The Russian-initiated war in Ukraine is continuing into its second year, and it’s hard to believe not only the harsh and cruel realities of that conflict which are ongoing, but also the dismal prospects for both regional and global peace at this point in human history. (March 2023) It’s a good time for all of us in the West (and probably most folks worldwide) to learn more about Russia, Russian history, and the international political dynamics around this conflict. In this post, I’ll share a few resources I’ve been listening to, watching and reading recently that can help in these educational endeavors.

First of all, I want to commend to you one of my favorite podcasts, “Angry Planet,” which was formerly titled, “War College.” Podcast co-hosts Jason Fields (@JasonQFields) and Matthew Gault (@mjgault) post their “Angry Planet” episodes to Acast, are on Twitter as @angryplanetpod, and maintain a Substack newsletter / website. Their March 13, 2023 episode, “Ukraine: Back to the Front One Year On,” features an outstanding interview with Caleb Larson (@calebmlarson), a US journalist now based in Germany who has extensively covered the war in Ukraine in-country.

In that interview, Caleb recommends the recent BBC documentary series “TraumaZone” by Adam Curtis. The seven part video series is available on YouTube, and is relatively complete except for a few DMCA-forced deletions. The subtitle is, “What It Felt Like to Live Through The Collapse of Communism and Democracy.” This documentary is a carefully remixed summary of tens of thousands of hours of video, literally “every piece of raw footage shot by the BBC in Russia since the 1960s.”

I watched part one of the series tonight, and it was definitely eye-opening. The experiences which the Russian (then “Soviet”) people had as their nation and empire literally collapsed around them is likely difficult for many of us in the United States / in the “West” to imagine and comprehend. The endemic corruption which became even WORSE as a result of Mikhail Gorbachev‘s policies of Perestroika were both crippling as well as deeply disillusioning for the Russian people, as well as (I’m guessing) millions of others living in former Soviet republics. Those Gorbachev-initiated “economic reforms” paved the way for the rise of Russian Oligarchs and the Russian economic system as well as political culture today which is NOT a “democratic” or “capitalistic” model we’d fully recognize (or likely understand) in the West. Yet it’s imperative that we do, as citizens as well as leaders.

The third resource I’d like to commend to you on the subject of better understanding historical as well as contemporary Russia is Jason Fields’ February 24, 2023 OpEd in Newsweek, “Sorry, America, the War in Ukraine Is Our Fight.”

Here are the two paragraphs from Jason’s opinion piece which I find most prescient and on point:

The U.S. is still a naïve place. We tend to believe the world is filled with nice guys and rational actors, that peace has unlimited appeal and trade can make anyone fat and happy. That’s why we believed history ended with the Cold War. Surely, we told ourselves, everyone wants to be like us.

They didn’t and they still don’t. There are people and whole nations that want what we have and they aren’t looking to pay a fair price. There are people like Putin and China’s Xi Jinping who see U.S. hegemony—which brings many benefits to us here at home, whether we’re willing to admit it or not—and want to replace it with their own.

Fields, J. (2023, February 24). Sorry, America, the War in Ukraine Is Our Fight. Newsweek.

Two other resources I recommend to better understand the Russian war in Ukraine are also podcasts. The BBC News February 23, 2023 program “The Parallel Universe of Russia’s War” is outstanding particularly from a “media literacy” standpoint, highlighting the ongoing role of Russian propaganda to spin, justify and “normalize” the war / armed conflict to the Russian people.

Last of all, Ray Suarez (@RaySuarezNews) shared on his “On Shifting Ground” podcast (formerly “World Affairs”) an excellent episode on March 9, 2023, titled, “What A Veteran Writer from the New Yorker Learned Covering the Ukraine War.” It features an interview with journalist, Joshua Yaffa (@yaffaesque), author of “Between Two Fires: Truth, Ambition, and Compromise in Putin’s Russia.”

We live in a perilous but also magical era, pregnant with exciting possibilities but also fraught with many dangers. Our information landscape is fractured and polluted, and the forecast is for more of the same. Fortunately, we have opportunities to serve as “filters for each other” when it comes to media in multiple forms, including text, audio podcasts, and videos. I hope the resources I’ve shared here are helpful to you in your own journey to better understand Russia, the ongoing war in Ukraine, and our collective place in history as citizens and voters.

I’m not currently teaching about Russian or military history, but I think we need to be discussing some of these issues with our students today, certainly if we teach older students in middle school and higher grades / levels. My continuing work in my media literacy inquiry project, “Conspiracies and Culture Wars,” touches on some of these topics as they relate to propaganda, conspiracy theories, media literacy, etc.

If you read, watch or listen to other resources you’d recommend on these topics, please reach out and let me know.

Learning About Russia” (CC BY 2.0) by Wesley Fryer

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