In what should be more than a war of words, the term “genocide” is being tossed around in the wake of the fighting during Putin’s War. Russian President Vladimir Putin used the term prior to his invasion of Ukraine, claiming that the Ukrainians were committing genocide against the Russian speaking population of Donbas in the eastern part of Ukraine. Indeed, it is part of his disinformation campaign to justify his invasion and he connects it to his declaration that the Ukrainian government is run by “Nazis.” There is a long history of this sort of talk from Mr. Putin. In short, the Soviet Union’s war against Nazi Germany in World War II is glorified in Russian history beyond any level that we in the United States may understand. He is trying to build support for his war by tying it to the success of the Soviet army against the Nazis. Forgotten in that telling, of course, is that in 1939 the Soviet Union was allied with Germany via a non-aggression pact and they divided Poland between them. Also conveniently forgotten is that in April and May of 1940 the Soviets executed about 22,000 Polish military officers and intelligentsia in the Katyn forest.
In 2022 we face a difficult situation. President Joe Biden called Mr. Putin a “war criminal” for the atrocities taking place in Ukrainian areas occupied or under siege by Russian troops. At last count, Ukrainian government prosecutors were investigating about 5,800 cases of war crimes and crimes against humanity, with more uncovered everyday. These are facts which, unfortunately, many of us can see for ourselves each night on the national news. Last week Mr. Biden took it a step further during an event in Iowa by saying that Mr. Putin is “a dictator that commits genocide.” Later, he doubled down on his statement saying, “Yes. I called it genocide. It’s become clearer and clearer that Putin is trying to wipe out the idea of being Ukrainian.” Which has a basis in fact, as Mr. Putin repeatedly claims that Ukraine should cease to exist as a sovereign nation. He believes it should be Russian with only Russian speakers living there.
War crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide are all legal terms under international law. Each is the result of ever more horrifying actions of one people against others. Genocide, however, has usually been reserved for the most heinous of crimes and gives another level of importance to the events in Ukraine. As if they were not already of utmost importance. The moral stakes are as high as they can be.
The 1948 Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide (often called the Genocide Convention) codified the United Nations resolution of 1946 that made genocide a crime under international law. In Article II, the Convention document defines genocide as meaning “any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial, or religious group as such: Killing members of the group; Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group; Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part; Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group; Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.”
I will leave it to the international law experts to define what “in whole or in part” means, but it would seem that actions by one nation attempting to eliminate another does not have to succeed in entirely wiping them out. Merely trying to do so is a crime. In fact, the Convention states that conspiracy or incitement to commit genocide is itself a crime. Certainly it is easy from what we know in open source reporting that the Russians have violated at least four of the five genocidal actions under the Convention.
Sadly, whether brought up on war crime charges or for genocide, it is unlikely that Mr. Putin or any of those in his inner circle or those carrying out his orders will be brought to trial. Under the Convention the investigation and trial of such crimes are to be undertaken by the nation in which they occurred or in international court.
The real issue here is a moral one. It raises new questions about how NATO should support Ukraine and how this conflict will end. If we in the West truly believe in the slogan “Never Again!” — meaning we will never again sit by and watch the slaughter of thousands or millions of our fellow human beings as occurred in the Nazi death camps — then now is the time to step up. This is a major test of the world order and a test that will have consequences for decades to come. Russians are deliberately torturing, killing, beheading, raping, and desecrating civilians in Ukraine. I’ll repeat that. Deliberately. Even though I cannot understand how human beings can be so cruel to others — and yes, I know my history from around the world including here in the U.S. — it is none-the-less happening. It is an instrument of planned terror. It also provides a look into the psyche of the average Russian. Only by dehumanizing an opponent — thinking of them as “scum” (Putin’s word) and other than human — can people be so cruel.
These actions also impact how the war will end. How can Ukraine reach a negotiated settlement with Russia if the Russians are attempting to wipe out the very meaning of what it means to be Ukrainian? How can the West broker a settlement with a country accused of genocide? Is anything short of a complete defeat of Russia rewarding their genocidal policy? Does giving up Ukrainian territory — rewarding Russia for committing genocide — even make sense? Such questions have a significant impact on the course of the war, who gets involved, and its outcome.
My thoughts on NATO and with that, U.S. support to Ukraine have evolved over the course of the last few weeks. I think we need to go all in. Not with troops in Ukraine — at least not yet — but with every offensive and defensive weapon we can reasonably give to Ukraine. I am sure that we are providing valuable intelligence data to the Ukrainians (surprise Russian flagship Moskva!) to help them with their targeting but we should take that a step further to allow them to attack into Russian territory to hit supply, fuel and military targets. Continue to put our best military minds to work with imaginative, but deniable, actions that hinder the Russian military. Sanctions are the public face of such efforts — and they are beginning to work — but there is much more to do. Our covert capabilities are excellent. There is more to do without directly fighting the Russians.
The moral imperative is there now. I have come to understand what Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy is saying about how this is a fight for the future of western democracies. It may sound like hyperbole, or over-dramatization on their part, but as we see the ruthless brutality of the Russians such statements take on more meaning. Importantly, remember why Mr. Putin started this war. Once the propaganda is removed it is for one major reason. He saw a direct challenge to his totalitarian regime. If Ukraine — where many Russians have family members as do Ukrainians in Russia — becomes a full fledged western democracy sitting fully on his border, he will soon have internal domestic problems as more and more Russians clamor for a similar assimilation into Europe. As it is, many of his troops are seeing a way of life that they could not imagine. In addition to the subjugation of a nation, there is a reason Russian troops are carrying away washing machines, laptops, televisions and other consumer goods. They cannot get them in many parts of Russia and certainly, many average Russians cannot afford them.
Mr. Putin is desperate to maintain his way of life and to rule Russia with an iron fist. That is why Ukraine is such a threat. He must destroy it in order to show that the western democracies of NATO cannot succeed in protecting it, therefore no nation should think that democracy is a way of governing that succeeds. How far he is willing to go in this scorched earth policy we can only guess. This is the first time in my experience that sober, knowledgeable people are talking about the use of nuclear weapons. Many surmise that Mr. Putin thinks such weapons are a viable option if needed to succeed in Ukraine. That should give all of us pause and emphasize once again how serious this war is and how much more serious it can become.
We get easily distracted by such things as “The Slap” at the Academy Awards show, or whether we now have to wear masks on airplanes. Life goes on, yes, but the stakes are higher in Ukraine than many believe. Five million people to date have left Ukraine for other countries. This in its self is a humanitarian crisis. It is also part of the Russian plan to destabilize western Europe by disrupting the ability of democratic governments to care for their own people and the refugees.
Genocide is underway. There is a massive humanitarian crisis underway. Terror is raining down on the civilians in many Ukrainian cities, killing tens of thousands of innocent men, women and children. Russia is reportedly deporting women and children from occupied areas to camps in Russia. More atrocities will be uncovered. Mr. Putin is trying to destroy the ideals of western democracy. The list will grow longer.
If we mean “Never Again!” we need to act on it.
“Russia is worse than ISIS. Full stop.”
Dmytro Kuleba, Ukrainian Foreign Minister
This past weekend we witnessed two significant events surrounding Russia’s war on Ukraine. The Russians withdrew from the towns and suburbs around the capital Kyiv, and the resulting discoveries were horrendous. Besides the utter destruction of homes and buildings, it was clear to the most impartial observers that the Russians had conducted untold atrocities on the civilian population including murder, rape and looting. To date, over four hundred civilian Ukrainians are known to have been murdered in one town alone. Some were buried in mass graves, some were left where they were shot in the street. Dozens were shot execution style with their hands tied behind their backs. The pictures are horrifying. The stories from the survivors are worse. The town of Bucha was the first to uncover the breadth of the atrocities but it will not be the last. Many observers believe that similar war crimes are being committed in other occupied cities and towns. The only difference so far is that those areas have yet to be freed of Russian forces, their accomplices from Chechnya and the mercenaries sent to bail out the Russian military.
