Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Archive for the ‘Ukraine’ Category

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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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

Road to war: U.S. struggled to convince allies, and Zelensky, of risk of invasion

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I don’t believe that Donald Trump as President was even capable of the kind of leadership President Biden has shown in responding to Russian’s invasion of Ukraine. I understand that Trump would not want to lead our allies; my point is that, even if he did want to, he is incapable of doing it.

Shane Harris, Karen DeYoung, Isabelle Khurshudyan, Ashley Parker, and Liz Sly have a remarkable report (gift link, no paywall) in the Washington Post. The report begins:

On a sunny October morning, the nation’s top intelligence, military, and diplomatic leaders filed into the Oval Office for an urgent meeting with President Biden. They arrived bearing a highly classified intelligence analysis, compiled from newly obtained satellite images, intercepted communications, and human sources, that amounted to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s war plans for a full-scale invasion of Ukraine.

For months, Biden administration officials had watched warily as Putin massed tens of thousands of troops and lined up tanks and missiles along Ukraine’s borders. As summer waned, Jake Sullivan, the national security adviser, had focused on the increasing volume of intelligence related to Russia and Ukraine. He had set up the Oval Office meeting after his own thinking had gone from uncertainty about Russia’s intentions, to concern he was being too skeptical about the prospects of military action, to alarm.

The session was one of several meetings that officials had about Ukraine that autumn — sometimes gathering in smaller groups — but was notable for the detailed intelligence picture that was presented. Biden and Vice President Harris took their places in armchairs before the fireplace, while Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Gen. Mark A. Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, joined the directors of national intelligence and the CIA on sofas around the coffee table.

Tasked by Sullivan with putting together a comprehensive overview of Russia’s intentions, they told Biden that the intelligence on Putin’s operational plans, added to ongoing deployments along the border with Ukraine, showed that all the pieces were now in place for a massive assault.

The U.S. intelligence community had penetrated multiple points of Russia’s political leadership, spying apparatus and military, from senior levels to the front lines, according to U.S. officials.

Much more radical than Moscow’s 2014 annexation of Crimea and instigation of a separatist movement in eastern Ukraine, Putin’s war plans envisioned a takeover of most of the country.

Using mounted maps on easels in front of the Resolute Desk, Milley showed Russian troop positions and the Ukrainian terrain they intended to conquer. It was a plan of staggering audacity, one that could pose a direct threat to NATO’s eastern flank, or even destroy the post-World War II security architecture of Europe.

As he absorbed the briefing, Biden, who had taken office promising to keep the country out of new wars, was determined that Putin must either be deterred or confronted, and that the United States must not act alone. Yet NATO was far from unified on how to deal with Moscow, and U.S. credibility was weak. After a disastrous occupation of Iraq, the chaos that followed the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan, and four years of President Donald Trump seeking to undermine the alliance, it was far from certain that Biden could effectively lead a Western response to an expansionist Russia.

Ukraine was a troubled former Soviet republic with a history of corruption, and the U.S. and allied answer to earlier Russian aggression there had been uncertain and divided. When the invasion came, the Ukrainians would need significant new weaponry to defend themselves. Too little could guarantee a Russian victory. But too much might provoke a direct NATO conflict with nuclear-armed Russia.

This account, in previously unreported detail, shines new light on the uphill climb to restore U.S. credibility, the attempt to balance secrecy around intelligence with the need to persuade others of its truth, and the challenge of determining how the world’s most powerful military alliance would help a less-than-perfect democracy on Russia’s border defy an attack without NATO firing a shot.

The first in a series of articles examining the road to war and the military campaign in Ukraine, it is drawn from in-depth interviews with more than three dozen senior U.S., Ukrainian, European and NATO officials about a global crisis whose end is yet to be determined. Some spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive intelligence and internal deliberations.

The Kremlin did not respond to repeated requests for comment.

As Milley laid out the array of forces on that October morning, he and the others summed up Putin’s intentions. “We assess that they plan to conduct a significant strategic attack on Ukraine from multiple directions simultaneously,” Milley told the president. “Their version of ‘shock and awe.’ ”

According to the intelligence, the Russians would . . .

Continue reading. (gift link, no paywall) This is a gripping account.

Written by Leisureguy

16 August 2022 at 6:12 pm

How long can the Russian economy hold out amid crippling sanctions?

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Kevin Drum’s post has five interesting charts. Here’s one of them:

This graph shows how the price of Urals crude oil compares to the benchmark Brent crude oil price.

