This is a blog for use in both of my HIS 241 and HIS 242 Russian history survey courses at Northern Virginia Community College.

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21 September 2009


Interesting article in the Washington Post, How Gorbachev Slowed the Arms Race (21 September 2009), b David Hoffman and adpated from The Dead Hand: The Untold Story of the Cold War Arms Race and Its Dangerous Legacy (2009)--aside, the article was buried on page A11. Anyway, it remains somewhat amazing to me why few Russians to this day appreciate the kind of efforts that Gorbachev undertook to end the arms race (and thus the Cold War). In addition, there was his attempt to re-invigorate Soviet society and re-orient the economy away from military and heavy industry spending. I still believe that he was the major player in bringing about the end of communism in Eastern Europe, the destruction down of the wall, and really the end of the Cold War.
ps. Another fine article in the Post dealt with the effort to control fissionable Uranium in the former republics of the Soviet Union, in this case Kazakhstan, Half a Ton of Uranium -- and a Long Flight by David E Hoffman.

September Days

Recent news that Russia was willing to scrap missiles along the Polish border after the US declared something about abandoning a European missile shield. What nonsense. As if anyone in Russia believed that the US was still aiming missiles at Russia--actually who knows where they are pointing these days. And as if the Poles were a real security threat to the integrity of Russia. Ah, the games people play.

10 August 2009

Talking about Trotskii

Check out the dialogue between Christopher Hitchens and Robert Service on the legacy of Trotskii, or whether there ever really was a Trotskiite alternative to Stalinism. This was part of the Uncommon Knowledge program (You might need to check the August 2009 archives).

19 July 2009

Another Russian Journalist Has Been Murdered

The editorial piece by Tanya Lokshina, Another Voice Silenced in Russia (Washington Post, 17 July) documented yet another in a long series of "mysterious murders" of journalists who have dared to criticize the Russian government's actions, particularly those that have occurred in Chechnya.

14 July 2009

Hoopla over Summit

President Obama visited Russia, and pretty much nothing was accomplished, and pretty much all has been forgotten. One wonders if President Obama has invited President Medvedev to visit the US (alone and without Vladimir Putin).
Anyway, the economies in both the US and Russia have hit the skids in the last year, and both have been trying some desparate measures to keep people employed.
Both the US and Russia are involved in tangled foreign policy issues, Afghanistan and Chechnya to name but two.

21 May 2009

Lenin Statue in St. Petersburg Damaged

Well, someone with an axe to grind blew a large hole in one of the few remaining Lenin statues in Russia, this one famously in St. Petersburg, home to the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917. See Bomb Blows Hole in Lenin Statue.

20 May 2009

Kremlin Still Re-Writing History

In yet another attempt by the Putin-Medvedev regime to control ideas in Russia, see
Medvedev Creates History Commission, an article which recently appeared in the Wall Street Jounral online. From what we have seen in the past both in Russia and also on a larger scale in the world, these kinds of thought-control activities can work in the short run, but do not work in the long run.

19 May 2009

Weird Anti-Khrushchev Conversation Taking Place in Russia

See the recent article, The Trial of Leonid K. Amazing how the ghosts of a missing-in-action Russian airman from World War II can animate political discourse in contemporary Russia.

17 May 2009

Nikolai Gogol and Taras Bulba

I'm a little late on this but back in April Russia unveiled a new, blockbuster film version of Gogol's short story Taras Bulba. The story which loosely fits into the late medieval period of Russian-Ukrainian-Polish-Lithuanian history deals with a rogue Cossack who sallies out to do battle with the Poles--not quite in the nature of a Robin Hood. Russia designed the film for overtly nationalistic and patriotic intentions to show a mighty Russia (that of course included Ukraine) defending church and state from the infidels from the west. Gogol's intentions are a bit murkier, and his writings caused a lot of uproar back in their own day. He straddled the fence between Russia and Ukraine, between support for the tsar and critique of the system, between support for the system and critique of the tsar. Critics and commentators both in Russia and Ukraine and also abroad have made much of the cultural overtones of the film and the intentions of both countries to claim Gogol, but everyone makes films like this. Look no farther than such stuff as The Patriot (2000).

01 April 2009

Medvedev Letter in the Washington Post

Yes, there are curious happenings in the world these days (apart from the economic catastrophe). Russian President Dmitrii Medvedev published a letter (Building Russian-US Bonds) on the Washington Post op-ed page, yesterday, 31 March, a day before the G-20 summit was set to open in London. Maybe this (after President Obama's letter earlier this year) could be the start of a process that might see an end to the baiting and bad relations between the US and Russia. There is too much in the world that the two countries could be cooperaating on.

26 March 2009

Russia's Economic Crisis

Unfolding in Russia is a similarly damaging economic crisis such as that sweeping through most other countries in the world. It has been especially problematic in Russia because of the economy's reliance on the export of oil to generate rubles. Still, Russia had manged to accumulate a large horde of monetary reserves over the last few years, and that should help. There was an article this week in USA Today that reported on a government program that would aid the many craftsmen who make Matryoshka (nesting) dolls, since no one seems to be buying the crafty little wodden dolls these days. Well, the government will and then stockpile them. The aid program is very similar, in a way, to what the US government is aiming to do with its stimulus package.

18 January 2009

Russia v. Ukraine

Playing out the rivalry on the natural gas front, another round in the dispute between Russia and Ukraine has turned particularly nasty this January and ended up affecting millions of people in Europe. In a nutshell, Ukraine owes Russia a lot of money for natural gas; Russia earns a lot of money selling natural gas in Europe; for Russia to make that money the gas that it is selling has to transit Ukraine through the Ukrainian pipeline system. Now there are historical and cultural factors complicating this dispute, and there is no doubt some hardball politics being played by Russian leaders to demonstrate to Ukraine that Ukraine does not belong in a relationship with NATO and Western Europe but that Ukraine rightly belongs in a relationship with Russia (back to the good old Soviet Union days). So, why not split the difference, Ukraine raised its transit fees; Russia lowers prices to Ukraine, and it all balances out