The recapturing of Snake Island shows what Ukraine can do

After days of missile strikes, Ukrainian forces have forced Russia off Snake Island in the Black Sea. ‘The enemy hastily evacuated the remnants of the garrison in two speedboats and left the island’, according to the Ukrainian Operational South Command. Russia’s defence ministry appeared to concede defeat, saying that ‘Russian forces have completed the assigned tasks and withdrew as a step of goodwill’. The retreat is huge news in Ukraine, as Snake Island is not only important strategic territory, but has acquired a cult status as a representation of Ukraine’s resistance. Snake Island became world famous on the first day of the war when Ukrainian troops broadcast a message saying:

Is Russian Orthodoxy dying in Ukraine?

Ivano-Frankivsk has just become the first city in Ukraine to have no Russian Orthodox Church, amid a mass defection of churches away from the Moscow patriarchate and towards the breakaway Orthodox Church of Ukraine.  At the start of the invasion in February, almost two-thirds of Orthodox churches were still formally aligned with the Russian Orthodox Church whose leader – Patriarch Kirill – is a close ally of Putin. Until recently, the Russian Orthodox Church claimed dominion over Ukraine for centuries. The 2014 invasion of Crimea dampened its appeal. In 2019 a new Orthodox Church of Ukraine was recognised by Patriarch Bartholomew – the archbishop of Constantinople and the de facto leader

Putin is no Peter the Great

Putin has a penchant for history, but only insofar it flatters him and his views. Last year, he gifted the world a 5,000 essay that essentially pre-justified his invasion of Ukraine with amateurish fantasy history, and now he is comparing himself with Tsar Peter the Great. It is not a comparison that fits or flatters. Peter the Great is one of the, well, greats of the Russian historical pantheon. He ruled from the late 17th to the early 18th century, and in that time became the first tsar to travel in Europe, built a new capital at St Petersburg, and was both founder of the Russian navy and victor, on

‘Famine is part of Russia’s strategy’: Zelensky’s economic adviser on Putin’s tactics

Alexander Rodnyansky has a desk waiting for him back at Cambridge, where he’s currently on sabbatical from his role as a junior economics professor. But he won’t be returning for some time. He’s working from Kyiv, prioritising his other job: as economic adviser to Volodymyr Zelensky. Rodnyansky was in Ukraine when the war broke out and he could easily have returned to the UK. ‘That wasn’t really much of a thought,’ he says. ‘I’m sixth-generation Kyiv. I was just going to stay.’ He became a full-time presidential adviser two years ago, hired to help reform Ukraine’s financial institutions, including the privatisation of state-owned commercial banks. ‘About 55 per cent of

The West is watching the war in Ukraine like it’s sport

Every time I hear a politician speak of Munich, I suspect that something is amiss. Last week, President Zelensky accused former US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger of living in the ‘deep past’, and demanding that ‘a part of Ukraine be given to Russia’. ‘It seems that Mr. Kissinger has 1938 on the calendar instead of 2022’, Zelensky said. He wasn’t alone: figures from the Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte to the former chess champion Garry Kasparov put themselves on the record timidly or violently disagreeing with Kissinger. I wasn’t at Davos, but I learned of Kissinger’s revelations through Twitter. A major newspaper had declared that he ‘came close to

Could Putin be toppled? An interview with Richard Dearlove

‘One of the things about being in Moscow as the guest of the Russian government,’ says Richard Dearlove, the former head of MI6, ‘is this real attempt to make you feel like an outsider.’ It comes, he says, ‘from a fundamental Russian suspicion of foreigners’: ‘The Kremlin is designed to intimidate you. It’s designed to make you feel as if you are at the centre of a great empire.’ Dearlove joined the Secret Intelligence Service in 1966, and though spies are always a little cagey about their past, it seems he served as an intelligence officer behind the Iron Curtain. After a stint as head of station in Washington, in

Putin is repeating Emperor Vitellius’s mistakes

Given Putin’s less than triumphant operation in Chechnya, where the Russian army suffered catastrophic losses, it is hardly surprising that his control of the ‘special operation’ in Ukraine does not seem to be a howling success. His inability to deal with the situation there bears a striking resemblance to that of the short-lived Roman emperor Vitellius. After the chaos that followed Nero’s suicide in ad 68, the year 69 is known as ‘the year of the four emperors’. Vitellius was the third to try for the throne, before falling to the ultimately successful pro-Vespasian forces. The Roman historian Tacitus was scathing about his military abilities. Vitellius in fact had some

