Tags Posts tagged with "Russia"


Pixabay photo

By Leah S. Dunaief

Leah Dunaief

Who could forget the frantic scene of Berliners tearing down the Wall? That one action marked the beginning of a changed world.

It was 1989 when the Soviet Union collapsed and the Berlin Wall came down. Officially the end of the government came on December 26, 1991, with the 15 consistent republics gaining their independence, but the disintegration had been apparent for some time. Berliners were able to tear down that Iron Curtain, symbol of East-West separation and the Cold War, because the Soviet soldiers simply walked away from their posts. 

Why did they walk away? 

They hadn’t been paid in many months due to acute economic problems, food shortages and widespread political upheaval in the Soviet Bloc and in East Berlin, the Communists’ foothold in Western Europe. Government and its systems were bankrupt.

Yes, the West had won the Cold War. But as its name indicated, it was not a military war. It was an economic war. In trying to globalize Communism, the Soviets had spent themselves into insolvency.

Once again, the West seems to be locked into a struggle with Russia, the successor government to the Soviet Union. This time there is a military, “hot” war, but the economic war remains. And the Economic War may ultimately dictate who wins. The western allies have been sending hundreds of billions of dollars in the form of armaments into the battlefront of Ukraine, and the Russians have been doing the same, not only militarily in the Ukrainian war front but also within their country. 

The internal toll was revealed in a front page article of The New York Times this past Tuesday. The domestic economic fallout of the Russian effort is enormous. There is a state-led spending boom that has propped up the Russian economy from the effects of far-reaching sanctions imposed by western countries. As a result, this economic boom has helped maintain popular support for President Vladimir Putin and his Ukrainian war effort. But Russian economists have warned of a threat to the country’s financial stability. Can their economic high be sustainable?

Russia’s expanding military production and the increased funding for Russia’s poor in the form of higher pensions, salaries and benefits like subsidized mortgages, particularly offered in marginal regions with the most military recruits, is fueling inflation. Lending by the government has stimulated the economy and kept down social unrest. Mortgages supplied by Russia’s top 20 banks rose 63 percent in the first half of this year, with one out of every two mortgages subsidized by the state. Soldiers’ salaries are much higher than average local earnings, and families of those who die get payments that can be greater than their annual earnings. And with 300,000 men called up to fight, worker shortages are extreme and salaries have risen, furthering inflation.

Even as Russia’s federal government has spent almost 50 percent more in the first half of this year than in the equivalent period in 2021,  the country’s energy revenues have fallen by half.  “Sanctions have forced Russia to sell its oil at a discount and European countries slashed purchases of Russian natural gas,” according to the NYT. And hundreds of thousands of predominately white collar workers have left the country in protest of the war or to avoid the draft, an additional loss to earnings.

So once again, money is pouring out, and not just from the Russians and their allies. We, too, are spending prodigious sums to maintain the war effort, and doing so in the aftermath of previous huge outlays to sustain Americans during the pandemic. Our economy seems strong, for the moment, even as our growing national debt seems to bother few officials. 

The war in Ukraine has become one of attrition, with Russia and its allies waiting out the American-led coalition in the belief that we are a short-term nation in our war endeavors and will withdraw sooner or later. While that may well be, whoever withdraws first may be the side in financial ruin.

Russian nesting dolls

By Leah S. Dunaief

Leah Dunaief

Incredibly, one man has altered the world. 

On Feb. 24, 2022, Russian President Vladimir Putin directed his troops into neighboring Ukraine, and the killing began. Ukrainians, Russian soldiers, mercenaries, sympathetic foreign fighters, civilians — all shot each other. Eastern Ukrainians were deported into Russia by the thousands, cities throughout Ukraine were destroyed, families were ripped apart, millions of Ukrainians fled to other countries, schools stopped, medical services halted, commerce and cultural activities were squelched, random bombings put lives in a lottery. Those are just some of the horrific consequences of Putin’s order against one country.

But the repercussions of that one act are being felt around the globe. Countries that depended on wheat and other agricultural supplies grown and shipped from Ukraine and Russia, are now frantically seeking alternate sources, if they can afford them. Oil and gas, primarily piped from Russia and Ukraine, have been cut off. Exports of hundreds of other products from these two countries have stopped. Oil and gas prices have skyrocketed, leading the way to global inflation. Nations have realigned geopolitically and militarily or strengthened their defense pacts by sending troops and weapons to allies. And other campaigns, to control climate change and suppress the coronavirus, have diminished as national budgets are modified.

