TIME russia

Russians Start Paying the Price for Putin’s Ukraine Adventure

How much are ordinary Russians willing to sacrifice for their leader's imperial ambitions?


For most Russians, indeed nearly all of them, the crisis in Ukraine has had a distant, almost virtual quality. It has been something they watched on TV, or debated in their kitchens, rooting for the pro-Russian rebel militias and cursing the Ukrainian government as though the war between them was hardly more than a gruesome sporting match. The emotions were visceral, but the suffering wasn’t personal. Only in the past few weeks has the crisis begun to hit home.

Russians have started asking themselves — or rather, they have been forced to ask themselves — whether they are prepared to make real sacrifices for the sake of their country’s policy in Ukraine. So far, of course, they have not had much choice in the matter. Russian President Vladimir Putin did not hold a plebiscite in Russia before deciding in March to annex the region of Crimea from Ukraine. Nor did he ask the public’s opinion before imposing a ban on Western food imports on Aug. 6 to punish the countries that have sanctioned Russia in response to the Crimean land grab. The food ban was simply imposed by a Kremlin decree “to protect Russia’s security,” and the predictable result was a run on supermarkets in Moscow and other cities, a spike in prices and panic buying in the dairy aisle.

It was not the first measure to test the public’s patience on Ukraine. Desperate for cash to develop Crimea, the Russian government has dipped into the national pension fund, essentially deciding to confiscate everything its citizens will contribute to it this year and the next. “No one has any intention of giving this money back, because this money has gone to Crimea,” said Finance Minister Anton Siluanov. (His deputy was promptly fired when he confessed on Facebook that he “feels ashamed” for the expropriation on Aug. 5.) Then there were those hapless Russian travelers, roughly 27,000 of them, who were stranded in airport terminals in early August after a Russian tour operator folded under the weight of Western sanctions. “We worry that this is only the beginning and that there will be a domino effect,” said a spokesman for Russia’s Federal Tourism Agency.

Indeed there is likely to be. As the sanctions war escalates, it will continue to eat away at Russia’s economic growth — and ordinary Russians will be forced to confront the question of whether they are prepared to pay for Putin’s foreign adventurism. In such a scenario, Lev Gudkov, one of Russia’s leading sociologists and director of the Levada Center, an independent pollster, believes that they are unlikely to fall in line behind their leader. “It’s one thing to express support,” he says, “but quite another to suffer for it.”

Expressions of support for Putin have lately been almost unanimous. In Levada’s surveys since the crisis began in March, his approval ratings shot up more than 20 percentage points to reach an overwhelming 87% at the end of last month. But that phenomenon has a flip side. Just as Russians applaud Putin for every perceived success in Ukraine, they are likely to fault him for every repercussion. Two-thirds of the population, says Gudkov, place all responsibility for the crisis squarely on Putin and his inner circle rather than on themselves. Only 7% to 12% are prepared to make personal sacrifices for the sake of Russia’s policies in Ukraine, he says. “The rest take a characteristic position: ‘Leave me out of it.’”

But short of emigrating, Russians can’t opt out. They will all have to deal with the fact that inflation is due to reach up to 9% this year, while the Finance Ministry has proposed a new sales tax of 3% to plug holes in the federal budget that have largely resulted from the crisis in Ukraine. Diabetics in Russia are having to stock up on insulin just in case it winds up on the import ban as well. People with special diets, including professional athletes, are scrambling to find Russian alternatives to the Western foods they need. “Nobody wants prices to rise,” said Arkady Dvorkovich, the government’s chief economic adviser, in trying to calm the public during a television appearance on Aug. 13. “Nobody wants hoarding. Nobody wants deficits.”

Yet that is what Russians can expect, and the task of making them accept this reality, and even embrace it, has fallen to the Kremlin’s propaganda outlets — and they have dusted off the Cold War creeds of self-sufficiency in trying to lift the nation’s spirits.

One of the more typical examples of the genre was published in Komsomolskaya Pravda, Russia’s most popular newspaper, on Aug. 3, a few days before Putin imposed the ban on Western food. Under the headline “Hard Times Await,” the piece lashed out at fast-food chains like McDonald’s and waxed nostalgic for the Soviet treats that Russians remember from childhood. “When the Iron Curtain fell, meat patties on round buns seemed to us like symbols of freedom,” wrote the author, Ulyana Skoibeda. “Now our national leader [Putin] has declared that Ossetian pastries and Tatar pies can compete with American hamburgers. It is a total reorientation. From looking outward, we turn in, from the West, into ourselves.”

