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.

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. 

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,”, 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.

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.


Putin’s Propaganda

Putin’s Propaganda


Howard Adelman

To test Vladimir Putin’s claims about the Ukraine to back up his rationale for his occupation of the Crimea, and to refute his rationale that I provided yesterday, I list those claims under propaganda and then depict the actuality as observed by those who were there. Many of these sources are Jewish, some who stand in strong opposition to former President Viktor Yanukovych and to Putin, usually from Kyiv, and some who strongly back Putin’s position, usually from Odessa. Putin is not the only one who spouts his line. There are plenty of Ukrainians, Jewish Ukrainians among them.

Lev Gudkov, Russian sociologist  and Director of the independent LevadaCenter: “In propaganda it is very important to consider the effect of squeezing out alternative versions of events, all alternative information. As a result, even people who don’t believe or who doubt the official information are not in a position to work with other points of view. And this is the foundation of propaganda.”


Russia is concerned with defending the rights of the residents in Crimea.


Black Sea TV, an independent Crimean TV station, was cut off from broadcasting on Monday. It still reached cable and satellite viewers (one-third of its normal audience) until the station’s electricity was cut off.


Russian channels and the government channel in the Crimea claimed that ultra-nationalists are coming to force everyone to speak Ukrainian.


The Russian Language Act withdrawing Russia as an official language was itself withdrawn after it passed. In any case, whatever the faults of the Act, it never envisioned forcing anyone to speak Ukrainian.


In addition to protecting Ukraine’s Russian minority, Russia is involved in the Ukraine to combat anti-Semitism espoused by elements of Ukraine’s far-right nationalist movement. Ukraine in general is being overrun by gangs of anti-Russian fascist thugs. Inna Olar, a Jewish 55-year-old information-technology manager who lives in Odessa, the Black Sea port in the south of Ukraine, claimed that the nationalists are Nazis and anti-Semites with symbols derived from those used by the SS and they revere Stepan Bandera who regarded Jews as agents of Soviet imperialism.


According to Arseniy Finberg, a 31-year-old director of a tourist company and father of two who participated in the demonstrations in Maidan, there was no need for Russia to step in on their behalf. Hundreds of Jews stood on Maidan; allegations that anti-Semitism tainted the protests are largely exaggerated. The handful of attacks on Jews in the square—including someone who had a drink poured on her when she tried to stop young nationalists from putting up anti-Semitic posters—were unusual. He suggested that they were the work of those looking to discredit the Maidan movement. Further, two IDF trained soldiers of Ukrainian origin organized the patrol to prevent hooliganism. (For the full stories, see Tablet Magazine.)

Further, virtually all the thuggery has been sponsored by Russia. In Crimea, gunmen seized part of a Ukrainian missile facility in CapeFiolent, near Sevastopol, according to Ukrainian officials. Further, a senior United Nations envoy was forced to cut short his mission and decided to leave the country after being “threatened” by a gang of armed men shouting “Crimea is Russian! Putin! Putin!” After pro-Western Ukrainians had reinstalled the national flag on the roof of the regional government building in Donetsk, a dozen people were hurt when pro-Russian protesters took back the building by force and re-installed the Russian flag.


Putin blamed Ukraine’s opposition for the ongoing crisis, calling it a Western-backed “unconstitutional coup” and “armed seizure of power.” Innar Olar echoed this view and opposes the new government. “It came to power in a coup.” Putin refuses to recognize even the early elections scheduled for 25 May 25 to be held “under the auspices of terror”.


The authorities in Kyiv were elected and, in turn, by a democratic vote in Parliament open to the media, selected the new Prime Minister and President.


A woman who lives in Donetsk called the Maidan protesters terrorists. “All of Ukraine thinks that. No one came for himself. They came to earn money.” On a trolley recently, she overheard a group of miners saying they had been offered 10,000 hryvnia—about $1,000—to join the protests. “All the people there were paid.


Alexander Roitburd, a famous Ukrainian artist of Jewish origin who participated in Maidan, portrayed the conflict as one between the rule of law and Western values versus being forever trapped in a post-Soviet space.


The events in Kyiv were fomented by Western sources eager to economically exploit the Ukraine and include the Ukraine within the Western hegemony of power.


Roitburd insisted that Maidan was a spontaneous civil movement that succeeded in attracting the support of the country’s richest men and was a revolution of everyone from the lowest people to the oligarchs, who secretly helped.


Western media as working for spy services to foment revolution.


CBC and CNN had crews in Kyiv and reported no evidence of media playing a role in stirring up the people.


Hundreds of thousands of Russian-speaking refugees have fled a “humanitarian catastrophe”.

Russian media widely reported that more than 650,000 Ukrainians crossed out of southeastern Ukraine into Russia since the beginning of the year.  


The latter was illustrated by an undated photo but revealed to have actually have been taken at the Shehyni border crossing between Ukraine and Poland. Further, the UN’s High Commissioner on Refugees says it has seen no evidence of unusual migration on the border. There is no evidence of any refugee flow outside of Crimea though many Tatars have relocated to Istanbul and Kyiv while others remain back to guard their property.


The current Crimean authorities were elected legitimately.


The new pro-Russian Crimean leader, Sergei Aksyonov, was installed last Thursday in a closed session of the regional parliament not open to the press to verify, at the very least, that there was even a quorum present, with the parliamentary session itself was occupied by armed men and the parliamentary building surrounded by Russian troops. Before being “elected”, Aksyonov led a party with only three of the one hundred seats.


The armed men in Crimea surrounding the army bases in Crimea, according to Putin, are not Russian troops but pro-Russian local self-defence groups.


