Russia Rushin’ To Crimea

Let’s see, if I remember correctly, it was US President Ronald Reagan who invaded the island of Grenada under the pretext of immediate danger to US students studying there.  Hitler invaded Czechoslovakia under the flag of protecting Germans there.  Vladimir Putin’s saddling up his armored columns to protect the Russians in the Crimea, “endangered” by the civil unrest in the Ukraine, should come as small surprise, therefore.  Perhaps surprise is not the right word: opportunity to burnish the tarnished display of force and violence is surely appropriate.

In all places and times the movement of the armed might of the powerful against those with small means of defense offends our sense of justice and proportionality.  Today, in the Crimea and Ukraine fear of disaster is high because so many people are involved, with thousands locked into opposing beliefs and loyalties.  The several months long standoff in Kiev has created a very combustible citizenry, as we have all seen. The Russian speakers in the Crimea — home of an enormous Russian naval base– who were given Russian passports not so long ago have loyalties which can hardly be called divided.  How events may ricochet if Russia imposes martial law in this uneasy province of the Ukraine is anyone’s guess.  What isn’t a guess is that blood will flow.

SIMFEROPOL, Ukraine — As Russian armed forces effectively seized control of Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula on Saturday, the Russian Parliament granted President Vladimir V. Putin the authority he sought to use military force in response to the deepening instability in Ukraine.

The authorization cited a threat to the lives of Russian citizens and soldiers stationed in Crimea and other parts of Ukraine, and provided a blunt answer to President Obama, who on Friday pointedly warned Russia to respect Ukraine’s territorial sovereignty.

Even before Mr. Putin’s statement in Moscow, scores of heavily armed soldiers had tightened their grip on the Crimean capital, Simferopol, surrounding government buildings, shuttering the airport, and blocking streets, where they deployed early Friday. NY Times

A Ukrainian soldier tries to persuade Russian troops to move away from a Ukrainian military base in Balaklava, Crimea on Saturday. Photograph: Anton Pedko/EPA

A Ukrainian soldier tries to persuade Russian troops to move away from a Ukrainian military base in Balaklava, Crimea on Saturday. Photograph: Anton Pedko/EPA

The rumors on Saturday that the previous Prime Minister, Yulia Tymoshenko, recently released from prison, may be going to Moscow to talk to Putin is a) unverified, b) might be helpful in coming to a less violent backing down, and c) might sell out her now radicalized former supporters in the Ukraine.

The US Congress is almost surely going to bollocks up whatever hopes of calming down remain [and here.]  If only the right wingers of both countries could square off somewhere removed from the rest of us — say Siberia or the high plains of North Dakota– and have at it….

For a good overview of some of the possibles, see Talking Points Memo.

Unquestionably, we’ve got a dangerous and unpredictable situation unfolding in Ukraine – and a taste of the reinforcing mix of authoritarian tendencies and aggressive behavior that has persistently characterized Russia through the eras of autocracy to totalitarianism and on to the present one of pseudo-democracy. That said, we shouldn’t be blind to the downsides of the current situation for Russia.  read on…

What Josh Marshall doesn’t get into, as most commentators don’t, in his discussion of the strategic and power implications, is the people themselves and what they will suffer — from changed governments, police forces, propaganda outlets, access to resources to injury, imprisonment and death.

In The Ukraine

Two post compromise posts worth seeing

Agreement in Ukraine: 12 Things You Should Know

An agreement was brokered by EU leaders between Ukraine’s ruling party and the opposition. Here are twelve points you should know as the country goes forward.

  1. A transitional government will take over in the next ten days. Executive powers are due to be taken over by the new speaker of the parliment, Oleksandr Turchynov, a member of Tymoshenko’s Fatherland party.
  2. New presidential elections will take place on May 25, 2015. Yanukovych has been impeached, accused of human rights abuses, and declared “unable to carry out his duties” by the parliment. The vote was unanimous. Yanukovych has responded by saying that he is the “legitimately elected president” and that he will not resign.
  3. Ukraine will return to the 2004 constitution – which gave Ukraine a strong parliament and a weak president.
  4. Yulia Tymoshenko has been freed from prison. She and her party seem to be rapidly gaining in power as events unfold.
  5. Read On

Ukrainian Smears and Stereotypes — Anne Applebaum

…this is not a fight over which language to speak or which church to attend. It is a deep, fundamental disagreement about the nature of the state, the country’s international allegiances, its legal system, its economy, its future. Given how much Ukrainians have at stake, the least we outsiders can do is avoid foolish stereotypes when discussing their fate.

Cambodia: Garment Workers End Strike

The latest strike by Cambodian garment workers has ended with most workers going back to work after two weeks, and violent responses by police killed three during demonstrations. NY Times

It is only the latest in a string of protests by the severely underpaid workers.

The Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia (GMAC) recorded 131 strikes last year, not counting December, when the recent national garment strike was declared. In 2011, the factory association logged 34 strikes for the entire year.

Although apparel manufacturing heavy weights such as Adidas, Levi Strauss and Puma have signed an open latter calling for negotiations to create a wage-review mechanism it is unclear if and how it will be answered.


