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Molotov Cocktail: News Digest


Grab your hankies. Playing across borders for Ukraine.

Ukrainian violinists are joined in harmony by top violinists across the world. 94 violinists. 29 countries. Please donate and help us provide humanitarian aid to Ukraine. Violinist Kerenza Peacock; "I befriended some young violinists in Ukraine via Instagram and discovered some were in basement shelters but had their violins. So I asked colleagues across the world to accompany them in harmony. And I got sent videos from 94 violinists in 29 countries in 48 hours!! An astonishing collaboration forming an international violin choir of support for Ukraine. 🤝🎻🤝🎻

Illia Bondarenko had to film this between explosions, because he could not hear himself play. Nine other young violinists sheltering in Ukraine join in unison, and are accompanied in harmony by world class players from the London Symphony Orchestra, Tokyo Philharmonic, Oslo Philharmonic, the Hollywood Studios, and renowned violinists from all over the world including Ireland, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Belgium, Georgia, Poland, South Korea, South Africa, Moldova, Denmark, India, including the entire violin section of the Munich Chamber Orchestra! We have famous fiddlers from different violin traditions including Indian, Scottish, bluegrass. And soloist Daniel Hope who had, by coincidence, once coached Illia Bondarenko.

Ryan Dilmore worked overnight(s) to make everyone’s contributions into this beautiful video and Jake Jackson mixed the sound so beautifully, you can hear all 94 praying with our violins. So we play an old Ukrainian folk song together across continents, called Verbovaya Doschechka. Never before have violinists gathered together from so many countries. Or collaborated across so many different styles of violin playing. Violinists are a fellowship who all have rosin and broken E strings in common, but sadly some are currently having to think about how to arm themselves, and hiding in bomb shelters instead of playing Beethoven or bluegrass. Some more Ukrainians wanted to take part, but now have guns in their hands instead of violins" #violinistssupportukraine #playforpeace 

We encourage you to download the score here and create your own recording, playing along with our video. Post your video to social media using the #ViolinistsSupportUkraine hashtag. #violinistssupportukraine #standwithukraine #playforpeace

A captured Russian soldier's striking mea culpa

America's Balancing Act

As Russian troops edged closer to Kiev, Ret. Gen. Barry McCaffrey told MSNBC that in purely military terms it makes sense for the U.S. and NATO to get into the war for Ukraine. Don't bother with no fly zones or "humanitarian corridors."

"Russian is a third-tier nation...when you start toting up the total combat power (of the U.S. and NATO) Russia is essentially 1/15th the power of NATO," McCaffrey said.

Politically, though, it's another story. In a somewhat deflated tone, McCaffrey called Biden "cautious," and while not criticizing the administration, he noted, quite correctly, that the president will have to face the "consequences" of any action he takes. For his part, Biden categorically stated on Friday that the U.S. will not go to war in Ukraine, but if Putin moves "one inch" into NATO territory, that equation will change.

How credible is Russian president Vladimir Putin's threat of nuclear war? Speculation about Putin's mental state is rife, but the reality is that nobody in the West - at least not anyone without a security clearance - knows how seriously to take his threats of nuclear retaliation if the U.S. and NATO get directly involved in the Ukraine war.

Experts with deep knowledge of Russia and Ukraine were more critical of the Biden administration's handling of the crisis. While stopping short of advising full-on war, many consider Putin's threats of nuclear war empty and say that the U.S. is projecting weakness to a man one former U.S. ambassador to Russia called "a street fighter."

"The risks of intervention are minimal"

Ret. Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman

Writing in Foreign Affairs, Retired Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, former Director For European Affairs National Security Council, called for a contemporary version of the Lend Lease Act. Passed in March of 1941, Lend Lease allowed President Franklin Roosevelt to provide food, oil -- and war planes -- to countries fighting Hitler before the U.S. entered World War II. One of those countries, it is worth noting, was Russia.

As he described his Lend Lease recommendations on PBS, Vindman seemed to get carried away, describing a blinkered inner circle surrounding President Joe Biden and warning that if the U.S. doesn't act more aggressively, Putin will escalate his empire-building.

Criticizing Biden’s inner circle for “underperforming,” Vindman said the people surrounding the president are worrying about fuel prices when we’re in “a fight for the 21st century.”

This is the most forward-leaning I’ve been in terms of criticism but we’re at a tipping point so it’s important to make these points.


It’s a very insular administration. These are folks that have been close to President Biden, Vice President Biden, for years. They want to insulate him against the shocks of mismanagement like Afghanistan where these people actually were the ones responsible for accelerating plans that didn’t make sense or executing a withdrawal that should have been more thoroughly planned. And they’re still there.


Sometimes you need to be able to tell the boss that he’s not wearing any clothes, that his assumptions aren’t valid, that, in fact, the risks of escalation are minimal. He doesn’t have people who can do that right now. He has people that are going to cater to his wishes and are not going to push back.


