Jens Stoltenberg Tries Out The Latest NATO Meme – The Russian Air Force is a Menace to Civil Aviation.

Uncle Volodya says, "If black boxes survive air crashes, why don't they just make the whole plane out of that stuff?”

Uncle Volodya says, “If black boxes survive air crashes, why don’t they just make the whole plane out of that stuff?”

There’s a temptation to believe the world is spinning faster now on its axis, as events which we would once chew over for months, worrying the juiciest meat off the bones first, are now shoved aside in only days by the next consecutive Richter-scale happening. For instance, it was only a couple of months ago that many – and I include myself – thought Radek Sikorski was a shoo-in for NATO Secretary-General. This was somewhat worrying, since Sikorski is not only a Russophobe of the first rank, he is married to another just like himself, The Washington Post‘s Anne Applebaum.

But Sikorski was passed over in favour of colourless nonentity and lifelong politician Jens Stoltenberg, and we breathed a sigh of relief. Before we could even take a close look at Stoltenberg, Radek Sikorski shit the bed in such spectacularly colourful and dramatic fashion that he immediately sucked all the air out of the Troposphere, confiding to U.S. website Politico that he had been present when Vladimir Putin told Donald Tusk that Ukraine was an artificial country (the west loves that one, and repeats it brainlessly although Putin has never, ever said anything of the kind), and proposed that Poland and Russia divvy it up. Naturally – so went Sikorski’s narrative – the honorable Polish politicians put him straight right away, and told him they would never be involved in anything so parvenu and underhanded.

Well, that’s not quite what happened. Some analysts suggest that Sikorski was actually floating a trial balloon, to see what world reaction would be to the suggestion that Ukraine be divided, so that maybe Poland might end up with some of it before Putin systematically took it all back in his typically businesslike fashion. I have no idea if that’s what was actually in his head, but if that was his plan, the response must have made him think he fell asleep in the bath and put his wet hand into a toaster. When a little quick checking revealed the bilateral meeting he described had not taken place anywhere around the time he said it did, this “passionate and articulate” politician said he had “become confused”, that his memory had failed him. He apologized to Mr. Tusk and to the preceding Polish Foreign Minister for any embarrassment he might have caused them – pointedly not apologizing to Mr.  Putin – and said the exchange had actually taken place in Bucharest in 2008, and that Mr. Putin might have been “only joking”. By then it was obvious he was only thrashing about and doing what he should have done in the first place – Googling to find out when this meeting that only occurred in a dream in his head might have taken place, based purely on the principals being in the same place at the same time. He would have been forced to say he heard Putin and Tusk discussing it in the Men’s room while he was  disguised as a shoeshine boy if it had gone much further, but since he is so well-connected, the press gave took pity on him and the whole thing just went away. But political damage has a way of sticking with you for so long as your rivals are alive, and although a dramatic comeback is possible for Sikorski, it’s just about as likely to happen for J.J. Cale. Continue reading

Posted in Europe, Government, Military, Rule of Law, Russia, Strategy, Western Europe | Tagged , , , , , , | 160 Comments

Sacre Bleu! What’s Happening With The MISTRAL Ship “VLADIVOSTOK”?

Uncle Volodya says, "Nothing is so good for the morale of the troops as occasionally to see a dead General.”

Uncle Volodya says, “Nothing is so good for the morale of the troops as occasionally to see a dead General.”

Alert Internet followers of this subject – and it has its own dedicated community, both for and against – noticed almost immediately when the MMSI (Maritime Mobile Service Identity) assignment changed from “France” to “Russia”, and the resulting speculation was instantaneous and explosive.

The “for” community was jubilant but restrained, considering this is only the expected outcome – the contract was signed in completely legal circumstances, and in fact was once touted as Russia finally making the right moves, by breaking away from its practice of purchasing state-supplied, obsolescent-on-delivery, technically-outclassed junk. More recently, the issue has become a bone growled over by the United States, which sees forestalling the delivery as a badly-needed political victory for Obama and America, whose image as a dispassionate button-pusher who can make anything happen, anywhere has suffered many dents of late. For that reason, the “against” community was incandescent with fury.

