Sunday, March 15, 2015

Nemtsov's Murder and Putin's Disappearance

Putin has not been seen in public for 10 days now and the rumour mills are happier than a kid in a candy store. He is dead,deposed, ill, stroke, face lift, in Switzerland for the birth of his girlfriend's baby, watching reruns on TV.  The Kremlin is trying to hold the fort, claiming everything is OK but Putin has a serious meeting Monday in St Petersburg and if he doesn't show, there will be some 'splainin' to do.  It didn't help that the minutes of the meeting were accidentally read on Friday's news cast.

If this were a planned absence the Kremlin would have had a few TV-casts of meetings organized and released to look as though they were current, so it makes me wonder.

The connection to Nevtsov's murder is this:
Police arrest several people, all Chechens.  Surprise, surprise, surprise! One suspect "blows himself up with a grenade".  He may have been arrested before or more likely killed so as not to ruin the story.  One of the suspects confesses that he did it because of Nemstov's support for Charlie Hebdo.  Right!  But he is visited in prison by two human rights activists (What?  Surely you jest?  Don't call me Shirley) and recants his confession claiming torture, with visible marks to prove it.

Kadyrov, Putin's warlord of Chechnya, says the "confessed killer" is a hero, a true patriot and a dedicated Islamist. His mother says he had no interest in religion whatsoever. Kadyrov and his merry band of thugs are untouchable in Putin's Russia, even in Moscow and go around offing people Kadyrov doesn't like, including in foreign countries.

The FSB and Kadyrov are full court press enemies.  It would seem that the FSB not only know who the killer is but also have proof as to who ordered it.  Putin is between a rock and a hard place.  If he backs Kadyrov, the siloviki will take him out.  If he backs the siloviki, he loses face as his main claim to fame has been bringing "stability" to Chechnya via his man Kadyrov. So he may be simply lying low waiting to see who comes out on top or ...

For a good explanation of how palace coups occurred in Soviet Russia Cheryl Rofer has a great article here about the death of Stalin and the arrest of Beria.

If Putin is dead or overthrown, do NOT expect some miraculous turnaround in Russia's conduct either internally or externally.  It may even get worse.

Friday, March 13, 2015

But I've been to Oklahoma

Hanging Volk's bedding out on the fence to air in the sun caused it to cloud up and rain starting noon yesterday so I put it back in his house.  It rained all night.  Tanya and I took the 7:00 am bus to Dnipropetrovsk this morning and it rained all day.  We got home at 6:00 pm and it is still raining. Winter crops look good.  Now we need heat.

I had not been outside Zhovti Vody since I got back from Canada last fall and had not been to Dnipro since a year ago when we picked up Tanya's UK visa to go to London to visit the Queen...of Sarcasm. (Actually her older sister is the Queen of Sarcasm; youngest is the Undisputed Empress of the Universe of Sarcasm).  Tanya has been to Dnipro and P'yatikhatki several times on business, related to renewing our house documents but I begged off.

No longer having a car has saved us a lot of money, even with taxis.  It cost us $2 USD to come back from the bus depot tonight.  Bus fare to Dnipro was 75 UAH, a bit over $3 USD.  Same price as when I moved here and it was only 16 UAH.  However instead of 18 passenger mini-buses running every 20 minutes, they use 36 and 48 passenger buses running every 30 minutes to one hour, depending on time of day.

There are fewer cars on the streets in Dnipro then when I was there last time.  Gasoline is 21 UAH/litre, less than a Dollar but cash is hard to come by.  Lots of SALE signs in all the stores on Karl Marx (the main drag). TGI Fridays/Il Patio restaurants have closed, so no steak or Jack Daniel's ribs for me.  We went to McDonald's and ate well for $10 or 220 UAH.  Used to be 85 UAH and still $10 a couple years ago.

How do the people of Ukraine survive? They have no FX to backstop them.

We went to Dnipro to pay for our 8 day trip to Barcelona and apply for Tanya's Schengen visa.  We leave April 25th, return May 2nd and will stay at a small resort hotel (breakfast and supper incl.) about one hour and a half from the city.  Cost $1100 USD.  We will buy day tours once we get there.  We looked at Italy (too expensive) and Portugal (another time). Now to do our homework and learn about the area.  There is a Dali gallery and a Picasso gallery on our list already.

