Zelenskyy wasn’t the First Ukrainian President to Address a Joint Meeting of Congress

Viktor Yushchenko addresses a Joint Meeting of the US Congress, 2005 (White House photo by David Bohrer)

On April 5, 2005, the JFK Library welcomed the recipient of their annual Profile in Courage Award, Viktor Yushchenko. Senator Ted Kennedy opened his brief remarks at the ceremony by saying this:

In “Profiles in Courage,” President Kennedy wrote: “A man does what he must – in spite of personal consequences, in spite of obstacles and dangers and pressures – and that is the basis of all human morality.” Our honoree this evening vividly embodies my brother’s words, and is renowned throughout the world for his extraordinary courage.

As we all know, at a critical moment in his nation’s history, he took a strong and courageous stand for what he knew was right. He risked his life – and nearly lost it – in the ongoing struggle for democracy in Ukraine. His story is the story of honor, decency, and the will of the people triumphing over fraud, deceit and intimidation. And because of his great courage, the rule of law prevailed against the oppressive rule of the powerful over the powerless.

In 1993, Yushchenko became head of Ukraine’s national bank, but 8 years later he was dismissed because his push for reforms made him too popular with ordinary Ukrainians. Again from Ted Kennedy:

Refusing to be silenced, he became the head of a political party and helped create a bloc of reform parties called “Our Ukraine,” which won a plurality of seats in the parliamentary elections of 2002 and became a significant force in the legislature.

As the presidential election approached in 2004, it was obvious that he appealed to Ukrainian citizens in ways no other politician could. His popularity was higher than any others because he had the ability to relate to people’s lives, and was so clearly seeking public office for the public good, not private gain.

These qualities endeared him to the people, but made him a special threat to the corrupt leaders of the regime in power. Nothing – not even a vicious attempt to poison him – could break his spirit and prevent him from speaking out against corruption and for a democracy grounded firmly in the rule of law.

[snip]

State-owned media shamelessly opposed him, and independent media were subjected to violence and intimidation in a largely successful effort to silence their support.

Opposition rallies faced constant harassment. Government employees, factory workers and students were threatened with dismissal unless they opposed him. President Putin of Russia openly intervened by declaring his support for the government candidate and sending a team of his top political advisers to assist him.

Yushchenko continued his campaign, even after being poisoned. (A political reformer, poisoned? Why does that sound familiar?). When the election was held, international observers noted huge irregularities and fraud, and when election authorities declared his opponent the winner, the people of Ukraine poured into the streets in protest in what became known as the Orange Revolution (after the prominent color used by Yushchenko’s campaign). In the end, the Ukrainian courts looked at it, agreed with the accusations of fraud, and ordered a new election – an election Yushchenko won.

The day after the JFK Library honored Yushchenko, he addressed a joint meeting of the US Congress. Just like Zelenskyy yesterday, he tied what was happening in Ukraine with the US and its own history, opening his remarks with these words:

Mr. Speaker and Mr. President, Honorable Senators and House Members, Ladies and Gentlemen: On the wall of this great building, there is the Latin phrase “E Pluribus Unum,” which means “Out of many, one.” This motto reminds the world about the American Revolution, the starting point of the modern world’s history of liberty.

My road here went through the orange-colored Independence Square that became known as maidan. Millions of people standing there continuously repeated it: “Together we are many, we cannot be defeated.” This motto of the Ukrainian Revolution is a reminder of the fact that freedom continues to win. Ukraine is opening a new page in the world’s chronicle of liberty in the 21st century.

These two mottos have a lot in common. They speak to the strength of our peoples that comes from unity. They speak of the victories of our peoples in their struggles for freedom.

The whole address is here [pdf, beginning on page 12], but let me highlight a few other parts of it.

My oath is built on the reminiscences of the common prayer of hundreds of thousands of people in the maidan. Christians, Jews, Muslims were praying one prayer, everybody according to their rites, with everybody asking the Creator for one thing: freedom, fairness and blessings for Ukraine and for each of its citizens.

We are building an open economy that encourages innovation, rewards initiative, and assures high social standards. We are beginning an implacable war on corruption, promoting fair competition and forming transparent government-to-business relations. My goal is to place Ukraine in the forefront of prosperous democracies. My vision of the future is Ukraine in a United Europe.

That sounds a bit like something we heard from Zelenskyy last night:

Ladies and gentlemen — ladies and gentlemen, Americans, in two days we will celebrate Christmas. Maybe candlelit. Not because it’s more romantic, no, but because there will not be, there will be no electricity. Millions won’t have neither heating nor running water. All of these will be the result of Russian missile and drone attacks on our energy infrastructure.

But we do not complain. We do not judge and compare whose life is easier. Your well-being is the product of your national security; the result of your struggle for independence and your many victories. We, Ukrainians, will also go through our war of independence and freedom with dignity and success.

We’ll celebrate Christmas. Celebrate Christmas and, even if there is no electricity, the light of our faith in ourselves will not be put out. If Russian — if Russian missiles attack us, we’ll do our best to protect ourselves. If they attack us with Iranian drones and our people will have to go to bomb shelters on Christmas Eve, Ukrainians will still sit down at the holiday table and cheer up each other. And we don’t, don’t have to know everyone’s wish, as we know that all of us, millions of Ukrainians, wish the same: Victory. Only victory.

Yushchenko continued his 2005 speech by laying out a desire to integrate more fully with Europe, and buttressed his remarks with references to Presidents Wilson, Reagan, Bush the Elder, and Clinton. Then he went on:

Dear friends, the goal of my visit to the U.S. is to establish a new era in Ukraine-U.S. relations. We do not seek only thaws that alter chillings in our relations. We seek a new atmosphere of trust, frankness and partnership. A new Ukraine offers the U.S. a genuinely strategic partnership.

[snip]

The U.S. and Ukraine have common strategic interests, and we have unity in one thing. Everywhere possible we want to uphold freedom and democracy. We are committed to such a responsibility because we know if somebody is deprived of freedom, this freedom has been taken away from us.

[snip]

Ukraine will be a reliable partner to the U.S. in fighting terrorism. I am sure we will be able to overcome it and not only by power of force. It is our obligation to eradicate the sources of terrorism. We can defeat the ideology of hatred that nourishes it. I am fully convinced that the time will come when in the dictionary of world languages, the term “terrorism’’ will be followed by the footnote, “archaic term.’’

The actions of the past year have proven Yushchenko’s promise that Ukraine would be a reliable partner of the US to have been honored, and Zelenskyy’s speech yesterday was a great reminder of what Yushchenko said in 2005.

Near the end of his address, Yushchenko began his conclusion with these words:

Ladies and Gentlemen: John Fitzgerald Kennedy took an oath before the whole world by saying, “We shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, to assure the survival and the success of liberty.’’ I am subscribing to these words on behalf of Ukraine. This authority was given to me by my fellow countrymen who endured days and nights in bitter cold and snow on the maidan. Ukraine is free and will always remain free. Citizens of Ukraine gained their freedom due to their courage and support of friends and proponents of democracy across the world.

These words, too, have proven true.

Yushchenko spoke to Congress in 2005 at the invitation of a GOP-run House and Senate, while a Republican president was in the White House. Zelenskyy spoke to Congress yesterday at the invitation of a Democratic-run House and Senate, while a Democratic president was in the White House. Both Ukrainian presidents hit the same notes, pleading for a stronger partnership with the US, regardless of which political party was in charge in DC. Even without that partnership, however, each pledged that Ukraine would continue its fight for freedom.

Over the past year, Volodymyr Zelenskyy and the people of Ukraine have demonstrated that Yushchenko’s words were not simply flowerly language in a fluffy speech. Back in 2005, Caroline Kennedy said this about why the JFK Library selected Yushchenko to receive the Profiles in Courage award:

His courage has inspired citizens of the world. For those of us who are free – he has reminded us that we can never take our freedom for granted, and for people with no voice in their own government, President Yushchenko and the Ukrainian people have given them hope.

Zelenskyy delivered his own reminder of this to those of us who are free last night, much as Yushchenko did in 2005.

Thank you, President Zelenskyy. Slava Ukraini, indeed.

 

Three Questions at the Start of an Intelligence Review

Why? Why? Why not?

