sitting on the edge of the sandbox, biting my tongue

February 18, 2015

An Idea for A Portlandia Episode

Filed under: politics — Tags: , , — edge of the sandbox @ 6:28 pm

While you were worrying about amnesty and ISIS, the state of Oregon reached an important human rights milestone.  Kate Brown, the nation’s first openly bi governor, ascended to her position when John Kitzhaber (D) resigned amids corruption allegations:

Brown, who was the first in line to succeed Kitzhaber, was the nation’s first openly bisexual-identifying statewide officeholder. She is married to husband Dan Little [can we fact check to make sure Mr. Little is not really a wife? — eots] and has discussed her sexuality in past campaigns for public office.

Something as quirky as bisexuality is doubtlessly a selling point in the Pacific north-west.  What I deduce has happened, is that in the early 90’s she was “outed” by a local paper after which she had some ‘splaining to do, including:

  • Coming out to my gay friends – who called me half-queer.
  • Coming out to my straight friends – who never thought I could make up my mind about anything anyway.

So, basically, Brown, who married a few years later had a few flings… but what really matters is that she identifies as bi.  RS McCain posted An Infinite Rainbow of Oppression, a freak show of “queer” identity portraits complete with descriptions like Trans Femme Genderqueer” and “Plus Sized Polyamorous Pansexual”.  Interestingly, one of the ladies in the project identified simply as “bisexual”.  Maybe she just wanted to have her picture taken.  We women are pretty straight forward this way.

Anyhow, with Kate Brown being from Oregon it’s time to remember the 90’s, the decade about nothing:

Meantime in Debaltseve…

UPDATE: Many thanks to Citizen Tom for linking.

February 13, 2015

Malinovka

Filed under: politics, Ukraine — Tags: , , — edge of the sandbox @ 5:41 pm

The US is considering lethal defensive aid to Kiev, and I seriously doubt this will lead to World War 3.  It’s not clear that Ukraine will last long enough for that to happen.  I’m just a mom, but I read both Russian and Ukrainian, and deciphering Russian strategy is not that hard if one reads their media.  Russia is doing a Kutuzov in Ukraine, bleeding their opponent dry of resources, and by that I don’t mean the gas supply to Ukraine’s frosty cities.  Or even the fact that the Ukrianian economy is in free-fall – the decline is exasperated by Russia’s own economic crisis.

It’s said that Putin’s inner circle consists of people who supported the outright annexation of south-east Ukraine and those who prefer a “frozen war” to eventually gobble up the region.  Apparently they had Putin’s ear.  I first expected to see Russian tanks in my birth city — because the city’s leadership wanted them there and because the tanks were posed in Belgorod, a stone’s throw away.  I was wrong.

Since the beginning of the war Russian-lead East Ukrainian rebels were playing cat and mouse with the Ukrainian military in the structure formerly known as Sergei Prokofiev* Airport in Donetsk.  Why the airport?  Nobody knows; I’m reading that it has no strategic value, but I guess it was big of the parties involved to select its cement terminals for their shoot-outs, as opposed to a high-rises populated with civilians, as they did elsewhere.

For a month or so Ukraine held the second or third floor, then the rebels took over, then Ukraine again, and so on.  The Ukrainian media, hungry for legends of martial grandeur concocted the story of a cyborg army.  Some in western media, not knowing whom or what to trust, picked up on that.  In reality, poorly trained Ukrainians, some militant Maidan veterans, some pros and some hapless conscripts, were facing a Russian-led levy patiently wasting Ukraine’s resources.  When the bombed out airport finally fell, the Ukrainian media christened it “our Stalingrad”.

Ukrainian magazine Novoe Vremya decries the lost battle as “Our Stalingrad”. What does that mean, exactly?

