Daily Bread for 10.3.22: Russia, Ukraine, and the Value of Expertise

Good morning.

Monday in Whitewater will be mostly sunny with a high of 68. Sunrise is 6:55 AM and sunset 6:31 PM for 11h 36m 22s of daytime. The moon is a waxing gibbous with 57% of its visible disk illuminated.

On this day in 1990, the German Democratic Republic is abolished and becomes part of the Federal Republic of Germany; the event is afterwards celebrated as German Unity Day

There are a thousand opinions about the Russia invasion of Ukraine, but that’s understandable. We are, after all, a nation of hundreds of millions, on a planet of billions.

Opinions about the war, however, are not all of the same quality and reliability. Some profess to advance military recommendations without any military background, and others claim to describe Putin or others in the Russian dictatorship with no background in Russian history, or Ukraine’s history and separate culture. 

We’ve been through this with the pandemic, haven’t we? Suddenly every other person became an epidemiologist, virologist, or public health expert. Why rely on those who went to medical school when, after all, everyone had ‘common sense’ and a repository of videos from Rumble.  

Those types have been an embarrassment to themselves and America. 

I’ve not held myself out as an expert on the pandemic because I’m not an expert in epidemiology or public health. I’ve not held myself out as a scholar of Slavic history and culture (a vast field) because I’m not a scholar of Slavic history. 

(Indeed, FREE WHITEWATER is, by design, a blog for all readers; it is not a blog for a particular field or profession. A blog of that latter type would be wholly different.)

People should, as the Whitewater School’s District motto once hoped, be engaged lifelong learners. Part of lifelong learning is reading carefully, among those others who have studied in specific and demanding fields. Lifelong learning does not mean believing — pretending, really — that anyone is an expert merely because he wishes to be. 

And so, and so — a reasonable, knowledgeable person realizes that he or she should read from among those who have made credible and creditable careers as experts in particular fields. One looks for the respect these experts have earned. (They may not always be right, as no one is always right, but they are a better starting point that a loon on a park bench or drunk on a barstool.) 

Tatiana Stanovaya is a creditable and credible expert of Russian politics and foreign policy. See Stanovaya’s bio.  Writing at Carnegie Endowment, she observes that Russia’s Elites Are Starting to Admit the Possibility of Defeat

When Vladimir Putin launched his war against Ukraine back in February, many believed a Rubicon had been crossed after which the Russian president’s relationship with his elites would never be the same. It was then that Putin began to be seen as a desperate leader, no longer capable of normal interaction with the outside world.

Nonetheless, the feelings of despondency and doom that prevailed among the elites didn’t stop them from continuing to demonstrate loyalty to the president or from feeling collective anger at the West. It helped Putin’s case that many senior officials sincerely held Washington and Brussels responsible for the conflict, blaming them for pushing Russia so far that it had no choice but to take action.

In recent weeks, however, this fragile faith has been rocked by the humiliating Russian retreat from Ukraine’s Kharkiv region, the announcement of a partial mobilization that looks likely to become a full mobilization, and growing doubts over whether Russia can actually win this war. This raises the question of whether the Russian elites are prepared to stick with Putin until the bitter end, particularly amid growing threats to use nuclear weapons.


Putin is prepared to keep going until the bitter end and turn everyone into radioactive dust unless Russia is allowed to win in a way it deems satisfactory. The elites are, for now, still prepared to support Putin against Ukraine, but their belief that victory is inevitable is fading. And if there is to be no victory, that leaves two options: defeat, which would mean the collapse of the Putin regime and all the associated risks for the ruling elite, or the nuclear argument, which would mean a universal threat to physical survival.

Stanovaya does not suggest that Russia will fail, but instead observes that Russian elites now see failure as possible. 

 What’s in the Night Sky October 2022:

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