Recently, I posted a few videos of journalists and International Relations experts with various perspectives on the Ukraine crisis of 2022. Four of the those featured in these videos are Yanis Varoufakis, John Mearsheimer, Glenn Greenwald, and Jack Matlock. All of them, in one way or another, question the wisdom of NATO expansion after the fall of the USSR. (See the links in the reference section below.)
For some contrast, here’s a video that provides a more mainstream perspective on that topic. Unlike the four experts mentioned earlier, this group of experts – Robert Brinkley, Neil MacFarlane, and David Manning – all support the expansion of NATO after the fall of the USSR. Further, they do think that the Ukraine crisis of 2022 is going to dramatically reshape the world order for some time to come.
(FMB Note on 1 May 2022 – over time this blog post has become a list of references on various contrasting views on the war in Ukraine and it’s importance to the larger topic of international relations.)
Ukraine is Paying the Price for the U.S. “Recklessly” Pushing NATO Expansion
by Andrew Bacevich
11 March 2022
What role did the United States play in creating conditions for Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and what will it take to end the war? The U.S. invasion of Iraq, which saw no repercussions for the Bush administration despite breaching international humanitarian law, coupled with Cold War-era policies and NATO’s eastward expansion, incited Putin’s aggressions towards Ukraine, says retired colonel Andrew Bacevich, president and co-founder of the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft. “American decision makers acted impetuously, and indeed recklessly, and now we’re facing the consequences,” says Bacevich.
Tell us how this war in Ukraine ends
As calls grow for a ‘victory’ over Russia, we should examine whether such a win-lose outcome is even possible.
by George Beebe
29 April 2022
FMB: Here are the first few paragraphs of the article.
Tell me how this ends. General David Petraeus famously posed this question at the outset of the Iraq War in 2003.
In retrospect, to say that the Bush administration’s expectations for the war proved too optimistic would be a vast understatement. The White House anticipated a democratic and prosperous Iraq that would catalyze liberalization in the authoritarian regimes dominating the Middle East and drain the swamp of Islamic radicalism.
Instead, Operation Iraqi Freedom removed an important counterbalance to Iranian power and plunged the region into decades of instability, the ill effects of which are continuing to resonate for the United States, Europe, and the world.
In our outrage over Russia’s brutal invasion of Ukraine and determination to counter Moscow’s aggression, many are debating what we should do, but few are pausing to ponder the question of how this war ends. As the Russian operation has stumbled on the battlefield, some prominent U.S. and British officials and many erstwhile cheerleaders for the war in Iraq are talking more and more openly about victory over Russia, decisively debilitating the Russian military, and even regime change in Moscow. Dare we hope that Putin’s blunder in Ukraine could poetically produce the very outcomes he wished to prevent: an expanded and invigorated NATO alliance more deeply ensconced along Russia’s periphery, Russia’s marginalization in the world, and even his own fall from power?
Russian and US Escalation Raises Risk of Direct Military Clash in Ukraine
3 May 2022
A Democracy Now Interview with George Beebe and Medea Benjamin
As President Biden seeks $33 billion more for Ukraine, we look at the dangers of U.S. military escalation with Medea Benjamin of CodePink and George Beebe of the Quincy Institute. He is the former head of Russia analysis at the CIA and a former adviser to Vice President Dick Cheney. The massive spending in Ukraine that outweighs public funding to combat the coronavirus pandemic shows that “there are very few things that the Biden administration thinks are more important right now than defeating Russia, and I don’t think that accords, actually, with the priorities of the American people,” says Beebe. “To support the people of Ukraine and stop the fighting, we need not to pour billions of dollars of more weapons in, but to say, ‘Negotiations now,’” says Benjamin.
George Beebe is with the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft
Medea Benjamin is with Code Pink
Biden’s CIA Director Doesn’t Believe Biden’s Story about Ukraine
by Peter Beinart
7 February 2022
If you’ve followed the diplomacy over Ukraine closely, you may have noticed that the Biden administration has relied heavily on CIA Director William J. (Bill) Burns. In November it dispatched him to Moscow where, according to CNN, he served as a “key intermediary” between the US and Vladimir Putin. In January he flew to Germany to discuss Ukraine with the new government in Berlin. This all makes sense. Burns is the Biden administration’s highest-ranking Russia expert. He’s a fluent Russian speaker who has served twice in the US embassy in Moscow, the second time as ambassador. Which makes it all the more striking that Burns, in his memoir, flatly contradicts the Biden administration’s narrative about how this crisis came to be. Remarkably, one of the most trenchant critics of official US discourse on Russia and Ukraine is the sitting director of the CIA.
