Feb 22, 2022·edited Feb 22, 2022Liked by Robert Wright

A lot of the comments correctly note that we can't know what is in Putin's heart and it does seem he is a bit more belligerent than it seemed a week ago given his diatribe over the weekend. But the real reason to not expand NATO was not to calm down Putin. It is because the United States has no strategic interest in expanding its defense commitments and nuclear shield to Eastern Europe. It is quite possible that leaving this region alone would lower the temperature. But even if it doesn't, there's no reason to be as engaged with this region the way we are, and inserting ourselves in the complicated politics of this region is (if history is a guide) likely to worsen the situation. It's a credit to the Blob's success that Americans take it for granted that we should be front and center in the vicissitudes of the Ukraine/Russia relationship.

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Feb 22, 2022Liked by Robert Wright

This is all very good, Bob, and you're correct. One other angle that I hope you'd explore (that follows the cognitive empathy approach) is: why is there a ramp-up against Russia and Putin? if offering NATO membership to Ukraine is something that the West doesn't want, then why do it?

I hear people say it's about selling arms, but that can only explain so much and for a limited number of people involved. What is America (and the West) getting out of all this?

Maybe this is obvious to everyone and I just missed it.

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Feb 22, 2022·edited Feb 22, 2022Liked by Robert Wright

Now I just read this by Thomas Friedman "This is Putin's War. But America and NATO Are Not Innocent Bystanders". It says a lot of what I was thinking about... see here: https://www.nytimes.com/2022/02/21/opinion/putin-ukraine-nato.html

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This is a thorough analysis as always, except that the comparison with Hitler rests on some shaky assumptions. Hitler is often portrayed as crazy, irrational, and megalomaniacal, and while it's true that he displayed some of these aspects, to reduce the events that led to WWII and the Holocaust to Hitler's "crazy/evil" character would significantly obscure the underlying causes and conflicts of these calamities. In his two-volume "Hitler," the historian Ian Kershaw makes a good case that Hitler was a rather unremarkable individual--more a product of crazy times, e.g., WWI, ensuing collapse of the Austrian-Hungary Empire, the turmoil of the 1920s, etc., than their chief instigator. Plus, in the first 2-3 years of WWII, he led the war effort quite capably.

That's not to exculpate him from the horrors he helped inflict, but a broader view (often lacking in today's daily mainstream analyses more designed to elicit clicks, but fortunately otherwise characterising this piece) would make it less likely that efforts designed to fan emotions and incite feelings of retribution take hold. Such broad view would help direct more attention to the fact that a lot of today's conflicts are actively fanned by those who profit from them, such as weapons makers, and--unfortunately still under the radar--many news media.

As the writer David Loy says, our age is afflicted by three collective "poisons" (which feed on each other): institutionalized greed (e.g., driven by a never satisfied hunger for ever-increasing profits and consumption), institutionalized ill-will (manifesting as national and international militarization), and institutionalized delusion (promoted largely by profit-making news media but now also by content platforms such as Spotify, Facebook, and YouTube). All of these poisons can be seen at work in the mounting crisis in Europe.

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a) If you write “the nationalist firebrands on prime-time talk shows and in Parliament who have been urging him for years to annex more of Ukraine.”, it should be noted that you are talking about state owned channels.

b) It is not simply popular opinion, it is opinion of Kreml.

c) For instance, Dmitry Kiselyov, most popular of these firebrands, is not just TV-presenter, he is also CEO of state owned news agency Rossiya Segodnya and vice president of state owned VGTRK(All-Russia State Television and Radio Broadcasting Company)

d) Kiselyov got these posts by Putins decree

e) So, lets not pretend that there are some nationalist firebrands on TV whos wishes Putin has to consider. These are men and women handpicked by Kremlin.

f) And they are not just talking about "to annex more of Ukraine". They are also talking "Ukraine is not country, but territory", "ukrainian language does not exist", "ukrainian people do not exist", "Ukraine has to be part of Russia" and from time to time they also talk about "nuking Warsaw, Kyiev and London".

g) Yeah, Putin does not talk about nuking Warsaw - I guess he is not such a firebrand - but Kremlin view about Ukraine is not much different. Just today foreign minister Lavrov said that Ukraine has no right to sovereignty, Putin yesterday mentioned that giving independence to Ukraine was madness.

h) You are too fixated about NATO. 2014 war was about EU. But fundamentally Russia does not want independent Ukraine.

i) This is core problem. Ukraine wants to be independent, Russia does not want it.

j) because of i) conflict/war between Russia and Ukraine is inevitable.

k) you write "closing Russian-language media outlets—both of which the Ukrainian government has done". Not true.

