“Not Only the Players”

Monday, May 1st, 2017

The football season in the various European lands is coming to a close, usually meaning that tension mounts over which team will end up at the top of those various leagues,* while at the same time the main cup-competitions proceed to their final stages. Then, since this is an odd year, we can look forward to a peaceful summer devoid of the big football competitions between national teams (and of any Olympics).

Not so fast, though: Had you forgotten about the Confederations Cup? That involves national teams, although not as many, since it’s a somewhat more abbreviated tournament that FIFA puts on only for the champion national teams of the six world regional football confederations, together with the current World Cup champion and the host nation.

And there’s the problem: That host nation is traditionally the same one scheduled to host the World Cup itself the very next year; you could say that the Confederations Cup, in a minor way, serves as a sort of dress-rehearsal to make sure the country can handle the big show coming around after another 12 months’s time. For 2017/2018, then, we are talking about the Russian Federation. And that is a problem.


(more…)

Digg This
Reddit This
Stumble Now!
Buzz This
Vote on DZone
Share on Facebook
Bookmark this on Delicious
Kick It on DotNetKicks.com
Shout it
Share on LinkedIn
Bookmark this on Technorati
Post on Twitter
Google Buzz (aka. Google Reader)

Lithuanian Survival By-The-Book

Monday, January 19th, 2015

Vladimir Putin’s apparent willingness to invade bits of land adjoining Mother Russia where he feels native Russian-speakers are feeling oppressed has understandably made many in the immediate neighborhood rather nervous. And while Poland, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia are all members of NATO, that still doesn’t necessarily allow them to sleep easily at night. The famed Article V of the NATO treaty does make an attack on any one member an attack on them all, which theoretically means that the Alliance’s nuclear powers – the US, foremost – would be willing to escalate all the way to Mutually Assured Destruction should Putin merely have his forces invade the Baltics and then refuse to back down. But how credible is that? For that matter, how effective were France and England in carrying out the guarantees of Poland’s territorial integrity that they issued just prior to the Second World War?

(By the way, the lesser-known Article IV provides for invoking consultation among Alliance members in the event of disquieting security developments. Lithuania and Latvia invoked that in March of last year in response to the Russian annexation of the Crimea.)

You can’t blame these nations for doing a little contingency planning based on a assumption of Putin’s worst behavior paired with maximum fecklessness on the part of their supposed allies. (Indeed, I hear there exists an NGO whose sole purpose is to steer the world’s surplus feck to NATO’s Brussels HQ.) Here’s what’s happening in Lithuania:

LitManual
Yes, that Baltic nation is shortly to publish a “survival manual” for all its citizens about what to do in case of a Russian invasion!

Now, I found out about this via the round-about path that you can see contained in that tweet. But it turns out that, within that Le HuffPost article, there was an additional link to a Reuters article, in English and datelined from the Lithuanian capital Vilnius, that lays everything out pretty well.

So you don’t need me to explain further. Just allow me, as a sort of enticing sweetener, to reproduce here a couple of the most-juicy paragraphs:

“The manual, which the Defence Ministry will send to libraries next week and also distribute at army events, says Lithuanians should resist foreign occupation with demonstrations and strikes, “or at least doing your job worse than usual”.

“[W]orse than usual” – love that!

In the event of invasion, the manual says Lithuanians should organise themselves through Twitter and Facebook and attempt cyber attacks against the enemy.

Mark Zuckerberg as future insurgent hero – who knew?

Digg This
Reddit This
Stumble Now!
Buzz This
Vote on DZone
Share on Facebook
Bookmark this on Delicious
Kick It on DotNetKicks.com
Shout it
Share on LinkedIn
Bookmark this on Technorati
Post on Twitter
Google Buzz (aka. Google Reader)

Polar Role-Reversal

Thursday, December 18th, 2014

Among the world turmoil occupying us in this run-up to the 2014 Christmas period, one alarming development that you may well have missed was Denmark’s filing of a formal claim on Monday to the area of the North Pole. For some years – and particularly now that the melting of the Northern icecap is laying them bare – the considerable oil & gas natural resources said to be just under the Arctic Sea floor have piqued the interest of those countries lying along its periphery in trying to extend their sovereignties as far as possible into that area, consistent with the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea.

You’re right, Denmark does not itself border the Arctic Ocean; what does is Greenland, whose foreign and defense policies Denmark still controls, even as it otherwise enjoys self-government. Indeed, it is an underwater ridge that extends from Greenland through the Arctic area that constitutes the legal basis for Denmark’s claim.

So now we have this self-reflective comment from the website of DR, or Danmarks Radio, the Danish government-owned national TV and radio network.

Forsker_Nordpol
You could say this is a bold, even audacious, move and those interests it challenges directly (aside from the well-known seasonal actors – Hello Santa!) are mainly Canada and Russia. Particularly Russia, as we realize from this quote in the linked DR piece from a Danish journalist who has written extensively about the Arctic:

This is a gigantic piece of the sea-floor that Denmark and Greenland are now claiming. This extends – and this is the surprising thing – the entire way over to Russia’s nautical border. Danish politicians have therefore chosen to use all means provided to them by the UN’s oceans commission.

It is a surprise; this is Denmark we are talking about here. Or, as the comedian Craig Ferguson just put it:

The Danes are causing a bit of trouble. The kingdom of Denmark claimed the North Pole as their own. Hey, you can’t just reach out and take something if you want it, Denmark. That’s Russia’s job.

Indeed. That DR Nyheder tweet literally reads “Russia as meek as a lamb in the Arctic – we are the aggressive ones.” How could this be? This is Putin’s Russia we are talking about, after all, and the Danes, whose neighbors haven’t had anything to complain about since Viking times.

Could it have something to do with the very recent drastic weakening of Putin’s geopolitical position brought about by the collapse of the oil price and the ruble? Is the lack (so far) of Russian reaction the first sign we have that these troubles will likely tone down Russia’s behavior after all? Not according to Jakob Busk Olsen, who wrote this DR piece; he instead reckons that Russian decision-makers are too aware how the region is so hostile to man that absolute lack of conflict is necessary for anyone to be able to safely make the substantial investments (in offshore drilling platforms, etc.) to exploit those resources. Better to not rock the boat.

And why is Denmark acting so aggressively to safeguard to itself access to those presumed oil and gas deposits, when that country is among the world’s pioneers in transitioning away from fossil fuels? The key thing to remember here is that the Kingdom is actually acting on behalf of its semi-ward Greenland; it clearly would like to be rid of its remaining obligations there, but Greenland will eventually be able to stand on its own feet economically mainly with its own trousseau of fossil-fuel assets.

