Improvisational Ingenuity of Ukrainians “In Stark Contrast to the Slow, Plodding, Doctrinal” Russian Invaders

(p. A1) From the sinking of the Moskva, Russia’s Black Sea flagship, in April [2022] to the attack on a Russian air base in Crimea this month, Ukrainian troops have used American and other weapons in ways few expected, the experts and Defense Department officials say.

By mounting missiles onto trucks, for instance, Ukrainian forces have moved them more quickly into firing range. By putting rocket systems on speedboats, they have increased their naval warfare ability. And to the astonishment of weapons experts, Ukraine has continued to destroy Russian targets with slow-moving Turkish-made Bayraktar attack drones and inexpensive, plastic aircraft modified to drop grenades and other munitions.

“People are using the MacGyver metaphor,” said Frederick B. Hodges, a former top U.S. Army commander in Europe, in a reference to the 1980s TV show in which the title character uses simple, improvised contraptions to get himself out of sticky situations.

. . .

(p. A10) . . ., the engineering ingenuity of the Ukrainians lies in stark contrast to the slow, plodding, doctrinal nature of the Russian advance.

In the attack on the Moskva, for example, the Ukrainians developed their own anti-ship missile, called the Neptune, which they based on the design of an old Soviet anti-ship missile, but with substantially improved range and electronics. They appear to have mounted the Neptune missiles onto one or more trucks, according to one senior American official, and moved them within range of the ship, which was around 75 miles from Odesa. The striking of the Moskva was, in essence, the Neptune’s proof of concept; it was the first time the new Ukrainian weapon was used in an actual war, and it took down Russia’s flagship in the Black Sea.

“With the Moskva, they MacGyvered a very effective anti-ship system that they put on the back of a truck to make it mobile and move it around,” General Hodges, who is now a senior adviser at Human Rights First, said in an interview.

. . .

A senior Pentagon official said Ukrainian forces had put American-supplied HARM anti-radiation missiles on Soviet-designed MiG-29 fighter jets — something that no air force had ever done. The American HARM missile, designed to seek and destroy Russian air defense radar, is not usually compatible with the MiG-29 or the other fighter jets in Ukraine’s arsenal.

Ukraine managed to rejigger targeting sensors to allow pilots to fire the American missile from their Soviet-era aircraft. “They have actually successfully integrated it,” the senior official told reporters during a Pentagon briefing. He spoke on the condition of anonymity per Biden administration rules.

. . .

. . . Ukraine conducted the first of the recent strikes in Crimea — a series of blasts at the Saki military airfield on Aug. 9 [2022] — without notifying American and other Western allies in advance, officials said.

“It’s all homegrown,” the official said, . . .

For the full story, see:

Helene Cooper and Eric Schmitt. “Ukraine Forces ‘MacGyvering’ Their Arsenal.” The New York Times (Monday, August 29, 2022): A1 & A10.

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

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Aug. 28, 2022, and has the title “The ‘MacGyvered’ Weapons in Ukraine’s Arsenal.”)

Voice of America Taught, by Example, “The Norms and Practices of Western Discourse”

(p. A15) Mention the Voice of America or Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty to most Americans, and they will give you a blank look.

. . .

. . . it amuses Mark Pomar, an American scholar of Russia who between 1982 and 1986 was assistant director of Radio Liberty (the Russian service of RFE/RL) and director of VOA’s U.S.S.R. division.

In the preface to “Cold War Radio,” his insightful, absorbing account of the remarkable work of these services, Mr. Pomar recalls an incident from 1984, when he traveled to Cavendish, Vt., to interview the exiled author Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn. Checking into his hotel, Mr. Pomar announced that he was from Voice of America, and the clerk asked if that was “a national singing group.”

Today it seems obvious that VOA would interview Solzhenitsyn. Yet in 1984 VOA was still keeping its distance from the famous dissident, because many in the American foreign policy establishment were still committed to détente, the policy that regarded open criticism of the Soviet leadership as a barrier to nuclear-arms control.

To President Ronald Reagan, détente was “a one-way street that the Soviet Union has used to achieve its own aims.” So in that spirit, Mr. Pomar spent three days recording 20 hours of Solzhenitsyn reading from “August 1914,” the first in a cycle of novels about the travails of modern Russia. Despite being nine parts polemic to one part literature, the edited on-air reading was a success, and Solzhenitsyn joined the list of distinguished émigrés whose bonds with Russia, ruptured by repression, were partially mended by America’s “Cold War radios.”

