Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Transcript from my March 2-3 2014 segment on Russia's Invasion of Ukraine

This past Thursday, Russia sent masked troops into the Crimea region of Ukraine to seize the airports and other strategic locations. The troops had been part of the Russian garrison in the naval base Ukraine allows Russia to have in the port of Sevastopol. The Russian base at Sevastopol is the headquarters for the Russian Black Sea fleet.

On Friday, the Russians admitted that they had troops quote/unquote “operating” in Ukraine.

That is the euphemism the Russians used to try to make invasion sound better.

I will talk about some of the reasons for the invasion for a moment but first, I should point out that I warned about the potential for Russia to invade Ukraine in my show three weeks ago:

I play an excerpt of my show from Feb 9 where I said “The crisis in Ukraine is ongoing with the USA Today reporting on Thursday that Ukraine protesters are telling reporters that they are concerned that Russia will intervene militarily at some point. I’ve heard this myself from several sources that the Russians are contemplating military intervention in Ukraine after the Olympics are over.

Again, this is a big issue to Russia and they are willing to pull out all the stops, all of the tricks and everything else to get their way here. What no one in the US or Europe should do is succumb to the dirty tricks that Russia and Putin are utilizing here to try and drive a wedge between the US and Europe. The US and Europe need to work together to ensure the wishes of the people of Ukraine to have closer ties to the EU are realized.”

That is from my show three weeks ago. As I said about this on my Facebook page, I take no pleasure at all about being right about this. This is a very sad and serious situation. Russia has started an unprovoked war of aggression in Ukraine.

One of the more farcical aspects of this war is that after Russian troops had already seized control of the Crimean regional parliament and the two airports in Crimea and most main Crimean thoroughfares, Putin asked the Russian parliament for permission to take military action in Ukraine. In effect, any Russian parliamentary member not voting to give permission would not only be defying Putin, but they would be open to the criticism that they were not supporting Russian troops in the field. If that sounds familiar, it should, each time the former Bush administration requested additional funds for US military action in Iraq, they accused any members of congress who were against those funds of not supporting troops in the field.

Of course, in an extremely quick vote, the Russian parliament not only approved the use of force for Putin, they suggested that Russia remove the Russian ambassador to the US from Washington to protest President Obama’s statement on the crisis. I’ll play the President’s statement a little later.

No one is sure why the Russians are engaging in military action although there are plenty of theories. 

Obviously the recent unrest and the impeachment and removal of a Russian supported President Yanukovych is at least part of the reason, but there are a lot of other theories floating around.

One of those theories centers around Yulia Tymoshenko. Ms Tymoshenko is a former Prime Minister of Ukraine who was jailed in 2011. Ms. Tymoshenko favored closer relations with the US and Europe and it is said she was jailed by President Yanukovych because of those views which included closing the Russian bases in Ukraine, including the one in Sevastopol, Crimea, because she asserted they were Unconstitutional. There seems to be some basis for that as the Ukraine constitution in chapter one article 17 says

            The location of foreign military bases in the territory of Ukraine shall not be permitted.

It’s an interesting coincidence that within days of Ms. Tymoshenko’s release from prison, Russian troops invaded the Crimea region from their base in Sevastopol.

Warm water ports, like that in Sevastopol, have been important to Russia and the former Soviet Union since the Russian revolution in 1917 and perhaps beyond.

Another theory suggests that Putin’s popularity and that of his party Edinaya Rossiya, commonly translated as Russia United, is at its low point and Putin is engaging in what are historically used cynical methods to shore up that support.

A December 3 article in UPI talks about polling done by Independent Russian pollster Levada Center that showed support for Russian President Vladimir Putin is waning.

Of 1,603 people taking part in the survey, conducted mid-November, 52 percent of the respondents told pollsters they had a favorable opinion of the three-term president. Russia news agency RIA Novosti reported Tuesday similar polls conducted during Putin's first two terms as president reported an approval rating above 68 percent.

So, things are trending in a bad direction for Putin and his party. They went up slightly with the Olympics but events like that are just temporary bumps.

So what do you do if you are a semi-dictator with that situation?

Things like focusing attention on a minority as a scapegoat, like he did with the anti-gay law in June, and now invading another country and claiming he is doing so to protect the Russian part of that population. Those are exactly the kinds of things you do.

Both of those things have been done throughout history by leaders trying to take the focus off of themselves.
It’s a lot easier to do those kinds of things than it is to improve your economy, improve the lives of the least well off in your country, attack corruption, those kinds of things are hard. In fact, those are things that Putin probably doesn’t want to do anyway since to get into a leadership position in Russia in the first place you have to be supported by the oligarchs and the oligarchs in Russia, just like everywhere else, thrive on corruption and income inequality.