These two developments together may mark a turning point in Putin’s War. Analysts believe that the Russians are in the process of concentrating their remaining forces in eastern Ukraine to dominate the separatist areas of Luhansk and Donetsk. This is why the battle for Kharkiv is so essential. Additionally, they will concentrate on completing a Russian land bridge from Crimea to Russia along the coast of the Sea of Azov and the Black Sea. This is the importance of the battle for Mariupol and efforts by the Russians to capture Odessa. So far, the Russians have failed to achieve all of their strategic and operational goals. The Ukrainian resistance is unbelievable and is to be commended. Unfortunately, the war is not over and time is on the Russian’s side. At the current rate, the Ukrainians cannot hold out for ever, perhaps only a few more months. Meantime, the loss of Ukrainian lives, military and civilian, continues during heavy fighting and deliberate and random Russian attacks on cities and civilians. Russian president Vladimir Putin seems to be taking the approach that if he cannot have Ukraine, then he will make sure that there is nothing left for the Ukrainians that survive his brutal attacks.
This should come as no surprise to anyone that studies eastern European history. It is certainly no surprise to the Ukrainians. For a hundred years or more, the Russian way of fighting includes destroying civilian infrastructure and killing as many civilians as possible. While leading the Soviet Union, Josef Stalin killed millions of Ukrainians, Poles, Russians and others in war and in peace. Mr. Putin has used scorched earth tactics in Chechnya, Georgia, Syria and elsewhere. It is what they do. It is what they are doing now. Make no mistake, the war crimes ongoing in Ukraine are not the result of poorly trained, undisciplined individual units going berserk. This is a strategy. It is meant to terrorize the civilian population into giving up. Even as the Russians deny their atrocities and call it “fake news” they are glad it is publicized. It gets the message out to those watching that the terror is real and it is personal. It is an integral element of their conduct of war and crucial to the PSYOPS (Psychological Operations) they are conducting to demoralize the Ukrainian population.
Now is the time for NATO to act with ever greater urgency. The Russians are temporarily disorganized, demoralized and lacking in unit cohesion, supplies and the essentials of war. That will not last forever. While they are regrouping in Russia and Belarus, the NATO allies and other supporters should be pouring weapons and materiel into Ukraine to give them the chance to go on the offensive and push the Russians back. Apparently, there is a debate among the allies as to supplying “defensive” arms to Ukraine as opposed to “offensive” arms. It is past time to forget about such niceties. For the Ukrainians, this is a fight to the finish. For the rest of the world, this is a fight for freedom and democracy. Ukraine is on the front lines. What happens there will have great geo-political consequences for the West and much of the rest of the world. Give them what they need. They are doing an incredible job defending themselves. They are not asking for NATO troops or forces from anywhere else — only the weapons they need to fight the Russian war machine. As important in warfare as weapons is the will to fight. The Ukrainians have proved their determination to fight for every inch of their nation. But they don’t have the weapons. Most military men and women will tell you that when the shooting starts, they don’t know or care whether the bullets and shells coming at them are from “defensive” or “offensive” weapons. They just know that they are getting shot at. Of course, let’s not forget that the Russians went on the offensive to start the war and continue to be offensive in their operations and actions in every sense of the word.
Primarily, the U.S. is under pressure to supply more sophisticated weapons to Ukraine. Without going into a litany of particular weapon systems, U.S. sophisticated weapons are not of much use at this point because the Ukrainian Armed Forces do not have the training to use them. The U.S. should continue to supply massive amounts of effective, but less sophisticated weapons such as MANPADS (Man Portable Air Defense Systems such as Stinger missiles) and NLAWS (Next generation Light Anti-tank Weapon Systems such as British and Swedish shoulder fired systems or the larger U.S. Javelin). Such weapons are easy to learn to use in a short period of time and are quite effective in the right circumstances. Just ask the Russian armored columns.
More sophisticated weapons such as mid or high-altitude air defense systems, or coastal missile systems, or tanks or airplanes should come from our NATO allies that were formerly part of the USSR or Warsaw Pact. These Soviet era weapons are of the same types that Ukraine primarily has in their military so there is no ramp up in training. They can be used immediately. Poland in particular could be quite effective in this way.
As much as can be provided now, not a month from now or later, would be most effective in saving Ukrainian lives and in giving the Ukrainian military the opportunity to take advantage of the Russian disarray. Let’s face it. The Ukrainians are not going to march to Moscow. They will not retake Crimea through force. Whether “offensive” or “defensive” they need the equipment now to save lives and to push Russia to meaningful negotiations.
At the same time NATO needs to decide which “red lines” must be drawn. War crimes are taking place daily. Russia must be held responsible. It is too far-fetched to believe that Mr. Putin will ever stand trial in person for his war crimes. However, significant destruction of his conventional military power is not beyond the realm of possibility if he continues to pursue the war in Ukraine. They have been proved to be ill-equipped, poorly trained, lacking in leadership and short on logistic support. But there is still the preponderance of force on their side both in manpower and in numbers of weapons. They can still over-run Ukraine if they go all in, which it seems Mr. Putin is willing to do. He is not personally suffering from sanctions or the war. As I mentioned above, the Russian mentality is to crush everything in their path. If that means losing thousands (or in World War II, millions) of their own troops, so be it. They are ruthless in every way, including the treatment of their own fighting forces. To date, no number of casualties is too high.
The Butcher of Bucha will not stop the atrocities. We need to make them pay the highest price we can.
Ukraine has not yet perished, nor its glory and freedom,
Luck will still smile on us brother Ukrainians.
Our enemies will die, as the dew does on the sunshine,
and we too, brothers, will live happily in our land.
We’ll not spare either our souls or bodies to get freedom
and we’ll prove that we are brothers of Kozak kin.
— English translation of the Ukrainian National Anthem adopted in 1992.
Roughly seventy-two hours ago, the Russian military attacked and invaded Ukraine from the air, land and sea. It was expected that the Russians would swiftly roll over the Ukrainian countryside and capture key cities, especially the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv. So far, that is not happening. The Ukrainian military is fighting hard and inflicting severe casualties on the Russian invaders. Although accurate information is difficult to come by, especially since Russia has released no casualty figures, the Ukrainians are believed to have captured, killed or wounded thousands of Russians. At the same time, the Ukrainian government is mobilizing the population, arming them — over 18,000 weapons were issued to civilians in Kyiv alone — and teaching them how to make Molotov cocktails (gas filled bottles with a fuse thrown at vehicles — ironically named after a Soviet era Foreign Minister) and other improvised explosive devices (IEDs). None-the-less, the world does not expect Ukraine to defeat Russia or even to hold them off forever. Ukraine is getting moral support and supplies, but under the current conditions, there is no expectation that outside forces will come to their support by fighting inside Ukraine. Instead, countries around the world are imposing the “Mother of All Sanctions” on Russia. Realistically, this will not stop Russian President Vladimir Putin from destroying Ukraine, but it will make it much more painful for his country’s citizens than they may be prepared to experience.
The biggest concern to the rest of Europe and to the United States is that purposefully, or through an accident, the war will spread outside of Ukraine. In particular, Poland, Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania are worried that Mr. Putin will take the opportunity to reimpose the outlines of the former Soviet Union. Likewise, Romania is concerned about the integrity of its border. All are NATO countries. (Norway is also a member of NATO and borders Russia, but has fewer concerns about an attack.) I am neither a psychologist nor a psychiatrist but the speeches that Mr. Putin has given the last few days are bordering on the psychopathic. He sounds delusional, fundamentally unsound, and oblivious to any criticism inside or outside of his inner circle. In short, he sounds like a madman, even insinuating that anyone that thwarts his plans could be subject to a nuclear attack. Last Thursday he referred to the fact that “Russia remains one of the most powerful nuclear states” and went on to say that “there should be no doubt for anyone that any potential aggressor will face defeat and ominous consequences should it directly attack our country.”
As the fighting continues, for the first time in NATO history in response to war on the European continent, the NATO Response Force (NRF) is being activated. The NRF includes 40,000 military personnel from countries throughout NATO, and in past exercises included forces from non-NATO members Finland and Sweden — both of which border Russia. Their governments are now considering joining NATO in response to the Russian aggression in Ukraine. The force includes aircraft and naval forces in addition to land troops. The president order the deployment of about 7,000 more troops from the United States for the NRF, which is in addition to the thousands already deployed from home in response to Russia’s attack.
