Three Lessons from Russian History, by R.M.B. in Tennessee

I returned to the United States in 1999 after spending an extended period of time in Russia. The country has a deep, fascinating and sometimes terrible history. However, of moment to this submission are three events that, in my opinion, are very beneficial for each of us to consider and contemplate as we go about our business of preparing. These three events are so significant because I believe that these events are illustrative of what may occur in a SHTF or TEOTWAWKI scenario. By examining what actually transpired in a modern first world civilization during times of SHTF/TEOTWAWKI we can divine–to some extent–what would transpire in our own culture/geographic locations under similar circumstances. Thus, an evaluation of these three events can provide us with data for practical application as we prepare ourselves, our families and our communities.  These three events are also important to consider in my opinion because they are illustrative of what–again, in my opinion–are the most likely scenarios of SHTF/TEOTWAWKI. 

The three events are, in chronological order: the siege of Leningrad (now St. Petersburg), the financial crisis of 1998, and the war in Kosovo.  I lived in Russia during the last two of these three events, and I know individuals who lived through the first. I will address each of these events below.

Lesson #1: The Siege of Leningrad

During World War II, the capture of Leningrad was one of the three primary goals of the Nazi forces on the Eastern Front. The city held political, strategic and emotional importance as it was the former capital of the Russian Empire, the seat of the baltic fleet and home to numerous munitions factories, and the Russian bastion of the arts and sciences.  Hitler was so fixated on the capture of this city that he actually had pre-printed invitations to the victory celebration to be held in one of the great hotels of the city. 

The Nazi forces–at least 350,000 strong–approached the city of approximately 2.5 million souls during the summer of 1941.  At the approach of the Nazi forces, 1.4 million individuals were evacuated from the city. Those who remained–men, women as well as children–were soon to be subjected to a long and brutal two and a half years. The Nazi advance was stymied through the resistance efforts of both soldiers and civilians, and the Nazis had yet to reach the city boundaries by the fall of 1941. However, by September 1941 the Nazi forces had successfully surrounded the city, although they were unable to break through the outer defenses.  Nevertheless, the Russians could not claim victory.  For a period of 872 days the Nazi forces laid siege to the city, bombarding its citizens with shelling and machine gun fire. I have personally strode past the signs that stand as monument to this day that declare “During shelling periods, stand on this side of the street to avoid death.” I have personally visited on many occasions the cemetery where over 500,000 victims of the siege rest interned. The 500,000 figure may seem high, but it is estimated that over 650,000 souls perished during the siege. During January and February of 1942 alone, between 7,000–10,000 died per day of starvation. 

So, you may be asking yourself, what’s the point of this history lesson? Here it is.

During the time of the siege, the government seized control of the food sources. Rations were handed out–to those who could reach the supply tents, as many died on the way to the supply tents from cold and starvation—that consisted of 125 grams of bread mixed with sawdust. Those who were lucky killed and ate pigeons. Many resorted to cannibalizing the dead (this is a documented truth; there are much more sinister rumors, however, that there were groups who would actively kill in order to cannibalize). Although we may not ever face a military siege of the type described above, a prolonged food shortage would result in the same effects as seen by those in Leningrad during the siege. Such a prolonged food shortage could arrive in this country–or any other for that matter–by means of many things. A natural disaster such as a major earthquake or tsunami; a shortage of fuel to transport our food; a collapse of the fiat currency system; a famine; choose your own peril. The practical lesson for me to take away here is that any number of events could cut off our food supply. If that happens, then people will die and resort to otherwise unthinkable acts. So, the lesson to us is to stock our larders deep and tall, and prepare to produce our own food supplies to the extent we can. 

In summary, Lesson #1 is: food supplies for entire populations are fragile. Once that supply is disrupted the unprepared will die and/or live in unimaginably horrible circumstances. Thinking that the government or the goodwill of others will sustain you is folly, as seen by what transpired in Leningrad. Stock up on food and water, and prepare to produce your own food to the extent you can.

Lesson #2: The Financial Crisis of 1998

The causes of the Russian financial crisis of 1998 are complex and varied. I do not purport to understand all of these factors fully, and the factors that I do understand I will not attempt to explain in detail. I will, however, attempt to summarize the causes of the crisis before describing the aftereffects. The Russian economy was being driven primarily by selling commodities on the foreign market, as well as borrowing on the foreign market. However, when the Asian crisis occurred and commodities prices were decimated, Russia had difficulty paying the interest on its debts. Does the thought of a market segment collapsing, leaving said market in a spot where it is hard pressed to pay the interest on its debt, sound familiar at all to anyone? Anyone? In any event, the Russian stock, bond, and currency markets collapsed in the early fall of 1998 as a result of investor fears that the government would devalue its currency, default on domestic debt, or both. Again, sound familiar to anyone? (QE?) Markets tumbled, as well as the value of the ruble, and banks closed as there was a run on the banks as people tried to withdraw their money to buy tangibles before prices and inflation decimated the value of their fiat currency. Literally in the span of one month the value of the ruble as compared to the dollar had decreased by 2/3.  Therefore, when people were finally able to access their money, it would only buy 1/3 of what it would once buy. Can you imagine having $100 in the bank today, only to go tomorrow to try and withdraw it and find that the bank was closed, and when you do manage to finally withdraw your money, it is only worth $33? That is devastating. 

