No Minister

Russia’s existential crises.

with 29 comments

This is basically a followup to the article I wrote yesterday about the US intelligence agencies proxy war against Russia, because I wanted to explore some of the larger issues surrounding that war.

That includes the idea that – while Putin’s invasion of Ukraine needs to stopped and even turned back – there’s no need to try and leverage it to get rid of Putin right now, as various fools from “President” Biden to Lindsay “There is no off-ramp” Graham have been demanding in the most bellicose terms.

There are two reasons why getting rid of Putin should not be considered an objective right now, let alone a priority.

First, because Russia’s thousand year history is of a massive, centralised, state led by a strongman “Czar”, from Czar Ivan to Czar Stalin. Putin is merely the latest and would likely be replaced by someone in his inner circles (or even the outer ones) who thinks much the same about Mother Russia, the West and Ukraine. In light of the history of such leaders back to the ancient civilisations you can bet there are already such schemers at work, thinking ahead to post-Putin days.

But the second reason is actually more sobering and, frankly, a bit sad; and it is that the Russian nation is slowly dying, war or not, and it’s this I want to focus on here, starting with a blunt statement in this article, Russia is dying out:

“One hundred and forty-six million [people] for such a vast territory is insufficient,” said Vladimir Putin at the end of last year. Russians haven’t been having enough children to replace themselves since the early Sixties. Birth rates are also stagnant in the West, but in Russia the problem is compounded by excess deaths: Russians die almost a decade earlier than Brits. Their President is clearly worried that he’s running out of subjects.

That excess deaths bit has a very nasty reference point from the 1990’s in the wake of the collapse of the USSR.

One journalist in Russia at the time wrote about how “the deaths kept piling up. People … were falling or perhaps jumping, off trains and out of windows; asphyxiating in country houses with faulty wood stoves or in apartment with jammed front door locks … drowning as a result of driving drunk into a lake … poisoning themselves with too much alcohol … dropping dead at absurdly early ages from heart attacks and strokes”. By the early years of this century, life expectancy for Russian men was on par with countries such as Madagascar and Sudan.

Over which an often drunken, shambolic President Yeltsin “ruled”. It was no surprise to many Russia watchers that Putin rose to power and promptly went after the causes of these things, to the extent that he could, starting with getting rid of the first wave of post-Soviet oligarchs who’d looted the place and replacing them with more cautious and amenable men. A must-read book on this is the 2011 work, The Oligarchs, by the former Moscow bureau chief for the Washington Post.

Unfortunately there’s not much that Putin can do, any more than can other leaders facing such demographic problems (It should be noted that here in the West it’s not even considered a problem – yet)

It’s a humiliating state of affairs because Russian power has always been built on the foundation of demography. Back in the 1830s, Alexis de Tocqueville foresaw that Russia would become a world power, because “Russia is of all the nations of the Old World the one whose population is increasing most rapidly”. The only other country with its population potential was the United States. De Tocqueville prophesised that, “Each one of them seems called by a secret design of Providence to hold in its hands one day the destinies of half the world.” A century later, they were the world’s two uncontested superpowers.

The article points to practical outcomes such as the Eastern portions of Russia – the ones right next to a resource hungry China – being steadily abandoned, as well as rural areas and small towns dying as young people flee to the cities. When it comes to the military the current demography is one of the reasons the Russians are having so many problems in the Ukraine.

Year after year, the share of recruits from the peripheral republics went up, while the share from Russia went down; in the late Eighties, three-quarters of recruits from Central Asia could not speak Russian.

It’s also worth recognising that the Russian men who fell fighting the Germans in the Forties were from families of six or seven siblings; those who fell fighting the Afghans in the Eighties were from families of two or three. Those falling now, fighting in Ukraine, are likely to be only-children or one of two siblings. The preparedness of a society to sustain military losses falls as family size falls.

