The Widdershins

Posts Tagged ‘Russia

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As I have written many times, often writing posts in the Trump-age feels like an exercise in futility because by the time they are posted they are already out of date. I fear this post will be the same… so we must stay on top of latest news via the comments!

What we know: FBI Director James Comey has been fired by Donald Trump, his Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, with Rosenstein writing the explanation. (Rosenstein had previously been viewed as an honest man. He was confirmed just a few weeks ago to the Justice Deparment with a 94-6 vote in the Senate. But as Philippe Reines pointed out, if Rosenstein was an honest man he would have answered Trump and Sessions’ demand that Comey be fired with: “No, I refuse.” Instead, he wrote his own epitaph as a coward.) The administrations explanation for firing Comey is: it’s Hillary’s fault. Also, her e-mails.

I cannot defend the Director’s handling of the conclusion of the investigation of Secretary Clinton’s emails, and I do not understand his refusal to accept the nearly universal judgment that he was mistaken. Almost everyone agrees that the Director made serious mistakes; it is one of the few issues that unites people of diverse perspectives.

It is not the function of the director to make such an announcement. At most, the director should have said the FBI had completed its investigation and presented its findings to federal prosecutors. The director now defends his decision by asserting that he believed Attorney General Loretta Lynch had a conflict. But the FBI director is never empowered to supplant federal prosecutors and assume command of the Justice Department.

This is, of course, laughable on its face and no one can take this explanation seriously except maybe Fox News, which suddenly shows great concern for how Comey treated poor Hillary Clinton. Even Roger Stone (!) expressed regret: “What Comey did to Hillary was disgraceful. I’m glad Trump fired him over it,” he said to Alex Pfeiffer. We know, of course, the firing had nothing to do with Clinton. It is about the FBI’s investigation of Trump campaign’s collusion with Russia to steal the 2016 Presidential election.

Comey

James Comey has been an enigma for a long time. His press conference announcing that his agency would not recommend charges against Clinton over use of a private e-mail server, while blasting her in such a public manner, seemed inexplicable. Some stories later suggested Comey wanted to reveal information about Russian interference in our election in the summer of 2016, but was stopped by Obama. Then Comey refused to sign on to other agencies’ announcement of this info in the Fall of 2016 because it was too close to the election and he didn’t wish to interfere. But his Letter just days before the election, announcing discovery of new e-mails on the computer of Clinton’s aide Huma Abedin’s husband, did precisely what he claimed earlier he didn’t wish to do: he changed the outcome of an election. What a bizarre story arc for a man who once rushed to the hospital bed of Attorney General John Ashcroft to stop the Bush/Cheney administration from spying on Americans. None of it made sense. Until last week when Comey testified before the Senate. Finally the fog lifted.

I could see two doors and they were both actions. One was labeled speak, the other was labeled conceal. Because here’s how I thought about it, I’m not trying to talk you into this, but I want you to know my thinking. Having repeatedly told this Congress, we are done and there’s nothing there, there’s no case there, there’s no case there, to restart in a hugely significant way, potentially finding the emails that would reflect on her intent from the beginning and not speak about it would require an active concealment, in my view.

And so I stared at speak and conceal. Speak would be really bad. There’s an election in 11 days, Lordy, that would be really bad. Concealing in my view would be catastrophic, not just to the FBI, but well beyond. And honestly, as between really bad and catastrophic, I said to my team we got to walk into the world of really bad.

In the end, this long term public servant fell for the oldest tragic flaw, the one Greeks wrote plays about: Hubris. Comey just thinks of himself as the last honest man in America. Our own Prolix has written a few times that Comey isn’t corrupt, he is Righteous and his own belief in his Righteousness is where things can get murky. It’s true that his Righteousness is why I think ultimately he could have been trusted with the FBI investigation into Trump/Russia. But his zealotry came with unintended – even by him – consequences: the election of Donald Trump as President. In an honest desire to be seen as non-partisan Comey managed to ruin the reputation of his favorite agency. With his fear of being taken to task by Republicans, who would smear him and the FBI if he did not tell them about the Abedin e-mails, Comey compromised himself as an honest broker of truth. He misassigned the concepts of “bad” and “catastrophic.” He thought not telling Congress about the e-mails would be catastrophic. In fact, not telling Republicans and becoming the target of their wrath would have been bad. Affecting the outcome of a Presidential election was catastrophic.