. . .

These people had all been erased (we would say “canceled”) by the regime, so their commentary was implicitly political. But the radios also held explicitly political debates on extremely divisive topics. And no matter how heated these exchanges, the hosts insisted on maintaining “the norms and practices of Western discourse.” Mr. Pomar reminds us (lest we forget) that these norms and practices, so crucial to democracy, were an essential part of the message.

For the full review, see:

Martha Bayles. “BOOKSHELF; Listen and You Shall Hear.” The Wall Street Journal (Monday, October 24, 2022): A15.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date October 23, 2022, and has the title “BOOKSHELF; ‘Cold War Radio’ Review: Listen and You Shall Hear.”)

The book under review is:

Pomar, Mark G. Cold War Radio: The Russian Broadcasts of the Voice of America and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. Lincoln, NE: Potomac Books, 2022.

Musk’s Private Starlink Infrastructure “Played a Crucial Role” in Saving Ukraine

(p. A6) KYIV, Ukraine—Elon Musk backtracked on his complaints over the cost of funding Starlink internet terminals in Ukraine and said his company would continue to pay for them, as explosions rocked the Russian-held city of Donetsk in eastern Ukraine on Sunday [Oct. 16, 2022].

Mr. Musk, the billionaire chief executive of SpaceX and Tesla, pledged to continue funding the Starlink service for Ukraine just a day after he said SpaceX couldn’t finance the service indefinitely on its own.

“The hell with it,” Mr. Musk tweeted on Saturday. “Even though Starlink is still losing money & other companies are getting billions of taxpayer $, we’ll just keep funding Ukraine govt for free.”

The 20,000 Starlink terminals estimated to be in operation across Ukraine have played a crucial role in maintaining the country’s communications during the war and are deployed at hundreds of Ukrainian military outposts where they allow commanders to call in artillery strikes or coordinate operations in areas where cell service is jammed by Russia.

For the full story, see:

Matthew Luxmoore. “Musk Says SpaceX to Cover Starlink Costs in Ukraine.” The Wall Street Journal (Monday, Oct. 17, 2022): A6.

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

(Note: the online version of the story was updated Oct. 16, 2022, and has the title “Elon Musk Says SpaceX Will Continue to Cover Starlink Costs in Ukraine.”)

Communists in Latvia: “Not Liberation, but Occupation”

(p. A8) REZEKNE, Latvia — Deported to Siberia by the Soviet secret police as a child and stranded there for more than a decade, Dr. Juris Vidins has for years cursed the large statue of a Red Army soldier looming over the center of his hometown in eastern Latvia. An inscription at its base honors the Soviet “liberators” who drove out the Nazis in 1944 — and who sent his father to a prison camp and the rest of the family to a frozen wilderness.

“This was not liberation, but occupation,” Dr. Vidins, 84, said, glowering at the statue of a Soviet soldier cradling a machine gun.

“They liberated me from my family, they liberated us from our property and everything we had,” he said. “If that is liberation, I don’t want a monument to it.”

. . .

The war in Ukraine has largely vindicated longstanding warnings by Baltic States that Russia is an aggressive power that cannot be trusted. But it has also blunted its capacity to terrify its neighbors, reducing the willingness of ethnic Russians abroad to rally publicly to Moscow’s side and exposing the weaknesses of its military machine.

For the full story, see:

Andrew Higgins. “Soviet Statues Are Latest Targets of Europe’s Anger.” The New York Times (Monday, September 26, 2022): A8.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Sept. 25, 2022, and has the title “Soviet Monuments Become Latest Target of Backlash Against War in Ukraine.”)

Young Men in Russia Vote with Their Feet Against Putin’s Tyranny

(p. A12) A little more than 12 hours after he heard that Russian civilians could be pressed into military service in the Ukraine war, the tour guide said he bought a plane ticket and a laptop, changed money, wrapped up his business, kissed his crying mother goodbye and boarded a plane out of his country, with no idea when he might return.

. . .

“I was sitting and thinking about what I could die for, and I didn’t see any reason to die for the country,” said the tour guide, 23, who, like others interviewed for this article, declined to give his name for fear of reprisals.

Since President Vladimir V. Putin’s announcement on Wednesday of a new troop call-up, some Russian men who had once thought they were safe from the front lines have fled the country. And they have done so in a rush, lining up at the borders and paying rising prices to catch flights to countries that allow them to enter without visas, such as Armenia, Georgia, Montenegro and Turkey.

