhelm the Jerk, Part 2: How Truly Determinative?“], and blames Serbian nationalism excessively [I disagree, see this post: “Serbia, Sarajevo and the Start of World War I“]. Its relevance to the Ukraine war is absurd, as pointed out by none other than Clark himself. Nobody wanted war then. But Putin clearly wants one now. The question is how we react to it.

The Versailles references are flimsy. The West did not humiliate Russia in the 1990s. It pampered and pandered to the Yeltsin Kremlin. If the war with Ukraine ends in disaster, the blame lies with Vladimir Putin, not those who resist his aggression [emphasis added]. The Russian leader can stop whenever he wants, and the sooner he does, the better for everybody.

Nor do the 1930s provide a template. The landscape was quite different then. Nazi Germany was an economic superpower. Russia is not. The Nazi-Soviet pact of 1939 has no modern counterpart (thank goodness [see this post: “Bad Vlad: 1939, or, Just Screw the Poles and Balts“]). We do not need historical analogies to know that we have left it perilously late to wake up to Russian neo-colonialism [emphasis added].

Germans are also far too ready to imbibe other mistaken historical lessons, such as Kremlin myths about the Second World War, which supposedly creates an eternal debt from Germany to modern Russia. Just for the record, the biggest losses as a share of population were in what is now Ukraine and Belarus [emphasis added–see this review of Timothy Snyder’s superb history, Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin]. Any feelings of guilt or historical responsibility should be directed there, not used to justify greed and cowardice.

Rather than searching fruitlessly for analogies, our modern sleepwalkers should wake up to the pressing injustices of the present, and consider how future historians may judge their response.

Europe’s Edge is an online journal covering crucial topics in the transatlantic policy debate. All opinions are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the position or views of the institutions they represent or the Center for European Policy Analysis.


Earlier tweet–Count Harry Kessler was a member of the German elite, scroll up thread for more:

Recent relevant post:

Russia vs Ukraine: A Realist View–and Don’t Forget The Tsar’s Southwestern Front in 1914

Mark Collins

Twitter: @mark3ds

Russia vs Ukraine: A Realist View–and Don’t Forget The Tsar’s Southwestern Front in 1914

1) Further to this post, (part 2 of it is also based on a piece by Mr Douthat),

Ukraine vs Russia: How Much Success is Too Much Success? Or…

the house conservative at the NY Times “Sunday Review” again sounds precautionary notes–and keep in mind that the main enemy is well to the east. The second part of his article today:

We Can’t Be Ukraine Hawks Forever

…when I read the broader theories of hawkish commentators, their ideas about America’s strategic vision and what kind of endgame we should be seeking in the war, I still find myself baffled by their confidence and absolutism.

For instance, for all their defensive successes, we have not yet established that Ukraine’s military can regain significant amounts of territory in the country’s south and east. Yet we have Anne Applebaum of The Atlantic insisting that only Putin’s defeat and indeed “humiliation” can restore European stability, while elsewhere in the same magazine Casey Michel calls for dismantling the Russian Federation, framed as the “decolonization” of Russia’s remaining empire, as the only policy for lasting peace.

Or again, the United States has currently committed an extraordinary sum to back Ukraine — far more than we spent in foreign aid to Afghanistan in any recent year, for instance — and our support roughly trebles the support offered by the European Union. Yet when this newspaper’s editorial board raised questions about the sustainability of such support, the response from many Ukraine hawks was a furious how dare you — with an emphasis, to quote Benjamin Wittes of the Brookings Institution, on Ukraine’s absolute right to fight “until every inch of their territory is free”; America’s strictly “modest” and “advisory” role in Ukrainian decision-making; and the importance of offering Kyiv, if not a blank check, at least a “very very big check with more checks to follow.”

These theories all seem to confuse what is desirable with what is likely, and what is morally ideal with what is strategically achievable [emphasis added]. I have written previously about the risks of nuclear escalation in the event of a Russian military collapse, risks that hawkish theories understate. But given the state of the war right now, the more likely near-future scenario is one where Russian collapse remains a pleasant fancy, the conflict becomes stalemated and frozen, and we have to put our Ukrainian policy on a sustainable footing without removing Putin’s regime or dismantling the Russian empire.

