Ukraine and Zelensky Alone

5 January 2022

Volodymyr Zelensky was an actor when he was elected President of Ukraine in 2019.  Zelensky had appeared regularly on a TV series where he played a history teacher whose rant against political corruption vent viral and made him president.  The Ukrainians, widely disillusioned with their own politicians, were so enchanted with the fictional story they made Zelensky the real president.  The political party of the history teacher character on the television series, the “Servant of the People,” became the actual political party of Zelensky when he ran for president against incumbent Petro Poroshenko.

Zelensky was what all disaffected voters love – an outsider at least from conventional politics.  And, he had said in his fictional viral rant, what many people knew to be true, i.e., that corruption was strangling the life out of the country.  Hopes were high for Zelensky when he won election with 73% of the vote.

Two years later, Zelensky is struggling to fulfill some of the promises for fundamental social change he made during his campaign.  In 2014, after pro-Russian puppet Viktor Yanukovych (for whom Paul Manafort worked) was ousted from the presidency and had to flee.  Russia then seized Crimea and backed (or created) separatists who took over large areas of the region.

When Zelensky came to power, he promised to bring peace to the region and to end conflict in the Dunbas, another region where Russian separatists were taking over.  Zelensky criticized his predecessor, Petro Poroshenko, for not negotiating effectively to end these conflicts.

But, Zelensky has not been able to deliver on his promises of peace.  The war between Ukraine and the Russian-backed separatists continues and now there is a massive built up of troops on the Ukrainian border.

Zelensky initially made an effort to compromise with the Russians over their territorial claims. There were peace talks between the two countries, prisoner exchanges and moves toward establishing a peace process, known as the Minsk agreement.  But, after Russia began issuing passports to the Russian-speakers in the contested territories, talks soured. 

To make matters worse, the dictator of Belarus, Alyaksandre Lukashenka, has ceased to be a defender of Ukraine in its struggle with Russia. 

When the Russian attack on Ukraine began in 2014, Lukashenka made great efforts to publicize his neutrality.  He refused to recognize Russia’s claims to Crimea, politically declared that he would not permit an attack on Ukraine from Belarusian territory, and ridiculed Putin’s historical arguments justifying an invasion of Ukraine.

But, in August of 2020, Lukashenka launched a brutal response to nationwide protests over rigged presidential elections.  This made him an international pariah.  In the aftermath of the vote there were mass anti-regime demonstrations across the country.  Lukashenka appeared to be in danger of losing power entirely.  But, Vladamir Putin intervened and propped Lukashenka up with financial assistance, Kremlin propagandists and a public promise of security forces. 

From this point onward, the dependence of Lukashenka on Putin only increased.  Lukashenka launched a prolonged crackdown on domestic opposition and escalated an increasingly acrimonious confrontation with the West.  One of the most widely publicized acts was a May 2021 incident where a commercial EU airliner was forced down while going over Belarusian airspace and a dissident Belarusian journalists was abducted from among the passengers.

After recent talks with Putin, Lukashenka has announced plans to deploy Russian air defense systems along the Ukrainian border.

Zelensky is making a courageous effort to confront corruption in Ukrainian society and fulfill his campaign promises, but he is also confronting a dangerous situation with Russia.  It appears that Zelensky has reached the conclusion that Putin cannot be negotiated with and given the retreat of the West from foreign conflicts, he and the Ukrainians face this perilous situation by themselves. 

Sources:

https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-59667938

UKRAINE: WHAT WE SHOULD KNOW

Russian House of Soviets, Lenin on Moscow Square. St. Petersburg.

