Geopolitics is a pseudoscience. Until people start using it.
Predicting the future is only possible for physical processes and their analogues, which develop according to strictly defined laws.
Predicting events in politics, economics, or society is impossible. Social processes are not the same as physical processes. Even if we were to penetrate the minds of every president and general, we would not be able to predict what they will do in a year. This information simply does not exist in their minds yet. And even if it did, we would run into fundamental problems of computability.
History does not follow any laws. The world is not simply random, which would be half the trouble, since statistics can be collected for random variables. The problem is that the world is wildly random, as fractal creator Benoit Mandelbrot put it. Another philosopher said that black swans rule the world — events of extraordinary rarity, of which there are so many kinds that they occur constantly. Black swans carry catastrophic consequences, but only because no one includes them in their predictions.
People are divided into those who take risks seriously and those who ignore them. The first are smarter, even if they make a mistake. The second are dumber, even if they turn out to be right.
On February 24, 2022, all political scientists, economists, and sociologists were divided into two camps. We found out that the majority of “pragmatists” cannot see beyond their own noses, while “town crazies” like Solovey and Nevzorov, although they behave in a sensational manner, think risks.
Now we can easily find out the price of any expert. You just need to open their feed on February 23 and see what they said about the possibility of a major war starting.
The language problem
It all started with a question about language, but Ukraine had nothing to do with it.
In 2008, on Alexander Gordon’s then-intellectual show “Gordon’s Quixote,” Mikhail Zadornov and linguistics scholars clashed in an unequal battle.
After the defeat in the Cold War and the collapse of the Soviet Union, Russian society desperately searched for a point of reference to overcome the profound crisis of humiliation. People found themselves thrown overboard. The population of Russia not only became impoverished but also lost its sense of self. Communism turned out to be an illusion, and capitalism needed decades to be built.
The country had neither a present nor a future. Therefore, Russian society began to search for its identity in the past. The point of support was found in the former greatness of the Russian people and Russian culture. And at the heart of any culture lies language.
In the early 2000s, a theory gained popularity that all languages originated from Russian. The leader of this movement was satirist Mikhail Zadornov, who by that time had already become famous for his performances about stupid Americans.
Supporters of the theory argued that Russian is the most ancient of all languages, and that all other languages — Sanskrit, Greek, and even Latin — emerged from the Russian language many thousands of years ago. Moreover, that Russian, which was spoken by ancient people, did not differ in any way from modern Russian.
Zadornov broke words down into ancient roots like cracking nuts. He convinced an entire country that the words “joy,” “early,” and “den” originated from the name of the god Ra, primitive people originated under Voronezh and then spread to Africa, and the name of the ancient civilization of the Etruscans means “these are Russians.”
No one was able to persuade Zadornov. An experienced satirist, he so skillfully repelled attacks from the linguistics professor that the audience was rolling with laughter.
Finally, Gordon lost his temper and shouted: “There once was the guy with mustache! It’s this kind of nationalist nonsense and the desire to become a superhuman out of nothing that has brought us to living in crap!”
His words struck me. That was when I first became interested in fascism and soon read about Umberto Eco’s 14 signs of fascism. I wrote them down in a table and wrote “Yes” or “No” next to each sign, depending on whether the sign was present in Russia. To my surprise, I counted as many as 8 signs! That was when the thought first occurred to me: what if there is fascism in Russia?.. Since then, I have been filling out this table every couple of years. Each time, the number of signs has increased.
The year 2012 came and brought revolution with it. Putin seized power, relying on an imprecise formulation in the Constitution. I counted the signs of fascism again. There were already 11 of them. Only three were missing. Life was still not understood as an endless war. Instead of racism, there was a domestic dislike for blue-collar workers from Asia, which was hard to call xenophobia. And there was no Newspeak either. The Medvedev “modernization” did not compare to what is now called “special operations,” and instead of an explosion they would say “pop.”
Then I began to speak out loud for the first time, still unsure whether there was fascism in Russia. Everything was finally clear in 2014 with the annexation of Crimea and the war in Donbass. That’s when I wrote:
It was fun for them to dream of Crimea returning to the empire, but joking aside, military intervention in Ukraine is plain fascism. And the country becomes fascist after that.
Since then, that’s all I’ve been saying, and out of the 14 signs of fascism in Russia, only one hasn’t appeared.
Prague, which has something to do with it
While walking in Prague in January 2020, I was pondering the possibility of foreseeing an economic crisis. I wrote about it in May when we were hit by the coronavirus pandemic and the whole world was tumbling into chaos. I ended the story with these words:
What awaits Russia? We don’t even know what’s going to happen with the world: should we expect insane inflation or a deflationary collapse? Will the European Union collapse? Will Trump be re-elected for a second term and will he introduce negative interest rates? The last time the world faced something like this was during the Great Depression. Back then, no efforts could bring America back to growth, socialism was gaining ground in Europe, and Hitler skillfully took advantage of all these situations. Only the war resolved the economic problems of those years.
We hear about the price of human life. The economic catastrophe is justified as saving us from the epidemic. But who can assess the level of poverty that will break out in the world? How many people will die because they were locked up at home, deprived of the ability to work and feed their families? When, where, and from whom will a new executioner come and how will he use the results of the madness called Flatten the curve? How will he re-evaluate human life this time?
When I wrote about the executioner, I had a specific person in mind. Actually, his name runs through the entire story: we were talking about Vladimir Putin. His madness became evident after he showed a video of a missile strike on Florida in 2018.
I only didn’t understand one thing. After finishing the story, I started pacing around the room and repeating, “Yes, it will be Putin. But how?” I couldn’t imagine a scenario of how exactly Putin could become an executioner. A nuclear strike seemed unimaginable even in theory, and the words “war with Ukraine” only brought to mind an exacerbation in Donbass, nothing more.
Therefore, when the mobilization began on the border with Ukraine in 2021, everyone reacted coolly. Experts assured that war isn’t prepared for so openly: after all, everything is visible from space. I don’t understand much about military affairs, but my logic is alright. Everything is visible from space. Therefore, there is no point in hiding preparations for war. On the contrary, an attempt to hide something will instantly expose all plans.
