The Smoke Eater for March 20, 2023
How Jesse Helms lynched the ICC and allowed Vladimir Putin to brainwash kids.
Good day, this is The Smoke Eater for Monday, March 20, 2023, and you lie and your breath stank.
NOTE: The Smoker Eater is a free and mobile friendly newsletter on global news and foreign affairs that's 100% funded by super awesome readers. If you learned something, or just want to keep this project going and growing, tip me on Ko-Fi, or subscribe to my Patreon where you can see dozens of photos essays from around the world.
ABOVE THE FOLD
On Friday, the International Criminal Court (ICC) issued an arrest warrant for "Mr. Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin and Ms. Maria Alekseyevna Lvova-Belova" on allegations of war crimes.
The ICC's Pre-Trial Chamber II is alleging that Putin is, "responsible for the war crime of unlawful deportation of population (children) and that of unlawful transfer of population (children) from occupied areas of Ukraine to the Russian Federation."
The warrant for Lvova-Belova makes a similar allegation and notes that both Putin and Lvova-Belova bear, "individual criminal responsibility for the aforementioned crimes, for having committed the acts directly, jointly with others and/or through others."
The warrant marks a dramatic and unprecedented move by an international body against a member of the UN Security Council, and comes as Russia's war in Ukraine surpass the one year mark, and comes on the anniversary of its invasion of Crimea nine years ago.
The timing is also notable as, on March 15, Lvova-Belova boasted during a televised a sit-down with Putin about having adopted a Ukrainian child from the occupied city of Mariupol.
"Now I know what it means to be a mother of a child from Donbas," Lvova-Belova told Putin when he asked if she had adopted a Ukrainian child. "It's hard, but we definitely love each other. I think we can handle anything."
Lvova-Belova is Russia's Commissioner for Children's Rights in the Office of the President of the Russian Federation. State media reports have called her, "Mother Russia," because her job is to promote the rights of children and because she personally has more bilogical and adopted children than a Duggar family reunion at Chuck E. Cheese.
For the better part of the last year, Ukrainians fleeing the war have grabbed any journalist willing to listen and pleaded about kidnapped children.
While I was reporting in Kraków last June, there were half-a dozen women hanging around the train station who all shared a similar story about the orphaned children of friends and neighbors. According to the women, the children went missing after the parents were killed or imprisoned (or killed in prison).
I heard the same stories in Berlin, and again in Prague. Scattered and unverifiable posts would occasionally surface on Telegram or Twitter. Some newspapers might mention the same rumors. But because this was all happening in Russian-occupied areas, it was impossible to corroborate the stories.
When Ukrainian's began retaking areas like Kherson, evidence began to surface.
Bulk shipments of textbooks still in shrink wrap were discovered at semi-abandoned schools. Children were given copies of the lyrics to Putin's Stalin-era remix of the Russian national anthem. A puppet regime that was installed had given Russian passports and money to civilians, though many survivors of the occupation have said they felt pressured, and were fearful of starving.
Last fall, major news outlets like the Washington Post and the Wall Street Journal began publishing investigations that revealed the grim details of the occupations:
...According to a timetable left hanging on the blackboard of one classroom, mornings began with reading sessions of Russian literature and Russian-language lessons. A plan for music classes listed lesson titles such as “Our Glory Is the Russian Nation” and “Saints of the Russian Land.” No Ukrainian classes were listed.
In another classroom, backpacks for first-graders left on the desks displayed the logo of Russia’s ruling United Russia party. A notebook left by a third-grade student contained verses from Russian poet Aleksandr Pushkin, whose statues have been toppled across Ukraine since Russia’s invasion began. “Moscow…how many strains are fusing in that one sound, for Russian hearts!” read the handwritten text, with a teacher’s corrections in red.
