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Sunday, July 10, 2022

Threadbare: A talk with some tankies about the war in Ukraine


These are some notes from my input to a Veterans for Peace list-serve discussion sparked by Katrina vanden Heuvel's "We Need a Real Debate About the Ukraine War." That Washington Post opinion seeks a re-hearing of Russian propaganda talking points about Ukraine after they have been thoroughly discredited with Putin's invasion of Ukraine. "Those who provide history and context around the conflict should not be silenced or smeared," says one who occasionally appears on network news shows, and has been published by the Post five times since that May 24th article. 

Many in this discussion blamed Biden and NATO for the conflict, and promote Putin's propaganda about his need to respond to NATO expansion and demilitarize and denazify Ukraine. I was never sure how much was sincere, and how much was gas lighting. I tried to use the twin powers of logic and facts to prove my arguments. Sometimes that isn't enough. All to often, I've found that there is an emotional component to the person's belief system that ignores facts, and is impervious to logic. With some anti-war Vietnam veterans I suspect it stems from having been so badly used, and in the case of ex-Marines—duped—by US imperialism, that they carry an emotional vendetta that sees only it. 

Nevertheless, I persisted. I begin by responding to a comparison of events in Europe today with those that proceeded World War II: 

Shades of 1939???  is right! "History doesn't repeat, but it rhymes." 

Even 1936. When Hitler sent his very real Nazis to occupy the Rhineland in 1936, his first territorial expansion, he blamed it on the newly signed Franco-Soviet Treaty of Mutual Defense, just as Putin, and his fanboys, blame his terror campaign against Ukrainians on "NATO expansion."

Is the Russian "Special Military Operation" a proxy war?

If you are my proxy, you are expected to vote the way I tell you to vote, regardless of your personal opinion. You aren't my proxy just because I give you a ride to the meeting. The Russian invasion of Ukraine is not a proxy war. Russia invaded Ukraine itself. Ukrainians are acting in their own self-interest. 44 countries, and countless other organizations and individuals, are supporting their efforts. That doesn't make Ukrainians proxies of any of them.

Katrina is right about one thing—every country has its ultra-rightists, neo-Nazis & fascists. (In truth, a "Nazi" is a member of the National Socialist German Workers Party, which doesn't exist anymore. Putin insists on that term, rather than the more accurate ones I listed, because of its deep propaganda value for Russians that suffered so much in WWII. His fanboys parrot it because he uses it.)  In its last national election (2019), the Ukrainian ultra-right got 2.5% of the vote, and didn't win a single parliament seat. The US has a greater percent of neo-Nazis than that. So, does Putin reserve the "right" to invade any country and "denazify" it, because it has neo-Nazi parties?

If you look at how the Russian state defines "Nazi," it is any Ukrainian that self-identifies as a Ukrainian, and not a Russian. Putin uses "Ukrainian Nazi" and "Ukrainian nationalist" interchangeably because he sees any Ukrainian nationalist as a "Nazi." The nationalism of imperialist powers is the problem, not the nationalism of oppressed nations, like Ukraine.

Putin claimed he was forced to invade Ukraine because of the "genocide" against ethnic Russians in the east. The devastation, and massive loss of life. which he has visited on the ethnic Russian cities of Mariupol and Kharkiv, once he saw how heroically they opposed his aggression, put the lie to that grotesque claim. Newsweek  reported that Russia has fired more missiles into Ukraine (in just 90 days!) than have been fired in any conflict since WWII!

Should Ukrainians be forced to give up a piece of Ukraine for peace in Ukraine?

Those that think Russia should be allowed to keep parts of Ukraine must consider the long-term consequences of supporting the annexation of another country's land by force. That, most certainly, is not the road to world peace.

Those, like Noam Chomsky, Katrina vanden Heuvel, and Henry Kissinger, that demand Zelenskyy cede Ukrainian territory to Putin, in an effort to buy "Peace in our time." need to answer the following questions:
  1. How many millions of Ukrainians should we allow Putin to put in his "filtration" camps in the name of Peace?
  2. How many should he be allowed to deport to inclement parts of Russia in the name of Peace?
  3. How many should he be allowed to consign to body bags, including Russian conscripts?
  4. How many should he be allowed to disappear with his mobile incinerators because you fear his nuclear blackmail?
All of those who argue that Ukraine should be forced by the US & NATO to cede some of its territory to Russia need to understand what they are arguing for. Because this is happening now, they, and that includes some on this list, aren't just genocide deniers, they are genocide enablers.

Russia is depopulating parts of eastern Ukraine, forcibly removing thousands into remote parts of Russia CNN Thu May 26, 2022

Hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians have been processed through a series of Russian “filtration camps” in Eastern Ukraine and sent into Russia as part of a systematized program of forced removal, according to four sources familiar with the latest Western intelligence – an estimate far higher than US officials have publicly disclosed.



According to the Russian human rights group Memorial, "by the most modest estimations", the overall number of those having passed through the established and ad hoc "filtration points" reaches at least 200,000 people (out of Chechnya's population of less than one million), of whom "practically all" were subjected to beatings and torture, and some were summarily executed.


