Did the Soviet Union break up prematurely?

Russia Direct, a propaganda arm of Kremlin owned media, recently issued a five-page talking points paper on control of Ukraine. Maxim Kharkevich, a professor from Moscow State Institute of International Relations, explains how the Cold War never ended properly, and thus the Soviet Union was broken up prematurely. In his five points, he hints that some countries really should never have been sovereign states at all. Kharkevich seems to follow the Kremlin line of thinking that had not the CCCP come to a premature end, Ukraine (and other states) would still belong to Russia.

Kremlin towers Moscow 1036 ed sm

The author cites the Yalta-Potsdam agreements as an example of how the world powers came together and divided up Europe. He, and he speaks for the Kremlin by virtue of this publication, appears to believe that since there was no “Yalta-Potsdam” agreement at the end of the Cold War, that the Soviet Union really didn’t break up officially. Instead, the boundaries of what is Russia, and what is no longer Soviet, remains an open question to the Kremlin. Naturally, only Russia knows best how all that territory should be divided, and since in his view the world court did nothing to stop the breakup of Yugoslavia, there is no legal authority to decide such disputes. To which, he writes that “Russia has taken upon itself the role of gatekeeper of the post-Soviet space.”

Therein lies the rub: Russia knows best, and any former Soviet Republic that desires to link with Western institutions such as the EU, or even NATO, is violating international norms, or at least the wishes of Moscow. What the author never acknowledges, and the vast majority of Russians are blind to this fact, is that there are compelling reasons why many of the former Soviet pact states no longer desire, or even fear, being under the thumb of Moscow. Naturally, a part of his argument is that NATO must be frozen and prevented from any further Eastward expansion.

The author also believes that the G20, not the UN or world courts, will be the eventual arbitrator over such territorial disputes in the future. He glosses over the many post-Soviet accomplishments of trade between Russia and the USA, opting instead to insist that trade agreements took too long to develop, and as such part of the territorial disputes could have been apparently been avoided by more aggressive free trade strategies. He ignores that much of that work was done proactively by the USA, and in spite of continued Russian state corruption and graft.

There are so many holes in his reasoning that if one folded up the paper and tried to create a paper airplane, the thing likely would not fly.

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Where the USA is — there is sorrow and death.

Russia, Ukraine

“Where the USA–there is sorrow and death.” Don’t shoot the messenger, but just as the message is disturbing, it is also accurate.

Just as unsettling is where the message originated: a prominent Ukrainian website that has long partnered with the West for democratic change in Eastern Europe. It is a turn in attitude which may well represent a sad reality settling in for Ukrainians who had hoped that the West/USA would stand with them in time of trouble.

Top line: “Where the USA–there is sorrow and death.” Sad, but as one who has been all over the world, there has never been a truer statement about my country. We used to be a beacon of hope to the world, but for at least a couple of decades we’ve been running on fumes from the past. We are not a beacon of hope today, and have not been for quite some time. Unfortunately, we still have the power to stir up trouble.

There are five columns, top to bottom, three rows. Column one is Moldova. The USA actively championed Moldova to turn West after the collapse of the USSR, and Moldova did, with a lot of encouragement from the CIA–only to be abandoned by the USA when a larger neighbor (Russia) decided to stop that progress. Those scenes in column one are real.

Column two is Chechnya. When the USSR collapsed, they wanted to be independent again, just like so many other former Soviet republics. They have oil, so of course the USA/CIA got into the mix. Two wars later, several hundred thousand civilians had died and today this Islamic republic is tightly controlled by Moscow. The USA switched sides after “9-11” as we thought that it was in our interest to partner with Putin to fight terrorists. Those scenes are real.

Column three is Dagestan. You likely know Dagestan from the Boston Marathon bombing, as that is where the Tsarnaev brothers were from. Dagestan is another Russian republic that wanted to regain independence from the Soviet demise. The USA quietly encouraged and aided, right up to the 1999 war with Russia. We then just as quietly exited, leaving the Dagestan people to fend for themselves against a vastly superior army. Those scenes are what really happened.

Column four is the country of Georgia. They did manage to leave the USSR, and the USA has been very active in Georgian politics ever since. When Russia decided to teach them a lesson in 2008, we pounded on the table and screamed from the mountaintops–and Georgia is a very mountainous country–but we did nothing when Russia invaded. Yes, those scenes are accurate.

