No Surrender, No Peace

Two days ago, Sergei Lavrov told Russian state media that Ukraine should surrender for its own good.

The goals of Vladimir Putin’s “special military operation” are “well-known,” he said, during remarks to TASS. “The enemy,” he went on, should “fulfill them for [its] own good. Otherwise the issue will be decided by the Russian army.”

Lavrov’s comments were laughable. Or as laughable as remarks can be in this context. For one thing, Putin’s goals aren’t well-known, likely not even to him. Sure, the original idea was probably just to seize the capital and install a Yanukovych-style puppet government, thereby ending the long-running tug-of-war for Russia’s notoriously corrupt neighbor and extinguishing Kyiv’s NATO ambitions in the process. But 10 months and more than 100,000 Russian combat deaths later, the Kremlin’s ambitions may be confined to holding separatist territory in the Donbas and winning concessions around that territory from Ukraine. Such concessions aren’t forthcoming, though.

Other than that, it still isn’t clear what Putin hoped to achieve from pursuing what I’ve variously described as a genocidal, imperialist fever dream brought on by a paranoid, late-life identity crisis. Note that Putin’s manifestly absurd “de-Nazification” rationale didn’t even originate with the Kremlin. It came from inside Putin’s propaganda echo chamber. Here’s the backstory, as told by Masha Gessen:

On February 12th, Maria Baronova, a former opposition activist who went to work for RT’s Russian-language service in 2019, wrote a long, unhinged post on her personal Telegram channel, arguing that nato and its allies should be “de-Nazified.” She soon heard from a senior editor who praised her post and encouraged her to write more like it. Twelve days later, Putin announced the beginning of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and declared that its goal was the “demilitarization and de-Nazification of Ukraine.” Baronova couldn’t find an instance of the term “de-Nazification” being used by Russians (not in reference to Germany) that preceded her Telegram post. The propaganda machine had been calling Ukrainians Nazis for years, but this word was novel; it had come to her following a fight with a Russian-speaking friend in the United States. “I pulled it out of my ass for that post,” she told me. “And then, when they were scraping together verbiage for Putin’s speech, they picked it up.”

You might be inclined to suggest Baronova was flattering herself, but I can assure you that isn’t the case. That excerpt from Gessen describes precisely how Putin’s propaganda machine functions, and not just domestically.

In their coverage, RT and Sputnik routinely incorporate sympathetic buzzwords, verbiage and even entire narrative lines from English-language web portals and social media, as well as soundbites from government officials and public figures outside of Russia. Often, the hope is that the original source will then turn around and cite that coverage in subsequent writings and remarks, closing the self-referential confirmation bias loop, which then spins at warp speed to the detriment of Westerners’ sanity. That’s how it works. It’s so effective that even Putin himself now seems lost in it, unable to discern fact from fiction, a state of affairs complicated by the military’s reluctance to deliver bad news. (Would you want to tell a 70-year-old, homicidal KGB agent that things aren’t going as planned in a war he views as existential?)

Coming back to Lavrov, the contention that the Russian military will “decide” the outcome in Ukraine is incongruous with the reality on the ground. Putin’s army didn’t “decide” not to capture Kyiv, they failed trying. The same goes for all the cities and territory they abandoned in the face of the advancing Ukrainian military. They also didn’t “decide” to recreate World War I along a 600-mile front line that’s now home to literal trench warfare and other ghastly anachronisms.

Fast forward to Thursday, and Lavrov spoke again to state media, this time to say Russia won’t surrender. Putin, who last week said he was open to negotiations, suddenly isn’t amenable to peace talks, or at least not if that means ceding the Donbas or paying reparations. To be fair, Putin didn’t say what terms he was willing to negotiate, only that he wasn’t the obstacle to talks. Kyiv wants a tribunal for Putin, who the international community by and large considers to be a war criminal. (Please, spare me the protestations on that point. Iran’s opinion on the matter doesn’t count, China isn’t exactly an impartial observer and contrary to the Kremlin’s artful wielding of non sequiturs, George W. Bush’s tragically ill-advised misadventures in Iraq aren’t somehow exculpatory for Moscow.)

As Lavrov was regaling RIA Novosti today, Russia launched nearly six-dozen cruise missiles targeting, in part, civilian infrastructure. All 16 aimed at Kyiv were intercepted, as were most of the projectiles, fired from strategic bombers and The Black Sea Fleet, which I continue to believe won’t make it through this conflict intact.

Do note: Those missiles aren’t cheap and they aren’t free. Each one shot down by Ukraine represents a senseless waste of money and scarce resources. I hope everyday Russians, even those brainwashed into supporting this murderous boondoggle, understand that.