In that scenario, our plan cannot be to keep writing countless checks while tiptoeing modestly around the Ukrainians and letting them dictate the ends to which our guns and weaponry are used. The United States is an embattled global hegemon facing threats more significant than Russia. We are also an internally divided country led by an unpopular president whose majorities may be poised for political collapse. So if Kyiv and Moscow are headed for a multiyear or even multi-decade frozen conflict, we will need to push Ukraine toward its most realistic rather than its most ambitious military strategy. And just as urgently, we will need to shift some of the burden of supporting Kyiv from our own budget to our European allies [emphasis added].

Righteous (and properly felt) disgust over the brutal Russian conduct of the war nonetheless should not lead to emotional rejection–unless the Russians simply collapse–of all efforts to find ways to end the fighting that result in less than a complete defeat for Bad Vlad Putin. Horrid though he be the Russian vozhd is still not Hitler. Nor Stalin. Nor Mao.

Moreover, should Russia somehow end up “humiliated”, it is absurd to think that any new government would be truly conciliatory or democratic. Rather think of Germans lusting for revenge after World War I.

A tweet by the noted strategist and historian, Edward Luttwak:

Plebiscites were held in several contested border regions after World War I.

2) Plus excerpts from the newsletter, TOP SECRET UMBRA, of John Schindler (tweets here), a serious historian of the Italian and Russian/Austrian fronts in World War, as well as an expert on intelligence matters; do read it all:

Military History Repeats in Ukraine

The current Russian advance in Ukraine, driven by artillery, should surprise nobody who’s acquainted with history – in fact, it’s happened before

After initial bloody setbacks, the Russian military is advancing deep in Ukraine. Defenders have acquitted themselves with unexpected grit, blunting initial Russian blows. But eventually weight of shell begins to turn the tide as the attacker’s artillery outnumbers and outguns the defenders. Soon, a debacle looms as retreat threatens to turn into a rout. The high hopes of just weeks before, the victory euphoria seeing Russian forces reeling from heavy blows, slowly turn to doubt, even despair.

It’s the summer of 1914.

Watching battlefield events unfold in Ukraine’s Southeast in recent days, as Russia’s aggression against its neighbor is in its fourth month, it’s difficult for anybody acquainted with that country’s military history not to feel an unsettling sense of déjà vu.

…the Ukraine war has shifted to the country’s Southeast, where Russia made landgrabs in the Donbas in 2014. Here, Moscow is making its move, with the obvious objective of recreating Novorossiya with a land-bridge to Crimea through the devastated city of Mariupol, now in Russian hands after an almost three-month siege that claimed thousands of lives. Such an imperial-throwback concept like rebirthing some facsimile of Novorossiya across southern Ukraine – if extended to Moldova it would economically cripple what’s left of Ukraine by taking away its Black Sea access – makes some strategic and geographic sense and was always the Kremlin’s achievable objective in this war. Now, Putin is doing that.

What happens next cannot be predicted with certainty but Ukraine’s looming defeat in the Southeast paradoxically offers a way to cease the fighting, at least temporarily. Given the economic pain caused by sanctions, which is only getting worse, Putin would be wise to pause his offensives after achieving modest success in the Southeast: at this point, the Kremlin is looking for a win, any win, to sell to the Russian public as justification for the enormous cost in blood and treasure of Putin’s war-of-choice.

Militarily, Russia’s offensive in the Southeast, though plodding, seems to be finally going Moscow’s way. At last, the Russian military is playing to its strengths in firepower. The Kremlin has decided to crush Ukrainian resistance, one punishing artillery barrage at a time…

…Current events in Ukraine eerily resemble summertime military operations in that country, 108 years ago. That was the Battle for Galicia, in today’s Western Ukraine, which was a grave defeat for Austria-Hungary, indeed a setback from which that country’s military never really recovered…

Some of the similarities…are troubling. In 1914, as today, the Russians dealt harshly with civilians in Galicia whom they considered disloyal or dangerous: some were shot outright while many thousands of others, Ukrainian, Poles, and especially Jews, were abducted and dispatched deep into Russia as hostages.

…the continuities between the fight for Ukraine in 1914 and the fight today appear more significant than the differences. Again, a Russian army backed by vast amounts of gunnery is grinding defenders down…

The outcome of the battle for the Donbas may well determine Ukraine’s fate for years to come. Local defeat looms but that need not become strategic defeat: that depends on Kyiv’s military moves right now. Time is the most undervalued aspect of warfighting but also the most difficult to grasp. War invariably develops its own logic. In that sense, war never changes, particularly when it involves Russians.