With this thought in mind, I bet a bottle of beer that by August Russia would occupy southern Ukraine, breaking a land corridor from Rostov to Crimea. I lost the bet: the exercises ended as suddenly as they started...
Only to start again later, this time in winter.
Well, it didn’t work the first time. Do you think they will really start it the second time?
Come on, are you serious? Russia won’t go to war with Ukraine. It’s just a show of muscle.
I don’t know... Maybe the first time was a deception to actually strike in the second time?
No, war isn’t prepared for so openly. It would be different if it were real.
Everyone was saying that war isn’t prepared for so openly. Economist Movchan even brought up game theory, while political scientess Shulman insisted that there is no fascism in Russia.
A conflict between nuclear powers is a game with a negative sum. The maximum gain in such a game is equal to zero. In order to stay at zero, one must not start a nuclear war. All other scenarios lead to losses for both sides.
In game theory, this is called the game of Chicken. Imagine you’re in college and a local bully offends you, then challenges you to find out who’s a coward. You both get in cars and drive a kilometer away from each other, after which you start driving towards each other. The first one to swerve is the chicken.
If you are a rational player, sooner or later you will fold: the shame of being called a “chicken” is not comparable to death in a disaster.
If we give the back, no one else will give the back except us. If we don’t give the back, they may give the back.
Shulman was much simpler. For years she talked about some “sleeping institutes of democracy” that have a tendency to suddenly wake up and hold free elections. According to her theory, there could be no fascism in Russia because fascism necessarily requires an ideology of unity, and in Russia the people are disengaged from politics.
When the war finally broke out and fascism really turned out to be in Russia, I came up with a joke:
Once upon a time Shulman, Movchan, and Markelov meet each other.
Shulman says that she has three modes of regime transformation. Democratization by mistake: one — and Lukashenko is gone. Transition of the power: two — and Nazarbayev is gone. Sleeping institution: three — and Putin is gone.
Movchan says that he has three reasons not to start a war. One — and the air force is not ready. Two — and the army is demoralized. Three — and the game has a negative sum.
And Markelov says: “I have three rolls of toilet paper at home: regular, Shulman’s book, and Movchan’s dissertation. But on February 24th, the entire country shat their pants right on YouTube.”
Disintegration of global trade
The architecture of the Western world is built on the postulate that trading is more profitable than fighting.
One of the reasons for World War II was the disintegration of world trade. Trade between countries almost stopped after the Great Depression. States became isolated. Import and immigration were severely restricted.
A similar situation arose during the pandemic. The whole world went into global quarantine. Trade fell to levels of the 1990s because people were locked up at home. In some industries, all activity came to a complete stop. Immigration of labor disappeared. Tourism stopped. Air travel was halted, and logistical chains were destroyed. There was a disintegration of world trade, the strongest since World War II.
That’s why I wrote that the executioner would take advantage of the results of the insane quarantine policy. I don’t mean to say that the coronavirus attacked Ukraine. Putin did that, and he was making his plans long before the pandemic.
But the economy of the European Union suffered greatly because of the lockdown, and this became another reason to start a war. When air travel and logistics are destroyed, and trade stops due to sanctions, quarantine, and a collapse in consumer demand — what does a crazy dictator really lose? The quarantine simply flushed economic reasons not to start a war down the toilet.
Of course, the lockdown was not the cause of the war. It became the gasoline into which Russia threw a burning match.
24th of February.
Remembering the lost bet, I was tormented by doubts in January and February. American intelligence kept changing the dates: it would start in December, then in January. But the war never started. I then said to my friend, another town crazy (he has schizophrenia):
Abu, do you understand? In order for Putin to make the US look like complete idiots, he just needs to do nothing!
No, well, he’s certainly not capable of that.
So, what is the probability of war after all?
What do you mean by “probability”? The war WILL HAPPEN. You said it yourself.
Yes, I said so. But think about it yourself. It’s absurd, nothing is ready...
Exactly, it’s absurd. And nothing is ready. That’s why it will happen.
All my torment ended in one moment on February 20th. A video appeared online with Zhirinovsky shouting that Kiev would start bombing at 4 AM on February 22nd. I was shocked then like an electric shock.
Abu, look here. Do you think the same thing as I do?
Damn. This is it.
This is damn symbolism! They are all crazy over there! As in the song: “At exactly 4 o’clock Kiev was bombed...”. Only not on June 22, but on February 22.
Yes, damn it. Yes!
This is more than serious.
Hold on a minute, what does this mean?
Georgia 08.08.08, Ukraine 02.22.2022.
ABU!!! THEY ARE CRAZY!!!!
Oh, subhanallah! The MAGIC OF NUMBERS
I didn’t sleep at night, of course. It was a hellish mixture of anxiety and euphoria. Fear of a global catastrophe was interwoven with such a strange feeling... it seemed as if I had cracked the German Enigma cipher and learned the exact date and time of Hitler’s attack on the USSR. Unfortunately, it couldn’t be stopped.
I made the decision to flee Russia that same night. In the morning, I ordered a new laptop. However, tickets for the nearest flight were too expensive.
The laptop will arrive tomorrow. I’m thinking of leaving for Sri Lanka. The question is when to leave and what can be the reason? So that it’s not too late.
Is the start of military action a reason or not yet?
Military action WHERE? Do you hear bomb explosions from your balcony?
No, but what if they declare mobilization and suddenly close the exits?
1) I will be the first one to be called up, 2) I’ll issue you a pass for taking care of the elderly.
I didn’t have time to leave before the start of the war: less than a day was left. So I decided to wait for the Security Council’s statement. It was held on February 21 and it looked more like a gathering of thieves. The gang leader Putin gathered his cronies and made them swear loyalty so that no one would back down. That’s how it was.
Everyone laughed, especially at Naryshkin, who was trembling with fear. But we shouldn’t have laughed, we should have trembled with him. Naryshkin is the head of foreign intelligence. If he’s shaking, he knows something. Something very scary.
Doubts about the big war disappeared completely. Right after the statement, I wrote in my channel:
Friends, I hope everyone here understands that we are not talking about the DPR and LPR. There is no sense in defending these two small regions for the sake of destructive sanctions. Besides, Ukraine will simply drive the militants out of there or drag out the conflict for many years.