I also hope Westerners who, for whatever reason, are receptive to Kremlin counter-narrative, understand what these missile volleys really are. Russia is firing cruise missiles at civilians, sometimes in a manner that looks almost entirely indiscriminate. The optics around that aren’t great, and Russia will be held to account.

Maybe you’re a reader who prefers not to take sides, and thereby doesn’t appreciate my avowedly anti-Kremlin line. If that’s you, consider the following cold, completely unbiased assessment. Global trade and commerce isn’t denominated in rubles. Nations all around the world don’t depend on Russia for security and financial assistance. Russia doesn’t control the world’s multilateral institutions. Unjust as this most assuredly is, the US generally gets a pass when it screws up and people die. Russia will be afforded no such leeway when this is over. History is written by the victors, after all, and the Soviet Union didn’t win the Cold War.

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba called Thursday’s missile salvo “senseless barbarism.” “There can be no ‘neutrality’ in the face of such mass war crimes,” he chided. “Pretending to be ‘neutral’ equals taking Russia’s side.”


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12 thoughts on “No Surrender, No Peace

  1. The Soviet Union didn’t win the Cold War, and it didn’t win WWII (contrary to a lot of revisionist historical takes); American armaments (the Arsenal of Democracy) won that conflict for the West.

      1. Nuance is inconvenient, isn’t it?

        Back in WW-II, the Germans sought to lure support from people in Ukraine with the promise of independence from the Soviet Union. Some bit. Thus the “Nazi” reference had a tiny germ of truth to it among the few people old enough to remember that. But something which happened 80 years ago is hardly a justification for the direct and indirect slaughter of civilians.

    1. I had never heard that term, my study toward and eventually into the historical strata suggests the resolved human resource and the effective organization from the time boots hit the training grounds until they were sent off to perform was the primary driver of arsenal effectiveness.

      1. The almost overnight conversion, after the attack on Pearl Harbor, of American manufacturing from production for domestic consumption to the production, in unprecedented quantities, of merchant ships, troop carriers, tanks, artillery, artillery shells, and other armaments was a signal factor in the Allies’ victory over Nazi Germany and its Axis allies. Those armaments flowed to Great Britain initially, and then the Soviet Union — a decision Churchill was vehemently opposed to. And, of course, they enabled the U.S. armed forces to fight a globe-spanning war, with decisive effectiveness, on two far-flung fronts.

  2. Unjust as this most assuredly is, the US generally gets a pass when it screws up and people die. Russia will be afforded no such leeway when this is over.

    As a French (i.e. someone who’s opinion doesn’t count) I’m glad you recognize it is only US might that allows GWB and his crew to enjoy a safe and out-of-view retirement rather than facing the Hague court.

    OTOH, it seems to me that, short of Russians overthrowing Putin and delivering him to Ukraine/the West, he too will escape fair retribution. We’re not sending in troops into a nuclear armed country for a Panama-style arrest.

    Russia itself will remain punished (as in, under sanctions) for the duration of Putin’s regime at the very least. Afterwards, it’ll depend on who takes over. Apparently, Putin is not the craziest guy in the swamps of Russian imperial dreamland…

  3. From Newsweek: Serhiy Haidai, governor of the Russian-occupied Luhansk region, said on his Telegram channel on Monday that thousands of Russian troops had died in the battle for Bakhmut, echoing a similar assessment by the Institute for the Study of War (ISW).

    Meanwhile, a Wagner Group twitter feed includes a video of soldiers in an empty encampment outside of Bakhmut, expressing vigorous complaints to Russian military leadership, laced with profanity, noting they have no shells for artillery.

    I am a cheerleader for the Ukrainians in this fight. But the Russians are incompetent and compulsive aggressors. They deserve to lose the war. And being mindless killers and sore losers, the Russians will, to the extent they can, destroy the entire country of Ukraine in the process, including the Ukrainian way of life, and the ability of the Ukrainians to manage even one day of collective existence. Plain and simple, the Russian way is to subdue any shred of individualism. Just my opinion, but I think they’re leadership is sick, as in paranoid and psychopathic.

  4. this reader would not be heartbroken should Putin succumb to “Tall Building Syndrome” that is running rampant in Russia these days…

  5. Russia has been at war with the west for the last 40 years, and many people/politicians have just woken up to this. Sauron and his orcs are in plain sight and I sincerely hope the goons who control Russia get crushed soon. The Ukranians have done the west a massive favour, and are paying a heavy price: though I am confident they will pick the orc machine apart piece by piece

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