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Target: Zelensky

Updated: Oct 12, 2022


The Russian problem in the Ukraine war is that they are not primitive enough. In order to beat America—the Russians really fight America—you either have to be as good as America or you have to be totally primitive. China is almost as good as America, perhaps will be so in ten years or so—so they will have a fighting chance. The Taliban were much more primitive than America, about as primitive as you can get, and they won. The Russian tragedy is that they are pretty good—upper-middle tier good—and almost have parity with the Americans, except not quite; and, unfortunately, that means they will get chopped to pieces—and this is especially so since the entire American military-industrial complex is geared to kill Russians and destroy Russian equipment specifically; and this oil tanker never really turned round after the Cold War ended—had nothing else to do—and so the Russians face weapons and doctrines fine-tuned to, as they say, “fuck them up” whereas the Americans had no industry aimed at and no strategic nous when it came to the Taliban. It is bad to be piggy in the middle—Russia is piggy in the middle.

The Taliban could beat America because they were genuinely religious people who defended their own homeland; and also because the Americans could not fight them effectively for reasons connected to decadence. To beat an insurgency like the Taliban the Americans needed to use Roman or Hitlerite tactics: when the Taliban hit an American convoy, the Americans needed to shoot over to the village from which the guerrillas originated and kill every man, woman, and child—as the Romans would have done; and it worked, as any centurion could have told you. The problem is that, though many American officers knew this was so, decadent factors such as “human rights”, “genocide”, and especially their own military’s legal department meant this was impossible. Since this was the only way to win, the Americans were doomed to lose.

Additionally, the Taliban did not ride around in convenient tanks or APCs ideally suited to be destroyed by smart bombs or shoulder-launched missiles—they didn’t even have an air force; hell, they barely had cars. So, for the most part, all the neat gee-whizz gizmos—basically designed to blow up Soviet tanks in Germany—were not much use. American soldiers, like Kipling’s public school officer whose expensive education was felled by a ha’penny shot from an Afghan musket, were luxury targets. Afghan lives were cheap, the volunteers for paradise plentiful. In this situation, the war was a losing proposition.

America’s failure in Afghanistan initially buoyed the Russians—the wider right—and, indeed, I suspect the weakness and chaos displayed in the American withdrawal fed into Putin’s decision to go into the Ukraine. America looked weak and lost in vacillation—time to strike. The problem is that the average Russian soldier is not the average Afghan: Dugin might talk about religion—and so might Putin—but I don’t think either man thinks it’s real except in a Petersonian “you have to have something, if you didn’t have religion what alternative is there to Christmas?” sense. This is somewhat obscured by the fact Russia is exotic for most people and to Westerners Dugin seems like an extravagant neo-Rasputin; and yet if you examine what he says, it’s like reading a Western conservative like Scruton or Peterson—give or take more myrrh-infused eastern promise (and big Orthodox beards).

Basically, the average Russian eighteen-year-old conscript is probably more into World of Tanks, porno, music, and weed than “death for Holy Russia”—he is pretty much like his Western counterpart, perhaps degraded in a slightly different way by the way Marxist materialism played out. He is not a fighter for jihad—Putin’s best troops, from a publicity perspective if nothing else, are the mercenary Wagnerites and some genuine jihadis (the Chechens).

So Russia is not going to get a boon from the idea this is a “holy war”—not that their propaganda pitches it that way; and even if it were supposed to be jihad against LGBT ideology, I bet the average Russian youngster would be “meh, whatever”. So there is no strong motivation as existed with the Taliban, and there is no asymmetric advantage either—the Russian army fights like the Americans, in tanks (this is my specialist military knowledge on display), and they face weapons specifically designed to destroy Russian technology whereas nobody in America spent decades designing weapons to specifically kill goat herders.

Besides, just to be decadent doesn’t mean you must lose—Rome was decadent for ages and she still won battles, and she won thanks to her mercenaries (who eventually ate her—nom, nom). The West’s “mercenaries” are her military technologies—now, the social capital required to sustain advanced technology is undermined by decadence; yet, for now, there is enough left over—in storage, if nothing else—to fight the Russians (as all this technology was designed to do—and designed by very capable people). So in a particular circumstance, Afghanistan, Western decadence meant a loss—yet that was just the first crack in the empire, as the Boer War was for the British. It doesn’t mean the empire is kaputt—the British Empire still won World War I and World War II before it died.