P.S. For readers seeking more on the Galician campaign of summer 1914 and its decisive impact on European history, I modestly recommend my book on the subject.

And a very good book it is:

This recent post is also relevant:

Why the Russian Army’s Poor Performance in Ukraine (so far)…and Western Armies?

Mark Collins

Twitter: @mark3ds

Why the Russian Army’s Poor Performance in Ukraine (so far)…and Western Armies?

Objective assessment of military performance is a terribly hard thing to do. Extracts from two articles at the essential War on the Rocks, on the Russian army and US army respectively and then a related podcast:

Not Built for Purpose: The Russian Military’s Ill-Fated Force Design

Michael Kofman and Rob Lee

…Enter Putin’s “special operation,” which meant launching a major war in Europe, against the continent’s second largest country, with a force operating at peacetime manning levels. Putin assumed that Ukraine would quickly surrender, and a regime change operation could be conducted without the need to plan and organize for a major war. The resulting debacle, which will be studied for decades to come, proceeds from the intersection of terrible Russian political assumptions with those of the armed forces regarding the forces that would be made available for a war of this scale (as conceived in the design)…

The Russian military set a target to reach 425,000 contract [i.e. volunteer] soldiers by 2017 and later to reach 499,200 by 2019. Instead, according to Russian officials, it reached 384,000 in 2016, 394,000 in 2019, and 405,000 in 2020, which was the last time a figure was publicly released. As the Ministry of Defense kept releasing the same contract servicemen numbers several years in a row, it became evident that they were probably declining. The delta between official figures and actual contract manning levels was the subject of debate in analytical circles.

It appears the Russian armed forces achieved this target by reducing the number of personnel in each battalion, including the number in each company, which has had a significant effect on operations in Ukraine. There were two important outcomes of this decision. First, Russia’s offensive maneuver formations, assuming around 125 to 130 battalion tactical groups as disclosed by official U.S. sources, were in practice much smaller when we consider their actual strength. This force was approximately 80,000 in overall size, not including auxiliaries, and other supporting elements (total force size likely exceeded 100,000). Second, these formations were heavily weighted towards artillery, armor, support, and enablers rather than motorized rifle infantry and the availability of dismounted units. The effect on Russia’s ability to operate in urban terrain, support armor with dismounted infantry, and control terrain was profound. There were also shortages of key personnel, from enablers to logistics, and the force was far more brittle than many (including us) had assumed…

The end result is that the Russian military deployed maneuver formations with few available dismounted infantry, but still brought many of their armored vehicles with them. This situation begins to resemble the problems Russian forces faced in Grozny-1995: tons of metal, little manpower. Russian tank units require infantry support for various situations, and dismounted infantry are critical when fighting in urban settings or seizing or holding terrain. Tanks and armored vehicles are vulnerable without infantry to protect them from anti-tank teams, among other threats. By bringing minimal infantry, motorized rifle battalions are suffering from the same vulnerabilities as tank units. The high ratio of armored vehicles to soldiers in many Russian units also likely accounts for many of the vehicles that were left abandoned by Russian forces during the beginning of the war. The lack of organic motorized rifle troops also helps explain the poor performance by many Russian tank units, who were vulnerable to ambushes by light Ukrainian anti-tank teams armed with Javelin, NLAW, and Stugna-P anti-tank weapons. The problem was exacerbated by losses among infantry components in the first several weeks of the war.

…the reason the Russian military was set up in this manner ultimately ties back to core tenets of Russian military thought. Militaries have ideas about what kind of wars they’re likely to fight, how they plan to fight them, and the best way to balance capability, capacity, and readiness. While we cannot go in-depth into Russian military thinking here, the core choices were not just driven by an attempt to balance resources and attain force flexibility, but also by a coherent set of beliefs about how the Russian armed forces should organize to fight NATO. These drove the development of a force with less infantry, and less logistical capacity for sustaining ground offensives or holding territory, but more fires and support for enablers.

This does not explain the problems Russian armed forces demonstrate in a host of areas, from lack of secure communications to the poorly demonstrated integration of air support, fires, and reconnaissance on the battlefield. There are clear problems with competence, scaled-up employment, and integration. But conventional wars often come down to attrition, where manpower and materiel matters more over time than many other elements. A force with enough hedge in its structure can try to compensate for a terrible plan, recover from initial failure, and try to adjust. The Russian military has no such option and is further constrained by the political framing of this war.

