Bad Faith, Russian Style

Wagner Group Mercenary in Eastern Ukraine

It looks like there’s plenty of instances of bad faith to go around. We have been hearing that the Wagner Group (Группа Вагнера) has been supplementing the Russian army in the Ukraine with its own conscripts, mostly recruited from Russian convicts serving time for crimes. Vladimir Putin probably figures that when his “Private Military Company” (PMC) gets ripped apart by the Ukrainian army, no one will shed any tears.

In the news today the head of the Wagner Group, Yevgeny Prigozhin, claims he has been “cut off” from ammunition by Putin. In fact, he claims that Putin now refuses to take his phone calls. I guess his force, which once numbered 50,000 fighters, is now considered expendable.

This is a significant development. There has been considerable friction between the Wagner forces and the regular Russian army. Does that mean that Vlady will now risk angering his supporters by sending their sons home in a box? That would not look good for him, even if the Russian man in the street claims to support him—at least in public. But what does that say about what they think of Putin in the privacy of their homes?

Tall and Short

From left, Moscow-appointed head of Kherson Region Vladimir Saldo, Moscow-appointed head of Zaporizhzhia region Yevgeny Balitsky, Russian President Vladimir Putin, Denis Pushilin, leader of self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic and Leonid Pasechnik, leader of self-proclaimed Luhansk People’s Republic pose for a photo during a ceremony to sign the treaties for four regions of Ukraine to join Russia, at the Kremlin in Moscow, Friday, Sept. 30, 2022. The signing of the treaties making the four regions part of Russia follows the completion of the Kremlin-orchestrated referendums.” (Dmitry Astakhov, Sputnik, Government Pool Photo via AP)

Why is it no surprise to me that Vladimir Putin is so much shorter than his political lieutenants? Actually, he is 5 feet 7 inches (170 cm), which is only an inch shorter than the mean height of men around the world. (For the record, I myself am 5 feet 8 inches, the average height.)

Well, that isn’t very short after all. But then look at the height of all the U.S. Presidents and presidential candidates since FDR:

2020Joe Biden5 ft 11+1⁄2 in182 cmDonald Trump6 ft 3 in191 cm3+1⁄2 in9 cm
2016Donald Trump6 ft 3 in191 cmHillary Clinton5 ft 5 in165 cm10 in25 cm
2012Barack Obama6 ft 1+1⁄2 in187 cmMitt Romney6 ft 1+1⁄2 in187 cm0 in0 cm
2008Barack Obama6 ft 1+1⁄2 in187 cmJohn McCain5 ft 9 in175 cm4+1⁄2 in11 cm
2004George W. Bush5 ft 11+1⁄2 in182 cmJohn Kerry6 ft 4 in193 cm4+1⁄2 in11 cm
2000George W. Bush5 ft 11+1⁄2 in182 cmAl Gore6 ft 1 in185 cm1+1⁄2 in4 cm
1996Bill Clinton6 ft 2+1⁄2 in189 cmBob Dole6 ft 1+1⁄2 in187 cm1 in3 cm
1992Bill Clinton6 ft 2+1⁄2 in189 cmGeorge H. W. Bush6 ft 2 in188 cm1⁄2 in1 cm
1988George H. W. Bush6 ft 2 in188 cmMichael Dukakis5 ft 8 in173 cm6 in15 cm
1984Ronald Reagan6 ft 1 in185 cmWalter Mondale5 ft 11 in180 cm2 in5 cm
1980Ronald Reagan6 ft 1 in185 cmJimmy Carter5 ft 9+1⁄2 in177 cm3+1⁄2 in9 cm
1976Jimmy Carter5 ft 9+1⁄2 in177 cmGerald Ford6 ft 0 in183 cm2+1⁄2 in6 cm
1972Richard Nixon5 ft 11+1⁄2 in182 cmGeorge McGovern6 ft 1 in185 cm1+1⁄2 in4 cm
1968Richard Nixon5 ft 11+1⁄2 in182 cmHubert Humphrey5 ft 11 in180 cm1⁄2 in1 cm
1964Lyndon B. Johnson6 ft 3+1⁄2 in192 cmBarry Goldwater5 ft 11 in180 cm4+1⁄2 in11 cm
1960John F. Kennedy6 ft 1 in185 cmRichard Nixon5 ft 11+1⁄2 in182 cm1+1⁄2 in4 cm
1956Dwight D. Eisenhower5 ft 10+1⁄2 in179 cmAdlai Stevenson II5 ft 10 in178 cm1⁄2 in1 cm
1952Dwight D. Eisenhower5 ft 10+1⁄2 in179 cmAdlai Stevenson II5 ft 10 in178 cm1⁄2 in1 cm
1948Harry S. Truman5 ft 9 in175 cmThomas Dewey5 ft 8 in173 cm1 in3 cm
1944Franklin D. Roosevelt6 ft 2 in188 cmThomas Dewey5 ft 8 in173 cm6 in15 cm

I was shocked to find that the only times in recent history that the shorter candidate won was when Jimmy Carter defeated Gerald Ford; George W. Bush beat John Kerry and Al Gore; and Joe Biden defeated Donald Trump.

