sitting on the edge of the sandbox, biting my tongue

March 3, 2015

Boris Nemtsov Joins An Elite Club

Filed under: Russia — Tags: , , — edge of the sandbox @ 10:02 am

I was slightly embarrassed to read Western headlines about the recently assassinated Russian opposition leader Boris Nemtsov.  “KILLED ON THE EVE OF A RALLY!” “PREPARED A REPORT ABOUT RUSSIANS FIGHTING IN UKRAINE!” “MODERN AGE KIROV!”and, oh “WAS IN A COMPANY OF A UKRAINIAN WOMAN”.  Peter Hitchens has a good rundown of Western misconceptions about the murder.

Truth is, there was little obvious reason for Vladimir Putin to kill his former comrade and rival.  Putin is very popular with Russians, and Nemtsov, was not.  That rally scheduled for March 1 was not going to be well attended; even with the leader dead maybe 50,000 (20K by official estimates) assembled in Moscow on that day.

Boris Nemtsov, gunned down downtown Moscow on February 27, was, that Ukrainian woman notwithstanding, a decent man. Unfortunately, most of his countrymen associate him with the failures of the 1990s when he was President Yeltsin’s deputy prime minister and heir apparent. Lawlessness and corruption, something that he fought all his life, and failed, are, however, on Russia, not Nemtsov

The report compiled by Nemtsov was not going to tell us anything we didn’t already know — or anything Kremlin is not going to deny.  Plus, the report didn’t die with him, and killing its author would accomplish little other than pointing a finger to it.

As for comrade Kirov, I really resent sloppy Stalin comparisons.  Like sloppy Hitler comparisons (and Putin gets compared to that dictator as well) diminish significance of the Holocaust, sloppy Stalin comparisons diminish the significance of the gulags.  Maybe the Russian public would very much like another Stalin, but I don’t think Putin’s got it in him.

The Russkie bear-rider had so little motive to go after Nemtsov that Russian conspiracy theories pop up like fly amanita after rain.  Most Russians, naturally think it’s some sort of a false flag operation.  Did Putin order the murder of a has-been politician to blame the West?  He didn’t need to — the anti-Western sentiment in the Russian Federation is running strong.  Similarly, current Ukrainian regime is thoroughly despised.

Some among the intelligentsia blame “the climate of hate” created by Putin.  The Guardian’s Shawn Walker explains:

Nemtsov frequently appeared on lists of “traitors” published online by extremist groups, and given that many radical Russian nationalists have been fighting a war in east Ukraine for the past six months, there have long been fears that the bloodshed could at some point move to the streets of Moscow.

The well-organised hit, in one of the most closely watched parts of Moscow, of a man who was undoubtedly under state surveillance just two days before a major opposition march, does not smack of an amateur job. Assuming a jealous lover or angry fellow liberal would not be able to organise a drive-by shooting in the shadows of the Kremlin towers, the remaining options are disturbing.

If, as Peskov says, it was senseless for the Kremlin to kill someone who posed very little threat, that leaves another option that is perhaps even more terrifying: that the campaign of hate that has erupted over the past year is spiralling out of the control of those who manufactured it.

There is another possibility.  Nemtsov was not the only opposition figure who found himself killed.  As in all other cases, it was not too terribly necessary for Putin (presuming it was him) to eliminate any one of them.  And yet, from time to time Kremlin critics find themselves offed.  We can rack our pretty heads trying to figure out why would Putin need to do it, which might just be the point of it all.  Maybe it’s just the VVP style: everyone *knows* it’s him, but nobody can prove it.  Russia gets the message: Don’t even try.

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 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.

