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The eleventh post of pre-Christmas 2018: November

Sunday, 23 December, 2018

Frederick Forsyth was 33 when his first novel, The Day of the Jackal, was published in 1971. The story of how the OAS (Organisation Armée Secrète) hires an English assassin to assassinate French President Charles de Gaulle became an international bestseller and gained the author fame and fortune. On 14 November, here, we welcomed Forsyth’s latest novel, which is very much about modern espionage.

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What if the most dangerous weapon in the world is not a nuke in a backpack but a 17-year-old boy with a brilliant mind, “who can run rings around the most sophisticated security services across the globe, who can manipulate that weaponry and turn it against the superpowers themselves?” That’s the premise of The Fox, the new thriller from Frederick Forsyth. Born in the year of the Munich Agreement, when British, French and Italian leaders agreed to Hitler’s demand for the German annexation of the Sudetenland, Forsyth has grown up in a world that has experienced its share of evil in his 80 years. The latest manifestation, in his latest novel, is the Vozhd, a Russian word meaning “the Boss” or, in the world of crime, “the Godfather”. When Forsyth was 15, the old Vozhd, Joseph Stalin, died. The new Vozhd is Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin and one of his prized assets arrived in Russia in 2013, having fled from Hawaii. Snippet:

“When defector and traitor Edward Snowden flew to Moscow it is believed he carried over one and a half million documents on a memory stick small enough to be inserted before a border check into the human anus. ‘Back in the day’, as the veterans put it, a column of trucks would have been needed, and a convey moving through a gate tends to be noticeable.
So, the computer took over from the human, the archives containing trillions of secrets came to be stored on databases… Matching pace, crime also changed, gravitating from shoplifting through financial embezzlement to today’s computer fraud, which enables more wealth to be stolen than ever before in the history of finance. Thus the modern world gave rise to the concept of computerized hidden wealth but also to the computer hacker. The burglar of cyberspace.”

The Fox

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The review of the year as posted by Rainy Day ends tomorrow with the twelfth post of pre-Christmas 2018. The subject is the street-fighting man, then and now.


Russian thuggery in the Sea of Azov

Thursday, 29 November, 2018

Austin Bay says:

“Putin’s Kremlin specializes in adding complex twists to blatant falsehoods. There is no evidence the Ukrainian ships did anything but try to avoid being intercepted. Russian territorial water? To buy that you must accept Russia’s illegal seizure of the peninsula. However, the strait is an internationally recognized waterway open to transit by commercial shipping and naval vessels. Kerch is comparable to other straits around the globe, like the Strait of Hormuz at the mouth of the Persian Gulf. Iran routinely threatens to close Hormuz to shipping, but to do so would violate freedom of navigation and constitute an act of war.”

Excerpt from On Point: Russia’s War with Ukraine Goes to Sea.


The Russian Vozhd is the sick man of Eurasia

Friday, 16 November, 2018

Hadn’t heard of the Barents Observer, but it’s one worth bookmarking. What it does is provide “daily news reports from and about Scandinavia, Russia and the Circumpolar Arctic.” It’s also “a journalist-owned” online newspaper. Top story today: “Finland accuses Russia for disruption of GPS signals.” Quote: “Jamming of GPS signals first came known to public when the Barents Observer on November 2 could tell about pilots on a civilian passenger plane in Norway’s Troms and Finnmark region reporting about loss of satellite navigation.”

Back on 2 November, the Barents Observer did indeed publish a story about the jamming of GPS signals in the airspace between Kirkenes and Lyngen. Snippet:

“As previously reported by the Barents Observer, the Foreign Ministry brought up the question with Moscow after a similar jamming in March this year and requested Russia to halt such jamming. Last week, Deputy Director of Communication with the Foreign Ministry, Kristin Enstad, was not willing to share with the readers of Barents Observer what was said in the dialogue with Russian authorities.

Lina Lindegaard, press-officer with regional airliner Widerøe, told Barents Observer about one of their flights losing GPS signals. ‘Our chief operating officer got a report from a captain about loss of GPS signals,’ Lindegaard said. She underlined that the crew in cockpit always have alternative procedures on how to navigate if satellite signals can’t be received.”

Putin’s Russia is truly an evil entity and it’s determined to destroy what it can before it descends into complete decrepitude. Emmanuel Macron’s “European army”, which right now couldn’t fight its way out of un sac en papier in Brussels, will never be a match for the Vozhd. There’s no there there.