That sort of fundamental problem also goes to the heart of how you design a military that allows for it. As pointed out here in The Russian Army Wasn’t Designed for War:

With the break up of the USSR, Russia no longer had access to virtually unlimited manpower supplied by Belarus, Ukraine, and other now-independent nations. It attempted to create a hybrid of the traditional Russian military where soldiers are cannon fodder with a professional Western military, including a professional corps of noncommissioned officers. They gave up on the noncommissioned officer experiment about 20 years ago and rely on commissioned officers to do all leadership and management tasks.

The problem is that the Russian armed forces are neither those of the USSR nor the West.

That article is long but has a wealth of detailed evidence on the problems with ethnic units in the Army – who are basically the cannon fodder nowadays – including a story from March that I thought was propaganda bullshit but turned out to be true; several hundred Ossetian soldiers got so pissed off with the uselessness of the Russian Army that they just up and quit, hitchhiking their way 500 miles back home, where they later got into public, video-recorded arguments with the Ossetia President Anatoly Bibilov, telling him exactly how bad it was.

No WWII Russian steamroller then, but also not a flexible, networked modern military either, as shown with other things like:

  • Abandoning their secure military comms and using captured cellphones and Ukrainian cellphone networks instead, with the associated loss of security.
  • Hopeless logistics capability, covered here in Punch It Vladdy.
  • Legal desertions by paid contractors.
  • “Training” and “Discipline” that still involves the traditional practice of dedovshchina.

As this other article (which references that first) points out, one of the real, unspoken reasons for Putin’s invasion of Ukraine may have simply been the prospect of instantly adding 40 million Russian speakers to the Motherland:

I think Russian chauvinism despises the very idea of a free and independent Ukraine, and lot of Putin decisions seem to be driven by ego. Pro-natalist policies like tax and welfare incentives seem a much better way to deal with their looming population crash than a risky invasion. But Putin makes all sorts of stupid calculations. And seeing his army’s performance in Ukraine would cause a sane man to back away from open conflict with NATO.

Yes, well, “artificial nation” and all, fits perfectly with that take. The article also references a YouTube analysis and summarises its points, of which I’ll list just three:

  • Russia has to win in Ukraine because ““The Russians see this as an existential crisis. They will fight until they can’t.This is their last chance….they will never stop until they have to, or they are forced to.
  • This is going to last months, probably years.
  • “They’ve killed at least 50,000 [Ukrainians], probably closer to 100,000.”

That last is important when you consider that Ukraine is about as bad a demographic basket case as Russia, with an even lower birthrate. The last comment in that piece also fits with yesterday’s post:

But Zeihan’s theory that the U.S. and NATO see this as a once-in-a-lifetime chance to defang Russia short of a direct conflict with NATO countries strikes me as correct.

Finally there’s yet another example of the dysfunction of Russian institutions in this story of how the GRU (Russian military intelligence) seems to be gaining influence over the FSB (the former KGB) because of FSB failures in the Ukraine – starting with their under-estimation of the ability and desire of the Ukrainian military and government to fight, as well as Western and US resolve, but also including propaganda failures from the recent past in Ukraine:

“The Kremlin’s decision to favour outgroup animosity over in-group identity building, and its vast overestimation of the extent to which its lies about non-existent Ukrainian ‘fascists’ promoted pro-Russian sentiment, are key reasons why the invasion has been a strategic and logistical disaster.”

“What identity-building propaganda I could find in Donbas after 2014 was vague, poorly conceived, and quickly forgotten. Political attempts to invoke Novorossiya [“New Russia”] were cast aside by the summer of 2015, but such weak propaganda suggests they didn’t stand much chance anyway.”

In short, too much “de-nazification” bullshit and not enough, “Why Russia is amazeballs”. FSB propaganda is not what it once was in the days of the KGB, but that’s true of the FSB across the board.

Read the whole story here, but don’t laugh too much at such things. Here in the West, we’re merely traveling down a different dysfunctional path with our various government institutions, whether in NZ, Europe or the USA.