Anytime soon, Russia will begin an offensive on Kiev. The task is to quickly take control of all of Ukraine. The war will be big, there’s no way to sit it out. Whoever hasn’t left yet — leave now.
But Putin’s speech, shown later that day, was only about military aid to Donbass and looked quite peaceful. I was told about it in the comments, although I wasn’t paying attention anymore. Only the most attentive noticed that the speech was edited and its peaceful conclusion was clearly out of place.
On the evening of February 23, I bought tickets to Sri Lanka and booked accommodation, and on the night of February 24, the war began. It was then that they showed the original ending, in which Putin threatened the world with a nuclear disaster.
On the morning of February 24, I woke up and saw this horrifying video. I silently got dressed and withdrew $6,000 from an ATM. I came back, poured myself some coffee, called my friend and said:
Hi, Abu. Sorry for calling early. The Third World War has started.
There was a lull in the summer. The front froze, and the war entered a positional phase. I decided to take advantage of the operational pause and regroup in Moscow. It was possible to see friends there and apply for a Schengen visa.
“The main thing,” I thought, “is not to get bogged down in this swamp. I’ll get the visa and leave.”
In the summer, many people returned to Moscow. Some had a six-month deadline approaching, after which high taxes would come into effect. Others traveled back and forth for business. The third group decided that the worst was already behind them. Although in reality, the summer lull was temporary: it has long been noted that things in Russia deteriorate in waves, with setbacks and thaws. But they are constantly getting worse.
Direct Aeroflot flights have been found to Moscow directly from the shore of Lake Issyk-Kul. Apparently, they were left specifically for Kyrgyz people so that it would be convenient to transport furniture from IKEA to their summer houses.
Arrived. A friend met me at the airport and drove me home.
At first, everything seemed very decent. Moscow had perfect asphalt, wide roads, and a lot of greenery. It was strange that there was no traffic jam at all. And also, in the car dealership right on the MKAD, there were cars with signs that said “Used” instead of license plates.
Everything was fine until we entered the Moscow region. Right away, a poster with a Russian soldier and the letter Z caught my eye.
“Oh, well look, and you say there isn’t. Here’s a poster,” I said to my friend.
“What poster, where?”
“Well, there it is, hanging.”
“Ah, that one? And what about it?”
“What do you mean, ‘what’? Look, it’s the letter Z.”
“Where? Oh, indeed! You've got good eyes!”
Right after the poster, a building of the city council emerged from behind the trees. It was already evening, so the city council was closed and the lights in the building were off except for some windows where the light was still on. These windows created an impressive letter Z with a height of five floors.
“Just look at what’s happening at the city council! What the fuck?!”
“Ah, well, whatever.”
After the city council, two more posters with a swastika floated by, but I didn’t say anything about them anymore. It was clear that those who remained in Russia had developed a blind spot. As I was later told, these posters were everywhere in the spring. There were much fewer of them in the summer. Apparently, the posters became less frequent and no longer aroused any feelings. People simply did not notice them.
But personally, on the very first evening, I realized that the upcoming month I would have to endure, not live until I returned to my “Gayrope”.
Arnold Petrovich by Vangelis
On the very first Monday, I went to the center of Moscow to get a visa.
The city seemed deserted. Of course, it was the end of July and many had gone to their summer houses. But still, there were few people even for summer. The people who remained in the city looked like they came from a bazaar: dressed in gray and beige clothes, with rough, stony faces, and all of them with bags. Moscow hipsters with their string bags had clearly disappeared somewhere.
An experienced traveler can accurately determine the political system of the country within an hour of being in the capital: democracy or dictatorship. When there is a lack of freedom in the country, it is strangely felt in the air. Of course, it’s not about intuition. Simply put, in authoritarian countries, people behave restrainedly and it shows.
The easiest way to find out is to look people in the eye as they pass by.
In happy countries, people do not avoid eye contact. In Thailand, Sri Lanka, the United States or Spain, people will look back at you in the eyes. They may even smile and say “Hola!” In troubled countries, a passerby will flash their eyes and look away. Or you yourself may look away, feeling that the passerby’s gaze is sharp, as if cutting. You can also look at their posture and gestures. In free countries, people are relaxed and emotional. In troubled ones, they are tense and uptight.
So, in Moscow, everyone was very tense. It was hot, 32 degrees Celsius, but passersby didn’t show any summer relaxation.
I spent a long time looking for the right word to describe Muscovites. What were they like? Depressed? Apathetic? Scared? No. Finally, I found it. Stiffness — that’s what was read on their faces. Everyone understood that something was not right, but they stubbornly pretended that nothing was happening. And they couldn’t relax because this “something” was still going wrong.
I made it to the visa agency that I had arranged to meet with from Kazakhstan. They gave me the price then: 2500 rubles. Usually, I handle documents myself, but this time I had to go to the agents because there were no available spots for booking. Agencies pre-book a dozen spots and make money on it.
The business center at Lubyanka was empty, as were the streets around it. It seemed like queues had not yet been invented.
“Good day. I’d like a visa to Spain. I need the minimum package, just to have an appointment.”
“Yes, yes. Just a moment. Spain, you say? Alright then. We handle visas. So, here it is: application form, tickets, refundable reservation, delivery, biometrics — all included! The cost is 26,990.”
“Ahem. No, that’s not what I need. I only need the application form and appointment. I was told it costs 2,500.”
“Ah, I see... You know, that’s not available right now. Everything is overloaded, and there are hardly any slots left...”
“I see. So, is this the only option?”
I left the agency. I opened Google and found another one. I called. Someone answered the phone with a mechanical voice:
“The correct procedure for obtaining a Schengen visa is for 3 to 5 years. Write down the phone number. Consul Arnold Petrovich...”
“Excuse me, what? Which consul? Do you mean the ambassador?”
“Young man, ambassadors are in the embassy. This is a consul who deals with visa processing. I will give you his phone number. You’ll message him on WhatsApp first because he’s a busy person. Ask if it’s possible to call. Then give him a call. He will tell you everything. Understand?”
“Um, yes, okay. Go ahead.”
“Here is his number... Did you write it down? His name is Arnold Petrovich, yes. Just tell him you’re referred by Vangelis!”
Welcome to the 90s. Again.
