Today, Ukrainian soldiers recaptured the areas around Kyiv that Russian forces had taken early in the invasion. Retaking the territory, they found mined homes, executed civilians, and, in the city of Bucha near Kyiv, a mass grave of nearly 280 civilians. In the town of Trostyanets, the evacuating Russians defecated in the rooms of the police station and on a dead civilian outside.
The reported war crimes and atrocities have made it impossible to separate the Russian troops from Russian president Vladimir Putin. Their shared criminality will have the effect of solidifying Putin's power by making all the Russians outcasts together as they have deliberately demonstrated they reject the western rules of war. As Russia expert Tom Nichols put it: "If Putin's goal was to cement his grip on power by making Russia hated for decades to come, well, congratulations, I guess."
That Putin has taken as many as 400,000 Ukrainians to Russia as potential hostages as he tries to bargain his way out of crippling sanctions or into land concessions is cause for concern. Russian troops continue to bombard the valuable deepwater Black Sea port of Odessa.
Refugees fleeing Russia for Finland before the last train service between Russia and Europe ended last week told writer William Doyle of a population in Russia gradually coming to realize they have fallen under the iron hand of a dictator as the government cracks down on dissent.
"The problem is that there are many Russians who cannot admit our mistakes, cannot realize that we are trapped in a nightmare," an art director told Doyle. "It's much easier to watch TV and absorb the government propaganda. It's easier to not think…. You have this vast country with many people who are poor and who have never travelled abroad. They are very isolated, with no communication, only their television. They work hard all day, come home exhausted and the TV is their only source."
A business manager told Doyle: "It seems to me that a majority of people support [the war], but I am not sure. The government propaganda tries to make it seem that a majority support it, but I don't know. None of my friends, none of the people I know support it."
Another man talked of the sanctions squeezing Russia and said: "As a consequence of believing the lies and spreading the lies on a national scale, maybe some Russian people will see that they won't have any of these nice, good, warm, cozy comfortable things coming from the West anymore…. Maybe," he said, "they should reconsider their attitude toward the propaganda they are listening to from the TV set."
At home, CNN has reported more news about the gap of seven and a half hours in the White House diary and phone logs from the crucial hours of the January 6 insurrection. It turns out that about two weeks ago, the House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the U.S. Capitol interviewed the person in charge of compiling the president's diary record.
In order to compile that official record, the White House diarist normally gets information from the Secret Service about the president's movements, the phone logs from the switchboard, and the records from the Oval Office, including phone calls, visitors, and activities.
That record-keeping system was in place until January 4, 2021, but by then the plot to overturn the election was in high gear. Yesterday, the January 6 committee revealed a text message to Trump's White House chief of staff Mark Meadows dated January 3, saying: "I have details on the call that [trade advisor Peter] Navarro helped convene yesterday with legislators as part of his effort to get Pence to delay certification…including that the president participated…."
That call appears to have been reported at the time as including "nearly 300 state lawmakers" who were provided with resources to use "as they make calls for state legislatures to meet to investigate the election and consider decertifying their state election results." An article about it stated: "A similar briefing is being scheduled in Washington, D.C., at the request of Members of Congress."
On January 3, lawyer John Eastman wrote his memo outlining a plan for then–Vice President Pence to overturn the election results.
That night, Trump's public schedule for the next day, tweeted by CNN's Daniel Dale, read simply: "President Trump will work from early in the morning until late in the evening. He will make many calls and have many meetings. The president will depart the White House at 6:10PM for a victory rally in Dalton, GA." One of those "many meetings," was with Eastman, Pence, Pence's counsel Greg Jacob, and Pence's chief of staff Marc Short to show Pence and his team the memo. Pence (who would have been the fall guy if the plan blew up) said he had no power to do what they were asking him to do.
Trump's published schedule for January 5 was even shorter. It read: "President Trump will work from early in the morning until late in the evening. He will make many calls and have many meetings." On that day, the information for the White House diary stopped abruptly. In a dramatic departure from normal operations, on the 5th the diarist didn't get any of the normal information.
Trump's schedule for January 6, published the night of the 5th, read again: "President Trump will work from early in the morning until late in the evening. He will make many calls and have many meetings." This time, though, it added: "The President will depart for the Ellipse at 10:50AM to deliver remarks at a Save America Rally."
They were just little things, those silly schedules and the articles about some deluded plan to decertify the state election results, littler than the many other norms Trump had broken. They were easily ignored or explained away by those who supported the president as well as by those just eager to see him gone. And yet, it turns out we should have been paying better attention: they were the signs that we were on the verge of losing our democracy.