Digg This
Reddit This
Stumble Now!
Buzz This
Vote on DZone
Share on Facebook
Bookmark this on Delicious
Kick It on DotNetKicks.com
Shout it
Share on LinkedIn
Bookmark this on Technorati
Post on Twitter
Google Buzz (aka. Google Reader)

But Will He Give Russia Any Stick?

Saturday, September 20th, 2014

I managed to catch a short but significant piece in today’s on-line Telegraaf which that Dutch tabloid paper did not even tweet (I did check): Russia still welcome at G20 Summit. That’s the one scheduled for Brisbane, Australia in November, and the Australian Minister of Finance was captured on-the-record as declaring that the Russian delegation – presumably headed by Vladimir Putin himself: this is after all a summit – is certainly still invited, despite the rather extensive bout of recent unpleasantness involving Russia about which I don’t have to go into detail here.

This raises the obvious question: Who decides these things? Note that I lay aside here the issue of whether a government’s Finance Minister should have any say on foreign policy matters of this kind. Rather, let’s focus on Australia: just because they are hosting that summit, does that mean they decide who can and cannot attend? Isn’t there rather a G20 secretariat somewhere through which a country can be banned by the other members if it misbehaves too egregiously? After all, Russia is certainly not welcome any longer to join G7 summits to make them into G8.

But now a confession: What really caught my eye about this piece was the name of that Australian Minister of Finance: Joe Hockey! Isn’t that great? I have a great affinity for short, punchy, Anglo-Saxon names in the first place; previously Jack Straw (a Labour politician, former Cabinet member including as Foreign Secretary) was my favorite, but now Mr. Hockey certainly has that particular competition iced!

Digg This
Reddit This
Stumble Now!
Buzz This
Vote on DZone
Share on Facebook
Bookmark this on Delicious
Kick It on DotNetKicks.com
Shout it
Share on LinkedIn
Bookmark this on Technorati
Post on Twitter
Google Buzz (aka. Google Reader)

Putin: Banish Smurfs into Exile!

Monday, May 5th, 2014

It’s the military clashes in eastern Ukraine that are deservedly getting all the media attention now, those between the Ukrainian “neo-fascist nazi’s” on the one hand and those pro-Russian “terrorists” on the other. But there is at the same time an undercurrent of reports about how Russian society itself has recently changed, and how it is changing as Vladimir Putin whips up war-fever to rally his citizens around his authoritarian rule.

It’s often very ugly, such as with the website that has been set up to list publicly the Russian Federations greatest “traitors” – check it out, the very URL (http://predatel.net) is the transliteration of the Russian word for “traitor” (предател). No surprise, at the top of the list you’ll find the anti-corruption blogger and Moscow mayor also-ran (but barely) Alexei Navalny, currently under house arrest and prohibited from communicating with anyone (including via Internet) other than his family.

But this can take a turn to the ludicrous as well:

Putin_noSmurfs
From the Czech Television website: “In the service of ideology. Putin wants to forbid the Smurfs.” (Šmouly – that’s “Smurfs” in Czech. I don’t know what their name is in Russian – reader tips are welcome! UPDATE: And they have arrived! It’s Смурфики.)

Of course, it’s not actually Putin himself. It’s rather the Russian Education Ministry which has proposed banning the Smurfs from Russian TV as “damaging to youth,” but Putin has given this his blessing. And that’s not all: other series such as South Park and the Simpsons are likely to be under similar review soon. (more…)

Digg This
Reddit This
Stumble Now!
Buzz This
Vote on DZone
Share on Facebook
Bookmark this on Delicious
Kick It on DotNetKicks.com
Shout it
Share on LinkedIn
Bookmark this on Technorati
Post on Twitter
Google Buzz (aka. Google Reader)

Ukraine Crisis: What a Gas!

Monday, April 28th, 2014

There are some people – or institutions – that can’t help but look at the bright side of things. Over in Eastern Ukraine, seven European military officers working for the OSCE have just been put out for display at a press conference, unconvincingly insisting “We are not prisoners of war, we are guests of [Sloviansk] Mayor Ponomarev”; the Economist writes [subscription required] “Every day, incident by incident, the situation is deteriorating and moving towards major armed conflict of one form or another.”

Not to worry, though, at least if you read the Netherlands’ leading business newspaper Het Financiele Dagblad: The Ukraine crisis also has its winners. The lede:

The drift since the crisis in the Ukraine has been: Europe has to become less dependent on Russian gas. Who can profit from that?

Oh, a number of organizations can profit, and journalists Gijs den Brinker and Mathijs Schiffers have the run-down. (more…)

Digg This
Reddit This
Stumble Now!
Buzz This
Vote on DZone
Share on Facebook
Bookmark this on Delicious
Kick It on DotNetKicks.com
Shout it
Share on LinkedIn
Bookmark this on Technorati
Post on Twitter
Google Buzz (aka. Google Reader)

Mirror-Imaging over Ukraine

Saturday, April 26th, 2014

Take a look at the latest word issuing from Voice of Russia, the international radio broadcasting “service,” and associated website, of the Russian government. Hubert Orzechowski of the Polish edition of Newsweek first picked this up.

NewsweekPolska
Translation: “Russian radio: Poles in Zhitomir want autonomy, and Warsaw pushes for the break-up of Ukraine.” Zhitomir is a province of Western Ukraine, with a lot of ethnic Poles in it (although, interestingly, it’s not one of the two Ukrainian provinces that actually abut Poland itself).

The lede (of the Voice of Russia article he cites):

Ethnic Poles living in Ukraine demand a referendum in the Zhitomir Region to create a Polish autonomy with broad self-governance rights. They also insist that the Polish language be granted the official status along with the Ukrainian language.

As I say, it’s the Polish Newsweek that points this out but, fortunately for us all, the article where Voice of Russia lays out this case of Polish agitation in Western Ukraine was published in the English-language section of their site (from where I took that above lede), so you can click that link to read it all, in English which is often less-than-perfect but still quite understandable.*

Just be aware that it’s all a crock. That’s the point of Orzechowski’s Newsweek piece. Yes, parts of Western Ukraine are what used to be Poland, before World War II; yes, there was considerable tension between Poles and Ukrainians over those lands – even leading to infamous massacres – in the 1930s and 40s. But for Poland a lot of water has passed under the bridge since that era, a lot of changes-of-regime, plenty of time for a change of attitude. Further, there has been no indication of this sort of alleged unrest among ethnic Polish citizens of Ukraine other than that cited in Voice of Russia’s fevered imaginings.

These days the Polish government acknowledges its special relationship with Ukraine in more positive ways, such as actively supporting its eventual EU membership, as well as having taken the lead (along with Germany, in fact) in EU diplomacy towards Ukraine and Russia back when the Maidan Square crisis was at its height the first couple months of this year. This leading Polish role is not so much the case anymore, probably because NATO is becoming a more important forum for Europe to confront these increasingly alarming developments to the East.

