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.

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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.

September 26, 2014

Meantime in Ukraine

Filed under: Ukraine — Tags: , , , , , — edge of the sandbox @ 9:32 am

Does anyone wonder what happened to Euromaidan?

In February this year, after Ukraine’s deposed president Victor Yanukovich fled. Yulia Tymoshenko, frequently described in the Western press as “jailed opposition leader” and whose release was a rallying cry of the protesters, spoke before the crowds assembled in Kiev’s Independence Square. Tymoshenko, who in the subsequent election, characterized by low turnout across the South-East, moderately high turn-out in the center and sky-high turn out in Lviv, Ternopol and Ivano-Frankovsk regions, got just under 13% of the total vote*, urged the protesters to remain on Maidan to put pressure on politicians.

More militant types did not. After first flirting with the idea of running for president,** Pravy Sektor leader Dmytro Yarosh, focused on forming privately-financed National Guard troops that the US is slated to train next year. While National Guard was shipped to Donbass to fight the insurgency, others regrouped into urban mobs, like those used in Odessa massacre.

By the middle of summer, the types who stayed on Maidan did so because they had nowhere to go. The newly-elected Kiev mayor Vitaly Klitschko, one of the leaders of the winter’s protests, removed the activists in early August. The occupiers of the barricades resisted some and burnt a few tires, but were easy to evict.

Yet now, barely a month and a half later, Maidan appears to be back. The nationalist faithful, who witnessed the retreat of Ukrainian armed forces on the eastern front, feel betrayed by their talentless generals.  Plus, they are frustrated with slow pace of political transformation, mainly lack of action on lustration of their most hated opponents, Communists and Party of Regions. That the revolutionaries are unhappy became clear with two resignations. One was that of Ukraine’s Security Chief and a co-founder of Svoboda (formerly Nationalist-Socialist Party) Andrey Parubiy from the Cabinet, and another — of Tetiana Chornovol, an anti-corruption crusader and a widow of a national guardsman, from the national anti-corruption committee.

On September 17, several hundred protesters, most of them with Svoboda signage,*** burnt tires outside Rada demanding adoption of lustration bill. Kiev Post reported:

Earlier on Sept. 16, Ukrainian MPs failed to pass this legislative initiative, to which the chairman of the Verkhovna Rada Oleksandr Turchynov said that lawmakers will not leave the session hall until the bill is adopted.

The law was adopted on the 3rd attempt. Russian news agency ITAR-TASS picked up that the bill will not apply to President Petro Poroshenko who, as Turchynov explained, ” is not falling within the ambit of the lustration law because he was elected by people at elections.”  Poroshenko comes from Party of Regions stronghold of Odessa and has been on all sides of Ukrainian politics, including a stint in Yanukovich’s government.

“Public art” piece captured above was recently erected in Dnepropetrovsk, a city that in an April Gallup poll showed to have a Russian-leaning majority. The local newspaper cheerfully described the installation as ” a remarkable monument to Lustration in the form of French guillotine with Ukrainian Trident” Here is an ethnic angle: One of the popular Maidan chants was “москоляку на гиляку” or “Moskals (derogatory for Russian) to the gallous”.

On Sptember 17 Pravy Sektor waived the flags of the Nazi-era Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists protesting in front of presidential palace. They protested another recent law which granted autonomy to the separatist-controlled areas in Donetsk and Lugansk regions and amnesty to separatists. Yarosh threatened to march his men back from Donbass to Kiev within 48 hours, but this threat is yet to materialize (link not click-safe).

The Right Sektor’s relationship with its more moderate allies had been a rocky one. In March this year, for instance, they besieged the Ukrainian Parliament demanding revenge for the killing of their buddy Sashko Bilyj, allegedly shot while resisting arrest, but, the gossip has it, could had been assassinated on orders of Tymoshenko’s Fatherland Party.

Time is not on Poroshenko’s side. He ran out of resources for the war, his country’s economy is in a tailspin and it is not clear how he plans to keep his compatriots warm in winter. Last week, Poroshenko went to Washington, bringing back a few throws and comforters, but no salo. As conditions on the ground deteriorate, I’m not sure who would be the forces, inside Ukraine, loyal to its current president.

Earlier this month Russia watchers noted the disappearance of references to “Kiev junta” from Kremlin-controlled TV channels, which led to speculations that some sort of deal between Putin and Poroshenko had been worked out. This is not to say that Poroshenko will turn on his people because a pivot towards Russia might be exactly what Ukrainians wanted him to do.

