On the alleged responsibility of the entire Russian people for the war in Ukraine

by Chris Bertram on December 30, 2022

A few days ago, I tooted at Mastodon about a Christmas message I’d had from a Russian friend. I intended my post to convey something hopeful about peace and reconciliation, but got immediate pushback from someone who asked why, if there are are some good Russians, they haven’t stopped the war. Meanwhile, over on Elon’s death site, the theme of holding Russians collectively responsible for the war seemed to be gathering momentum with vehement assertions that this isn’t just “Putin’s war” but one backed by “the Russian people”. I think claims such as these, particularly in their maximal forms are absurd, and become all the more absurd when the alleged collective responsiblity of “the Russian people” is extended to an attitude of hostility and blaming towards individuals, simply because they hold Russian nationality. And many members of “the Russian people” are, after all, children. Yet in rejecting such absurdities, I also want to leave room for those Russians who feel their own responsbility keenly and who feel shame at the Russian government’s actions and who want to take responsibility by resisting, in great or small ways, what that government is doing.

One obvious point to make is that Russia is not a democracy and that Russian citizens have no effective means to restrain their government, even if they wanted to. Rather, they live under a tyranny, quick to mete out savage punishments to its opponents, and where public opinion is partly shaped by relentless nationalistic propaganda. In this light, one might think of ordinary Russians as being among the victims of the regime, even though there are others, most notably Ukrainians, who are suffering much more at its hands. During the Soviet era, it is worth noting, Western governments were keen to frame ordinary Soviet citizens as victims of dictatorship rather than holding them individually or collectively responsible, but this approach has been abandoned in some reponses to the war, including by Baltic politicians who refuse to accept that Russians who refuse to fight for Putin are legitimate refugees.

Yesterday, I watched the powerful new Netflix adaptation of All Quiet on the Western Front and its horrible portrayal of the violence of war. The Germans it focuses on are not conscripts but enthusiastic volunteers and keen nationalists (as were many of their counterparts on the Allied side). But as teenagers are fed into the meat grinder of the trenches, we sympathise with them as we see young lives that might have achieved so much being wasted in the mud. Many of Putin’s troops are young conscripts, some are volunteers. Many will have minds perverted by Great Russian nationalist ideology, just as many in the West now have their thinking warped by MAGA and variants of supremacism. Some will commit terrible crimes for which they should be brought to trial, but many will either have their bodies blown apart by projectiles or will survive, but permanently damaged as human beings by what they have experienced. Of all the Russian citizens apart from the government and its propagandists, they may be among the most responsible. And yet they are as much and as little responsible as those naive German teen volunteers of just over a century ago.

Though I’m tempted just to leave it there, a little more needs to be said. There are ordinary Russians who have risked the liberty and faced mistreatment because they have demonstrated or signed petitions, and some who have gone further such as soldiers who have refused to fight. Some of them would think of themselves as patriots, even nationalists, who are motivated by shame at association with a state that is committing crimes in their name. Though I think nationalism is a mistake, and would note, among other things, that most people did not choose their nationality, I do not believe that it is enough just to shrug and say that the crimes committed by a state of which one is contingently a member are none of a person’s business. After all, by working, paying taxes or just joining in the social practices that confer authority on officials, a person is inevitably implicated in the exercise of power. And there’s a duty of resistance to that power when it is employed for unjust or criminal purposes and to stand with the victims of that injustice, in this case the Ukrainian people. But though there are such duties, many ordinary Russians have the excuse that the price they would pay for acting is too high, and, after all, they also have duties to others, such as their family members who might face destitution if a parent (for example) is fired or imprisoned. (The US-resident academics tweeting loudly about how all Russians are responsible have, in many cases, I’m willing to bet, done nothing about the flagrant injustices perpetrated by the US state, even though they would face few consequences if any for protesting.)

Anger towards the peoples and culture of aggressor states, particulary when accentuated by the nationalism of their victims, has a dismal history, as anyone who thinks about the fervour of 1914 knows. Back then, in England, German residents were attacked by angry crowds and even people out walking dachshunds were abused. Since then there has been a cottage industry of academics explaining how German culture, as such, was the deep explanation for militarism and expansionism and that Hegel or Nietzsche were somehow to blame. Today we have earnest explanations of how Russians and Russian culture are at the root of what Putin’s army has done in Ukraine. But national literatures and philosophies can easily be picked over for examples of bloodthirsty chauvinism (easy to do it for the UK, France, the USA). I’m going to carry on reading Chekhov and Dostoyevsky anyway. War has to come to an end, hopefully with justice, and the desire to punish whole peoples for what their leaders have done does not result in peace and stability in the future but stores up greviance and resentment until the defeated can have another go. Punishing Germany at Versailles did not end well.



Left Outside 12.30.22 at 11:01 am

I think this is a good and necessary post. I don’t have much sympathy with widespread condemnation of the Russians even if I may have engaged in it from time to time.

But I also don’t think a study of the causes of the war and the causes of its continuation and the circumstances for its end can be ignored. Germany and Japan after WW2 were occupied and demilitarised. That demilitarisatoon had a cultural component too. Culpability for the whole Russian people is wrong, but engagement with whats gone wrong is going to be needed.


Philippe O 12.30.22 at 11:14 am

I have to disagree. Russia, as state and people, bear responsibility for Ukraine War. I agree that punishing individual Russian is a mistake. But Russia, as people, have responsibility. An organization, an identity, can and should bear responsibility for their action. Otherwise no collective action can be judged.

Russia elect Putin in democratic election, several first elections is relatively fair, Putin is not always a dictator. These is also not first time Putin invaded another country, he invaded Crimea, he invaded Georgia, all have majority support of Russian people. Also Russian invasion of Ukraine had support, or at least aquiscence of Russian people, Russia had forced Putin to reverse his program several times. Russians support Ukrainian war and Great Russia ideology, notably even opposition agree with Ukraine is part of Russia theory.

Also, Versailles didn’t punish Germany/Germans enough. Versailles is no harsher than Franco-German war, and most of payment later withdrawn. Germans clearly want rematch during WWII. Too lenient is also a mistake.


Matt 12.30.22 at 11:47 am

Thanks for posting this, Chris. I completely agree. I was sorry to see more than a bit of the attitude you decry expressed in the comments to Ingrid’s earlier post.

As some may know, my wife is Russian, and I lived in Russia for several years. (I met my then future while while living there.) We (more she than me, but still we) have done our best to keep in touch with friends there. It’s extremely disgressing. Sometimes that’s because of seeing people who had been basically good, or more than that, fall for the government line. But it’s even more so for those who have not, who are scared and sad and feel powerless. As you note, they often have children or other dependents they must support. One friend had to flee to Kazakhstan to avoid being mobilized. He had to leave his wife and three children behind, and of course they are all scared and desparate to be back together. It is of course comforting to think of one’s self that you would be a hero, but I’ll admit to having little patience or admiration for the armchair heros who are sure they would risk jail or worse for very slim odds.


Chetan Murthy 12.30.22 at 11:57 am

Big #NotAllRussians energy, Chris. And yet, what we know from liberated territories in Ukraine (and reconfirms what we know from Chechnya, Georgia and Syria) is clear: Russian soldiers are synonymous with war crimes. They rape, torture, and murder. We have never, not ONCE, heard of a Russian soldier who refused to rape and murder, who tried to stop his comrades. Never, not once.

If it were just the “regime”, then you wouldn’t see these crimes as so pervasive, would you?

Where are the mass demonstrations of Russian exiles in Europe, in support of Ukraine, in support of arming Ukraine? Anyone? Bueller? Bueller?


Raven Onthill 12.30.22 at 1:07 pm

One of the questions that has haunted me since the beginning of this war is “How is it to be ended?” And the best answer I see is “With Russia pushed back to its border, and that border guarded,” which is not a happy answer. Never forget that Russia is still a nuclear power, and in extremity may turn to weapons of mass destruction.

The Russian populace is thoroughly propagandized, and the overwhelming majority believes in this war. Russia needs a second glasnost, opening, so that its people see the truth. For Russia, if it comes out of the fugue it is in, it has to go to something else. What it had is over. No more oligarchs. Communism failed. Which means, what? The open questions of the Enlightenment remain.

The post-World War I peace was not adequate. It is not so much a matter of punishment; the German nationalists were allowed to regroup and to evade the reparations by inflating the Mark (and destroying most people’s savings, creating a disaffected population which could easily be propagandized by the Nazis.) What would a positive world peace that included Russia look like?


Matt 12.30.22 at 1:07 pm

We have never, not ONCE, heard of a Russian soldier who refused to rape and murder, who tried to stop his comrades. Never, not once.

Chetan, do you speak Russian? Do you follow the social media sources in Russian (or Ukranian) on the war? I am pretty sure the answer to these questions are “no”, but if you did, you’d have a better picture. I want to ask you to please calm down a bit, because you really don’t know as much as you think you do here.

(None of this is to minimize the horrors of the war. They are awful. But you are going well beyond what is reasonable here.)


Anca Gheaus 12.30.22 at 1:23 pm

Thanks for writing this, Chris. I think you’re right for both backward- and forward-looking reasons. As I was growing up, the prevailing belief was that war’s always, for the vast majority of people, a tragedy that they cannot prevent and whose devastation most of them can hardly mitigate. I still think that’s true, and also that holding on to this belief is a safeguard against future wars.


engels 12.30.22 at 1:30 pm

Big #NotAllRussians energy, Chris

Did #NotAll—- ever mean anything less obviously silly and pernicious than “you are refusing to treat my designated out-group (of human individuals) as a morally homogenous block of evil-doers, and you must”?


Chris 12.30.22 at 2:23 pm

As an earnest young undergraduate I went to see Die Weisse Rose with friends, all of us not knowing what to expect. We were not alone in not leaving the theatre for quite some time after the credits rolled. We sat there literally stunned into silence and a discomforting degree of introspection. On our way home, finally, I reminded my friends of a comment aimed at western commentators in general that had very recently been offered by, I think, either Natan Sharansky or Andrei Sakharov: “The question is not, whose side are you on? The question is, whose side would you be on in our situation?” I was not alone in coming away from Die Weisse Rose knowing whose side I should have bene on but now, thanks to the power of the film, quite unsure whose side I would have been on had I been in that situation, given the courage and integrity the right answer would have required.


James Landry 12.30.22 at 3:54 pm

Why should we care about the Russian people right now? The Russian population is being brutalized, but they’ve shown they as a group, either support this war, prefer to keep their heads down, or are insufficiently powerful to stop the war. Since the overriding impetus is to stop this aggressive war carried out on Ukrainian soil against the Ukrainian state and the Ukrainian people, shouldn’t we be focused on that? The Russian people have demonstrated that they are not the critical component to stopping this war, so we should instead focus on what matters: the military forces, international military and financial support for Ukraine, and changing the decision-making calculus of the Kremlin. All that has to happen to end the war is for Russia to decide to stop fighting and pull out. It’s unfortunate the Russian people are suffering while their state kidnaps, press-gangs, kills, tortures, and rapes Ukrainians, but ending the war has to be the primary concern, hopefully with “justice” as Chris Bertram says. The Kremlin just doubled down on its aims, calling for the demilitarization and denazification of Ukraine and the international acceptance of the oblasts it has failed to conquer. Until the Kremlin changes its mind or is forced to accept defeat, the war will go on.

“War is essentially an evil thing. Its consequences are not confined to the belligerent states alone, but affect the whole world. To initiate a war of aggression, therefore, is not only an international crime; it is the supreme international crime differing only from other war crimes in that it contains within itself the accumulated evil of the whole.”


J, not that one 12.30.22 at 5:23 pm

The OP seems to be basic common sense, but I don’t see the relevance of the final paragraph. Common sense tells us that we can enjoy Chekhov (if we do) regardless of contemporary Russian politics and military action. Common sense tells us that we can enjoy Dostoevsky too because he tells a roaring good story. But the argument seems to verge on denying political and social interpretations of literature – even when the author intended them. Or rather, it seems to suggest that Dostoevsky and other conservatives can criticize “the West” but we in the West can’t attribute his attitudes to anything specifically “Russian” (even though authorial intentions would support that attribution), but must restrict ourselves to some kind of “literary appreciation” lest someone call us Philistines.

I suppose there’s a Marxian option where culture isn’t an allowed concept but “liberalism” is, but that begs the question which side Dostoevsky is on. By 2022 maybe it’s time to abandon the 100-year old assumption that aesthetics is always on the left.

As for the main point of the OP, I suppose it’s more difficult to frame people as dupes when they’re talking to you and insisting their point of view is correct.


MisterMr 12.30.22 at 6:07 pm

I fully agree with the OP, and I’m surprised by some comments that say that Germany should have been punished more after WW1.
I consider this opinion very stupid and close to historical revisionism.
I’ll note that this is a way of thinking that comes from attributing too much causal explanation to culture (russians/germans/arabs etc. are always…) and too few on socioeconomic causes.
This kind of thinking is quite close to racism.


John Q 12.30.22 at 7:56 pm

The German people were punished at Versailles, but their rulers, most notably Hindenburg and Ludendorff, were not. This was, in some sense, inevitable given that the War ended (or, on a longer view, was interrupted) by an armistice rather than a surrender. The same is likely to happen this time around.


John Q 12.30.22 at 8:08 pm

Checking on my point above, it turns out that the issue of war crimes was discussed, amid agitation to “hang the Kaiser”. More interestingly, Bethmann-Hollweg offered to stand trial in the Kaiser’s place. But the military criminals (I should have added Tirpitz, who promoted unrestricted submarine warfare) were never in the frame, AFAICT.


J-D 12.30.22 at 9:54 pm

Of the two questions I set out below, Question A is of considerable immediate practical importance and deserves serious attention (the answer, to get that out of the way, is ‘No, it is not okay’). Question B doesn’t matter.

Question A (to which, I repeat, the answer is ‘No, it is not okay’) is ‘Is it okay to bully Russian people, in the street, in workplaces, in schoolyards, at borders, and elsewhere?’

Question B is ‘Do Russian people generally share in the guilt for the crimes of Vladimir Putin’s government?’

If you think the answer to Question B is ‘Yes’, why do you think it matters? It’s not as if there’s anything to be done about it, is there?


Daragh 12.30.22 at 10:04 pm

As someone with plenty of (anti-war) Russian friends, I find myself wanting to agree with the general thrust of the post I find it difficult to do so.

Firstly, despite outward appearances the Putin-regime is deeply sensitive to public opinion. The Federal Guard’s Service (FSO – the presidential bodyguard, roughly equivalent to the US Secret Service) conducts frequent, detailed public opinion surveys which both inform policy and how the regime shapes its propaganda. The regime uses narratives of aggressive, imperialist revanchism because they are highly popular among the Russian people. Putin’s approval ratings are a dubious measure, but the annexation of Crimea and the 2014 invasion were both hugely popular. It’s no surprise Navalny has been historically cagey about Crimea (Sergei Udaltsov and the left-wing opposition were enthusiasts, and are staunchly behind the current war, to the surprise of no-one familiar with the Russian left wing).

