As of March 20 2021 I’ll be adding links to the TOP of the post rather than the BOTTOM. (I”ll leave the pre-March 20 posts at the very bottom:
A nonpolitical lifestyle Youtuber from Russia walks through a well known shopping mall and notices the differences. Who knows how much she is influenced by the political atmosphere. And it’s not that interesting to note that the decline of international chains doesn’t really matter. On the other hand,it’s nice simply to walk through a Russian shopping mall to see the subtle aspects to ordinary culture and to hear her incidental remarks. “The most important thing is that peace will return.”
***** (Below are links pre-March 20).
[I’m working on a super-awesome playlist of Ukrainian music on youtube — stay tuned!).
I’ve been really focused on Russian attacks on Ukraine all day yesterday and today. I finally decided just to keep an ongoing column on the event. I have never felt such a strong desire to punch a random Russian in the face. I lived in Ukraine for a year between 1997-8 and visited there two other times. I got an opportunity to understand what is unique and interesting about the place and its people.
First, here’s a detailed map of Ukraine — the best I could find. Here’s a link to confirmed charities and governmental organizations to help Ukraine.
I have a Ukraine-Europe list of Twitter on reliable sources of information, with a few scholars thrown in.
MY 2 CENTS ABOUT UKRAINE. What I don’t understand about Russian military adventurism is that Russia needs access to the European market way more than Europe needs the Russian market (for now anyway). Why would Russia destroy its relationship with current and future customers in Europe just to satisfy its need to dominate its neighbor? NEWSFLASH: The economy is not just about petroleum anymore.
PRESIDENT-BICYCLIST. Here’s the amazing & surreal musical intro to the “SERVANT OF THE PEOPLE” TV sitcom that made Ukraine’s president Zelensky famous — he starred as a mild-mannered high school history teacher who unexpectedly is elected president to rid his country of corruption. It depicts the actor (also the show’s co-creator) riding his bicycle throughout the Kiev streets . Dealing with a guy like Putin sounds like a dark plot twist for a not-yet-produced Season 3.
The full series is on Youtube with subtitles here. (I recommend watching the first episode at least).
The singer of the theme song is Dmytro Shurov, who sang in a Ukrainian group OKEAN ELZY and also played piano for the iconic Russian rock group, Zemfira. Musically speaking, Ukrainian singers used to sing freely in Russia and vice versa, but all that seemed to change after 2014 — when Russia took over the Crimea. I haven’t listened to much of Okean Elzy except the first album — which I bought at a music shop in Lutsk in 2001. (Also on youtube).
Anne Applebaum on Russia (from 2015):
“Not only the United States but all of what used to be called ‘the West’ has been flummoxed by (Russia’s) moves, even thrown into strategic disarray. And no wonder. In the quarter-century since the fall of Communism, we’ve forgotten what a cynical, unprincipled, authoritarian Russian regime looks like, especially one with an audacious global strategy and no qualms whatsoever about sacrificing human life. Let me say it again more clearly: Almost all of the men who currently rule Russia (and they are all men) were taught and trained by the KGB. Their teaching and training shows. Why would it not?
To those who say that Russia’s attack does not reflect the will of the Russian people, keep in mind that in the 2018 Russian presidential election, 76.7% of the Russian people voted for Putin. (Second place was far-right loony Zhirinovsky with 6%). An overwhelming majority of the Russian people have been giving Putin a blank check for quite a while.
ZELENSKY’S FEB 23 MESSAGE TO THE RUSSIAN PEOPLE:
“We are separated by more than 2000 km of mutual borders, along which 200,000 of your soldiers and 1,000 armored vehicles are standing. Your leadership has approved their step forward onto the territory of another country. This step could become the beginning of a big war. The cause could come up at any moment, any provocation, any spark, a spark that could burn everything down. You are told that this flame will liberate the people of Ukraine, but the Ukrainian people are free. You are told we hate Russian culture. How can one hate a culture? … Neighbors always enrich each other culturally, however, that doesn’t make them a single whole, it doesn’t dissolve us into you. We are different, but that is not a reason to be enemies.
“Listen to the voice of reason. The people of Ukraine want peace, the authorities in Ukraine want peace, they want it and are doing everything they can for it. We don’t need war. But if we are attacked, if someone attempts to take away our land, our freedom, our lives, the lives of our children, we will defend ourselves. We won’t attack, but defend ourselves. By attacking, you will see our faces, not our backs, but our faces. War will remove guarantees from everyone. No one will have security guarantees any more. Who will suffer most of all from this? People. Who wants this the least? People. Who can not allow this to happen? People. There are these people among you, I’m sure of it.
“I know this speech of mine won’t be shown on Russian TV, but the people of Russia need to see it. They need to know the truth. The truth is that this must be stopped before it is too late, and if the leadership of the Russia does not want to sit down at a table for peace with us, then maybe it will sit down at a table with you. Do Russians want war? I would very much like to answer this question. But the answer depends only on you — the citizens of the Russian Federation.”