This is cutting it a bit fine as my "new" Canadian passport expires Nov 12th 2015 and of course one needs six clear months on one's passport.  I had forgotten it was due to expire this year.  Where did five years go so fast?

Window display in a shoe store - needs caption

Thursday, March 5, 2015

International Women's Day and Other Happening Things

March 8 is International Women's Day.  In this part of the world it is bigger than Valentine's Day which is a rather Johnny-come-lately import.  In this most misogynist of all cultures, IWD celebrates "traditional values of feminism".  In other words, flowers, chocolates, jewelry, dinners...

Today I went for a haircut and wanted to take Yulia flowers.  Three days early.  Lina had us in kinks laughing, when I announced that at the supper table a few days ago. According to her, if you buy a woman flowers two days before "Vosmoia Marta", she is your Mistress; one day before, your colleague; on the day of, your beloved; and if you forget totally, your wife.

We were on Skype with Tanya's sister today.  Valarie is threatening to buy Luda an ironing board for IWD.  She has needed a new one for months and months and keeps putting it off until "next time".

Two days ago it was so cold, windy and rainy all I wanted to do was curl up in bed for the day and keep warm.  I offered Tanya 100 hrivna if she would go out and feed Volk.  She said she would give me 200 if I did it myself.  (I should have offered her 500.  1000 hrivna would pay for lunch on Sunday).  So today I claimed the 200 and gave it to Yulia in lieu of flowers for my 50 hrivna haircut.

We have reservations for 8 for 1:00 pm at Sweet House on Sunday for lunch. The whole famn damly, including Baba Natasha.  My treat, along with flowers for everyone. Andrei is supposed to come but if he doesn't Masha can bring one of her friends.  But apparently not her friend Sonja as they aren't friends anymore; they have been fighting.  Eleven year old girls!!!

Sveta has adopted Kashtanka, the small red female dog I had hoped would be a companion for Volk.  She is only a year old but was already someone's house pet and is well trained.  She and Murashka, Sveta's cat, love each other, play together, sleep together (on top of Sveta) and it just isn't fair to put her outside.

There has been a very thin stray female that showed up from time to time and which we fed whenever she was around.  If I could gain her confidence, I had hopes she would stay.
She disappeared for several days then showed up with all her friends in tow.  They come around the yard every day and bark at Volk.  I would love to let him run but am not sure when I would see him again.

The cats come in from outside about 11:00 pm, just before we go to bed.  They retire to our bed to sleep for (most of) the night.  But first they have to clean the mud out of their feet.  On our bed.  Tanya put a throw blanket down at the foot of the bed, which we gather and shake every morning. Works good.

Bonya and Tigritsa share a chair

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

More on Nemtsov and other stuff

Putin’s War and the Murder of Boris Nemtsov

On the day after Nemtsov’s murder, the photograph of him lying gunned down on the bridge ran on the front page of the Wall Street Journal, right above a story explaining that the US is limiting the spy-satellite intelligence it provides Ukraine to avoid provoking Russia, and that the Obama administration also remains deeply divided over granting lethal aid a year after it was requested by Kyiv. 

The contrast between the horror in Moscow and the dysfunction in Washington is revealing and also very disconcerting. The image from the bridge radiates globally because Russia under Putin is a danger not only to Ukraine but to Europe, the US, and the entire international order. The refusal to provide meaningful aid to Ukraine, a country that is fighting for its freedom and territorial integrity against this danger, will only invite more Russian aggression, and it will not end with Ukraine. This is a lesson that has had to be learned too many times in history, and we need to learn it again—quickly—before much more harm is done.

Boris Nemtsov, 1959–2015

Whoever pulled the trigger—the collective trigger was pulled by all those, from television propagandists to Vladimir Putin himself, who over the last several years, and especially after the beginning of the war with Ukraine, sponsored a campaign of hatred, intimidation, and aggression against those they labeled “national traitors” and “the fifth column”—Russian democrats and all those who opposed Putin and his policies. Just days ago, pro-Kremlin organizations staged a hate-filled rally in downtown Moscow, openly calling for “cleansing” Russia from “the fifth column.” The placards they carried had the picture of Boris Nemtsov.

