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Category Archives: Elsewhere

Russia Metro Bombing Update

Some people began hyperventilating that in yesterday’s post I accused Russian President Putin of orchestrating yesterday’s explosion in the St. Petersburg subway. I of course did no such thing, and I even included a caveat IN THE TITLE ITSELF, as well as in the body of yesterday’s short post, but it doesn’t prevent some frothing dumbshits from running their mouths.

But there is a paranoid part of me that wonders if this hasn’t been perpetrated by their own government as a false flag operation! Yes, I hate the phrase “false flag.” Anytime a tragedy strikes in the United States, the conspiritards don their tin foil accoutrements and go on tirades about evil government engaging in “false flag” operations to misguide and draw attention away from whatever evil things said evil government does. Believe me, I’m not unaware of how it sounds.

Yes, this was complete conjecture on my part, based on some history. Yes, the government did stand to gain from such an attack, which is why I wondered in the first place. Other than distracting from the continuing anti-corruption protests and the resultant arrests, there’s also a continued push to shift focus from Russia’s actions in Ukraine, as well as its malign influence activities in other parts of Europe, and toward “We have common anti-terrorism goals! Look what these bloody bastards did to us!”

So in the interest of fairness (and sticking my fist down idiots’ throats), here’s an update.

Kyrgyzstan’s security service named the suspect as Akbarzhon Jalilov, who was born in the Kyrgyz city of Osh in 1995 and had obtained Russian citizenship.

His name was later confirmed by Russian investigators, who said he also planted a second bomb that did not explode.

In an earlier statement, the Russian state investigative committee said it had concluded the train bomb may have been detonated by a man whose remains were found in the carriage.

No group has said it was behind the bombing.

Also, the death toll now stands at 14, and the city is rightfully in mourning.

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Because I’m paranoid

There was a terrorist attack in Russia today. Details are scant right now, but it looks like at least 10 people were killed in a subway explosion in St. Petersburg.

The head of Russia’s National Anti-Terrorist Committee said the blast hit the train between Sennaya Ploshchad and Tekhnologichesky Institut stations.

The committee said an explosive device was later found and made safe at another station, Ploshchad Vosstaniya.

President Vladimir Putin said all causes, including terrorism, were being investigated.

The entire system has been shut down, according to BBC, and this is the first attack ever on the St. Petersburg metro.

My heart aches for the people who died and their families, and I can’t imagine the horror of those who were in the vicinity!

But there is a paranoid part of me that wonders if this hasn’t been perpetrated by their own government as a false flag operation! Yes, I hate the phrase “false flag.” Anytime a tragedy strikes in the United States, the conspiritards don their tin foil accoutrements and go on tirades about evil government engaging in “false flag” operations to misguide and draw attention away from whatever evil things said evil government does. Believe me, I’m not unaware of how it sounds.

That said, I’m also not unaware of just how cunning the current Russian leadership is. In 1999 a blast destroyed a nine-story Moscow apartment building, killing dozens of people. The Russian government investigated the explosion as a terrorist act and claimed it was linked to Russia’s war with Islamic separatists. However, several journalists, witnesses, and the late Alexander Litvinenko (several of whom – coincidentally, I’m sure – have died under mysterious circumstances), claimed the tragedy was actually a false flag operation by the FSB (link is in Russian) to drum up popular support for a war with Chechnya, bolster the popularity of then-Prime Minister Putin, and eventually propel him to the presidency.

Given the anti-corruption protests taking place in Russia, and the arrest of opposition leader Alexei Navalnyy and more than 40 others, and Navalnyy’s increasingly resonating anti-corruption message, nothing would surprise me.

Again, I realize how it sounds, but when it comes to the current Russian leadership, nothing surprises me.

My most heartfelt condolences to the families of those who died in today’s blast. Regardless of who is responsible, it’s an awful tragedy.

