Thursday Reads

Margo Kai, Mara, Slavic goddess of winter's end

Mara, Slavic goddess of winter’s end, by Margo Kai

Good Afternoon!!

Putin’s war on Ukraine continues unabated. Each day he commits more atrocities. It’s getting very difficult for me to understand the U.S. and NATO’s refusal to get more involved in the conflict. Obviously I’m no expert and I do think President Biden has handled this unmanageable situation very well. Every day I’m thankful that Trump is no longer in charge. But surely we can find a way to do more? After Russia’s deliberate bombing of a children’s and maternity hospital, don’t we have to consider further actions? As I said, I’m no expert, but today I’m going to post some articles that present some alternative views of the events in Ukraine.

I’ll begin with the most radical critique, offered by Sean O’Grady at The Independent: Russia bombed a maternity hospital – and the west let them do it.

Bombing a maternity hospital is an atrocity, by definition. The only possible reason for it happening might be that it was collateral damage, or accidentally perpetrated. But the Russians have another story.

The Russian foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, told a press conference that the Russians deliberately targeted it – because it was not being used as a maternity unit at all, whatever the western journalists claim. Lavrov explained to a disbelieving world that, contrary to the pictures carried by responsible media outlets, this wasn’t a hospital but was in fact a military installation, taken over by the Ukrainian Azov Battalion and “other ultra-right”, “radical” groups.

Lavrov explained that the mothers had already been “driven out” by these extremists. Hence what Lavrov called the “pathetic outcries concerning so-called atrocities” and the biased media coverage. You may think that what you saw was a heavily pregnant woman being carried away on a stretcher, but the foreign minister of the Russian Federation is telling you that she’s a neo-Nazi renegade, or possibly an actor, or else a human shield (which is no justification for the attack anyway). Lavrov invites the world to draw its own conclusions.

That’s Russia’s side of the story, an atrocity against the truth itself, the ultimate in gaslighting. If you’re going to lie, I suppose you might as well go big. But the world has already drawn its conclusions about what it can see, not just in Mariupol but in many other places across Ukraine – just like the previous atrocities and war crimes committed by Russians and Russian stooges in Syria, Georgia and Chechnya.

Still Life with Cups, Lena Vylusk, 2018

Still Life with Cups, by Lena Vylusk, 2018

O’Grady argues that the U.S. has appeased Putin going back to Obama’s failure to defend his “red line” in Syria and Trump’s disgraceful defense of Putin in Helsinki.

Biden and every western European power gave Putin due notice that they would not fight for Ukraine, and wouldn’t do much more than slap the usual token sanctions on him. They let him have Crimea with not much more than some modest barriers to trade with Russia and some eloquent indignation from Obama.

What was Putin supposed to think about the west after a decade and a half of empty threats? He prodded his bayonet at us and never found the hard steel of a credible military response. What would the west really do if he invaded Ukraine?

What indeed. Not even the atrocity in Mariupol will provoke western intervention. Not even a single rattly old MiG jet will be lent to the Ukrainians so they can defend their citizens against the next atrocity.

So, because of that, there will certainly be more atrocities. There is disturbing talk about the use of chemical weapons – the red line that Obama laid down in Syria and then forgot about. Maybe they’ll go for battlefield nuclear weapons next, or organise a surrogate Russian militia to plant a dirty bomb in Maidan Square. Whatever happens, Putin may be sure that he will face no retaliation and no direct military action.

O’Grady makes some good points.

This is a long read from David Cay Johnston at Raw Story: The dangerous Ukraine invasion issue no one is talking about.

Let’s step back for a moment from the awful human tragedy in Ukraine as the Russian army targets civilians. There is an even bigger issue here. And until we come up with an answer it’s going to continue to plague the world.

It’s an issue that Americans, more than anyone else, should understand. Yet based on all the news and commentary I’ve been reading since the Russian buildup began almost a year ago, this overarching issue is not even on the table.

The bigger issue is that there is no way to stop a nuclear power from invading a non-nuclear power, as America did 18 years ago this month when it took down the dictatorship in Iraq.

And make no mistake, Vladimir Putin himself has long made clear that Ukraine is not the only country he intends to take over.

Three years ago I spent a week in Ukraine. Every person to whom I spoke, whether in a formal interview or casual conversation, said that Putin was going to invade their country.

