When I blogged on the “poisoning” of Karinna Moskalenko last week, I asked, “Was this a murder attempt, a warning, or just paranoia?” Well now we definitively know: It was paranoia. The French newspaper La Figaro reports that an investigation into the mercury that made Moskalenko ill was not planted there by a nefarious Putinite agent to sully another potential “fierce critic.” Strasbourg authorities now say that the mercury came from a broken barometer left by the previous owner. Moskalenko bought the car in August 2008 and just didn’t clean it.
One hopes that Moskalenko will now retract her statement “People do not put mercury in your car to improve your health.” No people don’t, but it doesn’t help that when they do, they don’t clean it up.
I’m afraid that no matter what corrective Moskalenko provides, the damage as been done. The articles echoing another Alexander Litivinenko scandal have already circulated through the culture industry circuitry. Just a few days ago, Time called Moskalenko “a very high profile target.” Yeah, apparently a high profile target of her own negligence. Yesterday, the Washington Post used the poison paranoia to lambaste Russia (again). Here is what WaPo had to say,
“Perhaps this was an unfortunate accident; the police in Strasbourg say they are still investigating. But history suggests otherwise.”
So what is the lesson to be learned? Well, there is obvious lesson that Westerners should be more cautious in making Russia’s “fierce critics'” every word sacrosanct. We might recognize that some of these people are victims of their own paranoia and self-deluded sense of importance. They are not martyrs, saints, or saviors. No matter how much they want us to think they are.
Shout out to frequent SRB commentator Chrisius [Insert Title Here] for bringing attention to it and Eugene Ivanov, who discovered the story.
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By Sean — 10 years ago
As we all well know, Russian President Dmitri Medvedev did the deed and recognized the independence South Ossetia and Abkhazia. A chorus of condemnation, disappointment, and warning immediately followed.
US Secretary Rice: “I want to be very clear, since the United States is a permanent member of the [UN] Security Council, this simply will be dead on arrival.”
US President Bush: “This decision is inconsistent with numerous United Nations Security Council resolutions that Russia has voted for in the past, and is also inconsistent with the French-brokered six-point ceasefire agreement which President Medvedev signed. Russia’s action only exacerbates tensions and complicates diplomatic negotiations.”
German PM Angela Merkel: “This contradicts the basic principles of territorial integrity and is therefore absolutely unacceptable.”
Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili: “This is a test for the entire world and a test for our collective solidarity . . . Today the fate of Europe and the free world is unfortunately being played out in my small country.”
British Foreign Minister David Miliband: “Russia must not learn the wrong lessons from the Georgia crisis. There can be no going back on fundamental principles of territorial integrity, democratic governance and international law.”
It’s open season on Russia as verbal pellets rain on Medvedev’s head. Dima’s response? Bring it on baby.
“Nothing frightens us,” he said in an interview on Russian television. “Including the prospect of a cold war, but we do not want this, and in this situation all depends on the position of our partners”.
Dima talked tough. He held his ground. He threw the ball back in the West’s court and said, “Do something about it.” Nothing is going to sway him. Not a slipping stock market, not investment flight, not a tarnished international image.
But talking tough was only part of the game. Medvedev seemed to be everywhere today in a press junket blitz. An interview with BBC, an editorial in the Financial Times, a talk with Al-Jazeera, with CNN, Russia Today, and France’s TFI Television. I’m wondering if he’ll make it on Oprah or the View. “Hey world! Meet Dimitry Anatolevich Medvedev the President of Russia! Here’s a memo for you. We’re going to do what we want and you can’t do a damn thing about it.” Funny, no one seems to be calling him a “liberal” now.
The crux of Medvedev’s response focuses on quite predictable points: Russia’s duty to protect its citizens, saving Ossetian victims, Western hypocrisy and their flippant disregard for Russia, and, of course, the K-word: Kosovo, Kosovo, Kosovo. Russians said Kosovo was a precedent and everyone dismissed it. Well, here’s what Dima says now:
Ignoring Russia’s warnings, western countries rushed to recognise Kosovo’s illegal declaration of independence from Serbia. We argued consistently that it would be impossible, after that, to tell the Abkhazians and Ossetians (and dozens of other groups around the world) that what was good for the Kosovo Albanians was not good for them. In international relations, you cannot have one rule for some and another rule for others.
Now others are asking: Is Abkhazia and Ossetia like Kosovo or not? Well, there is no doubt in my mind that the situations will be compared, laws will be examined, victims will be counted, treaties, resolutions, and agreements will be consulted. All the diplomats and politicians will posture in the front of the cameras, using all the predictable code words and phrases. The bones of the dead will be exhumed to construct just the right historical parallel. A pillory of pundits, editorials, and “experts” will swoon at questions that make them and their views relevant. Ah, international crisis, it’s just so good for business.
But there is something missing in all of this. There is a silence or should we call it a deafness pervading all the chatter and pontificating. Do you hear it? Can you feel its vibrations amid the declarations and denials of recognition?
What is this sound? It’s the voice of the Abkhaz and Ossetian.
