Ben Morgan: From Tucker Carlson to burning Russian oil infrastructure, a busy week in the Ukraine War!


Last week was a tough week for Ukraine.  The nation’s cities suffering drone and missile strikes while Ukraine’s army defends the current border from fierce Russian ground attacks. Meanwhile in the US, political differences continue to stall additional aid.  After weeks of speculation, President Volodymyr Zelensky removed his top general, Valerii Zaluzhnyi and is re-structuring Ukraine’s military command structure. Meanwhile, Russia is massing a large force near the important city of Kupiansk.

American journalist Tucker Carlson provided the week’s biggest mainstream news story, visiting Russia and interviewing Vladimir Putin.  An interview that provided no new information, but confirmed Putin’s views on Ukraine’s independence and provided an opportunity to speak directly to Carlson’s audience.  Putin reinforced key narratives that Russian intelligence has spent years crafting and disseminating in the US.  Specifically, that Ukraine is part of Russia, that Ukraine is a distant war of little importance to Americans, that America risks being drawn into direct confrontation with Russia in Europe, over a war Russia will win.

Putin’s long dialogue was historically inaccurate, but other commentators can provide better analysis of his statement.  My assessment is focussed on the military arguments.  First, that Russian success is guaranteed. Russia’s economy before the war was marginally larger than Australia’s, its population is half the size of the US and its vaunted war-machine has proven ineffective dwarfed by US and NATO military power and unable to defeat Ukraine.  Authoritarianism and corruption have killed intellectualism and innovation in the nation and leadership in the military.  Putin’s bluff is based on the West’s long-seated fear of Soviet military power. A well-founded fear at the time, however the world has moved on and regardless of Putin’s desire to re-create the Soviet Union that time has passed.  Russia is not unbeatable.

Second that by supporting Ukraine, America is de-stabilising Europe and risks being drawn into the war.  History shows that not supporting Ukraine, increases the risk of direct confrontation with Russia. In 2014, NATO and the US did not support Ukraine and by demonstrating weakness, the alliance incentivised the future use of force by Russia, and in 2022 Putin’s tanks entered Ukraine.  If US partners and allies cannot rely on support against aggression, Europe and the world become less stable. This means that in the future, the US is more likely to be drawn into a war on the continent. It makes sense for the US to support peace and stability in Europe by supporting Ukraine because it demonstrates that unilateral aggression by large nations will be opposed, dis-incentivising this behaviour,

Unfortunately, Carlson’s interview provides a platform for Putin to speak directly to a large group of Americans, who influence political leaders. Now more than ever it is important that media provides good analysis to counter propaganda.

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Ukraine’s military leadership changes

Rumour of a split between Zelensky and Zaluzhnyi have circulated since last year.  It is impossible for any commentator to make informed commentary about their relationship because unless you are in the ‘inner circle’ it is impossible to understand the actual dynamics of their relationship.

However, it is possible to speculate on the impact of these changes.  General Zaluzhnyi is enormously popular in Ukraine and appeared to have a good relationship with allied powers.  He also delivered significant operational successes; organising the initial defence of Ukraine, the destruction of Russia’s Black Sea Fleet and the Kherson and Kharkiv offensives.  However, last year’s offensive failed to meet its objectives; a failure exacerbated politically by the large amount of international support Ukraine received.

After much strategizing, planning and wargaming with US, UK and NATO advisors, Ukraine choose to attack simultaneously on several axes.  An unexpected choice, and a plan that did not match NATO doctrine.  Somewhere in Ukraine, a decision was made not to follow this advice. A range of arguments can be made for ignoring NATO doctrinal advice that in my opinion would be difficult to defend logically, or tactically. Therefore, either the Ukrainian military made a bad decision or politics entered the military discussion.

But will this change effect Ukraine’s campaign?  The short answer is that we do not know yet. Changing military leadership mid-campaign is always a risky option but it takes time for a change’s impact to filter through into the campaign. General Oleksandr Syrskyi, General Zaluzhnyi’s replacement is a very capable leader, commanding Ukraine’s land forces during the war and is reported to strategist behind the 2022 Kharkiv Offensive.   Additionally, President Zelensky’s changes include promotion of several young, battle-hardened officers to senior positions.

The US political situation and its implications for Ukraine, and the world

On Thursday last week, the US Senate voted to start considering an amended emergency aid package, that includes US$ 60 billion for Ukraine. This vote means that although the aid package’s progress is currently blocked by Republicans, it may still be authorised.

This debate is very important because the world’s rules-based order, or the international forums like the UN and its subsidiary agencies that support peaceful dialogue and trade between nations are all underwritten by the US.  US money finances the UN and the International Monetary Fund, its navy polices the world’s oceans and US military power deters aggression.

If the US steps back, and stops playing this role the potential for chaos and conflict in the world increases enormously.  Unfortunately, this is what appears to be happening. America’s position as the ‘leader of the free-world’ is being sacrificed in bi-partisan squabbling. Many Republicans support the Ukrainian cause but vote against the President’s bill to achieve a ‘win’ for the Republican faction.  Sadly, the implications are severe. Not just for Ukraine but for the world.

In a surreal development that demonstrates the power of social media and information war, Donald Trump, after inciting a mob to storm the US Capitol and while facing numerous criminal charges is the front-running Republican candidate for US President.  Trump is an avowed isolationist with a limited world-view.  His potential election is a factor in the Republicans wavering support for Ukraine and is also an indicator of increasing domestic stability in the US.