Indeed, it is an open question as to whether Putin may have had an inflated sense of Russian military capability. Alternatively, he may simply let political assumptions that Ukraine would quickly surrender drive his thinking…

Having mobilized substantial manpower, and with access to Western military support, Ukraine now appears positioned to sustain this fight. The Russian campaign floundered not just because it pursued unrealistic political goals, but also because the plan for the invasion did not account for the choices made on force structure, and the limitations they imposed. Russian force employment exacerbated the disadvantages inherent in the force they built. Currently, Russia lacks the manpower to rotate current forces on the battlefield or to conduct further offensives beyond the current campaign in the Donbas. However, Russian forces do appear to enjoy a local-force advantage in the Donbas, and overall long-term challenges raised here may not impede Russian progress in the short term. Much is contingent, and this assessment is not meant to be deterministic.

The arguments we make here are preliminary, and not meant to be predictive of the outcome of battles in the Donbas, or the course of this war. However, contemporary debates on force structure and military strategy would benefit greatly by looking at the choices the Russian military made and how they ended up in this position. There’s much to be said about the primacy of political assumptions, which is one of the most decisive factors in how the Russian armed forces were initially thrown into this war, but equally, it is structural choices that have limited its military’s ability to adjust and sustain combat operations.

Michael Kofman is director of the Russia Studies Program at CNA and a fellow at the Center for New American Security.

Rob Lee is a senior fellow in the Foreign Policy Research Institute’s Eurasia Program. He is a Ph.D. student researching Russian defense policy at King’s College London’s War Studies Department and a former Marine infantry officer.

And, on the other hand, also at War on the Rocks::

Would We Do Better? Hubris and Validation in Ukraine

David Johnson

…the second danger: hubris. The unspoken implication of the Western analysis is that we would do better than the Russians because we are better than them.Are we?

The words of Gen. James McConville, when he assumed office as Army Chief of Staff in August 2019, are not just talking points, they are deeply believed within the U.S. Army and by the other services about themselves: “Our Army — Regular, National Guard, and Reserve — is the best-trained, best-equipped, and best-led land force ever to take to the field.” McConville also gave the principal reason for why this is true: “People are always my #1 priority: Our Army’s people are our greatest strength and our most important weapon system.” Given these deeply held convictions, it is not surprising that militaries that do not share U.S. approaches would fall short on the battlefield.

These views are dangerous in Western assessments of the Ukrainian military. Currently, the prevailing narrative is that the Ukrainian edge is that they have evolved into a modern Western military, trained for over a decade in Western methods. They are professionals. Therefore, they will prevail. Just as we would. Again, nothing to learn here.

However, the actual evidence is unclear; the assessments of the prowess of Ukraine’s military may be wishful thinking and hubris. The title of a Wall Street Journal article epitomizes this view, saying it all came down to “years of NATO training.”

One should recall that Western initiatives to reform the Ukrainian military did not even begin until after the 2014 Russian invasion…

An indication that there is some way to go beyond the NATO training is that there is little evidence that the Ukrainians are executing joint and combined arms offensive operations. This capability will be important if the transition from the defense and attempt offensive operations to restore territory lost to Russia. Furthermore, Ukraine also appears to be ceding ground in the Donbas to a slow, grinding Russian advance.

Consequently, the analysis of the Ukraine war needs to address another unasked question: What if this view that quality people and leaders are the most important ingredient in modern warfare is wrong? What if Stalin was correct that quantity has a quality all of its own? If that is the case, then the Ukrainians may need much greater assistance if they are to survive a Russian-style grinding war of attrition.

Additionally, as the United States plans for how it will compete and potentially fight China and Russia in the future, the approach should be characterized by humility and an intense desire to challenge existing assumptions, concepts, and capabilities, rather than to validate current approaches.

As it did for Russia, it could happen to us, and we need to fully understand what “it” is.

David E. Johnson, Ph.D., is a retired Army colonel. He is a principal researcher at the nonprofit, nonpartisan RAND Corporation and an adjunct scholar at the Modern War Institute at West Point. From 2012 to 2014 he founded and directed the Chief of Staff of the Army Strategic Studies Group for Gen. Raymond T. Odierno.

