Owen Matthews was Newsweek Magazine’s Moscow Bureau Chief from 2006-16. His upcoming novel, “White Fox” (Doubleday 2022), is set in Vorkuta in 1961.
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By now everyone is surely an expert on the mud-freeze theory of warfare or whether bombs-away begins halfway through the bobsleigh or snowboarding competition in Beijing.
There’s no talk of imminent invasion plans in Moscow, not on state media, not among political journalists, not among the political class. Even the Ukrainians themselves, supposedly in the firing line, don’t seem worried.
But could it be that Putin means something quite different - and that for him and his generation of Russians the USSR is a shorthand for an era of lost stability and respect? Is Putin just tactless, or actually dangerous?
The cost to Putin in casualties would be enormous — not to mention triggering crippling economic sanctions that could shut down not just Nord Stream 2 but all of Russia’s exports of gas, oil, steel, aluminum and nickel. “We don’t see any plausible way in which Putin could actually win a war if he started it,” the British official told New Lines. “It’s not very clear what his war aims would even be.”
If anywhere is the end of the earth, it’s here — in every sense. Vorkuta is obscene. Obscene in its rape of the earth, its wanton waste of resources, its reckless poisoning of its own inhabitants and the planet. The very ground is doubly poisoned, both physically and karmically. It’s a historical crime scene and an ongoing ecological disaster zone. Tragedy is Vorkuta’s gravity. And it pulls you down, powerfully.