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28 July 2022 at 7:59 am

A Russian sociologist talks about the current situation in Russia

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Loren Balhorn interviewed Boris Kagarlitsky,a professor of sociology at the Moscow School of Social and Economic Sciences and an editor at Rabkor, for the Jacobin. The whole interview is interesting and very much worth reading. It begins:

As the Russian attack on Ukraine drags into its fifth month, the war risks losing international public attention, replaced — in Europe at least — by rising food and gas prices, spiraling inflation, and another summer of record-breaking temperatures. Like wars from Afghanistan to Yemen, the longer it lasts the more it becomes normalized and accepted. For the people of Ukraine, however, the invasion remains an inescapable reality, with Russian troops pushing further into the country’s east and civilian casualties mounting.

The news from Russia, by contrast, has grown noticeably quieter since the beginning of the invasion. Initial reports of antiwar protests, jingoistic pro-government rallies and shuttered McDonald’s franchises have long since disappeared from the headlines. Support for the war might be muted, but few signs of public opposition have emerged in recent months, either. Have Russians resigned themselves to their fate? Loren Balhorn spoke with Boris Kagarlitsky, a Moscow-based sociologist and host of the popular Russian YouTube talk show Rabkor, to learn more about the impact of the war and how strong Vladimir Putin’s grip on power really is.

LOREN BALHORN — At the start of the invasion of Ukraine, there were lots of reports of antiwar protests across Russia. Things seem to have grown quiet since then, with more and more media outlets claiming that most Russians back Putin. You live in Moscow — what’s the mood like?

BORIS KAGARLITSKY — Initially there were quite a lot of protests, but they were crushed in a very brutal way. At least on the surface, the movement was physically suppressed. People are going to jail almost daily — Alexei Gorinov, for example, was just sentenced to seven years in prison for making an antiwar statement during a session of the Krasnoselsky municipal council in Moscow.

This is a way to make people afraid, and to some extent it works. No less than four million people have left the country since the so-called “special operation” began. Ukraine reported that about seven to eight million people left the country, but about half of them have already returned. In that sense, the number of people who emigrated from Russia is approximately the same as the number of people who fled Ukraine. Given that nobody is being bombed here, it gives you an idea of the public’s attitude.

LOREN BALHORN — So, you don’t think the majority supports the war?

BORIS KAGARLITSKY — That’s the most interesting sociological and political problem: Russian people are neither for the war nor against it. They do not react to the war.

Of course, there are opinion polls published by pro-Kremlin media which are enthusiastically quoted by Western and some pro-Ukrainian sources, trying to prove that all Russians support Putin and are fascists. But that has nothing to do with reality. As a sociologist, I can confirm that since the war, the number of people who agree to respond to opinion polls has collapsed to a level that is totally unrepresentative. Before the war it was below 30 percent, which is already very low. Now, it’s considered a big success when 10 percent agree to respond. Usually it’s 5 to 7 percent.

Of those 5 percent, about 65 to 70 percent support the war. There are two interpretations of this data. One, mostly shared by the liberal opposition, is that people are simply afraid to answer. I think that’s not exactly the case. Among those 95 percent who refuse to respond, there could be a considerable number who are against the war but don’t dare say so. My suspicion, however — which of course I cannot prove — is that most people don’t have any opinion at all.

LOREN BALHORN — No opinion at all? . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

25 July 2022 at 10:38 am

Why We Must Cultivate Imagination to Fight the Rise of Fascism

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Dave Troy (his website) is worth listening to. Here’s a recent article he published on Medium:

This week I was in the beautiful city of Brussels, Belgium meeting up with friends and colleagues — many of whom I hadn’t seen in over two years. It was a great opportunity to reset, gain some wisdom, and also learn more about what’s going on in information warfare globally. I attended the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensics Lab 360/Open Summit event, which included a wide range of experts including US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Nobel Peace Prize Winner Maria Ressa.

I was able to synthesize an assessment of where things might go, in combination with my own views and research, and, well… it’s not pretty. But there are things we can do, and reasons to have hope. Here’s a rough overview of what we might expect:

  • Putin will weaponize food shortages, inflation, fuel prices, and refugee flows. As fuel prices rise, so will food prices. This will cause widespread starvation in Africa, which will launch a flow of refugees from Africa into Europe, similar to what happened in 2015 but at a larger scale. This will trigger all manner of xenophobia in Europe and help weaken resolve. Germany, France, Italy, Turkey, and Hungary are already wobbly with respect to Ukraine support, for a variety of historical reasons. (Remnants of the Ribbentrop-Molotov Pact, Italian north-south rivalries, and a longing for the restoration of the Austro-Hungarian empire loom large, and just beneath the surface). Ukraine and Europe are also running out of ammunition, making the conflict entirely dependent on US supplies against Russia and China supplies.
  • It never was about NATO, and there is no off-ramp. Yesterday, Putin made a speech wherein he likened himself to Peter the Great, and suggested that Russia’s action in Ukraine was merely a case of Russia reclaiming what was rightfully theirs. He is a Tsarist, and aims to recapture or colonize any territory that suits his imagination.
  • The United States may descend into civil unrest, or revolution. Oil and gas cartels may push fuel prices as high as $10 per gallon in the US. This would clearly signify a new high-water mark and could usher in a wave of civil unrest. Biden will be blamed for this, even though fuel prices will rise globally, and it has nothing to do with him. Food prices will likewise go up dramatically, as there is little practical difference between food and fuel (both are energy). Banks are predicting that middle class Americans may have trouble paying for essentials like food and fuel, and are planning for ‘imminent’ and unprecedented civil unrest, according to a report obtained by The Byline Times. Given that this would help fulfill goals of the fascist international, we should expect that Republicans and their allies will be pushing this forward at every opportunity.
  • Ukraine war will become a years-long war of attrition. Putin will use chaos in Europe and the US to undermine support for Ukraine and continue to throw raw resources and personnel, despite lack of training, at wearing down the situation there. A low-yield nuclear strike against targets in Western Ukraine is a distinct possibility — perhaps Lviv, which would limit easterly fallout affecting Russia — and would have the effect of activating “anti-war” activists in Europe and the US. This “Fifth Column” could be very effective given this new demonstration of force (and lack of judgment) in eroding continued support for Ukraine.
  • If Ukraine falls, the Baltics, Poland, and Balkans will be the next targets. Russia can only be stopped if it is unequivocally defeated. If it is not, it will regroup (with its allies China and India) and resume information warfare then kinetic warfare against all its adjacent territories. The Baltics are very clearly in its sights already and will be attacked without question, unless stopped. Poland and much of the Balkan states are not far behind. While this may sound implausible because of how weak Russia seems right now, it is thinking in terms of the ~3 billion people represented by Russia, China, India, Brazil (et al) vs. the ~1 billion people represented by NATO. While that’s an apples to oranges comparison, the overall scales involved make the matching more even than it might seem on the surface.
  • China may become more aggressive as it faces internal threats. China faces a demographic bomb as its population ages. Its single child policy means an elderly population will soon be gone, and it will face a shrinking population. China’s GDP is heavily dependent (around 30%) on overhyped real-estate schemes, many of which will never be occupied. The conflict with Taiwan continues to simmer and will eventually come to a head, creating a strategic threat against global production of integrated circuit chips. China is beginning to become more aggressive with its information warfare, and starting to threaten Australia. The historic Kuomintang network which seems to be associated with Guo Wengui and Steve Bannon is preparing itself as “shock troops” to take over when the CCP falls. While that may be fantasy, the situation definitely has elements of instability that should be closely monitored.
  • Russia is increasing its aggression towards Japan over the Kuril Islands. The islands in Northern Japan, an important fishing ground, have been contested since World War II. Russia is threatening Japan, suggesting that it will return the islands to their control if Tokyo distances itself from the United States and the West. So far, this play has not been working, but they are continuing to become ever more aggressive in pushing Japan in this direction. Aleksandr Dugin sees Japan as part of the Russian sphere of influence and wishes to drive Japan apart from Western influence.
  • We are dealing with a resurgence of individualism and propertarianism. Whether talking about “sovereign citizen” lunacy, or “sovereign individual” bitcoin fantasies, the propertarian legacy of slave ownership, or gold fetishists in Vienna longing for the restoration of the Austro-Hungarian empire, we are dealing with a resurgence of interest in hierarchy and its very close cousins, white supremacy and eugenics. The idea that money confers reproductive fitness is a recurring theme, even as it is nonsense, and we should be prepared, once again, to combat it.
  • In the end, this resolves to one key conflict: carbon fuels. Carbon fuel producers really don’t want to stop producing carbon fuel; they have massive, long term investments they wish to productively amortize over a decades or centuries. Pesky democracies that want to shut down the party now are ultimately a minor annoyance. Converting energy flows into influence — by purchasing politicians, organizations, and capturing government — is straightforward enough, and simply a matter of positioning the right marketing campaigns, politicians, and cults in service of the task. Influence is 20th century technology perfected by the marriage with 21st century finance and technology. And the kicker? The best way to capture a government is to eliminate it. Obviously, the need to address anthropogenic climate change is real, and is impeded by the capture or elimination of government.
  • Some have already decided that . . .

Continue reading. There’s more.

Written by Leisureguy

11 June 2022 at 9:41 am

At some level, George W. Bush recognizes what he did in Iraq

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19 May 2022 at 1:10 pm

How does Starlink work? Are the Ukrainians thrilled with it?

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Very interesting post by Kevin Drum on the efficacy of Starlink in Russia’s war on Ukraine.

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11 May 2022 at 3:49 am

Mariupol is the Ukraine Alamo

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David L. Stern and Paulina Villegas report in the Washington Post (gift link, no paywall):

The commander of Ukrainian forces’ last stronghold in the southern port city of Mariupol, surrounded by Russians and subjected to a constant barrage of fire, said Tuesday that his soldiers will not surrender.