Brian,

Ukraine was expected to fall in 3 days, not only by Putin, but also by many in the West. They now have not only held out for more than 90 [now 138!] days against a nuclear armed superpower, but have managed to push back Russia's early success around Kivi and Kharkiv. By doing this, they have shown an incredible level of national unity and resolve that Americans could only hope for. In the face of the overwhelming odds it faces, the Ukrainian government has shown itself to be extremely competent in leading its people's war. It has also shown more humanity than our own government, even more humanity towards its fallen enemy than the Russian government has shown to its own dead soldiers. It has also demonstrated a very high level of support among its people, including the ethnic Russians in the East. Putin, on the other hand, has waged an extremely brutal, and unprovoked, war against Ukrainian civilians. He has said many times that he believes Ukraine has no right to exist, its land was stolen from Russia, and must be destroyed as an independent nation. He has gone out of his way to destroy Ukrainian industry, and agriculture, an agriculture much of the Middle East and Africa depend on for its very existence. He has actively destroyed symbols of Ukrainian culture and history, deported hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians far from their homeland, with a view towards replacing them with Russians, and he has filled many mass graves with Ukrainian civilians.

I would think that this past 90 days lived experience should cause all to question the Putin/Stone narrative about what really happened in 2014, because it demonstrates these important points: 
  1. The Ukrainian people are nobody's fool, nobody's dupes.
  2. The current Ukrainian government is supported by, and representative, of the Ukrainian people, and is nobody's puppet regime. 
  3. Falling under Russian domination, i.e. being in the Russian "sphere of influence," represents an existential threat both to Ukrainian lives and Ukraine's existence as a nation. Remember the Ukrainian genocide under Stalin. Putin is a fan of Stalin, but not Lenin.
In 2013, when Yanukovych refused the popular accord for closer integration with the EU, in favor of closer ties with Moscow, he wasn't just making a president's decision about who was offering Ukraine a better deal on paper, he was delivering his nation to an imperialist power bent on its destruction. The Ukrainians understood this. That is why the masses came out in The Maidan, and forced him to flee to Moscow. 

No doubt, US imperialists, as always, tried to gain influence and advantage from this turn of events, and pumped billions of dollars into the effort, but it wasn't the main force behind what you regard as the destabilization of Ukraine. That was accomplished by Yanukovych, and his backers in Moscow, when they attempted to deliver Ukraine to a power bent on its destruction. The people knew that, and they were having none of it!

True, Nuland and Pyatt were caught on tape discussing who they would like to see in power. US diplomats do this all the time, but spinning that into a massive plot to replace a legitimate government against the people's will is the stuff of conspiracy theory. This is a theory promoted by Putin, and his followers. It completely takes away the Ukrainian's agency, but then Putin believes they have no independent agency, or even an independent right to exist. 

Whatever basis this 'coup' thesis may seemed to have had in the past, it has been completely debunked by the courage and unity of the Ukrainian people, including the ethnic Russians, in the current struggle.

Brian,

"On 7 March 1936, using the Franco-Soviet Treaty of Mutual Assistance as a pretext, Chancellor and Führer Adolf Hitler ordered the Wehrmacht to march 20,000 German troops into the Rhineland" according to Wikipedia. Hitler claimed that as a result of that treaty, Germany was threatened with encirclement. At the time, I'm sure many sympathetic to the Nazis accept that justification for the invasion, but it began a wave of expansion of Nazi military occupation that eventually went west to the English Channel, and East to the gates of Stalingrad, and had to be put down with tremendous loss of life and resources by the Allies.

Today, Putin is using "NATO expansion" as the major pretext for his invasion of Ukraine. If you've read his 12 July 2021 paper on Russia and Ukraine, you know that he doesn't think Ukraine has a right to an independent existence, he wants to recreate the old Czarist Russian Empire, and his expansion plans don't stop at Ukraine, but proceed west to include Moldova, and parts of Poland, and north to include the Baltic States. In that ~7000 word document, he doesn't even get to NATO until ~ word 6500, still he has made "NATO expansion" the headline in his bid to dominate Ukraine, and many in the west have echoed that refrain. In view of this, it deserves our serious scrutiny.

Many point to Baker's supposed promise in 1991 that NATO would not expand East 1 inch if the Soviet Union would agree to German reunification. At the time Russia and Ukraine were the 2 biggest countries in the USSR. In 1994, Ukraine gave up its nukes in return to security guarantees from both the US, and Russia. It wouldn't surprise me if some in Ukraine regret that decision, in view of current events. I, for one, do not, because it would mean that the current conflict would be one between two nuclear powers, and we all could be in a world of hurt—but it also means that the US, not NATO—who was not a party to that agreement, has a moral obligation to honor that commitment, and defend Ukrainian sovereignty, even if it involves US boots on the ground. Most who repeat Putin's complaint about a non-NATO expansion promise being broken, conveniently forget about the Budapest Memorandum, but unlike whatever Baker, or Bush, said in 1991, that agreement was in writing.

