Tag: Russia

Плохие дни для Мр. Путина: A Week of Prize Winning Russians (Borscht Report #10)

 

As international recognition of Russia goes, this hasn’t been a fun week for Vladimir Putin. News that the Kremlin had decided to reimpose lockdowns and the President’s own admission that the country could be hurt by a gas crisis was overshadowed only by two things: Dmirty Muratov winning the Nobel Peace Prize and Alexei Navalny being awarded the Sakharov Prize. Neither man is a friend of the regime, to say the least, and winning such prominent awards bolsters Muratov’s international profile, keeps Navalny on Western minds, and gives much-needed succor to the pro-democracy opposition movement in the country.

Anyone that follows Russia will be familiar with Navalny, but I think it’s worth doing something of a deep (or at least not quite shallow) dive on Muratov, as he represents a branch of the opposition less recognized than political and movement leaders outside of the country. 

Essential to understanding Muratov is understanding the outfit he works for, Новая газета/Novaya Gazeta, lit. New Gazette. Founded in part with the monetary prize from Mikhail Gorbachev’s 1990 Nobel Prize win, the newspaper put out its first edition on the 1st of April, 1993. Many of the journalists were drawn from Komsomolskaya Pravda (one of the official news arms of the Komsomol, the youth wing of the Soviet Communist Party, which is now a tabloid), and were excited for the opportunity to do uncensored journalism for a non-state entity. The newspaper did everything but endear itself to Vladimir Putin from the start; in 2001, it became embroiled in a fierce legal battle for accusing a member of his inner circle, Sergei Pugachev, of corruption. Although the organization he represented was eventually forced to withdraw its claim for compensation because the extent of the corruption was revealed, by materials the organization’s own lawsuit, to be much worse than previously thought, the pattern repeated itself. 

Join Jim and Greg as they welcome the partnership among the U.S., the United Kingdom, and Australia that will allow Australia to have nuclear submarines and hopefully pose a deterrent to China in the region.  They’re also glad to see special counsel John Durham is still alive and planning to indict a lawyer in connection with the 2016 effort to allege collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign.  And we fume at the FBI once again as Olympic gymnasts explain how the bureau completely dropped the ball on investigating team doctor and serial molester Larry Nassar.

Should We Have Left Afghanistan Altogether?

 

Let me rephrase that for accuracy: Should we be leaving Afghanistan altogether? Thanks to the missteps of our current president, we are still actively leaving Afghanistan because Joe Biden has created the conditions for the Taliban to seize virtually the entire country in blitzkrieg fashion and control all of Kabul and the immediate territory around the Hamid Karzai airport in Kabul. Clearly, I’m not only taking issue with the Biden administration but also with the plan for complete withdrawal from former President Trump. In this post, I suppose I’m bucking the conventional wisdom to posit that leaving Afghanistan altogether is actually a strategic mistake and makes the world a much more dangerous place.

In this Sunday’s latest despicable press conference Joe Biden proclaimed that China and Russia would like nothing better than to see America continue to be bogged down in Afghanistan. Really? In the last two-plus years, with a force structure of 2,500 service personnel, combat aircraft, a vast fleet of Humvees, surveillance drones, sophisticated electronics, intelligence assets and a shooting war that had effectively ended around 2014 – was America “bogged down”? Doesn’t “bogged down” really refer to all-out active combat and maneuvers across the country on many fronts, as for example America’s involvement in Vietnam at the height of that conflict? I suppose we can discuss semantics in the comments thread below.

Or are China and Russia now pleased to see that we are scrambling to get out of Afghanistan and pleased to see the manner is which are doing so? Certainly, the Kremlin’s strategists and the Communist strategists in Beijing observed very closely, the reckless way in which Biden and our Pentagon leadership completely mishandled America’s withdrawal from Afghanistan and have learned a great deal about what an inept collection decision-makers America has – national security advisors, Pentagon brass, and our current Commander-in-Chief. Do you think perhaps their fulfilled desires to finally have a weak and incompetent American security apparatus somehow intimidates them? Do you think that Beijing or the Kremlin are intimidated by the Biden administration and the Pentagon brain trust that just gifted billions of dollars of taxpayer-funded military assets to the Taliban and their al Qaeda associates – Blackhawk helicopters, Humvees, weapons, ammunition, sophisticated electronic optical targeting systems and more?

