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Ukraine’s Secret Weapon

Ukraine’s Secret Weapon

LinkedIn is the place to go to find hard-hitting stories like “The Seven Habits of Emotionally Intelligent Accountants” or “Top Interviewers Always Ask This Question.” While Twitter lights up with bots spreading Covid disinformation and Facebook ruins your Thanksgiving, LinkedIn just plods along in a somnolent corporate monotone.    

Across the roiling havoc of the Trump years, LinkedIn remained a fortress of banality. Take your politics to church, to the family holidays, even to work, but you don’t take politics to LinkedIn. 

Then Russia invaded Ukraine and LinkedIn lit up.

Many have puzzled over the world’s remarkable alignment behind this scrappy post-Soviet country on Europe’s margin. Sure, they’re white, which would normally explain a lot, but so are the Russians. They’re fighting the Russians, which accounts for a lot of American support. And they’re a grimly-determined underdog with a charismatic leader who just might prevail, a Hollywood story just waiting to be written.

However, none of these factors helped Georgia in the least, where Russian troops still camp on land they stole in 2008. And none of it helped Ukraine back in 2014 when the Russians invaded Crimea. These advantages should have been just enough to inspire a few bands to wear Ukrainian-flag t-shirts at Coachella next year while their audience ignored the invasion, traveling to and from the show on the power of cheap gas.

Instead, virtually the entire democratic world has aligned to strangle Russian commerce, welcome Ukrainian refugees, and pour weapons into the war. If Ukrainians can hold out a few more weeks, western resistance to a NATO no-fly zone over the country will melt away as it did in the Balkans 30 years ago. Europe and the US are inches from abandoning the last remaining Cold War taboo, an open military challenge to Russia, over a country they were reluctant to admit to NATO. Why?

Why should Ukraine today inspire such a passionate response not seen in support of Yemen, Georgia or even Ukraine itself just seven years ago?

When looking at national power and influence in the 21st century, we should perhaps take a closer look at LinkedIn.

What is LinkedIn? It started as a social networking platform for corporate climbers. Members post a profile which is essentially their resume, and “connect” with others. As it became the de facto global employment registry, one’s LinkedIn network and activity evolved into a kind of career credit score. Engagement and connections on the platform became a key element of net worth. 

Authenticity and career-based accountability have been key to LinkedIn’s influence. It’s difficult to develop a fake persona of any real value on LinkedIn, since lots of people are in a position to know whether you are, in fact, the Senior Associate Director of Corporate Synergies at Ford. Things you can get away with on Facebook because you keep it among friends, or on Twitter because you go under the handle Groyper88, will get you fired on LinkedIn. LinkedIn is where social media agitation meets real world consequences.

On Instagram every couple is happy. On Facebook every child is thriving. On LinkedIn every career is booming. LinkedIn posts are a monotonous litany of repackaged company press releases and job change announcements. The occasional political post is LinkedIn draws a passively threatening comment urging them to “keep it professional.” Leave the spicy stuff for Facebook. LinkedIn is militantly bland.

People think twice before they post controversial political content on LinkedIn. In other words, political content that thrives on LinkedIn is the de facto standard of consensus. Lose LinkedIn and you’ve lost.

Why is LinkedIn such a powerful platform? LinkedIn is the network broker of the global retainer class. Facebook has friends. LinkedIn has careers.

In the mid-20th century, Richard Horsley and Gerhard Lenski separately developed a theory of the retainer class, a tier of educated, professional elites responsible for making a society function. They were neither the wealthy nor the poor. Retainers were the bureaucrats, merchants, lawyers, generals and others, people who actually knew how things worked. Their allegiance to a regime made that regime possible. 

The wealthy and the poor are defined by inheritance. Retainers are defined by education and expertise. How many oligarchs or peasants know how to run a power plant or hack a cloud-based application? You can’t maintain a prison system or an army without retainers who know how to make phone systems, databases or logistics chains work. Revolutions happen when the retainer class loses its allegiance to the wealthy elites they serve, siding instead with the poor whose cars they should be repossessing or whose sons they should be conscripting or imprisoning. 

From Oliver Cromwell to Robespierre to Ho Chi Minh, revolutionaries come from the retainer class. Lose the retainer class and you’ve lost the regime, and perhaps your head. LinkedIn is where the retainer class forms its voice, carefully, slowly, even reluctantly, but with potent effect. 

In this context, it should be unsurprising that Russia blocked LinkedIn in 2017, part of its campaign to clamp down on foreign influence in its media and data markets. At the time, Russia had the 15th-largest LinkedIn community in the world with 4m users. Ukraine ranked 44th, with just over a million. 

