Putin and Iran: Israel’s $2.6 Billion for a Nuclear Strike

Iran and Israel’s $2.6 Billion for a Nuclear Strike


Howard Adelman

In the blog sent out by Dow Marmur today that I received an hour ago, he discussed the published rumor or deliberate leak by the government of Israel that it has set aside billions of shekels (10) to finance a possible strike on Iran, implying that Israel planned to go ahead with the strike without American involvement. Dow envisioned three scenarios:

1. The least likely: the leak was simply theatre, in which Yaalon’s second insult directed at the American Defence Minister was part of the act, to convince Iran that Israel carried the big stick if Iran started procrastinating in reducing its nuclear program. In that scenario, Dow wrote that the Iranians may be part of the theatre for they would be too knowledgeable to be taken in by such a ruse and “thus remain as smiling sweetly and as steely intransigent as they’ve been hitherto.”

2. The most ominous: Israel may indeed bomb Iran with catastrophic results for Israel, Iran and the whole Middle East.

3. Business as usual: Yaalon is a straight shooter and is telling it as it is..

I want to suggest another answer. First, it depends to some degree on knowing that Iran is cooperating fully according to the first interim agreement and is NOT “smiling sweetly” while they remain as “steely intransigent as they’ve been hitherto”.  According to the Institute for Science and International Security 20 March Report from Washington written by the Director General updating everyone on the “voluntary measures” that Iran obligated itself to undertake as part of the Joint Plan of Action that took effect on 20 January of this year, Iran was to take no further steps to improve its nuclear production facilities or enrich any uranium further and was to begin a process of reducing it nuclear capability in return for an easing of the boycott.

IAEA Report: Status of Iran’s Nuclear Programme in relation to the Joint Plan of Action[/url]

The Report unequivocally states that Iran has NOT enriched any more uranium above 5%, has NOT carried out any reprocessing and enrichment in any of its other nuclear facilities, has NOT operated its cascades in an interconnected configuration, and has NOT carried out further improvements in its Fuel Enrichment Plant, Fordow or Arak. Iran has diluted almost 75 kg of enriched uranium from 20% to no more than 5% and fed a further almost 32 kg for conversion to uranium oxide. Iran has also fully conformed to the continuing plans for further decommissioning of much of its 20% enriched uranium by providing updated detailed design information re the IR-40 Reactor. Iran began the preliminary steps needed to draft a Safeguards Agreement while it continues utilizing the safeguard practices in place, has, as agreed, continued the construction of the plant for converting 5% U-235 to uranium oxide, has provided access to international inspectors of its uranium mine and mill at Gechine, daily access to Natanz and Fordow, and managed access to centrifuge assembly and rotor production workshops as well as storage facilities.

So what is the meaning of this nonsense about Iran remaining steely intransigent! Iran has been cooperating fully under the terms of the interim agreement? So why is Israel NOW leaking plans to devote $2.9 billion dollars for the cost of bombing Iran’s nuclear facilities?

As Barak Ravid reported in Haaretz, “Netanyahu tells IDF: Get ready to strike Iran during course of 2014” and has earmarked $2.6 billion (sic!) in preparation for a possible attack. I suggest the following. It is not theatre – easily tested. It has to do with the follow-up after 20 July when a full agreement is to be in place. With the events in Crimea, the West has lost Putin as an active partner in pushing the best agreement possible. Further, as indicated by Yaalon’s insults directed at America, the USA has taken the military option almost totally off the table in dealing with Russia (and presumably with Iran), not simply in dealing with the fait accompli of Crimea, but to de-escalate the rhetoric and not provide Russia with an excuse to invade eastern Ukraine under the pretext of stirred up ferment by Russian bully boys in the eastern regions or provinces (oblasts) of Ukraine east of the Dnieper River or the Donbas, namely Donetsk and Kharkiv and possibly Luhansk.

Whether leaving the stick on the floor rather than waving it in the air through NATO may or may not be the best policy to deter Russia and, alternatively, invite Russia’s continuing engagement in de-escalation, Israel believes it needs to wave the big stick to keep Iran on course without continuing Russian pressure. The danger of forming a Russian-Iranian axis is real and the Israeli government sees its action as a threat so that Iran continues its path in throwing off the bad habits of the previous regime. Iran’s practices in cooperation and in shutting down an extremist media outlet critical of Iran’s nuclear cooperation with the international community seems to provide a signal that Iran is continuing on the cooperation course even though Russia will likely be out of the pressure game.

As America sees it, the real rewards and the least risk of a conflagration comes through the economic big stick and not through military big sticks. Israel, from its own perspective, disagrees that this is sufficient. Hence the threat and the $2.9 billion.

Roots Are Important: The Great Beauty – a movie review

Roots Are Important: The Great Beauty – a movie review


Howard Adelman

Just over half a century ago I saw Frederico Fellini’s La Dolce Vita – The Good Life. Last night we saw its contemporary total remake written and directed by Paolo Sorrentino, The Great Beauty. Fellini’s film was about the amoral life of a dissolute pack of Italians set in Rome. Sorrentino’s film is about a dissolute pack of Italians set in Rome. Fellini’s film followed one week in Rome in the life of a journalist who wrote for a gossip magazine, Marcello Rubini, played by the masterful Marcello Mastroianni. I could not tell what period was covered in Sorrentino’s tale of a one-book novelist, Toni Servillo, played by Jep Gambardella. He wrote a highly regarded novel in his twenties, The Human Apparatus – I’m not sure what the title was intended to convey – but never repeated that achievement and went on to become a writer who publishes celebrity interviews in a periodical edited by a cynical dwarf with a three foot interpretation of the world.

The Great Beauty could have taken place over a week packed with frenzy and inanity. and portrayed in a melange of sound and imagery interspersed with biting dialogue. Whatever the period, the film is absolutely gorgeous, absolutely mesmerizing and I absolutely have to see it again for it was too packed with beauty for my feeble mind to retain even a small portion of the fabulous shots that were transfixing even when the images were of aging and world-weary sybarites. The cinematography by Luca Bigazzi is outstanding and deserved more awards than the Silver Ribbon, the Italian Golden Globe and the Chlotrudis. No written review can spoil this film. One of the most intriguing shots taken before dawn is of a series of unfinished and discarded drinks along the balustrade of the balcony against the skyline of Rome after the revellers have gone home. We end up at the end of the film as intoxicated by the visuals as the celebrants who have left the scene.

In Fellini’s movie, the journalist is explicitly searching for love and happiness. In Sorrentino’s film, the journalist has given up on any search for meaning in life at all. He is obviously at his end, for a man who is an expert in the proper conduct appropriate to the life of a libertine living in the luxury of high society with his beatific and sly smile who insists that it is absolutely improper to weep at a funeral lest you distract from the focus on the family, breaks the code and weeps as he carries the coffin of an ex-girlfriend. One presumes he is weeping more for himself than a past love. We are offered the cynical misanthropic perspective of the best dressed and best looking beautifully winkled tanned face of a sixty-five year old dapper hedonist you will ever see in a film against a background of throbbing music, a munificence of gyrations and endless drinks and cigarettes. Virtually all! For you do get glimpses of a search for spiritual meaning in The Great Beauty, a film that won the Golden Globe and an Oscar for best foreign film as well as many other prizes. Fellini’s movie won the Palme d’Or at Cannes in 1960.

Like Fellini’s film, the score of The Great Beauty is absolutely magnificent and is divided with helter-skelter pacing into a long ten minute prologue, a series of episodes – I lost count of whether there was one per day as in Fellini’s film but assume there were seven as well – and an epilogue. Fellini’s film starts with that immemorial, classic and absolutely unforgettable long scene of a helicopter carrying a huge statue of Jesus Christ over the old Roman ruins of an aqueduct into the city and from which we get glimpses of tanned Roman beauties sunbathing on roof tops in bikini bottoms in juxtaposition to the chalk-coloured statue. Throughout The Great Beauty, the marble statues and exquisite portraits stand in radical contrast to the apparently vibrant flesh of luxuriant life captivated by the impermanent and trapped by their need of posturing as they live on the brink of despair. In the prologue of The Great Beauty we are taken on a tour, not of Rome, but of tourists in Rome, and end up focusing on a middle-aged Japanese tourist who, while taking photographs of Rome, falls dead presumably totally overwhelmed by the beauty.

In the first episode in The Great Beauty, we look down from the huge balcony of a gorgeous Rome apartment opposite the ruins of the Roman Coliseum. The truly madding crowd is celebrating Tony Servillo as Jeb Gambardella at his sixty-fifth birthday party in abandonment and revelry in an orgy of dancing to a pulsating beat. Thus, we know from the very beginning that we are being offered a rear rather than forward view, and one seen from a bacchanalia. From this Dionysian saturnalia we observe we observe the destructive wear of beauty looking at death rather than the perspective of a youthful search for the good life from a young frenzied quest for pleasure as in Fellini.

Even more than Fellini’s film, The Great Beauty is an exquisite frame-by-frame ode to beauty that is absolutely ravishing and intentionally seductive. In this magnificent film, what seduces is not the fleshpots but the visual sensibility, not what one does but what one sees, particularly the imaginative scene of Jeb’s ceiling and the ripples of water that allows the imagination to take one on a tour of beauty without ever going anywhere. As Jeb remarks later in the film, Rome has the best dancing trains in the world because they never go anywhere.

One major reason is nostalgia and its accompanying sense of melancholy, sadness and loss. For Jeb is stuck with his eighteen year old vision of a twenty-year old beauty from his past, an enchantment that he has never since been able to rediscover or replicate though he has spent his whole life in search of la grande bellazza. Instead, what he reports on and entertains his friends with are acerbic witty and very sharp and accurate verbal quips and stories about hypocrisy and triviality masquerading as enormously important contributions. The most telling scene in this mode is when, seated with his friends, he tells an aging writer boasting of her eleven books and dedication to the communist party as well as her three children what he thinks of her after she pushes him to say what is on his mind. He exposes her as having a ream of servants, was only published by a small irrelevant press subsidized by the communist party and never had time for her own children. The scene is as cutting up of another human being as I have ever seen.

But there are comic versions as well – none better than the aged peacock of a cardinal caught up in a love affair with his own voice who entertains others by offering them recipes about how to prepare a gourmet pan-fried duck dinner but is easily distracted and has no time to give Jeb spiritual advice. The living church is seen as even more decadent than the high life and certainly at odds with its high calling. These are but two examples of the parade of grotesque fools and moving sarcophagi whose flesh and sensibilities have been eaten away by the botox masks they have taken to wearing and that include not only pseudo communists and chefs masquerading as religious leaders, but an array of these characters including a toy salesmen obsessed, not with the openness of play but with the closed and repetitive world of the game of seduction. Another is the millionaire pre-teen female abstract painter who in a fit and tantrum creates great works of art by throwing cans of paint at a canvas and immersing herself in smearing the paint around. When the doctor enters with his aides to sell botox injections at 700 to 1200 lira or Euro a pop – I could not tell which currency was being used – the audience become witness to the ultimate in the ridiculous lives of these narcissistic aristocrats and plebeian bourgeoisie, at least until the down-to-earth stripper, Romana, enters the scene, who, with all of her personal neurosis, looks strikingly normal compared to the vapid wastrels surrounding Jeb.

The Great Beauty is explicitly and overtly an echo of Fellini’s classic and no viewer who goes to see The Great Beauty can help but recall La Dolce Vita. Perhaps it is because the film is seen as through a rear view mirror that eternal Rome will, I contend, never look more beautiful. For it is really Rome itself that is the great beauty that seduces Jeb to spend his whole dissolute life in the avoidance of commitment in a successful quest to be the central hero of the high night life of the indulgent rich of Rome. Fellini’s film has been remade from the perspective of the Berlusconi era.

The difference between the two films is evident in the contrast with the first scene of La Dolce Vita. Marcello Mastrioanni in his endless pursuit of heaven through physical sensuality makes love to Maddalena played by Anouk Aimée in the bedroom of a prostitute. Marcello Rubini is in search of heaven but is really immersed in hell of the repetitious meaningless quest for exquisite pleasure, its hellish quality clearly evident when he returns to his own apartment to find that his fiancée, played by Yvonne Furneaux has tried to kill herself by overdosing on drugs. While he waits in the recovery room, Marcello Mastrioanni tries to reach Maddalena.

In The Great Beauty, the parallel scene comes a little later in the film when Jeb meets Ramona played by Sabrina Ferilli, the forty-two year old daughter of a very old friend who he had not seen for a very long time and who has been reduced from an owner of a nightclub to a manager obsessed with finding a husband for his stripper daughter. When the two meet, Jeb assures her that he is only looking to talk and when the two wake up the next morning in bed together, Jeb pronounces how wonderful it was to sleep together without needing to have sex. For it is the sensibility that she arouses in him, not the physical sensuality that she tries to arouse with her strip tease. sensibility not sensuousness is what really entrances him. But like her half century earlier predecessor, Romana spends all her money on drugs in the fruitless attempt to “cure” herself with an even more devastating result.

As in La Dolce Vita, Jeb has an assignment to get an interview, but it is not with a a film star, Anita Ekburg as Sylvia, whom he takes for a tour of St. Peter’s, but with an old 104-year-old crone, a Theresa-like saint of the church for whom “roots are important” and that is why she only lives by eating roots. The scene of this wizened old hag crawling painfully up the steps of St. Peter’s is as memorable as the tense grasping of the arms of your seat scene of the baby in its carriage careening down the long flight of wide steps of Odessa after the mother is shot and presumably killed by a volley from the line of soldiers advancing to break up a demonstration in Sergei Eisenstein’s Battleship Potempkin.

But the most beautiful and most memorable scene for me in the whole film takes place when Jeb gets a young, handsome but crippled friend who has an in with the rich princesses of Rome and is a guardian of a case of keys which can unlock the doors of all the buildings that house the beautiful and ancient artistic sculptures and paintings of Rome. Jeb takes Ramona on a night tour and never has the beauty of these works of art, especially the marble statutes, been revealed in all their magnificence.

