The masterpiece of our time: On The Gulag Archipelago at fifty. (Gary Saul Morson, June 2024, New Criterion)

Begin with numbers. Solzhenitsyn instructs: from 1876 to 1904—a period of mass strikes, peasant revolts, and terrorism claiming the lives of Tsar Alexander II and other top officials—“486 people were executed; in other words, about seventeen people per year for the whole country,” a figure that includes “ordinary, nonpolitical criminals!” During the 1905 revolution and its suppression, “executions rocketed upward, astounding Russian imaginations, calling forth tears from Tolstoy and indignation from [the writer Vladimir] Korolenko, and many, many others: from 1905 through 1908 2,200 persons were executed,” a number contemporaries described as an “epidemic of executions.”

By contrast, Soviet judicial killings—whether by shooting, forced starvation, or hard labor at forty degrees below zero—numbered in the tens of millions. Crucially, condemnation did not require individual guilt. As early as 1918, Solzhenitsyn points out, the Cheka (secret police) leader M. I. Latsis instructed revolutionary tribunals dispensing summary justice to disregard personal guilt or innocence and just ascertain the prisoner’s class origin: this “must determine the fate of the accused. That is the meaning of the Red Terror.”

On this basis, over five million peasants (classed as “kulaks,” supposedly better off than their neighbors) were forcibly exiled to completely unsettled wastelands with no food or tools, where they were left to die. The same punishment later befell whole nationalities deemed potentially disloyal (such as ethnic Germans, Chechens, and Crimean Tatars) or dangerous because of the possibility of receiving subversive support from a foreign power (as in the case of Koreans and Poles). “The liquidation of the kulaks as a class” was followed by the deliberate starvation of millions of peasants. All food for a large area of what is now Ukraine was requisitioned, and even fishing in the rivers was prohibited, so that over the next few months inhabitants starved to death. Idealistic young Bolsheviks from the capital enforced the famine. In total, Stalin’s war on the countryside claimed more than ten million lives. As Solzhenitsyn makes clear, this crime is not nearly as well known among intellectuals as the Great Purges, which claimed fewer victims, because many purge victims were themselves intellectuals.

Arrests also took place by quotas assigned to local secret-police offices, which, if they knew what was good for them, petitioned to arrest still more. After World War II, captured Russian soldiers in German slave-labor camps were promptly transferred to Russian ones, as was anyone who had seen something of the Western world. Even soldiers who had fought their way out of German encirclement were arrested as traitors, simply because they had been behind German lines. Still more shocking, the Allies—who could not imagine why people would not want to return to their homeland—forcibly repatriated, often at bayonet point, over a million fugitives, some of whom committed suicide rather than face what they knew awaited them.

Of course, individuals, as well as groups, were charged with political crimes, a category including more than prohibited actions. The code also specified “Counter-Revolutionary Thought” and what Solzhenitsyn calls a “very expansive category: . . . Member of a Family (of a person convicted under one of the foregoing . . . categories).” There was even a special camp for wives of enemies of the people; their teenage children were arrested to forestall possible vengeance. As the prosecutor Nikolai Krylenko explained, “we protect ourselves not only against the past but also against the future.”

Punishments were both more numerous than in tsarist times and much harsher. The conditions Dostoevsky described in his autobiographical novel Notes from the House of the Dead (1860–62) seem like paradise compared with Soviet prisons and camps.

We choose to understate how evil Detente was.


How to win in Ukraine: pour it on, and don’t worry about escalation: The Biden administration has been too cautious. There’s still time to change that. (ANDREW RADIN | MAY 22, 2024, Defense One)

Shifting U.S. policy in several areas would improve Ukraine’s military situation with minimal risk of Russian escalation. First, the United States could rescind its insistence that U.S.-provided munitions only be used on Ukrainian soil, and stop pressing Ukraine to refrain from attacks on Russian territory. Given that Ukraine suffers daily casualties from attacks on purely civilian targets, retaliation against Russian infrastructure is more than fair game and can help to even Ukraine’s odds by degrading Russia’s logistical capacity. Ukraine would bear the brunt of any Russian response, but Kyiv is prepared to take that risk.

Second, the United States could expand its visible U.S. military presence in Ukraine. Western advisors need to be in Ukraine to understand the status and needs of Ukraine’s forces to provide the necessary qualitative superiority. Increases in U.S. advisors or even trainers can be distinguished from any kind of combat role. If, tragically, U.S personnel were to be killed in a Russian attack, the Biden administration would have significant latitude to control its response.

