Russia’s sacred land

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Russia’s sacred land

A portrait of Vladimir Putin is held aloft during celebrations in the main square of the Crimean city of Simferopol, March 21, 2014. Photo by Shamil Zhumatov/Reuters

To understand Crimea, we need an evolutionary theory of national honour. It’s irrational and deadly – but it works

Peter Turchin is Professor of Ecology and Evolution at the University of Connecticut and Vice-President of the Evolution Institute. He wrote War and Peace and War: the Rise and Fall of Empires.

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When Russia annexed Crimea in March, American policymakers were taken by surprise. They shouldn’t have been, argued the political theorist John J Mearsheimer in a New York Times op-ed. After all: ‘Mr Putin’s behaviour is motivated by the same geopolitical considerations that influence all great powers, including the United States.’

Mearsheimer is one of the leading exponents of offensive realism, the theory that international politics has always been, and will presumably remain, ‘a ruthless and dangerous business’. In the absence of a world government that could protect the weak from the strong, all states seek as much power as possible: there is no better way to ensure their own survival. So says the offensive realist.

There are, of course, other ideas in the marketplace of international relations theory (which might itself explain the general confusion over Russia’s recent activity). Liberal theories, for example, tend to downplay the quest for strategic advantage, focusing instead on such internal characteristics of states as their form of government. But, strange as it might seem, such distinctions do not make much difference on the international stage. Democracies and dictatorships appear similarly jealous of power.

So offensive realism enjoys better empirical support than other theories of international relations. At the same time, it is clear that more is at stake in international politics than naked geopolitical calculus. One limitation common to most realist theories is their assumption that states act as purely rational agents, coldly calculating the course of action that would yield the highest material advantage. In fact, state policy is often influenced by seemingly irrational considerations. No truly rational utility-maximiser could take something such as ‘national honour’ seriously, yet states frequently do.

An injection of evolutionary thinking might help to explain why. Imagine a livestock herder – a traditional Kazakh nomad or an American cattleman on the Western frontier – who lives in a stateless, anarchic society. His wealth is movable and therefore vulnerable to theft. Since there are no police and no courts, he must rely on his own efforts to protect himself, just as states must rely on themselves to ensure continued survival. In such a situation, one strategy is to maintain a reputation for extreme toughness: ‘If you mess with me, you’ll regret it.’ Potential rustlers are deterred because they know that the owner will go all-out to punish them for any transgression.

Now, on a realist view such as Mearsheimer’s, such retribution would seem irrational. It yields no immediate gain and entails significant costs. If one does it oneself, there is the risk of injury or death. If one outsources the work, a bounty must be paid. But in spite of these liabilities, the punishment strategy turns out to be the one that wins in the long run. Herdsmen who do not cultivate a tough reputation become ‘men without honour’. Eventually they lose all their herds and become extinct (indeed, that possibility is what makes this genuinely an evolutionary process, although the relevant adaptation is probably more cultural than genetic). ‘Honour’ means that your commitment to punish a thief is credible. You cannot be dissuaded by danger and you cannot be bought off. If you succumb to either temptation, you lose your credibility, and with it, the capacity to deter robbers.

The problem is that rustlers are also under pressure to cultivate tough reputations: they have to intimidate the herders and deter punishment. So we end up in a coevolutionary arms race in which everybody becomes increasingly tough. The end result is a spiral of violence in which all parties run a high risk of extermination. An apparently sensible strategy leads, in short order, to suicidal madness. This is hard to understand within the rationalist framework of offensive realism. From an evolutionary point of view, on the other hand, it seems inevitable.

When they want to investigate conflict, game theorists have long turned to the classic ‘hawk-dove’ game. ‘Doves’ are individuals who never fight. If attacked, they run away. ‘Hawks’, on the other hand, are always ready for violence and will attack anybody who has something that they want. In a country populated by meek doves, the hawk strategy does very well. But as hawks become more numerous at the expense of doves, they spend more and more time fighting and killing each other.

