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07 July 2015


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David Habakkuk

Margaret Steinfels,

I think ethnicity is one of the issues involved. It is of the nature of Ukrainian history that the there cannot be and is not a unified 'collective memory' – but rather an enormous array of divisions not only between but inside people.

So, for example, a great many outside West Ukraine, be they of Ukrainian, Russian, or mixed ethnic origins, would be the descendants of people who both suffered in the apocalypse produced by collectivisation and also fought in the Red Army.

Their attitudes to what has been in substantial measure a takeover by 'Galician' nationalists are liable to be ambivalent both ways.

A critical factor in recent events was that the promise that making a 'civilisational choice' in favour of the West would get Ukraine out of its horrendous economic and social problems gained a great deal of traction – including among younger people in the East.

However, this promise was always empty, and a critical question now is how allegiances will develop, as its emptiness becomes fully apparent.

It is not, and cannot be, properly discussed in the West, because we cannot surrender the fiction of some kind of unified Ukrainian national consciousness.

David Habakkuk


'I seems to me that today's warlords dress like metrosexuals and think they can rule the rule via PowerPoint presentations, but underneath all of that the perennial lust for power abides.'

Absolutely – I would find the description unequivocally hilarious, if it did not frighten the living daylights out of me.

What I would add is that the curious autism which Sakwa (as also Ambassador Freeman) depicts does not simply apply in relation to other societies. One has the extraordinary spectacle of warlords who will not listen to people who have an informed understanding of war.


One bearded guy trying to get served tea is news. One large apparently Russian built camp/depot to the north of Mariupol probably should also be mentioned.


One wonders if there will be a Russian offensive in August 2015 like there was last year and what we are seeing are early indicators (bearded guys showing up on one side, command and supply base on the other and reporters to cover it). Are these all guests showing up early for the late summer party?

William R. Cumming

Thanks for this info!

William R. Cumming


Margaret Steinfels

Currently making my way through "The Ukrainians: Unexpected Nation" by Andrew Wilson (English name notwithstanding, I am assuming he had a Ukrainian grandmother). Third edition published 2009 before the current outbreak.

Whoever said below this is a "geopolitical soap opera," is half right; it is also a geopolitical tragedy. The divergence of views, politics, language that must exist between those from Galicia, Ruthenia, Transcarpathia (variously parts of Poland, the A-H Empire) and those from East of the Dneiper forecasts all of the troubles (and perhaps more) that beset "Ukraine."

Wilson's book seems to be the most comprehensive in English. Do you know it? Do you have an opinion?


Cool down with the idiotic propaganda!
A handfull of defensive measures (not even recognizably "Russian") doesn't make a "probable predictable offensive"...


David, I just now noticed my typo and meant to say 'rule the world' and not 'rule the rule' though I expect you realized that.

I find this lack of "an informed understanding of war" among the warlords quite astonishing. This is a companion to the lack of interest in how the people think, and the culture within which they live, in the countries they target for regime change or other much milder forms of interference.

From a recent article at Foreign Affairs (behind paywall, but site allows 2 free articles a month if you register):

The Decline of International Studies - Why Flying Blind Is Dangerous https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/united-states/2015-06-16/decline-international-studies

October 2013, the U.S. Department of State eliminated its funding program for advanced language and cultural training on Russia and the former Soviet Union. Created in 1983 as a special appropriation by Congress, the so-called Title VIII Program had supported generations of specialists working in academia, think tanks, and the U.S. government itself. But as a State Department official told the Russian news service RIA Novosti at the time, “In this fiscal climate, it just didn’t make it.” ... The development was part of a broader trend: the scaling back of a long-term national commitment to education and research focused on international affairs.

... The rise of the United States as a global power was the product of more than merely economic and military advantages. Where the country was truly hegemonic was in its unmatched knowledge of the hidden interior of other nations: their languages and cultures, their histories and political systems, their local economies and human geographies. ...

... International affairs education and research are also part of a country’s domestic life. Democratic societies depend on having a cadre of informed professionals outside government—people in universities, think tanks, museums, and research institutes who cultivate expertise protected from the pressures of the state. Many countries can field missile launchers and float destroyers; only a few have built a Brookings Institution or a Chatham House.

... All of this points to just how important international and regional studies can be when they are adequately funded, publicly valued, and shielded from the exigencies of national security. Their chief role is not to enable the makers of foreign policy. It is rather to constrain them: to show why things will always be more complicated than they seem, how to foresee unintended consequences, and when to temper ambition with a realistic understanding of what is historically and culturally imaginable.

