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Putin alert for signs of eroding Western unity on Ukraine

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Putin alert for signs of eroding Western unity on Ukraine

WASHINGTON — 

Vladimir Putin looked very much at ease.

In a much-viewed video this month, the Russian president settled deep into his armchair, wearing an expression of bored nonchalance. In a matter-of-fact tone, he likened himself to a modern-day Peter the Great, the empire-building Russian czar, and suggested that the conquest of a sovereign neighbor’s territory was not only justifiable, but laudable.

“Taking it back and strengthening it,” the 69-year-old Putin said, describing Peter’s 18th-century seizure of a strategic stretch of Baltic seacoast from Sweden. Now, he serenely told a group of Russian entrepreneurs, this duty “has also fallen to us.”

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It might have been a deliberately over-the-top performance calculated to rattle Western allies at a particularly challenging juncture of the nearly 4-month-old Ukraine war. Such stagecraft comes naturally to the onetime KGB operative, longtime Putin watchers say.

But some observers saw something more: a mask not so much torn off as casually discarded. In launching his full-scale invasion on Feb. 24, Putin cited elaborate pretexts including an unfounded need to “de-Nazify” Ukraine; in the new video, he appeared to revert to an articulation of raw imperial ambition.

“The body language spoke volumes,” said Peter Dickinson, Ukraine editor for the Atlantic Council, a Washington-based think tank. “I think he really looked like a man with a weight off his shoulders — that he felt a sense of relief that the burden of maintaining these lies had been lifted.”

Since its early days, the war’s course has whipsawed from expectations of a swift Russian rollover of the government in Kyiv to an unexpectedly fierce and effective Ukrainian resistance and a grinding stalemate in the country’s industrial heartland, in which Russian forces have notched incremental but inexorable-seeming gains.

While the West for months has been seeking to punish Putin for the war with sweeping sanctions, allies of Ukraine are themselves experiencing painful economic blowback in the form of runaway inflation and soaring energy prices. The European Union is struggling to maintain a unified front in the face of disparate national interests, and Ukraine is describing the scale of Western-supplied weaponry as woefully inadequate.

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All that comes against the ominous backdrop of a developing global food crisis that the Kremlin shows every sign of seeking to weaponize in coming months, with vast stores of Ukrainian grain mired in blockaded seaports and negotiations to ship it out to a hungry world at an apparent impasse.

Putin, speaking at an economic forum Friday in St. Petersburg, mocked the idea that his war caused record-setting inflation in the United States and Europe, or could trigger famine in parts of the developing world.

“We all hear about so-called ‘Putin inflation’ in the West,” he said, calling the notion “stupid.” As for the blockaded grain, he declared that resulting hunger would be “on the conscience of the U.S. administration and the ‘Eurocrats.’”

As was the case during the run-up to the war, Putin’s motives can be read as both bafflingly opaque and blindingly obvious. In Western capitals, the war is generally viewed as a huge miscalculation on the Russian leader’s part. But to many observers, there is a dogged internal consistency to his actions.

“I don’t see Putin’s worldview as shaken and changed” by setbacks such as the failure to capture Kyiv and topple President Volodymyr Zelensky’s government in the war’s early days, said Gustav Gressel, a Ukraine expert at the European Council on Foreign Relations. “The destruction of Ukraine as a whole is still the aim, the eradication of the Ukrainian nation.”

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Western unity, though, faces an array of challenges. The North Atlantic Treaty Organization has been energized by the war, but the alliance’s annual summit at the end of the month is throwing internal tensions into sharp relief. Membership applications from Sweden and Finland, galvanized by the Russian invasion, are on hold while NATO weighs how to assuage Turkey’s anger over the two nations’ relationships with Kurdish separatists.

Russian state television daily depicts a West in disarray and decline, a propaganda effort helped along by gruesome real-life events such as mass shootings in the United States and the drumbeat of revelations over the Capitol insurrection in 2021.

But last week saw a significant symbolic boost for the image of Western unity, when the leaders of France, Germany and Italy visited Kyiv, and notably refrained from putting any public pressure on Zelensky to seek a negotiated end to the fighting.

Prior to the visit Thursday, Ukraine had taken serious umbrage over French President Emmanuel Macron’s contention that it would be unwise to “humiliate” Russia, and a top Zelensky advisor acknowledged fears that the heads of the European Union’s most powerful economies would deliver a joint message that the onus was on Ukraine to seek peace.