What are the chances of war spilling over into other areas of Europe? As I often do, let’s take a look at history to see if there are any parallels. There are two that jump out in my mind. One is the events leading up to World War II. The other is the Cuban Missile Crisis. (I am of the generation that in elementary school, we practiced hiding under our desks or assembling in the hallways should there be a nuclear attack. No joke. When we assembled in the hallways, we would press up against the walls in two rows. I always wondered about the kids in the outer row who in my mind would take the majority of the blow from an explosion. Of course, we were too young to appreciate that none of us had a chance in the case of an actual attack.)
The Cuban Missile Crisis reflects the dangers of miscalculation and sheer brinksmanship between two nuclear powers. We are not there, but a chance encounter could put us into this category.
So far, this is a conventional war so let’s use the run-up to World War II.
- Following the end of World War I, the Treaty of Versailles in 1919 formally ended hostilities and completely reshaped the geographic boundaries of many central and eastern European nations, in some cases creating or recreating nations that had “disappeared.” CHECK. Following the dissolution of the former Soviet Union, newly independent countries emerged such as the Baltic States and Ukraine. Mr. Putin calls this the “greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the century” and is the basis for his claim that Ukraine does not exist as an independent country.
- In 1938 Germany annexed the Sudetenland (part of Czechoslovakia) as a result of the Munich Agreement between Germany, United Kingdom, France and Italy to bring “peace in our time.” CHECK. In 2014 Russia annexed Crimea, part of the territory of Ukraine. The world scolded Russia but made no meaningful effort to stop or reverse the first such annexation in Europe of one country’s territory by another using force since World War II.
- Throughout the spring and summer of 1939 Germany annexed parts of countries throughout central and eastern Europe claiming that that they were ethnically, culturally, and traditionally a part of Germany. CHECK. Mr. Putin claims that Ukraine is actually part of Russia and points to the large number of ethnic, cultural and linguistic similarities between the two countries. He claims that he must move into Ukraine to protect Russians.
- On 23 August 1939, Germany and the Soviet Union signed the Molotov-Ribbentrop Treaty providing for a secret plan for the two countries to divide Poland and “giving” the Baltic States and Finland to the Soviet Union. CHECK. Prior to the Beijing Olympics this year, Mr. Putin and China’s President XI Jinping met. Although the details of any agreement is not known publicly, it is assumed that some sort of deal was reached that at a minimum, China would not interfere with Russia’s ambitions in Europe.
- On 1 September 1939 Germany invaded Poland. France and the United Kingdom had promised to protect the territorial integrity of Poland. World War II began. CHECK? No guarantees were given to Ukraine that its territorial integrity would be protected by NATO or any country. However, NATO is implementing the NRF to protect NATO states from Russian aggression. NATO and non-NATO nations are supplying Ukraine with significant weapons and materiel to fight the Russians. To keep those supply lines open under the current conditions could easily result in a Russian attack on the supply lines into Ukraine.
- In September 1940 the America First Committee was formed to pressure Congress to keep the United States out of foreign wars. Although its aim was to promote American isolationism, it was also antisemitic and largely pro-fascist. Charles Lindbergh (yes, that Charles Lindbergh) was the face of the organization that eventually reached about 800,000 dues paying members in 450 chapters around the country. The goal was to put, surprise, America First by not getting involved in World War II and by protecting “American” culture, which did not, in their view, include taking in immigrant Jews from Europe. The committee disbanded on 10 December 1941. CHECK. Our own American useful idiots for Russian propaganda want to put America First and raise many of the same questions that the original brand raised. DJ Trump, M. Pompeo, T. Carlson, and many others in the MAGA crowd question why we don’t support Russia (after all, they are just protecting their borders) or openly admire Mr. Putin (“genius”, “savvy”, “talented”, “enormous respect”, “capable statesman”, etc.) Indeed, Russian state television is running verbatim clips of a certain Fox evening celebrity defending Mr. Putin and asking “Why do I hate Putin so much? Has Putin ever called me a racist? Has he threatened to get me fired for disagreeing with him? So why does permanent Washington hate him so much?” (There’s more but I can’t stomach any more of this unpatriotic nonsense.)
There are many parallels. There are areas where there are no parallels. The point is that history often has serious lessons to be learned. I have no idea if the war in Ukraine will spread, but I think that every American should be paying attention to it because there are indications and warnings that it could, in fact, spread to a NATO country and then the world is at war. Even without war, there will be hardship in the United States. Nowhere near the hardship the Ukrainians are going through, or even the families of those young Russians sent out to die for Putin, but the American populace should be ready for economic sacrifice as the world’s economy is impacted by sanctions on Russia and their reciprocal actions. We in the United States have not really had to sacrifice in any real way in a long time. The “Greatest Generation” knew sacrifice. We do not. Shoot. We as a nation could not even be bothered to wear a mask during the greatest pandemic in the world in a hundred years without whining about it and claiming that health professionals were fascists and dictators. No wonder Mr. Putin and those like him think he can get away with an unprovoked attack on a neighbor.
I hope that President Biden and his administration do a better job explaining to our fellow citizens why it is important to help Ukraine defeat Russian aggression. We have seen time and time again that ruthless dictators are never satisfied. Mr. Putin’s stated objective is to restore the Russian empire and to regroup those nations that were once Soviet Republics. Like so many despots and autocrats, he is telling us what he plans to do. Believe him.
I am gobsmacked that many Americans do not know that Russia is a dictatorship and Ukraine is a real, no kidding, democracy. The Ukrainians have some problems. They are working on those issues. So, when did we stop supporting democracy in order to cheer on a dictator? A dictator that works aggressively to undermine everything that we stand for in this country? I really do not get it.
Meanwhile, the Ukrainians hunker down in a real fight to the death. The very survival of their country is at stake.
“Ukraine has not yet perished.”
As I write this piece, the world is on the brink of the biggest combat operations in Europe since World War II. Approximately 190,000 Russian troops threaten Ukraine’s borders on three sides supported by air and naval units in position to attack targets inside Ukraine. In military intelligence terms, all of the Indicators and Warnings (I&W) point to an invasion within days or even hours. Most telling is that the Russians have moved perishables, such as blood and plasma supplies, to positions near the border. Those types of logistics cannot sit in storage at the front for long.
Yesterday President Biden made a rare revelation in a speech to the nation addressing the impending crisis. When asked if Russian President Vladimir Putin had decided on his course of action, the president responded, “As of this moment, I am convinced he’s made the decision.” By that, he meant that Mr. Putin had decided to invade. When asked how he could know, he responded that the U.S. has a “significant intelligence capability.” This is important on several levels. One is that he is telling the world that the full weight of American capabilities indicates that the attack will happen and we should be prepared. On another level he is giving Mr. Putin an indication of our skill and capability in using our intelligence assets to keep a much closer eye on him and his activities than he might know. Finally, if we have this level of granularity into the Kremlin’s thinking, we may yet deter him from taking military action.
Personally, I have thought for quite awhile that the Russians would attack Ukraine. The only questions were when, and how strongly. He is going to do it. Mr. Putin clearly stated on numerous occasions that he considers Ukraine to be part of Russia. He will not be deterred. How far he goes depends on the Ukrainians. Mr. Putin’s goal is to depose the current Ukrainian government and to replace them with one that is more “friendly” to Russia. How far he goes militarily most likely will depend on the depth and degree of resistance from the Ukrainians and whether the current government stays in place.
This afternoon the artillery and Rocket Propelled Grenade (RPG) attacks from the separatist regions of Ukraine have dramatically increased. At the same time, they are evacuating civilians from cities in the Donbas region, specifically the Donetsk People’s Republic — one of the break away regions in southeastern Ukraine — to Russia. The Russians and their proxies in the occupied region are trying to provoke a response from the Ukrainians as a pretext to attack. So far, the Ukrainian military has exercised remarkable restraint by not taking the bait. As the Biden Administration has warned over the last several weeks, there is likely to be a major “false flag” incident (Russian agents attack their own people, or buildings or otherwise make it look like an atrocity occurred) to further the lie that Ukraine is the instigator of hostilities. There are numerous misinformation campaigns underway on the internet claiming that the Ukrainians are conducting genocide against the separatists or that chemical weapons attacks have occurred there. It is likely that some major manufactured incident will give the Russians their excuse to invade.
