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Emrys's Journal
Emrys's Journal
June 30, 2023

There's No Such Thing as a Great Power: How a Dated Concept Distorts Geopolitics

By Phillips P. O’Brien

In the lead-up to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, most Western analysts saw Moscow as a great power and Kyiv as a lesser one. Diminished though it was from its Soviet heyday, Russia still retained a large conventional military and a vast nuclear arsenal, earning it a spot in the top echelon of global powers. In January 2022, as Russian troops massed on Ukraine’s borders, U.S. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Mark Milley warned that Moscow was capable of dealing a “horrific” blow to Ukraine. Michael Kofman, head of the Russia Studies Program at the Center for Naval Analysis, argued that Russia had “the power to challenge or violently upend the security architecture of Europe” and “the conventional military power to deter the United States.”

This view of Russian power was widely held in the United States and Western Europe, and it prompted many analysts to argue that the United States and NATO should either stay out of a conflict between Russia and Ukraine or strictly limit military aid to Kyiv. For instance, the realist scholars John Mearsheimer, Barry Posen, and Stephen Walt all labeled Russia a great power and argued that Moscow’s need to dominate Ukraine should be indulged. Posen went even further, suggesting that Russia had the military might to impose its desired outcome. As he put it just days before the Russian invasion began, “Ukrainian units would no doubt fight bravely, but given the geography of the country, the open topography of much of its landscape, and the overall numerical superiority that Russia enjoys, it is unlikely that Ukraine will be able to defend itself successfully.”

But once Russian President Vladimir Putin unleashed his war machine, that narrative of Russian power swiftly unraveled. The Ukrainian army, supposedly outgunned and with little chance of resisting conventionally, fought back with brains and ferocity. And Ukrainian civilians, whom many experts thought to be divided over the question of the country’s relationship to Russia, rallied to defend their homeland. Meanwhile, Putin’s military floundered. Its weapons and doctrine proved to be lackluster at best, and its soldiers performed far worse than expected, thanks in part to corruption and poor training. Hundreds of thousands, maybe more than a million, Russian men of military age fled the country to avoid conscription. And just last week, the Wagner paramilitary leader Yevgeny Prigozhin briefly seized control of the southern city of Rostov-on-Don and threatened to plunge the country into civil war, sending his mercenary fighters to within 120 miles of Moscow.

This stunning revelation of Russian weakness calls into question not just Moscow’s status as a great power but also the very concept of a great power. Even realists who frequently use the term have never provided a clear and convincing definition of what makes a power great. Rather, they tend to use the term to describe everything from true superpowers such as the United States and China, which wield the full spectrum of economic, technological, and military might, to better-than-average military powers such as Russia, which have nuclear weapons but little else that would be considered indicators of great power. Such imprecision not only distorts analysis of state power and its use in war but can also make countries seem more militarily threatening than they really are. For these reasons, analysts should stop asking what makes a country a great power and start asking what makes it a “full spectrum” power. Doing so would have helped avoid overestimating Russia’s might before February 2022—and will help avoid exaggerating the threat posed by China, going forward.


June 29, 2023

Caroline Lucas: Ending the Union could be good for us all

BORIS Johnson may well have slunk away in a blaze of ugliness but he was just a symptom. The disease is something deeper. And it’s still very much here.

Seen one way, the problem is our political institutions.

The archaic and undemocratic first-past-the-post voting system, an over-centralised governance system, the unelected Lords (although it has to be acknowledged that they’re currently doing a far better job of holding government to account than the Commons), the populist abuse of sovereignty, the stuffy and outdated conventions and public school atmosphere - the whole lot of it.

It breeds a distrust which Johnson always fed off.

Seen another way, it’s about nationalisms and identities. Specifically, England has struggled to find its way in the modern world. We cling to our delusions of imperial grandeur, pretend that we’re so much more than "just English", and the devastating consequences are all around us.

English exceptionalism drove both Brexit and the government’s cavalier approach to the Covid pandemic. But we still struggle with it not being enough, in a way that nobody seems to struggle to be just Swedish or Japanese or Peruvian.

When we English do finally settle with our own identity, I suspect we’ll discover we’re much more progressive than we’re ever led to believe. Once the baggage of “British greatness” is shed, we can get on with being another northern European country.

An English parliament with proportional representation, perhaps based in York or Leeds, wouldn’t be filled with bigots from the English Defence League, and other fascists who currently exploit the lack of English institutions or representation. I suspect it would look more like the English football team – as diverse as the country itself and a real source of pride.


Published in a Scottish paper, food for thought from an English politician I've had a lot of time for over the years.
June 24, 2023

Wagner Roundup: Vanguard of Kadyrov's troops enter Rostov ready to fight Wagner and allies [Twitter]



Chechen fighters "are already on their way to the tension zones"- Kadyrov

Kadyrov called the actions of the Wagner PMC a military rebellion and promised that it will be suppressed. "If tough measures have to be taken to do this, we are ready!" - Kadyrov wrote.



The road from Rostov-on-Don towards Taganrog is closed, and mined. Wagner PMC forces are preparing for an engagement with Kadyrov's troops who reportedly entered the region, backing Putin.

[Twitter video]


Malcolm Nance

WARNING: If Kadyrov joins Putin to attack Pregozhin then this is an unambiguous indicator that a 2ND RUSSIAN CIVIL WAR is about to break out.

Open warfare between Putinist forces and Pregozhin Rebels will shatter Russia’s national stability within days. Eyes on WMD and nuclear weapons storage.

Dmitri Alperovitch

Kadyrov finally lets us know that he is all in with Putin and that Prigozhin’s action is indeed a “stab in the back” (Putin’s phrase)

Says he is willing to help with the harshest measures and has already sent his fighters to help


Maria Drutska 🇺🇦

Invincible units of Kadyrov "Akhmat" are going to Rostov to liquidate Wagner. Or to record TikTok.

