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Networks, War, Revolution

Dear Friends,

Ukrainians are made of steel, says U.S. Ambassador in Kyiv Bridget Brink. They’re also experts in networks and social capital, to borrow an expression. This came to mind when I had lunch in Washington last week with Askold Krushelnycky. Askold has spent most of the last ten months reporting from the front lines of Russia’s war in Ukraine. He’s filed for the London Times and briefed numerous Zoom conversations for American Purpose.

I was taken by Askold’s story of a jamón Ibérico that made its way from relatives in Spain to a soldier in the trenches near Bakhmut. It’s apparently commonplace for buses of Ukrainians traveling home from Western Europe to act as a transport for care packages for Ukrainian fighters. Moving special treats to western Ukraine is one step in the journey to get the morale of frontline troops boosted. “They all share delicacies wonderfully with their comrades,” reports Askold.

I was similarly impressed by Askold’s story of a Ford Explorer that made its way from London to Lviv, where it was serviced and painted camouflage green by the Ukrainian military and then driven to the front, where it was outfitted with a machine gun atop the cabin and repurposed as a troop transport vehicle. It was Askold who drove the SUV cross-country from Lviv, a favor to six officers with whom he had been holed up in an abandoned house near a battlefield in the east.

Ukrainians are resourceful. We’ll interview Askold this month on his experience in the war before he returns to Ukraine in February. Ukrainians keep winning on the battlefield, but at a tremendous price. Vladimir Putin will smash, mash, and terrorize the country until he is stopped. Ukraine still needs heavier weapons to end this brutal war.

The United States is now considering the supply of Abrams tanks and Bradley fighting vehicles. A recent poll in Germany indicates that a majority of SPD, FDP, and Green voters — supporters of the political parties that comprise Berlin’s governing coalition — now support sending Leopard tanks to Ukraine. Fear of escalation continues to slow things down. Russian disinformation (Opens in a new window) does its job in instilling fear in Western capitals. It’s long overdue that we consider carefully the myriad threats stemming from a protracted conflict.

We’re keeping an eye on the remarkable bravery and tenacity of the people in Iran, too.

• Today at 11 am ET, we host editorial board member Eric Edelman and Ray Takeyh by Zoom on how the West can support the people of Iran. Bill Kristol will moderate. You can read this week’s piece by Eric and Ray in Foreign Affairs here (Opens in a new window). You can still register to join today’s conversation here (Opens in a new window).

• Friday at 12 noon ET, we host Stuart Levey by Zoom on Iran sanctions, an event exclusively for members of our Leaders’ Circle (Opens in a new window). Stuart is arguably America’s foremost expert on sanctions. He’s a former Under Secretary of the Treasury for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence. He was the top lawyer for HSBC and my neighbor in London when I was running the Legatum Institute. He’s now chief legal officer for Oracle.

• On January 9 at 12 noon ET, we host Oksana Kis, Elaine Showalter, and Sonya Michel on “Women in Wartime—Lessons from Ukraine.” American Purpose managing editor Carolyn Stewart will moderate. The discussion will provide context for the upcoming exhibit of work by contemporary Ukrainian women artists, “Women at War (Opens in a new window).” The exhibit, an American Purpose–Stanford University joint venture, will be on view at the Stanford in Washington Art Gallery from January 12 through March 19. For details and to join the January 9 conversation, click here (Opens in a new window).

• On January 11 at 12 noon ET, we host our own Craig Kennedy for a Meet the Masthead Leaders’ Circle (Opens in a new window) discussion on “The Corrupting of Philanthropy.” Craig worked in the foundation space at the highest levels for years. He’s been thinking deeply and writing about a number of key problems over the past year.

• Read this week in our pages Michael Mandelbaum on microchips (Opens in a new window) and Chris Miller’s important new book; Joe Joffe on Robert Conquest, a retroview of the great British historian’s 1986 study of Soviet collectivization and terror-famine; and Rich Barton on primary reform (Opens in a new window). Read Gary Schmitt on Kevin McCarthy — and Newt Gingrich’s legacy.

• Read Bill Kristol in the Bulwark on the chance (Opens in a new window) to set crucial political and policy agendas in 2023; Jonathan Haidt on social media, political dysfunction, and Gen X (Opens in a new window) (thanks to Paul Stebbins for bringing this to my attention); and Peter Rough and Luke Coffey in the Wall Street Journal on Russia’s deepening turmoil (Opens in a new window).

Next week, I’ll be in Berlinchairing the next in our series of roundtables with Renew Democracy Initiative on Ukraine, Russia, and regional security. I’ll report from Berlin and also share notes from Vilnius, where I’ll join RFE/RL CEO and fellow board member Jamie Fly in opening a new office in Lithuania. If you missed the recent CBS “60 Minutes” program on RFE/RL, you can watch it here (Opens in a new window).

Meanwhile, a Bit of Music

Austrian pianist Alfred Brendel started in the trenches—literally. Brendel was born on January 5, 1931, in Wizemberk, today’s Loučná nad Desnou in the Czech Republic. His family moved to Zagreb and later to Graz, Austria. Toward the end of World War II, the 14-year-old boy found himself digging trenches in Yugoslavia. He became a brilliant pianist.

A trademark of Brendel’s performances is devotion to the composer’s original intent. Here’s (Opens in a new window) Brendel with Schubert. Here’s (Opens in a new window) Beethoven. And with Mozart (Opens in a new window), elegant, clean, and crystal clear.

For me, Alfred Brendel is inquiry, study; pure curiosity. “The word ‘listen’ contains the same letters as the word ‘silent,’” he said, before retiring from the concert stage with his 81st performance at Carnegie Hall in February 2008. Here’s (Opens in a new window) a short, lovely clip with photos — Brendel speaking about Beethoven and Schubert.

My best and happy new year,


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