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.

4 thoughts on “Talking Tough to Putin, and Other News

  1. First, good to hear from you, maha!

    Second, Finland's not scared of Russia.

    You see, over 80 years ago, Finland was a Ukraine-like country fighting back against an invasion by the Russians (as the USSR) before there was this Ukraine fighting against an invasion by Russia.
    Russia lost the one 80 years ago.
    Now, too – at least in the court of public opinion.
    Militarily soon too.

  2. Putin considers NATO an enemy – they are a fence to contain the bear. Putin has some notions that Russia's border "doesn't end anywhere." He's also said that was a joke but incursions into Georgia and now Ukraine hint otherwise. 

    The incursion into Georgia was defended as a defense of ethnic Russians (by blood) who live in Georgia and are residents of, citizens of, Georgia. This makes the same kind of sense as Mexico invading the  US because people of Hispanic origins aren't being treated fairly (in the view of Mexico City.) It also gives Putin license to romp and stomp anywhere Russians live. (NYC look out.)

    The current general of the Ukraine campaign also led in Syria. Part ot the strategy was to "depopulate" areas that were resisting Assad. In real terms, that meant slaughtering every living person in areas fighting Assad. The result was to drive Syrian refugees into Europe, creating an economic burden and resentment against non-nationals and against Muslims. It has not happened that I'm aware of, but if Russians were moved into Syria to rebuild and settle, that would provide an excuse for permanent Russian domination to protect Russian nationals. (By Putin’s definition) 

    This is theoretical but it dovetails with the excuse that the Donbas is/should be part of Russia because "Russian-speaking" nationals (many who carry Russian passports) live in the region. Russia's brutal conquest and rule of Ukraine probably dovetailed with moving in Russians to take over the land previously owned by Ukranians who were starved to death under Stalin. (1933 – 1944 – An estimated 4 million.) So how eager would you be if you were Ukrainian and your grandparents lived through that purge to cede good land to the invaders who settled in the land of the victims? But this looks to me (I'm willing to be corrected.) to be the situation.

    As with Syria, Putin is creating a crisis of refugees for Europe. Accidental? I think not. Reducing cities to rubble makes sadistic sense. (I want to know if Putin got the idea from Blazing Saddles, the comedy by Mel Brooks where the bad guys want to depopulate the city of Rock Ridge for the railroad.) But the idea is on a par with Hitler's final solution – kill them or drive them out and steal everything they leave behind. And even that's not original – it's the definition of the diaspora.

    I agree Putin miscalculated. Generally, Ukraine is Christian Orthodox, not Muslim. Europe and the US are sympathetic to the plight of the refugees. Europe blames the bear and has decided to cage the beast sooner, not later. (Not part of Putin's plan – he expected a divided NATO and UN unable to put together a policy.) 

    I talk too much, as you have noticed. IMO, the solution has to be to re-populate and rebuild Ukraine when the violence subsides and Russia tries to consolidate its gains. Ukraine should not cede any territory to Russia where the bear has troops stationed within the original boundaries that the Russians agreed to in 1998. Drones might make an effective weapon of selective execution – sending a stream of body bags back to the Kremlin. This will not sit well with the Russian civilian population. Don't give Moscow a peace treaty or written concession they can turn into a claim of victory. 

  3. "It’s less of an army than a mob with long-range artillery cover." 

    The first of May is but days away, and Red Square will display neatly ordered, highly polished, troops and equipment.  The image will contrast wildly with the horror on display daily of the news from Ukraine.  Bill Browder, who has a new book out on Putin was on Morning Joe today said Putin has gone "full criminal", eschewing any goal of presenting an image of an enlightened leader.  His army seems also gone full criminal, truly a mob with long range artillery cover.  

    Browder's critique of Putin is scathing, as exemplified by this quote from his work:

    As despicable as Putin and his regime's behavior is, none of this can happen without the cooperation of Western enablers. Lawyers like John Moscow and Mark Cymrot, spin doctors like Glenn Simpson, politicians like Dana Rohrabacher, and executives like those at Danske Bank — these people, along with many others, lubricate the machine that allows Putin and his cronies to get away with their crimes.


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