Dangerous Escalation in the Ukraine

It is not far from my mind how WW I began, 100 years ago: Austria marched its troops into Serbia in retaliation, the King said, for Serbia’s role in supporting the suicide-terrorists who had assassinated the soon-to-be king, Archduke Franz Joseph. With the “Teutons” marching on the “Slavs,” Russian felt obliged to mobilize; with the “Slavs” [“this unorganized Asiatic mass”] in motion the Germans, with militarism the guiding light of the Kaiser and his general Moltke, were happy to oblige — and marched into Russia, and of course France who was vowed to help the Russians.

Now again, troops are crossing borders.  After weeks of threats, bluffs and massing on the border, it seems that Russia has sent two columns into the Ukraine — against the express wishes of that government.

The Russian military has moved artillery units manned by Russian personnel inside Ukrainian territory in recent days and is using them to fire at Ukrainian forces, NATO officials said on Friday.

The West has long accused Russia of supporting the separatist forces in eastern Ukraine, but this is the first time it has said it had evidence of the direct involvement of the Russian military.

The Russian move represents a significant escalation of the Kremlin’s involvement in the fighting there and comes as a convoy of Russian trucks with humanitarian provisions has crossed into Ukrainian territory without Kiev’s permission.

Artillery into the Ukraine

And neither NATO nor the Europeans seem to have an idea how to respond.  Putin sees an advantage and not yet, enough downside to cease and desist.  What, short of armed resistance, will upend the equation to signal Russian/Putin loss instead of gain?

German Prime Minister Angela Merkel [Global Post] is to arrive in Kiev on Saturday, perhaps more persuaded than last time she was there, that serious economic measures have to be taken against Russia.

“We are in the process of a fundamental change in how we see Russia,” [Stefan Meister of the German Council on Foreign Relations.] said in a telephone interview. “You have to understand the policy of the last 20-25 years has failed.”

That policy, marked by regular personal interactions between Merkel and Putin, was intended to nudge and cajole the former communist state to adopt democratic reforms through ever-greater economic ties.

But as the Ukraine crisis has escalated, especially after the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17, Merkel has steadily taken an ever-stronger stance and now appears to have won support for broad economic sanctions from the once-reluctant German business community.

From Vienna: To Russia With Love

Vienna To Russia


An eclectic group of protesters – transgender, gay and straight – took advantage of Russian President, Vladimir Putin’s brief visit to Vienna on Tuesday afternoon to demonstrate against Russia’s harsh anti-gay propaganda laws.

Ultra Nationalism Up From the Underground

It’s hard not to notice the growth and reappearance on the world stage of long submerged human emotions, foundational in nature.  It’s as if the world economic crisis, the long running catastrophes of war in Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria — to name just the big ones– have created a drought,  The reservoirs of energy and hope have drawn down revealing the old emotions of belligerence, admiration for strong men, resentment of others for ones own conditions, raising cries of betrayal, weakness and treason.  We see it in the American right, in the resurgence of Nazi parties in Greece, Austria and France (for example) and in the rise of Russian hyper nationalism — turning Putin into a matinee idol of admiration, not only for many Russians longing for a new cold war, but for Americans such as Rudy Giuliani and most of the Fox comentariat.  Manly in-your-face power is the measure of righteous national behavior. Unless your tanks are rumbling, you are a ‘sissy.’

Ellen Barry in the New York Times this week-end had two very interesting articles on the rise of the Russian super nationalists.

As Russia and the United States drift toward a rupture over Crimea, the Stalinist writer Aleksandr A. Prokhanov feels that his moment has finally arrived.

“I am afraid that I am interested in a cold war with the West,” said Mr. Prokhanov, 76, in a lull between interviews on state-controlled television and radio. “I was very patient. I waited for 20 years. I did everything I could so that this war would begin. I worked day and night.”

Mr. Prokhanov is an attack dog whose career has risen, fallen and risen again with the fortunes of hard-liners in the Kremlin. And it is a measure of the conservative pivot that has taken place in Moscow in Vladimir V. Putin’s third presidential term that Mr. Prokhanov and a cadre of like-minded thinkers — a kind of “who’s who of conspiratorial anti-Americanism,” as one scholar put it — have found themselves thrust into the mainstream.

… If Mr. Putin himself decided to make an ideological change, Mr. Prokhanov said, it was in December 2011, when tens of thousands of urban liberals, angry over ballot-stuffing and falsification in parliamentary elections, massed on a city square, Bolotnaya, chanting, “Putin is a thief!” and “Russia Without Putin.”

“During the time of Bolotnaya, he experienced fear,” Mr. Prokhanov said. “He felt that the whole class which he had created had betrayed him, cheated him, and he had a desire to replace one class with another. From the moment you got back from that march, we started a change of the Russian elite.”

NY Times: Barry

The heartening news is that there is opposition within Russia to Putin’s plunge into assertive policies and actions.  In the face of one rally celebrating the recent army actions in the Crimea and cheering Putin’s ‘defense of the motherland”  another brought thousands calling for peace. In a country where people have been jailed, radio and news sites closed down, this is pretty brave behavior.  Nevertheless, Putin’s personality echoes strongly in the population.

Last week, in the midst of the Crimean crisis and on the heels of the Sochi Olympics, Mr. Putin’s approval rating had increased to 71.6 percent, the highest point since he returned to the presidency in 2012, according to a poll released by the All-Russian Center for Public Opinion last week.

NY Times: Barry

Russian Writers in the Ukraine Speak Out

Originally posted at Three Percent: a resource for international literature at the University of Rochester


This morning, after reading my post on Ukrainian literature, the translator/writer/editor Tanya Paperny passed along the following letter, which is signed by twenty-one Russian-language writers living in Kharkov, the second-largest city in Ukraine. I think it’s important that more people have a chance to read this, so I’m posting it here.