There is, however, a simple modification of the hawk strategy that is superior to both hawks and doves: playing ‘bourgeois’. First, you declare a resource item – a herd, a piece of cropland – as your private property (hence the ‘bourgeois’ designation). Then you signal that you are willing to defend it no matter what it takes. Again, this is not rational in the narrow sense. You must be willing to escalate conflicts to the point where your life is at stake, even though your life is worth incomparably more than the disputed property. But again, in evolutionary terms, the strategy is a winner. While the hawks overreach, getting embroiled in self-destructive conflict, the bourgeois steadily divide the spoils among themselves, fighting only to defend their property against hawks. In the long run, the bourgeois always replace the hawks.

What does this mean for the seeming irrationality of states? Well, typically, they fight over territory. Land supports a population, which provides the state with taxes and army recruits. It can also have strategic value, if it allows the state to project power or control a choke point. And, of course, states are essentially territorial entities: without land, they are nothing.

States often behave in an opportunistic manner, grabbing real estate when they can and giving it up when the cost of holding it becomes too great. In 1732, Russia returned a large chunk of Persian territory that Peter the Great had conquered in the previous decade. In return, the Persians entered an alliance with the Russians against the Ottoman Empire. This kind of behaviour is well-described by realism. However, most states, historical and modern, also put some territory into a special category, one that is not subject to rational geopolitical calculation. Such land is ‘sacred’. It must be held at all costs.

Here we find an obvious manifestation of the bourgeois strategy in the hawk-dove game. States and populations that are willing to escalate conflict as far as necessary in defence of their sacred lands are more likely to persist in the international arena. Those that treat their core territory in a rational manner – forfeiting it in accordance with strategic imperatives, as, for example, several Germanic tribes did repeatedly during the Migration Period – get wiped out. As a result, we observe the coevolution of geopolitics and what the anthropologist Scott Atran has identified as ‘sacred values’. Geopolitical assets acquire an aura of sanctity.

the siege of Sevastopol remains only slightly less resonant for Russians than the Siege of Leningrad. But it is climbing the rankings

We can trace this coevolution in specific historical examples. Consider the Crimean city of Sevastopol, home to the Russian Black Sea Fleet. Initially this port was just a convenient naval base that allowed Russia to project power into the surrounding region. Because of this geopolitical value, the city played a key role during the Crimean War of 1853-1856, when Russia fought Britain and France for the right to expand into the waning Ottoman Empire. This first ‘heroic defence’ of Sevastopol left a significant imprint on Russia’s collective psyche; not least Leo Tolstoy’s important early work, Sevastopol Sketches (1855).

The second ‘heroic defence’ of the port came in 1941-42, during the war against Nazi Germany. Indeed, the siege of Sevastopol remains only slightly less resonant for Russians than the more famous Siege of Leningrad. But it is climbing the rankings. In the midst of the present conflict, Russia designated Sevastopol a city of federal significance, a status it shares only with Moscow and St Petersburg, the city formerly known as Leningrad. As we watch, Sevastopol is being woven ever more tightly into Russia’s national mythology.

If Crimea is so precious, one might wonder why Russia ever let it go. The simple answer is that it didn’t mean to. In 1954, the Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev transferred it to Ukraine as an essentially symbolic gesture. Ukraine was then a Soviet imperial possession, so this seemed an innocuous arrangement. Then, when the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, Russia itself started fragmenting. Chechnya achieved de facto independence. In a more peaceful fashion, Tatarstan was acquiring greater autonomy. There was talk of the Far East seceding. Crimea, in short, was not the priority.

Such periods of disintegration generally end in one of two ways. Russia rallied. During the 1990s and 2000s, it gradually squeezed out its pro-Western liberal elite, though not before they had almost halved GDP, created extreme differentials of wealth, and lost Russia its Great Power status. With the liberals in disgrace, a new, nationalistic cadre seized the moment. Under Vladimir Putin’s leadership, Russia began to claw back its lost lands, beginning, in 1999, with the reconquest of Chechnya. And now here we are.

Politicians and the general public have a tendency to overestimate the role of individuals in history. Presumably that’s why, when Russia annexed Crimea, much of the debate in the US press revolved around the personal motivations of Putin. In reality, however, individual statesmen have a limited ability to affect international relations, which are primarily driven by geopolitical and sociocultural forces. Putin is an important player, no doubt, but only insofar as he reflects the values and goals of his support groups in Russia: his inner circle, a broader coalition of the elites that back him, and, no less importantly, the general population.