There’s been a lot of focus on the narrow legal battles over the documents seized at Mar-a-Lago, but sometimes stepping back to look at the big picture helps bring the conflict into focus. As a legal matter and a political matter, Trump, his lawyers, and his apologists are trying to make the claim that this is just a dispute about documents, like overdue library books. The passion with which the DOJ went after them since receiving the referral from NARA last February, especially the ferocity of the legal arguments and filings over the last two weeks, demonstrates how wrong the DOJ believes that framing to be.

I agree with the DOJ.

The documents are not really what is being fought over — the battle is over the damage  (hypothetical or actual) done to our intelligence services, our national defense, and our broader foreign policy by Trump’s possession of these documents at Mar-a-Lago. The documents are the first puzzle pieces the intelligence community [IC] has to put together, to fill in the whole picture and plan a way forward.

To understand why, let’s parse out what an intelligence review might look like. What follows is not based on any insider sources at the DOJ, ODNI, or any other federal agencies, but on my own experience (long ago) with classified materials and the general experiences of others I know with deeper and more recent work in classified matters, as well as analyzing other cases where classified materials were stolen from the government and passed along to foreign governments.

An intelligence review is designed to look at three things: what got exposed, to whom, and what dangers does that pose to intelligence sources, methods, and broader foreign policy objectives? These are all backwards-looking questions, to understand how this could have happened in the first place. They also serve as the starting point for forward-looking actions, as we and our allies pivot our overt and covert foreign policy approaches in a new context. Think of Klaus Fuchs, a German-born British scientist who passed US and British nuclear secrets to the USSR in the 1940s. A backwards looking intelligence review ultimately identified him as the spy and spotted the flaws in our security procedures, and a forward looking review pivoted the US and British policy toward a world with nuclear powers who opposed each other.

In the current case, the IC review begins with three interrelated questions:

  1. Why did Trump take government documents to Mar-a-Lago in the first place?
  2. Why these documents?
  3. Why not those other documents?

The second and third questions begin to move toward an answer to the first question, so let’s start there. Broadly speaking, I see five possible answers, each of which poses different dangers.

1: Vanity

If this is the answer to that first question, we would expect to find that Trump took documents that made him look good, that pointed to actions that he believed he could claim credit for, or that simply let him feel powerful because he knows stuff very few others know. Think of these as Extreme Presidential Souvenirs. These would be documents that shout to the world, “Look at how great Trump is . . .”

Danger: Simply having documents like this in his possession would likely not be enough for Trump’s ego. Trump’s ego would demand that he show them to others, so that they would know how great Trump is. The level and kind of danger depends on who the “others” are, and who they might have spoken to about what Trump showed them.

2: Fear

In this scenario, the IC review would see that Trump took documents that would help cover up his failures and/or possible crimes, such as a full transcript of the “Perfect Phone Call” with Zelenskyy. These would be documents that whisper in Trump’s ear, “This could get you into trouble. You better hide this . . .”

Danger: These are the documents least likely to be shared by Trump, so in that respect they are safe. On the other hand, they become prime material for blackmail if unfriendly parties realize he has them. Trump’s nightmare is getting a phone call about these documents, threatening to expose the documents to the “wrong” people. “I’d like you to do me a favor, though . . .”

3: Greed

Given Trump’s proclivity to monetize anything he can for his own personal gain, it is hard to imagine that Trump would not be looking at anything that crossed his desk to see how he might make money on it. (“Hmmm . . . I’m doing some traveling? OK, which of my properties are closest, and how much can I charge the Secret Service for staying there?”) Documents that showed him something that would let him make money would be particularly tempting to Trump. Think of this as corporate espionage, or a twisted form of insider trading. Perhaps he received knowledge of foreign government’s as yet unannounced plans to develop certain properties overseas, and figured he could jump in, buy the property first, and then get bought out for a profit. Or maybe he would buy the property next to the future development and cash in when the government project became public and went forward, driving up the value of what he purchased. Perhaps these were not projects led by foreign governments, but by US corporations acting abroad whose plans were picked up as part of a signals intelligence surveillance program aimed at less-than-friendly nations. Documents like this would be calling out to his wallet, telling him “Hey, you can really use this . . .”

Danger: Suppose Trump acts on this information in some way, and the foreign government in question starts wondering “Did Trump merely get lucky in choosing to invest right where our project was going in, or did US spies give him the information?” Questions like that might lead to the exposure of human assets (sources) and signals intelligence capabilities (methods), which in turn could lead to those sources being shut down/arrested/killed, those signals intelligence methods being countered, or either the sources or methods being turned and used to feed false information to the US.

4: Corruption

As bad as #3 is, this scenario is the IC nightmare: Trump took documents that he knows other foreign governments, perhaps some of our greatest enemies, would love to have, and then deliberately passed them along to those governments. It might be to get revenge on Biden and the Dems for beating him in 2020. It might be to sabotage the work of the current administration and cause great public political problems for the Dems, to enable his return to the White House in 2024. It might be that some foreign adversary has compromising information about Trump or holds a private loan to Trump, his family, or his Trump Organization, and that country demanded classified information from Trump in exchange for not revealing the compromising information they hold or for not calling in the loan he could not immediately repay.

Danger: Beyond the damage done to sources, methods, and US foreign policy objectives created by disclosing the classified information in these documents, this scenario is worse. It weakens our relationships with our allies and harms our position in the world, simply by indicating we can’t keep secrets and by making us weaker through whatever is revealed. Should Trump have provided classified intelligence deliberately, it only gives those folks more leverage over Trump, which they would use to push for more information and more favors. Once you’ve turned over classified information to a hostile power, those folks own you forever. “Nice resort you’ve got here. It’d be a shame if anything were to happen to it.”

And it is not beyond the realm of possibility that foreign governments might lean on Trump to use his family to further their goals. “You need to have Jared talk to his friends in the Middle East, and convince them to . . . “

5: Some/all of the above

Trump might have taken some documents to feed his ego, others to hide them, and still others to try to monetize their contents. He might have taken some for his own reasons, and others because he was pressured to do so by hostile powers. The permutations are . . . troubling.

Danger: some/all of the above.

HOW BAD IS ALL THIS? DON’T ANSWER YET . . .

On top of these five possible explanations of Trump’s motives, one other thing is absolutely certain. Documents like those that were seized by the DOJ would have been catnip for the intelligence agencies of other nations. Once word got out that Trump had taken highly classified documents out of the WH (or once folks even suspected he had done so), all manner of foreign spies no doubt became very interested in Mar-a-Lago – much more than they had been during the Trump administration itself. It’s hard as hell to get into the WH and take classified materials, or to plant electronic surveillance devices inside the WH. Mar-a-Lago, on the other hand, is a relative sieve, especially after Trump left office and the security around Trump was much more directed to protecting his person rather than protecting all the stuff around a sitting president. At Mar-a-Lago these days, you pay your membership fee, and walk right in for a grand tour. Whatever the reason Trump chose to take these documents, even if he simply wanted to hold onto them as presidential souvenirs and he does nothing with them otherwise, should foreign agents copy them or steal them from Mar-a-Lago, that’s almost as bad it as it gets for the US.

Danger: Exposing whatever classified information to the prying eyes of our adversaries not only exposes sources and methods of our intelligence services, but provides our adversaries with insight into our strengths and weaknesses, depending on what the intelligence said. It also opens Trump to blackmail, as noted above in scenarios #2 and 4. “Well look what we found at your home. It sure would be terrible if the FBI were to discover that you were so sloppy with security that we were able to waltz right in and take them.”

To sort out the likelihood of each of these scenarios and the specific dangers posed, those conducting the IC review will do a couple of things. First, the leaders of the intelligence agencies are likely going back to the original creators of these documents, to tell them they were found in unsecured locations at Mar-a-Lago, and therefore (a) the creators need to assess what the specific danger would be if this particular document were to be exposed, and (b) the creators should look around to see if they have any signs that these documents had been shared already. The former is to measure the hypothetical damage, while the latter is to assess the likelihood that this is not hypothetical. Did spies suddenly go quiet, or did the quality of their information suddenly become different? Did satellites that used to provide good, regular photos of intelligence targets begin to provide much less good intelligence? All the while, the IC reviewers know that this is likely even worse.