Arnold Petrovich took 15,000. Promised to issue a visa for five years. Three weeks later, the visa was issued, but only for two years. Vangelis, my dear, what’s wrong with you?
Strangely enough, Z-posters and Z-windows left me indifferent. I understood that officials are people under control. They cannot even squeak against the war, they are required to provide active support.
The first wave of disgust hit me when I was returning from the visa agents and saw a neat row of minibusses near the station. Each hood was decorated with the Russian tricolor and the slogan “For Russia.” I looked at them, spat, and called a taxi. It’s interesting that they don’t paint such things on minibusses in Moscow. Even on those that only come to Moscow but go to the Moscow region. It really is a separate state.
As the taxi ride was coming to an end, I saw someone’s car through the window with a sticker on the side window: the letter Z in a square. An old man was driving, clearly going to his summer cottage. That’s when I had a wave of not disgust but rage. I boiled so much that I was ready to get out in the middle of the highway and smash the car’s mirrors.
To be fair, in a whole month, I saw exactly two cars with Z-symbols. That is, there were really few of them — almost non-existent! Perhaps one in a thousand. The other thing is that once you see it, you walk around angry for the rest of the day, indignant to yourself: “What kind of jerk are you?!”
There were as few people wearing Putin’s swastikas. I met one fascist under a bridge on Novaya Riga. Don’t ask me what I was doing there. I was going to Leroy Merlin for groceries. Two Chechens were squatting under the bridge, one of whom had a black cap with a huge white letter Z. I didn’t expect this so much that I didn’t even have time to get angry. I just thought, “Well, sit under the bridge, you damn troll.”
The second incident was on the verge. In the evening, I was walking around school places. Leaving a beer kiosk that used to be a sanctuary for all teenage drunks, I ran into a guy standing on the sidewalk talking to a girl. He held a package of beer in his hands, looked rundown himself, and apparently met his girlfriend on the way home. He was wearing a white T-shirt with the letter Z in the colors of St. George’s ribbon.
This is the most disgusting variant of all. They came up with combining the symbol of fascism with the colors of a ribbon that should symbolize victory over fascism. Moreover, they did it poorly. The curves of this badge were drawn by a person who opened Photoshop for the first time. The symbolism is maximally crooked from a design point of view. When you see it, you experience the entire spectrum of feelings. You want to punch someone and puke at the same time.
I almost punched him in the face. Anger was boiling inside me, and I started hissing, “Fascist son of a bitch!” Then I started looking around for a stone with my eyes. My imagination drew a scene in which I was running and smashing his face with a cobblestone out of rage. Somehow I didn’t do it, and remembered the pepper spray. I reached into my pocket — but I didn’t take it!
I imagine what would have happened if I did it. I would have been arrested and couldn’t leave anywhere, and the guy wouldn’t understand anything. Later, I realized that he was probably sitting and watching “Evening Ding-a-ling” (a parody name for an evening show with a disgusting Russian propagandist Vladimir Solovyev), and he ran out in whatever he had on after his second beer and met his girlfriend; she started talking to him. And as I was explained, the situation in the country is such that they could give away T-shirts, but the guy simply has nothing else to wear.
But since then, I decided not to take the pepper spray that I always carry with me. It’s difficult to fight in hand-to-hand combat, but pouring pepper into someone’s eyes is easier than easy.
Z-swastikas seemed to be either a lot or a little. On the one hand, there were almost no signs on clothes and cars. On the other hand, posters and flags were often seen in batches. When I was walking with friends in Moscow, I constantly protested:
“Vasya, how is this possible?! There’s a poster hanging at the bus stop, why hasn’t it been torn down or covered in paint yet? If everyone who is against war tore down a poster or damaged a car, there wouldn’t be any of them left!”
“Oh, come on, they’ll just put up new ones.”
“They put them up, we tear them down again! Tear them down endlessly. They’ll get tired.”
“But there are cameras everywhere, they’ll arrest us.”
“Of course, there are cameras. Nobody said the job would be easy. How do you expect freedom without sacrifices?”
Personally, no cameras bothered me, but more on that later. Meanwhile, symbols began to appear where there were none. Like a women’s lingerie store with a V logo or the Z-Club fitness center. Checking on Yandex Maps revealed that all of this was before the war. I quickly realized that there was no need to seek support for the war where it did not exist, especially in St. George ribbons and USSR T-shirts.
This was convinced by a certain story. Once I was returning from Moscow by taxi. The driver turned out to be a Russian guy named Maxim. Maxim wore a checked cap of the “gopniks” and his dark, wrinkled face betrayed his southern origin. In general, he was from the proletariat.
As soon as I got in, I saw two intricately woven ribbons in the salon: St. George and tricolor. Immediately I thought, “Ah, it must be about the war.” But then I realized, “No, it doesn’t mean anything.” So I decided to go.
In the middle of the trip, I suddenly noticed that the taxi driver’s ignition keychain was shaped like a Z. The thought struck me like lightning: “That’s it, he’s definitely a fascist. I knew it.” I wanted to immediately get out of the taxi, but when I looked out the window, I saw concrete blocks and a fence. We were driving on an overpass, and we couldn’t stop. And even if we could, what would I do, silently get out of the car in the middle of the ride?
I was caught off guard. After sighing and gathering my thoughts, I decided to talk to the target audience.
“I beg your pardon, please...” I politely muttered through my teeth. “You have a keychain in the shape of the letter Z. Did you hang it in support of the war in Ukraine?”
The driver turned around in surprise.
“What? What badge? Oh, this one? My sister gave it to me. Where is the... what are you talking about? This is a Hyundai car symbol!”
The driver took the keychain in his hands and turned it sideways. The Z badge turned into a decorative letter H.
“Damn it, they’re haunting me everywhere! I haven’t been in Russia for six months, came back to apply for a Schengen visa. As soon as I arrived, I see these signs everywhere.”
“Yeah, it happens. Though more often on garbage trucks. They don’t ask the people. They just started a war. They need to sell gas over there, do business.”
“This government completely disregards the interests of ordinary people.”
“I agree. Just when people started to recover after the pandemic, here comes a whole new story! I can’t even solve my own problems, and they throw new ones at me. Did they even ask me if I need this war?”
