Background Briefing: February 20, 2022


Russian Military Preparations for an Invasion of Ukraine Intensify

We begin with more signs on an impending Russian invasion of Ukraine with Putin signing a decree on Friday to call up reservists as he extends the joint maneuvers in Belarus and civilians are evacuated from the separatist-held Russian enclave in the Donbas. Joining us for a perspective on how Ukrainians are preparing for expected onslaughts from the north, east and south is Alexander Motyl, a professor of political science at Rutgers University who previously served as associate director of the Harriman Institute at Columbia University.  A specialist on Ukraine, Russia, and the USSR, and on nationalism, revolutions, empires, and theory, he is the author of a number of books including Dilemmas of Independence: Ukraine after Totalitarianism, Sovietology, Rationality, Nationality: Coming to Grips with Nationalism in the USSR, and The Turn to the Right: The Ideological Origins and Development of Ukrainian Nationalism, 1919–1929. With Biden’s National Security Council meeting on Sunday, we assess what options the U.S. might employ if Russian tanks cross the borders.


How Propaganda is Preparing the Russian People For War With Their Neighbor

Then we examine the role of propaganda in preparing the Russian people for a war many do not want with their neighbors who have close historical, linguistic and religious ties with Russia with many mixed families on both sides. Joining us is a specialist who studies Russian state-controlled media, Michael Gorham, Professor of Russian Studies at the University of Florida and author of two award-winning books on language culture and politics: After Newspeak: Language Culture and Politics in Russia from Gorbachev to Putin and Speaking in Soviet Tongues: Language Culture and the Politics of Voice in Revolutionary Russia. In addition to two co-edited volumes, Digital Russia: The Language, Culture, and Politics of New Media Communication and The Culture and Politics of Verbal Prohibition in Putin’s Russia, he has recently published articles devoted to the political and rhetorical impact of trolls, hackers, blogging bureaucrats, tweeting presidents, dictators on Instagram, Alexey Navalny on YouTube, and the Putin administration’s recent efforts to enlist all legislative, technological, and rhetorical means possible to establish a “sovereign internet” independent of the World Wide Web.


Lawyers Line Up For a Slice of the $3.5 Billion of the Afghan People’s Assets

Then finally, with millions of Afghans facing starvation as their economy collapses, we look into the law firms lining up and jostling to collect money from the $3.5 billion of the Afghan people’s frozen assets which President Biden released to the families of the victims of 9/11. Joining us is Lee Fang, an investigative journalist with The Intercept who was the first to uncover and detail the role of the billionaire Koch brothers in financing the Tea Party movement. He is author of The Machine: A Field Guide to the Resurgent Right and we discuss his latest article at The Intercept, “Lawyers and Lobbyists Fight for Their Slice of $3.5 Billion in Afghan Money Seized by the Biden Administration.”