Streetwise Professor

February 20, 2024

Alexei Navalny: Voluntary Martyr

Filed under: Military,Politics,Russia — cpirrong @ 3:29 pm

The most stunning news from Russia in recent days–months or maybe years, for that matter–is the death of Alexei Navalny in a Siberian prison.

This was murder, if not by poisoning, strangulation, suffocation, beating, shooting, stabbing or what have you, then by incarceration in a 21st century gulag. (You wonder why so many Russian convicts “agreed” to fight in Ukraine for a promise–since reneged upon in some cases–of release upon completion of military service? You shouldn’t. And the prison to which Navalny was confined–often in solitary–was the worst of the worst.)

Navalny was obviously a brave man. Insanely so. He volunteered for martyrdom by returning to Russia after a failed poisoning attempt (in which he brilliantly proved state involvement by punking one of the perps in a prank phone call). And martyred he was.

And like many martyrs, he and his story are far more complex and ambiguous than the hagiography would lead you to believe. In particular, Navalny was no liberal, classical or otherwise, in the Western sense. He was, in fact, a Russian chauvinist and nationalist. He in fact supported the annexation of Crimea for a long time, and his rhetoric about Ukrainians was not all that different from Putin’s.

Indeed, it is plausible that the special enmity that Putin and his clique directed at Navalny, as opposed to other opposition figures, is attributable to the fact that he had the potential to appeal to their base (Russo-chauvinists) far more effectively than anyone else.

Those who have been following Russia for some time surely remember La Russophobe, whose virulent hatred for Putin was second to none. Yet she also held Navalny in disdain, precisely because he was a Russian nationalist. (La Russophobe went silent years ago–more than a decade if memory serves–because she saw the futility of raging against Putin, in part because Navalny was the only apparent alternative.). Not endorsing her. Just pointing out that anti-Putin definitely does not imply pro-liberal.

Yes, the Russian siloviki–of whom Putin is the front man, but not necessarily the head man (with Patrushev being the most likely eminence grise)–have killed many who have threatened them. But Navalny is not Progozhin is not Politkovskaya. They are all different, except in that they were perceived threats to the siloviki.

Navalny’s death is being used in the West generally, and the United States in particular, to resuscitate popular anti-Putin sentiment to facilitate the flow of further aid to Ukraine. As if we needed further proof of Putin’s–and the siloviki’s–ruthlessness and depravity.

The case for aid to Ukraine–and in what form and what amount–should not be based on Mr. Mackey-esque “Putin is bad, so don’t do Putin, uhm-kay” rhetoric.

Instead, it should be based on a sober appraisal of national interest.

Which brings me to the most recent battlefield development–the Russian capture of Avdiivka. This too is being used to make the case for continued (and lavish) American support.

But here’s the dirty little secret: Ukraine lost Avdiivka because of a shell shortage, period, and additional supplies from the US or Europe in the quantities needed are not forthcoming. The cupboard is bare. The US could pass a $1 trillion military aid package for Ukraine, and it would not make one iota of difference on the battlefield for months, because shell production is maxed out already, and US stocks have been reduced to dangerous levels.

Only shells matter. (Something I pointed out in March 2022.). Yes, more Patriots or HIMARs would help, but without copious artillery Ukraine is on the back foot. And shells are not forthcoming not because the US (and Europe) won’t supply them in the numbers needed, but because they can’t.

Militarily, the capture of Avdiivka is irrelevant. As I have written before, it was merely a salient in the front line, and even after collapsing it Russia does not have the capability of exploiting and breaking out. Ukraine will just withdraw to (belatedly) prepared lines to the west, and the stalemate will resume.

Indeed, Russia doesn’t even appear to be attempting to exploit its “victory.” Reports suggest that they are redeploying troops from Avdiivka to other points along the contact line, where they will pinch a salient here or there–at best.

And the cost that Russia has paid to gain a few square kilometers of blasted ground has been appalling. One must discount casualty reports, but sifting through both Ukrainian and Russian accounts it appears that Russia prevailed in Avdiivka by deploying disproportionate numbers of troops–and suffering disproportionate losses.

All so Vlad can squat over another blasted shithole and claim battlefield success as a reason to vote for him in a sham election from which he has banned any viable opponent. Or killed them, as in the case of Navalny.

