Nuclear War Is a Greater Threat to Humanity Than Is Climate Change

(p. A19) Weeks before thermobaric rockets rained down on Ukraine, the chattering classes at the World Economic Forum declared “climate action failure” the biggest global risk for the coming decade. On the eve of war, U.S. climate envoy John Kerry fretted about the “massive emissions consequences” of Russian invasion and worried that the world might forget about the risks of climate change if fighting broke out. Amid the conflict and the many other challenges facing the globe right now, like inflation and food price hikes, the global elite has an unhealthy obsession with climate change.

This fixation has had three important consequences. First, it has distracted the Western world from real geopolitical threats. Russia’s invasion should be a wake-up call that war is still a serious danger that requires democratic nations’ attention. But a month into the war in Ukraine, United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres—whose organization’s main purpose is ensuring world peace—was focused instead on “climate catastrophe,” warning that fossil-fuel addiction will bring “mutually assured destruction.” His comments come at a time when nuclear weapons are posing the biggest risk of literal mutually assured destruction in half a century.

Second, the narrow focus on immediate climate objectives undermines future prosperity.

. . .

Third, in the world’s poorest countries, the international community’s focus on putting up solar panels coexists with a woeful underinvestment in solutions to massive existing problems.

For the full commentary, see:

Bjorn Lomborg. “Be Afraid of Nuclear War, Not Climate Change.” The Wall Street Journal (Wednesday, March 30, 2022): A19.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date March 29, 2022, and has the same title as the print version.)

Ethnic Russians in Ukraine Identify as Ukrainians, Instead of as Russians (They Choose Freedom and Prosperity)

(p. A8) LSTANYTSIA LUHANSKA, Ukraine—The Russian-controlled areas of Ukraine’s Luhansk and Donetsk regions were once the engines of the country’s economy and dominated its politics.

They produced its richest man, billionaire industrialist Rinat Akhmetov, as well as former President Viktor Yanukovych, ousted by the street protests that triggered the Russian invasion in 2014.

Since then, however, the two areas—now nominally independent “people’s republics” inside the larger regions of Luhansk and Donetsk—have turned into impoverished, depopulated enclaves that increasingly rely on Russian subsidies to survive. As much as half the prewar population of 3.8 million has left, for the rest of Ukraine, more prosperous Russia or Europe. Those who remain are disproportionately retirees, members of the security services and people simply too poor to move. Current economic output has shrunk to roughly 30% of the level before the Russian invasion, economists estimate.

As Russian President Vladimir Putin is massing more than 100,000 troops for a possible broader invasion of Ukraine, the developments in Donetsk and Luhansk show what many fear could happen to the rest of the country if he were to carry that out. The dismal record of Russian rule is one reason so many Ukrainian citizens, including Russian-speakers, are ready to take up arms so that their hometowns won’t meet the same fate.

. . .

Isolyatsiya used to be a popular contemporary art space in Donetsk, hosting exhibitions and performances at a Soviet-era insulation materials factory. When Russian-backed militants took it over in 2014, saying the space was needed to store Russian humanitarian aid, they allowed staff to rescue a collection of Soviet-period social-realist paintings but smashed the contemporary art pieces, melting some of the statues and installations for scrap metal.

. . .

Weeks later, Isolyatsiya’s compound turned into a detention facility operated by the Donetsk republic’s ministry of state security. One of the hundreds of prisoners there was Ukrainian novelist and journalist Stanislav Aseev, who was detained in 2017 after local security officials discovered he was contributing under a pen name to Ukrainian news outlets. Mr. Aseev, who says he was repeatedly tortured with electric shock, was freed in December 2019 as part of a prisoner exchange and now lives near Kyiv.

“They’ve managed to rebuild a Soviet system in the occupied territories—and not the Soviet system of the 1960s and 1970s, but a Soviet system of the 1930s and 1940s, with dungeons, with torture chambers, a system where lives are ruined if you dare to write or say something negative about these republics and their authorities,” Mr. Aseev said.

. . .

Unlike in the wars of the former Yugoslavia, where religion and ethnicity created a permanent identity marker, here whether to consider oneself Ukrainian or Russian is a matter of choice and ideology rather than blood.

. . .

At the Slovyansk local museum, a room is dedicated to the 84 days when the town remained under the control of Russian militias in 2014. Exhibits include rocket-propelled grenades, artillery fragments and ballots of the referendum on independence from Ukraine that pro-Russian forces carried out at the time. Some 100 local residents died in Slovyansk, and more than 2,000 buildings were destroyed or damaged in the fighting. A suburb along the main highway still stands in ruins.

