Nukes or Keys

Kateryna from Odessa builds art out of bits of polished sea glass: everything from beetles to jewelry cases to horned human skulls. I don’t know her, exactly. We’ve never met. But she’s a fan, and when I visited Ukraine a few years back she sent me one of her creations—a little stained-glass egg—via a friend who was attending the Lviv International Book Forum. Since then we’ve struck up a bit of a correspondence. I’ve purchased an extra object d’art or two; we bonded over our shared love of cats (she has three). Three weeks ago she bought a giant carrier, big enough to hold them all, in case they had to evacuate (“hopefully it would never come to this”, she wrote).

As I write this, they’re all still okay. By the time you read it, who knows?

Serhiy and Anastasia of Kyiv: professional translators, childhood sweethearts, took me under their wings and fed me and showed me all Lviv’s best graveyards. Serhiy’s also an artist; my t-shirt drawer is stuffed with his short-sleeved tributes to The Thing and Aliens and Nineteen Eighty Four. Three days ago Serhiy was still posting ads on Facebook, so I can at least assume they were okay as of then.

Eugenia—the lady who brought me Kateryna’s glass egg, and who introduced me to the world’s most incendiary subterranean coffee mine—had been off my radar for years (Kateryna hasn’t heard from her for a while either). But just two hours ago she posted her first Facebook entry since 2018, demanding that NATO move a bit beyond minimally-effective sanctions and and actually, you know, fucking do something. So she’s still out there. I don’t know about Ihor (aka, “Toad Bird”) who along with his friends introduced me to the cartilaginous gustatory horror known as “Pork Ears”. He hasn’t posted for a few weeks now.

Such are the people I might presume to call “friends” of a sort, though I knew them for only a few days. There are others I didn’t spend even that much time with, though enough to think them all awesome: Justina Dobush, the amazing ambidextrous journo; Maria Kalmykova, the Woman Who Does Not Sleep; fellow author Svitlana Taratorina; Sofia Cheliak, the mastermind behind the whole event (or at least one of them); my publisher Oleksiy Zhupansky. All are still active on social media, still kicking, still furious and anxious and doing the best they can.

It won’t last, of course. How can it?

*

Back in 2014 I spent some time in Russia, serving as GoH for something called the “Fiction Assembly” just outside St. Petersburg. There were readings and panels and discussion groups. There were honey-filled footballs made of bread. There was a Q&A—during which someone in the audience asked me, point blank: “do you in the West regard us as the Forces of Evil?”.

I couldn’t speak for “The West”—hell, I can barely even contemplate “The West” without wanting to set fire to something—but I hastened to answer the question for my own part. “Of course not. Back in Canada, our government[1] is so anti-science that they’re not only cutting essential environmental research to the bone, they’re literally burning scientific documents so that even if future governments get their priorities straight, there won’t be any baseline data to compare new findings to. I have publicly mused about assassinating Canada’s prime minister, described that prospect as a Good Thing. Right now, I utterly loathe Canada as a political entity. But I would also be hugely offended if anyone suggested that I, as a Canadian, were a force for Evil, even though our government kind of is.”

I looked around the room. There was the kindly gentlemen who would, just a day hence, clear his throat after I’d spent a couple of minutes shitting all over economists to admit that he actually was one. There was the guy who’d co-written the screenplay for “Letters from a Dead Man”, a relentlessly bleak movie about nuclear holocaust that made “The Day After” look like an episode of the Care Bears (admittedly not a huge stretch). There was Nikolai, my translator, who got fired by the publisher after they’d actually had a chance to read this Blindsight thing he’d talked them into buying (and who was then rehired by the same publisher after Blindsight turned out to be a hit). None of these people, by any stretch of the imagination, could be regarded as Forces of Evil.

“Now, Putin,” I added, just so there wouldn’t be any misunderstanding, “I think Putin‘s a murderous stone-cold psychopath.”

St. Petersburg, last night.

I think it’s telling that St. Petersburg has proven to be the location of the largest anti-invasion demonstrations in Russia (along with, perhaps, Moscow), even though Putin’s goons are trying valiantly to arrest anyone who happens to be holding a placard. It’s easy to forget, over here where a bunch of braindead yahoos can drive into the nation’s capital with their semis and their saunas and just shut the place down for weeks at a time (well, if they’re white at least). In Russia, opposing the regime gets you jailed and/or poisoned. In Russia, holding up a protest sign is a criminal offense. And yet there they are: thousands of them. This is no holiday outing, this isn’t just an easy way to blow off steam; these people are putting themselves in physical danger. Almost two thousand arrests so far, and climbing.

Mother Russia didn’t just give birth to Putin. She also gave birth to Pussy Riot.

*

Of course, the rest of us do fuck-all. We go around the circle and Strongly Express Our Disapproval. We shower Ukraine with thoughts and prayers and not a whole lot else. Kyiv is in danger of falling within hours and we impose piecemeal economic sanctions that will take months to do dick-all. Here in Canada our vacuous PM bobs and weaves every time anyone asks if Canada will be sending troops to Ukraine; down south, Biden at least looks us straight in the eye and says No. And so Putin has probably won already.

How can it be otherwise? On the one hand you have a regime perfectly willing to use massive military force to invade a sovereign nation; on the other, you have a world completely unwilling to use military force to defend against such incursions. This has probably been inevitable ever since Putin invaded Crimea back in 2014, then watched while the world tut-tutted and forgot about it. (The international community has always been rife with cowardice. Back during the Rwandan Genocide the US resolutely refused to use the G-word because that would legally obligate them to intervene; France essentially collaborated with the Hutu.)

