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Archive for the ‘Ukraine’ Category

Ukraine’s small stealth submarine may change naval warfare

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A vessel moored to a dock in a harbor. has a dull black finish with two yellow stripes. A rounded pod has two attached extensions pointed forward on either side. There is not deck, nor any viewports. It has the look of an alien spaceship.

Jesus Diaz has a fascinating and lengthy article in Fast Company about a new approach to submarine warfare:

In the Arabian Desert—somewhere past the end of Dubai—a small band of misfits claim to have built the submarine of the future in the middle of an ocean of sand. Hanging from a heavy industrial crane inside an industrial warehouse, the black silhouette of the machine feels biological and menacing, almost alive as its creators put in the last touches before its virgin voyage.

Its name is Kronos. And according to its chief designer, Ukrainian engineer Alexander Kuznetsov, founder of Highland Systems, it may change naval warfare forever.

If traditional large submarines are the slow-moving bombers of the sea, Kronos is a stealth jet fighter, capable of maneuvering at fast speeds, turning on a dime, and sneaking behind big enemy ships to disable them with torpedoes and even sink them with magnetic mines. Its design is intended to have it lie on the ocean seabed, listening to its sensors, like a predator patiently waiting for its prey. 

These are lofty claims, but if Kronos performs as Kuznetsov and his team expect, it has a chance of disrupting war at sea the same way drones have in the air and a new generation of easy-to-use, hit-and-run weapons have on land. As Matthew Sweeney—a commander in the U.S. Navy and professor at the U.S. Naval War College in Newport, Rhode Island—tells me in a video interview, everything Highland Systems proposes is feasible on paper. Ukraine, however, is at war now.


Submarine design has remained ostensibly the same since the end of the 19th century, when the Spaniard Isaac Peral invented the first fully capable military submarine. From the diesel U-boats that terrorized Allied convoys during World War II, to the modern nuclear-powered attack submarines that can unleash a storm of atomic missiles over the planet at the turn of a key, they are all tubes, powered by hybrid diesel-electrical engines or nuclear reactors.

Envisioned to operate in deep waters, current military submarines can patrol the oceans for months at a time. They are powerful and deadly, but huge, and they maneuver quite slowly. One example: An operation like a crash dive—which means submerging from the surface as fast as possible to avoid attack—took a World War II-era submarine about 30 seconds. A modern, Ohio-class nuclear sub takes up to five minutes to fully submerge.  

Their size comes with a host of other problems. Submarines are laborious to turn. The average submarine going at full speed has a turning radius that ranges from 750 to 1,500 feet. And they need a considerable amount of water to operate at all. Even smaller vessels—like anti-submarine hunter-killers, designated as SSK—have a minimum operating depth of 650 feet, according to the U.S. Naval Institute, because they need to have space under their keel.

Kronos is designed to be the performance opposite of a traditional submarine. Its intentionally small and stealthy design is meant to enable it to creep close to shore, or enemy vessels, firing pinpoint torpedos and dropping mines to cause devastation more like a drone than a U-boat. Instead of needing a crew of 100 to operate like submarines of today, Kronos can be handled by a single brave pilot and carry up to eight special operations commandos. . .

Continue reading. There’s much more, including more photos.

Written by Leisureguy

17 April 2023 at 5:58 am

Analysis of Twitter algorithm code reveals social medium down-ranks tweets about Ukraine

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Musk really is in the bag for Russia. Yahoo News reports:

After Twitter made the code for its algorithm open source at noon Pacific Time on March 31, users began to pick through it, and discovered that tweets judged to be about Ukraine were down-ranked – meaning users were less likely to see them in their feed.

Read also: Musk’s SpaceX asks Pentagon to finance the work of Starlink in Ukraine

Twitter user Aakash Gupta (@aakashg0) got together with a group of others to sift through the code for the algorithm and discovered the secrets to boosting your follower numbers on the site – as well as the fact that like topics judged to be “misinformation,” the topic of Ukraine is highly down-ranked.

Anecdotally, Twitter users who post frequently on Ukraine topics had noticed less engagement with their accounts since Musk took over the platform in October last year. Musk’s own position on support for Ukraine is ambiguous.

While Musk has aided Ukraine by providing it with Starlink satellite Internet terminals, which the country has used to keep communications up and running for both military and civilians during Russia’s full-scale invasion, some of his other public positions regarding the war have come in for criticism – even from Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.

Read also: FT reports disruptions to Starlink Internet connections for military on the frontline, Elon Musk responds

Musk in early October last year tweeted a “peace plan” for Ukraine that highly favored Russia’s position, and a poll of users asking whether “the will of the people” should decide if seized regions remain part of Ukraine or become part of Russia.

Zelenskyy himself fired back with a twitter poll asking “which Elon Musk do you like more?”: “One who supports Ukraine” or “One who supports Russia.”

Read also: Elon Musk’s tweets on Russian invasion of Ukraine spark social media scandal

Musk replied that . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

2 April 2023 at 6:58 pm

GOP’s mission to split the US

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Heather Cox Richardson:

We awoke this morning to news that President Joe Biden was in Kyiv, Ukraine, where he pledged “our unwavering and unflagging commitment to Ukraine’s democracy, sovereignty, and territorial integrity.” Air raid sirens blared as Biden and Ukraine president Volodymyr Zelensky walked through the streets during the U.S. president’s five-hour stay.