So the propaganda purpose of this sort of article is self-evident. As Orzechowski says at the end of his own commentary, “you can’t help feeling that this description fits perfectly yet another neighbor of Kiev’s”; one doesn’t know whether to mock Voice of Russia for its lack of imagination, or to admire it for its audacity, in trying to project onto Poland the very same irredentist trick its sponsor government is itself trying to pull in Eastern Ukraine.

* But do let me give credit to Voice of Russia’s English-language writers where it is due: they actually nail the subjunctive there (“. . . insist that the Polish language be granted . . .”), something far beyond, say, at least 75% of English native speakers.

Digg This
Reddit This
Stumble Now!
Buzz This
Vote on DZone
Share on Facebook
Bookmark this on Delicious
Kick It on DotNetKicks.com
Shout it
Share on LinkedIn
Bookmark this on Technorati
Post on Twitter
Google Buzz (aka. Google Reader)

Want to Get to Know You

Wednesday, June 5th, 2013

Hey, as the recent Boston Marathon bombings made clear, the US and Russia are both beset by more-or-less the same terrorist threats, right?* So why shouldn’t Russia gain access to the same sort of detailed incoming airline passenger data – credit card numbers, names and addresses of contacts at their incoming destination, and the like – that the American authorities now get?

Russland will Fluggastdaten aus EU-Ländern – sonst droht Moskau mit Flugverboten, schreibt Javier Cáceres http://t.co/3tIMurrKif

@SZ

Süddeutsche Zeitung


That’s what the Russian government is now demanding, as we learn from that tweeted article from Süddeutsche Zeitung Brussels correspondent Javier Cárceres. And it wants such access beginning 1 July.

That’s a problem though: the important thing the Americans have that the Russians don’t is a data-protection agreement they worked out prior with EU authorities, so that at least some sort of control is agreed about where such data goes on to after it is delivered. In fact, it’s illegal in the EU to provide that without a data protection agreement in place – and it’s unlikely that such an agreement can be concluded in the less than a month that remains before that 1 July deadline. (By the way, this decree from the Russian Transport Minister applies to passengers of any vehicle entering Russian territory – airplane, but also train, bus, ship.)

So now airlines that fly to or over Russia have a problem: if the decree does go through, they won’t legally be able to deliver the data the Russian authorities will be demanding to authorize their flight. But perhaps top-level EU and Russian authorities were able to make progress on this question at the EU-Russia summit that concluded yesterday (4 June) in Yekaterinburg, Russia. We’ll presumably find out soon – but don’t get your hopes up. Before being blindsided by this Russian government announcement, the EU representation had expected to go to the summit in part to discuss measures to make EU visas easier to get for Russian citizens – and vice-versa. This goal has hardly been made any easier by the Russian move.

And remember the demonstration effect, as well: an MEP is further quoted in this piece about how Qatar and Saudi Arabia are also thinking about demanding similar information about passengers coming to their lands.

* Yes, of course this assertion is ridiculous.

Digg This
Reddit This
Stumble Now!
Buzz This
Vote on DZone
Share on Facebook
Bookmark this on Delicious
Kick It on DotNetKicks.com
Shout it
Share on LinkedIn
Bookmark this on Technorati
Post on Twitter
Google Buzz (aka. Google Reader)

Gérard Among The Crazies

Monday, January 7th, 2013

You might have heard about the recent kerfluffle involving the Golden Globe-winning, Oscar-nominated (for Cyrano de Bergerac) French actor Gérard Depardieu. French President François Hollande recently carried out his pledge to increase the top marginal income tax rate in his country to75%, and Depardieu has become the point-man for resistance to that among the French wealthy. He has written vituperative public letters to the president, for example; but he has also asked for and received Russian citizenship (where income taxes are at only 13%, for everyone). He’s apparently good friends with Vladimir Putin, according to the French weekly L’Express (and numerous other publications):

Quand Gérard Depardieu fait la com’ de Vladimir Poutine http://t.co/5rWqHj33

@LEXPRESS

LEXPRESS


Yes, good buddies they are, интимные приятели . . . if you click through there to the article you can see a nice photo of the two men embarking on a bear-hug. “Did you see my latest film?” Gérard asks Vladimir, “I sent it to you.” (Depardieu’s latest project was a franco-russian co-production on the life of Rasputin, in which he took up the title role.) And Brigitte Bardot is threatening to follow him to Russia, although over a dispute involving two sick elephants (I kid you not! Click thru!) rather than taxes.

But here’s the punchline to all this, beyond the patronized pachyderms, which I provide as a public service to those (very few) of you who have not already figured it out for yourselves. Russia may impose only a 13% tax-rate, but it’s really not a very nice place to go and live; Depardieu’s praise of the state of democracy there, which formed part of his open letters, only shows how ignorant he is, for Russia has no rule of law and the rich there stay that way only through Vladimir Putin’s good graces (as shown by the counter-example of former oil company CEO Mikhail Khodorkovsky).

There’s yet another L’Express article of note here, entitled Russia: Depardieu among the crazies? For the spot in Russia Depardieu has picked out for himself – should he really want to spend time there – is said to be the southern Moscow suburb of Белые Столбы (“White Posts”). But as journalist Alla Chevelkina (note the name) points out, Depardieu apparently is unaware that Russia’s most famous mental institution – which in the bad old days also housed numerous Russian dissidents as part of the Soviet regime’s employment of psychiatry as a weapon against such “troublemakers” – is in the same neighborhood and shares the “White Posts” name. Or that Russians use the expression “gone to the White Posts” to denote someone who has been packed away to the crazy-house.

UPDATE: And now the newspaper Libération tells us that Depardieu was greeted as a hero upon his arrival in Russia, and offered a house and the post of Minister of Culture! The thing is, all of those have to do with the Russian Republic of Mordovia, some who’s-ever-heard-of-it place apparently located somewhere to the east of the former Stalingrad.

