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Glenn Thrush and Tim Mak: Russia’s Plots Against the West

February 22, 2024
Notes
Transcript
A rundown on double agent Alexander Smirnov, and Republicans’ eagerness to amplify information sourced from Russia. And in Ukraine, feelings of betrayal on the second anniversary of the Russian invasion. Thrush and Mak join Tim Miller.

show notes:

https://www.counteroffensive.news/
https://www.nytimes.com/2024/02/21/us/politics/smirnov-fbi-biden-russia.html

This transcript was generated automatically and may contain errors and omissions. Ironically, the transcription service has particular problems with the word “bulwark,” so you may see it mangled as “Bullard,” “Boulart,” or even “bull word.” Enjoy!
  • Speaker 1
    0:00:00

    Hey, guys. Today, we’ve got the threat from Russia in all its forms foreign and domestic. First, Glenn Russia of the New York Times who’s been reporting on Alexander smeared off in the disinformation that is being targeted at Joe and Hunter Biden. And then we have Tim Mack with the counter offensive on Substack. He’s been reporting on human stories live from Keith.
  • Speaker 1
    0:00:21

    It’s a good one. Stick around for both. Hello, and welcome to the Bulwark Pop channel. Time, Tim Miller. I’m here with my old friend, Washington correspondent for the New York Times Glen Thrush.
  • Speaker 1
    0:00:40

    We pulled you out last second because I am obsessed with Alexander Smearnoff.
  • Speaker 2
    0:00:43

    You and me both, buddy.
  • Speaker 1
    0:00:44

    You have been reporting on Alexander Smith off of the DOJ. But before we get to what I think is really the big story of the month, maybe the year. I wanna do a little, memory lane with you. If that’s okay?
  • Speaker 2
    0:00:55

    Sure.
  • Speaker 1
    0:00:55

    You once hosted a podcast. I don’t know if it’s as successful as the one I’m currently hosting, but it’s called off message Was it political, and you graciously had me on as a guest one time. And you asked me a question that has that has haunted my Google Fu for the intervening eight years. And so I want to I wanna play that for the audience.
  • Speaker 2
    0:01:14

    Let me ask you something. If trump is the nominee and Hillary is indicted, One, I think, is more probable than the next.
  • Speaker 1
    0:01:22

    Hillary would beat him from jail.
  • Speaker 2
    0:01:24

    That’s okay. There we go.
  • Speaker 1
    0:01:25

    Hillary would beat Thank you.
  • Speaker 2
    0:01:27

    We just have our headline. We we can shut this thing down now.
  • Speaker 1
    0:01:30

    We can shut this thing down now. And in more ways and once, by career, was one thing that we could shut down after that.
  • Speaker 2
    0:01:37

    How young and naive we were. Right?
  • Speaker 1
    0:01:39

    How young and naive we were? You didn’t seem to push back. It’ll be that much. That seemed right to you too.
  • Speaker 2
    0:01:44

    At that point in time, we were actually organizing panels to discuss the future of the whether or not the Republican Party could survive after Hillary’s victory and Trump’s defeat. Yeah. I’ll never forget this. We were like sort of like, as we were scheduling, internal political panels and stuff. That was like what we were talking about.
  • Speaker 2
    0:02:07

    And then took that fateful trip north on that windy November day, walked into the Javits center in my hometown, and
  • Speaker 1
    0:02:19

    Here we are. We’re still dealing with the aftershocks. Yeah, it’s quite the time capsule listening to that interview. We went on for about forty five minutes. We do some gay stuff.
  • Speaker 1
    0:02:28

    Most of the interview is like us analyzing the state of the Republican Party. Can the Republicans do well in midterms? You know, might it be possible that when Hillary’s president, you know, a Republican DLC will emerge, that was one topic we discussed. You know, maybe the Will Saletan, repub a moderate centrist Republican BLC, maybe it will emerge. You know, if wishes were Ponies.
  • Speaker 2
    0:02:49

    Somebody had not spiked our food with mushrooms or anything either.
  • Speaker 1
    0:02:54

    No. No. That was just what we thought.
  • Speaker 2
    0:02:56

    It really did capture the vibe though. Right? I mean, we’ve had so much Trump. The question that I find really interesting, and I know we wanna talk about the other stuff, is What would have happened had Hillary won? Would we have eventually had to reckon with this phenomenon whether Trump was leading it?
  • Speaker 2
    0:03:13

    Or someone else was leading it or not because the backlash was, as we now are very well aware, was building. So I think if you’re looking at kinda counterfactuals on history, that’s that’s an interesting one.
  • Speaker 1
    0:03:26

    I don’t know. I think the more interesting counterfactual is what would have happened if Marco would have won the primary. You know, because I think if Hillary honestly, like, I think Hillary beats Trump. We’re still reckoning with some version of this. I I don’t think that, like, we’re wrecking with the potential literal end of our democracy.
  • Speaker 1
    0:03:41

