Tags Posts tagged with "Ukraine"


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.

Ukrainian flag. Pixabay photo

By Daniel Dunaief

Daniel Dunaief

As we round out the second week of December, I’d like to offer some suggestions for a 2022 time capsule.

A Ukrainian flag. Ukraine, with help from Americans and many other nations, has fended off Russia’s ongoing military assault. The question for 2023 will be whether they can continue to defend the country amid a potential decline in international support.

A waterlogged dollar. With inflation at decades-high levels, the dollar isn’t buying as much as it had been.

Florida man makes announcement. I would include a copy of the New York Post front page the day after former president Donald Trump, to no one’s surprise, announced he would be running for president in 2024. A previous ardent supporter of the former president, the Post may be leading the charge in another political direction to find a new standard bearer for the GOP.

A red dot. Certainly, the Republicans taking over the majority in the house will have important consequences, with numerous investigations and a divided government on the horizon, but Republicans didn’t win as many national elections as anticipated.

A miniature replica of the Supreme Court, with the words Dobbs vs. Jackson Women’s Health Organization in front of it. The Supreme Court case, which reversed the Roe v. Wade decision, removed the federal right to an abortion, enabling states to pass new laws and contributing, in part, to smaller midterm wins for Republicans.

On the much smaller personal front:

Throat lozenges. I got COVID-19 for the first time this year and my throat was so painful for a week that I couldn’t talk. The lozenges didn’t work, but they would highlight numerous efforts to reduce pain from a virus that was worse than any flu I’ve ever had.

The number 62. This, yet again, wasn’t the year the New York Yankees won the World Series. Nope, they didn’t even get there, yet again falling, this time without winning a single game, to the Houston Astros. It was, however, a wonderful chase for the American League home run record by Aaron Judge, who just signed a $360 million extension with the Yankees.

Wedding bells and a tiny nerf football. For the first time in years, my wife and I attended two family weddings this year. We loved the chance to dance, catch up with relatives, eat great food, and run across a college baseball field with a $7 nerf football we purchased from the hotel lobby store.

A miniature swamp boat. On one of the more memorable trips to New Orleans to visit our son, my wife and I saw numerous alligators and heard memorable Louisiana tales from Reggie Domangue, whose anecdotes and personal style became the model for the firefly in the Disney movie “The Princess and the Frog.”

A shark tooth. During the summer, Long Islanders worried about local sharks, who bit several area swimmers. The apex predator, which is always in the area, likely had higher numbers amid a recovery in the numbers of their prey, which are menhaden, also known as bunker fish and, despite the prevalence of the music from the movie “Jaws,” does not include humans.

A Good Steer napkin. My favorite restaurant from my childhood closed after 65 years, leaving behind an onion ring void and shuttering the backdrop to numerous happy family outings. If I had a way to retire expressions the way baseball teams  retire numbers, I would retire the words “Burger Supreme” on a food version of Monument Park.

A giant question mark. Scientists throughout Long Island (and the world )constantly ask important questions. Some researchers will invent technology we may use all day long, like cell phones. Others may make discoveries that lead to life-saving drugs. Let’s celebrate great questions.

Suffolk County Legislator Bridget Fleming (D-Noyac), left, is the Democratic nominee in the race. Nick LaLota, right, is the Republican Party nominee for NY-1. Photos by Rita J. Egan

The race to fill U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin’s (R-NY1) congressional seat has highlighted some key issues confronting Suffolk County communities and the nation.

Zeldin announced last year he would vacate his seat to run for governor. Two major party candidates have emerged in his absence, both eager to fill the seat. In a debate with the TBR News Media staff spanning nearly two hours, the candidates covered myriad topics, tackling issues close to home and far away.


Suffolk County Legislator Bridget Fleming (D-Noyac) is representing her party for the 1st District. She is a former criminal prosecutor, trying sex crimes and fraud cases. Over the last decade, Fleming has served in elective office, first on the Southampton Town Board and later in the county Legislature, where she is today.

Nick LaLota, of Amityville, carries the Republican Party nomination in this race. He served in the U.S. Navy for 11 years and deployed overseas three times. He worked in congressional and state Senate offices before being appointed as the Republican commissioner on the Suffolk County Board of Elections. Most recently, he was chief of staff for the county Legislature.

