Talking Tough to Putin, and Other News

By his own account, the Chancellor of Austria, Karl Nehammer, had a “tough” conversation with Vladimir Putin today. The Guardian:

Austria’s chancellor, Karl Nehammer, has said he told Vladimir Putin that “all those responsible” for war crimes must be brought to justice and warned that western sanctions would intensify as long as people kept dying in Ukraine.

After becoming the first western leader to hold face-to-face talks with the Russian president since the invasion of Ukraine, Nehammer said his trip to Moscow was not “a visit of friendship” and that the two had had a “direct, open and hard” conversation.

Austria is not a member of NATO and is militarily neutral, but Nehammer said his country would not be “morally neutral” as Bucha and other atrocities come to light.

I had hoped Nehammer would have told Putin that Russia is losing the war Putin started. We keep hearing that Putin’s people don’t tell him how badly his military is fumbling in Ukraine, even as it engages in war crimes. It’s less of an army than a mob with long-range artillery cover.

How is Putin losing? We learned today that Sweden and Finland could be joining NATO soon, so if one of Putin’s goals was to weaken the influence of NATO, he’s botched that one rather badly. NATO is suddenly relevant again. Russia has warned Sweden and Finland against joining NATO, but did not specify what consequences might be in store for those who draw Russia’s wrath. It’s possible Sweden and Finland are not terribly worried.

The one person who has soured on NATO is Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, who is kind of done waiting for “diplomacy” to have any results

Meanwhile, CNN Business reports that Russia has defaulted on foreign debt.

Worth reading: ‘This Was Trump Pulling a Putin’: “Amid the current crisis, Fiona Hill and other former advisers are connecting President Trump’s pressure campaign on Ukraine to Jan. 6. And they’re ready to talk.” Mostly Fiona Hill, though.

In other news

I can’t bring myself to read this because it might drive my blood pressure up again against doctor’s advice. Andy Kroll at Rolling Stone, How Joe Manchin Knifed the Democrats — and Bailed on Saving Democracy.

Trump’s endorsement of Dr. Mehmet Oz for U.S. Senator from Pennsylvania has Trumpworld in an uproar. Do read this; it’s hysterical, in its way.

Today we also learned that, six months after the Trump Administration (mercifully) ended, Jared Kushner’s brand new private equity firm, Affinity Partners, secured a $2 billion investment from a fund led by Saudi Prince Mohammed bin Salman. This was after all of MBS’s financial advisers told him it was a bad idea. The New York Times:

Those objections included: “the inexperience of the Affinity Fund management”;the possibility that the kingdom would be responsible for “the bulk of the investment and risk”; due diligence on the fledgling firm’s operations that found them “unsatisfactory in all aspects”; a proposed asset management fee that “seems excessive”; and “public relations risks” from Mr. Kushner’s prior role as a senior adviser to his father-in-law, former President Donald J. Trump, according to minutes of the panel’s meeting last June 30.

Jared has a long-established record of screwing up, so MBS may be throwing away his $2 billion. Like I care.

Ethics experts say that such a deal creates the appearance of potential payback for Mr. Kushner’s actions in the White House — or of a bid for future favor if Mr. Trump seeks and wins another presidential term in 2024.

Mr. Kushner played a leading role inside the Trump administration defending Crown Prince Mohammed after U.S. intelligence agencies concluded that he had approved the 2018 killing and dismemberment of Jamal Khashoggi, a Saudi columnist for The Washington Post and resident of Virginia who had criticized the kingdom’s rulers. …

… In Washington, Mr. Kushner had also helped broker $110 billion in weapons sales to Saudi Arabia over 10 years. He helped protect those and other weapons deals from congressional outrage over the murder of Mr. Khashoggi and the humanitarian catastrophe created by the Saudi-led military intervention in Yemen.

The Times also says that Jared has “signed up few other major investors.” Probably because other major investors would rather not lose their money.

Josh Marshall:

This is possibly the largest and most brazen instance of public corruption I’ve seen in twenty five years covering American politics as a journalist. And this is saying something since, as you know, public corruption has always been one of my greatest interests and consistent beats. We knew a relationship like this was building through the Trump administration. Trump’s son-in-law, callow and hungry, had taken over administration Middle East policy, in the expectations of the big money pay offs the Saudis especially but not only them could provide to the Trump-Kushner family. And here we are with what is certainly just one example of the pay off. We knew it was coming but the sheer scale of it, the sheer openness of it, is bracing to see.

You would think that Jamal Khashoggi deserves at least a plaque somewhere at Affinity Partners since he is probably more personally responsible for securing this $2 billion than anyone.

See also Dan Primack at Axios, Trump Alums Cash In on Saudi Ties. Steve Mnuchin also is starting a new private equity fund and received $1 billion from MSB. At least Mnuchin does have a record of making money, in part by kicking old folks out of their homes.