It is time to rejoin our favorite villain: Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin and find out what he has been up to while we were otherwise preoccupied. Putin left the Brisbane G20 meeting hastily. Everyone was giving him the cold shoulder. It was explained to him that things would go better if his troops left the Ukrainian soil.
He replied that that was not possible since they were not there in the first place. Could he help it if some Russian citizens chose to spend their vacation there on a goodwill mission to help Russian speaking Ukrainians who were being persecuted by their own government? So he said, “So long guys, I have a long flight home and I need my sleep.” I hope he has a comfortable bed on his plane.
Before he left, Mr.Putin told Mr. Abbott of Australia that “Discussions with our partners had been frank and constructive.” In other words, they led nowhere. Has anyone ever described discussions as acrimonious and disingenuous?
Mr. Putin’s view is that the United States and its “satellites” have no business meddling in his sphere of influence. Borrowing from our Monroe Doctrine he has declared that the former Soviet Republics are his business and not subject to intervention by NATO or the US.
Well, our interference has been mostly symbolic since military intervention had been ruled out from the start. Vice-President Biden recently visited Kiev and the Maidan Square. Has he promised help or just uttered words of encouragement? Ukraine has obsolete weapons and technology. Its army is very poorly equipped and it relies heavily on volunteers. Ukraine is also financially in default. Winter is coming and conditions will only worsen. Are we prepared to send military advisors or are they fully occupied in Afghanistan and Iraq?
Meanwhile Russia seems to be riding out the sanctions. Yes, the ruble is very low. But, Putin’s popularity at home remains high.
Petro Poroshenko, the new Ukrainian President is not a military man and he is trying to gain time. He is talking to Vladimir Putin regularly and has recently negotiated a cease-fire. The trouble is that the fire has not ceased and since the agreement was signed, more than 4,000 people have been killed. Eastern Ukraine has effectively been separated from Kiev and the Russo-Ukrainian border is wide open. Once more we end on a question mark. Stay tuned and we will update you periodically.
It has become too painful to watch the Russian news “Vesti” on Russia’s state controlled channel 1. It is now the official voice of Russia and no independent news filters through. It has always been slyly Anti-American, rejoicing at every event that depicts the U.S. in a bad light. But recently it has become quite shrill. This is not just the Cold War all over again, it is an Arctic War. Most of the hour is now devoted to Ukrainian atrocities against their own population. Every destroyed house, bombed playground, ruined hospital, fleeing refugee carrying bundles is shown again and again. It even looks like some of these scenes of horror are recycled from the day before. The rest of the world has receded or moved to another planet as far as they are concerned. Ukrainian President Poroshenko is labeled as a Fascist.
Mobs around the world are violently demonstrating against Israel, burning synagogues, shouting “death to the Jews” and “Hitler was right”. But where are the protests, marches and demonstrations against Putin’s aggression in Ukraine? Who is protesting against a downed airliner carrying 298 people who probably did not even know that they were flying over Ukraine at that moment?
Putin is still very popular at home but the winds are shifting and he may start to feel some uneasiness as events start to turn against him. The Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague ruled that Putin’s government must pay $50 billion in damages for using tax claims to destroy Yukos, once the country’s largest oil company. In addition the European Court of Human Rights in Strasburg has decided that Russia must pay 251 billion dollars to Mikhail Khodorkovsky’s defunct company for unlawful expropriation in 2003. Mikhail Khodorkovsky was released recently after spending 10 years in the Russian prison camps for alleged tax evasion. It is probable that Russia will refuse to pay but in that case the shareholders will try to seize Russian assets in 150 countries around the world. All this comes on top of harsh economic sanctions just imposed on Russia by the US and Europe aiming to restrict state-owned banks from accessing European capital markets and stop the export of arms and technology to Russia.
Meanwhile Ukraine is slowly and painfully reconquering its eastern provinces and is now attempting to recapture the Donetsk area.
All Putin’s pigeons are coming home to roost. What is still not clear is whether all this will harden his resolve to continue his aggression or perhaps cause him to try to change course without losing face at home.
This was the name given to the monarchs who in mid-18th century Europe took inspiration from the French Enlightenment and decided to loosen the reins of absolutism and improve the lot of their subjects. “Enlightened Despot” sounds like a contradiction in terms but that is because we are looking at it through a rear-view mirror and with today’s eye.
In their day, this was quite a novel idea. They sincerely wanted to institute reforms without in any way undermining their absolute power. They were familiar with the writers of the day and their ideas about religious tolerance, improved education and a measure of uncensored expression. This was political change from above, benevolent paternalism, which could be undone at their whim. They were also acting selfishly because they wanted to lessen the power of the landed aristocracy and that of the Church. Continue reading →
In April, Israel commemorated “Yom ha Shoah (the Holocaust Remembrance Day). On this occasion, the Palestinian leader Mahmud Abbas called the Holocaust
“the most heinous crime in modern history.” At the same time, Abbas has allied himself with Hamas, the terrorist organization responsible for rocket attacks on Israel. Hamas vehemently denies the Holocaust. Abbas himself had previously held the same position. Why the change now?
Turkish President Recep Erdogan also offered unprecedented apologies to the grandchildren of Armenians massacred in 1915 by Ottoman soldiers and referred to “our shared pain.” He had previously refused to admit these murders had happened. He acknowledged that 1,500,000 Armenians were killed but stopped short of calling it a genocide. A cartoon shows Erdogan shaking the hand of the Armenian Orthodox Pope and offering condolences. The Pope looks him in the eye and says “The funeral was 99 years ago.” Again, better than nothing I suppose. Continue reading →
My object all sublime
I shall achieve in time
To let the punishment fit the crime
The punishment fit the crime
Gilbert and Sullivan, The Mikado
Once upon a time Mikhail Khodorkovsky was the richest man in Russia. He had a petroleum company called Yukos. Then he got involved in politics. Bad idea! He was promptly arrested, his assets seized. The charge was corruption and tax evasion. Suddenly he was living in the vast, cold inhospitable regions that are such a part of the history of Russia. It seems that every time his sentence was about to end, a zealous department of Injustice found new reasons to keep him there.
A trio of Punk Rockers named Pussy Riot staged a mock Putin expulsion from power in a church. They were promptly arrested. A prank, right? A slap on the wrist? They too are serving time in those frozen, harsh camps. And as this is written, one member of the band has gone missing in the system.