If you believe the above, then you could believe the moon is made of cheese 

The reality is that current Russian initiatives as instigated by Putin are driven by a Russian messianism and phobia of the West. (See

Putin’s Defence

Putin’s Defence


Howard Adelman

Astri Suhrke, a Senior Researcher at the Christian Michelsen Institute in Bergen, Norway, and a long time collaborator of mine, wrote in response to my blogs on Putin as follows:

“Am enjoying your blogs, even when strongly disagreeing. For instance, you write, ‘if America is unwilling to contemplate some form of military action when its vital interests are challenged in Europe…..,’ with reference to the Russian invasion of Crimea. As I see it, the Russian reaction is precisely that, a reaction to prevent a change to the status quo in Crimea, which Russian has long had the right to use for its Black Sea naval fleet – only warm water port and access to the Mediterranean etc. Change in Kiev  – welcomed and encouraged by EU and NATO – made it quite possible that Russia might lose that access. So Russia reacted. (Also recall that until 1954. Crimea was part of Russia (within the USSR)). So Russia reacted. How can a defense of the status quo ‘challenge vital American interests’? And if any wider American  interests are affected, it will be primarily in the Middle East rather than  Europe.
“Comparing this with the Anschluss, and affixing  the label of appeasement  on Obama (as you did in your earlier blog), seems not only unfair, but counterproductive  to efforts to defuse the situation  and prevent a really serious conflict. Just noted that Poland has asked for consultations in NATO under para 4 of the Washington Treaty. Seems opportunistically belligerent.


Here is how I replied though I corrected my typos.

I can’t be;\believe it! Do you really swallow Putin’s lie – a blatant lie – that the Russian action is just a reaction “to prevent a change to the status quo in Crimea”? Where is there any evidence Russia’s military position in Crimea was under threat??? It would be akin to the U.S. attacking Cuba on the pretext that its base in Guantanamo was under threat. Where is there any evidence even that there was any threat to the majority ethnic Russian population in Crimea?  Even the stupid language law withdrawing permission for Russian to be taught as an official language was NOT a real threat when the stress is on “official” and when, though it was passed, it was withdrawn before the President of Ukraine vetoed it. The defence of the status quo was something that did not need a defence let alone an aggressive invasion and occupation.

As far as America’s vital interests, surely it is in America’s vital interest to see that country’s cannot invade other countries and occupy and de facto take over territory, just as it is in the interest of other country’s when America attacked and occupied other countries. Both kinds of attacks have to be challenged. I did not say America had to respond by deploying military troops, but did suggest that America and the EU might consider responding with military guarantees before Putin attempts to invade Eastern Ukraine.

Finally, I never called Obama an appeaser. Can you point out where I did?. I am a strong supporter of Obama, though not always uncritical. But I do believe the reset here worked in spite of the fact that I supported that reset. Neither I nor Obama can always be right.

Nice to hear from you.

All the best.


Astri came back strongly:

“Yes, I accept that Russia had reason to believe that its position in Crimea would be threatened. They made a pre-emptive move to secure their position. They have so far occupied key buildings and sites.

Yes, I agree that it is certainly in the interest of the US and other countries not to sanction invasions. That the US twice in the past decade or so has invaded other countries, and formally occupied one, does make me pause, however, before leaping to the defense of the US on that particular ground.

And, yes, in your first blog on Putin and Crimea, you said that ‘Obama will have no choice except to be the Neville Chamberlain who surrendered the Sudetenland of C… to Hitler.’ That’s pretty close to calling him ‘an appeaser” – no?

Wish you were here so we could talk this out over a walk and a meal!



I wrote back as follows:



I wrote ‘Obama will have no choice except to be the Neville Chamberlain who surrendered the Sudetenland of Czechoslovakia to Hitler, but he will not sign an agreement acceding to the seizure of The Crimea.’ That is not a charge of appeasement. That is, as stated throughout the blog, an acceptance of realism. But that realism will not be signing onto the deal and waving a piece of paper saying ‘Peace in our time.’ Obama is expected and will fight back to ensure nothing more. Further, to my surprise, at least rhetorically, he seems to be pushing for full withdrawal. I am totally sceptical about that, but maybe? In any case, both the last half of the sentence and the rest of the blog is clear that I am not accusing Obama of being an appeaser. You say I affixed a label of appeaser. I did not use the term, did not affix the label, though I did suggest there was an element of realism in Chamberlain and Obama’s actions. But realism is not appeasement. Though Great Britain was in no position to fight Germany in 1938, and nor was Russia, Chamberlain’s appeasement was legally signing away the Sudetenland as Germany’s entitlement.”

Quite aside from never labelling Obama an appeaser, let me take Astri’s main argument seriously, namely that she accepts Putin’s argument that Russia’s interests in the Crimea were under threat and the response was “a reaction to prevent a change to the status quo in Crimea.” To do that I will have to elaborate on the analysis underlying her claim.

1. Crimea was for several centuries part of Russia.

2. When the Ukraine and Russia were both part of the Soviet Union, Khrushchev ‘arbitrarily’ gave the Crimea to The Ukraine in 1954.
3. Throughout the twentieth century, Russia based its warm water fleet (the Black Sea Fleet) at Sevastopol .

4. When the USSR broke up in 1991, Russia found itself in the humiliating position of having to negotiate a lease for its main naval port; the lease ran for 25 years from 1992-2017.

5. In 2008, Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko of the Ukraine announced that under no circumstances would she renew the lease in 1917.

6. Yulia Tymoshenko had just been released from jail and there was a real danger she would win the elections which were now to be brought forward to this Spring.

7. Chaos as well as succession by an opponent of the lease would also threaten the stability necessary for the naval base’s security.

8. The cancellation of the lease would threaten Russia’s complete maritime defence capability or its ability to be an influential player in the Middle East.

9. Further, cancellation of the lease would be devastating for the tens of thousands of Russian civilian employees living in The Crimea who work directly or indirectly to maintain Russia’s maritime military capability.

10. Viktor Yanukovych’s extension of the lease in 2010 for a further 25 years reduced the threat.

11. However, on the Ukrainian political horizon a possible direct threat to Russia’s interests emerged because elected “radicals” could threaten to cancel the lease extension.

12. That fear was greatly exacerbated by the events in Kyiv.

13. That threat was realized in full when President Yanukovych was illegally deposed by Parliament and forced to flee the Ukraine.

14. Hence, Putin sought and received on Saturday, 1 March 2014 authorization and permission by the Duma to use the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation on the territory of the Ukraine, not to annex any territory, but until the situation stabilized.

