Learn more about Peltz-Steele v. UMass Faculty Federation at Court Listener (complaint) and the Liberty Justice Center. The case is now on appeal in the First Circuit as no. 22-1466 (PACER paywall). Please direct media inquiries to Kristen Williamson.
Showing posts with label Vladimir Putin. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Vladimir Putin. Show all posts

Monday, May 23, 2022

Putin's war strains ties to Belgrade

In Belgrade, Serbia, on Sunday, I was surprised to see a couple of pro-Russian T-shirts for sale on the main shopping strip. One had an image of Putin; another, to the lower right in my photo below (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0), bore the iconic Russian "Z."


These shirts were exceptional, to be clear. They were the only ones of their kind that I saw, and neither was displayed prominently. Also, the "Z" shirt was for sale from a cart that was heavy on Serb patriotism and sold some of the faux-old Soviet hats and pins that can be found throughout the former SSRs.

Still, I was struck that someone had gone to the trouble to manufacture these items recently. And nothing pro-Ukraine was to be seen.

I might ought not have been surprised. My local guide told me that the 1999 NATO bombings of Yugoslavia in the Kosovo affair still sit heavily here—notwithstanding recognition of the misguided nature of leadership by once-President Slobodan Milošević, who died in prison in The Hague in 2006.

A bombed-out portion of the Serbian Ministry of Defense building stands unrepaired today in Belgrade as a deliberate reminder of the attack (below, public domain image in 2005 by Not Home).


In the historic old-fort area of Belgrade, a display of military hardware proudly includes the surface-to-air missile launcher said to have shot down a U.S. Air Force F-117 stealth aircraft in the 1999 engagement (my photo below, CC BY-NC-SA 4.0). The U.S. pilot ejected and was rescued.


In the Cold War, Belgrade was the de facto capital of the non-aligned movement, positioning Yugoslavia as a buffer between East and West. Serbia's inclinations have thus always vacillated. Evidence of waxing and waning relations with the West appears in the strong presence of western cultural institutions in the city and an eclectic mix of architectural styles in post-World War II reconstruction (including bigamous brutalism).

While there surely do remain a hard edge of NATO skepticism and persistent thread of nationalism in Serbian politics, the mood on the street, at least in progressive Belgrade, is not so disdainful. My guide said that most people in Belgrade, if asked today, would go ahead and give Kosovo its formal independence. And Al Jazeera reported 11 days ago that even "pro-government tabloids [in Serbia] have turned on Putin."

With a Serbian eye on EU membership, the country might not be able to resist the pull westward. The wounds and memories of 1999 might have to make peace at last with a new global order.

Thursday, April 28, 2022

'Now NATO might join Ukraine,' experts opine

In Washington, D.C., the International Law Section of the American Bar Association receives a message from Ukraine. Attorney Michael Burke is at the lectern; Ambassador William B. Taylor is at the table. Photo by RJ Peltz-Steele CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 with no claim to depicted video.
The war in Ukraine is not only about Ukraine, and Ukraine will prevail if the West expands military support.

Those were the top takeaways from experts at a panel of the American Bar Association International Law Section (ABA ILS) in Washington, D.C., today, April 28.

The panel at the Capital Hilton comprised William B. Taylor, U.S. ambassador to Ukraine from 2006 to 2009 and now vice president for Russia and Europe at the NGO U.S. Institute of Peace; Vladyslav Rashkovan, a board member of the International Monetary Fund and former governor of the Ukraine Central Bank; attorney Michael E. Burke of Arnall Golden Gregory, moderator; and, by pre-recorded message, an attorney in the Kyiv area.  The panelists spoke in their personal capacities, not as representatives of their organizations.

'This war is not new'

I withhold the name of the Kyiv attorney for security; he is a member of the ABA ILS.  As a man under age 60, he cannot leave Ukraine and sent his regrets with the message, recorded on Orthodox Easter, April 24.