-Joy Reid Sally Yates comment

(There were also the grave issues that in his testimony to the Senate Comey gave inaccurate information about Abedin’s e-mails, falsely claiming “tens and thousands” of messages had been sent by her to her husband’s computer. It took 6 days, and prodding from ProPublica and Washington Post, for the FBI to issue a correction. The same day Comey was fired. Trump had his bodyguard Keith Schiller deliver the firing letter to the FBI headquarters, but they didn’t realize Comey was not in the office. Comey was delivering a speech and learned he was fired when the news popped up on the screen behind him.)

-COmey fired Petri

This brings us to the present. What does Comey’s firing mean in the larger scheme of things? Many Clinton aides have expressed concern, not joy, at the developments. That Clinton aides, who dislike Comey as much as anyone, are concerned about the firing speaks volumes about the Clinton candidacy and the people who supported her. We are more concerned about the Republic than petty revenge. Because what does Comey’s firing mean for the Russia/Trump investigation and the future of the Republic? It is impossible to know just yet. Some high profile Republicans, like Lindsey Graham and Susan Collins, have lined up behind Trump. Collins told Judy Woodruff: “Well, the president didn’t fire the entire FBI.” Graham said: “I believe a fresh start will serve the FBI and the nation well.” This is worrisome because it shows a continued support for the insupportable Trump, his administration and his policies. The good news is that some others Republicans have expressed concerns. (And not just the Nixon Library tweeting an objection to people calling Trump’s behavior “Nixonian.”)

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John McCain tweeted that “Removal of Director Comey only confirms need for select cmte to investigate #Russia’s interference in 2016 election.” Tea Partier Justin Amash tweeted: “My staff and I are reviewing legislation to establish an independent commission on Russia. The second paragraph of this letter is bizarre.” Republican Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr, who heads the Senate investigation into Trump/Russia, wrote:

I am troubled by the timing and reasoning of Director Comey’s termination. I have found Director Comey to be a public servant of the highest order, and his dismissal further confuses an already difficult investigation by the Committee. In my interactions with the Director and with the Bureau under his leadership, he and the FBI have always been straightforward with our Committee.  Director Comey has been more forthcoming with information than any FBI Director I can recall in my tenure on the congressional intelligence committees. His dismissal, I believe, is a loss for the Bureau and the nation.

Other notable Republicans who have expressed concern about Comey’s firing are James Lankford of Oklahoma, Bob Corker of Tennessee, Mark Sanford of South Carolina, and Senate Judiciary Committee member Ben Sasse of Nebraska.

I think we are at a cross-roads. What happens next is what history books will say about all of us. Will the firing of Comey bring about Trump’s downfall? Or will Republicans close ranks and save him, kill the investigation… and damn us all to a banana republic?

-History joke

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As the horrific 2016 drags itself to a miserable close, and since the day the electors put You-Know-Who You-Know-Where, I’ve been trying to cheer myself up with more cheerful topics. Like assassinations. I kid, of course.

On Monday, as our country was committing ritual hara-kiri, a horrific assassination took place at an art gallery in Turkey. The Russian Ambassador to Turkey, Andrey Karlov, was shot as he delivered a speech, with an Associated Press photographer there to capture every horrific moment. These photos will probably win awards. Perhaps they should. The assassin, who was killed, was shouting “Remember Syria! Remember Aleppo!” Long-term fallout from these events are impossible to predict. Turkey is quickly transitioning from a Democracy into a dictatorship. Russia is a dictatorship. The USA is experimenting. And Europe is at a crossroads with England exiting stage Right. It’s unlikely the assassin’s

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Mohammed Bouazizi

purported concern for Syria and Aleppo, which Russians have been annihilating, will get much sympathy from the public at large. In general it is a terrible idea to commit murder while feigning concern for anyone. A better route for this miserable man may have been a public suicide. Mohamed Bouazizi set himself on fire on December 17, 2010, starting uprisings and revolutions in Tunisia and then a wider Arab Spring.

