Great analysis. Best and most precise description of the crisis.

In several key aspects, situation in Russia and Ukraine was similar to former Yugoslavia. One has to wonder how will economy and politics determine destiny of Ukraine and Russia in the following years and decades.

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Not sure how to read the implications of the main thesis:

such conflicts [as they have taken place in dissolved communist federations] have nothing to do with the type internal arrangement or government, but they have a lot to do with conquest of territory, nationalism, and desire of minorities which happen to be in the “wrong” states to have their own states or to join a neighboring state

for an eventual way out of the conflict in Ukraine. Is the Donbas populated by a minority driven by a desire to join Russia? Or is Russian nationalism incompatible with the continued existence of Ukraine as such? If the latter was the case, however, would not the ‘Russian imperial reflex’ explanation be essentially correct?

The economic dimension however deserves a closer look.

The economic failure of communist regimes is presented as allowing the resurgence of nationalism in the communist world.

This raises an interesting question about the trajectory of post-communist economics. If Ukraine has been a singular economic failure in the post-communist world, Russia has arguably been an economic failure relative to the former communist countries that joined the EU.

For this reason the Russian minorities in the Baltic States are unlikely to be consumed by a desire to join Russia. When highlighting the ethnic divisions in Ukraine arch-realist Mearsheimer shows a poll, where the relative strengths of those in favour of greater integration with the EU (blue) of Russia (red) differ sharply across regions. He fails to note, however, that even in the most pro-Russian regions the ‘reds’ are weaker than the ‘blue’ (as if Democrats outnumbered Republicans even

In the reddest states). In other words, given the choice, even the pro-Russian minorities would on balance prefer staying in an Ukraine joining the EU rather than reuniting with the ‘motherland’. One is tempted to conclude that post-communist economic failure of Russia - at least relative to the former communist countries that were able to join the EU - is fanning Russian nationalism and this the root driver of the conflict, rather than ethnic divisions in Ukraine. Difficult to see a solution.

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My opinion on this:

The reason why many conflicts on are happening on Russia’s European borders (again, putting the Caucasus in the European sphere, as part of European Russia’s borders) and have an ethnic/nationalist flavor is very simple: it was what the capitalist class of the West had to work with.

Had these ethnic problems not existed, the capitalist class – represented at the geopolitical level by the USA – would have had to find another weakness to exploit in order to try to sabotage the USSR and cause problems for capitalist Russia (ex-RSFSR) from within and/or closer to their borders (if they could find).

Let’s just remember that the “soft belly theory” was created by a French philosopher in the 1970s. It was only after it caught Brzezinski’s (or another famous bigwig, don’t remember exactly who) attention that it became the CIA’s official policy, which triggered the Soviet-Afghan War. Notice that, at that point, the ethnic problem was not in the West (European) but in the South. After the fall of the USSR, Afghanistan would become the USA’s problem to solve, so the “soft belly” theory was discarded as a used condom to quickly morph into a War Against Terrorism theory (or, in George W. Bush’s terminology, a “War of Good Against Evil”). But then the focus shifted to Russia’s (not the Russian Federation, fully capitalist) European borders, as the Russian capitalist elite had just expelled the IMF and taken control of Russia’s wealth and the doctrine changed to the further expansion of NATO and the European Union (now fresh from the creation of the Euro Zone).

The recalcitrance of the Russian capitalist elite (which, it is good to remember, does not come from the Politburo/Bolshevik elite, but from the Soviet “middle class” – mostly professors from Leningrad and factory and bank “red managers”, i.e. middle managers of the Late Period USSR) after the RF’s bankruptcy in 1998, summed by the American invasion of Afghanistan in 2003, and the American/Western renewed honeymoon with China after its entrance to the WTO in 2001 suddenly turned Russia’s Asian borders calm while igniting its European borders. The only factor that explains all of those shifts is Western growing hegemony of the world’s affairs since at least late Brezhnev.

