Putin uses fabrications about Russians and Ukrainians being ‘one people’ to justify aggression

Vladimir Putin has been bullying Ukraine for many years. But that’s not all. Now, in addition to massing Russian military forces along the border—surrounding his neighbor in what can only be seen as preparation for invading that country—he’s lying about Ukrainians’ very identity in order to snuff out their independence.

Americans know a little something about breaking away from a country with whom we share much in terms of cultural roots. Thanks to history, we also know that when powerful countries start remaking the borders of Europe by force, it opens the door to massive bloodshed.

The lies Putin’s telling these days have a very specific purpose, designed to buttress his bullying. The primary lie is that there are no Ukrainians. He denies their existence as a people, as a community that possesses a national consciousness. They’re really just Russians, you see. That’s why it’s not wrong for Vlad to remake or even erase a border that his country agreed to respect in 1994. He openly violated that treaty in 2014 with his military incursion into the Donbas region of southeastern Ukraine—where he both provided material support for pro-Russian separatists and sent some of his own troops as well—not to mention his outright forced annexation of Crimea. Russia has been violating the agreement consistently ever since.

One of our country’s most highly regarded experts on Eastern Europe, Zbigniew Brzezinski, explained that “without Ukraine, Russia ceases to be an empire, but with Ukraine suborned and then subordinated, Russia automatically becomes an empire.” This is why Putin wants to delegitimize the concept of Ukrainianness. It’s all part of his plan to bring them under his thumb and restore his country’s status as a world power, and also perhaps shore up his political position at home in true Wag the Dog fashion. Invasion seems to be imminent.

NEW: The US believes Russian President Vladimir Putin has decided to invade Ukraine, and has communicated that decision to the Russian military, three Western and defense officials tell me.

— Nick Schifrin (@nickschifrin) February 11, 2022

WHO’S WHO IN UKRAINE?

Who are the Ukrainians? More importantly, who gets to address that question? Putin clearly believes that the answer to the second one is himself, as he laid out his falsehood-laden response to the first one. This took the form of a Jul. 2021 document titled “On the Historical Unity of Russians and Ukrainians.” The two groups are, he claimed, “one people—a single whole … a single people” who have “a common faith, shared cultural traditions … language similarity.” The misinformation was strong in this piece of Фигня.

The article runs through a recitation of historical events extensive enough to make one long for an invasion just to bring it to an end. This 1000-plus year “history” dating back to the medieval state of Kievan Rus’—a loose federation of East Slavic, Baltic, and Finnic peoples in Eastern and Northern Europe that existed from the late 9th to the mid-13th century—is presented in a one-sided fashion that paints the development of a Ukrainianness that exists separate from Russianness as simply false, and as merely the result of foreign influences, ranging from Poles to the Catholic Church to the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Political scientist Ivan Krastev noted: “Putin looks at Ukraine and Belarus as part of Russia’s civilizational and cultural space. He thinks the Ukrainian state is totally artificial and that Ukrainian nationalism is not authentic.”

It’s bad enough when a pundit or entertainer tries to define what is and what is not authentic about another group. When the guy doing it has the firepower to actually conquer that group’s country, now we’re talking about a whole other kind of danger.

As for today’s Ukraine, Putin made clear in his missive that he sees himself as the sole and rightful arbiter of what that sovereign nation’s borders should be: “Apparently, and I am becoming more and more convinced of this: Kiev simply does not need Donbas.” In other words: Russia ain’t leaving eastern Ukraine as long as he’s calling the shots. On a side note, Russia doesn’t “need” Donbas either, or benefit in material terms from having some degree of control over it—unless they want a region well-situated to mass-produce Panasonic tape decks.

Finally, Putin presented his conclusion: “I am confident that true sovereignty of Ukraine is possible only in partnership with Russia.” Now that’s what I call an abusive partner. Thomas Friedman, in the New York Times, recently offered a slightly different phrasing that perfectly captures Vlad’s thoughts on the matter: “Marry me, or I’ll kill you.”

An analysis of Putin’s essay at the Atlantic Council, a nonpartisan think tank focused on international affairs, noted that it had “been likened in some quarters to a declaration of war” against Ukraine. The analysis included commentary from two experts. Melinda Haring, Deputy Director of the Eurasia Center at the Atlantic Council, stated:

Putin’s delusional and dangerous article reveals what we already knew: Moscow cannot countenance letting Ukraine go. The Russian president’s masterpiece alone should inspire the West to redouble its efforts to bolster’s Kyiv ability to choose its own future, and Zelenskyy should respond immediately and give Putin a history lesson.

Danylo Lubkivsky, director of the Kyiv Security Forum and a former Deputy Foreign Minister of Ukraine, added:

Putin understands that Ukrainian statehood and the Ukrainian national idea pose a threat to Russian imperialism. He does not know how to solve this problem. Many in his inner circle are known to advocate the use of force, but for now, the Russian leader has no solutions. Instead, he has written an amateurish propaganda piece designed to provide followers of his “Russian World” ideology with talking points. However, his arguments are weak and simply repeat what anti-Ukrainian Russian chauvinists have been saying for decades. Putin’s essay is an expression of imperial agony.

