Will Giuliani be the Manafort of 2020?
We are back with Part II of our discussion of the 2020 battleground state Ukraine. Our special focus again is on Rudy Giuliani who multiple experts have said should register for the Foreign Agent Registration Act (FARA) given his many clients overseas, including several who serve the Kremlin’s interests. Will 2016 repeat in 2020, with Giuliani filling the role of Paul Manafort who worked as an unregistered foreign agent?
Andrea Chalupa: Welcome the Gaslit Nation. I am your host, Andrea Chalupa, a writer, and the writer, screenwriter, producer of the upcoming journalistic thriller Mr. Jones.
Sarah Kendzior: I am Sarah Kendzior. I'm a journalist, a scholar of authoritarian states focusing on the former Soviet Union, and the author of the essay collection The View from Flyover Country.
Andrea Chalupa: And we're very excited to announce the Get Un-Gaslit reading series, which we'll be running over this summer. This includes really interesting interviews with authors such as Malcolm Nance, who wrote the Plot to Hack America: How Putin's Cyber Spies and WikiLeaks Tried to Steal the 2016 Election, as well as The Plot to Destroy Democracy: How Putin and His Spies are Undermining America and Dismantling the West. We also talked to Vanity Fair contributing editor Craig Unger, author of House of Trump, House of Putin: The Untold Story of Donald Trump and the Russian Mafia. We speak to Olga Lautman, an independent researcher and expert on the Russian mafia who helped Unger with his book, and we speak with the Washington Post's Greg Sargent, author of the Plum Lines blog who wrote an Uncivil War: Taking Back Our Democracy in an Age of Trumpian Disinformation and Thunder dome Politics. And we speak with Crystal Marie Fleming, who wrote How to be Less Stupid about Race. So our summer is lined up with a lot of really interesting interviews which will help defend all of us going into the 2020 election. So we look forward to sharing that with you. So Sarah, what is going on, speaking of the 2020 election, how is the latest with the Paul Manafort of the 2020 election, who looks to be Rudy Giuliani filling that role?
Sarah Kendzior: Yeah, well first we should say, later in this episode we're going to be airing the second half of Andrea's interview with Russian-American journalist Vlad Davidson, who talked all about Giuliani's activity in our episode from a couple weeks ago called Dirty, Dirty Giuliani, I believe it was. And Dirty, Dirty Giuliani is just the gift that keeps on taking from American democracy. Today is June 7th. The Daily Beast has announced that--
Andrea Chalupa: Today's June 9th.
Sarah Kendzior: Oh, today's June 9th. This is where we are. Okay, let me start over.
Andrea Chalupa: We haven't slept in like two days, so we're stuck in June 7th, but it is June 9th.
Sarah Kendzior: Yes. We've been recording the summer series. It's that good; it'll knock you unconscious and freeze time. Anyway, two days ago the Democrats announced that they are actively discussing opening a probe into Giuliani for his, quote, "overseas political and consulting work." Basically, his dirty deeds which doesn't just include his work in Ukraine, but also in Romania, in Armenia, and in the many other countries where he's replaced Manafort as this kind of go to guy, this nexus between the GOP, various mafia entities, and various foreign governments in which he ties them together. I don't know if the Democrats are actually going to move forward on this, but I thought it was notable, because of course Giuliani, like William Barr, is another one of these Republicans either in or connected to the Trump administration that seems to actively want to push the idea of show trials. We have gotten to the point a couple months after the Mueller probe is ended, well over two years into the Trump administration, where they can no longer distance themselves from Russia, and they gave up on that long ago. They've instead decided to flip the script to investigate the investigators, to take the people who were advocating for justice and rule of law and accuse them of subverting it. We're at this point where unless the Democrats and other members of Congress do their actual job, it's going to be impeachment hearings or it's going to be show trials. So I'm glad to see that there's at least a semblance of a pulse among the Democrats in terms of investigating people who were obviously overt bad actors. As Andrea said in the previous episode about Giuliani, this is someone who should have registered as a foreign agent. This is someone who has been linked to anti-American activity, in a way, for a long time. Basically, after the point he became "America's mayor," quote-unquote, he went in the opposite direction.
Andrea Chalupa: More like Moscow's mayor.
Sarah Kendzior: Yeah, pretty much.
Andrea Chalupa: Or Kherson, Ukraine's mayor, because he worked with the mobbed-up mayor of that city in Ukraine for a while.
Sarah Kendzior: Well, what are your thoughts on this?
Andrea Chalupa: My thoughts on this are yes, absolutely. I, like as anybody that's investigated Giuliani's many Kremlin-linked ties, and his ties to weird, bad foreign actors, generally. He absolutely should be registered as a foreign agent, and the fact that he's walking around and not having some big DOJ investigation into his work abroad, into his clientele, some which work against Americans interests, clearly, certainly not the interest of Donald Trump because he's all linked up with Kremlin interests at the moment and has been for decades, if you listen our interview with Craig Unger, which is coming up. It's just clear that Reality Winner is in prison for being a whistleblower and alerting the public about election hacking, while Rudy Giuliani parades around collecting money with all these foreign clients and not registering with FARA. It's the justice system that we have in the world today.
