The omens of impending war we were warned about now seem to be lining up like the horsemen of the apocalypse.
The field hospitals have been set near the border, blood banks have reportedly been brought in. On the information war front, a dossier of alleged Ukraine war crimes circulated at the UN security council, and a video popped up purporting to show an attempted Ukrainian attack on chlorine tanks in the Donbas.
Now the rebel leaders in the Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts have ordered the evacuation of women and children to Russia, claiming – with no evidence whatsoever – that a Ukrainian attack is imminent. Right on cue, a car bomb went off in Donetsk, injuring no one, but providing a fireball for the cameras.
Just as Russian armour and helicopters are edging up the border, Russian messaging is also advancing to the brink. War is becoming more probable by the hour, but it still does not necessarily mean that Putin has made his final decision.
Other explanations are still possible, and events unfolding today may be messier than a single Kremlin-orchestrated master plan.
In a similar vein, the dossier presented to the security council on Thursday was extremely thin and did not claim anything other than civilians have been killed in shelling on the rebel side of the lines in the Donbas since 2014. That was already known, it mirrors civilian casualties on the other side, and falls a very long way short of genocide.
The most alarming development of the day is the evacuation from Luhansk and Donetsk, creating a sudden refugee crisis in neighbouring Rostov in Russia.
... this evening, President Joe Biden addressed the nation to update us on the threat of Russia’s launching another invasion of Ukraine. He emphasized that we and our allies stand behind Ukraine and pledge to continue diplomatic efforts to prevent a war, and yet will deliver “massive costs on Russia should it choose further conflict.” He urged Russia “to de-escalate and return to the negotiating table.”
Political scientist and journalist David Rothkopf tweeted that Biden is speaking as the leader of the free world. “It has been a long time since a U.S. president filled that role. His remarks were concise and pointed...and underscored Western resolve. But the headline: He is convinced [that] Putin has decided… to invade.”
Indeed, that was the big takeaway from the speech: Biden said that intelligence sources think Putin has made his decision. Biden said: “we have reason to believe the Russian forces are planning to and intend to attack Ukraine in the coming week—in the coming days. We believe that they will target Ukraine’s capital, Kyiv, a city of 2.8 million innocent people.”
Former director of the U.S. Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency Chris Krebs pointed out that the advances the United States intelligence community has made in the last few years in counteractive measures have enabled the U.S. to head off plans “before they’re set in motion.” U.S. officials are alerting Putin to the fact there are leaks in his team, putting his plans at risk. This can cause strife and perhaps make leaders rethink their policies. As Krebs tweeted, it “[p]uts some sand in their gears, creates mistrust, and can slow down planning and operations…. The deliberate approach by western gov[ernmen]ts to anticipate Russian disinfo[rmation] & get in front of it is a positive evolution.”
We do not know where the next several days will lead, of course, but it is notable that the solidarity of the countries allied against authoritarianism, strengthened by U.S. diplomacy, is holding strong.
NPR's Mary Louise Kelly talks with Mariana Budjeryn about the Budapest Memorandum, an agreement guaranteeing security for Ukraine if it gave up nuclear weapons left over after the Soviet Union fell.
As we follow the latest twists and turns on what's happening with Ukraine, it's helpful to add a little context on how a nuclear arsenal fits into the picture. So we're going to back up now three decades to the early 1990s and the collapse of the Soviet Union.
Ukraine suddenly found itself independent and the third-largest nuclear power in the world. Thousands of nuclear arms had been stationed on its soil by Moscow, and they were still there. In the years that followed, Ukraine made the decision to denuclearize completely. In exchange, it would get a security guarantee from the U.S., the U.K. and Russia, known as the Budapest Memorandum.
MARIANA BUDJERYN: The implication was Ukraine would not be let to stand alone and face a threat should it come under one.
KELLY: That is Mariana Budjeryn of Harvard University. As Russia threatens to invade Ukraine again, that agreement is now front and center.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
PRESIDENT VOLODYMYR ZELESNKYY: (Through interpreter) We are initiating the Budapest Memorandum.
KELLY: Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskyy talking about it just this past weekend in his speech at the Munich Security Conference. Well, I asked Budjeryn to step back to how Ukraine saw the agreement when they signed it back in 1994.
BUDJERYN: It is clear that Ukrainians knew they weren't getting the exactly - sort of these legally binding, really robust security guarantees they sought. But they were told at the time that the United States and Western powers - so certainly, at least, the United States and Great Britain, they take their political commitments really seriously. This is a document signed at the highest level by the heads of state.
KELLY: Yeah. And people may remember, you know, quite how closely the U.S. was watching. They may remember then-President Clinton visiting Kyiv in 1994 and talking about this.
BUDJERYN: Exactly. And I think perhaps there was even a certain sense of complacency on the Ukrainian part after signing this agreement to say, look, we have these guarantees that were signed. You know, they had this faith that the West would stand by them - the United States, the signatories and Great Britain - would stand up for Ukraine as it were should it come under threat, although the precise way in which was not really proscribed in the memorandum.
KELLY: So let's fast-forward from signing the memorandum, 1994, 20 years to 2014 and the Russian invasion and annexation of Crimea. We seem to have a problem here. The memorandum was about that Ukraine could not be invaded, that its borders would be respected. What happened?