Outlining priorities

Through their time canvassing voters, the candidates identified their potential constituency’s core legislative priorities. LaLota said he had observed a mix of voter interest in the economy and public safety.

“A lot of folks with whom I speak are tremendously concerned about those two things,” he said. “People want the government to work for them. They expect to have a fair shot at the ability to earn and not have their money overtaxed … and they expect to go home at night and be safe.”

Fleming agreed that crime and economic concerns have piqued voter interest. However, she held that the overwhelming problem for those she has canvassed is declining faith in American democracy and the “protection of fundamental freedoms.”

“Protecting American democracy, that’s at the front of mind for lots and lots of people,” she said.


‘ I would insist that government funds not be used for abortions, and I would also insist that … if a child is contemplating an abortion, that the parents get notified about that.’

—Nick LaLota

LaLota maintains the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent Dobbs decision, which overturned Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood v. Casey, returned the matter of abortion to the states. While he does not view abortion as a federal policy concern, he nonetheless stated his position.

“I do not oppose abortion when it comes to rape, incest or the life of the mother, and I do not oppose abortion in the first trimester,” he said. “Conversely, I do oppose abortion in the second and third trimesters. I would insist that government funds not be used for abortions, and I would also insist that … if a child is contemplating an abortion, that the parents get notified about that.”

‘I believe firmly that it is not a state’s rights issue, that as a congressmember, I have to have a position on it, and that my position is that those protections [under Roe] need to be reinstated.’

—Bridget Fleming

Fleming described abortion as a “critical issue that defines a moment in time in American history.”

“It’s the first time in the history of the United States that a federally recognized human right has been reversed,” she said. “I believe firmly that it is not a state’s rights issue, that as a congressmember, I have to have a position on it, and that my position is that those protections [under Roe] need to be reinstated.”

Economic apprehension

Amid rising inflation, higher food and gas prices, and nationwide economic hardship, both candidates were asked about their favored approach to relieving these financial woes.

Fleming acknowledged that voters in the 1st District are further constrained by the high cost of living in the area. “It’s hard to make ends meet on Long Island,” she said. “Those costs are rising. … We need to look for specific ways to attack those costs.”

She added, “Certainly, taxes are one of them. I’ve been fighting against the cap on our state and local tax deductions … I think it’s critically important that a representative of this district fights the SALT tax cap.”

LaLota contributes much of the nation’s economic distress to unsustainable federal spending. “The federal government hasn’t balanced the budget in 20 years,” he said. “I think that can and should be done in the next Congress.”

Concerning petroleum prices, LaLota proposes establishing national energy independence by tapping into domestic oil reserves.

“We have 43.8 billion barrels of proven oil reserves [as of the end of 2018],” he said. “That’s a 20-year supply, so there’s absolutely no reason to beg OPEC, Russia, Venezuela or anybody else to export their oil to this country.”

Energy and the environment

LaLota views the 20-year supply of domestic oil reserves as both a blessing and a curse. While it offers the U.S. flexibility in the near term, it provides no long-term guarantee for energy independence. 

In the meantime, he supports an aggressive push toward renewable energy sources. “It is right for the private and public sectors to make investments in renewable, alternative energies — wind and solar, specifically — to ensure we are on a trajectory to be energy independent,” he said.

Establishing a clear point of difference, Fleming expressed vehement disagreement with LaLota’s position on drilling, calling it a “completely wrong direction to go.”

The county Legislator held up recent developments in the offshore wind industry, specifically at Smith Point Park, as a prototype for future energy development. She argued Long Island has an opportunity to be a leader in the cause for green energy.

“Not only will we be helping Long Island taxpayers, ratepayers and our natural environment, we’re also serving as a model for the region and for the United States on how we transition,” she said.

On the issue of nuclear energy, both nominees expressed a desire to keep nuclear power away from Long Island communities.

“I don’t think that the community would support it,” Fleming said. Referring to the decommissioned Shoreham Nuclear Power Plant, she added, “It’s been a huge detriment to any kind of progress.”