UKRAINE’S HISTORY OF INDEPENDENCE

Despite Putin’s propaganda—and the document discussed above is just one part of a far-reaching Russian campaign—the Ukrainian people have a long record of expressing an independent national consciousness, of fighting for their independence from Russia as well as other neighboring states. There’s far too much in his diatribe to refute point by point, but suffice it to say that his denial of Ukrainians’ collective existence is far from fact-based. It’s hard to accept the objectivity of a self-styled historian of Ukraine who, in 2008, Putinsplained the following to then-President Bush, “You don’t understand, George, that Ukraine is not even a state.”

In reality, in the late nineteenth century, at the same time as other peoples in Central and Eastern Europe, proponents of a Ukrainian sense of peoplehood—nationalists, they called themselves—emerged and began building a movement. At the end of the First World War, these Ukrainian nationalists fought to create an independent state out of the chaos in the region, but were defeated. The part of their country that had been under Tsarist Russian control was ultimately absorbed by the Soviet Union, with a newly independent Poland taking the portion that had been part of Galicia, a previously Austro-Hungarian province. At the end of the Second World War, the USSR grabbed that territory from Poland as well.

Since 1991, when the Soviet Union broke apart, Ukraine has been independent, and sought to carve its own path outside of Moscow’s shadow. The current president, Volodymyr Zelensky, has cultivated what one Ukrainian journalist described as: “an inclusive Ukrainian national identity transcending the barriers of language, ethnicity and memory that have so often served to divide Ukrainians.”

TRUMP REARS HIS ORANGE HEAD

Zelensky is none other than the man whom our disgraced former president tried to bully into becoming a stooge in his quest to slander Joe Biden. Those actions led to the first impeachment of The Man Who Lost An Election And Tried To Steal It, thanks in part to the brave actions of whistleblowers like Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman. In fact, Trump as well as numerous right-wing politicians and media figures have all but openly sided with Putin on Ukraine, as Daily Kos’s Mark Sumner thoroughly presented here (and here, on Fucker Carlson specifically).

Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman

Vindman, who was born in Ukraine and came with his family to the U.S. in 1979 at the age of three, served as director for European affairs at the National Security Council, and was the top expert on Ukraine in the White House under Fuck a l’Orange. He has urged the U.S. to provide significant defensive military support to Kyiv, and wrote passionately in December about how the land where he was born has evolved since claiming its freedom when the USSR disintegrated:

Over the past 30 years, Ukraine has made major strides in its experiment with democracy. Despite worrying instances of government-backed corruption—undeniably, there is still more work to be done—Ukraine has made hard-fought progress on reform in the midst of war. Six presidents, two revolutions and many violent protests later, the people of Ukraine have sent a clear message that reflects the most fundamental of American values: They will fight for basic rights, and against authoritarian repression.

PARALLELS WITH CHINA AND TAIWAN

We may be seeing some similar developments farther East. After more than seven decades of separation from the mainland government of China, and four decades as a vibrant democracy, the people of Taiwan have increasingly begun to see themselves as having a separate national consciousness as Taiwanese rather than Chinese. For many Ukrainians as well as Taiwanese, the fact that their countries are committed to democratic values, which their erstwhile “big brother” countries reject only serves to heighten their desire to define their separate sense of peoplehood. Both of the larger brothers consider their counterpart’s independence to be a grave offense they cannot abide.

People in Taiwan and China are absolutely paying attention to what’s happening between Russia and Ukraine. Furthermore, the growing ties between Moscow and Beijing—please note the warm meeting between their leaders at the Winter Olympics, hosted by China—not to mention the shared belief that a great power should be able to dominate within a self-defined sphere of influence, offer Putin support for his actions that could counteract potential punishment imposed by the West.

Ultimately, the lies Putin enumerated mask an even more profound truth, one that has nothing to do with an argument about the legitimacy of a particular national identity. Even if Russians and Ukrainians had been “one people” a thousand years ago, or even a thousand days ago, who cares? Things transform in an instant.

DECLARATION(S) OF INDEPENDENCE

Prior to the American Revolution, most of those who were allowed to participate in the political life of the American colonies, as well as their wives and children, defined themselves as English. Nevertheless, they maintained a “right,” as the Founders argued in the Declaration of Independence, to change their minds. Sometimes, in Thomas Jefferson’s words, “it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another.” Ukrainians, who want to look west rather than north, and who want democracy rather than autocracy, have made the same judgment regarding Russia.

We know what the Russian president is, and what he wants. This is a man who says the quiet part out loud. He actually lamented the collapse of the Soviet empire in Eastern Europe and Central Asia as “the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the century.” He added that the event represented not the liberation of tens of millions but instead “a genuine tragedy.” Why? Because “tens of millions of our fellow citizens and countrymen found themselves beyond the fringes of Russian territory.”

The borders of Russia should apparently encompass everywhere Russian people live—with the caveat that Putin himself defines who is Russian. It’s up to no one else other than the self-proclaimed father of the Russian people, the bridegroom to Mother Russia, who will gather together once again all his wayward children, including the ones who ran away from home and never want to go back. Please note his foreign minister’s characterization of the countries once under the sway of the Soviets as “territories orphaned by the collapse of the Warsaw Treaty Organization and the Soviet Union.” As for Ukraine specifically, the head of Vlad’s national security council proclaimed in November that it was a “protectorate” of Moscow.

