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Russia

Mr Tillerson goes to Moscow

Tuesday, 11 April, 2017 0 Comments

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson visits Moscow today and will there meet his counterpart, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. What makes the trip particularly noteworthy is that it comes after the US strike on Moscow’s Middle East proxy and armaments purchaser, Syria. President Trump has sent an unmistakable message that he is holding President Putin accountable for Bashar al-Assad and red lines mean red lines from now on for the new administration in Washington.

The oleaginous Lavrov learned his trade by in the days of Hafiz al-Assad, father of the current tyrant, and one wonders if Tillerson has prepped for his meeting by reading Assad: The Struggle for the Middle East by the late Patrick Seale. First published in 1988, it has lost little of its relevance despite the passing of time. Indeed, given what’s now going on in Syria, its 552 pages remain ultra- relevant. Despite, or perhaps because of his anti-Israel prejudice, Patrick Seale was an influential commentator on events in the Arab world and he possessed a deep understanding of the Arab mind and how it works. On page 412 of Assad: The Struggle for the Middle East, Seale displays his skills as an observer and writer when describing the cunning of Hafiz al-Assad. Snippet:

Assad “Over the years, Assad had developed a negotiating technique which he frequently used with foreign guests, and [Robert] McFarlane [national security adviser to President Ronald Reagan from 1983 to 1985] was no exception. He would begin by exchanging a few pleasantries. Then he might ask, ‘How is the weather in your country?’ A Western guest would usually reply to the effect that at home it was colder than in Syria , giving Assad his opportunity. ‘Indeed’, he would say, ‘it’s warm here because the United Sates is stoking the fire!’ There were two sorts of climate in the world, he would explain, one given by God, the other by the United States, and step by step he would make his point that the tension, crises and wars in the area must all be laid at Washington’s door. An American visitor would feel compelled to defend himself, starting the meeting at a disadvantage.

Assad’s next stratagem was to be extraordinarily digressive and argumentative. If the name of God were mentioned, this might set him off on a long discourse about Islam, Judaism and Christianity before he could be brought back to the matter in hand. Negotiating sessions would last for hours. More than one envoy who suffered this treatment came to the conclusion that Asad raised all sorts of irrelevant subjects simply to tire his visitors the better to control them. At the end of a wearisome session the temptation was to accept what he had to say simply to escape.”

Like father, like son when it comes to cruelty and cynicism, but Bashar al-Assad remains unable to read the writing on the wall, despite his training in London as an ophthalmologist. Maybe Rex Tillerson can help his patrons see things more clearly.


St Patricius joins the menology

Tuesday, 14 March, 2017 0 Comments

“These saints did their service in the Western countries. St Patricius, the enlightener of Ireland who is more commonly known as St Patrick is one of them.” So spoke Dr Vladimir Legoida, head of communications for the Russian Orthodox synod, on Friday in Moscow. The occasion was the decision by the Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church to enlarge its menology with the names of some 15 saints, “who bore with witness of Christian faith in the West European and Central European lands before the split of the united Christian Church in 1054” in what became known as the Great Schism.

St Patricius

Dr Legoida told Pravmir that there was evidence Patricius had been venerated by the Russian Orthodox faithful. Critically, given Russian sensitivities, a key question was the role the saints might have played in polemics between Catholics and the Orthodox. “We took account the immaculateness of devotion of each saint, the circumstances in which their worship took shape, and the absence of the saints’ names in the polemic works on struggle against the Eastern Christian Church or its rite,” Dr Legoida said.

When it came to engaging in polemics or ridding Ireland of its snakes, St Patricius decided to concentrate on removing the reptiles. And, lo, his chosen land has been blessed since. “Russians to invade Trump’s luxury Irish golf resort” crowed the Sunday Business Post at the weekend, adding that “Up to 100 wealthy Russians will visit Doonbeg, Co Clare, to celebrate St Patrick’s Day.” What a saint!


The axis of cyber evil

Thursday, 15 September, 2016 0 Comments

On Monday, Ciaran Martin, the Director-General Cyber at GCHQ, outlined the British approach to cyber security at the Billington Cyber Security Summit in Washington DC. Very topically, he addressed email. Snippet:

“We need to make sure UK Government email is trusted, so we need to stop people spoofing our .gov.uk domain. To do that we’ve set a DMARC policy as a trial to stop emails from the wrong IP sets, or with the wrong key, from being delivered purporting to come from .gov.uk. Well they do get delivered, but they get delivered to us, not the recipient — usually members of the public. And when we first trialled it, whoever was sending 58,000 malicious emails per day from the delightfully named [email protected] isn’t doing it anymore.”

In an increasingly digitized economy, security is a critical currency. When Colin Powell wakes up and finds his hacked emails on the front pages of global media outlets, overall confidence in cyber security is greatly diminished and while his comments on Clinton and Trump might make for great merriment, we should condemn these intrusions because the cyber bell may toll for us one day, too. Just as it has done for the tennis stars Serena and Venus Williams, the gymnast Simone Biles, and the Tour de France winning cyclists Chris Froome and Bradley Wiggins. Because when Ciaran Martin was speaking, the World Anti-Doping Agency was confirming that a Russian cyber espionage group known as Fancy Bear had accessed its Anti-Doping Administration and Management System database. The stolen information is now being broadcast 24/7.