Equally the issue of the role of propaganda is complex – yes, the television puts out a constant stream of poison, but there were opposition media available before February and internet restrictions are pretty easily circumvented with a VPN. A Russian citizen who wants to know what is going on has the means to find out.

The idea that the Russian people are unable to restrain their government is partially true, but only partially. The 2018 pension reforms, and the 2005 attempt to remove non-monetary benefits for pensioners in exchange for cash payments both prompted major, sustained national protests that compelled the Kremlin to change course. Likewise, the reason the Kremlin delayed mobilisation – despite military advice to the contrary and the huge strategic costs of delay – is that Putin and his aides knew that a draft would be hugely unpopular and potentially politically destabilising. If you’re a Ukrainian, this looks a lot like Russians being willing to take the risks of protesting if their monetary interests are affected, but not to stop a genocidal war of imperial conquest.

This also applies to the issue of draft-refugees – from the Baltic perspective these are Russians who were willing to, at least, acquiesce to the regime’s crimes up until the moment it looked like they might be personally affected by them. That the people fleeing the draft tend to be relatively affluent people with means, who could have made the decision to leave at any point in the recent past also makes them less sympathetic. There are also ‘free Russian’ battalions fighting on the Ukrainian side, as well as Russians working in non-combat support roles. Lithuanians, Latvians and Estonians, all of whom have had to deal with settler-colonial populations during the Soviet-era, shouldn’t be judged too harshly for wondering if draft refugees shouldn’t just be allowed to sit out the fight.

Additionally, in Kazakhstan, Armenia and Georgia where thousands of (pre-draft) Russian exiles have fled the result has been skyrocketing rents in the major urban centres, stoking a lot of local resentment. This hasn’t been helped by the fact that many of these Russians haven’t exactly been gracious guests. While of course, #notallRussians, a significant enough proportion have been obnoxiously chauvinistic that the well has been poisoned.

We also have to take into account that plenty of Ukrainians (and Russian expats) have familial and other social ties with ethnic Russians and Russian residents and converse with them frequently. I’ve been privvy to some of these conversations and the general attitude of the Russian side is largely in line with the view that the Ukrainians are really “little Russians” who need to be brought back into the fold, at a minimum.

Finally, the Ukrainians have faced authoritarian repression in their time and responded with massive resistance, even when they were literally being stripped naked and left to freeze in forests in the middle of winter, or gunned down in the streets by security services every bit as vicious as the FSB and Rosgvardiya. In Belarus, Lukashenko constructed a far more vicious and repressive regime than Putin’s but came within a hair’s breadth of overthrow in 2020 until Russia provided police auxiliaries. Ditto the Armenians, the Georgians, the Kyrgyz and arguably the Kazakhs. For people on the receiving end of Russian imperialism the failure of the Russian people to do likewise is more than a little grating. And I do think that when the state is responsible for crimes of such magnitude there is a responsibility for the populace to resist unless, perhaps, the state is willing to use lethal force to supress protest. Russia isn’t there yet, and during other periods of mass protest (such as after Navalny’s arrest in 2021) the security services have visibly struggled and had to resort to self-defeating displays of brutality.

I agree broadly with the point that a Versailles style peace settlement would be disastrous and that Macron is right that we shouldn’t ‘humiliate’ Russia. But in many ways the Russian populace is much like the poor-white farmers of the antebellum south – hugely disadvantaged by the system themselves, but willing to support it because it puts them one or two steps up the ladder of oppression. Changing this mentality will be difficult work – potentially the work of generations. But its work that needs doing if there is going to be a Russia that isn’t inclined to aggressive predation on its neighbours.


engels 12.30.22 at 10:12 pm

Rather revealing interview with Peter Gelb, artistic director of the Metropolitan Opera, about cancelling Anna Netrebko, who has evidently filed a labour grievance:

Are we at war with [Russia] now?
The Met is, and indirectly, the U.S. is, obviously. We may not say we’re at war with them, but we are at war with them. This is more than a straw. It’s an action to annihilate a civilization, the whole people of Ukraine. What Putin is determined to do is unlike anything that has ever happened before to my knowledge or experience.


Daragh 12.30.22 at 10:54 pm

One point I forgot to add to the above is the mass deportation of Ukrainian civilians to Russian territory and, in particular, the kidnap of ca 200,000 Ukrainian orphans and their placement in Russian families for the purposes of forced Russification. Whatever way you slice it, that is direct and conscious participation in crimes against humanity, and Russian society at every level appears to have acquiesced in it.


John Q 12.30.22 at 10:57 pm

This video made by the Ukrainian defence minister, addressed to Russians facing mobilisation, addresses the question



Tim Dymond 12.31.22 at 12:43 am

On the case of Russian soldiers refusing:
‘The case of the first Russian officer charged with a felony for refusing to kill in Ukraine’


Chetan Murthy 12.31.22 at 2:09 am

I think it’s interesting that the comparison being made here is between Russia today, and Germany in WWI (in terms of culpability and punishment). When the relevant comparison ought to be with the Nazis and Germans in Nazi Germany.

Where, the evidence is crystal-clear, hardly any of the generation that lived thru that time in Germany accepted any responsibility: they viewed those times as the best of their lives. It was left to their children and grandchildren to finally be able to reckon with the past and accept responsibility. Which, to be clear, Germany has done in an admirable way, far better than the US did for its crimes of slavery and Jim Crow.


LFC 12.31.22 at 3:32 am

from the OP:

Since then [i.e., since WW1] there has been a cottage industry of academics explaining how German culture, as such, was the deep explanation for militarism and expansionism

It’s been many years since I had to study the historiography on these issues, but I did not run across this “cottage industry.” A non-exhaustive list of the preferred explanations for militarism and expansionism, with differing emphases depending on the historian, included: (1) widespread assumptions common in many European countries about the inherently competitive and social-Darwinist nature of international relations, and more generally the prevalence of nationalism, often in belligerent forms (2) the character of domestic politics in Wilhemine Germany, including the strength of particular industrial and commercial interests that benefited from an expansionist foreign policy and naval-building program (and, more generally, what one writer, whom I read later, referred to as the “cartelized” character of German politics in this period), and (3) the strength of groups such as Pan-German League. To number (1) I would add a view of war, esp among segments of the “chattering classes” in various European countries, that viewed it as an inevitable and in some sense “healthy” occurrence.

(2) and (3) have to do with the political situation in Germany at the time but not with “German culture, as such.” Now maybe there is such a strand in the reputable historiography and, if so, I’d be curious about which historians are associated with it.


bad Jim 12.31.22 at 5:24 am

It’s my impression that there wasn’t a German consensus after WWI that the nation was guilty of a crime against humanity, or even necessarily that it had been defeated fair and square. The outcome of the second war was decidedly otherwise, with reasonably satisfactory results.

(In the American Civil War, the decisive defeat of the South didn’t make as big an impression as might have been hoped. There’s a lesson here somewhere.)


Moz in Oz 12.31.22 at 7:13 am

I am reminded of some of my friends in the USA, who are able to pivot very quickly from “my country is the most democratic nation” to “I can do nothing to influence the horrible things the US leadership and military do”. By that latter standard it’s unreasonable to blame anyone in Russia except Putin.

On the other hand, while holding itself to be above international law the USA actively prosecutes people it considers war criminals and holds that US law has universal jurisdiction, from Assange to Bin Laden. Just like the Russians did with Skripal and Saudi Arabia did with Khashoggi… where do us good little democrats draw the line? And what do we do if we think our country has crossed it?

I know in Australia we happily refoul refugees, for example, and there’s evidence we murder them ourselves. That’s popular with the voters so we keep doing it. Many on the green and left sides protest this, but more … at best do not change their votes because of it. Maria’s recent post on persuasion crosses with this I think.


MisterMr 12.31.22 at 9:27 am

So, how many Muricans are we sending to the war tribunal for the Iraq invasion? Only the mayority that was for it or also the minority that was against it but failed to prevent it? And what about the people of the “coalition of the willing” countries, like Italy? Germans and French are safe.

More pratically, Ukrainians and Russians will still have to live side by side after the war ends, and it will be difficult (included for the russians).


John T 12.31.22 at 12:03 pm

I very much agree with Daragh’s view here – whilst the basics of the OP are true, and individual Russian civilians cannot be held accountable for the regime’s crimes, it is equally true that if bulk of the Russian people would oppose the war, even quietly, it would tend to stop. It is a war of choice, like the Iraq War, and such criminal enterprises are easier to give up than a total war.

Furthermore the OP doesn’t engage with the fact that Russia is a bloody imperialist menace and has been, off and on, for at least 300 years. Russian political culture is profoundly comfortable with the idea that independence is a very conditional state for any state bordering Russia, apart from China, one that can be violently withdrawn without real pretext. I don’t see how long term peace is possible with this Russia without it having some profound Germn-style self-reflection (and I say that as a Russian-speaker lover of Russian culture).

And yes, the U.S. has related psychoses, and I find it bizarre how many of those who rightly campaign day and night for the US to reflect on its past and present failings cannot see that Russia has the same illness.


Peter T 12.31.22 at 12:29 pm

I think comparisons with World War II are overdone – the Nazis were not just extreme, they were also different from the average European fascist. On World War I and ‘German’ culture, the key point is not that the German people went along (they did in all the states involved), but that the German constitutions and political processes were deliberately engineered to keep the major levers of power in the hands of the military and their conservative social allies. It was they – not ‘the Germans’ – who plunged into war and who led in committing atrocities. In this, the Kaiser is closer to Trump than Hitler – both products of fear, hatred and a sense of foreboding despair of what progress might bring.

Putin seems to me to lack any real ideology. He’s a caudillo.


oldster 12.31.22 at 12:52 pm

Of the comments to date, I found Daragh’s most instructive because it brought me new evidence that the Putin regime is sensitive to public opinion.
But I found James Landry’s to be most convincing overall: we must simply do whatever it takes to defeat the invasion and drive the invaders back behind their borders.
Russian popular opinion and the sentiments of individual Russians may be sporadically relevant to the military defeat of the Russian army, but not sufficiently relevant that we should let it distract us from the necessary work of defeating the invaders in the field.


Russophobe 12.31.22 at 1:21 pm

A very telling choice to use World War 1 as example and not WW2, where the German aggression was as unprovoked as today’s russian. And thanks to the massive pain Germans inflicted upon themselves throughtout and after the war, by allied bombings, economic collapse and occupation Germans are no longer militant imperialists. The only way for russia to be a civilised nation is for russian people to be forced to accept the collective guilt and collective consequences of their murderous invasion. Yes, their – it’s not, as many like you would like it, a “Putin’s war”.
It’s not a novel or a movie when one person has that sway over history. There are (and were before the invasion) more than a million russians in the military and various security services. Are they all Putins? There are millions of russians participating in the war and in the regime throuugh their actions, there’s over a hundred million that’s just passive, and there’s maybe a few hundred thousand that actually tried to oppose it with actions possibly a few dozen who died over it. Those proportions are strikingly different from other regimes and have been for the entirety of Putin’s rule. The largest protests never had the relative size of, for example, Belarus 2020. There were never people willing to fight like Ukrainians in Maidan.


engels 12.31.22 at 1:21 pm

Russian popular opinion and the sentiments of individual Russians may be sporadically relevant to the military defeat of the Russian army, but not sufficiently relevant that we should let it distract us from the necessary work of defeating the invaders in the field.

Not sure how many Crooked Timber commenters are in danger of being distracted by it from this necessary military work?


hix 12.31.22 at 2:36 pm

The attitude towards military conscription is quite shocking to me. It should be obvious that a) We want to support as many russians as possible getting out of the country and b) still understand that the Ukrainian constcritption regime is also inhumane and accept people would like to dodge that one aswell. Suddenly all the emancipation is gone when every man that can walk is forced into conscription but even women of perfect health are not even considered for a second.
Speaking with Ukrainians, there is no rationality left anyway, speaking Russian is evil, every tradition associated with the sovjet union is evil etc.. I Understand it very well on a psychological level, but it is no basis for what we should do. On the contrary, it is our responsability to manage, yes manage both migrant communities based on our own values and ensure adaption where values diverge too much. Not that anybody would care, in particular when peopple have computer science degrees and are white.


LFC 12.31.22 at 2:41 pm

bad Jim @23
I’m going to be blunt and un-nuanced. The notion of a “crime against humanity” did not exist in international law when WW1 occurred. The Kellogg-Briand pact purporting to outlaw war was signed in 1928. Aggressive war’s status as a “crime against humanity” doesn’t exist until the Nuremberg trials.

So even if you agree with those historians who assign the major blame for WW1 to Germany’s rulers (and historians are still arguing about this), and taking due account of the violation of Belgian neutrality etc , WW1 was not, for a variety of reasons most of which I can’t touch on here for space and time reasons, a “crime against humanity” in the way WW2 was. Thus it’s not surprising that Germans after WW1 did not think, in your words, that their “nation was guilty of a crime against humanity.”


Chris Bertram 12.31.22 at 2:43 pm

A couple of points:

  1. I wrote the OP in reaction to a wave of posts on twitter asserting the responsibility of the entire Russian people, because this seemed wrong to me. I did not write the OP in order to set out the most important things about this war, or what “we” should be doing about it, all things considered.

  2. If people want to argue, contra the OP, that all Russians are indeed blameworthy for the actions of the Russian state, it would be interesting to see the argument for that, as well as some account of who falls within its scope (Russian citizens, ethnic Russians whether citizens or not, opponents of the regime, children, etc). The fact that the Russian government is somewhat concerned with Russian public opinion does not establish anything approaching the claims that any and every member of that public is responsible for that government’s decisions, or should be liable to punishment for them.


J, not that one 12.31.22 at 3:44 pm

LFC @ 22

I assumed this refers largely to the debate about the supposed Sonderweg, which is associated with intellectual history. The Wikipedia article is poorly documented and confused (not sure how noting the continued outsized power of the Junkers amounts to a racist condemnation of “the German character” or even German culture, and the couple of facts I tried to pin down were inaccurate) but it will give you an idea.


LFC 12.31.22 at 5:17 pm

J, not that one @34

Thks, I’ll take a look at the Wikipedia entry. The Sonderweg, or “special path” if I recall the rough translation, could refer to more than one thing, but I’ll take a look.


Daragh 12.31.22 at 6:09 pm

My own additional points to add –

1) A couple of commentators here have attempted to make the ‘but America’ argument. This morning Russia unleashed a massive missile barrage against Kyiv and Mykolaiv, the latest in an ongoing onslaught against purely civilian targets and infrastructure. One of the goals of this campaign is to inflict mass suffering on the Ukrainian population during the winter months. I’m sure I don’t need to go over the systematic, deliberate murder of civilians and POWs, the forced deportations of Ukrainian citizens and kidnapping of orphaned children and policies of forced Russification in the occupied territories.

Whatever one thinks of the Iraq war (I was pretty fiercely opposed to it myself) it is obscene to compare US and allied conduct in that war with what Russia has done in Ukraine (and has been doing in bits of it since 2014).

Similarly, comparing the killing of bin Laden (a comparatively surgical operation against a mass-murdering terrorist) with the attempted assassination of Skripal (which involved using a chemical weapon in a civilian area which killed one innocent bystander and severely injured a policeman in order to send a political ‘message’) is grotesque.