As National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan told reporters, Biden’s visit was the first time a U.S. president has visited “the capital of a country at war where the United States military does not control the critical infrastructure”…in other words, an active war zone. Biden traveled in a special mission plane from Germany to Poland, then took a train from Poland to Kyiv. To make sure there would be no attacks, the U.S. notified the Russians that Biden would be in Kyiv, but a Russian MiG 30 flew from Belarus during Biden’s visit, triggering air raid sirens.

According to Sullivan, Biden felt it was important to visit Kyiv at the anniversary of the 2022 Russian invasion. The image of Biden and Zelensky standing together sent a message to Russian president Vladimir Putin, as David Rothkopf put it in the Daily Beast: “I am here in Kyiv and you are not. You not only did not take Kyiv in days as some predicted, but your attack was rebuffed. Your army suffered a humiliating defeat from which it has not recovered.”

Just under a year ago, the global equation looked very different. On February 4, 2022, Chinese president Xi Jinping hosted Russian president Vladimir Putin on the opening day of the Winter Olympics. The two men pledged to work together in a partnership with “no limits” in a transparent attempt to counter U.S. global leadership and assert a new international order based on their own authoritarian systems.

At the time, Russia was massing troops on its border with Ukraine but fervently denied it was planning to invade. On February 24, 2022, Russian tanks rolled across the border and Russian planes covered them in the air. Biden remembered that Zelensky called him and said he could hear the explosions as they spoke. “I’ll never forget that,” Biden said. “The world was about to change.” When Biden asked what he could do to help, Zelensky said: “Gather the leaders of the world. Ask them to support Ukraine.”

And over 50 nations stepped up to make sure the rules-based international order in place since World War II, which prevents one country from attacking another, held. Those backing Ukraine against Russian aggression have squeezed Russia with economic sanctions and supported Ukraine with military and humanitarian aid. As Biden said today, standing next to Zelensky: “Kyiv stands and Ukraine stands. Democracy stands. The Americans stand with you, and the world stands with you.”

Biden pledged another $460 million in aid to Ukraine, emphasizing that U.S. support for the country is bipartisan.

Biden mourned the cost Ukraine has had to bear, but championed its successes. “Russia’s aim was to wipe Ukraine off the map,” Biden said, but “Putin’s war of conquest is failing. Russia’s military has lost . . .

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Written by Leisureguy

21 February 2023 at 11:14 am

Trump-Russia Denialists Still Can’t Handle the Truth

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David Corn has a really excellent article in his newsletter Our Land:

Extreme contrarianism often entails an avoidance of facts. This is especially true for the cadre of Trump-Russia denialists who were recently out in force to bolster and amplify a massive and misguided Columbia Journalism Review critique of the media coverage of the Russia scandal.

I’ve already pointed out what was profoundly wrong with the 24,000-word, four-part series that onetime New York Times reporter Jeff Gerth wrote for CJR. In an act of misdirection, Gerth lambasted the press for overstating the case that Donald Trump directly colluded with the Kremlin and for hyping the unconfirmed Steele dossier. Though Gerth scored some points on these fronts, he curiously ignored the core components of the Trump-Russia affair: Vladimir Putin successfully attacked the 2016 election to help Trump, and Trump aided and abetted this assault by denying or dismissing it. He did not assess how the media reported on these critical matters (a mixed record). Instead, he defined the Russia story only by press coverage of the Steele memos and the question of whether Trump directly schemed with Moscow’s covert operators.

That is, Gerth missed the forest for a few branches on a tree. In presenting this highly limited and narrow conception of the scandal, he validated the bogus framework advanced by Trump-Russia denialists and echoed the disinformation that Trump and his minions have spread to deflect attention from Trump’s act of betrayal. Most ridiculously, Gerth claimed that the press, with its errors, caused Trump to launch his war on the media and become so paranoid and conspiracy-minded that he could not accept the results of the 2020 election. (Marcy Wheeler pounded Gerth, too. Media critic Dan Kennedy also assailed the Gerth opus.)

You can read the Gerth piece—it will take a while—and my own and decide for yourself who has the better argument. By the way, the Gerth series did trigger another controversy. After it came out, Duncan Campbell, a veteran investigative reporter, credibly claimed that CJR in 2020 had spiked an article it had commissioned from him on the Nation’s denialist coverage of the Russia scandal—a charge CJR did not accept. As the former Washington editor of the Nation, I was saddened by Campbell’s report that showed the Nation—driven by an anti-anti-Russia obsession—had bypassed editorial and fact-checking processes to publish articles that bizarrely insisted there had been no Russian hack of the Democratic Party and no attack on the election.

Back to the Gerth piece. What I’d like to highlight is how the usual suspects rushed to embrace it to push their baseless assertion that there was no there there in the Trump-Russia scandal, and how these Russian hoax hoaxers, so consumed by an anti-media bias, cannot have a clear debate or discussion about the matter.