We’re only brave enough for wrist slaps. Boast about freezing the bank accounts of Russian oligarchs? Loudly and repeatedly. Shut Russia out of SWIFT? That would make things too uncomfortable for the rest of us. Send hardware for the Ukrainian military to use? Sure. Send soldiers, or close Ukrainian airspace? We can’t do that; that would put us at war with the Russians. And the Russians, apparently, would kick our asses.

The thing of it is, though, that cowardice might be the least of the available evils.

Putin has clearly stated that if anyone gets in his way, he will escalate. His description of such a response as “unprecedented in history” strongly suggests he’ll escalate all the way up to nukes. So this is the choice which faces the world: either give the stone-cold murderous sociopath everything he wants, or be ready to watch the world blow up. Nobody (well, nobody except Putin) thinks that a world ruled by Putin is going to be any kind of Utopia; but is it worse than a lifeless radioactive hellscape and a decades-long nuclear winter? Should we just hand over the keys to the planet now and be done with it?

(Which is not to suggest that Russia has ever had a monopoly on Mutually Assured Destruction. I’ve recently been told—by someone recently retired from the US Military, who has allegedly seen the relevant documents—that even now, the Pentagon’s mission statement describes the protection of American interests “up to and including the destruction of the planet”. Perhaps we can take some comfort from the fact that the generals are at least clear-eyed enough to explicitly acknowledge the potential consequences of their action plan. Even if they don’t regard Ukraine as sufficiently important to kick it into gear.)

Usually I can shake my fist at our idiot rulers and rant about what they obviously (to me, anyway) should be doing, if only they had the brains/foresight/courage. Right now, though, I’m lost at sea. Perhaps the world’s best hope, the only option that doesn’t end in nuclear war or global dictatorship, is a domestic insurgency within Russia; perhaps Putin’s own subjects can topple him somehow. But given that the mere act of public assembly is enough to get you shit-kicked and jailed, it’s difficult to see how such a movement could gain any sort of momentum without being simply gunned down.

And as I type these words, I learn that Ukraine is now seeking to “open talks” with Russia about “peace and a possible ceasefire”. Although it would probably be easier to just say “surrender”. So maybe we won’t be seeing the “Letters from a Dead Man” scenario playing out any time soon. Maybe Putin’s got his first new set of keys.

That would be nice, in a small way. I’d always hoped we could hang in at least long enough for climate change to wipe us out.


  1. This was during the Harper administration, which was vitriolically hostile to science. As opposed to the current administration, which is merely vacuously opportunistic about it.


This entry was posted on Friday, February 25th, 2022 at 2:39 pm and is filed under politics. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.
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kracc
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kracc
5 months ago

While I agree with your frustration, at this point would a NATO/Western intervention do any good for anyone? Aside from the fairly horrible historical track record, direct conflict with another nuclear power (as you say) is an unacceptable risk for the entire planet. Wondering where we go from here, aside from both opposing the Russian invasion and opposing any attempt to further escalate the conflict. Dark times.

singingwhalebone
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singingwhalebone
5 months ago

Ah, what a time to be alive.

Yauhen
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Yauhen
5 months ago

No, Peter. Ukraine is NOT going to surrender. If these orcs manage to occupy it, the guerilla war will be endless. But you are right about one thing. This madman WILL use nukes, if he does not get what he wants. And the only thing that can stop him is a crushing military defeat, occupation of Russia and new Nurnberg for new Nazis.

Gordan
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Gordan
5 months ago
Reply to  Peter Watts

In the Balkans it lasted for years at lower intensity(No-fly zones were agreed by all sides of the conflicts) and I think it buried the economy… I think this will settle within 3 weeks. As I can see Russians are not using fighter jets and bombers- use only rockets. And I think the North attack is just a decoy to take control of the Black Sea and the south. The end will be -Demarcation, Talks and a New Treaty.

Ashley R Pollard
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Ashley R Pollard
5 months ago

I can’t remember, and or be assed to search through all my previous comments to check, is I’ve posted a link to a site with a good analysis of what is happening:
https://acoup.blog/2022/02/25/miscellanea-understanding-the-war-in-ukraine/

I hope that this is the beginning of the end of Russian ambitions.

Not because they won’t try more shit later, but because the fact that they are desperate enough to do this.

I think it means that in the long term they are on the ropes; and they know it.

The K
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The K
5 months ago

Top stuff, i sent that link to family and friends. For years and years i was the only one in my vicinity interested in geopolitics, that should clear up a lot of often asked questions.

Tim
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Tim
5 months ago

It’ll be nice to have one planetary state left before entering the strong AI era. Otherwise, countries will probably wipe each other in the process.

However, there are obvious limits to Russian expansion: NATO and China. Not to mention that someone can just push the button because of the whole nervousness of the situation. We are probably in the process of solving Fermi paradox right now.

Yet Another Nickname
Guest
Yet Another Nickname
5 months ago

You also regularly meet some of us, ukes, in commentaries here 🙂
Let me just assure you that surrender is not an option for our people, not with their ridiculous prepare-for-execution demands. There is nothing for us in giving in. Of course, you might expect things to go differently if we are directly threatened with a nuke—but that, I am certain, will never happen either. Because it is a real psychopath killer that sits north of us. They’ve already sabotaged Zelensky’s yesterday attempt to negotiate peace. So, if they nuke, they nuke, without so much as a by-your-leave.
Guess we’re in a real pickle here. Just have to stand our ground for now.

