Watch our interview with Samo Burja on Youtube.

Samo Burja is a sociologist and the founder of Bismarck Analysis, a firm that analyzes institutions, from governments to companies. His research work focuses on the causes of societal decay and flourishing and he writes on history, epistemology and strategy.


Show notes

Since the Russian invasion of Ukraine is what is on everyone’s mind, Trent began by asking about that. He was chiefly interested in getting Samo’s take on Putin’s motives.

Analysts such as John Mearsheimer think that it’s entirely a result of Putin’s fears about NATO expansion, while others think that Putin is trying to establish a 17th century style Russian Empire and he’s mostly just an opportunist who saw a chance to strike while the iron was hot.

Samo thinks Putin is on a personal mission to rebuild the Russian state after the humiliation of the 1990s, and that almost everything in his career can be understood as serving this goal. People can describe him as tactically an opportunist, but there’s a clear long term strategy, even when it comes to this military operation in the Ukraine.

Though we might condemn the 2014 annexation of Crimea, it’s important not to lose sight of the fact that it was an innovative hybrid operation to which the West had no satisfactory response.

The basic approach was to disarm, defeat, and surprise the target territory so that they surrender without a fight, then carry out a fake referendum wherein they declare independence and then ‘vote’ to join the Russian Federation immediately after.

Because Putin wants to build a truly sovereign Russia during his lifetime, its sanctions-induced financial and economic isolation might even be a feature and not a bug.

Most Western countries are not nearly so sovereign, with their economic and political interdependence. States like China, on the other hand, are not as well integrated with the West and do not fall within its cultural sphere of influence.

According to Samo, Putin wants to burn political bridges so that not even his successors could decide they want a closer relationship with the West, thereby forcing Russia to diverge from the path taken by other Eastern European powers and go its own way.

This and more in the episode!