Soldiers of Misfortune in Vindman’s Ukraine Bubble

MSNBC analyst Malcolm Nance had had enough. “I’m done talking,” he exclaimed in April when he went on the air wielding an AK-47 rifle. Nance revealed he had volunteered for the International Legion of Territorial Defense of Ukraine. This assignment lasted all of three months and Nance didn’t exactly maintain radio silence during his time there. But now he is back stateside, appearing again on Zerlina Maxwell’s show, explaining why he characterizes “domestic terrorism” in America as “white extremism,” when he never would characterize terrorism abroad as Muslim or Christian in nature.

Put another way: Nance is a big talker about the threat of Russia in Ukraine who felt the urgent need to “volunteer” as an armed combatant in the war. He bugged out soon after the Russians achieved a major military breakthrough by taking control of the Luhansk region. So, the problem he was “done talking” about in April had, if anything, gotten worse during his time in country. Apparently this top-notch national security analyst decided  it was the right time to demobilize because the threat of “white nationalism” in the United States is much worse

Nance has compared the modern American Right to terrorist insurgencies in Syria and Libya. Lately, he’s settled on the Provisional IRA. This is ironic since Joe Biden recently compared the Palestinian people to the oppressed Irish people who fought the British in a centuries-long struggle for national liberation.

Pallets of Grandiose Claims

Whatever purpose Nance had in Ukraine, in practice he presented a blowhard’s-eye view of a war he was supposed to be fighting in as part of America’s noble commitment to spreading democracy abroad. This war propagandist characterizes opponents of U.S. involvement as Kremlin operatives, white supremacists, or gullible hillbillies. In an interview on Philadelphia’s WHYY radio, Nance claimed extravagantly that the United States had intelligence on the impending Russian invasion that had been worth “pallets of gold bars. He said the Russian now have moved into a second phase of the war in which they’re focused on holding on to the Donbass region. He stated, incorrectly,  that the Donbass was fully seized in 2014. Finally, he insisted, “Ukraine is absolutely winning.” When a caller objected to his characterization of Russians as lacking humanity, Nance went on a long tirade about how Dostoevsky held the same opinion.

Chatting by the Meat Grinder

The biggest irony of the interview was when Nance mocked American right-wing militia members buying AR-15s after he had boasted of volunteering for a foreign army that mass-conscripted young men, often shipping them to the front with little to no training. Nance’s tall tales also omit the story of actual foreign volunteers in the ILTDU who have made it to the “meat grinder” as he repeatedly called it. 

It is not clear whether during his time in the theater of war Nance had reached a true combat zone, but other volunteers have. On June 22, American volunteer Stephen Zabielski was killed by a landmine. In April, upstate New York native Willy Cancel was killed in combat. And most recently, two Americans, Luke Lucyszyn and Bryan Young, were killed along with two other volunteers from Canada and Sweden in the Donetsk region. Two Americans were captured fighting in Ukraine in June, along with a third in July. They could all be sentenced to death, alongside three British and Moroccan fighters already tried by the Russian-controlled Donetsk People’s Republic. 

Earlier this month two more British volunteers, Andrew Hill and Dylan Healy, were charged with similar offenses after being captured. Another Briton, Paul Urey, was revealed to have died in DPR captivity although it is not confirmed that he was an actual combatant.

How serious is the situation of the captured men? Consider that most of the American public’s attention to American captives in Russia is focused on WNBA player Brittney Griner, who is being tried on drug possession charges. 

There is also a precedent for Americans foolishly wandering into a conflict as mercenaries only to meet an untimely end. 

Consider the case of Daniel Gearhart, a Maryland-born husband, father, and Vietnam veteran who ventured to Angola in 1976 as a soldier of fortune to fight for the anti-communist FNLA guerrilla group. Rushed into service for a small outfit of foreign fighters, Gearhart’s commander was a Cyprus-born veteran of the British Paratroopers named Costas Georgiou, better known as “Colonel Callen.” Based on his penchant for fearless combat against the Soviet-backed Angolan troops as well as his ruthless execution of his own fighters for any hint of insubordination, he might as well have called himself Colonel Kurtz like Marlon Brando’s character from “Apocalypse Now!  

Within a week of Gearhart’s joining the outfit, they were ambushed and captured by Cuban troops that had been tracking them. In the Luanda Trial that ensued Georgiou, Gearhart, and two other British citizens were sentenced to death, while nine others received long prison terms. On July 11, an Angolan firing squad carried out the sentences.

