What does Russia really want?

The question of ‘why’ Russia invaded Ukraine has been forgotten amid war’s fog. Greed and malice partially explains it. History, geopolitics and culture reveals more. A country which has more land than anyone else on Earth is not grabbing territory for territory’s sake. Logically, Russia should be giving away land to anyone who might manage it better. But that’s not how Putin thinks. He is pursuing a dogged policy of annexations – first in Georgia, then in the Crimea, and now of four further Ukrainian districts. Logically, Russia’s neighbours have more to fear than Russia has. But that’s not how Putin feels Equally, a country which owns the world’s biggest stockpile of

Tsar Vladimir brings in martial law

Martial law can arrive with a bang: tanks on the streets, Swan Lake on the TV. It can also creep up on a country in the guise of a presidential edict with the title ‘The Decree On Measures taken in the Constituent Entities of the Russian Federation in Connection with the Decree of the President of the Russian Federation of October 19, 2022 No. 756’. Either way, Vladimir Putin has just moved Russia one step closer to totalitarianism. What is interesting is just how long and half-hearted a process this has been. When Putin invaded Ukraine in February, the sharpest-beaked hawks in his entourage were urging total war, and with

What a greasy spoon in West London tells us about the threat of nuclear war

All-day diners feasting on the full English, the cheese omelette or the celebrated sausage sandwich (£3.80) at George’s Café, at 36 Blythe Road, Hammersmith, probably don’t realise they are dining at an address which is pivotal in global cultural history. So pivotal, in fact, that it might just tell us whether human civilisation is about to be extinguished in a nuclear holocaust. A claim like that needs fleshing out. Here it is. Some 120 years ago, 36 Blythe Road was living a very different life to that of a humdrum suburban greasy spoon: it was the headquarters and archival nerve centre of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, a fin

Putin at 70: How The Spectator has covered his life

Vladimir Putin turns 70 today. Since he became Prime Minister of Russia in 1999, some of The Spectator’s greatest contributors have asked the perennial questions: who is Putin, and what does he want? We’ve compiled the following pieces from our fully-digitised archive.  ‘Joking with a nine-year-old boy at a televised awards ceremony by the Russian Geographical Society, President Vladimir Putin said: ‘The Russian borders don’t end anywhere.’’ Portrait of the Week, 1 December 2016 Appointment as Prime Minister  ‘Not surprisingly, given his background, Putin has a lugubrious and somewhat sinister manner. Perhaps more importantly he has never stood for election to anything and his one dabble in democracy, managing the re-election

How should the West respond to Putin’s threats?

Vladimir Putin clearly wants us to worry that he is crazy enough to use a tactical nuclear weapon in Ukraine. This fear was intensified this week when images surfaced that some – possibly in error – believed showed a train operated by the secretive nuclear security forces moving towards Ukraine. Despite this, many believe the likelihood of a nuclear attack remains extremely low. Yet it is a plausible enough threat for the West to be considering how it should respond if Putin were to unleash one. Russia has an estimated 1,900 non-strategic nuclear weapons (NSNWs), from artillery shells to warheads for missiles; their yields range from a mere 0.5 to

War has come home to Russia

Moscow A week of somewhat mixed messages from the Kremlin. One day Vladimir Putin opened Europe’s largest Ferris wheel and presided over citywide celebrations of Moscow’s 875th anniversary, full of calm and good cheer and mentioning the war only in passing. A few days later he appeared on national TV telling the world that he was ‘not bluffing’ about using nuclear weapons and announcing a partial mobilisation. Putin has never fought a contested election in his life, so he’s never been a great one for the common touch. But in his latest address he looked as pale and dead-eyed as Nosferatu. Russians know better than most that the more strenuously

Letters: Britain needs the English National Ballet

Putin’s options Sir: I agree with Paul Wood that Vladimir Putin is on the back foot (‘Cornered’, 24 September). His actions, from partial mobilisation to nuclear threats to the rapid referenda in occupied Ukraine, indicate a psychopathic gambler who hopes that one last spin will turn Lady Fortune his way. However, there is a big gap between ‘losing’ and ‘lost’, and that is where the focus on the nuclear threat by the West is unhelpful and dangerous. As well as the partial mobilisation, Putin ordered in August a 10 per cent increase in the size of the military to more than a million combat troops. Combine this with the ‘economy

Did Russia sabotage its own pipelines?