But will Ukraine lose without American support? History demonstrates that this is unlikely, Ukrainians are strongly opposed to their country being subsumed by Russia and will continue to fight.  Ukraine has the potential to build a strong defence industry and on 9 February, Bloomberg reported that the country is taking steps to re-structure its economy (probably aiming to reduce corruption) so that it can receive International Monetary Fund support.

Further, Europe understands the threat and is increasing its support to Ukraine. Recently committing another 50 billion euros to the campaign. This brings the European Union’s total commitment to 138 billion euros or about US$ 148.5 billion, more than matching the US commitment of US$ 113 billion to date. The European Union has enough resource to support Ukraine without the US. However, supporting Ukraine to continue a long and costly war with Russia is very different from providing the means to win in the shortest time possible. Only America’s military industrial base can provide that level of support.

Unfortunately, the impact of the US not supporting Ukraine’s defence is most likely to be felt far away.  In places like the South China Sea or Taiwan.  Any uncertainty about US willingness to support partners or allies incentivises China to be more assertive. A much bigger threat to stability than Russia.

Ukraine’s campaign against Russian infrastructure

Ukraine continues to attack Russian infrastructure, especially Russia’s oil facilities. The campaign involves attacks by drones and saboteurs on armament factories, rail lines, power infra-structure, logistics depots and oil facilities. The attacks are widespread, targets ranging across Russia. Even as far away as Vladivostok, on the Pacific Coast where two electrical sub-stations were destroyed on 23 January.

The campaign has two goals; operationally it aims to limit the flow of military supplies into Ukraine, and strategically it aims to cripple Russia’s economy by stopping the flow of oil. Reducing Russia’s oil exports reduces its income and therefore the nation’s ability to pay for the war.

Ukraine is currently targeting oil facilities in a wide-range of places and at vast distances from Ukraine.  Some of the targets it is hitting should be well-protected, for instance near St Petersburg or Russia’s largest refinery in Volgograd. The strategic nature of these attacks is confirmed by strikes at export focussed sites like the depot and Rosneft refinery at Tuapse, on the Black Sea and the Novatek processing plant on the Baltic coast.  Indicating that reducing Russia’s ability to export oil is an objective of the campaign.

Ukraine’s strikes in Russia fall into two general types; targets of opportunity and coordinated attacks. Ukraine is probably encouraging and supporting a wide-range of anti-Putin groups across Russia that carry out sabotage attacks and provide intelligence about target.  This activity is likely to be less coordinated but creates a security problem for Russian.  On the other hand, Ukraine’s attacks on oil production and export infrastructure appear to be planned and coordinated, and typically use drones.  The map below shows the recent attacks on oil facilities, indicating the extent of the campaign and its coordination.


This campaign should be noted because it provides a glimpse of future conflict. Ukraine’s drones are hitting targets spread over a frontage of approximately 1,700 km, roughly the distance between Hobart and Brisbane in Australia, and often 800km behind Russian lines.  The use of long-range drones to provide a relatively inexpensive weapon to attack economic targets will increase in the future.

Russia masses in the north east targeting Kupiansk

Kupiansk is an important city in north-east Ukraine, it is a major road and rail junction that played a key part in the 2022 Kharkiv campaign.  Additionally, it is a crossing point on the Oskil River.  Capturing the city provides a logistics base for an advance either; west toward Kharkiv or south towards Lyman, Sloviansk and Kramatorsk.

If Russia advances west from Kupiansk, towards Kharkiv then it can use the P07 Highway as a main supply route as it advances roughly 80km through relatively open terrain.  Going south, the P79 Highway provides a main supply route for an advance and the Oskil River can be used to secure the flank of an advance in this direction.   Both options are workable, however Russia must first take the city.

Ukraine reports that Russia is currently massing forces, just east in the area around Svatove, approximately 40,000 troops supported by 500 tanks. This is a significant force and its position indicates that an attack on Kupiansk is likely.  The next question is whether this force can capture the city.  My assessment is that this is highly unlikely, Russia has thrown similar sized forces at Avdiivka since October without success. General Zaluzhnyi, along with many other commentators are currently discussing the increasing advantages that drones and other technology give the defenders in battle.  Defeating this advantage is difficult and Russian performance on the offensive to-date has not demonstrated that they can. Therefore, my assessment is that this reported build up is either; Ukraine trying to present a threat to encourage more support, or may the start of another failed Russian offensive.


Despite Putin’s sang froid during his interview with Tucker Carlson, Russia’s situation is far from stable. The Russian economy is fully mobilised to support the war and there is nothing left in the cupboard.  The effect of the war on the wider economy is enormous and to-date has been managed by a large war-chest, and by continuing to export oil and gas. Late last year, Russian oil revenue had dropped by 26%. Ukraine’s oil campaign aims reduce this revenue further, and making war costs money.

In theatre, the Black Sea Fleet is ineffective forced back into safe harbours. Russia’s tactical airpower is increasing ineffective driven back from the front lines by superior Western anti-aircraft missiles, and will soon be facing F-16 fighters. Ukraine is working hard to isolate Crimea and recent attacks on the peninsula demonstrate that Russia’s air defence surveillance network is being effectively reduced.  On land, Ukraine is still holding its post-2023 offensive frontline, regardless of ammunition shortages and Russia’s sacrifice of tens of thousands of young soldiers since October.

Essentially, Russia is in trouble and is not be able to continue this war forever.  Putin is playing on a myth of Russian intractability and willingness to endure, while presenting an image of confidence aiming to outlast US and European support for Ukraine. However, that confidence is a bluff, based on myth rather than reality.