All of this, she argued, should come naturally to Russians, as though they are just lapsed believers being shepherded back to their traditional faith. But the author (perhaps because she was about 14 years old when the Iron Curtain fell) neglects to mention how tight the cuffs of isolation were back then, and what a relief it was when they came off.

Even the Soviet elites had trouble believing the extent to which they’d been deprived. In the fall of 1989, two years before he was elected post-Soviet Russia’s first President, Boris Yeltsin took a tour of an American supermarket for the first time in his life. It was a typical franchise of the Randall’s grocery chain in Houston, the sort of place where workaday Texans did their weekly shopping. But as Yeltsin’s adviser, Lev Sukhanov, later recalled with almost childlike wonder in his memoirs, “it felt like we were standing right in the middle of a kaleidoscope.”

Yeltsin had never seen anything in Moscow, not even at the exclusive shops reserved for the chiefs of the Communist Party, that could compare to the gastronomical wonderland he found inside that Randall’s store. “The gleaming radishes the size of plump potatoes,” Sukhanov recounted, “the pineapples, the bananas.” There were some 30,000 items on the shelves, including more types of sausage than the Kremlin delegates could count. “The eye could not enumerate all the different kinds of candy and cakes, could not process the variety of their colors, their delicious attractiveness,” Sukhanov wrote. “It came as a deep shock.”

Later that day, as they flew from Houston to Miami to continue their official visit as members of the Soviet legislature, Sukhanov remembers Yeltsin sitting with his head in his hands. When he finally came out of his stupor, according to the memoirs, he said, “What have we brought our poor people to? All our lives we’ve been telling them fairy tales. All our lives we’ve been inventing. But the world had already invented everything long ago.”

Almost exactly 15 years after Yeltsin handed power over to Putin, the old fairy tales of Soviet dogma are being revived. Having gathered the entire Russian legislature in Crimea on Aug. 14, Putin told them in a speech that the ban on Western food was just a means of “supporting the product manufacturers of the fatherland.”

That has been a favorite talking point on Kremlin news outlets lately. In calling for Russians to embrace a patriotic diet, they have claimed that the domestic food industry has “the chance of a lifetime” to replace Western imports, which are in any case unhealthy and not all that good. But even some of Putin’s own spin doctors have had trouble sticking to that line.

During a radio program on a Kremlin-owned station on Aug. 10, the host went on a half-hour rant about the “stupidity” of trying to replace Western goods with Russian ones. “It’s all a catastrophe,” said Vladimir Solovyov, one of the most popular television personalities in Russia and usually one of the Kremlin’s favorite messengers. “What are we going to do, replace honey with crap? That doesn’t mean the crap will taste like honey … Don’t lie to yourself.”

His co-host, growing nervous as the live broadcast continued, tried weakly to convince him that Russia would manage, just as it did in the Soviet Union. Solovyov persisted: “I want to make my own choices, and not to have the state choose for me,” he said. “I want the right to choose for myself what wine I drink, and if I’m told that I don’t have this right, then I want to be convinced that I’m accepting these discomforts for a good cause.”

But is the conflict in Ukraine a good enough cause? Is it worth having to part with the comforts that Russians now take for grant? To give up the “kaleidoscope” of Western produce now available in Russian supermarkets? These are not easy questions, and it will be a lot harder to answer them with a resounding yes than it was to support the swift and easy annexation of Crimea. And as the consequences of that decision unfold, they will begin to weigh on Putin’s sky-high popularity. Gudkov, the sociologist, expects the President’s ratings to sink by November back to what they were before the annexation of Crimea. But that does not mean Putin will change course.

“Nobody supported the Soviet policy of isolation either,” says Gudkov. “It was very painful for people, that feeling of slouching toward a dead end. But nobody asked the public’s opinion whether they wanted this or not.” They simply had to pay the price for their leaders’ decisions. Then as now, nobody gave them much of a choice.


ISIS Advance Turns the Spotlight on Weak Kurdish Forces

Caught off guard by the militants, Iraqi Kurdish fighters were forced to retreat

When thousands of ethnic Yazidis first became trapped on Mount Sinjar, the forces of Iraq’s semiautonomous Kurdish region seemed like their only hope. Known as the peshmerga, the 100,000-strong Kurdish army is widely considered to be the last capable force in Iraq. But according to some, these fighters didn’t exactly live up to their reputation.

“The peshmerga didn’t tell us to run away, they just left suddenly,” says Said Suliman, who fled Sinjar with 12 members of his family after the peshmerga pulled out of the area. They are now taking refuge in the Kurdish controlled city of Dohuk. “We just hope the peshmerga won’t run from here also.”