Five years later, there are 4 million Ukrainians using LinkedIn and zero Russians (officially). However, this isn’t the heart of the story. The most interesting dimension of LinkedIn activity isn’t members, but density and reach. In other words, how many connections does the average user have and how far do those connections extend in terms of distance, influence and power. LinkedIn doesn’t make it easy to track this data, but you can see its shadow on the platform. 

By 2022, Ukraine was a meaningful force on LinkedIn. Russia was not. At the start of the war, Google had more employees in Ukraine (200) than in Russia (100). More than 125 tech startups have employees in Ukraine. About 100 Fortune 500 companies have software development staff in Ukraine. After years of harassment and intimidation from the Putin regime, it’s estimated that major tech companies would lose as little as 1% of their annual revenues by ceasing all activity in Russia. Smaller corporate players have been ending operations there over the past decade thanks to escalating political harassment and extortion. This has serious implications in a conflict.

How do you feel about a war happening in a place you can’t find on a map, between nations whose names you can’t spell? How do you feel about a war that just killed the daughter of your product manager, someone you had a Zoom call with last week? When Saudi Arabia invaded Yemen, how many mid-level managers at global tech companies lost their network security team? When the Burmese government began slaughtering the Rohingya, how many IBM data projects ground to a halt? When the US invaded Iraq, what tech startup lost its development team? LinkedIn combines the power of instant connection with the power of the global retainer class. When a political consensus takes hold on LinkedIn it exercises gravity in corporate boardrooms, which translates quickly into political influence.

Why does LinkedIn matter? Connection is power. The connections of the global retainer class are a unique lever of power. LinkedIn itself isn’t winning the war for Ukraine, but the country’s relative heft on the platform points to a vital power few recognize. Putin’s regime has been working to sever its citizens’ connections to the wider world for decades because those connections create rival centers of influence. Isolation was necessary to make a war like this possible, but it also blunted the regime’s political reach. Finding someone in the mainstream of commerce who supports this war is a difficult effort. Putin has lost the global retainer class, which will cost him this war and bring its poison back to Moscow like a sepsis.

Only one other event has ever broken through LinkedIn’s political firewall quite so decisively – the January 6 attempted coup. Comment on the matter ended when it became clear the coup had failed, but the Ukraine invasion should be a warning to America’s autocrats. Lose LinkedIn and lose everything.


A few samples of commonly shared posts supporting Ukraine on LinkedIn.

Friend killed in Ukraine

A company’s post about an employee killed with her family

Free refugee services

An HR professional killed in Ukraine

An appeal to NATO

Cancel activities in Russia

Criticism of Russian colleagues from an engineer at Cisco

Close the sky

Ways to donate to Ukraine


  1. It’s April 8th, which means that it’s the 9 year celebration of Margaret Thatcher no longer being with us. Her conservative policies alongside Ronald Reagan’s are responsible for the chain reactions that created so much of what’s wrong with the world today. I do not miss either of them and hope that they have faced justice in whatever afterlife they were sent to.

  2. I’ve been job searching on LinkedIn, among other places. Online job searching is trash. Companies are allowed to post jobs listed as “Entry Level” that require “3-5 years experience” in certain fields. A temp job I saw that’s in my field requires 2+ years of experience. Almost everything requires a bachelor’s degree.

    People like me who have Associates in Applied Science degrees or technical degrees from community colleges that strung us along with promises that the credentials we earned would open doors for us? All we really have are openings for cheap data entry contract gigs that we get set up with from staffing firms that have websites that look like they were designed by a freshman in high school. That, or unpaid internships like the one I’m working right now and ends in a couple of weeks.

    I’ve applied for a couple of temp jobs this week, but the most promising thing that I’ve gotten is a long-time friend of my parents who said he may have a relevant job for me. Nepotism and connections still win in the end.

    In Maryland, the governor recently ordered the elimination for Bachelor’s Degree requirements for thousands of state jobs. I think that’s good. In his campaign promises, Biden said that there are so many jobs that people can do without a four-year degree and wanting people to be able to get more jobs without that degree.

    The Governor Of Maryland doing this is in line with what I want to see nationwide. As far as I’m concerned, traditional college/university programs and the level of degree inflation that we’ve seen for even basic jobs are scams meant to prop up elite credentialism. Scams meant to prop up the kind of stuff that you railed against a while back, when you criticized the potential path forward that college degrees and credentialed elites might be the thing that replaces our systemic and institutional racism.

    Looking at the posts people share on LinkedIn, it just looks like an onanistic country club for the credentialed elite. Everyone sharing some top 10 tips for success or an inspirational quote stolen from somebody who originally shared it to Instagram.