So the Russian position, as already noted, remains my least favourite: the lukewarm—neither saved nor damned, neither China nor Afghanistan. Advanced—yet not advanced enough to have superiority over the Americans, just advanced enough to be eviscerated by them. An unfortunate situation. Taleb is right, the benefits really are in “extremistan”: be Bhutan or China, don’t be Russia—or Britain, for that matter. Don’t be mediocre, don’t be in the middle. One answer to the current Russian predicament would be to abandon their tanks and technology and fight a completely primitive guerrilla war—a very economically sustainable proposition and one that would immediately undercut the Ukrainian technological advantage. Yet military men are deeply conservative—the Russians are particularly inflexible; they would never do anything so radical, and psychologically it would look like a defeat. Yet on the current battle plane they will lose.


The Russians not only face superior technology, they also continue to “fight the last war”. When the Ukraine blew up the Crimea bridge, this was a masterful operation: there were few civilian casualties, the whole event was captured on CCTV cameras to flood onto social media, and the bridge itself was highly symbolic of Russia’s claims to the Ukraine, and it was also a prestige project associated with Putin. War is primarily psychological, this was a brilliant coup—even if it never really held up supplies for the front, it made Russian soldiers feel vulnerable and without support. The operation worked on many levels and was immediately supported by commemorative postage stamps and other social media celebrations.

The Russian response actually hurt the Russians more. The Russians tried to knock out Ukrainian infrastructure; and yet, per Kahn’s On Thermonuclear War (1961), it is difficult to destroy a modern industrial economy; and, sure enough, most Ukrainian services blinked back online fairly quickly. All the world saw—the world which supports the Ukrainians, the world that counts—was grandmothers covered in blood, tots singing the national anthem in underground air raid shelters, and president Zelensky, livestreamer-in-chief, on the ground with a running commentary on events.

At most, the Russians can make the Ukrainians a bit uncomfortable by blowing up their centralised heating systems—in return, they look like monsters to the world. The Russian military still thinks about concrete, power stations, and tanks—the Ukrainians think about drones (the Russians were slow to acquire drones—eventually picked up some Iranian kit, the Ukrainians already had a solid deal with up-and-coming drone producer Turkey to build drones in-country), the Ukrainians use social media and are adroit at little “Slava Ukraine” video clips, and, above all, the Ukrainians have Zelensky—a man who as a professional comedian knows how to get attention.

Now, Zelensky is an annoying man—yet he is a man who gets results; and, in fact, we all know men who are annoying and yet get results. Everyone would be happy if Zelensky died—even the Ukrainians; nobody likes him, he is a total pain in the bum. Yet he is very good at what he does; he corrals support via social media—sure, compared to Putin, he is unmanly; yet he has mastered the key terrain in the conflict—the Internet, social media. This is why he is vital to the Ukraine’s cause; without his abilities, gee-whizz technology would be sparse on the ground for the Ukraine—just as Trump was key for the right’s resurgence in 2016, and his resurgence was facilitated by a Twitter account (sensibly swiped from him).

The Russians, meanwhile, are absent from the modern theatre of war that is social media and the Internet—Putin appears now and again for staged security council meetings, as if this were 1974. No—everything is much faster now, more fluid. War is primarily psychological: control the social media environment and it is about the same as if, during WWII, you controlled all radio, newspapers, and cinema. Imagine if Hitler’s Germany—innovative in the media, especially cinema—had only fought WWII with town criers and hand-written illuminated manuscripts. This is effectively where Putin’s Russia stands today: she is absent from a key theatre—the key theatre—in the battlefield. Control the media, control the mind.

From this it follows that the Russians should assassinate Zelensky; he is the Ukraine’s key asset in the war—to knock him out would destroy his social media pull and be a huge morale blow for the country. The Russians have justification to do so—leaders are usually leery as regards assassination, for fear it could be turned on them—because the Ukrainians killed Dugin’s daughter. They could legitimately say that Zelensky approved the operation—pretty nasty, to kill a non-combatant’s daughter—and that his assassination is a justified response.

It would be difficult to do, but if they concentrated all their resources—refrained from useless bomb raids against babushkas, kindergarten children, and Ukraine’s central heating—the Russians could do it. Nobody would much be bothered because although Zelensky is effective, nobody likes him very much—so there would be little bitterness or outcry. There is probably also a string-puller behind Zelensky, a real mastermind—and the Russians would also have to kill this esoteric leader to get the full benefit, another job for their security services.

This strategy is possible given current Russian resources and it would work—although they are unlikely to do it. They will probably continue to pound infrastructure—the new general in charge on the Russian side looks like a bruiser—with little effect except asymmetric negative media coverage that will increase Western and Ukrainian resolve. Targeted assassinations would make all the difference—they could knock out more than Zelensky, of course. The other option is to use their tactical nuclear weapons—the one area where they have technological parity; and yet, as discussed, I think Putin is too lukewarm—too nice, basically—to do that. So the likely outcome is Russian defeat—bar a radical change in strategy.


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