Discover more from PREVAIL by Greg Olear
Know Your Bad Guys
The surest barometer to determine who the bad guys are is their position on the war in Ukraine.
As the Justice Department contemplates how to respond to the January 6 Committee’s criminal referrals of the former president, as the new Congress is sworn in, as the winter freezes Ukraine and Russia’s European gas customers, as Elon Musk continues his self-immolation at the world’s most important social media platform, the New Year promises to be volatile in the early going—and therefore ripe for fuckery.
How to navigate the chaos that 2023 is sure to bring? Let’s set down what we know, and explore what that knowledge teaches us. Start here:
1/ Putin is bad.
There is no possible justification for Russia’s illegal invasion of Ukraine. We know this for certain, because in the ten months since the war began, Putin has trotted out any number of purported reasons, each more ridiculous than the last. And while there are apparently Russian citizens drunk and/or dumb enough to believe that Zelenskyy is a Satanic Nazi who will eat your baby if it isn’t assigned 72 genders, no reasonably sober non-orc with an IQ higher than Mark Meadows believes these obvious lies.
The invasion violates international law and ignores several treaties between the two countries, as well as the history of the region. It is the geopolitical equivalent of a deranged sadist invading the home of his neighbor, raping the man’s wife, killing his sons, setting fire to his HVAC system, and claiming his television, his SUV, and his piano belonged to the sadist all along.
Russia will never take Ukraine. This became clear in the first week of the war. Since then, Putin’s strategy is to commit as many atrocities as possible, cause as much collateral damage as possible, hurt as many innocent people as possible, in the vain hope than Zelenskyy will take the dunderheaded advice of Elon Musk and come to the negotiating table. War crimes have replaced fossil fuel as Russia’s biggest export.
If there was ever any second thoughts about Putin’s motives, his character, or his overtures of friendship with the West, the war has erased all doubt. Ukraine is a battleground between the forces of good (democracy) and evil (fascism). As I noted on these pages a few weeks before the invasion, Putin is using Hitler’s playbook—intentionally, it seems to me. Like Hitler, he is a monster who must be vanquished. As Neville Chamberlain found out, Nazis cannot be appeased.
If we accept that premise, we move to this:
2/ Looting by Putin’s puppet in Kyiv helped weaken Ukraine’s defenses in 2014, when Russia’s multi-phased invasion began.
From 2010 to 2014, Ukraine’s president was Putin’s puppet—a thug from Donetsk Oblast named Viktor Yanukovych. Early on in his political career, Yanukovych was too rough around the edges to be presidential material. So American political consultant Paul Manafort was brought in to apply enough lipstick to get the pig elected—which he managed to do, developing techniques he’d later use on Trump’s campaign. Manafort was paid handsomely for his efforts in Ukraine.
But the money was ill-gotten. Yanukovych spent most of his time in office looting the country’s coffers. This brought chaos to Ukraine, corrupting its infrastructure. It also made the country weak.
“Yanukovych was Putin’s man,” Debra LaPrevotte, the former FBI agent specializing in kleptocracy, tells me. “Right? And so, under Yanukovych, over 40 billion dollars left the country. I literally consider it the financial rape of a country, because what it did is, it weakened their military. I mean, they had no bullets! … [L]iterally, they had no bullets in their guns. So it opened the door—because Putin knew they had no money, no military, nothing had been invested, they had no bullets. And so he just stomped right in, and he stole Crimea.”
Basically, Putin’s puppet stole so much money from Ukraine that Ukraine could not defend itself. We’re supposed to believe this wasn’t by design?
3/ Organized crime helped install Putin and kept him in power.
Of Mogilevich, I wrote:
An FBI report had this to say about his criminal enterprise, back in 1996:
Principal activities of the Mogilevich Organization include weapons trafficking, nuclear materials trafficking, prostitution [i.e., sex trafficking], drug trafficking, dealing in precious gems, and money laundering. The Mogilevich Organization operates across Central Europe, including Prague, Czech Republic; Vienna, Austria; and Moscow, Russia. Its activities also extend to the United States, Ukraine, United Kingdom, France, Slovakia, and Israel.
Since then, his operation has only grown larger and more audacious. What “Seva” Mogilevich does, better than perhaps anyone who ever lived, is move around things that aren’t meant to be moved around: narcotics from Southeast Asia, arms to Iran, sex slaves from Eastern Europe, diamonds from Africa, nukes to God knows where—and money, vast sums of money, from Point A to Point B. Meyer Lansky may have written the book on money laundering, but it was Semion Mogilevich who turned it into a blockbuster motion picture.
His trade is human misery. And you can see him in this video, with the rest of Putin’s inner circle:
While the power dynamics between Putin and Mogilevich have shifted in the last 23 years, there is no indication of a falling out, despite the fact that the latter was born in Ukraine. As Alexander Litvinenko famously remarked, Putin’s Russia is a mafia state. One man’s mobster is another man’s oligarch.
4/ Donald Trump and many members of his inner circle have close ties to Russia.
I’m not going to rehash what the bipartisan Senate Select Committee on Intelligence concluded in Volume 5 of its report on Russian interference in the 2016 election, or list the individuals indicted and charged by Robert Mueller in the OSC’s extremely narrow investigation, or link to Dirty Rubles, or cite the work of Craig Unger, Luke Harding, LB, and the others who have laid this all out. I won’t discuss Helsinki, or Trump’s comments on members of our armed forces being “suckers and losers,” or his deliberate bungling of the pandemic response, or the fishy allocation of coronavirus relief funds. I won’t even bring up the fact that Trump tried to overthrow the fucking government, as Congress concluded yesterday. I will say this: Even as Putin commits war crime after war crime in Ukraine, Trump’s silence speaks volumes.