All parties represented in the Duma (Russian Parliament) are solidly behind Putin. In the Duma vote, 445 votes were for the annexation with only one against. It was hardly surprising that Putin’s party, United Russia, supported him. But the other three parties, Just Russia, the Liberal Democrats and even the Communists, were also solidly behind him. That is less usual.

Even more importantly, the general population overwhelmingly supports Putin on this issue. In a large sociological study that polled almost 50,000 Russians, more than 90 per cent said that they wanted Crimea to become part of Russia. Only 5 per cent were opposed. Putin’s policy of ‘reunification with Crimea’ is extremely popular. His approval ratings soared from an already high 60 per cent to 76 per cent. Sociologists such as Alexander Oslon, of the Public Opinion Foundation, and Olga Kryshtanovskaya, who studies Russian elites, say they have never before seen such a degree of unity on any issue in Russia.

I grew up in Russia, and I was very struck – in a way that no US commentator appears to have been – at how insistently Putin’s annexation speech of March 18 drew upon Russia’s systems of shared meaning. Early in his speech, Putin reminded his audience that Crimea was where Saint Vladimir was baptised in the 10th century. It was he, as Grand Prince Vladimir, who converted Russia to Christianity, thus laying the foundations of the Russian civilisation. Putin also referred to the bones of Russian soldiers, buried all across the peninsula. ‘All these places are sacred to us,’ he said.

the thought of NATO boots on Sevastopol’s hallowed soil is intolerable to many Russians

In another little-noticed part of his address, Putin evoked the image of NATO establishing a naval base in Sevastopol should Crimea slip out of Russian control. There is a suspicion among Russian policymakers that the real motive of the US in detaching Ukraine from Russia is to expel the Black Sea Fleet from Sevastopol and replace it with a NATO military base. It doesn’t matter whether this is really the US goal; what matters is that the thought of NATO boots on Sevastopol’s hallowed soil is intolerable to many Russians. As Putin remarked: ‘I simply cannot imagine that we would travel to Sevastopol to visit NATO sailors.’

Germany’s chancellor Angela Merkel is said to have claimed that Putin ‘lives in another world’. She is right. Putin’s world is the Russian cultural space, which is quite different from the western Europe in which Merkel now operates. ‘Putin has done what our hearts were longing for,’ a Crimean pensioner told the news agency Reuters. ‘This finally brings things back to what they should be after all those years. For me, for my family, there can be no bigger joy, for us this is sacred.’

What – or who – gives a nation its sacred values? I have spoken about their ‘evolution’ as if these values were the product of an entirely blind process, almost like biological adaptations. A moment’s reflection should tell us that, in fact, they emerge from political discussions within each nation. It is natural to wonder, then, whether powerful interests cannot steer those discussions towards certain desired ends. If they can, aren’t these so-called ‘sacred’ values really just the inventions of manipulative elites?

In a sense, that’s exactly what they are. Yet the process as a whole remains a matter of blind evolution, in which no party can be certain of the outcome. Suppose a particular interest group – a band of ideological entrepreneurs – were to introduce an ideological ‘meme’ into the public discourse (think of Cato the Elder’s catchphrase, ‘Carthage must be destroyed’). These memes compete against others. Some become popular and are internalised by a majority of the population; others remain niche preoccupations or fall by the wayside altogether. In time, popular memes come to exert an influence over the behaviour of the state. Then natural selection, acting through international conflict, eliminates those states that have internalised ‘bad’ memes.

states in which the elites and the general population share the same bedrock values will be more effective in the international arena

This is a long-term dynamic involving multiple generations. In the short term, it’s true that ruling elites can whip up nationalistic fervour. External events (an attack, for example) can trigger it. But it still depends on the existence of certain bedrock attitudes that have evolved over many years. That means it isn’t always the elites who manipulate the wider population; popular attitudes also constrain elite choices and actions. And this suggests a further corollary: states in which the elites and the general population share the same bedrock values will tend to be much more effective in the international arena, committing to their course without demur.

