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

Russia

Vladimir Putin

First came the phony referendums; then came the phony annexation; then came the very real re-taking by Ukraine of the strategic hub Lyman, lying within the “annexed” territories; then came a prominent Russian leader threatening the use of tactical nuclear weapons; then came another Ukrainian victory in an area held by Russian military forces near Kherson in the South; and then came a new Ukrainian push, taking the village of Torske on the main road leading east out of Lyman.

It's been a busy few days in Ukraine, and reports from the front indicate it’s going to get even busier. The Ukrainian offensive in Kherson has taken more land in the area “annexed” by Russia last week, ignoring Vladimir Putin’s threat that he won’t stand for what he calls “New Russia” being attacked by Ukraine.

Putin’s threats are pure bullshit and contrast with the facts on the ground in Ukraine, where his army is in retreat, and his own political standing in Russia, where his back is against the wall from both left and right.

Ramzan Kadyrov, the leader of Russia's southern Chechnya region and a close ally of Putin’s, hasn’t been happy with the performance of the Russian army in Ukraine for quite a while. Just before Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky addressed his country by video announcing the gains in the east and south, Kadyrov went on Telegram to proclaim, "In my personal opinion, more drastic measures should be taken, right up to the declaration of martial law in the border areas and the use of low-yield nuclear weapons.”

Putin is facing increased opposition from arch-conservative supporters of his war as well as continued, if quieter, opposition from the left. Right-wing so-called “war bloggers,” some of whom are embedded with Russian units in Ukraine, have complained steadily of late about their troops on the front lines, shortage of ammunition, food, medical supplies, and their lack of discipline and morale. Their complaints were shown to be accurate in Ukraine’s rout of Lyman. Russian forces abandoned tanks, armored personnel carriers, mobile howitzers, and ammunition stores as they fled from the Ukrainian advance to the east of Kharkiv.

Reuters reported that Kadyrov called the commander of Russian forces in Lyman a “mediocrity who should be stripped of his medals and sent to the front.” He claimed to have warned the Russian army chief Valery Gerasimov of “a looming disaster” in Lyman, according to Reuters. Russia had used Lyman, a major rail hub in the region, as the central location of its resupply efforts in the Luhansk province of the north Donbas region.


Map by George Barros, Kateryna Stepanenko, Noel Mikkelsen, Daniel Mealie, and Will Kielm2022 by Institute for the Study of War and AEI's Critical Threats Project


Re-taking Lyman is an important psychological boost for Ukraine and a strategic victory in its campaign to re-take the Luhansk and Donetsk provinces of the Donbas, which Russia has held since early in the war.

In the south, Ukrainian media have shown troops raising Ukrainian flags over the village of Khreshchenivka, west and a little north of Kherson itself, according to the Associated Press. Ukraine’s army has been using American-supplied HIMARS rocket systems to hit a bridge over the Dnipro River in Kherson and has been attacking pontoon bridges used by Russian forces to resupply their troops on the west bank of the Dnipro, the AP reported.

Russia used a suicide drone to strike Zelensky’s hometown of Krivyi Rih, destroying two floors of a school on Sunday. The Ukrainian Air Force said that it had shot down five Iranian-made drones. Two others made it through Ukrainian air defenses, according to the AP, which reported that not all accounts of Ukrainian military activity could be verified.

The Ukrainian victory in Lyman came just one day after Putin held a rally in Moscow to celebrate his fake annexation of four regions of eastern Ukraine. In an unhinged speech on Friday, Putin had described Lyman as part of “Novorossiya.” He was talking about a sliver of Ukraine he claimed as part of Russia’s “historic heartland.” Russia is the world’s largest country, spanning 11 time zones, not including Ukraine, although Putin has asserted control of eastern Ukraine’s time of day as well, including it within the westernmost time zone of Russia.

The New York Times reported that “Yevgeny Primakov, the head of a government agency managing ties with Russians abroad, wrote on Telegram that ‘we have given a Russian city to the enemy’ for the first time since World War II.”

Boo-fucking-hoo, Yevgeny.