The type of “we’re all one people” ethno-nationalist claptrap Putin has been spewing on Ukraine is at least an echo, even if not a direct parallel, of the language Adolf Hitler used in 1938 to justify the Anschluss that forcibly joined Austria to Nazi Germany and to justify taking the Sudetenland from Czechoslovakia, as well as aggressive action toward Poland. In all these cases, Hitler claimed that he was simply reuniting people who shared German ancestry—German blood. To clarify, Putin is talking more about shared Russian culture than blood ties, and there’s no evidence he is bent on genocide or world domination.

Nevertheless, a great power committing this kind of aggression—now threatening to commit even more of it—and using this kind of tribal nationalism as a pretext, is something that Europe has not seen for almost a century. It cannot be allowed to succeed, and thankfully President Biden and our European allies are taking steps to make sure that it doesn’t.

Ian Reifowitz is the author of  The Tribalization of Politics: How Rush Limbaugh’s Race-Baiting Rhetoric on the Obama Presidency Paved the Way for Trump (Foreword by Markos Moulitsas)

Key impeachment witness Alexander Vindman sues Trump allies for intimidation, retaliation

It's been long overdue: Former Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman has filed a lawsuit against a host of top Donald Trump allies, accusing them of attempting to intimidate him, then retaliating against him for his testimony in the first of Congress' two Trump impeachment investigations. Vindman was a key witness in the investigation, one of the few in the White House who witnessed Trump's conversation with Ukraine's president in which Trump asked the Ukrainian government to give public credence to a hoax targeting his expected election opponent, Joe Biden. It was a hoax promoted by pro-Russian oligarchs and Trump fixer Rudy Giuliani. It was also part of a broader revealed effort in which Trump's team promoted those pro-Russian interests, removed a United States ambassador who was seen as an impediment to them, and stonewalled congressionally approved military aid to the country while pushing its leaders to provide the Trump-demanded election help.

Vindman is suing Giuliani, along with then-Deputy White House Chief of Staff Dan Scavino, staffer Julia Hahn, and Donald Trump Jr. for their roles in the attacks against him. The lawsuit charges the Trump allies with an "intentional, concerted campaign of unlawful intimidation and retaliation."

There's zero question that Vindman was both publicly threatened and had his career cut short as an act of retaliation, because nobody in Trump's orbit even bothered to hide it. Donald Trump repeatedly posted public tweets threatening those who testified against him, and both Vindman and his brother were summarily removed from their White House duties immediately after Senate Republicans scuttled further investigation and backed Trump's international extortion. Trump's team followed up with a widespread purge of government watchdogs who were seen as insufficiently loyal to Trump's schemes. Republican lawmakers, pundits, and hosts all joined the effort to demonize Vindman for agreeing to testify.

The same dynamic would occur during and after Trump's second impeachment, as Republicans have done everything within their power to stonewall House and federal investigations of a Trump-organized violent coup. (Many of those Republicans are themselves accessories to the seditious acts.) Trump allies have again threatened those who willingly testify. Trump has again floated pardons for those who committed crimes on his behalf. The fascist party again settles into backing even violence by the party's leader, rather than abide election losses.

The Vindman case will be yet another test as to whether the nation's laws still mean anything when they run up against the petty whims of the powerful, but the evidence Vindman's team has provided isn't really disputable. The only remaining question is whether political hacks working on behalf of a president are allowed to intimidate and retaliate against witnesses simply because it was in service to a Dear Leader figure who wanted those things done. Unless Republicans retake Congress and write up a new law specifically prohibiting lawsuits against Giuliani and his accomplices—which could happen, after all—it's difficult to imagine the defense offering up any justification of Vindman's treatment that wouldn't be laughed out of the courtroom.

On Thanksgiving, I’m thankful my ancestors left Europe, and that America took them in

“I’ve got something I’d like to say.” That’s what I usually offer up as a preamble, as I try to get the attention of my kids and other family members gathered around the Thanksgiving table—although this year, due to COVID-19, it will sadly be just my wife and kids. It usually takes a couple of attempts, but once we’re all on the same page, I offer words of thanks for my ancestors. I talk about how brave they must have been to leave the communities of their birth—which were at least familiar, despite the hardship, discrimination, and all-too-common violence they faced—and come to a land where they didn’t speak the language, didn’t know the culture, and, in many cases, didn’t know a soul.

In this offering, I mention the family names of the people who came and the places they came from. We’ve done quite a bit of genealogical research—on my side and my wife’s side of the family—and are lucky to have as much information as we do. My goal is to give my kids a sense of who their ancestors were, and what they went through to give us a chance to have the life we do. One branch of my father’s family came from Vilnius, now the capital of Lithuania; another from Riga, Latvia’s capital; another from Minsk, capital of Belarus; and the last from Odessa, now in Ukraine. Growing up, I had learned that all my father’s ancestors were “Russian.” It turns out none of them came from places that are now in that country (at least as of this writing).

The story is similar on my mother’s side. One branch was described to me as Austrian; in fact they came from Skole in today’s Ukraine. The other was Hungarian, and came from Sighet (Elie Wiesel’s hometown) in Transylvania, now a province of Romania. During my Thanksgiving meal talk, I also thank my wife’s family, who came from Vienna, Poland, and Russia. In reality, the primary point of identification in terms of culture and identity for all these people was not the country of origin on their passport, but the fact that they were members of the Jewish people, irrespective of any particular level of belief or religiosity.

In addition to being Jews, the family ancestors I’ll be acknowledging were also, of course, Americans. And that’s the other part of the thanks I’ll give on the holiday. I’m thankful that my ancestors had a place to go, that they could become Americans and make a life here.