Diminished President, Undiminished Ineptitude: The Biden Presidency in 4 Words

 

“Probe with bayonets. If you encounter steel, withdraw. If you encounter mush, continue.” — Attributed to Vladimir Lenin

Trepidation often occurs when a new US administration takes office. Nefarious totalitarian and authoritarian regimes, such as Iran, North Korea, and of course Communist China and Russia – often prod for weakness. But sometimes, crises take the form of opportunities.

Where Have You Gone, Samuil? A Journey Through Identity and Exile with Vladislav Khodasevich (Borscht Report #9/Group Writing)

 

When it comes to pre-WWII Russian literary critics and poets, Vladislav Khodasevich is not well known, particularly in the West. Compared to someone like, say, Bunin or Tsvetaeva, he’s been largely ignored. But Khodasevich deserves attention, both as a skilled memoirist and poet, and as one of the few who chronicled the whole journey of his generation through the realities of WWI and the White exile, grappling with issues of right, honor, and Russian identity, especially for those who carried non-Russian blood in the vast multiethnic empire. 

Born in Moscow in May of 1886, Khodasevich was the son of a Polish nobleman and a Jewish woman. Unlike the union of Vera and Vladimir Nabokov, though, theirs was not an unusual act of mutual tolerance. Jacob Brafman, Khodasevich’s maternal grandfather, was a famous convert from Judaism to Orthodoxy, who wrote The Book of Kahal, a forerunner to The Protocols of the Elders of Zion. He entered the law faculty of Moscow University in 1904, then switched to history and philology the next year, staying on until 1910. It was during his time at the university that Vladislav met Samuil Kissin, a law student and aspiring poet from Orsha who was a year older than he. Twenty years later, he said Kissin, whom he affectionately nicknamed Muni, was “как бы вторым «я»” (like my second self) and reflected on how “we lived in such a faithful brotherhood, in such close love, which now seems wonderful to me.”

Despite his training, Khodasevich did not want to be a historian or a philologist, but, like Kissin, a poet, and dropped out in the final year of his course. He frequented Moscow’s literary salons and cafes, and published articles and poems for famous literary magazines, like Golden Fleece and Libra. Although he was the descendant of a noble family, his father had come to Russia impoverished, and Kissin, who hailed from an observant Jewish merchant family (he was trained in Hebrew and the Talmud at home during his childhood) actually had a much more secure financial position, though he was always willing and happy to support his friend along with himself. 

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I write today in defense of Vladimir Putin, Tsar of all the Russias.  Hear me for my cause. This is a strange thing for me to do.  My motivation is a comment earlier today by our friend KirkianWanderer.  After providing a very helpful translation of an inspirational and macho Russian military recruiting ad — which […]

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Here is an interesting YouTube item from Deutsche Welle: Germans travel to Russia for Sputnik V COVID-19 vaccinations.  It’s news to me, anyway. I have no way of knowing if the U.S. hate media have already reported on it. It seems that Germans who can afford it are doing some medical tourism. They are frustrated […]

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Ваш король голый: The Brilliant Theatre of Alexei Navalny (Borscht Report #8)

 

“They don’t like you to die unless you can die anonymously. If your name is known in the West, it is an embarrassment.” 

This is what Alexander, an imprisoned and unlikely dissident, explains to his son Sacha, when he begins a hunger strike in the Soviet mental hospital in which he is being imprisoned, in Tom Stoppard’s 1977 play Every Good Boy Deserves Favour. And it is clearly a lesson that Alexei Navalny has learned well. 

