Russia’s Get Rich Quick Nuclear Scheme – Oh Wait

A few days ago, A Russian statement claimed that electricity would be sold to Ukrainians from the Russian-occupied Zaporizhzhe nuclear power plant. If Ukrainians didn’t take up that offer, the electricity would go to Russia. Either way, Russia wins.

Not so fast. Russia does not share an electrical grid with Ukraine, so the electricity from Zaporizhzhe can’t be sent there.

The reasons for occupation of the plant are a bit of a mystery. It was taken early in Russia’s campaign against Ukraine, so perhaps it was part of the plan to take control of Ukraine with the help of internal collaborators in the first three days.

The overall occupation didn’t work, but the Russians still hold Zaporizhzhe, so they are trying to make the best of it.

Cross-posted to Lawyers, Guns & Money

Russia Tries To Buy The Catalonian Independence Movement

A thorough investigation by the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP), El Periódico, Bellingcat, IRPI, Il Fatto Quotidiano, and iStories provides details on Russia’s offer of troops and money to Catalonian leaders to help them secede from Spain. In return, Catalonia would become a haven for cryptocurrencies.

The offer was reported in Spanish media in 2020. This investigation is much more detailed. Read it all.

Key findings:

  • On a trip to Barcelona in 2017, Nikolai Sadovnikov offered to give the Catalonians $500 billion to aid their attempts to make the region an independent state.
  • In return, he asked them to turn Catalonia into a haven for cryptocurrencies.
  • A Western intelligence agency described him as “an actor of Russian parallel diplomacy” who accompanied Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on trips around the Middle East.
  • After Sadovnikov left Barcelona, text messages show the Catalonians stayed in touch through an intermediary.
  • The intermediary kept promising money, sending the Catalonians photographs of a suitcase full of cash and a certificate of deposit worth $500 billion. But reporters could only confirm he ever sent them a single bitcoin.
  • Sadovnikov held shares in four companies registered in a government-owned building in Red Square.

During the Cold War, Soviet attempts at influence were obvious and occasionally deteriorated into war. But they were political, urging leftist parties to join the great international movement to socialism/ communism.

With Silovik Vladimir Putin in charge, the Russian government uses silovik methods: corrupt people by buying them, and break countries by encouraging internal division. In the United States we have the NRA and Maria Butina, even John McCain according to Steve Schmidt’s Twitter feed over the past 24 hours, and Paul Manafort through it all.

Photo from PBS

Cross-posted at Lawyers, Guns & Money

Where Is The Computer War?

One of the big mysteries of Russia’s war against Ukraine is why we haven’t seen more hacking by national parties. Early on, the Biden administration warned everyone to make their computer security current. There have been no compuer attacks in the US that can be attributed to Russia that I can think of. Early on, Ukraine suffered some attacks.

Conversely, Russia doesn’t seem to have suffered any attacks that can be attributed to other countries.

There can be a number of reasons for this. It’s possible that attacks are occurring, but they are blunted by good computer defense or counterattacks. Or they may be occurring only in governmental spaces, where they can be kept quiet.

It does, however, look like independent hackers are stealing data from Russian organizations. Some of them are making it public. The Ukrainian government has endorsed some of the efforts and is probably benefitting from them. The article I’ve linked gives a great many examples. It’s paywall-free.

Keep your computer protection current. We don’t know how long this lack of attacks will last.

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Last night I wrote a Twitter thread outlining my theory of Biden’s information offensive. I want to write a much longer post on it, but that won’t be until next week at the earliest. Unfortunately, I accidentally deleted the first tweet. That tweet was an introduction. Here’s the second tweet, which links to the rest of the thread.

Cross-posted to Lawyers, Guns & Money

Those Russian Fires and Explosions

It’s beginning to look like those fires and explosions in Russia are not accidents.

Away from the active battlefronts within Ukraine, though, there’s a less bloody, less prominent front in the two-month-old war, a shadow campaign that has included attacks on military and industrial targets in Russia itself.

It’s not clear how many incidents have occurred, or whether they resulted from air strikes, or missiles, or sabotage. An unofficial tally by RFE/RL, based on open-source reporting, counts at least a dozen since the war’s beginning.

They’re not all internal sabotage, though.

Early in the morning on April 27, a drone crashed in a muddy field southwest of the Russian city of Kursk, around 100 kilometers northeast of the border with Ukraine. Locals tracked down the destroyed device not long after, and posted photographs to Telegram and other social media.

The device appeared to be a Bayraktar TB2, a versatile Turkish-designed unmanned aerial vehicle capable of long-distance surveillance as well as dropping guided bombs or firing anti-tank missiles.

It wasn’t the Russians who were flying the drone.

But some may be.

Perm is probably outside drone range from Ukraine.