Two years ago, [William J.] Burns wrote a memoir entitled, The Back Channel. It directly contradicts the argument being proffered by the administration he now serves. In his book, Burns says over and over that Russians of all ideological stripes—not just Putin—loathed and feared NATO expansion. He quotes a memo he wrote while serving as counselor for political affairs at the US embassy in Moscow in 1995. ‘Hostility to early NATO expansion,” it declares, “is almost universally felt across the domestic political spectrum here.” On the question of extending NATO membership to Ukraine, Burns’ warnings about the breadth of Russian opposition are even more emphatic. “Ukrainian entry into NATO is the brightest of all redlines for the Russian elite (not just Putin),” he wrote in a 2008 memo to then-Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. “In more than two and a half years of conversations with key Russian players, from knuckle-draggers in the dark recesses of the Kremlin to Putin’s sharpest liberal critics, I have yet to find anyone who views Ukraine in NATO as anything other than a direct challenge to Russian interests.”
While the Biden administration claims that Putin bears all the blame for the current Ukraine crisis, Burns makes clear that the US helped lay its foundations. By taking advantage of Russian weakness, he argues, Washington fueled the nationalist resentment that Putin exploits today. Burns calls the Clinton administration’s decision to expand NATO to include Poland, Hungary, and the Czech Republic “premature at best, and needlessly provocative at worst.” And he describes the appetite for revenge it fostered among many in Moscow during Boris Yeltsin’s final years as Russia’s president. “As Russians stewed in their grievance and sense of disadvantage,” Burns writes, “a gathering storm of ‘stab in the back’ theories slowly swirled, leaving a mark on Russia’s relations with the West that would linger for decades.”
Marxist Views on the Ukraine Crisis and World Order
by Fred M. Beshears
FMB: This is my reading list of authors with Marxist and/or Socialist views on the Ukraine crisis and how it may substantially change the world order. It currently includes Yanis Varoufakis, Volodymyr Ishchenko, Prabhat Patnaik, and Vijay Prashad.
How should Britain Respond to Russia and Ukraine Crisis?
Robert Brinkley, Neil MacFarlane, and Sir David Manning
3 March 2022
On the 24th of February 2022, the Russian Federation launched a large-scale invasion of Ukraine, starting the largest interstate conflict in Europe since the Second World War. This aggressive action is the latest and most extreme decision taken by President Putin towards former Soviet states; it follows the invasion of Georgia in 2008, the illegal annexation of Crimea in 2014, and ever-increasing interference in the politics of Belarus, Kazakhstan and other CSTO members. The conflict has developed steadily with Ukraine putting up a stout defense and holding Kyiv and other major cities against all expectations but the end is far from within sight. How will the crisis develop? It is clear that this event will come to define the next decade; the effect it has already had on the thinking of individuals across the world is more than apparent. It is also clear that this is an issue that has resonated with the Oxford Community and with our members. We thus feel that we have a duty to facilitate a discussion on the Russian Invasion of Ukraine, the build-up to it, its geopolitical significance, and what we in the United Kingdom should be doing to help.
We are therefore delighted to announce that … we will be hosting a Panel Discussion on Ukraine with several guest speakers:
• Mr. Robert Brinkley CMG (Formerly HM Ambassador to Ukraine and Head of the Ukrainian Institute)
• Professor Neil MacFarlane (a world expert in the international relations of the Former Soviet Union and a professor at St. Anne’s
• Sir David Manning KCVO GCMG (Formerly a diplomat to Moscow, HM Ambassador to the United States, and foreign policy advisor to Tony Blair)
ABOUT THE OXFORD UNION SOCIETY: The Oxford Union is the world’s most prestigious debating society, with an unparalleled reputation for bringing international guests and speakers to Oxford. Since 1823, the Union has been promoting debate and discussion not just in Oxford University, but across the globe.