15. Obama’s “warning” then only reinforced Putin’s fears and determination to take pre-emptive action.

I hope I have stated the argument for the defence of Putin as clearly and as fully as the space allowed. Putin in his first public press conference since the Crimean crisis began, reinforced this argument when he lied and claimed Russian forces had NOT intervened in Ukraine and further stated that,  Russia “reserves the right to use all means at our disposal to protect” What is wrong with this defence of Russia’s position? 

1. Whatever the past, Russia has agreed in a plethora of international legal documents that the Crimea is NOT part of Russia but is part of the Ukraine.

2. If the Ukraine cancelled the lease and not just threatened to do so, Russia had multiple non-military punishments that could cripple Ukraine and fairly easily get the Ukraine to back off.

3. The United States was part of the agreement guaranteeing Russia’s use of Sevastopol.

4. There is no way that Ukraine could enforce such a cancellation.

5. Theoretical future threats to a country’s defence interests do not justify an illegal military invasion.

Behind all the hot air and rhetoric, there is a deeper problem, the failure of the United States and Russia to actually work together in resolving crises in Russia’s backyard. Putin argues that he helped get American chestnuts out of the fire in getting Syria to give up its chemical weapons. He claims he has helped the U.S. over Iran. What has he gotten in return for his cooperation when Russia’s own vital interests are at stake? American diplomatic conspiracies, which Russia had the tapes to prove, to remove the legally elected president of the Ukraine, Viktor Yanukovych, in an effective coup. In fact, America had set up the crisis earlier by supporting sucking Ukraine into the EU economic and political orbit without taking into account Russia’s vital economic, political and military interests in Ukraine. Instead of allowing and encouraging Ukraine to play the EU and Russia off against one another, instead of pushing the EU Association Agreement, the focus should have been on working together to stablilize Ukraine in recognition of Russia’s genuine fears of instability there given Ukraine’s inherent proneness to chaos as a multi-ethnic state.

I hope I have been fair to what I interpret as Astri’s argument.

I will offer a full reply tomorrow in my analysis of Russian propaganda.

Putin, Crimea and Iran

Putin, Crimea and Iran 


Howard Adelman


Netanyahu may have been visiting Kerry and Obama in Washington yesterday, but the greatest concern of all three had to be Putin’s invasion of the Ukraine in spite of the immanence of Abbas’ visit to Washington in two weeks. Besides, in spite of Obama’s tough letter to Netanyahu preceding his visit, Netanyahu is now largely onside. Abbas still only understands the costs of failure. The main focus of the talks with Obama was likely Iran. As Secretary of State John Kerry stressed all other options must be exhausted before considering military action. On the other hand, if America is unwilling to contemplate some form of military action when its vital interests are challenged in Europe, does such a verbal statement carry any weight? For although Iran is in the process of implementing the planned deal and the UN reported that its stockpile of highly enriched uranium had been reduced by 50 percent, there are still serious fears that Iran is using the interim period of the agreement to develop its delivery capacity (ballistic missiles and warheads) and to get ready to deploy its newest far more efficient centrifuges. How Obama leads the response to Putin’s actions in the Crimea will affect how Iran will respond to Western efforts on decommissioning the nuclear arms preparations in Iran and Netanyahu’s trust in Obama’s resolve.

When Netanyahu faces AIPAC today, he will be addressing a much weakened political lobby. For just as Putin has embarrassed Obama with the Russian invasion of The Crimea and temporarily established that the U.S. is a paper tiger, Obama in turn faced down AIPAC and proved that, when push came to shove, AIPAC could not deliver on its determination to pressure the House of Representatives to press forward with the Menendez-Kirk Iran Sanctions Bill (S1881). AIPAC was not able to get the Senate on side and to round up enough votes in the House to override a Presidential promised veto, though Menendez and Kirk will introduce Netanyahu when he addresses AIPAC today. In spite of pressure from veterans, Republican Senators embarrassingly voted against veteran benefit legislation after their efforts to attach an Iran sanctions amendment had been stripped from the legislation. As American Legion National Commander Daniel M. Delinger said in a press conference last week, the vote of the 41 Republican Senators was “inexcusable”. It was a humiliating loss to the Republicans all around, but especially AIPAC.  Although they are no at all on the same level and the comparison if far fetched, nevertheless Obama’s dealing with AIPAC showed considerable resolve.

Lee Smith, a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute  and of the Weekly Standard and author of The Strong Horse: Power, Politics, and the Clash of Arab Civilizations, reported in yesterday’s Tablet on AIPAC’s routing and fall from grace. For AIPAC tried to ride two widely diverging horses at one and the same time – bipartisanship and pressure for sanctions that became only a Republican issue. To save the principle of bipartisanship, AIPAC pulled its punches and folded into its corner by agreeing with Democrats in delaying the sanctions bill until the results of the Iran negotiations are further along, leaving the Republicans stranded without a vocal Jewish lobby behind it. There is now a danger that AIPAC will split and hive off a Z-Street of Z-Pac purely rightist Jewish lobby. Resolve on one side is helped by weakness on the other.

The AIPAC meeting today, haunted by the Iran issue and the question of the failure of Obama’s reset with authoritarian regimes, will be particularly poignant in light of rumours of Putin’s escalation of the crisis by demanding that the Ukrainian troops in The Crimea disarm and surrender and that the seamen aboard the Ukrainian military vessels (two) and the coast guard do the same. Russian official spokesmen have adamantly denied the rumours, but the Putin regime has lost all credibility since it insisted first that it had no intention of occupying The Crimea and then said it was doing so only to protect Russians, a clear and blatant lie if such a move requires evidence that Russians were under threat. I suspect the Russian Defence Ministry is correct, nevertheless, since Russia has no need to disarm the Ukrainian troops at this time, but then how do we explain the reports by Ukrainian naval officers to their government that the Russian Commander of the Black Sea Fleet visited the Ukrainian navel vessels and not only demanded surrender but threatened an attack? How do we explain Russian troops firing warning shots this morning at unarmed Ukrainian soldiers trying to repossess their aircraft? In any case, soon enough the Ukrainian military personnel in The Crimea will have to surrender just to be able to bring in provisions so the Russian military has no need to attack at this time.