The ironic thing of this is that, if true, that would make the Bolsheviks right from the very beginning: nationalism is an intrinsically bourgeois ideological weapon. The problematic countries to Russia nowadays are the republics that, in the Early Bolshevik era, had strong bourgeoisie. Strong bourgeoisie produce strong national sentiments of unit among a certain people at least from the Second Industrial Revolution era and beyond. The nationality with the strongest bourgeoisie by far was Finland, and it immediately got its independence from the USSR (by then, just the RSFSR); the Transcaucasus had strong but not so strong bourgeoisies (an Armenian one and a Georgian one), so the Bolsheviks had some difficulty but managed to pacify and reabsorb them. White Russia had absolutely no bourgeoisie, therefore no nationalist sentiment, and was artificially created and caused no problem in the post-USSR era to the RF. Those Asian ASSRs except Chechnya (which is part of a larger, pan-Islamist identity but was also caught by CIA interference) didn’t even know what a nation-State was, and never caused any problem to the USSR/RF. I then side with Edward H. Carr on the nationalist question: nationalism was a directly proportional problem for the USSR/RF with the strength of those nations’ bourgeoisies – be them hastily created with American money or not (extrapolating from Carr). By the logic of reciprocity, those bourgeoisies see the Russian bourgeoisie as an existential threat, which may be more or less politically motivated, depending on how much dependent they are on constant funding from the American Empire (Roman style absorption of local elites).

If my opinion is correct, then, for the foreseeable future, we should expect two dominant scenarios: since it is clear by now that Russia is going to win the war against Ukraine, we have that either the USA will insist on a two-front war and collapse earlier (I’m speaking here on historical standards, so this “earlier” actually means decades at least) or it will go Byzantine and abandon its eastern front (Western Europe) and shift all of its forces and focus on the conquest of China in the western front (Pacific) – more specifically on Taiwan/Western Japan (which here in the West we call erroneously Southern Japan), case in which the USA will collapse later but decline sooner (the fall of the Eastern American Empire or the American Empire in the East; or, from the European point of view, the Fall of Europe/Second Dark Age). Either way, the Pacific Ocean will have the tendency to be the center of human affairs for the century to come: if the USA loses the Pacific, it will lose its status as a “universal” empire, just like the loss of the Balkans and Egypt did to the Byzantine Empire.

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The war in Ukraine, in my opinion, is a result of different and complex issues and so it cannot be explained by relying on one particular theory. The Russian century of humiliation and rise of Russian nationalism is of course one reason, the unequal treatment of national minorities in Ukraine (not just Russian, but also Hungarian etc.) a second reason. Then, there's the NATO expansion and Ukrainian desire to join NATO, they have this also in the Ukrainian constitution. We can name this the real-political factor. Not to talk about the complex Russo-Ukrainian history.

In my opinion, this war was inevitable, even if one could imagine a liberal democratic Russia from one's dreams. Any Russian government that cared about its sovereignty would probably act in a similar way, because even someone like Navalny in his time said that Ukrainian membership in NATO is a big no-no. My opinion is that no matter how nationalistic or imperialistic a country is, it would no go to military adventures if it was not strong enough economically or militarily (and Russia was not), unless it viewed the possible invasion only in exceptional circumstances to safeguard its own sovereignty. To illustrate my point, if Taiwan proclaimed independence with help of foreign powers 40 years ago, China despite being really weak would probably go to war over it, because this is a fundamental Chinese interest.

And the other reality is that no matter how democratic Russia would be, it would never be allowed to join the European Union or NATO because of its territorial size, population size and military potential.

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When Mao stepped onto the world stage in 1945 his country was convulsed by civil war, Russia had taken Mongolia and a piece of Xinjiang, Japan still occupied three northern provinces, Britain had taken Hong Kong, Portugal Macau, France pieces of Shanghai, Germany Tsingtao, and America dominated the opium trade.

In 1949 China was agrarian, backward, feudalistic, ignorant and violent. Of its four hundred million people, fifty-million were drug addicts, eighty percent could neither read nor write and life expectancy was thirty-five years. Peasants paid seventy percent of their produce in rent, women’s feet were bound, desperate mothers sold their children in exchange for food and poor people, preferring slavery to starvation, sold themselves. U.S. Ambassador John Leighton Stuart reported that, during his second year in China, ten million people starved to death in three provinces. The Japanese had killed twenty-million and General Chiang Kai-Shek wrote that, of every thousand youths he recruited, barely a hundred survived the march to training base.

By 1974 Mao had doubled the population, doubled life expectancy, reunited, reimagined, reformed and revitalized the largest, oldest civilization on earth, modernized it after a century of failed modernizations, liberated more women than anyone in history and ended thousands of years of famines. A strategist without peer, political innovator, he was a master geopolitician and a Confucian peasant, under crushing embargoes Mao had grown GDP by 7.3 percent annually and left the country debt-free.