The last of them got in just under the wire, arriving a few months after the First World War and only a couple of years before a series of immigration “reforms” severely limited the number of immigrants our country accepted from outside the British Isles and northwest Europe. My wife’s grandmother’s family got out of Poland in 1937—and only because the youngest child had been born here (it’s a long story), one of the oldest living “anchor babies,” I’d surmise. Very few Jews were able to find refuge here at that point and immediately afterward—during the years when they needed it most.

I make sure my kids know about these restrictions on immigration, as well as the fact that Asians had almost no chance to emigrate and become U.S. citizens until the early 1950s. We also talk about how—although their ancestors and other Jewish immigrants certainly didn’t have it easy—they at least had opportunities that America denied to the large numbers of African Americans and American Indians who had arrived long before our family. America didn’t treat everyone living here equally, either on paper or in practice. Certainly, as the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and too many others have reminded us, we’ve still got room for improvement on that front as well, to say the least, although we have come a long way thanks to those heroes who fought and bled to get us as far as we have come.

Over the past four years, the soon-to-be-former occupant of the White House has been making the process for coming here far more difficult, far more treacherous, for refugees and asylum-seekers. But hopefully, The Man Who Lost The Popular Vote (Again) will be shuffling off the stage in the very near future. That is something for which my family and I are deeply thankful.

Contrast him with the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society of Pennsylvania, who last year organized a Thanksgiving event in Philadelphia specifically for immigrants—the 11th year they’ve done so—although they won’t be able to do something similar this year thanks, if that’s the word, to the pandemic. Over 100 people shared the holiday meal:

Vanessa, who declined to give her last name, says the event is exactly what she and her family needed after being under the threat of deportation.

"We couldn’t miss it today, because recently my parents were in deportation court," she said.

Vanessa says she's thankful her family can stay together just in time for the holiday.

If that organization sounds familiar, it might be because of the wonderful work it does on behalf of immigrants, or it might be because the terrorist who killed 11 Jews at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh specifically mentioned HIAS in a post just a few hours before committing that mass murder:

A couple of hours before opening fire in a Pittsburgh synagogue, Robert Bowers, the suspected gunman, posted on the social network Gab, “HIAS likes to bring invaders in that kill our people. I can’t sit by and watch my people get slaughtered. Screw your optics, I’m going in.” HIAS is the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, and Bowers had posted about it at least once before. Two and a half weeks earlier, he had linked to a HIAS project called National Refugee Shabbat and written, “Why hello there HIAS! You like to bring in hostile invaders to dwell among us?” Another post that most likely referred to HIAS read, “Open you Eyes! It’s the filthy EVIL jews Bringing the Filthy EVIL Muslims into the Country!!”

So while I’m thankful to our country for taking in my family, and so many others, I am aware that not everyone approves of America’s generosity. There’s another person, whose family is also Jewish and from Eastern Europe, who expressed a sense of gratitude that reminded me of my own. This person did so in the context of coming forward to testify in an impeachment inquiry focused on Donald Trump. He has faced anti-Semitism from Trump and his allies in retaliation for stepping forward and telling the truth. Here are the words of Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, words that make me proud to share my heritage with this man:

Next month will mark 40 years since my family arrived in the United States as refugees. When my father was 47 years old he left behind his entire life and the only home he had ever known to start over in the United States so that his three sons could have better, safer lives. His courageous decision inspired a deep sense of gratitude in my brothers and myself and instilled in us a sense of duty and service. All three of us have served or are currently serving in the military. Our collective military service is a special part of our family’s story in America.

I also recognize that my simple act of appearing here today, just like the courage of my colleagues who have also truthfully testified before this Committee, would not be tolerated in many places around the world. In Russia, my act of expressing my concerns to the chain of command in an official and private channel would have severe personal and professional repercussions and offering public testimony involving the President would surely cost me my life. I am grateful for my father’s brave act of hope 40 years ago and for the privilege of being an American citizen and public servant, where I can live free of fear for mine and my family’s safety.

Dad, my sitting here today in the US Capitol talking to our elected officials is proof that you made the right decision forty years ago to leave the Soviet Union and come here to United States of America in search of a better life for our family. Do not worry, I will be fine for telling the truth.

Thanksgiving—at least in the form we celebrate in this country—is an American invention, and also a holiday about each of our relationships to America, and to our fellow Americans. It means different things to different people, depending for some on how their ancestors were treated. For me, America is my home, the only one I’ve got. It is the place that made my life and my family possible. My membership in the American people, the American national community, is central to my identity.

We are living in a time when, once again, demagogues are playing on our deepest fears to argue against taking in people fleeing oppression in their homelands, just as was the case in 1939. Demagogues are also casting doubt on the loyalty of Jewish Americans who were born elsewhere, just as was the case in the Dreyfus Affair over a century ago. I am truly grateful for what America did for me—taking in my ancestors when they needed a place to go. I know there are many others who will end up being far less fortunate. They are the ones we have to fight for now.

This is an updated version of a piece I have posted the last couple years on Thanksgiving.

Alexander Vindman was attacked for telling the truth, the same thing is happening to his brother

When Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman testified at Donald Trump’s impeachment hearing, he reassured his Soviet-born father that he would be fine. “Dad, I’m sitting here today, in the U.S. Capitol talking to our elected professionals,” said Vindman. “It’s proof that you made the right decision 40 years ago to leave the Soviet Union. Do not worry, I will be fine for telling the truth." As it turns out, his father was right to worry. Alexander Vindman left the military in July after expertise in Eastern Europe was discarded and his career was crushed in an act of petty revenge by Donald Trump. 

