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Odds & Ends: All Russia Lovefest All The Time, Vol.37

by poemless Fri May 16th, 2008 at 02:11:54 PM EST

Contents: New Cold War, again ; Democracy and its discontents, again ; Putinomania, again ; Happy Soviets, again ... and much much more indulgent propaganda!

"The think tanks are coming!  The think tanks are coming!"

It's not a policy paper.  It's not an agenda.  It's not European.  It's not progressive.  It's not activism.  It's not multi-lingual.  It has neither bells nor whistles.

It's just some odds and some ends.  

But reading it will make you better informed.  I'm sure of that.  And if we can't make people better informed, then the rest means nothing, my friends.  Nothing, damn it!

Ok.  It's a bit multi-lingual...


I.  Must Read Articles:

The Nation: "The Missing Debate," by Stephen Cohen

The man who brought us the first news about this new cold war situation is back, with ... pretty much the same article.  But that doesn't mean you don't have to read it, just because you read the first one!  All twenty times I posted it...  More than a concise and poignant explanation of US/Russia relations, more than a brilliant little gem of geopolitical insight, more than a damning criticism of American policy, this article is a cry of desperation!  Obviously he assumes no one read the first article he write on the subject 2 years ago, or he would not have believed he could write it all over almost verbatim without anyone noticing.  And he was right!  Because if anyone had bothered to read the first article, this encore would not have been necessary.  But in this dreary world, if you say anything marginally reasonable about Russia, no one listens to you.  That's why Pat Buchanan is absolutely nuts, I bet.  One can only handle the frustration so long before one cracks up...  Or maybe it is the fact that we agree with Pat Buchanan about anything that makes us crack up.  Don't know.  

Anyway, go read this new article so Cohen doesn't go around beating himself up over the fact that no one will listen to him.  Solidarity, people!!!

Ok, fine.  I know you aren't actually going to go read it and that I have to pick out 3 paragraphs to illustrate his point.  I hate this part.  It's like kicking a good journalist when they are down.

Excerpt:

Even the current cold peace could be more dangerous than its predecessor, for three reasons: First, its front line is not in Berlin or the Third World but on Russia's own borders, where US and NATO military power is increasingly ensconced. Second, lethal dangers inherent in Moscow's impaired controls over its vast stockpiles of materials of mass destruction and thousands of missiles on hair-trigger alert, a legacy of the state's disintegration in the 1990s, exceed any such threats in the past. And third, also unlike before, there is no effective domestic opposition to hawkish policies in Washington or Moscow, only influential proponents and cheerleaders.

How did it come to this? Less than twenty years ago, in 1989-90, the Soviet Russian and American leaders, Mikhail Gorbachev and George H.W. Bush, completing a process begun by Gorbachev and President Reagan, agreed to end the cold war, with "no winners and no losers," as even Condoleezza Rice once wrote, and begin a new era of "genuine cooperation." In the US policy elite and media, the nearly unanimous answer is that Russian President Vladimir Putin's antidemocratic domestic policies and "neo-imperialism" destroyed that historic opportunity.

You don't have to be a Putin apologist to understand that this is not an adequate explanation. During the last eight years, Putin's foreign policies have been largely a reaction to Washington's winner-take-all approach to Moscow since the early 1990s, which resulted from a revised US view of how the cold war ended [see Cohen, "The New American Cold War," July 10, 2006]. In that new triumphalist narrative, America "won" the forty-year conflict and post-Soviet Russia was a defeated nation analogous to post-World War II Germany and Japan--a nation without full sovereignty at home or autonomous national interests abroad.

The policy implication of that bipartisan triumphalism, which persists today, has been clear, certainly to Moscow. It meant that the United States had the right to oversee Russia's post-Communist political and economic development, as it tried to do directly in the 1990s, while demanding that Moscow yield to US international interests. It meant Washington could break strategic promises to Moscow, as when the Clinton Administration began NATO's eastward expansion, and disregard extraordinary Kremlin overtures, as when the Bush Administration unilaterally withdrew from the ABM Treaty and granted NATO membership to countries even closer to Russia--despite Putin's crucial assistance to the US war effort in Afghanistan after September 11. It even meant America was entitled to Russia's traditional sphere of security and energy supplies, from the Baltics, Ukraine and Georgia to Central Asia and the Caspian.

Such US behavior was bound to produce a Russian backlash. It came under Putin, but it would have been the reaction of any strong Kremlin leader, regardless of soaring world oil prices. And it can no longer be otherwise. Those US policies--widely viewed in Moscow as an "encirclement" designed to keep Russia weak and to control its resources--have helped revive an assertive Russian nationalism, destroy the once strong pro-American lobby and inspire widespread charges that concessions to Washington are "appeasement," even "capitulationism." The Kremlin may have overreacted, but the cause and effect threatening a new cold war are clear.

Because the first steps in this direction were taken in Washington, so must be initiatives to reverse it. Three are essential and urgent: a US diplomacy that treats Russia as a sovereign great power with commensurate national interests; an end to NATO expansion before it reaches Ukraine, which would risk something worse than cold war; and a full resumption of negotiations to sharply reduce and fully secure all nuclear stockpiles and to prevent the impending arms race, which requires ending or agreeing on US plans for a missile defense system in Europe. My recent discussions with members of Moscow's policy elite suggest that there may still be time for such initiatives to elicit Kremlin responses that would enhance rather than further endanger our national security.

That was more than 3 paragraphs.  I hope he doesn't sue me.  I'm just trying to help.  