5/ The Saudi regime is a brutal dictatorship that hates women, gays, dissidents, and Americans.
I’m not sure how many skyscrapers they need to blow up, journalists they need to chop up, citizens they need to behead, or far-right apartheid profiteers whose quixotic social media acquisitions they need to underwrite before we realize the Saudis are not on our side.
While I’m loath to use, say, a snapshot of Rick Santorum and Maria Butina as definitive proof that their relationship was anything more than her coquettishly asking for a photo with a CNN talking head and former senator, sometimes a picture really is worth a thousand words:
After what happened to Jamal Khashoggi, the Saudi national living in the U.S. who was tortured and killed at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul by a Riyadh hit squad, MbS should have been persona non grata on the world stage. That has not come to pass. For some people, the Crown Prince is too simply wealthy to snub.
5/ Saudi money is blood money.
When Tiger Woods was offered high nine figures to join LIV Golf, the fledgling Saudi-backed golf tour founded to compete with the PGA, he told them to pound sand. Others, like Phil Mickelson, did not. The latter had millions of reasons not to; he’s made more in his short time with LIV Golf than in his entire not-unlucrative career beforehand.
I’ll say this about Mickelson: he knew what he was getting into, and apparently had some qualms about it. “They are scary motherfuckers to get involved with,” he said of the Saudis. “We know they killed Khashoggi and have a horrible record on human rights. They execute people over there for being gay. Knowing all of this, why would I even consider it? Because this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to reshape how the PGA Tour operates. They’ve been able to get by with manipulative, coercive, strong-arm tactics because we, the players, had no recourse.” To Mickelson, in short, the PGA is worse than the KSA. Whatever, Phil.
What the professional golfers raked in from the Saudis was small potatoes next to the real movers and shakers. Jared Kushner—bosom chum of MbS—is managing an investment fund of $2 billion in Saudi capital. Steve Mnuchin, Trump’s treasury secretary, also brought in bank from the Saudi sovereign wealth fund.
Remember that photo of a pasty Elon Musk being hosed down on the yacht? The tanned, fit dude wielding the hose was Hollywood bigwig Ari Emanuel. What those two have in common is that both of them accepted vast sums in Saudi investment capital: Emanuel at Endeavor, Musk at Twitter. The guy with the hose, at least, had enough common decency—or fear of PR backlash—to give the money back.
In this not-terribly-exhaustive study, the bad guys include Putin and his domestic allies in the invasion, his puppets in Ukraine past and present, the American political consultants who gave them succor, Trump and his inner circle, powerful organized crime figures, and sociopathic rich guys like Kushner and Musk—who were photographed together this weekend in the VVIP section of the World Cup in Qatar, the country that bailed out Kushner with the 666 Fifth Avenue loan.
How can we know the allegiances of other notable politicians, heads of state, TV talking heads, and so forth? We need only examine their statements and activities regarding the war in Ukraine—which, again, is as close to a battle between good and evil as we’ve seen in my lifetime.
When the insurrectionist Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene insists that “not another penny will go to Ukraine” when the GOP takes over the House in January, she is carrying water for Putin. When incoming House Speaker Kevin McCarthy says that “Ukraine is important, but at the same time it can’t be the only thing, and it can’t be a blank check,” he, too, is—as Rep. Adam Kinzinger so eloquently put it—“giving aid and comfort to the enemy.” And what’s more—he knows it. McCarthy spoke candidly about the insurrection in the days after January 6, only to backtrack after “going to Canossa” to kiss Trump’s ring. (In 2015, remember, he told Paul Ryan he believed Putin paid Trump; what changed?)
The new Twitter CEO pushed the Kremlin’s “Ukraine should just surrender the eastern parts of the country and bring peace” line regarding the war. He engaged chummily with Putin’s #2 on the platform. Starlink crapped out in Ukraine. So did Twitter’s two-factor authentication system, which means the app wasn’t working in the country. Musk has also re-platformed far-right accounts, including the odious Cat Turd, who posted a meme he found funny of a fallen Ukrainian on a field of blue and yellow, where the blue was tears and the yellow urine. There is little question whose side the emerald mine scion is on.
Rupert Murdoch may have repudiated Trump, but we’ve seen no signs of the diabolical nonagenarian doing the same with regards to Russia. Tucker Carlson, host of the top-rated Fox News show, has made it explicitly clear that he’s rooting for Putin in the conflict. He’s also repeatedly fluffed the Hungarian strongman Viktor Orbán, a Putin ally, who was allegedly a bag man for Mogilevich.
And on it goes.
The surest barometer to determine who the bad guys are is their position on the war in Ukraine. This is a Manichean struggle. And anyone pushing Kremlin talking points—whether explicitly boosting Putin, spreading Russian disinformation regarding Zelenskyy, or else advocating for appeasement—is not on our side.
The traitors are easy to spot.
Photo credit: The Kremlin via Wikipedia. Vladimir Putin with Deputy Crown Prince and Defense Minister of Saudi Arabia Mohammad bin Salman Al Saud, 2017.