The Biden Administration has put steel into the spine of our NATO and EU allies. After weeks of diligent diplomatic efforts, the vast majority of the world’s leaders are condemning the impending attack and are onboard with sanctions aimed at crippling the Russian economy and going after Mr. Putin and his pals directly. Questions remain as to whether those sanctions should be used before or after the invasion. Many diplomats argue that invoking sanctions now may give Mr. Putin an excuse to attack. Others, such as Ukrainian President Volodymir Zelensky argue that they should be put in play immediately. At a security summit in Munich today, Mr. Zelensky addressed the assembled diplomats, including Vice President Kamala Harris, and bitterly chastised the western powers for waiting. He argued that sanctions need to be implemented now, not after the attack when Ukraine’s economy will have collapsed and “parts of our country will be occupied.”
Further, Mr. Zelensky decried the absence of support promised in a 1994 agreement known as the Budapest Memorandum on Security Assurances. Put together by the United States, United Kingdom, and the Russian Federation, the Memorandum gave security assurances to Ukraine, Belarus, and Kazakhstan against threats or use of force to change the territorial integrity or political independence of those states in return for their relinquishing all nuclear weapons. Following the break up of the Soviet Union, those three countries had large stockpiles of former Soviet nuclear weapons. Indeed, in 1994 Ukraine had the world’s third largest nuclear arsenal. While the Russians retained operational control of the weapons due to controls required to utilize them, the Ukrainians had physical control of them. Arms control experts around the world worried about those three states’ ability to protect the weapons from falling into the wrong hands, especially terrorist hands. Mr. Zelensky today pointed out that in 2014 Ukraine got no help from anyone when Russia invaded and annexed Crimea. He wants it now.
Post World War II history teaches us that our enemies, competitors and adversaries often grossly under estimate American resolve. They view our very public domestic political fights as signs that we are distracted or weak. Currently, the incorrect view that we “ran away” in Afghanistan solidified the narrative that the U.S. was no longer a player on the world stage. Wrong. Over the last year, the Biden Administration worked hard to repair the damage done by the former guy to our relationships with our allies and especially within NATO. In my view, Mr. Putin did not expect the strong, and most importantly, unified stand that the West is taking to support Ukraine. He miscalculated. The effort to deter him permanently will probably fail, but it appears he is at least thinking twice before proceeding. In the end he probably will calculate that he can survive the sanctions and other non-military measures from the West. He is on a vision quest to restore the Russian Empire and Ukraine is the key to his ambitions. At this point, he cannot totally turn away. Deflect, delay, or otherwise play games with the timing or methods of attack, but in the end he will not leave Ukraine as it is.
The U.S. deployed about 5,000 troops from the 82nd Airborne Division to Poland. Accompanying them is a headquarters element from the XVIII Airborne Corps to form Joint Task Force (JTF) Dragon. Their deployment is designed to strengthen our ties to NATO and probably to help with the influx of refugees into Poland when the fighting starts. Additionally, about 2,000 troops are redeploying from Germany to Romania for the same reasons. Both Poland and Romania border Ukraine. There are about 80,000 members of the U.S. military in Europe including forces from every branch. Some of those are rotating forces that come in and out of various countries based on the threat and/or exercises. Less well known is the fact that the U.S. has elements of the U.S. Navy ashore in Poland and Romania. The Navy’s Aegis Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) System that is the main battery on our cruisers and destroyers is now in ground based installations in those two countries. Known as Aegis Ashore they are placed there to protect our NATO allies from “rogue” ballistic missiles — most likely from Iran or North Korea. They are purely defensive in nature, but you will sometimes hear Mr. Putin reference them when he talks about Russian security threats from NATO.
When the invasion begins, it is unlikely to start with Russian troops blasting their way across the border. The fighting will come in stages, perhaps with operational pauses to negotiate before the next attack. Cyber attacks will be followed by an onslaught from the air from the Russian air forces and from cruise missiles from Russian ships in the Black Sea. Ukraine has little in the way of air forces or air defense capabilities. The Russians will own the air space which will allow them to move forces with impunity and attack at will. Russia does not have to occupy the entire country. Decapitating the government and holding key positions in key cities will give them the “victory” that they need to control Ukraine’s future. Russia has been fighting in Syria for years. They made a point of rotating all of their key combat units through that battle space so that they are now all battle tested. Both in terms of individual units, and in terms of command and control of combat forces spread over a wide area — two things that they did not previously possess or do well. They have learned a lot of lessons and have applied them.
The Ukrainians have the will to resist but little in the way of organized military forces once they have been decimated from the air. Their plan is to conduct a guerilla war and to inflict as many Russian casualties as possible to undermine the will of the Russian people when their sons and daughters are killed or maimed.
Make no mistake about it. This is going to be ugly. Barring a Ukrainian surrender or collapse at the start, there will be tens of thousands of casualties and as many as a million refugees fleeing the country. This will have world impact, economically and politically. We will all suffer. As is often the case, once war begins, no one can predict whether it will spread or how it will play out in the end. A few “mistakes” could lead Europe into another war. Kyiv is a modern city with about 2.5 million residents. Once electricity is knocked out and water is unavailable living conditions in the city will deteriorate rapidly. In addition to war casualties, it will be a humanitarian disaster.
As President Biden and his cabinet have been warning us, events in Ukraine will not be about some far off place nobody has ever heard of or people we do not care about. Even if one thinks that now, a war in eastern Europe will impact all of us.
As we are all undoubtedly aware, over the last two months Russia has increased the size, lethality, and capability of its combat and logistics forces along its border with Ukraine. Ukraine is now surrounded by Russian troops in Crimea (stolen from Ukraine), Russia, and Belarus, placing them under threat from the North, East and South.
There is much speculation as to what will unfold and as to Russia’s intent. There is only one person who knows whether Russia will attack and that is Russian President Vladimir Putin. It is entirely possible that even he does not know at this moment in time as to what he will do, but he has himself in a position of strength that gives him many plausible opportunities to achieve his goals.
We are at a moment in time where Mr. Putin sees his opportunity. The leading nations within the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) are facing domestic issues that help him with his plans. The United States is facing Congressional mid-term elections, France has national elections coming up, there is a new government in Germany that is still trying to find its way, and Prime Minister Boris Johnson of the United Kingdom is under considerable political pressure at home.
Negotiations are under way in Europe, with the US taking a leading role, to try and defuse the situation without abandoning Ukraine. To date, the Russians are making outrageous claims and are putting forward proposals that they must know are totally unacceptable to the West. Foremost among Mr. Putin’s demands is that Ukraine never be allowed to join NATO — a condition that cannot be accepted if nations are to be sovereign, independent and allowed to find their own destinies. He is also demanding that NATO revert to its 1997 boundaries. This means withdrawing all troops and weapons in Eastern Europe deployed since then which leaves Eastern European and Baltic States dangling as current members of NATO. On its face this is totally unacceptable, which Mr. Putin must know.
Mr. Putin does not want any western or western leaning countries on his border. In his public pronouncements he likens it to our reaction if Russian forces were in Cuba or Venezuela — which he made vague threats to do if he does not get his way. He believes that all former Soviet Socialist Republics as a minimum should be in his sphere of influence and that no former member of the Warsaw Pact should be in NATO. The world has moved on, but he has not.
What motivates his undivided attention on Ukraine? Traditionally and culturally the area of Eastern Europe that is now known as Ukraine was part of Russia. Kyiv was the first capital of the Rus people in the 10th to 12th centuries. Following WWI a Republic was born which resulted in civil unrest and battles with the Red Army. These continued until the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic was established in 1922, making it one of the three original members of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR). Ukraine reclaimed its independence in August, 1991. Their independence became official when Ukraine, Belarus and Russia (the original founders) officially dissolved the USSR in December.
Following the breakup of the Soviet Union, Ukraine stayed closely aligned with Russia. Starting in 2014, with considerable internal unrest, Ukraine began to move more towards western Europe. In that same year, Russia invaded Crimea (with stealth forces and special operations forces — the infamous “little green men” that Russia claimed were not theirs) and subsequently annexed it into Russia. Meddling in Ukraine continued as Russian operatives supported a civil war in southeastern Ukraine in a region known as Donbass. Fighting there continues to this day and has claimed about 15,000 lives.