Digg This
Reddit This
Stumble Now!
Buzz This
Vote on DZone
Share on Facebook
Bookmark this on Delicious
Kick It on DotNetKicks.com
Shout it
Share on LinkedIn
Bookmark this on Technorati
Post on Twitter
Google Buzz (aka. Google Reader)

Petition Factories

Monday, January 9th, 2012

The next Russian election, the one that will inevitably elevate Vladimir Putin back to the presidency, is not until next March, but from a Czech source we see the political machine is already hard at work.

tiscali.cz: Předvolební kampaň na ruského prezidenta má první skandál: http://t.co/QasPJgmv

@Zpravy

Zpravy


“Preliminary campaign for Russian president has its first scandal.” Yes, it’s scandalous, if not quite entirely straightforward, as explained in the accompanying article about the discovery made by opposition activists in Moscow of the wholesale fabrication of signature-petitions being perpetrated in local universities. (more…)

Digg This
Reddit This
Stumble Now!
Buzz This
Vote on DZone
Share on Facebook
Bookmark this on Delicious
Kick It on DotNetKicks.com
Shout it
Share on LinkedIn
Bookmark this on Technorati
Post on Twitter
Google Buzz (aka. Google Reader)

Sneaky Soviet-Style Switcheroo

Monday, April 11th, 2011

The past weekend was a bit of a traumatic one for Poland, and on the surface it’s easy to understand why: Sunday was the one-year anniversary of the catastrophic plane-crash at Smolensk airport of the Polish government airplane that was carrying President Lech Kaczynski and almost 100 other members of government or other prominent VIPs to ceremonies meant to commemorate the 1940 Katyn Massacre, in which the NKVD (predecessor to the KGB) executed in the deep woods near that city around 20,000 members of the Polish intelligentsia captured in the German/Russian invasions of the previous fall. But it’s even worse than that: whereas the tragedy understandably united the Polish nation in grief, a year later that effect has worn off and instead the deceased president’s twin brother, Jaroslaw – who happens to head the opposition political party Law and Justice – is now trying to make political capital ahead of elections later this year by hinting at a Russian conspiracy to kill his brother, and by denouncing what he sees as the current government’s subservient attitude to the Russians.

You would think that, for its part, the Russian government would welcome the improvement in relations with Poland that was the initial result of the tragedy and the common investigation both nations’ authorities then undertook, and so would try to prolong that any way possible. Or maybe not. For an article in one of the leading national newspapers Rzeczpospolita now informs us of a piece of trickery – petty trickery, at that – which would have elicited an approving nod from the likes of Lavrenty Beria, long-time head of the NKVD under Stalin.

What’s worse, it took an on-site inspection by no less than Poland’s First Lady, Anna Komorowska, to reveal the transgression. Last Saturday she led a ceremonial delegation to the Smolensk memorial site, now meant to commemorate not only last year’s crash but the Katyn atrocity that indirectly led to it. There, the delegation discovered to their horror that a change had been made to the memorial plaque that had been placed there shortly after last year’s tragedy. Those of you out there who would like to try out your Polish can click here to see the before-and-after for yourselves, otherwise let me just inform you that the original Polish-language tablet was gone and replaced by a bilingual Russian-Polish one. OK, there’s nothing wrong with that per se, except that space had been created to fit the Russian in by deleting the text in the first plaque which had mentioned the Katyn atrocity, cited as “genocide” (ludobójstwo)*, together with the Russian government’s admitted responsibility for that.

Naturally, the Polish government had never been consulted – because it would never have approved. The Russian authorities apparently just went ahead and made the change. Actually, it would have been more appropriate to consult the “Association of Katyn Families” since that was the name on the original plaque, responsible for putting it there. Instead, Polish President Bronislaw Komorowski will have a chance to “consult” with his Russian counterpart Dmitri Medvedev today on a number of things, including – one would expect – this plaque affair.

UPDATE: Poland’s other mainstream national daily, Gazeta Wyborcza, is now reporting that the two presidents have found a solution to try to tamp down the public outrage in Poland over the Smolensk memorial plaque shenanigans. A competition! There will be a competition, run by the Polish Ministry of Culture, to come up with yet another memorial plaque, to be placed at there in time for the two-year anniversary of the tragedy next year – which, we can only hope, will proceed a bit more tranquilly, in both countries.

*Of course the Katyn massacre per se was by no means “genocide.” That word unfortunately has been so overused by those out to make cheap political points that its original meaning and impact are truly under threat – and it is only roughly 67 years old!

Digg This
Reddit This
Stumble Now!
Buzz This
Vote on DZone
Share on Facebook
Bookmark this on Delicious
Kick It on DotNetKicks.com
Shout it
Share on LinkedIn
Bookmark this on Technorati
Post on Twitter
Google Buzz (aka. Google Reader)

Enjoy Novaya Gazeta While You Can

Saturday, October 23rd, 2010

The Berliner Zeitung tipped us off a few days ago: Last Warning for Novaya Gazeta. “Whazzat?” you may ask. Oh, it’s just about the only remaining Russian newspaper worth taking seriously. By this point Vladimir Putin has had 10 years to snuff out independent voices among the country’s government and media, so that now only a handful of outlets remain which still resist singing along with the party line. There are actually none such when it comes to TV broadcasters (naturally, the medium with the greatest reach by far); on the radio there is still Echo Moscow; and among newspapers the most prominent independent name has been Novaya Gazeta (“new newspaper”), which among other things had been the employer of Anna Politkovskaya, the investigative reporter murdered four years ago in a still-unsolved case.

At least up until now. But now BZ reporter Daria Afonina (definitely a Russian female name) tells us how the paper just received it’s “first warning” from the Ministry for Communication for allegedly spreading “fascist propaganda” through a piece it published back in January on extreme-right nationalists from an organization whose name translates to “The Russian Way.” A second warning means that the paper will have to shut down.

What Editor-in-Chief Sergey Sokolov thinks he sees in this development – if not sheer stupidity from a rogue bureaucrat, always a possibility – is an effort by the authorities to finish Putin’s work by rubbing out such independent media voices as remain. But he also vows to appeal any close-down order to “Strasbourg,” presumably meaning to the European Court of Human Rights located there (of which Russia is a member, not that that means there is much to hope for any such move).

Those still interested in the paper – while it is still a going concern – should realize that it does have an accompanying English-language version. Don’t expect a full-blown English translation of the Russian website, by any means, as the English material is much scarcer and generally out-of-date. When I visited today the left side of the homepage was dominated by an interview with Russian President Medvedev entitled “Medvedev’s declaration, 2009 year” which, yes, bore the dateline “18.04.2009.” But the tone of the questioning directed at the head-of-state was refreshingly challenging, and the rest of the slim pickings available on that homepage similarly showed why the state apparatus of which he is the head may not be too fond of the newspaper. There were namely two pieces on the Politovskaya murder case (“‘The State is showing a complete lack of interest in solving the murder of our mother,’ Vera and Ilya Politkovsky [yes, her children],” and “Second time around: The Politkovskaya murder case.”

Digg This
Reddit This
Stumble Now!
Buzz This
Vote on DZone
Share on Facebook
Bookmark this on Delicious
Kick It on DotNetKicks.com
Shout it
Share on LinkedIn
Bookmark this on Technorati
Post on Twitter
Google Buzz (aka. Google Reader)

Train Through Divided Country

Saturday, July 24th, 2010

Did you know that Russia has its own high-speed railway? A recent tweet pointed this out:

Le TGV russe, symbole d'un pays à deux vitesses http://tinyurl.com/3ymelyk #sapsan
@Monde_LEXPRESS
Marie Simon

It links to this article in the French newsmagazine L’Express, with an accompanying photo-montage. So it’s true: the special train service is called the “Sapsan” (Сапсан), Russian for “peregrine falcon,” and has operated since last December on the classic Moscow-to-St. Petersburg route (and only there, so far; that particular route has been in service since 1851). Its Siemens-built trains, with top speeds of 250 km/hour, link Russia’s two premier cities in only three hours, forty minutes.