State television channels that hounded and slandered Nemtsov until the very last day of his life—the latest episode purporting to show his “links with the West” was scheduled to be broadcast on NTV on March 1st—have immediately changed their tune, claiming that the opposition leader was “insignificant” and “no threat” to Putin. “An average citizen,” Putin’s official spokesman quipped.

Stalin’s Caucasus crimes Putin wants you to forget

Despite claims that USSR embraced Internationalism, in reality nationality and ethnicity always mattered. It didn’t matter that many Kalmyks, Tatars or Chechens had fought in the Red Army too, in the words of Simon Sebag-Montefiore, Stalin “certainly carried all the traditional Georgian prejudices against the Muslim peoples of the Caucasus whom he was to deport.” And that’s not only true for the peoples of the Caucasus. Throughout his reign as ruler of the USSR, Stalin absorbed Russian nationalism and by doing so absorbed all the traditional hatreds and prejudices against other peoples that went along with it.

The deportation of the Chechen and Ingush peoples was part of Stalin’s great deportation plan of ethnic minorities in the USSR:
·         900,000 Soviet Germans, 89,000 Finns deported in 1941 & 1942
·         69,267 Karachais deported to Central Asia 19 Nov 1943
·         91,919 Kalmyks deported to Siberia 28–29 Dec 1943
·         478,479 Chechen and Ingush peoples deported to Siberia on 23 Feb 1944
·         37,107 Balkars deported to Kazakstan on 8–9 Mar 1944
·         180,014 Crimean Tatars deported to Uzbekistan on 18–20 Mar 1944
·         91,095 Meshketian Turks deported from Soviet Georgia later in 1944 

These crimes against humanity form yet another stain against the former USSR and its predecessor, the Tsarist Russian Empire, both of whom today’s Russian leader Vladimir Putin expressly admires. Against this background, it is unsurprising, then, that Putin has continued the legacy of repressive measures regarding any attempt at commemorating these historic events.

The Absurd World of Russian Public Opinion

The overwhelming majority of Russians believe that the West attacked Russia in Ukraine and not that Russia seized part of Ukraine's territory and is now actively helping separatists in eastern Ukraine with regular army soldiers, volunteers and heavy weapons.

They believe not that the Ukrainian people ousted former President Viktor Yanukovych because of his unparalleled theft and lies, but that the United States and CIA agents overthrew him by using Maidan as a tool for replacing the pro-Russian regime in Kiev with an anti-Russian "junta."

Most Russians believe that this country's economic problems are not the fault of the Russian authorities, their corrupt and monopolistic policies, their seizures of private property and practice of corporate raids or their policy of high and ever-rising costs for business, but stem from the machinations of the West, which dreams only of how it can destroy Russia.

In one kindergarten in the Moscow area, a teacher painted this picture of the world for her five-year-old wards. "The Ukrainians wanted to live with Russia, but the Americans wanted the Ukrainians to live with them. The Americans bomb Ukrainian cities. But don't be afraid. The Russian army is stronger than everyone and will save us from the Americans. Our president is good. He stands for peace. He sends weapons to the separatists and we will win soon. After that, one little boy cried out, "Hurray! It's world war! We'll beat everybody!"

Russian soldier fighting in Ukraine is proud of Putin for deceiving the world

A common misperception in the West is a somewhat naïve expectation that Russian people would rebel, if they only knew that Putin is covertly sending soldiers to fight and die in another sovereign country. The fact is, many of them already know. Blinded by shameless Russian propaganda, they don’t mind the fact that their government is obfuscating the facts and lying to the world. To the contrary, they’re proud of their fibbing President. In their imagination, inflamed by Russian mainstream media, the end justifies the means. They don’t mind it when lies are spouted from the Kremlin, because many Russians see themselves at war with the West. “The information war” is therefore part of this one-sided grandstanding, where anything goes. Believing Putin’s lie about “NATO legions” in Ukraine, many Russians are content to believe that their military battalions are waging battle against these imaginary Western opponents. What they fail to realize is that while Putin is lying to the world, he is also lying to the Russians.