    But but I we’re racking with this nationalist backlash that I think continues and gain steam after another establishment Clinton presidency, we could have lived in a happier time, maybe not for some of our liberal listeners. We could have lived in a happier time where the autopsy candidate had emerged. And and probably beaten Hillary. Probably beaten Hillary because of Hillary’s, all of Hillary’s various weaknesses that cost her versus Trump, but anyway, we can maybe do two hours on that imaginary history. That’s not the one we’re in.
  • Speaker 1
    0:04:09

    Instead, we’re in a real life spies like us novel, the spies are even stupider than Dan Acroid and Chevy Chase, and the Republicans are even more pliable than a fiction writer of an eighties Soviet movie could have ever even imagined. And we have this fellow named Alexander Smereenoff as if the writers got bored with the name. I wanna kinda lay out what I NFC happened and then and then I wanna get through your reporting. Essentially, the Republicans are desperate for any piece of information to demonstrate that Joe Biden is crooked. Right?
  • Speaker 1
    0:04:41

    And they had determined that Burisma was the most likely example of this, this company in Ukraine that that Hunter was on the board of. And going all the way back to the perfect phone call with Zelensky, Republicans have been looking for something. And this FBI double agent emerges to give them exactly what they would dream of would be the case in a movie. Right? Is that Joe Biden did get this money from Burrows and he has hit it in a series of secret bank accounts that you’d never be able to uncover and that he knows it because he worked with Farisma have their source and and the FBI kind of buys it.
  • Speaker 1
    0:05:19

    I wanna hear you take on that, but the Republicans on the hill, buy it hook line and sinker. And essentially use it as a central element of this impeachment inquiry. And it turns out that not only is a total lie, but it’s probably seeded by the Russians. How’s that summary? For you of of essentially what has happened here.
  • Speaker 2
    0:05:36

    I mean, that’s good. What what do you want from me? That seems to have covered the entire wireframe.
  • Speaker 1
    0:05:40

    I want you to kind of get onto in for for us here. I don’t, like, how did this come to pass? Who is this person?
  • Speaker 2
    0:05:46

    Well, he’s not Yakov smirnoff, the nineteen eighties comedian, though he does apparently share some significant characteristics with him. We know very, very little about him. I think that is by design. I don’t know if he scrubbed his social media prior to becoming infamous.
  • Speaker 1
    0:06:03

    I can’t find a picture of him. Have you seen a picture of him?
  • Speaker 2
    0:06:06

    Nope. Nope. The and he covered himself up, as he was walking out of the courthouse. I’m sure Russian intelligence has a picture of him.
  • Speaker 1
    0:06:13

    There’s one going on on the internet, but it’s a guy that, like, this guy’s supposed to be forty three. Right? And this picture that people keep sending me is like a person that looks like he’s sixty. So maybe Bulwark has aged this person poorly.
  • Speaker 2
    0:06:24

    There are a lot of, Alexander Smiernoff’s, but not surprisingly in New York. I grew up in Brighton Beach, Brooklyn, which is the ukrainian slash Russian enclave, and smirnoff was a really common name. He is somebody who occupied this kind of shadow lands world in the old Soviet States of Eastern Europe and around Russia, of which our intelligence services and our law enforcement services need a lot of insight into. So the best way to kind of view this is from the goodfellas perspective. Right?
  • Speaker 2
    0:06:57

    You know, I remember Sammy the Bulwark gravana, who was John Gotti’s associate who flipped. Right? And I think he’s a good guy to have in mind, not that smirnoff knew as much or as as valuable, but back when the feds were trying to crack the mafia. After Jay at Guruver pretended they didn’t exist for, like, half a century. They enlisted a ton of confidential informants.
  • Speaker 2
    0:07:19

    A lot of them were killers. A lot of them were serial liars. So the challenge was when you have these confidential informants is to sift through the crap and to get to the information you can verify or leads that you can later pursue. When you think of smirnoff, think of him as being somebody who’s sort of a flawed narrator, and they know he’s flaw at narrator.
  • Speaker 1
    0:07:40

    Frank Castello. We’re gonna update. We’ve done two eighties movies references. So let’s update.
  • Speaker 2
    0:07:43

    Let’s do Frank Castello.
  • Speaker 1
    0:07:44

    To early two thousands. Got it. He’s Frank Castello.
  • Speaker 2
    0:07:47

    Right. So you have a guy who is innately flawed. That’s cool, in terms of internal FBI and law enforcement deliberations. You’re not presenting that to a grand jury. You’re not throwing him out his information out in public.
  • Speaker 2
    0:08:02

    Then what happens is somebody in the FBI presumably somebody who’s pretty pro trump. Leaks this information, I believe Chuck Grassley, the Senator from Iowa, who then does a classic hill thing, which is like, we need information just in terms of brief timeline, the story gets very twisted and complicated, but all folks need to know is I believe smirnoff tells his handler at the FBI this information sometime in twenty twenty. And it pertains to stuff that happened in twenty fifteen, twenty eighteen, twenty seventeen. Okay? He makes up this story according to the indictment that the Bidens were trying to shake down Burisma, this energy giant who was under investigation by the prosecutor general in Ukraine at the time for five million bucks each.
  • Speaker 2
    0:08:50