When questioned on nuclear energy, LaLota responded tersely, “Not on my Island.” For him, nuclear power is a matter of safety for Long Island residents. 

“For safety reasons, putting a power plant on Long Island just doesn’t make any sense,” he said. “It didn’t make any sense decades ago and doesn’t make sense now.”

LIRR electrification

‘If you could bring in funding for the electrification of the rail once and for all, assisting the Long Island Rail Road to get that accomplished, I think you’d do an awful lot for the community.’

—Bridget Fleming

Fleming and LaLota both supported electrifying the Port Jefferson Branch line of the Long Island Rail Road. For both, electrifying the rail is a matter of directing public funds into Long Island communities but working in close coordination with local officials.

“We definitely need to electrify the rest of the line,” Fleming said. “If you could bring in funding for the electrification of the rail once and for all, assisting the Long Island Rail Road to get that accomplished, I think you’d do an awful lot for the community.”

‘When these infrastructure dollars are received from Washington, given back to the district, it should absolutely be done in conjunction with what local stakeholders want and need.’

—Nick LaLota

LaLota concurred with this assessment while decrying the imbalance between the taxes New Yorkers give to the federal government and the infrastructure funds they get in return.

“We need to do a better job, working across party lines, to ensure that we get better infrastructure dollars back for projects like that,” he said, adding, “When these infrastructure dollars are received from Washington, given back to the district, it should absolutely be done in conjunction with what local stakeholders want and need.”

Foreign policy

On top of these domestic pressures, the congressional candidates identified critical instances of geopolitical turbulence in places around the globe.

Most notably, Russian president, Vladimir Putin, launched an invasion of Ukraine earlier this year, widely considered in violation of international human rights law. Fleming stressed her commitment to the Ukrainian war effort in response to Russian belligerence.

“I think it’s critically important for the rule of order and the international rule of law that the United States takes a strong stand, as we have, in conjunction with a united NATO, to condemn this unprovoked aggression, to offer military aid and to offer humanitarian aid,” she said.

On the whole, LaLota agreed with Fleming. He defined U.S. strategic interests in defending Ukraine. “We are the only superpower. We should promote stability throughout the world. We should protect American interests — we have many interests in Europe — and having stability in Europe … is good for America.”

‘I think we have lived in a moment in time for the last 10 years when China depends heavily upon U.S. dollars.’

—Nick LaLota

Along with the war in Ukraine, they also discussed the dangers of a rising China, a regime exerting greater influence politically and economically around the world.

LaLota advocates loosening the economic links that bind the two nations, something he said is unnecessary and counterproductive. 

“I think we have lived in a moment in time for the last 10 years when China depends heavily upon U.S. dollars,” he said. “We buy a lot of stuff — a lot of crappy, plastic stuff — that we shouldn’t have to buy from them.”

He added that American foreign policymakers must “ensure that [China] does not become a greater strategic enemy of ours.”

‘I think we have to keep a very close eye [on Xi].’

—Bridget Fleming

Fleming’s concerns regarding China relate primarily to Chinese president, Xi Jinping, whose unpredictable administration and questionable political associates cause her concern.

“I think we have to keep a very close eye [on Xi],” the county Legislator said. “I agree that we need to put ourselves in an economic position where we’re not beholden to the Chinese regime.”

Closer to home, the United States is observing heightened instability within its own hemisphere, with volatile regimes in Venezuela and Cuba, and growing concerns surrounding the U.S.-Mexico border. 

Both candidates were asked whether the United States must redefine its policy for Latin America.

For Fleming, much of the nation’s immigration crisis is attributed to government mismanagement of asylum seekers. “A lot of these folks are fleeing really dangerous circumstances,” she said. “One of the things we have to fix is a way to handle these asylum applications. We have huge backlogs in the court system, and a lot of it has to do with an unwillingness on the part of government to take seriously the granular issues involved in immigration.”

To remediate geopolitical unrest in the Western hemisphere, LaLota favors strengthening the military, diplomatic and economic bonds between the United States and its Latin American neighbors. 

“In Congress, I would support ensuring that Americans are involved in South America,” he said. “I think the benefit is less illegal folks coming across our border, and less dependence upon the U.S. in decades to come.”

