Braking Vlad

Lunghu hasn’t written about Comrade Bear in a while; not since the relatively early stages of the Ukraine reconquista.  There really hasn’t been much doubt about Russia’s Intent and Capability, so what would have been the point?  But an earlier post about the possible impact of 19th c. Russian literature on Putin’s worldview created modest ripples in the placid pond of Lunghu’s mind that have finally wiggled their way to shore.  If literature –fictional representation of the human condition– can shape human behavior (or intended behavior) long after ink has dried on the page, what other dimensions of existence (real or imagined) might do likewise?

So –in the context of risk/threat assessment– it’s now perhaps appropriate to take up the task of attempting a preliminary definition for the elements of Intent. We’ve previously established that R = T + V and that T = I + C, and we’ve defined some elements of C (Capability), but the underlying formula for Intent is still very much terra incognita.

Notice that Lunghu said “take up the task” and “attempting” and “preliminary definition”.  Those weasel words should signal –nay, proclaim– that these inchoate thoughts are still very much a work in progress, if indeed progress is to be made at all.  So, to begin, let’s ground our quest in current events and work our way back from there.  It will be ‘rewind analysis’ of a somewhat different kind.

Russia’s navy announced the successful launch of a Bulava intercontinental ballistic missile from the nuclear submarine Vladimir Monomakh on Wednesday.  Addressing a Kremlin meeting on weapons modernization, Putin warned that U.S. missile defense plans and its use of the crisis in Ukraine to reinvigorate NATO have [undermined] Russia’s security.

“We have warned many times that we would have to take corresponding countermeasures to ensure our security,” Putin said.  “I would like to underline that we only take retaliatory steps.”  He and other officials have repeatedly boasted about new Russian nuclear missiles’ capability to penetrate any prospective missile shield.

Rather than focus, as so many will do, on the superficial content of Comrade Bear’s words, let’s instead briefly examine the cultural/symbolic allusions that permeate Wednesday’s missile test.  What’s a Bulava?  And who is Vladimir Monomakh?  It’s a good idea to ask.



  • In the Ukrainian language, a buława or bulava is a mace or a club, in both the military and ceremonial senses.  Historically the buława was an attribute of a Hetman, an officer of the highest military rank or the military head of a Cossack state (Cossack Hetmanate).  The bulava is also an official symbol of the President of Ukraine.
  • Hetman (variants: Otaman, Ataman, Wataman, Vataman; Russian: атаман) was a title of Cossack leaders of various kinds. In the Russian Empire, the term Otaman was the official title of the supreme military commanders of the Cossack armies.  The Ukrainian “Hetman” form may derive from the German Hauptmann by way of Polish, like several other titles.  During certain historical periods, the supreme leader of Ukrainian Cossacks was called Hetman.

So:  the bulava is simultaneously a ceremonial accessory of the President of Ukraine (symbolizing his authority) and (historically) a badge of rank for the supreme military commander of the Ukrainian Cossack army under the Russian Empire.

Vladimir Monomakh

Grand Duke Vladimir Monomakh (1053 to 1125) was the last grand prince of Kiev able to unify the Ancient Rus’ within a coherent polity.

  • Kievan Rus’ was a loose federation of East Slavic tribes in Europe from the late 9th to the mid-13th century. The peoples of present-day Belarus, Ukraine, and Russia all claim Kievan Rus’ as their cultural ancestors. The Kievan state prospered due to its abundant supply of furs, beeswax, honey, and slaves for export, and because it controlled three main trade routes of Eastern Europe.  Kievan Rus’ attained its greatest territorial extent under Yaroslav I (1019 to 1054); shortly after his death his sons assembled and issued its first written legal code, the Rus’ Justice.
  • The term “Kievan Rus'” (Ки́евская Русь) was coined in the 19th century by Russian historians to refer to the period when the capital was in Kiev.


  • Vladimir Monomakh was the son of Grand Prince Vsevolod I of Kiev’s Rurik Dynasty and Anastasia of the Byzantine Empire.  Anastasia is believed to be related to the family of the Byzantine emperor Constantine IX Monomachos, from whom Vladimir derived his surname.  Beginning in 1094, Vladimir’s chief patrimony was the southern town of Pereyaslav, although he also controlled Rostov, Suzdal, and other northern provinces.  In these lands he founded several towns, including his namesake, Vladimir, the future capital of Russia.
  • In 1107 he and his army defeated a Cuman invasion of Kievan Rus’ territory. When Grand Prince Sviatopolk II died in 1113, the Kievan populace revolted and summoned Vladimir to the capital. He entered Kiev to the great delight of the crowd and reigned there until his death in 1125. These years saw the last flowering of Ancient Rus, which was torn apart 10 years after his death.  Succeeding generations often referred to Vladimir’s reign as the golden age of Kiev.



What might observers reasonably infer from the cultural touchstones associated with historicized symbols such as the bulava and Vladimir Monomakh?  Let’s review:


a symbol of the authority of Ukraine’s President.

an emblem of rank for the military commander of Ukranian Cossacks in the Russian Empire.

a warclub for smashing the skull of one’s enemy.

Vladimir Monomakh

defender of Kievan Rus’ from barbarian invasion.

unifier of the Rus’ nation and protector of the people.

founder of a Golden Age of peace and prosperity in Kievan Rus’

Executive authority.  Military command.  Defense against barbarism. A united people.  Fond memories of a Golden Age.  These are just some of the cultural themes evoked by two simple(!) terms.  That is to say, these are the themes evoked in Slavic minds, among people deeply familiar with Russian history and culture.

Elsewhere, in Western Europe and on the American continent, ‘bulava’ and ‘Vladimir Monomakh’ are nearly-empty nominal labels, which merely designate particular Russian weapons systems with particular capabilities. The larger cultural meaning is completely opaque to such observers. And that’s more than a pity, because it’s also a strategic Vulnerability.  When you don’t understand your adversary’s Intent, you can’t properly assess the Threat he may pose, and thus you don’t understand the Risk you’re implicitly, blindly accepting.  C – (I) = T^2 = R^3

Back at the beginning of this post, Lunghu made some broad, grandiose, sweeping claims about attempting a definition of the elements of adversary Intent. It might be better to describe the effort as one of groping toward the barest glimmer of a shadowy twilight from the depths of a pitch black cave.  John Boyd, the 20th C. military strategist perhaps best known for his use of the OODA Loop concept, made the claim that all men (and, Lunghu would add, women too) are motivated by the desire to preserve maximal freedom of action in building a better life for themselves and their kin.  In this context, the better life each seeks to build is one that each imagines for himself –or in concert with like-minded others.  Their imaginations may be shaped by literature, myth, dreams and visions, religious doctrine, or a historical narrative with particular emphases of one kind or another.  In this way, people who share a common culture construct a collective vision of their desired future by reconfiguring and redefining their collective memory of a partially imaginary and sometimes romanticized past.  What do they Intend?  They may not even know themselves.


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