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Why Macron called Zelenskyy to Paris, will Putin be stripped of an award, and what lessons from WWII Russia didn’t learn

Two top-secret U.S. programs can be resumed in Ukraine to observe Russian military movements and counter disinformation.

Meanwhile, Emmanuel Macron seeks the right moment to strip Vladimir Putin of the Order of the Legion of Honor, whilst Western media keep discussing his spontaneous dinner with Volodymyr Zelenskyy.

Laurence Rees, a famous British historian, argues in his opinion piece that Zelenskyy, unlike Putin, carefully studies lessons from WWII, while China has ramped up its surveillance program in the U.S.

The Page offers a digest of Western mass media at the end of the February 6–10, 2023, business week.


Top-secret U.S. programs in Ukraine may be restarted: what is known

The U.S. Congress has been asked to restart top-secret programs in Ukraine. Photo: Getty Images

The U.S. Congress has been asked to restart top-secret programs in Ukraine. Photo: Getty Images

The Pentagon is urging Congress to resume funding a pair of top-secret programs in Ukraine suspended last year, The Washington Post reports.

This would allow American Special Operations troops to employ Ukrainian operatives to observe Russian military movements and counter disinformation.

The defense agency's proposal will be decided as part of the work on the Pentagon budget for next year. If approved, these programs could resume as soon as 2024.

It’s unknown whether the Republican majority would agree to approve the funding, although the expense — $15 million annually for such activities worldwide — is relatively small compared with the tens of billions of dollars in military aid to Ukraine from the U.S.

Critics say such activities risk drawing the United States into a more direct role in the Ukraine war and provoking an unwanted response from Russia. However, defense officials maintain that the intelligence activities would not contribute directly to combat, unlike the open supply of arms to the Ukrainian army, which is already ongoing.

In a similar way, American commandos have for many years paid select foreign units across the Middle East, Asia, and Africa, employing them as "surrogates" in counterterrorism operations. These programs are considered a form of "irregular warfare" and used against adversaries, such as Russia and China, with whom the United States is in competition, not open conflict.

The law prohibits the use of such programs during a "traditional armed conflict," which is why they were suspended after the full-scale Russian invasion.

One of the two programs run by U.S. Special Operations troops in Ukraine was related to studying Russian propaganda and refuting it in blogs. As part of the second program, Ukrainian operatives were sent on surreptitious reconnaissance missions in Ukraine’s east.

Will Putin be stripped of the Order of the Legion of Honor?

Putin may be stripped of the Order of the Legion of Honor. Photo: Getty Images

Putin may be stripped of the Order of the Legion of Honor. Photo: Getty Images

French President Emmanuel Macron has said he is waiting for the "right moment" to strip Russian President Vladimir Putin of the National Order of the Legion of Honor, the BBC writes. He was speaking after awarding Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky France's top honor on Wednesday.

The Russian leader was presented with the Legion of Honor in 2006 by former French President Jacques Chirac during a period of relatively close French-Russian relations.

Putin is not the first controversial world leader to be handed France's highest honor. Syrian President Bashar al-Assad was decorated with the award by Chirac in 2001, shortly after taking power following the death of his father, Hafez al-Assad.

However, Assad returned the award in 2018, saying he would not wear the award of a "slave" to the United States. Meanwhile, in 2016, then-President Francois Hollande awarded the title to former Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Nayef, soon after having condemned mass executions in Saudi Arabia.

Putin is also not the first to be stripped of the honor by Macron. He withdrew the award from Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein after a series of accusations of sexual harassment and rape.

A spontaneous dinner in Paris: why Macron gave up theater for Zelenskyy

Why Macron suddenly canceled all his plans to get Zelenskyy into Paris. Photo: Getty Images

Why Macron suddenly canceled all his plans to get Zelenskyy into Paris. Photo: Getty Images

Initially, French President Emmanuel Macron was going to spend the evening of Wednesday, February 8, with his wife at the theater, Politico reports.

But as images of Zelenskyy’s triumphant arrival in London started beaming out of the United Kingdom, followed by a solemn address in Westminster Hall and later a meeting with King Charles III, the mood in Paris shifted. Suddenly, it was important to get Zelenskyy to the French capital, as well.

According to an Elysée official, Zelenskyy’s visit to Paris was decided spontaneously. Within hours, preparations were kicked off to give Zelenskyy an honors ceremony at the Invalides monument in Paris — a memorial to French veterans steeped in history. But it was canceled at the last minute when it became clear Zelenskyy wouldn’t get there on time.

Arriving in Paris for dinner at 10 p.m., Zelenskyy couldn’t help a tongue-in-cheek reference to Macron’s "spontaneous idea" to organize a get-together, before turning to German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and thanking him for "finding the time" to fly over to Paris.

The official said that Zelenskyy’s team and the Elysée Palace had been in talks for several weeks over organizing a visit to Paris, but ultimately, a specific invitation from Paris never came. It appears now that Macron sought to invite Zelenskyy to come to the French capital specifically on the anniversary of the invasion, but with the prospect of a possible escalation on the front, that idea had to be abandoned.

Quote"A Zelenskyy visit doesn’t come cheaply … The question is why make him come here?" said a senior French official, implying that the Ukrainians primarily need weapons rather than ceremonies.