Finally, I’ll note that the US has gone through the process of law to extradite Assange (who worked as an agent of the GRU to ratf*** the 2016 election) rather than luring him to an embassy under false pretences to hack him to pieces. The moral record of the US and its allies is not spotless, but pretending they’re even in the same league of monstrousness as the examples cited is less an attempt at moral sophistication than it is at obnoxious moral posturing.

2) With regard to the OP, I think Chris is setting up a strawman where assigning a general collective guilt to the Russian state means assigning guilt and punishment to literally every Russian everywhere in equal amounts*. This is clearly nonsense. However, if and when Russia is defeated in Ukraine an acceptable peace settlement will very probably involve things like monetary reparations, the surrender and trial of war criminals, the public acceptance of responsibility for the conflict and the education of the Russian citizenry on that fact, and limits on the military capabilities Russia is allowed to possess, possibly even its nuclear forces. That is, Russians will be made poorer and the state that represents them will lose vital aspects of sovereignty. This is collective punishment.

Unless Chris is prepared to argue Russia should bear no financial responsibility for rebuilding Ukraine, and that war criminals should be allowed to walk free and promote a revanchist narrative in a rearmed Russian state, then I don’t see how he can avoid accepting the logic of a degree of collective responsibility and therefore collective punishment for the war.

3) While the OP references draft refugees Chris hasn’t returned to the point. Nevertheless I think it is worth reiterating – from the perspective of the Balts (and the Armenians, Georgians, Kazakhs and Kyrgyz) these are Russians who were happy to acquiesce in the regime’s crimes up until the point that their skin was being placed in the game. It’s also telling that aside from some demonstrative hassling by the FSB and other goon squads, the regime has been happy to let these people go, because it means an increase in the overall ratio of regime supporters within Russia. Does this mean these people should be refused when they try to flee? Honestly, I don’t know, but I think its a far more morally complicated question than Chris makes it out to be.

I’ll leave this by saying I have quite a few Russian friends who are opposed to this madness. for whom I have nothing but sympathy and whose well being I fear for. But I also have quite a few Ukrainian friends who went to the barricades in 2014, who have lost friends and family over eight years and have genuine grievances against a people who haven’t been willing to make the same sacrifices to stop the crimes being committed in their names (not to mention the often patronising and chauvinistic discourse that persists even in the Russian opposition). This is an awful situation that will take generations of dialogue, and painful compromises to heal. The #notallRussians discourse may give one a sense of moral righteousness, but it doesn’t contribute to this healing process. In fact, just the opposite.

On the ethnicity point – its notable that the fiercest advocates of the Russkii Mir (Russian World) concept both among the elite and the citizenry comes from non-ethnic Russian citizens. This goes back to my point that a lot of oppressed people are quite content, even eager, to support the systems that oppress them so long as their one or two steps up the ladder and can put their boots on someone else’s face too.


Scott P. 12.31.22 at 7:34 pm

It is not so much a matter of punishment; the German nationalists were allowed to regroup and to evade the reparations by inflating the Mark…

Reparations were due in gold, not marks, so inflation didn’t help the Germans with respect to reparations one bit.


engels 12.31.22 at 7:51 pm

It seems rather odd to me to conceptualise either reparations in general or individual criminal penalties as forms of collective punishment that presuppose national collective moral responsibility.


Thomas P 12.31.22 at 9:07 pm

Daragh, go back to the Gulf war . From the wikipedia page:
“Electric power stations (92 percent of installed capacity destroyed), refineries (80 percent of production capacity), petrochemical complexes, telecommunications centers (including 135 telephone networks), bridges (more than 100), roads, highways, railroads, hundreds of locomotives and boxcars full of goods, radio and television broadcasting stations, cement plants, and factories producing aluminum, textiles, electric cables, and medical supplies.”

This in a short war where US forces were totally superior and crushed the Iraqi military with minimal losses, not a drawn out war where you want to cripple the enemy industry to stop their military production. To a lesser extent the war aginast Yugoslavia was the same with lots of attacks on infrastructure just designed to punish the civilian population.

Then we have Madeleine Albright’s infamous comment “the price is worth it” about half a million dead children due to the sanctions after the war that prevented rebuilding. What do you think about “double tap”? The practice of hitting a target, then return and hit the rescue workers. Used at least against Serbia and Afghanistan.

War is horrible, no matter if it is USA and Russia fighting it. The main difference is that USA rarely suffer any consequences. No sanctions, minimal casualties, no attacks at home etc. Russians are brutal, but they have also suffered brutality at a different level.

Consider two children. One has a wealthy family, and act as a bully at school knowing he is protected by his wealth. The other is also a bully, but he has a father who drinks and beats him. Who is morally worse?

I’m all in favor of trying to prosecute Russian leaders, but lets warm up by prosecuting war criminals in the West. From minor ones like William C. Rogers to the major villains like George Bush.


oldster 12.31.22 at 9:59 pm

Thank you, Daragh:
“Whatever one thinks of the Iraq war (I was pretty fiercely opposed to it myself) it is obscene to compare US and allied conduct in that war with what Russia has done in Ukraine (and has been doing in bits of it since 2014).

Similarly, comparing the killing of bin Laden (a comparatively surgical operation against a mass-murdering terrorist) with the attempted assassination of Skripal (which involved using a chemical weapon in a civilian area which killed one innocent bystander and severely injured a policeman in order to send a political ‘message’) is grotesque.”

Ditto for comparing Bin Laden, a terrorist, with Khashoggi, a journalist. Whoever made that comparison — I hope the House of Saud rewards you handsomely for doing their work for them.


Moz in Oz 12.31.22 at 11:02 pm

Daragh, seems as though you accept the right of countries to execute people they don’t like, wherever they happen to be, but are quibbling about the methods. I’m more comfortable saying that executing people is morally dubious, calling them criminals without even the pretense of a trial makes that worse. You seem upset about Skirpal’s daughter but not the four others killed when the US killed Bin Laden. Some casualties matter more than others.

But I do take your point that while the USA is bad, they’re not as bad as some other countries. I know which empire I’d rather live in (and I’ve made that choice… Australia, the “unsinkable carrier” of the South Pacific).


J-D 01.01.23 at 1:22 am

Unless Chris is prepared to argue Russia should bear no financial responsibility for rebuilding Ukraine, and that war criminals should be allowed to walk free and promote a revanchist narrative in a rearmed Russian state, then I don’t see how he can avoid accepting the logic of a degree of collective responsibility and therefore collective punishment for the war.

In order for me to win a lawsuit against a body corporate and for the court to award me compensation, there is no requirement for me to demonstrate anything about the guilt of the members of that body corporate, and nor should there be. In order for me to win a lawsuit against the Commonwealth of Australia and for the court to award me compensation, there is no requirement for me to demonstrate anything about the guilt of the Australian people and nor should there be. There is no connection between questions about the moral responsibility of individuals and questions about the payment of reparations.


dilbert dogbert 01.01.23 at 1:50 am

When these type discussions float to the top of the internet, I reach for my copy of Keynes book: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Economic_Consequences_of_the_Peace


dilbert dogbert 01.01.23 at 1:52 am

All countries are bad including this one.


dilbert dogbert 01.01.23 at 1:56 am

Slow reader
Unsinkable but not mobile
Back in the day, at TRW when GPS was being perfected, the hall talk was that if we knew the coordinates of USSR silos, our missiles would go down the hole. Ukraine is confirming some of that.


Jim Harrison 01.01.23 at 2:23 am

The Russian people may not be morally responsible for the way, but they will suffer its consequences. Good argument for democracy that goes back to the Bible: when the king sins, the people perish.


Chris Bertram 01.01.23 at 9:51 am

@Daragh writes “I think Chris is setting up a strawman where assigning a general collective guilt to the Russian state means assigning guilt and punishment to literally every Russian everywhere in equal amounts*. This is clearly nonsense”

“Equal amounts” is entirely your invention, Daragh. I was reacting to posts that state explicitly that the Russian people as a whole, and not just the Putin regime or the Russian state, bears responsibility for the war and to pushback I received for saying that some Russians opposed it.

I’m happy to agree that the Russian state will bear a financial responsibility for rebuilding Ukraine, but as for what should actually happen, I’d want to avoid a settlement that provides fertile ground for nationalist resentment.


Daragh 01.01.23 at 12:22 pm

Chris @47

Fair enough – my read of your contention that the proposition “all Russians bear responsibility for the war” would necessarily include children left me with the impression that you were conceiving of the first statement as supposing an equal distribution of guilt. I’m happy to accept that was not your intent. Nevertheless I think once you accept the state bears responsibility for certain crimes you’re inevitably in the realm of collective guilt and collective punishment, unless your post-war project involves the complete and deliberate dismantling of said state, ala Nazi Germany or Imperial Japan. Reparations means taking money that could be invested in Russia and investing it in Ukraine, to Ukrainian benefit, which is in and of itself a form of collective punishment.

I’d also like to avoid a settlement that doesn’t provide fertile ground for nationalist resentment, but given the historical relationship between Russia and Ukraine and popular attitudes towards the latter in the former this will be extremely difficult (think Brexit and Ireland, but several orders of magnitude worse). If it’s a choice between that and reconstructing Ukraine and limiting Russia’s capacity for imperialist aggression against its neighbour then I think the moral imperative is to prioritise the latter.

The Ukrainians will also have their own resentments that need to be assuaged in this settlement. They’ve gotten extremely good at identifying individual officers and soldiers responsible for atrocities like Bucha or the shelling of residential areas, and their security services are extremely competent and capable of operating in a country whose language and customs they know intimately. Unless we want a Ukrainian Kidon bringing its own Wrath of God to Russia for the next generation or so we need to make sure Kyiv can feel justice has been done.

In any case, FWIW, I’m also very much opposed to the maximalist take of people like Maksim Eristavi that the whole of the Russian populace bears the Mark of Cain for the war, even if I think the failure of the Russian populace to oppose the war with the same rigour they opposed raising the age of retirement from 60 to 65 speaks to a collective moral failure that needs to be addressed, somehow. Other than that I think our disagreement is more one of degrees and terminology rather than fundamentals.

Thomas P @39

I was referring to the 2003 Iraq War, not the Gulf War, but as you bring it up – the Iraqi state was engaged in a war of aggressive conquest (launched shortly after another, long and bloody failed war of aggressive context). The allied bombing campaign was designed to both degrade its capacity to do so in future (which was reasonably successful) and encourage the Iraqi people to overthrow Saddam by reducing the fairly high quality of life they had enjoyed under him to that point (which wasn’t). Notably there were a wide array of humanitarian programmes put in place by the UN to try and alleviate unnecessary suffering (which were, of course, abused by Saddam and his odious spawnlings).

If you would like to compare this to hitting power and gas distribution networks in the middle of Ukraine’s famously cold winters in order to freeze to death be my guest. If you want to come up with incredibly convoluted reasons for why Russia and the US are equally bad despite the former engaging explicitly in imperialist genocide, that is also your right, but it doesn’t make it any less unpleasant, particularly its condescending infantilisation of the Russians themselves.

Moz in Oz @41

Good grief where to start.

Firstly, on your flippant characterisation of the assassination of bin Laden as the Americans “executing whoever they want” – bin Laden and his organisation had both admitted responsibility for 9/11 as well as many other gruesome crimes, and not just against Americans. Al Qaeda’s particular brand of Salafist extremism wasn’t friendly to Shi’ites for example. Moreover, AQ had a long history of using people as human bombs and bin Laden himself had stated on multiple occasions that if he was about to be captured. In other words, there was a moral imperative to both neutralise his ability to continue to direct a murderous criminal organisation, and very good reason to assume the only way to do so was to kill him.

Second – “You seem upset about Skirpal’s [sic] daughter but not the four others killed when the US killed Bin Laden. Some casualties matter more than others.”

Yulia Skripal is still very much alive. The fatality in the Skripal case was Dawn Sturgess, a troubled woman who had nothing to do with Skripal, Russia or much of anything beyond her own life and who died because Skripal’s would-be assassins used a chemical weapon in a residential area. Two other people, Nick Bailey and Charlie Rowley suffered life-threatening injuries and ongoing psychological damage.

The ‘four others’ killed in the bin Laden raid were, by most accounts, his bodyguards and associates and possibly one of their wives. The US commandos conducting the raid took care to protect the other women and children in the compound. The raid itself was conducted instead of a less risky bomb or missile strike because of the risk of killing innocent bystanders.

In other words, you are claiming the deployment of a chemical weapon in a UK city against an ex-spy who was of no particular threat to anyone, with the deliberate intent of causing civilian casualties in order to send a political message*, is morally the same as a commando raid to kill a man who was by his own admission responsible for the death of tens of thousands, an ongoing threat to innocent civilians all over the world, and conducted in such a way as to minimise the potential harm to innocent bystanders. To call this nauseating would be an understatement.

An addendum on the use of Novichok in the Salisbury poisoning. The best explanation for the use of a fantastically lethal chemical agent rather than the more simple and effective means of a bullet to the forehead is that the Kremlin intended the assassination to be what the mafia sometimes calls a ‘cowboying’ – a spectacular display of violence with plenty of collateral damage that is intended to send a message more than it is to eliminate a specific target.


engels 01.01.23 at 1:14 pm

while the USA is bad, they’re not as bad as some other countries. I know which empire I’d rather live in

Do you know which one you’d rather be invaded by? Which one you’re more likely to be killed by?


Daragh 01.01.23 at 2:00 pm

engels @49
“Do you know which one you’d rather be invaded by? Which one you’re more likely to be killed by?”

I’m sure you think this is a devastating response, but literally anyone familiar with how the US and Russian armies conduct warfighting and occupation would, if forced to choose, go for the Americans in a heartbeat. Not only would you be much less likely to be killed, you, your family and your property would be treated much better by the occupying forces. To give just two examples, I don’t recall the Americans rolling into Iraq with mobile crematoriums in their rear echelons and rolling out with the contents of Iraqi civilians houses tied to their tanks. But then again, ‘bothsidesing’ is an easy way to posture as a moral sophisticate without doing the tedious mental work that actual moral sophistication demands, doesn’t it?


Thomas P 01.01.23 at 2:46 pm

Daragh, I can’t say I’m surprised by you doubling down on defending USA:s genocidal wars against Iraq. It might have something to do with that when you read about the Middle East conflicts it’s generally from a Western perspective. Arab victims are at most statistics, while the Ukraine war is written from an Ukrainian perspective and suddenly the victims are humans just like us.

During the Iraq-Iran war USA supported both sides in order to make the war as long and costly as possible to weaken both sides. It even provided Iraq with equipment and satellite photos to help its gas warfare. This may be that when Saddam was put on trial it was for a relatively minor crime. The big ones would have been embarassing as USA would have been implicated as a collaborator.

Don’t you realize how cynical you sound when you describe bombing Iraq so hundreds of thousands died from lack of access to clean water as just a natural and succesful way to “degrade its capacity”? Can’t we then just describe the Russian bombing of Ukraine in the same euphemistic terms?