Sarah Kendzior: Yeah, I know. It's frustrating. This Daily Beast article is interesting because they quote Giuliani speaking himself about the prospect of being investigated. I think that this is about his Armenian activities, he says, "I hope they do investigate me for that, because I would resist and go on a rampage. I'll tell them I won't comply with a subpoena or any request unless you investigate Biden first." The Democrats need to grasp that this is the mentality that they're contending with. You know, we keep hearing all these things about people's reputation, or what will the history books say, or what about posterity. I mean, that is out the window. This particular band of Republicans is living entirely for the president. They are living for power, for money, for territory, and for themselves. They are confident enough that they either will be writing the history books themselves, or that there is no future to speak of, whether it's because of obliteration through climate change and denial of resources, or something worse they have in mind. I can't get out of my head that our foreign policy is dominated by Donald Trump and John Bolton, these nuke fetishists. Obviously, my mind goes there, but I hope people grasp the immediacy of the situation. We're not and haven't been in a long time in a situation where you can sit around and wait for elections, wait for 2020, wait for nonexistent superheroes to step in and fix our problems. That was the mistake that people made in 2016. Since that time, Andrea and I have been just begging people to grasp this change in mentality, and to some extent to throw their own kind of hang-ups about reputation and what will history say and protocol even out the window, and by that I don't mean be immoral. I don't mean be brutal. I don't mean emulate the Republicans in the sense of their worst behavior, but I mean throw away the egotism that surrounds matters of reputation and politics and simply act on principle. Act in accordance to the rule of law to help the people that you are supposed to protect and serve. It's just been a very frustrating year, especially since the Democrats took the house and we expected that there would be accountability. We expected that there would be some change, and instead we're just seeing a culture of timidity, of prestige politics, of party bias, whereas we have a nonpartisan national security crisis, a constitutional crisis. I don't know, man. As I said before, I'm a broken record, but better than a broken country. I don't know if you want to comment on that, especially kind of leading into the conditions that created what you discussed with Vlad in the in the interview that's coming up.
Andrea Chalupa: Yeah, we're running this week part two of my interview with Vlad Davidson, the editor-in-chief of the literary magazine The Odessa Review, and a columnist for Tablet Magazine. Vlad is someone who follows Jewish issues very closely on the ground in Ukraine, which is an important topic because the Kremlin for decades has tried to weaponize Jewish-Ukrainian relations to try to divide those communities and try to paint Ukraine as a neo-Nazi, broken country, and very chaotic. Vlad goes into fact-checking the Kremlin's propaganda on that, as well as going into Jewish and Ukrainian history as well, which is of course significant for many reasons. If you look at World War Two history, as we have been on all month in June 2019 with the seventy fifth anniversary of D-Day, out of all of World War Two, Ukraine and Belarus suffered some of the greatest casualties of World War Two, lost the largest amount of people in both the war and of course the Holocaust combined. This was a part of Europe that Historian Timothy Snyder calls the blood lands in his must-read book Blood Lands: Europe between Hitler and Stalin, all about how those two mass murderers essentially influenced each other over many years. That's vital, vital reading. So Vlad talks about all the great progress Ukraine has made, especially in recent years with bringing greater healing and awareness to Ukraine's own crimes against Jewish communities, and also fact checking, as I said, the Kremlin's propaganda there that's aggressive and ongoing. We start off the discussion with a look at Obama's foreign policy, which is a topic we've covered quite a bit here. And just to summarize, the point Sarah and I have always made is, as well intentioned as Obama's foreign policy may have been, things like the Iran Deal spread his foreign policy team way too thin, where, for instance, the Iran Deal, which was an agreement to try to stop Tehran from making a nuclear weapon in exchange for lifting sanctions. That's of course a wonderful, noble project. But the reality at the time was that Iran getting a nuclear bomb overnight certainly wasn't gonna happen. It wasn't an imminent threat, whereas Kremlin aggression was an imminent threat. I know from talking to someone high up in the Obama administration at the time, the Middle East was the number one priority for his foreign policy team, as it had to be because Bush started that horrible war in Iraq and of course Afghanistan, and that really forced Obama to clean up a lot and manage a lot. And then of course he had Syria. But at the same time, this person serving in Obama's White House said, you know, "Russia's probably third on our list of priorities." Well, you know, your number one on Russia's list of priorities. Kremlin aggression didn't just happen in 2015, 2016 leading up to the election of Donald Trump. It was plaguing Russia's neighbors for several years. Georgia was invaded, Ukraine of course was invaded. You had an Estonian security agent that was kidnapped and held as a political prisoner. We can go on and on with the whole Kremlin bots and the Internet Research Agency. That was all up and running for several years, and they're doing all types of test runs to infiltrate democracies and influence elections and so forth. So they were well-practiced by the time that they attacked our own election, and Ukrainians who were on the front lines of the Kremlin's aggression for many years tried to warn us, and they sounded like alarmists. I was watching all this, and was watching a lot of the hipster nihilists in the media sort of snickering at that. We should have listened to the Ukrainian alarmists a lot sooner, because as we say on the show, Ukraine is a laboratory for Kremlin aggression. And what we have now in Ukraine is a new untested president who promised the people change. He's promised to fight corruption and he promised to essentially bring an end to the war with Russia. And so the danger there is he and this new guy Zalinsky, who we talk about in this interview, because Vlad spent about an hour with him on the campaign trail interviewing him and getting to know him, Zelinsky has put together an administration and his people around him that include a number of former advisers to Yanukovych, Putin's puppet that was overthrown in the Ukrainian Revolution, as well as some other troubling old guards coming back into the mix. So a lot of sort of nefarious actors have been showing up to Kyiv now that Zelinsky is in power thinking that they might get a shot in the power grab that always goes on when there's a changing of the guard. That's a troubling sign, but we'll see how that all shakes out. It's still early, of course, but I would want to just sort of caution everyone that if Zelinsky thinks he can bring an end to war with Russia, Putin is a terrible negotiator, because he simply does not compromise. He wants all of it. He pushes the deal as far as it can go. If you look at what happened with Assad, the U.S. wanted Assad to go. No way. Putin made sure Assad stayed, and he stayed. And now the Kremlin has a puppet state in Syria right on the Mediterranean, which is basically essentially a Kremlin base right on the Mediterranean. All of this is to say that if there is any sort of peace deal that Ukraine thinks it can work out with Russia to try to end this war, it's going to be a Trojan horse, and Russia's just going to push deeper as it always does, and there's always a risk that Ukraine falls. And then you have a very large country that is in the Kremlin's hands right on NATO's border, and that could ramp up aggression against NATO countries like Poland and the Baltics and so forth. So what we're saying is we keep talking about Ukraine because it's an important country for us to learn from, to listen to, because it's on the front lines of Kremlin aggression, and what happens there tends to be tested out and comes to Europe, the EU countries and the U.S., and so forth. It's in our best interest to pay attention to what happens there and to follow it and understand it, and look for any warning signs that pop up wherever we may live. It's a very interesting time, a critical time, in global affairs and the changing winds of it.