There are many reasons I believe the complaint about a 1991 promise not to expand NATO being broken is wrong. Let me briefly enumerate them:
  1. There are serious questions about whether such a promise was ever made.
  2. That promise, if it was made, was made to the USSR, which a little while later ceased to exist. It was never made to Russia independently, and obviously didn't consider the fate of the former Soviet republics, once they sought freedom from Russia.
  3. Bush and Baker had no authority to speak for NATO, which is an organization that, while clearly dominated by the US, makes decisions by country votes, and has its own agency. The USSR, let alone Russia, shouldn't have relied on those US promises either. They should have said, fine, that's your policy, then take it to NATO, and bring back something in writing. NATO expanded because, after the fall of the Soviet Union. many of the former Soviet republics sought its protection from Russian domination, and now we can all see why. If Putin doesn't invade Poland, it will be because Poland is in NATO. Ditto the Baltic republics. Those countries petitioned, even begged, to be in NATO, and the European members wanted it. Far from ramrodding "NATO expansion," many US leaders opposed it, which is why you can now quote them saying as much. They didn't want the US to be obligated to defend small countries with little economic value to the US, but the US could hardly veto membership when the European states supported it, given all the US rhetoric about human rights and self-determination.
  4. Finally, Ukraine hadn't moved "one inch" closer to NATO membership now, or in the years before Russia's invasion.
For all these reasons, I believe Putin's claim that his hand was forced by "NATO expansion" is as bogus as Hitler's claims that his hand was forced by the Franco-Soviet treaty of 1935.

Brian,

In my last response to you, I failed to address your claim that "Ukraine’s east has Russian history and culture." I think that is pro-Russian, one-sided, and leaves a lot out. So, here I'll just quote what Wikipedia has to say about the history of Donbass:

According to the Russian Imperial Census of 1897, Ukrainians ("Little Russians", in the official imperial language) accounted for 52.4% of the population of the region, whilst ethnic Russians constituted 28.7%.[21] Ethnic Greeks, Germans, Jews and Tatars also had a significant presence in the Donbas, particularly in the district of Mariupol, where they constituted 36.7% of the population.[22] Despite this, Russians constituted the majority of the industrial workforce. Ukrainians dominated rural areas, but cities were often inhabited solely by Russians who had come seeking work in the region's heavy industries.[23] Those Ukrainians who did move to the cities for work were quickly assimilated into the Russian-speaking worker class.[24]

Also, in that email, talking about Hitler's remilitarization of the Rhineland, I said " At the time, I'm sure many sympathetic to the Nazis accept that justification for the invasion." I was right. On further reading, I found this from Wikipedia:

David Lloyd George, a pro-German member of the British House of Commons, stated in that body that Hitler's actions in the wake of the pact had been fully justified to protect his country and that he would have been a traitor to Germany if he had failed to act.[3]

Based on that history, I want to suggest that all those who seek to justify Putin's invasion of Ukraine by using his "NATO expansion" excuse, adopt Lloyd George as their patron saint.

Greg,

I never said, or even implied, that Russia has no "legitimate security concerns over NATO expansionism." My critique is reserved for those that attempt to justify Putin's invasion of Ukraine based on those concerns. For example, I may have "legitimate security concerns" if a neighbor with whom I've had disputes, has bought a gun. That in no way justifies my preemptively taking him out.

It's not that Hitler didn't have "legitimate security concerns" about the Franco-Soviet Treaty. The problem was he intended to gobble up much more than just the Rhineland.

Russia (Putin) also has illegitimate concerns about NATO expansion because countries it intends to gobble up are flocking to NATO for protection. NATO is a barrier to Russian imperialist expansion. That is his real problem with NATO. I'm sure he knows NATO has no plans to invade Russia as long as he doesn't invade any NATO countries. But he does want to invade NATO countries. That is his NATO problem.

Brian,

You say Putin's invasion was wrong, and yet you make your support for it obvious by the way you cycle through Russian talking points on the war. Your latest being "the Global South view" as you interpret it:
Today, the Global South almost universally refuses to follow US wishes to sanction Russia. Instead, the South calls the US hypocritical for sanctioning a Russian invasion. For, the Global South points out, the US has long done the same thing. That means the Global South sees US leaders as depraved.

Yet within the US, some people differ from that Global South view. Those US people, rather than being accurate, are missing something. For, how could a human not see this track record as depraved?
The ability to support sanctions, like boycotts, is often a sign of privilege. The first boycott I was involved in was the UFW grape boycott. That was easy for me because I had many other fruits to choose from. It was not so easy for a winery, or a winery worker. The UFW was wise to ask people to boycott grapes. Had they asked us to boycott corn, it would have been much harder, and had they asked us to boycott all farm-raised food, their boycott would have failed out the gate.

Germany certainly isn't part of the Global South, it's one of the richest countries in Europe. It certainly supports Ukraine in this war, even sending them lethal weapons, and yet Germany refuses to sanction Russian gas. The reason is well known. They can't afford to. They are too dependent on Russian gas, and won't let their people freeze, or their basic industries grind to a halt. Few countries in the Global South can afford to boycott Russian wheat, especially when Russia is taking Ukrainian wheat off the market. Enough of their people will starve already because of that. Yet, you choose to interpret that as support for Russia's war against Ukraine. Egypt has refused Russian shiploads of stolen Ukrainian wheat time and again. Those ships then docked in Syria. I'll leave it to you to decide which course is the most honorable.