That UN program sounded better than it was. The bureacracy in place to ensure nothing banned got through or that Saddam could launder money were so harsh that few companied went through all the hoops, and USA threatened to veto any attempts to make it more useful in helping the Iraqi people. One of the few that did, Al Shifa, Sudan’s largest pharmaceutical factory, was bombed by Bill Clinton. Not that anyone cared about that act of terror, they were too busy discussing if he got a blow job.


LFC 01.01.23 at 6:07 pm

Thomas P @51

The U.S. 1998 strike on the al-Shifa pharmaceutical plant in Sudan occurred not long after the al-Qaeda terrorist attacks on U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, which killed numerous people, esp the bombing in Kenya, where the toll was 213 dead, the vast majority of whom were Kenyans (a secretarial college next door to the embassy was completely leveled by the blast), and 4,500 injured, “more than 150 of them blinded by the flying glass.” (Lawrence Wright, The Looming Tower, p. 308)

Ten days after the embassy bombings, U.S. intelligence got information that two men involved in the bombings were in Khartoum (Wright, p. 319). The al-Shifa plant was suspected of being a chemical weapons facility and thought to be part owned by bin Laden (both turned out to be false). The CIA got a soil sample from an area close to the plant that purportedly showed “traces of EMPTA, a chemical that was essential in making the extremely potent nerve gas VX” (Wright, p. 320). On that basis Clinton ordered the firing of cruise missiles that destroyed the plant. “The result of this hasty strike was that…Sudan lost one of its most important manufacturers, which employed three hundred people and produced more than half of the country’s medicines, and a night watchman was killed.” (Wright, p. 320)

So the al-Qaeda embassy bombing in Kenya killed roughly 200 people and injured 4,500, including 150 who were blinded, while the U.S. missile strike on the pharmaceutical plant in Khartoum killed one person, a night watchman, and (presumably) did harm to those who lost their jobs at the destroyed plant and also harmed those who depended on the medicines it produced. Presumably the plant was eventually rebuilt, though I haven’t looked that up.


Maurits Pino 01.01.23 at 6:19 pm

Good post.
But the Russian people? Millions of Russians don’t carry a Russian passport but feel culturally Russian, many of these oppose the war or even actively resist it. Among the Russian passport holders outside of Russia, some left before Feb 24, some after, some only after the general mobilisation.
Among the non-Russian citizens of Putin’s state many victims, many active collaborators (those Chechen units …).
Just wondering how many categories you’d need to identify when speaking about responsibility and liability.
Related issue: I heard of two instances when friends were asked by Russians to circumvent sanctions applied to them, arguing that Putin’s invasion wasn’t their fault and they should therefore have access to their life’s savings (didn’t work).


Thomas P 01.01.23 at 7:13 pm

LFC I am quite aware of the official story, and it’s totally unbelievable, more fake than Bush claims of Iraqi WMD:s. EMPTA is not a bannd chemical and it is easy to mistake for other substances in tests, assuming there even was any sample. It was not some sort of secretive facility as Clinton claimed, at the contrary it was an open facility with some Western employees that the government often showed to foreign visitors. If you are interested, Barletta is fairly thorough:

After the bombing the Sudanese government demanded a UN investigation, something that USA blocked. Had there been chemical weapons produced there there would have been plenty of evidence afterwards and the fact that Clinton blocked the investigation suggests he knew nothing would be found.

“..and also harmed those who depended on the medicines it produced” No kidding. Sudan is one of the world’s poorest countries. It’s not as if they had plenty of cash to go around importing substitutes. I find it interesting how you compare the attack with the al-Qaeda embassy bombings. Are you reduced to argue that USA isn’t quite as bad as that notorious terrorist group?


Stephen 01.01.23 at 7:48 pm

CB with his usual eloquence declares that reparations from the Russian people for their misdeeds in the Ukraine would be problematic. In particular, “the desire to punish whole peoples for what their leaders have done does not result in peace and stability in the future.”

Much wisdom in that.

At the same time, several people (not of course CB, not for all I know any on CT ) are demanding that reparations from the white peoples 0f the US and UK are due to their black peoples, for what was done many generations ago and without anyone living’s knowledge. Is that likely to result in peace and stability in the future?


Sean Winstanley 01.01.23 at 9:11 pm

“someone who asked why, if there are are some good Russians, they haven’t stopped the war”

Liberals are reaching new heights of bloodthirstiness. The Russia-Trump nonsense rotted so many brains.


LFC 01.01.23 at 9:51 pm

Thomas P

I was trying to suggest one of the reasons — doubtless there were several reasons — why Clinton might have felt pressure to do something quickly as an attempted first-step retaliation for the embassy bombings. (Namely, the bombings had occurred and he didn’t want to appear helpless in the face of them.) Obviously, Clinton completely messed this one up, and he blocked the UN investigation because he knew he had messed it up.

In this particular case (and more generally), yes, the U.S. is not as bad as al-Qaeda. That statement is not much of a recommendation, of course, but sometimes such comparisons are nonetheless useful. And for now, I’ll leave it at that.


John Q 01.02.23 at 4:19 am

Whatever view you take of the Russian population in general, tens of thousands of Russians, from Putin down to individual soldiers, have committed war crimes. Given the campaign of terror attacks on Ukrainian cities, every Russian who has served in the armed forces is a potential accused. There’s almost no possibility of a peace settlement that doesn’t include a War Crimes Tribunal, and a requirement for Russia to hand over those charged. There’s also little chance that even a post-Putin regime will be willing to accept such terms.

The likely outcome will therefore be a ceasefire, without a peace, as in Korea, with Russia permanently subject to a wide range of sanctions, and vast numbers of Russians unable to travel abroad without fear of arrest. So, we will have another nuclear rogue state to deal with for the foreseeable future.

And war crimes never go away. A German concentration camp guard, aged 101, was just sentenced to 5 years jail for murders committed between 1942 and 1945. We will be dealing with the aftermath of this war for the rest of the century.

This is grim, but it’s what Putin chose and what Russians have gone along with, willingly or otherwise.

(Also, please take whataboutery on Blair and Bush as read. It would be great to see them in the dock but, as numerous commenters have pointed out above, Putin is in a whole different category).


John Q 01.02.23 at 4:27 am

As regards reparations, Western banks are currently holding something like $US300 billion in Russian foreign reserves. Giving this to Ukraine would not require extraction of resources from ordinary Russians through taxation, the kind of reparations that are most likely to create trouble.

The big obstacle here is the unwillingness of the global financial system to set a precedent under their general business of managing the wealth of criminal states and individuals would be disrupted.

But it seems likely to happen in the end, as it is recognised that Russia is never going to return to the global system in any case.


nastywoman 01.02.23 at 5:42 am

and thank you Prof. Q for your comments I gladly would have written if there would have been a chance that such comments would get posted – as especially the whataboutery on this thread is… may I say:
‘Very unsympathetic Greenwaldish’.


Thomas P 01.02.23 at 7:55 am

“Whataboutism” is such a clever word. In most situations hypocricy is seen as bad, but by inventing a simple derogatory term, suddenly it is pointing out the hypocricy that is bad.

American war crimes are somehow to be seen as better than Russian, and we are to forget that it wasn’t just Bush&Blair. The support in the US Congress and among the population was overwhelming. In the end, this has nothing to do with justice, only power. Western countries are too rich and powerful to punish while Russia isn’t.

Of course, there is a price to pay. China can just pick up all the countries like Iran and Russia that West punishes, because they have little choice but to take whatever deals they can get. At the same time we are told China is the big future enemy.


AnotherKevin 01.02.23 at 8:07 am

Moz in Oz: “Just like the Russians did with Skripal and Saudi Arabia did with Khashoggi”

Analogizing seeking legal extradition (unsuccessfully) of someone to be tried in a court of law with due process (your first example), or killing someone who killed 1000s of your civilians and who you could not extradite (Bin Ladin), to Kashogi …? You don’t deserve any response but utter distain.


Chris Bertram 01.02.23 at 8:11 am

@JohnQ yes, war crimes ought to be punished. Some of this might happen if there’s a post-Putin regime of some kind. But I expect punishment of the most egregious cases with many soldiers getting away with terrible things, as German soldiers plausibly did. I note, fwiw that all the whatabouttery here is from people pointing to the past record of the USA, but we shouldn’t forget the current wars in Yemen, Ethiopia and Congo and past wars in the former Yugoslavia, all involving crimes against humanity. Another example: the genocide of the Rohingya won’t be a barrier to future trade with a post-dictatorship Burmese state. Thinking about South Africa and Northern Ireland as well, sometimes the guilty have been allowed to go unpunished in the interests of peace. Realistically, rather than morally, I would not expect the pursuit of the guilty to be an absolute barrier to the reintegration of a post-Putin Russia: many of the worst will age simply unable to move beyond Russian territory.


MisterMr 01.02.23 at 11:27 am

I’ll just note that “we” are not at war with Russia, and for good reason (fear of a nuclear war).
We are just giving weapons to Ukraine.

Therefore, it is quite dubious that “we” can impose anything on Russia after the war ends: probably not even that Putin stands down, let alone reparations (this depends on how long the Ukrainians want to fight but I doubt they want to invade Russia and if they did we shouldn’t enable them).

After the war, there will be plenty of hate going around, worst case we get into a new Palestine.

If we look at the past, contrary to what some commenters said, after WW2 Germany (W), Japan and Italy were treated very well, better that Germany was treated after WW1, and this is the reason there wasn’t a new nationalism surge.
This happened for two reasons: the USA feared that they could switch to the USSR side, and the heavily statalistic reconstruction economy that worked well with the keynesian economy of the USA.

Currently the West isn’t trying to help Russia’s economy, and perhaps this would be impossible in a situation where this kind of economic help is disappearing even inside of rich countries (which in turn probably depends on the fact that the USA isn’t 60% of global GDP anymore).

So while Germany, Japan and Italy are now rich countries and staunch USA allies the final result of many american adventures has been quite bad, the only place that I would see as a proper success is former Yugoslavia (where the USA acted against Serbia but in the interest of the other successor states).

This is a situation where, to win peace, we have to create an economic climate that is very good for both the Ukrainians AND the Russians, and this will be extremely difficult also because inside our countries there is already an air of belt tightening.

This idea of “we” being the arbiters of justice that deal punishment on the russian population (that is the only possible meaning of the idea of keeping Russians accountable) is not only morally dubious, but very damaging for everyone in the long term.


nastywoman 01.02.23 at 12:01 pm

‘Realistically, rather than morally, I would not expect the pursuit of the guilty to be an absolute barrier to the reintegration of a post-Putin Russia’

Realistically and morally, I would expect that any non-pursuit of the guilty will be as much of an absolute barrier to the reintegration of a post-Putin Russia as it would have been in the case of Germany after WW2.


nastywoman 01.02.23 at 12:08 pm

and about:
‘but we shouldn’t forget the current wars in Yemen, Ethiopia and Congo and past wars in the former Yugoslavia, all involving crimes against humanity. Another example: the genocide of the Rohingya won’t be a barrier to future trade with a post-dictatorship Burmese state’.

but ‘a post-dictatorship Burmese state’ or ‘the current wars in Yemen, Ethiopia and Congo and past wars in the former Yugoslavia, all involving crimes against humanity’ are something completely different than Putins Invasion of a neighbouring (European country) and they are not comparable or useful for ‘whataboutery’ in any way.


Chris Bertram 01.02.23 at 12:36 pm

I don’t disagree that the guilty deserve to be punished, although the historical record shows that in practice they usually aren’t. The extensive use of torture by France in Algeria (similarities include claiming it as part of the national territory and a large population of French-identified residents; dissimilarities are also many) has never been punished, and the French National Assembly quickly passed amnesty laws. The consequences of these crimes for France’s participation in the international order have been zero.


Chris Bertram 01.02.23 at 12:39 pm

(Naturally, I disagree that wars and crimes involving non-Europeans, either as perpetrators or as victims, are “something completely different”.)


engels 01.02.23 at 1:09 pm

A view from elsewhere:

…What would it mean for Biden and Lula to bring their countries “back”? Joe Biden is clear: a return to a global campaign to “defend democracy globally, to push back authoritarianism’s advance” and to unite the nations of the “free world” against adversaries like Russia and China. Lula’s vision of the global order – “based in dialogue, multilateralism and multipolarity” – rejects these divisions and their calls for confrontation. “We will have relations with everyone,” Lula said in his speech. But what does Lula’s commitment to “dialogue, multilateralism and multipolarity” mean in practice? By “dialogue”, Lula means a shift from a foreign policy that seeks to isolate adversaries to one that seeks diplomatic solutions. When the Biden administration called on the world to join its campaign of total sanctions against Russia, for example, Lula’s allies called for caution. “I am against sanctions,” said his former foreign minister Celso Amorim. “They won’t help resolve anything but will create problems for the whole world…


Chris Bertram 01.02.23 at 1:27 pm

I’m strongly in favour of sanctions on Russia, but to make it more difficult for Russian to win a war, not to punish Russians. But getting non-European states to sign up to this is made much harder when people make out that crimes are much worse when Europeans are the victims. Sanctions yes, tribunals yes, consistency yes.


Mikhail Shubin 01.02.23 at 2:32 pm

Firstly, despite outward appearances the Putin-regime is deeply sensitive to public opinion. The Federal Guard’s Service (FSO – the presidential bodyguard, roughly equivalent to the US Secret Service) conducts frequent, detailed public opinion surveys which both inform policy and how the regime shapes its propaganda. The regime uses narratives of aggressive, imperialist revanchism because they are highly popular among the Russian people.

I would like to question this thesis.

Indeed, most likely the Russian government is concerned about public opinion. But its view of public opinion is distorted and biased, and we should not assume that Russians support war just because Putin think so.

Surveying public opinion is not an easy task in peace time, surveying public opinion in the society where people are afraid to speak their mind (reminder: you can still be prosecuted in Russia just for using the word “War”) is almost impossible.

Russian intelligence have a history of epic failures. It seems they were reporting that Ukrainians are secretly in love with Putin and Russian tanks will be meet with flowers. Assuming that FSO had somehow solved Statistics and have a true understanding of Russian public opinion is ridiculous.

Independent surveys hint that people are wishing for war to stop. Hints are all we can get, because, once again, collecting good data is impossible. There is, for example, a huge drop in the support for the Defence Minister. Which some people interpret as a drop in the support for Putin, but you cant blame Putin directly.


lurker 01.02.23 at 3:39 pm

“after WW2 Germany (W), Japan and Italy were treated very well, better that Germany was treated after WW1, and this is the reason there wasn’t a new nationalism surge” MisterMR, 63
Germany was occupied and partitioned and large areas were annexed to Poland and the USSR. German minorities like the Sudeten Germans were dispossessed and expelled from Eastern and Central Europe. I would not say Germany was treated better after WWII. I’d say Germany was clearly, undeniably beaten in a way that made a nationalist surge unviable. Russia is unlikely to be defeated like that, at best they will be forced to retreat from Ukraine and maybe not Anschluss Belarus, carve up Kazakhstan, or annex additional bits of Georgia.