Well, I sure as hell can’t hear it. It seems that amid the geopolitical spit swapping and tit for tat maneuvers, few have bothered to ask the lowly Abkhaz and Ossetian how they feel about being catapulted into the club of nations. Most articles detail the reactions from the the US, Europe, Georgia and Russia.
Sure, sure the Abkhaz and Ossetians don’t have official recognition by laws they didn’t write or politicans they didn’t elect, but still there must be something said for the act of creation that “recognition” brings. After all, three weeks ago Abkhazia and South Ossetia only mattered to those who gave a rat’s ass. Now all eyes are transfixed. They’re suddenly that little corner of the real life Risk board where, in the words of Mikheil Saakashvili in FT, Moscow is unfolding a plan “prepared over years” to “rebuild its empire, seize greater control of Europe’s energy supplies and punish those who believed democracy could flourish on its borders. Europe has reason to worry.” Little South Ossetia and Abkhazia are the pen from which Russia “redraw[ing] the map of Europe.” Who knew that the utterance of “recognition” could spark such discursive fury.
Saakashvili’s editorial is interesting on another level. It is a veritable denial of Abkhazia’s and South Ossetia’s actual existence. His words are an act of discursive erasure. This is already clear in his statement “This war was never about South Ossetia or Georgia.” He goes farther than this. “Over the past five years [Russia] cynically laid the groundwork for this pretense,” he writes, “by illegally distributing passports in South Ossetia and Abkhazia, “manufacturing” Russian citizens to protect” [Emphasis mine]. The Ossetians are essential phantasmagorias concocted in some Moscow OVIR office.
Real people? Nah . . . unless . . . Unless they are positioned as perpetrators. But even here, the Ossetians silence in favor of the Russians. Saak writes,
Since Russia’s invasion, its forces have been “cleansing” Georgian villages in both regions – including outside the conflict zone – using arson, rape and execution. Human rights groups have documented these actions.
But Mikheil, it was the Ossetian militias extracting some revenge that did these acts. Why deny them the little agency anyone is willing to afford them?
It is only through the agency of violence, retribution, and revenge that the Ossetian is now able to speak. Even from the Russian side the Ossetians are relegated to a passive position of “victims.” The Ossetian as the figure of the perpetrator or victim is his only existence. The Abkhaz too only speak the language of perpetrator. Saakashvili tells us,
Moscow also counts on historical amnesia. It hopes the west will forget ethnic cleansing in Abkhazia drove out more than three-quarters of the local population – ethnic Georgians, Greeks, Jews and others – leaving the minority Abkhaz in control. Russia also wants us to forget that South Ossetia was run not by its residents (almost half were Georgian before this month’s ethnic cleansing) but by Russian officials. When the war started, South Ossetia’s de facto prime minister, defence minister and security minister were ethnic Russians with no ties to the region.
This paragraph is quite revealing. The Abkhaz exist only as ethnic cleansers and the Ossetians, well they don’t even govern themselves. Their cause is merely a plot by “ethnic Russians with no ties to the region.”
Surely the Ossetian and Abkhaz reaction amounts to something? After all, they are fighting and dying, right?
As much as Saakashvili and others try to argue that Russia has “manufactured” the Ossetians or that this crisis is all part of Russia’s larger designs, someone must account for the fact that the Ossetians and Abkhazians are celebrating. Sure the laws, politicos, nations, and others needed for “legitimate” independence are silent, but there is something to be said the act of creation recognition brings.
By Sean — 4 years ago
US Vice President Joe Biden is due to land in Kiev and one topic that the Ukrainians will surely bring up is whether the US will provide weapons to fend off a Russian incursion. After all, Poroshenko asked for weapons when he spoke in front of the US Congress in September when he famously declared, “blankets [and] night-vision goggles are also important. But one cannot win a war with blankets.” He went home with more blankets. Surely he’ll again bring the issue of up with Biden, especially as Russia arms the separatists and rumors swirl of a rebel offensive.
Already anticipating such a discussion, Moscow has stated that giving Kiev weapons would further destabilize the situation. Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Alexander Lukashevich warned against “a major change in policy of the [U.S.] administration in regard to the conflict” in Ukraine, adding that sending arms would be “a direct violation of agreements reached, including [agreements reached] with the participation of the U.S.”
Now putting aside the sheer cynicism of such statements, considering Russia has itself destabilized Ukraine by supplying the separatists with weapons, Lukashevich is sending a clear warning: arming Ukraine would certainly cause the Russians to double down and treat the conflict as the proxy war with the West it already thinks it is. This war is not one Ukraine can ultimately win. Weapons will only exacerbate the bloodletting, further crystallize the new “iron curtain” in eastern Ukraine, and perhaps even drawn the United States into another conflict it neither wants nor needs. Arming Ukraine would be a disaster.
Yet there’s a chorus of politicians and pundits who think arming Ukraine is a grand idea.