The view of a breathtaking succession of images is always enhanced by the chorus, whether it be ancient wonderful choral music or modern pop. Real decay is portrayed as beautiful while contemporary decadence is revealed in all its ugliness. The juxtaposition of the ephemeral beauty of the aging rich with the eternal beauty of Rome makes both far more vivid. Jeb’s friend and comically portrayed sidekick, Romano played by Carlo Verdone, who is trapped in a relationship of unrequited love for an aging actress and would-be writer as well as his own quest for dramatic expression on the stage, finally turns his back on the seductions of Rome and returns home. Is that where Jeb is heading when the imaginative sea on the ceiling of his apartment becomes the real sea beneath him as he is seen on a boat presumably heading for home at last?

Has he heard his Mother Theresa’s message?

My Trivial and Specious Blog on Sanctions

My Trivial and Specious Blog on Sanctions


Howard Adelman

I first reprint Dr. David Goldberg’s response to my blog and then respond to his criticisms.

Dear Howard

I am sorry to have to say this, but I find your analysis below a far cry from your usual incisive jugular-directed intellectual dissection of complex events. It would not be entirely unfair to you to describe it as trivial and specious. 

Let us start with the 1st paragraph. You make a great song and dance about Crimea being removed from Ukraine without the consent of the citizens of Kiev, but what about the citizens of the Crimea itself? What Cesar gives, Caligula can take away. The Ukranian Kruschev took it from Russia and gave it to the Ukraine. Were the Crimeans consulted? Were they given the benefit of a ballot box —– stuffed or otherwise? Yet I hear not a peep from you, and others of your persuasion,  about the illegitimacy of this process that is only now being redressed.  It is obvious on the basis of demographics alone and past voting records that the proposition  would pass by a large majority. The decision of the Tatars and the Ukranian Opposition in Crimea to boycott the polls was anti-democratic and a puerile attempt to paint the vote as illegitimate. Just as the Bangkok Opposition is doing to bring down the multi-times elected Shinowatra Government. In the better democracies, NOT VOTING is an offence punishable by law (eg Australia). OK,so a few dissidents “disappeared”. Did you check this out for yourself? Do you know these individuals and their families personally? Do you know precisely who “disappeared” them?  Regular Russian Army personnel or local street gangs? Playing arm-chair detective is all very well, but evidence has to be tested and corroborated. And the question? I cannot see how it differs substantially from that used in any past or future Quebec Referendum, or the proposition upon which my fellow-Scots will vote next year. Please explain this to a naive simpleton like myself: If I vote YES to Crimea joining Russia, is it not axiomatic that I am simultaneously voting NO to Crimea staying as part of Ukraine.  Finally, cutting off communications may not have been a bad thing. At least the violence that plagued Kiev for months was prevented and the loss of life and limb effectively minimized. 

Now, as for the West’s response: I think it would have been much better to have done nothing and kept their mouth’s shut. It would have had precisely the same effect as their “micro-nano-Sanctions”, and they would not have made asses of themselves. What effect did Sanctions have on Mugabe and his Zimbabwe supporters? Or Milosevic? Or anyone else? I recall the EU that had banned Mugabe from all travel and even threatened his arrest and transfer to The Hague welcomed him at various conferences with open arms. Cowardice, Hypocrisy and Antisemitism: the three cornerstones of Western Diplomacy. You failed to see the irony in your own text, and the fantasy in your own predictions, when you seemed to suggest that the failure to include Putin and Lavrov in the Honours List was intended to force them to the negotiating table, of which you thought there was an excellent chance. Sure there is. In fact, it is a foregone conclusion, just as Iran came to the same table while their centrifuges keep whirling. Meantime, massive build-ups of Russian troops on Ukraine’s Eastern border continue unabated while Putin and Lavrov are laughing all the way to their banks.

There is only one way to stop Putin’s depredations: to send NATO troops immediately to the Eastern Ukraine as I believe the Ukrainian leaders have suggested, if not requested. And there is only one forlorn hope for having the Crimea returned to the Ukraine in violation of the “democratic rights” of its citizens, if that is what you pretend to call them.  That is to convene a meeting of the General Assembly of UNO  to debate cancelling Russia’s membership. The West should make it clear, one way or the other, that if it fails, they will withdraw from the organization en mass.  

Best regards




In response to the criticism about the illegitimacy of the process of annexing the Crimea to Russia, my point was to note the illegitimacy and to query why a the same result could not have been obtained by a significant majority vote legitimately conducted instead of under force of arms, a skewed ballot and the use of non-Crimean voters.

The only place where it is antidemocratic to boycott an election is where voting is compulsory. Of the almost two dozen polities with such legislation, only half enforce it. Neither Crimea nor Ukraine is one of them so the point is irrelevant. Boycotts of elections are used when a process is perceived as fraudulent and the voter does not want to lend legitimacy to an illegitimate process. The fact that election boycotts are rarely efficacious does not make them an illegitimate tactic when groups feel oppressed by a majority. And since when does compulsory voting make a polity a better democracy. The Democratic Republic of the Congo has compulsory voting. Is it a democracy let alone a better one?

On disappearances, Human Rights watch documented and reported on 15 March that with the Russian army present, so-called “self-defense” units and militias, with 11,000 personnel according to Crimean government authorities, were “abducting, attacking and harassing activists and journalists.” “Oleksiy Gritsenko, Natalya Lukyanchenko and Sergiy Suprun have not made contact with friends or family since 11pm on 13 March. Oleksiy Gritsenko’s father told Amnesty International that he believes they have been abducted by paramilitary forces in de facto control in Crimea.” “The mobile telephone signals of both Oleksiy Gritsenko and Natalya Lukyanchenko were located in the vicinity of the military conscription commission (kommissariat) in Simferapol, which is being guarded by military officers who are not wearing any identifying insignia and who deny they are holding the activists there.” “Ihor Kiriushchenko, a civic activist from Sevastopol, was abducted on Monday.  Mr Kiriushchenko has been active in helping Ukrainian soldiers in the military units occupied and blocked by Russian forces, as well as in protests.  He took part in Sunday’s demonstration in the centre of Sevastopol to mark the 200th anniversary of the birth of Taras Shevchenko and protest against Russian military occupation of the peninsula.” He too is still missing. Yesterday a Ukrainian soldier in Crimea was shot.

“The whereabouts of two leaders of the Ukrainian community – Andriy Shchekun and Anatoly Kovalsky – remain unknown following their abduction in Simferopol on Sunday.  Volodymyr Sadovyk, commander of a Bakhchysarai military unit, is also missing.” ” The three young women whose disappearance was reported on Sunday – Ukrainsky Tyzhden journalist Olena Maksymentko and two activists – Kateryna Butko and Oleksandra Ryazantseva – are still missing, together with press photographer Oleh Kromples and Yevhen Rakhno, whose car they were travelling in.” “Ukraine‘s Greek Catholic Church said a priest was seized by armed men from a chapel in Sevastopol on Saturday.”

A fair vote in a democracy does require all options to be on a ballot. One could vote NO to annexation with Russia and vote yes for independence, but there was no option that said you prefer the status quo since you must vote once for one of the two propositions on the ballot – annexation or independence. That is the difference between even the imperfect referenda conducted in Quebec.

You argue that, “Finally, cutting off communications may not have been a bad thing. At least the violence that plagued Kiev for months was prevented and the loss of life and limb effectively minimized.” First, since when does an open democratic media contribute to violence. By all accounts, overall, the demonstrations in Maidan were non-violent until the police were sent in. Secondly, I had reported the Estonian Minister quoting the famous doctor helping the wounded saying that the sniper fire seemed to target both sides. The Minister evidently misunderstood Oleh Musiy who subsequently corrected the Minister’s account and my repeating it by saying that only protesters were shot by snipers. 81 were killed. Thank you for the opportunity to clear up this error. Violence did not plague Kyiv for months. Violence was certainly NOT prevented and the loss of life and limb effectively minimized by the suppression of the media.

As far as the effectiveness of sanctions, the whole point of my blog was that these light sanctions were not intended to change Putin’s mind or actions but to send a signal that the West was interested in cooperating with Putin in deescalating the conflict. Nevertheless, sanctions can be effective. They were almost certainly effective re Iran’s nuclear program.  

As for the claimed ineffectiveness of sanctions on Mugabe and Milosevic, let me deal with Mugabe first. The real problem is that they have been too effective in disrupting the economy of Zimbabwe but not effective in dislodging Mugabe.  The sanctions in Zimbabwe were supposedly targeted against a few individuals. However, as bank studies have shown, the US Zimbabwe Democracy and Economic Recovery Bill and the declared and undeclared sanctions that resulted have impacted on the entire economy. The Zimbabwean government itself has complained that the economy is under siege and has blamed the international community, particularly the US rather than Mugabe’s programs, for the negative downstream effects on vulnerable groups and civilians and led to cancellation of life-line projects, humanitarian assistance, and humanitarian infrastructural development support.

Sanctions can be very effective. The critical problem is how much breadth and strength to lend to them and how to target them to get the impact desired, hence the shift to targeted sanctions that include imposing travel bans and freezing foreign bank accounts more than restrictions on trade which were used in Zimbabwe in restricting access to lines of credit. According to Mugabe’s own government, “Since the imposition of declared and undeclared sanctions against Zimbabwe, the effects of these sanctions have been widespread and continuous.”

As for Milosevic, in Milica Delevic’s study, “Economic Sanctions as a Foreign Policy Tool” in the International Journal of Peace Studies, sanctions were certainly effective but the real question was whether the costs and unintended harm caused was worth it.” “Sanctions, helped to a great extent by pre-existing economic difficulties and macroeconomic mismanagement, had a devastating effect on the Yugoslav economy, thus helping make Serbian President Milosevic more cooperative, but were of no decisive importance for stopping the war in Bosnia. Moreover, poverty, which increased as a result of the sanctions, made people more receptive to authoritarian and totalitarian regimes, making democratization ever more difficult to achieve.”

I am puzzled by your next complaint. Where did I “suggest that the failure to include Putin and Lavrov in the Honours List was intended to force them to the negotiating table”?

Where did you get the evidence that “massive build-ups of Russian troops on Ukraine’s Eastern border continue unabated.” I would like to explore it.


As for the use of NATO, I am wrestling with that in my own mind and plan a future bl;og on the subject.

For additional consideration, readers might want to consult this other blog reference which a reader sent in.


Some excerpts from the Voice of Russia follow.

“Sanctions are just unprofessional and illogical. One of the persons who was so to say cracked down upon, is Elena Mizulina but she never played a particular role in the Crimean affairs or in Russia’s relations with Ukraine. She has been made into some sort of a bogyman by the western media and by the Russian liberal media because she was one of the initiators of this law against homosexual propaganda to minors. But it is strange that this person was included into a law which is supposed to punish people who somehow disturbed the territorial integrity of Ukraine.”

“I think this Magnitsky list was an excellent warning for everyone in Russia that it is dangerous to keep your assets in the US or in the European Union especially if you are a rich person connected to the Russian government. So, I just consider these sanctions stupid. They are not mild, they are not too harsh, they just hit the wrong targets.”

“Russian lawmakers and the Kremlin have been extremely vocal as to the ridiculousness of US designed sanctions with all Russian MPs passing a statement saying they volunteered to be subject to the US/EU sanctions and the Kremlin saying they view them with irony and sarcasm. Many Russian lawmakers, officials and others see the sanctions list as a point of honor and even as an “Oscar” from Washington, in recognition that they have defended Mother Russia. They echoed earlier words by Ramzan Kadyrov, the head of the Chechen Republic, who said he would be honored to be on that list with people who proudly defend their homeland and he added that he would be offended if he did not top it. Personally I would love to be on that list as well, perhaps someone in Washington will take me up on it?”

Sanction America for “Funding, training, arming and supporting neo-nazi elements and then using them to carry out the illegal overthrow of a democratically elected government. Using USAID and other organizations to subvert and manipulate the population of sovereign country. Spending $5 billion of taxpayer money without the knowledge or permission of the people to subvert Ukraine. Attempt to and then organizing a puppet government that does not represent the people. Killing police and protestors. Causing unrest, terrorizing the population and stripping groups of their human right to their language or their very lives. Covering up or ignoring evidence of murder and high crimes. Ordering the overthrow of said government. Placing paid mercenaries on the sovereign territory of a country. Planning false flags attacks. Supporting nazi elements and ignoring Nuremberg Trial denial. Attempting to organize through surrogates terrorist attack against civilians in Crimea, etc., etc”


The West’s Economic Sanctions Against Russia

The West’s Economic Sanctions Against Russia




Howard Adelman



This BLOG argues that the sanctions thus far imposed are deliberate pin pricks, intended only to send a message and to invite Russia to join in a diplomatic effort to resolve the crisis without significant further economic or military escalation. The BLOG further argues that Russian responses seem also to point to an eagerness to resolve the dispute through diplomacy. Further, there is a diplomatic solution in the wings. I therefore, interpret that what has thus far taken place offers a guarded but optimistic promise.



I think there is very little question among objective observers that the referendum conducted in Crimea was bogus on a number of grounds, first by being conducted with an army of occupation present, with minority Tatars and Ukrainians largely boycotting the vote, noted anti-Russian activists having “disappeared”, the critical media silenced, cancelled air and electronic communications with Ukraine, with the ballot not including an option to stay within Ukraine, with Russian non-Ukrainian citizens in Ukraine casting a ballot, and with clear evidence of overstuffing the ballot boxes since the votes were significantly higher in some constituencies. The absence of the Russian army, the posing of an honest question and a vote in favour of Russia over Ukraine would undoubtedly have produced a good majority for the Russian option if honestly conducted provided Kyiv agreement was obtained.  