Column five is Ukraine. The current administration, as stupid and useless as previous administrations, sent lots of “help” from the CIA to a parade of US Senators and cabinet officials. McCain and Nuland, damn you both, and please retire and stop running your mouths while pretending to know things that you really don’t. We tapped in to the desire of the Ukrainian people to be free. Apparently we thought that turning Ukraine over to the EU would be a cakewalk. Oops, epic fail.

Both the previous and current administrations pursued the so-called “domino theory” in which we could assist in triggering pro-democracy “spring” movements, and then step back to let the locals succeed in changing things. That doesn’t work too well when locals are left with little more than baseball bats to challenge tanks.

Both the previous and current administrations were/are dominated by naive and largely ignorant wonks, with no idea of what they started. The only difference between the former and the present is the increased effort to aid Islamic movements. Islam at the core is totally non-democratic, and any hope that we can pull such societies out of the 7th century and into modern life, is either grossly naive, or worse, purposeful.

Just like we abandoned the Czechs in 1956 and again in 1968, we rarely finish what we’ve started: Bay of Pigs or Vietnam, anyone? The question that many in the world ask today is: Why bother to stir up and start something that you don’t have the stomach to finish? In case we’ve ruffled a few feathers with this post, please don’t be offended when reminded that given our track record, the world has the right to question our motives…and our resolve.

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Putin Prays for Soldiers

Putin ( Guardian Liberty Voice) Russian president Vladimir Putin took a few minutes during his day last Wednesday to pray for the souls of Russian soldiers who have died in the fighting in Eastern Ukraine. Putin visited Moscow’s Church of the Holy Trinity, a church in the “Sparrow Hills” area of southwest Moscow, in the vicinity of Moscow State University.

Putin was in Moscow to greet former Prime Minister of Japan Yoshiro Mori at the Kremlin. Mori was visiting Moscow while participating in a Russian-Japanese Forum. The Russian leader normally works at the official presidential residence in Novo-Ogaryovo, a Moscow suburb. The Moscow Kremlin is used primarily for state and diplomatic functions.

Putin’s visit to the Sparrow Hills Church was brief, just long enough to light several candles, and say a prayer for the souls of Russian soldiers who had died while fighting in Eastern Ukraine.

Putin told reporters that he lit candles for “those who died defending people in Novorossiya.” The term Novorossiya (Новороссия) means “new Russia” and is a resurrected term from the days of Russian imperialism. Putin has recently hinted that he views Ukraine not as a state, but as a territory of Russia, and some say this means that he believes Ukraine is subject to being reclaimed.

Read the entire article here.

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New Ambassador to Russia will be John Tefft

Russian President Vladimir Putin’s senior foreign policy advisor, Yuri Ushakov, has signaled to Washington that Moscow will agree to the appointment of John Tefft as the next Ambassador to Russia. Although cautious, Ushakov in an interview with the Russian news agency ITAR-TASS called Tefft a “professional diplomat” with previous experience in Moscow.

New Ambassador to Russia will be John Tefft

Still ahead are the US Senate hearings once the Obama administration makes the formal nomination. Confirmation shouldn’t be a problem as Tefft is no stranger on Capitol Hill, with foreign service experience dating back to 1972. Most recently Mr. Tefft was the US Ambassador to Ukraine from 2009 to 2013 and he has served previously in the Moscow Embassy under deputy roles. From 2000 to 2003 he was the US Ambassador to Lithuania and the US Ambassador to Georgia during 2005 to 2009.

The nomination of Tefft , who speaks Russian and Ukrainian, is likely to be well received in the Senate after the debacle with the inexperienced Michael McFaul in the position. The Russians say that the Obama administration made the initial request regarding Tefft in June and their announcement of acceptance came while Russian President Putin was in Cuba as part of his diplomatic tour to Latin America.

The annexation of Crimea and the continued fighting in Eastern Ukraine have left relations in tatters between Russia and the United States, some going so far to call the chill a new “Cold War.” Adding to the tension is the suspicion that Tefft’s appointment is due to his experience with so-called “color revolutions.” He served in Ukraine at a time of regime change and he was the US Ambassador to Georgia during the Russian invasion of Georgia in 2008.

