March 3, 2022
As Russia’s war on Ukraine enters its second week, the lines are clear.
This morning—in America’s time—Russian president Vladimir Putin called French president Emmanuel Macron and talked for an hour and a half. Putin warned that he aimed to take “full control” of Ukraine by diplomatic or military means. He said that he was “prepared to go all the way.”
Tonight, Russian troops shelled the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power complex in southeast Ukraine. A fire broke out at the plant but, according to the International Atomic Energy Agency, did not affect essential equipment. What the attack did do, though, was sow fear of nuclear meltdown, giving Putin a psychological win in his war.
Standing against Putin and his vision of freedom to act as he wishes against sovereign countries are countries around the world that are exerting financial pressure on Russia, cutting it off from the rest of the world. It is a new moment in global history, one in which businesses and economic pressure are being enlisted to protect democracy, rather than undermine it.
That economic pressure in the form of sanctions is working not just on large financial transactions, but also on things like simple maintenance of airplanes. Airplane manufacturers Boeing and Airbus have suspended the shipping of parts, maintenance, and technical support for the Russian airplane fleet. Russia is huge. Downing the whole airplane fleet though economic pressure will severely affect the ability of goods and people to move throughout the country.
The Biden administration increased pressure on 8 more oligarchs close to Putin, along with their families, and restricted the visas of 19 oligarchs and 47 members of their families in hopes that that pressure would lead them to undermine the president. The sanctioned Russians include Yevgeny Prigozhin and his wife, daughter, and son. In addition to being close to Putin, Prigozhin is the owner of the Wagner Group, an infamous paramilitary organization that has been accused of war crimes. Prigozhin is also wanted by the FBI for his role in attacking the 2016 U.S. election.
Concerns that Putin might continue to invade sovereign nations have led countries to turn to European democracies for protection. Moldova has officially applied for membership in the European Union. “We want to live in peace, prosperity, be part of the free world,” said Moldova’s president, Maia Sandu. “While some decisions take time, others must be made quickly and decisively, and taking advantage of the opportunities that come with a changing world.”
The U.S., and other countries that belong to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, are supporting Ukraine from outside its borders. For NATO to take on the fight against Putin’s armies directly in Ukraine runs the risk of uniting the currently demoralized Russian people behind their leader, and enables him to start a war against NATO, which would engulf all of Europe.
Tonight, South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham crossed that line when, on Fox News Channel personality Sean Hannity’s television show, he called for someone to assassinate Putin. He then repeated his comment on Twitter. This was an astonishing propaganda coup for Putin, enabling him to argue that he is indeed in a war with America, rather than engaging in an unprovoked attack on neighboring Ukraine. This is exactly what the Biden administration has gone out of its way to avoid.
It was an astonishing moment… and also an interesting one. It undermines the position of the U.S. and our partners and allies, but in whose service? After initially opposing Trump’s reach for the presidency, Graham threw in his lot utterly with the former president, who has many possible reasons both to undermine Biden and to keep Putin in power. Perhaps Graham’s comment was intended to help Trump. Or perhaps Graham might have simply made a colossally stupid mistake. Whatever the case, the enormous implications of his statement make it one that would be a mistake to ignore.
Graham was not the only one to bolster Putin’s position today. Tucker Carlson tonight told his audience that indeed he was wrong in his earlier defense of the Russian president but then continued to stoke the same racist and sexist fires he has fed all along, blaming his misreading of the situation on Vice President Kamala Harris.
Today the U.S. imposed sanctions on Russian media outlets, as well as some of those involved with them, that worked to “spread Russian disinformation and influence perceptions as a part of their invasion of Ukraine.”
Closer to home, a federal court in the Southern District of New York charged John Hanick with violating U.S. sanctions and making false statements concerning his years of work for sanctioned Russian oligarch Konstantin Malofeyev. Malofeyev was key to destabilizing Ukraine in order to support a Russian takeover. Hanick worked for him from 2013 until at least 2017, establishing TV networks in Russia, Bulgaria, and Greece to spread destabilizing messages.
Hanick was one of the founding producers of the Fox News Channel. He became an admirer of Putin because of the Russian leader’s anti-LGBTQ stance and his belief that Putin was a devout Christian. Apparently, he turned that enthusiasm into an attempt to undermine democracy in favor of Putin’s authoritarianism.
Yesterday, Attorney General Merrick Garland announced a new interagency law enforcement task force, KleptoCapture, dedicated to enforcing sanctions, export restrictions, and economic countermeasures the U.S. and its allies and partners have imposed to respond to Russian aggression. In a statement, about the Hanick indictment, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York Damien Williams said, “The indictment unsealed today shows this office’s commitment to the enforcement of laws intended to hamstring those who would use their wealth to undermine fundamental democratic processes.”