Gordan
Guest
Gordan
5 months ago

After the mandatory military service, I started working in a TV station in Macedonia (A1 Television – International desk 2000-2007) and I’ve seen uncensored video materials distributed by AP, AFTP,TASS etc.. from major conflicts that were revolving around the globe. There were things and details that would disturb you no matter who you are.
Especially Iraq, and Libya… so, I hate war…
But back to Europe…
The wars in Yugoslavia and later the NATO intervention(They used the same name-intervention) in Serbia and Kosovo brought the economy of the Balkans in the mud…Since 1990 to this day, EU does not have a common stance or mutual international policy on anything of great importance. They could have been the authority that imposes and enjoys the merits of economic prosperity, cooperation and progress… Instead they decided to listen to their bigger brother and play geopolitics…
The same goes for Ukraine, EU does not care about anyone. They are just playing geopolitics… and afraid of Russia. It should have been the other way around… EU+ Yugoslav republics(all), then + Ukraine, and then special economic cooperation with Russia… but…They chose selectively Slovenia, Croatia, Romania and Bulgaria(geopolitical reasons) and stopped there…

Jason
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Jason
5 months ago

There’s a young Hungarian fellow on YouTube called “Adam Something” who has been reporting on the war, a few videos, but lately image/text posts, many per day. Last I checked, the Ukrainians were holding, civilians tooling up to fight along with the military.

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[…] przyznaję się nie po raz pierwszy, jestem Peter Watts Fanboi. Ale co na to poradzić, kiedy facet pisze na głos mniej więcej to samo, co ja sobie po cichu myślę, tylko lepiej i […]

Greggles
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Greggles
5 months ago

I’m having fun listening to podcasters whose analysis is usually trustworthy be so completely wrong about predicting Putins intentions. There’s a lot of eggs on a lot of faces right now.

On a hopeful note for Ukraine, from Viet Nam to Afghanistan it’s been demonstrated throughout the last 80 years that no occupying army, no matter how powerful the Imperial state can succeed against a determined domestic resistance.

So as usual I’ll make a hideously incorrect prediction that: NATO will give a pledge to not try to incorporate Georgia and Ukraine. Russia will either annex the Donbas or force Minsk II down Ukraines throat (probably the first) and Ukraine will get to maintain the same level of independance that Canada gets to have from the US

Don Reba
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Don Reba
5 months ago
Reply to  Greggles

I don’t recall any science fiction author painting Russia as a pariah state, either.

listedproxyname
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listedproxyname
5 months ago

You may not take kindly my decision, but in this war I have taken a side of murderous stone-cold psychopath with clear vision and open goals rather than the side of blindfolded fool sent to his death with best intentions of a WWI platoon commander. Don’t get me mixed with insane militarists of NATO, I despise war all the same as the rest of you, especially for loss of life, reason, morality and sense of reality.

Unfortunately it doesn’t help the fact that this conflict was completely unavoidable, as it was set to motion many years before with pressure building up relentlessly. The western hypocrisy is as ever endless and reaction is borderline hysterical, and it fills me with a burning hate towards them.

I can’t say that I sympathise with people who bought into this bargain, but I feel sorry for them. They are all set up for a rude awakening. I hope it is not too much for you to take, Peter, as we all need you equally. Be well. End of message.

listedproxyname
Guest
listedproxyname
5 months ago
Reply to  Peter Watts

Welcome to the fractured world, please get comfortable, because it’s not going to go away easy or soon. I know, because I’ve lived in one for at least a decade, as a person who was born at the closing act of USSR history. I know how we arrived here and how it all started – in the year 1999.

Recently I was hoping that the situation will get more or less stabilized sooner, and it did, somewhat. We can now definitely say that this looks like “controlled demolition” of global trade, order and communications because after abrupt, absolutely senseless and aggressive steps that scale up to calls for terrorism and total war, there’s not much to hold up to. Masters of the World, be they corporate, governmental or just international actors, are becoming a new self-appointed, irresponsible, incompetent dictatorship class that can order everyone in their domain – what to do and what not to, what to say and what to silence. Today is when it is set in stone, today is where they pour as much gasoline as they can into the rubble of the old world.

For us Russians, at least, it wasn’t as abrupt or surprising that this is happening (rather from 0 to 100 it went from maybe 30 to 100). Hungary was never really neutral, neither was Switzerland since war in Yugoslavia – these are just liberal myths from the age of Fukuyama. All those negative possibilities that have been hidden by years of totalitarian liberal propaganda of the “end of history”, they are coming up to the light again. This is so much reminiscent of pre-WW2 situation. What can possibly come out of it if even Germany decided it’s appropriate time to remilitarize?

What do they all think now, these people of the world? That my country should have just agreed on anything, bow it’s head and surrender in the name of world peace? No, not now and not nevermore. I personally don’t even believe that it would change something in the conflict, just plunge my country into endless civil war that results in complete obliteration. So it was not going to happen, simple as that.

On good news, I bring a gift today. I finished reading FFR, I am very pleased with it, so here’s the theme song I found fitting to occasion.
THE theme song for Chimp, the most benevolent and selfless oppressor there can ever be.
Mega Drive – Hardwired V1.4 – I Am the Program. Along with the album cover.

