I have in past weeks focused attention on the political talk show “Evening with Vladimir Solovyov,” calling it the best of its kind on Russian state television and a good indicator of the thinking of Russia’s political elites. However, it is time to admit that in terms of overall quality of presentation, level of invited panelists and screening of videos of topical developments in the West to inform the panelist discussion, Solovyov is now being outdone by Vyacheslav Nikonov’s “Great Game” talk show.
“The Great Game” in the past featured live discussion with its anchor in Washington, director of the National Interest think tank , Dmitry Simes. Now Simes is a rare guest, and the panel format more closely resembles that of other political talk shows, with the following notable qualification: the host, Nikonov, is an unusually gifted moderator, who does not impose his views on the panel and brings out the best from his panelists. Nikonov is a leading member of the Russian parliament from the ruling United Russia party, and has broad experience running parliamentary committees. As the grandson of Bolshevik revolutionary Molotov, he happens also to be a member of the hereditary ruling clans and practices ‘noblesse oblige’ in his public service work.
It bears mention that alongside the Solovyov show and the widely viewed Sixty Minutes talk show of Yevgeny Popov and Olga Skabeyeva, ‘The Great Game’ has evolved from a once or twice weekly event to a virtually daily affair, indeed with a couple of afternoon and evening time slots as justified by fast moving current events.
Notwithstanding the foregoing, Vladimir Solovyov has at least one advantage making it worthwhile to tune in. To my knowledge, he is the only host to go outside the usual circuit of ‘talking heads’ from universities, think tanks and the Duma. Solovyov regularly feature a bona fide top manager in the arts who rubs shoulders daily with the ‘creative classes’ and shares with the audience what he hears from them. I have in mind Mosfilm general director Karen Shakhnazarov.
Over the course of the past six weeks, I have several times pointed to the changing mood of Shakhnazarov with respect to the ‘special military operation in Ukraine.’ At first he was buoyant, then he was fearful that the operation was going badly and running out of control, and finally he appeared to be ‘all in,’ looking for ways for Russia to win decisively and quickly.
Last night, we heard from yet another mood swing. I bring it to the attention of readers, because it has great relevance to the current complete passivity of our general public in the face of some very peculiar policy decisions with respect to Russia being made at the highest levels in the USA and in Europe, with zero public consultation so far.
To be specific, Shakhnazarov expressed amazement and deep worry that Western leaders have literally ‘lost their minds’ by pursuing measures to destabilize Russia in the hope of precipitating the overthrow of Vladimir Putin and maybe even the disintegration of Russia in a way similar to the dissolution of the USSR in late 1991. Shakhnazarov remarked that total absence of common or any other sense in Joe Biden is to be expected because of his health (read: senility). But his jaw dropped when he heard that the Chancellor of Germany, Olaf Scholz, declared a couple of days ago that “Russia must not be allowed to win this war!” Where are his brains? Shakhnazarov asked rhetorically.
The point of Shakhnazarov’s reasoning is as follows: Russia is the world’s leading power in terms of nuclear arms. An overthrow of Putin would lead to chaos, and very likely to genuine radicals assuming power. Their aggressive inclinations for policy to the West would be underpinned by the vast majority of the Russian population, which, in Shakhnazarov’s view, is now overcome with pure hatred for the West brought on by the sanctions, by the rampant Russophobia that is now public policy in Europe and the USA. If the conflict should escalate to use of tactical nuclear missiles and beyond, then Russia would no longer limit its strikes to military installations but will happily target all capitals and population centers in Europe and, we may assume, in North America. In a word, Shakhnazarov equates destabilization of Russia with nuclear Armageddon.
I repeat, these are the fears of a highly responsible and publicly visible Russian general manager in the arts. Is anybody in the West with comparable standing even beginning to imagine the coming catastrophe let alone speak out about it?
Before closing, I redirect attention to a major newsworthy development in Russia yesterday afternoon which even our Western media have reported on this morning: the test launch of Russia’s new Sarmat ICBM, which sets new records for speed, distance, destructive force of its MIRV warheads and, surely most important, imperviousness to all known and projected anti-missile systems in the West. Part of the invulnerability of the Sarmat is a function of its range, which extends to every point on planet Earth. Sarmat’s trajectory can be set as best suits its undetectability. For example, it can hit the USA by approach via the South Pole, thereby evading American tracking systems, which look to attack from the Northwest. The Sarmat’s 7 or 15 nuclear warheads can each also evade ABM systems and head for target at hypersonic speeds.