What does Putin want?

There has been much speculation about his goals and his fears. They may have crystalized during these ensuing months, or Kremlin watchers may have caught on. One such scholar, who writes about Russia’s politics, foreign policy and, for a score of years, has studied Putin’s behavior, has put forth a cogent scenario in this past Tuesday’s The New York Times. Tatiana Stanovaya believes that Putin has a grand scheme whose goals are threefold.

The first is the most pragmatic: the securing of a land bridge through the Donbas region of the southeast to Crimea. Russian troops seem to have already captured Luhansk, which is part of the Donbas. Apparently, Putin believes the West will accept that Russian troops cannot be dislodged from there and will not cross any red lines to directly engage in such a military effort, eventually abandoning the idea and the territory to Russia.

The second goal is to force Kyiv and the Zelensky government to capitulate from exhaustion and demoralization after one or two years. Russia would then launch a “Russification” of the country, erasing Ukrainian culture and nationhood and imposing Russian language, culture and education. Thus Russia would have expanded its territory and stopped NATO from reaching Russia’s current borders.

The third goal is the most ambitious: Putin wants to build a new world order. “We are used to thinking that Mr. Putin views the West as a hostile force that aims to destroy Russia,” according to writer Stanovaya. “But I believe that for Mr. Putin there are two Wests: a bad one and a good one.”

The “bad” one is the one currently in power and led by elites who are “narrow-minded slaves of their electoral cycles who overlook genuine national interests and are incapable of strategic thinking.” And the “good West”? He believes that “these are ordinary Europeans and Americans who want to have normal relations with Russia and businesses who are eager to profit from close cooperation with their Russian counterparts.”

Today, Putin is convinced, the bad West is declining while the good West is challenging the status quo with nationally oriented leaders like Viktor Orban in Hungary, Marine Le Pen in France, and Donald Trump, “ready to break with the old order and fashion a new one.” 

The war against Ukraine, with its undesirable consequences like high inflation and soaring energy prices, “will encourage the people to rise up and overthrow the traditional political establishment.” This fundamental shift will then bring about a more-friendly West that will meet the security demands of Russia.

If that has a familiar echo, it is not so different from the Communist expectation that the proletariat will rise up and embrace Marx and Lenin. We know how that turned out.

The world watches as Vladimir Putin’s legacy and reputation unravel. Pixabay photo

By Rich Acritelli

“On the day of victory over Nazism, we are fighting for a new victory.” — Volodymyr Zelensky

These were the words of the Ukrainian president, who reflected recently upon the moment when the Allied forces defeated Hitler’s Third Reich, May 9, 1945.  

Since Feb. 24, Ukraine has engaged in a bitter struggle against the overwhelming strength of the Russian army, which has decimated the now-fallen city of Mariupol, and is widely suspected of targeting civilians in towns such as Bucha. 

The Ukrainian resistance has defended its homeland valiantly. Current estimates project that over 25% of the original invading forces have been either killed, wounded or captured. At the start of the invasion, many Russian soldiers were unaware that they would even fight their neighbor. Some fighters have notified their families that they were misled by upper command, that the true intent of the invasion was never disclosed to them. With rising casualties, the absence of a just cause and declining morale, it seems this invasion has become a disaster for Russia.

Since President Vladimir Putin took over in 2000, he has attempted to project a new brand of Russian power around the world. For some time, tensions have been brewing between Russia and the West as Putin has tried to exert greater authority and reestablish his country as a global superpower. However, Russian credibility has greatly diminished. 

The present occupation of Ukraine is now a public relations nightmare for Putin. The military campaign is humiliating, showcasing his ineptitude as a military commander. Despite its multitude of tactical advantages, Russia so far has been unable to defeat a clearly weaker nation.  

At the outset of the invasion, foreign policy experts estimated Kyiv would fall within a few days. Instead, the Ukrainian capital has become the epicenter of the resistance movement, a symbol of the triumph of freedom and democracy against tyranny and oppression. 

Zelensky has rallied nations around the world to send weapons and aid. He has persuaded friendly governments to impose sanctions that are crippling the Russian economy. The Ukrainians have the Russians in retreat as Putin pulls troops out of Kharkiv, with his major offensive in the Donbas region stalling as well.

