Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Music: the Hurtin' Kind

Blogs will be a bit thin the next couple weeks.  Going on holidays tomorrow morning, Back late Sept 5th.  computer stays home.  Unless I can figure how to blog from my cell phone, I'll see you all when we get back.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Links to Russia Stories

The boys in Moscow have had an easy week of it.  I went to Kyiv and back on Tuesday for a business meeting and to pick up a new computer and connect with old friends.  Sleeping on trains is a thing of the past for me so I went 24 hours with no sleep.  Wednesday was a write off.  Since then I have been busy setting up the new laptop, switching data and programs and learning Windows 10.  Took my old laptop in to Mir Computers, had it cleaned, polished and converted to Russian language Windows 7 for Lina.  It will likely give her a few more years of service and even at 5 years old was better than her old one.

Dozens of news stories went unread this week but here are a few that might be of interest.

More of Kremlin’s Opponents Are Ending Up Dead

The Unsolved Mystery that Brought Putin to Power

Internet just quit; it must be Sunday.  "I used to hate computers but then the server went down on me". . . Back up again.  

On August 6-7, Russia claimed that Ukraine had sent undercover terrorists into Crimea to blow up infrastructure.  Two Russians were allegedly killed in the firefight while the Ukrainians were supported by artillery fire from the Ukrainian side.  They even "captured" three Ukrainians of the infiltrating group and a cache of explosives and weapons to prove it. Putin etc threatened extreme retaliation for the 'provocation".

This fake news story ranks up there with the crucified 3 year old, the 10 year old killed by Ukrainian artillery fire and the girl raped by refugees in Germany. There was no intrusion or Ukrainian artillery fire.  There was apparently one firefight between either Russian deserters and the Russian border patrol or between Russian military and Russian border patrol in a case of mistaken identity. Hence two Russians killed.

Of the three "captured" infiltrators, the first one appeared on Russian TV,  confessed and named names. (Of course all Stalin's victims confessed and named names too and for the same reasons, of belonging to fictitious political organizations or plotting to blow up non-existent bridges, etc.)  He had been kidnapped from Zaporozhzhia especially for the occasion and has not been allowed a lawyer or visitors to whom he might tell the real story.

The second is an anti-Ukrainian from L'viv who had completed two jail terms and fled to Crimea in time to avoid a third. The third was arrested several weeks prior to the alleged incident.  Oh, and the video of the "captured" weapons and munitions? Shows a full moon which was July 21. Isn't it fun?

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Grocery Shopping or What Could Go Wrong?

Tanya had a hair appointment which was going to take a while.  She went into town and when she was done, called a taxi to pick me up so we could go for groceries after.  We stopped by the beauty salon and collected Tanya on our way by.  The taxi was 40 and I only had 200; Tanya gave him a 50 and I snagged the change.  As a quick afterthought I split it with the driver so we both made 5.

When we got home, I discovered my house key had fallen out of my pocket, most likely when I paid either the first driver at the store or second driver when we got home.  Tanya also discovered that she had forgotten two packages of custom sliced meat at the meat counter. Losing a key is never good and Tanya was afraid the girl at the meat counter might have to pay for the forgotten packages.

At Pilot Taxi, all the drivers know us as we use them exclusively. They do not have any Ladas or Zhigulis, mostly newer Opels and Aveos. Tanya phoned the Taxi company.  The first driver had already gone home but found my key when the company called.  He called Tanya, who also told him about the forgotten meat at the supermarket. “Моя любимая женщина, I will make everything right”.  And he did.  

Some of today's purchases; the ones I could figure out from the bill

Monday, August 8, 2016

Thinking the Unthinkable

Foreign Policy has an article that looks at two credible scenarios to a narrow Trump loss in November.  The first one, called Fort Sumter 2017 is terrifying.


 We have to hope that Trump loses by a huge margin of say 75:25 that could not possibly be fudged.  If we have a scenario like the ones that elected W for two terms regardless of who wins, all Hell will break lose.

