Thursday, June 30, 2022

Driving the snakes out of Snake Island

Ireland needed Saint Patrick to rid itself of snakes. The Ukrainians have done it with artillery and missiles.

Hilariously, the Kremlin explained last night's retreat from Snake Island as a humanitarian gesture. "As a symbol of goodwill," claimed the defense ministry this morning, "the Russian Armed Forces completed its mission on Snake Island and withdrew their garrison." For its part, the Ukrainian explained that it had attacked the island and set it on on fire, causing the Russian troops to flee in two speedboats.

Compounding the doublespeak, the Russians went on to say that it wasn't interfering with grain exports from Black Sea ports, and that the Ukrainians were free to ship the stuff as soon as they cleared the water of mines -- which, of course, the Russians have placed there.

Putin is obviously making some progress in occupying eastern Ukrainian, while holding onto his earlier conquests in the south, But while he's winning some battles after his embarrassing beginning, he has already lost the wider war. Finland and Sweden are about to join NATO, adding a huge swatch of land and two competent military forces to the European alliance. Of course Putin reserves the right to respond "tit for tat" if NATO uses the expansion to deploy troops to Russian borders -- which is to say, if Western Europe behaves in the same fashion as he has lately behaved. Thanks to his stupid war, the previously sleepy NATO countries have already decided to boost their forward-deployed troops from 40,000 troops to 300,000, including the first permanent US presence in Eastern Europe.

Wednesday, June 29, 2022

First American casulaties

I earlier posted about the four foreign volunteers -- from Australia, Netherlands, Germany, and France -- killed while defending Ukraine from Putin's aggression. Now at least two Americans have become Russian prisoners and risk being sentenced to death as mercenaries, as has already happened to three other foreigner fighters. According to Russian logic, they are not prisoners of war and therefore not protected by the Geneva Conventions -- as if Russia has ever bothered about honoring its international agreements. 

The Americans were identified by their families as Alex Drueke, 39 years old and a former US Army staff sergeant who served two tours in Iraq; and Andy Tai Ngoc Huynh, 27, a veteran of the US Marines. They went missing earlier this month when their platoon came under heavy fire near Kharkiv in northeastern Ukraine, 25 miles from the Russian border. With the doublespeak typical of the Kremlin, a spokesman explained that they had fired upon Russian forces and would be “held responsible for the crimes they have committed.” This from the country that invaded Ukraine in the first place, presently occupies 20 percent of the country, and has killed Ukrainian soldiers and civilians by the thousands. 

The Russians have already sentenced volunteers from Britain and Morocco to death on the same bogus charges. Most likely the intention is not to carry out the sentences but to hold the men as hostages in future negotiations, and to discourage other young men from volunteering to serve in Ukraine's foreign legion. The irony is particularly rich, given that Russia uses actual mercenaries (from Chechnya, Syria, and the infamous Wagner Group) to beef up its own exhausted forces in Ukraine.

Earlier, there were reports that a third American might be a prisoner of the Russians, but I've seen nothing since about his fate.

Sunday, June 19, 2022

Yearbook photo

Ukrainian youngsters (and a teacher, I believe) return to their wrecked high school for a yearbook photo shoot.

Promises, promises. Deliveries, not so much.

The Wall Street Journal published this bar graph the other day, based on information from the Kiel Institute for the World Economy. Green shows the amount of military equipment promised to Ukraine, brown shows the amount actually delivered, with the US with a population of 331 million having promised the most and delivered less than half, for a value of about €2 billion.

Close behind the US is Poland -- Poland! -- with a population of 38 million, having promised and delivered military equipment worth €1.7 billion. Poland only freed itself from Russian domination in 1989, joined the European Union in 2004, and in about a quarter of a century has remade itself into a prosperous Western democracy. So, more than most, it knows what Ukraine faces if Putin succeeds in his war.

Britain (population 69 million), Canada (population 32 million), and Norway (population 5.5 million!) also punch above their weight, at least as compared to the rest of the EU. The same is true of tiny Estonia (1.3 million) and Latvia (1.8 million), which like Poland are recent refugees from Russian captivity.

Then comes the gallery of shame, led by prosperous Germany, which in 1939 was the first country to invade Poland, thus laying the fuse for the German-Russian division of Europe in 1940 and the global war that followed. The richest country in Europe, with a population of 84 million, Germany has promised a lot but has delivered only about €200 million, significantly less than the two tiny Baltic nations.

Wednesday, June 15, 2022

Keeping up with Putin's war


It took me a while, but I have discovered the Institute for War Studies (ISI) website with its detailed and up-to-date map of Putin's conquests in eight years of hot and frozen aggression against his neighbor. Above is a screenshot of the situation as of yesterday, excluding the Crimean Peninsula to the south which no doubt is the underlying cause of the war. (Khruschev in a careless moment handed it over to the government in Kyiv; it had previously been part of the Russian soviet republic. In 1954, this seemed of no great consequence, since both were firmly controlled by the Kremlin.) In pink is the 20 percent of Ukraine's territory that Russia now claims to control. In blue are claimed Ukrainian advances, and the blue cross-hatching is reported Ukrainian guerrilla activity. The areas outlined by a heavy black border (Crimea and Donetsk) were seized by Russia in 2014 and after.

Each day, ISW posts a short bulletin on the war situation. Up today,  under date of June 14, is an assessment of military exercises in Belarus, whose dictator has allied himself with Putin but in ISW's judgment is unlikely to join the combat.

Monday, June 13, 2022

Russia is stealing Ukrainian art treasures

London's Guardian has exposed an organized Russian effort to steal art treasures from Ukrainian museums, in much the same way that Herman Goering and other Nazi bigwigs looted paintings from occupied Europe. “There is now very strong evidence this is a purposive Russian move, with specific paintings and ornaments targeted and taken out to Russia,” the newspaper quoted Brian Daniels as saying. Mr Daniels is a Virginia anthropologist who with his team has been monitoring the thefts since Putin's invasion in February. 

Scythian gold pieces are a special target of the thieves, precious relics of an empire that once spread from southern Ukraine to the steppes of central Asia. “These items are visually stunning, and there are now so many reports of thefts it is evident that it is a strategy,” Mr Daniels said. The value of the relics may be less important to Putin than the loss to Ukraine of their cultural significance. “There is a possibility it is all part of undermining the identity of Ukraine as a separate country by implying legitimate Russian ownership of all their exhibits.”

The thievery is preceded by "menacing interrogation" of museum staff members. "We have growing concern for the museum workers and security staff," he added.

Saturday, June 11, 2022

Crowdfunding the army

The National Bank of Ukraine has set up a crowdfunding option for its military. Already it has raised $590 million, of which $170 million has come from other countries. You can use your credit card at with your contribution going to the military, the police, and the National Guard.