Like probably most people in the world right now, I’m horrified by the current situation in Ukraine. It’s March 5, and the Russians have laid the basis for seizing the eastern part of Ukraine — from Kyiv on over. It’s especially personal for me, as my son’s start-up has a small division in that country, and I’ve spent a good hunk of last week monitoring the refugee situation. The weather on the Polish border is around 10º F at night, and people are standing in lines for 24-36 hours to cross. Our friends are still camped in an underground parking garage in Kyiv, and there is nothing that is good about the situation, nor their ability to get to Ukraine’s active borders to the west. There is no gas anywhere, the Ukrainian military is forcibly conscripting all males between 18-60, and even if they had gas, there’s a strong possibility that our 38 year old friend would be given a machine gun and sent to fight.
Some countries are attempting to do all the can to help the refugee population. Over 600K Ukrainians have already crossed into Poland. Once across the Polish border, things get markedly better quickly. Volunteers are swarming there, on the other side as well, to mainly take the women and children, help them get to a train station, and give them some food before shipping them off to Warsaw, where they will be put up in a makeshift shelter, often a school gymnasium. Their fate is unknown, as the war is just beginning. There is a large Ukrainian community in Poland, and many Ukrainian men/laborers are going back in the other direction (I heard an estimation of 80K men) to join the Ukrainian defense forces.
In spite of such on-the-ground heroism by ordinary people, there is little that the US can, or even should do, outside of humanitarian efforts to ease the suffering, as well as diplomatic efforts to stop the war. This piece by Arta Moeini , a fellow Iranian diaspora member, sums up far more eloquently on how I view all of this. No matter how noble the cause is perceived, we are really at yet another dead end-end game for global elites that respects no individual, common person. And this one has the potential of ending the world in nuclear fire. Putin has already threatened as much.
The fact that Putin would even threaten such a thing, in the context of a nagging border war, speaks volumes of how elites memetically view the world. Putin apparently suffers from COVID paranoia, and this shows exactly what happens when you isolate yourself from the world for two years, with a handful of yes-men, running a large government through whatever the Russian equivalent of ZOOM is on large TV screens. You lose your mind.
And if you think our elites are somehow better, one of the most telling points of history in all this is the fact that the press is mawkishly calling this something like “the run-up to WW3” or something. Like they’re rooting for it. But the real lack of history is that WWIII really already happened in central Africa during the ’90s. I’ve seen estimates of some 6 million people killed in that one. And the fact that this last conflict is not even mentioned, while a border war alternately went hot and cold on the Ukrainian border since 2014, shows once again the press corps, ever the mouths of the elites, need not only a history lesson, but a re-education on what they’re actually mouthing, and who they’re supporting. The easy go-to explanation for dismissal of African carnage might be racism, and certainly that might have something to do with it. But I think it’s more likely that central Africa, in spite of its economic importance, just doesn’t matter when it comes to status. Those darker races all just look the same.
There are better sources on the current war, and surface-level motivations than this blog, and the piece by Moeini is a good start, as well as the website Unherd in general. But from a memetic perspective, it’s instrumental to consider how Russian elites have historically operated, and if we can learn anything about elites in general that we can apply to potential US and NATO responses.
For that, it’s instrumental to look at the campaigns of the Russian nobility in the Caucasus in the mid-19th century. The Caucasus were just about as far from St. Petersburg as anywhere that mattered, where the Russian nobility sat most of the century. The land on the ground in the Caucasus was governed (and this would be a very loose use of the term indeed) by a charismatic warrior named Imam Shamil. Called ‘The Lion of Dagestan’, Shamil ran a truly itinerant civil war against the Russian Army, issued from the Russian heartland about 1800 miles away. They were accompanied by certain numbers of Don River Cossacks, redirected south with the intent of settling the plains at the foot of the Caucasus mountains. The army would march south, and basically get slaughtered as the soldiers would wage war on the Avar tribesmen, who would then flee up into the giant old-growth beeches that lined the flanks of the mountains themselves.
The story’s so crazy (and I love big old-growth trees so much) I had half-heartedly planned both a visit and an environmental campaign to designate protected areas in Georgia and Armenia. My ardor somewhat faded for the usual reasons — lack of funding and time away from my family — as well as the more unconventional. Operating in the Caucasus in the 2000s also involved dealing with an almost industrial kidnapping threat, and you had to carry a ton of insurance because of the seeming inevitability of that outcome. The perpetrators weren’t particularly interested in killing you. But there was a strong cultural precedent. Even to this day, it’s considered fair game if a man kidnaps his future wife, regardless of whether she wants to go or not.
But back to Shamil. The war with Shamil’s Avars was mostly conducted by the Russian Army chasing the Avars up into the beeches, which were (and supposedly are still) enormous. The Army would get slaughtered and then retreated. It all see-sawed back and forth until the Cossacks burned and chopped down the forest — an ending befitting a fantasy story by J.R.R. Tolkien. After a quarter century of resistance, Shamil was captured in 1859, and taken to St. Petersburg for an audience with Tsar Alexander II. As an elite himself, he was not executed for his chronic guerrilla war. But his sons were inducted, and essentially converted, into the Russian Army, and reported transformed to the point that their father could not speak to them. Over time, he complained of the intense Baltic cold, though, and was put up in a house in Kyiv, where he lived out the rest of his days, with his own kidnapped wife, Ulykhanova, of Russian/Armenian heritage.
All of this is told in vivid detail in one of the best history books of the last century, The Sabres of Paradise, by my own dream-girl, Lesley Blanch. Blanch died at 103, in 2007, just before I discovered her book. She details the entire story of Shamil’s resistance, and the capture of his sons, in classic British post-colonial style.
One of the things inevitably framed in any military conquest is the idea of economic plunder. Yet the Tsars showed there was little of this by going to war in the Caucasus — in conflicts that continue almost to this day. The desire was classic memetic power-and-control. Ensconced in their opulent palaces, with all the riches of their time, they had little economic motivation to pursue a war in the mountains far to the south. And yet they did — sending tens of thousands of Russian peasants marching to a certain death over a distance that was often greater than 1800 miles. One can see how perhaps this fact alone shows the manipulability of a large peasant class. And at the same time, it very likely was one of the seeds of trauma, and large-scale dissatisfaction that would become the Romanov family’s great undoing in the the 20th. There was no rational reason for Russia’s elite class to pursue essentially endless war in the Caucasus, other than their need for bragging rights in their time with other elites.
But that was enough.
If there’s a lesson for us now in the USA, just as the Russian elites had no problem sending peasants off to die, for no good reason, there is no rational reason for us to follow this historical example and send our own troops off to fight on the latest Slavic battlefield, all the while risking literally the end of the world if we do so. The only reason that exists is that our current crop of global elites need to posture to each other, with the latest round of acceptable virtue signaling.
And these conflicts we are intruding into are old. If we understand the conflict in the Caucasus as potentially being close to 2000 years old, when Turkic and Rus tribesmen battled over grazing areas in central Asia, then we can also look at the 1000 year-old war between the Rus and the Ukrainians in much the same framework.
As of this writing, Joe Biden, the US President, has committed to defying any call for direct military action by the US or NATO in the current round of the Ukrainian war, which really started back in 2014 with the conflict over the Crimea. After the COVID follies, still being driven as of this writing by Elite Risk Minimization, it appears, especially in the press, that the elites are really hunting for another casus belli, and at some level, the exigencies of empire, buried in the memetics of The Matrix around these issues, still loom strong. Here’s hoping we pass through.