Harvard’s professor of Chinese Studies, John King Fairbanks, summarized[1] his legacy: “The simple facts of Mao's career seem incredible: in a vast land of 400 million people, at age 28 with a dozen others to found a party and in the next fifty years to win power, organize, and remold the people and reshape the land–history records no greater achievement. Alexander, Caesar, Charlemagne, all the kings of Europe, Napoleon, Bismarck, Lenin–no predecessor can equal Mao Tse-tung's scope of accomplishment, for no other country was ever so ancient and so big as China. Indeed Mao's achievement is almost beyond our comprehension”. [Fairbanks, The United States and China].

Looking back through the lens of economic habits, practices, stats and reports, we can impute the scale of Mao's achievement. He's called the founder of modern China because he designed and laid the foundation on which the economy and civil society rests. In doing so, he rejected, for example, the Soviet practice of building gigantic, centralized industrial facilities in the name of 'efficiency' and instead created the most decentralized (to this day) economy on earth. And that's less than 1% of his foundational role.

These three articles examine each of Mao's most famous campaigns:




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So the fact that ultra-nationalists in Ukraine got the upper hand and started persecuting all the major minorities in Ukraine, especially Russians is of no issue. Russia is to be blamed!? Because it has power?!

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the economic failure of the communist model of development?

The failure was one of management, not ideology. There is no governance tradition in Russian society , as there is in China, whose communist model of development under Mao grew the economy faster than any, ever.

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What came first - the mafia (dictators that dictate the business environment) or the ideas about nationalism and democracy (that actually form the business climate)? What will crack and disappear forever first - the mafia or the advertised abstract ideas? Is the mafia in USA powerful enough to devide USA into truly sovereign States as it did in Eastern Europe? I know there is Californian nationalism, Washington State nationalism. They are also Californian billionaires, New Jersey billionaires, Washington D.C. billionaires that don't like eachother and will do everything to thwart the plans of the billionaires that think too much out of their own box.

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Brilliant analysis, thank you very much.

I may add 2 (well, 1.5, actually) things.

1. Russian nationalism in russia is overstated - it is very visible, but it just doesn't catch fire, like it did in Ukraine in case of Ukrainian nationalism. It might yet, ironically, fuelled by the war. Why ironically? Because

1.5 Russia is not a mono-national state. While yes, 80% of population is Russian, and it qualifies as such under UN standards, a) several key minorities live in territorial clusters (Tatars, Bashkirs, Chechens, Dagestan's various people) which makes it natural for them to jump ship if Russian nationalism flares up in earnest b) majority of Russians will just go along with wherever the active minority takes them. Which means that any serious flare up of Russian nationalism poses THE most significant risk for the integrity of the Russian Federation.

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The lack of attractiveness of the Russian economic model toward satellites and neighbours as a possible driver of Russian military expansionism is supported by the following analysis by a former governor of the Czech central bank, arguing that, for a number of reasons, Russian GDP may be substantially overestimated:


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I'm encompassing the two posts (parts I and II) in this comment. After making my arguments against all “four theories” I will lay down my own at a second comment.

Why I think each of the “four theories” are wrong:

(1) is wrong because it is simply wrong: there is no empirical evidence Ukraine is “democratic” while Russia is “autocratic”. The interesting thing to observe here is what the West really means by using those two terms: by “democracy” they really mean a decentralized system, while by “autocracy” they simply mean any centralized political system. For example: Barack Obama was nominated and elected thanks exclusively to the Chicagoan financial elite. Nobody in their right state of mind would call the process which he became the 44th POTUS democratic. Yes, the people voted on him, but it didn't choose him. The most we can tell is that his election was a democracy between the capitalist elite (i.e. an oligarchy), but not between the American people as a whole.

However, the fact that, in a moment of crisis, the Chicagoan faction of the capitalist class came up with a solution and manifested it into a candidate (Obama) makes a difference, as it indicates a decentralized system: the capitalist class doesn't have a royal family or an imperial family; instead it is a confederation of individual capitalists who fight between each other constantly and, as such, divide the spoils of the economic space (which is the geographic space modified by the bourgeoisie as the dominant class) between themselves. That is why Marxists classify capitalism as an anarchic mode of production - or, in a more pejorative sense and to differentiate it from Anarchy the far-left ideology, “bourgeois anarchy”.

