In Other News – Putin postures that the West is inciting the Ukraine war, Freedom of speech is under attack by both Russian and China, & More – 12/30/2021

December 30, 2021

Putin posturing that the West is inciting Ukraine war – threatens military action if NATO rejects terms. On December 23, under the pretext of defending Russia from the West, Russian President Vladimir Putin stated that the West, not Russia, was stoking the threat of war with on the Ukraine border. He said the West’s talk of “war, war, war,” could indicate that Kiev is the one preparing to attack in Russia-backed separatist territories in eastern Ukraine. Putin added that Kiev’s overtures towards the West represent a security threat to Russia. On December 26, Putin said that he will be forced to consider “numerous options, including a military response,” if NATO does not guarantee it will bar Ukraine from membership in the alliance. Putin also demanded the reduction of Western military deployments in Eastern Europe. Putin, whose remarks aired on Russian State TV, expressed concern that missiles could be deployed in Ukraine if the former Soviet satellite joins NATO. “We have nowhere to retreat,” Putin said. “They have pushed us to a line that we can’t cross.”

Despite having positioned more than 100,000 Russian troops on the Ukraine border, Putin is clearly attempting to shift the narrative, portraying what is viewed by many as the likely invasion of Ukraine as a defensive measure, provoked by the West, and necessary to protect Russia from an aggressive NATO alliance – the West has given him “no choice” but to advance into Ukraine. Putin has requested a call with President Biden, which is now scheduled to take place Thursday afternoon. In addition, U.S. and Russian officials are scheduled to hold security talks on Jan. 10, with broader meetings to include other European countries Jan. 12 and 13. For Putin, his fictional narrative serves to both lay the groundwork for wrenching concessions from NATO, and publicly justify the invasion of Ukraine to the Russian people and the world.

Ukraine, once again, charges a former leader with helping Russia. Former Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, who came to power in 2014 as war loomed with Russia, has now been accused by Ukrainian authorities of treason. Despite his very public nationalist stance against Moscow at the time, the current Ukrainian Attorney General has now accused Poroshenko of working on behalf of Russia and thwarting Ukrainian efforts to buy coal on the world market. According to the Prosecutor General, after Russia had seized parts of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions, Ukraine was on the brink of an energy crisis and tried to buy coal from South Africa. It is alleged Poroshenko, on behalf of Russia, created artificial obstacles to prevent that purchase, and Ukraine ended up buying coal from a supplier with ties to Russia.

In 2019, Poroshenko lost his bid for reelection to Volodymyr Zelensky, and now Zelensky’s government is going after Poroshenko. The Ukrainian people have seen this before, however, as Poroshenko’s government went after his political opponent, Yulia Tymoshenko, using similar allegations. The current charges are viewed skeptically by many, as they believe Zelensky is targeting Poroshenko for purely political reasons. For others, Poroshenko is a traitor. Regardless of whom is to be believed, the political division adds to the instability created by Russian troops massing on the border.

Democracy and freedom of speech under attack by both China and Russia. Stand News – a pro-democracy website in Hong Kong – was closed Wednesday after its offices were raided by Hong Kong police. Six current and former staff and board members of the site were arrested and face up to two years in prison. Stand News has since announced it has closed and dismissed all employees. A Hong Kong police official said Stand News was raided because it had published multiple “seditious” articles in 2020 and 2021. The last pro-democracy newspaper with physical distribution in Hong Kong was closed in June under similar circumstances by the increasingly less semi-autonomous city’s government. Beijing has been asserting significantly more control over Hong Kong in recent months, and this is yet another example of China’s increasingly oppressive influence, and continued efforts to silence pro-democracy voices.

The shutdown of Stand News was coincident with Putin’s continued repression of free speech and human rights in Russia, as on Tuesday, the Russian Supreme Court ordered a prominent human rights group to disband. The court issued the Order to “Memorial” – an organization that has worked to preserve the records of political repression during the Soviet era. Prosecutors filed suit against the group in November, and the court accepted prosecutors’ allegations that the human rights group had received funding from foreign organizations. Memorial has now been labeled as a “foreign agent” by the Russian government. Other groups and media outlets critical of Russian authorities have received the same designation. Supporters gathered in and outside the courtroom chanted “Disgrace” as the ruling was issued. The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights expressed “strong concern” about the case last month, however the UN’s concerns were ignored. Despite public criticism, China and Russia’s ongoing suppression of dissent and human rights will likely continue unabated for the foreseeable future.