I felt relieved. Maxim turned out to be a normal guy, despite his appearance, ribbons and tricolor. How good it was that I didn’t start swearing, but asked politely. It turned out that the driver was from Rostov. Some of his family is in Ukraine. At first, he said he “wasn’t interested in politics,” but when he realized that I wasn’t a threat, he told me everything.
“I’m from Stavropol myself... I have relatives in Ukraine, in Dnipro. They have water and electricity shortages there. They don’t even turn on the lights after 6 PM to avoid getting hit. What have they done there! They bomb cities, residential buildings. People are without water, without electricity, and some have had their homes destroyed. What is it all for?”
“And there are so many refugees,” I try to interject with my own words, ”Several million people have left Ukraine.”
“Yes, and refugees are fleeing. It’s like in 1995 or something. When there was another war. When they wanted to storm Grozny. How many of our guys lost their lives back then? And for what?”
The driver fell silent for a couple of minutes.
“I have a relative in the airborne forces, a paratrooper. They sent him into battle on February 24th. And after two days, his coffin arrived.”
“How was he related to you?”
“He was my cousin.”
“My condolences. There’s an author, Pavel Filatiev. He’s a paratrooper. He wrote a book about the first days of the war. He’s already left Russia now. He writes that before the war began, no one understood: they thought it was just a military exercise. Then they realized that the real war had started. In other words, people were deceived, sent to their death.”
“Yes, yes. They can sell anything to people as long as it serves their interests.”
“It’s terrible. How many people in Russia support the war?”
“Well, how would I know. Well... No one likes it, about 50—60% are against it.”
“You know, I came here, I haven’t been here for six months. And it seems to me that this topic is taboo in Russia. No one talks about it.”
“Ha, try talking about it here. They give you what, 5 years? Someone somewhere will hear, report it. They say it’s discrediting! What kind of discrediting? Am I not allowed to be against it?”
“You can, it’s just dangerous.”
“There’s no way to stop all this now. Even if they withdraw troops, what will change? The people are already embittered. They may take Kherson, they may not. There will still be sabotage, they will fight back until they repel it. People understand everything now, you can’t just walk away anymore. It will all collapse one by one.”
“But sooner or later, they will have to sit down at the negotiating table.”
“And they will! They won’t go anywhere. Look, I read yesterday: Russian bonds were allowed to be traded in Europe. They are also sitting there without gas. Everyone is in a bad situation! No one needs this war!”
We arrived home, and I left the maximum tip in the app. And for myself, I noted: don’t judge a person until you get to know them.
Looking glass, Through the Looking-Glass
Throughout the month, I had the feeling that I had entered an unknown magical country, into a looking glass.
In Russia, it was as if everything was business as usual. You could even say it was good. I was once again convinced that Moscow is one of the best cities in the world. I have something to compare it with, having visited so many countries there... 62, must be? Anyway, everything was as usual. But not quite.
Russia is a parallel world. Take Sri Lanka, for example. Everyone saw what was happening there in the spring. Electricity was cut off for 5 hours every day. The shelves in stores were empty: no milk at all, meat and cheese were sold at exorbitant prices. Due to the oil prices crisis, there were kilometer-long queues at gas stations. Fishermen couldn’t refuel their boats to go out to sea. Well, you can’t catch fish without oil!
And in this Sri Lankan poverty, the Ukrainian flag could be seen here and there. The local taxi drivers, owners of cafes and shops selling SIM cards hung them up. And every person who found out that I was from Russia asked: “How’s it going there?” And I replied, “No good, friend.”
Everyone expressed regret. I met the owner of a cafe, and we spoke a lot about politics. He recited Ukrainian cities by heart and said how many people died during the offensive. He shook his head: “Oh, why did he start the war? We had just recovered from COVID.”
It was the same in other countries. Indonesians asked if everything was okay with my relatives. Thais, remembering Nicholas II’s help in the fight against Britain, suggested that I return to Moscow and gather a thousand of my friends to overthrow Putin. Everyone was united by one thing. No one — no one! — understood why the Russian people were inactive.
In Russia, on the other hand, I saw indifference. They simply didn’t talk about the war here.
And yet in this war, our own people and our cultural relatives — the Ukrainians — are being killed. This is not even Afghanistan! In the past, it was one country. Why do the Thais and Sri Lankans, whom we call “churka,” care more about this war than we do ourselves?
The second part of the Russian looking glass was that the country tried with all its might to maintain its usual way of life. Often it succeeded. But when it didn’t, the whole picture collapsed instantly, as if in the matrix.
The shelves in the stores seemed to be filled to the brim. Only by taking a closer look could one realize that the cheese was of terrible quality, normal sausage was rare and expensive, and the shelves were mostly filled with the same products, although they were packed tightly.
This was the most bewildering. According to all economic calculations, a crisis should have occurred in the country. However, everything looked as usual.
Later on, I found a whole shelf of expired products at the local “Fasolka” store. It wasn’t a big deal: it was a crappy chain store. But I had been buying food there for 5 years and had only found one expired product before. This time, I found yogurt, cheese, and a pie that would expire the next day, as well as baby food that was one day past its expiration date.
Ordering in “Vkusvill” became meaningless. The products were the same, of the same quality and at the same price, but I stopped getting full from them. Of course, I gained weight in Kazakhstan. But the point is that the portions became one and a half times smaller. In Almaty, when you order a meat cutlet with mashed potatoes, you can barely finish it. In Russia, it’s just one bite.
Some products became more expensive. My favorite coffee capsules doubled in price. They used to cost 330 rubles, now they cost 700 rubles. Other coffee also became more expensive. Some items increased in price by one and a half times, while others only by 10—20%, but they lost either in quality or quantity.
Coca-Cola disappeared from the shelves in the last few days of my stay. It just disappeared everywhere. Potatoes at McDonald’s also seemed to be missing. Draft Guinness at the local bar also disappeared. The bartender explained that there were no deliveries and none were expected. Although it was still available in “Aromatny Mir”. Apparently, from their stock.
In other words, although the calculations were a failure, there was still a deterioration. You just can’t feel it when you have nothing to compare it to. You need to leave the country and see how the rest of the world lives. And calculations, apparently, did not take into account the colossal reserves and the compression of demand. So now accountants have a new deadline — December. We’ll see what happens.