You see the request for Russian sanctions as "US wishes." Isn't it first,and foremost, a demand of the Ukrainian government. Why do you ignore that? Everything is not about US.

The two biggest "influencers" in the Global South are the authoritarian leaders of China and India. They have very specific geo-political or economic reasons for not supporting sanctions against Russia. The same could be said for the leaders of countries like Venezuela and Syria, who are economically or militarily dependent on Russia. Israel has its reasons too. But you present this as some sort of wisdom coming from the people of the Global South. That is Putin propaganda.
Brian,

More thoughts on the Global South and Russia's war against Ukraine...

As part of its genocidal war effort, Russia is doing everything it can to destroy Ukrainian agriculture. These actions range from destroying or stealing farm equipment, to bombing and mining Ukrainian farms, to destroying or stealing Ukrainian wheat, to destroying grain silos and storage facilities, and blockading Ukrainian ports so they can't export grain,

Since 400 million people in the Global South depend on Ukrainian agriculture, it is quite possible, I think even likely, that more people will die in the Global South from Russia's war on Ukraine than will die in Ukraine itself. They will die of starvation and famine, but since those deaths are bloodless, they will die in small villages in the Global South with little notice from the world's media.

But I guarantee you one thing. None of the leaders you see as fairly representing the Global South in refusing Russian sanctions, none of them will go hungry.

Skip,

When you wrote "I find your incendiary lingo very unhelpful," I went over all my posts to this thread to try and figure out what you were talking about. The only thing I could come up with was when I warned that many in the US Left, including some on this list, weren't just genocide deniers, they are genocide enablers. Is that what you were referring to? If not, please tell me. If it was, that was not meant to be incendiary lingo, it was meant to be a statement of fact, and a warning.

Propaganda that demonizes the victims of genocide is essential to every genocide. Examples include Goebbels describing Jews as vermin or rats, and the Rwandan radio station that described the Tutsis as cockroaches. For some years now, many in the US Left, including some VFP members, have repeated, and continue to promote, Putin's lie that the Maidan revolution was a US orchestrated Nazi-led coup against a legitimate Ukrainian government. That was the beginning of a whole "alternative" narrative that has been applauded by the Kremlin. This set the stage for Russia's current campaign of genocide against the Ukrainian nation under the banner of denazification and demilitarization. We will forever wonder if Putin would have even proceeded without his supporters in the West. Did this echo chamber encourage his delusions?

US imperialism has done some wicked things. I know. I have documented some of them. I am one of its victims. But, too many on the American Left have allowed their hatred of US imperialism, and all too often, sentimental feelings for what the Soviet Union once was, to blind them to the fact that the United States is no longer "the greatest purveyor of violence in the world." Today, that infamous title clearly belongs to Putin's Russia. Even as the US was extracting itself from Iraq and Afghanistan, Putin's Russia multiplied the bloodshed in the Middle East by backing the thug Assad, and using his air force to bomb Syrian cities like Aleppo [and Idlib] into rubble. Putin has used his state power to become the leader of a worldwide white supremacist movement. The most recent, and possible future, POTUS is one of his followers. He has visions of a Eurasian dominated by Slavs of the Great Russian persuasion, but first he must unite those Slavs under his banner, by force if necessary. Just like Hitler before him, except for Adoph, it was the Aryans that were a whiter shade of white. So, now he begins his European "special military operation" starting with the bloody genocide of Ukraine, and the absorption of its remaining people, and broken territory, into his Great Russian Empire. While he massacres civilians, and threatens nuclear holocaust if anyone tries to stop him, the US Left wavers between supportive and "neutral."

This is sad. The Left is missing an unprecedented opportunity to build the movement because support for the Ukrainian people is strong. I know because I fly the Ukrainian colors on my bike and balcony. People naturally support a little country invaded by an imperialist superpower when their judgement isn't clouded by "patriotism." They rightly look with disgust at "anti-imperialists" that promote Putin's propaganda, and fail to condemn or "demonize" the side that is dropping cluster bombs on apartment buildings, By and large, the people stand with Ukraine. This can be seen by the international fighters that have come to Ukraine since the Russian invasion, reminiscent of those that fought the fascists in Spain before WWII. It can also be seen among the Russian soldiers that have deserted, and even formed a Russian legion to fight alongside the Ukrainians. (Yes, that is a thing.)

To whom it may concern: By your actions you are pretty much assuring that VFP will die when your generation of veterans die, and, for all the good work it has done over many years, it will be remembered for its support of Putin's fascism and white supremacy. For all your claims about Putin's support from the authoritarians of the Global South, you stand alone and isolated. You dare not protest with the Russian flag, the way you once marched with the flag of the Assad regime in Syria. Too many people are paying attention to this struggle and understand it. At long last, you have come over to the side of the war criminal Henry Kissinger, You have my sympathy.