[Twitter video]

The "record TikTok" refers to Kadyrov's batallions' tendency in the past to video blatantly staged "firefights" recorded in safe locations away from the fronts for public consumption. Nevertheless, they are utterly savage whenever they have the upper hand.

Happier times - how things change:


Anton Gerashchenko

Kadyrov announced that his army is on its way to fight Wagner PMC: military from Chechnya defense ministry and Russian guards already left for the "tension zone". He promised to do everything to keep Russia united and its statehood protected!

Meanwhile, among far too many meanwhiles to keep track of:



Fighterbomber: "Wagner has speed, it's moving through unsecured areas, our generals are unable to respond:

"The most basic and most powerful weapon that Wagner has is speed.

While our fathers-commanders decide where to strike, the column is already a hundred kilometers to the north, demolishing ridiculous cars with sand and other keeper tapes.

There are no mines on the roads, bridges are open, no orders have been brought to a bunch of units at all, and so on. It is clear that in a couple of days the commanders will tighten up, but Wagner will not wait for this moment.
The inertia of our generals, of course, was taken into account by Wagner in their plan.

And yes, I keep forgetting to say. If you think that I am for one of the parties, you are mistaken. I know perfectly well that both sides are absolutely matched for each other. Bellends on both sides. And they equally give a fuck about our problems. I am for Russia, and only for it.

But today there is no choice. Today, everyone who fights against our army is our enemy. The only defense and support of our country is our army and navy. And the enemy must be destroyed.

And after the victory, we will reward everyone according to their merits."


MAKS 23 👀🇺🇦

"For the time being, in connection with the threat of the capture of Moscow, the Wagner PMC, the state administration bodies of the Russian Federation may be transferred to St. Petersburg. A number of high-ranking officials are already there" — rosZMI

Reports of Russian government airliners heading for St. Petersburg from Moscow, passengers unknown.



Russian insurgent forces have mined the roads from Rostov to Taganrog, one of the primary supply lines of Russian forces to Ukraine.

#Russia #coup #Rostov

[Twitter video]



Heavy Fighting is reported to now be ongoing in the Voronezh Region between the Wagner PMC Group and Forces within the Russian Military and National Guard; the Russian Air Force is also continuing to Target these Wagner Positions with Guided-Bombs and Rockets.

[Twitter video]

The dense fog of war:


Visegrád 24


Russian military helicopters are bombing fuel depots held by the Wagner Group in the Voronezh region.

[Twitter video]


Cᴀʟɪʙʀᴇ Oʙsᴄᴜʀᴀ
It seems the mystery of how the fuel depot went up in #Voronezh is solved- a Wagner operated Strela-10 fired on a VKS Ka-52, but the likely 9M37-series missile missed and hit the depot.

Explains why the Ka-52 wasn't seen firing rockets, just dropping flares.

[Twitter video]


Anton Gerashchenko

Russian army attacks a civil truck in Voronezh region - Russian military bloggers.

Reportedly, the driver and passenger died on the spot.

[Twitter video]



Commander Zeki of a "Storm-Z unit", part of the 71st Guards Regiment expressed his full support for Prigozhin. Storm-Z are so called penal batallions and mainly consist of convicted Russian inmates. The commander himself was sentenced to 26 years in prison.

[Twitter video]


In Moscow, they started to take down Wagner PMC banners that promote joining them.

[Twitter video]



The situation in #Rostov is escalating

[Twitter video]


Volkan Ayhan

Ukrainian soldiers at the front follow the coup attempt in Russia by eating popcorn.

#Wagner #Russia #Moscow #Prigozhin

[Twitter video]
June 24, 2023

Prigozhin's damning case against Russia's war on Ukraine [Twitter video with English subtitles]

He released this video address before the Russian attack on Wagner forces that led to him setting off for Rostov:



This is how today's conflict between Prigozhin and the General Staff of Russia began.

Prigozhin openly says that Russian authorities lied about the causes of the war.
After that, the Russian army began to kill mercenaries of PMC Wagner
We wish both parties success in this matter

[Twitter video with subtitles]



Prigozhin tells who was interested to start this war. He accuses Shoigu of thirst for glory and the Russian ruling oligarchic class of irrepressible greed.
A little more and he will start blaming Putin

[Twitter video with subtitles]

To be clear, he's an evil, savage monster, but on these points, he's not wrong.

Perhaps we could all chip in for a bulk order of smelling salts for any bothsiders who view it?
June 4, 2023

Twitter has an estimated 230,000,000 daily active users.

Around 65,000,000 of them are in the US. Here's the top 10 countries by one reckoning:


Here's another take that gives somewhat different totals, but the general ballpark's the same: https://www.businessofapps.com/data/twitter-statistics/

This is vastly greater than Mastodon's userbase, and it's unclear whether Mastodon's numbers are growing or not now, or possibly have peaked.

There are bigger platforms out there - for example, TikTok has an estimated 1,600,000,000 users, Facebook has 2,850,000,000 - but they do different things, generally appeal to different types of users, so are more an adjunct to Twitter than any possible replacement for it and also have their serious downsides.

It took Twitter 16 years or so and a number of ups and downs to develop that userbase. Sheer numbers aren't the be-all and end-all of social media - quality and signal to noise ratio count too, obviously - but critical mass is important, and is Twitter's main advantage, not least because of media outlets' presences on it along with arms of government etc.

I don't see any way Mastodon will ever become a serious rival, and all the other new platforms springing up in the wake of Musk's takeover will have a very long hill to climb before they're even a few leagues below Twitter.

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