Above, you read what I would deem "responsible, well-written journalism."  Not perfect, of course.  Cohen always throws a bone too many for my tastes.  But it is otherwise intelligible and correct.  

I had a professor who would make us read really bad novels so that we might gain an appreciation for the really good ones.  The following piece of curiously intriguing drivel will hopefully illustrate why I appreciate Cohen.

 FP (via AlterNet): "Will Democracy Make You Happy?," by Eric Weiner

See.  You think I'm on board this train, don't you?  Because I am on the Democracy is not nec. the answer to Everything train.  And they would appear to be headed in the same direction, right?  Well, sure.  Until this one ... derails.

Excerpt:

"To assume that democracy automatically makes people happy is to assume that the tail is wagging the dog," says Inglehart. In other words, the well-intentioned nation builders and democracy exporters have it backward. It's not that democracies make people happy but, rather, that happy people make democracies.

THE SCIENCE OF SATISFACTION

This remarkable finding isn't simply a new theory born out of thin air. It's based on hard data that social scientists on the leading edge of the emerging "science of happiness" are now employing to measure cultural artifacts such as trust and happiness, just as political scientists have for decades measured levels of democracy by comparing such metrics as press freedom and voting rights.

These social scientists do so through a disarmingly simple technique. They ask people, "Overall, how happy are you with your life these days?" Surveys such as the comprehensive World Values Survey have posed that question, with little variation, to people in more than 80 nations, accounting for some 85 percent of the world's population. They have produced a mother lode of data. Although the data are often contradictory, a few clear patterns have emerged. We now know, for example, that happy countries tend to be wealthy ones, with temperate climates and, crucially, stable democracies.

The question, though, is which comes first: happiness or democracy? Despite our earlier thinking, there is now growing evidence that a happy population, one where people are satisfied with their lives as a whole, is a prerequisite for democracy.

In the 1980s, happiness and democracy were closely linked (with a correlation of 0.8), thus cementing the democracy-equals-happiness theory in the minds of many political scientists and policymakers. But then came the so-called third wave of democracy, a flood of infant democracies that rose from the ashes of the Soviet Union and its satellite states in Eastern Europe. These nations have not enjoyed a happiness dividend, and, indeed, as in Moldova, many are less happy today than they were during Soviet times. Today, the correlation between happiness and democracy is only 0.25, less than a third of what it was in the 1980s. In more than 200 surveys carried out by the World Values Survey, 28 of the 30 least happy nations were registered in former communist states. The remaining two surveys were conducted in Iraq. In Russia, both subjective well-being (happiness) and trust have fallen sharply since its people began voting in relatively free elections. By 1995, a majority of Russians described themselves as unhappy and dissatisfied with their lives as a whole. The same is true of Moldova and several other former Soviet republics. (Russian misery, by the way, predates Vladimir Putin's recent crackdown on freedoms.)

Oh, I do love it when they do that.  Look kids, you don't have to be a Putin apologist to be a Putin apologist!  (I don't even know what we're apologizing for anymore...)  Also, while I've not been to Moldova, I suspect there's a bit of melodrama in this piece.  Everyone loves a dreary grey morose Eastern European.  Frankly I can't imagine them being happy-go-lucky at all, can you?  Anyway, just when you think someone is going to say something smart and fresh, they bust out age-old stereotypes to make their point.  Then I forget what they were saying.  Oh, yes, no scientific proof democracy will make you happy.  

Well... duh.  Are we supposed to believe that in all the non- or pre- democratic societies in human history people were less happy than we?  Does going to the polls soothe the ache of debt and death and cheating lovers and other causes of unhappiness?  It's a silly assumption to begin with.  Yet, one we rarely question.  Everyone's popped one of Fukuyama's "End of history" pills and the pearly gates have been replaced with the voting booth.  

But.  Then he pulls this out of his hat!

It isn't hard to fall into the old trap of assuming democracy is such a powerful force that it can sweep aside any cultural differences that might stand in its way. Confronted with the obvious goodness of free elections and self-determination, peoples of the world should shed their cultural vestiges the way a snake sloughs its skin, right? It's a compelling idea, a perfectly plausible one, but one that happens to be wrong. "Culture seems to shape democracy far more than democracy shapes culture," says Inglehart.

Indeed, this notion of cultural primacy is gaining favor, especially among foreign-policy realists such as Colin Powell. "There are some places that are not ready for the kind of democracy we find so attractive for ourselves. They are not culturally ready for it," Powell said in a recent interview with GQ. That is not to say, of course, that these places won't ever be ready for democracy. They just aren't ready now, and no amount of wishing, or purple ink, will make it so.

All of this can be a bit depressing for those who believe that foreign policy should be informed by an idealistic streak. But, as Iraq has demonstrated, midwifing a constitution won't necessarily turn a distrustful, unhappy society into a trusting, happy one. Of course, the science of happiness is in its infancy, and it would be foolish to base a foreign policy on its tentative conclusions. Social scientists may be able to measure, with some accuracy, abstractions such as happiness and trust, but they don't necessarily know how to produce these qualities--in a person or a nation. What these findings do remind us, though, is that democracy bubbles up to the surface when the time is right and not a second sooner.

