Month Five: June 22 – July 20, 2022

Russian Irrationality: A Marker of Another World-ness 

Michael Rogatchi (C). The Wheel of Fortune. 1991-2021.

After the first shocking and intense months, the Mean War’s character has changed from the first two and a half months of daily horror, followed by weekly peaks of violence and escalation for another six weeks, and then being transformed into a monthly path of attacks,  destruction and death. As military strategists would say it, the war has become positioned. What does it mean for millions of people, on an individual level, who are attacked non-stop, replaced, orphaned, wounded, deprived from home, work, normal life? It means a positioned Mean War. Because the intentions of the aggressor did not change for a bit. And it will not. 

When intellectuals of all sorts and from variety of spheres traditionally love to mention Russian irrationality as the essential treat of the nation, very often previously they were undershooting or overshooting, as it was the easiest way to explain something which was not necessarily well known or properly understood by many. But now, this special characteristic, irrationality, is well in place, in my view, as the essential – and largely incomprehensible for the outside observers – drive for the Russian top decision-makers to start and to continue the Mean War. 

 What is irrational for us is perfectly rational for them, and here lies a rather serious distinction which, in my view, is still under-appreciated. People on the peak of the Russian power pyramid are driven by their own logic, their own norms, their own values and understanding, and nothing in the outside world, just nothing at all, would make them see the values and way of behaviour the same as we are. This should be understood. It would not be possible without having a mighty backyard which is behind them and which allows them to be irrational, from our point of view, or to follow their line, from theirs. This backyard includes the size of their country’s territory, the size of its population, the size of their resources of various kinds, and of course, their nuclear arsenal, even the very fact of its existence. 

When teaching and advising on conflict resolution and decision-making, I tried to explain to my students and my colleagues that Russian post-communist decision-makers organically and genuinely perceive Ukraine as a natural and integral part of their country. Genuineness is a key-point here. It is a key-point because it forms and cements their convictions. And with this logic of irrationality, and organic convictions however wrong they might be, Russia’s leaders will pursue their operation to subdue Ukraine back for as long as it takes. There should be no illusion with this regard. 

Greying hair children

Inna Rogatchi ©. Wind in Grey. 2022. 

The fifth month of the Mean War  brought us two massive crimes against the civilian population in Ukraine, in similarly undiscriminating missile attacks on populated civil targets in two sizeable Ukrainian cities, a mall in Kremenchug and a multi-purpose complex in Vinnitsa. There were many victims in both cases, with awful symbolism of murdered 4-year old girl, Lisa, who was on the way to her speech therapist with her mom in Vinnitsa, and heavily wounded young mom. Among the victims were two more children, young boys, there were also those whose bodies were burned for 95 % and 98%, both women, just imagine. There was also a very good and widely popular doctor, neurologist, whose both thighs were torn off by the missile explosion and who died a terrible death. Practically, everyone who was in the clinic in Vinnitsa at the moment of the attack, is dead. 

The Russian army and its contract soldiers and officers under other circumstances could be qualified as clumsy. But their ongoing clumsiness has claimed so many lives and brought so much sorrow and tragedies that this word cannot be used to describe their utter unprofessionalism and idiocy. I remember when Baroness Thatcher in one of our personal conversations did emphasise: “ Mrs Rogatchi, don’t you agree that a country’s sovereignty and thus, its might and potentiality is defined by just three factors: its army, its currency, and its borders?” I took a pause. I did agree on two last points with Lady Thatcher, but I was not that sure regarding an army as the first factor in that top-three list, and I could think about a few other factors to define a country’s sovereignty and its might. Lady Thatcher saw my slight hesitation, and went on: “ Yes, Mrs Rogatchi, these three factors, indeed, and in this order. With these three factors in order, a country will be safe and strong, and it will prosper, and it will be independent. Really independent. We cannot give in on any of those three factors, not to an inch”. It was in the mid-1990s. But of course, this postulate is timeless. And Margaret Thatcher who was shrewd and deep, did see it right. 

The quality of an army does define a country’s sovereignty, obviously. But it also defines the level of development, and the level of civility of a country. The quality of Russia’s army as we all are witnessing it with horror for five last months in Ukraine, is appalling.   

Then, there is such a specific phenomenon in the Mean War as masses of gun-layers, fire coordinators for Russia all over Ukraine. That phenomenon has started back in March, and by now it has been spread all over Ukraine to such serious effect that the governor of Mykolaiv city has been planning for a while already to seal and shut down this large enough city for a certain period of time specifically in order to search and locate these gun-layers working for Russia. 