Wednesday 8 December 2021

  • The 2014 uprising in Ukraine, the ouster of pro-Russian president Viktor Yanukovych, and the overthrow of the Ukrainian government were severe blows to the pride of Vladamir Putin and the Russian establishment/oligarchy.
  • Added to the economic importance of Ukraine is the profound cultural centrality of Ukrainian history as part of the Soviet Union, and the political significance of the independence gained by the Ukrainian people.
  • Putin has reportedly never gotten over the breakup of the Soviet Union, the independence of Ukraine or the movement of the Ukrainian people towards the West.
  • As was pointed out in the Ukraine World Podcast, Putin and the Russian oligarchy have never conceived of Ukraine as an independent state.  They have never considered Ukraine as independent and cannot now accept the status quo.
  • As Timothy Snyder pointed out, Putin and Russia have never considered Ukrainians as anything but vassals.  They do not even negotiate with Ukrainians, but with the West over Ukraine.
  • And, the status quo, as unpalatable as it may seem, may not remain the status quo much longer.
  • Putin may feel that the window of time for pressuring Ukraine back into the Russian sphere is rapidly closing.
  • Not long after Biden took office, Russia announced itself fed up with the status quo relating to Ukraine and NATO expansion.
  • Also, around the first of the year, Zelensky expressed more publicly than he had in the past, an interest in Ukraine joining NATO.
  • Since Ukraine is not currently a member of NATO, there is no automatic responsibility of the West to react if Ukraine is invaded.  If Ukraine joins NATO, however, this changes completely.
  • Note: I cannot see after withdrawing from Afghanistan, Biden involving military troops in any conflict in Ukraine.  Putin, of course, knows this and it adds to the likelihood of intervention.
  • There is, of course, a great deal of debate about whether Putin intends to invade or just threaten.  But, as has been pointed out, not only is there an unprecedented movement of troops, but also a structuring of support for an invasion, like locating medical supplies near the border. 
  • It would probably be an error to suppose that Putin’s choice is binary.  Even though U.S. officials persist in talking about the choice as either an invasion with a full scale military operation and seizure of territory, or backing down and not invading.  But, as others point out, Putin has stated that he would never invade any territory unless he were certain of victory.
  • So, a number of regional experts foresee an operation that includes pinpoint strikes and then strategic withdrawals.  The object, according to these commentators, is to destroy Ukrainian military capability.  Occupation is not the goal.
  • Putin, so the theory goes, wants to demonstrate to Ukraine and the rest of the former Soviet Block that all their efforts towards independence can be negated easily and quickly, leaving them vulnerable and back inside the Russian sphere.
  • While there have been strides in the development of Ukrainian military capability, it cannot even compete with the highly technological, mobile Russian military expertise.
  • Putin pursued economic strategies to block Ukraine from moving out of the Russian sphere of influence and toward the west.   
  • In 2014, it became evident that that strategy had failed.  Ordinary people rose and drove out the pro-Russia president who had to flee to Moscow to keep from being imprisoned.  The Ukrainians made their choice clear when they drove out a Russia friendly president and ushered in the pro-western government.
  • Putin saw this as a coup engineered by the West and the CIA to divide the Russian sphere of influence.  So, Putin seized Crimea. 
  • Putin intended to demonstrate that he cares more about the fate of Ukraine than the west.
  • Putin also sees the writing on the wall in the policies and actions of Zelensky.  In early 2021, Zelensky’s government began cracking down on Russian controlled media inside Ukraine and a Russian connected oligarch.  The government also participated in military exercises with Western forces.
  • Putin’s actions have actually alienated people in Ukraine.  Polls indicate that more people than when Zelensky first took office support joining NATO and a move toward the West.
  • Putin, evidently, does not believe this.  He has indicated that a move toward Russia is the will of the people and that Russian forces would be welcomed, regarded as liberators. 
  • And, Putin may estimate that a war now could be less costly than later.
  • While U.S. officials bandy around the threats of “sanctions” according to specialists, Putin has been sanction proofing the Russian economy since 2014. 
  • And, sanctions on Russia will affect powerful interests around the world.  In order to enact meaningful sanctions, Biden would not only have to take on the Russians, but banking and other interests internationally.  There is little indication that he is prepared to do this.
  • What Putin wants is not to annex Ukraine, but to influence it.  He wants to alter and control the structure of security in Eastern Europe.
  • While this mobilization near the border of Ukraine may be only an example of “coercive diplomacy,” the intent is to keep Ukraine out of NATO and get an agreement to limit NATO expansion in Eastern Europe.
  • If Biden agrees to this in order to avoid a war, he will violate the concept of self determination that has influenced policy in the post-war era. 

Sources:

Podcasts:

The Daily, NYT (12/8/21) Interview with Moscow Bureau Chief, NYT, Anton Troianovski

Ukraine World Ep. 58: The New Russian Attack on Ukraine.

Ukraine World Ep. 57: Ukraine in November 2021.

Stealing the Election: Behind our Backs and in front of our faces

It is tempting to think that authoritarian governments come to power through sudden and dramatic coups, but often they do not.  Instead, they come to power through a creeping co-opting of authority.  This is the preferred method, the most successful method of taking control. 

A sudden, dramatic take-over of a society provokes resistance.  Sliding the society into authoritarianism accomplishes the same thing, but doesn’t so dramatically jar everybody’s sensibilities.