In his most extensive comments to Western media, Major Serhiy Volyna of the 36th Separate Marine Brigade, whose forces have been holding out in the Azovstal Iron and Steel Works against a Russian force that vastly outnumbers them, told The Washington Post that his soldiers would continue “to conduct combat operations and to complete our military tasks as long as we receive them.”

“We will not lay down our weapons,” Volyna said.

Speaking over a crackling connection made possible by satellite, he said his forces would not repeat the mistake made by others of trusting Russian guarantees of safe passage, only to see the Russians break their word and open fire.

“No one believes the Russians,” he said.

Volyna made an impassioned plea to world leaders, especially President Biden, to conduct an “extraction” in which a third country would assure the security of troops and civilians leaving Mariupol.

Russia’s Ministry of Defense issued a deadline earlier Tuesday for the Ukrainians to give up their arms and exit the iron and steel plant.

Volyna, who has fought in Mariupol since the start of the Russian invasion, gave a rare glimpse into the lives of the soldiers and hundreds of civilians, including women and children, sheltering inside the steel plant that has caught the world’s attention as the fall of the city looms.

Why Russia gave up on urban war in Kyiv and turned to big battles in the east

Capturing Mariupol would be a significant victory for Russia, which has withdrawn from several towns around the capital, Kyiv, and suffered the sinking of one of its most important warships, the Moskva.

It would also provide Russia with . . .

Continue reading. (gift link, no paywall)

Written by Leisureguy

19 April 2022 at 5:15 pm

Posted in Daily life, Ukraine, War

Koch-funded analyst raises doubts about Russian attacks on Ukrainian civilians

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Judd Legum’s Popular Information newsletter and website is always worth following. In a recent column he points out a person not to trust:

A foreign policy analyst with extensive ties to the non-profit network operated by Charles Koch publicly cast doubt about whether Russian forces are attacking civilians in Ukraine. The analyst, Professor John Mearsheimer, also suggested that, if Russian forces have attacked civilians, such attacks would be justified. While offering excuses for Russia, Mearsheimer appeared to pin the blame for civilian deaths on the actions of the American government. 

Mearsheimer’s claims — which mirror those from the Russian Defense Ministry — are contradicted by photographic, videographic, and testimonial evidence of what has occurred in Bucha and other areas of Ukraine. 

Mearsheimer statements about Ukrainian civilians came during an April 7 discussion hosted by Katrina vanden Heuvel, the publisher of The Nation. Toward the end of the hour-long event Mearsheimer said the following as part of his closing remarks (emphasis added): . . .

Continue reading. Mearsheimer is incredible — literally.

In other news, Alex Horton reports in the Washington Post:

Svitlana Chmut holds fléchettes, small arrow-like projectiles dispersed by a Russian artillery shell, in Bucha, Ukraine on April 16. (Alex Horton/The Washington Post)

BUCHA, Ukraine — At Svitlana Chmut’s house outside Kyiv, there are carrots in her garden and deadly Russian mini-arrows in her yard.

A pile of the sharp, finned projectiles rounded up by Chmut are now gathering rust in the spring’s fine mist. She combed her walled courtyard for them, she said, after a Russian artillery shell carrying them burst somewhere overhead days before the Russians withdrew late last month, seeding the area with thousands of potentially lethal darts. Some were embedded in the tarp that covered her vehicle, as if someone nailed them to her car.

These projectiles, called fléchettes, are rarely seen or used in modern conflict, experts have said. Many landed in the street in the strike, Chmut said, including some observed by Washington Post reporters, among fields of gear and the occasional liquor bottle or chocolate bar abandoned by retreating Russian soldiers.

. . . Some human rights groups have decried the use of fléchettes because they are indiscriminate weapons that can strike civilians even if they are aimed at military formations. They are not banned by international conventions, but “they should never be used in built-up civilian areas,” Amnesty International has said. . .

These rounds were fired at a civilian neighborhood.

Written by Leisureguy

19 April 2022 at 12:14 pm

Nuclear Weapons and the War in Ukraine

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Written by Leisureguy

12 April 2022 at 3:43 pm

Putin’s war shows autocracies and fossil fuels go hand in hand. Here’s how to tackle both

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Bill McKibben writes in the Guardian:

At first glance, last autumn’s Glasgow climate summit looked a lot like its 25 predecessors. It had:

  • A conference hall the size of an aircraft carrier stuffed with displays from problematic parties (the Saudis, for example, with a giant pavilion saluting their efforts at promoting a “circular carbon economy agenda”).
  • Squadrons of delegates rushing constantly to mysterious sessions (“Showcasing achievements of TBTTP and Protected Areas Initiative of GoP”) while actual negotiations took place in a few back rooms.
  • Earnest protesters with excellent signs (“The wrong Amazon is burning”).

