Tuesday, May 24, 2022

Davos Man takes time out from virtue signaling

Every year, the rich and the famous gather at Davos in Switzerland to signal their adherence to the latest Woke craze: Bill Gates, Henry Kissinger, Jo Taylor of the Ontario Teachers' Pension Plan ... and, in previous years, a swaggering delegation of Russian oligarchs. "For years," the New York Times reports, "the Russians were one of the main attractions at Davos, throwing extravagant parties and welcoming V.I.P. guests to the Russia House, where chilled vodka was served. This year, a Ukrainian tycoon, Viktor Pinchuk, converted the Russia House into a 'Russian War Crimes House.' In place of vodka, there’s a harrowing photo exhibition of wartime atrocities."

Even more shocking, Volodymyr Zelensky made a video appearance, urging all the companies (Starbucks is the latest -- no more lattes for Putin?) who have shut down their operations in Russia to set up shop instead in Ukraine. He also asked them to push sanctions to the limit, "so that Russia and every other potential aggressor who wants to wage a brutal war against a neighbor knows exactly what this is leading to." (Were you listening, Xi Jinping?) When he was done, the celebrities gave him what the NYT called "an un-Davos-like standing ovation." 

So there it is: President Zelensky's olive-green T-shirt has now been approved by the world's most exclusive circle of preeners. 

Monday, May 23, 2022

Biden gets tough

At a press conference in Japan on Monday, the President was asked: "Are you willing to get involved militarily to defend Taiwan if it comes to that?"

Biden: "Yes."

Reporter: "You are?"

Biden: "That’s the commitment we made."

The White House, of course, promptly tried to walk back what the President had so clearly said, insisting that US policy hasn't changed. And I suppose there's some ambiguity there: "militarily involved." Arguably we are militarily involved in Ukraine's defense, sending money and weapons as we are, but still.... At the very least, Biden has given himself cover if he decides to sell F-16 fighters to Taiwan.

Saturday, May 21, 2022

The rat and the sinking ship

Gerhard Schröder has long been an embarrassment to Germany, a former chancellor who got rich toadying to Vladimir Putin, even refusing to back down after Russia's brutal and unprovoked invasion of Ukraine. “I don’t do mea culpa,” he snipped when the New York Times challenged him on his Putin ties last month. “It’s not my thing.”

But money talks! On Thursday, the budget committee of the German parliament ruled that he would be stripped of his fat stipends worth more than $400,000 a year. (He would retain his government-supplied security guards, more's the pity!)

And what do you know? The very next day, Schröder stepped as chairman of the board of Rosneft, the state-controlled (i.e., Putin-controlled) Russian oil giant, for which he has earned $600,000 a year since 2017. He remains chairman of the shareholder committee of Nord Stream, the gas pipeline from Russia to Germany, worth a reported $270,000 a year. And three weeks before Russia invaded, Nord Stream's majority owner, Gazprom, announced that Schröder would join its board as well. No mention of whether that's still on, nor what it's worth, but it doesn't seem that the former chancellor will be on food stamps any time soon.


Thursday, May 19, 2022

"We Should Say It. Russia Is Fascist."

The invaluable Timothy Snyder, a Yale professor whose books have chronicled Eastern Europe's bloody past, says it in today's New York Times

"Fascism was never defeated as an idea.

"As a cult of irrationality and violence, it could not be vanquished as an argument: So long as Nazi Germany seemed strong, Europeans and others were tempted. It was only on the battlefields of World War II that fascism was defeated. Now it’s back — and this time, the country fighting a fascist war of destruction is Russia. Should Russia win, fascists around the world will be comforted.

"We err in limiting our fears of fascism to a certain image of Hitler and the Holocaust. Fascism was Italian in origin, popular in Romania — where fascists were Orthodox Christians who dreamed of cleansing violence — and had adherents throughout Europe (and America). In all its varieties, it was about the triumph of will over reason."

Mr Snyder emphasizes what Russia's dictators from Stalin to Putin have tried to erase from history -- that in August 1939 Hitler and Stalin agreed to divide Europe between them on a line that put Finland, Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, half of Poland, and miscellaneous lands to the south under Moscow's dominion, thus freeing Hitler to invade western Poland and eventually France, the Low Countries, Denmark, and Norway. (Finland proved too tough a nut for Russia to crack, though it did occupy large swath of Finnish territory and impose a neutrality that only now is ending.)

His conclusion is bleak:

"As in the 1930s, democracy is in retreat around the world and fascists have moved to make war on their neighbors. If Russia wins in Ukraine, it won’t be just the destruction of a democracy by force, though that is bad enough. It will be a demoralization for democracies everywhere....

"Had Ukraine not resisted, this would have been a dark spring for democrats around the world. If Ukraine does not win, we can expect decades of darkness."

Friday, May 13, 2022

"Look in the mirror!"

God bless the Finns! Much as the Ukrainians are doing now, they gave a bloody nose to the Russian army in the "Winter War" of 1939-1940, and again they're standing up to their bullying neighbor. While Moscow rants about "retaliatory steps of military-technical and other character" if Finland presumes to join NATO, President Sauli Niinisto stoutly replied: "My response would be that you caused this -- look in the mirror."

Putin's paranoia is so deep that he think it's perfectly okay for  him to invade his neighbors, but not for them to take any precaution against an invasion. Britain has already stepped up to the plate, just as it did in 1939 against Hitler, extending a somewhat vague security blanket to Finland and Sweden during the perilous time being applying for NATO membership and being accepted into the pact. Why don't all NATO countries do that? More to the point, why don't we do that?

Thursday, May 12, 2022

Call sign Rusin


I grabbed a digital subscription to the New York Times on February 25, so I'd have up-to-date news on a war I thought would last a week or two at most. It's now in its third month and looking like it might go on for another three or more. After the humiliating rout of his army outside Kyiv, Putin has settled for a war of attrition in eastern Ukraine, where the landscape and the supply lines favor the invaders. Today, two NYT reporters file a story from the front line in which they quote a soldier whose call sign is "Rusin" (that's him in the photo above). He's 30 and had a business in western Ukraine selling bathtubs; when the Russians invaded, he married his girlfriend and joined the army.

“We understand that this is not a war between Ukraine and Russia,” he told the reporters. “This is a war of the pure and the light that exists on this earth, and darkness. Either we stop this horde and the world gets better, or the world is filled with the anarchy that occurs wherever there is war.”


Monday, May 09, 2022

Eloquence from the Brits

Perhaps I've been wrong in dismissing Twitter as a source of news and inspiration. Here are the tweets from the British Ministry of Defence for yesterday, May 8:

* Difficulties in command and control, as well as faltering Russian performance on the front line, have drawn senior commanders onto the battlefield, likely to take personal leadership of operations.

* Russian commanders rarely delegate operational authority to their subordinates, who in turn do not gain vital leadership experience.

* However, it is not clear that the presence of these commanders on the battlefield has led to a refined or altered operational concept. Flawed planning assumptions and failures in sustainment continue to undermine Russian progress.

* The forward deployment of commanders has exposed them to significant risk, leading to disproportionately high losses of Russian officers in this conflict. This has resulted in a force that is slow to respond to setbacks and unable to alter its approach on the battlefield.

* These issues are likely to endure given the relative lack of operational command experience of the officers promoted in place of those killed.