According to Suliman, it was Syrian Kurdish fighters, both men and women, who initially stepped in to save the Yazidis as the peshmerga retreated and before the U.S. stepped in. “They are our heroes,” he says. Like many, he first fled into Syria and then back into the Kurdish Iraqi territory during his escape from the mountains.

It may have been the element of surprise that allowed fighters from the Islamic State of Iraq and greater Syria (ISIS) to dispel the peshmerga so quickly.

Until two weeks ago, ISIS had made no claim or advance on the Kurdish areas. While there were skirmishes along the over 600 mile border which the Iraqi Kurds share with the extremist Sunni fighters, for months there was no full-on confrontation. ISIS said their sights were set on Baghdad, not the Kurdish capital of Erbil, and perhaps, because of that, they were caught off guard.

“The fact is they said they want to go to Baghdad and then they come to us,” says Halgord Hekmat a spokesman for the peshmerga in Erbil. “Of course it was bit of a surprise.”

But the Syrian Kurdish fighters knew ISIS as sparring partner. For over a year they have been fighting the Sunni militants inside Syria, where both groups now control territory.

“We are all Kurdish and its necessary when one part of Kurdistan has problem, we all help,” says Juann Ali, a Syrian Kurd who lives and works in Erbil. “In the end, we all have the same goal, to fight for Kurdistan.”

But in the last two decades there hasn’t been much opportunity to fight for that goal. The peshmerga forces were born of Kurdish resistance to Iraqi and Turkish domination, and for decades they defended their mountainous terrain, which stretches across Iraqi, Syrian, Turkish and Iranian borders.

“The Kurds developed a way of fighting based on fighting the Iraqi army in the 70s and 80s, and the Iraqi army sucked. They didn’t need to be that good. They were mostly just defending the mountains, and mountainous terrain is the best to have to defend,” says Kenneth M. Pollack, a specialist in Middle East political-military affairs and a former CIA analyst. “The peshmerga doctrine hasn’t really evolved much since then, but warfare has evolved.”

Hekmat says the peshmerga were also hampered by their outdated weaponry. The mostly light artillery carried by the peshmerga was easily challenged by the much more sophisticated American weapons ISIS plundered after Iraqi national forces fled their posts in June. Those forces were controlled by then Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, who has now stepped down amid increasing domestic and international pressure to make way for a new leader in Baghdad.

The U.S. air support—on Thursday, President Barack Obama said American forces had helped break the siege of Mount Sinjar—has allowed the peshmerga hold the line against ISIS and create a humanitarian corridor allowing many of the stranded Yazidis to make their way off the mountain. But American strikes are not a sustainable defense plan for the Kurds, who seek autonomy over their affairs.

“We don’t have any weapons, only the weapons we took from Saddam after 2003,” adds Hekmat. “We are just asking for the weapons that every developed military should have to fight against terrorists.”

The Kurds have been asking for better weapons from the US and other international suppliers, and while the UK and France have shown some willingness, the peshmerga say they are still under armed.

“What they are looking for is everything. They want tanks, they want artillery but they also want machine guns, they want rocket launchers and they want mortars,” says Pollack. “They want anything they can get their hands on.”

While they may have insufficient weapons, the Kurds aren’t lacking in passion. The ISIS advance caught them by surprise—but the force has not crumbled.

“Now they are properly deploying the weapons they do have, and their morale has recovered and they are proving a much more formidable foe for ISIS,” says Pollack. “The peshmerga is not as bad as people thought a week ago, but they are also not good as people thought a month ago.”

TIME Middle East

Iraq’s Embattled Prime Minister Agrees to Step Down

Iraq's Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki speaks during an interview with The Associated Press in Baghdad, Iraq on December 3, 2011.
Iraq's Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki speaks during an interview with the Associated Press in Baghdad on Dec. 3, 2011 Hadi Mizban—AP

A successor had been nominated earlier this week

Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki said on Thursday evening that he would support the man nominated to replace him and step down, according to a report that cited state television, marking an apparent end to weeks of political uncertainty that threatened to consume the country as it battles extremists in the north.

The Associated Press reports Maliki announced in a televised address that he was leaving the post with an aim to preserve Iraq’s “unity” and had withdrawn his legal complaint against his replacement’s nomination, paving the way for Haider al-Abadi to assume the role and form an inclusive government. Al-Maliki had initially remained defiant after Iraqi President Fouad Massoum tapped al-Abadi to succeed him earlier in the week, insisting he deserved a third term, raising the specter that he would use his entrenched Shi‘ite supporters to forcefully oppose the move.