In the interim, a key question in international law is the legitimacy of the current government. Russia backs Viktor Yanukovych who, contrary to his previous insistence that he would never ask for Russian military intervention, has now formally requested Russian military intervention in ALL of Ukraine “to establish legitimacy, peace, law and order, stability and defence of the people of Ukraine.” Edgar Savisaar, Mayor of Tallinn, the capital of Estonia, urges Ukraine to establish a “strong” democracy, and claims the current government is radical and was put in place with baseball bats, and, thus, is not legitimate and even lacks the ability or power to hold free and democratic elections. However, the rejection of Yanukovich was voted on by parliament. That majority vote included many members of the President’s own party. However, those representatives of the Party of Regions were too few and the government is dominated by supporters of Yulia Tymoshenko and does include some “radicals”. Nevertheless, The Ukrainian parliament, with a majority 336 votes, including many from Yanukovich’s own party, voted to remove Yanukovich from the presidency.

Until yesterday, we had not heard nearly sufficiently about why Western democracies considered the current Ukrainian government legitimate and why Yanukovich, crook that he is, lacks any political legitimacy. Further, some detailed analysis is needed of the ostensible trigger, the passage by the Ukraine legislature to cancel the 2012 bill to permit Russian to be made an official language in regions of the Ukraine in spite of  Acting President Oleksandr Turchynov’s promise to veto the legislation. But the rationale does focus one’s attention on Putin’s invasion as an effort to protect the Russian ethnic significance in the Ukraine and his defining of all opposition to such an allegedly R2P (Responsibility to Protect) effort as resisted and defended only by fascists elements in the Ukrainian polity.

Let me deal with the legitimacy of the current Ukraine government first. Stephen Cohen called the effort (leaked) of US Assistant Secretary of State, Victoria Nuland, and American Ambassador to Ukraine, Geoffrey Pyatt, to analyze scenarios for supporting a democratic transition in the Ukraine as a plot to carry out a coup against a democratically elected president. But there is a difference between a coup and efforts to influence events through diplomatic means in a particular direction. The latter is not an example of neo-colonialism as isolationist realists like Jacob Heilbrunn (The National Interest 6 Fenruary) contend. As John McCain argued, this is very different than Putin using nineteenth century real imperial actions to intimidate and coerce a government. But the legitimacy of the current government still needs to be explained.

After attacking Putin’s rationale for his invasion as an effort to protect minorities and from radicals and anti-semites as a preposterous fabrication and the invasion as a breach of Article 2 of the UN Charter, Russia’s obligations under the 1975 Helsinki pact and its obligations under the 1997 bilateral Treaty of Friendship and Cooperation between Russia and the Ukraine, and the 1994 Budapest Memorandum, Ambassador Lyall Grant of the UK Mission to the UN, in addressing the Security Council meeting on Ukraine yesterday, provided the most solid and succinct answer to that challenge.

The Russian representative claims that Mr Yanukovich has called for Russian military intervention. We are talking about a former leader who abandoned his office, his capital and his country. Whose corrupt governance brought his country to the brink of economic ruin. Who suppressed protests against his government leading to over eighty deaths and whose own party has abandoned him. The idea that his pronouncements now convey any legitimacy whatsoever is farfetched and of a keeping with the rest of Russia’s bogus justification for its actions. The government in Kiev is legitimate and has been overwhelmingly endorsed by the Ukrainian parliament.

With the invasion of eastern Ukraine not only a prospect but possibly immanent, the West will have to take some military action and not just diplomatic and economic action. Will NATO invite the Ukraine to join NATO? Sensitive to Russian concerns about having NATO adjacent to its borders, NATO discouraged such an application by both Ukraine and Georgia in 2008, even though NATO had recruited 12 other former Soviet satellites to join, a move Malcolm Fraser of Australia and American Russian expert Stephen Cohen considered “provocative” and “unwise”. Further, previously, only 22% of Ukrainians supported such a move. But given Russia’s action, I suspect the mood of both Ukrainians and most of the legislature has radically shifted with respect to this issue.

This is the most urgent issue – determining whether NATO has potency or not in the face of an overt invasion without even the facsimile of a legitimate cause, at least for invasion — though possibly for concern. Russia considered the potential EU agreement itself to be a Trojan horse for NATO since the agreement included a clause that said: “The parties shall explore the potential of military and technological co-operation. Ukraine and the European Defence Agency (EDA) will establish close contacts to discuss military capability improvement, including technological issues.” Putin would regard Ukraine joining NATO at this time as a significant escalation. And it would be. But given Putin’s unwillingness to reconsider his invasion of Crimea, one could expect from such a pugilist a direct response not simply in fomenting trouble in Eastern Europe but a direct or indirect invasion be sending in “volunteers”.  This is the danger and the conundrum: how does the West respond with conviction, with determination and with effectiveness without setting off a 1914 sequence of actions and counter-actions that lead to war rather than de-escalation?

The second verbal part of the action – defence against the charge that the Ukraine Parliamentary actions are threatening the rights of Russians and other minorities in the Ukraine – requires attention. The Ukraine Parliament did act precipitously, and unnecessarily, in cancelling the 2012 law “On State Language Policy” and the right of the country’s regions, including Crimea with a majority of Russians, to make Russian, or other languages, a second official language if at least 10% of the population spoke that language. The cancellation of the law stood in blatant opposition not only to Russia but to the EU Parliament which called on the Ukraine parliament to protect the rights of minorities, including their language rights, and to respect the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages. Thirteen of Ukraine’s regions, 11 in the east, adopted Russian as a second official language. Two western regions introduced Romanian and Hungarian, respectively. The reality is that the rejection of the 2012 minority language law was both a snub to both Moscow and Brussels, but was NOT a justification for a Russian invasion. Even if some of the parliamentarians considered the law too generous and in need of modification, taking such action just after dismissing the President was unnecessary and rash. Part of the diplomatic efforts to get Putin to back off must include a promise to pass a new form of minority language laws.