For its part, DCNS (Direction des Constructions Navales), owner of the St-Nazaire yard which built VLADIVOSTOK, was quick to deny any significance in switching the French identifier for the Russian, announcing that it was simply a required step in the Airworthiness test. This is probably true, but it has done little to calm the passions of those who believe the ships Russia legally contracted for, fulfilling its part of the bargain in every respect, should be withheld to “teach Putin a lesson”, although the “evidence” of Russian “meddling” in Ukraine has thus far turned out to be fabricated to an increasingly ridiculous degree, so much so that the Ukrainian NSDC Council recently reported an advancing column of its own armor and artillery as Russian. Continue reading

Posted in Economy, Europe, Government, Investment, Military, Politics, Russia, Trade, Western Europe | Tagged , , , , , , | 355 Comments

I Don’t Know Where I’m Going, But I Sure Know Where I’ve Been.

Uncle Volodya says, "History is a relentless master. It has no present, only the past rushing into the future. To try to hold fast is to be swept aside.”

Uncle Volodya says, “History is a relentless master. It has no present, only the past rushing into the future. To try to hold fast is to be swept aside.”

Yes, I know that’s David Coverdale, and he’s not Ukrainian. Actually, he was born in Saltburn-By-The-Sea, so let’s just thank him for a neat title, forgive him for his stint with Deep Purple, and move on.

My patience in waiting for another guest post to appear (I prefer to call it that rather than idleness, for obvious reasons) has been richly rewarded, and our friend and colleague Marko Marjanovic (whom we also know as hoct, the Hero Of Crappy Town) has stepped up to the plate with an extremely interesting article on the motivations which have led the people of the Donbas to remove themselves from the Ukrainian lemming-march to Yurrup. The mainstream media persist in casting the people of the region as “pro-Russian rebels”. Are they, really? Sometimes yes, sometimes not so much. While they would most likely be very appreciative of Russian help if it would keep the Ukrainian army off their necks, many – perhaps most – are interested in carving out their own space in history rather than being part of a common heritage, either Russian or Ukrainian. Take it away, Marko;

The Rebellion in East Ukraine Is a Civic Revolution, Not an Ethnic Insurgency

Have you noticed how the English-language media describes the rebels in Donbass? Most of the time it deems them “pro-Russian rebels” which is a little bit like describing the Patriot faction of the American Revolution the “pro-French rebels”. Surely the rebels see Russia in a positive light, but surely that is tangential to what really makes them tick. However, a designation of this sort must at least be commended in the sense that it is an admission on the part of the English-language press of how little it is certain of. Most of the time all it knows is that the rebs like Russia, and does not to try to guess at the rest.

It is at other times that the media has feigned knowledge where they could have done real damage. In a minority of cases, reports and commentary have designated the rebels the “ethnic Russian rebels”. This seems convenient, and doubtless gives the outsiders a sense of clarity and certainty, but that is precisely what is so dangerous about this extraordinarily misleading characterization.

Once the anti-government faction is deemed to be made up of “ethnic Russian rebels” the story becomes a familiar one. The rebels are Russians and they are fighting because they are Russians. It is an inter-ethnic conflict between Russians and Ukrainians. Only, it is not.

Regardless of how great or important one thinks the differences between Ukrainians and Russians are, the fact is that in the limited geographic space of south-eastern Ukraine, and particularly in Donbass, this distinction is neither great nor significant to the people who live there. Ukrainians and Russians in south-eastern Ukraine are part of the same ethnic coalition, and have been amalgamating into one body ever since these lands were first opened to colonization from historic Ukraine and Russia proper. The British-Ukrainian historian Taras Kuzio put it this way[1]:

“Identities in eastern-southern Ukraine are a mixture of local, east Slavic and Soviet. While recognising that they are different to Russians living across the former Soviet internal administrative, now Ukrainian-Russian, interstate border they do not differentiate between Russians and Ukrainians within eastern-southern Ukraine. They are all, after all, Russian-speakers in a region where all national cultures had largely been eradicated in urban centres and where few people are religious. Linguistic, religious or cultural markers of separate identity between Ukrainians or Russians in eastern-southern Ukraine do not therefore really exist.”

The peculiarity of identity in south-eastern Ukraine actually goes further than that. The identity of many people in the region appears fluid and ambiguous. When asked whether they are Russian or Ukrainian they are not necessarily in a position to give a simple answer, and may resent being pressed to do so. Numerous people regard themselves at least somewhat Ukrainian and at least somewhat Russian at the same time.