Chris Bertram 01.02.23 at 3:59 pm

@nastywoman Another Crooked Timber moderator let one of your comments through, as I had not been doing. I rather regret having been sucked into a little exchange, as I find your too-frequent comments ill-directed and often just a bit random. Anyway, no hard feelings but I’d prefer it if you didn’t comment on my threads in future.


nastywoman 01.02.23 at 4:09 pm

[allowing this through for reasons of fairness -CB]

Anyway, no hard feelings but I’d prefer it if you didn’t comment on my threads in future.

I won’t – if a comment of mine doesn’t get used for posting:
(Naturally, I disagree that wars and crimes involving non-Europeans, either as perpetrators or as victims, are “something completely different”.)

without posting my response:

‘But they are completely different – if Europeans -(and/or Americans) fight a war respecting the Geneva Conventions and their Additional Protocols which regulate the conduct of armed conflict – and somewhere else a war gets fought without any of these rules’.

That wouldn’t be… fair.



J, not that one 01.02.23 at 4:33 pm

I admit I have not seen anyone claiming that the Russian people are all evil or that they deserve to be punished and made to take responsibility for the attack on Ukraine. I’m more likely to have seen claims that Western support for Ukraine is an expression of hostility toward the Russian people, and that any sanctions taken in civil society are always aggressive and uncalled for.

The conclusion I draw is that social media creates bubbles rather than opening everything up equally to view by everyone. I can only guess at what the OP is referring to. I assume CB knows who was responding to him, but honestly it’s usually impossible to know where anyone online is coming from or even if they’re posting in good faith.


MisterMr 01.02.23 at 5:00 pm

@Lurker 71

Yes, I wrote “Germany (W)” meaning western Germany (that still is 3/4 of total Germany).
It is true that in the east the soviets were comparatively more punitive, and in the west many people probably wanted to punish western Germany more, but the dinamics of the cold war made it so that the USA changed its mind soon and helped Germany a lot, via loans, via condoning loans later (though most of it was postwar inflation I think, Italy did pay back Marshall plan debts in full but it took many decades so I suppose postwar inflation in the 70s helped a lot), and by a non punitive economic policy.

Many people, starting from Keynes, understood that the treaty of Versailles was one of the causes of the rise to power of the Nazi: Germany had to pay an outsized reparation in gold, that meant that Germany had to be a net exporter (to buy the gold with which to pay the debt), but everyone else in Europe tried to be a net exporter, and in the meanwhile the USA, which was already more technologically advanced than european countries, also was a big net exporter.
The Weimar government thus had to tax citiziens a lot, but then had to print tons of money (marks) to keep the economy running. This was the cause of the Weimar inflation, that was in pratice a form of tax through currency devaluation, not caused by stimulus as modern forms of inflation are.
When this ended the government tried to stop inflation but caused a wave of bankruptcies; the high tax throug devaluation and the subsequent bankruptcies were blamed on jewish bankers and this propelled the Nazi into power.

After WW2 instead the USA was too big to try to export its way out of the expected recession (by the end of WW2 the USA represented 60% of global GDP) so it doubled down on keynesian stimulus instead, and pushed this kind of economics (big government stimulus and high and sharply progressive taxes that came from the war years) on Germany, Japan and Italy, also subsidizing them with loans (that in the beginning meant that they could buy capital goods from the USA so a win-win situation), and the Bretton Woods economic planning also pushed other european countries in the same direction.

This is what caused the postwar boom and the reason said countries were (and still are) happy to be allies of the USA, whereas eastern Germany for example liked the soviets much less so the pro societ government had to rely on a huge secret police; in the west the USA did something like this, search for “Gladio” ob Wikipedia, but its scope was much smaller and never really had to came in action because people liked the USA overall (there are some unproven suspicions that some pets of Gladio collaborated in the murder of italian premier Aldo Moro, but no proof).

This idea, that the Versailles treaty partly caused the rise of nazism whereas the Marshall plan and similar policies caused the postwar boom, democracy, and generally goodwill towards the USA is something indisputable and I find it very worrying that many people seem to not know/understand this and go for punitive policies instead.


engels 01.02.23 at 5:15 pm

I’m more likely to have seen claims that…any sanctions taken in civil society are always aggressive and uncalled for.

Surely nobody thinks this other than free traders?

As I said above (and JD did) re reparations, I don’t think the normal rationale for sanctions is collective punishment. That doesn’t mean they can’t be punitive in effect or intent and they often are. However the implementation in this case, as for austerity indicates the main people Britain wants to beat up are its own poor.


steven t johnson 01.02.23 at 5:26 pm

MisterMr@75 It’s probably hopeless to interject this into a post and thread, but the Nazis were never propelled to power by the people, but selected by high-level political intriguers, people like von Schleicher and von Papen. Hitler was literally appointed Chancellor by von Hindenburg. Also, the Weimar inflation as I recall was prompted by the French occupation of the Ruhr and long predated the Nazi rise to power. Inflation is regarded as the ultimate sin by reactionaries but the real crisis in Weimar Germany was the Depression, deflation and mass unemployment. Lastly, the notion that West Germany was genuinely denazified is dubious.


Daragh 01.02.23 at 5:41 pm

engels @68

I saw that article too – impressive how the authors managed to criticise sanctions on Russia without ever mentioning why those sanctions were in place. Almost as if the entire moral and ethical case they were attempting to make collapses when they’re taken into account.

Mikhail Shubin @70

I take your point and perhaps I was a bit too strong in my claim. However, I’d note there’s a number of differences in the measuring and analysis of public opinion in Ukraine vs Russia. There are different agencies in play (FSB in Ukraine, FSO in Russia) and naturally Russian spooks conducting surveys like “on a scale of 1-10, how much would you like to be annexed” attracts the attention of their Ukrainian colleagues, among other methodological challenges. More importantly though I think this is a question of the epistemic shell Putin has constructed around himself and the fact that his underlings know not to bring bad news to the Tsar’s table. There are ways to present objective reality within Russia in a way he’ll find acceptable, but any FSB briefing that says “the Ukrainians are a distinct nation and will resist occupation fiercely” won’t even get past the desk of the supervisor of whatever poor bastard was silly enough to draft it.

Ultimately. if actions speak louder than words, the continued refusal to deploy conscripts (which are a different category from the recently ‘mobilised’ personnel) to the war is demonstrative of how sensitive the Kremlin remains to public opinion. The use of the term ‘special military operation’ rather than ‘war’ was deliberate in part to signal conscripts would not be deployed – legally they can’t be pressed into combat roles outside of Russian territory in peacetime. That a few of them wound up crossing the border from Belarus seems to have been a genuine shock and scandal for Putin. But now that Moscow’s official position is that Kherson, Zaporizhia, Donetsk and Lugansk are part of Russia, there’s no legal barrier to using them in those areas. The reason the Kremlin has refrained from doing so is that they know this would be deeply unpopular, even if technically legal. Instead they’ve gone for morale-sapping stop-loss policies for volunteers, mercenaries and the mobiks.

I agree that there are some indicators in the publicly available data (mainly leaked FSO surveys, FWIW). However, I would disagree with your interpretation – from a recent Meduza story:

“This doesn’t amount to joining the opposition or a wholesale rejection of the special military operation,” says one of Meduza’s sources, who describes the respondents’ attitude as “indifference and apathy.” “Nothing inspires them, and nothing propels them forward,” the source explains. In responses to questions, the study’s participants spoke with a tone of voice that implied: “Leave us alone.”

This does not strike me as a particularly encouraging, or morally praiseworthy social response.

Chris @62

The comparison to Northern Ireland and South Africa is a really interesting one, given the role of peace and reconciliation commissions. Of course, in Northern Ireland this process has been somewhat undermined by the cynical decision of certain members of the Sinn Fein leadership to insist on taking full credit for their role in the peace process while insisting they were never in the IRA, lest they be forced to acknowledge responsibility for specific acts.

With regards to the present discussion I think the case of MH-17 is relevant here – the evidence that it was downed by a Russian missile is overwhelming, and Russian propaganda hasn’t even tried to come up with a consistent counter-narrative. Rather it has just engaged in ever more ludicrous denials. As far as we can tell the Russian populace does not accept Russia was responsible, despite the obvious ridiculousness of the lies they have been told about what ‘really’ happened.

This isn’t because they’re stupid, or incapable of seeing through official propaganda – it’s because they do not want to accept responsibility for the crime committed by their forces in their name. There’s no interest in finding out who was really responsible for killing 298 innocent civilians, just a determination to avoid blame. I don’t think this is just confined to the political elite, and it is why while I continue to think Putin and his lieutenants bear primary responsibility for the war and should be the ones formally punished, the question of societal guilt isn’t as open and shut as I think you believe it is.

Several people throughout the thread have also mentioned their support for sanctions, or for using Russia’s foreign reserves to rebuild Ukraine as means of imposing costs on Russia without ‘punishing all Russians’. I’m sorry but that’s just not how it works – the point of seizing Russia’s forex reserves was to crash the currency. To counter that the Central Bank of Russia imposed currency controls and hiked interest rates. This had massive, material impacts on ordinary Russians.

The same export controls being used to prevent Russia from gaining access to components for advanced weapons also mean that a variety of consumer goods are also unavailable are much more expensive. When the Russians were withdrawing from around Kyiv plenty of ruined troop carriers were found with washing machines strapped to them – this wasn’t simply looting. The same chips that control spinning of their drums can be repurposed for missile guidance systems.


J, not that one 01.02.23 at 6:10 pm

The Marshall Plan was only acceptable to the victors of WWII because there was a pretense made of denazification and the imposition of first an occupation government and later representative democracy and republican (in the sense of nonmonarchical) forms of government on the states that had lost, and because it imposed little pain on the people in the states that had won. (Combined with very generous veterans’ benefits in those states.) It’s hard to see how it could be repeated. In part since that is largely what was offered to the former Soviet bloc after 1989.

Russia doesn’t need help from Europe and the US, moreover, if it can go to China and the Saudis, who are happy to allow it to continue its current policies.


Mikhail Shubin 01.02.23 at 8:36 pm

There are two question that are often conflated here. There is a question of moral blame, and question of most effective way to stop the war. Unfortunately, in these sad times these question may have different answers.

Example 1: there could be a discussion whatever people running from mobilisation are immoral, because they were only motivated to act by immediate danger to their own lives. I dont agree, but at least I see an argument here. But from the practical perspective, it seems obvious for me that welcoming army-evaders as refugees would only help Ukraine and weaken Russian army. If some theoretical person is a strong Putin-supported and Russian Imperialist, and this person escaped to Europe only because he does not want to build the empire himself… there is a great moral calling to kick him beck to Russia, but then Russia may actually use him to kill more Ukrainians.

(There is a common argument that if person X had escaped the draft, person Y would be drafted instead, but there is no proofs for that, Russia is drafting as much people as it can)

Example 2: banning Russian tourists from Europe. Here I see the moral argument that it is weird to let Russian enjoy Europe while their friends are killing Ukrainians. But tourists also bring money from Russian to Europe, so this ban kinda helps Russian economy.

Example 3: Russian propaganda, as far as I know, now tries to convince the population that West collectively hates and cancels them, so there is really no choice now but to rally around the leader. Collectively blaming all Russians, whatever justified or not, only help the propaganda now.

(through Im not sure if the reality affects Russian propaganda in any way)


Jeff 01.02.23 at 11:05 pm

Long-time lurker, first-time (maybe last-time) poster. For what it’s worth, also someone who has had long association with Russia and Russians and the bitter and sweet that comes with such experiences (and there have been plenty of both).

Just wanted to chime in to second Chris’ observations and response in the OP. Lots of say and too little time to say it, so forgive typos or oversights. For months there has been a growing clamor about the collective guilt of “Russians” for the war and atrocities in Ukraine. Some of these Twitter participants are academics who should know better than to paint with a broad brush. Okay, sometimes this is rhetorical ease (or laziness) to use the generic plural term, but it is rarely unpacked. There is this elemental anger, not only from Ukrainians (understandably) but also from Poles, Estonians, Latvians, and others in eastern Europe. For example, many cheered the v isa restrictions on Russians getting out, even though this has made Putin’s life easier. (For example, now he doesn’t have to close to border to reduce the “exit” strategy, and so he does not have to adopt this risky policy.) Some pushed back but were in a minority—at least in many of the Twitter spaces following the war. Sam Greene and Sergei Radchenko, among others, have tried to push back as Chris has, but often not to much avail, alas.

Painting with broad brush strokes is this sin, and not for the first time—I’ve seen comments that this resembles the general and broad anti-German sentiment in the USA and UK during WWI. But is skews our perception of the reality. And that reality is that there is variation inside Russia in terms of support or participation of the war and its atrocities—being or ready to be “Putin’s willing executioners”—and resistance. (And so I have to disagree with much of what Daragh has written—especially Daragh’s painting with the broad brush as well, e.g. “in many ways the Russian populace is much like the poor-white farmers”—really, the entire populace??? Also, the regime is not that happy with people leaving—it looks bad and hurts the labor market—but closing the border might be a step too far, for image or capacity. Also: “I think once you accept the state bears responsibility for certain crimes you’re inevitably in the realm of collective guilt and collective punishment, unless your post-war project involves the complete and deliberate dismantling of said state, ala Nazi Germany or Imperial Japan.” If the state acts as a complex, multi-tiered mafia clan or occupying army—take your pick—I don’t think this pluralist notion of the state embodying “the people”—whatever that might mean—really holds for moral accountability. Ditto for some of John T’s point. Although they also have good points, such as the theft of Ukrainian children and the effects of Russians migrating by the truckload into neighboring countries.)

One problem is that too many in Russia feel absolutely powerless and helpless. They are watching out for themselves because that is all that they can do. People did take to the streets, and the authorities cracked down for the most minor “infractions.” Think in terms of exit, voice, and loyalty. Many have existed (left the country). I know several people who have: not only or simply to avoid conscription, but also fear of repression for signing anti-war petitions or following their consciences in other ways. I know people who remained because they had no means to get out or (so they felt) to survive if they got out. I know many who remained because they felt the duty to care for elderly or sickly parents or relatives, or to care for newborns.

I also know some people who are apathetic about the war. Some of these people were apathetic about politics before 2022, and in moments when they let their hair down (e.g. were drunk), some ethnocentricity, nationalism, xenophobia, or racism could emerge. They don’t support the war, but they aren’t against it—they really don’t care either way. (How many people do you all know who are like this at heart?)

Resisting Putin’s pension reforms, or his return to power in 2012, was a different story because repression was not as fierce then as now. (Another point on which I disagree with Daragh.) Putin has slowly boiled the water in which the frog is sitting—and so rather than take to the streets en masse, we have a population, many of whom have become conditioned to feel powerless. Some of such people whom I know participated in protests in February and March, but when the numbers didn’t go up, what were they to do? Are we to demand everyone (except us) become martyrs?

Let’s not avoid the harsh realities: There are Russians (ethnically or legally, i.e. citizens) who support this effort. Forget about Simonian and Soloviev and the other turkeys in the media who are “working towards the Führer.” I would be cautious making too many claims here without a mountain of caveats. The question of how average Germans participated in the Holocaust—acting as “Hiter’s willing executioners”—requires careful thinking, and it requires the kind of study we simply cannot do at the moment.