Slava Ukraini!

Clay Claiborne




Sunday, May 8, 2022

The white-Left lost Roe v. Wade 6 years ago


Truth be told, Roe v. Wade was lost in the 2016 US presidential election. With the court already one Justice short, and a few more likely to retire in the next presidential term, it was clear that the next president would likely have a decisive and long-lasting effect on the composition of the Supreme Court. 

One of the two possible winners was an authoritarian white supremacist man who promised to pick Justices committed to overthrowing Roe v. Wade, the other was a woman with a long history in Democratic politics that would have made very different Supreme Court picks.

Roe v Wade was lost when enough progressives in three states, Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania, voted for Jill Stein—another Putin-supported candidate, one with no chance of winning, to allow Donald Trump to beat Hilary Clinton, and become the president of the United States.

a December 2015 fete in Moscow
Green Party supporters of Jill Stein pushed the mantra "Don't Vote for the Lesser of Two Evils," meaning, don't vote for Hillary Clinton. This allowed the greater evil to win. And it wasn't just the Greens, most leftists focused their fire on Hillary Clinton, while belittling the faults of Donald Trump. Unlike the Right, almost no one on the Left raised the importance of the question of who would shape the Supreme Court. To do so would have been bad for the line they were promoting. 

With at-least three Supremes likely to be replaced by the next president, the question of any difference it might make in who replaced them played virtually no role in their campaign to deny Clinton votes. "Vote Your Conscious, Or Don't Vote At All," they shouted with the Democracy Now megaphone. All the while, the other guy was promising to give us just what we got. How does that "feel good" vote feel now?

Whatever Hillary Clinton's faults, I don't think she would have picked Justices bent on overturning Roe v. Wade. In 2016, members of the white-Left made it their mission to deny her the White House. In this they succeeded. They also lost our last best chance of keeping Roe v. Wade from being overturned. We now likely face the arduous task of restoring a right lost because of the way some progressives used their vote in 2016. Let's please learn from this mistake moving forward.

Clay Claiborne

8 May 2022

My posts on the 2016 US Election


Monday, May 2, 2022

How Democracy Now's half-truths on Mariupol help Putin


For more than two months now, Mariupol has stood like the Stalingrad of this war, some have called it Ukraine's Alamo. For all that time, its brave defenders have refused to surrender, even as Putin's forces pounded this once-beautiful seaside city of four hundred thousand into rubble, and then pounded the rumble into dust. For more than two months it's been reported that Mariupol would fall—any day, any hour. But it has stood! Now, it is all but conquered, as the remaining defenders are hunkered down in the underground bowels of the Azovstal Steel Works with an estimated thousand civilians, mostly women and children, and the elderly. There are still another estimated hundred thousand civilians left in Russian-controlled Mariupol, and satellite photos are discovering new mass graves daily. The joke of it is that this city in eastern Ukraine is largely Russian-ethnic, Russian-speaking—the very people Putin claimed he was saving from genocide with his invasion.

On Saturday, representatives from the ICRC arrived in Mariupol with buses and ambulances to began the evacuation of civilians from beneath the steel mill.  The Russian's have agreed to allow the Red Cross evacuation to traverse Russian-held territory 227 km. to Ukrainian held Zaporizhzhia.


Given how duplicitous the Russians have been, when it comes to setting up, and honoring, humanitarian corridors, not only in Ukraine, but also earlier in Syria, seasoned observers know not to pop the cork on the champagne bottle before those evacuees are safely at their donation. This trip would have taken 3 hr 14 min before the Russian invasion, and as on this publication, they aren't there yet, it's hoped they [all] will arrive tomorrow. But there are also reports that some have been diverted to Russian-held territory, and even Russia itself. Russia has done this before

But, never mind all that, this is the way Amy Goodman reported on the Azovstal evacuation on Democracy Now this morning, you'd thought it was a done deal. She spoke of it four times in this show. In Headlines, she said:

The Ukrainian government says about 100 civilians have been able to evacuate the besieged Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol after the United Nations helped establish what it described as a “safe passage operation.” One evacuee said she had been staying inside a basement in the steel plant for two months after her home was destroyed.

Natalya Tsyntomirska: “We lived in the basement starting from the 27th of February. We didn’t leave the basement because our house is in close proximity to Azovstal. The whole time we were shelled with mines, and then airstrikes started. Our house is completely destroyed. We have a two-story building. It’s not there anymore. It burned to the ground.”

Hundreds of more civilians and many fighters remain trapped at the steel plant in Mariupol, but Russia has reportedly resumed shelling the plant

If you didn't know better, you might be expected to assume that those 100 civilians the UN and ICRC "have been able to evacuate" are already safely at their destination. Goodman described it in the same unqualified way, twice more in the show's segment on Ukraine
The Ukrainian government says about 100 people have been able to evacuate the besieged steel plant in Mariupol, where thousands of civilians and fighters have taken shelter in recent weeks as Russian forces took over most of the strategic port city. This comes after several previously arranged “humanitarian corridors” fell apart.
We are led to believe this one didn't fall apart, but we aren't told that  those 100 evacuees were still in Russian hands. And:
Meanwhile, the Ukrainian government says about a hundred civilians have been able to evacuate the besieged Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol after the United Nations helped establish what it described as a safe passage operation.