Greg Guy
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Greg Guy
5 months ago

What seems to be lost in these sorts of conversations is that we just don’t live in the world people think we do. There is no world of independent sovereign nations with the right to peace and prosperity. It’s a nice fantasy but you would have thought that Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Yemen, Syria, and so on, would have made this lie obvious.

Powerful nations care about geostrategic factors, not sovereignty. A global power like the US tries to make the world suit its interests. Regional powers like China, Russia, or Turkey pursue their interests in a more geographically constrained way. Just like there is no way the US would let Mexico or Cuba join a hostile alliance, so there is no world where China is not interested in Taiwan, and no world where Russia is not interested in warm water ports.

The media tries to foster a simplistic discussion of these factors to make it look like the world is menaced by cartoon villains hell-bent on “ruling the world”. Nothing has a context or a history to help situate peoples’ understanding. Sure, Putin is a wanker, but so are Xi, Erdogan, Johnston, and Obama.

The Ukrainians can rebel all they like, but I think Putin’s plan is not about conquest but instability. If Ukraine can’t be in Russia’s strategic orbit then destabilise it to the point that it can’t be in anyone else’s either. Iraq or Libya are good recent examples. Russia doesn’t have the resources to completely annex it, but it can keep the flames of insurgency going for as long as the US did in Afghanistan.

The K
Guest
The K
5 months ago

Well, seems like its not climate change that will do us in after all.

I am going through the motions at work, but honestly, why bother? I predict tactical nuclear strikes in a month or two when it becomes clear that Putin cant win this war in the way he wants, and nuclear apocalypse soon after.

My collegues think i am a doomsayer, but then, they also told me that when i told them Trump would win his first term and that Putin would definitely invade.

Guess i will have the consolation price of being right just before getting annihilated.

The K
Guest
The K
5 months ago
Reply to  Peter Watts

I mean sure, ive read those reports (the cliff notes at least). But i simply cannot bring myself to care anymore. If the nukes fly tomorrow, or in a week, it doesnt matter all that much if we have fucked up the biosphere to the point of collapse.

Fatman
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Fatman
5 months ago

I agree that the situation is troubling. For the past 23 years, Putin had profiled himself into a shrewd criminal, content with raping whatever wealth was left in his impoverished nation, backed by a cabal of thieves with similar interests. In dealings with “western” leaders, he was cool and collected, sniping at them with snide but well-crafted barbs that made even his opponents chuckle. Putin showed no respect for international law when he invaded Ukrainian borders (which Russia itself recognized) in 2014, but it seemed he would be content with keeping a low-intensity conflict simmering in the irredentist regions indefinitely, playing “western” nations off against one another and keeping up the pretense of Russia as a factor in global politics.

Now this. An angry, glassy-eyed maniac, sputtering bizarre, ahistorical nonsense a la Aleksandr Dugin. A farcical pre-recorded press conference, in which the maniac raves, while his bootlickers stumble about in evident fear and confusion, stuttering through badly rehearsed lines. Blatant lies that did not so much as try to add up. False flag operations so unconvincingly executed they belong in a 1970 B-grade horror film. All leading up to barbaric aggression on a sovereign state, taking a huge dump on the memory of twenty million long-ago Russian sacrifices in resisting a lunatic with similar clear vision and goals.

Even to the most ardent Putin supporter, it has to be evident now that he’s “not playing eleven-dimensional chess, he’s eating the pieces” (with apologies to whoever said that first about Trump).

Russia is in no position to sustain an occupation (costs money, which they don’t have – see the US in Iraq and Afghanistan). It’s becoming questionable whether they can even sustain this invasion, without escalating their already-horrific civilian-murdering. The Russian economy, never far from collapse, is already teetering over the precipice (it hasn’t even been a week yet). It’s unclear what benefits the Russian government expects to derive from the occupation of Ukraine, even if it succeeded. Lebensraum makes no sense in this context, seeing as there’s already too much Russia for the dwindling number of Russians, nor does the country offer resources that Russians currently have. Propaganda notwithstanding, the “west” has below zero interest in invading Russia (we have all the poverty and backwardness we can handle ATM, thanks much), so self-defense, while useful as a pretext for the aggression, can also be eliminated from a practical perspective. I’ve never been a fan of “sheer lunacy” as an explanation for anything. So, what’s going on?

There have been some bright spots in this clusterfuck. First, the fierce resistance of the Ukrainian people brings to mind the heroics of Soviet warriors seventy years ago, facing off against a rapacious and far more powerful enemy. Kyiv has lived up to its Hero City status, and then some, and it is up to us all to ensure, in whatever small way, that the toll exacted on the aggressors is as heavy as possible. Secondly, the almost-unity and the nearly-resolute actions of European countries in standing up to Putin’s aggression have been encouraging, especially considering the deep reach of the tentacles of Putin’s criminal organization into the top echelons of their governments. Thirdly, the ability of the much-maligned (not least by myself) US intelligence services to call out Putin’s lies and predict Russian troop movements, including the exact timing of the attack, has been a pleasant surprise.  

There are indicators that the Russians are not happy about Putin’s aggression. But in an authoritarian state, public opinion is of questionable relevance. As sanctions bite harder, more people will be pissed about this entirely unnecessary war, but again – how much can they do? Protesters will be arrested, and, if things escalate further, disappeared/killed. Russian elections are purely formal, so any expectations of a democratic wave ousting Putin from power belong strictly in the realm of the imagination.