    K? They determined for various reasons, right at the beginning, that this is bullshit. This is according to the indictments, and, also, according to the detention memo
  • Speaker 1
    0:09:00

    Like, back in twenty twenty, the Fads knew immediately is bullshit.
  • Speaker 2
    0:09:03

    And that not to go up the chain on this, that this didn’t even warrant a second level of scrutiny. Yeah. And there were various inconsistencies in his story that were flags.
  • Speaker 1
    0:09:11

    Like, for example, that Hunter Biden’s never been to Ukraine. Correct. Which it was just as a quick aside does make kind of weird that he was on the board of this company having never been to Ukraine, but that’s more of a hunter. But an issue, but anyway, also a big miss.
  • Speaker 2
    0:09:25

    Also, the sidecar on this is like Hunter Biden was engaged in activity that any reasonable outside observer would regard as being very, very questionable. Right? And I think he himself has said that. So his hands are not necessarily entirely clean as evidenced by the two indictments currently again.
  • Speaker 1
    0:09:42

    Right.
  • Speaker 2
    0:09:43

    But this guy is claims don’t check out. They’re not verified by anybody else. He’s also sending texts that say I hate Joe Biden, and I wanna take them out, essentially. So he’s got a political motivation. Fast forward to twenty twenty three.
  • Speaker 2
    0:09:55

    Grassley gets wind of this, boom, puts out a press release. I believe in May of twenty three, that essentially says, brands, this is Biden bribery, and can we get to the bottom of this, will the FBI release this form called a ten twenty three, which is an informant report. Right? So over the next four or five months, the snowballs, and it gets into the hands of James Comer, the head of the Oversight Committee and Jim Jordan, and it just becomes kind of a Fox News Max branded allegation. Right?
  • Speaker 2
    0:10:31

    Never mind that it has been dismissed by members of the FBI. Never mind that they have gotten a briefing according to Ken Buck a Republican who sat in on the briefing in which red flags were raised by the briefers about the veracity of this information they just pumped it out into the public without the basic fact checking procedures that Yeah.
  • Speaker 1
    0:10:51

    They didn’t just pump it out. Let’s listen to how at least Defonic described this.
  • Speaker 3
    0:10:54

    We’re gonna continue doing our work as house Republicans to bring transparency and ultimately accountability. Mhmm. This is the biggest political corruption scandal not only in my lifetime, but I would say the past one hundred years. You have multiple members of the Biden family profiting illegally, from foreign governments You also have the bombshell reporting, including potential tapes that exist, of while Joe Biden was vice president taking a bribe from Burisma. So this reeks of corruption, and we are going to make sure that we follow the facts.
  • Speaker 3
    0:11:26

    And I wanna say that Jamie Comer, who is our chair of oversight and government reform. He’s been doing a tremendous job, following the facts, following the bank account so that there can be transparency for the American Pete.
  • Speaker 1
    0:11:36

    She’s gonna follow the facts, Glenn.
  • Speaker 2
    0:11:38

    Well, we’ve followed the facts now.
  • Speaker 1
    0:11:42

    Have we heard from Elise? Today or in the last twenty four hours? Have you guys heard from her about the fa the new facts?
  • Speaker 2
    0:11:48

    No. What what I would say is, like, one of the first things a senior Trump administration official told me when I was covering the White House in early twenty seventeen is never never admit that you’ve done anything wrong and never never apologize. And that is really the playbook here. Comer and Jordan have just said, look, this is what it turned out to be. We were led by the FBI who said this guy was credible.
  • Speaker 2
    0:12:12

    Nothing to see here. Let’s move on as quickly as we possibly can.
  • Speaker 1
    0:12:15

    So, like, what Elise was saying that it’s just important to think about Alyssa’s language, because it wasn’t like, oh, the FBI is looking into this. This could be the biggest scandal. And she’s like, this is the biggest scandal of my lifetime may be the biggest scandal in one hundred years. And she’s specifically referring to the smear enough allegations. Right?
  • Speaker 1
    0:12:33

    Like, she says the word Burisma. She says bribe. She talks about the taped phone calls that smeared off is bringing up that the FBI knew was untrue. Every single word she says is completely fabricated. Right?
  • Speaker 1
    0:12:45

    By this one guy that doesn’t like Joe by?
  • Speaker 2
    0:12:47

    You know, again, we’re gonna have to I have to always retreat to that’s what the prosecutors say, but they seem to have laid it out. And the other thing very importantly, neither Comer nor Grassley nor Jordan are disputing that this guy’s stuff was fabricated at this point in time.
  • Speaker 1
    0:13:01

    Right.
  • Speaker 2
    0:13:01

    Just as a total aside, you know, you try to do the math on the hundred years thing and, I guess, T pot dome is some is in there too. Right? Not just water. Right?
  • Speaker 1
    0:13:09

    And it was just like a direct bribery scandal. I so this is then this gets back to the spin off of it all. Right? Which is okay. Now the question is this guy is dealing with Russian intel.
  • Speaker 1
    0:13:20