Judging by the polls, Putin and his people are of one mind over Crimea. As I write this essay, it seems that little short of an all-out war, risking the use of nuclear weapons, could dislodge Russia’s grip from the peninsula. Not even the most punitive economic sanctions would do the job: by their nature, sacred values trump material considerations, which is what makes conflicts over sacred values so intractable. Consider the case of Jerusalem: the Temple Mount is sacred both to Jews and to Muslims, and neither is willing to give it up. Luckily, the Crimean case is different. Crimea is not sacred for the Americans or western Europeans. It is scarcely more so for the Ukrainians.

There are broader implications to this evolutionary theory of international relations. Realist political scientists such as Mearsheimer are surely correct that the US should recognise the natural geopolitical concerns of other nations. But we also need to go beyond realism. States are not moved by hard geopolitical facts alone: they are also swayed by less tangible considerations of national honour and sacred values. Sometimes they fight. Sometimes they back down. If we are to choose our battles wisely, we must understand what such decisions rest upon.

For a list of supplementary reading, visit

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  • FelixKlein

    I can understand Russian sentimrnt towards Crimea. I believe it is genuine. Perhaps the picture depicted in this article would have been more nuanced if the suthor mentioned that when Ukraine split from the dying USSR there was a refeendum on Crimea and Crimeans decided to join Ukraine. Also, Sevastopol is the place where Russia was twice forced to sink its own fleet.

    • Windham

      @FelixKlein:disqus I don’t know where you get your facts.
      Actually, the first referendum in Crimea was in 1991. 81.3% voters
      participated, of which 93.26% voted to leave Ukraine and enter Russia as
      an Autonomous Republic. The numbers were almost
      the same as in 2014 referendum. As in 2014, in 1991 most Tatars
      boycotted the referendum.

      But Ukraine declared the results illegal.
      Subsequently there were multiple attempts during the 1990s to conduct a
      referendum and become independent of Ukraine, but the Ukrainian
      government suppressed them by force. In 1995 Kiev abolished
      Autonomous Republic of Crimea by diktat.

      This is according to Wikipedia.

      The fact is that the overwhelming majority of
      Crimeans wanted to leave Ukraine and join Russia all the way from 1991
      to 2014, and now they finally did it.

      • FelixKlein
        • Евгений

          I hope you now understand what quality the media you are reading). If the facts do not fit the theory, they can be changed. Still no one will check

          • FelixKlein

            1. It is clear that you disagree with FT.

            2. The fact that you disagree with them does not mean they are wrong.

            3. This is the type of debate Putin has made sure does not take place in Russian mass media.

          • Евгений

            1. Yes

            2. Maybe

            3. You are wrong. There are some tvchannels and so on that trying to express western and ucranian opinions on that problem (, and so on) And at the same time - ( ) )) Democratic coup such democratic ))

          • FelixKlein

            In December 1991, 54% of Crimeans voted for independence from Russia..

            My point in this debate is the situation is much more nuanced. While Russians have genuine affinities towards Crimea, Putin's behavior brings back bitter memories of Soviet's behavior towards it's own non Russian citizens and towards its satellite states of Warsaw Treaty. To me two things are clear: Crimea will remain in Russia, and Russia has lost some of the little credibility it had.

          • Евгений

            1. Crimea voted for independence from Ukraine and entry into the Soviet Union as an independent republic, and not for entry to Ukraine - it is a big difference. Please look for the correct translation.
            2. Crimea certainly will remain in Russia.
            3. Russian troops were on the peninsula in accordance with the Treaty of 1997.
            4. Treaty was violated on some points, but hysteria in the Anglo-Saxon countries and their satellites was stunning.
            5. The reason for Crimea for independence - look for "train of friendship crimea" for example with their slogans "Crimea will be Ukrainian or deserted!" or for organization UNA-UNSO and so on. And when this people seized power what crimean should do?

          • FelixKlein

            Russia is seeking some understanding from the rest of the world, especially the West. The West is obviously distrusting. Maybe the process could be helped if Russia would make an effort to understand that its past misdeeds make many countries are skeptical of Russia's promises, such the own guaranteeing Ukraine's territorial integrity.

            While there still are some free thinking aoutlets in Russia, they do not have the reach and the resources of those that are affiliated with Kremlin.