Ukrainegate impeachment saga worsens US-Russia Cold War
by Stephen F. Cohen
Professor Emeritus of Russian Studies at New York University and Princeton University
13 November 2019
Interview by Aaron Maté
As the House opens impeachment hearings for President Trump, Professor Stephen F. Cohen warns that the US military assistance at the heart of Ukrainegate escalates the US-Russia Cold War.
Guest: Stephen F. Cohen, professor emeritus of Russian studies at New York University and Princeton University, contributing editor at The Nation, and author of “War with Russia: From Putin & Ukraine to Trump & Russiagate.”
Ukraine – the narrative the West doesn’t hear
By Frank Gardner
40 April 2022
“Ukraine and its allies, including London, are threatening Russia for the last 1,000 years, to move Nato to our borders, to cancel our culture – they have bullied us for many, many years.”
That is what Yevgeny Popov, a member of the Russian Duma (parliament) and an influential TV host in Russia, told the BBC’s Ukrainecast on 19 April. “Of course Nato plans for Ukraine are a direct threat to Russian citizens.”
The War in Ukraine
by Glenn Greenwald
25 February 2022
“Glenn Greenwald started contributing to Salon in 2007, and to The Guardian in 2012. In June 2013, while at The Guardian, he began publishing a series of reports detailing previously unknown information about American and British global surveillance programs based on classified documents provided by Edward Snowden.” — Wikipedia
How the War in Ukraine Is Reviving the Blob
Biden’s escalation against Russia underscores the revival of Washington’s hawkish foreign policy mindset.
By Jacob Heilbrunn
Heuvel, Katrina Vanden
How US Media’s One-Sided Debate on Ukraine Fans the Flames of War
Katrina Vanden Heuvel
6 June 2022
Russian missiles struck Ukraine’s capital of Kyiv for the first time in over a month on Sunday. This comes as Russian and Ukrainian forces continue to battle over control of the eastern city of Severodonetsk and Russian President Vladimir Putin is warning Western nations against supplying longer-range missile systems to Ukraine. “The longer this war goes on, the much more difficult it is to end it,” says Katrina vanden Heuvel, editorial director and publisher of The Nation magazine and columnist for The Washington Post. Vanden Heuvel says U.S. corporate media is responsible for what she calls a “one-sided debate” on Ukraine, which is greenlighting unprecedented spending on weapons over the importance of negotiations.
Can Ukraine Win – and What Happens if Russia Loses
8 April 2022
“The Russia-Ukraine war has changed considerably in recent weeks. Vladimir Putin is no longer talking explicitly about regime change in Ukraine. The Russian military has shifted its focus away from taking Kyiv and toward making territorial gains in Ukraine’s east. The prospect of an outright Ukrainian victory is no longer out of the question. And negotiations between the parties over a possible settlement appear to be making some progress.”
Decoding the Strategic Triangle: Washington – Beijing – Moscow
by Fiona Hill
4 March 2022
Symposium Sponsor: Center for Eurasian, Russian, and East European Studies
Panelists: Fiona Hill, Alexander Gabuev, Thomas Graham, and Charles Kupchan
About the Symposium:
Half a century ago the United States successfully implemented a strategy of triangular diplomacy to achieve a rapprochement with China that dramatically changed the Cold War balance. Is the notion and practice of a “strategic triangle” applicable to current relations between the United States, China, and Russia? Is it time today for full-fledge geopolitical competition between democratic and autocratic power centers? Is it possible to craft relationships based on equal measures of cooperation, competition, and confrontation, and avoid slipping into a Cold War conflict? How can we calibrate a trilateral nuclear arms control? The panel discussion brings together outstanding scholars and practitioners to help address these questions, and to explore and decode complex policy patterns of Washington, Beijing, and Moscow.
”Ukraine Will Be Wrecked.”
OMINOUS Warnings Of NATO-Provoked War Given For DECADES
by Kim Iversen
2 March 2022
Three historical video clips on Nato expansion and Ukraine:
- 1997 Michel Gorbachev: Warning about NATO expansion and Russian humiliation
- 2010 Stephen F. Cohen: George H.W. Bush lied to Russians about NATO expansion
- 2015 John Mearsheimer: “Ukraine will get wrecked”
References on Jack Matlock – Last US Ambassador to the USSR
by Fred M. Beshears
10 March 2022
“Jack Matlock is a retired career diplomat who served as the last US ambassador to the Soviet Union (1987–91). He is also a critic of some of the common narratives about the end of the Cold War, and of NATO expansion, stating publicly that it was a mistake.”