Americans seem to vote for the taller candidate. Why is that? Do we think that taller candidates are more imposing? Is that, perhaps, why we have never had a woman in the White House? Perhaps one of the reasons Hillary Clinton lost to the man from Mar-a-Lardo is that she is a full ten inches shorter than him.

The only candidate who was my height was Michael Dukakis, who was trounced by George H. W. Bush. And that was a pretty ignominious defeat, so you can bet that I’m not tempted to run for anything. (Though there are not a few things I would run from.)

Vlad’s Girls

Vladimir Putin’s Daughters: Mariya Putina and Katerina Tikhonova

Although it is well known that Vladimir Putin is divorced and seeing a gymnast named Alina Kabaeva, he has had two daughters by his ex-wife Lyudmila, a former airline stewardess. The girls were born in 1985 and 1986 respectively and are now in their thirties.

Both girls went to school under assumed names and were carefully shielded from the spotlight. Because both are wealthy, after the invasion of Ukraine, they were sanctioned by the U.S. and its allies. It is suspected that Putin has showered the girls with large amounts of rubles, making them suspect as oligarchs in their own right.

You can read up on them and see pictures at this highly entertaining website.

Through Russian Eyes

Russian Troops in Ukraine

If you were old enough in 1962 to remember the Cuban Missile Crisis, you will recall that feeling of dread about the world possibly ending in a nuclear holocaust—within mere days. That showdown between Kennedy and Khrushchev was all because Russia had supplied Cuba with missiles to be pointed at targets in the United States.

Today, I had the unique experience of seeing the war in Ukraine through Russian eyes. I am a member of the European History Meetup Group which gets together several times a year at the Will & Ariel Durant Branch Library in Hollywood. According to Bronislav Meyler, the Ukrainian-born moderator of the group:

Let’s kick off our next program with a discussion about Russia/Ukraine historic relationship. The program will try to focus on the last thirty years of relations between the two states. Historical perspective will not be excluded just for the simple fact that the two nations shared (and still share) almost one thousand years of common history.

The fact that this meeting was held almost in the center of the Russian community in Los Angeles brought a number of Russian-Americans to attend. It is interesting to see how Russians think of the NATO threat. They view the nearness of NATO in the Baltic Republics of Lithuania, Estonia, and Latvia; Poland; Slovakia; Hungary; Bulgaria; Romania; and Turkey much the same way we viewed the threat of Russian missiles less than a hundred miles from the United States.

Where the Russians view NATO as a monolithic threat, I see them as a relatively disunited group that would have insuperable difficulties agreeing on where to eat lunch. But the threat of Ukraine, which has been tied in historically and culturally with Russia since the 17th century, possibly joining NATO was for Putin possibly the straw that broke the camel’s back.

It is always valuable to see the other side’s point of view.

So I Goofed

Putin at Kremlin 2022 Victory Day Parade (Reuters)

I had thought that Vladimir Putin was going to make a major announcement at today’s Victory Day celebration in Moscow. In fact, other than making a number of the usual comments regarding the United States and NATO, Putin did not make any major announcements. He did not declare victory. He did not declare war. He did not brandish his nukes.

He is still keeping tight control over Russian media. By now, most of his people know that he his fighting Ukrainian Neo-Nazis that have threatened Russian security (by not wanting to be invaded?).

In a way, all he is doing is doubling down on his mistakes. Is he waiting for an elite Spetsnaz team to assassinate Zelensky? Does he think he could win by converting all of Ukraine to microscopic rubble?

At some point, I still suspect that Vlady will reap the whirlwind. But when or how is not something I can venture to guess.

Victory Day?

Gosh, I Hope No One Throws a Firecracker at Them

Monday, May 9, is the anniversary of Russia’s winning the Great Patriotic War—or, as we know it, World War Two. The news media have been speculating for weeks that Vladimir Putin will make some sort of announcement of victory tomorrow. Or, he just might decide to declare war on the “Neo-Nazis” that have been depriving his troops of anything approaching victory.