It fell in late January when separatists went on the offensive, swept up the airport killing more than 400 Ukrainian men on Russian live TV (banned in Ukraine, but everyone watches it online anyway).  Then the rebels boasted of surrounding 6-10K Ukrainian soldiers in Debaltsevo.  Russian TV filmed the superstar separatist commander Givi forcing Ukrainian captives to eat their badges and an amateur video showed another group of captives coerced into singing the Soviet anthem, which, turns out, they all knew.

Would you like to be one of these men?  Neither do Ukrainians.  After the annexation of Crimea, Ukraine mobilized its reservists.  Back then I noted that they’d have a tough time with that, and now at the fourth troop rotation their troubles multiplied.  Russians are estimating that upwards of 1 million men between 20 and 40 are hiding from the draft on the territory of the belligerent, and in light of that Putin promised to extend the length of visa-free stay to this segment of Ukrainians.  Poland, on the other hand, stopped issuing work visas to men of military age.

Women from Ivano-Frankovsk to Kherson rally against the draft.  In Kharkov reservists don’t open their doors to persons serving military writs, so the men will now be served at work; in Lwow it’s the job of the traffic cops.  Surprisingly the highest levels of draft-dodging are among the fiercest nationalists in Western Ukraine.  In Ivano-Frankovsk 67% of those served their notices do not report to recruitment centers, and in Chernovtsi 17% left the country in the wake of mobilization.  The ones who do report often seek exemptions.

What’s going on with Ukraine’s “elite” National Guard is another matter.  Late January hundreds of fighters of Aidar battalion (one of many semi-independent fighting units) left their positions and turned to the capital where they surrendered to the Defense Ministry an act that Internal Affairs Minister Arsen Avakov defined as treason.  This is not the first time something like this is happening.

Ukraine’s combative “battalions” were the destination of Maidan radicals who after the overthrow of Viktor Yanukovich found themselves unable to return to everyday life (or what’s left of it).  Ordinary Ukrainians, on the other hand, have a different mentality; what they want most is to be left alone.  They are a pacific, hospitable people and a practical people.  Half of them sought expanded ties with the European Union, true, but at what cost?  Nobody expects another Holodomor, but the loss of a male breadwinner is felt sharply.

The current situation in Ukraine reminds of an 1960s Soviet musical comedy “Wedding in Malinovka”.  Set in a bucolic Ukrainian village at the time of the civil war that unfolded after the Bolshevik revolution, it shows Ukraine ravaged by multiple warring parties.  As governance changes, villagers try to live their lives — until the Reds come and the beautiful bride gets to marry her beloved. I suppose the insights of the film transcend the Soviet clichés.  Recall, all previous attempts at Ukrainian independence ended in bloodshed and chaos leading to the strong hand from the east imposing order.

Eternal Ukraine: The rug-tag cast of Wedding in Malinovka

Eternal Ukraine: The rug-tag cast of Wedding in Malinovka

When Russia and Ukraine signed an agreement in Minsk, IMF pledged $17.5 billion to Ukraine, which will keep it on life support a little longer, which may give the US enough time to arm and train some kind of native fighting force.  It’s hard to follow our president’s very public thought process on this matter, but many parties are eager to drop a billion dollars on this, apparently, so it might just happen.  Next thing you know another infusion of money will come due.  After that we’ll have to station NATO troops in this unfortunate country… supply it with gas.  Actually, we are not going to get to there because at this point, even if Ukraine is still around, the US is blinking, blinking, blinking.

—-

*The great Russian composer was born in Donetsk region.

January 30, 2015

Where Putin Doesn’t Go (And More About WW2 Ukraine)

When the Cold War was coming to a close, it became customary for both the West and the Eastern block to note how similar we are — we wear blue jeans, fall in love with attractive people, our youths are charmingly decadent — and so on.  Too bad we no longer feel this kinship because similarities still abound.  For instance, the Presidents of our two countries didn’t show up for both the Paris Unity March following Charlie Hebdo terror attack and the ceremony commemorating the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz.