Clad in a hoodie and standing before a nondescript wooded background, the Kyiv attorney described persistent air-raid sirens, especially at night, with rockets anticipated to strike "civil" targets all over Ukraine. He described the mentality of the resistance with knowledge that Ukrainian civilians have been killed, tortured, and raped by Russian soldiers.

"This war is not new for us," the attorney said. "It has been around for hundreds of years," hostilities boiling over only most recently in 2014 and 2022.

I was reminded of speaking to a Krakovian friend, a lawyer and long-ago student of mine, in March, earlier in the invasion. Like many Poles, he was planning to host Ukrainian refugees in Warsaw, where he lives now.  

"It's the Russians again," he said matter-of-factly.

The Kyiv attorney emphasized a recurring theme we hear from Ukrainian officials and commentators, that the war is not only about Ukraine. Rather, "Ukraine is just the first obstacle in the way of Russia," he said. If Russia is not stopped in Ukraine, "European kids and families will keep dying in their homes."

The attorney urged lawyers from around the world to reach out to their political leaders to emphasize the importance of supporting Ukraine, especially militarily.

"Please do your best to support Ukrainians," he concluded. "And keep praying for Ukraine and the brave Ukrainian army."

Ukraine will win, if ...

If western military aid to Ukraine persists and expands, Ambassador Taylor predicted, Ukraine will win the war.  Presently, he explained, Russia is "probing" eastern Ukraine for weakness and softening defenses with air and long-range artillery strikes, while "preparing for a big offensive."

Rashkovan echoed the characterization of conflict with Russia as enduring for "centuries." The February 24, 2022, invasion was "a shock, but not a surprise," he said.

Russia has coveted Ukraine since the 20-aughts, Rashkovan said. To Russia's frustration, every attempt to draw Ukraine closer had the effect of pushing it away.

According to Rashkovan, surprises did follow the invasion of Ukraine, but they were for Russian President Vladimir Putin and for the West.

Putin "believ[ed] his own propaganda," Rashkovan said, citing a recent piece in The Economist by Ian Bremmer. Putin thought "Ukrainians would be waiting with flowers."

Another surprise to Putin was that Ukrainian resistance proved to be sustainable, Rashkovan said.  In contrast, the Russian army proved "not so modern," "not prepared for 21st-century war," "not ready to fight in the streets, against drones and [civic] groups.  They are fighting [with] a strategy of the [19]80s."

Putin also miscalculated by giving a speech in February declaring interest only in the Ukrainian coast, immediately before Russia bombed targets nationwide, Rashkovan said.  The duplicity created "outrageous anger" and "unity" in Ukrainians and in the world, rather than the fear that Putin intended.

Surprises resulted for the West, as well, Rashkovan said. The West "finally understood" that conflict in eastern Ukraine, simmering since the 2014 invasion of Crimea, was about more than the Donbas region and more than just Ukraine.

"I don't want to say for Europe," because Europeans remained reluctant to give up business with Russia, Rashkovan said.  But now it has become clear that Putin stands against the western liberalism of the last half century and norms that it has generated: "globalization, humanism, ... multiculturalism, tolerance, and democracy."

"Ukraine is now on the front line of this fight," Rashkovan said. "Let's be frank.  Until recently, the West was not ready to fight for Ukraine. And Putin showed that he is ready to fight."

The defense of Ukraine should be instructive to the West, Taylor and Rashkovan both said, resulting in the joke, "Now NATO might join Ukraine."

But the joke is "not crazy," Taylor said.  Ukrainians "are showing how to fight, how to win this war."  Upon a Ukrainian victory, he opined, the West should guarantee Ukrainian security against future invasion, whether through NATO or another agreement binding in international law.

Stop saying 'off ramp'

I was pleased to hear a harder line from Ambassador Taylor than I hear from the U.S. leaders that Taylor no longer represents.  Evidently, I am not the only person tired of hearing commentators chatter about the need for an "off ramp" for Putin, a compromise, or my word, "appeasement."