            Russia remains one of the most dangerous places for jurnalists and I admire the courage of the few remaining that try to speak truth to power.

          • Евгений

            1. Budapest Memorandum has not been ratified by any country. Even by Ukraine ). So it is just words. Nato knows a lot about keeping their words epsesialy about expanding and following international agreements ))

            2. It would be strange if opposition channel had comparable resources to government. Compare CNN and RT ))
   - that was funny too

            3. Those who does not want to hear - never hear. I know that
            convince anyone takes many years but look at the facts from all sides.

          • a russian

            Why do all the westeners think that Russia is always seeking understanding from the west? Russians don't care about what you think. You'd better stay away from Russia. Your "democracy" and your "human right" as you proclaim them make us vomit.

          • FelixKlein

            The fact that you contributed to this debate proves that you are a Russian who cares what other people think.

  • TheWords

    This whole article is specious. Either the author's education on the subjects (Slavic history, evolutionary psychology, international politics, world history, human behavior, sociology) is lacking or they are purposefully cherry picking events to portray their own agenda. Like FelixKlein has written, the author decided to omit key facts that refute the premise. Honoring Sevastopol as a city of federal significance was used to legitimize the invasion. It wasn't to signify it as important at St. Petersburg and Moscow. Putin is constantly trying to save face after spending last year extolling the virtues of the UN and honoring the sovereignty of nations while defending Syria.

    And to say that leaders do not effect the outcome of their country and instead attribute to socio-cultural factors is inane. One could assume that Germany was just destined to be anti-semitic.

    This is easily the worst article I've read on Aeon. It would be more appropriate on sites like Zerohedge or RT. If that's the reputation these editors want to uphold than I will gladly move on from a site I have always associated as a haven of thinking. This was truly a cluster fuck.

    • zetzero

      I don't understand your stance. It doesn't relate to the thesis of the article. You seems to be emotionaly stirred. Quit extensive reading, take a nap.

    • Alex Shevchuk

      Your opinionated ignorance is astonishing, as well as illiteracy in English (learn the difference between affect and effect). Sevastopol was a federal jurisdiction city in the USSR, hence it is in new Russia.

    • Belisarius85

      I found this to be a fairly thought-provoking article, and I'm pretty impartial to the Crimean annexation.
      You seem a lot more emotionally invested in this issue than the author. He never claimed that leaders were powerless to change or redirect socio-cultural factors, merely that socio-cultural factors typically take precedence.

      One could not assume that Germany was just destined to be anti-semitic, but Germany's dominant culture and history at the time left it predisposed towards a nationalistic leader like Hitler and allowed state-supported anti-semitism to occur.
      I really enjoy Aeon, and I enjoy many of the polite and thoughtful comments. Yours was neither.

  • Newsance

    I think the article is refreshing and thought-provoking. I would welcome AEON publishing more articles like that: an attempt to look on the topic of the day from an unusual perspective. For me this is the very definition of an intellectual activity: an attempt to rationalise - sometimes in an unusual or even bizarre way - what is happening around you.

    On a separate note, I simply do not understand why some commentators here, instead of embarking into some sort of rational argument, insult the author. "This was truly a cluster fuck" or "the author's education on the subjects is lacking or they are purposefully cherry picking events to portray their own agenda" - what kind of comment is that?

    You "want to move from the site"? Please do.

  • Ledram

    Aeon is my favourite weekend reading, a stimulation and fresh perspective after a week of ploughing through more obvious, (political) work related stuff. I have never commented before but wanted to come to the defence of this article, after the scathing attack below. The idea of land with sacred values, is of tremendous importance , and clearly has much merit. There's not much here about Putin's bigger strategy of resurrecting Russian glory but it all fits. And you could argue one of the reasons Europe isn't (thank goodness) willing to fight is that it lacks such common sacred values or places - each nation state puts different value on different places - and much less that they once did - and for good or ill the meaning of ,say Gdansk/Danzig ,has been dissolved or diluted within the EU. As always great stuff