    Also: How many of the Ukrainians hired by American companies on LinkedIn are doing jobs that Americans can do, and want to do? How many of them were paid the same as their American counterparts? Am I competing for entry-level tech jobs that are just going to go to someone in Ukraine who would just get paid half or a quarter of what I would? And if so, how is that fair?

  3. This is a really fascinating article! I agree with you about the power of the LinkedIn crowd. The common joke in the early years was that LinkedIn was e-harmony for the underemployed. But no longer. LinkedIn is a very important part of career advancement for a lot of folks these days.

    I wonder if you’re reading the tweet threads from Kamil Galeev on Russia and Ukraine. They’re fascinating and reveal internal Russian politics and history like no other source I’ve seen. He has one about how any revolution in Russia will come from counterelites rising against the elites:

    It goes along with the what you say about revolutions not starting with the poorest folks, who have no power and money to do anything. It starts when the professional class just below the inherited aristocracy gets fed up with the situation and starts the revolution. That’s why it’s always university students 🙂

    That said, I think you’re also perhaps missing a much simpler explanation: Joe Biden is much, much better at foreign policy than Obama. Biden has been one of the Democrats’ brain trust on foreign policy for decades. IMHO, he had the best plan for Iraq while VP (not adopted by Obama), and has always spoken intelligently about foreign affairs.

    By all accounts, Obama was even more a deer-in-the-headlights on foreign policy than he was in the domestic realm. Given how gunshy he was in the domestic realm, that’s saying something. When Russia invaded Crimea, the same options were on the table e.g. harsh sanctions, kicking them out of SWIFT, etc. And back then, before the cult of Trump took over the Republican party, he would have gotten bipartisan support for going after Russia. But he never took them, and instead stood paralyzed by his own fear and indecision.

    FWIW, I give a lot of credit to Biden on the foreign policy front. He might even rival GHWB and Bill Clinton in that realm. Biden did the right thing withdrawing from Afghanistan, and sure, withdrawal is always messy, but it was the right thing to do. And now, I’m really impressed with how he’s dealing with Russia. Especially going after the elites and the oligarchs with banking restrictions and individual punishments. It’s always easy to sanction stuff like trade, which always hits the poorest people first. It’s a lot harder to go after the rich people of a sanctioned country, since plenty of rich people in our country make money off of and have ties with those oligarchs.

    While I don’t disagree with your astute analysis of the difference between LinkedIn and crazy uncles yelling on facebook, I think you underestimate the power of the President in these matters.

  4. People keep linking the Ukraine to Taiwan
    There is NO common thread
    Taiwan itself claims to be part of China – it says it on their damn passports!

    Mainland Chine will never invade – it would be nearly impossible and it would not produce a productive result – instead Taiwan will eventually ask to rejoin – it may take 5 decades but the Chines are nothing if not patient

    1. I believe you are correct regarding reunification. But I am dubious regarding the mainland invading. to be sure it would be a difficult task, but Xi is so bent on reunification and feels the timing is appropriate for forcefully addressing the revanchist claims China has that there is a distinct possibility of an invasion in the foreseeable future. He feels the US’ influence and power is waning, while China’s is waxing. Plus China is facing some significant potential economic and demographic problems. However, if the US can get past its present funk and polarization and start functioning as it should and can, that equation will change dramatically. The response to the Ukraine crisis may be an indicator that the change is upon us.

  5. An additional thought – there was an earlier period of globalization. That one lasted for a few decades but tragically ended in 1914 after an earlier great power rivalry exploded into general war. Another several decades were required before another period of globalization began. That is tragically threatened by this Ukraine War. Just another reason to put the dampers on this conflict ASAP.

    Don’t forget the comment of British Foreign Secretary Edward Grey in 1914 – “The lamps are going out all over Europe, we shall not see them lit again in our life-time”. That was tragically prescient.

  6. He posted a week ago; the post was longer and fuller then. I just visited his profile (he’s a 2nd-level now), and the post was shrunk, with a “link to my blog”. I suspect you’re right. I also notice some of my Russian connections are either in other countries now or have not posted in a long time.

  7. Great food for thought. In a shrinking world Linkedin has tapped the place where people cannot afford to allow the conspiracy whackos to gain a foothold, their ability to earn a living.

    It is different learning that Bob from the weekly meeting was killed along with his family in a missile attack vs cutiepie123. It hits home and it motivates people.

    I suspect this is one of the reasons the Trumpanzees are always complaining about globalism. Can’t have people caring about people on the other side of the globe that are victims of your authoritarian friends.

  8. “If Ukrainians can hold out a few more weeks, western resistance to a NATO no-fly zone over the country will melt away as it did in the Balkans 30 years ago.”