    Okay. He’s a double agent, essentially. Right?
  • Speaker 2
    0:13:23

    Right.
  • Speaker 1
    0:13:24

    And, again, we can retreat to what the prosecutors say, but the prosecutors say that some element of the information that he provided was planted by Russian intel.
  • Speaker 2
    0:13:33

    So I described him in the first story as a human hall of mirrors. Yeah. Okay. And I think that’s that’s apt, obviously, because I wrote it.
  • Speaker 1
    0:13:42

    I find my writing very apt.
  • Speaker 2
    0:13:45

    See today. It’s like it was the best thing.
  • Speaker 1
    0:13:47

    I still have.
  • Speaker 2
    0:13:48

    But anyway, essentially, the problem is, and it’s actually funny when you read the indictment. It’s what makes it kind of like seacorn for a great HBO series, right, is that they don’t know. So he claims to have had stuff that was planted by Russian intelligence. We have subsequently through some of our reporting determined that it was probably not the bribery allegation that he’s referring to. It’s probably the more recent intelligence And for those of your listeners who are uninitiated, he had also more recently made the unverifiable claim that the Russians had bugged some hotel, and had compromised on high ranking US officials potentially some people who might be involved in the presidential campaign.
  • Speaker 2
    0:14:31

    So we talk about the Republicans airing this as being the catalyst for this indictment, but it’s also appropriate to say that another catalyst was and they say this directly in the indictment was that he was try to continue to intervene on behalf they believed on behalf of Moscow to pump out misinformation.
  • Speaker 1
    0:14:51

    We’re like now just kind of venturing into the hall of mirrors where it’s hard to like draw a direct
  • Speaker 2
    0:14:56

    Right. You
  • Speaker 1
    0:14:56

    know, one to one, but, like, at least in that clip is talking about recordings like, in the same vein that she’s talking about the hunter of bribery with Burisma. And so, you know, it’s not a huge jump to think that It was the recordings that Smynoff had sent on the dossier that she’s referring to there, and that is apparently Russian intel disinformation.
  • Speaker 2
    0:15:17

    We don’t know where it comes from. It’s disinformation. Clearly according to the indictment. The two things that, pop into my head when I hear this stuff is, and I always uncovering Congress which I did for a number of years. I’ve always thought about this.
  • Speaker 2
    0:15:31

    If something is a would a statement be actionable in court would people be able to be sued if they said it without the protection of the speech and debate class?
  • Speaker 1
    0:15:43

    Sure.
  • Speaker 2
    0:15:43

    Right? If you made this allegation against a private citizen in the way that Stefanik did, would that open her up to civil exposure? Had she not had this blanket? Right? And had she not been protected?
  • Speaker 2
    0:15:56

    Now I’m not arguing that that she should be liable to any of that stuff, but just as sort of, like, an ethical standard And I don’t think it surmounts. I think if you said something without evidence about one private person to another, this is an overworked comparison, but we have seen in years past, legislators making taking the seed of an allegation that was leaked to them and spinning it in and spinning it out that later turned out to be untrue. We had that experience in the nineteen fifties. And it destroyed a lot of people’s lives. So I think it is an entirely legitimate question to go back because I do believe folks are trying to erase the tape on this.
  • Speaker 2
    0:16:38

    It is a an entirely useful exercise to go back and play precisely what is it that they said.
  • Speaker 1
    0:16:42

    Yeah. And maybe more than useful needed when you think about the broader context. And again, I don’t wanna when I’m getting over our skis here and being, you know, I don’t wanna get into P tape, you know, territory here. But, like, There’s some certain things we know. Right.
  • Speaker 1
    0:16:56

    In twenty sixteen, we know that Russia interfered in the election that they hacked emails that they wanted to create chaos that they wanted to hurt Hillary. We know that happened. We’ve seen Russia’s actions in the intervening time, the invasion of Ukraine, the other, you know, countermeasures that they’ve undertaken. And we have this guy claiming that Russia was planting this info about the Bidens right now in the heat of another, if you had another campaign eight years later. And, you know, even if this wasn’t like, oh, Putinon ordered this one piece of info, go to the intelligence, and then go to smirnoff, and then it ends up in Stephan.
  • Speaker 1
    0:17:33

    Like, even if it isn’t just like this the contextual, the environment around this is that these guys, the Republicans on the hill, are uncritically advancing material that like very well seems to be sourced from Russia in order to create problems. And like there’s no reflection about that. There’s no qualms about that. And frankly, they seem excited to do it.
  • Speaker 2
    0:17:55

    Well, the one thing I would say is we need to verify that that is in fact the case. And I will say just categorically. I don’t think any of the documents filed in the smirnoff case by the government. I don’t think that they make that connection clearly. Now that might just be just sort of the circumspection of the prosecution.
  • Speaker 1
    0:18:12

    You mean the campaign interference speculation bill? Yeah.
  • Speaker 2
    0:18:15