The Trump Administration could try to cancel the 2020 elections and stay in power.  But, that would draw a backlash, and hopefully a powerful resistance.  The Republicans would prefer to to stay in power through a manipulated election, and that is what they are seeking.  Republicans want the show and appearance of an election without the actuality of an election, i.e., they want a pre-determined outcome.  In other words, they want exactly what Putin has. 

It is clear that the Republicans want to remain in power by manipulating the 2020 election process.  They do not want to bring troops into polling places and seize ballots, but they are not above doing that if they must.  They are clearly planning strategies for both eventualities.    

One of the techniques authoritarian governments use to bring about illegal and unconstitutional change that ensures the maintenance of their power is to test out their intentions ahead of time.  Test, measure reaction, pull back if necessary, test again or go forward.  The history of the Trump/Republican administration is one of using this strategy.

On first consideration, this might seem counter intuitive.  Why would they signal in advance their intention to subvert the law?  Why alert the opposition so they can prepare? 

One very good reason is to inoculate citizens and the media, slowly injecting the idea of electoral intervention a little at the time so that if it becomes necessary, the idea will not be totally new.

First, this means that Republican supporters will be brought along carefully, introducing them to the idea, signaling what may come.  Second, the introduction of the idea allows time to lay the foundation of the argument of why this may become “necessary.”  Third, the advanced announcement, or threat, causes the opposition to go on alert.  As time passes though, and other threats are issued, the heightened sensitivity can’t be maintained, and the opposition relaxes. 

The Republicans have turned this threat/reaction circle into a joke, a way of ginning up outrage among their opposition which they then ridicule.  The legitimate outrage at the idea of the subversion of democracy becomes an object of mockery.  So, Republican supporters know exactly how to react to this moral outrage if and when it actually happens.  They jeer, mock and dismiss.

Fourth, the announcement alerts the opposition, but through repeated threats, the opposition wears down and the heightened sensitivity cannot be maintained.  The press loses interest in even covering the threats because they aren’t new.  The press and the citizenry become desensitized. 

The Republicans have used this tactic repeatedly through various surrogates and through Trump.  At the moment, they are testing the waters of electoral interference through people like Roger Stone.  There are a number of reasons why Roger Stone is not in prison.  First, he was paid off so he would not do a deal with prosecutors and tell them about the Republicans’ various corrupt activities.  Second, Stone functions as an effective mouthpiece.  He publicly says that the Republicans should do this or that.  Then, Republicans wait for the reaction.  That reaction informs them of just how far they can go. 

Roger Stone, stated over the weekend on Alex Jones’s Infowars that Trump and the Republicans should seize total power over the society and jail opponents including Bill and Hillary Clinton should he lose to Biden.  Stone argued that Trump should consider invoking the Insurrection act.  He also recommended arresting Harry Reid. 

Stone said: “The ballots in Nevada on election night should be seized by federal marshals and taken from the state. They are completely corrupted. No votes should be counted from the state of Nevada if that turns out to be the provable case. Send federal marshals to the Clark county board of elections, Mr. President!”

Later, attacking the Democratic governor of Nevada, Steve Sisolak, Trump said: “This is the guy we are entrusting with millions of ballots, unsolicited ballots, and we’re supposed to win these states. Who the hell is going to trust him? The only way the Democrats can win the election is if they rig it.”

On Sunday, on ABC’s This Week, senior Trump campaign adviser Jason Miller also attacked mail-in ballots in Nevada. He also called Sisolak a “clubhouse governor … who, by the way, if you go against him politically … politically speaking, you’ll find yourself buried in the desert.”

So, the Republicans are signaling that they may intervene in the election if it becomes necessary, telling their supporters what to expect and providing a rationale for the clearly illegal and unconstitutional action.

Stone, in the interview, advocated “forming an election day operation using the FBI, federal marshals and Republican state officials across the country to be prepared to file legal objections [to results] and if necessary to physically stand in the way of criminal activity.”

In an interview broadcast on Saturday night, Trump told Fox News he would happily “put down” any leftwing protests about the results of the election.  “We’ll put them down very quickly if they do that,” he told Jeannine Pirro.