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  1. ‘Only shells matter. (Something I pointed out in March 2022.). Yes, more Patriots or HIMARs would help, but without copious artillery Ukraine is on the back foot. And shells are not forthcoming not because the US (and Europe) won’t supply them in the numbers needed, but because they can’t.’

    That really is telling.

    ‘Militarily, the capture of Avdiivka is irrelevant. As I have written before, it was merely a salient in the front line, and even after collapsing it Russia does not have the capability of exploiting and breaking out.’

    That is telling too.

    The vision is of geriatrics fighting over a Zimmer frame.

    Comment by Ex-Global Super-Regulator on Lunch Break — February 21, 2024 @ 12:01 am

  2. Navalny “a Russian chauvinist and nationalist”. Tautology or is there a distinction?
    As someone living in a country (UK) with leaders that don’t seem even nationalistic I don’t think we should hold Navalny’s chauvinism against him.

    Maybe he approved of the annexation of Crimea because, er, the majority of the population is Russian. (That the majority would be Tartar if Stalin hadn’t deported them is an argument for another time.)

    Comment by philip — February 21, 2024 @ 8:12 am

  3. From the outset of the ‘special military operation,’ Russian stocks of shells, other munitions and military equipment (tanks), as well as the capacity of Russia’s defense industry to replenish them, have exceeded those of the Western allies backing Ukraine. And recent reports indicate the Russia has overtaken and surpassed Ukraine and its Western backers in the production of drones as well (and no, Iran’s contribution isn’t the only reason). That raises the question of how the geniuses in charge of US foreign policy managed to embroil us in this fiasco: was there an ‘intelligence failure,’ or did they pursue the policy of backing Ukraine knowing that Russia’s defense industrial complex would play to their advantage? One thing you share in common with many of the Western ‘experts’ who comment on this war is a rabid hatred of Russians and an associated tendency to underestimate their military capabilities, almost to the point of parody. On the other hand, unlike these experts, you are also an astute critic of our own leadership and the problems the US is facing, as in your recent post on the Biden presidency and the Hur report. I don’t agree with you on Russian capabilities. I think they excel at some things (like subway systems), and that although markets beat central planning in most areas, having decades of Soviet-type central planning under their belts (a system oriented towards quantities and ‘supply chain management’) gives them a leg up in military planning. However, even if your assessment of Russian military capabilities is spot on, it doesn’t matter as long as Russia’s opponent (by which I mean us, not Ukraine) is stupider and even more incompetent. And with respect to your last paragraph referencing a sham election from which Putin has banned any viable opponent, given our upcoming presidential election and the events leading up to it (the lawfare against Biden’s chief opponent), not to mention the questions surrounding the 2020 election, it is hard not to wonder what difference it makes.

    Comment by koshmap — February 22, 2024 @ 12:04 pm

  4. Spot-on. And I miss La Russophobe (I used to contribute in a small way, so am chuffed that it was something you looked at)

    Comment by DaveEssel — February 24, 2024 @ 8:26 am

  5. @Prof, would be interested to know your thoughts on John Mearsheimer’s, um, thoughts.

    Commentary on commentary, I know, but he is out there doing a lot of podcasts – tremendous amounts of energy, probably a legacy of his being a student athlete, and he may be influencing many people’s thinking (outside the Beltway, anyway).

    Comment by Ex-Global Super-Regulator on Lunch Break — February 24, 2024 @ 5:00 pm

  6. I’ve long thought US policy v Putin has been a boil a frog strategy. Raise the temperature by degrees – Maidan, small arms, APCs, HIMARS, F16s – so the frog doesn’t go wacko and nuke.
    Trouble is, it hasn’t worked.
    And thousands have died as a result.
    What was needed was a robust and unpredictable US / NATO response by some wacko US president, say someone like Trump.
    Biden will now claim Ukrainian defeat on Republicans conflating security of the Mexican border with Ukrainian independence. But independent sovereignty depends on secure borders. Just ask Ukraine.

    Comment by philip — February 25, 2024 @ 3:43 pm

  7. US strategies on helping Ukraine:

    Phase 1: Collect 31 tanks
    Phase 2: ?
    Phase 3: WTF, no profit?

    Zelensky just needs to think creatively and offer Ukrainian border guards for the US-Mexico border.