Unlike our own Leader of the Free World, Putin, who had been run out of Europe, now avoids uncomfortable situations like that G20 summit in Brisbane.  So he sent foreign minister Sergei Lavrov to the Paris Unity March, and Lavrov was put in a back row, while jovial Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko marched in the front.  I guess Poroshenko is now an indispensable in our war against Islamism.

At some point, probably around the time of Pussy Riot affair, Russians decided that a state’s proper functions extend to the protection of subjects’ religious feelings, no matter how shallow they run.  According to a recently released poll, while only a small minority of Russians justifies the terrorists, a majority blame either the cartoonists themselves for provoking the attack or the government for allowing freedom of expression.  So when he ditched the March, Putin didn’t exactly let his countrymen down.

I don’t think he let them down when he skipped the Auschwitz ceremony either.  The Soviet Army liberated the camp seventy years ago, but Putin, who was not personally invited by the Poles, the nation entrusted with preserving the memory of the Holocaust for reasons of geography.  The Russian strongman opted for a Holocaust Remembrance Day in Moscow.  As a descendant of people who worked and fought for the World War Two victory on the Soviet side, I’d rather see him swallow his pride and go to Poland, but I have a feeling that most Russians support their leadership in their decision to stay put, and had those who died liberating the camp been alive, they’d get Putin’s position too.

In the week before the observance Polish Foreign Minister Grzegorz Schetyna produced another triumph of Western diplomacy:

In a radio interview Wednesday, Polish Foreign Minister Grzegorz Schetyna was challenged over what the journalist called the “pettiness” of not inviting Putin, given that he is the inheritor of the Soviet Union and that the Red Army freed Auschwitz.

Schetyna replied that “maybe it’s better to say … that the First Ukrainian Front and Ukrainians liberated (Auschwitz), because Ukrainian soldiers were there, on that January day, and they opened the gates of the camp and they liberated the camp.”

Which gave Mr. Lavrov an opening to lecture the world about Soviet internationalism:

“It’s common knowledge that Auschwitz was liberated by the Red Army, in which all nationalities heroically served,” the Foreign Ministry said in a statement. “We believe that the mockery of history needs to be stopped.”

The group of forces involved in the liberation of Auschwitz was called the First Ukrainian Front after it pushed the Nazis back across the territory of then-Soviet Ukraine before moving into Poland.

It should be noted, that the war was more or less a stalemate until Soviets pushed back into Ukraine and began conscripting men from the newly liberated lands.  This, however, is Soviet Ukrainian history, the one that New Ukraine turned its back on last year.  In fact Ukraine now celebrates Defender of Fatherland Day once known as Soviet Army Day, on the anniversary of establishment by the Nazi Organization of Ukrainian Nationalist of Ukrainian Insurgent Army.  As I’ve said before, Ukraine has some soul-searching to do, and they have to come up with something better than unfolding of the Ukrainian flag at Auschwitz. Was it in honor of the victims or the guards, by the way?

The man who opened the gates of the concentration camp is said to be major Anatoliy Shapiro.  Goosebumps.  He was a Jew born in a town near Poltava in the Russian Empire’s Pale of Settlement, now Ukraine.  Shapiro, who died in 2005 in Long Island, New York, didn’t learn about the Holocaust until he immigrated to the United States in 1992.  Shortly before his death Shapiro recalled Auschwitz liberation in an interview to Jerusalem Post:

“When I saw the people, it was skin and bones. They had no shoes, and it was freezing. They couldn’t even turn their heads, they stood like dead people.

“I told them, ‘The Russian army liberates you!’ They couldn’t understand. A few who could touched our arms and said, ‘Is it true? Is it real?'”

As a commanding officer, his task was to direct his men. Half his battalion, originally 900 men, had died in battle. But nothing they had endured had prepared them for what they found inside Auschwitz.

His men pleaded with him to let them leave.

“The general told me, ‘Have the soldiers go from barrack to barrack. Let them see what happened to the people,'” he says.

