Friday, 18 April 2014

Humpty Putin

"I don't know what you mean by 'glory,' " Alice said. 
Humpty Dumpty smiled contemptuously. "Of course you don't—till I tell you. I meant 'there's a nice knock-down argument for you!' " 
"But 'glory' doesn't mean 'a nice knock-down argument'," Alice objected. 
"When I use a word," Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, "it means just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less." 
"The question is," said Alice, "whether you can make words mean so many different things." 
"The question is," said Humpty Dumpty, "which is to be master—that's all." 
(Lewis Carroll, Through the Looking Glass
Putin has been acting like Humpty Dumpty throughout the crisis. First he claimed there were no Russian troops in Crimea; yesterday he said there were - although there are definitely none in eastern Ukraine. No, sirree.

The "peace deal" will break down over such semantics. "Illegal groups" in Ukraine must disarm. To Putin, this will mean Pravy Sektor and Maidan groups in general. Given that he doesn't regard the Kyiv government as legitimate, he can also widen the definition to cover the Ukrainian army. He can use Yanukovich, the "legitimate" president, to validate the actions of ex-Berkut and other paramilitaries in the east if necessary. He can continue to deny the "little green men" have anything to do with him while expressing concern for their human rights. If such rights are violated, wouldn't that be an illegal action? The Duma has granted Putin the right to intervene in Ukraine to protect ethnic Russians so if the Russian army rolls over the border then by Putin's logic it would not constitute an "illegal group". Well, at least he's ensured everybody can have a weekend break, although I doubt too many Putinist apparatchiks will be holidaying in Crimea.

Thursday, 17 April 2014


I'm still trying to work out what Russia's cunning plan is behind this "peace deal". I'd be surprised if it lasts much longer than the Easter weekend.

Vladimir "Darth" Putin on Twitter has an explanation:

"A cynic'd think that my plan is to cash in on the market bounce this'll cause, sell, go back to meddling & then start shorting stock."

Funny, but nowhere near as rib-tickling as Edward Snowden on the Putin Show today. Yes, Edward, Russia is not a surveillance state and you are not a useful idiot.


I've just been reading Yegor Gaidar's book about the last days of the Soviet Union, Collapse of an Empire. Gaidar is discussing why the break-up of the USSR was so much less bloody than the simultaneous dissolution of Yugoslavia.  He believes it was down to the presence of nuclear weapons in Ukraine, Belarus and Kazakhstan. Secondly, Boris Yeltsin, whatever his other faults, was no Slobodan Milosevic and was careful not to use "Great Russian" nationalist rhetoric to boost his popularity. However, some lesser Russian politicians of the time were less restrained:
The threat that events would unfold in the post-Soviet space as they had in Yugoslavia was real. On August 26, 1991, Pavel Voshchanov , the press secretary to the Russian president, warned that the borders of Russia and the republics (excluding Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia) could be “reevaluated” if they did not sign a Union agreement. The statement suggested Russian pretensions to territory in northern Kazakhstan, Crimea, and part of left-bank Ukraine. Voshchanov’s words elicited an angry response from the leaders of Kazakhstan and Ukraine: they saw it as blackmail. Moscow mayor Gavriil Popov made even greater territorial claims on Ukraine on August 27 and 28, 1991. They extended beyond Crimea and part of the left bank to Odessa and the Transdniestr.
These forgotten speeches have a worryingly familiar ring. In his televised Q & A today Putin mentioned "Novorossiya" and talked of Russia being unjustly deprived of its share of strategic Black Sea coastline. Landlocking Ukraine would also handicap the state economically and allow Russia to link up with Transnistria.

Maybe Gaidar was over-optimistic and Russia has indeed found its own Milosevic after a twenty year period of grace. Ominously, Kyiv no longer has nuclear weapons to make Putin think twice about indulging in Greater Russian pretentions.

Tuesday, 15 April 2014

What kind of war?

I haven't decided yet whether I think Russia will invade eastern Ukraine. I have a horrible feeling Putin might settle for stirring up a civil war. There's obviously a small number of Russian special forces already in the east. They're there to coordinate the activities of the far larger number of pro-Russian thugs with Kalashnikovs, who may be good at beating up journalists and swaggering around with RPGs but are too dumb to be left in charge of intellectual things like tactics and strategy. The hope is that their provocations - or a violent Ukrainian government response - will incite locals to rebel against Kyiv.

