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.

Iran

Earlier this month, after long negotiations, a deal was announced between Iran and a group of six nuclear powers to exchange lifting of international economic sanctions against Iran in return for Iran’s abandoning all attempts to enrich uranium anywhere close to weapons grade.

This news was met with celebration in Iran, where the populace has been dealing with a crippled economy. Many people are looking forward to being able to get better jobs and better access to goods and services that many of us take for granted.

While not celebrating in the streets, I and many other folks in the US are happy that an agreement was reached and hope that the US Congress will lend their support. Frankly, if they don’t, all it will do is make the United States look unreliable. The international sanctions will be lifted even if US ones imposed by Congress stay in place, while, worse yet, the Iran nuclear program would once again be free of international inspection and constraint.

I trust that the US’s lead negotiator, Secretary of State John Kerry, has reached a deal that is verifiable and will keep Iran from developing a nuclear weapon. I am grateful that the team also included Secretary of Energy Dr. Ernest Moniz, who is an MIT nuclear physicist. It is hard to imagine a better person to have in the room during negotiations on this topic. When he says that the Iranians could not clean a site of nuclear materials during the time that the agreement allows them to delay on inspection, I believe him. He definitely knows how to detect nuclear particles, even in tiny amounts.

I am old enough to remember Iran before the revolution that brought about the Islamic Republic. As a child, I remember hearing about the Shah of Iran and thinking of the country as a friend and ally of the US. Knowing that it had once been Persia, it also seemed very exotic to a small town New England girl. I did not know until much later the shenanigans that the US had pulled to overturn the democratically elected government and place the Shah in power.

When the revolution came in 1979, I was in my first year at Smith. It happened that a woman living in my house was the daughter of an Iranian diplomat. It was heart-wrenching to see her lose her homeland and see her fear for her family’s safety. Fortunately, they were able to escape the country unharmed.

In the following decades, it seems that many of the Iranian people have remained friendly toward Westerners, even though the government was not.  I hope that this agreement will help promote diplomacy over war and continue on the path toward nuclear disarmament.