OMG.  I could spend the rest of my life explaining all the ways this piece is perverse and never get to them all.  Briefly: This still assumes Democracy is the end goal - while admitting it doesn't nec. create happiness.  Also, it presents the offensive argument that because of their cultural backwardness, Moldovans and Russians and all those dreary Slavs are just, shall we say, in the remedial class, on the short bus.  But they'll get there one day!  Have faith!  (Because you certainly have no facts to rest your worldview upon.)  It's not that these folks are incapable of being happy or democratic, it just takes them a bit more time.  But here we conveniently leave out the fact that democracy was force-fed to them with a hefty dose of economic rape and pillage.  Could this economic injustice inflicted in the name of democracy account for their unhappiness?  No, it's their national character.  Sure of it.  

Sure that's why the Iraqis are so pissy too.  barf.

Also, what does "democracy" even mean anymore?  People are electing dictators who nationalize industry and strip people of their civil rights.  Elections are shams.  So I don't even know what democracy is, which countries qualify, or why precisely it is supposed to be an end in itself as opposed to a tool on ther path to progress.  Also, if happy people make democracies, that means they are happy before they go off and establish a democracy, so if they are already so happy, why do they feel the need to overhaul their political system, which usually involves a bit of strife?  

I could go on and on but I have the rest of this diary to write.  

While we are on the topic, though, please go read "The Shock Doctrine."  Go on.  It's only like 600 pages or something.  I'll wait...

II.  Puti-Mania: Will Not Die!

Well, my fears of Vladimir Vladimirovich being sucked into the void of history were completely unfounded.  We don't know how long he will remain on the political stage.  But one thing is certain, the audience is in no hurry to leave the theatre.

It's funny, because in the past one could justify absurd amounts of coverage of Putin by, well, the fact that he was President.  Now...  everyone's out of the closet.  You're just writing about him because you can't tear yourselves away.  Haha!  Welcome to my world, Mr. and Mrs. Mass Media.  Won't you take a seat?  Would you like something to drink?

UPI (via Winthrop360): "Putin stays true to himself," by Martin Sieff

You have already observed 2 instances of journalists making it a point to note that Putin is not entirely to blame for Russia's diplomatic and depressive issues.  Now you will witness unabashed ingratiating, the likes of which you've not seen before outside the realm of Odds & Ends:  

WASHINGTON, May 8 (UPI) -- Vladimir Putin's first actions as prime minister of Russia were typical of the man, emphasizing the qualities with which he has transformed his nation's standing over the past eight years as its president.

Putin wasted no time in proclaiming that the modernization of Russia's dilapidated conventional ground forces and of its still world-class strategic nuclear forces would push ahead as the nation's No. 1 priority.

He also proclaimed his determination to assure public housing for veterans of World War II -- known in Russia as the Great Patriotic War -- and he voted to increase the wages of armed forces servicemen.

It would be a mistake to doubt the sincerity or seriousness of these pledges on Putin's part. He has been focusing on the same issues ever since his surprise appointment as prime minister of Russia by President Boris Yeltsin in September 2000.

Even then, here at UPI Analysis, we were the first to point out that Putin from the very beginning moved fast and effectively to pay Russia's struggling teachers, nurses, coal miners, doctors and other public service workers the endless months of back pay that Yeltsin and his prime ministers had held back from them during their own chaotic and shameful stewardship of Russia's public affairs.

From the very beginning, Putin was determined to re-establish the credibility of the Russian state and to fulfill its financial and social obligations to the people who were dependent on it.

Putin also made clear from the very beginning his determination to "restore the vertical" -- to re-establish the national unity and coherence of the Russian state. This was not merely a preference for autocratic government over democratic government: Essentially it marked a conclusion Putin and his policymakers had reached that the corrupt, nightmarish chaos that had wracked the Russian state in the years under the ever drunken and often incoherent Yeltsin after the collapse of communism resulted in millions of lives cut short through appallingly deteriorating living conditions.

I don't know when our little Russian judo master KGB spy terror made the leap from "totally evil, doesn't even have a soul..." to "sincere, good leader, and don't blame him for anything, ok?"  Maybe people have been reading my diaries and have fallen in love with the man, despite themselves.  I haven't heard an NPR Morning Edition Putin Hate-Fest in a while.  Kind of eerie...  Maybe, no longer in the position of boundless power afforded by the ... Presidency, he seems less threatening to the public.  But that makes no sense, as everyone, even President Medvedev, is of the opinion that Putin is still in the driving seat.   Literally.

Reuters: Russia's Putin keeps his Kremlin chair

Dmitry Medvedev may be Russia's president but Vladimir Putin has kept his place in the Kremlin.
When Putin came to his old office in the Kremlin on Monday to propose the names of ministers for his government, the former president made for his customary seat on the left of the desk.

But he paused before sitting down and told President Medvedev: "Now this is your place," Russia's Kommersant daily reported.

"Oh, what's the difference?" Medvedev answered and immediately sat on the right of the desk, where Putin's guests traditionally perched for the eight years of his presidency.

A photograph of the two leaders published on the Kremlin's www.kremlin.ru website showed them smiling at the start of the meeting. Putin sat on the left and Medvedev on the right.

The pictures, c/o Scraps of Moscow

President Vladimir Putin and First Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, March 7, 2006.

Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and President Dmitry Medvedev, May 12, 2008.

LOL!  Good times, good times...  

Putin not only kept his chair, he kept his advisors in the President's office too.

Reuters: Russia's Medvedev keeps Putin aides in Kremlin

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev on Monday appointed a close aide to former president Vladimir Putin, Vladislav Surkov, as the Kremlin's first deputy chief of staff, Interfax news agency reported.

Putin's former press secretary Alexei Gromov will be a deputy chief of staff, Interfax said, ensuring some of Putin's closest allies remain in the Kremlin after he moves to the post of prime minister.