Portrait of Alice, Marina Kim

Portrait of Alice, by Marina Kim

Many of them expected an invasion while Donald Trump was in office. That made sense because Trump repeatedly declared his trust in and fealty to Putin, denounced American intelligence agencies saying he did not trust them and lambasted our NATO allies. Destabilizing and, if possible, shuttering NATO is a long-term stated goal of the modern Russian tsar, as foreign affairs columnist Trudy Rubin explained recently.

Putin, whose words I have carefully read for two decades, doesn’t plan to stop with Ukraine. He has called the collapse of the old Soviet Union the worst geopolitical disaster of the 20th century and has said he is determined to put it back together. His words:

“Above all, we should acknowledge that the collapse of the Soviet Union was a major geopolitical disaster of the century. As for the Russian nation, it became a genuine drama. Tens of millions of our co-citizens and co-patriots found themselves outside Russian territory.

“Moreover, the epidemic of disintegration infected Russia itself.”

As I said, this is a long read, and I can’t give you the full flavor with brief excerpts. I’ll just add that Johnston writes that the same fear of invasion by Russia is common in Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania as well. If you’re interested in what’s happening in Ukraine, I recommend reading the whole thing.

Daniel Henninger at The Wall Street Journal: Memo to NATO: Secure Lviv From Russian Aggression. The Allies saved West Berlin from the Soviets in 1948. They should save the Ukrainian city from Putin 2022.

The clear issue at the center of the war in Ukraine is Russia’s unprovoked invasion and intended occupation of a sovereign nation. This crude reality explains the world’s united opposition to Vladimir Putin’s invasion.

Citizens in free countries everywhere recognize that if Russia wins, a principle of invasion and occupation that World War II was fought to reverse will be re-established. Plausibly, a strategy of unprovoked invasion and occupation will be repeated by China against Taiwan, North Korea against South Korea and Iran against Israel or its neighbors in the Middle East.

It is conventional wisdom that if Mr. Putin takes Ukraine, eventually he will similarly pressure the Baltic states or Poland. Sweden and Finland already operate civilian-based defense plans on this assumption.

ivan marchuk, forest fairy

Forest Fairy, by Ivan Marchuk

But while the world’s people recognize this invasion can’t stand, they don’t know how to stop it.

The North Atlantic Treaty Organization has rejected the no-fly zone requested by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky as likely to start a war between nuclear-armed Russia and the West. The effectiveness of sanctions on Russian oil is uncertain.

The West’s policy of mounting a stand-off defense of Ukraine likely means we are rolling toward a world in which invasion and occupation become normalized, bringing a succession of trips to the nuclear brink with China, North Korea and surely Iran.

Henninger’s recommendation:

At the end of World War II, Germany was divided into zones of occupation by the victorious armies. Though the capital of Berlin was in the Soviet-occupied east, the Western allies refused to let Berlin be absorbed into Stalin’s communist bloc. Berlin was divided into sectors, with West Berlin protected by the U.S., Britain and France, and East Berlin by the Russians….

Just as the three major Allied powers occupied the western sector of Berlin then, NATO—which was created during the Berlin blockade—should assert and establish control in western Ukraine of Lviv, its airport, the perimeter, and transport connections to nearby NATO members Poland, Slovakia, Hungary and Romania.

As long as Lviv remains free, Mr. Putin will never “occupy” Ukraine. A free Lviv would stand as a counter-symbol to Russian invasion and occupation.

Read the rest at the link. The WSJ has opened it’s Ukraine coverage to everyone.

Some Ukraine news: You may have heard that the woman and children who were murdered while trying to escape from the Ukrainian town of Irpin while trying to get to Kyiv, have been identified. A shocking photo of their bodies has been widely circulated. The San Francisco Chronicle: Silicon Valley tech worker was the Ukrainian mom lying dead on street in brutal photo that sparked outrage.

A Silicon Valley employee and her children are the subjects of photos so devastating that they shocked the world: a Ukrainian family lying dead on the pavement, killed by Russian mortar fire while trying to flee the conflict.

Oleksandr Balbyshev, Flower Face

Oleksandr Balbyshev, Flower Face

The images of Ukrainian soldiers tending to the bloodied bodies of a woman, her teenage son and young daughter, and their friend ran on the front page of the New York Times this week, along with online videos of the unprovoked attack on civilians. They stirred international outrage and a pledge from Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy to punish the perpetrators. “There will be no quiet place on Earth for you,” Zelenskyy said. “Except for the grave.”