Congressional reform

We have moved away from encouraging thoughtful approaches to government.’

—Bridget Fleming

We suggested the Founding Fathers envisioned Congress as the most powerful and important branch of the federal government. Over time, however, the national legislature has delegated much of its authority to the executive branch, particularly the hundreds of agencies comprising the federal bureaucracy.

At the same time, recent Gallup polling indicates that three in four Americans disapprove of how Congress is handling its job. The two nominees delivered varied responses when asked how they would restore the central role of Congress in U.S. policymaking.

‘If there’s going to be a tax, a fee, a rule or anything in between, it should come from the legislature.’

—Nick LaLota

“I think that this quasi-rulemaking by executive branch agencies has gone too far,” LaLota said. “If there’s going to be a tax, a fee, a rule or anything in between, it should come from the legislature.”

Expanding upon this stance, he criticized the existing culture of pork barreling and logrolling in Washington. He also advocated shorter, more straightforward, germane legislation narrowly tailored to the issues at hand.

“We shouldn’t be sticking all of this pork and these other ideas into [a bill] that has a different title,” he said, adding, “If we got back to that norm, I think we give power back to the people.”

Fleming’s frustrations with Congress stem from the breakdown of informed discourse and norms of civility. To reform the institution, she proposed the reinstatement of these practices.

“We have moved away from encouraging thoughtful approaches to government and are instead so prone to responding to, almost, performance art on the part of politicians and legislators,” she said.

To get the national legislature back on track, the county Legislator emphasized constituent services and a community-centric method of policymaking.

Referring to the Constitutional Convention of 1787, she said: 

“I think of Philadelphia when representatives came on horseback from their various places and asked that the government be shaped in a way that would respond to the concerns of folks in their communities,” adding, “That’s the model of government that I’ve always undertaken and that I think works best.”

The people of the 1st District will get the final say on these candidates on Tuesday, Nov. 8.

Turning 70, Vladimir Putin has little to celebrate. Within months, he has tarnished his legacy permanently, encouraged domestic opposition to his authority, and isolated Russia from the rest of the world. Pixabay photo

Vladimir Putin, president of Russia, turned 70 on Oct. 7. He was showered with presents and praise as his soldiers continued to fight an ill-fated and illegal war in Ukraine. The Belarusian leader got him a new tractor. The ruler of Turkmenistan gave him celebratory watermelons. Countries such as Cuba, Turkey, South Africa and Kazakhstan called to wish him a happy birthday. 

Yet, as Putin celebrated this milestone year, the septuagenarian dictator received reports that a strategic bridge connecting Russia to Crimea was severely damaged. 

This bad news came amid a string of military and strategic blunders, the declining morale of his army and signs of growing internal unrest in Russia. Putin retaliated with missile strikes on Ukrainian civilian targets.

An invasion gone awry

Widely considered a poorly planned military operation, the once-vaunted Russian military has consistently demonstrated tactical weakness in supply, logistics and communications. Putin is deploying his army with massive shortages in weapons and food after his men chaotically abandoned much of their equipment on the battlefield. 

Reports suggest that Putin has asked North Korea and China for military hardware to recover its loss of tanks and trucks, which have been destroyed, deserted or captured. 

While President Joe Biden (D) has pledged to keep American ground forces out of Ukraine, the United States has continually aided the Ukrainian army. So much American weaponry has been sent to Eastern Europe that America is entering new multibillion-dollar contracts with defense companies to replenish its own national arsenal. 

The American military has mentored the Ukrainian officer corps with special warfare and tactical training. The U.S. Department of Defense has given the Ukrainians sensitive intelligence, helping them locate enemy forces and target them through conventional or guerrilla operations. 

Currently, the Russian military is bleeding out. Part-time soldiers want no part in this war. Making matters worse for Putin, his call-up of 300,000 reservists has met stark opposition from the Russian populace.  

Putin has even lowered standards for recruitment, allowing the homeless, criminals, wounded soldiers and the middle-aged to enlist. The Russian military has become merely a debasement of the once-fierce Red Army, slowly reduced to second and third-rate personnel. 