Over the last few days, the White House has been getting Congressional pressure to supply Ukraine with weapons. In a joint statement on Tuesday, Sen. John McCain and Sen. Lindsey Graham said in the joint statement that “The Obama Administration’s policy in Ukraine effectively amounts to an arms embargo on victims of aggression,” and that “the United States and the European Union must provide Ukraine with the arms and related military and intelligence support that its leaders have consistently sought and desperately need.” McCain and Graham essentially want to turn the conflict into an open proxy war between the United States and Russia. “Providing Ukrainians with the ability to defend themselves,” they wrote, “would impose a far greater cost on Putin than he has paid thus far.”
Pundits have also been weighing on the issue. Writing in the LA Times, Bennett Ramber, who served in the State Department’s Bureau of Politico-Military Affairs under George H.W. Bush, argues that the United States has an obligation to defend Ukraine based on the 1994 Budapest Memorandum on Security Assurances. He writes:
History provides two other options: Sit back, pout and watch, the strategy Washington applied to Soviet interventions in Hungary and Czechoslovakia. The approach concedes Ukraine as part of Moscow’s sphere in influence or more. Or the U.S. can bleed the separatists and Russian intervenors by providing Ukraine with lethal weapons, and not just nonlethal aid, repeating the successful strategy the U.S. applied to Afghanistan during the Soviet occupation.
“Taking the second option, arming Ukraine, he continues, “would not cross World War I’s mobilization threshold but still overcome the appeasement policy of pre-World War II, and thus presents a prudent path giving Ukraine a better chance to defend itself. It also would restore Washington’s credibility that it will go to bat for countries that, under its imprimatur, give up the bomb and find a tiger — or in this case, a bear — at the gates threatening its survival.”
In an op-ed in USA Today, Ilan Berman, the Vice President of the American Foreign Policy Council, argues that time is running out to take action and arm Ukraine.
“The window to do so is narrow indeed. Congress has mere weeks to conduct real work ahead of the coming winter recess. And with other pressing issues, such as a reauthorization of the federal budget, now on the legislative agenda, there is a real danger that foreign affairs matters (Ukraine among them) will get crowded out of the deliberations completely. Should that happen, it would be nothing short of a geopolitical victory for Russia, and a moral and operational defeat for Ukraine’s beleaguered pro-Western government.”
Indeed, Congress is ready to arm Ukraine. It just has to vote. There are two bills before it that have broad bi-partisan support: the Ukraine Freedom Support Act of 2014 and the Ukraine Security Assistance Act of 2014. The first, which has already passed the Foreign Relations Committee, allows for the provision of “defense articles, defense services, and training to the Government of Ukraine for the purpose of countering offensive weapons and reestablishing the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine, including anti-tank and anti-armor weapons; crew weapons and ammunition; counter-artillery radars to identify and target artillery batteries; fire control, range finder, and optical and guidance and control equipment; tactical troop-operated surveillance drones, and secure command and communications equipment.”
The latter provides “Ukraine with appropriate intelligence and other information to determine the location, strength, and capabilities of the military and intelligence forces of the Russian Federation located on Ukraine’s eastern border and within its territorial borders, including Crimea; and take steps to ensure that such intelligence information is protected from further disclosure.”
It’s unclear which way Obama would go if presented with these bills. It will be really hard for him to veto legislation that has such bi-partisan support. It just doesn’t happen to him very often.
But this doesn’t make arming Ukraine a good idea. First, it just demonstrates again that Congress only sees throwing guns at a problem is the only viable solution. After all, what do the politicians have to lose? They can all stand up, puff out their chests and say they were tough on Russia. Forget the Ukrainian citizens who will experience the full fury of an escalated conflict.
Second, Ukraine being as corrupt as it is, there are real concerns how many of these weapons will actually end up in soldiers’ hands and not pilfered and sold on the black market. There is already evidence that some of the United States supplied “meals ready to eat” ended up being sold on black market websites. Could American weapons see a similar fate?
Third, as I said above, this is a war Ukraine can’t win. Weapons won’t turn the tide of the war in Ukraine’s favor. Sure it will, as John McCain put it, “impose a far greater cost on Putin than he has paid thus far,” but presented with such a challenge Putin will surely double down and commit more to the rebels. This would give Putin reason to push not only to Mariupol, Kharkiv, and Odessa, but perhaps to Kiev and beyond. He would not only dismember Ukraine, he would swallow it. Then what would the US do? It would either have to back down or commit more, sending the situation into a spiral downward to hell.
Fourth, given this year is the centennial of WWI, many have characterized the tensions between the US, the EU, and Russia as a recipe for another world war. Arming Ukraine has the potential to get that ball rolling. And from there who knows where things will end up.
I can understand the frustration many feel as they watch Russia flood the east with weapons. Sanctions work slow and don’t really exert the immediate necessary pressure. Also, it’s apparent that the Obama Administration doesn’t have a clear policy concerning Russia. Is it an adversary or enemy? How much does the US need Russia when it comes to Syria and Iran? These questions don’t have clear answers. But throwing more weapons into the mix will only make things worse. The only answer is diplomacy, something both sides have yet to seriously consider. If the United States wants to do something and show it’s leadership, perhaps it’s time to set aside egos and bring everyone to the table for a serious hammering out of issues. A first step would be to silence the hawks in Washington and the “war party” in Kiev.
By Sean — 2 weeks ago