This morning, I spoke with a member of Congress who, like me, thinks the U.S. should be supplying Ukraine with the most lethal weapons we have. There are plenty of progressives-- both inside and outside Congress-- who disagree, vehemently. A friend of mine saw an anti-war Code Pink demonstration that included people excoriating NATO and carrying NO WAR signs right next to people with "Protect Ukrainians-- Establish A No Fly Zone." Later in the day the congressman urged me to read the new interview with Alexander Vindman in the Washington Post. The congressman and I and Vindman all agree on this: "On what basis would Putin want to increase the prospects of mutually assured destruction? None. The guy loves himself. He sits a football field away from his closest allies and closest advisers because he doesn’t want to get sick. He is not suicidal. For him, this is all rational, based on the fact that he got away with things for so long."
A new poll from Echelon Insights released today showed Zelenskyy with the highest approval (59%) and the lowest disapproval (17%) of anyone and anything polled, including Biden and Trump. The polar opposite of Velenskyy was GOP icon Vladimir Putin-- 5% favorable and 88% disapproval.
Before dawn today the NY Times published a column, How Russia and Right-Wing Americans Converged on War in Ukraine by Sheera Frenkel and Stuart Thomson, who cover misinformation perpetrated on social media. The photo they used on top: Putin's most useful media idiot Tucker Carlson, who, along with fringe crackpot Candace Owens, who belongs in a mental institutions, not on the airwaves, spread Putin's lies that he was invading Ukraine in self defense. "The echoing went the other way, too," they wrote. "Some far-right American news sites, like Infowars, stoked a longtime, unfounded Russian claim that the United States funded biological weapons labs in Ukraine. Russian officials seized on the chatter, with the Kremlin contending it had documentation of bioweapons programs that justified its 'special military operation' in Ukraine. As war has raged, the Kremlin’s talking points and some right-wing discourse in the United States-- fueled by those on the far right-- have coalesced. On social media, podcasts and television, falsehoods about the invasion of Ukraine have flowed both ways, with Americans amplifying lies from Russians and the Kremlin spreading fabrications that festered in American forums online. By reinforcing and feeding each other’s messaging, some right-wing Americans have given credibility to Russia’s assertions and vice versa. Together, they have created an alternate reality, recasting the Western bloc of allies as provokers, blunderers and liars, which has bolstered Mr. Putin.
“People are asking if the far right in the U.S. is influencing Russia or if Russia is influencing the far right, but the truth is they are influencing each other,” said Thomas Rid, a professor at Johns Hopkins University who studies Russian information warfare. “They are pushing the same narratives.”
Their intersecting comments could have far-reaching implications, potentially exacerbating polarization in the United States and influencing the midterm elections in November. They could also create a wedge among the right, with those who are pro-Russia at odds with the Republicans who have become vocal champions for the United States to ramp up its military response in Ukraine.
...Many of their misleading war narratives, which are sometimes indirect and contradictory, have reached millions. While Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and other platforms limited the reach of Russian state media online after the war began, a variety of far-right Telegram channels, blogs and podcasts took up the task of spreading the Kremlin’s claims. Inside Russia, state media has in turn reflected what some far-right Americans have said.
Let me close out with a few words from the Anne Applebaum piece in today's Atlantic, Ukraine Must Win. "The Ukrainians, and the democratic powers that support Ukraine," she wrote about an endgame, "must work toward a goal. That goal should not be a truce, or a muddle, or a decision to maintain some kind of Ukrainian resistance over the next decade, or a vow to 'bleed Russia dry,' or anything else that will prolong the fighting and the instability. That goal should be a Ukrainian victory."
The Russian foreign minister has just declared that this war will change global politics: “This is not about Ukraine at all, but the world order. The current crisis is a fateful, epoch-making moment in modern history. It reflects the battle over what the world order will look like.” Much as Stalin once declared that, when the Second World War ended, “everyone imposes his own system as far as his army can reach,” President Vladimir Putin had planned for the Russian army to impose Russia’s autocratic, kleptocratic political system on all of Ukraine. Already, the Russian occupation of some eastern-Ukrainian towns resembles the Soviet occupation of Central Europe at the end of World War II. Public officials and civic leaders-- mayors and police but also members of Parliament, journalists, museum curators-- have been arrested and not seen since. Civilians have been terrorized at random. In Mariupol, authorities report that citizens are being forcibly deported to Russia, just as Soviet secret police deported Balts, Poles, and others to Russia after the invasions of 1939 and 1945. In the case of a Russian victory, these tactics would be applied all over Ukraine, creating mass terror, mass violence, and instability for years to come. And, yes, if we accept that outcome, autocrats from Minsk to Caracas to Beijing will take note: Genocide is now allowed.