Although this is not how he tells the story, I would expect him to have said “the Soviet Army liberates you”. Anyhow, Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseni Yatsenyuk out-clowned himself proclaiming that Ukrainian soldiers from western cities of Lvov and Zhitomir liberated Auschwitz.  Looking on the positive side, Russians and Ukrainians actually talk about the Holocaust in the post-Soviet days.

Everyone is wrong about everything.  The monument on the grave of Anatoliy Shapiro's lists his multiple honors, including the title of Hero of Ukraine.  On top is the title of his book, Sinister marathon, written in Russian

Everyone is wrong about everything. The monument on the grave of Anatoliy Shapiro’s lists his multiple honors, including Hero of Ukraine. On top is the Russian title of his book, Sinister marathon

The kind of gal I am, I’d rather have the West remember the Holocaust as the ultimate evil and stand strong against Islamic expansion.  Russia is an autocracy, no question about it, and yet it’s also our natural ally against Islamism.  Unified pro-Western democratic Ukraine is a pipe dream, but if Russia crumbles, which appears to be our goal as far as I can decipher, Islamists are certain to make gains in Central Asia, the Caucuses and arguably Crimea.

Incidentally, the First Ukrainian Front, composed primarily of ethnic Russians, was marched to Prague after the fall of Berlin.  My high school math teacher, a Jew, was a part of that operation, but that’s a whole other story.

Update: many thanks to Mad Jewess for linking.  Read her timely update on escalation of the conflict between NATO and Russia.

January 27, 2015

Ukrainian History Revision Circa 2014

Filed under: politics, Soviet Union, Ukraine — Tags: , , — edge of the sandbox @ 10:44 am

One of the key functions of Ukrainian Prime Minister is to travel the world asking for money.  And so on January 8 Arseniy Yatsenyuk found himself in Germany, giving an interview to the German channel ARD in which he said:

We all remember the USSR invasion of Germany and Ukraine. We must not allow this [again]. And no one has the right to rewrite the results of the Second World War, and that is what Russian president trying to do.

That must explain Babi Yar.  RT columnist Bryan McDonald thinks Yatsenyuk’s comments reflect his West Ukrainian heritage:

I’ve heard similar remarks before and the location was Western Ukraine, where the PM is from. Yatsenyuk hails from Chernivsti, widely regarded as the region’s second cultural capital, after Lvov, which is viewed by many as the nationalist stronghold.

[…]

West Ukrainians believe that they lost the war. Their side was defeated. Put simply, Yatsenyuk is merely a product of his environment. However, this time he expressed publicly a view that was probably previously restricted to private discourse. It’s possible that he felt a German audience might have been sympathetic to his position. If so, that was a huge misread of the German people.

Maybe, although my guess is that Yatsen’s comment reflects the view of the world from inside the Kiev radical bubble (incidentally, the bubble is set to burst within a month or two).  You see, Yatsenyuk, who came to power in march last year and looks like a hare is mad as a hatter.  I don’t think Ukrie Prime Minister knows where he stands on anything; instead he channels various opinions heard around the capital.  Prior to the revolution, this member of the more western-oriented “orange” parties made deals with the pro-Russian Party of Regions and a recently surfaced video shows a slightly younger Yatsen speaking admirably about Putin:

“Putin saved Russia,” reasoned Yatsenyuk. “I don’t know what I would do in his place […] when you have a great ungovernable country.”  He then discussed his countrymen’s love for a strong hand.  What, you never heard that thesis?

This wild card was hand-picked by State Department’s Victoria Nuland, who, in her defense, didn’t have much to work with — Ukrainian politics being a sad sad scene.

That Yatsenyuk, who claimed that he misspoke never apologized is not surprising because Russians and Ukrainians are not big on apologies.  But even if he misspoke, if he really meant to say that after the Nazi occupation Ukraine was under Soviet occupation, he’s still dealing in revisionism.