He planned to pursue his bid in the courts to retain power as recently as Wednesday, but was coming under growing pressure to relent, including from other Shi‘ite leaders and from the U.S. For weeks, al-Maliki has come under fire for failing to stem the incursion of Islamist militants from over the border with Syria. The Sunni extremists, known as the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria, have seized a large swath of northern Iraq with such fury that the U.S. was compelled to intervene with targeted air strikes and humanitarian aid drops for a threatened Yezidi minority.

The U.S. has pushed for a more inclusive government amid criticism that al-Maliki had marginalized Iraq’s Sunni population and opened the door for the militants’ lightning offensive that began in mid-June.


Iraqi State TV: Nouri al-Maliki Has Given Up Prime Minister Post

(BAGHDAD) — Iraqi state TV: Nouri al-Maliki has given up the post of prime minister to Haider al-Abadi.


Officials: Iraq’s al-Maliki to Back New P.M.

(BAGHDAD) — Embattled Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has agreed to step aside and support his nominated replacement in the post, Shiite lawmakers told The Associated Press on Thursday. If al-Maliki follows through, the move would end a political deadlock that plunged Baghdad into uncertainty as the country fights a Sunni militant insurgency.

The government announced that al-Maliki would deliver a nationally televised address Thursday evening, without elaborating.

Al-Maliki has been struggling for weeks to stay for a third four-year term as prime minister amid an attempt by opponents to push him out, accusing him of monopolizing power and pursuing a fiercely pro-Shiite agenda that has alienated the Sunni minority.

The pressure intensified this week when his Shiite political alliance backed another member of his party, Haider al-Abadi, to replace him, and President Fouad Massoum nominated al-Abadi to form the next government. Al-Maliki for days has refused to step aside, saying the nomination violates the constitution.

But in a meeting of his Dawa party on Thursday evening, al-Maliki agreed to endorse al-Abadi as the next prime minister, two senior lawmakers from his State of Law parliamentary bloc — Hussein al-Maliki and Khalaf Abdul-Samad — told the AP. They and two other Shiite lawmakers said al-Maliki would announce his endorse in his speech Thursday night. The two other lawmakers spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the closed-door meeting.

The lawmakers said al-Maliki also agreed to drop a suit before the constitutional court challenging al-Abadi’s nomination.

Al-Maliki had grown increasingly isolated as not only erstwhile Shiite allies but also top ally Iran, the United States and the U.N. backed al-Abadi, who has 30-days to put together a Cabinet for parliament’s approval.

The U.N. Security Council urged al-Abadi to work swiftly to form “an inclusive government that represents all segments of the Iraqi population and that contributes to finding a viable and sustainable solution to the country’s current challenges.”

The U.S. and other countries have been pushing for an inclusive government that will ease anger among Sunnis, who felt marginalized by al-Maliki’s administration, helping fuel the dramatic sweep by the Islamic State extremist group over much of northern and western Iraq since June.

The extremist Islamic State group’s lightning advance across much of northern and western Iraq has driven hundreds of thousands of people from their homes since June, and last week prompted the U.S. to launch aid operations and airstrikes as the militants threatened religious minorities and the largely autonomous Kurdish region.

The U.N. on Wednesday declared the situation in Iraq a “Level 3 Emergency” — a development that will allow for additional assets to respond to the needs of the displaced, said U.N. special representative Nickolay Mladenov, pointing to the “scale and complexity of the current humanitarian catastrophe.”

The U.N. move came after some 45,000 people, members of the Yazidi religious minority, were able to escape from a remote desert mountaintop where they had been encircled by Islamic State fighters, who view them as apostates and had vowed to kill any who did not convert to Islam.

They were able to reach safety after Kurdish fighters from neighboring Syria opened an exit corridor. U.S. and Iraqi forces had earlier airlifted aid to those trapped.

U.S. officials said Thursday that roughly 4,500 people remain on Sinjar Mountain, nearly half of whom are herders who lived there before the siege and have no desire to leave. The two officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren’t authorized to speak publicly.

The U.N. said it would provide increased support to the Yazidis and to 400,000 other Iraqis who have fled since June to the Kurdish province of Dahuk. A total of 1.5 million people have been displaced by the fighting.

The United States has been carrying out airstrikes in recent days against Islamic State fighters, helping fend back their advance on Kurdish regions.