Plus a Rocks podcast:

What the Experts Got Wrong (and Right) About Russian Military Power

Christopher Dougherty, Gian Gentile, Michael Kofman, Dara Massicot, and Ryan Evans

It is now widely understood that many observers, in advance of this war, over-estimated Russian military performance and underestimated Ukrainian military performance. Prominent among those observers are those who specialize in analyzing the Russian military. To better understand what they got right and wrong, Ryan put two of those specialists — Dara Massicot of RAND and Michael Kofman of CNA — into conversation with two people who approach this conflict as generalists — Chris Dougherty of the Center for a New American Security and Gian Gentile of RAND. Do not miss this vivid discussion.

On verra. Keep in mind that the good guys frequently do not win.

Mark Collins

Twitter: @mark3ds

Russia’s War vs Ukraine: Latvians to Demolish Soviet World War II Monument

(Caption for photo at top of the post: “Police vehicles in front of the Soviet ‘Victory Monument,’ in Riga, Latvia, on May 24. Police have been guarding the Soviet war monument and barriers have been erected around it to prevent any further clashes at the site. Gints Ivuskans/The Globe and Mail”.)

Lots of chickens coming home to roost in countries incorporated by the Soviet/Russian communists. From a story by a Globe and Mail man in Riga for the moment:

In Latvia, the battle over a Soviet monument sparks tensions across the Baltic country

Geoffrey York

Some time in the next six months, workers will begin demolishing a massive 79-metre-tall Soviet war monument that has loomed above Latvia’s capital city for decades. Then the country will brace for Moscow’s angry retaliation.

The newly approved plan to tear down the monument is the Baltic country’s latest response to the Russian invasion of Ukraine. And it is already heightening emotions and political clashes here.

Riga’s mayor, Martins Stakis, said in an interview that he expects a wave of Russian reprisals, including cyberattacks, when the city dismantles the concrete obelisk and bronze statues of the Soviet memorial.

”Our security agencies are monitoring it very carefully and preparing for potential provocations from inside and from outside,” Mr. Stakis said. ”We just have to take a brave decision, deal with these provocations and move forward.”

But the damage won’t be inflicted only on concrete and bronze, and the danger is not merely from Moscow. The battle over the monument is sharpening ethnic and political tensions, fuelling hard-liners and driving a wedge between the country’s Latvian-speaking majority and its Russian-speaking minority, who represent about 25 per cent of its population [emphasis added].

…Many Latvians are still unhappy with the compromises that were made to placate Moscow after the Soviet Union’s collapse – including a 1994 agreement to preserve Soviet memorials, despite the emotions they evoke in Latvia, where many consider them symbols of Kremlin occupation.

That agreement was finally torn up in mid-May, when the demolition plan was approved. But many Latvians want speedier action.

On May 20, about 5,000 people marched to a park near the Soviet obelisk, demanding the immediate demolition of all such monuments. They also called for the expulsion of “disloyal” people who support Russian President Vladimir Putin and his invasion of Ukraine.

“Enough is enough,” said Ralfs Eilands, a popular Latvian musician who helped organize the march…

The march was a response to the events of May 9 and 10, when hundreds of Russian-speaking people laid flowers at the Soviet monument to mark the traditional Victory Day holiday. When a city tractor removed the flowers, a group returned defiantly with more. Some waved Russian flags, sang Soviet army songs, drank vodka and battled with police.

Many Latvians saw the flag-waving as an insult. Some, including Mr. Eilands, are demanding “local sanctions” – some form of direct action against those who support the Kremlin’s war in Ukraine…

The flag-wavers are only a tiny fraction of Latvia’s Russian-speaking population. Polls show that Mr. Putin’s invasion of Ukraine has weakened his popularity here…

But even if the number of Kremlin supporters in Latvia is shrinking, the polarization between the pro-Moscow side and the Latvian nationalist side is worsening. Assaults on pro-Ukrainian demonstrators, apparently by Russians, have been reported in Riga recently. Some Latvian media have accused pro-war Russians of being a traitorous “fifth column” inside the country. At the May 20 march, some demonstrators carried a sign proclaiming: “Latvian land, Latvian rules [emphasis added].”

Authorities, fearing more clashes, have banned two planned rallies in support of the Soviet monument. Several Russian-speaking politicians were briefly detained when they tried to defend the monument. The obelisk is now surrounded by police cars, to discourage any further clashes…

“The tensions now are worse than they were even in the early 1990s,” said Miroslav Mitrofanov, a city councillor in Riga and a leader of the Latvian Russian Union, a political party that is largely supported by Russian-speaking voters.