The same situation is true for the entire Ukraine, as it happens. Soon after the start of the war, Russian military authorities managed to infiltrate into the streams of refugees from Donbass and other regions, the tens of thousands of people who relocated to the central, southern and Western parts of Ukraine a large number of gun-layers, coordinators of fire, who have been working for Russia ever since. The thing is that most of those hundreds of people are not professional military personnel. They are working for the aggressor for money, and they do their work so badly that the Russian army repeatedly hits the wrong targets. It is an epidemic of badly done amateur coordination of fire which led to all these tragedies. 

The tragedy is defined by the irreversibility of an event. Death is death. Torn off limb is torn for good. And there are so many of these limbs, even a part of a child’s back, as it was the case of 9-year old Jura from Mariupol whose diary has become well publicised. I have some pages of Jura’s diary in my archive. Every now and then, I look at those pages for a long time. Really long time. Looking at Jura’s child’s hand-write and trying to place in my head what this nine-year-old boy was thinking and feeling while writing his simple lines. This is what war is about, a cardinal transformation of human’s psyche. For good. If you are still alive.

We knew it from the witnesses of the Second World War. Now we are the witnesses. Direct ones, no distance. We are learning in the process. And this learning is exemplified in symbolic images. Like a greying-hair boy from Mariupol who is just eight-years old. This greying-hair child does not go away from my head. Once I learned about him, during this fifth month of the Mean War, I kept thinking about him, and other greying-hair children from Ukraine, all the time. Daily. And while I have a lot of ideas related to the conflict-resolution field, and several quite actual war-prompted projects in progress, I simply do not know what to do with the fact of this greying-hair eight-year old boy. I do not. 

Missiles at the Nuclear Plant and North Koreans to restore Donbass

Inna Rogatchi ©. Storm in Progress. 2020. 

For some reason, the Russian military is so utterly unqualified that they seemingly do not realise a thing about nuclear plant security and safety. They did demonstrate stunning incompetence at the Chernobyl nuclear plant zone in the beginning of the war, as I wrote about it several times. And they continue to do so with another nuclear plant in Ukraine which they have seized near Zaporizhya. Energodar plant is the largest in Europe, and the danger of such incomprehensible negligence and unbelievable stupidity is imminent and a very alarming one. After imposing their control over the seized huge nuclear plant, Russian ‘liberators’ sent over 500 soldiers to guard the entrances and perimeter there, which is nothing in comparison with what they did next. 

Unsung yet genius from their General Staff has decided to turn a huge nuclear plant into a full-scale military base stuffed with all possible and impossible weaponry. My guess is that this genius responsible for such a decision, is illiterate. I have no other explanation for such tactical know-how. During this fifth month of the Mean War, ‘the liberators’ positioned tanks, heavy artillery batteries, multiple launch rocket Grad and Hurricane systems all over the Energodar territory. More – all territory of the nuclear station is covered by trenches now. To dig trenches all around a nuclear plant is an exceptional military know-how. More – all over the perimeter of the special water reservoir for the plant, ‘the liberators’ has placed a lot of mines. The water from this reservoir is used for the cooling of all six nuclear reactors of Energodar. Now this reservoir is mine-’protected’ by the Russian army’s design. Who on earth is teaching them anything there anymore?

In discussion with the friend. General Alexander Lebed and Inna Rogatchi. Moscow, mid-1990s. The Rogatchi Archive (C).

I remember visiting  late general Alexander Lebed in the middle of the 1990s in his dizzyingly huge cabinet in a special building in the centre of Moscow when my good friend shortly, for just three months, occupied the position of the Secretary of the Russia’s Security Council and the Special Adviser for President Eltsyn on National Security. We did not know how to deal with the absurd size of that huge office, and we were sitting for a while in one area of it and jumping to another, doing it three or four times. I would not even start to describe all elaborate pantomime of our conversation, when you have to manage to have a coherent conversation in a loud voice assuming that it is recorded, and at the same time to make sense while whispering, mimicking, using all arsenal of gestures and inventions in order to say and to hear the real things which you know should not be recorded. This is a highly developed skill in any serious Russian office, traditionally so. Just in case.

At that moment, Lebed had left the army where he spent over 25 years, recently enough, just over a year or so, and every office in his newly started civil career did show it very clearly: they were all no-nonsense offices, nothing extra, very neat ones, every single subject there was strictly necessary to the general. On his giant table in that office, there were a couple of books placed  on his right hand. 