Teachers said they feared being replaced by puppets from occupied-Crimea and Moscow; that Putin was trying to erase their cultural identity; that history books were being re-written to erase their national independence. The struggles for an autonomous democracy known as the Euromaidan and the Revolution of Dignity was described in the new textbooks as a CIA coup, the 2014 invasion of Crimea (with "little green men") was called the will of the people. Kids were no longer taught about Stalin's genocide in the 1930s, the Holodomor, they were encouraged to join children's paramilitary organizations, like the Yunarmiya.
It's a part of a strategy that Putin has used before. When Russian forces invaded Donetsk, Russian-backed "rebels" came to schools demanding all children aged 7-18 be loaded onto a bus, Al Jazeera's Sabra Ayres reported in July 2014.
"What can I do if they show up here with Kalashnikovs and buses,” Olga Volkova, the head of a Donetsk school, told Al Ayres back in 2014 as bombs fell on apartment buildings. "It’s just us here. How can we fight back? I will be forced to make a quick decision based on what is best and safest for the kids."
The Russian narrative argues the children are being re-educated to "correct" their sense of Ukrainian identity with that of a "United Russia" - an ideology that presumes to recreate a medieval Russian Empire along opaque boundaries while casually glossing over the unspoken ethnonationalism across Eastern Europe and Western Asia. It mirrors existing efforts to corrupt educational standards in Russia that fit within Putin's decades-long effort to rewrite history along a less embarrassing line.
BELOW THE FOLD
While the ICC calling for the arrest of Putin is fundamentally a good step, it probably won't amount to much. Russia withdrew from the ICC in 2016, so it isn't bound by the treaty. And because the ICC has no police force, instead relying on member states to enforce police actions, the ICC can't technically arrest anyone. Putin is unlikely to face international justice unless he decides to visit one of the ICC's 120+ member nations -- and even then that nation would have to make the arrest and turn him over.
For that reason, the warrant is rather symbolic. And the symbolism becomes rather evident when viewing Russia's statements over the weekend.
First, hours before its expiration, Russia agreed to extend a grain export deal with Ukraine to 60 days. The agreement, initially brokered by the United Nations and Türkiye, allows Ukrainian ships to ship grain through the Black Sea without coming under attack from Russia.
It's unclear how long the deal will last, even as global food prices continue to rise. Nations relying on Ukrainian grain are struggling to survive amid rising food prices due to Russia's war. Ukraine had requested an extension of 120 days, and initially announced a four-month extension, but Russian officials denied this, saying, "Any claim that it's prolonged for more than 60 days is either wishful thinking or deliberate manipulation," then demanded an end to western sanctions on Russian fertilizers.
Putin then made an unannounced and highly choreographed trip to the occupied city of Mariupol. State media showed images of Putin driving around through "memorial sites," and talking with alleged locals at newly rebuilt apartment complexes in the middle of the night.
Then again, much of Mariupol was completely flattened under a massive Russian bombing campaign after Ukrainian fighters refused to surrender.
Russia's Deputy Prime Minister Marat Khusnullin told state news' RIA-Novosti that, "People have started to return," and claimed reconstruction would be finished by the end of the year.
Mykhailo Podolyak, chief of staff for Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, said “The criminal is always drawn to the crime scene...[T]he organizer of the murders of thousands of Mariupol families came to admire the ruins of the city and mass graves.”
Putin is now holding a bilateral meeting with Chinese leader Xi Jinping, who arrived in Moscow earlier this morning.
Xi, fresh off his own "reelection" for an unprecedented third, five-year presidential term, has publicly been rather ambiguous about China's relationship with Russia since the start of the war. Both declared a "no-limits friendship" just before the war, but China has since attempted to act neutral since by buying (a lot) of cheap Russian oil to keep the Kremlin from imploding under its own autocracy (again), and denying shipments of heavy weapons. In February, on the anniversary of the war, China's Ministry of Foreign Affairs released a 12-point peace plan that many foreign policy analysts derided as a giant crock of shit intended to allow Russia to keep seized Ukrainian territory (again), and serve as a bold-faced rationale for a Chinese invasion of Taiwan.