September 9, 2014

Things I Learned This Summer

1. The reassuring wisdom of Darling Husband is immense. Darling Daughter won a coloring contest this summer. She’s not without an artistic streak, but in the case of this particular project, she dialed it in. When we turned in her work, we thought she would learn a lesson when she finds out that she blew it because she didn’t do her best. Imagine our surprise when DH received a message that she got first place in her age category. Oh no, is she going to rest on her laurels now?
We congratulated her, but then told her that she needs to consider that not enough kids entered the contest, and that she needs to try harder next time if she wants to keep winning. I guess I have my issues. After a few days DH told me to chill: She learned an important life lesson, that, as Woody Allen said, 90% of success is showing up.
“Although,” DH quickly added, “Woody Allen tried to take his words back and made an entire documentary to repudiate it. Not to repudiate that he slept with his daughter or anything like that, but to repudiate that he believes that 90% of success is showing up.”
2. To further quote my husband, if open concept homes are such a good idea, how come nobody thought of it before? These days flippers try to demolish every wall in the house, save bedroom walls. Open concept houses look nice and zen, and they sell like hot cakes because buyers find it easy to imagine themselves living in spacious, light-filled homes.
The reality of living in them is different, and once moved in, owners begin carving out rooms of their own, mancaves, and other areas to escape family members. Also, open concept homes are not good when it comes to containing mess.
3. Who is Joel Gott?
4. Local governments can be pretty darn ridiculous. We decided to remove an old chimney on our roof, and the contractor told us that because it’s visible from the street, he’s not comfortable working without a permit. So I went to the City Hall and payed a hefty fee. The clerk told me about the paperwork I’m required to submit.
“Do you know Photoshop?” She inquired. She asked me to take pictures of the roof from various vantage points and submit them for review together with the pictures where the chimney is photoshopped out.
After I turned in my paperwork, they sent letters to our neighbors asking if they don’t mind if we remove the chimney. Next they told me to post the permit application in front of our house and mail them the picture of the posted permit.
Finally, the City Hall also wants to know if I plan to close the gaping hole in my roof and how.
5. Who is Joel Gott?
6. нет пророка в своем отечестве. I’m Putin’s troll. Or so say some of my compatriots when I point out certain… Problems with their understanding of the place where I happen to be born and raised. The place happened to be eastern Ukraine.
Everything Ukraine is pretty much inside baseball. What I hear again and again that there once was a country called Ukraine that Russia took over, starved a whole bunch of Ukrainians and brought Russians in their place, and that’s how Russians ended up in Ukraine. It’s true about Holodomor.
I do believe that we should had dispatched Kissinger to negotiate unified unaligned Ukraine and to assure Russia’s assistance in the Middle East. To risk a nuclear war (or even an economic downturn) over strongly Russian-leaning regions in a country with intractable corruption and social problem and no unifying national identity does seem a bit excessive to this blogger — and that’s why I’m Putin’s troll.
DH, again, quips that he’s still waiting for his paycheck from ZOG, and now where is his paycheck from FSB?
7. We have a new neighborhood school now. It the old one was Tijuana meets Hanoi, the new one is Portlandia. I have to say I prefer the latter because something like education does take place in it.
8. My children got in trouble this summer for simulating a gun with their hands and saying “Poof!” Daddy explained that when he was young, he had a holster with two guns in it and he played World War Two with his brother. Ah, the good old days!
9. Encouraging an ostensibly independent 7-year-old to walk down the block on her own can be a challenge these days. At first DD like the idea, but after some consideration she said “who’s going to watch me?” I told her that when I was her age and I wanted to play, I didn’t pester (ok, I used different language) my mom about my availability (her language) for play dates, I just went outside.
Next thing I know, she rolled on her scooter out of the park. That’s more like it.
…we are not fully moved in and unpacked. My desktop is not configured yet, and I hate typing on my mini, so I can’t say I’m back to blogging.

August 16, 2014

March for Federalization of Siberia

Filed under: Russia — Tags: , — edge of the sandbox @ 3:23 pm

Read my post about March for Federalization of Siberia at Legal Insurrection blog.  Considering the time differences, the march is probably not happening as I type.

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