 

Perhaps the most famous case to be made against all assassinations is the murder of Archduke Ferdinand of Austria in Serbia on June 28, 1914. Who thought the death of such a minor person would lead to the deadliest war up to then and millions of deaths.

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Anna Politkovskaya

 
Many great people fell to assassinations throughout history of the world. Abraham Lincoln, Mahatma Gandhi, JFK, Martin Luther King, Jr., Anna Politkovskaya. The list is long, dark and full of terror. I think we all agree that there are better ways to make political statements.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Foreheads of men have bled where no wounds were.

I am the enemy you killed, my friend.

I knew you in this dark; for so you frowned

Yesterday through me as you jabbed and killed.

I parried; but my hands were loath and cold.

Let us sleep now . . .”

From “Strange Meeting” by Wilfred Owen (1893-1918)

Which brings me to a question: what do we do to make political statements in a post-Drumpf world? I ask for very practical reasons. Some of my friends and I really want to do something over the next 4 years. Besides donating to worthy causes that will combat You-Know-Who, what else can we do? We had a meeting last week and decided we will join some local long-standing organizations that fight for political change. But that seems sort of hollow.  What ideas do you all have for us Widdershins? We are all in NYC. One of us an insufferable Bernie Bro. But we must learn to live with that – he did vote for HRC, though he is very angry that she wasn’t as perfect as Bernie. In any case, we discussed the presence of the vile Peter King as a Representative from NY. He’s an institution at this point and hails form the conservative Long Island. It would feel so so good to kick him out. We will definitely support whoever runs against him, but chances of unseating him are slim. What else do you all recommend? Locally and nationally.

This is an open thread. What’s on your minds?

Madonna singing “Imagine” at a HRC rally in Washington Square Park on November 7, 2016.

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The problem with the Russians is that they are always fighting a world war. No matter what it is. An actual World War or the Eurovision contest. The public and the government treat the two with equal ferocity and dedication. When the Soviets formed a human shield around Stalingrad in 1943 they beat back the Nazis with the same fanaticism with which they try to defeat foreign pop singers, especially the transvestites. Wall-to-wall coverage on the news, front page headlines, celebrity coaches, personal visits and encouragements from members of the government – all the way up to Comrade Putin – it’s literally all the same thing to them. There is always an enemy at the gate, ready to destroy Mother Russia and all that is Holy about it. Sometimes the enemy carries a machine gun, sometimes a microphone. But to come in second is to come in last.

So when the mighty Soviet Union fell, something Vladimir Putin once declared to be the greatest tragedy to befall His people, it brought with it festering and oozing scars of humiliation and anger. USSR fell not because it was incapable of functioning, but because the West destroyed it.  The West – and Reagan specifically – happily embraced this view of events. But they underestimated just how deeply these events cut the Russian people.

The West – and America as its face – have always been the Enemy of Russia. As much as the Russian public is obsessed with American money, culture, fashion, etc., it also views it as a perversion of purity and righteousness which Russia represents to its people. It is very much like Gollum and The One Ring. It hungers for The West and hates it in one breath. This belief among the general public that the West generally and America specifically are always trying to destroy Russia should not be underestimated. It’s why the Russians love strongment leaders like Putin. These leaders are the forces who will protect the people from Western interference. Because the West wants all that is Russian: to take it, eat it, consume it and destroy it like it destroys everything. The West is an agent of greed and sexual perversions – and Russia is always under attack. They believe these things with the sincerity of saints.

