Quote of the Day
”How much better for Putin if he had waited until 2024. Didn’t he see that the US is sliding down the path to electing a Putin lapdog in 2024. Why bother with Ukraine? He was about to land the big fish.”
- Dave Winer
Musical alternative to the morning’s radio news
Liam O’Flynn | The Winter’s End
Well, it is the second day of Spring.
Grace under pressure
This came from Dave Pell this morning:
The fighting is in Ukraine, but the front in this war stretches from Kiev to Mar-a-Lago. Putin’s invasion of Ukraine and MAGA’s Big Lie are both part of a broad war against democracy. Hopefully Americans will be inspired by Ukrainian bravery and stand up for democracy, because it’s all connected.
As a teen during the Holocaust, my dad was hunted by Ukrainian henchmen working for the Nazis. When history pushed, he pushed back. Today, he would be proud of the courage shown by Ukraine’s Jewish president Volodymyr Zelensky. When the U.S. offered him an escape route, he responded, “The fight is here. I need ammunition, not a ride.” Man, I wish my dad — who survived the Holocaust because he got a gun and ammunition — was around to hear that line from a Jewish leader in Europe. Zelensky, the former comedian who used to play the part of a fictional president, found himself in a situation that is all too real. The guy Trump thought was so weak that he could be blackmailed during that phone call has proven himself strong enough to becoome an international hero fighting against a corrupt madman and for democracy. He is the very opposite of Donald Trump.
As Franklin Foer writes his Atlantic piece, A Prayer for Volodymyr Zelensky, “The whole world can see that his execution is very likely imminent. What reason does he have to doubt that Vladimir Putin will order his murder, as the Russian leader has done with so many of his bravest critics and enemies?” And yet, as history pushes, the standup stands firm. During the last years of his life, my dad repeatedly lamented that Americans weren’t taking the threat to our democracy seriously enough. “Vhy aren’t the people out in the streets?” Well, today, inspired by the Ukrainian grandson of a Holocaust survivor, hundreds of thousands of people are taking to the streets across Europe, and even in Russia itself. The fight is there. The fight is here, too. It’s the same fight my dad fought. It’s all connected.
Franklin Foer’s prayer for Zelensky
Dave Pell referred to this. It goes in part like this:
When Zelensky rejected Washington’s offer of exile, he wasn’t making an obvious decision. After Germany invaded France, Charles de Gaulle made his way to London. Or to take a more recent example: Afghan President Ashraf Ghani boarded a helicopter out of Kabul the moment he heard a rumor that the Taliban had entered the city. And, really, who could blame them? Most human beings would rather not have their enemies hang their corpse from a traffic light, the sort of historic antecedent that is hard to shake from the mind.
In Ukraine, the decision for a leader to flee would be the expected choice. It’s what his predecessor, Viktor Yanukovych, did in the aftermath of the revolution in 2014, leaving behind his palace filled with exotic cars and ostriches for the safety of Moscow. The enduring failure of Ukrainian democracy has been the gap between the code of behavior that applies to the elite and the one that the rest of the country must follow. It’s been the elites who profit off the state, who stash their ill-gotten fortunes in French villas and Cypriot bank accounts, while their compatriots have stagnated. By staying put, Zelensky has erased this gap. There’s no airlift awaiting his fellow residents, so rather than accepting the perk of his position, he’s suffering in the same terror and deprivation that they are forced to endure.
A week ago it wasn’t at all obvious that the world would rally to Ukraine’s cause. Nor was it clear that the Ukrainian people would mount a collective resistance to the invasion of their country. There are many reasons why the tide has turned like it has, of course. But it is hard to think of another recent instance in which one human being has defied the collective expectations for his behavior and provided such an inspiring moment of service to the people, clarifying the terms of the conflict through his example.
Last night, Zelensky posted a video of himself standing on the street, speaking into the humble recording device of the smartphone, stubble crusting his face, surrounded by the leadership of the nation, stripped bare of all the trappings of office. “We are still here,” he told the nation. I pray that will be the case tomorrow.
Long Read of the Day
‘Yes, He Would’: Fiona Hill on Putin and Nukes
Look, I know you’re busy. We’re all busy. But if you read nothing else today make time for this remarkable interview with a remarkable woman, Fiona Hill, who has worked both as an academic expert on Russia and as a presidential advisor in both Republican and Democratic administrations. She also testified to the congressional impeachment hearing on Trump’s dealings in Ukraine.
This is a transcript of the interview that Maura Reynolds, a Senior Editor at Politico, conducted with Hill on February 28. Reynolds says that she wanted to know what Hill had been thinking as she watched the footage of Russian tanks rolling across international borders, what she thinks Putin has in mind and what insights she can offer into his motivations and objectives.
Reynolds got her money’s worth. And you can have it too.
And thanks to Seb Schmoller for alerting me to it.
Putin’s Bloody Folly
David Remnick’s New Yorker piece:
What threatens Putin is not Ukrainian arms but Ukrainian liberty. His invasion amounts to a furious refusal to live with the contrast between the repressive system he keeps in place at home and the aspirations for liberal democracy across the border.
Meanwhile, Volodymyr Zelensky, the President of Ukraine, has behaved with profound dignity even though he knows that he is targeted for arrest, or worse. Aware of the lies saturating Russia’s official media, he went on television and, speaking in Russian, implored ordinary Russian citizens to stand up for the truth. Some needed no prompting. On Thursday, Dmitry Muratov, the editor of the independent newspaper Novaya Gazeta, and a winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, said that he would publish the next issue in Russian and Ukrainian. “We are feeling shame as well as sorrow,” Muratov said. “Only an antiwar movement of Russians can save life on this planet.” As if on cue, demonstrations against Putin’s war broke out in dozens of Russian cities.
And were brutally repressed, I think.
Things will have to get much worse in Russia for the population before street revolts become unquashable. And the big problem about political mobilisation there is the almost complete absence of a countrywide organisational infrastructure for mobilisation — as openDemocracy points out:
Russian society lacks institutions that are capable of taking up the organisation of protests, especially at short notice. For example, the 2021 protests over Navalny’s arrest were organised through Navalny’s network of local coordinating teams around the country – perhaps the only real political machine left in Russia. Since the end of the last decade, the Navalny network has been the centre of all protest activity in Russia. The organisation included 45 regional branches, with 180 full-time employees and an unspecified number of volunteers.
Thanks to these resources and planning, the network managed to establish contact with a wide section of Russian society. After the Navalny network was declared an extremist organisation in June 2021, the legal structure was liquidated and many of its employees were forced to emigrate abroad. The social media accounts of the network (including Telegram channels and mailing lists) – which established contact with Russian audiences – were more or less frozen.
That’s why Navalny was seen as such an existential challenge by Putin. He had built a network that could to to him what had been done to other authoritarians in other places.
My commonplace booklet
This is lovely — a Twitter bot that automatically logs the flights (and destinations) of Russian oligarchs’ private jets.
Currently tracking this lot:
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