But as I wandered the halls and the streets outside, it struck me again and again that a good deal had changed since the last big climate confab in Paris in 2015 – and not just because carbon levels and the temperature had risen ever higher.

The biggest shift was in the political climate. Over those few years the world seemed to have swerved sharply away from democracy and toward autocracy – and in the process dramatically limited our ability to fight the climate crisis. Oligarchs of many kinds had grabbed power and were using it to uphold the status quo; there was a Potemkin quality to the whole gathering, as if everyone was reciting a script that no longer reflected the actual politics of the planet.

Now that we’ve watched Russia launch an oil-fired invasion of Ukraine, it’s a little easier to see this trend in high relief – but Putin is far from the only case. Consider the examples.

Brazil, in 2015 at Paris, had been led by Dilma Rousseff, of the Workers’ party, which had for the most part worked to limit deforestation in the Amazon. In some ways the country could claim to have done more than any other on climate damage, simply by slowing the cutting. But in 2021 Jair Bolsonaro was in charge, at the head of a government that empowered every big-time cattle rancher and mahogany poacher in the country. If people cared about the climate, he said, they could eat less and “poop every other day”. And if they cared about democracy, they could … go to jail. “Only God can take me from the presidency,” he explained ahead of this year’s elections.

Or India, which may turn out to be the most pivotal nation given the projected increases in its energy use – and which had refused its equivalent of Greta Thunberg even a visa to attend the meeting. (At least Disha Ravi was no longer in jail).

Or Russia (about which more in a minute) or China – a decade ago we could still, albeit with some hazard and some care, hold climate protests and demonstrations in Beijing. Don’t try that now.

Or, of course, the US, whose deep democratic deficits have long haunted climate negotiations. The reason we have a system of voluntary pledges, not a binding global agreement, is that the world finally figured out there would never be 66 votes in the US Senate for a real treaty.

Joe Biden had expected to arrive at the talks with the Build Back Better bill in his back pocket, slap it down on the table, and start a bidding war with the Chinese – but the other Joe, Manchin of West Virginia, the biggest single recipient of fossil fuel cash in DC, made sure that didn’t happen. Instead Biden showed up empty-handed and the talks fizzled.

And so we were left contemplating a world whose people badly want action on climate change, but whose systems aren’t delivering it. In 2021 the UN Development Programme conducted a remarkable poll, across the planet – they questioned people through video-game networks to reach humans less likely to answer traditional surveys. Even amid the Covid pandemic, 64% of them described climate change as a “global emergency”, and that by decisive margins they wanted “broad climate policies beyond the current state of play”. As the UNDP director, Achim Steiner, summarized, “the results of the survey clearly illustrate that urgent climate action has broad support amongst people around the globe, across nationalities, age, gender and education level”.

The irony is that some environmentalists have occasionally yearned for less democracy, not more. Surely if we just had strongmen in power everywhere they could just make the hard decisions and put us on the right path – we wouldn’t have to mess with the constant vagaries of elections and lobbying and influence.

But this is wrong for at least one moral reason – strongmen capable of acting instantly on the climate crisis are also capable of acting instantly on any number of other things, as the people of Xinjiang and Tibet would testify were they allowed to talk. It’s also wrong for a number of practical ones.

Those practical problems begin with the fact that autocrats have their own vested interests to please – Modi campaigned for his role atop the world’s largest democracy on the corporate jet of Adani, the largest coal company in the subcontinent. Don’t assume for a minute that there’s not a fossil fuel lobby in China; right now it’s busy telling Xi that economic growth depends on more coal.

And beyond that, autocrats are often directly the result of fossil fuel. The crucial thing about oil and gas is that it is . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

11 April 2022 at 11:58 am

The Killer in the Kremlin: Samuel Ramani on Putin’s Strategy

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Jonathan Tepperman interviews Samuel Ramani in The Octavian Report:

With the war in Ukraine entering its sixth week, the questions surrounding Russian President Vladimir Putin, his thinking, and his goals have only grown. Why does he seem to hate the West, and Western-leaning leaders like Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky, so intensely? Why does he keep doubling down on his failed strategy in Ukraine? What are his larger foreign-policy goals? And what does it say about Russia’s culture or its military that it seems to have embraced war crimes as a tool of state policy? To help answer these questions and more, I called Samuel Ramani, a leading expert on Russia’s foreign policy. The Canadian-born scholar teaches international relations at the University of Oxford, is an associate fellow at the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) in London, and has two books coming out this year: one on Russian influence in Africa, and one on Putin’s war in Ukraine. We spoke on Wednesday.

Octavian Report: Let’s start with a very general question: how would you characterize Putin’s governing ideology?