"I am not interested in an off ramp," Taylor said. "Putin caused this problem" by invading a peaceful neighbor that posed no threat and made no provocation.

An "off ramp suggests that we should find something to help him save face," Taylor explained. "No, no.  He needs to find a way out."  When Putin realizes he is losing the so-called "second phase" of the war, if Western military aid does expand, Putin "will look for an off ramp, something to convince the Russian people that it was worth all this.  Good luck with that."

Taylor said he is not worried about Russian aggression against other countries, such as Moldova, as long as Ukraine prevails. Without control of the Ukrainian coast, Taylor opined, Putin "doesn't have the manpower ... to go all the way across the south."

And Russia will not use the nuclear option, Taylor said. "I don't think Putin is suicidal," nor "crazy." "[W]e have to be ready," he said, but "Washington sees no indication of an operational step toward that."

However, if western military aid is not expanded, and Russia does gain control of Ukraine, "then that would be a threat," Taylor said. Besides Moldova, Russian aggression would threaten Georgia, the Balkans, and, ultimately, NATO allies.

"This is not the last war in Europe" if Russia prevails, Rashkovan agreed. "Who knows about Sweden and Finland," countries that recently signaled their intentions to join NATO, "now under critic[ism] from Russia. Who knows about Poland."

Zelensky stars

Both Taylor and Rashkovan praised the leadership of President Volodymyr Zelensky as key in the defense of Ukraine.

Taylor was in Kyiv just three weeks before the invasion, he said, and he met with political opposition leaders, who were characteristically critical of Zelensky.  Upon the invasion of February 24, "that changed....  Zelensky has motivated and inspired leaders, parliaments, nations around the world."  Now, in the context of the war, opposition leaders line up "nearly 100%" in support of the president, Taylor said.

Famously an actor and comedian before entering politics, Zelensky was a sort of Stephen Colbert of Ukrainian "late night" fame.  (Colbert has "run" for the U.S. Presidency more than once, since 2008, in mixed satirical and activist capacities.)  A pledge to eradicate corruption saw Zelensky to a stunning 73% electoral victory in 2019.  When war broke out, Taylor said, it was Zelensky himself who gathered and energized the Ukrainian leadership.

"He understands the Ukrainian people because of his entertainment background," Taylor said. His audience is the electorate.  "It's that connection with the leader and the people that gives him the strength, the moral strength."

China watches and learns

Taylor commented also on the perspective of China.  Just before the invasion, at the Olympics, Beijing broadcast its allyship with Moscow. China has been conspicuously non-committal since.  It has not joined western efforts to arm Ukraine, but has refrained from speaking favorably of the invasion and has not moved to undermine western sanctions. In fact, Taylor said, many Chinese firms are respecting the sanctions.

China's strategy is pragmatic.  Before the invasion, China was the biggest foreign investor in Ukraine, Taylor explained. And Chinese economic planners have their eyes on the European market, "which dwarfs the size of the economy in Russia."

Moreover, the Chinese are studying Russia's exploits relative to the matter of Taiwan.  "President Xi is watching very carefully the response of the United States and NATO, putting sanctions on a central bank," Taylor said. "That probably opened some eyes in China: 'Can they do it to us?'"

And China is watching the military engagement on the ground, too, Taylor said. China might be wondering whether, like Russia, its army is not as strong as Beijing has calculated, and whether Taiwanese resistance to a takeover might be stronger than anticipated.

Lawyers and sanctions help

Both Taylor and Rashkovan told the ABA ILS audience that lawyers are important in the Ukraine conflict, now and in the future.  Lawyers play a role now in documenting and calculating infrastructure losses in Ukraine, Rashkovan said. Data are being fed to the World Bank in anticipation of a reparations bill that might someday issue to Russia.