A significant, and possibly unobserved, problem with Russia is the continuous brain drain that has taken place over the past 30 years. It has taken the cream of the nation’s population outside its borders, and left it populated mostly by what the Soviets aptly termed некультурный, plus a smattering of fanatical, fatalistic revanchists, still butthurt over the demise of the USSR all these years later. Hopeless and cynical, ready to pull out all the stops to strike back at their imagined “oppressors”. There are also many Russians who want to live in peace with their neighbors and be part of the civilized world, but their voice doesn’t count for much. If the war drags out, pressure will mount, but probably too little too late.

All in all, an insane situation with very few immediately apparent solutions.

Andrew
Guest
Andrew
5 months ago

A perverse side of me ALMOST wants to see nuclear winter. No more illusions. No more pretending our species has enough virtue to justify our cancerous existence. End it and let life evolve less cruel/intelligent things. For a long time I’ve been angsty about corporations controlling the government. It seemed like the root corruption for so much of our woes. Now it just feels like their ISN’T corruption–corruption implies there’s a virtuous agent to BE corrupted in the first place. But, in the end, we’re just another self-interested primate. Our unique intelligence will be our downfall–one way or another.

I have to agree with you, Peter. If there ever was a scifi solution, it would be to patch our brainware itself. We have the intellectual understanding–it’s the emotional lizard stuff that truly has the wheel which is leading us to death. Ideally, the 60s would have gone differently and psychedelics could have perhaps been such a patch. I don’t see anything like that happening now.

Wanna start spiking the water of all the world leaders with pscilocyin, Peter? Then again, Charles Manson used LSD to control his perverse “family.” Oh well.

Last edited 5 months ago by Andrew
Helward
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Helward
5 months ago

Mr. Watts, I wish your vampires could take over the world right now. A superintelligent sociopathic predator who wants to save sentient life on Earth would be so much better ruler than a batshit crazy dictator who is ready to trigger his nukes.

singingwhalebone
Guest
singingwhalebone
5 months ago
Reply to  Helward

Now THAT’S kinky.

singingwhalebone
Guest
singingwhalebone
5 months ago
Reply to  Peter Watts

What can I say? Everyone deserves their own Blindsight Valentine’s card, and I’m always happy to serve.

Lars
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Lars
5 months ago

These Valentine cards,,, where can one find them?
Asking for a friend.

singingwhalebone
Guest
singingwhalebone
5 months ago
Reply to  Lars

No problemo, friend! They’re in the gallery, and Dr. Watts also kindly highlighted them here: https://www.rifters.com/crawl/?p=9781
And you can also check out YamiEA’s account on Twitter, she made a couple of wonderful Valentine’s cards this year.

Lars
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Lars
5 months ago

Thank you, singingwhalebone.

Gordan
Guest
Gordan
5 months ago

EU is the main culprit of this flow of events, they never acted in a manner to protect their economic surrounding, to spread cooperation unity and prosperity…Instead they act just like a small pendant to the USA(which refuses to offer protection, they just offer guns). Back in 1999, EU did nothing, just like now. I was in the Macedonian army back then protecting the border… While the neighboring country was heavily bombarded I was trying to stop the war from spilling over. More than 100 days of stress for nothing… I hope there is a special kind of hell for military alliances, military complex no matter where they come from.

Vincent
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Vincent
5 months ago

Duh. What a mess. And Germany is triggered to both buy the USA’s LNG and burn billions on its military (which is not known to be efficient, anyway. Google “Gorch Fock” for a good laugh).

Here for something else:
Development of a Short Sleeper Phenotype after Third Ventriculostomy in a Patient with Ependymal Cysts
This guy now lives fine with three hours of sleep a day. Brain’s crazy huh?
I’ll leave you with that smile/distraction.

Faust
Guest
Faust
5 months ago

Hello, Peter. My name is Artem, I’m from Russia. I’m that «physicist guy» who was among your interviewers slightly less than a year ago and called you «Mr. Watts».

I wrote this comment almost a week ago as a quick and emotional response to your post. But pressed a “Stop” button and then decided to think it over, stroke with doubt if this should ever be posted. But here I am again, with a slight revision, finally sending the text here. Just can’t let myself leave it unspoken.

Though, needless to say, I’m far from being happy with the course of events, but it feels like I have to tell you about some personal experiences of this conflict. Just to increase dimensionality.

You mentioned your fan and friend demanding NATO do something. Back in 2014 I was in your skin, but in a vice versa situation. I have a friend from Donetsk, who was a sci-fi writer and a game designer at the time and studied philology and journalism in the local university. And after that violent coup in Kyiv, when the new self-proclaimed Ukrainian government labeled protesters from Donbass as «terrorists», his hometown got under artillery bombardments, which indiscriminately targeted residential areas. The conflict quickly escalated and on the forefront of the military clashes were numerous pro-government Neo-Nazi battalions (literally: there are well enough photo and video footage with all the Wolfsangels, SS signs, black suns and all the other image and rhetorical Nazi garbage on the internet).

My friend was in the city with his young wife and a little daughter in the middle of that hell.
What do you think was his fellow citizens’ main demand? They demanded Russia (again, literally) to do something.
My friend decided not to wait for any response, his family just moved to Russia. It was a terrible adventure itself to cross the border. Ukrainian border guards, locally well-known for their harassment of civilians, were still there, so there was a chance that rebels would stop them, and there was a chance that they will be stopped by those border guards, but fortunately their journey was successful.