  • Eburke9999

    Putin is not a perfect messenger of our Lord because there are no perfect messengers as we are all unrighteousness. Putin is a flawed messenger of the Word - but a messenger he is. A global powerful leader however is exactly what is needed to counter satin's minions who rule the west which is the new evil empire building their new Tower of Babel in the form of the New World Order. People of faith throughout the world need a powerful leader who will not be intimidated in a fight against the pharasies and money changers of this new world order. Now only The Lord truly knows what is in Putin's heart but this is certainly not the first time that God has chosen flawed messengers and leaders to spread His Word and fight the forces of Satin - where to begin: Abraham a liar ("Sarah's my sister"), Jacob a thief and a liar, Moses a murderer among other things causing God to deny his entrance into Israel, David an adulterer and murderer, Solomon a pride filled power monger, Peter a pride filled coward denier or Our Lord - as we're the other 10 original faithful deciples (judas obviously excluded thus 11), Paul a murderer prior to his conversion, and list goes on - only One was righteous and perfect and that is our Lord in the flesh. So why not Putin as he appears to fit the bill - a flawed and sinful man but one ready and able to carry the Word of The Lord - why does God choose such obviously outwardly flawed leaders to fight the forces of satin because it then becomes more apparent that it is NOT the human leader but God through such flawed sinners which then makes it apparent to those willing to see that it is God leading the fight through his faithful against the forces of darkness - Remember for Christ is the way, the truth and the light - what other global leader is standing courageously against the evil pagans of the west - so may God bless Putin in this fight and at the same time help him to repent for his many sins (including that of Christian persecutor (Saul before he was St. Paul) murderer as a KGB agent, pride-filled, etc.) but through faith in Christ alone who died for our sins he is redeemed.

    • Zavoyovnyk

      Did you just arrive on this planet? From your comment it is difficult to determine to which pseudo-Christian cult you belong, but how any rational person could suggest that today's leading candidate for the role of "Anti-Christ ", Tsar Putin, is really a messenger of our Lord, is beyond reason.

      I suggest that you study Judeo-Christian ethics more carefully, and study Putin's history of genocide in Chechnya, war on Georgia and aiding and abetting the great humanitarian crisis perpetrated on the Syrian people by Putin's ally Assad. Also consider his gross violations of basic human rights towards his own people.

      Throughout history, evil rulers have pretended to be religious devotees, to mask their lust for power and person gain. There are none so evil as those who drag God into their nefarious and un-Godly schemes, and the reason they do so is they know that there are gullible and shallow people such as yourself, who will be seduced by their protestations of piety. Rather than encourage adherence to God's law, by following false prophets you only encourage evil.

      • Eburke9999

        Oh please, really...did I not say Putin is a murderer among other thing? Unfortunately, you are too close minded and

        • Eburke9999

          Blinded by the propaganda being propagated by the western elites to see where the true evil in the world lies today - it is led by Brussels and Washington, D.C.

          • Eburke9999

            It is the western big media, big corporations, NGOs, big government elites who can only be compared to the jacobins of the French Revolution who are the real imperialists attempting to build new totalitarian world order in their debauched image that are the true enemy of peace and liberty and virtue. Anyone who has the ability to thwart such utopian

          • Eburke9999

            Schemes is doing God's work - which is very different then saying that Putin is virtuous which is not what I said - I merely said that God uses flawed individuals throughout history to fight evil and also the the enemy of my enemy is my friend. And as I said anyone with the ability and power to consolidate their authority into a one world state is the real danger

          • Eburke9999

            You seem intelligent but blinded - think lord acton.

      • Prevan

        In Chechnya destroyed the terrorists, the foreign fighters. Managed. Look at Chechnya today. The Internet is full of photos of modern Chechnya. Georgia invaded Ossetia, Saakashvili wanted to resolve the territorial issue as genocide. Russia saved the Ossetians. Syria is the same as in Chechnya. Thousands of foreign mercenaries. What kind of people? See economic indicators Syria before the current events. Assad normally ruled the country. You're just brainwashed and are not informed.

  • Dracovert

    " ... all states seek as much power as possible ... "

    True, but Hitler had absolutely no claim to the Sudetenland, Austria, and Eastern Europe and Russia had voluntarily surrendered the Crimea, agreed to the integrity of the Ukraine, and leased the Crimea from the Ukraine. Now Putin does the same illegal thing that Hitler did and uses similar justifications.