Third, the United States should look to expand its operations in space and cyberspace in response Russia’s cyber attacks against U.S. space providers and jamming against NATO allies. In a recent RAND report on strategic stability in space, we argue that reversible actions like jamming are useful options for the United States because can signal to an adversary and provide an additional threat of punishment without increasing the scope of conflict. Given Russia’s use of space communications, for example, such actions also can have a temporary operational benefit. Russia could escalate with increased cyber attacks or other activities in response but would risk exposing their exploits and losing the opportunity to use such attacks in the future.

Additional U.S. action could also catalyze other allies to increase their support, as allies traditionally look to the United States for leadership. Germany would not provide Leopard tanks until the United States provided Abrams. Perhaps further U.S. support would lead to Germany to provide Taurus, its own long-range cruise missile. From a narrow U.S. perspective, greater U.S. involvement is an opportunity to test new capabilities and gain experience helping a partner facing a numerically superior foe. Such experience could be very relevant for helping Taiwan resist Chinese aggression.

To be sure, avoiding direct military conflict with Russia is of paramount interest.

No, it isn’t. That’s the mistake we made in the Cold War. Destroy the oil fields and challenge Vlad to respond. He’d last as long as Saddam.


Unilateral Illiberalism (Brian Stewart, 7 Mar 2024, Quillette)

When Ayatollah Khomeini granted Italian journalist Oriana Fallaci an interview in the holy city of Qom in 1979, the meeting was terminated when she tore off the chador she had been made to wear, calling it a “stupid medieval rag.” When Fallaci met Colonel Qaddafi in Libya, she was blunt: “I want to understand why everyone dislikes you so much, why you are so little loved.” And after an extended harangue from Yasser Arafat about the need to eradicate Israel with revolutionary violence, Fallaci drily remarked, “Conclusion: you don’t at all want the peace that everyone is hoping for.”

Bemused viewers of Tucker Carlson’s recent interview with Vladimir Putin saw no evidence of the skepticism or thinly veiled contempt that La Fallaci (as she liked to refer to herself) brought to her craft. Nor were they rewarded with an informative glimpse into the Russian despot’s mind. Instead, they were treated to an unedifying display of sycophancy that permitted Putin to filibuster for more than two hours. In The Rebel, Albert Camus spoke of tyrants conducting “monologues above a million solitudes.” Thanks to Carlson’s flaccid performance, Putin’s semi-coherent and ahistorical monologue reached millions more than usual. […]

Did Carlson really expect anything less? Did he really think Putin would inveigh against the San Francisco school board or Hunter Biden? Imagine how disappointed he must have been to learn that the former KGB colonel is not a regular viewer of Fox, let alone Carlson’s show on Twitter. […]

But if Carlson thought that touting Putin’s credentials as a good Christian leader and a champion of law and order would earn him the approval of the Russian tsar he was mistaken. During the interview, Putin seemed to mock Carlson and later complained about the absence of “so-called sharp questions.” Seldom has there been such a poor return for ceremonial self-abasement before a blood-drenched ruler. Putin’s sneering hauteur could not conceal that he is not a leader to be trusted, still less to admired. And as Carlson fawned over the Russian despot, he displayed a personalized version of what the French philosopher Alain Finkelkraut calls the West’s “penitential narcissism.”


Russian Wonder and Certainty: Like the Bible, Russian literature came to be perceived “not as a series of separate books but as a single ongoing work composed over many generations.” It is a conversation with both the present and the past simultaneously. (Lee Trepanier, 6/29/23, Public Discourse)

According to Morson, out of this exchange between writers and the intelligentsia emerged three archetypes that reflected the dominant personalities in Russian civilization. The first was the “wanderer” who was a pilgrim of ideas, often trading one theory for another, in search of the truth. Some writers experienced life-changing spiritual conversions, such as Tolstoy, as told in his Confessions, or Solzhenitsyn, as told in the Gulag Archipelago; while others accepted ideas bereft of God as the source of human salvation, such as Belinsky or Kropotkin. While both writers and intelligentsia looked to ideas for truth, the intelligentsia mistook theory for reality and thus became dedicated to a fanatical idealism. By contrast, writers like Chekhov and Dostoevsky understood the limits of theory in accounting for reality, acknowledging that mystery and wonder were at the root of human existence, and they criticized the intelligentsia for their naïve beliefs.