Upon meeting one another this morning, Xi and Putin traded compliments, with Xi adding that Putin had made “significant progress in prosperity.”
Before the meeting, both leaders published sloppy, loving op-eds about each other in the other’s state-owned newspapers. “The US’ policy of simultaneously deterring Russia and China…is getting ever more fierce and aggressive,” Putin wrote in China’s People’s Daily. “The international security and cooperation architecture is being dismantled. Russia has been labeled an ‘immediate threat’ and China a ‘strategic competitor.’”
Rather than name calling, Xi kept his a little more ambigious, writing in Rossiyskaya Gazeta: “The international community is well aware that no country in the world is superior to all others. There is no universal model of government and there is no world order where the decisive word belongs to a single country. Solidarity and peace on the planet without splits and upheavals meet the common interests of all mankind.”
Kremlin spox Dimitry Pezkov has said that the two will “undoubtedly” discuss Ukraine following a lavish state dinner this evening which is expected to feature quail and mushroom pancakes, according to a pool report.
Like Russia, China is also not a signatory to the ICC charter. The Chinese foreign ministry said the ICC should "respect the jurisdictional immunity" of a head of state, and "avoid politicization and double standards," the AP reports.
ONE MORE THING...
It's debatable that had the US' not maintained such a toxic relationship with the ICC over the decades, the ICC could play a much more significant role in deterring global conflict, and punishing aggressive states.
The idea was to create an independent judicial body that could investigate and hold accountable those who've committed aggression, war crimes, genocide and crimes against humanity, as well as those who may be complicit in those crimes. It was modeled after the Nuremberg Trials, and it was intended to focus only on the most heinous of human rights abuses.
The idea for a superior court for superior assholes had come up a few times throughout the last century. In 1919, after the first World War, the concept was approached by the Commission of Responsibilities, who suggested a commission to explore the "Enforcement of Penalties" between the warring states. It came up in 1937 during the Convention for the Prevention and Punishment of Terrorism of 1937, and was signed by 24 states, but only India ratified it. The United Nations' International Law Commission considered it in 1949, but by the 1950s the US and Soviet Union's Cold War any agreement impossible. In 1989, the UN delegation of Trinidad and Tobago suggested an international court to combat drug trafficking, but the whole thing wouldn't be finalized until 1998 with the Rome Statute.
The US helped formulate the ICC throughout the Clinton administration, but the administration griped that an independent court wouldn't be accountable to the United Nations Security Council. It feared potential politicization of the court could lead to bias, and took issue with a lack of definition on Crimes of Aggression. Isolationists and conservatives in the US bitched about sovereignty, complaining American citizens and soldiers specifically accused of aggression, war crimes, genocide and crimes against humanity would be deprived of their Constitutional rights.
FUN FACT: US soldiers surrender a number of Constitutional rights when they sign their ass over to Uncle Sam. For example, US soldiers do not have the First Amendment right to publicly criticize their Commander in Chief. Additionally, the military has its own court system(s) and lawyers that operate independently of the US justice system. The US government can and has used extrajudicial policies like "stop-loss" or recalling veterans to active duty in times of conflict.
Arguments against being a member of the ICC often ignore the fundamental principle that the ICC only becomes involved when a state can't or won't investigate their own crimes (against humanity). The Clinton administration's protest on the broad definition of Crimes of Aggression glossed over Article 8 of The Rome Statute, which places responsibility on the leaders, not necessarily the minions. Article 8 defines aggression as an invasion, military occupation, forced annexation, bombing campaigns, military blockades. It even includes a provision about using mercenaries (private military contractors, soldiers of fortune, and/or "little green men") to do said dirty work.
So, Clinton dragged his feet, eventually signing it in the waning days of his presidency, and the treaty -- which required the vote of 67 Senators -- was never ratified by Congress. In a signing statement, Clinton said, "I will not, and do not recommend that my successor submit the Treaty to the Senate for advice and consent until our fundamental concerns are satisfied.’’