Palo Alto startup SE Ranking confirmed Wednesday that the photo depicts its chief accountant, Tatiana Perebeinis, 43, along with her daughter, Alise, 9, and son, Nikita, 18, who were killed by Russian forces as they tried to flee the town of Irpin, a suburb about 15 minutes from Kyiv. They had just dashed across a partially destroyed bridge over the Irpin River into Kyiv when a mortar hit.

“For me as her colleague it’s a tragedy to see those pictures,” Ksenia Khirvonina, the company’s spokeswoman, told The Chronicle. “They show that it’s real. On the other hand, they prove that (the) Russian army and Putin himself are monsters who deserve no mercy for their doings.”

There’s more about Perebeinis at the link above. See also this piece in The New York Times: They Died by a Bridge in Ukraine. This Is Their Story.

I’ll end with some January 6 news:

NPR reports that Merrick Garland is not shying away from prosecuting Trump: Garland says the Jan. 6 investigation won’t end until everyone is held to account.

On his first anniversary as attorney general, Merrick Garland said he’s committed to unraveling the conspiracy behind the storming of the U.S. Capitol, in what he calls “the most urgent investigation in the history of the Justice Department.”

Members of the House committee investigating the Jan. 6 riot have asserted former President Trump could be charged with conspiracy and obstruction for his actions. But Democrats in Congress and even some of Garland’s friends have worried he’ll shy away from the political firestorm that would result from charging a former commander-in-chief with a crime.

“We are not avoiding cases that are political or cases that are controversial or sensitive,” the attorney general said in an exclusive interview with NPR. “What we are avoiding is making decisions on a political basis, on a partisan basis.”

Victor Onyshchenko, Autumn in Synevar Glade,

Victor Onyshchenko, Autumn in Synevar Glade

This week, prosecutors won their first convictions in federal court in a Jan. 6 case against former Texas oil worker Guy Reffitt. That followed a guilty plea to seditious conspiracy by an Alabama man affiliated with the far-right Oath Keepers militia.

“We begin with the cases that are right in front of us with the overt actions and then we build from there,” Garland said. “And that is a process that we will continue to build until we hold everyone accountable who committed criminal acts with respect to January 6.”

Garland discussed his wide remit, where the priorities range from price-fixing in the chicken industry to Russian oligarchs financing the war in Ukraine with ill-gotten gains.

Listen to the interview or read highlights at the NPR link.

More January 6 reads:

NBC News: D.C. police officer’s suicide after Jan. 6 riot declared line-of-duty death.

The Guardian on John Eastman: Trump lawyer knew plan to delay Biden certification was unlawful, emails show.

CBS News: Guy Reffitt, first January 6 defendant to stand trial, found guilty on all charges.

The Washington Post: A Capitol rioter pushed an officer over a ledge, FBI says. A photo from a sea turtle fundraiser led to his arrest.

That’s it for me today. What else is happening? What stories are you following?

Lena Vylusk,, Sweet

Lena Vylusk, “Sweet”

27 Comments on “Thursday Reads”

  1. bostonboomer says:

    The paintings in the post are by Ukrainian artists.

    This is an interesting story on Ukrainian art at the AP: At Ukraine’s largest art museum, a race to protect heritage.

    LVIV, Ukraine (AP) — The director of Ukraine’s largest art museum walked its hallways, supervising as staff packed away its collections to protect their national heritage in case the Russian invasion advances west.

    In one partially empty gallery of the Andrey Sheptytsky National Museum, employees placed carefully wrapped baroque pieces into cardboard boxes. A few meters away, a group walked down the majestic main staircase carrying a giant piece of sacred art, the 18th century Bohorodchany iconostasis.

    “Sometimes the tears are coming because a lot of labor has been put in here. It takes time, energy. You are doing something good, you feel pleased. Today you see empty walls, so it feels bitter, sad. We didn’t believe it till the last minute that this could happen,” museum General Director Ihor Kozhan said Friday.

    The doors of the museum in the western city of Lviv have been closed since Russia’s war on Ukraine began on Feb. 24, and heritage sites across the country face danger as the fighting continues. Korzhan said he receives daily calls from other European cultural institutions offering to help as he and his staff race to preserve the museum’s works.

    Anna Naurobska, the head of the rare manuscripts and books department, said she still doesn’t know where to safely store the collection of more than 12,000 items being packed into boxes.

    The relocation process and the fear that the collection is in danger in the event of an attack on the city overwhelms her.

    “This is our story; this is our life. It is very important to us,” Naurobska said.