Instead, Macron declared that “Europe is at your side” and that Ukraine would “choose its own destiny.” The following day, the EU’s executive arm recommended giving Ukraine a path to eventual membership in the bloc, and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson paid a second visit to the Ukrainian capital, promising military training and more armaments.

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Moscow’s splenetic response to the European visit underscored Putin’s anger over Ukraine’s tightening bonds with Europe. With the French, German and Italian leaders painting Ukraine as a European partner, former Russian President Dmitry Medvedev derided the trio as “connoisseurs of frogs, liverwurst and spaghetti.”

At the St. Petersburg forum last week, Putin professed indifference about Kyiv’s EU aspirations, but predicted if Ukraine did join the bloc, other member states would tire of subsidizing it — pointedly ignoring the fact that the invasion has devastated the Ukrainian economy.

EU membership, however, is not likely for years, and even if a path to accession offers a morale boost, Ukraine is far more focused on what it calls a dire shortage of long-range weapons needed to fend off Russia’s onslaught in the east. Moreover, European energy dependence on Russia is still likely to be a driving force behind efforts to push Ukraine to accept concessions in exchange for a potential peace.

Before the war began, the Western allies threatened Moscow economically in hopes of staving off the invasion, and when that failed, turned to the sanctions as a means of pressuring Putin to desist. But even as rising energy profits continue to fuel Moscow’s war effort, the Russian leader is doing all he can to exploit Western consumer discontent over inflation, which is raging in the Eurozone as well as in the United States.

“It furthers the narrative that the West does not have the ability and the will to withstand Russia,” Gressel said.

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While Western leaders like President Biden face plummeting poll numbers over inflation, the Ukraine war points up the extent to which Putin is insulated from either electoral accountability or significant expressions of dissent. Expressing opposition to the “special military operation” in Ukraine is a crime, and key Russian opposition figures are behind bars.

“Public opinion in Russia does exist,” Dickinson said. “It’s just not nearly as important as it is in a democratic country.”

Throughout the war, the Kremlin has brushed aside war-crimes accusations as fabricated by Ukraine and the West. But heading into a fifth month of increasingly brutal warfare, any notion of accountability is vanishing altogether in the upper ranks of Putin’s government.

“Russia is not squeaky clean. Russia is what it is,” Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told the BBC last week when asked about a United Nations report of atrocities committed against civilians in a village in northern Ukraine. “And we are not ashamed of showing who we are.”

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‘Romney Republican’ now GOP primary attack…

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‘Romney Republican’ now GOP primary attack…

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Mitt Romney isn’t up for reelection this year. But Trump-aligned Republicans hostile toward the Utah senator have made his name a recurring theme in this year’s primaries, using him as a foil and derisively branding their rivals “Mitt Romney Republicans.”

Republicans have used the concept to frame their primary opponents as enemies of the Trump-era GOP in southeast Michigan, Ohio and Pennsylvania. The anti-tax group Club For Growth, among the most active super PACs in this year’s primaries, used “Mitt Romney Republican” as the central premise of an attack ad in North Carolina’s Senate primary.

But nowhere are references to Romney Republicanism as common as they are in Utah. Despite his popularity with many residents here, candidates are repeatedly deploying “Mitt Romney Republican” as a campaign trail attack in the lead-up to Tuesday’s Republican primary.

“There are two different wings in the Republican Party,” Chris Herrod, a former state lawmaker running in suburban Utah’s 3rd Congressional District, said in a debate last month.

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“If you’re more aligned with Mitt Romney and Spencer Cox,” he added, referring to Utah’s governor, “then I’m probably not your guy.”

The fact that his brand has become potent attack fodder reflect how singular Romney’s position is in U.S. politics: He’s the only senator with the nationwide name recognition that comes from running for president and the only Republican who voted to impeach former President Donald Trump twice.

“It’s kind of a puzzlement, actually,” said Becky Edwards, an anti-Trump Republican running in Utah’s Senate primary.

As one of the most famous members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Romney is revered by many in Utah, where the church is a dominant presence in politics and culture. He won praise for turning around Salt Lake City’s 2002 Winter Olympics after a bribery scandal. After moving to Utah full-time more than a decade ago, he breezed to victory in the state’s Senate race in 2018. He did not respond to requests for comment on this story.

Herrod, who went to Las Vegas to campaign for Romney in 2012, said in an interview that referring to Romney was effective shorthand — a way to tell voters about his own belief system as well as that of incumbent Republican Rep. John Curtis. Herrod has attacked Curtis for his positions on energy policy and for founding Congress’ Conservative Climate Caucus.

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“In the midst of a campaign, it’s kind of tough to draw a line. I just put it in terms I thought people would understand,” Herrod said.