Russian mainstream media and the country’s leading propagandists (designated as so-called “guardians” of the establishment) callously disseminate images of dead and injured children in the Middle East, passing them off as casualties of the Ukrainian military. They show off images of Russia’s brutalities in Chechnya, representing them as Ukraine’s alleged slaughter of its own civilians. They ludicrously exclaim that Ukrainian armed forces are “crucifying children and forcing their mothers to watch.” Quite simply, Russia lies to everyone. These falsehoods affect the country’s citizens in the most profound way: by convincing them to give up their very lives for the sake of defeating their alleged arch-nemesis. Instead of the phantom “NATO legions,” they savagely attack Ukrainian military and civilians on Ukrainian soil. As Slavoj Žižek once said, “[T]he horror of Communism, Stalinism, is not that bad people do bad things — they always do. It's that good people do horrible things, thinking they are doing something great."

The story of a Russian soldier’s war in Ukraine: “We all knew what we had to do and what could happen”

This is a long interview with a badly injured Russian soldier, A Buryat from Ulaan Ude in the Far East.  He describes his recruitment, training, the steps taken to hide the fact there are regular Russian soldiers in Ukraine and the battle in which he was injured.

We found Radio Sputnik. And there was a debate, if there were soldiers here in Ukraine. And all the guests were like, “No-no-no!” And here’s our company, like, yeah, right. Well, who would admit it openly? Our government does realize it has to help, but officially sending the troops in would rile up Europe and NATO. However, you do realize NATO is also in it, sure, they are sending them weapons.

Ukraine Live Day 378: Severely Injured Russian Soldier Describes Deployment to Ukraine

This is a detailed military analysis of the above interview and the link is a good source of day to day reporting on the war in Ukraine.

The soldier sustained severe burns after ammunition went off inside his tank, causing a fire.  He was evacuated in an APC and was taken first to Gorlovka, and from there to Donetsk, where he is now in a burns unit in the region's central hospital. He hopes to return to Russia soon.

Batomunkuev makes no secret of his identity. He is a soldier in the 5th independent tank brigade (based in Ulan-Ude). He was conscripted on November 25, 2013 and signed a three-year military service contract (enabling him to be deployed outside his region) on June 2014.

Before leaving for Rostov, back in Ulan-Ude, the unit had painted over their tanks, covering numbers and unit markings. All insignia patches were removed when they arrived at their camp. Passports were left at their home base.

On leaving the camp, they were told to hand over mobile phones and documentation. It appears the Russian military is attempting to clamp down on potentially revealing photos and reports appearing on social media, or for bodies to be found with identifiable documents.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Nemtsov Remembrance March in Moscow

The Anti-Putin march which Nemtsov was organizing for today, March 1, went ahead only it was a remembrance march for Nemtsov instead.  As many as 70,000 people showed up.  The official police count was 16,000 so it was at least 4X that.  I remember from the marches in Washington DC against the Vietnam War (which I observed as as student from a very safe distance).  If 100,000 people showed up the MSM were instructed to report 10,000 based on official Whitehouse estimates.

Estimating a crowd is actually quite simple if you have detailed information ahead of time of areas where the crowd will assemble eg length and width of bridge (or the park in front of the White House where the Washington Monument is where people gathered for Obama's swearing in). An estimate of how much of the area is actually occupied is multiplied by so many people per square meter/yard, which doesn't change that much, I guess.

70,000 is not very many but considering the atmosphere in which they are marching, they are extremely brave.  Did you see the photos of the crowd from Obama's inauguration in 2009?  The quality of the photographs was such that you could expand to identify any person anywhere in the crowd. A program to match against photos on social media would give you the names of most of them, I expect.  The photos of the crowds at William and Kate's wedding were in the same detail and I found my daughter in the crowd. (OK, my cousin found her).  So you can figure that everyone of those 70,000 people will be on record with the FSB.

Photos from Konstantine Maslov 

Nemstov's girlfriend who was with him when he was assassinated is being held in Moscow pending investigation.  She is not under arrest but neither can she leave to return to Ukraine of which country she is a citizen.

No violence reported that I could find.  There were a number of arrests.  Anyone with a Ukrainian flag or a Free Savchencko sign of any kind were arrested.  Ukrainian Deputy Alexei Goncharenko was arrested for wearing a Nemstov t-shirt.  Russia may charge him with murder in connection with the May 2014 fire in the Trade Union Centre in Odessa.  There are several Ukrainians held in Russia under various excuses.  Savchenko and Goncharenko are the highest profile.