Starting in September, the Sarmat will be installed in silos till now housing the world’s most powerful ICBM, the Voevoda, which will be gradually retired and redeployed as launchers for commercial satellites.
In his words of congratulations to the designers, project developers, and manufacturers of the Sarmat, President Putin stressed the importance of the new armaments as Russia’s dissuasion directed against those in the West who would threaten the country militarily. Is anybody listening?
©Gilbert Doctorow, 2022
26 thoughts on ““They must be out of their minds”: how the Collective West is stumbling towards nuclear Armageddon”
Tis a game of chicken…. cross the nuclear divide
No, very few in the US and EU are listening. They’re so consumed with rage that somebody had the audacity no just to say “no” to them, but to actively resist, that they’ve lost their minds.
Dutch ULeiden professor Rob de Wijk cannot laugh with Russian “hysteria”, see https://twitter.com/robdewijk/status/1517105642800041985?s=20&t=aggekDvUmUAuuCuqNgqfLQ
Fyi: I published a critical review of one of his books, see https://geopolitiekincontext.wordpress.com/2021/04/19/eu-supermacht-of-ondergeschikt-aan-grote-mogendheden/
I think the question is not “Is anyone listening”, but is there anyone to talk to in the first place? Honestly it feels like the collective west is on autopilot, sleepwalking into …well…who knows exactly what? But nothing good.
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The zeitgeist in America is that Russia has been shown to be a paper tiger militarily, and that Putin has backed down every single time that the NATO countries escalated weapons deliveries. Given that Putin has not responded at all, zero, to western escalations, there is a firm belief that nuclear escalation by him is simply not a possibility.
Even hypothetically, before any use of tactical nukes, Putin would first conventionally strike weapons depots in Poland, send weapons to Iran, cut off gas to Europe, etc. He has done absolutely nothing, there is no fear of him using nuclear weapons at this point.
The thinking now is that Ukraine might actually win. Not only preserve its existence as a state, but actually win a military victory against Russia. There has still not been large Russian offensive in Donbas, there is no closed “cauldron”, and thinking is growing that Russia simply does not have the number of troops to win in Ukraine, and for whatever reason Putin is incapable of changing the calculus. It is now about 2 months into this invasion, and eventually the excuses run out.
Sean– I believe such thinking, that Ukraine might actually win, is wrong. So there is hope that people will come to understand how wrong the conventional wisdom is.
Really, you seem to be believe this yourself, even as Russian soldiers leaving Mariupol celebrate while driving their tanks to the next battle, while Ukrainian soldiers smuggle out videos of their horrendous plight in the bowels of Azovstal. Russia is winning — they have conquered a lot of territory and are continually on the offensive.
Ukraine has fought bravely but foolishly, egged on by the US in a losing battle. This is obvious to me from the supply lines to the front. Russia can support it’s troops all across the eastern, southern, and even northern fronts without interference. Ukraine cannot supply its troops in the east without crossing over unprotected territory that is routinely bombed by the Russians.
So, Russia needs no excuses. They trapped their foes in Azovstal, captured water for Crimea, created a landbridge from Crimea to Donbass, and, above all, shown tremendous solidarity and determination to fight and win.
The fact that Russia suddenly withdrew from their first apparent objective of taking Kiev, for me, is a worrying sign. They had no reason to back down unless they are planning something much, much bigger.
That assumes they do in fact destroy the UAF army. If they fail, then it is nuke time.
The Russians never had any intention of taking Kiev. They only wanted to tie up the UAF army defending it so they couldn’t move to the Donbass and other areas that were more important to the Russians.
One of the biggest problems with the West’s analysis of the Russian operation is that the military folks are thinking in terms of what the US would do and did in the case of the Iraq “shock and awe” attack. Putin has made it clear that he wants this to be a limited operation that de-militarizes and de-nazifies Ukraine and makes a it a neutral country. Destroying the cities is not part of that plan unless absolutely necessary.