Obama on behalf of the United States and the EU have now imposed very mild targeted sanctions against Russia as a result of the Russia’s occupation of Crimea and the recent vote overwhelmingly in favour of Crimea seceding from Ukraine and joining Russia. What are those sanctions intended to achieve and what is the likelihood of success, especially given the initial narrowness of the target and the shallowness of the sanctions regime? What are the risks associated with the imposition of such sanctions?

The sanctions regime has not been imposed as a milder aspect of a military conflict as in a blockade, but as a message, in Obama’s words, “to uphold the principle Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity must be respected, and international law must be upheld,” a principle which is generally accepted as fundamental to the modern transnational order and the essential fabric of the Euro-Atlantic security alliance. But how can such sanctions work since they do not seem inherently to be able to induce Russia to withdraw its troops from Ukraine or to reverse the continuing integration of Crimea into Russia whether that integration is accomplished through political union or simply by making Crimea economically, legally, politically and militarily part of Russia without the final step of annexation or union?

First, the economic sanctions seem more like symbolic gestures to signal a process of diplomatic isolation that has been initiated, beginning with named individuals (Vladislav Surkov, a Putin aide; Sergey Glazyev, a Putin adviser; Leonid Slutsky, a state Duma deputy; Andrei Klishas, member of the Federation Council, the upper house of the Federal Assembly of Russia, Valentina Matviyenko, head of the Federation Council, Dmitry Rogozin, deputy prime minister, and Yelena Mizulina, a state Duma deputy). All are seen to be directly involved and responsible for “undermining the sovereignty, territorial integrity and government of Ukraine” but clearly the main ones responsible, namely Vladimir Putin himself and his foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov,have not been targeted. The sanctions were expanded a bit on Monday to include Russian officials who provide material support to senior officials of the Russian government as well as  entities operating in the arms sector in Russia. But the scope of the application is very limited and the restrictions – visa restrictions and the mild economic sanctions – are merely signals that a process is underway which will be followed by further escalation. They do, however, target key architects and ideologues responsible for the Crimea policy who also seem to have been intimately involved in human rights abuses in Russia.

Efforts to begin a process of economic sanctions and diplomatic isolation are not stand alone initiatives. NATO has been involved, not only through the movement of some military assets to Poland and the Baltic states, but in the verbal signal by Obama that, “As NATO allies, we have a solemn commitment to our collective defense, and we will uphold this commitment.” This is clearly a vague formulation, deliberately so, to provide room for political and diplomatic manoeuvring as well as time to consult allies this week to develop a more coordinated policy. But the signals focus on diplomatic isolation and economic initiatives and not military threats, though military threats are clearly not off the table as they seemed to be earlier. The main stress at this time, however, is on diplomatic isolation and economic sanctions.

It should be noted that Russia itself has engaged in token sabre rattling – the Russian fleet conducted live fire exercises, MIG-29s were deployed to Yerevan, Armenia, Turkish airspace was probed to rattle one of the quivering NATO members, and an ICBM test, admittedly pre-scheduled, was launched when it could have been postponed. But these gestures pale into insignificance compared to a call up of Russian troops to the Ukraine border. Both sides seem willing to wave starter pistols but seem reasonably clear that neither side wants this to escalate into a military conflict. 

But what are the goals? To prevent Russia from continuing its adventurism in eastern Ukraine? Or just to uphold a principle? Or to actually get Russia to reverse its position as seems to be signalled when Obama vowed that, “The international community will continue to stand together to oppose any violations of Ukrainian sovereignty and territorial integrity, and continued Russian military intervention in Ukraine will only deepen Russia’s diplomatic isolation and exact a greater toll on the Russian economy”? The signals so far seem to indicate that it is the principle that is at stake – and various diplomatic formulations can be devised for upholding the principle while effectively giving Russia de facto sovereignty over Crimea, a position that even Kissinger, the arch-realist and concessionary towards Russian interests, opposes  – as well as inhibiting Russia from taking further initiatives along this line given the promise to calibrate the measures up or down depending on whether Russia chooses to escalate or de-escalate.

Obama clearly continues to believe that diplomatic engagement still has a chance and that he understandably fears the alternative of more serious actions. Further, the solution is signalled in his words – Russia keeps its troops in Crimea and “pulls them back to their bases”, allows OSCE monitors to be deployed and then permits Russia and Ukraine to negotiate the solution through a constitutional change that will allow Crimea to legally secede and set out the conditions for such secession. That way the principle is maintained, Crimea is surrendered, but the integrity of Ukraine is otherwise maintained as well as the principle of self-determination of the Ukrainian people. Ukraine will enter the Western economic sphere and Russia will inherit Crimea.

That seems clearly to be the program. Will it work? Lavrov and Putin have both signalled back that the most important issue is the retention of US-Russian relations and not the Ukraine. Russian leaders have unequivocally warned the West that the existing order should not be sacrificed on the altar of the principle of sovereignty generally or the sovereignty of the Ukraine in particular. On Friday, Dmitry Peskov, Putin’s spokesman reinforced the message that Russia did not want a return to the Cold War and openly recognized that the West was seeking a diplomatic solution and that Russia still had hopes “that some points of agreement could be found as a result of dialogue”. Russia was still referring to the United States as a partner in maintaining the international order. But Russia has sent no signal that it is willing to recognize the new central government in Kiev which ousted President Viktor Yanukovych, but would Russia be willing to engage in negotiations to recognize the government to be elected this Spring in return for the West recognizing a legal and formal way for the Ukraine to secede and become once again part of Russia?

At the same time as Russia has been talking softly, it is waving a big stick – economic reprisals of its own and on-and-off military manoeuvres. Russia has aimed its most belligerent remarks at the EU, especially when the EU suspended talks on a new comprehensive economic and political pact with Russia. Clearly, it will be difficult for the EU to hold all its members together in a unanimous policy, especially its south-eastern members such as Greece. But the key factor seems to be the resolve of German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Like Obama, Merkel and Putin have been talking. Further, they have agreed not to take actions which would increase violence. The solution on the European front would involve a positive sum economic game involving not only Ukraine but Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaidjan in a formula that would allow countries like Georgia and Ukraine to be both part of the EU economic zone as well as Putin’s new eastern European customs union thereby serving as a bridge between the two blocks. Of course, easier said than done, but it is another one of the chess pieces in this critical international crisis. At the same time, Merkel has been tough and unequivocal that Ukrainian sovereignty is not up for discussion.

Will the mild signals thus far and the threat of diplomatic isolation and massive economic consequences from both sides while the military option remains off the table (though only in reference to actual deployment of troops on the ground) be able to steer the crisis into a negotiations stream? Russia has not only signalled a willingness to enter such negotiations but had initially signalled its own interest in de-escalating the conflict by NOT annexing Crimea yesterday, but simply recognizing Crimea’s independence of Ukraine, but then made it a fait accompli today. The two options are, admittedly, only a difference in name, but even such slight differences are significant in international diplomacy and the signalling attendant thereto.The EU and the US have been working together to forge a political and diplomatic path out of the crisis which seems to explain a small part of why the initial sanctions have been so mild and shallow.

The issue is how ready are Western nations to impose much more drastic state sanctions given the boomerang effect on their own economies. The words of ultra-nationalist Russian members of the Duma, such as Vladimir Zhirinovsky, that sanctions will not have any negative effect on Russia is, of course, nonsense. The fact that the initial sanctions were so mild and, as almost as a direct consequence, the value of the Russian ruble rose making up for part of its earlier more precipitous fall, is simply one signal that the international economic market alone will significantly punish Russia if the situation escalates rather than de-escalates. The sanctions imposed thus far are simply intended to signal that the West is serious and has stepped onto the second stage of the escalator but in such a way as to allow for reversal and not to insult the key decision makers or Russia itself. But like the MAD doctrine with the nuclear standoff, the signals will only carry that message if they are also backed by the threat of much more serious steps.

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee voted 14-3 in favor of imposing much broader sanctions on Russians and Ukrainians involved in human rights violations and anyone involved in undermining Ukraine’s security and stability. Those sanctions, that would include freezing assets held in the United States as well as travel bans and denying visas to a wider cohort, were combined with the promised aid to the Ukraine directly and through the IMF. Hopefully, those signals will not be undercut by any decisions of the House of Representatives. There is a problem with freezing individual assets abroad, however. In this year alone, an estimated $50 billion has flown out of Russia already. This has significantly harmed the Russian economy. If some of such assets are frozen, then the export of capital would stop and Russia’s economy would benefit.

The US has only to hold its 50 states together through a majority, mainly be bringing the House of Representatives on side. The EU is a federation that has to hold its 34 states together in a consensus. The weakest economic link for both, but more for the US, is the need to strengthen the IMF, a move opposed by a significant number of Republicans including Senator Marco Rubio of Florida who argues that giving the money to Kyiv will only reward Russia by allowing Kyiv to pay its huge Russian debts. Therefore, such loans are not a threat but a reward offered to Russia. Nevertheless, only three Republicans on the committee actual cast votes against the IMF provisions, Senators Paul, as could be expected, joined by Senators Jim Risch of Idaho and John Barrasso of Wyoming.

Will the EU which is so dependent on Russia for gas be willing to do this, or, more importantly at this stage, signal that it is willing to take much more drastic steps if diplomacy fails and send enough signals that these threats are serious even though they will be significantly detrimental to the European economy just as it is beginning its recovery from the series of blows around the Euro crisis? More visa bans and asset freezes are on the table for the third stage of escalation (the steps Monday were the second stage for visa restrictions on Russian and Crimean officials and private citizens had already been imposed). But what about much more vigorous economic restrictions?

Germany already has an unprecedented (for it) unemployment rate of 7% and exports goods and services worth $130 billion to the Russian Federation (US exports are only $2.9 billion), let alone its dependency on Russia for 40% of its oil and gas. If, for example, more crippling sanctions, such as imposing limitations on Russian oil and natural-gas purchases, Germany would itself suffer enormously and the initiative has a significant risk of throwing Europe as well as Russia into a downward economic spiral let alone the devastating effect on the Ukraine economy. 45%  of Russian exports, 2/3rds oil and gas, goes to the EU. Ukraine sells almost $16 billion to Russia. Wider sanctions would be devastating all the way round, most devastating on Ukraine, extremely devastating on Russia and very devastating on the EU. But unless the EU holds a credible threat that it will resort to such sanctions, the possibility of Russia following a path of greater escalation increases. Russia has to know, as the Dutch foreign minister, Frans Timmermans, noted, that sanctions will be inevitable, thereby enabling Russia to “realise that sanctions will hurt everyone, but no one more than the Russians themselves.”

So broad sanctions will be avoided except as a last resort such as in response to a Russian invasion of eastern Ukraine. The sanctions imposed are extremely mild and are merely a pin prick on the Great Bear. But they are intended only as a signal and are not intended as a deterrent or punishment for they are far too gentle for that. The velvet glove of diplomacy not only thus far lacks an iron glove inside but even a green padded boxing glove, green for both St. Patrick’s day and significant economic sanctions. The sanctions imposed thus far are not intended to hurt. They are just tweets to say more can and will be forthcoming – freezing bank balances, stopping credit lines, cancelling barter deals and suspending joint projects, still far short of broad sanctions – unless we join together in a process of de-escalation.

Sarajevo and 1914 rather than Austria and Czechoslovakia in 1938 really haunt the current crisis. The West is NOT diplomatically impotent even if, militarily, its hands are tied behind its back with few military options available. Should the West escalate by offering Georgia and Ukraine associate status in NATO? Would that act as a deterrent or be seen as an abandonment of the diplomatic route? Diplomacy is accomplished not simply by what states do but by what they credibly convey they are willing to do. But the dilemma is that if the threat is to be meaningful, it must be made credible. But the more credible it becomes the more such measures inspire the other side to adopt equal and balancing counter-measures.

Tomorrow – Margaret Macmillan and How the Peace Was Lost.

Greenwald’s Law and Putin’s Takeover of Crimea

Greenwald’s Law and Putin’s Takeover of Crimea


Howard Adelman

Michael Enright began the second part of Sunday Edition on CBC radio by explicating Godwin’s Law which Mike Godwin, a lawyer, promulgated in 1990, which is now officially listed in the Oxford dictionary. The Law is otherwise known as Godwin’s Rule of Nazi Analogies. In his interpretation, Enright claimed that when Western statesmen compared Russian President Vladimir Putin’s actions in Ukraine and Crimea to Adolph Hitler’s invasion of the Sudetenland in 1938, this was an example of Godwin’s Law. Michael also cited one of its correlates as well as the core law. He argued that the use of a Nazi analogy stops an argument cold for what is the opponent to say once you compare an action to that of Hitler. “One result of this so-called fallacious analogy is to effectively and immediately shut down debate. If you or your argument is compared to Hitler and Nazism, there is very little incentive to continue arguing your point. There is no place to go after dropping the Hitler bomb.”

Godwin’s Law has two principles: first, that the longer an argument continues, the higher the probability that a Nazi analogy will be used, and second, its complement, that sooner or later in an argument someone or something will be compared to a Nazi action. Godwin and others formulated many subsidiary correlates over the years. The one Enright cited is considered a basic canon because Godwin formulated it himself, but Michael did not cite its correlate, that the one who uses the Nazi analogy also loses the argument as well as stopping the argument since in rational discourse it is now considered poor form to use a Hitler or Nazi analogy inappropriately.

Playing the Hitler card is certainly poor form when the analogy is exaggerated and clearly inappropriate.  But what if one is discussing genocide in Rwanda? Is a comparison to inappropriate? Is it inappropriate if one argues that the Rwandan genocide against the Tutus in 1994 was akin to Hitler’s actions towards the Jews and the Roma except that the Rwandan genocide was even more efficient even though machetes were the main instrument of murder rather than industrial processes of gas ovens. Is such an analogy an example of Godwin’s Law? This misuse of Godwin’s Law is often called Greenwald’s Law since it was formulated by the well-known and highly regarded American journalist, Glenn Greenwald, who has become famous in his own right as a spokesperson for Edward Snowden.

