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Get a weekly roundup of the best Substack posts, by hacker news affinity:

Top posts of the year

By hacker news affinity
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samf 144 likes 25 Feb 22
Wars rarely go to plan, especially if you believe your own rhetoric
samf 122 likes 27 Mar 22
Apologies for a more personal piece – we’ll be back to the politics and international relations soon (and there is a bit of policy in this one at the end I promise). But this week is a big anniversary for me. It will be a year since I went into hospital for a serious, but routine, operation and ended up a few hours, and a brilliant surgery team, away from dying. A year on feels like a good moment to look back and think about what I learned from the experience and how it changed me (and didn’t).
samf 104 likes 06 Mar 22
With the costs of war mounting and his army in disarray Putin is running out of options
samf 78 likes 17 May 22
Welcome to our second live Q+A for paid subscribers. Put your questions on the war below and Lawrence will answer for an hour or so. If there are questions left he might come back later and answer a few more. We’ve had a few questions in advance which Sam will post.
samf 71 likes 27 Feb 22
In my previous post I explained why I thought that this war had begun badly for Russia and was likely to end badly. Even if the military campaign progressed with greater efficiency Putin was still likely to lose because he was following a delusional strategy – reflecting his belief that Ukraine was a non-state with no national identity, that Kyiv could be taken quickly, so that President Zelensky could be deposed, and that a compliant puppet regime could be installed in his stead. Nothing has yet happened to make me change that view.
samf 63 likes 03 Jul 22
A Ukrainian soldier shows off a HIMARS multiple rocket launcher - part of the package of US military aid (Photo by Anastasia Vlasova for The Washington Post via Getty Images) ‘Despise the enemy strategically, but respect him tactically’ - Mao Zedong
samf 58 likes 22 Jun 22
Why Putin persists with his established strategy, accepting a test of endurance.
samf 44 likes 29 Apr 22
9A Russian ballistic nuclear missile roles through Red Square during rehearsals for the 2018 Military Victory Parade (Photo by Mikhail Svetlov/Getty Images) It is an unfortunate feature of wars that they are often launched with an expectation of swift and decisive conclusions but then spin out of control, losing both focus and limits. Just over thirty years ago I wrote
samf 44 likes 27 May 22
Henry Kissinger at Davos this week where he argued Ukraine should give up territory to end the war. If there is a single question put to me more than any other, it is ‘How long will this war last?’ – even more so than ‘Who will win?’ In practice the two questions are unavoidably connected. Both questions have acquired some extra urgency as Ukraine acknowledges that it is engaged in tough fighting in the Donbas. Though this should not come as a surprise, given the effort that Russia has been putting into this phase of the war, it has challenged the developing expectation that Russia would move from one setback to another until at some point – possibly quite soon – they would be expelled from Ukraine altogether.
samf 43 likes 06 Apr 22
A cross in Bucha marking the spot where locals buried four people killed by Russian troops (Photo by Alexey Furman/Getty Images) On 24 February as they began their invasion of Ukraine, Russian forces began shelling Mariupol, a port city of over 400,000 inhabitants. The next day they began to advance to its outskirts. By 2 March the city was surrounded and the shelling had become routine and deadly. Soon reports came in of schools and hospitals being hit. On 5 March came the first attempt to evacuate people under the auspices of the Red Cross: a convoy was organised but it was unable to escape because, despite Russian promises, the shelling did not stop. This was to be repeated many times. The lives of the residents became progressively more miserable and dangerous, with shelters, including one under a theatre, being targeted as well as homes. Some 90 percent of the buildings are now said to have been destroyed. By late March the Mayor was reporting that 5,000 civilians had been killed.
samf 42 likes 20 Apr 22
Time front cover after the Pentagon Papers were leaked - highlighting the deception, and self-deception, of the Vietnam War. It is 50 years since I read Hannah Arendt’s essay on ‘Lying in Politics’. The essay was prompted by the unauthorised release of the Pentagon Papers, a classified documentary history of US policy-making in the Vietnam War. What shocked many at the time was the evidence that while Lyndon Johnson’s administration continued to tell the American people that its strategy was working, despite the accumulating casualties, top officials knew it was failing. Much of the commentary surrounding the release of the papers, including Arendt’s, turned on the role of deception and self-deception.
samf 41 likes 06 Jul 22
It’s fitting that the worst Prime Minister this country has ever had is being forced out in such a dysfunctional and undignified way. It really is only a matter of time now; either further cabinet resignations will make his position untenable or he will be pushed out, early next week at the very latest, in a second confidence vote.
samf 41 likes 24 Mar 22
Russian flags dumped in the aftermath of a pro-war rally at the Luzhniki Stadium on the 18th March (Photo via @mbk_center) The futility of Russia’s war against Ukraine is matched only by its brutality. The longer it goes on the greater the potential humiliation of Putin and his army, but also the greater the suffering of the Ukrainian people. Both sides have incentives to conclude this war. Channels of communication between the two have been open since early in the war. A number of would-be mediators have tried to identify the basis for a cease-fire. Occasionally there have been hints that progress is being made, and disclosures about possible terms, but no agreed text. Meanwhile with each passing day, the stakes for the belligerents are going up, along with the levels of distrust.