There will, of course, be a big military parade. But does Putin have enough working tanks and armored personnel carriers to impress the crowds on Red Square? I am eager to see what that madman plans to do for an encore.

I have young friends who for the first time in their lives are afraid of a nuclear confrontation. There may be one, but only on a small scale because it would cause widespread outrage around the world (but not in Russia). Perhaps Putin has more to fear than my young friends. His Ukraine invasion made the Rodina (Motherland) look not only bad, but downright cheesy. It would be no surprise if the FSB replaced Putin with a new stooge and put Vlady in a psychiatric nursing home “for his benefit.”

That’s the way things are done in Russia.

A Gas Station with Nuclear Weapons

Was this the same Russia that manhandled the Nazi menace at Stalingrad, Kursk, and all the way back to Berlin? Stalin was no more a sweetheart than Vladimir Putin, but I feel that—after some initial losses—he made better wartime decisions.

In an interview with Salon.Com, Colin Clarke had the following assessment of the war in Ukraine:

One of the big stories I see, in terms of international relations and diplomacy and statecraft, is the concept of great power competition. With that language we are thinking about the United States, China and Russia. The war in Ukraine shows us that Russia does not belong in that conversation anymore. Russia is not a great power, it’s essentially a gas station with nuclear weapons. The Russian military has performed so poorly, far worse than anyone could have expected, including many defense planners in the United States, who built the Russians up to be 10 feet tall.

We must never forget, however, all those nuclear weapons. Granted that most of their ICBMs may be pretty dodgy, but even one or two direct hits on a major U.S. population center would be truly horrifying. Living in Southern California as I do, I am sure that L.A. would probably be one of major targets of the Russian nuclear warheads.


Russian Fuel Dump at Belgorod in Flames

The war in Ukraine just escalated. Two Ukrainian helicopter gunships flew 25 miles (40 km) into Russia and blew up a Russian fuel dump. It was yet another embarrassing moment for the Russian military, which neither detected nor prevented the incursion.

I only hope that none of the helicopters were of American manufacture, which would give Putin the opportunity he needed to say that the Ukrainians were just acting as a proxy for NATO. Of course, he could say that even if the helicopter attack had never happened. It’s one of those irksome imponderables involving the thinking processes of Vladimir Putin.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky keeps saying that, if peace negotiations with Russia do not take place, it will be the beginning of World War Three. It is a sobering thought: If that happens, millions will die, myself included. I happen to live in one of the prime nuclear target areas, namely, Los Angeles.

Pundits keep referring to the search for an “offramp” from the war. Given Putin’s stubbornness and bloody-mindedness, I cannot see how the war would end. Or rather, all the options I see are rather grim.


Will Smith Wacks Chris Rock at the Oscars

I’m not going to get involved in the Will Smith/Chris Rock imbroglio at the Oscars, except to say that there is a time and place for everything. Perhaps the Academy should send Will Smith to Moscow to slap the Bejeezus out of Vladimir Putin for his savage war against the people of Ukraine.

Drag Queen RuPaul

Perhaps it would be even better to send RuPaul to slap Putin, given Putin’s aversion to any sort of gender bending.

Anyhow, somebody’s got to get to that man before he makes the world unlivable.

They Were Expendable

Photo Taken by New York Times Photographer Tyler Hicks

If you were to fight in one of America’s wars and happened to die, your next of kin would be informed; and your body would be flown back to the U.S. for burial. Apparently, if you are one of the 15,000 Russian dead in Ukraine, the existence of your body is an embarrassment to Vladimir Putin, who would just as soon say to the parents and family that their Ivan or Dmitri is “missing” and leave it at that.

That way Russians who believe the lies that Putin is slinging would not be surprised at the large number of dead bodies filling trucks and trains heading to cities and towns across the Motherland. The Russian dead serve only to make Putin look as bad as he really is.

Now imagine how that makes the Russian troops invading Ukraine feel. They know it’s a war. They know that Putin is lying through his teeth. The morale of the Russian Army must be at low ebb, such that I would not be surprised there isn’t some sort of mutiny like the one that occurred on the front lines during World War One while the Russian Revolution of 1917 was taking place.

Yes, I know that Putin is evil. But to that I will also add that he is stupid and is likely to be overthrown.

By the way, the Ukrainians are collecting bodies of the Russian dead and using facial recognition software to identify them and notify the families themselves. I saw this news item on BBC’s website today. Oh oh.