The only thing that legitimizes democracy over all the other possible political system is its universality: every human being in existence can vote, and the majority of them is by definition infallible. Yes, that means real democracy doesn't exist even today, since even children, babies (including the newborn), the illiterate and the people who are in a coma should have the right to vote. Any democracy that doesn't give the absolute totality of human beings alive the right to vote is, philosophically speaking, a variation of oligarchy by definition (even if such oligarchy is the majority, because it wouldn't manifest the will of Humankind, but only of an “oligarchy” that, by pure mathematical chance, would be the majority).

That's why I prefer Gramsci definition of oriental and occidental States (centralized and decentralized, respectively), and not the liberal autocracy (and its Cold War variation, Totalitarianism) and democracy. I think that it is the scientifically more useful model.

(2) is also wrong for the simple fact it is empirically wrong: for starters, the most egregious case of Bolshevik “social engineering” as per Putin's definition was not Ukraine, but Belarus, where the White Russians didn't even want their own nation but were forced from above to have one. And, nowadays, year 2022 CE, Belarus not only is not a problem to Russia, but probably its most loyal and secure ally. Putin's “Bolshevik social engineering theory”/“Lenin's time bomb theory”, therefore, doesn't explain the success case of Belarus – which is even more artificial than Ukraine if we use the ethnic definition for a nation-State. It also doesn't explain why the minor ASSRs – specially those of the east – plus the Asian ex-SSRs are firm and majorly non-problematical allies of Russia, as they are as artificial as Ukraine in the ethnic sense.

But the major fault of the “Bolshevik social engineering theory”/“Lenin's time bomb theory” is that it ignores one obvious geographic feature of the RF's border problems: 99% of them (if not 100%) are in its European/Western borders (for geopolitical purposes, the Caucasus is part of the Western border, as we're assuming the ethnic concept of nation-State is correct). In my opinion, this is intentional by Putin, but I'll explain my case when I lay my own opinion, at the end of this comment.

(3) is wrong for the same logical reason as (2) – just change the ethnic motive for the democratic motive. Again, it doesn’t explain the cases of the Asian SSRs, and it certainly doesn’t explain why most of the ASSRs stayed with Russia.

(4) comes closer to the truth, but is still incomplete and still lacks more erudition and study.

It’s main problem is that it doesn’t explain why the restoration of capitalism in the USSR space did not bring the instant material prosperity most expected: after all, if socialism was the problem and capitalism was the solution, then the quick fall of socialism and the quick installation of capitalism (at breakneck speed, thanks to the IMF’s “Shock Therapy” doctrine) should have brought the correspondent quick and big economic boom to the totality of the ex-USSR newly formed capitalist republics – be they “democratic” or not.

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The USSR whatever its advertised structure, was an empire and Ukraine was one of its colonies - acquired by Catherine the Great. The present war is an anti-colonial war. It occurred because Russia is trying to regain its empire, as France tried in Indo-China in 1950s. Theory 2 is correct.

The USSR provided a sort of legitimacy to nationalist ideas, but they existed for hundreds of years before that. Starting at 1989, as Theory 4 does, elides too much history.

Communism was a vehicle that Vietnamese nationalism used, and no doubt it motivated many Viet Minh fighters. Likewise Ukrainians now fight for democracy (and even the EU) as an expression of their nationalist aspirations. Democratic ideas are important, and only Theory 1 mentions them.

So Theory 2 should surely stand as the jumping off point, not Theory 3, and Theory 1 is right to mention democracy.

Historically it is not easy to mark Ukraine on a map. Has Ukrainian nationalism has actually been supplied definite borders by the Russian incursion? British India broke up not on nationalist lines but religious ones - did the British Empire actually create the Indian nation?

Thank you for a very interesting analysis.

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The economic-basis argument the author makes seems a little odd to me. If Russia was so much more successful economically than independent Ukraine (relatively, not in world terms), then how does economics support a motivation for Putin's present invasion of Ukraine?

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Comments from an interested and not totally uninformed amateur.

Back to Part 1: The Maidan revolution was a revolt against a "legitimately" elected government? What kind of Russian English on the cue ball led to Yanukovych's election? Surely he was a Putin wingman, and his "subjects" wanted no part of Putin's program. So they revolted. Maybe the concept of legitimacy needs some deeper examination.

And the other countries that opted out of the post-Soviet "influence" sphere . . . most of them had experienced Russian domination off and on for decades to centuries and wanted no further part of it . . . so they ran to get under the NATO umbrella. Nationalism or just a desire to not be subjected to a certain continuation of the ruthless rule of Soviet Russia. Nationalism or personal protection on a communal scale? RIP John Mearsheimer.

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