    Yeah. Yeah. You know, and the other thing about this is it is highly unlikely that we’d be hearing about this had the Republicans not publicized this. This would have been just something that the investigators would have pocketed and said Right. When you talk to current and former FBI people, they get all kinds of stuff pushed to them.
  • Speaker 2
    0:18:33

    That they just kind of throw out with the garbage. Right? So the only thing that really brought this thing into the public light was the fact that Republicans publicize this is from my sourcing and law enforcement. And then the other thing that’s really that might be lost to people who aren’t necessarily thinking, like law enforcement folks would, It is really highly unusual for the FBI to enthusiastically burn somebody who’d been on their payroll in public. It’s an
  • Speaker 1
    0:18:56

    interesting point.
  • Speaker 2
    0:18:57

    The House Republicans went after FBI director Christopher Ray pretty directly on this by threatening to hold him in contempt if he didn’t produce the documentation publicly. On this. And and my general sense is that didn’t go over very well in the J edgar River building.
  • Speaker 1
    0:19:14

    Just my final thought on the Republican, I because this is a good point. Had the republic has not publicized this. We probably wouldn’t be in this situation because FBI is happy to keep this stuff under wraps. The FBI gets crazy accusations and leads all the time from sources. Right?
  • Speaker 1
    0:19:28

    Yep. Yep. And so, like, the interesting thing is, and this is when you try to put this in the context of what is different about this like, what is notable is that the Republicans lack of willingness to show any restraint Right? And that their desperation to have something that is true is kind of how you end up here. Right?
  • Speaker 1
    0:19:47

    Because in this other situation, It’s not as if past Congress. It’s not as if new gingrich in nineteen ninety four. It couldn’t have found some like random at Whitewater accusation from some FBI source that wasn’t fully vetted and put it Right? It’s not like Nancy Pelosi couldn’t have done that during the Trump years or whatever. It shows just a total willingness to want to put forth the nicest thing you could say is unvetted information about this administration.
  • Speaker 2
    0:20:14

    Tim, the other thing about this is, and and we referenced it earlier. Right? And again, all this is sort of publicly available in terms of the various investigations and also journalism on this. There’s a lot of really unflattering information about Hunter Biden in the domain legitimately in the public domain that raises real questions about his behavior. And there’s real, you know, and they’re entirely legitimate questions to be asked about what is family knew and when they knew Right?
  • Speaker 2
    0:20:38

    And those factors Sure. You know, it’s perfectly appropriate to have the merit in the context of an election. I certainly know that the times as a as an institution has been committed to sort of looking into these things and and presenting the information as best as we can. We’ve covered the Hunter Biden case pretty thoroughly over the years. You know, we’ve been engaged in every twist and turn on this.
  • Speaker 2
    0:20:59

    But, you know, the the point here is, like, what’s the quality of information that’s being pumped out into the into the public domain. You know, because it is actually this is one of those rare instances where we can apply the standards we have as a news organization to the release of public information. Right? You know, you hear politicians talk about transparency all the time. And while that is very, very clearly, we are very much into transparency.
  • Speaker 2
    0:21:23

    Right? But transparency isn’t about making every single scrap of information that’s scraped up from every single corner, instantly public without curation. Right? And I think that’s what we’re seeing here is, like, there’s a big difference between transparency and sort of a responsible analysis of information.
  • Speaker 1
    0:21:44

    This is right. And this is, I think, the fundamental, and this kinda brings us full the old Republican part. Like, you can imagine a Mike Gallagher, an old type of Republican running an oversight committee and doing a real investigation into Hunter Biden and did Joe by no Like, were there a couple times where Joe met with his his business? Partners where it may have been a little bit untoward and, you know, subpoena and people and taking that seriously. Like, you could imagine that oversight committee.
  • Speaker 1
    0:22:08

    And then what we have instead is this oversight committee, which is like, we’re gonna take what very well may be Russian disinformation that is comically false. Like very easily provably false. That has been rejected by the FBI for three years. And we’re gonna turn it into the central part of an impeachment inquiry. That’s very different.
  • Speaker 2
    0:22:25

    The other thing about this and I just have to throw this out a caveat is while we’re seeing things in an indictment and while we’re we’re hearing what the FBI briefed members of Congress on, you know, there’s always a possibility that you know, some piece of information is gonna pop up that verifies some of these claims. You know you know what I mean? And and that’s also part of this process too.
  • Speaker 1
    0:22:45

    Mean, not the claim that Hunter Biden was in Ukraine.
  • Speaker 2
    0:22:47

    No. Yeah.
  • Speaker 1
    0:22:47

    And not the claim that Joe Biden has like a web of bank accounts that are so secret that the CIA could not cover it. But that was, I mean, those claims are complete.
  • Speaker 2
    0:22:55

    Exactly. Exactly. But the challenge, you know, from from reporters who are trying to cover this thing in a balanced way is, like, even while you’re you’re being hit with this fuselage of of exaggerations and sort of politicizing data points and taking them out of context, which is what the feds are alleging. Right? You also gotta keep an open mind as to where an investigation might lead.
  • Speaker 2
    0:23:17