What we have now is a situation is which Godwin’s Law is frequently used to claim one has dealt a final blow against an argument when it is Godwin’s Law itself and not the original analogy that is being abused and used in an exaggerated way. Calling Putin’s takeover an anschluss is not an instantiation of Godwin’s Law, but Godwin’s Law is often cited to claim the analogy is inappropriate simply because of the reference to Hitler or Nazis. Anschluss means the occupation and then annexation of a territory that was formerly part or all of an independent state. The original anschluss of Nazi Germany was of Austria, then was extended to Hitler’s actions in the Sudentenland and finally all of Czechoslovakia. It is not hyperbole to use anschluss when applied to Putin’s occupation and planned annexation of the Crimea even though the majority within Crimea likely support such a move, as most Germans were presumed to have supported Hitler’s move into the Sudentenland in 1938.

However, if one calls Obama’s response to Putin’s initiatives in the takeover of Crimea appeasement analogous to that of Chamberlain in response to the takeover in Czechoslovakia in 1938, is that an example of Godwin’s law? I would argue that the argument is wrong because Obama and Kerry are engaged in confronting Putin not in appeasing him. But I would not call it an example of Godwin’s Law for the issue is not hyperbole here but the correct way to characterize an action. There is certainly a fear of appeasement and an argument could be made that Obama and Kerry in keeping the prospect of the use of military force off the table is a form of appeasement. I think such an argument is totally invalid first, because Obama needs NATO to make such a decision; it is not a unilateral action. Further, it is debatable whether an open declaration of the threat of the use of force would escalate the situation unnecessarily and not give diplomacy adequate time to ensure that eastern Ukraine is not invaded. But calling Obama’s behaviour appeasement is still NOT an example of Godwin’s Law.

The use of Godwin’s Law in either direction is inappropriate when the analogy is neither a diversion nor a distraction but a genuine attempt to use a relevant historical analogy and that attempt is not a matter of hyperbole. The use of analogy by both sides is then appropriate. Godwin’s Law, after all, does not refer to a logical fallacy, and Michael was wrong to use “fallacious” in applying it for, as Godwin noted, he aimed to counter the glib use of rhetoric not the misuse of reason.

On the other hand, playing on reductio ad absurdum fallacies, Leo Strauss did consider the use of Hitler or Nazi analogies often to be ad hominem or irrelevant to an argument and called them reductio ad Hitlerum (not Hitlerium) arguments. However, in Strauss, it is not the use of the analogy that is fallacious but the presumption that the citation of the analogy is a valid and conclusive step in a proof when the analogy may be just an example of an association fallacy. In Strauss’ famous 1953 Natural Right and History which was required reading for most students who studied philosophy of history, Strauss did argue that a view was not refuted by the fact that it happened to have been shared by Hitler.

At the same time, though citing such an analogy as part of a propositional proof is always invalid, citing such a comparison is not always inappropriate even when Hitler shared that view or conducted a similar action. The central issue is whether the citation is a gross exaggeration and whether it is used as a key element in advancing a proof of an argument. If neither is the case, then the analogy is appropriate, though oftentimes imperfectly so. Unfortunately, Michael’s use of Godwin’s Law is an example of Greenwald’s Law, the effort to shut down the use of a legitimate analogy by citing Godwin’s Law.

Haunted by Humans: The Book Thief

Haunted by Humans: The Book Thief


Howard Adelman

Last night, we saw Wes Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel, the delightful elegant comic book movie with more extravagant action scenes than a Batman, Superman or 007 movie. It is chock full of deadpan sight gags and visual delights. Nothing more needs to be said. Enjoy yourself.

Some movies provide a different sort of delight and pleasure even when set against the background of the Nazis and the Holocaust. I did not see The Book Thief when it first came out in theatres. We had been intrigued by the preview, but we were deterred by the reviews so the movie somehow dropped to the bottom of our priority list. Basically, the movie is an adaptation of a coming-of-age very popular and excellent novel by Marcus Zusak about a girl in Nazi Germany from 1938, three month after I was born, until the end of the war, with a postscript about her death of old age in her Upper West Manhattan apartment after having lived a wonderful and fulfilling life.

Two days ago we watched it on Netflix. We were delighted. So I wanted to see what in the reviews had turned us off. Most reviews repeated the story line and served as spoilers. Almost all the reviews applauded the acting, especially the French-Canadian actress, Sophie Nélisse, in the starring role of Liesel Meminger. The excellent cast included the kind Geoffrey Rush and the outwardly hard-hearted Emily Watson as Liesel’s foster parents, Hans and Rosa Hubermann — named as a true understanding of Friedrich Nietzsche’s űbermann, one who does not give into the sentimental demands of mob morality but overcomes oneself and one’s inner fears to evince a higher level of values. Reviewers also heaped enormous praise on the score written by John Williams that was deservedly nominated for an Oscar, but one critic used its quality to further undercut the movie – John Williams’ score, “a quieter, more somber echo of his music for ‘Schindler’s List’ — lends the film an unearned patina of solemnity, for ‘The Book Thief’ is a shameless piece of Oscar-seeking Holocaust kitsch.”

That theme ran through almost of all of the reviews. While acknowledging that the movie was faithful to the novel, the movie was considered soppy, contrived and sentimental and the Director, Brian Percival (of Downton Abbey fame), was generally judged as having reinforced and even over-emphasized that propensity of the original work of fiction on which the film was based. Review aggregations were generally bad, ranking the movie below 50% approval – Rotten Tomatoes 46%. Metacritic gave it a 53 rating, that is a so-so movie.

“The years-spanning film, which observes traumatic historical events through Liesel’s eyes, looks and tastes like a giant sugar cake whose saccharinity largely camouflages the horrors of the war…Except for the Nazi flags hanging from every building, the town, under a glistening blanket of snow, could be the cozy setting for a holiday greeting card. The pieces of the story, which begins in 1938, are so neatly arranged that the movie has the narrative flow and comforting familiarity of a beloved fairy tale.”

“Brian Percival’s adaptation retains much of Zusak’s hefty source material (including that narrator), but the chill is replaced by a chocolate box prettiness, making it cousin to those respectable lit adaptations Chocolat, The Cider House Rules, Memoirs of a Geisha and The Reader. And Percival’s own episodes of Downton Abbey.”

“Bringing this qualified idealism to crooked-grinned, bittersweet life is Rush’s Hans, a man quietly outcast by acquaintances for not joining the Party and whose remorse at an act of quick, but dangerous heroism captures ever-present fear in a fascist state. But, while an accessible entry point to WW2 for younger viewers and never less than watchable for adult audiences, this is ultimately too Oscar showreel polished for its own good.”

“The use of Death as the narrator, and the artfully dream-like set – which looks almost as if it has fluttered out of the pages of an illustration – lend an artistic gloss to the horrors of Nazi repression…I felt manipulated. One can understand why storytellers and filmmakers are drawn to Nazi Germany: its choices were so stark, and the price of courage so great, that it arrives already freighted with emotion. Still, I came away from The Book Thief with the uneasy sense that history had been subjected to a wealth of sentimental fictional tweaking, a kind of self-indulgent wallowing in the human drama of the era without a profound understanding of its reality. And that, combined with the detailed croonings of an imaginary Death about how he garnered the souls of the dying, began to make me feel a little queasy.”

Peter Bradshaw in The Guardian wrote that the movie looked like “a creepy new version of the Anne Frank story”. Brian Viner headlined his review: “It’s Downton with Nazis: Lightweight and glossy, you can tell this war film is made by an ex-director of ITV’s hit costume drama.”

“The Book Thief will undoubtedly have its admirers and, indeed, has one in my 15-year-old god-daughter Lydia, who pronounces it one of the best films she’s ever seen. That might be significant, for the book has been categorised as young-adult fiction, and that’s probably how the film should be marketed, too.”

Even a favourite reviewer, David Denby, wrote, “Markus Zusak’s enormously successful young-adult novel seems to have been adapted as a movie for middle-aged children. The brute facts of the Second World War in Germany—Nazi oppression, hunger, people hiding in basements—have been turned into a pleasantly meaningless tale of good-heartedness, complete with soft lyrical touches and a whimsical appearance, as a narrator, by Death, who should have laid this movie to rest.”

If you happened to read one or two of these reviews, would you have seen the movie? The exceptional critic who praised the movie was not much help either.

“And now for my first fight with my fiancée Debbie Ross. She did not like the film The Book Thief. She thought it too photogenic. I thought it the best film of the year by far… The trouble with critics nowadays is that they know about life under German occupation from Hollywood. I know about it first-hand, over the course of three long years. Most German officers acted impeccably, as did simple soldiers…the great majority were civilised and acted within the rules…The Red Army raped close to three million German women, the German army in occupied Europe raped nearly zero. Go see The Book Thief.”

Such reviews, even though they praise the film, are terrible because they too think that the movie is about a realistic depiction of Nazi Germany when it is clearly and unequivocally a modern fairy tale told within a realistic format. After all, the narrator, Roger Allam in a deliberate British accent, is DEATH. We are told that many times throughout the movie that we are not dealing with realism. The Grimm Reaper would not begin the film addressing us if it were. The fairy tale setting and characterization are intrinsic to the poles necessary to depict the contrast between the horrors of Hitler’s regime and the delightful empathy of the main characters.

Reviewers of the book got it. John Green, when he reviewed Zusak’s novel back in 2006 in The New York Times called it brilliant, beginning with Death and fear of death and loss of the other that is central to the invocation of empathy and sentiment. Why did the vast majority of film critics fail to understand at least what was being tried even if they still might disagree on whether it succeeded?

I believe it did succeed and did so exceptionally well. First of all, the Grimm Reaper is not grim at all. He does not come from the riches of a Grimm fairy tale. However, he exudes the same indifference to the living as the Grimm Reaper in the Grimm story, “Godfather Death”. But when the Grimm Reaper lets his feelings undermine him when he has a godson who grows up to be a physician whom he rewards with the ability to both prophecy and prevent death by using herbs, and that son betrays him, he eventually, overcomes his feelings for his own godson and extinguishes his life. Death, however, in this movie is British rather than German. He is dressed in a long frock coat and a bowler hat when we glimpse him from the rear near the end of the movie. The foster daughter does not die but leads a long and successful life even though everyone she loved, but Max, the Jew hidden in the basement by her foster parents, does die.

It is no surprise that the first book which she found on top of her young brother’s grave, and from which she first learned to read with the help of Hans, is called, The Gravedigger’s Handbook. It is no surprise that the book she returns to read over and over again, and one which she reads to Max in the basement, is H.G. Wells, The Invisible Man, written from a third-person perspective rather than the first-person point of view of The Time Machine or The Island of Doctor Moreau. For The Invisible Man as a science fiction novel anticipated how stealth aircraft could be unseen by radar by playing with refractive qualities of radar instead of light to make an object invisible. Somehow, the film worked too well and made the film as seen and felt invisible and deaf to most reviewers.

There are two invisible men in The Book Thief, Hitler, who is omnipresent seen only through flags with Nazi swastikas, and Max who is hidden in the cellar under a swastika flag when the Gestapo search the cellar. He can be seen only by Liesel, Hans and Rosa. Like Well’s science fiction novel and virtually all of Grimm’s fairy tales, this story takes place in a small town, though in The Invisible Man, it is a British town and, in that story, the man responsible for the invisibility, Griffin, is captured, beaten and killed by a British mob, whereas in this German town, the citizenry sing Deutschland Über Alles, burn books after Kristallnacht and watch as Nazi thugs bash in the windows of Jewish shops and assault the Jewish owners.

However, I do not think the film reviewers miss the genre of the film simply because they are caught up in the performances, the visuals and the sound track and ignore the literary references and symbolism, even when the film (and the novel) has an ironic title like The Book Thief, though not one reviewer I read who felt quite comfortable with retelling the whole story and serving up spoilers, ever made mention of any of the literary references. I think they just do not understand the difference between sentimentality and sentiment. Contrary to their erroneous judgments, the movie is totally unsentimental while its main theme is a celebration of sentiment which even the Grimm Reaper cannot prevent himself from being touched by. For it is that quality of humanity that haunts him. The inversion of Death haunted by life seems also to have escaped every reviewer that I read.

The philosophers of the Scottish enlightenment – including Francis Hutcheson, Lord Shaftesbury, David Hume and Adam Smith, yes the same Adam Smith whom the cold-hearted neo-liberals cite as their guru – saw sentiment as the key to understanding morality. Sentiment is NOT sentimentality. Whatever the original connection of the two terms, sentimentality now means an appeal to shallow emotions at the expense of reason and disproportionate to the occasion. Sentimentality means playing on one’s heart strings to turn one’s heart into mush instead of a centre for acute discrimination. The pat pathos awakened and feeding on itself rather than the Other is naive and usually excessive, a contrived product of artificial stimulation rather than a natural impulse.

In contrast, sentiment is the foundation of morality rooted in a universal human empathy and concern for others indifferent to self interest. It is benevolence or kindness. Unlike reason, sentiment motivates action, but, to avoid naiveté, requires reason as a complement to assent to, explicate and order those moral decisions within a matrix of understanding built on justice that enables different circumstances and relationships to be comprehended within a system. Sentimentality dispenses with reason. Sentiment requires reason to validate its intuitive sense.

After Death introduces the fairy tale, when Liesel arrives in the little town and Heaven Street where Hans and Rosa Hubermann live, Hans first greets his new foster daughter as a princess rather than a foundling as in a standard Dickens novel, and addresses her as, “Your majesty”. His wife turns out to be a real momma and not the pretend mean stepmother of a Grimm tale as she at first displays. For this is a British fairy tale told by Death with a British accent and not the Grimm fairy tales that Hitler praised as portraying children with sound racial instincts seeking racially pure marriage partners in the spirit of a sentimentalized romantic nationalism even though the Grimm brothers satirized such sentiments as in the story of Hans and his fiancée Gretel who gives a gift to her each day by mindlessly following the instructions of his mother from the day before and each time destroying that gift. “That’s how Hans lost his bride” tells the story with the moral that he failed because he was dis-engaged – like Godfather Death.