Precisely because the stakes are so high, the next few weeks will be extremely dangerous. Putin will do what he can to create fear. The extraordinary speech he made last week, describing Russian critics of the war as “scum,” “traitors,” and “gnats,” had exactly that purpose. He spoke of Russia’s need for “self-purification” using a word with the same root as purge, the term that Stalin used when ordering the liquidation of his enemies. Putin is deliberately evoking the worst and bloodiest era of Soviet history to avoid even a hint of domestic opposition. He has just thrown away 30 years of economic gains, 30 years of Russian integration with the outside world, 30 years of investment in order to turn the clock back to the era of his youth-- an era that the majority of Russians no longer remember and few wish to see restored. He seems to believe that only elevated levels of fear will prevent them from protesting, once they understand what has happened to their country. He may be right.
Putin and his propagandists are dropping hints about chemical and nuclear weapons for the same reason. They want outsiders, and especially Americans, to fear the consequences of helping Ukraine. The use of hypersonic weaponry; the threats of nuclear war made on Russian television; even the habit, established a few years back, of practicing the use of nuclear weapons during military exercises, sometimes to simulate a hit on Warsaw, sometimes to simulate a bomb exploding in the air-- all of that has a purpose. So does the strange, ranting, anti-Polish letter issued by Dimitri Medvedev, the Putin crony who briefly served as president of Russia before Putin decided he wanted the job back again. This screed contained insults, veiled threats, and an old Soviet-era complaint that the Poles were “ungrateful” that the Red Army pushed Hitler out of Poland, and then established a brutal new occupation regime in Hitler’s wake. Among other things, Medvedev was sending a reminder: Poland could be next. The recent Russian strike on a base near the Polish border sent the same message.
How should the West respond? There is only one rule: We cannot be afraid. Russia wants us to be afraid-- so afraid that we are crippled by fear, that we cannot make decisions, that we withdraw altogether, leaving the way open for a Russian conquest of Ukraine, and eventually of Poland or even further into Europe. Putin remembers very well an era when Soviet troops controlled the eastern half of Germany. But the threat to those countries will not decrease if Russia carries out massacres in Ukraine. It will grow.
Instead of fear, we should focus on a Ukrainian victory. Once we understand that this is the goal, then we can think about how to achieve it, whether through temporary boycotts of Russian gas, oil, and coal; military exercises elsewhere in the world that will distract Russian troops; humanitarian airlifts on the scale of 1948 Berlin; or more and better weapons.
Remember, until Trump illegally fired him for testifying in the first impeachment hearings, Lt. Col Vindman served as director of European and Russian affairs for the National Security Council. He has a very similar outlook to Applebaum's and points to Trump and Tucker Carlson and Mike Pompeo as the useful idiots who encouraged Putin to try to reconstitute the Soviet Union. In that Washington Post interview he warned that "We need to realize that this doesn’t end with Ukraine. If [Putin’s] successful there, then Moldova and Georgia-- two countries that have also paved a separate direction-- are vulnerable. Belarus is basically captured at this point. And then that’s already rebuilding a large portion of the Soviet Union or the Russian empire that preceded it. And it doesn’t probably end there, either. Because NATO will have proven itself to be a paper tiger, potentially. These events that are unfolding now will shape the 21st century. If Vladimir Putin is successful there and he starts to rebuild the Russian empire, it is going to embolden other authoritarian regimes that could use military force to achieve their objectives. But if democracy holds its ground, if Ukraine holds it ground with support-- material support from the West-- then basically it puts the authoritarian world on its heels. [Showing] that might does not achieve political ends. And concerns of China going after Taiwan become more remote because they need to understand how isolated they could become because of the rally of the democratic world around values."