    So it actually makes it very hard for the journalists, you know, the quote unquote mainstream journalists who are trying to cover this responsibly because you’re getting just you gotta see my inbox, man. It’s like Right. And and so what you actually have
  • Speaker 1
    0:23:29

    to do is
  • Speaker 2
    0:23:29

    kind of filter out the noise about people’s interpretation of data that comes into the public domain and just push that away and actually examine it in the context of what really what really happened.
  • Speaker 1
    0:23:40

    Well, it’s like this is like the Rudy thing. And this goes back to the laptop originally. I mean, the original, the Wall Street Journal was taking a us look, they had real reporters looking into the laptop, but they get so bored with that that they’re just like, oh, we’re just gonna publish. Like, we’re just gonna put it out, you know, through someone else. And, you know, you could argue that, like, that was cutting off their nose despite their face.
  • Speaker 1
    0:24:00

    Right? Like, it made it non credible. And that’s back to my old work. That’s the output work. That’s the thinking of like, well, how do you actually disseminate information in a way that is credible?
  • Speaker 1
    0:24:08

    Makes people feel credible. Okay. Glenn Thrush, man. I’m so happy to see you. Twice.
  • Speaker 1
    0:24:12

    I’ve seen you now in the last two months. I miss you. I appreciate your work. Stay on it. I loved your article.
  • Speaker 1
    0:24:18

    We got into some of it. People should check out your article on the mysterious Alexander Smith office in the times this morning and, we’ll be in touch.
  • Speaker 2
    0:24:25

    Great talking to you.
  • Speaker 1
    0:24:27

    Alright. Thanks for going thrush. Up next, we’ve got Tim Mack based in Keith with counter offensive on Substack. An update on the Ukraine war two years now.
  • Speaker 4
    0:24:36

    I’m a tell you my story from the underground where I live.
  • Speaker 1
    0:24:52

    Hey, welcome to Tim Mac, founder of the counter offensive, a new site on Substack headquartered in Kiev, Max is telling the personal stories of people threatened by authoritarianism. Welcome back to the Bulwark podcast, brother. It’s good to see you. We are coming up on the two year anniversary of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. I guess we’re two days away from the two year anniversary.
  • Speaker 1
    0:25:14

    Last weekend, Eastern city of Adwika fell to Russia. This has been maybe their most significant territorial victory, in a, I don’t know, nine, ten months. Talk to us about the state of play there and what you’re, what you’re seeing on the ground.
  • Speaker 4
    0:25:28

    Well, look, I gotta tell you that the morale in Ukraine is as low as I’ve seen it in a really, really long time. And a lot of this has to do, unfortunately, with the United States. And in particular, the United States and the West, saying that they would be with Ukraine to the end and then not following through with those promises. There’s a big feeling of betrayal right now. In Ukraine, not to mention a lot of despair over the current battlefield situation.
  • Speaker 4
    0:25:54

    And so, you know, folks in Ukraine follow US congressional procedures and and legislation, sometimes more closely than a lot of Americans, you know, because for them, it’s not just a matter of policy or legislation as a matter of actual lives, the lives of their family members, their cousins, their friends, their partners, it’s life or death for them. And what is a real risk is what was originally an American strategic victory in Ukraine turning into a a real risk of a strategic defeat. That is that Ukraine feeling sort of betrayed as it is. Could turn on the west, which they viewed as a friend and a close partner now as someone who who can’t be trusted. And that has implications not only for Ukraine, But all over the world, any place where the US says trust us will bash you.
  • Speaker 1
    0:26:42

    Yeah. And this sense is fear of being abandoned, by the US and confusion about what happening. I noticed the story that was that Zelensky was sharing in the briefing this week kind of leaked out about the soldier who’s on the ground, like, looking at his phone for news about what’s happening in the American Congress while all their bombs that are landing around them Is that representative? I mean, in your conversations there? Like, how focused are people on what is happening in America and and how critical is more quick action in America to trying to turn the momentum around.
  • Speaker 4
    0:27:17

    It really sometimes does stun me how much people outside the United States care about the minutiae of what’s happening in the US Congress. You know, someone, you know, over lunch was saying to me, oh, you know, just like Duke Gingrich’s contract with America in the mid nineties. Just threw in a reference to that, you know, just events and and politics that A lot of Americans aren’t even familiar with become really important to folks all over the world because the United States, it says that it’s a beacon for freedom, and stands for democracy, people have brought to that really, really very seriously. And when we say that, when America says that, other folks pay attention to what we do after making those kinds of promises. And so bringing that back to what’s happening in Ukraine, I think there’s a great sense of imminent betrayal perhaps.
  • Speaker 4
    0:28:08

    But as the war kind of seems to be going against Ukrainian momentum, folks are gonna wanna find reasons and and explanations and and, unfortunately, people and institutions to blame.
  • Speaker 1
    0:28:20

