Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Reenactors gone Nuts.

Years ago I drove into a civil war 're-enactment' area near Gettysburg in Pennsylvania. The fist indication of that was passing a 'convoy' of truck-towed horse trailers and  a flatbed with three 19th century field cannon, on the Interstate. The second was a group of  barefoot  'johnny rebs'  walking barefoot along the side of a tarmacked road running west from the Gettysburg National park. The industrialized campsite-cum-parkinglot-cum sutlers mart-cum battlefield hoved, shortly, into view and I just had to stop.

Reenacting in America is big business, and deadly serious. It is a 'celebration of heritage' engaged in by a growing number of American doctors, lawyers, indian chiefs and anybody else with the boodle to buy an outfit and two weeks annual holidays to travel to an 'engagement'.  Life 'as it was' is relived 'en bivouac'. There are babies born, marriages made and I'm pretty sure  - should somebody have the misfortune to pass away - that - along with reverend chaplain and the bugle serenade - he, or she,  could get the ministrations of the camp embalmer with his turpentine and formaldehyde enema machine - suitably corked, boxed  and shipped off to loving family for a hero's (sanitary) interment. It's a lifestyle.

That Sunday it was disconcerting to see a modern-day ambulance drive into a 19th century "cavalry melee" to pick up a participant wounded by a replica 19th century pistol-shot carelessly left in a replica 19th  century pistol by a 21st century 'hoss sojer'. The 'carefree' individual was never found - everybody was, after all,  dutifully discharging 'blanks' from whatever 19th century weapons (replicas) they had - as the PA system directed the battle ("From the right side of the field you will now observe Montgomery's Royal Peruvian Horse Marines storm the position known as the Candelabra - well done Captain Jack Pearson, of Pearson's Hardware in Muncie, Indiana - a valiant show, boys, a valiant show!")

The 'show' has spread to other historical periods, The Romans are again on the march -  'mille passus vivat'.   Roundheads still 'press pike' with Cavaliers.  Redcoats of all description take on all their historic foe(s). We even dig trench systems to go 'over the top' (watch for much more of this in the next four years) and reprise the 'Big One' - DubleyahDubleyah two .. on land sea and in the air.

Is it any wonder, then, that looking at the situation in Ukraine, it would be a surprise to see 'Taras Bulba' himself ranting in the Maidan?  Shaven topknots and wild mustachios being virtually 'de rigeur' in the 'new' Ukraine. Baggy pants and pointed boots are the rage - if you can get them.  The Russians have their cossacks in 'traditional dress' as well. That 'tradition' also plays into more recent, and far nastier, history - with 'nationalist' units sporting the uniforms and badges of their fascist grandsires and 'communist' units sporting the star and accoutrements of the the Red Guard. Indeed those old 'politics' are once again roiling the surface for 'payback'. The re-enactment that had a touristy,  educative sort of value, a few years ago, is now promising practical demonstrations of Cossack swordsmanship on the 'enemies and terrorists' opposing progress, or 'selling out to the west'. "Smert to_____" - fill in your own blank it is the EuroMaidan password.

If it wasn't for the tragedy involved, this  might be entertaining. For a lot of people in high places, I'm afraid that it is and was intended to be .. entertaining, or a distraction from something else, more important and far closer to home.  We'll have to wait and see why this is happening at all  and why  now? For the Ukraine, sadly, it's no reenactment - it's the real thing .... again.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Propaganda - as it Should be Propped.

 If there is any propaganda being slung around the 'free world' about the situation in the Ukraine - the world that will be expected to pull the Ukrainian irons out of its fire - it's NOT coming out of Russia. Objectively, nobody - including the Russians,  'need' the Ukraine as much as they require a brain aneurysm. The Ukraine is the economic millstone that could very well sink the world bank.  If it doesn't cause a war first.

But objectivity is in short supply when you're thinking about a one-world system with you in charge. So we have this from the US State Department. So's we all will know the dirty liars who  lie when we hear about it on Fox News.

No amount of propaganda can make right something that the world knows is wrong.” – President Obama, March 26
Russia continues to spin a false and dangerous narrative to justify its illegal actions in Ukraine. The Russian propaganda machine continues to promote hate speech and incite violence by creating a false threat in Ukraine that does not exist. We would not be seeing the violence and sad events that we've witnessed this weekend without this relentless stream of disinformation and Russian provocateurs fostering unrest in eastern Ukraine. Here are 10 more false claims Russia is using to justify intervention in Ukraine, with the facts that these assertions ignore or distort.