Writer Matt Taibbi, not surprisingly, was quick out of the gate on this. For years, he has insisted the Russia scandal did not truly exist, refusing to acknowledge there was any significant Moscow attack on the 2016 election or that Trump ran interference for a foreign adversary that was subverting American democracy. After I published my take on Gerth’s article, he tweeted at me: “dude, you need to find new line of work. Lol.” This was typical: derision instead of debate. I responded, “Way to engage with an argument.” Taibbi then countered by cherry-picking a single sentence from my article, in which I had noted, “in a sense, there was a secret alliance” during the 2016 campaign between Trump and Russia. His retort: “‘In a sense’? Like in your mind, ‘in a sense’? That’s not how we do it and you know it.” And at this point, Elon Musk—you’ve heard of him?—jumped in, boosting this Taibbi tweet with one word: “Wow.”

Taibbi thought he had me. But he had mischaracterized my point. The next sentence in the article read, “At least, in a wink-and-a-nod fashion.” I was referring to the June 2016 meeting at Trump Tower between Trump’s top advisers (Donald Trump Jr., Jared Kushner, and Paul Manafort) and a Russian emissary who, they were told, would deliver them dirt on Hillary Clinton. In the emails setting up this rendezvous, the Trump men were informed that this meeting was arising from a secret Kremlin effort to help Trump. (“I love it,” Trump Jr. emailed the business associate who helped broker this get-together.) So, yes, a secret alliance of sorts: the Kremlin would covertly scheme to help Trump, and the Trump camp would not tell the FBI or say anything about it. Trump and his aides even would deny Russia was doing this. (And, not coincidentally, Manafort was covertly communicating with a Russian intelligence operative and passing him campaign information.)

So I responded by asking if Taibbi had read what I had written after the sentence he had tried to mock, and I replied to Musk, “you’re being conned. If you care about this issue, read the *bipartisan* Senate intel comm. report, and then let’s talk.” I know Musk is a busy man. It’s hard to run a financially failing social media site, while overseeing a car company whose stock value is plummeting. Thus, I bothered him with another tweet: “you’re being conned by bad-faith actors who are helping Putin (and Trump). If you are serious and care about this issue, read the *bipartisan* Senate intel comm. report, and then let’s talk.”

I was referring to the 966-page Volume 5 of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s report on the Trump-Russia scandal, which was released in 2020 and which remains the best (and damning) account of this whole business. It details the Russian attack, notes Trump tried to deny this assault while seeking to benefit from it, and reveals how Manafort was interacting—colluding? collaborating?—with that Russian intelligence officer. No one should be allowed to debate the Russia controversy without reading this.

At this point, Taibbi went silent. Personal attacks and selective citation were all he had. And there were crickets from Musk, who apparently was available to boost Taibbi’s sophomoric reply but unavailable to have a serious discussion. This is SOP for Trump-Russia denialists.

No shocker, Glenn Greenwald, the former lefty commentator who now helps Tucker Carlson promote Trump-defending conspiracy theories, joined the fray. He hailed the Gerth piece, referred to me as the “Original Steele Dossier Truther” (I was the first journalist to report on the dossier’s existence and reveal that the FBI was investigating its allegations), and approvingly quoted an unnamed “analyst” who referred to the media reports on Trump’s interactions with Russia as a “propaganda campaign.”

I tried again. I tweeted at Greenwald, “How about you . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

14 February 2023 at 11:01 am

What is the government’s job?

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Heather Cox Richardson writes:

Over all the torrent of news these days is a fundamental struggle about the nature of human government. Is democracy still a viable form of government, or is it better for a country to have a strongman in charge?

Democracy stands on the principle of equality for all people, and those who are turning away from democracy, including the right wing in the United States, object to that equality. They worry that equal rights for women and minorities—especially LGBTQ people—will undermine traditional religion and traditional power structures. They believe democracy saps the morals of a country and are eager for a strong leader who will use the power of the government to reinforce their worldview.

But empowering a strongman ends oversight and enables those in power to think of themselves as above the law. In the short term, it permits those in power to use the apparatus of their government to enrich themselves at the expense of the people of their country. Their supporters don’t care: they are willing to accept the cost of corruption so long as the government persecutes those they see as their enemies. But that deal is vulnerable when it becomes clear the government cannot respond to an immediate public crisis.

That equation is painfully clear right now in Turkey and Syria, where more than 380,000 people are homeless after Monday’s devastating earthquakes. The death toll has climbed to more than 23,000, and more than 78,000 are injured. So far. Just a month ago, Turkey’s president President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan promised that the country had the fastest and most effective system of response to disaster in the world.

But that promise has been exposed as a lie. As Jen Kirby pointed out in Vox yesterday, Erdoğan and his ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), who have been moving the country toward autocracy, rose to power thanks to a construction boom in the 2010s that both drove economic growth and permitted Erdoğan to hand out contracts to his supporters. The collapse of more than 6,400 buildings in Monday’s quakes have brought attention to cost cutting and bribery to get around building codes. At the same time, since a big quake in 1999, homeowners have been paying an earthquake tax that should, by now, have been worth tens of billions of dollars, but none of that money seems to be available, and Erdoğan won’t say where it went.

“This is a time for unity, solidarity,” Erdoğan told reporters. “In a period like this, I cannot stomach people conducting negative campaigns for political interest.” He has shut down media coverage of the crisis and cracked down on social media as well. Elections in Turkey are scheduled for May 14. Erdoğan was already facing a difficult reelection.

