Pollyanna Takes Kiev

by G. Murphy Donovan (June 2022)

Putin, Dariya Marchenko, 2020


Hope is a waking dream. —Aristotle


An old cliché tells us that “no news is good news.”

Today, that aphorism might come out of rewrite as “good news is not really news.” A recent BBC piece, under the ironic rubric of a “war on truth” told of a woman in the port city of Mariupol who heroically gave birth amidst a Russian bombardment. The narrative was an inane argument about whether or not the women was a propagandist.

Given the strategic significance of Mariupol, the truth of such a yarn is moot when the real story of that day was the unarguable loss of a strategic city and the defeat of an operationally significant Ukrainian military asset. The Azov Regiment was the most iconic, albeit, neo-Nazi unit in all of Ukraine. Azov fighters, some say thousands, who surrendered in Mariupol are now being shipped to Russian territory, chits for the inevitable prisoner exchange.

The 30 some odd, albeit smaller, Right Sector “volunteer” groups in nearby Donbas are now in the Russian crosshairs. If the Russian Army takes the industrial Donbas, Putin’s strategic goal of “de-Nazification” will have been achieved.

On the same day, AP also ran a piece about the Azov fighters trapped in the Mariupol Steel Plant claiming that the regiment/battalion had “fulfilled their duty,” clearly a media recitation of Kiev’s party line. Worse still was a Washington Post headline which read “Ukraine Ends Bloody Battle,” as if Kiev had any real say in the matter.

We are led to believe, according to too many western news sources, that the Russian victory in Mariupol was no big deal. If the truth were told, Russia’s southern strategy, in fact, seems to be going well.

Take the “grain war” as an example of another under- reported front where Russia also prevails.

Russia and Ukraine produce a globally significant portion of the world’s wheat, corn, and cooking oil. The loss or control of these commodities in world markets doesn’t just aggravate the persistent supply chain crisis in the West, but threatens to precipitate a global famine, to say nothing about the impact on western financial markets where inflation is already impoverishing millions.

Russia may have lost McDonald’s but she has not lost Europe’s breadbasket.

Large scale commodity shortages put things like bread beyond reach for many, potentially undermining the polities in dozens of unstable Third World sierra hotels. Indeed, Russia has also seized the lower reaches of the Dnieper River, a vital line of communication that runs north/south from Kiev to the Black Sea. Where do you read or hear about this?

Putin’s army has also created a land bridge/resupply corridor between mainland Russia and the Crimean Peninsula along the Azov/Black Sea coastal littoral. Where have you heard about that operational milestone?

When Odessa, the last significant port still controlled by Kiev, falls; it’s game over for Ukraine—and possibly globalism.

If Mariupol is a precedent, how eager will Odessa be to suffer a similar fate? Mariupol was an industrial slum before Russia created a ruin. Odessa is a last vital port—and an iconic seaside resort city.

The Kremlin clearly has the power to put its thumb on global energy and commodity markets where the pain is felt from Berlin to Brooklyn. Yet, team Biden wishes away the ominous by claiming that inflation is “transitory” and the food crisis is only “a distribution problem.”


If we know nothing about European history, we should recall Napoleon’s and Hitler’s experience with Russia. Moscow learns quickly from tactical or operational military setbacks. Would that you could say the same about Brussels and Washington. Unlike the Pentagon, the Kremlin will sacrifice or fire as many generals as necessary until it finds Zhukov’s heir.

More importantly, Moscow’s pain tolerance, call it sacrifice quotient, is significantly higher than what we can expect from an imperial NATO or a smug EU. Most of continental Europe folded like a cheap tent in the last great war. Hungary and Turkey have already defected today. China, India, and the Muslim world were spectators from day one. Clearly, most of the world’s population is not betting against Russia in Ukraine.

George Bush had a telling slip of the lip the other day when he confused the invasion of Iraq with Ukraine. Indeed, Putin has better reasons for being in Ukraine than America ever did for invading Afghanistan, Iraq, or Syria.

Moscow is also well positioned to exploit the cupidity, if not stupidity, of near universal liberal (nee socialist) bias; that globalist narrative, where Brussels and Davos are presumed to be on the right side of history. Arrogance and presumptions of moral superiority are the landmines embedded in our hubris.

As NATO, the EU, and Kiev whistle in the dark, they fail to appreciate the hazards of optimism. Pollyanna was actually a bitch. If you are candid about your opponent; no harm, no foul. When the enemy falters or fails, your truth looks prophetic. You exceed expectations.

