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Monday, August 11, 2008

Do not punch a bear on the nose unless . . .

Last updated: September 18, 2008

August 11, 2008

Do not punch a bear on the nose unless it is tied down

This BBC article makes a very good summary of the latest war in Georgia: Early lessons from S Ossetia conflict

September 4, 2008

Putin and a Tiger (Как царь-батюшка холопов от тигра спасал)

The personality cult surrounding the former Russian president and currently the de facto czar of Russia, Validimir Putin, has been steadily growing over the last years, taking a form very familiar to people who grew up under the old Soviet regime. News programs on Russian TV can hardly start without a report about Vladimir Putin visiting a factory, or a local municipality, or just having gone fishing to relax.

By now many Russians have relearned to respond to this information by filling themselves with a feeling of deep internal satisfaction (the old Soviet news programs slang). Vladimir Putin, of course, usually knows better than anybody else and his adventures, whether in the Russian countryside or Russia's highest academic and political institutions, mostly take the form of uninterrupted monologues while he lectures nuclear scientists about how to do science, Olympic swimmers on how to swim and farmers about how to grow crops. It's wonderful to see a good old tradition coming back and blooming with a renewed force, as fully grown and often highly educated adults regress in a wink of an eye to the state of helpless and embarrassed infantility of their childhood when confronted by their omnipresent and omniscient leader.

However, recently the personality cult has started taking such a grotesque form that even people, who used to think that they've seen it all, have found themselves surprised. The latest masterpiece produced by the Russian media claims that Vladimir Putin has no more and no less but saved a whole TV crew and an unspecified number of other individuals from the claws of a vicious Siberian tiger. (The Amur tiger, the world's biggest wild cat, can weigh up to 450 kg and measure around ten feet from nose to the tip of the tail.)

MOSCOW (Reuters) – Prime Minister Vladimir Putin was feted by Russian media on Sunday for saving a television crew from an attack by a Siberian tiger in the wilds of the Far East.

Putin, taking a break from lambasting the West over Georgia, apparently saved the crew while on a trip to a national park to see how researchers monitor the tigers in the wild.

Just as Putin was arriving with a group of wildlife specialists to see a trapped Amur tiger, it escaped and ran towards a nearby camera crew, the country's main television station said. Putin quickly shot the beast and sedated it with a tranquilizer gun.

"Vladimir Putin not only managed to see the giant predator up close but also saved our television crew too," a presenter on Rossiya television said at the start of the main evening news.

. . .

. . .

Source: Reuters

While some people found the story fascinating, hardcore skeptics refused to surrender. As to me, I think the story is probably a fiction. In particular, sedating the beast with a tranquilizer gun looks such a waste of time and resources, when Vladimir Putin could have easily knocked the predator unconscious by just letting it look into his eyes.


Eliе Birger has generously contributed a Russian title to this section of the post.

September 8, 2008

Putin the Traitor

In the midst of the hysteria in the West and elsewhere created by Russian actions in Georgia, Russian PM, Vladimir Putin, came up with a calming and reassuring message. Russia recognizes the Crimean peninsula as part of Ukraine, said Putin to put an end to persistent speculations that Ukraine is next on the menu. In fact, despite a tsunami of scare mongering that hit Europe and Russia's peripheral states, Russia may indeed have a very limited agenda that mostly concentrates on what Russia perceives as the legitimate sphere of its influence and interests, mainly what used to be the former Soviet Union with a possible exception of the Baltic states, and not necessarily in the sense of invading and annexing all of it.

What was truly surprising though are the reactions that came from Ukraine and in particular from Crimea. A few Russian nationalist leaders in Ukraine were mumbling about being betrayed, but some went as far as to call Putin traitor himself. The enormous respect, frequently ushering in a sheer admiration, Putin commands in Russia, makes such attacks on him among the extremist fringe of Russian nationalists in Ukraine surprising to say the least. Let alone that Putin has just accomplished what many Russians consider giving back to Russia its pride and its respectful place in the international community (being feared is pretty much what many Russians have in mind when they think about pride and respect).

But the outspokenness of some Russian nationalists in Ukraine may also signal troubles for the game of controlled tensions that Russia plays into vs the West. While Putin himself may not be necessarily thinking about taking things as far as to undermine the territorial integrity of Ukraine and Baltic states (as long as the West avoids putting its missiles there or generously issuing invitations to local leaders to join NATO), nobody can say this for sure about Russian minorities around Russia and their leaders. Emboldened by what they see as Putin's impressive response to Western provocations in Georgia, the local leaders may now want to put to test the promises now regularly issued by Russia's number two, president Medvedev, to protect Russian citizens wherever they are. Many Russians in the Baltic region and Ukraine are not Russian citizens, yet unlike Ossetians and Abkhazians they are real Russians, which in the view of many counts more than citizenship.

With all its best intentions at moderation and restraint, Russian leadership may find it extremely difficult to play the role of a passive bystander, if Russian minorities start a mess in Ukraine or Latvia and in particular if such a mess gets bloody. And yet it's a safe bet that this is a scenario some extremists are pondering right now. If this happens, then Russia may find that the tensions can be no longer controlled and the game is quickly getting out of hand.

September 9, 2008

The Truth About Russia in Georgia

One of the worst pieaces of journalism I've seen in months: The Truth About Russia in Georgia. The man declared that virtually everyone thinks that Georgia recklessly provoked Russians by sending its forces to storm Tskhinvali, and virtually everyone is wrong. How does he know? He went to Georgia and the Georgians told him so.

:D : D

September 18, 2008

Putin and another Tiger

Vladimir Putin, who has made bullying tigers his hobby and favorite pastime, was recently messing with another tiger, not so long before his famous encounter with the Amur sub-species of the beast in the deep forests of Russia's Far East.

"I think Igor Vladimirovich should get better as quick as possible, otherwise we'll have to send him a doctor", said Putin referring to the owner and director of Mechel, the leading Russia metals and mining company (who at that very moment was in a hospital "recovering" from Putin's previous accusations of the company in price gouging). Over the next few days 40% of the company share value was wiped out on the New York Stock Exchange. This came in the wake of the destruction of Yukos, that used to be one of Russia's leading oil companies, a bizarre scandal in a Russian joint venture with BP in which its American chief executive was simply expelled from Russia, and a string of other cases.

Putin and a tiger helicopter

The experienced tamer of wild tigers that Putin is, he knows that some tigers can be handled with bare hands. And he was proved right. This tiger has indeed chosen to flee instead of facing Russia's PM and stock exchanges stumbled across Russia while capital flight from the country started proceeding at an accelerating speed. However, this was before Russia's campaign in Georgia. After the invasion of Georgia the decline of Russia's financial markets started looking increasingly as something more serious than a seasonal phenomena as foreign investors rushed to pull their capital out.

But the situation has totally unraveled when the mess in the US and international financial system has reached Russia. Russian stocks seem to have been just waiting for this final kiss of death. The stocks went into collapse and on such a massive scale that the government was forced to order Russia's main stock exchanges closed for a few days running. (They should reopen tomorrow after the government pumped close to 50 billion dollars into the country's financial system).

The moral of the story is that tigers are animals of a complex behavior. And while some would be charging on you against all odds, bullets and tranquilizer guns, many are more like shy and timid creatures. Once you've chased one of these to under your bed, you will have a hard time trying to lure it out.

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