Liesel, like Zusak’s previous protagonists, is a fighter who at the very beginning beats up the town’s young bully who mocks her for illiteracy, but she soon learns to fight back with more than her fists through the magic of words and learning to read. And she reads and re-reads The Invisible Man to the Jewish fighter (unless I missed it, the film for some reason leaves out the important reference that Max was a boxer) and insists that he, like everyone else in her life, must not disappear. And true to his word and the magic of the word and her diary that she wrote on the painted-over pages of Mein Kampf that Max made for her, Max returns and he too defeats death, the same death that visits her best friend, the lemon-haired archetypal Aryan, Rudy Steiner, acted with impeccable youthful intelligence by Nico Liersch. Rudy loves Liesel but he too is a worshipper, but unlike the Nazis who select him for an elite corps, he worships the black fastest man in the world, the runner, Jesse Owens. Liesel and Rudy both hate bullies, especially Hitler.

Do movie reviewers ignore the script and therefore miss the allusions? Max Petroni’s screenplay was not flawless, but clearly some key scenes that would have helped viewers understand the message were either elided or left on the cutting room floor. One is Max’s dream sequence in which he boxes endlessly with the Führer for whom he is just a punching bag until he lands one punch and knocks Hitler down. Hitler, in defeat, heartlessly whips the crowd into a furious mob with his evocative words so that the “fists of an entire nation” can be used to attack Max and beat him to a pulp. However, through Liesel, Death learned what it meant to have a heart and Death has been haunted by humanity ever since.

Prognostications – Ukraine



Howard Adelman


Predictions are a very high risk activity, especially when offered by a rank amateur and when the evidence is so mixed. There are some signs of truth that can serve as a guide. But predictions are inherently not about what is truth but about what may be and what could be and what will be. Will there be further military action outside Crimea. I can equivocate by engaging in possibilities and probabilities but if I say military activity in Eastern Ukraine is unlikely but also a distinct possibility, to some degree or other I have to get off the fence. Putin ordered tens of thousands of Russian troops participating in military exercises near Ukraine’s border to return to their bases. That suggests that there will NOT be Russian military activity in the eastern Ukraine. On the other hand, Putin has said unequivocally that he would use the threat of wider military intervention to reassert Russian influence over all or part of Ukraine and it would be legal since requested by the legally elected president, Viktor Yanukovych. The West has unequivocally signaled that military force will not be used in Ukraine. But will the West continue to be given that choice if Russia actually invades Eastern Ukraine?

As the West prepares strong economic sanctions, Russia’s agricultural oversight agency withdrew its decision to lift the ban on imports of U.S. pork. At the same time, the subsidy for lower-priced gas from Gazprom for Ukraine was dropped (prices will rise from $268.50 to $400 per thousand cubic feet) and future economic measures were promised against Ukraine. The U.S. has already released oil from its strategic reserves. Economic warfare will assuredly escalate. While Putin refuses to recognize the planned Ukrainian election as well as the results, he set in motion a referendum that will be held in Crimea on 16 March; he promised he would recognize those results. The Russian Foreign Ministry issued a statement just yesterday which suggested the aggressive Russian efforts would be restricted to the Crimea “taking into complete account the interests of all Ukrainians and all regions in the search for an exit from the crisis and also the respect of the right of the residents of Crimea to determine their fate on their own in accordance with the norms of international law.” Vadim Karasyov, a Kyiv-based political analyst, went further and interpreted this to mean that Russia would NOT be incorporating Crimea, but would be satisfied with Ukrainian independence.  

Bottom Line

1. Crimean Separatism

Crimeans vote for independence on 16 March or  whether they want union with Russia. The original motion for a ballot when the parliament lacked a real quorum and when the vote was scheduled for 30 March was for union with Russia without surrendering being part of Ukraine by approving the following statement: “The Autonomous Republic of Crimea has state independence (my italics) and is a part of Ukraine on the basis of agreements and accords.” Last Thursday (6 March), the supreme council in Crimea passed a motion with 78 of 100 legislators (8 abstained) in favour that the referendum would be scheduled for 16 March and would be on whether to join Russia OR have greater independence while remaining de jure part of Ukraine. The two choices are:

1. “Are you in favour of Crimea becoming a constituent territory of the Russian Federation?”

2. “Are you in favour of restoring Crimea’s 1992 constitution?” [That constitution provided that Crimea is part of Ukraine – there is no provision for secession – but its relations with Ukraine are determined by a treaty mutually agreed upon between Crimea and Ukraine.] As worded, the ballot inherently rejects both the 2004 constitution, which does not presume relations are determined by mutual agreement, and the current treaty between Ukraine and Crimea. 

Since Sevastopol residents will be allowed to take part in the referendum – which means all the sailors in the whole warm water fleet of Russia as well as all the Russian soldiers now stationed in Crimea – the outcome of the vote will likely be for joining Russia even if Russia leaves open the question of whether they will accede to this request as a bargaining chip. OSCE observers will not likely be permitted to observe the voting.

Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk said the new government will resist separatism. “We are committed to the territorial integrity and unity of my country. And the new government will do everything and use all legal means [my italics] to stabilize the situation in Crimea and to convince the entire world and all Ukrainian neighbors that Ukraine is a sovereign united country and no separatism is allowed.”

The government in Kyiv will be unsuccessful, but Western states will not recognize the independence of Crimea or its joining Russia. I suspect that the West will eventually de facto but not de jure accede to this move, especially given the precedent of Kosovo. However, Crimean secession will not be the cause of significant escalation in the crisis. But there will be an escalation. Crimea’s Deputy Prime Minister, Rustam Temirgaliev (incidentally a Tatar at odds with most other Crimean Tatars), has already said that the decision on secession had already been made and the vote is merely intended to endorse that decision. After that endorsement, Ukrainian troops in Crimea would be regarded as military occupiers and would be invited to take out Russian citizenship and join the Russian army or lay down their arms and be repatriated to Ukraine.

If they do not lay down their arms, will the bases be attacked? Will the Ukrainian fleet that is now under blockade, if they resist surrender, be attacked? Any such ultimatum will, I suspect, induce a much greater response in the West and the threat of much greater responses is intended to deter Putin from taking further aggressive action in Crimea as well as other parts of Ukraine. In any case, Russia has no need to attack the bases or the Ukrainian fleet; they are no threat to any eventual outcome if left bottled up. Moreover, they symbolize the impotence of Kyiv vis a vis decisions in Crimea. The real danger comes from the 10,000+ militia working alongside Russian troops and the ones most likely responsible for kidnappings and intimidation of foreigners, including journalists.

2. Eastern Ukraine

Unless NATO challenges Putin and threatens military action in eastern Ukraine, expect bullying thuggery in Luhansk, and Donetsk (the Donbas), the mining and industrial rust belt of Ukraine. Two weeks ago there was a possibility that those areas would try to follow the example of Crimea by voting for independence while insisting they are still part of Ukraine and that Putin would deploy troops to prevent “hooliganism” and ensure order and protection for the Russian minority but again deny that they are Russian troops. However, this is now far less likely given NATO’s military response, the escalating economic sanctions and the unanimity in the West opposing Russia’s moves.

3. Ukraine

Putin will not accept Ukraine’s efforts to become part of Europe and will go all out to ensure that Ukraine remains within Russia’s “sphere of influence”. As a result of his moves on the Crimea, however, Putin will lose Ukraine except for Crimea. Depending on how he plays his hand and how the West responds, this will also include any future influence in the Donbas.

4. Moldova

Moldova, south and west of Ukraine with Romania on the east, may be the next area of crisis rather than eastern Ukraine, both to distract from the Ukraine controversies and because of its internal dynamic. Like Ukraine, Moldova has also come under pressure to drop its negotiated association agreement with the EU that has not yet been put on the implementation track. Further, the Russians have troops as “peacekeepers” – their status is disputed – in the eastern province of Trans-Dniester (Trans Dnestr or Transnistria) that borders Ukraine on the east with the Dniester River on the West. The majority of the population is Russian and Ukrainian. Like the Donbas, the area is the industrial heartland of Moldova. The area since 1792 was once part of the Russian Empire. Like Odessa, just to the east, the Ukrainians there speak Russian. Further, though Trans-Dniester is part of Moldova, like Crimea it has an autonomous legal status as the Pridnestrovian MoldavianRepublic – Pridnestrovie. 

Set up in the aftermath of the disintegration of the USSR and in response to 1989 decisions by Moldova to make Moldovan the only official language and adopt the Latin alphabet, a full scale war was fought between this region and Moldova in 1992. The war ended with Russian intervention and, without changing the legal status, Pridnestrovie became a satrap of Russia. Though not recognized anywhere as an independent republic except by South Ossetia and Abkhazia, Pridnestrovie has its own constitution, flag, national anthem, president, parliament, military, police and even its own currency. Most residents have Moldavian citizenship (300,000) but another 250,000 have either or both Ukrainian and Russian citizenship. In the 2004 census of a population of 555,347 people, 177,785 (32.1%) were Moldovans, 168,678 (30.35%) were Russians and 160,069 (28.8%) Ukrainians with 8.7% Bulgarians, Gagauzians, Roma, Jews, Poles, etc.  

In a 2006 referendum by the Pridnestrovie government, 97.2% of the population favoured independence from Moldova and free association with Russia. The EU has not recognized the referendum results. Pridnestrovie, like Nagorno-Karabakh, Abkhazia and South Ossetia, are really outposts of the Russian Federation as will be Crimea if it is not incorporated right into Russia.

Pridnestrovie is not the only Moldovan territory that could mimic Crimea. In the Gagauzian strip of Moldova south-west of Pridnestrovie with the Ukraine border to its east, the province is more akin to the provinces of eastern Ukraine. However, since 1994, it has had its own special legal status within Moldova. A 2 February referendum there voted 98% in favour of closer ties with Russia than the EU and voted for secession if Moldova joins the EU. 

5. Economics and Sanctions 

U.S.the EU froze the assets of 18 people held responsible for misappropriating state funds in Ukraine, echoing similar action in Switzerland and Austria as well as Canada. The Russian parliament began drafting legislation that would allow the authorities to confiscate assets belonging to U.S. and European companies, but nothing likely will come of it. Nevertheless, economic warfare on a number of fronts between the West and Russia will continue to escalate.

6. Cyber Warfare

Expect extensive efforts by Russia to sabotage Ukrainian communications, efforts that are already underway. Crimea has already been cut off from access to Ukrainian broadcasts. 

7. Military

If Russia actually resorts to using military means to retain Ukraine as part of Russia, which I now think is highly unlikely, Ukraine will resist militarily and NATO will have to decide whether it acquiesces to an anschluss in Ukraine, then the more likely Putin will resort to military means to retain Ukraine. The West has not taken up the half of a two-pronged strategy based on a threat and possible use of the military lest this risk leading to war between Russia and the West. If escalation in the use of the military by both sides is avoided, then the West will have won the major battle for Ukraine excluding Crimea without a fight.

8. Protests in Russia

There will be extensive protests within Russia against the West aided and supported by the state as well as protests against Putin’s policies, but the latter will be ruthlessly squelched.

9. The Caucasus

Expect Muslim separatists and extremists to try to take advantage of the period of turmoil forthcoming.

10. The Middle East

Cooperation between the West and Russia on Syria will disappear, but the dismantling of the chemical weapons will continue. There will be virtually no effect on the Iran negotiations except that Russia will lose any position of influence.

11. Viktor Yanukovych

He will not return to Ukraine to stand trial but he will be able to retain little of his acquired booty and will be barely but marginally tolerated by Russia. Putin has little use for losers who let him down while stealing on a grand scale.

12. The Budapest Memorandum of 1994

It will either be used to back down from the brink (unlikely) or become a dead letter, the more probable outcome.

Anti-Semitism in the Ukraine

Anti-Semitism in the Ukraine


Howard Adelman


My mother was born in Toronto before World War I but her parents migrated from Galicia to Canada at the end of the nineteenth century in flight from a spate of pogroms. They experienced anti-Semitism in the Ukraine directly. They were from that part of Galicia that is now incorporated into western Ukraine. My father, whose family were “Polacks”, said you could always tell a Galicianer from the Ukraine because they ate their latkes with sour cream rather than sugar. My mother’s mother was from Bukovina and my grandfather from Lviv.  

For the last decade, world Jewry has been pre-occupied with the so-called new-anti-Semitism in which claims are made that the singling out of Israel for the boycott campaign is rooted in attempts to delegitimize Israel and deny Jews the right to self-determination. In the Ukraine and Russia we are back on familiar ground with the old anti-Semitism less than two months after observing International Holocaust Remembrance Day on the 69th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz by Soviet forces. Abe Foxman, head of the Anti-Defamation League of B’nai Brith, while far from ignoring anti-Jewish slights in the USA, has been vitriolic in suggesting that Europe remains a cesspool of hatred threatening the Jewish people. Does what is happening in Ukraine prove his and Putin’s point? We cannot wait to find out until the symposium planned this fall at UofT by Irv Abella and Rob Pritchard that will focus on the old as well as the new anti-Semitism.

President Vladimir Putin of Russia invaded Crimea with so-called “local defence units” on the pretext that he was protecting Russians and Jews from a rising tide of fascist anti-Semitic nationalists even though Jewish supporters of Crimea re-joining Russia in the Crimea deny the existence of any significant anti-Semitism. Anatoly Gendin was born in Russia, lives in the Ukraine and supports the annexation of Crimea to Russia. He is also the leader of Crimea’s Progressive Jewish Community. But he has said: “I don’t feel any anti-Semitism in Crimea.”