Elizabeth Kolbert: If ever there were a moment to rethink our dependence on fossil fuels it would seem to be right about now:
The last time a European autocrat sent tanks speeding across the plains to subjugate sovereign nations we (eventually) responded by sending millions of men off to war and sacrificing everything about our domestic economy in order to produce the armaments needed to fight. This time America’s burden involves…paying higher gas prices. And for many that’s too much. Continuing the uninterrupted enjoyment of our national fleet of grotesquely oversized SUVs and pickups is more important to some significant part of our population than standing beside brave people running real and terrible risks. There are Americans who can’t afford the fuel to heat their homes—we need to assist them. But the loudest whiners are people who have decided that freedom comes for free.
The way to square this circle, of course, is to rapidly build out renewable energy, and the electric vehicles that can use it. That step would make standing by the victims of this autocratic thug almost painless (along with, you know, helping save the planet). Once you have an EV gas prices are not a worry—electric rates do not jump up and down, and the fueling costs are radically lower anyway. Where once we built tanks to defend democracy, now we need to build air source heat pumps and EV chargers, along with electric buses and bike lanes. President Biden is warning the oil companies not to price-gouge, but of course they will—we need to break their power. And one way to do that is to quickly build out clean energy technology, everywhere we can.
There are two uncomfortable facts here. First, a number of influential people, both in business and in politics, are deeply financially enmeshed with Russian kleptocrats. This is especially true in Britain. Second, it will be hard to go after laundered Russian money without making life harder for all money launderers, wherever they come from — and while Russian plutocrats may be the world champions in that sport, they’re hardly unique: Ultrawealthy people all over the world have money hidden in offshore accounts.
What this means is that taking effective action against Putin’s greatest vulnerability will require facing up to and overcoming the West’s own corruption.
Two instructive reader comments:
Going after dark money is notoriously difficult. Russian money is all over NYC real estate, which is part of the reason the cost of anything here has become so high in recent years. Trump is out there saying that Putin is brilliant because his assets – and the assets of his cohort – are tied up in Russian money. It would be great if we could tie up these funds. But good luck proving connections to dark money. And good luck getting Switzerland to go along with any of this. Another option is to prevent Russians from entering the United States and other countries. Closing the borders will make it difficult for Russian cash – and a lot of it is cold hard cash – to be stored outside of Russia.
“The Europeans, unfortunately, have fecklessly allowed themselves to become highly dependent on imports of Russian natural gas.” Just as the United States has fecklessly allowed itself to become highly dependent on Chinese imports. What sanctions would you propose should China invade Taiwan?
Saturday. Feb 26. As unexpected as this outcome seems to be, it now seems that Ukraine might actually succeed in defending itself. Europe and the world seems to be uniting for Ukraine, and Russian military and influence now appears to be substantially weaker than expected. Today could be a very good day both for Ukraine and the cause of democracy. It’s a day when you realize that it’s not just about guns; it’s also about winning hearts and minds.
Reason for optimism: increasing support for cutting off SWIFT, commitments of more equipment from the US and other countries, defacement of Russian government websites, popular support in Eastern Europe –leading perhaps to protests and blockades in Poland, the fact that Russian supply lines are overextended and invading troops are outnumbered by Ukrainian people. Of course, Russian missiles could still cause a lot of casualties…
One gloomy NATO analyst said a few days ago that Kiev’s defenses might last for only a few days until they run out of weapons. but now it appears that NATO has been persuaded that providing more equipment wouldn’t be a lost cause. The fact that Ukraine’s Internet/communication system has stayed intact means that Putin’s scare tactics are less effective.
STEPHEN COLBERT FOR PRESIDENT! This morning on CNN a retired US military commander, sounding almost apologetic, said that Ukrainian President Zelensky turned out to be a pretty good leader despite the fact that he was a comedian and actor. That shows how little he knows: American actors and comedians — in the few cases they have been elected to political office — have turned out to be generally competent and serious-minded: Al Franken, Ronald Reagan, Arnold Schwarzenegger. As Paula Begala once said, politics is “show business for ugly people.” But actors know a lot about stagecraft, sensing the mood of an audience and recognizing the differences between reality and artifice.
(Colbert would probably do a great job, as would America Ferrera, Jon Stewart, Tina Fey. Sure, a lot of serious actors would probably be great also.) Tom Hanks — when asked if he should run for president — replied, “Good lord, no! I’m still getting a lot of work; politics is show business for ugly people, and I’m too good-looking to qualify.”
I’m a big fan of Onuka’s Mozaica concert for nonpolitical reasons, but even more interesting is that Ukrainian music labels are using this graphic in Youtube search results. Very clever and totally appropriate.
Author and Human rights advocate Stanislav Aseyev writes about being tortured by Russians when he was arrested. This excerpt comes from his book Torture Camp on Paradise Street which will eventually be translated. At the bottom of this book excerpt is an English language interview with KATE TSURKAN (I assume she is also the book’s translator — confirmed; she also edits an Eastern European literary magazine, Apofenie ). Here’s the author himself participating in a zoom call (he does not speak English and there is no closed-captioning, but most of the other speakers speak in English).