Reports indicate some Russian soldiers have refused to fight. Witnessing the carnage to their own force, these soldiers see their probability of death increase the longer they stay in Ukraine. Between seven and 12 generals have already been killed in attempts to push their soldiers forward. 

Before the world, Putin and senior Russian officials have demonstrated a lack of military skill and an inability to command an army. If the Russians continue to be undisciplined, their casualty count will only rise even further. 

Putin’s leadership questioned

Over the last three months, one disaster after another has sent shockwaves through the Russian military. These blunders have shaken confidence in Putin’s leadership both at home and abroad. The world watched as Ukrainians assaulted the guided-missile cruiser Moskva. This flagship, an emblem of Russian naval might in the Black Sea, was destroyed by Ukrainian forces. On the ground, it is estimated Russia has lost more than 650 tanks and about 3,000 armored personnel carriers. American officers are now studying the glowing deficiencies in logistics, supplies and communications that have hampered Putin’s ability to continue the assault on Ukraine. For all of his past bluster and bravado, Putin and his forces have failed miserably at waging war in the face of growing resolve in Ukraine.

On the international front, Putin has proven unable to thwart American and allied supply lines into Ukraine. American Javelin and British anti-tank missiles have made it costly and dangerous for Russian armor to operate within Ukraine. Over 200 Russian aircraft have been destroyed by American weapons, according to some estimates. Western military support, coupled with the determination of Zelensky’s forces, have contributed to this great Russian quagmire. 

With growing evidence that Putin has no exit strategy and no foreseeable chance of success, the once-vaunted Russian army is on the brink of a possible historic and humiliating defeat. At home, his efforts to sell this conflict to the public have lacked success. Thousands have been arrested and jailed for protesting their government. Parents across Russia have received messages from this government that their loved ones have been killed in combat. All the while Putin has attempted to prevent foreign agencies from covering the conflict. 

Unlike during the Cold War between 1947 and 1991, people today are fully aware of the injustice of this invasion. Through his belligerence, Putin has strengthened the alliance of the Western democracies, and the NATO force is only getting stronger. Countries neighboring Russia are not waiting around for Russian aggression along their borders. Finland and Sweden, two nations that have always maintained a policy of neutrality, have just formally applied for NATO membership. 

Looking at this conflict from afar, China, which has for decades shown aggressive political and military actions toward Taiwan, must wonder if an attack against this island-nation neighbor will be worth the cost. Today, Russia is a pariah state within the global community, its economy is declining and the country is a target for American intelligence. China is an economic superpower which has yet to conduct any modern military operations of its own. Unlike the U.S., which took over and occupied Iraq and Afghanistan through fighting in the last two decades, China is a major power that has not fought any significant battles since the Korean War in 1950-53.  

It is very possible that history will repeat itself if China invades Taiwan. On a daily basis, Chinese officials should watch the military and political blunders taking place in Ukraine. The Russians are failing on all fronts, and its massive costs are only adding up. 

Rich Acritelli is a history teacher at Rocky Point High School and adjunct professor at Suffolk County Community College.

Stony Brook University students and members of the media took part in the March 23 teach-in. Photo from SBU

During a teach-in at Stony Brook University March 23, a panel of professors gave their take on the invasion of Ukraine, including perspectives on the war, propaganda efforts and the impact on American public opinion.

Alexander Orlov 

Orlov is a professor of Materials Science and Chemical Engineering. He is an expert on the parliament of the European Union and the government of the United Kingdom. According to him, who has many relatives still in Ukraine, a dangerous propaganda campaign has been waged by the Kremlin.

“There is one very hurtful part of the propaganda,” Orlov said. “Russians call Ukrainians Nazis. This is so offensive to the memory of the 7 million Ukrainians who died during World War II.”

According to Orlov, this is not the first time in Ukrainian history that Russians have bombarded Ukrainian territory. He also said Ukrainians are a freedom-loving people.

We live in a highly partisan, polarized context.

— Leonie Huddy

“I talked to my mom yesterday and asked her about her biggest fear,” he said. “She told me that the biggest fear she has is to be forgotten by the West because, at some point, you might get tired of the images of human suffering and stop paying attention.” Orlov added, “Ukrainians are like you. They want freedom and free enterprise, and they want to dream. Many of the Ukrainians that are fighting right now are the age of Stony Brook students and they’ve never held a rifle before in their lives.”

Leonie Huddy

Huddy, distinguished professor and chair of the Department of Political Science, addressed the impact of the Ukrainian invasion on American public opinion. 