If I were a Russia Expert, I would be all like, What Up?  This Medvedev fellow is supposed to be a kinder, gentler leader.  What is he thinking keeping promoting Surkov to his first deputy chief of staff?  Surkov, the "Karl Rove" (totally unjustified comparison, btw - I mean, have you seen him? HOT.) of the Putin Administration, the creator of the mean teen cult "Nashi," the ideologue behind the doctrine of "Sovereign (shut up and leave us alone.  we do what we want.  you just buy our gas, suckers) Democracy," the "grey cardinal" of the Kremlin (still don't understand that title...), the Goth band lyricist, the Chechen.  

The man pretty much embodies everything about the Putin Administration that could scare people.  

Scary.  Scary hot, that is.

If I were a Russia Expert, I would be all like, "This just goes to show you that Putin is still the man in charge, since that scary Surkov fellow's still lurking in the wings.  Keeping Putin's chair warm.  When Putin isn't in it..."  

Maybe that is the case.  Or ... maybe Medvedev cut a deal with Putin: "You can make all the decisions, but I want Surkov, ok?  That way he and I can rock out together while you're running the country and stuff."  That place is going to be party central.  People are going to call the cops on their neighbors in the Kremlin.  "Those kids and their loud music!  Tell them to keep it down!"  

But wait!  There's more!

Transparent: [Only True] Legends & Myths About Putin

It is soooooo not just me, folks.

The day after Victory Day I went to a local grocery store in my neighborhood where I saw this magazine with a cover picture from which I could simply not tear my eyes. It must have been the combination of buff arms with a hat on a gorgeous horse and that carefree facial expression that did me in - I never buy tabloids in any country, let alone in Russia (did they defeat the dictatorship of the proletariat so as to read brainless gossip and look at paparazzi pictures of the rich and famous half-naked on the beach?), but this time I forked up the 20 rubles because I couldn't wait to gorge myself in useless information about the elite in Moscow, including everyone's favorite Vovochka. I don't know how it was back at the beginning of his 'reign', but it must have seemed very unlikely in 2000 to imagine the then new president Vladimir Vladimirovich in eight years time turning into - like it or not, but that's what it looks like - a sex symbol.

You know, I frequent this website to brush up on my language skills, not to gawk at guys.  They usually take some cultural topic and use it to tackle some linguistic challenge, like declensions or idiomatic phrases, etc.  I don't really know what the lesson of this post was...  But here are some fun facts from the tabloid:

Ещё пять лет назад медики Владимира Владимировича говорили, что президента невозможно заставить выпить элементарную микстуру от кашля - Путин не любит медикаменты. [Already five years ago the physicians of Vladimir Vladimirovich said that it is impossible to make the president drink elemetary cough medicine - Putin doesn't love medicines].

Зато баня, мёд и массаж приветствуются. [But on the other hand steam baths, honey and massage are welcome].

Ok!  We can arrange that!

But wait!  There's more!

RT: Rare photos show Putin in new light

Vladimir Putin may have just stepped down as President to become Prime Minister. But a new photo display at the Manezh Exhibition Hall in Moscow is giving people the chance to relive the highlights of his eight years as Russian leader.

From candid shots to meetings with world leaders, images of Putin at work and play are on show, just a stone's throw away from the Kremlin.

Thirty-three photographers are featured in the exhibition. One of them is Anatoly Zhdanov of the Komsomolskaya Pravda newspaper, who says the camera loves Putin.

"He has these features in his character that make it incredibly interesting to film him. It's not easy, but later when you see these unbelievable shots of him you understand it's something special," he said.

This exhibition shows a side of Putin many have never seen. Part of it is due to his private photographers and part to those who kept shooting when they shouldn't have.

Awwww!  Seriously, how evil can he be?

Speaking of Art Exhibits...   The AP has been running an article with the headline, "Putin: art should help strengthen state."  Yet, if you actually read it, which the AP may be SHOCKED to find out some people do, you will find nothing in the story to verify this claim!  Some how the AP turned this innocuous remark by Putin

"It wasn't by accident that the Konstantin Palace was chosen as the new home for the collection. It has been returned and restored practically from the ruins and today it is a symbol of the revival of our country, representing the continuity of our historic, spiritual and cultural traditions," he said.

into evidence of scary fascist authoritarian Soviet evilness.  Of course, that sells better than "Putin makes boring-ass comment about some culture we don't even care about."   I'll given them that.  And I'm not even really disappointed in the blatant negative spin.  No one expects these people to report objective facts.  But there is one thing we do expect of our mass media: Groupthink.  Looks like the "Putin is evil dictator for life who will eat your little babies, grrrr..." ship has sailed, and no one told them.  How embarrassing.  

But wait!  There's more!

MT: Medvedev Gets Sexed Up on the Internet

First, the Russian people -- with a lot of help from Vladimir Putin -- made him president. Now, someone seems to be trying to turn Dmitry Medvedev into a sex symbol.

In a clip that has been drawing attention on the Internet, a curvy young brunette declares her love and passion for the recently inaugurated president, in a dubbed and altered version of a prank video originally focusing on U.S. presidential candidate Barack Obama.

The video opens with a then-candidate Medvedev promising a United Russia party congress that he would cooperate with former-President Vladimir Putin and, if elected, be true to Putin's policies.

But the busty young woman in the video -- clad in a tight T-shirt with a Medvedev portrait that does a fair bit of moving around, is devoted only to the new president.

(...)