French President Francois Hollande on Thursday confirmed the “imminent delivery of military equipment” to Kurdish forces in a phone call with the new Iraqi president, Fouad Massoum, Hollande’s office said. It did not specify the type or amount of equipment.

The statement said Paris would also provide more humanitarian aid. France has sent dozens of tons of aid in several deliveries this week.

In western Iraq, fighting erupted early Thursday in the militant-held city of Fallujah, about 65 kilometers (40 miles) west of Baghdad. The clashes on the city’s northern outskirts killed four children, along with a woman and at least 10 militants, said Fallujah hospital director Ahmed Shami.

He had no further details on the clashes, beyond saying that four other children and another woman were wounded in the violence.

It was difficult to gauge the situation in Fallujah, which has been in the hands of the Islamic State and allied militants since early January, when the insurgents seized much of the western Anbar province along with parts of the provincial capital Ramadi.

Meanwhile, eight civilians were killed in separate attacks across Baghdad on Thursday.

A bomb attached to a minibus in the central Sheik Omar area killed four commuters and wounded 11 others, a police officer said. Another bomb went off in a commercial area in the southeastern Bayaa neighborhood, killing two and wounding nine, another police officer said.

Two other civilians were killed and 11 wounded when two mortar rounds struck another residential area, he said.

Three medical officials confirmed the casualty figures. All officials spoke on condition of anonymity as they were not authorized to brief media.


Associated Press writers Murtada Faraj in Baghdad, Elaine Ganley in Paris, and Robert Burns and Julie Pace in Washington contributed to this report.

TIME Scotland

Audiences Already Voting on Scottish Independence at Arts Festival

Edinburgh Festival Celebrated On The Royal Mile
Edinburgh Festival Fringe entertainers perform on the Royal Mile on August 14, 2014 in Edinburgh, Scotland. The largest performing arts festival in the world, this year's festival hosts more than 3,000 shows in nearly 300 venues across the city. Jeff J Mitchell—Getty Images

It's an overwhelming YES vote at the end of one play showing at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival

The voters of Scotland must wait until the Sept. 18 referendum to decide whether they want to remain citizens of Great Britain or become citizens of a newly independent country. But audiences at a play currently on as part of the Edinburgh Fringe Festival have been casting their votes on a daily basis. Towards the end of Alan Bissett’s play, The Pure, the Dead and the Brilliant, everybody in the auditorium is asked to hold up his or her program, folded to show a YES for Scottish independence or a NO for remaining in the United Kingdom. After a stunning piece of theater, in which the devil Black Donald in Scottish lore plots to keep Scotland too scared and befuddled to choose to go it alone, audiences reliably deliver a landslide for the YES camp.

In the real world, the polls have been showing a different outcome, with the campaign for staying in the Union maintaining a lead of 46% to 36% according to the latest poll. But a record turnout is expected perhaps as high as 80%; and with 16- and 17-year-olds allowed for the first time to cast a ballot and a swathe of voters genuinely undecided, the referendum promises to be a nail-biter. Nobody can say for sure how an independent Scotland would function or what its wider impact would be, but everybody knows its separation from England, Wales and Northern Ireland would unleash a period of even greater uncertainty. Great Britain might need a new name (Lesser Britain?) and a new flag (the current, and iconic, Union flag incorporates the cross of Scotland’s St. Andrew). Scotland might need a new currency and a new relationship with the European Union. The pro-independence campaign predicts a standalone Scotland would flourish like parts of Scandinavia, an example of virtuous social democracy, a caring state contrasting with its neoliberal, austerity-ridden neighbors to the south. Voices arguing for Union suggest little Scotland would falter outside the U.K.’s protective embrace.

Defense chiefs worry that the Scottish National Party’s pledge to rid an independent Scotland of nuclear warheads would entail the loss to the remainder of the United Kingdom of its nuclear deterrent, currently carried on submarines based at Faslane on the Scottish coast, because there is no suitable alternative site in England. In some gloomy scenarios, the U.K. stands to lose its permanent seat on the U.N. Security Council because of its diminished size and might. It would certainly lose at least some of its capacity, and willingness, to intervene in foreign conflicts. Separatist movements in other countries would surely take heart from Scotland’s example. And for years to come politicians in the British parliament their numbers reduced by the loss of Scottish colleagues, handing the Conservatives, who have only one Scottish member of the British parliament at present, a huge advantage over Labour, who would to lose 41 MPs at a stroke would wrangle with their empowered opposite numbers in the current Scottish parliament over the divorce settlement. The key points of contention: who owns North Sea oil and gas, and who keeps Scotland’s debt?