It behooves us, then, to avoid painting with the broad brush, as Chris is noting. And it also behooves us to think carefully about why people are not resisting. We need to think carefully about power. Maybe non-ethnic Russians who support Putin do so out of resentment born of bad situations, and they target someone besides Putin to vent that resentment. (At least these kinds of questions get at causation, which we really need to figure out before assigning guilt willy-nilly.) Maybe some support Putin for various reasons (racism, opportunism). Maybe some are trying to survive in a police state getting worse by the month and where the memories of repression in the 20th century are not entirely lost or warped.

(I’ll leave aside the issue of opinion polls. There are different groups trying to make sense of this, and it seems there might be a nontrivial amount of preference falsification going on. Sam Greene has also had some interesting comments on this.)

I wish more people read James C. Scott’s and work on power more carefully (and brought Browning and Kershaw and even Goldhagen into the conversation), and think in terms of variation. The guilty should be held accountable—but who is guilty, and why? Putin and his circle, obviously, and Prigozhin, and Kadyrov, those who butchered in Bucha and Izyum…but there is more to the story in that bigger mass that is far from faceless.

Thanks, Chris.


Seekonk 01.03.23 at 12:03 am

Re: “reparations from the white peoples of the US and UK … due to their black peoples, for what was done many generations ago and without anyone living’s knowledge.”

I don’t feel guilty about wrongdoing in the past, but it is wrong for me to benefit from its ongoing influence in the present, when it results in unjust detriment and unjust enrichment.
It’s as if my grandfather stole your grandfather’s watch, and now I’m wearing the watch. That watch, that wealth, belongs in your family, not mine.


J-D 01.03.23 at 12:37 am

Russia elect Putin in democratic election, several first elections is relatively fair

Only if you use the word ‘relatively’ to mean ‘not’.

Why should we care about the Russian people right now?

The kind of thing that is likely to be happening now–I don’t know how much things like this are happening, but it would be slightly surprising if it isn’t happening at least a bit–is bullying in schoolyards in Western countries of children who come from a Russian background (or who are wrongly supposed by their schoolmates to come from a Russian background). Do I need to explain why that’s the kind of thing people should care about?

Checking on my point above, it turns out that the issue of war crimes was discussed, amid agitation to “hang the Kaiser”. More interestingly, Bethmann-Hollweg offered to stand trial in the Kaiser’s place. But the military criminals (I should have added Tirpitz, who promoted unrestricted submarine warfare) were never in the frame, AFAICT.

The highest ranking officers prosecuted at the Leipzig War Crimes trials in 1921 were two Lieutenant-Generals, both of whom were acquitted. The highest ranking officer convicted was a Major, who was sentenced to two years imprisonment, the heaviest penalty imposed on any of those convicted.

On 3 February 1920, the Allies submitted a further list of 900 names of alleged war criminals to the German government. The Germans refused to extradite any German citizens to Allied governments, and suggested instead trying them within the German justice system, i.e. at the Reichsgericht in Leipzig. This proposal was accepted by the Allied leaders, and in May 1920 they handed the Germans a reduced list of 45 accused persons. Not all these people could be traced, and in other cases there was difficulty in finding credible evidence. In the end only twelve individuals were brought to trial.


MisterMr 01.03.23 at 1:31 am


“In part since that is largely what was offered to the former Soviet bloc after 1989”

In what sense? Genuine question, I always toughtthat the west was stupid not to offer to Russia the equivalent of a Marshall plan, I’m surprised if you say the west actually did.


MisterMr 01.03.23 at 1:56 am

@Steven T Johnson 77

Yes the inflation predated the Nazis, and the occupation was one of the causes, but my understanding is that Germany really had big problems paying the reparations, and that the government had to substantially tax more than it spended to pay the reparations, and that this forced Germany to be a net exporter.
It is my understanding that the Weimar government had to basically print money to but stuff in Germany and sell it abroad for cheap (to exchange it with gold to pay the reparations), which was the main reason, though not the only one, for the continuous and self reinforcing inflation.


John Q 01.03.23 at 5:36 am

J-D I wasn’t thinking of individual crimes like shooting prisoners, but of high-level crimes like waging aggressive war, with which the rulers of Germany and Japan were charged after WWII.


John Q 01.03.23 at 5:42 am

MrMr @84 The G7 was expanded to include Russia, and Russian membership of the WTO was supported. Accession was in 2011, long after the expansion of NATO etc which was later used to justify aggression against Ukraine . Interestingly, Medvedev was president at the time


J-D 01.03.23 at 8:45 am

J-D I wasn’t thinking of individual crimes like shooting prisoners, but of high-level crimes like waging aggressive war, with which the rulers of Germany and Japan were charged after WWII.

The Paris Peace Conference established a Commission on the Responsibility of the Authors of the War and Enforcement of Penalties:
Part of the Commission’s Report says:

The premeditation of a war of aggression … is conduct which the public conscience reproves … but … a war of aggression may not be considered as an act directly contrary to positive law, or one which can successfully be brought before a tribunal …

Connected with this is one of the report’s conclusions:

It is desirable that for the future penal sanctions should be provided for such grave outrages against the elementary principles of international law.



Elizabeth MCINTOSH 01.03.23 at 8:56 am

As the cookbook says when making a rabbit stew, ‘First, catch your rabbit.’
Punishing Putin and his gang will require the military defeat of Russia and its unconditional surrender, putting in place an occupational control in Moscow to supervise reparations and organise the ‘Nuremberg ‘trials. How likely is this level of defeat?

And, rather than seek parallels with WW1 and WW2, may be we should look at the ‘winter war’ between Finland and the USSR in 1939. Initially the SU underestimated the resistance of the Finns, who were armed by France, UK, Italy, etc., and was humiliated militarily. However, it reorganised its operations and gained the treaty it wanted. Isn’t territory that was once Finnish still part of Russia?


MisterMr 01.03.23 at 9:45 am

@John Q 87

I don’t think these are comparable to the Marshall plan. Thank for the answer though.


J-D 01.03.23 at 9:50 am

Consider two children. One has a wealthy family, and act as a bully at school knowing he is protected by his wealth. The other is also a bully, but he has a father who drinks and beats him. Who is morally worse?

People can benefit from considering how to evaluate the morality of actions, choices, and decisions, because people take and make actions, choices, decisions.

I question the morality of evaluating the moral worth of individual people, in general, and in particular comparative evaluations: I don’t know what the benefits are supposed to be, and I fear the effect may be corrupting of the moral character of the people doing the evaluating. I can’t figure how it would be a good use of my time to spend it calculating who is bad and who is worse. When children are engaging in bullying, the important moral question, as I understand it, is not how bad they are but what to do about it.


engels 01.03.23 at 10:43 am

Russia got the Harvard plan.


engels 01.03.23 at 12:50 pm

The Marshall plan for Russia

Surrounded by a small group of Russian reformers and Western advisers, Yeltsin used this unique historical moment to launch an unprecedented program of economic “shock therapy.” Prices were liberalized, borders were opened, and rapid privatization began – all by presidential decree. Nobody in Yeltsin’s circle bothered to ask whether this was what Russia’s citizens wanted. And nobody paused to consider that Russians might first want a chance to develop a sound constitutional foundation for their country, or to express through an election their preference for who should govern them.
The reformers and their Western advisers simply decided – and then insisted – that market reforms should precede constitutional reforms…


Phil H 01.03.23 at 1:13 pm

The difficulty with this debate is surely the hard-forged link in our minds between crime and punishment. If there’s a crime, there should be punishment. The strength of this unspoken logical link is such that people on both sides of the debate are forced into untenable positions. Those who think that there should be no reprisals against the Russian people are forced to argue, implausibly, that none of them support the war (see Jeff above). And Daragh, having argued that the Russian people do bear some responsibility for the war, then naturally concludes that collective punishment is right.
I want to suggest a different answer:
(1) The Russian people are somewhat responsible for the war; but
(2) They should not be punished for it.
The arguments for this disconnect between crime and punishment are consequentialist. Firstly, as others have pointed out, the historical warning of Versailles. Secondly, one of the arguments for linking crime to punishment in the first place is to deter; but within the Russian cultural milieu, it’s not clear that punishment now can or would deter future wrong-doing. If deterrence no longer holds, then the argument for punishment is greatly reduced, and punishment becomes simply injury.
The problem with my (1) and (2) is that they’re very difficult to sell politically. Punitive rhetoric is very popular, after all. Nonetheless, I think they’re correct, and we have to bite that bullet.


Jeff 01.03.23 at 2:34 pm

Phil H @94

A good point about the “hard-forged link,” and I would add that too often we all get confused about the nature of punishment, why we punish (and if we can and should), and what or whom to punish. Some degree of deterrence is necessary, although we are dealing with Kuran’s preference falsification and so don’t quite know whom/what to punish or how.

One quibble: I didn’t say that no one in Russia supports the war or that there should be no reprisals (or punishments) at all. (If I’m misinterpreting your comment, please forgive.) There are Russians who support and oppose the war but feel (often rightly) that they can’t do anything about it, especially given increasing repression, corruption, and the mafia nature of the regime. The best they could do is passive support or passive resistance, but the best that can do is keep alive any spark for action. But there are Russians who could plausibly do something because they have some capacity for meaningful action. What is Aleksei Kudrin doing? What are the technocrats like Mishustin and Nabiulinna doing behind the scenes? They are keeping the war machine going, but what is their motive? Keep your head down to gain, to survive, or to wait for the moment to actually do something useful against the war? (Nabiulinna and Prigozhin are not interchangable in terms of their actions and support for the war, even if both are contributing in different ways.) What are university administrators or enterprise managers doing behind the scenes when they publicly claim to support the war–are they also shielding “dissidents” in their ranks or at least not persecuting them? (I have seen evidence of the latter, but we also have the occasional evidence of snitching.) We don’t know all that much. And why this “Russian people,” a reification? How do we measure culpability across this vast and varied group? We have already slapped sanctions on some people and organizations (and the main goal really was not to crash the currency, although the ruble’s strength is as much illusory as real), and could do more.

But yes, this is a muddled issue, and war generally is muddled anyway.


LFC 01.03.23 at 2:47 pm

engels @93
I would like to thank you for the link @93, because, as best as I can recall, I was not aware of Katherina Pistor; her book The Code of Capital looks interesting. (As for your link @92, I haven’t clicked on it yet.)


LFC 01.03.23 at 3:05 pm

Jeff @81
“Think in terms of exit, voice, and loyalty.”

With a bow to Albert Hirschman.


Daragh 01.03.23 at 9:22 pm

engels @93

As much as myths about evil Western plots to ravage the Russian economy have gained traction with both paranoid Russian nationalist and stoned poli-sci sophomores alike, those with actual knowledge of conditions in post-Soviet Russia tend to point to things like the total collapse of the state’s administrative capacity (partly due to Yeltsin’s political manoueverings which the Bush administration was suspicious of) for the economic chaos of the 1990s. Also important were the actions of mid-level Soviet economic and political elites who, astonishingly enough, had agendas and motivations all of their own. While I’ll admit these explanations don’t have the emotional satisfaction of “McKinsey – the root of all evil”, they have the advantage of being rooted in facts, knowledge and analysis.

Phil H @94

I broadly agree with you on both points, save for the fact that any sanctions regime will inevitably involve a degree of collective punishment.


Raven Onthill 01.04.23 at 12:50 am

Further reflections. I’ve been reading more about current life in Russia, and –

Is it possible we are looking at mass psychological trauma here? First Stalin’s depredations, then World War II, then more Stalinism, then losing the Cold War (which probably could have been ended in the 1960s had US hawks not wanted to keep it going), then the horrors of the emergence of the Russia oligarchy, again aided by US hawks. Would it be any wonder if this population was angry and willing to strike out at the world in spite?

I don’t know that this is true, but I suspect it might be. If it is we have to rethink how we treat Russia. Obviously we cannot allow them to run roughshod over eastern Europe, but some sort of compassion and support is also in order.


Chris Bertram 01.04.23 at 10:41 am

@daragh writes

“As much as myths about evil Western plots to ravage the Russian economy have gained traction with both paranoid Russian nationalist and stoned poli-sci sophomores alike, those with actual knowledge of conditions …”

One doesn’t have to be a believer in “evil plots” or to be paranoid or stoned to think that shock therapy, perhaps sincerely intended for the good by some of its ideological advocates, had a devastating effect on post-Soviet society. Painting those who think that an opportunity was terribly wasted and at a cost of massive human suffering as conspiracy theorists is really cheap rhetoric Daragh.


Daragh 01.04.23 at 11:29 am

Chris @100

The point I was making is the idea that “shock therapy” as a policy was responsible for the calamity of the 1990s, rather than the complete breakdown of the administrative capacity of the Russian Federation itself, is a myth. Notably the post-Communist states of Central and Eastern Europe enacted versions of “shock therapy” and prospered.

Put it another way – the privatisation of Siberian aluminium factories on the cheap wasn’t done due to a policy decision made in Moscow, as much as it was because men with guns in Siberia forcibly took over those factories and Moscow couldn’t do anything about it. Same with the various illicit schemes that allowed the original oligarchs to prosper by looting state-owned enterprises in collaboration with corrupt local managers.

I agree this was a massive lost opportunity for the new Russian state, and that perhaps Western policy makers could have made different decisions that would have improved the conditions and restraints under which post-Soviet Russia operated. I also agree that there are good faith critics of “shock therapy” as a set of economic policies, whom I disagree with on the above grounds. But I’ve also read more than my fair share of Russian nationalist and Western leftist critiques of “shock therapy” that are clearly motivated by a priori assumptions that it must have been a malignant American plot, and given engels’ record in this and other conversations I’m 95% confident they fall into the same category.


engels 01.04.23 at 11:37 am

Fevered Russian nationalism from NPR:

American advisors and global creditors, especially the International Monetary Fund, played a notable role advocating for shock therapy. But some influential shock therapists, like the economist Jeffrey Sachs, then at Harvard, believed such a radical program needed support. He proposed the United States and multilateral development agencies help Russian reformers succeed with a $30 billion aid package, akin to what America had provided Europe after WWII with the Marshall Plan. Sachs also called for the cancellation of Russia’s debts. But these ideas were rejected by American leaders.


engels 01.04.23 at 1:05 pm

Perhaps reasonable people can agree that “shock therapy was the Marshall plan for Russia” was one of the most ridiculous things anyone has ever said on this blog and move on. I didn’t want to start a debate with Daragh about shock therapy as I’m sure we profoundly disagree, but I do appreciate his taking time away from advising financial masters of the universe to share his perspectives.


Jeff 01.04.23 at 1:26 pm

Raven @99: You raise a good point missing from a lot of this. In the 1980s we have economic decline and the Geritol gang in the Kremlin are a laughing-stock. In the late 1980s everything falls apart as Gorbachev tries to reform the system; Gorby gets far too much blame for collapse, but he became the face of that chaos and ensuing challenges and misery. Then we have economic chaos, misery, inequality, violence (bandits, anyone?), oligarchs, etc. in the 1990s. In that time there were fears of a new colonialism thanks to privatization (such talk ran through factory newspapers in the first half of the 1990s).* Let’s add to this Kosovo and the myths of Albright wanting to break apart Russia. Chris @100 makes a good point in this context.