Yet Moscow’s propaganda machine claimed that Ukraine was being swept by a wave of anti-Semitism and xenophobia. Putin depicted the revolutionaries in Ukraine as reactionary “anti-Semitic forces…on a rampage”.  This line is fully in accord with Abe Foxman’s belief that Europe, especially Hungary, Greece, Italy and Bulgaria, are enduring a significant degree of anti-Semitism because of the coming together of nationalist anti-government forces. Despite the official line that thousands of Russian troops who have occupied the Crimean peninsula over the last two weeks are actually “local self-defence units,” the message is that Russia is there to defend the minority groups in Crimea and other parts of Ukraine. In fact, incidents of anti-Semitism, such as the knife attack on a 26 year-old haredi Jewish teacher, Hillel Wertheimer, returning from synagogue after Shabat in Kyiv on 11 January, the attack a week later on 33-year old Yeshiva student, Dov-Ber Glickman, again after he left synagogue, and the firebombing of a Chabad centre southeast of Kyiv in Zaporizhiye in February, have been three attacks too many but, on the other hand, such anti-Semitic incidents have been few and far between.

However, as The Algemeiner reported yesterday, Putin sometimes can be AC/DC in reference to anti-Semitism for his enemies can be Zionist agents in the new version of anti-Semitism or anti-Semitic ones using the older version. “Back in 2004, Russian President Vladimir Putin accused his regional rival Viktor Yushchenko, who was then the pro-western president of Ukraine, of having campaigned on the basis of ‘anti-Russian, Zionist’ slogans”. He subsequently clarified that to say he meant to accuse Viktor Yuschenko of being backed by anti-Semites.

The irony, of course, is that although there have been incidents in both Russia and the Ukraine, neither country has witnessed any clearly state-backed anti-Semitism. What takes place appears to be infrequent with no distinctive pattern in spite of Stephen Cohen’s allegations that Ukrainian nationalists are born-again Hitler youth, a sentiment echoed by Michael Lerner of Tikkun. At the beginning of March there was an incident at the Ner Tamid Synagogue in Simferopol, Crimea’s capital, not far from Lenin Square. A large swastika and the words “Kill the Zhids” was painted on the front door. A security camera caught a man carrying a back pack from which he took the spray can. That man has not been identified. Was he a Ukrainian nationalist or was he a Russian planted provocateur or at least someone out to provide evidence to justify Putin’s claims?

Rabbi Yaakov Dov Bleich, a chief rabbi of Ukraine, accused Russia of staging anti-Semitic “provocations” in Crimea to justify its invasion. Anatoly Gendin, the Jewish Russian supporter in the Crimea of annexation, cited it as the only anti-Semitic incident in Crimea and it took place when Russian troops were taking control. Rabbi Misha Kapustin,  ordained by Leo Baeck College in London and the rabbi of the synagogue in the Crimea where the anti-Semitic graffiti was painted on the door, has echoed Gendin’s sentiments and said that, “I didn’t feel any anti-Semitism previously in Crimea,” but since he now openly wears a lapel pin with the Ukrainian and Israeli flags, he has been attacked on the internet as a disloyal Jew.  As Boris Berlin, a Jewish computer engineer living in Crimea, says, it is only since the Russian occupation and the vote calling for a referendum on annexation that you hear anti-Semitic remarks. “It’s a circus, not democracy.” Compare the 82% of the Ukrainian parliament that voted for the ouster of  Viktor Yanukovych, when he reneged on his agreement with the opposition on ending the violent clashes in Maidan, to the vote in Crimea where there were only 36 of 100 members of the Crimean legislature present when the vote supporting annexation and the decision to hold a referendum was passed “unanimously” as revealed by Norwegiam journalists. (Siste nytt: Grisebonde ble handlingslammet kl.11:46) Nicolay Sumulidi, a member of the Crimean Parliament, is recorded as having supported the vote, but he was not even present. Neither was Irina Klyuyeva who was also recorded as voting for the motions.

Norwegian investigative reporters filled in the details after 30 masked gunmen in military fatigues at the beginning of March seized and trashed the office of the independent Center for Investigative Journalism in Simferopol. Yesterday, three journalists, Epsen Kruse, Kristian Elster and Bengt Kristiansen, from the Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation (NRK) were attacked in Crimea by 15-20 masked and armed militiamen whom the Norwegian journalists said were Russian soldiers in disguise. Their computers and storage devices were confiscated. They were accused of being spies but were released. Reporters Without Borders said that two days earlier, two Ukrainian journalists went missing and are believed to have been kidnapped. Olena Maksymenko of Ukrainsky Tizhden was one. She disappeared with Kateryna Butko and Aleksandra Ryazantseva, two Auto-Maidan activists. They were last seen tied and bound kneeling near a military tent. Freelance photographer, Oles Kromplyas, and his driver, Yevhen Rakhno, are also missing. Censorship has been imposed on Crimea for “moral principles” and “legal imperatives” and Ukrainian TV is no longer allowed to transmit in Crimea.

Since we are unlikely to learn any time soon who painted the swastika, we can at least investigate the credentials of Svoboda (Freedom) Party led by Oleh Tyahnibok, and Pravyi Sektor (Right Sector) led by Dmitro Yarosh, Ukraine’s main two nationalist parties. The latter consists of rabid militant ultra-nationalists determined to rid Ukraine of foreign threats to its Ukrainian character, whether those threats come from the east, the west or internally from groups who do not respect the right of the Ukrainian people to their own land. But Yarosh has stated: “Many Jews have fought and died for the cause of Ukrainian nationalism. I see those men as heroes of Ukraine. So what kind of anti-Semite does that make me?” On the other hand he is an open admirer of Stepan Bandera who led the fight for Ukrainian independence during World War II in collaboration with the Nazis, his militias going far beyond fighting the Russians when they engaged in anti-Jewish pogroms.

Oleh Tyahnibok is also an admirer of Bandera and he himself in 2007 as a member of parliament accused “yids” of working in collaboration with the Russian mafia who together were responsible for Ukraine’s problems. The admiration for Bandera goes to the heart of Ukrainian patriotism. In 2010, President Viktor Yushchenko had awarded Bandera the posthumous title of Hero of Ukraine for “defending national ideas and battling for an independent Ukrainian state,” an award withdrawn when Viktor Yanukovych assumed the presidency.

However, in spite of this smudge of anti-Semitism on the nationalist right and the taint of it in the centre, Ukraine’s bid to free itself from Russian domination has not been driven by anti-Semitic ideology. Many Ukrainian Jewish leaders have pointed this out unequivocally. “I categorically refute the statements appearing in a number of foreign media outlets of facts of massive anti-Semitism and xenophobia in Ukraine that do not correspond to reality!” Vadim Rabinovich, representing the All-Ukrainian Jewish Congress, went on to claim that, “The whipping up of the situation around this issue is of a provocative nature and does not contribute to a calm life for the Jewish community of Ukraine.”

On 7 March, prominent Ukrainian Jews wrote an open letter to Vladimir Putin calling on the President to withdraw his Russian military forces from Crimea and accusing him of using false claims of ultra-nationalism and anti-Semitism to legitimise intervention in Ukraine. “Historically, Ukrainian Jews are mostly Russian-speaking…Our opinion on what is happening carries no less weight than the opinion of those who advise and inform you.” The signatories included those of scholars, scientists, businessmen, artists and musicians. The letter was unequivocal in rejecting Putin’s line that the protest movement that removed president Viktor Yanukovich was made up of “anti-Semitic forces on the rampage,” asked without qualification for removal of Russian troops from Crimea and suggested that anti-Semitism was a greater threat in Russia than in Ukraine.

They claimed that Ukraine was a multi-ethnic society with quite a few national minority representatives in the Cabinet of Ministers – the Minister of Internal Affairs is Armenian, the Vice-Prime Minister is a Jew, two ministers are Russian. Vladimir Groisman, another Jew and a popular mayor of the city of Vinnytsaa, was appointed first deputy prime minister in charge of regional development in the new Ukrainian government. The newly-appointed governors of Ukraine’s region are also not exclusively Ukrainian. Billionaire oligarch Ihor Kolomoiskyi, a Ukranian Jew, was named as the governor of the Dniepropetrovsk region in south-central Ukraine as a counterweight to Ukraine’s richest oligarch, Rinat Akhmetov, who is the media mogul in eastern Ukraine, the owner of the largest TV station that has allowed his media outlets to serve as a mouthpiece for Russia’s propaganda.

That does not mean Jewish leaders in Ukraine deny the existence of any anti-Semitism in Ukraine, especially among the marginal nationalist parties, but even then they insisted that neither Svoboda nor Pravyi Sektor, who were united with other protesters in the anti-Yanukovich protest movement, dared show anti-Semitism or other xenophobic behaviour. They claimed that both civil society and the new Ukrainian government had both under control, a sentiment echoed by  Oleksandr Feldman, a member of the Ukraine parliament and president of the Ukrainian Jewish Committee. The signatories of the open letter then poked Putin the eye – “which is more than can be said for the Russian neo-Nazis, who are encouraged by your security services.” The problem was not indigenous nationalism but exogenous intervention by Russia into Ukraine’s domestic affairs by a leader who believes that the independence of Ukraine was a national tragedy for Russia.

In the Crimea, Vitali Khramov, a Russian citizen, was an outspoken anti-Semite who labelled Jews “corpse-fuckers” since, he claimed, screwing a dead body was a ritual necrophilic requirement as important as a bar mitzvah for young Jewish men. The international financial system was led by Rockefeller, a Jew, and his fellow Jewish banking cabal that was determined to drive Russia into the ground. The U.S. was a Zionist war-monger financed by Jewish money. For years, Khramov led Sobol that advocated that Russia annex the Crimea. Though deported in 2012, his separatist paramilitaries serve as the main forces for harassing Ukrainians opposed to the Russian anschluss. So when Putin and Moscow claim to John Kerry that he is blind to Ukrainian anti-Semitism and the forces of radical extremism that have seized control in the Ukraine while ignoring the “rampant Russophobia and anti-Semitism” among the group that took power, we have an example not simply of the kettle calling the pot black but of a lie, repeated and repeated like a dripping faucet so that the lie, as Mao Zedong claimed, becomes an accepted truth, or, at the very least, a legitimate claimant upon truth.

The reality is that Moscow’s reference to attacks on synagogues could only be corroborated by the four attacks mentioned above. one of which took place in Crimea when Russian forces were taking control of the area. Anatoly Gendin, mentioned above as a supporter of reunion of the Crimea with Russia and head of the Association of Jewish Organizations and Communities of Crimea, but he claimed that Jews were being blamed for the huge increase in inflation in Crimea. Rabbi Misha Kapustin felt that he had been forced to close the synagogue where the anti-Semitic graffiti had been sprayed for the safety of his congregation. A visiting Jewish delegation led by Oleksandr Feldman claimed that the ten thousand Jews of Crimea were divided based on age, with the older Jews wanting Russia to annex Crimea so their pensions would be three times as high while the younger group preferred to work and raise their children in a Ukraine allied with the west.    

Putin invaded Crimea under the pretext of a massive lie about anti-Semitism. He may gain Crimea but the gain will be at the cost of a permanent loss of Ukraine from his fantasy of building an eastern version of the EU under Russian control and revealing to the whole world what a liar and bully he is.

On 2 April, the Ukrainian Jewish Committee will host its fourth annual interfaith national forum with participants from 50 countries to discuss anti-Semitism. 

Expertise on Putin and the Ukraine

Putin and The Ukraine: American Expertise


Howard Adelman

I am not an expert on Russia and Putin or I might be very embarrassed. I am just a reader who mines expert analyses and relies entirely on the information they supply. Yet a lot of what I read is very embarrassing to the experts. Read these assertions in February just before Putin invaded Crimea: Most Russian experts have not learned much in the last fifteen years. Their tea leaf reading of the USSR at the end of the Empire did not allow them to anticipate the crumbling of that empire just days later. Similarly, most misread Putin. I certainly did not expect his aggressive action. But I am not an expert, only an amateur. I had expectations but no expert pronouncements. It saves me from considerable embarrassment and allows me to embarrass myself now.

The BEFORE quotes are taken from articles, op-eds and statements, mostly from February 2014, while the AFTER quotes come from the first few days of March.

Eugene Rumer, former U.S. national intelligence officer for Russia and Eurasia at the CIA and now Director of the Russia and Eurasia Program at the Carnegie Endowment for Peace:


“This crisis is really a domestic political crisis in Ukraine” and not an interstate crisis between Ukraine and Russia.

AFTER: (with Andrew Weiss)

Vladimir Putin’s surprise decision to ask for a Russian-style War Powers resolution from his parliament dramatically ups the ante in the Ukraine crisis and positions Russia for full-scale military action. It also signals Putin’s commitment to use all necessary means—many of which have already been in use in Crimea—to keep Ukraine in Russia’s orbit. If Putin follows through on his threat to invade Ukraine, he will signal yet again that the post-Cold War era that began with the “Velvet Revolutions” of 1989 has ended. The damage to Russia’s relations with the West will be deep and lasting, far worse than after the Russian-Georgian war.

Andrew S. Weiss, Vice-President , Carnegie Endowment


“If you’re sitting in the Kremlin the prospect of a Yugoslav scenario in Ukraine is quite scary.”


The forces of Ukrainian nationalism are on the rise throughout much of the country, provoked by Moscow’s disregard for Ukrainian sovereignty and irresponsible attempts to portray the Maidan revolution as a fascist triumph—patently offensive to a nation that suffered so much during World War II.

Simon Saradzhyan – Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, HarvardU.


Vladimir Putin has condemned the forceful seizure of power in Ukraine and suspended promised purchase of Ukrainian bonds. But the question remains: will Russia’s strongman get actively involved in the chaos of Ukrainian politics as he did back during the previous Ukrainian evolution when he rallied for Yanukovych? I would argue there is no real need for the Russian leadership to get entangled in the Ukrainian quandary in an attempt to influence who becomes its next leader as long as Russia’s interests there—including the safety of ethnic Russians and the presence of the Black Sea fleet in the Crimea—are not threatened. In fact, Putin may even benefit if Yanukovych’s arch-foe Yulia Tymoshenko—who has been released from prison and already announced she would participate in the 2014 presidential elections—became the next leader of Ukraine. After all, she was the one who agreed to buy gas from Putin, as Ukraine’s premier in 2009, at exorbitant prices, making Kiev even more vulnerable to economic pressure from Moscow.