Yatsenyuk’s statement is two-fold: he claimed that Russia was the aggressor and Ukraine an innocent victim of Soviet occupation.  Lets start with the second part.  USSR annexed eastern Galicia, the westernmost Ukrainian region, in 1939 following the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact.  In that region, the followers of Ukrainian Nazi Stepan Bandera fought a bitter guerrilla war against the Soviets long after the war was over.  But this is just Galicia.

Early Soviet history in Ukraine was, to put it mildly, checkered: first they promoted Ukrainian culture through korenization, next they starved 3 million peasants.  And yet, less than 10 years after Holodomor, 4.5 million ethnic Ukrainians fought in the Soviet Army.  So when we talk of WW2 subplots, such as the German women “Russians” following the fall of Berlin, keep in mind that some of the rapists surely were Ukrainian.

This iconic WW2 photograph shows a Soviet officer leading his men into battle. The offecer is believed to be an ethnic Ukrainian Alexei Yeryomenko

After the conclusion of WW2, when in Russophone cities Holodomor was at most a faint memory, Ukrainians enjoyed a kind of honorary Russian status.  Ukraine was a recipient of Kremlin’s territorial “gifts”, most notably Crimea and Galicia. The Soviet Union was heavily economically invested in Ukraine, particularly the eastern part.  Year after year newsreels hailed a record Ukrainian harvest and record Ukrainian industrial production and historical programs on TV glorified the miners of Donbass.  (In the years of independence Donbass became a run-down region of a failed state, which goes a long way to explain the mess it’s in now).

The percentage of Ukrainian Communists was relatively high and Politburo members were drafted from the “republic”because, as Conservapedia explains:

Other reasons explained the relatively high percentage of party membership among the Belorussians and Ukrainians. These two East Slavic nationalities are culturally close to the Russians. In addition, the central party apparatus has sought to demonstrate that political opportunities for Belorussians and Ukrainians equal those for Russians.

Despite the fact that it was not an independent nation, Ukraine was awarded its own seat in United Nations General Assembly.  Marriages between a Russian and a Ukrainian were not considered intermarriages, and when the ambitious Russo-Ukrainian offspring talked about which “nationality” to chose for their Soviet passports, it was often said that the Ukrainian one is preferable because with Soviet affirmative action Ukrainians had easier time being admitted to Moscow Institute of International Relations.  I don’t know why that would matter at all — one would need serious connections to get into that school anyway.

My point is not that it was such a privilege to live in the Soviet Union, but that Ukrainians were a Soviet people.  In fact, it took two decades to slowly turn parts of Ukraine away from communism and Russia.

In 2009 “Orange” politician Yulia Tymoshenko laid a bouquet of red roses wrapped in St. George’s ribbon on the tomb of the unknown soldier to commemorate 65 years of victory in WW2. Until a year ago, general consensus among Ukrainians was that the Nazi menace was worth fighting.

Prior to the dissolution of the Soviet Union, Ukraine had brief periods of independence during first, the Khmelnitsky uprising and then the civil war that followed the Bolshevik revolution.  They were set free in 1991 and are yet to complete their 40 years in the wilderness because… the first part of Yatsen’s comment.

After the victory of “Euro”maidan, on the recommendation of revisionist historian Volodimyr Viatrovych, the head of Ukraine’s Institute of national Memory, the country abandoned the annual May 9th festivities commemorating victory in what was previously known as Great Patriotic War.  It opted for May 8 observation, as customary in the West, but, unlike in the West, under the slogan “Never again” and the symbol of red poppy.

The red poppy, as in Memorial Day, supplanted Soviet and Russian St. George’s ribbon that stands for the masculine valor of WW2 victors. In early 2014 the ribbon became associated with anti-Maidan, and Ukrainian nationalist had no problem ceding the symbol. They began to refer to the pro-Russian side, with their orange and black striped badges, as “colorado bugs”

Last year ordinary Ukrainians no longer felt comfortable wearing St. George’s ribbons and only those with hard core communist and separatist tendencies joined VE Day parades.  During one such festivity in the southern city of Kherson, the Kiev-appointed governor opined that Hitler liberated Ukraine.  A local newspaper reported the event under the headline “Communist Wrestled Microphone from [governor] Odarchenko And Broke It”.