Meanwhile, Rashkovan said, lawyers should be helping Ukrainian people and businesses to design "legal class action[s]" against Russian defendants.  "I don't know the practicalities," he said, "but we should deliberate this further."

Taylor said that American lawyers can support the investigation of war crimes notwithstanding U.S. non-ratification of the Rome Statute that created the International Criminal Court.  Lawyers can help, too, to strengthen sanctions, which must be made "more targeted and smarter," Rashkovan said.

To evade sanctions, "Russia will start looking for the back doors," Rashkovan said. Russia still imports western food through eastern European and central Asian allies; Rashkovan joked about "Belarusian parmesan," before Belarus, too, came under sanctions.

According to the Crimean play book, he said, Russians will take over businesses from fast food, such as McDonald's, to car manufacture and aerospace, "knowing the techniques" to keep them running. But Rashkovan predicted that "the capacity of Russia to produce something serious, high tech, will diminish substantially."

Acknowledging that not everyone sees sanctions against Russia as necessarily enduring as long as Putin's presidency, Taylor suggested that sanctions will outlast the war, "[b]ecause when they [Russia] lose, they will be back.

"They will not give up," Taylor said, at least not as long as Putin remains on his "almost mystical mission, his commitment to dominate Ukraine."

Tuesday, March 1, 2022

Crisis worsens in Lviv; FIFA at last suspends Russia

Stand with Ukraine rally at the Lincoln Memorial, Washington, D.C. (image by Victoria Pickering CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)
ABC News has published a list of aid organizations supporting Ukraine, including the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees itself.  The number of persons fleeing the war has now exceeded a half million.  Matt Gutman's latest report from Lviv, not yet freely available, is heartbreaking, including a train interview with a little boy and images of a sobbing girl, both contemplating fathers left behind.  A TikTok video gives a flavor.

@abcnews Matt Gutman reports from the train station in #Lviv, #Ukraine, where hundreds of people are waiting to board to leave the country. #news #russia ♬ original sound - ABC News

Recent days have seen moving recognition of the war in professional football (soccer).  My own Manchester City's Oleksandr Zinchenko, who hails from Ukraine, met Everton countryman Vitaliy Mykolenko on the pitch for an embrace before the Saturday match-up, as the stadium overflowed with azure and gold.

Born in Radomyshl in Ukraine, about 70 miles west of Kyiv, Zinchenko perfected his skills with the youth squad of FC Shakhtar Donetsk, where he became captain.  Then, with his family at age 17, he was forced to flee the conflict in the Donbas region, according to the BBC.

The support at the Etihad on Saturday brought Zinchenko to tears. Subsequently, he had harsh words for Vladimir Putin and joined a statement demanding Russia's expulsion from international football. After some earlier ambiguous statements, FIFA, the world governing body of football, yesterday at last settled on suspending Russia from all competitions, including ongoing qualifiers for the World Cup in Qatar late this year.

Manchester City chief Pep Guardiola said Saturday that Zinchenko wanted to play, despite the circumstances. He is set to start today in Man C's FA Cup match against Peterborough, 1915 GMT, on ESPN+ in the United States.

Sunday, November 1, 2020

Peace, power at stake in elections around the world

Pres. Ouattara
(s t CC BY 2.0)
With the U.S. election looming, it's easy to miss crucial elections going on elsewhere in the world, such as Ivory Coast and Moldova, with potential ramifications for global peace.

Votes are being counted now in the Ivory Coast presidential election.  Incumbent Alassane Ouattara is hoping for a third term despite vigorous opposition.  A 78-year-old economist, Ouattara has been president since 2011, after the disputed 2010 election resulted in civil war.  The Ivory Coast constitution limits a president to two terms, but the Ouattara side claims that a constitutional revision in 2016 reset the term clock.

