March 13, 2022
Russian president Vladimir Putin has asked China for help in his war against Ukraine, according to U.S. officials. Observers see this as a defining moment for China and the direction it wants to take in the twenty-first century. In what might be a sign of how China will react to that request, the spokesperson for the Chinese embassy in Washington said he had never heard of it. "The high priority now is to prevent the tense situation from escalating or even getting out of control,” he said.
Meanwhile, Russian forces struck a military facility in Ukraine about 15 miles from the Polish border. Poland is a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), and by the terms of the treaty establishing NATO, “an armed attack against one or more of them in Europe or North America shall be considered an attack against them all,” and the parties will retaliate accordingly.
Biden has repeatedly warned that NATO will respond to any attack on a member country, but Russian state TV continues to insist that no NATO country will actually help another. This assertion has observers concerned that Putin might widen the war to involve NATO, which would give him the legitimacy he needs to justify his war of aggression.
Others say that these events indicate weakness and frustration on Putin’s part. As the Russian invasion has gone more slowly than he had apparently anticipated, the Russian military is firing indiscriminately at civilian targets, evidently trying to terrorize the country into submission. But the troops are underfed and undersupplied, and there appear to be too few of them to subdue Ukraine. Ukraine’s Euromaidan Press says that Russia has opened 14 recruitment centers in Syria.
The strike in western Ukraine near the Polish border killed at least 35 people and wounded more than 100. The facility received western arms shipments. National security adviser Jake Sullivan said the strike “does not come as a surprise” but “shows…that Vladimir Putin is frustrated by the fact that his forces are not making the kind of progress that he thought that they would make against major cities including Kyiv, that he’s expanding the number of targets, that he’s lashing out and he’s trying to cause damage in every part of the country.”
Sullivan also said that the U.S. is very concerned that Russia will use chemical weapons. It has falsely accused Ukraine and the U.S. of preparing chemical weapons, which might well be a warning that Putin intends to use them himself.
Putin, of course, has used chemical weapons before, most recently against opposition leader Alexei Navalny. His goons also did so on March 4, 2018, in the U.K, in a poisoning of former Russian spy Sergei Skripal. That poisoning seemed to be a sign that Putin was confident enough in his power that he was willing to kill someone in England and dare then–prime minister Theresa May to do something about it.
What happened next seemed to illustrate Putin’s growing security in the face of weak U.S. and European resistance. May condemned the attack, as did U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. But May couldn’t do much because Brexit had isolated England and then-president Trump refused to back her. He promptly fired Tillerson, along with one of Tillerson’s deputies who contradicted the White House version of why Tillerson was out. Russian state TV then warned May not to threaten a country armed with nuclear warheads. And, just about then, Republicans in the House exonerated Trump from “colluding” with Russia in the 2016 election, outright rejecting the evidence and findings of our own intelligence community.
There remains a lot to learn not only about why former president Trump allowed such aggression, but also about why members of the Republican Party were willing to look the other way when U.S. policy under Trump benefited Russia—when the U.S. abruptly withdrew from northern Syria in October 2019, for example, or when Trump withheld money appropriated for Ukraine’s defense to pressure Ukraine president Volodymyr Zelensky into helping him rig the 2020 election.
At least part of the answer to that question is the disinformation campaign launched by Russia to undermine our democracy. False stories in the media have divided us and convinced many people in the U.S. of things that are simply lies.
Former representative Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI) released a video today echoing Russia’s false story of “25 to 30 U.S. funded bio labs in Ukraine,” and demanded a ceasefire to secure them.
Later this afternoon, White House press secretary Jen Psaki tweeted: “This is preposterous. It’s the kind of disinformation operation we’ve seen repeatedly from the Russians over the years in Ukraine and in other countries, which have been debunked, and an example of the types of false pretexts we have been warning the Russians would invent.” Senator Mitt Romney (R-UT) slammed Gabbard for “parroting false Russian propaganda.”
David Corn of Mother Jones today broke another news story: a Russian government agency distributed a 12-page document to media outlets telling them, “It is essential to use as much as possible fragments of broadcasts of the popular Fox News host Tucker Carlson, who sharply criticizes the actions of the United States [and] NATO, their negative role in unleashing the conflict in Ukraine, [and] the defiantly provocative behavior from the leadership of the Western countries and NATO towards the Russian Federation and towards President Putin, personally….”
The call to feature Carlson is in the section titled “Victory in Information War.”
Will Saletan @saletanOn CNN, former DNI James Clapper says it’s just “a question of time” till Russia does something to force greater involvement by NATO. Scenarios: 1) Russia hits NATO territory, intentionally or not. 2) Russia uses chemical weapons in a siege of Kyiv. “It’s not if. It’s when.”