. . .

In principle, European Union officials say they stand in solidarity with the men who don’t want to fight. “Russians are voting with their feet, basically, ” said Peter Stano, a spokesman for the European Commission.

. . .

A 26-year-old merchant mariner who gave his name only as Dmitriy said he would wait in Turkey until his next ship job began in December [2022], to ensure that he would not be drafted in the meantime.

. . .

The mariner said that most of his friends had stayed in Russia after the invasion of Ukraine, believing the war would not affect them much. He said most were rushing to get out.

“Lots of people want to leave Russia now because they don’t want to fight for the opinion of one person,” he said, dismissing the invasion as a personal project of Mr. Putin.

“It is not about defending your family,” he said.

For the full story, see:

Ben Hubbard. “Fearing a Military Call-Up, Men Rush to Leave Russia.” The New York Times (Friday, September 23, 2022): A12.

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

(Note: the online version has the date Sept. 22, 2022, and has the title “‘A Lot of Panic’: Russian Men, Fearing Ukraine Draft, Seek Refuge Abroad.”)

Europe Subsidizes Burning Old Trees That Release More Carbon Dioxide Than Released by Burning Coal

(p. A24) Across Central Europe, companies are clear-cutting forests and at times grinding up centuries-old trees in the name of renewable energy. All of this is legal.
In fact, it is encouraged by government subsidies meant to help the European Union reach its renewable energy goals.

In reality, though, burning wood can be even dirtier than burning coal.

New York Times journalists followed six truckloads to the factory on a recent day and watched as logs from one of the continent’s most important conservation areas were churned into sawdust.

Wood was never supposed to be the cornerstone of the European Union’s green energy strategy.

When the bloc began subsidizing wood burning over a decade ago, it was seen as a quick boost for renewable fuel and an incentive to move homes and power plants away from coal and gas. Chips and pellets were marketed as a way to turn sawdust waste (p. A10) into green power.

Those subsidies gave rise to a booming market, to the point that wood is now Europe’s largest renewable energy source, far ahead of wind and solar.

But today, as demand surges amid a Russian energy crunch, whole trees are being harvested for power. And evidence is mounting that Europe’s bet on wood to address climate change has not paid off.

. . .

And while European nations can count wood power toward their clean-energy targets, the E.U. scientific research agency said last year that burning wood released more carbon dioxide than would have been emitted had that energy come from fossil fuels.

“People buy wood pellets thinking they’re the sustainable choice, but in reality, they’re driving the destruction of Europe’s last wild forests,” said David Gehl of the Environmental Investigation Agency, a Washington-based advocacy group that has studied wood use in Central Europe.

. . .

Scientists have calculated that, per unit of energy, burning wood actually releases more greenhouse gas emissions than burning gas, oil, or even coal.

. . .

(p. A11) The association opposes cutting subsidies or changing the way clean energy is defined. If the European Union no longer considers energy from burnt wood to be carbon-neutral, it would immediately throw many countries off track to hit renewable-energy targets.

That would have major consequences for countries like Italy, the continent’s largest consumer of wood pellets. More than a third of its renewable energy comes from burning plant material. For years, the Italian government has offered tax deductions to encourage buying pellet stoves.

For the full story see:

Sarah Hurtes and Weiyi Cai. “Sacrificing Centuries-Old Trees In Name of Renewable Energy.” The New York Times (Saturday, September 10, 2022): A1 & A10-A11.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Sept. 7, 2022, and has the title “Europe Is Sacrificing Its Ancient Forests for Energy.” Where the wording and content of the versions differs, the passages quoted above follow the print version.)

Russian Soldiers See Free Ukrainians Flourish

(p. A18) In early April [2022] I walked into Andriivka, a village about 40 miles from Kyiv, with my battalion in the Ukrainian territorial defense forces. We were among the first Ukrainian troops to enter the village after a Russian occupation that had lasted about a month. . . .

The Russians killed civilians in Andriivka, and they ransacked and looted houses. The locals told us something else the Russians had done: One day they took mopeds and bicycles out of some of the yards and rode around on them in the street like children, filming one another with their phones and laughing with delight, as if they’d gotten some long-awaited birthday present.