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Re 2014: Yes, that was about EU. But a big reason that became such a motivator for Putin is that the US was deeply involved--like, trying to hand pick who the prime minister would be (and apparently succeeding) after the president was deposed. US had no business doing that. Your point about TV firebrands is interesting; the NYT reporter I quoted seemed to attach more significance to them than you do, but maybe you're right. I'm curious: Would you say the same thing about the pro-annexation people in Parliament--i.e. they're Putin puppets? (I honestly don't know.) As for k)--here's one example of media closures but not the only one: https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2021/2/5/ukraines-president-bans-pro-russian-networks-risking-support I didn't mean they banned *all* Russian-language media; but I gather that Russian-language media, by virtue of a fairly recent Ukrainian law, increasingly have to jump through hoops (e.g. offer translated versions) to stay afloat.

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Lets not overestimate US influence on Ukrainian internal politics. It is minimal at best and non-existent at worst. Compare it to Russia, who has huge economic, financial, linguistic and geographic advantage, but still has to restore to military means to influence Ukraine. Even small and medium sized countries have agency, have their own blobs, their own agenda, interests and capabilities. Heh, US experience in Afghanistan and Iraq should remind that despite trillions of dollars and actual troops on the ground, it super hard to influence foreign societies. US has minimal presence in Ukraine and minimal influence what Ukraine does or does not.

I understand very well that even dictators have their own constituencies who they have to please and Putin is no Kim Jong-un. But from this does not follow that Putin is centrist in Russian politics and has to worry about nationalist right-wing opposition. Did you watch Russian Security Council meeting couple of days ago? Did you see how Putin was publicly mocking "siloviki"? Did you get a feeling that Putin has to worry about them? Well, I did not, quite opposite, they were shitting their pants. All in all, Putin is no Kim, but he is very-very big dog in Russian politics without any clear and strong opposition.

These networks from aljazeera link belong to Viktor Medvedchuk. He is Kremlin ally. Putin is godfather of Medvechuk daughter. Belorussian president Lukashenko is business partner of Medvechuk. Medvechuk supported annexation of Crimea and Donbas rebels. These channels were not closed because of language law (they actually have Ukrainian language versions too), but because these were enemy channels. Lets not forget that Ukraine is in war for last eight years. What if Nazi Germany operated news stations in US during WWII, maybe US has tolerated them, but I am not sure.

Only thing to wonder is why did they went after Medvechuk so late, why did they tolerate him for so long.

We can debate Ukrainian language law, but its impact on newsbusiness is negligible. Ukraine is bilingual society and most of the media is in both languages anyway.

Again, you are putting too much emphasis on NATO and want to make Russia-Ukraine story to American story. Both of these countries have their own agendas, their own agency. Yesterday (and day before) Putin made it clear what he thinks: Ukraine is not a country, Ukraine is just plains, fields and forests, Ukraine was created by Russia etc. And then he hinted - Russia created you, we are ready to end our creation. No surprise.

And just to be sure, I do not say that US has to fight for Ukraine. But Russian-Ukrainian conflict is not about US or NATO or EU.

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Addendum. By all this, I do not mean that Ukraine has the right to join NATO or that Putin is irrational. But your view is too US centric. I guess you do not speak Russian or Ukrainian, you are not following what is going on in these countries.

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The note at the bottom really should have been at the top because it is immensely clear at this point Putin’s reasoning for this aggression is only partly based on the potential future NATO membership of Ukraine. (The 2014 invasion was because of potential EU membership, no?)

It is in fact possible to be so empathetic to something that you end up sane-washing it. Reversed stupidity is not intelligence and the Blob is not actually wrong all the time.

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Does the Blob irrationally equate Putin with Hitler because of domestic politics (Russiagate, failed impeachment, etc.)?