At a minimum there needs to be a little more reflection about the missteps we’ve had over this year with regard to the execution of Afghanistan, not the policy decision to leave but the way it was executed and shepherded by the National Security Council and now, with this major war unfolding, they’re underperforming and I’d like to see more.


This is not a sharp criticism against President Biden because President Biden frankly, in fact, is the product of twenty years of Ukraine and Russia policy…we’ve biased our activities towards Russia thinking that we can do more than we can instead of places like Ukraine where we have willing partnerships....


We are on the cusp of a hot war...the decisions that we have to make weeks and months from now are going to be much more dangerous. We need to make some courageous risk-informed decisions now to avoid that...


We need to provide the Ukrainians the support they need. It is going to get worse. I can not be more adamant about it...


We need to do everything we can to move the Ukrainians to a diplomatic solution quickly otherwise we have every risk of moving into war and then we're all in peril.

Vindman's words were amplified by Adrei Kozyrev, Russia's foreign minister under Boris Yeltsin, on Twitter and in TV interviews. He calls Putin rational and his insights into the mindset of Putin and his inner circle is as telling as Vindman's view of the Biden administration.

Putin's Nuclear Threats Empty,

Says Former Minister

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While Andrei Kozyrev, former Russian foreign minister, did not endorse full engagement of the U.S. military, he offered insight into Putin's thinking, and made the case that Putin remains a rational actor and that his threats of nuclear war are mere saber-rattling.

Andrei V Kozyrev


Foreign Minister of Russia, 1990-1996. Member of the State Duma till 2000; then businessman, speaker. Author: The Firebird (memoir), The Caligula Curse (novel).

To understand why the invasion was rational for Putin, we have to step into his shoes. Three beliefs came together at the same time in his calculus: 1. Ukraine’s condition as a country 2. Russian military’s condition 3. The West’s geopolitical condition

1. Ukraine’s condition. Putin spent the last 20 years believing that Ukraine is not a real nation and, at best, should be a satellite state. Maidan [the rebellion that ousted President Viktor Yanukovych, who had close ties to Russia] ended any hope of keeping Ukraine independent and pro-Kremlin. He thought the West was behind it.


If Ukraine’s government cannot be kept independent and pro-Kremlin covertly, as he likely concluded, then he will overtly force it to be. He also started to believe his own propagandists that Ukraine is run by a Nazi-Bandera junta. Perfect pretext to “de-Nazify” Ukraine.

2. Russian military. The Kremlin spent the last 20 years trying to modernize its military. Much of that budget was stolen and spent on mega-yachts in Cyprus. But as a military advisor you cannot report that to the President. So they reported lies to him instead. Potemkin military

3. The West. The Russian ruling elite believed its own propaganda that Pres. Biden is mentally inept. They also thought the EU was weak because of how toothless their sanctions were in 2014. And then the U.S. botched its withdrawal from Afghanistan, solidifying this narrative.

If you believe all three of the above to be true and your goal is to restore the glory of the Russian Empire (whatever that means), then it is perfectly rational to invade Ukraine. He miscalculated on all three, but that doesn’t make him insane. Simply wrong and immoral.

So, in my opinion, he is rational. Given that he is rational, I strongly believe he will not intentionally use nuclear weapons against the West. I say intentionally because indiscriminate shelling near a nuclear power plant can cause an unintentional nuclear disaster in Ukraine.

I will take it a step further. The threat of nuclear war is another example of his rationality. The Kremlin knows it can try to extract concessions, whether from Ukraine or the West, by saber-rattling its last remaining card in the deck: nuclear weapons.

The ultimate conclusion here is that the West should not agree to any unilateral concessions or limit its support of Ukraine too much for the fear of nuclear war.

Listen To These People

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Adrian Karatnycky: former Executive Director of Freedom House, former Senior Fellow at the Atlantic Council, contributor to Foreign Affairs, Newsweek, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, Financial Times

Hosted by the venerable and respected Schevchenko Society in New York, three of the most knowledgeable experts on Russia and Ukraine offered perspective. Thanks to Boris Dralyuk of the Los Angeles Review of Books for sending this revelatory conversation our way.

On March 6, Eastern Europe analyst Adrian Karatynycky criticized the U.S. for giving the wrong signals at the outset of the war, and made predictions about how the U.S. response will evolve. In April of last year, when 100,000 Russian troops massed at the Ukraine border, there was no massive augmentation of aid, Karatynycky said. Instead, aid trickled in slowly. (See Stimson Center report on U.S. military aid to Ukraine.)

Instead of projecting U.S. strength, the only signals given to Russia was the "disorderly, shameful" retreat of forces in Afghanistan and the "gift to Putin" of the administration's refusal to oppose the Nordstream 2 natural gas pipeline, "a gift to the retiring chancellor of Germany," he said, adding "Putin saw both as a lack of resolve."