    National leaders who perform grossly illegal acts and lie about it demonstrate political psychopathy. Political psychopaths will not stop until they are forced to stop. Both Marxism and militant Islam are long-term psychopathic systems. They will continue to bleed the Judeo-Christian world until they are defeated, as Japan and Germany were utterly defeated in WWII and then became good democrats.

    Putin is a smart psychopath and Obama is a dumb psychopath, so this may become very interesting. The only consolation is that psychopathy is the world's worst mental disorder and psychopaths eventually fail.

    Enjoy and good luck.

  • panskeptic

    The author laments that the "offensive realist" Mearsheimer isn't taken more seriously.

    When Mearsheimer and Walt wrote that toxic anti-Semitic drivel about the magical powers of the Israel lobby, he stopped being a realist and became merely offensive.

    If he can be that wrong on a topic that requires clear-headedness rather than vicious, medieval hate speech, he made it hard for anyone to take him seriously. He will undoubtedly maintain his fanbase at

    • Belisarius85

      Perhaps you could provide a link to his 'anti-Semitic drivel'?
      Even if Mearsheimer is proven anti-semitic (which I doubt), it doesn't necessarily discredit his ideas/theories on other subjects.

  • Nikola Piterskij

    At the end of the day, this is nothing but an apology of Putin and his regime. A smartly veiled one - I'll give that to the author - but an apology nevertheless.

    Bones of Russian soldiers are scattered all across Eurasia. When Kremlin grabs another chunk of the landmass - will Turchin write another article explaining how sacred it is for Russia and how all Russians are united behind Putin in wanting it back? And will he again neglect to mention that Putin's government controls all Russian media with reach beyond a thin, quickly vanishing layer of intelligentsia and that these media have for years engaged in Goebbels-style 24/7 brainwashing?

  • SaintMarx

    "Judging by the polls, Putin and his people are of one mind over Crimea."

    This conclusion is deeply problematic. First of all, Russian "polls" are probably about as believable as Russian "news".

    Which brings to the next point: Russian news and media are completely under the thumb of the state. Just how balanced is the coverage which most Russians are receiving, and from which they form their opinions?

    Finally, even if a real majority wants Crimea to be part of Russia, how many of these support the means by which this is occurring, a forced and illegal military occupation?

    • Alex Shevchuk

      You obviously know nothing about Russia.

      • Игорь

        I guese Destynar more understanding Russia, than you, Shevchuk.

        • Ruslan Gaynutdinov

          Igor', Alex Shevchuk's comment was addressed to SainMarx, not destynar. (sprava ot imeni napisano komu chelovek otvetil)

    • destynar

      I cannot, of course, speak for all Russians, but I and all of my friends, that I discussed this matter with, are totally support Putin's actions.

      Any possible sanctions are not only irrelevant, but almost welcome. For they will unite our nation. Force thiefs to invest their money in Russia itself, not Western countries.

    • John H Newcomb

      Whether the liberal Levada Center poll or the government-controlled WCIOM, they are consistent that Russians hugely favour the annexation of Ukraine's Crimea, resulting from an unlawful referendum observed by Putinist foreign fan-boys.

      However, your point about Russian media is actually a key driver towards those high poll numbers. With Russia's very unfree media according to RSF's Press Freedom Index (link below), and with even more intimidation and threats against whats left of Russia's independent or liberal media (link below), little doubt that the primo message Russians are getting serves Putinist Russia's purpose just fine.

      For Putin, its a win-win on Crimea and sanctions because he really wants to drag Russia away from both Europe and 21st Century into a "Eurasia" space-time that looks rather like 19th Century: autarky, authoritarianism, homophobia, xenophobia, misogyny. For a lot of Russians, whats not to like about that prospect?

      Now with Putin putting pressure on Ukraine's Eastern provinces to federalize or to join Mother Russia, Putin's disastrous geo-political games continue.

      RSF's Press Freedom Index 2014:

      The 20 Russian News Outlets You Need To Read Before They Get The Ax:


  • SaintMarx

    Remember the Sudetenland.