And now it seems that Trump’s revenge wasn’t limited to Alexander Vindman, because his twin brother is the subject of a letter between four House committee chairs and the acting inspector general of the Department of Defense. Yevgeny Vindman is also a Lt. Colonel. He also worked in the Trump White House. And it seems that, during the course of the last two years, he has also voiced concerns—though he did so quietly, through channels, dealing with the attorneys at the National Security Council and Department of Defense (DOD). Even so, the Trump White House appears to have come down on Yevgeny Vindman hard. Hard in the sense of writing a demeaning evaluation designed to destroy his career. 

What’s particularly interesting about the letter is not just how much Trump continues to be driven by revenge. The letter from the House also reveals part of the complaint that Yevgeny Vindman filed earlier with the DOD Office of General Counsel. Because that complaint goes beyond just Trump and anything he said in a phone call. Both Vindman brothers provided information in what were supposed to be protected environments—but there is no real protection from corruption.

Chair of the House Oversight Committee Carolyn Maloney, Chair of the Intelligence Committee Adam Schiff, Chair of the Armed Services Committee Adam Smith, and Chair of the Subcommittee on National Security Stephen Lynch all signed onto the letter formally asking the DOD acting inspector general to open an investigation into whether one or both Vindman brothers had been persecuted for disclosing information through protected channels.

In the case of the new information on the complaint filed by Yevgeny Vindman, these were serious violations of rules that he was required to report. In fact, failure to report these violations would have made Vindman subject to punishment. His concerns included passing along what he called “reasonable and in good faith concerns” about the phone call that Donald Trump placed to the president of Ukraine on July 25, 2019. But much of what he sent to the DOD was not directly connected to Trump’s phone call, or even to the broader attempt to suborn false allegations against Joe Biden.

Several complaints concerned Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs Robert O’Brien. Specifically, Vindman raised concerns that:

  • O’Brien, along with National Security Counsel (NSC) Chief of Staff Alex Gray, “engaged in demeaning and demoralizing sexist behavior against … female NSC professionals” including comments on their appearance and excluding women from meetings.
  • O’Brien was using government resources for his personal business, traveled for personal business on the government dime, used government staff to perform personal errands, and became “agitated and angry” when informed that he shouldn’t be accepting gifts from private entities related to his role in government.

Yevgeny Vindman’s complaint details violations committed by White House officials that he personally witnessed, as well as events that he was informed about as a legal advisor to the NSC. As a result of what he was seeing, Vindman wrote a note to the DOD saying: “I remain gravely concerned that the climate in the NSC is toxic and that leadership does not have regard for rules and standards. If this situation persists, personnel will depart and national security will be harmed.” 

In short, Yevgeny Vindman appeared to understand the importance of allowing laws and regulations  to govern the behavior of those working for the government. O’Brien and others at the Trump White House did not. 

The result of Vindman providing what was supposed to be protected information following the actual law had a definite result—but not on the people violating the law. Here’s Yevgeny Vindman’s review from just before Trump’s phone call to Ukraine.

Yevgeny is the epitome of an Army officer and lawyer. He is a hardworking, disciplined, tough-minded team player who manifests the Army Values. He is unremittingly honest in delivering legal advice, without concern of repercussions. Yev does the right thing and is approachable and personable. … Yev is a top 1% military attorney and officer and the best LTC with whom I have ever worked. Functioning at the executive level, he advises White House senior staff with skill, tact, and judgment on matters of geostrategic importance. Sought by White House staff regularly, he can do any job in the legal field under unusual and constant pressure and scrutiny. Select now for Senior Service College and promote immediately to Colonel. Absolutely unlimited potential!

Here is the evaluation that Yevgeny Vindman received just eight months later.

During the prior reporting period and early portions of the reporting period, LTC Vindman performed his duties satisfactorily. Over time, LTC Vindman displayed increasingly poor judgment and failed to learn from his mistakes. On multiple occasions,his unprofessional demeanor made NSC staff feel uncomfortable. Despite express guidance from his supervisor, he continued to add himself to meetings with senior NSC staff where he did not add value. LTC Vindman’s substandard performance—his lack of judgment, failure to communicate well with his superiors, and inability to differentiate between legal and policy decisions—caused him to lose the trust of NSC senior leadership. … With additional counseling and experience, LTC Vindman’s performance may improve. He would benefit from additional experience in a slower paced work environment subject to less pressure and scrutiny. In time, he may become a better attorney

It shouldn’t be surprising that everyone who had already ignored all the other rules also ignored the rules about retaliating against information that was relayed in what was supposed to be a protected space, by someone who was trying to explain the importance of being consistent and honest.

The two evaluations actually say the same thing: Vindman is “unremittingly honest in delivering legal advice, without concern of repercussions.” The only thing that changed was the people getting the advice.

Trump ordered officials to find some reason to deny Vindman’s promotion—they found nothing

The early retirement of Lt. Colonel Alexander Vindman isn’t the largest story in a nation racked by a deadly pandemic, a fragmented economy, and an ongoing fight to restructure public safety in the face of racial violence by police. No one died in this story. No one was locked in a detention center. No one was pulled before a kangaroo court.