Trash Panda Loves Boobs

I’m not talking politics today. It’s too contentious, and I’m not in the mood to fight the stupid today. Frankly, until I read this story, I was in the mood to kill rather than bother with a fair fight, but you know what? You can’t be angry when there’s a lawsuit going on over a raccoon who apparently starred in some porn. It’s a filthy, dark tale of a trash panda gone bad that’s making me giggle like a school kid who saw the word “penis” written down for the first time.

A Russian petting zoo loaned this fat little guy to a production company ostensibly to be used in an advertising video. Things apparently got a bit hinky from there. The zoo claims Thomas the Trash Panda came back from the shoot traumatized and strangely attracted to women’s breasts.

The production company says Thomas wasn’t trained as the zoo claimed, would run off all the time instead of acting like a professional performer, and stole a model’s bra.

As you can imagine, a lawsuit hilarity ensued.

According to the zoo, the deal in August 2016 was for Thomas to be used in a regular advertisement.

But the zoo says that when it saw the footage on social media, featuring a naked model, it complained and asked for all video and photos to be withdrawn.

After the request failed, the zoo filed a lawsuit in October, also demanding compensation for damages caused to the raccoon.

Art-Msk’s Valery Bogatov argued that the video was not erotic because it was destined to be broadcast on federal television. An erotic film would have been illegal, he said.

Anyone who finds a naked woman petting a raccoon erotic needs mental help in my opinion, but what the hell do I know?

Meanwhile Thomas the Trash Panda was sad, because the zoo claims he was programmed to associate boobs with treats, which is pretty much normal for any straight, human male, and demonstrators gathered in Moscow to protest the exploitation of raccoons. It apparently took them some time to deprogram Thomas from his boob fixation, and Thomas didn’t like that. Because boobs.

I’m wondering where the Social Justice Howler Monkey protests are at this mistreatment of an innocent animal. They are messing with this little guy’s mind by training him to not like boobs! Isn’t it something akin to the anti-gay conversion therapy they’re all concerned about Mike Pence imposing on young, gay individuals using our tax dollars?

You can’t make this shit up.

Worse yet, the production company head Valery Bogatov is threatening to counter-sue the zoo and demand payback for the model’s bra that Thomas stole when he went on his criminal boob crusade!

The only thing funnier than this story is the sign one of the protesters held, featuring a cross-eyed raccoon wearing eyeglasses that read “DOWN WITH THE EXPLOITATION OF RACCOONS IN VIDEO!”

I’m wondering why it is that with western sanctions, low oil prices, high prices for everything from food to housing, censorship, and authoritarianism, these people are focusing on protesting the “mistreatment” of a trash panda, who was apparently enticed with treats to like boobs.

I must be a bad person, because I’m laughing like a lunatic.

 

Russia: Everything Old is New Again… Again

I’ve blogged previously about Russia’s flirtation with fascism, the rise in authoritarianism and nationalism, and the increased aggression in its near abroad. I don’t need to rehash the propaganda campaigns, the lies, and the efforts to destabilize eastern European nations. Seems Russia is in the news a lot ever since the 2016 election.

Lately, something else seems to be on the rise, but isn’t getting as much attention as the cyber intrusions: corruption and murder which looks very much to be linked to the Kremlin.

nemtsovYou remember the murder of Boris Nemtsov, don’t you? No?

Boris Nemtsov was a leading Russian opposition politician and former Deputy Prime Minister who was murdered in Moscow in February 2015. BBC reported at the time that an unidentified attacker shot Nemtsov four times in the back as he crossed a bridge in view of the Kremlin.

In a recent interview, Mr Nemtsov had said he feared Mr Putin would have him killed because of his opposition to the war in Ukraine.

Mr Nemtsov, 55, served as first deputy prime minister under President Boris Yeltsin in the 1990s.

He had earned a reputation as an economic reformer while governor of one of Russia’s biggest cities, Nizhny Novgorod.

Falling out of favour with Yeltsin’s successor, Mr Putin, he became an outspoken opposition politician.