EVEN WORSE? HOW CAN THIS BE EVEN WORSE?

If any of this information came to the US IC through our partnerships with other friendly nations (like Five Eyes or NATO), that means going to the intelligence folks in those countries who trusted us with their secrets and telling them that their trust was misplaced, at least while Trump was in office. They are the folks who need to assess the danger that exposure of this information would create, and who would have to see if there were signs that this information had already been shared. Of course we would promise to do whatever we could to assist them in that analysis, but that’s like telling a shopkeeper that you will help sweep up the shards of all the broken crystal after your kid threw a bowling ball into the display case.

Danger: It’s bad enough if our secrets get exposed, but if we let their secrets get exposed, that’s going to make them less likely to trust us in the future. As I said before, this is why having career diplomat William Burns as head of the CIA was a stroke of genius by Biden, and why Burns and the rest of the IC is no doubt bending over backwards to help Garland get this right, and bending farther over backwards to help our allies get this fixed.

SO HOW MIGHT THIS REVIEW WORK?

This is why the analysis of what was taken and trying to determine Trump’s motive(s) is the starting place. It leads to other critical questions like these:

  • What does Trump’s selection of documents — classified and unclassified — tell us about what is going on?
  • Were the documents tucked away by Trump over a long period of time, or did they all get tucked away in a specific, relatively short time period?
  • And what else was tucked in the drawers, file folders, and boxes next to these classified documents? Are there notes or letters that appear to have been written based on the content of the classified materials?

Depending on what this initial analysis reveals, the reviewers will begin to talk to the counterintelligence people in their agencies, especially if there is some concentration of subject matters or particular time frames involved.

  • Have you noticed any unusual behavior in known foreign agents around those time frames?
  • Was there any unusual signals traffic between foreign agents here and their bosses back home?
  • Were there any new agents who arrived here, who have a particular focus to their work that meshes with the subject matters of the documents Trump took? What actions have they taken?

To dig into all this, the analysts will be looking at other information and also be in contact with the folks in the field who are managing the human sources or electronic surveillance methods, to see what insights they might have. They know that decisions will need to be made about protecting or extracting sources who might be in danger, shutting down electronic surveillance already in place (pull out/relocate bugs and cameras if possible, re-direct satellite orbits, change communications frequencies, reprogramming software, etc.), and otherwise working to replace these sources and methods in some way to avoid further exposure. They hope to restore secrecy to the people and programs, and restore quality to the intelligence that might have been harmed through exposure.

While all this covert review work is going on, the FBI will no doubt be doing an ordinary shoe-leather investigation into the folks who have been going in and out of Mar-a-Lago over the last 18 months after the security of the resort was scaled back to simply protect the former president. They will be looking at guests and staff alike, trying to see what can be learned from videos, logs of visits, work schedules, and in some cases interviews. They will be looking at the White House document handling, especially after December 18, 2020 when the head of the White House Office of the Staff Secretary resigned and no one was named to take his place — even in an acting capacity — until January 20, 2021. They will be doing deeper domestic investigations of any new foreign agents that were identifies by the IC analysts.

And then there’s the investigation that NARA is probably already trying to complete: what other documents from the Trump White House were not turned over?

This is all very time consuming and expensive. You don’t want to do this if it isn’t necessary, but you absolutely have to do it if these sources and methods are likely to have been (or actually were) blown. Only when the Why?, Why?, and Why not? questions have been answered can the forward looking work really begin in earnest.

There’s a lot more that can be inferred about what an intelligence review would contain, but one thing is certain. The panel of judges from the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals and Special Master Raymond Dearie are focused on what Judge Cannon does not want to recognize: this is not a case about misfiled documents, but a national security case in which documents hold the key to assessing the dangers posed and actual damage done to our nation, so that the current government can begin to address it.

Faster and Furiouser: Ukraine’s Forces Take Back Kharkiv Oblast and More

[NB: check the byline, thanks. /~Rayne]

It’s been quite a while since the last post about the Russo-Ukrainian War here. It’s difficult to write about a war of attrition as not much big happens, just the grinding count of materiel damaged and seized along with the grueling and gruesome casualty count.

But the narrative in Ukraine has changed in huge way over the last six days. What initially looked like a push into southern Ukraine by its own forces turned into a blazing two-front counteroffensive with the eastern front cutting off Russia’s critical supply route from Belgorod north of the Russian-Ukraine border to the cities of Kupiansk along the Oskil River and Izium. The appearance of a push along a single southern front may have been effective information warfare.

The tweet below includes a GIF showing the ground taken back over the last week:

During the counteroffensive there has been some confusion online about the ground taken, in part because Ukraine’s forces had been asked to take photos and videos and share them to show their progress in an effort to demoralize both Russian troops and Russian media. The lag between the photos and videos and the time necessary to validate the locations along with the rapid dispersion may not only have surprised Ukraine’s supporters but shocked-and-awed Russians.

Russian media analyst Julia Davis shared some reactions which are all over the map. The loss of the Battle of Kharkhiv has punctured their bubble; they’re trying to find a way to spin this.

They were surprised on Friday, rationalizing what they’d seen:

Yesterday they sounded bitter, swinging wildly between demands for full mobilization to defeat “Ukrainian Nazis” or getting out:

But something isn’t quite right in Moscow. The lack of obvious discussion and reaction from Moscow to this counteroffensive combined with calls on September 8 by St. Petersburg’s city council to charge Putin with treason limns a black hole.

One might wonder if Russian Minister of Defense Sergei Shoigu is avoiding windows, rooftops, and helicopters.

~ ~ ~

There are numerous reports of Russian troops literally running away heading east to the Russian border, abandoning equipment and clothing in their haste to avoid encirclement which surely must have happened at Izium. Still more reports mention Russian-speakers leaving the Donetsk region heading to Russia but being refused entry in spite of carrying newly-issued Russian passports issued as part of the annexation and integration of eastern Ukraine by Russia.

A major concern is for the welfare of prisoners of war. There may be 20 to 30,000 from this counteroffensive — and now even more with the apparent negotiations of Russian troops surrender east of Mikolaiv in the Kherson oblast north of the Dnieper River — they need to be housed, fed, clothed, and secured. Resources to manage this will come at the expense of personnel needed to continue the drive east and south as well as resources necessary for the Ukrainian people.

Anne Applebaum has an essay in The Atlantic encouraging a shift in thinking:

She’s right that we need to think about a Ukrainian win, but we also need to consider what a Russian loss means. Not only do we have to consider the likely succession in leadership in Russia which is not delineated in publicly available records, but we need to think about control of Russian nuclear weapons.

Applebaum wrote Ukraine’s expectations of a win are “extraordinarily ambitious,” based on Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov statement to an audience in Kyiv this weekend that “victory should now include not only a return to the borders of Ukraine as they were in 1991—including Crimea, as well as Donbas in eastern Ukraine—but also reparations to pay for the damage and war-crimes tribunals to give victims some sense of justice.”

It’s not ambitious but prudent to make this demand; one asks for everything and works out a compromise for less. The first demand sets a ceiling and the response will set the floor. Failing to demand enough would play into Putin’s hands. Reparations are most likely negotiable since Russia’s economy has been badly damaged by this ridiculous genocidal war.

Which brings us to more damage which must be discussed and addressed as soon as possible, once Russia does fold its operations in Ukraine: where are the kidnapped Ukrainians including thousands and thousands of children forcibly taken into Russia? What is needed to return them home, to care for the children if separated permanently from family?

Further, what will Ukraine need from the rest of the world to document the war crimes which will be uncovered as the Russians exit occupied territory? There will be more horrors like Bucha left behind.

How does the world prevent potential unresolved anger from spilling over when Russian troops return home, to find they may not be compensated as promised. Russia has agreed with China to sell China fossil fuels for yuan and rubles, but conversion of the yuan may be hampered by sanctions and rubles have no value in countries where Russian interests are tightly sanctioned. Which means currency of real value will be limited inside Russia. There may be a population easily radicalized and motivated for cash.

Winning, though, is a distance away. There are other immediate problems in addition to regaining southern Ukraine and occupied Crimea, like the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant which has been powered down into a safe state after experiencing power cuts to the plant. How this plant will be safely cycled back up once fighting ends may need resources.