Outfoxed by the Ukrainian president

In the face of overwhelming Ukrainian resistance, many of Putin’s citizen-soldiers have surrendered. Meanwhile, Russian conscripts, with little training, have gone into battle with obsolete weapons and limited food against a motivated enemy gaining momentum.  

At every turn, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has outwitted and outmaneuvered his Russian counterpart. Zelenskyy has sent online messages to the Russian soldiers, declaring they will be treated well in defeat. Some Russians were even offered to be sent to another nation, where they could save their lives by sitting out the war. 

Whereas the Ukrainians have proven themselves capable of deterring the Russians, Putin has employed desperate means. Given his nuclear options, we are now hearing about a possible escalation in a conflict that could get much worse. 

Domestic unrest

On the home front, the invasion of Ukraine is unpopular; its effects felt the worst by Putin’s own people. Prominent Western businesses pulled out of Russia months ago, initiated by a global economic boycott designed to cripple the Russian economy.  

In the name of wrecking Ukraine, Putin has incited demonstrations against his authority. He has tried to suppress these demonstrations and censor news of the conflict. Still, the stories of many Russian losses on every front are too difficult to hide.  

Russian citizens have followed the fighting in Ukraine, the heavy losses incurred by their fellow countrymen and the lack of supplies for their soldiers. In Russia, mass border crossings have taken place. Cars, many carrying young men, have been seen deserting conscription to the Russian army. 

It is estimated that almost 200,000 reservists have fled Russia. Putin needs soldiers but has not yet resorted to calling upon his massive citizen population for a full-scale draft.  

There is much fighting left and additional sacrifices to be made. The Ukrainians, however, have proven that there is no safe place for the Russian military within their territory. 

While Putin plays with his new tractor and enjoys his watermelons, he has little else to celebrate on his birthday. He has waged an unjust war against a sovereign nation. His actions have greatly diminished Russia’s power and legitimacy worldwide. 

If any of this forecasts a difficult road ahead, Putin’s 70th year will surely be a bad one for him.

Rich Acritelli is a history teacher at Rocky Point High School and adjunct professor at Suffolk County Community College. Written in conjunction with members of the high school’s History Honor Society.

Insomnia. METRO photo

By Leah S. Dunaief

Leah Dunaief

Have you been waking up thinking at night? There is so much to think about, even to be deeply concerned about. There is COVID-19, of course. No one wants to get the disease, and if you already had it, you don’t want to get it again, as some people reportedly have. You also don’t want any of the long-hauler symptoms to afflict you: fatigue, brain fog, aches and pains, trouble breathing, dizziness, headache, and at least nine more on a reported list. In fact, the list is so comprehensive, it’s enough to give you anxiety, especially if you already have had the illness. Oh yes, and anxiety is also one of the symptoms.

Then there is the Ukraine. Normally a country that was somewhere in Eastern Europe, in the same general area as “Fiddler on the Roof,” now its whereabouts as Russia’s western neighbor are known around the world. We watched as Putin sent more than 100,000 soldiers to overrun its borders. Poor little Ukraine, horrid bully Russia. We are sending them an unprecedented amount of money and military aid, and we have lowered our national oil and gas supplies. Will we have enough resources if we are attacked? Even as we cheer the valiant resistance and success of the victims of naked aggression, we worry about Putin’s possible use of nuclear arms. He has over 2000 small such weapons, apparently, and it’s the Cold War all over again.

The problem of immigration was brought right to our door with the arrival of immigrants sent by southern governors of border states. They have been literally deposited here by the thousands via buses, and they have been humanely received, if we are to accept what we are told by the media. As I have written in this column before, they can represent an opportunity as well as a challenge for areas in need of Help Wanted. Indeed, I am now reading that some of the immigrants are put to work cleaning up the devastation wrought by hurricane Ian in Florida. They are even being sent back down there to help. Who knows what to believe?

If you are going into New York City, how likely are you to ride the subway? The reports of incidents underground are frightening. So are horrible, unprovoked attacks on the streets. Now, I grew up in the city, and I am used to all sorts of miserable statistics concerning crime there, but I somehow never felt fearful. With some eight million people, crime is unfortunately inevitable. And NYC isn’t even statistically the worst. New Orleans is. But somehow, these recent incidents seem more violent.