Ben Morgan is a bored Gen Xer, a former Officer in NZDF and TDBs Military Blogger – his work is on substack


    • Nick J, I think Zelensky has sent Ben Morgan a Green camo shirt & a pair of his soiled underwear to so he can get high on a whiff of the scent of Zelensky No.5 Cologne because the Morgan is completely brainwashed into believing that Zelensky, this Comedian actor who played the Piano with his dick & Ukraine has any chance of beating the Ruskies & Mr Putin? It’s so delusional, Ben seriously needs the services of a Exorcist to expel the Ukraine demon that’s possessed his feeble mind?

  1. “Unfortunately, Carlson’s interview provides a platform for Putin to speak directly to a large group of Americans, who influence political leaders.”

    Unfortunately!? That is a shockingly ignorant opinion.
    Putin needs to speak, and the American people need to listen to him, if Tucker Carlson has to be the channel, then so be it.
    I keep on quoting this John Stuart Mill bit and I guess I’ll have to continue quoting until people actually take it seriously,

    “He who knows only his own side of the case knows little of that. His reasons may be good, and no one may have been able to refute them. But if he is equally unable to refute the reasons on the opposite side, if he does not so much as know what they are, he has no ground for preferring either opinion… Nor is it enough that he should hear the opinions of adversaries from his own teachers, presented as they state them, and accompanied by what they offer as refutations. He must be able to hear them from persons who actually believe them… he must know them in their most plausible and persuasive form.”

    In essence, Mill emphasizes the importance of understanding opposing viewpoints and engaging with diverse perspectives. Only by doing so can we truly appreciate the depth and validity of our own beliefs.
    That is not the job of the media, journalists, analysts, journalists posing as analysts, or analysts posing as journalists.
    It is the job of every thinking person.

    • Putin is one of the worst leaders presently on the planet. He is not enlightened, and there is nothing that can appeal to neighbouring populations in his murderous racist nationalist imperialism. It is not necessary to understand the self-justifying lies of Putin, any more than it is necessary to understand the reasoning of a smaller scale mass murderer like Ted Bundy. It suffices to stop him in his tracks.

      • A failure to understand the enemy coupled with a penchant for assuming/guessing enemy motives/actions, this is war this conflict still exists, despite what we believe Putin/Russia to be. Otherwise, Putin inheriting then stabilizing/fixing a basket case economy, starting from the late 90’s, this alone, is without doubt, why he is one of the worst leaders on the planet, from a western interests point of view.

        • I wouldn’t waste my time trying to understand a tyrant who will go down in history as Stalin mark 2.
          Not even Khrushchev, Brezhnev and their successors in the USSR treated their dissidents like that.

    • That’s all fine and dandy but Putin locked up his opposition and his viewpoints and diverse opinion.
      Until his dictatorship allows freedom of voice your comment is hypothetical .Jake.
      At present it’s hypocritical.

      • I am always a little surprised at those that defend Putin here that they never seem to mention things like journalists or political opponents in Russia. Then again to be fair, Tucker Carlson forgot to ask him about them as well

        • Unfortunately these brave dissidents and journalists get funded by western “NGOs” – read, CIA. So that’s the price of taking cash from the Empire which is still snarling about its failure to carve the ex USSR into corporate fiefdoms.

          50% of Yanks vote for the US two-winged turkey uniparty. 70% of russians vote for Putin. Most people everywhere just vote for the safest bet.

      • Quite apart from “the voice of freedom’ being a total fantasy, how would I know if Putin allows this fantastical voice if I don’t listen to what Putin says?
        Am I to rely on American corporate journalists to tell me what Putin says? And if those journalists can listen to Putin, then why can’t I?

    • While I can agree with your wanting to know how both sides think the unreliability of anything Putin says would have me thinking that there is not much use listening to him and you would want independent sources of information as well. I recall a saying that truth is the first casualty in war so I suspect that both sides have that attitude.

  2. Interestingly Ben omits the new replacement of Syrskyi has both Parents living in Russia as well as a brother, additionally he is despised by Ukrainian troops and is seen as willing to dispose of them in meat grinders despite advice to withdraw he has had no major battle achievements in fact history shows his incompetence in previous battles.

  3. With reputable commentators almost unanimous in their praise of the Carlson Putin interview for its breadth, depth and candour, and with not one comparative Western-leader-interview equivalent to be seen, anywhere, just who is this faceless Ben Morgan bullhorn that we should give his dismissive diatribe a moment’s notice?

  4. Just as a matter of interest it is very obvious that the Western MSM has controlled the messaging on the conflict and has to date done brilliantly in the propaganda war. Or so we thought.

    After the interview over 200 million in the West watched within 24 hours. Some are saying one billion worldwide now. It would seem that the people want their news firsthand. The MSM is terminally I’ll.

    • Really? Over 200 million – so about 2/3 of the US’s population? And 1 billion? So approximately 1 person in 7 on the entire planet watched Tucker Carlson’s interview? Strange, I work with a LOT of people every single day and not one of them said they were going to watch it.

      Have you got an accurate source for these figures you’re quoting, outside of Tucker’s Twitter feed?

      • The worlds a bigger place than your friendship group.Sigh… the arrogance of westerners to think they are the world

      • Yes, start with what X said, plus numbers on screen with YouTube. How about you do your own research first next time.

        • When I see what appears to me to be someone spouting obvious bs, that’s why I pull you up on it. It’s not up to me to provide proof of your claims – you’re the one making the heady statement that “a billion people have watched the interview”, not me – and I’m not going to go looking for numbers to do *your* research, you can prove it to me.

          • Tuckers got almost a hundred million views so it’s mostly them being sent clips from different platforms and people associated with them in different ways. I know the internet may seem like a scare place for you sometimes just try not freak out all the time.