People, businesses and institutions will be reluctant to share information in a digital environment they feel is fundamentally unsafe, and Ciaran Martin accepted this when he said that the internet may have transformed the way we live, “but it hasn’t completely changed our nature fostered over thousands of years. And nor are the groups who pose us harm particularly new.” They are stealing secrets, stealing money, stealing intellectual property, and they are pumping out propaganda that’s crafted to confuse and intimidate. Without naming Russia, China and North Korea specifically, he said:

We’ve got hostile states. Some of them are great powers, using cyber attacks to spy, gain major commercial and economic advantage or to pre-position for destructive attack. Others are smaller states, looking to exploit the relatively immature rules of the road in cyberspace to tweak the nose of those they see as bigger powers in a way they would and could never contemplate by traditional military means.”

Tomorrow, here, we’ll name the most hostile of these states.


Blue Putin joke

Wednesday, 4 May, 2016 0 Comments

“Stalin appeared to Putin in a dream and told him how to rule Russia. ‘Show no mercy, comrade! Slaughter all the democrats, whack their parents, hang their children, shoot their relatives, execute their friends, exterminate their pets, and then paint your Kremlin office blue.’

‘Why blue?’ asked Putin.”

This portrait of Vladimir Putin by Reuven Kuperman is part of A Russian Tale at the Tel Aviv Museum of Art. The exhibition examines portrait painting by Russian-born artists of the past 120 years and includes works by masters of the Romantic, Social-Realist, Cubist and Expressionist schools, from Archipenko to Chagall to Zaritsky.

Putin


Putin, perfidy and pastry

Saturday, 23 April, 2016 2 Comments

There are many compelling reasons to read Palace of Treason by Jason Matthews. Perfidy is one. The villainy of Russia under Putin is well documented by non-Russian media, but it acquires a new pungency in a fiction that mirrors fact. Snippet:

“What fuelled the Kremlin kleptocracy, what motivated it, was not to bring back the Soviet Union, nor to reinstall the worldwide dread generated by the Red Army, nor to formulate a foreign policy based on national security requirements. In Russia today, everything happened to maintain the nadzirateli, the overseers, to protect their power, to continue looting the country’s patrimony.”

The characters in Palace of Treason ping-pong around the world — from Paris to Moscow to Athens to Vienna to Washington — as they attempt to steal secrets and outdo each other in a deadly game of influence zones, encompassing Europe and the Middle East. All of this activity demands feeding and Jason Matthews has come up with a novel touch: each chapter ends with a short recipe for one of the delicacies consumed by the protagonists. When an Iranian nuclear scientist is caught in a honey trip, he’s served shirini keshmeshi: Persian pastries dotted with raisins. “Jamshedi goggled at the cakes. Here he was, sitting with a blackmailing Russian intelligence officer, spilling his country’s secrets, and this prostitute was serving him the confection of this childhood.”

Palace of Treason recipe for shirini keshmeshi: “Thoroughly mix flour, sugar, melted butter, vegetable oil and eggs. Add saffron diluted in warm water, small raisins, and vanilla extract. Blend well. Put dollops of dough on a parchment paper-lined sheet pan and bake in a medium oven until golden brown.”

Palace of Treason


Occupied: Cold horror

Sunday, 22 November, 2015 0 Comments

Present: Norway supplies 30 percent of the European Union’s natural gas imports and 10 percent of its crude oil imports. Future: The US is no longer a member of NATO, fossil fuel reserves are running low and a new Norwegian Prime Minister has decided that his country will switch from oil and gas to alternative energy options. Faced with this crisis, Brussels turns to Moscow for muscle and thus Okkupert (Occupied) begins.

Conceived by Jo Nesbø, the best-selling Oslo-based writer, Occupied is the most expensive TV series ever produced in Norwegian and it is excellent. The scenery is cold, the colours are cold, the occupiers are cold and the horror is cold. With winter at hand, Occupied forces us to ask ourselves what we would tolerate to stay warm. The dismemberment of Ukraine? By the way, Nesbø had the idea long before Vladimir Putin annexed Crimea, but the story reveals the unease that many of Russia’s neighbors feel. It’s cold up north. Occupied is now showing on Arte, the Franco-German TV network.


Putin: Sicilian mobster, European darling

Thursday, 22 October, 2015 0 Comments

Andrei Illarionow was an economics adviser to Vladimir Putin from 2000 to 2005. Today, he’s a senior fellow at the Center for Global Liberty and Prosperity at the Cato Institute in Washington, DC. In an interview with New Eastern Europe Illarionow explains why Putin has such an astonishing number of friends in Europe: from Marine Le Pen to Gerhard Schröder:

“Unlike communism, which was rather alien to European culture even if it had some roots in European history, Putin’s Sicilian way of rule is much more familiar to Europe and closer to the European heart. It is also a reason why it is so hard to fight it.