In Syria, President Bashar al-Assad also has to deal with the horrific scenario. Aid groups are having trouble getting assistance to hard-hit areas controlled by opponents of the regime during the country’s ongoing civil war. Assad has blamed western sanctions, imposed against his regime because of its murder of his opponents, for the slow response to the earthquake, but his government has blocked western aid to areas controlled by his opposition. The U.S. has issued a six-month sanctions exemption for relief in Syria.

Russia is also in trouble as its recent invasion of Ukraine has resulted in a protracted war, but it maintains it will continue to extend its new imperial project. On Tuesday, Ramzan Kadyrov, a close ally of Russian president Vladimir Putin, spoke openly of attacking Poland after conquering Ukraine. It was time, he said, for the West to fall to its knees before Russia, and he predicted Ukraine would be Russia’s before the end of 2023. Poland is a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), and an attack on it would bring the rest of the NATO countries, including the U.S., to its aid.

Today, Moldova, a former Soviet republic of about 2.6 million people that borders Ukraine and has been under tremendous pressure from Russia, enduring soaring inflation, an inflow of Ukrainian refugees, and power cuts after Russian attacks on Ukraines’ grid, saw its government resign. That government has worked to move closer to European allies and has applied for admission to the European Union. Russia has sought to destabilize that government and has recently appeared to be planning to invade the country. Moldovan president Maia Sandu has nominated a new prime minister, one that intends to continue orienting the country toward Europe.

The U.S. has stood solidly against Russia’s ambitions, but our own  . . .

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Written by Leisureguy

11 February 2023 at 11:47 am

Blockbuster NYTimes Story Accidentally Leaked Phone Numbers of Russian Soldiers Criticizing War

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I noticed when Margaret Sullivan was Public Editor — the equivalent of ombudsman — of the NY Times, that neither editors nor reporters would admit they erred. Rarely there would be a single grudging admission, but mostly any criticism was brushed aside, even when the criticism pointed out a flagrant error.

And the Times maintains that attitude. Joseph Cox reports in Motherboard:

A blockbuster investigation from the New York Times in September, 2022, inadvertently exposed the apparent phone numbers of Russian soldiers as well as the apparent civilian family members they were speaking to, Motherboard has learned. Some of these people were providing a frank assessment of the ongoing Ukraine war, and blunt criticisms of their superiors including President Putin himself. The exposure potentially put the people at risk of reprisal from their own government and other third parties.

The news highlights not only the risks phones pose in wartime, but also the security hazards that can be posed by journalists handling leaked information. Last week, for example, dozens of Russian soldiers were killed in an attack by Ukrainian forces; the Kremlin said they were targeted based on cell phone data. “For Russian troops, cellphone use is a persistent, lethal danger,” the Times wrote.

When contacted by Motherboard, the Times initially said that it took steps to delete the metadata but failed to scrub several audio files. It said that the metadata was up for only a “few hours.” 

“Before publication, we worked to remove identifying information from the story. We later learned that some buried metadata was live on the site for a few hours, and took prompt steps to remove it,” Charlie Stadtlander, director, external communications, newsroom, at the New York Times initially told Motherboard in a statement.

Motherboard then found that additional phone numbers and internal notes for fact checkers—which in some cases seemingly included not only the number of the apparent soldier but also the person they were speaking to, as well as their supposed relation—remained online in the article’s source code as of Wednesday afternoon, months after publication. When contacted again by Motherboard, the Times edited the piece to remove that metadata from the source code, and replace it with “null.”

In response to the second request for comment about the further exposure in the source code, Stadtlander provided a nearly identical statement that only removed the “few hours” section..

“Before publication, we worked to remove identifying information from the story. We later learned that some buried metadata was live on the site and took prompt steps to remove it,” Stadtlander wrote.

Motherboard found what appears to be multiple phone numbers in the source code.

Security experts told Motherboard the exposure is dangerous.

“This metadata error is a regrettable and entirely avoidable cockup on the part of the New York Times,” Thomas Rid, professor of strategic studies at Johns Hopkins University/SAIS, told Motherboard in an online chat. “The Times says it spent almost two months on translating the recordings—well, it should have spent another 20 minutes on scrubbing the metadata.”

In its investigation, the Times says it . . .

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Written by Leisureguy

11 January 2023 at 4:56 pm

The Skill Involved in Zelensky’s Congressional Address

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At left, a wartime leader appealing to a joint meeting of Congress for further American support, on the day after Christmas in 1941. At right, another wartime leader making a similar appeal, four days before Christmas in 2022. The two images convey some striking differences between the eras. The speeches themselves had striking similarities. (Getty Images.)

James Fallows, one-time speechwriter for President Jimmy Carter, has knowledge and experience regarding political speeches, and his article on Zelensky’s address to Congress is very much worth reading. It begins:

This post starts with some major “staging” choices Volodymyr Zelensky made for his address to Congress this week, including that he would deliver it in English and while dressed in his familiar wartime wear. Then we’ll move to some significant line-by-line aspects of the text itself.