The New Era of Great Power Competition
John Mearsheimer & Stephen Walt
6 June 2022
Interview by Demetri Kofinas
[Mearsheimer and Walt] are … both prominent members of the so-called “realist school” and their views have often run counter to the prevailing orthodoxy in Washington, which one could broadly characterize as interventionist. John Mearsheimer especially has caught flak for his views on Ukraine, which went viral after the recent Russian invasion. Just one of his videos on YouTube alone has been seen over 26 million times. Demetri asks him about that experience, why he thinks his views have resonated so strongly with the public, and if there’s a connection between peoples’ views on Ukraine and their positions on the larger culture wars that seem to be dividing so many of us in Western societies today.
Why the Ukraine Cannot Decide Its Own Future
8 April 2022
00:00 | Why Ukraine cannot decide its own future!
01:01 | How did we get into this mess in Ukraine?
01:45 | Is Putin looking to recreate the USSR?
03:03 | Does Putin consider NATO expansion as an existential threat?
04:17 | Does Russia want to make Ukraine part of Russia?
05:38 | What are the Americans doing in Ukraine?
07:31 | Can there be a negotiated settlement in Ukraine?
08:13 | Is it possible the US will join the war in Ukraine?
09:29 | Could Russia turn to nuclear weapons?
12:02 | Does Ukraine not decide its own future?
13:48 | Is NATO expansion a good thing?
14:39 | Ukraine President Zelenskyy wants peace with Russia?
17:12 | Russians are targeting civilians in Ukraine?
17:48 | What is Putin thinking, what are his plans?
19:24 | Is Russia looking to occupy Ukraine?
Who armed Ukraine and decided to expand NATO?
Professor John Mearsheimer
7 April 2022
00:00 UK, Germany and France do they have a role in Ukraine vs Russia war?
01:42 Does the EU or NATO have a role in Ukraine vs Russia war?
04:57 Who decided to expand NATO?
07:39 Are we moving from an US Unipole to Multipolar world?
10:28 Is China a threat to Russia?
12:14 Can Ukraine, as a buffer state, lead to peace?
17:06 Did NATO promise not to expand to the east?
19:40 Who decided to arm Ukraine?
23:49 Why do Europeans and Americans hate Russians so much?
26:40 Can liberal international order with USA on top survive?
30:14 Does Putin suffer from a personality disorder?
32:02 NATO needs Russia and its threats to continue its existence?
36:30 Does having nuclear weapons lessen wars?
Russia-Ukraine War – Who is responsible?
John J. Mearsheimer
4 March 2022
“In this video, John J. Mearsheimer explains who is responsible for Russia-Ukraine conflict, it’s history and how this conflict will play out in the future.”
“John Joseph Mearsheimer is an American political scientist and international relations scholar, who belongs to the realist school of thought. He is the R. Wendell Harrison Distinguished Service Professor at the University of Chicago. He has been described as the most influential realist of his generation.” — Wikipedia
Why Invading Ukraine Upends the World Order
2 March 2022
Bombs raining down on cities in an established European democracy of 44 million people has provoked an astonishingly fierce resolve by the people of Ukraine. It’s also testing the post-Cold War era alignments around the world as never before. We discuss the global response with:
- Velina Tchakarova, director of the Austrian Institute for European and Security Policy;
- David Frum, staff writer at the Atlantic;
- Janice Stein, Belzberg Professor of Conflict Management and
founding director of the Munk School of Global Affairs & Public Policy
at the University of Toronto; and
- Doug Saunders, international affairs columnist for The Globe and Mail
World’s happiest country ranking goes to Finland for fifth year in a row
by Kati Pohjanpalo
18 March 2022
Interview with Economist Jeffrey Sachs on Ukraine
21 April 2022
“With each day of the conflict in Ukraine, the human toll and economic burden are rising rapidly. So what is the way out? TRT World sat down with world-renowned economist and best-selling author, Jeffrey Sachs to talk about the political and economic ramifications of this conflict and what a peace settlement might look like.”