The Curtis campaign said the congressman was more focused on legislation and passing bills than branding. “Congressman Curtis doesn’t spend his time labeling himself or other Republicans,” his campaign manager, Adrielle Herring, said in a statement.

Much like Herrod, Andrew Badger, a candidate running in northern Utah’s 1st Congressional District, frames his primary campaign as a “tug of war” between two competing factions within the Republican Party. He describes one as the moderate, compromise-friendly wing embodied by Romney and the other as the conservative wing embodied by Utah Sen. Mike Lee, a frequent guest of FOX News who is often the Senate’s lone “no” vote.

Both Badger and Herrod acknowledge attacking Romney may turn off some voters, four years after he easily defeated a right-wing state lawmaker in Utah’s Republican primary and a Democrat in the general election. But they question the durability of his support given how the last six years have broadly transformed Republican politics.

“There’s a lot more frustration, and it’s only building. I don’t think he would win in a vote today, certainly not in a Republican primary,” Badger said.

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Badger in his campaign has focused on simmering outrage stemming from the 2020 election and anger over coronavirus mandates and how race, gender and sexuality are taught in K-12 schools. He has attempted to draw a direct line between Romney and his opponent, incumbent Rep. Blake Moore, by attacking Moore for being one of 35 House Republicans to vote to create an independent commission to investigate the Jan. 6 insurrection.

In a district where support for Trump remains strong, he’s likened Moore’s vote to Romney’s two votes in favor of impeachment.

“These folks like Mitt Romney and Blake Moore, they always cave to the left when the pressure gets turned on them,” Badger said. “We’re not going to compromise for the sake of compromise.”

Moore did not vote for impeachment. After the Senate scuttled the commission, Moore, along with all but two House Republicans, voted against the creation of the Jan. 6 select committee that ultimately convened.

In response to Moore being labeled a “Mitt Romney Republican,” Caroline Tucker, the congressman’s campaign spokesperson, said he could be best described a “Big Tent Republican” who doesn’t think the process of lawmaking requires abandoning his conservative principles.

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Jason Perry, director of University of Utah’s Hinckley Institute of Politics, said the label “Mitt Romney Republican” may appeal to some Republican primary voters, but given Romney’s popularity, it likely won’t work in Utah, he said.

“They’re appealing to a segment of the Republican Party but probably do not have the numbers on that far-right side to be successful,” Perry said.

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Pro-life is not just opposing abortion, Vatican says after U.S. ruling

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Pro-life is not just opposing abortion, Vatican says after U.S. ruling

Anti-abortion demonstrators and abortion rights supporters protest outside the U.S. Supreme Court the day after the United States Supreme Court ruled in the Dobbs v Women’s Health Organization abortion case, overturning the landmark Roe v Wade abortion decision, in Washington, U.S., June 25, 2022. REUTERS/Elizabeth Frantz

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June 25 (Reuters) – Anti-abortion activists should be concerned with other issues that can threaten life, such as easy access to guns, poverty and rising maternity mortality rates, the Vatican’s editorial director said on Saturday.

In a media editorial on the United States Supreme Court’s ruling to end the constitutional right to abortion, Andrea Tornielli said those who oppose abortion could not pick and choose pro-life issues. read more

“Being for life, always, for example, means being concerned if the mortality rates of women due to motherhood increase,” he wrote.

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He cited statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention showing a rise in maternity mortality rates overall and that the rate was nearly three times higher for black women.

“Being for life, always, means asking how to help women welcome new life,” he wrote, citing an unsourced statistic that 75% of women who have abortions live in poverty or are low-wage earners.

He also cited statistics from the Harvard Review of Psychiatry showing that the United States has much lower rates of paid parental leave compared with other rich nations.

“Being for life, always, also means defending it against the threat of firearms, which unfortunately have become a leading cause of death of children and adolescents in the U.S.” he wrote.

The Roman Catholic church teaches that abortion is murder because life begins at the moment of conception and ends with natural death.

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Pope Francis has compared having an abortion to “hiring a hit man” to eliminate a problematic person.

But he has tried to steer the U.S. Catholic Church away from seeing abortion as the single, overarching life issue in the country’s so-called culture wars.

The death penalty, gun control, support for families, and immigration are also life issues, he has said.

The Vatican’s Academy for Life praised Friday’s U.S. Supreme Court ruling, saying it challenged the world to reflect on life issues, but also called for social changes to help women keep their children. read more

U.S. President Joe Biden, a lifelong Catholic, condemned the ruling, calling it a “sad day” for America and labelling the court’s conservatives as “extreme”.