              • No thanks is required. Whether it is 18 million or 1 billion views its not what we say, it’s how we say it that grieves you so badly.

    • Gee. Your spellcheck has let you down again NJ. Those advancing years must be taking their toll.
      I don’t have to watch Carlson to know what Putin thinks. Presuming he is still alive that is. Valery Solovei aka General SVR alleges that two interviews were done, totally scripted in advance but the double didn’t get his lines right the first time. The useful idiot Carlson has taken the Putinists here for a ride.

      • So if Putin is dead as I think you claimed on an earlier thread …who to accuse of genocide?
        I thought Putin was the problem according to you

        • I didn’t claim that Putin was dead! Don’t put words in my mouth!
          I am repeating what Valery Solovei aka General SVR has claimed. Solovei is a conspiracy theorist. I am not. But perhaps he is right or what is his motivation for these claims?

            • And you are just an abusive arsehole NJ. A knee jerker who speaks before he thinks. One has to work out why Solovei is pushing his theories. The answer is far too subtle for you to understand.

  5. He’s also ridiculously out of touch , apparently unaware that Adviidka is all but lost.Frontlines are crumbling elsewhere as well .

    • Anyone who claims there is a “rules based order” ,,, or that Ukraine is fighting for them, has what could be accurately be described as a ‘debased rules disorder’.

      Israel proves that international law/rules are ignored ,,, by them and by their western backers, aka the ‘Coalition of the Killing’.

      Rules are not rules if chosen groups can ignore or break them with impunity, which is the present reality ,,, . To claim otherwise shows some kind of break from reality disorder.

  6. By popular request, here is Generall SVR. Take it or leave it.
    Dear subscribers and guests of the channel! The Russian leadership, on the whole, calmly and even casually accepted the news yesterday about the liquidation of the large landing ship Caesar Kunikov in the Black Sea. The warship was destroyed by the Ukrainian Armed Forces using surface unmanned vehicles. Russia has already lost a significant part of its navy in the Black Sea and, apparently, this is not the limit. Ukraine’s ability to destroy warships is increasing, and the Russian authorities have actually come to terms with this for now. Surprisingly, the Russian leadership hopes for Donald Trump to come to power in the United States and sees salvation only in this. The leadership of the military bloc reports that all operations to destroy the Russian military fleet in the Black Sea are carried out exclusively with the support of the United States and there is nothing to oppose this today. But, they say, the “good tsar” Trump will come to power in the United States, and then he will rein in his military and years of unbridled happiness will begin for the Russian leadership. It’s paradoxical, but relying on the help of the big white gentleman against whom you are fighting (at least on TV and in the unburdened minds of citizens) is the only thing the Russian leadership is capable of today.

    A stand-in for Russian President Vladimir Putin was released into the information space to clarify some points from an interview with Tucker Carlson that aired last week. We wanted to specify some of the messages, but it turned out to be outright nonsense. The double is not able to clearly and clearly state what is required of him. He simply does not understand the essence of the problem, but tries to retell, in his own words, what he heard from the curators. This is where the messages come from, from the “president” about the unfulfilled “Minsk agreements”, about “it was necessary to use force earlier”, about the conversation with Carlson about the Jewish pogroms, the lack of responsibility among modern Germans, and finally, about the lack of satisfaction after the interview with Tucker Carlson. It is strange that the majority of Russian citizens do not see what the curators of the double are well aware of – the man portraying Russian President Vladimir Putin is an outright idiot. But there is no other, and we have to use this one.


    • PhuD, that’s hilarious. Are you lining up to take over from the comedic dwarf of Kiev? Can you play the piano?

      • Well that aged well. Putin only yesterday said he preferred Bidet to win as he was an experienced politician and Russia understood him.
        PHUD, conspiracy theorist, hypocrite and fake.

        • And FG you are one of the few that take Putin literally! There’s always one …
          And once again I reiterate that I do not stand behind the thoughts of Valery Solovei but am putting them up for discussion. If you are not able to comprehend this then you are very obtuse.

    • Navalny is dead but I’ll bet he won’t get an iota of sympathy from the Putin supporting psychopaths on this site.

      • Oh, you’re a fan of the ‘Russian March’ that Navalny held? I bet you’re a fan of his favourite video, ‘Execution of a Tajik and a Dagestani’, too.

          • He does make a valid point on Navalnys videos advocating for violence against Muslims and immigrants though, after all it was the basis of his extremism convictions. What says you Ovod? on one hand Navalny has convictions based on provable facts but yet according to you hes a “Victim” I’m curious is Putin responsible for his death or Putin’s double?

      • Who cares? And I fucking mean it. I feel for his family and those close, that’s human. But ultimately he was a criminal convicted of commercial crimes against a French company. It’s a sad story of what we call “ripping people off”, he got caught. And jailed. Self inflicted wounds.

        And PhuD where’s your scream for Gonzalo Lira, dead in a Ukrainian jail? I didn’t hear it. Because you are a hypocrite. The pot calling the kettle black.

        Now do us a favour. Fuck off.

      • And it is shameful that mourners have been arrested across Russia and wreaths removed. Disgusting behaviour by the authorities. Putin is a paranoid psychopath.

        • They are protesters not “Mourners” break the law do the time just ask Navalny. Interesting though his Wife visits him a few days before his death and then conveniently appears at the Munich security conference to make a speech.

  7. All the supporters of my imperialism is better than your imperialism, like Ben Morgan and Malcolm Evans, don’t understand imperialism.

    • Now now seer, that was a strategic withdrawal, a redeployment, by the genius new Russian head of the Ukrainian-killing forces of Zelensky, not an ignominious defeat. Don’t be rude to NATO Ben.

