Vladimir Putin’s armed forces are still struggling, mightily. This week’s deadly missile attacks on more than a dozen cities across Ukraine were a sign of desperation. Putin is desperate to show strength at home. He’s bent on terrorizing Ukrainians in any way he can. “Don’t worry,” says a young Ukrainian friend; “we’re accustomed and stay the course,” she adds.
No doubt. It’s Western support I’m concerned about. So far so good, but I think we need to steel ourselves for the weeks and months ahead. Andreas Umland joined us by Zoom during his visit to Kyiv this week. Andreas argues that, with all the decency and compassion shown by Western Europe, to stay the course elites still need to make the case for the broader strategic rationale. They must, contends Andreas, grasp and explain why it’s in their own national interest to support Ukraine.
Putin needs a reshuffling of the deck and new cards to offset battlefield failure. He’s betting on Western worries over inflation and recession. Maybe he gets lucky with a neo-isolationist Congress in Washington. He weaponizes energy, of course, and knows all about diplomatic vanity in Paris and nuclear anxiety in Berlin. Iulia Joja has an interview with Henry Sokolski tomorrow in American Purpose on Putin’s nuclear threats.
Expect Putin to mess with the Germans in particular this winter. Thorsten Frei of the opposition Christian Democrats said of railway sabotage in Germany this week that the attack on critical infrastructure was carried out at two different locations almost simultaneously, indicating “a high degree of insider knowledge” and a “level of organization that we haven’t seen in this form before.” Train services were suspended in northern Germany for roughly three hours.
Allies and the Larger Struggle
Germany’s interior minister Nancy Faeser wants to dismiss the country’s cybersecurity chief due to possible contacts with Russian intelligence services. Arne Schönbohm, president of the Federal Office for Information Security, apparently has ties to a German company that’s a subsidiary of a Russian cybersecurity firm founded by a former KGB officer. Here’s (Opens in a new window) the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung’s reporting from earlier this week.
This week, the Swiss populist paper Die Weltwoche published a column (Opens in a new window) arguing that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has lost touch with reality in his bunker and is ready to drag Europe into World War III. Watch for the Kremlin to ramp up propaganda and disinformation across Europe.
We’ll keep doing our best to look at problems through different lenses. As Putin met yesterday with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in Kazakhstan, we hosted in Washington Turkey’s opposition leader to discuss Russia, Ukraine, and Iran. Kemal Kiliçdaroğlu, Republican People’s Party (CHP) chairman, is the likely candidate to oppose Erdoğan in the June 2023 presidential election.
We’re keeping a careful eye on the remarkable protests that persist across Iran. Tomorrow in Washington, we host our friend Roya Hakakian, the New York-based Iranian-American poet (Opens in a new window), essayist, and human rights advocate. Roya writes for The Atlantic and was a guest on Fareed Zakaria’s CNN show this past Sunday (Opens in a new window). She has an exceptional way of fusing history, culture, and politics. She’s passionate about liberal democracy.
History, Arts, Culture
We see good history as part of the answer to bad politics. Follow the important work of our friend, Rutgers historian Kate Epstein, who writes for American Purpose and is on our editorial board. Kate joined us for a salon earlier this month. Read Timothy Snyder’s outstanding essay (Opens in a new window) on Crimea (thanks to Martha Bayles for bringing this to my attention). Read Rob Satloff’s piece (Opens in a new window) for American Purpose on American passivity as Iran goes nuclear and his review (Opens in a new window) of Jeffrey Herf’s new book. We had the pleasure of hosting Jeff on Israel’s Moment this summer. You can watch the discussion here (Opens in a new window).
We like good history because it forces us to grapple with realities and navigate ambiguity. By all means read managing editor Carolyn Stewart’s essay (Opens in a new window) this week on America’s Nazi architect, Philip Johnson.
Andrew Delbanco, the Alexander Hamilton Professor of American Studies at Columbia University and 2011 National Humanities Medalist, will deliver the 2022 Jefferson Lecture in the Humanities on October 19. His lecture is titled, “The Question of Reparations: Our Past, Our Present, Our Future.”
We’ve hosted David Collins on Georgetown University’s investigation of its past in the slave trade. David is a Jesuit priest and historian of medieval Germany. He was tasked to chair Georgetown’s Working Group on Slavery, Memory, and Reconciliation. We’ve just invited David back to continue our conversation.
We’ve just invited Phillips Collection director Dorothy Kosinski to join us soon as well. Dorothy has a lot to say about the arts as agent of social change. So does our friend and distinguished music critic and historian Joe Horowitz. You can read Joe’s essay this week on Black classical music here (Opens in a new window).
Music … and Ukraine
I’m listening this week to the “Father of Texas Blues,” Blind Lemon Jefferson. Here’s (Opens in a new window) Blind Lemon’s “See That My Grave Is Kept Clean.” He played with Lead Belly and taught T-Bone Walker blues guitar in exchange for Walker helping Jefferson out as a guide.
On Tuesday October 18 at the Kennedy Center, there’s a benefit concert (Opens in a new window) for Ukraine featuring violinist Joshua Bell, conductor Tatiana Kalinichenko, and the New Era Orchestra of Kyiv (thanks to Melinda Haring for bringing the concert to my attention). The program includes Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7 — one of several Beethoven works concerned with themes of domination and liberation — as well as pieces by Valentyn Silvestrov, Myroslav Skoryk, and Max Bruch.
Born in Cologne in 1838 to a mother who was a singer and a father who was a senior police official, Bruch became a notable teacher, conductor, and composer of late German romanticism. He led the Liverpool Philharmonic for three seasons. On his tombstone, in the Old St. Matthew’s Churchyard in Schöneberg, Berlin — where the Brothers Grimm, Jacob and Wilhelm, are buried — reads the inscription, “Music is the language of God.” If you don’t know Bruch’s music, here’s (Opens in a new window) the prelude from his Concerto No.1 in G Minor. You can hear the entire work live at the Kennedy Center next week.
Here’s the piece (Opens in a new window) Robert Shafer composed for the concert American Purpose helped organize for Ukraine this summer at Washington National Cathedral. The short work is called “Prayer for Ukraine” and was performed by Shafer and the City Choir of Washington (Opens in a new window).
Ukrainians are brave. Russia may be losing its war of aggression. It appears so at the moment in any case. We shouldn’t overlook, though, the immense damage and terrible suffering Vladimir Putin continues to inflict.