It's only when she is introducing Jan Egeland, secretary general of the Norwegian Refugee Council, that she mentions what she has been leaving out. Did she want to shortstop him from correcting her:
AMY GOODMAN: And as we speak, in Mariupol, you have perhaps a hundred people have been able to get out of the Azovstal steel plant, making their way to Zaporizhzhia,...

So, she knew all along that this humanitarian evacuation still had not arrived at its destination. Why didn't she say that in the first place?

UPDATE: As I go to publish, we have late word that some of these evacuees have reached Zaporizhzhia. Anushka Patti of the New York Times reported 33 minutes ago:

After some civilians who evacuated Mariupol over the weekend reached Zaporizhzhia on Monday, Zelensky said in his nightly address that evacuations would continue on Tuesday “through humanitarian corridors from Berdyansk, Tokmak, Vasylivka.”

This is good news, but still doesn't tell us that this evacuation has been successful—only that some have arrived. 

It's very good that Democracy Now has come around to a stance that appears to be in support of Ukraine's struggle against Russian imperialism, after years of scheduling guests who parroted every Putin conspiracy theory about Ukraine. But it needs to stop leaving inconvenient facts out, and coloring the news in such a way as to put Russian actions in the best possible light, even still.


Clay Claiborne

2 May 2022




Tuesday, April 19, 2022

In case you missed it: On @DemocracyNow, Amy Goodman's guest shoots down her pro-Putin point

Democracy Now has been pretty good on Ukraine. Much better than I expected, to speak truthfully. Still, it can't seem to help slipping back to its tankie deviation now and again, such as on Friday, when it featured Vijay Prashad, or today, when Amy Goodman tried to slip a Kremlin talking point past Peter Zalmayev, director of the Eurasia Democracy Initiative, who is in Kiev now: 

AMY GOODMAN: Peter Zalmayev, let me ask you about the whole world’s reaction to what’s taking place. We definitely know about the U.S. and Europe. And, of course, you’re the director of the Eurasia Democracy Initiative. Thirty countries have sanctioned Russia. It’s mainly the United States and Russia. They represent 15% of the world’s population. Ninety-four countries voted to throw Russia off the U.N. Human Rights Council. They represent 24%, a quarter of the world’s population. The developing world has a different reaction to this, saying, “This is not our war.” What do you say to them? And how do you think this can be resolved? And bring China into this picture.

PETER ZALMAYEV: Well, I think you hit the nail on its head when you mentioned China. The sheer size of India and China, which are somewhat sitting on the fence, China less so — China is at least officially, you know, an ally of Vladimir Putin. India has, like, old Soviet-era ties with the Soviet Union, and now Russia as the successor state, so it has a mixture of pragmatic military interests and economic interests, and some nostalgia, as well. But if you take these two countries and their combined population of 2 billion people, this is how you arrive at the numbers that you quoted, 24% of the world body, those who voted to kick Russia off the council. So it’s a little bit misleading, because we’re only talking about two players, but they have — obviously, they’re humongous in size.

Frankly, what I find most troubling about this exchange is that Goodman was willing to take the position of two autocratic rulers as representing the majority world opinion without qualification. Is that what democracy looks like to her?

Clay Claiborne

19 April 2022

These are my other resent posts about Ukraine:

Is Putin's invasion of Ukraine a war of genocide? 27 March 2022

Does the "anti-imperialist" Left bear some responsibility for Putin's invasion of Ukraine? 14 March 2022

How to join the Ukrainian IT Army 6 March 2022

Vlad on Vlad: How Putin's views on Lenin shaped his decision to invade Ukraine 2 March 2022



Sunday, March 27, 2022

Is Putin's invasion of Ukraine a war of genocide?


The term “genocide” has increasingly been used to describe Putin's war on Ukraine, particularly by the Ukrainians themselves. Is this a case of hyperbole, designed to draw attention to their struggle, or is it an accurate description of what Ukrainians are experiencing?

Mass grave found in Bucha (Credit: Ukrainian Foreign Ministry)
For many people genocide involves the wholesale massacre of hundreds of thousands, if not millions of people. While the “fog of war” prevents us from knowing, with any accuracy, just how many Ukrainians have been killed so far, it's certainly not yet in those orders of magnitude, and may even be less than the estimated ten thousand Russian military deaths. So, what possible basis exists for calling this a genocide now?

To answer this, we have to look at the definition of “genocide,” because it's not synonymous with “massacre” or “atrocity,” and involves more than just killing a lot of people. Oxford Languages defines genocide as “the deliberate killing of a large number of people from a particular nation or ethnic group with the aim of destroying that nation or group.” This definition of genocide requires that the act meet two tests:

  1. The deliberate killing of a large number of people from a particular nation or ethnic group.
  2. With the aim of destroying that nation or group.
Hopefully, the number of Ukrainians Putin has killed remains in the low thousands. Even so, that should meet anybody's definition of “a large number of people,” and they are being killed—man, woman, child, combatant, and non-combatant alike, simply because they live in Ukraine. I think the conditions of part one is well and tragically met.