There are some notable things about the Sapsan, quite apart from its limited route. (It’s relatively new, after all.) As the reader realizes from the photo there at the top of the article, it operates on ordinary tracks, unlike some high-speed services in Europe (e.g. in France, the Netherlands) which use custom-built tracks which can be fenced off. Quite apart from technical considerations, in Russia such security measures are probably called for, given that country’s infamous plague of alcoholism; as things stand, the Sapsan amounts to yet another executioner (more deadly-efficient than other trains, due to its extraordinary speed) of the many drunks who wander onto the rails at the wrong time every year (almost 3,000 in 2009). (more…)

Digg This
Reddit This
Stumble Now!
Buzz This
Vote on DZone
Share on Facebook
Bookmark this on Delicious
Kick It on DotNetKicks.com
Shout it
Share on LinkedIn
Bookmark this on Technorati
Post on Twitter
Google Buzz (aka. Google Reader)

Beyond Tragedy: The Katyn Reconciliation

Monday, April 12th, 2010

One side-detail of the tragic plane-crash on Saturday that killed Polish President Lech Kaczynski along with much of that country’s political, military, and even financial elite was that the reason all these worthies were headed to a Russian provicincial backwater like Smolensk in the first place was to participate in a very solemn ceremony there. That was to have commemorated the mass-execution, which began exactly seventy years ago, of around 20,000 Polish officers and other prominent citizens by the Soviet secret police, who had had them fall into their hands as a result of the USSR’s invasion of Poland (coordinated with Hitler’s Germany) in September, 1939. This prompted some commentators to write ponderously of a doom-laden Katyn parallel: Poland’s intelligentsia wiped out there in 1940, and then once again in 2010.

Unfortunately, these grim events are now totally obscuring the remarkable progress represented by the very fact that such a delegation of eminent Poles, headed by the President, was being allowed to go there in the first place – and by the no-less remarkable fact that Russian premier Vladimir Putin and his Polish counterpart Donald Tusk had in fact participated in a commemoration ceremony there just last Wednesday. Looking back now at news coverage of these developments – that is, written before this past weekend’s tragedy – produces a very bittersweet feeling, especially from two articles on the Katyn legacy from among the elite of the German press, here the Süddeutsche Zeitung and Die Welt. In particular, the latter piece begins with the sentence “Seldom has the Polish public looked at Russia with so much hope as in these days” – on a webpage where, at the very same time, you can click over on the right-hand side (under “Current Videos”) to see a news-film of rescuers searching through the crash-site in the Russian forest!

(By the way, you could be sure that the German coverage of Katyn’s legacy was going to be thorough and high-quality, and not only because Germany’s sheer size of population and cultural inheritance ensures good journalism. Remember that, for decades, it was German soldiers who were alleged to have been at fault here, so you can be sure that German journalists will always be on top of this story to ensure the historic record remains set straight.) (more…)

Digg This
Reddit This
Stumble Now!
Buzz This
Vote on DZone
Share on Facebook
Bookmark this on Delicious
Kick It on DotNetKicks.com
Shout it
Share on LinkedIn
Bookmark this on Technorati
Post on Twitter
Google Buzz (aka. Google Reader)

Nord Stream Pipeline: Cabinet of Knaves

Monday, April 5th, 2010

A brief review here of an important European energy project: Nord Stream. That’s the natural gas pipeline currently being built under the Baltic Sea, connecting the Russian coastal town of Vyborg (Выборг, north of St. Petersburg, on the Finnish border) with a western terminal near the East German coastal town of Greifswald. But as the Nord Stream homepage explains, “[This] is more than just a pipeline. It is a new channel for Russian natural gas exports, and a major infrastructure project which sets a new benchmark in EU-Russia cooperation.”

All true, in a way. But the crucial fact that the website is in no hurry to mention is that this pipeline will deliver Russian natural gas to Germany while by-passing the countries through which a cheaper, overland pipeline would normally go, in particular Poland. To be sure, pipelines to Europe through Poland (and the Ukraine) already exist. But Russian relations with those countries are usually rather prickly; with the completion of Nord Stream, the Russian authorities will have the option within a few years to cut them out of natural gas transmission completely – literally to leave them out in the cold, with no gas, as has already happened this past decade during a number of winter-time confrontations with Ukraine. (more…)

Digg This
Reddit This
Stumble Now!
Buzz This
Vote on DZone
Share on Facebook
Bookmark this on Delicious
Kick It on DotNetKicks.com
Shout it
Share on LinkedIn
Bookmark this on Technorati
Post on Twitter
Google Buzz (aka. Google Reader)

Problems at Russian Nuclear Reactor

Sunday, January 10th, 2010

Sorry to disturb your Sunday peace: there’s an article now in Poland’s Gazeta Wyborcza titled Damage to atomic electricity plant in Russia. Here’s the lede:

One of the blocks of the Volga-Don Atomic Electric Plant in the vicinity of Rostov-on-Don was closed down after there occurred this morning a ruptured pipe in the steam generator.

The plant’s director, Aleksandr Palamarchuk, has assured the press that there has been no damage involving radioactivity, and that radiation readings are “within the norm.” It is planned to get the malfunctioning block started again in about four days’ time.

Interestingly, this plant does not seem to be of the type of old Soviet-style reactors that we’ve heard of before (e.g. Chernobyl), as it was put into operation only nine years ago, and already provides about one-seventh of the electric power consumed in southern European Russia. Nonetheless, it had a problem before, just last month in the very same sub-block, which meant that that part of the plant has been producing minimal levels of power since that time. Now it’s producing nothing, due to that “ruptured pipe” (pęnknięcie rury).

Digg This
Reddit This
Stumble Now!
Buzz This
Vote on DZone
Share on Facebook
Bookmark this on Delicious
Kick It on DotNetKicks.com
Shout it
Share on LinkedIn
Bookmark this on Technorati
Post on Twitter
Google Buzz (aka. Google Reader)

Ex-Soviet Club Presidents’ Summit Shows Russia’s Increasing Clout

Thursday, February 5th, 2009

Just as the Obama administration is getting prepared to ramp up US military strength in Afghanistan by about another 30,000 troops, a very real problem has arisen as to how to keep supplied the NATO troops already on the ground there, much less bring in brand new forces. The land supply-route from Pakistan via the Khyber Pass has lately become somewhat insecure and unreliable, but now the air route threatens to become much longer and more difficult due to the announced closure to NATO use, within six months, of the Manas airbase near the Kyrgyz capital Bishkek. The Washington Independent’s ace (US) national security reporter, Spencer Ackerman, now considers the Manas closing as inevitable, while Scott Horton over at Harper’s enlightens us as to the corrupt and high-handed (even deadly) American behavior there that caused relations with the Kyrgyz to sour to bring us to this point.