But as more details emerge on Vindman’s final months in the U. S. military, his story does seem to encapsulate so many themes of the last three years. In part that’s because Vindman’s story is the American story—an immigrant who demonstrated that, in America, he could be accepted right in the heart of the government for his expertise. In part that’s because Vindman so clearly placed his bet on honesty and patriotism, trusting in the story of America that America tells itself. And in part it’s because Vindman’s story is the story of Donald Trump’s America, where nothing is more important than vengeance.

Vindman wasn’t kicked out of the military and he wasn’t facing charges—it was just clear that he was facing a future of … no future. The promotion he was due to receive this summer was not going to happen. Worse still, it was made clear to him that his lifetime of experience in working on issues related to Ukraine, Russia, and Eastern Europe was now worthless, because he was not going to be allowed to work in this area. Instead, what Vindman faced was a future of make-work positions, deliberately structured to make it clear both to him, and everyone else, that he was just marking time without the potential for further achievements.

That’s not a unique situation. It’s exactly the kind of thing that happens to many in the military when they’ve done something wrong. Captains who lose a ship, commanders who make a huge tactical mistake, anyone suspected of a crime that can never be quite nailed down … they can end up with a few key words in their files, a “black spot” that’s obvious every time they’re up for promotion or assignment. Facing a lifetime of zero potential and unfulfilling assignments, resignation is the expected response. Those who don’t resign right away, soon realize just how cold it can be within the military when the chain of command turns its back.

The thing is that Vindman got such a black spot without doing anything wrong. As The New Yorker reports, Vindman’s colleagues and supervisors had nothing but praise. 

When he went in front of the House to testify in Trump’s impeachment, Vindman began with an opening statement for the ages, one that underscored both his commitment to the nation, and his belief in the character of America. “Dad, my sitting here today in the U.S. Capitol, talking to our elected officials, is proof that you made the right decision, forty years ago, to leave the Soviet Union and come here to the United States of America, in search of a better life for our family. Do not worry—I will be fine for telling the truth.”

In these faded times, it might have almost seemed as if Vindman was being ironic. However, his former boss Fiona Hill makes it clear that the moving statement was exactly as honest as it seemed. “Alex had no clue,” said Hill. “He’s a distinguished soldier and was not involved in politics. He was prepared to deal with the enemy outside, but not when the enemy was within. He was pretty shocked as it played out.”

After being escorted out of the White House, Vindman was slated to be promoted to full colonel, go to the National War College for a season, then return to a foreign posting. None of that happened. Because the White House made it clear that Trump opposed Vindman’s promotion. 

Instead, White House officials informed Defense Secretary Mark Esper and Secretary of the Army Ryan McCarthy that they should “dig for misconduct” and find something in Vindman’s record that would justify blocking his promotion. Esper and McCarthy dug. They didn’t find anything.

It didn’t matter. Vindman was made aware that he would not be promoted, and “never be deployable overseas again.” He took the route that many have taken in the past and left under his own power.

It’s a personal tragedy for a man who should have had another decade or more of contributing to the future of the nation he loved. It’s a national tragedy in that it clearly shows how Trump is willing to use his power to quash the lives of honorable people who have the temerity to believe that America is what America claims to be.

Cartoon: A blast from the not-so-distant past: Vindman’s Ukraine

Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman announced he was retiring from the military this week so I thought it would be a good time to reprise this “classic” animation. It now seems like forever ago, but remember Vindman? He was the decorated Army officer who helped blow the lid off President Trump’s Ukraine quid pro quo that led the House to impeach our corrupt president.

Vindman has suffered through a White House “campaign of bullying, intimidation and retaliation” and sees no future for himself in the military. Here is your blast from the not-so-distant past . . .  

With Democrats increasing the impeachment pressure, of course President Trump and his supporters would go after a decorated combat veteran who was a refugee. Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman was more concerned with his Commander-in-Chief pressuring another nation to go after a political rival than falling into the required Trumpian lock-step.

Surely the Ukraine expert in the White House must be a spy because he speaks Ukranian and fled the country when he was three — you know, to begin his life as a double agent laying in wait for the Very Stable Genius. We shouldn’t be surprised that Trump and crew go after someone who has literally shed blood for their country. Just ask the McCain family or Khizr Kahn.

As the Democrats vote for impeachment and the process heats up, Trump and his supporters are going to get more and more extreme, more nuts. I just hope impeachment happens before the nuts go too far. Enjoy the cartoon, which you would have already seen — along with behind-the-scenes goodies — if you were one of my Patreon supporters!

Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman did his duty to the nation, and now he’s being forced out of the military

While John Bolton sat back and contemplated his huge book advance, and even larger supply of personal cowardice, those who had served under him demonstrated both bravery and dedication to the Constitution in coming forward to testify in the impeachment of Donald J. Trump. The two most critical witnesses of the entire event may have been Dr. Fiona Hill, who testified to how Trump suborned the foreign policy  of the United States to “a domestic political errand” and Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, who made it clear that Trump and others were promoting “a false and alternative narrative of Ukraine” and that Trump’s call to the Ukrainian president had generated serious concern.

In his opening statement before the House, Vindman sent a touching reassurance to his father. "Dad, my sitting here today, in the U.S. Capitol talking to our elected officials, is proof that you made the right decision forty years ago to leave the Soviet Union and come here to United States of America in search of a better life for our family. Do not worry, I will be fine for telling the truth." However, even though he was slated for promotion this month, Vindman has now announced he is leaving the military. Because Donald Trump is determined to prove that the United States can be just as bad as the Soviet Union.