That’s the material part. Well, to somehow dilute the spiritual part, I dug out a red poppy pin that I once ordered from Ukraine. This is a symbol of victory in World War I, but in the West it is worn as a memory of other wars. The red poppy reminds us of the fields of Flanders and of the pierced heart. In Ukraine, they add the inscription: “Never again”.
I put on the pin and met my friend at the local bar. And he came with a patch of the white-blue-white flag of New Russia. I was shocked:
“Um, um, um, is it not prohibited then?”
“Well, the ‘Freedom of Russia’ battalion uses it, and it's recognized as extremist.”
“That's the first time I'm hearing about it. Let's Google it. Hm. No, here it is. Someone suggested banning it, but it wasn't banned.”
“Damn. And is it not scary to carry it around?”
“Not at all. I've been carrying it for two months, even ride the subway with it. I haven't been stopped once. Sometimes people even come up and shake my hand.”
“Wow, really? Can I have one like that?”
“Yes, I had one. Here, take it.”
And I put on the white-blue-white flag too. It was not as noticeable on my Hawaiian shirt as it was on my friend’s black t-shirt. So nobody came up to me and shook hands, although I caught surprised looks. I walked around with this pin for a whole month. Everything was fine. You can wear it.
After all, the maximum penalty for “discrediting” the Russian army is a fine of 40,000 rubles. And even then, it’s unlikely you’ll be fined that much — more likely 10-15,000 rubles. But at least you can be proud!
I started discrediting the armed forces of the Russian Federation right away: on the very first day, I broke a small sign in two. Then I came up with the idea to throw paint on a poster by the road. I met with a friend and said:
“Vitaliy, have you seen those posters? Let’s throw paint on them.”
“We can do that. We just need to plan it out.”
“The plan is simple. We meet in the forest at night, walk through the village street straight to the spot where the poster is hanging. There are no cameras there, I checked.”
“Great, then I can prepare paint-filled balloons, and you can buy all the necessary supplies.”
We walked up to the poster and looked at the cameras. The next day, I bought a bottle of red paint and 10 light bulbs. The light bulbs were needed to make bombs. If you carefully detach the glass bulb from the base, pour paint into it, and put on a rubber glove, you get an excellent projectile. You can throw such a bomb, and it will break, unlike a condom or a bag.
While I was walking to the store, I went down into an underground passage. And there, all the graffiti had been covered with a smooth layer of gray paint.
“Vitaliy, I have an idea. Let’s also write anti-war slogans in the underpass? There are no cameras there, and it’s a busy place. People will be pleased in the morning!”
“That’s a great idea. I have some spray cans. We'll need to do it all in one night then.”
On the day of our “special operation,” I went out to scout the area and discovered that two cameras had been installed in the passage.
“Hey. Listen, they installed cameras in the underpass. We’ll have to go wearing masks.”
“Well, let’s go wearing masks. What cameras are you talking about? And where are they installed?”
“Two of them in each corner. They have a 360-degree view.”
“The wider the field of view, the worse the image quality.”
“Yeah, but then they could track and compare faces in the city... I suggest we take a change of clothes and disguise ourselves in the forest.”
“Hm, why not. Safety won’t hurt.”
“Listen... Are we really going to do this?”
“Yes, why not?”
“I'm just worried. I’ve never done anything like this before, and they can give you up to 15 years for it.”
“Pfft, what 15 years? That’s for fakes. The penalty for discrediting is up to 40,000.”
“Ahh, well then let’s definitely go! Why didn't you say so earlier? I was getting ready for prison.”
At three o’clock in the morning, we met in the woods. We changed into different clothes, put on medical masks, and walked across the entire city.
“Vitaliy, as I walk, I’m thinking. I have a higher education. I work in IT, I have a lot of money. I’ve taken courses at Stanford, at the University of Michigan. I have my own projects, a website, I’ve been to 60 countries, I write stories. How could they bring the country to such a state that I have to go out at night and paint anti-war slogans in underpasses?”
“Marcus, I can’t wrap my head around it either. I have the exact same thoughts. Instead of developing the economy, Russia is doing everything to drive decent people out of the country.”
It was done. We covered the passage with a slogan “NO TO WAR” on both walls for a length of 30 meters. Then we threw a poster with a Putin swastika on it. After that, we disappeared into the woods, changed our clothes, and went home. The next morning, I was already in Finland and laughing at the uproar that had erupted on social media.
The Z-patriots threatened to catch “these stupid schoolchildren” and “make them find summer jobs.” Little did they know that the passage had been covered by two successful adult men who could have hired them for work themselves.
Third World War
On the morning of February 24th, I started by stating the fact: World War III had begun. In one chat, someone snidely asked, “Why not intergalactic?” Perhaps because another galaxy doesn’t claim authorship of the recipe for borscht.
Let’s just look at the list of countries where there is any war, revolution, or a high risk of it starting. I compiled it from memory.
- Armenia, Azerbaijan, Turkey: War in Karabakh, risk of occupation of Syunik region.
- Afghanistan: Government of terrorists, border conflicts with Pakistan, Tajikistan.
- Belarus: Occupied by Russia for an attack on Ukraine.
- Greece and Turkey: Public warning of the possibility of war.
- Georgia: Part of the territory occupied by Russia.
- Israel and Palestine: Regular military clashes.
- India and China: Territorial disputes.
- Iran: Threats to destroy Israel, proxy wars with Saudi Arabia, protests.
- Yemen: Civil war, intervention by Saudi Arabia.
- Cyprus: Part of the country occupied by Turkey.
- China and USA: Conflict over Taiwan, economic sanctions.
- China: Struggle for spheres of influence in Central Asia, the Middle East, and Africa.
- Kosovo and Serbia: Territorial disputes, NATO involvement.
- Libya: Civil war.
- Moldova: Part of the territory occupied by Russia.
- Pakistan and India: Border conflicts in Kashmir.
- Russia and Ukraine: Full-scale war.
- Saudi Arabia and Iran: Proxy wars in Syria and Yemen.
- North Korea: Threats of nuclear weapons.
- Syria: Civil war, border conflict with Turkey, NATO and Russian intervention, Israeli shelling.
- Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan: Border conflict on an ethnic basis.