The choice facing voters is all about the future, but as Bissett’s play demonstrates, many of the arguments roiling the debate are rooted in a mythical past. In the first scene a sprite from folklore, Bogle (the name gave rise to the term “bogeyman”), picks up a DVD of Mel Gibson’s Braveheart and says, emotionally, “that film gets me every time”. The movie’s false version of history of a Scotland subdued by England through treachery and muscle and not, in a more complex reality, entering the Union as partners and often benefiting from it has for years provided fuel to the independence movement. Bissett’s pro-independence play suggests that the Scottish will no longer depend on their tartan mythologies when they are freed, not from England but their own fears.

Elsewhere in Edinburgh, holding its famous concurrent arts festivals, alternative visions for Scotland are being laid out on stages and at podiums far more pungently than politicians dare risk. All Back to Bowie’s, a daily cabaret involving panel debates, comedy and poetry derives its name from David Bowie’s pro-Union message to Scotland: “stay with us”. The organisers pretend to have taken this invitation at face value and set the action in a tent atop Bowie’s Manhattan apartment. Again, sentiment routinely skews towards independence.

The audiences may not reflect Scotland’s voting population, but the appeal of the independence message against the sobersided caution of the pro-Union camp is clear. Come September, life may just imitate art and deliver a verdict that will resonate far beyond Great Britain or whatever the rump nation decides to call itself.

TIME Military

Why Ferguson Looks So Much Like Iraq

Outrage In Missouri Town After Police Shooting Of 18-Yr-Old Man
A police officer helping to keep Ferguson calm on Wednesday. Scott Olson / Getty Images

The Pentagon has provided local police with $4.3 billion worth of military hardware

The photographs and videos of police trying to calm the rioting in Ferguson, Mo., look like a war zone. There’s the black-clad special-ops cops, backed by armored tactical vehicles that wouldn’t look out of place on a battlefield. The police are doing their best to restore order following Saturday’s police killing of unarmed Michael Brown, 18. But their tools and tactics have grabbed the attention of some of the nation’s real soldiers dispatched to fight its post-9/11 wars.

Brandon Friedman, who served as an Army officer with the 101st Airborne in Afghanistan and Iraq, tweeted a pair of photographs contrasting a policeman in Ferguson with one of him on the eve of the 2003 Iraq invasion. “The gentleman on the left,” he said of the Missouri cop Wednesday, “has more personal body armor and weaponry than I did while invading Iraq.”

“Army underequipped pros,” a commenter said. “Cops here overeq/amateurs.”

Protests Continue In Missouri Town After Police Shooting Of 18-Yr-Old Man
A Missouri State Highway Patrol tactical vehicle patrolling Ferguson. Michael B. Thomas / Getty Images

Actually, that’s not right. Local police departments are strapped for cash and can’t afford the high-tech body armor, communications gear, weapons and armored vehicles that have replaced the local cop’s nightstick, revolver and cruiser. Most of this beefed-up arsenal is coming from the world’s biggest Army-Navy surplus store: the Pentagon.

The scenes from Ferguson have reached a point where Mashable has posted photos from Afghanistan, Iraq, and Ferguson—and asked readers to try to figure out where they’re from. The Department of Defense told USA Today last year that Ferguson acquired two Humvees, a 10-kilowatt generator and an empty flatbed trailer. St. Louis County, whose police have been out in force in Ferguson, acquired much more equipment, according to the Missouri Department of Public Safety, including night vision goggles, Humvees and more.

With the Mine-Resistant, Ambush-Protected vehicles, Kevlar-vested and helmeted personnel, outfitted with serious-looking firepower, in some snapshots it’s tough to tell Ferguson from Firdos Square in Baghdad or Farah, Afghanistan.

To be sure, there are times when a law-enforcement challenge—rescuing hostages or taking down terrorists—requires such heavy-duty gear, including some military handdowns. But the use of SWAT—Special Weapons and Tactics— teams has leapfrogged from such serious cases to less-serious episodes of trying to calm civil unrest, where a less-confrontational approach might work better.

“American policing has become unnecessarily and dangerously militarized, in large part through federal programs that have armed state and local law enforcement agencies with the weapons and tactics of war, with almost no public discussion or oversight,” the American Civil Liberties Union reported in June. “The use of hyper-aggressive tools and tactics results in tragedy for civilians and police officers, escalates the risk of needless violence, destroys property, and undermines individual liberties.”