~ ~ ~

All of which is to say the US, NATO, and the rest of the world need to switch gears to keep up with Ukraine.

Faster and furiouser, people. Slava Ukraini, heroiam slava!

Regina Mortua Est, Vivat Rex

[NB: check the byline, thanks. /~Rayne]

The following message was issued by Britain’s Royal Family:

Even in the U.S. which threw off the British monarchy 246 years ago, the media will be flooded with coverage of the 96-year-old queen’s life and death. Reigning more than 70 years, Elizabeth of the House of Windsor has been the only reigning British monarch nearly all Americans can remember until now.

Condolences to those who mourn her passing.

Her eldest son Charles ascends to the throne with his mother’s death though it’s not clear if he will be known as Charles III or take another name.

Over the last 24 hours the royal family had flown to Balmoral, Scotland where Elizabeth had been staying when her physicians expressed concern about her health.

Elizabeth had appeared frail when she greeted UK’s new prime minister Liz Truss on Tuesday at Balmoral.

Acknowledging the new prime minister may have been Elizabeth’s last significant official act as queen.

Sic transit gloria mundi.

~ ~ ~

I am not a royalist. Britain in particular inflicted enormous challenges on my father’s forebears. Many colonized people, most Black and/or indigenous persons of color, will feel less than sentimental at the passing of the figurehead of a monarchy which seized, occupied, oppressed their people and lands.

While I feel for Elizabeth as a woman caught in history’s grip, a mother whose children and grandchildren have like most humans been mixed parts successful and failing, I can’t celebrate her reign. Even though the head of a constitutional monarchy, she had power she did not use as she could have to alleviate the suffering of former colonies let alone her own people. She did too little to assure her country was prepared to meet the future.

I will mourn instead the opportunities squandered.

May her eldest son have the courage to seize what power he now has to do better by his people and the colonies which once formed the British empire. May he do more and better at cleaning out the House of Windsor.

What is left of the United Kingdom in the wake of hard Brexit and Boris Johnson’s corrupt and feckless leadership will need whatever guidance Charles Rex can muster as his nation heads into one of its grimmest winters ever.

Other Possible Classified Materials in Trump’s Safe

[NB: As always, check the byline. Thanks. /~Rayne]

I’ve been sitting on this since last November. I had pieces I couldn’t quite pull together. But now that the FBI has executed a warrant on Trump at Mar-a-Lago to seize stolen presidential records and classified materials, those disparate pieces may be coming together.

While this is nowhere near as exciting as missing nuclear documents, is it possible there were other crimes in progress at the time Trump left office — ones which might have happened under our noses and may have posed national security threats then and now?

Please also note this post is partially speculative as well.

~ ~ ~

In late 2020, something happened in Morocco which might offer hints at whatever crimes might have been cooked up elsewhere.

There was little mainstream news coverage in the U.S.; we were too preoccupied with election-related coverage to pay much attention.

In exchange for recognizing Morocco’s illegitimate occupancy of Western Sahara – violating West Saharan Sahrawi people’s human rights to self determination – the Trump administration sold nearly a billion dollars in weapons to Morocco.

The deal was characterized as part of a process of restoring Morocco’s relationship with Israel. Morocco’s land grab was first recognized on Thursday, December 10, 2020 in a tweet by Trump. The arms deal was reported on Friday, December 11.

In other words, the arms deal portion of the negotiations was buried in the news dump zone, while much of the U.S. was watching Team Trump’s election theatrics.

The arms deal could have been another quid pro quo. As late as it happened in Trump’s term, as hushed and hurried as it was, with as little support as it had among Republicans, something about the deal still reeks to high heaven.

The United Nations didn’t see eye to eye with the Trump administration about this new disposition of West Sahara; it had been blindsided by what it saw as an abrupt reversal of US policy.

The UN continued to recognize West Saharan Sahrawi people’s human rights to autonomy though West Sahara remains a non-self governing territory.

What a coincidence, though, that Morocco issued a one billion euro bond in September 2020 before the US election. It had been toying with issuing a two billion euro bond at least as early as the first week of August, thought this may have been an expansion of a two-bond program announced in March 2019 with a one billion euro bond sold out in November 2019.

It’s also a coincidence that Morocco finished building a new base in summer of 2020, with plans to build or expand another for a large number of F-16 fighters and Apache helicopters it agreed to buy from the US in 2019.

Finally, it could be a hat trick that Morocco hosted Ukrainian national guard members for training early this year at that brand new base, before Russia’s attack on Ukraine began in late February. Was this part of the earlier negotiations?

Timeline:

March 25, 2019 — Morocco agreed to purchase 25 F-16s from US

November 2019 — Sale of 24 Apache helicopters to Morocco approved

April 2020 — Sale of 10 Harpoon air-to-sea missiles to Morocco approved

June 1, 2020 — Construction of a military base completed in Morocco

August 9, 2020 — Morocco considered 2 billion euro bond

September XX, 2020 — Morocco issued 1 billion euro bond

November 3, 2020 — US Election Day

November 9, 2020 — Trump fired SecDef Mark Esper over Twitter, replacing him with Acting SecDef Christopher Miller; Moroccan news noted this change.

December 10, 2020 — Trump reversed US policy over Western Sahara when Trump tweeted recognition of Morocco’s claim over Western Sahara

December 11, 2020 — Arms deal announced

~ ~ ~

Back in 2020, journalist Zack Kopplin of the Government Accountability Project had gotten a tip:


It’s a long thread written over several days which includes links to reporting Kopplin did.

At the heart of this story, though, is a war crime.

Remember when Trump said “We’re keeping the oil” from Syria in October 2019? That.

Trump openly expressed a desire to commit a violation of Article 33 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, the 1907 Hague Laws and Customs of War on Land, and 18 U.S. Code 2441 War crimes, for starters. There may be more applicable laws which could have been broken.

Trump also knew the value of the oil in question — $45 million a month.

Kopplin was tipped to the basics about the company which was supposed to begin development in the northeast region of Syria, but the ultimate owner of this entity and development process wasn’t clear.

Following Kopplin’s reporting, some names pop up as connected by role (like then-Secretary of State Mike Pompeo), or rumored as connected by other relationships (like Erik Prince who funded a business tangentially related to Delta Crescent).

There’s also the frustrating interrelation between Syria, Russia, Iraq, the Kurdistan region, Turkey, Iran, and the UN’s humanitarian aid for displaced Syrians. The aid became leverage in negotiations which have been fairly opaque in US news.

The status of the oil, too, isn’t particularly clear, with Delta Crescent’s development running into policy changes with Biden’s administration, terminating its sanctions waiver.

Add to the picture the fluid challenge of trying to keep Turkey on board with US during increasing Black Sea tensions, as well as Iran in JCPOA negotiations, thwarting Russia in more than Syria, while trying to assure both humanitarian aid along with global grain shipments.

It’s a damned complex mess through which oil may or may not be smuggled through Iraq by a Kurdish political family, sanctioned or not sanctioned depending on how the Biden administration is trying to leverage the situation for humanitarian aid access, improved relations in the Levant, or decreased oil prices.

What’s really unclear is whether there were any kickbacks offered in 2019-2020 for “keeping the oil” and if any, who received or receives them.

~ ~ ~

Since his testimony before the House Oversight Committee in May 2021, I’ve not been persuaded former Acting Secretary of Defense Christopher Miller is on the up and up, along with his former chief of staff Kash Patel — one of two guys Trump is known to have named his representatives to the National Archives.

The timing of Miller’s placement as Acting SecDef in tandem with the election may seem like an obvious effort to pre-plan for January 6, but Trump is a crook. We need to look at the situation through a crook’s eyes.

What if January 6 wasn’t just about an attempt to obstruct the certification of the vote, but an effort to buy time to deal with illicit profiteering like oil obtained through a war crime?

American troops were supposed to guard the area in which Delta Crescent would develop the oil Trump was intent on keeping. Wouldn’t the Secretary of Defense need to go along with this long enough for a supply chain to be established from the oil wells to distribution?

Is this why Miller, a former Director for Special Operations and Irregular Warfare who worked during the Trump administration in counterterrorism involved in operations against Islamic State in Iraq and Levant, ended up Acting SecDef in the last days of the Trump administration?