Conversely, if you put too much faith in your presumed moral or ideological superiority, all bets are off. Globalist cant is no match for nationalism. Underestimating an enemy is a fatal strategic flaw, as in picking a fight with the wrong thug in a very bad neighborhood.

State controlled and commercial reporting on Ukraine to date has all the earmarks of impending disaster.  Zelensky has been canonized as a white knight, when in fact, as autocrats go, he may just be Washington’s latest “useful idiot.” Zelensky now controls all media outlets, has eliminated opposition political parties, and even cancelled external critics like Oliver Stone by prohibiting visits to Ukraine.

Any of these official policies ring a bell?

Moscow’s end game is pretty clear; an end to NATO expansion and some assurance that Russian border states are at best, neutral; and at worst, demilitarized. In fact, the Kremlin has been asking, peacefully, for such assurances for 30 years or more. Brussels and Washington, in contrast, have ignored Moscow’s security concerns whilst stumbling East from trope to cliché with no strategic calculus, goals, or clarity.

The Kremlin is now in the process of creating the realpolitik border buffer that diplomacy, mutual respect, and common sense has not allowed since 1990.

If victory in Ukraine or improved global security is a function of leadership, Vladimir Putin vs. Joseph Robinette Biden, where would you put your money today?


Table of Contents


G. Murphy Donovan writes about the politics of national security.

Follow NER on Twitter @NERIconoclast


11 Responses

  1. WMD may very well soon have to conclude But I told you so!” Among the many of this month’s contributions , no one else appears to have written about Ukraine and what in the world to do next , The outlook is currently that the Russians are in possession of virtually all of the territories Putin cited in his initial call for the “strategic military operation” ; All of Donbas and a land corridor extending to the Crimea thereby leaving the ball in the court of Biden, Johnson, NATO, the European Union, China, Turkey, India, Israel, the Muslim states about what to do next and a huge dilemma along with a surplus of ten million Ukrainian flags.

    The choices are to continue an escalating war and the destruction of the territories in question and a mammoth shortage of cereal grains and fuel for th rest of the world or to reach some accommodation with an evil regime that would continue to be an outcast in all international forums.

  2. Ukraine is not even remotely about what theyre telling us about. Ukraine is about the fact that the Ukrainians have used their soil to place dual launch missile pads missiles that would be aimed at the Soviet Union. There are in fact bio labs there funded by our tax dollars cooking up who knows what pestilence to dump on the Russian people, Putin is acting defensively he is not acting offensively but you won’t read that in the mainstream media.

    1. “Ukrainians have used their soil to place dual launch missile pads missiles that would be aimed at the Soviet Union.”

      Um, don’t you mean “The Russian Federation”?

  3. Yeah, I agree. Calling our part in the Ukraine fiasco “defensive” is a kind of sick joke. NATO has been moving East in increments for the last 25 years. NATO is a military alliance, what is the Kremlin supposed to think about US special forces in Poland? Now that another surrogate war is underway, we are telling Kiev that they can win. Madness! This doesn’t end well for the US or the EU. And those labs, like Wuhan, are surrogates. We use cutouts like China and Ukraine to do chem/bio research that would be illegal or impossible here.

  4. The realism in the piece is frightening for a citizen of Poland. Poland has been abandoned time and again and it seems a number of respondents are willing to do so again. What is Putin to think of American forces in Poland: is Mr Donovan inviting his forces to my country so that he can extend his crimes? The Red Army raped Polish women while it was “liberating” the country from Nazis. Putin’s army is doing the same “liberating” Ukraine. Now Ukrainian farmers are wearing bullet-proof vests at work, and a number of the fields have been mined. Putin enablers in Germany are one thing, as Paul Krugman aptly called them, but I expected a little more sympathy from American conservatives.

    1. What I find utterly weird about the Polish (and Czech) thinking classes response to the Russian invasion of Ukraine is that they sincerely believe that Moscow has imperial ambitions upon them. When at most, at most, Russia will simply try to have the former Warsaw pact countries establish military and diplomatic neutrality between Washington and Moscow. The entire EU reaction the the Special Operation has been an atavistic deep dive into the American embrace; unquestioned and practically unthought. It is the sheer volume of ethnic instinctual unthought that baffles. As if the Deluge of the Commonwealth was only yesterday and Poles are still fighting, fighting, fighting. This changes my opinion of the Zionists and their grudges, perhaps this is not a sémitique but a European trait; enmity is forever and tribal enemies are always a threat until they cease to exist.