US conservatives bemoaned Clinton's signature. In what amounts to a job application, John Bolton, then a rather obscure flunkee of the George H.W. Bush administration, railed in a Jan. 4, 2001 Washington Post op-ed that the ICC was a "stealth approach to eroding our constitutionalism and undermining the independence" of America. Bolton wrote the incoming George W. Bush administration to "unsign" [sic] the treaty and "open the possibility of subsequently unsigning [sic] numerous other unratified [sic] treaties."
Bush 43 ultimately withdrew the US and, without a hint of irony, later pleaded to an international audience for help invading Afghanistan and Iraq in pursuit of justice for the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.
In the patriotic frenzy after 9/11, the US finally passed crackpot caucus pioneer Republican Sen. Jesse Helms' American Servicemembers’ Protection Act (AKA: "The Hague Invasion Act"). Until the attacks, Helms’ multi-year effort to stop the US’ entry into the ICC seemed doomed. the bill had languished in the Senate because it gave the president power to effectively invade another country if a US soldier was ever accused and/or imprisoned by the ICC for genocide, war crimes or crimes against humanity. Helms bill forbid law enforcement agencies from working with the ICC and from helping execute arrests - though specific exceptions were made for Saddam Hussein, Slobodan Milošević, and Osama bin Laden. On June 6th 2002, the bill sailed through the Senate as an amendment to H.R.4775 with a vote of 75 to 19, with six abstentions (one of which included Helms, who was absent at the time of the vote).
Under the administration of Barack Obama, the US relationship with the ICC warmed with its policy of "positive engagement." Obama banned so-called “enhanced interrogation techniques” that he felt, “crossed a line.” The US expanded incentives that could lead to the arrest of accused war criminals and anti-democratic assholes, aiding in investigations and arrests of people like Bosco Ntaganda and Joseph Kony, both of whom were convicted for, among other crimes against humanity, conscripting child soldiers. The Obama administration even supported investigations into war crimes in Syria.
FUN FACT: In 2020, the United Nations Office of Human Rights accused Russia of aiding in bombing campaigns carried out by, or at the request of, the ruling Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad that deliberately targeted civilians, journalists and hospitals with so-called indiscriminate weapons, like incendiary and cluster munitions.
Despite the fearmongering from isolationist and conservative groups, Obama never made any effort to push ratification, a Senate where he never once had the votes. At best, Obama was accused of having "one foot in the door," for his administration's fecklessness. In 2014, Obama even reaffirmed the American Servicemembers' Protection Act, ensuring that Uncle Sam would come to the aid of any soldier who burned down a village or drunkenly plowed their way through a seedy red-light district like a rabbit on methamphetamine.
In November 2016, the ICC released a preliminary report that found a reasonable basis to believe war crimes may have been committed in Afghanistan. Several months later, ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda called for an investigation into possible war crimes carried out in Afghanistan by US forces and the CIA during 2003 and 2004, as well as US-backed Afghan security forces, the Taliban and the Haqqani Network.
The Donald Trump administration would respond by declaring the ICC to be a, "illegitimate court," with then-National Security Advisor John Bolton threatening to ban ICC judges and prosecutors from entering the US, adding that the US would, "sanction their funds in the US financial system, and we will prosecute them in the US criminal system. We will do the same for any company or state that assists in an ICC investigation of Americans."
In March 2020, the ICC began the investigation, and the Trump administration retaliated later that June with Executive Order 13928 which declared a national emergency to “deal” with the “threat.” Trump’s EO sanctioned officials involved in the investigation, and restricting their visas (as well as their families'). Trump's attorney general, Bill Barr, accused the ICC of having, "a long history of financial corruption and malfeasance," without providing any evidence.