Written by Tom Hunter

May 17, 2022 at 6:00 am

29 Responses

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  1. You start well enough including the tacit admission that the events in Ukraine are indeed a proxy war of the USA against Russia in your opening paragraph

    But it is your final link that I wish to raise your attention to

    Why Vladimir Putin’s propaganda ‘nonsense’ failed to catch on in Ukraine
    Russian president’s rampant disinformation campaign after 2014 backfired because he went about it the wrong way, says expert
    Joe Pinkstone,

    And immediately following the Headline and bylines is a very confrontational photoshopped image of Vladimir Putin portrayed as a Death Head

    That image is almost classic propaganda designed to impress upon the viewer that Putin is in someway Demonic .

    We are not talking serious critical analysis here despite the basis of the story being some “study™” by some Cambridge academic purporting to show the demonic Putin has failed or that the author of the piece is bylined as a Science correspondent

    Rather this is an example of the very thing it purports to be countering – propaganda and misinformation

    There was a mass shooting in Buffalo NY a day or two back, live streamed, The curious thing is the culprit wore the same symbol on his body armour as is found on units within the Ukrainian army, that being the “Schwarze Sonne” or “Black Sun”


    May 17, 2022 at 8:05 am

  2. Here is the thing Tom – it has become common in recent years to flick off inconvenient truths that the powers that be want swept under the rug as “Russian Disinformation™ regardless of whether it has anything to do with Russia or not

    A classic example of this might be Hunter Biden’s laptop that was kept buried for years using this slogan.

    And Hilary Clinton lost the 2016 election not because she was a horrible candidate who expressed open contempt for a large portion of the voters with her “deplorables” comment but because of Russian meddling

    The sad thing is how many still believe this nonsense


    May 17, 2022 at 8:36 am

  3. Thanks Tom I thought you started well , had a very good middle and an excellent finish.

    As for Andre’s analysis, apart from the usual criticism of the West, hasnt turned up with anything….sigh

    Perhaps Andre needs a guest post, “Whats wrong with my Homeland” on the proviso he doesnt mention the West or any conspiracy theories involving the West!

    I guess he still has relatives and family in the gulag that is Russia….Oh I think I just answered my own question.

    Democracy plus a legal system is a condition of Capitalism. (Wayne and those other liberal hive minds take note.)


    May 17, 2022 at 9:56 am

    • Rossco … Just what makes you think that WM doesn’t understand democracy which surely encompasses the free expression of thought. I guess in your world it is akin to treason to decline to sing from your song-sheet. Some might argue that liberals give capitalism a human face as opposed to the flinty eyed obsessive.

      The Veteran

      May 17, 2022 at 10:16 am

      • Yeah I guess you are probably right Vet.

        300,000 Maori living in Australia, millions trying to cross the Rio Grande, and us sitting close to 30th on the OECD richest countries list with a crap education system, a crap health system, crap roads…

        The last 30-40 years has been paved with gold as far as NZ has been concerned with our brand of Liberalism, and as for the new brand thats on its way I shudder to think what depths thats going to take us to, 40th?


        May 17, 2022 at 2:46 pm

  4. Thinking post Tom.

    The Veteran

    May 17, 2022 at 10:06 am

  5. In a few of my posts on the Ukrainian invasion I’ve pointed out the likelihood of Sweden and Finland joining NATO and it now looks like it’s going to happen:

    Finland’s government declared a “new era” is underway as it inches closer to seeking NATO membership, hours before Sweden’s governing party on Sunday backed a plan to join the trans-Atlantic alliance amid Russia’s war in Ukraine.

    The turnaround in Finland has been extraordinary, with public supporting for joining NATO going from 20% or less to 80% in the last couple of months.

    I’ve often said that Putin is a smart thug who played a weak hand well, which he has done over the last twenty years in places as far apart as Georgia and Syria. As such I expected him to do the same in Ukraine, carving out those two Eastern territories and adding them to Crimea; I think he would have got away with it if he had just done that.

    But this must surely be regarded as a catastrophic result for Russia, and it’s entirely down to Putin being a complete idiot and overplaying his hand with a full-bore invasion of Ukraine. He’s now made things worse, not better, according to his own lights as he now has more NATO nations and military forces on his borders than ever before.

    Along with the reputation of the Russian military, this invasion has also killed off any claim that Putin is smarter than his Western opponents.