Pravda wrote this week that Russia could not afford to trust Tefft regardless of his prior experience in Russia. Andrei Kortunov, of the Moscow based New Eurasia Foundation, was quoted in Pravda saying that the Tefft appointment would not automatically signal a renewal of open dialogue with Russia. Kortunov pointed to the failures of the McFaul ambassadorship and current tensions regarding Crimea and the conflict in Eastern Ukraine.

Both countries must approve Ambassadorial appointments and foreign diplomats are received when the incoming Ambassador formally presents diplomatic credentials to the host nation. Traditionally foreign ambassadors present their credentials to Russia’s president and foreign minister during ceremonies held in the Grand Kremlin Palace’s the Alexander Hall.

June 2014 reception of new Ambassadors in the Grand Kremlin Palace.
June 2014 reception of new Ambassadors in the Grand Kremlin Palace.

Of interest to some is that Tefft’s wife will join him in Moscow. Many Russians didn’t understand why previous Ambassador Michael McFaul chose to leave his family in California while trying to make the 9,000 kilometer weekly commute fit his Embassy schedule.

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Vladimir Putin cannot afford to fail

Against the backdrop of a successful Olympics, one bloated with corruption, Russian President Vladimir Putin is fighting for his existence. The protests in Kyiv were the spoiler and had that situation not spiraled out of control, Mr. Putin would be sitting back and enjoying the accolades of the world community. The vastly over-priced Olympics allowed him to further line the pockets of his most loyal oligarchs, a move to keep their loyalties firmly in place.

The pro-democracy events in Ukraine put a huge damper on an otherwise successful public event on the world stage. An article in Back Channels sums it up perfectly by saying, “The Bear regards the old system of buffers as its own…(and)… Ukraine is also a borderland naturally spanning a cultural divide between Europe and Eurasia, between the politics of the now open democracies and their common currency and shared values and a stalwart attempting to build some kind of new Slavic society out of the 19th Century manners of aristocracy….”

David Satter in the Daily Beast further explains that “Russia and Ukraine under Yanukovych shared a single form of government – rule by a criminal oligarchy. This is why the anti-criminal revolution that overthrew Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych is a precedent that is perfectly applicable to Putin’s Russia. It is also the reason why, from the Russian regime’s point of view, the Ukrainian revolution must be stopped at all costs.”

On Monday Mr. Putin arrived at the Kirillovsky Military Testing grounds in the Leningrad region, home to forces of the Western and Central Military districts where he watched military training maneuvers along with Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, Commander of the Western Military District Anatoly Sidorov and Head of General Staff Combat Training Directorate Ivan Buvaltsev.

Putin Leningrad Kirillovsky Military Test grounds
L-R: Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, President Putin, and Russia’s head of combat training Ivan Buvaltsev at Kirillovsky Military Test grounds.

Writing in the Guardian Masha Gessen asserts that, “It’s unlikely that what’s happening in Ukraine will foment a new protest movement in Russia: the ongoing crackdown on civil society makes the cost of protest too high. Still, the Crimean invasion is a landmark in Russian domestic politics.”

For Vladimir Putin the stakes are high, for if he fails in Ukraine he will eventually fail at home.

Summer preparations for winter: firewood

When you have very cold winter temperatures, unless your home is in a city with central steam heat boilers every few blocks to pipe in some warmth, one needs a very large firewood supply.

Firewood stacks.

Scenes like these are common in the countryside as farms and villagers stock up wood which will be needed in the coming winter months for heating and cooking.

Orthodox nuns stacking firewood.

Monasteries and Convents often provide their own winter heat fuel by gathering and cutting wood from nearby forests.

Customs Union agenda, 18 November

The heads of the Customs Union member states will meet in Moscow this Friday 18 November to discuss current issues of integration in the Eurasian region in preparation for full integration of the Common Economic Space between the nations in January of 2012. The meeting will include Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, Belarusian President Aleksandr Lukashenko and Kazakhstan President Nursultan Nazarbayev.

The meeting agenda includes operation of the Customs Union between Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan, forming a common customs territory as of 1 July 2011. Cooperation within the Customs Union has already begun and state control has been moved to the external borders of the Customs Union countries with uniform customs rules and regulations in place.

The next phase of integration includes the Eurasian Economic Union.