Gravitas: Zelensky’s three big miscalculations
by Palki Sharma
9 March 2022
- Over-estimated Western Support
- Misread Ukraine’s Importance to the West
- Misread Putin’s Intent to Invade
“Neutrality” Won’t Protect Ukraine
Jan Smoleński, Jan Dutkiewicz
22 March 2022
Ukraine was already neutral when Putin decided to bomb it into staying that way. Without the protection of NATO or the EU, the country’s options will be severely limited.
As the death toll mounts and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine enters its fourth week, the two countries’ negotiating teams claim to be trying to hammer out a possible solution, even as Russian bombs hammer cities like Mariupol into rubble. Currently the front-running solution seems to be Ukrainian “neutrality.” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov has suggested that Russia might accept a “compromise” in which Ukraine does not become a NATO member. An increasing number of international commentators are also arguing neutrality might be a reasonable way to end the bloodshed quickly, by offering Putin a face-saving “off-ramp” for the invasion. Ostensibly progressive voices like former Greek Minister of Finance Yanis Varoufakis have called for the “Finlandization” of Ukraine, referring to Finland’s quasi-forced neutrality during the Cold War; the Russians have suggested Austria, which was formally neutral but maintained trade relations with both the United States and the Soviet Union, as a model for Ukraine.
When/if you read the arguments put forward by Jan Smoleński (i.e. where he asserts that “Neutrality” or the “Finlandization approach” won’t work), keep asking yourself:
What (if any) alternative is Smoleński advocating?
In other words: Does Smoleński offer an alternative solution to the Ukraine crisis that has a better chance of working than the Finlandization approach.
When I read the Smoleński piece, I didn’t hear any specific alternative solutions. As I understand Smoleński position, he seems to want the war grind on, which could indeed weaken Russia (just as the Afghans were able to bleed Russia for years).
But if the Ukrainians try to bleed Russia (for years if need be, and on our behalf) it will cost them dearly, just as our wars in Afghanistan and Iraq cost those countries dearly – on the order of 900,000 civilian lives.
Is this Smoleński’s alternative? If so, I can understand why he does not want to spell it out in detail.
Henry Kissinger, Noam Chomsky Find Rare Common Ground Over Ukraine War
by Andrew Stanton
24 May 2022
Henry Kissinger and Noam Chomsky, longtime political enemies, have found rare common ground over the Russia-Ukraine war.
The two come from opposing ends of the political spectrum—Kissinger serving as secretary of state under Republican presidents and Chomsky one of the leading left-wing intellectuals in the United States—and have frequently clashed.
But when it comes to the Russian invasion of Ukraine, both recently advocated for Ukraine to consider a settlement that could see it dropping claim to some land to achieve a quicker peace deal.
Finlandization is the process by which one powerful country makes a smaller neighboring country refrain from opposing the former’s foreign policy rules, while allowing it to keep its nominal independence and its own political system. The term means “to become like Finland” referring to the influence of the Soviet Union on Finland’s policies during the Cold War.
Two Concepts of Liberty
Fred, I really appreciate your posting of various views on the subject of NATO’s eastward expansion and the causes of the war in Ukraine.
My two cents‘ worth …
Essentially the argument against NATO’s eastward expansion is that the West should have psychotherapeutically treated Russia’s inferiority complex and aggrieved sense of imperial entitlement using political means, and should continue to do so. The argument contends that Russia would not have felt and feel threatened if NATO had not expanded eastward, and hence would not have forcibly taken Abkhazia and South Ossetia in Georgia, Transnistria in Moldova, and Crimea and Donbas (Donetsk and Luhansk) in Ukraine, and would not now be attempting to take all of Ukraine by force, using among other means bombing of hospitals, schools and residential areas as well as energy, communications and water-supply infrastructure, with the goal of overthrowing the legitimately elected democratic government and replacing it with a puppet regime.
In my view Russia would have done all this anyway with or without NATO expansion, and without it probably done even more, such as retaking the Baltic states (Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia).
Throughout history the former Soviet Socialist Republics and former Warsaw pact countries have had nothing but negative experiences with Russia. Their justifiable fear of Russia is embedded in their DNA. Imperialistically forcing them to remain “neutral” would have left and leave them defenseless against historical repeats of conquest and subjugation by Russia.
