From the race to archive Ukrainian websites to the end of globalization, here are this week’s top picks in imperial and global history.
As the war intensifies in Ukraine, volunteers from around the world are working to archive digital content at risk of destruction or manipulation. The Internet Archive is supporting several preservation efforts including the Saving Ukrainian Cultural Heritage Online (SUCHO) initiative launched in early March.
“When we think about the internet, we think the data is always going to be there. But all this data exists on physical servers and they can get destroyed just like buildings and monuments,” said Quinn Dombrowski, academic technology specialist at Stanford University and co-founder of SUCHO. “A tremendous amount of effort and energy has gone into the development of these websites and digitized collections. The people of Ukraine put them together for a reason. They wanted to share their history, culture, language and literature with the world.” [continue reading]
Vladimir Putin may have gone out of his mind, but it’s also possible that he has merely gazed at events through a peculiar and historical Russian lens and has acted accordingly. To invade the neighbors is not, after all, a novel thing for a Russian leader to do. It is a customary thing. It is common sense. It is hoary tradition. But when he looks for an up-to-date rhetoric capable of explaining the whys of hoary tradition to himself or the world, he has trouble coming up with anything.
He grasps at political rhetorics from times long gone. They disintegrate in his hands. He delivers speeches and discovers that he is speechless, or nearly so. This may have been the original setback, well before the military setbacks that have afflicted his army. It is not a psychological failure, then. It is a philosophical failure. A suitable language of analysis eludes him; therefore lucidity eludes him. [continue reading]
The Russian invasion of Ukraine has confounded everyone. Given its huge economic, reputational and political costs – not to mention the immense human misery it has already caused – how can anyone in their right mind choose to start such a war?
The question of rationality is important when assessing a country’s actions, the likely impact of external pressure on it, including economic sanctions, as well as a potential way out via negotiations. My research looking at the various style of imperialism in north-east Asia from the end of the 19th century to the mid-20th century has helped me to get a better feel for Vladimir Putin’s motives behind the invasion, which actually follow a coherent pattern. [continue reading]
In January 1787 Catherine the Great travelled south from St Petersburg to survey some new imperial possessions. Crimea had been taken from the Ottoman Empire, the partitions of Poland were underway and the last vestiges of Cossack autonomy in the Ukrainian steppes had been eliminated. The journey was a grand event, lasting six months and covering 6,000 kilometres accompanied by thousands of soldiers and sailors.
The trip was elaborately stage-managed by Prince Grigory Potemkin, Catherine’s lover and the Governor General of the new territories. Catherine was treated to a private guard consisting of exotically attired Crimean Tatars; she encountered a parade of local Greek women dressed as Amazons (Herodotus had placed these mythical female warriors in the Black Sea steppes); Potemkin also surprised his empress with a spectacular firework display that spelled her name. All this effort gave rise to the myth of the ‘Potemkin village’: the prince, the story goes, ordered the construction of fake villages, nothing more than freshly painted façades, for the empress to view as she passed. These were dismantled and reconstructed further along the route, while herds of cattle were driven from place to place. Meanwhile, the peasantry lived in misery in the barren steppes. [continue reading]
Adam S. Posen
ver the last three weeks, the Russian economy has been overwhelmed by sanctions. Soon after the Kremlin invaded Ukraine, the West began seizing the assets of the wealthiest individuals close to Russian President Vladimir Putin, prohibited Russian flights in its airspace, and restricted the Russian economy’s access to imported technology. Most dramatically, the United States and its allies froze the reserve assets of Russia’s central bank and cut Russia out of not just the SWIFT financial payments system, but of the basic institutions of international finance, including all foreign banks and the International Monetary Fund. As a result of the West’s actions, the value of the ruble has crashed, shortages have cropped up throughout the Russian economy, and the government appears to be close to defaulting on its foreign currency debt. Public opinion—and the fear of being hit by sanctions—has compelled Western businesses to flee the country en masse. Soon, Russia will be unable to produce necessities either for defense or for consumers because it will lack critical components.
The democratic world’s response to Moscow’s aggression and war crimes is right, both ethically and on national security grounds. This is more important than economic efficiency. But these actions do have negative economic consequences that will go far beyond Russia’s financial collapse, that will persist, and that are not pretty. Over the last 20 years, two trends have already been corroding globalization in the face of its supposedly relentless onward march. First, populists and nationalists have erected barriers to free trade, investment, immigration, and the spread of ideas—especially in the United States. Second, Beijing’s challenge to the rules-based international economic system and to longstanding security arrangements in Asia has encouraged the West to erect barriers to Chinese economic integration. The Russian invasion and resulting sanctions will now make this corrosion even worse. [continue reading]