This is a recipe for resentment. And this is exactly what I saw in 1999, after the ruble crashed the year before and the US and allies took action over Kosovo. That resentment started to ebb away for some as life got better and they got to travel; for others, that resentment became a toxic form of nationalism. Some reports I read from March and April suggested that the soldiers most involved in atrocities came from the poorest parts of Russia and for the first time were seeing streets paved with asphalt. Could that have stoked powerful toxic resentment—and violence? This opens a can of worms, as we are assigning causation (traumatic experiences and resentment, or even ressentiment) that muddles moral culpability. Not that there should be no punishment, but the picture is more complicated.

An aside: Shock therapy worked where it was tried the least. Poland slowed down its reforms and sequences commercialization/restructuring of firms and then privatization. And East Europe for all practical purposes invited West European investors. Russian politicians and many among the population were less enthused about foreign investment in the 1990s, because that meant loss of economic independence. That did not stop foreign investment, but it did hinder it until Putin opened some more doors. Daragh is right and wrong (as Chris pointed out): shock therapy policies and practitioners were not the single villain in the 1990s, but they were not as unimportant as Daragh makes them out to be—Moscow was far more involved in the economic dislocation, and privatization was more than people showing up with guns. (Some of those people did so with Moscow’s blessing, e.g. Khodorkovskii when he was building his empire.) Yeltsin’s politics, problems of institutional functioning, and yes, shock therapy (and bandits and corrupt businesses and officials)…What a mess.


Matt 01.04.23 at 1:47 pm

On Russia at the end of the Soviet Union: a couple of years or so ago I read the last edition of Alec Nove’s excellent book The Soviet Economic System. It’s a sort of textbook, revised many times over the years. The basic theme of the last edition is that the system is really, really messed up, with many deep problems that have no obvious solution. It’s also clear from Nove’s other work that, as messed up as the other Soviet Block countrys’ economies were, they were much less messed up, for various reasons. Of course, it seems implausible that nothing better could have been done, but I think it’s the begining of wisdom to note that the situation that the new Russia faced in 1992 was objectively extremely difficult, and that no matter what it was going to be very hard to make it work. That Yeltsin was a drunk half-wit didn’t help, of course. Maybe if Gorbachev had been willing to follow Yavlinsky’s plan in the late 1980s/early 90s, thing would have been better, but probably the only thing that would have happened is that hard liners would have deposed him even sooner.

A story from when I lived in Russia, which was well after the worst “cowboy” days, but that fits a bit with Daragh’s account: In early 2000, there was a dispute over who would be the new manager of a major vodka bottling plant in Kaluga, for what was, then, one of the best brands of vodka, Gzhelka. One of the disputants took over the plant with his private army. He didn’t win out in the end. But, the fact that he, not too unreasonably, thought that taking over the plant with his private army might lead to him being the manager says a lot about how things were done then. This wasn’t the fault of the US.


MisterMr 01.04.23 at 2:30 pm

@Matt 105

Sorry but I think that what you say was literally the consequence of “shock doctrine” (that just means immediate and very fast transition to capitalism): a lot of people in the west tought that the failure of the soviet system proved extreme free market theory right; the russians transitioned to pure free market in a very short period, nobody was used to a capitalist economy and western products (previously locked out of soviet economy) immediately displaced a lot of lower quality soviet products.
This lead to a collapse of the economic system, widespread criminality, people who had access to government positions acquiring huge shares of formerly statal assets etc.
In this situation it is natural that gangsterism runs rampant.

My point is not that the USA is somehow morally at fault (a notion that I see as empty when referred to countries or historical processes), my point is that that sort or destruction easily leads to people welcoming a “strong leader” like Putin because he at least stops the chaos, with the consequences we see today.

So it would be better to avoid to repeat the error and not cause another social collapse in Russia, so that Russians become even more crazed nationalist and elect a worse one later.


steven t johnson 01.04.23 at 2:58 pm

The notion that lawlessness in the Russian Federation was both an accident caused by no one’s negligence and an systemic inevitability erases the militant US support for Yeltsin, who bombarded the Russian parliament to make sure there would be no compromising.

The allied notion that shock therapy “worked” in other parts of central Europe so far as I can see is unjustified. East Germany came off the best. But other alleged bright spots ignore the massive emigration of peoples fleeing the blessings of capitalism. Isn’t the joke in Latvia, the last one out turn off the lights? And even a superficial glance doesn’t make me thing anything south of the Danube isn’t in sad shape. No doubt somebody won the Albanian lottery but I don’t think it was the people.


Daragh 01.04.23 at 3:08 pm

Jeff @104

Regarding your point that “Shock therapy worked where it was tried the least.” – I don’t think we’re actually in disagreement. Poland was able to moderate shock therapy policies because it had the administrative and institutional capacity to do so. As Matt @105 points out this is in part due to the fact that the administrative and economic dysfunctions of state Communism had simply been in place for less time and had done less damage. One of Gorby’s biggest errors was failing to grasp just how central the CPSU secretariat was to administering the USSR and how weak the ‘official’ organs of the state where in reality. He dismantled the former and realised too late the latter wasn’t fit for purpose. There are other factors for why the Warsaw Pact states did better – the presence of viable counter-elites, the fact that alternative moral and ethical worldviews to Communism were still in place – but they all tend to feed into the crucial ability of the state to actually DO things.

More briefly the issue – to my mind – wasn’t so much the speed and the scope of shock therapy as it was Arendt’s observation that in the absence of effective political and police institutions that market competitors will settle their disputes with revolvers.

On the Yugoslav wars feeding Russian nationalist ressentiment, the alternative was permitting tolerating mass murder of one of Europe’s few Muslim populations.* If combatting ethno-nationalist chauvinism when the perpetrators are Slavs means a segment of the Russian population gets angry, I think that’s a problem for them rather than us.

(* Yes, the Yugoslav wars were messy with terrible crimes committed on all sides, but Milosevic and his supporters’ were both the main initiators of the wars and the worst murderers during it).

Finally, to engels, all I can say is thank you for validating my assumptions about the level of good faith you’ve come to this discussion with. I would make snarky – and wildly inaccurate – claims about your employment, but you’ve chosen to use a pseudonym.


TM 01.04.23 at 3:30 pm

J-D 83: “I don’t know how much things like this are happening, but it would be slightly surprising if it isn’t happening at least a bit”

If you don’t know, maybe better leave it there? I don’t claim that antirussian incidents never happen but to a significant extent, the West’s alleged Russiophobia has been a propaganda trope of the Kremlin.


Chris Bertram 01.04.23 at 5:40 pm

@daragh writes “I would make snarky – and wildly inaccurate – claims about your employment, but you’ve chosen to use a pseudonym.”

@engels, it is a fair point. If you must remain anonymous, then please refrain from mudslinging about the character of people who are not. Consider yourself warned.


J-D 01.04.23 at 10:07 pm

J-D 83: “I don’t know how much things like this are happening, but it would be slightly surprising if it isn’t happening at least a bit”

If you don’t know, maybe better leave it there? I don’t claim that antirussian incidents never happen but to a significant extent, the West’s alleged Russiophobia has been a propaganda trope of the Kremlin.

Whatever the current frequency, an increase is possible, but undesirable: therefore, trying to avoid doing things which will encourage an increase in frequency is a good idea.


novakant 01.05.23 at 11:08 am

I wanted to recommend Putin’s People: How the KGB Took Back Russia and Then Took on the West, a very thorough and in-depth account of what happened in Russia since 1990 (and actually the 80s) by FT/Reuters journalist Catherine Belton.

As far as the topic of the OP is concerned it comes as a helpful reminder of what any opposition against the powers that be are up against.

Regarding the debate about the role of “shock therapy”, I think it certainly was a misguided and harmful approach, but today I think it’s much more relevant to look at the economic and institutional structures of capitalism that enable(d) trillions of Russian money to be extracted and laundered in the West over decades, and how more recently parts that money was used to undermine our democratic systems.


engels 01.05.23 at 4:28 pm

[Possibky redundant re-post]

Daragh, my apologies: I don’t think it’s worthwhile my trying to debate a professional Russia analyst about a topic on which we are so far apart politically. That is not any kind of slight, certainly not “mudslinging”, and I genuinely appreciate your openness to engagement.

I have followed the comments of Russia hands with interest but I’m surprised no one has drawn a contrast with China or mentioned Isabella Weber’s book.


Daragh 01.05.23 at 7:28 pm

engels @114

Thank you for your graciousness and my own apologies for any snarkiness on my own part.


steven t johnson 01.05.23 at 10:14 pm

The decline in Russian majority living standards (starkly apparent in population decline) not due to shock treatment but to, as novakant’s link seems to tell us, the secret return of Communist tyranny could be usefully compared to the relative situation of the larger part of the population in Belarus (which did not have wholesale privatization) and Ukraine, which did not have revanchist KGB autocracy. Again, massive emigration and reliance on remittances are not signs of success. And the same is true of generous IMF loans, which should probably be deemed more like subsidies.


KT2 01.05.23 at 10:50 pm

As I knew nothing of Siberian Aluminium smelters, your statement “men with guns in Siberia forcibly took over those factories and Moscow couldn’t do anything about it” seemed odd to me. I just couldn’t imagine the Russian State (whoever was in power) not sending in the military to remove the “men with guns”. Further, I assume the “men with guns” were connected to both the Russian State and it’s military. Jeff@105, said “Moscow was far more involved in the economic dislocation, and privatization was more than people showing up with guns.”

So… Dr Google:
(i)”Aluminium industry in Russia

“In 1995, it was proposed to create a financial industrial group (FIG) in the aluminium industry of Russia. The establishment of the FIG was followed by preparation for registration of the managing company Siberian Aluminium, whose shareholders were to be represented by the above mentioned group members. It was planned that TWG subsidiaries would be entitled to almost 50% of shares.

“However, the preparation process stalled when the establishment of the FIG under the auspices of Trans-World Group was almost finished. By mid-1997, a serious conflict arose at a number of facilities between the Russian shareholders and top managers, on the one side, and TWG shareholders, on the other side. This resulted in a split inside the Trans-World Group.



“The only one who had declared by that time its intention to participate in the tender was Siberian Aluminum which already controls about 36% of MAP JSC (26% by way of its controlling interest in TK MAP Ltd. and 10% purchased on the stock market). According to Siberian Aluminum vice president, Eduard Tsukerman, “The group has studied the conditions and made an unambiguous decision to take part in the tender.”


Daragh went on to say “motivated by a priori assumptions that it must have been a malignant American plot,” (shock therapy or supporting men with guns?)

The article (i) above seems to make clear much of the Siberian Aluminium Smelters were captive to cash flow and resource constraints, and dumping of aluminia into London metal market causing price fixations and forcing consolidation of smelters into a group then providing 10% of world aluminum production. This consolidation enabled some stability in raw material supply,  production and marketing. And of course US and international capital seemd to  already be involved.

Daragh, Jeff & CT, I’d appreciate to see a reference to the “men with guns” as I seem unable to locate a reference relating to the Siberian Aluminium Smelters, please.


mpowell 01.06.23 at 5:32 am

Of course the Russian people are diverse and all have different degrees of personal culpability for the crimes of their government. But I don’t think the important question is whether any given Russian is ethically at fault for the Ukraine war. The interesting question to me is what ethical limits does it place on our actions in responding to the Russian state? Obviously, the Russian state cannot act without the support of the Russian people. So stopping the Russian state from doing what it wants to do may require hurting a lot of Russian people. Should we feel bad about that? My feeling is that when a people are led by a truly evil government doing truly evil things, they have lost any claim to be treated in a certain way by the people who are trying to stop that government. The example here is Germany and Japan in WWII. Does the fire-bombing of cities constitute war crimes? Yes. Was it wrong for the allies to do so? Only if you think it was a less effective means of prosecuting the war. Ending human life unnecessarily is still wrong, but it is not wrong if it enables you to defeat a power like Nazi Germany or Imperial Japan. If you are the instrument that a truly evil government actor is using to pursue evil ends, you have effectively forfeited your life, even if that situation is not fair to you personally. That’s my opinion any way and as an American I can accept the implications for myself.

But I think this type of question – how much should we be concerned with harm to the Russian people by opposing the Russian state? – is kind of moot. Because Russia is a nuclear power, they will be subject to financial punishment, but not actual invasion or attack by NATO forces. So the question of whether Russian citizens have a moral claim to not being killed by acts of war is not very relevant.


Chris Bertram 01.06.23 at 10:06 am

@mpowell, I can only refer you to John Rawls’s essay 50 Years after Hiroshima for a different view. Rawls was, as you may know, an infantryman in the Pacific theatre of war, so he stood to benefit from the kinds of actions you endorse



engels 01.06.23 at 10:54 am

Review of another recent book:

According to Ghodsee and Orenstein, the Visegrad countries — Poland, Hungary, Czechia, and Slovakia — and Slovenia and Estonia best illustrate the workings of the J-curve transition. For the sake of brevity, this group of countries works well as an example of relative successes. However, the authors know that even these countries experienced a significant recession in the early transition years, combined with prolonged suffering in many dimensions. According to the economic dataset published online accompanying the book, the transitional recession in the most successful economies was comparable to the Great Depression of the 1930s in the U.S., although somewhat less severe. Almost 100 years later, Western social scientists still consider the Great Depression one of the most traumatic events that profoundly reshaped the United States. However, a recession of comparable magnitude in Eastern Europe is considered a major achievement by advocates of the post-socialist success narrative. To contextualize this “success”, in terms of real GDP per capita (in 2011 USD), it took 12 years for Hungary to grow back to its 1989 level. Czechia and Poland were quicker – they lost “only” seven years. The hardest-hit post-socialist countries have not recovered their level of economic development of the late socialist period. In 2016, the real GDP per capita (in 2011 USD) of Ukraine, Moldova, Serbia, Montenegro, Tajikistan, and Georgia was still below the 1989 level. In the middle, we find countries that regained their 1989 levels sometime around the mid-2000s.

Confronted with these massive drops, some economists questioned the reliability of economic statistics in Eastern Europe. Ghodsee and Orenstein review the efforts that re-evaluated the economic transition by going beyond official GDP statistics. However, they find that those studies also point to a deep economic contraction. The most complete dataset imputing GDP growth suggests that the extent of the recession was somewhat lower, but comes very close to what official economic statistics show. Some countries are doing relatively better than others. However, inequality distorts the social distribution of these gains even in the most successful cases. In several countries, including Poland, average household income grew at only half the pace of GDP per capita between 1992 and 2010. In Hungary, GDP per capita grew by 1.92% between 1991 and 2012. However, real household incomes shrank by an average of 0.22% per year at the same time. Measures of income inequality also show that the top 10% captured almost two-thirds of post-communist economic growth in the post-socialist region. Behind the growth averages lurks a massive increase in poverty, with 191 million people — 47% of the the post-socialist population— living on less than $5.50 a day in the region in 1999, at the peak of the post-socialist poverty crisis.