The requirement of part two, is a bit stickier, involving, as it does, a determination of motive. We have to answer the question: What's the real reason Putin is waging this war?

According to Putin, and his supporters, his main concerns with Ukraine are:
  1. NATO expansion, and the prospect that Ukraine might join NATO in the future.
  2. Nazis are in control of Ukraine, and committing genocide against the Russian speakers in Eastern Ukraine. 
Seeing, as yet, no peaceful resolution to these concerns, Putin saw no other option open to him but to launch a special military operation to carry out the denazification and demilitarization of Ukraine. 

With regards to No. 1, Ukraine's possible NATO membership, given that NATO has yet to offer Ukraine a Membership Action Plan, a road-map to membership—the first concrete step, 14 years after that membership was first suggested, one might ask Putin, “What's the hurry?”  In any case, Putin's invasion has made his NATO problem worst in a number of ways that could have been easily predicted.

As for No. 2, while there are neo-Nazis and right-wing fanatics in Ukraine, and on both sides of the conflict in Donbass, and in Russia, the US, and much of Europe; they are a long way from running Ukraine. The ultra-nationalist Svoboda party got 2.15% of the vote in the 2019 Parliamentary election, and failed to win even a single seat. The infamous Azov Brigade is maybe 1% of the Ukrainian armed forces. Besides, that Jew is certainly no Nazi! 

Putin's encirclement and bombardment of the largely Russian-speaking eastern Ukrainian cities of Kharkiv and Mariupol expose the sheer brutality of the cynical joke that he was coming to save them from genocide. Also why does Ukraine need to be “demilitarized” even after it's been “denazified,” unless it has lost a national right to self-defense for some reason? This points to a darker motive. Denazification can be the stated reason for liquidating anybody and any number of Ukrainians, simply by labeling them and then “disposing” of them accordingly. 

In short, the motives promoted by Putin and his fanboys as the causes for this war don't compute. For greater clarity, we must examine first, the methods used in his war, and finally Putin's views on the nation of Ukraine, and its right to exist.

As we proceed, it's important to remember that actions that further “the aim of destroying that nation” aren't limited to killing large numbers of that nation. In this regard, the more detailed definition of genocide from the United Nations' Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide is useful. In Article II, it defines genocide as follows:
In the present Convention, genocide means any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such:

Then it gives five examples. Let's see how many apply to Putin's war against Ukraine:

a.  Killing members of the group;

Already covered. That's one.

b.  Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;

His wanton and unprovoked attacks on Ukrainian civilians with the likes of cluster bombs and white phosphorus can be guaranteed to cause serious bodily and mental harm to Ukrainians. That's two.

c.  Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;

Putin's methods of surrounding Ukrainian cities, cutting off power, food, and water, and not allowing people to leave while shelling them into oblivion fulfills that description. Putin's war machine in Ukraine reminds me of that alien spacecraft in “Independence Day” obliterating city after city in its attempt to destroy humanity, or Darth Vader's planet destroying Death Star.  Both share with Putin's war genocidal intent and hubris, and like those fictitious villains, he too will ultimately fail. Three is well covered.

d.  Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group;

If you are reading this, I'm going to assume you've already heard about Putin's bombing of a maternity hospital, and a theater full of kids that was clearly marked as such. Add to this his bombing of some 23 hospitals or healthcare facilities, and 330 schools. Putin's war on Ukrainian children makes it four.

e.  Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.

Ukraine has claimed that 400,000 Ukrainians are being held in “ex-filtration camps,” and forcibly deported to various places in Russia. We know that thousands of children are among them. 

So, all of the UN's five examples of genocide can be found in the conduct of Putin's war in Ukraine. In addition to these, I would like to summit for your consideration a few more examples of genocide that I think can be seen in Putin's war on Ukraine:

f. Forcibly transferring territory from the nation to others.

This can already be seen in 2014 in his annexation of Crimea, after an illegal referendum under conditions of Russian military occupation. It was furthered since then by supplying fighters and weapons to a struggle to take the Donbass region away from Ukraine, and especially by his 21 February 2022 recognition of the Donetsk People's Republic (DNR) and the Luhansk People's Republic (LNR) as independent countries. It is being advanced even today by Russian officials who are claiming they will never leave Mariupol, if and when, they get their hands on this Alamo of Ukraine.

g. Destroying the state structure of another nation, even at the lowest level.

Perhaps you've heard about Putin's perchance for kidnapping Ukrainian mayors and replacing them with his people once he's captured a town? The Russian army is also taking down the Ukrainian flag in areas it occupies.

h. Willfully destroying a nation's cultural treasures and historic sites—symbols of the nation's independent development and existence.
Putin's army is going out of its way to destroy Ukrainian heritage & cultural sites. 15 March, Al Jazeera asks "How is war destroying Ukraine’s cultural heritage?":

Russia’s war on Ukraine has killed hundreds of people and displaced over a million more. And as Russian forces move further into the country they are also destroying parts of Ukraine’s cultural heritage – tactics common to war.