The Sicilian mafia has not yet been taken down. It is very much alive in Italy. We see very similar types of behaviour in many other European states like Greece, Bulgaria or Hungary. Even in the Baltic states there are elements of this attitude. This type of behaviour is associated not only Russians or the Russian psyche. Yes, some Russians behave this way, but it is not exclusively a Russian problem. Look at Croats or Serbs. It is in fact deeply rooted in European human nature.”

And what can we say so far about Putin’s operations in Syria? In the north of the country, Russia has fired rockets at four of the five areas controlled by anti-Assad rebels and avoided hitting the nearby positons of the Islamic State. This has allowed the Damascus regime and the Islamists to advance further towards Aleppo. In fact, what Russia is doing is equipping IS with an air force of its own. In this way, it is advancing the goals of Assad, whose planes are bombing the very places that are being attacked by IS terrorists. “Four-fifths of Russia’s Syria strikes don’t target Islamic State: Reuters analysis.”

Now is hardly the time for the West to kowtow to Putin or ease up on IS, but this is exactly what Justin Trudeau, the prime minister-designate of Canada, is doing. What an awful signal to send to those who have to endure the wrath of the new Sicilians.


Robert Conquest RIP

Wednesday, 5 August, 2015 0 Comments

“There was an old bastard named Lenin
Who did two or three million men in.
That’s a lot to have done in
But where he did one in
That old bastard Stalin did ten in.”

Robert Conquest, born 15 July 1917, died 3 August 2015.

“Of his many works on the subject, perhaps the most important was The Great Terror, published in 1968 and detailing the full enormity of what Stalin had done to the Russian people in the 1930s and 1940s. The Mexican writer Octavio Paz paid the most succinct tribute to this book when he said in 1972 that The Great Terror had ‘closed the debate’ about Stalinism.”

That’s a snippet from the Telegraph obituary for the late Robert Conquest, who died yesterday aged 98. In the foreword to The Harvest of Sorrow: Soviet Collectivization and the Terror-Famine, Conquest noted: “By the deeds that are recalled here, it was not 20 people per word, but 20 people per letter in this book who were killed.” And this was the ideology that was idealized by the Left?


Georgi Derluguian’s recast of Russia in 2001

Tuesday, 4 August, 2015 0 Comments

“If Putin emerges as even a moderately successful ruler, the likely outcome over the next ten years will be a protectionist, semi-authoritarian, inescapably corrupt but somewhat better-off Russia, helping to police the remnants of an unstable former empire. The West has every reason to look to it for assistance in keeping this part of the world under the lid. Naturally, whatever else endures on either side of the Oxus, it is unlikely to be freedom.”

Prophetic words, indeed, and all the more impressive when one considers that they were written in the late autumn of 2001 by Georgi Derluguian. His “Recasting Russia” appeared in the New Left Review. Here’s another valuable snippet:

“The Russian state faces perhaps uniquely acute dilemmas today, not simply because of its abrupt shrinkage in size, but because its major assets and traditional orientations have been devalued. Capitalism in its globalized mode is antithetical to the mercantilist bureaucratic empires that specialized in maximizing military might and geopolitical throw-weight—the very pursuits in which Russian and Soviet rulers have been enmeshed for centuries.”

Those who where such enthusiastic proponents of the failed “reset” should consider a realistic “recast”.


Russia vetoes UN resolution on MH17 crash tribunal

Wednesday, 29 July, 2015 0 Comments

This just in: Russia has vetoed a United Nations draft resolution seeking to set up an international criminal tribunal into the MH17 air tragedy in Ukraine. With this veto, Russia has now declared itself to be an international thug.

In the bad old days of the Soviet Union there was only one “truth”. Today, in the frightening Putin era, there are several “truths”.

The young Ukrainian journalist Tetiana Matychak is the editor-in-chief of Stopfake.org, which exposes Russian propaganda und lies. But it isn’t an easy task as Moscow doesn’t broadcast one message anymore but several different ones. Now, there are numerous versions of each Kremlin story, and that’s how it was with the shooting down of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17. Initially, the plane crashed mysteriously. Then, it was shot down by Ukrainian forces, or the Americans, or there was a bomb on board. Readers and viewers end up confused because the latest version of the story calls the previous one into question.

The ultimate Russian goal is clear: There is no truth.


The fog of war

Monday, 15 June, 2015 0 Comments

“Hope!” is the motto of the the Ukraine pavilion at la Biennale di Venezia. And hope is needed when one reads about what’s happening on the front lines of this brutal war being waged by Russia on its neighbour. In the midst of the destruction and despair, photographer Yevgenia Belorusets portrays the miners of Krasnoarmeysk, who live and work within the war zone. They haven’t been paid since October but they carry on, hoping that the nightmare will end.

Ukraine miner

“I suppose I live in a country that has stepped on its own toes. But now it is going through a war. The neighbouring state punishes it for its essence, for its uncertainty, which is so valuable to me. Hope? Ukraine has always had more of it than you would expect. It is rationality lurking around every corner and maybe that will save us once again.” Yevgenia Belorusets