What does Christopher Miller know? What of his sidekick Kash Patel — the one who knew the contents of Trump’s classified documents cache?

~ ~ ~

Marcy wrote about some very strong candidates for classified documents Trump might have had at Mar-a-Lago. I think both the circumstances surrounding the rushed Morocco arms deal and the Syrian oil development are two more candidates, especially since both matters may have tentacles reaching into ongoing national security concerns.

But I also have a feeling we’re scratching the surface with the boxes of paper seized this week.

I hadn’t even gotten around to the Kurdish link to Miami, Florida or illegal drug trade.

Merrick Garland Preaches to an Overseas Audience

Alexander Vindman thanks Attorney General Garland

When Merrick Garland gave his brief press statement yesterday about the search of Mar-a-Lago, he had various audiences in mind. One was Donald Trump and his defenders, calling their bluff by announcing that the DOJ was moving to unseal the search warrant and list of items seized. Another was his own DOJ employees, to let them know that he had their backs and would support them when the rightwing attacked them. But as I listened to him, I thought that perhaps the most critical audience were the leaders of nations all around the globe — and especially the heads of their intelligence services. When hours later the story broke that some of the documents the DOJ were seeking were nuclear related, I dropped the mental “perhaps”. To build on one of Marcy’s previous posts, let me add that this is a huge foreign policy story, which is largely missing from the current discussion in the media.

Think back to the beginning of the Trump administration. On May 15, 2017, a disturbing story hit the news:

President Donald Trump disclosed highly classified information to Russia’s foreign minister about a planned Islamic State operation, two U.S. officials said on Monday, plunging the White House into another controversy just months into Trump’s short tenure in office.

The intelligence . . . was supplied by a U.S. ally in the fight against the militant group, both officials with knowledge of the situation said.

H.R. McMaster categorically denied it, and as the story unfolded over time, McMaster was lying through his teeth. The unnamed ally was later revealed to be Israel, who had a mole inside an ISIS cell. And Trump blithely blew the cover of that Israeli asset by bragging to Lavrov.

Shortly after this meeting (at which Trump also bragged about just having fired James Comey), US intelligence officials made a bold move. From CNN:

In a previously undisclosed secret mission in 2017, the United States successfully extracted from Russia one of its highest-level covert sources inside the Russian government, multiple Trump administration officials with direct knowledge told CNN.

A person directly involved in the discussions said that the removal of the Russian was driven, in part, by concerns that President Donald Trump and his administration repeatedly mishandled classified intelligence and could contribute to exposing the covert source as a spy.

The decision to carry out the extraction occurred soon after a May 2017 meeting in the Oval Office in which Trump discussed highly classified intelligence with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and then-Russian Ambassador to the US Sergey Kislyak. The intelligence, concerning ISIS in Syria, had been provided by Israel.

This was the opening act of the Trump presidency. From the very beginning, intelligence officers worried about how Trump handled classified information. Our intelligence officers worried, and so did the intelligence officers of our allies, as they asked themselves some version of the question “Will Trump say something or do something that will get us killed?” In a completely different way, so did the intelligence officers of our adversaries. If Trump were to rashly reveal something he learned about the capabilities of our adversaries, it could have disastrous consequences for those countries and their leaders, as the reaction to the revelation could easily spiral out of control in unforeseeable ways.

And the damage was done.

A lot of the work of intelligence services is, if not cooperative, then transactional. “I have some information you would like,” says an ally to us, “and we’ll pass it along to you in exchange for something we need.” That favor might be us passing information back to them on another subject, or supporting some foreign policy objective. That favor might be immediate, or something later. Among the Five Eyes nations (US, UK, Australia, New Zealand, and Canada) and the major NATO allies, that relationship was formalized into regular practice.

But now, with Trump’s first foray into intelligence matters, all these countries worried about passing things along that under previous administration they never would have hesitated to share. With good reason.

Fast forward four years, past all the bizarre meetings with Russia where notes were not taken, past the stunning press conference in Helsinki where Trump declared he trusted Putin’s word over the word of his own intelligence services, past all the coddling of authoritarians, past all the threats to withdraw from NATO, past all the insults to our allies around the world . . . Fast forward past all of that, and there came November 2020. On the Sunday after the election, when Biden was declared the president-elect and foreign leaders began to offer their congratulations, the New York Times discussed the deeper reactions of European leaders to Biden’s election:

David O’Sullivan, former European Union ambassador to the United States, said he looked forward to a renewal of American leadership — if not the hegemony of the past, then at least “America’s role as the convening nation” for multilateral initiatives and institutions.

But the world has changed, and so has the United States, where the Biden victory was relatively narrow and not an obvious repudiation of Mr. Trump’s policies. A fundamental trust has been broken, and many European diplomats and experts believe that U.S. foreign policy is no longer bipartisan, so is no longer reliable.

Biden, with his decades of experience with foreign policy, knew this was true, which meant that two of his most critical appointments would be his Secretary of State and his CIA Director. For State, he chose Anthony Blinken, who had served in the State Department under President Clinton and on the White House national security staff in both the Clinton and Obama administrations, and for CIA he chose William Burns.

Burns was not a product of the intelligence community. He was a career State Department diplomat, but not just any diplomat. From 2001 to 2005, as the US reacted to the attacks on 9/11, Burns was the Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs — that is, the Middle East. From 2005 until 2008, as Vladimir Putin tightened his hold of the office of President of Russia following the chaos of the Yeltsin era, Burns was the US Ambassador to Russia. From 2008 to 2011, Burns held the position of Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs – the #4 position at State and the highest office reserved for a career foreign service officer. By the end of his 32 year tenure, he held the rank of Career Ambassador – the State Department’s equivalent to a four-star general.

Beyond running the CIA, the new director had to rebuild all those broken international relationships and restore that “fundamental trust” between the US and the world. That’s what made Burns such a great choice.

When the National Archives discovered classified information had not been turned over when Trump left office, they brought the news to the DOJ. I have this vision of Garland swallowing hard, and then arranging a meeting with Burns, DNI Victoria Nuland Avril Haines [corrected], and the other US intelligence agency heads to let them know what Trump had done. I can see the shock on their faces, followed by the “of course he did” sighs of resignation. Then the wheels start turning as each tries to figure out how this affects their agency.

But I also imagine Burns, either in the meeting or in a private conversation, telling Garland one thing: “I have no doubts about your department and your passion for justice. If there is anything I can do to assist, just let me know. I won’t press you to share things with me that you shouldn’t share — you do your job and I’ll do mine. But there’s one thing you need to know. You may already know it, but let me reinforce it. The. Whole. World. Is. Watching. Our allies are just beginning to trust us again, and how you handle this will determine whether that continues or is blown to bits. From a foreign policy perspective, especially on the intelligence side, we *have* to get this right.” That’s total fantasy on my part, but I’m reasonably confident that something like that was communicated, one way or another.

Two days ago, when the search was first revealed, Garry Kasparov tweeted, “For those who live where the law exists only to serve the powerful and oppress the rest–as I did in the USSR and Putin’s Russia–the dictum that no one is above the law is nearly awe-inspiring.”

The American legal community is watching this all unfold very carefully, with an eye toward all the minutia of the various legal questions at issue. The US political folks on every side are watching this carefully, with an eye toward the midterms and 2024. US media organizations are watching this carefully, trying to figure out how to cover the story. Ordinary Americans are watching this carefully, for all kinds of reasons.

And beyond our borders, the whole world is watching, as that Kasparov tweet indicates. It shows that Garland is reaching that worldwide audience, even before the word “nuclear” became part of the story.

In his long-ago testimony before Congress about that “perfect phone call,” Alexander Vindman captured in three words the essence of US foreign policy, and he repeated them as a hashtag in that tweet above. In the actions of the DOJ this past week, Garland is giving Vindman a big “Amen.”

Russia, if you’re listening, listen to Vindman. #HereRightMatters indeed.

I know we’ve got a fair chunk of readers outside the US, and I’d love to hear in the comments what you all are seeing in the coverage your countries.

 

A ‘Dicks Out’: On the Reported U.S. Intelligence Assist to Ukraine

[NB: check the byline, thanks. /~Rayne]

By now you’ve probably read Marcy’s post, Bragging on U.S. Intelligence. I agree with her take in part, but I suspect the situation isn’t just dick-wagging.