Yevgenia Baturina, the editor of the women's magazine Gloria, which is published by The Moscow Times' parent company, Independent Media Sanoma Magazines, said she found the idea of Medvedev becoming a sex symbol "rather funny."

"Women like strong men with the right expression in their eyes. Eyes that project force, intelligence, independence a certain 'bounce,' and sometimes even some obstinacy, are desirable," she said. "But Medvedev looks at Putin like he is looking at a divinity, and this is almost feminine."

"Even the animal 'medved' has nothing to do with Medvedev," she added. "Despite his surname, he has nothing in common [with a bear]. He looks more like a hare or a squirrel.

"So far, his rating among the ladies is, unfortunately, not very high," Baturina said.

One official with United Russia, the party headed by Putin, said the clip was a joke created by young people "who have their own way of looking at politics."

"What I'm sure of is that this is not something done by the opposition," he said. "They would never come up with such an idea. All they can do well is scream."

As for the danger that Putin might become jealous were Medvedev to replace him in the dreams of Russian women, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said he didn't know the answer to the question.

"Medvedev is the head of the state, the president of the Russian Federation, and Putin is the head of the government. This is all I can say," he said.

"A hare or a squirrel?"  Poor Dimochka...  

But I think we've found our answer to what Vladislav Surkov, along with his army of crazy teens, is up to in Dima's new administration!  LOL!

But wait!  There's more!

Ivanov Report: Between Putinophobia and Putinomania: Why Are American Media So Obsessed with Putin?

A serious attempt to explain the phenomenon of ... Putinomania:


...there is something utterly irrational in the way that the American media treat Vladimir Putin, the former president and current prime-minister of Russia.  Their tireless effort to interpret each of Putin's actions or words in the most negative fashion borders on obsession.

(...)

The negativity of the American media toward Putin reflects, first and foremost, their patent inability to understand, mush less predict, the complex events taking part in post-Soviet Russia.  It's also an honest acknowledgment of just how little influence the United State has retained over once-weak and obedient Russia.  

In an attempt to explain to themselves and to their sponsors of what went "wrong" with Russia, the media came up with a convenient excuse: Putin.  It's his "authoritarian drift" that made the country "unpredictable."

(This isn't a joke.  This actually is one of the conclusions of the Council of Foreign Relation's report, published in March of 2006, under the title "Russia's Wrong Direction."  Ironically, one of the report's authors, Michael McFaul, has relentlessly taught us, over time, that  "unpredictability" is a salient feature of "mature democracies").

Needless to say, no serious studies analyzing Putin's policies and political views ("Putin has no ideology") have been conducted, unless you count as one a discussion on whether or not Putin has a soul or which letters can be read in his eyes.  It's little wonder therefore that after 8 years of his presidency, the question "Who is Mr. Putin?" is still being asked (replacing the perennial "Who lost Russia?").

Adding to the obsession is a fascination -- perhaps, even hidden admiration -- with Putin himself.  Openly politically incorrect, articulate, opinionated, masterful of minute detail on any topic, Putin is such a stark contrast to anemic American politicians unable to pronounce a foreign name or remember the difference between Shiite and Sunni.

Yep, yep.  ... Also, it's because he's sexy.  Well, that's my reason.  And because he's "Openly politically incorrect, articulate, opinionated, masterful of minute detail on any topic."  And er ... seems to have done a decent job of restoring Russia's influence in the world, overall.  That's why I like him.  And why the American people are scared of him.  Anyone who doesn't pretend to be as homely and ignorant as us scares us.  Except Obama.  Because he tempers his good looks and sharp mind with pandering sentiments about America's greatness.  Putin has too much dignity to pander to us like that.  Dignity...  Scares us...

III.  Etc.

A while back, someone asked if Odds & Ends was a contest in which everyone must guess which story is not true, and maybe get a prize or something.  As if all those pics of VVP weren't reward in themselves.  Heh.  No.  The stories you read here are true.  I leave it to the professionals to make shit up and report it as fact.  That said, if this were a game where people had to choose what news item was a fake, I'd put my money on this one:

FP: Giuliani enters the political ring in Ukraine

Giuliani was in Kiev on Tuesday, speaking with former world heavyweight boxing champion Vitaly Klitschko, who is running for mayor. Giuliani has signed on as an advisor to Klitschko's campaign. At yesterday's press conference he offered this advice:
"If Vitaly is elected mayor of Kiev, my first piece of advice for him would be to say ... no more corruption, corruption is over."

Klitschko is one of the front runners in a wild election that has drawn 79 candidates, but the ex-boxer known as Dr. Iron Fist has been mocked by his opponents for his perceived lack of intelligence and poor command of Ukrainian.

Except, that's just way too scary and weird to be made up.  Oh well, too bad.  No prize for you.

Now, I will leave you with another installment, c/o English Russia, of "Look see!  People in the Soviet Union were, like, normal!  Sometimes even happy!  Despite their well-known Slavic cultural tendency to be depressed all the time!  I know, totally wild huh?"

That last one is for Anne "the free market created all those beautiful Russian girls" Applebaum.  ;)  

...

Ok everyone, thanks for reading, and have a lovely weekend!

Ciao.

Display:
  1.  I am aware of the multiple inconsistencies in this diary.  Something about the hobgoblin of small minds...

  2.  No, I don't know when I'll post the film blog.  Soon.  Ish.


"Pretending that you already know the answer when you don't is not actually very helpful." ~Migeru.
by poemless on Fri May 16th, 2008 at 02:27:34 PM EST
I watched my movie.  :)

Being an overachiever I got another one too but I haven't had time to watch it yet.  Maybe tonight.  Since I have nothing else to do and I'm a bit under the weather.

