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Showing posts from March, 2022

Alexei Navalny is a Whole Other Kind of Tough

  I had planned to re-post this essay at some point, since much of what I ascribe here to Alexei Navalny can likewise be said of Marina Ovsyannikova, the news producer who carried the “No War” sign onto Russian TV, an act of bravery and sacrifice few of us can imagine. But now Navalny has been sentenced to nine years in prison, and while this is hardly the worst of Putin’s recent atrocities, it is an atrocity nonetheless. So Navalny's story begs to be retold. I posted this a little over a year ago, a time when the nation was consumed with Covid and vaccinations, while still nursing fresh wounds from the insurrection the month before. Neither Russia nor Ukraine was on our radar. The Navalny story, and the global outrage that accompanied it, never got much traction here, but that was then. Now, I think this post has both context and perspective to offer, and is, I hope, worth another look.     Berkley MI, Feb 9, 2021 What are we to make of Alexei Navalny? Wh

The Dumbing Down of Russia Looks Painfully Familiar

On one hand, we have Putin, perfectly content to obliterate anyone in his path, with a special emphasis on pregnant women, children, and babies. On the other hand, we have the Republican right, perfectly content to obliterate anyone in its path, with a special emphasis on pregnant women, children, and babies. The difference is one of degree. Putin can make obliteration depressingly literal — he kills and maims indiscriminately, and with impunity. Republicans are — for the moment anyway — more subtle. They’re more about undermining the civil and human rights of anyone not white, male, straight, or Christian. But let’s not fool ourselves about their aspirations. The parallels between Russia and America are, at this moment, more striking — and more disturbing — than we’d like them to be. Putin is clearly showing us where Republicans want to take us, and where that path leads. He’s teaching us the ways in which the authoritarian playbook devolves into little more than a killing m

Putin’s Wild World of Unintended Consequences

He didn’t mean this to last more than a few days. Drop into Kyiv, install a new government, quick exit, no fuss. He didn’t think western sanctions would slow him down even slightly. He never considered that sheer naked aggression would bring NATO together, not fracture it. He never gave a thought to how the financial world would strangle his oligarchs, especially in “Londongrad,” where they’d been happily laundering their trillions and buying their mansions and soccer teams for twenty years, until the bottom fell out last week. And he certainly never thought Ukrainians would fight like their lives depended on it, just because their lives depended on it. But of all the consequences he never intended — and which were, let’s be honest, spectacularly stupid — there’s one that stands out, even in this sordid parade of bad choices: Vladimir Putin has exposed, and in the most glaring terms, just how weak he is. He has revealed to the world that, despite his unfortunate ability to

Putin Fouls his Own Nest

In the early nineties, in the wake of the collapse of the Soviet Union, there was a sense in the American business community that the new Russia would be a land of opportunity. Pepsi and McDonald’s famously set up shop in Moscow, and many other iconic western companies lined up to get in on the action. There were, it seemed, 140 million people emerging from many decades of economic stagnation, eager to consume the fruits of western capitalism. And consume they did, ravenously. But by 2001, when Vladimir Putin first emerged on the world stage, the results for American and other western companies were largely disappointing. Progress was absurdly slow, mostly because the Russians themselves made nothing easy. Graft has always been baked into the Russian business culture. Bribery, extortion, protection rackets, government kickbacks, property seizures, and a robust organized crime community, all do their part in keeping the playing field permanently askew. For those intrepid American

Okay, I Was Wrong About Putin (But I was in Good Company)

There were any number of longtime Russia watchers who were convinced it was all bluff. That Putin would push this lunacy to the brink, extract a few concessions from the West, then back off. I agreed with them. We were all wrong. Only the Biden administration got it right. For weeks, they were consistent — and insistent — that Putin was dead set on an all-out invasion. I didn’t give them enough credit. They said all along they knew exactly what Putin was doing, and what he was intending. They might’ve even known the timing. It wasn’t that I disputed the intelligence they were getting — and sharing with us — or that their alarmism wasn’t totally appropriate in the run-up to the invasion. It’s just that I thought they were drawing the wrong conclusion, that this elaborate military build-up made no sense from any angle. And there I was right — it still doesn’t. Yet it gets deeper and darker by the day. The intelligence community has done a remarkable thing. They’ve come out from t