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 sorted by date for query Ukraine. Sort by relevance Show all posts
Showing posts sorted by date for query Ukraine. Sort by relevance Show all posts

Monday, July 4, 2022

Fourth of July, or day 131 of war in Ukraine


As we celebrate Fourth of July in the United States, let's remember that a war for freedom and autonomy carries on in Ukraine. I photographed this vista of the Dnieper in Kyiv in peaceful times, on June 12, 2013, eight months before the Euro-Maidan Revolution and subsequent invasion of Crimea.  (RJ Peltz-Steele CC BY-NC-SA 4.0.)

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."

Thursday, March 24, 2022

Let's laugh at them, not with them: Klobuchar cites serious stats, but occasions levity in Jackson hearing

On day 2 of the Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson hearings, Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) borrowed a joke from The Daily Show's Trevor Noah.

Klobuchar remarked on the significance of a woman taking a seat on the U.S. Supreme Court to attain a 5-4 gender balance for the first time.  Of 115 confirmed justices in American history, Klobuchar counted, 110 have been men.  Klobuchar said that she had "reminded" Trevor Noah on The Daily Show of similar statistics relative to service in the U.S. Senate: "Of the nearly 2,000 people who have served, only 58 have been women.  And he responded that if a night club had numbers that bad, they'd shut it down."  Here's the 38-second clip:


It was Noah who actually quoted the Senate statistic from a book, Nevertheless, We Persisted (2018), an anthology for which Klobuchar wrote a foreword and which she touted at the time. Noah followed up, "I've been to gay clubs that have better ratios of men to women."  Klobuchar took the occasion in 2018 to speak against the Brett Kavanaugh nomination, pending at the time.  She put the appearance on Facebook.


Klobuchar appeared on The Daily Show also in 2017 and in 2019, the latter while running for President.  But none of those appearances marks the funniest intersection of Klobuchar and Noah in popular culture.  That honor goes to a 2019 tweet by Noah in which he lampooned Klobuchar for overusing a joke on the campaign trail.

Senators' interrogations of Jackson on Tuesday and Wednesday this week were at times cringeworthy, to use my wife's word.  In particular, the questioning by Senators Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) and Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) were difficult to endure; even National Review Senior Fellow Andrew C. McCarthy, who opposes Jackson's appointment on other grounds, described Hawley's attack as "meritless."  The affair rubs in for me David Brooks's recent lament in The Atlantic on the divide between today's rabid right and the meritorious social value of genuine conservatism.

Both Stephen Colbert and Trevor Noah are off this week, so between the stresses of a contentious Senate hearing and the ongoing war in Ukraine, I am sorely missing my daily doses of escapist levity. Fortunately, The Daily Show's Desi Lydic deposited a dose of satire on the web for us; don't miss it.


Thursday, March 3, 2022

Ways to give: Ukraine National Bank sets up links for donations to armed forces, humanitarian relief

National Bank of Ukraine (NBU photo CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)
Many folks have been asking how or where to make donations in support of Ukraine, and I have had the same questions.

I posted earlier a link to a list published by ABC News.  A friend in the D.C. area (HT @ Leah) shared the following three items, which represent the most comprehensive array of possibilities I have seen.  The first two items come from a listserv of the Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School community in Maryland, near D.C.; the latter comes from an American NGO. 

In addition, a family member (HT @ Jack) sent a link to the Knights of Columbus Ukraine Solidarity Fund, which promises that 100% of gifts will supply displaced people, and that the Knights will match the first half million dollars contributed.

I preface the following items by saying that none of these lists is exhaustive, and there are organizations working on the ground that also could use support, but to which it is difficult to donate because the only way to do so is a costly wire transfer.  There are persons organizing group gifts to mitigate the cost of wire transfer, so such possibilities exist.  But, of course, be wary of scams; choose a non-traditional giving channel only with high confidence that it's legit and ideally a personal connection to verify the legitimacy.

This first item seems to me the most direct way to give, short of an organized wire transfer.  I'm leaving in the full-text links so that you can see their ".gov.ua" bona fides.

The National Bank of Ukraine has set up two accounts to which people can donate.  One is to support the Armed Forces of Ukraine, one is for Humanitarian Assistance to Ukrainians affected by Russia's aggression.
 
Both are very simple to donate to.  The links are:

[Armed Forces] https://bank.gov.ua/en/news/all/natsionalniy-bank-vidkriv-spetsrahunok-dlya-zboru-koshtiv-na-potrebi-armiyi
 
[Humanitarian Assistance] https://bank.gov.ua/en/news/all/natsionalniy-bank-vidkriv-rahunok-dlya-gumanitarnoyi-dopomogi-ukrayintsyam-postrajdalim-vid-rosiyskoy

Here is the second item, a list of organizations.  There is a lot of overlap here with the ABC News list, which Razom topped.  And the Kyiv Independent I wrote about here on Feb. 25.