After over 21 years of service, Vindman was slated to be promoted to full colonel. However, there were concerns that Trump—who had Vindman both reassigned and escorted forcibly from the White House—might interfere. In normal times, this shouldn’t be a concern. However, these are anything but normal times, and considering that Trump had already acted against Vindman’s twin brother, even though he did not testify, the idea of Lt. Col. Vindman being persecuted for doing his duty both as a military officer and a citizen seemed a pretty good bet. 

Earlier this month, a purge got underway at the Defense Department as Trump flushed career officials and military officers who were seen as more loyal to anything, Constitution included, than to Trump. This included the removal of the top official overseeing international security, Kathryn Wheelbarger, and acting comptroller Elaine McCusker. Their crime was only that they had a “good relationship” with former general Jim Mattis. But now that Mattis is on Trump’s enemies list, so is everyone associated with him.

Considering that even guilt by association was enough to doom others, it shouldn’t be that surprising that CNN is now reporting that “military officials have communicated to Vindman that the White House has sought to become involved in the promotion process.” Vindman has also been told that he is “no longer deployable” in his area of expertise. So, rather than stay around,  Vindman is retiring. In a statement from his attorney, the lieutenant colonel says that he has been subject to a "campaign of bullying, intimidation, and retaliation" directed by Trump since the impeachment. 

Vindman may be leaving now, but he should be going with the admiration of a nation—and a promise from Joe Biden that when Trump is gone, the military will once again have room for those who have demonstrated true personal bravery.

Lt. Col. Vindman is up for promotion, but everyone is presuming Trump will just be corrupt again

Most Americans last heard of Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman when Donald Trump had both him and his uninvolved twin brother forcibly escorted out of the White House in overt retaliation for Vindman's testimony to House impeachment investigators. Vindman spoke of what he personally witnessed in the Trump White House's effort to extort the Ukrainian government into producing "dirt" on Trump's election opponent before releasing congressionally mandated aid for the war-torn country. It was one of Trump's first acts of vengeance against those that testified against him, after being immunized from lawbreaking by the Republican-led Senate.

Now Lt. Col. Vindman is up for promotion, to full colonel, and according to The Washington Post the question hanging over the Pentagon is whether Trump will once again reach down to retaliate against Vindman, turning the usual promotion process into yet another example of the fascist man-child's use of government as a tool to protect and enable his own lawbreaking.

The Post's article is mostly speculative, with senior officials and the Pentagon expressing concern that once the normally noncontroversial list of hundreds of promotions hits the White House and Senate for confirmation, Trump will create new military controversy by making the move. Nobody believes Trump to be above it. Nobody is seriously pretending, at this point, that Trump has not been using his office to personally retaliate against impeachment witnesses, whistleblowers, investigators, and anyone else who he believes has improperly challenged his absolute authority to do crimes.

Everybody knows Trump is a sack of crap. Everybody knows he has no impulse control to call on, even if it would be in his interest to not do the overly corrupt thing. It's a given. The question, then, is whether his staff can perhaps jingle some keys or whatnot for long enough for the promotion process to go by as it normally does, unimpeded. Perhaps show him a new “antifa" mug, get him riled about that. Perhaps tell him that a fictitious world leader from a fictitious country called him a “poopyhead,” something sure to set him off for two weeks and render him unable to function as anything but short-thumbed tweet machine.

But this seems unlikely, and the subtext of the Post's speculation and sources is that all involved are so dreading having this battle that the promotion roster itself miiiight have been delayed while everyone involved steeled themselves for it, or might have only been delayed for the more prosaic reason of, you know, Trump so f--king up the response to a worldwide pandemic that even the United States military is unable to perform its usual functions at full capacity, while a "senior defense official" tells the Post that actually there was no delay at all, which doesn't seem like the kind of assertion you'd normally insist on being anonymous to pipe up with.

So we'll see. Will Trump take the opportunity to avoid even one new clusterf--k, even as the military reels from what was very close to a direct order to attack American citizens in Washington, D.C. streets? The odds say ... no.

John Kelly defends Vindman for doing ‘exactly’ the right thing in response to an illegal order

For better than a year, John Kelly played the role of chief of staff for Donald Trump, during which time he was the designated the “adult in the room” who would supposedly keep Trump’s bad-baby behavior under control. That went so well. Kelly, who spent the six months before that running Homeland Security and turning the Border Patrol into a meaner and also a meaner force, was apparently unhappy during those White House days. But he could keep quiet for the sake of the children … that he put in cages.

Since then, Kelly has sat out any number of outrages. But it seems that in the post-impeachment world, as Trump is systematically disassembling the vestiges of the Justice Department and sending a key witness in his impeachment proceedings, Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, off to somewhere so that “the military can do what they want” to him, Kelly has reached the point of being concerned enough to speak up—just like everyone else who leaves Trump’s White House and speaks out only when it can’t do a damn bit of good.

During his time sitting outside Trump’s office door, Kelly was often described as angry at some Trump policy, or frustrated by his inability to control Trump’s chaotic behavior, or infuriated by Trump’s willingness to listen to anyone who praised him, even when they didn’t have a clue about the facts. But the only effect of that anger seemed to be that for much of his time in office, Kelly was something less than a figurehead. He and Trump seemed to rarely talk, and policies were made without his knowledge or presence.