Again, you may be asking “Okay, but what does this boring history lesson have to do with anything?” Here is is.

When (not if) fiat currency loses its “value,” those holding said fiat currency to the exclusion of tangibles lose. And lose big. 

I recall that many of the folks who had cash on hand foolishly went out and spent it on things like watches, televisions, and other electronics. They foolishly thought that the government would provide the necessities like food and water for them. So, they figured, they could buy “nice things” and the government would take care of them. What they saw literally two days later would turn their world upside down. Within days of the collapse there were–without hyperbole–guards with machine guns guarding the food in grocery stores. The food had been piled up in the middle of the floor and the guards encircled it. You had to show your cash to even be admitted entrance to the grocery store. People began to starve. Fights in the streets began to break out over bread and sugar. Long lines were created if there was even so much as a whiff that a store had cooking oil. People began foraging in the woods for mushrooms and berries. A barter economy started up on the streets. 

That is what post financial collapse Russia looked like. And it looked that way for several months. No food. People spending the overwhelming majority of their fiat currency to buy meager morsels of bread. So, what’s the lesson here? I suppose there are a few. First, fiat currency systems are fragile and subject to systemic failures. Second, and as stressed above, stack your larders deep and tall. Third, if you do have cash on hand, don’t buy stupid things. Fourth, don’t be fooled: folks will fight for food. In Russia they do not have an armed populace; we in the USA do. The fists I saw flying in Russia over a bag of mushrooms could easily be bullets here in the USA flying over a box of Uncle Ben’s Rice. Stay off the streets, practice OPSEC, and  be prepared for violence because it will happen. Finally, a financial collapse can happen suddenly and quickly and have ruinous effects in almost no time at all. 

In summary, Lesson #2 is: fiat currency systems are fragile. In the event of a financial collapse, the only safe haven is in tangibles. Stock up on beans, bullets and Band-Aids, and avoid the madness because madness will happen. 

Lesson #3: The Kosovo War (1998–1999)

As many readers will recall, in the mid-1990’s there was escalating violence and tension between the ethnicities and religions in Yugoslavia (for you younger readers, Yugoslavia used to be a country in Eastern Europe). During 1997 and 1998 there was a full blown war between different groups vying for power, and reports of genocide.  Due to various reasons, NATO refused to sit by and let this fighting and slaughter continue, and NATO began a sustained bombing campaign in spring and summer 1999. As a combination of the ground war between the various ethnicities, and the bombing campaign of NATO, over 1 million souls were displaced, and fled the region, becoming migrant refugees. 

During that time period I was living in a Russian city that was close to the border. Tens of thousands of refugees from this region found their way into the city and the outlying region. As you might expect, they were not welcomed with entirely open arms. As you will recall, Russia was still recovering from the financial crisis. It did not have money to spare. These refugees took up shelter in apartment buildings and other edifices that had been abandoned and condemned. I saw families living in concrete blocks where the foundation had sunk into the earth, resulting in the concrete floor having a strange tilt to it such that a marble would roll from one side of the room to another. There was no running water or plumbing or heat in these edifices. The families huddled under blankets to keep warm, and cooked over open fires, often made with discarded tires. Deplorable living conditions. And yet, they had shelter. There were many more who bedded down in the fields around the cities. As these refugees would wander the city looking for food and work, they were turned away on more then one occasion by the force of fist or boot. 

So, again you ask, what’s the point? Well, here it is.

The golden horde is a reality, and they will descend like locusts. This particular horde was unarmed, but I do not imagine that that would be the case in the USA. The golden horde in the USA would –I imagine–also take up residence in any edifice they could. Look for whatever food they could. Fight for whatever food they could. So, the practical lesson here is, I believe, the golden horde will come, and it is to be avoided. It will be massive. They will work together as they are in the same boat. They will be after resources such as shelter, food and fuel. So, practice OPSEC. Better yet, G.O.O.D.

Summary of lesson #3: in times of crisis, the Golden Horde will materialize. It will be massive. It will descend upon wherever it assumes there are resources. Stay out of its way to the extent you can G.O.O.D. Practice OPSEC. Be prepared for their violence. Stay safe.

Finally, it cannot go without saying that during any of these times of crisis people look to God. While that is wise, it is wiser to look to God before such a crisis. If he warns you to build an ark, then guess what? You should build an ark. 

Overall, these are three modern lessons of SHTF/TEOTWAWKI scenarios that actually happened. They all actually happened in a First World country. They are all things that could easily be repeated. Practical lesson: prepare accordingly.