Recommended reading

by on March 4, 2014 at 12:04 am in Books, Current Affairs, History | Permalink

Anatol Lieven, Ukraine and Russia: A Fraternal Rivalry.  And here is a short essay of his on Ukraine today.

Orlando Figes, A Crimean War.

Vassily Aksyonov, The Island of Crimea, discussed here: “Written in 1979, Vassily Aksyonov’s “The Island of Crimea” imagines an alternative history (abetted by alternative geography—the Crimea is a peninsula) wherein the Russian civil war ends with the tsarist forces able to hold onto this southern scrap of the old empire. “

1 HM March 4, 2014 at 12:29 am

The Crimean War book looked interesting, but this article made me worried about the integrity of the author — anyone with more info?

2 Roy March 4, 2014 at 4:18 am

I am no fan of Figues, who is clearly ethically challenged, but Stephen Cohen is both deluded and dishonest, he is as much an apologist for Putin as he was for the Soviets. Everything he does has a very overt political angle. He made his name as a revisionist idolizer of Bukharin, if you have ever wondered why the Nation is so devoted to a Russia that doesn’t even pretend to be socialist, he is probably the reason since he is married to Katrina vanden Heuvel.

I have heard Figues book is good, but I haven’t read it.

3 Steve Sailer March 4, 2014 at 12:35 am

“And here is a short essay of his on Ukraine today.”

Very interesting. Thanks.

4 dirk March 4, 2014 at 12:55 am

Steve, for the most part you sound like an isolationist. What US foreign wars have you been in favor of? Do you think the US Revolution was a good idea?

5 Contemplationist March 4, 2014 at 11:24 am

Thanks for clearing up that ‘isolationist’ is just a slur for anti war.

6 Steve Sailer March 4, 2014 at 12:50 am

Lieven writes:

“After years of demanding that successive Ukrainian governments undertake painful reforms in order to draw nearer to the West, the West is now in a paradoxical position: If it wishes to save the new government from a Russian-backed counter-revolution, it will have to forget about any reforms that will alienate ordinary people, and instead give huge sums in aid with no strings attached. The EU has allowed the demonstrators in Kiev to believe that their actions have brought Ukraine closer to EU membership—but, if anything, this is now even further away than it was before the revolution.”

It seems like the material interests of the West and Russia should have been to collude on trade deals to not have to offer the Ukrainians too much. Instead, the Powers got into a bidding war with each other: Russia offered its friends in Ukraine $15 billion, so the West encouraged a street rebellion, but now finds its triumphant friends demanding $35 billion.

Prince Metternich would not be impressed.

7 dirk March 4, 2014 at 1:06 am

In other words: the U.S. is a high trust society that wouldn’t collude with low-trust Russians like Putin. Shame on Obama for not being a scoundrel like Putin.

When are you going to stop giving the scoundrels handjobs, Steve?

8 Frederic Mari March 4, 2014 at 5:24 am


Sorry, Steve but, for the last friggin time, the protests in Kiev were not ‘organised’ by the West. Sure, we tended to support them. And why not? Are we no longer for the freedom of people to determine their own fucking government? Are we no longer democracy loving?

And, as one protester put it, “I don’t want Ukraine to join the EU. I want to create the EU in Ukraine” i.e. I just want to be normal.

How can anyone be against that? Well, except Putin, who really just want slaves.

BTW, latest from me on the on-going conflict and Putin’s end game in Crimea:

9 Steve Sailer March 4, 2014 at 6:28 am

“Are we no longer democracy loving?”

Well, sure we are, as long as we define “democracy” as the violent overthrow of an elected government. We love that.

When Victoria Nuland boasted of the U.S. spending $5 billion in Ukraine, I’m sure she wasn’t referring to Right Sector and the other brave lads who did much of the crucial fighting last month that overthrew the elected government.

But, those are the kind of fellows — the ones who think the Heavyweight Champ Vitali Klitschko is a wimp — who tend to show up for a fight.

Similarly, there will be much celebrating in the Washington Post about America’s love of democracy when the rock-throwing forces of democracy stage a coup in Caracas.

10 Steve Sailer March 4, 2014 at 6:41 am

Here’s what happened:

According to the NYT:

“The departure of the police had been days in the making, a result of a sequence of events that began late on Wednesday with the seizing of an Interior Ministry armory in the western city of Lviv and the transportation of those weapons to the outskirts of Kiev, the capital.”

The Lvivians demonstrated that they were willing to die in gun battles to win a lot more than the hired goon riot police were willing to die.

As a way to determine who rules a country: the guys who are most willing to die for their vision of the country … well, I’ve got to respect that. But let’s not pretend the winners won an election.