Understanding the ethnicity and culture of Ukraine helps to explain some of the developments and may indicate where fighting could erupt, at least in the opening stages of military operations. Crimea is mostly populated with ethnic Russians, and large portions of eastern Ukraine (such as the Donbass) are heavily ethnic Russian. Central, northern and western Ukraine, including around its capital in Kyiv, are predominantly ethnic Ukrainians. There is a smattering of other nationalities throughout the country, especially Poles.
It is impossible for me to know his intentions but it would seem that Mr. Putin’s aim is to replace the current western leaning government with one within his sphere of influence. It would be a de facto puppet government, or at least one totally aligned with Russian interests. He is looking to dominate Ukraine as he does Belarus. Although Belarus is independent, their government makes no moves without at least tacit Russian approval.
Why do we care here in the United States? After all, we have plenty to worry about with the state of the pandemic and thwarting attempted coups. One reason is that there is the potential for the largest land war in Europe since WWII. Our lesson learned from the twentieth century is that our political and economic interests in Europe will inevitably pull us in to the conflict. NATO was formed as a deterrent to the USSR but also to bring together the fractious nations of Europe into a common cause. Further, we claim to honor the rule of law, the right for each nation to determine its own destiny, courses of action and affiliations, and to protect democracy.
It is unlikely that Mr. Putin will stop with Ukraine should he be successful. He has similar claims for the need to “protect” ethnic Russians in the Baltic States, Poland, and parts of other Eastern European nations. If successful in Ukraine, he will meddle elsewhere. If one thinks that a Putinesque leader is satisfied with “only” Ukraine, take a look at the developments in Europe in the 1930s leading up to WWII. Adolf Hitler was “just” protecting ethnic Germans in Poland, Czechoslovakia and elsewhere. There is no end.
There are many, many scenarios for Mr. Putin to achieve his ends. He does not necessarily have to invade with ground troops to achieve his goal, although the roughly 130,000 Russian troops from all over Russia that now nearly surround Ukraine certainly raises that possibility. His goal is simple, topple the current government and replace it. In recent days, public US and UK intelligence reports indicate that there are Russian operatives in Ukraine prepared to carry out “false flag” operations and other sabotage and that there are individuals in Ukraine or nearby that are set to take the reins of government. One scenario is that Mr. Putin gradually ups the ante. First comes crippling cyber attacks. Next, or simultaneously, take out energy and water supplies. If those actions are not sufficient to bring Ukraine to heel, then selected or even massive aerial attacks could ensue that take out culturally significant buildings and monuments and also aims to decapitate the existing government. These might be similar to the US “shock and awe” campaign in Iraq prior to the ground war. Sending troops across the border could be the last resort. As part of his plan Mr. Putin may even threaten Estonia, Latvia and/or Lithuanian or parts of Poland in order to take assets away from NATO that might otherwise provide support to Ukraine.
I do not envision that NATO will fight in Ukraine, but the member states can provide significant support. NATO is preparing to activate the NRF (NATO Response Force) designed to respond to threats to NATO members under the auspices of Article Five of the NATO charter where an “attack on one is an attack on all.”
The US and Europe are threatening very strong sanctions against Russia. However, there is little agreement as to exactly what those sanctions should be and should they apply before or after an attack? Does NATO deter or respond to Russian aggression? The biggest threat to Russia would be to cut off their petroleum exports. Unfortunately, the main source of heat in much of Europe is Russian natural gas and it is, after all, winter. To cut off those exports would devastate the Russian economy but it would also severely impact Europe’s economy and it would have a real impact on the rest of the world as well. No politician going into elections (which are coming up in the US, UK, and France) wants gas prices to go up just before an election.
One proposal is to block Russia from SWIFT. (The Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunications — the Belgian based intermediary for all bank transactions world wide.) This would essentially cut off Russia from any international commerce — they would be unable to sell or buy on the international market. Economically, it is a “nuclear option” with unknown consequences.
The US already has about 70,000 military personnel in Europe with about 6,000 of those in Poland and the Baltic states on short term unit rotations. Yesterday, the US announced that an additional 8,500 troops were put on heightened alert (meaning able to deploy within five days of getting the word to go) in order to bolster the NRF or to respond to other NATO nation’s requests for additional forces. In military terms, 8,500 troops in Europe is a symbolic gesture, but in strategic terms, it sends a clear signal to Mr. Putin that the US is serious about protecting our allies and that we would respond, thus upping the ante for Mr. Putin. There are not significant troops (roughly less than a hundred for training of Ukrainian forces) in Ukraine and there is no intent to put any combat troops in Ukraine.
Mr. Putin holds all the cards. He does not care much about sanctions as it will not impact him personally. To be honest, he probably thinks that any severe sanctions would be temporary and he would still have been successful in Ukraine. He probably feels that he has already raised his stature in Russia by making it appear that Russia is a great power that all the other countries in the world must respect and come to him to meet on his terms. In military terms, because of the common border, he has internal lines of communication and can quickly move forces as needed. Additionally, he already occupies some of their territory.
It is possible that he is waiting for the right time to strike, including waiting for the right weather conditions. There is a window fast approaching where the ground will be frozen hard enough to support large tracked vehicles such as tanks and mobile missile launchers. If he waits too long, the spring thaw will make much of the ground too marshy to effectively use until late spring or summer.
I am out of the prediction game, but at this point, I do not see Mr. Putin backing off. The only thing that will change his mind about attacking Ukraine, in whatever form, is the total capitulation of the Ukrainian government. To date, the Ukrainians swear that they will not fold. As a result, some sort of physical action will be required on Russia’s part to subjugate the Ukrainians.
It is equally unclear how far the US and Europe are willing to go to help Ukraine. Particularly weak in the knees right now are the French and German governments, the heart of any coordinated European response to Russian aggression. A secondary Putin goal is to weaken NATO and if possible, to create the conditions to render it meaningless as a toothless organization. To that end he may have already failed as both Finland and Sweden, not currently members of NATO, have expressed interest in exploring the chance to join. Both border Russia.
The coming weeks will be tough ones for Europe and the world. History tells us that to unleash the hounds of war often leads to perverse and unintended consequences and hostilities can easily spread. In the end, Mr. Putin may decide that in his risk/benefit calculation a direct assault on Ukraine will be counterproductive. History also shows that once nations mobilize for war, they are hard pressed to back down. There is a certain “use it or lose it” mentality. Let’s hope that clearer heads prevail.
Regardless, the next several weeks are fraught with danger.
While many of us are focused on the internal threats created by actors within one of the two major parties in our country, developments overseas may create long and short term threats to our national interests. The chaos created by an ex-president ranting about stolen elections and defending insurrections, coupled with Members of Congress that threaten other Members with death, and the general unrest fomented by self-declared revolutionaries, draws attention away from other developments.
In the long term, China provides a real threat to many of our established interests. In the short term, Russia is under increasing internal pressure to improve the quality of life for its citizens, a challenge that President Vladimir Putin may not be able to meet. Thus, he increasingly turns his focus outward. In both cases, a tried and true tactic of autocrats is to quell internal unrest by creating outside enemies that focus citizens’ attention outward.
Looking long term first, China is vying to be the biggest economic, political, and military competitor to the U.S. Chinese legislators recently removed term limits for their presidency, making President Xi Jinping the de-facto President-for-Life. He has now amassed power on the scale of the late Mao Zedong. Indeed, in December 2019 the Chinese Politburo gave him the official title of the “People’s Leader.” That title was only used once before — for Mao. Since assuming power, President Xi has taken a hard line nationalist position on national security and foreign affairs. As part of this strengthened position, Xi has consolidated Chinese control of Macau and Hong Kong. Especially in the case of Hong Kong, this enhanced control led to the loss of most of the freedoms its residents previously took for granted. The Hong Kong of pre-2019 is no more.
All of which leads to the long term threat. China seems to be intent on gaining control of Taiwan, much as it did with Hong Kong. The U.S. walks a fine line in its relationship with Taiwan. In adhering to the “One China Policy” the U.S. recognizes the government in Beijing as the “true” government for China, rather than any government in Taiwan. The Chinese view is that Taiwan is a break-away province of China and must be reunited with the rest of the country. In order to have diplomatic relations with Beijing, there can be no official recognition or official relations with the Taiwanese government. Complicating the issue is that Taiwan considers itself to be the Republic of China — an independent country. The U.S. encourages the re-unification of the two, but only under peaceful, negotiated conditions and has vowed to support Taiwan against any coercion or military actions to force the situation.