Climate change has finally penetrated national conversation. The destruction and deaths in Puerto Rico and now in Florida and the Carolinas caused by the last two hurricanes have made those of us who live on islands and along the shores more conscious of future threats. While there have always been hurricanes, some with even legendary force, the prospect of more and stronger blasts due to climate change has prompted scary instruction about emergency bags and escape routes.

Inflation and its direction are also of grave concern. Going to the supermarket now seems to net about half as many bags of groceries for the usual food budget. Restaurants have decidedly become more expensive, as they have to pay more to function. And home values seem to have stopped rising and begun to cool. The stock market, while it is not the economy, has dropped like a rock. That negates the “wealth effect” homeowners and investors feel that encourages them to spend more freely.

Heck, I even worry about the New York Yankees. Yes, they have won their division, and you might say, “handily.” That’s exactly the problem. The last time they won by a big margin, they lost their competitive edge, along with the series, remember? It even happened this year right after the All-Star break. Teams do better when they have to fight until the last minute.

Awww, forgeddaboutit! Go back to sleep.

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.

'Untitled' by the Night Heron Artists

By Tara Mae

When people think of watercolors, Claude Monet’s technique is perhaps a person’s primary reference. But watercolor collective Night Heron Artists presents evidence that it is time to expand one’s mental palette with its latest exhibit, Let the Sun Shine, which explores the versatility of the form. The show will be on view on the second floor of the Port Jefferson Village Center through Aug. 24. 

“In my opinion watercolor is very different today than what it was; there are pieces today that are not watery, but more specific and defined,” said Night Heron Treasurer Ellen Ferrigno.

‘Poppy’ by Ellen Ferrigno

Featuring approximately 110 works of art by nearly three dozen artists, the exhibit also includes acrylic, gouache, pastel, and multi-media pieces in addition to the many watercolors. 

“Most artists explore other mediums and it enhances the show, having some pieces that stray from watercolor,” said Night Heron artist Gail Chase. 

Participants submitted on average three pieces to the show and many of them contributed to a collaborative watercolor, a focal point of Let the Sun Shine. The as-of-yet untitled work, a 20”x22” painting of sunflowers, was inspired by the war in Ukraine.

“With a war raging in Ukraine that is threatening its sovereignty, we felt that an awareness of the people’s courage and perseverance in their battle to remain free would best be illustrated through their flower, the sunflower,” said Ferrigno. 

The painting is encompassed by several individual sunflower renderings. This arrangement greets visitors as they come up the stairs to the 2nd floor of the Village Center, where the exhibit is displayed. 

While the artists frequently present one collaborative work in their exhibits —they once made a puzzle for the Port Jefferson Village Center and last year they painted birds on individual canvases that were then placed on a driftwood tree — this is on a different scale. 

“This project was much more involved and a bigger piece as well,” Chase said. Working on it three people at a time, the Night Herons completed the endeavor in about one month, a passion project for the group. 

‘Gaizing Ball’ by Leslie Hand

“People really spent time on this and you can see that; they didn’t just slap paint on the paper. The majority of our members contributed to it,” Ferrigno said.   

Such attention to detail and collaboration are tenets the Night Herons have observed since founder Adelaide Silkworth first invited an assortment of artistically minded people to paint at her house on Night Heron Drive in Stony Brook some 30 years ago. 

When she moved out of state, the Night Herons, having realized that they did not want to stop meeting despite the loss of their mentor, found a new home at the Port Jefferson Village Center. 

An egalitarian group, there are no regular instructors, rather participants share their expertise and knowledge with their compatriots, enabling people to organically improve their skills.  

“We occasionally invite a guest presenter to teach different techniques: landscapes, for example, but generally we assist each other,” Night Heron Mary-Jo Re said. “There are really so many excellent artists and you learn so much.” 

General administrative tasks, such as coordinating visiting artists, updating procedures, and finalizing bylaws, are handled by two co-leaders, the secretary, and treasurer. The Night Heron Artists meet every Thursday on the third floor of the Village Center, from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.

“The lighting on the third floor, overlooking harbor, is the best for painting,” Re said. Ferrigno added that it is “a most inspiring view for artists.” 