Judd Legum on how Western fossil fuel companies are using Russia’s attack as a great opportunity to pitch US natural gas. He writes:
The reality is that “unleashing” America’s energy would take a long time before it made any meaningful impact in Europe. New fossil fuel projects take years to come online. A more effective way to weaken Russia’s geopolitical influence is to accelerate the transition to clean energy. This would not only help Europe achieve net-zero emissions — and stave off the most catastrophic impacts of climate change — but would also subvert Russia’s attempts to use natural gas as a political weapon.
Kate Aronoff has a similar piece on New Republic.
Stephen Colbert has been incredible these last few days. But I thought Bernie Sanders’ guest appearance was riveting; he said exactly what needs to be said.
Here’s a great online colloquium with 3 of the most pre-eminent scholars of European history. This 60 minute discussion on youtube covers why the West (and indeed the world) need to understand why Russia’s invasion happened and how we can be vigilant in the future. All brilliant thoughts — as I remembered:
- Germany and even West Europe haven’t spent enough to defend the cause of liberty. That is a real problem. It’s a wakeup call to the world.
- Russia has showed a pattern of behavior like this, but the West never checked it, causing it to increase in severity.
- Ukraine has always has a separate identity from Russia, but Putin has convinced himself otherwise.
- The blind spot of dictators is that they become unable to understand the world outside of their “yes men.”
- Putin and Russia is too unpredictable to take anything for granted.
- You can donate weapons to the Ukrainian cause with just cause because they are literally defending themselves against attacking. Ukraine didn’t threaten anybody or commit atrocities. They are trying
Here’s a quote by Applebaum from that discussion: “Germans have understood that the lesson of their history is not that Germany must remain forever pacifist. The lesson is that Germany must defend democracy and fight the modern version of fascism in Europe when it emerges.”
Postwar reparations has always been a controversial subject for any war, but I would probably support the use of of some seized wealth of Russian oligarchs to repair the country that Russia destroyed (of course, it would depend on the circumstances behind the acquisition and legality of how the wealth was maintained). Of course, that goes both ways: US should be subject to the same standards when they decide to attack a country.
I have been racking my brown trying to remember all the places I have visited in Ukraine. Here’s the list I came up with.
- Lutsk. This is where I taught. It’s in northwest Ukraine equidistant between Belorussia and Poland.
- Lviv. I lived there about a week and visited there frequently — every few weeks. During my later visits in 1999 and 2001, I spent a good amount of time in Lviv before embarking on trips from the Lviv airport or train station. I loved soaking in the wonderful culture. Fun fact: on 4 different occasions, 4 different beautiful Ukrainian women gave me a tour of that wonderful city! (Here’s my Lviv photo gallery!)
- Zhytomyr. I was a guest lecturer at their university. 3 days. I had a lot of fun with the 2 local Peace Corps volunteers and got to learn about the fancy Inturist accomodations.
- Kiev. Never stayed there overnight, but visited there about 5-6 times, and then again in 1999. My main reason for visiting — I kid you not — was to visit an American doctor about my headaches. I got to know the train station very well!
- Ivano-Frankivsk. Gave a guest lecture and met 2 lovely Ukrainian women. Also, for some strange reason I remember watching Gremlins and Grease in the hotel room.
- Kremenetz/Termopol. I visited a school in Kremenetz in the middle of winter. Cold! I am not 100% sure, but I remember that I went with a student group for a weekend trip where I learned that I am really really bad about going spelunking in a cave.
- Kolomiya and its surrounding areas. One of my favorite students invited me to vacation a few days in that picturesque rural area. She was my tour guide for a 2 day trip. I don’t remember exactly where we went, but I’m pretty sure we went to Podilski Tovtry National Nature Park and probably to Chernivtsi and maybe some smaller towns. I remember being awestruck at the place’s beauty and appreciating the Hutsulsi culture.
- Donetsk. I spent a long weekend in this east Ukrainian city which still to have a lot of Russian aspects. I met with two Peace Corps volunteer I knew while serving in Albania and hung around a lot of Americans the whole time (We even went an American burger place). The most striking thing about the trip was the train trip. I shared a cabin with a family and a cabin with a beautiful female college student who was also a fashion model.
- Odesa. In summer 1999 I ended up spending 3-4 days at this lovely southern city. The city was great, and I stayed at a youth camp along the beach, but for various reasons I didn’t have much time to enjoy myself here.
USA.Gov survey: When US registered voters were recently asked what adjective best describes Russia, 42% said “Communist,” 13% said “Socialist,” 11% said Capitalist, 34% said “Something else/Not sure”. (Wikipedia calls it a “mixed economy”; I personally think labels like “oligarchy, “”crony capitalism” or even “kleptocracy” are more accurate. ).