“It’s a big stress. Everyone is afraid, God forbid, that it will happen again,” said one of the museum’s curators, Oleksandr Gayevoy, who lived through the fighting in 2014. “People now prefer not to talk too much, because who knows who will come here next.”

Mr. Gayevoy added that one of his brothers, who remained in the Russian-controlled town of Yenakiyevo, former President Yanukovych’s hometown, was an ardent supporter of the Russian-installed regime there but has since changed his views.

“There used to be a lot of enthusiasm for the Donetsk people’s republic in the beginning, everyone chanted DPR, DPR, DPR! Now, there’s just a lot of disappointment,” said Mr. Gayevoy, who last visited the Russian-held areas in 2019. “My brother now tells me that they are ruled by cretins. The economy there has crumbled, the jobs are gone. There’s nothing good over there.”

For the full story, see:

Yaroslav Trofimov. “Dismal Life in Russian-Occupied Ukraine.” The Wall Street Journal (Saturday, February 5, 2022): A8.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date February 4, 2022, and has the title “Dismal Russian Record in Occupied Eastern Ukraine Serves as Warning.”)

“The Russian State’s Ever-Wider Crackdown on Dissent”

(p. A4) VYAZY, Russia — When the spooks started following him again, Ivan Pavlov felt at ease.

“That’s our profession,” the lawyer famed for taking on Russian spies wrote on Facebook.

Two days later came an early morning knock on his Moscow hotel room door, and Mr. Pavlov realized he should have been more worried.

For a quarter-century, Mr. Pavlov defended scientists, journalists and others swept into the maw of what he calls Russia’s “leviathan” — the security state descended from the Soviet K.G.B. Crusading against state secrecy, Mr. Pavlov turned his legal battles into spectacles. Appealing to public opinion, he sometimes helped his clients avert the worst.

Now the leviathan threatens to swallow Mr. Pavlov. In April [2021] he took on one of his most explosive cases yet: the accusation of extremism against the organizations led by the jailed opposition leader, Aleksei A. Navalny. Within days, Mr. Pavlov was arrested. Now, he himself has become a symbol of the Russian state’s ever-wider crackdown on dissent.

It was one thing to defend clients from the arbitrary power of the state; it has been quite another, Mr. Pavlov has discovered, to feel it deployed against himself. The story of Mr. Pavlov — one of Russia’s best-known lawyers and freedom of information activists — is a story of how quickly modern Russia has changed.

For the full story, see:

Anton Troianovski. “Shielding Others, and Now Defending Himself, From the Russian State.” The New York Times (Saturday, June 5, 2021): A4.

(Note: bracketed year added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date June 4, 2021, and has the title “‘My Conscience Is Clean. And Yet They Came for Me’.”)

Leading American Scientists Endorsed False Soviet Denial of Anthrax Lab Leak

(p. A4) YEKATERINBURG, Russia — Patients with unexplained pneumonias started showing up at hospitals; within days, dozens were dead. The secret police seized doctors’ records and ordered them to keep silent. American spies picked up clues about a lab leak, but the local authorities had a more mundane explanation: contaminated meat.

It took more than a decade for the truth to come out.

In April and May 1979, at least 66 people died after airborne anthrax bacteria emerged from a military lab in the Soviet Union. But leading American scientists voiced confidence in the Soviets’ claim that the pathogen had jumped from animals to humans. Only after a full-fledged investigation in the 1990s did one of those scientists confirm the earlier suspicions: The accident in what is now the Russian Urals city of Yekaterinburg was a lab leak, one of the deadliest ever documented.

Nowadays, some of the victims’ graves appear abandoned, their names worn off their metal plates in the back of a cemetery on the outskirts of town, where they were buried in coffins with an agricultural disinfectant. But the story of the accident that took their lives, and the cover-up that hid it, has renewed relevance as scientists search for the origins of Covid-19.

It shows how an authoritarian government can successfully shape the narrative of a disease outbreak and how it can take years — and, perhaps, regime change — to get to the truth.

“Wild rumors do spread around every epidemic,” Joshua Lederberg, the Nobel-winning American biologist, wrote in a memo after a fact-finding trip to Moscow in 1986. “The current Soviet account is very likely to be true.”

Many scientists believe that the virus that caused the Covid-19 pandemic evolved in animals and jumped at some point to humans. But scientists are also calling for deeper investigation of the possibility of an accident at the Wuhan Institute of Virology.