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Russia’s rejection of The Other has over the years taken on odd forms.  For example, in his day Tchaikovsky’s music was seen as too European, his embrace of Europe suspect.  The real champions of Russian music in the 19th century were The Mighty Handful, consisting of Rimsky-Korsakov, Mussorgsky, Cui, Balakirev and Borodin.  They deeply resented the fact that Tchaikovsky was conservatory trained and attacked formal education of music.  Though they tolerated Tchaikovsky himself, Rimsky-Korsakov once wrote that “Tchaikovsky’s Conservatory training still constituted a considerable barrier between him and us.”   (None of the Five received a formal education in composition.)  To this day Russia – a deeply homobigoted country – refuses to acknowledge that Tchaikovsky was gay.  Russia – also a deeply racist country – refuses to discuss that Alexander Pushkin, its greatest poet, was half black.  These ideas are revolting to them, too Other.

So as we learn more details about Russian interference in American elections, we must understand that this is Russia’s war for survival. The attempt to reverse decades of what they see as humiliations at the hands of the West – and America specifically. Russia is like a Holy Land, its people its righteous pilgrims, and the barbarian Western hoardes are at the gate.

The news of Russian interference on Trump’s behalf (and they are now attempting to take down Angela Merkel too), isn’t news to anyone who paid attention before November 8th. Hillary Clinton discussed it in the 3rd Presidential debate on October 19th.

CLINTON: Well, that’s because he’d rather have a puppet as president of the United States.

TRUMP: No puppet. No puppet.

CLINTON: And it’s pretty clear…

TRUMP: You’re the puppet!

CLINTON: It’s pretty clear you won’t admit…

TRUMP: No, you’re the puppet.

CLINTON: … that the Russians have engaged in cyberattacks against the United States of America, that you encouraged espionage against our people, that you are willing to spout the Putin line, sign up for his wish list, break up NATO, do whatever he wants to do, and that you continue to get help from him, because he has a very clear favorite in this race.

So I think that this is such an unprecedented situation. We’ve never had a foreign government trying to interfere in our election. We have 17 — 17 intelligence agencies, civilian and military, who have all concluded that these espionage attacks, these cyberattacks, come from the highest levels of the Kremlin and they are designed to influence our election. I find that deeply disturbing.

WALLACE: Secretary Clinton…

CLINTON: And I think it’s time you take a stand…

TRUMP: She has no idea whether it’s Russia, China, or anybody else.

CLINTON: I am not quoting myself.

TRUMP: She has no idea.

CLINTON: I am quoting 17…

TRUMP: Hillary, you have no idea.

CLINTON: … 17 intelligence — do you doubt 17 military and civilian…

TRUMP: And our country has no idea.

CLINTON: … agencies.

TRUMP: Yeah, I doubt it. I doubt it.

CLINTON: Well, he’d rather believe Vladimir Putin than the military and civilian intelligence professionals who are sworn to protect us. I find that just absolutely…

(CROSSTALK)

TRUMP: She doesn’t like Putin because Putin has outsmarted her at every step of the way.

But for reasons that will spend decades trying to understand, the story never found traction in the media or among the patriotic Americans who supported Trump. John McCain and Lindsay Graham were silent. The New York Times did not cover the story above the fold of its print edition, like they covered FBI’s announcement that they were looking at Anthony Wiener’s computer with 3 stories above the fold in a single edition. I suppose we should be grateful that finally people are taking notice, although Mitch McConnell prefers not to drag Trump into it.

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This was a very long game played by Putin. One really should try to admire it, if one was not the victim of it. Putin will have Trump’s election engraved on his own tombstone. “Here Lies Vladimir Putin, Wrestler of Bears, Shirtless Horseback Rider, and Conqueror of America.” Putin is making Russia Great Again. With the assistance of Julian Rapist Assange and Glenn “Leftwing Dictators are grrreat and Putin totally has nothing to do with this election” Greenwald. Bernie Bros reposting fake news stories on social media and the American news media that never met an e-mail it didn’t like to speculate about. Soviet leaders spent decades trying to bring Red Russia to Blue America. Putin has finally succeeded.  Putin has put a momentary numbing balm on Russia’s persecution mania.

