Tag: Crimea

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.


He gained Crimea but the Kremlin is now a pariah

Thursday, 27 March, 2014 0 Comments

Ambrose Evans-Pritchard: “With a national fertility rate of 1.4, chronic alcoholism, and a population expected to shrink by 30m to barely more than 110m by 2050 — according to UN demographers, not Mr Putin’s officials — the nation must inexorably recede towards its European bastion of Old Muscovy. The question is how fast, and how peacefully.”

The international business editor of the Daily Telegraph is remorseless in his disdain for the new lord of Crimea. In a piece titled “Putin’s Russia caught in US and Chinese double-pincer,” he combines geography and demography with strategy and finance in assessing the hubris and thuggery that have blinded the Kremlin in its decision making. His verdict on Putin is merciless:

“At the end of the day he has condemned Russia to the middle income trap. The windfall from the great oil boom has been wasted. Russia’s engineering skills have atrophied. Industry has been hollowed out by the Dutch Disease: the curse of over-valued currency, and reliance on commodities.”

If you want to learn more about the true nature of this pariah state, read about The Magnitsky List and William Browder’s heroic battle with Russian evil.


A tremor of intent in Crimea

Monday, 24 March, 2014 1 Comment

The writer Anthony Burgess noticed his hand shaking one hungover morning in 1965. “That”, his wife said to him, “is a tremor of intent”. Thereupon, Burgess conceived an eschatological spy novel titled Tremor of Intent, which would offer an alternative to the humourless fiction of John le Carré and the jingoistic fantasy of Ian Fleming. By terming it an eschatological thriller, Burgess was expressing his view of the Cold War as the “ultimate conflict” for which Good and Evil were, he felt, inadequate terms.

Tremor of Intent Synopsis: The ageing, amoral MI6 Agent Denis Hillier, posing as a typewriter technician, journeys to Crimea aboard the cruise ship Polyolbion on a mission to infiltrate a convention of Soviet scientists and return to Britain his school friend Roper, who has defected to the Evil Empire. En route, he encounters the sexually curious sixteen-year-old Clara Walters, the obsequious steward Wriste and the sexually experienced Miss Devi, secretary to the sinister epicure Theodorescu. All of this allows the genius creator of A Clockwork Orange to describe hilariously graphic scenes involving food, drink, sex, politics, philosophy, history, religion, treason and murder. When Hillier is forced to spend three days in the seedy Babi Humayun (Sublime Portal) hotel overlooking the Bosphorus, Burgess hits his musical stride. Snippet:

“Istanbul disturbed him with its seven hills, as though Rome had tried to build herself on another planet. The names of architects and sultans rang in his mind in dull Byzantine gold — Anthemius, Isidorus, Achmet, Bajazet, Solyman the Magnificent. The emperors shrilled from a far past like desolate birds — Theodosius, Justinian, Constantine himself. His head raged with mosques. The city, in cruel damp heat, smelt of wool and hides and skins. Old filth and rusty iron, proud exports, clattered and thumped aboard under Galata’s lighthouse. Ships, gulls, sea-light. Bazaars, beggars, skinny children, charcoal fires, skewered innards smoking, the heavy tobacco reek, fat men in flannel double-breasteds, fed on fat.”

In this age of Putin and Snowden, it is our misfortune that there’s no Anthony Burgess around to novelize the comic aspects of their Cold War II symbiosis.


Valeri Volodin sounds like Vladimir Putin

Tuesday, 18 March, 2014 0 Comments

“The Russian Federation invaded its sovereign neighbour on the first moonless night of spring. By dawn their tanks ground westward along the highways and backroads as if the countryside belonged to them, as if the quarter-century thaw from the Cold War had been a dream.” So begins the second chapter of Command Authority, the final novel by the late Tom Clancy, which was published in December last year. Those Russian tanks are rolling into the Baltic states. “This was not supposed to happen here. This was Estonia, after all, and Estonia was a NATO member state. The politicians in Tallin had promised their people that Russia would never attack them now that they had joined the alliance.”

The leader of this outrageous invasion is Valeri Volodin, a KGB veteran bent on reviving the former Soviet Empire, but as this is a work of fiction characters are a product of the author’s imagination and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental. Anyway, after Estonia, Putin, sorry, Volodin turns his evil eye on the troubled Ukraine. “Any hopes the police might have had that the situation would defuse itself went away when tents started to be erected on both sides, and nationalists and Russian Ukrainians began clashes that turned more and more violent.”

Cut to an up-market Moscow restaurant where Stanislav Biryukov, director of the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service, is having supper with a British businessman. “Russia will invade Ukraine, probably within the next few weeks,” says Biryukov, sipping his chacha, a Georgian brandy. “They will annex Crimea. From there, if they meet no resistance from the West, they will take more of the country, all the way to the Dnieper River. Once this is achieved, I believe Volodin will set his eyes on making beneficial alliances from a position of power, both in the other border countries and in the former nations of the Warsaw Pact. He believes he can return the entire region to the central control of the Kremlin. Poland, Czech Republic, Hungary, Bulgaria, Romania. They will be the next dominos to fall.”