The threat is one of war in the Pacific. Over the last few weeks, China has become increasingly bellicose in its statements concerning Taiwan and has sent ships and aircraft in the direction of the island nation — drills according to the Chinese, tests of Taiwanese defenses according to the view of those on the island. As many as 56 aircraft at a time have flown into Taiwan’s ADIZ (Air Defense Identification Zone — airspace controlled by a particular nation to enhance national security but outside its territorial boundaries). The United States and Australia in particular, but including other countries with interests in the Pacific, have warned China about its provocative actions and that they will respond to any Chinese military attack or other coercive measures against Taiwan.
Stay tuned as this crisis will continue to build. It is unlikely in the near term that China will directly attack Taiwan or any other forces in the region, but we can expect China to continue to ratchet up the pressure and to increase the level of provocations. There is always the danger in such conditions for an error or inadvertent action that results in shots fired. More ominously, it is likely that China is taking the long view — as in years. They will continue to enhance their economic and military strength to the point that their threats and provocations will have real teeth. They are probably not there yet, but under Xi, they clearly intend for Taiwan (formerly Formosa) to rejoin mainland China for the first time since 1949.
Russia is a different case. Since 2014 when Russia invaded Ukraine and annexed Crimea, an uneasy truce prevails along the border, even as active fighting occasionally occurs in some areas. In recent weeks, Russia moved 80-100,000 troops to the Ukraine border region. U.S. and NATO officials are worried that such movements may be a precursor to an invasion to reassert the Russian control that they lost with the 1991 break up of the Soviet Union, of which Ukraine was a part.
Western sanctions against Russia are having an economic impact, as well as the fact that Russia is experiencing a devastating fourth wave of COVID infections. Things are not good in Russia these days. Additionally, it is believed that President Putin believes the West is in disarray and that this may be his best opportunity to enact his vision of a “Greater Russia.” Mr. Putin never accepted the breakup of the Soviet Union and once said that “the breakup of the Soviet Union was the greatest geo-political tragedy of the 20th century.” He sees that the U.S. is focused on internal dissent and domestic turmoil as well as China and Asia in general. Chancellor Angela Merkel in Germany is stepping down. The French have elections in a few months. Ukraine appears weak and fractious. The U.S. is absent its ambassadors pretty much throughout the world, including to the E.U. and NATO and is missing high level political appointees in the Department of Defense (DOD) and State Department weakening our diplomatic clout. (Senator Ted Cruz (Tr-TX) primarily, with an assist from Senator Josh Hawley (Tr-MO) are holding the nominations hostage for their own purposes. Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) for some reason is not playing hard ball and is letting them get away with it. How about keeping the Senate in session day and night right through Thanksgiving until all nominations are approved? But I digress.)
The situation is ripe for Mr. Putin to take action. We may be seeing the early stages of the drama play out in Belarus and Poland. In brief, Belarus is “importing” “refugees” from the Middle East and Africa and sending them to the Lithuanian and Polish borders. The Belarus military is reported to be aiding the refugees in trying to enter those nations, and at the moment, particularly in Poland. Poland refuses to take them. Besides a looming humanitarian crisis, the aim of Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko (referred to as “Europe’s Last Dictator”) is to create a political crisis and to destabilize the western nations by overwhelming them with poor refugees. President Lukashenko is angry over western sanctions against his country following their imposition in response to a totally corrupt and illegal “election” last fall that allowed him to stay in power. Mr. Lukashenko never would do anything to upset the stability of the region without at least tacit permission from Mr. Putin. Many speculate that it is direct Russian permission and support.
There are two possible reasons to create this crisis. One is to take more attention away from activities along the Ukrainian border. The other is to provide an excuse for Russian western expansion.
Note Kaliningrad. Part of Russia. To get there, Russia needs to cross into Poland, and/or Lithuania. The Baltic states (Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania) were once part of the Soviet Union and still have large ethnic Russian populations. As does Ukraine. If Mr. Putin is serious about his Greater Russia, there is no better place to begin his expansion. (I’m sure everyone remembers what happened in the Sudetenland with Germany in 1938.) As those familiar with European wars know, the terrain between Russia’s mainland and the Baltic is mostly flat, open space. In military terms, there is little defense in depth nor are there many geographic features to use to mount a strong defense against armor columns. Indeed, the U.S. keeps a military presence in the Baltic states in order to deter Russian meddling.
Am I predicting another theater-wide war in Europe? No. I do not predict much of anything anymore. It just seems that Mr. Putin may assess that if he is ever going to start building his vision of a restored Russian Empire, the time is now to start somewhere. “Reuniting” Kaliningrad and the Russians in northern Poland and the Baltics with the motherland may be on his mind. A crisis on the border with Ukraine or Belarus may give him the pretext.
The point is that these are dangerous times. There is a lot going on in the world outside of our obsession with an ex-president and his corrupt political party. We must be on guard against “all enemies foreign and domestic.” While we are focused inward, our enemies and competitors will take advantage of it.
These are, indeed, interesting times.
“I believe that the president has learned from this case. The president has been impeached — that’s a pretty big lesson.” — Senator Susan Collins (Tr-Maine)
Multiple Senators opined in a similar way that Mr. Trump learned his lesson as to the seriousness of his actions concerning Ukraine and that he would be more reserved and conventional in his approach to governing in the future.
When asked by a reporter about Senator Collins’ statement, specifically, what lessons he’s learned from the impeachment, Mr. Trump responded:
“That the Democrats are crooked. They’ve got a lot of crooked things going. That they’re vicious. That they shouldn’t have brought impeachment. And that my poll numbers are ten points higher.”
It has only been a little over a week since the Impeachment Trial of Donald John Trump concluded. In that time, Mr. Trump embarked on a crusade of retribution and increasingly threatening behavior. The list is too long — in just nine days mind you — to enumerate here but it started with the National Prayer Breakfast, continued in a rambling and profane State of Mind speech in the White House, and is clearly enumerated in his omnipresent Tweet storms. It is, in a word, frightening.
Of greatest concern to our Republic is his stated intent to meddle in the Justice system of the United States of America. Our legal system depends on the ability of our prosecutors, judges and juries to attempt to be as impartial as possible. As with Joe Friday in the old “Drag Net” series, “just the facts, Ma’am.” Just as important is the public’s perception that the system is unbiased and faithful to the law. Mr. Trump is attempting to undercut both elements that are so important to our rule of law.
We got a preview of coming attractions a few weeks ago when the DOJ initially asked for a relatively long prison sentence (seven months) for confessed felon Mr. Michael Flynn. That was later withdrawn and a recommendation for probation was substituted after the original career prosecutors were over-ruled by senior political appointee DOJ officials.
In case you missed it, Mr. Trump’s long time friend and confidant — and proud self proclaimed political dirty trickster — Mr. Roger Stone was convicted on seven felony counts including lying to Congress and witness tampering. His is the last case to come from the Mueller Investigation which resulted in multiple defendants going to jail on convictions or admissions of guilt.
Mr. Stone is due to be sentenced next week. This week the four career prosecutors from the Department of Justice (DOJ) used the existing formula under current law to recommend a sentence for Mr. Stone. Prosecutors recommend a sentence, based on the guidelines, and then judges hand down the sentence based on those same guidelines coupled with any mitigating or aggravating circumstances and other factors that may have come out during the trial or that are presented by the defense attorneys in order to humanize the guidelines.
The DOJ prosecutors recommended in a brief presented to the court that Mr. Stone serve seven to nine years in jail. That night, the president tweeted at two A.M. that “This is a horrible and very unfair situation. The real crimes were on the other side, as nothing happens to them. Cannot allow this miscarriage of justice!” Later that day, under the direction of Attorney General William Barr, the court papers were withdrawn and a lighter sentence was put forward by DOJ. Mr. Trump later publicly questioned whether there was “prosecutorial misconduct” in the case under the original prosecutors.
The four original career prosecutors resigned in protest. Three resigned from the case and one from the case and from DOJ.
It gets worse. As it always does with Mr. Trump.