The second archetype was the idealist—the opposite of the wanderer, because he or she remained steadfast in loyalty to a single ideal, such as Don Quixote in his dedication to Dulcinea. In fact, the character Don Quixote was an object of fascination among Russian writers, especially Turgenev, as told in his essay, “Hamlet and Don Quixote.” In Russian literature there were two types of Don Quixote idealists: the disappointed and the incorrigible. Vsevolod Garshin was representative of the first—disillusioned with reality, accepting the ugliness that it was; Gleb Uspensky was emblematic of the second—unable to reconcile the horrid truths about the peasantry with his idealization of them. Uspensky remained incorrigibly committed to his ideals in spite of reality, leading him to praise despotism and justify policies of cruelty out of an abstract love of humanity.

The third dominant personality was the revolutionist who loved war and violence for their own sake. Bakunin, Savinkov, Lenin, Stalin, and others represented this Russian archetype. They were motivated by a metaphysical hatred of a reality that could not be explained with certainty, and, with Russian liberal acquiescence, they came to power to murder millions of Russian citizens.

All three of these archetypal personalities reveal the limitations of theoretical thinking in accounting for reality. Russian writers showed how the intelligentsia’s infallible methods of science fell short, as in the cases of Raskolnikov in Crime and Punishment, Pierre in War and Peace, and Arkady in Fathers and Children. Dostoevsky, Tolstoy, and Solzhenitsyn explained why human freedom and moral agency existed and why suffering brought one closer to God. Human beings cannot be simply classified as good or evil; doing so, as Solzhenitsyn wrote, was the key moral error of totalitarian regimes like the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany: “The line between good and evil runs not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either—but right through every human heart.”


Blow to Putin as Europe breaks free of Russian oil for good (Jonathan Leake, 2/26/24, The Telegraph)

Analysts found that the UK and much of Europe have reversed a years-long rise in reliance on Russian oil and gas before the Ukraine conflict, shifting instead to other suppliers such as the US and Canada.

Jorge Leon, Rystad’s senior vice president for oil markets, said: “I think people underestimated how flexible the energy system is.

“Just before the war, just the idea of, we’re going to stop buying oil and gas directly from Russia, would have been crazy. But it has largely happened.”

Now destroy his oil infrastructure.


A Century After Lenin’s Death, His Evil Legacy Lives On: Believing that the class struggle justified any means, he glorified murder as a moral obligation. (David Satter, Jan. 19, 2024, WSJ)

Vladimir Lenin has been gone for a century, but the evil he did lives on. The first leader of the Soviet Union died on Jan. 21, 1924, in Gorki, Russia (now called Nizhny Novgorod), after repeated strokes. His legacy is a world whose moral equilibrium he helped to destroy.

The Soviet Union was based on Marxism, a secular religion, and Lenin was the architect of its system of antimorality. For Lenin, as he said in his speech to the Komsomol on Oct. 2, 1920, morality was entirely subordinated to the class struggle. An action was right not in light of “extrahuman concepts” but only if it destroyed the old society and helped to build a new communist society.

The effect of this theory is felt today in post-Soviet Russia, where the legacy of communism’s blanket rejection of universal morality destroyed the hope for democratic reform.

One of the oddest anti-anti-Communist tropes from back in the day was that Western Communists should be excused as “idealists” as long as they bailed on the USSR once Stalin took over. Of course, Gorbachev’s great miscalculation was that he believed the same. But once they were permitted an opening, dissidents discredited the Revolution itself, not just Joe.


The Russian Air Force Is Dying a Slow and Painful Death in Ukraine (Peter Suciu, 12/18/23, National Interest)

Russia saw two of its jets lost in just 24 hours over the past weekend, including one that was reported to have been shot down by its own forces in the skies over Ukraine.

Since launching its unprovoked war against Ukraine nearly two years ago, the Russian military has seen a significant number of combat aircraft lost in the fighting. The most recent aircraft destroyed included a Sukhoi Su-34 fighter bomber that was targeted on the ground at a Russian air base in an early morning raid on Sunday. Later that same day, a Sukhoi Su-25 fighter jet was shot down over the Zaporizhia region in eastern Ukraine on Sunday per Business Insider.

Kyiv claimed it wasn’t responsible for the downing of the latter aircraft.

“I can confidently state that it was not the Ukrainian air defense that shot down the Russian Su-25 attack aircraft! These were clearly the coordinated actions of Russian anti-aircraft troops, for which the entire Ukrainian people sends them great thanks!,” Mykola Oleshchuk, Commander of the Air Force of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, said in a post on the social messaging app Telegram.