BUDJERYN: Well, what happened was exactly that - that Russia just glibly violated it. And there's a mechanism of consultations that is provided for in the memorandum should any issues arise. And it was mobilized for the first time in at that point - what? - 20 years on March 4, 2014.
So there was a meeting of the signatories of the memorandum that was called by Ukraine. It did take place in Paris. And Foreign Minister of the Russian Federation Sergey Lavrov, who was in Paris at the time, simply did not show up. So he wouldn't even come to the meeting in connection with the memorandum.
KELLY: And the Russians argued, look, we signed this, but it was a while ago. It was a different government. Now it's all illegitimate. Was that the basic...
BUDJERYN: Exactly. That was the basic gist - that we signed it with a different government. But that, of course, does not stand to, you know, any international legal criteria, right? You don't sign agreements with a government. You signed it with a country.
KELLY: You are Ukrainian, I should note. You go back often. You just returned from Ukraine, I gather. What's the conversation today? Is there regret in Ukraine that this memorandum was ever signed, that they gave up their nuclear weapons?
BUDJERYN: There certainly is a good measure of regret, Mary Louise. And some of it is poorly informed because, of course, it would have cost Ukraine quite a bit, both economically and in terms of international political repercussions, to hold on to these arms. So it would not have been an easy decision.
But as we know in public sphere, these rather more simple narratives take hold. And the narrative in Ukraine publicly is we had the world's third-largest nuclear arsenal. We gave it up for this signed piece of paper. And look what happened. And it really doesn't look good - doesn't look good for the international nonproliferation regime because if you have a country that disarms and then becomes a target of such a threat and a victim of such a threat at the hands of a nuclear-armed country, it just sends a really wrong signal to other countries that might want to pursue nuclear weapons.
KELLY: You're making the case that if you were watching all this from, say, Tehran today, you might think - huh - look at the choice Ukraine made. Look where we might find ourselves.
BUDJERYN: Or from North Korea. Exactly.
KELLY: Yeah. So how important do you think the nuclear history is here in trying to understand what is going on today between Ukraine and Russia?
BUDJERYN: You know, I would say after having researched this topic for nearly a decade, Ukraine did the right thing at the time. It did the right thing by itself and also by the international community. It reduced the overall number of nuclear weapons in the world. That makes everyone safer.
Now looking at this history, however, the signatories of the Budapest Memorandum especially but also the international community more broadly needs to react in the way as to not make Ukraine doubt the rightness of that decision. This show of solidarity that we've recently seen - that goes a really long way to convince both Ukrainian leadership but also the public that, you know, even though we gave up these nuclear weapons - or nuclear option, rather - the world still stands by us, and we will not face this aggression alone.
... Yet no one should confuse this moment with either World War II or the Cold War. Today, we inhabit the same economic world as Russia, not an opposing one. Conservative movements throughout the Western world share elements of Putin’s worldview, sympathizing with his vision of traditional nation-states under threat from liberal multiculturalism unmoored from reality. To many, Tucker Carlson, Marine Le Pen, and Viktor Orbán among them, Putin is a kind of bulwark against all that they despise, including the multinationalism of the European Union and the American hegemony that requires defending other countries’ sovereignty. We should not forget that in the U.S., the imperial center of the Western world, the previous president was impeached for trying to blackmail Ukraine for his own political ends.
If the past few days of Russia’s choreographed brutality are anything to go by, Putin must look around him and see a world of strength and weakness—of his strength and the pathetic weakness of the sycophants doing his bidding. Is he really scared of our strength, as we often like to reassure ourselves? Or does he look to the West and see the weakness of human character that is on display among all of his stooges, only multiplied and institutionalized in our democracy? He sees us fighting among ourselves, grasping for petty domestic advantage, taking his gas and propaganda, corrupting ourselves in the process.
The most important question among all of these is whether he is right to see us in this way. The challenge has been set. Much of the 21st century will depend on the answer we give now and in the future.
Ok, after years of warnings were ignored and hearing "Garry, you were right!" all damn day today, I'll repeat what I said in 2014: Stop telling me I was right and listen to what I'm saying now. My recommendations follow: 1/5
-Support Ukraine militarily, immediately, everything but boots on the ground. All weapons, intel, cyber.
-Bankrupt Putin's war machine. Freeze & seize Russia's finances & those of him and his gang.
-Kick Russia out of every intl & financial institution. PACE, Interpol, etc 2/5
-Recall all ambassadors from Russia. There is no point in talking. The new unified message is "stop or be isolated completely".
-Ban all elements of Putin's global propaganda machine. Turn them off, shut them down, send them home. Stop helping the dictator spread lies & hate.3/5
-Expose and act against Putin's lackeys in the free world. If Schröder and his ilk continue to work for Putin, bring charges. Ask the owners & advertisers of networks platforming Putin propagandists like Carlson why they allow it. 4/5
-Replace Russian oil & gas. Pressure OPEC, increase production, reopen Keystone. You can't save the planet if you don't save the people on it.
-Acknowledge there will be costs, sacrifices. We waited to long, the price is high, but it will only get higher. It's time to fight. 5/5
Cannot ignore the political 5th column of Putinists, from the far right & left in EU to the tankies & Trump & his GOP followers in the US. They may have the right to support a brutal dictator's war in order to criticize Biden, but it's disgusting and anti-American. Do not forget.