Recent interviews that Macron and Scholz gave to Il Corriere della Sera and Der Spiegel, respectively, seem to indicate that they have not lost heir minds. Scholz is even now strongly opposing the embargo on Russian gas. They both said they are making sure that the war does not escalate horizontally to include other countries. Hopefully they will succeed. On a different but related note, I would like to have your informed opinion on what one of the Russian generals, Rustam Minnekayev recently said about the objectives of this “operation”: that they will include the occupation of Southern Ukraine in order to have proximity with Transnistria ” where there have been cases of oppression of the Russian-speaking population.” It seems to me this goal would be far beyond the scope of military operation aimed at ending the conflict in Donbass.
Good question. The Russian objectives have moved along with the changes in tactics and strategy on the ground following the intitial discovery that the Ukrainian military is rock solid behind the Kiev regime and will not listen to reason and overthrow Zelensky for the sake of very modest concessions, namely foregoing NATO membership. The Russians then reevaluated what they can achieve with the very limited human resources they dedicated to this operation. They moved, step by step, to the capture of strategicallyvaluable Ukrainian territory that will greatly enhance Russia’s security on the Black and Azov Seas, save all the Russian speakers from repression under Ukrainian rule who live in areas with a Russian speaking majority, namely the full Donbas plus the southern litoral of the Black Sea. The capture of Mariupol was a major achivement in this program. Now the pushback in Donbas to the full borders of the two oblasts, now republics, as they were before the February 2014 coup d’etat, plus adjacent valuabnle territory that arguably was never Ukrainian until mandated by the Soviet government in 1921 for its political reasons in defiance of ethnic realities on the ground. Then, assuming Russian forces remain in top form, the goal will indeed be to capture Odessa, thus securing for Russia the entire Black Seas coast, That done, they are on the borders of the Transdnistria region of Moldova which has been in frozen conflict for more than a decade. Yes, the area is majority ethnic Russians. It has had maybe 10,000 Russian peacekeepers to prevent an assault by Moldova and persecution of the inhabitants of this territory. But the economic effect was devastating to the region, because the market for their mainly agricultural produce was always Russia and in the post 2014 configuration the Transdnistria was cut off from the sea and locked in between Ukraine and Moldova. Now if the Russian maximum plan succeeds, this area will again be part of the Russian market and should prosper. The net effect of these territorial changes will be to leave Ukraine as a rump state that is landlocked and considerably further from Russia than before this war, so less threatening. Surely the Russians will also impose a prohibition on this rump state joining NATO, though they may not object to its joining the EU, who will then have to put up tens of billions of euros in hymanitarian and other financial aid each year to the beggars populating this rump state.
Thank you for your informative reply. Indeed, though, this notion of a rump state populated by beggars and in smouldering ruins resonates with the concerns expressed by Zelensky and echoed in the Western media that Russia does aim at mutilating Ukraine and destroying its territorial integrity. If the plan on Transnistria materialises, then I am not sure the so-called Western hysteria is totally unjustified. There are other countries with Russian minorities or a strategic Russian border and it would then make sense that they run into the arms of NATO. I am just trying to dissolve the cognitive dissonance within myself generated by the parallel worlds of the media- Western and Russian or pro-Rissian.
Notwithstanding the romantic nationalism arguments about Slavic brothers, etc. that the Kremlin disseminates to please its domestic audience, the actual drivers of Russian policy are pure Realpolitik, and Realpolitik is not a popular PR tool anywhere in the world. Russia is about to swallow up strategic parts of Ukraine to ensure that the country can never again be used as a platform for US-UK-EU aggression against itself. As regards countries with significant minorities of Russian speakers, they exist only in the Former Soviet Union and Russia has lived with this state of affairs for 30 years without ever raising a finger to help those unfortunate people who are second class citizens or even are stateless due to the repressive policies of these post-Soviet states. Kazakhstan is a case in point. It had perhaps a 30% minority ethnic Russian population which after 1992 immediately was chased from all top positions in business, banking or civil administration. Many simply left for Russia, others remained but have been very silent because so many of them are descendants of political prisoners from the Stalinist years or people who fled the Terror and lived in Kazakhstan surreptitiously. The real problem with Russian minorities is in the Baltic States, particularly in Latvia where 40% of the population is Russian-speaking. More than 400,000 were stripped of Latvian citizenship in 1992 and very few have acquaired it since. They are stateless, banned from government service, from higher positions in the economy. Russia has looked the other way and surely will do nothing for them today. It is water over the dam. However, in none of these countries have the Russians been exposed to mob rule, to beatings, and to plain murder daily for 8 years as happened to those living in the Donbas. Enough was enough. So don’t draw any conclusions on the greater meaning of the Russian campaign in Ukraine for other countries; there is none. As for Transdnistria, the situation is very much the same as it was in the rebelling provinces of Georgia – Abkhazia and Ossetia. Nothing tragic there, just the release of a suppressed ethnic group from repression by the post Soviet lead nationality.