    Incredibly he’s now at the mercy of Turkey, who have no love for Russia due to the Syrian situation and have been supplying Ukraine with drones, but who may use their veto power on NATO membership to at long last gain entry to the EU, where they’ve been stiffed for years by the likes of Germany and France. Tough choices for the Euros.

    Tom Hunter

    May 17, 2022 at 12:33 pm

    • That’s a very interesting proposition. Turkey gets EU. But Erdogan is almost as untethered to reality as Putin. He has pivoted away from the EU and post Brexit recognises that it would mean giving away sovereignty. The other possibility is that it exacts a heavy price from China to veto on Russian behalf. Turkish politics has many layers.
      Another great post btw

      Phil S

      May 17, 2022 at 2:59 pm

      • Yes but Erdogan is fighting is own proxy war against Russia.

        Turkey supplies the drones, The Ukrainians thin out ,if not eliminate, the Russian Black Sea fleet, and Turkey closes the Bosphorus to the Russian Navy for resupply or replacement.

        That leaves Turkey with only the Russian air force as a threat, and on present performance well…..

        For Turkey a win/win situation.


        May 17, 2022 at 5:03 pm

  6. Andrei you are part of the Russian diaspora. Demography is destiny. How does Russia reverse its almost inevitable decline? What was your reason for leaving.

    Phil S

    May 17, 2022 at 3:01 pm

  7. There is no way that 50,000 to 100,000 Russians have been killed in Ukraine. Anyone who thinks that has literally no idea of how military forces are organised. The initial invasion force was around 150,000, which is a third of the Russian Army. But of the 150,000 only about one third are actually front line combat soldiers, including armour. Maybe as high as half if much of the logistics are from fixed bases in Russia. Most of the rest of the 150,000 are logistics troops (transport, supply, vehicle and weapons maintenance, medical, etc). In the Russian Army quite a lot of combat troops are artillery and rocket forces. I am putting them above the 50,000. Then there are all sorts of headquarters, signals, intelligence. At least 10% are in these roles. Even in a battalion tactical group, no more than two thirds are actual fighting troops.
    The great majority of casualties will be in the combat troops. So the figure of 25,000 killed seems plausible, though probably at the high end.
    As for the broader issue of Russian enthusiasm for the war, if most families have 1 or 2 children, there will be a low societal tolerance for casualties. It is one thing to lose 1 of 5 children in a war, quite another if the only child is killed. This might be part of the explanation of why Russian authorities have been reticent in disclosing casualties. This factor will also hugely limit Putin’s ability to have a general mobilisation. He will be very much aware of this as a father of two children (excluding children of his mistress).
    Although the Politburo may mostly consist of cowered yes men, they will nevertheless be finding ways to suggest to Putin that there are limits to this war. Putin may fear that if the Politburo members all come to view he should go, he may not be able to resist that. His Black Sea palace may yet beckon.


    May 17, 2022 at 4:49 pm

    • There is no way that 50,000 to 100,000 Russians have been killed in Ukraine.

      Although I made it clear in the very next sentence that this is referring to Ukrainian deaths both civilian and military I’ll modify the bullet point from the original video embedded in the linked article to make that clear.

      Unlike the focus on Russian losses I haven’t seen much analysis of the hits the Ukrainians have been taking and that video does not go into any detail to back up the figures.

      Tom Hunter

      May 17, 2022 at 4:57 pm

    • And for every one killed whats the “usual” ratio of Hors d’combat due to injury ? x3 or x4 ?

      Also the fear factor, depression, sickness and hunger must be huge.

      Death comes from the sky, silently, and if you drive a BMP or tank your survivability is close to zero.
      The Ukrains are sneaky and innovative you never know where they are going to pop up or what they are going to do.

      And the campaign seems to be being fought down the roads as the Rus seem to lack cross country capability, and the U-Krains occupy the high or dead ground.

      Added to that is the Ukranians have the M777 150mm arty from USA, range 30km vs 18km for most Rus arty.

      Not looking good


      May 17, 2022 at 5:11 pm

      • Agreed. Ukraine will soon have he capability to mount a major offensive against the land bridge. And in my view, will attempt to do so in June or July. Although the Russians are demoralised for all the reasons you state, they may be effective in defence. We will see.