  8. Here is a history lesson on Russia and Ukraine from Timothy Snyder, Yale University
    In a talk with Tucker Carlson, Putin uttered sentences about the past. I will explain how Putin is wrong about everything, but first I have to make a point about why he is wrong about everything. By how I mean his errors about past events. By why I mean the horror inherent in the kind of story he is telling. It brings war, genocide, and fascism.

    Putin has read about various realms in the past. By calling them “Russia,” he claims their territories for the Russian Federation he rules today.

    Such nonsense brings war. On Putin’s logic, leaders anywhere can make endless claims to territory based on various interpretations of the past. That undoes the entire international order, based as it is upon legal borders between sovereign states.
    In his conversation with Carlson, Putin focused on the ninth, tenth, and eleventh centuries. Moscow did not exist then. So even if we could perform the wishful time travel that Putin wants, and turn the clock back to 988, it could not lead us to a country with a capital in Moscow. Most of Russia’s present territory is in Siberia. Europeans did not control those Asian territories back then. On Putin’s logic, Russia has no claim today to the territories from which it extracts its natural gas and oil. Other countries would, and Russia’s national minorities would.

    Putin provides various dates to make various claims. Anyone can do that about any territory. So the first implication of Putin’s view is that no borders are legitimate, including the borders of your own country. Everything is up for grabs, since everyone can have a story. Carlson asked Putin why he must invade Ukraine, and the myth of eternal Russia was the answer.

    The second problem, after war, is genocide. After you decide a a country in the deep past is also somehow your country now, you then insist that the only true history is whatever seems to prove you right. The experiences of people who actually lived in the past and live in the present are “artificial” (to use one of Putin’s favorite words).

    In the interview, and in other speeches during the war, Putin depends on a false distinction between natural nations and artificial nations. Natural nations have a right to exist, artificial ones do not.

    But there are no natural nations. All nations are made. The Russia of tomorrow is made by the actions of Russians today. If Russians fight a lawless war of destruction in Ukraine, that makes them a different people than they might have been. This is more important than anything that happened centuries ago. When a nation is called “artificial,” this is justification for genocide. Genocidal language does not refer to the past; it changes the future.

    Everyone who does not fit Putin’s neat story (Russia is eternal, so Russians can do whatever they want) has to be removed, first from the narrative of the past, and then from those counted as human in present. On Putin’s logic, it does not matter what people believe or how people understand their own past. It is he who decides which souls are bound to which other souls. Other views have no place in nature, because they arose from events which (in his story) should never have happened. His view must govern the past, which requires violence in the present: genocide.

    If there are people who say that Ukraine is real, they must be destroyed. That has been the logic of Russia’s mass murder from the start. Putin expected Ukraine to fall in a few days because he thought he needed to eliminate a few Ukrainians in an artificial elite. The more Ukrainians there turned out to be, the more people had to be killed. The same holds for physical expressions of Ukrainian culture. Russia has destroyed thousands of Ukrainian schools. Everywhere Russian troops reach, they burn Ukrainian books.

    The third problem is a fascism expressed as victimhood. Putin is the dictator of the largest country in the world and personally controls tens and more likely hundreds of billions of dollars. And yet in his story he is a longwinded victim, because not everyone agrees with him. Russia is a victim because Russians can tell a story about how they need to fight a genocidal war, and not everyone agrees. Ukrainians are the aggressors, because they do not agree that they and their country do not exist.

    Indeed, says Putin, Ukrainians are “Nazis,” a word that in his mouth just means “people who refuse to accept that Russians are pure no matter what we do.” This is a victim claim: if the Ukrainians are “Nazis,” then Russians — even though they started the war and have killed tens of thousands of people and kidnapped tens of thousands of children and carry out war crimes every single day — must be the righteous sufferers.

    This is how myth matters. If all the wrong in the past was done by others, as Putin says, then all the wrong in the present must be done by others. Putin’s story divides good and evil perfectly. Russia is always right, others are always wrong. Russians can behave like Nazis while calling others “Nazis” and all is well. Russia is a people with a special purpose, resisted by conspiracies. Putin’s war has been fought with fascist slogans and by fascist means, with mass propaganda and mass mobilization.

    Just as there are three why problems (war, genocide, fascism) there are three how problems. Putin leaves things out before his narrative begins, gets things wrong during his narrative, and leaves things out as his narrative ends.

    I’d almost rather leave it at the why. As soon as I get into the how, and start correcting the factual errors, it’s as though I am endorsing the overall logic. So just to make this clear: even were Putin a decent historian, that would not mean that he could (legally, morally) claim territory on the basis of correct things he said about the past. Real historians, as you might have noticed, do not actually have that power. Most of what Putin says about the past is ludicrous; but even had he said some true things, that would not justify destroying the international order, invading neighbors, and committing genocide.

    Aside from being dangerous and erroneous, what Putin says about the Ukrainian past is boring. He leaves out important things about the history of the lands that are now Ukraine. Thousands of years before Putin begins to get everything wrong, world-historical trends emerge from lands that are now Ukraine. Deep in the Bronze Age, about six thousand years ago, there were large settlements (“mega-cities”) in what is now Ukraine. About five thousand years ago, the people who built those cities were displaced by pastoralists who had domesticated the horse. Those people brought from the steppe with the beginnings of languages now spoken by about half the people of the world. About two thousand five hundred years ago, Scythians from what is now southern Ukraine encountered Greeks, supplying them with some of their best stories (including those of Amazons, female Scythian warriors). Scythia, or the southern coast of what is now Ukraine, fed Athens during the time of its greatest flowering, and Greeks lived in cities on what is now the southern Ukrainian coast.

