Saturday, June 11, 2022

Putin abandoned rhetoric, admitted land grab

 From the Daily Star:

"Putin hails Peter the Great, admits his own war on Ukraine is land grab

Russian President Vladimir Putin paid tribute on Thursday to Tsar Peter the Great on the 350th anniversary of his birth, drawing a parallel between what he portrayed as their twin historic quests to win back Russian lands.

"Peter the Great waged the Great Northern War for 21 years. It would seem that he was at war with Sweden, he took something from them. He did not take anything from them, he returned (what was Russia's)," Putin said after a visiting an exhibition dedicated to the tsar.

In televised comments on day 106 of his war in Ukraine, he compared Peter's campaign with the task facing Russia today.

"Apparently, it also fell to us to return (what is Russia's) and strengthen (the country). And if we proceed from the fact that these basic values form the basis of our existence, we will certainly succeed in solving the tasks that we face."

...Putin has repeatedly sought to justify Russia's actions in Ukraine, where his forces have devastated cities, killed thousands and put millions of people to flight, by propounding a view of history that asserts Ukraine has no real national identity or tradition of statehood...

In July 2021, the Kremlin published a long essay by Putin in which he argued that Russia and Ukraine were one nation, artificially divided. It laid the groundwork for his deployment of troops to Ukraine.

Moscow says it acted to disarm and "denazify" its neighbour. Ukraine and its allies say Putin has launched an unprovoked war of aggression.

In the run up to what Russia calls its "special military operation", Putin blamed Vladimir Lenin, the founder of the Soviet Union, for creating Ukraine on what Putin said was historically Russian territory."



Sunday, June 05, 2022

Western leaders criticized over war in Ukraine

 From Simon Tisdall at the Guardian:

"Timid Biden condemns Ukrainians to an agonising war without end

It seems odd, to put it mildly, that Joe Biden is happy to supply Ukraine with advanced rockets as long as it does not fire them at Russia. Vladimir Putin can aim missiles at Ukrainians from across the border whenever he wants – but Volodymyr Zelenskiy’s troops can’t shoot back at their tormentors.

Strange, too, that the UN is seeking Russia’s agreement for convoys to escort grain from Odesa and other Ukrainian ports. It’s Putin who is preventing 22 million tonnes of grain reaching the Middle East and Africa, where millions face famine. Don’t ask permission. Send a multinational force to smash his illegal blockade.

The US and UK have made a big fuss in the past about preserving freedom of navigation in international waters, including the Black Sea. Puzzlingly, they in effect ceded these waters on 24 February to Russia, whose navy bombards and besieges Ukraine’s cities and ports at will...

Left to fight alone, Zelenskiy pleads for heavy weapons but his pleas still often go unmet or responses are delayed. “We need to get serious about supplying [Ukraine’s] army so that it can do what the world is asking it to do: fight a world superpower alone on the battlefield,” says US Gen Philip Breedlove, formerly NATO commander in Europe. He’s right.

It’s no good relying on sanctions, as the EU proved again last week. Its decision to let Hungary’s mini-Putin, Viktor Orbán, water down an oil embargo was weird. Yet Germany’s Olaf Scholz and fellow euro-wobblers are content. Duty done on oil, they will now more stubbornly resist what their bankers and businessmen most fear: sanctions on gas.

Hardest of all to understand, perhaps, is why some Western governments persist in attempting business as usual with Putin, who they know, for certain, is overseeing atrocities and war crimes. Scholz and France’s Emmanuel Macron hold regular phone chats with him. It’s said they are realists seeking peace. No. They are dupes, normalising mass murder...

Another puzzle: why is Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov’s shameless spewing of disinformation tolerated around the world? Why do Russia’s ambassadors get free airtime to spin their lies?...

One reason such impunity endures is that China and India, though sworn to uphold the UN charter and international law, prefer instead to profit from Ukraine’s agony by buying cut-price Russian energy...

But, ultimately, it’s the western allies’ own policy contradictions and timidity that most undermine Kyiv at a critical moment, 100 days into the war. Half-measures are their default position. They won’t go the whole hog.

Intimidated by Putin’s nuclear hints, fearful of escalation, and alarmed at rising domestic costs, western leaders are scared, deep down, that Ukraine may win. At the same time, they are committed – politically, morally, rhetorically – to ensuring it does not lose.

The resulting confusion, representing the worst of both worlds, is personified by Biden. Ostensibly clarifying US war aims last week, he insisted Russia that must “pay a heavy price”. If it went unpunished, it would “open the door to aggression elsewhere, with catastrophic consequences the world over”.