As well as signaling his supporters and threatening his opponents, this move is also a head-fake.  In other words, Republicans are shouting from the media mountain tops that they may well physically intervene in the election, seizing ballots, sending in troops.  The corporate media spends hours and hours talking about this and pointing out the obvious fact that it is illegal and unconstitutional.  But, what the Republicans are hoping for, banking on, is that they can accomplish the same take-over of the election process through more covert means, voter purges, voting machine processes that are impenetrable and therefore subject to manipulation, refusing to count mail-in ballots that come in “late,” closing polling places, etc.

The Republicans are stealing the 2020 election.  They are doing so behind our backs and in front of our faces. 

See, the Guardian

https://news.yahoo.com/roger-stone-donald-trump-bring-021241564.html

MORNING RUNDOWN: Belarus, Putin, DoInJ; Barr, Post Office, RICO, “The Chickenshit Club”

joe biden

MORNING RUNDOWN

  • Widespread protests continue in Belarus. Protests have been happening in the major city of Khabarovsk for weeks after Putin “removed a popularly elected governor and replaced him with a hand-selected loyalist.  Putin is now in the position of allowing Lukashenko to flee to Russia (as he did with Yanukovych in Ukraine) and gobbling up parts of Balarus, or does he modulate his interference.  https://www.washingtonpost.com/outlook/2020/08/15/putin-lukashenko-belarus-russia/
  • The Department of inJustice: The case against a company  charged with conspiring to defraud the government by orchestrating a social media campaign to interfere with the 2016 election was dropped in March by the Barr Justice Department.  This was a prosecution that had been pursued for two-years and was dropped weeks before the case was to come to trial. https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/2020/04/08/foreign-hackers-have-made-it-harder-us-prosecute-them
  • David Plouffe, along with others stress that the destruction of the effectiveness of the Post Office, is an emergency (see also Jesse Eisinger). He recommends prime-time hearings, now; subpoenas to Trump WH and other officials.  “This is a RICO case,” says Plouffe. Twitter  From the Democrats, silence, strongly worded letters.
  • Lest we Forget: Don McGahn is the nephew of mafia attorney, Pat McGahn, who brokered the AC Taj Mahal land deal between Donald Trump and mob boss, Little Nicky Scarfo.
  • Jesse Eisinger’s book “The Chickenshit Club” is one of the most important books in understanding what is happening with the Republican party and the Trump administration. Tweet (8/16/20)  “…cutting government and then pointing to a crippled government as proof that government doesn’t work has been a Republican strategy for 40 years.”  Republicans who are surprised at the inaction of the federal government in the pandemic and at the dismantling of the post office have not been paying attention to the policies of the Republican party they have been voting for.
  • Fascism not only “can happen here” it “has happened here.”  There have been other fascist movements in the United States.  Also, the Republicans are using flaws in the system to establish this Christian Nationalist authoritarian state.  Hint: Trump didn’t think of these flaws himself.     https://www.alternet.org/2020/08/expert-explains-how-trump-has-exploited-our-legal-infrastructure-to-advance-true-fascism-in-america/
  • Biden is already caving on health care for Americans. Democratic operatives tell “The Hill” that the most likely strategy is to “fix” Obamacare without providing a public option.   This is just one example of what a Biden/Harris administration will be like.  There will be repeated caving to corporate interests and the abandoning of the people they are begging to vote for them now.  “Powerful health care industry groups, ranging from drug companies to health insurers to hospitals, are strongly opposed to a public option, worried about its impact on their bottom line, and would fight any legislative push on the subject next year.  The industry is instead pushing the idea of a more modest ObamaCare fix that does not include a public option.”
  • https://thehill.com/policy/healthcare/511909-battle-looms-over-biden-health-care-plan-if-democrats-win-big

 

 

From Russia with Love: Russian Influence in Brexit, Russian Assassinations and Trump Wishing Maxwell Well

jeffrey epstein

The British government and intelligence agencies failed to conduct a proper assessment of Kremlin attempts to interfere with the 2016 Brexit referendum, according to a long-delayed Russia report.

The contents of the report indicate that the government and intelligence agencies failed to investigate Russian interference because they didn’t want to know, and that they delayed a report until after the election that would have revealed the fact.

Stewart Hosie, a Scottish National party MP who sits on the cross-party committee that issued the report stated:

“The UK Government have actively avoided looking for evidence that Russia interfered. We were told that they hadn’t seen any evidence, but that is meaningless if they hadn’t looked for it.”

Britain has become “a favourable destination for Russian oligarchs and their money”, observed the committee.

Citing no names, the committee also warned that it was “notable that a number of members of the House of Lords have business interests linked to Russia, or work directly for major Russian companies linked to the Russian state.”