But this is just fiction, right? And our dear leaders don’t read fiction.


Chelsea, before it became part of Londongrad

Friday, 14 March, 2014 0 Comments

In light of Sunday’s illegal referendum in Crimea, what now for the West? That is the question. Writing in the Financial Times, John Gapper makes a suggestion: “It could impose asset freezes and visa bans on a few selected oligarchs (perhaps seizing Chelsea Football Club from Roman Abramovich, the minerals magnate).”

Long before Chelsea became the home of resource thieves and their fawning retinues, Sir John Betjeman, the British Poet Laureate, was casting a wary eye on the borough. The transformation of spelling through texting was still a way off in 1977, but punk was in the air and Betjeman was convinced that “the kiddiz know the sound”. And for all those Stamford Bridge fans who think that there is no tomorrow, he reminds them, in gleeful anticipation of the inferno of the oligarchs, that “Satan stokes his furnace underground”. Here’s Chelsea 1977 from from The Best of Betjeman.

Chelsea 1977

The street was bathed in winter sunset pink
The air was redolent of kitchen sink
Between the dog-mess heaps I picked my way
To watch the dying embers of the day
Glow over Chelsea, crimson load on load
All Brangwynesque across the long King’s Road.
Deep in myself I felt a sense of doom
Fearful of death I trudge towards the tomb.
The earth beneath my feet is hardly soil
But outstretched chicken-netting coil on coil
Covering cables, sewage-pipes and wires
While underneath burn hell’s eternal fires.
Snap, crackle! pop! the kiddiz know the sound
And Satan stokes his furnace underground.

Sir John Betjeman (1906 — 1984)


Kasparov checkmates Putin

Monday, 10 March, 2014 0 Comments

Garry Kasparov, the former World Chess Champion and considered by many to be the greatest chess player of all time, is not just a passionate opponent of Vladimir Putin, he’s a multimedia opponent of Vladimir Putin. Along with using Twitter to rebuke the Russian leader on an hourly basis, he’s on TV, the radio and in the traditional press. “Cut Off the Russian Oligarchs and They’ll Dump Putin” is what he wrote on Friday in the Wall Street Journal. “Use banks, not tanks,” is his advice. Snippet:

Thanks to their unfettered access to Western markets, Mr. Putin and his gang have exploited Western engagement with Russia in a way that the Soviet Union’s leaders never dreamed of. But this also means that they are vulnerable in a way the Soviets were not. If the West punishes Russia with sanctions and a trade war, that might be effective eventually, but it would also be cruel to the 140 million Russians who live under Mr. Putin’s rule. And it would be unnecessary. Instead, sanction the 140 oligarchs who would dump Mr. Putin in the trash tomorrow if he cannot protect their assets abroad. Target their visas, their mansions and IPOs in London, their yachts and Swiss bank accounts. Use banks, not tanks.


Kissinger: “The test is not absolute satisfaction but balanced dissatisfaction”

Thursday, 6 March, 2014 0 Comments

“Public discussion on Ukraine is all about confrontation. But do we know where we are going? In my life, I have seen four wars begun with great enthusiasm and public support, all of which we did not know how to end and from three of which we withdrew unilaterally. The test of policy is how it ends, not how it begins.” So begins a Washington Post meditation by Henry Kissinger, US Secretary of State from 1973 to 1977.

Titled “How the Ukraine crisis ends,” the article spares no one: “The European Union must recognize that its bureaucratic dilatoriness and subordination of the strategic element to domestic politics in negotiating Ukraine’s relationship to Europe contributed to turning a negotiation into a crisis. Foreign policy is the art of establishing priorities,” says Kissinger.

He’s got this advice for President Obama: “For its part, the United States needs to avoid treating Russia as an aberrant to be patiently taught rules of conduct established by Washington.” And when it comes to President Putin, he calls him “a serious strategist”, but warns that “whatever his grievances, a policy of military impositions would produce another Cold War.”

Kissinger’s preferred outcome is “not absolute satisfaction but balanced dissatisfaction.” Sadly, one feels that this will not satisfy any of the key players in this drama.


Putin’s Rasputin

Tuesday, 4 March, 2014 0 Comments

At the end of January last year, Charles Clover, then Moscow bureau chief of the Financial Times, asked “How much influence does Father Tikhon Shevkunov have over the Russian president?” The question was posed in a lengthy portrait titled “Putin and the monk“. Snippet:

Father Tikhon Shevkunov “Father Tikhon wields influence in the church far above his modest rank of Archimandrite, or abbot, due primarily to his contacts in the Kremlin. The story that travels with him, which he will neither confirm nor deny, is that he is the confessor to Vladimir Putin. The only details he gives is that Putin, sometime before he became president at the end of 1999 (most likely while he was head of Russia’s FSB security service from 1998 to 1999) appeared at the doors of the monastery one day. Since then, the two men have maintained a very public association, with Tikhon accompanying Putin on foreign and domestic trips, dealing with ecclesiastical problems. But according to persistent rumour, Tikhon ushered the former KGB colonel into the Orthodox faith and became his dukhovnik, or godfather.”