samf 36 likes 25 Jun 22
Like Hollywood, British politics is pumping out sequels and losing its audience
samf 34 likes 10 May 22
Russian soliders at the 77th “Victory” Parade on Monday. (Photo by Contributor/Getty Images) Among the Kremlin’s many regrets about the conduct of this war one might be that expectations were allowed to build up around the annual parade to mark the end of the Great Patriotic War on 9 May. The link first emerged in March when there were reports that this had been set as a deadline for victory, or at least some notable military achievements, that could be celebrated by Vladimir Putin. But in the absence of any significant achievements, the date began instead to be approached with a different sense of foreboding – as a moment when Putin would be obliged to escalate. This might involve turning the ‘special military operation’ into a full-scale war, with the accompanying mobilisation of reservists and conscripts, or announcing an intent to annex Donetsk, Luhansk and Kherson, or, especially alarming, raising again the prospect of nuclear war.
samf 31 likes 31 Mar 22
Igor Girkin, aka Strelkov, delivers a press conference on 28 July 2014 in Donetsk. (Source: BULENT KILIC/AFP via Getty Images) In 2014 Igor Girkin, aka ‘Strelkov’ (the shooter), became the face of the rebellion in Ukraine’s Donbas region against the new government in Kyiv. He was not actually Ukrainian, but a Russian with strong nationalist views, who enjoyed historical re-enactments of past Russian wars, and had worked for the FSB (the successor to the KGB). He was a veteran of the conflicts that erupted in the former Soviet Union after its collapse, including in Chechnya. In February 2014, after a popular movement had led the pro-Russian president Yanukovych to flee, Girkin helped to create the conditions for the annexation of Crimea before moving on to the supposedly Russophile Donbas, becoming the Defence Minister of the self-proclaimed ‘Donetsk Peoples Republic’.
samf 30 likes 13 Apr 22
The leaders of NATO and member countries get ready for the official photo at the March 24th summit in Brussels (Photo by JOHN THYS/AFP via Getty Images) Part of the conventional wisdom on the Russo-Ukraine war is that a crisis that began with Putin looking for ways to weaken NATO and cast doubt on its resolve has ended up strengthening the alliance. The US has shown leadership and kept the alliance together. Countries that have lagged behind on their defence spending are urgently reviewing their budgets. Additional forces are being deployed to the front-line states bordering Russia. Finland and Sweden are now seriously considering joining the alliance. While Ukraine has been made painfully aware that it would have been better off if it had been a member of NATO, as it would then have got the benefit of more direct military intervention, at least the alliance refused to countenance Russian demands that the door be closed on membership forever. After a slow start vital military assistance is now flowing into Ukraine.
samf 29 likes 29 May 22
Understanding the key voter groups that will decide the next election
samf 26 likes 18 Mar 22
Russia's President has relied on popular support to build his power base, can he keep it through this war?
samf 26 likes 07 Jun 22
With Johnson wounded but not dead the Tories are are in the worst possible place
samf 25 likes 21 Mar 22
Will Trump’s past support for Putin make it harder for him to re-take the Presidency in 2024?
samf 24 likes 24 May 22
A flashing red light should be going off in Downing Street after Scott Morrison's loss
samf 24 likes 07 May 22
Sadiq Khan and Karen Buck MP celebrate with the new Labour leader of Westminster Council after taking control for the first time ever. (Photo by Jonathan Brady/PA Images via Getty Images) I’m not going to spend too much time setting out the results from the local elections both because the numbers are easily available elsewhere, and because last week’s
samf 24 likes 17 May 22
The Russian flagship Moskva sinking after being hit by Ukrainian Neptune missiles. From the start of this war there has been natural concern about the difficulties of keeping it confined to two belligerents within defined geographical boundaries. This concern is most often expressed in scenarios in which Vladimir Putin, having seen his ambitions thwarted and with his forces on the run, lashes out in anger, even with nuclear weapons.
samf 23 likes 04 Mar 22
Writing about British politics at the moment feels like sitting in a restaurant complaining about the soup while the kitchen burns down 20 feet away. The very worst problems we have look petty and mundane set alongside the hell Ukrainians are experiencing. Nevertheless, domestic politics does trundle on, and will eventually return to the forefront of our minds. When it does the impact of this war on both the political landscape and a whole range of policy areas will be significant.
samf 23 likes 31 Jan 22
The smart view was that the Met had screwed up Sue Gray’s report and that in some way this would let Johnson off the hook. It might be thought that being subject to a criminal investigation was potentially more damning and embarrassing that an internal Cabinet Office investigation, but for Johnson it had the advantage of stringing the process along, providing an opportunity for boredom and other distractions to kick in. Eventually the Met would come back and hand out its penalty notices, including potentially to Mr and Mrs Johnson, but this might be months away. In Johnson’s world all delay is good (‘Wait for the Met’ has now taken over from ‘Wait for Gray’). The value of every fib and obfuscation is to get you past the day’s headlines. Some other device can be found for the day after next.