Yet even as he raised the stakes, Biden avoided any mention of Ukrainian victory. There was nothing about winning. Instead, he spoke vaguely of future negotiations while offering personal assurances to Putin. The US did not seek his overthrow, he said. Nor would NATO attack unless attacked...

Biden’s too-modest war aims are a manifesto for the muddled middle. Where does this leave Ukraine? Still solitary, still lacking essential modern weapons, and still fighting for its life with one hand tied behind its back – by its closest friends.

And where does it leave the West? Afraid, in equal measure, of victory and defeat, and hoping, fingers crossed, for some form of shabby compromise...

This weak-kneed approach guarantees only one thing: the war will run and run. Diplomacy is stalled. Sanctions are having limited effect and, in terms of energy prices, are harming Europe more than Russia. Only increased direct and indirect NATO military pressure can shift this dynamic.

Campaigning in 2020, Biden pledged an end to what he called America’s “forever wars”. Now, tremulously pulling their punches, he and other Western leaders condemn Ukrainians to exactly that."

Thursday, June 02, 2022

Diplomatic solution in Ukraine "augurs horrifying prospects"


Former U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger recently roiled the foreign policy community by becoming the most prominent voice urging Ukraine to pursue peace talks with Russia.

Kissinger prioritized Putin appeasement over Ukrainian victory, critics alleged, exposing his wanton priorities in the process. But critics did him a favor by ignoring the specifics of his vision...

Voices pushing Ukraine to trade land for peace rarely specify how much territory should be sacrificed, or where.

Russian forces currently occupy an area stretching from pieces of the Kharkiv region in Ukraine’s north, circling around the Donbas in the east, and extending along the country’s southern Black Sea coast near the city of Mykolaiv. The occupied territories include rich agricultural land, multiple seaports, and a nuclear power plant. Russia has sacrificed considerably for some of it, especially in places like Mariupol, along front lines in the Donbas, and on the outskirts of Kherson city. Putin is building local governments in some of these areas, too, and his share of the Donbas is increasing.

If this is the territory Ukraine should sacrifice, hardly anyone seems willing to say so. Kissinger came close, as did Columbia University professor Jeffrey D. Sachs...

Perhaps one reason nobody wants to talk specifically or realistically about a diplomatic solution is that it, like war, augurs horrifying prospects.

Consider a peace that leaves all occupied territory in Russian hands. In reality, this would mean Ukraine loses seaports, much of its core agricultural base, and substantial, vital energy sources. Alternatively, any deal that incentivized Russia to return to the 2014 boundaries would likely entail spectacular concessions.

Indeed, it is hard to conceive of a settlement that maintains Ukraine’s fundamental nationhood while not emboldening Russian expansionism. Rather, toleration of Putin’s land-grab or offering major bounty in exchange will likely forge a new order not simply honoring Russia’s borders, but also accepting that its foreign escapades—however immoral or poorly executed—get to succeed.

Why would an agreement hold? To abandon military resistance in favor of diplomacy at this point is to put exceptional faith in the Russian government. This is the same government that, in recent decades, habitually invaded its neighbors while lying about its actions and intentions up to and during the operations themselves.

Forget the emotional impact of trying to engage in a dialogue with the unrepentant perpetrators of the massacre of civilians in Bucha. Can Kyiv trust a military that marched into Crimea in 2014 with unmarked uniforms; that told the world it was withdrawing its troops from Ukraine’s borders before invading this year; and whose obvious battlefield effort to take Kyiv diverged from its stated war aims?

Then there’s the long-term challenge of ideology. Western commentators seldom take seriously the depth of Russian nationalists’ assertion that Ukrainians are an artificial people maintaining an artificial state. Russia’s pseudo-religious claims to Ukraine are not only the pastime of obscure fanatics; they animated Putin’s speech at the outset of the invasion (“Modern Ukraine was entirely created by Russia,” he said). Why would this Russian leadership and intelligentsia ever affirm Ukraine’s sovereignty?

The advocates of “negotiation” should not be excused from addressing these topics.

Perhaps they think that Ukraine should be sacrificed and crimes against humanity tolerated for the sake of preventing inflation, food and energy crises, or a power vacuum in Russia. Fine. Let them then argue for it.

But the current strategy of proclaiming the consequences of war but not its alternatives amounts to little more than a petulant moan. At best, generic odes to diplomacy will be meaningless, given that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy acknowledges that the war will end in negotiations.

