With their breathless talk of crisis, protests and turning points in Belarus, pro-democracy pundits are making their most common mistake, namely, prematurely declaring victory over authoritarianism because they want it to be so. In the Belarusian protests it’s particularly important to consider the position of Vladimir Putin, for whom a functioning democracy on Russia’s border is utterly impermissible.
Note that after he took in the fleeing Ukrainian Viktor Yanukovich (tour Mezhyhirya, Yanukovich’s former residence outside Kyiv here), as he doubtless would Lukashenka, Putin found it necessary to seize Crimea and disrupt the Donbas, in order to be able to upend the larger Ukrainian political situation as he sees fit, at a moment’s notice, until further notice.
Kudos to the Belarusian people, credit to their bravery, and a paean to the heart’s indomitable spirit. And apologies for my cynicism. I may be wrong, and it would be nice if it turns out that way, but in this case it’s hard to imagine the Russian president permitting free elections, leading to something close to democratic rule, in his fellow Slavic, White Russian buffer state.
Having just returned from a couple days in Russia, it’s interesting to see the headline In Russian Cities, Mock Gravestones Are Sounding Putin’s Death Knell. Add that to this, and go ahead, take a moment to be an optimist.
There are a lot of people at this protest, aimed against a proposed law allowing extradition of Hong Kong citizens to Beijing.
Chinese media blamed “collusion with the West”.
‘If he was that sure of himself,’ Obama said, ‘he wouldn’t have his picture taken riding around with his shirt off.’
Ben Rhodes in The World as It Is.
The site of the Trump/Putin summit is a compact, handsome, livable low-rise town of around 600,000. Click these photos to enlarge them.
President Putin’s hometown of St. Petersburg is a little less than 400 kilometers up the road. The high speed Allegro train connects Helsinki with St. Petersburg in three and a half hours, four times a day.
Mr. Putin must feel – almost – at home. The lay of the land, the lakes and forests, is the same in Finland as where the Russian president grew up. Here is Mr. Putin with Sauli Niinistö, the Finnish president, on a boat tour when we saw them last summer. Saimaa, the name of the ship, is also the name of the lake:
There are many more photos from lovely Finland here, at EarthPhotos.com.
After their cruise yesterday, Presidents Niinistö and Putin joined us at the Savonlinna Opera Festival for the Bolshoi Theatre’s performance of Pytor Tchaikovsky’s Iolanta.
It was an authentic treat to hear the The Bolshoi Theatre Choir and Orchestra play Tchaikovsky, but the presidents and their retinues kept largely to themselves.
Presidents Niinistö and Putin from my vantage point yesterday on the dock at Savonlinna, Finland. After official talks the presidents took a short tour of the lakes of Eastern Savo before a night at the opera.
We’ll be heading an hour or so up the road to the lovely little town of Savonlinna, Finland, this afternoon for opera with the Presidents of Finland and Russia. This year President Putin attends the annual Savonlinna Opera Festival to mark Finland’s centennial anniversary, celebrating 100 years from it’s 1917 declaration of independence from … oh … whoever.
The performance, and dinner for dignitaries beforehand, will be held in this castle:
As we are no dignitaries, we will not be dining. Maybe just some maalaisperunalastu in the car over (they’re mighty good). We are just hopeful the tickets we bought online several weeks ago will get us into the same room as the Great Men.
Looks like the Russian and Finnish armies have pretty well taken over Savonlinna:
According to the President’s Office, Putin and Niinistö are not in sight in the Savonlinna region. President’s spouse Jenni Haukio is not involved in the visit. Presidents do not meet the ordinary people at any stage.
and: the police of Eastern Finland have distributed a newsletter where residents are asked to avoid staying on the balcony and opening the windows between 15.30 – 17 and 20 to 24 (on 27 July). The residents have been told these two slots.
- From Itä-Savo, the local paper
We’ll be back here tomorrow to report.
Russia is back on the blog after I posted a few photos of vintage Moscow last week. This time, it’s a bit of an explanation for the protests over the weekend, the biggest since the ones Hillary Clinton signaled in 2011.
Ten thousand or more young people took to the streets of the capital on Sunday, along with other protests across the country. I hadn’t been paying enough attention and all those people seemed to pop up out of nowhere. Not so, as an article by Julia Ioffe in The Atlantic explains. She puts the protests down to this video, from opposition figure Alexey Navalny:
As Ioffe says,
It showed, in great detail and using drone footage, what he said were the vast real-estate holdings of prime minister and former president Dmitry Medvedev, a man who talked of fighting corruption during his presidency and who in May told the residents of recently annexed Crimea, who are suffering from electricity and fuel shortages, “We don’t have the money now. … But you hang in there!”
Navalny says he will challenge Putin for the Presidency next time. It remains to be seen, of course, whether he will instead watch the presidential campaign from jail or perhaps house arrest instead. For his participation over the weekend, he is spending fifteen days in jail.
The opposition web site Meduza, based in Riga, Latvia in order to operate with less harassment, has extensive photo coverage from Moscow last Sunday.