[Commerical break] Sarah Kendzior: Hey, Gaslit Nation ladies and general fans of bras, today we're talking about Third Love, a great company that makes bra shopping convenient for you. We at Gaslit Nation know you have too much going on, what with the kleptocratic assault on our rights and freedoms, to want to spent a lot of your time shopping for bras. Thanks to Third Love, you can get your bra shopping done online fast and battle the regime in style. Using Third Love's online fit finder quiz, you can order your bras and try them on at home. Third Love uses data points generated by millions of women who've taken their fit finder quiz design bras for a perfect fit and premium feel. Over 12 million women have taken the quiz to date. You just answer a few simple questions to find your perfect fit in 60 seconds. Third Love offers 100% fit guarantee in 78 sizes. Every customer has 60 days to wear it, wash it, and put it to the test. If you don't love it, you can return it, and Third Love will wash it and donate it to a woman in need. Third Love's team of expert fit stylists are available every day to help via text, chat, or phone. Returns and exchanges are free and easy. Third Love knows there's the perfect bra for everyone. So right now, they're offering our listeners 15% off your first order. Go to ThirdLove.com/gaslit now to find your perfect fitting bra and get 15% off your first purchase. That's ThirdLove.com/gaslit for 15% off today. [end commercial break]
Andrea Chalupa: And now here is part two of our interview with the Russian-Jewish-American journalist Vlad Davidson, on that 2020 battleground state, Ukraine. We recorded this interview in New York in early May in the historic Ukrainian East Village restaurant where the great filmmaker Sidney Lumet used to rehearse his films.
Vlad Davidson: Those of us who work on Ukraine, such as myself, were very critical of the Obama administration in 2014 for JCPOA.
Andrea Chalupa: The Iran Deal.
Vlad Davidson: The Iran Deal, yeah. The Iran Deal had the unfortunate side effect of tying the hands of the Obama administration, because they needed the Russians' cooperation in Syria and with Iran Deal with negotiations with the Iranians, diplomacy. It tied their hands, some of us think, like myself. I think that. On being able to do very much about Crimea and the Don Boston in early 2014.
Andrea Chalupa: Since after Trump's election I always said when everything is said and done, we will look back on this and everything will come back to the Iran Deal. And that is because when you have an emergent emperialistic Kremlin coming at you and invading its neighbors, you need to prioritize that and not stretch yourself so thin, working on a largely symbolic Iran Deal, which is even questionable in terms of the benefits that it would give the Iran regime, and how it could potentially embolden Iran, which is one of the largest state sponsors of terrorism in the world.
Vlad Davidson: You certainly don't sound like you worked in the Obama administration.
Andrea Chalupa: Well, there's a lot of us who supported him and appreciated a lot of his domestic policies that were absolutely appalled by how he dropped the ball on his foreign policy, and didn't prioritize. His priorities were wrong given that you are dealing with an imperialistic Kremlin that was determined and using asymmetrical warfare, which is relatively cheap, to undermine democracies across Europe and ultimately our democracy. When Donald Trump is President of the United States with the help of Kremlin interference, something's wrong with your foreign policy.
Vlad Davidson: I also, I freely admit that I did vote for President Obama in 2012, and I would also second that I didn't get the foreign policy I expected, and certainly if I'd known about the JCPOA, I probably would not have given my vote to him in 2012. I think he did, accidentally, without intending to, did break the international alliance system. And in one way or another, I mean, obviously President Trump is a is a blowback in many ways to things that happened, good or bad, during the Obama administration. The foreign policy that the Obama administration pursued, the Trump vote was a rebuke to that, whatever else it was. It was also many other things, but it certainly was a rebuke to that.
Andrea Chalupa: I think that Trump winning the election was just showing a lot of institutional failure that was taken advantage of, and just showing how the U.S. government for many years, not just under Obama, just wasn't ready for the challenges of the 21st century. Again, I think it just comes back to the fact that when you have a Kremlin that invades Georgia, invades Ukraine, seizes Crimea, and is running 21st century-level aggressive propaganda that's working...because I've spent, like you, in focusing on Ukraine for all these years, I've spent years fact-checking highly intelligent people who are getting their news from RT, Russia Today, and sources on the left that are falling for things like RT. It's effective.
Vlad Davidson: On the margins it certainly is effective, yeah.
Andrea Chalupa: Even in the mainstream, I mean when Russia's invasion escalated in the spring of 2014, you had credible media outlets, from the Atlantic to the New York Times, debating the giant far right monster of Euromaidan, and really sort of painting Euromaidan, Ukraine's uprising, as this far-right, neo-Nazi-led movement. And it wasn't until the election that followed and the two far right candidates got barely two percent or something, when the numbers, the voting spoke for itself, and people realized, "Oh wait. Maybe that was it."