There is also widespread concern that the Chinese government — which, like the Soviet government decades before it, dismisses the possibility of a lab leak — is not providing international investigators with access and data that could shed light on the pandemic’s origins. Continue reading “Leading American Scientists Endorsed False Soviet Denial of Anthrax Lab Leak”

Communist Dictatorship Was Not Inevitable in Russia in 1917

(p. 14) A professor at Bard College, McMeekin argues that one of the seminal events of modern history was largely a matter of chance. Well-written, with new details from archival research used for vivid descriptions of key events, “The Russian Revolution” comes nearly three decades after Richard Pipes’s masterpiece of the same name.

. . .

Far from the hopeless backwater depicted in most histories, McMeekin argues, Russia’s economy was surging before the war, with a growth rate of 10 percent a year — like China in the early 21st century. “The salient fact about Russia in 1917,” he writes, “is that it was a country at war,” yet he adds that the Russian military acquitted itself well on the battlefield after terrible setbacks in 1915, with morale high in early 1917. “Knowing how the story of the czars turns out, many historians have suggested that the Russian colossus must always have had feet of clay,” he writes. “But surely this is hindsight. Despite growing pains, uneven economic development and stirrings of revolutionary fervor, imperial Russia in 1900 was a going concern, its very size and power a source of pride to most if not all of the czar’s subjects.”

Nicholas II — rightly characterized as an incompetent reactionary in most histories — is partly rehabilitated here. His fundamental mistake, McMeekin says, was to trust his liberal advisers, who urged him to go to war, then conspired to remove him from power after protests over bread rations led to a military mutiny. Even the royal family’s trusted faith healer Rasputin, the ogre of conventional wisdom, largely gets a pass for sagely advising the czar that war would prompt his downfall.

Although McMeekin agrees the real villains are the ruthless Bolsheviks, he reserves most criticism for the hapless liberals.

. . .

Having taken power, the Bolsheviks turned on the unwitting soldiers and peasants who were among their most fervent supporters, unleashing a violent terror campaign that appropriated land and grain, and that turned into a permanent class war targeting ever-larger categories of “enemies of the people.” Unconcerned about Russia’s ultimate fate, they were pursuing their greater goal of world revolution.

For the full review, see:

Gregory Feifer. “The Best-Laid Plans.” The New York Times Book Review (Sunday, June 11, 2017): 14-15.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date June 6, 2017, and has the title “A New History Recalibrates the Villains of the Russian Revolution.”)

The book under review is:

McMeekin, Sean. The Russian Revolution: A New History. New York: Basic Books, 2017.

Lenin, Not Stalin, Started “Severe Censorship” and “Terror Against Political Enemies”

(p. 15) With all the inevitable attention on the Bolshevik takeover in October 1917, when Lenin and Leon Trotsky seized power from the ill-fated provisional government, the extraordinary events of February and March should not be forgotten. It was then that unexpected riots over lack of food and fuel by thousands of people in the imperial capital of Petrograd and the ensuing mutiny by garrison troops compelled Czar Nicholas II to abdicate, ending 300 years of Romanov rule and handing political authority to a group of high-minded liberal figures. “Russia became the freest country in the world,” Merridale writes, “as the new government granted an amnesty for political prisoners, abolished the death penalty and dissolved what was left of the detested secret police.” (It also abolished the infamous Pale of Settlement, which had required the czar’s Jewish subjects to live within a defined area of the country; they were now made equal before the law.)

The provisional government inherited power from a discredited autocracy that had resisted any sensible move to establish a constitutional monarchy. Leaders like Alexander Kerensky, Paul Miliukov and Georgy Lvov tried in vain to establish a stable government and withstand the appeal of extreme forces. But the Romanov collapse was so sudden and so thorough that it left no credible institutions capable of governing effectively, let alone in the midst of widespread social turmoil, an imploding economy and the devastations of World War I.

. . .

. . . it was Lenin himself who made it clear that the Bolsheviks would reject democratic values. He “had not traveled back to join a coalition,” Merridale writes, but to undermine the provisional government and establish a dictatorship in the name of the proletariat. It was Lenin who instituted severe censorship, established one-party rule and resorted to terror against his political enemies. Stalin took these measures to further extremes for his own sinister purposes. Merridale is right to recall Winston Churchill’s famous observation about Lenin’s return. The Germans, Churchill wrote, “turned upon Russia the most grisly of all weapons. They transported Lenin in a sealed truck like a plague bacillus from Switzerland to Russia.”