It almost seems worthy of the opening scene in a Bond film. Vital Russian gas pipelines running beneath the Baltic Sea close to Denmark and Sweden are the victims of sabotage. The two countries have warned of leaks from both Nord Stream 1 and 2 after seismologists suggested there had been underwater explosions. No one wants to claim credit for the deed – yet. Who is the Blofeld behind this dastardly scheme? Former Polish foreign minister Radek Sikorski, no fan of Russia, sardonically declared on Twitter, ‘Thank you, USA’. That set the conspiracy theorists off. As has a video resurfacing of Joe Biden in February promising America would put an end to

What’s behind Putin’s no-show?

Has Vladimir Putin carried out a cynical stunt, or ducked out of a seismic decision? That’s the debate among Kremlinologists tonight, as the Russian President failed to show up for a planned 8 p.m. address to the Russian people. Faced with catastrophic losses of territory in north-east Ukraine, a weaker Putin has been considering his options. One that has been suggested is fully mobilising the population to fight, and introducing martial law, which the State Duma (parliament) proposed today. Men aged between 18 and 65 would be banned from leaving the country. Today also saw the announcement of referendums on Russian annexation for the Luhansk and Donetsk regions of Ukraine, as

More mad than Vlad: Russia’s ultra-nationalist threat

‘Russia without Putin!’ was the cry of Muscovites who turned out to protest against Vladimir Putin’s return to the presidency for a third term in December 2011. Crowds 100,000 strong chanted their opposition on Moscow’s Academician Sakharov Prospect – as symbolically named a venue as you could wish for – as riot police stood calmly by. There was anger in the crowd. But there was hope, too, not least because the massive protest was officially sanctioned. One after another, prominent opposition politicians such as Ilya Yashin, Boris Nemtsov and Alexei Navalny denounced Putin from a stage provided by the city authorities. Today the memory of those protests seems to belong

Gorbachev was no saint. But he was a kind of hero

Mikhail Gorbachev is dead at the age of 91, and in a way I feel orphaned. I became fascinated by what was still then the Soviet Union in its late years of sclerosis, when one moribund geriatric at the top of the system succeeded another (the dark joke at the time went as follows: a KGB guard stopped someone at one of the state funerals and asked him if he had a pass – ‘oh,’ came the reply, ‘I’ve got a season ticket’). But my early years as a Russia-watcher were during his time as General Secretary, and if my seniors had become used to the idea that the USSR was a

Daria Dugina has become a martyr for Putin

There was something menacing yet vaguely absurd about the Tuesday memorial service held to commemorate the life and fascist times of the prominent ultra-nationalist Daria Dugina, the daughter of the Kremlin propagandist Aleksandr. The 29 year old Daria Dugina, who died in a car explosion on August 20, was put on display in an open coffin, with guards wearing black and red armbands by her side. The sombre attendees filed past. In attendance were Duma deputy and the far-right clown Leonid Slutsky, best known for having been accused of sexual harassment, Dmitry Kiselyov, who has long promised to turn America into a nuclear wasteland, and even the former thief and ‘Putin’s chef’

Mark Galeotti

The stalemate in Ukraine won’t last forever

Addressing the vexed question of who is winning the war in Ukraine, six months on, is a task to challenge military strategists, geopolitical analysts – and semanticists, because so much depends on what ‘winning’ means. On one level, after all, one could suggest everyone is losing. That said, we cannot escape the fact that both Moscow and the West had essentially written Ukraine off at the start of the war. The conventional wisdom was that it would take perhaps a fortnight for Vladimir Putin’s much-vaunted war machine, the product of two decades of heightened military spending, to defeat its Ukrainian counterpart.  Instead, the Ukrainians proved determined and disciplined in the

