After publishing “On John Lennon's Birthday, a Few Words About War” last night, old friend and former Moscow Times editor Matt Bivens* and I discovered we’d written on the same topic.
You can find Matt’s excellent essay here.
He notes a big thing I missed. A series of ominous statements was buried in Secretary of State Anthony Blinken’s recent joint press conference with Canadian Foreign Minister Mélanie Joly, trumpeting the “tremendous opportunity” the Nord Stream blasts afforded to remove “the dependence on Russian energy.”
A few public figures questioned those comments, but Blinken said something else that was worse. The relevant passage:
I also made clear that when Russia made this move, the United States and our allies and partners would impose swift and severe costs on individuals and entities – inside and outside of Russia – that provide political or economic support to illegal attempts to change the status of Ukrainian territory…
We will hold to account any individual, entity, or country that provides political or economic support for President Putin’s illegal attempts to change the status of Ukrainian territory. In support of this commitment, the Departments of the Treasury and Commerce are releasing new guidance on heightened sanctions and export control risks for entities and individuals inside and outside of Russia that support in any way the Kremlin’s sham referenda, purported annexation, and occupation of parts of Ukraine.
There’s no way to know what a State Department official might believe meets the definitions of “political support,” support “in any way,” the “Kremlin’s sham referenda,” or any of a half-dozen phrases in that passage. This is why the negative precedent of government watch lists after the PATRIOT Act was important. By making lists, officials can seriously impacting your life without notice or right of appeal. Even if courts later strike down the activity, it may take nearly 20 years to get there, and that’s assuming a) the state discloses enough to make a court challenge possible and b) they abide by any judicial rulings.
From Google and Twitter to the Departments of Justice and State, we’ve become a blacklisting society, and it’s beginning to look like the excesses of the Bush years were just a warmup.
*As editor of the Moscow Times, Matt led an investigation of the 2000 Russian presidential elections that resulted in an eight-page exposé detailing extensive ballot-stuffing and misreporting of vote results in favor of… Vladimir Putin. In one case, for instance, the Times found authorities reported 88,000 more votes for Putin than had actually been collected from certain polling stations in Dagestan. “Fraud and abuse of state power appear to have been decisive,” the paper wrote.
Meanwhile, this is from the prepared statement to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Aril 12, 2000 of Stephen Sestanovich, at the time our ambassador-at-large to the former Soviet Union. Sestanovich told the Senate he had six major observations about the election of Vladimir Putin, the second of which was that “voters showed even less interest than 4 years ago in returning the Communists to power.” His main “headline”:
We witnessed a constitutional process, with multiple candidates, very high turnout, and — according to the many international observers on the scene — few procedural improprieties. I recall the confident forecast of a distinguished Russian analyst after the 1996 election, that Russian voters would never again have the chance to pick their president at the polls. In the past decade, elections have become the only legitimate way to select Russia’s leaders.
The State Department boasted about Putin’s election as both legitimate and the fruit of a long, U.S.-aided effort to build democratic infrastructure in Russia. They described an event heralding a pluralistic future. I leave it to the reader to decide if that constitutes “support in any way.”