Before there was no real need for the Russian leadership to get entangled in the Ukrainian quandary. Now that Putin is involved, there is no real need for the West to get involved in the Ukrainian quandary:

I have been scanning op-eds on what West/US can/should do on the Ukranian crisis and I must say there are not too many sensible approaches out there, except for, maybe,
“The power of sanctions against Putin on Ukraine,” Michael O’Hanlon, Brookings, March 3, 2014.   There
 are also quite a few pieces that acknowledge that West cannot and shouldn’t do much.

And, of course, there are many step-by-step guides on how to start a new cold war, such as

Dmitri Trenin, Director of the CarnegieMoscowCenter


“The Russians have long given up on Yanukovych.”

“It’s very much Mr. Putin’s preference, in fact, priority, that Ukraine stays in one piece.”

“I don’t think the Russians are about to invade Crimea,”


“There is clearly pressure building up inside the Russian establishment for strong-armed tactics, a strong-armed strategy vis-à-vis Ukraine and the West because Russia feels it had been outmaneuvered in Kiev and they have a very bad taste in their mouth over the behavior of the U.S. and Europe in the past few months.”

“The crisis in Crimea could lead the world into a second cold war.”

Steven Pifer, a former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, Director, Arms Control and Non-Proliferation Initiative | Senior Fellow, Foreign PolicyCenter on the United States and EuropeCenter for 21st Century Security and Intelligence, Brookings Institute


“To punish Moldova, Georgia and perhaps Ukraine for their overtures to the European Union, Putin’s Russia might impose trade sanctions, gas cut-offs and other policies to bring these nations in line. While U.S. leverage is limited, President Obama should work with the EU to exert pressure on Russia, demonstrating its actions could impact relations with the West.” Note, no anticipation of invasion.


“Russia would much rather keep the new government in Kiev destabilized than have them become an independent force in the region.”

Andrew Kuchins and Jeffrey Mankoff, Director and Deputy Directors respectively of the Russia and Eurasia Program, Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), Washington, D.C.


Ukraine’s survival depends on ensuring all its people—east and west—have a stake in its future. If it eventually leads to a more united, democratic Ukraine, the current crisis will not have gone to waste, and Yanukovych will in exiting be able to undo some of the damage he has done over the last few months.

Neither side (U.S. or Russia) wants—or benefits from—an escalation of the violence and instability in Ukraine. While it is going to be up to the Ukrainians themselves to decide how to manage their relationships with neighbors, Ukraine will always maintain close economic, political, and cultural ties to Russia. That said, Russia’s own actions going forward will do much to determine whether there can be a durable and peaceful resolution of the crisis.

The United States should focus on is making sure that Moscow remains very much in the loop, while trying to bridge the divide between Russia and the EU that has broken out over Ukraine in the past couple of years and urging Russia to play a constructive role in de-escalating the crisis.


Vladimir Putin has dramatically raised the stakes with what amounts to a stealth annexation of Crimea this weekend, securing in the process a unanimous vote from the Russian parliament allowing for the deployment of Russian military forces in Ukraine. To date, the Obama administration’s response, including Friday’s vague warning about “costs,” has amounted to little more than a threat to boycott the G8 meeting taking place in Sochi in June. 

Daniel Treisman, UCLA, author of The Return: Russia’s Journey From Gorbachev to Medvedev


The West should narrow its criticism of Russia to issues where its views line up with those of the Russian people. Russia has emerged from the hermitic life of socialism to join in the normal process of international politics and Russians have joined the modern scramble of global travel, communications, and consumption.


He (Putin) did not want to ruin the spectacle of the Sochi Olympics by intervening in Ukraine. It would have been a major embarrassment for those heads of state and other dignitaries who did accept his invitation to attend.

Fyodor Lukyanov, Editor-in-Chief, Russia in Global Affairs


“The main driving force behind his [Putin’s] policy towards Ukraine will be not a desire for expansion, but a desire to reduce the risk of chaos spilling into Russia.”

“In his [Putin’s] view, unrest must be suppressed before it turns into a huge fire. Unrest produces nothing but chaos. A weak state drives itself into a trap. Once a state falters, external forces will charge through the breach and start shattering it until it falls.”


“If the internal conflict escalates, Russia may opt to establish closer contacts with pro-Russian regions in eastern and south-eastern Ukraine.” Russia would just seek closer contacts; it was the West that was interfering and offering unilateral support to the opposition.


A new phase has begun between Russia and America: 25 years of assurances that the Cold War is over and that the United States and Russia are no longer enemies is ending with an open political confrontation over Ukraine. Washington’s intention to impose sanctions against Russia threatens to radically change not only the atmosphere of relations, but also the nature of their cooperation.


Alexander Motyl, Rutgers University, Ukraine expert.


Putin’s. He has to ask himself a very important strategic question. On the one hand, for Putin to absorb Crimea is, frankly, a piece of cake. It wouldn’t require any military aggression because the military is already based in Sevastopol in the Black Sea Fleet. All they need to do is leave the base and declare Crimea independent. Piece of cake. The problem is that for Putin this would set an unpleasant and dangerous precedent vis-a-vis his non-Russian neighbors. If Putin goes into Crimea to liberate it, so to speak, or annex it, he would effectively be declaring that Russia has the right to annex Russian-populated territories in the former Soviet Union. (my italics) Once Russia declares that it has the right to go in and seize territories that are populated by Russians, he is suggesting to all of these countries that they are in potential future danger of an annexation by the Russian Federation. This will undermine his efforts to regather the non-Russian republics [of the former Soviet Union] through the so-called Customs Union and the so-called Eurasian Union. At this point, it is Belarus and Kazakhstan that are on board. Putin has to ask himself the question: Is Crimea worth torpedoing the Customs Union and the Eurasian Union?

I think the country is headed toward [President Viktor] Yanukovych’s collapse though. I’m not sure if it’s a matter of days, weeks, or months. But in cracking down he’s essentially signed his own death warrant. 

Andrei Zubov, Professor of Philosophy, Moscow State Institute of International Relations, author of two volume history of Russia in the twentieth century


In Slavic Winter: “The unrest in Ukraine has been caused by the authorities’ unwillingness to strengthen the country’s ties with the EU.”


From: “It Already Happened Before”: “We always make prognoses based on the assumption that the politician, even if selfish and cruel, is intelligent and rational. But what we see now is the behavior of a politician who has lost his mind. These actions are absurd because of [the possibility of international]” sanctions and of the sharp economic downturn, which is causing the collapse of the Russian financial market. If this continues, it will lead to the impoverishment of the population in a matter of months and huge social protests.” Andrey Zubov: http://www.vedomosti.ru/opinion/news 1 March 2014.

Andrei Zubov was fired on Wednesday, one day after he published these comments.

Ambassador Michael McFaul, recently resigned US Ambassador to Russia who returned to teach at StanfordUniversity,


“I have gotten frustrated watching the Russian press, the state-controlled press. The relentless mischaracterization of the Obama administration and my country, and, I don’t know, the cynicism, the—I’m not quite capturing this right. Being assaulted by that. The hate, these virulent tweets that come to me every day.”


Russia President Vladimir Putin’s description of the Ukraine crisis as an unconstitutional coup is an “ominous threat” that could be used to justify a further Russian push into Ukraine. “It’s complete nonsense as far as I’m concerned,”

Stephen Cohen Putin Apologist

Is Stephen Cohen a Putin Apologist?


Howard Adelman


My target today is not Vladimir Putin himself but those who act as voices for his position even though they are critical of both Putin and what he has done in Russia. My main target is the renowned American scholar on Russia, Stephen Cohen, but there are more modest and less bombastic Canadian versions such as Mark MacKinnon, senior international correspondent for The Globe and Mail who has been a bureau chief in Beijing, Moscow and the Middle East. MacKinnon has won the National Newspaper Award four times and is author of a 2007 study, The New Cold War Revolutions, Rigged Elections and Pipeline Politics in the Former Soviet Union. In Saturday’s Globe (8 March) he published a two-page spread entitled, “How the West Lost Putin” arguing that the bad blood between the West and Putin has been developing over the last fifteen years and has largely been the responsibility of the West which, over the years, never appreciated or offered any proper acknowledgement of Putin’s efforts to cooperate with the West.

Early on, Putin was torn between his KGB training and background and some attraction towards western democratic values expressed best in the early years when he was an aide to Anatoliy Sobchak, the reformist governor of St. Petersburg. He had expressed sympathy with George Bush after 9/11, shared intelligence and offered airspace for America’s war in Afghanistan, and even allowed the U.S. to create a no-fly zone over Libya. According to MacKinnon, he got bubkas (my expression, not his) in return and was gradually pushed into regarding the West as the enemy of Russia determined to hem Russia in, an interpretation that reinforced his view that the implosion of the USSR in 1991 was the greatest disaster to befall Russia.

However, my main concern is Stephen Cohen; I mention MacKinnon to indicate that Cohen is not alone in the position he adopts. In launching this criticism, I recognize that I am an amateur in contrast to the expertise of both Cohen and MacKinnon.

Several nights ago I watched and listened to Stephen Cohen on CNN and heard him describe two Ukraines: an eastern and southern Russian-oriented Ukraine and a western European-oriented Ukraine. He then went on to blame Obama specifically. He did not hold Putin responsible for the current crisis because, back in November, Obama, with the EU in tow, had “forced” the Viktor Yanukovych government to choose between Europe and Russia, playing an either/or game and not a both/and game. At the same time, Cohen criticised Obama and his predecessor for not paying sufficient attention to Russian sensitivities in the efforts to move NATO closer and closer to Russia’s borders and failing to understand that Russia had deep interests in the Ukraine and could not possibly tolerate a neighbour oriented against Russia. 

According to Cohen, “every informed observer knows—from Ukraine’s history, geography, languages, religions, culture, recent politics and opinion surveys—that the country is deeply divided as to whether it should join Europe or remain close politically and economically to Russia. [So far, no problem!] There is not one Ukraine or one ‘Ukrainian people’ but at least two, generally situated in its Western and Eastern regions.” Cohen repeats this claim over and over; it has become his mantra.  “Ukraine is splitting apart down the middle,” he repeats, “because Ukraine is not one country, contrary to what the American media, which speaks about the Ukraine and the Ukrainian people. Historically, ethnically, religiously, culturally, politically, economically, it’s two countries. One half wants to stay close to Russia; the other wants to go West.” 

After Cohen made his pitch on CNN, I heard a very articulate refutation of Stephen Cohen’s first point from a young protest leader in Kyiv, Katryna Krak, about whom I was unable to find out anything further, but she is, for Cohen, a priori, not a very informed observer for she refutes Cohen’s refrain about his “two Ukraines.” She conceded that Ukrainians were truly divided over policy in that some wanted a more pro-Russian policy and others wanted a more pro-European policy.  To her, Ukrainians were generally united in a) still being Ukrainian and b) wanting a democratic and honest government accountable and abiding by the rule of law. Indeed, the yearning for a democratic regime was a uniting force.  To describe Ukraine as consisting of two Ukraines was insulting to Ukrainians and blind to genuine fears they had of using this political difference to divide Ukraine politically. After all, the US is divided into red states and blue states, but this would be no justification for suggesting there are two different Americas and two different peoples inhabiting America, but only suggesting that there are different parts of America which tend to be differentially oriented politically. But they are all Americans.

In a recent article in The Nation, to which Stephen Cohen is a contributing editor and his wife an owner, entitled “Distorting Russia: How the American media misrepresent Putin, Sochi and Ukraine,” http://www.thenation.com/article/178344/distorting-russia#, he accused the American media of malpractice, “failing to provide essential facts and context” and refusing to print opposing opinions. (Not my experience – see MacKinnon above as an example.) He accused the American media of being as ideological as they were during the Cold War. The misrepresentation began with ignoring the looting of essential state assets in the early nineties in favour of a narrative that depicted Russia as undergoing a difficult transition from communism to democracy.  In doing so, the media supported the “armed destruction of a popularly elected Parliament and imposition of a ‘presidential’ Constitution, which dealt a crippling blow to democratization.”

Further, Cohen also repeated a claim he had made that the revolt in Kyiv was being controlled and orchestrated by fascist elements in Ukraine, a position Wolf Blitzer repeated only to be scolded vehemently by CNN’s Christiane Amanpour. Wolf Blitzer repeated a claim by Russia’s United Nations Ambassadoir Vitaly Churkin that Nazi sympathizers have taken power in Western Ukraine. Amanpour admonished Blitzer for repeating that charge. “You’ve got to be really careful putting that across as a fact,” Amanpour said. “Are you saying that the entire pro-European Ukrainians are anti-Semites? That’s what the Russians are saying and that’s what Professor Cohen is saying.” 

Is the whole revolt really controlled by anti-semitic fascists? Did the American media really support an “armed destruction of a popularly elected Parliament”, a position that MacKinnon also seems to endorse? Did the American media support the imposition of presidential constitution that undermined the process of democratization which abetted Putin’s choke-hold on the Russian polity? That is not what I recall, but I remain open to being convinced if the evidence is persuasive, particularly since I do not trust my memory at all. Unfortunately, Stephen Cohen levelled these sweeping accusations with little evidence. The media was also accused of supporting the war in Chechnya that gave rise to terrorism in Russia’s North Caucasus thus enabling Putin to rig his own re-election in 1996. According to Cohen, most media reports in America still “give the impression that Yeltsin was an ideal Russian leader”.

I had no idea the American media had such a powerful effect on domestic Russian politics! Since Cohen supplied no evidence, though he accused journalists of shameful unprofessional practices, inflammatory writing, and even malpractice for failing to provide essential facts and context (an accusation that Cohen in his writings allegedly went back to American anti-Red coverage at the time of the Russian revolution as documented by Walter Lippman and Charles Merz), I decided to do a quick and fairly arbitrary check. I would simply google key words and see what came up on the presumption that if Cohen was correct, most newspaper articles that came up would support his views.