Sanctions are working – whatever Putin says

Don’t believe Vladimir Putin’s hype. The Russian economy is not OK. With western sanctions jeopardising up to 40 per cent of the country’s GDP, Putin’s assurances of an economic pivot to the East are a sham. And his weaponising of gas supplies to Europe is the financial equivalent of strapping on a suicide vest. That, roughly, is the message of a major new study published last week by the Yale School of Management about the impact of sanctions on Russia. Yale, working with a team of international economists, has looked past a wall of Russian obfuscation and used real-world data from retailers, energy traders and investors to reveal a picture

Putin has Europe where he wants it

Have we reached the endgame of Vladimir Putin’s energy war against the West, the point at which he turns off the gas for good? This afternoon, Gazprom announced that from Wednesday morning it will cut the quantity of gas flowing through the Nord Stream 1 pipeline to Germany to 33 cubic metres per day. This will halve the current flow of 67 million cubic metres and is just 20 per cent of the 167 million cubic metres which flowed through the pipeline before the Ukraine invasion. Ostensibly, the cut is for reasons of ‘maintenance’. That is unlikely to wash. Nord Stream 1 relies on a compressor station powered by six

Ukraine and Russia sign grain deal – what next?

This afternoon Kyiv and Moscow signed a UN-backed agreement to free up at least 20 million tons of grain from blocked ports. Ukraine said it would not sign a deal with Russia directly, only with Turkey and the UN. As Wolfgang Münchau noted this morning, it marks the first successful mediation between the two sides since the start of the war. This deal will complicate Vladimir Putin’s efforts to strangle the Ukrainian economy. But the Russian leader needs to show countries that are neutral – or more inclined towards Russia (in Africa and Asia) – that he saved them from hunger and rising food prices. Otherwise, Algeria could increase gas

Sam Ashworth-Hayes

How Germany’s energy crisis could bite Britain

For now, Berlin can breathe a sigh of relief: after a ten-day shutdown for maintenance, the Nord Stream 1 pipeline is back online. Russia is once again heating German homes, fuelling German industry, and using German money to finance its war in Ukraine. But this happy exchange may not continue; the pipeline is still operating at just 40 per cent of its usual capacity, and Vladimir Putin is warning this could fall to 20 per cent next week. With Germany’s gas reserves just 65 per cent full – thanks in part to state-owned Russian energy company Gazprom’s curious oversight in maintaining them last year – and plans to refill it

The next PM must be ready for Putin

Westminster is understandably obsessed with the question of who makes the final two of the Tory leadership race, but today has also brought a reminder of the crises that the new Prime Minister will have to deal with from day one.  The European Commission is calling on all EU member states to cut gas use by 15 per cent to prepare for supply cuts from Russia through Nord Stream 1, which reopens tomorrow. With the pipeline only flowing at limited levels, and the heatwave leading to higher energy use than usual, Germany will not be able to lay in stores for the winter. This means that Vladimir Putin will constantly try

How Justin Trudeau caved to Putin

When Russia invaded Ukraine, the West was certain that its sanctions were worth the pain. But there always was a question as to whether this resolve would last once the domestic difficulties actually started. This week, western countries moved closer to admitting it might be too much to bear. At the time of the invasion in February, a massive Russian turbine was being repaired in Montreal. It was one of many turbines used to send gas through the Nord Stream 1 pipeline from Russia to Germany. When the Russians moved into Ukraine, it was kept in Canada as punishment. Over the next few weeks and months Russia replied, cutting off

The forgotten history of Poland and Ukraine

Since the outbreak of war in February there has been an overwhelming focus on the historical links between Russia and Ukraine, partly to counter Putin’s grand assertions that Kyiv belongs to Moscow. But this spotlight on Russia has meant the important history of Poland and Ukraine has been fatally overlooked. Ukraine was part of the Polish state for longer than it was inside Russia – and this is key to understanding why Ukrainians are different from Russians. In other words, it is impossible to comprehend Ukraine’s history without examining the impact of both Poland and Russia. A thousand years ago the people who now call themselves ‘Ukrainian’ had not yet