        May 18, 2022 at 9:08 am

      • Do you really believe that Wayne?

        There has just been a mass surrender at Azovstal and as a result of the spinning of this in the Western Media we see this tweet


        May 18, 2022 at 9:52 am

    • Wayne … that is a very thoughtful analysis … am I right in my thinking that when to were in the Army you served as an Intelligence Officer?

      The Veteran

      May 18, 2022 at 12:20 pm

  8. Now this article is fascinating as it tackles many of the same issues – but from a Chinese perspective.

    In a now-censored article, Gao Yusheng, former PRC Ambassador to the Ukraine, explains why Russia is losing the war in Ukraine and the effect that may have on the international order. Gao Yusheng’s article appeared on the website of Phoenix News on the afternoon of May 10th and was taken down within hours.

    As the author of that link points out, Gao Yusheng seems very much a Chinese patriot and likely a member of the CCP, given his long diplomatic career. He may have decided to express these thoughts because he’s concerned about China being tied to a sinking ship:

    I am sure the Chinese government is taking notes on all this as David Finkelstein wrote recently on War on the Rocks website BEIJING’S UKRAINIAN BATTLE LAB Why the Soviet Union collapsed is a important question for the Chinese Party; it certainly doesn’t want to tread in the dust 【步其后尘】bù qí hòu chén of the Soviet Party. Fear of erosion of the Party and state by corruption and fear of being overmatched by US militarty technology have been constants. Why is Russia losing would certainly be a question that a loyal Party member would want to ask too.

    Gao’s original article is re-produced at the linked site and it certainly starts with a bang:

    I. Russia’s position in the Russia-Ukraine war has became increasingly passive and unfavorable. Its coming defeat is already clear.

    The main reasons why Russia is now heading towards defeat are:….

    There follows a list of the same problems discussed here and in other No Minister posts on the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Other sections discuss the likelihood of the war intensifying in the next few weeks and what a weakened Russia means for the international order, especially with Germany and Japan (you can bet a Chinese diplomat and analyst will be concerned about that last nation).

    Tom Hunter

    May 17, 2022 at 5:11 pm

    • The CCP/PRC position WRT to Russian success in the war definitely appears to be changing. Apparently the CCP propaganda is showing less Russian news and more from Ukraine.

      A Russian defeat could work well for the CCP because that could mean that they could recover the territory that they lost to Russia during the Qing dynasty without to much trouble. That’s the land to the north of Mongolia and includes eastern Siberia. For the Japanese that means that they could recover the northern Kurile Islands and Sakhalin, especially if they were quick enough to beat the PRC to them. If that was the case, it would really put a burr in the CCP saddle.

      Paul Holland

      May 17, 2022 at 8:22 pm

    • You are being played like a fiddle Tom – if that were real it would be covered by the BBC, NYT and CNN and all the other usual suspects and would would not have its provenance on a “retired” State Department stooges personal website

      It is a low calibre psyop

      You bite because it is what you want to believe

      I don’t know how you will reconcile it when the Ukrainian Government collapses which is inevitable


      May 17, 2022 at 9:20 pm

      • It is a low calibre psyop

        You bite because it is what you want to believe

        Which might be a reasonable point except for two things.

        First, you have never once acknowledged even the slightest bullshitty aspect of the propaganda pouring out of Putin’s Kremlin that you vomit up here religiously every day.

        Second, as I have said before, when I put up the story about the moronic Venezuelan captain who sunk his warship by literally crossing paths with a German cruise ship, you were all hot for the idea that the CIA was behind it.

        So yeah, you are almost now the last person in the world that can sit there and accuse me of accepting “low calibre psyop” because it is what you want to believe. FFS, go stand in front of a mirror and say that again.