    The big difference between the Balkans and now is that the primary aggressor in this current war is a nuclear-armed superpower. NATO jets flying active combat missions over Ukraine to specifically shoot down Russian aircraft sounds like a great way to escalate this war to cataclysmic levels.

    My understanding as well is that No-Fly Zones don’t just stop at aircraft taking down aircraft. Attacking and destroying Russian Anti-Aircraft infrastructure would be a key part of denying Russians air superiority. Anti-air missile batteries with long ranges like the Russian S-300 with a range of 150km allow them to be seated in Belarus and Russia themselves and still reach into Ukraine. There can also be ship-mounted AA missiles on Russian ships in the Black Sea. Russia also has a slew of AA missiles such as the S-400 and the S-500 with longer ranges than the S-300.

    Enforcing a No-Fly Zone would mean NATO forces engaging Russians on land, at sea, and in the air. A full war with multiple nations involved that possess nukes could have nightmarish consequences for the whole world. I’m glad that we have people in the Oval Office with common sense now. If Trump and his toadies were in there, we would have all been wiped off the face of the Earth via atomic fire a few weeks ago.

    1. Yes, a no-fly zone does indeed mean WW III, however you want to define it. For example, the cruise missiles that hit the military base near the Polish border a few days ago were launched by russian bombers within russian borders.

      What is far more effective is giving the Ukranians their own mobile long range SAM platforms. (Do such platforms that also require satellite support? I don’t know.) Would putin consider that an escalation? Possibly. But that war is coming, whether it is today, or in the Baltic states in the next couple years.

      As for the currently deposed tryant, no, there would not have been any nuclear war. If he was in power, he would not have imposed a single sanction on russia, nor helped Ukraine in any way shape or form. NATO would be operating without the u.s.

      china is waiting on invading Taiwan until 2025 until the tyrant reascends to power, at which point china knows that the u.s. will do nothing to protect Taiwan. And same goes for the Baltic States. putin WILL invade them, starting sometime after 2025, because he knows the tyrant will pull the u.s. out of NATO.

      That is when a nuclear exchange is most likely, as putin will do the math and figure his nukes versus only the UK and French nukes might be “winnable”, given that the latter two countries have “only” about 400 warheads between them. Consider, UK policy is currently having only 40 warheads at sea on one of their ballistic subs at any given time. UK has no other platform for launching them. I have a hunch that policy will change.

      There are two tyrants that must die to protect world peace. One in Moscow, one in Mar-a-lago.

  9. Thanks for the post. I quit paying much attention to LinkedIn years ago. When it developed, I was close to retirement and had no desire to make a career change. My wife’s son-in-law who will be retiring in two years tried it for a while, but decided it wasn’t for him, for similar reasons. However, your post helps to explain why the Ukraine Invasion is getting so much attention. In the time since 2014, Ukraine has become very relevant to the West and as you say the “retainer class”. However, I do think there is more to the Ukraine phenomenon. I believe that in the 8 years since 2014, a lot has changed in the World. People have matured and moved on. The pandemic has made people realize how interconnected the world is. Also we had the four Trump years. Plus we had the long Global War on Terror, AKA GWOT. People are realizing an attack on a nation like Ukraine can and does affect us all. Basically, people are getting tired of the BS and are not going to put up with it much longer. They are also fed-up with the trucker convoys, etc. that continue to get so much press.

    Basically, this becomes one more indication to me that the inflection point in the political situation in the US is very close, if not here already. Ukraine, could be the straw that figuratively breaks the camel’s back and forces the curve to make a sharp bend. That could tip us into the next Party System (the 7th) and a different political dynamic.

    I long ago noticed that in the US, we have a long period of status with little or no change, then suddenly some triggering event occurs and suddenly major changes occur very quickly. With the way the Ukraine event is developing, the thought is percolating in my brain that this may be the triggering event. Incidentally, we are now at 77 years since the end of WWII. The major political eras in the US seem to last approximately 80 years with an incremental adjustment at mid-era. That incremental adjustment was the Reagan election in 1980, which ended the liberal consensus post WWII consensus. Could we be at another major inflection point? Only time will tell.

  10. This one hits close to home. My son’s tech company has 20 employees (about a third of their workforce) in Ukraine, people he dealt with daily. The company has guaranteed that those employees with continue to receive a paycheck, and now they’re concentrating on trying to make sure that there will be a company to come back to. Very tense times.

  11. Funny enough I have some LinkedIn connections based in Russia. One of them put up an essay supporting Putin. I immediately cut him from 1st-level connection (“no good Nazis” am I right?). I don’t know if he did it willingly or with a gun (physical or metaphorical) pointed to his head, but I’m not helping Putin.

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