The Cosmopolitan Globalist
The Cosmopolicast
Episode 5: The CosmoRussyaCast

Episode 5: The CosmoRussyaCast

It's a riddle wrapped in a mystery wrapped in an enigma wrapped in a complete nuisance. The Cosmopolicast tells Vova to straighten up and fly right, because no one's got time for his nonsense.

From Claire—So a Ukrainian, two Estonians, two Americans and a Canadian walked into the Cosmopolicast—and I’ve been looking for the right punchline all day, but it’s just not happening.

Still, it’s a great podcast.

Before anything else, though. Yesterday, in haste, I copied the wrong map into our newsletter. It was an important map, too. Here’s the right one, without which you can’t make sense of the whole business about the chicken neck. My mistake—not Vivek’s—and I apologize.


We rounded up our favorite people from the former Soviet satellite states to discuss Russia, and as you might imagine, none of them are amused. Vladislav Davidzon—remember the piece he wrote for us about Ukraine?—called in from a Georgian sanitorium. Scott Abel joins us from Tallinn. Estonia’s former president, Toomas Hendrik Ilves, reinforces the Estonian contingent from his lonely farmhouse in the Estonian countryside. Jon Nighswander (who began his career as a Russianist) joins us from Vienna.

We ask just what, exactly, Putin thinks he’s doing. He’s now sent tanks, troops (85,000 of them, at last count) and long-range guns to loom, thuggishly, on Ukraine’s borders and in its stolen territories. Why? He couldn’t seriously be planning to gnaw off another chunk of Ukraine, could he? His last meal has been giving him serious indigestion. Is he testing to see what the EU will do? (The EU has already made it clear it is eager to beclown itself, as Toomas notes.)

Russia Ukraine
What a Russian invasion might look like. Source: RUSI

Is this a test of the new US administration? Is Moscow angling to get control over the Crimean water supply? Or is Putin just keen to make of himself the maximum possible nuisance to any adult in the world who is trying to accomplish anything useful or constructive? (If you missed it, John Oxley discussed all of these possibilities in this recent newsletter.)

Scott tells us what he’s hearing on the grapevine from Estonian parliamentarians with deep ties to Russia.

Toomas surmises that Russia’s goal is simply to screw up Ukraine—and all of its neighbors—so badly they’ll never be able to get their act together enough to join Europe or NATO.

We discuss Putin’s strategy of creating and exploiting frozen conflicts. We ask whether Russia actually could roll over all of Ukraine, if it wanted to. (It could, we think, but it would destroy the Russian state.)

Toomas and Jon ask why Ukraine doesn’t just tell Putin, “Fine. Take the Donbass and choke on it. Have fun.” Vladislav explains how Ukrainians would view this.

We decide the odds of full-scale invasion are about 30 percent. The odds are against it, in other words, but we sure wouldn’t bet the farm on this assessment.

We talk about how Europe views Ukraine, and why Ukraine hasn’t made as much social and economic progress as Estonia. (Vladislav points out that Ukraine has, on the other hand, built one of the most formidable militaries in Europe in the past seven years, which Estonia hasn’t, though he was too polite to mention this.)

Vladislav and Toomas note that Putin is out of touch—literally and metaphorically—and growingly reliant on paranoid, hardline elements in Russia’s security forces for information. The advice they’re providing him is not necessarily good. We worry about accidents and miscalculation.

Jon notes that Russia has achieved the needless goal of completely alienating the rest of Ukraine, which would otherwise have remained sympathetic to Russia. Scott says he’s observed the same thing among Russophone Estonians.

We end by talking about Navalny and the grotesque declaration by Amnesty International that they don’t propose to support him because he once said something politically incorrect. (He’s Russian. They want a Russian opposition figure who’s clued in on the latest Oberlin campus mores? Good luck with that.)

We discuss Russian philosophy. Toomas says Russia is not part of Europe: It’s always been at the forefront of counter-Enlightenment thinking.

True that, I reply, but counter-Enlightenment thinking is, actually, authentically European. You can’t argue that everything illiberal that happens in Europe is not truly European. That gets into no-true-Scotsman territory very fast.

We wrap things up with a round of mirth at Russia’s expense.

As always, if you have any questions, for any of us, leave them in the comments. We’ll try to answer as best we can.

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