I have to say though that outside of the reasons I mentioned, the Russian obsession with Ukraine is something I have a hard time understanding. Russia spends a ton of money assisting Ukraine; somewhere on the order of tens of Billion dollars per year in reduced gas prices aid, loans and all kinds of other things. Put another way, if Russia wrote off Ukraine, Russia would instantly get a boost of tens of Billions of dollars per year to its economy. They could give a huge tax cut to their citizens and increase spending on infrastructure and education and still break even. To give you more perspective, the amount that Russia spends per year on Ukraine is similar to the amount that Germany and its citizens had a fit over giving Greece in a one-time situation to help Greece with its economic crisis. Imagine the reaction of Germany’s citizens if Merkel told them this was an every year deal. There would be revolution in Germany. They would ask France if they could borrow the guilliotine on display in the Musée D'Orsay in Paris for her execution.

So among other things, the Russians are engaging in an unprovoked war of aggression so that they can keep paying Ukraine tens of billions of dollars per year. If that seems dumb to you, you are not alone.

That brings us to what the United States should do, if anything. On Friday morning, when it became clear that some sort of Russian action was starting in Ukraine, President Obama had this to say:

I play an excerpt from the President’s speech culminating in the President saying “"The United States will stand with the international community in affirming that there will be costs for any military intervention in Ukraine,"

Immediately Republicans pounced on this as not strong enough. Here is Republican pundit Charles Krauthammer on Obama’s statement:

I play a statement from Krauthammer where among other things Krauthammer says the speech was weak and flaccid

That was Krauthammer, Senator John McCain from Arizona called Obama naive on Putin, John Bolton called the President just engaging in Rhetoric while Putin holds all the cards.

But hold on a second, what did George W. Bush do in 2008 when Russia invaded South Ossetia? 

He gave this speech:

I play an excerpt from Bush’s 2008 speech where he says Russia must respect Georgia’s sovereignty and agree to a settlement on the South Ossetia situation

And then what did Bush do after this speech? Bush decided to make a statement by sending humanitarian supplies to Georgia by military, rather than civilian, aircraft.

That was Bush’s big strong move. What was that Charles Krauthammer?

I Play a smaller snippet of Krauthammer’s statement focusing on the weak and flaccid comments

Krauthammer said nothing critical of George W. Bush’s actions with regard to Georgia and South Ossetia, but is now critical of Obama.

Folks, that is what Republican opinion on President Obama’s actions are worth, i.e. next to nothing. Unless you want to start a nuclear war, there isn’t much we can do directly regarding this situation. I think the President has to get creative and think a little out of the box in terms of how to respond to this crisis. There are a lot of things the US can do in conjunction with its allies that would really hurt the Russian economy and cause other kinds of problems for Russia. Those are the things we should do and threaten to do if Russia does not pull its troops out of Ukraine.

While I’m discussing Republicans, I should point out that Sarah Palin is claiming that she was right to warn in 2008 that we should be wary of Russia’s intentions with regard to Ukraine. First of all, that was something that the McCain campaign fed to her, she did not come up with that on her own. If you want proof, she didn’t even know one of the main foreign policies of her own country when asked about it. Remember the question she was asked about the Bush doctrine?

I play an audio excerpt from the September 2008 interview Charles Gibson did with Sarah Palin. This below play by play was from Jack Shaeffer’s  Slate Sept 11 2008 article:
Gibson: Do you agree with the Bush Doctrine?
Palin: In what respect, Charlie?
Gibson (refusing to give her a hint): What do you interpret it to be?
Palin: His worldview?
Gibson: No, the Bush Doctrine, enunciated in September 2002, before the Iraq War.
Palin attempts to fake it for 25 seconds with a swirl of generalities before Gibson, showing all the gentleness of a remedial social studies teacher, interjects.
Gibson: The Bush Doctrine as I understand it is that we have the right of anticipatory self-defense. That we have the right of a preemptive strike against any other country that we think is going to attack us. Do you agree with that?
Sorry Sarah, you didn’t come close to getting that right and you don’t get to come to us now and claim you were a foreign policy expert on Russia and the Ukraine after not knowing one of the most important current foreign policy doctrines of your own country.

The other thing I would point out to my Republican friends is, it’s a lot harder to criticize the Russians for engaging in the war crime of an unprovoked war of aggression in Ukraine after the Bush administration engaged in the war crime of an unprovoked war of aggression in Iraq.

There is a reason international laws exist and there are good reasons to make sure we are always on the right side of those laws.

One of those reasons is that being on the right side of them is the moral thing to do. The other reason is that you can’t hold other countries responsible for breaking the rules if you break them too.