Screenshot of Khersonskie Vesti with above-referenced headline. Ukrainian publications previously disappeared their articles after I linked to them.  Free discourse, ya know

Ukrainian nationalist say that since Soviet history was fictitious, their rewriting holds the truth. Does it?  A family friend of ours regularly posts nationalist entries on his social media.  One of them was about Jews allegedly serving in the UPA, the Ukrainian Insurgent Army in WW2 comprised of Stepan Bandera followers, which proves that those were not anti-Semites or Nazis but a national-liberation movement.  So I looked up the little Putinist mouthpiece called Defending History, and surprise: UPA was running concentration camps for Jewish professionals.  Again, the man who posted the fable about the UPA Jews is a friend of the family who stayed with us in California.  He harbors no prejudice against Jews; he’s simply misinformed and confused.

Or take the following freshly pressed tweet:

 

A resident of Galician town of Ivano-Frankivsk, using some sort of amalgam of Russian and Ukrainian, denied Ukrainian responsibility for the 1941 pogrom in Lviv: “In 41 there was Soviet Union, then the fascists, that’s basically the same”.  The pogrom was the work of Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists who were eager to demonstrate to their anti-Semitism to German masters.  Ukrainian internet is swarming with examples like this one.

It’s true that Ukraine is not the only European country with a neo-Nazi problem and that Russia itself has a serious Nazi issue.  But Russia is not trying to join the EU, and if Ukraine is to enter the organization, it would enter it not despite the problem but thanks to it.

On second thought, Ukraine will not enter the EU, and it has nothing to do with Nazis.  Germany is unable to absorb the Ukrainian economy, and that’s all there is to it.  It would be nice if somewhere along the way Merkel could lecture them on Holocaust revisionism.

January 9, 2015

CNN And LifeNews: Kindred Spirits?

Filed under: politics, Russia, Ukraine — Tags: , , , , — edge of the sandbox @ 9:53 am

Russia kind of sort of won its war on terror.  During the two Chechen wars they bombed out the capital of Grozny, and the total number of killed ran up to 150K, most of them ethnic Russians.  At the end the Kremlin bought off the Chechen Kadyrov clan, rebuilt Grozny and payed a tribute of $30 bil over 10 years.  Loyal Kadyrovites went on to fight in Ukraine (their Chechens opponents are fighting on Ukies’ side) and recently repelled an ISIS attack in Chechnya.  And note, there were no terror attacks during the Olympics last year.  If this doesn’t seem like much of a victory, ask yourself how much money we sunk into Iraq.

Chechens celebrate Putin’s birthday October last year. According to Kadyrov, 100K assembled at a square in Grozny

This history is worth keeping in mind in re Russian reaction to Charlie Hebdo terror attack, which, for the most part, runs from “the West had it coming” to “what about the Donbass children?”  Some are more conspiratorial.  For instance, Shamsail Saraliev, a Duma deputee from Putin’s United Russia party, opined that the terror attack is an American conspiracy:

“Smelling kind outlooks of [French President] Hollande on Russia, the terrorist state of USA organized the slaughter under the cover of religion” opined one proud Chechen

Meantime, Kremlin’s LifeNews channel produced Alexei Martynov, a political scientist who, after briefly reassuring us that he’s no conspiracy theorist, said that the terrorist attack was an American false flag operation.  You see, it’s “ridiculous” to think that people will kill for a cartoon.  Ridiculous it is.

