Understanding Russia: the Continuum of History

An article that should be required summer reading:


Understanding Russia: the Continuum of History

By Yameen Khan (edited by Pepe Escobar)


Put Yameen Khan’s article on your reading list.  Too bad we cannot pry Mad Dog Mattis away from reading classical Greek poetry long enough to expose him to this highly readable short course in Russian history.  Mattis would be able to learn things like this: Homer wrote his epic poetry on the Trojan War 2,000 years before the Slavs in central Europe created, with the help of two priests from Macedonia, a written language able to record their own epic poetry and rich oral tradition; and that Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey were composed 2,500 years before there was anything resembling a united “Russia.”

This is one side of Russian history that is helpful to understand.  In other words, there was a pressing need to play catch-up ball vis-à-vis Russia’s European neighbors, who escaped more than two centuries of what the Russians call the Tatar Yoke – not to mention the repeated invasions from the West after the Russians finally beat back the Golden Horde.

Perhaps even more relevant, though, is the modern history of Russia, which has shown the Russians to be a brave, proud, talented people.  They have weathered the storms that the most recent millennium threw at them and have demonstrated how astonishingly good they are at playing catch-up.  Knowing something of this historical record, of the prism through which Russia looks at external dangers, and what happens when “exceptional” empires overreach might conceivably help the ignoramus political and military hacks and pundits of the U.S. Establishment.

Khan’s short article does a good job of showing how Kremlin leaders look at U.S. efforts to encircle and destabilize Russia, and how – if history is any guide – those efforts are doomed to fail.  What’s new, of course, is that this time cockroaches may be the only animal life left on this planet, if common sense does not prevail.

An Anniversary to Remember

Tomorrow (June 22) marks the 76th anniversary of Germany’s invasion of the Soviet Union.  Think about it.  Does the following “shock and awe” description of the crossing of the Bug River that morning remind you of a similar attack 62 years later?  MSNBC’s Brian Williams would have waxed eloquent at the spectacle on the Bug – as he did two months ago as U.S. Tomahawk cruise missiles streaked toward Syria, and as his media colleagues did on March 20, 2003, as though they were watching celebratory fireworks over Iraq.

Khan quotes historian Paul Carell describing the moment when, at 3:15 AM on June 22nd 1941, the massive “Operation Barbarossa” over a 900-mile front got under way against Russia:


“As though a switch had been thrown, a gigantic flash of lightening rent the night. Guns of all calibers simultaneously belched fire. The tracks of tracer shells streaked across the sky. As far as the eye could see the front on the Bug was a sea of flames and flashes. … Beyond the Bug a sea of fire and smoke was raging. The narrow sickle of the moon was hidden by a veil of cloud. Peace was dead.”

The only notable omission from Yameen Khan’s short history is the fact that military and economic help from the United States did much to equip the Soviet forces – for which Stalin was outspokenly grateful.  That assistance helped eventually to overcome the German attacks, at horrendous cost, in battles like the five-month-plus showdown at Stalingrad (August 1942-February 1943).  In that battle, the Soviet army lost more than 1,100,000 killed; the Germans 750,000.

Their 6th Army destroyed, the Germans lost the initiative in the East and never quite recovered from having been driven back west by they believed were the “inferior” Slavs.  It was the turning point of WWII.  (Many Americans have been led to believe. on the contrary, that the turning point was the Normandy invasion 16 months later.)

In WWII, the Russians and the U.S. were allies against a great evil.  Together – and with the British and French – they prevailed.

You won’t necessarily know the following, if you depend on the New York Times for news, but President Vladimir Putin has tried to re-create that same kind of cooperative effort – this time against the widespread violence touched off by the illegal, misbegotten invasion of Iraq 14 years ago.  President Donald Trump’s expressed wish to work toward a rapprochement with Russia that would enable such cooperation has been thwarted so far by political forces determined to use an artificially demonized Putin to bring Trump down – or, at least, render him impotent.  (Surely, there are enough other reasons – far better anchored in fact – to impeach him.)

Tomorrow’s 76th anniversary of the Nazi invasion of Russia would be a fitting occasion to bring to mind the victorious U.S.-Russian cooperation during WWII, and to recall also that there are still formidable common enemies to fight.  These include not only those who would destroy the Middle East, but also those who would re-introduce fascism into Ukraine, and the arms manufacturers and traders and bankers who profiteer from tension and war.