Tippets #170: Ukrainian history, primer on sanctions, what next, and more.
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No preamble this week. I haven’t been able to muster the energy or find the words. This week’s Tippets are a small selection of some of more informative pieces I have read on Ukraine, how we got here, and what might be next. I hope that the support from Ukraine from around the world and within Russia itself is enough to stop more loss of life.
Tippets from Around the Web:
An excellent piece on the history of Ukraine by Pulitzer Prize winning writer Anne Applebaum, an American journalist and historian who has written extensively about Marxism–Leninism and the development of civil society in Central and Eastern Europe. She offers an overview into the country’s founding, the essence of ‘Ukrainianness’, and how important this Ukrainian identity is going to be as it defends itself against Putin’s Russia.
The Ukrainians emerged from the medieval state of Kyivan Rus’—the same state from which the Russians and Belarusians also emerged—eventually to become, like the Irish or the Slovaks, a land-based colony of other empires.
To say “I am Ukrainian” was, once upon a time, a statement about status and social position as well as ethnicity. “I am Ukrainian” meant you were deliberately defining yourself against the nobility, against the ruling class, against the merchant class, against the urbanites.
As they gained strength and numbers, Moscow came to see these grassroots Ukrainian organizations as a threat to the unity of imperial Russia. In 1863 and then again in 1876, the empire banned Ukrainian books and persecuted Ukrainians who wrote and published them.
Ukraine’s determination to become a democracy is a genuine challenge to Putin’s nostalgic, imperial political project: the creation of an autocratic kleptocracy, in which he is all-powerful, within something approximating the old Soviet empire.
The clash that is coming will matter to all of us, in ways that we can’t yet fathom. In the centuries-long struggle between autocracy and democracy, between dictatorship and freedom, Ukraine is now the front line—and our front line too.
A moment of clarity
One of two very insightful pieces by Noah Smith this week on the attempted Russian invasion of Ukraine. In this essay he describes the broader ramifications of Russian action on the world order that has persisted for the last 70 years and what a return to the ‘law of the jungle’ means for foreign policy. He then digs in to why a strong US government institution - even for the most libertarian, anti-government people out there - is essential.
The law of the jungle has returned, and the strong will dominate the weak if they see fit. This will have several ripple effects. First, it will dramatically increase the incentives for nuclear proliferation — recall that Ukraine gave up its nukes in 1994 in return for a (worthless) guarantee of security from the Russian Federation…It will also push countries toward great-power alliance blocs, as in the Cold War (when even most of the so-called “non-aligned” countries really chose sides). Countries in Asia — India, Vietnam, the Philippines, Indonesia, and so on — must now be thinking about drawing closer to the United States in case China should decide to follow Putin’s example…So the post-WW2 moment — a sort of extended after-party for the world to recover from the great catastrophe of the modern age — is now over. Perhaps it was always destined to end once the generation who lived through it passed on.
China shows that national governments can have their way with crypto (note that Bitcoin plunged even as gold soared in the wake of Russia’s attack). What the despots can take, they will take, unless you bend the knee and serve their purposes; this is the law of the jungle.
Now those norms are gone, torn up by jealous, petty men who never lived to see what a world ruled by the law of the jungle is like. We may yet reestablish the norms of inviolable borders and the rights of small countries, but this will take risk and effort and blood — the blood of the Ukrainians now the first to be spilled. The crisis of the 21st century is upon us. And we must go into this crisis with open eyes, discarding the illusions we spun for our own consumption when we took peace for granted.
The big sanctions: A quick explainer
A lot of talk in my circles over the last week has been about what other countries can truly do to impact Russia, absent sending troops into the war zone. How meaningful are ‘sanctions’, and will Putin really care? As of this writing, it certainly seems like he might. The ruble has plunged to all time lows against the dollar, Russians are lined up at banks, global corporations are cutting ties with Russia, and it seems like peace talks might happen assuming a truly neutral location and a way for Putin to save face can be found. So what are the sanctions all about? Per this article from Noah Smith:
Cutting some Russian banks out of the SWIFT messaging system
Freezing the Russian central bank’s access to its foreign currency reserves held in the West
Increased sanctions on Russian banks in general
Establishing an international task force to hunt down and freeze the assets of Russian companies and Russian oligarchs
Some great detail in the piece. I encourage a read.
Get Your Business ‘In A Boxer Stance’
Gen. Stanley McChrystal is the retired four-star general who ran U.S. operations in Afghanistan. Now with his own business consulting practice, he “[advises] corporate leaders on how to better navigate exactly the kind of high-speed, high-volatility environment we’re in right now.” In this interview he lays out his thoughts on company crisis management, why 80% of preparedness for any kind of crisis is the same, and what to expect next.
Startups and Macro Risk
It’s been a wild 21 months in the venture / startup ecosystem with capital raining from the sky, astronomical valuations, and an extremely sharp-elbowed venture environment. Now, the political and public-market uncertainty has left many startup founders wondering, “What next?” The advice from Albert Wenger of Union Square Ventures: batten down the hatches.
If you have raised a round at a really extended valuation in the last 6-12 months I would strongly advise making this cash last a lot longer than you had originally planned. Ideally see if you can get to cash flow positive or within striking distance of that on the money you have. And if you have the opportunity to take some more money right now by all means do so. You can always choose to reaccelerate spending at any time. But you can’t count on being able to raise when everyone else is running out of money also. Now, more than ever, is the time to make your business antifragile.
Quote I’m thinking about: “I don't need a ride, I need ammunition.” - Volodymyr Zelensky
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