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I would agree with point #1 that Putin is more rational than Hitler with not as many mental health issues as Hitler. I would say it is at least arguable that Hitler was “crazy” see here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Psychopathography_of_Adolf_Hitler#:~:text=Hitler%20has%20often%20been%20associated,Langer%20and%20Erich%20Fromm.

There is a nice chart of who diagnosed Hitler as schizophrenic or psychotic versus all the other options available for Hitler. Also, I (a retired psychotherapist) don’t think Hitler would meet today’s criteria for schizophrenia/psychosis per this:


Additionally, those who classified Hitler as schizophrenic had a much loser criteria to use that word as a diagnosis before say 1980 (most of them were before 1980) which is not comparable to our current more detailed/researched criteria.

I also would suggest Putin has issues that are driving him as well although probably not as many Hitler. See here:


I would be cautious saying Putin’s decisions are the product of a rational mind. Like all of us he has his issues and blind spots that factor into the equation. Also likely he has this issue going on:

“Hubris syndrome is associated with power, more likely to manifest itself the longer the person exercises power and the greater the power they exercise. A syndrome not to be applied to anyone with existing mental illness or brain damage. Usually symptoms abate when the person no longer exercises power.”

Well, bottom line I sure don’t have as deep a view as Bob. Sure past mistakes by the West and political issues within Ukraine like oppression of Russian culture in schools and the media is not a good thing. I do tend to think there is little point in negotiating with Putin and it needs to be done of course. I do think at some point, when and where that is I sure don’t know and there is a point, the only thing that will alter his behavior is the delivery of negative consequences.

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Your clarification of how the Munich syndrome relates to current saber rattling in and around Ukraine is helpful. It is not a history most Americans know at a level permitting comparison with current events revolving around Ukraine. The comments so far are illuminating, as well.

One observation regarding the mental state of Hitler versus Putin: how clear is the governing elite class perception in real time, as opposed what appears in the rear view mirror? Accepting the distinctions in this piece, I am not sure we can accurately discern mental/emotional competence based on current events and the media screens through which our information about those events is delivered. So it is, as well, with the prisms for viewing the past; they often shift as new information is discovered that was unavailable, concealed, or just ignored in earlier times.

One cannot help but wonder if representatives from NATO and/or the EU, Ukraine, and Russia might have agreed to taking the NATO card off the table for Ukraine (perhaps without prejudice?), setting up a jointly administered and carefully audited election in the two small areas Russia is now “occupying”, with all parties agreeing to abide by the vote, whatever its outcome, and Russia taking its Army home, might not have worked a little better than what we have now. Or what we will soon have.

It is amazing how the egos of national leaders can lead multiple powers down a rabbit hole and end up murdering millions, including substantial numbers of their own citizens. More often than not, resulting in zero net gain or worse after all the blood stops flowing. Witness WWI, Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan, to name a few. Some would add WWII, but I think it’s somewhat an outlier.

In the reality of how we have chosen to organize ourselves on the globe and, given the immense forces of political and economic interests who profit from the warfare industry, I am at a loss to imagine an approach to such dilemmas that could dependably avoid catastrophe. Even if, among the thoughtful participants in this Nonzero dialogue involving I don’t know how many subscribers, we came up with a path forward that made sense, how would our position gain traction where it would make a difference? As a relatively new participant here, there may be an answer I am just missing. If so, I would interested to know. Talk is certainly valuable/essential in figuring out what to do and how to do it. Action is the only thing that makes a difference. What do we take away from this conversation that converts to action?

All of this reminds of the immense challenge represented by Our Great American Experiment which, despite its often amazing successes (and major pratfalls), is currently undergoing major stress cracks induced by emotionally driven fracture zones among the body politic. Everyone, it turns out is wrong. Not just in error; fundamentally and irreversibly wrong, bordering on evil. And this is just within our own borders. Where do we go from there?

It makes Planet of the Apes look like a major accomplishment. Certainly Mother Earth would heave a huge sigh of relief. Okay, Bell, have another beer.

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I dunno; it really seems like Putin was going to forge ahead and try to get the Donbass region at the very least, no matter what was offered.

Washington Post, despite your criticisms, published an article by Paul Sonne and Robyn Dixon that, to me, seemed like a good overview of Putin's likely reasons for doing what he is doing. The authors paint Putin's actions as logical and not at all unexpected given his history, including his history with the Blob, and the attitudes he has expressed in the past. There is not a hint of "No one really knows why Putin is doing this" or "Putin is just weird."


