Also: Project KleptoCapture
Late yesterday, NBC News reported that the US "has delivered hundreds of stinger missiles to Ukraine this week, including more than 200 on Monday... part of the $350 million lethal and non-lethal aid package the White House announced late Friday night. The package also includes Javelin anti-tank missiles." Germany also sent 500 stinger missiles. NBC also reported that "The International Criminal Court said Wednesday that it has opened an investigation into Russia's invasion of Ukraine based on the referral of 39 member countries, including the U.K. whose deputy foreign minister said that "Any Russian leader or officer carrying out orders that amount to war crimes should know they face ending up in the dock of a court and ultimately in prison."
Forbes reported that yesterday Russian oligarch Alisher Usmanov had his half billion dollar, 512 foot yacht confiscated in Hamburg. "One of the earliest investors in Facebook along with fellow billionaire Yuri Milner, Usmanov also owns extensive real estate assets in the West, ranging from two estates in the UK-- Beechwood House in London and Sutton Place in Surrey, valued at a combined $280 million-- to luxury homes in Munich, Germany; Lausanne, Switzerland; Monaco; and Sardinia."
Presumably all of those properties will be seized. The U.S. is targeting Russian oligarchs' properties as well-- with a new Justice Department task force: KleptoCapture. The job of the task force is "to further strain the finances of Russia's oligarchs to pressure the country to cease its invasion of Ukraine... The interagency law enforcement group will be dedicated to enforcing sanctions, export restrictions and economic countermeasures designed to freeze Russia out of global markets... The task force will be run out of [Deputy Attorney General Lisa] Monaco's office, and will be responsible for investigating and prosecuting violations of sanctions. It will use civil and criminal asset forfeiture laws to seize assets obtained through unlawful conduct."
The Justice Department has long had a team to track down assets belonging to kleptocrats from around the globe that are linked to crimes with an impact on the U.S. financial system, such as money laundering, sanctions evasion or foreign bribes.
The new task force will target the crimes of Russian officials and government-connected elites.
"Arrests and prosecution will be sought when supported by the facts and the law," the department said in its announcement. "Even if defendants cannot be immediately detained, asset seizures and civil forfeitures of unlawful proceeds-- including personal real estate, financial and commercial assets-- will be used to deny resources that enable Russian aggression."
Yesterday, there were just 3 members of Congress who refused to vote for a House Resolution "supporting the people of Ukraine," symbolic gesture. The 3 opponents were all extreme-- like really extreme-- right-wing Republicans: Paul Gosar (AZ) and Matt Rosendale (MT), who are both fascists, and Thomas Massie (KY), a deranged Libertarian who has long ago lost his way.
A few hours before the vote MSNBC.com published an OpEd by Anthea Butler: Why White Evangelical Christians Are Putin's Biggest American Fan Base. Not a word about this being America's dumbest demographic nor about how they are the most easily brainwashed. Putin is loved by right-wing politicians and pundits. Why, especially since Putin is about the furthest from embracing Jesus Christ than any other political leader on Earth?
At this year’s Conservative Political Action Conference, which wrapped up over the weekend, Lauren Witzke, a GOP candidate for the Senate in Delaware, said: “Here’s the deal. Russia is a Christian nationalist nation. They’re actually Russian Orthodox. ... I identify more with Putin’s Christian values than I do with Joe Biden.”
This isn’t an uncommon stance among some Republicans and white American evangelicals today, who have previously admired Putin because of the alignment of their beliefs with his about homosexuality, authoritarianism and fealty to former President Donald Trump. Many believe Putin’s nationalism, coupled with their Christian belief, is the way America should be.
A few months ago, it’s likely that not much attention would have been paid to a statement like Witzke’s, nor would her support for Putin be so closely connected to her support for Trump. But in light of Russia's current actions, more pro-Putin American evangelicals are coming into sharp focus. Televangelist Pat Robertson proclaimed that Putin is “being compelled by God” to invade Ukraine-- his take on Putin’s motivations is questionable at best, but his support for Putin as part of a divine plan is notable.
As things escalate in Ukraine, evangelicals and Republicans alike are faced with a hard choice: How do they support the authoritarian policies of Putin while Ukraine and its evangelical population face the horrors of war? I suspect it will be difficult for evangelicals and Republican officials to continue to be as effusive as their idol, Trump, has been about Putin. Because if they indeed believe in the so-called family values of the church, the images we’re seeing of Ukrainian parents’ being separated from their children to escape Russian forces is much harder to justify.
...[T]oday’s evangelical leaders, as well as Republicans, have embraced Russia-- and, more specifically, Putin. In 2014, Putin made the cover of the evangelical magazine Decision in a piece in which Graham's son Franklin lauded his handling of the Winter Olympics and his protection of Christians. Franklin visited Russia in 2015, and ever since, has promoted Putin as a godly leader. A few days before the invasion of Ukraine, he asked people to “pray for Putin” but not for Ukrainians, creating a decent amount of backlash.
But whether or not American evangelicals try to distance themselves from Putin in this current news cycle, they have long gravitated toward the Russian president for his hard-line stance against Muslims and, most importantly, his anti-LGBTQ agenda. Putin’s rhetoric about the nation, the family and the church (in this instance, the Russian Orthodox Church), has captivated many and spurred them to embrace similar kinds of political action here in America. Consider all of the anti-gay and anti-transgender laws that are cropping up in states like Texas and Florida. These laws are part of a constellation of family-focused conservative religious ideals also embraced by Putin and other Eastern European leaders who have clung to a hard line against any so-called “anti-family” ideology.
For members of the religious right, alliances with these leaders present a new frontier in their hope to achieve a theocracy in America. According to journalist Sarah Posner, those on the religious right see Eastern European countries that embrace the Orthodox Church and its family values as the way forward. Because of these interactions between Eastern Europe authoritarian leadership and religious and political leadership of the GOP in America, clampdowns in the U.S. on abortion rights, trans children’s rights and gay rights are therefore all coming back full force on the state level. We can’t of course forget that Trump’s consistent and solid support of Putin is also a significant factor.
Meanwhile, other faith leaders in America held a vigil for peace in Ukraine, and Pope Francis visited the Russian Embassy in Rome, a sign of the seriousness of the situation. As the conflict in Ukraine continues, admiration of Putin by some white evangelicals and Republicans may lead to more than they bargained for.