  • The International Medical Corps, is on the front lines helping with emergency health care services.  You can donate at Ukraine | International Medical Corps.
  • You can donate to the International Rescue Committee to support families affected by the Ukraine crisis.
  • Chef José Andrés feeds Ukrainian refugees at the border | WTOP News. José Andrés, D.C. chef famous for feeding people in need around the world, is already in Poland with his World Central Kitchen team helping provide “thousands of meals in Poland, Romania and even inside Ukraine,” he wrote on Twitter. Anyone who wishes to donate to the efforts can go here.
  • The Ukrainian Red Cross is helping with humanitarian aid, including aiding refugees and training doctors.  You can donate at UKRAINE CRISIS | International Committee of the Red Cross (icrc.org).
  • Journalists with the Kyiv Independent and Kyiv Post have done extraordinary work covering the war, offering the world constant updates as they fear for themselves, their families and their homes. The Independent has started a GoFundMe asking for support, and the Kyiv Post offers subscriptions for $45 a year.
  • Voices of Children, a charitable foundation based in Ukraine, has been serving the psychological needs of children affected by the war in the country’s east since 2015, according to its website. The group’s psychologists specialize in art therapy and provide general psychosocial support with group classes or individual sessions. Many of its psychologists are based in the regions of Luhansk and Donetsk, areas that have long been controlled by Russian-backed separatists and that are on the front lines of the current, wider conflict. Now, Voices of Children is providing assistance to children and families all over Ukraine, even helping with evacuations. You can donate here.
  • Razom for Ukraine was founded in 2014 and has since launched efforts to build a stronger democracy in the country. Now, according to its website, the nonprofit is “focused on purchasing medical supplies for critical situations like blood loss and other tactical medicine items. We have a large procurement team of volunteers that tracks down and purchases supplies and a logistics team that then gets them to Ukraine.” Razom—which means “together” in Ukrainian—posted a list of the lifesaving supplies it has already purchased and is asking for more support here.

Most large international aid organizations, including UNICEF, the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), the International Committee of the Red Cross, Doctors Without Borders, Save the Children and the International Rescue Committee, are currently working in Ukraine and neighboring countries, where a growing number of displaced people are fleeing.

Additional organizations helping in Ukraine and highly regarded (getting Charity Navigator’s top rating (4 stars)) are: Direct Relief, GlobalGiving, and the Center for Disaster Philanthropy.

The third item is labeled as coming from Foreign Policy for America.  Again, there is overlap.

GlobalGiving Ukraine Crisis Relief Fund. Your donation to this fund will support affected communities in Ukraine, with a focus on the most vulnerable, including children, who need access to food, medical services, and psychosocial support. Donate here.

CARE Ukraine Crisis Fund. Your emergency gift supports CARE’s Ukraine Crisis Fund to reach 4 million with immediate aid and recovery, food, water, hygiene kits, psychosocial support, and cash assistance — prioritizing women and girls, families, and the elderly. Donate here.

United Help Ukraine. This US-based organization focuses on raising awareness around the ongoing conflict in Ukraine and is raising funds to provide humanitarian assistance to Ukrainians. Donate here.

Support Hospitals in Ukraine. Your donation will support Ukrainian hospitals with much needed modern medical equipment and supplies shipped from the United States. Hospitals in Ukraine are under immense strain that will likely continue for a long time regardless of when the conflict ends. Doctors have been doing a heroic job but are in dire need of more trauma-related equipment and surgical tools. Donate here.

Nova Ukraine. The Ukraine-based organization is dedicated to raising awareness about Ukraine in the US and throughout the world and providing humanitarian aid to vulnerable groups and individuals in Ukraine, ranging from medical equipment for wounded soldiers to dresses and suits for graduation days in orphanages in Ukraine. Donate here.

Ukrainian Congress Committee of America. This non-partisan US-based organization supporting the Ukrainian community is accepting donations for humanitarian aid. Their website includes additional resources for how we can support Ukrainians beyond financial assistance. Donate and learn more here.

ChildFund. ChildFund’s German sister organization, ChildFund Deutschland, has worked in Ukraine for many years and is acting quickly to provide emergency aid to kids and their families. Your support will help deliver relief and keep children safe as the crisis unfolds. Donate here.

Project HOPE. As conflict intensifies inside Ukraine, Project HOPE is on the ground responding to this crisis and is actively shipping medicines and medical supplies to assist Ukrainians. Donate here.

World Food Program USA. WFP launched an emergency operation to provide food assistance for people fleeing the conflict and is on standby to assist refugees, as requested. Their teams are also on the ground in Kyiv and in a number of the neighboring countries, leading the emergency telecommunications and logistics clusters on behalf of the United Nations. Donate here.