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Reporting by Philip Pullella; Editing by Mike Harrison

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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Supreme Court ‘Misleadingly Quotes Me’ in Abortion Ruling: Law Professor

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Supreme Court ‘Misleadingly Quotes Me’ in Abortion Ruling: Law Professor

Laurence Tribe, a Harvard professor of constitutional law, accused the conservative Supreme Court majority of “misleadingly” utilizing his quotes in its controversial Friday decision to overturn Roe v. Wade.

Conservative Associate Justice Samuel Alito wrote the majority opinion in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization. The ruling in that case brought an end to nearly five decades of Supreme Court precedent—overturning the landmark 1973 Roe decision and bringing an end to woman’s constitutionally protected right to an abortion.

“Roe was egregiously wrong from the start. Its reasoning was exceptionally weak, and the decision has had damaging consequences,” Alito argued in his opinion.

Four of the top court’s justices concurred with Alito’s opinion, while Chief Justice John Roberts concurred with upholding the 15-week abortion ban of Dobbs, but took issue with fully overturning Roe. The Court’s three liberal justices together issued a dissenting opinion.

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Tribe, who has been harshly critical of the Supreme Court’s decision, said the conservative majority opinion misused his quotes to justify its arguments overturning Roe.

The Dobbs majority misleadingly quotes me on pages 50 and 54 in straining to justify a decision the dissent rightly calls an exercise in “power, not reason.” Don’t be fooled. The writings from which the Court cherry-picked my quotes were totally supportive of the result in Roe.

— Laurence Tribe (@tribelaw) June 25, 2022

“The Dobbs majority misleadingly quotes me on pages 50 and 54 in straining to justify a decision the dissent rightly calls an exercise in ‘power, not reason.’ Don’t be fooled. The writings from which the Court cherry-picked my quotes were totally supportive of the result in Roe,” the constitutional law expert wrote in a Friday evening Twitter post.

On page 50, the conservative majority opinion states: “As Professor Laurence Tribe has written, ‘[c]learly, this mistakes ‘a definition for a syllogism.’ Tribe 4 (quoting Ely 924). The definition of a ‘viable’ fetus is one that is capable of surviving outside the womb, but why is this the point at which the State’s interest becomes compelling?”

On page 54, it quotes Tribe again, stating: “Laurence Tribe wrote that ‘even if there is a need to divide pregnancy into several segments with lines that clearly identify the limits of governmental power, ‘interest-balancing’ of the form the Court pursues fails to justify any of the lines actually drawn.”

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Protest at Supreme Court
Constitutional law professor Laurence Tribe accused the Supreme Court on Friday of misleadingly using his quotes in its majority opinion overturning “Roe v. Wade.” Above, abortion-rights demonstrators protest in front of the Supreme Court in Washington, D.C. on Saturday.
ROBERTO SCHMIDT/AFP via Getty Images

Newsweek reached out to the Supreme Court’s press office for comment.

“Three men — Presidents GHW Bush (Justice Thomas), GW Bush (Justices Alito, Roberts), Trump (Justices Gorsuch, Kavanaugh, Alito) — two of whom won with a minority of the popular vote — have done this to tens of millions of women and to the rule of law. This must be undone,” Tribe wrote in a follow-up Friday evening Twitter post.

Three men — Presidents GHW Bush (Justice Thomas), GW Bush (Justices Alito, Roberts), Trump (Justices Gorsuch, Kavanaugh, Alito) — two of whom won with a minority of the popular vote — have done this to tens of millions of women and to the rule of law. This must be undone.

— Laurence Tribe (@tribelaw) June 25, 2022

Protests have broken out across the country in the wake of the controversial ruling. Multiple states quickly implemented so-called “trigger laws,” which were in place and ready to go the moment Roe was overturned. Meanwhile, states that have already protected legal abortions have taken steps to make them easier to access to women traveling across state lines.

Former President Donald Trump hailed the decision and took credit, describing the ruling as “the biggest WIN for LIFE in a generation” in a statement. He said it was “only made possible because I delivered everything as promised, including nominating and getting three highly respected and strong Constitutionalists confirmed to the United States Supreme Court.”

Meanwhile, President Joe Biden slammed the decision.

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“Now, with Roe gone, let’s be very clear: The health and life of women in this nation are now at risk,” Biden said in a Friday address at the White House. The president went on to say that the nation’s top court “has done what it has never done before: expressly take away a constitutional right that is so fundamental to so many Americans that had already been recognized.”

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