Five ethnic Chechens were tried for the murder, and Chechen leader thug Ramzan Kadyrov quickly proclaimed the defendants not guilty and blamed the United States.

It’s only a coincidence that the accused thugs were Chechen, and it’s only a coincidence that Nemtsov was fearless in his public accusations against Putin and his ally Kadyrov of misappropriating government funds, extrajudicial killings, kidnappings and torture. And it’s only a coincidence that Kadyrov is a close ally and cousin of Duma Deputy and Adam Delimkhanov.

Nothing to see here. Move along.

A British inquiry into the death of former KGB officer Alexander Litvinenko found that Putin had likely approved the polonium tea that killed the spy who fled to Britain after becoming an outspoken Putin critic.

But nothing to see there either.

nemtsov-karamurza-yavlinsky-kasyanov-5mar2012Another Putin critic recently wound up in the hospital. Intrepid journalist Michael Totten posted this article on his Facebook page yesterday about Russian reform advocate Vladimir Kara-Murza who wound up in the hospital for the second time in less than two years.

Vladimir is perhaps the most authentic, articulate, informed, reasoned, effective, and persistent advocate for reform and decency in Russia. He has carried his message to audiences in Washington, and across Europe and his own country. He played a key role in the passage of the Magnitsky Act which restricts travel to the US and freezes the assets of designated Russians whose violations of human rights standards have been especially pronounced. Vladimir is also courageous beyond words. After his friend and colleague Boris Nemtsov was murdered outside the Kremlin almost exactly two years ago, Vladimir chose to return to Moscow to advocate for reform in Russia. He did so at considerable personal risk and sacrifice.

Kara-Murza worked for Open Russia, founded by Mikhail Khodorkovsky, who was tossed into the Russian clink for daring to stand up to Putin.

Khodorkovsky was arrested on what appeared to be pretty spurious charges of tax evasion and fraud. He spent the next 10 years in prison, with new charges added on to his sentence, including the accusation that he stole 350 million tons of oil… from himself. His trials were, by all accounts, kangaroo tribunals. It took months just to read the initial charges against Khodorkovsky in a notoriously corrupt judicial system, in which his defense attorney now faces the Russian equivalent of disbarment for failure to defend her client effectively.

He was released in late 2013 and later started Open Russia to promote civil reforms in Russia, and Kara-Murza worked for the NGO and was a good friend of the late Boris Nemtsov. Open Russia – restarted by Khodorkovsky after being harassed by the Russian authorities, and its accounts frozen in 2006 – continued to experience… um… incidental problems, as Kara-Murza wrote in 2014.

Open Russia was revived eight years after being forcibly shut down by the Russian authorities. Its relaunch and the opening videoconference that linked civil society activists in ten cities across Russia—from Kaliningrad to Tomsk—were greeted with the typical official response. Almost all regional locations experienced difficulties with the Internet, which was mysteriously cut off minutes before the conference. In Moscow, conference participants were confronted by “journalists” from the notorious NTV channel, which specializes in slandering civil society and opposition activists (incidentally, the location of the event was never publicly announced). In Yaroslavl, someone sabotaged the door lock the night before the conference, leaving activists unable to enter, and the technical equipment blocked inside. In Nizhny Novgorod, members of a pro-Kremlin group headed by United Russia deputy Yevgeny Fedorov stormed the hall where conference participants were assembled.

Memorial to Anna Politkovskaya

Memorial to Anna Politkovskaya

But move along. Nothing to see here. Russia is innocent. It’s just a coincidence that those critical of the Kremlin and Putin’s policies are either dying or being imprisoned. Magnitsky, Navalny, Litvinenko, Nemtsov, Khodorkovsky, and Kara-Murza. And that’s just the top of the iceberg. If I wanted to go on, I’d mention the list of journalists and freelancers who were murdered, and who were reporting on corruption and human rights abuses, including Anna Politkovskaya, Anastasia Baburova, and Igor Domnikov.