  2. bostonboomer says:

    The Washington Post: Zelensky, having rallied world leaders, shames them for not joining the fight

    On Wednesday, Zelensky shared with his 5.1 million Twitter followers video of what Ukrainian officials said was the aftermath of a Russian military strike on a maternity hospital in Mariupol.

    “People, children are under the wreckage. Atrocity!” Zelensky wrote. “How much longer will the world be an accomplice ignoring terror? Close the sky right now!” he demanded, repeating his call for Western nations to enforce a no-fly zone over Ukraine. The United States and other NATO members have refused, saying that would risk putting them in direct conflict with Russia and igniting a wider war.

    “Stop the killings!” Zelensky demanded. “You have power but you seem to be losing humanity.”

    The actor-turned-president now finds himself playing to two audiences. First, there are the besieged citizens of Ukraine, whom the president has rallied into a makeshift civil defense force, crafting molotov cocktails and barricading city streets in anticipation of tens of thousands of Russian troops.

  3. bostonboomer says:

    This is an interesting thread. Apparently, Putin, Lavrov, and other Russian leaders have more than one wife and family each. Polina is Lavrov’s stepdaughter from his replacement wife.

  4. bostonboomer says:

    September, 2021 article by Julia Davis at The Daily Beast: Top Russian Diplomat’s Secret Life With Millionaire Mistress Exposed

    Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has reportedly bankrolled his mistress’s travel abroad with him on official diplomatic trips to almost two dozen countries around the world, according to a new bombshell report from Russian opposition activist Alexei Navalny’s team. The report, entitled “Yachts, bribes and a mistress. What Minister Lavrov is hiding,” details a plethora of luxury digs and yachts enjoyed by the couple, including a yacht owned by the notorious oligarch Oleg Deripaska, which has been graced by the likes of Belarusian model Anastasia Vashukevich, better known by her pseudonym Nastya Rybka.

    Lavrov, 71, is married and has a daughter. His alleged female companion, Svetlana Polyakova, is an actress and a restaurateur, with no known qualifications that would justify her apparent affiliation with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Property records unearthed by reporters show that Polyakova and members of her family own real estate in Russia and the U.K. worth about 1 billion rubles ($13.6 million), as well as a fleet of luxury cars worth a total of about 40 million rubles ($545,000).

  5. dakinikat says:

    Why your gas costs so damned much! They’re not drilling they’re doing stock buybacks and record dividends which means also bonuses to management. Because of the tax structure, actually doing your business is disincented while playing around on Wall Street gets a lot of incentives.

    “Big Oil on course for near-record $38bn in share buybacks
    Seven majors set for supercharged stock purchasing on top of estimated $50bn of dividends”

    Since the 1980s and definitely this decade, they’re better off doing tricks like this than actually doing positive net present value (i.e. profitable) projects in the core business. Most extraction companies have active hedge fund activities that go well beyond hedging risk on price changes.

  6. dakinikat says:

    Volodymyr Zelenskyy Dancing to Beyonce’s All the Single Ladies | In women’s heels

    • NW Luna says:

      Now there’s a man who knows he’s a man regardless of what he wears! I raise a glass to all those who know that the definition of woman and man is not dependent on stereotypes!

      However, I still think this kind of music and dancing is ridiculous.

  7. Minkoff Minx says:

    This was an interesting interview…about Putin doing what he wants to do…

    And this:

  8. quixote says:

    Putin’s stated purpose (in leaked nonpublic communiques) was to demoralize the Ukrainians into surrendering. It was supposed to take a couple of days.

    They don’t demoralize easily, so he’s ratcheting up on the atrocities. Shooting fleeing refugees in the back. Bombing maternity hospitals. Nobody needs to tell him those are atrocities. That’s the _point_. It’s a feature, not a bug.

    The world needs to do what Zelenskyy asks and STOP THE MONSTER.

    (Aargh. Also endless screaming.)

  9. dakinikat says:

  10. NW Luna says:

  11. NW Luna says:

    BB, such wonderful Ukrainian art that you’re picking!

  12. NW Luna says:

    @Delphyne49er tweeted this interesting resource for free books on Ukraine. Non-downloadable, but freely readable online!

  13. NW Luna says:

    BB, I continue to be impressed by your excellent curatorship of current news. Also dakinikat. And JJ with her comix.

  14. NW Luna says:

    • quixote says:

      It’s not like she’s had a lifetime of practice at the electric twitter machine, and yet she’s the best twitterer (tweetster? twitterist? twitterace? twitteroso?) of anyone I’ve ever seen.