24 September 2023: Acknowledging failure, plus texts and tunes
And thanks for the Kol Nidre link. Just in time.
Very good piece. Like the commenter below, I agree, this repaid a couple of readings.
Kudos for getting a Foreign Affairs piece published that admits you don’t know what’s going on. That is seriously really important,point. Dmitri Alperovich - who I respect a lot - had a piece in Foreign Policy, “Prigozhin’s Assassination Was Business, Not Revenge.” I mean, maybe, but who knows? As legal scholar Richard Posner said of a constitutional theory - it’s plausible, but is it convincing? A mass of plausible speculation isn’t of much help.
An exception may be this from Sam:
“My main hypothesis … is that there may have been a shift in the way that information elicits behavior. Something may have happened, in other words, that inures people against troubling news of any kind. If that’s true, then the standard prediction that a moral or material shock—such as the death of Prigozhin or visible attacks on Russia—might puncture the sense of consensus in support of the regime holds less water.”
What we can say is that the idea there was some kind of “social contract” between the regime and the people was wrong. So too, as Sam suggests elsewhere, the idea that the defining feature is that the regime was a kleptocracy.
Reading this column through a couple of times leads me to believe you've answered your quandaries about what's happening with public opinion in Russia: inertia, as you said. Terrible news doesn't affect them, but even if it did, what recourse do they have? And hearing a constant barrage of "we are the victim" and terrible stuff about the Ukrainians reinforces inertia. Lastly, the stats about Barbie's success supports this conclusion, but maybe I'm too cynical.
Thanks for a great column, as always, and the music tip.
My favorite version of Kol Nidrei is played by cellist Jacqueline du Pré
"There is not a soul in Ukraine who is not grateful for what you Americans are doing, not because you have to, but because your hearts will not let you do otherwise.
If I’m honest, I’m not entirely sure that’s true. The evidence suggests that there is growing frustration among Ukrainians about the slow pace of U.S. support and the emerging recognition that U.S. aims and Ukrainian aims may not fully overlap."
These things can both be true at the same time and in my experience (for background, been working with Ukrainians since 2018) they absolutely are. Colleagues are grateful, but they are also seeing their friends die every day while allies dither over certain forms of aid, giving reasons for not providing things that seem utterly incomprehensible in the face of what is happening to them.
"I am not among those who believe Washington is preparing to abandon Ukraine, but I can see where they’re coming from."
I think we in the west need to remember that Ukraine's English-speaking professionals can and do read American or European or UK news. They know what Trump thinks, they read polls about weak Republican support for Ukraine, they know when Kevin McCarthy is playing games. When Stephen Walt or John Mearsheimer writes yet another piece, they know about it. So there is always going to be fear and concern.
Re „ the sense of consensus in support of the regime.“ Mmhh - maybe one - of certainly many more - element explaining this inertia is this: If you imagine Russians assessing their personal situation on a best-case-worst-case continuum, on which the propaganda always painted the worst case in the most horrible colors - practically the annihilation of Russia - then nothing so much has changed against this worst case. So why bother? Life is going on, muddling through and finding small personal solutions to small personal problems. Does that make sense?