The Terrible Cost of Obama’s Failure in Syria

Tuesday, 10 April, 2018 0 Comments

That’s the title of Kathy Gilsinan’s excoriating article in The Atlantic, which was, and is, an Obama-friendly publication. But there comes a time when the most loyal subjects and supporters have to face the truth, even when it is painful, and this is very, very painful, indeed. Snippet:

Four years ago, it almost looked as if chemical attacks on Syrian civilians would stop. “We struck a deal where we got 100 percent of the chemical weapons out,” declared then-Secretary of State John Kerry on Meet the Press in 2014. Kerry was referring to Bashar al-Assad’s declared stockpiles of chemical weapons which, under a 2013 deal struck by the Obama administration following a sarin nerve gas attack that brought the U.S. to the brink of striking Syrian government forces, were dismantled and shipped out of the country.

But there were two important and deadly loopholes. The first was that Assad did not declare everything—a reality that Kerry acknowledged in a farewell memo to staff, in which he wrote that “unfortunately other undeclared chemical weapons continue to be used ruthlessly against the Syrian people.” The second was that chlorine gas, which has legitimate civilian uses, was not part of the deal. The Syrian American Medical Society and the White Helmets civil-defense group have documented 200 chemical attacks in Syria since 2012, many involving chlorine.

At the time, those familiar with the ways of the Syrian tyrant knew that this was a rotten deal. Yes, Damascus gave up some material to make it look like it was complying and the Washington spin-doctors were able to sell the story that Obama and Kerry had done something heroic, but Assad was left with an intact chemical arsenal. Terrible.


We need new words to describe the Putin dictatorship

Sunday, 18 March, 2018 0 Comments

Today in Russia, millions of people will go to polling stations and cast their votes in the presidential election. The candidates will be shown on TV placing their ballots into boxes and smiling at the cameras. Later Vladimir Putin, who is certain to get 64 percent 73.9 percent of the vote, will thank the electorate for returning him to the presidency for another six years and world leaders will congratulate him on his victory. All of this will be reported in detail by the Russian media.

Many of the words used in that paragraph are taken from the vocabulary of democracy: polling stations, votes, election, ballots, presidency, media. Yet, in this case, they have been hijacked by a sham process designed to support a dictator, who intends to rule Russia for as long as he wants.

Garry Kasparov, chairman of the Human Rights Foundation and the author of Winter Is Coming: Why Vladimir Putin and the Enemies of the Free World Must Be Stopped, examines the language of the farce taking place today in Russia in a Weekly Standard article titled The Truth About Putin. Snippet:

“Russia’s election spectacle on March 18 isn’t only a domestic distraction. It provides Putin’s defenders in the free world with rhetorical ammunition, as do the approval polls and fake controversies over the fake opposition candidates. There is no form of democratic process or opposition in Putin’s Russia. Pretending otherwise makes you complicit in his propaganda. Stop calling them elections. Stop calling Putin a president. Stop calling to congratulate him on his victories. Let us begin the fight against Putin’s lies with the fundamental truth about what he really is.”

Putin


Fighting the maskirovka of the Russian Elephant

Wednesday, 22 November, 2017 0 Comments

“As the West considers how to respond to the Kremlin’s use of bots, trolls, bullshit news, dark ads and hacks as tools of foreign policy, the way we describe things will define whether we prevail.” So writes Peter Pomerantsev in Beware the Russian Elephant.

The evil we’re up against is fundamental and it was constructed during the last century as part of what is called maskirovka, a Russian doctrine that embraces military deception, ranging from camouflage to denial and deceit to propaganda. It also embraces a cast of unsavoury characters that includes Putin and Snowden, who are now the mortal enemies of the West. So how can they be opposed, overcome?

Although it does appear at times as if the Kremlin has the upper hand, Peter Pomerantsev is far from defeatist because the Kremlin finds itself in a dilemma, he says. Snippet:

“…it needs the media fireworks of a verbal conflict with the West to distract from its own failures domestically and to give it meaning, but it is also reliant on the very same West for advertising to fund its hate speech-filled television channels, for technology to extract its oil, and for banks and law courts to protect its elite’s investments. These are the spots to target. If this were a war, after all, you would never engage the enemy in the battle he desires. There are more painful measures to take against his active measures.”

This is our fight. These are our freedoms. We cannot surrender.


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