Note that the color Blue in Russia represents homosexuality. That depraved Blue America has taken on the color of Red Mother Russia means so much to them. Hail Comrade Putin! We thought we would all have to learn Chinese in the new century. I suggest people start taking up Russian instead.

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Happy Friday the 13th Eve , y’all.  For those with paraskevidekatriaphobia, get back under your beds.  It’s safer there, and you can catch up on all of this over the weekend.  For those of us still up and reading we have a treat – a guest post by our (like The Daily Show)  Senior Russian Contributor, DYB.

I have watched the latest news from Russia, all the while scratching my head.  During the Fabulous Fifties, we were taught to duck and cover our heads while crouching under our school desks whilst the atomic bombs rained down upon us, which is even more of a head-scratcher.  We learned of the Czar, Anastasia, the Revolution, the gulags and so forth, and then Mr. Gorbachov tore down that wall.  Since then, any number of Eastern European nations have emerged from the old Soviet bloc, and I have lost any grasp, tenuous that it may have been.  I am not really capable of assessing the current developments, or even pronouncing the names correctly – just trying saying “Boris Nemtsov” with a Southern accent.  So without further ado, here is D’s most welcomed post:

 On February 27, 2015 Boris Nemtsov was shot in the back four times. He was shot within view of the Kremlin. This may be significant not just for the poetic imagery (Nemtsov was a Deputy Prime Minister of Russia under Yeltsin and was a leading critic of Putin and his policies), but also because one may wonder how the assassins managed to kill a man as famous in Russia as Nemtsov and flee the scene of the crime. There can also be no doubt that Nemtsov, as a leading opposition figure, would be followed by the Russian secret service. There’s also the issue of the security video which shows the killing: except that the actual shooting is obscured by a snow-plow. Unusual not only for the perfect timing of the passing vehicle, but also for the fact that there was no snow on the ground. So how did someone manage to shoot Nemtsov in the back behind a perfectly timed slow-moving vehicle in the most heavily guarded area of Moscow – and disappear?

Boris Nemtsov was a well-known liberal figure in Russian politics. He served in Yeltsin’s government (including as First Deputy Prime Minister, a post Putin would later occupy) and was once introduced to Bill Clinton by Yeltsin as his most likely successor as President of Russia. Gary Kasparov, the chess champion, current opposition leader and Mentsov’s friend and sometimes rival, compared Nemtsov to Clinton in an op-ed he penned for the Wall Street Journal. Nemtsov’s career crashed along with the Russian stock market in the late 1990’s. But he remained in the public eye, taking on Putin’s authoritarian rule, his regime’s corruption and the recent war in Ukraine. At the time of his assassination Nemtsov was in Moscow to lead an anti-war rally in Moscow and said he was about to publish documents proving Russian government’s leading role in the war in the Ukraine. The rally would become mass protests against his murder.

Russian media, at least Putin’s 4 main channels (you can read novelist Gary Shteyngart’s by turns hilarious and horrifying binge-watching of Russian television in this NY Times article: http://www.nytimes.com/2015/02/22/magazine/out-of-my-mouth-comes-unimpeachable-manly-truth.html?_r=0 ), didn’t even cover the protests. Instead they showed musical showcases (think Dancing/Singing/Skating/Diving/Etc. With The Stars), movies and TV serials. Putin’s response so far has been of the “well isn’t it terrible” variety. Putin’s minions are blaming the West and maybe other opposition leaders for the death. They claim that either Nemtsov’s liberal colleagues had him killed to create a martyr or Muslims did it or the West is out to make Putin look bad. All scenarios are preposterous, of course, but reason and logic are in short supply. We only know that Putin keeps finding ways to silence his critics. From journalists like Anna Politkovskaya (assassinated), to human rights lawyers like Sergei Magnitsky (beaten to death in jail), former secret service agents Alexander Litvinenko (poisoned by plutonium), businessmen Mikhail Khodorkovsky (imprisoned), musicians Pussy Riot (also imprisoned), and political critics/rivals Alexei Navalny (still imprisoned), and now Nemtsov (assassinated)*, it is fascinating how Putin’s critics find themselves either in jail or dead. Putin has promised to personally oversee investigation into Nemtsov’murder.