Vlad Davidson: Yeah, well I mean, in any situation where men stand up and fight against riot forces, it'll be a lot of guys who are sporty and are angry and lift weights all the time, and it doesn't mean it's a neo-Nazi thing. Certainly not. There were, I mean there certainly were right-wingers and conservatives and traditionalists, there's certainly some neo-Nazis in Euromaidan, but there's a million people at certain points. A million and a half people, at certain points in the Maidan Square. It was a massive popular revolt against corruption. I mean, there were also leftists there. And it's true that the Ukrainian right, ultra right, has almost no electoral success whatsoever. They've not been able to enter Parliament since 2014 in large numbers. I mean, one or two right wing characters, one individual mandates districts on their own charisma, but the parties have not been able to reach the 5% threshold to get a party list into Parliament. So less than 5% of the population by far hold ultra-right wing views. More like 1 or 2%. And frankly as American citizens you and I know that it's much more here than than 2%.
Andrea Chalupa: We have the far right controlling the Senate, the Supreme Court, and the White House. I always say that--
Vlad Davidson: I mean, I wouldn't go that far, but there's a lot more right ultra right wingers in America than there are in Ukraine for sure.
Andrea Chalupa: Well, I always say that I rather have Ukraine's far right problems than America's.
Vlad Davidson: That, surely, I agree on.
Andrea Chalupa: So tell us what is the far right problem in Ukraine? Put it into proper perspective for us.
Vlad Davidson: I mean, in 2014 the Ukrainians had no army. We had no army whatsoever. They were being invaded, and the state was on--
Andrea Chalupa: Yanukovich has basically decimated the military, along with stealing billions from the government.
Vlad Davidson: Well, he was the fifth president in a row to do that. It wasn't just him. It had been policy for 25 years just to not have army spending, and to have the army be totally subservient to men who often held Russian passports and were educated in Russian military academies. Ukraine literally had a defense minister who held a Russian passport. That's really weird, wouldn't you say?
Andrea Chalupa: Right, that was under Yanukovych.
Vlad Davidson: Yeah, and probably other defense ministers had Russian passports we don't know about. So there was a situation where you needed volunteers to go and fight the Russian army, the regular Russian army. So any men and many women who could hold a gun went up there, and in that situation you'll take anybody who is willing to fight. So a lot of his volunteer battalions, they had some right wingers in them, and some of them, like Asov, were founded by by neo-Nazis and later became just really nationalist, and were integrated into the interior ministry later on. There certainly is a problem with those kinds of figures running around, but for the most part, these battalions are now under the control of the Interior Ministry. Mr. Avakov, weirdly enough, an ethnic Armenian, the interior minister is an ethnic Armenian born in Azerbaijan in Baku, controls all these battalions and his guys are in charge of all these battalions. They're under the control of an Armenian interior minister who is a very close ally of the Jewish president, so these groups are under control. There was no anti-Semitism whatsoever during the election process. In fact, Avakov used them against the sitting president. So are they a threat? Are they a threat to Roma in the country and Jewish people? Possibly. There's not been an anti-Semitic physical hate crime in Ukraine in two and a half years. There's not been one attack on a Jewish person or person of Jewish descent in two and a half years, physically. These right-wing battalions are under control of the government, and there are all sorts of little groups and schools which are being continuously infiltrated by both Russian intelligence agents and Ukraine intelligence agents to keep track of them. The Russians tried to make them do bad things in order to make Ukraine look bad, so it has no Western allies, as it should have Western allies. And the Ukrainian intelligence agents infiltrate their guys in there to keep them under control. But the important thing to remember is if there were there was no Russian invasion, there would have been no guys with big biceps and black t-shirts running around in the first place. This is what happens when your country is invaded and a chunk of your territory is stolen, and 13,000 Ukrainian citizens are murdered by invading Russian forces and their local collaborators.
Andrea Chalupa: The far right did disrupt an LGBT rights march in Kyiv, and they also attacked a Canadian journalist who was covering it.
Vlad Davidson: Yeah, Michael Colburn, my colleague. And also, they have killed Roma people in the last two years, and I've written about this, and it's horrible. No one should say this doesn't happen. They are absolutely a problem, but they are the same kind of problem as they are in Poland and Hungary and Slovakia, right? And they don't have access to state power. We should absolutely not whitewash anything and say that there is no problem in Ukraine with this. It's kind of an issue, but it's certainly not a huge issue, as it's made out to be in pro-Russian propaganda press. Ukrainians are very tolerant and accepting of people.
Andrea Chalupa: I grew up in a very patriotic Ukrainian household in a small northern California town. We had Ukrainian embroidered pillows and Ukrainian Easter eggs.
Vlad Davidson: Your father is a fantastic man. Say hello to [him].
Andrea Chalupa: I will for sure. My dad is from Lviv, from the western part of the city Catholic. My mom is from Donbass, the orthodox East. My parents have of course what Ukrainians call a mixed marriage, and so growing up with them, my parents just happened to have a lot of Jewish friends, and so I always felt culturally as one with Jewish culture. We have really good friends from Tel Aviv, for instance, and I learned how to dive for the first time in a public pool in Tel Aviv. And so it wasn't until I got to Ukraine years later and I lived there for a half a year in 2005, and I brought with me the book by the American author Jonathan Safran Foer Everything is Illuminated, and he had a reference to anti-Semitism and violence by Ukrainians against Jewish Ukrainians and that whole history. It wasn't until I was much, much, much older than I learned about all these issues. For me, I always felt culturally right at home with Jewish culture, and there was this whole sort of Eastern European melting pot that my parents instilled in me.