Samuel Ramani: I’d hesitate to put him in a single category, because Putin has been quite amorphous in his foreign policy over the years. There were periods of time, particularly in the early 2000s, when he associated Russia’s status with the expansion of its economic power, with its ongoing sway over its sphere of influence, and with maintaining ties with the West.

After Russia’s economy began declining in 2008, however—thanks to the financial crisis, protracted inconsistencies in energy prices, and the effects of two terms of no economic diversification—Russia started moving toward a revanchist foreign policy focused on promoting illiberalism abroad and assertively consolidating its great-power status.

Given these shifts, I’d argue that Putin is non-ideological and heavily motivated by whatever will preserve his own legitimacy and the system he’s set up, which he describes as “sovereign democracy.” What that means he wants to preserve a form of kind of great-power status that looks good to Russian public. That means sometimes leaning toward acts of fascism—like we’re seeing right now in Ukraine—sometimes leaning toward imperialism and economic coercion and engaging in smaller-scale interventions like Georgia, and sometimes engaging with the West or challenging it.

OR: What people and thinkers have influenced his thinking?

Ramani: The ones who are most often talked about are the Eurasianist philosophers like Aleksandr Dugin in particular. But I find that their influence has been grossly overstated.

There are others who have been much more significant but get much less attention. With regards to Russia’s power projection in defiance of Western norms—whether it’s by backing Bashar al-Assad in Syria, or using debt forgiveness in Africa, or spinning narratives about opposing neocolonialism throughout the Global South—that all comes from figures like Yevgeniy Primakov, Russia’s foreign and prime minister in the late 1990s, as well as intellectuals like Alexei Bogaturov.

As for Russia’s internal political system—which has morphed from an illiberal democracy into a hybrid authoritarian regime into a full-fledged totalitarian regime—that  was heavily shaped by political ideologues like Vladislav Surkov, who came up with the term sovereign democracy in the first place.

OR:  Are these views popular in Russia?

Ramani:  . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

8 April 2022 at 8:42 pm

Koch group says U.S. should deliver partial “victory” to Russia in Ukraine

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It’s clear where Koch’s loyalties lie. Judd Legum at Popular Information has the report, which begins:

In an internal email obtained exclusively by Popular Information, Stand Together, the influential non-profit group run by right-wing billionaire Charles Koch, argues that the United States should seek to deliver a partial “victory” to Russia in Ukraine.

The email was sent to . . .

Continue reading.

The email stops short of saying we should assist Putin in bombing civilians or executing them and dumping them into mass graves.

Written by Leisureguy

8 April 2022 at 6:49 pm

Russia targets civilian, including, explicitly, children

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Ukrainian servicemen stand next to a fragment of a Tochka-U missile with a writing in Russian “For children” , on a grass after Russian shelling at the railway station in Kramatorsk, Ukraine, Friday, April 8, 2022. (AP Photo/Andriy Andriyenko)

AP reports:

KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — A missile hit a train station in eastern Ukraine where thousands had gathered Friday, killing at least 52 and wounding dozens more in an attack on a crowd of mostly women and children trying to flee a new, looming Russian offensive, Ukrainian authorities said.

The attack, denounced by some as yet another war crime in the 6-week-old conflict, came as workers unearthed bodies from a mass grave in Bucha, a town near Ukraine’s capital where dozens of killings have been documented after a Russian pullout.

Photos from the station in Kramatorsk showed the dead covered with tarps, and the remnants of a rocket with the words “For the children” painted on it in Russian. About 4,000 civilians had been in and around the station, heeding calls to leave before fighting intensifies in the Donbas region, the office of Ukraine’s prosecutor-general said.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, who says he expects a tough global response, and other leaders accused Russia’s military of deliberately attacking the station. Russia, in turn, blamed Ukraine, saying it doesn’t use the kind of missile that hit the station — a contention experts dismissed.

Zelenskyy told Ukrainians in his nightly video address Friday that efforts would be taken “to establish every minute of who did what, who gave what orders, where the missile came from, who transported it, who gave the command and how this strike was agreed to.”

Pavlo Kyrylenko, the regional governor of Donetsk, in the Donbas, said  . . .

Continue reading. There’s much more in the report, and there are many more photos in a slideshow at the link.

Written by Leisureguy

8 April 2022 at 6:02 pm

Posted in Daily life, Ukraine, War

Is this how Russia ends?

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Anand Giridharadas, TIME editor-at-large, writes at The.Ink:

One day, Vladimir Putin will no longer lead Russia. And, according to the writer and journalist Masha Gessen, there may then no longer be a country called Russia to lead.

This was one of many startling analyses I heard in my conversation the other day with Gessen, a Moscow-born, New York-based journalist and writer who is one of our leading thinkers on democracy, autocracy, and the social conditions that foster them. They are the author of several books, including The Future is History, a masterwork about Russia after the fall of the Soviet Union and, most recently, Surviving Autocracy.