Join Jim and Greg as they see some glimmers of good news for Putin critic Alexei Navalny but wonder how firm the Biden administration really plans to be when it comes to Russia. They also shudder as prices for fuel, food, and other goods, are clearly on the rise. And they call out Rep. Maxine Waters for suggesting anything less than a guilty verdict for murder in the Derek Chauvin case should result in more confrontation in the streets.

Join Jim and Greg as they welcome an appeals court decision upholding an Ohio ban on abortions because the unborn baby has Down Syndrome. They also fume as the intel community admits there is only low to moderate confidence in last year’s reports that Russia was offering bounties to the Taliban and its allies for killing coalition forces in Afghanistan. And they shake their heads at the obvious court-packing hypocrisy of Massachusetts Sen. Ed Markey.

Running a Factory Under Soviet Socialism

 

Bitter Waters: Life and Work in Stalin’s Russia is a fascinating look at the Soviet economic system in the 1930s, as viewed from the front lines of that system. Gennady Andreev-Khomiakov was released from a labor camp in 1935, and was fortunate to find a job as a book-keeper in a sawmill. When the factory manager, Grigory Neposedov (a pseudonym) was assigned to run a larger and more modern factory (also a sawmill), he took Gennady with him.

Although he had almost no formal education, Neposedov was an excellent plant manager. As Gennady describes him:

For Want of Wild Beasts: Meet Me at the Corner of Auburn and Prescott

 

“Botany is 98% burnouts and potheads.”

The registrar, a kindly, aging woman with a sharp Boston accent, had said that to him on the first day of orientation, handing over his class schedule. Strictly speaking, a medical doctor shouldn’t have been teaching botany at all, but there had been a blank space in his teaching schedule, and the matter of various athletes and sons (and daughters) of privilege who needed science credits. Mix in a few naive humanities majors, frightened of the harder sciences and without any older friends to warn them against it, and that about made up one of his classes. If nothing else, it made his litany of pre-med modules more bearable. 

“Мы были Сережей и Иосифом”: Call Me When You Reach New York, Seryozha (Borscht Report #7)

 

When Sergei Dovlatov, finally having run afoul of Soviet censors one too many times, was encouraged (i.e. told he was going) to leave the Soviet Union in 1979, he never doubted his destination: New York. Of course, the large Russian community there, which his wife and daughter had settled into a few years previous, played a role in his decision. But so did the presence of an old friend. Joseph Brodsky, an established poet two years his senior who shared a similarly combative relationship with Soviet authorities, had been forced into exile in 1972, and had chosen New York as his final destination.

Brodsky was something of a literary older brother to Dovlatov. The two met in the winter of 1959, when Dovlatov was a student in the faculty of Finnish language at Leningrad State University, and Brodsky, who at various times had worked in morgues, geological expeditions, and naval boiler rooms, was beginning to find a prominent place on the Leningrad literary scene. Only a year later, he would meet his mentor, the famous poetess Anna Akhmatova, who helped him reach fame all over the country. The young student, though, was already impressed: “He pushed Hemingway out of the background and became my literary idol forever.”

Dovlatov’s new idol quickly found his fortunes reversing. In 1963, Brodsky’s poetry was officially denounced, and, on charges of social parasitism and with a diagnosis of sluggish schizophrenia, he was twice placed in mental institutions. Not yet twenty-four, he was put on trial, and, when he replied to one of the People’s Judges, on asking who had made him a poet, “No one. And who put me in the ranks of humanity?”, he was sentenced to five years hard labor in the Arkhangelsk Oblast of northwestern Russia. Meanwhile, his new friend had flunked out of LGU and was subsequently drafted into the Soviet Internal Troops, used a camp guard in between stints as a boxer. 

Pasha Is Going to Need to Talk to You

 

Pasha, in the Russian WWII TV series “The Attackers,” is the political commissar attached to an aviation regiment. His duties include political education/indoctrination, ensuring that the regimental commander’s actions are in line with the regime’s desires, and taking action against any personnel who commit politically disfavored actions or express forbidden opinions.