A more concerning prospect is that these calls will distract from the urgent task of assisting a society under heinous attack from a nuclear-armed madman.

Sunday, May 22, 2022

Fundraising campain in support of Raif Badawi

 I have written before (e.g. here) about the Saudi blogger Raif Badawi who was sentenced to 10 years in prison and 1000 lashes for posts that the authorities did not like. After the first 50 lashes led to worldwide protests, this part of the sentence was quietly abandoned but the prison term remained.

These days, I checked to see whether Raif has been released. It turned out that he has, but he is not allowed to emigrate to Canada where his family is until he pays the hefty fine that was also included in the sentence. Therefore, a fundraising campaign is underway, under the auspice of the Giordano Bruno Foundation. I believe that nobody who reads this blog likes the idea of pouring money into the budget of Saudi Arabia of all states, but for the sake of Raif, you might consider it if you wish.

Monday, May 16, 2022

Russian invaders booby-trap dead bodies

When Ukrainian troops liberate a town from Russian invaders, they warn residents to return with caution because retreating Russians often booby-trap homes, cars, playgrounds, and even dead bodies. An example is described by

Russian soldiers killed a Ukrainian army volunteer on the outskirts of Kyiv and left his dead body in his car trunk fitted with a mine that later exploded when Ukrainian forces attempted to move him, according to Politico.

Lyudmyla Kyrpach, the soldier's widow, told Politico... that the day after the invasion began in late February, Oleksandr, a mechanic, organized volunteer fighters in his village of Kalynivka, near Kyiv.

By March 1, days after Russian troops had encroached on their village, Oleksandr's friends set out driving to see if they could source more intel about Russian troop movements up close... After they failed to return, he set out to find them.

"He said he would be right back," Lyudmyla told Politico. Oleksandr never returned, and unable to sleep, Lyudmyla set out the following day with her friends to find him.

She noticed his sedan on the road, with the keys in the ignition but no passengers in the car, she told Politico.

Lyudmyla's friend noticed that the trunk was riddled with bullets... and they opened the trunk to find Oleksandr's dead body. Her friend pulled her away from the car in fear that the trunk could be booby-trapped...
By March 4 they returned to the scene with Ukrainian soldiers.
According to the report, the soldiers tied ropes to his limbs and moved far from the car to pull slowly and see if the car was rigged. As soon as they pulled, the "car exploded in a ball of flames." Russian soldiers had placed weight-triggered mine under Oleksandr, Lyudmyla told Politico.
"Lyudmyla picked up the pieces of the man she had spent decades with and placed them in a box," Politico reported. Later, she buried him in the garden where they used to plant vegetables together.

Tuesday, May 10, 2022

A Russian Antigone

 From Allison Quinn at the Daily Beast:

"Russian authorities in Ukraine’s occupied city of Donetsk are tossing the bodies of their dead soldiers in a secret dump “by the thousands” and charging their loved ones money to find them.

That’s according to a new audio recording released by Ukraine’s Security Service on Tuesday, which is purportedly an intercepted telephone conversation between two Russians discussing how one of their missing friends was finally found.

In the two-and-a-half minute recording, an unidentified man tells his female relative that the fate of “Inna’s brother” is finally known after he went missing a month ago.

“It’s better that you don’t hear this,” the man says at first, reluctant to spill all the grim details.

After more urging, he finally explains that the unidentified dead man’s “sister went to Donetsk, and there, basically, roughly speaking, is a dump.”

“They just toss them there. And then later it’s easier to make as if they disappeared without a trace. It’s easier for them to pretend they are just missing, and that’s it,” he said, noting that “there are thousands.”

“There’s nowhere left to place them. It’s a dump. I’m telling you in plain Russian—a dump. It’s as tall as a person,” he said, adding that the site is “fenced off, sealed, they don’t let anyone in.”

According to him, the only reason local authorities at the dump site let the woman find her brother was because she paid “good money.”

After that, he said, “they rearranged it until she found [the body.]”

“It’s not a morgue, it’s a dump.… They are bringing [bodies] by the thousands,” he said, calling it a “shitshow.”...

The disturbing intercept comes after Al Jazeera on Monday released footage of refrigerated train cars holding the unclaimed bodies of Russian troops killed in Ukraine. Inside, there appeared to be human-size bodies stacked on top of each other in white bags. Ukrainian authorities said Moscow has refused to take the bodies back home, apparently to keep the lid on the sky-high death toll..."