His party is increasingly marginalized from the political mainstream. Riga today is filled with Ukrainian flags and pro-Ukraine banners, and even the city’s flower beds are arranged in the yellow-and-blue colours of the Ukrainian flag. The Russian embassy in Riga is surrounded by Ukrainian flags and anti-war placards, which portray Mr. Putin as an evil demon.

Mr. Mitrofanov tried to organize a march to defend the Soviet monument, but the city banned the event after the state security agency warned it could cause “public disorder” and national-security risks.

The bans on pro-monument marches have fuelled the feeling of victimhood among many Russian speakers here [emphasis added]

The government has found an effective way to weaken local support for Mr. Putin: After the war began, it banned all Russian state television channels in the country. The percentage of Russian speakers who support the invasion of Ukraine has dropped from 21 per cent in March to barely half of that number in late April [emphasis added].

Yet many people are still managing to watch Russian television, using illegal connections and satellite dishes. Many older people, in particular, are unwilling to quit their lifelong habit of watching Moscow’s nightly propaganda broadcasts – a habit that began in Soviet days…

“Many of us have lost our parents to Putin’s media,” said Deniss Hanovs, a Latvian professor who studies intercultural communication.

His 74-year-old mother, a devotee of Russian television, remains a supporter of the Kremlin’s war today, despite all his attempts to dissuade her. “I feel that I’ve lost her,” he said. “She was kidnapped by Putin, symbolically. It’s dangerous to let Putin into the brains of people.”

He believes, however, that Latvian nationalists are adopting the same intolerant tactics that the Soviet Union used against Latvia in the past. By demolishing monuments and threatening to deport Russians, they are damaging the inter-ethnic dialogue that Latvia desperately needs, he said…

Latvians take part in a march on May 20, in response to celebrations of the Russian Victory Day holiday.Gints Ivuskans/The Globe and Mail

Bad Vlad sure is a master strategist who knows how to win friends and influence people.

Canada leads NATO’s Enhanced Forward Presence battlegroup in Latvia–NATO webpage here, Canadian Armed Force’s Op REASSURANCE here.

Mark Collins

Twitter: @mark3ds

Major New Report by Real National Security Experts: Big Threats to Canada–PRC, Russia and…the US

Note 4 PM May 24 online event on the report mentioned in tweet by Thomas Juneau towards bottom of this post–registration here.

Further to this January 2022 post,

Globe and Mail to PM Justin Trudeau Gov’t: Time to Get Real about Foreign Interference, esp. by PRC (note UPDATE)

now that message, and several others–but how seriously if PM Trudeau’s government likely to take them, and then act on them. Fairly slim chance I would think unless our Five Eyes allies (that is the three save New Zealand) put some really heavy pressure on us. From a Globe and Mail Story:

Canada urged to conduct major national security review to deal with China, Russia and rise of right-wing extremism

Robert Fife Ottawa Bureau Chief

Canada has become complacent and neglectful of national security and urgently needs to revamp its thinking to counter Russia’s aggression, China’s growing influence and the rise of right-wing extremism in Canada and the United States, according to a major new report.“We are living in a time of intense global instability when the security of Canada and other liberal democracies is under growing threat,” says the report, A National Security Strategy for the 2020s, released Tuesday [May 24, available via this link]. “Canada is not ready to face this world. As a country, we need to urgently rethink national security.”

It was prepared by the University of Ottawa Graduate School of Public and International Affairs with input from four former national security advisers, two Canadian Security Intelligence Service directors, academics and retired ambassadors and deputy ministers [see list of members at end of the post].

Russian President Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine underscores the direct threat to Western interests, while China is potentially an even more serious, long-term challenge, the report says.

China and Russia will continue to pose a significant threat to Canada through foreign interference, disinformation, espionage, hostage diplomacy and cyberattacks [emphasis added],” it says. “Our lack of a firm response, moreover presents a serious risk for our allies, and could affect security and intelligence relations with them.”

Canada needs to crack down on university research collaboration with China in areas such as artificial intelligence, biotechnology and quantum computing, the report urges [see this post: “Government Actually Acting vs PRC/PLA Infiltration of Canadian Universities–not so “Wow!” UPDATE (note Australian UPPERDATE)“]

A far-ranging national security review must also examine the rise of the far right in Canada and the U.S. The truck convoy protests that led to border blockades and the closure of much of downtown Ottawa had direct links to U.S. extremists but also support from conservative media outlet Fox News and some Republican politicians, the report notes.