We spoke about Putin’s endgame in Ukraine, about why to take his nuclear threats seriously, about the West’s hypocrisy in #StandingWithUkraine unless it’s a little inconvenient, about the modern anxieties that have fueled the authoritarian resurgence around the world, about why democratic leaders fail to speak to those anxieties as effectively as autocrats, and about what Gessen envisions for a Russia beyond Putin. . .

You have described Russia as having become a “totalitarian society.” When and why did it cross that line and enter that definition in your mind?

The definition of totalitarianism is a pretty contested thing. I’ve been having an internal debate about it, because the argument I made in the The Future is History is that it had already become a totalitarian society. Possibly not a totalitarian state, but a totalitarian society. What’s happening now is that it’s become an actual totalitarian state.

We learned over the 20th century how totalitarian societies act. My argument in the book was that you could see a society act like that even when the state wasn’t applying the broad terror that we’ve come to accept as the definition of a totalitarian state.

In a totalitarian society, the state actually can’t apply direct pressure on every person at all times, but people can apply that pressure on one another. Totalitarian societies depend on horizontal enforcement of behaviors, whether it’s something small like parents telling their children not to say things in school because it could get the family in trouble or something quite large like we’re seeing in Russia now — for example, painting the letter Z on the walls and parking doors of people who have signed anti-war petitions. Between those two extremes, there’s a continuum of people enforcing ideology and behavioral norms without the state directly requiring them to do so.

The other important thing in a totalitarian society is the absence of public space and public opinion. People are constantly asking the wrong question about Russia, asking, Do people support the war? There’s a recent poll showing that people support the war. At this point, it’s an actual totalitarian society with actual terror. What are you going to do? It’s like asking people, Do you support the war, or would you like to go to prison for 15 years?

But in a totalitarian society, it’s not like people have to hide their opinions. It’s that they don’t have the possibility to form an opinion. Not just because of disinformation, although that matters, but also because it’s a matter of survival to be able to mirror back to the state what the state wants you to say. For most people, there isn’t even the possibility of taking the time or mental energy required to form opinions. That’s not an option because having an opinion is too dangerous.

I once asked my Indian grandmother about how she learned as a little girl in an intensely patriarchal world not to speak up and not to voice her opinion. She said, First, you articulate your thoughts and you get in trouble. Then you think the thoughts, but you stop saying them. Then, finally, you learn to stop thinking the thoughts.

That’s on a private level. That’s remarkable that your grandmother was able to say that. But on a society-wide level, you’re already born or brought into a society where having an opinion is not an option. The defining characteristic of Russian society is loneliness. It’s an incredibly atomized society. It’s a society in which most people have shrinking social circles as they get older, which is actually not unlike the U.S.

It’s a society in which there is no shared space that is not controlled from above. There is no participation in any spontaneous activity that is possible from below. It often places people in crowds, but it renders them profoundly lonely.

There are so many analyses in the media about what Putin wants as well as these debates about his rationality or irrationality. Is he going crazy? Is he paranoid? Does he want power in a conventional way that we can understand? Timothy Snyder had this point about Putin caring about things we don’t value. What is your fundamental understanding of his motivation?

I don’t think . . .

Continue reading.

An interesting question asked later in the interview:

There are dispiriting parallels between what has happened in America in recent years and what has been happening to Russia. I wonder what connections you would draw, if any, in terms of what laid the groundwork in the U.S. and in Russia for a more authoritarian turn.

And, later, this comment:

Erich Fromm very accurately describes preconditions for autocracy in Escape From Freedom. He wrote in the late 1930s and looked at extreme economic anxiety and mass displacement. Extreme economic anxiety related not only to hyperinflation in Germany but more broadly to a changing world, a world in which it was impossible for people to imagine who they’ll be and how they’ll live some years from now, or where their children will be. Those are conditions that are very much present in many parts of the world. There are kinds of societies and governments that try to address anxieties, and there are kinds that don’t. We definitely have the kind that doesn’t. I think that’s a culture-wide failure that isn’t concentrated on the right.

And I think climate change contributes to that anxiety: people do not know what sort of world their children and grandchildren will in habit, but so far — from raging wildfires to drought to torrential rains and flooding — it doesn’t look good and in some regions not habitable.

About the interviewee:

Masha Gessen is a staff writer for The New Yorker and the author of several books, including “The Future is History: How Totalitarianism Reclaimed Russia.”