Well, maybe one can infer that had Ukraine not been a spearhead for NATO, then the people in Donbass would have been left to endure their sad lot. Hopefully, the emperors have been stripped of their clothes and Realpolitik will be visible to everyone, as it begins to be in Europe, or at least that is my feeling when I read media that are not BBC or Guardian. Just because I’m curious, I signed up for a series of seminars on Ukraine/Russia offered by the Department of War Studies at the institution where I lecture, King’s College London. I’m very keen to hear what they have to say.
“plus adjacent valuabnle territory that arguably was never Ukrainian”, “[then], assuming Russian forces remain in top form, the goal will indeed be to capture Odessa, thus securing for Russia the entire Black Seas coast, That done, they are on the borders of the Transdnistria region of Moldova”, “[the] net effect of these territorial changes will be to leave Ukraine as a rump state that is landlocked”,
You say it yourself but don’t draw the logical conclusion. This has nothing to do with Nazis, protecting Donbas, Nato or the imagined threat to Russia. This is an illegal, brutal neo-colonial land grab, pure and simple.
ignorant and malicious comments like yours have been systematically removed from this website. but for the sake of argument, I will respond with the logical conclusion that is beyond your grasp: the United States, through its spokesmen Jake Sullivan and Antony Blinken has in recent days taken off the mask and shown with perfect clarity that its objective in inciting and now stoking the Ukraine-Russia war has been to destroy Russia. Under these circumstances, what you call “a land grab” is perfectly justified – to remove for the next few decades any chance whatsoever that Ukraine is a forward platform for US-NATO to compromise Russian national security. We will all be very lucky if the game stops there. The all-out out hybrid warfare which the US has unleashed may well escalate after the Russians finish up with Ukraine. And it would be foolhardy of Washington and Brussels to expect that the enromous restraint shown so far by Moscow in the face of full-blown economic, informational and now a terror campagin (today’s arrest of a team of assassins plotting the murder of Russia’s most prominent journalist, Vladimir Solovyov) will last indefinitely. At a certian point the Russians will of necessity respond with kinetic war. And when that happens, we will all be recollecting today with nostalgia if not regret.
My comments are neither ignorant nor malicious, as you claim. They merely present a different perspective from yours. As a self-professed “public intellectual” I would have thought you could accept them without resorting to insult or removal. Trying to bag Odessa, for example, which is on the opposite side of the country from the Russian border, cannot reasonably be explained in terms of security concerns (not that that would be an acceptable justification anyway). It has much more to do with the Russian perception, in your words, of being “valuable territory that was arguably never Ukrainian”.
Why Odessa? To exclude entirely the possibility of a NATO naval base being established there in continuation of the pre-February NATO bases already under construction on Ukraine’s Black Sea coast. To have control over Ukrainian grain exports just as Ukraine has had control over Russian gas exports. Check-mate.
NATO weapons shipments to Ukraine are in and of themselves not a big deal. It’s fair play based on post WW2 precedent. The Soviet Union heavily supplied N Korea and N Vietnam. Soviet pilots even flew Soviet planes in both conflicts, secretly. America similarly heavily supplied Afghan rebels in the 1980s. In all three cases, these weapons shipments turned the tide against the superpower with actual troops on the ground.
The difference this time around is the openness around nato shipments. Instead of secret deliveries, each shipment is announced publicly and in great detail, with a direct statement made each time of the purpose of these shipments – to defeat and kill Russian troops. Relatively high ranking current and former politicians in nato countries actively and openly call for the overthrow of the Russian government, and the splitting up of Russia into demilitarized little countries that will never threaten the civilized world again.
This deep lack of respect, lack of fear, of Russia, is the big difference this time. Not the actual weapons deliveries themselves. There is a visceral disgust that a country seen as so low, so third world, so kleptocracatic and worthless, would dare start a war in Europe. And I think Putin just sees the weapons shipments, thinks “well we did the same thing in Vietnam”, thinks he can do some judo move of acquiring a huge amount of these weapons over time, and doesn’t react. Which fuels the lack of fear and lack of respect even further.
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