“There’s a very common effect in foreign policy attitudes when the U.S. engages in war, when it sends troops to other countries, and it’s called the rally effect,” Huddy said. “There hasn’t been any rally effect by any stretch of the imagination.”

According to her, Americans are so divided and the political culture is so partisan that Americans cannot even agree on the proper foreign policy approach to the war in Ukraine.

“We live in a highly partisan, polarized context,” she said. “I don’t think you can get much worse than this. Things are looking pretty bad in terms of just how divided we are.”

Huddy believes that the looming midterm elections will have a pronounced impact on how Americans address the war in Ukraine.

“One of the reasons for this is that we have congressional elections approaching,” she said. “I think the Republican Party is thinking there’s a potential for success so it’s very important not to give an inch to the Democrats right now. We have the heels dug in.”

John Frederick Bailyn

Bailyn is professor in the Linguistics Department and co-director of Virtual NYI Global Institute. According to him, the invasion of Ukraine prompted a massive effort by the Russian government to repress domestic opposition.

“February 24, 2022, was a day that has changed the course of Ukraine and also Russia forever,” Bailyn said. “Anything ‘fake’ about the war, which is entirely up to [the Kremlin], is punishable by up to 15 years in jail.”

According to Bailyn, there are plenty of Russians who support the invasion of Ukraine, but there is also a large exodus of people leaving the country.

“People have been leaving in droves,” he said. “People are all having to decide if they should leave everything they know — their entire lives. Many people are deciding to do that because this is just far beyond anything that they have seen before.”

Vladimir Putin grew up in postwar Leningrad, a city that had survived almost 900 days of siege.

— Jonathan Sanders

Jonathan Sanders

Sanders is associate professor in the School of Communication and Journalism and a former Moscow correspondent for CBS News. He has met the Russian president personally and described in vivid detail the psychology of the man coordinating the invasion effort.

“Vladimir Putin grew up in postwar Leningrad, a city that had survived almost 900 days of siege, a city in which his baby brother had died, a city in which rats were eating corpses and people were eating corpses,” Sanders said. “He was an individualist, an alienated, bad kid. He played with rats,” adding, “The rat is probably the best metaphor for him — not the nice little white rats that we see in the psychology labs, but really mean, vicious little rats, whose predecessors survived the second world war by eating people.”

Sanders said that the rebellious streak in Putin dates back to early childhood. According to the professor, it was highly unusual for Putin to reject the politics of his father but he did so as an act of individualism and revolt.

“Mr. Putin was an individualist,” Sanders said. “His father was a true believing Communist and young Vladimir did not join the Young Communist League, something extremely unusual.” Sanders added, “He was a hooligan, a street kid.” 

Jonathan Sanders on assignment in Moscow. Photo from CBS News

Stony Brook University Associate Professor Jonathan Sanders, who won an Emmy and an Edward R. Murrow Award, reported on Russia for a range of news organizations, including as CBS News Moscow correspondent.

Jonathan Sanders on assignment in Moscow. Photo from CBS News

Sanders, who knew several important figures in late 20th century Russian history, spent considerable time with former Russian President Boris Yeltsin, who is the immediate past president of Russia before Vladimir Putin.

“I knew Yeltsin extremely well, I know his kids,” Sanders said.

Sanders believes the late Yeltsin’s extended family is “appalled” at Putin’s decision to invade Ukraine. He also thinks the late Andrei Sakharov, who helped build the hydrogen bomb for Russia and then was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for opposing the abuse of power and working for human rights, would also be similarly shocked at Putin’s attacks

While Sanders thinks noteworthy and important Russian families likely oppose the invasion of Ukraine that has cost thousands of lives, forced millions to flee their homes and disrupted stock and commodities markets around the world, the associate professor said the Russian population itself is likely divided in its response to the war.

“People whose sole source of information is the Russian central media are aggressively listening to the message coming out of the Kremlin,” he said.

The people in this group tend to be 45 and older and are less urban. They know of events in Ukraine in the context of a military operation in Donetsk, rather than an outright war against a neighbor.

For many people in this older crowd, the message connected to hostilities between Russia and the rest of the world has echoes of earlier times, during World Wars and the Cold War.

After losing millions of their fellow Russians in World War II, many Russians “had a grandfather or great grandfather who served” in the military, “this makes rallying around the national cause important. The Cold War is radioactive material with a long half life,” he added.