The authorities did indeed just manage to arrest some men, claiming confessions have already been given. The men are Chechens, naturally. Well, we will probably never know if these exact men were involved; and most importantly, we are not likely to ever know on whose orders were they acting. But there is reason to fear that Putin’s rule has entered a dangerous new phase: the killing of not just little-known critics (previous victims like Politkovskaya and Magnitsky were not famous), but public assassinations of very well-known leaders. This death is a big threat and few critics of the Kremlin are likely to see it any other way. Going forward it will be interesting to see if the public falls back into indifference and fear of Putin – or if this murder will galvanize the opposition.

 

(*the list is nowhere near exhaustive.)

 

 

Good morning all. The bronchitis that felled me last Monday has subsided into an occasional snurfle, and I feel ready to tackle the complexities of the Russian/Ukraine situation. (Well, I’ll do my best anyway….no pics or videos today, I’m posting from the plane!)

So as you’re all most likely aware, the scope of the sanctions against Russia is still being decided. As expected, these economic efforts have not been effective so far, but should the banking and/or petrochemical industries be included, they may grow some teeth. While the spinal infusion of Western nations remains in doubt, however, Pooty-Poot has been conducting a not-so-secret takeover of Eastern Ukraine by Russian military forces for the past two weeks. Despite the inevitable and somewhat contradictory denials of the Kremlin, it seems clear that Russia is behind the wave of well-coordinated, highly-skilled attacks.

“It’s hard to fathom that groups of armed men in masks suddenly sprang forward from the population in eastern Ukraine and systematically began to occupy government facilities,” Gen. Philip M. Breedlove, NATO’s top military commander, wrote in a blog post on the alliance’s website.“It’s hard to fathom because it’s simply not true. What is happening in eastern Ukraine is a military operation that is well planned and organized, and we assess that it is being carried out at the direction of Russia.”

[snip]

More direct evidence of a Russian hand in eastern Ukraine is contained in a dossier of photographs provided by Ukraine to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, a Vienna-based organization now monitoring the situation in Donetsk and other parts of the country. It features pictures taken in eastern Ukraine of unidentified gunmen and an earlier photograph of what looks like the same men appearing in a group shot of a Russian military unit in Russia.

Lest any of us remain skeptical about Putin’s eventual goals in the region, the Russian leader has been throwing around an old, new term lately: “New Russia.”

President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia, appearing cool and confident on national television during a four-hour question-and-answer show on Thursday, referred repeatedly to southeastern Ukraine as “New Russia,” a historical term for the area north of the Black Sea that the Russian empire conquered in the 1700s. “God knows” why the region became part of Ukraine in the 1920s, he said in response to a questioner, a strong signal that he would gladly correct that error.

Mr. Putin’s use of the term “Novorossiya,” which he had not emphasized previously, suggested that he was replicating, with regard to eastern Ukraine, Russia’s assertions of historical ties to Crimea before it occupied and annexed the peninsula.

There are echo’s of Orwell’s 1984 in the way Putin is trying to claim “we have always been in control of West Asia.”  And just as in 1984, whether anyone buys the propaganda he is catapulting, is not really the point. The point is, he is signaling his plan to take over Ukraine. (Not just Eastern Ukraine – that is only the first step. Western Ukraine will not be able to stand up to Russia once the East is subsumed.) And after Ukraine, what next? More of what was happening in the 1700s? Let’s see: tsars becoming emperors, continual wars to conquer more and more territory, the supremacy of the Russian Orthodox Church…doesn’t sound so hot to me.

I have to say that once again, I feel that President Treebeard is too slow and too indecisive to make the hard decisions that would have to be made to take Putin out of the picture, and that red phone has been ringing unanswered for far too long. Put some bite into those sanctions, d*mmit – I know Europe will suffer, but won’t they suffer more if Putin becomes the next Emperor?