    One could go on from there to the Sarmatians, the Goths, and the Khazars. The lands of what is now Ukraine may very well have been the first European territories inhabited by humans; however that may be, they have been inhabited, often by hugely influential peoples, for about thirty-seven thousand years. If it were truly the case that one could claim territory today on the basis of who was there first, Russia would have a weak claim.

    All of Putin’s utterances about the period finds interesting, beginning in the ninth century AD, are wrong. He starts up Tucker Carlson with a pleasant tale about how people in Novgorod “invited” a “Varangian prince” to rule them. History is a rougher business than that. This was the Viking age. A Viking slaving company known as “Rus” was finding its way down the Dnipro river to exchange its slavic slaves for silver. Eventually those Vikings made of Kyiv, at the time a Khazar fort, their main trading post and port and later their capital.

    In the interview, Putin invites Carlson to believe that this was a “centralized state” with “one and the same language.” This is just ignorance. It was a medieval kingdom, not a state in our sense. It was certainly not centralized. That is a fantasy. Nor did it have a single language. The Viking and post-Viking rulers had three names: their Scandinavian ones, with time their local (slavic) ones, and after conversion their baptismal ones. There was a slavic language at the time and place, spoken by much of the population and eventually by the rulers, but it was not modern Russian or Russian of any description. Some of the language of politics was from the Khazars. There were Jews in ancient Kyiv who knew Hebrew and slavic. There were plenty of other language spoken as well, from several different linguistic families.

    Were Putin serious that the past determines the present, he should say that the territories of that medieval Viking state, Kyivan Rus — much of Ukraine, all of Belarus, some of northeastern Russia by today’s boundaries — should belong to Sweden, or Denmark, or Norway, or perhaps Finland. The creation of Kyivan Rus was one of several spectacular examples of Viking statebuilding around the year 1000. This broad history includes Sicily, Normandy (and so indirectly England) as well as the Scandinavian kingdoms. Sometimes Viking ambition includes several of these states at once, as when Harald Hardrada, who had served the army of Kyivan Rus, took up the kingship in Norway and invaded England. Putin speaks of Yaroslav the Wise; in an Icelandic source that fascinating ruler figures as Jarisleif the Lame. He was widely known in the Europe of the day (but not in Moscow, which did not exist).

    Then the Mongols arrive in Kyiv, in 1240. This is an awkward moment for Putin, since it reveals the problem with his reasoning. If the Mongols destroyed Kyivan Rus in about 1240, why not pick then as the date that is forever valid? Why is that any worse than the earlier and later dates Putin chooses? Why does Mongolia not have a claim on Kyiv, and for that matter on Russia? On Putin’s logic, it must. Putin skips hastily over this awkwardness to the (false) claim that “northern cities preserved some of their sovereignty.” He means that Moscow preserved the sovereignty of Kyivan Rus under Mongol rule. But Moscow did not exist. By the time the Mongols invaded, there was a settlement on the site, but the Mongols burned it down. When Moscow was rebuilt, it was as a site of tribute collection for the Mongol overlords. That is the founding moment of the state centered in Moscow. Why then does today’s Moscow not now belong to Mongolia?

    In the English transcript of the interview provided by the office of the president of the Russian Federation, which I am using, Putin keeps saying “Russian.” This is not the kind of thing one can expect Carlson to notice, but it is an error every time Putin does it, at least for most of the centuries he is talking about. Kyivan Rus was in no way “Russia.” It was named after Vikings who became rulers. That name “Rus” came to be associated with the land and its people and with Christianity. But “Russia” as Putin is using it, when it refers to anything specific, is an empire founded in St. Petersburg (a city that did not exist at the time of Kyivan Rus) in 1721. That Russian Empire was named “Russian” precisely as a claim to lands and to history. But just because Peter the Great made a clever public relations decision half a millennium after the Mongols took Kyiv does not mean that there was a Russia when the Mongols arrived. There was not.
    The Russian Empire that arose from Moscow was a very important state. But even the Russian Empire (1721-1917) was not a Russia in the way Putin wants. Most of its territory was in Asia. There was no Russian national consciousness among its peoples on most of its territories for most of its existence. Most of its population did not speak Russian. Its ruling class was largely German, Polish, and Swedish. Catherine the Great, the empress Putin venerates, was a German princess who came to power after the murder of her husband, who was a German prince. (Much the same can be said, incidentally, for the Soviet elite. It is only with Boris Yeltsin and his chosen successor Putin that we have before us unambiguous Russians durably ruling in a country called Russia. It is perhaps this very novelty and uncertainty that stands behind a view of the past that is at once naive and cynical. Russia’s nationhood is postmodern, and it shows.)

    In moving from the middle ages to the present, Putin then commits a huge error of omission. He refers very briefly to the Grand Duchy of Lithuania and the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, and only to tell Carlson that they oppressed “Russians.” The Grand Duchy of Lithuania and the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth were the largest countries in Europe. It was Lithuania that inherited most of the lands of old Rus, at around the time its rulers became kings of Poland. Poland-Lithuania included Kyiv for more than three hundred years — longer than Kyiv was part of Kyivan Rus, longer than Kyiv was ever part of the Russian Empire. Much of the impressive political culture of Kyiv shifted to Vilnius. Again, by Putin’s own logic, the lands that are now Ukraine should therefore be claimed by today’s Lithuania or today’s Poland.