A few days earlier we were in Bucha, a suburb northwest of Kyiv that was subjected to an infamously brutal occupation. The people there told us that when the first Russian convoy entered the town, the troops asked if they were in Kyiv; they could not believe that such idyllic parks and cottages could exist outside a capital. Then they looted the local houses thoroughly. They took money, cheap electronics, alcohol, clothes and watches. But, the locals said, they seemed perplexed by the robotic vacuum cleaners, and they always left those.

One resident, who told me that she was taken hostage by the Russian soldiers in her house, said they could not get over the fact that she had two bathrooms and kept insisting that she must have more people living with her.

This war is Vladimir Putin’s fatal mistake. Not because of economic sanctions and not because of the huge losses of troops and tanks but because Mr. Putin’s soldiers are from some of the poorest and most rural regions of Russia. Before this war, these men were encouraged to believe that Ukrainians lived in poverty and were culturally, economically and politically inferior.

. . .

Ten years ago Ukrainians could drink beer with Russians after the European Championship soccer matches, but we didn’t realize then that Ukraine was moving forward and Russia was moving in the opposite direction. Ukraine was trying to build a path to freedom, and Russia was building a path back to the Soviet Union with Kremlin TV and petrodollars.

For the full commentary see:

Yegor Firsov. “Russian Troops See That Ukrainians Live Better Than They Do.” The Wall Street Journal (Wednesday, Aug. 24, 2022): A18.

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

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date August 23, 2022, and has the title “Ukraine’s Russian ‘Liberators’ Are Seeing That We Live Better Than They Do.”)

Those Who Survived Dictatorship Know We Need “More Freedom, More Speech, Not Less”

(p. A19) The left’s reaction to Mr. Trump’s rhetoric was instructive. Anyone who mentioned the lab-leak theory was assailed as pro-Trump. Social-media companies removed posts mentioning it. By January 2021, it was obvious that shutting down debate was the true antiscience position. Invaluable months were lost, time the Chinese Communist Party used to destroy data and spread disinformation about the virus’s origins. We may never know the truth, but we do know there was a coverup.

Increasing numbers of Americans believe their freedom is under attack, and I agree. . . .

Schools are being pressured to remove books and cancel professors for spreading the “wrong” ideas. These sentiments are all too familiar to me, and to anyone who has survived life in a dictatorship. The only answer is more freedom, more speech, not less.

For the full commentary see:

Garry Kasparov. “‘Woke’ Is a Bad Word for a Real Threat to American Democracy.” The Wall Street Journal (Thursday, Nov. 18, 2021): A19.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date November 17, 2021, and has the same title as the print version.

Russian-Speaking Ukrainians Learn to Speak Ukrainian, in “Outraged Defiance” of Violent Russian Invaders

(p. A9) Since Russia’s invasion, a number of language clubs have opened in cities in western Ukraine. Teachers and volunteers are reaching out to millions of displaced people who have fled to the relative safety of western cities like Lviv from the Russian-speaking east — encouraging them to practice and embrace Ukrainian as the language of their daily lives.

An estimated one in every three Ukrainians speaks Russian at home, according to researchers, and many of them — outraged by the violence of Russia’s invasion — are enthusiastically making the switch as a show of defiance.

. . .

After the collapse of the Soviet Union, and Ukraine’s declaration of independence in 1991, the country experienced many waves of “Ukrainization,” said Olga Onuch, who researches the relationship between language and politics at the University of Manchester. President Volodymyr Zelensky was an inspiration for one of the recent waves, she said.

A former comedian, Mr. Zelensky grew up speaking Russian, but switched to Ukrainian in 2017 before running for office.

. . .

At a Yedyni language club, teacher Maria Hvesko argued that Russia had intentionally tried to erase Ukrainian culture in the east when one of her students, Victoria Yermolenko, offered polite opposition.

“This ‘Russification’— I don’t know if it was always intentional,” she said hesitantly.

Another reason, she argued, was rapid Soviet industrialization in the mid-20th century. This brought many Russian engineers and technicians to eastern Ukraine, as well as specialists from other parts of the Soviet Union, and they used Russian as a common language.

Ms. Yermolenko switched to Ukrainian out of political conviction. But she also did it out of consideration for the local residents of Lviv, concerned they would be pained to hear Russian spoken during these days of war.

“I’ve done a lot of — what’s the Ukrainian word for re-evaluating?” she asked, in Russian.

As her teacher offered a word, Ms. Yermolenko finished the thought in Ukrainian: “So, I’m re-evaluating. For me, it’s something quite drastic. It’s like turning my world upside down.”