In both parts I’ll be saying that the speech was carefully thought out as a piece of writing, and powerfully presented as a moment in living history. Zelensky could hardly have done more, or done anything more effective, to get his country’s message across.

We often hear about presentations that work on different levels, as appeals to both head and heart. “Tear down this wall,” at the Berlin Wall. “Ask not what your country can do for you,” in bitter January cold from the inaugural stand at the Capitol. “I have a dream,” in August heat from the Lincoln Memorial.

We have no idea of Ukraine’s fate a year or a decade from now, nor of Volodymyr Zelensky’s ultimate place in history. But I think this week’s speech will stand as another important example of combining moment, message, and messenger to remarkable effect.

The set-up.

Zelensky’s speech came 10 months after Russia launched its invasion of Ukraine. It came 81 years after Winston Churchill stood in the same place at the Capitol, with the same Constitutional officers (vice president and speaker of the House) seated behind him, to a similar joint meeting of the Senate and House. There he made a similar appeal for assistance, to a United States that, just after Pearl Harbor, had finally entered the war against Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan.1 The photos of the two presentations, above, suggest how much is traditional and constant in American procedures, and how much has changed.

Zelensky’s speech was also part of series he has made to international audiences since the invasion began. The previous ones had all been virtual, over tele-links from Kyiv and elsewhere in Ukraine, because of Zelensky’s wartime role. In each of them he has argued that Ukraine was the frontline in the battle between dictatorship and democracy, between rule-by-force and rule-of-law.

The official English versions of these speeches, which have all been delivered in Ukrainian, have been notable for their careful craftsmanship. Zelensky and his team knew what allusions to make, what chords to strike, what historical and cultural parallels to draw, when speaking to each of his audiences. I wrote about two of these virtual addresses—to the U.K. Parliament on March 8, and to the U.S. Congress on March 16—soon after they occurred.2

The plain text of this latest speech showed the same deftness and unusual care. Zelensky has someone who is good, and is good in English, working with him. The early speeches had the breathtaking drama of being delivered from cities under attack, much as with Zelensky’s original, history-changing “We are here” short video. This week’s presentation had different drama because of two additional risks he took. Those were: . . .

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Written by Leisureguy

24 December 2022 at 9:29 pm

No-power Christmas cooking in Ukraine

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I enjoy Webspoon World, and somehow I always thought that it took place in Germany — but no: it’s in Ukraine. So in this most recent episode, they have to deal with power outages:

And they’re good:

Written by Leisureguy

18 December 2022 at 5:00 pm

Russia now openly praising Elon Musk for blocking Ukraine from using Twitter

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Russian propaganda accounts are now openly praising Elon Musk for blocking Ukrainians from Twitter. (Click the link to see the image.)

Written by Leisureguy

15 December 2022 at 1:58 pm

‘Golden billion,’ Putin’s favorite conspiracy, explains his worldview and strategy

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Charles Maynes reports at NPR:

As the war in Ukraine approaches the nine-month mark, Western governments have repeatedly accused Russia of imperialist expansionism, nuclear blackmail, weaponizing food, energy and winter — and a host of other hostilities that put the welfare of millions at risk.

Yet there’s an increasingly common counternarrative in Moscow that argues it is the West instead that intends to subject the masses to misery.

Welcome to the “golden billion.”

An idea that first emerged in the twilight years of the Soviet Union, the golden billion is a conspiracy theory that posits a cabal of 1 billion global elites seeks to hoard the world’s wealth and resources, leaving the rest of the planet to suffer and starve.

For years a fringe theory in Russia, the idea has been increasingly espoused by President Vladimir Putin and other top Kremlin officials as an attack line against the West amid a breakdown in relations over the conflict in Ukraine.

“The model of total domination of the so-called golden billion is unfair. Why should this golden billion of the globe dominate over everyone and impose its own rules of behavior?” Putin asked in a speech last July.

Putin went on to describe the alleged plot as “racist and neocolonial in its essence” — a way for the West to divide the world into superior and “second-rate” nations.

The Kremlin dusts off an old plot

Theories — and conspiracies — about economic inequality and the cut-throat competition for global wealth and resources are nothing new.

But analysts say the Kremlin has increasingly exploited the golden billion theory to deflect the notion of Russia as isolated and alone amid what Moscow calls its “special military operation” in Ukraine.

Instead of Russia facing international condemnation over its actions in Ukraine, the theory attempts to place Moscow at the center of . . .

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Written by Leisureguy

21 November 2022 at 5:05 pm

Three guilty as court finds Russia-controlled group downed civilian airliner MH17 in 2014, killing 298 people

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Russia seems to really like to attack civilian targets. Anna Holligan and Kate Vandy report for BBC News:

A Dutch court has found three men guilty of murder for shooting down a passenger jet over eastern Ukraine in 2014, killing 298 people.

The court found that a Russian-made missile supplied from Russia and fired by an armed group under Russian control brought down flight MH17.

The men – two Russians and one Ukrainian – were found guilty in absentia and sentenced to life in jail. A third Russian was acquitted.

The missile attack was one of the most notorious war crimes in Ukraine before allegations of atrocities there became an almost daily reality.

Many of the victims’ relatives believe if the world had reacted differently, and taken a tougher stance against Russia eight years ago, the invasion of Ukraine and the geopolitical instability that has followed could have been avoided.