Sadly, what is Obama doing right now? He’s running away to Asia, where China may be considering an aggressive land grab as well. I’m sure the citizens of Japan and South Korea are very comforted by his declaration of “increased focus” in the region.

Widdershins, we live in interesting times. Let’s hope the leaders of the free world can stop Putin before his greed and ambition force us into World War III.

This is an open thread.

 

Putin feels untouchable

I don’t know if you all remember Hillary’s suggestion for containing terrorism and protecting Israel in 2008, but she said she thought a “nuclear umbrella” might do the trick. As SOS, she also suggested we could take this tack against Iran in 2009.

Speaking  during a televised town hall meeting in Bangkok, Mrs. Clinton said, “We want Iran to calculate what I think is a fair assessment, that if the U.S. extends a defense umbrella over the region, if we do even more to support the military capacity of those in the gulf, it’s unlikely that Iran will be any stronger or safer, because they won’t be able to intimidate and dominate, as they apparently believe they can, once they have a nuclear weapon.”

I fear that in the light of Putin’s now obvious moves to re-take Ukraine for Russia, we are left with even fewer options to deter naked aggression by nuclear powers, than we ever were.

As Obama and the G7 countries meet to discuss the new massing of Russian troops on Ukraine’s border, the discussion centers around the economic possibilities of containing Pooty-Poot’s imperialistic ambitions.

The setting in The Hague of the improvised Group of 7 session and the nuclear security meeting in itself contrasts with the worldview recently offered by Mr. Putin and his power play in Ukraine. The standoff is also in stark contrast to the more hopeful tone struck by President Bill Clinton in 1997 during a visit to the Netherlands and France to mark progress toward the post-Soviet unification of Europe.

“In the twilight of the 20th century, we look toward a new century with a new Russia and a new NATO, working together in a new Europe of unlimited possibility,” Mr. Clinton said in Paris that year. “The NATO-Russia Founding Act we have just signed joins a great nation and history’s most successful alliance in common cause for a long-sought but never before realized goal — a peaceful, democratic, undivided Europe.”

That vision was a distant memory as President Obama on Monday repeated his intent to keep ratcheting up pressure on Mr. Putin. “We’re united in imposing a cost on Russia for its actions so far,” Mr. Obama said, adding that “the growing sanctions would bring significant consequences to the Russian economy.”

And what has changed between Clinton and Obama? Why does Putin feel so free to invade another country without having been attacked first? And why isn’t he deterred by Japan’s nuclear umbrella?

Read the rest of this entry »

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Just two buds having a chat

We have a guest post today by DYB on the Russian Ukraine situation

As you may know, DYB and family migrated to the U.S. from Ukraine.  That is where D was born and grew up so obviously he is familiar with the region and a lot of the issues going on there.  I asked him if he would share some thoughts on the situation and the background of the area and he happily obliged.

Things Fall Apart

Russia and Ukraine have a very long history.  In fact, Russia started in Kiev. Kievan Rus’ was established in the 9th century, with the great city of Kiev, located on the mighty Dnieper River, as its capital.  Over the following centuries, with shifting allegiances and Mongolian attacks, and with the increasingly less important Dnieper as a trade route, the federation fell apart.  Out of this (somewhat abridged history) was born the Ukraine, Belorussia and Russia.  Russia, obviously, became the greater superpower, eventually conquering the other two and absorbing them into its sphere. Of all the former Republics that broke away after the fall of communism, the Ukrainian break was the most painful.  Ukraine was the closest to Moscow politically and culturally, and has perhaps the greatest number of Russians living there than in any of the others.  Although the Ukrainian language is closer to Polish than it is to Russian, everybody speaks Russian.  In the smaller towns and in the country Ukrainian language may be more prevalent, but the ties to Russia run deep after centuries of Russian influence.