11 Frederic Mari March 4, 2014 at 7:24 am

I will try to not reply further as this going round in circles.

Again, the protests were by a wide ranging cut of the population. Yanukovich was unpopular and, just like when the Orange Revolution leaders showed themselves to be corrupt and incompetent, the rejection was widespread.

It’s true that it is the younger and more radical amongst the protesters who carried the brunt of the fight. Yet, if you look at the names, the age and the city of provenance of the 70+ dead of Maidan, you will see that lots of them were in their 30s or 40s, came not just from the western part of Ukraine and certainly were not simply ‘Right Sector’ nationalists.

But I guess you’re the kind of person who would have tutut-ed the American or the French revolutionaries for throwing stones and not respecting the constitutional process of the age, yes?

12 Rahul March 4, 2014 at 9:37 am

@Frederic Mari:

What’s the general track record of revolutions. Agreed that the American & French revolution were, on net, in-spite of the bloodshed, great in the long run. But can the same thing be said of most revolutions? If not, is it possible to decide before the fact, which revolutions ought to get our support & which not?

I’m always worried revolutions leading to worse anarchy / bloodshed if things don’t work out. Trying to think what a rational leader of a third nation ought to do.

13 Frederic Mari March 4, 2014 at 11:51 am


Granted, revolutions have a poor track-record. But if the alternative of a never ending grey and miserable – but physically safe-ish life slaving for an autocrat, would you not take the risk?

Third parties should indeed be careful before meddling. Again, I find the “the west and Russia are both guilty” to be adult-sounding but actually ignoring the reality: Putin decided to take Crimea by force when he realised that the vast majority of the people of Ukraine weren’t interested in slaving away for his greater glory and the wealth of his oligarchs friends. That’s the bottom line. And the west ought to support that, while at the same time avoiding a shooting war with Russia.

14 Rahul March 4, 2014 at 2:28 pm

@Frederic Mari:

I don’t know what I’d choose. First, “physically safe-ish life slaving for an autocrat” doesn’t seem like exactly what an average Ukranian life was like. Corruption / inefficiency seems the major theme people were protesting.

Also, one must ask if a revolution / crippling protests were the only alternative to change the system. Finally, it’s likely that in spite of a revolution, things will stay somewhat “grey and miserable”

Under absolute tyranny etc. the pro-revolution choice is easy; but in other cases, not so much. Maybe, I just have an anti-revolution bias.

15 Frederic Mari March 4, 2014 at 4:14 pm


Protesting corruption, yes. And the absence of the rule of law. What I meant with ‘slaving for an autocrat’ is that, in Ukraine, money truly is vacuumed upward. So, whatever economic activity you might have created, it somehow tend to accrue to a very few people at the top of the pyramid.

It was easy for people to focus their anger on the thievery of The Family (Yanukovich, his son and their close associates) which was truly outsized for the relative short time they spent in power i.e. they were overly abrasive and open about their thieving but the problem is larger. All oligarchs are oligarchs because they set up and they profit from the existing system.

Is revolution a no-fail solution? Far from it. Was there/is there no other way? The Orange Revolution failed pathetically. One difference that was noted between the events in 2013/2014 with those of 2004 is that, in 2004, people were idealistic and full of enthusiasm. In 2014, they were grim and determined to see things through. Maybe the outcome will be the better for it?

Last side-note: What is absolute tyranny? Does the Soviet Union qualify? For the longest of times, plenty of people felt the Soviet Union was legitimate and doing fine by them. Plenty of people in the ex-Soviet bloc miss the safety and predictability of it. You can see it in movies like ‘Good Bye Lenin’. Yet, I suspect you and I would agree that it’s a pretty good case of ‘absolute tyranny’…

16 Steve Sailer March 4, 2014 at 5:41 pm

I have 19th Century Romantic-style hopes that the heroism of the street fighters of Kiev, including the far-rightists, will provide a new national legend that will help make Ukraine into a better country.

But, I could be wrong …

17 josh March 5, 2014 at 12:58 pm

“French revolutionaries for throwing stones”

I think you wrote “stones” where you meant to write “babies out of windows”. But, yeah, that was pretty awful. The French Revolution was a monstrous thing. I can’t believe you are holding it up as an example to be emulated.

18 dearieme March 4, 2014 at 7:36 am

Oh dear, their scoundrels are better than our scoundrels.

19 Damir March 4, 2014 at 12:57 am

Charles King’s Odessa: Genius and Death in the City of Dreams is a great read.