- Turkey: Struggle for spheres of influence in the Balkans, Central Asia.
- Japan: De jure state of war with Russia, territorial disputes.
- Mongolia: Suspiciously quiet for the past 500 years.
If this is not World War III, it’s only because the war hasn’t fully unfolded yet. The period of the Second World War from 1939 to 1940 was also quiet. It’s even called the “Phoney War.” The real, hot phase of the Second World War only began in 1941, although the world war had already been going on for two years by then. But it looked like a collection of isolated military conflicts in different parts of the world.
But what distinguishes a collection of conflicts from a world war? Time. Conflicts happen one after another, here and there. A world war is a simultaneous conflict. If Vietnam, Afghanistan, Iraq, and Yugoslavia had occurred not sequentially but in one year, it would have been a world war.
I’m not saying that the hot phase is inevitably going to begin. Maybe, on the contrary, Putin’s defeat will set an example for other dictators that their reigns will come to an end. Or these conflicts will drag on over time, never merging into the ecstasy of a world war. I just want to point out the risk of World War III, as I did before when I pointed out the risk of a major war in Ukraine.
There are three scenarios and countless variations of them.
- 1. State coup, arrest, or assassination of Putin.
- 2. Direct military defeat of Russia.
- 3. Civil war or revolution.
The first option is the best. The arrest or physical elimination of Putin would be an ideal scenario. I don’t think it’s completely impossible. The problem is that the coup could happen tomorrow, but it could also drag on for years.
Direct military defeat is the most dangerous option because it leads to a nuclear catastrophe. If Russia exhausts all human resources and conventional weapons, Putin won’t hesitate to destroy the entire world.
It’s important to understand that Russia is not governed by simple thieves and corrupt officials. It’s a conglomerate of mafia and fanatics. There are suicide terrorists among the ruling elite who are obsessed with the idea of the “Russian world.” Everyone rejoices when they show signs of fear, but it’s not fear of death or arrest, but fear of the collapse of their ideals.
A suicide terrorist values life, but he values his jihad even more. He’s ready to die for his faith. Moreover, according to his faith, he will go to paradise. If he falters, afraid of death, it will be an indelible shame for him. His further life would be unbearable and therefore worthless. Therefore, it’s easier and more logical to part with it, taking a dozen infidels with him.
We will go to paradise, and they will just die.
By the way, from the perspective of evolution, terrorism is the highest form of biological altruism.
I’m not sure about Solovyov, but Putin won’t choose a life with a trampled ideal and will definitely start a nuclear war. And when the atomic mushroom grows over Kiev, Solovyov will only say, “But the Americans bombed Hiroshima.”
Unfortunately, this is the most likely scenario. We can only hope that nuclear weapons have decayed no worse than the rest of the army. Or for a lightning-fast response from NATO, which will destroy the nuclear arsenal along with the Ministry of Defense and the Government House — as it was in Belgrade.
Civil war, revolution or internal uprising within the country is not the worst scenario. It excludes the use of nuclear weapons, as they are only used externally. I have no ideas who and how can start such a process. Perhaps because society in Russia is paralyzed and intimidated. Perhaps because we shouldn’t see leaders of an uprising — otherwise, they would be eliminated.
As for Putin’s death from old age, I am probably the only opposition member in Russia who wishes good health and a long life to our supreme leader. If he dies on his own, a new wave of propaganda will begin: “He left undefeated.” No, Vladimir Vladimirovich, live long and prosper. We want to see you on trial.
Ladies and gentlemen of the jury! For the first time in the history of mankind, criminals who seized an entire state and used the very state as an instrument of their monstrous crimes are standing trial before you.
Tools, equipment or other means of committing the crime that belong to the accused are subject to confiscation, transfer to appropriate institutions, or destruction.
The consequences for the Russian economy will be dismal. Russians are currently amazed by the exchange rate of the dollar, which has fallen to a record low of 55 rubles. This happened due to a sharp reduction in imports. The currency became worthless as there was nothing to buy with it.
This effect is temporary. Sooner or later, the sanctions will be lifted, and the exchange rate will return to its market value.
After the war, hyperinflation will set in. The government has already allocated 10 trillion rubles for military expenses. To support the army, money will be printed at a frantic pace.
Inflation has a secret property: price increases do not happen right away but as money enters circulation. The one who spends the freshly printed money first can still buy goods at the same old price. This “first” is the state. After printing money, the government will buy everything it wants at the old price, and only then will inflation occur, affecting ordinary citizens.
Post-war inflation can reach unimaginable levels: from hundreds to billions of percent per month. Examples from Germany, Hungary, and Yugoslavia show that prices can double every day. This means a collapse of the financial system and a switch to barter trade. Russia itself went through an inflation rate of 2500% per year in 1992 under similar circumstances.
As for politics, the current form of the Russian state must be dismantled.
Removing Putin will change a lot, but it will only be the first step. Currently, all branches of government in Russia are infected with fascism. The entire system will have to be dismantled, and this cannot be done from within it.
In the event of a direct military defeat, Russia will face military intervention by NATO and China peacekeepers. Nuclear weapons will be destroyed or brought under control. The remnants of the army will be disbanded, and the apparatus of violence and intelligence services will undergo purges and trials. The “Marshall Plan” for Russia would be for the common good.
In the event of Putin’s arrest and the transfer of all military criminals to trial, it is possible to maintain the state model. Then, to lift sanctions, reparations will have to be paid to Ukraine and a series of agreements signed with the United States. For example, transferring control of nuclear weapons and presenting a new face of the state with whom one can work. It is very likely that this person will be Navalny. Having graced the covers of political magazines worldwide, he would easily gain an image as someone who tried to prevent war.
But I don’t know which scenario is better. Navalny’s proposed model of confederation and parliamentary republic may turn out to be another nonsense, and in 20 years, a new Putin will come who will start a war again. The Russian state has repeatedly proven that it is capable of rising from the ashes and becoming a sore for the whole world. Do we want to give this country another chance or put an end to it forever?
After ten years, the collapse of the country will not seem like a catastrophe. Moscow will suffer the most, but that’s where it belongs: it’s a metropolis that sucks resources from all of Russia. Many regions will flourish if they get rid of Moscow’s influence. Others, subsidized ones, will plunge into brutal poverty.