It’s a ‘dicks out‘ situation, an attempt using the media to make a statement.

Not in the sense there’s any competition here between dick-swinging leaders — dick-wagging — but in the sense there’s a display. It looks like a show of power and it is, reminding Putin and Russia’s military leadership within view of the Russian public and the globe that the world’s largest army can aid an eastern European democracy and make it look like it’s a trifling amusement.

Russia media already acknowledges the aid provided by the U.S. and other NATO countries is tough competition.

The report about U.S. intelligence in The New York Times wasn’t a surprise to Russia, though. There had been numerous reports in social media about a U.S. military surveillance aircraft flying over the Black Sea shortly before the Moskva was reported to have taken a hit from Ukraine’s Neptune missiles — or caught fire, if one paid attention only to pro-Russian accounts. The flight was not unexpected as the U.S. had been flying surveillance over the Black Sea for years before the invasion began.


Note there was more than just a lone P-8 flying surveillance the day the Moskva was hit, though these reports shared here are likely well after the attack.

What’s not clear is the timing of the attack on the Moskva — late on April 13, or very early on April 14. Lithuania’s Defense Minister posted early morning ET about the attack:

By evening GMT the vessel had sunk which Russia confirmed.

Russia and the U.S. have had run-ins over the Black Sea even during the Trump administration.

The U.S. military made a point then that its duties continued in spite of the change in leadership. This may even have been an issue during the Helsinki summit in July 2018 but we may not know for certain since Trump squelched interpreter’s notes.

~ ~ ~

The British newspaper The Times reported at 12:01 a.m. BST on April 20 about the same surveillance aircraft which had been sighted over the Black Sea before the Moskva was in distress.

A U.S. aircraft was patrolling the Black Sea in the hours before the Moskva was hit by Ukrainian missiles, The Times can reveal.

A Boeing P8 Poseidon was within 100 miles of the Moskva on the day the Russian cruiser sustained catastrophic damage. …

“The Times can reveal” suggests either The Times were waiting validation from local sources, or the outlet had received authorization to report this news from either British or U.S. military. The just-past-midnight time stamp suggests the latter.

But this wasn’t just a show of power for the benefit of NATO; EU member states who are NATO members are too deeply committed now whether the U.S. gets involved or not providing assistance to Ukraine. The chances of Russia nailing a EU member accidentally or on purpose is real, while the risk to the U.S. is slim to none; we don’t have any real skin in the game. NATO members likely knew already the U.S. was providing intelligence because of the emergency session between NATO and G-7 allies on March 24 in Brussels where commitments of effort from sanctions and aid were discussed.

Who else benefited from the published confirmation the U.S. had provided intelligence to Ukraine? Cui bono?

1. Ukraine — not just because they have access to the intelligence apparatus of the largest military in the world, but their own intelligence sources and methods are no longer in the spotlight drawing the attention of Putin and his remaining intelligence system from FSB to ad hoc hacking teams.

2. U.S. — because one of the audiences who needs to know U.S. intelligence is both capable and effective is the U.S. itself, in Congress, the intelligence community, and the public; the reports assure the general public in the U.S. and abroad that the U.S. has an active role if not as a combatant. We’re providing intelligence as well as materiel but not the personnel who ultimately act on intelligence available.

3. U.S. corporations — in particular, Apple and John Deere, because there have been stories of apps built into their products which may have allowed their hardware to be used for intelligence collection directly and indirectly, placing the companies at risk of attack by Russia.

4. Iran and other parties to the JCPOA P5+1 agreement — because elements in Iran are still demanding revenge for the assassination of Lt. General Qasem Soleimani; it’s a reminder the U.S. is watching though Iran’s intelligence apparatus surely knows this; factions desiring a return to the agreement know retribution works against them.

5. Japan — with Russia’s military demonstrating weakness, Japan has seen opportunity to not only recover some of its stature post- Abe but make demands related to the occupation of the Kuril Islands; its public may be reassured its partner is watching Russia closely as it does so.

6. Taiwan — China is watching closely how the U.S. responds to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine as a model for its response should China attempt to realize its One China ideology and take Taiwan; it’s already seen in Hong Kong a lack of U.S. intervention. While China’s leadership surely knows about U.S. intelligence provided to Ukraine, Taiwan’s public needs to know this is on the table for them as well.

7. Aspiring NATO members Finland and Sweden — while these two countries have been prepared for Russian hostilities since WWII, the invasion of Ukraine has heightened their sensitivity to national security. Both are now pursuing membership in NATO as Marcy mentioned; open acknowledgment of the benefits of membership may help their public feel more at ease with joining after holding out for so long.

Marcy’s post noted the value of the publicized intelligence to several of these beneficiaries’ voting constituencies.

Of all of who benefit, two most critical are Ukraine and U.S. corporations. As a ‘dicks out’ effort, the U.S. draws attention to itself and its intelligence capabilities which the media have gladly hyped up.

I have to wonder if this change in NYT hed was really because of an error, or an attempt to ensure the Russians were sitting up, paying attention to, and pissed off at the U.S.


Especially since the NYT’s article pointedly said there was no targeting information.

… The Pentagon press secretary, John F. Kirby, asked about a report in The Times of London that a Navy P-8 spy plane from Sigonella air base in Italy was tracking the Moskva before it was hit by Ukraine, spoke of air policing missions in the Black Sea as part of a carefully worded response: “There was no provision of targeting information by any United States Navy P-8 flying in these air policing missions,” he said. …

By drawing attention away from Ukraine and U.S. corporations, the use of non-traditional sources of intelligence based on non-government private resources becomes less obvious, potentially reducing their risk from retaliatory attack by Russia.

(An aside: Did you know that Apple iPhones were the second or third most popular cell phone in Russia? While Apple has now stopped selling its products in Russia, it’s not clear iPhones and MacBooks are no longer operative on Russian networks.)

~ ~ ~ 

There were two other things worth noting related to the day the Moskva was hit and Russia’s response afterward.

First, the U.S. Navy P-8 (and other surveillance craft) weren’t the only unusual flights on April 14. A “Doomsday” plane took off from Moscow; the plane is equipped for use in the event of nuclear war.


But it wasn’t just a Russian “Doomsday” plane in the air that same day.


Most media didn’t appear to have noticed the Russian plane. The Daily Express-UK published an article on April 14 at 13:16 hours London time, edited at 14:25 hours, about the Russian craft’s kit, and wrote about a flight at 4:16 pm which lasted nearly four hours. It also mentioned the U.S. “Doomsday” plane taking a flight but in little detail. The Daily Express didn’t tweet their article.

Second, Russia told the families of Moskva crew members who died on April 14 that they would not receive survivor compensation:

This seems particularly callous especially since crew members families were told little to nothing immediately following the Moskva’s “fire” and sinking, calling to mind the handling of the Kursk submarine disaster. Were the Moskva’s crew and their surviving families punished financially for failing?

Another particularly odd detail was the immediate reaction of crew on board the Moskva after it was hit by Ukraine’s Neptune missiles — the radar didn’t respond as if it wasn’t watching for another attack, and life boats didn’t appear to be deployed and loaded once the ship appeared to be in extremis. A report by U.S. Naval Institute News said the ship was blind to the attack, its radar not detecting surveillance by drones or planes or the missiles once it was targeted.

One analysis of the attack in this following Twitter thread suggests the weather conditions the night of April 13/morning April 14 may have helped mask the missiles if the radar was working and its 180-degree range aimed in the correct direction.

There are a lot of ifs here even after reading an analysis of the attack (pdf) shared by USNI News.

Perhaps the publication of the news that the U.S. intelligence isn’t merely a ‘dicks out’ statement to garner attention away from others, or make the point the U.S. is assisting with intelligence up to but not including targeting.

Perhaps the message was meant to tell Putin, “The U.S. intelligence community knows exactly what happened to the Moskva,” implying another mishandling of information a la the Kursk could be used strategically against weakened Russian leadership.

The deployment of our own “Doomsday” plane the same day Putin moved his also says something, but that may be even more cryptic and intended for a very small audience compared to the ‘dicks out’ about the Moskva’s sinking.