The world-renowned French daily Le Monde provides yet more context for that Kyrgyz government decision (Five countries of the ex-USSR create a fund for dealing with the crisis). Those five countries are Russia herself, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan and, yes, Kyrgyzstan, and the article shows clearly how Russia has succeeded in re-extending it’s influence over the Central Asian countries both financially and militarily. Sure, there is that $2 billion loan and $150 million in an outright grant reported by the New York Times that Russia has offered to Kyrgyzstan. But that august newspaper failed to report that Kyrgyz president Kurmanbek Bakiev travelled to Moscow in the first place to take part in a summit with Russian president Medvedev and the presidents of five other ex-Soviet states. It was there that the subset named above established a collective $10 billion fund (with a disproportionate Russian contribution, one would expect) as an emergency and stabilization reserve for confronting the worldwide financial crisis.

But that same summit had an important military dimension as well. All seven of the presidents in attendance (i.e. the five listed above plus those of Armenia and Uzbekistan) agreed to create “collective armed forces” for responding to common external threats. And it was actually in connection with this summit meeting that Kyrgyz president Bakiev made his announcement that the Manas airbase would shortly be closed to the Americans.

Although it is true that “collective armed forces” is a vague phrase, and that one should wait and see what comes of it in operational practice (if anything – it’s highly unlikely to mean a fusion of all those nations’ armies, for example), it is nonetheless clear that Russia’s influence in Central Asia is waxing. But it’s also probably useful to remember that American access to airbases in the region, starting in 2001 (i.e. less than ten years after these states had gained a sort of “independence” from Soviet Russia) was extraordinary to begin with, and really only due to the world political climate in the wake of the 9-11 attacks, which among other effects brought about toleration for this extraordinary concept from the Russian government. If that attitude cooled soon thereafter, it did so somewhat less quickly in the states actually hosting American bases, namely Uzbekistan (with an airbase made available until 2005) and Kyrgyzstan, giving them for a while at least a veneer of policy “independence” from Moscow. The impending loss of the Manas base, however – although considerably helped along by American behavior, as Scott Horton reminds us – was in this geopolitical context something inevitable, so that one would rather hope and expect that contingency plans for what to do next are already in place at the Pentagon.

Digg This
Reddit This
Stumble Now!
Buzz This
Vote on DZone
Share on Facebook
Bookmark this on Delicious
Kick It on DotNetKicks.com
Shout it
Share on LinkedIn
Bookmark this on Technorati
Post on Twitter
Google Buzz (aka. Google Reader)

Russia Feels the Obama Effect

Wednesday, January 28th, 2009

Even amid the general euphoria last Election Day at the gaining of America’s highest office by an African-American, there was still a sprinkle of rain on that parade. (Here at €S we are always on the look-out for the rain on the parade!) Do you remember? It was right on November 5, the day after, that Russian President Dmitri Medvedev offered his own form of congratulations by announcing that Russia intended to deploy short-range missiles (presumably nuclear-capable) to Kaliningrad, that little piece of Russia lying on the Baltic Sea, to the West of Lithuania – and just to the North of Poland, where the US still has signed a treaty paving the way for it to install an anti-missile system, controlled by radar itself stationed within the Czech Republic. Russia has always been sore about that anti-missile system, apparently fearing that it is aimed against itself some way and/or that the deployment would hinder her own capability to sway/intimidate her former satellite states in Eastern Europe, so that this deployment to the Kaliningrad enclave threatened to become the start of a Cold War-like missiles confrontation.

Now a somewhat more reassuring word comes from Germany’s paper-of-record, the FAZ: Russia stops rocket-deployment in Kaliningrad. The article cites the Russian news-agency Interfax as quoting a unnamed member of the Russian General Staff to the effect that this step was taken “since the new American government seemingly is distancing itself from forcing through the setting-up of parts of the planned anti-missile shield in Poland and the Czech Republic.” (more…)

Digg This
Reddit This
Stumble Now!
Buzz This
Vote on DZone
Share on Facebook
Bookmark this on Delicious
Kick It on DotNetKicks.com
Shout it
Share on LinkedIn
Bookmark this on Technorati
Post on Twitter
Google Buzz (aka. Google Reader)

Dissent = Treason

Tuesday, December 16th, 2008

Oh joy! In Russia government authorities have now submitted a law to the Duma (parliament) designed to re-define the legal definition of treason. Up to now that has been defined simply as “activities carried out with the aim of damaging internal security,” but the Kremlin proposes to change that to “any act carried out with the intention of threatening the security of the Russian Federation, including its constitutional order, sovereignty, and territorial and state integrity.” This news comes from the Czechs, who have a considerable stock of their own of both experience with the Russians and of laws equating opposing the State to treason. Specifically, it comes from an article in the largest-circulation non-tabloid daily, Mladá fronta dnes: Kremlin wants law to forbid criticism of state. (The article has multiple references to a treatment of the issue in the London Times, but all that I found on-line was this, which covers the separate issue of a recently-approved bill in the Duma that ended trial-by-jury for terror and treason cases.)

The important thing to note here is that, while this is so far only a legislative proposal, it is certain to become Russian law, given how packed the Duma is (two-thirds) with supporters of the Government, specifically with members of the ruling United Russia party. But it goes even further, also outlawing any provision of financial, material, or technical aid or advice to “suspicious” foreign organizations. What makes a foreign organization “suspicious”? When it is after state secrets. In practice, this means that Russian citizens can get in trouble even for talking with foreigners, and certainly for contacting any outside journalists.

As cherry-on-the-top, the Mladá fronta dnes article features some comments on those who would be “traitors” to the Russian state from Andrei Lugovoy. He’s the one, you might recall, whom Scotland Yard strongly suspects to be the killer (by radioactive polonium 210) of the anti-Putin KGB renegade Alexander Litvinenko, but whom Russia refuses to extradite to the UK. With his legal safety extra-protected by his status as Duma representative, Lugovoy feels no particular reason to shut up, and the article quotes him telling the Spanish newspaper El País that, if it were up to him, “traitors” would simply be executed: “If someone caused serious damage to the Russian state, he should be disposed of.”