1. Russia Claims: Russian agents are not active in Ukraine.
Fact: The Ukrainian Government has arrested more than a dozen suspected Russian intelligence agents in recent weeks, many of whom were armed at the time of arrest. In the first week of April 2014, the Government of Ukraine had information that Russian GRU officers were providing individuals in Kharkiv and Donetsk with advice and instructions on conducting protests, capturing and holding government buildings, seizing weapons from the government buildings’ armories, and redeploying for other violent actions. On April 12, armed pro-Russian militants seized government buildings in a coordinated and professional operation conducted in six cities in eastern Ukraine. Many were outfitted in bullet-proof vests, camouflage uniforms with insignia removed, and carrying Russian-designed weapons like AK-74s and Dragunovs. These armed units, some wearing black and orange St. George’s ribbons associated with Russian Victory Day celebrations, raised Russian and separatist flags over seized buildings and have called for referendums on secession and union with Russia. These operations are strikingly similar to those used against Ukrainian facilities during Russia’s illegal military intervention in Crimea in late February and its subsequent occupation.

Since the Communist Revolution, and even before that, Ukrainians have served in the armies of Russia. They may have had their own linguistic units, but the traditions and other aspects of service are the same for both Ukrainians and Russians. Until the recent 'appointment revolution' Ukrainian forces used the same organizational structure and equipment and even trained with the forces of the Russian Federation  - some recently-displayed satellite imagery is purported to display Ukrainian forces on maneuvre in Russia.  The dress and equipment of these 'Russian agents' is no different from that carried in many cases by Ukrainian militias present at, or after, the Maidan protests. It certainly does not identify them as Russians (a complaint from the Crimea about "unidentified forces"). A check of correspondent sources and native footage from U Tube, will indicate that even considering the dress - these people are far from 'professional' or even 'trained' military. It's a jacquerie in camo. 

The Order of St. George was an old czarist award, the distinctive ribbon of which was resuscitated at the end of WW2. It, too, is common to Ukrainians as well as Russians.

2. Russia Claims: Pro-Russia demonstrations are comprised exclusively of Ukrainian citizens acting of their own volition, like the Maidan movement in Kyiv.
Fact: This is not the grassroots Ukrainian civic activism of the EuroMaidan movement, which grew from a handful of student protestors to hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians from all parts of the country and all walks of life. Russian internet sites openly are recruiting volunteers to travel from Russia to Ukraine and incite violence. There is evidence that many of these so-called “protesters” are paid for their participation in the violence and unrest. It is clear that these incidents are not spontaneous events, but rather part of a well-orchestrated Russian campaign of incitement, separatism, and sabotage of the Ukrainian state. Ukrainian authorities continue to arrest highly trained and well-equipped Russian provocateurs operating across the region.

There is no evidence of any of this. Russians are not being 'bussed in' for demonstrations. That would after all involve crossing a heavily-guarded Ukrainian border. The same cannot be said for 'pro-Ukrainian protestors' or police units bussed into the east from west Ukraine.
Ukrainian authorities continue to arrest, and detain without trial, a large number of 'subversives' - some right-wing Ukrainians but, for the larger part 'ethnics'- Russians, Poles and others.

3. Russia Claims: Separatist leaders in eastern Ukraine enjoy broad popular support.
Fact: The recent demonstrations in eastern Ukraine are not organic and lack wide support in the region. A large majority of Donetsk residents (65.7 percent) want to live in a united Ukraine and reject unification with Russia, according to public opinion polls conducted at the end of March by the Donetsk-based Institute of Social Research and Policy Analysis. Pro-Russian demonstrations in eastern Ukraine have been modest in size, especially compared with Maidan protests in these same cities in December, and they have gotten smaller as time has progressed.

There is no clear leadership, on a regional basis, of the widespread and diffuse protest movement in the eastern Ukraine, rather than a city-oriented media event, it is real and focused in the countryside.  Centralization of effort and a governmental structure  is a situation the protestors should try to rectify. The "appointed leadership" of the "revolutionary" government of Kyiv is out-of-touch,  not only with the local people, but also with local security forces. The Regional governor now holds court in a hotel rather than a government centre.
While the 'Maidan' protests against the Yanukovich government may have been larger,  the 'pro-ukraine' element is now missing from the demonstrations and the occupation of government facilities is an innovation. 

An 'appointed government' in Kyiv is, obviously, not what the 'Maidan protestors' of Donetsk wanted.