In Thailand 3 More Shot Dead Trying to Oust Prime Minister

The week-old campaign of antigovernment protests in Thailand entered a dangerous new phase on Sunday after shootings involving rival political camps left at least three people dead and more than 110 wounded in Bangkok.


NY Times

Not Going Well in Thailand

With every good reason folks have been demonstrating in Bangkok against what they perceive are the operating ties between the current Prime Minister and her predecessor, her brother, who has self-exiled to escape prosecution for corruption.  However, the turn today into brick throwing —if the reports are accurate– against other citizens supporting the government, can not be good.

Anti-government protests turned violent Saturday with at least one person killed in the Thai capital after opponents and supporters of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra clashed.

Protests had remained relatively peaceful over the last week as the two sides essentially stayed apart during daily demonstrations. But on Saturday, opponents of Yingluck gathered near the site of a pro-government rally being held inside a stadium.

Using sticks, stones and chunks of concrete, several hundred protesters, many of them students, took aim at government supporters some 50 yards away up a dark street behind Ramkhamhaeng University.

Soon, small explosions and what sounded like gunfire rang out. “Run back,” shouted some of the 60 or so anti-government students.


Al Jazeera

That is how civil disobedience turns un-civil and then the army wins… Not the way to get to where you want to go.

Burma: Nation Waiting

Interesting news today from Burma/Myanmar:

Burmese President Thein Sein, who has steered a wave of reforms since the end of military rule, will not be seeking a second term at the next election in 2015, the leader of his party said on Thursday.

Which of course raises questions about the country’s First Lady – Aung San Suu Kyi:

The hugely popular Nobel laureate and opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi is expected to run, but only if the constitution is changed to eliminate a clause that bars Burmese from the presidency if their children or spouse are foreign nationals. Her two sons are British, as was her late husband.

The current speaker of parliament and leader of the Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), Shwe Mann has also expressed an interest in running.  Like Thein Sein, he was a member of the now disbanded military junta — though it can be assumed the feelings in his heart and mind are not similarly disbanded….

Burma Royhinga

Ethnic tensions remain high in parts of the county with military shelling in Kachin state and Buddhist-Muslim communal violence in Arkan state.  Aung San Suu Kyi, herself, came under fire by some human rights activists for a BBC interview last week in which she seemed to shifting blame for the initiation of violence from Buddhists to a more “moderate”  view of “violence is coming from both sides.”

“It’s not ethnic cleansing. … I think it’s due to fear on both sides. And this is what the world needs to understand—that the fear is not just on the side of the Muslims, but on the side of the Buddhists as well,” she said. “Yes, Muslims have been targeted, but also Buddhists have been subjected to violence. There’s fear on both sides, and this is what is leading to all these troubles.”

This could be helpful if it leads to a damping down of tensions and steps towards reconciliation.  It will not be helpful if it constitutes a blind eye and tacit permission for one of the two ‘aggrieved’ parties to muscle up even more.

Turmoil Re-Escalates in Turkey

On Sunday a 22 year old man in the ancient city of Antioch, now called Antakya, in southern Turkey where it dips below the east-west border with Syria, was killed by a tear gas canister to the head.  Ahmet Atakan had joined a demonstration against highway construction and calling for remembrance and justice for a 14 year old boy, still in  coma from a tear gas hit to the head in the June, Gezi Park demonstrations when he died.  Protesters have now added his name to the growing grievances against the government, particularly its heavy-handed police response to outpouring of feeling against the growing authoritarianism and the turn to religion of the regime.

Turkey sept 2013

Although the June demonstrations, triggered by an government urban redevelopment plan for the popular public park in Istanbul, had simmered down after a pull back of police and a promise not to develop there, the underlying seismic forces were still in play.  In Antakya the mixture is even more explosive as a substantial number of Alevis, a sect of Shiism, itself the largest minority in Sunni dominated Turkey, live there.  Atakan’s family is Alevi, which not only is a minority within a minority in a country recently encouraging the majority religion, it also has affinities with the Alawites of Syria — at the center of the Assad war against non-Alawites.  Turkey, in the form of Prime Minster Erdogan, has been a prime mover in taking on Assad.  The demonstrations, at least in the Antakya area, have merged the anti-Erdogan , anti-authoritarian feelings of young Turkish liberals with anti-Erdogan, anti-intervention, fellow-feeling with Assad’s base.

The result of increased frustration, increased police violence, a serious dose of sectarian religious fervor have turned the demonstrations more violent, with hurled stones, burning barricades, more tear gas and strip searches of young protesters.  At least 8 journalists have been reported injured.

Turkey sept 2013 b

To add to the turmoil, several Turkish F-16 fighter planes scrambled from a base near Antakya after a massive explosion across the border in Syria set the region on edge.

More at The Washington Post


The Turkish Culture Wars

Nice piece by Andrew Finkel in the NY Times, from Istanbul

“By dint of their imagination, humor and self-possession, [the young] are proving themselves to be just the kind of people who should make up the “new” Turkey that Erdogan’s party promised to create when it came to power in 2002. When Erdogan says he hasn’t got an inkling what the children of Taksim want, that may be all too true, but it’s his confusion not theirs.

