Archive for the ‘Contemporary’ Category

Guest Post: Be Polite and Courteous – Like Putin and Shoigu!

Sunday, July 13th, 2014

Guest post from Mark Wilcox

Fresh from completing large-scale unannounced exercises – including near the Russian border with Ukraine – the Central Military District (MD) has embarked on a new campaign: the Year of High Culture and Compliance with Uniform Standards. The goal of this initiative, according to a release from the Press Service of the Central MD, is to “develop and strengthen among servicemembers an image of ‘polite [vezlivye] people.’” The Central MD seems to be taking the lead in realizing the “new image” of the Russian Army (see the Foreign Military Studies Office “OE Watch,” July 2014, page 48).

The target audience for this campaign, which will be the responsibility of commanders assisted by specialists in etiquette, will be primarily new recruits and soldiers new to units. The inculcation of an understanding of “polite people” will include “training and master classes on interpersonal relations.”

How will the authorities in the Central MD keep track of good behavior? Members of the military police will monitor compliance by servicemembers in public areas and military traffic inspectors [avtoinspektory] will keep an eye on troops’ behavior on the roads. Here’s the stick: Violators will be tarred with the label “impolite people,” and can be subject to disciplinary and administrative actions. And the carrot: The Commander of the Central MD will seek nominations of the best soldiers for some unspecified recognition.
How do the troops feel about all this politeness? Judging by this photo, the campaign gets a big thumbs up (which would have been two thumbs up if not for the large automatic weapon the soldier was holding). How could they not love the program when the poster boys for “polite people,” as shown on the t-shirt, are President Putin and Minister of Defense Shoigu?

It seems that this politeness, courtesy and overall good citizenship might extend to activities of the Russian Armed Forces outside the Central MD. Even the Navy and the Air Forces are getting in on the action, judging by dispatches from the Ministry of Defense. For instance, recent naval exercises in the Black Sea were carried out “in strict compliance with the norms of international maritime law, the requirements of intergovernmental agreements on the prevention of incidents at sea and dangerous military activities.” Likewise, an increased number of flights by strategic bombers over the Arctic in 2014 “are carried out in strict accordance with international rules for the use of air space without violating the borders of other states.”

Defense Minister Shoigu’s image-improvement campaign for the Russian Army marches on!

Corrupting Russia’s Youth, pt. I

Saturday, July 12th, 2014

Masha Lipman has a great piece in the New Yorker on Russian legislator Roman Khudyakov’s efforts to clean up Russian public culture. Easy availability of pornography in print or on the Internet? Not exactly.

Instead, his problem is with the Russian hundred ruble note (c. $3US). It features a scene from the facade of the Bolshoi Theater in central Moscow, prominently featuring the Greek god Apollo driving a chariot and not-so-prominently Apollo’s male parts flapping in the breeze, as the Greek gods preferred when hanging out around Mt. Olympus. In case you’d like to verify, the bill in question is available here.

Now you might think that the parts in question are microscopic, or (if you know Russian) you might be amused that somebody named KHUdyakov is needling Russian society over the shortcomings of public art. You might wonder whether this is such a big deal: certainly there’s no shortage of nutty legislators around the US. Lipman makes a good point that there’s more to it than that–that Khudyakov’s stand is a prominent part of a generally illiberal and increasingly puritanical position by Putin’s regime.

I personally think Khudyakov needs to probe this issue more deeply to get all the rest of the smut in Russian public art. I’m reminded of my first visit to St. Petersburg. I mused to a Russian friend that photographs of the Bronze Horseman, a famous statue of Peter the Great erected by Catherine the Great and memorialized by a Pushkin poem, were usually taken from a weird angle. You saw Peter from behind, and so never got good look at his face. We moved to get a better view so I could get a picture of the statue with Peter’s face. Then we figured out why people don’t usually take photographs from that angle (and this photograph isn’t mine):BronzeHorseman

Zombie ideas: Russia and a warm-water port

Monday, March 24th, 2014

“Zombie ideas,” as explained by economist John Quiggin, are discredited concepts that simply refuse to die, and continue to walk the earth. It’s a slightly more elaborate version of the more prosaic “factoid,” an oft-repeated claim that’s just not true.

One idea about Crimea, repeated by lots of people who really ought to know better, is that Crimea provides Russia with its only warm-water port or, alternatively, its only warm-water naval base. This can take two forms: the more benign form is just wrong–a bald statement of (non-)fact explaining why Russia cares so much about Crimea. This easily verges, though, into an explanation and justification of Putin’s conduct in Crimea: something like “Putin really had no choice, since Crimea’s warm-water port is just too important.” This last idea actually reared its head in my local paper just this week.

It’s not hard to find lots of people talking about Russia’s only warm-water port. Some of them are just random people expressing opinions, and other are from new media of various kinds, but others come from long-established old media outlets or big organizations with reputations to protect. That includes Greg Astell in Forbes, Katherine Jacobsen for Al Jazeera, Jim Sciutto for CNN and Steve Huntley for the Chicago Sun-Times.

Here are the problem with all of this. First thing to get out of the way: none of the seas around Russia are precisely what you’d call “warm.” The Black Sea might at least be swimmable for a few months in the summer. What we’re really talking about here are ports and naval bases that are ice-free year round.