Outrage In Missouri Town After Police Shooting Of 18-Yr-Old Man
Police on guard in Ferguson on Tuesday. Scott Olson / Getty Images

The Pentagon encourages the trend. Beginning with its effort to help fight the war on illegal drugs in 1997, the Defense Department’s provision of military gear to local police departments exploded following 9/11. “Since its inception, the [Law Enforcement Support Office] program has transferred more than $4.3 billion worth of property,” LESO says on its website. “In 2013 alone, $449,309,003.71 worth of property was transferred to law enforcement.” (Seventy-one cents?)

There’s a bit of a sales pitch, too: “If your law enforcement agency chooses to participate, it may become one of the more than 8,000 participating agencies to increase its capabilities, expand its patrol coverage, reduce response times, and save the American taxpayer’s investment,” it adds, along with a proviso noting that the weapons “are on loan from the DOD and remain the property of the DOD. … Trading, bartering or selling of the weapons is strictly prohibited.”

In 2011 and 2012, the ACLU estimated that an 63 police departments received 500 Mine-Resistant Ambush-Protected vehicles, armored 20-ton behemoths (3-5 mpg) that were designed to defeat enemy roadside bombs in Afghanistan and Iraq. The New York Times reported in June that the Pentagon has given local police forces 435 other armored vehicles, 533 aircraft and nearly 94,000 machine guns.

This has at least a few cops wondering what’s going on. “We’re not the military,” Salt Lake City Police Chief Chris Burbank has said. “Nor should we look like an invading force coming in.”

An ex-Boston police lieutenant—from a force not known for its gentler, kinder demeanor—agrees. “Have no doubt, police in the United States are militarizing, and in many communities, particularly those of color, the message is being received loud and clear: ‘You are the enemy,’” Tom Nolan, who spent 27 years on the Beantown beat, wrote for Defense One in June. “Police officers are increasingly arming themselves with military-grade equipment such as assault rifles, flashbang grenades, and Mine Resistant Ambush Protected, or MRAP, vehicles and dressing up in commando gear before using battering rams to burst into the homes of people who have not been charged with a crime.”

From a Pentagon website seeking to interest local law enforcement agencies in trading up to an MRAP. DoD

The ACLU said its analysis showed that 79% of SWAT missions were for drug investigations, while 7% were for hostage or barricade situations. It also noted that more than half of the SWAT deployments tracked were aimed at minorities. “The incidents we studied,” it added, “revealed stark, often extreme, racial disparities in the use of SWAT locally, especially in cases involving search warrants.”

We’ve been through similar, if not precise, episodes before: Think of the Ohio National Guard killing four students with their M1 Garand rifles at Kent State University in Ohio in 1970, for example. The troops turned on the students after some lobbed rocks and tear-gas canisters toward them. A presidential commission refrained from concluding why the Guardsmen fired the estimated 67 shots, but concluded that “the indiscriminate firing of rifles into a crowd of students and the deaths that followed were unnecessary, unwarranted, and inexcusable.”

Of course, they were military troops. In Ferguson, those now wielding them are local law-enforcement officers, many of whom lack the training—and the command and control of their use—that most military units receive.

-Additional reporting by Josh Sanburn

TIME foreign affairs

We Must Treat ISIS Like a State to Defeat It

Mosul's Makhmur following invasion of Peshmerga forces
Peshmerga forces inspect the death body of ISIS militants following Peshmerga forces' seizure of Makhmur by repelling ISIS militants in Makhmur town of Mosul, Iraq on August 11, 2014. Anadolu Agency—Getty Images

Statehood carries obligations and commitments—and these expose the group to failure

The international community does not yet understand the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). Governments are accustomed to thinking of religious militants as networks of terrorists, saboteurs, assassins and opportunists hiding among the population – quintessential non-state actors, fighting the state. These ideas are obsolete against ISIS. ISIS is no mere militia; in its territory, it is the state. Its claims to statehood are neither unfounded nor ridiculous. Its control of vast territory and resources make it arguably the most powerful religious militant group in modern history. Just as states have strengths, however, they also have weaknesses. Exploiting these weaknesses is the only way to defeat ISIS – counterterrorism is not enough – but addressing the ISIS problem starts with understanding it.

ISIS will inevitably launch terrorist attacks on the United States. At present, however, the group is more focused on capturing land, territory, and resources, and fulfilling its dream of re-establishing the Islamic caliphate. ISIS’ proximate enemy is therefore not the United States, but any individuals, groups or governments standing in its path to statehood. As shown by its limited actions in Iraq, the United States has chosen to contain rather than destroy ISIS, and the group can certainly live with this. Having watched core al Qaeda sink into near irrelevance, ISIS has learned that, without secure territory, recruits and resources, it cannot confront the West. Indeed, even such a confrontation is just a means to a much broader, more ambitious end of de facto statehood.

