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Monday, December 09, 2019 {{ new Date().getDay() }}

By Carol J. Williams, Los Angeles Times

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Wednesday accused the United States of orchestrating the Ukraine crisis for geopolitical gain and warned that Russia will “certainly respond” if its interests in Ukraine are attacked.

In an interview with state-run Russia Today television, Lavrov linked Vice President Joe Biden’s visit to Kiev on Tuesday to the Ukrainian government’s resumption of efforts to oust pro-Russia gunmen holding police stations and government buildings in a dozen towns and cities in eastern Ukraine.

The “anti-terrorist operation” launched by the interim government in Kiev last week was suspended over the Easter holiday weekend to allow the armed factions occupying key government facilities to consider an offer of amnesty to those who lay down their arms and surrender the seized buildings.

None of the occupations has ceased despite an agreement reached in Geneva last week obliging Russia to use its influence with the armed factions.

Acting Ukrainian President Oleksandr Turchynov announced Wednesday that the Ukrainian military operations to recover the occupied facilities had resumed. The announcement followed the discovery of two bodies believed to be victims of torture and killing by the pro-Russia gunmen holding Slovyansk. One of the dead was reported to be a Slovyansk city official loyal to the Ukrainian government who was last seen being roughed up by the occupying gunmen.

Kiev officials as well as U.S. and European leaders have accused Moscow of instigating the armed confrontations in eastern Ukraine, where some of the gunmen wear Russian military uniforms and carry Russian army-issued rifles.

“It’s quite telling that they chose the moment of the vice president of the United States’ visit to announce the resumption of this operation,” Lavrov said. He also noted that the moves against the militants aligned with Russia began “immediately after (CIA Director) John Brennan’s visit to Kiev” the previous week.

“Ukraine is just one manifestation of the American unwillingness to yield in the geopolitical fight,” Lavrov said. “Americans are not ready to admit that they cannot run the show in each and every part of the globe from Washington alone.”

Lavrov referred to the Kiev government as “coup-appointed” and described Turchynov’s order for resumption of the mission to liberate the seized eastern facilities as “a criminal act” being waged at the direction of Washington.

“There is no reason not to believe that the Americans are running the show,” Lavrov said of the unrest that has beset Ukraine since November, when protesters took to the streets of Kiev and other major cities in western Ukraine in anger at former President Viktor Yanukovich’s decision to abandon an economic alliance pact with the European Union.

The protests escalated into a three-month rebellion against Yanukovich, who eventually fled Kiev in late February and took refuge in Russia. The Kremlin has refused to recognize the current interim government as legitimate or authorized to make decisions for the country.

Lavrov cast the confrontations in eastern Ukraine as a similar challenge to Russian security as in the brief 2008 war with Georgia over its breakaway South Ossetia region. Russian forces invaded South Ossetia after Georgia sent troops to regain control of territory occupied by pro-Russia rebels.

“Russian citizens being attacked is an attack against the Russian Federation,” Lavrov warned in the television interview. “If we are attacked, we would certainly respond. If our interests, our legitimate interests, the interests of Russians have been attacked directly, like they were in South Ossetia for example, I do not see any other way but to respond in accordance with international law.”

Russian President Vladimir Putin has claimed what he insists is an obligation to protect Russians under threat anywhere and used that pretext to invade, seize and annex Ukraine’s Crimea territory within weeks of the ouster of Yanukovich, a Kremlin ally.

Lavrov did not make clear what Moscow would consider as an attack on its interests but similarly vague warnings preceded the Crimea takeover.

Photo via Sergei L. Loiko/Los Angeles Times/MCT

This just in: There's no wizard behind the curtain, and nobody's actually in charge. There's no shadowy cabal of billionaires scheming to bring about one-world government. To begin with, nobody clever enough to accumulate that much money believes that such a thing is A.) remotely possible, or B.) even desirable.