Last week the UN cultural agency released a statement saying it is gravely concerned about the destruction of Ukrainian art and history..

Putin is going after symbols of Ukraine's independence because his intention is to erase its independence.   

i. The mass rape of women and girls in the nation.

Ukraine's Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said that Russian soldiers occupying Kherson have been raping and killing women, according to Newsweek and Reuters. Ukrainian MPs have made similar claims of “Russian forces are raping and hanging women who are unable to escape their savage invasion.”

That literal rape should play a significant role in the way Russian soldiers interact with Ukrainian civilians should surprise no one, given how closely Putin's relationship with Ukraine has mimicked that of an abusive spouse. In a Ms. Magazine article titled "Rape Rhetoric and Russia’s War on Ukraine," Bonnie Stable comments on this, saying:

This playbook of bullying and domination is well known to those who study sexual and interpersonal violence, with parallels both implicit and explicit. 

As if to even more explicitly make the point to Ukrainians that he sees them as in an old fashion marriage with Russia, where he's the boss, and there is no divorce, Putin made reference to a crude Russian joke about marital rape weeks before he invaded, telling them, “It’s your duty, my beauty.”

As we can see, Putin's war on Ukraine meets, not only the simple dictionary definition of genocide, but also the more detailed one used by the UN, and then some. But some might still argue that these are just collateral byproducts of Putin's brutal methods of war, and they don't rise to the level of genocide because he doesn't want to do away with Ukraine as an independent nation. To address that view, we must look at what Putin has said about Ukraine, and its right to exist, in the run up to his war.

Putin's ”On the Historical Unity of Russians and Ukrainians“, published 227 days before he invaded Ukraine, tells us a lot about what he thinks of it.  He begins by telling us “[T]hat Russians and Ukrainians were one people – a single whole.” This begs the question: Is that single whole Ukraine or Russia? And I think we know his answer to that.

He then goes on to tell us, “[M]odern Ukraine is entirely the product of the Soviet era. We know and remember well that it was shaped – for a significant part – on the lands of historical Russia.” Putin claims Ukraine was created by the Bolsheviks in 1922, so one could see why he would be keen to destroy anything that says otherwise.

Of course, Lenin and the Bolsheviks didn't create Ukraine when they broke up the czar's “prison house of nations,” but they did recognize Ukraine's right to form an independent republic. Putin doesn't see it that way. He complains that they were “so generous in drawing borders and bestowing territorial gifts.” He doesn't understand why “the Bolsheviks' efforts to detach from Russia its historical territories are not considered a crime.” He adds “One fact is crystal clear: Russia was robbed, indeed.” 

Putin also thinks that all the former Soviet Republics, not just Ukraine, owe Russia territory, and makes this demand: “[T]he republics that were founders of the Union, having denounced the 1922 Union Treaty, must return to the boundaries they had had before joining the Soviet Union.”

Of the various national minorities that made up both the Russian Empire and the USSR that followed it, he asks, “[W]hat difference does it make who people consider themselves to be – Russians, Ukrainians, or Belarusians,” when they are all part of the “great common Motherland" ?  Then Putin goes on to make that most terrible threat made by an abusive husband when the object of his “affection” threatens to leave:

[W]e will never allow our historical territories and people close to us living there to be used against Russia. And to those who will undertake such an attempt, I would like to say that this way they will destroy their own country.

In the case of an abusive marriage, there is sometimes a threat like this that is ultimately carried out by an act of murder. In the case of a former colonial possession bent on independence, Putin's remedy is war and genocide. He ends this piece by telling us that an independent Ukraine is simply impossible:

I am confident that true sovereignty of Ukraine is possible only in partnership with Russia....For we are one people.

Putin repeats these themes again in his 21 February address just days before the invasion. In it he tells us, “Ukraine is not just a neighbouring country for us. It is an inalienable part of our own history, culture and spiritual space,” and “Since time immemorial, the people living in the south-west of what has historically been Russian land [Ukraine] have called themselves Russians and Orthodox Christians.”  

He asserts again that "modern Ukraine was entirely created by Russia," and complains "Lenin and his associates did it in a way that was extremely harsh on Russia – by separating, severing what is historically Russian land...Let me repeat that these territories were transferred along with the population of what was historically Russia.” Putin calls it the “outright pillage of Russia.” Even after his invasion was in full swing with him slaughtering Ukrainian civilians, Putin insisted Ukrainians and Russians are “one people,” and any Ukrainians who disagree are “threatened and brainwashed.”

From this brief survey of Putin's writing and statements about Ukraine, it's clear that he thinks Ukraine has no right to an independent existence. He believes its people, resources, and land were stolen from Russia by the communists, and he is on a mission to fix that. His end game is the liquidation of Ukraine as an independent country and the return of its people, resources, and land to Russia. This explains why he is waging this war with genocidal methods. His end game is genocide.

Clay Claiborne

26 February 2022

See also: Vlad on Vlad: How Putin's views on Lenin shaped his decision to invade Ukraine