Three Things: Dead, Deader, Deadest

[NB: check the byline, thanks. /~Rayne]

Watching Russia’s continued assault on Ukraine has been horrific, bodies shredded and families burnt to cinders as their cities are leveled by Russian missiles. Photographic evidence of war crimes has been particularly difficult to witness.

Whatabouters argue western countries particularly the U.S. engage in a double standard over Ukraine’s losses compared to Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Libya, and other past engagements in which western military force has been mustered.

If their point is that U.S. foreign policy has been conflicted in the past, yes, it has, and it’s been so because of conditions established long before many of us were born.

Like our nation’s reliance on oil and the agreement to protect Saudi Arabia to assure continuity of oil production for economic national security.

Other crappy foreign policy decisions spin from that origin or are tangentially related to that agreement because in part elections have been bought by oil and gas money, or the dependency of U.S. national security on the flow of oil and gas has been made economically sticky.

We had a critical opportunity in 2000 to take an alternative time line and delaminate our security from oil but that fork in the road wasn’t taken.

Instead the presidential election was decided by the Supreme Court in favor of an oil man who lost the popular vote — in essence, a right-wing coup took place in favor of continued reliance on oil and the eventual hamstringing of Americans’ domestic needs by trillions of taxpayers’ dollars spent in unlawful and unnecessary wars to assure our continued addiction to fossil fuels.

But this is what has made the existential crisis in Ukraine so dynamic and engaging to western observers, particularly Americans. The problem is black and white: a sovereign democracy was attacked by a larger hostile neighbor which seeks to eliminate its existence. It happened in full view of the global public with access to the internet and social media platforms.

The fossil fuel problem is now likewise simplistic: the hostile neighbor’s kleptocratic economy relies heavily on oil and natural gas. It has used both to bully neighboring countries for decades, threatening the economic security of western allies. It’s using its fossil fuels now to cudgel the market for supporting Ukraine and to raise funds to continue its illegitimate invasion.

We’ve returned to the fork in the road again, 22 years later. Our national security and that of our allies is threatened by the continued reliance on fossil fuels, not including the increased geopolitical and economic instability generated by the mounting climate crisis.

Fossil fuels must die, should already have been long dead. It’s past time to liberate ourselves and other sovereign democratic nations from its grip.

~ 3 ~

Speaking of death, there have been a few unexpected deaths in Russia. Reported by Russia’s Sota Vision via Twitter:

…Family members of the former vice-president of Gazprombank Vladislav Avaev and himself found dead in Moscow According to the preliminary version of the investigation, Avaev shot his wife and thirteen-year-old daughter with a pistol, and then shot himself. The bodies of the dead were discovered by a relative of the family.

Gazprombank converted Gazprom sales in non-rubles to rubles. Vladislav Avayev’s death is the third one of executives affiliated with Gazprom this year. The unconfirmed scuttlebutt is that Avayev had been in the middle of a messy divorced, tensions heightened because his daughter was disabled. But the divorce makes a handy cover story if this wasn’t a murder-suicide situation.

The previous Gazprom-related deaths were also suicides in which windows weren’t used.

Alexander Tyulyakov, an executive identified as Deputy General Director of the Unified Settlement Center of Gazprom, was found hanged on February 25, the morning after the Russian invasion of Ukraine began. Quelle coïncidence.

(Side note: I’m not able to confirm one way or another this Tyulyakov is the same one who held onto a bunch of uranium which was involved in the U.S. uranium repatriation program with Russia back in 2003.)

Leonid Shulman, executive at Gazprom Invest, was found on January 29 dead of an apparent suicide. Descriptions of his death are sketchy but it sounds like he’d bled out in a bathtub.

Both Tyulyakov and Shulman died at home in the region referred to as “the nest” where many of Gazprom executives lived.

Reading about this cluster of deaths, one outlet remarked how rare executives “suicide” deaths have been with only four having occurred over the last dozen years. It’s a rather dry method of noting how very bad this cluster of three deaths is from Russians’ perspective, and how deadly being an executive in Russian business can be.

~ 2 ~

Russia has suffered the loss of yet another general this past weekend. Major General Vladimir Frolov, deputy commander of the 8th Army, died in combat in Donbas region. That’s eight dead generals since the invasion began. Details about this officer’s death are fuzzy at best.

Frolov wasn’t the only senior Russian government figure of note lost this past week; retired army general and veteran of Russia’s Foreign Intelligence Service Vyacheslav Trubnikov died at age 78. No mention of cause of death in any report I found, only praise for Trubnikov’s service and mourning over his death.

Trubnikov’s death was announced more than 5-10 days after Ukraine doxxed 620 members of Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB), the intelligence agency.

Was Trubnikov still a spy for Russia even at his advanced age? Was this a roll-up or just an old dude shuffling off the mortal coil?

~ 1 ~

Russia lost nearly one million citizens between October 2020 and September 2021. The country’s total population before the pandemic began was less than 43% of the U.S.’s population, which suggests its COVID deaths were not only grossly underreported but multiple times greater than that of the U.S.

And you know how stupid and avoidable U.S. COVID deaths have been even before vaccines were approved and distributed. COVID surely had an impact on the number of active duty and retired Russian military available for deployment.

At a rate of 10.7 births per 1,000 citizens, Russia has experienced a decline in birth rates like all other developed nations. Its birth rate is lower than that of the U.S. and may be related to factors like increased alcoholism and the lingering fallout from the economic upheaval of the 1990s. Russian women born during the 1990s are much fewer in number than the cohort who were children and young adults at that time.

… The effects of this dramatic and prolonged collapse in birthrates are now becoming apparent. A brief glance at Russia’s population pyramid illustrates this knock-on effect. There are around 12.5 million Russians between the ages of 30 and 34 who were born around or just before the collapse of the Soviet Union. But there are around 6.5 million people between the ages of 20 and 24 who were born during the chaos of the late 1990s. This smaller base of people able to bear children means the birthrate is almost destined to decline. And that is exactly what has happened; after a brief period of natural population growth in the mid-2010s, Russia’s population once again began to contract in 2019. It will continue to do so well into the foreseeable future. … [source]

Which means there were fewer male children born during the 1990s as well. This certainly has affected the number of Russian service persons, and likely explains why we’ve seen Chechens enlisted as well as recruiting from African countries and the Middle East, and why military contractors have been engaged to fight against Ukraine.

The deaths of so many Russian military leaders may also be related to COVID. Russia does not encourage its lowest level service persons to exercise much independent decision making in the field; major generals and superior officers below them are in the field to provide direction. If much of the military has been exposed to COVID with at least 20-25% suffering from some degree of long COVID, leadership’s function is degraded as is the function of all subordinates. (In actuality the percentage globally of COVID infected who suffer from long COVID is closer to 43%. Age appears to increase the likelihood of long COVID.)

Poor performance due to the effects of COVID only exacerbates morale problems among those serving who weren’t told they were going to invade Ukraine, who weren’t supposed to be engaged in active warfare as conscripts, who were police and not military as some were.

Many have surely paid with their lives for Russia’s inability to plan for the effects of COVID. One can only wonder how much more COVID will cut into both Russia’s military, its country, and its future — recall that COVID also does a number on men’s testicles and on pregnant women.

~ 0 ~

And now today, even as I was writing this, yet another executive of a Russian gas company was found dead along with his wife and daughter. Sergei Protosenya was the former deputy chairman of Novatek, Russia’s second-largest natural gas producer. He had been staying in Catalonia with his wife and daughter; his son couldn’t get them on the phone and called the police to investigate. They found what appeared to be a murder-suicide but reports implied this was subject to further investigation.

What are the odds of two Russian natural gas executives and their families dead by murder-suicide within a week’s time?

Three Things: Irish Fish Stew

[NB: Check the byline, thanks. /~Rayne]

Looks like Russia decided to move its planned naval war games away from Ireland’s fisheries. Bonus: CNN’s Donie O’Sullivan got to make a trip home to interview Irish fishermen.

(Is it me or did Donie’s accent regain a bit of its strength?)