Digg This
Reddit This
Stumble Now!
Buzz This
Vote on DZone
Share on Facebook
Bookmark this on Delicious
Kick It on DotNetKicks.com
Shout it
Share on LinkedIn
Bookmark this on Technorati
Post on Twitter
Google Buzz (aka. Google Reader)

Troubled OPEC Seeks Expansion

Tuesday, December 16th, 2008

Russia as a member of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC): how does that idea sound to you? What with the low oil price prevailing nowadays (lately just below $45 for a barrel of Brent crude), that seems just the ticket to Shakib Khelil, Algerian Minister for Energy and acting OPEC President, who recently declared that “Russia will provide a particular importance to OPEC if she re-joins it, that will augment OPEC’s power to control production, which would be around 50% instead of [the present] 40% of global production.” This was according to an article in the French daily Le Monde: Russia invited to rejoin OPEC. (more…)

Digg This
Reddit This
Stumble Now!
Buzz This
Vote on DZone
Share on Facebook
Bookmark this on Delicious
Kick It on DotNetKicks.com
Shout it
Share on LinkedIn
Bookmark this on Technorati
Post on Twitter
Google Buzz (aka. Google Reader)

Putin for Obama

Thursday, October 23rd, 2008

The US presidential election is coming up soon, less than two weeks away. That means, among other things, that it’s endorsement season now, and lately those have taken somewhat of an international flavor. You might have already heard about al-Qaeda’s “endorsement” of McCain – perhaps I’ll have the opportunity to write more about that soon. As such, that nod of terroristic approval goes counter to pretty much the whole rest of the world, which prefers Obama as next US president by about a four-to-one margin. (But you’d sort of expect that Osama bin Laden and his henchmen would be inclined to go against the grain, now, wouldn’t you?) More conventional is Russia’s choice, or at least Russia’s seeming choice, as reported by Per Dalgård in the Danish opinion weekly Information (McCain asks Russia for help). (more…)

Digg This
Reddit This
Stumble Now!
Buzz This
Vote on DZone
Share on Facebook
Bookmark this on Delicious
Kick It on DotNetKicks.com
Shout it
Share on LinkedIn
Bookmark this on Technorati
Post on Twitter
Google Buzz (aka. Google Reader)

Russian Army Out of Control?

Tuesday, September 2nd, 2008

Why are Russian forces presently still occupying big swathes of vital Georgian territory, seemingly in defiance of the cease-fire brokered by EU president Nicolas Sarkozy and signed by both the Russian and Georgian governments? (I say “seemingly,” because I’ve read reports that, in the negotiations leading up to that cease-fire agreement, the Russian side managed to have language inserted that gave them some leeway to keep hold of some of that territory if in their judgment it was necessary for use as a buffer for their defense of South Ossetia.) One possible reason, that Gazeta Wyborcza raises today (Russian Army not completely subordinate?), is that the Red Army might not have been completely under the control of its political masters during its incursion into Georgia.

This specter of a renegade Red Army is a scary one, particularly for Poles, although the Polish daily does not claim any original research here. Rather, the article is devoted to recasting into Polish a report on this subject from yesterday’s Financial Times – to which, if you’re interested, I’ll just let you switch over here since it’s written in good Queen’s (business) English. Highlights are the way the Russian troops kept going even after the cease-fire was signed (with the military brass ticked off that their leaders in the Kremlin would not let them finish the job, i.e. destroy the Georgian army), and how they even set about establishing a police force for the occupied Georgian city of Gori – not really a military force’s task, quite apart from it’s being a clear sign of intent to stay there for a while – before that political yank-on-the-leash finally came down and they were ordered to evacuate Gori (but only to positions just outside).

Digg This
Reddit This
Stumble Now!
Buzz This
Vote on DZone
Share on Facebook
Bookmark this on Delicious
Kick It on DotNetKicks.com
Shout it
Share on LinkedIn
Bookmark this on Technorati
Post on Twitter
Google Buzz (aka. Google Reader)

Spicy Russo-Georgian Potpourri

Monday, September 1st, 2008

“Georgia – again?” Well, yes. What else would there be? The Republican National Convention? Coming up (we think). Sarah Palin? Not today, but definitely stay tuned on that one, it could turn spectacular. Hurricane Gustav? The European viewpoint there is probably not too interesting, even if we might be somewhat honored by the choice of that quintessentially (Central) European given name for bestowal on the storm. My best sense of the EU’s official position on Gustav – gathered from that extensive trawling through the various national presses that I do for you on a continual basis – is that it’s taken to be a bad thing, definitely.

Actually, developments on the Georgia story do keep on coming, especially if you take the unpleasantness there of last month (not at all unreasonably) as a proxy for the new Eurasian balance-of-power that conflict suddenly revealed to the world. Today is when the EU heads of government are due in Paris to meet on a European response (if any) to Russia’s recent behavior. Looking ahead last Friday, the Berlin correspondent for Poland’s Gazeta Wyborcza, Bartosz T. Wielinski, put forth a mostly pessimistic outlook on what could be accomplished (What the Union can do to Russia on Monday). (more…)

Digg This
Reddit This
Stumble Now!
Buzz This
Vote on DZone
Share on Facebook
Bookmark this on Delicious
Kick It on DotNetKicks.com
Shout it
Share on LinkedIn
Bookmark this on Technorati
Post on Twitter
Google Buzz (aka. Google Reader)

Russia Shows Its Weakness

Thursday, August 28th, 2008

Today’s Washington Post passes along word from US assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian affairs, Daniel Fried, characterizing Russia’s recent intervention into Georgia as reflecting Russia “being angry and seeking revanchist victory” – “the sign of a weak [nation].” Putin, Medvedev & Co. seem to have gotten about all they wanted there, so is this just happy talk? Whistling past the graveyard? Maybe not; it’s a view also supported – and expanded upon – by Prof. Herfried Münkler of Berlin’s renowned Humboldt University writing in today’s Frankfurter Rundschau (The Russian Power). (more…)

Digg This
Reddit This
Stumble Now!
Buzz This
Vote on DZone
Share on Facebook
Bookmark this on Delicious
Kick It on DotNetKicks.com
Shout it
Share on LinkedIn
Bookmark this on Technorati
Post on Twitter
Google Buzz (aka. Google Reader)

Trembling in Moldova

Monday, August 25th, 2008

Much ink has been spilled lately – or, if you like, billions of computer-screen pixels have been illuminated – in the wake of the Russian military incursion into Georgia over the new aggressiveness this signals in Russia’s outlook towards the outside world, particularly in situations enabling that country’s leaders to manufacture a pretext to invade based around “protecting” Russian nationals residing in some neighboring country. Which one of those neighbors is likely as the next candidate for Moscow’s attentions? You can bet that any remaining summer leave has been revoked as officials in both the ministries of foreign affairs and defense scramble to update their position statements and contingency plans in Kiev, Tallinn, Riga, Vilnius, Baku, Yerevan – and in Chisinau.