After all, the Crimea was not the only eastern region to respond negatively to the cancellation of the law and the ouster of the President. Several regions rejected the appointed governor of the region and replaced that individual with a locally elected head. That means that the Kyiv Parliament has to enter into a dialogue with the regions and not simply run roughshod over their wishes and priorities.

This raises the question of Obama’s reset of his reset with Russia. Russophile and eminent Russian Expert, Stephen Cohen, has been perhaps the most prominent exponent of the initial reset arguing for Obama cooperating with Russia and Putin in the destruction of Syrian chemical weapons and in the battle against terrorism since that battle is a central interest of Russia. But as a contributing editor to The Nation, Cohen recently penned an essay, “Distorting Russia” in defense of Putinism and attacked what he alleged was the demonization of Putin and his portrayal as an autocrat. Even as Cohen continues to defend and apologize for Putin’s authoritarian and anti-gay Russian ethno-nationalist autocratic behaviour and urged Obama to go to Sochi out of gratitude to Putin, Putin was planning action that undermined the whole reset doctrine. Obama now must discard Cohen’s advice in light of Putin’s violations of international law and previous agreements and reset the reset. But how strong a reset will it be? How much should it also take into account Russia’s expressed concern with Russian minorities and rights and with the precipitous actions of the Ukrainian parliament?

Economic sanctions will also be considered and will undoubtedly be imposed, but the issue of sanctioning Russian oil and gas exports can be left to a later date, especially in light of Germany’s dependence of Russia for one-third of its supplies, at least until alternate sources can be put in place. But what then is to be done about the 40% of Ukrainian exports that go to Russia? What about Putin’s offer in December to reduce gas prices to the Ukraine from $400 to $268.50 per 1,000 cubic metres?  Ukraine will need massive amounts of economic interim aid while the Ukrainian economy is integrated into Europe. On the verbal as distinct from the action channel, there is a need to deal with three issues, first and foremost, what government is legal secondly, the minority language issue and why the plans for new elections broke down. More pragmatically, is there any real and immanent threat of Ukraine disintegrating into an ethnic war or is this just a projection of Putin’s own ethno-nationalism in giving as a key reason for his invasion the need to protect ethnic Russians?

Putin, the Crimea and Syria

I received a number of responses to yesterday’s blog, many of them almost immediate. Here is a sample:


“This is a beautiful and timely essay. Thank you Howard.”




“Uncanny — no? — how empires then partition the nations they reluctantly sire?


Actually, you could also flip the Sochi-Crimea story and say that what’s remarkable — and revealing — about Putin’s moves is his willingness to throw away $50b in Olympic spending to announce Russia’s resurrection into a 21st century ‘power’ by dragging it all down with a 20th century land grab.”



Don’t be so sure of Russia’s continued rise. It is a decayed and deteriorating society. He will bite off more then he can chew and indigestion will follow.

He’s a thug and he surrounds himself with thugs. He should be treated as such. Unfortunately the West is bankrupt, not only economically, but in terms of thought and especially leadership. When it’s the last quality we have really needed for the last years, golf appears a priority. Unfortunately, the US is governed by a rank amateur, and one that appears to have little regard for the truth, whose only saving grace is a corrupt congress.

Best Regards,”


“This is a very insightful analysis.

I have read both of Remnick’s books on Russia. Lenin’s Tomb was a masterpiece.
I will check out the New Yorker article. Remnick always writes so well.

I really enjoyed your article. I found it very valuable to understand modern Russia and Putin’s motivations.

Putin seems to know when to hold them and when to fold them.”



The Ukraine is now mobilizing. The question will quickly come to the fore whether the West is willing to challenge Putin militarily through NATO. We will very quickly see how Obama et al will handle a bully and whether Putin knows when to hold and when to fold. Some of this action will be played out on the periphery.



Putin, The Crimea and Syria


Howard Adelman


As the West and Russia clash over The Crimea diplomatically and economically, and the possibility of a clash militarily creeps closer in spite of the unwillingness of all parties, including Putin, to clash in that arena, what will the effect be on Syria? Whatever either the US or Russia henceforth do, there will be serious repercussions. One will be on the prospects of enhanced warfare in Syria as well as other fallout on U.S.-Russian relations. After all, Bashir Assad has been strongly supported by Putin and US backed off its red line when Russia got the Assad regime to surrender its chemical weapons.

As the situation deteriorates – and it will before and if it gets better – will the dismantling of Syria’s chemical arsenal stop even though it is in no one’s interest to do so? That would be one way to counter the economic and diplomatic initiatives now underway by the West. Putin may send a signal, “If you do not cooperate with me when Russia’s vital interests are affected, if you seem on the verge of bringing NATO troops right up to the borders of Russia, if you seem to threaten the ability of the Russian fleet to mobilize and move through the Dardanelles and the Bosporus, then my efforts to cooperate with the West must stop immediately.”

Further, the U.S., particularly American hawks, may now see an opportunity to resurrect its strong relationship with Saudi Arabia and offer real military support to the rebels, especially now that the radical Islamists, ISIS and al-Nusra, have totally fallen out. Hawks have been calling Obama a weak-kneed statesman, especially for trusting Putin and allowing Russia to become a key player in the Syrian peace talks. In taking up that role, Putin made sure that Assad would not be required to resign as a condition of peace. As a result, the peace talks were going nowhere fast.

The emptiness of those peace talks will become totally evident. They will end very soon and the West will not only have immediate decisions to make about NATO-Ukraine relations, but about its backing for the rebels in Syria with significant military supplies. The West has few ways it can influence Putin directly. As the action focuses on NATO and the Ukraine, other political and economic action will shift to the margins, particularly since Obama now owes Putin nothing for saving Obama from having to cross the red line and intervene militarily in Syria. Obama now has to calculate how he can weaken Russia’s leverage in the Middle East, weaken Assad, yet not strengthen the radical jihadists.

In opting for direct military action against all international norms and agreements, given his belief in the primacy of a president and his use of Parliament only as a rubber stamp, in getting the Russian Duma to authorize the deployment of Russian military forces in all of Ukraine and not just The Crimea, Putin has opted not to use proxies in Kyiv because they failed him. Putin has the “cover” of claiming to act on behalf of the legitimately elected government of the Ukraine. As John Kerry has said, that is a cover that is so transparent and thin as to be more revealing than concealing. Will Putin also desert his past record of caution and deliberate and stealthy moves now that the challenge is on his doorstep? He may or may not use direct action in eastern Ukraine, but he is bound to stir up the Russophiles.