. . .

Ms. Onuch, the professor, said there was little data yet to support the notion that Russia’s invasion had accelerated a switch. And for many Russian-speaking Ukrainians, she said, language was not so tied to identity politics before the invasion.

“Now, they’re thinking about it, and it starts meaning something,” she said. “Taking away that glimmer of Russian greatness, to switch over to Ukrainian, is a power. They are so powerless right now. This is the one power they have.”

Ms. Yermolenko framed her decision as a positive embrace.

“I don’t want to use Russian, not only because it’s the language of the occupier, but also because: Why not use Ukrainian? It’s so cool.”

For the full story see:

Erika Solomon. “Russian Speakers Decide To Use Ukrainian Instead.” The New York Times (Monday, May 30, 2022): A9.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date May 29, 2022, and has the title “For Russian-Speaking Ukrainians, Language Clubs Offer Way to Defy Invaders.”)

Officers in Russian Military Are Rewarded for Following Orders, Not for Nimbly Taking Initiative

(p. A1) This war has exposed the fact that, to Russia’s detriment, much of the military culture and learned behavior of the Soviet era endures: inflexibility in command structure, corruption in military spending, and concealing casualty figures and repeating the mantra (p. A7) that everything is going according to plan.

. . .

The scripted way the military practices warfare, on display in last summer’s exercises, is telling. “Nobody is being tested on their ability to think on the battlefield,” said William Alberque, the Berlin-based director of the arms control program at the International Institute for Strategic Studies. Instead, officers are assessed on their ability to follow instructions, he said.

. . .

Rampant corruption has drained resources. “Each person steals as much of the allocated funds as is appropriate for their rank,” said retired Maj. Gen. Harri Ohra-Aho, the former Chief of Intelligence in Finland and still a Ministry of Defense adviser.

. . .

“It is impossible to imagine the scale of lies inside the military,” Mr. Irisov said. “The quality of military production is very low because of the race to steal money.”

One out of every five rubles spent on the armed forces was stolen, the chief military prosecutor, Sergey Fridinsky, told Rossiyskaya Gazeta, the official government newspaper, in 2011.

For the full story see:

Neil MacFarquhar. “Soviet-Era Tactics Hobble Russia on Battlefield.” The New York Times (Tuesday, May 17, 2022): A1 & A7.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date May 16, 2022, and has the title “Russia Planned a Major Military Overhaul. Ukraine Shows the Result.”)

Spreading Smallpox Inoculation to Impress Voltaire

(p. A15) Dimsdale had been summoned by Catherine the Great to inoculate not only the empress herself but also her 13-year-old heir, the Grand Duke Paul.

. . .

As Lucy Ward dramatically relates in “The Empress and the English Doctor: How Catherine the Great Defied a Deadly Virus,” Catherine’s invitation was a high-stakes affair, a testament to Dimsdale’s writings on the methodology of smallpox inoculation and his reputation for solicitous care. His Quaker upbringing had encouraged a brand of outcome- rather than ego-led practice.

. . .

As devastating as smallpox was, for the empress herself and the grand duke who would succeed her to personally undergo inoculation was a risk to both patient and doctor. On the success side stood immunity from the disease, an almost holy example for Catherine’s people, and as-yet-untold riches for her nervous doctor. On the other side, not only the fact that all Russia would refuse the treatment if their “Little Mother” died, but also a disaster for Dimsdale and the son who had accompanied him. Geopolitics came into play too—if things went wrong, some would interpret it as a foreign assassination.

. . .

With a happy result for her and her less-robust son, Catherine sets about publicizing the success. Dimsdale receives the equivalent of more than $20 million and a barony. Bronze medals are cast of Catherine’s profile, reading “She herself set an example.” It helps that Catherine was competitive beyond reason: “we have inoculated more people in a month than were inoculated in Vienna in eight,” she wrote to Voltaire, determined to beat Empress Maria Theresa’s efforts.

For the full review, see:

Catherine Ostler. “BOOKSHELF; Inoculate Conception.” The Wall Street Journal (Thursday, June 23, 2022): A15.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review was updated June 22, 2022, and has the title “BOOKSHELF; ‘The Empress and the English Doctor’ Review: Inoculate Conception.”)

The book under review is:

Ward, Lucy. The Empress and the English Doctor: How Catherine the Great Defied a Deadly Virus. London, UK: Oneworld Publications, 2022.