That last paragraph points to real problem, a point of view which I'm sure is shared by many academics and think-tankers. Our current leaders don't want to be constrained by REALITY. Like adolescents, they want what they want and they want it now. And even when they hit the brick walls of reality, they seem to think they should be able to simply walk through them if they believe enough. Sadly, many very unfortunate events will have to happen for the Borg to reassess it's assumptions and decision-making.

On the positive side, Steve Cohen's scholarship fund, an attempt to compensate for the lack of gov't funding for such studies, has finally been approved.

Group Approves Fellowship Named for Controversial Scholar of Russia http://artsbeat.blogs.nytimes.com/2015/06/26/group-approves-fellowship-named-for-controversial-scholar-of-russia/?_r=1 ]
The Association for Slavic, East European and Eurasian Studies announced this week the establishment of six annual fellowships jointly named for Stephen F. Cohen, a scholar of Russia whose sharply critical views on United States policy in the region had earned him denunciations as “Putin’s American toady” (as The New Republic put it) and worse, and his mentor Robert C. Tucker, a distinguished biographer of Stalin who died in 2010. The fellowships will support research in Russian historical studies, a field that has been hit hard by declining United States government support. … Nearly 150 scholars signed a letter in support of the proposed fellowship, saying the failure to accept the gift as offered “reeks of a censuring of public discourse” and was “a profound embarrassment.”

For those who don't have an NYT subscription, this article is also here http://russia-insider.com/en/society/group-approves-fellowship-named-controversial-scholar-russia/ri8479


LOL, any SST "opinions" on this?


Haha, good catch... talk about Freudian slip ;)

Obama was doing his classic teleprompter head swing, though with intermediary glances at his notes, so either someone "sabotaged" the teleprompter, or he didn't read it correctly and simply misspoke. After all, he was known for lots of gaffes in campaign speeches back when he first ran for prez... 57 states and all that jazz :)


After exposure on social media that the photo's were fake,

The NYT sort of kinda retracted the story,




The parallels between Carthage and today’s Western Empire are interesting; except now there is no Hannibal or War Elephants. I image this history lesson is that if you cannot conquer your enemy with proxy armies even with a brilliant general; but, instead the European Commander is General Phillip M Breedlove, one had better end the unwinnable wars, withdraw home and avoid irradiating North America into an uninhabitable desert and calling it peace.

William R. Cumming

What I always found interesting is that SOVIETOLOGISTS during the COLD WAR knew much about SOVIET MINORITY POLICIES AND ISSUES!

Hey who could guess over 100M people in S.America speak QUECHUA!


Your "probable predictable offensive" phrase is entirely your words, not mine.


Mr. Brunswick and Mr. Habakkuk, that was a joke on beards and things that may not be what we are made to suppose they are. But if no one got the joke, at least you both put it to good use. Thanks for the information and the offense. It was well taken.

(now in mumbling to myself mode): "Come on Anonymous, you idiot! Putin the Evil Overlord Invader of the World and the Duck Dynasty Guy? And you thought that would be funny?"


Waaaait a minute.
Former GOP VP Dan Quayle said they spoke Latin in Latin America.
(Perhaps he was thinking of Catholic prelates...? )

Babak Makkinejad

What cannot be surrendered in the West is the claim to Universalism of the Western Civilization.

I think in UK and in former times and among all levels of the Colonial Office, this was understood quite well.

Yes, one could end suti in India but could not do much to eradicate temple prostitution.

One could build an entirely new city called Abadan but on could not teach the Iranians how to operate the apparatus of a constitutional monarchy.

One could run an efficient government in Egypt but one could not hope that Egyptians could replicate that efficiency once given the responsibility.

Alas, so many people want to live like those on the West of Diocletian Line but cannot - at any price.

Life is tough.

Babak Makkinejad

The place to start, in my view, would be to admit that Ukraine and her various populations can never ever be Western Europeans.

That is, however attractive Western Europe might be, it is an unreachable goal for them for any length of time - regardless of how blond they are.

Margaret Steinfels

"Admit that Ukraine and her various populations can never ever be Western Europeans."

That is not what many Ukrainians seem to think. The western most parts have been part of Western Europe in the past, that is, part of Poland or Austro-Hungary. Why would they want to be part of Russia, in any of its manifestations?

Where would you draw the line?

Babak Makkinejad

Diocletian Line is where I draw the boundary.

