It’s Okay to Ask Questions about Ukraine and Russia
It should go without saying that it is terrible when a country invades another country. If we were to break this down in some simple form without taking into account history or the meddling of other countries, then yes, Russia is bad and Ukraine good.
However, as we cycled through the first 48 hours of the Russian invasion, it became clear to me something weird was happening on social media. There was a full-blown propaganda war playing out on social media. Stories like Snake Island and the Ghost of Kyiv could be pulled from a movie script. Then individuals and organizations that I don't have a significant amount of trust in promoted these stories and appeared to be simplifying an incredibly complex situation.
Of course, I could go with the flow, nod my head and agreement and move on, but I think we all know at this point that isn't going to happen. Instead, I started to ask questions and get to research.
I still do not know all the ins and out of this incredibly complex geopolitical conflict. I am still working out my thoughts. But I do know my general conclusion.
War is terrible, and innocents at the mercy of their governments are caught in the middle.
After 20 years of war in Afghanistan, I do not want to fall into another war.
Putin is a bad guy, but the Ukrainian government is also corrupt and not the bastion of "democracy," the West says.
Putin capturing Ukraine and potentially moving into other areas is BAD.
This didn't start last Thursday, and it began in 2014. The West, including our government, is partially responsible for this conflict.
Globalization has made the U.S. and the E.U. increasingly dependent on countries like China and Russia, who are not friendly and have left us in a vulnerable situation.
We need to understand better how and why conflicts like this happen to prevent them in the future. My heart breaks for the suffering of the Ukrainian people.
As I said before, I will not walk you through this conflict in the newsletter. If I did, I would have to write a book. I am going to share with you the questions that I asked myself and some sources that I believe help answer those questions or, at a minimum, provide a broader picture of what is happening.
It knows it's a lot, so if you are as curious as I am, I encourage you to bookmark this newsletter and take your time reading and watching the resources. If you prefer to listen than read, I suggest investing in the app Speechify. I use this to listen to articles while I do tasks around the house.
Let me emphasize I am simply asking questions.
Is there any validity to Putin's claim to "de-nazify" Ukraine. It's a weird claim considering President Zelenskyy is Jewish.
Being fully aware that there is a massive propaganda war going on right now, these claims on their surface appear to be insane. And Putin is fully aware that the West is "triggered" by all things Nazi. Considering our government is so focused on the threat of white supremacy and domestic terrorism, it makes sense that language like this would be used. My knee-jerk reaction is to dismiss this claim completely, but of course, I still investigated.
This claim stems from the Nazi-sympathizing Azov battalion, a volunteer militia during the 2014 upheaval and Maidan protests that forced President Viktor Yanukovych. The unit eventually was made part of the Ukrainian National Guard and accused of war crimes. The Azov battalion has been an influential force in fighting pro-Russian forces in the eastern Donbas region comprising Donetsk and Luhansk.
It should be noted that since 2014 the Azov battalion has attempted to distance itself from its Nazi-sympathizing roots. Whether this is a sincere attempt remains to be seen.
My current conclusion is that this is a half-truth weaponized by Putin.
Are there Nazis in Ukraine's Parliament? No.
Are there Nazi sympathizers and racists in Ukraine? Yes, but you can find that in almost every Western country.
Is the Azov Batallion bad news? Yes.
Are there known Nazi sympathizers officially recognized by Ukraine's National Guard? Yes
This seems to be a "the enemy of my friend is my friend" situation, and Putin is weaponizing it. But I think it would be unwise to brush off the fact that there appears to be an actual Nazi-sympathizing battalion within the Ukrainian National Guard.
Azov fighters are Ukraine's greatest weapon and may be its greatest threat (2014)
Ukrainian Nationalist Volunteers Committing 'ISIS-Style' War Crimes (2014)
Russian military operation puts the spotlight on Ukraine’s neo-Nazis: What you need to know about them (2022) (Pay attention to the tweet shared in this article and Twitter's response to it.)
Putin says he will ‘denazify’ Ukraine. Here’s the history behind that claim. (2022)
Has U.S money (taxpayer money) been used to help arm the Azov battalion?
It is challenging for anyone to answer these questions definitively, not to mention a regular person like myself. However, the U.S. has been a little careless with its weapons. Remember "Fast and Furious" and, most recently, Afghanistan.
The United States gave Ukraine $600 million in security assistance between 2015 - 2017, and Azov is part of the Ukrainian National Guard. Some of those funds were likely used to arm that battalion.
It was reported in The Intercept, "Congress has also passed measures, signed into law repeatedly since 2018, forbidding funds from going to arms and training for the Azov Battalion. Last year, the House of Representatives passed a defense bill that included an amendment sponsored by Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich., to vet forces receiving U.S. military assistance for violent ideologies, "including those that are white identity terrorist, anti-semitic, or Islamophobic." But when the bill reached the Senate, Tlaib's amendment was stripped from the final version during negotiations. Meanwhile, in September, Ukrainian-American researcher Oleksiy Kuzmenko reported that officers belonging to an informal right-wing group called Military Order Centuria, which has ties to the international Azov movement, have trained at a Western-backed military institution."
It appears that although there have been attempts by Congress to forbid funds from going to arm and train Azov, there may have been a workaround through the group called Military Order Centuria.
On Saturday, the State Department was authorized by Biden to send another $350 million in weapons to help Ukrainian forces fight back the ongoing Russian invasion.
This marks the third time Biden has used his presidential drawdown authority to send emergency security assistance from U.S. stockpiles to Ukraine. It brings the total commitment of U.S. security assistance to $1 billion this year.
Who is President Zelenskyy?!
Before he was President of Ukraine, he was an actor/comedian. We aren't really in any place to criticize that, we did recently have a reality TV star and president, and Regan was also an actor.