Article: Guardian

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/jul/21/russia-report-reveals-uk-government-failed-to-address-kremlin-interference-scottish-referendum-brexit

So, Britain as well as the United States is awash with Russian money and corruption and this is more evidence that those in authority will not move to uncover it or stop it.

The following link is to a series of articles that appeared in Buzzfeed in 2018 about Russian assassinations in Britain.

https://www.buzzfeed.com/heidiblake/poison-in-the-system?utm_term=.qj09P41jm#.bx0arEWRk

And, just to add the final touch to the day, Trump wished Maxwell well today in his public appearance.

Notes from “Hiding in Plain Sight” by Sarah Kenzior

hiding

The Bellwether of American Decline

“…the facts make you wish they were fiction, but that is all the more reason we need to hear them.”

Greitens, governor of Missouri

“Whereas once mere publicity about his scandals would have prompted resignation, Greitens proved that hanging on to executive power to dodge or manipulate prosecution remains a viable option in an era of unfettered corruption—a lesson the Trump administration knows well. One of the most awful things about the Greitens case is that Missourians felt lucky he left, like peasants relieved at the passing of an evil king. There was never accountability, there was never transparency—there was just luck, otherwise known as dead expectations.
“When asked to vote on a specific issue, Missourians chose the most progressive options. But when asked to vote for a politician, over half of Missourians chose Republicans who sought to strike down the very ballot initiatives for which they had voted.”

 

The 1980s: Roy Cohn’s Orwellian America

 

“In 1984, one year after the tower’s completion, Soviet army veteran David Bogatin purchased five luxury condos for six million dollars—a purchase so substantial that Trump made sure to personally oversee the closing.”

 

“In 1987, Bogatin admitted he had purchased the Trump Tower condos “to launder money, to shelter and hide assets…”

 

“…a Senate investigation revealed him to be a leading figure in the Russian mafia. The Russian mafia had been growing in New York City due to a wave of Soviet émigrés and a crackdown on the Italian mob…”

 

“…Comey, who replaced Mueller as FBI head in 2013, the FBI removed Mogilevich—the dangerous Russian mafia head who had been ancillary to Trump since the 1980s—from the Ten Most Wanted list in December 2015 and replaced him with a bank robber. “

 

“When the press works against its own financial interest—as it did by rejecting the harrowing truth of Trump—there is a deeper problem.”

 

“…documents to claim that, beginning in 1977, Trump would remain “completely tax-exempt for the next 30 years” thanks to a mysterious arrangement between his company and the American government; that he was contractually bound to have three children with Ivana (which he did); and that he was being groomed to run for president in 1988 (which he nearly did).”:

 

“February 20, 2017, one month after Trump’s inauguration, Churkin died suddenly at the age of sixty-four….Churkin had been the fifth Russian diplomat to die unexpectedly and in an unexplained fashion since Trump won the election.”

 

“…1987, he (Trump) told journalist Ron Rosenbaum that he sought to partner with Russia on nuclear weapons with the aim of threatening other countries into compliance.”

 

“Stone was involved in every Trump presidential run thereafter as well as in Trump’s near-run for New York governor in 2014.

 

“Trump had one condition for entering a race: his win needed to be preordained.”

 

“…crime committed brazenly is over time redefined as something other than crime. It is entertainment, and then it is autocracy, and then it is too late.”

 

“That a significant number of today’s high-profile journalists did know the Trump family personally is cause for concern.”

 

“These powerful sectors of society have been overtaken by connections rather than merit, and dynasties rather than unbiased workforces.”

 

“The deep secret of all Trump coverage is that it is cost-effective news—”

 

“David Cay Johnston, author of multiple bestsellers about Trump, noted that in addition to refusing to cover the rape of Ivana, the 2016 press would not report on Trump’s documented ties to organized crime.”

 

“..confessed drug trafficker. [The trafficker is Joseph Weichselbaum,”

 

“This is called “normalcy bias”: the idea that if a situation is truly dangerous, if massive crimes are being committed in plain sight, someone will intervene and stop them.”

 

“Who controls the past, controls the future: who controls the present, controls the past,” Orwell wrote in 1984. “Past events, it is argued, have no objective existence, but survive only in written records and in human memories. The past is whatever the records and the memories agree upon. And since the Party is in full control of all records, and in equally full control of the minds of its members, it follows that the past is whatever the Party chooses to make it.”