But I couldn't remember when you were shooting for.

by Maryb2004 on Fri May 16th, 2008 at 06:02:20 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I was a little surprised to see a hammer and sickle in the background of the first picture. I had been under the impression that the symbols of the former Soviet state have been removed.
by Magnifico on Fri May 16th, 2008 at 02:29:53 PM EST
You were?  It's been quite a while since I've been there, but I was always surprised to see the presence of hammer and sickle emblems people had never bothered to remove.  

Well, firstly, Victory Day (the occasion on which these tanks were paraded about) celebrates the Soviet defeat of the Nazis.  

Secondly, there have been some official attempts to integrate Russia's history, the Tsarist, Soviet and current regimes, to arrive at a collective Russian identity.  As with the national anthem.  Which is one of the reasons Putin was chided - promoting the idea that the USSR might be a valid chapter in their history.  

Overall, I think the West is more prone to compartmentalizing Russian history than Russians are.  

"Pretending that you already know the answer when you don't is not actually very helpful." ~Migeru.

by poemless on Fri May 16th, 2008 at 02:39:46 PM EST
[ Parent ]
If you have a chance to see pictures of war veterans at the parade in Moscow, take a close look at the medals they're wearing. All of them are medals awarded when the veterans were in the Red Army, which was renamed "Soviet Army" after the Second World War. The Soviet Union with hammer and sickle cannot be divorced from the history of the war. Here are some Soviet medals and what's on them.
by Anthony Williamson on Sat May 17th, 2008 at 11:38:05 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Thanks so much poemless, that's such an enjoyable read!

I was a little surprised to see a hammer and sickle in the background of the first picture.

The soviet emblems are to be seen everywhere in today's Russia, train stations, public buildings, squares - hammer and sickles, statues of Lenine showing the way, statues of the deserving miner, etc.

I suppose people are actually attached to them, and are proud of their history. They remind them of the good old times, when everyone had a job, first-rate education, free medical care, when society actually took care of its people.

Why those emblems should be taken down, I have no idea. Would a properly Western-formatted mind explain that to me ?

by balbuz on Sat May 17th, 2008 at 02:28:08 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Why those emblems should be taken down, I have no idea. Would a properly Western-formatted mind explain that to me ?

Symbol of a totalitarian state and ideology.  Then again, given the fact of how attached a part of this country is to the Confederate flag, we shouldn't complain too much.

by MarekNYC on Sat May 17th, 2008 at 02:51:51 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Symbol of a totalitarian state and ideology.

That's only a part of what they represent. You may choose to discard the rest, but that's awfully hard to do in a room full of middle-aged russians...

by balbuz on Sat May 17th, 2008 at 03:21:45 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Well, you asked, I answered. And given that the hammer and sickle is also a symbol of the struggle against Nazi Germany for Russians, and post Stalinist communism was nowhere near as bad a system as the antebellum South, I do give them somewhat more of a pass than I do the TiDoS folks.
by MarekNYC on Sat May 17th, 2008 at 03:46:31 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Uhm, is there some boycott I'm not aware of?

"Pretending that you already know the answer when you don't is not actually very helpful." ~Migeru.
by poemless on Fri May 16th, 2008 at 04:06:09 PM EST
I don't know enough about Russia, Putin, or the current generation of Russian Armored Fighting Vehicles to comment.

She believed in nothing; only her skepticism kept her from being an atheist. -- Jean-Paul Sartre
by ATinNM on Fri May 16th, 2008 at 04:52:44 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Neither do I.  Weirdly, doesn't stop me from writing diaries about those things...

Actually, anyone who has been reading this series knows much much more about Russia than most of the  population, I bet.

"Pretending that you already know the answer when you don't is not actually very helpful." ~Migeru.

by poemless on Fri May 16th, 2008 at 04:58:30 PM EST
[ Parent ]
(kee-rash  another Idol falls from the plinth of my life.)

At least you can fake it, more than I can do.


She believed in nothing; only her skepticism kept her from being an atheist. -- Jean-Paul Sartre

by ATinNM on Fri May 16th, 2008 at 05:34:39 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I think you've missed my point.  I have never pretended to know what I am talking about.  But a monkey can read the paper and figure out when things don't add up.

There isn't anything in this dairy that requires outside knowledge of events to understand.  Or is there?  Maybe I can't tell anymore.

I suspect it has nothing to do with specified knowledge and everything to do with specified interest.

In fact, the whole point of writing diaries is to inform people or start a discussion, not to exclude people unfamiliar with a topic.  IMHO.  It's precisely by reading people's diaries that I learn about subjects I have no background in.  And I've never been aware of anyone needing credentials to make comments or ask questions (or write diaries, frankly.)  

"Pretending that you already know the answer when you don't is not actually very helpful." ~Migeru.

by poemless on Fri May 16th, 2008 at 05:42:40 PM EST
[ Parent ]
And I've never been aware of anyone needing credentials to make comments or ask questions (or write diaries, frankly.)

Luckily for me.
by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Fri May 16th, 2008 at 05:43:49 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Whateveh.  You're like the pretty girl who goes around mewing about being ugly.  Trolling for compliments, that's what you're up to!