Thus a poll carried out in Ukraine in 1997 found that if given a range of choices a quarter of respondents across the country gave their identity as both Ukrainian and Russian at the same time. 56% of those asked declared themselves to be Ukrainians, 11% to be Russians, but 27% opted for some variant of Russian-Ukrainian and Ukrainian-Russian.[2]

Indeed, the last Soviet population census found Ukraine to be inhabited by 37.5 million Ukrainians and 11.3 million Russians, but the first and only population census carried out in independent Ukraine found 37.5 million Ukrainians and 8.3 million Russians instead. The reason the number of census Ukrainians could stay constant while the number of census Russians fell by 25% is clear. Upwards of 2 million people had transferred their census nationality from Russian to Ukrainian.

It should be understood that there is no sharp Russian-Ukrainian ethnic dichotomy across large swathes of Ukraine, and furthermore it is precisely in the Donbass region that has risen up in rebellion to the government in Kyiv that this dichotomy is the weakest. Instead of a sharp delineation between the two ethnic communities there is an amalgamated Russian-Ukrainian community and a great deal of fluidity and ambiguity between the two nationalities. Numerous people are comfortable identifying as both Ukrainian and Russian at the same time, and furthermore do not believe there is, or should be, any great difference between the two. The fight then is clearly not between Russian and Ukrainian. The war is not about who the rebels in the south-east are, but what they believe in.

The rebels and their most ardent supporters no longer believe in Ukrainian nation-building. They do not conceive of the Ukraine as the proper political unit for them. This is apparent from their rejection of Ukrainian national symbols and ambition to build up local people’s republics. Many may have considerable, or even mainly, Ukrainian ethnic ancestry, but do not consider themselves part of the Ukrainian political nation. Some are happy to concede that they are Ukrainian, but do not want Ukrainians as a separate political nation from other East Slavs.

Just as numerous citizens of Ukraine between 1989 and 2001 transferred their census nationality from Russian to Ukrainian, so numerous Ukrainians (particularly Russians-Ukrainians) can transfer their allegiance away from Ukrainian nation-building and decide that their proper political community is not the Republic of Ukraine, but the People’s Republic of Donetsk/Lugansk or the Confederation of Novorossia.

The Donbass rebellion is not a war of the kind we have seen in the Balkans with its sharp ethno-national divisions. It is more like the American Revolution, or the American Civil War. It is a rebellion of people who no longer subscribe to the Ukrainian national project, but who are not necessarily ethnically distinct from those who continue to do so. It is neither a rebellion of Russian-speaking Ukrainians nor of ethnic Russians. It is a rebellion of those Ukrainian citizens who want to remove themselves from the project of Ukrainian nation-building.

[1] Taras Kuzio, Ukraine: State and Nation Building (London: Routledge, 1998), 73-74.

[2] Oxana Shevel, “Nationality in Ukraine: Some Rules of Engagement,” East European Politics and Societies 16, no. 2 (2002): 387-417. citing Andrew Wilson, The Ukrainians: Unexpected Nation (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2000), 219.

Posted in Europe, Government, Politics, Slavic, Ukraine | Tagged , , , , , | 1,106 Comments

Russian Hackers Are Fiendishly Smart. Good Thing For America They’re So Stupid.

Uncle Volodya says, "Falsehood is often rocked by truth, but she soon outgrows her cradle and discards her nurse.”

Uncle Volodya says, “Falsehood is often rocked by truth, but she soon outgrows her cradle and discards her nurse.”

Every fleeting thought is a pearl
And beautiful people stampede to the doorway
of the funniest fucker in the world

They’re here to help you
Satisfy your desire
There’s a bright future for all you professional liars

- “How To Be Dumb”; Elvis Costello

I know, I know: it’s hard to believe The Wall Street Journal (which I like to refer to, for childish reasons of my own – because that’s just the way I roll – as The Wall Street Urinal) would publish a story gratuitously critical of Russia. But on October 28th, 2014, a day which will live in infamy, I’m afraid that’s exactly what they did. For shame, Wall Street Urinal (thanks for the tip, Cartman).