Father Tikhon’s other claim to fame, as Charles Clover points out, is a film entitled Gibel Imperii (The Fall of the Empire), which he produced, and in which he argued that the Byzantine Empire fell, not as the result of assaults by the Ottoman Turks, but because its rulers and elites unwisely copied Western social, economic and political models. Worse, the West, especially Venice, supported separatist movements and central government in Byzantium was weakened. Worse again, young scholars went to the West to study and came back with outlandish notions such as individualism, free enterprise and common markets. Thus, was corrupted the soul of the East to the point where its merchants were ruined and the Empire fell.

Gibel Imperii was ridiculed by historians as a crude attempt to fabricate history and create false parallels with Putin’s imperial Russia. The faithful didn’t care, however. Father Tikhon is now the ex-colonel’s dukhovnik and there can be no doubt about what he’s been whispering in his master’s ear.


RT is not TV. It is Russia today.

Monday, 3 March, 2014 0 Comments

Early in his presidency, the ex-KGB agent Vladimir Putin took control of Russian television, forcing out the media magnates Boris Berezovsky and Vladimir Gusinsky, taking over their channels and creating a climate of fear and sycophancy in which his actions are always praised and never criticized. He is now attempting to do the same in a global fashion with a propaganda platform called RT, the abbreviation of Russia Today.

“Our team of young news professionals has made RT the first news channel to break the 1 billion YouTube views benchmark,” declares the Russia Today YouTube arm. Adding, “RT news covers the major issues of our time for viewers wishing to question more.” But “more” what? Well, RT specializes in presenting “truther” interpretations of the 9/11 terror attacks and it even ran a lengthy exploration called “911 reasons why 9/11 was (probably) an inside job”. Today, it is broadcasting bare-faced lies such as “675,000 Ukrainians pour into Russia as ‘humanitarian crisis’ looms” and “Tea, sandwiches, music, photos with self-defense forces mark peaceful Sunday in Simferopol.”

Having achieved absolute power within Russia, Putin has negated all hopes of making it a civil society, and he seems determined to reduce his neighbours to the same grim level. With the help of RT, he also wants to convince the world that every country is just as awful as Russia today.


He was greatly interested in armies and fleets

Sunday, 2 March, 2014 0 Comments

The word “tyrant” came to the late Middle English from the Old French tyrannie, which had its origins in the late Latin tyrannia, derived from the Latin tyrannus, via the Greek turannos, meaning “monarch, ruler of a polis”. According to Senator John McCain, Vladimir Putin is “a tyrant at home, a friend of tyrants abroad.” […]

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Dreams and nightmares of a Russian imperium

Thursday, 27 February, 2014 0 Comments

“History, Stephen said, is a nightmare from which I am trying to awake.” That’s what James Joyce has Stephen Dedalus say in Ulysses, and looking at this morning’s news, one gets the feeling that these are Joycean times. Consider this headline: “Armed men seize Crimea parliament and hoist Russian flag.” Now why would they do that? Because of history. In 1944, Crimea’s Tatars were forcibly deported to Central Asia by Stalin as a form of collective punishment for their supposed collaboration with the Nazis. A decade late, Nikita Khrushchev transferred Crimea to Ukraine, making it the only region of the country where ethnic Russians dominate. In such ways is the nightmare of history, with its memories, hatreds, borders and peoples made. According to the 2001 Ukrainian census, 58.5% of the population of Crimea were Russians, 24.4% were Ukrainians and 12.1% were returned Tatars. Given the fault-lines, this this not bode well for the future.

The Third Imperium Talking of the future, The Third Imperium is a futuristic novel by the Russian oligarch Mikhail Yuriev. It’s set in 2053, a time when Russia has withdrawn from all international organizations and revoked all international treaties. Thanks to this strategy, and the wise rule of a leader who is partly of Chinese origin, it’s doing better than ever. Provoked by the United States, it launches a preventive nuclear strike — although for humanitarian reasons only sparsely populated states such as Nevada and Utah are targeted. America retaliates with a massive counter-attack but since Russia is protected by its superb anti-missile shield, this has no effect at all. The Third Imperium, with its hints of The Third Reich, is triumphant.

Footnote: At the beginning of January, Bloomberg published a story that began: “Mikhail Yuriev, a former Russian politician and businessman, said he’s quitting Russia to invest in the U.S. energy industry where cheaper financing, better infrastructure and support for foreign businesses boost returns.”

Although they’re anti-Western to the core, today’s visionary Russians prefer capitalism to communism, but like their Chinese counterparts, they dream of a world that will be a nightmare for most of its inhabitants. Just take a look at Moscow, Beijing and Crimea.