Insights on Russia and the West…

**The Weakness of the Despot**
**An expert on Stalin discusses Putin, Russia, and the West.**

**By David Remnick, The New Yorker, March 11, 2022**
**An interview with Stephen Kotkin**


**What we have today in Russia is not some kind of surprise. It’s not some kind of deviation from a historical pattern. Way before NATO existed—in the nineteenth century—Russia looked like this: it had an autocrat. It had repression. It had militarism. It had suspicion of foreigners and the West. This is a Russia that we know, and it’s not a Russia that arrived yesterday or in the nineteen-nineties. It’s not a response to the actions of the West. There are internal processes in Russia that account for where we are today....**

**Russia is a remarkable civilization: in the arts, music, literature, dance, film. In every sphere, it’s a profound, remarkable place — a whole civilization, more than just a country. At the same time, Russia feels that it has a “special place” in the world, a special mission. It’s Eastern Orthodox, not Western. And it wants to stand out as a great power. Its problem has always been not this sense of self or identity but the fact that its capabilities have never matched its aspirations. It’s always in a struggle to live up to these aspirations, but it can’t, because the West has always been more powerful....**

**The West is a series of institutions and values. The West is not a geographical place. Russia is European, but not Western. Japan is Western, but not European. “Western” means rule of law, democracy, private property, open markets, respect for the individual, diversity, pluralism of opinion, and all the other freedoms that we enjoy, which we sometimes take for granted. ...** [end quote]

Western Macroeconomics relies on the rule of law, sanctity of property and contracts, and voluntary win-win negotiations without the threat of violence.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is based on an ancient model of coercion and autocracy. Private property is held at the whim of the autocrat. The autocrat is concerned with maintaining power and control, not in providing for the population. The autocrat and upper echelons become rich by expropriation and corruption.

For the cynical METARs who will respond that U.S. economy is also corrupt – stand down! There’s a qualitative difference between corruption enforced by violence and corruption that is illegal and can be exposed and punished by a free press and free courts.

It’s possible that the economic sanctions on Russia will have no effect on Putin’s decisions at all. The motivations and rationale are orthoganol. Putin wants power and geographical expansion – to recreate the Russian empire. He doesn’t care if the people are suffering – Russian autocrats never do. The people have no way to change the regime.



Fascinating and insightful post thanks Wendy. I like your use of the word “orthogonal” …

He doesn’t care if the people are suffering

I guess the West is hoping that by dis-entitling his buddies the oligarchs, they might try and influence things …

In the medium and longer term, the sanctions will also directly affect Russia’s ability to reinforce its war effort with men and materiel. The sanctions also mean that 5 years from now, Russia’s economy will be substantially smaller (and it’s army less powerful) that they would otherwise have been.


For the cynical METARs who will respond that U.S. economy is also corrupt – stand down! There’s a qualitative difference between corruption enforced by violence and corruption that is illegal and can be exposed and punished by a free press and free courts.

A few years ago, I was working in Poland. The woman I was working with had a friend who manufactured and sold natural beauty products (kind of like an early version of “The Body Shop” or “L’Occitane.” Her products were selling very well in Russia, so she set up a warehouse and distribution in Russia.

A few months later, some men showed up at the Russian entity and politely asked for 50% ownership of the business, of course for free. When she said she didn’t think it was a very good deal, they showed her pictures of her child leaving school and flat out told her there was only one answer if she didn’t want her son killed. She left Russia, left the warehouse, and never exported there again. She lost millions.

Now, for the cynical METARs, they might say this sounds like something the mafia would do. Yes, except in Russia the mafia is the government and there is no recourse. They take what they want and you can’t do anything about it and if you get murdered there will be no justice.

This is just one of the many “doing business in Russia” stories I’ve heard since moving to Europe.

Before recent events, different companies would ask us to “open a branch” in Russia to help them develop the market. My response has always been, “I won’t spend a dime of our money in Russia, and I won’t be the one traveling there.” Sometimes I’m right.


Though just occurred to me.

NBC News White House correspondent Mike Memoli discusses President Biden’s trip to Brussels next week to attend a NATO meeting and if he will also travel to Poland.

Contrary to popular opinion NATO is not a hide bound cushy job for retired Generals and have shown flexibility in the past including responding in Afghanistan and bringing crazy dictators to the world courts.

The Bosnian genocide refers to either the Srebrenica massacre or the wider crimes against humanity and ethnic cleansing campaign throughout areas controlled by the Army of Republika Srpska (VRS)[6] during the Bosnian War of 1992–1995.[7] The events in Srebrenica in 1995 included the killing of more than 8,000 Bosniak (Bosnian Muslim) men and boys, as well as the mass expulsion of another 25,000–30,000 Bosniak civilians by VRS units under the command of General Ratko Mladic.[8][9]

At one point Ukraine was on the verge of NATO membership only to have it yanked away by a very suspicious election outcome.

Chatting with my old friend yesterday who was involved in Bosnia as an intel officer. His career was ended by a near miss from Serbian artillary fire that injured his back when it knocked him off his APC while observing and documenting the source of the incoming fire. He would like to see Ukraine become an instant NATO member with 30 minutes notice to Vlad by a quick and dirty unanimous vote at the meeting.

Probably won’t happen but nice idea?