Russia’s land mass is roughly 17Mkm² with 4Mkm² in Europe. NATO’s total land mass is around 24Mkm² with 5Mkm² is in Europe (i.e., excluding the USA and Canada). Russia controls more than enough territory already.
On economic terms based on GDP Russia has no claim to being a major power with an associated sphere of influence, it is its enormous well-armed military and countless nuclear weapons which allow it to extort major-power status.
Let us not forget that Russia has shown throughout history that it cannot be trusted to abide by any agreements and treaties that it signs. Russia’s behavior in the invasion of Ukraine can leave no doubt that it is an uncivilized and barbarous nation.
“Buffer states” sound like a great idea to people who don’t have to live in them.
I wonder how the Finns would advise Ukraine.
As for non-Finns, there are those who think that the Ukraine would be better off with “Finlandization.” As I understand it, this is the basic solution that Yanis Varoufakis, John Mearsheimer, Glenn Greenwald, and Jack Matlock are proposing.
For contrast, I’ve recently posted an Oxford Union Society video, which features other luminaries (i.e. Robert Brinkley, Neil MacFarlane, and David Manning) who do not seem to favor the Finlandization solution.
However, I didn’t catch their solution for Ukraine – i.e. one that: (a) Russia would go for and (b) they also favor.
As for my take, it seems to me that the US and its NATO allies have led the Ukrainians down the primrose path. We cheer them on as a “David” taking on the challenge of a Russian “Goliath”.
However, we (i.e. the US and NATO) don’t want to provide the Ukrainians with a no-fly-zone because that might result in WWIII.
So, as I see it, the Ukraine is a patsy for western interests (i.e. US and NATO allies) who don’t want to take on Russia directly because that might lead to WWIII. We’ll just let the Ukrainians do the fighting for us. Yet another twist on the proxy war theme.
BTW: I’m glad Biden is trying to avoid WWIII, even though Zelenskyy does seem to want us to risk WWIII on his behalf.
Fred, I think the arguments tend towards a ‘realpolitik’ view that the citizens of some nations should be only permitted very superficial and largely illusory political freedom in order to keep the peace between empires. This may appear defensible from a utilitarian point of view – but there is a moral point here too. We’re asking people to give up their political freedom and agency, to keep a peace for which we are the main positive beneficiaries, by arguing that they would suffer most from the negative consequences. There is therefore a conflict between positive (existential) freedom vs. negative (utilitarian) freedom.
(see Two Concepts of Liberty in the reference section.)
I’m not even sure Finlandisation, as was, is even possible now. I remember a Finnish friend telling me about the things that they weren’t allowed to talk about, the topics from history they weren’t allowed to learn about in school, and so on, and how this was all part of how the settlement was implemented. Again, you’d need to limit freedom and agency, prevent access to a free press, ban certain books and films, limit internet access, and so on, and create uncritical support that this lack of freedom was all for the greater good, a bit like Plato’s Noble Lie
ScottW, I fully agree with the assertion that Finlandization is not as good as the unspecified hypothetical ideal solution (i.e. the UHIS). Further, I challenge anyone to falsify the UHIS that I now fervently support!
Fred, I think ultimately, any idea has to be presented as a choice, not a solution. Ukrainians (for now at least) have political agency. Its people can choose to give up some of their freedom in exchange for some measure of peace and security (hmm, Ben Franklin had something to say about that!) or pursue positive freedom, knowing what it may cost. What I don’t think is a good idea is for non-Ukrainians to try to impose or lobby for one or the other as a solution, as fundamentally, we are not the ones who will have to experience the consequences.
ScottW, wasn’t Zelenskyy lobbying the US and NATO to risk WWIII so that Ukraine could be protected with a US/NATO financed and supported no-fly zone?
Apparently, Zelenskyy wants to expose the whole world to the risk his proposed solutions entail.
As for Ben Franklin, he didn’t live in a world with nuclear weapons.
For more on Zelenskyy, see Palki Sharma’s take on Zelenskyy in the reference section. She maintains that he made three big miscalculations: 1) he over-estimated western support, 2) he misread Ukraine’s importance to the West, and 3) he misread Putin’s intent to invade.
The last few comments between ScottW and myself have been copied to a new blog post. There are more comments there. See:
Is the US a Passive Bystander in the Ukraine Crisis?