"Pretending that you already know the answer when you don't is not actually very helpful." ~Migeru.
by poemless on Fri May 16th, 2008 at 05:47:58 PM EST
[ Parent ]
In fact, the whole point of writing diaries is to inform people or start a discussion, not to exclude people unfamiliar with a topic.  IMHO.  It's precisely by reading people's diaries that I learn about subjects I have no background in.  And I've never been aware of anyone needing credentials to make comments or ask questions (or write diaries, frankly.)

A discussion? Then I'll comment on the article by Stephen F. Cohen. I agree completely. After the Cold War, some idealists saw signs Washington and Moscow together would forge a mighty alliance for world peace. That, however, is not the way US superpower mentality works. Kremlin watchers soon realized US leaders were playing with fire as the Americans started letting their post-USSR relations with Russia sour by sending signals in the form of a number of policy decisions that the Russian leadership could not help but interpret as aimed against Russia.

Russians' relations, for example, with their Slavic cousins in Poland have been troubled for centuries, and for Washington to appear to be taking Warsaw's side by building missile installations in Poland, at Russia's western border, was the epitome of incompetence. Then large quantities of oil were poured on the fire by imprudent Polish nationalist leaders, itching to land digs against Russia, who stated that now Russia would think twice before ever attacking Poland where US armed forces would also be stationed.

As if Poland weren't enough, the US government courted the president of Estonia, who immigrated with his Estonian parents to the US as a small child and grew up there among Estonian extremists for whom having to breathe the same air as Russians was an imposition. The US actions occurred against the background of a highly emotional issue for Russians, namely the Second World War, and the monument to dead Soviet soldiers that the Estonian authorities moved out of Tallinn because they said it was a monument to Soviet domination of Estonia. Despite years of training "Sovietologists" during the Cold War, the US elite appear not to have the slightest idea about how Russians tick. If they did, their political course would have reflected their expertise.

The list of US mistakes goes on and on. European leaders, who are said to have some experience in diplomacy, should all along have been making every effort to calm the waters in Eastern Europe, but they too have proved largely incapable, with little influence to help settle disputes between the various countries by peaceable means. Admittedly, the German chancellor did recently convince NATO not to start the admission procedure for Ukraine and Georgia, which would have strained relations with Russia. It's just a matter of time, however, before those countries on Russia's borders join the alliance.

Observers should not be surprised when American incompetence one day blows up in our faces.

by Anthony Williamson on Sat May 17th, 2008 at 11:22:23 AM EST
[ Parent ]
about Poland, which is how that country used the "energy weapon" in the late 90s against Russia, to extract hard cash from it at a time when it was pretty much running out of it, by playing nasty games with the construction of the Yamal-Europe pipeline.

Gazprom was forced to pay in full for the construction of the pipeline (with is notionally 51% owned by Polish interests), among other friendly things.

This is the real reason for NordStream under the Baltic, and it shows that the Germans were not very pleased by these games: both sides knew that they'd be accused of going "Molotov-Ribbentrop" on Poland again by avoiding its territory for a new pipeline, which only goes to show that the alternative would have been worse from their perspective.

In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes

by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Sat May 17th, 2008 at 05:34:14 PM EST
[ Parent ]
for Washington to appear to be taking Warsaw's side by building missile installations in Poland, at Russia's western border, was the epitome of incompetence.

The pressure is coming from Washington, the Poles are rather reluctant.

Then large quantities of oil were poured on the fire by imprudent Polish nationalist leaders, itching to land digs against Russia, who stated that now Russia would think twice before ever attacking Poland where US armed forces would also be stationed.

Huh? That's a provocation?

Russians' relations, for example, with their Slavic cousins in Poland have been troubled for centuries, and for Washington to appear to be taking Warsaw's side

OK, now I see where you're coming from, but really, as good a poet as he was, don't you think you should be basing your views on something more objective and at least a tad more up to date?

he US actions occurred against the background of a highly emotional issue for Russians, namely the Second World War, and the monument to dead Soviet soldiers that the Estonian authorities moved out of Tallinn because they said it was a monument to Soviet domination of Estonia

And if perhaps the Russians were willing to acknowledge that it is also a monument to the brutal imposition of Soviet rule over Estonia, they might get along a bit better with their neighbours. But what do I know, maybe if the Americans stay in Iraq for another forty years, build large war monuments to their soldiers, and then pull out, folks like you will be cheering on American outrage if the Iraqis proceed to tear it down.

Who needs Atlanticists when the 'pro-Russian'  Westerners seem to be bent on making sure that Russo-Central European relations remain horrible, that those countries look to to Washington, and regard a more independent and consolidated EU as a serious threat to their security.

by MarekNYC on Sat May 17th, 2008 at 08:10:39 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Soviet crimes are thoroughly documented and well known to anyone wanting to find out about them, atrocities in the USSR itself, where the Soviets murdered not only Polish officers at Katyn but also their own people, and in annexed territories like Estonia as well as in countries once under Soviet domination like Czechoslovakia and Hungary.

The Second World War, however, sucked in participants of every stripe, including some who were not supportive of their respective government. A major unifying factor of postwar Europe was the sacrifice in human life in every country where the war had raged, including in the European perpetrator itself, Germany, where millions of innocent people were among those who endured incredible suffering.

In the aftermath, two age-old enemies, France and Germany, reached out their hands to each other in reconciliation, which, in my opinion, is one of the miracles of the twentieth century. Now, Poles and Russians are neither French nor German, and there's not going to be any reconciliation there anytime soon because there's an overriding element of hysteria in Russian-Polish relations that's not going to go away. An advisor to the White House could easily give tips to the US government about how to send both Russians and Poles into a hysterical tizzy and clawing at each other's throats in order to keep the Kremlin's attention riveted on Poland.