They believe the West, and, in particular, the United States, “wants to destroy” them.

The culture and mythology that informs their world view comes from the country’s own tradition of spies and spy novels that are similar to the ones many Americans have read, except that the “bad guys” are the Americans and West Germans the way the protagonists of American spy novels are often Russian.

Younger people who are 35 and below, however, particularly those in cities, get their information from places like TikTok and foreign press, where they don’t receive the Putin party line.

These information lines have created tensions during family gatherings. Sanders described reports of students at teaching colleges getting into arguments with grandparents who believe in the state media, if not in Putin

Sanders has lectured in Russia, where the students in Moscow are “more astute and more diligent in reading the New York Times and watching the BBC than my students here in the United States.”

Sanders said the reason Russians who are protesting the war are younger not only reflects the reality that protesters in general tend to be younger, but also the fact that these are the people seeing and hearing firsthand information about the damage the invasion has caused to Ukraine and to the Russians rolling into the country in tanks.

Over time, pressure might build on Putin when the number of Russians killed continues to climb, although the pace of sharing information about the safety of the troops may remain slow enough that Russians families may not know about their lost loved ones, Sanders said.

Sanders was impressed with the military intelligence released just prior to the invasion of Ukraine.

The information that came out before the war was “remarkable. It’s going to mean there’s going to be a witch hunt of enormous proportions conducted by Putin for who is leaking things out of the Kremlin and the Ministry of Defense.”

Sanders is not particularly optimistic about the outcome of this war for Ukrainians.

Sanders, who produced and edited the documentary “Three Days in September” that was narrated by Julia Roberts and described the siege of a Russian school by Chechen rebels in 2004, recognizes critical differences in the way Putin thinks tactically.

In a hostage situation, most countries and leaders put a priority on saving hostages. Putin, however, puts a priority “on killing the terrorists doing the hostage taking,” Sanders said.

Putin is likely hunkered down and isn’t listening to anyone else closely, even those who might try to tamp down on his most militant impulses, Sanders said.

Former President Donald Trump (R) “didn’t want to listen to anyone [about the 2020 election]. He only wanted to hear about election fraud. He didn’t want anyone to contradict him. That is mild compared to how Putin has isolated himself.”

As for Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky, Sanders hailed the embattled leader for his ongoing commitment to the country and inspirational messages. After Zelensky spoke to the British parliament, echoing sentiments expressed by former Prime Minister Winston Churchill at the onset of World War II, Zelensky may be “the first charismatic hero of the digital age,” Sanders said.

While Americans and British saw Zelensky’s address as a tribute to his commitment to his country and his eagerness to preserve a democracy, Russians saw images of Zelensky with a different spin.

“He’s sucking on the teat of the West,” Sanders said. Members of state media believe Russia attacked Ukraine because of “great conspiracy” against the country.

Pixabay photo

By Leah S. Dunaief

Leah Dunaief

The idea was that if European nations were interdependent for their economic welfare, then they would not make war on each other, but would rather work together for their greater good. And for more than 70 years, the concept held. Where wars were the way for nations, and before there were nations, for regions to enrich themselves by raiding their neighbors, stealing their treasures and claiming their land, now that was eschewed. Finally, there was to be peace.

England and France, France and Germany, Spain and England among others, all put their guns and their history away and did business with each other. This was the vision articulated by the United Nations after World War II ended, and it came to pass. The economists and philosophers were right. No one would make war on neighbors who were making them money. And for the most part, nations realized unprecedented wealth and the security that peace brings.  Economics was to be the field of battle, not the military. And with unrestricted trade, globalization took hold. War was a distant memory.

Until now. Incredible as it seemed to the rest of the world, Russia invaded the Ukraine less than two weeks ago with the aim of annexing that country. Such action, as Russian military surrounded Ukraine on three sides, would be an ill-conceived throwback to a more appalling and unwise time. Or so we thought.

As the Ukrainians defiantly rise to meet the invaders with military weapons, the rest of Europe and countries elsewhere in the world are responding with their weapon of choice: economics. It is a testament to the thinking and planning of those leaders seven decades ago. And so, with remarkable unity, the European Union is striving to blow up Russia’s economy rather than blowing up Russia’s cities. The pain for the Russian leaders and the Russian people is to be felt in their pocketbooks and not in their cemeteries. At least, that is the intent.