    I obviously, so many people have gone to serve in this war. And I was just reading a book for about World War one, in the absence of men just about, like, the sense of the hollowed out cities while people are are on the front lines. Like, what is happening to you? I know that people are being conscripted. Is there a sense of, like, this absence of, of this huge part of the society that is either serving or that has, you know, died in the war?
  • Speaker 1
    0:28:43

    What’s that like, actually on the ground in in Keith
  • Speaker 4
    0:28:47

    Well, you won’t talk to a single person who hasn’t been affected in a deeply personal way by debts and injuries in Ukraine. I mean, everyone knows someone. And this is one of those wars that has been extremely personal. You’ll remember in the early days of the invasion the Russians surrounded keep and we’re bombing places in in the city. So it’s deeply intimate for folks.
  • Speaker 4
    0:29:10

    They they have gone through it. It’s not some sort of far off event that’s occurring. You know, there are air raids and air raid alerts almost every day. It kind of becomes in this strange way integrated into all aspects of your lot. You know, there’s an app for that.
  • Speaker 4
    0:29:26

    There’s actually an app that will ring when the air alerts are sounding in in your region. It’s one of those things where not only are there the, you know, the physical traumas of amputations and injuries and death But it’s this terrible mental trauma that’s accumulating and it’s cascading from person to person. You can tell. I mean, I’ve I’ve seen so many people who earlier in the Ywood peg to people who were, you know, absolutely rock solid folks who you can imagine them breaking under psychological pressure. And I I’m I’m seeing them bright I’m seeing them be really affected by the cumulative effects of this war.
  • Speaker 4
    0:30:03

    It’s really heartbreaking to see. But it’s one of those things that we’re trying to give voice to at the counter events. We’re trying to tell these deeply reported human stories that illustrate what’s happening in a way that other news outlets aren’t in order to try to cut through this idea of Ukraine fatigue, writing these stories that would be interesting to read whether they were set in Ukraine or not. I mean, I’m deeply passionate about that.
  • Speaker 1
    0:30:27

    What do you have, a most memorable story that you’ve been working on since you started the counter offensive?
  • Speaker 4
    0:30:32

    We’ve done a lot of really important stories outside of the mainstream. I mean, one of our most recent stories was about Ukrainian folk music player who lost one of his arms in a drone attack. And how he is trying to change this Ukraineian folk music string instrument in order to be able to play again. You know, we’ve done these deep stories about what it’s like for Ukrainian comedians, near the front line, as well as medics evacuating from Eastern Ukraine, the Don bass all the way to Central Ukraine. We’ve done stories about Russian persecution of occupied Christian pastors in formerly Ukrainian health territories and Now Russian health territories.
  • Speaker 4
    0:31:16

    So we we’ve done story of their story about individuals going through the war in order to make it feel more intimate and more real. For folks who are reading thousands of miles away.
  • Speaker 1
    0:31:26

    I was struck by the story about the, you know, persecuted pastors, because there’ve been you know, accusations going both ways on this. Right? The the Russell file right in America has made, you know, claims that it’s actually Zelensky that’s been persecuting Russian Orthodox, ministers, and your your story about Boy, I’m not even gonna try to pronounce his name, correctly. Well, I’ll give it a shot then. You can give it right.
  • Speaker 1
    0:31:52

    Teamwork, Kosy Beckoff. I thought that just really struck me the degree to which the, you know, maybe non denominational non Russian orthodox, protestant, religious officers are being targeted by Russia. Could could you talk about that story a bit?
  • Speaker 4
    0:32:08

    Yeah. So, for example, folks who are part of the, you know, Ukrainian orthodox church, or the Baptist Ministry, which is very popular in Ukraine, are seen by Russians as suspect, as under suspicion. They think that they might be under the control of, you know, western intelligence or something like that. And without any evidence to support it, And it’s it’s really interesting because, of course, some of the folks that Ukraine realizes that it needs to win over is the evangelical right and protestants in the US who might be skeptical towards their cause. So it’s one of those topics that really strikes through not only on a personal lens, but also may have some appeal with some of the folks who are on the right in the United States who may be either on the fence or or unsure about how to view Ukraine and and Russia, but this might change to mind.
  • Speaker 1
    0:33:00

    In the before times, maybe it would change to minds. Right? You would hope that it would change some minds, but the nature of just how entrenched the right has gotten talking about this also in the podcast today about the false, stories about Biden and and Burisma that got pushed by Russian intelligence you know, we saw Tucker Carlson last week in Russia. I mean, Ukrainians that you talked to have just to be absolutely exacerbated by Right? Like, how is it that Ronald Reagan’s party has gotten so deep into kind of the Russian propaganda milk?
  • Speaker 1
    0:33:33

    I assume people in Ukraine are much more familiar with the Russian methods. Right? So, like, what what are what are folks saying there about what’s been happening?
  • Speaker 4
    0:33:40

    Well, I think you’re right that they’re familiar with Russian methods. And and so, you know, for them, nothing is new under the sun. Right? But it there’s still a consternation about Tucker Carlson who’s seen in Ukraine as as kind of a useful idiot for for Putin. But there is also, like, a lot of confusion and anger towards people like Elon Musk.
  • Speaker 4
    0:33:59