I would not be interested in it, unless Lebed himself pointed my attention to it. “Did you notice my books of the day? – he asked, smiling, knowing that I did not. – Yeah, sure. What are they? – I asked, understanding that there is something important that he wanted to convey to me over the books. I looked closer. On the top, there was a text-book of physics. – Why this one? – I asked my friend. – You graduated from the ( military) academy a while ago, no? – And with honours, – Lebed smiled. – But there are some more text-books, see? – he moved the top common physics text-book showing me the manuals on nuclear safety. – You see, they in ( the military ) academy did teach us well enough on those things. Then in the army, that vital knowledge was kept updated for the officers all the time, including special drills for officers only on an alphabet of this ( nuclear) safety. We were made to physically exercise various situations in this area which are not in the text-books, even specific military text-books. We were taught how to secure the plant, or any other nuclear object, how to maintain the security there, how to evacuate the people including the personnel, we had to know a lot in order to keep it safe, because the main principle there is to be able to maintain the nuclear safety professionally in a full-scale being not professional ( after evacuating the personnel).  And why do you think that you need to refresh your knowledge now, in this chair? – I asked the general. – Because  I know what is going on here ( in the country), and I believe that the knowledge of which only students of the military academies were privy,  and not of all of them, say, top officer corpus only, should be made available far more widely. So, I am preparing to implement it from now on, including conducting drills, all over, massively ( in the army).  Nuclear safety in general, and especially after the Chernobyl ( catastrophe) is the most important thing for our army. It should be the first and the last thing here, and we simply have no luxury on being clumsy on it. I will not allow anyone to play any games over this issue, believe me” – said general Lebed in his capacity as the Secretary of the Russia’s Security Council to me in his office in Moscow some 25 years ago. 

There was nothing declarative in his conviction on the matter. He did not give me an interview or anything like that. We were good friends and we were speaking as friends. He was sharing his worries with me. But precisely because he was a good, honest and strong man, and also the one who knowing war well, as any really good soldier, hated it and was professionally-minded and capable committed and convinced peacemaker, he did not manage to be on his top place for long. Just three months. This is not to mention what has happened to this special man six year later when he died in a helicopter crash in 2002.

A generation on, we, in total disbelief, are watching a macabre of the present-day Russian army just unbelievable incompetence in dealing with nuclear safety both in Chernobyl and Energodar in Ukraine, so near from their own territory. And this is not any drills. It all is for real. It is screamingly dangerous, as now, as during any period of time when they will control such objects during and because of the Mean War.  

By committing all these things, screaming out from the point of view of nuclear safety, some of those smart – yesses believe that they have established a safety belt  and shield for their positions. This is what they sincerely believe in. It could be utterly laughable unless it is so awfully dangerous. Poor people who are working at the Energodar and who all have become the hostages of ‘the liberators’, 500 hundred-strong personnel, are warning all the time that this nightmare situation at Energodar is the way to the catastrophe, God forbid, which would be much worse than Chernobyl. IAEA which is extremely alarmed by this horror-film situation is blocked from any action, as it happen: the obligatory monitoring from the largest in Europe nuclear plant is withdrawn from the IAEA systematically, and despite their urgent necessity to visit the station, they cannot do it because it would mean the recognition of the Russian occupying power over it. So, it is another vicious circle prompted by the Mean War, which in this case is a ticking bomb of a giant size, literally so. And a group of Russian nuclear experts from Rosatom who were sent to keep an eye on the seized nuclear giant, and who do understand something about their professional subject, presumably, first of all has organised a protected bunker for themselves where they are spending all the time, reportedly. 

Apart of biding time until Energodar will be appropriated by Rosatom officially, which would become possible, as the Russian authorities plans after the referendum on the going under the Russia’s sovereignty for all seized parts of Ukraine ( and this is the fifth of the Ukrainian territory by now), they are probably also waiting for new re-builders and restorers of Donbass and beyond – the news of the hour is that the destroyed by the Russian army seized territories of Ukraine will be rebuilt by the workers from North Korea. No joke. It is official diplomatic information and one of the great achievements of that weird country. The move is in a perfect accord with the level of the present-day Russia, its authorities’ thinking, its standards and its real place in the world. They have become now contractors of the North Korean workforce, what a great achievement. Complimenti a tutti.

Decency in Russia: In Expectation of Punishment 

Inna Rogatchi ©. Elegy I. 2018. Yellow & Blue (C) Special collection in support of Ukraine.

After five months of the Mean War, and as the direct result of it, some  certain tendencies among the best part of Russian society has become a tangible phenomenon. 

Additionally to a justified horror, shame, rejection of the country’s official policy and its barbaric actions, a deeper feeling of uneasiness of existence overwhelms those bright and consciousness-possessing people. There is also a fundamental, painful cognitive dissonance between a vitrine of current worries-free life in Russia and the reality of feelings of those people who are able and willing to feel the pain of others. 

I do not know how to live, – tells our close friend who briefly visited the West. – Since the first hour of that nightmare ( when the Mean War was broken in February 2022), I was and am still completely overwhelmed with this shocking reality which feels like anything but reality. It is rather a dream, nightmare, scary tale, you name it. All this time, five months on, I cannot awake from that bad dream, from that nightmare. I still feel like a somnambula every day, all the time. But most of all, I am terrified to think about what would follow this war. I think, and I am afraid to think about it, that  it will be something absolutely terrible there, inside the country ( Russia). It just cannot be otherwise after everything that has been done by now” – our friend is deeply, uncharacteristically, terrified of the prospects of life in Russia. 