The judges ruled that it was a deliberate action to bring down a plane, even though the three found guilty had intended to shoot down a military not a civilian aircraft.

  • Igor Girkin, the military leader of the so-called Donetsk People’s Republic, was convicted of deploying the missile and seeking Russian help
  • Sergei Dubinsky was found to have ordered and overseen the transport of the Buk missile launcher
  • Leonid Kharchenko was found to have overseen the Buk, acting on Dubinsky’s instructions.

Oleg Pulatov was the only one of the four accused to have legal representation at the trial. The judges acquitted him, although they found he knew about the missile.

On 17 July 2014, 298 people, including 80 children and 15 crew, boarded Malaysia Airlines flight 17 to Kuala Lumpur at Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport.

The plane was cruising at 33,000 feet over Ukraine. It was the early days of Russia’s efforts to control parts of the country.

At the time this was a relatively low-level conflict zone, but f

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

17 November 2022 at 11:05 am

Mural in Kyiv

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From an article in the Guardian.

Written by Leisureguy

12 November 2022 at 4:54 pm

Posted in Art, Daily life, Ukraine, War

Biden’s National Security Strategy

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Heather Cox Richardson has a useful take on Biden’s National Security Strategy (NSS). She writes:

At Thursday’s meeting of the House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the U.S. Capitol, as Representative Adam Kinzinger (R-IL) showed that former president Trump both recognized that he had lost the election and intended to leave the White House, he noted that on November 11, just four days after Democrat Joe Biden had been declared the winner of the 2020 election, Trump had abruptly ordered U.S. troops to leave Somalia and Afghanistan by January 15.

Indeed, according to an Axios investigation by Jonathan Swan and Zachary Basu last May, two days before that order, on November 9, 2020, John McEntee, Trump’s hand-picked director of the Presidential Personnel Office, told retired Army Colonel Douglas Macgregor that Trump wanted him to “Get us out of Afghanistan. Get us out of Iraq and Syria. Complete the withdrawal from Germany. Get us out of Africa.” When Macgregor, who was brought on to the administration on November 11, said he didn’t think that was possible, McEntee told him to “do as much as you can.”

Kinzinger’s point was that Trump clearly knew he was leaving office because he was deliberately trying to create chaos for his successor. When he abruptly pulled the U.S. out of northern Syria in October 2019, he abandoned our Kurdish allies, forcing more than 160,000 Syrians from their homes and making them victims of extraordinary violence. The Pentagon considered Trump’s November 11 instructions “a rogue order,” since they had not gone through any of the appropriate channels, and disregarded them.

The release of the Biden administration’s annual National Security Strategy (NSS) on Wednesday, October 12, 2022, highlights just how big a catastrophe we dodged.

Just as Trump’s abrupt withdrawal from Syria left a vacuum for Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Russian president Vladimir Putin, and as Trump’s planned but not executed withdrawal of troops from Germany would have hamstrung the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) so it could not have countered Putin’s Russia, so would the abrupt disengagement of the U.S. around the world have created a giant vacuum for authoritarian countries to fill.

Biden’s National Security Strategy reiterates his belief that we are in a global struggle between democracy and rising autocracy and that the world is at an inflection point that will determine “the security and prosperity of the American people for generations to come.”

The document makes a strong call for American leadership to defend democracy and to reinforce the rules-based international system on which the world has depended since World War II. This system is now under attack as Russia has claimed the right to invade a neighboring country and redraw its boundaries by force, and as authoritarian governments seek to control global trade and power by withholding key resources—like energy—from other nations.

The NSS promises that . . .

Continue reading.

Later in the post:

. . . the last several months have indicated that autocracies have their own problems. The PRC has doubled down on a zero-Covid policy that has hurt its economy and sparked internal protest. Tomorrow, the Communist Party will begin its 20th National Congress (congresses are held every five years). It is expected that President Xi Jinping will win a third term to consolidate his grip on power just as the U.S has unveiled strict controls on selling semiconductors and chip-making equipment to China, restrictions that appear to be an attempt to kneecap Chinese advances in artificial intelligence and military capabilities.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has proved disastrous for Putin. As supplies and soldiers have drained into Ukraine, Russia’s control of the lands around it has faltered, while his recent mobilization of the Russian population to fight in Ukraine has created extraordinary unrest at home. Putin is pressing Belarus’s president, Aleksandr Lukashenko, to join the war, but Lukashenko appears hesitant, likely suspecting that joining the disastrous war will mean his own political end.

For its part, Iran is facing internal protests sparked by the murder of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini, known to her family by her Kurdish name Zhina, in the custody of “morality police” for violating the country’s dress code. Saudi Arabia is not necessarily as strong as it has appeared lately, either. When its leaders recently sided with Russia by pushing OPEC+ to cut oil production and thus support gas prices, other OPEC+ countries told the U.S. that the Saudis had pressured them to do so. Saudi Arabia has suddenly offered Ukraine $400 million in humanitarian aid, evidently trying to regain the goodwill of Europe and the U.S., since it imports almost all of its weapons from that bloc.  . .

