This will be the roughest and readiest of Ready Rooms. What I want to focus on is insights readers may not have gleaned from elsewhere on two important topics.
The first is Russia and Ukraine, and on that topic the initial observation must be that the subject is being comprehensively suppressed on Twitter, and may be on Google as well. I can tell what’s being suppressed on Twitter, as I’m posting some of it and watching the reach of others’ tweets, as well as mine, be throttled. Popular tweeps on the matter are posting updates and links, and the number of “likes” and retweets is abysmal, far below what you’d normally see.
If we were to read something into that, it would seem to be that someone expects something to happen soon. But that’s an educated guess, one that assumes it’s not Russia throttling the Twitter feed but Twitter, under direction from someone in the West (namely the U.S.).
It’s not clear why a Western entity – e.g., the U.S government – would want to keep tweets about Russian movements from being forwarded widely. It can’t be protecting Russia’s operational secrecy.
Surely it’s not an attempt to prevent any counter-narrative from starting against the supposed intelligence disclosure about Russia planning a false-flag operation in Ukraine. There’s no other way to say it than outright: that would just be stupid.
Certainly, moreover, such Twitter suppression wouldn’t keep Ukraine or Poland in the dark. Those nations in some ways have a better view of what’s happening than anyone else.
At any rate, the big news in the last 24 hours is that Russian weapon systems from Russia’s Eastern Military District (i.e., in the Russian Far East) have been moved into Belarus.
That puts big artillery, at the very least, on a second front vis-à-vis Ukraine. Tom Rogan has a nice map at the Washington Examiner.
As observed in my tweet pair above, the system specifically mentioned, the BM-27 Uragan multiple rocket launch system (MRLS), can just range Kyiv from the southernmost tip of Belarus. (At the outer edge of its range, or about 60 statute miles, its precision and effectiveness would be lower than at comfortably mid-range. It’s also conceivable, though I’ve seen no specific reporting suggesting it as a weapons development, that the BM-27 could shoot improved rockets with greater range.)
At the moment, I haven’t seen other systems named, or evidence of armor or infantry being moved into Belarus. Perhaps Belarus might contribute those elements to an invasion of Ukraine. But I consider it very doubtful that Putin plans to lead with a full-on, overt, multi-pronged invasion. Of a certainty, Russian won’t roll artillery all by itself into Ukraine from Belarus as part of an invasion.
Rather, as mentioned before, I think a proxy eruption in Donbas is Putin’s most likely move.
That would make the weapons gathering on the north and east borders of Ukraine a form of deterrence against Ukrainian national forces.
It would also prepare Russian forces to capitalize on weakness or yielding in Ukraine, or from NATO Europe.
A joint Russia-Belarus exercise has been announced for February, which would seem to afford an all-purpose pass to a greater military buildup.
Commentators have opined in recent days that Putin’s intention is to test how much he can get away with. Although incomplete and not hitting center mass as to his objectives, it’s a sound insight.
But I would put it this way. Putin will start with a proxy investment of Donbas (or something of that scope; Donbas is by far the most likely objective that fits the description) and see how much resistance he encounters. If it’s unimpressive, he’ll be prepared to take further advantage of that – if he chooses to. I’m not convinced he wants to occupy and regime-change all of Ukraine. It’s to his advantage to settle a limited-scope advance into Ukraine, make it a fait accompli such that he’s not getting constant, live pushback against it, and have the forces now arrayed against Ukraine available for use elsewhere.
If he can effectively cut off Kyiv’s unfettered access to the sea, and establish a presence level in Belarus that won’t go away for the time being, he can keep Ukraine in a box at relatively low cost. And he may be able to do that.
What Putin will not do is overextend the scope of his attempt. He will be conscious at every point of the strategic error it would be to have to retreat. His campaign profile will be about expanding or extending based on conditions, a decision he will make as those conditions develop.
A few additional points. One, it appears Russia is expelling some U.S. diplomatic personnel and embassy contractors from Moscow. There’s nothing to indicate the scope of this move; it follows the retaliatory expulsion of some U.S. diplomats back in December, and a general drawdown of American diplomats and government employees even earlier, which has left our consulates on life-support.
Making an additional move now looks related to something upcoming, at any rate.
One oddity, among the additional points. A British flight carrying weapons cargo on Monday skirted German air space entirely on its way to Ukraine. (Click through for a map showing the aircraft route.)
Think back to my point in the earlier post about Germany wanting to maintain a nationally independent negotiating position with Russia, while expressing solidarity with NATO. We don’t know why the Brits didn’t just fly across Germany (and no, the route on the map isn’t merely a great circle), but as tweep Omri Ceren hints, it raises questions about where Berlin will come down on the main issue.
Finally, the UK defense secretary, Ben Wallace, put up an essay on the situation with Russia and Ukraine which earned plaudits from the former president of Estonia, Toomas Hendrik Ilves (whom alert readers will remember as a close friend of George Soros, one of a select few from the nosebleed level of international politics invited to his wedding in 2013. Do a “find” on “Ilves” at the link to go directly to it in the long article. There are several links with more background).