Support Ukrainian Journalism. Numerous Ukrainian journalists continue to provide on-the-ground reporting from Ukraine despite the risks. The Kyiv Independent can be supported here. An additional fund has been set up by a consortium of media organizations to support other Ukrainian journalists currently covering this crisis. You can support the consortium here.

I know there are several other ways to support Ukraine, but I cannot list all of them here. If you have questions about another fund or organization, please don’t hesitate to reach out to our team. For anyone who is considering volunteering in Ukraine, please consider this advice from USAID and review the resources they provide.

Prayers for 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.

Monday, February 28, 2022

R.I. Capitol, 'SNL' signal stand with Ukraine

My state capitol in azure and gold:

On a less softhearted note, I was not happy with some of the sentiments from Uprise RI in the state-capital rally. To my eye, too many demonstrators were more interested in evidencing apathy by demanding U.S. non-intervention than in expressing any empathy or support for Ukraine.  This selfishness, no less a nationalism on the left than on the right, reminds me why I have long refused to register with the Libertarian Party, even if I am a small-l libertarian.  Libertarianism should not mean isolationism; even objectivism does not utterly eschew the common defense.  I wish we lived in a world of peace and daisies, but that's delusional.  There is such a thing as jus ad bellum.

Anyway, hats off to Saturday Night Live, which hit a right chord with a classy cold open this past weekend.

The situation at the Polish border is both a growing humanitarian crisis and a burgeoning source of stirring stories of compassion.  I hope to write more on that soon as I hear from friends there.

Sunday, February 27, 2022

War forces news underground; Poles rally for refugees

Broadcast news continues from an underground parking garage, where Ukrainians take refuge from Russian attack, Western media have reported widely.

A worship leader at my church today highlighted a line from the Newsboys' "He Reigns" (2003):

It's all God's children singin'
"Glory, glory, hallelujah"
"He reigns, he reigns"

Let it rise above the four winds
Caught up in the heavenly sound
Let praises echo from the towers of cathedrals
To the faithful gathered underground

I cited the other day a link to fundraising for The Kyiv IndependentGQ two days ago wrote about other ways to give.  "Send Relief" is a Christian mission organization with a Ukraine crisis fund.

For anyone wanting a primer on Ukraine-Russian history, the multi-talented Mo Rocca published a superb piece this morning on CBS Sunday Morning, informed by an interview with Anne Applebaum, whose November Atlantic cover story has proven to be the gold standard of prescience in the present crisis.

Flight from Ukraine is creating a refugee crisis in Poland.  Men age 18-60 are not permitted to leave Ukraine, so families are separating with the hope of sparing children from the war.  With their usual quiet relentlessness, Poles are stepping up in big numbers. My friends there report taking in families. Poland will need our support, too.

Calling for prayer, my pastor this week quoted Jesus in John 16:33: "I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world."

Friday, February 25, 2022

Support journalism in Kyiv

Maidan Nezalezhnosti in 2013.  RJ Peltz-Steele CC BY-NC-SA 4.0.
Via Lonely Planet and The Points Guy, a way for the free expression-minded among us to support Ukraine:  The Kyiv Independent (Twitter) is doing English-language journalism from Kyiv, where it is a leading source of information for Europeans and Americans.  The paper was formed by The Kyiv Post editorial staff that covered the Maidan revolution in 2014.  Support can be offered through Patreon and GoFundMe.

Thursday, February 24, 2022

West fails democracy, reembraces appeasement

The Eternal Love monument in Mariinsky Park in Kyiv commemorates an Italian POW and Ukrainian forced laborer who fell in love amid World War II, and then were separated by the Iron Curtain for 60 years.  The Guardian and DW have more.  I took this photo on a grand walkabout during my first visit to Kyiv in 2013. (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0.)

I've been away from blog duty for some weeks because of a busy presentation agenda this month.  But I have a list of items pending, and I look forward to returning to writing and sharing what I've learned. Meanwhile, I am distraught by events in Ukraine.  I have family from Kamianets-Podilskyi.

Sunday, February 6, 2022

Ukrainian west comprises ethnic groups scarred by Soviet hostility; historian will lecture on Lemkos

Carpathian Range
(map by Ikonact CC BY-SA 4.0)
The Jagiellonian Law Society and the Kosciuszko Foundation are sponsoring a lecture on February 24 on Ukraine, Poland, and the Lemkos ethnic group.

The Beijing Olympics opened Friday, and conventional wisdom suggests that the chess game playing out in Eastern Europe will not heat up until the Olympics ends on Sunday, February 20. Nervous speculation abounds on what the following week might bring. Meanwhile, 3,000 American troops are deploying to Poland, Romania, and Germany.