Putin has repeatedly despised the way the USSR folded up and gave away its western frontier states because of its unwillingness to use force when the people revolted. He has always admired the way the Hungarian and Czech revolts were put down deliberately and decisively. Is he still convinced that NATO will continue to stand down in the face of a direct challenge when a society like Ukraine is on the verge of taking the next crucial step in throwing off the autocratic yoke of Russia?

Recall that Putin has his own domestic demons, a society he believes he can and, more importantly, needs to rally behind him in the face of alleged external threats. So his supporters peacefully rally without interference while those advocating peace and criticizing Putin are rounded up and arrested. Putin does not want to go the way of Recep Tayyip Erdogan where the endemic corruption of the extractive kleptocratic economy becomes apparent for all too see and he loses his last tenuous hold on the loyalty of the Russian people. What better way to rally the troops than giving proof that the U.S. and the West cannot be trusted and intend to surround Russia with military troops in its expansionist vision!.

The Syrian peace prospect has been dead for a long time. That announcement will soon be forthcoming, but there will unlikely be time for a funeral. There will continue to be an escalation in military activity on the Syrian front and Saudi Arabia hopefully will be pulled away at the last minute from its flirtation with Putin. As Putin moves speedily to foment dissent in Eastern Ukraine where Russians are decisively in the minority, distractions will be needed. Expect the periphery to heat up considerably as well.

 It already has. Assad’s escalation in the barrel-bombing campaign on Aleppo has driven out residents and rebels by the tens of thousands. What is the difference between the depopulation of Darfur of sources of rebel strength in the Sudan and the depopulation of Aleppo and its surroundings? After all, proxy forces, including both the Palestinian Quds Battalion and Hezbollah’s Abu Fadl al-Abbas Brigades, have been active in cleaning up the villages around Aleppo of rebels leaving only the radical Islamists in contention, both with one another and the Assad regime. Will the U.S. finally supply the rebels with shoulder-launched anti-tank and anti-aircraft missiles and risk those weapons falling into the hands of jihadists? Will the U.S. provide direct military support for the rebel training camps and rally their morale? Will the rebels reassert themselves on the Daraa front to offset losses along the Turkish border? Will Obama decide that the regime needs to overthrown or will he allow the rebels to be beaten on the battlefield? Or is it already too late? Will Obama and the West reset the reset policy in time, but with care and prudence?

Putin and The Crimea

Putin’s High Risk Poker


Howard Adelman


David Remnick in the 3 March 2014 issue of The New Yorker, of which he is the editor, offers a wonderful portrait of Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin in his essay “Patriot Games”. After a preliminary and succinct introduction to Putin, Remnick begins the second section of his essay as follows: “Great powers seldom retreat forever. But to people who suffer their fall, the sense of diminishment is acute.” For Putin, the fall of the empire of the Soviet Union was humiliating. “Power, a sense of greatness, was slipping away.”

Remnick understands Russia. He is fluent in Russian and wrote the Pulitzer Prize winning Lenin’s Tomb: The Last Days of the Soviet Empire a few years after the USSR fell apart. Since that time, Putin has spent his energies trying to reverse course, symbolically, spiritually and in terms of both geography and international influence. His $50 billion  Olympic Winter Games extravaganza took place beside the subtropical Sochi, not by accident next door to Abkhazia and South Ossetia that Putin managed to detach from Georgia in the all-too-brief Russian-Georgia war of 2008. Putin is in the process of repeating the exercise with the Crimea.

As Remnick writes: “Sochi was a theatrical event before it was a sporting event.” Sochi “wasn’t about ‘slope-style’ snow boarding; it was about the televised revival of a demoralized country.” Troops on the ground in the Crimea are part of the effort to make the symbolism real. Putin, the autocrat, frenetic macho muzhik, will not be deterred by a ninety minute conversation with Barack Obama who has found Putin’s moves into the Crimea objectionable. After the occupation, “Obama warned Russia not to violate Ukraine’s sovereign territory.” Had Obama already conceded that The Crimea was no longer part of Ukraine?

The Sochi games, in spite of and perhaps because of their enormous costs, were a triumph for Russia. The secession – perhaps blessed by a successful referendum for the autonomous region of The Crimea, if Putin thinks he needs that cover – is a forgone conclusion. Of the 2 1/4 million people (almost a third of a million in Sevastapol itself) in The Crimea, two-thirds are Russian and only one-quarter are Ukrainians. In a poll at the beginning of the twenty-first century, not one Russian in the Crimea accepted Crimea’s status as an autonomous entity within Ukraine while 15% wanted the Crimea to be made an autonomous republic within Russia. Almost all the schools in the Crimea until very recently taught in the Russian language and attempts to increase the number of schools in which the language of education is Ukrainian has been resisted. The Russian flag already flies over government buildings in The Crimea. The Crimea is as I write under the military and economic protection of Russia 

Obama is fighting a rearguard defence to try to ensure that the capture of eastern Ukraine, and perhaps even all of Ukraine, will not to follow. The fact that the military occupation of Crimea without even a fig leaf of a provocation was in blatant breach of international law and the 1997 agreement over the military and huge naval base for the Russian Black Sea Fleet in Sevastopol is irrelevant to Putin. Putin crushed the domestic opposition within Russia two years ago, swept aside the psychedelic Pussy Riot protesters like a bothersome fly, and will ignore Western pressure.

Boycotting the G-8 summit in Russia in 3 months will follow. Russian oligarchs who partner with Putin in carving up The Crimea for economic exploitation may have their bank accounts and assets frozen in the West.  But what else can the West realistically do since it is clearly unwilling to go to war over The Crimea. The West will even pressure the new government of the Ukraine to be cautious lest it to be eaten up once again by the Russian bear.  The US will not accompany that caution by provocatively deploying its Mediterranean fleet into the Black Sea as the hawkish Charles Krauthammer has advised.

