Chris Blattman

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Two articles on Russia and Ukraine


Between 1998 and 2003, Ksenia Yudaeva and Konstantin Sonin were colleagues, first at the Russian-European Center for Economic Policy and then at the Center for Economic and Financial Research and Development. After Russia invaded Ukraine in February 2022, Sonin (now a professor at the University of Chicago) reached out to Yudaeva (who today serves as the first deputy governor of the Central Bank). Fearing data insecurity on Facebook and Telegram, she asked him to install Signal.

When they finally connected using the encrypted instant messenger, Sonin warned Yudaeva that staying with Russia’s Central Bank is tantamount to supporting the invasion of Ukraine. The bank’s currency-transaction controls (later softened gradually but not lifted entirely) and other wartime interventions exist only to further Russia’s military campaign, not to help ordinary people, Sonin argued. “They’re working for the war,” he told her, comparing the bank’s staff to Hjalmar Schacht, who served as president of the Reichsbank in Adolf Hitler’s government.

“Here in the Central Bank, there’s a lot of interest in Schacht,” Yudaeva confided in Sonin (he told Meduza). But she refused to quit her job, insisting that either her resignation or the resignation of Chairwoman Elvira Nabiullina would mean the appointment of Sergey Glazyev, who’s proposed price freezes on consumer goods and a fixed dollar exchange rate. It would be a disaster for the national economy and a nightmare for millions of ordinary Russians, she explained. (Yudaeva redirected Meduza’s questions to the Central Bank’s press service, which ignored our inquiries.)

Sonin says he deleted Signal immediately after this conversation with Yudaeva. “I never want to speak to her again for the rest of my life. Not under any circumstances,” he told Meduza.

Thus begins an impressive piece by Meduza’s Svetlana Reiter, Margarita Lyutova and Kevin Rothrock on Russia’s Central Bank economists.

I don’t envy their position, caught between loyalties to ordinary Russians and supporting a criminal regime. I would like to think that I’d be the sort of person never to join in the first place, or to quit when the future moral sacrifices seem apparent. But I wonder. Later in the piece:

Three insider sources told Meduza that fewer than 50 people have resigned from Russia’s Central Bank since the start of the February invasion — a remarkably small number, given that the bank employs almost 50,000 people. The lack of turnover, however, doesn’t mean everyone is at peace with their work. Three employees told Meduza that the constant criticism they face on social media for keeping their jobs makes them feel like “Reichsbank employees.”

Some resent being called collaborators. One source with close ties to the Central Bank told Meduza, “You could say the same thing about everyone who’s still working for the public — building, healing, teaching. [Anybody] who’s trying not to lose it in a government that’s gone crazy, who’s at least trying to improve something in people’s wrecked lives.”

Meanwhile, here is a very sensible-sounding report on the dynamics of the fighting in Ukraine, how Russia is employing its capabilities and what is needed to defeat Russia’s invasion. The executive summary:

Ukraine has the will to achieve the operational defeat of the Russian military. At present, however, several Russian advantages and Ukrainian weaknesses are leading to an attritional conflict that risks a protracted war, eventually favouring Russia.

  • Russian electronic warfare (EW) is denying Ukraine a sufficiently fast kill chain to destroy Russia’s artillery.
  • Russian artillery is fixing the Ukrainian military and preventing the Ukrainians from concentrating to undertake offensive manoeuvre.
  • Russian cruise missiles are imposing a high economic and political cost on Ukraine.
  • A shortage of skilled infantry and armoured operators is limiting Ukraine’s offensive combat power.
  • Limited staff capacity is limiting Ukraine’s ability to plan and execute combined operations at scale.

Ukraine’s international partners have the ability to reverse these dynamics to enable Ukraine to retake its lost territory. This cannot be achieved through the piecemeal delivery of a large number of different fleets of equipment, each with separate training, maintenance and logistical needs. Instead, Ukraine’s partners should rationalise the support they provide around a small number of platforms. Ukraine’s key capability requirements are:

  • Anti-radiation seekers for loitering munitions to suppress or destroy Russian EW complexes.
  • Multiple launch rocket systems (MLRS) to target and destroy Russian logistics and ammunition stockpiles to starve Russian artillery of ammunition.
  • 155-mm howitzers and ammunition to prevent Russian troop concentration and support Ukrainian troop concentrations.
  • Secure communications systems.
  • Anti-tank guided weapons and man-portable air-defence systems (MANPADS).
  • Protected mobility to enable Ukrainian troops to manoeuvre under artillery threat.
  • Point defences to protect critical infrastructure.

It is also necessary for Ukraine to receive training at scale to form new units able to undertake offensive operations and to receive staff and junior leadership training to support the orchestration of combined arms offensive manoeuvre.

For current developments, the best podcast in my opinion is Geopolitics Decanted.