February 24 thus seems an opportune time to learn something more about the complicated history of the region that is the focus of the world's attention.  The Lemkos ethnic group, at home in the Carpathian mountain range, sits at a curious crossroads.  With communities spanning Poland, Ukraine, and Slovakia, the Lemkos are an important piece of the region's multicultural story.  Oppressed by the Soviet Union, they are something of a mirror image of the intercultural wedge that Vladimir Putin is now driving to fragment Ukraine in the east.

Carpatho-Rusyns, including Lemkos at left, celebrate a cultural day in 2007.
(Photo by Silar CC BY-SA 3.0)
Professor Jan Pisuliński, a historian at the University of Rzeszów, will deliver the lecture, "Lemkos and Ukrainians," the fourth in a series on "Ethnic Minorities in Polish Lands."  Pisuliński is author of the book Special Operation "Vistula" (Akcja Specjalna 'Wisła') (2017) (Amazon), the definitive account of the forced resettlement by the Soviet Union in 1947 of 140,000 to 200,000 persons, mostly ethnic minorities including Lemkos, from the Carpathians to western Poland.  With the resettlement, the Soviets dismantled post-war guerilla resistance in the region.  On the northern edge of the Carpathians and in the southeast of Poland, Rzeszów is about 100km by highway form Ukraine's western border.

Registration for the Zoom lecture is free.  New members are always invited to join the Jagiellonian Law Society and Kosciuszko Foundation.  (I'm a member of the former.)  The Kosciuszko Foundation sponsors student scholarships and exchanges, among many other programs.

Saturday, October 2, 2021

Sheriff FC tells two tales, because that's football, life

Selfie, today (RJ Peltz-Steele CC BY-NC-SA 4.0)
The Sheriff Football Club from Tiraspol in Transnistria, Moldova, defeated western European powerhouse Real Madrid, at home at the Bernabeu, in Champions League football last week.

Coincidentally, I've lately been sporting my "Sheriff" ball cap.  I wrote about Transnistria after my visit there, and to Sheriff's 12,000-seat stadium in Tiraspol, two years ago: "Breakaway state of Transnistria might model new Russian sphere of influence" (Dec. 16, 2019).

It's interesting to see how media outlets describe Sheriff's geographic home.  Most I've seen say "Moldova," which, I guess, is what you find if you look at a political map.  Wikipedia describes Tiraspol as "the capital of Transnistria, a breakaway state in Moldova."  Only in an Al Jazeera main headline did I see exclusive mention of Transnistria.  The subhede then started, "Football club from a pro-Russian separatist enclave in Moldova."

After I crossed into Transnistria and showed my papers to the heavily armed border guards to get my 24-hour visa in a flurry of stamps, I didn't feel like I was still in Moldova.

Most media outlets have not picked up the political thread on the upset story.  In one exception, Sheriff's road to Champions League glory is well contextualized by Gab Marcotti for ESPN FC.  He observed that none of the Sheriff players are Moldovan or Transnistrian—but before one "get[s] high and mighty about national identity, please consider that at the final whistle, there were exactly zero Spaniards on the pitch."

Is the Sheriff-over-Real-Madrid story "a 'fairy tale' or a sad reflection"? Marcotti wondered.  On the one hand, there is the peculiar joy of football as sometimes, or seeming, social leveler:

Let it be a reminder that ordinary players, on an ordinary Tuesday night, can walk into the temple of football and knock it down, like Samson back in the day. That's part of the appeal of this sport. It's low-scoring, it's mano-a-mano, and the gap between superstars and extras may be huge over time, but on any given day, it can be tiny and anything can happen.  

Marcotti drew on a Twitter thread from near-Tiraspol-born, ethnically Russian, now Baltimore, Md.-based sportswriter Slava Malamud to illustrate the other hand:

[Sheriff] have been Moldovan champions in 19 of the past 21 years, they have the country's only modern stadium and they're bankrolled by the Sheriff corporation, a conglomerate that includes Transnistria's only supermarket chain, gas station chain, telephone network, TV channels, publishing house and distillery. The owners have close ties to the local government, which, in turn, is funded and protected by Russia. This isn't just a company team; it's a company town in the company enclave of Transnistria, and you can't shake the feeling that this is what it takes for "fairy tales" like this to take place in the modern game.

Football is metaphor.  What happens on the pitch, especially when recounted by capable journalists, is contradiction, because contradiction is football, and football is life.  Sheriff is fairy tale and sad reflection.  In the same way that pride and frustration are fast friends.

Undefeated in the group stage, Sheriff now leads UEFA Champions League Group D with wins over Real Madrid and Ukraine's Shakhtar Donetsk.  Sheriff will face Inter Milan, in Milan, on October 19, again putting the fairy tale to the test.

(Below, BT Sport tweet from Sheriff's August win over Dinamo Zagreb to reach the Champions League (retweeted by Malamud)).

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).