Who’s doing it? Russians? Ukrainian spies? Are they coordinating with each other? The Russian authorities would like to know.

Top photo: A screen grab of a purported attack by Ukrainian helicopters on a fuel depot in the Russian city of Belgorod on April 1.

Cross-posted to Lawyers, Guns & Money

Stuff Happens

In the last week, Russia has seen three serious fires and a burst dam. We need to be careful in seeing a pattern.

Seven died and a number of others were injured in the Aerospace Defense Research Institute near Moscow.

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Another War Crime

Reports keep surfacing that Russia is forcibly removing people from Ukraine to Russia. RFE/RL has one of the more reliable reports of Ukrainians in Astrakhan. These reports are inherently difficult to confirm, but there are enough that something like this probably is happening. Even before Russia’s attack, “evacuations” from the Donbas to Russia were reported. Additionally, children have been reported to have been separated from their parents or taken from hospitals to be adopted in Russia.

The numbers are in the tens to hundreds of thousands for people forced to go to Russia, and in the double to triple digits for children taken. There are also reports of camps being set up to “educate” teachers and students in the Russian language and culture.

When the Soviets invaded their neighbors during World War II, they moved people to Siberia and Kazakhstan. Russians were then moved into those countries.

If indeed tens or hundreds of thousands of people are being moved from Ukraine, it is likely that this was part of Russia’s plan so that buses and trains could be made available.

Cross-posted to Lawyers, Guns & Money

What Is Putin Thinking?

Vladmir Putin started this war, and he could stop it today if he chose. What he thinks is important. He’s told us what he thinks. The way Russia is conducting the war supports what he’s said.

It’s easy to dismiss Putin’s screeds as historically inaccurate and a bizarre reading of current events. They are. But listing how they’re incorrect misses the point, which is that Putin believes these things: Ukraine was never a separate entity from Russia. Lenin and others made mistakes that separated Ukraine from its appropriate place in the scheme of things. Russia and Ukraine can never fulfil their true destiny apart from each other. Those are the central points.

Also in his belief system is that NATO, the United States, and the EU, which are lumped together as “the West,” are dedicated to undermining Russia’s proper place in the world. It’s less clear that he buys the whole long-standing Pan-Slavic myth that Russia has been specially designated by God to redeem the world. But at least Russia is a superpower that the rest of the world must recognize as such.

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Go Ahead And Bluff, They Said. They Won’t Shoot Back, They Said

A number of people want to up the ante on Vladimir Putin. He made nuclear threats, so let’s threaten him back. He won’t escalate.

They leave out a lot.

What they leave out is a serious consideration, based on Putin’s words and actions, of his likely response. Assuming that one’s own side will always take the last action is as common a misapprehension in war as the idea that an invading army will be greeted as liberators, and just as dangerous.

Some of the authors of recent articles imply or state that they are not advocating escalation, but their bottom line is that Putin’s threats to use nuclear weapons must be met with similarly warlike responses. They criticize President Joe Biden for stating clearly that the United States will not meet Russia with a military response because those statements eliminate some of the steps they would like to take.

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Reading Material On Putin’s War

There are a lot of bad takes coming out on the war. Two documents provide the background necessary to evaluate them.

Masha Gessen talks about how authoritarianism works in Russia in this extended interview by Anand Giridharadas. Gessen has experienced that authoritarianism first hand and now lives in the United States.

What Putin has been doing for many, many years is building up to a big war. At a certain point, I felt crazy for saying it because the big war kept not starting. But the logic of his rhetoric, the logic of his actions, the logic of totalitarianism in general — all of these things required a big war. Since his Munich speech in 2007, there has been a constant and open insistence on re-establishing Russia as a great power and a refusal to recognize what’s referred to as the world order.

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Nukeporn

I’m finding it hard to write lately because there are so many shockingly bad takes. Twitter provides a continuing flutter of them, like this morning’s wet snowflakes, and points to worse op-eds. It’s mostly the war, but the decisions to declare the pandemic over contribute.

Dan Nexon tweeted last week that all discussions of whether NATO should have embiggened are discussions of priors. So are discussions of possible nuclear weapon use and many other things. Last week we had the no-fly zone. Yesterday got the week off to a masculine start with discussions of impotence and muscularity in US foreign policy. Mainly from old white men, and that’s consistent with my priors as well as theirs.

The question of nuclear weapons, on the battlefield or otherwise, keeps coming up. A number of disappointed (and poorly informed) people keep asking why Russia isn’t deterred from attacking Ukraine but the US is deterred from attacking Russia if nuclear weapons exist, which slides into the mistaken idea that Ukraine once had a full-up nuclear arsenal or (Russian propaganda warning) is building one now. I’ve dealt with that here.

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