Hacking Trail Leads to Russia, Experts Say“. Mmmmm… I’m sure we’re going to want to look at that claim in some detail – but first, let’s talk a little bit about experts, because it is a timely discussion topic which has come up on a couple of occasions already, and it needs a bigger forum. Quite simply, we have arrived at a period in the history of our joint existence on the big blue marble when Mr. Hankey The Christmas Poo could be an expert whose opinion was eagerly sought by journalists, if only he had a laptop, knew how to find the Google search screen, had an opposable thumb and didn’t wear mittens all the time. H.L. Mencken, who had a considerable amount to say on the preoccupation of the American people with elevating to iconic status those who are most like themselves, must be beaming beatifically from his grave. “A cynic is a man who, when he smells flowers, looks around for a coffin“, said he. More touchingly – and he could turn his hand to romantic and touching, for he was among the most capable writers of his generation or any other – “If, after I depart this vale, you ever remember me and have thought to please my ghost, forgive some sinner and wink your eye at some homely girl.” My own favourite, which for some reason always makes me think of Alexey Navalny; “An idealist is one who, on noticing that a rose smells better than a cabbage, concludes that it makes a better soup.”

But the one for which he is best known, and which is the most widely quoted – “As democracy is perfected, the office of president represents, more and more closely, the inner soul of the people. On some great and glorious day the plain folks of the land will reach their heart’s desire at last and the White House will be adorned by a downright moron.” Continue reading

Posted in Economy, Government, Investment, Politics, Russia, Spies, Strategy, Trade | Tagged , , , , , , | 771 Comments

General Wesley Clark Quarterbacks the Great Game – America’s National Strategery

Uncle Volodya says, "In great contests each party claims to act in accordance with the will of God. Both may be, and one must be wrong. God cannot be for and against the same thing at the same time.”

Uncle Volodya says, “In great contests each party claims to act in accordance with the will of God. Both may be, and one must be, wrong. God cannot be for and against the same thing at the same time.”

Remember, a few months back, when the United States was not going to get involved in a “bidding war” over Ukraine? Back then (beginning of December, 2013), America was faintly disdainful at the notion of getting down in the mud and wrestling over Ukraine. In fact, although that reference is not the main support for this post, it contains such a wealth of rich ironies that I want to stay with it for a couple of minutes.

Starting with the hot-button statement by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, otherwise known as The Arch-Fool of President Obama’s buffoon government, that “violence has no place in a modern European state”. He was referring to clashes between Maidan protesters and state police in Kiev, which later turned from merely violent to deadly, resulting in the shooting deaths of protesters and police by what Kiev’s ‘investigation’ recently determined were rogue elements of the Ukrainian Security Service, the SBU, in another of a disgraceful series of Ukrainian governmental cover-ups that often serve the dual purpose of getting rid of political opponents.

That so, John? Perspectives change rapidly in politics, I probably don’t have to tell you, because it wasn’t much later before the Arch-Fool and his colleagues opined that President Poroshenko had “a right to defend his country”.

Here’s a look at how he’s defending it: this is Sergey Prokofiev International Airport, in Donetsk. It hasBirds fly near the traffic control tower of the Sergey Prokofiev International Airport damaged by shelling during fighting between pro-Russian separatists and Ukrainian government forces in Donetsk been completely destroyed, a write-off, by the Ukrainian Army. In case you wondered, this Donetsk is indeed in Ukraine.

Only a couple of years ago, in 2012, Ukraine spent $470 million on it getting it ready for the Euro 2012 football championship, which Ukraine co-hosted.

 

This is what it looked like then.

wpid-332390_171366672966209_1870365738_oThe Donetsk international airport was completely destroyed, in Ukraine, by Ukrainians. The Ukrainian Army shelled and bombed it to prevent it being used to resupply federalist rebels who did not want to be governed by Kiev, although God knows where that resupply was supposed to come from.  Once they took it, they used it as a stronghold from which to indiscriminately shell the city of Donetsk, killing dozens of civilians. In trying to dislodge government forces to prevent this, the federalists also shelled it, and finally took possession of the shattered, burned-out ruin. Continue reading

Posted in Economy, Europe, Government, Law and Order, Military, Politics, Russia, Strategy, Trade, Ukraine, Vladimir Putin, Western Europe | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 1,187 Comments

It Looks Like Putin is Winning, Which is the Surest Sign Yet That He is Losing

Uncle Volodya says, "Some mornings, it's just not worth chewing through the leather straps. Right, Liliushka?”

Uncle Volodya says, “Some mornings, it’s just not worth chewing through the leather straps. Right, Liliushka?”