4. Russia Claims: The situation in eastern Ukraine risks spiraling into civil war.
Fact: What is going on in eastern Ukraine would not be happening without Russian disinformation and provocateurs fostering unrest. It would not be happening if a large Russian military force were not massed on the border, destabilizing the situation through their overtly threatening presence. There simply have not been large-scale protests in the region. A small number of separatists have seized several government buildings in eastern cities like Donetsk, Luhansk, and Slovyansk, but they have failed to attract any significant popular support. Ukrainian authorities have shown remarkable restraint in their efforts to resolve the situation and only acted when provoked by armed militants and public safety was put at risk. Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) observers have reported that these incidents are very localized.

Given the presence of large Ukrainian military formations, as well as the greater part of the new "National Guard"-in-training camps, stationed in the eastern regions there is every likelihood that, if local security forces cannot contain the protests, military force will be used. The President issued that threat himself yesterday. 

Should the Ukrainian armed forces fire on Russian demonstrators - the effect on 'russian sympathizers' in the local military and security units could be 'revolutionary'. Civil war is more than a  distinct possibility,  a counter-revolution could also be a reality. 

Right now the 'appointed government' could not win an election, let alone a regional  referendum. They can't survive (politically) another 'Crimea'. They'll fight - civil war. 

Their 'best case scenario' is getting the UN to send forces to bring the eastern regions (terrorists) to heel. The President made that request of the UN to-day.

The protests are under-reported. From what I have observed there is only one consistent western source at work in the Eastern regions at present - Vice News. Even that reporter has made note  of widespread resistance to the movement of Ukrainian military forces. One of these may have led to yesterday's reports of casualties in a clash between security forces and protestors. There are a number of checkpoints and roadblocks set-up by local 'authorities'. One was videotaped disarming a Ukrainian security unit on Thursday.

5. Russia Claims: Ukrainians in Donetsk rejected the illegitimate authorities in Kyiv and established the independent “People’s Republic of Donetsk.”
Fact: A broad and representative collection of civil society and non-governmental organizations in Donetsk categorically rejected the declaration of a “People’s Republic of Donetsk” by the small number of separatists occupying the regional administration building. These same organizations confirmed their support for the interim government and for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine.

There is no "People's Republic of Donetsk',  although to some protestors think that should be the outcome of a referendum on independence to be held early in May. What "the broad and collective representation of civil society" will do remains to be seen. At present they aren't protesting the pro-russian protests.

6. Russia Claims: Russia ordered a “partial drawdown” of troops from the Ukrainian border.
Fact: No evidence shows significant movement of Russian forces away from the Ukrainian border. One battalion is not enough. An estimated 35,000-40,000 Russian troops remain massed along the border, in addition to approximately 25,000 troops currently in Crimea.

There could have been more Russian troops present for the military exercises just after the new year, we don't know how many were involved. By the same token we don't know exactly how many are there now. What we do know is that it IS Russian territory, so they're not where they should not be.  We also know that they are not present close to the border in any appreciable number - NBC send a news team that traveled, freely,  the length of the Russian side of the border with Ukraine and noted an absence of troops. Some were reported but they were small detachments and were known to be there - ie not hidden. 

Military logic would dictate that you don't telegraph your punches, or leave yourself open to a 'spoiling attack' when planning to invade an enemy, and if you just want to threaten, you don't hide your strength. Given the 'evidence' it would appear that the Russians are militarily incompetent. They're not hiding anything and what they do have is laagered, parked in the open, in  straight rows, with little obvious accommodation for personnel.

7. Russia Claims: Ethnic Russians in Ukraine are under threat.
Fact: There are no credible reports of ethnic Russians facing threats in Ukraine. An International Republican Institute poll released April 5 found that 74 percent of the Russian-speaking population in the eastern and southern regions of Ukraine said they “were not under pressure or threat because of their language.” Meanwhile, in Crimea, the OSCE has raised urgent concerns for the safety of minority populations, especially ethnic Ukrainians, Crimean Tatars, and others. Sadly, the ethnic Russians most at risk are those who live in Russia and who oppose the authoritarian Putin regime. These Russians are harassed constantly and face years of imprisonment for speaking out against Putin’s regular abuses of power.