Given the group’s limited size and ideological eccentricity, ISIS’ state-building project has been a surprising success. However, being a state carries obligations and commitments that expose ISIS to failure. By declaring a caliphate, ISIS committed itself to preserving and expanding its borders and controlling populations, including would-be dissidents. By projecting an image of confidence, control and inevitable victory, ISIS continues to attract local and foreign recruits, while co-opting its opponents or intimidating them into submission. Interrupting and rolling back some of its dramatic battlefield successes would have an enormous psychological impact, heartening its opponents, shattering its image of invulnerability and encouraging popular uprisings against it – insurgencies against the jihadist insurgents-turned-governors.

As an aspiring government authority, ISIS is also committed to providing public and social services to the population, activities in which it is already deeply engaged. These many public goods include power and water services, law enforcement, health care, dispute resolution, employment, education and public outreach. These responsibilities cost money, which in ISIS’ case comes from extortion (or taxation, as it were), control of energy and water resources, and plunder.

These sources are of course vulnerable to physical attack and disruption. Strategic assets such as oil facilities and utilities infrastructure are highly visible and vulnerable to air strikes. ISIS also makes little effort to disguise governing facilities, political headquarters and policy and security installations. As a self-appointed state, ISIS sees little reason to keep a low profile in its own territory. Remarkably, its rivals have made little to no effort to target these assets, which are essential pillars of ISIS’ political authority and governance. For those very reasons, however, destroying these facilities without empowering moderate Sunni groups to govern in ISIS’ place would only lead to state collapse in ISIS-held areas. International efforts continue to focus on foreign terrorist finances such as donations. ISIS – a self-funded organization – remains wealthy.

ISIS is brutal toward anyone who resists its rule or laws; force plays a significant role in its control over populations. Like any state, however, ISIS cannot govern by force alone. Governance requires at least some cooperation from key population segments – tribal leaders, local militiamen and business owners, professionals able to provide technical services, and others. ISIS’ ideology is unpopular, but like many citizens of dictatorships, ISIS’ subjects calculate that resistance is pointless without weapons, money and the ability to organize. On these fronts, they are outmatched, due in part to the lack of outside assistance for rebel groups fighting ISIS in its heartland in Syria. These potential subversives can be encouraged and enabled to overthrown the de facto ISIS government.

Above all, ISIS wants to control territory and borders. Otherwise it is just one militia among many others in Syria and Iraq. This requires fighting on multiple fronts against multiple enemies, within both Syria and Iraq. That means openly moving fighters, arms and equipment across vast desert areas. Therefore, like any conventional army, ISIS is prone to overstretch. These increasingly lengthy lines of communication are prime targets for ground and air attacks that would destroy ISIS’ territorial integrity and fighting capability. For now, however, its enemies – the Syrian regime, Syrian rebel groups, Iraqi Shia militias, Iraqi security forces and indeed the United States – are either unwilling or unable to hit ISIS where it would hurt most.

ISIS is certainly not more powerful than a coalition of all these potential rivals. Even taken alone, most of its enemies vastly outnumber it. But ISIS is adaptive, creative and ambitious. By contrast, the international community’s response has been rigid, predictable and unimaginative. If it continues to see and treat ISIS as simply a terrorist group, the international community will forever be playing defense, which ISIS can happily live with, until it no longer has to and can go on the offensive abroad. Unless its rivals understand and treat ISIS as a state, and exploit the vulnerabilities statehood presents, ISIS will continue to outclass them in ambition and sophistication, and it will have its state.

Faysal Itani is a resident fellow with the Atlantic Council’s Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East.

TIME Religion

Pope Francis Says ‘Si’ to Philadelphia Visit in 2015

Pope Francis Visits South Korea - DAY 1
Pope Francis attends the meeting with the bishops of Korea at the headquarters of the Korean Episcopal Conference on August 14, 2014 in Seoul, South Korea. Getty Images

Pontiff confirms rumored trip to city of brotherly love next year

Pope Francis told NBC News on Thursday he will be paying a visit to the city of brotherly love. NBC’s Anne Thompson spoke to the pope in Italian on Thursday as the pontiff flew to Asia for his first-ever trip. Thompson asked – in Italian – if the pope would travel to Philadelphia at any point.

“Si,” replied Francis, going on to mention the city’s World Family Day, due to take place in September 2015.

Read more from our partners at NBC News

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