Interim President Oleksandr Turchynov of the Ukraine may have announced that the country’s armed forces have been put on the alert, but he will not mobilize. Assuming that he could even rely on his largely Russian trained and equipped army, the Ukraine will not want to give Russia a pretext to invade eastern or even all of Ukraine. What can NATO do to defend the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Ukraine? Well it can do something. Ukraine could immediately vote to join NATO and be just as immediately accepted. A Marshall plan could be developed for the bankrupt Ukraine. The cost of the Russian success with The Crimea could be the final and permanent loss of the Ukraine to the renewed Russian imperial ambitions.

Putin will not take such a loss easily. Expect many efforts by the KGB to engage in many attempts at economic and political destabilization. He will not simply wait passively to see if Western economic and diplomatic intervention is successful.

However, the costs to the West will also be enormous – $35 billion dollars in life support over the next two years. (Putin’s counter offer of $15 billion was just a down payment.) Further, there are no guarantees of success even with Viktor Yanukovych taking refuge in Russia. The opposition that just came to power in the Ukraine is bitterly and deeply divided, of which the split between Yulia Tymoshenko and Viktor Yushshenko is only the surface. Ukraine’s underlying situation is even worse. Its population was 52.5 million when the USSSR fell apart. Although there was a brief burst in the early nineties when a million and half repatriated to the newly independent Ukraine, the population was down to 48.5 million at the last census in 2001 and 45.6 million in 2012, 80,000 less than in 2011. Death rates, among the highest in Europe with very high rates of acute and chronic suicide (smoking), exceed birth rates of only 1.4 per female; emigration was greater than immigration until 2005. Locally-born kleptocrats robbed the Ukraine blind when the Ukraine finally got on the bandwagon of economic growth.

Ukraine is riven with ideological, religious and ethnic divisions. The 77.8% Ukrainians population is divided between Greek Orthodox and Ukrainian Orthodox (50-60%) enjoying full communion with The Vatican with a small Roman Catholic population. The 17.3% Russian population, much less now with The Crimea detached, is concentrated in the Eastern Ukraine and no where outside of Crimea constitutes a majority. With the de facto excision of The Crimea from the Ukraine, its Tartar problem has been delivered back to Russia. However, there are significant concentrations of Romanians, Moldovans, Bulgarians and Hungarians (160,000 of the latter in Transcarpathia) in Western Ukraine. If Ukraine can get its political act together and if it can sign the deal negotiated with the EU, Ukraine could follow the Polish path to prosperity, as well as gain a heightened sense of morale and national purpose, unfortunately without The Crimea.

So the West will bail the Ukraine out and help integrate it into the EU. The West will provide help in stabilizing its democracy. Obama will have no choice except to be the Neville Chamberlain who surrendered the Sudentenland of Czechoslovakia to Hitler, but he will not sign an agreement acceding to the seizure of The Crimea. 

Leonid Nevzlin.01.05.13 01.05.13

Leonid Nevzlin 01.05.13


Howard Adelman

Leonid Nevzlin is from Moscow. As I shall explain, he is probably no longer the billionaire listed in Forbes in 2003, but he is included in this series because of the explanation. Nevzlin graduated from the Gubkin Institute of Oil and Gas in Moscow as a software engineer and worked as a computer programmer for the Foreign Trade Association (ZarubezhGeologia) in the Soviet Ministry of Geology. In 1987, he partnered with Mikhail Khordorkovsky and became Deputy Director of the Youth Centre for Scientific and Engineering Creativity just when Mikhail Gorbachev began his restructuring of the Soviet economy. He also headed the Center of Interdisciplinary Scientific–Technological programs (MNTP) that morphed into the Joint Company Menatep-Invest out of which the two partners established the Menatep Bank in 1990. Nevzlin became President. Menatep was used to found Yukos, where Nevzlin assumed the position of Vice-President. Yukos became the world’s largest non-state oil company in only five years.

The foundation of their wealth began with currency trading in the early nineties based on algorithms Nevzlin devised, and then buying up for cash the vouchers issued in the process of privatization, initially in state enterprises, and then in property at deeply discounted prices. The new Russian oligarchs, mostly Jewish, lent the money to the state Yeltsin ran, and the loans were secured by state assets. When the government defaulted on loan payments, the oligarchs seized the assets. Through buying vouchers and foreclosing on state loans, by the mid-nineties, Khodorkovsky and Nevzlin were very rich.

Nevzlin and Khodorkovsky bankrolled Yeltin’s re-election in 1996 for which Nevzlin was awarded the Russian Order of Friendship. In September 1997, Nevzlin became Deputy Director of the Russian news agency, ITAR-TASS, for a year. Nevzlin developed a plan to gradually transform ITAR-TASS into a joint-stock company. In 1999, Bank Menatep went belly-up in the Russian financial crisis of 1998-1999. Yukos was also in trouble, spending US$12 to pump oil with its outdated equipment that was only selling for $US8 per barrel. Nevzlin and Khodorkovsky not only saved the company by modernizing it, transforming the financial reporting to western methods to assure transparency and accountability, but mainly through the god’s of fortune as oil prices began their spectacular rise.

The two partners began to devote more time to the development of civil society and the two founded the Open Russian Federation to fund civil society projects. The two also funded a school for public administration. From March to December 2001, Nevzlin was president of the Russian Jewish Congress and he personally funded a number of Jewish historical and heritage research projects, including the establishment of the Moscow Jewish Cultural Center and the International Center for Russian and Eastern European Jewish Studies in Moscow. From November 2001 to March 2003, Nevzlin became a senator in the Federation Council of Russia representing Mordovia and became the first rector of a university without a PhD for the Russian State University for the Humanities. The two partners became the biggest supporters of civil society organizations providing at least 50% of the income of all of them while Khodorkovsky also donated a hundred million $US to the Russian State Humanities University.