Now that Russia has invaded Ukraine, Karatnycky characterized the administration as "playing a desperate game of catchup" but still not showing sufficient resolve. He characterized the recent back and forth with Poland over giving planes to Ukraine, a game of "hot potato," signaling to Putin that the West is disorganized.

His strongest criticism was for the advisors he called Biden's "weak-willed leadership team" on foreign policy. Karatynycky singled out Jake Sullivan, Biden's national security advisor, and his second-in-command, Jonathan Finer, criticizing them for backtracking on the deal with Poland on giving F-16s to Ukraine because, in their view, Ukraine was not of paramount importance strategically. They consider security for Taiwan more important.

"This is madness. It must be stopped," Karatnycky said.

He went on to say that the Biden administration will change course because the Ukrainian people are making the case for themselves, not only with their dedication militarily but also because of their mastery of social media.

"People are behind Ukraine. Politicians are a step behind," he said. "They will catch up."

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Valerii Kuchynskyi, adjunct professor of international affairs at Columbia University, career diplomat, former Permanent Representative of Ukraine to the United Nations

Kuchynskyi confined himself to a recital of the events of the war thus far, mounting evidence of the international community's response to Putin's invasion of Ukraine, including an investigation by the International Criminal Court for possible war crimes.

He provided insight to the historical background to the U.S. response, mentioning that the U.S. has managed to avoid direct conflict with Russia for the last 75 years, adding that Ukraine is "ready to close the sky by its own means."

Of course, that would require additional planes and anti-aircraft weapons.

It is worth noting here that Israel, whose Prime Minister Naftali Bennet has been acting as a go-between with Ukraine and Russia, has so far refused to supply Ukraine with its vaunted "Iron Dome" anti-missile defense, despite repeated please by Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky.

Observers say that Israel has a tacit agreement with Russia on Israel's attacks on Iranian forces in Syria. Fearing to alienate Russia, Israel appears to be trading a liberal refugee policy for Ukrainian Jews in exchange for failing to step up to Ukraine's defense. Axios is reporting on the situation and it's not pretty.

Likewise, Saudi Arabia has so far failed to ramp up oil production, reportedly fearing to instigate Russia's departure from OPEC. Read more about the weapons not being sent to Ukraine and why at DefenseOne.

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Mykola Riabchuk, novelist and president of PEN's Ukraine Center

While economics, strategy, and tactics are all in play, Ukrainian novelist Mykola Riabchuk believes there are deeper motivations behind the Russian invasion. Putin's reasons for war are not all rational, Riabchuk stressed. While he acknowledged the strategic issues: control of Ukraine's technical and agricultural resources, he also believe that what he called "the identity issue" is underestimated by Western observers.

"Ukraine, for Russian historical mythology, is a part of the self," he said. "The Russian identity. As long as this self is incomplete, they try to complete it. This is what makes his behavior irrational. It’s physical. He has no reason to argue with Ukraine."

In Putin's view, Ukraine doesn’t exist. Russians and Ukrainians are the same people. Riabchuk points out that this notion was accepted in Western academic thought until recently. But for some Russians, the concept remains strong.

Either Ukraine must be fully integrated, become Russians, he said, as Putin has argued, or the Ukrainians should be extinguished. And independent sovereign democratic Ukraine is absolutely unacceptable.

"Like the Jewish question for Hitler, they have to solve it at any cost."

Watch the roundtable streamed by the Schevchenko Scientific Society

And on the U.S. side, former American ambassador to Ukraine offers perspective. The takeaway?

Putin is "a street fighter."

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What we have on the ground is a country that's getting annihilated...we're letting Putin dictate the terms of this conflict.

Juan Zarate, security analyst 

former deputy national security advisor for combating terrorism

George W. Bush administration.

The Poem That Went Viral

We Lived Happily During the War


And when they bombed other people's houses, we
but not enough, we opposed them but not
enough. I was
in my bed, around my bed America
was falling: invisible house by invisible house by invisible house.
I took a chair outside and watched the sun.
In the sixth month
of a disastrous reign in the house of money
in the street of money in the city of money in the country of money,
our great country of money, we (forgive us)
lived happily during the war.

When I think of Russian troops arriving at the bay, I imagine them in their heavy gear, trying to huff and puff up the stairs, while Ukrainians throw Molotov cocktails and stones. My grandfathers fought the German tanks on tractors. This war feels like something out of a movie or a poem — but it is real. The city trembles.


“The West is watching us,” a friend writes. “This is their reality TV war, they are curious to see whether we will go on living, or die.”

Ilya Kaminsky "Poems in a Time of Crisis." Read the whole essay at The New York Times

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Thanks to Bruce Bauman for help with this story.