Another friend who now lives abroad, went back to Russia for a brief visit. His first-hand impressions are similar: “ In Moscow, there is no murky Z-marked landscape, contrary to what I was afraid of, life is thriving in the summer, all cafes and restaurants are open, all theatres, museums, libraries, everything. Laughter and music  are heard from every summer terrace, youth is all around, everything is bursting. As if nothing is happening, nothing at all. And my only thought after that quasi-surreal picture that I did observe, is pressing me down with its giant weight: “ When the punishment for all this, this pretended ignorance and false happiness including, will come, it will be truly horrible punishment. And it will come”. And this is the only thing about which I am thinking non-stop after those few days in Moscow, under the summer sun” – this decent man is truly deeply  terrified. 

The other one visited St Petersburg, also briefly, and painted a bit different picture, more St Petersburg-like: “ At all subway stations, there are giant Z-symbols. So people are coming and going every morning and every evening, and even if one is Z-resistant, the effect of such staying-on propaganda works sub-consciously. People stopped speaking with each other sincerely, that old feeling of being watched is back. It feels like an apocalypse, or like many, or some, at least,  personal apocalypses. What will happen after it is over? This question bothers me so much. How to live? I have no answer. No answer at all”. 

This man is so right. Reading his message, I think about our other close friend from St Petersburg, a jovial, vivid person who always was amongst people, who loved people’s company, was thriving in it. He took the Mean War so badly, he felt wounded personally so deeply that he literally cut his ties with most of his friends and acquaintances. He just cannot maintain the business-as-usual mode despite his business depends on communicating daily with a lot of people. He has become almost numbed, both metaphorically and literally. And he knows that nothing good is waiting for them even after the active phase of the nightmare is over. Because of a colossal moral damage done which is insuperable during the life of at least one generation. 

And then – to live in a deep, tangible, pressurising expectation of punishment is the part of the punishment already, day and night, in the reality which has crushed everything good which has been in the Russian life before, during the previous 30 years after the collapse of the Soviet Union. 30 years is half of a life, or about it. It is a bit over the period of one generation, the entire generation, as it goes. So the half of a life of the people of my generation in Russia is virtually thrown into the WC flash, whatever music sounds in those multiply summer cafe terraces all over Moscow. To be associated with their country has become acutely toxic for Russian people. And how on earth a normal human being, not cannibalistic moron, or indefinitely stupid lumpen-patriot can be associated with that black hole into which – morally, humanistically, intellectually – Russia has been transferred by its mediocre leadership who believe in shamanism and rely on spectacularly unbright surrounding? 

* * * * * 

The fifth month of the Mean War  emphasised Russia’s goals in this scandalous aggression which are in fact far further geographically than they did announce it, and are seeking to seize Ukraine’s exits to the seas entirely. It means imposing their control over Odessa and Mykolaiv, and dividing Ukraine all the way up to the north from there. If they are controlling 20% of Ukraine’s territory today, such an objective which seems to be their real plan, would mean grabbing a half of the Ukrainian territory.

That month of war from mid-June to mid-July 2022 also demonstrated the appalling quality of the Russian army, and unnecessary, unprovoked cruelty and brutality of this five-month long military campaign. Such brutality and cruelty can be applied being motivated by an obsessive hatred at the top of this military machine and by total emotional disengagement on the ground. 

The fifth month of the Mean War also showed once again – and with more time the war is prolonged, the more such phenomena are graphic – that the Russian power pyramid and its army do not have intentions  or concept of self-restraint regarding practically anything. Such intentions are regarded in that  Tsardom of Irrationality as a sign of weakness. In their logic of irrational, a weakness is worse than un-reasonability. This is really another world, which, in a worrisome paradox, is so near from us, just the next door for many. 

Additionally to a greying hair 8-year-old boy from Ukraine, bottomlessly tragic pictures of a little 4-year old Lisa with Down-syndrome minutes before her murder in Vinnitsa, and the father of the killed 13-year old boy from Kharkov who kept his dead boy’s hand for two hours being unable to detach himself from his son’s body ( as it happened, one of my acquaintances knows the family well, and it always makes the pain so much more piercing in), one phrase by a friend from St Petersburg has marked this as desperate, as the previous four, the fifth month of the Mean War. When discussing that weird condition under which the decent part of the Russian public lives these five month, that man mentioned quietly by firmly: “Remarque did not manage to return ( to his native Germany after the end of WWII), despite being willing initially to do so. He just could not. He had nobody there to return to”. 

This observation sounds like a sentence to me. But it is true. And this is what the Mean War has already done with many people’s lives, if not with an entire country which started it.