Poland was never a Western European state: who were the Christian Doctors of Religion who had participated in and contributed to the Medieval Flowering.

Likewise in Hungary.

I think that one of the salient causes of the divergence between Eastern and Western Europe was the closing of the Platonic Academy in the sixth century; note also the earlier Christian zealotry that destroyed Pagan Reason in Alexandria 2 centuries earlier.

Reason was killed among the Orthodox and what was left of it went to the Western part of the Sassanid Persian which served as the foundation of Islamic Reason.

Evidently, this was a weakened plant that did not survive long - leaving the 4 areas of Britannia, Gaul, Italia, and Germania as the only direct inheritors of the Greek Rationalistic Tradition.

But I agree with you, too bad for Ukrainians who think they are Western Europeans.


Margret, don't pay attention to Babak's Diocletion line. Hard to tell, what his intention is with that.

Historically Europe lies West of the Ural both mountain range and river, the rest is Geo-politics over the centuries.

Notice, Babak has recently accepted Russia, I suppose contemporary Russia, into the fold of some type of lying in wait states, or almost as good as "Europe" in his Diocletian definition.

Now interestingly enough, I wouldn't be surprised if before the Romans, and thus before Marcus Aurelius Gaius Valerius Diocletianus could ever take over, that the Greek Herodotus, usually called the father of history, or historical writing, already mentioned Europe.

For Herodotus, I guess, our dear Babak, wouldn't even need to benevolently grant Russia some semi-state-on-its-way-to-become-the-same-as-Europe inside "his" Diocletian line versus Europe.

Moscow after all is not east of the Ural. And thus big, wonder, if you leave out the Romans, was always a part of Europe from the earlier Greek perspective.

David Habakkuk

Margaret Steinfels,

I regret to say that I have not read Wilson's study, or indeed the book he published last year under the title 'Ukrainian Crisis: What It Means for the West'.

My own view has long been that a great deal of post-Soviet politics can be seen as a story of, as it were, the pigs in Orwell's fable divvying up 'Animal Farm' – with sometimes a piglet who happened to be in the right place playing a starring role (Khodorkovsky). In these terms, it may very well make sense to see a key part of the story of Ukraine in recent years as being that of a pig whose greed became inordinate (Yanukovich.)

However, if Luke Harding's review of Wilson's most recent study in the 'Guardian' is any guide, he repeatedly accepts as proven contentions which really are contestable. Anyone who takes it as established fact that the sniper shootings on the Maidan were simply the work of the Berkut, or indeed that the shooting down of MH17 was the work of the separatists, really has no claim to be seriously attempting to be objective.

Moreover, these are not trivial matters: how one interprets both the flight of Yanukovich, and also events in Crimea, is critically affected by one's reading of events on the Maidan.

This is not to question the usefulness of the study. In relation to situations like Ukraine, if one is to make sense of what is going on, one often has to attempt to listen to people from different sides of the argument, even if one finds their views uncongenial. But it seems to me reasonably clear that Wilson is on a 'Ukrainian nationalist' side of the argument – just as figures like 'the Saker', 'Colonel Cassad', or Rodislav Ishchenko are on the other side.

If one wants to look for people who are at least trying to be objective, I think one does better with figures like Richard Sakwa and Nicolai Petro.

As to where Wilson's argument leads him, if Harding's summary is accurate, I think it is, to put it mildly, questionable:

'Putin's grandiose project to redeem ethnic Russians stranded by the fall of the Soviet Union continues. How much further will the Russian president go in his reshaping of the European continent? Wilson devotes a chapter to examining the next possible candidates on the Kremlin’s hit-list: Moldova, Georgia and the Baltic states. All are watching nervously to see what Moscow does next. ''The drama appears to have reached … Act Four,'' Wilson concludes. I’m not so sure. This may yet be only Act Two.'

(For the review, see http://www.theguardian.com/books/2014/nov/05/ukraine-crisis-what-it-means-for-the-west-andrew-wilson-review .)

The notion that because Putin was not prepared to see Sevastopol become a NATO base he is itching to retake Vilnius is, I think, pure fantasy.

Margaret Steinfels

Thanks for your assessment and suggestions. Have just downloaded Sakwa's book.

And glad to see someone finds "The Saker," on one side or the other!

William R. Cumming

Terrific comment David and IMO no west west that can help Eastern Ukraine!

William R. Cumming

Nation-states rest on self governance. Any evidence at any time of such in Ukrainan history [last 600 years?]!

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