And he was completely right, as Russia did… well, not that much. There were several humanitarian aid columns assembled by the Communist party, and by the United Russia party as well. There was a buzz about military help for rebels, and there definitely were some military volunteers from Russia alongside with some arms shipments.
But nothing resembling a solution for the conflict. It took more than half a year to construct “Minsk”, though even it didn’t stop clashes, fights and shelling.
And Russian officials repeated all the way through that there is no alternative for “Minsk”, Donbass is a part of Ukrainian territory and so on. There was even a referendum on independence from Ukraine in Donbass (and on becoming a part of Russia). One can obviously question legitimacy of a such, but though the results were all in favor of independence, it didn’t play any role. Surely it’s hard to imagine a better occasion for a military invasion, – but only in the case it really was a Putin’s golden dream. But, actually, no. The following 7 years were more of the same old bloody shit.

Crimea was simply well enough for Putin, for his ratings, and its integration was a task complex enough for Russian economy by that time. So there was no relief for the people trapped under pressure of Ukrainian military forces in those two self-proclaimed republics of Donetsk and Lugansk.
Actually even those who emigrated to Russia couldn’t gain any certainty, as they faced legal obstacles. A special law was accepted here in Russia: Ukranian citizens could continuously live in Russian Federation only for an interval of 7 or 9 months, so my friend had to move back to Donetsk. I tried to help him and find a solution, but he simply gave up on it and stayed with his people. So the only thing left for us on this side of the border was to periodically call or write to him just to know if they are still okay. Still alive.

Now my friend fights a serious neural injury and simply can’t write anything no more. His trauma has no close causal relation to Ukrainian bombardments (apart from the obstacles with medical care originating from it), but, you know, I simply have a constant unsettling thought: what if…? What if there was no local conflict, or no indifference to the people of Donbass, or “Minsk” somehow would have worked… what if I could have find a solution a month or two earlier and so on.

You could say, that I’m a Russian and so am a subject to Russian propaganda. Well, that makes sense, we are products of our environment to a great extent. But you see, I had some first-hand information, and I had conversations with people from Krivoy Rog, Zaporozhye, Kiev (Kyiv) and Lvov (Lviv). And I kept an eye on the situation since the Maidan protests – through Ukrainian TV channels and blogs as well. In addition, I never voted for Putin or his party, frankly speaking I’m a communist myself – and communists (and personally Lenin) were the ones blamed by Putin for the current situation in a historical context in his recent speech. Though Ukrainian Communist party is effectively banned, so there would be no legal room for my views at all, what a great step into brighter future for a NATO-cherished young democracy, isn’t it?..

But I saw Nazi symbols and slogans among EuroMaidan protesters and Ukrainian combatants in Donbass (all those «Azov» and «Aidar» battalions, and many others of that ilk), saw the burnings of antifascist protesters in Odessa almost online, and ruins of civilian buildings in Donbass. And saw how one of the main streets in Kiev (named after General Vatutin, who lead the forces of Red Army liberated Kiev from German occupation) was renamed to Roman Shukhevych prospect (after an obvious Nazi collaborator). Is popular counter argument about an ethnical identity of a current president still survive this information?

And from my friend I know how it became progressively harder to study Russian literature and culture even in Russian-speaking regions of Ukraine – even before that 2014 NATO-backed coup. And I dug through the history of 1990’s, and found out how any self-determination movement in Crimea was repressed by Ukrainian government, though such right was guaranteed to Crimeans as citizens of an autonomous republic by the Constitution of the Soviet Union in case of the Union’s dissolution.
And how politicians failed any chance to deescalate and reestablish the human rights.

It’s not a pro-war post. It’s about the roots of this situation, much deeper and wider than it is presented in your initial post. This sad story isn’t painted black-and-white. It has some bloody-red shade from the very beginning, and a hand made first wide brushstrokes much likely reached out from Europe or United States. Not to lift any responsibility from the shoulders of the later participants.

Last edited 5 months ago by Faust
braňo tichý
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braňo tichý
5 months ago
Reply to  Faust

nice try, troll.
well, not nice. pitiful.

russian propaganda does not work anymore outside motherland.

bukwyrm
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bukwyrm
5 months ago
Reply to  Faust

Hi Artem – i appreciate you posting your thoughts. My thoughts on yours:
There might be some universal truth,some way to determine the underlying causes of everything, i haven’t seen it yet.
I have no way of knowing the truth of what is going on in Donetsk or wider Ukraine, or what has been going on there – but i will give you everything. There is a battalion made up of neonazis, there is a street named after a nazi collaborator, there was shelling of residential areas by the Ukrainian army. … and now? Nothing of this can make this invasion seem legitimate. It is an abomination, as were US->Vietnam, USSR->Afghanistan, US->Iraq, USSR->Chechnia, … the list goes on. Millions died. No political leader was ever brought to justice over these crimes. Why not? Political expediency? ‘Twas the times? There are anglophone war criminals right now, that are ranting about the war crimes of Putin – they get applause. Is that fair? No. Will it help if we stand by and let this new atrocity happen? No. Some justice is better than none. Kissingers victims are not diminished by standing with bombed-out Ukrainians now. A shell taking out a neonazi does not somehow make the concurrent destruction of a hospital less offensive.

Fatman
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Fatman
5 months ago
Reply to  Faust

“And after that violent coup in Kyiv, when the new self-proclaimed Ukrainian government labeled protesters from Donbass as «terrorists», his hometown got under artillery bombardments, which indiscriminately targeted residential areas.”
 