Until the recent development of the revolutionary government, all Ukrainians seemed to suffer alike - the golden pheasants and oligarchs excepted. Language was no guarantee of a benefit. With the revolution the notion of some Ukrainians being 'better' than other Ukrainians came to the fore. Call them stupid if you will,  but one of the  very first edicts of the "revolutionary government" was making a minority language the 'lingua franca' of the new regime. Shutting Russian-speakers out may not be a direct threat, but assuming they all learned to speak Ukrainian - their names would still indicate their 'Russian-ness'. In good times that might not be a problem. With the soup line looming, and the memory of the Holodmyr now  a national treasure, it is.

8. Russia Claims: Ukraine’s new government is led by radical nationalists and fascists. 
Fact: The Ukrainian parliament (Rada) did not change in February. It is the same Rada that was elected by all Ukrainians, comprising all of the parties that existed prior to February’s events, including former president Yanukovych’s Party of Regions. The new government, approved by an overwhelming majority in the parliament -- including many members of Yanukovych’s former party -- is committed to protecting the rights of all Ukrainians, including those in Crimea.

Other than the two metrosexuals who are speaking for everybody, we don't know just what form the revolutionary government has already taken. We do know that some 'evildoers' have fled. We know from a televised fistfight that some Ukrainian politicians are disliked by other Ukrainian politicians in their revolutionary government. We also know that what goes on in Kyiv and the cities, bears little resemblance to what is going on in the country itself. It is very likely that Ukraine is too fractured to be maintained in its past form - even if all Ukrainians agreed.

9. Russia Claims: Ethnic minorities face persecution in Ukraine from the “fascist” government in Kyiv. 
Fact: Leaders of Ukraine’s Jewish as well as German, Czech, and Hungarian communities have all publicly expressed their sense of safety under the new authorities in Kyiv. Moreover, many minority groups expressed fear of persecution in Russian-occupied Crimea, a concern OSCE observers in Ukraine have substantiated.

The Jews of the Ukraine early on expressed concerns about the way the protests seemed to be headed. While they have since expressed their 'confidence' in the revolutionary government, figures of 'aliyah' emigrations processed from the Ukraine since March first are up more than 400 percent as reported by the Jerusalem Post. The Crimean Tatars were, supposedly, making a joint case with the revolutionary government, apparently the Crimean Tatars resident in Crimea  have made an agreement with the Crimean government. Sooooo? I'm sure the Poles would just love to 'assist' Ukraine by regaining their former eastern provinces, annexed  by the Soviets as in 1939 and attached to the Ukrainian SSR in 1954.

 Addendum: The UN human rights body yesterday announced it could find no evidence that Russians were under threat in the 'new' Ukraine. This report was developed over two visits lasting 4 days. Since then, two 'russian' presidential candidates have been publicly assaulted. A russian member of the legislature was removed while making a speech and there was a fist fight there started by Nationalist politicians after remarks made by a 'russian-speaking' member. A womens' group protesting the detention of 20-odd Berkut members was assaulted by a gang of nationalist toughs in the Maidan Square yesterday. Isolated instances perhaps, but evidence of some sort that all is not right. These things  weren't happening 3 months ago.

10. Russia Claims: Russia is not using energy and trade as weapons against Ukraine.
Fact: Following Russia’s illegal annexation and occupation of Crimea, Russia raised the price Ukraine pays for natural gas by 80 percent in the past two weeks. In addition, it is seeking more than $11 billion in back payments following its abrogation of the 2010 Kharkiv accords. Russia’s moves threaten to increase severely the economic pain faced by Ukrainian citizens and businesses. Additionally, Russia continues to restrict Ukrainian exports to Russia, which constitute a significant portion of Ukraine’s export economy.

Russia has for years supplied natural gas and fuels to Ukraine at well-below the market price in the EU. The Russians pipe their fuel to their EU markets through the Ukraine,  for which a royalty is paid. Part of this 'discount'  was to pay  'rent' on the Russian naval installation at Sebastopol (an autonomous administrative unit within the Ukraine). Both the installation and the autonomous unit of Sebastopol are now part of the Russian Federation - no further rentals are required.

For the past three years the Ukraine has been unable, or unwilling, to pay for the fuels that have been received, used or (if the 'revolutionary government' is to be believed) stockpiled. The bill now amounts to some 1.2 billion dollars.
So with the straitened condition of the Ukrainian revolutionary republic - waiting for an EU bailout package and other western loans - that fuel bill is more than outstanding. 

Add to that more 'stupid' comments from the 'revolutionary' government about not paying the bill and you have the Russians  wondering if there is an agreement they should be honouring at all. They have announced a rise in price to the EU level but  they have yet to turn off the flow of  'free' gas. That might well be a next step in 'calling the bet' as the west continues to up its Ukrainian ante.