Vlad Davidson: Well, that's great. That's a very American thing also. You're a good American in that way. To a great extent, people in the diaspora live with stereotypes and the worst of what happened in the old world, as opposed to, they don't remember the good things, and 80 years later your descendants only remember the bad things. You know, there are absolutely stereotypes in the Ukrainian community about Jews in the diaspora, and there are absolutely stereotypes in the Jewish community in the diaspora about Ukrainians, and my own diaspora, the Russians and the Russian Jewish community, in the diaspora about Ukrainians. But the biggest problem between the two diasporas in North America since World War 2, the affair of John Demjanjuk, so-called Ivan the Terrible. This is not something that any Jewish Ukrainian or ethnic Ukrainian in Ukraine thinks about. This is entirely a diaspora thing. I've tried to talk to people about that in Ukraine, and actually no one really knows the details about it. Isn't that amazing?
Andrea Chalupa: Yeah, so what you're saying is what I've observed as well, where there's a divide between how people who are descendants of Ukraine and Russia, and of course Jewish descendants as well, have a much more divided attitude versus the reality on the ground in Ukraine itself, where it is more blended and multicultural.
Vlad Davidson: More everyday oriented.
Andrea Chalupa: A lot of the Kremlin's sort of framing on all of this. The reality is it's simply not in the ground in Ukraine to the extent of the Kremlin wants you to think it is. When I was living in Ukraine back in 2005, I started studying the history of Jewish Ukrainian history, because I couldn't believe this, because I felt so culturally blended. And I actually had Ukrainian and Ukrainian Jewish friends just shrugging it off, like it's not a big deal. It's like, what's the big deal? We're all one.
Vlad Davidson: Yeah, it's not something that people think about on an everyday level when they're just dealing with ordinary reality or work and taking the kids to school back in the old country. It's something that is mobilized and actually has been mobilized since the Soviet times. You could say, and with good evidence if you make a good case for it, and I think a lot of people have, that the John Demjanjuk affair was the greatest victory of a Soviet intelligence operation or active measures operation on Ukrainian Jewish relations and on Ukrainians in the diaspora in the last 70 years. Right?
Andrea Chalupa: Right, so the Kremlin pushes this narrative to divide.
Vlad Davidson: And it has since like the 50s, so this is not a new thing. This is straight up Cold War tactics that have just been reactivated since 2014. This is something that they've really perfected and have used before, and it just really works. This is why it's so important the work that you do.
Andrea Chalupa: Thank you very much. And could you explain with the Demjanjuk affair was?
Vlad Davidson: Yeah, very briefly, a thumbnail sketch. A Ukrainian gentleman who lived through the Holodomor, and was pressed into the Red Army, and was taken prisoner by the Nazis, and wound up being a prison camp guard in one of the prisons, and wound up going after the war to America, and lived his life as an American, and had his citizenship stripped by the Americans, and was deported to Israel. There was a mistrial, and then he was deported to Germany, and he died and in Germany after getting his citizenship stripped again. It's this epic case of just an ordinary Ukrainian boy, literally a boy who survived the Holodomor, who survived the war, who survived the Red Army, who survived being a POW, who was pressed into service in the Nazi concentration camps, who came to America to make a new life, was pulled back into the old world. This epic life which you could read about; there are multiple books about it, but it is this tremendous case where everyone projected the worst of what happened to them during World War 2 onto his life, on his case. It divided Ukrainians and Jews for a very long time, and we're still living with the consequences of that case, and the political outcomes of the trauma of that case. I think since he died a few years ago, this case will recede into the past, and Ukrainians and Jews and Ukrainian Jews and Ukrainians can build a better relationship.
Andrea Chalupa: And his defense was, like, he argued that it was mistaken identity, that he wasn't Ivan the Terrible from the camp, right? That's what I recall.
Vlad Davidson: Yeah, it's a very complex case of mistaken identity, of lost files, of different people projecting their vision of what happened during the Second World War, what happened to their people from the other side onto him, and he was in many ways a blank canvas.
Andrea Chalupa: Timothy Snyder, the historian at Yale who wrote Blood Lands: Europe between Hitler and Stalin, he, you know, Ukraine was central in that. Ukraine, along with Belarus, had the greatest loss of life in World War 2. Of course, that included suffering greatly in the Holocaust. One point four or five million Jews perished in Ukraine alone in the Holocaust.
Vlad Davidson: And five million Ukrainians, yeah.
Andrea Chalupa: And there are several million Ukrainians who were killed by Stalin in the genocide famine of Holodomor. So Ukraine, over just a period of 15 years, had several million people killed cruelly and deliberately.
Vlad Davidson: It became a kill zone in eastern Europe, yeah. That's a remarkable book. Professor Snyder has always been very kind and nice to me. Everyone should read that book. He's a great historian.
Andrea Chalupa: He's the historical advisor on my film, Mr. Jones, by Agnieszka Holland. So with all of that said, it's amazing the trauma that these people have endured, and their descendants still live with. It gets passed through the family, these horrendous stories. We're actually doing okay in terms of healing. We can always do better, but just what these people went through, just to suffer and even continue suffering under a Kremlin that has brought back Stalin, and glorified Stalin. I mean, that's just further victimization of Stalin's victims. People cannot understand all these issues that you and I are talking about without understanding the history, the very complex history, and just taking an attitude of accepting that this was trauma on a massive unprecedented scale. And there's a lot of healing.
Vlad Davidson: We live with that trauma and its consequences to this very day. Every day. In Ukraine, in the diaspora, in my diaspora and your diaspora, we live in that trauma every day, and it's visited upon everybody to this day, and it will be decades of work which the Ukrainians the Ukrainian Jews are doing, which the Russians are not. In fact, what they're doing is...
Andrea Chalupa: The opposite!
Vlad Davidson: The opposite. They're going back to valorizing these horrible people.