I first typed in “1993 American media coverage of Russian economic privatization”. The first item that popped up was chapter one of Stephen Cohen’s own 2000 book, Failed Crusade: America and the Tragedy of Post Communist Russia that appeared in the New York Times apparently that year when Cohen levelled those charges in a book-length form, except in that chapter he went back to the Clinton years when he had to stand up single-handedly against the “Washington Consensus” and its crusade to convert Russia to a replica of American values in a condescending policy of American tutelage. I then recalled that it was true that America did adopt a policy of trying to teach the republics that broke away from the Soviet Union, including Russia itself, American democratic practices and the rule of law, the stability of political institutions and the values of free speech and democracy. I also noted how well they took in Hungary when I was there to help that country reform its refugee laws as well as in other former satellites such as Poland and the Baltic states.

However, as Cohen told the tale in 1990, that policy in Russia “crashed on the rock of reality”, Cohen’s reality that Russia was a very proud and great nation that resented such American chutzpah and, in turn, became more anti-American than it had been in the previous forty years that he had studied Russia. In turn, American investors, including his bête noir, George Soros, lost $80-100 billion in the 1998 crash, Soros’ Quantum Fund alone losing $2 billion. Why did this happen? Because, “according to a 1996 survey” Moscow correspondents reported on Moscow “through the prism of their own expectations and beliefs” resulting in a Manichaean and one-dimensional account as propounded by American officials in a tale told of the conflict between the liberal democratic economic and political reformers and “On the side of darkness was the always antireform horde of Communist, nationalist, and other political dragons ensconced in its malevolent parliamentary cave”. Yeltsin was the hero, “including Yeltsin’s designated successor, Vladimir Putin, a career KGB officer”.    

In telling of this massive one-sided tale, the support for his position, interesting enough, comes almost exclusively from the media itself, such as a 1999 study by two journalists that Chubais, one of the heroes of the so-called Washington consensus, had been “little more than a conduit for a corrupt regime”. Further, the Clinton administration and its media claque encouraged “Yeltsin’s unconstitutional shutdown of Russia’s Parliament and then cheering his armed assault on the elected body.” My own memory is that there had been a great deal of criticism of Yeltsin at the time and especially of the economic shock therapy in the transition from communism, criticism that, in particular, depicted the “unpaid wages and pensions, malnutrition, and decaying provinces”, but this may have been because I read the Canadian press or because my memory had been corrupted. Once again, it was an investigative reporter who, contrary to the Washington consensus revealed that, “The whole political struggle in Russia between 1992 and 1998 was between different groups trying to take control of state assets. It was not about democracy or market reforms.” It seems hard to prove a media consensus when it’s the media that offers the evidence of the criticism of that alleged consensus.

Robert Kaplan whose op-eds on the current crisis have appeared frequently, reviewed Stephen Cohen’s 2000 book. In that review, he began by focusing not on the errors of government officials, businessmen, academics and journalists, but on the difficulty in changing a country of 140 million people spread over seven time zones with seventy years of comprehensive totalitarianism following centuries of absolutism that “left an institutional and moral void”. This history, geography and demography when combined with the suddenness of the collapse made the problem of transformation “impossible to overcome”. However, then Kaplan departs from Cohen. “Cohen attacks people — including Richard Pipes and Zbigniew Brzezinski — who understood in the 1980’s, as he did not, that Soviet Communism could not be salvaged. He fails to emphasize that the Russians never implemented much of the advice of the very experts he attacks for losing Russia. And his own advice — that we should not have bombed Serbia or expanded NATO and that we should adopt instead the ‘collective approaches’ of the United Nations, all for the sake of courting Russia — amounts to capitulation, not engagement.”

But then Kaplan commends Cohen for recognizing that the shock therapy would never work. “According to Cohen, a people’s historical experience supersedes economic theory. Thus, as he explains, what worked for Poland — a small, ethnically homogeneous country exposed to the Enlightenment, with a rudimentary market infrastructure even before the collapse of the Berlin Wall — would not necessarily work for Russia. Cohen provides a stimulating counter-chronology to challenge the official Washington view of post-cold-war Russia as a string of qualified successes and disasters avoided, in which good democrats, led by former President Boris Yeltsin, have battled bad neo-communists, particularly Yevgeny Primakov, a former prime minister and foreign minister.”

Culture and history supersede economics. I, personally, could not agree more. On the other hand, culture and history do not quash economics and make change impossible. Within every culture can be found the elements of its own transformation. Cohen and Kaplan both point out that these were already present if they had not been blind-sided by the Chicago economic school, had trusted more in Mikhail Gorbachev’s belief in the rule of law and Primakov’s belief in the importance of institutional practices. Both of these Russian leaders opposed Yeltsin’s arnarchistic, bombastic propensities. As Kaplan concludes, “Cohen himself sounds somewhat like a missionary by ascribing so much importance to his own society’s impact on such a distant, vast and intractable country.”

In the next Google entry, Andrei Sheifer (a professor of economics at Harvard) and Daniel Treisman (Political Science, UCLA) in their study, “A Normal Country: Russia After Communism (Journal of Economic Perspectives 19:1, Winter, 151-174) write that Cohen’s viewpoint was the consensus, that the transformation in Russia from 1990 to 1999 had been a disastrous failure, particularly for the Russian people. The consensus depicts Russia not as a middle-income country but “as a collapsed and criminal state” a view supported by both left and right. President George Bush was a leading voice against this consensus when, in late 2003, he “praised President Putin’s efforts to make Russia into a ‘country in which democracy and freedom and the rule of law thrive’.”

Except, without the jingoism of George Bush, the two authors offer lots of evidence to conclude that, “We find a large gap between the common perception and the facts. After reviewing the evidence, the widespread image of Russia as a uniquely menacing disaster zone comes to seem like the reflection in a distorting mirror—the features are recognizable, but stretched and twisted out of all proportion. In fact, although Russia’s transition has been painful in many ways, and its economic and political systems remain far from perfect, the country has made remarkable economic and social progress. Russia’s remaining defects are typical of countries at its level of economic development. Both in 1990 and 2003, Russia was a middle-income country, with GDP per capita around $8,000 at purchasing power parity according to the UN International Comparison Project, a level comparable to that of Argentina in 1991 and Mexico in 1999. Countries in this income range have democracies that are rough around the edges, if they are democratic at all. Their governments suffer from corruption, and their press is almost never entirely free. Most also have high-income inequality, concentrated corporate ownership and turbulent macroeconomic performance. In all these regards, Russia is quite normal.” 

It appears that while the narrative was emerging as much more varied and nuanced, Cohen was still struck in the trope he had set down in 2000. Most commentators I read, whatever their many disagreements, do NOT ignore Russia having legitimate political and national interests as Cohen contends they do. They do object, however, to the means Putin resorts to express those interests or to any presumption that Russia’s interests a priori trump Ukraine’s national interests, especially to remain an independent and unified country oriented politically and economically west.

Finding logical consistency in Cohen’s argument is a challenge.  Cohen castigates Putin on the one hand but sympathizes with him on the other hand. When it comes to American thought processes, any complexity and nuance drops away.  Instead, he treats the media with a homogeneous, and wholly unsympathetic, portrait of a blind and one-sided industry while he repeatedly cites that same media to support his own views.  “Anyone relying on mainstream American media will not find there any of their origins or influences in Yeltsin’s Russia or in provocative US policies since the 1990s—only in the ‘autocrat’ Putin who, however authoritarian, in reality lacks such power. Nor is he credited with stabilizing a disintegrating nuclear-armed country, assisting US security pursuits from Afghanistan and Syria to Iran or even with granting amnesty, in December, to more than 1,000 jailed prisoners, including mothers of young children.” Sorry? Where else but in the media did I first find Cohen’s views expressed?  While I myself reflected many in giving credit to Putin re both Iran and the destruction of Syria’s chemical weapons, Cohen goes far too far in giving credit to Putin for granting amnesty to the thousand jailed prisoners, many like the members of Russia’s Pussy Riot, two of whom are mothers, whose arrest and imprisonment he orchestrated and whom he allowed to be beaten up after their release by his thugs.  Shame on you for this alone Stephen Cohen!

Why can’t we acknowledge that Putin has performed some commendable international diplomacy yet still regard Putin as a “thug”? Why do we have to be as simpleminded as the industry he finds so reprehensible, the very industry that gives him so much air time?  

This is not the first time that Western observers have gotten twisted up over a Russian thug.  Even Putin’s critics do not deny that he enjoys widespread support of 60-65% in Russia. But Stalin was also once a great hero of both the West and of Russians. Nor do such critics, again including amateurs such as myself, believe that democrats will necessarily succeed Putin. We are not unaware that even more formidable ultra-nationalists are in the wings and they would be a lot worse for the Russian people and for the West than Putin. But does this require apologizing for Putin, accepting his faults as an inconvenience?

The fact is that Cohen also operates within a Manichaean framework, only for him the greatest evil doers always seem to be American. Jeffrey Sachs is one of his targets. Sachs went to advise the Russians on reforms in 1991 and thus was part of America’s zealous missionary crusade in Russia. But here is Sachs’s defence in 2012. “I advised on how Russia could emulate the successful transformations underway in Eastern Europe.  My work in Russia lasted from December 1991 to December 1993 (and I publicly announced my resignation January 1994). I stress these points because there is a long-standing narrative that says that I was out to help impose the “Washington Consensus,” a Milton-Friedman-style free-market economy.  This is patently false.  Yet it is repeated.  It should stop being repeated. There is another narrative that says that I was ruthlessly in favor of a market economy and uninterested in the rule of law, institutions, or social justice.  This is even more patently wrongheaded.  I have always regarded economic reform, institution building, and social justice to go hand in hand.  I have always fought corruption, and resigned from Russia in 1993 because I found corruption to be growing and out of control.  I have always paid attention to the plight of the poor, and looked for progressive measures to support macroeconomic objectives (e.g. the end of hyperinflation) in ways that give sustenance and support for the poor.  For 27 years, since the start of my work in Bolivia, I have been a consistent champion of debt relief for over-indebted low-and-middle-income countries, precisely to help these countries find the economic and fiscal space to support the poor and the investments needed to end poverty.”

Sachs was successful in Bolivia and in Poland but largely failed in Russia. To Cohen, the failure was because Sachs belonged to a Washington monolithic consensus.

Cohen mis-reports facts. I personally did some detailed investigations of the depth and breadth of anti-semitism and Cohen’s charge about “the proliferation of anti-Semitic slogans by a significant number of anti-Yanukovych protesters.” I concluded that there were certainly some, but they were a very minor part of the protest movement. I offered a sample of evidence in a previous blog.

Stephen Cohen may be a retired professor of Russian studies from New York University, but he is also a dogmatist, deliberately hypocritical, and a quasi-apologist for the same positions as Putin. He is as caught up in as Manichaean a framework as those he dismisses.  But in his view, the really evil-doers are the Americans. His expertise does not trump my amateurism; it is flawed by contradictory assertions, unsupported claims, indifference to nuance, and sweeping oversimplifications.


Appendix on the Nuland-Pyatt Tape

As another example of America-bashing and Putin apologetics, Cohen cites the taped 11 December 2013 conversation between Victoria Nuland, the State Department Assistant Secretary of State for Europe, and the US Ambassador in Kyiv, Geoffrey Pyatt, that proved that “high-level officials were plotting to ‘midwife’ a new, anti-Russian Ukrainian government by ousting or neutralizing its democratically elected president – that is, a coup.” (Mark MacKinnon also alluded to this evidence supporting Putin’s position.) The conversation was posted on YouTube. http://rt.com/news/nuland-phone-chat-ukraine-927/

President Viktor Yanukovich had offered to make opposition leader Arseniy Yatsenyuk [leader of the fatherland opposition parliamentary faction] the new prime minister and award the position of deputy prime minister to Vitaly Klitschko [leader of the opposition United Democratic Alliance Reform (UDAR) party and a former heavyweight boxer – see Anderson Cooper’s interview with him on CNN 360 Live from Kiev, 6 March]. In that taped conversation, Nuland said: “I don’t think that Klitschko should go into the government. I don’t think it is necessary. I don’t think it is a good idea.” Pyatt replied: “In terms of him not going into the government, just let him stay out and do his political homework.” “In terms of the process moving ahead, we want to keep the moderate democrats together.

It is clear that Nuland and Pyatt were NOT strategizing about how to make this come about. They were asserting their preferences and the reasons for them. This is what state department and foreign affairs officers do all over the world. There is no suggestion of how they could influence such an outcome let alone of any discussion of a coup, that is, an appropriation of power or a takeover. It is the opposite of a coup in two respects. It is advice on who should stay out of power to keep the democratic forces united. Second, it is advice  and an indication of what Americans would support and not pressure, let alone coercive pressure, to bring about such an outcome. Observers, or rather listeners, seem to be exercised, not only about the use of “Fuck you” in referring to the use of the UN versus the EU, but the allegation that such talk and presumably advice is interference in the domestic affairs of another country.

When America expressed its preference for Pearson versus Diefenbaker, when Netanyahu signalled his preference for Romney rather than Obama – and these were not just officials – that did NOT constitute interference, let alone a coup, though in almost all cases, it is usually imprudent and poor diplomacy if such opinions are made public. But certainly they are the norm. The conversation nowhere implies that the United States “has been secretly plotting with the opposition”. That does not mean they were not, but the evidence does not support such an interpretation.

As Nuland sees it, Ukrainian opposition leader Arseniy Yatsenyuk should be in charge of the new government and Klitschko would not get along with him. “It’s just not going to work,” was her opinion. This cannot be construed as the US acting as the midwife of the new government unless it could be shown that the US was offering financial incentives to different Ukrainian politicians to support the American’s beliefs. In any case, the Ukarainians clearly did not accept the American advice.