Russia is our enemy (recently upgraded from number 1 geo-political adversary), but would you believe that our very own CNN employs a man who goes on conspiratorial tirades on Twitter?  The amusing thing about Putin is that he plastered half of Manhattan with advertising of his television channel.  Why should Americans watch it?  The ads insist that if we’d had a second opinion about Iraq, we’d never got into a war there.  No thank you, Putty; we have CNN.

For the sake of balance, Ukrainians push their own conspiracies, which, of course, propagate the idea that Moscow is somehow behind the terrorist act.  A chief proponent here is Crimean Tatar leader Mustafa Djemilev, a Special Council to Ukrainian President for Crimean Tatar Affairs and a People’s Deputee of Ukraine.  Here is an exert from his interview to Ukrainian publication Depo:

This tragedy can be used in an anti-Islamic direction, which was the calculation.  To this moment, here is no concrete proof of Russian hand.  However, many analysts agree that Moscow is interested in diverting the French foreign policy from  from opposing the Russian aggression in Ukraine in anti-Islamic direction, and possibly to break up of the EU.

Puty does stand to gain from the attack in as much as his GF Marine Le Pen of National Front stand to gain from it.  Which is not to say that he’s somehow behind it.

January 6, 2015

Statism Wrapped in Statism Inside Statism

Filed under: politics, Russia — Tags: , , , — edge of the sandbox @ 9:07 am

UPDATE 01/10/15: Many thanks to Professor Jacobson for linking.

As goes California, so goes Russia?  As of January 1, 2015 Russia has banned indoor smoking:

The strictest part of Russia’s anti-tobacco law comes into force on June 1, making it illegal to smoke cigarettes in cafés and restaurants.

The smoking ban also spreads across to hotels and marketplaces, as well as long distance trains, train stations, and ships.

From now on, smoking areas will cease to exist in eating establishments across Russia, with special rooms for tobacco lovers also forbidden.

In the US liberty dies the death of a thousand papercuts — now the governments tell supermarkets how to bag our groceries, and now parents are obligated to sign in when they volunteer in schools.  Putin, who’s now been in power a full 15 years, didn’t bother with such nonsense — he went after the free press and abolished the elections of regional governors.  No fascism with a smiley face there: while Russia has been a playground of the autocrats, its social problems are notoriously intractable.  The state tried and failed to fix the behavior of ordinary people.

When, back in my wasted youth, California prohibited smoking in bars my friends were swearing to defy the law, which I found fabulous, and some bars stubbornly offered ash trays.  I should note, that while I never made a habit out of smoking, I did enjoy a cigarette or two with a drink, and I usually got them off of other people.  Soon after the ban went into effect cigarettes became hard to come by, and within a couple of years everyone quit.  I mean everyone.  Now I mostly hang out with parents who consider smoking some sort of a high crime on par with gun ownership.

Will Russians quit too?  Americans quit because Americans are law-abiding people, and Russians are not.  In Soviet days, everyday life required conducting black market deals of some sort, and living outside the law was the norm.  Corruption remains a pervasive trait of post-Soviet society in both Russia and Ukraine (as well as, I’m sure, in other “republics”).  In this light:

A violation of the ban will result in significant fines – which must be paid by both the smoker and the owner of the establishment.

An individual owner will be forced to part with 30,000-40,000 rubles (around US$870-1,150) if one of his customers is caught puffing a cigarette. Meanwhile, a chain-run corporate business must pay a larger penalty of 60,000-90,000 rubles (around $1,700-2,600) for the same crime.

Which leaves a restaurateur some space to bribe a policeman.

Will Russians quit?  They are no civil libertarians, but perhaps their cafe owners have some common sense:

Eighty-two percent of Russian restaurateurs believe the smoking ban is a “direct discrimination of smokers” and expect a huge outflow of visitors starting from June 1.