Andrea Chalupa: That's psychological torture.
Vlad Davidson: It's self-torture. It's masochism at the very least. It precludes their capacity to build a liberal democratic polity.
Andrea Chalupa: A nation that knows its past protects its future.
Vlad Davidson: Yeah, I mean, you can't...the Russians don't allow people to build a liberal democratic future until they deal with their Stalin-worship, and they deal with what the Russians did to themselves, to each other, and to lots of other people around them. What the Soviet Union did, and I say this as a Russian, as a Russian-American, what the Soviets did to themselves and to the constituent people of the Soviet Union, to slave people's nations within the Soviet Union who didn't want to be there, who had been captured and held at gunpoint, to the people in the Warsaw Pact, this is a thing that the Russian people will have to deal with and they're not under the current administration in the Kremlin.
Andrea Chalupa: And that's going to have psychological damages for that country for generations to come. What you're doing is you're further victimizing the victims. It's gaslighting on a massive scale.
Vlad Davidson: And also it encourages belligerence and encourages invading your neighbors.
Andrea Chalupa: Brutality, invasion, colonization. What the Soviet Union was, it was just another name for the Russian empire.
Vlad Davidson: It was certainly a continuation of the Russian Empire, and the Russians were de facto. I mean, a lot of people will argue with this, but the Russians were the titular people of the Soviet Union.
Andrea Chalupa: It didn't mean that Russians themselves certainly did not suffer. I mean, they lost some of their greatest thinkers, artists, scientists, so forth in the Great Terror. And to this day, you have a historian of the Great Terror who was thrown into jail on trumped up pedophilia charges.
Vlad Davidson: What a horrible case that is. Oh my God, I don't want to talk about it. Let's talk about Mr. Zelinsky.
Andrea Chalupa: Okay, back to your friend, Mr. Zelinsky.
Vlad Davidson: I wouldn't call him my friend just yet.
Andrea Chalupa: I know you and you're working on that. Just kidding!
Vlad Davidson: Never believe a politician when he tells you he's your friend, first of all. In this business or in any other, politicians are not your friends. He is the president-elect of Ukraine. I did spend time with him. He is now the legally democratically chosen president of Ukraine. I wish him the best. I wish him well. I hope he succeeds. I hope he is the greatest president of Ukraine ever, not just because he's a Jewish comedian and I find him very funny and he's a lot of fun, but because that is good for everybody, if he succeeds in making into a corruption-free liberal democratic polity and a place for all its citizens. Right? I hope he does well. I spent some time with him. I had both good and bad impressions of him. Probably he has a short temper. He has a short fuse. That's the worst I can say about him. He's very inexperienced. Could be a very steep learning curve. He's going to make a lot of mistakes. He's a very, very, very canny, cunning, tough opponent. Very tough opponent. The Russians are a nuclear armed state with a military budget, I think 18 to 20 times bigger that Ukrainians', ten times the manpower in the army, better technology, a more professional political and diplomatic class. The Ukrainians have an extremely tough opponent.
Andrea Chalupa: What gave you the impression that he has a short fuse?
Vlad Davidson: He's very suave. He's a lot of fun, by the way. He's very charismatic, very funny. He's very macho, and this very swaggering, macho way. He's very much a man's man. Very male. You know, his swaggering jokes. He's into camaraderie, male camaraderie.
Andrea Chalupa: The more you describe him, the more I'm imagining the American comedian Kevin Hart.
Vlad Davidson: I don't know who Kevin Hart is. Maybe I spend more time in Paris and Kyiv than I should, but he's not a very big guy. He's a little guy.
Andrea Chalupa: Yeah. This is Kevin Hart. He's like the white, Ukrainian Kevin Hart.
Vlad Davidson: Could be. He's a slim, slight guy with tremendous shoulders, because he works out and lifts every single day. Huge shoulders. Wears tight black t-shirts and little turtlenecks, and he is just very much into swagger and funny jokes. You ask him, “What are you? Are you Reagan? Are you the next Reagan?" And he says, "I am Zelinsky!" He's very funny. But if you ask him tough questions, he gets very defensive. He's like, "What do you mean, bro? What do you mean? He's psychologically very strong, it seems. He has advisers around him, and it's not certain how much he listens to them or how he actually makes the decision. The decision-making process, how it operates, I'm not sure. He seems to be very independent, very tough minded, and very macho.
Andrea Chalupa: Does the buck stop with him? Is he the executive? He's the guy making the decision? Or is he somebody that's going to hand over...is he going to be a Bush with a Dick Cheney behind him, basically running the show? Or is he going to be a Trump, where he's the boss?
Vlad Davidson: So, it's well known that he was heavily backed by Mr. Kolomoyskyi, one of the aforementioned Jewish oligarchs of Ukraine, which Ukrainians are very tolerant about and tolerate. Very, very funny, trollish, amoral, ruthless character.
Andrea Chalupa: Who had an actual shark tank in his office.
Vlad Davidson: Yes. Yes, I've written about the shark tank. The shark tank is real.
Andrea Chalupa: And just to give some background on Kolomoyskyi, what makes him such a colorful character is when Ukraine's military was decimated and Russia invades, Kolomoyskyi essentially took all these volunteer soldiers who fought in the square in Kyiv in the revolution and basically built himself a private army.