Zelenskyy and Putin: Who learned their lessons from WWII?

Zelenskyy reads a lot about WWII. Photo: Getty Images

Zelenskyy reads a lot about WWII. Photo: Getty Images

The Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s speech to the British parliament on Wednesday was filled with references to the second world war, the British historian Laurence Rees writes in an opinion piece for The Guardian.

Quote"Comparisons with that momentous conflict have been a common theme throughout Russia’s invasion of Ukraine — but at least we can rest assured that Zelenskiy knows what he’s talking about," the author argues.

He cites The Economist, which has reported that Zelenskyy gets up early each morning and reads from Mr. Rees’s book, Hitler and Stalin: The Tyrants and the Second World War, recently published in Ukrainian translation.

Quote"The only other statesman I could think of who had turned to a history book in a similar situation was John F. Kennedy," the writer recalls.

According to him, the American president was hugely influenced by Barbara Tuchman’s The Guns of August at the time of the Cuban missile crisis, which prompted him to reach a peaceful solution with Nikita Khrushchev.

Rees notes that, unfortunately, his book cannot play a similar role. Nonetheless, he believes that there are many useful things Zelenskiy has learned from the story of Hitler and Stalin during the second world war, whereas Vladimir Putin has demonstrably not.

Quote"The first of the warnings is straightforward: leave strategy to your most talented generals," the historian emphasizes.

He points out that, when Joseph Stalin ordered a major offensive against the German army around Kharkiv in 1942, despite his military commanders warning him against it, it resulted in a disastrous defeat and the loss of more than 250,000 Red Army soldiers.

Putin, Mr. Rees argues, was similarly overconfident a year ago. Tens of thousands of his soldiers died and are still dying because of his military incompetence.

A year ago, Putin demonstrated the same overconfidence as Hitler and Stalin before him. Photo: Getty Images

A year ago, Putin demonstrated the same overconfidence as Hitler and Stalin before him. Photo: Getty Images

In contrast, from the very beginning of this conflict, Zelenskiy has left the military decisions to his generals.

Quote"The next warning is this: overpromising in war can have catastrophic consequences," the historian further writes.

Thus, in September 1942, Adolf Hitler made a speech in which he assured the German people that no one could take Germany away from Stalingrad. But within months, the Red Army had encircled and destroyed the German sixth army and liberated the city.

Putin is in a similar position, Mr. Rees explains, since he keeps reassuring the Russian population that the Ukrainians are about to be crushed. But does anyone now believe him? Zelenskiy, the writer argues, has taken the opposite approach: he downplays Ukrainian successes and sets no specific timetable for military action.

Quote"The final warning is simple: make sure you are clear just what constitutes victory," the historian summarizes.

According to him, Hitler failed to do this. He never said how much territory his army had to conquer in the Soviet Union, and, as a result, German soldiers were always unsure what goal they had to achieve in order to bring the war to an end.

Putin is just as vague about what victory looks like for the Russian army, Mr. Rees writes. Is it simply holding on to the territory they’ve seized so far? Is it overthrowing the current Ukrainian regime? Who can tell? Zelenskiy is more coherent in his definition of victory — removing the Russians from Ukrainian territory.

Quote"Of the two leaders – Zelenskiy and Putin – it’s clearly the Ukrainian who is heeding most of the warnings. Perhaps Putin needs to read my book so he can learn this history for himself. Although, since we all hope he keeps performing incompetently, maybe it’s best if he doesn’t," the author writes.

The Chinese spy balloon: What did it do over the U.S.?

China has increased its spying activities in the U.S.

China has increased its spying activities in the U.S.

The Chinese balloon that had flown into the U.S. last week carried antennas and sensors for collecting intelligence and communications, Biden administration officials said, according to The Wall Street Journal.

American officials claim that China has been using such craft to spy on more than 40 countries across five continents.

Much of the information came from tracking the balloon over eight days as it traversed the U.S. before being shot down off the Atlantic coast on Saturday.

Images captured by high-altitude U-2 surveillance planes showed that the balloon was equipped with multiple antennas, including an array likely capable of pinpointing the location of communications, as well as solar panels capable of powering its sensors.

The craft came outfitted with small explosives to disable the surveillance equipment, though they weren’t detonated. Personnel from the FBI are now examining components of the balloon retrieved from the waters near the coast of South Carolina.

The balloon’s manufacturer, according to the senior official, has direct links to the Chinese military. The U.S. is exploring possible action against about six companies involved in China’s surveillance programs.

China has enhanced its intelligence activities

China has ramped up its overall surveillance efforts in recent years, The Wall Street Journal also writes. The Pentagon said that China had more than 260 satellites used for surveillance as of the end of 2021 — nearly double the fleet size in 2018.

Satellites provide Beijing with a trove of visual information from high-resolution cameras or radar signals. Balloons supplement these capabilities by gathering details on atmospheric conditions and intercepting electronic signals. Unlike satellites, they are harder for militaries to identify and more difficult to block with countermeasures.

Quote"China’s reconnaissance capability is about the same as ours now. They’ve advanced a lot over the last 20 years," said Carl Schuster, a former U.S. military analyst who now teaches at Hawaii Pacific University.
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