Another interesting Ukrainian poll was released a few days ago. Ukrainians were given names of foreign leaders and asked whether or not they view them positively. A run-away winner, admired by 62% of responders, was Oleksander Lukashenko, the dictator of Russian satrapy of Belarus. It could just be that Ukrainians never wanted a revolutionary pro-Western type as a head of their country. They wanted a triangulater, somebody who can reconcile the East and the West, and who, if he steals, hopefully he wouldn’t steal too much, or would at least do something for them, too.

*Curiously, Tymoshenko’s wiki page is as shy about the disastrous 2014 presidential run as it is defensive of her multiple luxury real estate holdings.

** The winner of the “far right” vote was the dwarfish terrorist Oleh Lyashko of Radical Party who made out with over 8% of the electorate.

*** The protesters weren’t bothered by Svoboda’s own Oleh Tyahnybok’s mansion in a national park near Kiev.

June 19, 2014

Dear Parents of Russian Federation, Are You Nuts?

Filed under: parenting, politics, Russia — Tags: , , — edge of the sandbox @ 11:39 am

Echo Moskvy, one of the few opposition media sources (this is not an all-out endorsement, there are some despicable opposition figures in Russia) retells a personal story, corroborated with pictures, that previously made the rounds in Russian social media.  The event took place in late May:

Sick and sunburned, my daughter Ksenia returned from a Saturday celebration staged for Putin on St. Petersburg’s Isaakievsky Square.  5000 people, most of them from children’s’ choirs were appropriated to sing songs for the leader!  It was titled “The Limitless Wonder of the World”.

It was 30 degrees Celsius [~90 F – ed.] in Peter [St. Petersburg — ed.] that day.  All 40 under the sun!  The children were sent off at 8 am.

Prior to the entrance to the square, the children’s choir was thoroughly searched. Documents were required (my child is 12, so I provided her birth certificate), then bottled water and juices brought by children were confiscated.

And then as usual – everyone waited several hours for the tzar, who’s always behind the schedule.  A five-thousand-strong crowd was blazing under the sun until noon.  The only entertainment was watching the snipers that swarmed all the roofs around Isakievsky Square.  Six out of the 37 children in our choir fell ill, and, our daughter observed, people were fainting right and left — volunteers and doctors were barely able to take them away and treat them with water.

Putin appeared for about 3 minutes in the middle of the concert, took pictures against the background of several thousand children (the leader and children — always a good picture!), then gave a short speech and departed.  The concert went on until 2 pm.

Ksenia did not last until the end of performance. She regained consciousness in medical tent where they threw water on her.

With all the traffic jams, the children returned to Sestroretsk by 4:30.

The child was hungry — she was not allowed to take any food — sunburnt, and in wet clothes, so she refused to go to the Birthday party of our friends’ child.

She also missed school on Monday because she wasn’t feeling well.

She is still not 100% after this show-off (Russian показухa — ed.) for the leader, which should really be called “The limitless shame of Peter”…

Words fail me.

Words fail me too, but for a different reason.  It’s not merely that the children got sunburnt — kids get sunburns — or even that so many of them fainted. It’s that the parents allowed the state to use their kids for propaganda purposes, when they should have expected the state to use them up and spit them out.

How to raise a slave

When in 2008 a group of Beverly Hills parents encouraged their children to sing a silly ode to then presidential candidate Obama, at least half the country was vocally disgusted by the creepy production.  But note, that was parents raising their own kids.  And while some of these parents surely think, in abstraction, that children belong to the “community”, they do not realize that the logical outcome of this line of thought is wholesale child abuse.

The fatalistic submission of St. Petersburg parents is not at all surprising.  When I was growing up in the former Soviet Union, subjects, young and old, were herded to all sorts of mass events.  We went because we went. Adults had their own parallel holiday — gave to Caesar what was Caesar’s and had a semi-discreet swig of vodka.  Children came, and our little selves were twisted into submission early on.

Not much has changed since the collapse of the Soviet Union.  It did not occur to the parent, who obviously dislikes Putin, to excuse her child from the event, however easy that would had been to do.  Nobody called in sick. Everyone knows their place.

March 17, 2014

The Bear Roars

Filed under: Russia — Tags: , , — edge of the sandbox @ 9:57 pm

Russia is back, mostly due to incompetence of the US foreign policy.

You might had heard of a state Russian TV host opining that Russia is the only country in the world capable of turning the US into radioactive dust.  This might be grandstanding, but, on a more low-key note, Russia wants to litigate Alaska back:

I couldn’t find an English translation, but trust me, English-speaking readers, this is what this very serious TV segment is all about.  Actually, half of the Russian-speaking people around the world is not quite sure how the large-breasted kept her face straight through this segment.

One thing for sure, though, we need a new president.