He is quick with accusations of treason against the regiment’s members. When sabotage of one of the planes is discovered, Pasha assumes the regiment’s own mechanics did it and wants to have them immediately shot. In this instance, the regimental commander, a fatherly sort of man, is able to avoid precipitous action …”calm down, Pasha” … and get a proper investigation conducted, which shows that the mechanics had nothing to do with the sabotage. But overall, it is very dangerous for anyone, even the commander, to stand up against Pasha.

Short Film Review: The Old Man and the Sea

 

Aleksandr Petrov

In 1988, early in his career when still a student, animator Aleksandr Petrov was a director on “The Marathon,” a three-minute short made to commemorate Mickey Mouse’s 60th anniversary and presented to Roy E. Disney when the Disney company was first allowed to visit the Soviet Union. It consisted of black silhouettes on a white background, a level of visual simplicity abandoned in his subsequent shorts. These shorts played festivals and received awards, but Petrov got the biggest boost to his visibility in 2000 when he won an Academy Award for adapting the Hemingway novella The Old Man and the Sea.

I dislike Hollywood’s onanist festival as much as a person should, but the category of Best Animated Short Film has led me down such pleasant avenues I can’t dismiss the awards entirely. That’s how I found out about not only Petrov but also Bill Plympton and Adam Elliot, and could certainly discover more were I so inclined.

“Ты куда?”: Where has Russia’s Brain Gone? (Borscht Report #6)

 

The утечка мозгов/brain drain has been a concern for Russia since the 1990s, when the collapse of the USSR and the resulting political and economic chaos pushed those with sufficient means and desire to escape to do just that. All told, about 2.5 million Russians of various ethnic and economic backgrounds left the country between 1989 and 1999, heading predominantly for the US, Israel, and the EU, especially Germany. Despite the massive gains which the Russian economy saw in the first decade of the 21st century, a further 1.6-2 million people have fled the country since 2000. It would be easy to posit that this is mostly the result of economic issues in the country brought about by Western sanctions and the fall in hydrocarbon prices, or a lack of high paying jobs for skilled people. And these are issues, but a more interesting, and telling, one is at play when we parse the data before and after 2012. 

Alexei Navalny and His (Real Life) Hollywood Thriller (The Borscht Report #5)

 

Alexei Navalny knows who tried to kill him and he wants you to be entertained. 

On the face of it, this seems quite odd. Since his poisoning in August, Navalny has become undisputedly the most prominent figure in the Russian opposition and has used his already well developed social and alternative media presence to keep supporters, foreign observers, and enemies well appraised of his progress and actions. Like fellow anti-Putinist Mikhail Khodorkovsky, Navalny is an expert in using social media platforms, especially YouTube, to spread his message in a way that is friendly and accessible to young people and supporters, even those residing abroad. (A not insignificant thing, just considering the size of the Russian diaspora in places like London and New York, not to mention the many non-Russians who take an interest in seeing Putin thrown from power). And now, only months from what many suspected would be his deathbed, Navalny has returned to tell his tale and that of his would-be murderers. 

Join Jim and Greg as they wonder what could possibly qualify Pete Buttigieg to be the next Secretary of Transportation. They also react to Russian President Vladimir denying his government killed a prominent critic because his people would have finished the job. And they unload on the frauds at the Lincoln Project, who finally admit they’re now an anti-Republican outfit.

Всегда вместе: Vera and Vladimir, An Unusual Literary Love Story (Borscht Report #4)

 

It was a love story centuries in the making. While Russian authors have written some of the greatest, and most beloved, love stories ever told, their personal lives tend to be far from any romantic ideal. Tolstoy tortured his wife of 48 years, forcing her to read of his numerous affairs and hatred for her in his diary, Mikhail Bulgakov was thrice wed, and Ivan Bunin invited another woman to live with himself and his second wife while in French exile. Hardly a track record that inspires confidence. 

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For nearly half a decade we have been told that the walls are closing in on the President of the United States. If it wasn’t Stormy Daniels it would be Russian Collusion; if not Russian Collusion then it would be the 25th Amendment; if not the 25th Amendment then the Emoluments Clause; if not the […]

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