Is it any wonder that the United States late last year passed the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act? The legislation augmented the Magnitsky Act, signed into law by President Obama in 2012, and ensures human rights abusers from anywhere in the world were denied entry into the United States and barred from using our financial institutions. It was signed into law as part of the National Defense Authorization Act.

The indomitable Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP) last year uncovered an army of Russian trolls attempting to influence U.S. foreign policy by using the White House’s online petition tool to demand that the Magnitsky Act be repealed.

Don’t count on it, motherfuckers.

The freedoms we so take for granted and even condemn others for exercising can have real and tragic consequences in places other than the United States. And the truth reported by journalists elsewhere, which media outlets so take for granted here in the United States, can result in violence, suppression, arrest, and murder.

Interesting aside, however. Kara-Murza in January sent a letter to Bob Corker and Ben Cardin – both on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee – asking them to carefully consider the situation in Russia before voting on Rex Tillerson’s nomination.

It is also important to remember that, according to the statues [sic.] of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe – of which both the United States and Russia are full members – “issues relating to human rights, fundamental freedoms, democracy, and the rule of law… are matters of direct and legitimate concern to all participating States and do not belong exclusively to the internal affairs of the State concerned.”

I trust that you will take these issues into account as you consider the nomination for Secretary of State and the next steps in U.S.-Russia relations.

Here’s wishing Vladimir Kara-Murza a quick recovery and a safe escape from Moscow. Being deathly ill in a Russian hospital is no joke under the best of circumstances (see my description of my tonsil surgery when I was a kid). But when you challenge the Kremlin, survival becomes a whole different challenge.

The Crimea Model

16kosovo-superjumboI have an interest in this, having been deployed to Kosovo in 2007 as part of KFOR-8. It’s hard to believe that was 10 years ago! From our end, we did have a very productive relationship with our Serbian counterparts, and to this day, I believe our work together helped keep the area relatively stable.

Serbia has never recognized its former province Kosovo as a sovereign nation, and neither has Russia. The EU and the United States, among others, recognized Kosovo’s independence when the breakaway province jumped ship in 2008, and relations between the two have been strained, to say the least.

Well, they just became more strained.

Kosovo’s president Hashim Thaci has publicly accused Serbia of planning to use its pal Russia’s “Crimea model” to attach a portion of Northern Kosovo, much like the Russians annexed Crimea in 2014, prompting the United States, the EU, and Canada to impose financial sanctions as a result.

Kosovo special police units on Saturday prevented a train painted in Serbia’s national colors and bearing the words “Kosovo is Serbia” from crossing the border.

Serbia does not recognize the independence of Kosovo, its former province, and did not seek Pristina’s permission for the passage of the train, which it paid for and organized. On Sunday Serbia’s president, Tomislav Nikolic, said Kosovo’s action had shown it wanted war with Belgrade.

Kosovo’s President Hashim Thaci said the train was aimed at “provoking” Kosovars in order to create a pretext for Serbia to intervene militarily and annex northern areas of Kosovo, home to some 50,000 ethnic Serbs who refuse to accept the province’s independence and want to be governed again by Belgrade.

“Serbia’s intention is to use this train, which was donated by Russia, first to help carve away the northern part of Kosovo and then … attach it to Serbia. It is the Crimea model,” Thaci said in an interview.

Accusations of Russian support aside, we should look at the similarities between the two situations.

There was a significant Russian population living in Crimea, which the Russians have been using as an excuse to meddle in sovereign nations’ affairs.

There is also a significant number of Serbs living in northern Kosovo – most of them in northern Mitrovica, but overall nearly 18 percent of those living in Mitro are Serb.
But while in 2013, the Serb-majority municipality of North Mitrovica was created, dividing the city in two administrative units, both municipalities operated within the Kosovo legal framework. Not so for Crimea. Nikita Khrushchev in 1954, handed the Crimean Oblast to Ukraine in order to bolster the “unity of Russians and Ukrainians.” When the Soviet Union fell and Ukraine became a sovereign nation, Crimea remained part of Ukraine. There was nothing that officially signed Crimea over back to Russia.