Some commentators believe Putin will be content when he's achieved a federalised, Finlandised Ukraine. I have a nasty suspicion this won't be enough. Putin really wants to extinguish the memory of Euromaidan. He won't be happy until he has a puppet (Yanukovych or equivalent) back in charge on the Dniepr. He also needs to humiliate Ukraine, the largest of the ex-Soviet republics (apart from Russia, of course), and make an example of it to bring the others into line. A bloody civil war would achieve this.

Sunday, 13 April 2014

Tweet from Tikhon Dzyadko:  "The simple logic of the current Russian government: in any incomprehensible situation speak about the Great Patriotic War and call anyone who doesn't agree with you a fascist."

I wonder when Prussia stopped getting mileage out of its part in defeating Napoleon?

Defender of the faith

Tom Nichols on Twitter: "Putin likes to be seen wearing an Orthodox cross, but has no trouble making war on his Orthodox brethren - on Palm Sunday."

To be fair, Putin never had many qualms about making war on his Orthodox brethren in Georgia. Now he's turned on his fellow East Slavs.

Let's not forget that one of Putin's alleged reasons for supporting Bashar al-Assad is to protect Eastern Christian minorities in Syria from violence.

Russia's other fifth column abroad

Putin doesn't just have the "little green men" working on his behalf. As Edward Lucas explained back in 2008:
Russia represents a powerful fifth column of a kind unseen during the last Cold War. Once it was communist trade unions that undermined the West at the Kremlin’s behest. Now it is pro-Kremlin bankers and politicians who betray their countries for thirty silver roubles. Western investment in Russia has already created a lobby for good relations with the Kremlin in the City of London, in German big business and in the energy industry across Europe. That is reinforced by the billions of dollars of Russian investment pouring into Western Europe and North America. When Russian tycoons – who these days run their businesses at the Kremlin’s bidding – own big stakes in the West’s biggest companies, they are no longer outsiders, but insiders. Russia is becoming a giant, nuclear-armed version of Saudi Arabia: a country so rich and powerful that even association with Islamic extremist causes does not bring Western disfavour.
There's a rumour that George Osborne is the staunchest opponent of sanctions against Russia in the UK Cabinet. This wouldn't surprise me as I've always thought he was an odious little creep.

Saturday, 12 April 2014

This is just appalling.

Sorry for the lack of sophistication in this comment but this can no longer be alleviated by black humour and sarcasm.

History repeats itself...

...but only at weekends when the cast of the Putin show can get the time off.

This guy is certainly earning his overtime. He must need the money to pay for all the kit he bought from an average Russian high street store.

Tuesday, 8 April 2014

Predicting the predictable

Nostradamus would have an easy life in modern Russia...

According to these reports some Crimeans have proposed changing the name of Simferopol to Putino. I predicted such a move last month. "Putino" also happens to be the Esperanto word for "prostitute". (I saw one tweet saying the name should be "Liliputin").

I'm still mildly disappointed that I only predicted a 96% result in favour of Crimean annexation. If I'd done more research I would have seen Putin had been copying his buddy Assad. The Russian economy must be in such a parlous state it can't even manufacture its own statistics any more.

News roundup

Putin's partition of Ukraine is running to script with "locals" in the east calling for independence. Be patient. Demands for annexation by the new Saint Vladimir will follow shortly. It's the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact all over again without the inconvenience of Ribbentrop.

So how is British TV reporting the imminent dismantling of one of the largest countries in Europe this morning?  BBC and Sky News headlined with the death of Peaches Geldof and are giving us rolling coverage of the Oscar Pistorius trial. Voyeurism into private grief is now serious news. It was down to Al Jazeera English to begin its bulletin with events in Ukraine.

In a parallel universe, Russia Today led with the news that Russian security forces have taken time out from their busy amateur dramatics schedule in Ukraine to kill Chechen rebel leader Doku Umarov again. I make that the third time his death has been reported so far this year. This just proves the superiority of Putin's agents over American special forces, who did a sloppy job and only killed Osama Bin Laden once.