Now that he’s borrowed Susan Collins’ wagging finger of concern, Kelly has quite a few items on his list. As The Atlantic reports, Kelly spoke to students and guests at Drew University in New Jersey for over an hour, laying out concerns about

Trump’s personal relationship with Vladimir Putin and how it shaped U.S. policy with regard to Russia. Trump’s personal relationship with Kim Jong Un and how it shaped U.S. policy with regard to North Korea. Trump’s intervention in military discipline to pardon service members accused of war crimes. Trump’s absolute fixation on building a border wall and how it shaped policy with regard to Mexico and Central America.

On that last point, Kelly also expressed concern about about the language and tactics Trump used in his immigration policy, including calling all immigrants rapists. Which was very much not an apology for his role in the whole system.

However, one topic on which Kelly was particularly vocal was Trump’s actions against Vindman. Kelly praised the Army colonel, saying that Vindman did just what he was supposed to do when he reported his concerns about Trump’s call to the Ukrainian president. As The Hill reported, Kelly painted Vindman’s actions as just what would be expected of a good officer. “He did exactly what we teach them to do from cradle to grave,” said Kelly. “He went and told his boss what he just heard.”

Kelly described what Trump has said was a “perfect call” as a fundamental change in the relationship between the United States and Ukraine. Until that point, starting during the Obama administration, the United States had a policy of supporting Ukraine in its fight against Russia. With that call, Trump predicated that support on getting a personal political advantage.

“We teach them, don’t follow an illegal order.” said Kelly. “And if you’re ever given one, you’ll raise it to whoever gives it to you that this is an illegal order, and then tell your boss.”

But, of course, John Kelly is just one of “Trump’s generals”—the group that Trump used to give himself a semblance of credibility during his first days in office. All of them have since been disposed of, and Kelly’s words are likely to have all the sting of a tongue-lashing from James Mattis, or … Pufnstuf? Something like that.

Trump doesn’t need generals anymore. Or laws. But he may learn something from Kelly—that it’s time to get rid of the idea of an illegal order. When it comes from Trump, it can’t be illegal.

National security adviser O’Brien claims Vindman’s removal wasn’t retaliation. Trump disagrees

One good measure of how very, very far down an unpleasant rabbit hole the nation has plunged is simply this: John Bolton’s time as national security adviser now seems not so awful. Sure, Bolton is a paranoid warmonger who never met a bomb he didn’t like. On the other hand, he did seem to have some concerns other than whether he was making Donald Trump happy in every moment. When it comes to new national security adviser Robert O’Brien, the best that can be said is that he seems to be … unencumbered by ethics.

On Tuesday, not only did O’Brien embrace xenophobic Twitter conspiracy theories that the coronavirus outbreak in China might be a bioweapon, but he also claimed that the removal of both Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman and his twin brother from the National Security Council was not retaliation for Vindman’s testimony during House impeachment hearings against Donald Trump. But this seems like a time when O’Brien should be reading Twitter. Because that claim is absolutely counter to what Trump has openly admitted.

O’Brien’s claims about Vindman came at the same venue where he made his chuckling suggestion that China might have created a virus that has now infected over 40,000 of its own citizens, a discussion at the Atlantic Council think tank. During that discussion, The Wall Street Journal reports, O’Brien claimed that he could “absolutely” say that the Vindman brothers were “not retaliated against.” Instead, said O’Brien, it was simply “time for them to go back” to the Army, because “their services were no longer needed.”

Alexander Vindman was the White House’s top expert on Ukraine, including on its governmental affairs and its military concerns. Clearly Trump no longer needs that expertise. He has Rudy Giuliani to fill that role. Yevgeny Vindman’s role on the NSC was as an expert on international law and ethics. So … clearly a superfluous position in the Trump White House.

Of course, Trump has given a different reason for the removal of Alexander Vindman, calling him a “never Trumper” and saying that he was “very insubordinate” for responding to a congressional subpoena and reporting his concerns about the plot to extort Ukraine. In an appearance on Tuesday, Trump told reports that Vindman had “reported a false call,” without explaining what he meant by this. And rather than just saying that Vindman had returned to the Army, Trump said that he had been sent “to a much different location” where “the military can handle him any way they want.” Which makes it seem much more like Vindman is on his way to Abu Ghraib than to the Pentagon. Trump went on to suggest that Vindman should face “disciplinary action” for the crime of testifying—a statement that made a heartbreaking lie of Vindman’s assurance to his father that in America, he could come to no harm for telling the truth.

Even O’Brien’s claim that the Vindman brothers had been sent home after completing their time at the White House only lasted a few more sentences, before the new national security adviser retreated to the phrase that Trump supporters have been using to justify the firing of qualified staffers since the day Trump began his occupation: “At the end of the day,” said O’Brien, “the president is entitled to staffers that want to execute his policies and he has confidence in.”

There’s been little doubt from day one, and absolutely no doubt since the acquittal vote in the Senate, that what’s meant by this is that Trump will not tolerate anyone who presents the least obstacle to corruption. O’Brien seems safe on this point.

And O’Brien might even have an excuse for passing on Twitter-based conspiracy theories about the origin of the Corvid-19 virus: On a National Security Council so depleted of resources that only those loyal to Trump remain, conspiracy theories from the back side of the web might be the best intelligence available.