Sunday, August 7, 2016

Update on Ukraine - Part 2

Yesterday's opening paragraph applies more to today's post so I will simply repeat it.
It has been months and months since I posted anything about Ukraine on this blog. Because it is simply too infuriating, depressing, maddening, frustrating and on and on anon. Plus ca change, plus ca meme chose.  Or something.

The Maidan Revolution of Dignity after two and a half years, for which many gave their lives and continue to give their lives on the Russian Front of the Donbas, seems no closer to realizing its goals than ever. It was about corruption, plain and simple. About wanting to move closer to Europe where, in spite of its shortcomings, there is rule of law, freedom of speech, transparency and democracy. 

Ukrainian finances and the Russian invasion brought the country to the point of bankruptcy.  The IMF and other lenders/donors demanded and got certain changes. Trade in natural gas has been cleaned up and prices brought closer to market and software has been developed and slowly implemented to improve the transparency of government purchases. New police forces have been created and trained in several large cities.

However when it comes to dealing with endemic corruption, most everything else has been simply window dressing. Newly created anti-corruption agencies have no independence, no budget and are limited in cases they are allowed to investigate.  Should they become too vigorous and get too close to someone, the investigators are suddenly investigated on phony charges.  Able and enthusiastic reformers appointed to various Ministries have quit in disgust or been forced out.  This brought down the government last spring.  A new Prime Minister was appointed and new cabinet but there is little to show for it.

Mikheil Saakashvili, past president of Georgia, was brought in as Governor of Odessa. He has had good success in cleaning up things HE is able to control but when it comes to anything that needs support from Kyiv, things fall apart. 

Saakashvili's team set up the Odessa Package of Reforms initiative and submitted dozens of legislative proposals to the Verkhovna Rada, Ukraine’s parliament. Yet not a single one of those has ever been voted in—some got “lost” at their respective ministries, while others got stuck in parliamentary committees.

Saakashvili can also be proud of his Odessa customs chief, Euromaidan activist Yuliya Marushevska. She eliminated many shadow schemes and simplified customs clearance procedures. The Open Customs Space reduced administrative checks to only fifteen minutes per container. Marushevska reports that increased tax revenues will assist Saakashvili’s road reconstruction project, the Odessa-Reni motorway, which will soon connect Ukraine with Romania and the EU.

But Marushevska’s job was complicated by the appointment of Roman Nasirov as chief of Ukraine’s State Fiscal Service. In late March, she accused Nasirov’s team of helping dishonest businesses avoid paying full duties by bypassing Odesa. But instead of preventing potential cargo value manipulations, central authorities opened seven investigations into Odesa’s customs activities.
Saakashvili's right hand man in combating local corruption, David Sakvarelidze, served only six months as Odessa oblast prosecutor. He opened several investigations into local mafia bosses, but they have all stalled. Sakvarelidze was then driven out by then Prosecutor General Viktor Shokin, who replaced him with Mykola Stoyanov. Civic activists launched a protest against Stoyanov's appointment and closed the Odessa-Kyiv highway to demand that Poroshenko take action. In response, the president appointed two prosecutors from his hometown of Vinnytsia as chiefs of the Odessa Oblast prosecutor’s office.
But little has changed. The most visible demonstration that Odesa’s old business and political elites are holding a tight grip on power was Gennadiy Trukhanov’s shocking victory in Odessa’s October 2015 mayoral elections. Apparently he had the reliable support of two strong forces: the city’s electorate and the powers-that-be in Kyiv.

NOT ONE person of the Yanukovych crime family has been sent to jail and very little of their stolen money has been recovered.  Politicians and bureaucrats of the Yanukovych regime have been and continue to be recycled.  The judges and prosecutors who make up the core of Ukraine's corruption problem remain in office, continuing to frustrate any attempt to bring transparency and justice.

There seems to be a belief in the Ukrainian government that the West will continue to support Ukraine against Russia, regardless of the level of corruption in the country. ("America has been noted in the past to support highly corrupt governments, why not us?"). This may well be a mistake.  Ukraine fatigue is setting in at a great rate.  Consider the number of calls to abandon sanctions against Russia. 