Trump's EO was later killed off by Joe Biden in April 2021, just as the US was slated to defend the EO in one of many lawsuits. The State Department did release a statement saying Uncle Sam was pissed Not America wants to judge freedom-loving patriots who’ve been volun-told to blow shit up (in the name of freedom):
"We continue to disagree strongly with the ICC’s actions relating to the Afghanistan and Palestinian situations. We maintain our longstanding objection to the Court’s efforts to assert jurisdiction over personnel of non-States Parties such as the United States and Israel. We believe, however, that our concerns about these cases would be better addressed through engagement with all stakeholders in the ICC process rather than through the imposition of sanctions.
The US's own history with the ICC is important in understanding why the ICC's warrant for Putin is rather toothless. The ICC has been criticized as being Euro-centric, focusing on poorer and developing nations, particularly in Africa. However, it's impossible for organizations like the ICC to gain any power or legitimacy when nations like the United States insist they're examples of law, order and democratic values while simultaneously violating those principles on the global stage, and undermining their peers' efforts to bring violators to justice.
FULL DISCLOSURE: In college, I had a lovely professor who assigned me the task of arguing against the US becoming a signatory to the ICC. During the presentation, I repeated common arguments about US individual sovereignty, and noted examples where military courts have brought war criminals to justice. I also played torture videos, noting that US soldiers violated the Geneva Convention on the orders of senior US officials who attempted to preemptively rationalize the abuse, and upon facing public scrutiny, not only attempted to legalize specific forms of torture, but veto proposed laws banning specific forms of torture. I finished by reminding my classmates that if the US were to ratify the Rome Statute and become a member of the ICC, it possible for current and former US officials from multiple administrations, as well as sitting and former members of congress, to be charged, convicted and imprisoned for their knowledge, complacency and refusal to allow full, transparent investigations into war crimes seeing as Article 29 plainly says in one sentence: “the Court shall not be subject to any statute of limitations.” While justice would be served, I concluded, the ramifications could throw the US government into unpredictable chaos. My class voted overwhelmingly against ratifying the ICC charter.
European investigators looking into the destruction of the Nord Stream pipeline in the Baltic Sea have a good lead on what they think may have happened, but nothing is definitive. The running theory is that a six people rented a sailing yacht in northern Germany, sailed to a tiny port where they may have loaded up on explosives and more crew. Investogators found traces of explosives on the yacht, The Andromeda, but doubts remain due to the technical difficulties involved in such an operation. Some of the evidence points to Ukrainian nationals, though Kyiv has denied knowledge and any involvement and suggested it may be a Russian-orchestrated false flag operation.
Slovakia and Poland will send MIG-29 fighter jets to Ukraine. While Poland has telegrafed their desire to send aircraft to Ukraine for some time, Slovakia, which shares a small border with Ukraine, is one of a number of countries waiting on US F-16s. Poland's (very) conservative government has grown increasingly concerned the war, often making statements about material support other NATO allies initially consider too risky. In an interview with a French media outlet, Poland's Ambassador to France, Jan Emeryk Rościszewski, said, "[E]ither Ukraine will defend its independence today, or we will have to enter this conflict. Because our main values, which were the basis of our civilization and our culture will be threatened. Therefore, we will have no choice but to enter the conflict." The Polish embassy later issued a clarification pushing back on outher global outlets suggesting Poland was trying to get into the war, saying, "Searching for a sensationalist claim that goes against Poland's consistent efforts over the past year to help Ukraine win in this conflict and so keep it out of Europe and Poland should be seen as a sign of ill will."
OK, here's your cute critter video!
Follow Dominic on Twitter and Instagram.
The Smoke Eater is mobile friendly, ad-free and relies on your generous tips. It takes a lot of time and energy to put each issue together, so consider tipping me on Ko-Fi, the Cash App, Venmo or PayPal. You can also subscribe to my Patreon for special perks and bonuses!
Questions? Comments? Complaints? Shoot me an e-mail or send me a DM!