Chisinau? You might recall that as the capital of the Republic of Moldova. It may not share any border with Russia, but in fact it is one country that has more to worry about in the face of the new Russian assertiveness than most, as André Tibold of the Nederlands Dagblad reminds us today (Moldova is also worried about provocations). (more…)

Digg This
Reddit This
Stumble Now!
Buzz This
Vote on DZone
Share on Facebook
Bookmark this on Delicious
Kick It on DotNetKicks.com
Shout it
Share on LinkedIn
Bookmark this on Technorati
Post on Twitter
Google Buzz (aka. Google Reader)

Good-Bye Putin

Wednesday, August 20th, 2008

The hostilities in Georgia seem to be dying down now. Russian forces are withdrawing – or at least they are supposed to withdraw, under the terms of the cease-fire they signed, but there is considerable doubt as to whether they are actually fulfilling that obligation.

In the meantime, the countries of the NATO alliance struggle to come to terms with the new ruthless military face Russia has shown in this crisis. Germany now stands central in that military alliance, in the same way it has stood central for some time now within the European Union, again because of its sheer weight of population and economic power (and, who knows, maybe also its reputation for military ability in the past), which makes German commentary on these recent developments particularly interesting.

A very good contribution comes from Jochen Bittner, who writes a weblog, called Planet in Progress, that is carried off the Die Zeit webserver. (more…)

Digg This
Reddit This
Stumble Now!
Buzz This
Vote on DZone
Share on Facebook
Bookmark this on Delicious
Kick It on DotNetKicks.com
Shout it
Share on LinkedIn
Bookmark this on Technorati
Post on Twitter
Google Buzz (aka. Google Reader)

Georgia = Czechoslovakia?

Thursday, August 14th, 2008

US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said yesterday, speaking of the recent Russian actions in Georgia, that “This is not 1968 and the invasion of Czechoslovakia, where Russia can threaten a neighbor, occupy a capital, overthrow a government and get away with it. Things have changed.” Examining her words carefully, one could conclude that her point is essentially that Russia is attempting a repeat of what it accomplished with its Warsaw Pact invasion of Czechoslovakia – exactly forty years ago this month, as it happens – but should not be able or allowed to succeed this time.

But are the two military undertakings, separated by four decades, really comparable? You could ask the Czechs themselves about that. (more…)

Digg This
Reddit This
Stumble Now!
Buzz This
Vote on DZone
Share on Facebook
Bookmark this on Delicious
Kick It on DotNetKicks.com
Shout it
Share on LinkedIn
Bookmark this on Technorati
Post on Twitter
Google Buzz (aka. Google Reader)

Russian-Georgian Naval Conflict

Monday, August 11th, 2008

The Dutch daily Het Parool has word of the current military struggle between Russia and Georgia spreading beyond land conflict (Russian Fleet Sinks Georgian Boat). Quoting Russian press bureaus, who in turn gained their information from the Ministry of Defense in Moscow, the paper reports that yesterday (Sunday) two Georgian patrol boats in the Black Sea fired rockets at Russian warships, who returned fire and sunk one of the boats. Spokesmen for the Georgian government were not available for comment. (more…)

Digg This
Reddit This
Stumble Now!
Buzz This
Vote on DZone
Share on Facebook
Bookmark this on Delicious
Kick It on DotNetKicks.com
Shout it
Share on LinkedIn
Bookmark this on Technorati
Post on Twitter
Google Buzz (aka. Google Reader)

Coming Soon: Austerlitz Theme Park!

Wednesday, July 16th, 2008

Austerlitz: the very name is covered in glory for the French, as well as for anyone else with any knowledge of the Napoleonic Wars. For it was on this Central European battlefield in 1805 (a little less than two months after the sea Battle of Trafalgar, as it happened) that Napoleon Bonaparte faced down the combined armies of two great empires – the Austrian and the Russian – and beat them bloodily and decisively in a battle regarded as a tactical masterpiece. In the aftermath the Austrian Emperor Francis would sue for peace, acknowledging France’s previous conquests in Italy and Germany; what was left of the Russian army would be permitted to scurry back on home; and Prussia (non-participating) somehow would become annoyed enough with this result to shortly go to war against Napoleon itself (bad move). In today’s Paris you will find a Gare (i.e. train station), a Quai (i.e. embankment), a Pont (i.e. bridge), a Rue (i.e. street), a Port and a Villa d’Austerlitz – despite the name itself being about as un-French-sounding as you can get while still staying within the Roman alphabet.

In fact it’s a German name, of course, because back in those days of the very early 19th century German culture and the German language were dominant over Central Europe, as they had been since the Thirty Years’ War, and the major city outside of which the battle was fought was known as Brünn. (more…)

Digg This
Reddit This
Stumble Now!
Buzz This
Vote on DZone
Share on Facebook
Bookmark this on Delicious
Kick It on DotNetKicks.com
Shout it
Share on LinkedIn
Bookmark this on Technorati
Post on Twitter
Google Buzz (aka. Google Reader)

Deep Purple Funk

Friday, February 8th, 2008

Next Monday, 11 February, is promising to be quite an eventful day on the Gazprom front – that’s of course the gigantic Russan natural gas company, the largest extractor of natural gas in the world, of which the Russian government owns a majority stake. On the one hand, it’s the same-old same-old, what we’ve all seen before, for Monday is the day that Russia, speaking for Gazprom, will cut off all natural gas supplies to the Ukraine due to alleged non-payment by the latter of $1.5 billion. Curiously, Ukrainian president Viktor Yushchenko has been scheduled for some time to arrive in Moscow for a visit on Tuesday. At least he’ll be glad to be away from his native country and someplace instead where it’s actually warm inside the buildings, though one can imagine that the diplomatic talks he will engage in might still be rather frosty.

But that is all par for the course for a European winter; I can remember recently thinking to myself “Hmm, it’s already February – shouldn’t we have had the regularly-scheduled Russian energy cut-off crisis by now?” More interesting is that next Monday is also the evening of the going-away concert in honor of Dimitri Medvedev – Gazprom chairman now, but Vladimir Putin’s “recommended” candidate for president of the Russian Federation at the upcoming March 2 elections, and therefore also a shoo-in as the next Russian president. The concert will be headlined by the legendary English rock-n-roll band Deep Purple, and this was recently commented upon in the New York Time’s weblog “The Lede: Notes on the News,” by Mike Nizza, who notes that Putin himself will surely be present as well. (more…)

Digg This
Reddit This
Stumble Now!
Buzz This
Vote on DZone
Share on Facebook
Bookmark this on Delicious
Kick It on DotNetKicks.com
Shout it
Share on LinkedIn
Bookmark this on Technorati
Post on Twitter
Google Buzz (aka. Google Reader)