Hey, is it Monday? Well, it is here, or was when I started writing. That must mean it’s time for another crazy article by Carnegie Moscow Centre’s resident sexagenarian dissident, crazy old bat and Petro-Poroshenko-for President-of Russia oligarch admirer Lilia Shevtsova! And sure enough, with the implacable certainty of death and taxes, here she is  in another self-lampooning caricature of phone-it-in journalism, telling us in the most lurid cold-war terminology that Putin is headed for a defeat so cataclysmic, so decisive that he will be pounded like a nail right through the earth to come out, befuddled and disoriented, in his antipodean obverse in the Pacific Ocean just south of Australia. Don’t forget your lifejacket, Mr. President!

Her narrative is laced with apocalyptic idioms that are the stuff of State Department wet dreams – “Mr Putin has unleashed the process he cannot stop and made himself hostage to suicidal statecraft. “ Oooh, here’s a good one: “He can rule only by subjugating the nation in a way that only war can justify.” And a perennial Cold-War favourite, “But the propaganda that plays endlessly on Russian television channels will not mesmerise [the public] for long.”

Lilia Shevtsova has a rock-solid claim on the Cold War; she lived through it. Although it is apparent now that it never ended, was merely suspended while the west watched with bated breath to see if Boris Yeltsin could accomplish his assigned mission of turning Russia over to new custodians for dismantling, it is acknowledged by U.S. historians to have begun in 1945 and ended in 1991. Lilia Shevtsova would have missed only the first 4 years of it, and was born a Cold-War baby in Lviv (what a surprise, he said in the sarcastic manner which suggested it was not a surprise at all) in 1949. In the 2008 poll of Top Public Intellectuals, she ranked 36, for reasons that are a mystery to me, since her delivery in typical articles like the one that is the subject of this post sound like they were cribbed directly from  J. Edgar Hoover’s files.

She has occupied a number of prestigious posts, including Director of the Center for Political Studies and Deputy Director of the Institute of International Economic and Political Studies, both in Moscow. Rounding out her dissident chops, in addition to her aforementioned perch at the Carnegie Moscow Center she is a fellow of Chatham House, and has been a visiting professor at the University of California at Berkeley, Cornell University, and Georgetown University as well as a fellow at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. Although she is of course fluent in Russian – she lives there – in her heart she is about as Russian as a funnel cake. Continue reading

Posted in Economy, Government, Investment, Law and Order, Military, Politics, Rule of Law, Russia, Trade, Ukraine, Vladimir Putin, Western Europe | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 1,122 Comments

People Would Rather Believe Than Know: Activists Gone Wild

Uncle Volodya says, "The question is whether privileged élites should dominate mass-communication, and should use this power as they tell us they must, namely, to impose necessary illusions, manipulate and deceive the stupid majority, and remove them from the public arena.”

Uncle Volodya says, “The question is whether privileged élites should dominate mass-communication, and should use this power as they tell us they must, namely, to impose necessary illusions, manipulate and deceive the stupid majority, and remove them from the public arena.”

Once upon a time I believed that the premiere, crème de la crème occupation in which you could be a total rolling on the floor, snapping at your own entrails, certifiable kook and still get respect – even acclamation – from the public was psychologist. After all, there are no wrong answers in psychology: the psychologist is not particularly interested in hearing you give the book answer, and is far more interested in what made you choose the response you did give. While that might be a science which reveals volumes about the human condition and baseline mental state, it also permits the practice, within the profession, of the aforementioned kooks who are merely grooming some kookie theory which has no basis in reality. It doesn’t mean all psychologists are kooks, but you could be a kook and fit right in among respected psychologists without causing a ripple.

Anyway, perhaps that was never really true of psychology. That’s just what I believed, but even if it were true, psychology couldn’t hold a candle to another professional pursuit for entertaining fantasy, wallowing in bullshit until you have to squint to see where you’re going, and prevalence of crazy people. And that professional pursuit is…drumroll, please…human-rights activist. And the craziest human-rights activists under the earth’s sun are those who write for the Kyiv Post.

Exhibit A – “Cargo 200 From Ukraine To Russia” Facebook group founder Eleva Vasilieva. According to Ms. Vasilieva, 4,000 Russian soldiers and mercenaries have been killed or are missing so far fighting in Ukraine.

That’s quite a statement, and certainly speaks to the ferocity of the Ukrainian military when you consider that according to the UN, only about 2,593 people have been killed in total – including civilians – between mid-April and 27 August 2014. While Ms. Eleva’s records tell her a thousand Russian soldiers were killed just in the battle for Ilovaisk, in only two days. Continue reading

Posted in Government, Military, Politics, Russia, Ukraine, Vladimir Putin | Tagged , , , , , | 326 Comments