On March 1, the Council of the Russian Federation backed the Russian President’s appeal to take exhaustive measures to protect Russians in Ukraine, going as far as the introduction of Russian armed forces onto Ukrainian territory. On that same day, in the regional capitals of Western Ukraine, pro-Russian rallies instigated by city authorities took place. Participants in the rallies in Kharkov, including people who had been brought in on buses with Russian numbers, stormed the regional administration building and beat up the Euromaidan supporters inside, including the famous writer Serhiy Zhadan (he was taken to the hospital with a fractured skull, a concussion, and a possible broken nose). A Russian citizen and resident of Moscow climbed onto the regional administration building and installed a Russian flag.

Officially, the Federation’s Council is guided by the alleged reports of numerous infringements upon the rights of Russians in Ukraine. If such reports exist, they should be made public and each one thoroughly studied.

We, Russian writers of Kharkov, want our voices to be heard, too: at work and elsewhere, we freely communicate in Russian, even with our Ukrainian colleagues. In any case, the questions under discussion about linguistics or nationality cannot be reasons for military intervention.

We, Russian writers of Kharkov and citizens of Ukraine, don’t need the military protection of another State. We don’t want another State—hiding behind the rhetoric of protecting our interests—to drive its troops into our city and our country, risking the lives of our friends and relatives. All we need is peace and a calm life. And the decision by the Russian Federation and its military invasion is a real threat to this possibility.

Original Post  Read more of this post

Russia in the Crimea — What Are Others to Do?

We in America, in our normally self-obsessed way, turn almost every event in the world to the classic Joan River’s observation — enough about you, let’s get back to me!  So the punditocracy on American TV has leapt into the ranks of macho-posturing uber-males blaming Obama for what is happening. [Few have mentioned W’s hands off posture when Russian invaded Georgia in 2008 as the signal that gave the green light through which Putin is now driving his tanks.]

While sharing with everyone the worry for the lives of those up against the Russian tanks it is worth remembering that many other countries and peoples have an interest in the strategy, tactics and outcomes of the next weeks.

Georgia   [Who’s former President is in Kiev –who predicted this invasion of the Crimea– sharing his 2008 experience with the Russians.]




Moldova and especially Transnistria


Financial Markets – and especially Russian stocks

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.

Great Russian Heat Wave is Over

From Jeff Masters at Wunderblog:

The Great Russian Heat Wave of 2010 ends
A powerful cold front swept through Russia yesterday and today, finally bringing an end to the Great Russian Heat Wave of 2010. Temperatures at Moscow’s Domodedovo airport hit 25°C (77°F) today, which is still 4°C (7°F) above average, but the high temperature since late June. Moscow has seen 62 consecutive days with a high temperature above average, but the latest forecast for Moscow predicts that remarkable string will come to an end Friday, when the high will reach just 17°C (62°F).


Moscow- Russian officials reported a sharp drop in the number of fires burning around the country on Thursday, with falling temperatures a contributing factor.

The Civil Defence Ministry reported some 300 fires, down one-third from the day before, covering some 10,000 hectares, according to the Ria Novosti news agency.

Crisis centre chief Vladimir Stepanov said that a state of emergency previously called by President Dmitry Medvedev had now been lifted in the last four regions, while the Defence Ministry planned to take thousands of soldiers off firefighting duty.

Civil Defence Minister Sergey Shoygu, meanwhile, compared the fight against the worst wildfires in Russia’s history to a “war.” He blamed sloppiness for some of the disaster, saying that “one main reason for the escalation was the tardy notification about fires.”

But Shoygu rejected accusations by critics that the government was concealing the true extent of the catastrophe.”We are deceiving no one,” he said.

He also noted that the “most difficult situation” had emerged in the area surrounding the Sarov nuclear centre, some 400 kilometres east of the capital Moscow. The nearby forest, which is off-limits to the public, had not been maintained for years, he said.


The Great Russian Heat Wave Continues

The mid-term and long-term effects of climate change are looking like they’ve become short-term this summer. Burning in Russia. Drowning in Pakistan. The alarms are being rung around the world but those whose response would matter most are not able to budge themselves to yawn.

* * *

“One of the most remarkable weather events of my lifetime is unfolding this summer in Russia, where an unprecedented heat wave has brought another day of 102°F heat to the nation’s capital. At 3:30 pm local time today, the mercury hit 39°C (102.2°F) at Moscow’s Domodedovo Airport. Moscow had never recorded a temperature exceeding 100°F prior to this year, and today marks the second time the city has beaten the 100°F mark. The first time was on July 29, when the Moscow observatory recorded 100.8°C and Baltschug, another official downtown Moscow weather site, hit an astonishing 102.2°F (39.0°C). Prior to this year, the hottest temperature in Moscow’s history was 37.2°C (99°F), set in August 1920. The Moscow Observatory has now matched or exceeded this 1920 all-time record five times in the past eleven days, including today. The 2010 average July temperature in Moscow was 7.8°C (14°F) above normal, smashing the previous record for hottest July, set in 1938 (5.3°C above normal.) July 2010 also set the record for most July days in excess of 30°C–twenty-two. The previous record was 13 such days, set in July 1972. The past 24 days in a row have exceeded 30°C in Moscow, and there is no relief in sight–the latest forecast for Moscow calls for high temperatures near 100°F (37.8°C) for the next seven days. It is stunning to me that the country whose famous winters stopped the armies of Napoleon and Hitler is experiencing day after day of heat near 100°F, with no end in sight. [bold by wbk]

Thousands of deaths, severe fires, and the threat of radioactive contamination Read more of this post