There are three points about the Irish fishery versus Russian navy story which have struck me as odd and worth more examination:

~ 3 ~

Watch CNN’s videos at the Twitter thread shared above. Doesn’t it strike you as unusual that a Russian diplomat would work directly with an Irish fishing industry representative Patrick Murphy, CEO of the Irish South & West Fish Producers Organisation, rather than the diplomatic arm of the Irish government as well as the UK since Irish and UK waters abut each other?

Granted, most U.S. newspapers painted this as Russia being discouraged but what does this scenario look like to the Irish?

Is it possible Donie himself missed a potential influence operation at work?

This clip from an Irish news media outlet doesn’t pointedly say that Russia bypassed Ireland and the European Union, or that the Irish and the European Union ignored Russian diplomats, but the wording suggests Irish diplomatic service and EU’s diplomats may not have been involved directly in the negotiations with Russia’s foreign ministry and navy (at 0:29 in the video).

The Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney tweeted last night that he had written this past week to Russia about the naval war games’ planned location:

But the timing of Russia’s response to the Minister for Foreign Affairs seems secondary to the meeting between the Irish fishery industry’s representative and Russia’s diplomat.

~ 2 ~

The 150-mile reference used in most reporting as the range of Irish fisheries from the Irish coast doesn’t make sense, the first reason being the use of an imperial measurement rather than metric like kilometers and the second being the location of the Irish fisheries.

The area of concern is much wider than 150 miles from the coast; as you can see for comparison from this Google Map below, the linear distance between Dublin and Plymouth UK is a little less than 220 miles.

The Irish fisheries are at least as wide as that distance from the west coast of Ireland.

Both Ireland and Russia are parties to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) which spells out the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) for each country. The Irish fisheries are part of that EEZ denoted in the outlined area in the first map above.

Russian vessels would have to make a very large swing around UK waters to get close to the southern Irish fishery while avoiding Ireland’s EEZ.

~ 1 ~

No matter what the buzz about Russia’s navy moving further away from the Irish coast, there’s no way Russian vessels can maneuver around Ireland and the United Kingdom without crossing submarine communications cables.

As you can see, a majority of the submarine cables south of Ireland run to North America, and most of them to the U.S.

The suggestion that the Russian Navy might cut communications cables – accidentally or not — while in waters south of Ireland during a military exercise was an implied threat to the U.S. and the Big Tech companies which have data farms in Ireland. Facebook, Google, and Microsoft have facilities in and around Dublin; Apple has been working on a planned data farm near Galway though construction hasn’t started.

The threat also targets NATO since Ireland is dual represented by itself and EU member nations as parties to the UNCLOS. Under Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty, an attack on a member nation is an attack on NATO.

Where it gets messy: Ireland is not a member of NATO though Northern Ireland is as part of the United Kingdom.

Is this why the Russian diplomatic service talked directly with Irish fishermen, to avoid getting NATO into the mix?

Was it part of a Russian influence operation to be perceived as open to non-NATO countries?

~ 0 ~

Speaking of Irish fisheries, I found a recipe for Seafood Chowder from the Renvyle House Hotel in Connemara, County Galway I want to try as I have scallops, salmon, and some lake trout in the freezer which I need to use.

It’s a lot like the Finnish stew kalamojakka my mom makes. Well, right up to the brandy.

Sláinte mhath!

Three Things: Ukraine, Ukraine, Ukraine

[NB: Note the byline, thanks. /~Rayne]

Because community members are posting Ukraine content in the Durham-Sussman thread, I’m putting up a fresh post here to capture Ukraine related comments.

~ 3 ~

Look, we all should have and could have seen the current situation coming. Think about it.

— The annexation of Crimea by Russia in 2014 and the incursion into eastern Ukraine along with the shooting down of Malaysia Air MH-17;

— Paul Manafort, former consultant and lobbyist for pro-Russian former President of Ukraine Viktor Yanukovych, was Trump’s campaign manager in 2016  during which the GOP’s platform was tweaked in favor of Russia over Ukraine;

Sanctions placed on Russia at the end of the Obama administration for election hacking tweaked Putin;

— Trump was in Russia’s pocket before and after his inauguration, from his real estate and golf course development to his first visit by Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov in the White House in May 2017 and beyond;

Cyberattacks in 2017 which appeared to target Ukraine;

— The GOP’s failure to establish a new platform in 2018 and in 2020 besides the one created in 2016, leaving their position frozen in place;

— The laying of Nordstream 2 natural gas pipeline to Germany from Russia;

— The threat by Lavrov in 2019 about Georgia becoming a NATO member;

— Trump’s gross abuse of office over the Ukraine quid pro quo for which he was impeached by a Democratic-majority House but not convicted by a GOP-majority Senate in 2020;

— The change in leadership in Germany and the increasingly white nationalist fascist positions of European countries like Hungary;

— The questionable election in Belarus as a soft annexation by Russia.

I’m sure there’s much, much more to this list of predicate events and conditions but I want to get this post up and not write a book. I’ve already published a lengthy piece back in 2019 with a timeline documenting many points of conflict since WWII between Ukraine and Russia spelling out generations’ worth of tension.

We shouldn’t be surprised at all by the current situation. If anything we should be surprised this hadn’t ramped up more quickly last January-February while Biden was still getting his sea legs in office during a pandemic.

Of course now, during winter when natural gas supplies offer increased leverage on the EU, when it’s easier to move heavy equipment over frozen ground, when soldiers are more likely to want to wear masks so their faces don’t freeze off. There are a lot of not so obvious reasons why now.

One of them may be the possibility that 2022 is up in the air — the hold on Congress may be thin, and a lot of negative sentiment one way or the other can build up over the next 9 months. It may be too close to call.

The other may be that destabilization is at its maximum considering the majority of this country voted for Biden and GOP voters are killing themselves with COVID. A key ally, the United Kingdom, has nearly had enough of destabilization by Brexit and Boris Johnson, and may soon be angry enough to reject one if not both.

And then there’s time. Putin is 69 years old. The average life expectancy for men in Russia is a little over 73 years. Granted, Putin will have access to better care than the overwhelming majority of his countrymen. But time doesn’t care, and the pandemic has reduced access to quality health care for everyone by some degree everywhere. He doesn’t have long to do whatever it is he wants to do for his own ego trip and for his legacy.

Don’t need a clock to hear that tick-tock.

~ 2 ~

Here’s Michael McFaul about the increased tensions over Ukraine:

McFaul’s had a lot of experience dealing with Russia. A key point his expressed position doesn’t communicate is that Putin isn’t a legitimate leader with authority conferred upon him by a free citizenry — just ask Alexei Navalny. Oops, you really can’t do that freely.

What we are dealing with is another flavor of narcissist, this time one who is far more ruthless and clever than Trump, retaining power with an iron grip and a lot of defenestrations and dead journalists. We are dealing with a mob boss of mob bosses who wants to protect his turf absolutely and wants to add yet more turf.

We are constrained by being a democracy and the needs of our NATO allies and the people of Ukraine.

We’re somehow going to have to navigate that difference to protect Ukraine and NATO.

~ 1 ~

But why are we bothering at all? Why don’t we let fishstick heir and now Russian asset Tucker Carlson persuade us that Russia is merely protecting its interests with those +100,000 Russian troops sitting at the Ukraine-Russia border?

The U.S. is party to the 1994 Budapest Memorandum on Security Assurances — as is Russia and the UK — in which it was agreed that the parties would “respect the independence and sovereignty and the existing borders of Ukraine” and “refrain from the threat or use of force” against Ukraine.

Russia is and has been in violation of this agreement since 2014.

The U.S. is a proponent of democracy, and Ukraine is a democracy. If Ukraine asks our assistance to protect its democracy and enforce the 1994 Budapest Memorandum, we should provide aid.

The U.S. is a NATO member; under Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty, any attack on a NATO member is an attack on all of NATO. NATO’s EU members rely heavily on natural gas supplied through Ukrainian pipelines; any effort to cut off natural gas to and through Ukraine poses an economic attack — hybrid warfare, in other words. Cyber attacks on Ukraine which affect NATO members may also constitute hybrid warfare. We may be engaged just as we were in 2017 when Ukraine was attacked with NotPetya since U.S. business interests were affected.

~ 0 ~

Let’s confine comments on Ukraine-Russia to posts about Ukraine, please. Marcy may have a Ukraine-related post soon as well. Leave the January 6-related comments under those posts.

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