For the full review, see:

Joshua Rubenstein. “Fast-Tracking the Revolution.” The New York Times Book Review (Sunday, June 11, 2017): 15.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date June 9, 2017, and has the title “Lenin’s Return From Exile Put Russia on the Fast Track to Revolution.”)

The book under review is:

Merridale, Catherine. Lenin on the Train. New York: Metropolitan Books, 2017.

Russia Approves Covid-19 Vaccine Before Completing Phase 3 Clinical Trial

(p. A6) MOSCOW — Russia has become the first country in the world to approve a vaccine for the coronavirus, President Vladimir V. Putin announced on Tuesday, though global health authorities say the vaccine has yet to complete critical, late-stage clinical trials to determine its safety and effectiveness.

Mr. Putin, who told a cabinet meeting on Tuesday [Aug. 11, 2020] morning that the vaccine “works effectively enough,” said that his own daughter had taken it. And in a congratulatory note to the nation, he thanked the scientists who developed the vaccine for “this first, very important step for our country, and generally for the whole world.”

. . .

If Russian scientists have taken an unorthodox route to the coronavirus vaccine, it would not be the first time. Back in the 1950s, a team of researchers tested a promising, and ultimately successful, polio vaccine on their own children.

For the full story, see:

Andrew E. Kramer. “Putin Says Russia Is First to Approve Vaccine, but Skepticism Abounds.” The New York Times (Wednesday, August 12, 2020): A6.

(Note: ellipsis, and bracketed date, added.)

(Note: the online version of the story was updated Aug. 11, 2020, and has the title “Russia Approves Coronavirus Vaccine Before Completing Tests.”)

”There Was a Great Marxist Called Lenin”

(p. C11) Robert Conquest (1917-2015) was what used to be called a Renaissance man. He was so good at everything he did—soldier, diplomat, historian and poet—that I wouldn’t be surprised to learn he also left behind a few sonatas and paintings in oil. His histories of the Soviet Union’s failures and atrocities include “The Great Terror” (1968) and “The Harvest of Sorrow” (1986), meticulously researched and humane investigations of a criminal state, surely among the major historical achievements of the 20th century. His television documentary series, “Red Empire” (1990), distills this work and makes grimly compelling viewing.

But Conquest first came to readers’ attention as a poet of sophistication and grace, . . .

. . .

”There was a great Marxist called Lenin,
Who did two or three million men in;
That’s a lot to have done in
But where he did one in
That grand Marxist Stalin did ten in.”

For the full review, see:

David Mason. “The Impervious Dream.” The Wall Street Journal (Saturday, Aug. 22, 2020): C11.

(Note: ellipses added; the limerick in quotation marks is by Robert Conquest.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date Aug. 21, 2020, and has the title “‘Robert Conquest: Collected Poems’ Review: The Impervious Dream.”)

The book under review is:

Conquest, Robert. Collected Poems. New York: The Waywiser Press, 2020.

“She Is Very Brave and Dedicated”

(p. A10) MOSCOW — Maria Kolesnikova, a prominent opposition leader in Belarus who vanished on Monday [Sept. 7, 2020] in what her supporters said was a kidnapping by security agents, reappeared overnight at her country’s southern border with Ukraine.

But an elaborate operation aimed at forcing her to leave Belarus came unstuck, according to opposition activists who were at the border with Ms. Kolesnikova when she destroyed her passport to make it impossible for Ukraine to admit her.

At a news conference in Kyiv, the capital of Ukraine, on Tuesday evening, two Belarusian activists, Anton Rodnenkov and Ivan Kravtsov, told how they had been seized in Minsk, the capital of Belarus, on Monday and taken to the border with Ukraine, along with Ms. Kolesnikova, by masked security agents who warned that if they did not leave the country they would be jailed indefinitely.

After passing through a Belarusian border checkpoint, they said, Ms. Kolesnikova grabbed her passport and started shouting that she was not going anywhere. She tore the passport into small pieces and threw them out of the window.

Mr. Rodnenkov and Mr. Kravtsov continued onto Ukraine without her. “She climbed out of the car and started walking back toward the Belarus border,” Mr. Kravtsov said. “She is very brave and dedicated to what she is doing.”

. . .

President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia, who has never warmed to Mr. Lukashenko but still sees him as an important bulwark against the West, announced at the end of August that he had formed a reserve force of Russian security officers to assist Belarus if “the situation gets out of control.”