If the world seems scary and confusing, that's because it's scarier and more confusing than usual of late, although nowhere near as frightening as it was to Grandpa. Here's the opening stanza of W.H. Auden's great poem, September 1, 1939:

I sit in one of the dives
On Fifty-second Street
Uncertain and afraid
As the clever hopes expire
Of a low dishonest decade:
Waves of anger and fear
Circulate over the bright
And darkened lands of the earth,
Obsessing our private lives;
The unmentionable odour of death
Offends the September night.

Auden wrote to commemorate that terrible day Hitler and Stalin invaded Poland, triggering World War II, the most cataclysmic struggle in human history. Some 70 to 85 million people, military and civilian, died before it was over.

(The Soviet Union lost an estimated 24 million citizens. So if Russian leadership seems unduly paranoid and defensive, it's worth remembering that they do have their reasons.)

That said, the COVID pandemic's "unmentionable odour of death" appears to have driven many Americans to embrace preposterous conspiracy theories that provide simple storybook explanations for otherwise incomprehensible events.

Amid the devastating wildfires in Oregon last week, for example, the FBI needed to debunk rumors that the disaster was caused by left-wing arsonists. The agency's Portland office posted a statement on Twitter stating that "the FBI has investigated several such reports and found them to be untrue."

Finding their own operations hampered by armed crackpots eager to hunt down imaginary terrorists, one rural Oregon Sheriff's Department posted a Facebook notice: "Rumors spread just like wildfire and now our 9-1-1 dispatchers and professional staff are being overrun with requests for information and inquiries on an UNTRUE rumor that 6 Antifa members have been arrested for setting fires in DOUGLAS COUNTY, OREGON. THIS IS NOT TRUE! Unfortunately, people are spreading this rumor and it is causing problems."

Would-be vigilantes also got excited about radio transmissions about the BLM setting backfires, unaware that the initials signified the Bureau of Land Management, not Black Lives Matter.

New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof, back home in Yamhill, Oregon seeing after his mother, expressed his frustration with Boss Trump, who "rushed to send in unwanted federal agents to deal with protests and trash fires in downtown Portland, but…seems indifferent when millions of acres and thousands of homes burn across the West."

Oregonians are not alone. Elsewhere, reporters have documented a wave of barely subdued hysteria sweeping the nation regarding busloads of Antifa operatives rumored to be targeting towns from Idaho to New Jersey--invasions that have proven totally imaginary.

Trump and Attorney General William Barr have even spoken of designating ANTIFA a terrorist organization. Alas, writes Rutgers University historian Mark Bray in the Washington Post "Trump cannot designate "ANTIFA" as a terrorist organization because antifa is not an organization. Rather, it is a politics of revolutionary opposition to the far right…You cannot subpoena an idea or a movement."

Mostly an academic movement at that: graduate students and other university-affiliated types blowing off steam. If Antifa's a real threat, who are its leaders? Where's its headquarters? Who's paying those phantom arsonists?

The questions answers itself: Nobody.

Then there's QAnon, the metastasizing conspiracy theory that's grown into a full-blown cult. Initiates believe that beneath his blustering exterior Trump's actually a sort of elephantine Batman, secretly battling a "deep state" cabal of Satan-worshiping pedophiles led by Hillary Clinton and the actor Tom Hanks.

Also Oprah Winfrey, Bill Gates and a number of other Hollywood figures. Believers have predicted Clinton's impending arrest more often than my brother Tommy has forecasted the Mets winning the World Series.

Which did happen 34 years ago.

Hillary's arrest? Oh grow up.

Some dope named Jason Gelinas in Berkeley Heights, N.J. recently got outed as the "brains" behind the main QAnon website—possibly as the Prophet Q himself. His employer, Citigroup, fired him, and he's not talking to reporters.

Historians point out the QAnon is basically a reprise of the century-old Russian forgery "The Protocols of the Elders of Zion." Then it was Europe's Jews who allegedly murdered Christian children to consume their blood at Passover—the infamous "Blood Libel." Jews also secretly ran the banks, the government, and the news media. Their diabolical plan was to "mongrelize" the white race and conquer the world.

Which leads us back to 1939 and the Holocaust.

So what does Boss Trump think about this delusional nonsense? Asked about QAnon, the portly superhero said only that "I understand ... they like me very much, which I appreciate. These are people who love their country."