Official assessments usually stop with the economic evidence. The most fascinating part of Ghodsee and Orenstein’s book starts here. Reviewing the demographic research, they find evidence for suffering of epic proportions. As the authors note, “we became fascinated by the ways these data had been elided or ignored by others proclaiming transition success, especially given that the transition coincided with the worst recorded peacetime population declines in history” (p. 86)…


Seekonk 01.06.23 at 3:42 pm

After the USA won the Cold War, it insisted on extending the Westphalian arrangement in which nations (as well as corporations and individuals) contend rather than cooperate. Uncle Sam employed ‘shock therapy’ to re-construct Russia in its own image. Enough of those silly ‘mutually beneficial economic relations’. Should economic sharing and collaboration be mandatory? Heavens no!

Our official narrative is that that it is good to have enemies, because competition builds character, and makes us plucky, innovative, efficient, and ‘disruptive’. Even defeat must be accepted as ‘creative destruction’.

Is Russia our enemy? Clearly, and that’s how we wanted it.


lurker 01.06.23 at 4:54 pm

@KT2, 117
Here’s a little something about the aluminium wars of the early 90’s, courtesy of Google:


mpowell 01.06.23 at 5:59 pm

Hi Chris, thanks for the pointer. I have some familiarity with Rawls’ work in this area, but I have not read this piece before. The strange thing to me about his argument, written at the time he did, is that history really seems contradicts his main claim. In fact, the allies were able to achieve a just peace with both Germany and Japan and to the great benefit of both people’s. It is very hard to imagine that Japan, for example, would have been better off if their cities had not been fire-bombed and a negotiated peace reached with their military government, or that this could result in anything like a long term just peace.

I feel that somehow the average person of the world has a greater acceptance of and acknowledgement of the consequences for the violence of existence than someone like Rawls. As it turns out, the Germans and Japanese attitudes towards democracy and their victors were not poisoned by the bombing of their cities.


Daragh 01.06.23 at 11:16 pm

KT2 @117

“I just couldn’t imagine the Russian State (whoever was in power) not sending in the military to remove the “men with guns”.”

That’s more or less the point I’ve been making – they couldn’t. The Russian military at the time was getting utterly mauled in Chechnya, the officer corps were busy enriching the likes of Viktor Bout and the Minister of Defence, Pavel Grachev, was popularly known as Pasha Mercedes. One of the reasons we know about the scale of corruption was reporter Dmitry Kholodov, who received a briefcase full of grenades for his troubles.

steven t johnson @116

The Belarusian economy also received large shipments of heavily discounted Russian oil far in surplus to its domestic requirements which it then sold on to Europe at world market prices in exchange for its geopolitical loyalty. As soon as Putin began withdrawing these subsidies the Belarusian economy suffered repeated balance of payments crises and currency devaluations in 2011 and 2015. Lukashenko responded by forbidding workers in export oriented industries (such as wood-working) and attempting to tax unemployment. By 2020 the pressures of Covid and the tapering off of the last of the subsidies left the regime with no viable means of staying in power beyond massive, indiscriminate violence (and even then it had to be backed with Russian interior troops).

engels @120

I’m afraid that analysis is pretty unconvincing if you’re familiar with the pathologies of the Soviet and Warsaw Pact economies. Kornai’s work on the ‘Shortage Economy’ is good in this respect. It’s not just that Soviet GDP statistics were largely fabricated, at all levels (the Kremlin had so little idea what was going on in the country by Gorbachev’s time it took them days to figure out what was going on at Chernobyl), it’s that central planning, quotas and soft budget constraints resulted in enterprises producing output with no purpose or end users. Metals production is the classic case – huge outputs of easily produced, but practically useless steel slabs filled the quotas when what was needed were smaller, thinner sheets that could be used to make things. This all contributed to Soviet GDP (both real and reported) without contributing to Soviet living standards. The same phenomenon contributed to ‘forced savings’ by the Soviet population (because there was nothing to buy) and exacerbated hyperinflation when market reforms were introduced.

Conversely, while there’s no questioning that output collapsed in the 1990s measuring ‘real’ GDP became challenging due to the prevalence of grey and black market activity. With the proviso that its anecdata, when I did my language training in a mid-size regional Russian city (think the Russian equivalent of somewhere in Ohio or Michigan) in the mid-2000s official per capita GDP was half of what it was in 1991. That said, everyone had a degree of unreported income, and while everyone I met there had suffered during the 1990s they also had vastly better living standards than they had during the Soviet period. The inequality issue is more complex, but suffice to say that Soviet officialdom enjoyed a range of perks and access to consumer goods that were entirely out the reach of the workers and peasants.

What I find most questionable about the analysis however is this: “In 2016, the real GDP per capita (in 2011 USD) of Ukraine, Moldova, Serbia, Montenegro, Tajikistan, and Georgia was still below the 1989 level.”

Let’s take a closer look at that comparison group shall we?

Georgia suffered a catastrophic civil war from 1991-94 that resulted in widespread ethnic cleansing and the partition of the country (including the relatively economically productive region of Abkhazia).

Moldova had a less bloody, but still tragic, civil war that resulted in local Soviet/Russian troops taking the initiative to carve out the separatist entity of Transnistria, whose economy is still heavily based in its status as an unrecognised entity that makes it a haven for organised crime (which bleeds over the border as well).
Tajikistan had a civil war from 1992-97 which was also ‘resolved’ by Russian troops who secured the regime of Emomali Rahmon, an erratic dictator memorably described in the Wikileaks cables as man who would “prefer to control 90% of a ten-dollar pie, rather than 30% of a hundred-dollar pie.” In 2016 Ukraine had been invaded two years previously, had large chunks of its territory seized, and the fighting in the Donbass was still at a relatively high intensity.

In other words, the post-Soviet case studies for the “failure of shock therapy” are ones that had suffered sustained, violent conflicts (which tends to deter investment) with accompanying major loss of territory and/or industrial assets. In Tajikistan’s case it would be hard to argue that any economic reforms of significance occurred at all. Georgia and Moldova also saw the creation of unrecognised separatist entities that became havens for organised crime. If were to play the opposite card and hold up Azerbaijan as proof of the success of the reform programmes without mentioning oil and gas, I would be laughed out of the room (and rightly so).

I won’t pretend to be familiar enough with the economic reform programs of 1990s Serbia and Montenegro to say anything intelligent about them, but they certainly weren’t oases of peace in the 1990s. Suffice to say given the case selection and lack of caveats, I question the analytical rigour on display here.

Chris @119

Rawls makes a number of interesting and valid points, but to my mind he has left out a crucial factor – Imperial Japan was still occupying large swathes of territory in mainland Asia where it was inflicting great suffering on the civilian population in August 1945. Rawls talks about a “crisis exemption” which excuses certain military acts in extremis, but only seems to apply this directly to the belligerents. Given that both the Nazis and Imperial Japan were engaged in, quite literally, some of the worst crimes in the history of the human species to civilians in territories under their control it seems to me that not considering the benefit in accelerating the end of the war for them is a major flaw in his argument.


Daragh 01.06.23 at 11:18 pm

Bah – typo! Sentence in response to steven t johnson should read

“Lukashenko responded by forbidding workers in export oriented industries (such as wood-working) from resigning and attempting to tax unemployment.”


LFC 01.06.23 at 11:30 pm

mpowell @118 wrote:

“My feeling is that when a people are led by a truly evil government doing truly evil things, they have lost any claim to be treated in a certain way by the people who are trying to stop that government” — irrespective, mpowell says, of the degree of their personal culpability.

I don’t agree. Walzer’s well-known discussion of “supreme emergency” seems right to me — his conclusion being, iirc, that deliberate bombing of civilian targets is perhaps justified only when, in a just war as WW2 was on the Allied side, available means of taking offensive action are very limited and the situation is so dire that national survival is at stake. That was the case when Britain (and its empire) pretty much stood alone in WW2 (i.e., from the fall of France to Pearl Harbor). But that was an exceptional situation, a “supreme emergency” as Churchill termed it. After the U.S. entered the war, those conditions no longer obtained. The bombing of cities (via conventional and incendiary bombs) and the use of the atomic bombs was not necessary to the defeat of Germany and Japan, and the extent to which those actions hastened the end of the war (if indeed they did) is still a matter of historiographical debate.


John Q 01.07.23 at 4:31 am

A bit more, from Australia, about overseas Russians who oppose Putin. They definitely exist, but on the other hand, appear to be conscious of their minority status even among the diaspora. This is very different from the Cold War era, when virtually all immigrants from the Eastern Bloc were strongly anti-regime.



Matt 01.07.23 at 6:17 am

Every Russian I’ve met in Australia is opposed to the war, but most of them have been outside of Russia for several years now, and were already not fans of Putin. Oddly, the only people I’ve met in Australia who were pro-Putin were a couple of women who work at a farmer’s market I go to on the Gold Coast, and they are both 100% Australian – they started volunteering to my wife how good it was that Putin was “de-Nazifying” Ukraine and the like. It was shocking, really. We told them that wasn’t true, but also don’t shop at their stall any more.


LFC 01.07.23 at 2:35 pm

Correcting an obvious and significant error in my comment @126:
Britain “stood alone” not until Pearl Harbor, as I mistakenly wrote above, but until the German invasion of the USSR, which occurred roughly 6 months before.

(A glance at Rawls’s piece, which I have in the issue of Dissent where it appeared as part of a symposium, and where he talks about “supreme emergency” using different language – “exemption of extreme crisis” – made me realize immediately that I’d made this mistake. See his remarks on where to draw the line as to exactly when the period of the crisis exemption could be said to have ended in this case.)


engels 01.07.23 at 5:57 pm

“One can not declare a radical economic experiment a failure if it starts with civil war” is an interesting principle to introduce into a discussion of the USSR and its legacy….

Generally it seems to me your points provide context that you have liked to see included rather than evidence that any of the claims above are “unconvincing” or “questionable”. I agree that GDP isn’t a good measure of overall societal development (and you will search in vain for an anti-neoliberal leftie who thinks it is). That may be why the focus of the research is on crosschecking these trends with demographic data about mortality, outmigration and fertility, opinion surveys and ethnographic studies. It’s really worth clicking the link imho, and their comprehensive review paints a much less rosy picture than your mid-2000s anecdata.

I wonder how many Chinese people are looking back over the last few decades and saying “I wish we’d taken more advice from American neoliberal economists”.


KT2 01.07.23 at 11:50 pm

lurker & Daragh.
Thanks for the link & response. I am amazed at the levels of ammount of mini wars and states involved.

Daragh said; “One of the reasons we know about the scale of corruption was reporter Dmitry Kholodov, who received a briefcase full of grenades for his troubles.”

Must have heen a rushed hit job. No time for poison and no windows close by for defenestration.

lurker, in linked article at Open Democracy
“He told prosecutors how ‘Little Tolik’ had personally shot the boss of the Red Ravine casino in Krasnoyarsk in 1993. ‘Little Tolik’ was the nickname of Bykov’s then bodyguard Anatoly Koldev, who was later made a director of the Krasnoyarsk Aluminium Plant (and subsequently emigrated to the USA).”

I searched “Anatoly Koldev” “emigrated to USA” – crickets. Not one result. Any idea what happened to him in the US?

What a set of interlinked power struggles! How many movies has this mess fertilized?

If we watched the above as a book / movie, we’d say it was far ferched. Yet as always it seems truth (!?) is stranger than fiction.


engels 01.08.23 at 3:29 pm

Another interesting review:

Even though GDP recovered in the US and European countries after the Great Depression, all scholars of the period accept that the associated economic suffering had immense political consequences. In some countries, of course, it triggered the collapse of democracy. That similar if not greater economic suffering, along with the profoundly disruptive social changes experienced by east-European populations since 1989 would not have political consequences is unimaginable. Yet why have nationalist populists so often been the ‘beneficiaries’ of eastern Europe’s traumatic experiences? As Ghodsee and Orenstein note, since it was the ‘losers’ of the transition, sometimes referred to in the region as ‘thrown-away people’—older, working-class, less-educated and/or rural citizens—who disproportionately supported nationalist populists, explaining their political behaviour is crucial. That these voters became the base of nationalist populist parties in the region was not, as myriad scholars including David Ost, Maria Snegovaya, Anna Grzymala-Busse, Milada Vachudova, and Gabor Schering have shown, because they were inherently prone to vote for illiberal, xenophobic politicians. Rather it was because nationalist populists, rather than left parties, proved most responsive to their economic grievances


Daragh 01.09.23 at 10:40 pm


Not sure what the point you were making on the civil war thing. Economic reforms weren’t happening in Georgia in the early 90’s because Zviad Gamsakhurdia was focused on ethnic cleansing and they never happened in Tajikistan at all. Using Ukraine 2016’s GDP vs 1989, aside from the obvious issues of Soviet statistics being nonsense, needs to account for the ‘Russian invading the country in 2014’ impact.

Having read the full article it goes on to imply, among other absurdities, that alcoholism wasn’t endemic in the Soviet Union and that Central Asians don’t drink, which is just mind-bogglingly wrong. Again – the 1990s were awful, but downward trends in life expectancy due to despair-induced drinking is as much a product of the Brezhnev-era as the Yeltsin-era (the state made so much in taxes from selling booze that Gorbachev’s brief anti-alcohol campaign blew a massive hole in the Soviet budget).

The Soviets also had one of the highest suicide rates in the world at the time of the collapse (according to the OFFICIAL statistics, which were likely an underestimate). It turns out that a life in which “they pretend to pay us and we pretend to work”, as the old Soviet joke went, coupled with an ossified gerontocracy that can barely pretend to believe in its ideology is existentially deadening. And let us remember, the Brezhnev-era is widely regarded as the golden age of the USSR.

Again – any analysis of the economic pain of Russia in the 1990s that doesn’t grapple with the impact of 70 years of economic policy that preceded it, or the near total collapse of state capacity in favour of vague condemnations of “neoliberalism” has almost certainly started as an exercise in finding reasons to condemn “neoliberalism” rather than an attempt to seriously engage with the issue at hand.

“I wonder how many Chinese people are looking back over the last few decades and saying “I wish we’d taken more advice from American neoliberal economists”.”

Given that China a) executed a strategy of development based on abundant cheap labour with limited rights for workers b) managed the rising political demands of a growing middle class through violent repression, I think you’d find that a lot of the Chicago School economists wouldn’t have much to complain about.


TM 01.11.23 at 9:14 am

daragh 133: “any analysis of the economic pain of Russia in the 1990s that doesn’t grapple with the impact of 70 years of economic policy that preceded it, or the near total collapse of state capacity in favour of vague condemnations of “neoliberalism””

Sure you have a point, the policies and failures of the 1990s cannot be analyzed in isolation, as if everything was fine before the shock therapy was tried. But conversely you cannot just wave away the fact that life expectancy and living standards by all meaningful measures collapsed during the 1990s, coincinding with the shock therapy policies recommended by Western advisors. Amnd also that many observers warned even before the fact that the policies would have catastrophiv consequences. And the condemnations are not “vague”, there is an extensive literature that specifically analyzes these policies.


Weary Dunlop 01.12.23 at 11:50 am

“Punishing Germany at Versailles did not end well.”

But punishing Germany at Nuremburg turned out pretty well.

Let us now imagine the end of the Cold War was Versailles.

And the the upcoming trials in the Hague to be a passable stand in for Nuremburg.

Today, that’s why we fight.

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