Lucian K. Truscott IV, a graduate of West Point, has had a 50-year career as a journalist, novelist, and screenwriter. He has covered Watergate, the Stonewall riots, and wars in Lebanon, Iraq, and Afghanistan. He is also the author of five bestselling novels. You can subscribe to his daily columns at luciantruscott.substack.com and follow him on Twitter @LucianKTruscott and on Facebook at Lucian K. Truscott IV.

Reprinted with permission from Lucian Truscott Newsletter

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Tucker Carlson

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Fox News host Tucker Carlson’s dubious allegation that the United States sabotaged a natural gas pipeline between Russia and Germany as part of a sinister “escalation” of Russia’s war with Ukraine echoed the Kremlin’s own propagandists. Carlson’s report is now getting substantial attention from Russian state TV, which is promoting his theory — and his suggestion for how Russia could strike back at U.S. interests in light of the supposed attack.

On Monday, “two powerful underwater explosions” damaged the Nord Stream 1 and Nord Stream 2 pipelines. While the former had been shut down by Russia in August and the latter never became operational, both contained pressurized gas which is now leaking into the Baltic Sea. The international consensus is that the pipelines were sabotaged, with U.S. and European Union officials suggesting Russia is behind the explosions.

But the Kremlin, in turn, is suggesting that the U.S. sabotaged the pipelines, latching on to a since-deleted Tuesday tweet from Radek Sikorski, a Polish E.U. parliamentarian, which stated, “Thank you, USA,” alongside a photo of the leak. On social media, a Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson immediately questioned whether Sikorski’s tweet was an “official statement that this was a terrorist attack,” while another Russian official likewise thanked Sikorski for “making it crystal clear who stands behind this terrorist-style targeting of civilian infrastructure!” Russian state media outlet RT quickly amplified their theorizing under the headline “U.S. praised for Nord Stream explosion.”


Carlson’s coverage of the crisis created by Russia’s February invasion of Ukraine generally aligns with the Kremlin’s preferred narratives, to the point where Russian state media outlets, following their government’s explicit instructions, regularly air clips from his program.

That is what happened following the apparent sabotage of the Nord Stream pipelines.

Just hours after Russian officials floated the narrative that the U.S. was responsible for damaging the pipelines, Carlson adopted it as his own.

Describing the ruptures as an “act of industrial terrorism,” Carlson quickly dispatched with the notion that Russia or its dictator, Vladimir Putin, might be involved. According to Carlson, Putin “would not do that” and would have to be “a suicidal moron to blow up your own energy pipeline.”

Instead, Carlson strongly suggested that the U.S. had sabotaged the pipelines. “If they did this, this will be one of the craziest, most destructive things any American administration has ever done,” he said. “But it would also be totally consistent with what they do. What do they do? They destroy.”

Carlson’s comically weak case revolved around two main pieces of evidence – Sikorski’s tweet, and a February statement from President Joe Biden that if Russia were to invade Ukraine, “there will be no longer a Nord Stream 2. We will bring an end to it.” That seems to very obviously reference what happened after Russia invaded – Germany froze the pipeline project, which has yet to become operational. But in Carlson’s typically dishonest translation, Biden “said ‘there won't be a Nord Stream 2. We'll put an end to it. Will take it out. Will blow it up.’”

On that scanty evidence, Carlson suggested that the U.S. had blown up an ally’s energy infrastructure. While on-screen text stated “Today’s escalation will have huge consequences,” Carlson asserted that “we've entered a new phase, one in which the United States is directly at war with the largest nuclear power in the world.” He added: “If we actually blew up the Nord Stream pipelines, why wouldn't Russia sever undersea internet cables? What would happen if they did that?"

It was inevitable that Carlson’s theory would spread through the right-wing media, given his influential role in that ecosystem. But it isn’t just the likes of Charlie Kirk rushing to follow him in blaming America.

Carlson’s monologue “entered heavy rotation” on Russian state TV, as The Washington Post’s Philip Bump noted on Thursday. Bump highlighted 12 different times that Russia’s Channel One, Russia1, and Russia24 networks had aired clips of Carlson highlighting his theory.

Julia Davis, a Russian media monitor and Daily Beast columnist, compiled and translated some of the segments. She noted that the Russian commentators seemed particularly interested in Carlson’s suggestion for how their state might retaliate for the supposed U.S. attack.


Reprinted with permission from Media Matters.