But of course, as in every war, it’s the civilians who most suffer and pay the price for their leaders’ actions. If they aren’t shot to death, they may be starved to death, as their money becomes worthless and their businesses are ruined. Still, the Russians will do better without Coca-Cola than the Ukrainians without water.

And that is another remarkable consequence of attempts to isolate Russia. Not only are governments withdrawing trade and financial dealings in this siege, but also international corporations are cutting ties with the invading country, even if the companies bear the price. McDonald’s, which employs some 62,000 workers in Russia, Starbucks and Apple have closed their stores, among numerous others. Americans have indicated overwhelmingly in a recent Quinnipiac University national poll (71%), that they will tolerate the increased price of gasoline if Russian imports of oil and gas are ended. The Biden administration has heard them and is closing off those imports. Of course, the prices at the pump were going up anyway due to considerable current inflation. Why not put the blame on the Russians!

So do shared economic interests prevent wars?

There should have been a corollary put into that concept: assuming all the governments are made up of reasonable persons. Much now is being made of President Vladimir Putin’s mental state because most of the rest of the world cannot understand why he is embracing this “special military operation.”

He did not even tell his lower rank soldiers that they were about to engage in a war. Who knows how the Russian leader thinks? Is he unreasonable or is this merely the opening salvo he, and perhaps his “friend,” Premier Xi Jinping of China, are plotting for a long game?

Of one thing the world can be certain. When autocrats are planning something that surely would be roundly condemned, one of the actions they take is to close down the media and crack down on free speech. Signing a new censorship law, Putin has now criminalized independent journalism for reporting “fake news.” 

Pixabay photo

By Leah S. Dunaief

Leah Dunaief

In an attempt to make Ukraine more real for all of us, this country on the far side of Europe, I am including the information below that was taken from Wikipedia on the internet. I hope it helps us visualize what the situation is there. 

Ukraine is an important agricultural country and can meet the food needs of 600 million people.

• 1st in Europe in terms of arable land area;

• 3rd place in the world by the area of black soil (25% of world’s volume);

• 1st place in the world in exports of sunflower and sunflower oil;

• 2nd place in the world in barley production and 4th place in barley exports;

• 3rd largest producer and 4th largest exporter of corn in the world;

• 4th largest producer of potatoes in the world;

• 5th largest rye producer in the world;

• 5th place in the world in bee production (75,000 tons);

• 8th place in the world in wheat exports;

• 9th place in the world in the production of chicken eggs;

• 16th place in the world in cheese exports.

It is the second-largest country by area in Europe and has a population of over 40 million — more than Poland.

Ukraine ranks:

• 1st in Europe in proven recoverable reserves of uranium ores;

• 2nd place in Europe and 10th place in the world in terms of titanium ore reserves;

• 2nd place in the world in terms of explored reserves of manganese ores (2.3 billion tons, or 12% of the world’s reserves);

• 2nd largest iron ore reserves in the world (30 billion tons);

• 2nd place in Europe in terms of mercury ore reserves;

• 3rd place in Europe (13th place in the world) in shale gas reserves (22 trillion cubic meters)

• 4th in the world by the total value of natural resources;

• 7th place in the world in coal reserves (33.9 billion tons)

Ukraine is an important industrialized country and ranks

• 1st in Europe in ammonia production; Europe’s 2nd’s and the world’s 4th largest natural gas pipeline system;

• 3rd largest in Europe and 8th largest in the world in terms of installed capacity of nuclear power plants;

• 3rd in Europe and 11th in the world in terms of rail network length (21,700 km);

• 3rd in the world (after the U.S. and France) in production of locators and locating equipment;

• 3rd largest iron exporter in the world

• 4th largest exporter of turbines for nuclear power plants in the world;

• 4th largest manufacturer of rocket launchers, in clay exports and in titanium exports

• 8th in exports of ores and concentrates;

• 9th in exports of defense industry products;

• 10th largest steel producer in the world (32.4 million tons).

Ukraine matters.

These are some reasons why its independence is important to the rest of the world.

Pixabay photo

By Leah S. Dunaief

Leah Dunaief

If it was President Vladimir Putin’s intention to be the center of global attention, he has certainly succeeded. Not much can push the latest COVID news off the top spot. Maybe inflation and how it is affecting the average resident can, but that’s nothing compared to the dominance of the situation in Ukraine and the speculation about what Putin’s next move will be. There seem to be numerous Putin specialists who profess to have studied the Russian dictator’s every move for many years and know what his plan is. Or, does he have a plan? Is this a story that he is writing as he goes along? This makes for lots of rhetoric among the pundits. 