‘New Beiggnings’ by Gail Chase

There are currently 30 dues-paying members and 3 guests who pay on a per diem basis. Membership is $7.50 a week, paid in 10 week increments. Guests pay $10 per class. “We have artists of all levels, people who are just beginning, people midway though their art journey, and people who are very accomplished,” Chase said.

Having recently moved to a larger room on the third floor, each person now has his or her own table at which to work. The collective, currently seeking new members, prides itself on being a welcoming, inclusive haven for art enthusiasts.

“What I love about the group is how generous everyone is with their expertise: sharing paints, discussing technique, brainstorming ideas for paintings, and critiquing each other’s work,” co-leader Leslie Hand said. “My own work has grown in leaps and bounds due to this group. My mother was a watercolorist and I think she would be proud of how far I have come.” 

Indeed, creative fulfillment and personal connections are perhaps the most profound legacy of the Night Heron Artists and Let the Sun Shine. 

“This whole experience of being a Night Heron is one of the joys and blessings of my life,” Chase said. 

The community is invited to an art reception on Friday, July 8, from 5 to 7 p.m. Open seven days a week from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., the Port Jefferson Village Center is located at 101 E Broadway, Port Jefferson. For more information, cal 631-473-4778 or visit www.portjeff.com/gallery.

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.

Pixabay photo

By Leah S. Dunaief

Leah Dunaief

The idea that wars would cease if countries were economically tied tightly together seemed to make sense to the world’s leaders immediately following World War II. It sounded like a reasonable premise. After all, why would any nation attack its neighbor if its economy depended on trading with that neighbor, right? In past centuries, wars were started to gain land and the riches they yielded.

Before the Industrial Age, economies were agrarian and depended on land ownership. But by the middle of the 20th century, a huge variety of goods could be exchanged across borders cheaply, especially with advances in transportation. Countries could be locked together by mutual profit rather than by expensive and bloody wars.

For more than 70 years, this theory actually worked in practice. Europe was a prime example. The British had already stopped fighting the French, who stopped fighting the Germans, who stopped attacking Slavic countries, and so on. Instead, they did business together, more or less peacefully, vacationed in each others’ mountains and on each others’ beaches and even formed what they called a European Union. It is not like the United States in that its 27 members must act unanimously or be expelled, but despite infighting, countries want to be in it. Once in, nations can enjoy more cheaply the fruits of economic transactions and a certain amount of financial support. 

The Russians were the world’s third largest producer of oil. They got some $123 billion of their export revenue from supplying crude oil to the rest of the globe, plus refined petroleum-like petrol and diesel at $66.2 billion, gas at $26 billion and coal at $18 billion (2019 figures), especially to neighboring European countries, including Ukraine. Russia was the largest exporter of wheat, plus iron and nickel, nitrogen-based fertilizers and a wide variety of raw materials.

If at war, Ukraine would halt its trade with Russia, which could affect Russia’s economy. So why would Russia start a war with its Ukrainian neighbor? It doesn’t make economic sense. There goes the theory that countries who trade together play nicely together. In fact, it is as if a bully in the schoolyard has begun beating up a smaller child who is supplying him with candy.

President Putin says he fears the encroachment of NATO and must have a buffer between Russia and the other members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization that was organized expressly to defend against a possibly aggressive Russia. Churchill always considered Russia the biggest threat. Ukraine is not a member of NATO, nor of the European Union. Putin further says more that makes no sense about denazifying Ukraine.

One thing seems to be obvious. Putin is not trying to grab Ukraine for its GDP. His army is pursuing a scorched earth attack, destroying apartment buildings, hospitals, industrial plants and whole cities, as it tries to establish a land bridge between the Donbas in eastern Ukraine and Crimea, which Russia annexed in 2014. This would afford Russia uninterrupted access to the Black Sea, a goal of landlocked czars for centuries. But what he is really after is power.

