And Then, a Night at the Opera

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.

Visit with Presidents Niinistö and Putin


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:

Quotes:

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.

Moscow Protests

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.

What to Do?

It’s not easy being David Cameron.

Seems like the Prime Minister has a knack for getting himself into tight spots. Sometimes it’s his own doing, like when he promises referenda on who might want to opt out of what entity or country, but this one’s not entirely of his own making. Tomorrow retired high court judge Sir Robert Owen will publish the results of the lengthy British inquiry into the death of former FSB agent turned MI6 operative turned dead man Alexander Litvinenko. The Prime Minister (who already has the report) will be required to decide what if any punishment to impose on the Russian involvement the report will presumably show in Litvinenko’s death. This comes at a delicate time in Russia/western relations, what with the attempted reconvening of Syria talks next week.

The Litvinenko case makes for riveting real-life-tales-of-international-intrigue reading, and it will be all the news tomorrow. Catch yourself up with this longish summary by Luke Harding in the Guardian. The book to read is Blowing Up Russia, written by Litvinenko. Since the report comes out tomorrow, might be best to download the electronic version instead of waiting for delivery of a hard copy.

In the book Litvinenko alleges FSB involvement in an aborted bombing of an apartment building in Ryazan, Russia in 1999, just months after Vladimir Putin assumed power from Boris Yeltsin. By extension, Litvinenko means to make the assertion that the FSB, and possibly Putin, was involved in a string of fatal bombings of Russian buildings in 1999, presumably as a pretext for the second Chechen war. (While Litvinenko is not the only one to make such allegations, Steven Lee Myers gives short shrift to these allegations in his absorbing new biography of Putin, The New Tsar.)

Allegations like that would make anyone radioactive in Moscow, so Litvinenko fled to London, where ultimately he became literally, and fatally so, dying at age 44 in 2006.

After presentation to parliament, tomorrow’s report will be published on the inquiry’s web site.

First Impressions of the Minsk II Agreement

Some people are roundly trashing Minsk II. About the most positive sentiments out there seem to be that it’s better than nothing.

I’m pretty skeptical.

Note that the document that emerged wasn’t signed by the government leaders but by these negotiators, members of the Trilateral Contact Group, same as Minsk I:

[OSCE] Ambassador Heidi Tagliavini

Second President of Ukraine L.D. Kuchma

The Ambassador of the Russian Federation to Ukraine M.Yu. Zurabov

A. V. Zakharchenko

I. V. Plotnitsky

Not putting the clout of the leaders of France, Germany, Russia and Ukraine explicitly behind the document doesn’t augur well for its implementation, I don’t think.

Olga Tokariuk gets it right:

Also note these two parts of the agreement:

4. On the same day that the withdrawal of heavy weapons begins, a dialogue must start to prepare for local elections in Donetsk and Luhansk regions in accordance with Ukrainian legislation and Ukrainian laws on the temporary status of Luhansk and Donetsk regions. Dialogue must also begin to address the future status of these regions.

– and –

9. Control of the Ukrainian state border in the conflict zone must be returned to the Ukrainian government on the first day following local elections in the conflict zone and following implementation of point 11 of the Minsk memorandum governing Ukrainian constitutional reform.

It seems to me that together, they’re essentially Russia telling Ukraine, “You can only have your border back after we hold sham elections that we can manipulate as we please, and between now and then we can run as much military materiel into DNR/LNR as we like.”

First impressions only, but not especially hopeful.