    A great deal happened during those three hundred years: the renaissance, the reformation, the counter-reformation. All of these marked Ukraine (as it was now called) and made it different from a Muscovite state largely untouched by those trends. Ukrainian Cossacks rebelled against Polish rule, on the basis of an understanding of a legal duty of rulers to subjects that existed in Poland-Lithuania but not in Muscovy. When Ukrainian Cossacks rebelled against Polish rule, they were led by a man educated by Jesuits who knew Ukrainian, Polish, and Latin but did not know Russian and who used translators to communicate with Muscovites. The Cossacks did cooperate with Moscow after they lost their Crimean Tatar allies, and this did lead to wars that ruined Poland-Lithuania and allowed Muscovy to expand westward.

    But Putin is wrong that the agreement signed between Cossacks and Muscovy in 1654 was some kind of eternal soul-binding of Ukrainians to Russians. Like many things he thinks, this was Soviet propaganda with a specific purpose. Khrushchev’s regime made this claim to explain why Ukraine, which everyone accepted was a nation, was nevertheless bound forever to Russia inside the USSR. It was based on political need, not historical fact. There is something pathetic about someone as versed in lying as Putin actually believing the lies he was told when he was young.

    Putin makes a mistake about the Ukrainian language, over and over, that is typical of imperial deafness. It is true that Ukrainians today can speak Russian (although many also, for understandable reasons, refuse to do so) as well as Ukrainian. When they encountered Russians, until very recently, Ukrainians would switch to Russian. This courtesy gave Russians the impression that Ukrainian was just a dialect of Russian or that Ukrainian did not exist. The simple truth is that Ukrainians know Russian because they learned it. Russians do not know Ukrainian because they do not learn it. Russian soldiers right now, two years into the war, persist in calling the Ukrainian they hear on radio intercepts “Polish” because they are unable to grasp the obvious: that there is a Ukrainian language, and they do not understand it. Putin’s notion that there is no Ukrainian language is like his idea that there is no Ukrainian country or Ukrainian people: it is genocidal, because only mass killing can make it true. And of course one thing that is clear from this interview is that Putin takes it for granted that killing any number of people is preferable to admitting a mistake. Ideas matter. It is because he is wrong about everything that he must kill.

    Putin perhaps comes closest to realizing his own problem when he talks about the twentieth century and the creation of the Soviet Union (and its Ukrainian republic). Putin is sure that there was no Ukraine in history, and therefore he must present Lenin and Stalin as fools, because they acted as if Ukraine were real. Now, Lenin and Stalin were many things, but they were not fools. Putin says that they acted for “inexplicable” or “unknown” reasons in creating a Ukrainian republic and applying (in the 1920s) policies consistent with the existence of Ukrainian language and culture. Lenin and Stalin did this because they knew, from their own personal experience, that there was a Ukrainian national movement. They did not wish for this to be true; they were simply confronted with it at every step. They knew that there had been a Ukrainian national movement in the Russian Empire. They knew that Ukrainians had tried to found states after the Bolshevik Revolution. They knew that they had defeated these attempts after years of extreme violence, and that something else would have to be done over the long run.

    Putin calls the Soviet Union “Russia” and tells Carlson that the Soviet Union was just another name for Russia. Here he is simply wrong. Russia was a part of the Soviet Union. About half the population were not Russians. Ukraine and other republics were subject to russification policies, but no Soviet leader claimed (as Putin does) that these republics were an element of Russia. The Soviet Union took the form it did, as a nominal federation of national republics, because Lenin, Stalin, and other Bolsheviks knew, more than a hundred years ago, that they had to reckon with Ukraine. They created a Soviet Union with national republics because they knew they had to make some compromise with political reality, above all the reality of Ukraine.

    When Soviet policy turned against Ukrainians in the early 1930s, this was because Stalin was afraid of losing Ukraine as a result of his own disastrous policies, not because he thought Ukraine did not exist. He was right to believe that Ukrainian peasants would resist his policy of seizing their land; many of them did, so long as they could. He and other members of the politburo engineered a political famine in Ukraine on the logic that Ukrainians in particular should be punished for the failures of Stalin’s own policy. Putin ignores these events completely; but they were a lived and unforgettable reality for the survivors. The generational memory of what Ukrainians call Holodomor is one way Ukrainians today differ from Russians.

    Putin talks about the Second World War as if it were a Russian ethnic struggle, but it was a Soviet struggle. And the Soviet peoples who suffered the most, after the Jews, were the Belarusians and the Ukrainians. More Ukrainian civilians were killed under German occupation than Russian civilians. Ukrainian soldiers were overrepresented in the Red Army that defeated the Germans on the eastern front. These are among the important facts of contemporary history that Putin simply passes over. Or he makes things up: like his claim that he lectured the Ukrainian president, Volodymyr Zelens’kyi, about Zelens’kyi’s father, who was in the Red Army. It was Zelens’kyi’s grandfather. His great-grandfather and three great-uncles were murdered in the Holocaust. Putin has lost track of the generations and lost sight of what mattered and to whom.

    What Putin has to say about the Second World War is that Hitler was right. For a decade now, Putin has been justifying the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact, the 1939 alliance between Stalin and Hitler than began the Second World War. His argument at the beginning was that the Soviet choice to join Nazi Germany in the invasion of Poland was just the sort of thing everyone was doing. But it is hard to see how Hitler could have started his war had the Soviets simply held to the non-aggression pact they had earlier signed with Poland.

    Now Putin has taken a further step, saying that Poland had (somehow) both collaborated with Germany too much and simultaneously not collaborated enough and thereby brought the war on itself. Putin wants to say that Poland collaborated with Germany to distract from the basic fact that the Soviet Union entered the Second World War as a German ally. Warsaw refused to fight on Berlin’s side in 1939; Moscow agreed. Putin blames the war on Poland because his own approach to borders and history in 2024 is like Hitler’s in 1939. Putin’s “historical” argument about Ukraine is consistent with Nazi propaganda about Poland, right down to the business about “artificial” states and peoples with no historical right to exist.

