Russia, Russia, Russia

I’ve written a number of posts over the years decrying the malign behavior of Russia. They have interfered in elections in the United States, the United Kingdom, France, and other countries, poisoned and killed Russian dissidents at home and abroad, jailed people on trumped up charges, invaded and taken land from Ukraine, used fossil fuels as a weapon, corruptly concentrated wealth in the hands of a few oligarchs while their population as a whole suffers, hacked into computer systems, and spread disinformation and dissension across the globe.

The US has placed sanctions against Russia in the past. There have also been charges filed against Russian operatives, including over a dozen resulting from the Mueller investigation. Russian personnel have been expelled.

The former administration was not very robust in carrying out sanctions against Russia that had passed through Congress, but the Biden administration did take action in the past week, sanctioning Russian individuals and companies, prohibiting US banks from trading in Russian bonds, expelling personnel, and strengthening cybersecurity. It’s also possible that other measures were taken that are not being announced publicly. This sometimes happen, especially in cyberspace.

Interestingly, the administration acknowledged something that had been suspected but never so clearly stated by the government. A Treasury Department statement on the sanctions states:

Konstantin Kilimnik (Kilimnik) is a Russian and Ukrainian political consultant and known Russian Intelligence Services agent implementing influence operations on their behalf. During the 2016 U.S. presidential election campaign, Kilimnik provided the Russian Intelligence Services with sensitive information on polling and campaign strategy. Additionally, Kilimnik sought to promote the narrative that Ukraine, not Russia, had interfered in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

Kilimnik was an associate of Paul Manafort, who was one of Donald Trump’s campaign managers in 2016. He gave internal campaign polling data to Kilimnik. This is the first time that there has been official acknowledgement from the government that that information was given to the Russian Intelligence Services. It’s already known that the Russians targeted certain groups and localities in their 2016 election interference operations. This data would increased their effectiveness, especially in an election where Trump lost the popular vote by a significant margin but won the electoral college by winning in a few key districts in three states.

This is what most people would call “collusion” between the Trump campaign and Russia.

Although I wish Russia and Kilimnick had been held to account more vigorously and much sooner, I’m grateful that more is now being done. I also hope that the American people will be more attentive to the veracity of what they see on social media and even what they hear from some politicians who have spouted some of the lies that Russia planted.

The Russians want to divide the people of the United States. We must not let them do that. President Biden is trying to help all Americans to come together after the upheaval of the pandemic, its economic impacts, centuries-old racial/ethnic/religious divides, and environmental degradation. He is the duly elected president. There was not widespread fraud in the election. COVID-19 is a serious public health threat that has killed over half a million Americans, but we can fight it with masks, distancing, vaccines, therapeutics, and other public health measures. Climate change is real and needs to be addressed quickly and decisively to contain the worst impacts.

Don’t let Russia tell you otherwise.

swept away by the news torrent

I try to keep up with important national (US) and international news. When I was away at my residency week at MASS MoCA earlier this month, I read/heard very little news, which was nice for a bit of a mental break, but it has been a challenge to catch up and keep up.

The pace of news here in the United States has been a particular challenge. Important news stories are breaking all the time – and I’m not talking about the news channels that call almost everything “breaking news.” The investigation into the relationship among Ukraine, the Trump administration, and Rudy Giuliani and his associates is especially concerning. The Congressional investigation is ongoing, but is in its early stages. Any depositions taking place right now are confidential, as grand jury investigations would be in the court system. There have been contradictory public statements from the president, his chief of staff, and Giuliani, sometimes even within the same interview, statement, or tweet-day. (Is there such a thing as a tweet-day? I’m not sure of the proper nomenclature.)

I am appalled by Trump’s withdrawal of support for the Kurds in Syria, who did most of the fighting and lost over 11,000 in the international battle against ISIS (ISIL). That he decided to do this without consulting his Cabinet, national security advisors, and the military leadership is stunning. The deaths, injuries, and loss of homes and livelihoods of the Kurds of northern Syria is his personal responsibility, as he withdrew the United States troops that had been protecting against an invasion by Turkey.

It will be incumbent upon the next US president, whomever it will be, to begin repairing the damage that has been done to our standing among nations. It will be a decades-long process and our reputation will never be fully restored. I hope that Congress will pass new laws to explicitly prevent some of the corrupt and unethical conduct that we have seen from this president, laws that had never been written down as it was assumed that ethical constraints and thoughtful, collaborative decision-making practices would hold. We also need to re-balance the powers of the various branches of the government. The executive branch has become much too powerful. It is no longer co-equal with the legislative and judicial branches; indeed, it has defied both Congress and the courts on multiple issues.

The United States also needs to acknowledge and develop better defenses against cyber war, which can be more wide-ranging and dangerous to civilian populations than armed conflict. Foreign governments have infiltrated or attacked government, corporate, and private systems. We need to better protect our financial, utility, business, and government computer systems to avoid the chaos of election tampering, blackouts, transportation disruptions, business shutdowns, and more.

It would also be helpful to reinforce that the right to freedom of speech and freedom of the press does not give license to lie, slander, threaten, exploit, or incite violence.

The list of tasks could go on, but that seems to be enough for one post.

I am very sad to write this about my country that I love so much. I am trying to gain comfort from this quote from Abraham Lincoln’s first inaugural address:

We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory will swell when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.

It is sobering, though, to think about how terrible things became and how long it took for “the better angels of our nature” to re-assert themselves.

We need those “better angels” now, not in some distant future.