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Feb 22, 2022·edited Feb 22, 2022

The fact that there is a Russia vs the West antagonism is solely the result of US foreign policy. The US cultivated this antagonism it to prevent the military-industrial complex from having to reduce itself to a purely defensive role after the end of the Cold War. For evidence of this check out the activaties of Lockheed Vice President, Bruce Jackson. You won't have to go to alternative news sources to do this. His Wikipedia profile will suffice.

It's not surprising that US support for the blatantly illegal coup on their border in Ukraine in 2014 angered the Russians nor is it surprising that people in eastern Ukraine who voted for the legitimately elected president who was deposed have not accepted the results of the coup. The situation in eastern Ukraine can best be described as an unfinished coup and the Kiev government cannot claim to be the legitimate government there.

Russia's annexation of Crimea can properly be referred to as defensive in nature. Russia's insistence that Ukraine not join a hostile, anti-Russian alliance is easily understood as defensive.

Russia's aims in the Donbas are threefold: aid the ethnic Russians there who face discrimination (at least) from western Ukrainians, preventing Ukraine from joining an anti-Russian alliance and pressuring the international community to recognize their annexation of Crimea. All are reasonable in light of NATOs deliberate provocations

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You're making it sound like Ukraine is part of Russia. It is not.

While Russia, you, me, or anyone else might not agree with developments within Ukraine, they are still within a sovereign country. I can understand Russia not wanting a country next door to join an alliance that defends against Russia, BUT it's still a separate country that has the right to make its own decisions.

I can also understand why people in eastern Ukraine who speak Russian may wish to separate from Ukrainian-speaking, culturally Ukrainian areas, and I personally don't wish to stop them. It's complicated.

My ancestry is Slovak, and my family came from just a few miles west of Ukraine-- having lived under Russian domination. I feel all this pretty personally. The Russians have been taking over and obliterating countries, like what they did to Poland, for centuries. It can't simply be tolerated. If I lived in one of those places, I would want to resist.

As we could particularly see in the former Yugoslavia in the '90s and in the situation with the Kurds and Turkey today, neither artificially packing different ethnic peoples together in one country created by "great" powers, nor artificially separating them in different countries, comes to any good.

'Bye now. Intending peace for all of us.

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Feb 22, 2022·edited Feb 22, 2022

Yes, the boundaries between ethnic groups in that part of the world are fractal in nature and can't be drawn to fit boundaries of countries.

I'm not arguing against Ukraine's right to associate with whoever it chooses. I'm saying NATO shouldn't exist. It is inherently anti-Russian and inherently militaristic. Certainly, Germany has obliterated its share of countries (and Poland, too, for that matter, if you go back far enough) but there is no anti-German alliance. Russia could have been welcomed into the community of nations after the end of the Cold War but NATO wouldn't allow it.

The Cold War was ended almost without a shot being fired: the Berlin Wall fell in a big party, the Warsaw Pact dissolved peacefully. There was a lot of enlightment going around in those days and the US squandered it all

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To add to this, there was a strong belief in 1938 that Germany had been unfairly screwed in 1919 - and there was some truth to this - and making it right would prevent a much greater war. Like you said, this was a mistake - Hitler wanted war and would have found (and did) another excuse even if Chamberlain had given him everything he wanted.

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As I finish your report, I'm wondering if this analysis might also be applied to impenetrable, crazy Trump and Republican supporters and deliver some useful insights into dealing with enough of these neighbors to get movement on our many national and local issues? I mean, some of them are clearly crazy, but are we otherwise disavowing the circumstances that recognition could bring enough on board for things of interests like economic transformation, Medicare for All, and Climate Change mitigation?

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'...The way it works with enemies is that if they do something we consider bad, we’re inclined to attribute this behavior to their internal disposition, their basic character—not to external circumstances....' Just saying, some grievances may be substantial? I'm thinking, NAFTA and Rust Belt sucking sound. Does that make me a 'Trump-apologist'...!?!

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Sorry if this question is obtuse, but how do we know Biden didn't proffer this solution to either Ukraine or NATO?

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