One poster on the square, since cleared away by the police, subverted Erdogan’s exhortation that Turkish women have at least three children: “Do you really want two more like me?” Yes, please.”


And don’t forget the demonstrations have not just been in the capital city:

According to the Human Rights Foundation of Turkey around 640,000 people had participated in the demonstrations as of 5 June.[149] Protests took place in 78 of Turkey’s 81 provinces.[150]

Human Rights Foundation Daily Report

(06/032) Actions against the interventions of the government to the fundamental rights and freedoms and the right to the city…

The protests that had spread all over Turkey went on 7-8-9 June 2013 especially in İstanbul and Ankara Provinces.

Police teams severely attack on the protest in Gazi Quarter of Sultangazi Distrrict of İstanbul Province. It is claimed that 300 people were wounded in Gazi Quarter since the beginning of the protests. On 8 June 2013 Murat Çetinkaya (19) was seriously wounded with the hit of the gas bomb canister.

Police teams severely attack on the protest in Ankara Province on 8-9 June 2013 and arrested 12 people.

On 9 June 2013 14 people were arrested in synchronised home raids on the grounds that they had shared information on the protests using on charges of “helping and harbouring an illegal organisation” under Article 220/7.

(06/033) Extra-judicial killing allegation in Şanlıurfa Province…

Hasan Kaya (14) was killed and Ömer Dağ (16) was wounded in the accident that took place after the stop warning of the police team to the two juveniles riding a bike in Şanlıurfa Province on 6 June 2013. The authorities has been coercing the families not to talk to media. Ömer Dağ claimed that the police officer had kicked the bike and caused the accident.

Anti Authoritarians Rise in Turkey

The news of civil unrest is not diminishing.

Violent protests against the government of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan engulfed Istanbul, Turkey’s largest city, on Saturday and spread to other cities, including the capital, Ankara, as tens of thousands of demonstrators took to the streets in a second day of civil unrest and faced the tear gas and water cannons of a harsh police crackdown.

 …the protesters presented a long list of grievances against Mr. Erdogan, including opposition to his policy of supporting Syria’s rebels against the government of President Bashar al-Assad, his crackdown on dissent and intimidation of the news media, and unchecked development in Istanbul.

As we all know, nothing is certain once a well ordered train leaves the rails.  As the article points out, the demonstrations have been spontaneous, with nothing like an organizing force emerging.  Energies will certainly drain from the exuberation of the first manifestations; repression may rise or, if the government is as smart as it has been up to now, co-option will begin.  Promises to stop the development at Taksim Square would be an obvious first step.

The stakes are high, of course, with Syria imploding next door, and sectarian religious violence beginning to heat all over the area.

On Turkey

On Sectarian Violence

Religious Youth Push Back Against Buddhist Extremism in Myanmar

A bit of fresh air reported today from Myanmar:

A group of youth activists began distributing t-shirts and stickers promoting religious harmony in Rangoon and Mandalay on Friday, as part of a grassroots campaign to counter the growing threat of Buddhist extremism in Burma.

MyanMar flyers

Dozens of activists travelled through several townships in the former capital planting stickers on cars, shops and windows in response to the growing anti-Muslim “969” movement – led by the notorious Islamophobic monk Wirathu — which calls for Buddhists to shun the Muslim community.

Democratic Voice of Burma


The bad news is that Buddhists and Muslims, mutually seeking to escape the violence in Indonesia have gone at each other, with deaths resulting:

Fighting between Buddhist and Muslim asylum seekers from Myanmar at a detention centre on Indonesia’s Sumatra island left eight people dead Friday, police said.

The fighting broke out at around 2:00 am (1900 GMT Thursday) at the Belawan Port immigration detention centre in North Sumatra province, said local police spokesman Heru Raden Prakoso.

“We don’t know how many of the dead are Buddhists and how many are Muslims, or how the clash broke out. But our preliminary findings suggest they were beaten to death with wooden objects,” Prakoso said.

Sayadaw Wirathu

Sayadaw Wirathu

And here is the center of the storm himself:

 Buddhist Monk Saydaw Wirathu, the self-styled “Burmese bin Laden”, has called for a national boycott of Muslim businesses in Myanmar in a controversial video that emerged on YouTube.

Wirathu, who has led numerous vocal campaigns against Muslims in Burma and was arrested in 2003 for distributing anti-Muslim literature, urges Burmese people “to join the 969 Buddhist nationalist campaign” and “do business or interact with only our kind: same race and same faith”.

“Your purchases spent in ‘their’ (Muslim) shops will benefit the Enemy,” says Wirathu. “So, do business with only shops with 969 signs on their facets”.

The numerology of 969 is derived from the Buddhist tradition in which 9 stands for the special attributes of Buddha; 6 for the special attributes of his teaching or Dhamma and 9 for the special attributes of the Sangha or Buddhist order.