More seriously, Crimea, and more specifically Sevastopol, do NOT provide Russia its only ice-free port. St. Petersburg and other nearby terminals are on the Baltic, which does freeze, but Novorossiisk on the Black Sea and Murmansk in Russia’s far north DO NOT FREEZE. The Black Sea doesn’t get that cold, and the Gulf Stream keeps the northern part of the Scandinavian peninsula relatively warm. Vladivostok in the Far East likewise is kept open year-round (though that seems to require icebreakers.

Naval bases? Both Murmansk
and Novorossiisk
have them.

Ukraine’s most important port is Odessa and its close neighbors. Though the good people of wikipedia (as of 24 March 2014) claim that Sevastopol is the second largest port in Ukraine, in actual fact its 600,000 ton capacity is dwarfed by other ports in the Crimea (almost 15 million tons combined), which are dwarfed by Odessa (nearly 50 million tons capacity–leaving aside the other ports in its immediate vicinity), which is in turn dwarfed by Russia’s own Novorossiisk’s 152 million ton capacity.

What’s the point of all this? First, Russia has no need for Crimea in order to possess ice-free ports or naval bases, so let’s not make excuses on those grounds for Putin’s conduct. The Russian government is putting out enough disinformation about events in the Crimea. Let’s not make things worse by mouthing myths and factoids as result of reluctance to do a little research.

Treaties Governing the Black Sea Fleet

Saturday, March 1st, 2014

IF Vladimir Putin is smart, Russia is at present limiting its actions in Crimea to personnel of the Black Sea Fleet, or at the very least claiming to do so. The presence of Russia’s Black Sea Fleet in Crimea means that Russia legitimately has a large number of military personnel already in the region; Putin doesn’t need send troops across borders to seize airports and government buildings. That doesn’t mean, of course, that Putin’s not violating treaty obligations with Ukraine.

The operations of Russia’s Black Sea Fleet are governed by a series of agreements signed in 1997. A number of them are technical: dividing the Fleet between Russia and Ukraine, specifying which facilities Russia can use, payments for use of facilities, and so on. One key point: the Agreement between Russia and Ukraine on the Parameters of Division of the Black Sea Fleet gives Russia permission to have 25,000 personnel in the Fleet (end of Appendix 2), including almost 2000 marines and 132 combat vehicles (Article 7). That’s plenty to do what we’ve seen so far: Simferopol is only about 40 miles from the Fleet’s main base at Sevastopol.

The broad outlines of the relationship are set out in a different document: the Agreement between Russia and Ukraine on the Status and Conditions of the Presence of the Russian Black Sea Fleet on the Territory of Ukraine.

Since my guess is that we’re going to be hearing a lot about claimed violations of that Treaty, I offer here my own translation of the most relevant points:

Article 4/1: “The general number of personnel, contingent of ships, boats, armament, and military equipment of the Black Sea Fleet of the Russian Federation located on the territory of Ukraine cannot exceed the level specified in the Agreement between Russia and Ukraine on the Parameters of Division of the Black Sea Fleet of 28 May 1997.”

Article 6/1: “Military formations will carry out their activities in their basing areas in correspondence with the laws of the Russian Federation, respecting the sovereignty of Ukraine, observing its laws and permitting no interference in the internal affairs of Ukraine.”

Article 13/1: “Individuals joining the personnel of military formations cross the Russian-Ukrainian border on presentation of military identification proving their identity.”

Article 25: “The current Agreement is concluded for a period of 20 years, beginning with the date of its temporary application [1997] The term of action of the Agreement will be automatically extended for additional five-year periods, unless one of the parties informs the other in writing of the cancellation of the Agreement no later than one year prior to the expiration of its term of action.”

That deadline was later extended by a 2010 treaty. The Ukrainian text is available here. A Russian translation is available here, though it’s not clear if that’s the official Russian text or a translation of the Ukrainian text. Under those terms, the agreement is extended by twenty-five years from the 2017 expiration, with automatic extension in five-year increments unless denounced a year before expiration.

Guest post: What’s Wrong With This Picture? Well-Dressed Defense Ministers

Friday, February 28th, 2014

A guest post from Mark Wilcox:

What’s Wrong with This Picture?
Promotion opportunities within the upper ranks of the Russian Ministry of Defense must be very good these days. Witness Deputy Minister of Defense Anatoliy Antonov, whose portfolio includes international military cooperation and contacts between the Russian Ministry of Defense (MOD) and foreign military forces. He must be doing something right, because he’s earned the right to wear four stars, not to mention a chest full of ribbons, as one can see in a video posted on the MOD website on 27 February 2014 (screen shot below):


What’s especially interesting about Antonov’s “star status” is the fact that he’s a diplomat, not a military officer. According to his official biography, he accumulated over 30 years of diplomatic service in the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs before being appointed to the MOD in February 2011. The more intriguing question concerns the timing of Antonov’s wardrobe change. This video appears to be the first one in which the MOD has shown Antonov in uniform. The standard file photo, which appeared as late as 26 February, showed him wearing a suit with the top button of his shirt undone and his tie slightly askew (see “Zamestitel’ Ministerstva oborony Anatolii Antonov proinformiroval voennykh attashe o vnezapnoi kompleksnoi proverke boegotovnosti voisk i sil ZVO i TsVO.” Why the military shtick now? Is this part of Defense Minister Shoigu’s image improvement campaign for the MOD? Perhaps Antonov has enthusiastically thrown himself into the ongoing no-notice exercise in the Western and Central Military districts. Or could he be sending a not-so-subtle message to the interim government or the ethnic Russian population in Ukraine?
Maybe this is much ado about nothing; but, after all, clothes do make the man.