The Sahel
(Munion CC BY-SA 3.0)


An especially sensitive issue in the West African context, the dispute over term limits gives Ouattara's run an uncomfortable overtone of authoritarianism.  Ivory Coast is a key commercial player in West Africa, so stability or instability there ripples throughout the region.  One way or the other, the influence of Ivory Coast's outcome could be especially impactful as Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger, and western Nigeria all struggle to get a grip on lawlessness and violence in the western Sahel.

Frmr. P.M. Sandu
(Accent TV 2015 CC BY 3.0)
Meanwhile, voters are at the polls today in Moldova to choose between starkly different visions for the country's future.  Former socialist party leader Igor Dodon, president since 2016, faces former prime minister Maia Sandu in the country's fourth election since 1991 independence.  Dodon carries the endorsement of Russian President Vladimir Putin and resolves to look eastward for Moldova's future.  Sandu thinks the best hope to pull Moldova out of chronic economic stagnation lies westward, in the European model of development.  

Pres. Dodon
(Russian Pres. Press & Info. Ofc. CC BY 3.0)
I wrote last year about my visit to the "breakaway state" of Transnistria, which embodies the depth of divide over Moldova's future.  Yet so much more is at stake; Moldova stands as a bellwether for the region, indicative of future European or Russian influence.  And with Brexit occurring on Europe's opposite border, the continental union's prospects for eastern growth might speak to the future of the union itself.

Both elections, in Ivory Coast and Moldova, are plagued with reports and denials of poll tampering and improper influence over voters.  And people in both countries fear for the peace in the wake of an outcome favoring any side.

Protestors in Algiers, March 2019
(Khirani Said CC BY-SA 4.0)
Even these elections are not the only ones in the world right now.  The "Georgian Dream" party looks to have won third-term control of Georgia's parliament, lengthening a long-term one-party rule there that opponents say has failed to deliver economic prosperity for working people.  And today, voters in Algeria, where I also visited in 2019, opine on anti-corruption constitutional reforms hoped to quell protests that persisted after the 2019 election of presidential challenger Abdelmadjid Tebboune failed to deliver the prompt changes that the street wanted.

The American election is only one among many in the world this fall in which prosperity and peace might hang in the balance.  I'm hoping that whatever happens here on November 3, we model order and rationality.

Monday, December 16, 2019

'Breakaway state' of Transnistria might model new Russian sphere of influence

Transnistria (Perconte CC BY-SA 2.0)
Vladimir Putin is known for multi-tasking foreign policy; that is, he manages bilateral relationships with specifically fitted policy solutions and doesn't lose sleep over inconsistency across the board.  At the same time, his variable approaches add up to a coherent strategy, which is essentially the restoration of Russia to its superpower legacy, if not the reconstruction of a loose union akin to the old USSR.

Last week I got a close-up look at what might be a model of Russian territorial expansion in the 21st century, the semi-autonomous state of Transnistria.  To the United Nations, Transnistria is part of Moldova, the eastern European nation that declared its independence from the Soviet Union in 1991.  But going to Transnistria requires a passport, and the border crossing is no joke.

Transnistria occupies a 1,600-square mile strip of land east of the Dniester River from Moldova and along the border with Ukraine, not far from Odessa.  In 1992, only months after the end of the Moldovan Soviet Socialist Republic, Transnistria fought a war with Moldova for close to four months.  Prominent monuments to the fallen can be found on both sides of the border today, in Chișinău and Tiraspol. An uneasy truce resulted in which Transnistria regards itself as an independent nation, and it operates with near autonomy within Moldova's internationally recognized borders.

Sign at Border Crossing (CC BY-SA 4.0)
On the way in and out of Transnistria, one passes Russian military checkpoints that duplicate the Transnistrian military presence at the border crossings.  For years after the 1992 war, this was a hard border, not easy even for Moldovans to cross, and out of the question for foreigners.  Tensions eased over the years, and the border yielded some, but it's still restrictive.  My visa, issued at the border, allowed a visit for only a matter of hours.  I could have managed an overnight, but I would have needed to provide details about my stay and intentions.