Written by Leisureguy

16 October 2022 at 6:25 am

Pathos and Panic: Russians Are Mobilized for an Undeclared War

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A person in Russia who understandably does not want their name used has written a very interesting article in Mother Jones. One point of interest: the trade-off in supportive and effective personal relationships is that no political discussions may occur. The article begins:

Editor’s note: This essay is anonymous in order to protect the writer from potential reprisals.

Russia is not at war, despite what you may have heard. Despite the mobilization of reservists, the stories and images of destruction and death, despite the refugees fleeing. Russia is not at war, as Dmitry Peskov, press secretary of the Kremlin stressed in a recent interview. Instead, it is conducting a special military operation “to fulfill certain goals in Ukraine.” Reservists have had to be mobilized for this special military operation, half a year since it began, because “we have been de facto confronted…with the NATO block and all its logistics capabilities.”

Referring to the Special Military Operation as war is still illegal in Russia, punishable by up to 15 years in prison. It also happens to be illegal to cross into the territory of a neighboring sovereign nation, armed, without a declaration of war. But while people do call the special military operation a war in casual conversations, they rarely question this operation’s legality: not even as men receive their mobilization notices, board buses, and head to the front.

But perhaps those who were mobilized will never cross international borders. By the time they reach the occupied territories, those territories will no longer be foreign—at least in the eyes of Russian law. For there is not only a mobilization drive at hand but also a referendum. People in the occupied territories have been asked to vote on whether to join Russia. Armed soldiers have gone door-to-door with ballot boxes. And on September 30, 2022, Putin welcomed the annexation of four Ukrainian regions as the “will of millions of people.”

Voting makes annexation look democratic.

Meanwhile, in Russia, mobilization has hit closer to home. And it comes with little ideological backing. In St. Petersburg, local newspaper headlines focus on pressing everyday questions: Who will be mobilized? Will the Finnish border close? What will the city budget look like in 2023? Or else they touch on polite distractions: news of the occasional train accident, or tips about how to lose weight. None of it would excite someone to go kill and die on the front lines.

The military draft is a two-step process. First, . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

6 October 2022 at 6:24 pm

She’s a Doctor. He Was a Limo Driver. They Pitched a $30 Million Arms Deal.

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The world has become very strange. Justin Scheck reports in the NY Times (no paywall):

EUREKA, Mo. — After falling out with his partner at a limousine company in the St. Louis suburbs, Martin Zlatev recently sought a lucrative new business opportunity: selling $30 million worth of rockets, grenade launchers and ammunition to the Ukrainian military.

Mr. Zlatev and his new business partner, a local osteopath, took their first crack at international arms dealing. Contract documents and other records obtained by The New York Times show that the deal relied on layers of middlemen and transit across seven countries. And it exists in a legal gray area, designed to skirt the arms-export rules of other countries.

“Time is of the essence,” the pair recently wrote to Ukraine’s Ministry of Defense. They outlined a plan to sell American, Bulgarian and Bosnian arms to Ukraine.

Since the Russian invasion in February, the Biden administration has quietly fast-tracked hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of private arms sales to Ukraine, slashing a weekslong approval process to a matter of hours. In just the first four months of the year — the latest data available — the State Department authorized more than $300 million in private deals to Ukraine, government documents show. The department authorized less than $15 million worth of such sales to Ukraine during all of the 2021 fiscal year.

That has helped open another stream of weapons to the Ukrainian battlefront, but it has also enticed new players like Mr. Zlatev and his partner, Heather Gjorgjievski, into a shadowy market. Weapons sold through private brokers are far more likely to end up on the black market and resurface in the hands of American adversaries, according to government advisers and academics who study the trade. Recent experience in Afghanistan and Syria shows that, without strict tracing policies, weapons can end up with terrorist groups or hostile military forces.

These private arms sales are a pittance compared to the more than $17.5 billion worth of machine guns, anti-tank missiles and other security aid the White House has sent to Ukraine. But those deals have stringent tracking requirements to help ensure the weapons go to their intended recipients. Private sales come with less oversight. The sellers, the buyers and the weapons are all kept out of the public eye.

“It’s the Wild West,” said Olga Torres, a lawyer who represents arms exporters and serves on the federal Defense Trade Advisory Group. “We are seeing a lot of people who were previously not involved in arms sales getting involved now because they see the opportunity.”

In recent months, Ms. Torres said, she has consulted with a Texas nonprofit that tried to send weapons to Ukraine without realizing it needed U.S. permission, and a broker who wanted to sell Indian weapons to Ukraine but illegally claim they were American. (She said she did not ultimately represent the broker.)

Just as it has cut the approval time for deals to under a day, the State Department has also accelerated the registration process for new arms dealers. . .

Continue reading. (no paywall)

Written by Leisureguy

6 October 2022 at 4:10 pm

Good Twitter account for news of the war in Ukraine

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Chuck Pfarrer’s Twitter account has up-to-date news and interesting opinions on the way in Ukraine. Sample:

Written by Leisureguy

5 October 2022 at 12:29 pm

Russia is not doing well at all

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As the video points out, it would be foolish to trust Putin’s statements (and statements from the government he controls) regarding how well the Russian economy is doing under the sanctions. Interesting video, worth watching. The official picture is a Potemkin-village view of the Russian economy and GDP. 