You make it sound like the new government came into power and immediately started to “indiscriminately bombard” innocent protesters in the Donbass. Conveniently “forgetting” that illegitimate irredentist forces began seizing Ukrainian territory, provoked a conflict with the Ukrainian military, and that Russian forces openly invaded the eastern territories in support of the rebels. Or was this part never mentioned by Russian media?
 
“Though Ukrainian Communist party is effectively banned, so there would be no legal room for my views at all, what a great step into brighter future for a NATO-cherished young democracy, isn’t it?”
 
Sorry, bud. A political movement that actively persecuted, arrested, and “disappeared” everyone who opposed it doesn’t get to turn around and complain of persecution. It’s… kind of hypocritical, wouldn’t you say?
 
“Is popular counter argument about an ethnical identity of a current president still survive this information?”
 
Russian screeches of “Nazis!” sound a bit disingenuous, considering that the Kremlin-dispatched members of the Wagner Group, a paramilitary organization that makes no bones about its neo-Nazi roots, played a major role in the occupation of the irredentist regions in the east of the country, and continue to operate (i.e. kill) with impunity inside Ukrainian borders to this day. Or are we still pretending that “little green men” did not/do not exist?

“Surely it’s hard to imagine a better occasion for a military invasion, – but only in the case it really was a Putin’s golden dream.”

I think you provide an answer to this yourself, later in your post. Putin’s attack on Ukraine in 2014 was a “good enough” test of Ukrainian defenses (inadequate) and “western”/NATO resolve to stand up to illegal land grabs within internationally recognized borders (pitiful). He was probably encouraged by the result, and led to believe that the Russian military is in good enough shape to execute a full-blown aggression. It turned out that he was wrong on both counts.

“It has some bloody-red shade from the very beginning, and a hand made first wide brushstrokes much likely reached out from Europe or United States.”

I see this argument trotted out a lot. That the EU and the US somehow “prodded” Ukraine into getting invaded by Russia. There may be some elements of truth in it, maybe not. But I feel that you’re not going far back enough to those “roots” for your analysis to seem genuine.

Isn’t it equally plausible that the Ukrainians wanted a better future for themselves, instead of the poverty, apathy, corruption, and authoritarianism offered by their big neighbor?

Isn’t it equally plausible that Ukrainians of all stripes remember the unmitigated horror of Soviet governance (justly or unjustly equated with “Russia”), and say to themselves “never again”?

Felixitur
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Felixitur
5 months ago

Hey Gents, don’t be so shy party-puppers, move to Facebook, now it’s allowed!

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Greggles
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Greggles
5 months ago
Reply to  Felixitur

This is definitely going in weird directions. Are we going to have the four minute hate now too?

Synedra
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Synedra
5 months ago

Dear Dr Watts,

As a Russian who wanted none of this shit, I’m glad to read this post. Maybe there are reasons for this war. “Azov” and Bandera st., or NATO expansion, or Donetsk shelling and Odessa fire. Or Holodomor and Bandera and Khrushev giving Crimea to USSR (Ukranian SSR, not Union of SSRs), and a bunch of ancient history up to the Mongolian times.

Only there is no such thing as a legitimate reason to shell civilians. Or, for that matter, a legitimate reason to destroy your own economy (and probably science as well, seeing as we barely have enough non-imported components for a fucking RT-PCR, to say nothing of genome sequencing or other fancy molecular biology). Both countries are royally fucked just because one guy had too much imperial ambitions and too little planning.

Most of us didn’t want it. Many of us didn’t vote for Putin. Obviously not enough, but many. Many of us had family and friends on the other side of what is now frontlines. Most of us don’t hate Ukraine, or the West, or anyone, really. And yet here we are, writing sad comments across what’s quickly becoming a new Iron Curtain.

And now my people are gonna be treated like Germans post-Holocaust except with no Marshall plan. And now my people are dying. Not Putin fanboys or hardline nationalists, just draftee kids and poor fuckers who are in the army because at least it’s better than becoming an alcoholic. And now my people are gonna be hit by the heaviest economic crisis in living memory. Which is admittedly better than being hit by rockets, but it still sucks.

And now, even if this doesn’t escalate to nukes, economic repercussions are gonna hit half the planet. And maybe the notion of peace in Europe was always a joke, but it isn’t even funny anymore.

All for just one guy with just one bad idea.

listedproxyname
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listedproxyname
5 months ago
Reply to  Synedra

Well, at least now it can be said that the myth about peaceful and just West, progressive and economically attractive values, promises of unity and support – have simultaneously been sent where they belong – into the trash bin.

It is very doubtful that just one person, no matter how powerful he is, would be able to achieve that.

Fatman
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Fatman
5 months ago

@ listedproxyname:

“No, not now and not nevermore”

Astounding bravery. I suppose you typed up that post from a trench on the frontlines, rather than from a comfortable 800 kilometers away.

“progressive and economically attractive values, promises of unity and support”

Well, looks like you’re in luck. The Russian government has decided not to accept “western” progressivism and opportunities for economic growth, and opted instead for the “de-nazifying” of schools and maternity wards. No risk of corruption by those “western” values that you find so repulsive. That door is now firmly closed.

Welcome back to the 1990s. Hope you’ve made yourself comfortable. It’s going to last a lot longer this time.

Andy
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Andy
5 months ago
Reply to  Fatman

Everyone and everything’s to blame for the invasion except the ones actually doing the invading.

The sheer, brass-balled gall of it would be impressive if it didn’t literally hit so close to home for me.