“This may not have represented foreign interference in the conventional sense since it was not the result of a foreign government. But it did represent, arguably, a greater threat to Canadian democracy than actions of any state other than the United States,” it says. “It will be a significant challenge for our national security and intelligence agencies to monitor this threat since it emanates from the same country that is by far our great source of intelligence.”

The report was put together under the direction of Vincent Rigby, who was recently a national security adviser to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, and Thomas Juneau, an associate professor at the University of Ottawa’s Graduate School of Public and International Affaiirs.

Both warned that Canada needs to figure out how it should respond to democratic backsliding in the U.S. and how it should deal with the possible re-election of Donald Trump.

“If Trump comes back or someone like Trump comes to power in 2024, which is not far-fetched,” Prof. Juneau said in an interview, “does the U.S. stay in NATO? Does it become more unilateral and unpredictable?”

Mr. Rigby said political polarization in the U.S. is “something Canada must watch extremely closely [emphasis added, see this October 2020 post– note my comments towards end and following tweets: ”US Presidential Election Unrest (if not more)–What might Happen to Canada? PM Trudeau says Government Preparing“]

The report calls for a thorough public review of national security policy, including the CSIS Act, Emergencies Act and Proceeds of Crime (Money Laundering) and Terrorist Financing Act. It says Canada needs to embrace modern spy tools being used by many of its Five Eyes intelligence-sharing partners, the U.S., the U.K., Australia and New Zealand.

It calls for the creation of a standalone unit to collect and analyze open-source intelligence [emphasis added–how would its product be incorporated into national level all-source intelligence assessments? won’t current contributing organizations still want to do their own open-source analysis as part of their report drafting?], set up a national counter foreign interference co-ordinator, as Australia has done, and establish a financial crimes agency to handle sophisticated digital crimes and money laundering [see this post, note one on hapless RCMP listed at end: “PM Trudeau’s Government vs Financial Crime/Money Laundering: “Kid- Glove Treatment”].

Parliamentarians should be given more classified briefings on files such as foreign interference operations, and cabinet should set up a national security committee, chaired by the Prime Minister. The report also recommends that the intelligence assessment secretariat in the Privy Council Office be merged with CSIS’s Terrorism Assessment Centre under the Prime Minister’s national security and intelligence adviser…

Follow Robert Fife on Twitter: @RobertFife

Whole lot of sensible and serious things to consider. But such matters are just not the, er, bag of progressive PM Trudeau and his ministers (nor of our chattering class). But one can hope.

Tweet by a co-chair of the task force:

Quite the group:

Task Force Members

Thomas Juneau – Co-chair, Associate Professor, GSPIA

Vincent Rigby – Co-chair, former National Security and Intelligence Advisor to the Prime Minister; Senior Fellow, Norman Paterson School of Public and International Affairs, Carleton University

Margaret Bloodworth – Honorary Senior Fellow, GSPIA, former National Security Advisor to the Prime Minister and former Deputy Minister of National Defence

Kerry Buck – Senior Fellow, GSPIA; former Ambassador to NATO

Madelaine Drohan – Senior Fellow, GSPIA; former Economist correspondent in Canada

Ward Elcock – Senior Fellow, GSPIA; former Director of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service and former Deputy Minister of National Defence

Richard Fadden – Senior Fellow, GSPIA; former National Security Advisor to the Prime Minister, former Director of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service and former Deputy Minister of National Defence

Masud Husain – Senior Fellow, GSPIA; former Ambassador to the United Arab Emirates and Special Envoy to the Organization of Islamic Cooperation

Daniel Jean – Senior Fellow, GSPIA; former National Security Advisor to the Prime Minister and former Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs

Margaret McCuaig-Johnston – Senior Fellow, GSPIA; former Executive Vice-President of the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council

John McNee – Senior Fellow, GSPIA; former Ambassador to the United Nations

Roland Paris –Director, GSPIA; former Senior Advisor on Global Affairs and Defence to the Prime Minister

Morris Rosenberg – Senior Fellow, GSPIA; former Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs

Nada Semaan – Senior Fellow, GSPIA; former Director and Chief Executive Officer of FINTRAC

Research Assistant: Fernando Aguilar

Mark Collins

Twitter: @mark3ds