The word drama derives from a Greek root, the verb dran, meaning “to do” or “to act.” As Americans, we have an obsession with our dramas. Tinseltown has voraciously exported our proficiency with the art form to the rest of the world. Sadly, in our public discourse, we are prone to generating devilish memes with contrived spin and speculation unwittingly serving elusive propaganda masters devoted to chaos. We talk and Tweet when we probably should remain silent. Thankfully, we live in a country devoted to free speech with only our conscience as a filter to our dialogue. So let my words tickle your conscience.
A Tweet from a Ukrainian journalist named Iryna Matviyishyn caught my eye last Friday. (see below)
Ms. Matviyishyn writes for UkraineWorld (www.ukraineworld.org) (Twitter @ukraine_world). According to their website, “UkraineWorld is an English-language multimedia project about Ukraine run by the NGO Internews Ukraine. Our team produces articles, podcasts, video explainers, reports, analyses, and books about Ukraine in English and other languages. We focus on explaining Ukraine and its culture, covering the most important developments in and around the country, as well as counteracting anti-Western propaganda and disinformation. “
I chose to include Ms. Matviyishyn’s picture from the UkraineWorld website to make sure readers could attach a face to a name. She is a flesh-and-blood Ukrainian with her hopes, dreams, and aspirations. Ms. Matviyishyn’s Tweet challenges Western foreign policy experts, Washington insiders, and armchair strategists fueling the invasion rumor mill with their Tweets to pause and consider the human cost.
The collateral damage of overeager Tweets lands squarely on the Ukrainian people.
Everyday people, who are not political or foreign policy mavens. They are moms and dads, who want to feed and clothe their children. Grandparents, who long to spend their golden years with their grandkids. Truck drivers, school teachers, and supermarket clerks fighting to survive and get back to normal after COVID-19. And now, they must deal with a menacing Russian military build-up on their borders. Uncertainty currently reigns in their little slice of the world.
The average Ukrainian is only seeking a better life. Just like you and I. The Russian brinkmanship on their borders creates tension and uncertainty that they don’t want or need.
How about you and I who wield pens and keyboards stop and reflect on the humanity trapped between the world’s two greatest nuclear powers? We can talk about Ukraine & Russia without stirring the pot. We can discuss the ongoing diplomatic mission without adding our dose of “drama” to an already overly dramatic situation for the ordinary Ukrainian.
I can empathize with the Ukrainians and Ms. Matviyishyn. I remember being in a similar situation. In the mid-1980s I served in a walled Berlin (see map below) and West Germany. Surrounded by 500,000 Soviet troops those on West Berlin’s island of freedom were hopelessly wedged between two nuclear superpowers at odds with each other. I remember the throbbing tension of spin-ups on spurious rumors and bad intelligence. The surreal feel of throat swallowing uncertainty. Implicitly we understood any prickly confrontation between the two superpowers could and would escalate beyond conventional weaponry into a nightmare scenario.
West Berlin in the 1980s with Checkpoints for Entry and Exit
The difference was, I volunteered to be there as a combatant. To stand toe to toe against the Soviet desire to oppress freedom in West Germany and beyond. Our Ukrainian friends made no such choice. Their current predicament is solely based upon geography’s fate. Appealing to the angels of our better nature, can we please ease up on spreading rumors and conjecture?
Instead, we should be asking ourselves, what is really going on in Ukraine. Beyond the hype and the headlines. In complex situations, I depend on six maxims to filter information and signals from the world. Maxim #5 is useful in this situation. “Behavior never lies – watch what people do, not what they say.” Please note the Tweet below from UkraineWorld. Forget what Vladimir Putin and Russia will or will not do in the foreseeable future. What is the current situation in Ukraine on the ground? I am not “in-country”, therefore I am dependent on sources like UkraineWorld to lend context to my writing.
A siege is defined as a military operation in which enemy forces surround a town or building, cutting off essential supplies. Such action aims to compel the surrender of those inside. The current situation in Ukraine has halted influxes to the country to a large degree but an exit strategy remains. On the map below, I have connected the dots between the reported Russian troops massing.
Is the opening West, an intentional escape route for those with a desire to flee or just a matter of geographic and military reality? I don’t know.
Connecting the Dots Between the Reported Build Up of Russian Troops (February 2022)
According to the Economist’s article “How Big is Russian build-up Around Ukraine?” cited on the map above (Jan 31st, 2022 -Updated Feb 11th, 2022) warships from all four of Russia’s naval fleets—the Baltic, the Black Sea, Northern and Pacific Fleets—have converged on the Mediterranean. On February 4th Russia’s defense ministry said that more than 90 of its submarines and ships were at sea the previous week. Two Russian guided-missile cruisers—particularly well-armed warships—are thought to be in the Mediterranean, with a third in the Black Sea. Russia has given Turkey notice that six landing craft will cross the Bosphorus Strait from the Mediterranean into the Black Sea between February 8th and 9th, which would allow an amphibious assault on the Ukrainian coast.
What has Russia done? Put Ukraine under a virtual siege. Has the siege benefited the Russians?
Referring to the chart on West Texas Crude Prices at of 2-13-2022. Please recall oil and gas are responsible for as much as 60% of Russia’s exports and provide more than 30% of the country’s gross domestic product (GDP). West Texas Crude is at $94.95, a high for the last five years. I will let you decide if the prospect of higher oil prices enticed President Putin into action.
West Texas Crude Prices (2-13-2022)
Given the reports from sources outside and inside Ukraine, they are for all practical purposes under siege by the Russian military build-up. Military operations are expensive but the rising energy prices might be an offset to the Russian military costs.
What does it all mean? The current siege appears to meet a lot of Russia’s needs both nationalistically and geopolitically, however, if Ukraine does not yield expect matters to worsen. But I don’t want to speculate. Instead, I want to bring attention to the reality of those souls waking up each morning under the shadow of a Russian menace.
Regardless of what happens next, Ukraine is hurting now. Their plight is very “real” world, not a game theorist’s speculative iteration. Let’s not pile on to an already difficult moment for our fellow human beings in Ukraine with Twitter rumor-mongering only designed to elevate our stature among our followers, clients, or friends.
Let me conclude with food for thought offered in a Tweet from Bruno Macaes @macaesBruno the author of “Geopolitics for the End Time” (2021) Retweeted by Ms. Matviyishyn on 2-14-2022.
As I am launching my post Bloomberg and other news organizations are reporting a hopeful update. Please note the term "some" troops in the release below.
Bloomberg News (Updated on February 15, 2022, 2:43 AM CST) Russia’s Defense Ministry said Tuesday that some troops would return to their regular bases after completing drills, local media reported, as German Chancellor Olaf Scholz is set to meet President Vladimir Putin.
With guarded optimism for the people in Ukraine, I am guided by my maxim as various news organizations rush to print the latest update: “Behavior never lies – watch what people do, not what they say.”
(UPDATE 2-25-22) Unfortunately, events turned decidedly negative with a Russian invasion. It is more important than ever NOT to participate in the spin. The Ukrainian people are fighting for their lives.
Until next time. Travel safe. Keep the Ukrainians in our thoughts and prayers.