Perhaps, Putin thought that his trade ties with other countries would keep them from interfering in his “special military operation” in Ukraine. No military riposte materialized after he grabbed Crimea. Perhaps he hoped his actions would serve to divide NATO members in their response to him. In fact, only Viktor Orban, the Prime Minister of Hungary, has refused to condemn Putin, straining what has been a Warsaw-Budapest alliance within NATO. On the opposite side of the spectrum, German Chancellor, Olaf Scholz, said that no one could assume Russia would not attack other countries given its violation of international law in Ukraine, and that he would support Finland and Sweden if they decided to join NATO. Scholz made his comments despite Germany’s dependence on Russia for most of its import of gas.

So much for the hope that economic ties peacefully bind.

A scene from 'We Feed People' Photo courtesy of National Geographic

By Melissa Arnold

When Russia first began its major assault on Ukraine earlier this year, the whole world turned its eyes on the conflict. As days turned into weeks and scenes of destruction played out on screens everywhere, it seemed like everyone had the same questions: How will this end? What can we do?

Among them was Lyn Boland, co-director of the Port Jefferson Documentary Series (PJDS). “I must ask myself at least once a day what more I could be doing, because this situation is so heartbreaking,” she said.

A scene from ‘We Feed People’
Photo courtesy of National Geographic

Boland, co-directors Barbara Sverd and Wendy Feinberg, and board members Honey Katz, Lorie Rothstein and Lynn Rein put their heads together to create an inspiring event to support Ukrainian people in need. On Monday, May 9, they will host a screening of the film We Feed People, a family-friendly documentary about generosity, food and its power to heal.

Directed by Ron Howard, the National Geographic film tells the story of chef Jose Andres, the Spanish-born founder of World Central Kitchen. The not-for-profit organization is dedicated to feeding communities impacted by natural disasters and humanitarian crises around the globe. 

“I have found that in the most challenging moments, food is the fastest way to rebuild a sense of community,” Andres said in the film. “A humble plate of food is just the beginning … there is no limit to what we can achieve when we come together and just start cooking.”

The documentary was already completed when Ukraine was invaded, but World Central Kitchen has been on the ground there ever since, helping to provide food and other basic needs.

Boland said that a contact from National Geographic reached out to the arts council recently, offering the film for consideration in the Port Jefferson Documentary Series. The spring lineup was already planned, but Boland asked if they’d be willing to screen the film as a benefit instead. All proceeds from the screening will be sent to World Central Kitchen to provide immediate support to Ukrainians in need. 

“Getting to see Jose Andres in action, and the embrace of humanity that he has, is incredible. He has a way of pulling everyone in,” Boland said.

A scene from ‘We Feed People’
Photo courtesy of National Geographic

Andres started from the bottom in various kitchens when he arrived in America in the 1990s. Over time, he worked his way through the ranks and eventually became a restaurant owner and cookbook author with his own massive following. He founded World Central Kitchen in 2010 in response to the earthquake in Haiti, and since then, it’s been his way of giving back through his greatest passions.

We Feed People takes viewers inside planes, trucks and kitchens as Andres and his team deliver food over a 10-year period. 

Following the movie screening, there will be a live Q&A session via Zoom with the film’s producer Meredith Kaulfers and Ukrainian singer Olha Tsvyntarna, who fled her country for safety a month and a half ago. Tom Needham, host of “The Sounds of Film” on 90.1 WUSB-FM radio, will serve as moderator.

“What’s happening in Ukraine is an abomination, and the people there need the whole world to step up and help them,” said Allan Varela, chair of the Greater Port Jefferson-Northern Brookhaven Arts Council, which sponsors the Port Jefferson Documentary Series. 

“Our mission at the arts council is to bring joy to our communities and expose people to ideas and subjects they may not otherwise know about. For us, we can use our artistic mission to raise awareness, create a fundraiser and ultimately do our part to assist the Ukrainian people.”

Varela also expressed gratitude to Lori and Tom Lucki of Riverhead Toyota for covering all expenses for the screening.

We Feed People: A Fundraiser for Ukraine will be held at John F. Kennedy Middle School, 200 Jayne Blvd, Port Jefferson Station on May 9 at 7 p.m. Tickets are $10.69 per person online at www.portjeffdocumentaryseries.com ($10 from each ticket will be sent to World Central Kitchen, and the remaining $0.69 will be used to cover Paypal fees for the donation) or $10 at the door (cash only). 

For more information about this event, email to [email protected].