One thing is sure. The serious possibility of Russian aggression has caused North Atlantic Treaty Organization members to stand together and reaffirm their alliance. Perhaps this was Putin’s test. There was little reaction when the Russians invaded and took over Crimea in 2014. Would anyone really care if they took over all of the Ukraine?

Well, the answer to that question is decidedly YES. And the United States has stepped forward to reaffirm it alliance with and leadership of NATO by organizing the threat of severe economic sanctions against Russia, sending military equipment to Ukraine and finally sending a symbolic number of troops to NATO countries that border on Ukraine, namely Poland and Romania. A small number of soldiers also went to Germany, perhaps to bolster the resolve of the newly elected German leader, Chancellor Olaf Scholz, to honor its alliance. 

Germany has the most to lose as far as its energy supply goes. Some 38% of the European Union’s natural gas comes from Russia, according to Eurostat, the EU’s statistics office. Much of it is imported by Germany to heat homes in winter and enable factories to operate. The loss of that source of energy would certainly cause economic pain to Germans and other European residents, who would have to pay more for significantly less supply. And of course, that furthers the impact of inflation.

Russia’s overt demands include halting NATO’s expansion and reducing its military exercises and presence in Eastern Europe. Specifically, Putin wants guarantees that Ukraine will not be allowed to join NATO, which its current leadership has indicated it would want to do in the future. However, noted globalist and New York Times columnist, Thomas L. Friedman, suggested in the issue of February 16, that Putin’s fear is that “Ukraine becomes Westernized. He fears that one day Ukraine will be admitted to the European Union.” If  such an event were to happen, which Friedman believes young Ukrainians dream about, they feel it could “lock in their frail democracy and lock out corruption and Putinism.”

Friedman goes on to point out that “Putin seized Crimea and first invaded part of Eastern Ukraine in February-March 2014. What else was happening then? The European Union’s 28 member states were forging a new E.U.-Ukraine Association Agreement to foster closer political and economic ties, signed on March 21, 2014.” Putin’s greatest fear, according to Friedman, “is the expansion of the E.U.’s sphere of influence and the prospect that it would midwife a decent, democratic, free-market Ukraine that would every day say to the Russian people, ‘This is what you could be without Putin.’” 

Meanwhile, Putin is deciding, according to Friedman, “If  I go ahead with a full scale invasion and it goes bad — wrecking Russia’s economy and resulting in Russian soldiers returning home in body bags from a war with fellow Slavs —could it lead to my own downfall?”

Whatever Putin’s thoughts are, he has used the threat of military force to bring the Western leaders to the table for extensive talks. Perhaps the diplomats will remake the Eastern European map without resorting to war. 

Until there is some sort of resolution to this stand off, what can we, here in America, expect? We will have to deal with the possibility of growing shortages and accompanying inflation, which in fact we are already experiencing at the gas pumps. 

The Fall of the Berlin Wall, 1989. Photo courtesy of Wikipedia

By Leah S. Dunaief

Leah Dunaief

Here comes Russia again. I am of the generation of children that took refuge from an imaginary atomic bomb attack from Russia by pulling our coats over our heads and crouching under our desks. We grew up with the Cold War always threatening Soviet aggression on both foreign and domestic soils. Were there Communist cells, funded by Russia, hidden among us that could erupt at any time? McCarthy whipped the nation to a fever pitch. The United States and the Soviet Union raced each other to influence governments and people, ideologically and financially, all over the globe. 

I still remember the relief I felt, going to the old Metropolitan Opera House in 1959, to view a performance by members of the Bolshoi Ballet, who came to America bringing not only the most breathtaking dancers but also tangible evidence of detente. And then the Berlin Wall came down. I was there. At least I was there in 1989, six weeks before they broke through to West Berlin. I walked No Man’s Land, the barren stretch between East and West Berlin, with cameras trained on anyone who would start the crossing between those two universes, seeking permission from the guards to go behind the Iron Curtain. 

I was in the Russian Embassy in Washington D.C. in 1991 with a small group of journalists, being feted with caviar and blinis, when word came that the Soviet Union had crumbled, and then the embassy personnel cried. “The end of a dream,” they sobbed. The end of a nightmare, I thought, as they led us to the exits and fell upon the sumptuous food we left behind. Mikhail Gorbachev won the Nobel Prize, the Russian people were real, not just the Evil Empire, and co-existence was finally possible. In a couple of years our attention turned to jihadists.

