A Closer Look At Vladimir Putin’s Nuclear Threats

Vladimir Putin has made a number of statements that can be taken as threats to use nuclear weapons. He reminds us that Russia has nuclear weapons. The statements are ambiguous, but, in the context of Russia’s war on Ukraine, can be taken as threats. Let’s look more closely at those statements.

At the beginning of the war, there was a cluster of statements: February 24 and 27, and March 5 and 16. Then a statement in the middle of April, and then a jump to June, and another jump to September and October. During the summer, the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant was under attack, which kept nuclear fears in the news.

The February 24 statement was part of the declaration of war against Ukraine.

No matter who tries to stand in our way or all the more so create threats for our country and our people, they must know that Russia will respond immediately, and the consequences will be such as you have never seen in your entire history. No matter how the events unfold, we are ready. All the necessary decisions in this regard have been taken.

This statement is stronger than the customary US statement “all options are on the table” and has the tone of Donald Trump’s statements to North Korea about possible nuclear use.

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Wars and Rumors of Wars

Now that we are out of Afghanistan and have declared the Forever Wars over, a number of people are eagerly pushing their favorites for the next war.

Alexander Lukashenka, who lost Belarus’s election for president but doesn’t want to go, is causing trouble on his borders with Poland, Lithuania, and Latvia by forcing refugees from the Middle East across those borders. Belarus has restricted the flow of oil to Poland.

Lukashenka’s neighbor to the east, Vladimir Putin, backs him warily because Belarus is one of Russia’s few allies. On the other hand, Lukashenka has defied Putin in the past. His latest move to restrict the flow of oil to Poland may or may not be backed by the Kremlin. Putin has been increasing troop strength near the eastern part of Ukraine, where he has kept a shooting war going since 2014. It’s unlikely that he is preparing for a broader invasion – that would require holding additional territory and thus more military resources. But it’s not clear what he’s about.

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Where We Are – 36 Days Out

The New York Times now has Donald Trump’s income tax returns “extending over two decades”. They say that the returns come from a person who had legal access to them. The Times’s first article provides eighteen takeaways. They promise more to come. Each takeaway is a string that other news organizations can pull.

Trump runs through money and then manages to find yet another source to bankroll him. At this point, he owes $421 million to unknown parties. There are hints and guesses about connections to a hotel deal in Azerbaijan that appears to have laundered money for Iran’s Revolutionary Guard and to Deutsche Bank through Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy’s son.

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What’s Happening In Belarus?

A very good question. I’ve been thinking about writing a post for a while, but there is a long backstory and what is happening now is not at all clear.

Belarus just had a contested election. Alexander Lukashenka, who has been president since the breakup of the Soviet Union and an official before that, was seriously challenged by Svetlana Tikhanovskaya. Lukashenka claimed victory with 80% of the vote. Unofficial polls suggest it may have been the other way around. I’ll let Olya Oliker explain. This is the best short explanation I’ve seen.

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Russian News

This is a compilation of Russian news you might not have heard. There’s a lot going on in Russia. President Vladimir Putin’s popularity is flagging, so much so that his United Russia Party had to resort to shady dealings in recent elections in Russia’s Far East. The retirement age for pensions has been raised, and people are not happy. They’ve just mounted a big military exercise, but probably not as big as they claim. The Ukrainian Orthodox Church will probably split organizationally from the Russian Orthodox Church.

Paul Goble worked in the State Department during the breakup of the Soviet Union. He retired some time ago and has taught in universities in Estonia. He speaks Russian and Estonian. He maintains a blog, Window on Eurasia, where he summarizes news and opinion from Russia and its neighbors in English. I’ll draw on his posts and a few other sources to note recent developments in Russia. This is far from exhaustive, and probably not even indicative of larger trends. Just things that are happening. Read More

Links – June 6, 2017

The $110 billion arms deal to Saudi Arabia is fake news.

The bottleneck in Rex Tillerson’s State Department. Tillerson is depending primarily on two aides who don’t have a lot of foreign policy experience, rather than the expertise in State’s various bureaus.

Apparently Donald Trump’s insistence on absolute loyalty is part of the reason that government jobs are going unfilled. More about why those jobs are unfilled.

That Russian bank that Jared Kushner (and, btw, Carter Page) was dealing with.

The Marshall Plan turns 70 this week. Here are four reasons it was so important. Lessons for the current administration, if anyone is listening. Read More

Links – March 28, 2017

Protests across Russia and Belarus over the weekend. The main target is corruption. Here’s a backgrounder about the situation in Belarus.  Alexei Navalny, a leader of the opposition in Russia, sparked protests there with a video about Dmitry Medvedev’s corruption (English subtitles). Why the protests focused on Medvedev. They are a problem for Putin too. The discontent is likely to affect Russia’s next election. Photo: A demonstration in Belarus. Read More

Links – February 6, 2017

It’s hard to know how to deal with every day’s tsunami of Trump news. On the one hand, much of it affects US foreign relations and some the nuclear part of that. On the other, the administration lies and backtracks so much that it’s tempting to blow off much of it. The sheer volume of leaks, much of it on gossipy trivia, is tempting as a focus. The leaks themselves, as well as much of their content, indicate that White House operations are chaotic, and the bureaucracy is mostly resisting the crazier demands. Steve Bannon is much too influential, and President Trump isn’t reading what he signs.

There are hundreds of articles that I might link by the standards I’ve used in the past. But I don’t have that kind of time, and neither do you. It’s not a bad idea to check the New York Times or the Washington Post daily; both are doing a good job of covering the chaos. (Yes, I would complain about their campaign coverage too, but there are too many other things to do now.) I’ll try to present articles that help with thinking out how to deal with a presidency gone wrong, and foreign policy news that may be getting lost in the furor. Maybe some fun, too.  Read More