The New York Times: Russia-Ukraine War Briefing

From Gorbachev to Putin.

Views expressed in this geopolitical news summary are those of the reporters and correspondents.

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Thanks for joining us today.

Russ Roberts (https://www.hawaiigeopoliticalnews.com).

Ukraine-Russia News

August 31, 2022

Welcome to the Russia-Ukraine War Briefing, your guide to the latest news and analysis about the conflict.

President Vladimir Putin has spent years unraveling Mikhail Gorbachev’s legacy.Carsten Rehder/DPA, via Associated Press

From Gorbachev to Putin

The era of Mikhail Gorbachev has haunted President Vladimir Putin for years.

In his six years in power, Gorbachev, who died yesterday, presided over the end of the Cold War and the collapse of the Soviet Union. Putin has spent his 22 years at the helm trying to unravel his legacy, my colleague Anton Troianovski writes.

For Putin, the end of the Soviet Union was the “greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the century.” In his view, the disaster came about because of a weak leader too willing to bend to the demands of the West.

Western leaders paid tribute to Gorbachev as a “man of peace” as Russia, under Putin, was waging the biggest war in Europe since World War II, aiming to reclaim dominance over a land that left Moscow’s orbit under Gorbachev’s watch.

At home, where Gorbachev is reviled by some, Putin has rolled back the personal and political freedoms that Gorbachev had ushered in.

“All of Gorbachev’s reforms are now zero, in ashes, in smoke,” a friend of Gorbachev, the radio journalist Aleksei Venediktov, said in a July interview.

Venediktov’s freewheeling liberal radio station, Echo of Moscow, first went on the air in 1990, when Gorbachev was still in power, and it came to symbolize Russia’s newfound freedoms. It was forced to shut down after the war in Ukraine began.

Gorbachev used part of his earnings from winning the Nobel Peace Prize in 1990 to found the Novaya Gazeta independent newspaper. It suspended publication in March.

“This was a man who was a principled opponent of violence and bloodshed,” Dmitri Muratov, the editor of Novaya Gazeta and a fellow Nobel Peace laureate, said.

Gorbachev’s legacy in Ukraine is complicated. The son of a Ukrainian mother and a Russian father, Gorbachev backed Putin’s view of Ukraine as a “brotherly nation” that should be in Russia’s orbit, and he never publicly disavowed the Russian leader.

He confounded many when he supported Russia’s annexation of the Crimean Peninsula in 2014, describing the move as representing the will of a region heavily populated by people who identified as Russian.

Gorbachev, who was ill in the last years of his life and was in the hospital when he died, did not issue any public statements on the war, though his foundation on Feb. 26 called for a “speedy cessation of hostilities.” Venediktov said that he was “upset” about it.

Putin issued a brief statement today saying that Gorbachev had a “huge impact on the course of world history,” but the Kremlin said that the format of Gorbachev’s funeral — such as whether it would receive state honors — had yet to be determined.

More on Gorbachev:

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Despite the war, Russia has not instituted a draft.Alexey Malgavko/Reuters

Avoiding the draft

President Vladimir Putin says that in Ukraine, Russia is fighting for its very existence. But for such an existential fight, the Kremlin is not using all of its available resources. Six months in, Putin has not declared a draft or put the nation on a war footing.

The decision to avoid mass conscription has puzzled Western analysts and infuriated the war’s most ardent supporters inside Russia.

Putin is avoiding such moves in order to maintain a sense of normalcy in Russian cities and to prevent any public backlash, my colleague Anton Troianovksi writes. Kremlin officials continue to refer to the war as a “special military operation” and insist it is going “according to plan.”

“One of Putin’s main philosophical paradigms from the very beginning, when he first came to power, has been: Leave the people alone,” Sergei Markov, a pro-Kremlin political analyst, said. “Ideally, they must not notice this special military operation almost at all. It shouldn’t affect their lives in any way.”

So far, the strategy appears to be working: Russians are paying less and less attention to the fighting, according to the Levada Center, an independent pollster in Moscow.

When Levada asked Russians in March to name the recent events that they most remembered, 75 percent mentioned the war in Ukraine. Asked the same question in July, only 32 percent did.

But Russia’s hawks, including many pro-war bloggers who have hundreds of thousands of followers on the messaging app Telegram, are speaking out. They say the Kremlin is underestimating the enemy and lulling Russian society into a false sense of security.

One ridiculed the Russians who are afraid of conscription as “owners of electric scooters and lovers of raspberry frapp├ęs.”

As Russia continues to suffer heavy losses on the battlefield, U.S. officials say that Moscow cannot achieve its strategic goal of taking over more of Ukraine without requiring a draft.

“Russia is doing everything it can to avoid mobilizing,” said Dara Massicot, a senior policy researcher at the RAND Corporation. “If the conflict continues at this level or expands, eventually, they’re going to run out of options.”

What else we’re following

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Thanks for reading. I’ll be back Friday. — Yana

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