 After Ukraine’s cessation from Russia its economic and political turmoil – as one would expect – was mighty high.  Viktor Yanukovich’s political rivalry with Viktor Yuschenko reached new heights of dirty politics during the 2004 campaign for Presidency.   During the lengthy campaign, voting and multiple run-offs Yuschenko was poisoned with TCDD, the most powerful contaminant in Agent Orange.  Though he survived the assassination attempt he was physically disfigured.  Yanukovich, of course, has never been convicted of being involved, but…. anybody want a bridge for real cheap?  The dirty campaign set off what became known as the Orange Revolution of 2004/2005, a series of protests against Yanukovich’s “win,” known to have been rigged.  The opposition coalition, which included Yanukovich and Yulia Tymoshenko, was successful in forcing Yanukovich from office.  And it left Putin without an ally in Kiev.

Under the leadership of Yuschenko and subsequently Tymoshenko, the country drifted West in its politics and allegiances.  A 2009 dispute with Russia over price of gas would lead to prosecution of Tymoshenko for corruption by Yanukovich’s new government – after he returned to power in a legitimate election in 2010.  Everyone widely recognized that her prosecution was politically motivated, but Yanukovich – who himself somehow managed to accumulate a personal fortune of $12,000,000,000 – accused her of corruptions of all kinds.  No doubt Tymoshenko was not a saint.  But the view of Yuschenko’s own house, with its private zoo and fancy cars, suggests a certain lack of honesty as well.  Be that as it may, Tymoshenko was found guilty and sent to prison.  Putin had his old ally back in Kiev and his enemies (like Tymoshenko and Yuschenko) well out of the way.

Fast forward to 2013.  Yanukovich campaigned on a promise to continue forging and strengthening ties with the European Union, political and economic.  Putin, however, a former KGB man, has always believed that the break-up of the old Soviet block was a travesty and particularly wanted to keep Ukraine in his own pocket.  Aside from the large Russian population still living there, there is also the access to the Black Sea in Crimea.  When Yanukovich

"Nice toys Vlad"

“Nice toys Vlad”

very suddenly pivoted on his promises to Europe and made a surprise announcement that he would instead move towards a financial deal with Russia – the beginning of the end arrived.  Massive protests in the capital of Kiev, which lasted well into the freezing winter months, have played out on our own televisions.   Yanukovich is a man so deeply connected to Putin, he made no decisions without Putin’s approval.  Even as the Europeans and the Russians mediated a deal, he ran off to make a phone call to Sochi to ask Putin’s blessing to accept it.  The deal promised early elections, but would keep Yanukovich in office for several more months.  Putin gave his blessing to the deal.  But both Putin and Yanukovich misjudged the mood of the public outside, which at that point has already been attacked by Yanukovich’s special police force, the much despised sadists of the Berkut (Brown Shirts spring to mind), as well shot at by snipers.  Whatever deal Yanukovich thought he was making came several days too late and the following day he was forced to flee Kiev.  The Olympics in Sochi were just wrapping up and if anyone thought Putin’s silence on the matters in Kiev was surprisingly muted, they got a big surprise once the Olympics ended.  Russian military invaded Crimea, pretending to defend the ethnic Russians.  There was nothing to defend them from, of course.  Russians and Ukrainians have lived without issues for decades.  Historically rivalries there didn’t even approach Yankees vs. Red Sox tensions.  The random breakouts of violence since Yanukovich’s flight appear to have been organized by the various political factions, not grassroots uprisings.  One of the big divides really appears to be generational, not cultural.  The older generation, that lived under Soviet rule, seems to have forgotten their lives before.  My own parents, residing comfortably in Brooklyn and who, along with all of their friends, get their news solely from Russian television, believe Putin to be a great man, great leader, and of course Ukraine should be controlled by Russia.  “Why would that be bad?” my mother asked.  I asked her why we left the Ukraine in 1989 if things were not so bad?  There was no answer.  She believes the protests in Kiev were organized by the West and the protestors paid by the West.  The younger generation of Ukraine, however, has no desire to live under a Russian overlord.  They would much rather travel across Europe without passports than to Russia.  The split is not an easy geographical one.  An attempt to split the country would lead to a catastrophic civil war.

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His little buddy

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