Now Russia is dramatically back in our lives. The Russia that for centuries had sought warm water ports and had ruled Crimea for 134 years until 1917. The Russia that again annexed Crimea, a part of Ukraine since 1954 and of an independent Ukraine since 1991, with armed intervention in 2014. The Russia that has now lined up reputedly over 100,000 troops on three sides of the Ukraine border, and with aggressive leadership is making demands.

Russian President Vladimir Putin is insisting that Ukraine not be allowed to join NATO, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization initially formed after WWII as a protection against potential Soviet aggression, that has grown as more Eastern European countries have joined. Putin insists it is a security issue to have bordering Ukraine a NATO member. He also wants military exercises in nearby NATO states to cease and for offensive weapons to be removed from those NATO countries.

So where do we come into the picture?

“It seems to me that the United States does not care that much about Ukrainian security—maybe they think about it somewhere in the background,” Putin said in his news conference. “But their main task is to restrict the development of Russia.”

By “development,” the concern is that Putin wishes to restore the former Soviet empire and that, after Crimea, Ukraine would be the next step. Students of history will remember the lessons of the Sudetenland of Czechoslovakia and the “spheres of influence” imposed by the Yalta Conference (in ironically Crimea). Meanwhile, Putin, with his soldiers and weapons at the ready, is accusing the U.S. of threatening Russia. White House press secretary, Jen Psaki, likened Putin’s comments to “when the fox is screaming from the top of the henhouse that he’s scared of the chickens.”

Now, as of yesterday, the decision has been made to send several thousand troops to Poland, Germany and Romania. Presumably they are meant to show support for NATO and for the principle that countries may decide which alliances they will enter.

Meanwhile everyone concerned, including Putin, has embraced the idea of diplomacy as a path to a Ukrainian solution. For the moment, at least, the spotlight has moved away from constant COVID.

North Shore residents line the corner of Routes 347 and 112 in Port Jefferson Station Nov. 7 in response to the removal of Jeff Sessions as Attorney General. Photo by Alex Petroski

They say all politics is local.

The national drama of special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into the potential ties between President Donald Trump’s (R) 2016 campaign and Russian interference in the election experienced an escalation of tensions Nov. 7, one day after the midterm elections, and the response could be heard as far from Washington D.C. as Port Jefferson Station.

Trump’s Attorney General Jeff Sessions (R) resigned that day in a letter that stated the president requested he do so.

As a result, the left-leaning political action group MoveOn organized nationwide protests called Nobody is Above the Law — Mueller Protection Rapid Response to take place across the country Nov. 7 at 5 p.m. A few dozen protestors congregated at the corner of Routes 112 and 347 to make their voices heard and send a message to Washington. The local activist organization North Country Peace Group acted to mobilize North Shore residents in the aftermath of the news.

“[Trump] firing Sessions and everything that he’s been doing since he’s been in the White House is my impetus to get out here,” Ellie Kahana, of Stony Brook, said. “He’s obviously going to try and get rid of Mueller and conceal whatever Mueller is finding out.”

Sessions’ position at the top of the U.S. Department of Justice would ordinarily make him the person in charge of a special counsel investigation, though he recused himself from that investigation to avoid the appearance of a conflict of interest because he campaigned with Trump during 2016. Sessions’ potential removal was long viewed as a signal by his opponents that Trump may be moving to undermine Mueller’s probe or even fire him altogether.

When asked by White House pool reporters if acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker, whom Trump appointed, was installed to harm the investigation, Trump called it a “stupid question.” While Trump has referred to the investigation as a “witch hunt” repeatedly on Twitter and in interviews, he has yet to take any steps to conceal its eventual findings or cut off its funding.

“I knew this would happen, in fact I thought it would happen at midnight,” said Lisa Karelis, of East Setauket.

Karelis said the Democrats seizing of the U.S. House of Representatives on election night creating the possibility of increased scrutiny triggered Trump’s urgency for a new attorney general. She added Whitaker’s public statements opposing the expanding scope of the Mueller probe prior to his appointment made it clear what the president hoped to accomplish by naming Whitaker acting attorney general.

Members of U.S. Congress and from both political parties have suggested legislation be advanced to prevent removal of the special counsel. The bill has yet to gain enough support to be delivered to Trump’s desk for signature.