    • Kaktuss

      Yep. And note that it ended badly not only for Czechs, Jews, and Gypsies - it ended badly for Sudeten Germans. In 1938, there were 3 mil ethnic Germans in Czechoslovakia. In today's Czech Republic, just 40,000 are left.

      • Belisarius85

        Only because the Germans lost. Had a few relatively minor decisions been different, they might not have.

  • Крым – РОССИЯ!

    The Crimea was, is and still the Land of Russian Glory. We stopped the Western imperialists here in 1854, 1944. Wider still and wider shall Thy bounds be set!

    • rsanchez1

      Russians stopped western "imperialists" only to further their own imperialist ambitions.

  • John H Newcomb

    Putinist Russia is motivated by a sacred mission to put the United States into a little box that cannot influence Putin's Neo-Russian Empire he is now building as "Eurasia".

    Putin demands the West to put notions of "liberast" gay rights, human rights and women's rights into a little box as well. Russia wants to be feared for its million-man army, its nukes, its anger. Russians hate a lot of things, and you can bet that Europe and America are the target of a lot of that anger, disgust and hate.

    Turchin reads Russian press and blogs - he knows that. But he is dressing up his presentation so readers think that what Russia wants can be accommodated through some sort of negotiation.

    However, the only negotiation that Russia knows is power and fear, so America, be prepared to experience some of that as you see Ukraine crumble and be humbled by the glory and might of the resurgent Neo-Russian Empire.

    Putin's Eurasia complex finds its philosophy from neo-fascists such as Aleksandr Dugin:

    • Евгений

      1) )) As for me - we don't want to be feared we just want America to move away their military bases and stop threaten us.

      Dugin - is just as your John McCain.

      2) sanctions is aggression. you attack us again - because of the fact that we have a different attitude to the opinion of 2 million crimean people

  • John H Newcomb

    Perceptive blog today by Professor John Schindler: "Putinism and the Anti-WEIRD Coalition":

  • Ingolf Stern

    Culture eclipsed biology long ago (in 21st century terms). So the historical analysis of war and aggression, the foundational thinking, is dated and almost irrelevant. When war actually served the group, then we could understsand war as a function of group dynamics (tribal searches for land, women, slaves, material resources). But now that war serves only corporate profits, the group no longer has any connection to war, and almost no responsibility for it. All Americans feel this problem. We see on TV that "we" are at war all over the planet and apparently forever more, but we feel most certainly that it is not what "we" want, and most of us vehemently disagree with the presence of US troops all over the place. We know they are not protecting us or even gaining us anything. Rather, they are crafting a world, through violence and destruction, favorable to dominant financial interests who operate outside traditional nation-state boundaries. Indeed, the very concept of the nation-state is dead, and it is only the lag and inertia of our minds that keeps the thought of it alive. It is a useful fiction that keeps we proles in line while the priveleged among us (above us) romp the world, oblivious to such quaint niceties as the will of the people, and even the very existence of the people as such. Halliburton and Exxon and Citi and the varuious world banking and capital controllers are truly global citizens, while the walking-talking human beings are trapped behind walls, fences, and lines on maps. You cannot say what war is or why it exists or what it does vis-a-vis the people since war is no longer a function of the people. It does not serve us - we serve it, and our invisisble masters who are the beginners and enders of wars, the masters who decide what countries are being invaded, overthrown, "austeritied" or whatever. We do not participate in wars but as literal cannon foddere and as the operators of video games that kill actual people, people in similar circumstances - excess or in-the-way people. Bah. Analysis of war - my arse.

  • jeremyjanson

    "Democracies and dictatorships"

    The problem with the articles presumption is that neither America nor Britain during its colonial era were truly democracies. America was a Republic, and still (mostly because of its strong, non-democratic constitutional court) is a somewhat borderline Republic, and Britain was a monarchy. Britain is still technically a monarchy, at least ceremonially, but considering how it has been run lately and how thoroughly mob tyranny has taken over the place it is basically a Democracy at this point (not surprisingly, it's empire ended around the same time).

  • Julia

    Ukrainian neo-Nazis kill Russians. The police do nothing to stop it.

  • rsanchez1

    Great explanation for the current conflict. I feel like I understand it more after reading this than all the time I spent watching news coverage on TV.

  • Crom33

    Warm. Water. Ports.