    Putin’s claim that the Ukrainians are the actual Nazis isn’t even framed as history. He just says it. This sort of claim is itself fascist: it rests on a domestic politics of us-and-them, where Russians are told that they are always innocent; and an international propaganda campaign meant to confuse by name-calling.

    Ukraine has much less of a problem with the far right than does Russia, or for that matter than the United States, or pretty much any other European country you care to name. Ukrainians elected a Jewish president by more than 70% of the ballot, without his Jewishness being much of an issue. That would be a challenge elsewhere. The Ukrainian minister of defense is a Crimean Tatar (and a Muslim). The commander in chief of the Ukrainian armed forces was born in Soviet Russia to Russian parents. Ukraine manages a degree of diversity, even in wartime, that reflects its fascinating history, a past that cannot really be described in a text like this, one which has to have to narrow purpose of showing how and why Putin is wrong.

    Putin has been making the argument of his interview since 2010; his myth about the past is a major subject of my book The Road to Unfreedom, which charts its origins and defines its consequences at greater length. Putin’s kind of story leads to war, genocide, and fascism. It also, though this might seem like a much smaller wound, makes history harder to practice.

    When stories like his are successful, people in other countries think that they too need an account of eternal innocence to justify the awfulness of the everyday. And historians can be pulled into the vortex, spending their times answering lies rather than doing their research. My own positive version of Ukrainian history is available in the public lecture series available here.

    I close this essay with bibliography to emphasize that history is about researching, considering, and making interesting and defensible arguments. Ukrainian historians keep doing this, even during the war. The last item by Hrytsak, for example, has just been released and deserves a wide readership.

    Simon Franklin and Jonathan Shepard, Emergence of Rus 750-1200, London: Routledge, 1996.

    Christian Raffensperger, The Kingdom of Rus, Arc Humanities Press, 2017.

    Paul Robert Magocsi, A History of Ukraine, Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1996

    Ivan L. Rudnytsky, Essays in Modern Ukrainian History, Edmonton: Canadian Institute of Ukrainian Studies, 1987.

    Tatiana Tairova Yakovleva, Ivan Mazepa and the Russian Empire, McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2020.

    Timothy Snyder, The Reconstruction of Nations: Poland, Ukraine, Lithuania, Belarus, 1569-1999, New Haven: Yale University Press, 2002.

    Barbara Skinner, The Western Front of the Eastern Church, Dekalb: Northern Illinois University Press, 2009.

    Serhiy Bilenky, Laboratory of Modernity: Ukraine Between Empire and Nation, 1772-1914, McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2023.

    Matthew D. Pauly, Breaking the Tongue: Language, Education, and State Power in Soviet Ukraine, 1923-1934, Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2014

    Golfo Alexopoulos, Illness and Inhumanity in the Gulag, New Haven: Yale University Press, 2017.

    Anne Applebaum, Red Famine: Stalin’s War on Ukraine, New York: Doubleday, 2017.

    Timothy Snyder, Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin, New York: Basic Books, 2010.

    Mayhill Fowler, Beau Monde on Empire’s Edge: State and Stage in Soviet Ukraine, University of Toronto Press, 2023.

    Serhy Yekelchyk, Ukraine: The Birth of a Modern Nation, New York: Oxford University Press, 2007.

    Myroslav Marynovych, The Universe Behind Barbed Wire: Memoirs of a Ukrainian Soviet Dissident, Rochester University Press, 2022.

    Timothy Snyder, The Road to Unfreedom: Russia, Europe, America, New York: Tim Duggan Books, 2018.

    Stanislav Aseev, The Torture Camp on Paradise Street, Harvard Ukrainian Research Institute, 2023.

    Serhii Plokhy, The Gates of Europe, New York: Basic Books, 2017.

    Yaroslav Hrytsak, Ukraine: The Forging of a Nation, New York: Public Affairs,

  9. Jeepers PhuD, the joys of cut and paste. Snyder certainly has a lot of wind as you would expect of a US academic. It pays (in every sense) to express the opinion of those who pay you. I’d note that the bibliography is entirely published in the West. Curious, please tell us that all Russian sources are like their Western equivalents fully paid up, or in Siberia.

    Nice effort PhuD, no cigar.

    • One feels that instead of a “PHD in Russian studies” Ovid would have been better to do a degree in Psychology so at least he could self diagnose.
      Incoherent ramblings with no original thought or advancement of the fictitious degree does not bode well on the UC. I would suggest he charges rent for Putin living inside his head.
      It amazes me how people like Ovod claim Putin is responsible for Navalny’s death before an autopsy has been undertaken which surely is an indication of a low IQ or critical thinking.

    • As an historian I laud the efforts of Professor Snyder. He does not merely publish what his paymasters want him to. NJ did you say that you went to a university once. Which one? Obviously you do not understand how academic research works. Snyder is stating verifiable facts. Putin does not.
      Have you ever investigated the state of Soviet/Russian academia NJ? In their ‘research’ one is lucky to find properly attributed references. Suffice to say there was much plagiarism.

  10. What a torrent of vitriol FG. Like it or not I can call myself a Dr. What’s more I damn well earnt it!
    You are one of the worst examples of the tall poppy syndrome I have ever witnessed. Instead of concocting conspiracy theories about whether people have their degrees or not, I would suggest that you read Timothy Snyder’s article that I posted. Especially as you confused Kievan Rus with Russia. What a twisted world of lies and hate you must live in FG.

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