Miniature Estonia is an issue of no less magnitude. It would have been magnanimous of Estonia to leave the Soviet monument in central Tallinn as a poignant reminder of Estonia's bitter past and as a tribute to men who lost their lives in the war fighting for their homes and their families. Moscow, for its part, should have done everything in its power to diffuse the crisis over removal of the monument and the graves it marked. And the Estonian government should have distanced itself long ago from the former SS-men in Estonia who have proudly marched in recent years in their SS uniforms.

It's going to be a very long time before the advent of European unity poses any kind of a challenge to what the US thinks is best for Europe.

by Anthony Williamson on Sun May 18th, 2008 at 11:23:40 AM EST
[ Parent ]
An advisor to the White House could easily give tips to the US government about how to send both Russians and Poles into a hysterical tizzy and clawing at each other's throats in order to keep the Kremlin's attention riveted on Poland.

Not quite as easy as you suggest. The kinds of measures which calm down the Poles tend to be seen by the Russians as a provocation, most notably NATO membership. Washington could try to pressure the Poles to avoid silly provocative symbolic stuff of the sort the Twins like to engage in, however, they have absolutely zero ability to do the same on the Russian side.  Plus it's not always clear if Moscow is able to distinguish between hardline governments and the moderate ones who are interested in better relations.

And while you are correct to say that the knowledge of Soviet atrocities is easily available, it isn't all that well known - e.g. very few Westerners are aware that the Soviet occupation of Eastern Poland was just as brutal as the Nazi occupation was for non-Jews. (Rather ironically, if the folks currently running the show in Moscow had had their way back in the nineties, we'd still be thinking that it was more deadly, but the brief access to NKVD archives showed that to be incorrect)

On the Estonian side, Washington also has the problem that it has zero influence on Moscow. It could try to pressure the Estonians to do things like keep the monument, but that's difficult to accomplish without apologies for both occupations and the atrocities they involved.

In general I'd say that the Russians would be well advised to look at the approach the Poles have taken in their relations with Ukraine. That has involved lots of apologies, long drawn out negotiations over Polish national symbols in Ukraine and how exactly they can be modified in such a way that satisfies Ukrainian sensitivities while keeping them in place, and ignoring things that the Russians would treat as provocations (e.g. the honoring of Ukrainian fascist militias involved in massacring Poles in what is now Western Ukraine). It's a policy that has been followed consistently by not just moderate governments, but also hardline nationalist ones who ignore the screams of outrage that regularly emanate from their own ranks. If a former occupying power wants to have good relations with its ex-victims, that's the way they need to operate.

by MarekNYC on Sun May 18th, 2008 at 12:29:23 PM EST
[ Parent ]
In general I'd say that the Russians would be well advised to look at the approach the Poles have taken in their relations with Ukraine. That has involved lots of apologies, long drawn out negotiations over Polish national symbols in Ukraine and how exactly they can be modified in such a way that satisfies Ukrainian sensitivities while keeping them in place, and ignoring things that the Russians would treat as provocations (e.g. the honoring of Ukrainian fascist militias involved in massacring Poles in what is now Western Ukraine.

The normalization of Polish-Ukrainian relations is a praiseworthy undertaking. It's heartwarming to hear that Poles have abandoned old attitudes that led to treating their Ukrainian neighbors as a nation inferior to themselves; no could help but applaud improvement. Moreover, Poland appears to have shown magnanimity in deciding to overlook celebrations in Ukraine to honor Ukrainian collaborators who joined units fighting alongside Nazi forces during the Second World War, committing war crimes, also against Poles.

To my mind, however, Germany has pursued one of the most successful foreign policy courses since the war, towards both its neighbors and other countries, including Russia and Ukraine. The announcement by the German chancellor in office at the time that Germany would not participate in America's invasion of Iraq was a stroke of genius. The chancellor's designation of the American operation as a "military adventure" has proven to be prophetic. It's a shame that Poland and Ukraine sent troops.

Germany has actively supported the democratic and economic development of Ukraine along with its integration in European structures. Germany is Kiev's second most important trading partner after Russia, with over 1,000 German companies operating in Ukraine. Germany has also pursued a policy of reconciliation with Ukraine, stressing responsibility for both the destruction of the country by German forces during the war and the suffering they inflicted on the people, including Ukrainian Jews. Germany pays compensation to former Ukrainian slave laborers, and German officials every year take part in a ceremony at Babi Yar to commemorate the victims of the wartime massacre there.

Germany also maintains excellent relations with Russia, and anytime Germans step in help reconcile nations, in East and West, they can count on my applause.

by Anthony Williamson on Mon May 19th, 2008 at 01:45:06 PM EST
[ Parent ]
And I've never been aware of anyone needing credentials to make comments or ask questions (or write diaries, frankly.)

There are several self-styled Russia experts on Daily Kos who would disagree with great barrages of ad hominems.

by rifek on Sat May 17th, 2008 at 11:57:59 PM EST
[ Parent ]
</whistles, looks around...>

I'm sure I have no idea what you are talking about.

"Pretending that you already know the answer when you don't is not actually very helpful." ~Migeru.

by poemless on Mon May 19th, 2008 at 10:43:07 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Thanks for some superb comments, everyone!

"Pretending that you already know the answer when you don't is not actually very helpful." ~Migeru.
by poemless on Mon May 19th, 2008 at 10:41:57 AM EST


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