20 Damir March 4, 2014 at 1:01 am

Also, my place of employ published this relevant essay by Charles King a few years back:

21 Steve Sailer March 4, 2014 at 1:30 am

Thanks. Very informative article. King’s depiction of Sevastopol in the Crimea is as if, say, the U.S. broke up and Hawaii were assigned to the new West Coast Federation. But Sevastopol is to Russia, emotionally and culturally, as Pearl Harbor is to the United States (e.g., the Crimea, like Hawaii, is full of old Navy guys and their descendants), so it wouldn’t be surprising if a resurgent United States eventually snatched Hawaii back from the West Coast Federation.

But, what a mess …

22 Rahul March 4, 2014 at 2:58 am

That line of argument would make the British snatching back Bombay or the French snatching back New Orleans entirely unsurprising & possibly defensible too?

23 Roy March 4, 2014 at 4:30 am

Or Russia occupying Kiev…

Actually, Bombay was British longer than Sevastopol was Russian. Russian Crimea only dates back to the 1780s.

Also wouldn’t that Resurgent United States want San Francisco and Seattle back from that West Coast Confederation a lot more than they would want Honolulu?

24 dearieme March 4, 2014 at 7:33 am

No. Give Bombay back to Portugal.

25 Steve Sailer March 4, 2014 at 4:58 am

“Also wouldn’t that Resurgent United States want San Francisco and Seattle back from that West Coast Confederation a lot more than they would want Honolulu?”

If you read King’s interesting article, you see that the Soviet Navy brought large numbers of men from all over the country to the pleasant climate of Sevastopol in Crimea, many of whom wound up like it and staying after their service. Thus, the local population has limited feelings of connection to Ukraine and a lot to Russia.

If you want to play out this alternative history scenario for a shattered United States in which the rump United States is resurgent under nationalist leadership, the mainland West Coast Federation equivalent of Sevastopol that would be most likely to welcome USA military forces back would be San Diego — an old Navy town populated by conservative folks who saw it during their military service and decided to come back and settle down there.

26 Sean Kelleher March 4, 2014 at 5:32 am

I have no idea if Lieven is a quality scholar, but his analysis of the Ukraine crisis is deeply flawed. For anyone who is interested, my paragraph by paragraph rebuttal is at this link –

27 Frederic Mari March 4, 2014 at 6:11 am

+1. I posted directly on your blog but I just wanted to mention here that I thought it was a brilliant and accurate rebuttal.

28 Sean Kelleher March 4, 2014 at 6:39 am

Thanks Frederic, very kind words; I look forward to keeping up with your own analyses at the Red Banker.

29 Rahul March 4, 2014 at 9:31 am

Naive question: Why exactly was the EU try hard to get Ukraine in? What’s in this for the EU? That aid package seems mighty expensive. Plus all the labor mobility into countries already hostile to cheap eastern labor.

30 Frederic Mari March 4, 2014 at 9:39 am

They didn’t. The EU trade agreement was far from generous and Azarov (the Ukrainian PM) was saying the lack of greater help with the IMF was ‘the last straw’.

Again, Ukrainians didn’t really protest b/c of that agreement. They protested the lack of vision for a better future for Ukraine and then its willingness to use violence against protesters. Then, it did become about regime change and putting a stop to the never ending corruption and incompetence of the Yanukovich leadership.

Now, the EU might be forced to be more generous b/c it becomes about supporting democracy and all that jazz…

31 JWatts March 4, 2014 at 10:06 am

I have little too contribute to this discussion, but I wanted to say that I thought you essay makes many good points.

32 JWatts March 4, 2014 at 10:07 am

Aside: I’ll pay money for an edit feature, or even just a preview button.

33 Don Wallace March 4, 2014 at 7:32 pm

One of those tidbits we live for–the father of the US Navy, John Paul Jones, anxious for action and disappointed in the lack of payment from the US and France, allowed himself to be hired by Catherine the lead the Russian navy against the Ottoman Empire. He was defending territory seized by Russia in its war against Turkey, but also, and this is the best part, the new war was sparked by Catherine II’s annexation of the Crimea.

The war was won by Russia, but the naval side didn’t go too well for JPJ and he was blamed for all sorts of Russian incompetence and corruption. In a sense the affair also ruined his reputation, left him looking like a nervous mercenary, which was the opposite of his proven character during the Revolution.

34 Don Wallace March 4, 2014 at 8:13 pm

And now, the official Crimea-Ukraine John Paul Jones t-shirt…

35 nike air max 95 March 13, 2014 at 3:48 am

The Dalai clique has been treated coldly frequently while it is still willing to be a pawn for the U.S, it said. Over the past 60 years, the Dalai clique has colluded, taken advantage of and supported each other and internationalized the “Tibetan issue,” the article said.

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