Lifting the sanctions will give a colossal growth to the economy, and even a erased past won’t stop investments in the former Erephian countries. As for trade, tourism, the Russian language, and a single currency — it is not necessary to be one country for that. Look at the European Union. So what are we trying to preserve by saving this federation? After all, if the USSR hadn’t collapsed, you wouldn’t have been able to escape to Kazakhstan now.
Collapse of the Eurozone
The European Union and the Eurozone are different things.
The European Union is a political union of European countries. It is not threatened with collapse.
The Eurozone is a group of countries that use the euro. The single currency is a source of huge problems. Debts of weak states, such as Greece, fall on all members of the Eurozone. Weak countries are dragging down the strong ones.
The banking system of European countries was bankrupt even before the pandemic. The Eurozone had negative interest rates. They mean not only cheap loans but also expensive deposits. Depositors do not receive interest for keeping their money in the bank, but pay the bank a percentage of their savings. In turn, banks pay interest to the central bank for storing their assets. This leads to their bankruptcy.
In addition to bankrupt banks, Eurozone countries have a colossal external debt. The US is not even close. Here are examples of debts as a percentage of GDP:
- Cyprus: 850%
- Ireland: 700%
- Greece: 300%
- Belgium: 270%
- France: 230%
- Finland: 220%
- Spain: 170%
- Germany: 165%
- Austria: 165%
These are the data for 2017. Now the debts are even bigger, and the Eurozone’s economy is flooded with unsecured money: to fight the coronavirus, the ECB printed 4 trillion euros.
You don’t have to be an economics expert to understand that the euro currency project is doomed, it’s just a matter of time. The outcome of the war with Russia could be Eurozone default, hyperinflation, and a return to national currencies.
Guilt and responsibility
With the advent of democracy, wars became ideological.
When the state was ruled by a monarch, the whole country belonged to him as private property. Although kings fell into despotism, they did not start wars because of ideology. Monarchical wars were fought for private property, i.e., territory and everything on it. The reasons for wars were material: ruling families argued over inheritance and could not resolve the dispute peacefully.
Just as the country was the private property of the monarch, so war was his private affair. The war was financed from the royal treasury and fought by a hired army. Meanwhile, peaceful life in the warring countries went on as usual. The population was not involved in the war.
On the continent, trade, travel, cultural and scientific communication continued almost unimpeded during wartime.
The role of a good citizen was to pay taxes, and sound political economy dictated that he should be left alone to earn the money from which he would pay those taxes. He shouldn’t participate in the decisions that led to wars or take part in them themselves.
These issues were only a concern of the sovereign.
Of course, the losing side paid, reimbursing all damage caused. But since the country was the private property of the monarch, the royal treasury compensated for the damage. The question of collective guilt or responsibility did not arise in principle.
Monarchies have disappeared, and democratic republics have taken their place. On the one hand, the change in power helped to cope with despotism. On the other hand, democracy destroyed the universal principles of private property. Countries do not belong to prime ministers, presidents, and parties. They are a kind of public property.
Wars between such countries are not fought over territories. Their causes are ideological.
The subjects of a kingdom are bound to the ruling family. Citizens of a republic identify themselves as part of a nation, united by a common history, language, religion, or culture. Thus, war becomes ideological: it is fought over history, language, religion, or culture.
If a war for territory has a logical end, then an ideological war has no end or limit. In such a war, the whole society is involved, and it ends with the extermination of the enemy along with their culture. With the birth of a national state, a national war was also born.
Who is responsible for the defeat in such a war? Who should rebuild the destroyed cities? The country no longer belongs to the king. Nor does it belong to the citizens. In a democratic state, the universal principle of private property has been undermined. Therefore, questions of blame and responsibility cannot be logically answered.
After the defeat of Nazi Germany, the problem was solved this way: responsibility must be collective, but guilt must be personal.
Collective guilt blurs the concept of guilt altogether. When everyone is guilty — in fact, no one is guilty. Real criminals can evade punishment by trying to dissolve their guilt in the universal one.
Responsibility falls on the entire society if it, of course, wishes to preserve its state. If it does not wish to, it will lose it, but the world will still find a way to recover damages from the debtor.
No one is capable of seeing the future. History is not reducible to a physical process and cannot be predicted. Speaking about the future, we can only reason and anticipate risks. Doesn’t such an approach seem to deprive hope?
Russia is not Iran, and it will not be under sanctions for 40 years. Not even for 10 years. The Iranian revolution brought Imam Khomeini to power. It was the establishment of a new, terrorist regime, and sanctions were imposed against it. The Russian regime is dying. It is headed by an elderly, deranged dictator who has lost touch with reality. This regime is falling apart at the seams, and mobilization is its agony.
Russia is better compared to Yugoslavia. Its leader Slobodan Milosevic tried to stop the country’s disintegration and started a war with Bosnia and Croatia, surrounding cities and killing tens of thousands of civilians. Sanctions were imposed against Yugoslavia, which lasted for 10 years and ended abruptly. Two years after the bombing of Belgrade, Milosevic was arrested in his residence and handed over to the tribunal. Sanctions were lifted six months later. Now Serbia is joining the European Union, and its citizens travel to Europe and speak English fluently.
Russian sanctions were imposed 8 years ago. Given the speed of events, I will be surprised if the regime lasts that long. And soon after his collapse, the sanctions will be lifted. This is not forever. Great forecasters have already been wrong when they were too careless. Now they are wrong, falling into despair.
It will take much more time to restore respect for the Russian people. But this is also surmountable. Post-war polls show that by the early 1950s, Germans were already seen neutrally, and after 20 years, Germany and Japan became showcases of capitalism, which were alluringly shining for the USSR.
In case of capitulation and disarmament, Russia itself will be able to become such a showcase. We have everything we need for this.
Funny. I wrote my story about Prague while being at home in Moscow. Now I’m writing a story about Moscow from Prague. But mentally, I’m still nowhere. Not because the world is rushing nowhere. It just seems like I don’t have a home anymore.
Definitely, I will come to Moscow again. Most likely, I will also get to Siberia and wander in the forests of the Far East. I hope, still in the same role of a free traveler. Well, for now... my own story has taught me nothing: I am still the same naive optimist, even more so.