Sanction Gerhard Schröder

From the start of the war in Ukraine, the democratic world has shown striking unity in the economic boycott of Russia. But sanctions are always a blunt instrument: aimed at the regime, they end up harming the whole population. Ordinary Russians, too, are victims of Vladimir Putin’s corruption and misrule. Far better to target the Kremlin and those close to it. The system of targeted sanctions on named individuals is one way of doing this. Action has now been taken against 1,086 people, with assets suspended and travel bans imposed. To go after the rich and powerful is always a test for democracies, especially if such people are generous in

Why Russian literature shouldn’t be cancelled

Vladimir Putin makes no secret of his love for Russian culture, and Russian literature in particular – a body of work whose achievements, Dostoyevsky once claimed, justifies the existence of the entire Russian people. But if that same oeuvre now inspires a man instigating unprovoked war, doesn’t that raise urgent questions about its contemporary validity? For some, these concerns are best expressed via cancellation. In Wales, the Cardiff Philharmonic recently pulled the plug on performances of Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture, Marche Slave and Second Symphony, the ‘Little Russian’ (an old and patronising name for Ukraine). In Ireland, Trinity and University College orchestras have excised all Russian music from their repertoire, while

Putin’s emperor complex

Did Vladimir Putin ever use his infamous ‘historical’ account of Russia-Ukraine relations to consider how Ukrainians might react to his decision to attack them? Clearly not. The Roman historian Tacitus (d. c. ad 120) knew better what history was for. Tacitus acknowledged that Rome under the tyranny of the emperors had become corrupted. As a result, it had lost that moral compass evident in its early history. Discussing the tribes of Germany, for example, he commented on the laudable strictness of their marriage laws (one man, one wife) and a life free of vice: ‘No one thinks vice funny, no one calls corrupting or being corrupted “modern life”.’ The implied

Read: Vladimir Putin’s victory day speech in full

The following is The Spectator’s translation of Putin’s speech for victory day 2022. Most respected citizens of Russia, dear veterans, comrade soldiers and sailors, sergeants and petty officers, midshipmen and ensigns, comrade officers, generals and admirals: I wish you all a happy great victory day! The defense of our homeland – when its fate hung in the balance – has always been sacred. With such feelings of genuine patriotism, Minin and Pozharsky’s People’s Militia rose up for the motherland, advanced to attack on the field of Borodin, fought the enemy on the outskirts of Moscow and Leningrad, Kyiv and Minsk, Stalingrad and Kursk, Sebastopol and Kharkov. Just as in those

What makes a ‘just’ war?

What is a just war? Those who, from St Augustine onwards, have debated the question usually begin with Cicero, the Roman philosopher and statesman, who first attempted a definition in 44 bc. Cicero’s general understanding of the nature of justice, which was a central duty of those in power, went as follows: ‘Justice instructs us to spare all men, to consider the interests of the whole human race, to give everyone his due, and not to touch property which belongs to others.’ The foundation of justice was good faith, i.e. ‘truth and fidelity to promises and agreements’. There should be ‘a limit to retribution and punishment for wrongdoing’: much better

Ukraine, the Roman army and why morale matters

Commentators talk much about the morale of the Ukrainian troops and the edge that this has given them over the Russians, even in a technology-dominated conflict. Ancient warfare was a matter of hand-to-hand fighting, where morale is absolutely crucial – ‘defeat in battle always starts with the eyes’, said Tacitus – and the imperial Roman army offers a masterclass in how to generate it. That army was, uniquely, professional. The soldiers’ physical fitness, kit, mastery of weapons and technical training in battle tactics were second to none. Their loyalty to the group was reinforced by the closely knit units of eight in which they lived, ate and slept, training and