Though I find much to agree with in Mr. Wallace’s article, what principally struck me is that it’s punditry, not policy, and as such, inadequate to the moment. That seems to be emblematic of Europe, the EU, NATO, and U.S. leadership at this heavily-freighted, risk-laden juncture.
Ilves is right that the article makes a well-crafted case against Russian talking points justifying preemptive action in Ukraine. But so what? That’s not what we need from NATO defense ministers or heads of government. What we need is concerted policy – a statement of interests, not just random threats and complaints – and that, we’re not getting. We’re having to guess why military cargo flights from the UK are skirting German air space, for crying out loud. A hand that isn’t being shown to the public is a bad basis for betting the farm, in any foreseeable contingency.
None dare call it the “A” word
A few words on the terror attack in Texas on Saturday, and the absurdly predictable failure of U.S. government agencies to acknowledge it promptly as a terror attack against Jews.
Most readers are probably familiar with the euphemism and evasion with which the media addressed the event. In a sarcastic mood, I included several of the most egregious editorial enormities on Saturday night (such as the eye-watering use of scare quotes to qualify the word “hostages” – the Guardian – as if there were some doubt that a gunman making political demands for the release of a terror convict while holding Jews at gunpoint inside a synagogue on the Sabbath had a textbook hostage situation going).
After a day of dithering on Sunday, the FBI apparently thought better of its original statement that the perp, Malik Faisal Akram, had a specific issue unconnected to the Jewish community.
The Bureau did come out and say it was treating the event as a terror attack targeting Jews.
I note in passing that technically, the FBI could be considered right in this sense: seeking the release of “Lady Al Qaeda” terrorist Aafia Siddiqui has nothing to do with Jews. Siddiqui was convicted of abetting attacks on Americans in Afghanistan.
But that very observation makes it even more obvious that taking Jews hostage in the signature setting of Jewish gatherings – a synagogue – is an antisemitic singling out of Jews.
A Sunday morning interview with one of the hostages confirmed that Akram, the gunman, regurgitated antisemitic-trope talking points during his time in the Beth Israel synagogue: tropes that matched the known rantings of Aafia Siddiqui (who famously demanded that her American jury be DNA-tested to exclude Jews).
The unanswered question now is how Akram was allowed to proceed from the UK, where he is a citizen, to the U.S. in early January. To no one’s surprise, he comes from a Deobandi community in Blackburn, UK (the Deobandi connection, recall, was prominent with the mass shooter in San Bernardino, California). As Daniel Greenfield recounts, Akram has been flagged for ranting about 9/11 and disrupting UK court operations with aggressive “advocacy” of release for terror detainees and convicts.
According to Indian media, Akram is a member of the Deobandi-like sect Tablighi Jamaat, which Saudi Arabia banned in December 2021.
Tablighi Jamaat is extreme enough that the Islamic Center in Arlington, Texas posted a video in 2014 warning its members against the group, which the British preacher in the video calls “close to Al Qaeda.”
And, as night follows day, the Daily Mail reported on Monday that Akram was “known to MI5” for some time before his foray to the United States. Such information should have kept the UK from loosing him on the world, and the U.S. – with which such information is shared – from allowing him into the country.
Today, Tory MP Bob Seely told MailOnline there seemed to have been a ‘dreadful’ error at the UK and US borders caused by an ‘intelligence failure’ and it needed to be looked at.
‘This is clearly a failure of intelligence sharing. It is absolutely dreadful that he has been allowed to go to the States and hurt people. Clearly something has gone wrong somewhere,’ he said.
We could write this script in our sleep. Another point of concern: how Akram managed to arm up and find the Beth Israel synagogue in little Colleyville in the time between 6 January and the attack date of 15 January. An Islamic center in Plano (just the other side of Dallas, on the metropolis’s northeast) may be the place to start looking. On 16 December 2021, it joined CAIR in hosting a panel discussion about the urgency of getting Aafia Siddiqui released.
The FBI has a lot of questions to answer. If the media or the White House won’t make a fiduciary effort for the American public to ask them, maybe Senators John Cornyn and Ted Cruz of Texas will. Terrorism is perpetrated by different groups and against different targets. But when it’s against Jews, it’s like a root canal without anesthetic every time to get a simple acknowledgment that it involves antisemitism and was in fact meant to target Jews – unless the perp can be called a “white supremacist.”
That overpoliticized, biased approach doesn’t keep America’s Jews safe, as they should be, from constant threats and harassment in their daily lives. We can’t let this keep getting worse.
A couple of videos on the incident. One includes footage of the final moments when the three remaining hostages (minus the 80-year-old who had been released earlier) took initiative to flee the building when an opportunity opened, and the waiting SWAT team outside moved in on the gunman.
The other is a CBS interview with Rabbi Charlie Cytron-Walker, who describes their ordeal and harrowing escape.
At least the FBI is keeping us safe from parents at school board meetings.
Feature image: U.S. Navy photo by Photographer’s Mate 2nd Class Felix Garza Jr. (Via Wikimedia Commons)