Near autonomy does not fully describe Transnistria's situation, because the breakaway state depends on Russia for unofficial political recognition and essential economic support.  Economic aid keeps prices shockingly low in the markets.  A big part of border security is interdiction of smuggling, especially for precious taxable commodities such as liquor.

Sheriff FC Billboard
(CC BY-SA 4.0, no claim to underlying work)
Within Transnistria, Russian-style oligarchic control of key market sectors is evident, even amid modest economic liberalization.  The company "Sheriff" (Шериф) is ubiquitous, its name splashed across supermarkets, petrol stations, and the well funded Tiraspol soccer club and athletic facilities.  Sheriff has close ties to the Transnistrian and Russian governments.  Antitrust law is not a thing.  Transnistria has its own currency, and even Moldovan lei must be changed to make a purchase.  Market control and currency help to buttress Transnistrian independence, even while the cost of small-run currency is now seeing low-value coins replaced by plastic chits.

A Sheriff Supermarket (CC BY-SA 4.0)
Reinforced politically and economically, Transnistria's social allegiance to Russia remains strong, a near nostalgia for the USSR.  Soviet monuments, including the obligatory Lenins, abound, and Russian language is pervasive.  A guide told me that Transnistrians are given Russian passports.  That's a subtly important strategic maneuver on Russia's part.  When Transnistrian youth look for economic opportunity, the passport puts Russian higher education and jobs within easier reach than the West.  And if Transnistrian independence is ever threatened (or if Russia itches for expansion?), Russia can claim its interest on behalf of Russian citizens in the territory.  From cultural affinity to political identity, these are the very interests that Russia asserted in the invasion of Crimea.

And those ties to Russia help, I think, to illustrate Putin's strategy for a new kind of Russian union.  The Crimean peninsula essentially is Russia, Putin has argued, a minority Russian population being marginalized by a Ukrainian majority.  Russia is still fighting to extend this Crimean buffer zone into mainland Ukraine.  Move just a bit counterclockwise around the Black Sea coast and one comes to the prized port of Odessa, then shortly to the Dniester River mouth, leading to Transnistria.

Me and Lenin in Tiraspol (CC BY-SA 4.0)
Russia does not actually have to possess this territory to control it.  In fact, possession might incur unwanted responsibility.  Better that this Black Sea perimeter region looks to Russia for economic and political legitimacy and for cultural primacy.  The new USSR is not an integrated, hard-bordered political bloc, but a gravitational sphere of cultural influence.  After all, that was the very model of Western social organization that defeated the Soviet Union in the Cold War.  Students and scholars from around the world looked to western Europe and the United States for intellectual leadership, and the West dominated popular culture.  The global balance of power will shift eastward if Moscow becomes a capital of letters.

For now, the hearts and minds of Transnistria are not yet committed.  Notwithstanding ubiquitous Cyrillic script and an unexpected Russian military presence this far west of Sochi, people in Transnistria, like in Moldova or anywhere else, just want security and opportunity.  The subsidized subsistence of Transnistria is a Potemkin Village—a curiously appropriate term, as related in origin to Russia's historic annexation of Crimea—not a thriving economy.

However, reinvigorated American isolationism and stalled European expansion eastward can't presently compete with what Putin has on offer.  Transnistria now looks like an idiosyncratic outlier among European neighbors.  One day Transnistria might prove to have been a bellwether.

To visit Transnistria or explore elsewhere in Moldova, I recommend Voyages Moldavie.  The website is in French, but contact guide Andrian Gurdis for English-speaking tourism, too.  For long-haul taxi services in Moldova, turn to Corneliu Scurtu and his business, Carpoint (Facebook). Read more about Transnistria at Wired (2016), The Bohemian Blog (2013), and The Wall Street Journal (2011).  There's a deeper dive, which I've not read (pay wall), into the Crimea comparison in Adrian Rogstad, The Next Crimea?, 65:1 Problems of Post-Communism 49-64 (2018).