Interestingly, he starred in a television comedy "Servant of the People" where he played a foul-mouthed teacher who unexpectedly became president after a video of his rant against corruption in the government went viral.
Zelenskyy's political party Servant of the People was created in March 2018 by people from the TV production company Kvartal 95, who created the political satire series with the same name as the party.
He ran on a similar platform while running for office, embraced the name of his show for his party's name, and defeated former Ukrainian president Petro Poroshenko in a runoff in 2019, with more than 70% of the vote.
Zelenskyy, now 44, won the presidential election in a landslide in 2019 after much of his campaign was allegedly bankrolled by one of Ukraine's wealthiest — and most corrupt — oligarchs, Igor Kolomoisky.
He also appears to have a Western progressive social agenda. During an April 2019 interview with RBC-Ukraine, he stated he supported the free distribution of medical cannabis, free abortion in Ukraine, and the legalization of prostitution and gambling. He opposes the legalization of weapons.
Does all this mean Zelenskyy is a bad guy? No. But the media is pushing hard to create a hero image, and some Ukrainians have many questions about how exactly he came to be president.
Why were U.S. Senators Lindsay Graham, John McCain and Amy Klobuchar in Ukraine in December 2016, after Trump has won the election, giving a pep-talk to Ukraine soldiers?
This is one of those that you see now, and looking back, you go, "well, that is suspicious."
In December 2016, Graham, McCain, and Klobuchar were in Eastern Ukraine at a military outpost in the Shirokino region right outside of the Donetsk region. (Remember, the Donetsk/Luhansk regions are the disputed area.) During this visit, Graham and McCain gave a pep talk to the Ukrainian soldiers about it being time that Russia pay a heavier price, arguably encouraging the instigation of war right before a new president is supposed to be inaugurated.
This is right after Trump won the 2016 election and establishment politicians, both Republicans and Democrats, were crying about Russian interference. At the time, both McCain and Graham called on the Obama White House to take action concerning claims that Russia interfered in the 2016 presidential election.
McCain said sanctions could be strengthened against Russia, including "giving defensive weapons to Ukraine so they can defend themselves." Graham has also often called for stronger sanctions and aid to Ukraine.
It just seems weird that right when Trump wins his election and is blamed for being helped by Russia, Warhawks like Graham and McCain use it as an excuse to use Ukraine as a proxy to poke at Russia.
By the way, no evidence of Russian interference or collusion on behalf of Trump has ever been substantiated.
How does Biden/Burisma fit into all this?
Remember the phone call with Ukraine that lead to Trump's impeachment? That phone call was a call with President Zelenskyy asking for Zelenskyy to investigate any corruption regarding Biden/Hunter and Burisma. Why would Trump think there was corruption?
In 2014 the "elected" Ukraine government was Russia friendly and made an oil deal with Russia. That same year there was a "revolution" where the U.S. (Obama and Biden) "helped" Ukraine put an EU-friendly government in power. Why am I using quotes? Because I am not sure, any of these elections or revolutions weren't messed with somehow.
After the EU-friendly government gained power, Hunter Biden got a seat on the board of a Ukrainian energy company, Burisma, while his father Biden was overseeing U.S. policy to battle corruption in the country. In October 2020, the N.Y. Post reported that Hunter introduced his father to a top executive at Burisma, which had been investigated for corruption.
Ok, everything I say after this is speculation and just me asking questions. Feel free to send me other sources and share opinions.
Trump had his call with the new Ukraine president Zelenskyy on July 25, 2019. Zelenskyy had run on a platform to rid Ukraine of corruption. During the phone call, Trump asked the following,
The former ambassador from the United States, the woman, was bad news and the people she was dealing with in the Ukraine were bad news so I just want to let you know that. The other thing, There's a lot of talk about Biden's son, that Biden stopped the prosecution and a lot of people want to find out about that so whatever you can do with the Attorney General would be great. Biden went around bragging that he stopped the prosecution so if you can look into it… It sounds horrible to me.
Joe Biden indeed leveraged $1 billion in aid to persuade Ukraine to oust its top prosecutor, Viktor Shokin, in March 2016. But the debate is why did that happen. Some say it was because Shokin was investigating Burisma, of which Hunter Biden was on the board. Others say it was because Shokin wasn't pursuing corruption among its politicians.
Trump was asking for this to be investigated and the questions to be answered. At a time, Biden was running for president and was weaponized to impeach Trump.
Zelenskyy never conducted any investigation into Burisma when asked if he would publicly announce an investigation.
"I think everybody in Ukraine is so tired about Burisma," Zelenskyy responded. "We have our country, we have our independence, we have our problems and questions."
If Zelenskyy ran on a platform to end corruption, why did he not investigate Burisma? It makes me wonder if there was a risk of exposing Biden, and Zelenskyy was putting his bet on Biden to win the election. Biden, as Vice President, had already demonstrated that he supported Ukraine with arms and money. However, Trump did not want to escalate with Russia and was essentially doing his best to stay out of the Ukraine/Russia conflict.
Does the U.S. bear some responsibility for this conflict?
Remember the Cold War? For the last two decades, the U.S. national security establishment under both Democratic and Republican administrations has used Ukraine as an instrument to destabilize Russia, specifically, to target Putin.
To make it simple, yes. I believe the U.S. government bears some responsibility in this conflict. But this is an equally complicated issue, which is why I will provide resources to people who can better explain it than I.
I do not think Putin is a good guy. I do not believe Ukraine’s government is honest. I do not believe it will be good if Ukraine falls to Russia. I do not want to see Russia progress past Ukraine. I am heartbroken and worried about the innocent Ukrainian people stuck in the middle. And I am very wary of Russia and China’s relationship and what this could mean for Taiwan.
And the saddest part of all is that I do not trust that our government is being honest with us.