Russian provocations in Eastern Europe are well documented, including the “little green men” in Ukraine and the missiles in Kaliningrad, as we as sending its nationalist biker gang the Night Wolves to prowl throughout the region, spreading their particularly foul form of nationalism, anti-gay hysteria, and fomenting violence.

Can the train painted in Serbia’s national colors with the words “Kosovo is Serbia” be considered provocation on the Serbs’ part? Well, Serbia’s leaders certainly have been vocal about claiming that Kosovo wants war after the train was stopped at the border. And if we do consider the train to be a provocation, we can also note a similarity in strategies: a provocative act, followed by claims that the Serbian population must be protected from attacks.

President Tomislav Nikolic of Serbia issued the latest warning after the passenger train, painted in the colors of the red, blue and white Serbian flag, was prevented from crossing into Kosovo, where Mr. Nikolic government contends that ethnic Serbs are under threat from Kosovo Albanians.

I also note with some interest the similarities in the use of near proxies during the Cold War. The West has acknowledged Kosovo’s sovereignty and is ostensibly on Kosovo’s “side,” as it were. Meanwhile, Russia is squarely in Serbia’s corner on this one, and has not recognized Kosovo’s sovereignty. It doesn’t help tensions that former Kosovo PM Ramush Haradinaj was arrested in France on a Serbian arrest warrant, and Serbia is demanding his extradition to face war crimes charges. Meanwhile, a French court last Thursday ordered Haradinaj’s release pending a decision on whether to extradite him to Serbia. He will stay in France under judicial supervision while the court ponders its decision, and Serbia is threatening not to cooperate on future extradition requests, including terrorism cases (that one has to have hit France in the balls, considering how focused they are on CT matters in the aftermath of terrorist attacks in the past two years).

Most of this is me mulling this out in my own mind. There are definite differences between Russia’s obvious violation of the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine, including its “referendum,” in which we have seen pre-completed ballots in favor of Russia shipped in. We also haven’t seen the infiltration of Serbian troops into Northern Mitro or any part of Kosovo, and the claims that Russia somehow funded the offending train are at this point nothing more than Thaci’s speculation.

Serbia hasn’t recognized Kosovo’s independence, so to them, it’s a renegade province that is still part of Serbia.

serbia-kosovo-montenegroThere is also some truth that Serbian populations in Kosovo are threatened by Kosovo Albanians.There are reported allegations of attacks against Serbs inside Kosovo, a bus with Serbian athletes was stoned on its way to a football match in Tirana last year, and one of Serbia’s most treasured Orthodox sites and one of the world’s most beautiful Heritage Sites came under grenade attack  in 2007. There’s a reason why Italian peacekeepers keep a watchful eye on the site. Are these attacks sufficient justification for meddling in the affairs of a sovereign nation – a nation whose independence Serbia has yet to recognize? I suppose that depends on where your sympathies lie.

If you’re Serbia, and are reluctant to release what you consider to be the historical, cultural, and religious heart of your country, and refuse to recognize that said heart has decided to become an independent nation, then you will use any justification possible as grounds for intervention in Kosovo affairs.

If you’re Albanian, and you remember not so distant history that resulted in a 1999 NATO military intervention, are concerned about Serbia’s and Russia’s (a permanent member of the UN Security Council) refusal to accept Kosovo as a country, and are worried that the much stronger Serbian Armed Forces will invade your country, even if there are attacks against Serbs, you’re unlikely to have a whole lot of sympathy for the victims.

There’s certainly a case to be made about the similarities in strategy that could possibly result in the annexation of Northern Mitro, but to call it a “Crimea model?”

I think that’s a step too far.

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