Vlad Davidson: He equipped them. He armed them. He trained them. He was spending to the tune of 10 to 12 million dollars a month to have a private army, which is at that point one of the biggest private armies in the world, and it was it was a very big private army, indeed. And they did a lot of fighting. So he saved large chunks of Ukraine from falling to the Russians in 2014 and 15, for which he should be commended, and we should acknowledge that. He then went on to do some very, very shady things, and tried to take some buildings by force in the middle of Kyiv when some subsidies that he had been milking from the National Oil Company were being shut off to him. He didn't like that, and he used force, and President Poroshenko banished him from the country in 2015. He fled to Switzerland and Israel. He has like three passports, one of them being Ukrainian. He plotted his revenge, and his revenge, part of his revenge was to put a Jewish comedian on his television station with a show about him being the president. And four years later, that paid dividends with that comedian becoming president and bringing Mr. Kolomoyskyi and his people along for the ride. So many people around Mr. Zelinsky are Kolomoyskyi friends, lawyers, fixers, professionals. The main opera, the internal opera of the presidential administration, was run by Mr. Kolomoyskyi's guys, simply because Zelinsky didn't have enough people. So Mr. Kolomoyskyi is, based on my conversations with people in Ukraine who know these things, is one of the five guys that decides things within the inner ring around Mr. Zelinsky. Now, if Mr. Zelinsky, who is now in power, will be able to say, "I'm my own man now," which has often happened before when an oligarch has brought a politician to power. Same thing happened with Mr. Yanukovich. Mr. Akhmetov and the Donbass clans picked Mr. Yanukovych to be their man. They never thought that he would be quite as corrupt or quite as willful as he was, so that a certain oligarch brings you to power doesn't mean he can control you after you're in power. That is the interesting question: how much power Mr. Kolomoyskyi and his friends and other shareholders, and I do think of it as a shareholder agreement, will have over Mr. Zelinsky.
Andrea Chalupa: The guy is really a blank slate. He's still staffing up right now, and there's gonna be the usual power struggle that's going on, with everybody trying to get a job in his government. What is your prediction on how that process is going to go?
Vlad Davidson: I've been in Kyiv a lot trying to keep track of it. I have a good relationship with Mr. Danylyuk, the former finance minister who is hoping to be the next foreign minister of Ukraine. If Mr. Danylyuk does become foreign minister and other Western-educated reformers do get big jobs in this administration, we will know what this administration is going to be like. Since he's extremely untested and inexperienced, the presidential chief of staff will be a de facto prime minister in this government. So if Mr. Kolomoiskyi gets his own guy appointed as the chief of staff, that shows what this government's about. If it's someone else, it's not Kolomoiskyi's appointee as the chief of staff, we know that this is a more independent government. So there's three or four groups of people fighting for power around Mr. Zelinsky now, and he's listening to different people all the time, and he's trying to figure out what kind of guy he wants to be. Is it his childhood friends? Is it his business partners? Is it reformers?
Andrea Chalupa: Oh God, Putin did childhood friends.
Vlad Davidson: Yeah, that's typically what you do when you come to power, you put your childhood friends into positions of power and make them rich. That's how you build a kleptocracy. So I hope that does not happen in Ukraine. We have high expectations for this gentleman. He has a huge mandate. It's going to be very difficult for him, because he has a very difficult situation in front of him. He has a very tough opponent. He has a divided parliament. He has shark-like opponents. He has allies who literally own shark tanks. He has a very difficult situation ahead of him. I wish him the best of luck. We can only hope for the best.
Andrea Chalupa: I was very clear in my comments to Newsweek where I said there is no pro-Kremlin candidate in this race, which is absolutely true. But there have been accusations which I've seen, with some Ukraine watchers pointing to all sorts of reasons that they argue that Zelinsky just was the pro-Kremlin candidate. And there was an interesting thread produced by one security expert on Twitter, saying that there were some hacked e-mails that revealed that Russia had a strategy in place to try to get a comic elected president of Ukraine, and try to discredit Ukraine. And there's rumors and so forth of money going from Kremlin sources to Zelinsky. What is your comment on any sort of vulnerability he might have for the Kremlin, either directly or indirectly? Do you see anything there?
Vlad Davidson: Do I think he's a Manchurian candidate for the Russians? No. Do I think he was put in place by a master plan from 2014 by the Russians? A masterful plan? No, I do not. Do I think he is going to try to reframe negotiations in a way that is less antagonistic in the way that Poroshenko was? Probably yes. Will he capitulate to the Russians? Probably not, or not immediately. In any case, it'll be very difficult in the Ukrainian public atmosphere as it is. Do I think he comes from the Russian-speaking part of the country, and having spent formative years doing business and hanging out in Moscow, does he have kind of a relationship to the Russians, is his culture more Russian than Ukrainian? Yeah. What does that actually mean? It could play out in many, many different ways. The first thing that the Russians did immediately upon him winning was to throw an assault on him symbolically with a passport-ization campaign of people in eastern Ukraine. And he responded quite belligerently and almost viciously.
Andrea Chalupa: I thought he was funny. I thought he did what we say on Twitter: he clapped back. He was like, "Hey, well..." Basically saying, like, how much is that passport to Russia worth, given that it's essentially the dictatorship? He called them out.
Vlad Davidson: Yeah. Yeah he did. He reacted in a very funny and masterful way. He passed that test with flying colors, I would say. The Russians are very tough opponents, and they're very aggressive opponents. Immediately upon him winning, they threw him a test to see how aggressive he was, to see what tactics they could use, and he responded in an aggressive and funny posture, which also proved to the Russians that he is going to be a difficult character. You have to understand: he will be able to communicate because he's a Russian speaker, and he speaks their language in every sense. In every sense, he speaks their language. He'll be able to communicate directly to Russian speakers in Belarus, in Russia, in Kazakhstan from a liberal democratic standpoint in a way that the Ukrainians never could have. He is a direct threat to the Kremlin. They heard loud and clear what he said on election night. The first thing he said upon being elected was, "People of a post-Soviet Union, look at us here. Anything can happen." The debates between him and President Poroshenko were watched by millions of Russian speakers in Russia, Kazakhstan, and Belarus. He speaks directly over the heads of the Kremlin to Russians. He has a huge following in Russia. People watch what he says, and they can listen without a translator. You know, Poroshenko made his speeches in Ukrainian, and he was seen as the enemy. At the very least, not a friend, if not an enemy, as a Ukrainian nationalist. This guy is a threat because he can speak directly to the Russian people in a way that no Ukrainian politician has in the last five years. He is a total threat to the Kremlin, to their message.