Gonchenko likely had as much to do with the fire in Odessa as Savchenko had to do with the deaths of two Russian journalists but that is irrelevant.  "Russian justice" involves picking a victim, picking a crime to charge them with, and manufacturing evidence as necessary. It doesn't have to be even the least bit credible as the verdict will be written in the Kremlin, possibly even before the trial and handed to the judge to read.

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Nemtsov is Murdered; Who is Next? (Ukraine invaded; Who is Next?)

My Facebook news feed this morning is full of stories of Nemtsov's murder yesterday evening.  Two days before an anti-Putin march scheduled for March 1st and within sight of the Kremlin.  There have been more than 100 murders of activists, journalists and other "enemies of the people" in the past 15 years.  Whether the Kremlin ordered the hits or whether targets were simply painted on peoples' backs and fate allowed to run its course is irrelevant.

Russian media is claiming it was a CIA sponsored provocation carried out by Ukraine and the trolls are all over any MSM comments section.  Like it took more than two brain cells to figure out that would be the story.

If you want a list, here is one of journalists only murdered since 1991:

What keeps Putin looking young and fit: Work outs, a face lift, botox AND this person.  Amazing what between $40 and $200 billion will do for a man.

More non-surprises:

  • In Ukraine both sides are pulling back their heavy artillery.  The Russian side has pulled back about 10% to 15% of what they claim they have and can have them back in place in under 30 minutes.
  • Russia has massed 63500 troops along the Ukrainian border, about half in Crimea.  Invasion of Mariupol expected in spring (I say sooner but what do I know and I am always a pessimist).
  • Organizers of the Kharkiv terrorist attack were trained supplied and funded by the GRU.
  • More HERE, including links to other articles.

The list of Putin's tactical objectives are well known and discussed to death at great length over the past year. His strategic objective is this: a return to the world of the Yalta agreement of 1945, (keeping in mind that Stalin agreed to everything but lied through his teeth) which de facto divided up Europe

Speaking about the foreign policy doctrine of Russian President, Khodorkovsky assures that Putin"s ultimate goals extend much farther than it seems. "Putin does not need Donbas. He wants to determine the fate of the world at talks with a U.S. President," he explained. Russian president would like to negotiate with the United States to return to the old system, when the world was divided into zones of influence of the superpowers. "When you cannot interfere in someone else's zone. Not even to mention internal politics," Khodorkovsky said.

That calls to mind these words of former British Prime Minister Winston Churchill: "We seem to be very near the bleak choice between War and Shame. My feeling is that we shall choose Shame, and then have War thrown in a little later, on even more adverse terms than at present."
It is unlikely those world leaders will agree to that sort of humiliation again. The failure of the peace process means that, among other things, Russia is fundamentally incapable of keeping its agreements. It is impossible to make agreements with someone who violates that agreement the very next day.
In fact, the Ukrainian crisis marks the collapse of the existing world order. Putin is not fighting for control over a few economically depressed areas of the Donbass. He is fighting for the right to sit at the same table with the "great powers" where they redraw national borders.
But even if the West was willing to indulge Putin's desire, the time has long passed for individual leaders to determine the fate of other countries. The resulting impasse has put the West at a total loss as to how to proceed: Sanctions clearly have not forced Putin to change his policy, it is pointless to try to reach an agreement with him and it is impossible to go to war against a nuclear power. The Moscow Times
More good reading from Paul Goble: 
See also, for Paul Goble's series of articles based on comments in Russian, Ukrainian and other FSU media:

Window on Eurasia -- New Series

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Remembering the Farm – Cows II

Having grown up with cattle from a toddler, I was never afraid of them.  Dad had a small field of oats south of the yard that the pail-fed calves ran in.  Their mothers were milk cows and the calves got skim milk after the cream was separated out.  The calves were taller than the oats which was taller than me.  Mom knew where I was because she could see the calves moving through the field and knew I was following them.

Lack of fear can get you killed.  I was about 6 or 8 when the dog and I wandered through the herd during calving time.  A black and white heifer had calved for the first time and she was on the prod.  She flattened me and I have no recollection of how I got out of there without serious injury.  For the rest of her life she had no use for kids and dogs (or women in skirts as she chased my mother once when she was wearing a skirt).  She would put up with dad or any other adult.