Speaking of international law and treaties promises and the like, one of the things that make come of this is that I think a lot more countries in Europe and Asia that have the ability to go nuclear, but haven’t until now may decide to go nuclear. In 1991 with the fall of the Soviet Union, Ukraine had on its territory enough nuclear weapons to make it the third largest nuclear power in the world. It had 1900 nuclear warheads and a large complement of missiles and other delivery systems. Ukraine signed treaties with the United States and Russia that delivered all of that weaponry to Russia for dismantling by 1996.

That agreement and treaty, signed by Russia, has as its first two articles:

            Respect Ukrainian independence and sovereignty within its existing borders.

            Refrain from the threat or use of force against Ukraine.

Russia is blatantly violating the treaty they signed. They are violating Ukrainian sovereignty.

Does anyone think that Ukraine would be in this position if they were a nuclear power? I think a lot of countries bordering or in the neighborhood of China and Russia are thinking about that very question at this moment. In fact, there are calls in the Ukraine right now for that country to go nuclear again and some think that the Ukraine could have deliverable nuclear weapons again in as little as 3-6 months.

If you are Ukraine or Georgia, or one of the other former Republics that has had issues with Russia, or if you are Japan or South Korea or Taiwan or the Philippines that have had problems with China, wouldn’t you take this as a warning and go nuclear? Logically, I think it’s hard to argue against it if you are in the government of one of those countries. That is one of the wonderful lessons and consequences that are going to come from this action by Russia and Putin. I think we will see more nuclear proliferation in Eastern Europe and Asia.

Since we’re talking about options of Ukraine and what they are going to do the Government of Ukraine issued an order to mobilize their armed forces effective at 8am Kiev time, 1am Eastern time on Sunday March 2nd so by the time you hear this show, the Ukrainian armed forces will have fully mobilized for war.
Let’s hope Putin withdraws his forces and we will not have a generalized war. U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon urged Russian President Vladimir Putin in a phone call to "urgently engage in direct dialogue with the authorities" in Kiev. Canada called on Russia to withdraw their troops from Ukraine and recalled their ambassador from Moscow. Foreign ministers of France, Germany, and Poland issued a joint statement saying quote

"We are deeply concerned with the tensions in Crimea. Everything must be done to decrease the tension in the eastern region and promote peaceful discussions among relevant parties. We express support for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the country" and urge "all parties in Ukraine to refrain from actions that could challenge this".

Let me talk about a side issue regarding this whole thing. Since June, whenever I talk about Russia and wrongdoing on their part, my thoughts turn to Edward Snowden and Glenn Greenwald. For all his complaints about US Surveillance, Greenwald spent the first 48 hours of Russian unprovoked aggressive war in Ukraine oddly silent about it.

So, let me get this straight Glenn, surveillance is bad, but invading a country is good or at least no big deal? I guess if you have made your bed with a country like Greenwald and Snowden have with Russia, you have to lie in it. It makes me wonder exactly what these guys stand for if they cannot stand against an obvious war crime in progress.

My guess is we will see a group of folks, maybe even Greenwald himself or one of his many supporters, who will try to justify the Russian action in Ukraine. They will claim that the Ukrainian protesters were bad people or that the people in the Crimean region wanted the Russians to invade. To which I respond, there are always reasons to justify unprovoked wars of aggression, just ask George W. Bush. George Orwell is out there somewhere smiling in his next life. If you have ever read his essay titled Notes on Nationalism, you know why.

Yes, Vladimir, yes Mr. Putin, you have committed the war crime of an unprovoked war of aggression. You know what that makes you. That makes you a war criminal, it makes you the George W. Bush of this decade.  It makes you one of the most disliked people in the world forever. I found an interesting quote from Mr. Vladimir Putin from 2003 when the US Invaded Iraq.

On the invasion of Iraq by the US, Putin said “The use of force abroad, according to existing international laws, can only be sanctioned by the United Nations. This is the international law.”"

I would say that Mr. Putin is hoisted by his own petard here. That is one of eleven times that Buzzfeed’s Alison Vingiano found that Russian leaders condemned the use of force without UN approval in the last 11 years.

I want to stress that this pronouncement is only about Putin and his government. The Russian people are not responsible for this war crime any more than the people of the US were responsible for the war crimes of George W. Bush. I think the problem here is that Putin is a relic of the cold war. He is an old Soviet KGB Colonel or Polkovnik and I think his instinct when he is under pressure is to act like a leader of the old Soviet Union just as leaders of that now defunct country did when they invaded Czechoslovakia or Hungary. He has steered Russia into several wars now but this one is the most obviously unprovoked.

The Russian people do not deserve a leader like this anymore than we in the US deserved George W. Bush. We and they deserve better. We’ve got someone better; let’s hope the people of Russia get someone better soon.

In the meantime, the countries of the world have to insist that this violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty will not stand.

We’ll be right back.