In another sign of close collaboration between the two countries, Belarus announced on Tuesday that it would hold military exercises later this week with troops from Russia and Serbia. The exercises, called Slavic Brotherhood 2020, underscore an important propaganda point for Mr. Lukashenko, suggesting that he is not alone in his struggle for political survival but a sentinel for broader Slavic interests against the West.

For the full story, see:

Andrew Higgins. “Opposition Leader in Belarus Avoids Expulsion, Dramatically.” The New York Times (Wednesday, September 9, 2020): A10.

(Note: ellipsis, and bracketed date, added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Sept. 8, 2020, and has the title “Opposition Leader in Belarus Averts Expulsion by Tearing Up Passport.”)

When Khrushchev Voted With His Feet for Freedom

(p. A23) Sergei N. Khrushchev, a former Soviet rocket scientist and the son of Nikita S. Khrushchev, the Soviet leader during the Cold War of the 1950s and ’60s, died on June 18 [2020] at his home in Cranston, R.I.

. . .

“I’m not a defector,” Sergei Khrushchev told The Providence Journal in 2001. “I’m not a traitor. I did not commit any treason. I work here and I like this country.”

Still, he said, he felt that becoming an American citizen had given him a new lease on life. “I’m feeling like a newborn,” he told The A.P. “It’s the beginning of a new life.”

. . .

Americans had a close-up look at the Soviet leader and his family in 1959, when he visited the United States at the invitation of President Dwight D. Eisenhower.

. . .

Sergei Khrushchev said years later, in the interview with The Providence Journal, that during that trip his family felt as if they had landed on Mars, seeing things they had never imagined. “It was palms, cars, highways, everything,” he said. He took home movies of it all, including Times Square.

They were especially baffled by the concept of Disneyland, then four years old but already a top attraction in Southern California. When told that his family would not be allowed to visit the park out of concerns for their safety, the premier exploded in anger: “What is it? Is there an epidemic of cholera there or something? Or have gangsters taken hold of the place?”

For the full obituary, see:

Katharine Q. Seelye. “Sergei N. Khrushchev, 84, Rocket Scientist and the Son of a Former Soviet Premier.” The New York Times (Thursday, June 25, 2020): A23.

(Note: ellipses, and bracketed date, added.)

(Note: the online version of the obituary has the date June 24, 2020, and the title “Sergei Khrushchev, Son of Former Soviet Premier, Dies at 84.”)

Low Quality Parts from Corrupt Contractors Endanger Russian Sailors in Deep-Diving Subs

(p. A22) OFF THE COAST OF NORWAY — There could hardly have been a more terrifying place to fight a fire than in the belly of the Losharik, a mysterious deep-diving Russian submarine.

. . .

A fire on any submarine may be a mariner’s worst nightmare, but a fire on the Losharik was a threat of another order altogether. The vessel is able to dive far deeper than almost any other sub, but the feats of engineering that allow it do so may have helped seal the fate of the 14 sailors killed in the disaster.

. . .

(p. A23) As for the accident itself, few expressed surprise that a jewel of the Russian submarine fleet might catch fire not very far from its home base — probably in water no more than 1,000 feet deep — leaving most of its crew dead. The Russians, some experts said, seem to have a greater tolerance for risk than the West.

. . .

Mr. Lobner, the former American submarine officer, said “we have nothing except unmanned vehicles” operating at such depths.

Still, while some see an engineering marvel, others see evidence that Russia may be unable to build the kind of sophisticated, autonomous underwater drones the United States appears to rely on.

“They would rather adapt existing systems, modernize them, and try to muddle through,” Mr. Boulègue said. “So, no wonder these things keep exploding,” he said. Mr. Boulègue believes accidents have been far more common than publicly known.

John Pike, director of the think tank GlobalSecurity.org, said the Losharik fire suggested that the Russian military was still contending with some longstanding issues: corrupt contractors, and problems with quality control in manufacturing, spare parts supply chains and maintenance.

“I assume that every other sub in the Russian fleet has similar problems,” Mr. Pike said. “I just think the whole thing is held together with a lot of baling wire and spit.”

For the full story, see:

James Glanz and Thomas Nilsen. “A Deep-Diving Sub, a Deadly Fire And Russia’s Secret Undersea Agenda.” The New York Times (Tuesday, April 21, 2020): A22-A23.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story was updated April 21, 2020, and has the title “A Deep-Diving Sub. A Deadly Fire. And Russia’s Secret Undersea Agenda.”)