        Tom Hunter

        May 17, 2022 at 9:51 pm

      • We can all get caught out Tom – generally speaking I try to to make any claim I make independently verifiable

        Its why I have said nothing about the Canadian General allegedly captured at Azovstal – that is a wait and see

        As for the Venezuelan gunboat that has CIA written all over it – that would be another case of you fitting your preferred narrative to fit an event

        One day I will tell you how South Africa obtained oil when it was under embargo by the oil producers back in the day – funny things can happen with ships at the end of their useful life on the way to the ship breakers


        May 17, 2022 at 10:08 pm

  9. I guess this is developing into the biggest Geo/political upheaval in Europe, if not the world, since 1945.

    I guess also we are seeing the last death throes of the Russian Revolution that started in 1915 with Lenin and is reaching its nadir with Putin.

    Putin is more of a direct line to Stalin in some ways than Lenin.

    Although I guess some would argue it was in Regans time the Communist version of Russia disappeared.

    Whatever. I didnt think in my life time that I would see the death throes of an empire in name only.

    Bonaparte changed the face of Europe and even that thread is still playing out.


    Thats why I love history and its such an important part of economics. Russia is trying to have capitalism but without a democracy.


    May 17, 2022 at 10:56 pm

  10. Chuckle….:

    For months, Russian officials have warned against the two countries taking this decisive step, but now that it has actually happened, Putin appears to be doing his best to diminish the significance of the act.

    “As for the expansion of NATO, including through new members of the alliance which are Finland, Sweden — Russia has no problems with these states,” Putin said Monday at a summit of the Collective Security Treaty Organization, a military alliance composed of several post-Soviet states…

    “Expansion at the expense of these countries does not pose a direct threat to Russia,” he said.

    Wow. Amazing how these dreaded “security threats” to Russia can just magically vanish.

    Tom Hunter

    May 18, 2022 at 10:35 am

    • You didn’t finish the quote Tom

      BUT the expansion of military infrastructure within those territories will obviously call for a response and we will determine the nature of our response according to the nature of the threats created

      In “joining” NATO the Finns and Swedes would be surrendering some of their own sovereignty and self determination for zero gain

      This is all being done in unseemly haste without any public debate within the countries concerned and it may well be a case of “marry in haste, repent at leisure”

      NATO membership is an additional financial burden on the citizens of member nations and exposes them to becoming involved in conflicts of not in their own national interest ir that even conflict with their national interests

      So for example the American project in Ukraine is bringing German industry to its knees by increasing energy and raw material costs while costing them a major market for their products

      NATO exists to keep Germany down, Russia out and the USA dominant in Europe

      Of course the other interesting thing is Recep Erdoğan is threatening to veto this move. He is a loggerheads with Sweden over their support for Kurdish militants of whom there are many harbouring in Sweden

      He also has major beefs with Greece so the price to get him to change his stance will be very high

      I expect Victoria Nuland will be jetting around multiple European capitals with her cookie bag to try and swing this deal which will result in the consumption of many shit sandwiches by vassal politicians in Europe

      Russia is playing the long game – a test match not T20


      May 18, 2022 at 11:08 am

      • Some might think the Ukraine is 172/6 in the first innings in reply to Russia’s 107 all out.

        The Veteran

        May 18, 2022 at 12:24 pm

      • Some might think the moon is made of green cheese also

        And indeed we live in an age of strange beliefs, some seriously take the proposition a man can give birth as factual and get most upset at those who claim otherwise and that possession of a womb in which a child has developed means by definition that individual is a woman

        But here we are in 2022 still donning our masks while we pay for our $3.00 per litre gasoline and finding the shelf that holds our favoured coffee beans at the supermarket is entirely bare and if we could obtain them they have been subject to a 25% price rise

        Could be worse, we could be living in Sri Lanka where people are dying in food riots…


        May 18, 2022 at 2:09 pm

      • Lets enjoy a family outing to Azovstal


        May 18, 2022 at 2:21 pm

  11. The Azovstal-style narrative looks like it’s starting to crack with this amazing interview in Russian TV with retired Army Colonel, Mikhail Khodarenok:

    Tom Hunter

    May 18, 2022 at 4:45 pm

    • So? – they have intelligent debates on public policy on Russian TV, something sadly lacking in our political discourse..

      The West doesn’t do shows like that anymore TV our TV is filled with dross and propaganda


      May 18, 2022 at 7:38 pm

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