The president then went after the presiding judge in the case on Twitter. He went after Judge Amy Berman Jackson a judge in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia. She is a highly respected member of the judiciary known for her fairness and lack of tolerance for shenanigans in the court room. Oh by the way, she also was the judge in other prosecutions brought forward by Mr. Mueller including Mr. Paul Manafort and Mr. Richard Gates. It was the sentencing of Mr. Manafort that particularly incensed the president, which he brought up in his latest attack on Judge Jackson.
It gets worse, as it always does.
The president then went after the forewoman of the jury that convicted Mr. Stone. On Twitter, of course, he said of the forewoman, “Now it looks like the fore person in the jury, in the Roger Stone case, had significant bias. Add that to everything else, and this is not looking good for the “Justice” Department.” He then referenced “Fox and Friends” on Fox News. Of course he did. And of course he puts “justice” in quotations.
It gets worse, again.
Yesterday AG Barr, in what appeared to me to be a “CYA” (an old term — known in modern circles as damage control mode), held an interview with ABC News where he opined that the president’s Tweets were making it “impossible” for him to do his job. To me, it looked like the AG was trying to tell Mr. Trump that he was taking care of the president and following up on his desired use of the Justice Department for his own purposes, but that the Tweets were giving away the ball game. Basically, to me, he was saying to the president, “Cool it. We’ve got your back but we can’t do it if you brag about it. Just stop it.”
But no matter. The president just — Could. Not. Let. It. Be.
Today the president says that he has “the legal right” to interfere in cases brought by the Justice Department. Let that sink in for a minute.
Not only is he claiming that he can interfere in the prosecution proceedings against his friends and allies, but that he can direct the prosecution of his perceived enemies or those that he claims are disloyal to him. Not to the Constitution, to him. Personally.
That’s some scary stuff.
In case you don’t quite get it, note that Mr. Trump is pushing the Department of Defense to have the Army take disciplinary action against Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman for his reporting, through the chain of command, his uneasiness with Mr. Trump’s now infamous call with the Ukrainian president. He testified to Congress under a subpoena — following orders and his oath to the Constitution. Said Mr. Trump of Colonel Vindman, “He is over with the military.” This from a man that pardoned three military war criminals.
The bottom line is this. The President of the United States clearly thinks that he is squarely in charge of the country. Not as a leader, but as an autocrat. Whatever he wants, he gets. Whatever he tells people to do, they must do it or be subject to retribution or worse, criminal prosecution. Not legal orders, mind you. Rather, anything he wants, regardless of legality or morality.
Sadly, though profoundly disturbed, I am not shocked by Mr. Trump’s behavior. I am, however, dumbfounded that with only one exception, the former Republicans in Congress have formed a cabal that has gone over lock, stock and barrel to aiding and abetting his outrageous behavior. Indeed, they cheer and applaud his every inane and threatening statement. Literally. Take a look at video of his public appearances the day after the Impeachment Trial. You know, the “trial” where the Trumpists refused to allow any evidence or testimony.
Mr. Trump during his campaign famously said that he could shoot someone in broad daylight on Fifth Avenue in New York City and get away with it. Sadly, that may have been a prophecy rather than an apocryphal statement. Clearly he has come to believe that not only can he get away with that, but apparently he now believes that he has the right to do that if it is in the “national interest” — meaning in his interest.
Can you imagine what will happen if he wins a second term?
“Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.”
—- Alice in Alice in Wonderland
To believe the ongoing defense arguments in the Impeachment Trial of Donald John Trump, it would help to be in Alice’s shoes. Although, with the information coming out over the weekend, I’m not sure that even that would help.
Two revelations in particular make the president’s defense increasingly difficult to believe. One is the roughly 80 minute long video and audio tape released by Mr. Lev Parnas — the “associate” of Mr. Rudy Giuliani in the Ukrainian shakedown scheme — where he discusses the firing of the then U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch. The second, and most important, is the report detailing the interactions between the president and his National Security Adviser John Bolton concerning the shakedown of Ukraine.
In the audio tape, Mr. Parnas and Mr. Trump discuss Ambassador Yovanovitch and the president is told that she is “bad-mouthing” him. The response?
“Get rid of her! Get her out tomorrow. I don’t care. Get her out tomorrow. Take her out. Okay? Do it!”
In addition to sounding like a bad mob movie, this is troubling in at least two ways. While the president’s defense is true, that he can hire and fire whomever he wants as an Ambassador, it wasn’t what happened as much as how it happened.
Mr. Trump claims he doesn’t know Mr. Parnas. This is just another one of his over 16,200 documented lies to date in office. Listening to the tape, he clearly does know him. The context is a general discussion about Ukraine and U.S. support to that fledgling democracy locked in a hot war with Russia. Note that he doesn’t say “we need to look into that,” or tell an aide that he needs more information or talk to Secretary of State Pompeo about what to do. Instead, on the spot, he commands her immediate removal.
This happens for one of two reasons. It could be that there already had been long discussions about how the Ambassador refused to “play ball” in the scheme and in fact was acting to end corruption — by opposing the actions of Giuliani and Associates.
The other reflects the president’s decision making style. Assume he really did not know Mr. Parnas. Then that means anyone could walk into the president’s inner circle (the recording was made during an intimate sit down dinner of about ten people), say any old outrageous thing and the president would bring the most powerful office in the land to bear on the spur of the moment and act on it without study, knowledge, strategy or process. That may be the scarier of the two prospects.
But now, as Alice would say, the situation is getting “curiouser and curousier.”
Mr. Bolton apparently is ready and willing to testify to what is in the manuscript of his upcoming book. Specifically, that in mid-August, as all government agencies were pushing for the release of about $400 million in desperately needed assistance to Ukraine, the president told him that he would not do so until the Ukrainians provided information on the Bidens and on Ukrainian interference in the 2016 election. These two conspiracy theories have been thoroughly and repeatedly debunked by his own administration’s officials.
The manuscript puts the lie to everything that the president, his lawyers and his cult followers in Congress have claimed since the whole mess became public.
The manuscript also reportedly shows the full depth and breadth of the conspiracy to extort Ukraine by illuminating the involvement of the Secretary of State, Attorney General and the Acting Chief of Staff. The whole place seems to be rotting from within.
Here is the kicker. The draft book was given to the White House staff on 30 December 2019. That means that the president, his defense attorneys and others in the administration knew about the testimony Mr. Bolton was ready to give and therefore, not only did they continue to knowingly lie when they said no one could testify to the president’s direct involvement, they knew it when the Senate voted not to have any witnesses or documents produced at the trial.
Let that sink in.
I would postulate that as a minimum, Senator Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (TR-Ky) knew it too when he set the rules for the trial. Clearly, they were ready to jam through a vote to preclude witnesses knowing that there was at least one person that could provide exceedingly damaging testimony about the president’s real intentions.
A total sham and whitewash of a trial executed with malice of forethought.
My theory is that they knew the facts would come out eventually, but they did not care. The argument would be that the president was already acquitted and so, while “troubling”, too bad, so sad, we can’t do anything about it now. The House should have done their job (another canard among many), but they didn’t and so now we just have to live with it. Oh well. On to the election!
Only they got caught.
On Saturday I was convinced that the trial would end without any additional evidence or witnesses. They almost got away with it, but now I think that as many as eight or nine Republican Senators will vote for witnesses. What form that takes, and how many witnesses get called, I have no idea, but I would speculate that it is about a 60-40 chance that at least Mr. Bolton testifies. It is also possible, of course, that Mr. McConnell (aka Midnight Mitch, aka Moscow Mitch) might pull a legislative rabbit out of his hat to protect Mr. Trump, but there also may be enough pressure from his own caucus that he relents.
Much attention focused on four Republican Senators and how they might vote. In my view, and the view of several political analysts, there were never going to be four Senators joining the Democrats to vote for witnesses. There needed to be safety in numbers of at least six or seven in order that no one of them is accused of having “caved” to the Democrats and been the deciding vote. Otherwise, the Red Queen would have tweeted “Off with their heads!”
It is early in the proceedings, even if Mr. Trump and his accomplice in the Senate Mr. McConnell hoped to have it wrapped up by the end of this week. But as we have seen so often in these proceedings, even twenty-four hours is an eternity in the current political environment. Who knows what will happen?