How Putin weaponised the Russian Orthodox church

In the week before Orthodox Lent began, some 233 Russian Orthodox priests published a petition calling for peace. The signatories spoke of the ‘fratricidal war in Ukraine’, with a call for an immediate ceasefire, and deplored ‘the trial that our brothers and sisters in Ukraine were undeservedly subjected to’. Anyone who knows how authority is exercised in the Russian Orthodox church, and how closely it has allied itself with Putin’s authoritarian state, will recognise the clerics’ courage. But what effect is it likely to have on the attitude of the highest authorities in the church? To answer these questions, we need to understand not only the centuries-old link between political

Bitter harvest – how Ukraine’s wheat has always been coveted

Publishers love books with ambitious subtitles such as ‘How Bubblegum Made the Modern World’, and this one’s, about American wheat remaking the world, was no doubt devised to appeal to readers in the United States. It is not really appropriate: for ‘American’, read ‘Ukrainian’. The focal point of Oceans of Grain lies very far from the vast wheat fields of North America. This is mainly a book about Ukraine and the Black Sea, and the importance of Ukrainian grain in world history. Its appearance during the current war is extraordinarily timely. Scott Reynolds Nelson insists that grain supplies have lain at the heart of millennia of conflict. He describes the

Why so many African leaders support Putin

The Russian atrocities against civilians in Ukraine have been met with silence from Dar es Salaam, Harare and Juba. Not a word from Addis Ababa, Maputo or Khartoum. On Russia’s invasion of Ukraine the Ugandan President’s son, lieutenant general Muhoozi Kainerugaba, is clear: ‘Putin is absolutely right!’ Nearly half of Africa’s 54 nations refused to vote against Russia at the United Nations last month. Not only African governments but multitudes of Africans, even in countries that opposed Russia, such as Kenya, enthusiastically support Vladimir Putin. And the curious thing is that it’s the very countries that have historically received the most western aid that seem most in favour of him.

Putin is devouring his children

Like the Greek titan Cronos devouring his own children, Vladimir Putin seems determined to turn against those he was once closest to – out of fear, anger and hubris. In the process, he is only further weakening his regime. The former deputy head of the infamous Federal Security Service (FSB), colonel general Sergei Beseda, has been moved from house arrest to the investigations wing of the equally infamous Lefortovo prison. Designed to break inmates’ wills, guards escorting prisoners through its corridors use clickers to announce their presence. This allows other prisoners to be placed face to the wall in niches along the way so that they don’t get to see

The three stumbling blocks to a Ukraine peace deal

A month in, and the war in Ukraine looks very different to how anyone expected. On the first day of the invasion, western intelligence sources believed that Kyiv would fall to Russian forces within 72 hours, underestimating the Ukrainians’ ability to defend their territory and overestimating the Russian military’s capabilities. Among Vladimir Putin’s many errors was his underestimation of western unity. He did not predict the severity of the sanctions against Russia or that his act of aggression would snap Europe (most notably Germany) out of its complacency over defence spending. In some ways, Putin, by going for a full-on invasion, made it easier for the West to adopt a

Patriarch Kirill, Archbishop Ambrose and a lesson for Putin

Patriarch Kirill is Patriarch of Moscow and all Rus’ and Primate of the Russian Orthodox Church; and one of his flock is that committed Orthodox Christian Vladimir Putin. Kirill applauds Putin’s genocidal assault on Ukraine. Has he never heard of Archbishop Ambrose of Milan and his dealings with the Christian Roman emperor Theodosius? It all began in ad 390, in the important Greek city of Thessalonica, when Butheric, the commanding general of the Roman field army and a friend of Theodosius, imprisoned a popular chariot-racer. The mob, determined to see him racing at the next games, demanded his release. Butheric refused. A major riot ensued, and since much of the

Inside Putin’s mind: the lessons of Chechnya

As far as Vladimir Putin is concerned, ‘we are nobody, while he who chance has enabled to clamber to the top of the pile is today Tsar and God’. So said Anna Politkovskaya, the eminent Russian journalist, in her book Putin’s Russia. She continued: ‘In Russia we have had leaders with this outlook before. It led to tragedy, to bloodshed on a huge scale, to civil wars. I want no more of that.’ She wrote those prophetic words almost two decades ago. A reporter for the Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta, Politkovskaya came to prominence during the second Chechen war. Her accounts of that conflict, which officially lasted from 1999 to