Actor Mikhail Boyarsky, here as d’Artagnan, one of his most famous film appearances, is a leader of All-Russian Movement for Smokers’ Rights. Boyarsky is an early Putin supporter

With Europe going tobacco-free, Russian looks like the last outpost of lung destruction freedom.  One would hope that the Ruskies will stick up for personal liberties, but here is the thing:

The law “On protection of citizens’ health from tobacco smoke and the consequences of tobacco consumption” was signed by President Putin in February last year and fully came into effect on June 1, 2013.

However, the restrictions were introduced gradually. Smoking was first outlawed in certain public places – including educational, healthcare, and sports facilities, as well as airports, state administration buildings, and lifts and stairways of apartment blocks.

Earlier this week, Russia’s Health Ministry announced that the anti-tobacco law is working and the number of smokers in Russia has decreased 16-17 percent since it started being introduced. (Emphasis mine.)

If Russians vote in presidential elections in which any competitive candidate is eliminated years in advance, is it really big deal if the state will ride shirtless atop a bear to rescue them from ugly cancer death?  Or, more specifically, of lung cancer because liver ailments are a whole different story.  The Russian economy collapsed late last year, and inflation is in full swing.  To help his countrymen in hard times Putin ordered a cap on liquor prices.  A reminder: many Russians never get to develop lung cancer because 25% of Russian men die before 55, and alcohol is to blame.

Speaking of uncompetitive elections, Putin put his sights on Alexei Navalny who generally presents as a liberal, if not a classic liberal, while taking positions, such as deportation of ethnic Georgians, that Western press bashfully describes as “nationalist”.  Navalny once made a video, ostensibly in defense of gun rights, comparing immigrants to cockroaches.  His nationalism is not of a popular Russian variety because true Russian nationalists are also statists and imperialists.  Navalny would rather rid of parts of the empire — he supports cutting subsidies to the Caucuses, for instance.  True Russian nationalists smell fowl; in their typical fashion they accuse this Moscow lad of being a Jew.

That a thirty-something loudmouth and a failed mayoral candidate with hardly a real following outside the country’s capital is Putin’s arch-nemesis says something about Kremlin’s ability to destroy opposition.

In any event, Navalny and his brother were tried for embezzlement, and two days shy of the New Year Alexei was sentenced to house arrest and Oleg, the brother, to 3,5 year prison term.  This is a first for Putin (family members used to be off limits in the post-Soviet days) and a further proof, if one needs any, that Russia is moving in the direction of restricting freedoms.  On the bright side, unlike our generous creditors, Russians are not harvesting organs.  Yet at the rate they are going, there might not be a liver left in the country in a few year’s time.  Lungs, on the other hand…

Could Putin have miscalculated? This is made for daytime TV: Oleg Navalny (left) possibly the hottest political prisoner today. Meantime his wife (center) is pregnant with their third baby.  Alexei Navalny is pictured center right

The title of this post is referencing this quip by Winston Churchill.

December 18, 2014

Why Normalization of Relationships With Cuba MAY Be A Good Move

Filed under: politics, Russia — Tags: , , — edge of the sandbox @ 4:05 pm

Russian opposition leader (unlikely to ever be elected to the highest office) Alexey Navalny tweets:

Cuba wrote off its $32 billion debt, and a half a year down the road normalized relations with the US. Once again, Putin outwits everyone.

Why would Putin write off Cuba’s debt?  In July it was said that Russia plans to reopen its Soviet-era spy base on the island.  If that’s not bad enough, now that Russo-US ties are deteriorating rapidly, they might find other use for “The Isle of Freedom”, as it was called in the Soviet days.

And yes, Castro operates a nice little Gulag, and Cuban Americans are aghast.  But the Castro brothers are ailing and Russia, with or without Putin, is capable of threatening our security to far greater extent than Cuba, and they are grinding an axe.  Drawing a wedge between Russia and Cuba is obviously in our interest.

Normalizing relations with Cuba was in the works for a while — it’s one of those things that makes Obamka think he’s historic.  But he could had accidentally done something positive for his country, provided that we insist on the Castros breaking up with Putin.

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