    And people like Donald Trump. I mean, there’s a lot of fear. I mean, if we just take a step back strategically, one of Ukraine’s biggest fears is the election of Donald Trump. Because not only will US support likely stall in that scenario, but Russia will very much feel empowered to do whatever they want with impunity. Should that occur?
  • Speaker 4
    0:34:20

    European leaders are also deeply, deeply concerned about that kind of scenario.
  • Speaker 1
    0:34:24

    The idea of Trump getting reelected. I mean, like, you say the Ukrainians fear it. Yeah. Of course, they fear it. But I I mean, is this war sustainable?
  • Speaker 1
    0:34:34

    If Donald Trump becomes president, and and there’s no US support anymore. And we’re already seeing the tangible results of the US delays and support. What what happens if US support ends?
  • Speaker 4
    0:34:44

    I mean, there’s a real risk that Ukraine could lose the war. I mean, resistance will continue. I mean, there there’s an old saying that as long as there’s a twelve year old boy with a with the plastic fork in Ukraine, there’ll continue to be resistance against Russian occupation. But it could mean that major cities fall It could mean that Kim is threatened again. I mean, Russia has made no secret of its intentions, which is to dominate and subjugate as much of Ukraine as possible.
  • Speaker 4
    0:35:09

    The city of Harteev is is, you know, twenty five kilometers from the from the Russian border. If they had the ability and and wore down Ukraine forces and defenses, They could go after the second largest city in Ukraine, Harkit. Surround it, besiege it, and then put millions of people through this terrible suffering. From the Russian perspective with a view towards occupying and withdrawing. These are the consequences if the United States and the rest of the West doesn’t fulfill its obligations and its promises to Ukraine.
  • Speaker 4
    0:35:40

    And that’s a real worry among Ukrainians unions about how they’re gonna continue militarily and economically without the support of the west.
  • Speaker 1
    0:35:47

    Yeah. There are couple specific stories I wanna get your, you know, have you share a little more color with us on. This morning, you have a story look looking back at the Battle of Antinov Airfield and the kind of deep reporting that you guys did is one of the early battles of the invasion, talk to us about, like, what you learned and what that experience was like.
  • Speaker 4
    0:36:08

    Yeah. So we spent The better part of the last year interviewing dozens and dozens of people who were present at this battle of Antonov Airfield, which took place in the first seventy two hours or so of the full scale invasion. And, you know, this really relates to what I was saying about, you know, a twelve year old boy with a plastic fork. There’s a story in our reporting about a member of the Ukraine armed forces that lacking ammo saw a bunch of Russian soldiers in the airfield and decided to try to run him over with this car, which he and his convoy did repeatedly in harder to fight back. This is the nature of Ukrainian resistance, and you will see it continue.
  • Speaker 4
    0:36:47

    Now do we wanna put our Ukrainian partners in a position where they need to be fighting with plastic forks and BMWs. Obviously, not. They need artillery. They need drones. They need armored vehicles.
  • Speaker 4
    0:37:01

    Essentially, they need what the United States promised from the very beginning. And and you could see a narrative forming, particularly among Russian propagandists talking to Ukrainian and saying, the Americans, they encouraged you to fight. They said we’d back you. And then just at the moment where you’re most vulnerable, they walked away. And you could see that we have very effective narrative.
  • Speaker 4
    0:37:22

    Right? It if things go badly.
  • Speaker 1
    0:37:24

    Yeah. You’ve just been doing so much. Once against the counter offensive on Substack, you should be reading more about these stories. Here’s so much about the kidnapping of the children from Russia and have have that impact has been on Ukraine. What have you kind of learned about that in the extent of it and and, you know, the negotiations upon getting some of these children back.
  • Speaker 1
    0:37:43

    What what’s the latest on that story?
  • Speaker 4
    0:37:44

    Well, look, it it’s one of those stories that really illustrates what happens behind enemy lines. It’s it’s one of those stories that shows what Russia intends to do with people in areas that it’s occupied. It’s a story about children of course, which is particularly horrific, but Russia really wants to apply this sort of propagandistic method of you know, so called patriotic education, not only the children, but to adults, erase the very idea of the Ukrainian citizenship and nationhood. And for Russia, it’s not a matter about children per se. It’s a matter of extinguishing a culture and a language and a identity.
  • Speaker 4
    0:38:24

    Which they don’t believe has any right to exist. Russia wants to subjugate Ukraine, not merely for the territory and for the economic resources that it might hold. It’s really very fertile agricultural sector and and that sort of thing. But it it really is driven by Putin’s ideological opposition to the very concept of an independent Ukraine that exists separate and apart from Russia.
  • Speaker 1
    0:38:50

    Thank you, Tim Mack. I really, really admire the work you’re doing with counter offensive and, hope to get you back here next time with maybe a more uplifting report about the status of Ukraine. Thanks, brother.
  • Speaker 4
    0:39:10

    Tide it back. See the way. I love you. Radio. It kinda makes me
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