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:


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.

Utterly Creepy Photo


… of Presidents Putin and Poroshenko via @rConflictNews

Winner, 2014 Hubris Award

This is a promo for a presidential press conference on 18 December. Any guess whose?

The Difference Between the ISIS and Ukraine Stories

Islamic_state_of_iraqTV viewers react with well-founded, visceral fear to the ISIS story, but at bottom ISIS is a band of thugs with an archaic worldview that a willful president and his or her allies, if they had a mind to, could clobber using Colin Powell’s overwhelming force commensurate with ISIS’s brutality. The challenge to Ukraine, on the other hand, is an assault on the world’s organizing principles, with the potential to collaterally undermine both NATO and the Obama administration.

The creeping annexation of first Crimea and now the Donbass is more subtle and harder to follow than the plight of people stuck on a mountain, yet it has more potential to undermine international systems. Dire warnings by the professional national-security-for-profit apparatus that JIHADIS ARE COMING TO YOUR NEIGHBORHOOD are far more sensational than real, but they make great TV. By comparison, an academic discussion about Ukraine and competing power blocks in the post Cold War world only prompts a rush for the remote.

Many of the institutions set up at the end of World War Two need a sharp, thorough overhaul. But they remain in place because they have provided more stability than chaos and no challenge has emerged that promises more liberté, egalité and fraternité.

In 1990, with Kuwait occupied by Iraq, George Bush proclaimed a New World Order but over time Americans grew reluctant to propose new institutions to deal with new realities. It turned out they rather liked their hyperpuissance. Since the Clinton years the new order has remained largely inchoate (though not for lack of predictions). Should Russia now redraw the map of Ukraine on its own, some of the mist will begin to clear and few west of Moscow will like what they see.

Ukraine right now is hugely important because Russia is challenging the fundamental ways the world has organized itself for seventy years and the whole world is watching. The potential impact of the ISIS insurgency is much smaller. It is a manifestation of the post-Ottoman Sykes-Picot agreement, an element of the reshaping of the Middle East region and not the entire world.


So what about Ukraine? Today the pertinent news sites and #Ukraine, #Donbass, #convoy, #Crimea and so on on Twitter read like play-by-play.

We knew nothing good would come of this convoy thing, didn’t we? Just like in Crimea when the war was over while we still celebrated the #Euromaidan, it’s all happening today, Wednesday, in eastern Ukraine. 

Rostov is south of any crossing point proposed so far. If you’re intent on creating chaos, just peel away and melt into … who knows where. And while shamelessly hoisting the forged banner of the International Committee of the Red Cross.

280 military trucks carrying ‘aid’ under hastily assembled white canvas, juking, their recipient not knowing their route or their intent – least of all the ICRC dude standing outside their building in Geneva dispensing press statements.

Meanwhile, as I mentioned last night:

This morning, well:

It’s all just so unseemly. Russia lurks on the gangstas side of town. Always has. In the Cold War, cynical authoritarianism under equality’s cloak. Now it’s the same authoritarianism under the cloak of, well, nothing.

Web Resources for War News

Me, I got this uneasy feeling. It may be that them what know ain’t saying and them saying don’t know, but the Polish PM and NATO are queasy, and when the Russian UN ambassador calls for “humanitarian intervention” and the Putin team uses RT to wail it, it looks like boxes are being checked for an invasion. The U.S. Defense Secretary is in the region, saying as much. It’s a good thing everybody’s got so much confidence in our president.

I’d guess it would start overnight one night, and since we’re seven hours earlier here on the U.S. east coast we might find ourselves up all night one night soon working the internets and the news channels. Just in case, here are a few internet resources and live TV feeds from the region:

The Interpreter translates news from Russia from Kyiv has a live feed
TV5, Kyiv live feed, in English
The Kyiv Post
The Carnegie Moscow Center and especially Demitri Trenin and Lilia Shevtsova (click “latest analysis”)
Tons of links from Johnson’s Russia List
Life News live TV from Russia. Some call it the information arm of Russian intelligence.
Russia24 live feed
Ukraine News1 in English
The Warsaw Voice in English, news in English from Poland
Radio Free Europe Radio Liberty, which runs a live Ukraine blog during the day, CET
NATO’s blog
Live stream from Spilno TV. Not always on.
Ukraine at War blog in English.

I’ll add more as I find them. Please suggest others, if you like.

Plausible Map of New New Russia



This map was proposed by a group in Novosibirsk (along with a “march for federalization of Siberia” planned for August 17th there) in an article in Slon which has since been censored and taken down. Russia seized the Crimea to impose “self-determination” and fights for “Novorossiya” in the Donbass. Just don’t try the self-determination thing at home.

Big, Important Writers Embarrassing Themselves

Robert W. Merry is Political Editor at the ‘realist’ web site The National Interest. He has written an article, The Ghosts of World War I Circle over Ukraine, posted to the site today. Here is a screen grab of the first paragraph:


Any introductory college geography course would have explained to Mr. Merry that “accretion” as defined by Merriam Webster, is “a gradual process in which layers of a material are formed as small amounts are added over time: something that has grown or accumulated slowly: a product or result of gradual growth.”

In the interest of using a big, fancy-sounding word, Mr. Merry has written exactly the opposite of what he meant. One good thing about the internet though, you can fix it before too many people notice. The pertinent line now reads “World outrage has focused on Russian president Vladimir Putin to such an extent that Putin has suffered a huge loss of moral authority.”

Pompous: “Accretion.” Better: “Loss.”

Then there’s Robert D. Kaplan.

Balkan Ghosts: A Journey through History by Robert D Kaplan was essential reading during the Balkan Wars of the 1990s for Americans like me (and then-President Clinton) to whom the region was foreign, distant and exotic (It opened up a world of further great books, like Rebecca West’s Black Lamb and Gray Falcon and The Bridge on the Drina by Ivo Andric, all of which would be timely and absorbing reads in this centennial summer of the outbreak of the Great War – in the Balkans).

Mr. Kaplan has his critics (1234 et al, but especially Tom Bissell), but he has been prolific and influential ever since Balkan Ghosts, traveling widely – and often to frightening places – and publishing more than a dozen books.

Too bad though, maybe that ‘The President Read My Book’ thing got too far into Mr. Kaplan’s head. Take a look at a column from July 10th by RDK headlined Why Moldova Urgently Matters. It begins this way “NATO’s Article 5 offers little protection against Vladimir Putin’s Russia, Iulian Fota, Romania’s presidential national security adviser, told me on a recent visit to Bucharest.” Right. Got it. Nowadays RDK meets with the Romanian Foreign Minister.

Next RDK quotes the Foreign Minister and then tells us what the Foreign Minister meant. Continue reading