Foreign Policy had this to say in a recent article:

Former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Steven Pifer noted in a blog post: “One sometimes gets a feeling that Ukraine’s elite have an inflated sense of the country’s geopolitical importance between the West and Russia — that they believe that their country is too important to fail and that, regardless of what Ukraine’s leadership does, the West will stick with Kiev out of fear that it might otherwise turn to Moscow. That could be a mistake.”
Brian Mefford, a political and business consultant who has lived in Kiev for the past 17 years, said that Ukraine will soon face an uphill battle trying to convince a new U.S. president that it is serious about reform. “There are three key things that Kiev can do to ensure that ‘Ukraine fatigue’ does not set in. One: fight corruption. Two: fight corruption. Three: fight corruption.”
But so far, the problem just keeps getting worse — and it goes all the way to the top. This month, one of Ukraine’s most respected anti-corruption journalists, Sergii Leshchenko, himself a member of parliament from President Poroshenko’s party, wrote a devastating piece accusing Poroshenko of creating a “clan” of cronies and oligarchs around himself in the same way as his corrupt predecessor, Viktor Yanukovych. Leshchenko and other prominent reform-minded politicians are forming a new party to challenge the administration.
It won’t be easy. Lawmaker Arkady Kornatsky, also a member of the president’s party, told me that his experience in government has revealed to him the extent of the corrupt system. “All the parties in parliament, including the one of which I’m a member, were created and funded by oligarchs, and they are protecting each others’ interests,” he told me. “I want to believe that the president himself is honest but I don’t see him seriously fighting corruption. Mr. Biden is naive if he thinks an oligarch will put his kind into jail. This government will stall on reforms unless the U.S. leans on it.”

The problem is that corruption is so intertwined that to finger and investigate one, leads to the downfall of all, so those in power MUST support each other.  

We must, indeed, all hang together or, most assuredly, we shall all hang separately. Benjamin Franklin

Saturday, August 6, 2016

Update on Ukraine

It has been months and months since I posted anything about Ukraine on this blog.  Because it is simply too infuriating, depressing, maddening, frustrating and on and on anon. Plus ca change, plus ca meme chose.  Or something.

The front line between Russian occupied Donbas and Ukraine has not moved much if at all.  The Russians have increased their attacks along the border and deaths of Ukrainian soldiers are slowly mounting with July the most deadly month in two years. All the heavy artillery has been pulled out again including 120 and 150 mm guns and grad rockets.  The ATO is allowed to return fire in self defense but not to try to retake territory. It is that wonderful Minsk agreement.
Yesterday's map
Yesterday's update is here: empr.media/news/conflict-zone/ukraine-war-updates-august-5-2016

The ATO is getting its licks in though.  The Russian military and their proxies are not getting off free.  It is becoming more and more difficult to recruit "volunteers" from Russia.  Nor are the local terrorist militias too willing to face them.  One group, told to do recon and threatened with summary execution for refusing, solved that problem by shooting their Russian officer. The political leader of LNR was seriously injured in a car bomb explosion.  Whether Ukrainian resistance or local mafia or Russian operatives is not known.

Russia appears to be building towards a serious offensive.  Troops and heavy weapons are being stockpiled in key areas along the front line. It has been suggested that first will come increased clashes along the front line and that then Russia "will be forced to intervene in a peacekeeping role". They have up to 100,000 troops massed along the border with Ukraine and could sweep down through Kharkiv, encircling and trapping ATO troops.
 This is “one of the possible scenarios directed at regime change in Ukraine,” Felgengauer says. Moscow will continue to demand that Ukraine agree to remain outside of the Western bloc, a commitment Kyiv is not ready to agree to. But Russia will do whatever it thinks it has to in order to ensure that happens, and the West may ultimately back down as a result.

Why does right now seem like the time Moscow is most ready to do something like this? Because, Felgengauer argues, the US and Europe are distracted by their own domestic difficulties and are far less likely to be able to agree on any action, including enhanced sanctions if Moscow does expand its invasion of Ukraine.