Ninsei
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Ninsei
5 months ago
Reply to  Synedra

As a citizen of Poland I can say we have never trusted Russians, and especially recently we became very cautious. Suddenly roughly 2 weeks ago worst fears came true – Russia invaded Ukraine, and all of yours mumbling about Bandera (mentioning this name should make someone upset?) are worthless, as mentioning of all other reasons you gave in your post. You may have not voted for Putin, like not every German before WW2 was supporting Hitler. It does not matter. You have let Putin flourish and you lived in a glass bubble of russian world order, as presented by state media.
We have came to terms with Germans, and almost all nations in Europe had very turbulent history with each other – and we were able to live in relative peace since last world war. It happened probably because most nations were able to accept their history and take ownership of mistakes and suffering it caused (there are exceptions – for example current government of my country has serious issues with accepting our own history, but we will eventually vote them out; democracy sometimes is slow and it may take many years). Your country seems to be stuck in the past – there was no russian Great Patriotic War – it was just consequence of your aggression together with Hitler on Poland, which started World War II. Now, Russia almost started World War number three. Hopefully russian regime will suffocate in isolation, isolation that will take years. I hope your country will be afterwards weaker, partitioned between China and into smaller republics, but will join other countries as a democracy. No democracy is perfect, but I believe it is better that what led to atrocities happening right now in Ukraine.

Apologies for somewhat emotional entry. My kids have now Ukrainian refugee kids both in kindergarten and in school. These kids are frightened, confused, but relatively lucky – as far as I know their entire families made it here, and are now figuring out what to do next. They are acquiring PESELs (ID numbers) that will give them access to education and health services and ability to be employed exactly the same as other citizens of Poland.
There are 1.2m Ukrainian refugees in my country, roughly 3% of population. This is about the same as previously existing economic diaspora in Poland. The amount of suffering caused by this aggression is unbelievable. I certainly wish Ukraine will prevail and will became sovereign democratic country with the rights to choose their own allies and alliances – for example join EU and/or NATO if they wish, without fear of attack from Russian regime.

Tim
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Tim
5 months ago
Reply to  Ninsei

None of these (intervention, refugees, risk of nuclear holocaust, etc.) would have happened if Europe hasn’t been buying Russian gas, oil and minerals. In fact, your country is still sponsoring Putinism, at this very moment, because it’s easier to keep your life style rather than making preventive hard decisions.

Ninsei
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Ninsei
5 months ago
Reply to  Tim

Well, it is true NOW. It was not that obviously true 30 years ago. It was probably known to some people interested in cross of politics and economy some 20 years ago. It was definitely becoming public knowledge in 2014.
Most of the European countries just continued doing businesses with Russia in the name of sacred economy growth.
I understand you are comfortable with not buying russian non-renewables, maybe looking at us from the other side of the pond – well, in such case you had your part in this because of one dumb orange-haired fellow, who did everything to convince Putin that US will not do a thing whatever happens in Europe.
Let’s not play blame game on who let Putin fed on funds from outside of Russia. Countries are supposed to make business with each other, but are not supposed to invade neighbors.
Some countries are trying to get rid of russian gas by buying LNG and natural gas from Norway – like Poland, Baltic pipe is supposed to be operational in 2022.
We however have our own set of clowns here – in 2015 they almost killed renewable energy production by imposing law that every wind turbine must be surrounded by 10ha of land. To shorten the story – we buy more russian coal than ever before in the history, and there are no fast solutions for this.
It will take a decade to change direction and stop buying from Russia, and there will be dramas along the way – not every government is going to risk loosing next elections because of gas twice the price only because we are trying to starve Putin.
We’ll see. I hope there would be enough determination after we’ve already seen what he has done in Ukraine.

Last edited 5 months ago by Ninsei
Andy
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Andy
5 months ago
Reply to  Ninsei

Dude(?), he’s calling it “intervention;” a big honking red flag for where he is and where his sympathies lie if you ask me.

Ninsei
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Ninsei
5 months ago
Reply to  Andy

You are right. It is just frustration. Waste of energy on ones like him.

Tim
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Tim
5 months ago
Reply to  Ninsei

My argument was factually correct, no matter who I am and where I live.

Tim
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Tim
4 months ago
Reply to  Ninsei

Even Volodymyr Zelenskyy agrees on this idea (https://www.politico.eu/article/volodymyr-zelenskyy-germany-parliament-speech-holocaust-ukraine-war/).
You can blame him if you wish.

Tim
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Tim
5 months ago
Reply to  Andy

May I assume that you don’t have any other objections to my argument other than me incorecctly calling this war an “intervention”?

Andy
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Andy
5 months ago
Reply to  Tim

Not really, no. Just like I wouldn’t bother discussing relative merits of a pizza I’d ordered if I saw there was a massive stinking turd in the box. There’s simply no point.

Tim
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Tim
5 months ago
Reply to  Andy

No offence taken. I wish you will learn to think clearly someday.

SomeHistoryGuy
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SomeHistoryGuy
5 months ago

Hey Peter. I’m finding it tough to find the words to describe how I feel about the invasion, especially since I have Russian and Ukrainian friends and acquaintances . Mostly a kind of muted despair.
In slightly lighter news (though I will admit it does feel a bit obscene to inform you about this on a post like this) were you aware that someone made a screenplay about Blindsight? I can’t remember you ever mentioning it, but it’s from a while back.
https://aerospacehistorian.wordpress.com/2013/04/23/blindsight-screenplay-3/