I turn to Alice for one more parting piece of advice to the public and to those in Congress that may still care about holding this administration accountable.
“It takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place. If you want to go someplace else, you must run at least twice as fast as that!”
The proceedings in the Senate concerning the Impeachment of Donald John Trump got underway this afternoon. Right from the start the fix is in. We can no longer call it a trial. I don’t know what else to call it other than a whitewash.
Moments ago the Republicans voted unanimously not to have any witnesses or documents produced as evidence. How one could call this a trial, when they refuse to look at any evidence or listen to any witnesses, is beyond me.
Technically, they voted to table a motion to an amendment to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s (TR-Ky) (aka “midnight Mitch”) rules for this hearing. In theory, they could call for evidence, — get this — at the end of the whatever we call this. The ramifications are many, including solidifying Mr. Trump’s claims that he can do anything he wants under Article II of the Constitution. Oversight is DOA.
I am dumbfounded that a trial can proceed without any evidence or witnesses.
Recent polls show that 71% of Americans think that witnesses and evidence should be presented at this Impeachment Trial. But now we aren’t going to have a trial. We are going to have a whitewash of the president’s actions.
It seems that if the Republicans really wanted to exonerate the president, they would want to produce witnesses and evidence that exonerates him. Without any evidence what-so-ever no one should claim that he was exonerated. Having listened to all of the evidence, they may have decided to acquit him, but at least all the information would be out there.
Many pundits, historians and former politicians have often said that the Republicans in Congress are “on the wrong side of history” or “will have to look themselves in the mirror” and that they have lost all integrity. Clearly, they do not care. All that matters now, is that they retain power at all costs. All costs. All Republicans in Congress are all in on Trump. They own everything that happens and all of his actions from here on in.
One can only conclude that the Republicans know in their hearts that the charges are true and that the president did all that he is accused of doing, but that keeping power is more important so the facts must not come out. They are clearly afraid that if all of the evidence came out, they would be in political hot water if they acquitted him anyway.
Our democracy is becoming a sham.
God Bless America!
It occurred to me as I watched the Impeachment Trial of Donald John Trump officially begin last Thursday, that like several banks and corporations during the Great Recession of the 2000’s, the amount of lying, conniving, lawbreaking, personal greed and damage to the dignity of the Office of the President of the United States is so much, that it becomes too big for him to fail. Or in this case, to be convicted. Republicans in the House and Senate, along with key Cabinet positions in his Administration, have bought into the Trump Cult to such a degree that they cannot afford for him to fail lest they expose their own weaknesses, misconduct, phoniness, fraudulent actions and other misdeeds.
As things now stand, the trial that begins in earnest next Tuesday will be a sham. The new developments coming out almost daily continue to show the depth and breadth of Mr. Trump’s efforts to rig the 2020 election. Those efforts are matched by the depth and breadth of involvement by members of his Administration and his supporters in Congress.
You want a good example? How about the fact the we are learning from written documents, including phone calls and text messages, that Representative Devin Nunes (R-CA) and his chief aide, Mr. Derek Harvey were in close contact with Mr. Lev Parnas, the chief “associate” (read thug) working with Mr. Rudy Giuliani. These are the guys on the ground involved in the Ukraine caper trying to find manufactured dirt on Mr. Trump’s probable election opponent Mr. Joe Biden. Mr. Nunes and Mr. Harvey were aiding and abetting the operation. This is the same Devin Nunes that is the ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee that investigated Mr. Trump’s activities. He is one of those guys who shouted (literally) throughout the hearings that it was all made up, a hoax and a sham. Even as he was in on it. And even as he was supposed to help supervise the proceedings.
It is sometimes difficult to keep track of all the names and institutions that are normally outside the course of daily events. Sometimes I think that, like at the ball park, “you can’t tell the players without a score card!” But it is important to see what is going on in plain sight as well as behind closed doors.
One of those institutions is the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) (although Mr. Trump tweets it as GOA). This is the non-partisan group tasked by law to monitor government activities and to report its findings to Congress. The GAO determined last week that the president’s withholding of appropriated funds for Ukraine broke the law. Specifically, it broke the 1974 Impoundment Control Act (ICA) which was enacted in response to President Richard Nixon’s efforts to withhold appropriated funds to distract from his own Impeachment proceedings. Several emails among government officials had already surfaced that in the months that the funds were withheld, conscientious government officials cited the law as they sought to determine why the funds were not sent. It is not an obscure or non-relevant provision as some in the administration would like you to believe.
In the past week, Mr. Lev Parnas has been dropping some real bomb shells. While his testimony should not be taken as the absolute truth on its own merits, it does provide insight into the thinking going on and provides a road map for further investigation. While many impugn his character, keep in mind that criminals commit crimes and they often turn on their fellow criminals for purposes of their own. It does not mean that they aren’t factual. But don’t take him at his word. Look at the documents that he and his lawyers continue to turn over to Congress. People lie. Documents tend to lead to the truth.
In this busy week, revelations surfaced that the former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch (the ambassador Mr. Giuliani wanted fired for interfering with his extortion scheme) may have been under physical surveillance by Americans and in danger from Americans. Not a peep from the Secretary of State defending his career Foreign Service Officers until cornered at a press conference yesterday. He announced no action to conduct an investigation. Days earlier, Ukraine began an investigation. On their own. As of today, Ukrainian officials asked the U.S. FBI to help them, but still no investigation initiated by any U.S. agency to protect our diplomats. Is it because this administration does not care about U.S. citizens and diplomats overseas or is it because they do not want to know the answer?
More news this week as Mr. Giuliani, Mr. Parnas and the third thug in the ring, Mr. Igor Furman were reportedly being paid by a Russian oligarch (under indictment in the US) with close ties to Vladimir Putin. (Why is it that all of Mr. Trump’s roads lead to Putin?)
As the evidence mounts, it is clear that this extortion scheme went far deeper than “just” a phone call between two presidents. To date, no Republican has seriously contested any of the evidence produced around the Impeachment. They have attacked witnesses, sources of information, process and other things that have nothing to do with the facts. The facts are not in dispute. For that matter, Mr. Trump himself admits to them.
As part of their scheme to white wash the Impeachment Trial, the Senate Republicans are setting up false equivalencies. This is especially true with respect to witnesses and additional evidence not available when the House did its investigation. The president continues to block key information and to prevent witnesses from testifying (in my view this just reinforces that they have no exculpatory evidence). The Republicans will claim that since they did not get, say, Mr. Hunter Biden to testify, then not having Mr. John Bolton testify means that it is “even” — no one got what they wanted, and thus that it is fair. Baloney. Hunter Biden has no material testimony as to what Mr. Trump did. Mr. Bolton has significant first hand knowledge. There are a multitude of similar arguments being put forward to prevent the truth from coming out. This sets up their ultimate defense.
The Republican defense argument is likely to be “so what?” “Yes, he did it. What’s it to ya?” Reasonable people may dispute whether the punishment, removal from office, fits the crime, extorting a foreign power to get them to interfere in a US election, but the facts remain. Indeed, the vast scope of the whole scheme is becoming clearer and clearer. It was a classic mob action. It also indicates a pattern of behavior by the president. It is clear that he will continue to act this way. It is his nature and, we now know, the way he operates in every aspect of his life, past and present. It is time to hold him accountable. His behavior is not going to get better, and without accountability it can get a lot worse.
It seems to me that Mr. Trump now has sufficient accomplices in his administration, and in the Congress, that he feels he can get away with anything. They do not think that anything is off limits to them in the pursuit of their self-interests and their own power, including criminal activity. Nothing. And that is not hyperbole as we continue to see for ourselves.
I have also come to understand that we will never know the real truth behind, or the extent of the corruption. The system is not geared for fraud and criminal activity on such a scale, especially when it is coordinated by the President of the United States. And most especially when the Attorney General of the United States does everything in or out of his power to protect the actions of the president. It’s just “too big.” Sadly, this includes whatever it is Vladimir Putin has on him. (My view is that has to do with money laundering and other illegal financial ties.)
As Timothy Egan put it more eloquently than I in a New York Times essay, evil attracts evil. In the absence of good people acting, evil triumphs. There is evil in the White House and it is spreading throughout our government.