Wake up, Russia!

Wednesday, May 04, 2022

Bulgaria now to give Ukraine "phantom" military aid

 From Tsvetelia Tsolova / Reuters:

"Bulgaria approves repairs to Ukrainian military equipment, not military aid

Bulgaria's parliament voted on Wednesday to allow repairs of Ukrainian heavy military equipment and seek ways to help Ukrainian exports of grains and electricity, sidestepping proposals to provide direct military aid to Kyiv.


European Union and NATO member state Bulgaria has condemned the Russian invasion of Ukraine, supported sanctions against Moscow, refused to pay for Russian gas with roubles and hosted over 90,000 Ukrainian refugees.


But the Black Sea country remains one of the few in the 27-member EU to have not sent arms and ammunitions to Kyiv as one of the four coalition partners, the Russia-friendly Socialists, opposed the move and threatened to bolt if it were approved.


Lawmakers voted to allow the government to provide military-technical support to Ukraine and see how it can repair Ukrainian heavy military equipment...


Two other proposals that supported sending military aid to Ukraine did not win enough support in the chamber."

Repairmen who showed Hunter Biden's laptop now suing media


Hunter Biden Laptop Whistleblower Sues Schiff, CNN, the Daily Beast , Politico


The Delaware computer repairman who alerted authorities to the existence of Hunter Biden’s laptop sued on Tuesday Democratic Representative Adam Schiff, CNN, the Daily Beast and Politico, claiming that he suffered financial and reputational damage after they alleged that the leak was Russian disinformation.


Business owner John Paul Mac Isaac filed for the suit, he told the New York Post, because his livelihood was significantly disrupted by tech platforms, mainstream media, and Delaware locals after he turned in the laptop, which would eventually become the subject of a federal investigation.


“After fighting to reveal the truth, all I want now is for the rest of the country to know that there was a collective and orchestrated effort by social and mainstream media to block a real story with real consequences for the nation,” Mac Isaac told the Post...

Mac Isaac said he came into possession of the laptop when President Biden’s son Hunter dropped it off at his shop for repairs in April 2019 and never came back to claim it. Authorities have since unearthed questionable content on the device relating to Hunter’s foreign business dealings and the president’s knowledge of them. The store owner first gave the laptop hard drive to the FBI in December 2019 and then to former head of the Trump campaign legal team Rudy Giuliani, who provided a copy of the hard drive to The Post.


After the story surfaced in October 2020 right before the presidential election, Twitter and Facebook made a concerted effort to bury it and censored the Post’s article, arguing it was unsubstantiated and illegitimate reporting. Biden and over 50 former intelligence officials smeared the laptop revelation as part of a Russian disinformation operation. Over a year later, the New York Times and the Washington Post finally confirmed the story after dismissing it as unsubstantiated for months. Hunter Biden had previously admitted that the laptop did in fact belong to him.


Some Republicans have argued that the early tech and liberal media suppression of the story misled the public and may have effected the results of the 2020 election. Mac Isaac said he suffered great harm as a result of the conduct of the social media companies after the story went live.


“Twitter initially labeled my action hacking, so for the first day after my information was leaked, I was bombarded with hate mail and death threats revolving around the idea that I was a hacker, a thief and a criminal,” he told The Post. Schiff, who chairs the House Intelligence Committee, “has some explaining” to do after he rejected the new information outright back in October 2020 in what looks like an act of political favoritism, Mac Isaac noted.


“Without any intel, the head of the intel committee decided to share with CNN and its viewers a complete and utter lie,” Mac Isaac said. “A lie issued in the protection of a preferred presidential candidate.”


Mac Isaac alleges that Schiff and those around him unfairly labeled him a prop of the Russian regime for submitting the laptop to the FBI. The lawsuit includes a defamation allegation stemming from Schiff’s interview with CNN two days after The Post broke the story, during which he claimed Moscow was involved.


“Well we know that this whole smear on Joe Biden comes from the Kremlin. That’s been clear for well over a year now that they’ve been pushing this false narrative about the Vice President and his son,” Schiff told CNN host Wolf Blitzer, according to the suit...


As a result of the false accusations, Mac Isaac says he faced intimidation and hostility at his business. He shut down the shop after people started throwing vegetables, eggs and dog excrement at his store, he told the Post. Mac Isaac is seeking “at least $1 million in compensatory damages [and] punitive damages which will be the much bigger number and will be determined at trial,” his lawyer Brian Della Rocca confirmed to the publication.