      If anything, Poland’s geopolitical interests, much like Germany’s, run through a comprehensive peace and cooperation settlement with Russia.
      If only that damn plane crash in Smolensk (2010) hadn’t happened.
      The World might be a different place today.

  5. I would also think the author of “The Nobility of Nationalism” should have better things to say about Zelensky, whatever his sins might be. He is a courageous leader. Putin is no “nationalist,” rather an imperialist of the worst sort. Certainly there is much wrong in the West, and Niall Ferguson is likely right when he claims that in the Cold War the West had a much clearer moral adavantage over the Communists, but that advantage has not completely faded, especially when we observe the horrors of what is taking place in Ukraine. And that stands for something.

  6. Chris, I realize that my view is not the conventional wisdom. I’m not a Putin booster, indeed my good friends are stranded in Moscow as we speak.. My point is that the EU and NATO, while not willing to fight, are misrepresenting Kiev’s progress and potential. This war is neither fish nor fowl for America, not a strategic interest, just another surrogate fight with Russia like Vietnam (where I served twice) and Afghanistan. If Poland allows itself to be used by Washington as another platform for regime change, in Russia of all places, then Warsaw like Kabul is on a fool’s errand. I don’t believe this ends well and I think someone needs to say so. Putin might be evil, but unlike Biden, he’s not stupid.

    War is about a lot of things, but ethics and morality are usually afterthoughts.

  7. The reason new members have joined NATO since the end of the Cold War, Murphy, is because the applicants are concerned about domination by Russia, something that those nations were subjected to historically and which was the main motive for their breaking free of the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact.

    NATO is a defensive military alliance, and neither it nor the democracies that make it up are aggressive, let alone war-like, in their foreign policy. Until Russia’s invasion this year, the biggest issue among the alliance’s membership was the chronic lack of military spending amongst its members, with the exception of the US (which was trying to commit all members to spending at least 2% of their GDP a year on defense). Vladimir Putin’s claims of NATO being a threat to Russia are almost entirely propaganda. I’m sure you know this. Your serious treatment of those claims to fit your argument is dishonest.

    Contrary to your claims, Russia’s invasion is going poorly and Ukraine’s defense is going well, certainly as well as can be expected for a country at a significant disadvantage in weaponry and manpower. If you were being honest, you might have mentioned that the reason Russia has shifted to a “southern strategy” is because its initial blitzkrieg, which had the objective of seizing Kiev and the entire country within days, has been an abject failure. You’re likewise grossly overstating how well Putin is doing to fit your argument. The fact is that three months into this war Ukraine still controls about 80% of its territory and there is no sign of them being close to capitulation.

    Having read several of your rather rambling essays on this subject, I think the best summary of your views is that because a Democrat is in the White House, you want his efforts to aid Ukraine fail and Putin to win because that would make him and your other ideological enemies look bad. I’d bet my house that if it was a Republican administration the tune you’d be singing would be a complete 180 – you would be holding forth on the need to stand up to Putin the anti-western autocrat and hotly proclaiming the importance of coming to the aid a fellow European democracy that is managing, barely, to hold its own against him. Your attitude is petty, unpatriotic, and pathetic.

    Last but not least, Roger Stone’s raving that Russia is waging war on Ukraine to eliminate the threat of American biological missile attack is both one of the stupidest and most hilarious things I’ve ever heard. I find your agreement with him both amusing and unsurprising.

  8. Two Americans can argue. I agree with much of what you say, Anton, but I wouldn’t put Murphy’s argunments down to bad will. Unfortunately there are a good deal of unknowns in the whole formula. But it does seem likely that one of the causes of the invasion was the Afganistan withdrawal fiasco that indicated American weakness, but fortunately for Ukrainians Biden did make something of a comeback. Murphy is right that Putin can’t be counted out just yet despite the initial failures. This is just speculation on my part, but it is known he does not wish to make a general draft of Slavic Russian recruits because they might rebel – one reason he hasn’t officially declared war – but there is an archaic spirit in a number of the Asian provinces that allows its men to consider military service an advance, so manpower is available for some time. Fortunately Scandanavian countries like Finland and Sweden want to join NATO, but an Estonian politcian expressed great fear that the Russians might invade their country because it would be a relatively easy conquest and give Putin a face-saving victory. We Poles are backing the Ukrainians despite differences in the past, but we are trying to prepare for the worst, and not getting much help from the EU – so far. The nightmare continues.

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