    Comment by Ivan — February 26, 2024 @ 1:29 am

  8. Ukraine is out of men. They are done, fini, over, finished, kaput. We have marched them all to an untimely death through our arrogance. We, every American, have their blood on our hands through the efforts of the administrative state government. Those that still support this travesty do nothing more than support more death. Look what we have done. There was no reason to overthrow the Ukrainian government to install this fool actor, fill there lands with our weapons and lead them, with our soldiers we have “released” from active duty to be soldiers for Ukraine, furthering this war. Breath it, taste it, smell the death we have brought on this world and to have endangered our country’s future by putting us all on the cusp of a nuclear world wide holocaust. My father sitting alert. Me, calibrating nuclear weapons, waiting for the klaxon, to see the launch, knowing there was no future. 50 years of my life fighting the Soviet state and for what? To see our own nation become the evil that plagues this world. So very sad. I am glad I don’t have much time left. God protect my son and grandson.

    Comment by OldSarg — February 26, 2024 @ 7:03 pm

  9. @OldSarg
    “There was no reason to overthrow the Ukrainian government to install this fool actor”

    Yeah, you should not have tried that, that’s against the law. The good news is: you failed, the fool actor was elected democratically. Electing fools just seems to be a global trend these days. Still, it’s best for you to surrender to Ukrainian authorities voluntarily to avoid the lengthy and costly extradition proceedings.

    Comment by Ivan — February 27, 2024 @ 1:57 am

  10. OldSarg is right. Ukraine is also running out of patriots to fight Zelensky’s war. I dare say that Ukraine has more troops on its borders blocking unwilling conscripts from escaping than actually fighting the Russians. The smart ones got out early. Why is it obligatory to depict Zelensky and Navalny as saints?

    Comment by Michael van der Riet — February 27, 2024 @ 2:17 am

  11. 1) la russophobe is still accessible, still excellent – it morphed into Dying Russia – – which also seems to have ceased in 2014, but Putler first invaded Ukraine, but is also still accessible, also still excellent

    2) looks like Navalny’s funeral has attracted thousands of Russian mourners, including a hint of “Russia without Putin” –

    3) before Putler invaded Crimea, it was thriving; after that, Putler paid Russians to move to Crimea, and turned it into a s***hole

    4) there is no doubt that Putler (and his Kremlinoids) need a perpetual “enemy” to prop themselves up – but is it really working?

    5) Putler has rubbleized large areas of Ukraine, and keeping to Kremlinoid tactics, also heavily, thickly mined large areas of Ukraine – where does that get him??????

    6) at this point, Putler has done more to unite Ukrainians than anything else – they will not accept him or Russian rule, and have been very resourceful in using multiple assets and resources, including drones, to fight back, including bringing down Putler jets and bombers


    who says rasha is winning?


    9) 4 myths about Ukraine – put out by Putler/Kremlinoid puke and propaganda

    Comment by elmer — March 1, 2024 @ 9:23 am

  12. 1) la russophobe is still accessible, still excellent; it morphed into Dying Russia – – which, although it ceased in 2014, after Putler invaded Ukraine, is still excellent, still accessible

    2) before Putler invaded Crimea, it was thriving; afterwards, Putler paid Russians to move there to try to russify it, but Putler turned it into a s***hole

    3) Putler has rubbleized large parts of Ukraine, and in keeping with Kremlinoid tactics, has heavily and thickly mined large parts of Ukraine – where does that get him???

    4) thousands of mourners attend Navalny’s funeral, including overtones of “Russia without Putin” –

    5) Putler has done more to unite Ukrainians than anything else – Ukrainians will never accept rule by Putler or Russia

    history says Ukraine can win against Putler/Russia – and as Prof. Timothy Snyder said, the best way to lose a war is to start one

    6) Ukrainians are optimistic that they can win

    7) 4 myths put out by Kremlinoids ( in addition to other puke and propaganda put out by Putler and the Kremlinoids)

    Comment by elmer — March 1, 2024 @ 9:40 am


    Comment by elmer — March 2, 2024 @ 10:52 am

  14. Putler has rubble-ized large areas of Ukraine, and in keeping with Kremlinoid tactics, has also thickly mined areas of Ukraine

    so what has he won?

    Putler is one of those dictator thugs who needs a perpetual enemy to prop himself up

    before Putler invaded Crimea, it was thriving; afterwards, he turned it into s))t and paid Russians to more there

    it’s a perverted Midas touch – everything he touches turns to ashes

    Comment by elmer — March 2, 2024 @ 11:06 am

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