January 7, 2013

Depardieu To Adopt An Orphanage

Filed under: politics, Russia — Tags: , , , , , — edge of the sandbox @ 10:26 pm

Kidding.  I’m sure everyone heard about Gerard Depardieu’s decision to renounce his French citizenship and move — first to Belgium, and now to Russia.  For one, Russians offer a better tax deal:

If Mr. Depardieu chooses to take up Russian citizenship, he would potentially trade steep French income tax rates, which he said now claim 85 percent of his income, and even Belgian rates of 60 percent or higher, for Russia’s flat 13 percent income tax. The value-added tax, a sales tax on goods and services, is 18 percent in Russia compared with nearly 20 percent in France, while Russian social security taxes are 30 percent compared with 50 percent in France.

On its way out of communism Russia, like many other former Eastern Block countries, had adopted a flat tax. And if Gospodin Gepardieu thinks that 13% is too high, no worries — few Russians pay income taxes to begin with, and the country relies heavily on its oil and gas revenue.  Sure, Mihkail Khordokovsky is doing time for tax evasion, or so we are told, but given how the actor was caught admiring Putin’s foray into popular culture, I don’t think he needs to worry about such things:

If it’s the low flat tax rate that interests Depardieu, why not chose Georgia or the Czech Republic?  Putin continued:

But aside from tax savings, Mr. Putin suggested that French officials were too brusque in their response to Mr. Depardieu’s complaints and that he might find that Russians simply understand him better as an artist. “Actors, musicians and artists are people with a special, delicate psychological makeup and, as we say in Russia, the artist is easily offended,” Mr. Putin said at the news conference on Dec. 20. “So I understand Mr. Depardieu’s feelings.”

I assume he understands Pussy Riot as well.  Not to say that Pussy Riot is anywhere near Depardieu’s talent, but we are talking bohemian sensibility here, not talent.  Then again, perhaps Putin does know something about artists, many of whom, like our former Frenchman, like dictators.

Depardieu might want to review Russian ideas about immigration.  If a Russian is to renounce his citizenship, he’ll be seen as a traitor by many of his ex compatriots.  Actually, in that part of the world one doesn’t need to leave the country to rise to the status of Benedict Arnold.  When I was growing up in the Soviet Union, virtually any activity that involves moving from one group of people to another, like switching places of employment, was considered treasonous.  Things changed in the 90s, at least for a short time, but it looks like today’s popular opinion is back to the Soviet assumptions.

After the Pussy Riot “trial” last year, I was looking through Russian chatrooms.  The general consensus there was that the young women had it coming, and that in other countries the punishment for their performance would be even harsher.  One individual opined that Pussy Riot are traitors to their motherland, and that in the US they would be put to death for [high] treason.  It was a well-liked opinion.  Last November Putin broadened the legal definition of treason, giving himself a green light to go after dissenters.

Regardless the Russian views on dissent and treason, the new arrival will get to keep more of his money.  How will he show his gratitude?  Russians don’t have the tradition of charitable giving akin to the one we have in America.  When we arrived to the US, we were moved to see people donating their money, time and possessions to help us settle in the new country.  It was all new to us.  Perhaps Gerard Depardieu, a Westerner, knows how charity is done.

The Russian population of parent-less children is now greater than it was at the end of World War 2.  There are children starving in Russian orphanages, and now, because Putin is playing politics with their lives, they can not be adopted by American families.   Surely an actor known for creating humane characters can not remain indifferent.  He should contribute to an overhaul of the Russian orphanage system and perhaps adopt a kid or two.

October 22, 2012

OFA Channels United Russia

Filed under: politics — Tags: , , , — edge of the sandbox @ 11:33 am

Remember Putin’s party sexed up campaign theme of 2011?  It involved Putin’s Army of models willing to bare their chests for the dictator and an iPad, and a series of ads that had nothing to do with the direction of their country, unless one thinks that the way young women elect to have sex is the single most pressing issue facing Russia today.  Hence “Lets Do It Together”, surely the most ridiculous political ad ever created:

That would never be produced in America, right?  But wait!

Possibly inspired by the recent endorsement of the United States President issued by the former KGB agent, Obama for America NV tweeted the picture of young women named Ashley and Jessica.  The ladies donned identical “Women for Obama” buttons and identical pink t-shirts spotting the message “Do it in the voting booth”.  I doubt many people are interested in where these two particular individuals “do it”.

Proud vagina voters

As widely reported in conservative media, the two gals made up an entire 20% of the crowd at Sandra Fluke’s Obama campaign rally

I guess if we women elect to vote with our lady parts instead of brains, we might find ourselves in dictator territory.  To preserve our republic, please exercise restraint in personal life.

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