In 2003, the political winds that had been changing over the previous four years became a whirlwind. Putin had assumed the presidency of Russia in 2000 after rising under Yeltsin as Acting President in 1999. By 2003 he was consolidating his power in preparation for running for president again in 2004. Though the economy had stabilized and had experienced enormous growth under his regime, fueled in good part by increases in the value of Russia’s oil and gas, Russia began also to regress in democratic terms. Part of that regression meant eliminating any economic centres of power that threatened Putin’s political power. You were either in bed with Putin or sentenced to the scrap heap of history. Putin targeted Vladimir Gusinsky, another Jewish oligarch, who owned a media company and two television stations. Gusinsky was charged and agreed to sign over his companies to the state and fled to Israel.

Khodorkovsky, in 2003 then the richest man in Russia, had as big an ego as Putin and challenged him in the political arena by funding civil society human rights and opposition groups. As an ex-KGB agent, Putin was wedded to doublespeak, doubletalk and double think while Khodorkovsky was a believer in saying what he thought without inhibitions. In February 2003, he refused in a direct meeting with Putin to buckle under. In fact, he directly challenged Putin at the meeting with a slide show arguing that political corruption was costing the Russian economy US$30 billion per year. Khodorkovsky and Nevzlin were true believers in the free market – he and Nevzlin had published a manifesto, The Man with the Ruble, extolling the virtues of capitalism. They wrote: “Our guiding light is Profit, acquired in a strictly legal way. Our Lord is His Majesty, Money, for it is only He who can lead us to wealth as the norm in life.” They had also become believers in free speech and human rights, transparency and accountability. However, Nevzlin, a more prudent man, was not willing to uphold his beliefs at the risk of his life.

Putin’s guiding light was power and Russian nationalism. He turned the power of the state apparatus against Yukos. At the meeting in February, Putin took umbrage at Khodorkovsky’s speech and in not very subtle terms issued his threat. “Some companies, including Yukos, have extraordinary reserves. The question is: How did the company get them? Your company had its own issues with taxes. To give the Yukos leadership its due, it found a way to settle everything and take care of all its problems with the state. But maybe this is the reason there is such competition to get into the tax academy?”

Nevzlin, who had mastered public relations, got the message and immediately went to take citizenship in Israel in 2003 and made efforts to move whatever funds he could salvage to safe havens. Khodorkovsky held his ground as other billionaires and millionaires fled Russia to save their lives (several were murdered abroad) and to avoid the wild west lawlessness of Russia where kidnappers and murderers in cahoots with the state ransomed children and killed at will, Khodorkovsky, as stubborn as Putin, refused to flee, even though Nevzlin warned him that the old laws still on the books could be used to prosecute them.

The squeeze began on 2 July 2003 when, their partner, Platon Lebedev, was arrested. Later in July, the head of security for Yukos, Alexi Pichugin, was also arrested and eventually sentenced to 24 years in prison for murder. Khodorkovsky could bend or flee. He not only stood his ground but ran a public campaign against Putin. By the time Khodorkovsky was arrested on 25 October at the Novosibirsk airport in Siberia at 8:00 in the morning as he was preparing to fly back to Moscow, Nevzlin was living in Israel where he fled with two other partners from Yukos, Vladimir Duvdov and Michail Brodno. Nevzlin has said that he had spoken to his friend just earlier and he seemed to know the consequences he faced.

So did Pavel Ivlev, a tax lawyer who never worked for Yukos or Khodorkovsky but was called as an expert witness at the trial even though he was the lawyer representing other Yukos employees who had been charged, a completely illegal move under any jurisdiction. In the pre-trial examination, he was told that he had to tell all – namely how the employees took sacks of cash out of Yukos to deliver to Khodorkovsky personally. Ivlev protested that he had no knowledge of that ever happening. He was told that if he said that, he too would be arrested. The next day, Ivlev fled the country and flew to Kiev and eventually his family joined him and they now live in New Jersey.

Three years after Mikhail Khodorkovsky was convicted of fraud and tax evasion after a ten month farcical trial, he was sentenced to nine years in prison and sent to Khodorkoovsky colony, YaG-14/10, a 9 hours flight and a 15 hour train ride from Moscow. In January 2004, an international warrant was issued for Nevzlin’s arrest, initially for evading US$930,000 in taxes for the 1999-2000 fiscal year, with illegal appropriation of shares in two Eastern Oil Company (VNK) subsidiaries, and, in July, for murder and attempted murder, specifically targeting businessman Sergei Gorin and his wife, and also Yevgeny Rybin, the president of the East Petroleum Company.

Moscow City Court tried Nevzlin in absentia and found him guilty of organizing five murders and sentenced him to life in prison. All efforts to extradite Nevzlin from Israel failed as the Israeli Supreme Court found that none of the evidence the Russian government presented was enough to even charge him let alone secure a conviction. The High Court of Justice in Israel ruled, “These are hearsay testimonies that do not even justify the appeal to extradite Nevzlin.” In the end, 42 Yukos employees were charged and sentenced. Yukos was sold at a bargain basement price to a company, Baikalfinansgrup capitalized at $US300 with no assets at all registered in a small town of Tver three hours drive from Moscow, the purchase financed by a US$9billion loan by the state oil company, Rosneft, to get rid of debt in return for Baikalfinansgrup’s shares as collateral. Ironically, the process that the partners had initially used to acquire the assets was now put in reverse gear.

While in prison, Khodorkovsky and Lebedev were charged in March 2009 with stealing Yukos’ oil between 1998 to 2003. The trial ended in December 2010 and the two were sentenced to a further 14 year prison term. It was clear that Putin had determined that the two would never again be out of prison.

Since leaving Russia, Nevzlin has repeatedly criticized the Putin regime and offered monies to opponents. He set up an institute on Eastern European and Russian Judaism, The Leonid Nevzlin Research Center for Russian and Eastern European Jewry, at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. Twin institutions were funded in Moscow, Vilnius and Kiev. He has helped create an endowment for Beth Hatefutsoth, the Nahum Goldmann Museum of the Jewish Diaspora next to Tel Aviv University and became chair of its Board, funding the Nevzlin Program for the Study of Jewish Civilization at Tel Aviv University and the International School for Jewish Peoplehood Studies at Beth Hatefutsoth. He also helped saved the newspaper, Haaretz, by buying a 20% interest.