Gearhart’s case should serve as a warning to those who are taken in by the tough talk of charlatans like Nance to support deeper involvement of the United States and other Western nations in the Ukraine conflict.

The (Pay)day After

Nance is far from the only propagandist attempting to force rose-colored glasses onto the American people regarding Ukraine. Retired Lt. Colonel Alexander Vindman this week co-wrote an essay in Foreign Affairs haughtily titled “Build Ukraine Back Better,” where he absurdly claims, “[i]t remains unclear how long the war will last, but what is clear is that this war will end with a Russian defeat and a sovereign and independent Ukraine emerging as a new European power.” He goes on to make the case for the United States to rebuild Ukraine in the wake of a conflict that likely would not have occured without the United States and European Union urging for Ukraine to affiliate with the EU at the expense of ties with Russia. 

Vindman is most famous for his role in the first impeachment hearings against Donald Trump. When answering questions from both parties, he repeatedly invoked his role in coordinating “interagency policy” with respect to Ukraine from within the White House National Security Council for his decision to speak out against Donald Trump’s temporary withholding of aid to Kyiv. 

The media crowned Vindman a hero and whistleblower even though he had usurped and obstructed the broad plenary powers of the president to decide foreign policy matters legally defined under Article II of the U.S. Constitution. In his new role, Vindman is fully ensconced in his true calling: lobbying and guilting America into its new nation-building project in Ukraine. 

According to the European Commission, the EU has contributed 4.1 billion euros (around $4.16 billion) to the Ukrainian war effort, while the U.K. has provided 3.8 billion pounds ($4.55 billion). The United States has sent a staggering $54 billion to Ukraine as of May, before several additional supplementary packages were sent through July. At the Lugano Conference Vindman mentions in Foreign Affairs, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s representatives announced an eye-popping price tag for rebuilding Ukraine: $750 billion

To put this sum into perspective, to meet this goal the Western allies would have to cough up a dollar amount exceeding the GDPs of Poland, Turkey, and the majority of other EU member states. Implicitly, Vindman is arguing that while Russia may be to blame for launching the war, Ukraine’s allies will have to pay for it. Yet Vindman has the temerity to declare Ukraine a “European power.”

During his WHYY interview, Nance voiced the absurd opinion that Russia was losing the war because it had failed to seize Ukraine’s capital of Kyiv. In this way he has moved the goalposts several football fields beyond the primary goal of Putin’s invasion, which was to secure control of the Donbass region and force Zelenskyy’s government to eschew close ties to NATO and the European Union. 

Russia is currently driving towards the conquest of the remainder of Donetsk, the region where it already holds almost two-thirds of the territory. Early in the invasion Russia succeeded in partially occupying two additional Ukrainian oblasts, Zaporizhzhia and Kherson along the Black Sea coast. Should he fully occupy Donetsk, Putin could become more ambitious on the battlefield against a diminished Ukrainian fighting force.

A July 18 NPR article attempted to describe the real picture of an outmanned and outgunned Ukrainian military. It painted the picture using the first-person account of a Ukrainian military cadet named Oleg rushed to the front from officer training academy, and a soldier named Oleksandr who was sent to the front in Sievierodonetsk within twelve days of enlistment.  

A Cause Sold at a Premium

Ukraine insisted in March that it does not use public-relations firms and speechwriters to craft its messaging, but records show otherwise. Its ambassador to the United Nnations, Sergiy Kyslytsya, said in March that no one besides Zelenskyy and Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba’s staff were researching or writing speeches. 

This was an absurd statement given it was well known that PR firm SKDKnickerbocker was contracted on their behalf. The Ukrainian Armed Forces contracted with American defense blogger Daniel Rice to write favorable articles about the war and the need for Congress to send more artillery. 

In a sign of just how shallow the Ukraine advocacy is regarding ethical consistency, in May the Ukrainian government hired Qorvis, LLC to represent them in Washington. Qorvis had from 2014 until earlier this year represented Russia in its efforts to fight U.S. sanctions legislation.

Do Americans believe the rosy picture painted by Nance and Vindman? Interest in the war has declined since it settled into the slower, bruising slugfest in April and May. With no limit placed on Russia’s ambitions within Ukraine at this point, the initial boost that it gave to middling Western politicians desperate for a unifying purpose has dissipated. Italy’s unity government has fallen, Boris Johnson’s government in the UK was dragged down by his own Tory Party. The promise of a grand adventure overseas was only a distraction rather than a treatment for problems at home. This should serve as a cautionary tale to warmongers: propping up the caving roof of someone else’s house against the rain will not fix the crumbling foundation of one’s own.

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