Written by Leisureguy

8 April 2022 at 5:31 pm

Why Putin Underestimated the West

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Ivo H. Daalder and James M. Lindsay write in Foreign Affairs:

Russian President Vladimir Putin’s decision to invade Ukraine has proved to be a strategic miscalculation of historic proportions. Having failed to produce a quick victory for Moscow, the  unprovoked invasion faces a ferocious Ukrainian insurgency that has already caused some 15,000 Russian combat fatalities, roughly the same number that the Soviet Union lost in its entire nine-year campaign in Afghanistan. The Russian economy has been battered by extraordinary international sanctions. Calls for Putin to be tried as a war criminal have echoed around the world. It is safe to say that none of this was what Putin expected when he launched his attack.

How did Putin get things so wrong? In part, he clearly overestimated Russian military power and underestimated the Ukrainian resistance. But just as important was his misreading of the West. His long personal experience—observing the weak international response to Russia’s wars in Chechnya and Georgia, its annexation of Crimea in 2014, and its support for Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad—convinced him that the West would abandon Ukraine. Given Europe’s concerns about Washington’s commitment to European security in the wake of both the Trump presidency and the Biden administration’s botched withdrawal from Afghanistan, he may also have anticipated that the invasion would divide the United States and its European allies, thus delivering a larger strategic victory than simply the installation of a puppet government in Kyiv.

Had Putin been a better student of how Western democracies have responded to vital threats to their security, he would have understood why these assumptions were wrong. True, one lesson of the past century is that Western democracies have frequently ignored emerging security threats, as many of them did in the lead-up to the two world wars, the Korean War, and the September 11 attacks. As the U.S. diplomat and historian George Kennan once put it, democracies are like a prehistoric monster so indifferent to what is happening around him that “you practically have to whack off his tail to make him aware that his interests are being disturbed.” But an equally important lesson of the past century is that when their tails are whacked hard enough, Western democracies react with speed, determination, and strength. For the United States and its European allies, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine—which in size and scope constitutes the largest use of military force on the European continent since 1945 and poses a direct threat to NATO territory—has provided just such a case.

Yet even though the Western response has been surprisingly robust, it is far too soon for the West to declare victory. If democracies are capable of forming a swift and united front against exceptional threats, they have also long been prone to shifting priorities and turning attention inward once the immediate crisis has passed. For Western leaders, then, having quickly closed ranks to confront Putin’s aggression, the challenge now is how to sustain that unity. U.S. President Joe Biden stressed that point in Warsaw in March: “We must remain unified today and tomorrow and the day after and for the years and decades to come.” This is no easy task. To achieve that goal over the long term, the United States and its allies must overcome the political polarization, shifting economic burdens, and changes of leadership that have often fragmented the West in the past. Otherwise, the unity over Ukraine could turn out to be short-lived, leaving the West once again divided and autocrats strengthened.

PUTIN’S MISTAKE

It is not surprising that Putin would have assumed that the West would respond to a Russian invasion of Ukraine with harsh rhetoric but not much more. In 2008, when Putin sent Russian forces to dismember Georgia, French President Nicolas Sarkozy rushed to negotiate a cease-fire that kept Russian gains in place, while the United States and other European countries declined to back up their official dismay with even symbolic sanctions. The reaction six years later to Putin’s annexation of Crimea and his instigation of a separatist war in eastern Ukraine was only slightly tougher: although Russia was evicted from the G-8 and subjected to limited sanctions, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and U.S. President Barack Obama both ruled out sending lethal military aid to help Ukraine defend itself.

In similar fashion, . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

8 April 2022 at 3:50 pm

Germany intercepts Russian conversations on indiscriminate killings in Ukraine

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Isaac Stanley-Becker and Vanessa Guinan-Bank report at Stripes:

Germany’s foreign intelligence service claims to have intercepted radio communications in which Russian soldiers discuss carrying out indiscriminate killings in Ukraine.

In two separate communications, Russian soldiers described how they question soldiers as well as civilians and then proceed to shoot them, according to an intelligence official familiar with the findings who, like others, spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the matter’s sensitivity.

The findings, first reported by the German magazine Der Spiegel and confirmed by three people briefed on the information, further undermine claims by Russia that atrocities are being carried out only after its soldiers leave occupied areas.

Scenes from Bucha, a suburb near the Ukrainian capital, have become a symbol of the war’s atrocities and galvanized calls for probes into possible war crimes. One person said the radio messages are likely to provide greater insight into suspected atrocities in other towns north of Kyiv that had been held by Russian soldiers.

Germany has satellite images that point to Russia’s involvement in the killing of civilians in Bucha, the intelligence official said, but the radio transmissions have not been linked to that location. The foreign intelligence agency, known as the BND, may be able to match signal intelligence with videos and satellite images to make connections to specific killings, two people said.

These people also said the radio traffic suggests that members of the Wagner Group, the private military unit with close ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin and his allies, have played a role in attacks on civilians. Another person briefed on the intelligence said the involvement could have been by the Wagner Group or another private contractor.

German intelligence officials on Wednesday briefed . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

7 April 2022 at 1:21 pm

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