Written by Leisureguy

28 August 2022 at 1:02 pm

Good brief survey of the state of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine

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Written by Leisureguy

23 August 2022 at 10:54 am

Russia’s spies misread Ukraine and misled Kremlin as war loomed

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Greg Miller and Catherine Belton have a very interesting report (gift link, no paywall) in the Washinton Post. It begins:

KYIV, Ukraine — In the final days before the invasion of Ukraine, Russia’s security service began sending cryptic instructions to informants in Kyiv. Pack up and get out of the capital, the Kremlin collaborators were told, but leave behind the keys to your homes.

The directions came from senior officers in a unit of Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB) with a prosaic name — the Department of Operational Information — but an ominous assignment: ensure the decapitation of the Ukrainian government and oversee the installation of a pro-Russian regime.

The messages were a measure of the confidence in that audacious plan. So certain were FSB operatives that they would soon control the levers of power in Kyiv, according to Ukrainian and Western security officials, that they spent the waning days before the war arranging safe houses or accommodations in informants’ apartments and other locations for the planned influx of personnel.

“Have a successful trip!” one FSB officer told another who was being sent to oversee the expected occupation, according to intercepted communications. There is no indication that the recipient ever made it to the capital, as the FSB’s plans collapsed amid the retreat of Russian forces in the early months of the war.

The communications exposing these preparations are part of a larger trove of sensitive materials obtained by Ukrainian and other security services and reviewed by The Washington Post. They offer rare insight into the activities of the FSB — a sprawling service that bears enormous responsibility for the failed Russian war plan and the hubris that propelled it.

An agency whose domain includes internal security in Russia as well as espionage in the former Soviet states, the FSB has spent decades spying on Ukraine, attempting to co-opt its institutions, paying off officials and working to impede any perceived drift toward the West. No aspect of the FSB’s intelligence mission outside Russia was more important than burrowing into all levels of Ukrainian society.

And yet, the agency failed to incapacitate Ukraine’s government, foment any semblance of a pro-Russian groundswell or interrupt President Volodymyr Zelensky’s hold on power. Its analysts either did not fathom how forcefully Ukraine would respond, Ukrainian and Western officials said, or did understand but couldn’t or wouldn’t convey such sober assessments to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The humiliations of Russia’s military have largely overshadowed the failures of the FSB and other intelligence agencies. But in some ways, these have been even more incomprehensible and consequential, officials said, underpinning nearly every Kremlin war decision.

“The Russians were wrong by a mile,” said a senior U.S. official with regular access to classified intelligence on Russia and its security services. “They set up an entire war effort to seize strategic objectives that were beyond their means,” the official said. “Russia’s mistake was really fundamental and strategic.”

Ukraine’s security services have . . .

Continue reading. (gift link, no paywall)

Later in the article:

The FSB did not respond to requests for comment.


Written by Leisureguy

19 August 2022 at 2:43 pm

Behind Enemy Lines, Ukrainians Tell Russians ‘You Are Never Safe’

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Andrew E. Kramer has an interesting report (gift link, no paywall) in the NY Times. The report begins:

They sneak down darkened alleys to set explosives. They identify Russian targets for Ukrainian artillery and long-range rockets provided by the United States. They blow up rail lines and assassinate officials they consider collaborators with the Russians.

Slipping back and forth across the front lines, the guerrilla fighters are known in Ukraine as partisans, and in recent weeks they have taken an ever more prominent role in the war, rattling Russian forces by helping deliver humiliating blows in occupied areas they thought were safe.

Increasingly, Ukraine is taking the fight against Russian forces into Russian-controlled areas, whether with elite military units, like the one credited on Tuesday with a huge explosion at a Russian ammunition depot in the occupied Crimean Peninsula, or an underground network of the guerrillas.

Last week, Ukrainian officials said, the partisans had a hand in a successful strike on a Russian air base, also in Crimea, which Moscow annexed eight years ago. It destroyed eight fighter jets.

“The goal is to show the occupiers that they are not at home, that they should not settle in, that they should not sleep comfortably,” said one guerrilla fighter, who spoke on condition that, for security reasons, he only be identified by his code name, Svarog, after a pagan Slavic god of fire.

In recent days the Ukrainian military made Svarog and several other of the operatives available for interviews in person or online, hoping to highlight the partisans’ widening threat to Russian forces and signal to Western donors that Ukraine is successfully rallying local resources in the war, now nearly six months old. A senior Ukrainian military official familiar with the program also described the workings of the resistance.

Their accounts of attacks could not be verified completely but aligned with reports in the Ukrainian media and with descriptions from Ukrainians who had recently fled Russian-occupied areas.

Svarog and I met over lemonade and cheese pastries at a Georgian restaurant in Zaporizhzhia, a city under Ukrainian control about 65 miles north of the occupied town of Melitopol.

He spoke with intimate knowledge of partisan activities, providing a rare glimpse into one of the most hidden aspects of the war.

The Ukrainian military began training partisans in the months before the invasion, as Russia massed troops near the borders. The effort has paid off in recent weeks as . . .

Continue reading. (gift link, no paywall)

Written by Leisureguy

17 August 2022 at 2:19 pm

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