We kids used to go “camping” in the pasture which began about ¼ mile north of the yard and had several good poplar and willow bluffs we could play in.  We had a 6x6x6 teepee tent that our grandparents Johnson had given us for Christmas which we took with us.  But we had to make sure the cattle were in another part of the pasture, to avoid the Black and White Cow (that was her name).

When I managed the farm at Cumberland House in the late 70s, during calving time I took the night shift as they all had cattle of their own.  One morning they came to work and found me high up on the 10’ shelter fence clinging for dear life with a wild-eyed crazy heifer pacing below me.  When they finished laughing they ran her into a pen and rescued me.  First calf heifers can be problems as once in a while one will spook because she has no idea what is happening to her or because she wants to protect her calf.

Mostly Dad’s cows calved on pasture on their own.  Calving problems were almost nonexistent as I do not recall Dad helping any.  Initially the cow herd was mostly milk cows that Dad bought, meaning beef cows with a touch of Guernsey, Jersey or Ayrshire and the rest Shorthorn or Hereford.  Bulls were Hereford until 1958 when Dad bought a Red Poll bull and three Red Poll cows to get a little more milk in the herd.  Eventually many of the herd had some Red Poll blood.  Then he bought an Angus bull which we kept for quite a few years for some reason.  After that it was all Simmental.  Initially half-blood and three-quarter blood but eventually purebred as the breed became established and purebreds affordable.

Initially there was a planned breeding period.  The bull went out July 1 to August 31.  The cows calved on pasture beginning in early April.  They got salt and bone meal (Ca, P) all year round.  The rapid growth of grass in May and June got the cows back in shape to rebreed beginning in July again.  It worked great as long as the pasture was good and the cows came through winter in fair condition.  

The problem was that as the bulls got better (Simmental) the cows got bigger and more productive.  The winter feed regime didn’t change so the cows were thinner in spring and took longer and longer to rebreed.  The last few years the bull ran with the cows all year round and calves were born whenever.  This created a huge amount of work for dad because the cattle managed him, not vice versa.

Up to the end of the 1950’s, everyone we knew kept their cows inside barns all winter long.  A huge amount of work, hauling feed in, hauling manure out up to 200 days of the year.  We were no different.  There was an old pole barn with a shiplap roof that may have been shingled at one time.  I am sure it was built around 1906 when the farm site was established.  That is where the cows stayed, tied in their stalls, let out once a day for water, pumped by hand from the well. 

The old barn, about 1952
 Dad’s Uncle Joe moved to Edmonton from Cavell in 1951. In 1953, Dad moved their big two-story house to the farm and put it on a cement foundation.  It was remodeled to become a second barn for milk cows, young calves, a few pigs and a team of horses.  The rest of the cattle were allowed to run loose in the old barn which was knee deep in muck by spring.

The stackyard by the barn c 1972.
 My kids might recognize their mother and uncles
The old barn finally collapsed the summer of 1959.  Dad had no choice that winter but to run the herd in the sloughs and poplar and willow bluffs, about 3/8 mile north of the farm, close to where the dugout was. (If cattle are grazing in snow they can get enough water from snow but if they are fed dry feed then they have to be watered).  We hauled feed to the cattle twice a day with the team and sleigh and cut ice on the dugout for them to drink.

Dad was more than a little nervous about the cattle being outside in the cold.  One night there was a bitter SE wind and it was 40 below.  In the middle of the night, Dad got up and harnessed the team, loaded the sleigh with grain and headed up to the cattle.  They were comfortably nestled down in deep bedding in the slough bottom out of the wind and much warmer than Dad was.  He said they never moved, just looked at him like he was crazy for disturbing them.  Dad didn’t even unloaded the sleigh; just turned around, put the team in the barn and went to bed. He never worried about them again.

In later years the team and loose feed was replaced by the pickup truck loaded with bales.  The trees eventually thinned out (cattle are murder on trees) and replaced by a windbreak shelter fence.  The cattle still drank from the dugout but several years of manure build up around the drinking holes and lack of good spring runoff left only a few feet of very murky water some years.  That is why it was cleaned out with a drag line the one year it was almost dry.

Feeding a twilight
My brother Stan took the last two pictures. To be continued