[Commercial break] Sarah Kendzior: Hear me out. You walk into a store and you immediately find exactly what you're looking for. You try it on and it looks perfect. Well, that's basically the feeling you get every time you shop at Movement Watches. That's MVMT Watches. Our friends at Movement have you covered with tons of quality, clean, and all-around good-looking watches and accessories that we can actually afford and order right from our couch. They're one of the fastest growing watch companies in the world because of their iconic, minimalist designs. They believe that no one should have to overpay for great style, so they're always coming out with new, fashion-forward designs for you. They've sold over 2 million watches across more than 160 countries, and their collections are always expanding. I just ordered one myself, and I'm glad to have something nice to wear on my wrist that also allows me to leave my cell phone behind and not use that thing as a watch anymore. It's time for real watches have a comeback. MVMT watches start at just 95 dollars, so you're guaranteed to find something you love that won't break your bank. Get 15% off today with free shipping and free returns by going to MVMT.com/gaslit. See why MVMT keeps growing. Check out their expanding collection. Go to MVMT.com/gasolit. Join the movement. [end commercial break]
Andrea Chalupa: And that matters also on the big war front of social media, where we have seen Ukraine's Twitter account actually fight with a Russian government Twitter account. When the Russians are actually creating internet trolls to troll their enemies, here you have a stand-up comic who is going to troll the shit out of them.
Vlad Davidson: Yes, you troll us, we will elect to our presidency a masterful troll who will out-troll you, sir.
Andrea Chalupa: That's what we have to look forward to: a lot of Twitter wars between Russia and Ukraine.
Vlad Davidson: This literally is where Western democracy is going. There was an article today about the showrunner of the Servant of the People. They just franchised to 15 other countries, the Ukrainian TV show serving the people, there will be 15 other countries now where the where the president will be played by an actor on TV. Five years from now, if statistics hold, maybe a third of them will be presidents of those countries. There's no going back. Social media and the collapse of the old media structures to social media, there's no going back to that. This is the new world, and the Ukrainians are yet again at the forefront of the war and of the new techniques of media warfare.
Andrea Chalupa: Do you know what's really hilarious? So you cannot buy soft power like that, having the president of Ukraine on a Netflix series that's getting licensed to countries around the world. That is some really useful soft power for Ukraine. We were talking about Obama's foreign policy earlier. Richard Stengel, who served in the Obama White House, focused on foreign policy, he actually had a strategy where he went to Hollywood to try to get Hollywood to create some films, and try to create some sort of entertainment soft power operation to fight the Kremlin, which I really think was more Richard Stengel just wanting to go to Hollywood and have lunch. And so here you have the Ukrainians that just naturally, organically doing that. We're going to wrap this up, and so Vlad, just to end as we started, given where we are now, what is your sort of outlook on how successful Giuliani could potentially be in trying to dig up dirt against Trump's opponents out of Ukraine? I mean, it is a country, where yes, they've made some progress in corruption, but it is a very corrupt country. I think it's something like it rings like 130 on the transparency index, or maybe it's gone up 10 points.
Vlad Davidson: It hasn't gone up 10 points, but I think it's still like 121st or something. I mean, it was 137th and it's gone up 10 points or something. Still pretty bad.
Andrea Chalupa: It's still pretty bad. So will Giuliani be able to show up to his friends in Ukraine with a bag of cash or whatever, or some promises, and get evidence invented or get investigations opened to strengthen his claims to try to stir up investigations here in the U.S.? What sort of potential do you think is there?
Vlad Davidson: Can Giuliani ask the prosecutor general, whoever it be, to open up cases against particular Americans? I don't think this administration in Ukraine will be quite as limpid as the last on that question. The Ukrainians certainly did not cooperate with the Mueller investigation as far as I know, because it was not in their best interest. They've been horrified for the last three years of what happened with Donald Trump tweeting about them, and rightly or wrongly, mostly wrongly, thinking that the Ukrainian government came after him. Certain people, like Mr. Leschenko, and one part of the Ukrainian government, did leak things about Paul Manafort which would have come out anyway. And in that way, you could say, got involved in American partisan politics. That's true. Can you say that President Poroshenko greenlighted that? You'd have to give me proof. I haven't seen any evidence of that. Ukraine is a chaotic place, and certain people did leak stuff about Paul Manafort, who was a horrible human being and did horrible things in both Ukraine and the rest of the world on behalf of what he thought was the greater good of himself and America. Can Giuliani go and find more bad things like that? He can construe things which don't look great in really conspiratorial ways, and lots of people who do not have expertise on Russia-Ukraine would look at that and say, "Oh!" But, you know, did a lot of corrupt stuff happen in Ukraine which is difficult for me as a Ukraine expert to explain to Americans that, oh, these are coincidences which a really partisan person is also making money by the hundreds of thousands in Ukraine and is using against his political opponents? Yes.
Andrea Chalupa: That makes sense. Thank you so much for your coverage today, and providing Ukraine 101. And I'm sure Ukraine is going to stay in the news here in the States. I hope that our discussion will give people a clearer picture to read through the bad articles, the bad tweets, the bad takes as this all develops.
Vlad Davidson: Thank you again for having me. It's been lovely, and always lovely talking to you, as you know.